• All articles and photos on this site are by Ulli Diemer unless otherwise indicated. Your feedback is welcome.
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Articles Lists

Selected Articles

  • Abandoning the public interest – The neo-liberal drive to cut red tape is costing lives. Exposing the hidden costs of deregulation and privatization. Available in French Available in Spanish
  • On Self-Determination – Does 'the right to self-determination' actually mean anything, or is it an empty slogan whose main use is that it relieves us of the trouble of thinking critically? Available in French Available in Spanish
  • Dances with Guilt: Looking at Men Looking at Violence – When we throw around indiscriminate terms like 'male violence' and give credence to theories that men are inherently violent, we slander men who are not violent and perpetuate the stereotype that to be a man is to be violent. Available in French Available in Spanish
  • One Vote for Democracy – The ‘consensus’ model of group decision-making rarely works well. The democratic model is better both in principle and in practice. Available in French Available in Spanish
  • Ten Health Care Myths – Medicare's opponents have launched a sustained ideological attack on medicare. Their propaganda relies on myths and misrepresentations.
  • The Iraq Crisis in Context – A rogue state, heavily armed with weapons of mass destruction, openly contempuous of international law and the United Nations, plunges the world into crisis. Available in Greek Available in French Available in Spanish
  • Contamination: The Poisonous Legacy of Ontario's Environmental Cutbacks – A story about fanaticism and death: How a neo-conservative government gutted health and environmental protection polices, leading to the Walkerton water disaster. Available in French Available in Spanish
  • Capital Punishment – The cold-blooded killing of a human being is horrifying. The existence of capital punishment make us all complicit in killing, and degrades us as a society. Available in French Available in Spanish
  • Anarchism vs. Marxism – Anarchist critiques of Marxism typically reveal a lack of knowledge of what Karl Marx actually wrote, resulting in sterile denunciations of a straw-man opponent. Available in Spanish
  • What Do We Do Now? Building a social movement in the aftermath of Free Trade – We have the potential to create a social movement in this country that goes beyond single-issue organizing to work toward an integrated vision of a more just and caring society. Available in French Available in Spanish
  • More Articles...

Language Guide

  • Available in French - Available in French
    Available in Spanish - Available in Spanish
    Available in Greek - Available in Greek


What I’ve Been Reading

  • An Execution in the Family. Robert Meeropol.
  • The Price of Butcher’s Meat. Reginald Hill.
  • Death Comes for the Fat Man. Reginald Hill.
  • Eating Fire. Michael Riordon.
  • A Most Wanted Man. John Le Carré.
  • Roads to Quoz. William Least Heat-Moon.
  • Preface to the Phenomenology. G. W. F. Hegel.
  • Mirrors. Educardo Galeano.
  • The World Turned Upside Down. Christopher Hill.
  • Our Way to Fight. Michael Riordon.
  • Radicalism in America. Sidney Lens.
  • Primitive Rebels. Eric Hobsbawm.
  • Ten Days That Shook the World. John Reed.
  • What’s the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. Thomas Frank.
  • We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on education and social change. Myles Horton, PauloFreire.
  • A Paradise Built in Hell. Rebecca Solnit.
  • Memories of Fire. Eduardo Galeano.
  • Reading Pictures: A History of Love and Hate. Alberto Manguel.
  • Widerstand und Verweigerung in Deutschland 1933 bis 1945. Richard Löwenthal; Patrik von zur Mühlen.
  • Six Men. Alistair Cooke.
  • On the Road. Jack Kerouac.
  • Catch 22. Joseph Heller.
  • Dialogues of the Dead. Reginald Hill.
  • One Step Behind. Henning Mankell.
  • The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World. Joel Kovel.
  • Lincoln Reconsidered. David Herbert Donald.
  • The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Richard Dawkins.
  • 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Charles C. Mann.
  • The World Without Us. Alan Weisman.
  • Lincoln. Gore Vidal.
  • Intellectual Self-Defense: Find Your Inner Chomsky. Normand Baillargeon.
  • Wobblies & Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical Theory. Staughton Lynd & Andrej Grubacic.
  • I Have Lived Here Since the World Began. Arthur J. Ray
  • Strange Fruit: Why Both Sides are Wrong in the Race Debate. Kenan Malik.
  • More Reading...

What I’ve Been Watching

  • Ida. 2014.
  • Inch’Allah Dimanche. 2001.
  • CitizenFour. 2014.
  • Since Otar Left... 2004.
  • Avatar. 2009.
  • La Pivellina. 2009.
  • Kitchen Stories. 2003.
  • Finding Vivian Maier. 2013.
  • Found Memories. 2012.
  • Black Balloon. 2008.
  • Ilo Ilo. 2013.
  • The Angels’ Share. 2012.
  • Even the Rain. 2010.
  • The Artist. 2011.
  • 11 Flowers. 2012.
  • Lincoln. 2012.
  • Hannah Arendt. 2013.
  • Tomboy. 2011.
  • Still Walking. 2008.
  • Le Havre. 2011.
  • Bread and Roses. 2000.
  • The Kid with a Bike. 2011.
  • De vrais mensonges. 2010.
  • Cinema Paradiso. 1988.
  • The First Grader. 2010.
  • Laila’s Birthday. 2008.
  • The Middle of the World. (O Caminho das Nuvens). 2003.
  • Le Quattro Volte. 2011.
  • Tsotsi. 2005.
  • Umberto D. 1952.
  • Monsieur Lazhar. 2011.
  • Il Posto. 1962.
  • Sugar. 2009.
  • The Snow Walker. 2003.
  • Nostalgia de la luz (Nostalgia for the Light). 2010.
  • Salt of the Earth. 1954.
  • Takva: A Man’s Fear of God. 2006.
  • Le Voyage En Armenie. (Journey to Armenia.) 2006.
  • Eight Men Out. 1988.
  • Kandahar. 2001
  • High Hopes. 1988.
  • Limbo. 1999.
  • Looking for Eric. 2009.
  • Sunshine State. 2002.
  • Invictus. 2009.
  • The Thin Red Line. 1998.
  • The Secret in Their Eyes. 2009.
  • Ballast. 2008.
  • Amal. 2007.
  • Divided We Fall. 2000.
  • Lemon Tree. 2008.
  • Monty Python’s Life of Brian. 1979.
  • Padre padrone. 1977.
  • The Death of a Cyclist. 1955.
  • The Education of a Fairy. 2007.
  • La Vie En Rose. 2007.
  • Honeydripper. 2007.
  • Beshkempir (The Adopted Son). 1998.
  • Occupation 101. 2007.
  • Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others). 2007.
  • Roads to Koktebel. 2003.
  • Offside. 2006.
  • More Films...

Blogs & Notes


  • I believe in using words, not fists. I believe in my outrage knowing people are living in boxes on the street. I believe in honesty. I believe in a good time. I believe in good food. I believe in sex.
  • – Bertrand Russell

Favourite Links


The shadow which haunts the power structure is the danger that those who are controlled will come to realize that they are powerless only so long as they think they are. Once people stop believing they are powerless, then the whole edifice which they support is in danger of collapse.
Against All Odds

Believe it or not, some of us would rather not have customs officials and cops deciding what we can read or look at. We'd rather decide for ourselves.
Against Censorship

Metcalfe Street - Photo by Ulli Diemer


  • He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars. General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer.
  • – William Blake

Radical Digressions
Ulli Diemer’s Notebook

After Typhoon Haiyan: The true face of the capitalist state

November 11, 2013 - #

In times of disaster, the capitalist state shows its true face.

In the Philippines, in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, thousands are dead, bodies lie uncollected in the streets, tens of thousands of homes and buildings have been destroyed, and survivors are without food, water, shelter, medical care, or essential supplies.

Meanwhile the police and the military are guarding stores “to prevent people from hauling off food, water” and other supplies (CBC report)

Stop. Let it sink in. Not only is the state failing to provide water and food, it is sending in its armed forces to prevent people from getting water and food.

A CBC report says that “an Associated Press reporter in the town said he saw around 400 special forces and soldiers patrolling downtown to guard against further chaos.”

To guard against further chaos”. Chaos, from the perspective of the capitalist state, is people helping themselves to goods from stores in order to survive. Desperate survivors wandering among dead bodies in the street: that is not chaos. An government incapable of responding to a disaster: that is not chaos.

Rebecca Solnit has written about this in her marvellous book A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster.
Writing about Hurricane Katrina, she says “the media focus was for a while on the retail outlets on dry ground reportedly being plundered. The hysteria about looting became so intense that two and a half days after the storm, on August 31 Nagin and Governor Kathleen Blanco called emergency responders – police and National Guard mostly – off search and rescue to focus on combating looting. They had chosen protecting property over saving lives. Put that way, the decision sounds bizarre, but the term looting itself is maddening to some minds, creating images of chaos, danger, and boundless savagery. What difference would it make if we were blasé about property and passionate about human life?”
“Looting is an inflammatory, inexact word that might be best excised from the English language. It pools together two very different activities. One might be called theft; the other requisitioning, the gathering of necessary goods in an emergency – think of the Salvation Army volunteers and affluent professionals breaking into drugstores in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake to get medical supplies for the injured. Such circumstances, a choice of survival and aid over the rules of everyday life.”
“Survival required requisitioning. As the short-term emergency of the hurricane turned into a long week during which people were trapped in New Orleans, food, water, diapers, medicine, and more ran out and were replenished from stores. Left-wing media people forwarding e-mail images, and eventually Soledad O'Brien on CNN pointed out that news photographs of African Americans gathering necessities were titled looting, while whites doing the same thing “gathering supplies”. Opportunistic theft and burglary are, historically, rare in American disasters, rare enough that many disaster scholars consider it one of the “myths” of disaster. Some such opportunism happened in Katrina. The first thing worth saying about such theft is who cares if electronics are moving around without benefit of purchase when children's corpses are floating in filthy water and stranded grandmothers are dying of heat and dehydration?”

Labels: DisastersHurricanes/Typhoons/CyclonesMutual Aid

Seeds of Fire: Birth of Karl Marx, May 5, 1818

May 5, 2013 - #

Marx breathes dialectics and revolution. For Marx, radicalism means going to the root, and Marx’s radicalism seeks to go to the root of capitalism, to comprehend its essence dialectically, to understand its inherent contradictions – and the seeds of revolution it contains.

The social reality he sees is not fixed and static, but charged with inner tensions and contradictions, which build up until they burst through the constraints of the present order to assume new forms, again with their own tensions, containing the seeds of yet further transformations. In capitalist society, he writes, “All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.”

Marx comes to socialism, unlike his predecessors, not by drawing up blueprints for imaginary utopias, but through his involvement in the real struggle for democracy.

Here is the heart of his politics: there can be no democracy without socialism, and no socialism without democracy.

He starts to study economics, not because of theoretical preconceptions, but because, as a radical journalist, he is trying to better understand the oppression of the poor peasants whose struggles he is striving to bring to public attention.

Marx never constructs a finished system: on the contrary, he struggles to finish anything he writes because there is always more to learn, always further complexities to study and analyze. He hopes to finish the manuscript that becomes “Capital” in a few months; twenty-four years later, it remains only partially completed, and his friend Friedrich Engels has to complete it after his death.

Marx is always deepening his analysis in response to events: from local struggles of weavers and the rural poor in Germany, to the resistance to British imperialism in India, to the struggle against slavery in the United States, to the Paris Commune, to the long campaign to win the eight-hour day.

He continuously adjusts his theories to the facts, not the facts to his theory. Exasperated by pedantic admirers who proclaim a “Marxist” orthodoxy, he growls “If anything is certain, it is that I myself am not a Marxist.”

His investigations bring him to an understanding of the class nature of society: how economic relations, relations of production, shape a society, including its state forms and ideology. He sees, too, that class struggle is inevitable, and that, further, it is the force that can transform societies.

Marx’s analysis shows that the contradictions of capitalism cannot be resolved: capitalism is a system of continuous crisis, capable of destroying the planet on which it feeds in its endless need to extract more profit, more surplus value, and accumulate more capital. Marx is clear about the danger capitalism poses to the earth: he writes angrily about the destruction it wreaks, and reminds us that we are “not the owners of the globe,” that, on the contrary, we have a duty to “hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition.”

At the same time, Marx understands clearly that, for all of its contradictions, capitalism will not fall on its own: it needs to be overthrown. He is a revolutionary, not an economic determinist.

Marx believes that there exists a social majority – the working classes, the people who do the work of the society – who are capable of overthrowing capitalism and the capitalist state, and who in doing so can liberate themselves, and all of society. He believes that revolutionaries should engage themselves in the struggles that confront them where they live, but he is clear that finally a revolution that overthrows capitalism, a global system, must be an international revolution.

Marx is clear in his views, but practical in his politics. He throws himself into the work of the First International, which at the beginning is not even explicitly socialist, because he believes it is important to work with others who are engaged in struggle. He never tries to form a political party, and while he usually describes himself as a “communist”, he also at times calls himself a “socialist” or an “anarchist”, without troubling himself much about the terminology.

Running through everything he does is a profound and passionate belief in self-emancipation. He has no time for would-be dictators and saviours who want to bring ‘liberation’ from the outside. Liberation, for Marx, can only be self-liberation: the collective act of individuals working together to emancipate themselves. “Free association” is his watchword, both for the struggle and for the society that we hope to bring into being.

He knows that he won’t live to see that future communist society whose watchword will be “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” but he devotes his entire life to bringing it about.

Labels: DialecticsKarl MarxMarxismMarxism OverviewsRevolutionRevolutionary PoliticsSelf-Emancipation

Memory as Resistance

November 2, 2012 - #

Grassroots Archives and the Battle of Memory

CONNEXIONS and Beit Zatoun are spotlighting grassroots archives this November with an open house and networking event November 24, a talk and discussion November 27, and an exhibit (November 16-27).

Grassroots archives play a valuable role in what has been called “the battle of memory”. Mainstream media and institutions of power consign inconvenient histories, struggles, and alternative visions to what George Orwell called “the memory hole.”

People’s history projects such as grassroots archives preserve and share stories of resistance, hidden histories, and alternative visions. Their role is particularly important as official archives are forced to restrict acquisitions, limit access and discard materials as funding is slashed.

Join us at Beit Zatoun in looking at the future of grassroots archive projects.

Exhibition: Memories of Resistance
A display of social justice materials from the Connexions Archive.
November 16 - 27

Is that an archive in your basement... or are you just hoarding?
An open house and networking event for amateur archivists, keepers of the radical past, and friends and supporters of independent libraries, grassroots archives, and people’s history. Bring your stories, ideas, and examples of grassroots and radical history.
Saturday November 24, 2:00 - 5:00 pm

Preservation as subversion: Do grassroots archives have a future?
The Connexions Archive is looking for a secure and permanent home for its collection and the team of volunteers who work on cataloguing and digitizing. It isn’t alone. Other grassroots projects and “basement archives” face similar problems in preserving and sharing the history of activist groups and movements. They all believe that a knowledge of the past can be inspiring and subversive.

How can we preserve the history of our movements? Where can we preserve them?
Can we work together to digitize and share: ‘Archive locally, share globally’?
Join us at Beit Zatoun for a talk and discussion with Ulli Diemer of Connexions.

Admission free but contributions welcomed.
Tuesday November 27, 7:00 pm

Beit Zatoun, 612 Markham Street, Toronto.M6G 2L8
Bathurst subway stop on the Bloor line (exit Markham Street)

Connexions: 416-964-5735
Beit Zatoun: 647-726-9500

Beit Zatoun:

Further reading:
Is that an archive in your basement... or are you just hoarding?
Securing a future for the past
About Connexions
Connexions Oral History and Memoirs Focus page
Connexions Radical and Left History and Memoirs Focus page

Labels: Digital Archiving, Libraries/Archives

Returning to chess

August 3, 2012 - #

It was one of those boxes that sits unopened for years. The treasures it contained seemed important enough – at the time they went into the box – to keep them safely stowed until the day they would be needed again, and retrieved from the box. Finally, on a recent winter’s day – after many winters had passed – I got around to looking inside at the all-but-forgotten contents.

There, among various strange and wondrous things, were my math books from high school and first-year university. In those days, I had entertained the notion that I might go on to become a mathematician. I didn’t, and it’s safe to say that the field of mathematics has not suffered as a result. Nor have I. It turned out we weren’t meant for each other.

So there I was, sitting on the floor, holding those old math books covered with my notes, calculations, and doodles. As I looked through them I was – what? Surprised? Bemused? Disconcerted?

I couldn’t understand any of it. None of it made sense to me any more. Here were algebraic problems to solve. I had solved them once, easily. Now I couldn’t even figure out how I would start.

No big deal, of course. What you don’t use, you tend to forget. When you haven’t looked at something in years, it’s not going to be as fresh in your mind as it was when you were immersed in it. I wondered, though, as I leafed through those old textbooks: could I understand math again if I put my mind to it? I didn’t spend much time wondering about it, though, because I quickly realized that there is no way I could ever motivate myself to study math again, even if I had the time. There was a time when mathematics interested and excited me, but that spark is well and truly gone.

Then I started thinking about chess, another one of my passions in the days when math was exciting. For about ten years, through to the end of high school, I was an avid chess player. I belonged to a couple of chess clubs, read chess books, played in tournaments. In my first term at university, I skipped so many calculus classes to play chess that I failed calculus. In retrospect, that wasn’t a bad thing: it made it clear to me that I wasn’t meant to continue in math. I took a history course to make up the lost credit, and the rest is, well, history.

But I also stopped playing chess. I wasn’t enjoying it any more....

Read the rest of the article here.

Solving problems the Rob Ford way

July 21, 2012 - #

[News item: Toronto mayor Rob Ford says gang members should get out of town. “I want ’em out of the city. Go somewhere else. I don’t want ’em living in the city anymore,” Ford said.]

Rob Ford is a genius! What a brilliant idea: stop shootings by telling the guys with guns to get out of town. Why didn’t we think of that before?

We could use the same approach to solve a lot of other problems, too. Bedbug problem? Bedbugs, get out of town! Coyotes scaring people in the park? Coyotes, get out of town! Bicycles clogging our roads? Cyclists, get out of town! Pinkos derailing the mayor’s agenda? Pinkos, get out of town!

And – why not? – idiot mayor problem? Idiot mayor, get out of town!

Medicare Myths and Realities

July 1, 2012 - #

Medicare is in many ways a Canadian success story. It’s far from perfect: barriers and inequities certainly exist. Poor people, Native people, temporary foreign workers, undocumented immigrants, are among those who face those barriers. Certain kinds of health care are not covered by the system or are severely rationed: dental care, pharmaceuticals, physiotherapy, mental health.

But most Canadians can now take it for granted they will receive high-quality health care when they need it, without financial barriers. In a country where we compare everything we do with what happens south of the border, we are surprised but pleased to find we have fashioned a health care program which delivers better care, with better results, to a much higher proportion of the population, at a much lower cost, than in the United States.

Most of the media, however, present a very different story. The air is thick with prophecies of doom and prescriptions for drastic surgery. Canada’s health care system is supposedly in crisis – gravely ill at best, perhaps even on its death-bed. The complaints rarely deal with the inequities and barriers that need to be overcome – on the contrary, there are constant calls for a two-tier system that would create vastly greater inequities.

There isn’t much mystery about the agenda that drives the media’s attack on medicare. It’s the same fundamentalist-capitalist dogma that dominates most political discourse. That dogma holds that everything in all areas of human existence should be owned and controlled by private corporations whose purpose is to maximize profits. Everything is a commodity to be bought and sold in the private marketplace. Any service that is provided on the basis of human need rather than profit is an outrage that cannot be allowed to stand.

However, since medicare is an extremely popular social program, the media and right-wing politicians have learned that it is unwise to attack it directly. Instead, they propagate myths designed to undermine public support for, and confidence in, the health care system, with the goal of gradually undermining and dismantling it. What follows is a brief guide to some common health care myths.

Read the rest of the article here.

Columnist traumatized by having to wait his turn

June 30, 2012 - #

The National Post – a newspaper which fills its pages, not with news, but with the peevish grumblings of right-wing cranks – never tires of attacking that evil socialistic plot called medicare. A recent whiny piece by columnist Jonathan Kay exemplifies the “horrors-of-socialized-medicine” genre.

This particular horror story – Kay calls it his “run-in with the system” – begins when he shows up at his local hospital’s emergency room with an infected knee. The trouble is with his left knee, he tells us – reinforcing his belief, no doubt, that anything on the left is unreliable and troublesome. The inefficient socialistic health care system sends him off for treatment within ten minutes – not too shabby, most of us might say – but it takes a lot more than efficiency and high-quality appropriate care to please a National Post columnist. Soon he is lying in a public hospital bed, intravenous clindamycin trickling through his veins, and thoughts about how much nicer a private hospital bed would be flooding through his brain.

Mr. Kay returns to the hospital the next day for a follow-up treatment, and this time – the horror! – he has to sit and wait before he’s seen. In fact, he tells us, “all but the most acute cases” have to sit and wait their turn. There is – hard to believe, but it’s true – no special queue for the affluent and the privileged, not even if they are National Post columnists. So Mr. Kay sits and seethes.

Read the rest of the article here.

Labels: Bureaucracy - Canada Health Act - Canadian Health Care Myths - Health Care Access - Health Care Costs - Health Care Costs/Comparative Systems - Health Care Funding - Health Care in Canada - Health Care in the United States - Health Care Privatization - Health & Class - Health Determinants - Health Insurance - Health Sources - Insurance/Health Services - Medical Insurance - Medicare - Private Clinics - Privatization - Public Sector - Single Payer System - Socialized Medicine - Universality - User Fees

How to get the answers you want

February 17, 2012 - #

The Ontario government appointed a high-profile banker, Don Drummond, to come up with recommendations about how the government should deal with difficult economic times. The results were predictable....

The Drummond report is a typical instance of how to make sure you get the wrong answers by asking the wrong questions and appointing the wrong person to answer them.

Step 1: The government rigs the game by stipulating that taxing corporations and the rich must not even be discussed.

Step 2: It appoints a wealthy banker who has no knowledge of what life is like for ordinary people to write a report impacting the lives of millions of people.

Presto! You get the predictable result: a report that proposes across-the-board cuts to services for working people and the poor, while the wealthy are left free to keep getting wealthier.

My politics in brief

October 13, 2011 - #

I needed to come up with a concise version of my politics for my Facebook profile. An interesting challenge: here’s what I came up with.

I am a libertarian socialist. My goal is the end of capitalism and its replacement by socialism, ‘an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.’

Socialism is fundamentally about expanding the realm of freedom to the greatest possible extent. It requires ridding the world of capitalism, which crushes human lives and potential while increasingly threatening the planet. The malignant heart of capitalism is capital, so ending capitalism means eradicating capital.

Social reforms, no matter how valuable and worth pursuing, cannot in themselves defeat capitalism. That requires a revolution: the overthrow of the rule of capital and the state forms through which it rules. Revolution can take many forms, but a socialist revolution inescapably means ripping off the straitjacket of capital’s political and legal structures.

Capitalism’s contradictions are pushing us down the road to destruction. We have to end it before it destroys us.

Labels: Alternatives, Anti-Capitalism, Capital, Democracy, Eco-socialism, Free Association, Freedom, Libertarian Socialism, Marxism, Participatory Democracy, Radicalism, Revolution, Revolutionary Politics, Self-Emancipation, Socialism, Socialist Revolution.

Grand narratives?

September 28, 2011 - #

The topic of ‘grand narratives’ came up in my Facebook circles yesterday. Doug Henwood posted an article, by Bhaskar Sunkara in Dissent in which Sunkara criticizes the spread in some of the anti-globalization movements of “an anti-intellectualism that manifested itself in a rejection of ‘grand narratives’ and structural critiques of capitalism.” As an example, he cites Naomi Klein’s comment that she has little use for “grand projects of human freedom.”

There were comments pro and con. Here’s my reaction:

Those who reject ‘grand narratives’ (Naomi Klein for example) have simply bought into the hoariest grand narrative of all, the one which says that capitalism is all-powerful and eternal. The energy of the anti-globalization movements is great – it opens up the possibility that they may evolve to become anti-capitalist movements in the fullest sense of the word. But as long as their perspective is limited to making capitalism nicer and fairer, they are ultimately going to be about living with capital, rather than overthrowing it.

Let’s be clear: when people say they reject ‘grand narratives’ they aren’t referring to cultural theorists like Northrop Frye (The Great Code) or Robert Graves (“there is one story and one story only that will prove worth your telling”). They’re talking about the Marxist tradition.

It seems to me that the pejorative term ‘grand narrative’ is similar in function and intent to the term ‘political correctness’. It’s a glib way of saying “Don’t give me none of that Marxist shit.”

Typically, it’s code for rejecting a coherent historical analysis of capitalism, for rejecting a Marxist analysis of capital and the inherent contradictions of capital accumulation. All-too-often, it signals an unwillingness to seriously consider how capital and the capitalist state can be brought down. Which tends to lead to wishful thinking like ‘changing the world without taking power’.

Me, I prefer Marxism.

Labels: Anti-Globalization, Anti-Intellectualism, Ideological Cliches, Liberalism, Marxism, Narratives, Post-modernism.

Shifting the frame – and getting our message out

September 15, 2011 - #

Two workshops with Ulli Diemer on developing and communicating progressive messages.

The right has been enormously successful in framing the terms of public debate, not just about particular issues, but in shaping the context in which issues are discussed.

Progressives, on the other hand, are often frustrated by our inability to get our message across.

Figuring out how to frame issues is not just a media relations task but a key challenge for developing strategies for social change.

In these workshops we’ll talk about how we can frame our messages more effectively – and how we can do better at getting media coverage.

We will begin with framing: defining the essence of an issue in a way that connects with the values of the people we want to reach. For progressives, this often means establishing an alternative frame to compete with the way the corporate media present the issue.

It may also mean being aware of our tendency to sometimes get caught up in rhetoric and jargon that fails to communicate and that turns people off.

We’ll look at examples of successful – and self-defeating – framing. We'll look at how the right has framed particular debates, and how the left has. We’ll try to understand why the right has been so successful in setting the terms of debate. (Hint: the fact that they own most of the media certainly helps, but it’s not the only thing.)

We’ll analyze examples of framing together, and we'll brainstorm ideas for how we can do better.

In the second workshop, we’ll look at effective media relations. We’ll consider questions such as:
What and who are the media?
Who works for the media?
Who decides whether – and how – a story get covered?
What should a media release say – and how should it be sent out?
What are common pitfalls to avoid in dealing with the media?
What should one say during a media interview – and what should one not say?
How do we get our message out in the soundbite context of the commercial media?
What are alternatives to the mainstream media?

Both workshops will be led by Ulli Diemer.

Bring examples of your own communications materials – leaflets, posters, news releases, etc. for discussion!

Need to know:
Workshop #1: Saturday, September, 24, 2011. 1:00- 3:30
Workshop #2: Saturday, October 29, 2011. 1:00 - 3:30
Cost: $15 per workshop or $25 for both.
Location: Beit Zatoun, 612 Markham Street, Toronto. (near Bathurst subway station)

Grassroots media relations

Labels: Activism, Belief Systems, Frames, Media Analysis and Criticism, Media Coverage, Framing Issues, Publicity for Non-profits, Re-framing Issues, The Right, Values.

Are the police doing their job?

July 6, 2010 - #

It was good to see Naomi Klein tearing into the Toronto police for their violence and abuse of power at the recent G20 summit in Toronto. However, I can’t agree with her at all when she tells the police to “do your goddamned job”.

Fact is, the police ARE doing their job.

Their job is to protect the wealth and power of the ruling elite against any challenge. That involves – among other things – intimidating and suppressing anyone who is not respectful and subservient.

Upholding law and order in a society whose ‘order’ and legal system are based on inequality and oppression depends, first, on an ideological system that tries to make people believe capitalism is good or at least inevitable, and second, on using violence or the threat of violence to deter challenges to the power of the powerful.

The police are the enforcers of the capitalist system. No need to tell them to do their jobs – they’re already doing them, and they’ll keep on doing them as long as capitalism survives.

Labels: Police, The State.

Tactics of desperation: Using false accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’
as a weapon to silence criticism of Israel’s behaviour

December 27, 2009 - #

For more than 60 years, Israel has engaged in a unceasing campaign to dispossess Palestinians of their land and their rights. Its ability to do this has depended on three factors in particular:

* overwhelming military superiority;
* keeping public opinion, especially in North America and Europe, on its side;
* making ordinary working-class Israeli Jews believe that it is in their interest to support Israel’s Zionist elite rather than making common cause with ordinary Palestinians.

Israel’s military dominance is unchallenged, thanks to unconditional support and limitless supplies of advanced military technology and equipment provided by the United States and its allies (including Canada). However, military dominance has not been able to achieve Israel’s ultimate goal: forcing Palestinians to stop resisting and to acquiesce in their dispossession and oppression. Israel’s relentless onslaught has been met by equally determined Palestinian resistance which, despite the odds, steadfastly refuses to accept the injustice of occupation.

This Palestinian resistance has called into being an ever-growing international network of support and solidarity. In dozens of countries and hundreds of communities around the world, organizations and movements have emerged to demand that Israel be made to adhere to international law and to basic principles of justice.

Israel and its supporters see these international campaigns as a huge threat. Israel has escaped the sanctions that have been applied to other states which commit human rights abuses and violate international law only because the United States automatically vetoes all attempts to hold Israel accountable. Israel is also crucially dependent on huge annual inflows of foreign aid, to the point where it is conceivable that the state would collapse if the flows of outside cash which prop it up were to be withdrawn.

Anything that undermines public support in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, therefore, threatens the external backing on which the Israeli state depends for its very existence. It is true that the governments which turn a blind eye to Israel’s violations of international law mostly ignore popular opinion in their own countries as well, but this could change if support for Israel were to become a serious political liability. In this regard, what is particularly worrisome from Israel’s point of view is the fact that support for Israel among Jews in the United States and Canada, especially among younger Jews, has declined dramatically. If Jews stop supporting Israel, then all foreign support is in jeopardy.

Threats to Israel’s international legitimacy bring with them an even greater internal danger: the danger that Israeli Jews will themselves start seeing the Zionist formula – in essence, a militarized apartheid state holding down the Palestinian population by force – as a dead end.

If working-class Israeli Jews were to see their interests as being different from those of the ruling elite – if they come round to the view that their long-term interests will be better served if they join Palestinians in working for a democratic secular state with equal rights for Palestinians and Jews – Israel’s ruling class would find itself in the same untenable position that the white elite in apartheid South Africa faced in the early 1990s. Already, Israel’s rulers are debating what to do about the ‘demographic threat’ they are facing: Israeli Jews are leaving the country in increasing numbers to move to other countries, while the Palestinian population continues to increase.

The Palestinian resistance, and the growing international support which it has attracted, have had a substantial effect in changing the way Israel is perceived. Increasingly, international public opinion is no longer willing to turn a blind eye to ethnic cleansing, house demolitions, systematic humiliations, imprisonment, torture, and the indiscriminate killing of civilians, children as well as adults.

Faced with the erosion of its credibility and support, the Israeli state has lashed out by using ever-increasing repression against the non-violent Palestinian resistance. One of the centres of this resistance is the village of Bil’in, which has been fighting the expansion of an illegal Israeli settlement on its land with weekly non-violent protests for more than five years now, protests which have turned Bil’in into an international symbol of non-violent resistance. The Israeli state has been using ever more extreme tactics of harassment and brutality to attempt to crush the village and put an end to the protests, which it correctly believes are causing substantial harm to Israel’s international image. Similar tactics of harassment and imprisonment are being used against other Palestinians who resist, as well as against Jewish Israelis and international solidarity activists who support the Palestinian cause.

At the same time as it attempts to crush internal resistance, the Israeli state, aided by its supporters in the United States and Canada, has launched extremely aggressive and well-financed propaganda campaigns abroad whose goal is to counteract the decline in support for Israel.

A telling characteristic of these campaigns is that they by and large do not focus on attempting to justify Israel’s behaviour. One has to assume that the architects of the propaganda efforts realize that it is no longer possible to explain war crimes and human rights abuses in a way that the international public will accept.

Instead, the focus has shifted to attempting to shut down criticism of Israel by targetting the most outspoken critics with crude smear tactics and outright censorship.

On a growing number of campuses, for example, this has involved harassment and firing of outspoken professors (e.g. Norman Finkelstein, Joel Kovel), as well as attempts to ban events such as ‘Israeli apartheid week’.

In Canada, we are now seeing an attempt to silence criticism of Israel by labelling all such criticism as ‘anti-Semitism’ and therefore as hate speech. This tactic has a triple purpose: to suppress public awareness of what Israel is doing; to discredit critics by smearing them as ‘anti-Semitic’, and to keep Jews onside by frightening them with the spectre of anti-Semitism.

In Canada, the Harper government, fanatically pro-Israel, is fully involved in this effort. It has cut funding to groups which have supported Palestinians in their quest for justice, and it has set up a Parliamentary body charged with coming up with the legal rationale for making it illegal to criticize Israel.

If the Harper government is successful in getting its way, statements such as the following, all of them expressions of generally accepted principles of human rights and international law, will henceforth be classified as anti-Semitic hate speech in Canada:

‘A state must be the state of all its citizens.’
Saying this will be classified as ‘anti-Semitic’ because it implies that the Israeli state has a duty to serve and represent all of its citizens equally, Palestinians as well as Jews.

‘Everyone born in a state, and everyone who has been a permanent resident for a specified and reasonable period of time, is entitled to citizenship.’
Saying this will be classified as ‘anti-Semitic’ because it would mean that Palestinians under the rule of the Israeli state have the right to be citizens of Israel.

‘All citizens of a state must be equal under the law, equally entitled to the rights, privileges and responsibilities of citizenship. A state may not favour, or discriminate against, citizens, on the grounds of religion, ethnicity, or race.’
Saying this will be classified as ‘anti-Semitic’ because it implies that Israel has to dismantle its discriminatory, apartheid-style system of laws.

‘Every state must accept its internationally recognized borders and must renounce all claims on territory outside of its borders.’
Saying this will be classified as ‘anti-Semitic’ because it would mean that Israel would have to stop seizing land beyond its borders.

‘All states must abide by international law, including the Geneva conventions, laws against collective punishment, laws against torture, etc.’
Saying this will be classified as ‘anti-Semitic’ because it implies that Israel has to stop engaging in ethnic cleansing, collective punishment, and other violations of international law.

‘Refugees have a right to return to the lands from which they were expelled by an invading army or occupying power.’
Saying this will be classified as ‘anti-Semitic’ because it means that the Palestinian refugees expelled from their homeland by Israel must be allowed to exercise their right of return as guaranteed by international law.

‘Sanctions should be applied to those who violate international law.’
Saying this will be classified as ‘anti-Semitic’ because it implies that Israel should face sanctions for engaging in collective punishment and ethnic cleansing, for practicing torture, for committing war crimes, for defying UN resolutions and World Court rulings, and for other illegal acts.

The attempt to outlaw criticism as Israel by labelling it as ‘anti-Semitism’ is a serious threat which needs to be exposed and challenged. At the same time, it should also be recognized as a tactic of desperation, a tactic that has become necessary because of the ever-growing opposition to the crimes of the Israeli state.

The resort to increasingly blatant open repression is a symptom of loss of control. In the past such tactics would not have been necessary because any criticism of Israel was confined to the outer fringes of public debate. Now it has become mainstream, and those who support an ethnically defined, apartheid-style Israeli state are feeling increasingly threatened. Those of us who support a democratic secular state should feel encouraged, even though the struggle is far from won.

Ulli Diemer
December 27, 2009

This article is also available in French, Arabic and Polish.

Amira Hass: Danger: Popular struggle
Britain’s Jews in crisis over national loyalty, identity and Israel
Jonathan Cook: Israel Seeks Ways to Silence Human Rights Groups
Art Young: Pro-Israel Lobby Alarmed by Growth of Boycott, Divestment Movement
Free Speech and Acceptable Truths
Murray Dobbin: Criticizing Israel isn’t anti-semitism
Paul Craig Roberts: Criminalizing Criticism of Israel
Jewish Canadians Concerned About Suppression of Criticism of Israel
Israel/Palestine: Resources for peace, justice, and human rights
Neve Gordon: On Palestinian Civil Disobedience
Michael Warschawski: Free Abdallah Abu Rahmah, Now!
Ali Abunimah: Why Israel Won’t Survive
Henry Lowi: Why Israeli Anti-Zionists do NOT “recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.”
Ulli Diemer: The single state solution
Ulli Diemer: Small countries, big crimes
Michael Neumann: What is Anti-Semitism?

Labels: Anti-Semitism, Israel, Israeli Apartheid, Palestinians.

‘Free speech’ – as long as it doesn’t offend anyone

January 2009 - #

Last April Fool’s Day, I added my two cents’ worth to the ongoing debate about ‘Israeli apartheid’ by writing and distributing a statement purporting to come from an organization called ‘Alumni for Responsible Speech’.

As part of my work with Connexions ( I maintain an online compilation of resources on Israel and Palestine, so I have become quite aware of the extent to which the tactics of the pro-Israel lobby are now aimed at shutting down criticism of Israel, rather than attempting to rebut it.

I have tended to see this as an indication that they know they are losing the debate. Faced with declining support for Israel’s behaviour even among Jews, and finding it increasingly difficult to come up with plausible arguments to defend Israel’s human rights abuses and violations of international law, they are resorting to straightforward attempts at intimidation and censorship – including the old stand-by of labelling any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic.

The ‘Alumni for Responsible Speech’ satire took particular aim at recent developments at several Canadian universities, where administrators and faculty who like to pose as valiant defenders of academic freedom and free speech were showing themselves to be proponents of prohibition and censorship when it comes to ideas which they – or the university’s funders – find unpalatable.

At the University of Toronto, for example, pro-Israel faculty took out a full-page ad in the National Post urging the university administration to ban ‘Israeli apartheid week’ events from the campus. The U of T administration tried to get the Toronto police to do their dirty work for them by soliciting a ruling on whether it is ‘hate speech’ to accuse Israel of practicing apartheid. This craven eagerness to abandon the university’s responsibility to defend freedom of expression backfired when the cops proved to be more liberal than the university’s bureaucrats, telling the university that they saw no problem.

At McMaster University, the administration tried to ban the very use of the term “Israeli apartheid” on campus. This led to vigorous protests, including one from the student union at York University (which was also hosting Israeli Apartheid Week events) calling for the ban to be rescinded “in accordance with a basic commitment to freedom of expression and organization in the democratic context of the public university.” They went on to state that “This strange and unprecedented ban is a blatant violation of democratic freedoms of speech and dissent, and an attack on students’ right to organize. It is the position of the YFS and GSA that universities are sites where discussions and debates about difficult geopolitical questions should be promoted, not stifled. International controversy about use of the phrase ‘Israeli Apartheid‘ cannot be resolved through repression, but through ongoing intellectual exchange.”

My Alumni for Responsible Speech “statement,” on the other hand, mischievously took the position that universities should “tolerate free speech” only “as long as it doesn’t upset anyone.” It called on university administrations to “protect students and faculty from being confused by exposure to incorrect or harmful ideas” and suggested a number of pro-active measures (largely inspired by George Orwell’s 1984) including a University ‘Department of Acceptable Truths’ “to ensure that only safe ideas are taught”, as well as strong measures against “thought crimes”.

“The Alumni for Responsible Speech” satire made the rounds on the Internet, circulated on number of campuses, and received praise from people who enjoyed the way it skewered people who ‘support freedom of speech’ only for views they agree with.

In our times, however, satire has little chance of competing with reality. The battle over ‘Israeli apartheid week’ on campus had barely subsided when the York student union quoted above (“universities are sites where discussions and debates about difficult geopolitical questions should be promoted, not stifled”) waded back into the free speech fray. This time round, the same people who had fulminated about the “democratic freedoms of speech and dissent” and condemned those who would infringe “students’ right to organize” were deciding, by a unanimous vote, to prevent anti-abortion groups or individuals affiliated with them from organizing, leafleting, speaking, holding meetings, or engaging in other anti-choice activities.

Read the rest of the article here.

Small countries, big crimes

January 10, 2009 - #

As I write this, the “world’s most humane army” is once again demonstrating its humanity, this time by slaughtering half-starved refugees in the Gaza ghetto, the open-air prison in which Israel has kept one-and-a-half million people interned for more than 40 years.

The killing frenzy is being matched by equally frenzied efforts by Israel’s propaganda apparatus – which includes most of the North American media – to portray Israel’s crimes against humanity as necessary acts of self-defense.

One of the stock phrases Israel’s apologists repeat, parrot-like, is that Israel is “a small country”. The idea is to make us feel sympathy for Israel, the plucky little country standing up to dangerous foes. But what does it actually mean to say that Israel is “a small country?”

Does it mean it’s hard to find parking spots for the thousands of tanks, armoured vehicles, self-propelled artillery, and other equipment that comprise Israel’s massive armed forces? Is that why Israel keeps sending them into its neighbours’ territories?

Or does it mean that the pilots in Israel’s ultra-modern air force have to be careful not to bump into each other when they return from bombing schools and hospitals and houses in the Gaza Strip or Lebanon? Or is it that Israel’s size makes it difficult to find enough suitable locations to deploy the hundreds of nuclear weapons in its arsenal?

More likely, it’s a psychological defense mechanism Israelis use to persuade themselves that they have the right to keep seizing and occupying other people’s land and to use extreme violence against anyone who resists.

The “small country” ploy becomes much less plausible when one remembers that some of the most brutal colonialist powers of modern times have been small countries with small populations.

Portugal’s population was around one million when Portugal subjugated and largely destroyed the indigenous people of Brazil, who numbered at least five million when the Portuguese conquest began. Superior military technology combined with utter ruthlessness enabled the Portuguese to prevail there, and in its other colonies in Africa, India, and the Pacific.

Tiny Holland, with fewer than two million people but with a large and powerful navy and modern weapons, was able to take over and rule the territories that became the Dutch East Indies and the Dutch West Indies.

Belgium, another little country with modern military technology, ruled over the vastly more populous Belgian Congo, crushing resistance with methods that resulted in the death of half the native population within 25 years.

With its reliance on modern military technology to crush indigenous opposition, Israel follows the model of these earlier colonial-settler states in many ways. But it has one additional advantage that none of them had: the patronage of the ultimate imperial power: the United States. Given the role of the United States in funding Israel’s economy (Israel is the largest aid recipient in the world) and in sustaining the superiority of the Israeli military, it becomes meaningless to call Israel “a small country” – one might as accurately call it a huge military base.

One has to hope that enough Israelis come to understand, sooner rather than later, that there is no future in living in an armed camp that is always preparing for the next war. We for our part have to make sure that they understand that the world will not accept an apartheid state ruling over the Palestinian people by force.

Ulli Diemer
January 10, 2009

Related links:
Jonathan Cook: Outcry Over Israel’s War Crimes
Adri Nieuwhof and Daniel Machover: Abettors of war crimes will be held accountable
Uri Avnery: Israel Is Losing This War
Tony Karon: The War Isn’t Over, But Israel Has Lost
Justin Podur: Turn off the Canadian Media, Please
Rick Salutin: Olive oil, opposition and Gaza
The single state solution
Israel/Palestine: Resources for peace, justice, and human rights
Books on Palestine: Explaining the Israel-Palestine conflict

Labels: Colonialism, Gaza Strip, Israel, Palestine.

Why make a fuss about the murder of a brown-skinned Muslim girl?

December 16, 2008 - #

The November issue of Toronto Life carries an article by Mary Rogan, “Girl, Interrupted: The Brief Life of Aqsa Parvez”, which tells the story of a sixteen-year-old Toronto girl who left her parents’ home after disagreements with her father, was lured back home, and was then killed. Her father and brother have been charged with her murder.

The Toronto Life story, which characterized the murder as an “honour killing” because of the circumstances, involving clashes over the girl’s lifestyle choices – has predictably come under attack from the usual self-appointed gatekeepers of acceptable public discourse. The blinkered zealots of multiculturalism claim that the article is anti-Muslim because – wait for it – it draws attention to violence against Muslim girls.

Ironically, the dogmatists who seek to sweep this issue under the rug describe themselves as ‘feminist’, but theirs is a peculiar form of feminism, a version which condemns violence against women in principle, but seeks to silence those who speak out about violence against Muslim women.

The double standard is sad, but perhaps it is not surprising. History gives us numerous examples of social movements which come, over time, to adopt positions directly opposed to the principles on which they were founded. It appears this has happened with those feminists who argue that we shouldn't make a fuss about the ‘honour killing’ of a brown-skinned Muslim girl. However, the fact that those who take this position cloak themselves in progressive rhetoric doesn’t make their attitude any less racist or any less misogynist.

What is particularly distressing is the way the hard-core multiculturalists betray the very people they claim to be defending. Progressive groups and individuals within Muslim communities are struggling hard against fundamentalism and for women’s rights – and meanwhile the multiculturalists are busily allying themselves with the most reactionary leaders and change-resistant institutions in those communities. Leaders of a movement which used to stand with the oppressed and powerless against patriarchal power structures are now on the other side, providing cover for those power structures. They have become part of the problem.

Ulli Diemer
December 16, 2008

También disponible en español: ¿Por qué protestar por el asesinato de una chica musulmana de piel oscura?
Also available in Arabic.
Also available in Chinese.
Also available in Portuguese.

Related links:
Women Living Under Muslim Laws
The Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women

Labels: Feminism, Double Standards, Multiculturalism, Muslim Communities, Violence Against Women and Children, Women and Islam, Women’s Rights.

I blog therefore I am.