Tag Archive: Walt Whitman

May 25 2015

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Solidarity in the time of choleric “trade” deals

by Galtisalie

Epidemics of cholera as well as other serious diseases, including neoliberalism, can take a toll on solidarity. “Trade” deals, and the conduct used in pushing them through to adoption, can be purposely choleric in order to accentuate a breakdown in solidarity. A carefully-orchestrated disinformation and intimidation campaign can provide a loud and pushy disincentive to obtaining and sharing knowledge and growing into a healthier society.

The Gipper is credited with the famous saying “trust, but verify.” However, it is actually an old Russian proverb. The phrase came in handy when scrutinizing the actions of the potentially dastardly Russian Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

With matters of political economics, we have learned over the last hundred years that verification is not always easy because labels sometimes defy reality. Since the fall of the authoritarian state capitalist Soviet Union, which claimed to be real and scientific socialism, apathy has set in about true human choice on matters not having to do with consumer goods. The possibility of a heterodox deeply democratic vision for humanity is laughed at by commenters. They blithely point to North Korea and the supposedly happy riveters south of the border who produce things once made by Americans for the great now debt-driven and trade-imbalanced American marketplace.

Speaking of Russia, its dolls and other trinkets are now made in China too. Ironically, the British Green Quaker documentary filmmaker David Malone aptly says that modern “trade” agreements are like Russian dolls, with lots of other dolls inside that have nothing to do with trade. We are expected to place the doll up on a shelf and not worry what’s inside, even if the shelf is getting repossessed.

Anyway, it’s not really as simple as opening up to see the next doll inside, although it would be nice if we were allowed to at least do that before making the purchase. If the global “we” really wants to understand something that comes with risk, such as a disease, or a series of massive “trade” deals, we must first be able to put the pieces as well as the whole under a microscope, do DNA tests, and have plenty of time to learn what exactly it is we are seeing. Learning the ecological context is also critical.

Sounds like technical questions best left to experts! So, we can sit this one out. Maybe it is we who are dialectical dolls here, expected to live superficially without addressing our interior selves. Why concern one’s pretty little self with such manly and adult details?

More broadly, absolutely do not ponder whether the globalization of hegemonic capitalism is the disease or the cure. That would necessitate openly and closely studying and discussing, without fear of repression, the system that is being imposed, the crises it inevitably causes, the insolvency it constantly courts, the reserve army of unemployed workers, the lack of fair distribution of the winnings that arise from the system, and calmly comparing the available alternatives, including everything from tweaks to overhauls to repeal and replace.

Democracy is this potentially great mass experimental method if the powers that be would allow it to work deeply and openly. If we were allowed to trust but verify we could be engaged citizens. Instead, we are forced to leave democracy to neoliberal politicians, experts, and talking heads, as if they will explain to us what little it is that we need to know after they have made their decisions, which have bound within them unprecedented curtailments to democracy.

This sounds more like oligarchical exploitation than rule by the people. But what can we do to defend ourselves in times like these?

At least from the time of Spartacus, solidarity has been the enemy of exploitation, always has been and always will be. But woe unto those who take the risks of speaking the truth to power, or even seeking the truth. The doubt-inspiring whispers are reaching a chorus of “shut-up and know your place.” Self-doubt cannot help but set in:

In the end, did Spartacus really want to be free and in solidarity with other people in the struggle to be free? Wasn’t it really pretty nice being a Thracian gladiator after all? And for his followers, as they were hanging from crosses every bit as real as Jesus’s, might they not have had a little buyer’s remorse?

4 T

Come to daddy. Put aside those passions. Don’t question too much. It’s for your own good that you are being led through the valley of the shadow of death in a blindfold.

Mar 01 2015

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Camaraderie, reading, and “a queer socialist poet” by Galtisalie

Why do we do this? I can only speak for me, but I do it not only to foment revolution–a worldwide peaceful one of justice in the service of love brought about by direct and indirect action–but also for the camaraderie. NancyWH reminded me of that in a comment she made last Sunday night in a chain under annieli’s latest diary for this group (an amazing educational piece, read by very few at the time, I am sad to say):

Every journey starts with one step (4+ / 0-)

I hear.  Now I have two!  I will end up having so many tabs open, I’ll get confused.  So I have a word document where I stash links, so I can find them again later.  

And I am apt to come back early tomorrow, and find people came along and added other suggestions after I went to sleep.  It was that comradery that drew me here in the first place.

And that comment got me thinking about “camaraderie.” I volunteered to do this diary a day later because we needed a writer for this week, thinking that I could come up with something, but as usual not knowing what it would be. I do love this unpredictable journey of socialist sharing with comrades, some of whom are now living across one big pond or another from the U.S., and none, to my knowledge, within hundreds of miles of me, a lonely watermelon in a highly un-“red” part of the Deep Red South. To me, it does not really matter what specific anti-capitalist theme I write about or one of my comrades writes about, but it does matter that we are together, sharing our bad ass love for humanity, including for each other.

Of course, Daily Kos writ large has an agenda which should bring some solidarity, and any group blog at Daily Kos has some camaraderie around a profile, and some profiles are more or less expressly aimed at camaraderie. Because of responsibilities, I don’t often get to participate in Saturday night’s WYFP?, but when I do, I am always uplifted by the fact that people bring their problems to each other there and receive encouragement from others. It is quite beautifully real and sometimes brings me to tears.

So camaraderie,

Stuck in my atrophying mental space, based on NancyWH’s comment, was this subject of camaraderie. I have never spent much time thinking about socialist camaraderie per se, but I have known some camaraderie in my day, most of it decidedly un-socialist and un-progressive–a “wide gamut,” everything from little league competition and bench-warming of the “worst” “teammates”; to high school locker room glory days, where one fits in by not only performing on the field or court but also by committing or ignoring bullying of the smallest “teammates”; to goldfish-swallowing beer-guzzling fraternity “good times,” where one fits in by committing or receiving bullying given the more grandiose name of hazing; to beer-guzzling adult softball team after-game carousing and what not–then again, it dawns, maybe I don’t know shit about camaraderie, sure haven’t had much of it that wasn’t involved with competition, cruelty, or both.

After all, as we all know down heuh, when it comes to “heaven and hell,” it is everyone for “himself,” standing condemned from the instant of birth by the sinful act of copulation, so loved by the great tortoise in the sky that he would send us into a burning eternal barbecue pit for daring to enter this perfect world. I was raised in, and in the acceptable capitalist ways rebelled from, the most conservative of fundie religious subcultures in the Cold War U.S., where “comrade” was used as a term of hostile disparagement of “the enemy.” Come to think of it, the closest I received in comradery growing up was probably involved with sharing bong hits and playing hearts while ditching some class in minimester I can’t remember now.

I do remember distinctly when I first read the word “comrade” in reference to real people that I know–the members of this group, which I’d just joined, a little over a year ago. Ironically, it was used by one of my now heroes, NY brit expat, in asking for writers! I am sorry to say that I at first assumed it was humorously used. “Comrade” died with the Soviet Union, right? I replied back somewhat tongue in cheek but even then felt scared to acknowledge the request because, as in joining this group to begin with, it means to voluntarily wear a badge that could invite repression, and where I live, repression can get ugly.

I have learned in this group that camaraderie involves honest and sometimes difficult exchanges, solidarity with not only each other but all of the workers and less fortunate of the world, gentle expressions of friendship, and tons of edjurecation, and even a little re-edjurecation.

which leads to reading,

While we have many scholars who write for this group, I am not one of them. Each week, when I read the diary and the comments, I add to my reading list. My special top secret personal revolutionary bookcase is full of pink, red, and green things to do that involve me learning, which is good, but time-consuming. Perhaps you too carry around on your smart phone links to works of Luxemburg, Gramsci, and Bookchin, things you need to read or re-read and can feel guilty over.

When I started thinking about “comradery,” I decided to start with the French “liberty, equality, fraternity,” which led to the limited spare time of three days being spent with some dead dude named Pierre Leroux, whom I have really come to like. I was going to riff this diary on him, when serendity happened …  

which leads me back to a dear friend from long ago, “a queer socialist poet.”

At 2:14 pm Central Time this past Thursday, when I was at work, my real-me personal in-box received a visit from my independent socialist comrades at Monthly Review. And, maybe my life will never be the same, I am serious. Into my life came a new book by some literary lefty at Penn State named John Marsh, In Walt We Trust: How a Queer Socialist Poet Can Save America from Itself (Monthly Review Press, 2015).

By Friday night I had read the UTNE Reader excerpt from the book and was completely stoked. I took the full plunge, and it now mysteriously “sits” in my dinosaur first generation pawn shop iPad half-read but already well-loved. I would be reading the rest of it now, except that I have to write this darn diary and go chop down some wild stuff before spring gets here.

I will, tortoise willing, come back to you one day with a full review of the book. It is friggin’ terrific. Like my other new buddy Leroux, it implies that the liberal and the socialist have much to learn from each other. For instance, while the liberal conception of “justice” as defined by capitalist laws is woefully inadequate, the artistic and intellectual freedom of humanity should not be pinned down by what came to be known as “socialist realism” or convenient to a hierarchy, respectively.  

We will fight for a just world for all and not accept no for an answer. But our blades will primarily be leaves of grass. Our practice must account for time and place, and we all need true friends:

Nor did I always believe that Whitman would save America from what ailed it. More often than not I thought he was-or represented-exactly what it suffered from. His naive optimism, his boosterish patriotism, his fuzzy spiritualism, his celebration of the body and sex-though these may have once seemed, in the nineteenth century perhaps, like the solution to a problem, they now seemed like the problem itself. Americans did not need to be told to look on the bright side, to love America, to trust God, or, my Lord, to worship sex. They needed to be told not to.

But I know now that I was wrong. At some point, and for me it came in my early thirties, you realize that socialism will be a long time coming in the United States, especially when one of our two political parties fervently believes that the United States is already on the road to socialist serfdom. When you wake up to this reality, you care a lot less about whether a poet was socialist enough or not, and a lot more about how he can help you live in the world you have.

[W]hitman had nothing to do with building up the empire of illusions that currently enfold and enthrall Americans, not just because few people actually read him, then or now, and therefore you cannot lay much blame at his door. But also because-read carefully-he says no such things. Indeed, I am now convinced that reading Whitman would go far toward striking back against that empire of illusion.

When I read Leaves of Grass the first time, I was beginning a new life, becoming must closer to who I am today than who I was raised to be. Something told me to take Walt Whitman with me on that long back-packing trip. I sat and read him on rainy days in the tent and on a clear day by a roaring ice-filled river read him too. He, long dead as Leroux, planted wonderful seeds in me, like not only a love of compost but also the assumption that composting can be a political act.

He was fearless. What kind of bravery it would have taken in 1855 to self-publish such thoughts: “Welcome is every organ and attribute of me, and of any man hearty and clean. / Not an inch nor a particle of an inch is vile, and none shall be less familiar than the rest.”

Well I am off to chop those vines, which will go in This Compost, where I will hopefully one day join them:

Behold this compost! behold it well!  

Perhaps every mite has once form’d part of a sick person-Yet behold!  

The grass of spring covers the prairies,  

The bean bursts noislessly through the mould in the garden,  

The delicate spear of the onion pierces upward,  

The apple-buds cluster together on the apple-branches,  

The resurrection of the wheat appears with pale visage out of its graves,  

The tinge awakes over the willow-tree and the mulberry-tree,  

The he-birds carol mornings and evenings, while the she-birds sit on their nests,    

The young of poultry break through the hatch’d eggs,  

The new-born of animals appear-the calf is dropt from the cow, the colt from the mare,  

Out of its little hill faithfully rise the potato’s dark green leaves,  

Out of its hill rises the yellow maize-stalk-the lilacs bloom in the door-yards;  

The summer growth is innocent and disdainful above all those strata of sour dead.    

What chemistry!  

That the winds are really not infectious,  

That this is no cheat, this transparent green-wash of the sea, which is so amorous after me,  

That it is safe to allow it to lick my naked body all over with its tongues,  

That it will not endanger me with the fevers that have deposited themselves in it,    

That all is clean forever and forever.  

That the cool drink from the well tastes so good,  

That blackberries are so flavorous and juicy,  

That the fruits of the apple-orchard, and of the orange-orchard-that melons, grapes, peaches, plums, will none of them poison me,  

That when I recline on the grass I do not catch any disease,    

Though probably every spear of grass rises out of what was once a catching disease.  

Now I am terrified at the Earth! it is that calm and patient,  

It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,  

It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such endless successions of diseas’d corpses,  

It distils such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor,    

It renews with such unwitting looks, its prodigal, annual, sumptuous crops,  

It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.

See you next week, same lefty batting channel. Meanwhile, let’s go hit the books comrades–when, that is, we are not working, dancing, frolicking naked across the prairie, etc.  

Aug 17 2014

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: you are not a piece of crap, and your solidarity work matters by Galtisalie

“Resist much, obey little.”

hello cruel world. take that. and that. and that. leftists look injustice in the eye then look for a stick to poke it with, find lonely leaves of grass, and injustice blinks or maybe winks.

“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.

You must travel it by yourself.

It is not far. It is within reach.

Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.

Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.”

by the end of 1877’s Virgin Soil, Turgenev’s sixth, final, and longest novel, Nejdanov has taken his own life, unwilling to go to prison in Siberia for a cause that has taken everything from him and will not, in his own mind, accept his desire for the beautiful, culminating, like Whitman, in a desire to write poems. ironically, by dying, his most stalwart comrade, the hopelessly in love Mashurina, is deprived of the one thing, Nejdanov, to which she is devoted other than the revolution. desperate for any remembrance of Nejdanov, Mashurina spends a few moments at the end with the blowhard but equally lonely socialist hanger-on Paklin. Paklin, desperate for conversation and relevance, tosses out stupid questions. Mashurina slams the door:


  Paklin pulled himself up.

  “Why, of course … do have some more tea.”

  But Mashurina fixed her dark eyes upon him and said pensively:

  “You don’t happen to have any letter of Nejdanov’s … or his photograph?”

  “I have a photograph and quite a good one too. I believe it’s in the table drawer. I’ll get it in a minute.”

  He began rummaging about in the drawer, while Snandulia went up to Mashurina and with a long, intent look full of sympathy, clasped her hand like a comrade.

  “Here it is!” Paklin exclaimed and handed her the photograph.

  Mashurina thrust it into her pocket quickly, scarcely glancing at it, and without a word of thanks, flushing bright red, she put on her hat and made for the door.

  “Are you going?” Paklin asked. “Where do you live? You might tell me that at any rate.”

  “Wherever I happen to be.”

  “I understand. You don’t want me to know. Tell me at least, are you still working under Vassily Nikolaevitch?”

  “What does it matter to you?” “Or someone else, perhaps Sidor Sidoritch?” Mashurina did not reply.

  “Or is your director some anonymous person?” Mashurina had already stepped across the threshold. “Perhaps it is someone anonymous!”

  She slammed the door.

  Paklin stood for a long time motionless before this closed door.

  “Anonymous Russia!” he said at last.

in some ways, we all have had the door slammed in our face and are left anonymous. more sadly than Mashurina, who at least was on the clearly ascending side of history, we are more like the pathetic Paklin, trying to piece together our own relevance. the oppressors are desperate too, to make us feel that we are on the descending side of history, and oh how it feels that they are right when that door slams yet again.

perhaps tiny is the measure of your impact after so much dedication and sacrifice. perhaps it is a lost job. perhaps it is a beating by yet another dirtbag you feel forced to tolerate because you have no place else to go (you can leave, we will try to help). perhaps it is deep loneliness at the loss of someone good that you loved so much and will never see again. perhaps self-medication has become part of your problem, and those who love you couldn’t take it anymore.

maybe you pull yourself up, and try to reach out:

perhaps it is “just” a diary that few read. perhaps it is a diary that many read but which is soon lost in the vapors before discouraging objective conditions. perhaps it is … you know, and maybe no one else does, your personal objective conditions and how you feel standing before a lifetime of closed doors of one kind or another.

“O Me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring;

Of the endless trains of the faithless-of cities fill’d with the foolish;

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light-of the objects mean-of the struggle ever renew’d;

Of the poor results of all-of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;

Of the empty and useless years of the rest-with the rest me intertwined;

The question, O me! so sad, recurring-What good amid these, O me, O life?”

sometimes all you can do is get up in the morning.

“My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,

My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,

The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,

From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;

Exult O shores, and ring O bells!

But I with mournful tread,

Walk the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.”

but please do get up in the morning. please. we love and need you tender comrade.

we are penniless. we are broken. we are shattered. children shot. bombs are bursting on our homes. but we shall not be defeated.


Who troubles himself about his ornaments or fluency is lost. This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men-go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families-re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body. The poet shall not spend his time in unneeded work. He shall know that the ground is already plow’d and manured; others may not know it, but he shall. He shall go directly to the creation. His trust shall master the trust of everything he touches-and shall master all attachment.

Walt Whitman, XV. Preface to “Leaves of Grass,” 1855

Walt Whitman, “Leaves of Grass”