“Chavez Recruits Chaplin for a Lesson in Revolution”

From the article by Andrew Buncombe: 

Charlie Chaplin’s classic black-and-white movie Modern Times highlighted the exploitation and horrendous conditions faced by US factory workers during the Depression. Venezuela’s leader Hugo Chavez believes it is as relevant today as it ever was.

Charlie Chaplain in ‘Modern Times’

At factories and meeting halls across Caracas, Mr Chavez’s government has been showing the film to workers to expose what he believes are the evils of capitalism, and cement support for his socialist administration.

“I definitely think that what he is doing is to show the workers there what capitalism is about,” said Gregory Wilpert, editor of venezuelanalys.com. “It is to reinforce the socialist ideas that his government has recently been proclaiming.”

Officials said the 1936 silent film starring Chaplin, Paulette Goddard and Henry Bergman, has been shown about 1,000 times since January in 14 different states to educate workers who have little knowledge about their health and safety rights in the workplace. One Venezuelan official said that 1,500 workers died and thousands more were injured annually in factory accidents. One scene in the movie shows Chaplin’s character, the Little Tramp, being pulled through a huge machine as he seeks to tighten a bolt.

“Once inside the factory, workers had no meaningful rights,” Richard Shickel, a film critic, told The Los Angeles Times. “It was very relevant in the moment it was released, a time of social unrest and the emerging US labour movement.”

In Venezuela, business owners are outraged….

Upton Sinclair — Mammonart — Ch. II cont. — Who Owns the Artists?

The book purposes to investigate the whole process of art creation, and to place the art function in relation to the sanity, health and progress of mankind. It will attempt to set up new canons in the arts, overturning many of the standards now accepted. A large part of the world’s art treasures will be taken out to the scrap-heap, and a still larger part transferred from the literature shelves to the history shelves of the world’s library.

Since childhood the writer has lived most of his life in the world’s art. For thirty years he has been studying it consciously, and for twenty-five years he has been shaping in his mind the opinions here recorded; testing and revising them by the art-works which he has produced, and by the stream of other men’s work which has flowed through his mind. His decisions are those of a working artist, one who has been willing to experiment and blunder for himself, but who has also made it his business to know and judge the world’s best achievements.

The conclusion to which he has come is that mankind is today under the spell of utterly false conceptions of what art is and should be; of utterly vicious and perverted standards of beauty and dignity. We list six great art lies now prevailing in the world, which this book will discuss:

Continue reading Upton Sinclair — Mammonart — Ch. II cont. — Who Owns the Artists?

The Establishment Goes To Hell

Or, actually, simply remains there — as guided by Dante and Robert Freeman:

In his book, The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Dante describes successive circles of Hell intended for successively villainous sinners. The higher circles punish only minor sins: gluttony; lust; avarice. The deeper circles are reserved for those who have committed more egregious sins: adultery; usury; betrayal. It is the archetypal rendering of the Medieval taxonomy of Punishment.

Our modern world has its own circles of hell. But, as befits a secular society, our schema is tailored to our modern, secular obsession: money. It is just as surely progressive as Dante’s Inferno in the depths to which the sinner must descend, but, without the moral freighting that only religion can provide, its punishments are clinical, mundane. They bespeak not shades of Eternal Damnation but, rather, the stages of National Decline….

Problems of the North — Learn from the South?

We hear a steady stream of progressives say that progressives need to “learn from the South” where they are having more success at social change — Venezuela, in particular — but much less frequently do we hear what exactly there is to learn; except it is sometimes noted that people are less isolated, and therefore talk to one another more, and therefore are able to facilitate change more — it has become a cliche, however valid.

What often goes unsaid is that a big part of what allows more unity and motivation for change in the South is poverty, also sometimes the church, also sometimes race. One point of fact is that much (though not all) of this does not so much apply to the U.S. where the overarching oppressive structure is managed mainly by people of the majority race, where the church, etc, is often more culturally marginalized than in the South (and anyway faith is dangerous, in my view), and a far smaller percentage of the population is outright poor.

Or take an opposite case in the U.S.: Starr County, Texas — where I lived and worked for 5 years — it’s one of the most impoverished counties in the U.S., some years _the_ most impoverished county, as a measure of per capita income — it’s also almost 98 percent Hispanic (and the Valley in Texas is majority Hispanic) the highest percentage of any U.S. county. Well, a few years ago there was an almost 100 percent vote “yes” in Starr County to approve a 99 million dollar bond issue to expand a small community college branch there and the much larger community college facilities in the neighboring county. About 10 percent of the bond issue went to Starr County, but if not for the Starr vote the entire bond would have failed, because it did fail in the other much larger county that could vote, Hidalgo, where it was/would have been defeated by a push from wealthier sectors. So in Starr County, the scourge of extreme poverty and unemployment apparently motivated the difference in the vote.

And church based efforts in Hidalgo County — notably by Valley Interfaith — have successfully gained living wage laws in the area. Whereas I believe all such efforts have failed in, say, Houston, where New Party and ACORN have made attempts. And so in Hidalgo County, primarily the involvement of Catholic church members in labor politics makes the difference, perhaps along with some other racial/cultural cohesiveness.

With church, and poverty, and racial/cultural unity, you’ve got some effective solidarity and motivation. And that’s a big part of what has facilitated change in this sector of the South in the U.S, and it seems in the larger Latin American South as well.

So what can the bulk of the U.S. learn from this? Sure, _something_ can be learned, and it’s useful to make the effort, but it may be too that progressives in most of the U.S. need to learn most from where they already are, and realize that a lot of what they are doing is what they in fact ought to be doing.

What can progressives learn from the South? Well, probably not that they should seek to increase poverty, increase religion, and increase majority race identification in the North — probably not that they should or could act in the North on what exists moreso in the South.

Sure, progressives have plenty to learn from the South — the importance of effective communication and real economic and political understanding and action, not least — but there are others — e.g., the majority of the people who make up the military and the churches in the U.S. — who have more to both learn and act on in regard to the successes of the South and the reality of the world and their country. First they have to see the state of things for what it is, and then change the repressive and oppressive roles of the powerful institutions that they put much time and energy into.

Unless the military and the church grow out of many of their status quo enforcing and repressive ways – and for that matter unless the schools and universities and the labor force generally do so as well (not to mention the rest of the “liberal” and “conservative” establishment, who, I suppose, along with the police, will be among the last to change, by force) — it’s not clear that any amount of learning by progressives about the South will have widespread decisive effect. The greater poverty of the South gives it more motivation to change, and probably more economic and political consciousness — to an extent.

That seemed to me at least to be the case in Starr County — due to its stark impoverishment, extreme unemployment. But the North at large will have to find other means of motivation for transforming its social and cultural institutions, I think — the threat to the environment, the threat of nuclear war, the “blowback” threat of U.S. militancy….

Sound familiar? In fact, progressives ought to continue a lot of what they are already doing in this regard: pressuring the military, pressuring the churches, challenging their colleagues and the various bureaucracies in the schools and universities and the workplace generally, and working with the electorate and others to create change.

Condi Powerdrunk — The Secretary of (the failed) State

Like so many of her fellow Patriots, she never saw a bomb she didn’t like, never saw a land she wouldn’t reduce to bare sand. She never saw a human right she would let stand when fixed on the goal of getting oil (and blood) on her hands. I hear she likes a good book — well, let her recite the Book of Blood, the one she knows so well by heart. And so the old tales goes, the one that plays time and again — she and her colleagues are the pleasant symptoms of the neo-feudal system of our day, the one we let play and play, until when? Until the whole world is deCondistructed into nothing more than a pure chunk of clay?

Dick Powerdrunk — The (full of) Vice President

What to say about this stellar official? He may be one gun-blasting, murderous bombing, corporate-money-raking gun-of-a-gun, but he’s our gun-of-a-gun? What blessed land deserves this full of vice president? What contest in whose hell did we win? The corporate coffers — though not their employees’ accounts — threaten to explode with the amount of government and oil money this vice leader is cashing through. Who cares that it is stained Iraqi (etc) blood red? O to be the vice leader, and company…. Isn’t it rich?

Dick Powerdrunk — our stellar full of Vice Inc. President.

Don Powerdrunk — Cabinet Secretary of Glorious War

What more do you need to know? He helped lead the American media and the American Congress into a glorious war that the soldiers and people are so glad to have been invited along to. Oh, and of course the Iraqis couldn't be happier. I guess it only goes to show that you can conquer some of the people gloriously some of the time, even if you can't conquer all of the people all of the time. Hey, support the Generals. Tell them to "Stand Down." Now. Might spare them a future appointment with a Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Tribunal. Nothing but raw power could spare Don Powerdrunk now. Such are the glories of war, after all.

Mammonart by Upton Sinclair

From Upton Sinclair’s book of art criticism and social analysis, Mammonart (1925):

…six great art lies now prevailing in the world, which this book will discuss:

Lie Number One: the Art for Art’s Sake lie; the notion that the end of art is in the art work, and that the artist’s sole task is perfection of form….

Lie Number Two: the lie of Art Snobbery; the notion that art is something esoteric, for the few, outside the grasp of the masses….

Lie Number Three: the lie of Art Tradition; the notion that new artists must follow old models….

Lie Number Four: the lie of Art Dilettantism; the notion that the purpose of art is entertainment and diversion, an escape from reality….

Lie Number Five: the lie of the Art Pervert; the notion that art has nothing to do with moral questions….

Lie Number Six: the lie of Vested Interest; the notion that art excludes propaganda and has nothing to do with freedom and justice….

“The CIA and the Cultural Cold War”

From The Existence Machine, an excerpt of an article by James Petras on the CIA and the Cultural Cold War, reviewing Frances Stonor Saunders' book, Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War:

The CIA's cultural campaigns created the prototype for today's seemingly apolitical intellectuals, academics, and artists who are divorced from popular struggles and whose worth rises with their distance from the working classes and their proximity to prestigious foundations. The CIA role model of the successful professional is the ideological gatekeeper, excluding critical intellectuals who write about class struggle, class exploitation and U.S. imperialism, "ideological" not "objective" categories, or so they are told.

The singular lasting, damaging influence of the CIA's Congress of Cultural Freedom crowd was not their specific defenses of U.S. imperialist policies, but their success in imposing on subsequent generations of intellectuals the idea of excluding any sustained discussion of U.S. imperialism from the influential cultural and political media. The issue is not that today's intellectuals or artists may or may not take a progressive position on this or that issue. The problem is the pervasive belief among writers and artists that anti-imperialist social and political expressions should not appear in their music, paintings, and serious writing if they want their work to be considered of substantial artistic merit. The enduring political victory of the CIA was to convince intellectuals that serious and sustained political engagement on the left is incompatible with serious art and scholarship.

Chavez and Venezuelan film studio

Puts one in a bit in the mind of Hallie Flanagan and the Federal Theatre Project, including the Living Newspaper:

AP CARACAS, Venezuela – President Hugo Chavez inaugurated a Venezuelan film studio Saturday to counter what he called Hollywood's cultural "dictatorship."

Chavez announced $11 million in funds for the complex as he toured movie sets, costume rooms and sat in a director's chair — all part of Venezuela's new "cultural artillery" to combat U.S. domination, he said.

"It's a Hollywood dictatorship," he said. "They inoculate us with messages that don't belong to our traditions … (about) the American way of life, imperialism."

He accused Hollywood movies of stereotypes that cast Venezuela and other Latin American countries as violent havens for criminals and drug traffickers.

Chavez has pledged to use Venezuela's oil wealth to battle what he calls the evils of U.S.-style capitalism.

His government is the primary investor in Telesur, a television station billing itself as a Latin American alternative to corporate media outlets.

Literary Crime? What crime?

From this link, at the Times Online, Libby Purves:

. . .Bookselling is a trade; it is sad but not criminal that it operates like one, cutting deals to maximise profit. It is sad but not surprising that big booksellers do not care that their practices are widening the gulf between hyped authors and the rest, squeezing out new writers and truncating the careers of those who fail to return the publisher’s investment fast enough. "Bookselling is a trade; it is sad but not criminal that it operates like one, cutting deals to maximise profit."

Crime? Trade? "Free" trade (as it's called)? NAFTA? WTO? World Bank? Of course much "trade" is criminal, backed up by the biggest of guns, bombs, and threats, and often railed against. The book "trade" is part of that — a reflection of the larger society and economy, much of which is criminal, however legalized, and protected by force (from the marginalized, the executed, the disappeared, including those who would speak and mobilize on their behalf). Just how common knowledge this is, is indicated by the fact that the reality is noted merely in passing for the purpose of dismissing it without argument — a gesture, an effort, probably unconscious, that's comical, at best…

"cutting deals to maximise profit" — nothing criminal about that happy state of affairs, as the thriving world can attest.

"Hey mom, when I grow up, I want to 'cut deals to maximise profit'."

"Excellent, son. Just be sure to hire enough police, and military, to protect you. Try your luck in books, why don't you? I hear the police there talk a lot and don't need to carry guns."

Stop that. Brazen intrusion of reality, that the word police, or their spokespeople, and acceptable litterateurs, are quite visible, and are as busy now as ever.

Hip Hop and Social Justice

Jay Woodson, Hip Hop’s Black Political Activism

“Other than the Convention and the Caucus, Hip Hop media, academia, artists and entertainers play a critical role in the development of a Hip Hop political current. Established opportunities are The Ave magazine, The Hip Hop journal, several Hip Hop oriented websites, and socio-politically just artists. Several liberal, progressive and radical organizations are providing space for politicized Hip Hop voices not only as artists but as panelists. Organizations People for the American Way and the Center for American Progress are including Hip Hop politicos as fellows, spokespersons and organizers.”