In late November 2006 John Bellamy Foster traveled to Brazil where he delivered addresses on the global ecological devastation of capitalism, and the need for worldwide ecosocialist resistance, at two universities in the state of Santa Catarina: the Regional University of Blumenau and the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Florianópolis. These talks were part of the third annual Bolivarian Days Conference organized by the Institute of Latin American Studies in Brazil. The theme this year was “Social Theory and Eurocentrism in Latin America: The Insurgency of Critical Thought.” The conference provided ample evidence of the vitality of socialist and anti-imperialist critiques both in Brazil and in Latin America as a whole in what is clearly a new era of revolt.
While in Florianópolis John was also able to visit the Chico Mendes Community, a settlement of the Movement of the Roofless Workers of the Center (Movimento de Sem-Teto do Centro or MSTC)—an organization embodying socialist views and linked to Brazil’s more famous Movement of Landless Workers (Movimento dos Sem Terra, MST). Around 100 “roofless” (homeless) families—later growing to as many as 300—had moved in one night in the face of the police and occupied public land that had been cleared for a soccer stadium. There they had built shacks, living for months without water and electricity, establishing a school and a community center, and resisting all government attempts to dislodge them. They set up a garbage collective as a means of income. Eventually, the state gave in. Similar actions by roofless workers, usually led by women, have taken place elsewhere in Brazil in recent years. In Sao Paulo tower blocks of twenty-two stories in wealthy areas have been taken over by the roofless workers movement, housing as many as 400 families in a single building (“Brazil’s Roofless Reclaim the Cities,” The Guardian, January 23, 2005). The political courage and sense of community and humanity of the MSTC workers in the Chico Mendes Community was contagious. Their spririt can be seen in the motto of the MSTC movement: “Occupying, Resisting, Building” (a modification of the MST’s famous motto: “Occupying, Resisting, Producing”).
Monthly Review Press would like to announce the release of Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate: An Economist’s Travelogue, by the magazine’s associate editor Michael Yates. Michael retired from his job as professor of economics at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown in 2001 and “hit the road,” where he has become something of a Marxist Jack Kerouac. He and his wife Karen Korenoski gave away most of their possessions, packed the rest in their van, and moved to Yellowstone National Park where Michael worked as a hotel desk clerk and Karen as a restaurant host. From there they went to Manhattan where Michael worked at the Monthly Review office. Then on to Portland, Oregon, Miami Beach, Florida, and Estes Park, Colorado. In between the last two moves they lived on the road for 150 and 120 days respectively, staying in cheap motels and cooking their meals on a two-burner hot plate. And since August 31, 2006, they have been on the road again.
Relying on his background as a radical economist and MR writer, and incorporating an ecological perspective inspired by Edward Abbey (see “The Ghosts of Karl Marx and Edward Abbey,” Monthly Review, March 2005), Michael has described and put into historical-class context what he and Karen have seen. The result is a unique travel book. It movingly describes the great natural beauty of the United States, from the blue-water beaches of Florida to the volcanic mountains of the northwest. But unlike ordinary travel books, it places this beauty in its human context. Karen and Michael visited more than thirty national parks and monuments. In Yellowstone National Park, Michael tells us,
In July, when the wild flowers were in full glory, we took the long hike up to the fire tower on Mt. Washburn and were greeted near the top by a group of bighorn sheep. Later we spotted five black bears. One of them climbed part way up a tree and after climbing down, stood and scratched its back against the bark. It looked for all the world like it was dancing. To top things off, we saw four golden eagles. Two of them flew directly overhead. They looked as if they had been on an Indian totem pole, good evidence that the Indians understood the power and beauty of these great birds. Through our binoculars we could see the underside of the eagles’ wings. They were a beautiful yellow color, almost translucent. If you used your imagination, they looked like gigantic butterflies soaring through the sky.
Only one group of Indians lived in Yellowstone Park, the Sheepeater Shoshone, who managed to survive in this harsh wilderness, with its killing winters, by hunting and eating the mountain sheep native to the region. The tribe was physically removed from the park in 1879 (in that year fifty-two members of the tribe, mainly women and children, were hunted down and subdued by the U.S. Army after a three-month search). This process of removal from areas designated national parks was repeated again and again. Indians might be tolerated for awhile in the parks, either because they were too numerous to remove at once or because they could be utilized commercially, as hunting guides or performers for the rising number of tourists, but not because the parks had been their land.
Similar juxtapositions are made with respect to vistas elsewhere in the United States in the context of the travels described in Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate. None of the trees in Miami Beach are native species; the indigenous trees were cut down and the swamp drained (by exploited black labor) to make way for Carl Fisher’s paradise. Nothing of the original barrier island remains; even the sand for the spectacular beach had to be trucked in. In Yellowstone, in Miami Beach, in Manhattan, in Portland, Oregon, across the nation, Michael observed and in his book examines growing class and racial divisions, the proliferation of poorly-paid and dead-end jobs. In fact, a surprisingly large number of workers live in cheap motels out of economic necessity and might consider a hotplate a luxury. Everywhere there is evidence of a numbing disregard for the environment.
As most MR readers are doubtless aware, Monthly Review Press does not have ample funds with which to promote its books. Nevertheless, we are seeking to draw attention to Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate, using whatever imaginative means we can drum up and relying on efforts of our friends and supporters. You can help by reading the book and spreading the word. You can purchase it by calling 1-800-670-9499 or going to the book’s Web site—where Michael will also be keeping readers updated on his and Karen’s continuing travels.
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