Armies of the Night
OCTOBER 1967 saw a huge anti-Vietnam war march to the Pentagon in Washington, DC participated in by protesters from all over the United States as well as replicated in major cities across the nation. Novelist Norman Mailer joined the march and was roughed up by the riot police and arrested. After this experience he called up Harpers to say he was writing about it.
The following year Armies of the Night, a kind of documentary novel came out.
I commented on Mailer’s book in the 1969 UP writers workshop in Iloilo where resource person/critic Leonard Casper noted my “clairvoyance” in foretelling the new genre first tagged as “documentary novel, ” “non-fiction novel” or “history in a novel/the novel as history”—which today’s students of literature would call “creative non-fiction.”
The 60s practitioners of this new journalism are Truman Capote in his In Cold Blood (1965), about a berserk student’s shooting spree in a Texas university, Hunter S. Thompson in Hells Angels, (1966), about the notorious motorcycle gangs, and Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test (1968), about Ken Kesey and hippie counterculture. Mailer who gained early fame with his The Naked and the Dead (1948), (which includes his experience as a GI in Leyte during the Pacific War) would win the Pulitzer and the National Book award for Armies of the Night. Jerry Rubin called it the Bible of the anti-war movement. (Peter Manso, Mailer)
The First Quarter Storm demonstrations in 1970 would produce Jose Lacaba’s Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage, outstanding for its gripping reportage of the successive student and worker protest rallies. It is in the reading list of young activists to this day, a book icon reissued by Anvil.
In my last column on the destructive large scale mining in Surigao del Norte I alluded to the green “armies of the night” —the quiet legions fighting for clean water, clean air, environmental and cultural protection. Little did I realize then that the peaceful Occupy Wall Street protesters, harassed by police with arrests and pepper spray for violations of odious laws, (e.g. no standing or smoking on side-walks) and belittled by establishment media like the New York Times, would spread rapidly across the globe. The OWS or Occupy Movement is against corporate greed symbolized by the bankers in the Lower Manhattan street and stock exchanges around the world. It has become anti-capitalism and anti-rich not only by the dispossessed and unemployed but those with jobs and professions. Intellectuals speak before its assemblies.
The state and corporate elites are said to be frightened by the Occupy movement. Hence, the attempts at suppression ranging from violent in cities where the protesters are small and vulnerable and less brutal in cities like New York where OWS protest is strong. The 2011 armies of the night may yet cause a reverse Fall of Berlin Wall syndrome—the decline of capitalism. In Taipeh the protesters sang the “Internationale.”
In the US there could be a rebirth of FDR’s New Deal which is socialist enough and therefore anathema to conservatives, Republicans and Tea Party followers. This will not be surprising since the entry of neo-liberal policies under the tag of globalization pushing privatization, deregulation, and liberalization has resulted in contractualization of labor, outsourcing of production and services, lowering of corporate taxes, debasing of labor unions, privatizing of medical care, reduction of social programs and security, and poverty all around.
The Occupy movement is enjoined by allies to have leaders and make clear their demands, but apparently the New York OWS assembly which has anarchist tendencies prefer consensus building and direct action to central leadership, and not to have specific demands. However, considering what the corporate world has inflicted on the working class, they want to tax the rich to create job programs and provide fully paid education, universal health care and social security, single payer health care among others.
In the Philippines, according to Bayan, 49 million Filipinos are poor, 36 million can not afford food, 15 million experience hunger, 11 million are jobless. Local participation in the global movement would escalate and the people’s struggle would intensify unless the lot of the masses is radically changed.
As it is, the West—Europe and the US—are in deep economic crisis, now seeking ironically China’s help for fiscal bailout. But China, its socialist regime having made capitalism work to its advantage, is itself experiencing the inevitable results of capitalism in the widening of the gap between the rich and the poor, the underpayment of labor, unemployment, shoddy and toxic products, corruption in the bureaucracy and industry, and diminution of social security. The economic system shall have created many internal contradictions the regime may realize unbridled capitalism is self-defeating. One writer noted, China needs Marx and Mao at this time.
Hark, then, the armies of the night are abroad. Do you hear them sing in Taipeh, “Arise, ye wretched of the earth…” Or in Berlin (ironically?) Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”?