Saturday, March 18, 2006

Behold! Recording Drunken Sailor at Columbia College

After I returned from the anti-war rally at the Pentagon, I had to rush to record with my band Behold! at the studios at Columbia College. It took us all day, but we we able to record our punk version of the old folk song "Drunken Sailor."

I'm rockin' the fro-hawk while waiting for Joe to set up some stuff in the studio.

Andy and me rockin.

Ben on the Drums

Joe shouting into the mic.

Andy on rhythm guitar.

Eric on bass.

Eric again on bass.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Life of a Vietnam Veteran, By Ron, as told to Matt Muchowski

This piece was written for a class I had with Professor Norman Finkelstein. The class was about political autobiographies. We read Emma Goldman, Nelson Mandela, Trotsky and others. Our final paper was to write an "As told to" autobiography about someone who lived through the 1960's. I knew Ron as a custodian at DePaul who would always strike up a conversation when DePaul Students Against the War had a table at the student center. I asked him if he would mind being interviewed for the article and he agreed. I meant to submit the story for publication in a journal, and maybe make some money with it. I asked Ron about it and he said as long as I gave half the money to Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Maybe one of these days.


As a child, my mother would tell me about her parents. They had come to the United States from Italy, looking for a better life. What they found was that to some, the American Dream wasn’t intended for all. They immigrated to Southern Illinois, where the Ku Klux Klan terrorized them and intimidated them because they were Catholic immigrants who had trouble speaking english. They then moved to Chicago, where the mob started threatening to kidnap my mother if they didn’t pay the mob. My grandfather went with a shotgun to confront the mob one day, and my mother and grandmother never saw him again.

I grew up in Chicago, where I was often more accepting of my black and latino neighbors than other white Chicagoans. The neighborhood I grew up in had a building where almost all the residents were black. While several of my school mates would make derogatory jokes and tease the residents of the building, my mother was friends with a number of people in it, and thus I became friends with a number of African-American children.

I had several brothers. One day I was watching the TV with my older brother Jim, when news of the Gulf of Tonkin incident came on. At the time we didn’t know that it was a fake story, that US ships were never attacked by the north Vietnamese forces. We watched intently, and wondered if this were a new Pearl Harbor. When the news was over, I looked to my brother Jim and told him, “Your going to war. Your going to be drafted.” He looked at me like I was crazy, and dismissed it. A few months later, he was drafted and sent to Vietnam. I think he didn’t mind going because our father was a veteran of World War II, where he fought the Japanese empire in the Pacific.

Growing up, I had friends on both sides of the great debates of my time. My brother was in the army, but I had Hippy friends. In 1968, when the Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago, a few of my friends came up to me and asked me if I wanted to go down to Grant Park to fight with the cops. I told them no. I had friends in the national guard and police department who I played football with, and I didn’t want to be put in a situation where I would have to get beat up by them or beat them up.

One day I was hanging out with my girlfriend, and heard news on the radio about race riots on the south side. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated the day before, and black America was taking out it’s frustrations. I was curious what it was all about, so my white girlfriend and I got on my motorcycle and rode it south. When we approached the riot, there was all sorts of debris in the streets, making it impossible for a car or truck to make it through, but a motorcycle, going slowly could navigate the streets. We came to a stop when we saw the first block of looters, breaking windows and taking whatever they wanted from stores, I brought my motorcycle to a stop. I turned to my girlfriend and told her, “Raise your fist in the air and start screaming ‘Black Power’ like you mean it.” As we slowly drove down the street, people would see the only two white kids in the riot, shouting “Black Power!” and they would cheer, and come up to us to give us high fives.

After high school I became a sheet metal apprentice, and so I had a four year deferment from the draft. Since sheet metal was considered an important industry to the war effort, I didn’t have to fight the war. But I kept hearing things about Vietnam. I would hear the government tell us that it’s a war for freedom and against communism. Then I would hear about the massacres like My Lai and all the arguments for peace. My brother came home and he had a hard time talking about it, which only made me more curious.

I decided to push up my draft number, so that I could get drafted and see the war for myself. I figured the only way to know whether this war was right or wrong was to go there and see it for myself.

I enlisted in January 1969, and was sent to Fort Bragg for Basic Training. As soon as I got there and the drill sergeant was shouting at us and using racial slurs, I realized what a mistake I had made. I should have known this wasn’t a good idea. I had read about the My Lai massacre, where US troops killed hundreds of unarmed villagers, where one of the true hero’s of Vietnam, Hugh Thompson, flew his medical evacuation helicopter into the massacre. Thompson had seen gun fire from above, and came down to see if there were any wounded people to take back to a hospital. When he attempted to take some of the Vietnamese villagers back, he was threatened by Lt. Calley. For years after, Thompson’s account was covered up, until photos of the massacre were leaked to the press.

While I was at basic training, I had found an issue of Life magazine, where the front cover was peace groups. I read the article, and it included a page of addresses, where I could mail them. I ripped out that page, and mail the different peace groups, asking them for bundles of anti-war newspapers. The different groups were happy to do so. I was being sent bundles of newspapers from anti-war soldiers, the Black Panther Party, Students for Democratic Society, among others. I would then pass these newspapers out to other troops. As long as I didn’t charge for the newspapers it was completely legal.

After basic training I went to Aberdeen Proving Grounds for advanced training in maintenance. It was while I was being trained here on how to repair turret artillery, that I got my papers for deployment to Vietnam. It was also here that I found a copy of Bernard Fall’s biography of Ho Chi Minh. I had been told so much propaganda from my government about what a terrorist and tyrant he was that reading this book came as a revelation to me. I never realized that Ho Chi Minh had fought against Japan for the independence of Vietnam. It made me realize that Ho Chi Minh and my father were fighting on the same side, and it didn’t make any sense to me why I should fight against someone who helped fight the Japanese, and gave my father a better chance of surviving the war.

After reading that book I found a photo of Ho Chi Minh, and carried it in my wallet for the whole time I was in Vietnam. I figured if I was captured I could show them the photo I carried and explain to them how I was on their side.

I was out in Northern New York state on leave with my girlfriend when I saw posters everywhere for a rock concert called Woodstock. It said Jimi Hendrix would play among others. I had been a big rock and roll fan and had been to many concerts back in Chicago. I had seen Jimi Hendrix play twice already, I saw the Rolling Stones perform, Janis Joplin blew my mind away, and The Doors rocked. These were pioneers in music, they were the baby of rock and roll that grew up to change the world. I wanted to go to this Woodstock show, but it was happening after my deployment. I thought about deserting, going to this rock show, going underground and living a life in the counter culture. Except that I had gone to far into the beast already. I was so close to seeing Vietnam, that I didn’t want to miss my shot at seeing the war for what it really was.

I was shipped out to Chou Lai beach. It was a rear guard zone, which meant we had buildings made out of brick and pretty decent living conditions. We weren’t on the front lines of combat, but it could still be dangerous. Put a bunch of young men in a country they know little about then give them guns and watch them act stupid. I remember one day I was stepping out of the shower house, when a bullet went whizzing past my ear. There was a fight going on between two of our soldiers, and one was shooting in the air to scare the other one, but misfired and almost shot me.

I did not want to shoot at or kill any Vietnamese person. In my eyes, they were fighting for their freedom, and I didn’t want to kill someone who I felt was doing the right thing. When I made it to Vietnam, I realized how I might be put in a situation where I would be forced to shoot at Vietnamese people. I spent long sleepless nights thinking about what it would take for me to pull that trigger. I came to the conclusion that if my life were directly in danger, I would open fire. So I resolved to not put my life in any sort of danger.

But even on the back end, far from fighting, your life was at risk. My life was saved with the flip of a coin. I had a friend named Hager whom I went to basic training with and got along with pretty well. One day we were both part of a crew that was sent to an old French air strip. We were tearing it up for scrap metal. We had the job of removing a big cannon. Hager and I decided to flip a coin to see who would be on the ground helping to direct it as the crane pulled it up. We flipped the coin and it landed so that Hager had to work on the cannon. I went to work on something else. Then I heard a the crash of metal and a sickening thud. I looked over and saw that Hager had been hit by the cannon, and was bloody all over. The next day I visited him in the bases medical center, he had tubes coming out from all over him. The next day they took him off base to a hospital. I never found out what happened to him.

Race relations were interesting on the camp. When I first arrived a number of the troops from Southern states flew what I called the “Ku Klux Klan Battle Flag”, the stars and bars of the confederacy. Despite this there weren’t any incidents between blacks and white on base for the first two months I was there. There was an African-American soldier from Louisiana named Smitty who was on his second tour of Vietnam and was about to be promoted to Sergeant. Then a young white kid from Alabama, Jeff, arrived. Within a short time, the powers that be decided that Jeff would be promoted instead of Smitty.

Smitty decided to confront Jeff about this at the bar on base. Instead of offering to help Smitty, Jeff made a joke about Smitty’s mother. Smitty told Jeff that if he anted to go down that route they should take it outside. Once they were both outside, Smitty beat the living hell out of Jeff, breaking his leg. Jeff was then kicked out of Chou Lai, and the commander of the base ordered all the confederate flags taken down.

I continued to hand out anti-war newspapers and fliers to troops in Vietnam. I never once met a soldier who was pro-war. Everyone I talked to was glad to sign a petition or take a paper. Even combat soldiers were enthusiastic to hear about anti-war demonstrations back home. I remember one day I was handing out fliers to troops when some of the combat soldiers became infuriated about the death of one of their comrades. They felt as though the commanders of the base didn’t care about their lives. Five combat soldiers started walking towards the command center with angry looks on their faces. I joined them, and as we marched towards our destination, more and more troops joined us. We had thirty pissed off GI’s scowling and I didn’t know what we would do once we made it tot he commanders. There had already been one fragging on our base while I was there, could this lead to an open revolt?

Before we made it to the command center, several Military Police came, detained the combat troops and ordered the rest of us to disperse. There was a tense moment when no one was sure what to do, but we ultimately dispersed.

I had a month on leave that I spent in Hawaii. There I met my first wife Michelle. Near the end of my leave, I talked to her about deserting. We could have both left and gone to Sweden, where we could live in peace. Now that I had seen Vietnam, I had no real desire to return as a member of the US army. She talked me out of it though.

While I was stationed in Vietnam, the actress Jane Fonda did her famous anti-war tour of the country. While she was in the north, the US launched a bombing raid against the city she was in. She spoke on Vietnamese radio, encouraging US troops to refuse to fight. I felt as though she were there speaking for the majority of grunts there. She was there for us, unlike President Nixon who also visited Vietnam while I was there.

A lot of people talk about US troops using drugs in Vietnam. I never used drugs, but I saw them all over the base. When I first got there, Marijuana was the big drug. But after a few months, you couldn’t find Marijuana no matter how hard to looked. What you could find was Heroin and Opium. Thai drug dealers would come on base and sell these hard drugs, making some good money. What I would learn years later in a book I read, was that the CIA played a role in this. The CIA would take profits from these drugs and use them to fund secret operations in Laos and Cambodia.

When I had my orders to come home, I was excited and worried. I was excited to get away from the war, and get more involved with the peace movement back home. I was also worried because I had heard of troops being spit on as they came home, of anti-war radicals treating troops as though they were the enemy. Would I be spit on? I thought about that the whole time I rode the plane back to the States. I devised a plan. I would wear my uniform at the airport, and make sure I really stood out in front of people who looked like they were against the war- long haired men, hippies, and other counterculture agents. I must have walked around the airport for an hour, hoping someone would spit on me and call me a baby killer so I could punch them in the face and tell them, “You moron! I’m against the war to!” But it never happened. I would often wear my uniform at airports since I could get free flights that way, and I was never mistreated by anyone in the anti-war movement. Today I believe that those reports were all part of a right-wing media campaign, to gather support for the war.

I was only home a few weeks when I heard news of a massive rally on Chou Lai beach, where I was stationed. Thousands of US troops and Vietnamese people were marching for an end to the war. I wished I could have been there, but I felt proud because it felt like I played a role in building for that rally. All those fliers and newspapers I handed out must have played a role in changing the atmosphere on base. I knew that I had to continue to fight the war here in the US.

I moved back to Chicago, where I got involved with Vietnam Veterans Against the War. I met all the famous leaders in the group, John Kerry, Ron Kovic, and a number of defendants from our court case in Miami for our protests against the Republican National Convention.

I had my first child with Michelle while I was still in the military, and we had another when I was discharged. Both were boys, and neither joined the army. I like to think that it was because of my anti-war activism and that they met all sorts of veterans who were wounded from the war. My friend Tom Gilum was in the 101st airborne and paralyzed from the waist down because of the war. I think meeting him had an impression on my boys.

I divorced Michelle, and my apartment in Chicago became the VVAW national Headquarters. We would organize our members to go to anti-war rallies, and distributed our newspaper, “The Veteran”.

One day while I was working in the office alone, the phone rang. I picked it up, and the person on the other line introduced himself as an FBI agent. He asked me if I would be interested in being a paid informant for the FBI, reporting on the activities of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. I told him to go to hell. At the time we knew the feds were spying on and disrupting anti-war and civil rights groups, but we didn’t know how much. It wasn’t until years later when information about the Counter Intelligence Program, or COINTELPRO, came out that we found out the full extent of the FBI’s activities. While COINTELPRO is no longer around, I still read about things they do that sound strikingly familiar, their attempts to bomb environmentalist Judi Bari, and spying on anti-war activists today.

Ten years after I divorced Michelle, the war in Vietnam was over and I married again to Eve. We had one child together and are still happily married today. She jokingly refers to my anti-war activity and calls me a traitor. I always respond, “Yea, but my side won.” Eve and I helped babysit for Jane Fonda and Joan Baez’s children when the two were on tour in Chicago.

A friend of mine told me that DePaul University was hiring maintenance workers, and that the pay and benefits were good. I took the job and was able to take a few classes. Over twenty years later I’m still at DePaul. I’ve met some interesting people here, and am constantly supporting the work of student activists.

Thirty years since the US left Vietnam, all I can do is think of the cost of the war. Millions of Vietnamese people dead, thousands of US troops dead. The effects of chemical weapons used like Agent Orange are still being felt today among Vietnamese and US soldiers. There is a generation of soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The war continues today in Iraq. While in the 1960’s we were told we needed to fight in Vietnam because of the lie of the Gulf of Tonkin, today we are told we need to fight in Iraq because of the lie of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

I haven’t been to the Vietnam wall yet. I hope to see it later this year. I’m wondering if some of my friends names made it there. I hope not. I hope we won’t have to build more war memorials, I hope we won’t have to fight any more wars.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The New Imperialism, State Capitalism the Keynsian and Neo-Liberal Spacio-Temporal Fixes of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and a Su

In his book about the British economist John Maynard Keynes Robert Skidelsky states, “On 24 October 1916, above the initials of Reginald McKenna, Chancellor of the Exchequer, appeared the words, almost certainly drafted by Keynes: ‘If things go on as present... the Presidents of the American Republic will be in a position... to dictate his own terms to us’ This fixes the moment when financial hegemony passed across the Atlantic. (p. 19)” Skidelsky was discussing the First World War and how British involvement in what was at the time the most destructive war ever fought, was making the United Kingdom more dependent on the United States for loans to finance the war.

Things continued on that trend, and in 1945 with the end of the Second World War nearing, Keynes played a role in the creation of the the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development at the Bretton Woods conference. The IBRD would go on to become the World Bank. Membership in the World Bank and IMF was and still is determined by shares bought by different governments. The more shares a country buys, the more votes they have in the institutions. This allowed the United States to gave the overwhelming majority of votes in the post WWII period. As the IMF admits, “Those who contribute most to the IMF are therefore given the strongest voice in determining its policies. Thus the United States now [in 1992] has about 180,000 votes, or about one fifth of the total; the Maldives 270. (Driscoll, p. 6)” The US was now in a position to dictate terms to the rest of the world.

Despite certain cosmetic changes in it’s approach to economics throughout the years, this was a system which not only worked with dictators such as Marcos in the Philippines, but a system which the basic structure of which was undemocratic. It was a system that led to further poverty and inequality. It was a system that bred resistance and a system which upon the ashes of, a new society can grow.

For the first several decades of their existence, the Bretton Woods institutions took their mission almost entirely from Keynesian economics. The basic ideas behind this was that governments might have to intervene in the economy through large scale projects to create jobs. The World Bank was intended to give out loans to finance such projects, while the IMF was to regulate currency exchange rates through a fixed value (the dollar which was linked the gold standard).

Keynes first draft of what would become the world economic order after WWII, revolved around the idea that “creditor countries would not be allowed to ‘hoard’ their surpluses, or charge punitive rates of interest for lending them out; rather they would be automatically available as cheap overdraft facilities to debtors... (Skildelsky, p. 100).” This is the “Spacio-temporal fix” that David Harvey discussed in his book “The New Imperialism.”

Harvey wrote:

“The basic idea of the spatio-temporal fix is simple enough. Over-accumulation within a given territorial system means a condition of surpluses of labour (rising unemployment) and surpluses of capital (registered as a glut of commodities on the market that cannot be disposed of without a loss, as idle productive capacity and/or as surpluses of money capital lacking outlets for productive and profitable investment). Such surpluses can be potentially absorbed by (a) temporal displacement through investment in long-term capital projects or social expenditures (such as education and research) that defer the re-entry of capital values into circulation into the future, (b) spatial displacements through opening up new markets, new production capacities, and new resource social, and labour possibilities elsewhere... (p. 109)”

In essence, the Bretton Woods institutions were to be used to take excess capital from rich countries like the US, and invest it in poor countries like the Philippines. According to the owners of this new system, it would allow those countries to develop and prosper. Was this the case though? There is much evidence that suggests that was not the case.

Consider the case of the Philippines. After WWII, the Philippines was in ruins. “Manila suffered greater devastation than any Allied city, second only to Warsaw (Woods, p. 60).” A Marshall plan for the Philippines, based on Keynesian ideas of government investment in the economy, was implemented. The US gave millions of dollars to the Philippine government in what would be a precursor to the spacio-temporal fixes of the World Bank. The Philippines has received several loans from the World Bank and IMF since at least the 1970’s, when under the leadership of liberal Vietnam war architect Robert McNamara the World Bank became increasingly supportive of the Marcos dictatorship.

Yet despite the decades of this kind of “aid”, in 2006 Damon Woods reported that, “It is estimated that approximately 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line (p. 107).” and “External debt is 57.96 billion (p. 108).”

Why is it that these spacio-temporal fixes, aren’t fixing anything for the Philippine people? On one hand we must look at the colonial history between the countries that control the Bretton Woods Institutions and countries like the Philippines. The Philippines was a colony of Spain’s for 300 years, until a revolt was supported by the United States in the late 1800’s. The US decided to annex the Philippines instead of respecting it’s sovereignty. A repressive war was fought to control the Philippines, and the US ended up owning the islands. Damon Woods quotes from Schirmer President McKinley’s reasons for US imperial control of the islands. These reasons still ring true today under the World Bank and IMF, “we could not turn them over to France and Germany- our commercial rivals in the Orient- that would be bad business and discreditable” and “we could not leave them to themselves- they were unfit for self-government (p. 50).”

At the most basic level, the Bretton Woods institutions conducting these fixes are not designed to be democratic. They are only fixing the economy for those that own them. If all countries and all people had equal power over the global economic order, those decisions would represent the will of all those people.

The IMF claims that it “has no means of coercing them [member countries] to live up to these obligations [of following free trade and currency exchange measures] (Driscoll, p. 9).” A nice way of saying that even if the decisions for how the world economy is to be run is decided by a few rich countries, the rest of the world doesn’t have to go along with it. But in the Philippines and other countries, the IMF and World Bank have essentially coerced countries to accept the Bretton Woods’ institutions solutions.

As Adebayo Adedeji writes, “Virtually every external support to any African country, including debt rescheduling and relief, became dependent on the award of a certificate of good behavior by these institutions. Such an award was and is dependent upon adherence to SAP [Structural Adjustment Program] and their conditionalities. Consequently, independent policy making and national economic management were considerably diminished and narrowed in Africa (p. 63).”

In this and other ways, the Bretton Woods institutions no longer represent the vision of Keynes. Neo-liberalism has replaced Keynesianism as the dominant economic thought of the World Bank and IMF. What are the main differences between these two trends and are they that different?

To address these issues, we must look at the relationship between Keynesianism and Marxism.

Keynes was an ardent supporter of Capitalism, and even though he visited the Soviet Union twice, he was an anti-communist who believed in state intervention in the economy to prevent communism from taking hold. Despite that, politicians that promote neo-liberalism, like Ronald Reagan did, “view the Bank as the international equivalent of the Welfare Department... (Bello, p. 3).” They saw the Bank as state intervention in the economy, similar to the planned economies of the Soviet Union. This partly stems from Keynes own promotion of complete or universal employment through government investment, an international New Deal in a sense. It should be noted that the only country that achieved universal employment in Keynes time was the Soviet Union. It was even adopted in the Soviet Union’s constitution as a right to employment for all citizens.

To equate the right to work with genuine communism might be misleading. The Soviet economist I.G. Blyumin was paraphrased by Carl Turner, “The capitalist world was troubled by the dangers of unemployment and crises. To escape these difficulties, these groups resorted to ideas and measures that when brought together became know as controlled economy, regulated economy or planned economy.” Turner continues, “Blyumin identified Keynes as the main theoretician of these groups that were strengthening state capitalism (p. 42).”

In essence, Keynesianism in the early World Bank is simply a watered down version of what the Soviet Union was practicing: government promising employment and planning the economy. It should be noted that doesn’t equate Keynesianism with genuine communism.

The Soviet Union was a socialist republic attempting to succeed in an experiment to create a classless, democratic society that would be communism. Since it still had a state, and that single-party state of bureaucrats controlled the allocation of resources much the way stock brokers, CEO’s and politicians in capitalist societies, one could call the Soviet Union just as much state-capitalist as Blyumin called Keynesianism. While there was some accountability in elections of those Soviet bureaucrats, unlike in capitalist economies where no worker is able to elect their manager or CEO, the elections in the Soviet Union were still lacking in democracy as one could only vote for different representatives from the Bolshevik party.

Neo-Liberalism, as espoused by Milton Friedman, promotes a hands off approach from the government in the economy. Thus neo-liberals looked at the Keynesianism in the World Bank as state-capitalism like Blyumin did. The difference being that neo-liberals still wanted capitalism, they wanted to take the state out of state capitalism. Neo-liberals saw a victory in capitalism by abolishing the gold standard exchange rate for currency in the early 1970’s. Floating exchange rates, to neo-liberals, was a deregulation of the global economy.

Despite similarities to Soviet Union’s regulated or planned economy, the World Bank was opening up investment opportunities for private business. Walden Bello quoted the Journal of Commerce, “Over the years, conservative Republicans have systematically accused World Bank supporters of wasting tax-payers money... What is undeniable is that the World Bank and the IDA have made life a lot easier for US investment in developing countries... It is paradoxical and senseless for conservative Republicans to take action which runs counter to the interests of American business (p. 4).” Indeed many of the basic conditions of loans to third world countries include privatization of services offered by the government such as health care, education and public services like building roads. Once privatized, these jobs can be bought by or contracted out to multi-national corporations.

Further more, the spacio-temporal fixes of the Bretton Woods institutions have been used over and over again to finance the defeat of social movements that threaten private industry and would install a socialist, state planned economy.

In the Philippines, the repressive nature of the Marcos dictatorship spawned the emergence of the the Communist Party of the Philippines and it’s military wing the New People’s Army. “The NPA had, by 1980, created 26 battle fronts in the countryside and operated in 41 of the country’s 71 provinces (Bello, p. 92).”

The World Bank helped finance the Marco’s dictatorships Integrated Area Development programs. These IAD’s “ostensibly offer[ed] inhabitants of a region a coherent set of services ranging from ‘security’ and medical assistance to road building and technical agricultural aid (Bello, p. 92).” These IAD’s were all aimed at provinces where major Guerrilla activity occurred and were designed to provide support for counter-insurgency operations. For example “Road Building was clearly meant to facilitate the logistical mobility of the Philippine Army, the conducting a major search-and-destroy operation in the area (Bello, p. 93).”

So we see how neo-liberal ideologues were forced to work with the World Bank and IMF, implementing only a few changes from the Keynesian model. In many ways the biggest supporters of neo-liberal “laissez fair” have used the bluntest instruments of the state- the army and other means of force, to open up those spacio-temporal fixes. The best example of this would be George W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq. Now that Iraq is occupied by the US, the World Bank and IMF are able to give out loans and implement conditions that they wouldn’t be able to get away with in any other country.

Carl Turners paraphrasing of Soviet economist Kotov might be right when he states, “that the neo-liberals were generally against state intervention in the economy except when intervention was against the workers (p. 139).”

In the capitalist system, dissent in the work place is kept down through the fear of unemployment. Sure you could form a union, but the management could fire you for attempting that. Some leftists have suggested that there is a progressive interpretation of Keynes that goes along the lines that universal employment would improve the material conditions of workers, and thus give them more leverage to negotiate with their managers. If you can’t be fired, then you can dissent on the job, and not fear serious repercussions.

While that might be true in theory, it should be remembered that unless that guaranteed employment is in democratically run cooperatives, it can be used for reactionary causes. As Carl Turner paraphrases Soviet economist Kocketkov, “Keynesianism had also served the fascists. Hitlerite Germany accepted Keynes’s theory for the basis of its economic system even before it was accepted in England.”

One possible leftist application of Keynes ideas might be seen in the domestic economic policies of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela under the Presidency of Hugo Chavez. When Venezuelan Consul General for Chicago Martin Sanchez spoke at DePaul, he spoke of how the Chavez government was investing in cooperatives. Sanchez saw this as a democratic alternative to being bossed around and told what to wear by a CEO or dictator like Bill Gates.

However the Venezuelan promotion of cooperatives is only a step towards abolishing the current undemocratic Bretton Woods organizations, and creating new directly democratic institutions that coordinate the activities of a world wide network of democratically operated cooperatives.

Activists around the world can take notice of the bold social and economic experiment occurring in Argentina as detailed in Naomi Klein’s movie “The Take”. In the aftermath of the IMF induced collapse of the Argentinian economy, multinational corporations withdrew their investments from Argentina, to prevent the devaluation of their assets. This led the corporations to close down hundreds of factories, workshops and other businesses. Workers organized themselves into democratically run cooperatives where they would meet once a week, and elect their manger (who is paid the same amount they are and whom they have power of instant recall over), and these cooperatives have occupied and restarted production in these abandoned businesses. These different cooperatives even practice mutual aid with each other, sharing resources and creating a small gift economy which as it continues to grow and inspire others, could develop into a serious threat to the competition and exchange economy of capitalism.

Capitalism, whether in the guise of state capitalism, Keynesianism or neo-liberalism would have us believe that this is the best of all possible worlds and that there is no point in fighting for something outside of the capitalist systems of control. But as social movements as diverse as Food Not Bombs in the US and Europe, the Bolivarian Circles of Venezuela and the occupied factories movement in Argentina have shown, and the World Social Forum proclaimed, another world is possible. We can create direct democracy in all spheres of life- political, social, economic and personal. The same reason you wouldn’t want to be in a personal relationship with someone who controlled you and told you what to do, is the same reason why we shouldn’t accept the political-economic attempts of the Bretton Woods institutions to deprive us of our autonomy and freedom. Equality and democracy are twin pillars to the society that anarchists, communists, pacifists, idealists and other dreamers have fought for, two pillars that are being created despite attempts by capitalism to bring them down.


Adedeji, Adebayo. “An African Perspective on Bretton Woods.” The UN and the Bretton Woods Institutions: New Challenges for the Twenty-First Century. Ed. Mahbub ul Haq, Richard Jolly, Paul Streeten, Khadija Haq. 1995. St. Martins Press, New York.

Bello, Walden; Kinley, David; Elinson, Elaine. “Development Debacle: The World Bank in the Philippines.” 1982. Institute for Food and Development Policy: Philippine Solidarity Network.

Constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. October 7, 1977.

Driscoll, David B. “What is the International Monetary Fund?” 1992. External Relations Department: International Monetary Fund.

Frank, Joshua. “Let the Drilling Begin: Iraq’s IMF loan.” December 8, 2005.

Harvey, David. “The New Imperialism.” 2003. Oxford University Press.

Klein, Naomi. “The Take.” 2005.

Skidelsky, Robert. “Keynes.” 1996. Oxford University Press.

Turner, Carl. “An Analysis of Soviet Views on John Maynard Keynes.” 1969. Duke University Press.

Woods, Damon L. “The Philippines: A Global Studies Handbook.” 2006. ABC-CLIO, Inc.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Ousmane Sembene: a Father of African Cinema

Ousmane Sembene is often called the father of African cinema. Not only was Sembene actually African, instead of European directing in Africa, Sembene, unlike many previous Africa directors, had complete creative control over his films. Sembene’s films deal with important issues for people from his native Senegal. Poverty, the status of women, the lingering effects of colonialism, and the lives of ordinary people are all covered in his films. Sembene was one of the first African directors to receive world wide acclaim for his work. To say that Sembene is the only father of African cinema would disregard other important contributors, but Sembene is definitely one of the most important early pioneers of African film.

Film in Africa is an imported phenomenon. European colonists would make films to teach Africans how to act. The films were unapologetically pro-colonialist, and it wasn’t until after independence that many Africans were able to play any role in film production. Sembene played an important and influential role as a well known African director.


Sembene was born and raised in Senegal, a west African country that has been populated for thousands of years. The Senegal, Saloum, and Casamance rivers, connect the interior of the country with the Atlantic ocean and formed important trade routes. Early residents of the region practiced various forms of animism, until traders brought Islam to the area. Years later when the French dominated the region, they attempted to import Catholicism, but were met with little success.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans imperialists to land in the region known today as Senegal. In 1444 they began creating military forts, and trading in gum, gold and slaves.

France however came to the region in the 1600’s, and came to dominate the region. They abolished the slave trade in 1848, but allowed man slaves to still be owned. In 1905 all the slaves were freed and franchised (Clark, 1999).

In 1960, Senegal obtained independence from France and elected socialist leader Leopold Senghor president. After independence, there was an attempt to form a federation with English speaking Gambia, but it didn’t work out. Today Gambia is surrounded on three sides by Senegal with access on it’s eastern side to the Atlantic. It looks like the tongue of Senegal’s mouth (Roberts, 1974), (Institute for Security Studies, 2006).

Sembene’s Life

Ousmane Sembene was born in Ziguinchor, Senegal, a small fishing village in 1923. His father was a poor fisherman and Sembene learned very early on that he had to work hard to survive. He attended both French and Islamic schools where he learned to speak French, Arabic and Wolof.

During World War II, in 1944, Sembene was drafted in the French army. After the war he stowed away on a ship to Paris. There he got a job on the docks, and became active in the trade union movement. He also became active in communist struggles in France.

Sembene became a published writer while in France. He published many short stories such as God’s Bits of Wood and Le Docker Noir that dealt with issues of racism and humanism. He was compared to famous French philosophers and authors such as Sarte and Camus (Agular, 2003) (Day, 2006).

However it was a trip back to is native Senegal that would change Sembene’s life forever. After independence, he visited Senegal, and saw how the vast majority of the people who lived there were illiterate. He came to the conclusion that if his social messages were going to reach the masses of his home, he would have to convey his messages through film instead of texts. Sembene was never very concerned with how people outside Senegal would see his films, which is interesting since so few African directors have their work screened in the US anyway (Curiel, 1998).

Sembene received his formal training in how to edit, produce and direct film in the Soviet Union. This is interesting that he choose to be trained there, and the amount of autonomy the Soviet gave directors from colonized countries like Sembene. Sembene would later criticize how much countries like France kept African directors on a leash financially and artistically (, 2006), (Gadjigo, 2006).

Black Girl

Sembene put his training into action right away directing well received movies such as Black Girl. Black Girl, released in 1966 won several awards including a prize at the 1967 Cannes Film Festival.

Black Girl focuses on the life of a woman from Senegal called Dioana. Dioana is hired as a maid for a white French family. When the family moves back to France after Senegal achieves independence, Dioana moves to France with them and works as a maid. Dioana is subjected to numerous forms of harassment, racism and feelings of isolation and alienation. These lead her to commit suicide. (Brody. 2006, 1)

One of the interesting recurring images in the movie is an African mask that Dioana gave to her madame on her first day of work. The mask comes to symbolize Africa in many ways. At first the mask is given to the white wife, who takes it as a gift. However, it seems as though Dioana felt pressured to give the mask to her “Madame.” Dioana probably felt that she had to make a good impression on her employer if she was to keep the job.

As Dioana’s frustration increases, she attempts to take her mask back, and gets in a struggle with the wife of the family over the mask. After Dioana commits suicide, the husband of the family attempts to return the mask and Dioana’s payment to her family. Dioana’s mother rejects the offer, considering it blood money that can not revive her daughter. As the white man walks back to docks to take a boat back to France, he is followed by a little boy who picked up the mask. The boy holds the mask to his face and trails the white man, who is noticeably disturbed by the boy in the mask following him. The boy with the mask obviously represents Africa chasing the white colonists out of the continent. This, Rachel Langford (2001) suggests is a way that Black Girl offers black people a way to avoid domination by white people.

Borom Sarat

An acclaimed short film that Sembene directed was Borom Sarat. Borom Sarat is about a day in the life of a wagoner. In Senegal, a wagoner is the equivalent of a taxi driver. Using a horse drawn wagon the Borom Sarat collects a little bit of money from customers whom he drives to their destination. The unnamed protagonist in this film is not doing well financially and is concerned with making enough money to buy food and other essentials.

The wagoner complains often about people who don’t pay him for the service he provides them, or who cheat him on his money. There is one man whom he doesn’t even stop to pick up since the man has yet to pay him for his services. There is one religious man whom the wagoner gives money to, but later feels that he was tricked by fancy rhetoric that won’t feed his family. That scene shows Sembene’s biting critique of religion, which he is famous for.
The one person who rips the wagoner off the most is a well dressed African man, who is symbolic of the African bourgeois. This business man asks the wagoner to take him to the heights, or the downtown area, and offers to pay him a large sum of money. The wagoner is enticed by the money, and ignores the fact that wagons are banned in downtown. As the wagoner approaches downtown, he becomes more and more agitated. He’s worried that he will be caught. Soon enough, a police officer stops him and starts asking him questions about why the wagoner is downtown. Meanwhile, the business man gets off the wagon and into a motorized taxi, without paying the wagoner. The wagoner was given a ticket from the police officer. Since he was not paid by the business man, and had no other money, he was forced to pawn his wagon.

Sembene is skillful at showing how greed and poverty affect people in their everyday lives. His protagonists are usually normal people who struggle to survive, not politicians or war heroes who triumphantly march all over the movie screen. The wagoner in Borom Sarat is a great example of this. He represents more than just himself, he represents a whole class of people in Senegal who are trying to survive while being ripped off by religious figures businessmen and the police.


Another film that Sembene directed which focuses on ordinary people is Mandabi. Mandabi is Wolof for money order. In this film a practicing Muslim in Senegal, Ibrahim, received a large money order from his nephew in France. The film follows how greed and debt force Ibrahim to decide whether he will live a life of honor and respect or an immoral life of deception and theft.

The main focus of the movie is Ibrahim attempts to cash the money order. First he went to the post office to cash it, but was told he needed a photo ID. Then he went to the police station to get a photo ID, but they told him he needed a birth certificate. Then at city hall he attempted to get a birth certificate, but being illiterate, he didn’t know when he was actually born. The bureaucracy of the state left Ibrahim almost completely unable to cash the money order. He desperately needed to cash the money order to pay off the debts that were piling up.

To resolve this crises, Ibrahim hired a lawyer to do what it took to get the money order cashed. However the lawyer cashed the money order, and kept it all for himself. Sembene is once again criticizing the greed of upper class Africans.

Sembene’s distaste for the African bourgeois is also shown in Borom Sarat with Ibrahim’s relationship to beggars. At one point in the film, Ibrahim gave a beggar woman change for her bus fare. He offered a prayer to Allah for her and then goes to a banker. The banker riped him off, taking more franks than he told Ibrahim he would. Later Ibrahim sees the same beggar in the park, and asked him for money again. Ibrahim scolded her for lying to him before and for being a beggar who doesn’t contribute to society. However this raises an important issue. Why is it that Ibrahim lashed out at the beggar for not contributing to society, but not at the banker, who stole much more money from him?

One of the other important themes in the movie is the role of patriarchy in society. Ibrahim has two wives whom he attempts to exercise complete control over. He bosses them around, and makes them cook him food. However as we see, his wives have more power than it would seem. When the money order is first delivered, they receive it, and knowing that they have money coming their way, borrow some food, promising to pay the grocer back. When Ibrahim finds out that they made this decision without his say-so, he is incensed and scolds them. Later in the film we see his wives making several economic decisions behind Ibrahim’s back. They purchase fancy bras and more food. Other men in the village know how much freedom the wives have and mock Ibrahim, commenting on how they hope Allah will protect them from women taking control of their households.

Sembene is showing the reality of men’s attempts to control women in Senegalese society. It also shows the Ibrahim is not a model person to attempt to be, but is instead a good depiction of the various forces that shape people. While Ibrahim is underprivileged in that he is ridden with debt, he also has the privileged of being a man in a patriarchal society. This is symbolic of the dual nature he is forced to deal with in terms of his debt situation. After he is ripped off by the lawyer who stole his money order, Ibrahim went home and cries out that to survive in this modern world, he has to live like a wolf among wolves. To Ibrahim, living an honorable life is not possible.


Sembene’s film Xala picked up on some of the same themes. The film is a rarity for Sembene as it focuses on a member of the new African elite. El Hadj Abou Kader is a politician who marries a third wife younger than his daughter, but finds out on his wedding night that he is impotent. The movie is a satire that raised the ire of the Senegalese government, it was edited several times before being allowed to be shown in Dakar.

There are many tricksters in the film, both good and bad. The bad tricksters are bad because they are wasteful and hypocritical, as in one scene where Kader is washing a new car in mineral water or another where politicians discuss the need for the African road to socialism, before getting in brand new fancy cars. However
the good tricksters are good because they expose the ridiculousness of the elites (Lynn, 2003).

The other major aspect of the film is the role of women. Sembene shows women as strong and masculine characters, and men as weak and feminine. To Mushengyezi (2004), while this is a progressive statement, it is still limited by the constraints of the binary gender system.

One of the stylistic things used in Xala that Sembene used in other films is silence or voice over narration from the main characters. This is a stylistic decision that can masterfully guide the audience towards which characters they have sympathy for (Iyam, 1986).

Sembene the Visionary

One of the recurring themes in all of Sembene’s films is a critical perspective of the bourgeois, whether they be foreign colonists, or native elites. This goes to show the independence that Sembene has as a director. He isn’t making films for Europeans, nor is he making films for state run facilities that newly independent African countries created. Thus Sembene is able to put forward his communist views in all their glory. Sembene is not a nationalist who thinks that Senegalese people are always right, or that the unity of their nation will solve their problems. Rather he is a communist who is against all forms of domination and seeking to create a world without the old traditions of domination (patriarchy, genital mutilation, religion) as well as without the new forms of domination (capitalism, neo-colonialism).

This has made Sembene a controversial director in many quarters. Some of his films have been banned in Senegal and other African countries, because the post-independence elites in those countries feared that his films would inspire people to take action against those elites, which Sembene would argue aren’t that different from the European elites Africa had just disposed of (Perry, 1973).

Recently this criticism of African elites was seen as Sembene participated in the protest against the G8 meetings in England (Wax, 2005). He said that African politicians were begging for aid from the G8 nations, and he didn’t think that this aid would help as Africa needs to be self-dependent. Sembene's communist views led him to think that the G8, the most powerful of global elites, would never do anything to help Africa. The aid these politicians were begging for would have strings attached, and would not help Africa in the long run (Socialist Worker Online, 2005).

Forty years after he began making films, Ousmane Sembene continues to direct new films. His latest is Moolaade. Moolaade is about providing sanctuary to women attempting to avoid having their genitals mutilated. Sembene is taking a controversial stand with this film, but in the process is reclaiming African history. He is showing how African women reject and fight against genital mutilation on their own, without foreign intervention (Forbes, 2005).

Sembene will continue to direct films until he is unable to. His message and his skill as a director are still relevant. Since Senegal doesn’t have many movie theaters, the few that exist show mostly American movies and most people are unable to go to theaters anyway, Sembene often accompanies his films to traveling rural showings. This makes Sembene’s films an interactive experience, he can explain and discuss them with his audience, thus further promoting his views (Carnwath. 2005). Sembene started making films to reach out to these people. Not only has his message and films reached people throughout Senegal and the world, but they are inspirational movies that challenge us to step up the plate and take control of our lives.

Annotated Bibliography for Websites

Gadjigo, Samba. “Ousmane Sembene: The Life of a Revolutionary Artist.” accessed 2006.
This article is a brief biography of Sembene and his politics.

Institute for Security Studies. Sengal- History and Politics. Http:// 2006.
This website contains a lot of information about Senegal’s history and politics. “Ousmane Sembene.” accessed 2006.
A wikipedia article about Sembene’s life and works.

Annotated Bibliography For Newspapers

Brody, Richard. April, 24, 2006. Black Girl Review. New Yorker. (Accessed on May 18, 2006).
This review gives high praise to Sembene’s break out film Black Girl and discusses the film’s exposure of French racism.

Carnwath, Alexander. May 13, 2005. Film: Reflections of Africa. Independent. Global NewsBank (accessed on May 11, 2006.) In this article, Carnwath describes African Director Ousmane Sembene's life as a director, pointing out awards he has won as well as controversies he has faced. The article describes how many of his films, because they mock African elites, are censored and banned. Also of note is how Sembene travels with his movies to do screenings.

Curiel, Jonathan. October 4, 1998. Lost in Translation: Foreign Films Face a tougher Time Breaking
into the US Market. San Francisco Chronicle. Global Newsbank. (Accessed May 18, 2006.) This article describes some of the difficulties directors like Osumane Sembene have in getting their films into the US market. Many movie promoters are reluctant to take a financial risk with a good movie.

Forbes, Clark. July 24, 2005. Dark Homage to Heroes. Sunday Herald Sun. Global NewsBank
(Accessed on May 11, 2006.) This was a review of Ousmane Sembene's most recent film, Moolaade. The film is about providing sanctuary to women who are trying to avoid the female genital mutilation practices of their tribe. The film won the 2004 Grand Prize at the Cannes film festival.

Socialist Worker Online. June 11, 2005. Ousmane Sembene: Father of African Film. (accessed may 11, 2006) This article describes an interview with Semebene, where he discusses the movement to end genital mutilation, protesting against the G8 and his movies.

Wax, Emily. July 3, 2005. Among Ordinary Africans, G-8 Seems Out of Touch. Washington Post.
Global NewsBank (Accessed on May 11, 2006) This article describes some of the protests
against the G8, which African director Ousmane Sembene took part in. The article describes
how Semebene also criticized Afrian politicians who thought they could better Africa through
aid from the G8.

Bibliography for Scholarly Articles and Books.

Agular, Marian. The Smoke of the Savannah: Traveling Modernity in Sembene Ousmane’s Gods Bits
of Wood. Modern Fiction Studies. Summer 2003, Vol. 49 Issue 2, p261-305. This essay examines Semebene’s novel God’s Bits of Wood and comments of the remaking of space and identity between colonized and colonizers as a result of a railway strike.

Clark, Andrew. 1999 From Frontier to Backwater: Economy and Society in the Upper Senegal Valley (West Africa) 1850-1920. University Press of America, Inc. This book describes the various causes and effects of the Senegal valleys rise and decline around the turn of the century. Among the different issues- colonialism, the 1st world war, Muslim resistance, among others.

Day, Patrick. A Comparative Study of Crime and Punishment in Ousmane Sembene’s Le Docker Noir and Albert Camus’s “’Etranger. Africa Today. Spring 2006. Vol. 52 Issue 3, p83-96. This essay explores how Camus and Semebene look at concepts of “the Other” in their writings. While both have an anti-capitalist message, Camus looked at it more universally than Sembene who wanted specific changes to how France treated African peoples.

Fatton Jr., Robert. 1987. The Making of a Liberal Democracy: Senegal's Passive Revolution 1975-1985. Lynne Rienner Publishers. This book explains how Senegal went from being a single party state after it's independence, to a multi-party state.

Langford, Rachel. Black and White in Black and White Indentity and Cinematography in Ousmane Sembene’s La Noire de…/Black Girl. Studies in French Cinema. 2001, Vol. 1 Issue 1, p13. This essay takes a look at identity formation and suggests that Semebene’s film Black Girl gives a way for black to avoid domination by white.

Lynn, Thomas J. Politics, Plunder and Post-Colonial Tricksters: Ousmane Sembene’s Xala.
International Journal of Francophone Studies. 2003, Vol. 6 Issue 3, p183-196. This essay looks at the roles of the trickster, as a hero and as a villain in Sembene’s film and book Xala. It looks at the historical role of the trickster in the oral tradition and

Mushengyezi, Aaron. Reimaging Gender and African Tradition? Ousmane Sembene’s Xala revisited.
Africa Today. Fall 2004, Vol. 51 Issue 1, p47-62. This essay explores Sembene’s depiction of gender in his films in a critical way. In Xala Sembene depicts women who are masculine and men who are femine, raising so while he is in some ways twisting traditional gender roles, there is still a binary system he relies on.

Roberts, T.D., Irving Kaplan, Barbara Lent, Dennis Morrissey, Charles Townsend, Neda, Walpole,
1974. Area Handbook for Senegal. US Government Printing Office, Washington DC. This book is a guide intended for us by US government officials, on Senegal. It covers Senegal's history, culture, and economy among other things.

Annotated Bibliography of Google Scholar Sources

Iyam, David Uru. The Silent Revolutionaries: Ousmane Sembene’s Emitai, Xala and Ceddo.
African Studies Review. 1986. This essay examines how Sembene uses silence to guide his audience towards the favored and unfavored character in his movies.

Perry, G.M.; McGilligan, Patrick. Ousmane Sembene: An Interview. Film Quarterly. Spring,
1973. Vol. 26 Issue 3, p36-42. In this interview, Sembene discusses the importance of film for Africans, as well as the way neo-colonialism controls film in Africa.

Intense Debate Comments