Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Taking apart the Wall Street web to create a beautiful tapestry

I kind of like the comparison of the tapestry and the threads to our society that I read in a posting here on FaceBook but there is a lot left out.

It isn't so much that "we didn't see how the threads are connected;" most of the problem is that we didn't see that the threads now are put together to create a web rather than a tapestry.

There has been so much governmental repression against a way needed to examine what was, and is, going on in this country and around the world that people have feared articulating the problem/s. 

Marxism has been the best and most effective critic of capitalism. This is the only country in the world where socialism has been successfully "purged" from the body politic, and as a consequence there is no socialist alternative political party critiquing the consequences of first capitalism, and then state monopoly capitalism in its imperialist stage.

Following on this government repression as mass opposition is arising to Obama's Wall Street policies and agenda resulting in the emergence of a left that has being resuscitated because of the vicious attack on the standard of living of the working class required to pay for imperialist wars; now, again, the FBI, the New York Times, the New Republic along with all the MainStreamMedia and Public Radio and Television is once again on the attack against "the left."

The attack on the left was first initiated by Obama, his campaign staff and his Administration, then picked up by the Tea Baggers and now we get this massive effort under the guise of "what the left doesn't understand about Obama." Like in the late 1930's, into the 1940's and then throughout the 1950's, this attack is broad and sweeping in scope branding everyone including liberals and progressives together with the Marxists as "leftists."

It was interesting to see how Naomi Klein's "soft" socialist analysis was welcomed enthusiastically in Canada and all over the world but here in the United States her "soft" socialist critique of capitalism was downplayed with most liberals, progressives and the left refusing to use the opening she created to open up a full-scale attack on capitalism.

We saw how the phony liberals, progressives and the left who used their "credibility" to create and provide Obama a false image of being something he was not--- liberal, progressive and left--- latched on to Naomi Klein in order to marginalize her in this country within a small circle rather than use her popularity to bring socialist ideas out into the public square.

Marxism not only provides the "magnifying glass" to closely examine the tiny threads of the tapestry or what holds the system together and how it works; but it enables people to articulate alternatives to the reactionary Wall Street agenda--- which has created not so much a beautiful rug, but a strong web trapping us all--- to free ourselves from this trap.

The "new" attack on "the left" (liberals, progressives and the left) is taking on the creation of this straw-man of what the left is and what the left believes in order to knock down this straw-man without having to debate--- or acknowledge--- the real left.

It goes like this: The left doesn't understand Obama. The left says Obama should have focused on the economy and instead he focused on solving the health care problems and then the left tries to toss these wars into the mix even though the wars have nothing to do with health care or the economy--- this left just has a moral objection to wars and tries to work the wars into everything else. This attack then goes on to say, "Yes, alright; the left has a point that Obama should have been more vigorous in pushing more taxes on the wealthy but the left doesn't understand that the presidency is just one branch of government and Obama has all these Republicans he has to work with because, after all, the Republicans represent an important segment of society, too."

What is ignored in this straw-man argument now making its rounds through the MainStreamMedia is that the real left said what we needed to do is create a National Public Health Care Program which would have create over ten-million new jobs providing the American people with free primary health care through a vast network of over 30,000 neighborhood health care centers--- in other words, health care would be publicly funded, publicly administered and publicly delivered just like public education or the United States Postal Service--- which, perhaps not coincidentally, has over 30,000 local post offices across the country now under attack by the very forces that refused to use the creation of a public health care system to create jobs and solve the problems of unemployment all at the same time; all financed by ending these dirty imperialist wars and taxing the rich... the only thing we need is our own socialist working class people's party made up of those of us under attack--- liberals, progressives and the left--- to explain all of this to the American people and advocate such a progressive alternative agenda to Obama's reactionary Wall Street's agenda of wars paid through austerity measures intended to decimate the standard of living of the U.S. working class.

In the past liberals, progressives and the left retreated when under attack--- this time we need to mount an attack of our own.

Together, we can take the fine threads that have been spun to create this "web" that now serves as a trap for the parasitical Wall Street coupon clippers to suck the life-blood from the working class, and turn these fine threads into a beautiful tapestry.

Some people object to my using Marxist terms like "imperialism" to describe these dirty wars. But, Mark Twain who was well on his way to developing a Marxist analysis declared--- "Before the Spanish American War I was not an anti-imperialist but after seeing what we have done to the Philippines and Puerto Rico after the war I am now an anti-imperialist." (the quote is not exact but it conveys accurately what Mark Twain thought and said)

Well, before the Spanish American War the United States was not a full-fledged imperialist Nation even though the campaign of genocide in the way the land and wealth of this country was stolen from Native Americans and how slavery was imposed reflected the embryonic stage of imperialism--- the highest and most barbaric and cannibalistic stage of capitalism.

Today Mark Twain is on a new "Forever Stamp;" the government would like Twain to be remembered as a teller of tales not a person of great political and economic understanding and vision.

Just like these same people would like us to remember Albert Einstein for his work with the atom and not his involvement in the struggles against racism and war and his socialist politics and vision.

Just like the people in power would like us to remember Abe Lincoln as the president who saved the union and not as the liberal who was strongly influenced by Marxist thought when it comes to the struggle between labor and capital.

It sounds to me like there are a lot of people who are really fed up; this might be a good time for people to read a little essay by Albert Einstein, "Why Socialism?," in which Einstein explained why he was a socialist: 

Another good read is a new book by socialist Howard Pawley who had been the Premier of Manitoba, Canada--- elected on the socialist New Democratic Party ticket. His book is, "Keep True, A Life In Politics."

Here is an interesting recent interview of Pawley:

Pawley and his NDP government started to tear apart the "web" using the threads to begin weaving together a beautiful tapestry for the people of Manitoba.

Of course, the history books have totally eliminated any mention of the socialist governments here in Minnesota led by Floyd Olson--- if you want to learn about Floyd Olson and the socialist Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party you have to go dig through the archives of the Minnesota Historical Society:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A most interesting perspective

Dear Colleagues,  
I would like to share an interesting project with you.  I had gotten a letter from the China Daily, which ran the story on me back in January, to comment on a few questions they plan to deal with as a result of the S&P decision to demote the credit line of Washington.  In answering the questions, some of which they may use, it occurred to me to share the ideas with you.  Attached is a copy of their note to me and my response.  As usual, your comments are always welcome.  I have been working on a thesis generally titled “The 21st Century As An Epochal World Change In Economic Structure”.  
Sidney Gluck  

-----Original Message-----
From: Kelly Chung Dawson
To: Sidney J. Gluck
Sent: Tue, Aug 9, 2011 7:50 am
Subject: China Daily request for comment on how stock market crisis might affect China

Mr. Gluck

China Daily is preparing a story on how the current stock market crisis might affect the Chinese economy, and I was hoping you might be willing to comment. If you are, below are some questions (feel free to answer as many/few as you have the time for). 



1. Is the slump of the world's stock markets following the S&P's downgrade a true reflection of where the world's economy is going?

2. How will the US debt crisis affect the Chinese economy? Will China's exports slow down due to weaker global demand? If the world's economy turns worse, will China's imports from the rest of the world be affected?

3. What should China do if the world's economy goes to another recession? Another stimulus package?

4. Do you have any predictions for what will happen with the RMB? Will it appreciate faster to help tame China's inflation or slower to help the ailing exports sector in case of a world recession?


Kelly Chung Dawson
China Daily USA

-----Original Message-----
From: Sidney J. Gluck
To: Kelly Dawson at China Daily
Sent: Wed, Aug 10, 2011 1:37 pm
Subject: Re: China Daily request for comment on how stock market crisis might affect China

Dear Ms. Dawson,

I appreciate your request for comments.  Here goes from the top of my head and my heart.

As an overall introduction, I believe the 21st century is an epoch of world change that is in some ways similar to the change from feudalism to capitalism. Capitalism has done a great job in building industry based upon wage labor and the free movement of former landlocked peasants.  China is going through some of that process now with the development of an industrialized society and will no doubt be the first nation to develop a high tech industrialized society with the use of both private capital and government social capital while also developing socio-economic supports for its population which in some ways resemble the welfare state that sustained capitalism but is basically a part of a socialist program which seeks to develop harmony among the collective economic levels. 

My answers to your questions follow:

Question 1:

Standard & Poor must be commended for being the first important institution in the capitalist system to take an objective view of the conditions among the varied countries.  For truth, the dominance of US finance capital is a bulwark to the system on a worldwide scale.  We have witnessed a shift in the past twenty years that had begun with the Reagan administration to the investment pattern, especially in the USA, from building new industry and high tech, which would continue job creation or pick up shifts in particular industries that would utilize the existing labor force.  Fact is that the industrial structure of the USA in particular has decreased with the export of capital to cheap labor countries where US companies invested in China are now looking to move to countries like India and other former colonial countries for cheap labor. 

As a result, when our country was driven into an economic crisis in 2008 China bearing the shock brought its country to a relative equilibrium but then has been affected by inflation generated by higher costs of imports.  Wall Street recovered from the economic crisis but left behind what is now 14 million unemployed and no prospects of industrial growth to re-absorb them in productive and life supporting activities.  Beyond that, inflation has been magnified, affecting China’s imports and creating serious price increases which it is now dealing with by increasing minimum wage laws, increasing the amount of workers non-taxable base in their income and hence their tax to the government and consideration is now being given to increasing one of the relatively low levels of taxation among the wealthy group growing in China whether personal or corporate and insisting upon corporate negotiation with a growing labor movement.

S&P’s alarm was inevitable because the distorted personal accumulation in all western countries and the USA has generated government debts for lack of taxation of high incomes and failure of governments to become involved in industrial development with one exception, Germany does not find itself in the same straits.  Having first created a welfare state in the 19th century, they are maintaining it because of the multiplicity of political parties representing various economic sectors and the decision to trade and exchange with China that is a bridge supporting its own continuation. 

We hear now suggestions of solutions that German banks pull Western European countries out of their financial tangles and failure of growth.  Germany’s welfare state will not include these countries and will continue on its own independent economic direction.  I do believe also that they will learn much from China because the two economic poles of the 21st century are a reality, especially with the development of BRICS, which is now planning a 2012 massive conference of developing countries and industrial development, job creation, and the end of colonial exploitation.  So thanks to Standard & Poor’s for opening the eyes of the world a signal that change is necessary.

Question 2:

The world economy is changing.  This century is making new history by creating economic relations around the world that aid in the industrialization of countries that have been exploited for hundreds of years by foreign powers.  This is the major change that is taking place with China as an example of the possibilities. Once the privatization impulse in the growing economies among former colonial countries will be diminished in combinations of private and social support of economic development.  This will be the new epochal impetus. 

There will be an effect on China with exports to countries whose economic growth has been stalled.  However, on the contrary, there will be an increase in exports to developing countries that are, in the last analysis, the world’s majority.  Furthermore, the planned economy in China has the capability of capital formations both for industrial development and growing social necessities.  There may be some problem with foreign investment; but then again, I suspect that finance capital from the West will invest in the development of China because they need it for their own survival. 

The great danger is not economic failure because countries will be developing along with China, which now has a substantial base. The great danger is the possibility of war generated by the Pentagon.  What is not fully known by the public is that President Obama’s position on dealing with international relations with China is based upon dealing with objective differences by using diplomacy rather than the military. (Note to the Editor: I say this because I had some hand in shaping his ideas.  A copy of a letter received from the President in June of this year attests to his diplomatic approach in relations with China and enunciates his position, which differs from the Pentagon, State Department, and the military budget.  This is for your information and may be used in a helpful manner. You will note from the copy of the attached letter received from the President only last June.  You may use any of this any way you like, but you should know it.) 

In sum, the world’s economy that had been dominated by private capital will probably turn worse; but the world as a whole will be on the upturn/ and create the possibility for economic stability as changes take place in the flow of private capital.  China’s position as the second highest producer in the world, though it must produce three times as much to reach their per capita production which it will accomplish with its own as well as foreign capital and stimulate intensive growth as the effect of colonialism ends.

Question 3:

The question must be answered from two distinct competing conditions.  The dominant one, at this time, is the failure of private capital investments and industrial growth.  On the other hand, industrialization, on a wider scale than ever, is now emerging.  BRICS is in the process of developing economic relationships among nations devoid of military structuring and expense.  This newly developing organization represents the growing majority of the world’s peoples and countries even encompassing a controlled participation by foreign capital within its confines.  But then again, in a changing world, that too can be augmented, nation by nation, adding overall national planning to their development as a change from planning by individual corporations based purely on their profitability rather than national growth. 

Ultimately, we may be witnessing the worst and the last as planned economies are adopted by the developing former colonial countries, some of which are already on that track.  Another stimulus package that might evolve will be strictly within the existing Western countries that will have to find ways in taxing private accumulations and inducing private and government investment to re-establish industrial development and job creation for their people.  It might even be some form of redistribution of wealth in the form of legitimate and affordable taxes or eliminating concessions on tax rates that have been a gift to the wealthy and which, in many ways, has led to their present crisis.

Question 4:

As for your last question, the effect on the RMB is sadly a tough one.  No doubt the action of S&P might affect the value of the RMB but not necessarily. Nonetheless, the truth it revealed on the direction of not only the US economy but that of the European capitalist nations could affect the RMB.  However, the developing part of the world will accelerate despite the crises in capitalist countries, and private capital will still be investing in the growth economies, as we know from the experience with China.  Furthermore, I do anticipate that accumulated private capital will still invest in China and in other large developing countries and some among the smaller countries.  China’s holdings of US bonds may suffer in the process, but the RMB is not immediately affected by the movement of foreign capital and depends a good deal upon the planned banking system in China.  While it is true that the currencies of many countries will be affected, I do not consider the RMB to be in the same category as the dollar, the pound, the franc, etc. in the West. 

Why?  The RMB’s control is in the hands of the government in China.  This is not true of the Western countries.  What China must carefully consider is the indebtedness of internal regional government and economic enterprises and its relation to the central planning functions and decisions.  In other words, there are more possibilities for the RMB to protect itself than we are witnessing in other parts of the world.  The specifics in many ways will depend on the rapidity with which industrialization grows in the developing part of the world and the role that China will no doubt be able to play in stimulating positive economic and social growth and avoiding negative expenditures for the military. 

As for the export sector, it might be the necessity to reduce the profitability and accumulation by the government and private capital, domestic and foreign.

The one strength that China has, nonexistent in the West, is its national economic planning as well as the reduction private capital influence though it must be sensitive to maintaining conditions that attract investments needed for further growth.  However, economic growth in China is a central part of the national plan and the federalization of the political scene together with development of democratic forms are inevitable and will also be helpful.  With such experiences and possibilities, the RMB is not in danger as major Western currencies. 

After all, China has inherited more contradictions of its own than the rest of the world living through eco-social relations of feudalism and wage labor and the combination of private and social capital in a high tech wage labor system. It is the most complex society and economy that has ever existed.  But its economic and social structure embodies a philosophical approach based upon creating the well-being of a productive population which will become the first nation to succeed in building a high tech industrialized society despite the multiple contradictions and improve the conditions of all of its people.  That is the new society that will show its strength in the 21stcentury.

I have answered all the questions from my distinctive point of view which is based on belief that China, with all its problems, is developing a Harmonious Society and ultimately will flower into socialism when the human nature of all its people on all economic levels achieve collectivity in their desire to have China succeed and create conditions for an ultimate growth into communism where the level of production and consumption are enough to take care of all of their people and fulfill Marx’s prediction “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”; an ultimate return to the human relations in the beginning of tribal communal society before the development of classes.

Sidney Gluck

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Winnipeg’s North End


Winnipeg’s North End

Yesterday and Today
Winnipeg’s Historic North End. Photo Courtesy of The Winnipeg Tribune / University of Manitoba Archives.
Images: 123
Winnipeg’s historic North End was a contradictory place. Poverty was widespread and deep; out of its midst grew a rich and vibrant culture. Today’s North End is similar in many respects — deep poverty and racism, and an emergent culture of resistance, for example — yet different in important ways.

Poverty in Winnipeg’s Historic North End

After 1896 Eastern European immigrants arrived in large numbers in Winnipeg, settling in the North End to work in the vast rail yards and associated industries. Housing was inadequate and terribly overcrowded. The 1908/09 Annual Report of All-Peoples’ Mission, then headed by J. S. Woodsworth, said of a part of its North End neighbourhood: “in 41 houses there were 120 ‘families,’ consisting of 837 people living in 286 rooms,” more than 20 people per house. Overcrowding, plus half the North End houses not being connected to the water supply, produced disease: in 1904 and 1905 Winnipeg had more deaths from typhoid than any North American city. A 1913 study by Woodsworth found that a “normal standard of living” required wages of $1,200 per year; many in the North End were earning less than half that.

Most people were working; they just didn’t get paid enough. Others worked seasonal jobs on farms or railway construction and endured cold, hungry winters in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg was deeply segregated, a city divided, the North End cut off from the rest of the city by the vast CPR yards and distinguished by its “foreign” character. A 1912 publication described the North End as “practically a district apart from the city,” adding that “those who located north of the tracks were not of a desirable character.” The largely Eastern European working class residents of the North End were called “dumb hunkies,” “bohunks,” Polacks; anti-semitism was rampant.

In Under the Ribs of Death, John Marlyn’s novel set in early twentieth Winnipeg, Sandor Hunyadi, a young Hungarian immigrant, lives in the North End, described as “a mean and dirty clutter … a howling chaos … a heap seething with unwashed children, sick men in grey underwear, vast sweating women in vaster petticoats.” When the young Sandor visits Crescentwood, the south end home of those of Anglo-Saxon descent who controlled the political and economic resources of the city, he was shocked to see that “the boulevards ran wide and spacious to the very doors of the houses. And these houses were like palaces, great and stately, surrounded by their own private parks and gardens. On every side there was something to wonder at.”

Much was extremely positive about the North End. Selkirk Ave was a thriving commercial street with a dazzling variety of shops and stores whose owners typically spoke several Eastern European languages. A rich and varied cultural life characterized the North End: newspapers published in many European languages; literary associations, drama societies, and sports clubs; a wide range of alternative schools; and according to one author, “a music teacher in every block in the North End to give the Jewish, Ukrainian, and Polish kids massive degrees of musical instruction weekly.” There was a thriving co-op sector, mutual aid societies, a labour temple, and radical politics of a bewildering variety of kinds.

Most of this was invisible to those outside the North End, but as Roz Usiskin has put it, from this vibrant culture North End residents “derived a dignity denied them by the dominant society.”

Post-War Change in the North End

In the post-Second World Large numbers of North End residents who could afford to do so moved to the larger, newer houses and greener spaces of the suburbs. Businesses andcultural organizations followed; economic and cultural life in the North End atrophied. Housing prices dropped; many became rental properties, some owned by slum landlords.

By the late 1960s-1970s manufacturing began to leave, and the character of the labour market shifted, with full-time unionized industrial jobs gradually being replaced by part-time, non-union, low-wage service sector jobs.

Just as these broad social forces — suburbanizationand de-industrialization — were unfolding, Aboriginal people began migrating to western Canadian cities, and especially Winnipeg, starting in the 1960s and growing by the decade. In 1951 there were 210 Aboriginal people resident in Winnipeg; in 1961 there were 1,082. By 2006 there were 68,380, the largest urban Aboriginal population in Canada. Many Aboriginal people located in the North End, attracted by cheap rental housing. When they arrived they were, generally speaking, ill-prepared for modern urban life, the result of a century of marginalization, colonization, and the damage inflicted by the residential schools. They arrived just as the good jobs were leaving, to the suburbs or out of Winnipeg entirely. And upon their arrival they faced a wall of racism.

Aboriginal people have replaced Eastern European immigrants as the poor and frequently reviled residents of the North End. They face the same racism and exclusion today that the newly-arrived Eastern European workers and their families did early in the twentieth century. They experience similarly inadequate and over-crowded housing conditions — the result of the severe shortage of low-income rental housing all across Canada that is accentuated in Winnipeg’s now sprawling inner city.

They have suffered racist abuse for decades. In a 1962 Winnipeg Tribune story, Jarvis Ave., just north of the CPR yards and previously the heart of the pre-Second World War Jewish North End, was described as “the worst street in the entire city.” Houses had long been little more than shacks; many of the small lots had two or more dwellings squeezed onto them. The Tribune story began: “The police, with ponderous legal irony, call it Jarvis Boulevard. Others, with more bitterness, have called it Tomahawk Row.” Aboriginal newcomers had located there, in search of low-cost housing. Their socio-economic circumstances were the root cause of problems in the area.

But, like their Eastern European working class predecessors who had occupied the same neighbourhoods before them, they were blamed for their poverty. A half-century earlier, in 1912, Winnipeg’s Associated Charities Bureau had written, referring to the Eastern European working class immigrants squeezed into inadequate North End housing and underpaid as they were, that “the large majority of applications for relief are caused by thriftlessness, mismanagement, unemployment due to incompetence, immorality, desertion of the family and domestic quarrels.” Such simplistic and stereotypical claims echo across today’s North End.

These things about Winnipeg’s North End have not changed. It is home to deep and widespread poverty; those who are poor are reviled and blamed for their own fate; and the North End remains spatially and socially segregated from the rest of the city. Many in Winnipeg do not venture into today’s North End; most are largely ignorant of life in the North End; it has ever been thus.

It’s Still the Same, but Different

Whereas the poverty of the early twentieth century North End was a working class phenomenon, today, because of dramatic shifts in the global economy, a much higher proportion of those in poverty are the jobless poor, largely outside of and in many cases with little or no experience of the paid labour force. This is disproportionately the case for Aboriginal youth, and is a source of many problems. Massive, publicly funded job creation is needed.

The North End poor of the early twentieth century typically lived in and benefited from intact, two-parent families, and ethnic cultures that were a source of strength and pride. Today, a much higher proportion of those who are poor live in families and communities that are less strong and resilient than was the case in the past, and in many cases their cultures have been seriously damaged. In the case of Aboriginal people, this is the result of the historic and contemporary process of colonization, by which the Canadian state set out deliberately to destroy Aboriginal families and cultures.

The route out of poverty taken by many of the descendants of the Eastern European working class is less readily available to the disproportionate numbers of today’s North End poor who are Aboriginal. Eastern Europeans were able to, and wanted to, assimilate into the dominant culture. Aboriginal people are less able to assimilate, less able to escape racism than their White predecessors in the North End, and less willing to do so.

The poverty of today’s North End has changed dramatically because of the intensified crime that plagues the inner city. Street gangs, the illegal drug trade, and damage done to families and cultures, and the almost complete disconnection of large numbers of young people from the labour market, have created a serious problem of crime and violence that is qualitatively different, and worse, than what existed in the North End during earlier periods of the twentieth century.

Finally, the poverty of today’s North End is experienced by many as a sense of hopelessness, of deep and dark despair. Inadequate housing, deep poverty, the prevailing crime and violence, the absence of jobs that pay a wage sufficient to support a family, have created a “spiritual” malaise among many that is particularly debilitating.

In many respects, today’s North End is unchanged from that of the early part of the twentieth century: deep poverty; widespread racism directed at the poor; their spatial segregation in a devalued part of the city. In other respects, it is different, perhaps even worse: the disconnection from a changed labour market; the erosion, in many cases, of families and cultures; the widespread crime and violence; the deep sense of despair and hopelessness amongst many.

Rebuilding from Within

These poverty-related problems notwithstanding, there is a dramatic process of rebuilding from within that is currently underway in Winnipeg’s North End and broader inner city. Like the vibrant culture of the early twentieth century North End, it is largely invisible to those who do not live there. It takes the form of a wide range of community-based organizations that have emerged from the ground up, and that use a community development approach to heal and empower those who are poor and have been damaged by poverty, racism, and colonization. Aboriginal people and Aboriginal women in particular are among the leaders in this work. The best of their efforts is aimed at rebuilding awareness and appreciation of their rich cultural heritage. Women’s centres of a wide variety of kinds, family resource centres, alternative educational institutions and neighbourhood development organizations are all part of an increasingly strong infrastructure of community-based organizations. Their work is creative and innovative; they hire local people thereby creating employment opportunities; they work in a way informed by their workers’ and leaders’ own experience of poverty and racism.

This rebuilding process is slow and difficult. For every step forward, another is taken back. It would be faster and less difficult with more public sector support. The civic and federal governments are largely absent from this process. The provincial NDP government has been supportive in many important ways. They have not done and still do not do enough to nurture and support this indigenous rebuilding process, but they have been quite supportive in some very important ways, and would be likely to be more so if they thought that there was public support for a stronger anti-poverty strategy.

The North End and the Left

The anti-poverty strategy that has emerged out of Winnipeg’s North End and broader inner city over the past quarter-century has not taken a form familiar to most leftist readers of Canadian Dimension. It has been and is being built by the poor themselves, and has taken a form that they have defined, and that has grown out of their realities. The labour movement is largely absent from this struggle; the far Left, to the extent that it exists at all in Winnipeg any longer, is absent from this struggle.

It is striking, however, that growing numbers of progressive young people are becoming interested in and active in this struggle. Although what follows is impressionistic, it may be that many young people recently energized by the anti-globalization movement have now turned their attention to local, community-based anti-poverty struggles in the North End and broader inner city.

If young, urban Aboriginal people were also to become politicized as part of this struggle, and were to begin to mobilize around demands related to antipoverty efforts, the pace of change would surely accelerate. There are few signs yet of that happening, and in fact an Aboriginal middle class is emerging, anxious to distance themselves from the poverty and related problems of the North End.
Yet there is deep anger in Winnipeg’s North End, the product of poverty, racism, and segregation. Much of that anger is inner-directed, in such forms as addictions and domestic abuse, but also in the form of increasingly severe street-level conflict and violence confined largely to the North End and directed largely at other North End residents, and frequently at police.

Most Winnipegers, spatially and socially segregated from the North End and its residents and steeped in stereotypes previously used to describe Eastern Europeans, are removed, in every respect, from these issues. If they could be mobilized in support of genuine, publicly-driven anti-poverty efforts, and/or if North End youth, and especially Aboriginal youth, were themselves to become politicized and direct their anger outwards, real gains could be made in the North End. Until that happens, and despite the exceptional community development efforts in the North End, change will be unbearably slow, and will come too late for many.

Canadian Dimension January/February 2010 This article appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of Canadian Dimension magazine. SUBSCRIBE NOW to get a refreshing and provocative alternative delivered to your door 6 times a year for up to 50% off the newsstand price.


  • I live in the South End of Nanaimo, which is considered the skuzziest neighborhood in the city.  Yes, you do see some poor young girls in the sex trade walking down Victoria Road, and that is because men in fancy cars from the North End come looking to exploit their drug addictions which were induced by some other exploitative men.  On what is considered THE worst block in this city, a couple of blocks from downtown,  my friend just bought an 80 year old house, a Craftsman,  which has unsurpassable charm.  Three stained glass windows, original fir floors in good condition, coved ceilings, french doors with etched leaded glass panels, a sun room with windows on 3 sides, which leads to a sundeck with a sweeping view of the estuary and Gabriola Island, and spectacular sunrises which are reflected on the water.  There is a walk-in closet off the master bedroom. There is a little inner courtyard outside, and a peach tree and 2 Kiwi fruit trees, and a fish pond in the yard.  Next door to her live 4 men who are a brass quartet, and they have a big old boat in their backyard.  My point in all this is that it is possible to find beauty and charm where you least expect it, and it doesn’t have to be about big money at all.  In fact there can be something ugly about big money neighborhoods - the pretentiousness of them, and the lack of originality, spontaneity, history,  and variety.
    #1. Posted by Madeline Bruce, RPN in Nanaimo, B. C. on January 8th 2010 at 4:35pm 

  • So , it would seem to me to solve the problem of poor people living in the North End, would be to double the rents to get rid of the poor .
    #2. Posted by rosencrentz in winnipeg on January 28th 2010 at 6:58pm 

  • No, that doesn’t sound nice at all.  Speaking for South Nanaimo, the poorer section of Nanaimo, the price of houses and rentals is lower than the rest of Nanaimo.  Gradually the old houses are being re-vamped, which makes for a very charming ambiance.  As for unemployed people, many impoverished people are employed - just not getting enough hours, or enough wages.  As for the chronically underpriviledged, some kind of entreprenurial initiative is needed to help them.  Perhaps the teaching of new skills by retired people,  which they could then market themselves, would get them on the road to a renewed self-confidence and hope for the future.
    #3. Posted by Madeline Bruce, RPN in Nanaimo, B. C. on January 28th 2010 at 7:32pm 

  • I enjoyed reading this article and found it very thoughtful. I grew up in the North End in the 1950s and 60s, spending all my time hanging around at the Sals and Sportsman’s. I am old enough to remember the unpaved back lanes that flooded every spring. Two formative events in the North End not mentioned in the article were the 1919 Strike and, less often noted, the tearing out of the street care tracks along Main Street. In the 1980s when I was Deputy Minister of Community Services in the Pawley government we ‘blew up’ the Winnipeg Children’s Aid Society and established five decentralized ‘Child and Family Service Agencies’ across the city, including one in the North End - with its HQ in the old Bank of Montreal building on Main and Bannerman (I think that was the cross street). Over 3000 people turned out for the election of the first Board. I think the agency could have made areal difference in the North End, as it included strong representation from within the Aboriginal community and took on a significant preventive mandate, but the Filmon government took over and got rid of all the agencies after a little more than a year, so we will never know what might have been. We did however fund the community effort to set up Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre which remains to this day. So perhaps it was not all for naught. 
    #4. Posted by Michael Mendelson in Toronto on February 8th 2010 at 6:17pm 

  • Michael Mendelson speaks of the New Democratic Party Manitoba government led by Howard Pawley and just a few of its important initiatives of which there were many—- probably the most honest government in the history of the North American continent. He then goes on to mention how the thoroughly reactionary government of Gary Filmon destroyed several of the Pawley government’s programs of which there were so many destroyed by the Filmon government which leads me to wonder why no one has yet written a comparison of these two governments.

    It seems to me now would be the time to write such a comparison.

    I was living in Manitoba for about ten years at the time the Filmon government was coming into power. Filmon privatized the Manitoba Telephone Service and Manitobans are still suffering the consequences.

    But, Filmon also did, what I consider to be one of the most callous and anti-human things imaginable in putting an end to the dental program in the elementary schools. 

    If every government in the world was just one iota as honest and caring about the needs of working people as was the Pawley NDP government, people could be living pretty decent lives.
    There is a story that needs to be told here—- a tale of two governments; one for the people, the Pawley NDP government—- the other, the Filmon Government of Progressive Conservatives for the greedy wealthy few and the corporations.

    (Now there—- Progressive Conservative—- is a real oxymoron if ever there was one.)
    A webb site or blog would be the perfect place to tell this story of a tale of two governments. Working people across North America need to know and understand this story which is the history of the clash and struggle between classes.

    This is an especially important story to tell at a time when working people are beginning to think there is no hope for change while taking such beatings and are being battered by Bay Street and Wall Street.

    Working people across North America need to experience the all-inclusive government like that of Howard Pawley’s government which welcomed a full and complete expression of just about every political view from liberal to socialist to communist represented in the various people’s movements… proving people working together accomplish great things.

    When people tell me about “hope” and “change” here in the United States, I always tell them: You don’t know what “hope” and “change” is all about unless you understand the people’s movements that brought governments like that of Howard Pawley, Tommy Douglas, Floyd Olson and Elmer Benson to power.

    Unlike the Tommy Douglas story or the history of the socialist Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party, the story of the Howard Pawley NDP government is still fresh enough to become an important factor in the struggles of today. Tell the story.

    #5. Posted by Alan L. Maki in Warroad, Minnesota, USA on February 25th 2010 at 9:44am 

    Note: Howard Pawley has now written an excellent book, "Keep True, a life in politics." I would encourage everyone read and study this book.

North Winnipeg’s Seal of Identity

Culture, Socialism

North Winnipeg’s Seal of Identity

A Glowing Dream: A Memoir

by Roland Penner

J. Gordon Shillingford Publishing, 2007
“The place of childhood provides the seal of identity.” This epigram opens the first chapter of Roland Penner’s memoir, Growing Up ‘Red’ in Winnipeg’s North End. It holds true even for those of us who grew up only “pink” — i.e. whose parents were CCFers rather than Communists, and who as a result never set foot in the Ukrainian Labour Temple at Pritchard and McGregor. Just how much Winnipeg’s working-class political culture sealed our identities was brought home to me last year when I sent my brother an article that touched on the strike at the Hurtig Fur Company in the early 1930s — during the course of which my father, while on the picket line, had his head split open by a scab. My brother, who was born in 1934, responded: “You know, when I was a little boy I used to get confused about whether the really bad guy’s name was Hurtig or Hitler.”

To be sure, the industrial side of Winnipeg’s history of class conflict makes very little appearance in this memoir — apart from a few sentences that recall Roland standing as a teenager “on the bald prairie with the temperature at about wind chill -50°F, handing out union leaflets” as part of an organizing drive at a plant on the outskirts of Transcona. This is hardly surprising, since the Penner family was preeminent for its involvement on the political side of the labour movement — so much so that on one memorable May Day, after some five thousand paraded along Portage Avenue and Main Street to end up at Market Square in front of the old City Hall, the three speakers who addressed them were Penner’s politically passionate and fiery mother, Rose; his eleven-year-old “child orator” brother, Norman; and, of course, his venerable father, Jacob, the famous Communist alderman for Ward Three. (Jacob Penner was “almost always dressed in a conservatively cut three-piece wool suit, a shirt with a stiff celluloid collar, a firmly knotted woolen tie, a carefully blocked and immaculately clean fedora, and sometimes, over his shoes, spats.”)

The story told here of the Penner family is a fascinating one, from its origins among downwardly mobile Mennonite ancestors who once owned an estate on the west bank of the Dniepr River to Jacob’s “form of marriage without clergy” to a Jewish orphan from Odessa, Rose Shapak. One of the most revealing aspects of north Winnipeg’s ethnic culture is uncovered here, as Jacob the Red, before his election as alderman in 1934 at the age of 54, moves from job to job for some two decades, including as a candy salesman with the help of Rose’s connection to the well-off Galpern family. Just as class conflict tore the Jewish community apart in a strike like the one at Hurtig’s, so did family ties often transcend the sharpest of differences in the class politics of Winnipeg’s North End.

The family anecdotes in this book are so profuse that many of the best are found in the footnotes. One of Rose’s nephews goes to the U.S.S.R. in 1933 and gets swept away five years later in Stalin’s murder machine. One of Jake’s brothers-in-law returns home after a visit to Germany in 1936, and becomes a supporter of the Winnipeg Nazi Party. Shortly after Jake is sent off to an internment camp as a Communist in 1940, sixteen-year-old Roland and his twin sister Ruthie are home alone listening to “Saturday Afternoon at the Met” (while Rose is in Ottawa heading up a delegation of wives petitioning for improvements in the camp’s conditions), and the RCMP come barging in waving a search warrant. As one Mountie moves to turn off the radio, Ruthie screams at him: “In this house no one turns off the opera!”

Indeed, so plentiful are Penner’s family anecdotes that one terrific example, which he told when Norman was honoured at a banquet at the University of Manitoba some two decades ago, is left out of this book. As I recall it (and have often retold it), when Norman marched into the principal’s office of his grade school to complain that the phys-ed instructor was picking on him because he was a Communist, the principal sternly and accusingly said (so everyone in the outer office could hear): “You’re a Communist?!” And then, after closing the door, he whispered, “So am I.”

Penner’s admiration for his parents’ Communist politics is palpable, and he explicitly contrasts this with the way other “red diaper babies” like Jim Laxer and Stan Gray have written disparagingly of their parents’ politics. Quoting Laxer to the effect that truth was “a very slippery commodity” in his home, Roland proudly writes: “That was not our experience…. We asked many questions and Dad and our mother told us what they sincerely believed to be true.” His father remains his “primary inspiration” — a man who “fought for the rights of others at great cost to himself” — and this is why his parents commitment to the “Glowing Dream” forms the title of his memoir. Yet, one might have wished that Roland had offered a more sober reflection on his father’s generation of Canadian Communists, not only with regard to what they knew or didn’t know about Stalin’s crimes in the U.S.S.R. or to the limitations of “democratic centralist” life inside the party, but also to the reformist strategy it pursued in the public arena.

Thus, we learn that Jacob Penner left the Socialist Party of Canada in 1911 because he felt it was too oriented toward raising class consciousness through Marxist education alone. He devoted himself to a life of “unceasing struggle for [the] daily needs and pressing problems” of working people in the belief that this practical activity would raise their consciousness as “the essential feature in the development of a socialist revolution.” Yet, when he died in 1965, aged 85 (having only retired as alderman three years earlier), the Winnipeg Free Press made a point of saying that he was a “political curiosity” who drew much of his support from people “who cared nothing for politics but who admired his efficiency and ability and who believed that he worked for the underdog.” Penner quotes this approvingly, without raising the question of how far this achievement nevertheless stood from the development of the class consciousness needed for supporting socialist revolution, which had been Jake’s original purpose. Would more attention to creative Marxist education have produced a better result? This memoir doesn’t go there, perhaps because Roland, from the time of his own engagement in student politics at the University of Manitoba in the late 1940s, adopted a stance “quite in keeping with my father’s approach to political activity on an issue-by-issue basis.” This approach did not mean that he often lost his bearings on the Left of the political spectrum — far from it. But as the main part of the memoir turns to cover Roland’s own adult political life, this “issue-by-issue” approach is visible all along the way: from his slow drift away from the CP (rather than exiting in flames as his brother did in 1957); to his joining Joe Zuken’s law firm; to his foundational role in the establishment of legal aid in Manitoba; to his almost happenstance decision to join the NDP; to what he calls his “life in government” as attorney general of Manitoba.

The limits of this approach came to a head with his role in the Meech Lake Accord, which he still sees as “a reasonable compromise” on the grounds that, while he agrees with those critics who said that “the separatists would always ask for more,” if the Accord had passed it would have ensured that “their call to break up the country [would have] fallen on less fertile ground.” This is pretty conventional stuff. He reserves his real ire, moreover, for the left critics of the Accord, especially those “many women … influenced by flamboyant statements … by Judy Rebick and the National Action Committee,” who saw the deal as concocted by “men in suits” with the aim of using Quebec’s recognition as a distinct society to override the Charter’s equality provisions (“This is, in my view, nonsense.”) and undermine federal social programs (the likelihood of which he sees as “essentially nil”).

Penner’s decision to side with the pragmatic men in suits against the socialist feminists during the Meech Lake controversy in 1987 was presaged by the controversy over the stand he took in 1983 over the newly opened Morgentaler abortion clinic in Winnipeg. In justifying why as attorney general he could not “authorize a blanket stay of proceedings” with respect to criminal charges against Morgentaler, Penner clearly sees himself as properly following the advice Justice Samuel Freedman gave him when he invited Penner to lunch after his appointment: the Attorney General “must not be political.” But if Penner now admits that his Morgentaler moment “still comes back to haunt me from time to time,” this may be because he knows very well (as he puts it in the memoir in relation to his discussion of the task force on legal aid in the 1970s) that “the legal system itself is so much the product of the establishment it serves that it cannot be turned into the front line for law reform and even more obviously for social transformation.” It most certainly can’t if attorneys general act as if their roles are non-political.

It is impossible to do full justice to Penner’s memoir without going even further over the word limit CD’s editors have allotted me. Suffice to say that this review touches upon only a few aspects of the rich and varied life recounted in this book. I especially enjoyed making the connection between Penner’s many entrepreneurial activities during his Communist boyhood in the 1930s with his “life as an impressario,” when he ran the Co-op Bookstore in the late 1950s and was responsible for bringing Pete Seeger and Odetta, among many others, to sing before Winnipeg audiences.

For me, at least, this enjoyable read was enhanced by being able to catch Penner out on such errors as telling us that Lenin “famously said that communism equals socialism plus electric power” (he actually said “soviets and electric power”). Or the misnumbering of the Chapter Two endnotes, so that the citation for the homage Penner pays to the great Fritz Hansen, the American running back who led the Blue Bombers to their first Grey Cup in 1935, amusingly offers sources to the On to Ottawa Trek of that year. The only unfortunate result of this misnumbering is that we never learn who actually coined that wise phrase: “The place of childhood provides the seal of identity.”

Canadian Dimension January/February 2009 This article appeared in the January/February 2009 issue of Canadian Dimension magazine. SUBSCRIBE NOW to get a refreshing and provocative alternative delivered to your door 6 times a year for up to 50% off the newsstand price.


  • Leo Panitch’s review of “A Glowing Dream: A Memoir” itself is food for thought, dialogue, discussion and debate as much as is Roland Penner’s excellent book, which I would strongly recommend to every worker to read and study.

    Panitch finds problems with Jacob Penner’s approach towards politics and assumes that Marxist education was not simultaneously taking place with the excellent work Jacob Penner did in serving working people on the Winnipeg City Council.

    Having personally known many of those in Jacob Penner’s Communist Party circle, I know that this contention simply is not accurate.

    And I believe that where Panitch is inaccurate here is the very crux of what is missing in working class struggles in Canada and the United States today, which is holding back the struggle of the working class for real power: social, political and economic; the struggle for socialism—the only alternative to this failed capitalist system.

    What Panitch fails to understand is the way the Communist Party works in a collective way… while Panitch’s contention that Jacob Penner paid too little attention to Marxist education of the working class—a very dubious contention at best seeing as how Jacob Penner was the longest serving Communist elected public official in Canada, and perhaps the world—it is hard to believe that Panitch’s assessment is accurate that there was a lack of socialist/Marxist education taking place. How a Communist repeatedly gets elected and re-elected when there is a powerful corrupt web of capitalism spun all around him creating such a hostile environment would then have to be explained… an explanation Leo Panitch never broaches… not everything he hasn’t broached can be explained away as not being provided more space by Canadian Dimension since Panitch has had ample opportunity to do this elsewhere; and he has not.

    Panitch forgets, or intentionally omits, the role of the Communist Party Club. Jacob Penner always “had his back covered” by a very powerful Communist movement consisting of very important Communist Party clubs in Manitoba which were more than a little responsible for his repeated re-election campaigns because of the “collective” way these Communist Party clubs operate as the “think-tanks” and “action centers” of the working class and people’s movements constantly stressing that all the various movements for democracy, peace, social and economic justice and for socialism need to work together in unity.

    I have noticed that failure to understand the all-important role of Communist parties by Panitch in many of his other writings, too; which boils down to not understanding the very important and significant role these Communist Party Clubs play in winning the day to day struggles working people are constantly embroiled in as a matter to survive the obstacles and problems created by a capitalist social, economic and political system.

    Like in this current book review, Panitch even writes about the Communist Manifest but fails to understand that Marx and Engels in writing this brief pamphlet did so with the intent of encouraging workers to build Communist Parties to advance their demands for reforms AND winning social, economic and political power.

    There is all kinds of ample evidence that Jacob Penner and his comrades and friends understood very well “What needs to be done?” And they did what needed to be done—on all fronts, from education to activism.

    The real questions Leo Panitch might want to ponder is why Jacob Penner and the Communist Party in Winnipeg did so well while in most other places in North America the working class movement did not fare as well?

    A big part of the answer to this question lies in attacks on the Communist Party by the government (which Jacob Penner and the Winnipeg Communists and their friends and allies so successfully fought back) and the attacks on the Communist Party from the right and ultra-left in the working class movement (again, attacks which Jacob Penner and the Winnipeg communists struggled against so successfully).

    And Joe Zuken’s campaigns successfully built on all of this.

    How and why this powerful Communist movement in Winnipeg lost momentum and suffered losses should be the topic of a forum with the proceedings published in another book… it would be very interesting to see if Leo Panitch’s ideas as to his “critique” (or not so thinly veiled attack on the role and objectives of Communist Parties) hold any water when placed side-by-side with the Communist perspective in all of this.

    I really think we need to be asking what has held back the working class movements from achieving what Jacob Penner and his comrades and friends achieved not finding excuses to write them off because in these troubled times, there is not only a Canadian dimension to what these working class Communist Party activists achieved, there is something for all working class activists from throughout North America and the rest of the world to learn from… I find it rather ironic that many people who adhere and cling to Leo Panitch’s perspective regarding the Soviet Union and other socialist countries who found their own way to power and to hold on to that power which they so despise, now like to take cheap pot shots at the very man and the Communist Party he was a member of which climbed towards working class power so successfully in the electoral arena.

    Which, also, begs the question: If Canada and the U.S.A. were the bastions of democracy capitalist politicians claim them to be; why then has the policy towards allowing Communists to freely participate in the political lives of these two countries been so restricted—and, I think I am being very charitable in using the term “restricted” when political suppression and repression are more appropriate.

    If Leo Panitch would like to participate in an organized dialogue on this question concerning the legacy of the role of the Communist Party clubs I would be happy to participate, too.

    Jacob Penner and Winnipeg Communists are not the only example of the success of Communist Party Clubs and how they combined electoral work with other facets of class struggle work—merely the best; an example which many working class activists today have a right to know about… just as working class activists today have a right to know about how Communists like Lyle Dotzert led the struggle to organize Ford in Windsor and his comrades like Phil Raymond, Nadia Barkan, Bob Travis, Bud Simons and Wyndham Mortimer across the river—south of the border—led the struggles to organize the Big Three and then elected the legendary working class activist and leader Coleman Young to public office… in order to know and understand this aspect of the working class struggle and history might make the difference as to whether the working class wins or loses the looming class conflict ahead.

    The working class made numerous advances with Communist Parties in the lead… an historic fact that no amount of twisting and misinformation can erase—obscure, yes—but not erase because history as what it is.

    Communists have made plenty of mistakes just like anyone else; but, the so-called errors attributed to us here simply are not correct.

    There is this “movement” on the part of a section of the North American left which seeks to want to put everything from 20th Century Communism and socialism behind us as if it was all misguided and bad when nothing could be further from the truth.

    Roland Penner’s excellent book provides us with aspects of working class history some people would rather just forget… just like they would like to forget Jacob Penner, Lyle Dotzert, Phil Raymond, Nadia Barkan (in Nadia’s case, the “historians” even give her the wrong name!)... but, forgetting primary aspects of history is not the same as these struggles and their leaders—with the Communist Parties at the forefront—being forgotten… or intentionally maligned as Leo Panitch does, and continues doing.

    Recently Howard Zinn engaged in similar distortion on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” when he stated:

    “No, I was really gratified when Obama called for “Let’s tax the rich more, and let’s tax the poor and middle class less.” And they said, “That’s socialism.” And I thought, “Whoa! I’m happy to hear that. Finally, socialism is getting a good name.” You know, socialism has been given bad names, you know, Stalin and all those socialists, so-called socialists. They weren’t really socialist, but, you know, they called themselves socialist. But they weren’t really, you see. And so, socialism got a bad name. It used to have a really good name. Here in the United States, the beginning of the twentieth century, before there was a Soviet Union to spoil it, you see, socialism had a good name. Millions of people in the United States read socialist newspapers. They elected socialist members of Congress and socialist members of state legislatures. You know, there were like fourteen socialist chapters in Oklahoma. Really. I mean, you know, socialism—who stood for socialism? Eugene Debs, Helen Keller, Emma Goldman, Clarence Darrow, Jack London, Upton Sinclair. Yeah, socialism had a good name. It needs to be restored.”

    Well Zinn—the great historian—apparently never heard of Jacob Penner, Willian Z. Foster, Paul Robeson Lyle Dotzert, Wyndham Mortimer, Phil Raymond or Nadia Barkan.

    And Sam Webb, the revisionist “leader” of the CPUSA goes even further than Panitch or Zinn in saying he wants nothing at all to do with 20th Century socialism.

    I find it very strange that all these attacks of a similar nature come at a time when the working class needs stronger Communist Parties than ever before… and slanting history to suit one’s own biased perspectives will not aid in building a winning working class fight-back as this rotten capitalist system collapses by the day from the time the bell rings on Wall Street until another plant is shut down, both throwing workers out into the streets as if they are merely disposable items like baby diapers.

    Alan L. Maki
    Minnesota/Dakotas District, CPUSA
    #1. Posted by Alan L. Maki on January 13th 2009 at 10:30pm