Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Death To The Fascist Insect!

By Stephen J. Gertz

It's Death To The Fascist Insect That Preys Upon The Life Of The People Day at Booktryst. On this day thirty-eight years ago, Patty Hearst was on the lam with the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA).

She had, on April  3, 1974, announced that she was now one of them and had adopted the pseudonym "Tania." Now she was in prep for her debut, on April 15, as an urban guerilla bank robber. Death To The Fascist Insect Blah, Blah, Blah, was the SLA's mission statement, radical politics at its buggiest.

In its dehumanization and abstraction of the individual it's a line, however, that Joseph Goebbels would have been proud to call his own, except, of course, for the anti-Fascist part. No little irony there. No matter  the politics,  the wider the division the more they all begin to look, sound, and behave alike until you reach, as here, the absurdum ad reductio, a Fascist anti-Fascist motto that, out of context, reads as a parody of political propaganda. But no laughing matter. When  radical extremists act out individuals tend to die.

The Secularist's Adopted Grandfather
N.p., n.d. [ c. late 19th century].
Handbill with unattributed woodcut.

Flanking the woodcut is text reading,
"Secularists, are you proud of your Grandfather?"
and " We should respect our Parentage - Dr. Darwin."
A previous owner has inscribed the words,
"Orang Outang - horrid beast - I am not like you in the least."

And so on this day we celebrate polarization in American politics. It's poisoning our political landscape but makes for entertaining, if somewhat frightening, reading when radicals of both the Right and Left come out to play, commit themselves to their cause in print, and wreak havoc on rational discourse. The fright aspect is heightened when one considers that radical seems to have  become the new mainstream and moderate the new extreme. 

International Workmen's Association. North American
Section, Pacific Coast Division, Organizer's Circular.
[San Francisco]: International Workmen's Association, [c. 1881].

Buried in the text is an offer to members of a "scientific and
comprehensive course of chemistry," i.e. explosives training.

Coincidentally. Lorne Bair, the social and political history rare literature specialist, has just issued a new catalog, delightfully devoted, as usual, to the often strident and out there voices of yesteryear, reminding us that extreme political expression has always been a part of the American character, an All-Terrain Vehicle cycling though the American psychic velodrome. Now, however, the stakes are higher, and we need to get the poles back on the true American path, a bicycle built for two heading in one direction. Good luck and God help us all.

BOYCOTT Campbell's Cream of Exploitation Soup -
In Support of Mid-Western Farm Workers.
Toledo: FLOC [Farm Labor Organizing Committee], c. 1980s.

"Mmmm, Mmmm, [not so] Good."

When Campbell's Soup refused to negotiate with Ohio
farmworkers, a brilliant functionary of FLOC appropriated
Andy Warhol's classic pop image and created a propaganda
poster that sharply crystallized their message without
inflammatory slogans or wild-eyed declarations of evil.
The boycott worked. In 1986, Campbell's finally sat down
and entered into a collective bargaining agreement.

FAGAN, Myron C. Moscow Over Hollywood.
Los Angeles: R.C. Cary, 1948.

Josef Stalin looms over Tinseltown in this, the foundation
document of the Hollywood Blacklist, preceding the notorious
Red Channels by two years.

Note the cinematic chorus line, presumably singing and
dancing their hearts out during a performance of
The International while a sinister director looks on with
satanic satisfaction.

Protection To American Labor and American Industries.
New York: Ballin & Berman, 1888. Silk bandana.

Republican souvenir of the 1888 election, based upon
the campaign's Protection v. Free Trade issue.

Department of Strange Political Metamorphoses:
In 1888, the Republican Party was anti-Free Trade and pro-Labor.

Their Presidential candidate, Benjamin Harrison, won the election.

The Most Exciting Story of the Century Will Be Printed
in the Utica Saturday Globe.

Utica: Utica Saturday Globe, 1889.

The post-Civil War period saw more than one brand
of white-hooded racist. Here, the Utica, NY Globe advertises
a series of exposés based upon an undercover agent's
infiltration of The White Caps, a vigilante group based in
southern Indiana and contiguous counties in Kentucky and
Ohio. By 1900, the White Caps had disbanded or had been
hijacked by local Ku Klux Klan chapters, which, apparently,
believed that their territory wasn't big enough for the both of them. 

How can you tell them apart?

Is There a Pink Fringe in the Methodist Church?
If so, what shall we do about it?

Houston: The Committee For the Preservation of Methodism, 1951.

Exposé of the Methodist Federation for Social Action,
a faith-based organization following the precepts of
Jesus Christ, written by Methodist followers who

had forgotten them in the midst of paranoia.

WHARTON, Charles S. The House of Whispering Hate.
Chicago: Madelaine Mendelsohn, 1932. A presentation copy.

If only the current U.S. House of Representatives
kept their snarls at a whisper.

Actually, a memoir of three years imprisonment at Leavenworth.
But it might just as well been a memoir of three years imprisonment
in Congress, for most of us a fate worse than death.

491 years ago, on April 19, 1521, Martin Luther stood before the Diet of Worms and proclaimed in defense of his convictions, "Here I stand. I can do no other. May God help me. Amen." It is Western Civilization's preeminent statement on individual liberty, conscience, and thought.

Now, however, that eloquent declaration has become debased coin, its currency counterfeit in a culture that has gone mad with self-interest. Martin Luther has transmogrified into Sammy Davis singing I've Got To Be Me (Whether I'm Right. Whether I'm Wrong. What Else Can I Be But Who I Am)," the national conversation deep in schlock-infested waters, the  cacophony of political savagery the diet of worms in the U.S. Diet, leaving the rest of us undernourished.

It's the result of political movements that assert, as Sammy did in that anthem of juvenile yearning, "I won't settle down. I won't settle for less, as long as there's a chance I can have it all."

Calling Dr. Spock...

All images courtesy of Lorne Bair Rare Books, Manuscripts & Ephemera, with our thanks.

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