Subject : Revolution from above, Resistance from status quo forces, and Progressive Paths toward democratic socialism from below.
15 December 2016
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
The much tarnished legacy of President Barack Obama could only by enhanced –short of subjecting himself to public trial before an official war-crimes tribunal-- if he acted on a generous impulse and offered amnesty for all political prisoners who are now incarcerated in the US prison system. Caught in the historical moment where forces of status quo produce the “banality of evil,” the last few weeks of the Obama administration offer a window period for this US President to extricate himself from this quagmire and to enter on the path toward a socialist future by implementing the revolutionary policy of freeing political prisoners, many of whom could contribute much to a democratic socialist society in North America. His alternative is to continue to promote more war and more repression.
On the other hand, my own much maligned research on “the uses of social science in US concentration camps during WW II” (see my exchange with Roger Daniels in The Journal of Military History) was published towards the end of the past century, in which I focus on “the worm in the apple” rather than the superficial blemishes on the surface of an otherwise perfect representation of la vie mort, as Daniels does in his work on these internment camps. After my years of research on American militarism, I turned my efforts to working within the French public education system and focused largely on popularizing issues from post-WW II US foreign policy, as well as selected events from the history of class struggles and resistance to racism, sexism, militarism and economic inequality. This effort of swimming consistently against the current stems from my democratic socialist education in Texas, Wisconsin and California, where I was taught that public education must have a revolutionary content and a radical method if it is to qualify as “genuine public education,” and that the aim of intellectual competition is to better cooperate and not the contrary, which is the common individual practice of cooperating within groups in order to achieve more individual advantage for competitive activities, which have no positive effect on society. I invested heavily in my relationships with students, to prepare them to participate in meaningful social exchanges in a future filled with uncertainty.
For more on the practice of this socialist pedagogy, see the many scores of collective activities which our Center for the Advanced Study of American Institutions and Social Movements (CEIMSA) sponsored for more than a decade-and-a-half at Grenoble University: there were dozens of publications by scholars and students published with free public access; more than 700 CEIMSA Bulletins were published regularly and distributed to some 1500 readers on a weekly basis, bulletins containing book reviews and commentaries which collectively reflect my own intellectual/political odyssey from 2000 to 2016, while teaching US history at Grenoble University in the tradition of radical pedagogy.
The CEIMSA web site, which I used as an important pedagogical tool, grew to include :
Ateliers Bilingues - Bilingual Workshops @
CEIMSA : Liens – Links @
US Foreign Policy Documents @
CEIMSA Multimedia – Archives @
Student & Scholarly Publications @
CEIMSA – Archives (2001 – 2016) @
Selected Books :
America's Concentration Camps During World War II, Social Science and the Japanese American Internment (1999) [reviewed by Roger Daniels in 2000] @
A Strategy of Dominance: The History of an American Concentration Camp (1995) [reviewed by Ronald Takaki in 1999] @
The French Anarchist Labor Movement and 'La Vie Ouvriere' 1909-1914 (1992) @
Rebels with Causes: A Study of Revolutionary Syndicalist Culture Among the French Primary School Teachers Between 1880 and 1919 (1989) @
Winning the opprobrium from a certain class of ‘house intellectuals’ was never a deterrence in my historical research projects, which were often critical of “identity politics” and which always sought to clarify political motivations and institutional constraints. The many colleagues and friends of CEIMSA along the way were, of course, essential for the success of this project, which developed as the years passed.
I have no regrets !
On this same subject of social class struggle, Fernand Braudel comments eloquently when he writes on “superfluity and sufficiency” in chapter 3 of his book, The Structures of Everyday Life :
Luxury then can take on many guises, depending on the period, the country or the civilization. What does not change, by contrast, is the unending social drama of which luxury is both the prize and the theme, a choice spectacle for sociologist, psychologist, economist and historian. A certain amount of connivance is of course required between the privileged and the onlookers –the watching masses. Luxury does not only represent rarity and vanity, but &also social success, fascination; the cream that one day becomes reality for the poor, and in so doing immediately loses its old glamour. . . . “When a food that has been rare and long desired finally arrives within the reach of the masses, consumption rises sharply, as if a long-repressed appetite had exploded. Once popularized [in both senses of the word –becoming ‘less exclusive’ and ‘more widespread’] the food quickly loses its attraction. . . . The appetite becomes sated.” The rich are thus doomed to prepare the future life of the poor. It is, after all, their justification: They try out the pleasures that the masses will sooner or later grasp.
This affords plenty of scope for futility, pretentiousness and caprice. . . . The moral is not surprising: every luxury dates and goes out of fashion. But luxury is reborn from its own ashes and from its very defeats. It is really the reflection of a difference in social levels that nothing can compensate for and that every movement recreates. An eternal ‘class struggle’.
This was a conflict waged not only by classes, but by civilizations. Civilizations were incessantly eyeing each other, acting out the same drama as the rich played in relation to the poor. But this time it was reciprocal; and therefore created currents and led to accelerated exchanges, from near and far. In short, as Marcel Mauss wrote, ‘it was not in production that society found its driving force: luxury is the great stimulus’. According to Gaston Bachelard ‘the attainment of the superfluous causes greater spiritual excitement than the attainment of necessities. Man is a creature of desire and not a creature of need;”’ Jacques Rueff, the economist, goes so far as to repeat that ‘production is the daughter of desire’. Probably few would deny the existence of such drives and cravings even in present-day societies with mass luxuries. For there is no society without a hierarchy. And the slightest social prestige is associated with luxury, today as in the past.
Does that mean one should accept the view, advanced most forcefully by Werner Sombart, that the luxury displayed by the princely courts of the West (of which the papal court of Avignon was the prototype) laid the foundations of early modern capitalism? Or rather should one say that before the innovations of the nineteenth century, the many forms of luxury were not so much an element of growth as a sign of an economy failing to engage with anything, one that was incapable of finding a meaningful use for its accumulated capital? In this sense, one could suggest that a certain kind of luxury was, and could only be, a phenomenon or sign of sickness peculiar to the ancien régime; that until the Industrial Revolution it was (and in some cases still is) the unjust, unhealthy, conspicuous and wasteful consumption of the ‘surplus’ produced by a society with fixed limits on it growth. In reply to the unconditional defenders of luxury and its creative” capacity, the American biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky has written: ‘I for one do not lament the passing of social organizations that used the many as a manured soil in which to grow a few graceful flowers of refined culture.’(pp.184 & 186)
Contempt for any system that would promote democratic equality is not new. As the traditional control mechanisms over the population weaken, structural changes become imperative: will these changes involve authoritarian corporatism from above, or democratic socialism from below? These are questions that only the future can answer.
The 14 items below will inform CEIMSA readers of the top-down revolutionary process which we find today being orchestrated to bring ‘democracy’ under control, a necessary step to protect capitalist interests, as the world changes in favor of working-class interests.
Professor emeritus of American Studies
Director of Research
University of Paris-Nanterre
Center for the Advanced Study of American Institutions and Social Movements
The University of California-San Diego
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