Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Pierre Lambert

An interesting obituary of Pierre Lambert (1920-2008) from Dave's Part. A rather elusive force in French Trotsykism, but strangely atractive to some odd people. What about Lionel Jospin.


US Socialist Worker #659 Jan 25th 2008

The latest Socialist Worker from the ISO leads on racism in American politics.
Lee Sustar says: "THE ISSUE of race and racism emerged openly at the heart of U.S. politics in the Democratic presidential campaign in January. But as any serious student of U.S. history knows, racism is always beneath the surface of U.S. politics.
The trigger for the current debate was a comment by Sen. Hillary Clinton that “Dr. [Martin Luther] King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done.”

The paper's editorial focuses on the anti-war movement: "MoveOn's backward move on the war"
"A COLLECTION of liberal antiwar groups, including, Win Without War and Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, decided at a meeting in mid-January to retreat from their campaign to get Congress to cut war funding and impose a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
In 2008, the groups say, their new emphasis will be to keep the Bush administration from entering into a long-term agreement with the Iraqi central government that would keep U.S. troops there for a decade.
Last year, these organizations spent a jaw-dropping $12 million on a lobbying and advertising campaign to get the newly elected Democratic Congress to vote against more war funding.
That strategy proved to be an utter failure.
The tragedy, of course, is that such a massive sum could have helped fund any number of grassroots activist campaigns and organizations. Instead, it was squandered.
The explanation offered as a justification is as simple as it is misleading. “We got our heads together and decided to go a different way,” said John Isaacs, executive director of Council for a Livable World, whose group attended the meeting. “The consensus was not to keep beating our heads against the wall trying to block every funding bill--not because we don't agree with it, but because we don't have the votes.”

There's more: basically saying, 'don't trust the Democrats".

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Robert Brenner on world economic crisis

IV Online magazine : IV396 - January 2008
US/World Economy
Devastating Crisis Unfolds
Robert Brenner

THE CURRENT CRISIS could well turn out to be the most devastating since the Great Depression. It manifests profound, unresolved problems in the real economy that have been — literally — papered over by debt for decades, as well as a shorter term financial crunch of a depth unseen since World War II. The combination of the weakness of underlying capital accumulation and the meltdown of the banking system is what’s made the downward slide so intractable for policymakers and its potential for disaster so serious. The plague of foreclosures and abandoned homes — often broken into and stripped clean of everything, including copper wiring — stalks Detroit in particular, and other Midwest cities.
The rest is here. It's taken from Against the Current 132, where it seems to be an editorial statement.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Marxist students in Iran
January 20, 2008
Radical Left, Iran's Last Legal Dissidents, Until Now

New York Times
TEHRAN — In early December, a surprising scene unfolded at Tehran
University: 500 Marxist students held aloft portraits of Che Guevara to protest President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's policies. Smaller groups of Marxist students held similar protests in several other cities.

Political protest has been harshly suppressed under the current Iranian government, especially dissent linked to the West. But the radical left, despite its antireligious and antigovernment message, has been permitted relative freedom. This may be, analysts say, because, like the government, it rejects the liberal reform movement and attacks the West.
"The government practically permitted the left to operate starting five years ago so that they would confront religious liberals," said Saeed Leylaz, a political analyst in Tehran. "But that led to the spread of a new virus."

In recent weeks, the leaders of the Marxist student movement have been arrested, suggesting that the government is worrying about the size of the demonstrations and the growing attraction of an ideology that is deeply antithetical to its own.

Morad Saghafi, a political analyst and the editor in chief of Goftegoo magazine, said that it was not so strange that there were leftists but that it was significant that they were radical leftists.
"They are showing a kind of radicalism to reform, religion and the current situation," he said.
Even some of those who object to President Ahmadinejad say permitting the growth of Marxist student movements is dangerous.

For example, former President Mohammad Khatami, a moderate by Iranian standards, recently raised concern over the growth of leftists at universities. He drew a comparison with the struggles before the 1979 revolution and said after the shah's government had banned religious groups, leftist groups encouraged armed struggle against him, according to the news agency ISNA.

Leftist students use an anti-imperialist discourse toward the United States and say they have no plans to overthrow the Iranian government. But they refer to the government as a capitalist regime and condemn pro-democracy politicians who support change as "bourgeois."
In a leftist publication called Khak, meaning earth, a member who was jailed wrote in an editorial in May, "In this leftist movement we need to move based on the ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin." Marxists need "grass-roots and radical social movements," he emphasized.
Another member, a woman who has an anonymous blog at (faaryaad means shout), writes "Reform died, long live revolution."

One leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisal, said, "We think the regime is a capitalist regime and Mr. Ahmadinejad is a true fascist."

Members are atheists and attack poverty in Iran as well as other countries, including the West. They consider no socialist country their role model, oppose pro-democracy students and accuse them of trying to reform a system that cannot be reformed.

Yet they have no specific agenda for change and seem almost nihilistic at times.
"We don't think we can change anything in the near future," said a 22-year-old student at Tehran University and member of a group called the Radical Marxists, who asked not to be identified. "But as students we think we can transfer our knowledge about class, capitalism and equality to society, especially the workers."

Another member, Shahin, 21, who said his father was also a Marxist and was executed by the government in 1988, said the students ultimately want "free education, free health care and higher salaries for workers."

Analysts familiar with them said leftist student groups began to emerge in the early 2000s when the democracy movement was suffering setbacks and many of their supporters were becoming disillusioned.

The government ignored the leftist students until December when the government began cracking down on their leaders.

As in many countries, a majority of intellectuals in Iran has been influenced by Marxist ideas since the 19th century. Much of the literature written since then is closely interwoven with leftist notions. However, Marxists never gained power here. They played an important role in the success of the 1979 revolution but they were soon marginalized by the Islamists and their members were forced into exile. Many were executed in 1988.

Authorities allowed all of Marx's books to be published after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Leftist books sell very well these days, one bookstore said. The store said the most popular books were those about the Confederation of Iranian Students, the most active organized opposition during the two decades before the 1979 revolution. Many of its members were influenced by leftist ideas.

Now, once again, it appears the government has decided to suppress the left. The number of arrests has reached 40 and those detained remain in the notorious Evin prison.

At least three Marxist groups operate at the universities around Iran. The Radical Marxists have the most supporters, according to students. The other two organizations are workers groups.

The 22-year-old Radical Marxists member said that she had rejected Iran's laws against women when she was 7 and had to wear the Islamic hood known as a maghnaeh to cover her hair for the first time. "In religion class, we always got angry as women when we read in the books that the head of the family is the man," she said.

Reza Sharifi, 34, the leader of the youth branch of Mosharekat, a party that seeks change, said it was hard for the government to suppress Marxist students at the same time it was seeking better relations with leftist leaders worldwide.
"The government paved the way for leftist movements in the country when its best friends became Castro and Chávez," he said, referring to Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.
"The whole idea was that any country that was against America was on our side," he said. "As a result, all communist leaders became the Islamic Republic's best friends."

Friday, January 18, 2008

Socialism Today 114 Dec 2007-Jan 2008

I don't look at the Socialist Party's magazine Socialism Today very often, but the latest issue has at least two big articles that are worthy of attention.

First is 'The crisis in Respect', in which Hannah Sell has the task of delivering an obituary for Respect, criticising both sides, explaining how it was flawed right from the start and that the SP has been right all the time, as opposed to the opportunists of the SWP. And although the failure of Respect might be temporarily confusing this crisis and split isn't actually a 'substantial obstacle on the road to mass independent political representation for workers in England and Wales'.

The other big piece is Peter Taafe on 'Problem of building new workers' parties', which is mostly interesting for its positive emphasis on the experience of Brazil and developments in P-Sol. Of course from the perspective of the SP what broad workers parties really need are viable 'Marxist-Trotskyist' spines, in this case identified as the Socialismo Revolucionario (SR) current, which I'm guessing is affiliated to the CWI. This is seen as much stronger and better than left currents in the Italian PRC or German Left Party. Of course the thread of correctness runs back from the CWI to Trotsky to Marx and Engels.

There's more, including a contribution to a debate on China, a Vincent Kolo on China's capitalist counter-revolution and a review of Robert Fisk's Great War for Civilisation in Indicting imperialism.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

US Socialist Worker Jan 18th

The latest ISO Socialist Worker.

Here's the editorial dealing with problems in the US antiwar movement - a contrast to the more usual cheerleading of how brilliant everything is that we get here.

A movement on hold?
January 18, 2008 Page 2
FIVE YEARS of U.S. occupation. One million Iraqis dead. Nearly 4,000 U.S. soldiers dead. And a cost of more than $8 billion each month.

The U.S. war in Iraq grinds on, and yet the antiwar movement seems to have ground to a halt. Since January 27, 2007, when some 250,000 marched in Washington, D.C., national and regional mobilizations have diminished in size, and the vibrancy of local and campus organizing efforts has waned.

How did this happen?
The problem isn't the indifference of the American public. Despite the media cheerleading for the alleged success of Gen. David Petraeus' “surge” of U.S. troops in curbing violence, opinion polls show a steady and significant opposition to the war.

According to CNN, 65 percent of adults oppose the U.S. war in Iraq, a number that hasn't changed significantly in at least eight months. CBS/New York Times polls show that half the population wants U.S. troops home in less than a year.

But much of the antiwar movement greeted the new year by sounding the retreat. Why? Because the presidential primary season is in full swing, and the conventional wisdom holds that it's time to put the movement on hold and focus on the voting booth.

After the Super Tuesday primaries on February 5, “[t]he victorious Democrat in particular will want nothing to happen in Congress that could possibly jeopardize winning back the White House,” wrote columnist Walter Shapiro. “And congressional leaders (along with most back-benchers) will be shrewd enough to understand that electing a Democratic president is the only surefire route to ending this debilitating war.

“This is not the moment for guerrilla theater and mau-mauing the moderates...The coming battleground instead is the familiar terrain of Ohio and Florida--and the hearts and minds of the swing voters who will decide the 2008 election.”

UNITED FOR Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the largest national antiwar coalition, is already on board with this approach. With the fifth anniversary of the war approaching, UFPJ called for protests in all 435 congressional districts--ensuring dispersed, small and ineffectual actions that will only serve to further reinforce the sense of isolation and disorientation among activists.

UFPJ has set the stage for a dismal rerun of its 2004 disappearing act, when its leading voices fell in line behind the pro-war Democrat John Kerry, and the coalition's only mobilization was for a demonstration outside the Republican National Convention.

UFPJ's failure to address the sentiment among activists for a mobilization on the fifth anniversary of the war created a vacuum that other forces, including the national antiwar group ANSWER and peace activist Cindy Sheehan, tried to fill.
But their joint call for a March 15 demonstration in Washington, D.C., has collapsed for several interrelated reasons.

One is that ANSWER's credibility as an antiwar force has been damaged by its sectarian behavior toward other forces in the movement--and more recently, its insistence in inflating the success of its recent mobilizations and the potential for future ones.

In December, Sheehan made a proposal for unity among national antiwar groups. But without a grassroots base of support, her proposal amounted to a plea--which UFPJ, claiming to represent the majority of the movement, felt no pressure to honor.

Sheehan and ANSWER's unity proposal was further hampered by their attempt to hitch the Washington protest to an Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) initiative organized for March 13-16--the Winter Soldier Investigation (WSI), named after a dramatic event featuring antiwar vets during Vietnam--without discussing the matter with the IVAW.

It was irresponsible for Sheehan and ANSWER to unilaterally announce an event in the middle of Winter Solider--supposedly in solidarity with it--without having an agreement with the IVAW.

On the other hand, the IVAW is discouraging antiwar activists from making the Winter Soldier event a focus for wider organizing, apparently because some leaders of the group believe the IVAW will be better served if it maintains a distance from the larger antiwar movement.

This makes little sense to the great bulk of antiwar activists who want to support the IVAW's efforts--and who thought they could do so by attending the Winter Soldier event and then participating in a demonstration at its conclusion.

In the end, the IVAW's request that no actions be held in Washington during the weekend of their event was the final blow to the proposal from Sheehan and ANSWER. Winter Soldier will take place, but the IVAW isn't making provisions for large numbers of activists to attend. And there will be no national antiwar demonstration on the anniversary of the war.
This outcome represents a missed opportunity--for the IVAW and the antiwar movement as a whole.

The most famous GI protest of the Vietnam era--Operation Dewey Canyon III, a week of actions in 1971 that culminated with some 800 veterans tossing their medals onto the steps of the Capitol building--catapulted the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) to national prominence.

The next day, half a million people flooded onto the streets of Washington in one of the biggest marches in U.S. history to that point.

These two antiwar events reinforced each other, with GIs drawing confidence for their bold actions from the growing protests of that year, and the antiwar movement taking new energy from the high-profile participation of Vietnam veterans.

This history of the last antiwar movement has important lessons for the present--above all, that mass protest and solidarity are the key to building a movement strong enough to force Washington to pay attention to its demands.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

MRZine Interview on Marx as journalist

A very interesting interview with Jim Ledbetter on MRZine. Ledbetter (himself an experienced American journalist) edited the new Penguin collection of Marx's journalism for the quite radical New York Daily Tribune newspaper. It's well worth looking at and the collection is an excellent sample of the 7 volumes of journalism that's in the Collected Works. Ledbetter makes two crucial points: just how obscure Marx was for most of his life and that he wasn't an abstract thinker and his detailed journalism ws important to him - and not just as a much needed source of hack income.


Wallerstein on Kenya

Commentary No. 225, Jan. 15, 2008
"Kenya: Stable Democracy or Meltdown?"

On December 27, 2007, there were presidential and parliamentary elections in Kenya. The outside world was largely indifferent. Then suddenly the headlines spoke of ethnic violence on a large scale. The Western press spoke of the danger of a "meltdown" and the pervasiveness in Africa of ethnic conflicts. There were urgent appeals for the two opposing leaders to come together and make a compromise. This has not yet happened and is unlikely to happen.

What took place? If we start with the immediate situation, it seems rather clear that the opposition party - the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) led by Raila Odinga - swept the parliamentary elections, and the government party - the Party of National Unity (PNU) led by outgoing president Mwai Kibaki - suffered a major defeat. The Vice-President of Kenya and over 20 ministers in the outgoing government were defeated in their parliamentary candidacies. The PNU elected 42 deputies, less than a fifth of the seats and the ODM won 99.

It seemed reasonable to assume that Odinga beat Kibaki in the presidential election. But after three days of counting, the electoral commission asserted that Kibaki had squeaked in. The immediate reaction in Kenya was that Kibaki stole the election. His furtive swearing-in on December 30, his refusal to allow any serious outside mediator to review the situation, the open doubts of international observers all seemed to point to his attempt to create a fait accompli in the hope that the turmoil will die down. Will it?

For many years now, but particularly in the last five years, Kenya was touted in the Western press and by Western governments as a "stable democracy," unlike so many other African states. One might remember that the other state that used to get this accolade was the Ivory Coast, which has descended into a continuing civil war in recent years. What does it mean to be called a "stable democracy"? It seems to mean a government that is reliably pro-Western and wide open to Western investment. Kenya has fit that bill, as did the Ivory Coast. The Ivory Coast has melted down, and now it seems that Kenya may be doing the same thing.

A look at post-1945 history might explain how naive and unuseful is this kind of assessment. Among the seven states in British East and Central Africa, the only one to have had a serious guerrilla movement was Kenya. It was called the Mau Mau and it took the British many years to suppress it. The Mau Mau were a peasant movement among the largest ethnic group in Kenya, the Kikuyu. The Kikuyu feel they are owed something in return for this insurrection. Mwai Kibaki is a Kikuyu.

Shortly after independence, Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya and a Kikuyu died. He was succeeded by his Vice-President, Daniel arap Moi, a Kalenjin, who proceeded to establish a kleptocratic, dictatorial regime which lasted quite a long time. The Kikuyu were more or less squeezed out of power. So were the second-largest group, the Luo. The leader of the Luo was Oginga Odinga (father of Raila Odinga). He had a socialist program, and his movement was suppressed.

By 2002, the Kenyan people had enough of arap Moi and his Western supporters thought it might be time to encourage a facade of democracy. The one-party regime ceded place to an electoral contest. Kibaki and Raila Odinga joined together with others to establish a National Rainbow Coalition (NRC), dedicated, they said, to ending corruption and ending as well the freeze on distribution of posts and money to only one ethnic group. Kibaki won the election. The people celebrated.

But 2002 was also the moment of Bush's war on terrorism. The United States recruited Kibaki as a key ally. He was rewarded with much outside money, and endless praise from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The years 2002-2007 were a period of considerable economic growth on neo-liberal premises. But Kibaki reneged on all his promises. The economic growth did not filter down to the rural poor and the large numbers in the urban ghettos. Kibaki fired the man he had appointed to expose corruption. And he squeezed out Odinga and other allies in the NRC.

So when there were new elections in 2007, the ODM and Odinga won handily. The fact that arap Moi now endorsed Kibaki was of no use. The ODM emphasized the crass inequalities in Kenya. It called for a renewed war against corruption. And it entered into an understanding with the Muslim community in Kenya that they would stop renditions. It was obvious that this program appealed to the voters, but not to Kibaki. So he stole the election. And the United States and Great Britain are trying hard to make this electoral theft work.

Of course, in the face of such blatant behavior, violence broke out. It took an ethnic form. Somehow the Western press seems to think this is an African specialty. Have they never heard of race riots in the United States? Have they never looked at Catholic-Protestant violence in northern Ireland? What happens in such situations is that the poor in the urban ghettos and the rural area hit out at each other, while the upper strata in their gated communities carry on obliviously.

Raila Odinga is no angel and no revolutionary. But he won the election, and the reason he did was because he was opposing the neo-liberal corruption of Kibaki. Odinga is playing a very restrained role, a bit like that of Al Gore in 2000. And he might be no more successful. Kibaki says that he'll hold new elections if the courts tell him to, but Odinga says that the courts are in his pocket.

So much for stable democracies.
Immanuel Wallerstein

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

More New SDS

New York Times
January 6, 2008
Activism: One Generation Got Old, One Generation Got Soul

SIXTEEN students sat around a table in the Manhattan cafeteria of the New School discussing where commas should go. They were rewriting, for the third time, a mission statement for their chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, the activist group that had been dormant for nearly 40 years. They wanted the document to be collectively produced, but after more than three weeks of communal drafting, no one seemed particularly content with the results.
One student thought the phrase “we accept all persons” should be broadened to cover animals. Another worried that the word “delineation” was alienating because “it means drawing lines, and don’t we object to lines?” The only sentence everyone seemed to support wholeheartedly was the final one: “Power to the People!”

The subject was a sensitive one, because the revived group has yet to produce a document as compelling as the S.D.S. manifesto, the Port Huron Statement, written in 1962, long before any of them were born. Although members of the original movement serve as mentors, the young S.D.S. is eager to prove that its interest in social change extends beyond nostalgia.

“One of our strengths is having a clear understanding of what went wrong in the ’60s,” says Pat Korte, a 19-year-old sophomore at the New School, in Greenwich Village. Mr. Korte was a co-founder of the born-again organization in 2006, as a senior at Stonington High School, in Connecticut. S.D.S. now has around 120 active chapters and 3,000 registered members.
“We know the drive for revolutionary change is correct,” Mr. Korte says, “but blowing up buildings is not going to get us anywhere. Nor is joining the Democratic Party.”

According to a provisional statement, drafted at the national convention last summer at Wayne State University in Detroit, the group aims to combat “racism and white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, heterosexism and transphobia, authoritarianism and imperialism.” Chapters focus on any issue that falls under the rubric of “oppression.” In the past year, members have occupied military recruiting centers, participated in hunger strikes to raise wages for university workers and demonstrated in front of companies that invest in nuclear power plants.

The group’s growth has surprised everyone involved, particularly former members who wondered why students would want to model themselves on an organization that ultimately self-destructed. The original S.D.S. became a major force in the opposition to the Vietnam War and grew to nearly 100,000 members before collapsing in 1969 into radicalized factions. It never quite overcame the perceived homogeneity of its leaders. Most were white, male and upper middle class.

The new S.D.S. is painstakingly self-conscious about its image and inherited failures. Men refrain from speaking for the group; if one interrupts a woman or finishes her sentence, he may be politely reminded of what he has done. There is no national hierarchy, and members coordinate through conference calls — up to 30 people on the line. (There’s a roll call at the start of each conversation.)

A significant number of chapters are not at prestigious universities, which already have a glut of political groups, but at commuter schools, community colleges and high schools, many of which had existed in a political vacuum. Members cite three events — 9/11, the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina — in describing what brought them to S.D.S.

The chapter at Queens College has 140 people on its mailing list, a quarter of them Latino. “At a working-class school, we have jobs to go home to at night, so the problems in the government more directly affect the quality of our lives,” says Rachel Haut, a 19-year-old junior. And while most young people view the war in Iraq via remote, on commuter campuses like Queens the military recruits heavily. Ms. Haut’s chapter sets up a table every other week to distribute literature aiming to discourage students from enlisting.

Although the student movements of the ’60s have often been viewed through a veil of mythical romance, their legacy has become particularly relevant in the midst of another unpopular war. Forty years after the events of 1968 — the Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy assassinations, the Tet offensive in Vietnam and the Democratic convention in Chicago — the decade is back on the cover of news magazines.

Three books written or edited by former S.D.S. members are coming out this month and next: “Ravens in the Storm: A Personal History of the 1960s Anti-War Movement,” by Carl Oglesby; “A Hard Rain Fell: S.D.S. and Why It Failed,” by David Barber; and “Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History,” edited by Paul Buhle.

“I think the sense of powerlessness is so profound right now that to know there was a movement of young people that changed history offers leverage, a sense of confidence,” says Dr. Buhle, a lecturer in American civilization at Brown.

The graphic history, which comes out this week, is written by the comic book author Harvey Pekar. It traces the rise and fall of the first S.D.S. and includes a six-page epilogue, “S.D.S. Revived.”

“While few seemed to be watching,” it begins, “the demography of American youth had shifted dramatically and a new generation of students, more insecure, much more often the children of immigrants, had arrived.” The first panel features a couple kissing on a grassy hill. The second panel, representing the new S.D.S., shows an airplane flying into the World Trade Center while New York City is engulfed in flames.

The epilogue also includes a drawing of Pat Korte, with shaggy hair and big, alarmed eyes. Jessica Rapchik, 19, was the S.D.S. co-founder with Mr. Korte. She says she was surprised that her role goes unmentioned in the book. The omission, she says, points to “larger problems in our society — men being sought out as voices of authority.”

MR. KORTE and Ms. Rapchik, of Chapel Hill, N.C., met on a conference call. Both were active members of an antiwar group in high school. They wanted to be part of an organization that would tackle more enduring issues.

“These problems won’t go away unless you change the entire power structure,” says Ms. Rapchik, now a sophomore at Antioch College. She blames the “dominant hegemonic system.”
Ms. Rapchik’s parents were so opposed to her involvement in a radical organization that they threatened not to help pay for college if she attended the first convention, so she stayed home. Mr. Korte says his father voted for Nixon. “My parents didn’t even know the ’60s happened,” he says.

In search of mentors, the students reached out to the first president of S.D.S., Alan Haber, who is now a woodworker. He and other original members met with the students and offered their old pamphlets and letters. The “old folks,” a k a the “veterans,” attend meetings and marches, help coordinate conferences and provide moral support. When students are arrested, veterans sometimes wait outside the jail with sandwiches.

But some chapters have distanced themselves from the ’60s generation. To Ms. Haut, at Queens College, it is not “productive” to work with “a lot of old white guys arguing about what they should have done.” As it is, the new group devotes a good deal of intellectual energy to self-analysis.

At the second national convention, attended by about 200 members, the students spent a day discussing how not to oppress one another. They split into caucuses based on gender, class, race and sexual orientation.
Nick Kreitman, a junior at Elmhurst College in suburban Chicago, participated in meetings about “Class Privilege,” “White Privilege” and “Hetero-Privilege,” in which, he says, members talked about the danger of coming off as the “liberal savior who is going to instantly solve all their problems.”

Because the ultimate goal is to become a mass movement, S.D.S. members make an effort to appeal to students who wouldn’t necessarily cast themselves as left-wing political activists. One proposal at the convention that was later adopted advocated using “the language of the mainstream” and avoiding “intimidating word choice” — an unintimidating euphemism for leftist buzzwords like “anti-authoritarianism” and “syndicalism.”

Aaron Petcoff, a founding member of the Wayne State chapter, worries about the group becoming a clique. “We can’t just go to the punk places and tell people it’s cool to join S.D.S.,” he says. He consciously recruits for diversity, and his chapter has one Hispanic, two African-American, two Iraqi-American and six white members.

Nationally, membership is predominantly white, and Mr. Petcoff describes himself as fitting “the stereotype of the white, left, activist guy.” He first learned about the group two years ago, when, he recalls, a roommate’s friend told him, “You look like you got drop-kicked out of S.D.S.” He was dressed in “these bell-bottom kind of pants and an olive green army jacket with a big peace sign.” He didn’t know what S.D.S. was, he says. “So I went to the computer and did an image search, which was how I found out the group was being revived.” Soon after, he joined.
AFTER shelving the syntactical problems of the mission statement, the huddle at the New School cafeteria moved on to planning action at the Manhattan office of a New School trustee whose company has military contracts. The students debated whether to demonstrate on the company’s property with a marching band, but the conversation soon digressed into the risk of using e-mail. Some worried that the authorities would read what they wrote. When one student offered that “the federal agencies probably don’t care,” the group ignored him.

Mr. Korte, who lives with three other members on Malcolm X Boulevard in Brooklyn, frequently reminds the group that it is trying to start a movement that will “last for decades,” not just a semester. He asked if anyone felt it was worth it to be arrested at a coming antiwar demonstration. Almost everyone raised a hand.

In the past two years, well over 100 S.D.S. members have been arrested for civil disobedience, including blocking ports in Washington from which military equipment was being shipped to Iraq and demonstrating in front of car dealerships in favor of higher fuel efficiency standards. This fall, the group began participating in the Iraq Moratorium, a series of monthly national antiwar demonstrations modeled after the 1969 Vietnam Moratorium.

Today’s organization has yet to depart significantly from the protest models of the past. Many members say they resent being overshadowed by the S.D.S. of 1968 and argue that their opposition will manifest itself in a way unique to their own generation. Beyond having a new organizing tool in the Internet, it’s unclear what this will look like. Students elegantly critique what’s wrong with the country but struggle to find new ways to channel their disgust.
“They’re blogging against the war, they’re not burning draft cards,” says Tom Hayden, the primary author of the Port Huron Statement, who went on to serve in the California State Senate. A former president of S.D.S., he has met many new members but held back from giving guidance. “The war in Iraq vividly demonstrates that the issues of the ’60s have not gone away,” he says. “But this generation has an identity crisis that it will have to resolve on its own.”
Rachel Aviv teaches freshman writing at Columbia.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Stephen Fry reviews Dave Renton on CLR James!

A life beyond the boundary
CLR James: Cricket's Philosopher King, by Dave Renton. Readers drawn to James by his writing on cricket will learn a lot more about the man who was a confidant of the likes of Trotsky and Nkrumah
Stephen Fay
January 6, 2008
(Haus Books, 202pp, £16.99)

CLR James was known formally by his initials except to a few West Indian intimates who called him Nello. He was a romantic who loved cricket and is revered by readers of cricket books, but he wrote much more about Trotskyism. James was a dedicated if unconventional follower of Leon Trotsky, the Russian revolutionary who was cast out by Josef Stalin, and killed in 1940 by an ice pick to the head. When James wrote in the preface to his classic autobiographical meditation Beyond a Boundary, "What do they know of cricket who only cricket know", he knew what he was talking about.

For 15 years, between 1938 and 1953, James lived in the United States, where his occupation was revolution. He and Trotsky met in Mexico to discuss James's book World Revolution. Trotsky thought it was a good try, though lacking the proper dialectical approach and suffering from Anglo-Saxon empiricism. Although James devoutly wished independence for his native Trinidad, he admired his colonial education and declined to divorce cricket ethics from the public-school ethos. James was an uncritical admirer of WG Grace but, unlike Grace, he never queried an umpire's decision - on principle.

Readers drawn to Dave Renton's readable biography by their love of James's cricket writing will become better acquainted than they ever imagined they would be with bitter disputes between fellow-Trotskyites. But that is precisely what Renton wants: "One hope of this book is to persuade Marxists of the joys of cricket and followers of cricket of the calibre of James and James's Marxism." In this respect Renton's biography is unique in the extensive canon of cricket literature.

James was a good school player and a successful cricketer but his credentials were that he grew up with George Headley and Learie Constantine and that he could write with great speed and fluency. He was a novelist, a reporter, an historian and a propagandist. He knew post-colonial leaders such as Eric Williams in Trinidad and Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana and fell out with them when they lost touch with their working-class supporters, but he did win his campaign to have Frank Worrell appointed the first black captain of West Indies.

James fell out with postcolonial leaders when they lost touch with their working-class support but he did win his campaign to have Worrell appointed first black captain of West Indies

One of James's admirers called him a romantic traditionalist, and a sense of it infuses his cricket reporting. He liked players to go on to the front foot and take risks. When he returned to England and cricket, in 1953, he was critical of Colin Cowdrey, Tom Graveney and Peter May for being "overly preoccupied by defence". James thought Don Bradman the greatest batsman he had seen but said he was no artist; what distinguished him was "nervous stamina and concentration".

Reputations of books written more than 50 years ago can become inflated but the cricket writing in Beyond a Boundary is first- class (I checked). Nello was so much better at cricket than making revolution.

This article was first published in the January 2008 issue of The Wisden Cricketer

© The Wisden Cricketer


Thursday, January 03, 2008

Wallerstein on Zapatistas

Commentary No. 224, Jan. 1, 2008
"What Have the Zapatistas Accomplished?"

On January 1, 1994, the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN), commonly called the Zapatistas, led an insurrection in San Cristobal de las Casas in the state of Chiapas in Mexico. Just under fourteen years later, the EZLN convened an international colloquium on December 13-17, 2007 in the same city on the theme "Planet Earth: Antisystemic Movements" - a sort of stock-taking, both global and local, of their objectives. I myself participated in this colloquium, as did many other activists and intellectuals. In the course of the colloquium, Subcommandant Marcos gave a series of six talks, which are available on the internet.

In a sense, what everyone was asking, including Marcos, is what have the Zapatistas accomplished and what are the future prospects of antisystemic movements - in Chiapas and in the world? The answer to this question is not simple. Let us start the story on January 1, 1994. That day was chosen for the beginning of the insurrection because it was the day on which the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) came into effect. The slogan that day was !Ya basta! ("Enough is enough"). The Zapatistas were saying from the outset that their five-century- long protest against injustice and humiliation and demand for autonomy was linked today organically to the worldwide struggle against neo-liberalism and imperialism of which NAFTA was both a part and a symbol.

Chiapas, let us remember, is perhaps the poorest region of Mexico and its population is composed overwhelmingly of so-called indigenous peoples. The first Catholic bishop of Chiapas was Bartolomé de Las Casas, the sixteenth-century Dominican priest who devoted his life to defending vigorously (before the Church and the Spanish monarchy) the rights of the Indians to equal treatment. From the days of Las Casas until 1994, the Indians never saw that right acknowledged. The EZLN decided to try different methods. So were they more successful? We should look at the impact of the movement in three arenas: in Mexico as a political arena; in the world-system as a whole; in the realm of theorizing about antisystemic movements.

First, Mexico: Armed insurrection as a tactic was suspended after about three months. It has never been resumed. And it is clear that it will not be unless the Mexican army or right-wing paramilitaries massively attack autonomous Zapatista communities. On the other hand, the truce agreement reached with the Mexican government - the so-called San Andrés accords providing for the recognition of autonomy for the indigenous communities - was never implemented by the government.

In 2001, the Zapatistas led a peaceful march across Mexico to the capital, hoping thereby to force the Mexican Congress to legislate the essential of the accords. The march was spectacular but the Mexican Congress failed to act. In 2005, the Zapatistas launched "the other campaign," an effort to mobilize an alliance of Zapatistas with groups in other provinces with more or less similar objectives - again spectacular but it did not change the actual politics of the Mexican government.

In 2006, the Zapatistas pointedly refused to endorse the left-of-center candidate for the presidency, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who was running in a tight election against the proclaimed winner, the very conservative Felipe Calderón. This action was the one that caused most controversy with Zapatista sympathizers in Mexico and the rest of the world, many of whom felt that it cost López Obrador the election. The Zapatista position derived from their deep sense that electoral politics does not pay. The Zapatistas have been critical of all the left-of-center presidents in Latin America, from Lula in Brazil to Chávez in Venezuela, on the grounds that they were all top-down movements which changed nothing fundamental at the base for the oppressed majority. The only Latin American government which the Zapatistas speak well of is that of Cuba, because it is the only government they consider to be truly anti-capitalist.

On the other hand, within Mexico, the Zapatistas have managed to establish de facto autonomous indigenous communities which operate well, albeit they are besieged and constantly menaced by the Mexican army. The political sophistication and determination of these communities is impressive. Will this however last in the absence of serious political change in Mexico, especially in the light of increasing pressure on the rights of the Indians to control their own land? This is the unresolved issue.

The picture on the world scene is somewhat different. There is no question that the Zapatista insurrection of 1994 became a major inspiration for antisystemic movements throughout the world. It is unquestionably a key turning-point in the process that led to the demonstrations in 1999 at Seattle that caused the failure of the meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO), a failure from which the WTO has never recovered. If today the WTO finds itself semi-moribund as a result of a North-South deadlock, the Zapatistas can claim some credit.

Seattle in turn led to the creation in 2001 of the World Social Forum (WSF), which has become the principal meeting-ground of the world's antisystemic movements. And if the Zapatistas themselves have never attended any WSF meeting because technically they are an armed force, the Zapatistas have remained an iconic movement within the WSF, a sort of inspirational force.

The Zapatistas from the beginning have said that their objectives and concerns were worldwide - intergalactic in their jargon - and they offered support to movements everywhere and asked actively for support from movements everywhere. They have been very successful in this. And if some worldwide support has suffered fatigue of late, the December 2007 colloquium was clearly an attempt to resuscitate these alliances.

In many ways, however, the most important contribution of the Zapatistas - and the most contested - has been in the theoretical realm. It was striking that in the six talks that Marcos gave in December, the first devoted itself to the importance of theorizing in the social sciences. What do the Zapatistas say about how to analyze the world?

First of all, they emphasize that the basic thing that is wrong with the world today is that it is a capitalist world, and that the basic thing to change is that, something they insist will require a real struggle. Now the Zapatistas are surely not the first ones to argue this. So what do they add to this? They are part of a post-1968 view that the traditional analyses of the Old Left were too narrow, in that they seemed to emphasize only the problems and struggles of the urban industrial proletariat. Marcos devoted one whole talk to the struggles of women for their rights. He devoted another to the crucial importance of control of the land by the world's rural workers.

And quite strikingly he placed several talks under the rubric, "neither core nor periphery" - rejecting the idea of a priority for one or the other, either in terms of power or of intellectual analysis. The Zapatistas are proclaiming that the struggle for rights of every oppressed group is equally important, and the struggle must be fought on all fronts at the same time.

They also say that the movements themselves must be internally democratic. The slogan is "mandar obedeciendo," which might be translated "lead by obeying the voice and wishes of those whom one is leading." This is easy to say and hard to do, but it is a cry against the historic verticalism of left movements. This leads them to a "horizontalism" in the relations between different movements. Some of their followers say that they are opposed to taking state power ever. While they are deeply skeptical of taking state power via the "lesser evil," they are willing to make exceptions, as in the case of Cuba.

Was the Zapatista insurrection a success? The only answer is in the apocryphal story about the answer that Zhou En-lai is supposed to have given to the question: "What do you think of the French Revolution?" Answer: "It is too early to tell."

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Michael Moore on US elections

Who Do We Vote For This Time Around? A Letter from Michael Moore
January 2, 2008 (thanks to Patrick Bond and the South African Debate list for this).

Friends, A new year has begun. And before we've had a chance to break our New Year's resolutions, we find ourselves with a little more than 24 hours before the good people of Iowa tell us whom they would like to replace the man who now occupies three countries and a white house.

Twice before, we have begun the process to stop this man, and twice we have failed. Eight years of our lives as Americans will have been lost, the world left in upheaval against us... and yet now, today, we hope against hope that our moment has finally arrived, that the amazingly powerful force of the Republican Party will somehow be halted. But we know that the Democrats are experts at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and if there's a way to blow this election, they will find it and do it with gusto.

Do you feel the same as me? That the Democratic front-runners are a less-than-stellar group of candidates, and that none of them are the "slam dunk" we wish they were? Of course, there are wonderful things about each of them. Any one of them would be infinitely better than what we have now. Personally, Congressman Kucinich, more than any other candidate, shares the same positions that I have on the issues (although the UFO that picked ME up would only take me as far as Kalamazoo). But let's not waste time talking about Dennis. Even he is resigned to losing, with statements like the one he made yesterday to his supporters in Iowa to throw their support to Senator Obama as their "second choice."

So, it's Hillary, Obama, Edwards -- now what do we do?

Two months ago, Rolling Stone magazine asked me to do a cover story where I would ask the hard questions that no one was asking in one-on-one interviews with Senators Clinton, Obama and Edwards. "The Top Democrats Face Off with Michael Moore." The deal was that all three candidates had to agree to let me interview them or there was no story. Obama and Edwards agreed. Mrs. Clinton said no, and the cover story was thus killed.

Why would the love of my life, Hillary Clinton, not sit down to talk with me? What was she afraid of?

Those of you who are longtime readers of mine may remember that 11 years ago I wrote a chapter (in my first book) entitled, "My Forbidden Love for Hillary." I was fed up with the treatment she was getting, most of it boringly sexist, and I thought somebody should stand up for her. I later met her and she thanked me for referring to her as "one hot s***kicking feminist babe." I supported and contributed to her run for the U.S. Senate. I think she is a decent and smart person who loves this country, cares deeply about kids, and has put up with more crap than anyone I know of (other than me) from the Crazy Right. Her inauguration would be a thrilling sight, ending 218 years of white male rule in a country where 51% of its citizens are female and 64% are either female or people of color.

And yet, I am sad to say, nothing has disappointed me more than the disastrous, premeditated vote by Senator Hillary Clinton to send us to war in Iraq. I'm not only talking about her first vote that gave Mr. Bush his "authorization" to invade -- I'm talking about every single OTHER vote she then cast for the next four years, backing and funding Bush's illegal war, and doing so with verve. She never met a request from the White House for war authorization that she didn't like. Unlike the Kerrys and the Bidens who initially voted for authorization but later came to realize the folly of their decision, Mrs. Clinton continued to cast numerous votes for the war until last March -- four long years of pro-war votes, even after 70% of the American public had turned against the war. She has steadfastly refused to say that she was wrong about any of this, and she will not apologize for her culpability in America's worst-ever foreign policy disaster. All she can bring herself to say is that she was "misled" by "faulty intelligence."

Let's assume that's true. Do you want a President who is so easily misled? I wasn't "misled," and millions of others who took to the streets in February of 2003 weren't "misled" either. It was simply amazing that we knew the war was wrong when none of us had been briefed by the CIA, none of us were national security experts, and none of us had gone on a weapons inspection tour of Iraq. And yet... we knew we were being lied to! Let me ask those of you reading this letter: Were YOU "misled" -- or did you figure it out sometime between October of 2002 and March of 2007 that George W. Bush was up to something rotten? Twenty-three other senators were smart enough to figure it out and vote against the war from the get-go. Why wasn't Senator Clinton?

I have a theory: Hillary knows the sexist country we still live in and that one of the reasons the public, in the past, would never consider a woman as president is because she would also be commander in chief. The majority of Americans were concerned that a woman would not be as likely to go to war as a man (horror of horrors!). So, in order to placate that mindset, perhaps she believed she had to be as "tough" as a man, she had to be willing to push The Button if necessary, and give the generals whatever they wanted. If this is, in fact, what has motivated her pro-war votes, then this would truly make her a scary first-term president. If the U.S. is faced with some unforeseen threat in her first years, she knows that in order to get re-elected she'd better be ready to go all Maggie Thatcher on whoever sneezes in our direction. Do we want to risk this, hoping the world makes it in one piece to her second term?

I have not even touched on her other numerous -- and horrendous -- votes in the Senate, especially those that have made the middle class suffer even more (she voted for Bush's first bankruptcy bill, and she is now the leading recipient of payoff money -- I mean campaign contributions -- from the health care industry). I know a lot of you want to see her elected, and there is a very good chance that will happen. There will be plenty of time to vote for her in the general election if all the pollsters are correct. But in the primaries and caucuses, isn't this the time to vote for the person who most reflects the values and politics you hold dear? Can you, in good conscience, vote for someone who so energetically voted over and over and over again for the war in Iraq?

Please give this serious consideration.

Now, on to the two candidates who did agree to do the interview with me... Barack Obama is a good and inspiring man. What a breath of fresh air! There's no doubting his sincerity or his commitment to trying to straighten things out in this country. But who is he? I mean, other than a guy who gives a great speech? How much do any of us really know about him? I know he was against the war. How do I know that? He gave a speech before the war started. But since he joined the senate, he has voted for the funds for the war, while at the same time saying we should get out. He says he's for the little guy, but then he votes for a corporate-backed bill to make it harder for the little guy to file a class action suit when his kid swallows lead paint from a Chinese-made toy. In fact, Obama doesn't think Wall Street is a bad place. He wants the insurance companies to help us develop a new health care plan -- the same companies who have created the mess in the first place. He's such a feel-good kinda guy, I get the sense that, if elected, the Republicans will eat him for breakfast. He won't even have time to make a good speech about it.

But this may be a bit harsh. Senator Obama has a big heart, and that heart is in the right place. Is he electable? Will more than 50% of America vote for him? We'd like to believe they would. We'd like to believe America has changed, wouldn't we? Obama lets us feel better about ourselves -- and as we look out the window at the guy snowplowing his driveway across the street, we want to believe he's changed, too. But are we dreaming?

And then there's John Edwards.

It's hard to get past the hair, isn't it? But once you do -- and recently I have chosen to try -- you find a man who is out to take on the wealthy and powerful who have made life so miserable for so many. A candidate who says things like this: "I absolutely believe to my soul that this corporate greed and corporate power has an ironclad hold on our democracy." Whoa. We haven't heard anyone talk like that in a while, at least not anyone who is near the top of the polls. I suspect this is why Edwards is doing so well in Iowa, even though he has nowhere near the stash of cash the other two have. He won't take the big checks from the corporate PACs, and he is alone among the top three candidates in agreeing to limit his spending and be publicly funded. He has said, point-blank, that he's going after the drug companies and the oil companies and anyone else who is messing with the American worker. The media clearly find him to be a threat, probably because he will go after their mo nopolistic power, too. This is Roosevelt/Truman kind of talk. That's why it's resonating with people in Iowa, even though he doesn't get the attention Obama and Hillary get -- and that lack of coverage may cost him the first place spot tomorrow night. After all, he is one of those white guys who's been running things for far too long.

And he voted for the war. But unlike Senator Clinton, he has stated quite forcefully that he was wrong. And he has remorse. Should he be forgiven? Did he learn his lesson? Like Hillary and Obama, he refused to promise in a September debate that there will be no U.S. troops in Iraq by the end of his first term in 2013. But this week in Iowa, he changed his mind. He went further than Clinton and Obama and said he'd have all the troops home in less than a year.

Edwards is the only one of the three front-runners who has a universal health care plan that will lead to the single-payer kind all other civilized countries have. His plan doesn't go as fast as I would like, but he is the only one who has correctly pointed out that the health insurance companies are the enemy and should not have a seat at the table.

I am not endorsing anyone at this point. This is simply how I feel in the first week of the process to replace George W. Bush. For months I've been wanting to ask the question, "Where are you, Al Gore?" You can only polish that Oscar for so long. And the Nobel was decided by Scandinavians! I don't blame you for not wanting to enter the viper pit again after you already won. But getting us to change out our incandescent light bulbs for some irritating fluorescent ones isn't going to save the world. All it's going to do is make us more agitated and jumpy and feeling like once we get home we haven't really left the office.

On second thought, would you even be willing to utter the words, "I absolutely believe to my soul that this corporate greed and corporate power has an ironclad hold on our democracy?" 'Cause the candidate who understands that, and who sees it as the root of all evil -- including the root of global warming -- is the President who may lead us to a place of sanity, justice and peace.

Yours, Michael Moore (not an Iowa voter, but appreciative of any state that has a town named after a sofa)

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Contemporary Politics

The London-based radically-oriented academic journal Contemporary Politics has a new issue out (Vol 13, no 4). Articles of particular interest include Adrian Budd on 'Transnationalist Marxism: a critique' focussing on the 'neo-Gramscians' and William Robinson, treating them as interestingt but one-sided and failing to deal adequately with the contradictory nature of contemporary uneven development.

There's also a rather uncritical and out-of-date (feels like 2005 basically) 'Reflecting on the recent anti-war movement' by Kate Hudson, who last heard of (by me) is both editor of this journal and head of CND. Okay, but a missed opportunity to deepen debate about the strategy and tactics of the anti-war movement.

And there is an interesting article about the Indian 'anti-globalization' movement by Thomas Brister: ''Swadeshis in competition': Enron and India's anti-globalization movement'.

Book reviews include Mary Davies on Paul Blackledge's Reflections on the Marxist Theory of History: generally giving high praise, except for absence of feminism. Then Paul himself pops upo to review Rick Kuhn's Henryk Grossman and the Recovery of Marxism - which has just won the Isaac and Tamara Deutscher award. Paul is keen on this book, as was Chris Harman in a recent ISJ.