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Updated: 1 day 7 hours ago

Académicxs con Palestina is rising from Mexico City

Fri, 02/23/2024 - 21:04

As you approach the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras (School of Philosophy and Letters) on the campus of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), its political fervor grips you in its fist even before you reach the doors. Radical books cover a dozen tables on the sidewalk. Graffiti and murals protesting femicide, state violence, and transphobia blanket the building. International solidarity flares out from the walls, too, like the large portrait of Philadelphia political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, with the caption: “38 AÑOS encarcelado por hablar en favor de la libertad y contra la injusticia social. ¡MUMIA LIBRE!” (“38 YEARS imprisoned for speaking out in favor of freedom and against social injustice. FREE MUMIA!”)

Entering the building, the radical spirit carries on, as you see the Videoludoteca Víctor Jara, a video library named after the Chilean folk singer arrested, tortured, and murdered during the first days of the Pinochet dictatorship in 1973. Fliers for demonstrations cover the walls.

Mural from the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras de la UNAM. Photo by Ehécatl Cabrera.

La Facultad de Filosofía y Letras is a collective space where truth, justice, and activism are pursued unapologetically. For a hundred years organizers here have built movements related to struggle, memory, human rights, and democracy. Its murals and graffiti are themselves demands to not lose sight of past gains that people fought for and that should not be forgotten.

On the evening of January 23, 2024, la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras saw the emergence of a new collective, one which follows in this tradition and now rises in response to one of the worst atrocities in the lifetimes of many of the building’s community: Académicxs con Palestina contra el Genocidio.

The fliers and social media produced ahead of the event advertised a specific room in la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras in which the gathering would be held. But fifteen minutes before it was set to begin, every seat was filled, every corner crowded, and the throng was already spilling out into the hall. The organizers had to move everyone to a larger room, and still a couple dozen in the crowd of at least 150 people had to stand along the walls. Many more joined on Zoom.

Académicxs con Palestina was originally conceived in the days following the events of October 7 as an initiative between some members of a group called Judíos con Palestina (Jews with Palestine) and people from the university communities in Mexico. Its founding members refused to be silent not only about the genocide of the Palestinian people, but also the destruction of Gazan cultural heritage and the physical disappearance of a large number of musicians, poets, painters, and other artists, as well as many Palestinian academics who those in the collective consider their colleagues.

The large event on January 23 was in part a public announcement of two open letters. One letter is addressed to the presidents in Latin America who are considered progressive, demanding that they assume a more vehement condemnation of the genocide perpetrated against Gazans, while the other is addressed to various university authorities, requesting they also speak out.

The demands are not flimsy liberal nostrums that perform grand acrobatics in order to offend no one. Their open letter includes a link to the [BDS] Movement…In addition, it demands the suspension of all agreements, academic links, and collaboration between universities in Mexico and the State of Israel…

The demands are not flimsy liberal nostrums that perform grand acrobatics in order to offend no one. Their open letter includes a link to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, as well as calls for “definitive cessation of the purchase of products and services from companies that openly support Zionism, such as IBM, HP, etc. listed by the BDS Movement.” In addition, it demands the suspension of all agreements, academic links, and collaboration between universities in Mexico and the State of Israel, which they say are “responsible for normalizing the ethnic cleansing and colonialism promoted by Zionism.”

As the crowd gathered in the larger room, people began passing out two sets of bumper stickers, each with an image of a heart and fist that reads, “LIBERA A PALESTINA YA!” (“FREE PALESTINE NOW!”) and “TERMINA EL APARTHEID” (“AN END TO APARTHEID!”)

One also contains the text, “FIN AL TRATADO DE LIBRE COMERCIO ENTRE ISRAEL Y MÉXICO” (“END TO THE FREE-TRADE AGREEMENT BETWEEN ISRAEL AND MEXICO”).  And the other reads, “BOYCOTT A LAS MARCAS DE EUA QUE APOYAN AL EJÉRCITO DE ISRAEL” (“BOYCOTT U.S. BRANDS THAT SUPPORT THE ISRAELI MILITARY”), and includes the logos of Starbucks, McDonalds, Amazon, and more.

One speaker began the meeting in a formal address to the students, manual workers, administrators, and teachers of the collective’s universities and study centers, as well as to the media, and to the people of Mexico.

What is happening today in Gaza is the continuation of a long colonialist settlement project that created a true apartheid regime against the Palestinians. Israel today is committing open war crimes by intentionally targeting civilians, UN personnel and facilities, humanitarian personnel and the press, as well as destroying housing, health, education, and cultural infrastructure that can in no way be considered military targets. The intention to partially or totally destroy the Palestinian people has been manifested in numerous expressions by members of the Netanyahu government; and the indiscriminate killing of children and women, added to the conditions of cruelty and intentional subjugation to force them to move, are all elements established in the Rome Statute as part of the definition of genocide. The academic and research communities have the intellectual, ethical, and political responsibility to characterize, denounce, and point out these genocidal actions of the State of Israel, and to name them as their victims do: nakba.

At a pause between speakers, someone began to chant: “¡Todxs somos Gaza! ¡Contra genocidio!” (“We are all Gaza! Against genocide!”) The entire room joined in.

Following the speakers, the panel took at least a dozen comments and questions, many from student groups organizing to apply their own pressure and power against genocide. Although Académicxs con Palestina groups together only professors and researchers, its members at UNAM are proud of student participation in marches and rallies, conferences and cultural events, and more. As the struggles escalate, Académicxs con Palestina hopes to strengthen its relations with these student collectives.

As the event came to a close, everyone stood in silence as one member of the panel read dozens upon dozens of names of academics in Palestine who have been killed by Israel in the past several months. A long, complete moment of silence followed. Finally, a panelist said, “Muchas gracias. Sigamos organizándonos. ¡Palestina libre!” (“Thank you. Let’s keep organizing. Free Palestine!”) The room erupted in applause.

The coalition’s two letters have now been signed by more than a thousand academics from across universities in Mexico, throughout Latin America, in Madrid and London, and at institutions such as Arizona State University, Berkley College of Music, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The letter to the progressive governments of Latin America has been signed by more than 1,700 people. And the numbers rise each day.

After the event, I exchanged emails with Marcela Gómez and Enrique Rajchenberg, members of the collective and professors at UNAM. Like many in Académicxs con Palestina, they have been encouraged by the reception of the collective, the event and the open letters. They wrote:

We have been pleasantly surprised by the reception that our statements have had in the academic world—on the one hand, because we have received the support of colleagues from a large number of universities throughout Mexico, but also from the rest of the world, especially from Latin America, Europe, the United States, and Canada, although to a lesser extent. The number of signatures changes daily as … the documents are disseminated and reach more people. We believe that this is due to the fact that, although for many academics the Palestinian genocide is an unjustifiable act, there was no collective response that provided both a precise political-intellectual definition and a proposal for action.

Their plans are far from finished:

In the coming days, we are arranging an interview with the rector of UNAM, the largest educational institution in the country, in which we wish to deliver the letter in which we propose the cancellation of UNAM’s cooperative relations with its Israeli counterparts and the demand for a statement by the university authorities regarding the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people.

Simultaneously, we have organized permanent forums entitled “No dejemos de hablar de Palestina” (“Let’s not stop talking about Palestine”) that will take place in various university centers with the participation of members of the group, and whose objective is to make visible the problems that gave rise to Académicxs con Palestina and to offer elements of deeper analysis of the situation in the Middle East.

Everyone in Académicxs con Palestina feels great urgency. In their email, the professors cited part of the collective’s demands that were read on January 23:

The bombardments continue. Humanitarian aid cannot access the Gaza Strip. Palestinians continue to be killed. We live in a global emergency. Palestine is not just another conflict. The future of humanity is at stake in Palestine. Either the ongoing genocide is stopped, or we will succumb to the obvious collapse and illegitimacy of the international system that will not have prevented the mass death that we can all see in real time. Today we are all Gaza. And today we must all defend, in the name of humanity and justice, Palestine.

Less than half a mile from the room in which so many had gathered on January 23 to build collective power against occupation, apartheid, and genocide, the sun was setting over the Estadio Olímpico Universitario. In October 1968, only ten days before the opening ceremony of the Mexico City Olympics, the Mexican Armed Forces opened fire on protesters in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco neighborhood. In what is now known as the Tlatelolco Massacre, the soldiers and police slaughtered hundreds and arrested thousands, many of them students at UNAM.

Just two weeks after the massacre, it was from a podium on the hallowed ground of the Estadio Olímpico Universitario that the United States’ gold- and bronze-medal sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos famously raised their fists in a Black Power salute during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Throughout 1968, people were rising up against state violence and complicity not only in Mexico, but across the United States, and in Paris, in Rio de Janeiro, Derry, Prague, and far beyond. Their collective courage shook the world.

U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, along with Australian Peter Norman, during the award ceremony at the 1968 summer Olympic games, 1968. Photo by Angelo Cozzi (Mondadori Publishers).

While the image of Smith and Carlos has been immortalized and even somewhat sanctioned—the two men were honored by President Barack Obama at the White House in 2016—the aftermath in 1968 was far different. Due to their courage on the podium in Mexico City, they both were banned from the Olympic Games for life. Their courage and sacrifice is a model for all of us protesting against genocide today.

The gates at the Olympic Stadium are now closed. Unless los Pumas de la UNAM football club has a home match, there is no public entry. Approaching the stadium from campus, the verdant pitch beyond its vast stone walls is not visible. That history is kept from view, locked and guarded. But if you position yourself correctly, you can glimpse the interior through a gate: a bright green strip of grass beyond the wall—and if you’re lucky, as I was, the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere.

Once again, it is not only terror but courage and solidarity, too, that rattles the world. And at UNAM and to be sure far beyond, what we refuse to lose sight of will sustain our collective resistance.

For any academics—professors and researchers—interested in signing the Académicxs con Palestina open letters, follow links here and here.

And be sure to follow Académicxs con Palestina online and on social media:

Instagram

Facebook

Blogspot

YouTube

Email

Featured image credit: Alfo Medeiras; modified by Tempest.

Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Tempest Collective. For more information, see “About Tempest Collective.”

Categories: D2. Socialism

Stand against genocide and imperialism, from Palestine to Ukraine

Thu, 02/22/2024 - 20:54

Two wars dominate world politics today–and the U.S. is involved in both, although in very different ways. Washington enables Israel’s genocidal onslaught on Gaza with weapons, funds and political support while providing direct military backing through airstrikes in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. In Ukraine, however, the U.S. opposes Russia’s also-genocidal attack on its culture and people and has provided weapons, funds, and political backing to the Ukraine government. Washington’s double standards and hypocrisy are obvious to the millions of people around the world who have taken to the streets in solidarity with Palestine.

The staggering cynicism of the Biden administration–denouncing Russian missiles that destroy schools and hospitals in Ukraine while sending weapons to perform such atrocities in Gaza–may lead some activists to conclude that U.S. backing for Ukraine delegitimizes its people’s struggle against Russia. Yet a closer look shows that both Ukraine and Palestine are facing wars waged on them by powers that seek not only to subjugate them militarily but to erase them as a people with their own national identity.

Consider the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He justified the 2022 invasion by claiming that Ukraine is led by Nazis, is not a “real” country and therefore has no legitimate claim to national self-determination. Then look at the map that Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu held up at the United Nations General Assembly in 2023–one that showed Israel with Gaza and the Occupied Territories on the West Bank completely erased. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov even likened Israel’s war aims in Gaza to those of Russia in Ukraine.

Photo from #Africa4Palestine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has lined up behind the U.S. in supporting Israel, which has made many in the Palestine solidarity movement skeptical about supporting Ukraine’s resistance against Russia. However, even if Zelensky backs Israel at the same time he is attacking workers’ union rights in Ukraine, the Ukrainian people have the right to defend themselves against Russian imperialist invaders and to get the weapons they need anywhere they can. Regardless of what their President says, Ukrainians are worthy of our solidarity, just as the struggles of American Black people, other oppressed groups and workers deserve international support no matter what the U.S. President says. The same is true for Palestine: it is possible to criticize Hamas’ politics and actions while supporting the struggle for self-determination for Palestinians and the international movement to support that goal. In particular we support worker-to-worker solidarity, including aid convoys, to Palestine and Ukraine.

Both Ukrainians and Palestinians are standing against imperialist aggression. As a statement by more than 300 prominent Ukrainian activists, journalists and scholars put it:

Watching the Israeli targeting civilian infrastructure in Gaza, the Israeli humanitarian blockade and occupation of land resonates especially painfully with us. From this place of pain of experience and solidarity, we call on our fellow Ukrainians globally and all the people to raise their voices in support of the Palestinian people and condemn the ongoing Israeli mass ethnic cleansing.

We reject the Ukrainian government statements that express unconditional support for Israel’s military actions, and we consider the calls to avoid [Palestinian] civilian casualties by Ukraine’s [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] belated and insufficient. This position is a retreat from the support of Palestinian rights and condemnation of the Israeli occupation, which Ukraine has followed for decades, including voting in the UN.

For its part, the U.S. government backs Israel’s war to crush Gaza because it serves its interest to have a loyal, militarily powerful ally in the Middle East. It supported Ukraine–with plenty of strings attached–because Washington wishes to inflict a “strategic defeat” on Russia. This calculated approach to achieving U.S. imperialist goals lies behind the Biden administration’s hypocrisy and double standards regarding Palestine and Ukraine. Factions in the Republican Party oppose even that support, some because they share Putin’s white nationalist ultraconservatism and some because they see U.S. confrontation with China as the main foreign policy objective.

We also support many other important movements for national liberation, from Western Sahara to the struggle of the Kurds in the Middle East and the fight for self-determination in Puerto Rico, Kashmir and beyond. We focus today on Ukraine and Palestine not because these and other struggles are unimportant, but because the major contending imperialist powers have made Ukraine and Palestine a testing ground for new imperialist wars of aggression and genocide. If they succeed, it will be a blow to democracy and national self-determination everywhere.

As the situation in Gaza grows ever more desperate and another year passes in Russia’s war against Ukraine, we seek to build links between these struggles of resistance and to put forward an alternative of self-determination and justice. As many Jewish participants in the Palestine solidarity movement have pointed out, the genocide against Jews in the Second World War is being used to justify both genocide against Palestinians today and the attempt to erase Ukraine.

Never again for Jews. Never again for Palestinians. Never again for Ukrainians. Never again for anyone anywhere.

Featured image credit: hypnoeros; modified by Tempest.

Categories: D2. Socialism

Sentenced to a life of poor health

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 21:40

The United States currently ranks first in the world for incarcerated populations with about 2.1 million people detained; the next closest country is China with a prison population of 1.7 million. A major factor that creates the carceral state in the U.S. is the industry of the prison systems involving both the public and private sectors.

Despite the high rate of imprisonment within the U.S., the nation’s prison systems have a history of subpar care. This is evidenced by the National Institute of Corrections stating, “Health problems that plague our society plague the corrections industry at an even greater rate.”

The importance of this issue lies in the sheer number of incarcerated people. A population of 2.1 million people lacking or receiving improper medical care would be unacceptable in any other context, yet it is overlooked regarding the imprisoned population.

To further put the situation into perspective, according to the United States Census Bureau, currently a population of 2.1 million residents would be larger than the city of Phoenix (1,743,469) and a little smaller than the city of Houston (2,378,146), making the U.S. prison population the fifth largest city in the nation. The mistreatment of a population of this scale is absurd considering the fact that several cases of communicable diseases such as polio or monkeypox have the potential to put a city into a state of emergency. Yet, the increasing prison population is statistically proven to be plagued at a greater risk of these pathologies.

In 2015, a special report was published by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs regarding incarceration data collected in 2011- 2012:

Forty-four percent of prisoners reported ever having a chronic condition, compared to 31 percent of persons in the general population. Prisoners were about 1.5 times more likely than persons in the standardized general population to report ever having high blood pressure, diabetes, or asthma. About 45 percent of jail inmates reported ever having a chronic condition, compared to 27 percent of the standardized general population. Jail inmates were nearly two times more likely than persons in the general population to report ever having high blood pressure, diabetes, or asthma. An estimated 21 percent of prisoners and 14 percent of jail inmates reported ever having tuberculosis, hepatitis, or other STDs excluding HIV or AIDS, compared to 5 percent of the general population.

The inadequacy of existing reforms

There are multiple interventions proposed to address this issue, but they all have major gaps. An example of such a proposal is the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Health Management Resources. The BOP Health Management Resources are sets of clinical guidelines that are in line with the objectives of the Correctional Officers Health and Safety Act of 1998 for “infectious disease prevention, detection, and treatment of inmates and correctional employees.” This list of resources includes protocols for issues ranging from the management of hypertension, bipolar disorder, lice, and the Zika virus, along with COVID-19 vaccine guidance. Yet, these are only clinical guidelines when they should be recommendations. The actual implementation of these protocols likely varies widely by each facility according to its resources. For example, the BOP will recommend that an inmate be put in isolation if they present with a positive tuberculin skin test, yet a correctional institution might be limited by lack of space.

Another key piece of legislation that is failing to support carceral health standards is the Affordable Care Act (ACA). After the ACA was upheld (apart from the mandate for states to expand Medicaid) in 2012, each state still had the option for further Medicaid expansion. Medicaid prior to the expansion option included a population covered, pregnant women, children, and people over the age of 65. In states that expanded Medicaid programs, residents qualify for government service based on a resident income of 133 percent below the poverty level (U.S Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 2022). The expansion thus encompasses “childless adults, which includes a sizable subset with criminal justice involvement.” This led to the Medicaid option being falsely deemed to be exclusively for “felons” because it prevented people from losing healthcare coverage once incarcerated, thus protecting the incarcerated population’s right to healthcare. This was not suitable in the public eye so the legislation was met with pushback and subsequent denial of coverage. This loss of coverage is also known as the “inmate exception.”

The Community Oriented Correctional Health Services (COCHS) is one nonprofit organization with a stake in the ACA expansion option. This is because the Act aligns with their mission to “integrate community healthcare with correctional healthcare.” Since 2010, COCHS has been a proponent of the ACA, arguing that the Act could potentially provide healthcare to incarcerated populations. They provide evidence for their support by using research from Washington state to suggest that treating substance abuse disorders, a disorder largely found within the inmate population, “showed a decrease in arrests and costs following treatment” that can be provided through the Medicaid Expansion option.

A population of 2.1 million people lacking or receiving improper medical care would be unacceptable in any other context, yet it is overlooked regarding the imprisoned population.

Imprisonment, for most, is not a permanent condition, and prisoners are released at the end of their sentences or upon parole and probation. Upon reintegration into society, there should be a continuity of care to help patients transition from (lack of) healthcare in prison to healthcare in society. Each environment carries health concerns that must be addressed. While incarcerated patients have a higher prevalence of chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and asthma, when released, these chronic illnesses still require the same level of attentive care. To manage these health concerns, prison healthcare should not be managed by vague clinical practice guidelines or privatized healthcare services.

The prison industrial complex, like any other business, aims to make revenue as well as limit spending as displayed by the employment of private services such as prison healthcare professionals. In several cases such as Walter Balla, et al. v. Idaho State Board of Correction (IDOC), these cutbacks were shown to be problematic for the prison because “serious problems with the delivery of medical and mental health care” happened within their use of a private Corizon Health care system. As reported in The New York Times, suicide is the leading cause of death among the prison population.

Evidence suggests that “many of these problems either have resulted or risk resulting in serious harm to inmates” within the Idaho State Correctional Institution. The private practitioners are not subject to the government’s standard accountability which creates more risks within prisons and jails. Similarly, regarding the inmate exception, health care organizations are typically required to participate in Medicaid and Medicare programs as evidenced by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 signing of these social programs into law.

These social programs were meant to protect “the health and well-being of millions of American families, saving lives, and improving the economic security of [the] nation,” yet this did not seemingly include the prison population. This is because, in this same legislation, correctional health care would be “exempt from this requirement, resulting in poor health care oversight.” The lack of oversight, again, leaves the care of the inmate population to the discretion of prisons and jails which, historically, has led to maltreatment.

Conclusion and a call to action

The U.S. prison population is massive and is still growing at a staggering rate, thus there must be radical interventions made to treat those incarcerated. Prison populations are historically at a greater risk of contracting communicable pathologies, yet proposals set forth are subpar in addressing this issue. This is both due to the government not directly intervening in correctional health standards, as seen in the Health Management Resources, and public stigma denying healthcare coverage for inmates (Medicaid expansion).

Lobbying cannot get to the root of the antiblack machine of the prison industrial complex or address the war on drugs. So, then what should we do as radicals?

Should we push for new legislation, take to the streets through picketing, advocate for the abolition of the carceral structures, or simply burn the state to the ground? Each of the solutions, in some capacity, has been implemented or attempted in the U.S. Thus, when we look through the annals of prison activism, we must critically analyze how past reformist solutions have both assuaged and shaped the current carceral state. As seen in the failure of the BOP Health Management Resources and the ACA expansion, working within the governmental structure through lobbying has failed time and time again. This is not a new issue at all because there have been pushes for prison reforms since 1787, yet the carceral population is continually climbing. There has been a five hundred percent increase in the last forty years; so, in the case of prison reform are we really slowly chipping away at injustice? I don’t think we are.

Rather than wait on the government to provide care to prisoners, I believe that as Joy James explained, we need to address the crisis of prison health care in a broader abolitionist program that seeks to deconstruct the current carceral system.

Featured image credit: Robert Crow; modified by Tempest.

Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Tempest Collective. For more information, see “About Tempest Collective.”

Categories: D2. Socialism

“The John Brown way” (part 1)

Wed, 02/14/2024 - 18:22

In 1859, John Brown led an armed raid into northern Virginia. The raiding party included fourteen white men and five Black men. They left three others behind to work on repositioning weapons closer to Harpers’ Ferry, which was the site of the raid.1Numbers are from Reynolds, 310.

The operation had several objectives. One was to strike fear into slaveholders throughout the South. Another was to free some captive Black people and to arm those who wanted to join the fight. The third main objective was to retreat into the mountains with the new recruits. The big idea was to repeat the process of raids and to build guerrilla bases through the whole length of the Appalachians.2As Brown told Frederick Douglass twelve years earlier, the plan was to “run off slaves in large numbers, retain the brave and strong ones in the mountains, and send the weak and timid to the north by the underground railroad; his operations would be enlarged with increasing numbers, and would not be confined to one locality (Douglass 281).”

The raid succeeded in the first two objectives: striking fear into slaveholders and arming some Black fighters. They didn’t pull off the third objective—the retreat—so there was no chance to start the guerrilla war. Nevertheless, the raid did have a huge impact, and I’ll say a few things about that later.

But to start with, I want to mention the common suspicion that Brown was a White Savior who thought he could bestow freedom on Black people. I’ll try to show instead that John Brown and his comrades were trying to open opportunities for Black self-emancipation. That is, they were trying to lower some of the obstacles to the formation of Black collective agency.

Obstacles to revolt

Let’s start by looking at that problem—the difficulties in pulling together collective resistance.

Most people in slavery worked on plantations. A plantation, of course, was a labor camp for captive workers—a special kind of prison. As with all prisons, plantations developed methods for stopping collective resistance. One of the methods was preventive. That was to set up different levels of repression—as in a prison—where the warden dispenses “privileges” to some of the prisoners. They allow certain kinds of freedom that are denied to other prisoners—and in return, these “trustees” serve as informants. In slavery as in prison, people were recruited to perform various tasks of supervision and surveillance. They were thus rewarded for spying and treachery against the other captives. The people typically doing these jobs on the plantation were the work foremen known as drivers, plus the workers at the Big House like coach drivers and household servants.

Another weapon in heading off collective action was the overwhelming asymmetry in physical force—just as in a prison. This included a regular resort to torture. And as in a regular workplace, troublesome workers could also be “fired”; that is, they could be sold away from friends and family.

When captive workers considered revolt—one form of collective resistance—they kept a keen eye on the balance of forces and looked for special moments when there was some kind of breach in the web of repression.

Because the threats of betrayal and punishment were ever-present, captive workers became astute at estimating the risk of various kinds of forbidden activities. That could include slacking off on the pace of work or slipping away to a neighboring plantation to visit friends and loved ones. For such individual acts of resistance, people knew the risks.3Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the white commander of the First South Carolina (Union) Infantry, testified that the regiment’s recently-enslaved soldiers were sharply alert to the danger of situations when he wrote: “[T]he constitutional watchfulness and distrustfulness of the colored race made them admirable sentinels.” (Higginson 1997, 113.)

When captive workers considered revolt—one form of collective resistance—they kept a keen eye on the balance of forces and looked for special moments when there was some kind of breach in the web of repression. That’s why, most of the time, plantation workers thought that direct confrontation would be suicidal. The obstacles to battle-readiness included restrictions on access to weapons and training. In contrast, white men got constant experience in collective armed action through participation in slave patrols, militias, and the army.

The U.S. and the Haitian Revolution

With these things in mind, let’s consider the Haitian Revolution, which was in full swing when John Brown was born.

Before their own revolution, more than 600 Black and biracial (in the terms of the time, “mulatto”) Haitians got some battle experience in the American Revolution. Operating under French command, they were trying to break the British siege of Savannah, Georgia in 1779. Many of those who saw action would become military and political leaders in the Haitian Revolution, which began twelve years later.4Scott 56–57.

Now, in Haiti, where more than 90 percent of the population was enslaved, the balance of forces was actually pretty favorable to the rebels, and what’s more, the colonizing powers were on the other side of the Atlantic. For comparison, the only U.S. state at the time with a Black majority was South Carolina, and the colonizing forces in the U.S. were local, surrounding the plantations for hundreds of miles around.

The Haitian Revolution was the most major blow, up to that point, against the colonizing project of the nascent capitalist powers of Europe. Of course, by then, the capitalist colonizers also included the United States.

Henri Christophe as King of Haiti in 1816. Christophe was a commander in the Haitian Revolution. He received military training from France—and battle experience—when France intervened against the British during the U.S. war for independence. Painting by Richard Evans. Cropped and modified by Tempest.

The revolution also settled the question of whether enslaved people were capable of self-emancipation. It had never been done before. They didn’t just escape slavery—which would have been legitimate and impressive—they abolished the institution of slavery through their own efforts.

People in the U.S. followed news of the Haitian revolution very closely from its outbreak in 1791, in part because most U.S. states then had legal slavery, including in the North. Haiti was also important to U.S. commerce. It was a sugar colony, the most lucrative slave society in the world. Trade between Haiti and the U.S. was greater than U.S. trade with all other places in the hemisphere combined.5Scott 55.

As a result, there were well-established channels for transmitting news between the two countries. Trade goods had to be moved by sailing ships, and ships carried sailors and passengers—who carried news by word of mouth. Ships also carried newspapers from each port of call to every other one. Newspaper editors in the U.S. would freely republish the interesting bits of what they found in other papers, so a genuine national press had already been developing for decades. Many free Black people in the South could read the news themselves and pass it on to enslaved and free Black people who could not read.

In addition, refugees from the war carried first-hand knowledge of the revolution. This included enslaved people who came with those whites who fled to the United States. Some of these Black and Brown immigrants themselves became revolutionary fighters. This was notable in the 1811 revolt on the “German Coast” in Louisiana—which included sugar cultivators transplanted from Haiti.6Haitians on the German Coast: Rasmussen 156.

The revolution also settled the question of whether enslaved people were capable of self-emancipation.

Later on, John Brown and Black rebels like Denmark Vesey in Charleston would study the Haitian revolution, including the military aspects of the struggle.7It’s notable that Brown was reputed to study the highly-cultured Toussaint Louverture, who helped start the revolution, while Vesey advocated the ruthless tactics of Dessalines, the commander who brought the struggle to military victory. Brown and Toussaint: Richard Realf quoted by Reynolds, 107. Vesey and Dessalines: Kennedy and Parker 82.

Over Brown’s lifetime, the speed and the reach of the news expanded greatly with the improvement of postal service and the advent of steamships, railroads, and telegraphs.

Brown’s youth and the Second Great Awakening

John Brown was born in Connecticut in 1800. His parents, Owen and Ruth, were touched by a wave of religious revival known as the Second Great Awakening, which broke out after the U.S. war for independence. It featured outdoor “camp” meetings that went on for days, with multiracial crowds—in the North, South, and West.

The meetings featured a number of women preachers, and the movement articulated the personal trials that people found they were going through after the revolution. Religious ideas, fueled sometimes by competing interpretations of the Bible, became the terms in which large numbers of people argued about politics, morality, and the social order.

The Baptists and the Methodists experienced rapid growth. Frances Lloyd, future mother of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, was a Baptist convert and lay preacher from a young age. Nat Turner, who became a rebel leader in Virginia, was himself a preacher to those around him—in the language of the time, an “exhorter”—as were two others of his initial core of five conspirators.8Frances Lloyd: Mayer 5–7.Turner and his fellow exhorters: Parramore 58.

In the 1810s, racial schisms within Methodist congregations produced the AME, the African Methodist Episcopal church. Sometime early on, Black Christians began to liken themselves to the Children of Israel, who were destined to escape the captivity of Egypt. This view was common right through the Civil War, and it showed up in Martin Luther King’s final speech in Memphis, where he talked about seeing the Promised Land. This kind of talk enraged the slaveholding class—since they were cast as Pharaoh, the villain of the story. Many concluded that Black people shouldn’t be left to make their own interpretations of the Bible.9The gospel of Denmark Vesey featured Bible readings about deliverance from Egypt and the conquest of the “promised land.” Thomas Wentworth Higginson recorded that Black recruits to the First South Carolina infantry in the Civil War repeatedly sang and preached of the emancipation of the Israelites (Higginson 1997, 99). See also his chapter on “Negro spirituals” (149–73).

The various denominations published periodicals that circulated by mail. By the 1820s, these subscriptions far outstripped the circulation of secular newspapers. They helped build a grassroots framework for activation around moral and political issues in the ensuing decades.10Far outstripped the circulation of secular newspapers: Hershberger, 18. On the grassroots network, see Portnoy 23, 32–33. The growing politicization of religious denominations eventually led the two biggest ones to split between North and South over the issue of slavery—the Methodists in 1844 and the Baptists in 1845.

Hand-colored engraving of a Methodist camp meeting from 1819. Someone has fainted in the foreground. In the background, tents are visible. Artist: Jacques Gérard Milbert. Engraved by M. Dubourg. Modified by Tempest.

Before John Brown was born, his parents converted to an updated version of Calvinism, the doctrine that originally animated the Puritans of England and New England. One Puritan judge had condemned slavery as far back as 1700 because it violated the Golden Rule: “Do unto others…” Brown’s father Owen believed in that Biblical interpretation along with the political-religious doctrine that Jefferson had espoused in the country’s founding Declaration about the God who had created all men equal. Young John thus grew up with a father who not only rejected slavery but racial prejudice as well.11The Calvinist judge was Samuel Sewall (Reynolds, 24). This argument became a staple of Christian-inflected abolition writings, including Angelina Grimké’s Appeal to the Christian Women of the South. Brown used it himself in an interrogation a day after his capture at Harper’s Ferry (Anonymous, “The Harper’s Ferry outbreak”).

Owen was the head of a struggling farm family, and his son John was poor all his life. When John was five, the family moved to Hudson, Ohio, a tiny town about thirty miles south of Cleveland. Three years later, John’s mother Ruth died in childbirth. Hudson was a station on the Underground Railroad, and Owen Brown was a station agent. He was unusual among his neighbors in getting along as equals with the Indians in Ohio, who were more numerous than the whites at the time. Owen established regular trade with them and also didn’t try to convert them to Christianity. John Brown would take after his father in combining strict religious observance for himself with an ability to cooperate with people of different backgrounds and faiths.12Owen was a station agent: Reynolds 23. Owen’s relations to Native Americans: Reynolds 31. Reynolds discusses how the adult John Brown and his own family took after Owen with regard to the Indians at 167–70.

As a boy, John befriended an enslaved Black boy and eventually witnessed his abuse at the hands of his white owners. When he recalled the experience later, Brown wrote in a letter that it “made him a most determined Abolitionist,” swearing “eternal war on Slavery.” Working for the Underground Railroad was a regular feature of his life. When he started his own household at 18, he would stop work when a new fugitive came in and take them north to Cleveland or some other safe haven. When he was in his thirties, he built a secret room in his barn to accommodate escaped slaves.13Letter about childhood Black friend: Reynolds 33. Young stopped work to help fugitives: Reynolds 37. Secret room in his barn: Reynolds 56.

So John Brown grew up unusual. Unlike a number of the well-off white abolitionists of the East, who came to oppose slavery as adults through reading and a sense of charity, Brown grew up with an egalitarian education and spent time frequently in the company of poor Black people, both free and recently liberated.

As a boy, John befriended an enslaved Black boy and eventually witnessed his abuse at the hands of his white owners. When he recalled the experience later, Brown wrote in a letter that it “made him a most determined Abolitionist,” swearing “eternal war on Slavery.”

He also grew up to have a large family. His first wife Dianthe bore seven children, and after she died in 1832, his second wife Mary bore thirteen. Out of these twenty, eleven survived past childhood. Many of them grew up to be serious abolition activists themselves.

Colonization vs. abolition

Abolitionists were a small minority, especially early on, and they were also divided by different approaches to emancipation. Some of the cleavage lines were racial. In 1816, some white opponents of slavery founded the American Colonization Society (ACS). That was a euphemism for ethnic cleansing. Black people, once they were freed, would be strongly encouraged to deport themselves to a new colony in West Africa. That was the idea behind the U.S. colony of Liberia in western Africa, the brainchild of the ACS, to which some thirteen thousand free African Americans emigrated between 1822 and the colony’s independence in 1846. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe endorsed the idea—and, for most of his life, so did Abraham Lincoln.

Not surprisingly, free Black people didn’t want to be deported. They held mass meetings in protest across the North from the 1810s into the 1830s. They knew that the colonizationists were rejecting the idea of civil and social equality.14Mass meetings against colonization: Quarles 3–8.

There was another scheme for ethnic cleansing in the same years—the expulsion of Native Americans to lands west of the Mississippi, a plan known as “Indian removal.” A number of the prominent abolitionists of the 1830s had taken their first steps into political action when they petitioned and spoke out against Indian removal beginning in the 1820s. This included women especially, such as Catharine Beecher, whose sister Harriet later wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Angelina Grimké, who until 1829 was stuck in Charleston in a slaveholding household. The men included William Lloyd Garrison and Theodore Weld, who married Grimké after she moved north. The background to this activity was the Christian movement’s missionary work among Indians and their financing of schools for Indian children.15Beecher and Grimké’s first steps into social activism were against “Indian removal“: Hershberger 22. Background of missionary and charitable work: Hershberger 19–20.

The Indian Removal Act passed Congress in 1830 because Southern politicians were hell-bent on slavery expansion into Indian-held lands in Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. They won only because the Three-Fifths Clause gave them extra votes in Congress.16Florida was also haven for free and escaped Black people who allied with the Seminoles, Miccosukees, and Red Stick Creeks against “removal.” The Indian Removal Act passed Congress because of the Three-Fifths Clause: Saunt 77, 79

As with colonization, Black abolitionists took an early leading role against Indian removal. The combination of the two issues helped to radicalize some of the white abolitionists, who began to take anti-racism and equality more seriously. The experience with the movement against Indian removal—and collaboration with Black activists—led some whites who initially favored Black colonization to reject it. These included Grimké, Weld, and Garrison. By the early 1830s, such anti-racist whites had joined with Black allies to make up a distinct, radicalized minority alongside the larger number of whites who remained colonizationists. According to abolitionist Lewis Tappan, it was the “united and strenuous opposition” of Black activists “to the expatriation scheme that first induced Garrison and others to oppose it.”17On Black opposition to Indian removal and the formation of a radicalizing multiracial minority for abolition, see Natalie Joy, “The Indian’s cause.” For a more extended list of white abolitionists who started out as colonizationists, see Hershberger 35. Tappan quoted in Quarles, 19.

The masthead of William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator in 1832, two years after the passage of the Indian Removal Act. The foreground image depicts a Black family being separated by an auctioneer, and there’s a whipping in the background. In addition, sheets of paper reading “INDIAN TREATIES” lie on the ground (between the “E” and the “L”). Clip from microfilm image by the author.

The Brown family, far removed from this Eastern social set, already had all those bases covered. In Hudson, however, most of the antislavery whites favored colonization. A bit farther west, Oberlin College was founded in 1833 in answer to such politics. Oberlin was virtually unique in being racially integrated and coeducational. Its founders called for immediate emancipation with no compensation to the slaveholders—and no deportations, of course. This position was called “immediatism.” Owen Brown was one of the founding supporters of the college. The town of Oberlin, Ohio became a major hub of the Underground Railroad.18Owen Brown a founding supporter of Oberlin College: Reynolds 60.

The country’s leading outlet for the ideas of immediatism was The Liberator, a national newspaper that Garrison founded in 1831. The publication was sustained in its early years by its Black readers, who initially formed the majority of the subscribers.19Majority-Black initial readership: Quarles 20.

As with colonization, Black abolitionists took an early leading role against Indian removal. The combination of the two issues helped to radicalize some of the white abolitionists, who began to take anti-racism and equality more seriously.

As with colonization, Black abolitionists took an early leading role against Indian removal. The combination of the two issues helped to radicalize some of the white abolitionists, who began to take anti-racism and equality more seriously.

The project of The Liberator was to change people’s minds. It featured factual exposure of  slavery’s evils along with ethical and theological arguments. This program of “moral suasion”—which also went by the name of “non-resistance”—was supposed to change even the minds of slaveholders. An example of this approach was the 1836 pamphlet by Angelina Grimké called Appeal to the Christian Women of the South.20“Moral suasion”: Reynolds 53. For Garrison’s vision of Christian non-resistance, see Mayer 249–51.

Black abolitionists, moral suasion, and militance

Black abolitionists generally supported Garrison’s style of immediatism, including Frederick Douglass, who had escaped from slavery in Maryland in 1838. But a significant number of ordinary Black people had doubts about moral suasion. For one thing, they supported slave revolts. There was also evidence that this kind of resistance was more persuasive than “non-resistance.”

In the year John Brown was born, in 1800, a major conspiracy to revolt was discovered around Richmond, Virginia. It was led by a blacksmith named Gabriel. This sent a shock through the South, and even though it didn’t even get launched, the revolt also gave a push to the sluggish movement to abolish slavery in the northern states.21 Aptheker 234.

Another Virginia rebellion—Nat Turner’s in Southampton County, Virginia in 1831—also had a big impact on elite white opinion. Following the revolt, which killed about sixty white people, the state legislature even debated the abolition of slavery. Leading the way were politicians of western Virginia, the area that became the free state of West Virginia at the beginning of the Civil War.22See Masur 155–61.

One of the voices of Black militancy was David Walker, a free Black man who moved from the Carolinas to Boston and published a pamphlet in 1829 called An Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World. This was a call to revolt addressed to Black people—not to the conscience of Southern whites. It was intended for secret distribution in the South, and it argued that slaves had the right to shed blood to win their freedom.

Martin Delany, a Black doctor, was a different kind of radical. He actually favored colonization because he didn’t trust that white people would ever overcome their racism. Delany wasn’t opposed to putting up a fight, though, and he collaborated with John Brown.

Henry Highland Garnet was another militant, a preacher who escaped from Maryland as Douglass had. Like Walker, he thought Black people needed to rely on themselves. In an 1843 speech to the National Convention of Colored Citizens in Buffalo, Garnet advocated rebellion. In a narrow vote, the group decided not to publish it.

Five years later, it was John Brown who scrounged up the money to publish Garnet’s speech for the first time. He packaged it together in a single edition with David Walker’s pamphlet.23Geffert and Libby 168.

Such Black abolitionists, and the rebel captives themselves, were the folks whom Brown aligned himself with.

Consecrating his life

As an adult, John Brown was involved in a number of failed business ventures. One of them was selling western sheep’s wool in the east. My sense is that he was too forthright and not enough of a manipulator to be a good salesperson. His ventures meant that he moved around a lot—into Pennsylvania, to Springfield, Massachusetts. Wherever he could, he went to hear feminist speakers. Sometimes his family moved with him, and sometimes he was on his own.24Went to hear feminist speakers: Reynolds 123.

Brown even took a trip to Europe to try to sell wool and took the chance to visit some battle sites around the continent. He had studied European wars, especially guerrilla warfare. This was in addition to reading about armed Caribbean enclaves of maroons—escapees from slavery who set up their own settlements. He also may have been inspired by the hit-and-run tactics of the Seminoles in Florida, a group that kept the U.S. Army engaged for seven years starting in 1835.25The origin of the word “maroon” is the Spanish “cimarrón,” which means “wild” or “untamed,” a word used for livestock that escaped the farm. Brown and European guerrilla war: Reynolds 106. May have been inspired by Seminole tactics: Nicolay and Hay 519. The word “Seminole” may also be derived from “cimarrón,” so-called because the Seminoles lived outside Spanish authority in Florida.

Everywhere he went in the U.S., he met with white and Black abolitionists, learning the different pathways of the Underground Railroad, and helping out the activists who kept these operations going. The activists were organized into “vigilance committees,” which served to “conduct” fugitives North. For the most part, fugitives came out of bondage broke and friendless, so the vigilance committees, many of which were majority-Black or all-Black, also supported new arrivals where they settled.26On the formation and activiity of vigilance committees: Quarles 150–56.

One incident in this period affected Brown strongly—the lynching of the abolitionist publisher Elijah P. Lovejoy. A pro-slavery mob killed him in Alton, Illinois in 1837. John and his father attended a memorial at a church in Hudson. Toward the end, John stood up, raised his hand, and said, “Before all these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery.”27Quoted in Reynolds, 65.

In the same decade, there were two slave revolts that impressed Brown.28Brown’s Kansas comrade and first biographer, James Redpath, wrote: “He was a great admirer of Oliver Cromwell. Of colored heroes, Nat Turner and Cinques stood first in his esteem” (Redpath 45–46).

One was Nat Turner’s in southern Virginia in 1831. It showed that major resistance could be built in the middle of a slave state. He may also have been interested in the tactics. For one thing, Turner’s plan, like the plan of Denmark Vesey nine years before, called for the use of bladed weapons like swords and pikes. That’s because most recruits would be inexperienced with guns.29On bladed weapons vs. guns: Reynolds 57.

For another thing, the apparent plan of Turner’s revolt was to strike terror quickly, gather recruits, raid an armory to get guns, and retreat to a defensible position where the fighters could train with the firearms. In Turner’s case, that would be the Great Dismal Swamp—a walk of a day or two from his neighborhood—where escapees had hidden out in the past.30Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a contemporary and supporter of John Brown’s, wrote with confidence in the Atlantic Monthly in 1861 that Turner had a clear plan to seize weapons and retreat into the Great Dismal Swamp if necessary (Higginson 1969, 174). This seems to have been the widespread supposition at the time—according to Sylvian Diouf’s Slavery’s Exiles (278–85)—and Brown may have believed it, too. Most later historians have acknowledged that Turner may have had such a plan, but that there is no evidence for it. Thomas Parramore makes a strong case for being skeptical in his “Covenant in Jerusalem.” Diouf gives references to the opinions of various twentieth-century historians in a footnote on 352.

Lithograph of Joseph Cinque (Sengbe Pieh). Cinque led the uprising on the slave ship Amistad in 1839. This portrait was done when he was awaiting trial in Connecticut. Lithography by Moses Yale Beach, from a portrait probably by James or Isaac Sheffield. Cropped by Tempest.

The other rebel of the time who impressed Brown was Joseph Cinque (Sengbe Pieh), who led the takeover of the slave ship Amistad in 1839. In this case, he was impressed that the revolt killed just four people—spilling only the necessary amount of blood to take control.31Redpath 46: “‘How often,’ writes a daughter [of Brown’s], ‘have I heard him speak in admiration of Cinques’ character and management in carrying his points with so little bloodshed.’”

It was around this time that Brown started developing a plan for his raid into the South.32Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote in 1859 (the year of the Harper’s Ferry raid) that Brown’s idea of attacking in the South originated “twenty years ago this summer”: quoted in Reynolds, 111.

A number of things intervened before he could carry it out. One was a change in Brown’s personal life—the opening up of North Elba in 1846, a predominantly Black settlement near Lake Placid, New York. A wealthy abolitionist friend, Gerrit Smith, had acquired 120,000 acres of land in the Adirondacks where free and escaped Black people could get a start in farming and also satisfy New York’s property requirement for voting. Brown supported the project and moved his family to North Elba in 1849.33The land was intended for grants of 40 acres apiece to 3,000 Black men (Sinha, 50). Much of the land was poor, however, the startup costs were high—and city life offered more connections with other Black people—so two years into the experiment, “less than 30 families had settled on the new lands”: Litwak 176–77.

In the next year, political history began to accelerate.

Thanks to David Courtenay-Quirk, who steered me toward some good sources and away from some beginner’s mistakes.

Bibliography

Anderson, Osborne Perry. A Voice from Harper’s Ferry. A Narrative of Events at Harper’s Ferry. Library of Congress, 2023 (facsimile of 1861 edition).

Anonymous (“Our special reporter”). “The Harper’s Ferry outbreak,” New York Herald, October 21, 1859, page 1.

Aptheker, Herbert. American Negro Slave Revolts. 5th edition. New York: International Publishers, 1983.

Clinton, Catherine. Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom. 1st ed. Boston, Mass: Little, Brown, 2004.

Diouf, Sylviane A. Slavery’s Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons. Reprint edition. New York: NYU Press, 2016.

Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Times Of Frederick Douglass. Facsimile of the 1881 edition. Secaucus, N.J: Citadel, 2000.

Du Bois, W. E. B. John Brown. Edited by David R. Roediger. New edition. Modern Library, 2001.

Forbes, Hugh. Letter to S[amuel] G[ridley] Howe, dated May 14, 1858, published in “The Harper’s Ferry outbreak,” New York Herald, October 27, 1859, 4.

Geffert, Hannah, with Jean Libby. “Regional Black involvement in John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry,” in McCarthy and Stauffer, 165–79.

Greenberg, Kenneth S., ed. Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Gridley, Karl. “‘Willing to die for the cause of freedom in Kansas’: free state emigration, John Brown, and the rise of militant abolitionism in the Kansas Territory,” in McCarthy and Stauffer, 147–64.

Grimké, Angelina E. Appeal to the Christian Women of the South. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.

Hershberger, Mary. “Mobilizing Women, Anticipating Abolition: The Struggle against Indian Removal in the 1830s.” The Journal of American History 86, no. 1 (1999): 15–40. Also available online from the History Cooperative.

Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. Black Rebellion: Five Slave Revolts. Facsimile of 1889 (first) edition, introduced by James McPherson. Arno Press, 1969.

Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. Army Life in a Black Regiment: And Other Writings. Edited by R. D. Madison. New York: Penguin Classics, 1997.

Joy, Natalie. “The Indian’s Cause: Abolitionists and Native American Rights.” Journal of the Civil War Era 8, no. 2 (2018): 215–42.

Kennedy, Lionel H., and Thomas Parker. An Official Report of The Trials of Sundry Negroes, Charged With An Attempt to Raise An Insurrection in The State of South-Carolina. Charleston, SC: James R. Schenk, 1822.

Litwack, Leon F. North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, 1790-1860. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961.

Masur, Louis P. “Nat Turner and sectional crisis,” in Greenberg, ed., 2003, 148–61.

Mayer, Henry. All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery. New York: St Martins Press, 1998.

McCarthy, Timothy Patrick, and John Stauffer, eds. Prophets Of Protest: Reconsidering The History Of American Abolitionism. New York: The New Press, 2006.

Meyer, Eugene L. Five for Freedom: The African American Soldiers in John Brown’s Army. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2018.

Nicolay, John G., and John Hay, “Lincoln’s Cooper Institute speech, and other political events of 1859–60,” The Century; A Popular Quarterly, v. 34, 1887, 509–33. Available online from Hathi Trust.

Oates, Stephen B. To Purge This Land with Blood: A Biography of John Brown. Echo Point Books & Media, LLC, 2021.

Parramore, Thomas C. “Covenant in Jerusalem,” in Greenberg, ed., 2003, 58–76.

Portnoy, Alisse. Their Right to Speak: Women’s Activism in the Indian and Slave Debates. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2005.

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Rasmussen, Daniel. American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt. HarperCollins 2011.

Redpath, James. The Public Life of Capt. John Brown, by James Redpath, with an Auto-Biography of His Childhood and Youth. Boston: Thayer and Eldridge, 1860. Facsimile of the first edition available from the Library of Congress.

Reynolds, David S. John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights. Reprint edition. New York, NY: Vintage, 2006.

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Saunt, Claudio. Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory. Reprint of 2020 release. W. W. Norton & Company, 2021.

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Categories: D2. Socialism

Perspectives for socialists in 2024

Sun, 02/11/2024 - 20:09

David McNally specializes in the history and political economy of capitalism. He teaches in the Department of History at the University of Houston and is the author, among other books of, Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance, Monsters of the Market: Zombies, Vampires and Global Capitalism, and Blood and Money: War, Slavery, Finance, and Empire.

Tempest Collective: We are interested in your take on the current global economic situation, particularly the economic cycle, the response to the 2007–09 crisis, the post-COVID period, and the coming home to roost of the “easy money” moment. What’s your perspective on the current moment? How close are we to a global recession?

David McNally: Those of us who grasp that the global crisis of 2007–09 was a turning point in the evolution of the global economy were proved right. But I think almost all of us (certainly myself) underestimated the degree to which the ruling classes would make an incredibly sharp pivot towards Keynesian-style stimulus and that all of their neoliberal nostrums against deficit spending would fly out the window when they saw a potential meltdown of the global financial system.

It’s always worth reminding ourselves that all seven major Wall Street banks faced collapse in 2008–09 and that there was genuine trauma in ruling-class circles about whether they could pull off an immediate rescue. Once that happened, I think the best commentators understood that neoliberalism was really fundamentally about a realignment of class power and much less about a hard ideological commitment to never running deficits and never going into debt. In other words, to preserve the existing configuration of class power that characterized neoliberalism (based on weakened unions, depleted social movements, and restored profitability), they would inject unprecedented amounts of stimulus into the system, and they would run enormous deficits to make this happen.

While stabilizing the system, stimulus policies also essentially offset capitalism’s inbuilt restorative mechanisms. Classically, the system has used deep recessions to purge the least efficient capitals from the economy and therefore open up the road to a new wave of restructuring, technological innovation, managerial reorganizations, and much larger concentrations of capital that enable a new boom.

We have not seen a new boom. What we did see, however, was a concerted effort by central banks around the world to block the shift into a full-scale depression, which they did avert. This needs to be acknowledged. But one of the issues that then arises is the contradiction of having stopped a recession (and a very deep one) by blocking capitalism’s restructuring mechanism. They have failed to purge the least efficient capitals from the system.

Most commentators agree that a significant number of corporations in the Global North are so-called zombie firms. That is to say, they’re not actually profitable. But when money was effectively free from central banks, they could borrow to stay alive. They could take out loans at 1.5 percent and relend at 3.5 percent, and therefore show financial profits even if their core businesses were not making money.

So, we have not seen the deep and prolonged restructuring that the United States saw in the early 1980s when steel plants, automobile factories, electrical goods, rubber, and parts plants went bankrupt on a large scale. There was very significant technological restructuring in that period which then enabled the neoliberal expansion to take place for the next 20 or 25 years.

We haven’t seen that kind of restructuring in the aftermath of the crisis of 2008–09. Instead what we have now is a capitalism that has dodged a huge bullet but did so at a cost to its own dynamism. But now, central banks have jacked up interest rates in order to bring down inflation, which is what we have seen for the last 18 to 24 months.

Having done that, we need to then ask ourselves what has this produced? They jacked up interest rates because what they feared most was not inflation in the abstract. Rather, what they feared was wage inflation. They feared that there would be a wave of strikes and unionizing efforts to catch up with what workers had lost under price inflation.

If inflation is at 6, 8, and 10 percent a year (particularly in foodstuffs, gas prices, rents), and if workers feel any enhanced bargaining power, they’re going to push to make up that gap. That was the pattern particularly of the late 1960s and the first half of the 1970s when there was a rising strike wave, particularly throughout the Western countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development  and the Global North but also in critical parts of the Global South.

The so-called war on inflation was a preemptive assault against a wage explosion that would have been driven by unionization and a much larger wave of strikes than we’ve seen.

So, the ruling classes were very worried about the so-called low unemployment figures and the problem of the “quit rate,” where workers feel sufficiently confident to leave low wage jobs in search of other work. They were concerned that this had created a sense among working-class people, even in the United States, that they could bargain with employers individually, leaving a low wage job for another slightly better one. But what troubled them the most was that workers might bargain—and act—collectively. They understood there was a new wave of unionization at Apple, Amazon, Starbucks, and beyond, particularly among young workers. They also knew that they might face a United Auto Workers (UAW) strike down the road in the United States, as in the event they did.

The Federal Reserve Board was positioning itself for this. If you read the Fed’s reports, they’re incredibly honest that what concerned them the most was the “sticky” employment rate. They wanted to bring the employment rate down—in other words, bring the unemployment rate up to create a greater sense of insecurity and to essentially inhibit the wave of union drives and strikes that was clearly in play.

The so-called war on inflation was a preemptive assault against a wage explosion that would have been driven by unionization and a much larger wave of strikes than we’ve seen, even though we’ve seen a not insignificant one, in Britain, France, India, Argentina, the United States, and so on.

But as they drove up interest rates, they created a predicament, which is that more and more of those zombie companies are now deeply precarious. The bankruptcy rate for corporations has started to rise, but they’ve not yet seen a huge purging of the system, because they’ve avoided a deep recession. If demand falls off, then the most vulnerable firms are in huge trouble. The financial system will face growing challenges due to bad loans.

But more than this, the driving up of interest rates has displaced the crisis onto the Global South. We’re once again in a situation where there are probably 50 or so countries in the Global South that are at risk of debt default, resulting from a simple inability to pay because they’ve now had to renew the 2 percent they initially paid in financing loans at 5 and 6 percent instead. The only option outside of debt repudiation is a further move down the road of catastrophic cuts to health care, education, fuel subsidies, and so on.

Over the next year we may see a variety of revolts in parts of the Global South, from places like Nigeria to Pakistan, where debt burdens are becoming so unsustainable that either reaction to huge austerity programs will produce social upheaval or countries will essentially have to go into debt default and in all probability negotiate draconian agreements with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other global lenders.

General strikers surround the Argentine Congress in opposition to new President Javier Milei’s massive austerity efforts. Photo by MST/ ISL.

This is a class warfare from above led by central banks that has been disguised as an anti-inflationary war. It has put the most vulnerable sections of the global economy under a very dire threat of debt crisis. This scenario will be in play over the next 12 months in a very dramatic way.

Of course, all of this then means as well that the dominant imperial powers will intensify their jockeying for supremacy. It is often forgotten that part of what imperialism is about is deflecting the effects of the global crisis from one block to another. A good part of U.S. strategy is precisely about deflecting the crisis toward China, Russia, and those in their orbit.

Today inter-imperial conflict is intensifying. The long, grinding war in Ukraine is an expression of that. Although founded upon a legitimate resistance by the Ukrainian people to foreign occupation, the war is also overlaid with an inter-imperial conflict.

Among Marxists there is a classic understanding that you can have a war which is multilayered, in which a variety of different antagonisms coexist. What we’re seeing in Ukraine is an inter-imperial rivalry overlying a colonial-style war of Russia against the Ukrainian people.

This is indicative of growing fractures in the global system. It’s easy to forget that the neoliberal game plan was integration of China into the world capitalist order. Western ruling classes pursued that quite vigorously for a quarter century. That has now significantly wound down because of the effects of the 2007–09 crisis.

We’ve moved from integration to disintegration. We’ve moved from cooperation to rivalry.

TC: Do you think that the U.S. ruling class, represented in the central bank, has been successful, considering they were driven centrally by the question of wage inflation and the labor market? We still have a very hot labor market. It’s not clear that they’ve successfully suppressed wages. The seeds of labor militancy continue. And with regards to the question of inter-imperial rivalry generally, the crisis in China has meant that there’s been a retreat from the Belt and Road Initiative, a retreat from its efforts to extend alternative debt offerings. That may, as we saw in Sri Lanka, compound the debt dynamic.

DM: Regarding the United States, I think what’s so interesting is that they have brought down the core inflation numbers. But I don’t think they have significantly dented the mood of combativity among working-class people, particularly among young workers in large multiracial urban settings.

One of the ironies of this moment is that the proliferation of political conflicts, most critically Palestine, actually will feed back into workplaces, especially among young workers. I was speaking with Kim Moody recently about how young activists and organizers in the late 1960s and 1970s brought Vietnam back into the workplace. The mood of defiance toward the ruling class over the Vietnam War was part of the radicalization of a young layer of workers in the workplace.

I think the global justice movement for Palestine is going to play out that way. Millions of young workers are completely disconnected from the ruling class over Palestine. It puts them in an oppositional spirit and creates a pattern similar to what Rosa Luxemburg described about the interplay of political and economic dynamics. In this scenario, even if one level of struggle starts to subside a little bit, the other dimension (in this case, the political) will have a feedback effect and nourish new kinds of economic disputes, confrontations, organizing campaigns, and so on. We’re not in a mass strike wave, of course, but there is an invigorated combativity.

I think they’ve singularly failed to stop the overall oppositional sense among young workers in particular within workplaces. While I’m emphasizing young workers, because there’s a locus of defiance there, labor unrest can very quickly take off among an older layer of workers as we saw in the UAW strike, for all of its unevenness.

I’m living and working in Texas these days. We had GM plants and auto parts plants on strike in Texas with very solid picket lines. That’s telling us something. Labor defiance continues even outside the centers of young worker organizing I was talking about. So, I don’t think that the ruling class has succeeded in dampening oppositional attitudes among workers.

[Y]oung workers are completely disconnected from the ruling class over Palestine. It puts them in an oppositional spirit..even if one level of struggle starts to subside a little bit, the other dimension (in this case, the political) will have a feedback effect and nourish new kinds of economic disputes, confrontations, organizing campaigns, and so on.

In terms of China, there is what you might call a reconsolidation of an imperial bloc strategy. In addition to moves toward greater protection by both the U.S. and Chinese states, there is also a retreat from some efforts to incorporate other states. When growth rates were high, when China was leading the world in rates of investment and growth in output, its rulers could afford to experiment with a number of initiatives to see what worked and what didn’t work.

Now, as their growth rates are tumbling, it’s not clear whether China is going to avoid a major crisis in the property sector. There’s a huge overaccumulation in the housing sector in China, which has not yet shaken out, and it is unclear if they can contain that. This doesn’t mean the ruling class in China is going to retreat towards a kind of autarkic isolationism. But it is consolidating, retrenching, and reprioritizing investment policies outside of China. This isn’t purely economic. It is also deciding which geopolitical and military investments are worthwhile and which ones ought to be shelved.

The Belt and Road Initiative, for instance, is really being throttled back. One way to think about the Chinese ruling class is to think about the conflict that’s being waged largely between Biden Democrats, on the one hand, and Republicans, on the other, about the degree of global military, diplomatic, and foreign policy spending that’s appropriate. Biden is still pushing hard for major U. S. spending designed to ensure global hegemony, but a whole layer of the Republicans, influenced by Trump’s kind of semi-isolationism, wants a retrenchment.

This has played out largely between two parties in Congress in the United States. But in China it has played out inside the one ruling party. In other words, they’ve got different currents and factions, and they’re trying to resolve their differences right now. I think they are retrenching but they’re not going to move backward on increased military spending. I don’t think they’re going to back off in their tacit support for Putin in Ukraine. They’re not going to back off over Taiwan.

But they are reconsidering within their own ruling circle what they see as extravagant foreign initiatives. That fits with the U.S. pattern overall also. When there’s a single ruling party, as in China, the shifts occur without much open debate of the sort that we’re seeing inside the U.S. ruling class.

I think that the axis of U.S.-China rivalry is not only going to continue throughout this period, but it’s going to remain very sharp. We saw the beginnings of the pivot from integration to rivalry after the 2007–09 crisis, but it has really sharpened since 2016.

TC: To what extent do you believe the imperial blocs are entrenched? Do you think Russia is more committed, perhaps by necessity, to an autarkic model because it’s under such pressure? To what extent is Russia an independent actor in light of its attempt to assert regional power via Ukraine, its threats to Finland, and so on? To what extent do you see Russia as answerable to the Chinese?

DM: I think we need a much deeper analysis of the internal dynamism within imperial blocs. We have a tendency to think that one state dictates, but I think it’s much more complex than that. The junior partners within an imperial bloc can at times exercise a more significant degree of autonomy than we often imagine. They are not writing the script. That’s not how global power works. But the dominant power within the bloc has to accommodate other powers.

An imperial bloc involves regional powers that have their own aspirations. The dominant power needs their regional influence and often has to accept actions that are not fully in their own interests. For example, China is not moving troops into Eastern Europe any more than the U.S. military is going to move 100,000 troops into Gaza and occupied Palestine. But they are enabling sub-imperial powers to do so.

Regional powers that need the umbrella of the larger imperialist power exercise a lot of autonomy themselves, particularly at this moment. Right now, Putin cannot afford to back down on Ukraine. That’s a simple reality. Defeat in Ukraine is the end of the line for Putin and his section of the ruling class. They remember what happened when Russia lost a war with Japan in 1905 and how it cracked open Czarism and opened up the floodgates of the 1905 revolution. They remember the lessons of the First World War: all the losing belligerents were shaken by working-class upheavals involving soldiers and sailors on a very large scale.

Putin needs to persist in Ukraine. China needs the alliance with Putin’s Russia because Putin is the containment strategy for NATO. Without Putin, China’s rulers fear NATO will sweep across Eastern Europe. So, Putin gets a lot of leash from the Chinese state to pursue a war with Ukraine that does not offer a lot to China itself.

[The U.S.] prefers to limit its own direct interventions. Better to let regional proxies do the dirty work. So, the likes of Saudi Arabia and Israel—especially Israel—are given a lot of rope to do what they deem necessary.

I would argue that there are elements of these dynamics in play in the Middle East. There’s no question that Israel is utterly reliant on foreign and particularly military aid from the United States. It needs the United States’s global authority with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states for its long-term plans. So, it’s reliant on the U.S. government. But the United States wants territorial influence and to prevent anti-imperialist upheavals in the region. At the same time, it prefers to limit its own direct interventions. Better to let regional proxies do the dirty work. So, the likes of Saudi Arabia and Israel—especially Israel—are given a lot of rope to do what they deem necessary. The United States may try to constrain its allied states in the region, to influence and pressure them. But since it needs these powers as regional police forces for empire, it gives them a lot of room to maneuver. This is the long-standing Kissinger Doctrine after the U.S. defeat in Vietnam.

We need to recognize that imperial blocs are dynamic and that the junior parties within a bloc can exercise very significant regional autonomy while carrying out strategies that often are not identical with those of the larger patron that dominates the bloc.

I think there was a period of time when China hoped for a negotiated settlement in Ukraine. They thought it was in their overall best interests to be seen as a power that could actually bring about a settlement. When they couldn’t do this, they decided to live with an ongoing war.

I think the United States genuinely wants a less destructive pulverization of the people of Gaza right now. I don’t think they’re going to get it. They probably know that, and are going to live with that. Those tensions are going to continue.

The interesting thing is there are no hegemonic powers that have the kind of influence within their blocs that Russia and the United States had in 1948. They don’t dominate in the same way. So we’re going to see tensions that are sometimes even much more overt inside the blocs, although this doesn’t mean the blocs are going to fly apart.

TC: Regarding the Middle East, certainly one sees the tensions you are talking about play out between Iran and Saudi Arabia. There are independent assertions of power by the Gulf states. There’s been a commitment over the last few U.S. administrations, and perhaps further, to strengthening regional stability and normalization of relations with Israel, most importantly with Saudi Arabia. That appears to have been part of the motivation for the October 7 attacks and appears to have at least momentarily impacted that process. What’s your assessment of what October 7 has meant for that dynamic—or is it too early to say?

DM: It’s too early to say. We’re in the middle of it. There are still an awful lot of factors that could come into play. We should not underestimate what it would mean to have a mass global Palestine solidarity movement capable of the kind and level of mobilization that the anti–Vietnam War movement had over years.

We’re not there yet. But should we get there, it then becomes an independent factor in drawing up a kind of balance sheet. Such a mass movement could become a very important factor.

I don’t believe it’s the case that everything that happened around October 7 was dictated by the regional and global dynamics. They were a factor, no doubt a significant one, but we need to understand the ways in which Hamas confronted a dilemma that earlier confronted the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Many folks have been rightly reading Tareq Baconi’s book on Hamas recently, but let’s remember the title, Hamas Contained. Baconi sketched a scenario in which Hamas ran the risk of becoming a rump administrative power in Gaza, contained by the occupation and essentially administering local austerity. It wasn’t yet in the situation in which Yasser Arafat of the PLO had found himself, literally in a compound and surrounded by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). But Hamas understood that risk.

If you cannot pose as a force of resistance to the occupation of Palestinian lands, over time you become an administrator of the occupation. I think that was a large part of what happened on October 7, an attempt to restore the idea of resistance.

If you cannot pose as a force of resistance to the occupation of Palestinian lands, over time you become an administrator of the occupation. I think that was a large part of what happened on October 7, an attempt to restore the idea of resistance.

Now, I take it for granted that Hamas does not represent the politics of Palestinian liberation to which we aspire. Hamas’s politics, political strategies, and ideological formation are foreign to those of the revolutionary socialist left. It does not represent authentic resistance, but it is a genuine force and it had to do something.

In terms of the regional context, Saudi Arabia in particular was being reconciled to the status quo. Saudi Arabia was moving toward a U.S.-driven accommodation with Israel because of Iran. It fears Iran as a destabilizing force hostile to the power of the Gulf states in the region.

But ultimately we need to understand that the Israeli state has demonstrated that it has no interest in negotiating with any representatives of the Palestinian people. Recently, Netanyahu has said bluntly and overtly that he is completely opposed to any kind of parcellized and fractionated Palestinian state. To suggest that the objectives of the Oslo peace process are some huge risk to the Zionist project is borderline crazy. The Oslo Accords were a victory for the United States and Israel. Nevertheless, the dominant ideology of the Israeli right sees in them excessive concessions to Palestinians.

As much as the regional dynamics matter in generating the events of October 7, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that so long as there is no movement toward any kind of even semi-reasonable Palestinian sovereignty, there’s going to be resistance. Regrettably that resistance won’t always take shape in the way that the socialist left would like. But it’s going to happen one way or the other.

Featured image credit: BullMoose1912; modified by Tempest.

Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Tempest Collective. For more information, see “About Tempest Collective.”

Categories: D2. Socialism

California State faculty mobilize for a no vote

Fri, 02/09/2024 - 15:20

Faculty in the California State University system, the largest public university system in the United States, went on strike on Monday, January 22 across all 23 campuses in the state. They are represented by the California Faculty Association (CFA). In November, 95 percent of union members who voted authorized a strike action in response to the system’s refusal to budge on union demands.

These demands included an across-the-board pay raise of 12 percent and raises in the salary floor for lecturers—poorly paid, contingent adjunct faculty who teach on a per-course basis with no guarantee of future classes. In addition to the wage demands, the union, which touts itself as an anti-racist, social justice union, had asked for an increase in the number of gender-inclusive restrooms and lactation/nursing spaces on all campuses; the hiring of more mental health counselors (who currently labor under a ratio of one counselor to 2500 students); an expansion of family leave from six weeks to a semester; and limits on armed policing on campuses.

Building off of a series of one-day strikes in December, the CFA planned a five-day strike for the week of January 22, the first week of school on most campuses. In spite of cold and drenching rain, thousands of faculty members came out to picket lines on the first day in festive scenes of marching, picketing, chanting, dancing, eating, and conversing. On many campuses, parking lots were nearly deserted as the strike interrupted instruction for the system’s thousands of students.

By the end of the first day of the strike, union members felt empowered by the day’s events and were ready for more.

Then, the faculty received an email Monday night announcing that the strike was over and that the union had “won.” Without consulting even the elected leadership of campus chapters, the bargaining committee signed a tentative agreement that fell far short of the union’s goals. Instead of 12 percent, the Chancellor (Dr. Mildred García) agreed to an immediate raise of five percent with another five to be contingent on the state budget. The union had been adamantly opposed to contingent raises, which had always fallen through in the past. The system agreed to modest raises in the floor salary for some lecturers, though much less than the union’s original ask.

The math is deliberately opaque, such that faculty are having a hard time figuring out whether they get the raises and by how much. Some agitators have published salary calculators that reveal that the actual gains for faculty do not come close to the estimates announced by the union after the tentative agreement was reached.

The union is claiming that the agreement is the biggest win for lecturers, but as California State University Long Beach lecturer Melissa Hidalgo explained, that is unclear:

What we’re seeing in the press is, this is a big victory for our lowest-paid faculty lecturers, which is the class that I fall into. It was also very confusing today, even when our union rep pulled out the charts and the graph. And I’m like, why can’t anything just be clear about where we belong and how much we are getting paid? None of us really knows where we’re at.

Hidalgo added that much of the increase in salary goes to less than half of all lecturers who teach five classes, amounting to a full-time load.

The agreement did not address union demands about controlling the workload of faculty who are continually asked to teach a greater number of students in each class.

The agreement completely omitted the other reforms sought by the faculty. Instead of gender-inclusive restrooms, lactation and nursing spaces, more mental health counselors, and restrictions on the police, the agreement contains what union leaders called “aspirational language” that acknowledged these needs without the commitment of any actual resources or plans for change. Family leave was expanded by four weeks, from six to ten, again, far from what prospective parents on the faculty were seeking.

Image Credit: Vote No Campaign

Cal State Northridge computer science professor Jeff Wiegley summarizes the failures of the agreement to live up to what was agreed to in bargaining caucuses:

I can’t believe what happened. Like I was at the December 12 meeting. I was at the January 8 meeting. I saw what we agreed to as necessary and what was unacceptable, and all of that is gone. Everything that we agreed to as being necessary is no longer in the contract.

The police safety issue, for instance. We agreed that it was necessary to keep three major things. One, they can’t be armed while doing the interview. Well, none of that’s in the contract. So they can be armed to the teeth all they want. I guess they could bring in more weapons if they wanted to. Two, the police had to tell you what your rights were legally and for the union representative. That’s not actually in there anymore. So there’s no obligation for the police to change their behavior; they can withhold information or provide you with a deceptive message while they’re interviewing you, which are police tactics for getting their job done.

And then we were going to make it so that you have a union representative with you while you were being interviewed. That’s not in the contract. Even though at all of the information meetings they’re putting out, they’re saying they got you the right to a union representative, but they didn’t. What you have is the ability to request a union representative and the union specifically says that they can deny it.

So that one [is] out the window. The gender-inclusive language became just aspirational as well. I hate “should” language. I don’t like aspirational. I don’t like maybe, because it’s just not enforceable.

For many faculty, the counselor-student ratio is a big sticking point. Hidalgo explained how the lack of support for mental health affects both students and faculty:

2,500 students–one counselor for 2,500 students. So we did not get that demand. We were asking to shrink the number down. We could have brought the ratio down a lot lower, but we didn’t get that. It becomes a workload issue because not only do our students lack the professional mental health care that they need, we are the people doing the day-to-day, face-to-face work. We’re the ones in the classrooms with them. They come to our office hours with problems that we’re not equipped or trained to handle as much as I want to. I’m a lecturer. We’re here to teach.

When we have students that are telling me, I’m sorry, I just got kicked out of my house. I’m living out of my car. I say, you know, I want to help you and I want to send you to the person who can actually help.

But we don’t have enough counselors. This is why they’re entwined. That is one real kind of consequence. When we don’t have enough counselors, not only do students suffer, but so do those of us who are already overworked.

While union leadership was crowing about the alleged “victory,” large numbers of striking faculty felt shocked and betrayed. Hidalgo said,

All we know is that we should still be on strike. We’re not. It was cut way too quick. I think most of us feel a lot of the anger, which is coming from the fact that we had an incredible amount of organizing and energy behind pulling this off, and it would have been a historic first-time strike at all 23 campuses. But for it to sort of end after a day, it just feels all kinds of things, short-sighted, not strong enough. We all felt very demoralized, and it certainly was not the deal we wanted. It was really nothing new that the chancellor’s office hadn’t already offered us.

Jaimy Magdalena is a lecturer in the Department of Race and Resistance Studies in the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University. She described the same feeling:

I felt so angry and betrayed and depressed because I was in the open bargaining.
And I also read the tentative agreement. That congratulatory email just was like total bullshit because the contingency language was wrong. And I had heard firsthand from union leadership that we’re not gonna ask for less than 12 percent. None of it lined up; my mind was spinning with all of these scenarios, you know, maybe if they had come out with this congratulatory email next week. But it was after day one, secretively and suddenly. For such a bad offer. It all just felt, yeah, like a betrayal.

Immediately, rank-and-file members at San Francisco State University called emergency meetings and the union executive board and president of that chapter endorsed a no vote. A concerted organizing drive for a “no” vote ensued, with SFSU, CSU Long Beach, and CSU Los Angeles as anchor campuses. The rank-and-file movement has held statewide town halls and organizing meetings supporting activist efforts on other campuses.

Protest at San Francisco State University. Image credit: Vote No Campaign.

Through concerted committee work, the group has produced social media content and other publicity, drafted emails to faculty, and collectively generated talking points. In addition to advocating that the agreement be voted down, the movement is building to work toward greater union democracy, whichever way the vote goes.

In the CFA, chapter executive boards are elected, with representatives for tenure-track faculty and lecturers from multiple departments. However, this is the only election that union members participate in. The bargaining team is appointed by the union president. The union’s general assembly is delegated from the executive boards.

In a democratic gesture, the union had embraced “open bargaining,” in which members could attend, in person or via Zoom, bargaining sessions with management. But there was no open bargaining on January 22.

CFA’s rationale for the sudden and disappointing agreement was that they were not confident that faculty were up for a longer strike, that Monday represented “peak power,” and that what the Chancellor brought to the bargaining table that evening was absolutely the best that could be won.

Anyone involved in the labor movement knows, however, that the first day of a strike does not represent “peak power.” As Wiegley put it,

This idea that the longer you’re on strike, the weaker you are is just absurd. I guarantee you that the deal that the Writers’ Guild got after three or four months of striking was stronger than whatever the hell was offered on the first day. This is kind of like a weird game of poker. If you have a hand and you want the other side to fold quickly, you don’t gradually escalate your bets. You don’t put in little dollars here, little dollars there. You just bet a massive amount and then the person just has to fold unless they’ve totally got you beat, and I don’t think we were totally beat. So we have played this game entirely wrong.

In the context of massively successful academic strikes over the past 18 months, a longer strike—and, as some faculty argued for, an indefinite one—could have generated increasing pressure on the system to give more. The fact that the system’s team came to the table immediately after Monday’s strike is an indication that they were feeling the pressure. Turning up the heat would have been the logical next step.

The strike had massive major media support and the endorsement of a growing number of politicians (including Bernie Sanders) at both state and national levels. Members of the Board of Trustees were indicating that they would break with the Chancellor. And thousands of faculty were out on the picket lines. Many members believe, in Hidalgo’s words, “we could have gotten more if we had kept striking.”

Wiegley thinks that this abortive strike sends a damaging message in the long term:

Here’s what we did this time. They came to us and they said, take it or leave it. So we had to take it? I’m like, no, you just screwed yourself. Now we will never be able to fight for a good contract until we have an open-ended long strike that lasts months because they know they can always just tell us, take it or leave it, and we will take it. That’s the position it put us in. We were ready to demonstrate our power as a striking union. And they took that away from us.

Since the agreement, union leaders have been pressing hard for a yes vote in local and statewide town halls. While they have access to lists of all union faculty, the no-vote campaign has no such resources, and information is spreading by word of mouth. The union is using email lists to campaign hard for the agreement while no-vote organizers rely on personal conversations and word-of-mouth.

No-vote organizers are urging members to actually read the agreement before voting. Wiegley said,

I think the biggest message that I would like to see put out to readers and to all of the members is: Really read the tentative agreement, look for the loopholes and all of the conditionality that exists there. Be informed about what you’re voting for, about how it affects you and the other people that were supposed to be represented here.

And, he added, “Be careful about what the union is telling you. That’s a propaganda machine.”

The CFA is using mass emails and texts to whip up a vote in favor of the agreement. But there is considerable energy behind the vote-no effort and whole campuses are likely to come out against the agreement. The entire executive board, including the chapter president, at San Francisco State, committed to a no-vote and appealed to CFA leadership for a fair hearing:

We the undersigned union organizers of CFA-SFSU write to express our commitment to an egalitarian union democracy and an equal commitment to the Anti-Racist and Social Justice goals of our union. We request that the statewide resources of our union, paid by members’ union dues, be restricted to impartial communications and processes related to the ratification vote on the Tentative Agreement (TA). We see this as an essential step in restoring trust pursuant to the abrupt demobilization of the strike without consultation with the members. We have been sincerely delighted by the embrace of open bargaining as a step toward the broader open-bargaining principles followed by democratic, fighting unions that win big for their members. The abandonment of these principles at the height of our power has demoralized rank-and-file members and broken trust. A scrupulous commitment to neutral communications and equal time for proponents of YES and NO perspectives is essential to restore trust, ensure that members will accept election results regardless of the outcome, and foster reconciliation and unity.

CFA strikes January 22 in Fullerton. Photo credit: Dana Cloud.

At Long Beach, San Jose State University, and elsewhere, the rank-and-file effort is mobilizing faculty through parallel town hall meetings. Hidalgo commented,

There are two groups of people organizing two sets of town halls, and I’ve been on all of them. You know what? We’re viscerally upset and angry that we’re not striking still, that we didn’t get anything close to what we had asked for, what our demands were. We had so many students out there with us.

Activists see this process and developing infrastructure for longer-term efforts to bring the rank-and-file into leadership in the union. Long Beach professor May Lin was active in the CFA Contract Action Team in the run-up to the strike. With Hidalgo, Lin is part of a collective of Cal State Long Beach rank-and-file CFA members. Lin said,

There’s this statewide leadership that makes decisions, and the process itself is undemocratic. And we have all these people who feel alienated from it, who were understandably enraged. On campus, faculty had already been building networks and connections around leftist organizing, especially with faculty of color. After what went down [on] Monday, we were able to build on those communities.

Regardless of the outcome of the vote on the agreement, there is significant momentum for a campaign to reform the union to make it more democratic and representative of the faculty’s interests. Wiegley explained,

The tentative agreement is bad. That’s a problem in itself. But then you recognize that there’s an underlying fundamental problem that needs to change, which is the structure of the union. The bargaining team and the strategy team should be elected. By us. Many of us are recognizing that. You know, this is not a very democratic union in the sense of rank-and-file democracy. And then you start getting more people into this group, not just the vote no group, but a bigger group with a higher critical mass of people saying, things have to change.

Activists understand that the movement for union democracy is the only check against the neoliberal takeover of our universities. One outcome of austerity budgets is the growth in the ranks of part-time contingent lecturers, who now teach more than seventy percent of Cal State students. As Hidalgo put it,

The real enemy is the neoliberal upside-down world where the presidents and everybody at the top are making obscene amounts of money and none of it trickles down. The real criminal is Ronald Reagan (governor from 1967-75) for charging tuition in the first place when the master plan of California says public colleges should be tuition-free for students. So structural capitalism is a big problem, obviously, because we wouldn’t be in this neoliberal mess. The real problem is the neoliberal structure of a public education system where we’re always fighting for crumbs at the bottom and where it’s possible to have such a stratified workforce where you can have people literally with the same degrees and the same credentials, the same CVs, getting paid so much less. We’re the Uber drivers of higher ed.

The no-vote activists have a sense of what’s ahead and the role a significant no-vote could have on the union. Magdalena said,

What I want to see is the vote no to pass. And then all of the things to democratize the union. I absolutely believe in the people that I’m working with on these various campaigns. So whatever that means—changing the board of directors, getting more people on the voting body. And to get a different bargaining team for sure and to get a different structure in place. It’s not about getting a different president or a different leader.

“But,” she concluded, “This could be a catalyst.”

Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Tempest Collective. For more information, see “About Tempest Collective.”

Categories: D2. Socialism

Toward a free Palestine

Tue, 02/06/2024 - 21:30

“We’re not freeing Palestine, Palestine is freeing us.”

Fatima Said

The Palestinian resistance to Israel’s genocidal war has brought us to a turning point in world politics. Most critically, it is a heroic struggle of a people facing annihilation in a fight that will determine the future of Palestinians in the short, medium, and long term. Our first task is to provide unconditional solidarity and engaged activity to fight for an immediate end to the brutal violence of the Zionist state.

October 7 has radicalized and activated an entire generation globally to join Palestinians in resisting the apartheid state and U.S. imperialism’s support for it. As such, it is also a turning point for the revolutionary Left. It provides us an opportunity to put forth our ideas for how best to organize and win liberation for Palestine as we join in the collective effort to build and strengthen the movement.

And as the aftermath of October 7 threatens to isolate Washington and its key ally in the region and accelerate the relative decline of U.S. imperialism, it has become clear that the events of the last four months are intimately tied up with the crises of the late neoliberal world order and the imperialist state system. This raises the stakes for the Left.

The place of the Palestinian struggle

For decades, the struggle for Palestinian liberation has played a singular and critical role in efforts to build an anti-imperialist movement internationally. Arguably, for the Left in the U.S., the Palestinian struggle is analogous to the anti-racist movement and the fight for Black liberation insofar as both are key to understanding U.S. capitalism, its hegemony, and therefore its defeat. This grows out of Israel’s position as a unique linchpin in U.S. imperial strategy and ambitions beginning from at least 1967.

Particularly in the last two decades, because of the increasingly naked brutality and racism of the Zionist project—especially as the failures of the Oslo process have become undeniable—the Palestinian movement has had an outsized impact in radicalizing people and opening them to anti-imperialist politics. We see this unmistakably in the U.S. where polls show not only that there is overwhelming support for a ceasefire but also that half of Americans under 35 found the actions of Hamas on October 7 “justified by Palestinians grievances.” The response by the youth (not to mention the Arab community) to “Genocide Joe [Biden]” has shaken the Democratic Party and its 2024 electoral calculations.

Since the end of the Cold War, a new imperial order has been in formation. In this century, the end of the period of virtually unchallenged U.S. world dominance was highlighted by the serial, slow-motion defeats of the United States in southwest Asia. In this process, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the struggle with China over hegemony in the Asia-Pacific have thus far represented the clearest, albethey asymmetrical, challenges to U.S. imperial dominance.

President Donald J. Trump, joined by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the United Arab Emirates Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, waving to the crowd after the Abraham Accords signing Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, on the South Lawn of the White House. Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks.

The strategy pursued by the U.S. state in the interests of its capitalist class has been to secure the “middle east” as the geopolitical key, an integrated economic zone under its hegemony. The treachery of Oslo was a crucial step in that process. The emergence of this new imperial order, and in particular the role of competition with China has underscored the region’s importance for U.S. capital. The escalation of the normalization process with the Arab states through the Abraham Accords in 2020 has been pursued consistently by the Trump/Biden administrations and is driven by this imperial competition.

But the completion of that process has been consistently stymied by Palestinian resistance. It is one of the last anti-colonial struggles in a post- (or neo-)colonial world, and the question of Palestine continues to pose a barrier to U.S. strategy. This is a core, material basis for the centrality of the Palestinian struggle in the fight against U.S. imperialism.

October 7 and the new imperial order

In this light, Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza represents an acute turning point. As the war has begun to explode regionally, the aftermath of October 7 has shaken the decades-long “normalization” efforts by the U.S. and Israel and eroded Western hegemony.

As the various regional powers maneuver for leverage, the military actions directly in support of Palestine—for example, the border skirmishes between Israel and Hezbollah—have been modest and minimal. And a newly quiescent Saudi regime seems paralyzed by the contradictions between their allegiance to the U.S. order and the deep-seated support for the Palestinian struggle amongst its population. Even the attacks of Ansar Allah (commonly referred to as the “Houthis”) on Red Sea shipping have more complex roots in domestic Yemeni politics, the war with the Saudi regime(currently under a truce), and, to some extent—however it may be weaponized by the Pentagon—Iranian aspirations.

The international institutions…have proven themselves either impotent or complicit, or both. Most importantly has been the naked hypocrisy of U.S. and allied support for the genocide in Gaza.

Viewed together, the rapid series of geo-political escalations represents a menacing cloud over the struggle for a new imperial order. These are fast-moving and every week brings more evidence. The U.S.-led response in Yemen, in the ghastly named “Operation Prosperity Guardian,” has been prominently in the news. But the assassinations and bombings in Beirut by Israel, the Daesh/ISIS bombings in Iran, the growing sectarian violence in Iraq, are other manifestations of this escalation. Relatedly, the Iranian missile strikes on Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria, Pakistani attacks on Iran, the escalating military attacks by Turkey on the Kurdish nation, the recent drone strikes in Jordan, allegedly originating in Syria and killing U.S. soldiers, and the subsequent wave of U.S. bombs on Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, represent examples across nation-states. We should not mince words, both the U.S. and Israel are at war.

The international institutions, supposedly designed to prevent or mitigate these dynamics, have proven themselves either impotent or complicit, or both. Most importantly has been the naked hypocrisy of U.S. and allied support for the genocide in Gaza that has exposed the lie of the rules-based international order—an “order” imposed back when Washington was able to secure its dominance by imposing the rules.

The spectacle of the U.S. veto of a United Nations resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the isolation and exposure of losing the vote for the same in the body’s General Assembly—without the support of its typical allies in Europe—are but two examples. And whereas the lawsuit initiated by the South African government in the International Court of Justice (“ICJ”), charging Israel with genocide, has laid bare the decades-long genocidal policy of the Zionist state, it threatens to further display the selective impotence of those self-same international institutions. The ICJ found that at least some of the actions of the Zionist state “appear to be capable of falling within the provisions of the [Genocide] Convention.” In response, the U.S. and allied countries have suspended funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, “the primary humanitarian agency in Gaza, with over two million people depending on it for their sheer survival.” We should expect the same dynamic will be at play in the referral, by the Mexican and Chilean governments, to the International Criminal Court over possible war crimes in Gaza.

This turning point in the balance of imperial power is inextricably tied, in countless ways, to the manifold crises of the late neoliberal era and the choices made by the world’s ruling classes in responding to the acute economic crisis of 2007 and 2008. As these crises have evolved, the reformist Left internationally promised a path that both failed on its own terms and was actively defeated. The defeats of the international Left in the face of the growing crises of the early twenty-first century and the general failure to build lasting organizational vehicles to recuperate and sustain from our losses are directly related to the rise of the far right internationally. These far-right movements have undeniable echoes in the past. Whatever name is given to these far-right movements, they have responded to the crisis with the most base nationalist politics. They lay claim to the mantle of counter-power and pose as the political alternative. It is a project built on scapegoating and an irrational fury to avenge the loss, or to call back into existence, a mythic past—a racist, xenophobic, heteronormative fantasy.

Photo by, and banner of, NYC Queers Against Israeli Apartheid circa 2019.

Israel is no exception. Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant declared, “We are fighting human animals, and we are acting accordingly.” “We will eliminate everything.” After decades of denial and whitewashing of the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”)—Israel’s ethnic cleansing and war crimes in 1948—the Netanyahu government has embraced its completion. They proclaim: There is “one goal: Nakba! A Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of [19]48. Nakba in Gaza and Nakba to anyone who dares to join.” And while the Israeli Heritage Minister proposes dropping atomic bombs on Gaza, other ministers are clearing the way, preaching to the French far- right that there is “no such thing as Palestinians.” It is no coincidence that Marine Le Pen and her National Rally (the successor of the fascist National Front) march in Paris, “against anti-semitism.” And it is not hyperbole to recognize that Netanyahu and the current Israeli government embody the imminent logic of Zionism and the creep of authoritarianism internationally (Putin, Trump, Milei, Orbán, Modi, Bolsonaro, et al.).

The challenges facing the Left

By making clear  U.S. commitments to “stand forever” with the Zionist state the Biden administration has laid bare the core values of the imperium. And with these commitments, there is continuity, not a break, with the Trump years. This is the context in which the struggle for Palestine has provided the Left an opening that we must not miss but that is heavily contested.

Millions of people have been on the march in hundreds of countries in the face of the mass murder and the humanitarian crises in Palestine, with an implicit understanding that this turning point is an issue for all of humanity. And in this movement, the questions of the balance of imperial power, questions of national self-determination, questions of how to rebuild a truly internationalist Left are radicalizing an entire generation globally in ways that have not been witnessed since the anti-colonial revolutions and the Vietnam War of the last century.

[T]he Democratic Party leadership has given meaning to their promise of support for Netanyahu and Israel. This is a partnership for ethnic cleansing and mass murder.

In response to the solidarity movement, the Democratic Party leadership has given meaning to their promise of support for Netanyahu and Israel. This is a partnership for ethnic cleansing and mass murder. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, congressperson and former head of the Democratic National Committee, has denounced opponents of Israel as “lacking a soul.”And a growing offensive driven by U.S. state institutions and media has emerged out of this bipartisan political consensus. It is the type of political repression that we have not seen since the height of the Cold War. Cynically equating opposition to Zionism to anti-semitism and support (critical or otherwise) for the Palestinians, and Hamas in particular, as support for “terrorism,” have been the tools used to materially threaten the movement. For the first time in decades, Congress is intervening to silence and repress local unions in their efforts to stand in solidarity with Palestine. The label of “McCarthyite” is well- earned.

For example, Congressperson Richie Torres targeted NYC-DSA ostensibly for “revealing itself for what it truly is — a deep rot of antisemitism that must be universally condemned for celebrating the deadly terrorist attacks against Israel.” Both Torres and Wasserman Schultz later voted to censure Congressperson Rashida Tlaib “for promoting false narratives regarding the October 7, 2023… and for calling for the destruction of the State of Israel.” In reply, the calls for a “two-state solution” to “break the cycle of violence”—as Bernie Sanders and many of the soft-zionist liberals would have it—are grossly misplaced.

In fact, in the aftermath of the defeat  of their social democratic calls for “political revolution” Sanders and other politicians like him, have shifted into electioneering-for-Biden mode even as the President contributes to the genocide of Palestinians. Even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who unlike Sanders has called for a ceasefire, has tempered any criticism of Biden at a moment when his popularity has plummeted. It is not an oppositional politics to prop up the political corpse of a bankrupt status quo.

Opportunities for the Left

At the same time, the attacks on activists and the socialist Left reflect the ideological weakness of any unconditional defense of Israel. Thus, the imperialist nature of the Democratic Party has met unexpected resistance from within. This includes a notable amount of internal tension with Congressional  and White House staff and the resignation of several Biden appointees. But most importantly, there is overwhelming support for a ceasefire among Democratic voters.

When those same voters ask the simple question of “Why this genocide?” and the many corollary questions that follow, they are faced with profound contradictions. Most obviously between the progressive veneer of the Biden Administration (or at least its lesser-evil status viz. Trump and his Republican Party ) and the full- fledged support for and perpetration of genocide. Those radicalizing through this process are also faced with the proliferation of the worst racist tropes used to justify the genocide. These contradictions and the enormity of the catastrophe all promise to make the radicalization that follows both deep and durable.

The actions of Hamas and allied forces on October 7 were products of desperation and the slow strangling reality of the decades-long status quo in Gaza, the West Bank, the state of Israel, and the region. However, a free Palestine cannot be won through armed struggle alone.

The actions of Hamas and allied forces on October 7 were products of desperation and the slow strangling reality of the decades-long status quo in Gaza, the West Bank, the state of Israel, and the region. However, a free Palestine cannot be won through armed struggle alone. Armed resistance is one component of the heroic struggle of Palestinians, and however much we might oppose certain tactics, this needs to be defended. Any limited military victory against the Israeli Occupation Force would be welcome.

However, alongside the Palestinian struggle, there are two other keys to unlocking liberation. The first is a revolutionary process in the region, the possibilities for which we have seen in the successive waves of the Arab Spring and in Sudan. This is essential to challenge the frequently ambivalent and oftentimes treacherous “support” for Palestine among the Arab regimes due to their own long-standing ties to imperialism. Second, is our active, consistent support for the anti-imperialist movements in the western metropoles. In the U.S. our biggest responsibility is in building that Left, that movement, in the heartless center of imperialism.

Given that responsibility, and on the four-month anniversary of October 7, key questions are coming to the fore: Are our current tactics sufficient? How long can the current level of mobilization be sustained? Given the responses, how do we prepare the ground for a united front beyond the demand for a ceasefire? Can the movement transcend its political and demographic divisions in a way that strengthens our capacities? Can we build long- term offensive campaigns, like targeted divestment, BDS, or broader anti-apartheid efforts? This infrastructure needs to be built. We need spaces that politically educate and train new activists and aim to integrate them into the movement. This is a challenge as there are (with some exceptions) not enough access points for individuals to take part in the building of organizational infrastructure with an eye toward the long-term strength of the movement. While the frenetic pace of demonstrations and all-encompassing flurry of signal chats carry out the day- to- day work, preparation for the long- term struggle cannot wait, whatever the challenges of working on two timelines.

As the broader political dynamics evolve so will the questions facing the movement. While not yet the most pressing of those questions, when leading forces in the movement in the U.S. uncritically hold up the examples of Iran, Syria, China, Russia, etc., the issue of who are the reliable allies in the region lurks in the background. This underscores, in a live way, the continual debates in the socialist movement around campism.

[T]he wider Arab ruling classes serve in the interests of their own ruling classes and too often value accommodations with imperialism over solidarity with Palestine.

Whatever the ultimate limits of a military strategy, the Palestinians have a right to arms and military support where they can get them. This includes obtaining arms from the so-called “axis of resistance.” However, that cannot be the final word on the situation. In part, this is because of our principled solidarity with popular democratic struggles in all of those countries across the region. But equally, it is because this “axis” and the wider Arab ruling classes serve in the interests of their own ruling classes and too often value accommodations with imperialism over solidarity with Palestine.

The Iranian government—which violently repressed the mass uprising sparked by the police killing of Kurdish woman Jina Amini—seems to have played an important role in limiting the Hezbollah response from south Lebanon to tete-a-tete rocket fire with Israel. While those Iranian allied militia in the Iraqi Islamic Resistance— who themselves murdered and abducted revolutionaries during Iraq’s October Uprising in 2019—have now backed down from their military confrontations with the U.S. forces, under pressure from Iran. And Syria, under Bashar al Assad, is hailed by some on the Left as a supporter of the Palestinian cause. Yet the brutal butcher of the Syrian Revolution killed and tortured thousands of Palestinians in this process. Just as his father, Hafez al Assad, was complicit in the murder of Palestinian refugees and attacks on their political leadership—working to support right-wing Lebanese militias in the 1970s and 1980s, often aligned with Israeli policy.

None of this is to necessarily question discrete tactical choices made by these states over the last few months. Rather, it is necessary to recall both the historic unreliability of these regimes toward the Palestinian movement and their brutal repression of the types of democratic movements that will be necessary to take on imperialism. And while these strategic issues may not yet be ripe in the context of our movements in the U.S. they exist close to the surface and will inevitably emerge as live questions.

Principles, strategies, tactics, and tasks

As revolutionary socialists, as Marxists, our starting point is support for the democratic rights of the Palestinian people who have been subjected to the imperialist-backed project of settler colonialism. We start from a posture of solidarity with the Palestinian people as they struggle to assert their rights. In turn, this starting point is rooted in our opposition to capitalism and imperialism. We are driven by a fundamental understanding that the future of humanity is at stake if our collective future continues to be driven by the logic of imperialism. We want a world free from wanton violence, death, and destruction, free from exploitation and oppression. These are first principles.

We recognize that the current moment is only possible due to the steadfast, unwavering Palestinian resistance from 1936 to the present.

Thus, we defend Palestinians’ right to fight in whatever way they choose—in full respect for their agency and the knowledge and wisdom that comes from a daily existential struggle with an enemy over decades. We recognize that the current moment is only possible due to the steadfast, unwavering Palestinian resistance from 1936 to the present. It is a spectrum of resistance that has taken many forms: in Palestine, in the refugee camps in the neighboring countries of the regions, and in the broader diaspora around the world. This has meant that not only have Palestinians not been defeated, but they have won solidarity from much of the world’s population. One of the clearest examples of internationalism, it is a testament to the stalwart struggle against one of the most racist, most militarized countries that in turn is backed by the most powerful state on earth.

The roots of the socialist perspective lie in the common concern over the future of humanity. Central to that solidarity is the ability to have a frank and attuned conversation organically arising from the live strategic and tactical questions facing the Left and our movements. The method of unconditional but not uncritical support for national liberation struggles is not just old leftist language to be lightly discarded but is foundational to a Marxist method.

November 2023 demonstration for Palestine, London, United Kingdom. Photo by Monte Cruz.

For example, in the immediate aftermath of October 7, given the universal surprise at the breadth of the Hamas-led offensive and the immediate genocidal response by Israel, legitimate debates arose. These included debates around the strategic efficacy of the offensive, per se, and around the targeted killing of non-combatants, however we adjudge, through the fog of war, the extent to which his tactic was used. In any case, socialists do not need to endorse the resistance tactics chosen by the oppressed before determining which side we’re on—or before affirming that the choice is theirs. We also take into account the context: Palestinian forces made the desperate strategic gamble of October 7 only after decades of slow-motion ethnic cleansing and political strangulation.

In the U.S., these debates took place within an atmosphere best compared to the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Sharp political lines were drawn and litmus tests demanded to corral support for Zionism and colonial violence. In these circumstances, the questions of how we best speak to diverse audiences, in the U.S. and internationally, in the interest of withstanding the ideological assault and McCarthyite tactics, and in the interest of strengthening the movement were (and are) necessary to address. And our answers must be premised on our unconditional support for Palestinian liberation as a foundational principle.

Within that framework, the ability of our organizations and our movements to navigate these debates in a healthy manner is not just a necessary evil, but essential. With a clear principled understanding and a perspective around all three keys of the liberatory process—Palestinian resistance, regional democratic revolts, and revolutions against the unreliable allies of the Arab governments, ever stronger anti-imperialist movements in the imperial centers—we should welcome strategic and tactical debates.

The urgency of the moment, the crying need to stop a genocide, has propelled a movement. Right now we need democratic and coalitional spaces that can integrate the vast numbers of people pouring into the streets on a weekly and even daily basis. Through these spaces, we must collectively answer the questions of how to chart the path toward a ceasefire and through that to the question of U.S. imperialism and aid to Israel. And answering how we can take the opportunities of this moment to cohere organizations built for the long-term struggle is essential.

At its core, the movement for Palestine at this moment is at a turning point. Its challenge to U.S. imperialism is felt both in the radicalization it has sparked and in the extreme naked violence that the defenders of Zionism have unleashed. The political clarity and fervent activity of the socialist movement are absolutely necessary if we want to play any kind of role in this historic struggle.

May the Intifada be global! As our comrades in Egypt chant, “May all the presidents fall!” From the river to the sea, free Palestine!

Featured image credit: Never Before Campaign for Palestine; modified by Tempest.

Categories: D2. Socialism

Is a new political cycle opening in Chile?

Sat, 02/03/2024 - 21:11

The rejection of the new right-wing constitution demonstrates a “national political” stalemate in which none of the social sectors in dispute have been able to impose its program. For the next stage, it is necessary to build a political force to strike together.

On Sunday, December 17, 2023, for the second time in just over a year, Chileans voted in a referendum “for” or “against” a draft of a new constitution, which would replace the one implemented in 1980 during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and reformed several times since 1989. This new national election takes place four years after the great social revolt of 2019, which shook the neoliberal hegemony established in the Andean country for five decades, and two years after the election of Gabriel Boric, the young president of the progressive Left (supported in a coalition of the Communist Party (CP) and the Frente Amplio, in alliance with part of the old Concertación (establishment parties) that governed the post-dictatorship transition).

The first constitutional vote of 2022 was to “approve” or “reject” the proposal for a new constitution drafted by a convention with mostly anti-neoliberal representatives and with the participation of native peoples, social movements, and gender parity. It was a project that gathered decades of social struggles and aspired to a democratic Chile based on broad social rights. The new constitutional draft is the opposite since it was written by a council with an extreme right-wing majority, and with the [Chilean] Republican Party at the head, which deepened the political regime of the 1980 constitution and restricted social rights.

A class vote

Once again, more than 15 million Chileans were called to vote: 55.8 percent opposed the new constitutional text, although 15 percent of the voters did not go to the polls, despite the mandatory voting system with automatic registration (again in force since 2022). Once again, in the capital there was a class-based vote, as in the rest of the country: while the three richest municipalities of the country voted “in favor,” the popular municipalities of the south and west of the capital voted more than 60 percent, or even 70 percent, “against.” Only two regions of the Andean country voted overwhelmingly in favor of the latest draft of the Constitution, drawn up by the right wing.

However, big capital and its media have invested more than 130 million pesos [$143,000 USD] in the campaign to defend the new text and a constitution that would definitively prevent any legislation in favor of abortion, which would safeguard the private pension system, which would consolidate the commodification of water, education and health, and which would enshrine the prohibition of sector-wide collective bargaining, while still restricting the right to strike.

A defeat for Antonio Kast’s far-right party

In September 2022, more than 62 percent of the population had already rejected a constitutional proposal, but in this case, it was a clearly left-wing and feminist Magna Carta, which proclaimed a “plurinational” State and recognized new rights for Indigenous peoples. For many constituents, it was a matter of overcoming – at least in part – the neoliberal State and an extractivist and ecocidal development model inherited from Pinochet and his “Chicago Boys.”

In December, the new draft was also rejected, but in the face of a text written by the extreme right and the traditional right, within the framework of a process much more “controlled” by the traditional parties and the Parliament, attached to “technical committees of admissibility” and commissions of “experts.” The fifty members (elected in May 2023) of the Constitutional Council were led by a relative majority attached to the Republican Party of José Antonio Kast, a new extreme right that has emerged strongly in the last three years, which has emerged as a force of “return to order” against the collective rebellion of October 2019, against the powerful feminist movement and its demands, against the Boric government and its “late progressivism,” with an openly racist, anti-migrant, patriarchal, conservative and ultra-securitarian discourse.

[I]n the capital there was a class-based vote, as in the rest of the country: while the three richest municipalities of the country voted “in favor,” the popular municipalities of the south and west of the capital voted more than 60 percent, or even 70 percent, “against.”

In alliance with the right wing, the Republican Party believed it could draft a constitution in its own image and likeness, that of the “true Chileans” in the words of the president of the Council, the very reactionary and Lutheran fundamentalist Beatriz Hevia. With the result of the last referendum, the Republican Party has just suffered its first clear defeat. Above all, because Kast was already seen as a new presidential candidate with real possibilities of winning at the end of 2025. The knives are also out between the traditional conservative-neoliberal right-wing coalition (Chile Vamos), around figures such as Evelyn Matthei, and the Republican clan, each seeking to evade responsibility for the debacle. Dissidence is also appearing within the extreme right when some leaders or opinion leaders such as Axel Kaiser sought to create a “Libertarian Party,” even more radical than Kast and copied from Javier Milei’s model in Argentina. These differences and tensions within the right-wing camp are set to grow in importance during the coming months, creating a possible window of political opportunity for the social and political left.

A Boric government without initiative, a progressivism without reforms

The night of the result, President Boric spoke again of a national consensus, while confirming that the constituent process had come to an end after these two rejections, recognizing that the “social priorities” were now elsewhere. The young president, instead of taking advantage of this right-wing defeat at the polls, repeated a self-flagellating speech criticizing the alleged “radicalism” of the first constitutional proposal of 2021-2022, and rejecting any “polarization” of the country:

It is time to recognize the result achieved by those who voted against, but without forgetting that an important part of those who went to the polls voted for the option in favor. We cannot make the same mistake of previous referendums. The country is made by all of us and those who triumph in an election cannot disregard or ignore those who are thus defeated. Our country will continue with the current constitution because after two constitutional proposals were voted on, none of them managed to represent and unite Chile in its beautiful diversity. The country became polarized and divided, and regardless of this resounding result, the constitutional process failed to channel the hopes of having a new Constitution drafted for all.

In general, several government cadres recognize that this result gives some “fresh air” to a president who has become known for a weak capacity for change and some timid and contradictory reforms (advances in free health care, reduction of the working week and an increase to the minimum wage). Above all, what marks the Boric administration is its lack of will to confront the dominant and business sectors and to try to mobilize popular sectors “from below,” while, apart from the CP, it has no real link with the workers and subaltern sectors.

As a minority in parliament, locked in a parliamentary logic and management of the state apparatus, and having failed to impose his tax reform, Boric depends more and more on the Socialist Party and its allies (pillars of neoliberalism since 1990), which have entered with force in the government and are embodied by the Minister of the Interior, Carolina Tohá. Submerged in a case of corruption (Caso Convenios) and facing a systematic and terribly effective bombardment by the capitalist media that centered public debates on drug trafficking, insecurity, and the rejection of migrants, the government has to handle more than pushing its political agenda.

Chileans advocated for a new political constitution in 2022 to replace the Pinochet-era constitution originally implemented in 1980. The sign translates to “New Constitution Now.” Photo credit: Jose Pereira via Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.

In addition, despite the protests of many honest militants and the criticism of leaders like the CP mayor Daniel Jadue [mayor of Recoleta since 2012], the government has continued militarizing the Mapuche territory known as Wallmapu, defending the Carabineros and broad impunity for those responsible for the repression of October 2019, and proposing laws that criminalize struggles for the right to housing. The presence of left-wing figures such as cabinet minister and spokesperson Camila Vallejo, does not change this general orientation, which is also provoking a great demobilization among the bases of the Frente Amplio [Broad Front] and the CP.

A new political cycle and perspectives for social movements

Undeniably, Sunday’s elections mark the end of a political cycle. Paradoxical elements of continuity can be discerned at the heart of these two referenda. Clearly, the crisis of hegemony, the rejection of the political “caste” and the dissatisfaction with the lack of solutions to the main popular demands are still with us, in different ways and with different strategic orientations. If we discount the profound impact that the media and social networks had on the electoral outcomes of both plebiscites, in any case, we can find that the vote “against something” outweighs the vote “for something.” This shows a situation of a national political stalemate, in which none of the actors in dispute manages to impose its program or convince the population of its proposals to close the crisis. Neither the massive eruption of the people in October 2019, nor the anti-neoliberal majority of the convention of 2021, nor the progressivism in government since 2022, nor the Pinochetist majority of the council of 2023: None of these expressions of the crisis has represented a way out.

In this situation, the main threat for the popular sectors in Chile is the successful emergence of a political force of the extreme right that manages to capitalize on the defeats of all the actors mentioned above. Needless to say that Milei’s triumph in Argentina influences this intuition. But in a scenario of political polarization, when a progressive government has been unable to fulfill its program, it is not unreasonable to imagine a right-wing/extreme-right government, and this explains why the main presidential figures in the polls today are Kast and Matthei.

If we discount the profound impact that the media and social networks had on the electoral outcomes of both plebiscites, in any case, we can find that the vote “against something” outweighs the vote “for something.” This shows a situation of a national political stalemate, in which none of the actors in dispute manages to impose its program or convince the population of its proposals to close the crisis.

Faced with this dreadful scenario, the Left and the social, feminist, and popular movements have an obligation to draw strategic lessons from the last four years. On the one hand, the programmatic moderation embodied by the ruling party has had an effect, and on the other, the disappointment of its electoral base and the renunciation of paths of popular mobilization to counter the parliamentary blockade of the opposition.

When faced with a stubborn opposition, the government prefers to remove its pretensions of change and ends up “successfully” approving projects stripped of their initial intention, it sends a clear message: in times of crisis, there is no alternative to programmatic faltering. There is no place for supporting a program of change on the social bases, calling on them to mobilize. Seen in this way, the government has given up precisely the little it can do in times of crisis and parliamentary blockade: to use that small fraction of power to force an open confrontation over the program and to make evident the positions of each actor in dispute. On the contrary, it has preferred to revamp the elitist high-level “politics of agreements,” without the people, which characterized the social-liberal center-left of the transition.

On the other hand, the Left and the social movements would do well to take advantage of these closings and openings to make a profound self-criticism of the organizational dispersion implied by sectoral struggles, each one in its own sphere or territory, without the construction of a common space to struggle for power around a broad program and class independence. A notable exception to this has been the case of feminism developed around the Feminist General Strike promoted by the Coordinadora Feminista 8M, which has sought to make feminism a global vision that can programmatically and organizationally confront a set of national problems.

In classical terms, this new cycle will confront the Left and the social movements with the problem of party building, in terms of the development of a political force capable of striking unified blows in a common direction. This requires, in the first place, identifying the reasons why the October [2019] Rebellion failed to impose by its own means the terms of the solution to the crisis, and why it had to be transmuted into a constituent process agreed and designed by and from the Congress.

Before blaming the “traitors” in office who perverted the power of the social revolt, this closing of the cycle forces us to think about our own shortcomings: a dispersion of social demands without reference to the common thread of the structural causes of the crisis of Chilean/global neoliberal capitalism, an archipelago of organizations without a common activity other than street mobilization, a disconnection between the militant nuclei and the mobilized mass, and the persistence of artisanal modes of organization that were not able to take advantage of the massive and popular eruption of revolt in new alternative political reference points with national profile.

If the main threat in Chile for the popular camp today is the rise of the extreme right, then the order of the day is to identify all the ways by which it is possible to stop and combat this regressive process. We believe that this can happen mainly through a resurgence of the demands that can get the working class of Chile out of the growing precariousness it is experiencing, and a political force that connects these solutions with a story of deep transformation that goes to the root, that breaks with the prevailing political and economic regime that puts the brakes on a transformative way out of the crisis.

If Kast and other Chilean neo-fascist expressions represent a way out of the crisis with conservative, authoritarian, and nationalist characteristics that reinforce the regime, then the path for the Left and the social movements will have to be a path of social struggles and class conflict in an anti-capitalist, feminist and ecosocialist key, aimed at exposing the causes of the crisis, while solving its most immediate symptoms with short-term material solutions. Without this combination, the extreme right will continue to have a free hand to convince the popular sectors that the current progressivism is not on their side, and that the only solution is to rely on their agenda of cutthroat competition.

Featured image credit: Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung; modified by Tempest.

Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Tempest Collective. For more information, see “About Tempest Collective.”

Categories: D2. Socialism

Argentina general strike

Wed, 01/31/2024 - 21:31

The huge mobilization to Congress of thousands and thousands of workers and social organizations of the unemployed, the cultural sector, neighborhood assemblies and the youth, has just ended. They gathered there to oppose President Milei´s massive Necessary and Urgent Decree (DNU) and Omnibus Law and Security Minister Bullrich’s anti-protest protocol. As all the images and videos showed, the crowd not only filled the Plaza and its flanking streets Rivadavia and Irigoyen, but thousands of others also occupied the entire Avenida de Mayo up to 9 de Julio (8 blocks along a wide avenue), unable to enter the Plaza because it was already packed. The huge amount of mobilized people took over the streets, the same streets that the repressive Bullrich and her unconstitutional protocol want to forbid us from using. Today was a bad day for that despicable minister, not only because of the multitude mobilized in front of Congress, but also because at the same time, all over the country, significant mobilizations also took place in each province.

Although the call for the mobilization to Congress was made by the CGT [General Confederation of Labor, the largest trade union confederation in Argentina – Eds.], it was taken and used as an action of struggle by various significant sectors: all the cultural organizations, which comprises one of the sectors that are mobilized and organized against the government, the columns of neighborhood assemblies of Buenos Aires City, Greater Buenos Aires and La Plata, all the social and piquetero [unemployed workers – Eds.] organizations, and many student centers, among other mobilized sectors.

There was also a strong presence of the Left, including a significant column of the MST in the FIT Unity and of the Teresa Vive Movement (MST led social movement), which was part of a large multisectoral and independent column with a strong presence and a huge banner demanding a plan of struggle until the DNU and the Omnibus Law are overturned. This column gained an important place in the Plaza Congreso early in the morning.

Everything led to the result that, although the CGT was the central convener and, obviously, many unions were present, the social movements and the Left’s political organizations and labor unions occupied an important part of the Plaza. This demonstrated two facts at the same time. On the one hand, the significant weight of the social organizations and the Left was evident. On the other hand, the unions led by the CGT, although they carried out the strike and an important mobilization, with some unions even not managing to enter the Plaza, the truth is that the confederation could have mobilized much more than they did. As always, the trade union bureaucracy, even when it calls for an important action like today’s, constricts the strength of the organized labor movement, in order to avoid being overpowered or receiving criticisms of its leadership from below at massive events.

In any case, what is evident as a first conclusion of today’s events, the mobilization and also the hours of strike, is that it was a very important action that strengthened the workers’ movement and all sectors in struggle. The fact that there were many thousands of us in Congress Plaza and throughout the country is a blow to Milei’s government and to his entire project, and shows the enormous strength that the working class has when it breaks out and fights. That strength could be expressed even more strongly if it had a militant and democratic leadership, in accordance with the needs of the tough struggle ahead of us.

Aerial photo of the central plaza in Buenos Aires during the general strike. Photo by Movimiento Socialista de los Trabajadores. And the CGT’s plan of struggle?

In the context of a strike and mobilization that invigorates the entire movement against Milei’s plan of austerity and repression, the speeches of the CGT leaders were evidently far from what is needed. Because at this very moment the government is struggling to achieve a session to debate the Omnibus Law and today was more than the right moment to determine the concrete measures of a plan of struggle.

The central rally began after 2:00 p.m. with the reading of a document agreed and signed by the CGT, the two CTA’s [Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina – two other trade union federations, sharing the same acronym – Eds.], the UTEP [Unión de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras de la Economía Popular, an unemployed workers organization – Eds.] and various organizations related to these sectors, that raised general denunciations of the DNU and the Omnibus Law. Beyond those correct denunciations and a logical call to defend all workers’ gains, the document was focused on appealing to Congressmembers in view of the legislative body’s next session, which, in principle, would be next week. But it did not contain any proposal to continue the struggle after the enormous demonstration of force carried out today.

The fact that there were many thousands of us in Congress Plaza and throughout the country is a blow to Milei’s government and to his entire project, and shows the enormous strength that the working class has when it breaks out and fights.

Someone might think that such continuity would be announced in the speeches that followed, given by GGT leaders Moyano (truck drivers union) and Daer (private health union). Not at all. Neither of them made a single mention of any new measures of struggle, of staggered plans, of calls for new strikes or marches. Nothing. Staring directly at an enormous working class and massive force, they opted for general speeches, some correct denunciations, but no mention of how to continue the plan of struggle. Only in passing did Daer say, “We will continue the struggle.” But, as is well known, struggles only actually continue with measures of force that are not isolated but part of a serious plan of struggle.

In fact, there was a first very obvious call that the CGT could have made and chose not to: to mobilize on the day that the Omnibus Law will be debated (next Tuesday) to apply pressure that day with the strength of thousands in the streets. The central speeches did not call for this or any other task, which ratifies what we have been saying: the enormous struggle that is needed against Milei cannot be left in the hands of the old bureaucracy of the CGT. We have to continue demanding that they call for new measures, because we need the entire organized labor movement in the streets. But we also have to take this struggle into our own hands, as various sectors are already doing.

Our tasks

Beyond the debates that we have with the leadership of the CGT, it is clear that today’s action is driving the struggle and the desire of many thousands to strengthen the fight against the government. We have to take this very positive fact as a starting point, to advance with new tasks and actions of struggle.

On the one hand, we have to return to each workplace to assess this mobilization and this half-day strike, which were very important—to value it and to demand each union to convene meetings of delegates and rank and file assemblies to debate and decide how to continue the struggle. And where the union leadership does not want to do so, we have to organize all the activists among workers who do want to, to evaluate and debate together what measures can be carried out. We must coordinate with other working class sectors in struggle, providing support and solidarity to those who are in processes of struggle against layoffs or privatizations, or for wages.

At the same time, we have to convene assemblies in each neighborhood and debate in depth with all the neighbors to prepare for the coming struggle for food and increases in social assistance.

In the neighborhood assemblies that were also protagonists today, we have to take advantage of this momentum to strengthen them, to call more neighbors and youth to participate, to hold well prepared meetings in the coming days to assess everything, and to prepare new and bigger “cacerolazos” [pot-banging protests-Eds.] to make the strength of all our demands felt.

In the culture sector, which today participated with great strength and massively, we have to guarantee the following measures that were decided at its last assembly, such as the festivals, the carnavalazo, the federal cultural march and the national culture assembly.

Banner from the general strike, reading: “A plan for struggle until the defeat of Milei and the IMFs Plan.” Photo by Movimiento Socialista de los Trabajadores.

As already resolved by Unidxs por la Cultura and other sectors, we have ahead of us a very important first action: to mobilize in strength and surround Congress next Tuesday when the Omnibus Law will be debated. This debate is ongoing with complicit legislative blocs working in favor of the government, but also many contradictions and crises. The final outcome is yet to be known. Today’s massive mobilization, and also the one we can carry out that day, can help to apply pressure against them moving forward. We have to be there in strength.

From the anti-capitalist and socialist left and the FIT Unity, we have the political responsibility to strengthen the multisectoral and independent space, which, after overcoming strong debates and disagreements, ended up building a positive unitary column and was a protagonist of the event. It is necessary to strengthen and give continuity to this coordination of the political Left, class based unionism, human rights organizations, culture organizations, assemblies and social movements and piqueteros. No struggle can be won without uniting this entire political and social force. On the one hand, this unity is essential to much more thoroughly push forward the fights to come. And on the political level, it is essential to insist on the need to strengthen a new political alternative from and together with the Left.

Featured image credit: Periodismo de Izquierda; modified by Tempest.

Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Tempest Collective. For more information, see “About Tempest Collective.”

Categories: D2. Socialism

What it means to say Trump will govern like a fascist

Tue, 01/30/2024 - 21:10

The U.S. presidential election is coming closer and its outline is becoming easier to see. Donald Trump has won the first two primary contests in Iowa and New Hampshire with over 50 percent of the vote in each election. He will win the Republican nomination with ease. After years of being built up as Trump’s nearest challenger, Ron DeSantis was forty points behind Trump even in DeSantis’ home state of Florida before exiting the race shortly before New Hampshire. Nikki Haley is now his only primary opposition, with fewer than 15 percent of Republicans nationally likely to vote for her. She is a substantial underdog in the next primary contest that takes place in her home state of South Carolina for Republicans on February 24.

As for who will be president, some polls suggest parity between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, while others give the presumptive Republican nominee a small lead. The closeness between the two parties shouldn’t be surprising: since 1996, there has only been one presidential election (Barack Obama in 2008) in which the victor won by more than five percentage points. But it is bad news for Biden. The Electoral College, whose origins were rooted in projecting disproportionate political power towards the southern slave states, gives in the present day a significant advantage to Republican candidates, who can expect to win many of the smaller and more rural white states. To be confident of victory, a Democratic candidate needs to win the popular vote by three to four percentage points.

Biden’s personal approval ratings have been trending negative since the first week of September, and heavily so since October 7: more voters disapprove of his record in office than approve of it. In three of the last five national polls, Trump was ahead of Biden by an average of one percentage point, in a fourth poll they were even, and in a fifth poll Biden led Trump, again by a single point. Reading these figures, the bookies make Trump the slight favorite to win the White House.

The reason why his prospects matter is that when you get behind the familiar in U.S. elections, the reassuring talk of red and blue and swing states, a Trump election victory would mean something different from any normal election. But how different would politics be?

One difficulty in answering that question is that for eighty years, pro-Democratic journalists have had a consistent answer. They have exaggerated the threat posed by the right, as well as the differences between Republicans and Democrats in office. They have told U.S. voters that every Republican candidate would open the door to fascism. Ronald Reagan was a proto-fascist because he celebrated the Waffen-SS at Bitburg, George Bush Sr. was a proto-fascist because of how he used Willie Horton in the campaign against Michael Dukakis. Voters considering support for Ralph Nader in 2004 were told they couldn’t possibly vote Green because “the Bush team has neared some elements of fascism in its day-to-day operations.” In 2016, it became an article of faith for many Democrats that Trump was already a fascist. Madeleine Albright, a key architect of brutal U.S. sanctions against Iraq, wrote a book warning that Trump was a fascist.

This way of understanding is middle-of-the-road commentators using the most demonstrative and angry language to prove how radical they are, while urging their readers to take forms of political action that won’t change anything. Their language has an impact on us, too. At the moment that fascism presents itself in the world, the Left has a moral responsibility to fight it. Pro-Democrat anti-fascism becomes, in practice, an argument for standing down all independent organizations and campaigning without distraction in favor of the reelection of Joe Biden.

It doesn’t not just make bad activism but it’s thoughtless politics, too. The term “fascism” is at the endpoint of a dial that goes only up to ten: fascism is the worst of the worst. But if Trump was already at that point in 2016, and has been continuously at the same place ever since, then there is no need to differentiate from moments when his administration deradicalized (as in 2017, when criticism of Trump for his defense of the Charlottesville rioters forced him to “temporarily” drop Steve Bannon) or moments when he started to plot actively for dictatorship (as in December 2020 and January 2021). Twisting the analytical dial up to ten and holding it there also makes it harder to understand where Trump is today. It leaves no space for the chance, which I’d put as real, that if Trump is elected again in 2024, his administration will be significantly worse than it was from 2017 to 2021.

A further difficulty for people trying to understand Trump or the threat of fascism from within the political traditions of the U.S. Left is that, since the 1960s, a significant strand of Marxist analysis has posited that the country was already fascist. The European Marxists of the 1930s may have distinguished sharply between politics under capitalism and politics under fascism. But, by contrast, many Black radical theories of the 1960s tried to broaden the definition of fascism in order to reject racist and authoritarian politics. The U.S. empire was fascist, the Republicans were fascists, and the Democrats, too. This way of looking at the world may have encouraged impressive activism, but it was a rejection of analysis. And in the different contexts of today, it gets in the way of addressing whether anything is changing.

At the moment that fascism presents itself in the world, the Left has a moral responsibility to fight it. Pro-Democrat anti-fascism becomes, in practice, an argument for standing down all independent organizations and campaigning without distraction in favor of the reelection of Joe Biden.

Undoubtedly, a second Trump administration would operate with considerable continuity with normal U.S. racial politics: he would maintain the border wall and the detention regime. He will work, just as tirelessly as Biden has, to promote the interest of Israel. Under Trump, as under Biden, Black people will be incarcerated in far larger numbers than whites. The question is really whether Trump will govern differently next time.

It is easiest to start with the arguments for continuity. Contrary to the writers who think of Trump as a new Mussolini, Trump is not a natural fascist. He is not even a natural politician. Both Mussolini and Hitler were obsessives. Out of office, they were constantly plotting in relation to their own parties. In government, they were always thinking through what their politics meant in terms of every aspect of people’s lives. Mussolini was so concerned with the details of quotidian Italian life, that he even managed to outlaw the handshake, making the fascist greeting mandatory by law. During his presidency, Trump treated his government not as a device to change U.S. society, but like a large version of The Apprentice, a business in which Trump’s main role was to dismiss those whom he had just appointed. Even if this felt like “draining the swamp,” what it meant in reality was that little was ever done.

More than a third of all Trump’s appointees were dismissed in his first year in office, a figure twice as high as any other U.S. president in the past forty years. Trump’s appointees have the records for the shortest tenure by any national security advisor in U.S. history (Michael Flynn) or by any chief of staff (Reince Priebus) or by any White House director of communications (Anthony Scaramucci—“the Mooch,” in case any readers have forgotten him). If Trump was serious about turning the United States into a fascist state after 2024, he would need to learn skills of administration and patience. Every sign suggests, however, that he has not widened his base of advisors, nor learned any skills in (dictatorial) government. In 2024, he will be the same person as before, only eight years older and more cantankerous.

Save for Trump’s use of social media and his involvement in plotting January 6, he did not govern as a fascist. In almost every area of his administration, he left the United States no closer to racial dictatorship than it already was. Under Obama, the state deported people at the rate of 400,000 to 900,000 people a year, while under Trump the range was 400,000 to 600,000 people a year. Under Biden, deportations have accelerated, to between 1.3 million and 1.5 million people a year. On the border wall with Mexico, the first five hundred miles were built by a conservative Republican, George W. Bush, and the next 130 miles by President Obama. Trump added about 85 miles, and Biden has added a further twenty. The number of Black inmates held in U.S. federal prisons fell under Trump. So did the number of federal capital punishment executions. None of this is to minimize Trump’s authoritarian intent. It is to say, rather, that—from the perspective of the U.S. Left—the most serious opponent is the one who has the administrative skills to match their authoritarian language. Compared to his promises to his base, Trump’s record in office was one of failure.

If Trump was going to govern as a fascist, what that means is that he would govern not just as an authoritarian but as an authoritarian of the most extreme sort. He would seek, for example, not just to fix future elections, but to remove the very idea that a President needs to be elected at all. There were no elections in Italy after 1924 or in Germany after 1933. But if Trump was to declare himself leader for life, he would be cutting against the political wisdom of the last eighty years, the consensus of the U.S. business and political classes, and the way in which the United States has spread its power around the world. Among the Republican donors with whom he is in an awkward alliance, the latter, and their advisors, are calling for ever greater wealth transfers to the rich, but they are not yet providing the blueprints for authoritarian rule that Trump cares about.

None of this is to say a fascist turn is impossible. If we take seriously Karl Marx’s description of the state in the Communist Manifesto as “a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie,” one insight that follows from this is that many individual capitalists will often find themselves having to live under a political leader who wasn’t their first choice. But a dictatorship that gives up on elections makes itself harder to rule. It means that every individual protest is also a challenge to the legitimacy of the state. Accordingly, any serious move to institute fascism in the United States, or to replace democratic elections with one-party rule, would face critics—even from within the set of far-right plutocrats in whose interests Trump proposes to rule.

In addition, if the U.S. were to turn toward fascism, this would not be in response to a radical, combative, Left. Save in the fevered imagination of the fascists and the cops, there is no lurking revolution against which Trump could pose as the sole guardian of order.

The problem is that, for all these arguments that a Trump victory might mean no significant change at the top of the U.S. state, points can be made to the opposite effect—that a Trump victory would be a strategic change in the balance of forces between those who want democracy to continue and those right-wing leaders who have given up on it.

The central idea of January 6 was that Trump should be able to govern, even if he lost the election. Members of Congress could object to the results in their states, and substitute themselves for the voters. Before the march on the Capitol, Trump addressed a crowd of his supporters, telling them that by marching they could “take back our country.”

At the heart of the classical Marxist theory of fascism is the idea that, in order for the world to be returned to a condition of inter-imperial wars and genocide in the advanced countries, it is not enough that a fraction of the rich or the army should support dictatorship. What you need is a mass party in which millions of ordinary people have a personal relationship with their leader. That party needs to call for and enact violence. It needs to live by the rules of mass politics in which vast crowds are mobilized to destroy democracy.

During his presidency, Trump used his Twitter account to create an audience of eighty million followers. A significant proportion did not believe in Trump’s mission, at least not at the start. They saw him rather as a joke, an entertainer who would break through the extraordinary conservatism of America’s governing institutions. (They also included journalists, tens of thousands of his opponents, as well as people who were at the start of his presidency mere old-school Republican voters or other non-fascist forms of right-wing voter – neoconservatives, free marketeers). Over four years, however, a significant group of people in that large, shapeless, right-wing audience moved toward positions of hatred for and actual violence towards the Left (now defined as “antifa,” supporters of “Critical Race Theory,” woke, even Joe Biden himself).

During the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA,  white supremacists are confronted outside Emancipation Park (now called Market Street Park and was called Lee Park named for Confederate General Robert E. Lee until 2017) by anti-fascist counter-protestors and legal observers (seen here wearing green hats). Photo by Anthony Crider.

Trump amplified marginal figures—Patriots, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, Proud Boys, White nationalists, Christian nationalists, followers of Alex Jones, anti-vaxxers, and QAnon conspiracy theorists. Promoted by Trump, social media accounts with audiences of hundreds of followers soon had thousands and sometimes even millions of followers of their own. At the time, this seemed to be a particularly ineffective form of base-building, in which the president of the United States, a person who had the constitutional power to appoint cabinet secretaries or start wars, was less concerned about changing the state and more worried about boosting the influences of his followers who were, by any objective standard, irrelevant nonentities.

Intentionally or not, Trump was creating a party of people who were indebted to him. In the classical fascist model, the fascist leader and the member belong to one organization, a vertical system of dues-paying and centralized leadership. Trumpism was different in that it relied on social media rather than membership fees or party publications to sustain the binds of reciprocal loyalty, but it was ultimately a modest tweak to a familiar process.

More than one thousand people face criminal charges for January 6. They need Trump to win so that he can pardon them. If he does, as he has promised he would do if elected, his supporters will be able to say that they were really people who “revered the Capitol.” His victory would retrospectively justify their violence. Equally, in 2024, Trump will need these individuals and their allies to show up at his election rallies, to pay for his election ads, and to undertake whatever rerun he tries of his previous attempts to intimidate the count.

The pro-Democrat wing of the U.S. state has spent the last three years trying to make Trump’s conduct seem so bad that he would have no chance of standing again for election. He was indicted by the Justice Department and faces criminal charges for subverting the election result. That case is still listed as due to start hearing in Washington D.C. this March. Other significant trials are also advancing in New York, Florida, and Georgia.

The prosecutions were begun late, and now face the fundamental problem of whether a former president is immune from prosecution because of his constitutional position. Prosecutors have asked the Supreme Court to resolve that issue, relying on the precedent of the prosecution of Richard Nixon, but there are a number of differences between that case and Trump’s. When Watergate came before the Supreme Court in July 1974, more or less the entire political class agreed that Nixon’s behavior had been criminal and wrong. A year earlier, the Senate had voted 77-0 to establish a select committee to investigate him. Unlike Trump, Nixon could not appeal to the people (he was already into his second term).

Trump also has the further advantage that his case will be decided by a Supreme Court accustomed to polarization and comfortable with it, appointed 6-3 by Republican presidents (and three of the justices appointed by Trump). It is just about possible that the Supreme Court might indeed rush to the assistance of the prosecution, as they hope, but it seems incredibly naïve to assume that the same court that overturned Roe v Wade will suddenly decide that its historical mission is to prevent a Republican candidate from standing.

The strong sense is that Trump’s opponents have done enough to anger him and to stoke his feelings of injustice, without doing anything that would change the 2024 result.

And if Trump does win, he will have been freed of the influence of the “grownups” who once tried to manage him. He would be led by his closest supporters, by the people who believe his conspiracy theories about the election last time.

Even sophisticated theories of fascism tend to apply an “ideal-type“ method—or, to be less charitable, a “shopping list” approach. Journalists read the works of historians and use them to draw up lists of the defining characteristics of fascism. Then, depending on which historian is being cited, you might say that fascism is defined by its mobilizing passions, its ultra-nationalism, its beehive of contradictions, or its multiple negations (anti-socialism, anti-democracy), and so on. In that way, any writer can come up with a list, match Donald Trump against it, and say to their satisfaction, either that he is or is not a fascist.

When you look at the way in which historians have been writing about fascism in the last decade, however, they have followed a different approach. Most of them find it uninteresting to look back at the 1930s and ask which of Benito Franco or Oswald Mosley or Adolf Hitler was in the “truest” sense a fascist. The important questions to ask are, rather, which features of the historical conjuncture enabled some, but not all, of these figures to take power—and that allowed some of their governments to become more radical in office?

The most compelling theories have focused on the interactions between fascist parties, showing how a breakthrough in one country led fascists in another society to want to copy and overreach the rivals who’d come to power before them. Fascism, you might say, is never purely a domestic phenomenon (a state, a fascist Italy, a Nazi Germany). It is always a set of relationships located at the level of the international. Hitler saw Mussolini and wanted to both copy and go further than him. The reason why Hitler tried his Beer Hall putsch is because of Mussolini’s March on Rome. Part of what helped Franco win the Spanish Civil War was the presence of soldiers from Italy, Germany, and Portugal. The first mass killings of Communists took place not in Italy in 1924 or Germany in 1933 but in Spain in 1939.

Seen, through an international perspective, Donald Trump is the local representative of a global shift to the right, the equivalent in the U.S. of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, Narendra Modi in India, or Vladimir Putin in Russia. From that viewpoint, Trump’s first election victory was a threshold moment. Once the richest country in the world, with the largest army, was led by the far right, it became meaningless to think of the old center-right as the norm any longer. There was a time when the election of a far-right government was an outrage and the states surrounding it would seek to put pressure on the new regime. But it becomes much harder to think like that once, at a global level, the authoritarians and the ultra-nationalists are winning and the conservatives are choosing to follow them.

Russian President Vladimir Putin during a controversial political summit in July 2018 held in Helsinki, Finland between the two world leaders gifts U.S. President Donald Trump an official soccer ball from the 2018 FIFA World Cup that was held that summer in Russia. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

We are living through a process in which the systems by which it once seemed possible to sustain capitalism, through the mute compulsion of economic relations that used to seal the domination of the capitalist over the worker, no longer seem adequate. And those who want capitalism to win are demanding a return to authoritarianism, even fascism.

Watching this historical process is like watching Shelley’s Frankenstein build a human body from the disassembled parts of dead bodies. Closer and closer we come to a complete corpse—we see the boots of General Pinochet, here the lungs of Mussolini, there the hands of the Argentinean generals who once took pleasure in throwing captured socialists out of planes. None of us knows what form the monster will take in adulthood, but a birth is taking place in front of us, and the creature is coming ever closer to its first breath.

Part of the dynamic that makes it possible to imagine a post-democratic United States is that there are now multiple far-right centers all competing with each other, and all have crossed or are crossing the post-democratic point, including Hungary and much of Eastern Europe. Anti-fascists find ourselves worrying, What’s going to happen next in Italy? In Holland under Geert Wilders? In Argentina under Javier Milei? At the next presidential election in France?

Although the word that liberals throw against Trump is fascist, relatively few of these countries have sought to suppress elections altogether. They have not gone to war, nor (with the exception of Israel) waged genocide on their racial enemies. Rather, they operate in an authoritarian space between conservatism and fascism.

Think, for example, of how elections take place in Hungary. Although formally those elections see different and hostile parties compete with one another (indeed, there are no rules permitting a multiplicity of parties from standing), Hungarian elections are structurally rigged in multiple ways. All non-state TV stations and almost all the newspapers are owned by allies of the governing party, a process achieved by introducing punitive fines for companies that criticized the state, and then, as the value of press companies collapsed, authorizing key individuals to buy them using state funds to cover the costs of their purchase. Both state and independent media are instructed to boycott opposition candidates. During the 2022 election campaign, opposition leader Péter Márki-Zay was permitted a mere five minutes on public television to present his program. State officials have been purged for disloyalty. Judges are only appointed if they support the governing party.

It is perfectly possible, it turns out, to maintain the pretense that there are still contested elections while also running a system in which the governing party could never lose. The decision to keep on holding elections, even though the rivalry is meaningless, becomes another way for a dominant party to assert its power. You can demoralize your opponents and discredit the very idea that elections could or should make a difference.

And such a process would be easier to achieve if you started in the United States, rather than other countries with a similarly-long history of “democracy.” The U.S. already has electoral rules that keep third parties off the ballot, which disenfranchise Black voters, a capitalist class that is committed to contributing ever less to the upkeep of the state, and a legal system that permits them, instead of paying taxes, to use the same system to buy candidates with the result that the average candidate for Congress spends around a hundred times more on political advertising than their counterparts in Britain or Germany or France.

Twenty years ago, socialists used to speak of the U.S. as a two-party dictatorship, in which beneath the story of rival parties alternating in office, there was a single continuous history of government by the same ruling class. It really wouldn’t be beyond the capabilities of a committed authoritarian to convert that into a single-party electoral system.

When people say that Trump is a “fascist,” what they often seem to mean in practice is that he is serious about creating a system of managed democracy in which any remaining choice at the presidential level would conceal the obliteration of choice everywhere else. Not two parties contending for power but in most places a one-party state.

Whether Trump has the skills and focus to create such a system or not, one thing which socialists and anti-fascists must take seriously is his desire for revenge. In 2016, Trump’s grudge against Hillary Clinton was that she was a woman, she had been permitted to run against him, and she might win. That was enough for him to demand, “Lock her up” Now imagine an elected president in his second term who has spent three years not just out of office, but repeatedly in court, been living under the threat of jail, the destruction of his finances, and other ignominies.

Already, Trump has started joking about whether he will govern as a dictator, responding to Fox News’ Sean Hannity’s question “[Y]ou would never abuse power as retribution against anybody?” by saying, “No, no, no,” he would not be dictator, “other than day one.” By those last two words, he went on to explain that he intended to expand the racist state and remove any remaining obstacles to the unfettered destruction of the planet by the oil companies. “We’re closing the border and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling,” Trump said.

The problem with the fascism discourse is that it assumes that political people are, essentially, constant. That they have a set of views by the age of twenty and then stick to them all their lives. Whereas, if you look at the lives of individual dictators or fascists, they were made by events. They improvised in certain situations, and then clung to the logic of their decisions. At one point, Mussolini was a socialist. At another, he was willing to be hired out in the services of the rich, doing work for them as a paid strikebreaker and pro-war journalist. Those decisions, to leave the Left and to associate with the worst parts of the right, changed him.

It is realistic to speculate that something similar may well have happened to Trump: in choosing the side of insurrection rather than conceding the 2020 election, he committed himself to a path. It is not yet clear where it will lead, but it is a journey that points only toward his further radicalization and the radicalization of his base.

The problem with the fascism discourse is that it assumes that political people are, essentially, constant. That they have a set of views by the age of twenty and then stick to them all their lives. Whereas, if you look at the lives of individual dictators or fascists, they were made by events. They improvised in certain situations, and then clung to the logic of their decisions.

One of the more likely outcomes would be Trump failing to convert the U.S. into a one-party state: because the obstacles are too high, because to achieve the transition to open authoritarianism would require the emergence of a historically “irreplaceable” individual, capable of administering a regime in the strategic way that still seems beyond Trump.

And yet, such a failure would still have consequences. The effect of Trump’s first term in 2017-2021 was to win millions of people in support for fascism, and to convert the Republican party into something more authoritarian than it had been before. A fresh administration would be obliged by the logic of its situation and by Trump’s need for vengeance to go further than it had before. Even Trump being in power, even failing, would still be a disaster from the perspectives of the U.S. Left and the social constituencies we serve.

Yet, no matter how powerful a fascist or far-right threat seems, there are always practical steps people can take to undermine it. We are still in a moment of trade union revival, with the UAW showing the way to other unions. Part of Trump’s mystique is his claim—which is masochistically repeated by liberal sources, even when it is obviously untrue—to represent the blue-collar working class. But here we have at last a movement of workers, visible and speaking in their own name, and supporting the victims of U.S. power in the Middle East rather than their settler-colonial rulers.

Those who argue that Joe Biden represents a bulwark against fascism seem to think that Trump’s threat begins and ends with whether he wins the next presidential election. But if Trump does win, people will be needed to resist him, as happened when his supporters were blocked at Charlottesville, and in the year that followed it when anti-fascists were able to out-mobilize the right, with the result that for the next thirty months and until the January 6 attempted coup the right was in retreat. We will need more of that same spirit again.

Liberals pretend that by campaigning for Biden they can stop the worldwide shift to the right. But the Democrats are not blocking the rise of the authoritarians, rather they are helping them. Biden, even to the despair of some of his own advisers, is promoting the war lies of that regime, and providing the funds and the weapons which have made possible the slaughter in Palestine. Israel says to the world that it can do what it likes, who cares what the rules of the liberal order say? In legitimizing this genocide, Biden has made it easier for Trump to say that he can do what he likes and who cares what the rules say.

For the last three months, the country has seen the largest protest mobilizing since Black Lives Matter, led by tens of thousands of Palestinians and people of Arab origin and supported by many anti-Zionist Jews. Anti-war networks have been revived.

When we think of this movement, and the counterpower it is producing, the first question is: are activists doing enough to undermine the leaders of the United States and their policies of covertly funding the genocide and dismissing those who stand up for Palestine? But whether activists can win the demand for a ceasefire or not, the likelihood is that the networks we are all building now will be needed again sooner than we would like.

Featured image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DC_Capitol_Storming_IMG_7965.jpg; modified by Tempest.

Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Tempest Collective. For more information, see “About Tempest Collective.”

Categories: D2. Socialism

Vermonters’ solidarity with Palestine

Sun, 01/28/2024 - 20:34

A new statewide coalition, Vermont Coalition for Palestinian Liberation, has formed with eight sponsoring groups: Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Cooperation Vermont, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), Tempest Collective, Vermonters for Justice in Palestine (VTJP), and Vermont Peace Antiwar Coalition (VPAC).

Organizing decisions are made at regular in-person meetings: Meetings are usually held in Burlington, which has the highest population density in the state, but also in Barre in central Vermont because the coalition is statewide. Attendance at meetings has been between 60 and 80 people. The group is diverse and largely young. In practice it has been collaborative and has maintained good energy.

The coalition has an organizational structure that was worked out democratically during the first two meetings. There is a steering committee made of representatives from each of the sponsoring groups and each of the working groups. We have four working groups: campaigns, actions, education, and labor for Palestine. These working groups meet in person in breakouts from the general meetings and on zoom in between, with communication occurring mostly on Signal.

The coalition has organized several protests, including a large march in Burlington and a rally at the state house in Montpelier, the state capital. These have been sponsored by a half dozen groups in addition to the coalition, including an AFSCME local and Migrant Justice.

The coalition also mobilized people to testify in support of a ceasefire resolution at Burlington City Hall, and campaigned to get an Apartheid Free Burlington resolution on the ballot for the March election. Although the resolution  secured the requisite number of signatures, Zionists both inside and outside the council blocked it from getting on the ballot.

Social media flier advertising the coalition’s teach-in. Image by Vermont Coalition for Palestinian Liberation.

The coalition has organized a “Learn about Palestine” study group series which meets in person with a Zoom option each month. January’s study meeting was on the first half of Essays for a Free Palestine: From the River to the Sea. Proposals for future events include Angela Davis’ Freedom is a Constant Struggle and Ilan Pappe’s Ten Myths About Israel.

The coalition has also planned a teach-in for early February. The teach-in will include three sections: Occupation and settler colonialism; apartheid; BDS and related campaigns. It will be held on a Saturday afternoon in a local community center with a dinner afterwards provided by The People’s Kitchen.

Backstory

At the first protest after Israel started its bombardment of Gaza, various local organizers met and strategized about working together. Tempest quickly organized a forum, “Stop Israel’s Genocidal War,” with speakers from VTJP, JVP and Tempest. The forum had great attendance including from key local leaders. From that there followed another protest in Burlington. During the protest we distributed information about an organizing meeting and announced it from the front of the demonstration. Someone also collected emails from everyone in attendance and a message was sent out announcing the organizing meeting. Around 75 people attended, and the coalition was founded.

The coalition has developed an independent personality, a sense of shared ownership, and accountability. Levels of solidarity and collaboration remain exceptionally high.

The coalition has diverse representation, including Palestinians and Bosnians and others who deepen our global perspective.

The coalition collectively drew up a list of demands, which were discussed, revised, and approved by unanimous vote in subsequent meetings. These demands are listed below.

The following month Tempest hosted a Labor for Palestine meeting. The speakers were a member of JVP, a young local union organizer, and a Tempest member. At that meeting we launched Vermont Labor for Palestine (VL4P), and subsequently formally signed on to the national group of the same name. VL4P then became one of the working groups of the coalition. The important thing to note here is that the coalition remains a hub for all of the organizing work. This is key to developing the democratic infrastructures that the movement will require to win.

The coalition has developed an independent personality, a sense of shared ownership, and accountability. Levels of solidarity and collaboration remain exceptionally high.

Challenges and strategies

Challenges include the chilling impact of the new McCarthyism and a fear of doxxing. We also face a constant behind-the-scenes campaign from Zionists on and off the city council, and people obviously feel the daily horror of watching Israel’s genocide continue with the full support of the US political establishment against the will of the majority and despite our sustained protests.

We also have faced and responded to various questions around organizing:

  1. Security culture conservatism. Some argued that we shouldn’t announce our meetings at rallies or widely publicize due to concerns about getting the wrong people at our meetings (disruptive, untrustworthy, etc.). The winning argument was that we should broadly announce and publicize the coalition meetings everywhere we could and encourage others to do so. Also that running meetings democratically and with attention to possible disruptors is best practice and, in truth, all we can do. Now there is generally a culture of, “of course, we publicize our meetings and invite new people. No one needs to be vetted.”
  2. Battle-scarred reluctance. While some established activists initially doubted the possibilities of the moment, the coalition has shown in practice that we can grow, people will commit over the long term, and we need to be outward.
  3. Organizing culture and practices, particularly in the running of meetings. Certain principles have come to the fore in the coalition: Generally saying yes to all the ideas people have for organizing; no to leadership deciding things outside open meetings; no power points, and very few pre-planned ideas about where new people should end up after meetings. Instead, a focus on taking up work in the coalition meetings and having a sense of shared ownership.
Coalition Demands
  • Ceasefire now
  • Stop Israel’s genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians
  • Provide unrestricted humanitarian aid to all Palestinians
  • Free all Palestinian prisoners and hostages
  • Defend the civil rights of Palestinians and Palestine solidarity activists
  • Stop all U.S. aid to Israel
  • Enforce boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel
  • End Israel’s siege, occupation, and apartheid system
  • Support Palestinians’ right to self-determination, right to return, and equal rights
Categories: D2. Socialism

Taiwan’s 2024 presidential elections

Fri, 01/26/2024 - 18:19

The 2024 Taiwanese elections take place at a time that Taiwan has seen more international attention than ever, amidst rising United States-China tensions, and Chinese military drills that have stepped up since the visit of then-U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in August 2022.

Taiwanese voters have historically had to choose between the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), a center-left party that emerged from Taiwan’s democracy movement, and the Kuomintang (KMT, also known as the Chinese Nationalist Party), which once ruled over Taiwan in an authoritarian manner during the period known as the White Terror. Since democratization, the KMT has reinvented itself as the pro-China party in Taiwanese politics, while the historically pro-independence DPP has distanced itself from this position to avoid the risk of provoking China.

The KMT’s push for closer political and economic relations with China has sometimes heretofore met with opposition from the Taiwanese public. But the DPP’s eight years in power have led to rising dissatisfaction with its rule for failing to address long standing issues of economic inequality in Taiwan. That has left an opening for the rise of a new populist right in the form of the Taiwanese People’s Party to pose as an alternative to both the DPP and KMT.

Tight election

After the dust settled, Lai Ching-te of the DPP won the presidential election, marking an unprecedented third consecutive term in office for the center-left party. Lai’s election victory occurs in spite of attempts by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to undermine his campaign, framing the vote as a choice between war and peace.

The KMT picked up the discourse of war and peace and instilled a sense of fear in Taiwanese civil society as the theme of their campaign. The KMT candidate, Hou You-yi, repeatedly argued that “a vote for the DPP is a vote for war.”

Such discourse also circulated in the Anglophone media. Even some on the western Left joined in the chorus in an odd case of self-proclaimed radicals siding with the former authoritarian party in Taiwan. Ironically, the KMT seemed to mimic talking points from such radicals, posturing as an anti-war party.

[D]iscourse from Chomsky or Code Pink were up taken up by [the KMT],  which during the authoritarian period had been a classic example of a right-wing dictatorship backed by the US in the interests of anti-Communism.

In one example of this confluence, a group of Taiwanese leftist scholars issued a statement that drew on publications by Noam Chomsky, Code Pink, and the Progressive International. It uncritically dismissed threats from China and praised the KMT. The KMT’s adoption of this supposed anti-war position seemed to come in the wake of this statement–a strange chain of events in which discourse from Chomsky or Code Pink were up taken up by a party,  which during the authoritarian period had been a classic example of a right-wing dictatorship backed by the US in the interests of anti-Communism.

By contrast, the DPP’s Lai had been portrayed as a “pro-independence” radical by the international media. It is true that in the past, he had identified himself as a “pragmatic advocate for Taiwan independence.” But, in this race, he vowed to maintain the status quo and follow Tsai Ing-wen’s path of diplomacy and the national framework of “the Republic of China, Taiwan,” rather than taking any steps toward any declaration of official independence.

The China fatigue factor

Lai’s win partially showed that the fear discourse pushed by Beijing’s and the KMT was no longer effective. While the KMT’s fear mongering allowed it to consolidate an electoral base, it was not enough to win the presidency. The majority of people preferred the DPP’s strategy of strengthening national security and maintaining the status quo of de facto sovereignty.

However, the rise of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) as a third party—with the ex-Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je as its presidential candidate—provided an alternative for those who saw both the KMT and the DPP as the establishment. The TPP presented itself as a force to build a “new political culture” and push for domestic reforms, something appealing especially for the younger generations.

The TPP’s Ko won an impressive 3.7 million votes, putting him only a million votes behind the KMT’s Hou You-yi’s with his 4.6 million votes. Ko appears to be highly popular among young people, despite his reputation for misogyny and ideological inconsistency.

The TPP took advantage of Taiwanese people’s fatigue over the “China issue” and popularized a discourse proclaiming the irrelevance of the debate over independence vs. unification. It accused the DPP of selling “dried mangos,” a slang phrase in Mandarin referring to a sense of “national doom” and anxiety about Taiwan’s fate faced with threats from China. The TPP’s electoral base, mostly young people between the ages of 20-40, identify as Taiwanese and see China as a separate country, but do not view national sovereignty as a priority.

Chinese war games in the Taiwan Straits, 2018. Photo by NZ Defence Forces.

Ko has sometimes been labeled a “populist,” because he has adopted an anti-establishment message and positioned himself against the two major parties. He has also crafted a political persona of an everyman–prone to gaffes in contrast to the slick and polished politicians from the DPP or KMT. On top of that, Ko’s base seems mainly to consist of angry, disenfranchised young men who may resonate with his misogyny and homophobia, viewing Ko as taking a stand against “political correctness.”

Thus, despite the DPP securing an unprecedented 3rd consecutive presidential term, the party emerges from the election with many challenges. For one, it faces the loss of the young and swing voters who chose Tsai four years ago. This time they voted for Ko and the TPP.

While Taiwan’s economy, particularly its high tech and semiconductor industry, has benefitted the high income sectors, real wages for most people, especially in the service sector, have been stagnant and housing prices continue to soar. These issues are deeply embedded in the country’s neoliberal strategy and economic structure.

All three parties raise different policies to address these issues like offering rental subsidies, lowering down payments on real estate, and building new public housing. But these are superficial measures that do not address the deep economic roots of the problems most people are experiencing. So, it’s unlikely that working people will see major improvements in their living standards faced with inflation and continuous economic restructuring.

The rise of populism in Taiwan?

These are the conditions for the growth of right wing populism. Sensing that, Ko and TPP framed themselves during the campaign as a “social movement.” The TPP has appropriated the rhetoric and imagery of Chinese citizens’ “White Paper Movement” in defiance of Beijing’s inhuman lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ko also claims to carry on the values of the 2014 Sunflower Movement, in which the youth-led demonstrations against a trade agreement with China culminated in students occupying the Taiwanese legislature. Showing all this to be posturing, Ko actually supports reviving that trade agreement.

Ko has adopted an unclear stance on cross-strait relations. On the one hand, he promises such trade agreements and even building a bridge connecting Taiwan’s outlying islands with China. On the other hand, he declares his support for the Tsai administration’s foreign policy.

Like a classic demagogue, Ko has implied that he wants to create a “religion-like” party culture. The TPP’s campaign slogan ominously proclaimed its intent to “return the state to you.”  After Ko’s defeat, some internet influencers spread disinformation that the election was stolen, while Ko himself remained  ambiguous about whether he views this to have taken place.

It is yet to be seen if the Ko phenomenon signifies the early phase of a wave of reaction, following a decade in which progressive political voices were relatively successful in influencing mainstream discourse.

Despite coming in third in the presidential election, Ko and his TPP are well positioned in the legislature. The DPP lost control of the legislature, despite Lai winning the presidency. It garnered 51 seats to the KMT’s 52. As a result, neither can get legislation through the body without reaching out to the TPP, which won 8 seats.

So, the balance of power may well be controlled by Ko’s TPP, an upstart third party that hews closer to the KMT’s stances on China. This puts the TPP in a position to be the “kingmaker” able to decide which bills pass in the legislature.

Small parties, including the progressive ones, were wiped out. The New Power Party, which emerged after the 2014 Sunflower Movement, failed to win any seats. Nor did the Green Party Taiwan, the Taiwan Statebuilding Party, or the Obasan Alliance win any seats. The Social Democratic Party’s sole candidate, Miao Poya, who was endorsed by the DPP, also failed to win in Taipei’s Daan district.

Now without any steadfast progressive third parties in the legislature, and with the TPP as a pivotal minority, it’s likely that formal politics will swing to the right. Whether that happens or not will largely depend on whether the DPP restructures itself to overcome its internal problems, reengages with civil society in its four-year presidential term, and appeals to disaffected young voters.

Domestic versus cross-strait issues

Ko and the TPP achieved their successes by tapping into a sense of disenfranchisement among young people and through a political message that called for focusing on reviving the economy and avoiding cross-strait issues. Ko frames himself as beyond the traditional distinctions of KMT versus DPP policies, even if he and the TPP are closer to the KMT. Ko’s run as the third candidate in an already contentious race took place after failed negotiations with the KMT over a joint ticket, and the TPP’s politicians are mainly drawn from former KMT politicians or politicians from parties that split from the KMT.

It may be that the DPP was able to hold onto power by emphasizing that it is the only party that defends Taiwanese sovereignty. But its lack of an appealing domestic message to the Taiwanese public, especially their concerns about rising social inequality, allowed for the rise of the TPP.

Many questions remain, then, for Taiwanese society going forward. It is yet to be seen if the Ko phenomenon signifies the early phase of a wave of reaction, following a decade in which progressive political voices were relatively successful in influencing mainstream discourse—even if most were gradually absorbed into the DPP as the decade went on.

It is possible that the failure of the Left to win substantive power combined with the failure of the DPP to address social inequality may enable Ko and the TPP to consolidate an electoral base for right-wing populism. With a DPP president, a divided legislature, potential political paralysis, and growing geopolitical pressures, social and class struggles in civil society must take charge, steer the civic conversations toward progressive solutions, and build an alternative to an emergent right wing populism.

Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Tempest Collective. For more information, see “About Tempest Collective.”

Featured image credit: Flikr; modified by Tempest.

Categories: D2. Socialism

Bolshevism Mystified

Mon, 01/22/2024 - 21:11

Lars Lih is a scholar of Russian and Soviet history with expertise in the history and historiography of Russian Social Democracy. His first article saw the light in 1986. A book followed in 1990.  Over the years, more articles and essays quietly appeared in a variety of specialist journals: Slavic Review, Russian History, Kritika, and others. Many are historiographical essays, often involving minute textual analysis and intricate lexical discussions of Russian terms accessible only to those with a working knowledge of Russian. They make up the bulk of What Was Bolshevism? The book therefore is not ‘straight’ history. Written by a specialist advancing apparently unconventional interpretations, Lih’s polemics often make for very difficult reading for those new to the field.

Lih became a sensation with the appearance of Lenin Rediscovered: What is to be Done? in Context in 2006. There he pilloried the “textbook interpretation” of Lenin’s idea of the revolutionary party as the progenitor of Stalinist tyranny. It was an instant hit on the left. In many essays, articles, podcasts, reviews and interviews, scores of socialist activists and Marxist academics, non-specialists for the most part, praised Lih’s intervention to the skies. A few gave reserved but sympathetic endorsements. In 2010, Historical Materialism organized a symposium on Lih; Science and Society followed suit in 2013. However, nothing similar occurred among proponents of the textbook interpretation. Beyond short book reviews, “respectable academia” organized no symposia or conferences. Lih’s introductory chapter to What Was Bolshevism? rehearses the essential themes of this multifaceted debate, and more.

[T]here is a deeply rooted tendency … to look for the Rosetta Stone of Bolshevism, key texts that can explain—or be made to explain—nearly everything. No such texts exist.

Once again, Lih charges textbook interpreters with grossly misreading Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and other Bolsheviks, of cherry-picking passages in their texts to fit the Cold Warrior’s pre-conceived, totalitarian notions of Bolshevism as the antechamber to Stalinism. This is especially true of WITBD. But Lih and his opponents largely agree on one thing: Both think WITBD was the foundational document of Bolshevism.

But Lenin did not think it was a foundational document at all, whether for good or evil. In 1907 Lenin explained the basic methodological mistake made by those who thought it was:

The basic mistake made by those who now criticise What Is To Be Done? is to treat the pamphlet apart from its connection with the concrete historical situation of a definite, and now long past, period in the development of our Party.1Lenin CW vol. 13, p. 101

Lenin denied the very premise tenaciously held by both sides of the divide: the fetishization of a text. For there is a deeply rooted tendency among historians, sociologists, political scientists and philosophers of all ideological outlooks to look for the Rosetta Stone of Bolshevism, key texts that can explain—or be made to explain—nearly everything. No such texts exist, whether it is WITBD or any of the thousands of interventions Lenin and other Bolsheviks wrote over their lifetimes. How do Lih and his critics, whether left or right, respond to Lenin’s less than pre-possessing characterization of WITBD? Though aware of it, they ignore Lenin’s admonition.

They ignore it because it goes against the world-historical significance both attribute to Lenin’s pamphlet. Both see the tree in the acorn: Lih—the Tree of Liberty (up to a point), Lih’s opponents—the Tree of Tyranny. In doing so, both warp the historical record beyond recognition. Below, I offer a synecdochical example of the speculative reasoning Lih deploys in his writings.

In 1892, Kautsky wrote The Erfurt Program. According to Lih, this book “defined Social Democracy for Russian activists—it was the book one read to find out what it meant to be a Social Democrat” (45). For Russian social democrats it meant

… the party inspires the Russian workers who inspire the Russian peasants to create together a worker-peasant vlast that will inspire the world by building socialism—this is the heart, the emotional core, of Bolshevism. (2)

Insofar as Lih here identifies a concrete political dimension to Bolshevik eschatology, every clause is materially incompatible with the “Erfurtian” politics of Western European social democratic parties.

Between 1903 and 1917, the Bolsheviks never thought a “worker-peasant vlast”—”worker-peasant power”—to build socialism was feasible in Russia, as Lih holds. Rather it was a vlast that would overthrow Tsarism in the bourgeois-democratic revolution, set up a revolutionary provisional government, and clear the way for the development of capitalism, not socialism. As valorous leader of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) would be in a position not merely to participate in a provisional government, but to assume revolutionary leadership of it. This vlast had a name and Bolsheviks called it the “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry.”

“Lih and his opponents largely agree on one thing: both think [What is to be Done?] was the foundational document of Bolshevism. But Lenin did not think it was a foundational document at all.” Cover of the first edition, 1902. Image by собственный архив, modified by Tempest.

This provisional dictatorship would secure the best political conditions for another vlast to convene. This vlast also had a name. Everyone called it the Constituent Assembly. Elected by universal, equal and secret suffrage, this worker/peasant dominated assembly would found another vlast, a permanent one. It had a name too: the democratic republic, the most democratic form of the capitalist state.

The democratic republic constitutionally secured, the RSDLP would dissolve the dictatorship of workers and peasants, go into opposition to the newly established bourgeois-democratic state, and become a party leading the workers’ movement toward socialism—just like those in the West. The peasantry does not enter the equation at this juncture because the rapid American style development of capitalism will transform this class of land possessors into landless proletarians. The road to socialism inevitably passes through a capitalist stage as an indispensable material prerequisite to socialist construction. Such was the essence of “Old Bolshevism.” This is how all Social Democrats understood matters—until 1917. This is how virtually every student of the period, whether newbie or not, has understood them as well.

In 1917 Lenin wrote the April Theses. He and his partisans called for a break with Old Bolshevism. The Bolsheviks “rearmed” the party and changed course, pushing for socialist revolution beyond the bourgeois-democratic revolution, adopting for all practical intents and purposes Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution outlook. But Lih denies discontinuity with Old Bolshevism. What does this mean? It must mean the Old Bolsheviks were partisans of permanent revolution from the very beginning, when they were Young Bolsheviks. What other meaning could it possibly have? Lih’s assertions that the Bolsheviks followed Trotsky de facto on this question before 1917 defy logic and the documentary evidence.

[T]he terms Lih deploys in his work, especially untranslated Russian ones, are too often shifting or empty signifiers. … Using the same term allows Lih to convey identity and continuity to Bolshevik political doctrine “from its beginnings.”

In sum, Russian Social Democrats faced conditions and objectives of political struggle under autocratic Russia that were qualitatively different from those in bourgeois-democratic states. These differences are immaterial to Lih because the social democratic party everywhere and at all times aspires to lead the working class wherever it exists, and no matter the kind of society it exists in. For him, Kautsky was the “architect” of the October Revolution. But if readers are to understand real history, these differences matter a great deal.

Broadly speaking, the terms Lih deploys in his work, especially untranslated Russian ones, are too often shifting or empty signifiers. Here, Lih’s vlast is an ahistorical abstraction from which no concrete vlast—provisional government, constituent assembly, democratic republic—can be derived—but which is compatible with any earthly manifestation of vlast.

There is a ‘benefit’ to this procedure. Using the same term allows Lih to convey identity and continuity to Bolshevik political doctrine “from its beginnings” (4). Since the Bolsheviks were always committed to “revolution do kontsa”—revolution to the end—Lih rejects the idea of rupture in Bolshevik doctrine in 1917, reading into the historical record a “deeper” continuity—just as the textbook interpreters do. The positive political values Lih attaches to this continuity are simply reversed in the textbook interpretation.

Lih asserts an “underlying continuity and gradual metamorphosis” of Bolshevism, from 1917 on. In other words, Bolshevism gradually became … Stalinism. There was no apocalyptic break between the two, as most revolutionary Marxists think. Both were predicates of “campaignism,” another term invented by Lih and hypostasized into a self-standing subject:

Bolshevik drive to overthrow absolutism was primarily fuelled by its desire to attain the political freedom needed for spd-style2SPD is the acronym for the German Social Democratic Party.campaignism; sadly, ‘state monopoly campaignism’ after October was a prime incentive to shut down political freedom in the Soviet Union. (6)

Under Lenin, party campaigns for popular support were not backed up by a state. The Bolsheviks were unarmed prophets. Under Stalin, they became armed prophets. If the people could not be convinced to go to the Promised Land, they could be coerced. The difference is no big deal for Lih. Such was the essence of Stalin’s 1938 Short Course on the history of Bolshevism. According to Lih:

The real hero of the Short Course is the Bolshevik party line. The party line, based solidly on a knowledge of the laws of history, is forced to fight against innumerable critics and scoffers from right and left and goes on from triumph to triumph—this is the narrative of the Short Course. And as it happens, Stalin was in fact almost always a conscious defender of the party line during Lenin’s lifetime (with a few small and unimportant exceptions). Of course, after Lenin’s death, Stalin was himself the principal architect of the party line. (517)

Lih declares that he does not give his “own answer” to What is Bolshevism? but the answer given by “authorized and authoritative Bolshevik spokesmen.” The considerations raised here should foster doubts about Lih’s self-assessment.

Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Tempest Collective. For more information, see “About Tempest Collective.”

Featured image credit: Picryl; modified by Tempest.

Categories: D2. Socialism

The war in Ukraine

Thu, 01/18/2024 - 20:17

The situation on the military front is grim. Despite certain tactical achievements, high hopes for the counter-offensive were not fulfilled. Instead, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief, has openly acknowledged a stalemate. The national polls indicate emerging exhaustion. The global community is losing interest, aid packages are stalled, truck haulage is blocked. Winter is here, and so are Russian missile strikes at the energy infrastructure.

It is not better politically, either. Ukraine’s Left, which looks more like a constellation of NGOs, activist groups, and local union leaders than a coherent movement, is effectively sidelined and marginalized. The mainstream opinion corridor resembles a weird mix of linguistic chauvinism and unrestrained neoliberalism. Rally ‘round the flag’ effect decreases but still holds: the president, the army, and volunteers enjoy the highest level of trust. The predominant majority of the Ukrainian population don’t want elections citing their costs, limitations of the martial law, the lack of safety, and the inability of a significant share of Ukrainians to vote.

Who or what to fight for then?

It would be naive, of course, to demand unreserved solidarity from the international Left. There is so much injustice in the world, and standing with Ukraine does not always look that appealing. After all, one doesn’t have to dig deep to find their public officials instrumentalizing fear and steering hatred or corporate lobbyists dreaming of destroying everything social. Likewise, it is easy to point to the aspiring neo-feudals eager to keep the borders shut so their serfs won’t escape or the middle-class xenophobes calling for the disenfranchisement of residents of the occupied territories. In some truly Orwellian fashion, president Zelenskyi himself unequivocally backed the occupying power of Israel, as if forgetting how his own country is suffering from pseudo-historic claims by its neighbor.

Ukraine’s Left … is effectively sidelined and marginalized. The mainstream opinion corridor resembles a weird mix of linguistic chauvinism and unrestrained neoliberalism.

Needless to say, no solidarity is expected with such figures. But keep in mind that many contrasting fates are entangled today. The Left ought to act for the working people! The farmers from Kherson who till the mine-laden soil. The train drivers from Kyiv who deliver vital supplies on run-down trains. The underpaid nurses from Lviv who attend to the sick and the wounded. The Russian-speaking miners from Kryvyi Rih who fight to protect their hometown. The construction workers from Mykolaiv who clear dangerous rubble to build anew, but struggle to feed their families. Support them, the invisible majority, whose voice is rarely heard but who have nowhere else to go. The establishment, on the contrary, should be watched as closely as possible.

How to support?

Numerous initiatives have already taken root, each being an example of what is possible. International advocacy efforts of European Network in Solidarity with Ukraine, resolute backing by the Nordic Green Left, united voice of the Danish trade unions, speaking tours of the Ukrainian labor leaders, capacity building for Sotsialnyi Rukh, syndicalist organizing of Ukrainian workers in Stockholm. The scope of potential action is vast, but some points come up consistently in the discussions.

Raise your voice on how your tax money is spent!

Ukraine’s dependence on external support is hardly a secret. Nobody wants their taxes to end up in somebody’s bank account in Switzerland rather than serve those in need. Then, it is only logical to pressure to include  social clauses in aid conditions and public procurement or point to unfair practices where they exist. Aid for reconstruction should go hand in hand with green jobs, living wage, union oversight, contractor’s liability, protected employment, and a healthy and safe working environment!

Call for debt relief!

Ukraine’s external debt exceeds $93 billion. Over the years, borrowing was an easy way out for governments to avoid challenging the status quo and meddling with oligarchs. Most recent loans already have stricter requirements aiming at counteracting state capture, and things are changing. But the amount of debt hanging over is already used as a pretext for justifying austerity. Moreover, it reproduces dependency, where rebuilding is funded by new loans. What is earned is spent on repayment instead. One could question how fair it is for the people of the devastated land to pay for the ruling class’s faulty policy decisions at all. Yet even more important is to remember the main lesson from the success of the Marshall Plan: war-torn countries need grants, not loans.

Do not ignore the problems with democracy and human rights!

When the invasion started, citizens of all social backgrounds lined up in front of the recruitment centers. Almost two years later, it is no longer the case. The primary tool for military recruitment is mobilization with all its troubles. But for people to risk their lives, they must be sure that it is fair and that they or their families will be cared for if something unfortunate happens. They must be offered the stakes in defining the country’s future. But why would the government care if there is an easy way out? Under the pretext of the defense duty, en-mass round-ups on the streets or public transport will continue to proliferate unless you pay attention.

The Ukrainian military conducted operations in eastern Ukraine in July 2014. Photo credit: Ukraine Ministry of Defense.

The same goes for solving a demographic challenge after the war or reintegrating Donbas and Crimea. Not closed borders, not ramped-up propaganda, but decent wages, affordable housing, and social security could convince people to stay or return. Not arrogant moralizing, trustworthiness tests, or re-education camps but mutual respect, recognition of human dignity, and shared responsibility for rebuilding could enable reconciliation.

Support the unions!

They are the only established mass organizations that exist specifically for wage earners. Even if they are not the most militant but overly bureaucratic and helpless or even only semi-alive, there is nothing else. Institutional recognition of unions’ special role in postwar development could revitalize them and incentivize a union drive. It would also establish a credible agent to battle corruption and social dumping. Obviously, some trade unions will be immediately taken over by opportunists. But this is also the reason to account for internal democracy and autonomy of their local chapters or the space for independent union activity.

Agree to disagree!

Some things Ukrainians believe in may seem wrong or irrational to you. You could be correct, but the very same concepts might have different meanings. In modern history, Ukraine only had periods of peace. Its right to exist is openly questioned. Ukrainians have long been disappointed in their rulers and often lack leverage over them other than rising up once in a while. Then, there is no wonder a greater trust in international involvement exists. Choose your battles and focus on what we have in common!

Build connections: person to person, city to city, association to association!

The people’s movements worldwide have accumulated enormous political experience you can share. Traditional Left narratives are discredited in Ukrainian society because of their misuse. So, the people you connect with may not be politically educated, but this is where praxis matters more—extending your hand to fight together with a small-town mayor who cares about his citizens, a local union leader who is frustrated by indifference and powerlessness, or a recent immigrant who was cheated out of wage. Engaging those already here will be particularly relevant for years and can make a difference. Whether they stay or return, they will be equipped with this new experience.

No doubt, the Left should do more than just send arms, but it is a bare minimum not to oppose. The right to defend yourself is meaningless without the means to fight.

There may be nothing revolutionary in such simple points. The calculation, however, is that many small steps can lead to incremental change by creating necessary conditions and carving out space for the progressive agenda. But to facilitate this, the Left needs credibility and trustworthiness, which would be virtually impossible for those who undermine weapons supply.

No doubt, the Left should do more than just send arms, but it is a bare minimum not to oppose. The right to defend yourself is meaningless without the means to fight. Refusing weapons provision is threatening Ukraine’s survival as a country. Remember that the availability of arms is not the same as their use. Even if the war ends at the negotiating table, having weapons won’t leave Ukraine at Russia’s mercy, neither will Ukraine be helpless if Putin decides to violate the truce.

Fighting until victory? Stalemate

For the situation as it is, there are no prerequisites for a quick resolution. The Russian army does not fully control any of the regions it has occupied, except for Crimea. Yet all of them are now mentioned in the Russian Constitution as an inalienable part of Russia. Ukraine is equally bound by its Constitution. Stepping back and bending down risks provoking serious internal troubles only the right-wing would benefit from. Then, if no force can prevail, a risk exists of sliding into a prolonged, low-intensity conflict. It basically means even more destruction and less hope for the eventual revival. The best discussion to have in this case would be about securing civilian lives, integrating refugees, and lowering consequences for the world by, for example, setting UN demilitarised zones at the nuclear power plants.

Russia’s defeat

The best guarantee of future peace is a democratic Russia. While Russian imperialism is undoubtedly weaker than its rivals, challenging the U.S. hegemony neither makes it more progressive per se nor a lesser evil for those who live next door. Even before Russia’s turn to expansionism, life in Ukraine was marked by their constant interference in the political and economic life, their fight for cultural domination, and their projection of military power, including through having military bases in Crimea.

The hope has always been that forcing Russia to withdraw would catalyze a change within. This is why Ukraine keeps fighting. But it has costs. Foremost, the undeclared but horrific numbers of the dead and injured. The question is how much longer Ukrainian society can afford such sacrifice and what the consequences will be. In this struggle, support is a matter of raising the costs for Russia, so it folds earlier, and lowering them for Ukraine, so it survives. That’s why both the Ukrainian and Russian Left have been calling for stricter sanctions, a full stop to oil and gas imports, and timely provision of modern weaponry.

Truce

The sides might decide to probe a possible armistice. But we have to bear in mind that Ukraine is a smaller and weaker state, devastated by this war and experiencing serious demographic issues. The greatest fear about a ceasefire is to end up forgotten and alone. Then, nothing would stop Russia from launching another attack whenever they are better prepared. To have the slightest prospect to withstand, Ukraine would have to turn into a military camp and yet still live in a state of permanent insecurity. Precisely this is the most significant factor of the overwhelming support for NATO membership, as a deterrence, as a guarantee of peace. The only possible alternative would be a binding deal of similar effect. More than ever, your credible voice and support would be necessary to navigate this.

Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst

In the end, solidarity with Ukraine doesn’t have to be a sign of virtue. It is a rational response. If the legitimacy of the “spheres of influence” is recognized, what choice would smaller states have other than joining one of the blocks? If nuclear powers can dictate their will, who would ever choose disarmament then? If the dependency on fossil fuels allows emboldened autocrats to blackmail the world, what is left of democracy? If Ukraine falls, what would prevent criminal employers and mafia networks in your country from taking advantage of millions of traumatized and dispossessed people?

Ultimately, if the worst thing happens, it will be yet another nail in the coffin of global peace, contributing to the growing instability. In the new world of competing smaller imperialisms, marking the decay of the U.S. empire, we will have to prepare for the darker times and lay the conditions for the eventual revival. The least we can do then is maintain links and not see each other as enemies, even if we end up in the competing camps. Let’s follow Joe Hill’s advice and not waste any time mourning. Let’s organize!

Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Tempest Collective. For more information, see “About Tempest Collective.”

Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons; modified by Tempest.

Categories: D2. Socialism

From Ukraine to Palestine, occupation is a crime

Tue, 01/16/2024 - 21:23

Ashley Smith: Hi, everyone, I just wanted to welcome you to this panel “From Ukraine to Palestine, Occupation is a Crime.” My name is Ashley Smith. I’m a member of the Ukraine Solidarity Network, which is the sponsor of this program.

Before we get into the panel, I just wanted to highlight the series that Haymarket Books is running on Palestine and read what they’ve described as the urgency of this educational process during the mobilization against the genocide that Israel is carrying out in Palestine.

Haymarket writes,

Today we are confronting a watershed moment in the struggle against colonialism and apartheid. As an internationalist left around the world, we must take a decisive stance in support of Palestinian liberation. Haymarket Books and partners are organizing an urgent series of online events to provide education in the context of current events. At Haymarket, Palestine has always been at the core of our political and intellectual project, and we believe free and accessible political education is crucial to solidarity efforts.

The situation is dire. As media outlets spread lies and misinformation, politicians and journalists are paving the way for Israel to carry out mass genocide in Gaza. In the West Bank, settlers are armed and carrying out pogroms. The governments of the United States, the United Kingdom,, and across the global north are putting in place chilling measures to crack down on solidarity with Palestine. The Israeli state is killing thousands Palestinians with impunity, and Palestinians everywhere are being silenced. We are entering a new era of struggle for Palestine, and until Palestine is free, none of us is free. Join us for a series of urgent conversations about the history, politics, and stakes of Palestinian liberation.

In this context, the Ukraine Solidarity Network is proud to sponsor this panel. Israel has launched a genocidal war against Palestine at the very same time Russia continues its imperialist attempt to annex Ukraine. This panel will challenge the selective solidarity that haunts the Left and argue for solidarity between Palestine and Ukraine’s struggle for liberation and self-determination.

I’ll introduce our fantastic panelists in the order in which they’ll give their opening remarks. First, we have Dana El-Kurd, who is a non-resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington. Daria Saburova is a PhD candidate at Paris Nanterre University, and is a member of the European Network of Solidarity with Ukraine. Ramah Kudaimi is a Syrian American and has an MA in conflict resolution from Georgetown University. And Joseph Daher is a Swiss-Syrian left-wing activist and author of Hezbollah: The Political Economy of the Party of God. With that, Dana has introductory comments.

Dana El-Kurd:I’d like to begin first by laying out what the scope of this attack has been. As of a few hours ago when I checked these numbers, the assault on Gaza had killed over 9,000 people, over 3500 children. More than half of all homes in the entire Gaza strip have been destroyed or damaged. These numbers do not include the 1400 killed in the October 7th attack as well as the 200 or so taken hostage.

There’s plenty of evidence at this point that Israel has engaged in war crimes: the use of white phosphorus bombs, indiscriminate bombing, and the targeting of hospitals, schools, bakeries. What we’re seeing is an unprecedented level of destruction and death in the Gaza strip. But it’s not the first. This is the seventh major assault, I believe, since 2008. And, so, we have to consider what that means, that this has been a pattern of behavior that’s escalating.

I just want to make a few quick points. It’s important for people to recognize that what’s happening in Palestine has global ramifications, and I don’t mean it can cause regional war or conflict, even though that’s also the case. First, we’ve seen the war’s  impact on protests and immediate unrest across the region in particular, so there were protests in Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Iman, Qatar, Iraq, Yemen, all over the region. We’re seeing unprecedented levels of mobilization. Some part of that is going to be directed at the authoritarian regimes, but some part of that is also going to be seized on by authoritarian actors, so this is a dangerous kind of situation that we’re facing. Another reason that it has global ramifications is because this kind of festering violence erodes essentially any safeguards, however imperfect, we have to constrain states and human security.

A student of mine made the joke that this is like a Geneva suggestion rather than a Geneva Convention. And I think it is a very valid point. I think it shows that international institutions that were created and intended for collective security have failed to accomplish such safeguards. The selective application of those safeguards is a serious problem. It has taught all the wrong lessons to authoritarian factions. We’ve seen Russia invade Ukraine and hold sham elections in certain parts. And I think this is the pattern that we’re facing as a result of this kind of behavior on the global stage.

I just want to end on one point. Palestinians and Syrians are the political proletariat of the world. Without sovereignty, even at this point without the right to subsistence, we are faced with authoritarian control and ability to take away basic human dignity and expel people. It’s spreading as a mode of behavior. So, I’m thankful to Haymarket for bringing us together, so we can continue to have these conversations about how to strategize our way out of this and exert pressure on decision-makers or articulate a different vision of world security.

Daria Saburova: I would like in this very short introduction that I have to talk about why actually we put forward these equivalents, these analogies between Ukraine and Palestine, which I also did in a recent article that I wrote, why Ukrainians should support Palestinians.

I just want to say to begin with that I don’t think there’s actually a requirement for my situation to be equivalent to yours for me to be in solidarity with you. We are seeing across the whole world demonstrations for Palestine. Precisely for the countries that are not experiencing occupation and war right now, where there are no restrictions on demonstrations, it is much easier to organize solidarity with Palestine than it is the case in Ukraine, obviously. So, I don’t think there’s a need for equivalence for solidarity.

Then the second point is that I do agree with some people who refuse to make those analogies, to make those equivalences, for scientific reasons. I do not think that from a scientific historical point of view there’s any sense in comparing Palestine and Ukraine. This is absolutely not what we’re talking about here. We are talking about a political and strategic analogy. So, what we are looking at is occupation, imperialist aggression, and settler colonialism. Of course, the scale is not the same, but in Ukraine also from 2014 there have been Russian citizens, hundreds of Russian citizens, moving to Crimea. And this tendency is going to continue in the occupied territories, and this demographic strategy is very conscious on the Russian side to prevent Ukraine from ever bringing those territories back to Ukraine. There’s also, as Dana said, in both cases, indiscriminate bombing and genocidal actions with absolutely no regard for humanitarian law. So, these things we find in both cases.

We are talking about a political and strategic analogy [between Palestine and Ukraine] … [W]hat we are looking at is occupation, imperialist aggression, and settler colonialism.

There’s also just the simple experience of people who experience occupation, people who experience displacement, people who experience bombings.

So why do we need to put forward these analogies politically and strategically? First of all, because the U.S. and even the Ukrainian government have been comparing Ukraine to Israel. Actually, the opposite analogy doesn’t come from our side. It comes from their side. So, we need to counter that analogy that they are making between an oppressed state, occupied state, and an occupier state.

The second reason is because this analogy can point out double standards on multiple sides. Obviously, there is a double standard among Western governments who help us to struggle against imperial aggression in Ukraine but who back Israeli colonial violence. This can also help us to address the Ukrainian government’s double standards, but it can also finally help to address the double standards among those on the pro-Palestinian Left, for example, who support the Palestinian resistance, but who are very anti-Ukrainian, and vice versa. Some people on the Left support Ukraine but do not support the Palestinian resistance. I think this is a very important point for us to make.

To finish this brief introduction, I would like to say that precisely today, there is a collective Ukrainian Palestinian solidarity collective that published a letter already signed by more than 120 Ukrainian researchers, artists, and activists in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Unfortunately, our website has been attacked because of publishing this letter; at the moment it is not available. But we will try to put it back online as soon as possible.

I’ll read some passages from it to finish.

We Ukrainian researchers, artists, political labor activists stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine who for 75 years have been subjected and resisted Israeli military occupation separation, settler colonial violence, and apartheid. We write this letter as people to people. Dominant discourse at governmental level and solidarity groups that support the struggles of Ukrainians and Palestinians often have solidarity with everyone who is opposed, oppressed, and struggling for freedom.

The letter also states that Palestinians have the right to self-determination and resistance against Israeli occupation, just like Ukrainians have the right to resist Russian invasion.

Ramah Kudaimi:My family is from Syria, so I spent a lot of time organizing for Palestine in the United States. It’s very important in this moment–with everything going on, the fissures we’re kind of seeing as different hypocrisies are becoming clear–to reflect both on how we as a movement have not been able to get where we want in terms of ending wars and occupation. We also need to reflect on what we need to do to end these terrible tragedies and move forward in terms of building the kind of world we want to see that is free of racism and where everyone is liberated.

We’re seeing these hypocrisies on the Left. We have the people who celebrated Assad for many years on the argument that Assad was leading a resistance, and that is why he needed to shut down and destroy the revolution in Syria in order to continue to be the one who is in charge of protecting the Palestinian cause. [Yet Assad’s] nowhere to be found; he’s currently found bombing Syrians. So that’s one hypocrisy, and the other is the Western liberal hypocrisy, which lets the leftist folks come into our movements and say, see, we were right about all this. Guess what, they have been right. They were right in terms of saying no one would ever show up for Palestine like they did in Ukraine, and we have to grapple with what that means in terms of being able to push back on these claims of these folks.

I want to focus on the specifics of the U.S. What we’re seeing, again, in terms of liberal democracy, the Democrats, Republicans, too, is the racism that’s been out front, the Islamophobia, and the really shameless way that the White House has been dealing with this. Last night they announced a national strategy to counter Islamophobia while they are actively stroking it every single day. When Biden puts out false claims and propaganda about what happened on October 7 and when he questions the death toll of Palestinians. This is not Trump in the White House, you know–this is Biden.

So, we need to be very clear that this is a moment of drawing lines. We need to  figure out our role in the U.S. I think we’re seeing a resurgence of the “war on terror” framework, which never went away, even though people declared the war on terror over many times in the last several years. The idea of well, Israel has a right to defend itself, Hamas is a terrorist group. We know what terrorism means; it only applies to Muslim people. No matter how they expand the definition, what they mean is Muslims, especially in the last two decades. It is so important to push back on that.

And then there’s the widespread repression we have seen. I feel that every Palestinian, Arab, Black, Brown, Muslim person thinks so much about everything they type and everything, every word we say while Zionists are openly making calls for genocide. They are not going to lose their jobs or tenure; they are not going to get doxxed. We have so-called civil rights organizations like the Anti Defamation League showcasing how what we have failed to get rid of is now coming back to haunt us once again.

People are being fired, hotels are canceling major conferences of organizations, the list goes on and on and on. It’s very hard to organize in this moment. This is why it’s very important that everyone who is able to speak up in solidarity with the Palestinian people. It doesn’t have to be that difficult. Think about the ways you already are plugged into progressive causes and how you can connect Palestine to those. Especially now, the sad fact is that we have to push so hard for a humanitarian demand for a cease-fire. Finally we have a senator this morning who said it, Dick Durbin. Shockingly it’s Dick Durbin and not Bernie Sanders. Again, there are questions of where we are in our left spaces, and how the cease-fire now demand needs to push us toward ending U.S. military funding, because we know Palestinian liberation cannot happen as long as the U.S. is pushing the funding and weapons to it. If Syrians under bombardment in Idlib are coming out in solidarity with Palestinians, if folks in Ukraine are able to do so while under occupation, no one in the U.S. has an excuse to not take action.

Joseph Daher:The need for international solidarity is proven day by day. It’s important to know while we’re all looking at the genocidal war of the Israeli occupation army on the Palestinians, authoritarian regimes are taking this opportunity to increase bombardments in the last month. For example, in the Syrian attack on Idlib, more than 60 people have been murdered by the Assad regime. The  Russian regime is bombing, as well as that of Turkey, which further bombed the northeast, benefiting from this opportunity. These forces are profiting from the immunity given to Israel to further their attacks on civilians whether in Idlib or in the northeast.

I think it is important to say that our destinies are linked wherever we are, from Ukraine, from Syria, to Lebanon, to Palestine. And it’s a crucial movement, I believe. More than ever, the right of oppressed people to resist has to be defended. This is especially the case when we look at the Palestinians, because since October 7, Western powers from the U.S. to  the EU have continuously condemned Palestinians and refused even a basic cease-fire after more than 9,000 people are dead, including more than 4,000 children. They are still saying Israel has the right to defend itself, as if history started on the 7th of October.

History started even prior to the first catastrophe and now we’re witnessing the second catastrophe for the Palestinians, even though it also always has been a continuous process since 1948 of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. This is not something new we’re witnessing, unfortunately. The scale of it is much deeper, the violence is much deeper, but it’s not new.

Our destinies are linked wherever we are, from Ukraine, from Syria, to Lebanon, to Palestine. And it’s a crucial movement, I believe. More than ever, the right of oppressed people to resist has to be defended.

This comes as no surprise for people who always have stood among the oppressed. Colonialism has a long history, whether it is  U.S. history as an imperial state, the history of other imperialist states in the region, including Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. They always deny the right of resistance of the oppressed, defining those struggling against colonialism, occupation, and authoritarian structures, as terrorists who must absolutely be crushed. This has been the case in Nigeria as well.

We can remember the African National Congress, the Irish Republican Army, the PLO, prior to the agreement. Liberals love to talk about Mandela. They don’t look at the actual history of Mandela, the terrorist who was not only ignored, but also condemned by most of the Western states and liberals who condemned the use of violence. The point is, it’s not the oppressed that decides the way they resist, but it’s the occupier, the colonizers and their infrastructure that imposes the violence and creates the context of violence for the oppressed. In this light, we can also speak about the Kurds’ struggle and the PKK, the struggle of the Armenians, et cetera. The list is so long. We shouldn’t be surprised by the defense on the part of Western states of the Israeli apartheid, racist, and colonial state.

The Gaza Strip, historically has been a very important place for resistance. It has always been a really deep problem for the Israeli occupation.

From this perspective, it’s really important to refuse the mainstream West’s condemnation of the Palestinians. This is something I think we should really be clear about. Supporters of the Palestinian struggle for liberation, emancipation, we have to reiterate that despite the attacks, despite being accused of being terrorists, that the oppressed have the right to oppose an apartheid colonial regime and authoritarian structure.

This  obviously does not mean that–and I believe myself to be a revolutionary humanist–we cannot be critical of political parties such as Hamas or any kind of Palestinian political parties, or that we accept any action, military action, or attacks on civilians. Every death of a civilian, except maybe Netanyahu, is a tragedy.

More generally, the violence used by the oppressor to maintain the structures of domination and subjugation should never be compared or put on a similar level as the violence of the oppressed.

But the scale of the violence must be understood in historical context. And the first to blame for every civilian that is dead today is the Israeli state. They created the current situation and the scale of violence. We have to be clear that the issue does not originate with Hamas.

After the 2001 attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was trying to characterize Hamas as Al Qaeda. Today there’s a similar attempt. But the problem is not the etiology [origins, development] of Hamas. Because the marchers have killed — these marchers have returned were pacifists. Come from all kinds of various etiologies.

At the same time, when there’s an attack on the Palestinian cause in the West, it’s an attack on the democratic rights of all progressive actors, of democratic parties and organizations. The attacks on the BDS have to be seen as an attack on any attempt to resist not only Israel but our own states. This is very important.

The way the Palestinian cause has been attacked in Britain has been a way to destroy what was the left wing of the labor party. Today you have at the head of the labor party someone who is justifying the genocidal war on the Palestinians.

More generally, the violence used by the oppressor to maintain the structures of domination and subjugation should never be compared or put on a similar level as the violence of the oppressed.

And this is something basic, I believe. The resistance of the Palestinians have resulted in new demonstrations in neighboring countries and in the region, not only condemning Israeli oppression of Palestinians, but also the authoritarianism of their own states and their ties with Israel, whether direct or indirect.

In this context, we must reiterate our support of the Palestinians to resist, to live, and to exist.

The most important task for the people outside of the region, like us today, is to win progressive unions, progressive rules, to support the campaign of BDS, and to demand a cease-fire straight now. No security in this region, and I mean security in a social justice way, not like in a geopolitical perspective, can be achieved without the realization of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian, which means the end of occupation, colonization, and the right to return.

We cannot have complete freedom without the freedom of the Palestinians and all the oppressed.

AS: Thank you so much, Joseph, and thanks to everybody for those opening comments. I think they set the scene and the issues very clearly and dramatically.

I want  to start with a question that delves a little bit deeper into what Daria was speaking about, which is the equivalences that have been played out in a geopolitical framework. The Biden administration and other governments, including that of Zelensky’s in Ukraine, have drawn an equivalence between Ukraine and Israel. What’s wrong with that, and what has been its impact geopolitically and domestically in each of the concerned states? Isn’t the parallel better between Ukraine and Palestine? (And that doesn’t mean equating the two countries, but suggesting that they are in a similar position of resisting occupation.)

RK:

Obviously, Israel is not Ukraine in this situation. Israel is the occupying force. So, if they want to make the parallels, it is with Russia that the parallel is appropriate. That comparison is difficult for the Biden administration, because of the demand for weapons. Biden  wants to send weapons to both Ukraine and Israel. I think the plan is to send $14 billion in weapons to Israel. And he knows that Republicans are not interested in more weapons to Ukraine, but they are fine with weapons to Israel. Tying weapons for Israel to weapons for Ukraine is a way of getting his agenda to pass in Congress.

The deal with Israel also includes more funding for building the wall, something Biden promised he would not do. There is a continuing failure of the Biden administration to abide by its promises. Most sickening is the abandonment of humanitarian aid to Gaza. At some point, there was language about helping to relocate people in Gaza to a neighboring country. But we know, it’s very open, that the plan here is to complete the genocide of Palestinians by pushing the remaining Palestinians off their land. An important reminder:  Seventy percent of Palestinians in Gaza are refugees who literally live miles away from their homes that they were kicked out of in 1948.

So that’s the practical level. The other is the ideological level. Again, they want us to just think October 7 was the start of this history. Oh, a state got attacked, just like Russia attacked Ukraine a year and a half ago, and obviously longer before that even. And also here, Hamas attacked Israel. So, just like Ukraine has a right to defend itself, Israel has a right to defend itself. They want to pretend that the rest of the history doesn’t matter; it’s not important.

They are looking for the sound bites. Sometimes, the sound bites are ridiculous, which is why they are losing a lot of the rhetorical war. This is why they are desperate. Every couple of hours someone in the [Biden] administration puts out a ridiculous tweet about how we care about Muslims, we care about Palestinians, we’re against antisemitism and Islamophobia. Like a fifth grade understanding of these things, whoever is tweeting them.

The claim, made by Putin and Biden, that Hamas is ISIS is absolutely ridiculous. It’s very important to push back on the analogy between Israel and Ukraine. It is ridiculous how Europe is reacting to Ukrainian refugees versus how they were acting to Syrian refugees. It is ridiculous that the U.S. is opening its arms to Ukrainian refugees, versus how it treats folks at its own border with Mexico.

Ukrainians deserve support. How do we advocate for that support while demanding that the West react with the same support to others? It is a hard case to make at this moment.

AS:Thanks, Ramah. I wanted to ask you, Dana, to come in on the same question about the Biden administration’s drawing this equivalence between Ukraine and Israel. What’s the problem with that equivalence, and isn’t the parallel better between Ukraine and Palestine?

DEK:It’s very clear: Ukraine isn’t occupying anyone else’s land. Palestinians aren’t some outside group, certainly not an invading imperialist power. They are a present national group in a place that has two national groups because of a historic injustice.

I think the crux of the conflict is different, as well. It’s framed this way to emphasize the supposed dichotomy of the West versus East, civilized versus not civilized. It’s not valid. The letter by the solidarity group points out clearly that Western support to Israel confirms, and I’m quoting here, an unjust order and demonstrates double standards in relation to international law. It’s absolutely a hypocrisy that erodes the natural solidarities that can emerge between people involved in both of these issues.

AS: Thanks, Dana. Daria, I’m sure you want to get in on this, because you touched on it in your opening remarks, but go ahead.

DS:I just want to add that there is this question of arms. And there’s a very good article that came out yesterday on Open Democracy. Ukraine is worried that Israel’s attack in Palestine will bump them down in the U.S. agenda. American diplomats are also kind of pointing out this analogy, because they want to get arms in the same package as Israel. They are very afraid of losing military support from the West and from the West turning completely its support to Israel’s colonial aggression on Palestine.

So there’s this pragmatic consideration behind the Ukrainian government’s actions. There’s also, as Dana said, this very obnoxious discourse pitting European white people versus some barbarian axis of evil. This is a discourse that also is being pushed forward in the media in Ukraine. But we also have to know that what we are reading in the media is not fully and actually representative–even the majority–of the Ukrainian population, the Ukrainian working classes. I have done research this year in Ukraine. I spent three months in Ukraine doing interviews with working-class people. And this is absolutely not the discourse that the working class people are defending.

There are much better parallels between Ukraine and Palestine. I even think that despite historical differences, we can still point out that the aggression against Palestine today actually has to be considered in the context of a 75-year history; similarly, the aggression against Ukraine has to be considered in the context of a very, very long history.

Although it would be absolutely incorrect to say that the Ukrainian Soviet Republic was a colony of Russia or Moscow,  there were elements of national oppression of Ukrainians, including during Soviet times. And there were episodes that can be characterized as having a genocidal character, as the great famine of the 1930s killed several millions of Ukrainians.

So we are talking about the histories of two oppressed peoples, very different histories, but histories of two oppressed peoples. I think this is where our analysis and our solidarity have to come from. We need to avoid a counterproductive and dangerous geopolitical discourse that considers struggles for emancipation as a football match where we support one team, but we don’t support another team. That’s not how it works. I think Joseph made a very good point about how all of these wars affect and diminish emancipation struggles all over the world. In spite of all these polemics going on, we have to try to unite these struggles.

AS:Thanks, Daria. Joseph, do you want to come in with any comments on this?

JD: To continue what Daria was saying, what is really important is to orient on struggles from below and solidarity from below. The main problem has been, for sections of the Left, especially talking about campism, to see the world through geopolitical rivalries. We should choose a side. We should choose the lesser evil, instead of the bigger evil. When you look at Russian bombs or U.S. bombs or Israeli bombs or Syrian bombs, I don’t think there’s any difference in the end. People suffer from it, they suffer from military tyrannism. This does not mean we do not take into consideration in our analysis that the U.S. is still the most important imperialist power in the world. Obviously not.

But we don’t distinguish between oppressed classes. And this is a political compass that needs to be brought back as the main principle for a Left that believed that change from below is possible, as we witnessed at the beginning of 2011 in the revolutionary processes of the Middle East and North Africa. Radical change from below is possible. It is obviously very difficult, as we’ve seen over the past decade, especially as authoritarian regimes learn methods of oppression from each other. They learn how to combat struggles from below. What we need is to learn from each other’s experience and struggles and to know that the defeat for our camp, the camp from below, is a defeat of all. The most important thing now is the demand for a cease-fire.

We cannot deny that one of the challenges for the Left, for example, in the Middle East and North Africa, is to build an independent, progressive camp. It must be independent from Western states, Israel, and authoritarian regimes on one side, allied with the West. It must also be independent on the other side, as well, of what, bluntly, is an axis that is not our ally. We must remain independent of states and movements that repress their populations, for example Hezbollah in Lebanon. Remember the role that it played during the Lebanese uprising in 2019. Even with regard to Hamas, we said we defend the right of resistance, but this does not mean we support the political parties today leading these kinds of forces.

This will be one of the main challenges for the Left. If we continue to have sections of the Left that only concentrate on choosing one culprit over the other, this is the road to defeat and suffering for the popular classes of the whole region. We have to be very careful.

AS:Thanks, Joseph. You just raised the question of cease-fire, which is, obviously, the main immediate demand that is being raised about stopping the genocidal war in Gaza. And it raises the question of cease-fire comparatively in the two cases.

In the midst of both these wars, one by Russia against Ukraine and, the other by Israel against the Palestine people, the question of cease-fire has come up. In the case of Gaza, almost everyone with any kind of principles supports the call for the immediate cease-fire of Israel’s war, along with other demands like ending the siege, ending the occupation, and ending apartheid.

In the case of Ukraine, though, those who support its struggle do not support the calls for the cease-fire that we’ve seen, especially in the western countries. What do you think of this contrast? How should we think about the cease-fire demand in concrete rather than abstract terms?

DEK:We’ve been talking about similarities and shared solidarities and the fact that these are national groups in both cases that are struggling to survive against the state actor that denies their right to exist. But there are also, obviously, differences not only in the crux and the nature of the conflict, but also in terms of the types of violence and capabilities and what kinds of conflicts emerge from those types of violence.

With Ukraine and Russia, these are two countries engaged essentially in conventional warfare. Ukraine has an army, whereas in Israel and Gaza, it is a matter of  one country pummeling a stateless population with some militant groups that engage in irregular warfare. And I’m grateful to Joseph for articulating the condition that leads to Palestinian resistance, which is the dynamic and unsustainable status quo while still not justifying any use of sadistic violence or anything like that.

This description that I’m offering here is using political science concepts to describe types of capabilities and types of conflict that emerge from that.

So, given that’s the case, the violence and the escalation of violence in Israel-Palestine cannot be resolved by repelling a foreign force; it can’t be repelled through a military option. A cease-fire means reducing the human cost and accepting that there is no military option to resolving the underlying drivers or crux of this conflict.

I think it’s perfectly reasonable for someone who has principles around justice and the survival of these national groups that are under attack to say cease-fire in one case and not to support cease-fire in the other.

On the other hand, a cease-fire in the Ukrainian and Russian case means ceding ground to Russia and beginning negotiations at a point where they are creating new realities on the ground as starting points for negotiation. And that’s why I think it’s perfectly reasonable for someone who has principles around justice and the survival of these national groups that are under attack to say cease-fire in one case and not to support cease-fire in the other.

AS:Daria, do you want to come in on this?

DS:Dana explained it very well from let’s say the objective point of view in terms of differences in capabilities in conventional warfare. But another starting point is what people are asking for. Ukrainians clearly did not ask for a cease-fire when the war started. What they asked for was arms.

We also have to look at the slogans accompanying the slogan for cease-fire in both cases. In the case of pro-Palestinian demonstrations, the demand for a cease-fire is accompanied by a demand to end the of occupation. In the case of leftist demonstrations for a cease-fire in Ukraine, they were accompanied by demands of seizing military aid to Ukraine.

From this point of view, we also have to remember which side we are demonstrating from. For Palestine, we go out to demonstrations, because we demonstrate in the countries that support Israeli colonial genocidal war on Palestine. These are the countries that we can act upon. These are the countries that we address our demands to. When we go out in those same countries to ask for a cease-fire and to seize the military aid to Ukraine, we go out in the countries that support the oppressed side. If we were in Iran or Russia, we could have gone out on the streets to ask for a cease-fire,to ask for Russia to stop bombing Ukraine, but it is not for us to make those demands on the side that is resisting the occupation. This is where the difference also comes from.

AS:Thanks, Daria. Ramah, do you want to come in on this and then Joseph, and then I think Dana wanted a couple sentences. Go ahead, Ramah.

RK:I think just to reiterate Daria’s point about who’s making the call and whom we are saying we’re in solidarity with. I think in the context of the U.S. anti-war movement these last ten or fifteen years, the Left  saw its role as just to make sure the U.S. isn’t “doing harm.” There was an argument, “We don’t care what people on the ground are calling for.” That’s why the Left acted the way it did in Syria. That’s why it acted the way it did in Ukraine.

I think what’s powerful about Palestine,  due to there being many, many Palestinians in the U.S., in the diaspora, is that the Left has been able to shift very significantly in the last ten or fifteen years to being in solidarity with the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people have asked for BDS, you do BDS. The Palestinian people asked for an end to military funding, you do that. It’s not perfect. We still have to answer the argument that a cease-fire is not enough. Some people ask why we are even calling for a cease-fire at this moment. The question is, whose calls do you follow? Anti-war folks in the U.S. that think they know better than folks in Ukraine, or Ukrainians? We should take the example that has been set in terms of solidarity with Palestinian people and apply it to all of these other struggles, as well.

AS:Thanks, Ramah. Joseph, you want to come in?

JD:I would add that the calls for a cease-fire have also been associated with important calls by the Palestinian trade unions with regard to arms collaboration or arms trade with Israel. We saw a couple of trade unions successfully stopping arms production and protesters attacking arms manufacturers doing deals with Israel. These are important examples of international solidarity that I think have to be put forward. In these struggles from below, we have common interests. It does not mean that we are living in the same conditions, but we have to build struggles from below that can challenge the collaboration between western states and Israel.

Regarding Ukraine, it is problematic for the Left to call for a cease-fire as if both sides were equal in an inter-imperialist war. From that perspective, you would be calling on Ukrainians to ask their government–not only ask, but struggle against their own government–to lose the war. This is the problem with seeing the issue as one only of inter-imperialist war.

It is problematic to argue for a cease-fire as if both sides are equal, or as is these were only inter-imperialist wars. As leftists, we think that Ukrainians should struggle against their own government in order to lose the war. Inter-imperialist war is a key issue, but the point is to support people who are oppressed. Our analysis should not be based primarily and solely on what the U.S. interpretation of the cause.

In these struggles from below, we have common interests. It does not mean that we are living in the same conditions, but we have to build struggles from below that can challenge the collaboration between western states and Israel.

This was a problem in the Syrian refugee process. People were attacking the process because of the actions of certain western states. No, our struggle goes to people who are oppressed, and tomorrow the ability for Ukrainians to win this war will allow for the working class to organize, raise their voice, in a Ukraine that is not occupied by Russia. This is basic. So, when taking into consideration the calls for cease-fire, we need to get past the geopolitical perspective that ignores the people fighting for their liberation and emancipation.

AS:Thanks, Joseph. Dana, you wanted to add something to this discussion, so you can go ahead.

DEK:I wanted to  mention the concept of peace and the term “peace.” When there are peace protests for a cease-fire in the German capital demanding the cease-fire in Russia or Ukraine, they hijack the term “peace.” What they mean by peace is not a liberal peace. What they mean is a peace through authoritarian force through the maintenance of violence, through creating and systematizing violence and not fighting against it. I just wanted to make that point, that when we see the “peace camp,” we call it out.

AS:Thanks, Dana. I wanted to turn to a question about the history of Ukraine’s relationship to Palestine, because in your article, Daria, you really made some important points about the history of actual solidarity between Ukraine and Palestine. I wanted to give you a chance to draw that out. What formal political position has Ukraine’s government taken in the past in U.N. votes or diplomacy, and how has that shifted in the recent case? Because it seems quite different from what Zelensky did in expressing solidarity with Israel. It seems upside down and backwards,  maybe for programmatic reasons on his part, but I think as you pointed out, not really in keeping with the history. What has  the relationship historically been in the U.N. and diplomacy towards Palestine, and what are the differences between the official leaderships of the two nations and the broader populations in terms of attitudes towards each national population struggle? So, Daria, why don’t you kick that off?

DS:To be clear, I don’t defend the Ukrainian government, the government that came to power in 2014. I just want to point out the history of its statements to show that, even for the Ukrainian government, the parallels between Ukraine and Palestine have not been completely ignored.

In order to be consistent with their own claims on occupied Crimea, they actually supported the Palestinian cause in the U.N. during these last ten years, and there has been a lot of tension around these questions precisely in the U.N. between Israel and Ukraine.

In 2014, Israel did not support a resolution that condemned the Russian annexation of Crimea. Two years later, Ukraine supported a resolution condemning illegal Israeli settlements in Jerusalem. And even now during this last year, Ukraine voted on several resolutions that condemned the Israeli nuclear program and Israeli colonization. They voted 79 percent against Israel, and the rest abstained. So, they never voted for Israel. And this was also the case with the last U.N. resolution on cease-fire.

What we are saying in our letter is, if I may read,

We reject the Ukrainian government statements that express unconditional support for Israeli military actions and consider the calls to avoid civilian casualties by Ukraine’s ministry of foreign affairs belated and insufficient. This position is a retreat from the support of Palestinian rights and condemnation of the Israeli occupation, which Ukraine has followed for decades, including voting in the U.N. Aware of the pragmatic geopolitical reasoning behind Ukraine’s decisions to echo western allies on whom we depend for our survival, and we see the current support of Israel and dismissing Palestinian rights to subjugation as contradiction to the own commitment to human rights and fight for our land and freedom. We as Ukrainians should stand in solidarity not with the oppressors, but with those who experience and resist oppression.

I wanted to use my article as an instrument to push our own government to become consistent with its own positions, starting with 2014 at least. I think this is a good political strategy to push inside Ukraine for Palestinian solidarity.

AS:Excellent, thank you, Daria. Dana, would you like to add anything to that?

DEK:

From the Palestinian side, when Russia first invaded Ukraine, there was polling from the Palestinian territories, where a slim majority, but a majority, blamed Russia for that invasion. But there is a sizable group that also has the opposite view. We can discuss why, but I think a lot of the narratives around NATO and some of the disinformation around the Ukrainian-Russian conflict definitely have permeated not only the Left, but the Palestinian left in particular.

AS:Excellent, thank you, Dana. I’ve got Ramah and then I see you, Daria, you can come in, in a second. Ramah, do you want to chime in on this? No, Joseph, got anything to add?

JD:I think there’s also an argument to be made much deeper that we don’t judge a liberation cause according only by its leadership. Otherwise, if you look at the Palestinian leadership, it’s not great, honestly, between the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, et cetera. Similarly, our judgment about the Ukrainian struggle should not be a referendum on Zelensky. My political compass is about supporting the people who are oppressed. Similarly in the case of the Syrian revolution. I think we had one of the worst political leaderships claiming to struggle for liberation against an authoritarian regime, but that allied itself, for example, with the Turkish state and supported the occupation and the ethnic cleansing of a region that is mostly inhabited by a Kurdish population.

The key argument is always to look to groups who share common interest with us on the Left, struggles from below, rather again to looking to repressive political leadership in a world where the Left is weaker. We can have all the criticism and need political criticism of the world liberation movement, but they were much better in many aspects. Today, it’s a different political period, but this should not change our basic principles to support the self-determination of oppressed people.

AS:Thanks, Joseph. Daria, I think you wanted to add some more comments.

DS:When we present the previous position of Ukraine on these questions, it is not to say, look, we were better before or Let’s support that Ukrainian government who voted in support before. It’s a strategic argument about winning public opinion and actually pushing our own government to be consistent with itself. It’s just part of the strategy.

One thing that we have to say is that if Ukraine has supported Palestinian rights and has condemned illegal occupation in Palestinian lands, it’s because Ukraine has consistently taken into account its own security problems with support for territorial integrity. In the case of Azerbaijan, Ukraine supported them in what happened because there was this question of territorial integrity. So, supporting territorial integrity is not always progressive. It is maybe a perspective on a certain level of international law. It’s not a perspective, as Joseph said, on fights from below.

This is just a strategic argument about the broader public opinion in Ukraine.  Unfortunately, there is a very vast pro-Israel consensus, but why? People don’t know the history of Palestine. I know that when I lived in Ukraine–I moved to France many years ago–I didn’t even know about the existence of Palestine. This is not a question that is actually often discussed, so I think, now with this new phase of the war going on, with this new aggression going on, the information that you can find in the Ukrainian-speaking public space is just not adequate.

You can’t blame people if they don’t have the right information. What we need to do right now is to inform people, which was the purpose of this letter that we published. First of all, we discovered that there wasn’t an absolute consensus. There are so many people that started sending us signatures, actually, Ukrainian Palestinian folks. We really hope that this letter will create at least some debate and be the beginning of an information campaign in order to build that solidarity from below, for the absence of which people shouldn’t be blamed because they don’t know.

AS:Thank you, Daria. I want to go to two last questions, what Joseph called geopolitical reductionism, where you choose between empires big and small instead of standing in solidarity with all peoples and their struggles for liberation without exception. So, I just wanted to pose a couple of questions around that topic, because I think it’s of decisive importance for forging an internationalist Left. Russia, with the tacit support of China, has carried out this imperialist invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, China and Russia have both called for a cease-fire and posture as friends of Palestine, despite having deep economic and diplomatic relations with Israel. For its part, the U.S. has supported Ukraine in its struggle for liberation, but backed Israel, its apartheid regime, occupation, and current genocidal war. What does this mean for the relationship of these two national liberation struggles with the various imperialist powers? You can kick it off, Ramah. What do you think this means?

RK:I think at times this obsession with geopolitics gets in the way of us being able to organize people to people. I think there’s space for us to discuss how sometimes folks have to depend on an imperial power to get arms, whether it’s various rebel groups in Syria who got arms from the U.S., or, Ukraine getting arms from the U.S. Who’s providing the kind of resistance in Palestine arms? Most obviously Iran, and that is a complicating factor in all this.

I know Syrian folks who wrong-headedly condemn Hamas as backed by Iran on the nonsense idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Within our own circles, too, we have to fight back against this idea. The biggest way that we can hold the line on these things is to be the most principled we can be in our solidarity. We are against all imperialism, all occupations, and we understand that sometimes folks depend on these imperial powers for arms and diplomacy, but that doesn’t take away agency from any of these people. Everything became, you’re all agents of the U.S., and that’s it. There is a refusal to recognize that there exist imperialist powers outside of the U.S. There is this idea that actually the multipolar world is a good thing because there is competition among imperial powers. But it’s fake competition.

We are against all imperialism, all occupations, and we understand that sometimes folks depend on these imperial powers for arms and diplomacy, but that doesn’t take away agency from any of these people.

Let’s be real. The powers have no problem working with each other. Syria is a very clear example how these imperial powers said a lot of things against each other and in reality are coordinating to make sure that while bombing Syria, they weren’t bombing each other. I think that’s a point to bring up again and again. Not the U.S. versus China and Russia; they are on the same side against the people across the globe. We need to push on that in the same way we’re pushing on Biden’s hypocrisy. Putin is up there, [speaking of the ] poor children [in Gaza]– okay, [yet he is] literally killing the children in Idlib right now. What’s important is the balance of how we talk about the geopolitics, recognize the geopolitics, while keeping our main focus on what’s happening to people on the ground and recognizing their agency.

One other thing about disinformation, propaganda, and social media. We knew that when Elon Musk took over Twitter, things were going to be bad. It didn’t start with Musk, of course. I sometimes think those early days of the revolutions against the Arab regimes, where people felt they were actually connecting across social media platforms, and then all the regimes decided, this is the way we’re going to use to push our propaganda. There need to be ways to do important political education like these types of talks to push back on this, because it really seeps into our communities. Again, it’s not only about these terrible tankies–our communities are being exposed to this propaganda and eating it up, because they are trying to figure out, if this person is a hypocrite, then I should listen to this other person. So what is our role then to push back on all that?

AS:Thanks, Ramah. Joseph, do you want to come in on this question?

JD:There is an additional element: Most of these imperial powers will instrumentalize these kinds of causes for tactical and strategic issues to increase their own political influence in their geopolitical and imperial rivalries.. As soon as they don’t need these particular causes–the men and women, and children–they will abandon them. We’ve seen this again, and again in the past and we’ll see it again in the future, maybe in Ukraine as soon as the powers believe that they reached a limit regarding how far the Ukrainians should push; they might attempt some form of cease-fire. But we’ve  seen also in the past, for example, regarding the Kurdish issue. The U.S. has, for example, in Syria, assisted the same democratic forces, which is led by the PYD, the assistant organization of the PKK, against the war that killed thousands of civilians.

But [with the issue of Syria] being invaded by the Turkish army, the U.S. did not intervene. Similarly, the U.S. might support the PYD in Syria but still consider the PKK in Turkey as a terrorist organization. Just as the Kurds were abandoned in northern Iraq in 2017, I believe, they were completely abandoned.

We have to be clear that even though they might instrumentalize a particular cause, it should not distract us from the agency of the people on the ground struggling for liberation and emancipation. I think this is where we should stand, because otherwise we cannot make links between our own struggle, which is the only way in a regional, international perspective to truly reach liberation.

AS:Thanks, Joseph. Dana, did you want to come in on this?

DEK:I think the problem is one of values. I think that’s been touched upon. Campist propaganda is influencing people who are absorbing that worldview. We need to articulate our values and clarify the issues. What is the difference for someone who lives under Israeli bombardment, versus Idlib, where they are also under rubble. You have to make it simple and easier to absorb.

In addition, we have to stop accepting this narrative that these international powers, be they the United States or anybody else, their hierarchical relationships have anything to do with oppressed values. Even if the U.S. is talking about democracy, they are supporting Ukraine because it’s strategic for global security vis-a-vis Russia.

Western leftists who are pro Ukraine but not pro Palestine haven’t come to the realization that standing against state aggression and war crimes and occupation everywhere is also strategic. So, it’s a problem of articulating strategy, I think, as well.

AS:So, a final question that I wanted to get you to address, which is more specifically about the Left. The problem over the last 15 years in response to the Arab Spring is one of selective solidarity on much of the international Left, of supporting revolutions and revolts in countries that are allied to the U.S., but not supporting them in countries that are not aligned with the U.S.

Much of the Left has fallen into this trap of selective solidarity, and many have, in this current situation in the last few years, not supported Ukraine in its struggle against Russia. Others, by contrast, have not supported Palestine and its struggle for liberation from Israeli occupation. What do you all think of this pattern, and what’s the alternative to this kind of selective solidarity that seems to be dominant on whole sections of the left? Maybe, Daria, you can start with that.

DS:For me, it’s heartbreaking, because I can be extremely angry when I see how the media coverage of the attack on Palestine has been completely Orwellian, especially in the first few days, but that perspective doesn’t come from my own camp. When the bad ideas come from your own camp, it’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking when comrades stay in their dogmatic positions, despite the experience that comes from the ground, and it just doesn’t work.

But it is also heartbreaking to see those who support Ukraine on the Left who don’t support Palestine as much. And I think that in this case it’s more related to this opposition that’s been put forward these last few weeks between a noble Ukrainian resistance, which, you know, only uses the methods that are allowed by the international law. And then the Palestinian resistance, which is, you know, already completely characterized as terrorism and all of those sorts of labels.

For me the biggest problem in our emancipation movements is this division of struggles following the polarization of the world.

I think that for the Left, for the progressive forces, for feminists, ecologists, anticapitalists all over the world, it is a very important to continue defending the unity of popular struggles, anticolonial struggles, anticapitalist struggles, feminist struggles, all over the world, despite the geopolitical camp that people belongs to.

We also need to continue paying a lot of attention to experience, to what people say on the ground, rather than abstract geopolitical analysis.

AS:Okay, Ramah, I know this is in your wheelhouse, so why don’t you take it up?

RK:The slogan that always comes to my mind on this question is solidarity with people, not states. States are states. And the leaders of political factions are the leaders of political factions. We know what matters are the people.

Building this kind of activism can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be so difficult. Just think about how you relate to a progressive cause, and bring in these other causes with you. If you’re a teacher, there are so many books out there about Palestine you can bring your students. If you’re an artist, connect with artists in Ukraine.

There is so much space for that creativity for how you plug into movements, make connections. The connections are so important,whether it’s conversations like this, standing, being in solidarity. I’ve seen folks tweeting, we are seeing your marches. It’s wild to think that many people are understanding the violence and appreciating our actions. That they know the alternative, just being killed without anyone even bearing witness is worse.

The slogan that always comes to my mind on this question is solidarity with people, not states. States are states. And the leaders of political factions are the leaders of political factions. We know what matters are the people.

I remember, I felt a lot of that when Aleppo was being bombed in 2016 feeling that very few people out here were bearing witness to that. I think these simple steps are very powerful to take. Take your cues from the communities impacted, from the people. The states are going to do what they do. We do what we can to change state behavior. For folks in the U.S., keep contacting your members of Congress for a cease-fire now at this moment in time. But we know at the end of the day, it’s going to be us as the people living under these various oppressive systems who are going to change the world. We’re going to push these political leaders aside and really envision the beauty of what we can build.

AS:Thank you, Ramah. I’ve got Joseph, and then I’ve got some concluding remarks.

JD:Selective solidarity is not only heartbreaking. It’s also  political suicide.  It’s political suicide for the projects of liberation and emancipation;  moreover, it’s leading to a situation where you cannot stand with oppressed people. You can claim to be in support rhetorically, for example, claiming to be in solidarity with the Palestinian people. But these same people claiming to be in solidarity with Palestine became silent when the Palestinian refugee camp was being destroyed. When the civil rights of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have been constantly crushed and  attacked, those engaged in selective solidarity cannot be constant in their support for Palestinian liberation. And this is why it’s not only heartbreaking, it’s political suicide. It leads to nothing. It leads to superficial support. It leads to no real support for the liberation and emancipation in this case of the Palestinians, but also other oppressed people.

AS:Thank you so much. And thank you so much to everybody on this panel. I think it’s been very powerful and analytically really sharp and gives an orientation for the world’s Left and how to build international solidarity from below with all popular uprisings, class struggles, national liberation struggles, and struggles of the oppressed. In all cases, I think it’s an important part of the universalist values that used to be at the heart of the Left, which really need to be restored. The Ukraine Solidarity Network that I’m part of is proud to be putting on this panel that draws the connections between the common struggles of liberation in Palestine, in Ukraine, and in many other countries around the world.

I think it points to an alternative to the kind of selective solidarity that we’ve seen dominate and really corrupt much of the Left, so that instead of standing without exception for all oppressed struggles for liberation, people pick and choose. And that’s not a Left that can win the leadership of the masses of humanity. And that’s what we need to strive to build. I just want to end by underscoring the importance of not just talking and reading books, but getting out in the streets and protesting, doing occupations of the governmental offices that are backing this genocide in Palestine, and doing everything we can to get the cease-fire now of Israel’s genocidal war.

People are engaged in mass civil disobedience all around the world in solidarity with Palestine, from the occupations of the train stations in Britain, to Grand Central Station here in New York City, where it was shut down by thousands of Jewish people in solidarity with Palestine. That’s the kind of internationalism that we need to forge in the heart of the U.S. state. That also goes for all other peoples fighting for liberation, in particular the Ukrainian struggle for national liberation and self-determination. Thanks to all the panelists, Daria, Dana, Ramah, and Joseph, and also to Haymarket Books for putting on this entire educational series.

Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Tempest Collective. For more information, see “About Tempest Collective.”

Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons; modified by Tempest.

Categories: D2. Socialism

Lenin: Catastrophe and revolution

Mon, 01/15/2024 - 20:19

The following is a transcript of a session from the 2023 Socialism Conference, which put Paul Le Blanc, author of Lenin: Responding to Catastrophe, Forging Revolution, in conversation with Promise Li and Cliff Connolly about the legacy of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. It has been lightly edited for clarity.

Paul Le Blanc: Lenin’s actual name was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov. What sort of person was he? The free-spirited revolutionary, Rosa Luxemburg, once said of Lenin, I enjoy talking with him. He’s clever and well educated and has such an ugly mug, the kind I like to look at. Angelica Balabanof, who worked closely with Lenin, was able to specify that from his youth, Lenin was convinced that most of human suffering and most of moral, legal, and social deficiencies were caused by class distinctions. She explained that Lenin was also convinced that class struggle alone could put an end to exploiters and exploited and create a society of the free and equal.

Lenin gave himself entirely to this end, and he used every means in his power to achieve it. Speaking from the right end of the political spectrum, Winston Churchill saw Lenin as his mortal enemy. Churchill hated what Lenin represented and even hailed Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship in Italy for its triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism. Yet he wrote of Lenin, “His mind was a remarkable instrument. When its light shone, it revealed the whole world: its history, its sorrows, its stupidities, its shams, and above all its wrongs. It was capable of universal comprehension in a degree rarely reached among men.”

It is worth adding an insight from Max Eastman, who suggested that one of Lenin’s contributions in the theory and practice of Marxism was a rejection of people who talk revolution and like to think about it, but do not mean business–the people who talked revolution but did not intend to produce it. Animated by such convictions, Lenin helped build a powerful revolutionary movement in his native Russia, culminating in the Russian Revolution of 1917, which he and his comrades believed was the beginning of a global wave of socialist revolution.

Lenin was a key architect of modern communism, designed to bring about such an outcome. But does Lenin’s project offer anything useful for us in our own time, years after he died? This book, Lenin: Responding to Catastrophe, Forging Revolution suggests an affirmative answer to that question and dispenses with six historiographical myths:

  • One, Lenin favored dictatorship over democracy.
  • Two, his so-called Marxism was a cover for his own totalitarian views.
  • Three, he favored a super-centralized political party of a new type with power concentrated at the top himself as party dictator.
  • Four, he favored rigid political controls over culture, art, and literature.
  • Five, he believed that through such authoritarian methods a socialist utopia could be imposed on backward Russia.
  • And six, flowing naturally from all of this, he became one of history’s foremost mass murderers.

This book rejects all such false characterizations while at the same time seeking to identify actual negatives, which inevitably can be found in Lenin and the tradition to which he was sent from. Faced with the complex swirl of Lenin’s life, times, and ideas, one can focus on matters and select ideas, adding up to a so-called Leninism, from which decent people must turn away. This book’s approach is different.

In her critique of the Russian Revolution, Rosa Luxemburg emphasized her determination to distinguish the essential from the non-essential and critique the non-essential in a way designed to help advance the triumph of what was essential in Lenin’s revolutionary Bolshevism.

Without the accumulation of experience, cadres, relationships, and authority within the working class, a would-be revolutionary organization cannot actually become a revolutionary organization.

In this brief study, the focus is on what seems to me to be those essential qualities. Without the accumulation of experience, cadres, relationships, and authority within the working class, a would-be revolutionary organization cannot actually become a revolutionary organization. This can only be achieved through practical activism.

In some would-be revolutionary organizations,  members seem to feel that it is sufficient to develop and express revolutionary thoughts and revolutionary positions. These can be developed through discussions and study groups. But defining and expressing politically correct positions becomes primary for some would-be revolutionary groups. This may take the form of arguing against the capitalist ruling class or against non-revolutionary groups, or against other would-be revolutionary groups.

It is certainly the case that Lenin was fully prepared to engage in polemics and arguments, but what was primary for him was helping to mobilize practical struggles capable of materially defending and advancing the urgent needs of workers and the oppressed; struggles that not only make sense to people in the here and now, but also tilt toward mass revolutionary consciousness. If fought for effectively, Lenin argued, insurgency and power shift can ultimately bring about revolution. For Lenin, theory, education, and the articulation of principled positions were inseparable from such practical work.

Lenin speaks to workers in Moscow, 1920. Source: Picryl.

The Bolsheviks engaged in practical campaigns that helped to define them and created a practical framework of struggle in which they might form united fronts–and in some cases converge with other groups prepared to fight the good fight–and push toward victory. Only in that way could an organization of would-be revolutionaries become a revolutionary organization.

This approach was simply expressed in the explanation, quoted by Paul, of V. R. Dunne, leader of the militant and victorious Minneapolis Teamster Strikes of 1934: “Our policy was to organize and build strong unions, so workers could have something to say about their own lives, and assist in changing the present order into a socialist society.”

One key revolutionary principle of Lenin and the Bolsheviks involves the political independence of the working class and the refusal to subordinate the struggles of the working class to the leadership of pro-capitalist parties. “No democracy in the world puts aside the class struggle and the ubiquitous power of money,” Lenin noted, adding that while countries such as the United States held that capitalists and workers had equal political rights, in fact, they are not equal in class status. One class, capitalists, owns the means of production and lives on the unearned product of the labor of the workers. The other, the class of wage workers, owns no means of production and lives by selling their labor power in the market. Lenin warned that the so-called bipartisan system of the pro-capitalist parties, Democrats and Republicans, had been one of the most powerful means of preventing the rise of an independent working-class, genuinely socialist party.

It is certainly the case that Lenin was fully prepared to engage in polemics and arguments, but what was primary for him was helping to mobilize practical struggles capable of materially defending and advancing the urgent needs of workers and the oppressed.

Another of Lenin’s principles involves opposition to all forms of racism, ethnic bigotry, and oppression based on gender or sexuality. A third involves opposition to imperialism and war. A fourth, becoming increasingly urgent in our time, is uncompromising opposition to the destruction of a livable environment. A fifth principle is a commitment to genuine democracy, ruled by the people, as essential both to our future world and within the movement to create that better future. A sixth principle involves an internationalist orientation: solidarity across borders and a commitment to global collaboration among the workers and oppressed of all countries.

The process of testing different perspectives and learning from actual struggles, accompanied by debates and sometimes even splits (and sometimes fusions), will be necessary on the way to creating a revolutionary party worthy of the name. Lenin insisted that we must at all costs set out first to learn, secondly to learn, and thirdly to learn, and then see to it that learning shall really become part of our very being, that it shall actually and fully become a constituent element of our social life. But he insisted that we must learn through doing.

Lenin stressed that this learning takes place through actual struggles against oppression and exploitation, collectively evaluating that experience, and thinking through what to do next.

Promise Li:Thanks, Paul for the invitation to be in conversation about this work. I encourage everyone to purchase the book too, and I am excited to be in conversation with Linda, Paul, and Cliff too.

“We were mistaken,” Lenin said to a room of hundreds of party cadres in October 1921. The mistake he referred to was the massive effort to requisition surplus grain from peasants with little in return to aid the Bolsheviks’ civil war efforts. This error ultimately contributed to later food shortages. Lenin said that the Bolsheviks understood “the necessity for a prolonged, complex transition through socialist accounting and control from capitalist society to the masses.”

This jump to certain policies of war communism, as he reflected, violated this order. But as Lenin also said in 1917, “The fighting party of the advanced class need not fear mistakes. What it should fear is persistence in a mistake, refusal to admit and correct a mistake out of a false sense of shame.” I begin with this example not to relitigate war communism today, but to highlight an under-discussed aspect of Lenin’s political life, relevant for organizers today who are navigating a new age of crisis and catastrophe.

Indeed, as Paul reminds us, a cohesive understanding of Lenin’s work does not reveal a conspiratorial authoritarian. It also does not reveal a prophet capable of discerning correct solutions to every emergency. A quote from Lenin’s comrade, Lev Kamenev, illustrates this clearly. He said, “Every attempt to create any kind of handbook of Leninism, a collection of formulas applicable to all questions at any time, will certainly fail as we can only approach the real science of Lenin through a consideration of his complete works in the light of contemporary events.” To go further, I argue that there is much to learn not only from Lenin’s errors but also from the method of how he approached them and from the mistakes that he was unable to reckon with.

This approach underscores a central tenet of Marxist practice: a will to remain ruthlessly critical of our own political work and the traditions we inherit to rebuild the socialist movement at a time when it is sorely needed. Reflecting on the defeat of the 1905 revolution, a key prelude to the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, Lenin commented that to the proletariat, the study and critical assimilation of the experience of the revolution means learning to apply the methods of struggle of that time more effectually next time.

Errors undoubtedly have consequences, and in the work of revolution, these slips can mean fatalities and world historical setbacks. At the same time, they can allow movements to intervene more effectively in the next iteration of struggle. For Lenin, the reflection on errors is a necessary component of socialist organization, which gathers the masses around common political principles, analyses, and strategic orientations that advance the socialist program.

The point is to articulate different economic and social struggles in the sphere of politics itself. As Lenin wrote, “The ideal of a revolutionary militant is not the trade unionist with a narrow horizon, but the tribune of the people who fans the embers of subversion in all spheres of society.”

Vanguard parties, far from being instruments of bureaucracy, are meant to provide the most democratic means. They are tempered through struggle and experimentation for militants to congeal the lessons of different struggles into a revolutionary program. Programs and strategies are not static and must be calibrated to effectively respond to shifting political conditions.

Moreover, socialist organization, Bensaïd says, “makes it possible to test the validity of opposing positions” under consideration in practice. To test political strategies is to accept the possibility of error. We need organizational mechanisms that can maximize space for critical reflection and maintain the will to try things out in practice.

In a speech in 1922, Lenin noted that the Bolsheviks would certainly make a number of mistakes. He urged members to dispassionately examine where such mistakes have been made and show that we are not bound by prejudice. As Ernest Mandel emphasizes, this is the heart of Leninist organizational practice, not centralism for the sake of bureaucratism, but to maximize space for internal democracy.

Meeting of workers at the Putilov Plant in Petrograd, 1920. Source: Picryl.

Maximizing internal democracy requires respecting the rights of internal factions, ensuring complete freedom of speech for minority positions, and building rigorous processes to sort through collective mistakes and disagreements that are not afforded by the institutions of bourgeois civil society. The possibility of bureaucratization of the party, as Mandel and Bensaïd argue, underscores the role of independent social movements outside of the party as counterweights to check the authority of the party and expose its mistakes when this isn’t possible within it.

More importantly, reflecting on errors within an organization is key because no one person can solve everything. Lenin himself made a number of errors, some of which he never accounted for, and some of which he sought to combat and failed to do so. One can understand the atrocities of Kronstadt or other excesses of the Red Terror in the context of immense pressures, but should unyieldingly condemn them nonetheless.

Lenin was attuned to other growing errors, like of the party’s growing bureaucratism and erosion of inner-party democracy that quickened mass depoliticization. As Mandel notes, Lenin was unable to articulate a clear counter position to this. As Paul notes in a section of his book, Lenin was unable to solve some of the problems he confronted. The Bolsheviks and many other communist parties’ bureaucratism, and later totalitarianism, proved to be a catastrophe on a world historical scale for social movements.

The strangulation by Western imperialists’ encirclement, at different scales, certainly accelerated this regression, but it is undeniable that these regimes’ endogenous errors played a significant role. In The Revolution Betrayed, Leon Trotsky argued that the “struggle of living social forces” needed to correct bureaucracy were meticulously crushed by different communist parties around the world in the 20th century.

The effect is a mass discrediting of communism among movements today in many regions–a disaster that bourgeois forces gleefully weaponize and fuel. Bensaïd puts the problem aptly:

We have to think about what happened to communism in the 20th century. The word and the object cannot be grasped outside of the times and the historical ordeals they were forced to endure. For most people, the massive use of the communist label to characterize, for one, free market authoritarian state in China will weigh much more heavily and for a far longer time than the fragile theoretical and experimental sprouts of the communist hypothesis there.

Bensaïd’s invocation of China is particularly relevant for me, growing up in Hong Kong and witnessing the absolute state of confusion about even basic political concepts like the left-right spectrum, thanks to the Chinese state, which has, in the minds of many people, identified socialism with the ideals of bureaucratic capitalism and the practice of it.

Such confusion informs the misguided popularity behind many non ideological and leaderless movements in recent global uprisings. The problems that Lenin began to note but failed to address in his last days have helped contribute to this unprecedented discrediting of the banner of socialism among certain masses that he, along with the First and Second International, did not fully anticipate or address in their programs and strategies.

We cannot rigidly recover the socialist programs of the past without adjustments, without considering innovations from new social movements since then. We must attend to new objective conditions, evidenced by the rise of new capitalist states outside of the traditional Western imperialist bloc.

The best method for accounting for these errors lies not in seeing Leninism as scripture but in considering, critically considering, his approach toward mistakes. Winning back the confidence of the working class towards a socialist horizon must build from an honest assessment of both errors and successes of the past that still structure a political terrain.

We cannot rigidly recover the socialist programs of the past without adjustments, without considering innovations from new social movements since then. We must attend to new objective conditions, evidenced by the rise of new capitalist states outside of the traditional Western imperialist bloc. We need to think carefully about how to articulate effective alternatives to reformism and spontaneity, for whom the legacy of socialist organization represents nothing more than totalitarianism or bureaucratism.

It is far easier to demonize the Bolsheviks’ experience wholesale as the ventures of ill-intentioned authoritarianism than to grapple with an uncomfortable truth: that while Lenin and his comrades were just as genuine communists as we are today in this room, they can also be responsible for the most catastrophic kinds of political errors alongside world historical successes. No one, including Lenin, can model the right path forward at all times. The capacity for victory comes with the capacity for error. But as Lenin says, “by analyzing the errors of yesterday, we learn to avoid errors today and tomorrow.”

Cliff Connolly: Very happy to be here. Thank you to Paul, Promise, and Linda for having me.

In my reading, the central thesis that I saw in Comrade LeBlanc’s new book is the well-documented and ever-relevant fact that Lenin, at every point of his political career, was a thoroughgoing champion of democracy.

This could not be a more timely or relevant intervention in the contemporary North American socialist movement. This phenomenon has been distorted by decades of Cold War propaganda and sect dogma. In other words, those who hate Lenin and those who love him have both misrepresented history in order to paint him as an autocrat who saw communism as separate from and superior to democracy.

In contrast to many sympathetic historians, comrade LeBlanc concedes and contextualizes the actions of Lenin and his party that may seem strikingly undemocratic at face value: suppression of the bourgeois press, political police, summary executions and more. This flows from a clear definition of Lenin’s conception of democracy and its differences from the commonsense definition propagated by bourgeois idealism. I quote here from Lenin in State and Revolution, “The dictatorship of the proletariat, the period of transition to communism, will, for the first time, create democracy for the people, the majority, along with the necessary suppression of the exploiters, the minority.”

Bourgeois republics, the typical state form of capitalist oligarchy, must suppress the working class majority through institutions like police militarization, mass incarceration, voter roll purges, gerrymandering, the legalized political bribery that we call lobbying, constitutional checks on democracy like the electoral college, upper legislative houses, judicial review, and more, in order to prevent majority rule and maintain the tyranny of the capitalist minority.

In contrast, democratic republics, the only state form through which socialism can be established according to Marx and Engels, must suppress the capitalist minority through various means in order to make majority rule possible. Thus, suppression of counter-revolutionary elements must be pursued not in order to do away with democracy but in order to defend it.

Comrade LeBlanc’s book demonstrates the democratic nature of both Lenin’s political thought and the Bolshevik party structure. Two examples in particular I think are worth highlighting. The idea of the vanguard party and democratic centralism are as historically misunderstood as Lenin himself, and LeBlanc provides poignant clarification on both concepts.

The vanguard party is often explained by adherents and detractors as a party consisting of elite full-time socialists who plan out the revolution and direct their minions and the working class from the comfort of their party headquarters. This could not be any further from what Lenin described in his writings or what the Bolsheviks practiced in their daily routine.

This is obvious from the origin of the term “vanguard party.” It’s a military metaphor in which the vanguard is the unit at the front of the battle line, making first contact with the enemy forces and leading the rear guard into the fray. Confused historians and activists employ this term to describe the opposite behavior: officers studying maps and relaying orders from the command center.

This organizing model would be better termed the general staff party, in keeping with the wartime metaphor.

Democratic centralism is similarly misconstrued by friends and enemies of the socialist movement alike. According to contemporary conventional wisdom, it’s a method of decision making in which party leaders describe what each party member should believe and how they should behave, with members expected to obediently follow orders.

But LeBlanc describes the actual mechanisms of democratic centralism as they were practiced in the Bolshevik party. I quote from the book briefly:

The highest decision making body in the party was not a central committee or political committee, but rather the party congress or convention. The central committee was  elected by and answerable to the party Congress.The Congress was held every year or two consisting of elected delegates from every local branch of the party. These elections were to take place after a period of written and oral discussion and debate on the issues facing the party, and the decisions considered binding on the members and lower level organizations were made by the party congress.

Clearly the Bolsheviks were not the conspiratorial band of elite autocrats that they’re so often painted as. With Lenin leading the way, they forged a democratic mandate for power and conducted the world’s greatest experiment in proletarian democracy in the early Soviet Union. For those of us looking to build on their foundations for a just and livable future, there are several important lessons to be found in their successes and mistakes, as we’ve all noted so far.

Since we can only interact with Lenin as a historical figure, it’s important to look at how he was influenced by his own historical forebears. He saw the Narodniks, a group of Russian agrarian populists who predated his generation of socialists, as flawed but irreplaceable forebears of Russian social democracy.

According to Lenin, their sacrifices demanded not only high praise but also sharp criticism. Their mistakes would be in vain if future generations refused to learn from them. We should adopt a similar attitude to the forebears of American Socialism, the revolutionary abolitionists and militant trade unionists of the 19th century.

Both groups won historic victories in their respective struggles, and both groups were ultimately crushed before achieving their aims in the same year, 1877. The defeat of 1877 was twofold. Reconstruction ended with the withdrawal of federal troops from the South and the rise of Jim Crow, and those same federal troops were deployed the same year to crush the Great Railroad Strike that had galvanized workers in the North.

Marx had insisted years prior in Das Kapital that Black liberation and proletarian emancipation were inexorably intertwined in North America, and he was proven correct here in the most tragic manner possible. Had the revolutionary abolitionists and radical trade unionists united in a common organization with a common plan of action, each could have found success in support of the other.

Clearly the Bolsheviks were not the conspiratorial band of elite autocrats that they’re so often painted as. … Learning from our ideological ancestors’ mistakes and applying them to our organizing today is crucial.

The economic demands of the labor movement would only have been possible to realize under the thoroughly democratic political regime that the abolitionists fought for. The democratic state that the abolitionists intended to create could only be built with the support of the militant mass organizations of the working class. Yet both groups refused one another to their mutual destruction. Learning from our ideological ancestors’ mistakes and applying them to our organizing today is crucial.

We cannot hope to transform society without the advanced elements of the working class, the militant trade unionists, on our side. Neither can we hope to win material gains for the working class without a change in the political structure that we live under. Socialism and the labor movement must merge into one fighting organization, which cannot be achieved by either ignoring or tailing the organic demands of the proletariat. In practice, this means we have to win the working class over to the demand for a new constitution, one which operates on a genuinely democratic basis and enshrines socialism in law.

The idea that a revolutionary constitution is necessary for any meaningful transformation of American society is not new, and it is not my idea. It comes directly from the abolitionists responsible for the first great liberatory change in our country’s political economy. When John Brown forged his plan to march south and strike the slave power’s heart in Virginia, he worked hard to ensure that this plan had the backing of the whole abolitionist movement.

It caught on fast, and a convention was called in Chatham, Ontario to chart a thorough plan for revolution. The majority Black delegation not only adopted Brown’s battle plan but elected a government in waiting and ratified a draft of Brown’s  provisional constitution, which would radically reorganize society. Loyalty that abolitionists later went on to show to the federal government in the wake of the Civil War was eventually rewarded with the total abandonment of Reconstruction. The earlier revolutionary wing of the abolitionist movement was vindicated, and their assertion that their goals were only attainable when the slaver’s constitution was defeated was proved correct.

This is as true today as it was then, and we as socialists have a responsibility to carry the spirit of the Chatham Convention into the 21st century. A revolutionary movement for a new constitution is not only possible but also necessary for the construction of socialism in North America. Foremost among those calling for this course of action is Marxist Unity Group, a faction within the Democratic Socialists of America, of which I am a member.

So allow me to close with a quote from our Points of Unity:

No one can truly be free if they are forced to bow to a reactionary constitution written by the dead. We want socialist leaders to erode the popular legitimacy of the U. S. Constitution through combative political agitation, never bowing to the old order, and always acknowledging the need for a working class revolution in the United States. The revolution will not base its legitimacy on the laws of the slaveholder constitution. We will base it on a democratic majority mandate for socialism. To win, millions of working people must be mobilized in their workplaces, at the ballot box, and in the street. We fight the constitution to win a democratic socialist republic in North America. Forged in revolution, this continental republic will strive for the global liberation of all working and oppressed people.

Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Tempest Collective. For more information, see “About Tempest Collective.”

Featured image credit: Picryl; modified by Tempest.

Categories: D2. Socialism

Perspectives on Russian imperialism

Sun, 01/14/2024 - 20:59

Russian imperialism’s war in Ukraine shows no sign of stopping. This summer and fall we witnessed dueling offensives, first one from Ukraine aiming to free its occupied territories, and a counter-offensive from Russia to seize more territory that is still continuing.

Moscow has just recently launched a massive rocket attack on Ukraine, targeting civilians and infrastructure on the New Year eve. While the Russian border city Belgorod became a target for retaliatory missile attacks. Russia has half a million soldiers on the front line to defend its occupation and will need more for the full offensive that could start in the spring.

Vladimir Putin and the Russian ruling class are determined to prosecute this war to the end. Putin made this clear in his annual public question and answer event “Direct Line with Vladimir Putin” on December 14, in which he answered carefully curated questions from the public for several hours.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin during the meeting with permanent members of Security Council in December 2022. Photo by Kremlin.Ru.

He said the goal of the so-called Special Military Operation remains the so-called de-Nazification and de-militarization of Ukraine. That means he intends to continue the war until he achieves regime change in Ukraine and the transformation of Ukraine into a Russian semi-colony.

To accomplish this, his regime is trying to stabilize Russian society, stoke political conflict within the US and NATO countries, legitimate his rule through the presidential election in March, and mobilize Russian troops for a new offensive in the spring.

Stabilizing Russian Society

The regime has engaged in an intense campaign to stabilize Russian society after the coup attempt led by Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner Group last summer. Putin overcame this greatest challenge to his rule through a combination of carrots and sticks.

He offered deals for Wagner mercenaries to come back into the regime’s fold. A few army generals who were close to Wagner were arrested. In the case of Prigozhin himself, Putin had him killed in August in a rocket attack not far from Moscow that blew up the warlord’s plane.

He then broke up the Wagner Group itself, subsuming parts of it into the Russian Ministry of Defense and allowing others to be retained by Prigozhin’s son as well as other private military companies.

The continued existence of these companies may pose a problem down the line for the regime, especially if the war goes badly. That could lead to splits between the state and the companies over military strategy and tactics that could destabilize the regime again.

Also, Prigozhin’s coup showed the existence of the hidden dissent among the army officials. But for now, Putin’s cooptation and repression strategy has overcome the crisis precipitated by Prigozhin.

Putin has also been able to stabilize the economy at least for now. The West’s sanction regime has not damaged the Russian economy as much as expected. The regime and the country’s corporations have created various ways to skirt the sanctions.

[T]he sanctions have neither thrown the Russian economy into crisis nor prevented the state from prosecuting the war in Ukraine.

They have increased trade and investment through the neutral states like Central Asian ones as well as Turkey, the Arab Emirates, and many others especially in the Global South. These countries have bucked US pressure to abide by the sanction regime.

In addition, Russia’s state oil companies have established new export deals with many countries especially China, which has also kept the economy afloat. So, the sanctions have neither thrown the Russian economy into crisis nor prevented the state from prosecuting the war in Ukraine.

Despite the resilience of the Russian economy, it faces numerous problems. For example, inflation is growing and posing serious economic strains for most ordinary Russians.

In response, the Russian Central Bank just hiked up interest rates to bring it under control. But that may in turn cause the economy to slow down, increasing unemployment, furthering hammering working class people.

To maintain hegemony over the population, Putin has turned to repression and neo-fascist ideology. He has repressed almost all left wing dissent, especially anti-war activists.

At the same time, he has tried to win consent from the population through  Russian ethnic nationalism, demonizing any and all groups that threaten it. For example, he warned that Muslim migrants from Central Asia in Russia threatened the ethnic balance in the country.

The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, outdid Putin in such Islamophobia. In a recent speech that could have been given by Trump or Enoch Powell, he warned against the civilizational threat posed by Muslims and migrants in general.

While the regime and Church are using such ethnic nationalism to cohere their base, it could backfire on them. Such bigotry could stir dissent among the country’s some 15 million Muslim citizens, which comprise 10 percent of the population.

Putin has also launched an intense campaign to enforce so-called traditional, family values. He has targeted feminists and LGBTQ people as threats to Russian society.

The regime is on the verge of imposing a total ban on abortion rights in the wake of outlawing it recently in private clinics. It has also announced a total prohibition of LGBTQ groups, events, and even nightclubs.

Putin has at this point been successful in stabilizing Russian society through repression and these ideological campaigns.

Conquering Ukraine

Based on that stability, he wants to escalate the war in Ukraine. His immediate goal is to seize the rest of Donbas region, which has symbolic significance in Putin’s imperial imaginary and his justifications for the war.

The likely spring offensive will unfold in stages. The goal is to take Kharkiv, the second largest city of Ukraine, and establish a new front at the Dnipro river.

The plan could be to divide Ukraine into two parts. First, Russia would annex all the territory to the east of the Dnipro. Second, it would attempt to establish the rest of the country to the west of the river as a neutral “de-Nazified” (Russia-dependent) state.

But that would only be a temporary goal. The Russian state remains determined to expand its empire into the rest of the post-Soviet space.

Stoking Conflict within the US and NATO

Putin is banking on the rise of the right in the US and NATO to undermine their opposition to his imperial expansionism. During his question and answer event, Putin also stressed that that the West is very much divided on aid to Ukraine.

He specifically cited the conflict between the Republicans and the Biden administration over the proposed aid package to the country. He made it clear that he would welcome a Republican victory, especially one by Trump, in the US presidential election, since the new administration would likely reduce if not stop all support for Ukraine and even withdraw from NATO.

He is also courting the far right in the rest of the NATO countries. He is stoking tensions with Finland, a new member to the pact. Following the example set by Belarus’ President Lukashenko, Putin has welcomed migrants from Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and other countries and then encouraged them to enter the European Union through the Finnish border.

[Putin is] courting the far right in the rest of the NATO countries…He is doing this in order to provoke a crisis for the political mainstream and fuel the growth of the anti-migrant far right in Finland and the European Union in general.

He is doing this in order to provoke a crisis for the political mainstream and fuel the growth of the anti-migrant far right in Finland and the European Union in general.

He hopes their growth and success will undermine NATO from within. Thus, the Russian official media celebrated the recent victory of far right politician Geert Wilders in the Dutch elections, who ran on an Islamophobic, anti-migrant  platform.

Finally, Putin is attempting to exploit Israel’s brutal war in Gaza for his advantage against the US and its NATO allies, which have armed and supported Israel. Officially, Russia calls for a two-state solution, supports a ceasefire, and UN humanitarian relief.

Of course, this is all hypocritical. Russia is engaged in exactly the same kind of annexationist war in Ukraine as Israel is in Gaza. And, behind the scenes, Putin retains political, diplomatic, and economic relations with Israel.

But it is nevertheless exploiting Israel’s horrific war to rehabilitate itself, especially in the Global South, and weaken the US and NATO. He hopes that will enable him more space to prosecute his own imperialist ambition in Ukraine and the rest of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Mobilization and Draft for Spring Offensive

Putin’s commitment to that project will require him to impose a wider mobilization of troops and possibly a draft. He will have to recruit hundreds of thousands of new people to staff the military and carry out new conquests. This could pose big political problems for Putin.

He will not do any of this before the Russian presidential election in March. He and the rest of the state want to sustain a positive mood in Russian society until then.

After the elections, it is very likely they will increase mobilization to the front. At the moment only about 40 percent of Russian troops in Ukraine came from draft, while the rest are so-called volunteers made up of ordinary people who joined the military to make a better living.

Soldiers earn far more than ordinary workers. The official medium wage is about $600, but most people make about $300 a month. In the military, by contrast, soldiers can make between $2,000 and $3,000 a month.

So, for millions of Russians, especially in the desperate provincial industrial towns it, the military is an opportunity to escape poverty. That explains the success of securing so-called volunteers.

In reality it is a poverty draft. But the government uses it to redistribute wealth and establish a large sector of the population that benefits from the war. Of course, many have paid dearly, losing their mental health, limbs, and lives.

[F]or millions of Russians, especially in the desperate provincial industrial towns it, the military is an opportunity to escape poverty. That explains the success of securing so-called volunteers….In reality it is a poverty draft.

The situation for the people who are drafted is and will be totally different. They do not get paid very well and unlike professional soldiers, their term in the military and their tours of duty are not limited.

So, the draft has already provoked some protests, especially from families and relatives of those pressed into military service. They have organized petitions and even sent in hundreds of questions to Putin’s “Direct line” event. Of course, all of these questions were curated out and not posed to him.

This shows the basis for opposition to any new draft. It will likely take the form of spontaneous, self-organized protest. That would provide an opening for building an antiwar movement in Russia.

Rigged Elections to Legitimate the Regime

But all this would only develop after the upcoming presidential election. It of course will not be a genuine one. There will be no true campaigns or debates and the outcome is preordained. Putin will win.

But the election is nonetheless important for him to give his rule the air of legitimacy and demonstrate popular support for him and his war. The Kremlin media is already predicting the best results of his political career.

Estimates are that about 70 percent will turn out for the elections and among those 80 percent are likely to vote for Putin. Of course, we should not trust these figures nor the results of the elections.

The entire process is based on the suppression of the genuine opposition and the exclusion and imprisonment of dissidents like Alexey Navalny. Of course, there will be carefully vetted candidates allowed to run to give the appearance of democracy.

The vote itself will happen over three days in person and electronically. Both will be heavily policed by the state without any oversight by independent observers.

People have every reason to be afraid of the regime. It has crushed any public expression of dissent on the war and driven it underground. It has done the same to any and all activist groupings of any kind.

All election monitoring networks have been destroyed. For example, this summer the the biggest network called the Voice was banned and one of its main organizers thrown in jail.

So, these elections are the opposite of free, open, and fair ones. In fact, they are a means for the state to coerce the population into political obedience.

Most people employed in the public sector and state corporations will be forced to vote electronically in their workplaces. If you vote that way, all your personal data is available to the state.

So, both the state authorities and the bosses will be able to monitor votes and “correct” the outcome if needed. Nonetheless, voters will be given the illusion of choice.

There will be other, carefully vetted candidates allowed to run from parties in the loyal pseudo-opposition like the Communist Party. All candidates permitted to run have aggressive, pro-war positions.

No genuine anti-war candidates and parties will be allowed on the ballot. So, they really pose no challenge to Putin, nor do they give voice to any anti-war sentiment. They will run against one another splitting the 20 percent of vote not going to Putin.

The Russian opposition, which is either underground or in exile, is debating how to approach the election. Navalny’s supporters have already called for a vote for any candidate besides Putin.

That’s not a bad strategy. It at least offers people, who are very atomized and afraid, a chance to express their opposition in however distorted a fashion.

Resisting War and Fascization

People have every reason to be afraid of the regime. It has crushed any public expression of dissent on the war and driven it underground. It has done the same to any and all activist groupings of any kind.

This is part of the fascization of the regime. It is not just propaganda; it is trying to impose a brutal form of dictatorship and change society in a fundamental way. ​The LGBT ban and restrictions on abortion rights, anti-migrant hysteria and strict censorship against any criticism of the regime are aimed at homogenizing society and turning Russia into a closed “state-civilization.”

In these conditions, the task for the international left remains opposition to Putin’s imperialism, solidarity with the Ukrainian resistance, opposition to Western imperialism, and support for struggle within Russia from below against Putin’s neo-fascist regime.

Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Tempest Collective. For more information, see “About Tempest Collective.”

Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons; modified by Tempest.

Categories: D2. Socialism

The United States’ home-grown fascist

Sat, 01/13/2024 - 20:26

Driving around the metro Detroit area, whether for business or pleasure, I often pass by the Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, on 12 Mile and Woodward. The Shrine was infamously the home parish of Michigan’s second most prominent Nazi sympathizer, “Radio Priest” Charles Coughlin. The most prominent is still Henry Ford. Indeed, it would be difficult for anyone to be more pro-Nazi than the auto tycoon, recipient of the Nazi Grand Cross of the German Eagle, although Coughlin certainly tried.

Father Charles Coughlin served as parish priest of the Shrine from 1925-1966. The church gained early notoriety when Coughlin reported in 1926 that the Ku Klux Klan left a burning cross on church grounds. This would not be a fantastic occurrence. The Klan was very popular in Metro Detroit and almost succeeded in electing their candidate, Charles Bowles, as mayor in 1925. It was only due to thousands of disqualified write-in votes that Bowles lost. However, Coughlin biographer Donald Warren casts doubt on the cross-burning story. When he was writing Radio Priest: Charles Coughlin, The Father of Hate Radio, a collector of Coughlin memorabilia presented him with the alleged burned cross. It showed no signs of being even singed.

Regardless of the veracity of the story, it showed Coughlin’s talent for drumming up publicity. He made skillful use of media to get his message out. Beginning in 1926, Coughlin broadcast his Sunday sermons on the CBS radio network. The network then dropped him in 1931 when Coughlin began addressing controversial political topics during the worsening Great Depression. Coughlin’s show was picked up by the Detroit radio station WJR, which became the key station of Coughlin’s independent network. The network grew, claiming 26 stations by October 1932 and 58 by January 1938. Coughlin’s talks were mass media. It’s estimated that at the height of his popularity, a third of the country listened to his broadcasts. Hollywood offered to fictionalize his biography in the unmade film The Fighting Priest, with Coughlin playing himself.

Coughlin began as a staunch supporter of Franklin Roosevelt. He coined the phrases “Roosevelt or Ruin” and “The New Deal is Christ’s Deal.” Soon, Coughlin began to break with the President on issues like U.S. membership in the World Court, coining silver currency, and recognition of the Soviet Union. In 1934, he created his own political organization: The National Union for Social Justice. The National Union’s sixteen-point platform was inspired by the papal encyclicals Rerum novarum and Quadragesimo anno calling for government regulation of business, the right of workers to form unions, and a progressive income tax. Notably absent was any defense of civil liberties or a democratic government.

The National Union supported and was supported by various politicians. One of the biggest boosters was Cleveland Democrat Congressperson Martin L. Sweeney. Sweeney led a colorful life in office, including allegedly using his influence to protect his cousin Francis Sweeney, a prime suspect in the still unsolved Cleveland Torso Murders, and opposing the appointment of Jews to the federal bench. Other supporters included Representatives William Lemke, Thomas O’Malley, and William Connery plus Senators William Nye and Elmer Thomas, all of whom sent congratulatory letters to the 1935 National Union convention. Detroit area Coughlin supporters included former Detroit mayor Frank Murphy and Congressperson John Dingell Sr.

In light of Coughlin’s later explicit fascist sympathies, some of his pronouncements at this time take on a sinister tinge. When Coughlin gave his preference for “gentile silver” over gold, he was criticized for dabbling in antisemitism. Coughlin’s 1931 sermon “Prosperity” attacking the Treaty of Versailles was informed by information provided by Congressperson Louis T. McFadden, one of the earliest Congressional supporters of Adolf Hitler. During a Fall 1930 broadcast against communism, Coughlin despaired at “the anarchy, the atheism, and the treachery preached by the German Hebrew, Karl Marx.” He regularly attacked “international bankers,” often emphasizing their Jewish surnames. Despite this, Coughlin continued to find support from some Jewish leaders both in Detroit and nationally.

In 1936, Coughlin launched a full frontal assault on Roosevelt through the Union Party, an organization also supported by old age pension advocate Francis Townsend and Gerald L.K. Smith, who was in the process of devolving from the late Senator Huey Long’s lieutenant to “America’s No. 1 Fascist.” The three had difficulty collaborating, with Socialist Party presidential candidate Norman Thomas, deriding the Union Party as a creature of “two and a half rival messiahs.” The Party nominated North Dakota Congressperson William Lemke for President and former Boston district attorney Thomas O’Brien for Vice President. Their platform was essentially identical to the National Union of Social Justice platform. It was around this time that Coughlin launched the newspaper Social Justice as another avenue for his message.

During the 1936 election, Coughlin’s remarks about Roosevelt grew increasingly vituperative. At times it seemed like he and Smith were competing over who could hurl the most invective at the President. Smith exclaimed, “We’re going to get that cripple out of the White House!” At the Townsend Club Convention, Coughlin, not to be outdone, called Roosevelt a “betrayer“ and a “liar” and dubbed him “Franklin Double-crossing Roosevelt.” Even if Coughlin had been forced by clerical superiors to apologize for these remarks, he soon outdid them. At one rally he warned, “When an upstart dictator in the United States succeeds in making this a one-party form of government, when the ballot is useless, I shall have the courage to stand up and advocate the use of bullets.” At another, this one in Rhode Island, Coughlin promised “more bullet holes in the White House than you could count with an adding machine” if Roosevelt were to be reelected.

All this blood and thunder was for naught. Roosevelt won a landslide reelection and the Union Party got less than two percent of the vote. As small as this share was, it was still larger than that of the Socialist, Communist, and Socialist Labor Parties combined. The party failed to attract supporters of other electoral reformists such as the Wisconsin Progressive Party, the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party, and End Poverty in California, who all backed Roosevelt. The reasons for the party’s failure are numerous. It wasn’t on the ballot in over a dozen states, the demagoguery of Smith and Coughlin likely repelled voters, and Lemke was a much less charismatic candidate than Roosevelt. Smith described Lemke, his own candidate, as “a complete composite of unattractiveness.”

During a Fall 1930 broadcast against communism, Coughlin despaired at “the anarchy, the atheism, and the treachery preached by the German Hebrew, Karl Marx.” He regularly attacked “international bankers,” often emphasizing their Jewish surnames. Despite this, Coughlin continued to find support from some Jewish leaders both in Detroit and nationally.

During a Fall 1930 broadcast against communism, Coughlin despaired at “the anarchy, the atheism, and the treachery preached by the German Hebrew, Karl Marx.” He regularly attacked “international bankers,” often emphasizing their Jewish surnames. Despite this, Coughlin continued to find support from some Jewish leaders both in Detroit and nationally.

Although Coughlin promised to retire from broadcasting if Lemke received fewer than nine million votes, he was soon back on the air. His relationships with several groups changed when he returned. Previously, Coughlin had supported and received support from what could be termed the American labor aristocracy. AFL President William Green suggested sending a delegate to the National Union’s 1935 convention. James L. Ryan, president of a New York metalworkers union stated, “Father Coughlin is a messenger of God, donated to the American people for the purpose of rectifying the outrageous mistakes that have been made in the past.” Coughlin played a leading role in the Detroit-area Automotive Industrial Workers Association, one of several competing auto workers unions before the rise of the UAW.

Yet, Coughlin strongly attacked the growing CIO. He viewed it as Communist-dominated, saying in an interview that “the C.I.O. is pretty well contaminated with leaders who are Red in thought and action.” Social Justice preached that “Catholicism was as incompatible with the CIO as Catholicism was incompatible with Mohammedanism.” In The Shrine of the Silver Dollar, John L. Spivak reports both that Coughlin attempted to form a “company union” at Ford (the Workers Council for Social Justice) and that the priest offered a bribe to UAW president Homer Martin, on behalf of Ford, to split the CIO. In 1939, Coughlin attacked an International Ladies Garment Workers Union resolution to set up an anti-fascist defense guard.

Even more apparent than Coughlin’s shift on labor was his overt antisemitism. If Coughlin had any plausible deniability before, it was soon dispelled. In a radio broadcast after Kristallnacht, Coughlin minimized the Nazi persecution of Jews, saying “Jewish persecution only followed after Christians first were persecuted.” During the latter half of 1938, Social Justice reprinted the antisemitic forgery the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. At a 1938 speech in the Bronx Coughlin crowed “When we get through with the Jews in America, they’ll think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing.” The books sold in the Shrine reflected this as well. One of the titles was Rulers of Russia by Irish Priest Dennis Fahey, which Coughlin had the exclusive right to reprint. Fahey’s book explained that “The real forces behind Bolshevism in Russia are Jewish forces, and Bolshevism is really an instrument in the hands of the Jews for the establishment of their future Messianic kingdom.”

As early as 1936, sensing Lemke’s imminent defeat, Coughlin expressed sympathy for fascism: “Democracy is doomed. This is our last election. It is fascism or communism. We are at the crossroads-I take the road to fascism.” These sympathies continued throughout the rest of his time in public life. Like nearly all Catholic officials, Coughlin supported Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War, despite or even because of their reign of “White Terror.” In 1939, he proclaimed, “Practically all of the sixteen principles of Social Justice are being put into practice in [Fascist] Italy and [Nazi] Germany.”

It’s interesting to note that after Coughlin’s antisemitic and pro-Nazi utterances, federal elected officials continued to contribute articles to Social Justice. One was isolationist Senator William Borah. Borah’s anti-war feelings may have had a monetary source. When novelist Gore Vidal asked his grandfather, Senator Thomas P. Gore, about the source of several hundred thousand dollars found in Borah’s safety deposit box after his death, Gore said the money was from “[t]he Nazis. To keep us out of the war.” Another was Congressperson George Dondero, who actually had Coughlin as a constituent. Dondero served as Mayor of Royal Oak, Michigan for a spell and later defended the Nazi war criminals of I.G. Farben. The current Royal Oak Middle School used to be named after him. A third contributor was Minnesota Senator Ernest Lundeen, himself basically a Nazi propaganda agent.

Coughlin’s efforts also were championed by some from the world of arts. Architect Phillip Johnson went on to design the Museum of Modern Art in New York, but in the 1930s and 1940s, he was a reporter for Social Justice. Johnson joined the Wehrmacht in their invasion of Poland and described the burning of Warsaw as “stirring.” Poet Ezra Pound, a resident of fascist Italy, was another Coughlin supporter declaring, “Coughlin has the great gift of simplifying vital issues to a point where the populace can understand their main factor if not the technical detail.” Novelist Hillarie Belloc, a definite anti-Semite, was a contributor of articles to Social Justice.

A man selling newspaper copies of Father Coughlin’s Social Justice in the 1930s in New York City. Photo Credit: Library of Congress.

The last organization Coughlin was affiliated with, after the demise of the National Union and the Union Party, was the clerical fascist Christian Front. The Front was particularly strong in New York and Boston. After Kristallnacht, New York’s WMCA refused to carry Coughlin’s program. Fronters picketed outside with signs saying “Buy Christian; vote Christian,” and “Send Jews back where they came from-in leaky boats.” In The Nation, James Weschler described the Front’s tactics for selling Social Justice in New York: “Throughout the week the salesmen are located at strategic, crowded points throughout the city, screaming antisemitic slogans…” Weschler described how Fronters assailed theaters that promoted the film Confessions of a Nazi Spy and how even children were conscripted to sell Social Justice. Boys were instructed to start crying that “A big Jew hit me!” to help drum up sales and sympathy.

The Christian Front was most infamous for the trial of the so-called “Brooklyn Boys,” seventeen men tried for attempting to overthrow the government. Although they were acquitted by a sympathetic jury, FBI files revealed that they were in possession of rifles pilfered from the National Guard and had engaged in military drilling for their planned coup. Frances Moran, head of the Boston Front was recruited as a German agent and the Boston Front continued its activities throughout World War II.

By this point, many who had earlier aided Coughlin were fed up. The National Association of Broadcasters, representing 428 radio stations, pulled the plug on his radio network in 1939. The next year, his voice could only be heard on two radio stations, and his ecclesiastical superiors ordered him to retire to the pulpit and cease his political activities. Social Justice continued to run with Coughlin’s assistance, although it was barred from the mail after Pearl Harbor due to its sympathy for Hitler and Mussolini. Coughlin’s shrill, hateful voice was finally silenced.

There were numerous questions raised as to whether Coughlin was being paid off by the Nazis during his career. He certainly had his share of foreign entanglements. Decorated General Smedley Butler, author of the classic pamphlet War is a Racket, passed along to the FBI that he received a phone call from Coughlin urging him to lead an army to overthrow Mexico’s government. Coughlin believed that the secular, nationalist regime of Lazaro Cardenas was pro-Communist and was persecuting Catholics. Coughlin wrote on several occasions to Benito Mussolini, offering Social Justice as a forum for the dictator. Warren’s biography does support the contention that Coughlin received funds from Germany, from the Foreign Office, the Detroit Consul, and other sources. It’s also true that Coughlin’s listeners were very generous in supporting his activities so how much of a difference Nazi funding made is unknown.

Coughlin’s influence can be later seen in right-wing talk radio and somewhat in the careers of Protestant televangelists like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Even after his death in 1979, he remained a hero of the U.S. far right.

Although Coughlin was ordered to cease involvement in politics, the subject maintained his interest. Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, an opponent of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, had a strong supporter og Coughlin when he ran for President as the Republican candidate in 1964. In his 1969 book Bishops Versus Pope, he inveighed against “loud-mouthed clerical advocates of arson, riot, and draft-card burning. They are swingers who suffer so terribly from an inferiority complex that they reach madly for the brass ring of popular recognition which dangles on the merry-go-round of secularism.” Readers might be surprised to learn that, per Coughlin biographer Sheldon Machus, the priest purchased $500 worth of Israeli bonds in 1955. The bonds were to prop up a nation he considered a bulwark against communism. This instance is further evidence that support for Israel can easily coincide with anti-Semitism.

Coughlin’s influence can be later seen in right-wing talk radio and somewhat in the careers of Protestant televangelists like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Even after his death in 1979, he remained a hero of the U.S. far right. Willis Carto of the antisemitic Liberty Lobby lauded Coughlin in his 1982 book Profiles in Populism. One of the clearest heirs to Coughlin is the Ferndale-based anti-LGBTQ hate group Church Militant. In a 2019 article, the group sang Coughlin’s praises as an opponent of the welfare state and Communism. They avoided the swastika-covered elephant in the room of Coughlin’s fascist sympathies. The group has also recommended Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes to members and gave a fawning interview to avowed Christian nationalist Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. The conspiracism, xenophobia, and antisemitism of Coughlin can now all be found within Church Militant. In this sense, perhaps the Radio Priest never died after all.

Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Tempest Collective. For more information, see “About Tempest Collective.”

Featured image credit: Library of Congress; modified by Tempest.

Categories: D2. Socialism

Once More on Hamas

Thu, 01/11/2024 - 23:10

Sean Larson has written a long response to our short article in which we criticized author Jonah ben Avraham for his denunciation of those who, while organizing against Israel’s slaughter of Palestinians, also condemned Hamas’s attacks on civilians on October 7. Larson’s response is unfortunately as problematic as the piece we criticized.

Larson charges that we “forefront” criticism of Hamas. On the contrary, in almost everything we have done in the past three months we have in fact “forefronted” the horror being faced by the people of Gaza. Larson’s objection is actually not to our “forefronting” criticism of Hamas, but to our mentioning it at all. We only wrote our initial article on ben Avraham because he suggested that to criticize Hamas atrocities in any way was to be “pro-settler.”

Larson suggests that we are moral monsters who, had we lived in earlier times, would have supported slavery and colonialism. He puts us in the current conflict on the side of Israel and the United States and against the liberation of the Palestinians. We are excoriated for having had the temerity to raise criticisms of Hamas while writing “from the imperial core.”

In almost everything we have done in the past three months we have in fact “forefronted” the horror being faced by the people of Gaza. Larson’s objection is actually not to our “forefronting” criticism of Hamas, but to our mentioning it at all.

Perhaps we ought to introduce into this discussion an element of realism. What do we and Larson actually do here in the imperial core? As activists on the Left we write, speak, and demonstrate demanding a ceasefire, opposing U.S. military aid to Israel, and expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people. The one difference is that we—but not Larson—also criticize Hamas for its reactionary politics and its murder of civilians, though this in no way inhibits our participation in the current movement. Perhaps Larson and ben Avraham should tone down their accusations of people being “pro-settler” or pro-colonial.

We know that Tempest agrees with us that one can support the victims of U.S. imperialism without blindly endorsing their politics. Tempest shares our criticisms of the Soviet Union during the Cold War and Russia and China today and disagrees with those whose justified defense of the oppressed led to vicariously identifying with and adopting the politics of Third World revolutionaries to the extent of sometimes setting aside the Left’s historic demands for democracy and for humane values even in the course of revolution. Tempest also agrees with us that the enemies of our enemy are not automatically our friends, an unfortunate tendency that led to a reluctance to criticize the crimes of Stalin during the Cold War or Russia, China, or Iran today. We and Tempest both support movements from below, without blindly endorsing all who challenge Washington or its allies. We support progressive forces from below, not reactionary or fundamentalist ones. But ben Avraham and Larson, in their denunciation of any who criticize Hamas, seem to have lost their way, abandoning this tradition and replacing it with uncritical support for reactionary leaders and groups.

Larson writes that perhaps our “most egregious assumption … is that socialists in the United States are the proper referees of anticolonial movements the world over.” What we actually believe is that socialists everywhere, while showing solidarity, also retain the right to critical thinking. As Marx put it: “Doubt all.” We claim no special role, but believe like other socialists of the last two centuries that we should not remain silent in the face of atrocities that violate socialist values. At one point, Larson describes the horrible crimes carried out against Indigenous people in North America and tells us that some of the responses involved atrocities.

He writes: “In the view of La Botz and Shalom, should socialists condemn the Dakota and other brave Indigenous warriors and insist on the use of the “legitimate means” of peaceful protest and moral appeal during the ethnic cleansing of Turtle Island?”

Larson here implies that we equate “legitimate means” with “peaceful protest and moral appeal.” But these terms are not at all equivalent. We are not pacifists, and we believe violence can be justified in the struggle for freedom from oppression. (As we said in our article: “Palestinians, like all oppressed people, have the right to resist, including by armed force, by all legitimate means.”) But that’s not the same as claiming that all violence is justified. Violence in and of itself is not illegitimate. Killing noncombatants is.

We are not pacifists, and we believe violence can be justified in the struggle for freedom from oppression…But that’s not the same as claiming that all violence is justified. Violence in and of itself is not illegitimate. Killing noncombatants is.

Our difference is that he and ben Avraham think the way to build support for a ceasefire is to  insist we don’t care about the means used by Hamas and that those who condemn the killing of civilians are “pro-settler.” We, on the other hand, believe that appealing to people’s humanity is one of the best ways to convince them to oppose Israel’s ongoing massacre. We also believe it is important to demonstrate that Hamas’ action have not been in the best long-term interests of Palestinians. Larson says we are wrong to suggest that Israel is winning the war (though we said no such thing), but in any case, the war has been catastrophic for Palestine, and should it become a regional war, it would be disastrous for the entire World.

Does condemning Hamas’s crimes mean that we are enabling Israel’s ongoing mass murder in Gaza? Not at all. We believe that just as it is wrong to kill Israeli civilians because of the crimes of their government, so too it is wrong to massacre tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians because of Hamas’s crimes. By urging silence on Hamas’s immoral behavior, Larson and others are sending the implicit message that they worry that Israel’s murderous response would be justified if Hamas had engaged in war crimes. No. Nothing justifies Israel’s onslaught. Some of our comrades have told us that they think we were too dismissive of the slogan “by any means necessary,” because, they say, since it is never necessary to kill children and other noncombatants, adherence to the slogan would preclude what happened on October 7. Point taken. But for Larson and some others, what is really meant by the slogan “by any means necessary” is “by any means at all.” Killing hundreds of people at a rave meets neither the “legitimate means” standard of international humanitarian law nor the standard of necessity, let alone the standard of morality.

Larson argues that one must take into account the context of the Hamas attacks. We fully agree. History didn’t begin on October 7. One needs to understand the long history of ethnic cleansing, dispossession, apartheid, and dehumanization to appreciate what brought Palestinians to this point. But understanding context is not the same as refusing to criticize. Consider the behavior of Zionists in 1947-48. The context for the atrocities they carried out during the Nakba was the fact that Jews had just come through the Holocaust. We understand that, and are even sympathetic, but we nevertheless believe that it is appropriate—indeed necessary—to condemn their horrific treatment of Palestinians. Understanding and justification are not the same. We in the Palestine support movement have been warning for years that Israel’s policy would lead to an explosion. But we can’t ignore the agency of Hamas’s leaders in choosing the policies they did.

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Monument; photo by Yuval Madar.

Larson analogizes Hamas’s attack to the resistance of the Warsaw ghetto, because it seems members of the latter once threw grenades into a lounge and a coffee shop (his source doesn’t report any casualties). If we don’t condemn the Warsaw fighters, says Larson, how can we condemn Hamas? But what an awful analogy. The scale of the killings and the balance of victims matter. The Warsaw resistance overwhelmingly aimed its weapons at soldiers, while most of Hamas’s targets were civilians. The scale of slaughter, on a larger scale, is also what makes Israel’s assault on Gaza so horrific: it isn’t a civilian here or there who is being killed, but a pace of civilian deaths with “few precedents in this century” (New York Times). We will not win popular support for a ceasefire, let alone for our more long-term aspirations for justice in the Middle East, by betraying the humane values that have always inspired the Left.

Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Tempest Collective. For more information, see “About Tempest Collective.”

Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons; modified by Tempest.

Categories: D2. Socialism

Response to Camfield and Post on “What would it take to win in Palestine?”

Thu, 01/11/2024 - 16:56

I found the article “What would it take to win in Palestine?” by David Camfield and Charlie Post a real missed opportunity to discuss the current conjuncture. In many ways, it reads as if it could have been written forty or fifty years ago.

I don’t see a possibility of breaking any section of the Israeli Jewish working class from the Zionist order, any more than it was possible to win over sections of the white working class in South Africa. While you acknowledge that in the article, the piece does still quote Moshe Machover approvingly that Zionism cannot be overthrown without the participation and consent of a section of Jewish workers. How do you square this circle?

I also worry about the notion that Palestinians should avoid harming Jewish Israeli non-combatants. These non-combatants are settlers in Palestine ‘48 (Israel) and in the occupied territories, serve in the Israeli occupation force; thus, they  are part of the state machine involved in committing genocide. They are hardly civilians. In fact, the one major group not involved in the colonial armed forces are Orthodox Jews, whose leaders call for the expulsion of all Palestinians (and worse).

Clearly, you are correct in arguing for a regional revolutionary strategy, and, yes, the role of the Arab working class in Egypt and elsewhere is crucial, but Marxists have argued that for years. Moreover, it is likely that renewed working class struggle in the Arab metropolises will shift opinion among the settler community even further to the right rather than leading to a fracturing of the settler working class.

We are currently in the midst of the largest popular movement in my political lifetime, at least in Britain, at the center of which are hundreds of thousands of young people and in which Palestinians and people of color, particularly young women, are playing a leadership role. Yet the article has no Palestinian voices, other than from the past. There is no engagement with the debates in the current movement about the way forward, no sense of the anger and passion on the streets and the role this movement can play in weakening the resolve of the rulers of the imperial heartlands who are backing genocide.

Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Tempest Collective. For more information, see “About Tempest Collective.”

Categories: D2. Socialism

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