Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 14, 2012

An exchange between two titans

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 1:01 pm

March 13, 2012

What the imperialists really think about Libya’s militias

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 8:15 pm

NY Times March 12, 2012
Libya’s Franchise Fiasco

As long as militias have power, Libya’s economic normalization will be postponed. If groups outside the government can shape the security environment, outside investors, particularly oil companies, will be wary of returning to the country. Without foreign companies, Libyan oil production will not return to preconflict levels and, worse, it risks slipping backward. Revenue could decrease at the very time the government needs it most.

Geoff D. Porter is a risk consultant specializing in North Africa.

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/13/opinion/libyas-electoral-law-is-flawed.html

March 12, 2012

Finding fault with Hugo Chavez

Filed under: Latin America — louisproyect @ 4:20 pm

For the better part of a decade segments of the far left have found fault with governments in Latin America that carry out significant reforms but have failed to abolish capitalism. To some extent, the criticisms have been fueled by the obvious contradictions between the socialist rhetoric of someone like a Hugo Chavez and the socio-economic reality. One cannot escape the feeling that there is a certain recycling of the Bolshevik versus Menshevik/SR narrative in all this despite the fact that the Bolsheviks were a material reality on the ground in Russia in 1917 while the left critics of today have little to offer other than their words.

While it is hard to refute arguments that Venezuela or Bolivia continues to be based on capitalist property relations and that their leftwing governments frequently offer concessions to the native bourgeoisie at the expense of the working class and its allies, perhaps another yardstick is more useful in assessing them. If we bracket out the “21st century socialism” type rhetoric and simply judge their achievements against other governments in Latin America over the past half-century, their grades improve.

When I was first coming around the Trotskyist movement in 1967, I asked an SWP member for some reading recommendations. To his credit, he did not suggest James P. Cannon but had me look at John Gerassi’s “The Great Fear in Latin America”, selections of which can be read here including chapter 17 titled “A Digression: United States — Latin American Inter-History”. There Gerassi writes:

Never has any freely elected candidate from Right, Center, or Left who showed himself the least bit independent of our policies been able to last out his whole term. Always the forces that threw him out have been trained and equipped by and sometimes in the United States. The only exceptions have arisen when popular revolutions had previously destroyed these forces. Thus, the Latin American patriot, the Nationalist, the genuine reformer has had to buck us as well as local oligarchs. Today, if we are to understand him, we must not only accept this fact; we must also realize that to him all our aid, our treaties, our loans, and our military missions are evil.

The Latin American Nationalist has had too many examples of United States intervention in his continent during the last few years to let him forget the long list of our interventions in the past. Memories are short only when suffering is short. Latin Americans’ memories are long because they are still suffering. And any policy that we may adopt, if it is aimed at reconquering Latin America as our friend, must be careful never to forget that such a long list exists. It goes back very far. Let us glance at it rapidly, starting only from the last century, in fact, from 1823 when the Monroe Doctrine was conceived.

If this is the context for evaluating progress in Latin America, the past decade looks pretty good, especially when compared to what is happening in places like Greece and Spain today; but if your yardstick is a socialist ideal, then perhaps not so much.

All this comes to mind when you look at a guest post on the popular Lenin’s Tomb blog by Callum McCormick titled Threshold of the Bolivarian revolution. While McCormick is more charitable toward his subjects than others I have seen in the Trotskyist press, he leaves you with the distinct feeling that Hugo Chavez is a disappointment:

For those who support Chavez and the project of ‘21st century socialism’, the election is something of a crossroads. The long time activist and former member of the Chavez government, Roland Denis, recently said that the project for building an alternative to capitalism had ‘collapsed’. The problem for Chavez is the same one confronting all the governments of the ‘pink tide’ in Latin America. Their elections expressed and promoted a desire for radical social change among the despised masses of Latin America. Their actions in government have often given concrete form to these desires and just as often thwarted them.

The story is an old one. Propelled into government across the continent as part of a deep and general revolt against the IMF imposed ‘structural adjustment’ programs of the 80’s and 90’s, the ‘new left’ is faced with the dilemma of knowing that an alternative is needed but not quite being sure what it is. Socialism is, not the first time, proclaimed everywhere and created nowhere.

Now of course the British SWP has no problem with “the dilemma of knowing that an alternative is needed but not quite being sure what it is.” They would be the first to tell you that Venezuela needs a movement to the left of Chavez that can, as McCormick puts it, “build up the pressure for a fundamental and irreversible transformation of Venezuelan society.” In other words, it needs a Bolshevik type party to supersede the Menshevik figure in power. Just ask Chris Harman:

In the great revolutionary movements of the 20th century, permanent revolution meant workers throwing up their own democratic institutions from below, workers’ councils, and then drawing behind them the rest of the exploited and the oppressed.

The workers, bound together in the workplaces by a common battle against exploitation, found it easier to develop an organic unity in struggle than did the peasants or the urban poor.

Disillusion with the parliamentarians means there is a great deal of talk about “popular power” as an alternative in Venezuela.

But for the first three tendencies it simply means councils elected to mediate between the government and the mass of people.

For the revolution to become truly permanent workers would have to go much further than this. They need to establish their own democratic organs so as to take control of the government, to replace the existing corrupt state structure and to reorganise industry so as to end the poverty and huge inequalities that still characterise Venezuela today.

If you stop and think about it, this is a formula based on what happened in Russia in 1917, something that all Marxists would obviously support. If the choice is between a Chavez presidency that marks time with its bureaucratic and rightwing elements and workers “bound together in the workplaces by a common battle against exploitation”, how can you pick choice A from the menu when there is choice B? Especially when choice B comes with a complementary bottle of wine?

Missing entirely from Harman’s analogy with 1917 is an understanding of how the Bolsheviks became a party with the political and moral authority to supersede Kerensky. Why have groups that emerged out of the Trotskyist movement, including Tony Cliff’s, never achieved the mass influence that would make such a scenario more than an idle fantasy? In politics there are sins of commission and sins of omission. If Hugo Chavez is guilty of the sins of commission, including a failure to nationalize the commanding heights of industry and institute a planned economy, then what about the aspiring vanguard parties of Latin America that come out of the Trotskyist movement? What responsibility do they have for the “betrayals” from the “fake left”? About 10 years ago I visited a friend in Washington whose wife worked at the Smithsonian Library. We visited the place and browsed around the reference library, where my friend spotted what he described as one of his favorite books: Robert Alexander’s Trotskyism in Latin America.

If you thumb through its pages, you will find a Sargasso Sea of tiny groups that never achieved anything like the popularity of Hugo Chavez’s. They are frequently the products of splits, having names like Workers Militant Party (Revolutionary) to distinguish itself from the sell-outs of the Workers Militant Party. My friend had an entirely different take on all this than I did. He saw their failure as a product of Stalinist hegemony mixed with capitalist repression. I, on the other hand, saw their own sectarianism as the main cause even if the other factors were real enough in themselves.

There was an alternative to this. The Cuban revolution was led by a true vanguard. The July 26th Movement was led by young revolutionaries who came to Marxism on their own terms rather than being “trained” by the traditional far left parties. By abandoning the “programmatic” boilerplate that was associated with such groups and that revolved around a correct interpretation of the Russian revolution, the July 26th Movement removed artificial barriers that would have impeded its growth. Furthermore, the “program” of the movement was embodied in speeches like “History Will Absolve Me” that spoke to the deeply felt needs of the Cuban people in language drawn from the Cuban experience, including Jose Marti’s writings, rather than Russia 1917.

For obvious reasons Cuba no longer provides a pole of attraction in the same way it used to for revolutionary fighters. The aging of the revolution and the loss of support from the Soviet Union have made Castro’s affinity for the new Latin American left understandable. If it is no longer possible for a new July 26th Movement to triumph, then isn’t the next best thing to have a left reformist government in power? After all, Che Guevara risked his life fighting to defend Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. Doesn’t Hugo Chavez compare favorably with Arbenz?

In some ways the Latin American left lags behind developments in the rest of the world, particularly the Arab Spring. This would explain Hugo Chavez’s unforgivable support for Qaddafi and now al-Assad. The premises of 21st century socialism seem geared in many ways to a pre-2008 period in which the long slow development of workers power in bourgeois society—analogous in many ways to the development of capitalist property relations within feudalism—was appropriate for the time. After all, the capitalist economy was expanding throughout the world, including important countries in Latin America like Brazil and oil-rich Venezuela.

We are in a different period now. I don’t think it is necessary to abandon the term 21st century socialism since it embodies important ideas, including the need for a democratic movement and popular power (in many respects, this is nothing but a return to classical Marxism.)

But the economic crisis forces us to look at a new set of circumstances, one in which movements for social change can lag behind the social relations that are being shaped by swift-moving currents. Everywhere in the world the left is being challenged by attacks on working people such as the kind that have not been seen since the 1930s. Despite the ability of Latin American left governments to remain somewhat isolated from these attacks (a function to some extent of their role in a rapidly expanding mineral and agricultural export market), they too will eventually face the same sorts of contradictions. Indeed, Callum McCormick states that “a defeat would for Chavez would be a setback for the left and perhaps ignite a ‘carnival of reaction’ across the continent.”

While I would not question the need for criticisms of Hugo Chavez or Evo Morales (I would have found it impossible not to point out the glaring contradictions between the ideals of 21st century socialism and Qaddafi’s police state), my suggestion to the far left comrades who were trained in the Trotskyist movement is to begin thinking about how they can become part of a process that does not serve the same kind of role in left politics that Roger Ebert plays in movies. There is always room for a good critic but given the urgency of our times we don’t so much need journalism on Chavez’s flaws but concrete proposals on how to move the left forward and more importantly actions that can serve as an inspiration and a model for our movement globally.

March 11, 2012

Three films of note

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 10:10 pm

Reviews of:

In a Better World

A Separation

This is not a Film

In stark contrast to just about every other prize handed out at the yearly Academy Awards, the best foreign film nominees are generally worth seeing for the obvious reasons. As the United States continues its steady economic and cultural decline, great art tends to be found elsewhere. As the winner of the 2010 best foreign film, In a Better World is a deeply nuanced and morally complex tale about revenge, one of society’s most deeply entrenched patterns of behavior and most virulent among its male members.

Directed and written by a Susanne Bier (writing credits are shared by Anders Thomas Jensen), this Danish film is nominally about bullying in a public school and at first blush seems to be covering the same territory as Evil, the Swedish film I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. Your natural tendency when watching Evil is to root for the hero who uses a combination of passive resistance and his fists to topple the sadistic upperclassmen in a snooty private school.

The two main protagonists of In a Better World are 12-year-old classmates Elias (Markus Rygaard) and Christian (William Jøhnk Juels Nielsen) who we meet on the first day of class at a public school in an idyllic small seaside town in Denmark. Christian notices Elias being tormented by Sofus, the school bully who stands a head taller than he or Elias. Sofus and his posse like to pick on Elias because he is Swedish and because his top teeth are prominent—his nickname is “rat mouth”. If you have never been the butt of such teasing in junior high school, you should thank your lucky stars.

Christian, who has just moved to town from England where he was living with his father, is new to the school and like all newcomers—especially those smaller than Sofus—gets initiated: a basketball thrown in his face that bloodies his nose.

The next day Christian spots Sofus walking down the stairs into the boy’s room and follows him there, suspecting that he was up to no good. He spots Sofus warning Elias not to snitch on him for the treatment that he and Christian received the day before or else he would live to regret it. Advancing silently toward Sofus, whose back is turned toward him, Christian pulls a bicycle pump from his pocket and beats him over the head. As Sofus crawls along the bathroom floor sobbing in pain, Christian continues to beat him. To make sure he gets the message, he then pulls out a knife and holds it to Sofus’s throat. If he ever harms Elias or any other student again, he will kill him. As this transpires, Elias stands by in open-mouthed awe and admiration.

As Elias and Christian flee from the scene, Elias offers his help. He will hide the knife, thus making it impossible for Christian to be charged with a serious crime. When the principal meets with Christian a day later to get the facts on what happened, he denies using a knife but admits to beating the bully with a bicycle pump. After all, Sofus hit him first and he had to defend himself. Your sympathies are obviously with Christian at this point.

Elias lives with his mother, who is separated from his father Anton (Mikael Persbrandt), a doctor working in Sudan but returned to Denmark for one of his occasional visits. One day the two boys, who have become fast friends, are with Anton in the middle of town and spot a scene that reminds them of what they endured from Sofus. Elias’s younger brother, a six year old by all appearances, is wrestling in the sandbox with another tot in a nearby playground. After Anton begins separating them, the other boy’s father spots them from afar and runs over to intercede. He falsely accuses Anton of mistreating his son and slaps him in the face. Instead of reacting like Christian the bold avenger, Anton retreats from the obviously hotheaded man and returns to his car with the three boys in tow. When they express consternation about his passivity, Anton lectures them about how mature men should act. They can’t accept the idea that this includes putting up with a slap in the face.

For the next few days, Elias gives his father a hard time about his “maturity”. Deciding that they need a lesson, Anton then brings the three boys along with him to the garage where the man works as a mechanic and is treated to more of the same. This time he gets slapped repeatedly and is told that unless he gets out, he would get his ass kicked royally. Outside, the boys upbraid Anton for putting up with the man’s abuse, clearly resenting a little sermon he delivers to them about the pointlessness of vengeance. Working in Sudan has obviously given him this perspective, but more generally he is the product of an education and a class that regards such violence as backward. To twelve year olds who have seen the benefit of a well-placed bicycle pump with their own eyes, this does not make much sense.

A few days later, while tinkering about in a barn on Christian’s property gathering together the components for a school project, the two boys discover some fireworks that belonged to Christian’s grandfather. Christian then has a brainstorm. They would extract the powder from the fireworks, make a pipe bomb, and blow the mechanic’s car to kingdom come.

While your initial reaction is to rub your hands in glee as you envision the two boys extracting vengeance and trashing Anton’s liberal pieties together in one fell swoop, things don’t go according to plans. Without giving away too much, I can say that the stunning climax of this most powerful film will subvert your expectations and make you think and feel deeply about the problem it is coping with, namely the tendency to resort to violence. While you can obviously understand it in political terms, as many of my readers would be expected to do, there is something going on psychologically in the film that runs much deeper and that will stick with you long after you see In a Better World, an effect generally associated with serious works of film art.

In a Better World can now be rented as a DVD from Netflix and should be on all film buff’s “must see” list.

A year later the best foreign picture of 2011 award was bestowed on A Separation, another decision that the academy can be proud of, a diamond surrounded by offal.

A Separation is an Iranian film directed by Asghar Farhadi. The title refers to the pending divorce of Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi), a middle-class couple who we first meeting in a Tehran court presenting their cases. Simin says that she wants a divorce because her husband Nader refuses to join her as an expatriate now that she has finally received a visa for the two of them and their ten-year-old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). How can he leave Iran? His elderly father is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and someone has to look after him. Simin complains to the judge that the father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) can’t even recognize his son any more so what is the point? Nader replies that as long as he can recognize his father, he is obligated to look after him.

When they return from the courtroom, Simin begins packing her bags in preparation to live with her parents. While she won’t leave Iran without her daughter, she is so fed up with her husband that she refuses to live under the same roof with him. Wasting no time, Nader has lined up a caregiver named Houjat (Shahab Hosseini) to look after his father.

Since Houjat is desperate for work, she accepts Nader’s low pay and a long commute. Her husband Razieh (Sareh Bayat) lost his job as a cobbler and is so deeply in debt that creditors have had him arrested several times for failure to pay up. When she shows up for work with her young preschooler daughter Somayeh (Kimia Hosseini) the next day, she learns that the job is not only far more demanding than she could have ever expected, but presents particular challenges to a religious woman (she is always dressed in a chador.) When the old man urinates in his pants, she cannot get him to change his clothes. When she calls Nader at work to get further instructions, he tells her to bathe him—not a straightforward task for a religious woman. She then calls a cleric to get his approval, which she does receive.

Among all the other difficulties facing Houjat, she is also a few months pregnant and easily exhausted. As might be expected, the tasks of looking after someone with Alzheimer’s is a challenge for an experienced professional, let alone a young woman on her own. Things come to a head when Nader discovers that she has tied his father to the bed while she is out attending to her own needs. In a heated confrontation, Nader tells her to get out of the apartment. She is being fired for neglecting his father but also allegedly for stealing money. The first charge she admits to, but the second she denies. When she presses Nader for her day’s wage, he refuses—telling her that the stolen money will be her wage.

Refusing to leave until she receives satisfaction, Nader feels that he has no alternative but to physically evict her from the apartment. In the tumult at the front door, she falls down some stairs and suffers a miscarriage. This leads to a new session in court for Nader, this time for murder.

From this point on, the film becomes something of a courtroom drama as the judge tries to sift through the conflicting testimony of Nader and Houjat, who is accompanied by her unemployed husband who is one step away from either killing himself out of economic misery or Nader for causing the death of his unborn child.

Although the film is not a direct commentary on Iranian society, the contrast between the couples on either side could not be sharper. In many ways, they are the social base of both the Green movement as well as the religious and traditional base of Ahmadinejad. What makes the film so compelling is the failure of Iranian society to secure what the title of the other film refers to—a better world—for either party. This is a society that leaves care for the elderly up to the family and one in which you can be jailed for a failure to pay back debts.

But Asghar Farhadi is not a propagandist. He is far more interested in the moral dilemmas of ordinary people. The separation of a husband and wife over how to respond to a helpless elderly family member does not lend itself to facile solutions. Like In a Better World, you are dealing with contradictions of the sort that every human being has to deal with, as anybody with an aging parent would understand—including me. The only people who are above such problems are the one percent who can provide a staff of dozens to look after their own needs and any family member too ill to fend for themselves. The very people, in other words, who show up in $10,000 designer gowns and in Rolls Royce limousines for the yearly Academy Awards ceremony.

A Separation is now playing at the Film Forum and Lincoln Plaza Theaters in New York. Since it is an academy award winner, I would assume that it could be seen in major cities everywhere. It is not to be missed.

On December 20, 2010 Jafar Panahi, the Iranian director of acclaimed films such as The White Balloon, Crimson Gold and Offside, was sentenced to six years in prison for “assembly and colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country’s national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic.” Beyond the prison term, he was ordered to not make another film for 20 years and not attempt to leave the country once he was released. If you’ve seen any of Panahi’s films, you will understand that the Islamic Republic lost all credibility through this barbaric act. By corollary, those segments of the left that still refer to the clerical dictatorship as “revolutionary” have lost credibility as well.

This is not a Film is Panahi’s latest work, even though it is not a film in the conventional and–more importantly—legal sense. Made in what appears to be a two-hour time span on Persian New Year’s Eve (March 20, 2011), it lacks a narrative in either a fictional or documentary sense. It was shot in the director’s luxurious Tehran apartment while his wife and children were out giving gifts and celebrating. We see him talking on the phone with his lawyer about the pending prison sentence, making tea, feeding his daughter’s pet iguana Igi, and ruminating on his career. All the while you can hear fireworks in the distance, which until you learn their origin appear to be the results of fighting in the streets.

Panahi is filmed by his friend the documentary filmmaker Mojtaba Mirtahmasb on a modest camcorder looking not that much more expensive than my new JVC. Sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table, Panahi helps Mirtahmasb with an improvised tripod, a pack of cigarettes. As he shoots, Panahi uses his own IPhone to record Mirtahmasb behind his own camera. Despite the modesty of its means and despite the superficially meandering character of the work, this is one of the most important films to come out of Iran in this or any other year since it digs deep into the heart and soul of one of its outstanding artists and humanists.

Sectioning off a portion of a very large Persian rug with masking tape, Panahi creates a schematic of a room that was to be featured in a film that the Iranian censors nixed at the outset. In between reading passages from the banned script about a young woman attempting to go to college against the wishes of her tradition-minded parents, he reflects on artistic decisions he was making at the time, including the finer details of how a house was selected for filming.

The most memorable part of the film is the final fifteen minutes when Panahi joins the building’s janitor going floor-to-floor collecting garbage. The young man is studying art in graduate school and is very familiar with Panahi’s work and difficulties. The entire scene is filmed with an IPhone. Against all the expensive technology being deployed in Hollywood from CGI to 3D on behalf of soul-destroying garbage, the conclusion of This is not a Film stands above it like a colossus.

Unfortunately, time constraints prevented me from seeing the work until yesterday. It is showing through Tuesday night at the Film Forum in NYC and simply brilliant.

March 9, 2012

Obama and the battered voter syndrome

Filed under: economics,financial crisis,Obama — louisproyect @ 8:23 pm

I can’t remember who made this analogy first (might have been me, for all I know) but truly committed Democratic Party liberal voters and spokespeople remind me of battered wives syndrome. No matter how many times they get smacked in the face, they will forgive their abuser.

On December sixth, Robert Reich had a political orgasm over Barack Obama’s speech at Osawatomie, Kansas where he pledged to carry out a program in the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting “new nationalism”:

The President’s speech today in Osawatomie, Kansas — where Teddy Roosevelt gave his “New Nationalism” speech in 1910 — is the most important economic speech of his presidency in terms of connecting the dots, laying out the reasons behind our economic and political crises, and asserting a willingness to take on the powerful and the privileged that have gamed the system to their advantage.

One might even wonder why Obama bothered to pretend that he was taking on the corporations when it now appears likely that he will coast to an easy victory. The Republican primary fiascoes and a slightly improving economy will be all that is necessary to get the faithful to pull the lever for more war, more nativism, more austerity and more catering to the one percent.

Obama’s January 25th State of the Union speech was in the same vein, filled with empty bombast about greed and other populist verbiage lapped up by the liberal opinionators, but this time referring implicitly to another Roosevelt:

Building this new energy future should be just one part of a broader agenda to repair America’s infrastructure. So much of America needs to be rebuilt. We’ve got crumbling roads and bridges; a power grid that wastes too much energy; an incomplete high-speed broadband network that prevents a small business owner in rural America from selling her products all over the world.

During the Great Depression, America built the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. After World War II, we connected our states with a system of highways. Democratic and Republican administrations invested in great projects that benefited everybody, from the workers who built them to the businesses that still use them today.

You must realize, of course, that words like “crumbling roads and bridges” and “Hoover Dam” are intended to induce people like Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow to salivate, just like Pavlov’s ringing bell. It doesn’t really matter if it is nothing but words. When you make $2 million per year, as Rachel Maddow does, you know what side your bread is buttered on.

Three days later it was revealed that Obama’s favorite reading material of the moment was Robert Kagan’s “The World America Made”, a neoconservative case for continued imperial domination. Of course, there is a certain consistency here with Osawatomie since Teddy Roosevelt was the prototypical imperialist leader. Notwithstanding Obama’s being buoyed by Kagan’s assurance that the U.S. will continue to rule the world, there are domestic implications of his book that go against liberal pieties. This would be expected, given Kagan’s long-standing sympathies for the neo-conservative movement. Citing Paul Kennedy, a noted “declinist”, Kagan felt that what worked in the 1980s might be a key to what might work in the future:

American businessmen and politicians “reacted strongly to the debate about ‘decline’ by taking action: cutting costs, making companies leaner and meaner, investing in newer technologies, promoting a communications revolution, trimming government deficits, all of which helped to produce significant year-on-year advances in productivity.” It is possible to imagine that Americans may rise to this latest economic challenge as well.

No wonder Obama is keen on Kagan’s book. Its obvious affinity with his own “leaner and meaner” administration cannot be overstated.

If anything, Obama’s deeds, as opposed to his words, have taken on an even more reactionary character since the Osawatomie speech, as a cursory review of the news will reveal. Frankly, it has been one crowning victory after another for a triumphalist bourgeoisie ever since the Osawatamie speech. And for all of the alarms being raised by the liberal punditry over the threat that Rick Santorum et al represent, there was plenty of evidence that Obama had more in common with Santorum than the average Democrat.

On February 7th Obama decided that he would rely on Super-PAC money just like the evil Republicans do. Jim Messina, his re-election campaign manager said, “We’re not going to fight this fight with one hand tied behind our back. With so much at stake, we can’t allow for two sets of rules. Democrats can’t be unilaterally disarmed.” Well, of course, we can’t allow that, can we?

Battered wife Robert Reich expressed his disappointment, while of course determined at the same time to back Obama in 2012:

It has been said there is no high ground in American politics since any politician who claims it is likely to be gunned down by those firing from the trenches. That’s how the Obama team justifies its decision to endorse a super PAC that can raise and spend unlimited sums for his campaign.

Baloney. Good ends don’t justify corrupt means.

Super-PAC’s came into existence after the Supreme Court decided in favor of Citizens United in January 2010, something that gave the Koch brothers et al the right to spend however much they wanted to influence elections. In July of that year Obama described what a blow that decision was to democracy:

Because of the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year in the Citizens United case, big corporations –- even foreign-controlled ones –- are now allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money on American elections.  They can buy millions of dollars worth of TV ads –- and worst of all, they don’t even have to reveal who’s actually paying for the ads.  Instead, a group can hide behind a name like “Citizens for a Better Future,” even if a more accurate name would be “Companies for Weaker Oversight.”  These shadow groups are already forming and building war chests of tens of millions of dollars to influence the fall elections.

Now, imagine the power this will give special interests over politicians.  Corporate lobbyists will be able to tell members of Congress if they don’t vote the right way, they will face an onslaught of negative ads in their next campaign.  And all too often, no one will actually know who’s really behind those ads.

As is always the case with Obama, words are cheap.

On February 22nd, Obama decided that the corporations needed a tax break, just another sign that even if Teddy Roosevelt was nothing but an imperialist pig Obama would not make the mistake of taking his anti-monopolist rhetoric too seriously. Once again, holding back his tears, Robert Reich broke the bad news to his Huffington Post readers:

The Obama administration is proposing to lower corporate taxes from the current 35 percent to 28 percent for most companies and to 25 percent for manufacturers.

The move is supposed to be “revenue neutral” — meaning the administration is also proposing to close assorted corporate tax loopholes to offset the lost revenues. One such loophole allows corporations to park their earnings overseas where taxes are lower.

Why isn’t the White House just proposing to close the loopholes without reducing overall corporate tax rates? That would generate more tax revenue that could be used for, say, public schools.

It’s not as if corporations are hurting. Quite the contrary.

Those of us who do not belong to the Obama cult understand what happened. The Osawatomie speech was just an early re-election speech, calculated to get the Robert Reich’s of the world to clap like trained seals.

If there’s anything more depressing than to see the UAW joining in the trained seal act, I don’t know what it is. On February 25th, they organized a rally for Obama as the New York Times reported:

As Mitt Romney prepared to deliver an economic address here on Friday declaring Mr. Obama’s three years in office a “failed presidency,” hundreds of union members gathered on the top level of a parking deck as a freezing drizzle fell.

“Thank you, President Obama!” shouted the union’s president, Bob King. He gripped a bullhorn as he exhorted the crowd, “Everyone!” They roared back, “Thank you, President Obama!”

It was the beginning of an effort by the U.A.W. and others in the labor movement to put their vast political organizations into motion behind Mr. Obama, testing their power in a difficult economy after years of declining membership. This is an election that both parties say could turn on their ability to win over working-class voters in the industrial Midwest, where battlegrounds like Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin could determine the outcome.

Of course, the membership will continue to decline as American auto jobs move to Mexico and elsewhere and those jobs that remain will continue to have lower wages and more costly benefits. That is how GM, Ford and Chrysler will remain “lean and mean” in keeping with Robert Kagan’s observation that is worth repeating:

American businessmen and politicians “reacted strongly to the debate about ‘decline’ by taking action: cutting costs, making companies leaner and meaner, investing in newer technologies, promoting a communications revolution, trimming government deficits, all of which helped to produce significant year-on-year advances in productivity.” It is possible to imagine that Americans may rise to this latest economic challenge as well.

Ironically it was a NY Times editorial writer who shared a last name with one of the auto industry’s corporate giants of yore (perhaps a coincidence, perhaps not) that saw through the UAW’s happy talk and revealed the true situation in Detroit on March 4th:

A Government Bailout Saved the Auto Industry, but the City of Detroit Was Left Behind

By David Firestone

Sometime soon, probably by the end of April, the city of Detroit is likely to run out of cash. Its revenues are falling and its expenses are growing. If that happens, paychecks will not be issued, doors of public buses and city agencies could be closed, and streetlights will be shut off in more neighborhoods.

Having lost so much — a quarter-million people in just a decade, its industrial base, its political clout — Detroit is now on the verge of losing control of its ability to make its own decisions. If it does not find a way to quickly stabilize its finances through spending cuts and union concessions, the state may appoint a manager to take over its budget from the mayor and the City Council.

No one, least of all the state, wants that to happen. In Michigan, emergency managers can break union contracts, fire city officials and sell off city assets. That has already begun in four other cities, all of them largely black, that the state has taken over in the last few years. Black officials and union leaders have charged that Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican elected in 2010, has an ideological and racial agenda, and taking over Detroit, which is 83 percent black, would only magnify the tension.

That’s the hard reality that Obama’s rhetoric cannot conceal. When Teddy Roosevelt made his speech back in 1910 the USA was a young lion, with a manufacturing base ready to take off. Cities like Detroit were the beneficiaries of a conjuncture that would last for about 60 years. When Japan and West Germany recovered from WWII devastation, the American auto sector and much of the rest of the manufacturing base began to lose market share. American industrial decline is irrevocable. The people who are stuffing Obama’s Super-PAC are predominantly from the financial sector that can care less about whether Detroit runs out of cash, or Greece for that matter.

In a household where a wife and children are being battered mercilessly, it is up to someone in the family to stand up to daddy and put him in his place even if it takes a bullet to the head—metaphorically speaking. That is the role of the left today in many respects, to stand up to the evil within our household and pave the way for a better tomorrow.

March 6, 2012


Filed under: music,Turkey — louisproyect @ 7:44 pm

Once again on that Arab League report

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 4:19 pm

This is a follow-up to the citation from McClatchy news that was included in my post on Syria and the left yesterday, the one that treated the Arab League report on Syria as problematic at best.

In an exchange on the pro-Ba’athist Socialist Unity blog in Britain, a sorry crypto-Stalinist outlet that once held some modest promise as a voice for a non-sectarian left, I urged its readers to not only read the troubled Arab League report that admitted its “experts who were nominated were not qualified for the job, did not have prior experience and were not able to shoulder the responsibility” but media coverage of the report as well, especially concerning what delegation member Anwar Malek had to say. The National, an Abu Dhabi English-language newspaper, reported:

A former Algerian army officer who resigned in disgust and fear from the Arab League mission to monitor events in Syria accused the regime of Bashar Al Assad yesterday of committing crimes against humanity.

Anwar Malek said he saw snipers kill at least two people, one of them a child, was shown corpses, witnessed brutal beatings and arrests by soldiers and militiamen and escaped an attempt on his own life during a 15-day stay in the city of Homs.

Speaking from an undisclosed location in France, he alleged that the Syrian authorities had placed him and other monitors under constant surveillance and brushed aside any criticism of tactics used to crush popular revolt. Everything possible was done, he said, to undermine attempts to produce an independent assessment.

“In my own case, they tried to humiliate me and falsely accused me of supporting terrorists,” he said.

After my comment appeared, a Socialist Unity regular attempted to discredit Malek by referring to an article that referred to him as a liar:

Damascus said Thursday that Head of the Arab League’s observer mission, Lieutenant General Mohammed al-Dabi, confirmed that monitor Anwar Malek’s statements to a satellite channel were untrue.

Al-Dabi said that Malek did not leave his hotel room for health reasons ever since he was appointed among Homs team.

“Before leaving Damascus, Malek had asked for the permission to go to Paris for treatment; but he left before procedures ended (…) he travelled at his own expense,” al-Dabi explained.

Wow, that’s pretty devastating, isn’t it? Malek issues a press statement about atrocities in Homs, but never left his hotel room the entire time. I imagine that he might have been one of those people that the mission report described as coming to Syria only for “pleasure”. How decadent, sitting in his air-conditioned hotel room the whole time watching TV and getting fat on room service meals. And then he has the audacity to lie about the plucky Ba’athist government, the last bastion of Arab nationalism in the region, according to Aijaz Ahmad.

Well, not so fast. Malek had this to say in response to al-Dabi in an interview with Al Jazeera:

“This is all lies and a kind of tactic because in fact I appeared quite a lot in videos that appeared on the internet and were broadcast by satellite channels even Syrian TV aired about 20 packages that had me in them when I was visiting hospitals, prisons, schools and out on the streets talking to people. I am clearly shown meeting and talking to people in these videos.

So these allegations are all baseless. However what they say about me not leaving my rooms for 4 days is true. I only left to eat but it was at the end of my mission when I decided to quit but this was after I’d spent about 15 days on the field but then I decided to stop work so I stayed in my room for 4 days then I left Homs for Damascus.

I did not send any letter to the head of the mission saying I was unwell and was going to stay in my room. If this is true let them produce the letter. In fact I went to see him to talk to him about my reasons to stop work but he refused to listen to me and gave me only 2 minutes to leave without even listening to me.”

And, like the final scene in an Agatha Christie novel, here’s the proof that Anwar Malek was doing his job:

This really has to make you think about who is telling the truth about Syria. Is it the pro-Assad left that has attached itself to the Arab League Observer Mission Report like a three-year old to a security blanket? If the former head of the blood-soaked intelligence agency of the Sudan who headed up the mission can lie so brazenly about Anwar Malek, what can he be telling the truth about?

This god-damned report has been elevated to the status of holy writ by the “anti-imperialist” left, a sorry collection of leftwing sects, crypto-Stalinist bloggers and websites. In particular, Sharmine Narwani, whose article Socialist Unity forwarded, has become a mainstay of the pro-Assad left.

Unlike many leftists who cite her, Narwani appears more impressed by al-Assad’s staying power than anything else. In a NY Times opinion piece, she wrote:

While President Bashar al-Assad has made some gross miscalculations since the crisis began in March, he is still favored by a slight majority of Syrians, according to recent online polls. But popularity is not why his government remains intact. The regime still enjoys the support of its key constituencies: the army, the major cities, the business/regime elite, minorities and Sunni secularists, with limited defections of the sort experienced by other Arab states.

One imagines that the same sort of thing could have been written about the King of Jordan for that matter.

Even more tellingly, Sharmine Narwani has a distinctly odd affinity for collaboration with American imperialism, as long as it has Sunnis rather than Shi’ites in its gun-sights. In a USA Today article written in July 2009, Narwani proposed a bloc between the U.S. and Iran that could have been written by anybody committed to realpolitik:

With the U.S. military engaged in battles in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan against Sunni fundamentalist militants, America would be foolish not to engage directly with this new power bloc. In a dramatic gesture, the Obama administration recently said it would be reinstating an ambassador in Syria. America is already friendly with the Iraqi government, of course. And a bipartisan group of former top U.S. officials have urged taking a more pragmatic approach toward Hamas. As for Iran, the leader of this new bloc and the most cited regional ideological foe of the U.S., the question really is, can we “deal” with them?

In May, in a RAND Corp. study to examine this very question, the longstanding conventional U.S. view of Iran was challenged. The study determined not only that the Iranian regime is not territorially and ideologically expansionist, but also that “ideology and bravado frequently mask a preference for opportunism and realpolitik — the qualities that define ‘normal’ state behavior.”

This power bloc is calculating in a way that makes it politically flexible and strategically minded. The U.S. needs strong partners in the region for what lies ahead and has an opportunity for real change — if only we can shrug off 30-some years of tunnel vision.

Excuse me while I puke.

March 5, 2012

Hamid Dabashi, Vijay Prashad, Syria, and the left

Filed under: mechanical anti-imperialism,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:43 pm

Hamid Dabashi

Vijay Prashad

I would like to call your attention to two important articles on Syria written by leftist scholars based in the U.S. The first is by Hamid Dabashi, an Iranian studies professor in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS) at Columbia. Formerly known as MEALAC, this department is a bastion of anti-imperialist sentiment and closely associated with the postcolonial perspective of the late Edward Said. Dabashi’s article, titled On Syria: Where the Left is right and the Right is wrong, appeared in the February 28 edition of Al Jazeera and includes a critique of a wing of the left that has been backing “anti-imperialist” dictators in the Middle East that will be familiar to my regular readers.

On March 2nd, Vijay Prashad, Professor of International Studies at Trinity College in Connecticut, replied to Dabashi in an article titled The Left and the People: Extending Hamid Dabashi’s Critique that came as a surprise to me after reading it this morning under the assumption that he would have been on the opposite side of the fence. I had singled Prashad out for criticism in an article I wrote back in April 2011 titled The anti-anti-Qaddafi left. This time I expected him to sell the Syrian opposition short even though in retrospect I must confess that I was casting my net too wide when I linked him with Global Research et al in the first place.

Of course, if I had paid attention to the title of the article to begin with, I would have noticed that he was extending Dabashi’s critique not attacking it. That will learn me to read more carefully in the future, a major challenge given the cataracts I have in both eyes and the macular pucker in the left that makes reading from it virtually impossible. Furthermore, since the article was published in Jadaliyya, a website very close to Dabashi’s viewpoint politically (rather than Counterpunch, for example), I should have figured out that my expectations were in error.

As I have pointed out repeatedly, the pro-Assad left is basically using the same logic as the pro-Obama left without realizing it. Instead of doing a Chicken Little act about Rick Santorum and the Koch brothers, they harp on jihadists in cahoots with the CIA. As bad as Ahmadinejad, al-Assad or Qaddafi are or were, they are lesser evils. If their enemies prevail, the sky will fall. Dabashi puts it this way:

Yes, the Syrian regime might be corrupt and murderous, they consent, but the real danger to the Syrian revolution comes from the US and Saudi Arabia – so they remain at best ambivalent and at worst silent on the criminal Syrian regime. If anyone dares to point to Assad’s murderous spectacle, they accuse him/her of complacency with the US and Saudi Arabia, or else a mere simpleton manipulated by “the Western media”.

The Left contends that what started as genuine protests has now been hijacked by “extremist Sunni groups” inside Syria and by outside forces that extend from the US to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and by extension, the Gulf states – all lining up against Iran and Hezbollah, which, for them, is evidently the forefront of resistance against imperialism. Some on the Left who approve of the Arab Spring even suggest that the Arab revolutionaries ought to develop a strategic alliance with the ruling regime in the Islamic Republic. Yes, they say, the regime in Iran might be murderous towards its own citizens, but it is standing up to imperialism. Again: the moral depravity of the position is informed by its political illiteracy.

So, as should be obvious from the citation above, you have to put a clothespin on your nose and vote for al-Assad on Election Day. Oops, I meant to say Obama.

Prashad’s article starts with a quote that makes his affinities clear as day:

The overall anti-imperialist sentiment remains strong among the Syrian population and the attempts by parts of the Left to smear the entire uprising as a stand-in for imperialism belies a Manichean worldview that badly misunderstands the country’s history. I don’t see any contradiction in opposing intervention and simultaneously being against the Assad regime—which, we need to remember, has embraced neoliberalism and consistently used a rhetoric of ‘anti-imperialism’ to obfuscate a practice of accommodation with both the US and Israel.

–Adam Hanieh, author, Capital and Class in the Gulf Arab States, 2011.

Since this amounts to preaching to the choir, as far as I am concerned, I can only say amen.

To his credit, Prashad is not afraid to name names and kick ass, as we used to put it in the 1960s:

Regarding Syria, the first divide in the Left is in the characterization of the Ba’ath regime. One section, a very small one, takes the view that the Ba’ath regime led by Bashar al-Assad is a revolutionary regime, whose politics is made visible through its position vis-à-vis Israel (anti) and Iran (pro). In this camp (inside Syria) lies the exhausted Syrian Communist Party and (outside Syria) sits the website Global Research. Both the SCP and Global Research take their anti-imperialism into territory that occludes the authoritarianism of imperialism’s adversaries — a classic case of my enemy’s enemy is my friend.

He also deserves praise for calling attention to the brutality that is being visited on Homs in contradistinction to articles that seek to minimize it, such as Sharmine Narwani’s article Questioning the Syrian “Casualty List” that appeared in Al Akhbar. Narwani’s scare quotes are supposedly given credence by an Arab League’s observers’ mission report:

Importantly, the report further confirms obfuscation of casualty information when it states: “the media exaggerated the nature of the incidents and the number of persons killed in incidents and protests in certain towns.”

Since Narwani obviously cherry-picked her “witnesses” in order to prettify al-Assad at the expense of the rebels, she had little interest in bothering to answer the criticisms of the report, especially the one found in the always reliable McClatchy report:

The Arab League’s mission to monitor the bloodshed in Syria was doomed from the start, with some observers seemingly oblivious to the gravity of their assignment and others lacking the expertise to do the job, according to a leaked internal report.

The Arab observers also faced serious dangers, a scarcity of equipment and a fierce Syrian media campaign against them, obstacles that all but assured their inability to get a deep understanding of the crisis that’s on track to becoming the Middle East’s next civil war. The mission was suspended Saturday amid escalating violence.

“Regrettably, some observers thought that their visit to Syria was for pleasure,” wrote the mission chief, Gen. Mohammed Ahmed al Dabi, according to the report posted online. “In some instances, experts who were nominated were not qualified for the job, did not have prior experience and were not able to shoulder the responsibility.”

The mission’s problems began upon its arrival in Syria on Dec. 24. Syrian officials immediately confiscated the communications gear of the 166 monitors at the Jordanian border, according to the leaked report. They were left with just 10 satellite phones until the Chinese Embassy intervened with 10 walkie-talkies to help the monitors communicate with one another and their command.

The observers were posted in 15 areas of the country, some of them dangerous conflict zones, but they didn’t have enough body armor or reinforced vehicles. Rental agencies refused to rent vehicles to the monitors, who sometimes ended up overwhelmed among rioting crowds in the mission’s first days, according to the report.

Well, so what if the report was about as reliable as Judith Miller’s NY Times’s articles? They served a political purpose and that’s all that matters.

Prashad offers a different perspective entirely:

Only the most inhumane among us would not see the bombardment of Homs as unconscionable. Those who say this is a Civil War and try to defend the attack on the city forget that even if this were a Civil War and if the regime were actually progressive, it should not bomb civilian neighborhoods in such an indiscriminate manner. The habit of the Ba’ath is to raze cities and call it national integration (this is what al-Assad Senior did in Hama in 1982). No Leftist can be cavalier about Homs.

We should also acknowledge what the Angry Arab has to say on this, since his take on the revolutionaries is in line with the “extremist Sunni groups” talking points:

Today, I saw some of the footage from Baba Amr [a Sunni neighborhood in Homs]. I mean, the firepower that the regime has used against the protesters (armed or unarmed), is so much more deadly and brutal than what it used against Israeli acts of aggression against Syria in the last few decades. Not a bullet was fired against Israel when the latter attacked Syria on numerous occasions. Not one bullet.

Prashad concludes with some proposals for the left to consider in navigating between the Scylla of imperialist intervention and the Charybdis of Ba’athist repression:

If no external military intervention is either forthcoming or to be welcomed, the question for the outside Left is how best to build pressure for a drawdown from the bloodletting that threatens to leave Syria anemic. Is there an effective strategy toward a ceasefire? Should the Left in Russia build pressure on the Putin regime to push the al-Assad government toward a cessation of hostilities in Homs (a cessation is not just a ceasefire, since it means that the troops must withdraw from the city)? Should the Left in the United States and in the other NATO countries build pressure for a less maximalist position in Syria (al-Assad must go)? Such maximalism falsely emboldens the rebellion, whose members believe that this means that the Cruise Missiles are on the way. It also hardens the obduracy of the al-Assad regime, which has everything to lose by stopping its assaults? Has the rebellion already weakened the legitimacy of the Ba’ath regime sufficiently that it has had to make promises that it was unwilling to make previously? It moved its goal posts from an abstract promise of “reform” to “no Ba’ath monopoly on state power” at some future date. If this is so, could a popular momentum build up toward an expedited transfer of power and the establishment of a provisional unity government that is under popular pressure to hold a truly democratic constitutional referendum? The “referendum” held on February 26 in the midst of the violence is not serious. Even the Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said that in the absence of peace, constitutional reform is a “theoretical conversation.”

In my view, the only sensible position for the left to take is total opposition to military intervention. In wrestling with the question of whether the left should or should not adopt a “maximalist” position, Prashad in effect forces us to stake out a position that is not necessary for us to take. For example, the left did not need to take a position in 2002 whether Saddam Hussein should step down or not. The most effective slogan for an antiwar movement was “no troops in the Middle East”. This would leave room for all sorts of interpretations of the role of Ba’athism in Syria, including the unfortunately nonsensical position taken by the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the group that leads ANSWER.

On their website, they endorse the analysis of Stephen Gowans, a Canadian blogger, who believes:

Apart from Syria’s irritating Washington by allying with Iran, backing Hezbollah, and providing material assistance to Palestinian national liberation movements, the country exhibits a tendency shared by all US regime change targets: a predilection for independent, self-directed, economic development. This is expressed in state-ownership of important industries, subsidies to domestic firms, controls on foreign investment, and subsidization of basic commodities. These measures restrict the profit-making opportunities of US corporations, banks and investors, and since it is their principals who hold sway in Washington, US foreign policy is accordingly shaped to serve their interests.

While Gowans is admittedly an obscure figure (his blog is ranked 4,697,308 by Alexa), his analysis is unfortunately shared by others with much more credibility such as Aijaz Ahmad who views Ba’athism almost as a greater good rather than a lesser evil:

For one thing, Syria is the last remaining representative of Arab nationalism as it used to be understood historically. It still calls itself socialist. Even though it has implemented a great deal of neoliberal reform, the state sector is still dominant. It bans, literally bans, religion from politics. It will not recognize the existence of religious political parties. It is the historic opponent of Israel for a variety of reasons. . . . If you remove Syria, the cordon sanitaire around Israel is complete.  There’s no adversary left. There is then Iran — not sharing a border, not a part of the historical Arab world. Iran gets isolated. And their perception is that both Hezbollah and Hamas will lose enormously. . . . So, Syria has that kind of strategic situation. In the old days, it was very closely aligned with the Socialist Bloc, and some of that kind of alignment still remains. . . .

One might hope that if Vijay Prashad ever runs into countryman Aijaz Ahmad at a conference, he might inform the highly respected theorist that Ba’athism and Arab nationalism are not synonymous based on a bit of historical recollection found in his article:

Much of the Left recognizes that the Ba’ath regime is neither anti-imperialist nor anti-capitalist. It recognizes that al-Assad’s government has most often played the border guard for Israel, and undoubtedly evokes no revolutionary good feelings amongst the Palestinians in either Lebanon or the West Bank (perhaps a small current in Gaza, until Hamas’ Ismail Haniya threw his support with the Syrian people against the al-Assad regime). Among the Palestinian Left the fundamental break with Syria took place during its betrayal of their cause in its invasion of Lebanon in 1975. Most of the Left is also aware that the Ba’ath Party was the enemy of both Nasserism (which banned the Ba’ath during the union of Syria and Egypt between 1958 and 1961) and the original Syrian Communist Party (when it was in its heyday before the military coup in 1961).

Perhaps the collapse of the USSR is something that Aijaz Ahmad, Stephen Gowans and the Party for Socialism and Liberation have not gotten over. Considering Ahmad’s rather quaint use of the term “Socialist Bloc”, one gets a distinct of “Ostalgia”—something that is well and good when it means a hatred for capitalism but highly dubious when it comes for changing the world. In a new century, 21st century socialism has to proceed on the basis that democracy and socialism are intertwined.

For far too long, the left has used a yardstick in which “state ownership” trumps freedom. If the “state sector” is dominant in Syria, what does this mean if people lack the freedom to decide how the wealth of society should be used?

One of the major contributions of the Occupy movement—no doubt a function of the role of anarchists as midwives—has been its emphasis on democracy and its obvious affinity with the Tahrir Square protests. While I remain skeptical whether the experience at Zuccotti Square really amounts to a harbinger of a future society, I do embrace the idea that decision-making must be made “horizontally” as the anarchists put it—or “from below” as others on the left put it.

This is the basis of our future struggles, not nostalgia for a “Socialist Bloc” that collapsed for the very reason Syria is such a tempting target for imperialism. When an authoritarian state ignores the will of the people, or does not even allow the minority of a population to argue in favor of policies that might eventually be embraced by the majority, its moral claim to speak in the name of the nation soon evaporates. Not only is democracy necessary for the construction of socialism, it is necessary for the anti-imperialist defense of the nation. Bashar al-Assad’s greatest shortcoming is that in the name of anti-imperialism, he is laying down a red carpet for its possible triumph.

Young Jewish activist gets in AIPAC’s face

Filed under: zionism — louisproyect @ 2:01 pm

March 4, 2012

Evict us, we multiply

Filed under: Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 4:52 pm

Evict Us, We Multiply

by Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street on March 2, 2012

At 9 a.m., as most of us clocked in to work for the 1%, occupiers in New York City clocked in to work for the 99% by assembling in Bryant Park to take action against the members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful corporate lobbying group that literally writes legislation. The call to “shut down the corporations” on #F29 came from Occupy Portland weeks ago. Actions spanned the nation and coincided with anti-austerity protests in Spain and Belgium. Targets included Pfizer, Bank of America, Wal-Mart, AT&T, and others. Three Wal-Mart warehouses in Mira Loma, California were closed by the time occupiers got there.

The mood was festive and defiant, a real achievement given the cold, the rain, and the turnout (about 100). After leaving Bryant Park, occupiers spoke on the people’s mic in front of Pfizer before returning to the park for drumming, chanting, singing, and a teach-in by America’s top muckraker Matt Taibbi on Bank of America, the next target of the roving march. Taibbi spoke under an umbrella, discussed the ins and outs of mortgage-backed securities fraud, and noted how the 1% hedge their election bets by giving generously to both parties.

No matter who wins in November, the 99% lose. Two parties, 1%.

The most popular chants of the day:

“Robbers, thieves, protected by police!”

“A, anti, anticapitalista!”

“From New York to Greece, fuck the police!”

“Evict us, we multiply! Occupy will never die!”

The last of these was chanted loudest and most insistently. But is it true?

From the beginning of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) on September 17, 2011, the mainstream media and some in the progressive community have speculated endlessly about Occupy’s demise. We were on our last legs before we were even born. They focused on allegedly insurmountable difficulties: first the lack of “demands,” ideology, or agreed-upon political strategy, then Occupy was too middle class, white, straight, and male to gain traction with workers, women, LGBTs, and people of color who make up most of the 99%, and now they point to the fact that we’ve been evicted from most of our encampments.

The wiseacres failed to understand something very simple: stumbling is not falling, as Malcolm X said.

Look at it this way: when Gadhafi’s government went postal on the Libyan people in early 2011, was it the end of the Libyan revolution? No. Gadhafi’s failed to extinguish the flames of revolution with Libyan blood despite his best efforts. Instead, he created a subterranean fire by driving the organizing underground into neighborhood cells in Libya’s capital Tripoli. With NATO fighters screaming overhead and an offensive by militias from the west, these cells launched a carefully planned uprising on August 20, the day the Prophet Muhammed captured Mecca, adding Gadhafi to the list of dictators ousted by the Arab Spring cleaning and giving heart to the Syrians who quickly began to chant, “Bye, bye Qaddafi, Bashar your turn is coming.”

full: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=303

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