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Monday, October 01, 2007

Zinn - Chomsky in Art - Marx in Soho


by David Weiner (David Wiener)?

When friends' children graduate from High School, my gift is a copy of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. Every time I read it a different facet of U.S. political nuance strikes me with special significance. This time it was in chapter 20, where Zinn focuses on Nixon's fall from grace and power following the Watergate scandal. How officialdom carefully managed the fallout through a program of designed disclosure. Media revealed Nixon's failings as sins of the individual, carefully disguising how systemic they were.

No respectable American newspaper said what was said by Claude Julien, editor of Le Monde Diplomatique in 1974. 'The elimination of Mr. Richard Nixon leaves intact all the mechanisms and all the false values which permitted the Watergate scandal.' ... "... In the charges brought by the House Committee on Impeachment against Nixon, it seemed clear that the committee did not want to emphasize those elements in his behavior which were found in other Presidents and which might be repeated in the future.... It concentrated on things peculiar to Nixon, not on fundamental policies continuous among American Presidents, at home and abroad. The word was out: get rid of Nixon, but keep the system... "The investigation of the FBI disclosed many years of illegal actions to disrupt and destroy radical groups and left-wing groups of all kinds ... ...Valuable information came out of the investigations, but it was just enough , and in just the right way ... to give the impression of an honest society correcting itself...
The first thought that struck me is how right Noam Chomsky was in Manufacturing Consent. In the United Statew it is essential to Power that media retain public credibility. When journalists are too sycophantic, it spoils the game. Journalists must operate honestly most of the time, so that when lies are told the lies will be believed. But this subterfuge becomes harder and harder to pull off.
Zinn is peerless at revealing the historical dialectic between ruling class manipulations of citizens and their drive to achieve autonomy. As people get better at organizing, the ruling class becomes more adept at lying and co-opting to achieve its ends. Designed disclosure of Governmental sins and infidelities, presented in the media as full disclosure, is a clever and effective innovation.

If Zinn (and Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent) are right, a strong assumption I've been acting on is probably wrong. Like most of my friends I've felt confident that disclosure after disclosure of this Administration's anti-democratic and apparently irrational behavior, both at home and abroad, must be fast devouring its credibility. Disclosures of officially sanctioned torture, of assaults on the Bill of Rights, of intransigence on environmental issues to the extent of a President's literally thumbing his nose at public opinion, of disdain for citizens' struggle to make a living or obtain basic health care (even for children), of Alleged governmental collusion in the outright theft of public funds, of an intransigent radical foreign policy in the face of massive local and worldwide opposition, and on and on – must finally take their toll. Collapse
must be imminent.

Reading Zinn, this conclusion doesn't really compute. It would mean that decades old systems of dis-information management had suddenly collapsed. What seems more likely is that what appear to be failures are not failures at all. How can this be? Again, Zinn's historical exegesis offers insight. Prior to Nixon's retirement, officialdom strove to placate a public grown both more critical of power and more capable of translating its discontent into effective action. Following Nixon, the emphasis of policy shapers shifted from placation to control.
"In the year 1976, with a presidential election approaching, there was worry in the Establishment about the public's faith in the system. ... ... ... "As the United States prepared in 1976 to celebrate the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence, a group of intellectuals and political leaders from Japan, the United States and Western Europe, organized into 'The Trilateral Commission,' issued a report. It was entitled 'The Government of Democracies.' Samuel Huntington, a political science professor at Harvard University and long-time consultant to the White House on the war in Vietnam, wrote the part of the report that dealt with the United States. He called it 'The Democratic Distemper' ,,, Huntington pointed to the signs of decreasing government authority...[and] was troubled by what he saw. ... Critical in all this was the decline in the authority of the President."
The change in attitude signaled by Huntington, according to Zinn and an array of other notable U.S. Historians, was not unexpected. From the beginning, America's wealthiest citizens expressed deep concern that Democracy should not get out of hand. It was intended for the propertied classes, not for the peasantry.
Reading Zinn, it becomes clear how the elite's craving for social control always competed with its greed for profits. Media, never truly independent, always fashioned the proper climate for the pursuit of both. The abuses attendant upon business growth and expansion were always under-reported. So were the growing number of triumphs of organized opposition to these abuses. Government successes at managing and containing dissent, however, were always over-reported. Until recently, these reports were also distorted to portray the government-in-service-of-business as stern, like a good parent, but never ruthless.

But something has changed. Today, official ruthlessness receives full revelation through a system of steady "leaks." The President and Commander-in-Chief delights to be perceived not as the leader of a great and principled nation committed to global health and justice, but of an aggressive vigilante force committed to ethnocentric ass-kicking. Protecting U.S. "turf" in a jungle-world of nation-gangs is his self-proclaimed duty and heaven ordained function. His ultimate goal? To become King of the Hill. Upon his coronation the U.S. shall gain forgiveness of its massive foreign debts. Worthy (white, god-fearing, passive) residents on his "turf" will prosper (others may be jailed and tortured.) The nation, in fact the entire Western world... indeed the entire planet ... should be grateful for his leadership. He shall have saved the world from chaos.

As the public watches its President and his cohort engage nakedly in outrageous, anti-constitutional behaviors with no real opposition, the Government's credibility as a well entrenched, blatantly anti-democratic imperium soars. What if this appearance is precisely the goal of U.S. ruling class architects today? What if the President's signifying is merely pose (his personal history indicates that he excels at acting and obeying, not imagining and leading)? What if those Zinn reveals always to have pulled strings from behind the scenes, those powerful figures whom William Greider tells us in Secrets of the Temple do nothing except own money and control the affairs of all major corporations, are still in full control? In this case, then what I have perceived to be the failure of designed disclosure may be precisely the opposite. It may be the most cleverly designed in our history.

Zinn closes A People's History (1995 edition) with an expression of faith in people's ability to see through official subterfuge and assert their healthy presence. I hope he's right.
The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history... "...How skillful to tax the middle class to pay for the relief of the poor, building resentment on top of humiliation!... How wise to turn the fear and anger of the majority toward a class of criminals bred – by economic inequity – faster than they can be put away, deflecting attention from the huge thefts of national resources carried out within the law by men in executive offices. But with all the controls of power and punishment, enticements and concessions, diversions and decoys, operating throughout the history of the country, the Establishment has been unable to keep itself secure from revolt.... To recall this is to remind people of what the Establishment would like them to forget – the enormous capacity of apparently helpless people to resist, of apparently contented people to demand change....

David Weiner teaches sociology courses at a Community College in Austin, Texas and works with groups in the community concerned with improving the quality of education for inner-city students.

David Weiner has been a sociology professor, high school teacher, community organizer, and anti-racism activist for more than half a century. Nowadays he teaches sociology and social psychology at a community college.

Chomsky in Art:

Cornelia Parker's retrospective proves

Never Endings IKON Gallery, Birmingham; until 18 November
filmed interview with Noam Chomsky about American barbarism; the dress worn by Mia Farrow in Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby; a tape recording of an inconclusive seance with the Brontes at Haworth; rocks and stones taken from beneath the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

Her 'embryo firearms' are a framed pair of Colt 45s in foetal state. Alongside them, lead bullets are stretched out into fine wire and made into Spirograph drawings. Parker performs the same trick with gold from a tooth, a silver dollar which is made the height of the Statue of Liberty, a war medal...

black jokes in this context: Shared Fate (Oliver) is a little, jacketed mannequin that has been chopped in half by the guillotine that beheaded Marie-Antoinette. In a much more demure way than, say, her fellow ageing YBA Gavin Turk, she likes the idea of imposing herself on infamies, jackdawing bits of history and making them her own.

Stolen Thunder is thus a series of framed hankies on which the tarnish from resonant silver has been deposited: Guy Fawkes's lantern, Charles Dickens's knife and so on. The desire to touch what they have touched becomes a version of celebrity fixation. It also establishes the overriding sense of a reliquary that informs much of Parker's work; she is a deeply Catholic artist or, at least, the tarnish of a Catholic childhood is still rubbing off. Once again though, the objects themselves don't bear much looking; it's not the Turin shroud. The hankies are part of an ongoing series, but one you hardly hold your breath for.

Much more spectacular, even in repetition, are the pair of suspended animation sculptures that fill two rooms here. The first, made from hundreds of fragments of yellow stone from under the Leaning Tower of Pisa, rubble that apparently was removed to help the monument stay standing, a negative of underpinning, begins to suggest all sorts of interesting things about gravity, which is, in many ways, Parker's most enduring medium. You marvel again at how such a thing has been strung up; that marvelling is not diminished in the other, her blackened sculpture upstairs, an exploded cube of branches, spars and pine cones from a Florida wildfire of 2004, a 3D charcoal sketch.

These bigger pieces remain the best statement of Parker's compulsion with the afterlives of things. She is happy at times to borrow this atmosphere of spookiness from other, more conventional places, which diminishes the surprise. The Bronte room here, with its hyper-magnified photographs of the nib of Charlotte's pen and the surface of Branwell's wallet, is a case in point. Haworth represents readymade ghostliness and Parker's intervention doesn't make it any more spectral.

This opportunism is taken to a different extreme in the two most recent pieces, two films that are oddly out of kilter with the rest of the show. The first, a screen split into four quarters, shows American tourists waiting for an event to occur. You are asked to think of this event, in the context of what is elsewhere, as a coming apocalypse, I suppose, but the effect is hardly chilling.

Similarly, the fragments of interview with Noam Chomsky seem an attempt to borrow an explicit political manifesto for the rest of the work, which it generally does better by resisting. Chomsky's devastating monotone on the war on terror and global warming is essential listening in most contexts

crap statements deleted.
Original is here;,,2180135,00.html

after killing countless germans as a bombadier in ww2 Howard Zinn gave the world a work of art.


Marx in Soho

a play on history


Marx is back! The premise of this witty and insightful "play on history" is that Karl Marx has agitated with the authorities of the afterlife for a chance to clear his name. Through a bureaucratic error, though, Marx is sent to Soho in New York, rather than his old stomping ground in London, to make his case.

Howard Zinn, best known for his book, 'A Peoples History of the United States', introduces us to Marx's wife, Jenny, his children, the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, and a host of other characters.

Brian Jones, an African American actor and activist, has been performing this engaging one-man show across the country since 1999.

Marx in Soho is a brilliant introduction to Marx's life, his analysis of society, and his passion for radical change. Zinn also shows how relevant Marx's ideas are for today's world.

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Marx in Soho is easy to produce in almost any space, large or small.

The play calls for a set consisting of a table and two chairs. Beyond that, there are only a few technical needs.

“Don’t you ever wonder: why is it necessary
to declare me dead again and again?”

The premise of this witty and insightful “play on history” is that Karl Marx has agitated with the authorities of the afterlife for a chance to clear his name. Through a bureaucratic error, though, Marx is sent to Soho in New York, rather than his old stomping ground in London, to make his case.

Zinn introduces us to Marx’s wife, Jenny, his children, the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, and a host of other characters.

Marx in Soho is a brilliant introduction to Marx’s life, his analysis of society, and his passion for radical change. Zinn also shows how relevant Marx’s ideas are for today's world.

Winner of the 2000 Independent Publisher Award for best visionary fiction

Red Herring

Karl Marx, we hardly knew ye

By Steven Mikulan
Wednesday, July 11, 2001 - 12:00 am

Days after Karl Marx died, in 1883, San Francisco’s Daily Alta California remarked, “His life was not a success, and at the time of his death he had witnessed the failure of every extensive project on which his hopes had been set and for which he labored with such ability.” If this tart, Left Coast eulogy failed to raise the dearly departed at the time, then the more recent obituaries for history, revolution and, of course, Marxism have apparently done the trick — at least according to Howard Zinn’s one-person play, Marx in Soho. In it, Marx, tired of spinning in his Highgate grave from such punditry, returns from a kind of celebrity heaven — to set the record straight.

Zinn, the author of the popular A People’s History of the United States, is a veteran left-wing critic of capitalism, and edits his material accordingly. He has a much tougher sell than other writers of historical solo shows, of course, because Karl Marx is not Will Rogers, let alone Mark Twain or Emily Dickinson. Marx, let’s face it, is a long-dead foreigner whose name is followed by a freight train of historical baggage.

At the Complex, actor Brian Jones appears onstage not as the familiar prophet of sepia-toned photographs — that Old Testament frown framed by a penumbra of white hair and Jovian beard — but a much younger Marx, a sleeker, cheekier, pre-Manifesto Marx from the days of, say, The German Ideology or the philosophical notebooks. He’s also traded his frock coat for a three-piece, chalk-stripe suit and arrives lugging a book bag and a beer. “So good of you to come!” he says, with a mild yiddishe inflection, then proceeds to attempt “to clear my name.”

This jaunty opening nevertheless sets a subtly defensive tone of self-vindication that never really evaporates. Still, Jones gamely goes on the attack, caustically observing how much the world has improved since Victorian times, quite obviously implying that it really hasn’t. What Zinn does, very craftily, is weave a lot of Marx’s personal life into Zinn’s view that, overall, Marx’s analysis about predatory capital and the destiny of the working class to change history is still sound.

Marx’s home life in Soho was one of Dickensian poverty relieved by the rewards of fatherhood and marriage to his university sweetheart, Jenny von Westphalen. Here, it’s also a beery, smoky, bohemian existence filled with drunken visits from erratic radicals, sycophants and would-be suitors of Marx’s three daughters.

Marx in Soho is a refreshing reminder that the author of Das Kapital was a human being with foibles and boils, who emerged out of the stew of Byronic romanticism and cafĂ© revolutionaries to produce his century’s most sober and insightful critique of Western political economy. Here was a jaundiced critic of the family and religious piety who worried about not having a Christmas tree ready for his children (four of whom died before he did). Here also was a learned scholar of classic antiquity and Shakespeare who could sometimes write in a style that seemed to combine Aeschylus, yellow journalism and, in his more popular works, the Brothers Grimm, only to have Jenny beg him to put more narrative excitement into the arthritically dense Das Kapital.

The viewer should also be equally interested in what Zinn leaves out, however. While, for example, “the Moor” (as the dark-skinned Marx was nicknamed) admits that Jenny became jealous over housekeeper Helena Demuth’s presence, the subject is pretty much dropped in midair, leaving the impression that Marx’s wife was unreasonably suspicious of her husband’s relationship with “Lenchen.” In fact, today it is widely believed that Marx impregnated Demuth with a son whom he would neither acknowledge nor support. Likewise, while Zinn’s Marx seems very caught up on what happened in world affairs after his death, he makes no mention that his two surviving daughters committed suicide.

Curiously, his benefactor and ideological comrade, Friedrich Engels, also gets short shrift: Marx calls Engels a “saint” but never comes clean about his own prudish misgivings about Engels’ free-love lifestyle up in Manchester or some of the rows he had with The Communist Manifesto’s co-author, much less Marx’s pleas for more money so that he could move his family to more bourgeois surroundings.

Perhaps Zinn plays loosest when his character fleetingly touches on Marx’s anti-Semitism — splitting hairs, as do many believers, by distinguishing his antipathy toward capitalists who happen to be Jews from hating Jews because they are Jews. The former case has been made by many on Marx’s behalf, along with the indisputable fact that we are all men and women of our time, imprisoned to some degree by its attitudes and language. But Marx’s comments about both his fellow Jews and race in general went far beyond a few tipsy after-dinner gibes —
“Jewish nigger” was a term he applied liberally to people he disliked, and it was just as pejorative then as it is today.

Perhaps it’s beyond the scope of a brief, one-man performance to come to terms with such a vexing figure’s complex and contradictory behavior; it certainly is not Zinn’s responsibility to explain 40 years of a man’s theoretical writings to us. But Zinn’s notable omissions might not be necessary — or at least necessary to explain — if Jones’ performance were more robustly engaging. As it is, the actor never settles on a recurrent tone (challenging? confidential? vituperative?) with which to converse and so never establishes a bond with his audience.

Jones’ Marx comes most alive when discussing the Paris Commune of 1871, the closest thing the Europe of his day would ever see of a socialist revolution, an upheaval that would inspire him to write what many consider his finest work of propagandist journalism and historical mythmaking, The Civil War in France. For a few moments, Jones channels all the reckless hope and poisonous rage Marx felt about the commune and its bloody death, but then the show sort of trails off until Marx is recalled to heaven.

In a phrase, this Marx needs to be more of what he already is. If Jones were more garrulous, more thunderous, Marx would also be more sympathetic when he blames the future distortions of his theories and the murderous excesses committed in his name by what he calls “dogmatists.” It might even make more compelling the idea that Marx may yet be proved right. As it is, Marxists today always sound like characters from a Frankenstein movie — our creature would have been so beautiful if only he hadn’t been given a criminal’s brain! And so the need to blame Marxism’s failures on Lenin, or Stalin, or Mao, or Pol Pot.

The conceit of Marx’s appearance, by the way, is that through some celestial travel snafu, he’s ended up not in his old London neighborhood of Soho, but in New York’s SoHo. This allows Zinn’s Marx to compare the abject poverty of Victorian London to the homelessness and drug use he says he sees in New York’s SoHo. He apparently hasn’t had time, during his brief stay, to price loft space around West Broadway, or to stand in line at the Spring Street Starbucks. In that case, he would no doubt feel a bit embarrassed for contrasting New York’s gallery-combed SoHo to the neighborhood where he lost a son to a cholera epidemic that claimed 6,000 lives. The road to utopia may be paved with good intentions, but it shouldn’t be potholed with such disingenuous analogies.

The conditions of economic despair necessary to spawn Marx’s revolution might never exist in our world of cars, TV and video games, but there will always be rebels to challenge and harass capitalism and its complacent pornographers. To paraphrase Marx’s famous letter to Arnold Ruge, Marxism will always exist, although not necessarily in Marxist form.

MARX IN SOHO | Written by HOWARD ZINN Performed by BRIAN JONES | At THE COMPLEX, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood | Through July 22

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