Silvia Federici

Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and the Feminist Struggle

It is the demand by which our nature ends and our struggle begins because just to want wages for housework means to refuse that work as the expression of our nature, and therefore to refuse precisely the female role that capital has invented for us.

To ask for wages for housework will by itself undermine the expectations that society has of us, since these expectations—the essence of our socialization—are all functional to our ageless condition in the home. (19)

To say that we want wages for housework is to expose the fact that housework is already money for capital, that capital has made and makes money out of our cooking, smiling, fucking. At the same time, it shows that we have cooked, smiled, fucked throughout the years not because it was easier for us than for anybody else, but because we did not have any other choice. Our faces have become distorted from so much smiling, our feelings have got lost from so much loving, our oversexualization has left us completely desexualized.

Wages for housework is only the beginning, but its message is clear: from now on, they have to pay us because as women we do not guarantee anything any longer. We want to call work what is work so that eventually we might rediscover what is love and create our sexuality, which we have never known. And from the viewpoint of work, we can ask not only one wage but many wages, because we have been forced into many jobs at once. We are housemaids, prostitutes, nurses, shrinks; this is the essence of the “heroic” spouse who is celebrated on “Mother’s Day.” We say: stop celebrating our exploitation, our supposed heroism. From now on we want money for each moment of it, so that we can refuse some of it and eventually all of it. In this respect nothing can be more effective than to show that our female virtues have already a calculable money value: until today only for capital, increased in the measure that we were defeated, from now on, against capital, for us, in the measure that we organize our power. (19—20)

Unfortunately, many women — particularly single women — are afraid of the perspective of wages for housework because they are afraid of identifying even for a second with the housewife. They know that this is the most powerless position in society and they do not want to realize that they are housewives too. This is precisely our weakness, as our enslavement is maintained and perpetuated through this lack of self-identification. We want and must say that we are all housewives, we are all prostitutes, and we are all gay, because as long as we accept these divisions, we accept the logic of the master.

This is why, whether we are skinny or plump, long or short nosed, tall or small, we all hate our bodies. We hate it because we are accustomed to looking at it from the outside, with the eyes of the men we meet, and with the body-market in mind. We hate it because we are used to thinking of it as something to sell, something that has become alienated from us and is always on the counter. (26)

But to not see women’s work in the home is to be blind to the work and struggles of the overwhelming majority of the world’s population that is wageless. It is to ignore that American capital was built on slave labor as well as waged labor and, up to this day, it thrives on the unwaged labor of millions of women and men in the fields, kitchens, and prisons of the United States and throughout the world. (31)

It remains to be clarified that by saying that the work we perform in the homes is capitalist production, we are not expressing a wish to be legitimated as part of the “productive forces,” in other words, it is not a resort to moralism. Only from a capitalist viewpoint being productive is a moral virtue, if not a moral imperative. From the viewpoint of the working class, being productive simply means being exploited. As Marx recognized, “to be a productive laborer is therefore not a piece of luck, but a misfortune.” Thus we derive little “self-esteem” from it. But when we say that housework is a moment of capitalist production we clarify our specific function in the capitalist division of labor and the specific forms that our revolt against it must take. Ultimately, when we say that we produce capital, we say that we can and want to destroy it, rather than engage in a losing battle to move from one form and degree of exploitation to another. (32)

The family is essentially the institutionalization of our unwaged labor, of our wageless dependence on men, and, consequently, the institutionalization of an unequal division of power that has disciplined us as well as men. (33)

But ultimately the social weakness of the wageless has been and is the weakness of the entire working class with respect to capital. As the history of the “runaway shop” demonstrates, the availability of unwaged labor, both in the “underdeveloped” countries and in the metropolis, has allowed capital to leave those areas where labor had made itself too expensive, thus undermining the power that workers there had reached. Whenever capital could not run to the “Third World,” it opened the gates of the factories to women, blacks, and youth in the metropolis or to migrants from the “Third World.” Thus it is no accident that while capitalism is presumably based on waged labor, more than half of the world’s population is unwaged. Wagelessness and underdevelopment are essential elements of capitalist planning, nationally and internationally. They are powerful means to make workers compete on the national and international labor market, and make us believe that our interests are different and contradictory. (36)


Our aim is to be priceless, to price ourselves out of the market, for housework and factory work and office work to become “uneconomic.” (39)

Though the “utopian” moment was never completely lost, increasingly, feminism has operated in a framework in which the system — its goals, its priorities, its productivity deals — is not questioned and sexual discrimination can appear as the malfunctioning of otherwise perfectible institutions. Feminism has become equated with gaining equal opportunity in the labor market, from the factory to the corporate room, gaining equal status with men, and transforming our lives and personalities to fit our new productive tasks. That “leaving the home” and “going to work” is a precondition for our liberation is something few feminists, already in the early ’70s, ever questioned. For liberals the job was coated in the glamour of the career, for the socialists it meant that women would “join the class struggle” and benefit from the experience of performing “socially useful, productive labor.” In both cases, what for women was an economical necessity was elevated into a strategy whereby work itself seemed to become a path to liberation. The strategic important attributed to women’s “entering the workplace” can be measured by the widespread opposition to our campaign for wages for housework, which was accused of being economistic and institutionalizing women in the homes. Yet, the demand for wages for housework was crucial from many viewpoints. First it recognized that housework is work — the work of producing and reproducing the workforce — and in this way it exposed the enormous amount of unpaid labor that goes on unchallenged and unseen in this society. It also recognized that housework is the one problem all of us have in common, thus providing the possibility of uniting women around a common objective and fighting on the terrain where our forces are strongest. Finally it seemed to us that posing “getting a job” as the main condition for becoming independent of men would alienate those women who do not want to work outside the homes, because they work hard enough taking care of their families, and if they “go to work” they do it because they need the money and not because they consider it a liberating experience, particularly since having a job never frees you from housework. (57)

The women’s movement must realize that work is not liberation. Work in a capitalist system is exploitation and there is no pleasure, pride, or creativity in being exploited. Even the “career” is an illusion as far as self-fulfillment is concerned. What is rarely acknowledged is that most career-type jobs require that you exert power over other people, often other women, and this deepens the divisions between us. We try to escape blue collar or clerical ghettos in order to have more time and more satisfaction only to discover that the price we pay for advancing is the distance that intervenes between us and other women. However there is no discipline we impose on others that we do not at the same time impose on ourselves, which means that in performing these jobs we actually undermine our own struggles. (59)

Capitalist development has always been unsustainable because of its human impact. To understand this point, all we need to do is to take the viewpoint of those who have been and continue to be killed by it. A presupposition of capitalism’s birth was the sacrifice of a large part of humanity — mass extermination, the production of hunger and misery, slavery, violence and terror. Its continuation requires the same presuppositions. &mdash Mariarosa Dalla Costa, “Capitalism and Reproduction,” 1995. (65)

There is also a tendency to view the problems women face internationally as a matter of “human rights” and privilege legal reform as the primary means of governmental intervention. This approach however fails to challenge the international economic order that is the root cause of the new forms of exploitation to which women are subject. Also the campaign against violence against women, that has taken off in recent years, has centered on rape and domestic violence, along the lines set by the United Nations. It has ignored the violence inherent in the process of capitalist accumulation that, through the ’80s and ’90s, have cleared the way to economic globalization. (66)

Endless wars, massacres, entire populations in flight from their lands and turned into refugees, famines: these are not only the consequences of a dramatic impoverishment that intensifies ethnic, political, and religious conflicts, as the media want us to believe. They are the necessary complements of the privatization of land relations and the attempt to create a world in which nothing escapes the logic of profit. They are the ultimate means to expropriate populations who, until recently, had access to land and natural resources, which now are taken over by multinational corporations. (69)

First came the foreign bankers eager to lend at extortionate rates; then the financial controllers to see that the interest was paid; then the thousands of foreign advisors taking their cut. Finally, when the country was bankrupt and helpless, it was time for the foreign troops to “rescue” the ruler from his “rebellious” people. One last gulp and the country had gone. — Thomas Pakenham, The Scramble for Africa(76)

From the mass expulsions of immigrants and religious riots in Nigeria in the early and mid-1980s, to the “clan” wars in Somalia in the early 1990s, to the bloody wars between the state and the fundamentalists in Algeria, in the background of most contemporary African conflicts there have been the world Bank’s and the IMF’s “conditionalities,” that have wrecked peoples’ lives and undermined the conditions for social solidarity. (78)

So questionable has food assistance been in its effects, so dubious its ability to guarantee people’s livelihood (which would have been better served by the distribution of agricultural tools and seeds, and above all by the end of hostilities), that one has to ask whether the true purpose of this initiative was not the phasing out of subsistence farming, and the creation of a long-term dependence on imported food — both being center-pieces of World Bank reform, and conditions for the “integration” of African countries into the global economy. (80)

The difference is that, in Africa, the right of the United States/United Nations to send troops has generally been justified in the name of “peacekeeping,” “peacemaking” and humanitarian intervention,” possibly because under any other condition, a landing of the marines (of the type we have seen in Panama and Grenada), would not have been internationally accepted. These interventions, however, are the new faces of colonialism, and not in Africa alone. This is a colonialism that aims at controlling policies and resources rather than gaining territorial possession. In political terms, it is a “philanthropic,” “humanitarian,” “footloose” colonialism that aims at “governance” rather than “government,” for the latter involves a commitment to a specific institutional and economic set up, whereas modern-day free enterprise imperialism wants to maintain its freedom to always choose the institutional set up, the economic forms, and the locations best suited to its needs. However, as in the colonialism of old, soldiers and merchants are not far apart, as the marriage of “food aid” distributions and military intervention today demonstrates. (83)

By contrast, today, millions of Africans are dying every year because of the consequences of structural adjustment but no one is held responsible for it. On the contrary, the social causes of death in Africa are increasingly becoming as invisible as the “invisible hand” of the capitalist market.

Finally, we have to realize that we cannot mobilize against the bombings alone, nor demand that bombing stops and call that “peace.” We know from the postwar scenario in Iraq, that the destruction of a country’s infrastructure produces more deaths than the bombs themselves. What we need to learn is that death, hunger, disease, and destruction are currently a daily reality for most people across the planet. More than that, structural adjustment — the most universal program in the world today, the one that, in all its forms (including the African Growth and Opportunity Act), represents the contemporary face of capitalism and colonialism — is war. Thus, the program of the anti-war movement must include the elimination of structural adjustment in all of its many forms and, most crucially, the construction of a world no longer built upon the logic of capitalist accumulation, if war and the imperialistic project it embodies are to come to an end. (84)

Globalization aims to give corporate capital total control over labor and natural resources. Thus it must expropriate workers from any means of subsistence that may enable them to resist a more intense exploitation. As such it cannot succeed except through a systematic attack on the material conditions of social reproduction and on the main subjects of this work, which in most countries are women. (86)

What are the implications of this situation for the international feminist movements? The immediate answer ist hat feminists should not only support the cancellation of the “Third World debt” but engage in a campaign for a policy of reparations, returning to communities devastated by “adjustment” the resources taken away from them. In the long run, feminists must recognize that we cannot expect any betterment of our lives from capitalism. For we have seen that, as soon as the anticolonial, the civil rights, and the feminist movements forced the system to make concessions, it reacted with the equivalent of a nuclear war. (89)

For the image of the uniformed woman, gaining equality with men through the right to kill, is the image of what globalization can offer to us, which is the right to survive at the expense of other women and their children, whose countries and resources corporate capital needs to exploit. (90)

By destroying subsistence economies, by separating produces from the means of subsistence and making millions dependent on monetary incomes, even when unable to access waged employment, the capitalist class has relaunched the accumulation process and cut the cost of labor-production. Two billion people have been added to the world labor market demonstrating the fallacy of theories arguing that capitalism no longer requires massive amounts of living labor, because it presumably relies on the increasing automation of work. (101)

…the New World Order is best described as a process of recolonization. Far from flattening the world into a network if interdependent circuits, it has reconstructed it as a pyramidal structure, increasing inequalities and social/economic polarization, and deepening the hierarchies that have historically characterized the sexual and international division of labor, which the anticolonial and the women’s liberation movements had undermined. (102)

Neither the reorganization of reproductive work on a market basis, nor the “globalization of care,” much less the technologization of reproductive work, have ” liberated women” or eliminated the exploitation inherent to reproductive work in its present form. If we take a global perspective we see that not only do women still do most of the unpaid domestic work in every country, but due to cuts in social services and the decentralization of industrial production, the amount of domestic work, paid and unpaid, that women perform may have actually increased, even when they have had an extradomestic job. (108)

Other examples of violence traceable to the globalization process have been on the rise of dowry murder in India, the increase in trafficking and other forms of coerced sex work, and the sheer increase in the number of women murdered or disappeared. Hundreds of young women, mostly maquila workers, have been murdered in Ciudad Juárez and other Mexican towns in the borderlands with the United States, apparently victims of rape or criminal networks producing pornography and “snuff.” A ghastly increase in the number of women murder victims has also been registered in Mexico and Guatemala. But it is above all institutional violence that has escalated. This is the violence of absolute pauperization, of inhuman work conditions, of migration in clandestine conditions. That migration can also be viewed as a struggle for increased autonomy and self-determination through flight, as a search for more favorable power relations, cannot obliterate this fact.

Several conclusions are to be drawn from this analysis. First, fighting for waged work or fighting to “join the working class in the work place,” as some Marxist feminist liked to put it, cannot be a path to liberation. Wage employment may be a necessity but it cannot be a coherent political strategy. As long as reproductive work is devalued, as long as it is considered a private matter and women’s responsibility, women will always confront capital and the state with less power than men, and in conditions of extreme social and economic vulnerability. (110)

What is needed is the reopening of a collective struggle over reproduction, reclaiming control over the material conditions of our reproduction and creating new forms of cooperation around this work outside of the logic of capital and the market. This is not a utopia, but a process already under way in many parts of the world and likely to expand in the face of a collapse of the world financial system. Governments are not attempting to use the crisis to impose stiff austerity regimes on us for years to come. But through land takeovers, urban farming, community-supported agriculture, through squats, the creation of various forms of barter, mutual aid, alternative forms of healthcare — to name some of the terrains on which this reorganization of reproduction is more developed — a new economy is beginning to emerge that may turn reproductive work from a stifling, discriminating activity into the most liberating and creative ground of experimentation in human relations. (111)

What this task entails is powerfully expressed by Maria Mies when she points out that the production of commons requires first a profound transformation in our everyday life, in order to recombine what the social division of labor in capitalism has separated. For the distancing of production from reproduction and consumption leads us to ignore the conditions under which what we eat or wear, or work with, have been produced, their social and environmental cost, and the fate of the population on whom the waste we produce is unloaded.

In other words, we need to overcome the state of constant denial and irresponsibility, concerning the consequences of our actions, resulting from the destructive ways in which the social division of labor is organized in capitalism; short of that, the production of our life inevitably becomes a production of death for others. As Mies points out, globalization worsens this crisis, widening the distances between what is produced and what is consumed, thereby intensifying, despite the appearance of an increased global interconnectedness, our blindness to the blood in the food we eat, the petroleum we use, the computers with which we communicate. (144–145)

For centuries the reproduction of human beings has been a collective process. It has been the work of extended families and communities, on which people could rely, especially in proletarian neighborhoods, even when they lived alone, so that old age was not accompanied by the desolate loneliness and dependence that so many of our elderly experience. It is only with the advent of capitalism that reproduction has been completely privatized, a process that is now carried to a degree that it destroys our lives. This we need to change if we are to put an end to the steady devaluation and fragementaiton of our lives. (146)

Eduardo Galeano

the open veins of latin america

For those who see history as a competition, Latin America’s backwardness and poverty are merely the result of its failure. We lost; others won. But the winners happen to have won thanks to our losing: the history of Latin America’s underdevelopment is, as someone had said, is an integral part of world capitalism’s development. Our defeat was always implicit in the victory of others; our wealth has always generated our poverty by nourishing the prosperity of others—the empires and their native overseers. In the colonial and neocolonial alchemy, gold changes into scrap metal and food into poison. p. 2

The strength of the imperialist system as a whole rests on the necessary inequality of its parts… (3)

The human murder by poverty in Latin America is secret; every year, without making a sound, three Hirsohima bombs explode over communities that have become accustomed to suffering with clenched teeth. This systematic violence is not apparent but is real and constantly increasing: its holocausts are not made known in the sensational press but in Food and Agricultural Organization statistics. (5)

In a sense the right wing is correct in identifying itself with tranquility and order; it is an order of daily humiliation for the majority, but an order nonetheless; it is a tranquility in which injustice continues to be unjust and hunger to be hungry. If the future turns out to be a Pandora’s box, the conservative has reason to shout, “I have been betrayed.” And the ideologists of impotence, the slaves who look at themselves with the master’s eyes, are not slow to join in the outcry. The bronze eagle of the Maine, thrown down on the day the Cuban Revolution triumphed, now lies abandoned, its wings broken, in a doorway in the old town in Havana. Since that day in Cuba, other countries have set off on different roads on the experiment of change: perpetuation of the existing order of things is perpetuation of the crime. (7–8)

Exiled in their own land, condemned to an eternal exodus, Latin America’s native peoples were pushed into the poorest areas—arid mountains, the middle of deserts—as the dominant civilization extended its frontiers. The Indians have suffered, and continue to suffer, the curse of their own wealth; that is the drama of all Latin America. (47)

The more a product is desired by the world market, the greater the misery it brings to the Latin American peoples whose sacrifice creates it. (61)

Sugar has destroyed the Northeast. The humid coastal fringe, well watered by rains, had a soil of great fertility, rich in humus and mineral salts and covered by forests from Bahia to Ceará. This region of tropical forests was turned into a region of savannas. Naturally fitted to produce food, it became a place of hunger. Where everything had bloomed exuberantly, the destructive and all-dominating latifundio left sterile rock, washed-out soil, eroded lands. At first there had been orange and mango plantations, but these were left to their fate, or reduced to small orchards surrounding the sugarmill-owner’s house, reserved exclusively for the family of the white planter. Fire was used to clear land for canefields, devastating the fauna along with the flora: deer, wild boar, tapir, rabbit, pacas, and armadillo disappeared. All was sacrificed on the altar of sugarcane monoculture. (62)

The food of the minority is the hunger of the majority. (64)

The essential cause of scarcity [in Cuba] is the new abundance of consumers: the country now belongs to everyone, consumption is by all, not just a few. Thus it is scarcity of an opposite kind to that in other Latin American countries. The Revolution is indeed living through the hard times of transition and sacrifice. The Cubans themselves have learned that socialism is built with clenched teeth and that revolution is no evening stroll. But after all, if the future came on a platter, it would not be of this world.

The Revolution is forced to sleep with its eyes open, and in economic terms this also costs dearly. Constantly harassed by invation and sabotage, it does not fall because—strange dictatorship!—it is defended by a people in arms. (77)

The sugar of tropical Latin America gave powerful impetus to the accumulation of capital for English, French, Dutch, and U.S. industrial development, while at the same time mutilating the economy of Northeast Brazil and the Caribbean islands and consummating the historic ruin of Africa. (78)

According to Sergio Bagú, the most potent force for the accumulation of mercantile capital was slavery in the Americas; and this capital in turn became “the foundation stone on which the giant industrial capital of modern times was built.” The New World revival of Greco-Roman slavery had miraculous qualities: it multiplied the ships, factories, railroads, and banks of countries that were not originally involved in Africa or—with the exception of the United States—in the fate of the slaves crossing the Atlantic. From the dawn of the sixteenth to the dusk of the nineteenth centuries, many millions of Africans—no one knows how many—crossed the ocean; what is known is that they greatly exceeded the number of white emigrants from Europe, although many fewer survived. From the Potomac to the Río de la Plata, slaves built the houses of their masters, felled the forests, cut and milled the sugarcane, planted the cotton, cultivated the cacao, harvested the coffee and tobacco, and were entombed in the mines. How many Hiroshimas did these successive exterminations add up to? (79–80)

The rich countries that preach free trade apply stern protectionist policies against the poor countries: they turn everything they touch—including the underdeveloped countries’ own production—into gold for themselves and rubbish for others. (101)

Violence soon erupted again. For all the panegyrics, coffee had no magic with which to end Colombia’s long history of revolt and bloody repression. This time—for ten years, from 1948 to 1957—small and large plantations, desert and farmland, valley and forest and Andean plateau were engulfed in peasant war; it put whole communities to flight; generated revolutionary guerrillas and criminal bands, and turned the country into a cemetery; it is estimated to have left a toll of 180,000 dead. The bloodbath coincided with a period of economic euphoria for the ruling class. But is the prosperity of a class really identifiable with the well-being of a country? (102–103)

The violence did not stop after that: it has been a way of life in Guatemala ever since the period of humiliation and fury began in 1954. Corpses—although not quite so many—continue to turn up in rivers and on roadsides, their featureless faces too disfigured by torture to be identified. The slaughter that is greater more hidden—the daily genocide of poverty—also continues. (115)

“If the free-traders cannot understand how one nation can grow rich at the expense of another, we need not wonder, since these same gentlemen also refuse to understand how within one country one class can enrich itself at the expense of another.”—Karl Marx, On the question of free trade

The “opprobrious tyrant” Solano López was a heroic embodiment of the national will to survive; at his side the Paraguayan people, who had known no war for half a century, immolated themselves. Men and women, young and old, fought like lions. Wounded prisoners tore off their bandages so that they would not be forced to figut against their brothers. In 1879, López, at the head of an army of ghosts, old folk, and children who had put on false beads to make an impression from a distance, headed into the forest. The invading troops set upon the debris of Asuncióon with knives between their teeth. When bullets and spears finally finished off the Paraguayan president in the thickets of Cerro Corá, he managed to say: “I die with my country!”—and it was true. Paraguay died with him. López had previously ordered the shooting of his brother and a bishop who accompanied him on this caravan of death. The invaders came to redeem the Paraguayan people, and exterminated them. When the war began, Paraguay had almost a large a population as Argentina. Only 250,000, less than one-sixth, survived in 1870. It was the triumph of civilization. (192–193)

There is no change in the system of intercommunicating arteries through which capital and merchandise circulate between poor countries and rich countries. Latin America continues exporting its unemployment and poverty; the raw materials that the world market needs and whose sale the regional economy depends. Unequal exchange functions as before: hunger wages in Latin America help finance high salaries in the United States and Europe. (207)

In all Latin America, the system produces much less than the necessary monetary demand, and inflation results from this structural impotence. Yet the IMF, instead of attacking the causes of the production apparatus’s insufficient supply, launches its cavalry against the consequences, crushing even further the feeble consumer power of the internal market: in these lands of hungry multitudes, the IMF lays the blame for inflation at the door of excessive demand. Its stabilization and development formulas have not only failed to stabilize or develop; they have tightened the external stranglehold on these countries, deepened the poverty of the dispossessed masses—bringing social tensions to the boiling point—and hastened economic and financial denationalization in the name of the sacred principles of free trade, free competition, and freedom of movement for capital. (221)

As the Bank explains it, most of the laons are for building roads and other communications links, and for developing sources of electrical energy, an essential condition for the growth of private enterprise. In effect, these infrastructure projects facilitate the movement of raw materials to ports and world markets and the progress of already denationalized industry in the poor countries. (234)

But the most startling contradiction between theory and reality in the world market emerged in the open “soluble coffee war” in 1967. It then became clear that only the rich countries have the right to exploit for their own benefit the “natural comparative advantages” which theoretically determine the international division of labor. (240)

But the “Argentine,” “Brazilian,” and “Mexican” factories—to mention only the most important—also occupy an economic space that has nothing to do with their geographical location. Along with many other threads, they make up an international web of corporations whose head offices transfer profits from one country to another, invoicing sales above or below the real prices according to the direction in which they want the profits to flow. The mainsprings of external trade thus remain in the hands of U.S. or European concerns, which orient the countries’ trade policies according to the criteria of governments and directorates outside Latin America. (242)

The symbols of prosperity are symbols of dependence. Modern technology is received as railroads were received in the past century, at the service of foreign interests which model and remodel the colonial status of these countries. (245)

Some innocents still believe that all countries end at their frontiers. […] They forget that a legion of pirates, merchants, bankers, Marines, technocrats, Green Berets, ambassadors, and captains of industry have, in a long black page of history, taken over the life and destiny of most of the peoples of the south, and that at this moment Latin America’s industry lies at the bottom of the Imperium’s digestive apparatus. (252)

For U.S. imperialism to be able to “integrate and rule” Latin America today, it was necessary for the British empire to help divide and rule us yesterday. […] Latin America was born as a single territory in the imaginations and hopes of Simón Bolívar, José Artigas, and José de San Martín, but was broken in advance by the basic deformations of the colonial system. (259)

It is a big load of rottenness that has to be sent to the bottom of the sea on the march to Latin America’s reconstruction. The task lies in the hands of the dispossessed, the humiliated, the accursed. The Latin American cause is above all a social cause: the rebirth of Latin America must start with the overthrow of its masters, country by country. We are entering times of rebellion and change. There are those who believe that destiny rests on the knees of the gods; but the truth is that it confronts the conscience of man with a burning challenge. (261)

I wrote Open Veins to spread some ideas of other people, and some experiences of my own, which might dispel a little of the fog from questions always pursuing us: Is Latin America a region condemned to humiliation and poverty? Condemned by whom? Is God, is Nature, to blame? The oppressive climate, racial inferiority? Religion, customs? Or may not its plight be a product of history, made by human beings and so, unmakeable by human beings? (266)

Open Veins has its roots in reality but also in other books—better books than this one—which have helped us to recognize what we are so as to know what we can be, and see where we come from so as to reckon more clearly where we’re going. That reality and those books show that underdevelopment in Latin America is a consequence of development elsewhere, that we Latin Americans are poor because the ground we tread is rich, and that places privileged by nature have been cursed by history. In this world of ours, a world of powerful centers and subjugated outposts, there is no wealth that must not be held in some suspicion. (267)

Business free as never before, people in jail as never before; in Latin America free enterprise is incompatible with civil liberties. (271)

“In democratic countries the violent character inherent in the economy doesn’t show itself; in authoritarian countries the same holds true for the economic character of violence.” —Bertholt Brecht

In difficult times democracy becomes a crime against national security—that is, against the security of internal privilege an dforeign investment. Our devices for mincing human flesh are part of an international machinery. The whole society is militarized, the state of exception is made permanent, and the repressive apparatus is endowed with hegemony by the turn of a screw in the centers of the imperial system. When crisis begins to throw its shadow, the pillage of poor countries must be intensified to guarantee full employment, public liberties, and high rates of development in the rich countries.The sinister dialectic of victim-hangman relations: a structure of successive humiliations that starts in international markets and financial centers and ends in every citizen’s home. (274–275)

Whatever Latin America sells—raw materials or manufactures—its chief export product is really cheap labor.

Hasn’t our experience throughout history been one of mutilation and disintegration disguised as development? (279)

Slave ships no longer ply the ocean. Today the slavers operate from the ministries of labor. African wages, European prices. What are the Latin American coups d’état but successive episodes in a war of pillage? The dictators hardly grasp their scepters before they invite foreign concerns to exploit the local, cheap, and abundant work force, the unlimited credit, the tax exemptions, and the natural resources that await them on a silver try. (279)

The statistics may wear a smile, but the people get taken. In systems organized upside down, when the economy grows, social injustice grows with it. (282)

The system would like to be confused with the country. The system isthe country, says the official propaganda that bombards the citizenry day and night. The enemy of the system is a traitor to the fatherland. CCapacity for indignation against injustice and a desire for change are proofs of desertion. In many Latin American countries, citizens who aren’t exiled beyond the frontiers live as exiles on their own soil.

In these lands we are not experiencing the primitive infancy of capitalism but its vicious senility. Underdevelopment isn’t a state of development, but its consequence. Latin America’s underdevelopment arises from external development, and continues to feed it. A system made impotent by function of its international servitude, and moribund since birth, has feet of clay. It pretends to be destiny and would like to be thought eternal. All memory is subversive, because it is different, and likewise any program for the future. The zombie is made to eat without salt: salt is dangerous, it could awaken him. The system has its paradigm in the immutable society of ants. For that reason accords ill with the history of humankind, because that is always changing. And because in the history of humankind every act of destruction meets its response, sooner or later, in an act of creation. (285)

William Faulkner

go down, moses

It was of the wilderness, the big woods, bigger and older than any recorded document:–of white man fatuous enough to believe he had bought any fragment of it, of Indian ruthless enough to pretend that any fragment of it had been his to convey.

It was as if the boy had already divined what his senses and intellect had not encompassed yet: that doomed wilderness whose edges were being constantly and punily gnawed at by men with plows and axes who feared it because it was wilderness, men myriad and nameless even to one another in the land where the old bear had earned a name, and through which ran not even a mortal beast but an anachronism indomitable and invincible out of an old dead time, a phantom, epitome and apotheosis of the old wild life when the little puny humans swarmed and hacked at in a fury of abhorrence and fear like pygmies about the ankles of a drowsing elephant; –the old bear solitary, indomitable, and alone; widowered, childless and absolved of mortality–old Priam reft of his old wife and outlived all his sons.

It didn’t matter. He could ask her forgiveness as loudly thus as if he had shouted, express his pity and grief; husband and wife did not need to speak words to one another, not just from the old habit of living together but because in that one long-ago instant at least out of the long and shabby stretch of their human lives, even though they knew at the time it wouldn’t and couldn’t last, they had touched and become as God when they voluntarily and in advance forgave one a nother for all that each knew the other could never be. (104)

He had seen it before, as all children had—that moment when, enveloped and surrounded still by the warmth and confidence, he discovers that the reserve which he had thought to have passed merely retreated and set up a new barrier, still impregnable;—that instant when the child realizes with both grief and outrage that the that the parent antedates it, has experienced things, shames and triumphs both, in which it can have no part. (111)

But she was going. She was going fast now, he could actually feel between them the insuperable barrier of that very strength which could handle alone a log which would have taken any two other men to handle, of the blood and bones and flesh too strong, invincible for life, having learned at least once with his own eyes how tough, even in sudden and violent death, not a young man’s bones and flesh perhaps but the will of that bone and flesh to remain alive, actually was. (137)

Because there would be a next time, after and after. He was only ten. It seemed to him that he could see them, the two of them, shadowy in the limbo from which time emerged and became time: the old bear absolved of mortality and himself who shared a little of it. Because he recognized now what he had smelled in the huddled dogs and tasted in his own saliva, recognized fear as a boy, a youth, recognizes the existence of love and passion and experience which is his heritage but not yet his patrimony, from entering by chance the presence or perhaps even merely the bedroom of a woman who has loved and been loved by many men. So I will have to see him, he thought, without dread or even hope. I will have to look at him.. (196)

He stood beside the fence, motionless, the old man, son of a negro slave and a Chickasaw chief, in the battered and faded overalls and the frayed five-cent straw hat which had been the badge of the negro’s slavery and was now the regalia of his freedom. The camp—the clearing, the house, the barn and its tiny lot with which Major de Spain in his turn had scratched punily and evanescently at the wilderness—faded into the dusk, back into the immemorial darkness of the woods. (197)

He had left the gun; by his own will and relinquishment he had accepted not a gambit, not a choice, but a condition in which not only the bear’s heretofore inviolable anonymity but all the ancient rules and balances of hunter and hunted had been abrogated. He would not even be afraid, not even in the moment when the fear would take him completely: blood, skin, bowels, bones, memory from the long time before it even became his memory—all save that thin clear quenchless lucidity which alone differed him from this bear and from all the other bears and bucks he would follow during almost seventy years, to which Sam had said: “Be scared. You cant help that. But don’t be afraid.” (198)

The sun was well up now. It was a brilliant day, though Ash had said it would rain before night. Already it was warmer; they could run tomorrow. He felt the old lift of the heart, as pristine as ever, as on the first day; he would never lose it, no matter how old in hunting and pursuit: the best, the best of all breathing, the humility and the pride. (223)

I cant repudiate it. It was never mine to repudiate. It was never Father’s and Uncle Buddy’s to bequeath to me to repudiate because it was never Grandfather’s to bequeath them to bequeath me to repudiate because it was never old Ikkemotubbe’s to sell to Grandfather for bequeathment and repudiation. Because it was never Ikkemotubbe’s fathers’ fathers’ to bequeath Ikkemotubbe to sell to Grandfather or any man because on the instant when Ikkemotubbe discovered, realized, that he could sell it for money, on that instant it ceased ever to have been his forever, father to father to father, and the man who bought it bought nothing. (246)

He made the earth first and peopled it with dumb creatures, and then He created man to be His overseer on the earth and to hold suzerainty over the earth and the animals on it in His name, not to hold for himself and his descendants inviolable title forever, generation after generation, to the oblongs and squares of the earth, but to hold the earth mutual and intact in the communal anonymity of brotherhood, and all the fee He asked was pity and humility and sufferance and endurance and the sweat of his face for bread. (246)

And I know what you will say now: That if truth is one thing to me and another thing to you, how will we choose which is truth? You don’t need to choose. The heart already knows. He didn’t have His Book written to be read by what must elect and choose, but by the heart, not by the wise of the earth because maybe they don’t need it or maybe the wise no longer have any heart, but by the doomed and lowly of the earth who have nothing else to read with but the heart. Because the men who wrote his Book for Him were writing about truth and there is only one truth and it covers all things that touch the heart. (249)

…—Lucas, the boy of fourteen whose name would not even appear for six years yet among those rapid pages in the bindings new and dustless too since McCaslin lifted them down daily now to write into them the continuation of that record which two hundred years had not been enough to complete and another hundred would not be enough to discharge; that chronicle which was a whole land in miniature, which multiplied and compounded was the entire South, twenty-three years after surrender and twenty-four from emancipation—…

…And more: what they got not only not from white people but not even despite white people because they had it already from the old free fathers a longer time free than us because we have never been free—’ and it was in McCaslin’s eyes too, he had only to look at McCaslin’s eyes and it was there, that summer twilight seven years ago, almost a week after they had returned from the camp before he discovered that Sam Fathers had told McCaslin: an old bear, fierce and ruthless not just to stay alive but ruthless with the fierce pride of liberty and freedom, jealous and proud enough of liberty and freedom to see it threatened not with fear nor even alarm but almost with joy, seeming deliberately to put it into jeopardy in order to savor it and keep his strong bones and flesh supple and quick to defend and preserve it; an old man, son of a Negro slave and an Indian king, inheritor on the one hand of the long chronicle of a people who had learned humility through suffering and learned pride through the endurance which survived the suffering, and on the other side the chronicle of a people even longer in the land than the first, yet who now existed there only in the solitary brotherhood of an old and childless Negro’s alien blood and the wild and invincible spirit of an old bear; a boy who wished to learn humility and pride in order to become skillful and worthy in the woods but found himself becoming so skillful so fast that he feared he would never become worthy because he had not learned humility and pride through he had tried, until one day an old man who could not have defined either led him as though by the hand to where an old bear and a little mongrel dog showed him that, by possessing one thing other, he would possess them both; and a little dog, nameless and mongrel and many-fathered, grown yet weighing less than six pounds, who couldn’t be dangerous because there was nothing anywhere much smaller, not fierce because that would have been called just noise, not humble because it was already too near the ground to genuflect, and not proud because it would not have been close enough for anyone to discern what was casting that shadow and which didn’t even know it was not going to heaven since they had already decided it had no immortal soul, so that all it could be was brave even though they would probably call that too just noise. (282–283)

Courage and honor and pride, and pity and love of justice and of liberty. They all touch the heart, and what the heart holds to becomes truth, as far as we know truth. Do you see now? (284)

…and himself looking at her as peacefully as he had looked at McCaslin that first night in this same room, no kin to him at all yet more than kin as those who serve you even for pay are your kin and those who injure you are more than brother or wife (297)

… he had not stopped, he had only paused, quitting the knoll which was no abode of the dead because there was no death, not Lion and not Sam: not held fast in earth but free in earth and not in earth but of earth, myriad yet undiffused of every myriad part, leaf and twig and particle, air and sun and rain and dew and night, acorn oak and leaf and acorn again, dark and dawn and dark and dawn again in their immutable progression and, being myriad, one…(313, the bear)

That’s just the mind’s reason a man has to give himself because the heart dont always have time to bother with thinking up words that fit together. (331, delta autumn)

“He put them both here: man, and the game he would follow and kill, foreknowing it. I believe He said, ‘So be it.’ I reckon He even foreknew the end. But He said, ‘I will give him his chance. I will give him warning and foreknowledge too, along with the desire to follow and the power to slay. The woods and fields he ravages and the game he devastates will be the consequence and signature of his crime and guilt, and his punishment.’ (332, delta autumn)

I slew you; my bearing must not shame your quitting life. My conduct forever onward must become your death… (334, delta autumn)

But he spent the time within those walls waiting for November, because even this tent with its muddy floor and the bed which was not wide enough nor soft enough nor even warm enough, was his home and these men, some of whom he only saw during these two November weeks and not one of whom even bore any name he used to know—De Spain and Compson and Ewell and Hogganbeck—were more his kin than any. Because this was his land— (335, delta autumn)

Because it was his land, although he had never owned a foot of it. He had never wanted to, not even after he saw plain its ultimate doom, watching it retreat year by year before the onslaught of axe and saw and log-lines and then dynamite and tractor plows, because it belonged to no man. It belonged to all; they had only to use it well, humbly and with pride. Then suddenly he knew why he had never wanted to own any of it, arrest at least that much of what people called progress, measure his longevity at least against that much of its ultimate fate. It was because there was just exactly enough of it. He seemed to see the two of them—himself and the wilderness—as coevals, his own span as a hunter, a woodsman, not contemporary with his first breath but transmitted to him, assumed by him gladly, humbly, with joy and pride, from that old Major de Spain and that old Sam Fathers who had taught him how to hunt, the two spans running out together, not toward oblivion, nothingness, but into a dimension free of both time and space where once more the untried land warped and wrung to mathematical squares of rank cotton for the frantic old-world people to turn into shells to shoot at one another, would find ample room for both—the names, the faces of the old men he had known and loved and for a little while outlived, moving again among the shades of tall unaxed trees and sightless brakes where the wild strong immortal game ran forever before the tireless belling immortal hounds, falling and rising phoenix-like to the soundless guns. (337, delta autumn)

He was gone; again the flap fell behind him, wafting out of the tent again the faint light and the constant and grieving rain. (348, delta autumn)

Kim San

Song of Ariran: A Korean Communist in the Chinese Revolution

I have seen much of class hatred, of racial hatred, of personal hatred, of hatred between nations—so much that cruelty no longer has any meaning for me as a moral value. I am stirred by victories and roused by defeats, but the cruelty by means of which these are achieved I take for granted. I would be greatly stirred by some historic change without cruelty, but this would be like the realization of a beautiful dream. Long ago I lost all the utopian fancies of my youth. (98)

Terrorism has been an integral phase of the Korean struggle against the Japanese. Like anarchism, it develops in a society of isolated peasant units where mass action is difficult. It is a reaction against constant suppression and revulsion against a sense of frustration and futility. It expresses the yearning for freedom that only those who are slaves can really feel.

Koreans are a gentle folk, peaceful and quiet and religious. Out of the exasperation caused by this general passivity and toleration of unrelieved suffering, young people turned to direct action and seized the only weapons available to them for redress of suffering and injustice—the bomb, the gun, the knife. Out of its gentlest people, society often produces its most fiery individual heroes, seeking immolation in sacrifice. That is a dialectical process. Because of this spirit of daring and sacrifice, Koreans are renowned throughout the Fear East as its most redoubtable terrorists. Whenever the Chinese want an act of terrorism done against the Japanese, they usually turn to the Koreans for volunteers. (122–123)

Many Korean Tolstoyans became terrorists. This is because Tolstoy’s philosophy is full of contradictions which are never resolved, hence the necessity for direct action and struggle in a blind attempt at resolution. I loved Tolstoy all during my early youth but could find no method in his philosophy. (127)

The Antung company manager was an Irish terrorist whom we Koreans called “Sao.” He hated the Japanese almost as much as he hated the British, and supported the Korean independence movement enthusiastically at great risk to himself. (128)

All Koreans wanted only two things really, though they differed in how to achieve these: independence and democracy. Really they wanted only one thing: freedom—a golden word to those who know it not. Any kind of freedom looked divine to them. They wanted freedom from Japanese oppression, freedom in marriage and love, freedom to live a normal, happy life, freedom to rule their own lives. That is why anarchism had such appeal. The urge toward a broad democracy was really very strong in Korea. This is one reason we did not develop a strong, centralized system of political parties. Each group defended its right to exist and its right to free expression. And each individual fought to the end for his own freedom of belief. There was plenty of democracy among us—but very little discipline. (140)

“You four are so happy together,” I said one day to Pak Chin. “why is it you don’t want a peaceful life now after so much struggle?”

“While the Korean revolution is unfinished, peace is only pain to me,” he replied. “Struggle is life. Passivity is death. I like to fight.” (152)

During the Commune I learned the bitter lesson that the party must never be a brake on the mass movement. A mass uprising must succeed, no matter how many may be sacrificed on either side. If we do not destroy the enemy, the enemy will annihilate us. To fail is death for all who participate. (171)

“Love does not make a man or a woman a coward. It makes them braver and more determined. If it should make you less courageous, I would despise you for it, and the problem would be solved. Since my lover was killed, I have had no fear of death‐either for myself or another. Life has become less valuable, courage more. Now my duty to the revolution is greater‐I must carry on his work as well as my own. If you die too, believe me, you will not be lost to the revolution. I shall consider my future burden doubled, and I shall not fail. Revolution is not an abstraction. It is made up of living personalities. The personal element is very important. It gives the revolution organic solidarity—loyalty and greater responsibility among comrades. Together we are strong. Separately, you and I are only individuals, not a complete unit.” (226)

I thought of the beautiful clear rivers of Korea, where suicide was a pleasure… I who am about to die remember you, Korea, for your beautiful rivers and your lovely green mountains. Your sons are weak, but those mountains and rivers of ten thousand li are strong. They will live when we are all dead in foreign lands. I regret that I cannot bring back my blood to nourish the soil of my birth‐even my rotten, tubercular blood poisoned with despair. I have destroyed myself fighting for you and for the freedom of humanity. (270–271)

After all, freedom was long and prison short in the life of a revolutionary. You compressed many years into one during periods of action. That was what mattered, not the few years in a cell that one might have to spend now and then. And, if prison meant death, that was even shorter. (289)

I resolved never to resort to any questionable means to gain my ends, no matter how important the end might be. Never would I betray friend or personal enemy. I would kill my enemy with my hand, but I would never destroy him by betrayal to others. What moral right had we of the revolution to win if we had to do so by treachery? We must create individuals better and finer than the class enemy, and rottenness in leadership would destroy our end. It was better to die honestly, even though our tasks were unfulfilled, than to try to survive by treachery and intrigue. (293)

When a revolutionary submits to being deprived of his right to exercise freedom of opinion, he is failing in his duty. And no mind is free which oppresses others. (317)

It is not easy to be morally brave in a political party; it is easier to follow, and to shirk responsibility. To be alone on a mountaintop is pleasant; to be alone among comrades is to be lonely indeed. (317)

Where democratic expression exists, the problem of leadership is easy. Where it is suppressed, it is dangerous and difficult.

Tragedy is a part of human life. To rise above oppression is the glory of man; to submit is his shame. To me it is tragic to see millions of men blindly give up their lives in imperialist war. That is waste. It is tragic to see millions of men blindly give up their lives in imperialist wars. That is waste. It is tragic to see them utilized to oppress each other. That is stupidity. It is not tragic for men to die consciously fighting for liberty and for the things they believe in. That is glorious and splendid. Death is not good or bad. It is either futile or necessary.

Nearly all the friends and comrades of my youth are dead, hundreds of them: nationalist, Christian, anarchist, terrorist, communist. But they are alive to me. Where their graves should be, no one ever cared. On the battlefields and execution grounds, on the streets of city and village, their warm revolutionary blood flowed proudly into the soil of Korea, Manchuria, Siberia, Japan, China. They failed in the immediate thing, but history keeps a fine accounting. A man’s name and his brief dream may be buried with his bones, but nothing that he has ever done or failed to do is lost in the final balance of forces. That is his immortality, his glory or shame. Not even he himself can change this objective fact, for he is history. Nothing can rob a man of a place in the movement of history. Nothing can grant him escape. His only individual decision is whether to move forward or backward, whether to fight or submit, whether to create value or destroy it, whether to be strong or weak. (320)

I hated cruelty very much when I was young, and I have seen so much of it that I have learned the great historic value of humanitarianism. Now I no longer hate cruelty. I accept it as a phase of truth. It exists. To like it or not is no longer my personal problem. It is to kill or be killed. To hate the truth is only a diversion of emotional energy. My job is to create justice where cruelty has been. Tolstoy also gave up his hatred of cruelty and concentrated on exposing its existence. (323)

Sherman Alexie

Tribal Music.

Watching PBS, it occurs
To me that I want to be
Yo Yo Ma’s cello.

Hello! Does this mean
That I’m sexually attracted
To Yo Yo Ma? Nah,

He’s cute and thin
Looks great in a tux,
And makes the big bucks,

But I long to be simultaneously
As strong and fragile
As the cello. I want to be

The union of fingertip
And string. I want less
To be a timorous human

And desire more
To become a solid
Wooden thing, warm

To the touch but much
Colder when left
Alone in my case. I need

To flee the mystery
Of mortality and insanity
And become that space

Between the notes.
I no longer want to be the root
Cause of anybody’s pain,

Especially my own.
O, Yo Yo Ma, I hem
And haw, but let’s be clear:

I want to abandon
My sixteen-drum fear
And inhabit the pause

That happens between falling
In love and collapsing
Because of love. I want

To be sane. I want to be
Clean and visionary
Like a windowpane.

Piero Gleijeses

shattered hope

The Office of Intelligence Research (OIR) of the State Department had little criticism of the technical aspects of Decree 900. “If the Agrarian Law is fully implemented,” it noted, “the impact upon private landholders would be borne chiefly by a minority. … Of 341,191 private agricultural holdings only 1,710 would be affected. These 1,710 holdings, however, comprise more than half of the total private acreage.” The OIR went on to voice its deep concern: successful implementation of Decree 900 would strengthen the government’s influence in the countryside and would provide the communists with “an excellent opportunity to extend their influence over the rural population.” (152)

While the coverage of the Korean War generally avoided editorial comment on the nature of the conflict, there were significant exceptions, as if the editors had suddenly tired of restraint. When a January 2, 1953 editorial pointedly referred to “the unjustifiable origins” of the war, the meaning could have escaped only the most obtuse readers; nor could there have been much confusion when another editorial argued that the United Nations Charter had been “abused in the Korean case by an interested party.” Perhaps the editorial which greeted the armistice at Panmunjom best conveys the DCA‘s stance: “Mankind is tired of war. We have learned that for Big Business war is profit, but we have also learned that the World Peace Movement is not a futile and weak movement. It is strong and heroic. The Departamento Agrario Nacional, a government agency, felt less compelled to be diplomatic; it firmly praised “the iron will of the people [of North Korea] … who proved the greatness of their ideals in their struggle to create a truly democratic government” and lambasted “the cynicism of the arms merchants.” (180)

Repression in Arbenz’s Guatemala began only in late May 1954, in dramatic circumstances brought about by the United States. (216)

Somoza had arrived in the United States on April 28, 1952, on a private trip. His visit was marked by great cordiality on both sides. The Nicaraguan dictator was duly effusive in his praise of the United States as the champion of democracy—democracy that he had crushed at home. He was honored with New York City’s Medal of Honor and responded appropriately: the Nicaraguan people, he pledged, were and would always be the best friends of the United States in Latin America. (229)

Hope was edged with fear. The Latin Americans were convinced that Washington was preparing to violate the principle of nonintervention. To American journalists, these fears were patently anachronistic: couldn’t the Latins see that since FDR, the United States had forsworn interference in the affairs of its sisters? But the Latin Americans saw instead the rising fury of the a United States toward Guatemala and the documents released by Arbenz that pointed to a U.S. conspiracy. At Caracas, they expected Foster Dulles to try to loosen the legal knots that had been woven into the inter-American fabric in order to restrain the United States. To some Latin American governments, this would have been an acceptable price for Arbenz’s fall, but a majority sharply disagreed, more in dread of a dangerous precedent than in sympathy with the Guatemalans. (268)

The U.S. Congress, vociferous on behalf of Guatemalan democracy, was apparently unaware that Pérez Jiménez was a dictator. The State Department firmly supported meeting in the Venezuelan capital and denounced any contrary view as interference in the internal affairs of a sister republic. (270)

U.S. reports in the months preceding the invasion stressed that the Guatemalan officers were afraid of Arbenz. This was true. They feared dismissal; they feared disgrace. But there was more than fear. There was also, for many, a sense of nationalism and respect ofr Arbenz; several also felt gratitude for the personal favors they had received. This respect, this gratitude, this warmth, were still evident thirty years later as Colonel González Siguí spoke of Arbenz. Arbenz, he remembered, was a magnificent officer, a charismatic military leader, a man of deep intelligence, a fervent nationalist who dared stand up to the Yankees and the Peurifoy, “the arrogant and abusive ambassador.” The same respect for Arbenz was expressed by other officers who, like González Siguí, ultimately betrayed him. (306)

Many rushed to condemn the Arbenz administration to eternal opprobrium. If this required that history be rewritten, so be it. By claiming that the crimes perpetrated in the last weeks of the regime were unusually atrocious (“treatment I had never heard of before, nor imagined”), by claiming that these were “unLatin” acts, they sought to convey the unprecedented nature of the threat: “For a suitable analogy [to these crimes] one must look behind the Iron Curtain.” Like the weapons on the Alfhem, they were stamped with a hammer and sickle. (318)

Speaking “with a voice full of emotion,” President Arbenz bade farewell to the Guatemalan people: “I say goodbye to you, my friends, with bitterness and pain, but firm in my convictions.” He was resigning to eliminate “the pretext for the invasion of our country.” He had reached his decision with his “eyes on the welfare of the people” and eh would hand over power to his friend Carlos Enrique Dí with the hope of saving the democratic gains of the October Revolution. … A government that, although different from mine, is still inspired by our October revolution is preferable to twenty years of bloody tyranny under the men whom Castillo Armas has brought into the country.” (347)

But Arbenz’s decision must be seen in the light of the alternatives as they appears to him on that fateful twenty-seventh of June: he believed that his timely resignation would lead to the presidency of Carlos Enrique Díaz and thwart the triumph of Castillo Armas. His resignation was not an act of cowardice, but the desperate attempt to save what might still be saved. (350)

Ever since Jefferson cast his gaze toward Cuba, three forces have shaped U.S. policy toward the Caribbean: the search for economic gain, the search for security, and imperial hubris. These were the forces that shaped the American response to the Guatemalan revolution. (361)

Unlike Arévalo, Arbenz did not meddle in the internal affairs of other countries. But his agrarian reform as far more dangerous than Arévalo’s Caribbean Legion had ever been: “Guatemala has become an increasing threat to the stability of Honduras and El Salvador. Its agrarian reform is a powerful propaganda weapon; its broad social program of aiding the workers and peasants in a victorious struggle against the upper classes and large foreign enterprises has a strong appeal to the populations of Central American neighbors, where similar conditions prevail. (365)

Even without the hazy prospect of a communist takeover of Guatemala&dmash;and the more real threat to Guatemala’s neighbors—Arbenz posed an intolerable challenge. In the heart of the American sphere of influence, in an upstart banana republic, there stood—proud, defiant—a president whose procommunist sympathies were obvious, a president whose closest collaborators were communists. Worse, this president and his communist friends were successful. The agrarian reform was proceeding well, the PGT was gaining popular support, and basic freedoms were being upheld. It was an intolerable challenge to America’s sense of self-respect. Fortuny was right when he said, “They would have overthrown us even if we had grown no bananas.”

Eisenhower’s Guatemala policy was no aberration; it was derailed neither by UFCO nor by Peurifoy nor by Senator Joseph McCarthy. It fit within a deeply held tradition, shared by Democrats and Republicans alike and centered on the intransigent assertion of U.S. hegemony over Central America and the Caribbean. This intransigence, which climaxed in the series of military interventions linking the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, and Woodrow Wilson, seemed tempered in the 1930s by the Good Neighbor Policy of Franklin D. Roosevelt. But FDR’s neighborliness was tested only once, for the dictators who infested the area during his presidency never questioned Washington’s hegemony. The exception was Cuba, where in late 1933 the United States worked for the downfall of a young nationalist government, helping to usher in the long era of Batista’s tyranny.

What is certain is that Truman never considered amodus vivendi with Guatemala except on his own terms: an end to the “persecution” of American companies and a comprehensive purge of those whom Washington deemed communists. This is what he had demanded of Arévalo, and this is what he demanded of Arbenz. Truman and Eisenhower, Democrats and Republicans were unable to think of Guatemala in terms other than the relationship between metropole and banana republic. America’s imperial hubris was no aberration. It preceded Truman and continues well beyond Eisenhower.

As the Eisenhower administration’s broadsides against Guatemala reached their crescendo, Republicans and Democrats sang the appropriate chorus in impressive bipartisan harmony. (367)

If the Congress of the United States mistook the aggressor for the victim, so too did the American press. It had paid very little attention to the country in the Arévalo years. As a result, it had been easy prey for the helpful UFCO representatives. Then came Arbenz. As the “Red Jacobo” became notorious in the United States, journalists began to visit Guatemala more frequently. Many remained ignorant, ethnocentric, and shrouded in Cold War paranoia. Others relied less on obliging sources and gained a better understanding of the country. But even they remained convinced that, whatever the peccadillos of a receding past, U.S. respect for the principle of nonintervention had been exemplary since Franklin Delano Roosevelt,

This self-righteousness became all the more shrill as PBSUCCESS gathered momentum: brutal Guatemala was bullying the long-suffering United States. When, in January 1954, the Arbenz government provided proof that the United States was plotting against it, the American press leaped into collective self-delusion and ardently embraced the lies of the State Department. While the Latin Americans stood transfixed in the weeks that followed Caracas, American journalists scoffed at their fears. (368)

No doubt, geography and history made Guatemala’s plight more poignant in Havana than, say, in Buenos Aires. The Guatemalan drama contributed to the radicalization of Che Guevara—who was in Guatemala when Arbenz fell. And it embittered Cuban nationalists like Fidel Castro. The fall of Arbenz, we are told, taught the Cubans and Che Guevara a precious lesson: “We cannot guarantee the Revolution before cleansing the armed forces,” Che told Castro. (372)

In fact, Castillo Armas had won before he crossed the border. He had won because the Guatemalan army was convinced that his defeat would trigger a U.S. intervention. (375)

Jacobo Arbenz is not one of history’s giants. He made serious mistakes; he was naive. Irrespective of his political beliefs, he should have kept a tight rein on the administration media. The tone of DCA, other government publications, and the radio was needlessly provocative, as were actions such as the minute of silence for Stalin. He underestimated the threat from the United States until late 1953 when the documents provided by Delgado made it irrefutable that the United States was plotting against him.

Arbenz, who had renounced Arévalo’s activist foreign policy, failed to grasp how completely the Inter-American system was dominated by the United States, how completely Bolívar had been replaced by Monroe. He believed—tenaciously, naively—that other Latin American governments would stand up to Foster Dulles at Caracas. Later, he turned his hopes to the United Nations, blind to the fact that international law was as impotent to help him as it would be for the Hungarians in 1956, the Dominicans in 1965, or the Czechs in 1968. (379)

Jacobo Arbenz provided Guatemala with the best government it has ever had. He embarked on the first comprehensive development plan in the history of Guatemala whereas his predecessor had not even outlined such a plan, and he presided over the most successful agrarian reform in the history of Central America. Within eighteen months, “the agrarian reform had reached its halfway mark”: five hundred thousand peasants had received land without disrupting the country’s economy. Decree 900 brought more than land to the poor: it broadened political freedom in the countryside. Serfs were becoming citizens.

By the end of Arbenz’s term, hundreds of thousands of peasants would have been solidly established on land granted them by Decree 900. In a fundamental sense, Arbenz’s successor would have inherited a Guatemala far different from that Arévalo had bequeathed to him in 1951. But the Pax Americana prevailed. Nowhere in Central America or the Caribbean has U.S. intervention been so decisive and so baneful in shaping the future of a country.

By the time Castillo Armas died, in July 1957, he had accomplished, in the words of a close aide, a “herculean feat”: all but two hundred of the “squatters”—the beneficiaries of Decree 900—had been chased off the land they had received under Arbenz. (381)

There was no way, however, that the United States could have replaced Arbenz with a centrist, moderate government—even if it had truly wanted to—for the center and the moderates had supported Arbenz. The only Guatemalans who had been eager to overthrow him, and the only Guatemalans who were not tainted by collaboration with his regime, were those bitterly opposed to all social reform. To oust Arbenz was to return them to power. (381)

In October 1954, Castillo Armas had himself enthroned as president for a six-year term after a plebiscite in which he received 99.99 percent of the vote. He ruled with the support of the upper class, a purged army, and the Eisenhower administration until his death in a murder that has never been solved. By then, the peace and social harmony that Arbenz had disturbed had returned to Guatemala, and the country had long ceased to be news in the United States. It was again the joy of American tourists with its pro-American elite, its Mayan ruins and its smiling, humble Indians who lived their quaint traditional life.

This comforting image masks the reality of Guatemala since the “liberation.” Guatemala is a foreboding world of repression and violence; it holds the macabre record for human rights violations in Latin America.

Torture and death have been the final arbiters of Guatemalan society, the gods that determine behavior. Fear torments the oppressed and the oppressor. Fear gnaws even at the upper class: fear of the communists and fear of the Indians, fear of the military and fear of the future. Guatemala is ruled by the culture of fear.

It is the keynote that cuts through the cacophony of the many Guatemalan cultures—the Indian and the Ladino, the elite few and the miserable many, the town dweller and the peasant, the civilian and the military. It hails from the long night that began with the Spanish conquest, a conquest that is, for the Indians, a trauma from which they have not yet recovered.

The Guatemalan revolution—Arbenz, above all, with his communist friends—challenged the culture of fear. In eighteen months, five hundred thousand people were given land. The culture of fear was loosening its grip over the great masses of the Guatemalan people. In a not distant future, it might have faded away, a distant nightmare.

The Guatemalan upper class responded with cries of pain and anger and fear, and the United States intervened. Arbenz was overthrown, the communists were persecuted, the army was purged, the peasants were thrown off the land they had received. As the culture of fear descended again over the great many, the elite few strengthened their resolve. Never had they felt as threatened as they had under Arbenz; never before had they lost land to the Indians; never would it happen again. For them, the 1944–1954 interlude had confirmed that democracy was dangerous, that reformers were communists, that concession was surrender. To this believe they have held, with fierce resolve, to this day.

And so Guatemala has grown—like a deformed body, wracked with pain and fear—with a land tenure system that is the most skewed in Latin America, a fiscal system that is among the most regressive in the hemisphere, a labor force that suffers from illiteracy, malnutrition, and ill health. Meanwhile, barbarians press at the gates, threatening the enchanted world of the Guatemalan upper class: guerrillas, seeking to destroy the system; middle-class politicians, seeking to reform it; priests, who no longer seek charity from the rich, but justice for the poor.

Under such conditions, violence alone could maintain the status quo. Journalists, professors, priests, men and women of the political center lost their lives to feed the culture of fear. They died alongside members of rural cooperatives, grassroots organizers, labor leaders, left-wing students and armed guerrillas. “Tortures and murders are part of a deliberate and long-standing program of the Guatemalan Government,” Amnesty international stated in 1981. Periods of selective violence have alternated with waves of greater violence. The particular characteristics of the man who sat in the presidential palace have not been decisive. The intensity of the repression has depended on the intensity of the fear felt by the upper class and the military. (384)

Marshall Berman

all that is solid melts into air

Ten minutes on this road, an ordeal for anyone, is especially dreadful for people who remember the Bronx as it used to be: who remember these neighborhoods as they once lived and thrived, until this road itself cut through their heart and made the Bronx, above all, a place to get out of. For children of the Bronx like myself, this road bears a load of special irony: as we race through our childhood world, rushing to get out, relieved to see the end in sight, we are not merely spectators but active participants in the process of destruction that tears our hearts. We fight back the tears, and step on the gas. (291)

As I saw one of the loveliest of these buildings being wrecked for the road, I felt a grief that, I can see now, is endemic to modern life. So often the price of ongoing and expanding modernity is the destruction not merely of “traditional” and “pre-modern” institutions and environments but—and here is the real tragedy—of everything most vital and beautiful in the modern world itself. (295)

The motive forces in this reconstruction were the multibillion-dollar Federal Highway Program and the vast suburban housing initiatives of the Federal Housing Administration. This new order integrated the whole nation into a unified flow whose lifeblood was the automobile. It conceived of cities principally as obstructions to the flow of traffic, and as junkyards of substandard housing and decaying neighborhoods from which Americans should be given every chance to escape. Thousands of urban neighborhoods were obliterated by this new order; what happened to my Bronx was only the largest and most dramatic instance of something that was happening all over. (307)

Why did the futurologists’s laughter make me want to cry? He was laughing off what struck me as one of the starkest facts of modern life: that the split in the minds and the wound in the hearts of the men and women on the move—like him, like me—were just as real and just as deep as the drives and dreams that made us go. His laughter carried all the easy confidence of our official culture, the civic faith that America could overcome its inner contradictions simply by driving away from them.
As I thought this over, it made me see more clearly what my friends and I were up to when we blocked traffic throughout the decade. We were trying to open up our society’s inner wounds, to show that they were still there, sealed but never healed, that they were spreading and festering, that unless they were faced fast they would get worse. We knew that the glittering lives of the people in the fast lane were just as deeply maimed as the battered and buried lives of the people in the way. We knew, because we ourselves were just learning to live in that lane, and to love the pace. But this mean that our project was shot through with paradox from the start. We were working to help other people, and other peoples—blacks, Hispanics, poor whites, Vietnamese—to fight for their homes, even as we fled our own. We, who knew so well how it felt to pull up roots, were throwing ourselves against a state and a social system that seemed to be pulling up, or blowing up, the roots of the whole word. In blocking the way, we were blocking our own way. So long as we grasped our self-divisions, they infused the New Left with a deep sense of irony, a tragic irony that haunted all our spectacular productions of political comedy and melodrama and surreal farce. Our political theater aimed to force the audience to see that they, too, were participants in a developing American tragedy: all of us, all Americans, all moderns, were plunging forward on a thrilling but disastrous course. Individually and collectively, we needed to ask who we were and what we wanted to be, and where we were racing to, and at what human cost. But there was no way to think any of this through under pressure of the traffic that was driving us all on: hence the traffic had to be brought to a halt. (328)

Philosophy is really homesickness, an urge to be at home everywhere. Where, then, are we going? Always to our home. —Norvalis, Fragments (on p. 329 of Berman)

Many of us who demonstrated in those streets allowed ourselves to hope, even as the trucks and police bore down on us, that out of all these struggles a new synthesis might someday be born, a new mode of modernity through which we all could harmoniously move, in which we all could feel at home. That hope was one of the vital signs of the ’60s. It did not last long. Even before the decade ended, it was clear that no dialectical synthesis was in the works, and that we should have to put all such hopes on “hold,” a long hold, if we were going to get through the years ahead. (329-330)

Rumstick Road suggests that this is the kind of liberation and reconciliation that is possible for human beings in the world. For Gray, and for us insofar as we can identify ourselves with him, the liberation is never total; but it is real, and earned: he has not merely looked into the abyss but gone into it and brought its depths up into the light for us all. (336)

Many of these blocks are so comfortably ordinary that we can almost feel ourselves blending in, nearly lulled to sleep—till we turn a corner and the full nightmare of devastation—a block of black burnt-out hulks, a street of rubble and glass where no man goes—surges up in front of us and jars us awake. Then we may begin to understand what we saw on the street before. It has taken the most extraordinary labors to rescue these ordinary streets from death, to begin everyday life here again from the ground up. This collective work springs form a fusion of the government’s money with the people’s labor—”sweat equity,” it is called—and spirit. It is a risky and precarious enterprise—we can feel the risks when we see the horror just around the corner—and it takes a Faustian vision, energy and courage to carry through. These are the people of Faust’s new town, who know that they must win their life and freedom every day anew. (344)

To be modern, I said, is to experience personal and social life as a maelstrom, to find one’s world and oneself in perpetual disintegration and renewal, trouble and anguish, ambiguity and contradiction: to be part of a universe in which all that is solid melts into air. To be a modernist is to make oneself somehow at home in the maelstrom, to make its rhythms one’s own, to move within its currents in search of the forms of reality, of beauty, of freedom, of justice, that its fervid and perilous flow allows. (346)

Marshall Berman

all that is solid melts into air: the experience of modernity

Faust yearned to tap the sources of all creativity; now he finds himself face to face with the power of destruction instead. The paradoxes go even deeper: he won’t be able to create anything unless he’s prepared to let everything go, to accept the fact that all that has been created up to now—and, indeed, all that he may create in the future—must be destroyed to pave the way for more creation. This is the dialectic that modern men must embrace in order to move and life; and it is the dialectic that will soon envelop and move the modern economy, state and society as a whole. (48)

Faust’s voyeuristic idyll is almost unbearably uncomfortable for us because we know—in ways that at this point he cannot know—that his very homage to her room (read: her body, her life) is part of a design on it, the first step in a process that is bound to destroy it. And not out of any malice on his part: it is only by shattering her peaceable kingdom that he will be able to win her love or express his own. (53)

Faust has been pretending not only to others but to himself that he could create a new world with clean hands; he is still not ready to accept responsibility for the human suffering and death that clear the way. First he contracted out all the dirty work of development; now he washes his hands of the job, and disavows the jobber once the work is done. It appears that the very process of development, even as it transforms a wasteland into a thriving physical and social space, recreates the wasteland inside the developer himself. This is how the tragedy of development works. (68)

“All that is solid”—from the clothes on our backs to the looms and mills that weave them, to the men and women who work the machines, to the houses and neighborhoods the workers live in, to the firms and corporations that exploit the workers, to the towns and cities and whole regions and even nations that embrace them all—all these are made to be broken tomorrow, smashed or shredded or pulverized or dissolved, so they can be recycled or replaced next week, and the whole process can go on again and again, hopefully forever, in ever more profitable forms.
The pathos of all bourgeois monuments is that their material strength and solidity actually count for nothing and carry no weight at all, that they are blown away like frail reeds by the very forces of capitalist development that they celebrate. Even the most beautiful and impressive bourgeois buildings and public works are disposable, capitalized for fast depreciation and planned to be obsolete, closer in their social functions to tends and encampments than to “Egyptian pyramids, Roman aquaeducts, Gothic cathedrals.” (99)

If we look behind the sober scenes that the members of our bourgeoisie create, and see the way they really work and act, we see that these solid citizens would tear down the world if it paid. Even as they frighten everyone with fantasies of proletarian rapacity and revenge, they themselves, through their inexhaustible dealing and developing, hurtle masses of men, materials and money up and down the earth, and erode or explode the foundations of everyone’s lives as they go. Their secret—a secret they have managed to keep even from themselves—is that, behind their facades, they are the most violently destructive ruling class in history. All the anarchic, measureless, explosive drives that a later generation will baptize by the name of “nihilism”—drives that Nietzsche and his followers will ascribe to such cosmic traumas as the Death of God—are located by Marx in the seemingly banal every day working of the market economy. He unveils the modern bourgeois as consummate nihilists on a far vaster scale than modern intellectuals can conceive. But these bourgeois have alienated themselves from their own creativity because they cannot bear to look into the moral, social and psychic abyss that their creativity opens up. (100-101)

Marx’s imagery projects, here as ever, a sense of wonder over the modern world: its vital powers are dazzling, overwhelming, beyond anything the bourgeoisie could have imagined, let alone calculated or planned. But Marx’s images also express what must accompany any genuine sense of wonder: a sense of dread. For this miraculous and magical world is also demonic and terrifying, swinging wildly out of control, menacing and destroying blindly as it moves. The members of the bourgeoisie repress both wonder and dread at what they have made: these possessors don’t want to know how deeply they are possessed. They learn only at moments of personal and general ruin—only, that is, when it is too late. (101)

Marx’s bourgeoisie moves within this tragic orbit. He places its underworld in a worldly context and shows how, in a million factories and mills, banks and exchanges, dark powers work in broad daylight, social forces are driven in dreadful directions by relentless market imperatives that not even the most powerful bourgeois can control.  (102)

Goethe’s Faust gave us the archetype of a modern intellectual forced to “sell himself” in order to make a difference in the world. Faust also embodied a complex of needs endemic to intellectuals: they are driven not only by a need to live, which they share with all men, but by a desire to communicate, to engage in dialogue with their fellow men. But the cultural commodity market offers the only media in which dialogue on a public scale can take place: no idea can reach or change moderns unless it can be marketed and sold to them. Hence they turn out to be dependent on the market not for bread alone but for spiritual sustenance—a sustenance they know the market cannot be counted on to provide. (118)

Now, if Marx’s vision of bourgeois society is at all accurate, there is every reason to think it will generate a market for radical ideas. This system requires constant revolutionizing, disturbance, agitation; it needs to be perpetually pushed and pressed in order to maintain its elasticity and resilience, to appropriate and assimilate new energies, to drive itself to new heights of activity and growth. This means, however, that men and movements that proclaim their enmity to capitalism may be just the sort of stimulants capitalism needs. Bourgeois society, through its insatiable drive for destruction and development, and its need to satisfy the insatiable needs it creates, inevitably produces radical ideas and movements that aim to destroy it. But its very capacity for development enables it to negate its own inner negations: to nourish itself and thrive on opposition, to become stronger amid pressure and crisis than it could ever be in peace, to transform enmity into intimacy and attackers into inadvertent allies. (118-119)

Marx’s point in tearing the haloes from their heads is that nobody in bourgeois society can be so pure or safe or free. The networks and ambiguities of the market are such that everybody is caught up and entangled in them. Intellectuals must recognize the depths of their own dependence—spiritual as well as economic dependence—on the bourgeois world they despise. It will never be possible to overcome these contradictions unless we confront them directly and openly. This is what stripping away the haloes means. (119)

The lesson for Baudelaire, which we will unfold in the following sections of this essay, is that modern life has a distinctive and authentic beauty, which, however, is inseparable from its innate misery and anxiety, from the bills that modern man has to pay. (141)

The distinctive sign of the nineteenth-century urbanism was the boulevard, am medium for bringing explosive material and human forces together; the hallmark of twentieth-century urbanism has been the highway, a means for putting them asunder. We see a strange dialectic here, in which one mode of modernism both energizes and exhausts itself trying to annihilate another, all in modernism’s name. (165)


Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. […] We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself. (Joan Didion)

Most of us know, of course, that people feel sad when they grieve. But we know this as an abstract fact, a it of information. It is not until we actually experience a profound loss that we really know how intensely sadness can penetrate our being, how all- encompassing and bottomless it can seem. 26 (George Bonnano)

…he doesn’t know how huge and never-ending it is, the death of a parent. (161) (Russell T Davies)

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling in the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good. (WH Auden)

A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty. But one no longer has the right to say so aloud. — Philippe Aires

This sign of the lengthening days, the promise of the change of season, had an effect on her that was unexpected and crushing.

She realized that Eric was dead.

As if all this time, while she was in Vancouver, he had been waiting somewhere, waiting to see if she would resume her life with him. As if being with him was an option that had stayed open. Her life since she came here had still been lived against a backdrop of Eric, without her ever quite understanding that Eric did not exist. Nothing of him existed. The memory of him in the daily and ordinary world was in retreat.

So this is grief. (munro)

Joy and despair

Vincent walks home, meditating as he goes; he realizes that from the satisfaction of desire there may arise, accompanying joy and as it were sheltering behind it, something not unlike despair. (Gide)

She can tell by his voice that he is claiming her. She stands up, quite numb, and sees that he is older, heavier more impetuous than she has remembered. He advances on her and she feels herself ransacked from top to bottom, flooded with relief, assaulted by happiness. How astonishing this is. How close to dismay.  (Munro)