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Reading I.F. Stone on Earth Day: Why We Still Won’t Get Anywhere Unless We Connect the Dots April 24, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Environment, Revolution.
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Roger’s note: I love it (actually I hate it) the way left radicals (including one as honest and forthright as I.F. Stone, a giant in the field of radical journalism) will basically lead us up to it, but will not use the R word.  There are reasons for this which I understand, foremost of which is the series of failed 20th century revolutions, beginning with the Soviet Union.  Unfortunately, “connect the dots” is a totally inadequate substitute for a genuine call to action.  Karl Marx was a radical journalist.  He wrote for European journals and the New York Daily Tribune.  Failed revolutions resulted from external aggressions and a failure to understand Marx, not the opposite.  In today’s North American academic, political, and corporate dominated media world, advocating revolution borders on the suicidal.  Nevertheless, critical analysis points in no other direction.

In his speech near the end, Stone says: “Until we have a leadership willing to make the enormous changes …”  Only the willfully blind can believe that the “leadership,” bought lock, stock and barrel by the military industrial complex, will ever be “willing” to make fundamental changes.  That will only come from below.

Nonetheless, kudos to Naomi Klein and to dear departed Izzy Stone for at least pointing in the right direction.

 

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(Photo: elycefeliz/cc/flickr)

One week ago, I was honoured to receive an “Izzy Award” for “outstanding achievement in independent media and journalism.” The annual award, which this year also went to David Sirota for his groundbreaking investigations into political corruption in the U.S. pension system, is named after the great muckraker I.F. Stone (“Izzy” to his friends).

In past years, the award has gone to people who do a far better job of embodying the legacy of Stone’s investigative reporting than I (Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill among them). But as I said at the ceremony at Ithaca College, I doubt the judges have given the honour to anyone whose grandparents would have been more thrilled. Without fail, my late grandfather Philip Klein would read I.F. Stone’s Weekly to my late grandmother Annie while she knitted some new creation.

In preparation for the ceremony, I read some of Stone’s environmental writing, and came across a piece that seems very worth sharing today. It’s the speech he gave on April 22, 1970—the very first Earth Day. Never one to mince words, Stone’s speech was titled “Con Games.”

Picture the scene: it’s the Sylvan Theater on the grounds of the National Monument in Washington, D.C. Millions have participated in Earth Day events across the country and thousands are now gathered on the National Mall to listen to music (including Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs) and hear rally speeches from political heavyweights.

It is in this joyous and self-congratulatory atmosphere that a curmudgeonly I.F. Stone, by now a full-fledged icon on the left, takes the stage. And he unapologetically rains on the parade, accusing Earth Day of providing cover for escalating war and calling for a movement willing to demand “enormous changes—psychological, military, and bureaucratic—to end the existing world system, a system of hatred, of anarchy, of murder, of war and pollution.”

Not everything about the speech stands the test of time (as we now know, the threats posed by pollution are far more dire than mere “litter”). But what Stone saw clearly, and what bears repeating four and half decades later, is that the ecological movement will get nowhere if it fails to connect the dots with other overlapping crises facing our society, from racism to militarism to inequality. Stone wasn’t saying that pollution was irrelevant—simply that it “is not going to be solved in isolation.”

Amen to that. So on this Earth Day, let’s hear it for Izzy, and for all the others willing to crash the most comfortable parties.

I.F. Stone, “Con Games,” speech delivered at Sylvan Theater, Washington, D.C., April 22, 1970

In the ancient world, the Caesars did it with bread and circuses. And tonight, I’m afraid, is the first time that our Caesars have learned to do it with rock and roll, and idealism, and noninflammatory social issues. In some ways, I’m sorry to say, we here tonight are being conned. This has many of the aspects of a beautiful snow job. The country is slipping into a wider war in southeast Asia, and we’re talking about litterbugs. The secretary of defense, on Monday, made a speech to the Associated Press sabotaging the SALT talks, presenting a completely false picture of the world balance of power, ending what little hope we had of progress in those talks, preparing the way for a bigger, more expensive arms race at the expensive of mankind, and we’re talking as if we needed more wastebaskets.

The divisions of white and black in this country are getting to the point where they threaten our future, and we’re talking about pollution. And it’s not that pollution is not an important subject, but if the Nixon administration feels so deeply about it, why don’t they do something substantial about it?

One important thing about this town is that you can never take very seriously what the officials say. They’re the prisoners of a vast bureaucracy. Much of what they say is merely rationalization of their lack of momentum. But in particular, the president said, and I think quite rightfully and quite truthfully, that in the next ten years it’s now or never for the air we breathe and the water we drink. And then, after making that speech, he put in a budget in which 52 cents out of every general revenue dollar goes to the military, and barely four-tenths of one cent goes to air and water pollution. And that’s a real con game. And that’s a real snow job.

We are spending, on new weapons systems alone, more than ten times as much, in this coming fiscal year, in the Nixon budget, than we’re going to spend on air and water. We’re spending a billion dollars more a year on space than all our expenditure on natural resources. The priorities of this government are lunatic—absolutely lunatic. And we’re not going to save the air we breathe and the water we drink without very many fundamental changes in governmental policy and governmental structure.

Before I came down here tonight, I heard a TV announcer say with great satisfaction that he hadn’t heard a word said about Vietnam all day. Well, I’m going to say a word about Vietnam. We’re not going to be able to save our air and our water, and the resources of our country, for our children and our grandchildren, until we end the militarization of our society, until we bring to an end the effort of American imperialism to rule the world and to waste our resources and our honor and our kids on a futile and murderous and insane task.

The problem of pollution is not going to be solved in isolation. The basic and most important pollution problem that we have to deal with is to prevent the pollution of the atmosphere of free discussion by the Nixon-Agnew-Mitchell administration. A society can only progress and deal with its evils if it is prepared to allow the widest measure of free speech, including free speech for radicals who are completely opposed to the basis of that society. Any society allows you to agree with the government. A free society allows you to disagree fundamentally. And it takes a lot of disagreement, and a lot of hollering and a lot of demonstration, to shake any establishment out of its accustomed ways. And the main menace to the solution of these problems is an administration that thinks they will go away if they just put a few radicals in jail.

The problems are enormous. The source of pollution is man. And man’s technology. And the enormous institutions he has built up that make him a prisoner. And somehow we’ve got to shake loose. And the biggest menace—the institution that ties us down most—that wastes our substance—that threatens to waste more of our youth—is that great big, five-sided building across the Potomac—the Pentagon. They are preparing to do to us at home what they tried to do in Vietnam.

Only this week, General Wheeler, the retiring chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, gave an interview to U.S. News and World Report in which he said that criticism of the military was due to a Communist plot. This is an effort of the military to revive McCarthyism, to preserve its enormous power and privileges in our society. And until its power is broken, until the military is reduced sharply in size, we’re not going to be able to solve these problems.

You know, there is no use talking about Earth Day unless we are prepared to make these fundamental changes. Everybody’s talking about Earth Day, and it comes out of the mouths of so many hypocrites it turns your stomach. What kind of an Earth Day can we celebrate in a country that is spending so much of its money to destroy the Earth? How can we talk of reverence for life when we’re spending so much on our enemy, our genius, our money, and our youth on building up new means of destroying life?

What’s the use of talking about the pollution of air and water when we live under a precarious balance of terror which can, in an hour’s time, make the entire Northern Hemisphere of our planet unlivable? There’s no use talking about Earth Day until we begin to think like Earthmen. Not as Americans and Russians, not as blacks and whites, not as Jews and Arabs, but as fellow travelers on a tiny planet in an infinite universe. All that we can muster of kindness, of compassion, of patience, of thoughtfulness, is necessary if this tiny planet of ours is not to go down to destruction. Until we have a leadership willing to make the enormous changes—psychological, military, and bureaucratic—to end the existing world system, a system of hatred, of anarchy, of murder, of war and pollution, there is no use talking about buying more wastebaskets or spending a couple of hundred million dollars on the Missouri River. If we do not challenge these fundamental causes of peril, we will be conned by the establishment while basic decisions are being made over which we have very little control, though they endanger everything on which our future and the world’s depend.

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist, author, and syndicated columnist. Her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate (Simon & Schuster, 2014), has just been published. Her previous books include the international best-sellers,  The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism and No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies.   To read all her writing visit www.naomiklein.org. Follow her on Twitter: @NaomiAKlein.

From Haymarket to Ludlow from Harlen to Matewan from Mother Jones to You May 2, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Labor, Revolution.
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Glenn Fox

www.opednews.com, May 2, 2009

So it has come to this, why must I wake the sleeping? It wasn’t so long ago I was asleep myself. Why must I be the one to tell you what you don’t want to hear? Why must I tell you about how quickly hot red human blood congeals and turns black when mixed with cold pavement or frozen mud? Murderous armies training automatic weapons on women and children, then firing off a few rounds, just for fun.

Not Russia or China or Somalia or Chechnya but in Chicago and Kentucky and Colorado and Michigan. Hundreds died and hundreds more were wounded, but they kept coming because they were fighting for something greater than themselves. They were fighting a more personal revolution, closer to home than Valley Forge or Yorktown–they were fighting for personal liberty and personal dignity.

 

Sketch by C. Bunnell and Chas Upham in Leslie’s, May 15, 1886. 

They were not tools, they were not raised to work sunup to sun down hauling coal or sewing shirts so that the few, far removed from the sweatshops and the coal dust, could travel to Europe on a lark or throw massive parties where the favors were precious jewels. At River Rouge firemen turned water hoses on demonstrators in sub zero temperatures. The police fired into the crowd at random, killing three and wounding thirteen. In Ludlow, the Coal Company put strikers out of company housing during a snowstorm.

They put Mother Jones in jail for the crime of speaking up. No charges, no lawyers, just iron bars and a cold cell. But the miners wouldn’t give in, so they called in the state Militia that took orders from the governor who sided with the company. Just for fun they would fire shots into the strikers’ camps, just for fun. They shot a nine-year-old boy in the head but the press wouldn’t report it. Only after they’d set fire to a family tent and killed nine women and three small children–only then would the press begin to take notice.

In Chicago on May 41886, fifteen hundred gathered to support striking railroad workers demanding — of all things — the outrageous notion of an eight-hour workday. It began to rain and most of the crowd was already gone when police moved in force to disperse the remaining demonstrators. Someone threw a bomb and who that person was was never determined. Police opened fire on the crowd and killed four and wounded over one hundred. Seven policemen were dead and demands for vengeance, not justice, reigned.

Eight men were arrested and tried, but it was a show trial. No evidence was presented that proved the men had anything to do with the bomb or even knew the bomber. Someone’s got to die and we pick you! Four men were hanged, guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. One committed suicide and the other three were given long prison terms. They were eventually pardoned, in the words of the governor, “on the grounds that the trial had been patently unjust.”

A heavy price to pay for an eight-hour day isn’t it? No policemen were ever charged for firing indiscriminately into the crowd. Just as no one was charged in Ludlow and no one was charged in Calumet for yelling fire into a union hall during a Christmas party. Seventy-five people, mostly children, suffocated on the stairs that Christmas Eve in the rush to get out.

In Matewan, the company responded to workers organizing by hiring private “detectives” to begin evicting the strikers from company housing. The Police Chief, Sid Hatfield, demanded the detectives produce legal writs of eviction before putting anyone out of their homes. Hatfield was later gunned down on the steps of the McDowell County Courthouse by four men. No one was ever charged or arrested for his murder — a murder that happened in broad daylight on the very steps of American justice.

The battle of Matewan killed seven detectives, two miners and the mayor. The surviving detectives vowed revenge on Sid Hatfield and apparently they had it in front of the courthouse in broad daylight.

The Molly Maguires were a secret Irish group whose goal was to organize workers in the Pennsylvania coal fields. The company owned the fields, the town and the courts, and just an inkling of a suspicion of belonging to the “Mollies” was reason good enough for a long jail term–that is if they didn’t hang you. The coal trusts suspected the “Mollies” as being the heart of the resistance when the company cut the workers wages by 20%. Ungrateful wretches weren’t they?

So what does May Day mean to you? Probably nothing, maybe you’ve got a job, maybe a real good one, and you’re only concerned with your own lookout. So you don’t want me  jostling your bed cause you sleep good at night. I used to sleep good at night, too. Then by the moonlight I began to wonder why it is that there is always money to help big business and never enough money to help the workers? Or why health care reform means more money for big insurance companies? GM went before Congress and spelled it out: their plan to return to profitability is to eliminate as many American workers from the company payroll as possible and expand their plants in Mexico. Congress nodded, Republican and Democrat alike, and mumbled, “Good plan!”

So what does May Day mean to you? The World Bank has estimated that the United States has exported over 40% percent of its industrial base to the third world. The same report warned that in the event of an economic downturn, it would be difficult for this economy to recover because economies that produce nothing produce no wealth. A carwash, a barbershop or a Wal-Mart only exchange money and take a percentage as profit. They create only low wage jobs because profitability depends on cheap labor–that’s you.

But for those who exported the plants, the times are good. Better than ever until… until they were hoisted on their own petards. Just as they profited from deregulation so did the banks–change partners allemande, right! Just who did they blame when the house of cards fell?  Why, you, of course. They’ll grab a handful of scapegoats and let the rest go free. No one will ask why a Freddie Mac bank president who received an $800,000 bonus just a couple of months ago is suddenly suicidal. Maybe his conscience hurt or he had thoughts of telling the truth.

Maybe this all means nothing; maybe you’ll sleep well tonight. After all it’s only May Day and Hallmark doesn’t even send cards to commemorate nine-year-olds shot in the head or gun thugs yelling fire at a Christmas party. A few thousand people who put their lives on the line trying to make this country and this government live up to their promises.

We are not tools; we were not put on this Earth merely to labor for corporations. We cannot sit quietly while they raid the treasury and evade the tax laws because every dollar that they don’t pay is left for you to pay.

This is our country and we can do anything we want with it. We can have national health care; we can have a green environment. We can have good jobs and good schools and living wages and all you have to do is stand up! Stand up and realize who your friends are and who your enemies are. But I warn you; if you do stand up they will try to beat you back down. They will make you understand that land of the free is a slogan on a bank calendar and you’re only entitled to as much freedom as you’re willing to fight for because May Day is a remembrance of busted heads and murdered children right here in the land of the free and the memories of those truly brave.