Letters to the Editor

(December 1, 2003)


Regarding Michael Parenti's Tyrannicide or Treason? and Gilles d'Aymery's Michael Parenti's The Assassination of Julius Caesar

To the Editor:

Michael Parenti is in fact correct when he portrayed Gaius Julius Caesar as a "reformer" and essentially being bumped off by selfish and reactionary forces that didn't want their vested interests disturbed.

The Gracchhi had attempted the same reforms many years before with a similar reaction.

The "republic" was far from democratic or liberal and was dominated by -- as he has said -- by latifundia, property speculators, wealth, "opportunities for investment abroad," plunder of conquered provinces -- the list is a long one.

"The Roman republic ravaged Rome, pillaged Latium and uterly ruined Italy," is the quote.

The parallels between the Roman Empire and the modern U.S., (and with the British Empire as well) are amazingly striking; the major one being that as the Roman patrician class could not legally engage in business, there was an endless drive to seek investment opportunities, make loans, business deals for investments abroad, and this fueled the endless wars and military expeditions to make it possible. This did not count as "trade" as in 19th century Britain, and the way it worked was almost identical to the activities of the Corporate Lawyers of Wall Street.

Richard Roper
Sheffield, Yorkshire, UK - November 17, 2003


To the Editor:

My thanks to Gilles d'Aymery for his favorable review of my book THE ASSASSINATION OF JULIUS CAESAR: A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF ANCIENT ROME. There is just one clarification I would like to enter. Gilles writes at one point that I dare "to consider events from the 'little people's' point of view." Putting the phrase "little people's" in quotes leaves the impression that it is from my book. In fact, I never used such terminology to describe the Roman commoners. In that same review, Gilles himself refers, without quotation marks, to the "small people."

To me, the plebs and the rest of the Roman proletariat are the heroes of the Late Republic. It was they who struggled for centuries against monarchy and established a republic. It was they who fought to sustain their liberties and carve a better life for themselves -- only to be maligned as a "rabble" and a "mob" throughout the ages by generations of historians -- right to this day.

All this Gilles knows well and states well. So maybe we should avoid flippant terms for describing the people, even when it is done with irony in an attempt to scorn the elitists.

Michael Parenti
Berkeley, California, USA - November 19, 2003

Gilles d'Aymery responds:

Michael Parenti's point is apropos and well taken; indeed, he did not use the expression "little people's" in his book. Neither did he use the word "worms" (which I also put in quotes) to refer to the working class.

In the case of "little people," I used the expression with, in mind, the definition of the "Two Americas" that James P. Cannon offered in a July 1948 speech: "One is the America of the imperialists -- of the little clique of capitalists, landlords, and militarists who are threatening and terrifying the world. This is the America the people of the world hate and fear. There is the other America -- the America of the workers and farmers and the 'little people.' They constitute the great majority of the people. They do the work of the country. They revere its old democratic traditions -- its old record of friendship for the people of other lands, in their struggles against Kings and Despots -- its generous asylum once freely granted to the oppressed." (see my December 16, 2002 article, A Pivotal Year?, para. 6.) My usage of "worms," also between quotes, was a direct and painful reference to the definition of what was essentially working class people living nearby that was thrown at me (les vers de terre, in French)... And I should also have placed "small people" between quotes, for these words are heavily loaded with derogatory connotations.


Regarding Edward Herman's "Antisemitism" As A Tool Of Israeli Ethnic Cleansing (November 2002)

To the Editor:

The article by Edward S. Herman, "'Antisemitism' As A Tool Of Israeli Ethnic Cleansing," states clearly and accurately the facts of the case: Zionists -- most Jews and some Christians -- use the accusation of "anti-semitism" in the same fashion McCarthy used the accusation "communist." Both terms are difficult and perhaps impossible to define very well, both are impossible to refute completely, both frequently live more in the imagination and tastes of the beholder rather than any objective criteria attached to the object accused, both are impossible to consider dispassionately, both seek to destroy merely by the leveling the accusation rather than by any honest effort at trial and evidence, both seek to condemn on the strength of a noisy bandwagon rather than a fair hearing, and both in the after-taste of the accusation are potentially killing in consequence.

The only significant difference between the McCarthy-ite and the Zion-ist political camps on this point of comparative tactics lies in their historic context. McCarthy used the term "communist" to advance the welfare of the Republican Party after 20 years of exile from the White House, whereas Zionists -- Jews and right-wing Christians alike -- use the accusation "anti-semite" to promote and enlarge an ethnically, religiously, and racially "pure" State of Israel, a homeland for "Jews," a deliberately and exclusively "Jewish State." According to the accusation of "anti-semitism!" if you do not agree with the Zionists as to Israel's "right to exist" you are either not sufficiently "Jewish," or not sufficiently "Christian," depending upon the spiritual tastes and point of view of the person making the accusation.

In light of these realities, what is one to do, assuming that one sees in the "Jewish State" an ever and increasingly violent, delusional, greedy, despotic, ungrateful, bigoted, a-spiritual and even anti-spiritual, unethical, dishonest and ugly figure on the international scene? And what if this figure enjoys the unqualified support of Congress, the American President as chosen by the Supreme Court, and a large segment of the American Public?

One approach might be to seek out Jews whose views on the matter run parallel. For example:

Roman Bronfman, is a member of the Israeli Knesset and a writer for Haaretz. In his November 19, 2002 editorial, "Fanning the Flames of Hatred" (see, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/362258.html), he properly states the essential situation. "Israel has become the most hated nation in the world." He also states the problem. "It is this (Sharon's) government that entangled the 'leader of the free world' in an unnecessary and painful war, and this government is responsible for the erosion of America's status in the world." He also proposes the only possible solution to this problem. "I conclude that if Israel wants to be embraced by the family of nations as a full member, it must learn how to behave according to the accepted rules around the world -- rules of ethics, fairness and justice." Mr. Bronfman should be invited to speak at every anti-Israel / pro-Palestinian rally in the United States or Europe.

A second group of Jews, adamantly opposed to the very existence of Israel and Zionism, might be found at the Neturai Karta and Jews Not Zionists websites. Interestingly, Jewish Zionists appear to hold these groups in an especial contempt, largely because they can in no way be ignored and excluded on the facile claim of "anti-semitism." These two groups can not be labeled and thereby dismissed as "anti-semitic" for several reasons. First, these websites and groups are unquestionably Jewish. Second, they ground their attack against Israel from an entirely scriptural and spiritual position. (Theology seems to be the central weakness of both the "born again" Christian Zionist camp and the often atheistic Jewish Zionist camp. In the Christian case, no sane person would seriously believe that American Foreign Policy, correctly done, will hasten Jesus' return to this planet. After all, if Jesus is truly God Incarnate, then one would assume He can return whenever he feels like it. As to Zionist theology, we have a clear contradiction in terms.) Third, these Jews are strident and go public. And fourth, they are accepted universally by the Arab enemies of Zionism as a credible and acceptable voice for all Jews everywhere. If one is indeed an "anti-semite," then why would such groups and such people lie so near and dear to the heart?

From a cursory reading of the Internet these last two groups seem to strike at the very center -- very painfully so -- of Israel, the notion of a materialistic "Jewish State," and Zionism. These two groups hold that God has not granted the modern land of Palestine to the Jewish people by a cruel and heartless divine right. Their teaching is entirely in accord with the revelation of St. John that the re-creation of Israel is to be a heavenly, and not a material, construct. And they hold honestly to the proposition that the sins of the Jewish people at the time of Christ have imposed upon Jews everywhere the obligation of cooperation with the reasonable requirements of the governments wherein the Jewish People in exile find themselves. These groups should also be invited to every anti-Israel / pro-Palestinian rally in the United States or Europe.

The Jews of the Neturai Karta and Jews Not Zionists challenge the scriptural basis for Israel; as such they must eventually find themselves at the center of the storm. Here perhaps the Left has an ally. Their spiritual reading of our common religious history, their unwillingness to bend before a materialistic and vile reading of the Hebrew Bible, and their willingness to cooperate with Christians opposed to an insane and mechanical reading of Christ's second coming, might eventually make the accusation of "anti-semitism" so hopelessly clumsy that it falls into permanent disuse of its own stupid weight.

Scott Albers
Great Falls, Montana, USA - November 19, 2003


Regarding Vanessa Raney's Disassociating Patriarchy From Maleness

To the Editor:

I have some comments on the Vanessa Raney's "Disassociating Patriarchy From Maleness" (November 17, 2003). I've racked my brain trying to extract a clear and concise thesis statement from this desultory piece, but to no avail. I agree, generally, with the gist of the last paragraph, and the author's call to women and men to join together to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, the bulk of the essay does not pursue this argument.

Patriarchy is a system in which BOTH men and women are offered privileges in return for their cooperation and loyalty to the interests of those above them in the patriarchy. As it stands, the "good 'ol boy" system is effectively a "good 'ol boy and girl" system. Including females has been a form of selective integration. An increasing number of women are being indoctrinated into the university systems and leaving with degrees, just as the men do. If women have what it takes and serve the patriarchy with the proper enthusiasm, they will be placed in management positions. Men have always understood the corruption inherent in this process. Many women, however, seem to confound their promotions as achievements for feminism. That's true only in the narrowest sense, but it does open the possibility for women to challenge the hierarchy. Unfortunately, the ones who make it are just as unlikely to challenge authority as the men are. Ascending the ladder is not a blow against patriarchy. Rather, it tends to strengthen that institution.

Raney takes a position on dealing with male violence that seems very reactionary. In the long run, "self-defense classes" are as useless for the women as they are for the men. You see, men are deeply threatened by the culture of violence and fear for their physical safety and loss of their "manliness" (a characteristic reinforced by both men and women). Does she think that building "upper or lower body mass" in women is going to reduce the violence in our society? Consider this: should a woman who attends WTO demonstrations get her body in shape to resist tear gas, rubber bullets and billy clubs? Perhaps Gandhi and King would have had better success if they had been buff? No, physical strength is no longer a factor in resisting the patriarchy. When inmates at a penitentiary spend their time getting to be muscle-bound, they are not challenging or resisting the people who are the source of their repression. They are simply acting as survivors, and that's not going to help them much, is it?

Raney reduces one aspect of the patriarchy to the physical abuse of men towards women in domestic environments. Yes, this kind of violence is widespread. One source of this is the fact that men are insulted and challenged to defend themselves with violence everyday by other men. That's one way the relative position of men is determined in some parts of the patriarchy. Most men cope as well as they can with this humiliation, and women are well known to participate in manipulating these situations. Remember, it's a good 'ol boy and girl system. Domestic violence is not the source of patriarchy, and I'm not sure why Raney is discussing it here. Reducing the issue of patriarchy to "rape" of men and women and horror of being "beaten" may serve the interests of some members of the privileged patriarchy and divert the argument towards these very divisive events. It doesn't address the economic and political issues that lead to the abuse. For example, if all people had a right to a job and a living wage, had a right to decent housing and other basic goods and services, then people would not have to agonize over staying with or leaving an abusive mate. If this seems utopian, you damn right is it, but body-building in the face of this problem is total bullshit.

If you want to challenge patriarchy, this can be accomplished in your own workplace. "Taking responsibility" and "loving ourselves," whatever that means, can start right there. A caveat is in order, however. Suggesting that the emperor has no clothes can get you fired, even if your supervisor is a female. Obedience and discipline are demanded by the patriarchy, and you have to be ready to sacrifice your career in some cases.

Best of luck, friends.

Randy Raider
Portal, Arizona, USA - November 18, 2003

Vanessa Raney responds:
Much of my essay on "Disassociating Patriarchy from Maleness" is based on the Sociology classes I took as an undergraduate. However, I also noticed similar responses from women in other classes when the question of men and women was introduced.

Many women from different age groups continue to associate patriarchy with maleness. That's not a question. Ask a college woman today and you will generally find that she has a sense of women as inferior beings to men, especially physically. She is also more likely to position a raped female as a victim, while also laughing off any claim to male rape. She is more likely than men to sympathize with battered women. These reactions from contemporary women beg the question: Why are we not doing something for ourselves -- such as getting the training to defend ourselves against rape rather than relying on the rhetoric that men should protect us from rape? Certainly, if women were to strengthen those parts of our bodies that are meant to be stronger than men, we'd have a more likely success of defending off men who want to rape us. If we were brought up to love ourselves first, and that all of we -- our bodies, minds, etc. -- deserved to be loved, I don't think we'd be as likely to allow men to beat us mentally, bodily, emotionally, etc.

My point is that the language of patriarchy needs to change, because as long as it continues to be associated with maleness, male, masculinity, men, it will lead to the issues I raised in my essay. But I agree with Randy Raider that feminism has a done a lot to contribute toward this view of patriarchy as a system of white male participation. It shows how powerful language is in our society, and that is why I suggest changing the language of patriarchy while avoiding references to maleness, male, masculinity, men. And yes, patriarchy gets subsumed into those references because of its opposite, matriarchy. Patriarchy and matriarchy are often taught in classes as gendered systems of participation that included men or women, not both. It's why even with questions of health these opposites remain, with women assuming the weaker status when compared against men.

So how do we change the language? First, by recognizing that there is a language to patriarchy. Second, by identifying the terms inherent in that language. Third, by changing the language that it is not inclusive of the terms maleness, male, masculinity, men, or of the terms femaleness, female, femininity, women (as you can see here, this doesn't quite fit in the same patterns). I suggest starting with terms like humanness, human, humanity, human beings.


Regarding our collective work on Swans

To the Editor:

Congratulations on bringing together learned and articulate voices of information and sanity on pressing and domestic affairs. I have found my initial browsing of your SWANS site interesting and informative and am grateful to find that you have provided both a voice and a medium for other voices through this commentary. I hope that you and your associates are more widely quoted.

Best regards,

Marsha O'Bannon
San Francisco, California, USA - November 30, 2003


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Published December 1, 2003
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