Monday, July 31, 2006

Bias on Israel/Palestine/Lebanon

Much of the agitation and protest about the war being waged by Israel in the Lebanon has been focused on the perceived bias of the mainstream media in favour of Israel, Bush and Blair. I think this has been much exaggerated. Here's The Guardian with a piece reflecting the traditional middle-of-the-road view that points out accusations of bias from both sides.

Unfriendly fire from all sides: A war is raging over perceived bias in the media's coverage of the crisis in the Middle East, with the BBC apparently both pro and anti Israel
James Silver
July 31, 2006 The Guardian

Few subjects inflame the conspiracy theorists, finger-jabbers and those who accuse the mainstream media of bias - in either direction - like a crisis in the Middle East. As the region continues to flare and shudder from Israel's struggle with Hizbullah, cyber-space crackles too, as irate bloggers and self-appointed media watchdogs pick over every moment of coverage.
The Israelis have long believed they get a raw deal from the European media. A week ago frustration appeared to boil over, when Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert said that international TV coverage had entirely misrepresented his country. "The massive, brutal and murderous viciousness of Hizbullah is unfortunately not represented in its full intensity on television screens outside of Israel . . . the victim is presented as an aggressor."

However, Media Lens (, a media watchdog that argues that "mainstream newspapers and broadcasters provide a profoundly distorted picture of our world", alerted its readers to an article published on July 17 in the hawkish Jerusalem Post, which appears to suggest that in the first few days of the conflict at least, the Israeli government felt it was succeeding in getting its side of the story across.
"Assaf Shariv, Olmert's media adviser, boasted that Israelis have been interviewed by the foreign press four times as much as spokespeople for the Palestinians and Lebanese . . . and cited a poll of Sky News viewers that found that 80% believe Israel's attacks on Lebanon were justified," wrote Media Lens, quoting from the Post. It also reproduced a comment by foreign ministry spokesman Gideon Meir, who reportedly said: "We have never had it so good. The hasbara [propaganda] effort is a well-oiled machine."

One regular contributor to Media Lens, David Miller, professor of sociology at Strathclyde University and a serial critic of Israel, is convinced there is clear evidence of growing media bias in the way the conflict is being covered. Writing for Socialist Worker Online (, he said: "If you only have information from the mainstream media about the Middle East, you won't understand what is happening. It is a diet of almost undiluted lies . . . The bias didn't used to be as clear as this . . . But in the current neo-liberal climate the media becomes more and more nakedly an instrument of imperialism."

The BBC, in particular, finds itself facing flak from all quarters - including from those on the far left who consider it to be demonstrably pro-Israel. One contributor to Media Lens's message board asserts that "Posting after posting here proves ad infinitum that the BBC supports Israel." Indeed, the watchdog's editors themselves brand a BBC News Online story by Clare Bolderson in Jerusalem as "a case study in BBC bias . . . remarkable even by BBC standards."

Postings in a similar vein can also be found on the Muslim Public Affairs Committee's website ( MPAC, which bills itself as the "UK's leading Muslim civil liberties group", publishes an editorial about BBC "double standards" over its coverage of the events that led up to the current crisis, accusing it of "skewed moral and news priorities".

Ranged against such voices are a number of high-profile pro-Israel columnists-cum-bloggers, including Stephen Pollard and the Daily Mail's Melanie Phillips. Pollard's blog ( in particular is peppered with examples of what he sees as the BBC's blatant bias.
"I could fill my entire site with examples of the BBC's distortion of Israel's military actions in the past few days," he wrote on July 13 of a report by Peter Marshall on Newsnight. "Across a picture of a blown up bridge, he remarked: 'All this destruction. And still more threatened.' As if the IDF [Israeli Defence Force] was on some kind of wilful destruction spree, just for the hell of it. How about the reason why the bridge had been destroyed? Because Israel has been continually attacked by Hizbullah, and the IDF has to take action to prevent further such attacks."

Ten days later he rounded on Andrew Marr's Sunday AM programme, again for bias. "I can't imagine that the BBC has ever broadcast a more poisonous or vile programme than this morning's show . . . Every guest was simply nodded into the studio and handed airtime to pour out as much anti-Israel bile as they could manage in their allotted slot. And there was not one slot allocated to anyone who thought that Israel might have even the basis of a case."

The following day, Pollard reproduced an email from an anonymous BBC News staffer who agreed with his point of view. "As a Jew (aargh) and a (whisper it) Zionist, I'm torn asunder by the way the BBC has done this," he wrote. "There is no intelligence here, no in-depth questioning of why this conflict has erupted. It's a hammer with which to whack Israel."

The BBC's coverage of the conflict has also deeply riled Phillips, an arch-critic of the broadcaster's reporting of the Middle East. "The BBC (as opposed to Sky which is far more even-handed) has turned into the Beirut Broadcasting Corporation, reporting the war almost entirely from the perspective of a Lebanon that is entirely innocent and victimised," she says on her blog (
"And this despite the fact that those Israeli casualties are being specifically targeted for death, whereas the Lebanese casualties are the inadvertent victims of attacks directed against Hizbullah terrorists and their infrastructure."

It is an impossible task to judge who is right. The ferocious claims that the BBC is pro-Israeli? Or the equally vituperative voices who insist it is a poisonous well of anti-Zionism? A spokesman for the BBC said in response: "Individuals with strong opinions will sometimes detect bias when it doesn't exist. Our duty is to provide independent reporting and analysis of all perspectives of a story. There can be times when this is misread by one or other side of a debate. However, this is not to suggest that we don't take complaints extremely seriously; we do."

The BBC is acutely aware of the criticism, and much time has been spent over the past year on getting its reports of the Middle East right. A study commissioned by the governors said it needed to put its reports into their proper historical context. To address this, the BBC's recently appointed Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen has been doing just that every night on the Ten O'Clock News.

But even that move has been criticised. "Ludicrous and self-indulgent," was the verdict of Michael Cole, a former BBC reporter commissioned by the Daily Mail to rail last week against the "refusal" of BBC correspondents in the Middle East to wear, of all things, a tie.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Solidarity Vol 3, 96 July 13th 2006

Nice people from the AWL turn up at a demo against Israel's wars in the Lebanon and Gaza: brave, I thought, in view of the inclination of marchers to chant: 'Palestine shall be free, from the river to the sea'. Their paper is a bit old and the 'Tax the Rich' headline isn't that inviting. Ah, the vicissitudes of fortnightly publication.

Their coverage of international issues: Cathy Nugent on 'The return of the Taliban', which calls for solidarity work with democratic and leftist forces in Afghanistan.
Editorial: 'Stop the assault on Gaza'
Martin Thomas reports on 'Iraqi oil workers plan strike aganist sectarian war', taken from a web statement by the Iraq Freedom Congress (a Worker-Communist Party of Iraq front?) which will be aimed against both the occupation and sectarian gangs; but there is clearly much confusino as to what exactly it is about. Thomas goes on to give an account of the continuing turmoil in Iraqi politics, in which, he claims, 'The simmering Shia-Sunni civil war is gradually coming to the boil'. There is an interesting excerpt from an al-Jazeera interview with Nir Rosen (who has porvided some of the most interesting reportage from inside Iraq), making the point that the American occupation is a daily crime.

Sean Matgamna reviews The Wind That Shakes the Barley - best Loach film since Kes he says - and he gives a useful account of the historical background and highlights some problems: some complexities are ignored, but is on weaker ground in criticising the film for not saying enough about the class differences when that is ome of the main points in the film - remember the courtroom sequence. I do agree with Matgamna that the treatment of the civil war is weaker.

There's an interview with somone from the Scottish Socialist Youth/SSP-United Left about the current debacle posed (convincingly I think) as 'Personality cult or class-struggle party'. There's also a couple of accounts of the split in Workers Power/League for the Fifth International. And a kind word about Marxism 2006. The AWL's Ideas for Freedom gets praised.

I missed the Children's BBC programme That Summer Day, but remember some criticsm of for being too PC, but am now astounded to discover it was written by AWL member Clive Bradley. Tom Unterreiner reviews Linda Grant's The People on the Street and finds a resource against the 'demonisation' of Israel and the need to accept the right of the Israeli state to exist. Steve Cohen reviews Irving Howe's A Margin of Hope, emphasising both Howe's critique of sects and what Cohen takes to be the way ideas can be seen as a precursor for the Euston Manifesto.

Finally, David Broder provides a very interesting and detailed account of the workers factory occupation movement in Argentina following a visit to the famous Zanon factory (now FaSinPat - 'factory without bosses').

Friday, July 28, 2006

Dan Berger & Andy Cornell Ten Questions for Movement Building

This is a fascinating document from the MRzine. There are deep structural and political differences between the left in Britain and the US, but there are issues in common. I don't share the focus on the kinda-anarchist milieu and wouls differ on a lot of specific points, but there are lessons for the wider socialist constituency here.

24/07/06 Ten Questions for Movement Building
by Dan Berger and Andy Cornell
For five weeks in the late spring of 2006, we toured the eastern half of the United States to promote two books -- Letters From Young Activists: Today's Rebels Speak Out (Nation Books, 2005) and Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity (AK Press, 2006) -- and to get at least a cursory impression of sectors of the movement in this country. We viewed the twenty-eight events not only as book readings but as conscious political conversations about the state of the country, the world, and the movement.

Of course, such quick visits to different parts of the country can only yield so much information. Because this was May and June, we did not speak on any school campuses and were unable to gather a strong sense of the state of campus-based activism. Further, much of the tour came together through personal connections we've developed in anarchist, queer, punk, and white anti-racist communities, and, as with any organizing, the audience generally reflected who organized the event and how they went about it rather than the full array of organizing projects transpiring in each town. Yet several crucial questions were raised routinely in big cities and small towns alike (or, alternately, were elided but lay just beneath the surface of the sometimes tense conversations we were party to). Such commonality of concerns and difficulties demonstrates the need for ongoing discussion of these issues within and between local activist communities. Thus, while we don't pretend to have an authoritative analysis of the movement, we offer this report as part of a broader dialogue about building and strengthening modern revolutionary movements -- an attempt to index some common debates and to offer challenges in the interests of pushing the struggle forward.

Challenges and Debates:

The audiences we spoke with tended to be predominantly white and comprised of people self-identified as being on the left, many of whom are active in one or more organizations locally or nationally. We traveled through the Northeast (including a brief visit to Montreal), the rust belt, the Midwest, parts of the South, and the Mid-Atlantic. Some events tended to draw mostly 60s-generation activists, others primarily people in their 20s, and more than a few were genuinely intergenerational. Not surprisingly, events at community centers and libraries afforded more room for conversation than those at bookstores. Crowds ranged anywhere from 10 to 100 people, although the average event had about 25 people. Even where events were small gatherings of friends, they proved to be useful dialogues about pragmatic work. Our goals for the tour were: establishing a sense of different organizing projects; pushing white people in an anti-racist and anti-imperialist direction while highlighting the interrelationship of issues; and grappling with the difficult issues of organizing, leadership, and intergenerational movement building. The following ten questions emerge from our analysis of the political situation based on our travels and meetings with activists of a variety of ages and range of experiences.

1. What Is Organizing?

Every event we did focused on the need for organizing. This call often fell upon sympathetic ears, but was frequently met with questions about how to actually organize and build lasting radical organizations, particularly in terms of maintaining radical politics while reaching beyond insular communities. There are too few institutions training young or new activists in the praxis of organizing and anti-authoritarian leadership development. This doesn't stop people from taking on radical political work, but it does limit the movement's widespread effectiveness, particularly in smaller towns. Part of the problem is that many of the nationally visible entities that do provide training in organizing and leadership development -- specifically, the mainstream labor unions -- are not anti-authoritarians rooted in a radical analysis of society. The training centers that are based in such an analysis, such as Project South, the Midwest Academy, and Z Media Institute, lack the capacity to work with all the activists interested in gaining such skills. Developing this capacity is crucial, as younger radicals in particular need models and mentors of how to be rooted in a community, mobilizing around concrete demands, consistently bringing new people into the movement and keeping them there. At the same time, we need to be more aware of those organizing initiatives that already exist and the ways we can be of most use to them.

When discussing organizing, we often heard the common refrain to "go knock on doors." However, it's not enough to encourage people to just start knocking on doors as individuals or loose groups. Without a sense of why they are there or a program about which to talk with people, door knocking will yield few productive results. Thus, it is not just about encouraging people to organize -- it's also about recognizing that people need the skills, confidence, and groups with which to do so. Furthermore, potential organizers need careful guidance on the different tasks, goals, challenges, and motivations the practice of organizing has to include if we are to take seriously the now decades-old challenge to organize not only in oppressed, but also oppressor communities (and to understand how most people are multiply situated in relation to different forms of privilege and power).

To be sure, there is a lot of organizing going on. The most successful work that we saw was more locally or regionally based than nationally, yet there are various projects that seem to be bringing in new people, operating from a systemic analysis, and winning concrete demands. An organizer we met in Pittsburgh offered a useful definition of the twofold task for radical organizers and organizations: Build Dual Power, Confront State Power. That is, we must develop our own power -- by building coalitions, political infrastructure, and visionary, alternative institutions that prefigure the types of social relationships we desire -- while simultaneously confronting the state, right-wing social movements, and other forms of institutional oppression. One without the other is insufficient. This twofold approach can also address what an organizer in North Carolina identified as the gap between opposition to something and action around it -- a chasm that is solved by a feeling of empowerment, the belief that people can actively contribute to making change.

The widespread interest in organizing that we found, as well as the "Build Dual Power, Confront State Power" conceptualization, seems to be a promising departure from the tendency among many young anti-authoritarian activists to reject the concept of leadership outright. Since organizing implies leadership and leadership implies hierarchy, the process of moving others to take action or even agree with one's political analysis has been seen as suspect and sometimes rejected outright in certain circles. This, we fear, has prevented activists from building the types of respectful personal and institutional relationships across social divides that can provide the groundwork for active solidarity. It has led many younger activists to focus on creating elective alternative communities and model projects (infoshops, puppet troupes, publications, service projects) that are intended to exist outside of the sphere of oppressive values and institutions. The call to build "dual power" respects the importance of these initiatives, but the paired determination to effectively confront the power of the state and other reactionary social forces demands, in addition, a type of strategic, coalitional work requiring semi-permanent organizations, mass involvement, and openness to a range of tactics. We believe that this work requires skillful, democratic, grassroots leadership with an unabashed commitment to organize others in a manner that helps them, in turn, to develop their own leadership skills.

2. How Do We Build Intergenerational Movements? (A Challenge to Young and Old!)

Most people we met do not work in productively intergenerational groups or live intergenerational lives outside tightly prescribed roles (e.g., teacher-student). This presents a challenge for activists and organizers of all ages, who constantly need to be looking to work with those older and younger. Recognizing that the struggle is for the long haul means that no generation can or should exist in a political vacuum. While both younger and older folks bear the responsibility for this, the onus may indeed rest on older people to make themselves available; most young people we met were excited by the prospect of intergenerational discussions and groups but didn't know where to find the older radicals in their area. (As people in our mid- and late-20s, we have a responsibility to find and work with the teenage radicals who are just now becoming political conscious and active.)

Intergenerational movements are not simply about people of various ages being in the same room. Instead, it is about building respectful relationships of mutual learning and teaching based on a long-haul approach to movement building. In raising this issue, we saw three typical responses that are generally unhelpful to building intergenerational groups and movements: The Nike Approach (Just Do It!) -- the older activists who tell young people to just go out there and change the world already and to stop looking for validation from older people. But young folks aren't looking for a go-ahead; we are out there, doing our best. Validation and encouragement from people we respect can bolster our resolve, but what we're really looking for is mentorship, multigenerational commitment, and solidarity. We're willing to put ourselves out there, even to make mistakes. But it would be helpful if we didn't have to make the same mistakes older people have already made. And young folks need to see that older activists maintain their political commitments in both word and deed. The Retired Approach (We Had Our Turn, Now You Try) -- several older activists echoed the sentiment that they did their best and now it was up to us. Some with this position argue that they and their generation need to get entirely out of the way of the young folks, which functionally removes older people from the equation. This abandonment masquerading as support is equally unhelpful in actually learning from the past and moving forward together because it serves to enforce a generational separation. The Obstructionist Approach (Only If You Accept My Politics and Unquestioned Leadership) -- people with this position demand adherence to the politics and vision of the older generation as the prerequisite for any working relationship. They make The Retired Approach more appealing and are a reminder that, frankly, some people do need to get out of the way. This is where older allies committed to collaboration could be potentially helpful, proving that political divides are not inherently generational gaps.

A lack of intergenerational relationships and groups is apparent nationally and locally. In one town we visited, for instance, the "peace community" seemed to lack any relationship to anyone under 50 or to impoverished communities of color that are most directly affected by the war machine. Another town saw a largely generational split over confrontational anti-war activism, where older people generally refused to support any confrontational tactics and anyone using them. Yet when the younger folks went out by themselves to picket the recruiting station, they were able to successfully shut it down on two separate occasions. Intergenerational movement building could be useful not only in expanding the base of people willing to engage in such confrontational tactics (and thereby hopefully contributing to hastening the war's end) but also in trying to push other older people to work with and support youth leadership.

Young people, for our part, make it difficult for movement veterans to find us and assess our work when we organize only as temporary affinity groups that usually lack office space and sometimes even contact information. Expressing interest in building such ties is also important. When one of us off-handedly commented to an SDS veteran and radical historian that many younger activists would appreciate being asked by organizers of his generation to have coffee or lunch and talk shop, he seemed genuinely surprised. "Really? You think folks would want to get together with people like me?" We assured him that we at least appreciated it -- especially when the older folks picked up the tab.

What young people don't want to deal with is patronization or abandonment, people who focus on their glory days or on lecturing "the youngens." What young folks do want are older activists who remain steadfast in their resolve and organizing, who seek to draw out the lessons from their years in the struggle (and are clear about where they differ with others of their age cohort without being sectarian), who look to younger activists for inspiration and guidance while providing the same, and who are focused on movement building. Building on the more multigenerational roots of Southern organizing, two older organizers in Greensboro beautifully summed this up at an event in saying, "We aren't done, we're not leaving, and we're in this together."

3. What Role Do Militancy and Confrontation Play?

In our experience, almost no one was talking about engaging in acts of violence -- even at events focused on the Weather Underground, an organization remembered most for its tactical embrace of large-scale property destruction. Despite the occasional utterance of a desire to see the White House reduced to rubble, there is a clear understanding that the movement is not at the level of militant confrontation with the state that radicals were in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (This was, to be sure, a distinction we focused on in talks about that political moment relative to this one.) While some people may romanticize the past or have facile notions of militancy or underground resistance, most of the people we met were interested in developing strategies and tactics that could effectively end the war and contribute to other fundamental changes in society. Particularly in relation to the war, we noticed widespread disappointment with the national coalitions: for being sectarian, for mobilizing but not movement building, for not developing or supporting youth leadership, for not using the pervasive frustration with the war to deepen anti-war and, ultimately, anti-imperialist consciousness. People want to not just register their dissatisfaction with the war through petitions and periodic protests but actually end it, and many young people in particular don't see either of the dominant anti-war coalitions as vehicles for doing that.

Many people are looking for other ways -- including more confrontational ones -- to directly target the war machine. In fact, various groups and individuals have been directly confronting the war machine on a local scale since the U.S. invaded Iraq. To date, this seems largely to have taken the form of counter-recruitment work. What such confrontation has meant varies based on the specifics of a particular community; in some places, a picket was enough to shut down a recruiting center, whereas in other places it meant attempts to enter and disrupt the center or block its doors. The groups we were most impressed by were able to develop a strategy that incorporated a sense of direct action in line with the state of local movement. That is, they upped the ante in directly confronting the state, pushed the notion of what was acceptable somewhat beyond what the movement had been doing in that town to date (e.g., from vigils to protests, from protests to civil disobedience), and maintained relationships with other activists and groups who may not have engaged in the same tactics but who remained committed and sympathetic. Such an approach recognizes that increasing pressure on war-makers requires us to continually expand the movement numerically, while simultaneously increasing the militancy of those prepared to take risks. It also recognizes the careful maneuvering and relationship building work required to navigate the tension these two goals inevitably produce. We need to build mass movements where militant tactics can be present without dividing the movement -- and it was a former Catholic Worker who underscored this point for us in expressing critical support for militant wings of the movement historically.

Counter-recruitment work and the growth of organizations led by Iraq war veterans and their families remain the most exciting and promising aspects of the U.S. anti-war movement. Since anti-war organizing has not been the primary focus of either of our political work for the past couple of years, we were very excited to hear firsthand accounts of successful, repeated, day-long shutdowns of recruiting offices and similar actions. However, several challenges remain, including making this work more coordinated, extensive, and visible on a national level. Furthermore, direct-action anti-war efforts need to expand beyond recruiting centers to other targets, such as the offices of war profiteers, that can be materially impacted by relatively small groups. The small victories reported by organizers in numerous mid-sized cities seem to imply that local actions might be more successful than those against obvious, heavily-policed targets such as the Pentagon that require significant lead-time and national coordination. Activists whose circumstances don't allow them to participate bodily in such actions have important roles to play in securing legal and financial resources, as well as working to prevent less militantly inclined sectors of the movement from denouncing or attempting to marginalize those seeking to obstruct empire from functioning.

If, as we argued throughout the tour, militancy is not to be conflated with violence or property destruction, but is instead understood as a stance of political integrity and commitment in spite of serious consequences, activists young and old might also more seriously consider the challenge directed at the two of us by a long-time radical pacifist anarchist who housed us for a night: the challenge of becoming "war tax" resistors. While the unpublicized, moralistic actions of scattered, aging individuals that seem to have characterized the war tax resistance movement for many decades haven't proven particularly appealing to many younger radicals, it seems that a coordinated, media-savvy campaign of joint declarations of tax resistance by a significant group of the younger-generation activists, expressing an explicit anti-imperialist politics, has enough potential to ignite debate as to at least be given a thoughtful appraisal. "After all," expressed our new friend, "the only thing the government wants is your money. They sure don't care if you vote, or if you approve of what they're doing."

Whether withholding taxes or sabotaging Bechtel is on the table, concretely understanding the prospects, pitfalls, and practice of increasing confrontation is a vital need in this period -- both in terms of our local/regional work as well as for the movement on a national level.

4. What about Anti-racism and Multiracial Movement Building?

Throughout the tour, the only discussions that were genuinely multi-racial -- where people of color comprised at least half of those in attendance, rather than only a smattering -- were either organized by people of color groups or ones where the local event organizers had consciously worked to ensure the event was co-sponsored and planned by a variety of local organizations, including ones comprised of and led by people of color, who worked to bring their members and contacts out. Because the left, like U.S. society in general, remains significantly divided by race, proactive measures are needed to create multi-racial spaces where work to bridge that divide can take place. When that work was done, and when participants started from a place of respect, recognizing our differences as well as our similarities, we found that we shared similar analysis of the current situation and many common principles of the world we would like to move towards. As participants in these conversations often arrived at their radical politics from different experiences, we found that discussing our motivations and the thought processes that led us to do the work we do helped participants build trust and understanding. Recognizing and appreciating the sacrifices and contributions to the broader struggle for justice made by people from the different organizations, nationalities, and tendencies of those in the room was also important to this process.

At one event, an older white/Jewish activist queried the extent to which young people's lives and groups today are multiracial and wondered what specific factors divided white activists from people of color. In response to the latter, we argued that radical young people's social lives are often in large part built around oppositional youth cultures such as hip-hop and punk that tend to be racially distinct. Furthermore, few organizations or forums exist where younger activists from different class and race backgrounds can interact while taking part in discussions and joint work. This leaves young people to meet and attempt to forge connections on a personal basis -- an often difficult and intimidating task in today's fraught racial landscape. Encouraging multiracial interactions and organization building is a task where guidance and direct involvement from older-generation activists could prove especially useful.

Building these multiracial relationships requires steady organizing, a demonstrated commitment among white people to racial justice politics, and incorporating anti-racism into our daily lives -- recognizing that "multiracial" and "antiracist" are related but not interchangeable phenomenon. It emerges from and through the organizing work, not from proscribing all-white versus only-multiracial organizational forms; both models exist, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. The call for Black Power, raised 40 years ago, challenged whites to organize with other whites against racism while practicing concrete solidarity with people-of-color liberation movements. How do we build a radical power base among white people that is profoundly anti-racist to contribute to toppling white supremacy? Few people are framing the struggle in those terms. And how do class differences among white people shape the ways in which people can be won over to anti-racist politics? White folks of our generation seem to be better at talking to other white people about racism, though not necessarily organizing them or making material aid and concrete solidarity central responsibilities of our political work. One problem lies in being too comfortable with all-white spaces, as well as in thinking that the presence of some people of color makes the event or group not a white space. Debate over organizational forms continues, but the need to shift the politics, culture, and practice of the movement in thoroughly anti-racist ways remains a priority.

At some events where we challenged people to discuss the differences in how white supremacy operated in the 1960s and how it does currently, many demurred. This may indicate that race and racism are topics still so loaded that many white people feel unsure how to navigate even a discussion of them, let alone political practice. In many ways, we're still fighting to understand the significance of the national liberation struggles of the last generation (including Black Power), and we haven't even begun to grasp all the nuances of modern white supremacy. One of the advances by the Black liberation struggle and other theorists of "internal colonialism" in analyzing the situation of people of color in the U.S. was the recognition that white supremacy was about class relations as well as racial oppression. That is, being oppressed nationally as a colonized people means bearing the brunt of military or police violence, disproportionately occupying the most precarious positions economically, denied access to land, and under constant cultural pathologization or attack. Even if generally not expressed as a position of (neo-) colonialism, many of these realities are still true for the Black and Brown populations of this country, immigrant and citizen alike, and yet the relationship of race to gender to class is still a challenging one for many U.S. radicals to grasp and organize around. While left scholars have written extensively about the "new imperialism" in recent years, few of these accounts attempt to theorize imperialist-race relations within the United States. In addition to what it offers in understanding the situation of African Americans, such an analysis certainly provides insights into the super-exploitation and racist discrimination directed at Latin Americans and Asians who have migrated to industrialized nations after being pushed out of their home countries by free trade agreements, structural adjustment programs, and brutal counter-insurgency operations.

If we are to undertake useful anti-racist work as leftists differently positioned in U.S. and global racial hierarchies, we need a thorough and frequently updated understanding of the many and quickly changing racial projects presently at play. Clearly, though, the current crisis situations we are living through don't provide us the option of sitting idle while great thinkers perfect a comprehensive new framework for understanding race; theoretical breakthroughs are made in the course of struggle. This means we must do our best to internalize lessons of the past and to practice anti-racist principles daily in our personal relationships and movement building initiatives as we target white supremacy with a program of racial justice.

5. What Does Solidarity Mean, Especially with the Immigrant Justice Movement?

In our events, we talked about solidarity as a centerpiece of radical activism, particularly among white people. Building off the example of the Weather Underground and other white anti-imperialists of the 1970s, we defined solidarity not just as financial or administrative support of other people's struggles but fundamentally recognizing the ways in which we all would benefit by the successes of movements of oppressed people and the ways, therefore, that we all have active roles to play in the movement. The challenge, then, is to give life to an active notion of solidarity where people with privilege don't sideline themselves but instead endeavor the difficult task of both providing and respecting other's leadership in the movement, based on our complicated positioning and responsibility.

The need to understand, untangle, and unleash solidarity was particularly apparent for us in relation to the immigrant rights movement and to the situation in the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Katrina captured people's attention and empathy, but few people seemed to know how to express concrete solidarity with people from the region. In terms of immigrant justice, we saw widespread inspiration from and interest in the movement from the people we met but a general confusion about how to be involved. While individuals turned out to rallies and marches, they frequently didn't know next steps or ongoing work they could participate in. Non-immigrant activists rooted in small towns sometimes had stronger pre-existing connections to leaders within local immigrant communities than those in larger cities and were therefore able to plug into demonstration prep-work and help mobilize supportive communities. Even in these situations, however, radicals committed to anti-racist movement building sometimes felt conflicted between their political analysis and their understanding of what successful movement building strategies (and common respect) require. In North Carolina, for instance, organizers we met agreed with the critique of the relation between capitalist globalization and the influx of undocumented workers expressed by a dogmatic Marxist organization that had positioned itself to take a leading role in springtime immigrant rights mobilizations. However, they also found it important to let local immigrant communities set the terms of their movement, even though representatives of those communities took a more liberal approach emphasizing that hard-working immigrants deserved respect.

Two positive examples in terms of solidarity with the movement, one we saw and the other we heard about: In Chicago, a day laborer worker's center tied to a group called the Latino Union relied on numerous volunteers from outside the various Latino communities to teach English language classes, provide tech support, and other tasks. And the mobilizations in the southwest to confront and disrupt the Minutemen vigilante groups are an exciting recent example of active anti-racist solidarity. They work to intercede and prevent the racist violence and intimidation carried out by the Minutemen, while presenting an anti-racist perspective on immigration to whites, in person and through the press.

6. What Is the State of the Struggle Today, Particularly Internationally?

In talking about movement history, we always focused on the national liberation struggles as the dominant revolutionary force of the post-WWII period (circa 1945-1975) and how that is not the primary mode of struggle today. This shift is due both to those movements' successes, in gaining formal independence, and their shortcomings, including those pointed to by feminist and queer critiques of nationalism and the state as constructs for liberation. To this can be added broader political economic changes: capitalist globalization weakening the state as a means of achieving self-determination and attempting to isolate revolutionary governments, the (environmental) link between self-determination and interdependence, and the presence of right-wing opposition to imperialism. Based on this reality, some organizers are describing the climate as being a "three-way fight." "Three-way fight" politics argue that the struggle today consists of the global capitalist/imperialist ruling class (of liberal, moderate, and conservative persuasions), the revolutionary left, and the revolutionary right (al-Qaeda, neo-Nazis, etc.). The question of what it means to be on the left today, of deciding friends and enemies, is a complex one that needs to be treated seriously. (For more, see the blog:

What are the criteria for being on the left, both within this country and internationally? And how do or should we think about those forces that are not leftist but are tying down, and therefore limiting, U.S. imperial reach? This question is particularly urgent for the anti-war movement, as there is a wide array of forces opposed to U.S. imperialism -- in Iraq, Afghanistan, the U.S., and elsewhere -- which are not revolutionary leftists or our allies but whose existence stalls the ability of the U.S. to pursue military conquest elsewhere (from Venezuela to Iran and beyond). This has created confusion in the U.S. of who and what to support on the international level and has particularly affected the anti-war movement in terms of there not being a clear, progressive-revolutionary, mass-based movement to champion as the victor in Iraq the way the National Liberation Front was for Vietnam. At the same time, there are other situations of imperial aggression and revolutionary Left activity that people rarely brought up in discussions of international politics. Debate about the occupations of Iraq and Palestine prevailed, whereas few people mentioned Haiti, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Nepal, or elsewhere. We need to sharpen our international awareness and connections beyond the hotspot areas.

When discussing the Weather Underground, we talked about a time when national liberation struggles abroad had a lot of influence on the domestic left. People on tour didn't speak in much depth about their assessment of the international left as a whole or its effect on organizing in this country. However, there is a definite impact. Many groups, especially in Latin America, are pushing forward ideas about more direct and participatory forms of democracy on an international scale. This doesn't seem to be derived from a deep study and adoption of classic (European) anarchist texts but more from building on local and indigenous traditions of self-governance and self-management. (Here, of course, the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico, stands out as a particular example.)

As in the 1950s and early 1960s, there is a strong anarchist impulse in several of today's auspicious organizing projects. These anarchistic currents flow among people and groups who do not consider themselves anarchists (for instance, organizations such as Incite! and Critical Resistance, which seek non-state solutions to problems such as domestic violence and are doing some of the most thoughtful work around state violence and restorative justice). To these projects could be added those who proudly identify as anarchists in some of the more successful anti-war, racial justice, and workplace organizing that we saw. Thus, the anarchist critique of state power, and its valuing of principles such as direct democracy/transparency and mutual aid, find much expression in radical movements.

At the same time, as an ideology for making revolution and building a non-capitalist, anti-oppressive society, anarchism is woefully undertheorized. Though anarchism remains powerful as critique, many seem to adopt it as a vision and organizing model more by default than as a result of the concrete political programs it offers. Social democracy and authoritarian communism have been proven un-solutions. Anarchism has had little chance to prove itself a success or a failure. A significant factor in the Marxist-Leninist turn among sectors of the 1960s/1970s left was the fact that various third world revolutions were based on those ideas. With that model no longer dominant, anarchism has reemerged -- if not as a fully realized framework, than as a sensibility and a name for a deep-rooted belief in the possibility of radical alternatives. And as third world liberations struggles helped define '60s and '70s radicalism in the U.S., anarchism today is buoyed by the exciting recent experiments and successes in Latin America. Still, while opposition to the state in its current form and criticism of the state as a construct are both valuable, and despite the fact that anarchism has attracted many impressive and committed organizers, an ideology that is dominant by default is not a stable enough ground to fight from. We have serious and substantial work to do to create a praxis that synthesizes and further develops the achievements of feminist, anti-racist, Marxist, anarchist, queer, and ecological theory and practice.

7. How Do We Organize Simultaneously on Local, Regional, National, and International Levels?

Many people expressed a desire for a national (or international) movement and yet frustration with attempts to date or confusion as to how. The rebirth of Students for a Democratic Society should be seen as an effort to move in that direction. SDS organizers we met boast of significant interest among not only college but also among high school students (building, no doubt, on the successful and impressive role of high school youth of color in struggles for education and immigrant justice). While the '60s nostalgia indicated in the organization's choice of name and promotional materials concerns us, perhaps the explicit modeling on an historic initiative has helped to overcome the hesitancy towards building nationally coordinated organizations expressed by some radicals in recent years. How successful SDS will be in training people as organizers, incorporating a profoundly diverse membership and leadership, and building a radical anti-war, anti-racist, queer-positive, and pro-feminist program among students is unknown and unfolding.

While SDS is developing, there are other efforts at regional organizing that are more developed, recognize geographical specificity, and extend beyond students. The two main networks we saw were the Northeast Federation of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC, a syndicalist association of anarchists involved in union organizing primarily in Montreal and Boston) and Project South (a Black-led training and leadership development organization based in Atlanta). Project South helped organize the recent Southeast Social Forum and is spearheading the U.S. Social Forum to be held in 2007, which should prove an exciting prospect for developing regional and national collaboration.

In general, although urban areas have a bigger left base and more organizing going on, it would be a mistake to overlook or neglect the political work emerging from rural and non-urban areas, particularly in the South. The South has been a vital place in U.S. radical history, and it remains the site of an impressive multiracial and multigenerational collection of organizers and organizing. In smaller towns, sectarianism tended to be less of a problem because people cannot afford the disunity that often prevails in bigger cities and places with a larger left presence.

8. How Do We Relate to Sectarian Groups?

In addition to the ever-present divisions of class, race, and generation already mentioned, a wide gulf persists, as it has for decades, between groups seen to be sectarian and those not. This division runs so deep that participants on the opposing sides frequently refuse to recognize one another as true radicals, or members of the left. Although they exert a bigger presence in the major cities, the various groups hawking papers, obsessing over the "right political line," and supposedly building vanguard communist parties are a ubiquitous, if frustrating, reality for those, including us, who take different approaches. We ran into people active in such groups -- more than a few of them doing concrete political work -- in several places, including smaller towns that would have seemed unlikely homes for these groups. While many of us have learned (or been counseled) to ignore them, this response is insufficient. It is not enough to write them off for their dogmatism, their rigidity, or their hostility to other groups -- although all of these things tend to be there in the practice if not the theory of groups such as the Spartacist League and the International Socialist Organization.

Despite these characteristics, sectarian organizations have an appeal that needs to be understood. Such groups offer people, especially newer activists, a defined organizational structure, political education, leadership development, and a sense of strategy and participation in a broader movement. All of these attributes are valid and valuable, even if their application is thoroughly problematic. The fact that democratic and non-sectarian groups have generally been unable to offer such things to newer activists expands the ranks of the sectarian groups. We need to see what they do right so as to understand their appeal. We need to be able to articulate our differences with these groups more specifically and concretely than we have to date. It is insufficient to dismiss them solely for peddling papers too aggressively or making long-winded statements during Q&A periods. Rather, our criticisms must be of their political vision and organizing approach -- one which prioritizes the promotion of their organizations over what is best for the movement as a whole. Where possible, we need to have some kind of relationship to these groups -- not to tolerate their disruptions or manipulations, but to be able to work with the expatriates and frustrated former members. And, ultimately, we need to out-organize them, to build organizations and movements that offer a sense of analysis, development, and program without making claims at being the vanguard or losing our sense of transparency.

9. What Role Does the Environment -- as Well as the Environmental Movement Itself (Particularly Its More Militant Sectors) -- Play in the Movement?

During our travels we were gently criticized for saying little about where ecology and environmental activism fits into libratory practices, and specifically, the lack of contributions by eco-activists in the Letters From Young Activists book -- criticism we took to heart.

We were pleasantly surprised to find that, even in as unlikely places as rust-belt cities, many of those who came to events were aware of and concerned about the slew of recent indictments, investigations, and grand jury subpoenas against radical environmental activists, occurring predominantly in the Western half of the United States. This is a positive sign, since even those who find property destruction to halt development tactically unsound should find common cause in fighting the post-PATRIOT ACT increases in surveillance and arrests, in addition to the undemocratic grand jury investigations that have been crucial in cracking down on many radical movements, historically and still today.

The militant environmental and animal rights movements face significant repression, which merit our solidarity, and yet there are also legitimate political differences that should not be overlooked or minimized. To cite a somewhat extreme example, a "green anarchist" recently responded to a query about what "a primitivist response to the global AIDS crisis would look like" by arguing that, in the long run, the crisis might be for the best, as it reduces the human impact on the environment! Approaches like this, not surprisingly, have not attracted a very broad following, at least not in the places we visited. Such misanthropic and anti-civilization politics do find a following among some sectors of the radical environmental movement. Yet, with widespread concern over and attention to the global climate crisis, among other things, an environmental focus can provide a crucial point of organizing. We met with a 91-year-old movement veteran who was most politically inspired today by the urban gardening and ecological self-sufficiency movements. She promoted the slogan made popular by Black farmers, "If we can't feed ourselves, we can't free ourselves." At the same time, a community organizer working predominantly with low-income Black women championed these efforts while disagreeing that everyone is able to participate in them and that they are sufficient to meet the needs of the most marginalized.

The environment serves as a limit and Achilles heel to neoliberal developmentalism. The fact that the eco-system cannot support all inhabitants of the planet in living anything like current American lifestyles proves the lie that neoliberal policies are pursued as the most promising path to universal material well-being. The environment also provides a personal stake for economically privileged people in anti-capitalist struggle. Capitalism doesn't only destroy pristine potential vacation spots for the well-to-do -- it threatens the sustainability of life on earth in general. If the idea of total ecological collapse in some unspecified, seemingly far-off future, is not tangible enough to inspire action, the threat of more localized, if still catastrophic, climate-related disasters in the lifetime of children and grandchildren might provide some impetus to fractions of the middle classes in industrialized countries to enter into anti-capitalist alliances. A greater emphasis on ecology and sustainability in an anti-imperialist organizing approach, then, has some potential to link constituencies and perhaps to attract some passionate activists who had previously focused primarily on direct action eco-politics.

10. How Can We Develop Strategy?

Fundamentally, the above questions and our discussions on tour all revolve around developing a winning strategy within the movement -- a strategy to stop the war, to repeal the right-wing attacks (on immigrants, on queers, on women. . .), to raze the walls and borders, and to begin proactively building non-capitalist alternatives. What does it mean to say all the issues are connected? How can we move forward on different fronts but with a defined strategy to win? How can we organize in a way that successfully targets the root causes and not just the more visible outgrowths? These are the type of tough questions we need to be grappling with in defining broad, long-term strategies. Strategy, of course, grows out of analysis, organizing, and reflection -- intentionally grappling with the realities, possibilities, and pitfalls of the contemporary political conditions and of the "forces on the ground" that do and could constitute the left. While there are many difficult questions we need to answer, our biggest deficiency is not a lack of analysis of the political situation. Rather, with academics and organizers too often lacking strong organizational ties to one another, circulating information and disseminating analysis remains one of the biggest challenges to informed strategic planning. In addition to building these linkages, we need a much better assessment of our forces. The left is so splintered that we often don't know what organizations exist, what resources we have, and what each other is doing. As overwhelming a task as it sounds, if we are to begin developing winning strategy, we need to map out the left by city, state, and region. Taking these steps can deepen our understanding of the situation, its roots, and possibilities for ruptures in the system, along with popularizing and organizing around radical conceptions.

There is a definite relationship between the war, immigration, prisons and criminalization/repression, patriarchy, the media, the transgender liberation movement, radical unionism, the education system, struggles for the environment, and beyond. How do we connect those issues in our own work? How do our organizations work strategically on their own fronts but in shared strategy/coalition with groups working on different fronts? What should we expect to happen, and what goals should we set for ourselves for the next 10, 25, and 50 years? Collectively grappling with these questions can lead to collective liberation.

Concluding Comments:

Although at nearly every event we critically discussed Weather's gender politics and read a powerful excerpt from the Letters book about the state of the feminist movement and the continued centrality of a gender analysis to radical political projects, few people seemed interested in discussing the state of feminist and LGBTQ activism in the U.S. or how to conceptualize and respond to the persistent right-wing attacks against women and queer rights. While many seemed to acknowledge and decry the severe and unique burdens placed on third word women by war and by the new international division of labor, we had few conversations about how to conceptualize the relation of domestic feminist and queer work to anti-imperialism and a unified left political project. Regrettably, this is a pattern that we have reproduced in this report. It signals a need for more concerted theoretical work and relationship building in these areas. At the same time, the strengths and legacies of the queer and women's liberation movements, along with the emerging transgender liberation movement, were apparent. Even if not the subject of as much explicit conversation, many young people in particular have internalized feminism and queer and transgender liberation as fundamental to their politics, and queer cultural expressions infused many of the activist scenes or spaces we experienced.

Histories of groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the original Students for a Democratic Society show the important role played by traveling speakers and organizers in attempts to link local efforts, debate strategies, and provide support to activists who felt isolated in less than hospitable climates. Though we didn't represent an organization, we found our trip to be a success and worth the effort (not to mention, a lot of fun), as it allowed us to make new contacts and pass along old ones, debate common issues in many places, and serve as a transmission belt of ideas and actions between different cities. More traveling to promote ideas, books, films, and other projects is likely to help create and expand activist networks and to raise the level of discourse in ways that will hopefully lead to more formal connections. Of course, traveling requires time and money, making fundraising and other forms of assistance to such efforts crucial.

We would like to thank everyone who helped organize events, provided us with a place to stay, donated generously for gas money, engaged us in brilliant conversation, or otherwise helped make our trip incredibly fun, productive, and stimulating. We decided to write this report because we have found similar "debriefs" and "report-backs" by traveling comrades to be thought-provoking and to provide a feeling of connection with a wider movement that it is often easy to lose in the daily grind of local work. We hope this report has, to some small degree, served these same purposes, and we are eager to hear your reactions and continue these conversations.
Dan Berger is a writer, activist, and graduate student in Philadelphia. He is the co-editor of Letters From Young Activists, author of Outlaws of America, and a member of the anti-imperialist affinity group Resistance in Brooklyn. He can be contacted at

Andy Cornell is a union organizer and graduate student living in Brooklyn, NY. He is a contributor to Letters From Young Activists and editor of the political fanzine The Secret Files of Captain Sissy. Contact him at

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Drawbridge

This is just a mystery to me at the moment. An ad in the New Statesman for The Drawbridge Issue 2 The Imposssible City. There is a website but that doesn't add anything, except the opportunity to subscribe. Looks interesting, with pieces by John Berger , Tariq Ali, Hugo Chavez. Must get to those good bookshops.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

New Statesman July 24th 2006

A late New Statesman (July 24th 2006) with a 'War: who can stop it now' cover.

A mention of Saffron Burrows leads me to the Diary page were she talks about her Tolpuddle 'frame of mind' and reminisces with a family friend who is daughter of Bob Darke - local activist. Doesn't mention Bob's very good book, The Communist Technique in Britain (1952 - a Penguin I think), which goes through his career in the CPGB and disillusionment, while remarkably not moving to the right-wing. The excellent Ms Burrows also mentions were introduction to Battle of Algiers, without mentioning Marxism 2006.

Back to war: the Editorial says Israel can't win, 'there is no victory to be had', but really appeals to a rapidly diminishing possibility of moderation. The big 'War: Who can stop it now?' feature is by Zaki Chehb starts with the extent of IDF humiliation and the military strength of Hezbollah. The only solution: a deal giving peace and justice pushed by an 'honest broker'. There are also reports from Beirut, something by a guy from Ha'aretz and Andrew Stephen taking the piss out of George Bush.

Amongst other stuff, there's a profile of Klaus Wowereit, the gay SPD Mayor of Berlin, tipped to be future party leader. Fareena (Q-news) Alam takes on Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Brendan (Spiked) O'Neill reviews Ron Suskind's One Percent Solution (and elsewhere defends from threats of libel American author Rachel Ehrenfeld) and - most interestingly of all - from the archives comes an exceprt from a politically-motivated sermon by Ralph Miliband from 1959: 'A re-thinking sermon'.

CSD Bulletin 13, 2 Summer 2006

The Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster publishes a regular little Bulletin - mostly to advertise an profile its little academic domain. Sometimes there's some interesting material (but the new edition isn't online yet). In the latest issue (Vol 13, 2 Summer 2006) the lead article by Bhikku Parekh, 'Provocative art' compares the Salman Rushde fatwa to the protests over the Danish cartoons. Paul Ginsborg writes about the role of families in politics. Patrick Burke reviews Oliver Kamm's Anti-Totalitarianism alongside Kate Hudson's book on CND. Burke is critical of Hudson for being soft on the Soviet Union and one-sided/narrow-focused about Yugoslavia and the reasons for the war on Iraq. The much-hated Kamm has blogged a positive response to this on his web-site and used it to further his criticisms of the current direction of CND over the issue of the Iranian nuclear programme.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Radical Philosophy 133 Sept-Oct 2005

Very belated, but its worth recording the Radical Philosphy from Sept-Oct 2005.

The Commentary section takes in two interesting, but opposed assessments of the outcomes of the EU referendums earlier in 2005. These referenda remain of huge importance - the current political situation and positive possibilities for the Presidential elections in 2007 come directly out of the 'No' campaign of 2005 (see Murray Smith in Frontline Vol 2, 1 for further discussion of this). Michael Newman in 'Quite the opposite: The EU crisis and the left' poses what he describes as a cautionary note to the left view that this the beginning of the fightback and affirmation that 'another Europe is possible'. Newman outlines the argument for seeing the Constitution as reinforcing neo-liberalism: market principles and the European Central Bank are embedded in the constitution and the EU itself is moving in the direction of further marketization with the Bolkestein Directive. But Newman says the EU, going back to 1956 has had this basis and its the practice that has changed towards neolibralism in the 1990s. Newman refers to Jurgen Habermas as a supporter of the Constitution as a catalyst for 'creating a post-national political space through active citizen engagement', whereas the Constitution was really a project of elites and rejected as such. However Newman also records what he considers to be the positive features: the Charter of Fundmental Rights and Eurpean Convention of Human Rights, and a slight increase in the national democratic accountability of the EU. But it's less the loss of these positive features that Newman laments, its more the possibility of a revived right-wing anti-Europeanization, based on an anti-elitist euro-scepticism, mobilised by the left on this occasion - but maybe not in the future, especially if xenophobic forces are being strengthened. Newman finishes by saying he hopes he is wrong: events in France indicate that so far he is.

The alternative and powerful perspective was supplied by Pete Gowan in 'A salutary shock for bien pensant Europe', who starts out rejecting the main academic interpretation of the EU as being about integration. Instead Gowan argues that the 'EU project' has become a 'mechanism for transforming relations between social classes within each of the member states themselves'. This class restructuring is presented as a side-effect of changing relationships between member states and between the EU and the rest of the world, but Gowan insists it is the other way round. The key instruments are the Single Market Programme and 'competition' arrangements and 'Economic and Monetary Union'. The SMP and 'competition rules' is in Article 12 of the ('so-called') Constitution. But EU ecoonmic policy insn't based on free-market competition, but quasi-monoplies gaining economies of scale in oligopolistic markets. Article 12 is about privatisation and 'races to the bottom'. In terms of the EMU, the ECB is sovereign, aimed at low inflation and stands behind 'a race to the bottom on tax regimes' and the set of policies called 'economic reform', which Gowan decodes as 'undermining pay and working conditions... slashing welfare state entitlements for labour.' Gowan sees this as based on the political philosophy of Hayek, arguing since 1939 for European federation as a block to the democratic road to serfdom, with international law as a juridical block to popular soverignty. These ideas were put into the Treaty of Rome by devotees such as Erhard; but blocked by French Keynesianism until the 1980s when the Thatcherites and 'Giscadian elites' adopted these ideas. Talk of a 'European super-state' is Hayekian code for a democratic EU federation. Gowan does record some historical achievements of the EU: 'a multi-class polity within capitalism' as an advance on the free-market individualism of American liberalism. But the Hayekian turn is about negating the class collaborationist possibilities. There are still differences between the Giscardian strategy and Anglo-Saxon, especially about how it rleates to the 'new Anglo-American imperialism'. But now 'French popular republicanism' has again thrown a spanner in the works ad tuined the Constitutional project. Gowan ends up by asking if the social democrats pick up the banner and insist on a democratic constitution.

Skipping over David Cunningham on the philosophy of the metropolitan form and Gail Day on Italian workerism and architecture, there is also a very interesting article by Joseph Brooker on David Peace's GB84 and the roots of contemporary culture in the miner's strike. Reviews include the great idea of having James Finlayson review Andrew Edgar's book on Habermas, and Andrew Edgar reviewing James Finlayson's. And a review of a personal favourite: a delightful edition of Arthur Schopenhauer's The Art of Always Being Right: 38 Ways to Win When You Are Defeated. Schopenheuer, patron-philosopher I guess for the grumpiest of grumpiest old men is a marvellous satirical account of argumentative techniques: techniques still being used on you right now. Please read.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Frontline Vol 2, 1 (05/06)

Frontline (Vol 2, 1) arrives, with a 'Facing the Future - Crisis in the SSP' cover. The magazine now calls itself 'An independent Marxist voice in the SSP' after the dissolution of the International Socialist Movement (ISM) into the SSP. The editorial (presumably by Alister Black) records some of the history of Scottish Militant Labour and ISM platform inside the SSP. The (fair) claim is to have united the vast majority of the left into one party, gained the affiliation of the RMT and get six comrades elected as MSPs. But then, 'as we go to press' the SSP is in crisis with the bitter split between Tommy Sheridan and others in the leadership being quickly recorded in terms of a 'witch-hunt' against a shadowy 'cabal' of women comrades. The editorial puts the focus of the split on a debate about the oppression of women and its relationship to the struggle for socialism (rather than loyalty or not to Tommy Sheridan). These debates, and the fall-out from the debate on a 50-50 gender balance, it says, were also key to the dissolution of the ISM. The key paragraph seems to me to be the one saying:
"Ex-ISM members are now examining options for for new networks and alliances to develop a democratic, socialist and feminist perspective and safeguard the future of the party."

Bill Bonnar gives a personal view of the SSP's catastrophe in 'Crisis Counselling - Choices for the SSP' with some background, a couple of depressing possible outcomes and a potentially best option of unity and consensus saving the party. This seemed superficial to me.

Nick McKerrell gives an overview of the local election results in England (and Wales, but Wales gets no mention), with the title 'Local Advances but no National Alternative' summing up the picture and confirming what they said in 2004. Respect made a 'remarkable breakthrough' in Tower Hamlets, Newham and Salma Yaqoob get mentioned. The SP consolidated their local support - and had a single-issue breakthrough in Huddersfield. The IWCA and CAP in Wigan get mentioned, both with strong anti-crime agendas. McKerrell sees this as 'a barometer of the quite confusing localised state of left politics in England.' Respect is defended against the charge of communalism and the attraction of large sections of the Islamic community to the left is welcomed, but the point about Respect support in 'predominantly' Muslim communities is made, with some limited exceptions - Bristol is mentioned. And this localised support is seen as a basic socialist technique of responding to communities and promoting campaigns, but with the danger of localism. The conclusion about the left performance is that there isn't a 'credible left force capable of uniting all these bases of support in a pluralist socialist organisation'. Respect might have that potential, but it's still an open question two years on if it will move in that direction.

Catriona Grant has an important article on pensions and the calling off of the action to spare Labour embarrasment in the local elections, marking a contrast to events in France.

Jeffrey Webber (from Toronto, a New Socialist editor and an article taken from International Viewpoint May 2006) writes about Bolivia.

Alister Black writes about the US migrants movement, which makes me think: what has happened to that movement since the glorious MayDay protest.

Murray Smith is very informative about France and the anti-CPE campaign, posing the question 'what now?' I wish everyone would pose that question rather than just celebrating movements and getting into vague generalisations). The focus from Smith is on the 2007 elections. The right is certainly on the backfoot and their defeat in 2007 is possible, but the question is of the 'lack of a credible political alternative'. The Socialist Party back in government under Royal would still mean neo-liberal policies. The SP is trying to pull another 'plural left' together, but there is a possible alternative based on the campaigns against the EU constitution and the CPE. The LCR is in favour, the CP seems to have turned to te left and done well in anti-neo-liberal campaigns, and was the main force in the anti-constitution campaign, but is still ambiguous. An agreement over not participating in an SP-led government could take off and bring other forces in. There is a problem about who a Presidential candidate would be: Besancenot is the most popular, the CP would like Marie-George Buffet, best solution would be a candidate not identified with a party (not explicitly stated here is the idea of Jose Bove as that candidate).

Pam Currie writes about abortion rights struggles in the US.
Bill Bonnar writes about the Dublin Easter rising on its 90th anniversary.

Gregor Gall in 'Debating Radical Scotland' responds to Neil Davidson's review of The Political Economy of Scotland: Red Scotland? Radical Scotland? in ISJ109 (although I can't find it on the web), ending with an attack on the 'unfortunate methodological legacy of the sectarian far left'.
Bill Scott tells the story of the Bandiera Rossa.
Kenny McEwan writes about the great JMW Turner as someone with radical and democratic sympathies.

Overall, good stuff and I'd recommend a £10 subscription to Frontline, from PO Box 2633, Glasgow, G69 6YS.

Tariq Ali on war in the Lebanon

A protracted colonial war
With US support, Israel is hoping to isolate and topple Syria by holding sway over Lebanon
Tariq AliThursday July 20, 2006 The Guardian

In his last interview - after the 1967 six-day war - the historian Isaac Deutscher, whose next-of-kin had died in the Nazi camps and whose surviving relations lived in Israel, said: "To justify or condone Israel's wars against the Arabs is to render Israel a very bad service indeed and harm its own long-term interest." Comparing Israel to Prussia, he issued a sombre warning: "The Germans have summed up their own experience in the bitter phrase 'Man kann sich totseigen!' 'You can triumph yourself to death'."

In Israel's actions today we can detect many of the elements of hubris: an imperial arrogance, a distortion of reality, an awareness of its military superiority, the self-righteousness with which it wrecks the social infrastructure of weaker states, and a belief in its racial superiority. The loss of many civilian lives in Gaza and Lebanon matters less than the capture or death of a single Israeli soldier. In this, Israeli actions are validated by the US.

The offensive against Gaza is designed to destroy Hamas for daring to win an election. The "international community" stood by as Gaza suffered collective punishment. Dozens of innocents continue to die. This meant nothing to the G8 leaders. Nothing was done.

Israeli recklessness is always green-lighted by Washington. In this case, their interests coincide. They want to isolate and topple the Syrian regime by securing Lebanon as an Israeli-American protectorate on the Jordanian model. They argue this was the original design of the country. Contemporary Lebanon, it is true, still remains in large measure the artificial creation of French colonialism it was at the outset - a coastal band of Greater Syria sliced off from its hinterland by Paris to form a regional client dominated by a Maronite minority.

The country's confessional chequerboard has never allowed an accurate census, for fear of revealing that a substantial Muslim - today perhaps even a Shia - majority is denied due representation in the political system. Sectarian tensions, over-determined by the plight of refugees from Palestine, exploded into civil war in the 1970s, providing for the entry of Syrian troops, with tacit US approval, and their establishment there - ostensibly as a buffer between the warring factions, and deterrent to an Israeli takeover, on the cards with the invasions of 1978 and 1982 (when Hizbullah did not exist).

The killing of Rafik Hariri provoked vast demonstrations by the middle class, demanding the expulsion of the Syrians, while western organisations arrived to assist the progress of a Cedar Revolution. Backed by threats from Washington and Paris, the momentum was sufficient to force a Syrian withdrawal and produce a weak government in Beirut.

But Lebanon's factions remained spread-eagled. Hizbullah had not disarmed, and Syria has not fallen. Washington had taken a pawn, but the castle had still to be captured. I was in Beirut in May, when the Israeli army entered and killed two "terrorists" from a Palestinian splinter group. The latter responded with rockets. Israeli warplanes punished Hizbullah by dropping over 50 bombs on its villages and headquarters near the border. The latest Israeli offensive is designed to take the castle. Will it succeed? A protracted colonial war lies ahead, since Hizbullah, like Hamas, has mass support. It cannot be written off as a "terrorist" organisation. The Arab world sees its forces as freedom fighters resisting colonial occupation.

There are 9,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli gulags. That is why Israeli soldiers are captured. Prisoner exchanges have occurred as a result. To blame Syria and Iran for Israel's latest offensive is frivolous. Until the question of Palestine is resolved and Iraq's occupation ended, there will be no peace in the region. A "UN" force to deter Hizbullah, but not Israel, is a nonsensical notion.

· A demonstration against the Middle East war has been called by the Stop the War Coalition and others on Saturday

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

History today

History Today August 2006

Contents include:
David Anderson, Huw Bennett and Daniel Branch on 'A Very British Massacre', looking at the Chuka Massacre in Kenya in 1953: a grim and disgusting affair, which led to a court martial; but a court martial apparently designed to minimise the crimes and divert any public attention. Materials on the case are still be kept secret, which the authors argue continue to cover-up and protect both Britain's imperial reputation and actual war criminals. It's not mentioned but anderson is author of the recent devastating exposes of the cruelties of the suppression of the Mau Mau in Kenya: Histories of the Hanged.

Marisa Linton on 'Robespierre and the Terror', a solid account that efectively puts Robespierre in context and thus provides a defence against the usual criticisms of the great revolutionary.

Mark Bevir reviews Kevin Morgan's Bolshevism and the British Left (Vol 1, Labour Legends and Russian Gold; Vol 2 The Webbs and Soviet Communism). The first volume is certinly a surprise, not quite what I was expecting and not making sufficient demarcation between Bolshevism and Stalinism to keep me happy.

Marxism 2006

(as posted on the Socialist Unity Network site) Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Marxism 2006
I've survived another Marxism. With help and therapy I can look forward to Marxism 2007 with hope and enthusiasm.

Of course some people have an unambiguously good time at Marxism. Snowball at Adventures in Historical Materialism has a good positive account. The treatment in Socialist Worker is, of course, very positive, but I applaud the opening up of coverage. Rather than a single authoritative voice telling us how good it was, backed up by short snippets of interview, this year they've given the space to several positive but obviously fresh accounts. You can find more critical accounts in Weekly Worker and Solidarity (actually the AWL account is pleasantly honest and balanced), but just as the SWP can come across as having pre-packaged views and conclusions, so can their critics.

Socialist Worker also gives a figure for attendance: 4,100. This is an interesting and positive development for transparency. Before it has always been bigger and better. I treasure the memory of an SWP-blogger last year saying Marxism 2005 was also bigger, but people just weren't necessarily in the meetings. Ah, bless. Last year's Marxism took place in the immediate and disruptive wake of the horrors of 7/7, which must have held numbers down. And last year's Marxism was also the first to be transformed into a long weekend, justified quite naturally by the previous weeks focus on Edinburgh and Gleneagles; however they seem to have decided this is a better format and soon it'll only be the experienced activists who'll remember the dark days of the Tuesday to Friday mornings. In 2004, what with the Respect campaigns in Leicester and Birmingham it was basically only the foreign comrades who gave the thing a semblance of life.

Back to numbers: 4,100. It seemed like roughly the same number as recent years, and that's quite a bit less than the numbers being claimed a few years back. It's harder to judge: the topography of Marxism used to centre it on ULU and the Institute of Education, but it's a bit more dispersed now. The word was that there were unprecdented numbers of young people going: students and school students. Good, but if they've got more first-timers going, those of us not satisfied with the simple bigger and better message have got to ask what about the people who used to go. There's an obvious demographic effect. Despite the wonders of the creche and the obvious effort that the SWP puts into providing this, there's going to be a demographic effect as comrades have children, etc. But there's still an issue: the SWP puts a lot of emphasis on the new, the fresh faces, and very good and invigorating that is too, but political organisation needs to keep the older people with it. Yes, I'm disagreeing with Vladimir 'let the Liberals have the old people over 30' Lenin here. There certainly were old comrades who turned up, partly to meet old friends and comrades, partly to get a political boost; but I was certainly aware of the vast swathes of people who used to go, but no more.

It's interesting to compare Marxism's 4,100 to both the Tolpuddle commemoration with around 10,000 people, but also the far fewer numbers that any other left organisation could muster for a long weekend of political discussion. Please remember this oh worthies of the AWL, CPGB and others. Where but Marxism would the promised introduction to Battle of Algiers by the venerated Giles Pontecorvo be replaced by Saffron Burrows?

What was good about Marxism? Well, the range of non-SWP speakers for one thing. Praise be to Danny 'I'm not in the SWP, I don't shout' Dorling the geographer from Sheffield exposing mythss of segregation in Britain. Paul Gilroy was exceptionally cool in the forum on multiculturalism. The list goes on, imagine my despair at discovering Walden Bello had been replaced by Chris Harman! I missed Bernadette McAliskey, but everyone said how insprinig she was.Of the non-SWP speakers I think special praise should go to the various Islamic speakers. In the forum on 'Muslims and the left today' the Respect Mayoral candidate in Newham, Abdurahman Jafar was cool and happening, and the other speakers Anas Al-tikriti and Nahella Ashraf (Respect candidate in Manchester) were also excellent: fresh and honest, far away from tired old Marxist rhetoric and convincing in their claim to be part of the left, and that we are at the start of a dialogue and developing relationship. I know this is one of the most controversial issues, but to me its an application of then old principle about revolutionaries being tribunes of the people and that people can and do change in stuggle. Jafar was clear that the engagement with Respect was the start of potential changes.

To continue being heretical I also enjoyed the 'What next for Respect?' 'forum' (yes, okay, rally). Rees and Galloway both gave good rousing speeches, some overlap in their list of positive accomplishments (and I'm sure I was alone in thinking 'if Leicester was so brilliant in 2004, where's Leicester Respect now?'). Both were good on the emphasis on the trade union conference called by Respect in November and even Galloway's hope that Respect could replace Labour as the political voice for working people sounded convincing. Okay, long and difficult way to go, no guarantee of success and lots of reasons for cynicism about both Galloway and the SWP, but good to have 'eyes on the prize'.

Other points: Joseph Choonara on Bolivia gave good background, but clearly wasn't interested in talking about practical solidarity. There seem to be a lot of 'revolutionarytourists' around: the wonders of globalization of course. On the other hand only one comrade made the call for a revolutionary party in Bolivia as necessary for success and that kind of stuck out as a sore thumb. Once upon a time it would have been said in every meeting.

Chris Harman on Cuba: really I went to see if the line had changed, with the firm assumption that if it had, Chris would have been in the rearguard. Well there is a distinct change of emphasis from the old days, a bit more emphasis on the positive and defence of Cuba against US imperialism, but the old underlying criticisms of 'socialism from above' remain - even if 'state capitalism' didn't get mentioned.

There's much more to be said, but let's jump to the downsides. The comrades trying to recruit you are still a pain. Weekly Worker recorded a figure of 121 joining , a bit down from previous years I think, but including two Respect councillors from Tower Hamlets. Good, but how many willstill be members next year? I'm told a firm 'no' puts the recruiters off, but I'm not so sure myself. There's still too much arrogant egotism about the SWP's view of itself. There's still too much triumphalism. There's still a bit too much of people saying the same thing. The rhetoric remains a bit too shallow, 'Neoliberalism' was a bit too much of a mantra. I couldn't face the opening and closing rallies: still expect the level of hysteria to be just too much. But I'd put all these things in the context of what is positive about the event, which remains by far and away the largst and most significant event of its type for the left in Britain.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Gilbert Achcar on Israel's Dual Onslaught

Israel's Dual Onslaught On Lebanon And Palestine
Gilbert Achcar
interviewed by Paola Mirenda

Q. Since last Wednesday, the Israeli Army has been imposing a siege on Lebanon and bombarding the country as a result of the abduction of two of its soldiers and the killing of seven others by a Lebanese Hezbollah commando unit. Israel's reaction was predictable, even in its disproportion. What are the political and strategic reasons that can be seen behind this action by Hezbollah?

Achcar: The explanations that Hezbollah has given for its action are many. The first reason invoked is to try to obtain the release of prisoners -- there are several Lebanese believed to be held in Israeli custody, although only two are officially detained by Israel (in addition to close to 10,000 Palestinian prisoners) -- as well as to act in solidarity with the struggle of Hamas in Palestine, which is animated by a similar inspiration to that of Hezbollah, and to react to the ongoing onslaught on Gaza. Of course, it was logical to expect this violent retaliation on Israel's part, in light of what it did to Palestine in reaction to the abduction of another soldier.

In this crisis, there are many dimensions involved: international observers have discussed the possible role of Syria and, above all, Iran in what is occurring, and what calculations there are regarding the regional balance of forces. Tehran, whose relation to Hezbollah is similar to that of Moscow to the communist parties at the time of the "international communist movement," has been engaged for some time in an anti-Israeli bidding game against rival Arab governments in order to win over Sunni Muslim opinion. Iranian President Ahmadinejad's provocative statements since his election one year ago were part of this game, which fits in with Tehran's strategy facing the USA, at a time when American pressure on the nuclear issue is in full escalation. But, whatever the case, it can be said that what Hezbollah did has prompted a test of strength that risks costing them a great deal, as it is costing the whole of Lebanon very much already.

Q. A test of strength against Israel or within Lebanon?

Achcar: The test of strength is primarily against Israel, because Israel tries through its actions, whether in Palestine or in Lebanon, to crush the resistance movements. The recent events have been seized as pretexts to crush both Hezbollah and Hamas, and the violence of the Israeli military onslaught is to be read in that context. Israel takes entire populations hostage; it has done so with the Palestinian population and is doing the same now with the Lebanese. It has bombed Beirut's airport and imposed a blockade on Lebanon: all that for an action claimed by one Lebanese group, not by the Lebanese state. In fact, Israel holds hostage an entire population in a disproportionate reaction that aims at pulling the rug from under the feet of its opponents and at pressuring local forces to act against them. But if this is indeed Israel's calculation, it could backfire, as it is possible that a military action of such a scope could lead to the exact opposite and radicalize the population more against Israel than against Hezbollah. The murderous brutality of Israel's reaction, the closure of the airport, the naval blockade, all are acts that could unite the population in a revolt against Israel.

I don't know for sure what Hezbollah's real political calculation has been, but they certainly expected a large-scale reaction on the part of Israel, which has already invaded Lebanon several times before. For this reason, it seems to me that their action entailed an important element of "adventurism," all the more that the risk they have taken involves the whole population. They have actually taken a very big risk in initiating an attack on Israel, knowing its huge military power and brutality, and the population could hold them responsible for a new war and a new invasion, the cost of which the Lebanese people will have to bear.

But having said that, it is necessary to stress that the principal responsibility for the deterioration of the whole situation falls on Israel. It has lately reached new peaks in its utterly revolting behavior, especially with regard to Gaza. After the abduction of the soldier by a Palestinian group, the Israeli army has killed dozens and dozens of Palestinian civilians. Israel can abduct and detain with impunity Palestinian civilians, but when some Palestinians kidnap one of its soldiers in order to use him for an exchange, it resorts to unrestricted violence, taking a whole population hostage, bombing the densely populated Gaza strip in the midst of general world indifference. This is the main source of destabilization in the region -- this violent and arrogant behavior of Israel that is in full harmony with the equally arrogant and violent behavior the United States displayed in Iraq.

Q. What is the Lebanese government's position facing Hezbollah's action? Israel has decided to consider this action as being the responsibility of the whole government despite the Lebanese Prime Minister's denial.

Achcar: Israel's policy consists exactly in holding entire populations hostage, as I said. It has done so with the Palestinians; in the Lebanese case, it is even more evident because, while it is true that Hezbollah is part of the government, its participation is minimal and it stands actually in the opposition. The Lebanese government is dominated by a majority that is allied with the United States, and they can now take the full measure of the Bush administration's hypocrisy that claims to be very much concerned by the fate of the Lebanese people only when it is a matter of opposing Syria. To hold the present Lebanese government responsible for Hezbollah's action, even after this government has officially taken its distance from that action, is a demonstration of Israel's diktat policy on the one hand, and on the other hand the indication of Israel's determination to compel the Lebanese to enter into a state of civil war, as it tries to do with the Palestinians. In each case, Israel wants to compel one part of the local society -- Fatah in Palestine and the governmental majority in Lebanon -- to crush Israel's main enemies, Hamas and Hezbollah, or else they be crushed themselves.

Q. What relates the Hezbollah and Hamas movements?

Achcar: They have similar ideologies and a radical opposition to Israel. Hamas are Sunni Muslims, while Hezbollah are Shiite Muslims, but both of them are allied to Syria and Iran. It is a sort of regional alliance against Israel. Hezbollah was born after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and Hamas at the time of the first Intifada in 1987-88. The fundamental reason for the existence of both is opposition to Israel, the national struggle against the occupier of their territories, the struggle against a common enemy identified as Israel, as well as the United States behind it.

The division between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq is due to domestic factors peculiar to the country, but is not otherwise important in the whole region. This division appeared also in Lebanon this last year, though in a much less virulent fashion, when the majority of the Sunni community, led by Hariri who is allied with the Saudis and the U.S., found itself in opposition to the majority of Shiites led by Hezbollah allied with Syria. But this division could hardly become an important factor in countries where the two communities, Shiites and Sunnis, are not both present, as they are in Iraq and Lebanon. In Palestine, there are hardly any Shiites.

The relation of solidarity that Hezbollah has with Hamas it did not have either with the PLO or the Palestinian Authority when the latter was led by Arafat. Hezbollah never had any sympathy for Arafat and even less so for Mahmoud Abbas, in whom they don't recognize the same radical opposition to Israel that they see in Hamas, when they don't accuse them of betraying the Palestinian cause. The rise of Hamas's clout in Palestine has been perceived by Hezbollah and by Iran as a victory, and Iran was the first state to offer compensatory funding to the Palestinians when Western funds were cut from them.

Q. How will the Lebanese population react to what is happening? Will Hezbollah get their solidarity or will it be held responsible for their suffering?

Achcar: The popular base of Hezbollah is Shiite, of course (Shiites are the largest minority among Lebanon's communities, none of which constitutes a majority). But certainly many among the Sunni minority approve its action as a gesture of solidarity with Hamas and the Palestinians, whereas the brutality of Israel's reaction increases this solidarity. On the other hand, it is probable that the enmity to Hezbollah among major parts of the Lebanese minorities other than the Shiites -- the Christian Maronites, the Sunnis, the Druzes, etc. -- will be reinforced because they feel to have been put at risk by Hezbollah's unilateral choice and consider that they will be made to pay the cost of this choice. The risk, obviously, is that the sectarian divisions deepen within Lebanon and that this leads eventually to a new civil war. The decisive question is whether the Lebanese governmental majority will yield to the Israeli diktat at the cost of a new civil war, or decide that the priority is to oppose the Israeli aggression and preserve the country's unity. For the time being, this second option seems to be prevailing. One can only hope that it will remain so. The international protest against the dual Israeli onslaught can contribute strongly to the reinforcement of the option of common resistance.

This interview was conducted by Paola Mirenda on July 15, 2006, for the Italian daily Liberazione, the newspaper of the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista (PRC).

Gilbert Achcar grew up in Lebanon and teaches political science at the University of Paris-VIII. His most recent works are Eastern Cauldron (2004), The Israeli Dilemma (2006) and The Clash of Barbarisms (2d ed. 2006); a book of his dialogues with Noam Chomsky on the Middle East, Perilous Power, is forthcoming from Paradigm Publishers.