Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Harry Targ

Back in the late 90s I came upon an essay called “Bagel Capitalism: the Theory of Capitalist Development.” While I revised it for my huge blog audience, the original was written by Sydney Glick, a once well-known Marxist theorist. After developing the original theory of bagel capitalism, Sydney disappeared from public view so when I recently saw him sitting in a booth at Schmutz’s Bar and Grill I was taken aback.

I sat down and almost speechless asked him where he had been for the last several years. He told me that he was so deluged with requests to speak before political groups after the draft of his theoretical work on the transformation of the production, distribution, and consumption of the bagel that he decided to drop out. He said he could no longer take the publicity and he was glad that I drew upon his work so he could withdraw to a life of private contemplation, particularly since it looked like the prospects for building a mass movement-this was the late 1990s-were dim. (I told him that I had published an essay on his ideas about bagel capitalism. The audience for the essay, I reported, swelled to the high two figures. And six of my readers were not relatives).

I asked Sydney what he had been doing all these years and what he was doing now. He reported that his work recently has been stalled by the horrible fire that occurred at Kaufman’s Bagel Bakery and Delicatessen in Skokie, Illinois. According to Kaufman’s website-even a real bagel bakery has to have a website-the bakery would be closed for several weeks until they could renovate it.

So, Glick said, he had been going down to Occupy Chicago from time to time and was following as best he could the Occupy movements elsewhere in the country. Also he said he was working on a new theoretical work that links the crisis of bagel production to the broader global and national economic crises of capitalism. In addition, he had begun to think more seriously about how to build a progressive majority and thinking about ways to plant the seeds for a socialist future.

With much excitement, I asked him if he would be willing to talk to me about these subjects. And, I asked if he would mind if I taped his remarks. He was reluctant because he said he was so bothered by the celebrity status he had garnered when the theory of bagel capitalism was first leaked out that he wanted to avoid that happening again. He did, however, indicate that he was willing to share his ideas with me if I, rather than he, communicated them to the public. Since I knew I could handle all the publicity my blog generated I readily agreed.

So, for starters I asked Glick for his thoughts on the Occupy Movements that seemed to be spreading around the country. His eyes perked up, he began to stammer with delight, and he spoke rapidly in response. Glick said that the spirit of revolt was spreading like wildfire from the Middle East, to the Heartland of America, to Wall Street, to college campuses.

He said the mass protests now were mirroring the massive movements against the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization of the 1990s. The global character of these movements seemed to be putting the spirit of the World Social Forum into action.

The metaphor of the one percent versus the 99 percent was catching on and resonated with workers, people of color, women, young and old, indigenous peoples and all different sectors of global society. Glick said it was unclear what will happen next, sort of like in Egypt, but it is exciting to watch, reflect on, and to participate in whatever activities were occurring in various locales.

I asked him what the mainstream media and older leftists had been asking for two months now. What is their plan? What do they want? How can they know when victory has been achieved?

In response, Glick pointed out that the Occupy Movement was a little like an ‘everything’ bagel. “You know the kind of bagel that has some garlic and onion on it, and some poppy and sesame seeds, and a few other spices and seeds that could not be identified. In other words, the movement is made up of an extraordinary array of individuals and groups, each with their own flavor. But, in the end, the movement like the metaphor is a bagel.”

I asked him if the metaphor had any additional meanings. “Sure,” he said. “The bagel, as I wrote a few years ago, is a nutritious food-at least filling. It has a nice taste to it-particularly with onion and chive cream cheese. So you could enjoy consuming it. Social movements can be like that as well.”

Then he added, “Remember I said that during the height of intense class struggles in the 1880s and the 1930s in the United States, and during the Russian Revolution, workers could use day-old bagels as weapons. Czarist forces, cops in the U.S. and others were intimidated by the power of the bagels that were available to be thrown at them. In fact, I would argue-and am developing the thesis in my latest book-that the National Labor Relations Act guaranteeing workers the right to collective bargaining in 1935 would not have been passed without the existence of stockpiles of bagels that the ruling class knew existed.”

Let me get this straight I said. “You are suggesting that like the bagel, the Occupy Movements taste good, provide joy to those who consume them and also could be a weapon in the struggle for progressive social change.”

Glick responded that I had understood the subtlety of his argument. But, he said, he was having a little heartburn, and had to go home to take some of his medicine. I asked him if we could meet again. I wanted to ask him what he thought about President Obama’s foreign policy, such as his sending 2,500 marines to Australia to protect that country from a Chinese invasion.

As he meandered off I heard him say: “Oy. Let’s leave that subject for next time.”

The original essay about Bagel Capitalism can be found on www.ragblog.blogspot.com or www.heartlandradical.blogspot.com