Monday, March 28, 2011

Winter Issue Editorial

This is proving to be a hard year. As we go to press the worst nuclear accident in history is in progress following the horrific earthquake and tsunami in Japan. In our own country an ongoing disaster of historic proportions continues as well. The primary difference is that our own disaster is strictly man-made. The economy continues to struggle like an engine that refuses to turn over leaving millions of us out of work. Those with jobs live in fear, because, as every worker knows, high unemployment creates an army of desperate people willing to work for less and don't the bosses know it too!

From Michigan to Wisconsin to Virginia to Florida and elsewhere working people are under vicious attack by corporatist reactionaries. Like the danger posed by the Japanese nuclear meltdowns, this too is a global phenomenon. As the Market System continues to melt down, those at the top of it resort to desperate measures foisting the "neo-liberal" policies of austerity, crushing of unions, rolling back of social programs and inevitably, civil liberties while padding their own pockets. The same policies we have forced on poorer countries are now being pushed in our own.
The positive side is that from Cairo to Athens to Bahrain to Madison people are rising up to fight back. We have no choice. We know that we've been had by a corrupt system of thievery and we know that a better world is possible. Our country and our planet may be broken but it isn't broke. We know where the money and resources are and we refuse to be tossed aside like trash or reduced to serfdom.

The poetry in this issue voices the pride we take in work -- too often as nostalgia. It voices the desperation we feel as even the basics of food and shelter many took for granted are pulled beyond our reach. It voices the anger we feel as conscious workers who can see through the lies and understand that our enemies are not teachers, the poor, immigrants, women, Gays, or labor unions.

It is always an uphill struggle with long odds when fighting an entrenched ruling class. They not only have armies of goons and weapons of mass destruction, they have a seemingly all-powerful media. With it they create false controversies to sow confusion. They create fake political fronts like the "Tea Party" and give it the false legitimacy of prime time coverage to cynically twist righteous working class anger against our own interests. They use the old tactics of scapegoating, victim blaming, racism and nationalism and play on real fear. They fully understand the power of culture in shaping attitudes and guiding behavior.

We, on the other hand mostly have each other. Some of us have the internet, monitored though it is, to communicate with each other nationally and globally in order to expose the system and to coordinate our fightback. We also have our political groups. But unless we address and counter the reactionary culture of militarism, vengeance and competitive commodity fetishism we will not have the critical masses necessary to overcome the corrupt monstrosity of capitalism which threatens our very survival.

Small though our journal is, that is our mission. Of course we cannot do it alone but we do have an impact. Each issue that goes out -- each individual copy has a life of its own. Many continue to circulate for years reaching people and opening eyes on a level only progressive culture can do. We depend on your support to continue our -- your work; to get the insights and inspiration of our class's best poets and writers out to as many as eyes as possible.

This is our annual fund raising issue. In it you will find an insert asking for contributions which are also tax deductible since we are a 501(c)3 not-for profit press. I know how tough these times are but that is all the more reason to give whatever you can because tough times make progressive consciousness even more vital. We must do everything in our power to inspire class solidarity and counter the nascent fascism being pushed by the corporatocracy. We thank you in advance for any support.

Editorial correction: The poem, 'The Rite to Work" on page 3 of this Winter issue is by Michael S Morris, as it is listed in the contents. The author was mistakenly mislabeled on the page.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Triangle fire

On March 25, 1911, one hundred years ago today, a fire started at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory in New York. The fire resulted in the deaths of 146 workers.

The factory was a sweatshop of the sort common during those years (and still persisting to this day) in which workers worked long hours for low pay in terrible working conditions. The fire started on the upper floors of the ten-story building. Among the factors contributing to the loss of so many lives were a locked door to a stairwell; a fire escape that collapsed; oily floors that caused the fire to spread quickly; the factory owners kept the doors locked, supposedly to keep workers from leaving early or stealing, though more pointedly to try to keep union organizers out of the building. Fire department ladders reached only to the sixth floor. Many of the workers who died leaped from the upper floors, rather than be burned alive.

The fire and its aftermath led, in time, to major improvements in laws affecting work safety and fire safety, in New York and elsewhere in the United States. Much of this came as a result of a concerted push by the organized labor movement.

A good website about the Triangle fire is here, in the website of Cornell University. It includes a history of the fire and subsequent events, news reports about the fire, accounts by survivors, a list of names of the identified victims of the fire, some general historical background, resources for further research, and a lot of other information.

Walking through a River of Fire: 100 Years of Triangle Factory Fire Poems, edited by poet Julia Stein, was published this year by CC Marimbo in Berkeley, California. The collection, which features 21 poems by nine poets, is a powerful gathering of voices speaking about a terrible moment in history. * Ordering information for the anthology can be found in Julia Stein's blog California Writer, here.

Also in her blog, here, Stein gives a rundown of public events in California (mostly in the Los Angeles area, as nearly as I can tell) in commemoration of the fire. A number of the events have taken place by now, though a few are still ahead.

I've reviewed the anthology Walking through a River of Fire in my blog A Burning Patience, here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

180 years ago today in France

March 18, 1871 -- 180 years ago today -- was the beginning of the Paris Commune: an armed insurrection in which workers in Paris took over the city and drove out the capitalist government. It was a landmark in the history of attempts by working people to take charge of the political and economic forces that daily affect our lives in the most basic ways.

During the next two months, the insurgent workers formed a new government, made up of people who had participated in or supported the insurrection, and made the beginnings of attempts to improve the basic conditions of life for the working population of the city. Similar uprisings occurred in several other cities in France, though in most cases these were brief and the workers did not succeed in seizing political power.

At first the ousted capitalist French government made token attempts to negotiate some type of agreement with the new revolutionary government of Paris. This while Paris existed essentially in a state of military seige. Toward the end of May the French army entered the Paris (at a weakly defended area of the city outskirts), and proceed to retake the city. As the army advanced into the eastern (and more heavily working-class) part of Paris, and several days of fierce barricade fighting ensued.

In the end, the Paris Commune was defeated. In the succeeding weeks, wholesale slaughter followed, as the French government summarily executed as many as 30,000 workers, and arrested and imprisoned thousands more.

A more detailed account of the events can be found in the Marxists Internet Archive, here.

Sometime during the months after the achievments and subsequent suppression of the Commune, French poet Eugène Pottier (who worked for a living as a tailor's assistant) wrote a six-stanza poem in response, titled "L'Internationale." Some years later, in 1888, the poem was set to music by Pierre Degeyter, a Belgian lathe operator. In the years since, the first verse (along with some of the other verses, sometimes) has been translated into many other languages, and has become an unofficial but widely sung international anthem of the communist movement around the world.

The version featured in the soundtrack of the movie Reds (starring Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton, among others) was sung by the Moscow Soviet Radio Chorus, recorded in 1926.

I Googled and found a website, here, based on Russia, with links to online audio recordings of "The Internationale" in a variety of languages. Most appear to be MP3's though some are in other audio file formats (RealAudio, etc.). * I haven't attempted listening to any of the recordings linked at the webpage, and don't know how reliable any of the links are or what quality any of the recordings are.

Over the years I've seen at least a couple of versions of English translations of the words, with slight variations of each. The one I'm most familiar with is following version:

Arise, ye prisoners of starvation,
Arise, ye wretched of the earth.
For justice thunders condemnation;
A better world's in birth.
No more tradition's chains shall bind us.
Arise, ye slaves, no more in thrall!
The earth shall rise on new foundations;
We have been nought, we shall be all.

'Tis the final conflict,
Let each stand in their place.
The international working class
Shall be the human race.

This the final conflict,
Let each stand in their place.
The international working class
Shall be the human race.



Sunday, March 06, 2011

Adrienne Rich on ‘Tonight No Poetry Will Serve’

"Maybe some North American ears have trouble with poetry because of the noise from an aggressively voiced ruling ethos—its terminology of war, success, national security, winning and losing, ownership, merchandising, canned information, canned laughter. Poetry can be direct, it can be colloquial, it can be abrupt or angry, but it’s not that vacuous noise; it wants to unseat that kind of language, play other kinds of sound tracks."

A thoughtful and inspiring interview with Adreinne Rich in the Paris Review.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011


Money is not something we like to write about or harp on but its necessity is undeniable in keeping our journal in print. This is our annual fundraising season and the next issue of our journal will have an insert asking for support. As we begin to put that issue together, we are looking at a tight squeeze for supplies and mailing costs.

Ours is a worker supported press which has survived nearly 15 years on the dedicated efforts and generosity of those who find our mission of publishing progressive working class literature important. For much of that time I made up the shortfall but I've been relegated to surplus citizen status and no longer have the resources. Partisan Press is a 501(c)3 charity, thus any donations you make are tax deductible which can be advantageous as a tax write off to some. I know these are hard times but I believe the times call for the kind of class awareness and solidarity that comes with working class literature. Consider setting aside a bit of your tax refund to support our efforts. This is a collective, volunteer effort and every cent counts. The bourgeoisie have the Koch brothers and Rubert Murdoch to pump out anti-worker distorted culture. All we have is each other to make our own voices heard. We hope to keep going for the indefinite future and would like to expand our efforts, publishing anthologies and collections of vital work but that depends on the support we receive.

Checks can be sent to Partisan Press, P.O. Box 11417 Norfolk VA 23517. Thank you in advance.