Monday, December 08, 2008

President Obama: Results and Prospects (EFCA)

Even detractors have observed that Barack Obama’s election as the 44th President of the United States is an historic event. No one can reasonably deny this. That an African-American family is going to be living in the White House in a country that was founded upon the enslavement of African-Americans, slavery having been written into the founding document, the so revered Constitution, is a momentous achievement and a testament to the courageous activists who struggled for decades for freedom, democracy and social justice, many of whom gave their lives in the struggle.

As Noam Chomsky observed in a speech he gave in Boston:

“In fact, it’s historic in a broader sense. The two Democratic candidates were an African-American and a woman. Both remarkable achievements. We go back say 40 years, it would have been unthinkable. So something’s happened to the country in 40 years. And what’s happened to the country- which we’re not supposed to mention- is that there was extensive and very constructive activism in the 1960s, which had an aftermath. So the feminist movement, mostly developed in the 70s-–the solidarity movements of the 80’s and on till today. And the activism did civilize the country. The country’s a lot more civilized than it was 40 years ago and the historic achievements illustrate it. That’s also a lesson for what’s next.”

The implicit point being one that I have made many times, even having dedicated a blog post to the topic: that change does not come from some benevolent state power, by some idealist leader who initiates change him/herself, but rather from organized, sustained social activism.

One of the first tests here is EFCA (the Employee Free Choice Act, which would, as labor journalist and lawyer Steve Early wrote in Counterpunch, “amend the 73-year old National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) so that private sector employers have to bargain with their employees when a majority sign union authorization cards. Just as the NLRA did, as a centerpiece of the New Deal, EFCA would encourage collective bargaining to raise workers’ living standards and restore greater balance to labor-management relations. Beginning in the late 1930s, this federal labor policy helped create a vast new post-World War II American middle-class.”

During the campaign Obama made clear his support for EFCA and there has recently been alarm that Obama may be backing away. As Steve Early wrote “when Obama introduced his top economic advisors on Nov. 25 and talked about steps to ‘jolt’ the economy in January, EFCA was not part of the package. More disturbingly, his new chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, declined to say whether the White House would support EFCA when he was questioned about it at a Wall Street Journal-sponsored ‘CEO Forum’ earlier in November.”

Steve Bene recently wrote in the Washington Monthly that Rahm Emanuel, speaking “at a Wall Street Journal CEO Council Conference…explained that Barack Obama would pursue an ambitious agenda and planned to ‘throw long and deep.’” When Emanuel was asked by a “member of the business audience…about Obama’s support for” EFCA, “Emanuel responded, ‘Let me take your question and go somewhere else.’”

Yet as Bene points out, through reference to an article on the Huffington Post by Sam Stein:

“An aide to Barack Obama reaffirmed the President-elect's support for the labor movement's chief legislative priority in a one-word statement issued to the Huffington Post on late Tuesday.

Asked if Obama's support for the Employee Free Choice Act remained as strong as his public proclamations suggested on the campaign trail, transition spokesman Dan Pfeiffer responded, succinctly, ‘Yes.’

The reaffirmation may not seem like a political breakthrough on its surface. But in the current political climate, in which the Obama team has steadfastly refused to comment on various legislative priorities, it does signal that the President-elect is not shying away from progressive pledges made during his campaign.”

All hope is not yet lost, although being that EFCA is vehemently opposed by big business -for example, billionaire and cofounder and former CEO of The Home Depot, Bernie Marcus, “during an Oct. 17 conference call about card check (a provision of EFCA), shrieked that “This is the demise of a civilization…This is how a civilization disappears. I’m sitting here as an elder statesman, and I’m watching this happen, and I don’t believe it." - clearly there is going to be strong resistance from the corporate world.

As Lee Sustar reported for the Socialist Worker: “Today, labor hopes that things will be different with Obama, and is putting money and resources into ensuring that they will be.

But getting EFCA passed into law--and the success of union drives in the future--will require a greater mobilization and activism than labor has seen in many years. Everyone who wants to see workers organize to fight for their interests should get involved.”

This leads to another important factor that Chomsky addressed in his speech:

“Obama did organize a large number of people and many enthusiastic people in what’s called in the press, Obama’s Army. But the army is supposed to take instructions, not to implement, introduce, develop programs and call on its own candidate to implement them. That’s critical. If the army keeps to that condition, nothing much will change. If it on the other hand goes away activists did in the sixties, a lot can change. That’s one of the choices that has to be made.”

Let us not only hope for the latter, but actively organize and do all within our power to ensure it, not only with regards to EFCA and labor, but with progressive causes generally (environmental, feminist, LGBT, human rights, immigration, anti-war, health care, economic issues and so on).

Monday, October 27, 2008

Barack Obama for President

Todd Chretien makes the argument in the Socialist Worker for apparent complete voter abstention November the fourth, a tactic even many anarchists critique as extreme and many times counterproductive; Noam Chomsky’s comments being here relevant.

For instance, surely it is better to have Obama become President and support bills that make it easier to join Unions - such as EFCA, the Employee Free Choice Act - and thus actually organize workers than to have McCain’s opposition. Smaller and compromised reforms can play a small part in a larger and completely autonomous program: such as organizing workers into Unions, establishing a strong Union movement, this in turn helps instill class consciousness as Marx phrased it and, as some left-Marxists – Anton Pannekoek coming to mind – observed: trade unionism plays a necessary role in class struggle, it could serve as the embryo from which a completely autonomous workers’ movement could emerge from.

It is true as surely the International Socialist Organization would argue that, as Pannekoek wrote: “trade unionism is an action of the workers, which does not go beyond the limit of capitalism. Its aim is not to replace capitalism by another form of production, but to secure good living conditions within capitalism. Its character is not revolutionary, but conservative…So there comes a disparity between the working class and trade unionism. The working class has to look beyond capitalism. Trade unionism lives entirely within capitalism and cannot look beyond it. Trade unionism can only represent a part, a necessary but narrow part, in the class struggle. And it develops aspects which bring it into conflict with the greater aims of the working class.”

But from the confines of “…the narrow field of trade union struggle widens into the broad field of class struggle. But now the workers themselves must change. They have to take a wider view of the world. From their trade, from their work within the factory walls, their mind must widen to encompass society as a whole. Their spirit must rise above the petty things around them. They have to face the state; they enter the realm of politics. The problems of revolution must be dealt with.”

But for the short-term it makes a difference to the impoverished, the hungry, the sick and so on whether or not there is going to be four more direct years of anti-union policy, regressive taxation, tax cuts and large subsidies for the upper most bourgeois, mass home foreclosures, unlimited debt, not just an imperial refocusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also potentially war with Iran and other potential McCain administration targets. Not to forget that McCain's choice for Vice President, Sarah Palin, agrees with Cheney's treacherous and false belief that the Vice President is "in charge" of the Senate and that she "can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes..."; such as legislating hate and discrimination, she's vehemently opposed to gay marriage and equal rights, even further restrict abortion rights or worse and so on (recall that the next President is likely to nominate a few Supreme Court Justices, we can't afford any more nominated by the likes of McCain and Palin).

Surely all of this matters to the ordinary population, which is why the population is going to hit the polls in droves and elect Obama in a landslide; possibly why Chretien is so complacently dismissive of voting for Obama.

A vote for Obama to ensure the demise of the neoconservative foreign policy establishment, among other things, does not mean that those few moments in a booth marking a piece of paper will render the voter incapable of, after leaving the polling station, organizing an autonomous opposition (completely independent of the Democratic party).

The IWW (the Industrial Workers of the World Union) has been conducting a successful international campaign to unionize Starbucks baristas , among many other actions, and in the United States baristas are constantly being fired for attempting to unionize: if for only this reason Obama should be voted for by people concerned for the working class, he will support policy that makes it easier for workers to join unions and McCain won’t, that’s a difference that matters.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Industrial Feudalism

It is many times argued, though admittedly less now during the global economic crisis, that global capitalism has improved life for everyone and has furthered freedom, democracy and human rights. As is often the case, it is of great value to investigate such doctrinal claims and, as is also often the case, when such an investigation is undertaken, it is soon found that reality is the direct opposite of the specific doctrinal dogma.

Let’s first examine the claim that global capitalism has improved everyone’s life for the better. Setting aside the factual basis of this claim, let’s assume it is true, is the fact that a specific system improves welfare an argument in its favor? As Noam Chomsky observes: “No…there were rising standards of living in slave societies. Slaves were better off in the early nineteenth century than the early eighteenth century. Is that an argument for slavery? It’s a terrible argument.”

The mere fact that life has improved within the confines of a capitalist system is not intrinsically an argument in favor of that system, just as the fact that life having improved within the institution of slavery was still not an argument in favor of slavery. Chomsky notes that the same argument would hold for Stalinism: economic conditions in the Soviet Union improved under Stalinism, but that's still not an argument in favor of Stalinism.

Having easily discarded the notion that capitalism is just simply because society has improved over the last several decades, let’s return to the initial presupposition: that capitalism is improving living standards for everyone. Has capitalism made life better for most people?
The populations of early Britain, Chile, Colombia, Haiti, Indonesia and various other nations which were forced – by dictators such as Pinochet and Suharto and capitalist "reform" enforcing organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization – to suffer under neoliberal economic policies – essentially “free-market” dogmas, although free-trade never entered into the picture in any meaningful sense - may have something to say about the effects of capitalism and neoliberal economic reform and their relation to the improvement of life.

Let’s take only the example of Colombia. Noam Chomsky writes of the populations resistance to the neoliberal capitalist reforms being forced upon the population against its will:

“In Colombia, however, the military armed and trained by the United States has not crushed domestic resistance, though it continues to produce its regular annual toll of atrocities. Each year, some 300,000 new refugees are driven from their homes, with a death toll of about 3,000 and many horrible massacres. The great majority of atrocities are attributed to paramilitary forces. These are closely linked to the military, as documented in considerable and shocking detail once again in February 2000 by Human Rights Watch, and in April 2000 by a UN study which reported that the Colombian security forces that are to be greatly strengthened by the Colombia Plan maintain an intimate relationship with death squads, organize paramilitary forces, and either participate in their massacres directly or, by failing to take action, have ‘undoubtedly enabled the paramilitary groups to achieve their exterminating objectives.’ In more muted terms, the State Department confirms the general picture in its annual human rights reports, again in the report covering 1999, which concludes that ‘security forces actively collaborated with members of paramilitary groups’ while ‘government forces continued to commit numerous, serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings, at a level that was roughly similar to that of 1998,’ when the report attributed about 80 percent of attributable atrocities to the military and paramilitaries. The picture is confirmed as well by the Colombian Office of UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson. Its director, a respected Swedish diplomat, assigns the responsibility for “the magnitude and complexity of the paramilitary phenomenon” to the Colombian government, hence indirectly to its US sponsor.”

Chomsky goes on to observe that “deplorable socioeconomic conditions persist, leaving much of the population in misery in a rich country with concentration of wealth and land-ownership that is high even by the shameful standards of Latin America generally. The situation became worse in the 1990s as a result of the ‘neoliberal reforms’ formalized in the 1991 constitution, which reduced still further “the effective participation of civil society” in policy formation by ‘reforms intended to enhance executive power and reduce the autonomy of the judicial and legislative branches, and by concentrating macroeconomic planning in the hands of a smaller circle of technocrats’—in effect, adjuncts of Washington. The ‘neoliberal reforms have also given rise to alarming levels of poverty and inequality; approximately 55 percent of Colombia’s population lives below the poverty level’ and ‘this situation has been aggravated by an acute crisis in agriculture, itself a result of the neoliberal program,’ as in Latin America generally.
Chomsky is quoting Arlene Tickner, general coordinator of the Center for International Studies at the University of the Andes, Bogota.

The illustrative example of Colombia generalizes around the world, everywhere such capitalist measures are implemented and enforced, predominately against the will of the population and with violence to quell any resistance by said population, poverty increases, democracy is subverted, freedoms are restricted, violent anti-union campaigns are fought and so on.

So, capitalism improving standards of living is not alone an argument in favor of capitalism and, furthermore, the presupposition that capitalism inculcates improved standards of living, freedom, democracy and respect for human rights is fallacious in the first place.

Apologists for corporate state-capitalism like to point out how modern corporations are trying to incorporate benefits and bonuses for their workers, as though this justified the existence of inorganic entities defined by corporate lawyers egregiously misusing the fourteenth amendment to define corporations as persons with the rights of such, but without the social responsibility of persons.

But the ultimate question is not one of simply improving already poor conditions, but of freedom, democracy and human rights.

It must go unnoticed by most people – especially the previously mentioned apologists – that corporations are in essence totalitarian. They are structured hierarchically with dictates flowing from the top on down and those on the bottom – labor – have essentially no input into the functioning and managing of the corporation: that is what totalitarianism is.

With some perverted form of representative democracy in the political arena, most people seem to fail to notice that within the realm of economic life, they are essentially voiceless and dominated by the interests of unaccountable tyrannies: corporations, conglomerates and so on, which just dominate the political and economic realm.

The problem of industrial feudalism is not only one of standards of living – which are violently denigrated within capitalist systems, even more so the “freer” the market is – but of freedom and democracy. Should people, the ordinary population, workers and so on have the ability to democratically run industry and the economy? Or should private, unaccountable tyrannies be allowed to continue to dominate in a totalitarian fashion?

Apologists would at this point argue that it is less efficient to allow democratic control over industry, therefore justifying corporate domination. To again quote Chomsky:

“So if you care about what is actually happening, the economy is moving towards totalitarian control, or mercantilistic control, and the claim is, as it has been since the late 19th Century, there is no alternative. And in a sense there isn’t, if the only alternative is markets, which are too destructive, so you have to have administration [a mixture of corporation and government control, with corporations having the advantage]. But then there’s the obvious question: why does the administration have to be totalitarian? You could say the same ting about governmental structures. In some respects they may be more efficient when they have totalitarian features, but that’s not an argument for them.”

A viable alternative would be the open and democratic administration of the economy by the workers and the population generally through workers’ councils, service collectives and community cooperatives. As John Dewey once phrased it: “politics is the shadow cast on society by big business.” It’s long overdue to cast some light on this shadow and do away with it's source once and for all.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Police-State Violence

I have been keeping a relatively close watch upon not only both 2008 national conventions – the DNC as well as the RNC – but the protests against them and the police provocation of and reaction to the protests also. There are many people who appear shocked and outraged that the state police trapped by way of encircling a peaceful march and protest in Denver for several hours, kicking the media out of the area and then, after hours, illegally arrested after unnecessarily provocative aggression, hundreds of peaceful protesters on willfully fraudulent charges. There are just as many people – as is evident by the number of hits the video documented evidence has garnered online – outraged over the case of a high-profile example of police violence in New York when a police officer standing in the middle of the street decided to disrupt a peaceful biking protest by walking over towards an oncoming biker and body checking him onto the sidewalk and subsequently charging the biker with assault on a police officer among other fraudulent offenses.
These instances can only come as a surprise to those who have not fully reviewed the history of power relations not only in America, but globally all throughout history. It is simply a truism that where a state power exists, so too exists state enforcement mechanisms, i.e., state police, national guard, military power, economic concentration and so on, and it is equally true that state powers exist so as to ensure and protect the power of the state and its operators and interests (in the case of America, to protect the “minority of the opulent” against the “rabble masses” as James Madison so bluntly phrased it at the Constitutional Convention; in effect to protect the status quo class structure of domination).
This has historically been the case, whether with regards to nobles and serfs, or CEO’s and workers; the hierarchy has existed for centuries. Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in The Discourses: “In every republic there are two different dispositions, that of the populace and that of the upper class…all legislation favorable to liberty is brought about by the clash between them,” his observation, put into writing in the sixteenth century, remains true to this very day. It was later observed rather eloquently in the Communist Manifesto that “[t]he history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Free man and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”
The fantasy that state police exist primarily so as to protect the public would be hilarious if the opposite were not so violently the case. America’s labor history reveals the extent to which the state police will beat and murder in the interests of those in power. The thirties are replete with Pinkerton’s beating and killing workers attempting to unionize their workplaces and obtain living wages; cracking skulls with batons, shooting people in cold blood.
In Subterranean Fire Sharon Smith describes the Ludlow Massacre as illustrating “the level of wanton violence corporations inflicted upon striking workers in this era. On the morning of April 20, 1914, the private army of John D. Rockefeller’s Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, along with state troops, opened fire upon striking mining families sleeping inside their tent colony. The minors fired back for hours, but eventually ran out of ammunition. The guards then went on the rampage, drenching the tents with oil and setting them on fire, beating and shooting the now unarmed miners while smashing up their personal belongings. Thirteen women and children burned to death, and three strikers were executed on the spot. The strike did not end there – rather, it turned into an all-out war. The UMWA, the Colorado Federation of Labor, and the Western Federation of Minors issued a joint call for their members to take up arms, distributing weapons and ammunition. On April 28, the minors defeated both state and private troops. President Wilson responded by sending the U.S. Army to occupy the region, which they did until delegates to a UMWA conference finally surrendered in December, after more than a year on strike.” America’s labor history, as well as most of the world’s also, is replete with just this sort of murderous hostility of the state and major centers of power (corporations and so forth, for instance: John D. Rockefeller’s Colorado Fuel & Iron Company) towards the working class and social progress.
That the state powers would behave in such a capacity was already taken as a matter of fact by the more observant, Machiavelli (previously cited) and, as I like to quote (due to its precision), Rudolf Rocker’s observation in Anarcho-Syndicalism that: “As long as within society a possessing and a non-possessing group of human beings face one another in enmity, the state will be indispensable to the possessing minority for the protection of its privileges.”
There is also the long and bloody history of the systematic campaign of genocidal oppression of the Native American Indians - being sent on order of President Jackson, for instance, on a murderous expulsion along the “trail of tears” - the institution of slavery, the hatred of racism and the far-reaching consequences of both, the subjugation of women, the oppression of gay people and so on. In all of these cases, the state reflected the interests of the minority elite (corporations, highly concentrated centers of capital and so on) who supported the status quo class, race and sex relations. It was only through major and sustained popular social protests and movements that the state and corporate sectors were forced to concede civil rights.
There is then the violent history of COINTELPRO and various other secret state sponsored programs of subversion and terrorism. J. Edgar Hoover (a rabid racist) “rose to national prominence when he was appointed chief of the General Intelligence (anti-radical) division of the Justice Department in 1919, shortly before the notorious ‘Palmer raids,’ in which some 4,000 alleged radicals were rounded up in 33 cities in 23 states…” Noam Chomsky writes. “The ‘Red Scare’ served to control labor militancy, dismantle radical parties, frighten liberals, and buttress an interventionist foreign policy. Hoover’s FBI undertook the very same tasks, and has conducted them with considerable success.”
COINTELPRO was responsible for the deaths and detainments of countless radicals, union leaders, civil rights leaders and so on. An infamous example of the murderous capacity of COINTELPRO is the violent assassination of the Chicago Black Panther, Fred Hampton who was shot in his head with a shotgun as he lay asleep or otherwise incapacitated in his bed. As Chomsky writes: “…Fred Hampton, who, along with Mark Clark, was murdered in a pre-dawn Gestapo-style police raid – the phrase is accurate – in December 1969, with the complicity of the FBI, which had turned over to the police a floor plan of his apartment supplied by an FBI provocateur who was chief of Panther security. The floor plan no doubt explains the remarkable accuracy of police gunfire, noted by reporters. Hampton was killed in bed, possibly drugged; according to eyewitnesses, murdered in cold blood.”
This is but one example of the extent of COINTELPRO’s operations. Chomsky goes on to write that “[t]he record, which is by now extensive, demonstrates that the FBI was committed to attacking the civil rights movement, blocking legal electoral politics, undermining the universities and cultural groups (e.g., the largest black cultural center in the West, in the Watts ghetto), and disrupting political activities of which it disapproved by any means required, including the extensive use of provocateurs, arson, bombings, robbery and murder.”
COINTELPRO also relied upon illegally obtained information through spying and other unjust means of coercion (break-ins, beatings, etcetera), reminiscent of the Bush Administrations warrantless wiretapping and the recently exposed Maryland State Police’s illegal, undercover spying operation of Peace and Anti-Death Penalty Groups.
There is also the history of the 1968 Democratic Convention, the protests against it and the ensuing police violence and riots. With the continued, unpopular war in Vietnam, the military draft, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and general state violence and corruption, there was massive popular opposition to the Democratic party. This was made manifest most explicitly through the protests of the Democratic Convention in Chicago. Many were wary of having protests in Chicago (such as SDS organizers), considering that then-Mayer Richard J. Daley “called on police to ‘shoot to kill’ rioters following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April,” as Issue 60 of the ISR quotes.
The ISR then puts the following question to Wayne Heimbach (a former SDS organizer and witness to the events): “The violence at the Democratic Convention has been historically referred to as a ‘police riot.’ What do you think of this?” Wayne responds by saying that “[t]he police were a disciplined force in Chicago. If they were told to do something, they did it. If they were told not to, they didn’t. This is not to suggest that they weren’t excessive, it’s rather to suggest they were told to be very forceful in their work…The police were quite efficient in moving in formation to force protesters from different sections of a neighborhood into smaller and more controllable areas. Riot implies they were somehow out of control. Generally that was not true. Even when they were particularly violent – like when they targeted protesters who had already been bandaged – you felt it was part of a larger plan…”
Wayne makes visible, by reference to physical events, a crucial point. It’s not that the state police are rioting and completely out of control, they are almost methodically doing just what they were instructed to do: to provoke, disrupt and dismantle, by any means required. In most instances wherein there is on display state-violence against the state’s own population, the state is not protecting you, “it’s population” (a terrible phrase, clearly derived straight out of the lexicon of totalitarianism, due to the inherent implication that a population is the property of the state), it is protecting itself, it’s affiliates (CEO’s., state representatives and so on) and its power from people like you, it’s own population.
There’s a term for a state which relies upon the subversion, disruption and repression through violence of state police, military and generally armed forces to repress mass social movements disliked by those in power, it’s called a “police-state.” Which, when the peaceful Denver protestors began to be encircled by riot police in full gear who were closing in on them and about to become violently aggressive, they pointed out by rhetorically chanting “What does a police-state look like? This is what a police-state looks like.”

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Oliver Stone's Wall Street

One of Oliver Stone's best films. As much as I thought from time to time while watching the film that it may be a bit of an exaggerated caricature I was floored to find out that the most extreme parts of the film - such as the "greed is good" speech...(read more) - was actually derived from real-life situations and events - the "greed is good" speech having been influenced by speeches and comments made by Carl Icahn - a notorious corporate raider - and arbitrageur Ivan Boesky who, in a commencement address for UC Berkeley's School of Business Administration said, "Greed is all right, by the way. I want you to know that. I think greed is healthy..." During the "greed is good" speech in the film I was also reminded of Nobel Prize winning economist James Buchanan's claim that "what each person seeks in an ideal situation is mastery over a world of slaves." These real-life individuals and comments help illustrate that as much as the film may appear to produce extreme caricatures, the film actually presents a rather moderate depiction of these sort of amoral, greedy corporate-capitalist raiders and mafia dons.

Outside of Wall Street being thematically relevant and grimly prophetic, having anticipated the rampant corruption and greed of the "excesses of the eighties" and the systematic corruption and destructive avarice of the capitalist system in general - most recently made manifest through the early 2000 corporate scandals, such as Enron's - the film is well written - the story is a real human drama, a typical Oliver Stone portrayal of the dialectical struggle between good and evil - brilliantly directed, acted and executed. Both Charlie Sheen's and Michael Douglas' performances were excellent; Douglas rightly won an Oscar for his performance. Martin Sheen, playing Charlie Sheen's character's labor union father and serving the role of the moral backbone of the film, also delivered.

The underlying moral story line many times is presented as too obvious; Oliver Stone tends to ravish his points across without any subtlety or nuance. I want to be provoked to think about the underlying moral story; I don't want it explained to me. I'm torn over this specific point though, the criticism may be overly harsh; after all, the criticism predominately stems from such aspects of the film as the Gordon Gekko character, who, in the final analysis, is actually very much true to life. That may be the real conflict here, that real life in this instance is just an absurdity and cannot be portrayed in any way, doing justice to reality, with subtlety and nuance. In any case, Wall Street should be mandatory viewing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"Liberal Fascism": A Critique from the Left

Hillary Clinton is a fascist for advocating public advertisements that offer tips on how to raise children, according to Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, but Reagon, Bush I and II, Kissinger, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Perle, Wolfowitz and their support, to limit myself to only a single example, for overt, violent and objective fascism, such as the neo-fascist, paramilitary, guerrilla death squads in Latin America, isn't even mentioned!

Also not mentioned is the Ku Klux Klan, which was the first proto-fascist (I use the term despite the caveats necessitated by Zizek's analysis) movement in America, nor does Jonah bother to mention any of the real-existing fascist groups and movements in America - such as the KKK, neo-Nazis, white nationalists generally, vigilante border groups, etcetera - because that would at the same time demonstrate the truth of American fascism and falsify his entire Ann Coulter-reminiscent, far-right political screed...fascism is a product of the so-conceived political right, always has been and continues to be.

Another peice of alleged evidence offered by Jonah is the fact that The New Republic - which he argues isn't actually liberal, it's progressive and somehow progressive is actually a code word for racism and collectivism, as he mumbled on Jon Stewart's show, yet we on the left know how far to the right, how subservient to power, the TNR really is - allegedly wrote kind words about Benito Mussolini, yet unmentioned, for reasons which seem apparent immediately, is the glowing review the recently deceased William F. Buckley Jr. (the crown-prince of conservatism, representing the right without question or ambiguity) penned for 'General Franco' in Jonah's ideological backwaters of the National Review; (lets also not forget the shared ideological commitments of the socioeconomic dogmas of 'the Chicago Boys', Friedman, Greenspan, the IMF, the WTO, Pinochet, Suharto and so on).

I would think that we would also do well not to forget that Benito himself publicly declared in a speech railing against Italian liberals who were asking for the actual programs as were to be implemented by Benito that "fascism is anti-liberal."
There is also for Jonah the inconvenient fact that fascism has been well studied and thoroughly analyzed in academia and has been decisively placed on the right of the political spectrum (are there any real arguments against this conclusion? No).

Another laughable argument Jonah concocts is the trivial observation that "many" Nazis were vegetarians and concerned with the organic and the environment. Jonah implies that, therefore, the animal rights and ecology movements are fascist, which is a juvenile and obvious non-sequitur, literally analogous to arguing that Hitler had a mustache, therefore, mustache's signify fascism. He cannot refrain himself from reminding everyone that the Nazi party itself was allegedly rife with homosexuals. What he neglects to mention (rhetorical question: what are his views on homosexuality again?) are the scores of homosexuals massacred in Nazi death camps because they were gay. Jonah's argument is revisionist history at its worst and most hateful. Jonah's neglect of the holocaust's inclusion of homosexuals brings to bear another point about Jonah's inference that the Nazis were socialists.

The Nazi party, being fascist, was by definition not socialist, hence the separate term and category.
As soldiers who were with Hitler testified, Hitler was ideologically-rabidly anti-Marxist and anti-socialist, in part due to his crazed anti-Semitism - as 'spartacus' online chronicles "[h]is fellow soldiers described him as 'odd' and 'peculiar'. One soldier from his regiment, Hans Mend, claimed that Hitler was an isolated figure who spent long periods of time sitting in the corner holding his head in silence. Then all of a sudden, Mend claimed, he would jump up and make a speech. These outbursts were usually attacks on Jews and Marxists who Hitler claimed were undermining the war effort."
Hitler constantly ranted and raved about Marxism and Bolshevism as being Jewish conspiracies to take over and control the entire world.

spartacus continues;

Hitler saw socialism as part of a Jewish conspiracy. Many of the socialist leaders in Germany, including Kurt Eisner, Rosa Luxemburg, Ernst Toller and Eugen Levine were Jews. So also were many of the leaders of the October Revolution in Russia. This included Leon Trotsky, Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Dimitri Bogrov, Karl Radek, Yakov Sverdlov, Maxim Litvinov, Adolf Joffe, and Moisei Uritsky. It had not escaped Hitler's notice that Karl Marx, the prophet of socialism, had also been a Jew.

It was no coincidence that Jews had joined socialist and communist parties in Europe. Jews had been persecuted for centuries and therefore were attracted to a movement that proclaimed that all men and women deserved to be treated as equals. This message was reinforced when on 10th July, 1918, the Bolshevik government in Russia passed a law that abolished all discrimination between Jews and non-Jews.

It was not until May, 1919 that the German Army entered Munich and overthrew the Bavarian Socialist Republic. Hitler was arrested with other soldiers in Munich and was accused of being a socialist. Hundreds of socialists were executed without trial but Hitler was able to convince them that he had been an opponent of the regime. To prove this he volunteered to help to identify soldiers who had supported the Socialist Republic. The authorities agreed to this proposal and Hitler was transferred to the commission investigating the revolution.

Information supplied by Hitler helped to track down several soldiers involved in the uprising. His officers were impressed by his hostility to left-wing ideas and he was recruited as a political officer. Hitler's new job was to lecture soldiers on politics. The main aim was to promote his political philosophy favoured by the army and help to combat the influence of the Russian Revolution on the German soldiers.

Spartacus

Here is more to supplement the background of Hitler, Nazism and fascism proper:

The behaviour of the NSDAP became more violent. On one occasion 167 Nazis beat up 57 members of the German Communist Party in the Reichstag. They were then physically thrown out of the building.

The stormtroopers also carried out terrible acts of violence against socialists and communists. In one incident in Silesia, a young member of the KPD had his eyes poked out with a billiard cue and was then stabbed to death in front of his mother. Four members of the SA were convicted of the crime. Many people were shocked when Hitler sent a letter of support for the four men and promised to do what he could to get them released.

Incidents such as these worried many Germans, and in the elections that took place in November 1932 the support for the Nazi Party fell. The German Communist Party made substantial gains in the election winning 100 seats. Hitler used this to create a sense of panic by claiming that German was on the verge of a Bolshevik Revolution and only the NSDAP could prevent this happening.

A group of prominent industrialists who feared such a revolution sent a petition to Paul von Hindenburg asking for Hitler to become Chancellor. Hindenberg reluctantly agreed to their request and at the age of forty-three, Hitler became the new Chancellor of Germany.

Although Hitler had the support of certain sections of the German population he never gained an elected majority. The best the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) could do in a election was 37.3 per cent of the vote they gained in July 1932. When Hitler became chancellor in January 1933, the Nazis only had a third of the seats in the Reichstag.

Soon after Hitler became chancellor he announced new elections. Hermann Goering called a meeting of important industrialists where he told them that the 1933 General Election could be the last in Germany for a very long time. Goering added that the NSDAP would need a considerable amount of of money to ensure victory. Those present responded by donating 3 million Reichmarks. As Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary after the meeting: "Radio and press are at our disposal. Even money is not lacking this time."

Behind the scenes Goering, who was minister of the interior in Hitler's government, was busily sacking senior police officers and replacing them with Nazi supporters. These men were later to become known as the Gestapo. Goering also recruited 50,000 members of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) to work as police auxiliaries.

Hermann Goering then raided the headquarters of the Communist Party (KPD) in Berlin and claimed that he had uncovered a plot to overthrow the government. Leaders of the KPD were arrested but no evidence was ever produced to support Goering's accusations. He also announced he had discovered a communist plot to poison German milk supplies.

On 27th February, 1933, someone set fire to the Reichstag. Several people were arrested including a leading, Georgi Dimitrov, general secretary of the Comintern, the international communist organization. Dimitrov was eventually acquitted but a young man from the Netherlands, Marianus van der Lubbe, was eventually executed for the crime. As a teenager Lubbe had been a communist and Hermann Goering used this information to claim that the Reichstag Fire was part of a KPD plot to overthrow the government.

Hitler gave orders that all leaders of the German Communist Party should "be hanged that very night."Paul von Hindenburg vetoed this decision but did agree that Hitler should take "dictatorial powers". KPD candidates in the election were arrested and Hermann Goering announced that the Nazi Party planned "to exterminate" German communists.

Thousands of members of the Social Democrat Party and Communist Party were arrested and sent to recently opened to concentration camp. They were called this because they "concentrated" the enemy into a restricted area. Hitler named these camps after those used by the British during the Boer War.

Left-wing election meetings were broken up by the Sturm Abteilung (SA) and several candidates were murdered. Newspapers that supported these political parties were closed down during the 1933 General Election.

Although it was extremely difficult for the opposition parties to campaign properly, Hitler and the Nazi party still failed to win an overall victory in the election on 5th March, 1933. The NSDAP received 43.9% of the vote and only 288 seats out of the available 647. The increase in the Nazi vote had mainly come from the Catholic rural areas who feared the possibility of an atheistic Communist government.

After the 1933 General Election Hitler proposed an Enabling Bill that would give him dictatorial powers. Such an act needed three-quarters of the members of the Reichstag to vote in its favour.

All the active members of the Communist Party, were in concentration camps, in hiding, or had left the country (an estimated 60,000 people left Germany during the first few weeks after the election). This was also true of most of the leaders of the other left-wing party, Social Democrat Party (SDP). However, Hitler still needed the support of the Catholic Centre Party (BVP) to pass this legislation. Hitler therefore offered the BVP a deal: vote for the bill and the Nazi government would guarantee the rights of the Catholic Church. The BVP agreed and when the vote was taken, only 94 members of the SDP voted against the Enabling Bill.

Hitler was now dictator of Germany. His first move was to take over the trade unions. Its leaders were sent to concentration camps and the organization was put under the control of the Nazi Party. The trade union movement now became known as the Labour Front.

Soon afterwards the Communist Party and the Social Democrat Party were banned. Party activists still in the country were arrested. A month later Hitler announced that the Catholic Centre Party, the Nationalist Party and all other political parties other than the NSDAP were illegal, and by the end of 1933 over 150,000 political prisoners were in concentration camps. Hitler was aware that people have a great fear of the unknown, and if prisoners were released, they were warned that if they told anyone of their experiences they would be sent back to the camp.

It was not only left-wing politicians and trade union activists who were sent to concentration camp. The Gestapo also began arresting beggars, prostitutes, homosexuals, alcoholics and anyone who was incapable of working. Although some inmates were tortured, the only people killed during this period were prisoners who tried to escape and those classed as "incurably insane".

Hitler's Germany became known as a fascist state. Fascist was originally used to describe the government of Benito Mussolini in Italy. Mussolini's fascist one-party state emphasized patriotism, national unity, hatred of communism, admiration of military values and unquestioning obedience. Hitler was deeply influenced by Mussolini's Italy and his Germany shared many of the same characteristics.”

So, in summary, the Nazis effectively seized power on the backs of industrialists horrified of a potential Russian-Bolshevik-like revolution in Germany (and here would be a good place to recommend the reading of the left-Marxist, anti-Bolshevik writings of Rosa Luxemburg, Herman Gorter and company, the Junius Pamphlet and Gorters 'Open letter to Comrade Lenin' coming to mind) by whipping up fear-mongering and red-baiting among the reactionary bourgeoisie. After they rose to power among their first actions was to destroy the labor movement and trade unions; which, if one were to know anything at all about socialism, one would already know that this policy was and is diametrically opposed, fundamentally and in essence, to even the most basic of socialist principle - the labor movement and trade unions being the life blood of socialism. It was for these reasons that union leaders, labor activists and socialists, communists and anarchists of all stripes were among the first to populate the Nazi death camps (along with Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses and so on), in the instances wherein they were not killed outright.

Jonah's vulgar revisionist history is, in the final analysis, reminiscent of David Irving's work. In fact, his entire inverted screed is what one would expect were Ann Coulter and David Irving to co-author a book.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Anarcho-Syndicalist Council Communism

I began by comparing Pannekoek’s council communism with Rocker’s anarcho-syndicalism in the previous post and in this line shall I further illustrate the convergence between the two tendencies upon the question of parliamentary parties and state power.

Pannekoek explains that “today belief in the party constitutes the most powerful check on the working class' capacity for action. That is why we are not trying to create a new party. This is so, not because our numbers are small -- a party of any kind begins with a few people -- but because, in our day, a party cannot be other than an organization aimed at directing and dominating the proletariat. To this type of organization we oppose the principle that the working class can effectively come into its own and prevail only by taking its destiny into its own hands.”[1]

Rocker concurs writing that “[p]articipation in the politics of the bourgeois states has not brought the labour movement a hairs' breadth closer to Socialism, but, thanks to this method, Socialism has almost been completely crushed and condemned to insignificance. The ancient proverb: 'Who eats of the pope, dies of him,' has held true in this content also; who eats of the state is ruined by it. Participation in parliamentary politics has affected the Socialist labour movement like an insidious poison. It destroyed the belief in the necessity of constructive Socialist activity and, worst of all, the impulse to self-help, by inoculating people with the ruinous delusion that salvation always comes from above.”[2]

The left-Marxist Paul Mattick explains further that “the parties of the workers, like those of the capitalists became limited corporations, the elemental needs of the class were subordinated to political expediency. Revolutionary objectives were displaced by horse-trading and manipulations for political positions. The party became all-important, its immediate objectives superseded those of the class. Where revolutionary situations set into motion the class, whose tendency is to fight for the realization of the revolutionary objective, the parties of the workers ‘represented’ the working class and were themselves ‘represented’ by parliamentarians whose very position in parliament constituted resignation to their status as bargainers within a capitalist order whose supremacy was no longer challenged.”[3]

Mattick explains that instead of a vanguard party leading the workers, the workers will themselves spontaneously create the necessary organizations required in order to give birth to the embryonic social structure of the future socialist society: “The Groups of Council Communists recognise also that no real social change is possible under present conditions unless the anti-capitalistic forces grow stronger than the pro-capitalist forces, and that it is impossible to organise anti-capitalistic forces of such a strength within capitalistic relations. From the analysis of present-day society and from a study of previous class struggles it concludes that spontaneous actions of dissatisfied masses will, in the process of their rebellion, create their own organisations, and that these organisations, arising out of the social conditions, alone can end the present social arrangement.”[4]


I do, however, agree with Mattick when he explains the role of the Groups of Council Communists:

“The Groups do not claim to be acting for the workers, but consider themselves as those members of the working class who have, for one reason or another, recognised evolutionary trends towards capitalism’s downfall, and who attempt to co-ordinate the present activities of the workers to that end. They know that they are no more than propaganda groups, able only to suggest necessary courses of action, but unable to perform them in the ‘interest of the class’. This the class has to do itself. The present functions of the Groups, though related to the perspectives of the future, attempt to base themselves entirely on the present needs of the workers. On all occasions, they try to foster self-initiative and self-action of the workers. The Groups participate wherever possible in any action of the working population, not proposing a separate programme, but adopting the programme of those workers and endeavouring to increase the direct participation of those workers, in all decisions. They demonstrate in word and deed that the labour movement must foster its own interests exclusively; that society as a whole cannot truly exist until classes are abolished; that the workers, considering nothing but their specific, most immediate interests, must and do attack all the other classes and interests of the exploitative society; that they can do no wrong as long as they do what helps them economically and socially; that this is possible only as long as they do this themselves; that they must begin to solve their affairs today and so prepare themselves to solve the even more urgent problems of the morrow.”[ 5]

Arguably one of the best distillations of the argument against state power was formulated by Rocker in the following passage:

"As long as within society a possessing and a non-possessing group of human beings face one another in enmity, the state will be indispensable to the possessing minority for the protection of its privileges. when this condition of social injustice vanishes to give place to a higher order of things, which shall recognise no special rights and shall have as its basic assumption the community of social interests, government over men must yield the field to the to the administration of economic and social affairs, or to speak with Saint-Simon: 'he time will come when the art of governing man will disappear. A new art will take its place, the art of administering things.'
And his disposes of the theory maintained by Marx and his followers that the state, in the form of a proletarian dictatorship, is a necessary transitional stage to a classless society, in which the state after the elimination of all class conflicts and then of classes themselves, will dissolve itself and vanish from the canvas. This concept, which completely mistakes the real nature of the state and the significance in history of the factor of political power, is only the logical outcome of so-called economic materialism, which sees in all the phenomena of history merely the inevitable effects of the methods of production of the time. Under the influence of this theory people came to regard the different forms of the state and all other social institutions as a 'juridical and political superstructure' on the 'economic edifice' of society, and thought that they had found in that theory the key to every historical process. In reality every section of history affords us thousands of examples of the way in which the economic development of a country has been set back for centuries and forced into prescribed forms by particular struggles for political power."[6]

[1] Party and Working Class by Anton Pannekoek


[2] The Objectives of Anarcho-Syndicalism by Rudolf Rocker

[3] The Masses and the Vanguard by Paul Mattick

[4] Council Communism by Paul Mattick

[5] ibid

[6] Anarchism Its Aims and Purposes by Rudolf Rocker

Monday, April 07, 2008

Anarchist-Marxist Convergence: Part One

I have not yet gone into too great a detail regarding the underlying socio-political theory which animates this blog. Although it is rather obvious from the title of the blog as well as from the content of the posts, the operative underlying theory has been and continues to be derived from the anti-capitalist, anti-state, socialist-left, the specificities of this theory have not yet been fleshed out in detail.

As comrades of mine already know, the specific tendency which animates my perspective is a dialectical convergence between several dynamic traditions. It would be impossible to give a full account of the various interrelated tendencies which converge and supplement the general underlying theory in a single post without doing a grave injustice to all of the separate yet related tendencies as well as to the dialectical amalgamation there from derived.

This post shall then be the first in a series of serial installments within which I will hence forth describe the specific individual tendencies which I draw from, their history, and their coalescing with various other related tendencies.

I will begin by drawing attention to the convergence and near indistinguishable nature of the anarcho-syndicalist tendency, represented by the anarchist theorist Rudolf Rocker, and the council communist tendency, represented by the left-Marxists Anton Pannekoek and Paul Mattick.

I have noticed that what Noam Chomsky pointed out is correct, that there is a fundamental convergence between anarcho-syndicalism – best expressed by Rocker’s work of the same title – and left Marxism, such as Pannekoek’s council communism. In fact, I am uncertain what differentiates Pannekoek’s council communism from Rocker’s anarcho-syndicalism.

Both posit that capitalism must be dismantled, socialism being the alternative. That strikes are the primary method by which the proletariat achieves class consciousness and is, as Rocker claims, “the focal point of the political struggle.”[1] Pannekoek explains “…mass strikes of the workers tend to become most serious attacks against State power, that fortress of capitalism, and most efficient factors in increasing the consciousness and social power of the working class.”[2] Rocker concurs stating that, “the strike is for the workers not only a means for the defense of immediate economic interests, it is also a continuous schooling for their powers of resistance, showing them every day that every least right has to be won by unceasing struggle against the existing system.”[3]

It was this premise that was the cause of conflict between Kautsky and Luxemburg. Luxemburg rightly took the position that the mass strike was foundational to any revolutionary socialist movement, as she said “the mass strike is the first natural, impulsive form of every great revolutionary struggle of the proletariat and the more highly developed the antagonism is between capital and labour, the more effective and decisive must mass strikes become.”[4]

Both Pannekoek and Rocker conclude that workers’ councils have and shall be established spontaneously and organically through trade unionism and strikes and that these councils are in embryo the organism of the future socialist society. They realize that organization is required in order to achieve workers’ control and that it is through strikes and the subsequent organic formation of workers’ councils that this organization will develop.

As Pannekoek explains, “In a big strike, all the workers cannot assemble in one meeting. They choose delegates to act as a committee. Such a committee is only the executive organ of the strikers; it is continually in touch with them and has to carry out the decisions of the strikers. Each delegate at every moment can be replaced by others; such a committee never becomes an independent power. In such a way, common action as one body can be secured, and yet the workers have all decisions in their own hands.”[5]

He goes on to explain that “Councils are the form of organization only for…the working class as a whole..They originate and grow up along with the first action of a revolutionary character. With the development of revolution, their importance and their functions increase. At first they may appear as simple strike committees…In a universal strike the functions of these committees are enlarged. Now delegates of all the factories and plants have to discuss and to decide about all the conditions of the fight…When the revolution develops to such power that the State power is seriously affected, then the workers’ councils have to assume political functions…They are the central bodies of the workers’ power…”[6]

Rocker points out that “The lancehead of the labour movement is, therefore...the trader union, toughened by daily combat and permeated by Socialist spirit. Only in the realm of economy are the workers able to display their full social strength, for it is their activity as producers which holds together the whole social structure, and guarantees the existence of society at all...the trade union is by no means a mere transitory phenomenon bound up with the duration of capitalist society, it is the germ of the Socialist society of the future, the elementary school of Socialism in general. Every new social structure makes organs for itself in the body of the old organism. Without this preliminary any social evolution is unthinkable."[7]

The points of convergence are many and the examples here are merely first approximations.


[1] Anarcho-Syndicalism by Rudolf Rocker

[2] Strikes by Anton Pannekoek

[3] Anarcho-Syndicalism by Rudolf Rocker

[4] The Mass Strike by Rosa Luxemburg

[5] Workers’ Councils by Anton Pannekoek

[6] ibid

[7] Anarcho-Syndicalism by Rudolf Rocker

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Anti-Americanism and Totalitarianism

I would be willing to wager that just about every social activist and dissident has at one time or another been charged with the so horrific crime of “anti-Americanism.” One simply cannot within the rotting economic and reactionary social climate today so prevalent present damning analysis and critique of state power without large segments of society, most likely proto-fascist segments, instantaneously spewing forth hysterical charges of “anti-Americanism” and other related slurs and rhetorical bile.

What is “anti-Americanism” and just what qualifies one as being “anti-American” or “un-American”? Simply asking this question and searching for an adequate answer goes a long way in demonstrating that “anti-Americanism” is simply empty, reactionary propaganda and smut, derived straight out of the ideology of totalitarianism.

In a totalitarian society the state, party or dominant institution of concentrated power, used to exert the ruling elite’s dominance over the larger population - through the military, guerilla death squads, massive ever-present propaganda campaigns and so forth – is the mafia Don and any attempt to challenge the Don’s position of power is met with an immediate reaction, in many places imprisonment, torture and murder; in other places, propaganda campaigns to marginalize and demolish the theorists and their analyses and critiques through media networks owned by massive multinational corporations running twenty four hours a day.

When one searches for the answer to the questions previously posed one finds that what constitutes anti-Americanism ranges anywhere from organizing terrorist attacks on innocent civilians, such as the attacks of 9-11, perpetrated by al-Qaida, all the way down to the act of exposing and criticizing the United States for its egregious abuses of state power; a recent example being the murderous bombing of Basra, which has so far led to the deaths of more than 300 people. Which illustrates rather well one of the underlying assumptions and fallacies of the ideology which supports the charges of anti-Americanism, that there is no distinction to be made between state power, the government and its affiliates, and the general population and that any action by the state power is by definition just.

This gross conflation causes many problems and allows the possibility that the state power will be defended over and against general populations and mass social movements, even when the state’s actions are illegitimate or when the state is itself illegitimate, as all states ultimately are. This view, which reflexively adopts the positions of the state and the powerful, many times in direct opposition to social movements and the general population, is also expressed in international law.

As Noam Chomsky observed, “international law is, in many respects, the instrument of the powerful: it is a creation of states and their representatives. In developing the presently existing body of international law, there was no participation by mass movements of peasants. The structure of international law reflects that fact; that is, international law permits much too wide a range of forceful intervention in support of existing power structures.”

This is of course not to undermine all of international law, which is arguably the best and most enlightened attempt to create a coherent system by which to defend human rights and so forth; as Chomsky goes on to say, “in fact there are interesting elements of international law, for example, embedded in the Nuremberg principles and the United Nations Charter, which permit, in fact, I believe, require the citizen to act against his own state in ways which the state will falsely regard as criminal. Nevertheless, he's acting legally, because international law also happens to prohibit the threat or use of force in international affairs, except under some very narrow circumstances, of which, for example, the war in Vietnam [as well as the present war in Iraq] is not one. This means that in the particular case of the Vietnam War, which interests me most, the American state is acting in a criminal capacity. And the people have the right to stop criminals from committing murder. Just because the criminal happens to call your action illegal when you try to stop him, it doesn't mean it is illegal.”

Returning to the conflation of state power with the general population and culture at large, Arundhati Roy illustrated the absurdity of the conflation, which is inherent within the charge of anti-Americanism, by asking what anti-Americanism actually means. She asks “[d]oes it mean you are anti-jazz? Or that you're opposed to freedom of speech?...That you have a quarrel with giant sequoias? Does it mean that you don't admire the hundreds of thousands of American citizens who marched against nuclear weapons, or the thousands of war resisters who forced their government to withdraw from Vietnam? Does it mean that you hate all Americans?

This sly conflation of America's culture, music, literature, the breathtaking physical beauty of the land, the ordinary pleasures of ordinary people with criticism of the U.S. government's foreign policy (about which, thanks to America's "free press", sadly most Americans know very little) is a deliberate and extremely effective strategy. It's like a retreating army taking cover in a heavily populated city, hoping that the prospect of hitting civilian targets will deter enemy fire.

But there are many Americans who would be mortified to be associated with their government's policies. The most scholarly, scathing, incisive, hilarious critiques of the hypocrisy and the contradictions in U.S. government policy come from American citizens. When the rest of the world wants to know what the U.S. government is up to, we turn to Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Howard Zinn, Ed Herman, Amy Goodman, Michael Albert, Chalmers Johnson, William Blum and Anthony Amove to tell us what's really going on.”

The doctrine that underlies the charge of anti-Americanism is better understood within a broader context. Chomsky provides the context thusly:

“The people who are called ‘intellectuals’ are those who pretty much serve power. Others may be equally intellectual, but they're not called intellectuals. And that goes all the way back to the origins of recorded history. Go back to the Bible; who were the people who were respected, and who were the people who were reviled? Well, the people who were respected were the ones who, a thousand years later, were called false prophets. And the ones who were reviled and jailed and beaten and so on are the ones who years later were called prophets. And it goes right up until today. In the United States, people respected Soviet dissidents, but they weren't respected in Soviet society. There, they respected the commissars. So you are a respected intellectual if you do your job as a part of the system of doctrinal control. Raise questions about it and you're just not acceptable -- you're anti-American or some sort of shrill and strident something or other. Why was Walter Lippmann one of the "responsible men," while Eugene Debs was in jail? Was it that Walter Lippmann was smarter than Eugene Debs? Not that I can see. Eugene Debs was just an American working-class leader who raised unacceptable questions, so he was in jail. And Walter Lippmann was a servant of the major powers, so he was respected. And it would be amazing if it was anything else.”

Anti-Americanism, a derivative of anti-nationalism, as Arundhati Roy points out, is fallacious on the basis that it assumes the person so classified “is against his or her own nation and, by inference, is pro some other one. But it isn’t necessary to be ‘anti-national to be deeply suspicious of all nationalism, to be anti-nationalism. Nationalism of one kind or another was the cause of most of the genocide of the twentieth century.”

In the final analysis the charge of anti-Americanism, hurled with such vitriol, is but one extension of imperial power and the propaganda which serves this power; dissidents, no matter the support they enjoy, and critics of excesses of state power and abuses of human rights and so forth, are automatically deemed “anti-American” and are thus marginalized and dismissed before their analyses and arguments are even heard. The charge is thus used as an ideological weapon, derived from the ideology of totalitarianism, by which critics of state power are bludgeoned into marginalization, in the very same way Soviet dissidents were treated with the charge of being “anti-Soviet.”

As Arundhati Roy goes on to say: “The term "anti-American" is usually used by the American establishment to discredit and, not falsely - but shall we say inaccurately - define its critics. Once someone is branded anti-American, the chances are that he or she will be judged before they are heard, and the argument will be lost in the welter of bruised national pride.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Collective Punishment and Terrorism

It is without controversy among rational people the realization that collective punishment – a tactic defined under international law as a war crime – is in no way a proper means by which to pursue conflict resolution.

Setting aside for now the moral and legal aspects of collective punishment, examining the tactic on purely pragmatic grounds, one finds that outside of the tactic being sinister and evil ethically speaking, and in breech of international law, a gross violation of human rights, the tactic is not only impractical, it is, in fact, counter productive, ensuring the opposite effect as the one so desired; the effect so desired being peace and security, or so proclaim propagandists for collective punishment. Collective punishment and the inevitable exacerbation of the circular violence which it necessarily provokes only ever serves as fuel to the fire, intensifying the internecine violence.

It is always of benefit to investigate the real-life application of such tactics and doctrines as collective punishment. Arguably the most explicit and depraved example is provided to us through the Israel-Palestine conflict, specifically, Israel’s imprisonment of, latest incursion into and siege of the Gaza strip.

Israel’s brutal and vicious siege on Gaza is intended to continue the policy of strangling the Palestinian will to resist by dolling out violent retribution to the entire civilian population based upon the misconceived notion that these actions will turn the population of Gaza against Hamas. The same policy for which the murder and mayhem wrought upon the Lebanese people is to blame, the illusory and sinister notion that by terrorizing a population for the actions of an armed resistance or a band of terrorists one can turn the population against the resistance and/or terrorists.

As the consequences of the destruction of Lebanon by Israel attest, collective punishment not only does not turn the general population against the resistance or terrorist bands – in this case, Hezbollah – it actually strengthens the resistance and/or terrorist bands; in the case of Lebanon it served beyond the wildest dreams of the Hezbollah to further radicalize the population of Lebanon, shore up sympathy and support for Hezbollah and ultimately embolden the terrorist elements within the resistance.

Returning to the situation in Gaza, Israeli leaders argue that the existence of the Hamas regime in Gaza and the firing of Qassam rockets by Palestinians at Sderot, an Israeli town on the other side of the Gaza border, leave no alternative to collective punishment. However, as Uri Avnery wrote in an insightful Counterpunch article, “[s]everal months ago, Hamas proposed a ceasefire. It repeated the offer this week [late January]. A ceasefire means, in the view of Hamas: the Palestinians will stop shooting Qassams and mortar shells, the Israelis will stop the incursions into Gaza, the ‘targeted’ assassinations and the blockade…Why doesn’t our government jump at this proposal? Simple: in order to make such a deal, we must speak with Hamas, directly or indirectly. And this is precisely what the government refuses to do…The real purpose of the whole exercise is to overthrow the Hamas regime in Gaza and to prevent a Hamas takeover in the West Bank…In simple and blunt words: the government sacrifices the fate of the Sderot population on the altar of a hopeless principle. It is more important for the government to boycott Hamas – because it is now the spearhead of Palestinian resistance – than to put an end to the suffering of Sderot. All the media cooperate with this pretence.”

As was the case with Israel’s murderous collective punishment of Lebanon, so too has Israel’s policy of collective punishment in Gaza not only failed, but, even further, has provoked, as anticipated by security analysts and most observant people, just the opposite effect: growing support for Hamas.

The Israeli siege of Gaza began with the complete sealing of the border, producing, in effect, the largest prison on earth. In late January the Israeli Army would not allow either fuels or medical supplies to enter Gaza, as a result of this blockade Gaza was plunged into darkness. This is collective punishment – in breech of Article 23 of the Fourth Geneva Convention - on a sinister scale with consequences which affect the entire population.

Dr. Mona El-Farra, a physician and human rights activist living in Gaza city, described the specific consequences of this policy for the Al Shifa hospital: “I’ll give you the example about Al Shifa hospital, a government hospital and the last hospital in Gaza state. There are 100 patients in the intensive care unit, and those patients’ lives are seriously threatened because if the fuel runs out, that means the machines will go out, and they will die at that moment. Another 400 patients are facing the same destiny if the power stays cut off.”

Israel then proceeded to send ground troops into Gaza, as Jean Shaoul reports, “targeting militants in and around Jabaliya refugee camp. They killed 61 Palestinians, at least two dozen of whom were civilians, including a baby, and wounded about 200, 14 of them critically…Gaza’s streets are deserted. Universities and schools have closed.”

The operation, dubbed “Hot Winter,” has killed seventy-seven Palestinians in two days. As Amy Goodman reported on Democracy Now!, more than 112 Palestinians have been killed and “[a]ccording to Gaza health ministry statistics, twenty-two children were killed [now twenty-five according to Amnesty International]. More than 350 people were wounded. Since last week, three Israelis have died: one civilian and two soldiers.”

Amnesty International reports that “Israeli forces also destroyed houses and property across the Gaza strip, including at least two medical facilities…” Amnesty International went on to observe that “the Israeli military air strikes and artillery attacks on the Gaza strip were being carried out with reckless disregard for civilian life” and that “Israel has the legal obligation to protect the civilian population of Gaza…These attacks are disproportionate and go beyond lawful measures which Israeli forces may take in response to rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups.”

Amid all of this violent chaos, the Israeli puppet Mahmoud Abbas has himself suspended peace negotiations and cut off all contacts with Israel; demonstrating beyond any reasonable doubt the counterproductive consequences of the policy of collective punishment. Now not only are the populations of the Occupied Territories not turning against Hamas, but even the traditionally sniveling Israeli puppets, like Abbas, are turning more and more against Israel.

The policy of collective punishment and the consequences which it necessarily entails demonstrates that the term “collective punishment” is simply a transparent euphemism for terrorism. To violently punish an entire population for political ends, to, say, completely seal the Gaza border, to cut off entry of fuel and medical supplies, to then invade Gaza and indiscriminately murder innocent men, women and children noncombatants in the stated desire to elicit from them revulsion of Hamas and a desire to accept any unjust solution to the conflict so long as the destruction and murder ends, is the elementary, textbook definition of terrorism.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Socioeconomic Crises

Whenever socioeconomic issues emerge and are discussed there tends to arise the common misconception that economic crises, such as increasing national dept, are entirely independent of social crises, such as an increase in infant mortality rates, and that “the economy” is some sort of transcendent entity unto itself.
In the final analysis, economic issues are social issues, and the economy, as Karl Marx revealed, is nothing more than the social relations of production, the asymmetrical relations of power – with bosses and workers and with, as Cornel West observes “those at the top who will be able to live lives of luxury and those whose labor will be both indispensable, necessary, but also exploited in order to produce that wealth” – and the disunity between the forces of production and the relations of production.
For instance, the ability to drill for oil and to use the oil drilled to produce fuel is socially in common, it is a collective effort, however, the final product and the capital there from earned is not shared, it’s usurped by a small, elite class, the bourgeois. Thus, to speak of “the economy” as some sort of singular, transcendent entity unto itself is erroneous.

Turning now to the interrelation of economic and social crises, the current sub-prime mortgage crisis provides and illuminating example.
The sub-prime mortgage crisis is a prime example of the crises provoked by capitalist socioeconomics long ago exposed and critiqued by, most famously, Karl Marx and socialists such as Rosa Luxemburg.
The sub-prime mortgage crisis is in essence the inevitable manifestation of the crisis of overproduction Marx wrote about, despite the adaptation of capital through credit, which Luxemburg wrote about. Luxemburg observed that “[w]hen the inner tendency of capitalist production to extend boundlessly strikes against the restricted dimensions of private property, credit appears as a means of surmounting these limits in a particular capitalist manner.”
The sub-prime mortgage boom, a boom the Economist called the “largest financial bubble in history,” was fueled by credit. People seeking to obtain new houses, borrowers who had low credit and/or low income, were directed towards sub-prime mortgages, the interest rates of which were usually two to five percentage points higher than on prime loans. The idea being that these mortgages provided a way for borrowers who might not otherwise qualify for loans to buy homes.
However, as Petrino DiLeo writes, “this sector has morphed into a classic predatory lending environment. Stories are emerging of mortgage brokers fudging applicants’ incomes on forms or ignoring it entirely--and rushing through approvals on loans that have little prospect of getting paid back.”
This “predatory lending environment” emerged because Wall Street banks, investment firms, mortgage companies and even the storefront mortgage broker operations were motivated to push this boom forward – “even if that meant making loans to borrowers who wouldn’t be able to afford the terms, or steering customers with better credit into more unstable mortgages that, at first glance appeared cheaper” – because of the prospects of profits in the millions; “whether borrowers missed payments, refinanced their loans or paid off the mortgage too early.”
Petrino DiLeo points out that the sub-prime loans “were enticing to a secondary market” also, “in which bankers packaged mortgage loans in large numbers and sold them to the biggest investors as giant bonds.”

While it lasted the sub-prime mortgage and housing boom was a great success, “the largest financial bubble in history,” yet no so great for the borrowers who had been huckstered into the shyster deals when their mortgage rates were adjusted and they were forced to foreclose and lose their homes. Unfortunately for many of those who exploited the situation and benefited from the boom, the crisis soon became there’s also.
As Rosa Luxemburg explains: “If it is true that crises appear as a result of the contradiction existing between the capacity of extension, the tendency of production to increase, and the restricted consumption capacity of the market, credit is precisely…the specific means that makes this contradiction break out as often as possible. To begin with, it increases disproportionately the capacity of the extension of production and thus constitutes an inner motive force that is constantly pushing production to exceed the limits of the market. But credit strikes from two sides. After having (as a factor of the process of production) provoked overproduction, credit (as a factor of exchange) destroys, during the crisis, the very productive forces it itself created. At the first symptom of the crisis, credit melts away. It abandons exchange where it would still be found indispensable, and appearing instead, ineffective and useless, there where some exchange still continues, it reduces to a minimum the consumption capacity of the market.”So, when the market began overproducing houses and the borrowers were unable to pay off the loans, the “largest financial bubble in history” exploded. As Joel Geier points out, proving Marx’s theory of capitalism’s crisis of overproduction and Luxemburg’s theory of the role credit plays in such crises, “the enormous profits from [the sub-prime mortgage boom] produced the typical capitalist cyclical outcome - an overproduction of houses, which could not be sold at the usual profit. A year ago construction activity and housing prices stagnated and then fell, coincidentally just as the resetting of mortgage rates began. People found that with falling home prices they could not refinance, and were now stuck with these higher, unaffordable rates. Within a few months, half a million families couldn’t make their mortgage payments and lost their homes…Beyond the human tragedy, this will add to the large inventory of unsold houses, further depressing prices. Many mortgages will be greater than the house is worth, which in turn will lead more people to walk away from homes with inflated prices, producing even more forecloses, and further price declines. And of course the banks are now refusing to make mortgages in declining or unstable markets, narrowing the pool of potential buyers [just as Luxemburg argued, “credit melts away”]. It is the mad logic of the capitalist market in crisis spiraling downward and producing the worst housing depression since the 1930s.”

As is illustrated by the specific example of the economic crisis of the sub-prime mortgage bust, economic crises are also necessarily social crises because they carry with them consequences for the society as a whole and, in fact, the world. The housing crisis has now rippled around the globe. The crisis is in fact provoking a possible recession. Joel Geier explains: “Now that housing prices are falling, increasing house debt as the vehicle to maintain living standards is over, and retail sales to working-class families are sliding.All of this is cutting into profits, the dynamic that drives the capitalist engine. In the last quarter, profits fell by 8 percent from a year ago, the first decline in the mass of profits since the last recession. With less profit, business spending for capital goods is being cut back. All the elements of a recession have been slowly unfolding for months. But this is more than an ordinary recession, it is also the opening of an international financial crisis unlike any in the post-Second World War period. The massive build-up of toxic debt is threatening the functioning of the international financial system. The banks have been forced in the last two months to write down $80 billion of bad mortgage debt. Conservative estimates are that they will have to take losses of $300–400 billion in the next year—if the economy doesn’t go into recession. Citibank, the largest American bank, had to take a $6 billion loss in November, and is expected to take between $10–15 billion more in the next three months, on its worst subprime mortgages alone. Like other banks it also has severe problems with its corporate debt book, and its off-balance-sheet subsidiaries, which it did not put up capital reserves for. The most important international bank may face a capital crisis because it does not have adequate reserves to cover all of its bad loans.”

In the final analysis, it is always the working class that pays the bills. All the recent talk about “fiscal responsibility” means cuts in social spending and a renewed propaganda campaign for privatization, which is most assuredly a social problem; it’s not just a social problem, it’s actual class warfare. Unemployment is rising, wages are stagnating and have been for several years, inflation in the price of food and fuel has also risen and this is all destructive of working-class living standards. Not to mention the millions likely to lose their homes due to the sub-prime disaster.
These are the results of the inevitable crisis of the capitalist system, a system founded upon avarice and exploitation, yet, unlike the formulations of many Marxist theoreticians, capitalism is not going to by its own internal contradictions dismantle itself. It is going to take dedicated, sustained and renewed activism from the left to ensure that rather than the capitalist system driving the majority of society into the ground, it is dismantled and replaced with a just socialist system. As Rosa Luxemburg aptly summarized it, we must decide between either “socialism or barbarism.”

Thursday, January 17, 2008

State Power and Social Movements

Standard service-to-power, state-reverential propaganda has it that progressive gains are doled out by benevolent state power rather than forced out of the state by organized and sustained social movements. A particularly repugnant version of this myth was offered by Hillary Clinton in an interview on Fox News recently when she said that “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do; presidents before had not even tried. But it took a president to get it done. That dream became a reality, the power of that dream became real in people’s lives, because we had a president who said, “We’re going to do it,” and actually got it accomplished.”

Hillary should be ashamed. I cannot even think of a more vulgar formulation of the bourgeois argument that inverts social history so egregiously. Apparently Hillary would have us all believe that Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Joshua Heschel (the Jewish MLK Jr.), A. Philip Randolph (beloved trade unionist), Bayard Rustin (revolutionary civil rights activist), A. J. Muste (socialist civil rights leader) – in fact, Randolph and Rustin were principle architects along with MLK Jr. of the famous march on Washington, and it was they who rallied the unions – all of the freedom riders, all of the thousands of activists “whose sit-ins and other organizing forced the government to do something about Jim Crow segregation” didn’t really matter or paled in comparison to the awe inspiring benevolent justice of Lyndon Johnson. As Elizabeth Schulte points out, “Clinton would rather identify herself with Johnson, a Southern politician who was unrelentingly hostile to the civil rights movement as he came to power,” than the nameless thousands of activists who risked their lives and well being organizing and resisting in the streets.

Hillary Clinton’s formulation of the standard rank defense of state power is a mythology of history. Such social gains as civil rights were not enacted by some benevolent state power, some southern white gentleman, but rather, the state was forced to make concessions and concede such gains in the face of massive social protest and activism.

When citizens today not only forget that the rights they enjoy were not initiated by the state - having instead been forced upon the state by massive social protest and upheaval - but go even further and mistakenly believe that the rights they so enjoy - which are being attacked all over again through state mechanisms such as the NSA and policies and laws such as the PATRIOT ACT and Homeland security - were initiated by the state, repressive state forces are then free to conduct business as usual without criticism, objection or even an awareness by the people.

Such historical mythologies, only being tenable with a complete misunderstanding or ignorance of social and political history, is an actual danger.

The government does not exist to protect the common person; insofar as it does, it does so because of the generations of social protest and activism which force the state to grant ever more rights and freedoms. Ultimately states exist – especially in the United States as formulated in the constitution – so as to protect the existing order of power relations and class structure. The state, in pursuit of a true people's democracy and social freedom, requires dismantling.