Saturday, August 21, 2021

The Danish Model

Some reflections on Denmark that I wrote while still in country, nearing the end of yet another wonderful concert tour of this remarkable place.

I had only been on the ground in Denmark for 36 hours before I was singing at a protest.  People had only started organizing the protest the day before, because the head of the nurses' union was going to be negotiating with the heads of the government bureau responsible for trying to settle a labor dispute.  The nurses are engaging in a months-long rolling strike action, trying to pressure the various powers-that-be that nurses' pay scale should be more equitable, along the lines of other professions requiring similar levels of education that are less dominated by women, where the pay is higher.

As soon as I saw any of my friends outside of the labor movement, I was immediately hearing all about the new Ghetto Laws here in Denmark, under which families may be more or less involuntarily relocated from housing complexes that have too high a concentration of non-Danes in them, and moved to other neighborhoods.  And there is a much talk of a new rightwing party that's even more xenophobic than the other rightwing party.

So that is all just to say that Denmark has problems, and most of the people I know in Denmark are actively involved with trying to do something about them.  

Having said that, most of what I see when I experience Denmark are solutions.

Before I get into some of my observations about how the Danes do most things better than most when it comes to the maintenance of a functional society, three points:

One, for folks in the US thinking that emulating the Danish political model would be a great step forward, I agree, but in order to even think about that kind of strategy, we'd need multiparty democracy first.  I think it's nonetheless useful to note how things can be done differently.  

Secondly, for all of the radical naysayers who are apt to dismiss the achievements of what is often referred to as social democracy, because it hasn't gone far enough, or because it's not significantly different enough from unbridled, American-style capitalism, I don't know how to say this nicely, these people are profoundly ignorant.  The differences are vast, and important to understand, if we are to have a future, it seems to me.  If there is to be a next step in terms of any kind of progress within the US towards a more equal society, it will probably lie with moving in the direction of social democracy, a la the kind of changes frequently talked about by people like Bernie Sanders and AOC.

Third, to those who are apt to dismiss Danish success as easily explained by the country's history of profiting from the slave trade and other aspects of unequal global relations including colonialism, or for those who might dismiss Denmark's achievements because it's a small country, or for any number of other reasons:  I can find other countries in which there is vast wealth, and where the country is small, and has benefited from colonialism, where poverty and inequality are big problems today, even if they may not be as bad as in the US or other countries.  Any number of countries can have all of these things, but what distinguishes countries like Denmark from the others is the capacity to distribute that wealth so that it effectively reaches something approximating the whole of the society.

Without getting into any attempts at a history lesson on the origins of the Danish parliamentary system -- that would, if I did, belie my ignorance on the subject -- I'll just focus on a few things that I've personally observed.  Just for introductory purposes for those who don't know, I'm a touring musician, and I've toured and otherwise spent probably an average of a month out of every year in Denmark for most of the past 20 years, very actively participating in Danish society, I think it would be fair to say, when I'm in country.

I'm currently on my first tour of any country since the pandemic hit, and I cut short a tour of Australia in March 2020 to come back home.  I haven't seen anyone wearing a mask since I left Copenhagen airport, 11 days ago.  The delta variant has been spreading for two months here, but since almost everyone is vaccinated, proof of vaccination is required if you want to eat inside a restaurant or hang out in a cafe, and all visitors to the country are also vaccinated in order to gain entry, there has not been a significant rise in hospitalizations.  There doesn't seem to be any contact tracing going on, there's the assumption that the virus will spread and it'll be OK at this point, with most everyone vaccinated, with the restrictions on visitors, and with the corona pass system in place.  And as with everything else Denmark has done during the pandemic, it's working.

In the US, the hospitals are overflowing, vital surgeries are being postponed, and our average lifespan has declined dramatically.  Meanwhile, there's nothing predictable about the prices of anything, from houses to rental cars.  Taking the specific example of rental cars, US rental car companies sold much of their fleets during the pandemic, so they could remain solvent, with so few customers, and prices these days are many times normal.  In Denmark, the whole economy was basically frozen by law, and as it is now thawing, the results of the practice is that everything can now very quickly get back to normal.  The car I rented at the airport was the same price as usual in years past.

Despite the prevalence of disinformation platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube being as popular in Denmark as anywhere else that doesn't have the good sense to ban them, the anti-vaccine movement and anti-lockdown movement in Denmark never grew to the proportions of such movements in the US, Germany, France and elsewhere.  But unlike those aforementioned countries, in Denmark most people have a well-founded reason to trust the government on matters of public health and safety.

In Denmark, if anyone jaywalks, they're usually either a foreigner or an antisocial type.  The overwhelming majority of Danes would never do that.  This is also true in Germany and some other countries.  Americans and Brits and others visiting from abroad tend to make typically American and British individualistic, antisocial assumptions about this conformist behavior.  They see a crowd of Germans or Danes standing at a crosswalk, waiting for the "walk" signal, even if there's no traffic in any direction, and they see something scary, from Children of the Corn or some other horror movie, a bunch of zombies who can't think for themselves, or are afraid of getting a ticket.

By contrast, what the average Dane or German sees when they visit London or New York City are pedestrians with no regard for their or their children's well-being, who seem to think crossing the street five seconds sooner than they might have if they had waited for the "walk" sign is fully worth risking their family's lives to do.  They think we're nuts.  I do, too, but it took me years to figure it out.  In retrospect, I don't understand why it took that long.

What the Danes have that we tend to lack, achieved through some combination of cultural norms, political representation, and generations of an educational system geared towards the happiness of children as well as their academic prowess, is a society that believes in society.

A mock interview with your Average Dane could go something like this:

"Do you ever jaywalk?"

"No, because all the children need to learn about how the signals work, for their safety."

"Do you believe in universal healthcare?"

"Of course.  If we didn't have universal healthcare, then some people wouldn't have healthcare.  Then when they get sick, they would make other people sick.  So it's better for all of society if we all have healthcare."

"Do you believe in sending babies to daycare fulltime?"

"Yes, because it's very important for children to have time together, and to learn how to get along with each other."

"Do you support the corona pass?"

"Of course.  It's a simple way to minimize spread of the virus, so it's good for society."

When many people from the more individualism-influenced parts of the world think of the idea of putting the group first, they may imagine a dystopian fictional collective where people are punished for doing anything better than anyone else, or they may think of an individual sacrificing themselves in battle for the good of their fighting unit.  They're less likely to think of a society where the rights of the individual and the health of the collective are both considered important, and there's relatively little drama as a result.

Partially because I'm coming from such a politically and socially fractured landscape -- the United States -- and also because of the nature of the concert tour I'm doing here in Denmark right now, the political party known as Enhedslisten, or the Unity List, is particularly on my mind.  While whatever remains of the left in the US seems largely to be occupied with shouting at the right or shouting at each other, in Denmark, Enhedslisten is now the third-biggest political party, and certainly the most left.

The founding story of Enhedslisten is not unique, but it's very rare.  In the wake of the seismic political changes gripping much of the world in the early 1990's with the collapse of the Soviet Union, all of the major Marxist-oriented political parties came together to form an alliance, and it has been slowly growing ever since.  As it grows, it invests in physical and cultural infrastructure -- using the party's buildings across the country for meetings and events, sponsoring youth groups and helping them flourish, organizing camps and conferences.

The man I first knew as a union representative has now been serving in the Danish parliament for eight years.  Year after year, coming to Denmark and playing for new crops of leftwing youth and older folks, I have known more than a few kids to grow up to become elected representatives in the very youthful field of Enhedslisten city council members and other elected officials across the country.

Enhedslisten is creating and maintaining a political and social environment, as well as serving as a major political party.  My tours end up being one small component in maintaining this culture.  No decisions on the part of party leadership is necessary for this to happen.  It's a grassroots affair, where those inclined to organize a show still have to do the work that that entails, like anywhere, but they often will have easy access to necessary funds and physical space to put on a concert or whatever else.

Meanwhile in places like the US, if a group forms that wants to grow and organize events, it faces the constant struggle of having some kind of physical spaces to use, and finding any kind of budget for doing anything.  Without sustainable infrastructure in different forms, groups tend to perish quickly.  They may create a vibrant culture around them, as, say, Occupy Wall Street or many other movements did, but it's a culture that will live and die all within a couple years, for most people.  But when a movement has buildings and budgets and vision, rather than tents and police violence to go with that vision, something much more sustainable and perhaps even self-propelling can be created.

It would be hard to overemphasize some of the negative aspects, not of Enhedslisten, but of most or all of the other political parties in Denmark, when it comes to questions like whether to deport refugees back to war zones, or whether to participate in NATO's wars.  But it's easy to see how, in a country that is capable of deftly skating through a terrible global pandemic and of giving birth to a lasting alliance between all of the major left factions, it's possible to have the atmosphere of optimism that I find to be present all over this little country.  It's not an effervescent kind of optimism, generally -- these are reserved people, for the most part.  But it's real, and it's the kind of optimism that comes with having had a good taste of victory already -- the victory of still living in a society that believes in society, whatever its shortcomings may be.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

My Anonymous Critic Speaks

This is a response to an anonymously-written attack piece about me that ran recently in the neo-anarchist website and Twitter account, It's Going Down.

Whether or not you've heard about it, there is an ongoing campaign to cancel me, led by anonymous people who don't believe that cancel culture exists.  Their accusations that I am sympathetic to fascism, holocaust-denialism of any kind, or antisemitism, are as ludicrous as they seem.  Their accusations should make anyone who knows me even a very little bit feel either outraged, alarmed, or concerned.  Most people I know who have seen these screeds react in one of these ways.  

Some on the anarchist fringes in certain corners of mostly-online US discourse react differently.  They smell the blood of someone who is an obvious comrade, they pile on, and call it activism of some kind.  It's a sort of performative attack squad mentality that is tearing apart whatever basis for trust exists among those of us who agree on the need bring down the capitalist juggernaut. It seems far bigger than it is because of the atmosphere of paranoia that has been fostered by anti-social media algorithms and corporate media brainwashing.  The neo-anarchists adhering to the cancel culture model of activism are unwittingly playing the game of the ruling class.

What I am saying is not new, and it has been obvious to me for a long time.  The role I have chosen to play, however, for the most part, has not been to call out this kind of "anarchism."  As a libertarian socialist (or anarchist, as some prefer) of the traditional, class war variety, my chosen role in global social movements has been to use my music and my prose to try to popularize other methods of organizing that are actually effective.  I know that the performative attack squad types are motivated mostly by good intentions, so I have intentionally tried to appeal to those good intentions, for decades now, promoting ideas like the power of collective action intended to gain real power, in its myriad forms.

I have appeared on broadcasts run by the neo-anarchist cancel culture types.  When they're not attacking each other, they often do great work.  Until they started attacking me, they may not have known how I felt about these tactics.  I didn't think it was helpful to regularly broadcast my opinions on shutting down authors, musicians, and college professors you don't like, and making them lose their jobs as a tactic.  I thought I'd just promote other tactics, and not show up at those events.  I believe in proactively doing things and hoping people follow my example, rather than attacking other people who are following other pursuits they think useful, even if I don't like it.

It's very common on anti-social media, and the internet generally, for accounts or websites to present themselves as a collective of some kind, or even a federation, when in actuality they are singular -- one person, with a lot of hope.  These individuals, or collectives, also are often totally anonymous, with no indication of the actual names of the people involved.  There are, of course, security concerns many people have, which they use to justify this anonymity.  Whether their online anonymity is actually really helping protect them from anything is often unknown.  Whether their anonymity is extremely destructive to any potential for legitimate discourse is not in question at all.  It's outrageous, under most circumstances, to be denounced by an anonymous individual, and even more so by an anonymous collective.

I'm not going to try to catch you up on all the many reasons some people seem to spend most of their free time attacking me online.  There's too much history.  If you want to get reasonably caught up on the background, here are some relevant pieces I've written since the attacks seriously escalated and began to threaten my physical well-being in very obvious ways, along with that of my family and neighborhood:  An Open Letter to Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys (cc:  Antifa), Platforming Fascists, Heeding German Warnings, I Heard A Rumor, Cancel Culture Conundrums, The Campaign Against Me, and most recently before this one, Confessions of an Ecumenical Leftist.

One of the most popular internet sensations of the neo-anarchist US identitarian crowd in the Trump/Biden era has been a website, podcast, Twitter account, etc., that operates under the rubric, It's Going Down.  Included within the content they put out are lots of motivational stories about ongoing struggles in the US and around the world, obviously intended to boost the spirits of the participants and, as with so much of the media of any political orientation, to inflate the significance of whatever actions they're covering as much as possible.  Much of the reportage, however, comes off as anarchist sectarianism, with an obvious disposition in favor of flaming dumpsters.

It's obvious to anyone who pays any attention to IGD News that a very disproportionate number of IGD's followers are really into fighting Nazis, or whoever they think might be one.  It seems to be the case with no small number of IGD's most active adherents that they think any kind of dumpster fire is potentially insurrectional material, and something to be celebrated, along with any time a fascist anywhere in the world gets a bullet in the head.  GIFs depicting just such scenes are rife in this scene.

I'm not speaking out of ignorance here, because many of the people who come to my concerts in many different countries come out of the "burn the dumpster now and ask questions later" camp.  Many of my fans, especially some of the more black-clad teenage ones from certain parts of the world, really like to yell at cops, and they think they're doing something useful when they yell at cops.  I've never told them I think otherwise, because I'd rather just sing for them.  And I'm sure I will continue singing for them after I publish this piece.  Why?  Because after I wrote "I'm A Better Anarchist Than You," at least 95% of the actual anarchists I know thought it was very funny.  They can throw rocks at the cops, like that song, and read this critical piece about some of their tactics, and still not hate me.  

How do they do that?  They see the world in three dimensions, and they'd rather have allies than unnecessary enemies.  They can see how much we have in common -- like the desire to overthrow capitalism and reorganize society so humanity and the planet can thrive, with food, health care, and land for all.  They know we are all against imperial wars, and they can immediately forgive me for not wanting to yell at cops or shut down speakers at the local university for writing the wrong book, even if they still like yelling at cops and throwing milk shakes at people.

I learned about the anonymously-written screed on the website of It's Going Down from someone on Facebook who had clearly started up a new account just to share it with me.  They shared the link to the piece, told me my music sucked, and after I blocked them, they sent more messages (via a "message request," you know) threatening my physical safety if I tried to show up at a protest in Portland.  

It should come as no surprise to anyone that it took only 2 hours from the time the piece was published to my first online physical threat resulting from it.  Although the anonymous author said they were not calling for me to be punished, I'd suggest that this is disingenuous.  They also say they don't believe cancel culture exists.  They apparently don't acknowledge that when you attack someone as a fascist sympathizer to your 60,000 Twitter followers, there will be threats against the physical safety of the person you are writing about.

For whoever wants to bear along with me now, I'll go through the allegations made in the IGD piece, and respond to it.

The first lie, strangely, is in the title.  "No, it is the children that are wrong."  In whatever context that quote came from, I'm sure it was nothing I ever said.  Why the quotation marks then?  Who are we quoting here?

The next lie comes in the second paragraph. It's a really big one.  They talk of my "promotion of individuals associated with white nationalism, holocaust denial, and anti-Semitism."  

I will keep going through the piece, but it's important to focus on this one because it's the crux of the whole thing.  What my anonymous critic is saying is that by recommending a book on Jewish history and identity which I found very interesting, by interviewing the book's author and refusing to denounce the author as an antisemite, I am therefore endorsing antisemitism and holocaust-denialism.  And by interviewing a man who represents himself as a former white nationalist -- by talking to someone who is closely associated with the kinds of groups that laid siege to the Capitol, and trying to figure out what motivates these people, and how we might try to reach them -- I am therefore a white nationalist.

If the accusation seems as outrageous as it appears, it is.  But it gets better.  The phenomenon that I am apparently engaging in by having public dialog with a rightwinger (whether former or not), is what they call "platforming."  The idea here is that the ideology of fascism or racism or antisemitism or whatever else is so very dangerous that just by talking with people who believe in this nonsense, we are doing something very bad, and we are helping these people advance their cause.

The only way this could be true is if we believe that fascist ideology is actually more attractive to the average working person than libertarian socialism, or social democracy, or other forms of socialism are.  In reality, this is nonsense, and denouncing everyone who is attracted to rightwing or fascist ideas as a hopeless and unredeemable piece of human garbage does exactly the opposite of what these self-appointed Experts on Antifascism would have us believe.

We need look no further than to the communities surrounding musicians such as myself and lots of other people.  If you have any contact with the punk community anywhere, you have met lots of punks who were raised by conservative parents and believed in all kinds of rightwing nonsense, until they discovered the music of the Clash, Rage Against the Machine, Phil Ochs, me, or whoever it was that did it.  At the last concert I did, two nights ago, there were two former rightwingers there who are now solidly on the internationalist left.

Another common theme from my experience and from the experience of my many friends and acquaintances who used to be rightwingers, is that talking to a compassionate, intelligent person from the radical left was instrumental in their awakening.  I have been that person for some people, and my music has played that role for many more.

According to polls, if the 2016 presidential race had been between Trump and Sanders, Sanders would have won handily.  In France, there are cities that used to vote for the Communist Party, who now vote for the rightwing Le Pen party.  Many of the supporters of National Socialism in Germany and around Europe, the Americas, and elsewhere, were, like many of Trump's and Le Pen's supporters today, of the mind that this was the movement that was going to fix the country's problems, such as affordable housing, employment, crumbling infrastructure, etc.  Why they believe this is another question.  That they believe this is not.

So, what I am doing by talking to people like Matthew Heimbach is I am trying to reach not only him, but the many people who are attracted to his version of reality.  There is abundant evidence to suggest that this kind of engagement can be very effective, and that attacking people with baseball bats and bear mace tends to cause people to become more entrenched in their views.

In the next paragraph I am again quoted as referring to "emotional outbursts," another mysterious quote (aka lie).  Next sentence in that paragraph includes this:  "Rovics [has been] doubling down in defense of these individuals and his attacks on anarchists and antifascists in response, echoes far-Right talking points."

"Doubling down," "digging in," etc., are terms my anonymous critics (and many others who agree with them) use to describe my effort at responding to their critique.  Any response that isn't full agreement is to be called "doubling down" or "digging in."

I am also accused of doubling down on my "defense of these individuals."  To be clear, I am not defending anyone, I am talking with them.  The closest thing I have come to "defense" is to recommend Gilad Atzmon's book, and to fail to see why it is that Matthew Heimbach is still considered to be a white nationalist now, when he isn't, as far as I can tell, from my many resources.  Unapproved resources, I will add -- not coming from the self-appointed Experts of Antifascism.

The self-appointed Experts of Antifascism, such as my anonymous critic, love to quote any tabloid press article or liberal think tank that agrees with their position.  If a former white nationalist doesn't want to grovel at the feet of liberal democracy, alleged anarchists will forever denounce them as white nationalists, even as their former comrades want them dead.  Recruiting white nationalists to a different, internationalist, antiracist position is somehow skipping the important step of the former white nationalist groveling at the feet of the liberals, and turning in all his former comrades.  That'll be a great way to help them reform, eh?  I don't think so.  I disagree with the Experts of Antifascism -- cancel me for it.

Next we have this marvelous combination of doublethink:

"We want to be clear we are not calling for harm to David Rovics; nor are we pushing for people to flyer his neighborhood like some have done in the past. Instead, we hope to push Rovics towards accountability, collaboration, and growth. His own statements need to be addressed, as part of the creep of anti-Semitism, far-Right ideas, and conspiracism into activist spaces. We hope that Rovics will take up the challenge, listen to these criticisms, and make changes. This is necessary for people to feel safe with Rovics continuing to be part of our spaces."

I barely know where to start unpacking this paragraph.  Accountability to whom?  An anonymous writer on a neo-anarchist website?  A handful of Twitter trolls and a few gullible people who think they're speaking truth to power by calling me names?  

Collaboration?  What does that mean?  Most US neo-anarchists in recent days hardly ever have live music at their demos, they don't seem to believe in that kind of thing as far as I can tell, it's too frivolous.  It's been years since I've done a tour of the United States, partially because what we used to call The Movement has been either anemic or obsessed with self-destruction and the Oppression Olympics of identitarianism.  

The neo-anarchist fringe in the US stopped collaborating with me a long time ago -- I'm way too old, white, and CIS male for this fringe to handle.  If you think I'm joking, dear reader, you have not been to Portland in recent years.  I have been to demo after demo where 90% of the crowd is white along with the student organizers, and 100% of the speakers are people of color, who sometimes look really uncomfortable when they realize the setup, which some often appear not to have been informed of in advance.  This started way before 2020.  It's a self-destructive, identitarian phenomenon, this kind of extreme, and it kills movements really well.  I've been watching it happen for years now in real time.

Conspiracism?  Aside from being a newly-invented word (that's fine), it's nonsense.  The United States is run by a conspiracy of plutocrats.  This is obvious to anyone who has studied the workings of the corrupt US capitalist system.  There are many other real conspiracies that have shaped our lives.  While there are also lots of fake conspiracies, invented for all kinds of different reasons, the idea of opposing "conspiracism" as a phenomenon is just not relevant to reality.

Next, to emphasize the point:

"In short, as long as Rovics continues to platform and defend white nationalists, holocaust deniers, and anti-Semities – while also attacking contemporary anarchists and antifascists – then at the very least, people will continue to voice their concerns and disagreements to the wider movement."

This is a remarkable sentence.  First of all the continued false accusation of "defending" people by talking to them, and of course also in the process, clearly intimating that I have actually talked to people who are currently any of these terrible things.  And then I'm "attacking contemporary anarchists and antifascists" -- including myself and many of my friends, apparently, who keep coming to my shows and sending me supportive messages.  No, I'm responding to attacks from a neo-anarchist, identitarian fringe that likes to think it's much bigger than it is, because some people are intimidated by it, because it has violent tendencies, and people don't want to be either physically assaulted or become victims of a campaign like this one.

Next paragraph:  "All of this came to a head last month, when Rovics was scheduled to play a benefit for the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council (MACC) in New York City, which was canceled after community members raised multiple issues."

The allegedly antifascist trolls on Twitter who attack anyone who associates with me on that platform, and occasionally others, got the gig in New York canceled, by sending people in MACC incendiary and false accusations about me.  This is why gigs get canceled.  I've been dealing with this stuff for 21 years, since I first starting writing songs about Palestine.  It's a cancel campaign.  It doesn't just happen.  The author presumably isn't such an idiot that they don't know this.  More gaslighting.

Next sentence:  "These include his collaboration with, and defense of, anti-Semites and Holocaust Deniers and his platforming of a white nationalist."  Let's see, do you think the author has made their point yet?

In the next several paragraphs the author lays out why they think Heimbach is still a fascist, and what he did over the years as a fascist.  None of this is relevant, given that I think talking to members of the far right, under the right circumstances, is something that needs to happen constantly, daily, all the time, and in public, whenever possible to have reasonable discourse, as I had with Heimbach.

And then:

"And like most things, its the reaction to people raising concerns that seemed to bring out the most tensions, as Rovics was quick to blame his audience for not being open minded enough to engage with the content – totally missing the point that Heimbach was using him to not only to rehabilitate himself but also to attack the very work that many of Rovics fans were engaged in."

I am quick to blame "my audience"?  My audience is not attacking me.  It is growing by the month, as it has been doing for decades.  These neo-anarchist identitarians are attacking me.  

As the author points out earlier in the paragraph, I did "eventually" take the interview down, which is apparently taken to mean that I did so as a result of criticisms from anonymous people on Twitter.  This was not the case.  I took it down because I have been the host of a weekly interview show called Fifth Estate Live since the pandemic hit.  It is produced in association with the Fifth Estate editorial collective.  The Fifth Estate is the oldest ongoing anarchist publication in the United States.  The editorial collective, all of whom are real people with names, thought it best if I took down the interview.  I am accountable, and I am a team player, and I also had reservations about the lack of context I provided in the course of the interview, and so I took it down.

I also did not do the interview live, intentionally, wanting to see how it went first.  Minor point, perhaps, but it was not a livestreamed interview.

I am not "missing the point" that Heimbach is using me.  I do not agree with it.  I have a different perspective.  This, evidently, is fascist sympathizing and therefore unacceptable to my anonymous detractor with a fairly big platform (far bigger, for example, than mine).

The author then continues, saying I went on to "lick my wounds" on Kevin Barrett's YouTube show.  The author then goes on to completely mischaracterize things I said, though at least this time they are not misquoting me, just completely mischaracterizing and misrepresenting and otherwise basically lying about what I actually said.

I didn't say it.  The author is lying.  If you want to listen to the interview, feel free.  

I think Kevin Barrett has some very questionable positions on things.  I am a professional, world-traveling musician.  I have done lots of interviews for media outlets owned by energy companies, media outlets that receive grants from the CIA, TV stations run by guerrilla organizations such as Hezbollah, I have done many interviews in the Iranian press, the Russian press, etc., etc.  If I were to choose who I do interviews with based on the political views of the person or media outlet interviewing me, I don't know who I'd ever talk to.

But more than that, I'm particularly interested in talking to rightwingers who are willing to have a reasonable discussion, by which I mean a discussion where I'm given plenty of time to talk to their audience.  That's what I was doing by appearing on Mr. Barrett's YouTube show, and that's what I'm doing when I talk to folks on RT, Press TV, Pacifica Radio, Al-Mayadeen, Sputnik, the Tehran Times, An Phoblacht, Melodie und Rhythmus, Sing Out magazine, the BBC, or whoever else.

There is one important difference between my interview on Barrett's show and my interviews on all of the aforementioned outlets.  With all those other interviews, I enthusiastically shared them with my audience on anti-social media and such, because I thought they were good.  With the interview on Barrett's show, and some others as well, I did not share it with any of my people, because I didn't like some of his talking points, and didn't think they needed an audience beyond the one he already has.  If I were to do anything different with regards to appearing on Barrett's show, I would not.

My anonymous critic suggests that because I did not "push back" on all of the stupid things Barrett said, I am therefore agreeing with it all.  I suppose when I did an interview on Fox News Radio during the second invasion of Iraq, to try to speak out against the war in that forum, I must be agreeing with everything the idiot who interviewed me for that stupid show on Fox thought?  That's some extremely dangerous thinking.

The anonymous critic then goes on to explain why Gilad Atzmon is an antisemitic holocaust-denying rightwinger, and that by talking with him and liking his book, I am, too.  A-Anon then goes on to completely misrepresent the thesis of the book, in ways that aren't worth exploring.  If you want to read the book, read the book.  If you don't, don't.  If you want to believe it's interesting because I say so, feel free.  If you want to believe it's antisemitic crap like A-Anon says, feel free.  I'd recommend actually ignoring the whole discussion.

The author then uses the term "mealy-mouthed" to describe my "defense" of my position -- otherwise known as explanation.  What "mealy-mouthed" even means, I have no idea.

The author tell us that a few dozen academics and others, including some Palestinians, signed statements denouncing Atzmon.  The author probably is unaware that some of these folks have been friends of mine for decades, and still are.  We have disagreements about this kind of denunciation tactic, they know I don't approve of it, and we're still friends and comrades.  We have so much common ground, and we know it.  Amazing, eh?  Apparently an impossible concept to embrace for certain "activists" who can only imagine ostracizing and excluding anyone they don't agree with.

I have of course read the statements these folks made against Atzmon, and I chose not to join them, because I don't agree with them.  I have a mind of my own, I have lived 54 years on this Earth, most of it among Jews, along with lots of other people.  I'm also very familiar with the history of fascism, European history, and Jewish history.  I am personally very familiar with the subject matter at hand here, and without writing a book myself or trying to explain the entire thesis of someone else's book, I humbly submit that the people who signed these petitions and are involved with the campaign against Atzmon are not doing anything useful, at best.  That's my opinion.  Cancel me for it.  I realize they're intelligent people.  I am, too, and I disagree with them.  They are also not a monolith at all, as depicted by A-Anon.  They are a handful of academics.  Gilad was just on Lebanese TV last week.

OK, the next paragraph is a fantastic example of the kind of thinking that characterizes the allegedly antifascist wingnut fringe:

"Rovics has answered these criticisms by again blaming 'cancel culture' and suggesting that his critics are federal informants, law enforcement, or possibly members of the Israel Lobby. This is an example of what is often called the Livingstone Formulation: when someone accuses you of antisemitism, you say it’s because you’re a critic of Israel—even if the incident had nothing to do with Israel. When Rovics hosts these people and defends their right to have access to leftist spaces, it sanitizes their politics and puts marginalized people at risk. He is helping to normalize these ideas and this takes the stigma away from their dangerous dehumanization."

I don't know how you blame cancel culture for criticisms.  Cancel culture is a tactic, and an orientation, it is not a critique.  Opposing cancel culture is a principled position.  I blame cancel culture for a lot of things, but not for the criticisms themselves.  It's what you do with criticism, and how you use it, that makes it cancel culture.

However, the fact that some of my critics are federal informants, law enforcements, and Israeli agents is not a matter of conjecture.  Anyone familiar with the basic operations of the FBI in the past couple decades, so say nothing of the 1960's and 1970's, or the 1920's, for Pete's sake, knows that all of our activist "spaces" are infiltrated with agents of all kinds.  To think otherwise is to be either extremely naive, extremely ignorant, or just more gaslighting.  Or they're an agent and don't want to talk about the other agents?  Who knows.  All I know, is I'm on a watch list in five different countries.  I've written about it extensively in the past, it's not a secret, and I'm not imagining anything.

That of course does not mean that all of my critics are government agents.  I'm quite convinced that many or even most of them are real -- real, misguided, confused people who have swallowed a whole lot of extremely circuitous logic, such that they are able to see one thing and identify it as the opposite.

"When Rovics hosts these people and defends their right to have access to leftist spaces" -- this is a load of identitarian nonsense right here.  I am not defending anyone's right to have access to any space here, I am trying to reach the audience of people who have a lot of very scary followers, and I am succeeding in doing so.  In a very limited way, perhaps, but that's something.  It sure beats the race towards the fascist apocalypse we seem to be on right now!  

As to normalizing these ideas:  Trump was just the president of the country for four years.  These ideas are already normalized.  I want to unpack them, and show people why they suck.  This is what I do, with my music, and with my efforts at interviewing people.  My anonymous critics don't like it, obviously, and they think that gives them the right to be my judge and jury, and to get "accountability" from me.

Taking the next paragraph one sentence at a time:

"Rovics is well-embedded in leftist spaces, and many people have given his penchant for bigoted conspiracy theories a pass."

I am "well-embedded" in leftist spaces around the world because I write songs that mean something to people around the world, and I play concerts for people that they want to come back to next year.  I reject any and all bigoted conspiracy theories!  I only believe in real conspiracies, not bigoted ones, and the only ones I want to "give a pass" to are the real ones.

Next sentence:  "But just because someone is a leftist celebrity doesn’t mean we should overlook their collaboration with the far-Right or anti-Semites."

Now, the criticisms have been presented so many times in so many forms, I wonder what is meant by "overlooking"?  I'll translate:  because I disagree with the assessment about my own failures here, since I'm actually very much antifascist and pro-human, including Jewish humans, and not at all on the right, I am therefore not open to accountability.  The accountability of the Witch Trials, except in the Witch Trials you knew who your accusers were.

Next:  "Rovics has rejected all criticisms while claiming every move toward accountability is illegitimate."  This is a lie, easily disproven by anyone who wants to actually bother looking into it.  I have been criticized in the past for various things, for which there is a public record of me apologizing for things I've done or said that I could have done better.  I have taken concrete steps to improve my understanding of many real-life issues.  One way or another, like most people, I have grown in life, and learned from mistakes.  I have regrets, and I've learned a lot of things from messing up, and from other people.

That doesn't mean that the circuitous and completely intolerant logic of a neo-anarchist identitarian fringe has any legitimacy.  It doesn't.  Cancel culture is a problem that needs to be overcome, not an accountability process of any kind.  It's the opposite of accountability, in fact.  Where is the accountability for my accusers?  Nowhere that I can see.  We don't even know who they are or is.  (Though we can be sure that as soon as one of them is willing to name themselves, they will be a person who has already engaged in efforts to cancel some other author, intellectual, or musician they didn't like.)

Next:  "Rejecting the idea that we should have these people on our platforms is not a kneejerk ’emotional’ action, it’s one based on strategy."  

Yes, strategy!  We have different strategies!  What shall my anonymous critic do now?  Write more screeds?  Get their followers to have more of my gigs canceled?  After one of their fans physically assaults me, they'll write a piece saying "well Rovics is still an antisemite but you shouldn't have hit him."

Next:  "We know that people like Heimbach are attempting to build up fascist groups with nominal 'left-wing' economic ideas and that allowing them into our circles as part of the broader left is exactly what they want: a seat at the table to organize and build their numbers as just another left-wing tendency."

A seat at what table now?  The one on the Titanic here?  I don't want to choose who sits at the table, I want to get off this sinking ship!  That means talking to people who might be really messed up, because they have a lot of followers that we want to try to reach.  Not to exclude them from a nonexistent "space" or "table," but to build alliances that might be possible to build, because there are many people in these rightwing groups who are potential members of the left.

That paragraph above in the screed above also belies a profound ignorance of the nature of fascism itself.

Fascism, or National Socialism, set out from the beginning to be an ideology that would attract the left.  This was the very point of the National Socialists using the term National Socialism in the first place.  Of course fascists are trying to appeal to leftwingers!  That's what they do!  And we leftwingers need to appeal to the fascists, in order to win them over to the side of class war, instead of race war, or war with other nations.  

The tactics of cliquishness, "antifascist spaces," yelling at cops, and burning dumpsters aren't working.  They're alienating a lot of people.  What we need to do instead, among other things, is talk -- talk to everyone willing to talk, who has an audience, or a following, and win them over to the side of internationalism, class consciousness, and liberation for all people.

The planet is burning and flooding.  Fascists are taking over many different countries.  There's hope -- but not in this Hillary Clintonesque vitriol about the right, talking about them as a bunch of hopeless deplorable racists.  Reality is more complex than that.  We need to talk -- with them.

My critics and I disagree.  And now what?  I'll tell you:  for my lack of repentance, for having a viewpoint that differs from neo-anarchist identitarianism, I should be kept out of antifascist "spaces" -- an obvious euphamism for getting gigs canceled and otherwise making sure I'm shunned from wherever these anarcho-Puritans have influence, or can instill fear.  They will keep participating in their efforts to cancel me.  That's what they're doing now.  They will keep on gaslighting me and many others, while pretend these tactics are just rightwing talking points.  But they're not.  Cancel culture is real, and my anonymous critic is part of it.

At the end of the insanity known as the House Unamerican Activities Committee or HUAC hearings, many people's careers were canceled by McCarthyism.  They were looking for communists under every rock, and they found them.  Eventually they got to the point where they were calling the Republican president Eisenhower and people like that communists, and their hysterical campaign drew to a temporary conclusion.

This campaign against me will, I hope, meet the same fate.  Except that calling me sympathetic to fascism, antisemitism, holocaust denial, etc., is far more outrageous than calling Eisenhowever a communist.  At least Eisenhowever believed in taxing the rich.  While I have been an antifascist, raised by a holocaust survivor, my whole fucking life.  Anyone who would suggest otherwise has no idea who I am, and is, at best, an extremely confused individual.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Remembering 1921: The Battle of Blair Mountain

The biggest multiracial armed uprising in the history of the United States took place in the hills of West Virginia in 1921.  Ever heard of it?

At the beginning of August, 1917, a multiracial group of tenant farmers and other people mostly from Oklahoma, including the infamous abolitionist John Brown's grandson, began what they hoped would turn into an armed uprising in Washington, DC, from different parts of the country, with the aim of putting an end to the imperial, capitalist war machine.  

Hard-pressed tenant farmers from all backgrounds -- white, black, brown, indigenous, women, men, including prominent indigenous women organizers -- were involved with this abortive effort that became known as the Green Corn Rebellion.  Less well-known than even this virtually unknown Oklahoma uprising is the fact that it was born out of a secret multiracial network known as the Working Class Union, with an estimated 35,000 members in Oklahoma alone, which had been waging a campaign of armed resistance and industrial sabotage against the landed gentry and the mine operators of the region for years.

Although most people reading this are probably people already fairly knowledgeable about historical events a lot of other people have never heard of, my guess is most of you have never heard of the Working Class Union in Oklahoma or their campaign of sabotage and armed struggle, or the fact that it was a consciously multiracial endeavor.

One hundred years ago this month, in August, 1921, in another part of the US, a multiracial uprising of union coal miners commandeered trains and cars across the state of West Virginia and emptied armories of their contents, as they marched to the town of Mingo, where a hundred of their fellow union miners were being held without charge by the corrupt authorities.

Somewhere around 15,000 miners engaged in three days and nights of crossfire with thousands of the more "well-to-do" members of West Virginia society, including every cop in the entire state and all the gun thugs the mine operators could find available to hire.  It was an explicitly multiracial uprising, led by a union movement that had for decades been explicitly antiracist, acutely aware of the ways the bosses used the racial divide in the US to keep the working class in a constant state of conflict.  So much of the labor movement of the day rejected this strategy and employed their own strategy of radical inclusion.

How thoroughly did the black miners of West Virginia feel about their part in the union movement in 1921?  Of the 15,000 or so people laying siege to Mingo at the end of August of that year, an estimated 2,000 of them were black.

This was a multiracial uprising of unprecedented scale.  During the three days that the miners were trying to liberate their comrades imprisoned in Mingo, dozens of people were killed, the total numbers never to be known.  Thousands of women of all backgrounds were actively involved with the struggle, coordinating essential logistics like food and medical care for thousands of men under arms.

Just three months earlier in Tulsa, Oklahoma, planes dropped explosives on the black community of Greenwood, razing the entire neighborhood to the ground, killing hundreds of black people from the community in a racist lynch mob consisting of thousands of members of the white community in Tulsa.  Refugees were interned and treated terribly by the authorities.  People whose lives, homes, and businesses were destroyed never saw any compensation for their losses, or even any apologies worth mentioning.  The intergenerational trauma stemming from this pogrom continues to this day.

The impact of this racist pogrom on the black people of Oklahoma and beyond is incalculable.  The impact of learning about this horrible event -- one of so many similar horrors throughout the history of this settler-colonial empire we call the United States -- is also hard to calculate.

This is especially true when all you know about the history of 1921 is the Tulsa Race Massacre.  Everyone should know about this massacre, in all its horrific detail.  Everyone should know about the planes dropping explosives, and the systematic destruction of the city.  Everyone should know about later efforts to hide the history, to pave over what remained of Greenwood with a highway.

But everyone should also know that the second time planes were used to drop explosives on people in the United States was in August, 1921, in West Virginia.  And these planes were from the US military, flown in from bases hundreds of miles away, to drop bombs on a multiracial uprising of union miners.  

There is so much more that can be said about what led up to both the Tulsa pogrom and the multiracial uprising in West Virginia, which both happened within months of each other in 1921.  The impact of the unspeakably horrendous bloodbath known as World War 1, along with the terribly devastating global pandemic that it gave rise to, would be hard to overstate.  Massively traumatized populations are more likely to take up arms in whatever circumstance.  History demonstrates this pattern abundantly.  Which doesn't explain either of these events, but understanding 1921 in the context of 1918 is absolutely essential.  1921 didn't happen in a vacuum.

The main point I would venture to make here is that we cannot begin to understand the realities and complexities of the present day, to say nothing of the history of this country, if when we think of 1921 we remember the Tulsa Race Massacre, but not the Battle of Blair Mountain.

And why would we do that?  Don't ask me.  Ask the corporate and so-called "public" media in this country.  Ask them why they ignore the biggest multiracial uprising in the history of this country.  They'll say they're not ignoring it -- look, West Virginia Public Television did a barely-funded little documentary about that, they may say.

But barely mentioning a major historical event is more or less the same as ignoring it, in terms of the impact on the populace.  At this point, given the media coverage and the speeches of prominent politicians and so much more, the Greenwood pogrom may be said to have achieved the historical notoriety it so richly deserves.  What an extreme example of what a white supremacist, settler-colonial mentality can achieve, under the right -- that is, wrong -- circumstances of population-wide PTSD and widespread poverty and unemployment, on top of the centuries of racist brainwashing from the top that has characterized colonialism from the beginning of the practice.

But in the face of such a longstanding history of white supremacy and settler-colonialism, is it not worth mentioning that so much of the labor movement explicitly rejected that nonsense?  Is it not worth noting that an interracial army of union miners spontaneously organized an uprising in August, 1921, that had to be put down by federal troops?  Is it not worth mentioning that none of the organizers of this multiracial uprising could be convicted by a jury anywhere in the state of West Virginia afterwards?

What do you think of when you think of West Virginia?  Let me guess.  Racist white hillbillies.

There is another America.  You will not hear about it on television.  PBS -- and all the corporate networks -- almost completely ignore labor history.  Multiracial uprisings are completely ignored, as if they never happened.  If we don't learn about this side of our history, and only learn about the lynchings, nothing good will come of this "education."

I have never heard Al Sharpton give a speech where he doesn't mention the martyrs, Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner.  Reverend Sharpton is not pandering to anyone by mentioning these three names like a mantra in every speech.  He is educating the people, whoever is listening, about the multiracial history of resistance to class- and race-based oppression in this country.

Just as no one can understand the relevance of the Civil Rights movement without knowing about the multiracial Freedom Riders and other such efforts, the idea that so much of a society can know about the racist pogrom in Oklahoma in 1921, but not about the multiracial uprising in West Virginia three months later, tells you everything you need to know about what's wrong with how education, and the media, function in this capitalist society.

For whatever it's worth, in my role as a topical songwriter, I have written songs about all of the events I've mentioned here -- the Green Corn Rebellion, the Tulsa Race Massacre, and the Battle of Blair Mountain.  I did that because I think it's so important that all of these things be remembered.  I shudder at the thought of only knowing about one of these events without knowing about the others.  What must that do to the spirits of so many people, led to believe that our history consists of nothing but racial division and subjugation.

There is another America.  Remember it.  Whether Jesus ever lived or died, I don't know.  But those miners died for you.  You should at least know who they were.  And then let's all follow in their footsteps.  Long live the multiracial uprising in the hills of Appalachia in 1921.  Long live the Battle of Blair Mountain.

A Tale of Two Narratives

Was it a peaceful gathering, a riot, or an insurrection?  That depends on who we're talking about, and who's talking about them. Eve...