Thursday, May 22, 2008

New Hope for the American anti-war movement?

CPR for the Anti-War Movement by Ron Jacobs (from MRZine)

It is fair to say that the anti-war movement in the US is moribund. A movement that put a million people in the streets a month before the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and has drawn as many as half-a-million protesters to protests as recently as January 2007 has failed to mobilize anything even near those numbers since then. Part of this is because of differences among the leadership of the two primary anti-war organizations, part of it is because many people opposed to the war have put their energies -- however misplaced -- into working for Barack Obama, and part of it is attributable to the belief that there is nothing one can do to stop the bloody occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. The most recent example of this occurred during the week of March 15th, 2008. Despite the announced intentions of both anti-war organizations to organize some kind of national march marking the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, there was no such protest. Instead, hundreds of cities and towns around the country held smaller observances.

In the wake of the failure to organize a national protest, some folks from the US who had formed a coalition following a 2007 international anti-war conference in London decided to step outside the existing organizational stasis. They formed a steering committee with the intention of reigniting the national movement against the war in the United States. The primary movers behind this effort include members of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), US Labor Against the War (USLAW), military veterans and individuals with decades of experience organizing against imperial war, and representatives of numerous local anti-war committees. Characterizing themselves as the mass action wing of the anti-war movement, the steering committee in early spring 2008 put out a call for a nationalmeeting of anti-war activists and citizens in late June of this year -- a call which has been answered by hundreds of organizations and individuals from across the US. Organizing under the name The National Assembly to End the Iraq War and Occupation, the steering committee has garnered the endorsement of several labor organizations and individuals like Cindy Sheehan, Howard Zinn, and Mumia Abu Jamal. In addition, a multitude of local peace and justice organizations, church groups, and student organizations have signed on.

When I asked AFSC organizer and coordinator of the Northeast Ohio Anti-War Coalition Greg Coleridge, who along with Marilyn Levin of Greater Boston United for Justice with Peace, is one of the national spokespeople for the National Assembly, why this conference should be held now, he responded this way.

The ever-increasing human carnage, economic costs, and desire for US military conquest connected to the Iraq war and occupation demand effective resistance. There is an urgent need for greater coordination, collaboration and cohesion among US anti-war organizations without giving up their own missions and identities. The upcoming elections provide ample opportunities to distract attention from the current permanent nature of the war and occupation. Now is the time for anti-war activists and concerned citizens to come together and call on the anti-war movement to organize mass actions which communicate to the public and pressure elected officials that US troops, bases and contractors must leave Iraq immediately.

It is important to note that there is not a call for a withdrawal timetable here. As Coordinating Committee member Jerry Gordon told me in a conversation, the only correct demand for the U.S. anti-war movement is for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq. Furthermore, it is assumed that the best way to make this demand is through mass action and a unified anti-war movement that utilizes democratic decision-making and remains independent of any and all political parties and organizations. It is not the intention of those on the steering committee to supersede UFPJ or ANSWER. Indeed, they have the utmost respect for the two organizations and the work they have done to this point. This respect is evident in the fact that both organizations have members from their coordinating committees on the speakers list for the Assembly.

The Assembly, which will take place on June 28th and 29th 2008 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Northeast Cleveland, is open to all. A five-point action plan will be discussed and voted on during the weekend. Although there are several speakers slated for the podium and a number of workshops scheduled, there will be ample time for anyone to speak and it is hoped that those who have serious ideas on how to organize a movement that will stop this war will attend and speak up. As Greg Coleridge put it in an email to me, "I see the Assembly as a collective facilitator -- enabling the many different voices against the war to coalesce and create a massive roar to force an immediate end to the war and occupation." He continued, hoping that a "greater trust" can be developed among those working to end the war. As for concrete outcomes, he said the organizers "hope that Assembly attendees will agree to urge that the broad anti-war movement unite in calling for mass actions this year and next."

Reminding me that the vast majority of people in the US oppose the war and occupation, Coleridge explained why he believes mass action is not only important but essential. "Unfortunately," he wrote in an email. "the US Constitution doesn't permit national initiatives or referendums." If it did, he "believe(s) most people today would vote for a federal initiative calling to end the Iraq war, bring US troops home, close military bases, and end funding beyond required to transport the troops back." Coleridge continued, explaining that "Organized mass street actions have played a historically important role in producing social change in this country. A government that ignores public opinion and mass mobilizations loses credibility, authenticity, and legitimacy. No government can effectively govern without support from the majority of its citizens. A vast majority of people oppose the war and occupation. The anti-war movement has a responsibility to provide forums where those feelings can be expressed. National and coordinated mass action is certainly not the only strategy required to end the Iraq war and occupation. Over the last couple of years, however, it is a strategy that has not been utilized for maximum effect. That must change."

Conference speakers include Jonathan Hutto, Navy Petty Officer, author of Anti-War Soldier and Co-Founder of Appeal for Redress; Donna Dewitt, president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO; Cindy Sheehan (by satellite); Colia Clark, long time civil rights activist; Fred Mason, President of the Maryland AFL-CIO and National Co-Convenor of USLAW; Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army; and Clarence Thomas, Executive Board member, ILWU Local 10, the trade union that initiated the May 1 one-day strike that closed all U.S. West Coast ports from Canada to Mexico.

For information and to register for the National Assembly, please go to their website at or call 216-736-4704.

Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground (republished by Verso). His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at <>.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Wallerstein on the left shift in Latin America

Commentary 233, May 15, 2008
"How Far Left Has Latin America Moved?"

Everyone seems to agree that Latin America has moved leftward in the period after 2000. But what does this mean?

If one looks at the elections throughout Latin America, parties to the left of center have won them in a large number of countries since 2000 - most notably in Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and most recently Paraguay. There are of course important differences between the situations in these countries. Some of these governments seem pretty close to the center. Others talk a more revolutionary language. And there are a few exceptions - notably Colombia, Peru, and Mexico (although in Mexico, the conservative government won the last elections with about the same degree of legitimacy as Bush won the 2000 elections in the United States). The real question is not whether Latin America has moved left, but how far left has Latin America moved.

There are, it seems to me, four different kinds of evidence that one could put forward to say that Latin America has moved leftward. The first is that all of these governments have in one way or another sought to distance themselves from the United States to one degree or another. The Bush administration would have preferred in all of these cases that their electoral opponents had won. In the past, when unfriendly governments came to power in Latin America, the United States tended to work to bring about their replacement, indeed their overthrow. But the decline of U.S. power in the world-system, and in particular the preoccupation of the United States with the wars it has been losing in the Middle East, seems to have sapped it of the political energy with which to move decisively in Latin America in ways it had previously. The failed coup against Chavez in 2002 is good evidence of this.

How have these governments put distance between themselves and the United States? There have been a series of ways. In 2003, the United States was unable to persuade the two Latin American members of the U.N. Security Council at the time (Chile and Mexico) to support the resolution it sought to obtain to legitimize the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In the last election of the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS), the U.S.-supported candidate lost, which had never before happened in the history of the OAS. And when the one sure friend of the United States in Latin America today, Colombia, got into a severe quarrel this year with Venezuela and Ecuador, the other Latin American states in effect sided with Ecuador and Venezuela. Ecuador is now refusing to renew the U.S. military base that is located there.

The second kind of evidence for a leftward trend has been the acute rise in political importance and power of the indigenous movements throughout Latin America - most notably in Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Central America. The indigenous populations of Latin America have long been the most oppressed sectors of the population and have for the most part been kept out of the political structures. But today we have an indigenous president in Bolivia, which represents a veritable social revolution. The strength of these movements in both the Andean zone and the Mayan areas of Central America has become a major factor in their politics, and an enduring one.

The third kind of evidence has been the survival, and indeed resurgence, of liberation theology. The Vatican moved to suppress these movements during the last three papacies with at least the same vigor as the United States used against left governments in the 1950s and 1960s. Theologians have been silenced and sympathetic bishops carefully replaced by distinctly unsympathetic ones. Nonetheless, Catholic movements inspired by liberation theology continue to flourish in Brazil. The presidents of Ecuador and Paraguay have emerged from that tradition. And the inroads of Protestant evangelical groups in Latin America may be moving the Vatican to become more tolerant of the liberation theologians, who are at least Catholics, and may help to stem this loss of the faithful to the church.

Finally, Brazil has been pursuing a reasonably successful effort to become a leader of a regional South American bloc. This may not seem in itself a leftward move. But in the context of a worldwide process of multipolarization, the establishment of such regional zones weakens the power not only of the United States but of the entire North in terms of North-South relations. Brazil's leadership of the so-called G-20 countries has been a major factor in the evisceration of the World Trade Organization's ability to implement a neoliberal agenda.

So, what does this all add up to? Certainly not a "revolution" in the traditional meaning of the term. What it means is that the median point in Latin American politics, the locus of the "center," has moved considerably to the left of where it was a mere decade ago. This must be put in the context of a worldwide movement. This shifting leftward is going on in the Middle East and East Asia as well. Indeed, it is going on in the United States. The impact of the world economic recession, soon probably to become even more severe, will no doubt push these tendencies even further.

Will there be no reaction by forces of the right? No doubt there will. In Latin America, we see it today in the attempt of the wealthier and "whiter" eastern regions to secede from Bolivia and get out from under the majority indigenous populations who have finally won power in the central government. We are in for shaky times politically, in Latin America as elsewhere. But the left is in a far stronger position to fight these battles today in Latin America than they have been for half a century.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

ISO Website looks good to me. I think the paper has gone fortnightly though.

Here are the encomia:
Messages of solidarity
Welcome to the new Socialist Worker, with more-up-to-date news and action, which will provide more effective organizing, together with more informed commentary. Forward to our socialist world.--Dennis Brutus, University of Fort Hare, South Africa

You can now get your grit on the Web as well as the street. real-time avatar of Socialist Worker--promises to become the indispensable portal for activism-based analysis and radical social commentary.--Mike Davis, author of In Praise of Barbarians: Essays Against Empire and City of Quartz

For someone originally trained in Marxism by the ISO, in early 1980s Baltimore, this Web site reminds me of the finest traditions and also the strongest contemporary analysis. In South Africa, we'll keep a close eye and expect your coverage of this super-exploited continent to remain rich and deep.--Patrick Bond, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

A daily Socialist Worker Web site from the U.S. is not just something needed by the leftists in America, but also by the international left. Now, when a new global capitalist crisis is spreading from United States and the system of political control in your country seems to have started falling apart, it is becoming exciting to follow political developments in the U.S. This is not to underestimate the strength of American ruling class, but there is a space emerging for radical politics.--Boris Kagarlitsky, author of Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System

The new website design is fantastic. It is simply amazing to see how far the Socialist Worker reaches, even in my workplace. Don't stop what you all are doing!--Todd M. Jordan, UAW Local 292

The Socialist Worker is not only a brilliant form of expression, but a most incisive reader that continues to present new realities within the left tradition. This marks it a one of the leading lights on contemporary left discourse, worth all the support that can be rendered.--Kiama Kaara, Kenya Debt Relief Network

The Socialist Worker consistently provides critical analysis of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, among other pressing issues of our day. SW can always be counted on for important reportage and insightful contextualizing of current events which is so often lacking in most news outlets today.--Dahr Jamail, author of Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq

The Socialist Worker site is a valuable resource for everyone who wants to do something to arrest and reverse the imperial goals of the American ruling class.--Michael Schwartz, author of the forthcoming War Without End: The Iraq War in Context

Best of luck as you launch a new look for your publication. May it bring you even broader readership and success. As one of the people interviewed over the past year, I know how important it is to have a publication that offers an alternate view and can tell the stories of ordinary people who work and strive for a solid, meaningful life but often feel left out. Thank you for the work you do, and I will look forward to reading more about health care reform in future issues. Together, we can change this broken system.--Donna Smith, American SiCKO and founder, American Patients for Universal Health Care

Socialist Worker online is very good news, for it reflects the great and growing disquiet among a broad range of people. I would say its informed dissent is the true mainstream. All power to it.--John Pilger, veteran activist and journalist, and author of Freedom Next Time and The New Rulers of the World

Whenever my activism requires me to become informed about a particular issue facing our society, the Socialist Worker is always at the top of my list of reliable sources. It covers a wide variety of both national and international news, but more importantly, its journalists and guest writers have the courage to present the stories from a humanistic perspective. When there are crimes and injustices being committed anywhere in the world, it is not the job of reporters to present a neutral version. The Socialist Worker has not only the courage but also the moral clarity to take the side of the oppressed and speak for justice. I hope the relaunch of your web site is successful in helping you reach a wider audience. It is not only in their best interest, but in the best interest of all of us.--Camilo Mejía, board member, Iraq Veterans Against the War

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