The shadow which haunts the power structure is the danger that those who are controlled will come to realize that they are powerless only so long as they think they are. Once people stop believing they are powerless, then the whole edifice which they support is in danger of collapse.
Against All Odds
Believe it or not, some of us would rather not have customs officials and cops deciding what we can read or look at. We’d rather decide for ourselves.
The theme of the March 18, 2017 issue of Other Voices is Public Transit.
Public transit – good affordable public transit – is key to a liveable city.
The old style of city, where workers lived within walking distance of their workplaces, has been replaced by a new kind of city, defined by urban sprawl and the need to commute, often over long distances, between home and work. This new kind of urban landscape, defined by and for the automobile, was deliberately brought into being by the oil industry and the automobile companies. In the United States, they bought up and then ruthlessly dismantled public transportation systems across the country, to ensure that people would have no choice except to buy and drive automobiles. In Europe and Asia, and to some extent in Canada, public transportation systems have continued to play a more important role, but there too, and indeed across the globe, car ownership has been seen as a symbol of success and affluence, and almost everywhere governments have pursued policies favouring automobiles, roads, and highways over public transportation.
If successful people drive cars, then people who need to take public transit can easily be seen as losers. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is supposed to have said that “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.” This kind of attitude has led governments in many parts of the world to starve public transit while at the same time providing massive subsidies to create and maintain the roads and other infrastructure needed by automobiles.
But one of the paradoxes of automobile-dominated cities is that they cannot function without public transportation. Most of the people who do the low-paid work without which modern cities cannot survive can’t afford to buy and operate cars – and if they could, cities would be paralyzed by gridlock. Urban capitalism depends on minimum-wage jobs and precarious work, so the state has to provide some level of transit service for the people who do that work.
All too often, however, the service provided is inadequate and unreliable. Why spend more money than absolutely necessary to serve the needs of working people and the poor, who are often immigrants and members of racialized minorities?
Around the world, there are movements of transit riders fighting for better public transit. A key perspective guiding many of these struggles is the idea that transit should be free, that is, paid for not by fares, but out of general revenues. This is how roads are normally funded: their construction and maintenance are paid for by taxes, rarely by user fees.
Free public transit by itself would not be enough, however. We also need good transit, transit that runs frequently and goes where people want to go. It also needs to be pleasant and safe. This requires substantial new investment.
The cost of building and providing transit systems cannot be ignored. Real estate developers continue to perpetuate and worsen sprawl, building widely dispersed subdivisions which cannot be served by transit in any reasonably affordable way. Thus they continue to worsen society’s dependence on cars at the very time when the climate crisis requires us to radically reduce our dependency on the car. It is clear that government regulations have had little impact on the behaviour of real estate developers. The issue that we will have to address sooner or later is the question of private ownership of land: the strange idea that rich people and corporations should be able to buy land and then do with it whatever they please. Transit struggles, such as the ones described in the articles in Other Voices about Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and Los Angeles, have met with success to the extent that they have formed alliances between drivers and riders. One favourite strategy of governments is to blame high fares and poor service on ‘greedy’ drivers, whose demands for good pay and working conditions supposedly leave governments with no choice except to cut back on service. Divide and conquer is the favourite tactic of those in power, and to fight back successfully, we need to recognize that tactic and reject it.
Today I sent the following letter to the Guardian Weekly cancelling my subscription:
After several decades of buying the Guardian Weekly, I have decided not to renew my subscription.
The Guardian always had its faults, but one tolerated them because it also offered high-quality journalism. This is no longer the case. What was once a serious newspaper with high standards has degenerated into little more than a propaganda sheet. One can still occasionally find quality reporting in its pages, but not when it comes to the crucial issues of our time.
On those crucial issues – such as Russia, Ukraine, Greece, US/NATO provocations and interventions in other countries, the Guardian’s bias is extreme, without even a pretense of balance or objectivity. Its campaign of vilification against Jeremy Corbyn has been nothing short of disgusting.
Why would I pay for a subscription to the Guardian when I could – if I wanted to – get the same level of ’journalism‘ for free on Fox News or the Mirror website? Why would I pay money to help pay for the salaries of people like Jonathan Freeland?
I made my final decision not to renew my subscription when the Weekly published a fawning piece about Tony Blair in the February 24 issue, followed three days later by the Guardian editorial praising George W. Bush’s return as an elder statesman. At the same time, the Guardian’s subscription solicitation urged that “You’ll help us hold the powerful to account.” When a newspaper has arrived at the point of praising war criminals while deluding itself that it is holding the powerful to account, I know that it’s not a newspaper that I want to keep receiving.
The theme of the February 12, 2017 issue of Other Voices is Race and Class.
Class conflict – first and foremost, the relationship between the capitalist class and the working class – is the fundamental contradiction that defines capitalist society. Class is a reality which simultaneously encompasses and collides with other dimensions of oppression and domination, such as gender and race. The relationship between race and class, in particular, is the theme of this issue of Other Voices.
The concept of “race” is a relatively recent invention, born out of the need to invent a justification for the enslavement of black Africans. Race theorists developed pseudo-scientific biological theories to ‘explain’ why Africans were ‘inferior’ and therefore could justly be enslaved. Race theory was then also used to justify and explain social hierarchy in other contexts. It is worth remembering that conservative European social thinkers long held that working people and the poor belonged to a biologically different ‘race’ than their social superiors. The French aristocrat and race theorist Gobineau wrote “Every social order is founded upon three original classes, each of which represents a racial variety: the nobility, a more or less accurate reflection of the conquering race; the bourgeoisie composed of mixed stock coming close to the chief race; and the common people who live in servitude or at least in a very depressed position. These last belong to a lower race which came about in the south through miscegenation with the negroes and in the north with the Finns.”
It was in the Americas, and especially in the United States, a society founded on slavery, that ’racial‘ divisions were cultivated and sharpened to their highest degree. After Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, when black slaves and white indentured servants rose up together, the colonial elite began consciously to foster ‘racial’ divisions by granting poor whites a few social privileges (but not, in most cases, money or power). Immigrants who had been considered non-white and racially inferior, such as the Finns, the Irish, and Slavs from Eastern Europe, were ‘promoted’ into the “white race.”
In the eyes of Karl Marx, the division between whites and blacks within the American working class (which in his analysis encompassed slaves as well as wage-workers) was the fundamental contradiction which stood in the way of developing class consciousness and creating a socialist movement.
In the 20th century, Communists and Trotskyists in particular stressed the central importance of challenging racism in order to build a united working class movement. In the last few years, this insight has been carried forward by other social movements. The concept of ‘intersectionality’ has recently come into vogue in some circles, though others argue that ‘intersectionality’ is actually a step backward in that it assumes that there are separate ‘identities’ that ‘intersect’, an approach which can end up seeing the differences but missing the whole.
These are questions which will continue to challenge us. In this issue, you’ll find a small selection of resources from a vast and ongoing social movement. Exploring the subject links below each item will lead you to many more.
The theme of the January 22, 2017 issue of Other Voices is Disobedience.
Ultimately all power structures depend on the obedience of those over whom they rule. It helps if people believe in the legitimacy of those who wield power, but the crucial thing is obedience.
Once people start to disobey in significant numbers, the dynamic of power changes fundamentally. Disobedience, especially on a large scale, shakes the power of the rulers, and increases the power of those who disobey.
Given the nature of state power, the most threatening form of disobedience is the refusal of soldiers to obey orders. In this issue, this is the form of disobedience we focus on. When soldiers begin question the orders they are given and start regarding the authority of those who give those orders as illegitimate, the military hierarchy, and ultimately the state itself, are threatened.
In this issue of Other Voices, we recall the resistance of rank-and-file American soldiers to the Vietnam War. This resistance was a powerful factor in ending the war, probably second only to the indomitable determination of the Vietnamese to drive out the American invaders. Yet the soldiers’ resistance has been virtually erased from history. Hollywood has made hundreds of movies about the war; none shows the actions of thousands of American soldiers who refused to fight. Their resistance included not only desertion and combat refusals involving thousands of soldiers, but hundreds of instances of GIs killing their own officers when those officers tried to compel them to go into combat.
We also feature an article on rank-and-file soldiers in the Egyptian army. Virtually all of them come from the working classes, and their loyalty to the regime cannot be taken for granted. If they refuse to continue obeying a hierarchy that has soldiers repressing their own people, Egypt’s dictatorship will face a crisis.
From the Archives we feature the Principles of Nuremberg, which were used by the Nuremberg Tribunal to judge Nazi war criminals. These principles were subsequently adopted as key elements of international law. The fourth principle states “The fact that a person acted pursuant to an order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him”. This principle makes clear that under international law, an agent of the state, including a soldier, has a duty to refuse orders that violate international law. We would do well to highlight this duty at every opportunity.
Also in this issue: an article about strikes and other forms of resistance by prisoners and by immigrant detainees: another form of disobedience against the repressive power of the state.
Other articles look at recent worker’ struggles in China, and recall the life of John Berger, the British critic and writer who taught many about different “ways of seeing” the world.
To read Other Voices online, go to http://connexions.org/Media/CXNL-2017-01-22.htm. You can subscribe to the email version by sending a request to email@example.com.
“Fake news” is the latest mania to convulse the mainstream media. All at once, we’re being subjected to an outbreak of hand-wringing articles and commentaries about obscure websites which are supposedly poisoning public opinion and undermining democracy by spreading “fake news.”
Not wanting to be left out when a new fad comes on the scene, Other Voices is jumping on the bandwagon too, with this, our last issue of 2016, devoted to “fake news.”
Our focus, however, is not so much on the crackpots and trolls making mischief on the fringes, but on the dominant actors in the fake news business: governments and the corporate and state media. Turning a blind eye to their own role in producing fake news, which mainstream media commentaries invariably do, amounts to not just ignoring the elephant in the room, but ignoring a whole herd of trumpeting pachyderms running amuck.
Fake news? How about credulous coverage in the mainstream media of Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” an outright lie used as a pretext to justify an unjustified war of aggression, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths? Or the uncritical media coverage of Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons program, used to lend an air of legitimacy to the vicious sanctions and war threats against that country? Or the false reports about impending massacres by Muammar Gaddafi’s troops, used to justify NATO’s destruction of Libya, with results we are all too familiar with?
When it comes to war, “defense,” “national security,” and the interests of the state, the corporate and state media almost invariably act as propagandists, not as critical or independent seekers for truth.
So when the mainstream purveyors of fake news declare themselves aghast at the behaviour of fringe websites, it’s hard to see this as anything more than complaining about competitors and imitators moving onto their turf.
The truth is, the market for these fringe website has appeared because so many people have learned that they can’t trust what they read or see in the mainstream media.
Articles featured in this issue of Other Voices look at the media’s role as purveyors of disinformation, propaganda, and lies. Also included is a look at well-funded climate denial think tanks, who produce what is arguably the most dangerous fake news of all.
We also feature an interview with Noam Chomsky on what may face us when Donald Trump enters the White House, a report on what is happening to India’s poor as India moves to a so-called “cashless economy.” Drawing on the archives, we spotlight the legendary publication I.F. Stone’s Weekly (1953-1971), now archived online, and Dorothea Lange’s long-suppressed photographs documenting the expulsion and internment of Japanese-Americans in World War Two.
It’s not exactly news that the mainstream media – corporate-owned and state-owned – are biased and anything but reliable. Their reporting may well contain accurate information, but even when (some of) their facts are correct, the overall framing and context are shaped by their ideological function of supporting the capitalist system of which they are an integral part. More than ever, the mainstream media are propaganda arms of a power structure fusing corporations and the neoliberal state.
Changes in the media landscape exacerbate the situation. Corporate consolidation means that most major media outlets are now owned by a small number of large corporations, following policies dictated by head office. The actual number of media are shrinking: for example, whereas a few decades ago most major cities had competing daily newspapers, now most cities have only one, and where they have two, both are often owned by the same company. Corporatization of the media has also meant significant cutbacks in staffing, resulting inevitably in reduced coverage, and poor reporting marked by reliance on fewer sources. Fact checkers, copy editors, and proofreaders have largely gone the way of the manual typewriter.
It’s no wonder, then, that the mainstream media are widely distrusted, and even held in contempt, by many people. They are seen, rightly, as part of the neoliberal system people are increasingly rejecting.
On the other hand, the Internet has made it possible to launch a vast number of alternative media projects. These range from bloggers, tweeters, Facebook commentators, and other self-publishers active in the social media realm, to major information-rich websites and media projects with paid staff and professional standards.
However, most of these independent projects face the severe limitations imposed by not being corporate media projects. With the best intentions in the world, it’s impossible to keep providing high-quality stories about a wide range issues with volunteers, or a small number of paid staff. The constraints faced by the mainstream media – understaffing, shrinking revenues – impact the alternative media to an even greater extent.
And just what are “alternative media”? The rough-and-ready definition used in selecting media to feature in the November 27, 2016 issue of Other Voices is that they are independent and that they are broadly left in their political orientation, that is, that they offer a left alternative to the mainstream media.
Of course, all media, mainstream or alternative, right or left, must be read critically. Alternative media are quite capable of getting things wrong or publishing nonsense; indeed, they frequently do. Their standards of accuracy are often no better than those of the mainstream media. They also often disagree with each other. This can be helpful. Hearing about different approaches, and thinking about the reasons behind them, helps us understand things better.
This is true of corporate and state-funded media as well. News media like Al Jazeera, RT, and teleSUR certainly reflect the biases of their owners (Qatar, Russia, and several South American governments, respectively), but, because those biases are different from the mainstream American, British, and Canadian media, they can and do cover news that the western corporate media ignore or falsify, and they can be worth checking out as well.
Connexions offers a much more extensive alternative media list on the Connexions website here. In this newsletter, we present a selection of media from that larger list. Like anything else, this is a reflection of individual biases; still, we hope that it helps you to learn about websites and media that you'll find useful in finding out and understanding what's happening in the world.
There is no clear dividing line between ‘media’ websites and other websites. Many high-quality websites provide information and analysis. To find more of them, try browsing the Connexions Directory of Groups and Websites. The Connexions website itself features current content as well as a massive online library of articles and books going back decades. Connexions also gives you the ability to find related resources and background information on almost any topic, via the browseable Subject Index and the Search tool.
See the November 27 issue of Other Voices here.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. election, a debate has erupted on the liberal left about the best way to deal with working class people who voted for Trump. The disagreement, for many of the participants, appears to revolve around whether liberals ought to spend their time giving patronizing lectures about white privilege, or patronizing lectures about other aspects of reality.
What people on both sides of the debate seem to share is the assumption that the job of middle-class liberals is to lecture the working class.
The language being used in the heated atmosphere of Facebook and other social media circles about the relationship of middle-class liberals to working people is striking: “tell them how privileged they are,” “white working people can be woken up,” ”reminding poor white folks,” “upper middle-class/urban whites need to find a way to turn working class rural whites against racism,” “The duty of educating the white working class,” “reminding poor white folks that they too are the frequent victims,” etc.
The main result of the condescending, know-it-all attitude that the liberal left specializes in is to make ordinary working people of all colours and genders think that leftists are idiots to be avoided at all costs. Of course, that only applies to the tiny minority of working people who have even heard of the left. The propensity of the liberal left to spend its time talking exclusively to people who share their views ensures that most working people don’t even hear the patronizing lectures that are supposed to “wake them up.”
Revolutionary change can only come through organizing on a society-wide level. And organizing always begins with listening, not lecturing. It“s not a job for people who already think they know everything and just have to explain it to the poor unenlightened masses.
It’s a difficult thing to measure, but there are strong reasons for believing that the number of people struggling with depression has increased significantly in recent decades. Despite the evidence that this is a social problem, and not merely an individual misfortune, the solutions and escapes on offer are almost all individual: pharmaceuticals and therapy, on the one hand; self-medication with alcohol, streets drugs, television, etc., on the other.
Certainly there are individual circumstances and individual causes, but when millions of people are experiencing the same thing, we need to be looking not only at the individual, but also at the society. Many of us feel powerless in the face of economic decline, a burgeoning police state, a ruling class willing to risk all-out war to increase its wealth and power, and the growing likelihood of environmental catastrophe. Many of us also struggle to bring about a radical change of direction, but you’d have to be oblivious to reality to wake up each morning feeling cheerful and optimistic.
But while the circumstances, and the odds we face, might not be what we’d prefer, nevertheless we aren’t powerless. We can and do act. And through our actions, especially our collective actions, we can experience community, friendship, and moments of joy.
This issue of Other Voices features articles, as well as a book, a film, and a comic strip, which look at depression and also at what we can do in the face of depression and gloom. As always, we try to offer enjoyment as well as gloom.See the November 7 issue of Other Voices here.
There was a moment, after the long nightmare of the Cold War ended a quarter of a century ago, when it seemed as if the danger of war had finally diminished. To be sure, there has never been a moment in all those years when wars weren’t raging somewhere, but at least the possibility of nuclear war, we hoped, was less.
Foolish optimism. The risk of nuclear war is as great now as it was at the height of the Cold War. From the time the Warsaw Pact dissolved itself and the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States has single-mindedly pursued a hyper-aggressive strategy of surrounding Russia with hostile military forces and missiles aimed at the Russian heartland. The long-term goal is to bring about the collapse and dismemberment of the Russian federation, with the pieces that emerge subsequently turned into U.S. client states that provide raw materials but don’t compete with American corporations or America’s military. In a parallel strategy (the “pivot to Asia”) the U.S. is making increasingly threatening military moves off the coast of China.
Those who thought that the collapse of the nominally socialist Soviet Union, and the transformation of China into a capitalist powerhouse, would mean an end of American hostility to those two ‘communist’ countries, failed to recognize that what the U.S. seeks is world dominance. It doesn’t want capitalist competitors; it wants capitalist client states. Russia and China stand in the way of the U.S. agenda because, even though they can’t match U.S. military or economic power, they are strong enough to assert their independence. They are therefore seen as increasing threats as they pursue projects, such as major railway and pipeline projects, which would be outside U.S. control. Capitalism hates competition, and the U.S., the world’s dominant capitalist power, has never tolerated competitors, rivals, or leaders who dare to put their own country ahead of U.S. interests. If small countries like Grenada, El Salvador, and Nicaragua have to be crushed if they act independently, then, from the point of view of the U.S. elites, Russia and China are much greater threats to American hegemony which cannot be tolerated.
One of the driving forces underlying U.S. aggression and militarism has always been the military-industrial complex, arguably the most important sector of the U.S. economy. There are enormous profits to be made in supplying weapons and military systems, and therefore in inventing threats and stoking conflicts. The economies of many of the NATO states are highly integrated into this militarized economic system, making their elites willing accomplices in U.S. militarism.
Perhaps the most dangerous element in this picture is the fact that the American ruling elite is so used to getting its own way, domestically and internationally, that they have become increasingly oblivious to the dangers of what they are doing. Voices of sanity within the elite are increasingly marginalized by those are prepared to risk, and even plan for, all-out war. The ominous parallels to the outbreak of World War I a century ago are all too apparent.
In a long list of irresponsible actions, perhaps the most appalling are the actions the U.S. has been taking in relation to nuclear weapons. They have officially announced that they no longer adhere to the “no first strike” pledge that both Russia and the U.S. made during the Cold War. Now the U.S. says that it might (again) use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. The Russians and the Chinese, who well remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are undoubtedly taking this aggressive posture into account in their own contingency planning.
As if this weren’t enough, the U.S. is also looking a developing “mini” nuclear weapons, an act of madness that makes “sense” only if you intend to use them. And now the U.S. is starting to deploy anti-missile systems right on the Russian border. The sole use of such system would be to prevent retaliation after an American first strike. It is equivalent to declaring an intent to attack Russia when it judges the time is ripe. Inevitably this will force the Russians to be on higher alert, increasing the risk that a provocation will turn into an all-out war.
In this issue, we take a close look at the risks we face as we lurch ever closer to war. We especially look at the role of the mainstream media in manufacturing justifications for war.
Other Voices is available free via email subscription as well as on the Connexions website at www.connexions.org/Media/CxNewsletter.htm
See the October 15 issue of Other Voices here.
Education – about the world, and about social change in particular – is a key element in the work that Connexions does. In this issue of Other Voices, we explore a few aspects of the ways in which education and educational institutions are changing. We also look at ways in which education is used to bring about change.
George Monbiot shares his concerns about how children’s lives are increasingly lived indoors or looking at screens, while their experience of nature and the outdoors – once a significant part of children’s lives – is shrinking.
David Stratman casts a very critical eye on the so-called education reform movement that is transforming public education in the United States, Britain, and other countries. Another article looks at the devastating effects of the privatization of public education, specifically via charter schools.
Very different ideas about education animate the Escuelita Zapatista, a community-based educational gathering created by the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico.
The widening gap between scholars working in academic institutions is the subject of two articles, “Academics can change the world – if they stop talking only to their peers”, and another by the late Ellen Meiksins Wood on The Retreat of the Intellectuals.
This issue of Other Voices features a variety of articles and resources on education and schools. Other Voices is available free via email subscription as well as on the Connexions website at www.connexions.org/Media/CxNewsletter.htm
See the September 10 issue of Other Voices here.
Sports in general, and the Olympics in particular, have never been free of politics. Allegations of bribery and cheating had already been part of the Olympics for centuries before that noteworthy day in 67 AD when the judges proclaimed the Emperor Nero winner of the Olympic chariot race even though he had been thrown from his chariot and failed to complete the race.
No doubt the judges who crowned Nero were keenly aware of his proclivity for executing those who displeased him. In the modern sports era, survival and success depend largely on the favour of corporations, whose power to provide or withhold funding and sponsorships now shape every aspect of sport, including athletes’ incomes and lifestyles. It is now difficult to remember that only a few decades ago, corporate logos were strictly forbidden at Olympic events, while athletes were prohibited from accepting any kind of payment for their involvement in sports. The corporate conquest of sports closely parallels the corporate colonization of nearly all aspects of modern life. Accompanying this in recent years has been the increasing injection of militaristic content into sports spectacles. In Canada, hockey games are now commonly preceded by rituals honouring militarism. In the United States, similar spectacles have been staged for years.
In this issue, we feature resources which remind us that resistance to the commercialization, corporatization, and militarization of sports is also part of our heritage. We recall the International Workers’ Olympiads which took place between 1925 and 1937, and the workers’ sports organizations which flourished in a number of countries.
With the Rio de Janeiro Olympics under way, we feature an analysis of the way a constitutional coup is being carried out in Brazil while the attention of the media is on the sports spectacle in Rio.
We also look at the extraordinary witchhunt under way against Russian athletes. Various sports federations have taken the unprecedented step of banning Russian athletes from entire sports, not for anything the individual athletes themselves have done, but to punish the Russian government. The pretext for these bans is a hurried report by a Canadian lawyer which claims that the Russian government (or, as the media routinely say, ‘Putin’) carried out a mass doping program. While there are undoubtedly Russian athletes who used performance-enhancing drugs (as there are in many other countries), most of the ‘evidence’ underlying these sweeping allegations is based on the word of one man, a former Russian coach who now lives and works in the United States. Russian officials and athletes were not interviewed and were not given any opportunity to give their side of the story. Nor were Russian athletes given the opportunity to undergo drug tests to determine whether they had in fact taken performance-enhancing drugs. They were simply banned without any pretense of due process. Meanwhile athletes from other countries, such as the United States, who have used banned drugs in the past are being allowed to compete.
This issue of Other Voices features a variety of articles and resources on sports and politics and a range of other issues. Other Voices is available free via email subscription as well as on the Connexions website at www.connexions.org/Media/CxNewsletter.htm
See the August 13 issue of Other Voices here.
Working people – and most of us are workers – are affected by climate change in every aspect of our lives. As climate change worsens, our lives will worsen. If we are successful in bringing about the needed rapid change away from a fossil fuel based economy, working people are the ones who stand to bear most of the costs, including the cost, for millions of workers and their families, of losing their jobs.
Many elements of the environmental movement have been guilty of ignoring working people, while others actually blame ordinary working people for climate change and the injustices associated with it. Yet it is working people who are dying, in many places, even now, from excessive heat in factories, fields, construction sites, and homes. And million of working people stand to lose their jobs, homes, and communities in the transition to a low-carbon or no-carbon economy. It is rare for groups involved in the climate change movement to acknowledge this reality, let alone to develop plans for a just transition to a new economy, a transition that supports and helps those who will be most affected.
There is another, even more crucial reason, for putting the working class at the centre of a strategy for climate justice and economic transformation: the working class is the only social force with the potential power to bring about the radical changes we need to slow and stop accelerating climate change. A strategy that ignores the working class – the majority of the population – is a strategy for failure. In this issue of Other Voices, we present articles and resources which address the crucial role of the working class in halting climate change and transforming society.
This issue of Other Voices features a variety of articles and resources analyzing these and related issues. Other Voices is available free via email subscription as well as on the Connexions website at www.connexions.org/Media/CxNewsletter.htm
See the July 23 issue of Other Voices here.
The July 2, 2016 issue of Other Voices focuses on Brexit, the British vote to leave the European Union, and on contempt for democracy that has marked the elite reaction and media response to that vote.
Brexit has thrown the political elites into turmoil and confusion. The referendum was supposed to be a safe political manoeuvre, a way to produce an appearance of democratic legitimacy for the profoundly undemocratic structures of the EU. The gambit turned out to be a spectacular miscalculation, as millions of people turned out to express their opposition to a state of affairs that is leaving the majority worse off while enriching a small minority.
What the result will be is not clear. For one thing, it is far from certain that Britain will actually end up leaving the European Union. Ruling elites in Europe and elsewhere have a long history of ignoring referendum results which displease them. Last summer’s referendum in Greece, in which the Greek people voted overwhelmingly to reject the terms dictated by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, is a case in point. Within a few days, the EU, representing the interests of the banks whose Greek loans were at risk, compelled the Greek government to submit to terms that were even worse than those rejected in the referendum. Greece’s Syriza government capitulated utterly, and became the enforcer of the agenda of austerity and looting which it had been elected to oppose. Those who feel tempted to believe the claim that the European Union represents a form of international co-operation from which all benefit might want to consider the case of Greece, and of other countries who have been forced to shred their social infrastructure and sell off their assets to enrich investors and bankers.
A constant theme in elite reaction to the Brexit referendum, expressed especially through the mainstream media, has been a visceral contempt for democracy. Ordinary working people are portrayed as stupid and reactionary, incapable of understanding how wonderful the European Union project is. Again and again, one hears the comment that the great unwashed should not be allowed to vote on issues which they are incapable of understanding. This reaction is not new: ruling classes for centuries have loathed democracy, which is seen as an existential threat to the wealth and privileges of the elite.
The attitudes of the elite have been mirrored on parts of the liberal left as well. The racist rhetoric emanating from the xenophobic UKIP party is seen as reflecting the attitudes of everyone who voted to leave the EU. Never mind that UKIP commands 12% of the vote, whereas 52% voted to leave. Everyone who voted to leave, according to some commentators, must automatically be a racist. The liberal left shares this attitude with the mainstream elite: neither of them is capable of seeing, let alone offering solutions for, the economic devastation caused by neoliberal institutions such as the EU and the various ‘free trade’ agreements, and neither of them cares about the working class.
In Britain, the referendum results have also provided a pretext for the Labour hierarchy to try to remove Jeremy Corbyn, the leftist who unexpectedly captured the leadership of the party nine months ago in another instance of democracy producing the ‘wrong’ result. A majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party (the MPs) are still holdovers from the Tony Blair era, known for their support of the war in Iraq and the intervention in Libya, and their willingness to vote for anti-labour legislation introduced by the Conservative government of David Cameron. These MPs have been desperately looking for an opportunity to get rid of Corbyn, and thought the referendum results would provide an opportunity. Corbyn, however, has reacted to their vote of no confidence by informing them that he was elected by the membership, not the MPs, and that he has no intention of resigning. In this battle, Corbyn represents not only the left-wing majority of the Labour members who elected them, but the hopes of people in other countries who see him as an inspiration and an example to follow.
This issue of Other Voices features a variety of articles and resources analyzing these and related issues. Other Voices is available free via email subscription as well as on the Connexions website at www.connexions.org/Media/CxNewsletter.htm
See the July 2 issue of Other Voices here.
The June 18, 2016 issue of Other Voices, the Connexions newsletter, features a wide range of issues. The topic of the week is homophobia, the hate that led to 49 deaths in Orlando last week, but which is present in greater or lesser form in every part of the world.
We are always concerned, not only with what is wrong with the world, but what to do about it. This issue carries an excerpt from Umair Mohammed’s book ‘Confronting Injustice: Social Activism in the Age of Individualism’ in which he warns against the pitfalls of individualist and consumer-oriented approaches and argues in favour of collective action to build an effective movement.
Derrick Jensen considers some of the arguments in favour of pacifism and finds them wanting. He agrees that creative approaches to social change can oftentimes make violence unnecessary, but that sometimes violence is a necessary response to violence.
Another article looks at the decline of liberation theology, targeted as a threat by both the Vatican and secular power structures.
Kenan Malik considers the issue of “cultural appropriation” and asks why so many on the so-called left are more interested in criticizing Justin Bieber’s hairstyle than in fighting capitalism.
From the Archives we present “Suffragetto,” a 100-year-old board game from Britain, which allowed players to imitate real-life battles between suffragettes campaigning for votes for women, and the police.
The book of the week is ‘Canada Since 1960s: A People's History’ which presents a left perspective on 50 years of politics, economics, and culture, seen through the eyes of contributors to Canadian Dimension magazine.
See the June 18 issue of Other Voices here.
The May 21, 2016 issue of Other Voices, the Connexions newsletter focuses on Tax Evasion.
The essence of the capitalist economic system is the drive to accumulate as much as possible, by any means possible. It is almost inevitable, therefore, that those – individuals or corporations – whose existence revolves around accumulating capital will seek to avoid paying taxes.
The best way to avoid paying taxes, when you’re rich and powerful, is to shape and write the tax laws. And indeed tax laws are almost invariably written to favour those whose wealth derives from profits and investment, at the expense of those who work for a living. For example, capital gains – income from investments – are either taxed at a much lower rate than wages, or not taxed at all.
Even so, this isn’t enough for the superrich. Employing a network of accountants, tax lawyers, corporate shells, tax havens, secret bank accounts, and other methods, the 1% have become extremely adept at evading even the low rates of taxation they are subjected to.
Tax evasion has recently hit the news with the leak of the Panama Papers, a huge collection of documents detailing the activities of just one law firm specializing in setting up offshore shell companies which serve to hide assets from the tax authorities. The Panama Papers reveal the existence of more than 200,000 such offshore entities linked to wealthy individuals from more than 200 countries. This nonetheless represents only the tip of the iceberg: there are other companies involved in this dirty business, and more than 20 jurisdictions which cater to it, including the American states of Delaware and Wyoming, as well as the Bahamas, Belize, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. It is estimated that about $330 billion is lost to tax evasion and tax avoidance every single year, and that perhaps 7% of the world’s total financial wealth is hidden in secretive tax havens.
This issue features a selection of articles, books, and films on tax evasion.
There is also an article about the myth of precision that is used to justify reckless experiments in gene manipulation, and we feature Vivek Chibber’s article “Why the Working Class” which analyzes the unique power of the working class in challenging the power of capitalism.
See the May 21 issue of Other Voices here.
People looking at the United States from the outside tend to assume that life is easy when you’re an imperialist superpower in command of the world’s largest military forces, backed by the world’s most powerful economy. With so much power concentrated in your hands, what could possibly go wrong?
More than you might think, in fact. One problem arises from the widespread persistence of the institutions of parliamentary democracy. Modern parliamentary democracies, it’s true, have a number of points in their favour. For one thing, they are better at managing public services and the economy than dictatorships, military or otherwise, which tend to be both corrupt and incompetent. And they provide a (somewhat) plausible facade of democratic accountability which helps to disguise the unpalatable fact that almost all important decisions are made behind the closed doors of corporate and institutional boardrooms.
But the trouble with democratic forms like voting and elections is that every so often, real democracy breaks out and propels parties and people to office who don’t play by the rules of the game. The most outrageous offence, from the perspective of imperial power, is pursuing policies that help ordinary people at the expense of transnational corporations and local elites.
When a government goes so far as to govern in the interests of its own population, it clearly has to be stopped. The mainstream media – those owned by the local elite as well as those in the imperial centres – start to churn out propaganda, day after day, about the ‘extremism’ of the government, now referred to as a ‘regime.’ Western NGOs, funded by the U.S. government and activist billionaires, become a funnel for money that is poured into the country to pay for a massive destabilization campaign. Meanwhile the U.S. embassy intensifies its ongoing contacts with opposition leaders and military officers, many of whom have been trained and indoctrinated in the United States.
The goal of a destabilization campaign is to overthrow an elected government without having to resort to direct outside military intervention, which looks bad and often fails to produce a stable pro-western regime (e.g. Iraq, Libya). In recent years, the preferred means have been massive funding of conservative middle-class political parties, groups, and media (e.g. Ukraine, Venezuela), and ‘constitutional coups.’ A constitutional coup is a means of nullifying an undesirable election result by making use of the levers of judicial and executive power to get rid of a leader or government who has too much popular support to defeat via the ballot box. The constitutional coups which overthrew the governments of Honduras in 2009 and Paraguay in 2012 are examples, as are the current attempts to impeach the elected presidents of Brazil and Venezuela. One might also include the American Supreme Court decision after the 2000 election, which handed the election to George W. Bush, and Stephen Harper’s proroguing of the Canadian Parliament in 2008, aided and abetted by the unelected and unaccountable Governor-General, as instances where ‘constitutional’ means have been used to set aside election results.
Destabilization and regime change are the focus of this issue of Other Voices. We feature a number of articles and books, as well as Bill Blum’s handy list of the instances since 1945 when the U.S. has overthrown, or attempted to overthrow, a foreign government. We also feature “The Anti-Coup”, by Gene Sharp and Bruce Jenkins, which outlines strategies and tactics which popular movements can use to prevent and block coups d’état and executive usurpations of power. The articles in this issue cover only a few examples of the countless interventions by the United States designed to undermine and overthrow governments which challenge the will of the U.S. and the local elites which the U.S. supports. The Connexions Subject Index has many more articles and books documenting such attempts – many of them successful – under Destabilization and Regime Change
See the May 7 issue of Other Voices here.
The topic of the week for this issue of Other Voices is Science and its enemies.
Our society and its institutions, public and private, regularly tell us that science, and education in the sciences, are crucial to our future. These public declarations are strangely reminiscent of the equally sincere lip service they pay to the ideals of democracy. And, in the same way that governments and private corporations devote considerable efforts to undermining the reality of democracy, so too they are frequently found trying to block and subvert science when the evidence it produces runs counter to their interests. Real live scientists doing real live science, it seems, are not nearly as loveable as Science in the abstract.
The trouble with science, when carried out conscientiously in accordance with the principles of rational inquiry, is that it may produce evidence and conclusions that run counter to the interests of the powerful and the rich. The science of global warming is a huge threat to the immensely profitable fossil fuel industry. Exxon knew, decades ago, that carbon emissions are linked to climate change - and acted to suppress and lie about the science, using the same techniques that had been used for many years by the tobacco industry to deny that smoking is linked to lung cancer.
In the same way, scientists who have shown that fracking produces earthquakes and poisons water are now under constant attack by the industry. Universities, ever more dependent on corporate funding, are told that they won't receive money if they employ scientists who engage is such unwelcome research. So too, evidence of the dangers of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) threatens immensely profitable agribusiness corporations, and scientists who produce that evidence are attacked and threatened with losing their jobs.
Corporate money is also used to subvert science in other ways. There are always scientists and researchers who are prepared to produce conclusions that are welcome to their funders. As Upton Sinclair once said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it." Unfortunately, there are more than a few trained scientists who now earn their salaries by failing to investigate what they should investigate, and failing to see what they should see.
Where scientists persist in producing unwelcome evidence, another tactic in common use is suppression. Scientists whose research is funded by a corporations are frequently made to sign non-disclosure agreements as a condition of receiving funding. They are forbidden to release their findings unless the company, for example a pharmaceutical company testing a new drug, agrees to release them. In this way unwelcome results never see the light of day. Scientists employed by a government are commonly gagged in similar ways. This was notoriously the case in Canada under the late and unlamented Harper regime, which, in addition to gagging scientists, actually went so far as to destroy entire libraries of scientific records.
At the same time that corporations and the state seek to control or suppress science, social currents have emerged that attack science from other directions. Creationists loudly reject the science of evolution, anti-vaccine activists spread fear, and, in some parts of academia, schools of thought have emerged that see the whole idea of science as an example of western imperialism.
This issue of Other Voices dips its toes into a few areas of current scientific controversy. The Connexions website features a wealth of articles and books on many other issues in the world of science.
See the April 23 issue of Other Voices here.
The topic of the week for this issue of Other Voices is Corporate Crime. Corporations first emerged as a form of legal partnership which allowed a number of investors to pool their capital to establish joint ventures. At the same time, incorporating limited companies allowed investors to limit their risk and their liability. Shareholders could shield themselves and their assets from liability if the venture failed or incurred debts, or if the corporation broke the law.
In the last century, corporations have been able to acquire tremendous power, including the power to make governments write laws and sign treaties to serve the interests of companies and their owners.
At the same time, corporations have increasingly become legally unaccountable for their behaviour. All too often corporations break the law and engage in criminals acts which would be severely punished if they were committed by ordinary individuals. These illegal acts range from deliberate health and safety violations that cost lives, to land seizures, to environmental negligence that contaminates lands and waters. Most of these illegal acts are never prosecuted, and those that are, are usually dealt with by a fine that corporations can treat as a cost of doing business.
There are movements demanding that corporations be held accountable for their crimes in a serious way, and, specifically, that corporate executives should face jail time when the corporation they are in charge of engage in behaviour that causes death, injury, and illness.
In the Organizing section, Other Voices features an article about the use of petitions in grassroots organizing. In People’s History, an article looks at the use of new digital technologies in work to preserve indigenous languages.
See the April 9 issue of Other Voices here.
For countless centuries, forests, and the trees in them, have been seen as sources of life, livelihood, and spiritual meaning. For capitalism, however, forests are sites of extraction and profit-making, or obstacles in the way of ‘development.’ This issue of Other Voices, the Connexions newsletter, looks at some of the threats to forests worldwide, and the ways in which people are resisting and defending the forests.
In the Amazon, tribal people are combining traditional skills with direct action and modern technology to fight against illegal logging. In India, villagers are organizing to protect their forests against being flooding by dams. In Palestine, farm families are staying on their land, and planting new trees to replace the ones destroyed by Israeli soldiers and settlers. In Mozambique, farmers and communities are organizing against land takeovers by foreign corporations.
The Organizing section looks at the organizing work of Bonnie Phillips, a long-time forest defender.
The From the Archives section reaches all the way back to the year 1217, when an English king yielded to popular pressure and issued the Charter of the Forest, affirming the rights of the common people to use the forests for their livelihoods.
See the March 26 issue of Other Voices here.
This issue of Other Voices marks International Women's Day. An article written by Alexandra Kollontai in 1920 talks about the early history of this event, which grew out of a proposal put forward by Clara Zetkin at the 1910 International Conference of Working Women. A key focus at that time was winning the vote for women, with the slogan ‒The vote for women will unite our strength in the struggle for socialism”. The link between women’s rights and socialism became even clearer a few years later, in 1917, when a Women’s Day march in St. Petersburg turned into a revolutionary uprising which led to the overthrow of the Czar and the Russian Revolution. As Kollontai says, “It was the working women of Petersburg who began this revolution; it was they who first decided to raise the banner of opposition to the Tsar.”
The struggle continues. Kavita Krishnan writes about the campaigns for women’s rights in India in “Women’s Liberation, Everyone’s Liberation.” “Women in Arms” compares women's struggles in Chiapas, Mexico, and in Kurdistan. Johanna Brenner takes a global view in “Socialist Feminism in the 21st Century.”
In the Organizing section of Other Voices, we look at grassroots efforts by Salvadoran women to deal with the problems of gangs and crime in El Salvador. In the People’s History section, we look back at the Paris Commune, the working-class uprising which took power in Paris in March 1871.
See the March 5 issue of Other Voices here.
This issue of Connexions Other Voices falls on the 40th anniversary of the publication of the very first Connexions newsletter, which was published in February 1976. That first issue carried the title “Canadian Information Sharing Service”, which was also the name of the collective which compiled it, from submissions from across Canada. Within a couple of years, the name of the publication became “Connexions” and then, a little later, “The Connexions Digest”. Connexions went online in the early 1990s, first via a computer bulletin board system (BBS) and then with the Connexions.org website.
As the Connexions project enters its fifth decade, we continue to carry on the original “information sharing” mission of connecting people working for justice with each other and with resources and information. Connexions also maintains the Connexions Archive, a physical archive of more than 100,000 documents spanning more than 50 years of grassroots activism.
Connexions operates on a shoestring budget, and very much welcomesfinancial support and contributions, large or small, as well as bequests. Connexions is also looking for a permanent home, perhaps in partnership with another organization, for the archive and the people who work on it.
In addition to Connexions’ own history, this issue of Other Voices spotlights black history as the topic of the week. It looks at the Haitian revolution, when slaves confronted the French empire and won; black resistance against the Ku Klux Klan in the American South, and the meaning and limits of anti-racism. Other Voices also looks at the Kurdish liberation movement in Rojava, the dangers posed by geoengineering, and it marks the publication of the Communist Manifesto on February 21, 1848.
See the February 20 issue of Other Voices here.
This issue of Other Voices shines a light on the murky world of conflict of interest, the hidden reality that often underlies appearances of neutrality, objectivity, and due process.
Can journalism thrive if the media are owned by profit-driven corporations like Postmedia? Nick Fillmore says the accelerating decline of the low-quality, right-wing Postmedia newspapers is nothing to shed tears over, but the lack of credible media in Canada is a problem that we should be worrying about.
Another article illuminates a topic that is taboo in coverage of climate change: the enormous carbon emissions of the military – especially the U.S. military, the biggest institutional consumer of petroleum products in the world. We also look at the lawsuit launched by TransCanada against the U.S. government, claiming massive ‘damages’ because it has been denied an opportunity to profit from environmental destruction. If any further proof is needed that the negotiated-but-not-ratified TPP trade deal is a horrible idea, TransCanada has provided it.
See the January 30 issue of Other Voices here.
Working to change things for the better, fighting to prevent things from getting worse, remembering the past to illuminate possibilities for the future: as always, that is the focus of Other Voices. In this issue, the spotlight is on working class organizing. There can be no meaningful change without the active participation of the majority of the population: working people. Yet much activism ignores this obvious reality, while the organized labour union movement has put much of its reliance on ‘professionals’ who see organizing as a top-down technique rather than a grassroots movement. Several articles in this issue look at aspects of these issues.
Other Voices also delve into the relationship between feminism and socialism, and looks at the so-called ‘sharing economy,’ which produces increasingly exploited and precarious work, and immense profits for super-rich corporate owners.
See the January 16 issue of Other Voices here.
“A map of the world that does not include Utopia,” said Oscar Wilde, “is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail.”
Utopian visions, be they practical or not, free our imaginations, if only for a little while, from the daily grind of struggle and worry, and allow us to dream about the kind of world we would hope to live in. Such dreams can inspire us and guide us, even if they are not always quite practical.
Friedrich Engels appreciated this quality in the writings of Charles Fourier (1772-1837), the French utopian socialist who imagined a future in which men and women would be free and fully equal, and in which, so he speculated, there would be six moons orbiting the earth and the salt water of the oceans would be replaced with lemonade. Engels, practical-minded revolutionary though he was – and one who preferred beer to lemonade – wrote that he would much rather read Fourier’s “cheerful fantasies” than the gloomy writings of social critics “where there is no lemonade at all.”
This issue of Other Voices peers into the world of utopian visions, practical or otherwise: the topic of the week is Utopias. You’ll also find a potpourri of other articles, books, resources and songs to stimulate your thinking and your imagination.
See the December 19 issue of Other Voices here.
This issue of Other Voices covers a wide range of issues, from the climate crisis and the ecosocialist response, to terrorism and the struggle against religious fundamentalism, as well as items on urban gardening, the destruction of olive trees, and how the police are able to use Google’s timeline feature to track your every move, now and years into the past. Another article challenges the role of big NGOs in legitimizing the status quo and blocking working-class and grassroots self-organizing
See the December 5 issue of Other Voices here.
This issue of Other Voices spotlights climate change, the escalating crisis that the upcoming Paris climate conference is supposed to address. But climate change is not a single problem: it is a product of an economic system whose driving force is the need to grow and accumulate. Nor does it affect everyone equally: those with wealth and power can buy themselves what they need to continue living comfortably for years to come – everything from air conditioning to food to police and soldiers to protect their secure bubbles – while those who are poor and powerless find their lives increasingly impossible. A serious effort to address climate change therefore means social change and economic change.
A number of resources featured in this issue address the deeper issues of climate change and social change.
There are also have two articles responding to recent terrorists attacks and raising questions about causes and responses. In the Organizing section are reflections about effective grassroots organizing by Renny Cushing, an organizer in the anti-nuclear movement in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s.
See the November 21 issue of Other Voices here.
The focus in this issue is on the corporate rights treaties that are misleadingly sold as trade agreements. In particular, the spotlight is on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiated in secret, and now scheduled to be rubber-stamped by national governments on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. The TPP is best understood as a major milestone in the long-term war waged by the corporate elite against any form of democracy. It gives corporations the power to block any environmental protections or health and safety legislation that could be interpreted as interfering with a corporation’s &lsquoright&rsquo to make a profit by doing whatever it wants. It will significantly undermine efforts to fight climate change by giving corporations the power to block laws that would prevent fracking, tarsands extraction, coal mining, etc. Food safety protections are similarly attacked: banning GMO crops or imports, or even required GMO labelling, becomes a restraint of trade. Internet advocacy groups are calling the TPP a “death warrant for the Open Internet” because, in the name of ”copyright protection”, it gives corporations the power to force Internet Service Providers to take down websites, even in other countries, that are allegedly infringing copyright.
As always, people are fighting back and will continue to fight back. That requires organizing: as an article by Al Giordano reminds us, “Nothing is ever won without organizing.” Also in this issue, we remember Bhaskar Save, a farmer in India who developed organic farming methods on his own farm which have gained worldwide admiration.
See the November 7 issue of Other Voices here.
The Ontario government has announced that it intends to bring in regulations to stop the police practice of stopping people at random and demanding their information. Of course this form of harassment, known as “carding” in Ontario, is far from random: everyone knows who is likely to be stopped, and what the colour of their skin is likely to be. Putting an end to it sounds good, but as always the devil is in the details, and the wording shows that nothing much is likely to change. Here’s a letter that I sent to the Toronto Star, which they published on October 31:
The end of carding? Not a chance. The new legislation will allow police to stop, question and document members of the public if they have a “valid policing purpose,” defined as “detecting or preventing illegal activities.” That’s a loophole big enough to allow any cop anywhere to stop and question anyone they want, as long as they claim that doing so might result in detecting or preventing some unspecified illegal activity. And, as always, most of those stopped and harassed will just happen to be black, or aboriginal, or poor. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
As Noam Chomsky has said, governments use the spectre of threats to &lsquonational security&rsquo to justify secrecy, attacks on civil liberties, and the relentless build-up of the national security state. In reality, says Chomsky, the main enemy, in the eyes of the state, is its own population. Whistleblowers – people like Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden – play a vital role in letting the public know what governments are really doing. At great risk to themselves, they tell the truth which governments seek to hide.
In his article “The Fog of Intelligence”, Tom Engelhardt examines the contradictions of the American intelligence apparatus: a vast bureaucracy with more than a million employees and a budget of $70 billion a year which is continually unable to foresee developments which are perfectly obvious to journalists and others who have no access to secret information.
Another illustration of the national security mindset comes in the reaction of the British media – shocked! aghast! – to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s statement that as Prime Minister he would not order the launch of nuclear weapons under any circumstances.
Also in this issue of Other Voices, we recall the day – October 27, 1962 – when the world was seconds away from nuclear war. After an American warship attacked a Soviet submarine – an act of war in itself, as well as an act of insanity – two of the three commanders on the submarine were prepared to launch a nuclear weapon, as they were authorized to do if they came under direct attack while unable to communicate with their military high command. The third commander on the submarine, Vasili Arkhipov, refused to agree, and because the unanimous of all three commanders was required, the missile was not launched.
Arkhipov’s split-second decision reminds us all that we are all confronted with moral choices, and that those choices can have far-reaching consequences.
See the October 24 issue of Other Voices here.
I’m in the queue waiting to vote in the advance poll in the federal election. I’m ambivalent, as always when I vote, since I don’t support any of the political parties, but I want to get the vile Harper Conservatives out. From the snatches of conversation I hear, getting rid of the Conservatives is a widely shared wish.
The wait is fairly long, and the Elections Canada people are doing what they can to make the experience as pleasant as possible. There are chairs for those who need them, and, for the kids, they have an unofficial ‘ballot box.’ Those who are old enough to be able to write can write a name on a piece of paper, and then put their ‘ballot’ in the box. Those too young to write can choose a marker to colour their paper with. The coloured ‘ballots’ also go into the box.
Behind me, a little girl asks her father, “What colour should I choose?”
“Any colour you like,” he replies. Pause. “As long as it’s not blue*.”
We smile at each other. “Got to teach them young,” he says.
[*Blue is the colour of Canada’s right-wing Conservative party, which went on to defeat in the October 19 election.]
Other Voices’ topic of the week is Elections.
Election-related resources include articles and books which argue that western style parliamentary democracies are anything but democratic, both in how they operate, and because most of the most important decisions are not subject to democratic decision-making. The articles in this issue on the newly signed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and on the use of finance and debt to take over countries and to attack working people, explore this theme in detail.
On a more positive note, there is a discussion of James Hansen’s fossil fuel exit program, which suggests an approach for getting our economies off fossil fuels in the near future. Rounding out this issue are several People’s History and From the Archives items, as well as the book of the week, “Democracy Against Capitalism”, the film of the week, “The Price We Pay”, and a song of the week, “Stealin’ All My Dreams.”
See the October 8 issue of Other Voices here.
A comment from Chip Berlet:
“Right-wing hate groups do not cause prejudice in the United States – they exploit it. What we clearly see as objectionable bigotry surfacing in Extreme Right movements, is actually the magnified form of oppressions that swim silently in the familiar yet obscured eddies of ‘mainstream’ society.
Racism, sexism, heterosexism ... antisemitism, [and now Islamophobia] are the major forms of supremacy that create oppression and defend and expand inequitable power and privilege; but there are others based on class, age, ability, language, ethnicity, immigrant status, size, religion, and more. These oppressions exist independent of the Extreme Right in U.S. society.”
I think your formulation has it backwards. You say that “Racism, sexism, heterosexism, ... antisemitism, [and now Islamophobia] are the major forms of supremacy that create oppression”.
I would say that, on the contrary, it is the structures of domination and power, that create racism, sexism, etc., in order to justify the existence of unequal wealth, power and the oppression that goes with them. Racism didn’t create slavery and the slave trade; racism was created to justify slavery. US/NATO aggression against the Middle East and the Islamic-majority countries aren’t a result of Islamophobia; Islamophobia was born out of the need to justify imperialist aggression.
But you’re correct to say that right-wing hate groups don’t cause prejudice: they feed on it and magnify it. Though one could argue that by exploiting it they are causing it to spread more widely, by giving people scapegoats to blame for their real problems. One recalls August Bebel’s comment, “anti-semitism is the socialism of fools.”
Of course, the big question is: how do we combat it?
With Canada’s October 19 federal election rapidly approaching, Other Voices features a number of items related to the election.
We always invite you to share this newsletter, either by forwarding this email to people you know, along with a note, or by giving them the link to the Other Voices page on the Connexions website at www.connexions.org/Media/CxNewsletter.htm. We particularly encourage you to share this issue, because it contains information intended to help in getting out the anti-Harper vote.
There’s a link to a single-sheet, two-sided flyer designed to be printed and handed out. It’s targeted at undecided voters. We encourage you to print out some copies and hand them out, and to encourage others to do so. We’ve got an article by Nick Fillmore about the importance of making sure that potential voters are registered to vote, with the proper ID, and that they know what polling station they should go to. This is something that everyone can help with.
Our Topic of the Week is Voter Suppression, an important part of the Conservative strategy in Canada, and an increasing issue in other countries like the U.S. We’ve got three websites of the week this time round, all of them concerned with getting people out to vote to defeat the Conservatives. There are items related to voter suppression in the People’s History and From the Archives sections.
Other issues spotlighted this week are The Age of Imperialistic Wars that we’re living in, Conserving Soil, and “Foodies and farmworkers: Allies or enemies?”
See the September 25 issue of Other Voices here.
John Holloway, best known for his book Change the World Without Taking Power, has written an essay ‘Read Capital: The First Sentence, Or, Capital starts with Wealth, not with the Commodity’ which focuses on the very first sentence of Marx’s Das Capital. Holloway devotes his entire essay to a textual analysis of that first sentence, arguing that it is extremely significant, the key the whole rest of the book, in fact. The following is my response to Holloway:
One can appreciate John Holloway’s stated intention, which is to show that “Capital, from its opening words, is a tale that pitches the forces of misfitting against the forces of an oppressive social cohesion. It starts from the dignity of rebellion, not from the horrors of domination.” I would broadly agree with that description of Capital, though whether this really needs to be said, yet again, I rather doubt. It’s not exactly breaking news that Karl Marx was a revolutionary who sided with the oppressed and put class struggle at the centre of his works.
Holloway’s method, and his reasoning, are highly questionable, however. He criticizes certain other ways of reading Capital with the comment that they “are so many procrustean beds, but procrustean beds that are inherently faulty.” Well, hello, John, time to look in the mirror! An essay that bases its interpretation of Capital on the very first sentence, as if that sentence, and that sentence alone, was the key to the whole work, could certainly be described as a Procrustean bed.
Holloway sets out to show – in an exercise that could only interest a handful of academics – that the common belief that Capital starts off with a discussion of commodities is false, and that in fact “Marx does not start with the commodity.”
One might beg to differ. I suspect Marx would have begged to differ. The title of the first chapter of Capital is “Commodities.” The subhead leading off Section 1 is “The Two Factors of a Commodity: Use-Value and Value (The Substance of Value and the Magnitude of Value).” The first paragraph reads: “The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as ‘an immense accumulation of commodities,’ its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity.”
Marx doesn’t begin with the commodity? Really?
But the more important point is that Capital, and Marxist theory generally, can’t be interpreted on the basis of what he put in the first sentence of the book. As Marx said, “Whatever shortcomings they may have, the merit of my writings is that they are an artistic whole.” It’s worth remembering that in one of his letters, Marx suggested that, rather than start at the beginning of Capital, a reader could start off with Chapter 10, on the Working Day, and then move on to Chapter 13, on Co-operation, and then to Chapter 14, Division of Labour and Machinery, and then on to Chapter 26, Primitive Accumulation. Karl Korsch, in his Introduction to Capital (which appears in the front of the German-language edition on my shelf here) suggests the reader start with Chapter 7, then skim chapters 8 and 9, and then read Chapter 10.
It is a peculiarly academic approach (and I don’t mean that in a good way) to think that you need to start with the first sentence and subject it to rigorous analysis, and then write an essay based on that sentence alone, before you can move on to the second sentence.
As Marshall Berman said, “What makes Capital so exciting is that, more than anything else Marx wrote, it brings to life his vision of modern life as a totality. This vision is spread out on an immense canvas: more than a thousand pages in the first volume alone; hundreds of characters – shopkeepers and sharecroppers, miners and millowners, poets and publicists, doctors and divines, philosophers and politicians, the world-famous and the anonymous – speaking in their own voices. The amazing multiplicity of real voices that Marx brings forth, and the skill with which he propels and deploys them, carry us back to the glorious days of the nineteenth-century novel.”
If one wants, as John Holloway says, to “analyse the text and ask what it offers to the contemporary struggle against capitalism,” that analysis needs to be based on the “artistic whole” that Marx set out to create.
P.S. When I read John Holloway’s oh-so-serious textual analysis of the first sentence in Capital, I knew that it reminded me of something, some skit from way back, but I couldn’t call it to mind. After I posted the above comment in Facebook, it came to me: of course, it’s the Monty Python Novel Writing skit! Just replace “Thomas Hardy” with “Karl Marx” and there you go:
Announcer: (we hear the sound of a crowd in the background) “Hello and welcome to Dorchester where a very good crowd has turned out to watch local boy Thomas Hardy write his new novel ‘The Return of the Native’ on this very pleasant July morning. This will be his eleventh novel and the fifth of the very popular Wessex novels. And here he comes! Here comes Hardy walking out toward his desk, he looks confident, he looks relaxed very much the man in form as he acknowledges this very good natured Bank Holiday crowd.
And the crowd goes quiet now as Hardy settles himself down at the desk, body straight shoulders relaxed, pen held lightly but firmly in the right hand, he dips the pen in the ink (the announcer becomes excited) and he’s off, it’s the first word, but it is not a word... oh no it’s a doodle way up on top of the left hand margin. It is a piece of meaningless scribble, and he’s signed his name underneath it. Oh dear what a disappointing start, but he is off again and here he goes the first word of Thomas Hardy's new novel, at 10:35 on this very lovely morning, it’s three letters it’s the definite article and it’s THE, Dennis.
Dennis: Well this is true to form, no surprises there. He started five of his eleven novels to date with a definite article. We’ve had two of them with ‘IT’, there has been one ‘BUT’, two ‘AT’s, one ‘ON’ and a Delores. Oh that of course was never published...
Second Announcer: I am sorry to interrupt you there Dennis, but he's crossed it out. Thomas Hardy here on the first day of his new novel has crossed out the only word he has written so far and he is gazing off into space. Ohh! Oh dear...”
See: Monty Python: Novel Writing
When: Wednesday afternoon, September 16
Where: Outside the Bloor Hotdocs Cinema, Bloor Street near Bathurst, Toronto
What: Screening of This Changes Everything, directed by Avi Lewis and narrated by Naomi Klein. The film is being shown as part of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Lewis and Klein will be on hand after the screening to answer questions from the audience about the film’s anti-corporate message and the need for fundamental system change. Some of the most dramatic moments in the film concern oil spills, and the devastation caused by the tar sands.
The Scene: people lined up along Bloor Street, waiting for the doors to open.
Action: Two friends, who will be attending the film, start handing out flyers about Line 9, the aging leak-prone pipeline which Enbridge wants to reverse so they can ship corrosive tar sands crud eastward, crossing communities, farmland, and dozens of rivers.
They’ve barely started when one of the TIFF staff appears and tells them they can't hand out flyers. “Why not?” they reply, pointing out that the sidewalk is public space.
The TIFF functionary replies that the people in the line have bought tickets to the film, and therefore you aren’t allowed to hand out anything to them. The logic is unclear: They’ve bought tickets, so TIFF owns them? They’ve bought tickets, so they’ve given up their democratic right to accept a flyer if they want to? They’ve bought tickets, so TIFF now owns the sidewalk they happen to be standing on? It’s hard to figure out.
My guess would be that TIFF sees everything in terms of what their website touts as “Promotional Rights.” They promise prospective corporate sponsors that “With the support of the TIFF brand, execute consumer or trade promotions in the marketplace that create brand excitement and drive your marketing objectives.” In other words, free speech belongs exclusively to corporations with lots of money to achieve their “marketing objectives.”
In any case, my friends quickly set up a division of labour. One of them argues with the TIFF bureaucrat; meanwhile the other hands out the flyers. Naturally, hearing that they aren’t supposed to be given these flyers, the people in the line are all the more interested in taking one.
When the doors open, my friends go in – they’ve bought tickets too, of course. After the film, in the question period, one of them mentions to Lewis and Klein that they were handing out flyers outside about Line 9. Wonderful, Lewis and Klein reply. My friend says that TIFF staff tried to stop them, but that they’ll be handing out more of them outside afterwards. They do, and even more people are eager to receive the forbidden flyers.
1) Telling people they aren’t allowed to hand out or accept literature in public space is a great way to get people to take the flyers. Being banned by TIFF is an excellent way for activists to “create brand excitement and drive your marketing objectives.” Thanks for that, TIFF!
2) TIFF, though technically a non-profit, has become a corporate behemoth, saturated from top to bottom with corporate priorities. They’ve become a marketing machine for the film industry, beholden to its sponsors, its judgements skewed by the mentality they’ve adopted. Who can remember the original Festival of Festivals, with its emphasis on showing good films, rather than on marketing, back in the good old days when Hollywood refused to have anything to do with a film festival in Toronto?
Labels: Film Festivals
There has been some discussion about an article by Arturo Castillon on “The Problem With College Educated Revolutionaries.” (He uses the term “revolutionaries” to describe the people he’s talking about, though maybe a word like “activists” would be more fitting.) Castillon says of them (he’s talking mostly about the United States) that “Their experiences in college have profoundly shaped their politics in a variety of ways and these revolutionaries have never broken from these experiences. Worst of all, these college-educated revolutionaries unknowingly impose their particular experiences on the revolutionary movement, and particularly, on working class people. They have played a crucial role in unknowingly preventing any working class leadership from developing.”
Tom Wetzel initiated a discussion about the article with the comment ”I share this piece’s pessimism about the 'college educated left'. As it says, this leads to lack of ability to explain things coherently or relate to working class people, reliance on academic jargon.... This reminds me of those occasions when, during Occupy, I would open my mouth to say something about class or the working class, and another person (a college student type) would immediately say ‘class reductionist’. As if any talk of the working class is ‘class reductionist’. So, as this piece says, there is this view that is profoundly pessimistic about the working class.”
Matthew May said that in his view Castillon’s article is “Overly broad and generalizing in unhelpful ways. Also, not clear what sort of logic of causality is at work here. Are we college educated radicals to blame for the lack of “organic intellectuals”? How about those of us with organizing experience and working class backgrounds? How about the institutional constraints to professional development that make certain rhetorical choices imperative for continued employment? Etc.”
I agree with your comments about class, Tom.
I'm puzzled by Matthew May’s comment. He points out that there are “institutional constraints to professional development that make certain rhetorical choices imperative for continued employment” in academia, and seems to be suggesting that therefore people in academic institutions shouldn’t be blamed for what they say and do. I think the important thing in political analysis is to understand, rather than to moralize and lay blame. But, still, I do think people can be held accountable for what they say, write, and do. The fact that they are paid to do so doesn’t make the issue go away. It just helps to explain it.
But the broader issue is the role of universities in general. The primary ideological function of universities is to mould those in them to internalize and propagate the key elements of the ruling ideology. They perform this function very well.
I recall Noam Chomsky pointing out, during the Vietnam War, that opposition to the war was directly co-related with educational level. The highest degree of opposition was among those who had never attended university. The greatest level of support for the war was among those who had a post-graduate education. As Chomsky said, they had undergone the longest period of brainwashing.
One of the key requirements of ideological shaping is that those who are shaped should be unaware that they have been shaped. We see this reflected in the oh-so-common posturing of so-called ‘contrarian’ thinkers, who like to think of themselves as rebels outside of the mainstream even as they echo the most predictable cliches.
Today, in the neo-liberal phase of capitalism, neo-liberal ideology is dominant in the universities. Neo-liberalism denies the idea of class, denies that there are any alternatives to capitalism, and rejects so-called ‘grand theories’ which view capitalism as a historical period with a beginning and an eventual end. I think it is no accident that the rise of Thatcherism in the early 1980s, i.e. neoliberal ideology, was accompanied by the rise of a neo-liberal left in the universities, a milieu which gripes about society but refuses to engage with political economy, revels in identity issues but disdains class analysis, and which is totally uninterested in the idea of revolution or political strategy.
Tom Wetzel replied: “i think your point about the role of universities is well taken. The main role is to prepare people to fill the slots in the bureaucratic control class – high end professionals & managers – and (especially for the lesser universities such as state colleges) certain skilled occupations that don’t really have direct control over the working class but may help to control it in certain ways (teachers, social workers). But teachers & social workers share a similar structural position with the core working class & have their own reasons for trying to develop solidarity with the people they serve. It’s more the bureaucratic control class that are a part of the power of the dominating classes. So ideologies and assumptions in the university world will tend to be consistent with maintaining that control over the working class. “Radical” views that disparage the working class or ignore class help to play that role.”
Matthew May replied: “Ulli, I agree with your broader point. The main idea with that particular question was simply to suggest that all things that we (academics in the humanities who care about these type of things) write are not necessarily to advance the strategic theoretical grounds of an anticapitalist project. We are often enough judged and often enough dismissed by the amount of citations we get in top trade journals in our field. A lot of that work has to take place before (and often during) other more important political work. I get a bit tired of critiques of academics because, while some criticisms are indeed valid, some of us take very large risks to make very small steps forward in the way of opening doors to anticap politics both at an interpersonal level in our interactions with students, fellow workers, and administrations, as well as in our writing. A case in point is the review of my book on the Wobs in the Anarcho-Syndicalist Review vs. the review in the Industrial Worker. It seems to me like the latter is in the spirit of building solidarity in new and imaginative ways while the former is simply casual dismissal. So, I suppose perhaps my own personal thing is getting mixed into my irritations.”
Other Voices marks Labour Day with two articles examining the relentless pressure put on workers to work ever longer hours, at the cost of their health and family life. Another article reviews the equally relentless assault by Canada’s Harper government on labour unions and on the rights of working people. Rounding out the labour focus is an article on workplace organizing; films from the Labor Films Database; the website of the week, The International Institute of Social History, and the Topic of the Week – Labour History.
There are also articles on the role of global warming in driving refugees from their homes, Zapatista popular education, and John Pilger on the Greek crisis.
See the September 10 issue of Other Voices here.
It’s a pity that the Conservative candidate caught peeing into a customer’s coffee cup has resigned. He’d make a perfect Environment Minister in the Harper government. What he did in one kitchen is pretty much exactly what the Conservatives have allowed corporations to do to lakes and rivers across the country.
With the Canadian federal election under way, Other Voices leads off with an article from The Tyee detailing the abuses of power and democratic principles the Harper government has been guilty of since it took office.
There are two articles on the capitulation of the Syriza government in Greece to the international financial institutions, and what it means to the Greek people, who are now being hit with vicious ‘austerity’ measures so that the banks can be bailed out. One article looks at alternative strategies for the left, now that Syriza and similar European parties like Podemos have admitted their inability to bring about positive change. A second article looks at the example of Argentina, faced with a similar crisis a little more than a decade ago, and the alternatives, like barter networks, that have emerged there.
The topic of the week is Mining and the Environment. The book, film, and website of the week are all related to this topic, and so is one of the spotlighted articles, which explains the $300-million lawsuit a Canadian-Australian has brought against El Salvador because that country refuses to allow the company to open a mine that would risk massive damage to water supplies.
Also in this issue: an article on why Al Jazeera is no longer using the word ‘migrants’ to describe the desperate refugees who try to enter southern Europe, an ongoing struggle against a planned naval base in South Korea, and oral histories of individuals who participated in India’s struggle for independence from British colonial rule.
See the August 21 issue of Other Voices here.
The spotlight in this issue of Other Voices is on the debt crisis facing Greece. To understand the crisis, one has to look beyond the mainstream media to alternative sources of information. We’ve done that, with articles that set out to analyze the nature of the debt burden that has been imposed on the citizens of so many countries, not just Greece.
As several of the featured authors point out, many of these debts fit the definition of “odious debts”, that is, debts that were arranged between corrupt lenders (banks) and corrupt borrowers (rich oligarchs), without the knowledge of the people in whose names the debts were incurred. The ordinary citizens of Greece (and other countries) never saw the money loaned to ‘Greece’ and derived no benefit from it. Yet they are expected to suffer the elimination of their jobs, wages, pensions, health and social services, etc., in order to repay the money looted by the oligarchs. Paul Craig Roberts and Tariq Ali point out that this kind of debt is a tool used to crush hopes and movements for change. An article from Solidarity argues that the only solution for Greece is to repudiate the debt and leave the Eurozone.
Other Voices also commemorates birthday of the American revolutionary Grace Lee Boggs, who turned 100 on June 27. Her early accomplishments include translating Karl Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 into English for the first time. In the 1950s, she, along with C.L.R. James and Cornelius Castoriadis, co-authored Facing Reality, a key work that laid the groundwork for new radical Marxist movements which rejected the concept of the Leninist vanguard party. Later, she devoted herself to the civil rights and black power movements. Her activism led the FBI to label her one of the most dangerous black radicals in the U.S.A. – an unusual distinction for someone whose parents were both Chinese-Americans. Still later, she devoted herself to community organizing in Detroit, where she still lives, always insisting that while organizing should be locally based, the ultimate goal of organizing has to be revolution.
See the July 3 issue of Other Voices here.
Nick Fillmore wrote a short piece recently explaining neo-liberalism to people who are unfamiliar with the term. He sketches the basic ideology, the introduction of neo-liberal reforms under Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and the increasing power of institutions like the IMF, World Bank, and U.S. Treasury, accompanied by the rise of so-called trade agreements and increasing inequality. I wrote a quick note commenting on his overview:
Thanks for this post, Nick. There are three things I would add:
1) The economic system you describe is Capitalism. From Day One, capitalism has always been based on exploitation of working people, private appropriation of common resources, and all the other things you describe.
2) The key to understanding neo-liberalism, in my opinion, is power, not ideology. Capitalists have always sought to get everything they possibly can, while resisting any controls on capital and its activities. They have been constrained, historically, to the extent that working people have been able to fight back and impose some controls on capital and some rights for working people. The current neo-liberal stage of capitalism is defined by capital’s success in increasing its power, and the corresponding loss of power by working people to assert their interests.
3) Neo-liberalism is actually a form of state capitalism, marked by ever-increasing government intervention and state spending. The fairy tales about “free markets,” “liberalization,” “down-sizing government,” and so on, are just that, fairy tales. Under neo-liberal regimes, beginning with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, state spending has increased significantly. It’s true that social spending, on health care, welfare, environmental protection and so on, has been slashed, but spending on the military and wars, “national security,” police, corporate subsidies, and corporate bailouts, have grown and grown.
Testifying at a Parliamentary hearing into the Conservative government’s proposed new “anti-terror“ legislation, which will give the government sweeping new powers to spy on the population and designate political opposition as a danger to national security, Canada’s “Public Safety” Minister Steven Blaney said that freedom of speech in Germany led to the Holocaust. My comment:
Who knew? The Nazi Holocaust, according to Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, could have been prevented if only Germany hadn’t suffered from an excess of freedom of speech.
So much for the established historical view, according to which Germany was set on the road to totalitarian horror by a right-wing government which passed a series of emergency laws that abolished freedom of speech, outlawed all opposition, jailed critics, and set up a secret police apparatus to spy on the entire population, all in the name of “public safety.”
Clearly we should all embrace the government’s new “anti-terror” legislation. With people like Steven Blaney, Peter MacKay, and Stephen Harper deciding how much freedom we are allowed to have, what could possibly go wrong?
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
Change requires organizing. Power gives way only when it is challenged by a movement for change, and movements grow out of organizing. Organizing is qualitatively different from simple 'activism'. Organizing means sustained long-term conscious effort to bring people together to work for common goals. Click here for a selection of articles, books, and other resources related to organizing compiled by Ulli Diemer for Connexions.
Labels: organizing, community organizing, labour organizing, workplace organizing, alternative media, boycotts, mass action, media relations, propaganda, protest, resistance, revolutionary politics, solidarity, strikes, tactics, and manuals and handbooks.
A selective guide to (mostly) English-language alternative media, compiled by Ulli Diemer.
The mainstream media – the corporate and state-owned media – are anything but reliable. Their reporting may well contain accurate information, but even when (some of) their facts are correct, the overall framing and context are shaped by their ideological function of supporting the capitalist system of which they are an integral part.
Fortunately there are many websites – and print publications – providing alternative points of view. Of course, all media, mainstream or alternative, right or left, must be read critically. Alternative media are quite capable of getting things wrong or publishing nonsense. They also often disagree with each other. This can be helpful. Hearing about different approaches, and thinking about the reasons behind them, helps us understand things better.
This annotated media list is meant to be aa guide to alternative (and a few mainstream) English-language news sources. It’s a fairly long list, and like anything else, it’s a reflection of individual biases, in this case, mine. I hope it helps you to find websites and media that you’ll find useful in finding out and understanding what’s happening in the world. See the list here.
In times of disaster, the capitalist state shows its true face.
In the Philippines, in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, thousands are dead, bodies lie uncollected in the streets, tens of thousands of homes and buildings have been destroyed, and survivors are without food, water, shelter, medical care, or essential supplies.
Meanwhile the police and the military are guarding stores “to prevent people from hauling off food, water” and other supplies (CBC report)
Stop. Let it sink in. Not only is the state failing to provide water and food, it is sending in its armed forces to prevent people from getting water and food.
A CBC report says that “an Associated Press reporter in the town said he saw around 400 special forces and soldiers patrolling downtown to guard against further chaos.”
“To guard against further chaos”. Chaos, from the perspective of the capitalist state, is people helping themselves to goods from stores in order to survive. Desperate survivors wandering among dead bodies in the street: that is not chaos. An government incapable of responding to a disaster: that is not chaos.
Rebecca Solnit has written about this in her marvellous book A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster.
Writing about Hurricane Katrina, she says “the media focus was for a while on the retail outlets on dry ground reportedly being plundered. The hysteria about looting became so intense that two and a half days after the storm, on August 31 Nagin and Governor Kathleen Blanco called emergency responders – police and National Guard mostly – off search and rescue to focus on combating looting. They had chosen protecting property over saving lives. Put that way, the decision sounds bizarre, but the term looting itself is maddening to some minds, creating images of chaos, danger, and boundless savagery. What difference would it make if we were blasé about property and passionate about human life?”
“Looting is an inflammatory, inexact word that might be best excised from the English language. It pools together two very different activities. One might be called theft; the other requisitioning, the gathering of necessary goods in an emergency – think of the Salvation Army volunteers and affluent professionals breaking into drugstores in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake to get medical supplies for the injured. Such circumstances, a choice of survival and aid over the rules of everyday life.”
“Survival required requisitioning. As the short-term emergency of the hurricane turned into a long week during which people were trapped in New Orleans, food, water, diapers, medicine, and more ran out and were replenished from stores. Left-wing media people forwarding e-mail images, and eventually Soledad O'Brien on CNN pointed out that news photographs of African Americans gathering necessities were titled looting, while whites doing the same thing “gathering supplies”. Opportunistic theft and burglary are, historically, rare in American disasters, rare enough that many disaster scholars consider it one of the “myths” of disaster. Some such opportunism happened in Katrina. The first thing worth saying about such theft is who cares if electronics are moving around without benefit of purchase when children's corpses are floating in filthy water and stranded grandmothers are dying of heat and dehydration?”
Marx breathes dialectics and revolution. For Marx, radicalism means going to the root, and Marx’s radicalism seeks to go to the root of capitalism, to comprehend its essence dialectically, to understand its inherent contradictions – and the seeds of revolution it contains.
The social reality he sees is not fixed and static, but charged with inner tensions and contradictions, which build up until they burst through the constraints of the present order to assume new forms, again with their own tensions, containing the seeds of yet further transformations. In capitalist society, he writes, “All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.”
Marx comes to socialism, unlike his predecessors, not by drawing up blueprints for imaginary utopias, but through his involvement in the real struggle for democracy.
Here is the heart of his politics: there can be no democracy without socialism, and no socialism without democracy.
He starts to study economics, not because of theoretical preconceptions, but because, as a radical journalist, he is trying to better understand the oppression of the poor peasants whose struggles he is striving to bring to public attention.
Marx never constructs a finished system: on the contrary, he struggles to finish anything he writes because there is always more to learn, always further complexities to study and analyze. He hopes to finish the manuscript that becomes “Capital” in a few months; twenty-four years later, it remains only partially completed, and his friend Friedrich Engels has to complete it after his death.
Marx is always deepening his analysis in response to events: from local struggles of weavers and the rural poor in Germany, to the resistance to British imperialism in India, to the struggle against slavery in the United States, to the Paris Commune, to the long campaign to win the eight-hour day.
He continuously adjusts his theories to the facts, not the facts to his theory. Exasperated by pedantic admirers who proclaim a “Marxist” orthodoxy, he growls “If anything is certain, it is that I myself am not a Marxist.”
His investigations bring him to an understanding of the class nature of society: how economic relations, relations of production, shape a society, including its state forms and ideology. He sees, too, that class struggle is inevitable, and that, further, it is the force that can transform societies.
Marx’s analysis shows that the contradictions of capitalism cannot be resolved: capitalism is a system of continuous crisis, capable of destroying the planet on which it feeds in its endless need to extract more profit, more surplus value, and accumulate more capital. Marx is clear about the danger capitalism poses to the earth: he writes angrily about the destruction it wreaks, and reminds us that we are “not the owners of the globe,” that, on the contrary, we have a duty to “hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition.”
At the same time, Marx understands clearly that, for all of its contradictions, capitalism will not fall on its own: it needs to be overthrown. He is a revolutionary, not an economic determinist.
Marx believes that there exists a social majority – the working classes, the people who do the work of the society – who are capable of overthrowing capitalism and the capitalist state, and who in doing so can liberate themselves, and all of society. He believes that revolutionaries should engage themselves in the struggles that confront them where they live, but he is clear that finally a revolution that overthrows capitalism, a global system, must be an international revolution.
Marx is clear in his views, but practical in his politics. He throws himself into the work of the First International, which at the beginning is not even explicitly socialist, because he believes it is important to work with others who are engaged in struggle. He never tries to form a political party, and while he usually describes himself as a “communist”, he also at times calls himself a “socialist” or an “anarchist”, without troubling himself much about the terminology.
Running through everything he does is a profound and passionate belief in self-emancipation. He has no time for would-be dictators and saviours who want to bring ‘liberation’ from the outside. Liberation, for Marx, can only be self-liberation: the collective act of individuals working together to emancipate themselves. “Free association” is his watchword, both for the struggle and for the society that we hope to bring into being.
He knows that he won’t live to see that future communist society whose watchword will be “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” but he devotes his entire life to bringing it about.
Grassroots Archives and the Battle of Memory
CONNEXIONS and Beit Zatoun are spotlighting grassroots archives this November with an open house and networking event November 24, a talk and discussion November 27, and an exhibit (November 16-27).
Grassroots archives play a valuable role in what has been called “the battle of memory”. Mainstream media and institutions of power consign inconvenient histories, struggles, and alternative visions to what George Orwell called “the memory hole.”
People’s history projects such as grassroots archives preserve and share stories of resistance, hidden histories, and alternative visions. Their role is particularly important as official archives are forced to restrict acquisitions, limit access and discard materials as funding is slashed.
Join us at Beit Zatoun in looking at the future of grassroots archive projects.
Exhibition: Memories of Resistance A display of social justice materials from the Connexions Archive. November 16 - 27
Is that an archive in your basement... or are you just hoarding? An open house and networking event for amateur archivists, keepers of the radical past, and friends and supporters of independent libraries, grassroots archives, and people’s history. Bring your stories, ideas, and examples of grassroots and radical history. Saturday November 24, 2:00 - 5:00 pm
Preservation as subversion: Do grassroots archives have a future? The Connexions Archive is looking for a secure and permanent home for its collection and the team of volunteers who work on cataloguing and digitizing. It isn’t alone. Other grassroots projects and “basement archives” face similar problems in preserving and sharing the history of activist groups and movements. They all believe that a knowledge of the past can be inspiring and subversive.
How can we preserve the history of our movements? Where can we preserve them? Can we work together to digitize and share: ‘Archive locally, share globally’? Join us at Beit Zatoun for a talk and discussion with Ulli Diemer of Connexions.
Admission free but contributions welcomed. Tuesday November 27, 7:00 pm
Beit Zatoun, 612 Markham Street, Toronto.M6G 2L8 Bathurst subway stop on the Bloor line (exit Markham Street)
Connexions: 416-964-5735 Beit Zatoun: 647-726-9500
Is that an archive in your basement... or are you just hoarding?
Securing a future for the past
Connexions Oral History and Memoirs Focus page
Connexions Radical and Left History and Memoirs Focus page
It was one of those boxes that sits unopened for years. The treasures it contained seemed important enough – at the time they went into the box – to keep them safely stowed until the day they would be needed again, and retrieved from the box. Finally, on a recent winter’s day – after many winters had passed – I got around to looking inside at the all-but-forgotten contents.
There, among various strange and wondrous things, were my math books from high school and first-year university. In those days, I had entertained the notion that I might go on to become a mathematician. I didn’t, and it’s safe to say that the field of mathematics has not suffered as a result. Nor have I. It turned out we weren’t meant for each other.
So there I was, sitting on the floor, holding those old math books covered with my notes, calculations, and doodles. As I looked through them I was – what? Surprised? Bemused? Disconcerted?
I couldn’t understand any of it. None of it made sense to me any more. Here were algebraic problems to solve. I had solved them once, easily. Now I couldn’t even figure out how I would start.
No big deal, of course. What you don’t use, you tend to forget. When you haven’t looked at something in years, it’s not going to be as fresh in your mind as it was when you were immersed in it. I wondered, though, as I leafed through those old textbooks: could I understand math again if I put my mind to it? I didn’t spend much time wondering about it, though, because I quickly realized that there is no way I could ever motivate myself to study math again, even if I had the time. There was a time when mathematics interested and excited me, but that spark is well and truly gone.
Then I started thinking about chess, another one of my passions in the days when math was exciting. For about ten years, through to the end of high school, I was an avid chess player. I belonged to a couple of chess clubs, read chess books, played in tournaments. In my first term at university, I skipped so many calculus classes to play chess that I failed calculus. In retrospect, that wasn’t a bad thing: it made it clear to me that I wasn’t meant to continue in math. I took a history course to make up the lost credit, and the rest is, well, history.
But I also stopped playing chess. I wasn’t enjoying it any more....
Read the rest of the article here.
Medicare is in many ways a Canadian success story. It’s far from perfect: barriers and inequities certainly exist. Poor people, Native people, temporary foreign workers, undocumented immigrants, are among those who face those barriers. Certain kinds of health care are not covered by the system or are severely rationed: dental care, pharmaceuticals, physiotherapy, mental health.
But most Canadians can now take it for granted they will receive high-quality health care when they need it, without financial barriers. In a country where we compare everything we do with what happens south of the border, we are surprised but pleased to find we have fashioned a health care program which delivers better care, with better results, to a much higher proportion of the population, at a much lower cost, than in the United States.
Most of the media, however, present a very different story. The air is thick with prophecies of doom and prescriptions for drastic surgery. Canada’s health care system is supposedly in crisis – gravely ill at best, perhaps even on its death-bed. The complaints rarely deal with the inequities and barriers that need to be overcome – on the contrary, there are constant calls for a two-tier system that would create vastly greater inequities.
There isn’t much mystery about the agenda that drives the media’s attack on medicare. It’s the same fundamentalist-capitalist dogma that dominates most political discourse. That dogma holds that everything in all areas of human existence should be owned and controlled by private corporations whose purpose is to maximize profits. Everything is a commodity to be bought and sold in the private marketplace. Any service that is provided on the basis of human need rather than profit is an outrage that cannot be allowed to stand.
However, since medicare is an extremely popular social program, the media and right-wing politicians have learned that it is unwise to attack it directly. Instead, they propagate myths designed to undermine public support for, and confidence in, the health care system, with the goal of gradually undermining and dismantling it. What follows is a brief guide to some common health care myths.
Read the rest of the article here.
The National Post – a newspaper which fills its pages, not with news, but with the peevish grumblings of right-wing cranks – never tires of attacking that evil socialistic plot called medicare. A recent whiny piece by columnist Jonathan Kay exemplifies the “horrors-of-socialized-medicine” genre.
This particular horror story – Kay calls it his “run-in with the system” – begins when he shows up at his local hospital’s emergency room with an infected knee. The trouble is with his left knee, he tells us – reinforcing his belief, no doubt, that anything on the left is unreliable and troublesome. The inefficient socialistic health care system sends him off for treatment within ten minutes – not too shabby, most of us might say – but it takes a lot more than efficiency and high-quality appropriate care to please a National Post columnist. Soon he is lying in a public hospital bed, intravenous clindamycin trickling through his veins, and thoughts about how much nicer a private hospital bed would be flooding through his brain.
Mr. Kay returns to the hospital the next day for a follow-up treatment, and this time – the horror! – he has to sit and wait before he’s seen. In fact, he tells us, “all but the most acute cases” have to sit and wait their turn. There is – hard to believe, but it’s true – no special queue for the affluent and the privileged, not even if they are National Post columnists. So Mr. Kay sits and seethes.
Read the rest of the article here.
Labels: Bureaucracy - Canada Health Act - Canadian Health Care Myths - Health Care Access - Health Care Costs - Health Care Costs/Comparative Systems - Health Care Funding - Health Care in Canada - Health Care in the United States - Health Care Privatization - Health & Class - Health Determinants - Health Insurance - Health Sources - Insurance/Health Services - Medical Insurance - Medicare - Private Clinics - Privatization - Public Sector - Single Payer System - Socialized Medicine - Universality - User Fees
I’m waiting for a slice of pizza at La Festa, the pizza place across the street from my office, chatting with the owner. She’s originally from Eritrea, now settled in Canada. There’s a TV up on the wall behind the counter, currently showing scenes from Eritrea. As one can see, it’s sunny and hot in Eritrea. It’s bitterly cold outside here in Toronto, and the sun is nowhere to be seen.
She sighs. “Ah, I miss Eritrea.” A long pause. “But I don’t miss the dictatorship.”
The Ontario government appointed a high-profile banker, Don Drummond, to come up with recommendations about how the government should deal with difficult economic times. The results were predictable....
The Drummond report is a typical instance of how to make sure you get the wrong answers by asking the wrong questions and appointing the wrong person to answer them.
Step 1: The government rigs the game by stipulating that taxing corporations and the rich must not even be discussed.
Step 2: It appoints a wealthy banker who has no knowledge of what life is like for ordinary people to write a report impacting the lives of millions of people.
Presto! You get the predictable result: a report that proposes across-the-board cuts to services for working people and the poor, while the wealthy are left free to keep getting wealthier.
I needed to come up with a concise version of my politics for my Facebook profile. An interesting challenge: here’s what I came up with.
I am a libertarian socialist. My goal is the end of capitalism and its replacement by socialism, ‘an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.’
Socialism is fundamentally about expanding the realm of freedom to the greatest possible extent. It requires ridding the world of capitalism, which crushes human lives and potential while increasingly threatening the planet. The malignant heart of capitalism is capital, so ending capitalism means eradicating capital.
Social reforms, no matter how valuable and worth pursuing, cannot in themselves defeat capitalism. That requires a revolution: the overthrow of the rule of capital and the state forms through which it rules. Revolution can take many forms, but a socialist revolution inescapably means ripping off the straitjacket of capital’s political and legal structures.
Capitalism’s contradictions are pushing us down the road to destruction. We have to end it before it destroys us.
Labels: Alternatives, Anti-Capitalism, Capital, Democracy, Eco-socialism, Free Association, Freedom, Libertarian Socialism, Marxism, Participatory Democracy, Radicalism, Revolution, Revolutionary Politics, Self-Emancipation, Socialism, Socialist Revolution.
The topic of ‘grand narratives’ came up in my Facebook circles yesterday. Doug Henwood posted an article, by Bhaskar Sunkara in Dissent, in which Sunkara criticizes the spread in some of the anti-globalization movements of “an anti-intellectualism that manifested itself in a rejection of ‘grand narratives’ and structural critiques of capitalism.” As an example, he cites Naomi Klein’s comment that she has little use for “grand projects of human freedom.”
There were comments pro and con. Here’s my reaction:
Those who reject ‘grand narratives’ (Naomi Klein for example) have simply bought into the hoariest grand narrative of all, the one which says that capitalism is all-powerful and eternal. The energy of the anti-globalization movements is great – it opens up the possibility that they may evolve to become anti-capitalist movements in the fullest sense of the word. But as long as their perspective is limited to making capitalism nicer and fairer, they are ultimately going to be about living with capital, rather than overthrowing it.
Let’s be clear: when people say they reject ‘grand narratives’ they aren’t referring to cultural theorists like Northrop Frye (The Great Code) or Robert Graves (“there is one story and one story only that will prove worth your telling”). They’re talking about the Marxist tradition.
It seems to me that the pejorative term ‘grand narrative’ is similar in function and intent to the term ‘political correctness’. It’s a glib way of saying “Don’t give me none of that Marxist shit.”
Typically, it’s code for rejecting a coherent historical analysis of capitalism, for rejecting a Marxist analysis of capital and the inherent contradictions of capital accumulation. All-too-often, it signals an unwillingness to seriously consider how capital and the capitalist state can be brought down. Which tends to lead to wishful thinking like ‘changing the world without taking power’.
Me, I prefer Marxism.
For more than 60 years, Israel has engaged in a unceasing campaign to dispossess Palestinians of their land and their rights. Its ability to do this has depended on three factors in particular:
* overwhelming military superiority;
* keeping public opinion, especially in North America and Europe, on its side;
* making ordinary working-class Israeli Jews believe that it is in their interest to support Israel’s Zionist elite rather than making common cause with ordinary Palestinians.
Israel’s military dominance is unchallenged, thanks to unconditional support and limitless supplies of advanced military technology and equipment provided by the United States and its allies (including Canada). However, military dominance has not been able to achieve Israel’s ultimate goal: forcing Palestinians to stop resisting and to acquiesce in their dispossession and oppression. Israel’s relentless onslaught has been met by equally determined Palestinian resistance which, despite the odds, steadfastly refuses to accept the injustice of occupation.
This Palestinian resistance has called into being an ever-growing international network of support and solidarity. In dozens of countries and hundreds of communities around the world, organizations and movements have emerged to demand that Israel be made to adhere to international law and to basic principles of justice.
Israel and its supporters see these international campaigns as a huge threat. Israel has escaped the sanctions that have been applied to other states which commit human rights abuses and violate international law only because the United States automatically vetoes all attempts to hold Israel accountable. Israel is also crucially dependent on huge annual inflows of foreign aid, to the point where it is conceivable that the state would collapse if the flows of outside cash which prop it up were to be withdrawn.
Anything that undermines public support in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, therefore, threatens the external backing on which the Israeli state depends for its very existence. It is true that the governments which turn a blind eye to Israel’s violations of international law mostly ignore popular opinion in their own countries as well, but this could change if support for Israel were to become a serious political liability. In this regard, what is particularly worrisome from Israel’s point of view is the fact that support for Israel among Jews in the United States and Canada, especially among younger Jews, has declined dramatically. If Jews stop supporting Israel, then all foreign support is in jeopardy.
Threats to Israel’s international legitimacy bring with them an even greater internal danger: the danger that Israeli Jews will themselves start seeing the Zionist formula – in essence, a militarized apartheid state holding down the Palestinian population by force – as a dead end.
If working-class Israeli Jews were to see their interests as being different from those of the ruling elite – if they come round to the view that their long-term interests will be better served if they join Palestinians in working for a democratic secular state with equal rights for Palestinians and Jews – Israel’s ruling class would find itself in the same untenable position that the white elite in apartheid South Africa faced in the early 1990s. Already, Israel’s rulers are debating what to do about the ‘demographic threat’ they are facing: Israeli Jews are leaving the country in increasing numbers to move to other countries, while the Palestinian population continues to increase.
The Palestinian resistance, and the growing international support which it has attracted, have had a substantial effect in changing the way Israel is perceived. Increasingly, international public opinion is no longer willing to turn a blind eye to ethnic cleansing, house demolitions, systematic humiliations, imprisonment, torture, and the indiscriminate killing of civilians, children as well as adults.
Faced with the erosion of its credibility and support, the Israeli state has lashed out by using ever-increasing repression against the non-violent Palestinian resistance. One of the centres of this resistance is the village of Bil’in, which has been fighting the expansion of an illegal Israeli settlement on its land with weekly non-violent protests for more than five years now, protests which have turned Bil’in into an international symbol of non-violent resistance. The Israeli state has been using ever more extreme tactics of harassment and brutality to attempt to crush the village and put an end to the protests, which it correctly believes are causing substantial harm to Israel’s international image. Similar tactics of harassment and imprisonment are being used against other Palestinians who resist, as well as against Jewish Israelis and international solidarity activists who support the Palestinian cause.
At the same time as it attempts to crush internal resistance, the Israeli state, aided by its supporters in the United States and Canada, has launched extremely aggressive and well-financed propaganda campaigns abroad whose goal is to counteract the decline in support for Israel.
A telling characteristic of these campaigns is that they by and large do not focus on attempting to justify Israel’s behaviour. One has to assume that the architects of the propaganda efforts realize that it is no longer possible to explain war crimes and human rights abuses in a way that the international public will accept.
Instead, the focus has shifted to attempting to shut down criticism of Israel by targetting the most outspoken critics with crude smear tactics and outright censorship.
On a growing number of campuses, for example, this has involved harassment and firing of outspoken professors (e.g. Norman Finkelstein, Joel Kovel), as well as attempts to ban events such as ‘Israeli apartheid week’.
In Canada, we are now seeing an attempt to silence criticism of Israel by labelling all such criticism as ‘anti-Semitism’ and therefore as hate speech. This tactic has a triple purpose: to suppress public awareness of what Israel is doing; to discredit critics by smearing them as ‘anti-Semitic’, and to keep Jews onside by frightening them with the spectre of anti-Semitism.
In Canada, the Harper government, fanatically pro-Israel, is fully involved in this effort. It has cut funding to groups which have supported Palestinians in their quest for justice, and it has set up a Parliamentary body charged with coming up with the legal rationale for making it illegal to criticize Israel.
If the Harper government is successful in getting its way, statements such as the following, all of them expressions of generally accepted principles of human rights and international law, will henceforth be classified as anti-Semitic hate speech in Canada:
‘A state must be the state of all its citizens.’
Saying this will be classified as ‘anti-Semitic’ because it implies that the Israeli state has a duty to serve and represent all of its citizens equally, Palestinians as well as Jews.
‘Everyone born in a state, and everyone who has been a permanent resident for a specified and reasonable period of time, is entitled to citizenship.’
Saying this will be classified as ‘anti-Semitic’ because it would mean that Palestinians under the rule of the Israeli state have the right to be citizens of Israel.
‘All citizens of a state must be equal under the law, equally entitled to the rights, privileges and responsibilities of citizenship. A state may not favour, or discriminate against, citizens, on the grounds of religion, ethnicity, or race.’
Saying this will be classified as ‘anti-Semitic’ because it implies that Israel has to dismantle its discriminatory, apartheid-style system of laws.
‘Every state must accept its internationally recognized borders and must renounce all claims on territory outside of its borders.’
Saying this will be classified as ‘anti-Semitic’ because it would mean that Israel would have to stop seizing land beyond its borders.
‘All states must abide by international law, including the Geneva conventions, laws against collective punishment, laws against torture, etc.’
Saying this will be classified as ‘anti-Semitic’ because it implies that Israel has to stop engaging in ethnic cleansing, collective punishment, and other violations of international law.
‘Refugees have a right to return to the lands from which they were expelled by an invading army or occupying power.’
Saying this will be classified as ‘anti-Semitic’ because it means that the Palestinian refugees expelled from their homeland by Israel must be allowed to exercise their right of return as guaranteed by international law.
‘Sanctions should be applied to those who violate international law.’
Saying this will be classified as ‘anti-Semitic’ because it implies that Israel should face sanctions for engaging in collective punishment and ethnic cleansing, for practicing torture, for committing war crimes, for defying UN resolutions and World Court rulings, and for other illegal acts.
The attempt to outlaw criticism as Israel by labelling it as ‘anti-Semitism’ is a serious threat which needs to be exposed and challenged. At the same time, it should also be recognized as a tactic of desperation, a tactic that has become necessary because of the ever-growing opposition to the crimes of the Israeli state.
The resort to increasingly blatant open repression is a symptom of loss of control. In the past such tactics would not have been necessary because any criticism of Israel was confined to the outer fringes of public debate. Now it has become mainstream, and those who support an ethnically defined, apartheid-style Israeli state are feeling increasingly threatened. Those of us who support a democratic secular state should feel encouraged, even though the struggle is far from won.
December 27, 2009
Amira Hass: Danger: Popular struggle
Britain’s Jews in crisis over national loyalty, identity and Israel
Jonathan Cook: Israel Seeks Ways to Silence Human Rights Groups
Art Young: Pro-Israel Lobby Alarmed by Growth of Boycott, Divestment Movement
Free Speech and Acceptable Truths
Murray Dobbin: Criticizing Israel isn’t anti-semitism
Paul Craig Roberts: Criminalizing Criticism of Israel
Jewish Canadians Concerned About Suppression of Criticism of Israel
Israel/Palestine: Resources for peace, justice, and human rights
Neve Gordon: On Palestinian Civil Disobedience
Michael Warschawski: Free Abdallah Abu Rahmah, Now!
Ali Abunimah: Why Israel Won’t Survive
Henry Lowi: Why Israeli Anti-Zionists do NOT “recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.”
Ulli Diemer: The single state solution
Ulli Diemer: Small countries, big crimes
Michael Neumann: What is Anti-Semitism?
Last April Fool’s Day, I added my two cents’ worth to the ongoing debate about ‘Israeli apartheid’ by writing and distributing a statement purporting to come from an organization called ‘Alumni for Responsible Speech’.
As part of my work with Connexions (www.connexions.org) I maintain an online compilation of resources on Israel and Palestine, so I have become quite aware of the extent to which the tactics of the pro-Israel lobby are now aimed at shutting down criticism of Israel, rather than attempting to rebut it.
I have tended to see this as an indication that they know they are losing the debate. Faced with declining support for Israel’s behaviour even among Jews, and finding it increasingly difficult to come up with plausible arguments to defend Israel’s human rights abuses and violations of international law, they are resorting to straightforward attempts at intimidation and censorship – including the old stand-by of labelling any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic.
The ‘Alumni for Responsible Speech’ satire took particular aim at recent developments at several Canadian universities, where administrators and faculty who like to pose as valiant defenders of academic freedom and free speech were showing themselves to be proponents of prohibition and censorship when it comes to ideas which they – or the university’s funders – find unpalatable.
At the University of Toronto, for example, pro-Israel faculty took out a full-page ad in the National Post urging the university administration to ban ‘Israeli apartheid week’ events from the campus. The U of T administration tried to get the Toronto police to do their dirty work for them by soliciting a ruling on whether it is ‘hate speech’ to accuse Israel of practicing apartheid. This craven eagerness to abandon the university’s responsibility to defend freedom of expression backfired when the cops proved to be more liberal than the university’s bureaucrats, telling the university that they saw no problem.
At McMaster University, the administration tried to ban the very use of the term “Israeli apartheid” on campus. This led to vigorous protests, including one from the student union at York University (which was also hosting Israeli Apartheid Week events) calling for the ban to be rescinded “in accordance with a basic commitment to freedom of expression and organization in the democratic context of the public university.” They went on to state that “This strange and unprecedented ban is a blatant violation of democratic freedoms of speech and dissent, and an attack on students’ right to organize. It is the position of the YFS and GSA that universities are sites where discussions and debates about difficult geopolitical questions should be promoted, not stifled. International controversy about use of the phrase ‘Israeli Apartheid‘ cannot be resolved through repression, but through ongoing intellectual exchange.”
My Alumni for Responsible Speech “statement,” on the other hand, mischievously took the position that universities should “tolerate free speech” only “as long as it doesn’t upset anyone.” It called on university administrations to “protect students and faculty from being confused by exposure to incorrect or harmful ideas” and suggested a number of pro-active measures (largely inspired by George Orwell’s 1984) including a University ‘Department of Acceptable Truths’ “to ensure that only safe ideas are taught”, as well as strong measures against “thought crimes”.
“The Alumni for Responsible Speech” satire made the rounds on the Internet, circulated on number of campuses, and received praise from people who enjoyed the way it skewered people who ‘support freedom of speech’ only for views they agree with.
In our times, however, satire has little chance of competing with reality. The battle over ‘Israeli apartheid week’ on campus had barely subsided when the York student union quoted above (“universities are sites where discussions and debates about difficult geopolitical questions should be promoted, not stifled”) waded back into the free speech fray. This time round, the same people who had fulminated about the “democratic freedoms of speech and dissent” and condemned those who would infringe “students’ right to organize” were deciding, by a unanimous vote, to prevent anti-abortion groups or individuals affiliated with them from organizing, leafleting, speaking, holding meetings, or engaging in other anti-choice activities.
Read the rest of the article here.
The November issue of Toronto Life carries an article by Mary Rogan, “Girl, Interrupted: The Brief Life of Aqsa Parvez”, which tells the story of a sixteen-year-old Toronto girl who left her parents’ home after disagreements with her father, was lured back home, and was then killed. Her father and brother have been charged with her murder.
The Toronto Life story, which characterized the murder as an “honour killing” because of the circumstances, involving clashes over the girl’s lifestyle choices – has predictably come under attack from the usual self-appointed gatekeepers of acceptable public discourse. The blinkered zealots of multiculturalism claim that the article is anti-Muslim because – wait for it – it draws attention to violence against Muslim girls.
Ironically, the dogmatists who seek to sweep this issue under the rug describe themselves as ‘feminist’, but theirs is a peculiar form of feminism, a version which condemns violence against women in principle, but seeks to silence those who speak out about violence against Muslim women.
The double standard is sad, but perhaps it is not surprising. History gives us numerous examples of social movements which come, over time, to adopt positions directly opposed to the principles on which they were founded. It appears this has happened with those feminists who argue that we shouldn't make a fuss about the ‘honour killing’ of a brown-skinned Muslim girl. However, the fact that those who take this position cloak themselves in progressive rhetoric doesn’t make their attitude any less racist or any less misogynist.
What is particularly distressing is the way the hard-core multiculturalists betray the very people they claim to be defending. Progressive groups and individuals within Muslim communities are struggling hard against fundamentalism and for women’s rights – and meanwhile the multiculturalists are busily allying themselves with the most reactionary leaders and change-resistant institutions in those communities. Leaders of a movement which used to stand with the oppressed and powerless against patriarchal power structures are now on the other side, providing cover for those power structures. They have become part of the problem.
December 16, 2008
También disponible en español: ¿Por qué protestar por el asesinato de una chica musulmana de piel oscura?
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