If you have not been thinking about Che, now you will. Our gifted poet, feminist author, and revolutionary thinker has given us a spare and ethical meditation on the lingering life and death of Ernesto Che Guevara. With infinite care and honesty, Margaret Randall circles deeper and more fully into the liberation ideas and actions that she, and our era, were inspired by and sought—as manifest in the young doctor from Argentina who joined the revolutionary struggle for a liberated Cuba, encouraged and supported rebel forces across the continents of South America and Africa, embodied the hope and anti-imperialism of the third world project, and improbably initiated and fought guerilla armed conflict in the Congo and then Bolivia, where he was killed.
Eslanda Robeson’s robust life and political actions spanned two-thirds of the twentieth century, from the Harlem Renaissance to the London theatre, from studies with students from the British empire’s colonies to travels to the rural villages of Uganda and the Congo, through anti-fascism and the Second World War, across the Cold War and African decolonization, from the Soviet and Chinese revolutions to the founding of the United Nations, from fearlessly challenging McCarthyism to attendance at the All-African Peoples Conference in Ghana, from Jim Crow to the surging of the Black Freedom Movement. Her life as an internationalist, Africanist, political radical, writer, anthropologist, journalist, acclaimed speaker and, oh, yes, did I say the wife, sometimes partner, and enduring political comrade of actor, singer, and militant activist himself, Paul Robeson, spanned virtually every continent and every struggle for equality, peace, and liberation.
Who could have imagined the 2008 presidential campaign?
Commentators, media people, and especially politicians fell all over themselves proclaiming that the 2008 election had, “nothing at all to do with race.” And yet every event, every speech and comment, every debate and appearance had race written all over it. Stephen Colbert, the brilliant satirist, hit it on the head when he asked a Republican operative, “How many euphemisms have you come up with so far so that you won’t have to use the word ‘Black?’” Everyone laughed good-naturedly.
Pablo Neruda wrote in elegant verse what Harry Magdoff analyzed in prose:
But we have to see behind all them, there is something
behind the traitors and the gnawing rats,
an empire which sets the table
and serves up the nourishment and the bullets….
Harry saw behind them all, behind the traitors and the gnawing rats, and he identified, analyzed, and rejected the empire which sets the table. The table settings changed over decades, even the size and shape of the table were altered. The careful economic proof of U.S. empire in the sixties became the contemporary global imperialism in this post-9/11 millennium. Harry Magdoff named, tracked, and opposed the bloody dehumanizing course of U.S. imperialism over six decades
Ella Baker was known and revered by a generation of Southern civil rights organizers. Her name is virtually unrecognized by political activists today. Yet she persisted as a Southern African-American woman in male-dominated national organizations, working as an organizer/educator for five decades to help transform the poisonous U.S. landscape of white supremacy. She was a founding mentor of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who nurtured a radical democratic practice: that the black sharecroppers and most oppressed rural poor could resist oppression, challenge power, and speak for themselves. Leadership for the black community must emerge, she insisted, from the courage, experiences, suffering, and understanding of ordinary, often illiterate, people in the Mississippi Delta, in Lowndes County, Alabama, and in Albany, Georgia. Students might spark the flame: the Freedom Rides, the voter registration drives, and Mississippi Summer were staffed with young volunteers, but Baker taught them to learn from—and be transformed by—grassroots leaders and to respect their wisdom in a dynamic, group-centered manner. Never fixed or finished, she remained a work in progress; she encouraged a spirit of radical, democratic humanism that influenced the black freedom movement, labor, the women’s movement, the student antiwar movement, GIs and veterans, prison and solidarity work, and community organizing for decades to come
The creation and cultivation of fear is one of the pillars of empire both abroad and within the imperial “homeland.” And that fear is always accompanied by the threat of discipline, punishment, and violence. Every state uses violence to enforce its power against its enemies, but we must recognize that a major change has occurred. September 11, 2001 gave a green light for a full blown, and bipartisan, agenda of repression at home, as well as for the expanded imperial project abroad
The sixties were risky, frisky, shattering, chaotic, moral, exhilarating, riotous, international, destructive, communitarian, divisive, vivid, anarchistic, dogmatic, and liberating. Relentlessly commodified in subsequent years, the sixties became a boxed set: music, culture, clothing, academic professions, mythology, and de-fanged pabulum. It takes courage to undertake an interpretive survey of a turbulent recent decade; historians Isserman and Kazin’s achievement provokes, reminds, and informs. They have produced a valuable reference book, a genre where their uncertain perspective does little damage. Their brilliant opening set piece describes the 1961 Civil War Centennial Commission—which decided explicitly to exclude the words Negro, slavery, and Emancipation, from their re-enactment pageantry of white regional rivalry. When a black New Jersey delegate, arriving to participate in the opening Fort Sumter commemoration, was denied a room at the Commission’s segregated South Carolina hotel, all hell broke loose. Eventually, in a resolution that foreshadows the 1995 Hiroshima exhibition at the Smithsonian,two separate observances were held, an integrated one on federal property, and a segregated one in downtown Charleston. What a sensational narrative to open an exploration of race, history, and the war to explain the war