Monday, February 8, 2016


“You need a vanguard organization in order to overcome the dangerous potential brought about by the uneven development of class militancy and class consciousness,” Marxist theorist Ernest Mandel  (1923-1995)

Mandel’s point is still true: when workers lack class consciousness, political torpor sets in unless exploited people are stirred into action by vanguard leaders.  When I wrote about the United Steelworkers of America District 31 Women’s Caucus that arose during the 1970s as a result of discrimination against women entering the steel work force after the 1974 Consent Decree, I characterized it as a vanguard movement organized by veterans of leftist groups who had joined the labor force because they believed the path to fundamental change lay in strengthening rank-and-file militancy within industrial unions.  The Women’s Caucus not only succeeded in obtaining more palatable job conditions for women but also played a prominent role in other fights, including the Bailly Alliance, which prevented the building of a nuclear plant on the shore of Lake Michigan.
 James Oliphant
As a self-described democratic socialist, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is in the vanguard of what he hopes will lead to a political revolution.  I am fearful, however, that he will turn out, if nominated, to be, like George McGovern in 1972, an easy mark for lies and innuendos from rightwing forces.  Even so, he was pretty funny on Saturday Night Live in a skit with Larry David about being on the Titanic.
A Gardner Center exhibit, entitled “Vanguards: Moving ‘out here’ to Miller,” featured portraits by Chicagoan James Oliphant of African Americans who, beginning in 1964, moved to Gary’s previously all-white Miller district.  Accompanying the photos were brief excerpts of oral interviews covering where the subjects previously lived, reasons for their move, and reaction by both their old and new neighbors.  Marianita Porterfield sought better educational opportunities for her children; others wanted a safer environment.  One woman, disparaged as uppity by former neighbors, wished that more whites would have given integration a chance before moving away.  Some white realtors resisted serving black clients, but several “pioneers” praised Bruce Ayers for helping them.

There was a large crowd at the exhibit and good food (especially the deviled eggs).  I chatted with Nancy Cohen (about the Bulls), George Rogge (about a SALT column Jeff Manes wrote about him), and Cindy Frederick (about vanguard pioneers we both knew).  I told Judy Ayers that I enjoyed her Newsletter column about living in Hawaii around the same time as Toni and me; we both listened to Hawaiian music coming from nightclubs while on the beach and saw Don Ho (whose hit song “Tiny Bubbles” came out in 1966) at Duke Kahanamoku’s, named for an Olympic medalist and father of modern surfing. I arrived early and didn’t stay long because James was spending the night.  With Dave and Toni being in Oklahoma for Tamiya’s graduation from Basic Training, I had gladly volunteered to take him bowling. After he rolled a 455 series (above my average) we ate at Culver’s, joined by Becca and Angie.  At the library I picked up a Lucinda Williams CD and “Hooking Up” (2000) by Tom Wolfe.
 Don Ho and Duke Kahanamoku
Gloria Steinem, 81 years young, appeared on the Bill Maher Show to plug her new book, My Life on the Road,” dedicated to a British abortionist who, after the procedure, told her to go have a productive life.  Asked to explain why most young women were supporting Bernie Sanders rather than Hillary Clinton, Steinem answered that women, unlike men, get more liberal as they age.  Then she added that it was also because that’s where the young men are.  Maher blurted out, “Had I said that, you’d have slapped me.”  Steinem retorted, “Are you kidding?  I thought you knew me better than that.”

In “Andrew Jackson” Sean Wilentz makes the point that “Old Hickory” was very controversial in his own time, then accepted for many years as a champion of democracy, but recently has become a subject of controversy as a slaveowner and ruthless champion of Indian removal.  There’s even a movement afoot to remove his image from 20-dollar bills, perhaps in favor of a black woman or Native American.  Wilentz asks readers to judge Jackson by the standards of his time, not ours.  It is interesting how little historians know about exactly where Jackson was born (probably in frontier South Carolina but perhaps in nearby North Carolina) or about Jackson’s father, who died before Andrew was born, perhaps due to a fatal accident while clearing trees.  By all accounts “Young Hickory” was a drunken rake who’d brawl or duel at the drop of the hat and loved cards, horse racing, loose women.

I enjoyed “The Revenant” despite many gory spots.  Leonardo DiCaprio plays 1820s frontiersman Hugh Glass, whose half-breed son pays the ultimate price for disregarding his advice to be invisible and keep his mouth shut because white people, “don’t hear your voice.  They just see the color of your face.”  The film portrayed Native Americans in a positive light, more in harmony with nature than the rapacious interlopers who slaughtered them with the connivance of federal officials, including Andrew Jackson.  Tom Hardy as villainous foil John Fitzgerald deserves an Oscar, as does Leonardo on this his sixth try, most recently for “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Kawaan Short; NWI Times photo by John Luke
In the NWI Times Al Hamnik wrote about Carolina Panther all-star defensive lineman Kawaan Short and Chicago Bulls guard E’Traun Moore as goodwill ambassadors for their hometown East Chicago.  The article stated:
   Many outsiders think of East Chicago, once a proud, productive city of oil and steel, as crime-ridden and politically corrupt.
They're dead wrong.
Yes, there are problems, just like any other diverse city today. And here is where the torch is passed. East Chicago's youth will have a big say in its future by building a positive image.

Starring on East Chicago Central’s 2007 state championship basketball team and friends since childhood, Short and Moore often stopped at Columbus Drive Gyros after school for something to eat.  Owner John Troupis told them if they won state, he’d treat them to all they could eat.  Hamnik wrote: “E. C. Central prevailed, 87-83, against Indianapolis North Central, featuring high school phenom Eric Gordon.  It wasn’t long after when Moore and Short, holding the trophy, led the Cardinals into Columbus Drive Gyros and said: ‘We’re really hungry!”

At a Superbowl party hosted by Marianne Brush, I was rooting for Carolina but wanted Peyton Manning to do well.  He didn’t, but Denver’s defense overwhelmed Carolina’s QB Cam Newton.  The halftime show was spectacular but the commercials over-hyped and frankly pretty terrible, considering all the time and money wasted on them.  The worst one featured a creature that looked to be half monkey and half baby.  I did like one by a Doritos contest winner produced for a mere thousand dollars of dogs trying to sneak into a grocery.  One AM 670 sports jock claimed the highlight of the day was Lady Gaga singing the National Anthem.  He had a point.

Missy Brush arrived at the party with vinyl record albums from a Chicago record store by Lou Reed, Styx, Sex Pistols, and the Velvet Underground (with Andy Warhol’s banana on the cover).  I told Missy she could look through albums in our garage and take what she wanted; she eagerly took me up on the offer.  Our musical tastes are similar and in both cases, eclectic.

1 comment:

  1. i am what i would term and "empirical marxist"...36 years on the shop floor watching capital/labor interaction and the hierarchical structures that they emanate from has convinced me that marx's critique of capital is valid...but his teleological remedy is awful and it rests on vanguardism...lenin was vanguardist and look where that led...the vanguard of the proletariat became the new oppressive elite with a burgeoning bureaucracy to enforce the oppression...i weary of politics and rat fucks who have the answers...i don't need another set of "bosses" telling me what to think...what the vanguard needs to do is shut the fuck up and listen for a moment...they might discover that they are thoroughly loathed and "the people" are moving in a different direction.