Saturday, October 21, 2017

Ignorance

“We live, we are told, in a ‘knowledge society’ during the ‘Information Age.’ Indeed, we carry small devices that give us access to an enormous portion of human knowledge and allow us to share information, virtually instantaneously, with people around the globe. But our era has also been called the ‘Age of Ignorance.’ Thoughtful observers decry the contemporary ‘culture of ignorance’—especially, but not solely, in the United States. The contradiction is troubling and puzzling. Ignorance, it seems, is trending.
The sort of ignorance sparking concern is what might be termed public ignorance, by which I mean widespread, reprehensible ignorance of matters that are significant for our lives together. Functional illiteracy and innumeracy are examples. Such ignorance might once be explained, if not excused, by lack of educational opportunity; but that seems obtuse when applied to countries with rich educational resources. Besides, the rate of functional illiteracy may be higher in today’s America than it was in colonial New England. Stubbornly high rates of illiteracy and innumeracy are a public shame, no doubt. This is remediable ignorance. The need is for learning—except that many such forms of ignorance thrive despite years of schooling.”— Daniel R. DeNicola, Understanding Ignorance: The Surprising Impact of What We Don’t Know (MIT Press, 2017).

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Palestinian Struggle for Self-Determination & the Right of Resistance to Occupation

There are only two ways. The one currently pursued by the Israeli government, in all its agencies, is the path of violent, stubborn coercion. The extreme nationalists of the Israeli right have a vision that is easy enough to comprehend; it is embodied daily in a thousand acts and signs. They want to crush Palestinian nationalism as a historical force, and the Palestinian people as a collective; to hem the Palestinians within isolated enclaves and to cut off any hope of their sustaining a national existence with a basis on the ground; and, in the course of achieving this, to annex as much land (with as few living Palestinians attached to it) as possible. In short, this is an uncompromising vision of domination and control. The right, clinging to all the violent memories of the past, fears the Palestinians and inhabits a mental universe in which the only safe option is to attack, punish, destroy, incarcerate, and contain. Such people perceive any alternative approach or action, based on compromise and negotiation and on acknowledging one’s own responsibility for what has happened, as an existential threat. Thus they are prepared to live indefinitely with ongoing occupation, in one form or another; they are also willing to make occasional, relatively minor sacrifices, like the withdrawal from Gaza, in order to ensure the continuation of the main colonial enterprise. A regime of total control, constant application of brute force, the rape of the land—all these are acceptable, indeed necessary, if the Jews are to survive.—David Shulman, Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine (University of Chicago Press, 2007)
*           *           *
Perhaps it goes without saying, but I’ll say it: a nation lacks the political, let alone moral, authority to ask or demand (as part of one or more conditions, say, for negotiations or ending its aggression or repressive forms policing or ‘security’) groups or organizations struggling for collective self-determination to renounce all use of violence to achieve their ends—particularly if that denial of self-determination is, as is often the case, part and parcel of outside and more powerful parties systematically failing to recognize their human rights: civil, political, social, cultural, and economic—all the more so if the demanding state itself achieved collective self-determination through violent means (war, rebellion, revolution, terrorism, what have you) or typically resorts to violence when conventional and nonviolent political methods (diplomacy, negotiation, sanctions, etc.) fail or, and often relatedly, employs state violence to assert its political will on other nations (for whatever reason: ideological domination, regime change, resource exploitation, a more congenial economic environment …). Conceding this does not amount to an implicit or roundabout justification or warrant for the particular means of violence such groups or organizations may choose in their struggle (although it’s not difficult to understand why those who are frequently subject to state terror often defend themselves with terrorist means readily available to them) for which they are morally responsible, hence accountable (consider the Sorelian-like celebration of violence or the romantic militarism that finds easy justification for acts of terrorism).1 Indeed, it may be the case that the humanitarian-inspired constraints of just war theory (especially jus in bello) should, more or less, be applied to groups like the Palestinians in their struggle for collective self-determination (this applies as well to those seeking to secede from existing states, which I believe, with Allen Buchanan, should be understood only as a remedial right, a ‘last resort response to serious injustices’2).
Speaking of the Palestinians, it’s useful to remind ourselves that, under international law, in the words of Richard Falk, “Palestinian resistance to occupation is a legally protected right,” one that arises in the first instance from two documents: the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples and the Fourth Geneva Convention and its subsequent protocols. As argued in a couple of articles Falk co-authored with Burns Weston,
“Israel’s failures as a belligerent occupant to abide by international law amount[s] to a fundamental denial of the Palestinian right of self-determination, and more generally of respect for the framework of belligerent occupation—therefore giving rise to a Palestinian right of resistance.”
In short, Palestinians have an inalienable moral and legal right to resist an illegal and violent military occupation.
For its part, Israel has reacted to all manner of Palestinian resistance, be it violent or non-violent, with routine reliance on “excessive and disproportionate use of lethal force, including the apparent targeting of civilians and children [as well as torture and various forms of “collective punishment].” Both the creation of “facts on the ground” (e.g., ever-expanding settlements) “and the use of such force … constitute repeated and fundamental violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, violations that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Notes
1. This called to mind the following from C.A.J. Coady: “Those who enthuse about violence and war with a focus only on the virtues it may promote are like people who recognise the bonds of loyalty and honour amongst certain sorts of thieves and take this as a ground for advocating theft.” After William James, Coady reminds us, the “activities and contexts in which the virtues and values [e.g. the fight for justice, enthusiasm for action, striving and struggle, courage, perseverance against adversity, comradeship, overcoming of obstacles, solidarity, and self-sacrifice] that can be exhibited in war have a chance to be less damagingly embodied [indeed, Gandhi’s theory and praxis of nonviolence provides a compelling exemplification of this possibility].” Lest the wrong inference be made, I’m well aware that governments or government agencies often resort to terrorist methods for political purposes and, given the State’s monopoly (de jure or de facto) on the means of violence, among other reasons, the horrific consequences of its terrorist acts are far exceed (to date at least) those used by non-state political actors: guerrilla groups, rebels, revolutionaries, nationalists, etc., as any student of the indiscriminate bombing of civilians during the twentieth-century can attest.
2. Please see ch. 8, “Self-Determination and Secession,” in his book, Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination: Moral Foundations for International Law (Oxford University Press, 2004): 331-400.  Buchanan combines his Remedial Right Only Theory with a “supportive stance toward forms of self-determination within the state,” in other words, various forms of intrastate autonomy. On this, see ch. 9, “Intrastate Autonomy:” 401-424.
References and Further Reading:
  • Barghouti, Omar. BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions—The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2011. 
  • Bröning, Michael. The Politics of Change in Palestine: State-Building and Non-Violent Resistance. London: Pluto Press, 2011.  
  • Buchanan Allen. Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination: Moral Foundations for International Law. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 
  • Coady, C.A.J. Morality and Political Violence. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.  
  • Cypel, Sylvain. Walled: Israeli Society at an Impasse. New York: Other Press, 20016. 
  • Falk, Richard. “International Law and Palestinian Resistance,” in Joel Beinin and Rebecca L. Stein, eds. The Struggle for Sovereignty: Palestine and Israel, 1993-2005. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006: 315-323.  
  • Falk, Richard and Burns H. Weston, “The Relevance of International Law to Palestinian Rights in the West Bank and Gaza: In Legal Defense of the Intifada,” Harvard International Law Journal 32, no. 1 (1991): 129-150. See also Falk and Weston, “The Israeli-Occupied Territories, International Law and the Boundaries of Scholarly Discourse: A Reply to Michael Curtis," Harvard International Law Journal 33, no.1 (1992): 191-204. 
  • Lim, Audrea, ed. The Case for Sanctions Against Israel. London: Verso, 2012.  
  • Makdisi, Saree. Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2008. 
  • Pappe, Ilan. The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge. London: Verso, 2014.   
  • Shenhav, Yehouda. Beyond the Two State Solution: A Jewish Political Essay. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2012. 
  • Tilley, Virginia. Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism and International Law in the Occupied Territories. London: Pluto Press, 2012.
Further Research:
  • My bibliography for the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” is here.
  • A compilation on for “Nonviolent Resistance in the Middle East (with an emphasis on the Palestinian struggle),” is here.
  • A transdisciplinary bibliography on the “Moral, Legal, and Political Dimensions of Violent Conflict & the Laws of War,” is here.
  • A bibliography for “Zionist ideologies” is here.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Anarchism: Philosophy & Praxis — a bibliography

The first draft of my latest—82nd—bibliography, “Anarchism: Philosophy & Praxis,” is now available. The ads can be avoided if you download the pdf version in the upper right hand corner of the page. It is also now posted at ResearchGate, sans (for now at least) the advertising.

Friday, October 06, 2017

A Nobel Peace Prize We Can All Live With

Here’s a Nobel Peace Prize we can all live with:
(Reuters) – “The Norwegian Nobel Committee, warning of a rising risk of nuclear war, awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday to a little-known [well, that depends upon the circles in which one circulates] international campaign group advocating for a ban on nuclear weapons. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) describes itself as a coalition of grassroots non-government groups in more than 100 nations. It began in Australia and was officially launched in Vienna in 2007.”
  • ICAN’s website is here (and be sure to ‘like’ their FB page).
  • For readers who may not know of this, my bibliography for nuclear weapons is here.
  • The important Arms Control Law blog is here.
  • And Atomic Reporters is an independent, non-profit, incorporated in Canada at the end of 2012, operating as an officially recognised international NGO from Austria, providing substantive and non-partisan information to journalists about nuclear science and technology.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Toward a Secular Spiritual Ethics for All of Us

The section that immediately follows is excerpted from Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso [Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso] born Lhamo Thondup).
What we need today is an approach to ethics which makes no recourse to religion and can be equally acceptable to those with faith and those without: a secular ethics. [….]
I am confident that it is both possible and worthwhile to attempt a new secular approach to universal ethics. My confidence comes from my conviction that all of us, all human beings, are basically inclined or disposed toward what we perceive to be good. Whatever we do, we do because we think it will be of some benefit. At the same time, we all appreciate the kindness of others. We are all, by nature, oriented toward the basic human values of love and compassion. We all prefer the love of others to their hatred. We all prefer others’ generosity to their meanness. And who among us does not prefer tolerance, respect and forgiveness of our failings to bigotry, disrespect and resentment?
In view of this, I am of the firm opinion that we have within our grasp a way, and a means, to ground inner values without contradicting any religion and yet, crucially, without depending on religion. [….] It is my hope that doing so will help to promote understanding of the need for ethical awareness and inner values in this age of excessive materialism.
At the outset I should make it clear that my intention is not to dictate moral values. Doing that would be of no benefit. To try to impose moral principles from outside, to impose them, as it were, by command, can never be effective. Instead, I call for each of us to come to our own understanding of the importance of inner values. For it is these inner values which are the source of both an ethically harmonious world and the individual peace of mind, confidence and happiness we all seek. Of course, all the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance and forgiveness, can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I believe the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics that is beyond religion. [emphasis added]
*           *           *
In the book from which this was taken, the Dalai Lama proceeds to outline a model containing what he terms “key elements” of such a secular ethics, one that involves, among other things, the promotion of “basic human values.” This project for a (‘spiritual’) secular ethics began with an earlier work, Ethics for the New Millennium (Riverhead Books, 1999). In an interview with the editors of the journal, Rethinking Marxism, the Dalai Lama says: “I wish to develop a moral philosophy that appeals to all, even nonbelievers. Secular spirituality could be the ground for that.”* At the end of our post, I proffer some works by philosophers I think are invaluable for the development of a secular and even spiritual ethics, in other words, an ethics or morality for all of us, religious and non-religious alike, an ethics that by definition is not hostile to either religion or spirituality (its inspiration is in part provided by what the Dalai Lama describes as ‘Indian secularism,’ which entails ‘mutual tolerance and respect for all faiths as well as those of no faith’), indeed, such an ethics might even learn from or draw upon techniques and practices for “ethical living” (e.g., a ‘therapy of desire’ and ‘spiritual exercises’ like self-examination, prosoche, and mind-training or meditation) long cultivated in religious traditions.  
Toward a spiritual secular ethics for all of us
The list of titles in contemporary moral philosophy and ethics—generously construed—that I’ve assembled below is no doubt idiosyncratic and partial (I’ve left out some excellent material devoted to particular or more ‘specialized’ moral topics), its generation owing to works that have shaped my views and lifeworld. I’ve not included the many recent books on virtue ethics or “virtue theory” proper (‘currently one of three major approaches in normative ethics’), which may seem odd, given that virtue ethics is quite compatible with our most enduring religious ethical traditions, as well as classical Greek and Chinese philosophies. The reason for this exclusion does not suggest the irrelevance or comparative insignificance of virtue ethics but is owing simply to the fact that I’ve found this body of literature rather predictable and, more importantly, lacking in a robust social or political dimension, which is not to claim these studies necessarily lack implications for same, only that (at least as far as I can ascertain) their focus has not been systematically and dialectically tied to the powers, structures, and processes of the wider world affecting the terms and conditions of daily life in the intimate realm, the realm in which the various virtues of character are first learned, exemplified, and developed.
The fact that this list has, as it were, a philosophical bias, does not rule out the need for works that help translate their insights into a more accessible rhetoric or discourse (including works of fiction) for those not conversant in professional philosophy. Of course professional philosophy, especially its Anglophone variant, has been by either design or default more or less “secular,” although often that secularism has not been respectful or even tolerant of religious worldviews (cf. the ‘New Atheists’), the typical metaphysical presupposition, assumption or presumption being this or that pugnacious variation on the theme of materialism, physicalism, or naturalism, a fact that may account for the failure of moral philosophy and ethics to consider the wider “humanistic” or “spiritual” value of the techniques or practices of ethical living found within religious worldviews as well as the (‘inner’) values the Dalai Lama cites above: love, compassion, and forgiveness, for example, or, say, nonviolence, at least as that has found a prominent place in Indic religio-philosophical traditions like Jainism and Buddhism. Perhaps this is why the Dalai Lama speaks of a “new” secular approach to ethics, of “find[ing] a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics that is beyond religion.” Such an ethics, while broadly and necessarily in the main rational and reasonable, may also evidence an ability to appreciate that which is not, strictly speaking, within the province of Reason, that which is non-rational or somehow para-rational, be it the emotions (which often have a cognitive component) or assiduously acquired non-conceptual mental states (that appear to have significant psychological and physiological benefits) or aesthetic experience, all of which can be compatible with or supportive of the powers and products of reason and rationality. I’ve found three formulations or conceptions of this non-religious spirituality that are secular in the “Indian” intended by the Dalai Lama while not being dependent on any one metaphysical system or picture:
(i) “[A]t the richer end of the spectrum [of spirituality], we find the term used in connection with activities and attitudes which command widespread appeal, irrespective of metaphysical commitment or doctrinal allegiance. Even the most convinced atheist may be prepared to avow an interest in the ‘spiritual’ dimension of human existence, if that dimension is taken to cover forms of life that put a premium on certain kinds of intensely focused moral and aesthetic response, or on the search for deeper reflective awareness of the meaning of our lives and of our relationship to others and to the natural world.”—John Cottingham in The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy, and Human Value (2005)
(ii) In Mad and Divine: Spirit and Psyche in the Modern World (2009) the Indian psychoanalyst and writer Sudhir Kakar, reminds us that
“Spirituality, like culture, has many definitions and yet manages to give a sense of familiarity to most of us. For me, the spiritual occupies a continuum from moments of self-transcendence marked by loving connection to an object—nature, art, visions of philosophy or science, the beloved in sexual embrace—to the mystical union of saints where the sense of the self completely disappears. The spiritual, then, incorporates the transformative possibilities of the human psyche: total love without a trace of hate, selflessness carved out of the psyche’s normal self-centeredness, a fearlessness that is not a counter-phobic reaction to the fear that is an innate part of the human psyche.”
Finally, from the neurosurgeon, and philosopher Grant Gillett:
(iii) “Spirituality lifts our eyes from the possibilities defined by the everyday and economic. The divine wind recalls the breath that gives us life and the cleansing water that allows healing and refreshment in the arid wastes of suffering is a figure with meaning that goes beyond the material. In the most unlikely places we find loving and transformative touches, that are the things of the spirit in that they are ways not only of understanding but also beatifying what we do, however bloody, messy and unromantic it is. We are beset by directives and discourses that reduce, demean, and obscure our humanity, that are not noble, uplifting, inspiring, and fulfilling. We can render life in operational (or narrowly functional) terms and make it tolerable through escapism and pleasure but there is another way. We live and love in a world where real tragedies happen, real joy is found, and real connections are forged through time and across barriers of culture and position. In those things we discover the resonance in ourselves of inscriptions, utterances, and works that deepen our understanding.” — Grant Gillett, Subjectivity and Being Somebody: Human Identity and Neuroethics (2008)
Indeed, now we might better understand why the Dalai Lama, whose own worldview is avowedly part Marxist, calls for a non-religious yet “spiritual ethics.” In a discussion of the birth of Marxist ideas, the Dalai Lama highlights “the sensibility and concern for the well-being of the majority, of the needy, of the poor, of the suffering people,” one finds in Marx’s writings and among at least some Marxists, going so far as to state that there is “some kind of spirituality in Marxism.” He proceeds to distinguish two conceptions of spirituality; the first is tied to a conventional portrait of faith and belief as critical to specific religious worldviews and to “certain mysterious things of life,” a picture familiar to both adherents and students of religion. The second sort of spirituality is secular in the “Indian” sense above and is markedly “practical” or, in his words, “spirituality as everyday practice,” expressing a profound sense of “concern over the other’s well-being.”
In brief, our individual and collective quest for a reliable moral compass and ethical ways of living is one that can (and should) be both secular and spiritual in the sense briefly sketched above without making any exclusive commitment to a particular religious worldview or metaphysical picture that claims a monopoly on truth (hence it is metaphysically agnostic or relativist, pluralist, and tolerant in the Jain sense, which remains truth-apt). At the same time, our ethical outlook, while articulated within the framework of reason and rationality and thus beholden to the European Enlightenment, has been sufficiently humbled if not duly chastised following a century of world wars, holocausts, colonialism, genocide, ruthless dictatorships, post-imperialism, indiscriminate and terrorist violence, environmental degradation, conspicuous consumption alongside disadvantage and poverty, and so forth and so on. And yet
“[i]t is … implausible to imagine the ascendancy of Western philosophy as the result of nothing more than naked power. Ideas themselves possess power. Darwin’s theory of evolution, Locke’s concept of liberty, Kant’s categorical imperative, Marx’s critique of capitalism—such ideas caught the global imagination not simply because they could hitch a ride on the back empire but also because they provided a persuasive explanation about how the natural world might work, or because they addressed urgent or political needs. Consider the concept of universalism. This was not the product of Western imperialism [as one might infer from Postcolonial Theory and Subaltern Studies]. Its origins lie in the ancient world, elements to be found in Stoicism, Buddhism, and Mohism. Greek notions of universalism and cosmopolitanism became filtered through Christianity and Islam before becoming secularized in the Enlightenment. What made Enlightenment universalism different was not simply the intellectual content … but also the social context. In the ancient world universalism could be nothing more than a dream or a desire because social constraints precluded the possibility of realizing it. Modernity brought with it the possibility of breaking such constraints.
The intellectual, economic, social and political revolutions that swept through Europe from the seventeenth century onwards laid the foundations for the soaring power of a handful of European nations. They made possible a new kind of empire with unprecedented global reach. They created also the intellectual and social mechanism for challenging that power and that empire, conjuring up new kinds of collectives, new forms of collective action, and new moral and political ideals, such as those of liberty, equality, democracy and rights. Or, to put it another way, what made Enlightenment ideas truly universal was that they became weapons in the hands of those who fought Western imperialism, as Toussaint L’Ouverture and many others recognized. The ideals of liberty, equality, and democracy and rights are not specific to the West. They were applicable to Haitians, to Indians and to South Africans. They are, today, applicable to the Chinese. [….]
[With modernity] … new possibilities of social transformation were opened up, as people rejected the idea of a society as a given, so ought became a political, as much as a moral, demand. People asked themselves not simply ‘What moral claims are rational given the social structure?,’ but also, ‘What social structures are rational?’ What kind of society, what types of social institutions, what forms of social relations, will best allow human beings to flourish?
The capacity to ask and to answer such questions has been nourished by two kinds of development. The first has been the creation of new forms of social conversation [including what Gerald Gaus terms, after Rawls and others, the ‘order of public reason’]. Political and moral debate moved out from the confines of a small elite and became central to the very functioning of societies. From the printing press to the mass media, from political parties to social networking, a range of mechanisms has helped transform the constituency that is able to engage in such debates and the kinds of debate in which it can engage. At the same time, new tools have been fashioned, from the democratic process to revolutionary movements, from labour strikes to national liberation struggles, to enable people to act upon those social conversations to remake social conditions, to try to lever the world from the way it was to the way it should be.
These two developments helped take moral claims beyond the subjective and the relative. The new kinds of social conversations flourished not just within societies but between societies too. They became more universal, detached from specific social structures. At the same time, the mechanisms of social transformation enhanced the universalist possibilities inherent in new social conversations, Social change had meaning beyond the boundaries of a particular community or society. The idea of democracy had universal significance. The reverberations of the French Revolution were felt throughout Europe and, indeed, well beyond Europe. A protest movement in Tunisia helped provoke the ‘Arab Spring’ throughout North Africa and the Middle East.
Questions of morality do not have objective answers in the way that scientific questions do, but neither are they merely expressions of subjective desire or taste. To say that torture is wrong or truthfulness is good is qualitatively different from saying that light travels at 299,792,458 metres per second or that DNA is a double helix. It is also different from saying that ice cream is good or Barry Manilow execrable. [….] Moral questions may not have objective answers but they do have rational ones, answers rooted in a rationality that emerges out of social need. To bring reason to bear upon social relations, to define a rational answer to a moral question, requires social engagement and collective action. It is the breakdown over the past century of such engagement and such action that has proved so devastating for moral thinking.”—Kenan Malik, The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics (Atlantic Books, 2014).
* Please see Anup Dhar, Anjan Chakrabarti, and Serap Kayatekin, “Crossing Materialism and Religion: An Interview on Marxism and Spiritual with the Fourteenth Dalai Lama,” Rethinking Marxism, Vol. 28, Nos 3-4: 584-598. All further quotations from the Dalai Lama are from this interview.
Recommended Reading:
  • Audi, Robert. The Good in the Right: A Theory of Intuition and Intrinsic Value (Princeton University Press, 2004).
  • Baier, Annette C. Moral Prejudices: Essays on Ethics (Harvard University Press, 1994).
  • Baier, Annette C. Reflections on How We Live (Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • Coady, C.A.J. Messy Morality: The Challenge of Politics (Oxford University Press, 2008).
  • Cooper, John M. Pursuits of Wisdom: Six Ways of Life in Ancient Philosophy from Socrates to Plotinus (Princeton University Press, 2012).
  • Darwall, Stephen L. The Second-Person Standpoint: Morality, Respect and Accountability (Harvard University Press, 2006).
  • Elster, John. Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions (Cambridge University Press, 1999).
  • Ganeri, Jonardon and Clare Carlisle, eds. Philosophy as Therapeia (Royal Institute of Philosophy: 66) (Cambridge University Press, 2010).
  • Gaus, Gerald. The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom and Morality in a Diverse and Bounded World (Cambridge University Press, 2011).
  • Gillett, Grant. Subjectivity and Being Somebody: Human Identity and Neuroethics (Imprint Academic, 2008).
  • Goodin, Robert E. Protecting the Vulnerable: A Reanalysis of Our Social Responsibilities (Chicago University Press, 1985).
  • Goodin, Robert E. Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1995).
  • Haybron, Daniel M. The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).
  • Heath, Joseph. Following the Rules: Practical Reasoning and Deontic Constraint (Oxford University Press, 2011).
  • Jamieson, Dale. Morality’s Progress: Essays on Humans, Other Animals, and the Rest of Nature (Oxford University Press, 2002).
  • Lloyd, S. A. Morality in the Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes: Cases in the Law of Nature (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
  • Malik, Kenan. The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics (Atlantic Books, 2014).
  • Murdoch, Iris. Metaphysics as a Guide to Nature (Chatto and Windus, 1992/Penguin Books, 1993).
  • Nussbaum, Martha C. Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (Cambridge University Press, 2001).
  • Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice (Harvard University Press, 1971; revised ed., 1999)
  • Roberts, Robert C. Emotions: An Essay in Aid of Moral Psychology (Cambridge University Press, 2003).
  • Taylor, Paul W. Ethics Respect for Nature: A Theory of Environmental Ethics (Princeton University Press, 1986).
  • Teichmann, Roger. Nature, Reason, and the Good Life: Ethics for Human Beings (Oxford University Press, 2011).
  • Wiggins, David. Ethics: Twelve Lectures on the Philosophy of Morality (Harvard University Press, 2006).
  • Wong, David B. Natural Moralities: A Defense of Pluralistic Relativism (Oxford University Press, 2006).

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Puerto Rico’s “massive debt”

Trump’s predictably haughty reference to Puerto Rico’s (pre-Hurricane Maria) “broken infrastructure” and “massive debt [or ‘billions of dollars’]” owed to “Wall Street and the banks” should be viewed in the grim light of the country’s colonial and post-imperialist experience. A nice introduction to the relevance of this historical narrative and its lingering deleterious effects is found in this piece by Linda Backiel from the Monthly Review a couple of years ago: “Puerto Rico: The Crisis Is About Colonialism, Not Debt.”
And here is a comparatively short list of relevant literature:
  • Carr, Raymond. Puerto Rico: A Colonial Experiment. New York: Vintage Books, 1984.
  • Corretjer, Juan Antonio. Albizu Campos and the Ponce Massacre. New York: World View Publishers, 1965.
  • Denis, Nelson A. War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony. New York: Nation Books, 2015.
  • Enck-Wanzer, Darrel, ed. The Young Lords: A Reader. New York: New York University Press, 2010.
  • Falcón, Luis Nieves. Violations of Human Rights in Puerto Rico by the U.S. San Juan, Puerto Rico: Ediciones Puerto, 2002.
  • Fernandez, Ronald. Prisoners of Colonialism: The Struggle for Justice in Puerto Rico. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1994.
  • Fernandez, Ronald. The Disenchanted Island: Puerto Rico and the United States in the Twentieth Century. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2nd ed., 1996.
  • Foner, Philip S. The Spanish-Cuban-American War and the Birth of American Imperialism, Vols. 1 and 2, 1895-1902. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972.
  • Lee, Sonia Song-Ha. Building a Latino Civil Rights Movement: Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and the Pursuit of Racial Justice in New York City. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.
  • Maldonado-Denis, Manuel. Puerto Rico: A Socio-Historic Interpretation. New York: Random House, 1972.
  • Melendez, Miguel. We Took the Streets: Fighting for Latino Rights with the Young Lords. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003.
  • Monge, José Trías. Puerto Rico: The Trials of the Oldest Colony in the World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.
  • Rivera, Oscar López, “A Century of Colonialism: One Hundred Years of Puerto Rican Resistance,” in Joy James, ed. Warfare in the American Homeland: Policing and Prison in a Penal Democracy. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007: 160-189.
  • Rivera, Oscar López (Luis Nieves Falcón, ed.) Between Torture and Resistance. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2013.
  • Silén, Juan Angel. We, the Puerto Rican People: A Story of Oppression and Resistance. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971.
  • Torres, Andrés and José E. Velázquez, eds. The Puerto Rican Movement: Voices from the Diaspora. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1998.
  • Wanzer-Serrano, Darrel. The New York Young Lords and the Struggle for Liberation. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2015.
  • Young Lords Party and Michael Abramson. Palante: Young Lords Party. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971.
  • Zavala, Iris M. and Rafael Rodriguez, eds. The Intellectual Roots of Independence: An Anthology of Puerto Rican Political Essays. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1980. 

The “Colin Kaepernick story” in context

Toward placing the “Colin Kaepernick story” in historical, sociological, and political context: a short reading list
  • Bass, Amy. Not the Triumph but the Struggle: The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.
  • Carlos, John (with David Zirin). The John Carlos Story. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2013 (2011).
  • Carter, Rubin “Hurricane” (with Ken Klosky) Eye of the Hurricane: My Path from Darkness to Freedom. Chicago, IL: Lawrence Hill Books, 2011.
  • Dorinson, Joseph and Joram Warmund. Jackie Robinson: Race, Sports, and the American Dream. New York: Routledge, 2015 (M.E. Sharpe, 1998).
  • Early, Gerald L. A Level Playing Field: African American Athletes and the Republic of Sports. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.
  • Edwards, Harry. The Revolt of the Black Athlete. New York: Free Press, 1969.
  • Goodman, Jordan. Paul Robeson: A Watched Man. London: Verso, 2013.
  • Hawkins, Billy. The New Plantation: Black Athletes, College Sports, and Predominantly White NCAA Institutions. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  • Hirsch, James S. Hurricane: The Miraculous Journey of Rubin Carter. New York: Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000.
  • Hodges, Craig. Long Shot: The Triumphs and Struggles of an NBA Freedom Fighter. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2017.
  • Marquesee, Mike. Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties. London: Verso, 2nd ed., 2005.
  • McRae, Donald. Heroes Without a Country: America’s Betrayal of Joe Louis and Jesse Owens. New York: Harper Collins, 2002.
  • Owens, Jesse (with Paul Neimark) I Have Changed. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1972.
  • Scott, Jack. The Athletic Revolution. New York: Free Press, 1971.
  • Wice, Paul B. Rubin HurricaneCarter and the American Justice System. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000.
  • Zirin, David. What’s My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United State. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2015.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

George Padmore, né Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse (28 June 1903 – 23 September 1959)

George Padmore, Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse (28 June 1903 – 23 September 1959) was a Trinidadian-born author, journalist, Left organizer and activist, one-time Communist Party member, socialist, and Pan-Africanist.
Books by George Padmore
  • Padmore, George. The Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers. London: Red International of Labour Unions Magazine for the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers, 1931.
  • Padmore, George. How Britain Rules Africa. London: Wishart Books, 1936.
  • Padmore, George. African and World Peace. London: Secker and Warburg, 1937.
  • Padmore, George, with Nancy Cunard. White Man's Duty. London: W. H. Allen, 1942.
  • Padmore, George (in collaboration with Dorothy Pizer). How Russia Transformed Her Colonial Empire: A Challenge to the Imperialist Powers. London: Dennis Dobson, 1946.
  • Padmore, George. AfricaBritain's Third Empire. London: Dennis Dobson, 1949.
  • Padmore, George. The Gold Coast RevolutionThe Struggle of an African People from Slavery to Freedom. London: Dennis Dobson, 1953.
  • Padmore, George. Pan-Africanism or Communism? The Coming Struggle for Africa. London: Dennis Dobson, 1956.
  • Padmore, George, ed. The Voice of Coloured Labour. Manchester: Panaf Services, 1945.
  • Padmore, George, ed. Colonial and Coloured Unity—A Programme of ActionHistory of the Pan-African Congress. Manchester: Pan-African Federation/Panaf Services, 1947.
Many—hence not all—of Padmore’s other writings are found online at the Marxists Internet Archive. 
Further Reading:
  • Adi, Hakim. West Africans in Britain, 1900-1960: Nationalism, Pan-Africanism and Communism. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1998.
  • Adi, Hakim. Pan-Africanism and Communism: The Communist International, Africa and the Diaspora, 1919-1939. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2013.
  • Adi, Hakim and Sherwood, Marika. The 1945 Manchester Pan-African Congress Revisited. London: New Beacon Books, 1995.
  • Baptiste, Fitzroy and Rupert Lewis, eds. George Padmore: Pan-African Revolutionary. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2009.
  • Bolland, O. Nigel. On the March: Labour Rebellions in the British Caribbean, 1934-39. London: James Currey, 1995.
  • Braithwaite, Lloyd. Colonial West Indian Students in Britain. Mona, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2001.
  • Bush, Barbara. Imperialism, Race and Resistance: Africa and Britain, 1919 –1945. London: Routledge, 1999.
  • Cooper, Frederick. Decolonization and African Society: The Labour Question in French and British Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • Cooper, Frederick. Africa since 1940: The Past of the Present. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Cooper, Frederick. Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005.
  • Cooper, Frederick. Africa in the World: Capitalism, Empire, Nation-State. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.
  • Cunard, Nancy (Maureen Moynagh, ed.). Essays on Race and Empire. Ontario: Broadview Press, 2002.
  • Cunard, Nancy, ed. Negro Anthology made by Nancy Cunard, 1931-1933. London: Wishart and Co., 1934.
  • Derrick, Jonathan. Africa’s “Agitators”: Militant Anti-Colonialism in in Africa and the West, 1918-1939. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.
  • Fryer, Peter, Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain. London: Pluto, 1984.
  • Geiss, Imanuel. The Pan-African Movement. London: Methuen, 1974.
  • Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.
  • Grimshaw, Anna, ed. The C. L. R. James Reader. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992.
  • Hooker, James R. Black Revolutionary: George Padmore’s Path from Communism to Pan-Africanism. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1967.
  • James, C.L.R. Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution. London: Allison and Busby, 1977.
  • James, C.L.R. “George Padmore: Black Marxist Revolutionary,” in C. L. R. James, ed. At the Rendezvous of Victory: Selected Writings. London: Allison and Busby, 1984.
  • James, Leslie. George Padmore and Decolonization from Below: Pan-Africanism, the Cold War, and the End of Empire. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
  • Langley, Jabez Ayodele. Pan-Africanism and Nationalism in West Africa, 1900-1945A Study in Ideology and Social Classes. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1973.
  • Langley, Jabez Ayodele, ed. Ideologies of Liberation in Black Africa. London: Rex Collings, 1979.
  • Lewis, Rupert and Baptiste, Fitzroy, eds. George Padmore: Pan-African Revolutionary. Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2008.
  • Makalani, Minkah. In the Cause of Freedom: Radical Black Internationalism from Harlem to London, 1917-1939. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.
  • Makonnen, Ras (Kenneth King, ed.) Pan-Africanism from Within. London: Oxford University Press, 1973.
  • Matera, Marc. Black London: The Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2015.
  • Robinson, Cedric J. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000 (1983).
  • Schwarz, Bill, ed. West Indian Intellectuals in Britain. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003.
  • Stephens, Michelle Ann. Black Empire: The Masculine Global Imaginary of Caribbean Intellectuals in the United States, 1914-1962. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.
  • Thompson, Dudley, with Margaret Cezair Thompson. From Kingston to Kenya: The Making of a Pan-African Lawyer. Dover, MA: Majority Press, 1993.
  • Tilley, Helen, ed., with Robert J. Gordon. Ordering Africa: Anthropology, European Imperialism and the Politics of Knowledge. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011.
  • Von Eschen, Penny. Race against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937–1957. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997.
  • Zachernuk, Philip S. Colonial Subjects: An African Intelligentsia and Atlantic Ideas. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 2000.
Lastly, here is a link to the latest edition of my bibliography, Pan-Africanism, Black Internationalism, & Black Cosmopolitanism.

Friday, September 22, 2017

George Padmore interviews Ho Chi Minh in Paris (1946)

I was delighted to learn that George Padmore ( Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse) interviewed Ho Chi Minh (Nguyen Sinh Cung, also known as Nguyen Tat Thanh and Nguyen Ai Quoc) while both were in Paris: Ho was there for the Paris Peace Conference (29 July to 15 October 1946), engaged in “confidential negotiations,” and Padmore was covering the conference for the Free India Press. According to James Hooker, one of the articles Padmore wrote “remains a good introduction to Vietnamese affairs,” the piece having been published by the Defender (28 September 1946, with an autographed photo of Ho!). In Black Revolutionary: George Padmore’s Path from Communism to Pan-Africanism (Praeger, 1967), Hooker further describes Padmore’s article as “a concise introduction to the Vietnam tangle, one which holds up surprisingly well after nearly two decades of persistent journalistic rediscovery of the situation in South East Asia” (in this instance, Indochina). We also learn that a portion of the article was reprinted in the December issue of (Dwight Macdonald’s) politics (sic) as “The Story of Vietnam.” It seems the journal’s readers took Padmore to task for “play[ing] down Ho’s communist associations.” Padmore defended his work, decrying the “preoccupation with anti-communism which seemed so tiresomely characteristic” of the American Left.  
Finally, Hooker mentions one consequence of Padmore’s exclusive interview at the private hotel provided Ho by the French government: “Padmore became the unofficial guardian of Viet-Minh interests in London, to which city Ho despatched a representative for English language training.”

A propaedeutic for the question, “What to Do?”

What kind of person, holding the office of President of a country that possesses the most powerful military capacity in the world (‘the US spends more money — $601 billion — on defense than the next nine countries on Credit Suisse’s index combined’), publicly threatens to annihilate a county with more than 25,000,000 million human beings? During the same speech, Trump’s characterization of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known commonly as the Iran deal or Iran nuclear deal, as “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” reveals the darkest depths of his ignorance, stupidity, and arrogance. And it was of a piece with the Manichean madness splattered in spittle and blood all over his inaugural UN speech (Are the conventions of diplomatic discourse irrelevant, devoid of any normative value?).

In the words of Jack Goldsmith from his recent piece in The Atlantic, “We have never had a president so ill-informed about the nature of his office, so openly mendacious, so self-destructive, or so brazen in his abusive attacks on the courts, the press, Congress (including members of his own party), and even senior officials within his own administration.” Characterized in comparative terms, “Trump is a Frankenstein’s monster of past presidents’ worst attributes: Andrew Jackson’s rage; Millard Fillmore’s bigotry; James Buchanan’s incompetence and spite; Theodore Roosevelt’s self-aggrandizement; Richard Nixon’s paranoia, insecurity, and indifference to law; and Bill Clinton’s lack of self-control and reflexive dishonesty.”

Hence I suppose we should not be surprised at Trump’s habitual rhetorical reliance in public speeches upon crude, hyperbolic, and often child-like adjectives and metaphors (with corresponding child-like or homologous and associationist thinking: mistaking bigness for greatness; the quantitative valuation of virtually everything; connecting competition, success and size; the attraction of novelty; a thirst for sensationalism; an overweening sense of privilege and superiority rooted in a fascination with sheer power if not megalomania, and so forth and so on), the harm of which is exacerbated by mendacious Manichean propaganda within an overarching framework of narcissistic nationalism. Alas, we don’t need the intimate privacy and authoritative atmosphere of the clinic to make a symptomatic diagnosis of narcissistic megalomania. Bearing in mind the trenchant psychological and philosophical critiques of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), it remains a source of qualified guidance for clinical judgment. As Alex Morris explains in his Rolling Stone article, “Why Trump Is Not Mentally Fit to Be President” (25 April 2017), the latest

“iteration of the DSM classifies narcissistic personality disorder as: ‘A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts.’ A diagnosis would also require five or more of the following traits:

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., ‘Nobody builds walls better than me’; ‘There’s nobody that respects women more than I do’; ‘There’s nobody who’s done so much for equality as I have’).
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love (e.g., ‘I alone can fix it’; ‘It’s very hard for them to attack me on looks, because I’m so good-looking’).
  • Believes that he or she is ‘special’ and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions (e.g., ‘Part of the beauty of me is that I’m very rich’).
  • Requires excessive admiration (e.g., ‘They said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl’).
  • Has a sense of entitlement (e.g., ‘When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy’).
  • Is interpersonally exploitative (see above).
  • Lacks empathy, is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others (e.g., ‘He’s not a war hero . . . he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured’). Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her (e.g., ‘I’m the president, and you’re not’).
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her (e.g., ‘I’m the president, and you’re not’).
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes (e.g., ‘I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters’).” 
“Viewed through the lens of pathology, Trump’s behavior – from military-school reports that he was too competitive to have close friends to his recent impromptu press conference, where he seemed to revel in the hour and a half he spent center stage, spouting paranoia and insults – can be seen as a constant quest for narcissistic supply. Certainly few have gone after fame (a veritable conveyor belt of narcissistic supply) with such single-mindedness as Trump, constantly upping the ante to gain more exposure. Not content with being the heir apparent of his father’s vast outer-borough fortune, he spent his twenties moving the Trump Organization into the spotlight of Manhattan, where his buildings needed to be the biggest, the grandest, the tallest (in the pursuit of which he skipped floors in the numbering to make them seem higher). Not content to inflict the city with a succession of eyesores bearing his name in outsize letters, he had to buy up more Atlantic City casinos than anyone else, as well as a fleet of 727s (which he also slapped with his name) and the world’s third-biggest yacht (despite professing to not like boats). Meanwhile, to make sure that none of this escaped notice, he sometimes pretended to be his own publicist, peppering the press with unsolicited information about his business conquests and his sexual prowess.”

And yet if history provides us with any appropriate standard in such matters, it seems “having a mental illness, in and of itself, [doesn’t] necessarily make Trump unqualified for the presidency.” Again, Morris:

“A 2006 study published in the Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease found that 18 of the first 37 presidents met criteria for having a psychiatric disorder, from depression (24 percent) and anxiety (eight percent) to alcoholism (eight percent) and bipolar disorder (eight percent). Ten of them exhibited symptoms while in office, and one of those 10 was arguably our best president, Abraham Lincoln, who suffered from deep depression (though, considering the death of his son and the state of the nation, who could blame him?).

The problem is that, when it comes to leadership, all pathologies are not created equal. Some, like depression, though debilitating, do not typically lead to psychosis or risky decision-making and are mainly unpleasant only for the person suffering them, as well as perhaps for their close friends and family. Others, like alcoholism, can be more dicey: In 1969, Nixon got so sloshed that he ordered a nuclear attack against North Korea (in anticipation of just such an event, his defense secretary had supposedly warned the military not to act on White House orders without approval from either himself or the secretary of state).”

And we need to distinguish what has been called “run-of-the-mill narcissism,” which is common to more than a few politicians (and episodically, perhaps most of us), from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) proper:

“For many in the mental-health field, the most troubling aspect of Trump’s personality is his loose grasp of fact and fiction. When narcissism veers into NPD, it can lead to delusions, an alternate reality where the narcissist remains on top despite clear evidence to the contrary. ‘He’s extremely quick, like nanoseconds quick, to discern anything that could conceivably threaten his dominance,’ says biographer Gwenda Blair, who wrote The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a President. ‘He’s on it. Anything that he senses – and he has very sharp senses – that could suggest that he is anything except 200 percent total winner, he’s got to stomp it out immediately. So having those reports, for example, that he did not win the popular vote? He can’t take that in. There has to be another explanation. It has to have been stolen. It has to have been some illegal voters. It can’t be the case that he lost. That’s not thinkable.’”

The office of the presidency has of course provided a global stage for the unavoidable and relentless exhibition of the aforementioned pathological symptoms, making it difficult for most of us to afford Trump the sympathy or compassion we might otherwise generate in the intimate realm for a person afflicted with such a personality or character disorder, if only because in his case the enhanced harmful consequences (both immediate and long-term) of such behavior will affect an enormous number of people (especially those most vulnerable to the actions of the upper classes and the politically powerful) as well as impact the wider, life-sustaining properties of the natural world.

Accompanying real or promised actions born of non-delusional grandeur or grandiose delusions, Trump’s rhetoric, as his UN speech made painfully pellucid, only serves to further muddle when not obliterating already hazy or vague boundaries in the political arena between appearance and reality, pretense and substance, deception and truth. And this only immeasurably worsens, within the prevailing polluted climate of neoliberal capitalism, existing threats to the ethos, values, principles and essential methods of democratic praxis that have been assiduously cut, chiseled, and polished over many years, in an astonishing variety of geographic locales and among peoples motivated by or tethered to different worldviews, lifeworlds, and ideologies. The convoluted and insincere hermeneutic rationales routinely if awkwardly constructed in defense of Trump’s inconsistent and haphazard rhetoric by his cronies and sycophants has conspicuously shrunken the depth and scope of democratic political argumentation. Thus our corresponding public discourse—whether in the mass media or informal public fora—is invariably shallow and sullied, except perhaps, in those precious quarters where opposition, resistance, and rebellion is being nurtured under the protective banner of liberté, égalité, and fraternité, where the virtues of participatory and deliberative democracy have not disappeared, thereby making it possible if not probable that the thirst for social justice will one day be sated.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Ricardo Flores Magón, PLM, and the Labor Struggles of California Farmworkers

Cipriano Ricardo Flores Magón (known as Ricardo Flores Magón; September 16, 1874 – November 21, 1922) was a noted Mexican anarchist and social reform activist. His brothers Enrique and Jesús were also active in politics. Followers of the Magón brothers were known as Magonistas. He has been considered an important participant in the social movement that sparked the Mexican Revolution.”
“Periodically throughout their history, California farmworkers have fought vigorously, sometimes in small, local battles unknown to anyone but the immediate participants, and at other times in large campaigns—directed by radical or even openly revolutionary leaders—that have lasted for several seasons. The nature of these fights is rooted in the special character of agricultural production and in the real opportunities that farmworkers have encountered in the fields for nearly a hundred years.” Frank Bardacke, Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers (Verso, 2011)

The “special character of agricultural production” Bardacke refers to above includes the “short-lived harvest” period, as it is only during this precious time of year that a commodity is produced (although various kinds of work on the land are performed throughout the year), thus leaving the commercial farmer vulnerable to interruptions or delays. Another conspicuous vulnerability arises from the dependence on migratory workers, the demand for labor varying greatly throughout the year. Hence, Bardacke informs us,

“Time is often on the workers’ side, and they have not hesitated to seize it. Brief harvest walkouts, sit-downs, slow-downs, and stay-at-homes are part of farmworker tradition, weapons used much more regularly by agricultural workers than by industrial workers.”

Before the Depression-era upheaval that led to various forms of worker militancy, both spontaneous and organized, there were several years of “militant farmworker action [and] significant wage gains” that presaged patterns of future farmworker struggles. Unfortunately, these early battles did not result in a lasting union for those who labored on the land. Again, Bardacke:

“Between 1914 and 1917, in a period of overall labor scarcity, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), at times in tandem with the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM) [organized by Ricardo Flores Magón and later led by both Ricardo and his youngest brother, Enrique], led a series of walkouts in the California fields, orchard, and vineyards that pushed up wages, forced labor-camp managers to provide better food, and prompted the state of California to build an extensive series of new labor camps, which improved the lives of many migrants. A harvest-time strike in the hops in 1914 doubled piece-rate wages, and by 1917, the average wage of California farmworkers had risen to nearly 90 percent of the average wage of California’s city workers.”

Ricardo Flores Magón had been a leader of university student protests in Mexico City in the 1890s and as early as 1904, the “Magonistas” (largely anarchist in political ideology) who found sanctuary in the U.S., “began to send emissaries—revolutionary culture brokers—into the mining camps of the Mexican north and into the agrarian villages as far south as Veracruz and Oaxaca.” And for this and other reasons, Flores Magón “is celebrated in Mexican secondary school textbooks as a ‘precursor’ of the [Mexican] Revolution.”

In California, Flores Magón “and a small band of comrades” whose “interest was not primarily California farmworkers,” continued to publish their weekly newspaper, Regeneración (in turn smuggled back into Mexico), and “for which [Ricardo] wrote political and social commentary.” As Bardacke reminds us, Flores Magón and the PLM were nevertheless indirectly active in the agricultural fields of California, as Ricardo and Enrique, together with a “substantial number of displaced Mexican revolutionaries,”

“… set up a series of PLM clubs in the Southwest and California. Those clubs attracted Mexican migrant workers, some of whom began to call themselves Magonistas. The clubs were linked through Regeneración and several other local, less regular PLM newspapers. Club leaders read the newspaper out loud to assembled groups of workers, who then discussed the situation in Mexico and their own troubles in the United States.

The hub of PLM power was Los Angeles, which was still an agricultural town in 1907 when the Flores Magón brothers settled there, and already was the center of the Mexican community in the United States. The PLM’s LA clubhouse became a center of multilingual, multiethnic activity where socialists and Wobblies famous and obscure mixed with Magonistas. Regeneración, its back page printed in English, built up an LA circulation of 10,000, making it both the first bilingual paper in California and the largest Spanish-language newspaper in town. The PLM club, which was also considered a Spanish-speaking IWW local, had 400 active members, most of who were farmworkers.” 

Magonistas were soon found throughout Spanish-speaking IWW locals in Southern and Central California. Whatever their cultural and language differences, Wobblies and Magonistas were united in their political ideology and political praxis:

“In San Diego in 1910, a joint IWW-PLM local organized a strike at the local gas and electric company that won equal pay for equal work. That same year a fight for free speech that ultimately did much to popularize the IWW among California farmworkers, began in Fresno in the midst of a battle to organize Mexican workers who were being contracted to build a dam on the outskirts of town. In hop fields, vineyards, sugar refineries, and citrus orchards, many farmworker walkouts were joint Wobbly-Magonista efforts.”

Our short story ends on a tragic note, for “[i]n 1918, Ricardo Flores Magón, along with other PLM and IWW leaders, was convicted of violating the Espionage Act … for ‘obstructing the war effort.’” Ricardo died on November 21, 1922 at Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas. Alas, and for motley reasons, one of the foremost being the appeal of communism and the rise of Communist parties following the Russian Revolution, the IWW and PLM did not formally survive World War I. All the same,

“… Magonismo never totally disappeared from the California fields. Remaining underground in unfavorable times such as 1939, Magonismo has reappeared whenever farmworkers have had an opportunity to fight. It is there when they slow down on the job, sabotage the crops, or strike at the beginning of a harvest. Magonistas played a part in Imperial Valley melon and lettuce strikes in the late 1920s. They worked together with other militants when California farmworkers shook the state in the early 1930s. A generation later a few Magonistas would play a small role as the movement that produced the UFW was getting under way. And in 1979, the ghost of Ricardo Flores Magón would make a cameo appearance at one of the most dramatic moments in UFW history.”


Further Reading:
  • Albro, Ward S. Always a Rebel: Ricardo Flores Magón and the Mexican Revolution. Fort Worth, TX: Texas Christian University Press, 1992.
  • Chacón, Justin Akers. Radicals in the Barrio: Magonistas, Socialists, Wobblies, and Communists in the Mexican-American Working Class. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, Forthcoming.
  • Daniel, Cletus E. Bitter Harvest: A History of California Farmworkers, 1870-1941. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.
  • Dyson, Lowell K. Red Harvest: The Communist Party and American Farmers. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.
  • Hart, John M. Anarchism and the Mexican Working Class, 1860-1931. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1978.
  • Lomnitz, Claudio. The Return of Comrade Ricardo Flores Magón. New York: Zone Books, 2014.
  • MacLachlan, Colin M. Anarchism and the Mexican Revolution: The Political Trials of Ricardo Flores Magón in the United States. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1991.