dinsdag, augustus 31, 2004

New York, New York

According to New York Indymedia, Republican National Convention delegates have been mocked, taunted and harassed everywhere they go in New York - the theatre, bowling alleys, restaurants - and apparently not just by protesters, but by regular New Yorkers everywhere.

That makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Not so warm and fuzzy has been the treatment of protesters by the police. As of this afternoon, on the fifth day of mass protests and direct action, almost 600 people had been arrested, most of whom had been involved in non-violent protest, and including many members of both the mainstream and independent media who where there simply reporting. Some 264 alone were arrested during Friday's 5000-strong Critical Mass bike protest.

The New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is very concerned about the mass arrests and what has happened to those detained. The former head of the NY ACLU, Norman Siegel told Democracy Now radio today that arrestees are being denied access to lawyers, access to food and there apparently is also delayed access to medical attention, with many being held for more than twenty-four hours. The arrestees are being kept at an abandoned bus depot that a Transit Worker's Union official has said may still have significant asbestos problems.

United for Peace and Justice, one of the key national anti-war organising coalitions in the US, is reporting similar concerns about the depot.

"The building was formerly a garage for buses, and the conditions are appalling: the large holding pens are made of chain link fence with razor wire on top; each pen has only two portable toilets and very few benches; most people have to sleep on the floor; arrestees have gone for many hours without access to food, water, phones, or lawyers. The building most likely has asbestos and there are large areas where oil from the buses that used to be housed there has spilled. There is some question about whether the building has an operable fire-suppression system. On top of that, people are being held an unusually long amount of time before they are moved through the process and released."

The ACLU is particularly concerned that the mass arrests are being used as a way to prevent people from returning to protests and to deter others from joining protests. The ACLU is right to be worried, of course. Mass arrests of peaceful protesters, as veterans of global justice movement protests know - from Seattle to Genoa and beyond - are a tried-and-tested tactic of police for precisely that purpose.

All of this quickly disposes with the arguments of squishy liberals like pro-Afghan-war SDS veteran Todd Gitlin and John Passacantando, the executive director of Greenpeace USA, who, in an interview on Salon.com by perennial protest-worry-wart Michelle Goldberg and later in a debate with Naomi Klein on Democracy Now, denounced activists involved in direct action or civil disobedience. Gitlin and Pessacantando, and Norman Mailer as well, who made similar comments at a rally in Provincetown, Massachusetts, were worried that footage or articles about protesters being arrested would damage the movement in the eyes of Middle America.

But time after time, as we see in New York, no matter how peaceful activists are, police arrest, intimidate and attack them. Worries about how footage of naked lesbian protesters or giant puppets will play in Peoria miss the boat. Even if Gitlin and Passacantando are right that 'Middle America' will watch police brutality on TV and still side with the police, then, really, there is nothing, absolutely nothing we can do about it. The ball is in the police's court.

Ultimately, then, such admonishments by liberals of the more 'avant garde' protesters only serve to intimidate people from coming to protests and thus benefit our opponents. Gitlin and company would probably prefer that the protests didn't happen at all, lest they damage John Kerry's election prospects. Indeed, as Terry McAuliffe, chairperson of the Democratic National Committee, told reporters in a conference call last Monday: “Let me be crystal clear: I’d like to draw a line in the sand. We have nothing to do with the demonstrators. Absolutely nothing"


Of all the things that Michael Moore got right with Fahrenheit 9/11, the class argument within the film seems to have hit quite a cord with the normally class-ignorant US public.

From a report in the Village Voice about the half-a-million-strong march on Sunday:

"As they marched on Sunday, Vietnam veteran George McAnanama led them in cadence:

Bush and Cheney talk that talk

But we know they're chicken hawks.

If they think they're so damn right

Let these rich boys go and fight."

More warm-and-fuzzies.


Oh, oh, and those photos y'all've seen of people marching down New York's avenues with hundreds of cardboard coffins draped in American flags à la the photographs illicitly taken aboard the flights carrying back the real things from Iraq? Yeah, according to the Village Voice, that was all organised by film animator Michael de Seve, whose work includes the Beavis and Butt-head film.

Uh-huh-huh-huh. Neat.

Damn, I wish I were there.

donderdag, augustus 26, 2004

Kerry's rehabilitation of the Vietnam War

It is plain that the attacks on John Kerry by the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group are false, or at least unprovable. The New York Times and other publications have done a fairly thorough job of debunking the accusations. Far from the independent veterans who just want to set the record straight that they claim to be, the group has deep and long-standing links to the Republican party going up as high as Bush's right-hand chubby succubus, Karl Rove.

From the NYT:

'A series of interviews [with the Swift Boat Veterans] and a review of documents show a web of connections to the Bush family, high-profile Texas political figures and President Bush's chief political aide, Karl Rove.'

The veterans are keen to undermine Kerry's bravery through attempts to minimise the wounds for which Kerry won the Purple Hearts and the now many-times-recounted Vietcong attack that led to the Senator's Silver Star.

From the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth website, Dr. Louis Letson's version of events:

'What I saw was a small piece of metal sticking very superficially in the skin of Kerry's arm. The metal fragment measured about 1 cm. in length and was about 2 or 3 mm in diameter. It certainly did not look like a round from a rifle.

'I simply removed the piece of metal by lifting it out of the skin with forceps. I doubt that it penetrated more than 3 or 4 mm. It did not require probing to find it, did not require any anesthesia to remove it, and did not require any sutures to close the wound.'

Again, from the NYT:

'Yet Dr. Letson's name does not appear on any of the medical records for Mr. Kerry. Under "person administering treatment" for the injury, the form is signed by a medic, J. C. Carreon, who died several years ago.'

The NYT article then goes on to rebut the accusations concerning the awarding of the Silver Star:

'The Silver Star was awarded after Mr. Kerry's boat came under heavy fire from shore during a mission in February 1969. According to Navy records, he turned the boat to charge the Vietcong position. An enemy solider sprang from the shore about 10 feet in front of the boat. Mr. Kerry leaped onto the shore, chased the soldier behind a small hut and killed him, seizing a B-40 rocket launcher with a round in the chamber.

'Swift Boat Veterans for Truth describes the man Mr. Kerry killed as a solitary wounded teenager "in a loincloth," who may or may not have been armed. They say the charge to the beach was planned the night before and, citing a report from one crew member on a different boat, maintain that the sailors even schemed about who would win which medals.

'The group says Mr. Kerry himself wrote the reports that led to the medal. But [Swift Boat Veterans for Truth members] Mr. Elliott and Mr. Lonsdale, who handled reports going up the line for recognition, have previously said that a medal would be awarded only if there was corroboration from others and that they had thoroughly corroborated the accounts.

'"Witness reports were reviewed; battle reports were reviewed," Mr. Lonsdale said at the 1996 news conference, adding, "It was a very complete and carefully orchestrated procedure." In his statements Mr. Elliott described the action that day as "intense" and "unusual."'

Furthermore, the co-author of the Swift Boaters book about Kerry, "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against Kerry," Jerome R. Corsi, has acknowledged that he has been a contributor of anti-Catholic, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic comments to a far-right web site.

Nonetheless, for all the debunking and reams of column inches devoted to the issue, ultimately the whole episode is a non-debate, or rather merely a bust-up between two former Yalies to see whose cock is bigger in a wartime election, to prove who is the strongest on the issue of national security. As the same NYT article lucidly notes:

'[The Swift Boat debate] illustrates what has been a critical dynamic in this campaign from the start: Mr. Kerry's ability to invoke his combat experience to challenge President Bush on issues of national security. Even Democrats say that Mr. Kerry has little chance of defeating Mr. Bush if he cannot present himself as a credible wartime president, and the attacks on Mr. Kerry's war experience go to the heart of that appeal.' [italics added]

Since the primaries concluded, Kerry has rarely used his anti-Vietnam war activities as a selling point, and attempted - most notably in the "we will DESTRAH yuuuuuu" speech of running mate John Edwards - to present a hawkish image and use his time in Vietnam as proof that he's no girlie-man. But the horrifying product of this discourse is that through it, Kerry is transforming the Vietnam War into a noble and just war. It is remarkable, but it shouldn't really be surprising, that it has taken a Democratic presidential candidate to rehabilitate Vietnam - a war that killed two million Vietnamese.

'The guy he killed was in a loincloth!'

'No he wasn't! He was a commie bastard!

Oh, well, that's all right, then.

Imagine a similar discourse taking place between two German parliamentarians campaigning in, say, the 1960s:

'My opponent didn't kill Norwegian resistance fighters during World War Two, as he claims. He killed a girl on a bicycle!'

'No I didn't! The partisans may have been on bicycles, but they were armed with dynamite and were going to blow up trains headed for Birkenau!'

No, of course you can't imagine it, because the discourse is so ridiculous. There could never have been such a debate because both acts would have been seen as crimes - as are both versions of what John Kerry did in Vietnam. Whether he killed a Vietcong soldier or a kid in a loincloth, the war was immoral and no part of it should be held up as a point of honour, let alone a reason why people should vote for Kerry.

One cannot condemn a soldier for taking part in an immoral war, but one should never praise him for doing so. Those anti-war Vietnam veterans were right to have thrown away their medals, for they knew, and said so at the time, that they were awarded for their having taken part in a genocidal (what is the murder of two million, but genocide?) war.

While it is appropriate that the accusations of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth be debunked, the only purpose the whole discourse serves is to endorse the revisionist 'noble' history of the Vietnam War that Republicans have until now unsuccessfully been trying to promote for thirty years.

Since Kerry and others in the 1970s originally made the accusations of what American soldiers had actually done in Vietnam, the Swift Boat veterans have been trying to undo this image of themselves as a gang of blood-thirsty baby-killers and rapists.

Now Kerry is doing it for them.

woensdag, augustus 25, 2004

Too long in the shower

The Elvis museum and the proprietaire of my building complained about the shower leaking again today. If I am right in understanding her French, they think the problem is that I am having showers that are too long.

Well. I haven't been accused of that since I was a teenager.

Yo! Bumrush the show

For some reason, my favourite radio station, BBC 6 Music, has put Kanye West's 'Jesus Walks' on high rotation.

Now, I theoretically have no problem with the lyrical representation of a musician's faith, so long as I don't feel I'm actually listening to evangelical-orchestrated attempts to reach out to the 'yoof'. Lauryn Hill, for example, despite, or perhaps because of, her spiritual meanderings, is an artist of more than considerable merit. However, a parsing of both the lyrics and the video of Mr. West's single reveals a decided leaning toward the aforementioned evangelism and a more-or-less explicit directive to listeners to accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour as the path away from alcoholism, prostitution and poverty...and so much more. From the New York Daily News gossip page - the Daily Dish:

"Rapper Kanye West is taking his 'Jesus Walks' all the way to the bank.

"We hear West charged the Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, Md., a whopping $30,000 to perform his pseudo-gospel single at a gathering there Friday. But, almost three hours late, the rapper showed up without a deejay, backup singers or dancers. Accompanied by the church band, West performed an abbreviated version of 'All Falls Down' before doing 'Jesus Walks' and exiting."

In reaction, I am forced to remind the happy-clappy Mr. West of Matthew 19:23-24 - '"Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."'

Furthermore, in a somewhat lesser known aphorism, Our Lord remarked: "And what, by the way, is fucking happening to rap? First it was all bling, bling and Lexuses and bootylicious - which was bad enough - and now it's all about Me? Whatever happened to taking down The Man, man? Where the fuck is Public Enemy? And why the fuck is Chuck D doing a lame-assed liberal radio show on Air America kissing John Kerry's ass?" - which may or may or not be found in a passage in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Reading on in the Daily News article we find, while waiting for Mr. West:

"Hip-hop veteran Cheryl (Salt) James of Salt-N-Pepa - who recently launched a career in Christian rap - had to stall more than 3,000 teenagers while they waited for West to arrive."

Well, shiiiiiit. Dress me up and call me Sally. Salt, of "Push it" fame, has joined the God Squad? Let's just remind ourselves of the very Christian lyrics of that song popular in our youth:

"Now push it. Ah, push it - push it good. Ah, push it - push it real good. Ah, push it - push it good. Ah, push it - p-push it real good. Hey! Ow! Push it good! Oooh, baby, baby. Baby, baby. Oooh, baby, baby. Baby, baby. Push it good. Push it real good. Ah, push it. Ah, push it."

Which, of course, was about learning to ride a bicycle.


Apropos of nothing, I live in a very old building and my toilet has recently taken to making rattling, burping noises. While I, probably quite presumptiously, believe I can keenly reflect on the deeper currents of international politics, I have all the plumbing skills one would expect of a technology journalist and am at a loss as to what is happening here. The inhabitants of the Elvis museum below me keep complaining about the shower leaking into their electrics as well. Oh, yes, I don't think I mentioned - I live above an Elvis museum. No, it's not an exaggeration for the sake of a good sentence: I really do live above an Elvis museum.

vrijdag, augustus 20, 2004


Fuck text messages. And fuck mobile phones too. Is there anything humanity has ever produced that is less poetic than the mobile phone? And e-mail and computers as well. Give me a clunky, beige, rotary-dial telephone with a spiral cord that tangles. Give me letters and stamps. Give me an LP. Give me red cast-iron telephone booths and pillar boxes. Give me books and expensive airplane tickets and card catalogues in libraries. Give me libraries and not the internet! Give me trains and Vespas and plain, unscented, un-be-mangoed shampoo. Give me single-blade razors. Give me trousers that fit and fuck baseball caps too. Fuck Lycra while we're at it. Give me tweed and denim and cotton. Give me furniture that I don't have to put together. Give me unions and healthcare and public education. Give me the Cold War and rap with lyrics about The Man and not the Lexus. Give me Grandmaster Flash and the Clash and a Socialist Worker in two colours. Give me four channels and Doctor Who. Give me typewriters and square tea-bags.

I am so tired. I am so, so tired.

I am a technology journalist and I turn twenty-nine in two weeks.

woensdag, augustus 18, 2004

Canada's own dirty little occupation

While attention is rightly being paid to the gaggle of occupations (What is the correct collective noun for a group of occupations? A brutality of occupations? An injustice of occupations?) in Eurasia, there is another dirty little occupation-ette in which Canada is participating as a way to kiss and make up with Georgie after the Canadian anti-war movement held the government back from its usual role as Robin to the American imperialist Batman in Iraq. Canada's shameful participation in the overthrow of democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide has been documented elsewhere, but an investigation by an Albertan researcher now suggests that the Joint Task Force Two (JTF2) - Canada's elite team of neckless psychopaths that the easily impressed insist on calling 'special forces' - may have been involved in a massacre of between 40 and 60 supporters of the ousted president.

From the latest edition of The Republic, the independent newspaper from the People's Republic of East Vancouver:

"Investigations into what happened the night of March 12 in Belair, Haiti reveal a potential massacre as US forces invaded and overthrew the elected government of Aristride. Canada's special forces may have participated in the spree.

On July 29th, the Commander of the Canadian Forces contingent in Haiti, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Davis, acknowledged to a well-attended media teleconference call that at least 1,000 people had been killed in Port-au-Prince since February 29th. He also acknowledged that occupying forces took part in a massacre of between 40 to 60 Lavalas civilians in the neighbourhood of Belair on March 12th."

Go report on a ribbon cutting at a new school in Kirkuk or you're dead

From The Australian:

"IRAQI police have threatened to kill every journalist working in the holy city of Najaf, where US forces are locked in a tense stand-off with Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army.

After a series of veiled warnings to leave on Sunday, two marked police cars pulled up at dusk outside the Sea of Najaf hotel on the outskirts of town, where Arab and Western journalists are staying.

Ten uniformed policemen walked into the hotel and demanded that the al-Arabiya, Reuters and AP correspondents go with them...A uniformed lieutenant then told the assembled journalists and hotel staff: 'We are going to open fire on this hotel. I'm going to smash it all, kill you all, and I'm going to put four snipers to target anybody who goes out of the hotel. You have brought it upon yourselves.'"

That's right! If you were off taking photographs of ribbon cutting ceremonies at all the US embassy fortifications - sorry, I mean schools and hospitals - we're building, then I wouldn't have to kill you. It's your own fault.

dinsdag, augustus 17, 2004

Anarchists perplexed by what to do about Chavez

I've often wondered what anarchists would do in a contemporary revolutionary situation should one materialise.

Now, while Venezuela is far from revolutionary, there does exist there a social-democratic/populist administration that has been under threat of military suppression for years now - coming close to such an event during the ultimately defeated coup two years ago. In such circumstances, one expects anarchists, whatever their criticisms of somebody like Chavez, to see the opposition for the proto-fascist reactionaries that they are and side unreservedly with the government. However, it seems the anarchists, as the Israelis say of the Palestinians, never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Socialists categorise elections as the lowest form of political participation, but a form that nonetheless must be engaged with. In treating elections in this fashion, we actually limit the importance of the form. Ironically, anarchists, by their
rejection of electoral participation in all circumstances and making this the central point of their distinction from the rest of the left, do the opposite of what they intend and end up fetishising elections. The rejection of the election becomes a defining point of anarchism above all others.

When democracy - especially social democracy - is faced with authoritarian/imperialist
annihilation, this neutrality is no longer a mere ideological idiosyncrasy, but is thoroughly morally bankrupt.

And yet that is exactly the formulation anarchists proposed in relation to the recent referendum in Venezuela:

From A-Infos - the anarchist news wire:

"...deep down both Chavistas and the Coordinadora Democratica share a deep seated disdain for the people's ability to confront and solve their problems...Let it be clear: all the proposals being presented by those who wield or aspire to wield state power are deeply damaging to the Venezuelan people because - with different shades of demagogic pyrotechnics - they all seek to reinforce authority, to amputate any possibility of developing autonomous social movements and to impede the empowerment of people's rights. Whoever prevails, the processes currently at work, of militarisation, repression of dissent and enlargement of authoritarian socio-cultural controls will continue their dark escalation which we have been suffering.

Let's build the authentic social power of decision-making through
mutual aid and collective direct action!

"Self-management is the real participation!

There's no way out with the State nor with any authoritarian power!
I remember a very special episode of Family Ties when Jennifer Keaton, as played by a crimp-haired Tina Yothers, got fairly humpty about some family dispute or other - I think it was when her school banned Huckleberry Finn - and she quoted Dante: "The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in times of moral crisis maintain their neutrality." This to me seems apropos.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill

The New Standard: Media blackout in Najaf enforced at rifle-point, journalists evicted

"Officers arrested an Iraqi reporter, Mohammad Kazem, during a live rooftop broadcast for Iranian state television, Al-Alam, after they fired warning shots into the air. The Daily Telegraph reports that as night fell and the deadline for the eviction order passed, bullets were fired at the roof of the hotel, the known site from which journalists frequently file their reports."

Elsewhere in the latest New Standard, an independent online newspaper set up by the good folks at ZNet, reports note with dismay the banning of Al-Jazeera from Iraq, as well as the disconcerting developments in the reconstituted Iraqi Information Ministry, which, natch, has been reorganised with a different name but most of the same happy-fun-time kids that ran the place under Saddam:

"The closing comes two weeks after top officials in Allawi’s government threatened to shut down Al Jazeera and other regional media outlets if they continued to broadcast messages by extremist militants or statements that are highly critical of the government.

"Such restrictions appear to be the work of a newly established "Higher Media Commission," which Allawi reportedly set up to monitor and regulate media content.

"According to the Financial Times, Ibrahim Janabi, the man appointed by Allawi to head the commission, announced on July 26 that the panel would impose content restrictions on both print and broadcast journalists. The restrictions, to be called "red lines," would include a ban on printing or broadcasting unwarranted criticism of Allawi himself.

"By creating the new commission, Allawi also appears to be reviving Saddam’s old Ministry of Information, which strictly controlled the Iraqi press for decades. Although Bremer dissolved the ministry last year, officials with the Higher Media Commission will soon relocate to the old Ministry of Information offices, which are being refurbished.

"Other factors, including Janabi’s own background, suggest that the interim government favors a centralized, state-run media system that has little, if any, room for dissidents.

"Like Allawi, Janabi was for many years a Ba’ath Party member. He also worked as an overseas intelligence officer for Saddam Hussein. According to a 2003 article in the New York Review of Books, Janabi served Saddam as an undercover agent in London during the 1980s, monitoring the dictator’s political opponents there.

"In the 1990s, Janabi defected and joined Allawi’s Iraqi National Accord (INA), an exile group with close ties to the CIA and British intelligence services."

Let freedom ring.

Hitch on Said

In Sunday's Washington Post, our friend has a review of From Oslo to Iraq, Edward Said's final work, published posthumously. It seems that Hitchens cannot quite bring himself to belch forth against his old, late friend with the same ease with which he can against Chomsky and other former comrades of his. Perhaps, despite his militant evangelical atheism, he is lightly superstitious and feels he should not speak ill of the dead. Or maybe he just misses his mate, whatever their disagreements. Whatever the reason, because of this ambiguity, his review leans neither to recommendation nor rejection. It is written almost like his contractually obligatory pieces for The Mirror, except that he feels obliged to write one last review of Said's work out of respect rather than for the paycheck.

The one notable comment in the piece -

"To say that Arab Americans were beaten in the streets after Sept. 11 because of the inciting speeches of Paul Wolfowitz, as Said actually did write in the exalted pages of the London Review of Books, is to resort to the silliest kind of demagogy. "

- once again shows how distant Hitchens is from the on-the-ground battles of the left. The numerous attacks on Arabs and Muslims (not to mention Sikhs and Hispanics, mistaken for the Jihadist hordes by the thicker of the hopped up good ol' boys in their pick-ups on Saturday nights [¿Hola? ¿Qué país del este medio habla español, pendejo?]) who were beaten and killed in Western countries following 11 September are well documented by anti-racist and immigrant groups.

One presumes he is too busy foot-binding his former views to have time lately to have noticed these latter-day lynchings.

vrijdag, augustus 13, 2004

'When you have ugly occupations, you cannot have a pretty resistance' - Tariq Ali

I made the mistake of whiling away some afternoon idle moments at work today by visiting Harry's Place. I ended up posting a comment, and it all ended with some rowdy crossed swords and the thorough obliteration of all the work I was supposed to have done. Not a terrible loss. I'm sure the keeners for analysis of European telecoms policy can wait another day (I'm a business journo in Brussels, which I don't think I told y'all yet). The discussion, natch, was about the nature of the Iraqi resistance. As I did not have the time to elaborate my point, despite the wasted hour or so, herewith is the expanded argument:


Before Saddam's regime fell, they said that there would be children showering the occupiers in candy and flowers. When that didn't happen, the neo-cons described the resistance as Saddam loyalists and foreign fighters. When Saddam was captured, they had to begin calling them terrorists, even though the attacks were on US forces and other military, police and political targets. Now the resistance has spread to such an extent that even the New York Times has acknowledged that the partisans actually come from all sectors - students, intellectuals, farmers, trade unionists. And, of course, this is to be expected. If any Western country were occupied, it is natural that a resistance would emerge, involving those from all sectors of society, as it did in France under Nazi occupation - although there, as Noam Chomsky has pointed out, apart from the Communists and other leftists, most French went about their business and made their peace with the occupation well into 1942.

Nonetheless, the question arises, what should the position of progressives, socialists, be in regard to the Iraq resistance?

We essentially have four perspectives in relation to the resistance: 1) that of the occupier-imperialists, that the resistance are terrorists and they must be crushed, and whatever means the US and allied forces use, no matter how many civilians are killed, are legitimate. This can be dispensed of perfunctorily: the resistance is internally far more complicated than this black and white view, never mind the fact that the imperialists have vastly more barbaric military means at their disposal than the resistance that they will and do use. Anyone with the remotest regard for human rights must reject this outright; 2) essentially the mirror image of the first perspective - that of the unquestioning booster of the resistance. Thankfully, outside the Sparticist league there are very few of this description. If the first ignores the brutality of the imperialists, the second ignores the brutality of the anti-imperialists, and, perhaps more importantly, ignores the goals of key sections of the anti-imperialists, i.e., an Islamic fundamentalist Iraq. It too can be quickly dispensed of.

The second and third perspectives, ostensibly in opposition to each other, I would argue are in reality both the correct response, but only in relation to a specific geography. The third is the correct response in the west to the resistance and the fourth is the correct response to the resistance in Iraq and the broader Middle East (excepting Israel proper). They are then: 3) the critical but unconditional support for the resistance and 4) opposition to the occupation and simultaneous opposition to sections of the resistance [I suppose, theoretically there is the position of opposition to the occupation and opposition to the entirety of the resistance, but this leaves one completely immobile intellectually. This, perhaps, might be the position of some liberal NGO workers in Iraq, but as a platform for action it leaves one nowhere. Events occur and one must react to them. Abstaining from a position is no position. This is distinct from the old SWP formulation during the cold war of 'Neither Washington nor Moscow', in that that position entailed backing workers organisations in both the West and behind the Iron Curtain. This - let's call it the deer-in-the-headlights position - offers no course of action]

So let's elaborate these final two positions (and those reading this after having read the back-and-forth over in the comments field over at Harry's Place [11/08/04], forgive me for cut-and-pasting a few bits, but the arguments remain valid)

As to the third, and my, position: The ANC, the NLF in Vietnam, the FLN in Algeria, the French Maquis - which I hope we can all say we supported or would have supported had we been alive at the time - and other national liberation movements have all employed tactics at times that could be described as terrorist. Many people may forget, but the right throughout the eighties described the ANC as a terrorist organization. Dick Cheny, I believe, still does. The sticking point for conservatives, apart from the fact that they were black, of course, was that the 'Soviet-sponsored' ANC engaged in a number of bombings, had an armed wing and used to 'necklace' collaborators - necklacing is a particularly torturous but cheap form of execution in which a petrol-filled tyre is placed around the neck of a victim and set ablaze. Now that the ANC have won and are busy implementing the fiats of the IMF and cutting people's water and electricity off, we can invite them to special ceremonies with school children's choirs at the Toronto SkyDome. Let's have a look at what the UK's Federation of Conservative Students had to say about Nelson Mandela back in the good old days:

[an FCS poster from the eighties]

The truth, of course, is that their armed wing, Umkonto we Sizwe, did engage in acts of terrorism, AND STILL WE SUPPORTED THEM.

Is Muqtada al-Sadr comparable to the ANC? No, clearly Sadr's a thug who imposes sharia law in the areas he controls. But the resistance cannot be reduced to simply Sadr, and furthermore, in the battle between the US imperialists and Sadr, of course we hope Sadr wins. At the same time we hope for the balance of forces within the resistance to shift toward the more progressive forces who are also fighting back and away from such reprobates as the Mehdi Army. The brilliance of American support for brutal regimes in the Middle East, from their perspective, was that virtually all progressive forms of dissent were extinguished. The only forum for dissent was the mosque, thus the dissent that it produced was naturally conditioned by those circumstances. A genuine left opposition does exist in the Middle East and in Iraq, but Islamic dissent has a head start.

Nonetheless, there is a spectrum of politics within the Iraqi resistance, as Susan Watkins very well points out in the latest New Left Review. There are social democrats, liberals, Stalinists, nationalists, Ba'athists and Islamists all there in different factions.

Politically, the Iraqi resistance has been heterogeneous and fragmentary, lacking the established party networks crucial to most previous anti-occupation movements. It includes Nasserites, former Baathist, secular liberals and social democrats, multi-hued mosque-based networks and splits from the collaborationist Iraqi communist and Dawa parties. American observers have commented on the social breadth of an opposition that draws on support from nearly every class, both urban and rural. 'Its ranks include students, intellectuals, former soldiers, tribal youths, farmers and Islamists'. Ideologically, nationalism and Islamism…are potent calls, but there are elements of Third World anti-imperialism and pan-Arabism too. It remains to be seen whether these groups can establish some equivalent of a national liberation front to unite religious and secular groups around the central demand for the expulsion of all foreign troops.

And then we have Tom Lasseter, writing over at Common Dreams:

"In Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood, there are long gas lines, a near-epidemic of typhoid and hepatitis due to poor-quality water, and an electrical grid that provides only six hours of power daily for many residents.

"Adel Hamid, a vegetable merchant in Sadr City, which was named for al Sadr's late father, said that over the course of about 15 months of suffering through a lack of basic services, he'd come to see the Americans as the enemy.

"The fight will continue and (Allah willing) we will be victorious," Hamid said. "I will sacrifice my three boys for the Sadr movement; they are in the Mahdi Army now to protect the city."

Juan Cole, a professor of Middle East history at the University of Michigan reports that there are roughly 25,000 resistance fighters participating in actions at least occasionally. He reckons that at most, 400 to 500 fighters are from outside Iraq.

"U.S. forces massacred at least 600 people in Falluja--half of them women and children. But the resistance wasn’t beaten, and within two weeks, it forced U.S. troops to withdraw to the outskirts of the city."

We might also take note of Ian Donovan's comments on the nature of the resistance in the Communist Party of Great Britain's newspaper, the Weekly Worker, on 27 May:

"Sadr's al-Mahdi militia is not some clandestine grouping that engages primarily in hit-and-run guerrilla activity at all, but an openly organised, publicly accessible militia, with thousands of members. Utterly different from al Qaeda or anything remotely resembling it. It more resembles Hezbollah in Lebanon than al Qaeda. And that brings us to the second reason why it is extremely unlikely to be connected to the perpetrators of 9/11. Confessional reasons - the fact that it actually is based on a different, and antagonistic, sub-religion. Shi'ism and sunnism (al Qa'eda is sunni) are as different, and antagonistic, as Protestantism and Catholicism within Christianity. The antagonism was shown quite dramatically at the Shia holy festival of Ashura earlier this year, when what were probably Sunni extremists (who may have been manipulated by the occupiers) planted bombs that killed hundreds of Shia pilgrims in Kerbala."

Then we have this anecdote, reported in the American International Socialist Organisation's newspaper, the Socialist Worker:

"I don’t like Moqtada personally," Haidar Abbas, a resident of Sadr City, told the Washington Post. "Look at what he’s done--gotten a lot of people killed by sending them out against American tanks. But of course, what he says, it’s true. What have the Americans brought us? We are worse off than ever. Moqtada wants them out, and who can argue with that?"

The SW then goes on:

"We’re talking about people who are the equivalent of the Minutemen," said Bruce Hoffman, an adviser to U.S. officials in Baghdad--referring to the militias during the American Revolution made up of civilians who could be mobilized on a minute’s notice. They pick up their weapons and join the fight, and then go back to their homes and farms.

"Wealthy Sunnis in Falluja, for example, have funded the resistance because the lifting of restrictions on foreign capital spells economic ruin for them. They realize that the more fierce the resistance is, the less willing that foreign corporations will be to invest in Iraq."

Let us not forget how the uprising in Falluja started:

"The U.S. military has responded to unarmed demonstrations and other forms of political resistance with such brutality. Falluja was the site of one of the first massacres of unarmed demonstrators, when U.S. troops opened fire on people chanting "No to Saddam! No to the U.S.!" killing 17 and wounding 70 more within a few weeks of the invasion."

Now, this is not yet a national uprising, let's be clear, these are cells of resistance pocketed throughout the country, but then the republican resistance to the British occupation of the north of Ireland never rose to the level of a national uprising, and that did not lesson the righteousness of the Irish struggle.

There is a long-standing perspective on national liberation struggles within the left described as 'critical but unconditional support'. By definition, national liberation struggles are not socialist struggles, they are popular front alliances between militants of all classes with limited, bourgeois demands, and, as such, always employ tactics and include politics that to greater or lesser degrees range from problematic to abhorent for a socialist, and so the socialist criticises those aspects with which he disagrees. Still, in the struggle between imperialism and anti-imperialism, the crimes of the anti-imperialists do not compare to those of the imperialists. There is no question who is the David, and who is the Goliath, hence unconditional support.

The IRA blew up pubs and buses (although here, the UK mainland strategy was limited and episodic compared to the regular attacks on military and police installations in Ulster), but this did not militate against progressive support for the republican movement. Liberals washed their hands of the IRA, but then they hardly wasted much time campaigning against the brutality of the UK occupation in any case.

The key is to buttress as much as we can in the west those progressive elements within the resistance. By condemning the resistance, we aid the Sadr-types in isolating those progressives.

As Ibrahim Allawi, of Iraqi Democrats Against Occupation said in his remarks at the SWP's Marxism conference this summer argued:

"I feel the present international anti-war movement could change the face of the earth where it continuous in its growth and sharpens its focus. This current struggle must not only be waged in the streets of Iraq but by the mass democratic movement in the streets of world capitals. This is an international aggressive war and needs to be confronted by an international solidarity movement."

In a statement on its website on 10 August, the IDAO said:

"The expansion of the uprising will add further momentum to the establishment of a broad united front against occupation, and for free elections and democracy in Iraq. Many in Iraq increasingly see this outcome as the only path to the solution to the present security and humanitarian crisis."

The fourth perspective, earlier listed, is quite well outlined by one of its adherents, the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq, which struggles in Iraq, against both the occupation and the likes of Sadr and other Islamists, and for a progressive, democrat-led, if not (somewhat optimistically) socialist-led resistance:

"In the U.S. and the West, it is only cultural relativists and bigots like Bush and his cronies, who divide Iraqi society along lines of ethnicity, religion, and tribalism, that can deny the class reality of Iraqi society. In Iraq, it is the Iraqi bourgeoisie that appears as the nationalist movement, Islamist forces, tribal heads, and agents of the CIA and the Pentagon that deny and reject workers and their struggle.

"Why has the ISO turned itself into an apologist and rabid defender of “the resistance movement” which is carried out buy reactionary nationalists and brutal Islamist forces? Why are they ignoring Iraqi workers and their struggle, the women’s liberation movement, etc? Iraqi workers, through their unions and councils, have repeatedly opposed the
US occupation of Iraq and demanded an immediate withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. Is this opposition of any importance to the ISO? Have mass protests of workers, continuous strike actions, shop floor activities, unionism and general assembly movement any value for the ISO? Aren’t these struggles targeted against the US government, Halliburton, Bechtel, etc? Is it of any importance to the ISO that Iraqi unemployed workers across Iraq became a thorn in the side of the U.S. occupation authority? Which side is the ISO on, Iraqi workers or the Iraqi bourgeoisie? It is quite a shame for an organization that calls itself “International Socialist” to ignore workers and their daily endeavors for a better life and to become a mouthpiece and spokesperson for Islamists and Nationalists.

"Eric Ruder [the author of the ISO piece], who supports “resistance fighters” in Falluja and admires their achievement in forcing the Americans out of the city, needs to take a look at the same fighters who have turned the city of Falluja into another Afghanistan and Iran. Instead he chooses to ignore the brutality and anti-human character of Islamists and nationalists who control the city. Is it of any consequence to ISO that an absolute rightlessness is being imposed on the city? Only a distorted mind can see any benefits in that for Iraqi workers and workers in the U.S.

"We do not have to choose between the US and Iraqi reactionary forces."

And indeed, they are correct, but for Iraq. It is not uncommon for two distinct sets of policies to both be correct, but only so long as they are applied in different jurisdictions. In the west, it is the responsibility of progressives, first and foremost to oppose the occupation and offer solidarity with those who are fighting against it. Within Iraq, it is the responsibility of progressives and socialists to fight for hegemony within the resistance.

Again, we have Ian Donovan writing in the Weekly Worker:

"The Taliban, for instance, a creation of US and Pakistani intelligence, with no evidence whatsoever of any popular support or element of national-democratic revolt about them - very much the opposite in fact - were clearly not supportable against US imperialism in 2001 during the US semi-invasion of Afghanistan. But, when a real popular struggle erupts and masses of people in major urban centres revolt, as happened in April and since, I maintain that to take no side in such a war of national liberation would be a violation of the elementary duty of Marxists to act as a tribune of the oppressed on an international level.

"We do indeed have to struggle against confessional divisions, to guard against a descent into warlordism, as with Somalia or Afghanistan, etc, to construct democratic state forms that can democratically unite the different peoples in Iraq and indeed on a wider basis than Iraq... It may indeed be necessary to build "an anti-occupation coalition political centre capable of including both (some) Islamist and secular (communist, Ba'athist, etc) tendencies".

The two perspectives (the WCPI's argument and the pro-resistance argument) are more than compatible: if we do not offer solidarity to the resistance in the west, this gives free reign to the occupiers, who then have no domestic opposition, which then hurts all - progressive and Islamist - in the resistance. What the WCPI miss is that their criticism would be correct if the ISO were articulating this politic in Iraq, and not, as they are, in the heart of the beast.

However, having said all this, there does come a point where the crimes of the anti-imperialist force begin approach that of the imperialist. Iran is the example par excellence. The Iranian Revolution shows that the defeat of imperialism is not necessarily a guarantee of success for the working class. The Iranian revolution was manifestly a defeat for US and UK imperialism, but it was simultaneously a defeat for Iranian workers. The attacks on New York in 2001 are another example. Indeed, as Chomsky pointed out at the time, 11 September was the first time in history that the scale of an attack by the resisting force (I'll not call al Qaeda a 'resistance') matched that of the oppressor (Of course, the US then immediately went and proved the rule by killing twice as many Afghans as Americans had been killed on the 11th).

At which point, naturally a socialist cannot offer even unconditional-but-critical support, in the same way that through the course of the cold war, the honest socialist took neither side. The SWP's slogan of many years I always thought was very good: 'Neither Washington nor Moscow'.

However, we are far from that point at the moment, thus, now, we must offer solidarity to the resistance unconditionally. Indeed, the time is perhaps ripe even to form western-based Iraqi Resistance Solidarity organisations, in the immediate term offering solidarity through awareness raising, and in the medium term performing fundraising for progressive forces within the resistance. Far from there being an antagonism between the WCPI and ISO perspectives, they are, in reality, the same perspective, but relating differently to each's different location.

woensdag, augustus 11, 2004

Past is prologue

I missed it a couple of weeks ago, but the Washington Post's lead chickenhawk, Charles Krauthammer [love that last name] is calling for a pre-emptive attack on Iran:

"[Iran] should be ripe for revolution. The regime is detested. But the mullahs are very good at police-state tactics. The long-awaited revolution is not happening.

Which makes the question of pre-emptive attack all the more urgent. Iran will go nuclear during the next presidential term. Some Americans wishfully think that the Israelis will do the dirty work for us, as in 1981, when they destroyed Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor. But for Israel, attacking Iran is a far more difficult proposition. It is farther away. Moreover, detection and antiaircraft technology are far more advanced than they were 20 years ago.

There may be no deus ex machina. If nothing is done, a fanatical terrorist regime openly dedicated to the destruction of the 'Great Satan' will have both nuclear weapons and the terrorists and missiles to deliver them. All that stands between us and that is either revolution or preemptive strike."

But where is our good friend, the Hitchenator, on this one? Will he make it a neo-con hat-trick: support for attacks on Afghanistan, Iraq ...and Iran? We await his pronouncement with the same anticipation we have for the repeatedly delayed but nonetheless upcoming release of Oasis' next album.

Meanwhile, as noted on ZNet by Mike Whitney,

"The question of a war with Iran is further complicated by Israel’s repeated threats to destroy any facility they believe is being used to develop nuclear weapons. In a recent blog by Noam Chomsky, the details of transactions between Israel and the US are cause for growing concern.

Chomsky says, 'Not reported but quite important is the dispatch to Israel of 100 F16-I's, advanced jet bombers, with the very specific announcement that they can reach Iran and return, are updated versions of the F-16s that Israel used to attack the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, and are equipped with "special weapons" (according to the Israeli Hebrew press)'."

And then there's Bush's gap-toothed National Security advisor this weekend gone on the CNN's Sunday political talk show, Late Edition with Wolf 'Credulous' Blitzer:

"National security adviser Condoleezza Rice also said the Bush administration sees a new international willingness to act against Iran's nuclear program. She credited the changed attitude to the Americans' insistence that Iran's effort put the world in peril."
"We cannot allow the Iranians to develop a nuclear weapon. The international community has got to find a way to come together and to make certain that that does not happen."

But before any ABB brigaders get all 'I told you so' on us, they should note that
Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, is hardly less hawkish on the matter.


Over at 'If There Is Hope...' [which, despite being a quote coming from the august Frederick Douglass in 1849, is yet another example of the sad demise of the subjunctive in English], there's been a bit of argy-bargy between me and Doug about Naomi Klein's column. He argues, if I can condense the conversation, that as an Anybody But Bush convert, Klein is wrong for the usual reasons that Anybody But Bush voters are wrong. I would argue, and indeed did, that Klein is not actually a genuine ABB (it's a moot point to a degree in any case as she is Canadian, as are Doug and I), but is simply making the point that once Kerry is elected, ABB progressives and, furthermore, rather large swathes of previously apoliltical but now vehemently anti-war Americans, will break away from the Democrats as a solution.

Doug writes:

"But a greater danger lurks in her conclusions. If Kerry is elected, and history unfolds as Klein predicts, then the millions currently mobilized against Bush will become disillusioned with the two party system. While many may then shift to the left, it is also likely that the current state of politicization will collapse into demoralization."

Firstly, Kerry is going to be elected. If he isn't, it's going to be Bush. Nader is simply not. Were I an American I would be both voting and campaigning for Nader, but with the aim of trying to maximise the vote and to use the electoral period to talk to people about more progressive, even socialist politics, with the realistic goal of using the period to expand the possibility of there being a viable third-party option some time soon, and opening the space for a genuinely radical politic, viewing the elections not a goal in themselves, but as a vehicle for expanding the field for socialism. I would not be campaigning for Nader actually believing that Nader can win. Nader himself does not expect to win, so I hope that Doug doesn't have illusions that he has a shot. He will be very disappointed.

Please do not get me wrong - and I hate using such a pedestrian turn of phrase, but I fear that people already have done so - I am not advocating a vote for Kerry.

So for Doug to suggest that 'if Kerry wins', millions will be demoralised misses the proverbial aquatic device. Of course they will. That is the natural effect of an anti-war public voting for a candidate who is not really anti-war. That can turn to apathy and inactivity (but as the war worsens and more body bags come home, I doubt this) or it can reinvigorate the anti-war/global justice movement but without illusions in the Democratic party, vastly expanding the prospects for the left.

The equation is simply this: Vote Nader, but, as Nader will not win, which is better, for Kerry or Bush to win? A Bush win will keep the progressives under the Democratic spell, but a Democratic win will cause progressives to break with the Democrats. Plainly a Kerry victory is to be preferred.

As Doug is not arguing that a Bush win would be better for the left [as some 'hungry-belly-theory-of-revolution' ultra-lefts do], I am missing why, other than that she did not call for a vote for Nader (which indeed was a problem), he still has an issue with the Klein article.

It seems elementary to me that the maximal vote for Nader and a Kerry win is the best possible outcome, not because Kerry will end the war, but because he won't.