Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What is US culture? What do we do with it after a revolution?

The US is no different than any other country in that we need a national identity. As Marxists we already know that our founding fathers were racist slave owners who disrespected the indigenous people and referred to them as “savages.”

We know that our standard of living depends on a massive military empire that today rivals even the that of the Romans.

We know that money is the root of pop culture and anything that can’t be mass marketed doesn’t really get promoted as US mainstream culture. While the Italians have the Sistine Chapel, the US has McDonalds and the golden arches. Our two most important artists are Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol. One painted the America we wish we were, the other showed us as we really were.

But we need a national identity and we need culture. We need heroes and examples of individuals who represented progress in our history, not just the shit that passes for American history in present day US history books.

It may seem over nationalistic, but China developed its own flag and over time Mao Zedong decided that it was wrong to just throw away all of China’s past without giving any credit to those Chinese, including emperors and past philosophers, who contributed progressive ideas.

He noticed the Qing Dynasty initiated some public works, and relied on professionals to design things rather than aristocrats. In his earlier writings, such as On New Democracy, he often quoted Joseph Stalin. Yet in his later writings, such as Five Essays On Philosophy, by the 1960s, he quoted Lao Tse and Mencius.

Antonio Gramsci, Italian Communist writer, pointed out in Critical Notes On An Attempt At A Popular Presentation Of Marxism By Bukharin that there are people in the past who contributed progressive ideas to history, yet would not stack up to being progressive in this time period. He gave the example of Giordano Bruno (late 1500s) who was an influence on Karl Marx. He pointed out that people are a product of their time period and we can’t expect political correctness from someone who lived in the 1500s or any other long past century.

The US has a problem of national identity. Our culture is often identified as consisting of imperialist jingoism and crass commercialism. There is a lot truth to this. But it is up to the left to look for those progressive people and people with progressive ideas who contributed to the better side of US political culture.

It was Thomas Jefferson who said; "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." He and Thomas Paine opposed letting our founding fathers develop a new US aristocracy to mimic the feudalists nations of Europe in the 1700s. He and Paine also supported the French Revolution.

Marx wrote Address of the International Working Men's Association to Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, in which he said; “We congratulate the American people upon your re-election by a large majority. If resistance to the Slave Power was the reserved watchword of your first election, the triumphant war cry of your re-election is Death to Slavery. “

It also helps to remember that this country has had its share of rebels, such as Chief Pontiac, Nat Turner, Joe Hill, Jack Reed and Emma Goldman.

Still there is a lack of long term history and a lack of depth in the culture that passes for mainstream USA. The government only goes back a little over 200 years and most of our fundamental philosophy and values was taken from Europe. However, we are not Europe. As for the indigenous people who were here before us, the white men simply displaced that culture and paid no attention to it at all for almost 200 years. US culture is fractured between races, religion and political factionalism. But as leftists, we have our own heroes from the US’s historical past. How many Americans know about the Pontiac rebellion or the Coal Mine Wars of the last century? How many appreciate the intense struggle of the US labour movement?

Then there are the arts. The Harlem Renaissance led to jazz becoming a mainstream form of US mainstream culture. Rock music started in the US with the help of Afro-American musicians and singers. Even punk rock actually started here.

As Mao discovered, after a revolution, rather than throwing away its past history is reinterpreted. Some heroes of the past, such as General Armstrong Custer, are doomed to be vilified as assholes. Richard Nixon and George Bush will always be historical scum. The US revolution of 1776 will always be a white-man’s revolution that excluded women, blacks and American Indians for the first century. Then it became an imperialist power with a corrupted government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich, paid for and maintained by the poor and middle classes.

We must overthrow the political system; then promote culture that supports revolution. We don’t want to become a society that lacks any cultural past.

The United States was formed by white males, who owned black slaves. The Indians were treated as a nuisance and their culture was seen as the antithesis of the new nation state. So we adopted very little, if any, of it. American Indians were not considered US citizens until after 1900. Blacks were made citizens after the civil war and the end of slavery, even though whites continued to mock such rights clear up until the 1960s.

It is probably too late to integrate Indian culture into the mainstream as had happened in Mexico. But a new society can bring a new respect to that culture which was once just tossed aside as something useless or a tourist attraction. New ideas, from the minority sectors of society can be integrated into the mainstream.

Until there is a revolution, we on the left can promote our own culture and bring awareness of our history. There is a culture to the US left and we need to celebrate it.

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