Perspectives: A Review of 2012
by Paul Buhle
(Swans - December 17, 2012) These will be highly personal, or at least the world immediately in front of myself. As late as this past April, a crowd upwards of 35,000 gathered around the Square in Madison, Wisconsin, at once celebrating a year of struggle against the outrages of the Republican governor and legislature, and projecting forward toward June, when we hoped to win a gubernatorial recall. Three months earlier, a smaller but wildly enthusiastic crowd heard the announcement that nearly a million recall signatures had been gathered for the election ahead, and (from Democratic Party officials) that it had been a grassroots movement after all. The Dems, never really reliable, had offered logistical help.
I'm happy to say that my book It Started in Wisconsin (Verso) appeared in the midst of all this. Just a book, but a good book with essays, documents of various kinds, photos, comics and such, offering a good picture of what the struggle meant to Wisconsin history and to the LaFollette legacy of progressives bent to resist monopolists and war-makers. We tried to explain to our friends from out of state that the Dems had not really manipulated the uprising away from some grand General Strike, but rather, the main workforce involved, female teachers and medical-social workers, had hit upon the recall measure because it belonged to the LaFollette legacy. "The proletariat" was not a bemuscled factory worker any more, because the factories had fled. And "the pigs," at least as applied to city police and capitol police, had been on our side! They followed the lead of the firefighters, whose colorful and musical support of the takeover of the Capitol, also the long cold days of winter in the streets, meant everything. It was a lesson too difficult for many longtime leftwing outsiders and some dogma-hardened insiders to grasp.
The gubernatorial election was lost in June by a mediocre Democratic candidate; rightwing Republicans reign supreme in every branch of government now, and by late January, we shall have nothing but mass struggle to hold back the worst (plans for a hugely destructive open-pit mine next to Chippewa territory, plans for restriction of reproductive rights, plans to eclipse public education with charter schools, and when they get to it, plans for a Right to Work bill). Our consolation rests in defeating Romney in Wisconsin and bringing the most antiwar congressperson into the Senate (also the first open lesbian), Tammy Baldwin.
This is our reality, mirroring the reality of society at large in many if by no means all ways. The year 2011 was a hundred times more hopeful, with the Uprising in full swing and Occupy, its partner, making giant-sized waves across the nation. We live inside our reality, bad and good, alike, because we have no choice.
With 2012 closing, I also say goodbye to Spain Rodriguez, one of the founders and leaders of Underground Comix, also a great historian as comic artist, with dozens of tales of the nineteenth and twentieth century struggles. His most widely seen book was Che: a graphic biography and I'm glad to have edited it. His last strip, incomplete at his death, was being drawn for Bohemians, my next comic art volume. Goodbye, Spain.
And to David Montgomery, not as famous as Eric Hobsbawm, the great British Marxist historian, but better known to me as the last of the great, great left British and US historians who grew out of the anti-fascist victories of the 1940s: E.P. Thompson, Herbert Gutman, (just a little young for that experience, but in its shadow), Hobsbawm, and Montgomery. David's Beyond Equality may be the best Marxist text of US labor history ever written. He trained a generation of labor history scholars.
Goodbye, goodbye old comrades. Your work will live and inspire struggles for an era of struggle ahead.
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About the Author
Paul Buhle retired from college teaching to produce radical comics fulltime. His latest include Studs Terkel's Working, A Graphic Adaptation [reviewed in these pages], The Beats, A People's History of the American Empire (aka an adaptation of Howard Zinn's classic) and a pictorial biography of his childhood hero, The Art of Harvey Kurtzman. His last production (2011) is Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular & the New Land, edited with Harvey Pekar, and reviewed in these pages. (back)