Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Garden of the Tale: 'The Ancient Ones Said They Were Ready Now'

          The electoral crisis in The Commonhope of UZ -- that fictional country much like our own -- draws to a head as my serial novel "The Country/The Country" moves toward a climax on the eve of the November 6 Congressional elections. Mr. Pig, the autocratic candidate who manipulates his country's creaky Voting system -- intimidating opposition voters and casting a mind-control spell over his own supporters -- orders his backers to march on the nation's Capital and install him as their new leader. In the darkness before dawn Citizen Keel broods on taking matters in his own hands in a wholly uncharacteristic act of violence. But in her hideout in the hills, opposition leader and seer Mrs. Nathan calls on ancient spirits for assistance and receives a message, from somewhere, concerning "a wall of flesh."  

          We're in the final week of my serial novel "The Country/The Country," with postings scheduled for today, Friday, and Monday, Nov. 5  -- the day before the Congressional elections.
           I appreciate the support and words of encouragement I've received from numerous readers. Some of you took the time to write generous reviews and post them on the novel's online home. I thank you again for your attention and your kindness. 
           Here's an excerpt from Chapter 45. We begin with the drama taking place in the thoughts of the seer Mrs Nathan:  

The ancient ones said they were ready now.
            Nothing worked the way it used to, of course, when the world was young. The world had not been young for some time now. Still, it was there, going on anyoldwhichway. That was something.
            Some of the ancient ones were tired of being ancient. Renewal was the only answer, they argued. Build it anew. Time for 'a new.'
            New what? someone asked.
            Not up to us, the others demurred. Our job was to do a job we were set up to do. It's not to knock things over and start up everything from scratch all over again.
            Well whose job is it, then?
            Don't know. Probably something stronger, and younger. Like a comet, maybe
            Are comets young?
            Who knows? Maybe a hole 'nother yoo-niverse young.
            So what do we do, just wait around to be destroyed?
            Created? Destroyed? All that's beyond our understanding. It's not our business.
            We really don't know anything, do we?
            No, we don't. You're right. We don't even know what we look like. In order to do that you have to be someone else to do the looking.
            Now how can you be someone else and still be yourself?
            Can't. Be like stepping on your own feet.
            Swallowing your own tongue, another one said.
            Actually, people do that.
            Really? Gross!

It had been harder, harder than she remembered, to get their attention. Was that because she was older as well?
            But, hey, they were the ancient ones. They shouldn't have any problem with 'old.'
            Still, she argued (with herself), if you pursue something that isn't ready yet, you simply push it further away. You cannot grasp the ineffable with both hands and pull it from its hiding place. You only cause it to shrink away and hide deeper in the darkness, which is always there, which is spinning toward the dawn in its own good time. You have to wait.
            But it was hard to wait.
            Sometimes Mrs. Nathan found it hard as well merely to keep her eyes open. She did not wish to miss the call when, eventually, it came. It was hardest of all to remain powerless as the Leading Candidate moved toward what was clearly meant to be the Last Campaign. The minds of her followers, the workers and messengers of her hive, have supplied her with images enough to show her what was happening in the darker, scheming mind of the One Who Would Be Ruler.
            She saw, if darkly, the shadows of his intentions. How they loomed across the country. She saw the smokes and fires in those intentions. She saw the monuments rise to the new ruler. She saw the divisions darken between those who brought great bags of numbers to the tower of the ruler, and those whose fortunes were filled with holes. She saw the sands run through their fingers. Saw the tatters of their communities. Derelict factories, empty houses. Abandoned villages.
            The peoples who had not favored the new Ruler separated, willingly or not, from those who did, their opportunities shrinking. She saw masses of the disfavored 'others' cleansed from the land. Gathered into herds and driven from their homes toward the borders of other realms, smaller, less powerful countries that the Ruler forced to accept these deportees. Though these lands did not want them since they had people enough of their own. Still, they were driven.    Fences pierced. Borders crossed. People herded, forced along by men in uniform bearing weapons.
            She saw the Permanent Campaign, leather-lunged followers cheering decorated representatives of ACE, Ass-kicking Community Enforcers, the ruler's favored arm of government.
            She saw other men, armed men, walking the streets of UZ's cities and towns with the slouching superiority of the conquerors. The New Force with its new uniforms of a dirty northern green, the boreal green of the cold, polar-tending places, patrolling the streets with automatic weapons. Given a wide berth by ordinary folk, the permanently occupied citizens of the Commonhope of UZ.
            New armies rise, restless for purpose, domination, spreading the gospel of strength.
            She saw the Festivals of Money. Grand, palatial interiors inside the transparent many-storied towers of the New Wealth, mirrored and chandeliered, fitted with ice sculptures and artificial waterfalls; with cascading gardens of hanging flowers made of vinyl, where snowfalls of paper currency floated down from the balconies to the laugh-choking, breathless hysteria of the costumed guests, wearing the gowns and uniforms of Long-Past Eras of wealth and ostentation: the bangles and boas, and feathers and cockades and robes, and caped splendors of the regal courts of ancient regimes... Saw them squealing and laughing and scurrying and squabbling among themselves to gather up huge handfuls of the carelessly dispossessed wealth of the nation.

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Garden of History: In America, Political Violence Comes from The Right, not from The Left

Terrorizing people for their political beliefs weakens the bonds that hold our society together. It doesn’t matter whether the bombs or the bullets come from the right or the left.
           The pathetic Trump-loving wacko who last week mailed what appear to be explosive devices — or dummy devices intended to intimidate — to prominent Democratic politicians and high-profile party supporters continues a tradition of abusing the US mail that goes back to desperate attacks on the corporate and government establishment by a radical band of desperate anarchists.
          One hundred years ago anarchist bombings sent shock waves through the American public, unsettled both powerful figures and the ordinary citizens, prompted heavy-handed, wide-ranging retaliations, and ultimately led to the wrongful convictions of Sacco and Vanzetti, those early 20th century martyrs to racial and political injustice.
          (Photo above: Federal agents round up immigrants in search for ‘dangerous bomb-throwing’ radicals.)
          Last week a Florida resident apparently living in his van was charged with sending package bombs to at least a dozen prominent Democratic political figures and celebrities who have publicly criticized the current occupant of the White House. (The Boston Globe headlined its Oct. 27 story “Trump backer arrested over mail bombs.”)
          Letter bombs have a scary history in this country. The Unabomber specialized in them, targeting establishment figures in business and academia over two decades in the 80s and 90s in a misguided attempt to spark a ‘revolution’ against modern technology. His bombs killed three people and injured 23. Other extremists used the mail to send infectious disease germs or poisons to government figures or the entire US Congress after nine-eleven.
           But the wave of mailed explosives taking place in an earlier period of social upheaval almost exactly 100 years ago left a bigger scar on the national psyche.
           In April of 1919, a group calling itself “the Anarchist Fighters” used the US Postal Service to mail more than 30 bombs to politicians, a few judges, and prominent capitalists such as John D. Rockefeller. Neither a Rockefeller nor a high office holder opens their own mail, of course, and none of these handmade bombs reached or harmed their intended target. One of the bombs, unhappily, blew off the hands of a maid who was opening it in the home of a Georgia senator; the senator’s wife suffered minor injuries. Those were the only injuries sustained. Weaponry, bombs, and technology were far less advanced than they are today, and some of those bombs simply didn’t go off. Then the Postal Service quickly caught on to the scheme and intercepted 16 others before they reached their destinations.
           Weaponizing the mails to attack the American establishment was the tactic of an extreme left-wing group, whose ‘open war’ against the US government had its origins in the major social and economic consequences caused by the rapid industrialization of post-Civil War America. The profound change in American society from a nation of small farmers and artisans to an economy of replaceable-part factory workers led to the accumulation of great wealth in the hands of a few, increasing numbers of poorly paid and ill-treated workers, and a consequent sharpening of social divisions.
             A second major social shake-up in America’s social order followed a new wave of European immigration, even heavier than earlier migrations, that brought millions of people from Southern and Easter Europe to a country with a fast-growing economy. Jobs, however poorly paid, brought these immigrants to this country, just as contemporary America’s desperation-wage, low-end economy draws them from Central America and Third World countries today.
Italians, Germans, Russians, Jews, Poles and nationals of other Old World lands (on top of a continued flow from Ireland and the British Isles), brought foreign cultures, religions, new political thinking, and social tensions to a nation of majority white Protestants and assorted under-classes. Among the new socio-political theories that diagnosed society’s ills and proposed a revolutionary solution was “anarchism” — the rejection of all established institutions — in its many flavors and national accents.
In the late 19th century workers rights and anti-capitalist movements gained traction among immigrant groups, as they did also among many of the native poor and exploited. Big business, a powerful political force in the dominant Republican party, encouraged immigration to keep the labor pool large and wages low. If you didn’t wish to work for long hours under poor conditions for little more than bare subsistence wages, then the next desperate new arrival was ready to take your job. In response, economic and social philosophies such as Marxism that criticized the greed of ownership and the impoverishment of the working class took root.
          We’re familiar with these terms today — socialism, communism, anarchism — but they were new to Americans then.
The battle ground where these ideas confronted the resistance of big money and the (still extant) alliance of big business and major political parties was the factory strike. Police and militia were commonly mobilized to ‘protect the property’ of owners against strikers, as bloody battles were fought on the picket lines.
            The use of explosives entered this industrial combat when somebody threw a bomb — though almost certainly not the anarchists who were scapegoated and later executed for this act — that killed a policeman during the infamous Haymarket strike in Chicago in 1886. The explosion touched off a riot that killed 11 people when police started firing at a crowd of demonstrators.
           Bombs shake a people’s trust in their society’s promise of normative civil peace. Civil society seeks a quick, dramatic response by authorities, the restoration of order, the punishment of the guilty. If the guilty are hard to find and criminality impossible to prove, people will settle for punishment exacted on those who ‘might have’ committed the crime, or were in sympathy with the crime, or merely shared the same general ideas as those they believe to be guilty. Or, at last resort, those who come from the same ethnic or ideological community as the people generally held to be disrupters of public order.
          Acts of political violence — regardless of who commits them — provoke worse violence to come. That’s the lesson of the infamous Haymarket trial, a lesson we are still failing to learn.
The Haymarket bomb-thrower was probably pleased by the outcome of his crime: Eleven anarchists, including many who were not part of the demonstration where the explosion took place, were tried and hanged.
          Other examples of the cost of politically motivated violence abound. Another bomb, on another continent — this one planted by Serbian nationalists seeking independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire — killed an Austrian royal and sparked World War I, the Western world’s first truly massive indulgence in self-destruction.
          When the United States entered the World War in 1917 to protect the finances of American banks that had loaned heavily to the Allies (England, France, Italy), the social costs of war came to this country, driving serious wedgesinto America’s communal bonds. People of German descent, a well-established and prosperous community, were treated as enemies and outcasts, some driven from their homes.
          An even more widely felt impact was the general repression of basic civil liberties, including freedom of speech, the press, and assembly, when Congress passed blatantly unconstitutional laws aimed at banning all criticism of America’s participation in the war and the institution of a draft.
           These laws and their broad-brush enforcement planted the roots of the federal government’s hysterical fixation on so-called ‘subversive’ left-wing ideologies and organizations, an obsession that haunts and hamstrings American civil society to this day.
The government doubled down on repressing political criticism when it came from the mouths, presses, or rallies of new immigrants or the descendants of those ‘second wave’ communities: Italians, Russians, Jews, Poles, and other Eastern and Southern Europeans. Anarchists, with their frightening European reputation for assassinating heads of state, particularly ignited fears. The Serbian whose bomb ignited World War I was also an anarchist. An anarchist had killed a Russian czar; another assassinated the King of Italy. And an American President, William McKinley, was killed in 1901 by a young anarchist of Polish descent, Leon Czolgosz.
           And when new investigative bodies were invented by the federal government to stamp out wartime dissent, soon morphing into the FBI, the dissident group they feared and focused on most was a ‘small’ collection — the adjective that is practically redundant, since all anarchist networks are ‘small’ — of Italian speakers led by a fiery ‘maestro’ named Luigi Galleani. A prolific theorist and writer, Galleani earned his reputation as a near-martyr to state violence when he was shot in the eye by police on a picket line in New Jersey. He subsequently left the US for Canada, then slipped back across the border, and operated his printing press, producing an influential Italian-language periodical, from a small town in Vermont. His influence was strong among Italian radicals in New England.
          One of his most famous publications centered on a recipe for bomb-making. Scholars of the movement believe that Galleani’s notions of aggressively confronting government repression motivated members of the Boston-based anarchist gruppo to which shoemaker Nicolo Sacco and laborer Bartolomeo Vanzetti belonged. Given the later prominence of their case, many have argued that Sacco and Vanzetti were probable believers in Galleani’s justification for political violence.
          American law, however, makes a Constitutional distinction (as does English common law) between what you think and say and talk about with your intimates, and what you actually do.
          What Luigi Galleani told his followers after the United States entered World War I was that workers should not allow themselves to be drafted to fight a war that serves the interests of the bosses, not their own. Why should American workers fight German workers when the common enemy was the capitalists?
Since wartime laws (a Patriots Act forerunner) made criticizing the draft a crime, Galleani was prosecuted for his acts of speech, convicted, and deported to Italy. Other trials and deportations followed. Emma Goldman, a Russian Jewish anarchist but also an A-list celebrity to the New York City press, was tried and deported.
            These government acts of repression and the creation of the FBI as a federal police force to investigate ‘subversives’ changed American history in fundamental ways that still hamstring political discourse on fundamental social and economic policies in this country today. Why is ours the only country in the developed world without an influential Socialist party? The only developed society without universal health care — demonized for generations as ‘socialist medicine’? The only country that refuses to restrict firearms possession in the interest of public safety?
          The suppression of anti-war dissent combined with the systematic dismantling of the ‘Galleani group’ of Italian anarchists and prosecution of its leaders ultimately led to the fear-filled domestic crisis America’s ruling class and anti-immigrant nativists in the general population were seeking to prevent. The survivors of the Galleani influenced gruppo, many of whom had left wartime America for Mexico or Canada, filtered back into the US when the war ended in 1918, and some nucleus of these reconstituted themselves as “the Anarchist Fighters.” Declaring that the American government’s repression had left them no course of peaceful resistance, they determined — as stated in the leaflets that accompanied their bombs — to reply to the aggression of their enemies with violence of their own.
            After their mailed bombs produced headline hysteria but did little harm to their enemies, they launched a second attack two months later, this time hand-delivering explosives to chosen targets. These explosives were targeted to government officials who had endorsed the laws that criminalized anarchist speech or assisted in the deportation of anarchist figures such as Galleani and Goldman.
Eight bombs went off this time, the headliner being the explosion that destroyed much of the home of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, whose office was in charge of the prosecutions of anarchists and other war protestors. Palmer and his family luckily escaped injury. A search through the wreckage for evidence came up with the likely identity of the bomber, who had accidentally blown himself up while planting the bomb. A young associate of Galleani by the name of Carlo Valdinoci, he was already being hunted by the FBI. They found his scalp in the wreckage.
          While the damage and injuries the anarchists’ bombs caused were slight, the enduring consequences proved severe for many radicals and workers’ organizations who agreed with the bombers’ critique of America’s money-dominated class system. The government’s response was a broad-based attack on those who openly supported strikes and unions, criticized the war, and believed the very rich should share their wealth with the workers who produced it. The heavy hand of repression also fell on immigrant groups whose only crime was making native-born Americans nervous.
           Acting on his own authority, but with widespread public support from a frightened and outraged American public whipped up the hysterical support of newspaper editors — who generally fostered a string-’em-up mentality — Palmer’s revenge cut a wide swath through immigrant communities, reasoning that these harbored the subversives. The so-called ‘Palmer Raids,’ marked by exaggerated threat-rhetoric, illegal searches and wholly extra-legal detentions, rounded up foreign-speaking men on ‘suspicion’ of violating the wartime espionage and sedition acts. Almost 4,000 people were detained without evidence for any charge — including hundreds kept on an island in Boston Harbor under inhuman conditions. Of these more than 500 aliens were deported, before federal judges stepped in and shut down these abuses of authority.
          The long shadow of the Anarchist Fighters’ futile war on the government not only fueled worse repressions, but led to the judicial lynching of two of their allies — Sacco and Vanzetti — who were accused of committing a crime no anarchist would stoop to: robbing the weekly pay of workers in a shoe factory in Braintree, Massachusetts. The two Italian anarchists fell afoul of a police stakeout of another anarchist’s hideout, and since they were admitted anarchists themselves they fit a local police chief’s preconception of the kind of people who would commit a daylight robbery and kill the paymaster and his guard.
          For the small-town police chief the equation was simple: anarchists equal criminals. Given the bombing campaign by the remnant of the Galleani movement, anybody who saw the newspaper headlines probably agreed with him.
          The few witnesses who claimed they recognized the two men as members of the criminal gang that committed the crime were both unreliable and highly coached. They were the people the police discovered they had ‘something on’ and could manipulate to their purpose. No substantial evidence connected Sacco and Vanzetti to this crime, but guilt by association did. The two were Italian anarchists, and an American-born jury thought any anarchists, particularly Italian ones, should pay for their kind’s attack on American institutions.
          While the Anarchist Fighters’ ‘war’ with against the government might have provided some satisfaction for its perpetrators, their turn to violence did no one any good. Workers and the poor gained nothing from it. Government police gained justification for bigger budgets, though their efforts neither apprehended the bombers nor made anyone safer. Constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties largely returned when the war hysteria was over. The survivors of the Galleani network went back to Italy, or otherwise ‘moved on.’
          But the American government’s fixation on ‘subversion’ from the left also moved on to new targets. The FBI and right-wing Congressmen hunted for members or supporters of the Communist Party during the infamous “McCarthy period” and otherwise harassed and black-listed liberals who chose to back Marxist parties in the fight against fascism in Europe. Well after World War II, the FBI attempted to make anti-Communism and harassment of left-wing intellectuals a nationalistic religion. This obsession was followed by a blatantly racist infiltration, harassment, and entrapment of civil rights and Black nationalist organizations. Government police infamously tried to and frame and smear Martin Luther King,in defense of the segregationist status quo in the South.
           Today Trump backers warn against ‘left-wing mobs.’
            Really? Where can I join up?
            The truth of the matter is that for three generations the real threats of political violence have come from right-wing haters rather than left-wing radicals.
            The bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building was the work of ‘anti-government’ fanatics. Many more people died in this single act than from all the actions of early 20th century anarchists.
Racist anti-Civil Rights extremists murdered civil rights activists and blew up children in a Birmingham church. Somehow the FBI never managed to infiltrate these groups and prevent these killings.
             More recently a white racist seeking by his own testimony to start a race war killed innocent African-American worshipers in a South Carolina church.
             This is a list to which, unhappily, we can all probably think of more examples to add.
              Last week the demented Florida Trump-nut added to the list of right-wing hate crimes by sending ‘pipe bombs’ to prominent Democrats.
              We also learned from news sources that a report by a Department of Homeland Security team almost a decade ago warned against the growing threat of violence from right-wing extremists. Republicans, however, prevented its public release, arguing its conclusion reflected badly on conservatives. [See https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2018/10/27/1807737/-We-were-warned-but-Republicans-killed-the-messenger?utm_campaign=trending?detail=emaildkre ]
              So much, apparently, for public safety.
              And last weekend a consumer of hate-speech on unabashedly hate-speaking, racist and anti-Semitic websites offered his own example of Violence from the Right. The consequence was the death of 11 Americans taking part in a religious ceremony in Pittsburgh.
               Yes, ordinary law-aiding Americans have reason to fear that politically motivated violence will mar the civil peace and safety that all societies must maintain and protect. Out history underlines this sad truth.
                But our government has always been looking in the wrong direction.