Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New York, New York

NEW YORKERS are to vote for their mayor on November 3. It's a real executive position, not just for show. The mayor's office at City Hall wields a $50 billion a year budget, biggest of any US city, and employs a quarter of a million people. The city collects $27 billion in taxes, and receives $14 billion from federal and state funds.

When we think of New York we may think of Wall Street, and world capitalism. Maybe that's what the attack on the World Trade Centre was supposed to be about. But like the majority of victims there, the majority of New Yorkers are workers. What's more, this other New York has a history of struggles and hopes that were not always content to be lulled by the "American Dream".

In 1914, Meyer London, a Socialist, was elected to Congress with backing from labour unions and the poor immigrant workers of New York's Lower East Side. London opposed America's entry to the World War, and though once it was in the war he fell in line, he opposed measures like the 1917 Espionage Act of 1917 and the 1918 Sedition Act, which made criticism of the president or the war a crime

In the summer of 1917, with patriotic pro-war sentiment sweeping America, Morris Hillquit ran for Mayor of New York on an anti-war platform, combined with commitment to public services. Socialists, liberals and opponents of the war and repressive legislation rallied to Hillquit's side, and he obtained 22 per cent of the vote.

Anti-war sentiment and working class militancy were not necessarily united. But besides Irish Americans and of course German Americans' reluctance to side with Britain, many American Jews, particularly those immigrant workers, would take some persuasion to endorse an alliance with Czarist Russia, whose oppression and pogroms they had fled. This was one factor in the British government's decision to adopt its Balfour Declaration, supporting the Zionists' project for a Jewish 'National Home', in Palestine. Perhaps British leaders had been sold an exagerated view of Zionist influence on Jews, as well as of Jewish influence in both American politics and Russian Revolution.

But it worked. In 1918, the Zionists asked Meyer London to introduce a resolution in Congress endorsing the Balfour declaration. London did not share the Zionist dreams. “Let us stop pretending about the Jewish past and let us stop making fools of ourselves about the Jewish future,” he said. When he refused to introduce the resolution, the Zionists decided to defeat him. They were joined by Orthodox rabbis who opposed London because he was not religious; and by rich and powerful capitalists who obviously opposed London as a socialist. Jewish leaders and influential figures like Jacob Schiff, Louis Marshall, Nathan Strauss, and Rabbi Stephen S.Wise urged Jews to redeem themselves by rejecting London. He narrowly lost re-election in 1918.

It wasn't the end for London (he was re-elected in 1920), nor for New York labour radicalism. In 1932, still feeling the 1929 Crash and great depression, 200,000 New Yorkers voted for the Socialist Party candidates in city council elections. In 1936, major unions backed formation of an American Labour Party, seemingly following the British model, though it was as much to counter the Socialists and those further left, and channel union backing to Roosevelt.

In the absence of real class politics and tradition, competition and ugly, violent conflict can break out between different minorities fighting each other for the ear of corrupt politicians, access to resources and a place on the ladder, rather than uniting for justice and equality for all. That way those at the top can look down safely on those scrambling for crumbs below. I don't go for conspiracy theory, but I do find it interesting to read that both Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defence League (and later Israel's racist Kach party), and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, notorious for his anti-Jewish utterances, were on the FBI payroll.

US, and New York politics, also see what, to a simple Brit, are some strange alliances. Even the pre-war labour union support for Roosevelt had to go through backing New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia and attorney Thomas Dewey, both Republicans, presumably to sidestep conservative elements in Roosevelt's own Democrat Party.

But one of the most bizarre alliances has taken shape in New York under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who besides his job at City Hall is founder and main owner of Bloomberg LP, a financial software company, and the eighth richest man in the United States. If you think the shadowy Socialist Action team of advisors who gathered around Ken Livingstone was a bit much, or have remarked on Tory Mayor Boris' recruitment of a woman out of a think-tank said to have been associated with the late and unlamented "Living Marxism" magazine ..You ain't seen nothing!

Back in the 1970s, probably the dodgiest character to have emerged from the American Left, Lyndon LaRouche, led his supporters into a campaign of violence against other left-wing orgnisations, called "Operation Mop-Up". Shortly afterwards LaRouche was joined by a psycho-therapist called Fred Newman. The two didn't stay together long, apparently Newman found LaRouche too authoritarian, and LaRouche did not approve of Newman's personal lifestyle. Nowadays, LaRouche is generally regarded as a far-Right cult leader, whose organisations in the United States and Europe seem well-funded and remarkably protected. A young student from Britain, Jeremiah Duggan, was found dead by a roadisde outside Wiesbaden, in Germany, after going to a supposed 'anti-war' conference the LaRouchites had organised. Jerry Duggan's family are still trying to get his death properly investigated.

Fred Newman meanwhile led an 'International Workers Party', which officially dissolved into a New Alliance Party (NAP), and he also founded the New York Institute of Social Therapy. A woman.called Leonora Fulani (born Leonora Branch), also a Ipsycho-therapist, liked his theory of social therapy which is supposed to lead to "the dictatorship of the proletarian ego". Fulani joined the NAP, and ran for President in 1988, then in 1990 she ran for New York governor, with endorsement for Louis Farrakhan. Then in 2000, Newman and Fulani endorsed ultra-conservative Pat Buchanan - whose Catholic-influenced opposition to gay rights should afford interesting discussions with Newman - on record for "polymorphous sexuality" and "Man-boy" relationships.

In 2001, having moved into the Independence Party(originally followers of Ross Perot), Newman and Fulami swung its New York voters behind Republicam Mike Bloomberg for the mayoralty. They helped him get in, and whatever people say about virtue being its own reward, their reward was more than virtual. n 2005 New York's Department of Youth and Community Services gave a $215,000 grant to Newman and Fulani to run an after-school project for high school students. That was only a taster. Bloomberg saw to it that a $8.7 million municipal bond went to Newman and Fulani for a new headquarters.

In 2007, Bloomberg announced he was quitting the Republicans, to be an independent, and this time last year he got through a change in the city's law, enabling him to stand for a third term in office. The Newman-Fulani outfit have come in for attack from various critics. There have been concerns about the way the "All Stars" youth programme was run, and whether they were fit people to run it. Newman, despite being Jewish, was accused of "hate-filled antisemitic diatribes" by the Anti-Defamation League, and to be fair though his target might have been Israel, his reference to "the Jew" sounds like someone imitating Farrakhan, and the language he used suggest more someone in need of therapy, rather than a practitioner dispensing it. Derek Seratte, a trade unionist who quit the New Alliance Party says the "therapy" practised within it might not have set anybody right, but was "effective in terms of controlling a lot of people to do the kinds of things that were asked of them". Christopher Hitchens sayst “the Newman-Fulani group is a fascistic zombie cult ..."

So far as the pro-Zionist organisations go, their tide of criticism seems to have ebbed, and might not lap up up against Bloomberg.

But what has the mayor's record been like for New Yorkers hit by recession and even before that, repossessions?
"Clearly his tactics, which have included cutting off homeless New Yorkers from federal housing assistance, cutting funding to eviction prevention programmes, closing down shelters and drop-in centres and, most recently, kicking people out of shelters for breaking rules such as missing curfews, are not working. Since Bloomberg took office in 2002 homelessness has increased at a rate of 45% each year."
America's Most Unwanted

Still, never mind, if they have nowhere to live the chances are they will have nowhere to vote, assuming they wanted to.

Whereas some supporters have not lost their enthusiasm:
Bloomberg, Lenora Fulani, Fred Newman -- Rally for Victory!

Be there or Be Square! Lenora Fulani, Fred Newman, and all the wonderfully zany leaders of the city's Independence Party kick off their big push to reelect Mike Bloomberg Thursday evening at a rally in Harlem.

Bloomberg is listed as an "invited speaker" for the event at First A.M.E. Bethel Church on 132nd Street at 6.P.M., according to an ad on the Independence Party (New York City wing) website.

There's a recorded pitch for the big night on a voice zipper on the site in which Fulani credits a "new alliance" of blacks and independent voters with electing America's "two most independent leaders" -- Bloomberg and Barack Obama, (while defeating "the Clinton machine" along the way). Here's Fulani:

"Four years ago, a new political coalition put itself on the map; 47 percent of black voters and 60 percent of independents reelected Mayor Mike Bloomberg giving him a mandate for nonpartisan government. That black and independent alliance scored again in 2008 when it carried Barack Obama to victory, defeating the Clinton machine in the primaries and then the Republican machine in November. As part of this new alliance, we have elected the country's two most independent leaders, Barack Obama and Mike Bloomberg. . . . New York City, in all its diversity, has gone independent and we cannot turn back now".


* For a website dedicated to the pursuit of LaRouche and the Newman-Fulani outfit, see




At 1:44 PM, Blogger Nancy Hanks said...

See Jackie Salit's "How the Independent Movement Went Left by Going Right" for an historical view of current NYC and national independent politics in the US


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