Wednesday, November 27, 2013
I am taking another break until next week. I thought and thought about what to leave you with, and said, "ah, hell, leave em all with this."
I think you can get rid of the ads pretty easy...so just do it.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
|THIS IS WHAT DIRECT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE|
Several years of People's Assemblies in squares across Greece maybe has spoiled us. Direct democracy in action. Horizontal and all that. Problems, sure, but still governing without government, without parties, without trade unions, governing by the multitude and for the multitude. Great stuff. New stuff. Exciting stuff.
It is diminishing now, I fear. The Party has arrived. The "radical" left Syriza has appeared on the scene, and is doing things now like calling for an occupation of Syntagma Square to support its agenda. But wait, we don't need no Party to call us to occupy...and we sure don't need some outside agenda. That sort of misses the whole point.
EurActiv tells the story:
The European Left is the main political force of change in Europe and only alternative to neoliberalism, says Greek left-wing leader and expected candidate for the European Commission top job, Alexis Tsipras, in an interview with EurActiv Greece.
The European Left can oppose "neoliberalism" and help find a solution to the effects of austerity policy, said Tsipras, the leader of the leftist Greek party, Syriza.
By the European Left, Tsipras means partys like his. He doesn't mean you and me.
Tsipras said that the crisis had brought people from all aspects of society together: “we juxtapose the solidarity of the young, the working people, the pensioners and the unemployed”.
What he doesn't seem to notice is that these people were brought together without him or his Party. What he and his Party are doing is stepping in to "represent" and "lead" these leaderless people.
I'm not saying that Syriza says all the wrong things. It doesn't. The problem is with it the move is away from direct democracy and back to the same old same old...just like always. You can't smash the State by becoming the State. It just does not ever work
George Venizelos writes at An International Critique:
In other words, until the next conference of SYRIZA, in three years, the party politics will be formulated by the current president Alexis Tsipras; if in one year Tsipras and SYRIZA managed to shift the party further to the right, what now... One end can be visualized; SYRIZA will have a radical and rapid ending in terms of quality. As it rapidly grew, that rapidly it will become another promising party that lost the game with the system and became slave of its misconceptions, settling itself at the levels of social democracy; far from modern, yet, radical ideas.
It is not hard to understand the popularity of Syriza. It does say the right things, most of the time, it did have activists who participated in the fights in the Squares. It represents a way forward for many people searching desperately for hope.
I hate to sound like some dogmatic leftist, but I am sorry, I even more hate to see the step back from direct democracy to Party politics.
I am going to post two articles/analysis here. The first is from ROARMAG and is from yesterday . The second is from last May and from the blog Critical Mass. I like the first article a lot. I like some of the second article not quite as much, but it makes some good points.
Greece: rise of the party, demise of the movement?
By Leonidas Oikonomakis
The direct democracy of the squares has given way to representative party politics — a dangerous development, the Latin American experience teaches us.
I was at Syntagma Square in Athens during its long summer of 2011. Just like hundreds of thousands of other participants in this incredible horizontal experiment, I was impressed by the ability of everyday people — who were until then outsiders of the political game — to spontaneously get together and organize themselves into the largest Popular Assembly Athens has ever witnessed, seeking to overturn the neoliberal austerity measures the government was soon to vote on, and invent ways in which direct democracy could possibly work as a form of decision-making beyond the limited space of a square.
This autonomous and horizontal project was made reality without any particular financial resources and without the participation of the traditional political actors like trade unions and political parties, which were emphatically banned from the square. It all happened spontaneously, without leaders, and from below. And it did not happen only in Athens, but in all the squares of Greece — forming what came to be known as “the movement of the squares” (and not theaganaktismenoi, or Greek indignados, as the media called them; a name that was rejected by the movement itself. A huge banner hung over Syntagma those days with a clear message: we are not indignant, we are determined!)
A year later, together with Jerome Roos, we returned to Syntagma with the intention of interviewing some of the protagonists of this movement, as well as to explore a bit further how the occupation actually took off. “We gotta find the person who brought the microphone!” was my main obsession at the time, thinking that the movement seemed spontaneous, yet actually somebody was there with a microphone and a sound system on the very first day, so if we could find “who brought the mic” we could possibly be able to locate who was behind the call for the occupation of the square as well — thus went my doubting-Thomas thinking at the time.
Talking to activists from Syntagma we managed to find the answer to our question, yet it was not at all what we were expecting: the mic was actually brought to Syntagma on the first assembly by… a Spanish wandering musician who happened to be present in the nearby “Greek-Spanish Assembly” of Thissio and who offered his equipment for the very first Syntagma People’s Assembly to take place. Later on, the anarchists of Exarchia brought a better sound system, of course, but this whole story really proved to us that the occupation of the square was actually what it looked like: a leaderless, spontaneous, horizontal movement for real (direct) democracy; one that taught the people who happened to pass by Syntagma those days that there is another way of doing politics, not through ‘representatives’ and ‘leaders’ but through one’s own participation.
While this direct democratic approach was obviously not without its limitations, it was still an effort “coming from the people,” as Dimitris — one of the facilitators of the assembly — told us in an interview for the ROAR documentaryUtopia on the Horizon (2012). And of course this radical democratic experiment made “the people” the main agent of change for the little while that it lasted, excluding the more traditional actors of political life and completely discrediting the country’s political system. Yet the summer of Syntagma did not last forever, even though the 72 days and nights for which it managed to last made it the longest major occupation of the Real Democracy Movement of 2011-’13.
Two-and-a-half years later, on November 10, 2013, another call for the occupation of Syntagma Square was made. Yet this time there was no need to investigate who made the call, neither “who brought the mic”. The whole event was organized by the radical-left party SYRIZA in order to support its request for a confidence vote against the government which was taking place inside Parliament at the same time (a confidence vote of which nobody understoodwhy it had been called, since there was no chance for the government not to survive it — but that’s a different story).
Of course, the party had taken care of installing a big stage (and an expensive sound system) for its members to address the crowds, while it had also invited several artists to perform at the square. And of course there was no Popular Assembly — the main attraction of the night was the speech by SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras from inside Parliament. Yet, although SYRIZA had already taken care of the sound system and all the other details and needed no Spanish wandering musician to appear as a Deus Ex Machina to save the situation, its call to occupy Syntagma was not attended by even a fraction of the crowds that used to attend the Popular Assemblies two years before, neither did it have their passion, their creativity, or their hope. However, SYRIZA’s event confirmed one thing: that the ‘political party’ and the ‘state’ are back in play as the main front of political resistance in Greece today, with SYRIZA being the main expression of this tendency.
Many leftists in Europe and North America look to SYRIZA with hope and amazement. But is it really a good sign that a political party has “stolen the show” of the movements and usurped their energy? Should we not be worried that the horizontal and direct democratic experiment of the squares has largely given way to the old hierarchical forms of representation and electoral politics? Should we not be concerned that the Popular Assemblies have been replaced with the speeches of a party leader in Parliament? Perhaps we should look to the experiences of another continent — Latin America — that already has a long history with such developments, and learn a lesson or two.
In his excellent book, Territories in Resistance: A Cartography of Latin American Social Movements, Raúl Zibechi evaluates the decade of the “pink tide” in Latin America and comes to the following two conclusions. First, that in all the Latin American countries that experienced the “pink tide” (which swept left-leaning governments into power in Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and others), and despite the many local differences among them, there was one fundamental feature these countries all shared: the return of the state as the main agent of social change. And second, that the movements that were the protagonists of the main mobilizations in the late 1990s and early 2000s (the piqueteros in Argentina, the participants in the water and gas wars in Bolivia, the landless workers’ in Brazil, and so on) had all been marginalized or neutralized through state repression or co-option, leading to the ascendency of the ‘party’ as the main expression of popular demands and desires, and the side-lining of the radical emancipatory struggle of the movements themselves.
Regarding Argentina more specifically, where the direct democratic experiments of 2001-’03 gave way to Kirchner’s corporatist neo-Peronism, Benjamin Dangl famously wrote that “Kirchner was handing out crumbs, when what many demanded was revolution.” And regarding Bolivia, Oscar Olivera — spokesperson of the Coordinadora por la Defensa del Agua y la Vida during the legendary Cochabamba Water War — described the first year of Evo Morales’ government as follows:
“Now that [Morales'] Movement Towards Socialism occupies state space, it has begun trying to co-opt and control the movements, in order to demobilize them by means of their own specific demands and tame them according to the government’s interests. The state is expropriating capacities that we recovered at great cost: the capacity to rebel, to mobilize, to organize, and to advance proposals. They give institutional positions to movement spokespeople, embassies to social leaders, and dismiss and stigmatize those of us who do not want to enter state institutions but rather want to break with them, alleging that we are funded by the right-wing.”
Kirchner’s crumbs and Evo’s offers managed to stop whatever revolutionary processes were under way below the social surface, leading us to wonder once again why social movements consistently lose out to electoral institutional politics when the center-left takes over a regime. Are we witnessing a similar process unfolding in Europe right now, with the rise of SYRIZA in Greece? Are the radical emancipatory movements once again being sidelined in favor of party politics and the electoral conquest of state power? The Latin American experience is there and we better pay some close attention to it. Otherwise we are condemned to commit the same mistakes over and over again.
Roy Ratcliffe (March 2013
Monday, November 25, 2013
"The Superman of the late ’30s was an angry fellow. He battled crooked politicians and slimy capitalists– once dragging a coal tycoon down into his own unsafe mine. He grabbed generals sending soldiers to their deaths and placed them on the frontline."
Did you know that the Nazi's hated Superman. They were so upset by a 1940 article in Look magazine entitled "How Would Supermen End the War," in which Superman invaded Europe, rounded up Hitler and Mussolini, and toted them off to a war crimes trial, that the official newspaper of the SS went to the trouble to try and trash the Man of Steel.
There is a lot about Superman of which you may not be aware...and bunches of it is political.
I doubt that few if any readers of Scission, myself included, have ever heard the Superman Radio Show from way back when. Too bad, it seems. From Scan:
On the radio, Superman was far more grounded in pressing contemporary concerns, as demonstrated by the story arcs this paper will focus on, featuring Superman battling, in turn, the 'Guardians of America', a group fomenting racial hatred to prevent the building of an inter-faith recreational facility in Metropolis; a racketeer promoting juvenile delinquency in league with a corrupt mayoral candidate threatening to block a slum clearance and regeneration program; an organisation closely resembling the Ku Klux Klan, trying to force a Chinese-American family out of Metropolis; and Big George Latimer, a crooked political boss using racial and religious intolerance to keep war veterans out of state jobs that they had been promised. In 1946, with the Ku Klux Klan capitalising on the social upheavals of the war, the problematic reintegration of veterans into civilian life a pressing concern and juvenile delinquency one of the most discussed topics in the US, Superman's producers were clearly immersing the character in the social concerns of the time.
Continuing on this theme for a bit...
About that radio show, Superman took on the Klan in play called Clan of the Fiery Cross. From Superman Homepage:
"The series is also credited with dealing a powerful blow against the Ku Klux Klan's prospects in the northern USA. The human rights activist Stetson Kennedy infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan and other racist/terrorist groups. Concerned that the organization had too strong connections to the government and police forces, Kennedy decided to use his findings to strike at the Klan in a different way. He contacted the producers of the Superman series and proposed a story where the superhero battles the Klan. The producers, looking for new villains, eagerly agreed to the idea. To that end, he provided information - including secret codewords and details of Klan rituals - to the writers. The result was a series of episodes, "The Clan of the Fiery Cross", in which Superman took on the Klan. Kennedy intended to strip away the Klan's mystique, and the trivialization of the Klan's rituals and codewords likely had a negative impact on Klan recruiting and membership.
"Reportedly, Klan leaders denounced the show and called for a boycott of Kellogg's products. However, the story arc earned spectacular ratings and the food company stood by its support of the show."
And off we go...
Lloyd Bourne, writing at LewRockwell.com says:
Created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster in 1933, Superman was the solution to all ‘social injustice’. Born out of the Progressive tradition Superman was a ‘Champion of the oppressed’. The oppressed, of course, were all those under the thumb of rich private individuals who were responsible for crashing the economy.
In his first couple comic book appearances Superman fixed the following ‘injustices’: Stopping a private arms dealer from inciting a war, showing a rich mine owner how horrible his safety standards were, and destroying slums so government could come in and rebuild better housing for the poor.
That was before he just stood for truth, justice, and the ever important AMERICAN WAY.
It's interesting how that transformation occurred. Think CONGRESS. Again from Lloyd Bourne:
In 1954 a well known psychiatrist, Fredric Wertham published his book, Seduction of the Innocent. In it Wertham blamed the violent subject matter of comic books for the problems with youths. The book stirred up enough ‘public concern’ for Congress to launch an inquiry. The threat of Federal regulation pushed the comic book industry to preemptively self-regulate. The Comics Code Authority was born, their mission was to prohibit certain subject matters from reaching the public. All overt violence was banned, ‘In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.’ and ‘Policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.’ This caused Superman to support the status quo and abandon all of his social justice crusades.
Another reason for the change according to the New Republic:
...had to do with the way pop culture changed in the age of television. The producers of the Superman television series starring George Reeves felt strongly that the show and the comics should work in tandem. The series’ tight production budget meant the Man of Steel spent most of his time facing off against petty thieves, smugglers, and bank robbers. The comics dutifully followed suit.
Superman was created by a couple of Jews named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster from Cleveland. Back in the 1930s lots of young Jews were trying to find a place in the pulp comic industry. It seems that for some reason comic book publishers actively hired Jews which wasn't the case in other industries that required illustrators. Jewlarious points out:
The 1930s were also, arguably, the most anti-Semitic period in American history. Nazi sympathizer Fritz Kuhn of the German-American Bund led legions of rabid followers on marches through many cities, including Siegel and Shuster's hometown. Radio superstar Father Charles E. Coughlin of the pro-fascist Christian Front was one of the nation's most powerful men. And Ivy League colleges kept the number of Jewish students to a minimum, while country clubs and even entire neighborhoods barred Jews altogether.
So Siegel and Shuster began submitting treatments under the pseudonym Bernard J. Kenton, just to be on the safe side. Throughout the Great Depression, the two boys scraped together every penny they could just to cover postage. Shuster sketched on cheap brown wrapping paper.
From these humble beginnings, Siegel and Shuster carved out a character that embodied their adolescent frustrations, served as a mouthpiece of the oppressed, and became an American icon.
Of course, while DC comics made a fortune off Superman, Siegel and Shuster weren't so lucky. They were paid a salary, but in the process gave up their rights. They ended up selling their percentage for $130 (so much for the myth of those shrewd Jewish businessmen) and were fired from their own comic creation. Only later in the 70s, after the truth of what happened came out and a bit of a public outrage against DC developed did their names again appear besides their creation.
A little aside, in later years DC comics did an episode where Superman goes back in time to confront the Holocaust. Amazingly, or maybe not, DC decided to purposely never use the word "Jews" in that issue. They used "targeted population" instead. They were later forced to apologize for this little slip up.
Did I mention that Superman came to America illegally?
Then again, what about Superman's racist past.
Well, not so good...
And, I am almost at a loss for this curious issue from Lois Lane...
PS: Growing up in the 50s, I once had an incredible collection of Superman and other comics which I kept in pristine condition. Unfortunately, my mom, may she rest in peace, threw them all away along with my equally impressive baseball card collection. Oh well, I lover her still.
The following is taken from The Hooded Utilitarian.
Prehistory of the Superhero (Part Seven): Reign of the Superman
by Alex Buchet
Art by Joe Shuster
Once commentators could discuss the “Superman”, the “Super-Race”, and the “Super-Society” without drawing connections back to the philosophy from whence it sprang, the Uebermensch proved to be a concept able to accommodate any number of competing moral viewpoints. And once Nietsche could become a thinker with answers but no questions, and his philosophy a celebration of power rather than a testament to the need for human wonder, the Uebermensch’s naturalization into American intellectual and cultural life was successfully under way.
– Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, American Nietzsche
See you in the Funny Papers
In the 1890′s an extremely successful new pop medium took off: the newspaper comic strip.
Millions of readers delighted in the daily comedy antics of the Katzenjammer Kids, Buster Brown, or Mutt and Jeff. The strips ran in black-and-white, but in 1897 the New York Journal published the first full-color Sunday comics supplement. In 1924 appeared what is generally considered to be the first adventure comic strip: Wash Tubbs, by Roy Crane (1901–1977).
Art by Roy Crane; click on image to enlarge
This opened the way for such classic adventure series as Terry and the Pirates, Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon, and Dick Tracy.
The man who introduced the superhero to the comic strip was scripter Lee Falk(1911–1999). He created Mandrake the Magician in 1934, a dapper wizard who wielded his stupendous hypnotic powers against such villains as the Cobra and the Deleter.
Art by Phil Davis (1906-1964)
Mandrake has been the springboard for subsequent magician superheroes such as Ibis the Invincible, Dr Strange, or Zatara. Sometimes the imitation verged on plagiarism: witness Zatara:
Art by Fred Guardineer
Falks’ other classic superhero creation was the Phantom of Bengal (1936).
The Phantom had an original backstory: Kit Walker was the 21st Phantom in a lineage stretching back to his ancestor in 1516. By adopting the same mask and costume generation after generation, the Phantoms created the legend of an immortal fighter for justice:
Art by Ray Moore (1905-1984); click on image to enlarge
The Phatom‘s costume pioneered several of the visual tropes associated with superheroes ever since: form-fitting top and tights, with the elegant innovation of underpants worn on the outside; a skull-hugging hood; and a mask with blanks hiding the eyes. All he lacked was a cape — which deficiency Mandrake supplied. Compare the Phantom to such later superheroes like Batman and Captain America, and it’s obvious how much the latter owe to Falks’ design.
All in Color for a Dime
Comic strips from the start would be gathered into book editions, with cardboard covers, much like modern European albums; they were relatively expensive gift items.
In 1929, Dell Publishing brought out a tabloid-sized newspaper supplement of color strip reprints, The Funnies, which ran for a year; in 1933, Eastern Color Printing published a reprint pamphlet titled Funnies on Parade, featuring popular strips such as ‘Mutt and Jeff’, ‘Joe Palooka‘, and ‘Skippy‘. It’s considered by many to be the first true American comic book — with minor changes of format and printing technology, 2012 comic books resemble 1933 ones.
Funnies on Parade was devised chiefly as a way to keep Depression-idled printing presses busy. It was never sold, but used as a promotional giveaway by Procter and Gamble; everybody thought there was no money to be made selling what came free with the daily newspaper.
But Eastern Color’s salesman, Max Gaines, was sure there was a market out there, and so there was issued in May 1934 Famous Funnies, a 64-page reprint magazine retailing at 10 cents. It sold an incredible 90% of its print run. A new media industry was born.
Cover illustration by Jon Mayes
The newsstands were soon flooded with comic books. It’s not hard to understand their appeal; in our age of i-Pads and portable television, we have to remember that back in the 1930s immersive visual entertainment was limited to movie theatres.
The strip syndicates furnished the editorial content. This posed two problems: first, that the ravenous demand for comic books was quickly using up the available material; next, that the syndicates were charging some $10 per page, which cut cruelly into the profit margins.
The solution was to create new material at, say, $5 per page. Of course, such a fee would never attract established professional cartoonists; but, then as now, a horde of eager youths stood ready to write and draw for miserable wages, perhaps as a stepping-stone to the lucrative strip market. And the publishers were more than willing to exploit them.
Needless to say, this was a recipe for dreadful comics: inexperienced youngsters forced to hack out stories as fast as possible to earn a decent living. On the plus side, these tyros had youth’s energy and invention.
Although some new material had been incorporated from the start of the boom, generally the credit for the first all-new material comic book has been given to Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson‘s New Fun comics. It featured a mix of humor and adventure tales; some of the latter were provided by the teen-aged combo ofJerry Siegel (script) and Joe Shuster (art). We shall come back to this pair later on.
The pulps had found formidable competition for the reader’s dime. The more astute pulp publishers were quick to bring out comic books, often cartoon versions of their prose magazines; thus Fiction House simultaneously brought out, in 1939, the science-fiction pulp Planet Stories and its comic book sister, Planet Comics.
As we saw in the last chapter, the pulps had abundantly featured masked super-heroes. It is therefore logical that pulp and comic book publisher Centaur Publications should debut, in 1936′s Funny Picture Stories, the first original comic book superhero: The Clock, the secret identity of society swell Brian O’Brien.
But far from this publishing sideshow, 1933 is a year chiefly remembered for a dark and world-changing occurrence on the other side of the Atlantic: on January 30, President Paul Von Hindenburg appointed the leader of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, Adolph Hitler, the Chancellor of Germany.
The Nazis were now in power.
Hoch der Uebermensch!
In the decades since Nietzsche had formulated the concept and the wordUebermensch (generally translated into English as “superman” ), the notion had been warped and twisted into strange shapes indeed.
For Nietzsche, the superman was a spiritual goal for every human being, a new type unhindered by religion’s focus on the world to come — rather, revelling in the material world, placing body above soul, and dedicated to discovering new values by which to live.
But what the culture at large retained was the word: superman. It became what we would now call a meme. And it came to be attached to the strongest, most world-changing idea of the late 19th century: evolution.
The Darwinian revolution — postulating the emergence and survival of species by mutation and selection — was often misunderstood, and its revelations misapplied. The idea of evolution ( a term Darwin himself was uncomfortable with, preferring “descent through modification”) seemed to imply that humanity could be transforming itself into a superior species — or at least some “races” of humanity could.
Pseudo-scientific racism was spawned in the latter half of the 19th century, from the Frenchman de Gobineau‘s An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races(1855) through Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton< and his invention of the concept (and word) eugenics.
Illustration for the 2nd Congress of Eugenics (1921). Click image to enlarge.
Eugenics is an ideology that calls for the preservation or improvement of human genetic stock by encouraging “superior” individuals, and discouraging “inferior” ones, to breed. From the vantage point of the 21st century, after a hundred years of horror and suffering inflicted by such ‘scientific’ racism, it is hard to wrap our heads around the idea that this was once considered a humane and socially progressive idea; yet champions of eugenics included such forward-thinking persons as H.G.Wells, Margaret Sanger, George Bernard Shaw andSydney Webb.
And the first country to forcibly apply eugenics by law? The United States of America, where from 1907 to 1963 64000 forced sterilisations of “imbeciles”, “hereditary criminals” and other “degenerates” were carried out — 20,000 in California alone. (America was also the land where the term “master race” was coined, to justify Southern slavery.)
It remained for certain ideologues to push the folly of eugenics even further, to advocate the extermination of ‘sub-human’ peoples — Untermenschen — such as the Jews and Gypsies, while seeking to breed a new race of masters– of Uebermenschen — of supermen.
These were the murderous Nazis, who had seized absolute power in Germany.
And their goal of extermination was hideously implemented in the Holocaust.
Their breeding program– the Lebensborn project — aimed at refining a supreme Nordic race. As SS leader Heinrich Himmler detailed it in 1936:
The organization “Lebensborn e.V.” serves the SS leaders in the selection and adoption of qualified children. The organisation “Lebensborn e.V.” is under my personal direction, is part of the race and settlement central bureau of the SS, and has the following obligations:
- 1. Support racially, biologically, and hereditarily valuable families with many children.
- 2. Place and care for racially and biologically and hereditarily valuable pregnant women, who, after thorough examination of their and the progenitor’s families by the race and settlement central bureau of the SS, can be expected to produce equally valuable children.
- 3. Care for the children.
- 4. Care for the children’s mothers.
–objectives that expanded to the kidnapping of ‘racially desirable’ children in such conquered lands as Norway, Denmark and Poland, to be Germanised and raised as the vanguard of a new race of superior beings.
German propaganda poster, 1942. Note the contrast between the calm, strong “Uebermensch” German soldier and the defeated, multiracial French prisoners in the background.
(Before crossing the Atlantic back to the USA, let me repeat that Nietzsche himself was, contrary to popular modern conception, not at all a proponent of the sort of ruthless evolutionary pruning that characterised social Darwinists and eugenics enthusiasts:
There is rarely a degeneration, a truncation, or even a vice or any physical or moral loss without an advantage somewhere else. In a warlike and restless clan, for example, the sicklier man may have occasion to be alone, and may therefore become quieter and wiser; the one-eyed man will have one eye the stronger; the blind man will see deeper inwardly, and certainly hear better. To this extent, the famous theory of the survival of the fittest does not seem to me to be the only viewpoint from which to explain the progress of strengthening of a man or of a race. — Friedrich Nietzche, Human, All too Human (1876)
He was also contemptuous of both nationalism and of racism; he proposed to deal with anti-Semitism by shooting anti-Semites in the face.)
Thus the idea of the superman was very much “in the air”– not just in Germany, but worldwide– in the early 1930s.
And this idea would bloom in the imagination of one teen-aged boy from Cleveland, Ohio, who would revolutionise the new comic-book field.
Man of Steel — and of Paper
The science fiction pulps spawned an exceptionally active and intelligent fandom from the start. Many of the greatest writers in SF history started out as teen-aged members of such fan clubs as the Futurians or the Science Fiction League: Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, Donald Woolheim, Cyril Kornbluth. Other science fiction fans of the 30′s went on to be editors, some of comic books: Mort Weisinger, Julius Schwartz (both of whom would serve as Superman editors for decades.)
In Cleveland, Ohio, young Jerry Siegel (1914 — 1996) was one of the earliest SF fans: in 1929, at the age of fifteen, he produced what may be the first science-fiction fanzine, Cosmic Stories, on his typewriter– carbon copies were his ‘printing press’. When he was 16, Siegel met teen-aged artist Joe Shuster (1914 — 1992) at high school; they immediately clicked — ‘When Joe and I first met, it was like the right chemicals coming together’.
They put out a mimeographed fanzine together: Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of Future Civilisation, in the third issue of which — in June 1932– they published the following story, written by Siegel (under the pen name Herbert S. Fine), illustrated by Shuster:
click on image to enlarge
This Superman was an evil tyrant with psychic powers. Siegel, later in life, recalled how the word and concept of a superman was much discussed at the time, in tandem with the rise of Naziism in Germany. Both Siegel and Shuster were Jews; this evil ur-Superman likely reflected alarm over growing Nazi power.
But the next iteration of Superman was a force for good; in addition to the obvious wish-fulfillment fantasies it represented, I suspect there was also a desire to appropriate and reclaim the idea of the superman from Nazi ideologues.
Certainly, that’s how some Nazis saw it:
Jerry Siegel, an intellectually and physically circumcised chap who has his headquarters in New York, is the inventor of a colorful figure with an impressive appearance, a powerful body, and a red swim suit who enjoys the ability to fly through the ether.The inventive Israelite named this pleasant fellow with an overdeveloped body and underdeveloped mind “Superman.” He advertised widely Superman’s sense of justice, well-suited for imitation by the American youth.As you can see, there is nothing the Sadducees won’t do for money!Jerry looked about the world and saw things happening in the distance, some of which alarmed him. He heard of Germany’s reawakening, of Italy’s revival, in short of a resurgence of the manly virtues of Rome and Greece. “That’s great,” thought Jerry, and decided to import the ideas of manly virtue and spread them among young Americans. Thus was born this “Superman.” [...] Woe to the youth of America, who must live in such a poisoned atmosphere and don’t even notice the poison they swallow daily.(Das Schwarze Korps, April 25, 1940.)
(This was in response to a two-page strip done for Look magazine, in whichSuperman smashes the German army and brings Hitler and Stalin before the League of Nations for judgment.)
In 1933, Siegel and Shuster produced sample strips of Superman with a view to newspaper syndication. This version of the character differed visually from the one we know, chiefly in his lack of costume:
art by Joe Shuster; click on image to enlarge
The above illustration shows another strong influence on Superman’s genesis, the pulp hero Doc Savage. Consider the below house advertisement for Doc:
click on image to enlarge
Now began a five-year effort to sell the strip. It was turned down time and again by the syndicates. One editor commented: “The trouble with this, kid, is that it’s too sensational. Nobody would believe it.” Bell Syndicate told them, “We are in the market only for strips likely to have the most extra-ordinary appeal, and we do not feel Superman gets into this category.” United Features said that Superman was “a rather immature piece of work.”
As Jim Steranko put it, the world’s hottest property was gathering dust on the shelf.
Meanwhile, Siegel and Shuster were making a living in the new market of original-material comic books, telling the adventures of Dr Occult and Slam Bradley. They tried re-tooling the strip for this market; still no success. Shuster, in a fit of despair, burned all his sample pages; Siegel was only able to salvage the cover:
art by Joe Shuster; click on image to enlarge
This act of destruction cleared the way for a new version. There was a new outfit, obviously inspired by newspapers’ The Phantom and by circus performers. As Shuster noted, they had created a “kind of costume and let’s give him a big S on his chest, and a cape, make him as colorful as we can and as distinctive as we can.” This showbiz instinct was tremendously prescient. The image of Superman is recognised the world over — a marvellous branding success — and has been imitated by countless superhero characters up to the present day.
Joe Shuster at the drawing board, with Jerry Siegel hovering; click on photo to enlarge
Finally, the two creators were able to place the strip with Max Gaines at National Allied Publications — the future DC comics. It was looked on almost as filler material — editor Vin Sullivan didn’t have enough strips to round out Action Comics 1. Still, Superman was splashed on the cover — a cover that almost went unused because Gaines felt it was too silly:
art by Joe Shuster; click on image to enlarge
And indeed, even a year later, despite the character’s unheard-of popularity,Superman wasn’t the main cover feature on every issue–as shown in this 1939 house ad:
art by Fred Guardineer
The comic came out on April 18, 1938. It was an instant sellout. The age of the superhero comic book was born — and continues today, in a much-etiolated, decadent form, totally dominating popular comic books — to the point where superhero comics are actually termed ‘mainstream’. (Famously, Siegel and Shuster saw the merest trickle of the ocean of money Superman was to generate.)
The Superman of the late ’30s was an angry fellow. He battled crooked politicians and slimy capitalists– once dragging a coal tycoon down into his own unsafe mine. He grabbed generals sending soldiers to their deaths and placed them on the frontline.
This crusading attitude, as much as the dream of unlimited power, explains much of his instant appeal at the time. This was an America still crippled by the Great Depression, with the looming shadow of war causing anxiety. The ‘common man’ was frightened, exhausted, and furious. And here was this mighty champion taking on the bums of the power elite: it was a populist fantasy of revenge — the same one that Gramsci had discerned in the ‘superman’ characters of nineteenth-century popular novels, the same one that colored the dime novel Westerns, with their aggrieved outlaws.
We’ve spent the past seven columns tracing the distant origins of the superhero; a word or two on the immediate influences that fed the imagination of Superman’s creators.
Siegel mentioned, besides the Uebermensch concept, the swashbuckling movie characters of Douglas Fairbanks: among these, as seen in part 6 of this study, was the proto-superhero Zorro. He also cited Tarzan; but the latter’s creator–Edgar Rice Burroughs — surely also contributed the conceit of a visitor to another planet gaining super-strength and the ability to leap vast distances from gravity lower than his homeworld’s, in the John Carter of Mars stories.
The Doc Savage influence is manifest, even in small details: the name of Superman’s alter-ego Clark Kent echoes Doc’s own, Clark Savage Jr; Doc had a Fortress of Solitude before Superman did; Doc was billed the Man of Bronze, while Superman was the Man of Steel.
There’s controversy over the influence of a 1930 novel by Philip Wylie(1902–1971), Gladiator.
The hero of Gladiator, Hugo Danner, exhibits powers identical to those ofSuperman‘s in his first appearances: herculean strength, bulletproof skin, the ability to leap great distances. Danner got his power as a result of his scientist father’s attempt to replicate the proportional strength of insects; now read this early presentation of Superman, with a note at the end on his power:
art by Joe Shuster; click on image to enlarge
Wylie, in a 1963 interview with science fiction historian Sam Moscowitz, claimed that Superman was plagiarised from Gladiator, and that he’d threatened to sue Siegel and the publisher in 1940.
Siegel, for his part, denied ever reading Wylie’s book. It would seem plausible, as the novel had only sold some 2000 copies. And that comparison of insect strength in proportion to our own was already pretty old hat in 1938. But there’s a smoking gun: Siegel had reviewed the book in his fanzine Science Fiction…whose next issue featured ‘Reign of the Superman’.
Finally, an unconscious influence may be traced to Siegel’s Jewish heritage. Superman seems like a parody of the Messiah, sent from the heavens to redeem mankind. He is also strongly reminiscent of the legendary Golem of Prague, who with his superhuman strength protected the Jews against their oppressors.
An intriguing theory, but perhaps a far-fetched one.