Left Strategy in challenging times

Left Strategy in Challenging Times

PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION

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How do we convert the energy we see in the streets to electoral power? How do we fight racism and defend immigrants while setting a strong class pole? What are effective tactics for conducting the fight against corporate Democrats on Democratic Party terrain? And how do we do this while building the broadest possible front against Trump and Trumpism?

Organizing Upgrade

Organizing Upgrade

October 3, 2017.

Dear Friends,

We’re excited to let you know that we are re-launching Organizing Upgrade!  Today, more than ever, left organizers need a forum to discuss and debate strategy. We need to share organizing models that respond to the profound dangers we are facing – like the ascent of white nationalism – and that take advantages of the real opportunities of this political moment. More than ever, we need to place our work in the context of the long-term trends that shape our context: the decline of US power in the world, demographic shifts, and rampant inequality that has stemmed from neoliberalism.

You can check out these pieces to get a sense of the conversations we are working to promote:

• The Concept Paper for a new caucus of progressive organizations working to win governing power at the state level.

• A short video by Linda Burnham, challenging left organizers to remember that – while we are fighting for our own communities – we also need to fight for the country as a whole.

• A description of our vision for the relaunch of Organizing Upgrade.

Why are we re-launching Organizing Upgrade? We have to move beyond “think-pieces” and start to answer the hard strategic and practical questions of this moment, like:

• How do we convert the energy we see in the streets to electoral power?

• How do we fight racism and defend immigrants while setting a strong class pole?

• What are effective tactics for conducting the fight against corporate Democrats on Democratic Party terrain?

• And how do we do this while building the broadest possible front against Trump and Trumpism?

All around us we see new openness to left analyses and to radical race and class politics. Exciting electoral initiatives, based on different versions of an “inside/outside” strategy, are developing around the country. The dynamics of our moment have created real possibilities for rebuilding a left based on multi-racial class solidarity, a holistic and internationalist vision and a determination to break out of the margins and get to the center of national politics.

We come from a vantage point that places the struggle against racism at the center of building a powerful multi-racial working class movement in this country. We think that the left and social movements cannot work in isolation; we need to be prioritize building broad fronts in opposition to the right.  We are all part of the political trend that is working to build left inside-outside projects that enable us to wield mass people power both at the ballot box and in the streets.

On October 19th at 5 p.m. Pacific Time / 8 p.m. Eastern Time, the left inside/outside project and OrgUp will be hosting the first session of #PeopleTakePower, a series of online discussions with the raddest organizers working to defeat the right and advance progressive politics. Our first session will feature Rukia Lumumba from Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s mayoral campaign in Jackson, Mississippi, and Rafael Navar, national political director of Communications Workers of America. Register here and join the discussion!

We are reaching out to you because we think you can help us make this project a success!  We are seeking your ideas, feedback, and submissions that to help develop out this strategic position. And we also welcome thoughtful challenges to these positions. There is no obvious path forward, and we believe that productive debate will strengthen our work.

We also need your support to let folks know we are back, and gain circulation among social movement organizers! Please like us on Facebook, re-post pieces that you appreciate and let your friends know that we are back online!

In Solidarity,

Calvin Cheung-Miaw, Max Elbaum, Harmony Goldberg, Maria Poblet and Bob Wing, Organizing Upgrade Editorial Committee

 

About

We are re-launching Organizing Upgrade to serve as a space where left organizers can discuss strategy and share organizing models that respond to the profound dangers and the real opportunities of this political moment.

The Trump administration poses a series of grave threats. Most central is the dangerous ascent of white nationalism, which — after years of racist backlash and the strategic use of race by the Republican Party — now has sway at the very center of executive power in this country. This is, in turn, energizing grassroots mobilization among white supremacist forces of many stripes.

There are a number of other dangerous possibilities in this moment: the elimination of environmental regulations will have irreversible impacts on the planet, the public sector is under threat of dismantling and privatization, women and LGBTQ people are facing threats to a series of basic rights and the threat of war is growing ever stronger. Left organizers need a space for deep discussion and debate over strategic responses to these threats, and Organizing Upgrade will serve as one forum for that debate.

But this is not a moment to only focus on defense. There are also a number of significant opportunities for expansion and real advance in this moment. The breakout success of the Sanders campaign and his continued popularity as a political figure challenge left organizers to step into the progressive possibilities of the “populist moment.” And in response to the extreme dangers of our moment, we have seen the emergence of a powerful mass opposition to Trump, from the Women’s March through the recent mobilizations against white supremacy.

Everywhere from the base of progressive movements to progressive institutions and even well into the liberal world, there is new openness to left analyses and to radical race and class politics. And there are a lot of exciting new electoral initiatives, based on different versions of an “inside/outside” strategy, that are developing around the country. The dynamics of our moment have created real possibilities for rebuilding a left based on multi-racial class solidarity, a holistic and internationalist vision and a determination to break out of the margins and get to the center of national politics.

To respond to these dangers and threats, left organizers needs space to step back and reflect on these threat and possibilities and to place them in the context of the long-term trends that are shaping our political context: the decline of US power in the world, demographic shifts, and the growth of inequality that has stemmed from neoliberalism. We have to move beyond critical “think-pieces” and start to answer the hard strategic and practical questions of this moment, like:

• How do we convert the energy we see in the streets to electoral power?

• How do we fight racism and defend immigrants while setting a strong class pole?

• What are effective tactics for conducting the fight against corporate Democrats on Democratic Party terrain?

• And how do we do this while building the broadest possible front against Trump and Trumpism?

Organizing Upgrade will address these issues in the coming months, gathering strategic reflections and case studies from left organizers around the country. Our editorial team — Calvin Cheung-Miaw, Max Elbaum, Harmony Goldberg, Maria Poblet and Bob Wing — comes from a vantage point that places the struggle against racism at the center of building a powerful multi-racial working class movement in this country. We think that the left and social movements cannot work in isolation; we need to be prioritize building broad fronts in opposition to the emergence of the right. We are all part of the political trend that is working to build left inside-outside projects that enable us to wield mass people power both at the ballot box and in the streets.

We welcome submissions that reflections that strategic positions, and we also welcome thoughtful challenges to these positions. There is no obvious path forward, and we believe that productive debate will strengthen our work. Please send us your ideas, feedback, submissions and thoughts.

Editoral Collective

Calvin Cheung-Miaw

Calvin Cheung-Miaw (he/him) is a student in the San Francisco Bay Area who has been active in the labor, anti-war, and immigrant rights movements. In November 2016 he authored the article “Trump’s Victory Is a Wake-Up Call to the Left” and he is currently involved in efforts to build left unity around an anti-right wing, inside/outside political strategy.

Max Elbaum

Max Elbaum (he/him) has been active in peace, anti-racist and radical movements since joining SDS in Madison, Wisconsin in the 1960s. He is the author of Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che (Verso 2002; Paperback 2006). Each fall he runs a Marathon for Peace to benefit antiwar and antimilitarist projects, most recently US Labor Against the War.

Harmony Goldberg

Harmony Goldberg (She / her) is a left educator and writer, based in Brooklyn, New York. Harmony helped to found SOUL, the School of Unity and Liberation, and she’s been running political education courses for grassroots organizations rooted in multi-racial working class communities ever since. She has worked most deeply in the youth movement and the domestic workers movement historically, and she is currently working closely with People’s Action and the Grassroots Policy Project. And she talks about Gramsci alot.

Maria Poblet

Maria Poblet has a couple decades of community organizing experience, a smart mouth, and an optimism of the will. She helped build racial & economic justice powerhouse Causa Justa Just Cause, as it’s first Executive Director. She is also a co-founder of the US Chapter of the World March of Women and of LeftRoots.

Bob Wing

Bob Wing (he/him) has been a racial justice organizer and writer since 1968. He was the founding editor of ColorLines magazine and War Times/Tiempo de Guerras newspaper. Some of his essays include “Why the Fight for the South Is So Important — And How It Can and Must Be Won,” “Towards a Social Justice Electoral Strategy,” and “The Battlelines Are Drawn: Rightwing Neo-Secession or a Third Reconstruction.” He is a member of the Organizing Committee of the State-Based Power Caucus.

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General Strike against Trump on February 17th

A National General Strike has been called for on Friday, the 17th of February 2017 in all of the United States to oppose the Trump regime. 

http://f17strike.com/
The website of the National General Strike is: http://f17strike.com/. 

How To Participate? Cheers ii

We encourage all who are able to demonstrate their resistance in any of the following ways:

Do not work (if possible). Post your support on social media.

Do not purchase anything.  

“#BreakLunch” Use your lunch break to disrupt and participate:

Use social media to show how you #BreakLunch. Tweet, FB, Instagram, and Snapchat messages that support democracy. Include hashtags #BreakLunch, #GeneralStrike, #F17

Donate your lunch money that day to cause you believe in. Post about it and use those same hashtags.

Get creative and show the world how you #BreakLunch

Reach out to your representatives in Washington DC or your state and tell them why you are “striking” today, and post about it using strike related hash tags.

Join with other like-minded folks and occupy public space with positive messages of resistance and solidarity on our events page.

Get creative, always be nonviolent, and consider fun ways of showing dissent.

Participate in the National Day of Community Serviceto coincide with the General Strike on February 17. We hope this will allow folks who cannot ‘strike’ to take advantage of their employer’s commitment to Community Service and Community Service Leave request systems. We will announce more details and how to participate once we have confirmed commitment from institutions with whom we are currently negotiating.

Make your feelings known at any of a series of First Amendment Open-Mic gatherings. Again, more details and participating venues to follow.

If you are a teacher or student, please consider participating in the National Teach-In on Democracy set to take place February 17. Keep your students engaged.

Get prepared to show some International Solidarity all over the planet! I have been told that in Germany Tillerson will be in Bonn the day before. VP Pence will be in Munich on that day. 

All the more reason to stomp your feet, raise your voices and get out the drums of resistance (pots and pans and wooden spoons) to challenge the Trump regime and support our striking sisters and brothers. 

This is not a National Day-Off; we’ve got work to do!! Get out and get busy!!! Be Peaceful! Have fun!

It’s our turn!

It truly is time to stop and oppose the politics of the “Billionaire Class” on the face of this planet. We all know that it is responsible for the continuation of global warming and nuclear threat. But we have no real concept of how to isolate its tentacle like influence from our everyday lives. 

In todays world the billionaire class uses the tools and ideology of neo-liberalism to maintain its power, which I would simply define as free market fundamentalism , i.e. economics which disregard the interests of working people. 

We need to choose and support leaders who represent the interests of working people. So, for example, we need a Democratic Party which is able to draw a clear dividing line between the interests of Main Street and Walk Street. The billionaire class cannot speak on behalf of working people. 

So we need progressive voices within the Democratic Party to replace the voices of neo-liberalism. We need fighters for the interest of working people. It doesn’t matter where you are in this organiization, the choice is actually quite clear. Either you are on the side of working people or you are not. 

Interview with Victor Grossman on Bernie Sanders and Democratic Socialism

Interview with Victor Grossman (VG) by Michael Steltzer (MS)
On Bernie Sanders and Democratic Socialism
Jan. 28th, 2016 in Berlin, Germany

VictorGrossman1

MS: Victor, we are sitting here in this nice café at Straussberger Platz and I am really happy that you are going to give me an interview. Why don’t we just speak a little bit about why you are here in this part of the city. How did you get here?

VG: I was just a little bit too young to get drafted during the Second World War, but not to young to be drafted during the Korean War and I made the terrible mistake of concealing my nasty left wing past when I got drafted. I denied it because in those days, it was a very, very serious situation, it was a very frightening situation. Based on fear, I concealed my past, hoping that I would last the two years without their checking on me. I was lucky I wasn’t sent to Korea, I was sent to Bavaria. But I wasn’t so lucky because they did check on me. And since I knew there was a possible $10,000 fine and five years in prison for having concealed my past, I panicked and fled to Austria, which in those days was divided. I swam across the Danube River to the Soviet zone of Austria and they brought me to East Germany, where I have been living ever since.[1]

MS: So you were actually one of the few that fled from West to East?

VG: That’s right. In fact, my constant gag is I’m the only person in the world who has a diploma from Harvard University and from Karl Marx University and since it no longer has that name. I will probably retain that distinction.

MS: Well, you certainly are a unique person. One of the things that you have done here, I know you were a journalist and you had the opportunity to escort and interpret for many official guests (from the US) who came to the GDR. Maybe you could name a few. I just remember you were the person who accompanied Angela Davis when she was here. Is that true?

VG: No, no, it’s not. I accompanied no official visitors. I was the interpreter for Pete Seeger and his wife when they were here. And I was briefly the interpreter for Joan Baez during her press conference and Earl Robinson, The great left wing composer. I interpreted for him too. He is the composer who wrote the quite well known song about Joe Hill. Angela Davis I met, but I never accompanied her on her visits here. And I don’t recall any other famous…, oh yes, I also interpreted for Jane Fonda when she brought her film about Vietnam to the International Documentary Film Week in Leipzig. I interpreted for her then in her meetings with various people and so got to know her just a little bit.

MS: Well, that is pretty exciting. She was known as “Hanoi Jane” because of that infamous picture that was taken of her in front of an antiaircraft gun in Hanoi, North Vietnam.

VG: Of course, many would argue about the term “infamous”, but, in any case, famous picture.

MS: Very famous, some would say “infamous”, but she became famous for sure.

VG: That’s right. She made a film while she was in Vietnam and she brought this as a documentary film to Leipzig and that was when I got a chance to meet her and do a little bit of interpreting for her.

MS: You have been living here in Berlin since 1950?

VG: In Berlin since 1958. In East Germany since 1952.

MS: One of the reasons I am asking you some of these questions is that you are really quite active regarding the development of politics in Europe and in Germany. You write very regularly and many of us read your bulletins, but you very seldom write about developments within the United States and so I am here to ask you some questions specifically about the presidential campaign that is going on now, and again specifically about Bernie Sanders. How would you explain the phenomenum of Trump and Sanders in the United States today? Both of these candidates and their respective parties are…

VG: … mavericks.

MS: Yes, they are mavericks, but they are way “up front”.

VG: Evidently, or, it seems that a very large number of Americans are so worried about the way things are going for them in their own personal lives. The fact that they have not moved ahead for the last few years in terms of income, that if they are students who are buried in debt for years, if they have medical problems they, despite some advances, still have very serious problems. Or with the mortgages, or with just getting jobs and getting a decent job, a regular job, that they no longer trust the men and women in Washington to represent them. They don’t believe the words they say, they consider them to be clichés. And they look and they search for somebody who is different, who seems to offer a very different path. And some of them, especially those who tend to blame their woes on either immigrants, especially from Mexico and Central America or the “traditional” danger of black Americans, who they blame or are induced to blame for their own worries. And those are the kind of people who might turn to Trump. Others have not looked for these scapegoats, but are still unhappy and looking for answers and have found the answers in the group which became famous during the Occupy movement, the 99% against the 1%. Those are people who say that if that 1% up on top, who have taken everything for themselves, and including all propaganda outlets – which they just do not believe anymore. They are looking for new answers and they are the ones who tend to vote for Sanders.

MS: We were talking a little bit earlier and you said you are a supporter of Bernie Sanders. How do you go about supporting him? What do you think you can do? What are the steps that you take living here in Berlin to do what you can? What do you do?

VG: There is not so much that I can do here in Berlin for Bernie. I do send these bulletins mostly to Americans who are interested in Germany. I write mostly about German developments. At the same time there are so many cross currents that involve Germany and the United States. I make no secret of the fact that I also support Bernie Sanders. At the same time here in Berlin I write articles too about the United States and in these articles I have been trying and will continue trying to explain to people who know almost nothing about Sanders. There has been relatively little in the press here, although in the last month or two there has been more. But many people know almost nothing about Sanders and some of them simply assume that Hillary is going to win, and I to try and explain that. And of course I am going to vote too. I will be voting in November.

MS: Great! When you look at Bernie Sanders he calls himself a Democratic Socialist. You lived in a socialist country for many years and I am sure you have been dealing with the system and the ideology and all of this. How much of that do you think is relevant to that what Bernie Sanders is saying Democratic Socialism is? What sort of an impact is that going to have on that election in the fall of this year?

VG: Well, of course the kind of socialism which was preached and organized here in East Germany, or in the East in general, and that which Bernie Sanders is speaking for are quite different in many ways, but have some similarities too. The main similarity is a regard for the welfare of that 99%, especially for the ones who make the least money, who have the toughest time. In other words, Sanders, as I have said, is out to make sure that people can get educated even if they don’t have a lot of money or without going into debt, can get health care without having to go into deep debt or having to go without medicine or having to choose either medicine or food, that people need not fear being thrown out of their homes, that they don’t fear a long unemployment or fear having barely enough to live on. I think that that ties up Bernie Sanders and socialism without going into theoretical questions of Karl Marx or other things. I think that Bernie Sanders is interested in making sure that as many people as possible get a fair deal and that he realizes that we must oppose the attempts of the extremely wealthy at the top, who want only more and more tax rebates and less and less taxes and less and less for the people at or near the bottom or the middle, but without going into the basic question, which was raised here in East Germany, taking over all the means of production and the banks and the major factories. I don’t think Bernie has spoken for that and I have no idea what he thinks, but it certainly is not part of his program now.

MS: In the development of things, you do not share the optimism that I do. As a staunch Bernie fan, I see a lot moving for him. With the Iowa caucuses coming up in a few days, personally I think it is going to be a landslide. Nonetheless, he might lose and he might not win the nomination, so his competitor would be Hillary Clinton, whom I would call a corporate Democrat or a neo-liberal Democrat, or whatever you want to call her. She would probably run against Cruz or Trump as it looks now. What would you do in that case?

VG: That is a difficult question. First of all, I hope very much that Bernie Sanders wins in Iowa. I am not quite so certain that it will be a landslide. I just hope that he wins even by a small edge. I think that he will win in New Hampshire. I think it is going to be a very, very tight race, at least at the beginning. I think that he has many odds against him. Still, I am not completely pessimistic, but I’m just hopeful. If he does not win the nomination, and, of course even if he does get nominated and loses the election, I would hope that large, large sectors of people who support Bernie Sanders and who actively support him with small amounts of money, with running around trying to organize people to go to the caucuses or to vote for him, I hope that this general movement of people will remain active. In fac,t I hope that it doesn’t die out. In fact, I hope that, even if he does become president. However I am not, I am still… I am not so optimistic because I think that the forces who fear that Sanders would increase their taxes to help the people at the bottom will do everything they possibly can to prevent him from winning. I still have hopes, but I try to be realistic. I hope that whatever happens, people will keep active and keep at it… I was very enthusiastic about the Occupy movement. I thought it was wonderful that people had so much courage and raised this question about the 1%. But then, it died out. It was beaten back in many ways. I would hope that this does not happen in the Sanders campaign, that it stays alive, grows and helps to restrengthen the union movement and the movement of black people and the movement of immigrants and women, gays, students and all the other groups. That they neither give up and say “that’s it”, or if he loses they give up too. I hope that doesn’t happen. Keep at it. There is plenty to be done.

MS: You were saying that Bernie Sanders has so many odds against him. And you mentioned a few, for example, that some of his arguments are going to be misused, like the raising of taxes. What other odds do you see out there that disturb you?

VG: Well, it doesn’t disturb me, but it will disturb a lot of people, that name “socialist”. A lot of people in the United States have all kinds of crazy ideas of what socialism means. Many of them attack Obama alternately as “Socialist”, “Communist” and “Fascist”, which means that they didn’t know what any of them meant. They just know there was something bad. I think an awful lot of Americans they just hear a word like “Socialist” and they are immediately frightened and they think that somebody is not only going to take away their gun, but also their house or their wife or their property. And they are really frightened. I think the more success Bernie has, the more attacks there will be against him as a wild socialist, communist, radical danger. And that is what undoubtedly will be used against him. I hope that people are smart enough to see that words like these have been used for at least a century and a half to frighten people away from voting for their own good. They use this against every attempt to move forward in history. They sometimes use different words for it. They always have somebody who is frightening for them and you have to fight back. I hope that it does not work this time, that people see through that despite all the frightful media campaigns.

MS: So it is basically using the term “socialism” as fear mongering?

VG: Absolutely! I am sure that it has already been used. But the more he wins out, the more it will become almost perhaps hysterical.

MS: Yes, that reminds me of that article by Glen Greenwald we were talking about, where he is speaking about the 7 levels of backlash that are happening now. Greenwald says Bernie is at the 5th level and that the 7th might be coming soon.[2]

Thank you for some of your thoughts. Is there anything else you would like to include in this interview?

VG: I hope that Americans do not fall for the kind of propaganda from a Trump or Cruz, who try to blame the problems that they face either on African Americans, or on Mexicans or immigrants. The same thing is going on now in Europe against this wave of immigrants that is being used by very frightening groups to try to get people to move against their best interests, to try to split people, to set one group against the other. And actually, people should be working together to achieve a better life for the majority. Everything is being done to split people apart and now Europe’s big immigrant wave, which, as in the United States, is all too similar and all too frightening because some people are willing to use any methods to frighten people and set them against the others, making them hate and fear.

MS: Unfortunately I do not see a European or German Sanders campaign to pick up some of that.

VG: There are one or two possibilities. One, of course, is in England with Corbyn, who is trying to do the same thing. And then, too, in Spain and Portugal there have been moves in this direction. There was a move in this direction in Greece too, which has been pretty well smashed, but is not dead.

MS: You are talking about Syriza and Podemos?

VG: Well, Syriza proved disappointing in the end. They were crushed or beaten somehow. Nevertheless, an awful lot of Greek people still have that spirit of fighting back. And the same in Spain and the same in Portugal. They fight back in different ways, but they do want to fight back. And yesterday in Francethere was a big strike movement against unjust measures against people in the transportation system, teachers. This is the kind of thing which shows that some people are ready and willing to fight back. The other side is very strong and is trying to split them up. They hate each other. But it is a long hard fight and I can only say I hope the best side wins.

MS: Well, in France there certainly are, on the one hand the strikes and, on the other hand, within the government you see that this one minister, the last progressive bastion in the government, has resigned or was forced to resign. So now you have a neo-liberal government.

VG: There is a hope that this minister will take part in such a movement too.

MS: Listening to your last comments, it seems to be a phenomenum which is in Europe as well as in the United States.

VG: Yes, both the negatives and, to a degree, the positives, if you look hard.

MS: Thank you, Victor, for this interview.

Michael Steltzer

Michael@steltzer.net

[1] Victor Grossman (Stephen Wechsler), Crossing the River – A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany, University of Massachusetts Press, 2013.

[2] Glenn Greenwald, The Seven Stages of Establishment Backlash: Corbyn/Sanders Edition; The Intercept. https://theintercept.com/2016/01/21/the-seven-stages-of-establishment-backlash-corbynsanders-edition/ Jan 21, 2016.

© Copyright 2016 – Michael Steltzer

Tom Hayden on Bernie and Hillary

In his latest newsletter Tom Hayden deals with the split of the Democratic Party and its main presidential candidates Hillary and Bernie.  Although I throroughly respect Toms views on the impact of the Bernie campaign on the future of the politics in our country and the influence it will have on the development of the Democratic Party, I was taken aback by his practical non-commitment to Bernies campaign.  So I started writung down short texts on the essence of his message.  I was shocked at what I wrote about the “Participatory Democrat” Tom Hayden.  I share my notes with you as an introduction.  Perhaps I am wrong and not at the basic message of Tom.  But you can help with that if you like … but, as you see, I am worried.

Continue reading

John Cusack + Arundhati Roy – Conversations with each other and Snowdon and Ellsberg

Things That Can and Cannot Be Said: A Conversation Between John Cusack and Arundhati Roy
Monday, 16 November 2015 00:00
By John Cusack and Arundhati Roy, Outlook | Op-Ed – go to Truthout.com for original

Every nation-state tends towards the imperial – that is the point. Through banks, armies, secret police, propaganda, courts and jails, treaties, taxes, laws and orders, myths of civil obedience, assumptions of civic virtue at the top. Still it should be said of the political left, we expect something better. And correctly. We put more trust in those who show a measure of compassion, who denounce the hideous social arrangements that make war inevitable and human desire omnipresent; which fosters corporate selfishness, panders to appetites and disorder, waste the earth.”—Daniel Berrigan, poet, Jesuit priest.

***

John Cusack: One morning as I scanned the news – horror in the Middle East, Russia and America facing off in the Ukraine, I thought of Edward Snowden and wondered how he was holding up in Moscow. I began to imagine a conversation between him and Daniel Ellsberg (who leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam war). And then, interestingly, in my imagination a third person made her way into the room – the writer Arundhati Roy. It occurred to me that trying to get the three of them together would be a fine thing to do.

Continue reading

Günther Grass and the Gruppe 47 gets remembered

In April of 1966 the German Gruppe 47 visits Princeton University, New Jersey with approximately 60 participants for a literary conference. Among them are many famous German writers and critics.  Some photographs of my mother help capture this event.

Two days ago I received the message that Günther Grass has passed away at the age of 87.  He is probably one of the most well known post war German authors. Somehow I remembered that he had visited my home town of Princeton, N.J. in April of 1966 and that my mom Ulli Steltzer had taken some pictures of him and the Gruppe 47 that he was with.  A little bit of research in my moms archives and I found the photographs she had made.  Some more research of the visit of the Gruppe 47 in Princeton led to some very interesting information about the Princeton visit of this literary group.

Günther Grass at Princeton University with Gruppe 47.  Photo: Ulli Steltzer

Günther Grass at Princeton University with Gruppe 47. Photo: Ulli Steltzer

In the files of Princeton University it is interesting to note, that the then chair of the German Department Victor Lange was seriously considering “uninviting” the Gruppe 47 to attend the literary conference and was discussing this topic with the President of Princeton University Robert F. Goheen.  He was afraid that the Gruppe 47 would use the conference as a platform for a declaration against the war in Vietnam.

Actually the “rules” of the group did not allow them to make such dedicating statements for all of its members.  The Gruppe 47, which was founded in 1947 and therefore got its name, was a heterogeneous and liberal literary circle which based its coherency on the basis of political and literary compromise.  Its founder and self-designated and accepted administrative leader Hans-Werner Richter went to great lengths to make sure that inner group criticism would only be on the immediate pieces of literature and not about fundamental issues (Grundsatzkritik).

Peter Weiss, Member of the Gruppe 47 in Princeton, NJ. April 1966, Photo: Ulli Steltzer

One of the more progressive members of the Group 47 Peter Weiss gave an interview to the New York Times, in which he stated:
“I am not for the war in Vietnam … this is the thing that brought me and the other writers here. We want to show our sympathies with those who are fighting for another America, to contact groups fighting for a new America.”
(See Spiegel from May 2, 1966)

 

He was later criticized by Hans-Werner Richter in private and then made an apologizing statement in front of the entire Group.  This apologetic statement can be heard in its original presentation (German) together with all the other recordings of the Gruppe 47 in Princeton in 1966 on the recording files of the German Department of Princeton University

 

Peter Weiss (l.), Karl Heinz Richter (r.), Photo: Ulli Steltzer

Peter Weiss (l.), Karl Heinz Richter (r.), Photo: Ulli Steltzer

 

Wikipedia writes on the Gruppe 47:
“The Gruppe 47 quickly gained popularity, no doubt on the basis of the well-known members, and was soon a part of the literary establishment in Germany. The onset of the decline began just before the student protests in 1968. There were grave differences of political opinion in the group. The public meetings were discontinued from October 1967, and in 1977 the group was officially disbanded.”

Perhaps one could say that the Vietnam War did play a definite role is the demise of the Gruppe 47.  The incidents in Princeton in April of 1966 show that contradictions were quite massive but were kept under a lid.  Karl Heinz Richters attempts to invite a group of East German authors to this event including Wolf Biermann unfortunately failed through the tensions of the cold war.  The Americans would not issue Visas and the East Germans would not let them out of the country.  The following information will help to inform those who are more interested in the specifics of the American visit of these German authors.  The article in “Der Spiegel” from the 2nd of May, 1966 gives a vivid view of journey of this group through the eyes of the well versed German journalist Erich Kuby.

 

Summary and Vocal recordings of Gruppe 47 in Princeton 1966
http://german.princeton.edu/landmarks/gruppe-47/
http://german.princeton.edu/landmarks/gruppe-47/recordings-agreement/recordings/

Der Spiegel, May 2, 1966, Erich Kuby, “Ach ja, da ließt ja einer”
http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-46407145.html

Princeton University, Selected Materials and Bibliography of Gruppe 47 in Princeton
http://german.princeton.edu/landmarks/gruppe-47/selected-materials/

Written by Michael Steltzer
in Vancouver, BCd
April 13, 2014