Monday, January 10, 2005

Why the ULA Will Win

I've been studying the history of the early Roman Republic, trying to understand how that tiny city-state was able to take over the known world. It's a fascinating subject with parallels to the ULA's battles.

The early Romans were distinguished by their generosity toward defeated rivals, and by their basic integrity, their virtue. They were about the only society at the time which didn't own slaves. The class differences early on weren't striking (they were to go through cycles of narrowing and expanding class gaps). In the beginning, they were a city of peasants. Early Rome before Carthaginian and Greek influences appeared very democratic; the city simple and unadorned. The great civilizations of the time looked down on them.

The Greeks were impressive but hypocritical; democratic and wise in theory, yet aristocratic in attitude, slave-owning, greedy, corrupt, and constantly squabbling among themselves. The early Romans saw wealth and comfort as corrupting influences (as they would prove to be once the Romans absorbed Greek ethos and culture).

The Romans were unbeatable in battle because they were citizen-soldiers; farmers for whom war was a part-time activity. It wasn't how they supported themselves. The Africans and Asians by contrast used mercenary armies whose main motivation was booty.

There's a strong parallel to today's lit-world. The conglomerates are run by out-of-touch potentates like Morgan Entrekin, supported by skyscraper armies of mercenary help whose loyalty to the organization ends with the paycheck.

Roman leaders marched at the head of their armies. Noteworthy is the battle of Cannae, when Hannibal slaughtered 70,000 Roman citizens, including 80 Senators. (Quite a difference from today.) Could one imagine the entire U.S. Senate and George W. Bush marching at the head of our troops? It would send an unbeatable message if they did.

Has anyone seen Morgan Entrekin give a reading? Would it ever happen? He'd be lost. He's not a writer or artist, just an Overdog. He travels in limos through Manhattan circles of lavish and protected wealth.

ULA leaders have always marched out front. We're going to stay non-hierarchical and democratic, because that's our strength. We'll steadily expand, absorbing writers and lit communities into our ranks as we march forward.

14 comments:

Noah Cicero said...

From the words of Dickens through Madma Defarge.

" I tell thee," said Madame, extending her right hand , for empahsis, "That although it is a long time on the road, it is on the road and coming. I tell thee it never retreats, and never stops. I tell thee it is always advancing. Look around and consider the fces of all the world that we know, consider the rage and discontent to which the ULA addresses itself with more and more of certainty every hour. Can such things last? Bah I mock you."

and

"Then tell wind and fire where to stop," returned madame; "But don't tell me."

great post King

Anonymous said...

Crassus here . . .

King, you follow up one great post with a batch of preposterous nonsense. And, fittingly, a poser hiding behind the name of Cicero doesn't even know enough of his own (adopted?) history to call bullshit on it. I should brush off my evil classics degree for this one. . .

It's always sad when ideologies try to co-opt history because history doesn't work along ideological lines and, just as importantly, ideologues are terribly concerned about history. First off: your picture of the early Roman state is naive, mislead, and, hilariously, based entirely on recognized propaganda by later generations of the ruling elite. Titus Livius, the scribe most responsible for this early idealized picture of Rome, happened to be a special pet of the Emperor Augustus, the man who killed the Roman Republic and any vestiges of democracy well and good. And even HE recognizes that the early republic was a stark oligarchy from the beginning, only different from a modern one in that its propaganda was good enough that it allowed the plebs to fight ever hard on the riches' behalf and that, being an ancient city state (like those in Greece), the leading citizens lead the army.

Secondly, you ignore (or simply don't know) the fact that the majority of Rome's greatest accomplishments and gains occurred LONG after even the supposed hallowed days of the Republic. It was curiously immediately after the fall of the proto-socialist, proletarian defenders the Gracchi that Rome experienced its most impressive gains; Rome was, at this point, a bribery-and-corruption based oligarchy of hilarious unfairness and cruelty. And fittingly, the five best generals were all related aristocrats: uncles of Julius Caesar Marius and Sulla, son-in-law of Caesar Pompey, Caesar himself, and Caesar's nephew and adopted son Octavian. Under these five France, Asia Minor, Syria, Israel, Egypt, Libya, western Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, half of Spain, Algeria, parts of Greece, and Morocco all fell under Rome's aegis.

And, now at least 150 years into unchecked corruption, luxury, oligarchic oppression, and general anti-egalitarianism, what did the now-Roman Empire do? It went for two centuries of the most peaceful, efficient, and successful period in European, African, and Asian history, before starting to break down and taking between 300-1300 years to fall apart.

So, in other words, your comparison is false, full of shit, and engineered to suit your own goals. The success of the ULA certainly can't point to the Roman state as example of why the hearty salt-of-the-earth working class folk always prevail and are more successfuly than corrupt oligarchs. And it lessens your credibility that you post something on a subject you apparently know a. jack dick about and b. don't care enough about to get right.

King said...

Hit a nerve, have we? Such vitriol! And all for naught, because you're wrong.

I'll bring my sources next time I go on line. The work I read (which I assume must have some credibility-- it was done by one of those professor types) uses a variety of historical sources, among them archeological finds-- which certainly indicate that Rome was founded by simple farmers, whose basic, earthy principles were a factor in the steady spread across the Italian peninsula from 500 to 200 BC, the period I refer to because it's analogous to this stage of ULA history. The later Empire-- a period of constant decadence and corruption-- really isn't, but it might be useful when examining our media monopolies.

The peace of Imperial Rome is overblown (Marcus Aurelius faced many cracks in the Roman foundation); and we should keep in mind that sometimes peace equals slavery.

The early Roman Republic was a period not of decay, but of growth and progress, which I hope, by using sources, to illustrate.

Anonymous said...

You did hit a nerve, King: my over-protective love of Roman history nerve. Your description of the period is far less accurate than if I were to claim that the US was founded by humble, democratic farmers. And, as far as your sources, I really hesitate for you to go into the trench warfare of this topic, simply because I actually like you and don't want to see you parroting literally official (ie. sponsored by the state) cherry-tree-and-wooden-teeth mythology as historical fact. Especially since this "farmer's republic" had a timeline of something like this:

449 BC: Law stipulating "Intermarriage shall not take place between plebeians and patricians..."

443: Rigid institutionalization of the class identity through the office of censor, who maintained a constant roll of exactly who was what and stopped class mobility. One's class decided ones' civil, military, political, and voting rights.

300 BC: Nearly two hundred years into the Roman Republic, the Ogulnian Law is a breakthrough, the first law to let plebians reach even a few cosmetic offices within the state, namely some minor religious and divining offices.

287 BC: The first plebian to ever be given the supreme office in Rome, an aberration two hundred and twenty years in the making that is quickly stifled and repressed.

And that during this entire period there are constant "Wars of the Orders" and Successions of the Plebians etc. etc. The Roman Republic was a "farmer's Republic" in the same way that the United States was: the richest landowning families protecting their own interests while viciously fighting to suppress the lower classes.

And, even assuming your picture of the Roman Republic (which is factually untrue), the fact is still that the Roman state enjoyed its highest states of military, cultural, and administrative success under extremely tight oligarchies and, later, outright dictatorships, rendering your points about the godly and unique vigor/might of the Roman pleb state entirely irrelevant, unless your point was that a people's movement could do a comparatively worse job than a well-led oligarchy.

In short, King, I feel that this entire venture is extremely entertaining, useful, and at times *morally right* when it sticks to the specific criticism of the present literary world. Soon as you verge onto the conceptual and theoretical (or soon as Moses Cicero opens his mouth), the entire thing falls apart and looks silly.

Besides, as a tip, a legitimate example of a devoted legitimate people's movement that outperformed, overcame, and persevered against impossible odds against both imperialistic corrupt oligarchies and a merciless bureaucratic totalitarian dystopia, I would recommend researching Nestor Makhno's short-lived but incredible anarchist state in the Ukraine.

But the Roman Republic doesn't begin to fit.

Noah Cicero said...

I have one point to make in this arguement. On the hamptons blog you spent four posts arguing about how there was no such thing as class-division. and now you are proving your point by showing class-division. which is kind of strange dont you think.
Personally I do not know anything of Roman history, I'm an American-Italian/sicilian. Which is why I pronounce my name sisero not chicharo. So i will not comment on that.
But I will say this, everything who have said has been wrong so far, so why would it stop at Roman history.
One last thing, you still have not responded to my post at the Hamptons' blog. I'm still waiting.

Anonymous said...

I, Crassus:

I have never argued in my life that there's no such as class divisions, only that they are not a palpably felt and recognized reality as far as the mass American public is concerned. And, despite numerous abuses in American history, the fact there has not been a national class conflict over the past century even 1/5th of what almost all European/Asian countries went through during the same period proves this point.

As far as the Hamptons blog, I considered that a dead discussion when you verged into apparent insanity; you can take that as a potshot, if you like, but I'm being entirely sincere in that you went off the rails and then responded to my post with a Joycean deluge of nonsense that I felt was self-indicting in its silliness and periodic incomprehensibility. If you would like to raise whatever points you felt I didn't respond to in this post in clear, concise terms, I'll be happy to respond.

But my criticism of the ULA, however "vitriolic" you would like to classify it as, is legitimately and sincerely well-meaning; I would like nothing more than for you guys to succeed. The problem is I think you're operating in a very flawed manner, and one of the main faults is something both Cicero and King, especially in this post, are guilty of: baseless flights into psuedo-Soviet class-struggle bluster and theorizing.

Not only is that type of thing cliche and not applicable to America, it also has no impact: its as powerful and immediate as a Rick Moody book. The last thing the no-bullshit, balls-out ULA should engage in is airy, theoretical, intellectually dishonest bullshit about monolithic class struggle and the rest. It accomplishes nothing, makes you look like quacks (especially when you groundlessly attempt to co-opt history), and has no VISCERAL IMPACT. One paragraph exposing the vacuous preciousness of a Dave Eggers or Updike paragraph wins you more than a whole lifetime of factless, gimcrack abstract speculation. STICK TO MEAT, STICK TO THE PROSE; don't go all ivory tower.

Anonymous said...

Crassus,

A question and a comment (the question is also for Noah). What's with the pseudonyms? Are they just for fun? Or are you actually hiding from someone or thing in particular--which I find hard to imagine. And if so, who or what (in general)?

The comment: C, I generally agree with your post here, except that as far as I'm aware, the class conflict over the past century has been bloody and hard fought in the U.S. Moreso than in some, perhaps most, of Europe. The Scandinvanians haven't exactly been tearing things up, as far as I'm aware. And the English? The French? The Germans? I'm thinking of the violent bloody labor/capitalist clashes as described in Zinn's People's History of the United States and so on, and the recent militarization and aggression of the police on behalf of the wealthy. World War I and World War II were fought between elites and on behalf of them--so that's not class conflict. (Granted, the U.S.-backed post WWII slaughter in Greece and part of the thirties Spanish civil war are examples of large scale class violence in Europe.)

Then there's the brutal and massive U.S. prison system, which is part of a violent, largely class conflict that far surpasses its counterpart in Europe. Of course it's also a race conflict.

Most people in the U.S. think of themselves as middle class, no matter if they are working class or something else, and thus many people tend to downplay what are very real and present class conflicts. As we've seen throughout the last decade, the police haven't been decked out as black clad storm troopers for no reason. The class clashes continue. The corporate media don't call them that, for obvious reasons, but that's what they are, and I think it is correct and appropriate and strategically useful to call all such class conflicts exactly what they are.

To the extent that ULA is depoliticized, though, it's true, there would exist few grounds for class conflict. It would simply be class competition, where the values and preferences are different but--live and let live--not opposed in principle.

As far as models for reform or revolution, the revolutionary (anarchist) movement in Spain in the thirties, and the Lavalas movement in Haiti, among many others would no doubt be useful to study. In the case of the Spanish anarchists and Lavalas, they were both highly successful--until they were crushed by force. But I don't see a force that would crush a ULA press or indy media, at least not in the near future, especially if any press/media is depoliticized. Simply gathering its own resources is a bigger far more real challenge for ULA, etc., than threat of outside force, at least initially.

Are there plans for a ULA book press, or is the publishing going to remain in zine and electronic form?

Tony Christini

Noah Cicero said...

Tony, my name is actually Noah Cicero. I'm from Youngstown, the name Cicero is like Smith here. And my mother gave me the first name Noah because she is an asshole.
Crassus, ha ha ha ha ha lol. My post still stands from the Hamptons. That Joycean thing was pretty cool, I've never been called Joycean before.

Anonymous said...

Tony,

The psuedonym, outside of taunting Noah for (apparently) being given one of the world's most preposterously grandiose names I've ever heard (Moses Caesar~! Abraham Augustus~!), is mainly used because I have reflexive nausea towards being officially part of any blog culture and because, as a published writer whose long delayed (by myself) debut novel comes out next year, I wouldn't want my name Googled into the ULA. I've e-mailed King before and had a discussion with him in depth about the ULA and its goals, so it's not like a sniper in belltower. As far as class struggle, comparing the UK favorably to the US is kinda stunning: did you decorously abstain from reading about the 1970s? And France?!? 1968-69?!? The labor union constant state of civil war that exists there?

Noah: I don't have any intention of going into a dead topic that only you will read and trying to decipher, at length, your mad jottings. "Joycean" wasn't being used in a complimentary way; his logorrhea was motivated by pretension and feverish literary creativity. You created an equally strenuous, painful, attritional effect without any art or cohesiveness, ie. you came off like a nutty hobo mumbling over a shopping cart full of coke cans.

King said...

For all the aptly-named Crassus's points, he misses the larger one, that IN THE CONTEXT OF ITS TIME, the Roman Republic was very democratic-- and as even he indicates, there was a constant tension, a give-and-take, between the classes. That the lower class did have a stake in running Rome was a factor in Roman success. This was unlike other societies of the period.

From the book Roman Imperialism by Tenney Frank:

"--in bringing the plebeian host into the line they made it aware of its own worth and gave it an opportunity to demand political rights. Tradition is probably near the truth when it asserts that the populace of Rome saved its civil rights and won political privilege by means of military boycotts. But whatever it was that saved Rome from the feudal system, which established itself for a period at least in almost all other ancient states. . . ."

Frank stresses the importance of the fetial institution in assimilating defeated tribes: "--war was considered justifiable only on the score of an unjust act."
"The early Roman practice rested rather upon the naive assumption that tribes and states, being collections of individuals, must conduct themselves with justice and good faith--"

"--shortly after 367, the year in which the plebeians succeeded in winning their long-fought battle for the privilege of holding the consulship, a policy of expansion set in, a policy doubtless to be explained by the new democratic influences at work in Rome."

Frank heavily documents the willingness of rival tribes to become allies.

"The idea dominating Greek states that conquerers had a parasitical life at the expense of the conquered, an idea which precluded a healthy and permanent growth of the state, was rejected entirely at Rome. A more revolutionary policy history can hardly display."

"The Spartan warrior class kept its helots in serfdom till they became a drag upon the state and dangered its existence; the Roman patrician, on the other hand, yielded to the plebeians by a series of timely compromises until the state enjoyed the benefits of a strongly amalgamated citizen body."

"In 290 . . . most of whom lived in small and ugly 'adobe' huts. . . . The Romans were still farmers, and little else. Their women spun all the cloth that was needed in their households, the men themselves made their own farming implements, and even the Roman senators did not disdain to drive the oxen between sessions! If the Greek visitor had remained to view the growth of the Roman federation throughout Italy during the next two decades, he must have marveled how such power could emanate from the simple folk of that homely and insignificant town."

But things changed: "According to Polybius their comment upon the destruction of Carthage was that Rome's character had changed after her great successes,"

Frank ends his book with Augustus, and concludes, "--the free Roman people stumbled on falteringly and unwittingly into ever increasing dominion, until finally the overgrown empire imposed a burden of rule upon the conquerers that leveled the whole state to a condition of servitude."

Your point about our Founding Fathers is inapt, in that, according to Frank, Rome didn't adopt a "plantation system" until forced to with the depopulation of the Second Punic War, after 200 AD.

It's not a perfect analogy, but for my purposes a useful one, especially when the question of Rome's foreign policy, of how it expanded, is addressed. Frank attributes it to their willingness to bring new peoples into their republic, and to offer Roman citizenship fairly readily. They also relied on alliances in order to fight their battles, beginning with the Latin League. Their army did consist of citizen-soldiers, not mercenaries. (This is a parallel to our colonists, who also had allies in the French.) Why did plebeians fight for Rome-- more readily in fact than the patricians? They had a stake in the system and were always after a larger one. In actual FACT Rome was more democratic than any other society at the time; the gap between rich and poor was less by far than other societies. As you mentioned, as with the Gracchi, there were also periods of wholesale land re-distribution. Their democratic character and their simple values were a major reason for their success when compared to Carthage, or the divided Greeks, and so it's an excellent model for the ULA to follow-- one imperfect model of many.

King said...

Typo: It should be 200 BC.

King said...

Some further remarks--
I read history mainly for myself; secondarily for other ULAers, and not at all for Overdogs like Moody, nor for demi-puppets who haven't joined our fight. I've had to encourage myself-- and maintain focus-- continually since the ULA's founding. We have faced scorn, opposition, and disbelief from the very beginning. Yet still we keep going. One thing I plan on doing is assessing where we're at along the way, and how our strategy is affected by changing circumstances. I think of it like a chess game. Once one gets further into the game, opportunities and pitfalls proliferate. One has to constantly re-evaluate. The task for this campaign will be to keep it moving while NOT being co-opted, watered-down, or swayed from our basic DIY foundation. I believe that being as democratic as possible is the best way to bring eager people into the team and to share tasks. Having little or no money, there's no way we can operate like the big guys anyway.

As I look for successful models from history, I'm not sure any "short-lived" model of failure would be to my taste. It'd be like reading Robert Scott for encouragement on traveling to the South Pole. But thanks for the tip.

There's no way for me to sort you out, "Crassus," from the dozens of friends and foes, armchair quaterbacks unwilling to step into the arena, who've given advice to me the past four years. Most of them couldn't grasp what the ULA was doing, so their advice was meaningless. Suffice to say that my belief in this project is unshakeable (as long as libraries are available!). We in the ULA are not just theorizing about building a cooperative movement. We're doing it, and will continue doing it, and as we've shown again and again any small backward steps we're forced to take will be temporary. Right now we've never been in better shape as an organization-- in part because of the dynamic new members we're bringing in, people like Noah Cicero. The enthusiasm of just a few can go a long way-- this is the biggest lesson I've taken from my readings of history.

Noah Cicero said...

Jonah

"his logorrhea was motivated by pretension and feverish literary creativity."

Jonah, you can't use the word 'logorrhea' when trying to call someone pretentious. Do you know how silly that sentence sounds. What the hell does 'logorrhea' even mean, is that a word or a typo? And saying I suffered from 'feverish literary creativity,' that's awsome.
You remind me of a drunk racist sitting in a bar yelling about the blacks but every once and awhile saying their are good ones. and just like a racist you have the same motivations, fear, littleness, and you have a dream of being part of the mob.

King said...

Crassus hasn't grasped one of the key factors which is going to help us win over anyone-- that we can outflank the Left on the Left (because we're so proletarian, and authentically radical); yet also the Right on the Right (because we're bootstrap entrepreneurs who unlike the Heritage foundation have no relationship with tax shelters and government). The strength of our strategic position is hard to grasp, but we're really unassailable, which frustrates our foes-- unassailable FIRST because of our integrity. I think our message does in fact bother "Lefty" posers like Moody or Eggers. Fakes are always shown up upon the arrival of "the Real McCoy." (That the ULA can best our foes in any area-- such as a Read-off or debate-- accents this.)