It’s February 11th, 1961

ImageIt’s February 11th, 1961.  Maclean’s publishes a photo of an Alex Colville painting as its cover.  It’s called Dog, Boy and School Bus.  “Colville’s paintings…bring in as much as $2,000 each; he is almost certainly the most successful of the Canadian painters who draw what other people see.”[1] He is 40 years old. He dies on July 16th, 2013 a rich and famous old man of 92.  Peter C. Newman is the Ottawa editor of Maclean’s.  Peter Gzowski and David Lewis are Preview editors.  I’m fourteen years old and attending College St-Jean in Edmonton.  I’m in grade 9.  I’ve never heard of Alex Colville, Peter Gzowski, David Lewis or Peter C. Newman.  Knowing of them would come later when they would all go on to greater things and I would go to university.

On November 22nd, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, President of the United States, John F. Kennedy is assassinated, but in the winter of 1961 that is not an event anyone would have anticipated except the planners of that event.  He had been elected in 1961 and sworn in as President on January 20th, 1961.  Kennedy was not in office a month when Maclean’s wrote: “Watch for John and Jackie Kennedy – in store windows.  A U.S. mannequin manufacturer has started a line of store dummies modeled on the new president and his wife – and their famous hairdos.”[2]  It’s the only mention of the Kennedys in the February 1961 edition of the magazine.

The headlines (on the cover) for the February 1961 edition of Maclean’s are: From Latin America: The Revolution begins; An ex-convict tells of the fear of freedom; and The crime of keeping worn-out bodies alive.  Cuba, led by Fidel Castro, had successfully fought against Fulgencio Batista, the then president of Cuba and a great friend of the American corporations who were finding Cuba a great place to do business.  The nasty revolution thing was about to spread all over South and Central America, Africa, the Middle East and other countries here and there.  Viet Nam was about to explode.  The French colonialists had been kicked out in 1954 but there still raw materials to be had there and the Americans were interested.  So were the Chinese.  The Maoists were firmly in power in China.  Capitalism eventually won in China mostly by attrition and bribes but that would take the death of Mao and great changes in the Chinese leadership.   Maclean’s is greatly worried about South America and the nasty Venezuelan students bent on overthrowing president Betancourt.  The tanks are on the streets of Caracas and surrounding the university where the ‘hothead’ students don’t really understand what’s going on and are challenging the authorities.  They get clobbered but things eventually change as they must and old dictatorships fall grudgingly, slowly, but paving the way to the future with corpses of the poor piled deep.  Maclean’s is nonetheless worried.

It’s also worried about Belgium where there are riots in the streets.  The Flemish north is dominant but the French-speaking Walloon southern part of the country is angry and seething.  The headline reads: BELGIUM: the violence is racial and religious.  Canada be warned.  Belgium is not unlike Canada and there could be trouble with those French speakers here too.  Well, yes, but Trudeau took care of that when he replaced the mild mannered Lester B. Pearson as the 15th Canadian prime minister.  The Front de la liberation du Québec (FLQ) put up a bit of a fight in the early 1970s, but nothing much came of it.  Nothing much came of the ‘manifestations’ in Belgium either.  It’s a nice little European country today without any colonies, but you win some you lose some.  The beer is still good and the cafés full.  What more could an American tourist ask for?

There are more stories in the February 1961 edition of Maclean’s.  The one about the fear of freedom is a bit self-serving and strange as is the one about euthanasia.  They shoot horses don’t they?  Aside from the fact that there are cigarette ads in the 1961 copy and none in my 2013 copy as well as no ads for smart phones in 1961, the issues are still somewhat the same, just framed differently.

I love looking through old copies of popular magazines.  They remind me of how strident we got about issues 40 or 50 years ago, how morally outraged we got and how little things have changed to make us calmer and more accepting.  Well, capital accumulation proceeds apace and the problems of the 50s and 60s, although nasty in their own way are just a part of a process that is leading to some much nastier times before things get better and they will.  I promise you that.

[1] No author mentioned, Maclean’s, February 11, 1961, page 33.

[2] No author mentioned, Maclean’s, February 11, 1961, page 1.

And Capitalism Begat Communism

In my last post I may have given the impression that the capitalist mode of production will implode in a cataclysm or apocalypse.  An Armageddon, if not a Christian type of end story, still an end story.  Well, maybe I was feeling a little conspiratorial in my last blog.  Marx was right, of course, in his prediction of the end of the capitalist mode of production, but a child could have done the same.  It’s obvious that all things come into ‘existence’ at some point and then leave at another point, although ‘come into existence’ is misleading.  None of us is made of ‘new’ material.  We are made of recycled material.  I can’t remember who said it but it seems to be true ( that every  breath you take, you take in some molecules from Julius Caesar’s last breath.  That notion was brought home to me today as I walked through Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver and saw the smokestack spewing smoke out of the crematorium.  Yes, breathing the ‘air’ means breathing all kinds of molecules, many of which previously inhabited people, some just now literally going up in smoke not 30 metres from me.  Doesn’t sound particularly appealing, but it’s true. No, all things come and go, but not completely or finally.  We just get recycled.  I tell me students every year that they are probably eating bits of their ancestor’s molecules when they eat their McDonald’s burgers.  Grosses them out.  The capitalist mode of production is no exception to this rule.

The capitalist mode of production was born in the contradictions between the ruling feudal aristocracy and the peasant classes.  The feudal system of governance was born in the dissolution by internal contradiction  of the Roman empire.  Revolution is a process, not an event. As you can see from the graphic I attach here, European history is based on a series of transformations that take decades if not centuries to complete if they ever really ‘complete.’  Feudalism is long dead, but some of the old monarchies still persist if only symbolically and for hegemonic reasons.  The concentration of capital in commodities rather than in land as had been the case if feudal times, began during the flowering of Medieval society but it didn’t become the predominant mode of production until political and economic forces combined to unleash fettered commodity production and exchange in the law courts, parliaments and government bureaucracies all over Europe.  The move of capitalist exploitation into North America and elsewhere through colonialism accelerated the process.  My point here is that ‘revolutions’ take time.  They are not events, although they often engender massive violent events and social upheavals much as volcanoes do.  The ‘French Revolution’ was less a revolution than an episode in a process of the creation of the French ‘nation’ as a vehicle for capitalist expansion into manufacturing and finance.  We all are born, grow into adulthood, decay and die.  This isn’t rocket science, but we live as though it weren’t true and much of what we call science in the social sciences is based on the denial of this fact.  The capitalist class at the moment can be smug in its virtual total control of all national governments, even that of China.  But it’s time will come.  When it puts us all out of work, it will have no way of creating surplus value and profit.  It will be unable to sustain itself and grow.  However, the legacy of technique and technology, that ‘labour-saving technology’ we were all ga-ga over a few years ago is what will provide the basis for a future communistic mode of production, one that will not lead to the concentration of capital in individual hands, but, instead will remain in the public trust.  We will be truly ‘public’ then, but don’t hold your breath, we have some time to go before the end of capitalist concentration of wealth.  A ‘communistic’ mode of production cannot dominate the world’s productive forces until all the forces of capitalist production are exhausted.  And exhausted they will become.  Again, more on that later although I can say that my next post will be about communism and lies, lies on every which side.   Communism has never existed on this planet except as an ideological rallying point.  Never as a real productive, predominant force.

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