Prospects for Social Democracy in the US: Insights From a Syndicalist in Sweden

By Enrique Guerrero-López and Adam Weaver - Truthout, April 10, 2017

In the era of Trump, there's a clear and growing interest in socialism, especially among young people. The first measurable shift began to peek over the horizon in polling data done in the wake of the Occupy movement, showing 49 percent of people ages 18-29 favored socialism over capitalism. The political terrain of the US was rocked to such a degree that even the Republicans took "capitalism" out of their talking points. As the narrative of free markets and unquestioned neoliberalism publicly unraveled, we reached the point in 2016 where a majority of those under 30 rejected capitalism and had a positive view of socialism. This crisis of the political establishment was further deepened by the emergence of Black Lives Matter. Ferguson became symbolic of the deep racial inequality that exists across the US, but it was also the rebellion of urban centers like Baltimore -- traditionally Democratic and with significant Black elected leadership -- which melted away the "post-racial" mythology that took hold during the Obama years.

So when Bernie Sanders stepped into the ring for the 2016 presidential election as the anti-establishment candidate building a "political revolution," he slid through the door kicked open by social movements, exceeding even his own expectations and gaining unanticipated popularity. The Sanders campaign simultaneously popularized and clouded understandings of socialism. When asked about his vision of socialism during a CNN presidential debate, Sanders responded that we should "look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway," conflating a social democratic welfare state with the anticapitalist core of socialism.

Taking a cue from Sanders, we decided to "look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway" to take a deeper look at social democracy from the perspective of those who live in "actually existing" social democratic countries. We recently spoke with Gabriel Kuhn, an Austrian-born author living in Sweden and involved in radical labor and migrant solidarity efforts, about his analysis and experience of social democracy. Kuhn, the author of numerous books including Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety: Forging A Militant Working-Class Culture, is a member of the syndicalist SAC (Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation) and has in recent years mainly been involved in migrant solidarity projects. 

Berta Is Dead, But The Movement She Started Lives

By Beverly Bell - Global Justice Ecology Project, April 5, 2017

The Convergence of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) has defied all efforts over the past year, by the Honduran government and the DESA dam company, to destroy it. This past Monday, March 27, 24 years after Berta Cáceres cofounded the Lenca indigenous organization, COPINH hosted an anniversary celebration of rebellion and recommitment.

About 150 people from throughout Honduras and at least five other countries joined for a Lenca ceremony; a forum on challenges and advances; a concert; a film festival; and a humble feast of roasted pig, rice, tortillas, and birthday cake. The event closed late at night with an open-air performance of “Ancestras”, a new play by the Teatro Taller Tegucigalpa (Tegucigalpa Theater Workshop) about COPINH’s fight to defend the Gualcarque River, and structural injustice by the government and oligarchy.

COPNH has not only survived, it continues to serve as a source of inspiration for indigenous and other movements throughout Honduras and the world. As with Berta Cáceres’ life work, COPINH’s goes far beyond environmental defense. Its aim is to transform the political, economic, and environmental landscape of Honduras, and – in conjunction with movements elsewhere – of the world.

Gustavo Castro Soto, the director of Friends of the Earth-Mexico and Otros Mundos who was shot and almost killed in Cáceres’ home the night she was assassinated, said, “The death of Berta has not been the death of the struggle. On the contrary, it’s been a wake-up call.”

How the Democrats Lost West Virginia and the Coal Miners To Trump

By Les Leopold - Common Dreams, April 7, 2017

“C’mon, fellas. You know what this is? You know what this says? You’re going back to work.” ― Donald Trump on signing an executive order to reverse the Obama Administration’s rules on coal, March 28, 2017.

Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964 buried Barry Goldwater in West Virginia, 67.9 percent to 32.1 percent. By 2016, Trump completely reversed that landslide by defeating Hillary Clinton 67.9 percent to 26.2 percent. What happened to turn such a deep blue state into flaming red?

The Democratic Party establishment has a simple explanation: West Virginians are so hung up on cultural issues like guns, gays, abortion and their mythical self-image as “coal country” that they vote against their own material interests. They seem impervious to the fact that they are major beneficiaries of Obamacare and Medicaid. They don’t seem to notice that health care jobs far exceed coal-related jobs which have been decimated by new technologies, and market competition from natural gas and renewables.

As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently writes, “So West Virginia voted overwhelmingly against its own interests. ....Coal country residents.... were voting on behalf of a story their region tells about itself, a story that hasn’t been true for a generation or more.”

Zapatistas Reimagine Science as Tool of Resistance

By Sophie Duncan - Free Radicals, April 5, 2017

As scientists grapple with what it means to march for science and defend an apolitical and ahistorical vision of science “safe” from identity, the Zapatistas have put forth the possibilities of a symbiotic relationship between science and social justice. Between December 26 and January 4th, the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN or the Zapatistas) facilitated an interdisciplinary conference in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, México: “L@s Zapatistas y las ConCiencias por la Humanidad”. [1] As part of an armed indigenous resistance, EZLN responds to the long history of Spanish invasion, indigenous genocide and slavery.

The conference title, Las ConCiencias, combines the Spanish words for science and awareness. This wordplay captures two of the conference’s themes: an interrogation of science as an oppressive force and the potential, through this awareness, to harness the power of science on behalf of indigenous communities. [2]

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For an Anti-Fascist, Revolutionary Unionism!

By African People's Caucus - It's Going Down, April 5, 2017

Fascism is a concept that has grown a lot of particular interest since the election of Donald Trump and the failure of neoliberalism. While we don’t consider Trump himself to be a fascist but a right wing populist, we do recognize that he has mobilized a broad coalition of the right, which includes some fascists. However, reactionary violence is nothing new to black and African people living in the United States. Our communities have seen first-hand the terror campaigns of proto-fascist groups such as the KKK, and other kinds of organized white supremacist violence. Our oppression and exploitation have been central to the establishment of modern capitalism in the Americas. This also means we have been fighting back since we were brought here. Our stake in anti-fascism is not an academic question.

Fascism needs to be defined for our context: right now this is a smaller element participating within a popular front of the right wing. Most notable of this multi-tendency white nationalist milieu is the alt-right, who believe in atrocities such as “white” ethnic cleansing, misogyny, violence against a perceived “other” (minorities, refugees, Muslims, women, lgbtqia, Jews), and overwhelming worship of authority and class-based hierarchies. What allows this to spread is that neoliberal economic policies under capitalism cause the working class to suffer, and they are given scapegoats and offered false and authoritarian solutions. The reactionaries’ influence within the State will be strengthened, which will increase the suffering of black and African people at the hands of the police, prison, and poverty.

While fascism sometimes spreads using political opportunists like the electoral right wing, it is also an independent movement of the insurgent right wing and has an agenda separate from and opposed to the current state. Fascists also recruit through entryism into popular cultures and subcultures (music, arts, internet groups, faith-based, etc). Today’s fascists have improved the ability to hide within “legitimate” conservative political and social groups. Its spread is international and evident in the western turn away from neoliberalism towards economic nationalism, Islamophobic motives surrounding Brexit, and the State literally assassinating drug users in the Philippines. Trump is a big piece of this, but definitely not the only one. In addition to being aware of fascists attempting to turn the repressive state apparatus against us, we also have to prepare to defend ourselves against reactionaries like George Zimmerman and Dylann Roof, who have terrorized us with direct extralegal violence since we got here.

It’s important that we not let our history of struggle be claimed by the liberal narrative that the civil rights era was built on a dogmatic commitment to “nonviolence”. Black and African people have had to physically, mentally, and emotionally defend their communities from State and white supremacist terror, and it was organized. Groups like the Deacons for Defense, Black Liberation Army, and Black Panther Party understood why a self-defense approach in the face of police and reactionaries was necessary. If a person knows the bloodshed that occurred at the height of the labor movement, one must also acknowledge there has been consistent violence against black and African people for centuries.

Labor organizers and specifically the IWW have long-opposed class traitors like the Ku Klux Klan. White supremacists despise the radical left because of their commitment to solidarity with all oppressed people. The IWW will remain a target of the State and the far right, especially as our activity gains momentum and size. The General Defense Committee has been and can continue to be an excellent vehicle to grow the anti-fascist movement.

Anti-fascism needs to grow into an extremely popular movement in order to win. Communities that build their capacity for organized defense against the State and organized hate will be major contributors in the fight against capitalism.

We black and African workers face this threat in many places within and beyond our workplaces, and a fascist threat to any of the working class is a threat to the entire class. We have no choice but to confront organized white supremacists, just as we have no choice but to struggle against the bosses in our workplaces. We are calling on our comrades in the IWW and elsewhere, to join us in confronting white nationalists organizing to direct further violence against our people. We are calling on the General Administration to give our rank and file militants the support we need to organize in defense of ourselves and our class on the ground. We believe that the slogan “an injury to one is an injury to all” should also be demonstrated by our white comrades who feel as though confronting fascism is optional or of little importance.

For an anti-fascist, revolutionary unionism!

Unite against the FFA for the future of agriculture!

By various - La Via Campesina, April 3, 2017

A call from civil society 

The 10th edition of the Forum for the Future of Agriculture (FFA) was held in Brussels on the 28th of March. Its organisers, Syngenta (a multinational chemicals and agrifood firm) and ELO (an organisation that lobbies for large European landowners) presented their brand of agriculture, which they claim will meet food and environmental challenges. A coalition of farmers’ organisations (members of La Via Campesina), civil society organisations and citizens have denounced these false agribusiness solutions and are issuing this appeal to send a firm message to the organisers and attendees of this forum: this agriculture has no future! 

False solutions to the wrong problems 

With its winning tagline, “where agriculture and environment meet”, the forum brings together a prestigious panel of speakers (EU, OECD, UN, etc.) alongside nature conservation NGOs and intellectuals. But this façade of open debate conceals a costly exercise in political lobbying. At a time when the reform of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the regulation of certain pesticides are under discussion, agribusiness players need to act now to protect their interests. So they present themselves as champions in the fight against global hunger and as leaders in environmental conservation ; yet the solutions that they advocate are false solutions. Their answer to current and future food challenges is an unchanging litany : increase the productivity of farmland through technology and further reduce barriers to free trade. 

By asking the question, “how to feed 9 billion people by 2050”, the FFA organisers are perpetuating the myth that we do not produce enough today to feed the human race. But according to the FAO we already produce enough food for 12 billion people ! The causes of hunger and malnutrition are rather to be found in extreme poverty (especially in rural areas, where about 70% of hungry people live), food waste (30% of global production is wasted, according to the FAO) and the conversion of agricultural land to biofuel production and livestock rearing (feed and pasture). 

Lobbies and multinationals sell what they call “smart agriculture”, which uses robotics, chemicals, biotechnology and specialisation. Yet it does nothing to feed those who are starving ; instead it makes producers even more dependent on agribusiness multinationals. As well as their negative impact on health and the environment, these technologies are driving small farmers into debt and putting them out of business. 

And there’s more. The way that we class food as a simple commodity for trading on the free market is one of the main causes of rural impoverishment and loss of biodiversity. Both in the North and the South, competition between farmers favours large farms at the expense of small farmers, who bear the brunt of the disastrous consequences of this model : falling incomes, unemployment, the disappearance of farms, massive debt, speculation on agricultural land and foodstuffs, etc. Over the last 30 years, Belgium has lost 63% of its farms – 43 every week. It is mostly small farms that are affected. 

Greenwashing dealers in death 

The agriculture of machines, chemicals and international shipping cannot continue to exist without fossil fuels. Yet Syngenta claims to champion environmental causes. At FFA 2016, cuddly bees were distributed amongst attendees to promote initiatives that were far from transparent. The company probably wanted to deflect their attention away from its aggressive lobbying to overturn the ban on neonicotinoids – singled out by the scientific community for their disastrous consequences for natural pollinators such as bees and bumblebees.

On its website, the company claims that opposing the use of GMOs, chemical fertilisers and pesticides means using more water and land. This is proof of its bad faith as it pretends to ignore solutions that have already been proven to be effective. 

Solutions do exist : agroecology and food sovereignty 

The agriculture that agribusiness offers us is nothing new. It merely follows the same path that has brought about the destruction of our soils, the deterioration of biodiversity, the pollution of our waters and the disappearance of our farms. Truly smart agriculture, the agriculture of the future, should be modelled on natural ecosystems. A publication of the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food states that agroecology could double food production in 10 years, mitigating climate change, protecting water resources and creating new jobs in the rural sector. 

Rather than surrendering agricultural production to the free market and the dictates of agribusiness, it is the people themselves who should determine agricultural and food systems. Only this way will they be able to have a healthy diet, tailored to their needs, locally produced and sustainable. That is why we believe it is essential to commit to food sovereignty.
We do not want arms dealers calling the shots in times of peace ; nor do we want dealers in poison to decide what we eat. They are only interested in making money. Their brand of agriculture is sounding the death knell for small farmers, consumers, and the environment. It represents the past. 

We want to send a clear message to European and international policymakers. They must curtail the influence of agribusiness and private interests and commit to the agroecological transition. 

We call on as many organisations and movements as possible to sign this appeal   

Unite for our future ! 

Opposition rises to planned agricultural mega-mergers

By Friends of the Earth Europe, European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions, European Coordination of Via Campesina - La Via Campesina, April 3, 2017

More than 200 organisations have called on the European Commission and Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager to block the planned mergers of six giant agriculture corporations. 

The farmer, farmworker, beekeeper, religious, international development, and environmental groups claim that the three resulting companies will concentrate market power and “exacerbate the problems caused by industrial farming – with negative consequences for the public, farmers and farm workers, consumers, the environment, and food security” in an open letter

The European and national organisations – together representing millions of members – state that the proposed mergers of Dow Chemical with DuPont, Monsanto with Bayer AG, and Syngenta with ChemChina will lead to an unacceptable monopoly, with three companies controlling around 70% of the world’s agro-chemicals and more than 60% of commercial seeds

Ramona Duminicioiu, peasant seed producer of the farmer organization European Coordination Via Campesina said: “Approving these mergers works completely against the rights of peasants, with far reaching effects in our society. When the Commission says that small family farms are the back bone of European agriculture does it honestly believe that or is it just lip service? The already fragile rights of peasants regarding seeds, land and markets risks being obliterated by these mega-corporations and our Food Sovereignty abducted. The Commission should say no to these mergers!” 

Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth Europe said: “Europe’s food and farming system is broken and if giant firms, like Monsanto and Bayer, are allowed to merge they will have an even tighter toxic grip on our food. The mergers are a marriage made in hell and should be blocked by regulators. We need to build a fairer and greener food system out of corporate control.” 

Arnd Spahn from the European trade unions of agricultural workers EFFAT said: “Workers, as well as the environment and all society, are victims of the use of pesticides. We are fighting for health and safety on work places and we need partners for our ideas. Today the producers of pesticides are big, but after such a merger they will be too big for anybody to bring them on a path to worker and environmental protection. How shall we stop Glyphosate if we have such strong opponents?” 

Isabelle Brachet of CONCORD Europe said: “Ending hunger implies addressing power imbalances in our food systems. A small number of multinational corporations dominate internationally traded food systems and get most of the knowledge, benefits and access to decision makers. Corporate power in our food must be restrained – not further extended by mega-mergers. The main investors in agriculture in developing countries are farmers themselves and it is they who must be at the centre of agriculture development policies.”[3] 

The organisations have called on the European Commission to reject the mergers, prevent the damage caused by these corporations, and urgently take steps to support just and sustainable food systems less dependent on agri-business. 

10 ways movements can encourage and support whistleblowers

By Anthony Kelly - Waging Nonviolence, March 23, 2017

Whistleblowers from within institutions, corporations, government departments, police or military can be critical to movement success, and their testimony is often the key to exposing and resisting injustice and creating change.

Institutions clamp down on and deter whistleblowing for good reason. Whistleblowers can shake major institutions. They can feed vital information to movements, can warn activists about impending threats, can expose corruption, public health dangers and reduce the power of governments and deep state agencies. Disclosing secrets and releasing information poses high risks and personal costs and always takes a fair degree of courage. To expose an injustice, whistleblowers will have to trust who they are communicating with.

Nonviolent politics has long recognized that societal institutions, even rigid hierarchies such as the police or military, are not monolithic, but are in fact riddled with dissent. Institutions are made up of individual human beings. Despite well-developed cultural, legal and bureaucratic mechanisms used to enforce internal obedience and discipline, whistleblowing and other forms of internal resistance are surprisingly common.

So, what can activists, organizers and movements do to encourage and support whistleblowers?

Beyond Petroculture: strategies for a Left energy transition

By Imre Szeman and Jeff Diamanti - Canadian Dimension, February 17, 2017

Five years ago, a group of us at the University of Alberta in Edmonton formed the Petrocultures Research Group to develop a sharper understanding of the ways we use (and abuse) energy. Our immediate intention was to examine the social, cultural and political implications of Canada’s turn-of-the-twentieth-century leap into the ranks of the world’s oil superpowers. Our interest in energy arose in part as a result of working at the research university closest to the Athabasca tar sands. In Edmonton, it’s hard not to see oil everywhere, and not only in the physical infrastructure of refineries, but also in its social costs and consequences: labour dislocation, inflated housing prices, alcohol and drug abuse, and rates of sexual violence and family dysfunction.

Very quickly, however, Petrocultures scholars also began to grapple with other, larger questions. What is energy for in our society? How does the availability of relatively cheap energy effect how we socialize and relate to one another? What are the inequalities that come with fossil fuels, and what is stopping renewables from carrying those same inequalities forward? Petrocultures began investigating how energy in the 20th century made a number of other, seemingly unrelated things, possible. We moderns tend to image energy as a largely neutral aspect of social life, as little more than a dead input into the motors of a society whose form and rationale originates at a distance from coal mines and oil fields. But in fact, the forms of energy we use, and how we use them, shape society through and through, and not just how we work (in factories instead of fields) or how we move around (using horsepower instead of horses).

This is what we mean by “petroculture,” the term that gives our group its name. Petroculture is the global culture we find ourselves in today. It is the name for a society that has been organized around the energies and products of fossil fuels, the capacities it engenders and enables, and the situations and contexts it creates. It’s not just that our physical infrastructures depend on oil and gas, or that our social and economic practices have been organized around easy and cheap access to fossil fuels. The relationship to our dominant energy form is deeper, pervasive, and constitutive: to say we inhabit a “petroculture” is to say we are fossil-fuel creatures all the way down. Our expectations, our sensibilities, our habits, our ways of being in and moving across the world, how we imagine ourselves in relation to nature, as well as in relation to one another—these have all been sculpted by, and in relation to, the massively expanded energies of the fossil-fuel era. To give but one example: in the potential shift from gas to electric-powered cars now promised us, what is never questioned is necessity of the automobile itself. As inhabitants of a global petroculture, we have all come to expect the mobility, freedom and autonomy of mechanized movement by land, sea and air. Those parts of the world that don’t yet have a car in every garage see it as an index of economic and social progress — a sign of having joined the modern community because, at long last, they are able to use energy at the same level of those in the global North.

The agricultural policy must serve the people

By Geneviève Savigny - La Via Campesina, March 30, 2017

Where have the consistency between the objectives and tools that prevailed in 1957 gone, when we signed the Treaty of Rome A radical shift in policy is necessary in the European Union.

Agriculture, a source of food and of numerous useful products for human life, concerns the whole of society. There was surely a sort of consensus between the agricultural world, policy makers and society on the role played by farmers and the objectives of an agricultural policy, when the Treaty of Rome, signed in 1957, laid the foundations for the first Common Agricultural Policy. It was first necessary to guarantee food security for people, and thereby produce more, modernize farms but also equip the houses of peasant families where several generations often lived together with the comfort already found in cities. The initial objectives and tools were consistent; increase agricultural productivity, ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural population, stabilise markets, guarantee security of supply, and ensure reasonable prices for consumers. Cheap food would enable keeping low wages and foster Europe’s industrial development. 

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