“A civilization reveals itself as fruitful by its ability to incite others to imitate it: when it no longer dazzles them it is reduced to a mere collection of odds and ends and vestiges of former worldly greatness. The successive attempts of Napoleon and Hitler to create a world empire failed, as the United States of North America has failed in our time because any initial attraction they might have exerted on the conquered transformed into resistance and hate as a result of their genocidal policies or military occupation and/or exploitation of the resources of the conquered lands instead of gradual absorption and acceptance of different peoples and the furthering of local cultures.” (Paraphrased from Cioran’s Histoire et Utopie)
The Historical Gastonia Textile Mill Strikes Are Not Forgotten
When in the early part of this millennium I was writing a rather surrealistic novel, ASHEVILLE, about the town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina where I started out my life, I ran into the story of the Asheville-based self-professed Communist writer, Olive Tilford Dargan, of whom I had never heard before. Visiting then her gravesite in the little known Green Hills Cemetery in West Asheville and researching her and her activities I fell into a gossamer review of early 19th century labor struggles in the good old U.S. South.
The super-indoctrinated, Trump-voting American working class, dulled by the mass media and the “American dream”, has changed very little since the crushing of the great textile strikes that swept the United States in the 1920s. Not an iota of class-consciousness has it absorbed. (Nor has it been explained and offered to all wage earners in sufficient doses.) For also the middle classes, crushed by an ever more desperate, an “end of times” form of capitalism, has not yet grasped that they too are now part of the American proletariat. In that respect it seems that the old, often criticized word proletariat is still quite adequate.
In February 2019 Germany opened a brand new intelligence complex in the city of Berlin. The new headquarters of the BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst or Federal Intelligence Service) occupies a huge space—by the way, much as STASI or State Security Service once did in East Berlin the former German Democratic Republic—and supposedly employs a total of over six thousand persons. The move from its former secret location in the Munich suburb of Pullach reflects both the centralization in Berlin of federal institutions that after World War Two were widely dispersed throughout Germany and importantly, European Union-NATO leader Germany’s efforts to get away from the nation’s Nazi past. The new BND location in Germany’s capital city seems also a giant step away from the former obsessive secrecy of its location in Munich, hidden away in that obscure suburb and operating under a cover name and, above all, until the late 1950s an affiliate of the CIA. The move to Berlin can be interpreted as the BND’s declaration of sovereignty.
Albert Camus in his essay “L’Exil d’Hélène” discusses contemporary disregard for the Greek value of limits. Camus writes that only the artist by his nature recognizes his limits, limits which the historic spirit disregards. The very idea of a super-secret organization like Gladio to remake the world in its own image reflects that same disregard for the Greek values that Camus so cherished.
I find surprising the detailed manner in which history repeats itself. The result of the landslide described here seems to have been replicated in the USA of our times in ways that all of us witness each day. The Germany of say 1939 seems like the blueprint for the US role in the world of today.
“You should therefore know that there are two ways to fight: one while abiding by the rules, the other by using force. The first approach is unique to Man; the second is that of beasts. But because in many cases the first method will not suffice, one must be prepared to resort to force. This is why a ruler needs to know how to conduct himself: in the manner of a beast as well as that of man.” — Niccolo Machiavelli
Historical fiction is a special and important genre. It can bring history to life, but more importantly it can allow us to put ourselves in the lives of those of another time, another context. There is a strong tendency in the United States toward historical amnesia. This is perhaps one of the biggest character flaws of the country. Floating in a constant now there is a complex, but highly malleable, context that disappears in the moment. This can drain the richness from our lives, set us on paths both personally and societally destructive, and perhaps most importantly, totally erode the concept of free will replacing it with faux will.
In What Is To Be Done of 1902 Lenin opposed revolutionary spontaneity because it “strips away the disciplined nature of the Marxists idea of revolution, leaving it arbitrary and ineffective.” True to himself, Lenin then returned to opposition to spontaneous revolution after WWI during the German Revolution of 1918-19 when in a spontaneous uprising against the post-WWI system Rosa Luxemburg and the Spartacist League failed in an attempt to overturn German capitalism.
I have wondered if the German Field-Marshal Friedrich Paulus after his defeat and capture by Russians at Stalingrad in February 1943 really changed when as a prisoner of war in Soviet Russia he joined the National Committee For A Free Germany and the anti-Fascist Union of German Officers. Were his words sincere when he broadcast anti-fascist messages to Germany over Radio Moskau? Did he betray his entire background, his military career and the homeland he had fought for in order to save his life? Was he a traitor to Germany, to his beloved wife and to himself?
Get out your atlas. You will likely need it when you read farther here about the intriguing but little known story in a lesser known part of Alpine Europe: Italy’s northern territory of Alto Adige, better known as South Tyrol. I used an atlas for geographical details about the borderlands with which this article deals and where I have spent long periods. For it’s the details—often geographical—that will confound you every time. Such details make you aware that military planners of national strategy never spend enough time with their atlases. Over much of my lifetime I have passed through these border territories countless times, from north to south, south to north and yet I still discover new things about them.
“Suppose that some great disaster were to sweep ten million families out to sea and leave ‘em on a desert island to starve and rot. That would be … an act of God, maybe. But suppose a manner of government that humans have set up and directed, drives ten million families into the pit of poverty and starvation? That’s no act of God. That’s our fool selves actin’ like lunatics. What humans have set up they can take down…. Whoever says we’ve got to have a capitalist government when we want a workers’ government, is givin’ the lie to the great founders of these United States….”
(A Stone Came Rolling, Olive Tilford Dargan)
“We are not fighting against men or a kind of politics but against the class which produces those politics and those men.” (from Dirty Hands, a political play by Jean Paul Sartre, first performed in Paris on April 2, 1948.)
As shown in the permissive attitude of Italians toward Fascism last century, also contemporary Italians perceive of a strong and charismatic leader as a shield against disorder and their inherent inclination toward anarchy. Someone to protect them against their own nature. Promises of more police and more security are reassuring to those Italians who see today’s enemy in immigrants and in the European Union with all its rules … including its Euro currency. When a legitimate government to control their inclination toward anarchy goes missing, some form of servility to a powerful individual returns. Strongmen emerge from that conundrum deep in the Italian psyche: anarchy or a strongman at the helm. Italy today seems to be following the same familiar old script.
Some years ago an amusing satirical article in the Buenos Aires leftwing daily, Pagina 12, made me want to cry. In five thousand words the Argentinean journalist José Pablo Feinmann, ridiculed, among other things, the whole concept of the great wall the U.S. Bush government projected along the border with Mexico.