Swans Commentary: Letters to the Editor - letter233



Letters to the Editor

(January 16, 2012)


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Should the word "socialism" be dropped? Paul Buhle's David Harvey At Large

To the Editor:

The article by Paul Buhle about David Harvey and particularly Harvey's book, A Companion to Marx's Capital, was well written and very helpful. One doesn't have to agree with all Harvey says (and he doesn't expect you to) to appreciate his important contribution to understanding how capitalism works, its contradictions, and the urgent need to replace it (and not too gradually!) with a much more humane system -- a system which some of us would call socialism. I think Harvey used to call it that, although I believe recently he suggested we perhaps should drop that name. I disagree there, not only because it is defeatist, caving in to right-wing propaganda, but also because it is rather like turning our backs on legions of people in many different countries who have struggled valiantly under the socialist banner against capitalist, imperialist, and fascist repression. I believe most commentators claim the Occupy movement is trying to avoid anything like a socialist label, but I can't see them accomplishing much against mounting state repression unless they have clear political as well as economic goals. I think I read that some of these protestors aren't even definitely anti-capitalist. I hope they will soon be prepared to nail their colours to the mast and go beyond merely protest. Reading Harvey would help and also I would like to heartily recommend Terry Eagleton's book, Why Marx Was Right, Yale University Press, 2011, enlivened as always with his ready wit and humour.

Charles Pearson
Cambridge, United Kingdom - January 4, 2012


Being Attentive: Gilles d'Aymery's Check Your Sources

To the Editor:

I enjoyed Gilles d'Aymery's August 2007 story about the origin of the Swans masthead quote ("Trade liberty for safety or money and you'll end up with neither. Liberty, like a grain of salt, easily dissolves. The power of questioning -- not simply believing -- has no friends. Yet liberty depends on it.").

Here is another with some slight similarity:

"If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that, too."

by William Somerset Maugham, in his book Strictly Personal, from 1941.

Readers might enjoy this book for Maugham's account of his flight from France in June 1940. He had to leave his villa on the Côte d'Azure, sail his yacht loaded down with people to Nice, and board a heavily-loaded refugee transport sailing for Algiers, or Portugal, or England, depending on the circumstances of the moment, unaccompanied and defenseless against U-boats.

Maugham's summary of why France fell is succinct and very interesting; this was a summation based on his interviews in England with refugee French government, military, and industrial people, and these testimonies combined with his own observations. I was interested in this part of this book because I saw it as a contemporary record of the determination by the Free French (FF) portion of the former power elite for a new social contract, which they anticipated with hope as a just reward for the popular sacrifices they could see would be required to win the war and regain national sovereignty. Four years later this determination was acted on, producing Les Trente Glorieuses. Today, instead of anticipating with hope, our power elites are disdainful in retrospect, because they have no memory of suffering and have lost all sense of gratitude.

I am no historian, but I think if one excludes general statements that were made in earlier times about desiring more just societies, then Maugham's account of the changed French ruling/diplomacy/industrial class (FF portion) attitude may be the beginning of the very specific idea of the post-war social contract (the "social democracy" Tony Judt wrote so fervently about). I wonder if Maugham spoke with Raymond Aron in England in 1941, during Maugham's government-sponsored assignment of interviewing the FF leadership, for preparation of British publications (popular pamphlets, a.k.a. propaganda)?

Maugham had some acid words about the refugees who only looked out for themselves during the perilous voyage of the transport ship. His account of the generosity and solidarity of many as compared to the selfishness of a few during that trip illustrated, for me, the great fallacy of the libertarianism championed by people like Ron Paul. They demand to enjoy personal prosperity isolated from outside conditions. To them, society is always a cost. What is annoying about libertarians like Ron Paul (people whose first reaction is: "what will it cost me?" who can say: "I don't want to pay for other people's children/mistakes/problems") is their arrogance, assuming fate will leave them untouched and they will never have to ask another human being for help. Maugham's account can help to see the whole of society reflected by the refugee-passengers of his transport ship. If you fall overboard, a libertarian won't throw you a line -- on principle.

The Aymery quote known simply as "grain" is the abstraction of its author's bibliography, and his experience. That people have assumed it was coined by Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin shows that its real author was neither idle nor inattentive.

Manuel García, Jr.
Oakland, California, USA - January 1, 2012


Thinking of our Companions: Gilles d'Aymery's Blips #120 on the death of a loving cat

To the Editor:

I read Gilles d'Aymery's personal note on Blackie, moving... my sincere condolences. If assumption is the mother of all fuck ups, then presumption is the father of our false pride and fall from grace. No matter how you look at it, we humans are fuck ups, if not anything, but for assuming and presuming that we are superior to all animals. Whoever came up with the concept that humankind, for its convoluted brain power, is superior to all animals, should be thrown in front of the lions or tigers in an amphitheater. Animals are decent, we are scheming, animals give unconditionally, we do not, for the most part, and animals don't do things half assed, we do it all the time, still getting paid for it. Animals don't live in guilt, we do, with all our intelligence.

Jimmy, my brother's German Shepard who passed away last year, was a veritable saint. Once he had toyed and tore a toilet roll, as a three-year-old, he became ashamed of himself -- felt guilty, and didn't show his face to the family for three days, you could tell by the look in his eyes when we went down to call him up from the basement. We all loved him, and never even admonished him; he was unassailable and dignified in his behavior to the point that we felt ashamed of our behavior.

As he got older, he had developed an ear problem, which had to be cleaned regularly; he itched it constantly and virtually destroyed his earlobes with his rear paws, itching. My father was his best buddy, and when visiting Canada, took him on walks. He had silent "conversations" with my dad... just eye contact to ask him for a walk, or let him out the door. In early 2008, craving for a change of scene after my father's death, we went to Canada. Upon our arrival, the dog welcomed us, one by one, clambering over us with his front legs, standing face to face looking directly into us with those fiercely loyal and loving eyes -- slobbering us. A few minutes later after everyone had come inside, the dog went out again to our Tahoe, stood on his hind legs looking into the car for his buddy, my dad, on the passenger side, then, he came in and went around my dad's favorite chair in my brother's place and looked at us lugubriously and enquired... where is he? My mother exited the scene, and cried in privacy.

Last year Jimmy passed away, he had become incontinent, and started to defecate inside the house, then he would turn around and eat it, just to keep the place clean. This went on days before he died, before my nephew, who rarely stayed home, discovered him after waking up late... he was devastated. He told me that the dog behaved, indicating with his eyes in no uncertain terms, that he had become a burden to the family... my nephew broke down telling me this... Forget it folks, I don't want to keep on about it, one thing is certain, they put us to shame, they make us better humans, if we can get better, and are indispensable. Again, I feel your pain... my condolences.

Raju Peddada
Des Plaines, Illinois, USA - January 2, 2012


The Demise of the Eurozone: Gilles d'Aymery's Blips #120

To the Editor:

Whether a currency war is taking place, as Mr. d'Aymery asserts in his last Blips #120, is a matter of conjecture at best or yet another conspiracy theory. The unraveling of the eurozone -- and ultimately of the entire European Union -- does not need our so-often-characterized malicious Yankee hidden hand. The Europeans are master tacticians, digging their own hole, constantly infighting, unable to agree on anything of importance. Their debt crisis is nothing else but a gigantic Ponzi scheme, continuously borrowing more money to pay for old debts and unsustainable social services. They certainly do not need our "help" to fall into oblivion.

German finance minister Wolfgang Schäeuble mentions a "unified" and "united" Europe, but he is delusional. How can 27 countries with 25 different languages and cultures be unified? Ryszard Kapuściński, who Mr. d'Aymery referred to in his Blips #118 (November 2011), remarked once how struck he was "by the complete incomprehension of each culture by the next." So many disparate cultures cannot fuse into a new continental entity, especially when nationalisms run rampant all over Europe. Our British cousins are quite right: Keep the common economic market and forget about political union. It will never happen. The eurozone will not survive 2012. (And do not forget to blame us, the Yanks, for its demise.)


Darrell Johnson
Tempe, Arizona, USA - January 6, 2012

[ed. The economist and former adviser to President Mitterrand, Jacques Attali, predicted that the eurozone would not survive 2011. Some people predict that the world will not survive 2012 (Maya so-called predictions). Rendez vous in 2013! As to the Ponzi scheme, this is a Western phenomenon (including in the U.S.). The question is: how to put an end to it? Any suggestions welcome!]


Boris Vian lives on: Le déserteur

To the Editor:

Thanks for the lowdown on this song, which I've loved from the very first time I heard it, while living in Paris more than 20 years ago. Every now and then it comes back to me, in bits and pieces. I'm very grateful to now have not only the lyrics, but the story that was shared on Swans.com. I'm a singer and storyteller, and have been thinking to sing this song at an event this Saturday night. Thanks to the published story (with pictures of the original sheet music...wow!), and with Jim Rothschild's story as well, I will definitely plan to include the song in my set.

Thanks again for this post on "Le déserteur." I should add that I look forward to visiting Swans Commentary again. I like the topics it covers, Gilles d'Aymery's principles (or what they seem to be), and much of his bio sounds like it could be my own (paragraph 2).


Laurie McIntosh
Andes, New York, USA - January 13, 2012


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Published January 16, 2012
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