vrijdag, november 26, 2004

Lightin' up that scoreboard

Sources: White House, Lancet, Iraq Body Count (for Falluja), UNICEF

zondag, november 21, 2004

Vacation/All I ever wanted/Vacation/Had to get away/

As Andre 3000 sang in Outkast's 2001 break-out hit, 'Ms Jackson', 'I apologise a trillion times' for my non-blogification these last few weeks.

Furthermore and worse, I intend to take a few weeks off over Christmas while I visit my family in Canada. While I have read that such absences are the kiss of death for blogs, as I work all day long in front of this same computer from which I write my blog in the evening, if I don't take at least a little bit of a holiday away from technology, I am at serious risk of my body rejecting it all tout court.

I am afraid, comrades and friends, until January, for me, it will be nothing more than West Coast winter barbeques, beer and my dear, dear brother, whom I have not seen but a few days in the last four years.

(And a particular apology to James M., to whom I promised a thorough-going disection of the 'Workers Power/IFTU doo-wop at the ESF'. At this point, I don't think you're going to get one. James O., however, has a fairly snappy analysis of the ESF at the Radical Activist Network website. Sorry. I was dreadful at handing in assignments throughout uni, if that's any consolation. BTW, all o' y'all, James M. has, to his horror, recently noticed he has had a slightly disturbing sudden outbreak of agreeing with Charles Clarke. All five of you die-hards that are left reading this blog after my near-month of silence - go off to James M.'s site now, and let me hibernate in peace.)

A janvier.

What if I supported the war?

Let's pretend that I'm in favour of the war. Let's pretend that I'm one of those chickenhawk pro-war liberals and that I like watching World War II movies because things were so much simpler then, when everybody knew who were the fascists and our side was lily white, and everybody on the left, from Papa Joe to the Spanish republican refugees that Papa Joe hadn't managed to slaughter, signed up to the Allied cause and Allied armies unblinkingly, much like Dan Rather and Bruce Willis tried to do after the eleventh of September.

(Specifically here, I'm referring to a throwaway signing off in a comment by the mysterious SIAW to this post at Daily Moiders [DM has an odd commenting system, and I'm having trouble finding the permalink. It's the tenth comment down]: 'Must rush - Foyle's War is on and it's good to be reminded of a time when no sane person would have doubted the necessity of fighting fascism', but the eight pro-war lefties that exist in this world [Hitch, Hari, Harry(of the Place), Berman, Gitlin, Geras, Cohen and Kamm] -- tend to repeat the trope endlessly, aiming to persuade others of the current left's perfidy in allegedly siding with fascism's supposed latter-day incarnation, Islam[ism])

But no, no, let's pretend I do. Let's pretend that, surtout, it was vital that a) Saddam's regime was so unspeakably vile that the left side with our sworn domestic enemy, the rapacious capitalist imperialists, for the sake of his overthrow, and b) liberal democracy is under threat from a new, Islam-inflected form of fascism, and so, given the choice between bourgeois liberal democracy and fascism, it is no question where the socialist stands.

Furthermore, let's not use the pantomime of me being a chickenhawk as a method of cheap attack on the pro-war left, but let's use the pretence to honestly investigate whether there is even the remotest possibility that there could be a smidgen of a scintilla of speck of a gleaning of a hiccough of a chance that there could be a progressive defence of the war, or, rather, whether signing up for this war entails abandoning all other long-held left-wing positions.

First of all, even the most intransigent 'Stopper', as they call us, should be able to admit, or at least have the historical awareness to concede, that bourgeois liberal democracy is progressive in comparison to its predecessor, feudalism, and its demagogic logical conclusion, fascism. Between parliamentary democracy and autocracy, there is no choice. To the barricades, then, comrades, in defence of England, Nike, and Halliburton -- if the choice is between that and Mussolini.

I jest not.

Those who daily expose the hypocrisy, inadequacy and vampirism of capitalism will be first to sign up for its ruthless, militant defence when it is under threat from fascism (which it is not, currently, but, as previously suggested, let's pretend that it is for the sake of argument…).

Secondly, quickly, I think it is fair to admit, although I concede here others on the left may disagree, that there does come a magnitude to certain extraordinarily exceptional crimes that are simply so profoundly hellish, that even the certain opportunism and accompanying disaster of imperialist intervention must be accepted for the sake of minimising such crimes.

The classic, perhaps sole, example of this would be to have supported the bombing of railroads in Germany --which would certainly have killed many civilians -- in order to prevent the shipment of Jews and others to Nazi death camps (which, by the way, and in case you didn't know, the Allies never did, even though they were well aware of what was happening to the occupants of those trains as early as 1942).

So there are indeed occasions wherein the socialist must come to the defence of imperialist intervention. I'll not go into whether the current situation meets the conditions of a) and b) -- I'm not interested in that at the moment, and I humbly suggest, though others have done the job far better than I, that I have proved the contrary earlier in any case.

No, I am interested in the rest of what else one must say if a) and b) were in fact true.

If they were, and I supported the war, as I indeed would have done in 1939, then while I did so, I would also maintain that the capitalists remain capitalists and continue to oppose them in all other aspects.

I would say, yes to this war, but the US still needs to pull its bases out of the Middle East and indeed the rest of its 725 bases (according to former CIA analyst Chalmers Johnson) around the world.

I would say, yes to this war, but the US needs to stop backing Israel's occupation of Palestine.

I would say, yes to this war, but Bush is a Christian fundamentalist theocrat whose party wants to overturn the tattered remains of not just a woman's right to choose but any women's rights period in the US and beyond, and large sections of which believe that the Grand Canyon was made in seven days, that evolution is just a theory, that Israel needs to be supported because its existence is a sign of Jesus' imminent return and the Rapture, when the chosen will ascend to heaven naked leaving behind their underwear, in-soles, dentures and Garfield sweatshirts.

I would say yes to this war, but hands off Venezuela, bub.

I would say yes to this war, but no to the Patriot Act.

I would say yes to this war, but no to the international trade agreements and institutions that are little more than shake-down operations in more expensive suits.

And so on.

And yet the lot of the pro-war 'left' crowd is contemptuous not just of the anti-war movement, but the entirety of the left. Nick Cohen's now much-blogosphere-contemplated obituary for the left neglects completely the rest of what the left has been up to these last five years and beyond in terms of countering corporate-led globalization -- which, from Seattle to Genoa -- is the biggest movement the left has seen since 1968, not to mention the youth, women and immigrants in the US and Canada, say, who are rebuilding the trade union movement from the ground up, the successes of the environmental movement and today's intellectual hegemony of the culture of human rights (if not their implementation). Cohen, for someone supposedly so committed to fighting privatisation, has announced the demise of the left, when who exactly has been in the streets -- from Kidderminster to Johannesburg, from Berlin to La Paz -- fighting exactly that?

Christopher Hitchens repeatedly says, when confronted with the rest of Bush's agenda, that he is a 'single-issue voter' -- as if any socialist has ever been anything of the sort. The privatisation of social security, the expansion of the American security state, the ascendancy of the religious right in the U.S. heartlands and its infection of virtually every aspect of American public life, the repeal of the minimal environmental and labour legislation that exists in the U.S., the prospect of an outright ban on abortion and the fact that the confidence of the religious right is such that they even have birth control in their sights, and on and on -- do none of these developments concern Hitchens at all?

During the second world war, thousands of leftists signed up to their respective Allied armed forces, but, outside the opportunist Communist parties and national chauvinist social democratic parties, which had shown their true colours at the outbreak of the previous war, most argued that while they had joined up, the liberal democracies were only at war with Germany and Italy due to threats to their own empires and had no genuine interest in defeating fascism. (Manifestly this was so in Italy in 1943, where the Allies very quickly came to an understanding with the fascists, lest the Communist-dominated partisans emerge victorious. Rather thousands of resistance fighters be slaughtered than have socialism advance from the 'soft underbelly' of Europe.) Ultimately, Germany was defeated, but fascism was left to ripen in Spain, Portugal, and Greece (and even in Italy in a more hidden way -- which still has yet to resolve itself. Where in Germany neo-Nazi groups have no direct lineage to the National Socialist German Workers' Party, and are, on the whole, fringe movements, in Italy, there was no break between the Fascists of Mussolini and Berlusconi's government coalition partners in the Allianza Nazionale and the Northern League. Walking about in Rome in the summer of 2001, I was shocked to find the news agents' stalls around the city hawking not just international newspapers and copies of 'Sixty and Sexy', but souvenir Mussolini calendars as well). We had to wait a generation for fascism in southern Europe to be defeated, at the hands of the people, with no aid at all from any American or European government, all of which had long since come to an accommodation with Salazar, Franco and the Greek colonels. To say that fascism in Europe was defeated by the Allies ignores that fascism in southern Europe was allowed to continue well into the seventies and, furthermore, ignores the role that popular movements played in the war.

Rather, socialists in the Second World War argued that what was needed was a popular (people's) revolutionary war against fascism. Liberal democratic imperialists cannot be trusted to defeat fascism (or in the, current, Iraqi case, Ba'athist dictatorship [and let's not waste time debating at this point the 'fascist minimum' - I do not subscribe to the view that any old nasty mo'fo' is a fascist. If you are interested in the important distinction, others, notably Dave Renton, have investigated this subject at great length elsewhere]). As soon as their immediate, imperial aims have been satisfied, the war comes to an end. If democracy is a result of this, so much the better, as far as they are concerned, but if fascist -- but sufficiently subservient -- regimes remain, well, they can live with that.

Thus this is my question: Where are the pro-war leftists who can recognise that the overthrow of Ba'athist dictatorship and the installation of democracy was never the intention of Bush and Blair, but merely, hopefully, the cheerful byproduct of an imperial oil-seeking adventure? I do not really believe this, but if I were pro-war, this is the pro-war leftist I would have to be.

As it happens, I am anti-war, because the predictable deaths of 100,000+ civilians is not worth the price of Saddam's overthrow and because I believe in almost all cases, democracy comes from the people - as it did in the Philipines, Indonesia and East Timor, Yugoslavia and the democratic movements of Eastern Europe and Latin America - and not from imperialist tanks and bombs.

Perhaps the only example where the analogy seems to holds true for the pro-war left is Japan, but then, at such a cost, and, in any case -- outside the popular imagination -- most mainstream historians recognise that where in Europe the motivations often seemed to have been noble, the war in the Pacific was an undisguised battle between the Japanese and American empires. If one was particularly savage to those under its occupation, the other extinguished a quarter of a million lives for the sake of a live demonstration to Moscow of the power of its new atomic bomb.

And the liberal democracy that flourished in the country following Japan's surrender has everything to do with both the powerful post-war Japanese left and the swarm of liberals and socialists in the State Department inspired by the New Deal who orchestrated what was surely initially the most benevolent occupation in history, and little to do with US democratic ideals. In any case, many of the democratic freedoms that were instituted in the immediate post-war period, including some of the most liberal trade union laws in the world at the time, by the early fifties were heavily curtailed in the interest of domestic and international Cold War priorities. The State Department idealists were fired and there was a violent crackdown on trade unions and other popular organisations. The pacifist, liberal post-war Japan was replaced by a corporatist and de facto one-party state which has lived on to the present day. Although constitutionally superficially committed to pacifism, Japan was quickly remilitarized in this period in the guise of the country's Self Defence Forces, and today is the world's fourth largest military spender, and its Maritime Self Defence Force, which in reality is the country's navy, is the fourth biggest navy in the world, after the US, the UK and Russia.

The point here is that even if one accepts the pro-war argument as a leftist, it is still requisite that one maintain all one's other critiques of western governments and elites -- something I have yet to see.

Thus, as nearly all other common leftist precepts have been abandoned by the pro-war leftie crowd in the rush to embrace this war, can we really continue to call them men (and they are almost all men [and I only say almost because though I cannot think of any pro-war left-wing women, there must be some out there somewhere. But maybe not, and, if so, this is one more thing they have up on those of us with dangly bits between our legs]) of the left at all?

The pro-war 'left', with few exceptions, are not only pro-war and naïvely trusting of Bush and Blair's stated goals of democracy in the Middle East, but embracing of collaborationist, rat unions while simultaneously untrusting of western trade unions; pro-Israel; pro-corporate-globalisation; pro-free-market; ignorant about the anti-globalisation movement; sneering about the European and World Social Fora -- if they are even aware of them -- and reject completely the idea that there can be systemic change. In short, they aren't lefties at all. They're just a bunch of mushy old liberals in the end - a group that we never used to think of as left-wing at all.

As the late, great Phil Ochs sang:

'I cried when they shot Medgar Evers
Tears ran down my spine
And I cried when they shot Mr. Kennedy
As though I'd lost a father of mine
But Malcolm X got what was coming
He got what he asked for this time
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal'

vrijdag, november 05, 2004

Remember liberal Yankee refugees - it's not all lesbian marriage and single-payer health care Shangri-la up north. We have Celine Dion too.

According to CBS, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, Salon, Kos, and others across the blogosphere, liberal Americans are quite seriously talking about moving to Canada, land of single-payer health care, gay marriage, and decriminalised marijuana. In fact, we're so liberal, the Liberal Party is conservative. We've even got real live actual socialists in government in many places.

A website has even been launched to hook up liberal Yankee refugees with desperate Canuck singles (it's a satire from This Magazine, formerly edited by the luuurvely Naomi Klein - you can find out more by clicking on Aboot This Site).

Sadly, the truth is that we too have our problems with conservatives and religious fundamentalism, and then there's the whole Alberta thing.

But most importantly, none of the social programmes or progressive laws we have in Canada came down from on high like a gift. We had to struggle for every last one.

Without struggle, there is no progress. Stick it out, liberal Yankees. The world needs you to stay where you are and fight.

Meanwhile, when I'm back in Vancouver for Christmas, I think I'll get me some medical marijuana, a free, publicly funded sex change, and then maybe marry a lesbian at city hall while I'm at it. You Yanks have fun at the Rapture!

donderdag, november 04, 2004

Perhaps some news from Uruguay can soothe that hangover and deep sense of whatthefuckness

Some good news: the left is still on the march in Latin America, with socialist Tabaré Vázquez winning the Uruguayan elections - the first leftist ever to do so.

woensdag, november 03, 2004

Prepare for the Rapture

The letter W is destined to go down in history as a symbol as hated as the swastika and the rising sun. (Just go onto the CSPAN site and stream the Bush victory speech and get as creeped out as I was by the giant golden W in the corner.)


Despite my mid-October jitters, I really did think Kerry was going to walk it in the end. I may have supported Nader over Kerry, but above all, it was imperative that Bush lost.

The Dems' internal polling that a number of people on places like Air America Radio and elsewhere had hinted at in the final days suggested that the election was Kerry's. And then the turnout seemed to confirm that too (even though ultimately, some 48 per cent of eligible voters stayed home, despite the round-the-block queues outside polling stations). And by the time I went to bed last night, having spent the evening packed into the to-do put on by the Wall Street Journal Europe and the American Chamber of Commerce Belgium at the Renaissance Brussels (it sounds frou-frou, but really it was just sweaty and I only went because I don't have a TV), the exit polls had all been pleasantly surprising, with Bush even having to duke it out in South freaking Carolina, and pollster Zogby calling a Kerry victory of 311 electoral votes.

But Kerry hasn't just lost; he's lost by almost four million, in the popular vote, as it currently stands. So what do we say about this catastrophe?

First of all, as Greg Palast, Democracy Now, the Nation and others have thoroughly documented in the months leading up to the vote, from the voting machine shenanigans of Diebold Inc. (whose CEO, Walden O'Dell last year said in a fundraising letter to Republicans that he was 'committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president [this] year.') to the shredding of Democrat voter registrations by Republican operatives, as well as the usual blatant Jim Crow-stylee suppression of black, Hispanic and native votes across the country, there is no reason for Democrats or anyone else to accept these results as any more legitimate than those of a Pyongyang school board by-election.

Nonetheless, it is abundantly clear that even without such rigging, there's no guarantee that Kerry would have won. The Republican theocrats have cemented their hold on middle America.

So secondly, to turn this around, progressives must not demonise these 'retro' states as culturally backward compared to the civilized cities (often more than eighty per cent of voters in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and on and on gave their votes to Kerry), but first recognise that this is an area that includes millions of the very farmers and blue collar workers who have been at the receiving end of the attacks on wages and social programmes and the fall-out from free-trade and the corporatisation of agriculture over the last twenty-five to thirty years. These people have nothing to gain but the pink slip and the iron heel from electing Republicans. And yet they do.

As the Democrats walked and then ultimately galloped away from their defence of working people in the eighties and nineties, embracing free trade, privatisation and deregulation, they left a vacuum that the theocrats filled. In such areas, plainly, the cultural-political social cohesion represented by such trade unionism as existed in the first half of the twentieth century in the United States was shattered and then replaced by a thoroughly modern Christian fundamentalism.

Meanwhile, there were a range of social issues which essentially cost little to advance - gay rights, abortion rights (which, in order to truly exist do need to be funded, but Dems throughout this period were in heavy social-cutback mode, voting for abortion rights but cutting back health funding across the board), and affirmative action, which mirrored the identity political struggles in the academy.

Now, these issues are important - vitally important - but in order to combat conservative ideas about social issues it is elementary that you deliver the goods economically. When I was at university and active in the Canadian Federation of Students, so long as we were delivering a decent fightback over tuition fees and student loans, Joe Student couldn't care less what we did for Guatemalan transgendered vegan solidarity or whatever (apologies there to any Guatemalan trangendered vegans, but you know what I mean) and maybe, just maybe, we began to change his mind a little bit about the subject because, heck, if we managed to win a tuition fee freeze, then maybe these treehugging Commies were okay about a few other things too.

And now, for the last three years, on top of that, has been added the spectre of terror - which will never hit rural America, and instead repeatedly go after the more populous cities that voted against the war and the Patriot Act that are supposed to keep them safe. But fear works on the undereducated.

The progressive movement that has bloomed in the United States over the last five years in the cities - from Seattle in 1999 to this year's anti-war demonstrations, is truly a powerful, numerous and enduring movement. But it needs to now go and proselytise, as sure as the religious right did, in the suburbs and rural areas and across the country.

There is nothing inherently Main Street USA about eliminating non-tariff barriers to trade or investor rights in trade agreements. We can win them back on jobs and health care and education.

It's a cliché, but it is no less true for being so (and at such an emotionally crushing time as now, fuck do we need such a cliché): as Wobblie organiser Joe Hill said, 'Don't mourn: Organise!'

But what about Nader?

Clearly, had every last Nader vote gone to Kerry, it wouldn't have done an inch of good. But, ironically, this also should suggest a reappraisal of Nader's strategy. I still believe that it was vital for there to be an anti-war candidate. But it is also possible to be politically and strategically correct, but still be unsuccessful. Indeed, this happens all the time. However, Nader was spectacularly unsuccessful. Where in 2000, Nader could command tens of thousands of people paying to attend his rallies, regularly dwarfing the crowds Gore attracted, this year, while occasionally meetings saw a few hundred, Nader repeatedly spoke to rooms of ten or twenty.

The most coherent and non-belligerent argument I heard against Nader came from Tim Robbins on Air America the other day. He said that when Nader ran in 2000, it was never about him running, but about his using the spectacle of an election to help build a movement, to build new and activist progressive organisations. But after 2000, Nader went away and didn't stick around to help build. The organisations built themselves. Now there are dozens, such as ACT and Moveon.org, and a half-dozen think tanks. Yes they're all led by squishy liberals, but that's exactly what Nader has always been. He's no Marxist. He's not even a socialist.

Still. He was right to run - there needed to be one genuine anti-war voice.

But now it is the responsibility of socialists and other progressives to get stuck into these new organisations. Shackled to the Democrats they may be, but one cannot cut oneself off from where thousands in the movement are at. They will be back on the streets in weeks, or even days - certainly if Bush starts to really go after Fallujah and other Iraqi towns now that body counts on either side have no effect on any his re-election.

Nader should be in the streets with them, but really I don't care. It was never about him anyway. It was about the movement, and the movement may be demoralized, but it's still moving.

The greatest shame of all of this is that there will be no Democratic war president for the movement and the rest of America to be sickened by. However, after all this effort, all this organising for an election, it will be difficult for anyone to say, at least for a couple years, that we just need to get Democrats elected. People will say we've tried that.

The streets are the only avenue left.

¡A las barricadas!

dinsdag, november 02, 2004

Election special

Shit. It didn't work. Freakin' Blogger. (In order to read it, click on the image and then click on it again to see it at full size.)