Category: Peace

“Communist Ravenna,” an article by David Garyan

June 10th, 2020
Ravenna, Italy

 

Communist Ravenna

It can’t be denied that Ravenna is full of Christian history. With its impressive basilicas and connection to Dante, the city can entice the fascination of people coming from all faiths; while its past religiosity certainly contributes to shaping many attitudes and characters all around, it’s the communist modesty which really provides that simple charm so rarely found in other cities, especially those with eight UNESCO World Heritage to their name—in this case, all of them Christian, with the exception of the Masoleum of Galla Placidia (where she isn’t actually buried), and the Masoleum of Theodoric (who’s no longer there).

While the Christian monuments have remained, memories of how Italy was once home to the largest communist party in the West have all been forgotten; since many of its members had fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, this combat experience helped them become, according to UM-Ann Arbor professor, Dario Gaggio, “the best-organized anti-Fascist force during the Second World War.” Communists held substantial power in several regions, and Emilia-Romagna was one of the most notable in that regard. Modena, for example, had an uninterrupted stretch of communist mayors from 1946 to 1992. One of the longest streets in Bologna is called Stalingrado while Ravenna has its own unique way of paying tribute to the Communist past.

The first example is at Piazza Ugo La Malfa, where this large portrait of Che Guevarra can still be found.

I tried searching the area for any kind of information about the artist but wasn’t able to find anything; after returning home and digging on the internet for a bit, I discovered that the art was done by a group of Cuban students from the Escuela de Arte of Trinidad in collaboration with the Academy of Fine Arts in Ravenna; this particular piece is based on the famous photograph by Alberto Korda, who also photographed the revolutionary leader on other occasions. Sadly, the murals were vandalized by fascists at some point and required extensive cleaning, proving that perhaps—now more than ever—we need to be vigilant about the rise of right-wing extremism.

In any case, Che Guevara is one of the most interesting figures to have emerged in the twentieth century. Born on the 14th of June, 1928, he was the oldest of five children raised in a middle-class Argentine family of Spanish origin; his grandmother, Ana Lynch, was a descendant of Patrick Lynch, an Irish immigrant who settled in Rio de la Plata when it was still a governate of the Spanish Empire, now modern-day Argentina.

Already as a young child, Guevara had a propensity for restlessness, according to his father, Don Ernesto: “In order to understand how my son became Major Che, one of the leaders of the Cuban Revolution, and what led him into the Bolivian mountains, we have to look into the past and find out something about our family ancestors. The first thing to note is that in my son’s veins flowed the blood of the Irish rebels, the Spanish conquistadores, and the Argentinean patriots. Evidently Che inherited some of the features of our restless ancestors. There was something in his nature which drew him to distant wanderings, dangerous adventures and new ideas.” This restlessness, however, wasn’t just physical. Besides excelling in sports, Guevara also had plenty of energy for books. He was interested in poetry and literature in general. He was likewise informed about philosophy and history, according to declassified CIA reports: “Che is fairly intellectual for a Latino. He is quite well-read in Latino literature and has an appreciation of the classics from other literatures. He is intelligent and quick.” The memo continues by stating that soldiers under his command “never saw him reading Marx or any other Communist authors.” To educate his troops, he would read to them “from the works of Charles Dickens and of Alphonse Daudet, among others.” Already, the arrogance of the US is apparent—quite well read for a Latino, as if it’s some kind of miracle. Clearly, we’re dealing with an intellectual here, not a party hack ready to oblige any high-ranking official.

On a visit to the USSR, officials were equally impressed with this former doctor, who had, in fact, completed his medical studies in 1953, shortly after returning from his long motorcycle journey through the continent (these events are recounted in a 2004 biopic, The Motorcycle Diaries, based on the diaries Guevara kept during the journey). During this journey with his friend Alberto Granado, Guevara witnessed the poor working conditions of many families and how wealthy landlords exploited peasant farmers in remote rural areas. Towards the end of the journey, he began to see Latin America as a borderless land of united people and not as a fragmented continent of separate states; this change of attitude is highlighted in the movie when Che is celebrating his 24th birthday in the leper colony and makes the following speech, which I’ll do my best to paraphrase: We are a single mixed race, from Mexico to the Strait of Magellan. So, trying to free myself from any nationality, I raise a toast for Peru and for a united America. It’s not clear whether this event depicted in the film actually happened, but the fact that he held such a belief is certain.

According to Douglas Kellner, who authored the book Ernesto “Che” Guevara (World Leaders Past & Present), it was the overthrow of Guatemala’s democratic government by the United States which finally convinced Guevara that armed struggle was necessary for the liberation of Latin America. Kellner quotes Che’s wife, Hilda Gadea, who stated the following: “It was Guatemala that finally convinced him of the necessity for armed struggle, for taking initiative against imperialism.” Indeed, his experiences in Central America shaped the young revolutionary deeply. It’s precisely there Guevara realized that being a democracy won’t protect you from US imperialism. Jacobo Arbenz was democratically elected by the people and simply had the interests of his population in mind when he attempted to institute his land reforms; however, because this agenda went against the corporate interests of the US, he was swiftly removed. Guevara, thus, realized Latin America would never be able to rule the way it wanted to, even if it made this attempt democratically. It’s at this moment that he abandoned his profession and truly became a revolutionary, although it’s clearly evident that he never lost hope for returning to medicine: “When I was in Arbenz’s Guatemala, I had begun taking notes to try and assess what would be the duties of a revolutionary doctor. Then, after the United Fruit Company’s aggression, I realized one fundamental thing: To be a revolutionary doctor, you first need a revolution.” That dream would be cut short—once again at the hands of the US, when Bolivian soldiers, trained and equipped by the CIA captured and killed the revolutionary.

Across from Che’s mural at Piazza Ugo La Malfa one can see the depiction of Arrigo Baldrini, from whose portrait the Cuban flag trails. Having joined the Italian Communist Party in 1943, he became a central figure for the Italian resistance in the Romagna region. A fearless warrior, he took part in most of the liberation missions in the region. Baldrini died in Ravenna on January 22nd, 2008 at the age of 92.

Not far from Piazza Ugo La Malfa is the street named after Enrico Berlinguer, leader of the Italian Communist Party from 1972 to 1984.

Considered the best and most popular national secretary of the party, Berlinguer distanced himself from the USSR and proceeded to govern along more ideologically moderate lines. His philosophy revolved around the Third Way, which can best be explained with the phrase “centrist socialism,” or the attempt to reconcile right-wing and left-wing politics. In a book, Visions of the End of the Cold War in Europe, 1945-1990, edited by Frédéric Bozo, Laura Fasanaro writes the following: “Berlinguer used this expression to refer to a model of socialism that did not yet exist, either in the USSR or in other ‘socialist’ countries, but that would, he hoped, be implemented in Italy. This model would go beyond the Soviet model but preserve the legacy of two historical landmarks: the October revolution on the one hand, and the anti-Fascist alliance of the USSR with the Western democracies during the Second World War on the other.” Politicians like Berlinguer offer a refreshing way to look at communism from a different perspective. Whereas the US is fanatical about suppressing any debate surrounding socialism, along with preventing every politician like Bernie Sanders from seeking power, Italy, for example, has proven that a more moderate course isn’t just possible but can also offer new solutions for the ills of capitalism.

It’s certainly hypocritical that even candidates such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were more than willing to run on revolutionary platform themselves, but when Bernie Sanders attempted to institute his own innovative ideas, the two former candidates didn’t waste any time trying to discredit him, simply because the US doesn’t do socialism. Clinton claimed that “nobody likes him” and Obama promised to speak in order to stop his possible nomination.

Well, enough US bashing. Let’s return to Berlinguer; in his own words, he had realized that neither authoritarian communism nor unchecked capitalism was the answer and he wanted to find a solution: “The fact that the socialist experiments that have so far been carried out in various parts of the world do not represent an historically adequate and politically feasible solution for the West, i.e. in the high points of capitalism and hence also here in Italy, does not mean that we should abandon the objective of socialism and the struggle to build in Italy and in the other European capitalist countries a system of social and human relations superior to those produced by capitalism and its crisis. On the contrary, this makes it more urgent than ever for us to make the theoretical and practical effort so that the workers’ movement, having reached a maturity and a new phase of its history, can decisively bring to bear its constructive and innovative strength.” People like Berlinguer are further proof that the hypersensitive attitude (the kindest possible way to put it) with which the US attempts to stay away from socialism is at best ridiculous and at worst filled with the greedy desire to further empower the rich at expense of its own people. Italians, on the other hand, admired the political ability and courage of their socialist leader, recognizing his integrity and intelligence. Sanders, meanwhile, could’ve brought all the competence in the world to the table; so long as he was a socialist, however, winning an election, much less getting the nomination, was certainly an impossibility—it remains to be seen whether Biden can beat Trump. Let’s just hope Sanders won’t need to be vindicated.

Speaking of democracy fighting fascism, it’s always noteworthy to speak of Antonio Gramsci, who, like Berlinguer, is honored by the city of Ravenna with his own street.

An incredibly prolific writer, Gramsci produced over thirty notebooks, along with countless other pages of historical and philosophical writing. Born on January 22nd, 1891 in Sardinia, he was the fourth among seven brothers. As a child, he experienced health problems which would contribute to the deterioration of his condition in prison. Due to his poor health and financial situation, he abandoned his studies at the University of Turin at the age of 24; because of his involvement with a militant anti-fascist group, Gramsci was arrested in 1926. He was sentenced to five years confinement on the island of Ustica; after this, he was given an additional twenty years to be served out in Turi.

Due to his already weak physical disposition, prison didn’t take kindly to the great philosopher: In one of the introductions written for his Prison Notebooks, the following is stated: “Gramsci’s letters from prison reveal a sense of isolation that was more than simply a physical one—but compounded terribly both by political preoccupations and by anxiety about Julia [his wife]. Increasingly, Gramsci was forced back into himself. Much of the time, particularly towards the end of his stay in Turi, he was too ill even to read or write. Hunchbacked, sickly, having suffered at least three major breakdowns of his health even when he was free and able to enjoy medical attention and maintain a special diet, his years in prison were literally an eleven-year death-agony. His teeth fell out, his digestive system collapsed so that he could not eat solid food, his chronic insomnia became permanent so that he could go weeks without more than an hour or two of sleep at night; he had convulsions when he vomited blood, and suffered from headaches so violent that he beat his head against the walls of his cell. It is against this background that the achievement of the Prison Notebooks should be seen.” Indeed, the ability to create original thought—then muster the willpower to actually write it down coherently—is a task that proves difficult for people in the most perfect situations; Gramsci’s situation, however, was anything but ideal.

It’s perhaps, thus, very strange how given that Gramsci was forced to endure all kinds of physical and psychological deprivations, such as hunger, isolation, pain, and despair, that the fanciest place to buy groceries should be located on a street named after him.

Coop, indeed, is where the so-called bourgeoisie go to shop; it’s like the Whole Foods of Italy, and, not only that—it’s a megacorporation, which runs the largest supermarket chain in Italy. I rarely ever shop at Coop because everything is just so much more expensive and the necessity to shop at such markets is really not necessary in Europe; the food standards are already of such a high quality that the average supermarket here is probably equivalent to your organic store in the US. The use of growth hormones in meat are banned and regulations on additives are much stricter in the EU.

In any case, we’ve gone off-track, but not so much. The ability to feed its own population has always been a problem for communist regimes. To industrialize China, Mao starved millions of people. Stalin engineered a man-made famine in Ukraine, known as Holodomor, and today considered a genocide. The Soviet famine of 1932-1933 killed a great number of people as well, but let’s not make the mistake of forgetting that even today there are over fifteen million people in the US still having trouble getting access to food (it’s so bad, the euphemism “food insecurity” is sometimes used in conjunction with hunger), or the economic policies which led to the Great Depression. Furthermore, to this day, the US remains the only power to have used nuclear weapons against another nation, and who can forget its own genocide against the Native Americans? However, things are rarely analyzed from such perspectives because the US is a democracy (meaning it can do no wrong) while the aforementioned countries are or were communists (obviously they can’t do anything right—even when they actually do); such cultural discourse (which is constructed by the West) proliferates itself through society until it becomes the dominant, normative view, which is exactly how Gramsci said power works.

Despite the hardships he endured in prison, the influential thinker managed to produce some of the greatest Marxist philosophy which is studied both in the US and in Europe alike. I encountered his ideas in classes ranging from graduate literary criticism seminars at CSULB to courses on international cooperation and development at the University of Bologna.

A founding member and eventual secretary of the Communist Party of Italy (dissolved in 1926 by Mussolini’s regime and re-established as the Italian Communist Party in 1943), Gramsci is best known for his theory of cultural hegemony; its main argument is that the status quo must not always employ force to maintain its dominant position. Power and control can also be exercised by culturally engineering the desired normative behaviors that serve the interests of those in charge. In other words, institutions like the church, media, police, and even the cultural apparatus are used to create discourses that not only correspond with the views of those who wield power, but, more importantly, seek to manufacture an environment in which dissent becomes less likely.

Indeed, force can be used to suppress a revolt; however, Gramsci argues that coercion is only effective for a short time because it’s less likely to resolve the hegemon’s problem—violence can only contain unrest for some time until the pressure gives way to revolution; cultural engineering, on the other hand, manipulates society by influencing public opinion so that dissent is seen as something which is both contrary to the cultural norm (hence against the interest of society) and also perhaps unnecessary. The most effective regimes, like the US, have utilized cultural hegemony very well—although capitalism has created huge inequalities, there’s historically been very little desire on the populace’s part to change the system because of how the country has been able to successfully present its economic ideology as superior to communism.

After the Soviet Union fell, however, the US no longer has the same “enemy” to contend with; thus, in its effort to find a new “threat” in the Middle East, it has engaged in a binary civilizational discourse of our way of life (Christianity) vs their way of life (Islam) to both maintain its cultural superiority, and, naturally, at the same time plunder the oil it so desperately needs; in that sense, Trump is the complete embodiment of a nation no longer able to create a cultural discourse capable of maintaining the cultural engineering necessary to wield total power, which is why it’s now resorting to force.

Still, Gramsci argues that revolutions in developed and “democratic” cultures must be of the passive variety, meaning that transformations must be a slow struggle to change institutions from within, using counter-hegemony and alternate values. Speaking at the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Gramsci said the following: “History has spoken, and we have to know how to recognise the reality, we have to recognise that in the advanced countries the socialist revolution will not begin as easily as it did in Russia, the country of Rasputin and Tsar Nicholas, and where for a majority of the population it was a matter of indifference what kind of people lived on the periphery or what was happening there. In countries like these, starting a revolution is as easy as lifting a feather. But in a country where capitalism has developed and produced a democratic culture and organisations that involve every last person, it is absurd to imagine that the revolution can begin without proper preparation. If we fail to do that, we will destroy the socialist revolution before it begins. That is the reality.” Gramsci’s philosophy paints a very clear picture of why it’s so difficult to counter the hegemony of the US; it has achieved such a level of cultural engineering that its democracy is unquestioned; however, when one looks closer, it’s not difficult to see that a democracy in which a candidate can win the popular vote and still lose an elections isn’t a democracy; a democracy in which the rich have all the say in politics and the poor have almost none isn’t a democracy; a democracy which has occupied other countries whose people didn’t welcome the occupation isn’t a democracy; likewise, a democracy which has overthrown other democracies isn’t a democracy. The US has done all those aforementioned things, but due to its ability in utilizing a discourse that successfully justifies these actions, the populace ends up believing that the actions really are justified.

Last but not least in Communist Ravenna, is the bookstore la Feltrinelli.

Anyone familiar with publishing will immediately recognize the name as Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, the legendary publisher, guerilla, and communist. Perhaps best known for first publishing Dr. Zhivago, he’s most likely the first editor to have releasing the first edition of a book in a language it wasn’t originally written in. I can think of no other publisher with that kind of feat to their name. When Boris Pasternak completed the novel and submitted it for publication, the work was rejected by Soviet censors. The manuscript was eventually smuggled out of the USSR and delivered to Feltrinelli. The novel went on to win the Nobel Prize, which, as one might imagine, didn’t make the Soviets too happy. Not surprisingly, the CIA would go on to use the novel as a weapon against the USSR, showing both their own citizens and those behind the Iron Curtain how bad life was under communism. After retiring, Nikita Khrushchev, the man in power at the time, obtained a copy of the book and changed his mind about it: “We shouldn’t have banned it. I should have read it myself. There’s nothing anti-Soviet in it.” I guess people do really change—even communists, for that matter.

The morality of Pasternak’s actions are debatable. Since he spent ten long years of his long life writing the novel, he may have deserved to see it published; at the same time, his actions led to an even greater wave of censorship and suspicion of artists in the Soviet Union. Many of Pasternak’s friends felt like he had betrayed them and made things that much more difficult. Not only had he gotten the glory and fame (which, again, he may have deserved), but, more importantly, he had created additional challenges for writers and artists in the USSR who were fighting for greater artistic freedom. Pasternak, they argued, wasn’t a real dissident because he had assumed none of the risks which come with working from the inside—trying to change the system by challenging it directly, instead of from a periphery. What’s done is done, however. The novel is now available in its original language and has been part of the Russian school curriculum for years, although this might no longer be the case.

And with that, we’ve reached the final stop of our Communist Ravenna tour. For those who prefer less ideologically extreme readings about the city of Ravenna, please do consult the free internet or even my accompanying article to the first section of the poem I wrote about the city.

Here’s to you, tovarish.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

“Something More than Civil Discontent,” an article by David Garyan

June 7th, 2020
Ravenna, Italy

 

Something More than Civil Discontent

The international solidarity surrounding the fight against racism is, perhaps, the most refreshing thing to have happened since the election of Barack Obama in 2008; at the same time, the moods with which one might categorize these respective events could not be any more divergent—hope twelve years ago and utter despair today. What has happened to us?

For the record, not only do I see these protests as a positive development, but I also support the violent nature that embodies them. Before Malcolm X used the phrase “by any means necessary,” it was actually employed by a likewise famous writer and activist, Frantz Fanon, best known for his book, The Wretched of the Earth, in which he analyzes colonialism from a linguistic perspective, arguing how language is used to shape the mind of both the colonizer and the colonized, so that they can each assume their respective role; in that sense, the identity and experience of the colonized is always lived through the colonizer, denying the subjugated population their own history, culture, and humanity—all things which they must perceive through the agency of the colonizer; this naturally causes great psychological distress. Fanon writes: “Colonized society is not merely portrayed as a society without values. The colonist is not content with stating that the colonized world has lost its values or worse never possessed any. The “native” is declared impervious to ethics, representing not only the absence of values but also the negation of values.” Through this discourse, the colonizer gives himself the justification to fill the so-called void (which he himself has created) with the values that the colonized are supposedly “lacking,” and, naturally, the colonizer doesn’t take into account a native’s outlook on life, but, rather, fills his worldview with western values.

Even the religion he brings has more to do with espousing the virtues of whiteness than with the actual worship of God (for if the colonizer actually did have genuine religious inclinations, they would never allow him to commit violence against a people to begin with). Fanon writes: “The Church in the colonies is a white man’s Church, a foreigners’ Church. It does not call the colonized to the ways of God, but to the ways of the white man, to the ways of the master, the ways of the oppressor. And as we know, in this story many are called but few are chosen.” Thus, the parallel can easily be drawn between Fanon’s discourse on colonialism and the completely paradoxical nature with which Trump famously used violence and force to clear protesters in order to pose in front of a church, just to be photographed holding a bible. The man neither worships God nor perhaps even believes in him—what he worships is a fanatical idea of whiteness perhaps so extreme it rivals the militancy of 19th century Belgian and English colonial administrators.

I can imagine no greater suffering than to be denied your own identity; it’s for this reason that Fanon espouses violence as perhaps the only conceivable way to loosen the colonizer’s unrelenting grip on the society which he seeks to subjugate eternally. As Fanon argues, it’s not enough for the colonizer to know that he’s committed violence in the past or that he’s committing violence in the present; no, colonialism is the most brutal form of subjugation, for it’s perhaps the only method of tyranny that seeks to operate across all periods of time—past, present, and future; in other words, its aim is to continue forever under the guise of “civilizing” the natives; in that sense, everything is always done for their own good and this will continue until the ways of natives can no longer be distinguished from those of white people—civilized, that is.

In 1960, Fanon addressed the Accra Positive Action Conference, where he stated the following: “Colonialism, however, is not satisfied by this violence against the present. The colonized people are presented ideologically as a people arrested in their evolution, impervious to reason, incapable of directing their own affairs, requiring the permanent presence of an external ruling power. The history of the colonized people is transformed into meaningless unrest, and as a result, one has the impression that for these people humanity began with the arrival of those brave settlers.” Given that colonialism doesn’t merely seek to deprive the colonized but also desires to replace the Third World’s values with their own, Fanon, thus, espouses violence as the only way to escape the “eternal” colonizer’s chokehold; the discourse, “by any means necessary,” is in this respect another rallying point for colonized people to untangle themselves from the colonizer’s web that has trapped their own past, present, and future: “Violence in everyday behaviour, violence against the past that is emptied of all substance, violence against the future, for the colonial regime presents itself as necessarily eternal. We see, therefore, that the colonized people, caught in a web of a three-dimensional violence, a meeting point of multiple, diverse, repeated, cumulative violence, are soon logically confronted by the problem of ending the colonial regime by any means necessary.” What do we say about the peaceful (really?) protests of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King?

Well, it seems even violence is a right which the West reserves strictly for itself—the right to exert force is interpreted exclusively with the intellectual apparatus of the hegemon so that savagery can only be used to protect the status quo, and thus, it becomes a method of action which is only acceptable when employed by the colonizer. Fanon writes: “When German militarism decides to resolve its border problems by force, it is no surprise, but when the Angolan people, for instance, decide to take up arms, when the Algerians reject any method which does not include violence, this is proof that something has happened or is in the process of happening.” It’s, therefore, clearly in the interest of the West to establish a discourse which makes them the bearer of values while depicting colonized subjects as those who lack them—and it’s precisely this intellectual effort that justifies the use of violence on the colonizer’s part when the natives refuse to be “civilized.” Here’s ethnic cleansing interpreted somewhat differently—whether it’s peaceful from the perspective of both sides, I can’t say.

Likewise, this is the very reason why the West continues to call for “peaceful” protests because it’s exactly such “obedient” attempts at dismantling the colonial system that the West can easily neutralize, discredit, and eliminate. Even Gandhi, who considered nonviolence to be superior, ultimately believed that violence, in the absence of other choices, had to be utilized if that was the only way to bring about change; regarding India, he wrote: “I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.” The West, however, would rather keep people from realizing that an individual like Gandhi could’ve held such beliefs because it would rather deal with people who are docile than those who are violent, especially when the docile ones have no real opportunity to change anything.

Truly, it’s very often the case that peaceful protests benefit the colonizer and no one else. With its cunning, crafty intellectual mechanisms, the West has managed to convince the entire world that Gandhi’s and MLK’s protests were peaceful—on many occasions, they were anything but that. Indeed, they were non-violent on the part of the protesters themselves, but there was plenty of violence on the part of colonizers (those who attempted to silence the protesters). One must only remember the Amritsar massacre or the countless beatings, arrests, and instances of brutality that these “nonviolent” activists needed to endure for the sake of real change; it’s precisely this asymmetrical violence that allowed the world to feel solidarity with the protesters—to garner the attention these leaders needed so badly in order to bring about real changes; without the uneven barbarity, without this violent response from the colonizer, very little would’ve been achieved in terms of real change. The presence of violence is, thus, imperative for any substantial transformation to occur, whether it comes from the protesters themselves or in this case from the hegemon.

Firstly, peaceful protests by themselves (by this I mean the absence of a violent response on the colonizer’s part) have been mostly ineffective, and secondly, are the main forms of revolution that the West prefers. The hippies, for example, and their nonviolent movement was largely tolerated by the government and perhaps even encouraged until the Kent State shootings happened. When violence ended up being used against the movement, the message of peace, love, and pulling out of Vietnam suddenly became a threat to the US government and the previously docile music-loving, marijuana-smoking youngsters at once became public enemy number one—in other words, by forcing the state to commit a violent act, the counterculture effectively managed to put the government’s depravity on full display for the whole world to see; furthermore, only when the state itself was forced to step back and witness its own barbarity did the course of Vietnam really begin to change. According to CNN, “The shootings turned the tide of public opinion against the Vietnam War, and some political officials even argued that it played a role in the downfall of the Nixon administration.” It’s unfortunate that governments only listen when their own existence is threatened but that seems to be the recipe at work even with the so-called “nonviolent” protests, which the Kent State one certainly was—again, depending on which perspective you look at it from.

After the shooting, however, the government could no longer ignore the counterculture; their own violent response created a rift in the system that continued to resonate exactly ten years later when Ronald Reagan gave a speech in 1980 at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention, stating the following: “And while we are at it, let us tell those who fought in that war that we will never again ask young men to fight and possibly die in a war our government is afraid to let them win.” Put another way: the hippies caused the government to stab us in the back, for lack of better words, and this great nation could’ve won the war, but it was prevented from doing so by a treacherous entity which didn’t want to see victory.

This sounds awfully close to the stab-in-the-back myth employed by Nazi Germany, which became the widely-held belief in right-wing circles that Germany didn’t lose WWI in the trenches but was betrayed by civilians on the home front, mainly those who overthrew the House of Hohenzollern; not surprisingly, the Jews were also blamed and the connection between this now-discredited myth and the reasons for trying to exterminate an entire race during a subsequent world war aren’t difficult to see.

It’s after all Friedrich Ebert, the first president of Germany, who uttered the following: “No enemy has vanquished you. As you return unconquered from the field of battle, I salute you!” Not far from that discourse is Ronald Reagan, when he said this: “We continue to talk about losing that war. We didn’t lose that war. We won virtually every engagement.” Defeat is the most difficult burden for a nation to bear and it will do anything to avoid it, even, paradoxically, when it’s actually been defeated. A nonviolent protest doesn’t have the power to bring powerful nations like the US to their knees—only war and violence can do that. Hence, both Ebert and Reagan could tolerate dissent so long as they remained victors, but when defeat threatened the existence of their nations, they both resorted to measures of blaming the protesters and dissidents within their respective societies.

It’s perhaps not surprising that it’s now—when the country is once again at a critical juncture—that the NFL is finally admitting it was wrong about Colin Kaepernick, not because they really see racism any differently, but only because they fear an unprecedented backlash from players that could threaten the existence of the entire league. In the end, it all comes down to survival—and money. Whereas before, in more peaceful times, Kaepernick looked like a nuisance disrespecting the US flag, now, in a country governed (if you can call it that) by a deranged president capable of dismantling the entire nation, the very same player has become a beacon for human rights and the NFL has just realized that—a very convenient time to learn that lesson indeed (precisely at a moment when the survival of not simply the entire organization but also the whole country depends on it). Kaepernick’s protest was a peaceful one, precisely what the status quo preferred because it could neutralize him very easily; however, when his actions suddenly contributed to creating a monster that the colonizer could no longer deal with, it was time to make a deal with the devil, so to say, and admit the fault to save your own skin; this is precisely the reason why sometimes only violence brings about real change.

The other convenient rhetoric that the West employs to smother violent discontent which doesn’t serve its own interests is to say that the protesters are damaging property, looting, and have by their very actions turned away from what they’ve been protesting to begin with. Again, this is another devious element of the Western intellectual apparatus, for who’s really the responsible one? Is it not the West and its colonial/capitalist tradition which has exploited, stolen, and corrupted not only societies abroad but their own people? Is it not corporations which employ child-labor in order to maximize profits for themselves?

Indeed, who’s, in fact, responsible for stripping the Third World of its resources and leaving nations to fend for themselves when they no longer have anything to offer the West to steal? Similar to Fanon’s argument about the tolerance of historical German militarism to secure their borders, along with the hypocritical outrage when violence is used by non-Western powers, we can likewise say there’s a double-standard surrounding theft—it’s okay for big corporations to steal from people but when a black person swipes a few Iphones, it suddenly becomes all the rage. For all I know, the protesters haven’t stolen enough, given how long this country has historically exploited the slave labor of African-Americans and continues to make use of a different captivity—child labor overseas, and the good thing about that is that we don’t even have to put them on boats; they can be enslaved right where they are. Who’s the real hooligan, looter, and thief? It’s not the protesters because no revolt can steal on a regional scale the amount that corporations pillage on a global one. We must only remember how the environment is destroyed, how families are exploited, and how developing nations are bankrupted to realize who the “thugs” really are.

Contrary to what the media says, the looting and destruction has just as much to do with the murder of George Floyd as the so-called protest does, because it’s the legacy of capitalism and colonialism that has always disenfranchised minorities—not just racism itself. Colonialism was always motivated by profit, and, in that sense, the destruction of the natives’ society was justified through the socially constructed inferiority which the West imposed on the Third World; thus, it’s impossible to dismantle racism by leaving capitalism untouched because it’s precisely the former which gives the latter justification to steal. As Fanon writes: “It becomes clear that what divides this world is first and foremost what species, what race one belongs to. In the colonies the economic infrastructure is also a superstructure. The cause is effect: you are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich.” This colonial attitude has permeated to modern society because it’s now the underdeveloped world that’s viewed as poor (and paradoxically ripe for exploitation) and the developed one as rich (but only so because it exploits the abundant resources of the “poor” countries that can’t utilize them effectively due to a global system that only benefits the West). The devastation of a family’s livelihood, earned justly through hard work, is an unfortunate consequence of protest activity, but I have no empathy for the destruction of corporate property, which is accumulated through the exploitation of cheap labor and Third World resources.

Suffice it to say, the US has to burn before the colonial administrators (rich, white Republicans) begin to feel their existential crisis threatened and bring about some real change. As Fanon states: “Colonialism and imperialism have not paid their score when they withdraw their flags and their police forces from our territories. For centuries the capitalists have behaved in the underdeveloped world like nothing more than war criminals. Deportations, massacres, forced labor, and slavery have been the main methods used by capitalism to increase its wealth, its gold or diamond reserves, and to establish its power.” It’s now beside the point to discuss US foreign policy and its destruction of democracies, such as Guatemala and Chile, among many others, which didn’t align with their economic interests; the only relevant thing, perhaps, in this discourse is that the devastation which this country is currently witnessing isn’t just necessary but also justified. If the US now calls you a terrorist for being against fascism, then it’s better to be a terrorist; after Mussolini fell, we stopped having that problem here in Italy.

At this time, I stand in full solidarity with Black Lives Matter—by any means necessary.

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 24)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 24
April 7th, 2020

Trento, Italy

 

Cleanliness

Well, here’s another day, which means I’m back at the computer again; it’s becoming increasingly harder to distinguish between what happened the day before, what’s happening now, and what’ll happen tomorrow. I really am in full quarantine mode now; everything feels so peaceful—like sitting in a plane that’s headed for a mountain and you don’t even know it. What I feared would happen, has happened—even going out no longer helps.

Just to clarify: I neither feel bad nor am I worried about something. No, a feeling of complete indifference has come over me and it’s so strong that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to resume my previous the same way again; to reiterate, this has nothing to do with being inside; the same sensation occurs when I’m out shopping or when I’m in the woods with my brother.

It’s that strange comfort which comes with being on vacation for too long—you relax too much; feelings of incredible exhaustion along with sensations of utter restlessness have taken hold and won’t let go. In other words, I had my first sleepless night yesterday, despite going to bed at almost 2 am. I did nothing radically different that day, but still it was impossible to get any shuteye.

I’ve got no doubts that this experience is changing us, maybe for the better and maybe for the worse—I can’t tell in what way and I’m not arrogant enough to declare that I know so much about myself to understand how.

Maybe it doesn’t seem like it now, but coronavirus will end up being no more than a footnote among the historical events which have captured the world’s attention (positively or negatively); with enough time, it’ll become even less than that, perhaps. Why? Because in the future there’ll be more plagues, more disasters, more tragedies—and people dealing with their own tragedies rarely care about the disasters of someone else, especially when they’ve occurred in the past.

Who’s even heard of the Antonine Plague, which killed five million people? People are more likely to know the name Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (the Roman emperor to which the plague’s moniker is attached) but strangely not the plague itself. Okay, a little far in the past, I admit, but five million people are five million people in the end; I highly doubt the coronavirus will take that many. How about the Plague of Justinian? That motherfucker (I mean the plague—not Justinian) killed twenty-five million; if you travel back in time and tell those individuals that your suffering will largely be forgotten by the everyday Joe, they wouldn’t believe you.

No, this isn’t Rome or the Middle Ages. We’ll have a vaccine for this sucker very soon; it’ll be cured; the hysteria will die down and that’ll be the end of it. The next goddamn pandemic will erase every memory of this one, just like this one has erased every memory of the last pandemics and no one will really give a shit.

Yes, people talk about Caesar and Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, but the coronavirus isn’t the Caesar of plagues—it’s more like a foot soldier in his great army that died in an important battle and has since been completely forgotten. The Black Death, on the other hand, is the Genghis Khan of pandemics  but only because it did kill over 130 million people.

Forgive me for being so crude, but I’m not saying this strictly to be insensitive; on the contrary, I want this pathetic virus to change us, but when I really look at the past, I don’t think it will. If, according to some people, tragedies really do bring about greater solidarity (and change the world permanently)—not just for a short time—why did the greatest man-made tragedies happen after it? Why does no one remember that Jews were blamed for the Black Death just like Asians are now being blamed for this virus? Despite Pope Clement VI’s attempt to protect the population, 900 Jews were still killed in Strasbourg and such incidents were common. Who speaks of this today?

No, we expect too much from this minor outbreak—in classic human fashion, we want the pandemic to change the world while we ourselves sit back and do nothing. In the famous words of John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what coronavirus can do for you; ask what you can do for coronavirus.” The real credit for this line, however, must go to Kahlil Gibran, who said the following: “Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country?” Now that we know who said what, let’s move right along.

Where were we? Ah, yes. People’s desire to see change without being the ones to cause it; if that’s what you want, wait for a natural disaster, or better yet, a meteorite; that’ll get the job done quickly and efficiently. Coronavirus will take a long time and so will Trump, but only if you sit on your ass and do nothing.

No, but seriously. So many amazing things have happened throughout human history. Why has the world never changed? After Yuri Gagarin had achieved the first human spaceflight, there were incredible outpourings of solidarity from the international community—even Japan welcomed him warmly despite territorial disputes between both countries.

It didn’t take long for the Cold War to continue, however. Things didn’t improve much for the opposite sex either, when the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova, went to space. Indeed, this feat probably did change people’s perception of what women were really capable of, but society nevertheless continued denying them that very capability of realizing their own potential. Women are still paid 82 cents to every dollar earned by men; to this day, there’s neither been a woman vice president in the US nor even a female Chief Justice in the US Supreme Court. Incidentally, it was only 1993 that we saw the first female fighter pilot in the US.

Yes, things change slowly and maybe they don’t change at all. When the Apollo 8 mission took the most famous photo in the world, Earthrise, there was for a time a huge outpouring of concern about the environment and the need to end war; the event triggered an unprecedented wave of unity among the world’s entire population. We have one planet; we’re one people on a pale blue dot and we must save it; however, such sentimentality didn’t last for too long either. Wars didn’t stop and the environmental destruction continued. I doubt this picture will do much at this point, but here it is anyway.

Go ahead, call me cynical, depressive, or pessimistic, but this tiny pandemic is no moon landing. We’ve endured worse and come out worse before. Likewise, we’ll make it through this and come out no differently. Why? Because it’s highly unlikely that we’ll give up our obsession with cleanliness, order, and progress; the three greatest evils. I’ve talked plenty about the latter two, so let me discuss that first all too relevant evil.

On this trip to the supermarket, I was unable to go in without dousing my hands in sanitizer, putting on disposable gloves, and donning a mask. My right to walk inside a supermarket as I goddamn please has now been taken away as well. Indeed, you must be a clean, upstanding citizen; otherwise, you’ll neither get respect (which was true before), but now you’ll also get no groceries—I did what I had to do as a free citizen.

At first it was only the homeless, now society in general is no longer clean enough. Indeed, as Plato said in Laws, it’s simply impossible for a well-run state to have beggars and homeless people: “Let there be no beggars in our state; and if anybody begs, seeking to pick up a livelihood by unavailing prayers, let the wardens of the agora turn him out of the agora, and the wardens of the city out of the city, and the wardens of the country send him out of any other parts of the land across the border, in order that the land may be cleared of this sort of animal.” Ah, yes, that’s what social distancing looked like in Ancient Greece, which contradicts what Plato said later in the text: “He would prohibit beggars, because in a well-ordered state no good man would be left to starve.” At first, it seems like Plato doesn’t want beggars and now a well-ordered state can’t have beggars—in the sense that’s it’s impossible for “well-ordered” states to have poverty, which begs the question: Well-ordered for whom? The US is well-ordered; however, this what Skid Row looks like.

From Plato, we move to a more extreme form of “cleanliness” and on to Seneca the Younger. Indeed, imperfect societies don’t just have one problem—beggars—they’ve got tons, and we need to fix them all because every imperfect and dirty thing is a threat to the integrity of an efficient society, at least that’s what our aforementioned philosopher thought: “We put down mad dogs; we kill the wild, untamed ox; we use the knife on sick sheep to stop their infecting the flock; we destroy abnormal offspring at birth; children, too, if they are born weak or deformed, we drown. Yet this is not the work of anger, but of reason—to separate the sound from the worthless.” Ah, yes, now we’re not just kicking out beggars—we’re killing children now.

The Spartans, too, in their attempt to build the most perfect military society, had to ensure that the majority of the male population could endure the agoge’s intensity. Thus, according to the Twelve Tables: “A notably deformed child shall be killed immediately.” It’s all in the name of building the perfect society.

In the interest of time, I won’t even touch upon the subject of what such beliefs led to in the modern day—I think we all know. The difference is that, unlike some people we know, the ancients didn’t have the technology (or what I like to call progress) to realize their wildest dreams, so to say. In any case, what I’m more interested in is our obsession with cleanliness, order, and progress, which I detest.

In its most extreme form, that triple-crown of evil would’ve killed Stephen Hawking at the young age of 21. Stevie Wonder, who was not only born blind but also six weeks early, wouldn’t have lived at all. And how about Frida Kahlo’s polio and spine problems? What’s to happen with her? Also, John Nash is a schizophrenic. Where do we “put” him? What do we say about FDR or Helen Keller? And these are just the most recognizable names.

As I wrote in a previous entry, I’m not so much fascinated by people that have been blessed with strength and find it easy to succeed; no, it’s the so-called imperfect people who’ve achieved a little less with a lot more work who really fascinate me. As amazing as it is to watch, the God-given talent of Michael Jordan or LeBron James isn’t really that interesting.

If you’ve seen Gattaca, you know what I’m talking about. Vincent always beats his brother despite being genetically inferior. The movie really does show what kind of discrimination we’re heading towards. In the future, we won’t care about race, income, or education; the world will make a full circle to Plato, and everything will come right back down to genetics again—the way we’ve bred animals for thousands of years, so we’ll breed people—all in the name of purity: “The chief division of the latter was the art of managing pedestrian animals which are without horns; this again has a part which can only be comprehended under one term by joining together three names-shepherding pure-bred animals. The only further subdivision is the art of man herding-this has to do with bipeds, and is what we were seeking after, and have now found, being at once the royal and political.” Don’t say the world changes or that it doesn’t repeat itself because it does neither.

All the way from quarantined Italy: I may seem crazy now, but in a month everyone here will be no different.

Until next time.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

Sari Nusseibeh should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

Sari Nusseibeh
Dr. Sari Nusseibeh

Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, the Palestinian diplomat who is a Vice-President of Interlitq, has been cited in “The Dirty Politics of the Nobel Peace Prize”:
And the third reason is that there are notable omissions of individuals in the past who deserved the prize but had been denied. For instance, “Foreign Policy has listed Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, U. Thant, Václav Havel, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Fazle Hasan Abed, Sari Nusseibeh, and Corazon Aquino as people who ‘never won the prize, but should have.” Other notable omissions that have drawn criticism include Pope John Paul II, Hélder Câmara, and Dorothy Day,” as documented in the Wikipedia article on “Nobel Peace Prize.”

Elie Wiesel, escritor húngaro de nacionalidad rumana superviviente de los campos de concentración nazis, nació hoy en la h...