Sunday, February 05, 2012

Urgent tasks and a serene gaze

I've been reading Geoff Dyer's Otherwise Known as the Human Condition, a collection of essays which argues that the visual arts have lately lost some of their old power. Dyer suggests that we were once able to experience a painting or photo as the sudden apparition of something strange and distant: as the irruption of another space and time into our own. We unfolded a newspaper, and Robert Capa brought war to our breakfast table; we looked at a cheap reproduction of a Durer woodcut and saw sixteenth century Nuremberg.

In the era before the internet and digital cameras and kindle art books we lived in finite worlds, and distinguished here from elsewhere, the familiar from the unfamiliar. When we encountered Capa and the Spanish Civil War we were able to be astonished precisely because we had a sense of the ordinary, a here with which to contrast elsewhere.

Now most of us live not in the old bounded worlds of the pre-digital era but in what Dyer calls 'no-places'. We may confine our movements to a small piece of the earth - we may never leave the city where we live and work, for instance - but we nevertheless view, almost every hour of our waking lives, images drawn from other places, and from other times. We see the beaches and bays of distant tropical archipelagos, on a billboard we pass on our way to work; we watch Japanese nuclear disasters or American elections on television; we study the decor of a room on the other side of the world as we talk to a relative on skype. Art can no longer bring farness near, because the contrast between far and near, here and else, the familiar and the strange, no longer holds. Dyer's argument reminded me of Don De Lillo's novel The Names, where the members of a cult make their home in a cave on a Greek island, and later in a set of old grain silos on the edge of the Rajastani desert. De Lillo's cultists believe that the proliferation and elaboration of human languages, with their machineries of jargon and their conceptual distinctions, has somehow deprived the world of its corporeality. Horrified by their inability to apprehend a pre-linguistic, primordial reality, the cultists crouch in their passageways and grottoes and, for reasons that De Lillo doesn't quite make clear, study Sanskrit and ancient Greek and other dead or dormant languages. The cultists reverse Plato's parable of the Cave: for them, truth lies in the shadows, not the light. Is their sensory deprivation the only adequate response to the exhaustion of images, in the era of late modernity? I hope not, because caves make me claustrophobic.

In the one of the pieces in Otherwise Known as the Human Condition, Geoff Dyer suggests that the photographs of Michael Ackerman are a response to the crisis of visual art. Tired of the relentless cataloguing of the exterior world by CCTV camera systems, documentary film makers, and reality TV shows, Ackerman has decided to adjust his lenses and filters until they shoot wraiths and auras and radioactive clouds, and show humans with multiple heads and no necks, and fingers as long as their legs. Ackermann's grotesqueries might remind us of the Expressionist painters at work a century ago, but where Munch and Kokoschka were externalising feelings of confusion and angst, Ackermann is turning inwards, in an attempt to discover a reality that has not been photographed and filmed and uploaded to Facebook. If I don't quite agree with Geoff Dyer's apparent pessimism about the visual arts, it is because I still sometimes encounter images which astonish and thrill me, and because I often find these images not in the beige rooms of art galleries or on the glossy pages of photographers' books, but amidst the chaos and mediocrity of the internet. I wanted to mention an image which has fascinated me ever since I found it a couple of years ago at an obscure online political archive. You're looking at the cover of the Summer 1978 issue of Urgent Tasks, the theoretical journal of the Sojourner Truth Organisation, a small Chicago-based Maoist political party. The STO was founded in 1970 by ten white students who had decided that working class African Americans would be the vanguard of America's upcoming socialist revolution. The cadres quickly made a 'turn to industry', dropping their social science courses and taking up jobs in auto factories with large black workforces.

In a 1972 report on its progress, the Sojourner Truth Organisation revealed that it had tripled its membership to thirty, but regretfully added that it was still to recruit its first black comrade. The authors of the report were nonetheless hopeful: the revolution which had conquered China must inevitably spread to America, the world's largest and most decadent capitalist power. Every demonstration against the Vietnam conflict or wildcat strike was a door through which history might force its way. Like many ostensibly Marxist groups of its era, the Sojourner Truth Organisation combined a grandiose vision of history with a maniacal attention to local, small-scale events. Party members' time was dominated by the minutiae of day-to-day, week-to-week political organising, as they attended union and United Front meetings, sold newspapers and pasted posters, marched and picketed. But this unceasing activity, with all the sacrifices it implied, was legitimised by a 'scientific' account of human history. The five thousand texts of Marx, with their contradictions and equivocations and their self-conscious provisionality, were regarded by the STO as a single eschatological statement. The whole hundred thousand years of human history led inevitably to the STO and its revolutionary task. History was an arrow aimed at 1970s Chicago.

Because of its claim to wield a universal science, the STO was obliged to complement its newspaper Insurgent Worker, which was full of talk about demonstrations and strikes, with the bulkier Urgent Tasks. Despite its name, Urgent Tasks considered some abstruse and exotic subjects, like the philosophy of Louis Althusser and the meaning of ancient Egyptian civilisation.

What fascinates me about the cover of the Summer 1978 issue of Urgent Tasks is the contrast between journal's title, with its intimations of world-historical crisis and furious activism, and the serene death-mask of Tutankhamun, the boy-king who reigned for a decade in Egypt three thousand and three hundred years ago.

Since it was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922, Tutankhamun's gold and lapis lazuli likeness has symbolised the depth and strangeness of human history. Egypt was one of the world's great ancient civilisations, but its religion, its art, and its literature were forgotten for thousands of years, until they became the enthusiasms of European gentleman-scholars. Unlike ancient Greece, which gave many ideas and institutions to subsequent European civilisations, ancient Egypt was a society with no heirs, and therefore an example of how history can be an erratic and destructive rather than teleological and progressive process.

Like Shelley's Ozymandias, Tutankhamun was a once-mighty monarch who was forgotten by history. But where Ozymandias was a vainglorious tyrant, who could or would not foresee his fate, Tutankhamun's golden face appears devoid of hubris. The boy-king stares calmly into eternity. His eyes are wide, but not so wide that they suggest alarm or anger; his mouth is closed, but not closed so tightly as to suggest either pain or resolve. Most photographs of Tutankhamun show him gazing directly at the camera, but the shot used by Urgent Tasks has him eluding our stares, and looking away into the distance. The boy-pharaoh's aloofness and imperturbability are emphasised. Tutankhamun seems to accept not only his own early death but also his long disappearance from human consciousness.

Tutankhamun's expression is so serene that many of the people who saw him in the 1920s and '30s decided that Howard Carter ought to return him to the obscurity of his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. For daring to disturb the blissfully sleeping young man, Carter and his colleagues were supposed to suffer a curse.

I am, of course, imposing my own preconceptions on Tutankhamun when I talk about him serenely greeting obscurity. With their cyclical view of time, the Egyptians would perhaps not even understand talk about historical obscurity or oblivion. As he lay dying of malaria and a broken leg, Tutankhamun would probably have been preoccupied with the afterlife of his soul, or rather souls, and not with the posthumous memory of his reign.

I find it impossible, though, not to see Tutankhamun as a serene and precociously wise figure. And I find, in his face and in his fate, a mockery of the Sojourner Truth Organisation's claims about history and destiny. The STO disintegrated in the mid-'80s, and now exists only as an online archive, a sort of digital sarcophagus where old articles and sorrowful reminiscences are kept. But Tutankhamun doesn't just mock a defunct Maoist organisation: he mocks all of us, for the supposedly urgent tasks we devote ourselves to, and for our spurious belief that we have some control over our futures. The cover of the Summer 1978 issue of the STO's theoretical journal is an accidental masterpiece which says something important about the follies and tragedies of all modern humans.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]


Blogger Paul Janman said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:20 am  
Blogger Dave Brown said...

Ecstasy. Maybe that's what explains the tranquillity on the pharoah's deathmask. The duties of being a tributary deity could be endured while stoned dead.

The saving grace of the Maoists fundamentalism was its Marxist take on modernity. China was the most 'modern' expression in 1949 which in part accounts for its unique modernity today.

Its not 10 white youths in search of a black vanguard, but a few hundred million Chinese workers in search of a revolution.

Into the light not back into the shadows. Like these black and white photographs of Downtown Cairo.

1:33 pm  
Blogger Dave Brown said...

I forgot to link to what is the most advanced expression of modernity today "China: the most dangerous class"

1:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Egypt was a proto-feudalist society, technically.

2:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And maoism is thriving in India and Nepal - unlike Trotskyism!

2:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In NZ Maoism is at a crossroads, with a bourgeois faction trying to split the New Workers Party...see the debates on their list about for eg a name change.

2:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what quietist crap this is.

6:45 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

China is state capitalist.

8:47 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Talking of China, Perry Anderson has a very interesting attack on several new books of 'Sino-Americana' over at the LRB site:

Anderson contemptuously disposes of a new book on China by Kissinger and a fawning biography of Deng Xiaoping by a Harvard academic who was seconded to the National Security Council in the '90s. His discussion of the meaning of China's 1979 attack on Vietnam -an attack which Kissinger admits 'colluding' with, and which Deng's biographer tries to ignore - is particularly fascinating.

I'm probably being a bit tough on the poor old Sojourner Truth Organisation, which seems to have done a lot of good work, and to have been a lot less cultish and fanatical than some other Western Maoist outfits of the '70s. It appears that they even left Maoism behind, in the early '80s. I was just struck, really, by the pathos of that journal cover.

11:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do see your point but if you were working in a sweat shop or a child enslaved in a Congolese mine it might not be so satisfying to contemplate everybody dies and the universe is very old.

A lot of these student militants are ridiculous but also at the time in the 1970s Afrikan workers in America were organizing their own revolutions and managed to achieve real change and educate their own people. Marxism as a living science comes from Samir Amin, I think, he's not a naive white student. A lot of African American political groups are inspired by ancient Egyptian and other African civilizations too so they didn't exist for nothing. Not to mention, the greeks copied a lot of their culture from older civilizations in the middle east so it is probably unfair to say the Greeks have heirs but older non-white civilizations have none.

I like that face though, he looks far more sophisticated than creepy Greek statues.

11:18 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The left in NZ has a real problem with race too. The proletariat in NZ is not white but migrant workers might as well not exist and all the white left has managed to achieve working with Maori (who are already organized and don't require white leadership) is these stupid anarchist students attract the attention of police and get them arrested. Yeah I blame Trotskyism

11:23 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you're a communist in the US in the 1970s you get involved with unions cause that seems to be where it's at, you try and relate to black workers, anti-racism, the revolutions and national liberation struggles in China, Vietnam and south America and you write theory as well. Sounds like the STO were making a red hot go of their situation involved in some of the biggest class struggles in US history for black liberation, against the Vietnam war, etc.

Not according to Maps. It's all folly and sorrowful memories mocked by some inbred monarch. So what would you have done instead? Sat on the sidelines as black kids were framed for murder, corrupt unions made sweetheart deals and US imperialism bloodied the third world?

Wrote a blog about it?

11:47 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The left in NZ has a real problem with race too."

You obviously know nothing about the left in NZ.

12:04 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

I agree that quietism can be infuriating. I used to have arguments with John Geraets, who was the editor of the literary journal brief back in the early 2000s, because of what appeared to be his almost otherworldly indifference to the political issues which preoccupied me. Once he asked me for a submission for brief and I sent him a poster about a trade union campaign I had been involved in: he replied by saying something like 'I sympathise with your cause, but life and the fact of eventual death are so awful that no amount of campaigning can help us', or words to that effect. It's of course easy to take that stance when you're enjoying a relatively comfortable existence!

John annoyed me at the time, and looking back I think that was his intention. I think he saw me as a bit too sure of myself, and a bit too convinced that the world historical struggle for socialism was about to unfold in New Zealand, on the back of whatever campaigns I happened to be involved in. He wanted me to step back and take a more dispassionate view of history and society.

I'm not knocking the STO for being involved in activist politics - I'm sighing at their need to give their work a quasi-religious basis by creating a teleology of history - by making the past, with all of its obscurities and dead ends and peculiarities, into a simple morality story in which they are the ultimate heroes. I think that sort of viewpoint is inimical to the sort of historical materialism that Marx advocated, and that it has produced disastrous results.

We only have to look at the sad story of most Kiwi far left outfits, with their endless predictions of imminents revolution and their failure to create anything resembling a serious analysis of the history of their own society, to see analogies to the STO's experience. You can still find pathetic remnants of the old large far left parties on the Kiwi blogosphere, talking about the 'terminalc risis of capitalism' and insisting that 'the end is near', and resiting the temptation to take a serious and sober look at the society they live in.

1:15 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

"The left in NZ has a real problem with race too."

And I'd argue that this problem is caused, not by any subjective racist feelings, but by the sort of teleology of history that the STO was expounding back in the seventies. Once you've made history into destiny, you have a lot of trouble accounting for societies on the fringes of what we understand as history:


1:26 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

I do take your point about the links between Egypt and Greece, anon, and about the inspiration that Egypt has given some African activists. But my point was not to denigrate ancient Egypt for being somehow irrelevant, but rather to celebrate the fact that it can't be assimilated into Eurocentric teleology of history. It is a magnificent example of the diversity which human societies can have...

1:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It is a magnificent example of the diversity which human societies can have..."

Egypt is also one of the first examples of a class society that was eventually brought down by internal and external social and economic pressures.

Sure endless predictions of revolution and crisis are unhelpful.

But by your analysis some timewarped Marxists turning up to the first strike of pyramid builders with hieroglyphic leaflets calling for the strike over unpaid rations to be turned into a political strike to bring down the pharaoh and establish a Nile Commune are misled by their "teleology of history".

So what should the Nile marxists of ancient Egypt have done? Spent their time writing tablets analysing the internal rhyme scheme of the hieroglyphs on the pyramid walls?

Maps, find us a class society that didn't eventually suffer a revolution, military conquest or mutual ruin and you may have some evidence that the STO was overblown in its view of history.

Its not just sober, serious marxists who predict revolution in coming years. Even the Economist is lecturing China's rulers, "history’s other lesson is that those who cling to absolute power end up with none."

Of course there is nothing inevitable about socialist revolution and semi-religious ferocity and cultishness doesn't get one far. If revolution was inevitable no one would join a revolutionary organisation. And of course the history of some far left groups is sad, but there is a lot of happy history and victories as well and certainly the far left's history is not as sad as the centre-left with its support for Uncle Sam's murder from Indochina to the Euphrates.

Lastly that's rubbish about the STO turning history into a morality tale. A cursory look at their documents and their attempt to find an explanation for racism amongst white workers shows you that.

3:50 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Well here's how I see it, anon.
To me a teleology of history involves the assumption that events are moving more or less inexorably towards a preordained end, and that their movement towards this end can be understood and forumlated as a series of laws.

The African American Marxist scholar Cedric Robinson argues that this view of history has its ultimate origins in the Abrahamic faiths, with their vision of history as a linear process with a spectacular, preordained end - and end which has both apocalyptic and utopian qualities (the Antichrist comes back and rules for a while, but then Jesus comes and sets up a utopia, etc etc)

I've argued that the young Marx was powerfully influenced by the teleology of history that celebrated the impact European capitalism and imperialism were having on the 'static', 'non-historic' societies of the colonial world. We only have to read the young Marx's celebrations of the the British invasion of India, or his joyful allusion to the Opium Wars in the Communist Manifesto, to see how much he bought into the notion that capitalism was a necessary stage in the progress of the world towards paradise.

I've argued that Marx moved away from a teleological view of history in his later works, and instead accepted that there were different routes different societies could take through history.

But first Engels (to a certain extent), then Kautsky, then Stalin, then Mao presented Marx as a teleological thinker, by promoting the vision of history as a series of stages that societies had to pass through. The stagist view of history was used to justify all sorts of depredations, like Stalin's destruction of the Russian peasantry and Mao's Great Leap Forward.

That's the sinister backdrop to the teleology of Western Maoist groups like the STO. And Stalin and Mao justified their policies in exactly the way Western Maoist outfits like the STO justified their activities in the '70s. The Great Leap Forward and the destruction of the peasantry were presented, not as the decisions of a few men, decisions which could be queried and checked against facts and overturned, but as the working out of a destiny. Anyone who opposed them was on the wrong side of history.

I know that the STO was on the right side of the barricades, and I know that it is absurd to imagine that the group would ever have taken power and acted like Mao or Stalin, given the differences between 1970s America and 1920s Russia or 1940s China, but the group's method and rhetoric still deserve to be criticised. In the post we're talking about my criticism has taken the form of gentle mockery, I guess...

4:21 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

For the record, though, I have criticised the idea that any party influenced by Stalin and Stalinism is somehow irredeemably evil:

I agree that groups like, say, the Communist Party of New Zealand have many admirable chapters in their histories. It's just all the nonsense about historical destiny and all the catastrophism and the general lack of any subtlety which tends to get me down...

4:25 pm  
Anonymous wivil said...

would nt be amazing if this blog dealt with the REAL revolution going on in the REAL MODERN EGYPT?

oh no that would be too...relevant

4:46 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

I agree that this site is not exactly News Central, wivil, but how about the post which discussed New Zealand's little-known military presence in Egypt in the light of the revolution?

Surely that was vaguely related to reality? I'm actually a bit surprised that the Kiwi military connection to Ehypt hasn't become at least minor debating point here.

5:02 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"and for our spurious belief that we have some control over our futures."

Nihilist much?

7:08 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Was Althusser a nihilist when he defined history as a 'process without a goal'? What about Smithyman's dctum that 'we live inside and are lived by history and language'? It is not nihilistic but liberating to realise that we don't exist at the centre of the universe and the apex of history...

9:08 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

"wivil said...

would nt be amazing if this blog dealt with the REAL revolution going on in the REAL MODERN EGYPT?

oh no that would be too...relevant "

What is real revolution? How do you know it is?

I saw Scott's take here - in one way of looking at it, probably intended the image (the "inward gaze" of Tutankamen) is one of Mao himself. Or it is a metaphor of the whole Left movement in fact?! Not just in the 60s / 70s. Today also.

The US student-workers of the SJT Organisation were following Mao (his ideas) and Marxism because in fact the only successful and large revolution took place in China. Other Marxists achieved very little that was concrete. The revolution in China angered and frightened the USSR-Revisionist- Imperialists and the US etc The US were trying to punch through Vietnam to take China. A 3rd World War was a real possibility. But the Chinese were strongly armed unlike Iraq etc and were ready even to survive a nuclear attack - they also had ICBMS ready. When the US realized their dream was impossible they just kept hammering Vietnam with napalm, raping and killing women and children as in My Lai, and continuing blanket bombing.

In those days we were effectively "at war" with China. That was the propaganda coming from the US. Mao 's cultural revolution was necessary and a great thing. Western nations began a huge campaign of propaganda (which continues today, I saw all that crap on the LRBs), to destroy the credibility of Maoism and Marxism and anything good about China. Also problems came from within by those seeking reversion via economism, hierarchies etc. There were those who misunderstood the idea that the people themselves had the potential to now run the world. There were great advances. The struggle was with revisionism and returns towards capitalism etc The Cambridge academic and economist Joan Robinson wrote an excellent book about and supporting the Cultural Revolution (which support and interest and honesty is said to have been a reason she was blocked from receiving the Nobel Prize for Economics). But as soon as China became communist it came under tremendous attack from the US Imperialists. I remember endless propaganda poured out in The Reader's Digest, Time (both of which I enjoyed reading in the mid 60s by the way), I recall a soldier visiting our school in 1966 justifying military training by saying that China, by pushing Vietnam, was going to take over the world as Japan tried). The "yellow peril" was a commonplace. The US Imperialists, to maintain capitalism were hugely anti-Communist and still are. Anyone in the 70s fighting the Vietnam War by the US who understood Marxism was interested in China. I still read the Little Red Book and other writings by Mao. I learnt a huge amount from Mao tse Tung and books about the Chinese revolution (Smedley's about Chu Teh, Edgar Snow, Jack Belden and others and also from NZ's Tom Needham of the China society, as well as Mrs. Fowler and her son Rewi Kemp who is still associated with the China society as was Dick Scott I think). Many US (and NZ) radicals (e.g. the San Francisco Bay Area Radical groups) went to China in the 60s and 70s. The reports were good. Huge advances had been made in cf. to pre revolutionary China. Mao-Tutankaman's "inward gaze" was there for sure, but there were many others inward gazing.

12:41 am  
Blogger Richard said...

I think you underestimate the progress made by various student groups in the 70s. Also we were interested in the Cuban revolution and other issues. I said in discussions to other radicals (ca 1970) that China would eventually "go revisionist" as the USSR had. I had no illusions* (there was much debate (theory), and much action (practice) of various kinds, if there was enthusiasm and idealism. But in 1970 they were very close to the possibility of least they had made the most progress of any nation in human history towards communism. Nor does the fact it has become "state capitalism" negate the greatness and significance of the Chinese revolution (or any of the others including the American).

Were there errors and excesses and so on (both by the radicals in NZ and in China etc? Of course there were.

Think of Atenisi. Perfect? No. Made mistakes? Yes. In many ways wrong and in many ways great? Yes. Waste of time? No. So with those young US radicals and the Chinese revolution.

I can also see Geraets point of view even though it also infuriates me (sometimes) and sometimes I have also taken that tack - the sub speciae aeternitatis or "deep time" view. In some ways this would be my critique of over fanatical radicals but then sometimes I find myself becoming fanatical, and or I retreat into books and ideas...There are many roads.

I liked your post though Scott, a bit provocative and reflective ['Ozymandias' is indeed great poem and should indeed give us all pause (the vanity of power, perhaps the ultimate futility of all things, certainly of "empire" and so on - but of course Shelley was a revolutionary (as were his wife, and fellow "Romantics such as Byron (he died while preparing to help fight for Greek independence), Mary his wife, Hazlitt etc) who was in favour of the US revolution and other radical ideas around] - it reminded me of some excellent essays of Roland Barthes.

*Actually, in a complex way: to "be a communist", one has to fall under a kind of spell, a kind of Big Illusion. It is or can be seductive to fall into a kind of informed fanaticism. Marxism can become a religion, which I pulled away in the finish. But lessons are learned. None of this negates that communism could one day become a reality. There are no guarantees one-way or the other.

12:42 am  
Blogger Richard said...

"Its not 10 white youths in search of a black vanguard, but a few hundred million Chinese workers in search of a revolution."

The gist of what Dave says here is right - of course it is the people. It is not Mao, Lenin or Trotsky or whoever.

The young (idealist and committed) white workers and others and Mao, Lenin, HO Chi Minh, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara Diego Rivera, Evorado, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis [fill in a list] and Trotsky all contributed, but it is the people who make history. (They continue to do so, and "the people" of course includes all these "names" as well.)
And indeed Egypt is important as is Syria etc - of course.

But what in God's name is going on in Syria?

1:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Petty bourgeois intellectuals RUN from revolution!

2:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For a few brief years during the 1970s, advocates of the type of Marxism-Leninism promoted by the Chinese Communist Party constituted the largest and most dynamic trend on the U.S. socialist left. This self-described “New Communist Movement” (the term “Maoism” was then frowned upon) was overwhelmingly a creation of young people radicalized in the tumultuous 1960s. At its height, U.S. Maoism could claim a core of roughly 10,000 activists devoted to its mission of constructing a new, “genuinely revolutionary” vanguard party to supplant the Communist Party USA and other allegedly reformist groups of the Old or New Left.

U.S. partisans of “Mao Tse Tung Thought” were never able to unite into a single Maoist party. But the largest radical newspaper of the time, the 20,000-plus circulation Guardian, was a proponent of New Communist goals from 1971 to the end of the decade. Additionally, the various Maoist cadre organizations (which ranged in size from a few dozen to more than 1,000 members) produced dozens of other newspapers, journals, books and pamphlets which reached thousands beyond the Maoist ranks. The New Communist Movement was the most racially diverse sector of the U.S. left with the highest proportion (25-30% or more) of African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Chicanos and Asian Americans in its leadership and membership ranks. Several thousand New Communist activists rooted themselves in industrial jobs and working class communities, and some played central roles in local and even occasional nationwide struggles. These included support for major strikes, such as the May 1972-February 1974 walkout in Texas and New Mexico by 4,000 mainly Chicana women at Farah Co. (then the largest U.S. manufacturer of men’s and boy’s pants); and mass mobilizations against the initial high court decisions rolling back affirmative action (Bakke vs. Univ of California, 1977-78).

Beginning in the late 1970s – as the Chinese party ever more openly abandoned its earlier advocacy of anti-imperialism and social revolution – the Maoist trend began to disintegrate almost as rapidly as it arose. For a time, the depth of Maoism’s crisis was obscured by the energy of a few “second wave” efforts at party building, which generally avoided the extreme ultra-left tactics and over-inflated rhetoric that characterized Maoism’s early days. But these late-’70s initiatives never attained the size or influence of their predecessors. To the contrary, the always-contentious relationships among the different Maoist groups became even worse. The largest organizations experienced splits and large-scale membership losses if not total collapse. Maoism’s (and China’s) prestige on the broader Left plummeted. By the middle of the 1980s Maoism as a viable trend had disappeared, although various small organizations espousing offshoots of Maoist ideology continued to exist on the fringes of the U.S. Left.

2:19 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

STO began as Maoist but had broken with Mao by the middle to late
1970s, by which time it was more interested in Italian ultra-leftism.

The STO also pioneered the 'race traitor' analysis which says white-black relations are as important as class relations.

2:23 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

STO on Stalin as a philosopher:

2:25 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott said...
And I'd argue that this problem is caused, not by any subjective racist feelings, but by the sort of teleology of history that the STO was expounding back in the seventies. Once you've made history into destiny, you have a lot of trouble accounting for societies on the fringes of what we understand as history:

True I agree. The Tuhoe thread was funny, I'm sure I've met that 'Tuhoe are capitalists' guy irl! It is always Tuhoe too, I guess they don't know any other iwi. I fully agree with your comments about Polynesian history and future. It depends on your point of view where the fringes are, Egyptian civilization lasted 1000s of years that is longer than 'west' has lasted so far. maybe white NZ will go the way of the Egyptians (without the art or monuments) and Aotearoa will re-join Polynesia.

Anonymous said...
You obviously know nothing about the left in NZ.

Mao said no investigation, no right to speak! I have been away from NZ but it doesn't seem that anything has changed. Some factions want to appropriate Maori struggle to make themselves look radical but if you get mixed up with them they'll just waste your time, sabotage whatever you want to do and give you nothing - or get you arrested! The 1970s factory workers were right to keep away.

1:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
So what would you have done instead? Sat on the sidelines as black kids were framed for murder, corrupt unions made sweetheart deals and US imperialism bloodied the third world?

Why not let those black kids lead their own struggle? Black factory workers in the 1970s had their own unions and movements, if STO wanted to get involved. The real Sojourner Truth didn't need white people to tell her she was oppressed. From the masses to the masses, not from the students to.. nobody. To the internet, to the secret police informers.

1:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only true Maoist party
others are bourgeois imposters

5:40 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All this anti-student, anti-white posturing is just some faux radical version of the outside agitator thesis degenerated for sectarian purposes.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds." - MLK Jr.

11:19 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Poor Paul Holmes will die as a worm wriggling in his own dust created by his own pooh Oh poor Paul where colourblindness has left his soul to rot in its own filth of the lack of education of the world as he grew up confined in the space of his own mind like little NZ a town of the old world.

2:21 am  
Blogger Nirupama Pillai said...

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