Monday, October 5, 2009

Billy Bragg - Waiting For the Great Leap Forwards


Updated lyrics which I hated originally (they do destroy something of the song) . . . but the end left me feeling like an astronaut who's just been pushed off the space shuttle and is currently hurtling through space.

Desire II - Coveting

Horch 853 Phaeton DashboardDriving to the grocery store with my roommates last night we passed by one of the (many) new housing developments boasting luxury single family homes. It was dark and many of the homes had soft accent lights installed on their decks which highlighted them in a way which was not yet grandstanding. I was struck by an overwhelming longing to own such a place - a desire to own a home of my own with a beautiful deck perfect for entertaining or for writing or reading on late summer nights. A place where I could be married to a beautiful woman who would eventually bear our beautiful, if sardonic, children into a world where we could raise them to be the happiest, most giving people we could. I thought of my friends, many of whom have taken my path, and I was overcome by a desire to abandon the walls of thought that have kept me from taking it myself.

And then I thought about the many, myriad things which I long for in my heart.

In my mind my home, my eventual, proto-mythic home (for which I am selling the very best years of my life), is beautiful. Elegant. Posh. With stone and tile flooring in some rooms, like the kitchen and bath, and rare, hard woods in others like the dining and living rooms. The kitchen, as I've said in other venues, would be stocked with Wusthof knives and Le Creuset cookware - brands I own and adore - and feature at least two cooking surfaces and an absurdly large island. I love cooking. My kitchen would reflect this. It would also reflect the heavy, old world European styles with which I self-identify. Intricate woodwork, silver. Aged things from the Schwarzwald and N├╝rnberg. I would drive an Audi RS6 Avant - a car representing the culmination of August Horch's lifelong search for perfection. In truth, I've often thought that I would enjoy owning a Horch - one of the absolutely stunning 853's, probably - as a garaged and trailered show car. I love cars. My garage would reflect this.

Prior to going to the grocery store I'd spent some time looking through random blogs. One of them contained amazing pictures of a young couple, very much in love. The pictures managed to capture that fact perfectly with no posturing, and I was at once glad for them but also envious of what they had. The girl was beautiful and her prose, while lacking, showed energy and a lust for life that I frankly lack. Like most of us I have preset ideas about what I would expect the love of my life to look and be like and what our relationship would be like. I want to have a relationship with someone who is my intellectual equal or better - someone to pluck my wreath if you will. In my mind she's a tall girl, with blonde hair, and not very thin: something out of the Cure's Pictures of You. "Bigger, and brighter, and whiter than snow." She'd be happy, and a little razor-witted, and in love with food and at least open to car shows. I love being loved. My relationship would reflect this.

But there's the rub: looking and wanting, forming expectations, and desire. The happiest moments of my life, and probably of anyone's, have come to me as complete surprises and certainly not, as we all know, as the result of things. (How can one love a thing or an action? I would hate to think that my God feels the same emotion for me as I feel toward cooking.)

I own a Mk5 VW GTI and a 1989 VW Fox. I bought the Mk5 because I viewed it - like the RS6 - as the culmination of a long and worthy struggle. Volkswagen's return to its roots with a simple, fast GTI that didn't take aim at BMW or even the Mustang (as its progenitor had), but simply aimed to be an amazing car. Despite its weight it is. I've driven much faster cars, and lighter cars, but few have had the connection with the road that the GTI has. The Mk5 was my dream car from the moment it came out, at least in terms of cars I could ever afford. But now while driving it I often find myself gazing longingly at Audi S3s, BMW 3-series, and even Honda Fits. Similarly, the Fox started out as a simple desire to have a car to work on and understand. A little project. But it soon ballooned into an all-out, tear down project which had to have the best of everything and for which no expense was spared. I think I can claim, with the exception of some Audi Foxes, that I have spent more than anyone in North America on my Fox, and it still isn't done. And I still regret not doing more - AKA spending more - to enhance it further. Solid lifter head, higher duration cam, custom, high compression pistons. I'm not completely sure I could tell you why. At all. I know that none of it has made me particularly happy, not even in the way that preparing a well-cooked meal for others has.

I've spent more of my high-school and onward years in serious relationships than not, and every woman I've ever dated seriously has been a beautiful person entirely deserving of someone better than myself. None of them were tall, none of them were blonde, and none of them had any interest whatsoever in car shows. They have, however, made me happy.
You think I'd learn from these things. You would think that, eventually, I would realize that the happiness in my life has never been a result of the images I've created of my future or the things that fill those images. Those images, those things in them and the longing therein, are all, instead, false hopes for a future that is quickly dying - for familiar reasons - for all of us. Hopes created to keep me working toward them, and therefore working. Desires created artificially, by myself but at the behest of my culture, to fill a void in my life. A void where happiness is meant to live. A void where true human community is meant to live.

I'll put it simply: This culture is a disease. It has corrupted everything good and pure about living in this world - thrown it all away in exchange for a toxic mockery of real humanity. All the Wusthof knives and glimmering, Nordic girls in the world will never change that. If that seems like a controversial statement, consider that I live like a king compared to the majority of the world, and I still want ever more.

And as long as I accept this system, I always will.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The New German Ghetto Show - Ulrike Meinhof

Ulrike Meinhof of the Baader-Meinhof Group / RAF
Since the Baader-Meinhof Complex film is now out in select theaters I thought now as good a time as any to discuss, however briefly, Ulrike Meinhof. I suspect, from the film's sensationalized trailer, that the film will overlook the intellectual aspects of Meinhof's role in the RAF in its desire to sell a new Che to angsty young capitalists. (I hope that I'm wrong, but, even if I am, it's only a matter of time before the RAF logo appears on a t-shirt near you.)

Ulrike Marie Meinhof began her political life as a student activist and journalist long before she ever began the life of counter-violence that would later define her. She developed a strong argument that her country, for many reasons, was reverting back to fascism. Among those reasons she counted the continued prominence of many NSDAP members in the BRD, censor by the state of discussion against nuclear proliferation, the streamlining and narrowing of the country's two party system into a single party, and, as her publisher would later point out, "the extremism of those who called the debates about changing these conditions extremist." She saw her country's intellectuals again turning inward and its population enslaved with consumerism while its government again gained alarming levels of control. It's important to note that she was an incredibly successful journalist - well-reasoned, well-respected, and well-circulated. Yet, while portions of the German Left had a figure rally around, little was accomplished in terms of actual change. Her choice to enter into the resistance movement, then, was a practical decision arising from that failure and her refusal to see her homeland destroyed. Meinhof puts it best when she says: "Protest is when I say I don't like this. Resistance is when I put an end to what I don't like. Protest is when I say I refuse to go along with this anymore. Resistance is when I make sure everybody else stops going along too."

Until recently Meinhof's journalistic writing was not available in English. A recent publication of the book Everybody Talks About the Weather ... We Don't has changed all that. Put out by Seven Stories Press (Derek Jensen's publishing house as well!), the book contains a sampling of Meinhof's articles highlighting her slide from hopeful activist to determined terrorist. Because those articles aren't readily available anywhere else, I've chosen to sample one here in the hope that it will lead to increased interest. The parallels between the Rotbuch authors and the German government they represent and our capitalist media and government are frightening.

New German Ghetto Show
Ulrike Meinhof, 1960

For two months now the writing desks of newspapers, publishers, scientists, politicians, and even unionists have been graced with a new example of the authoritarian thinking and ghetto mentality of this western republic of the German nation. The people being targeted this time are not members of the Polish intelligentsia, or Jews, or even half-hearted or partial Communists; this time they are the skeptics who oppose the nuclear politics of the Federal Republic, people who maintain their positions even when these are shared by the extreme Left, people who find the issue itself more important than the world views of many of its proponents. In September 1957, the journalist Winfried Martini for the Rheinischer Merkur published melancholic mediations on the role played by our intellectuals in politics. Clearly underlying this text was the thesis of his book Das Ende aller Sicherheit, where he advocates getting rid of democracy, an act which he labels "political freedom," and calls for the establishment on an authoritarian class-based rule of law along the lines of the regime of Salazar, the Portgese dictator who "lives according to the strictly spiritual discipline of Thomism." They used to warn us about intellectuals whose statements conformed too closedly to government directives and they turned the scientist's proverbial unworldliness into a virtue; now the warnings of the Goettingen 18 have been dismissed as a scholarly gaffe. The Red Book (Rotbuch), published in 1960 by a committee that calls itself "Save the Peace" - a book that landed on our writing desk - takes a first stab at listing those public personas in the Federal Republic whom these saviors of peace consider suspicious; while this list "in no way reflects the qualifications of those who have signed it," and while it only contains a "miniscule number of Communists," the fact remains that whenever these names come up - on petitions, appeals, or invitations to participate in events or conferences - "it is wise to find out whether they may be serving as a front for Communist culture functionaries or other clandestine organizations" (p. 136-137).

Here I find it useful to recall that McCarthy was the head of a Senate Committee "for the investigation of un-American activities;" only about ten people were ever arrested, but hundreds and thousands were on those dreaded lists that broadcasters, the press, associations, organizations, and high government agencies were plied with and which caused manuscripts to be refused, promotions to be blocked, all free discussion of America's internal and external policies to be cut short, and the democratic climate in the US to be completely poisoned. The "brag list" produced by the "Save the Peace" club thus hooks into the worst traditions of a friendly country, and is published by a committee whose name would lead one to expect that it would cauterize these points of contact rather than prepare a comeback for them on German soil.

This Rotbuch is more than a monstrous index prepared by a few professional Communist-haters. Its political inspiration is all too close to the interventions perpetrated by our government in the East-West discussions and in the bills being prepared by the Ministry of the Interior to curtail our sovereignty. Even if this particular club were to close down - which is exactly what we hope will occur - its founders and supporters remain ministers in the Adenauer cabinet.

The press, broadcasting and publishing networks, unions, the military, peace movements and anti-nuclear campaigns, the "culture section" of the parties and their youth organizations have all been combed for information on the political views and curricula of their members, and where data were missing the blanks have been filled in with speculations designed to reveal the relationship between freely proclaimed opinion on the one hand and the Pankow doctrine on the other - reflecting negatively on both - the purpose being to solve the problem of democratic opposition in the Federal Republic once and for all. The book seeks to "unmask the Communist infiltration," which thrives on the "naivete" and "ignorance" of its "victims" (p. 8); it wants to help in the struggle for victory in the Cold War, for "should we lose it, a hot war will inevitably break out upon us," and it wants greater recognition for the important role played by "the infiltration sector as a determining front in our democracy's political defense system" (p. 7-8).

The book offers a pellucid picture of its underlying concept of western class-based government, and a closer look at the meaning of its content is quite frightening; but it also makes possible a clear position in the face of a wolf who has already shed his sheepskin and is about to bite.

The vocabulary is militant, reminiscent of the jargon of the Freikorps after the First World War; this is just an external feature, but frightening enough after the experience we acquired in that department and the innocence we bitterly forfeited. The attitude is fundamentally elitist; it starts with the minister of the interior resorting to a theory that has always served openly fascist countries as an irrational justification for implementing illegitimate claims to power, an approach that we actually see in use here. For who can have authorized the publishers of this book to accuse hundreds of professors, journalists, unionists, broadcasters, students, and young people of being ignorant or naive in the face of a phenomenon that these people in particular have focused on for years? It is this "group" of "chosen individuals" who feel they are responding to the "call" for a "common ideal." And their thinking is reminiscent of Stuckart/Globke's commentaries on race. Moreover, their wanting to win the Cold War rather than ending it as quickly as possible through bilateral agreements means wanting to drag it out - but how much longer? How much more time is required for the spirited that "called upon" the publishers of this book before they turn the extended arm of the Cold War into a fuse for a hot war, and bring the diabolical game of the past to its end, its final closing?

And so they take their stand: militant, if not militaristic; with elitist, if not anti-democratic attitudes; as determined cold warriors if not challengers demanding a preventative war against the GDR and the Soviet Union, a la Herr Schlamm.

The material is organized according to this perspective. Every chapter has an introduction that is meant to focus, or rather blur, the reader's understanding of how seriously our freedom is being threatened. It pillories professors who students proudly proclaim to have attended their classes; it attacks writers who have become known as "the few great ones" since Thomas Mann and Musil, as well as painters, sculptors, and composers whose names belong in the repertoire of the educated class in Germany - however little this class knows about these artists.

"The main arena of this Cold War" is allegedly public opinion, and it is allegedly the objective of Communist agitators to undermine, pervert, and confuse the public (p. 10). The publications helping to do this dirty work range from the Blaetter fuer deutsche und internationale Politik to konkret, and from the Sueddeutsche Zeitung to the Frankfurter Rundschau to Diskus. Anyone who voiced a protest against arms buildup or argues for the freedom of speech is deemed to be acting within a fifth column. Open opposition is not viewed as a demonstration of our democratic rights, even duties; instead, it is perceived as belonging to the realm of deliberate obfuscation and perversion.

Under the heading "Subverting the West Germans' Will to Defense" (sic!) every possible attitude critical of the Bundeswehr is ascribed to East Berlin agit-prop; there are references to the "fuss about generations 22" (p. 28); differences in opinion on international and national politics are shrugged off as having been "deliberately created" (p. 93), while the rejection of military and other traditional associations (in particular Verband deutscher Soldaten and Stahlhelm und Kyffhaeuser) is judged to be part of the category entitled "Subverting Defensive Thought"! (p. 94)

Anone who fights for peace "is - wittingly or unwittingly - someone who fights for world revolution," since the "peace slogan" simply conceals a "deliberate deception" of gigantically Leninist provenance, as those suffering from naivete soon learn (p. 102). And in line with the dishonesty of the supposed initiators of the West German "peace movement," the motives of the professors and teachers connected to this movement derive from attitudes that use "oppositional grandstanding" to compensate for the "lack of public attention they garner in their professional work" (p. 3).

Absolutely no one and nothing escapes censure: political parties, churches, and universities are rated failures by these "saviors of peace." Members of the Bundestag - Helmuth Kallbitzer, Helene Wessel, Arno Behrisch, and Peter Nellen - Association of German Students, the Socialist Student Association, the Falken, the Union of German Public Employees, the Association of German Unions, Association of German Catholic Youth, the Protestant Youth of Germany, the teacher-training colleges, the Further Education Centers, the Church-led community centers, the British Member of Parliament Conny Cillacus, the church representative Kloppenburg, and the former representative of the Protest Church in the GDR Probst Grueber - all of these people, and many more, their numbers are legion - are labeled with stereotyped vocabulary such as "infiltrated with Communist ideas, suspiciious, untrustworthy, susceptible," and so on.

In the spring of 1957, eighteen German physicists published a manifesto in which they warned against the Federal Republic participating in the nuclear arms race and announced they would not take part in nuclear arms production in Germany. The West German public was shocked at Mr. Adenauer's condescending response that judged the political warning issued by these eighteen German scientists to be incompetent and unnecessary, and sought to expunge it from the arena of German political discussion. This response revealed a new lack of respect for scholarship and a disregard for the lively pluralist democratic life that had supposedly been guaranteed when a parliamentary democracy was established after 1945. Media reactions followed, from people such as Herr Winfried Martini, mentioned above, and included even more aggressive reactions from the local Christian Democrat press. For instance, in the summer of 1958, when students and teachers went out into the streets to publicly proclaim their opposition to nuclear rearmament in the Federal Republic, a daily newspaper in Muenster wrote, "Don't believe the slogans of those . . . who are willing to abandon you and their family, their beliefs and their freedom, their existence and their future to the dictatorship of Bolshevism. Give these people the answer they deserve: rejection and calumny." This was directed at the local committee "fight Nuclear Death," which had been co-founded by professors at the university. This persecution of heretics spread through the local papers of all the federal German lands, while the big daily papers remained silent, hardly mentioning the protests of hundreds of thousands of citizens or describing the anti-nuclear movement as a motley group of isolated sectarians without influence. Two methods were mobilized toward the same end. When neither one work, and when the Standing Committee for the Assembly of all Opponents of Nuclear Rearmament was created in Gelsenkirchen, Mr. Schroeder pulled out all the stops and called upon the Bundestag to engage in a witch hung and inquisition - not in order to pursue enemies of the Constitution but to silence and eliminate democrats and opponents of nuclear arms.

Ideas prepared in the press and broadcasting were then formulated in the highest places in the Bundestag; at the same time the law prohibiting referenda on nuclear rearmament was passed. Voters were thus deprived of having a say on a question of life and death in German politics, and their representatives had the choice of behaving like obedient and diligent little bourgeois citizens (sine ira et studio) or suffering threats as a result of ministerial interventions both on the job and when exercising their rights to free speech.

The third phase has now set in with this Rotbuch from the "Save the Freedom" committee that lists the names of its victims in neat alphabetic order over pages and pages, mingling the living with the dead, annulling their anonymity, and opening a new German ghetto show. The "meditation" on the political role of the intellectual in our country has become an invitation to a pogrom; individual voices of warning have become grand inquisitors of the Christian Democratic persuasion; saviors of freedom have shown their true colors as pioneers of a new German fascism.

The system is clear, and quite hideous. But this is not yet enough. The opposition has accumulated facts that cannot be neutralized without the use of force. And so, when there is no proof of subversive contacts, the last resort is to take offensive action in the media, and publish lies and crass falsehoods. The Rotbuch even goes so stupidly far as to repeat libelous assertions that the federal government's Bulletin already had to deny earlier, and thus offers the reader such a plethora of naked untruths that it destroys even a potential willingness to believe what is in the book. The screw has been turned too far, the attack parried. Legal actions are coming on hard and fast; Jesko von Puttkammer procured a court order from the federal prosecutor, and word has it that the club is breaking up.

But this is not the first such case. Which is not just an innocuous fact. Let us recall that when the fuss over the Lex Soraya died down, Herr Schaeffer's much worse Law on the Protection of Honor appeared; when the anger over Herr Schroeder's 1958 Emergency Laws in Stuttgart seemed to have evaporated, he pushed for an Emergency Service Law - in other words, a law instituting a German territorial army. We do not yet know what kinds of changes in the Constitution will have come out of this Rotbuch that was put together by a disgraced committee, whose founding members are to this day cabinet ministers in the Adenauer government, ministers who are planning measures to tap telephones and censor mail; ministers who have initiated the production of West German rocket; ministers who want to mobilize the Bundeswehr against striking workers; ministers who continue to push for the nuclear rearmament of the Bundeswehr at a time of worldwide detente; ministers who proclaim the "liberation" of the German East; ministers who demand the death penalty for traitors.

We are not ready to believe that Bonn is planning a "Blitzkrieg" against the GDR although recognizing that something is unreasonable does not necessarily mean it will not happen. There has already been a time in Germany when people thought "This can't be true," and it was true, and cost millions of them their lives. Clearly, this must not happen; clearly, the political tendencies of the Federal Republic today justify every kind of fear; clearly, in this situation optimism is the reserve of fools, and all those who feel the suspicion, the mistrust, and the discomfort of the moment must come together in order to prevent what happened in the past from happening again. They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and we hardly need proof that prevention is what is required today."