Notebook #8

Articles Lists

Selected Topics

Samplings

Bringing about a single secular state in which Jews and Palestinians have equal rights will not be easy, but ultimately it is the only solution to the conflict. A state based on respect for the human rights of all its citizens is a better safeguard against anti-Semitism and racism than one based on ethnic nationalism and inequality.
The one-state solution

As an immigrant myself, and as a person whose first language is not English, I frankly find it insulting when people suggest that immigrants are only interested in narrow parochial concerns that affect their own “community”. As an atheist and a secularist, I am disturbed when I hear people suggesting that in a secular society like Canada, it is desirable for political activity to be centered around churches, mosques, and temples.
Inclusion or exclusion?

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

Blogs & Notes

Compilations & Resources

Favourite Links

Words of Wisdom

  • Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.
  • – Albert Einstein
  • Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible.
  • – George Orwell
  • The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.
  • – Abraham Lincoln

Samplings

Neo-liberalism is actually a form of state capitalism, marked by ever-increasing government intervention and state spending. The fairy tales about “free markets,” “liberalization,” “down-sizing government,” and so on, are just that, fairy tales. Under neo-liberal regimes, beginning with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, state spending has increased significantly. It’s true that social spending, on health care, welfare, environmental protection and so on, has been slashed, but spending on the military and wars, “national security,” police, corporate subsidies, and corporate bailouts, have grown and grown.
Neoliberalism and State Capitalism

Radical Digressions
Ulli Diemer’s Notebook #8

Disobedience
Other Voices – January 22, 2017

January 22, 2017 - #

The theme of the January 22, 2017 issue of Other Voices is Disobedience.

Ultimately all power structures depend on the obedience of those over whom they rule. It helps if people believe in the legitimacy of those who wield power, but the crucial thing is obedience.

Once people start to disobey in significant numbers, the dynamic of power changes fundamentally. Disobedience, especially on a large scale, shakes the power of the rulers, and increases the power of those who disobey.

Given the nature of state power, the most threatening form of disobedience is the refusal of soldiers to obey orders. In this issue, this is the form of disobedience we focus on. When soldiers begin to question the orders they are given and start regarding the authority of those who give those orders as illegitimate, the military hierarchy, and ultimately the state itself, are threatened.

In this issue of Other Voices, we recall the resistance of rank-and-file American soldiers to the Vietnam War. This resistance was a powerful factor in ending the war, probably second only to the indomitable determination of the Vietnamese to drive out the American invaders. Yet the soldiers’ resistance has been virtually erased from history. Hollywood has made hundreds of movies about the war; none shows the actions of thousands of American soldiers who refused to fight. Their resistance included not only desertion and combat refusals involving thousands of soldiers, but hundreds of instances of GIs killing their own officers when those officers tried to compel them to go into combat.

We also feature an article on rank-and-file soldiers in the Egyptian army. Virtually all of them come from the working classes, and their loyalty to the regime cannot be taken for granted. If they refuse to continue obeying a hierarchy that has soldiers repressing their own people, Egypt’s dictatorship will face a crisis.

From the Archives we feature the Principles of Nuremberg, which were used by the Nuremberg Tribunal to judge Nazi war criminals. These principles were subsequently adopted as key elements of international law. The fourth principle states “The fact that a person acted pursuant to an order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him”. This principle makes clear that under international law, an agent of the state, including a soldier, has a duty to refuse orders that violate international law. We would do well to highlight this duty at every opportunity.

Also in this issue: an article about strikes and other forms of resistance by prisoners and by immigrant detainees: another form of disobedience against the repressive power of the state.

Other articles look at recent worker’ struggles in China, and recall the life of John Berger, the British critic and writer who taught many about different “ways of seeing” the world.

To read Other Voices online, go to http://connexions.org/Media/CXNL-2017-01-22.htm. You can subscribe to the email version by sending a request to mailroom@connexions.org.

See the January 22 issue of Other Voices here. Sign up to receive it by email here


Keywords: Civil Disobedience Desertion Disobedience Mutinies Refusing Orders Soldiers


Disobedience is humanity’s original virtue.


Race & Class
Other Voices – February 12, 2017

February 12, 2017 - #

Merge

The theme of the February 12, 2017 issue of Other Voices is Race and Class.

Class conflict – first and foremost, the relationship between the capitalist class and the working class – is the fundamental contradiction that defines capitalist society. Class is a reality which simultaneously encompasses and collides with other dimensions of oppression and domination, such as gender and race. The relationship between race and class, in particular, is the theme of this issue of Other Voices.

The concept of “race” is a relatively recent invention, born out of the need to invent a justification for the enslavement of black Africans. Race theorists developed pseudo-scientific biological theories to ‘explain’ why Africans were ‘inferior’ and therefore could justly be enslaved. Race theory was then also used to justify and explain social hierarchy in other contexts. It is worth remembering that conservative European social thinkers long held that working people and the poor belonged to a biologically different ‘race’ than their social superiors. The French aristocrat and race theorist Gobineau wrote “Every social order is founded upon three original classes, each of which represents a racial variety: the nobility, a more or less accurate reflection of the conquering race; the bourgeoisie composed of mixed stock coming close to the chief race; and the common people who live in servitude or at least in a very depressed position. These last belong to a lower race which came about in the south through miscegenation with the negroes and in the north with the Finns.”

It was in the Americas, and especially in the United States, a society founded on slavery, that ’racial‘ divisions were cultivated and sharpened to their highest degree. After Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, when black slaves and white indentured servants rose up together, the colonial elite began consciously to foster ‘racial’ divisions by granting poor whites a few social privileges (but not, in most cases, money or power). Immigrants who had been considered non-white and racially inferior, such as the Finns, the Irish, and Slavs from Eastern Europe, were ‘promoted’ into the “white race.”

In the eyes of Karl Marx, the division between whites and blacks within the American working class (which in his analysis encompassed slaves as well as wage-workers) was the fundamental contradiction which stood in the way of developing class consciousness and creating a socialist movement.

In the 20th century, Communists and Trotskyists in particular stressed the central importance of challenging racism in order to build a united working class movement. In the last few years, this insight has been carried forward by other social movements. The concept of ‘intersectionality’ has recently come into vogue in some circles, though others argue that ‘intersectionality’ is actually a step backward in that it assumes that there are separate ‘identities’ that ‘intersect’, an approach which can end up seeing the differences but missing the whole.

These are questions which will continue to challenge us. In this issue, you’ll find a small selection of resources from a vast and ongoing social movement. Exploring the subject links below each item will lead you to many more.

See the February 12 issue of Other Voices here. Sign up to receive Other Voices by email here


Keywords: Race & Class Anti-Racism Black Liberation Caste Class Solidarity Identity Politics Inequality Social Determinants of Health Working Class



Farewell to the Guardian

March 7, 2017 - #

Today I sent the following letter to the Guardian Weekly cancelling my subscription:

After several decades of buying the Guardian Weekly, I have decided not to renew my subscription.

The Guardian always had its faults, but one tolerated them because it also offered high-quality journalism. This is no longer the case. What was once a serious newspaper with high standards has degenerated into little more than a propaganda sheet. One can still occasionally find quality reporting in its pages, but not when it comes to the crucial issues of our time.

On those crucial issues – such as Russia, Ukraine, Greece, US/NATO provocations and interventions in other countries, the Guardian’s bias is extreme, without even a pretense of balance or objectivity. Its campaign of vilification against Jeremy Corbyn has been nothing short of disgusting.

Why would I pay for a subscription to the Guardian when I could – if I wanted to – get the same level of ’journalism‘ for free on Fox News or the Mirror website? Why would I pay money to help pay for the salaries of people like Jonathan Freeland?

I made my final decision not to renew my subscription when the Weekly published a fawning piece about Tony Blair in the February 24 issue, followed three days later by the Guardian editorial praising George W. Bush’s return as an elder statesman. At the same time, the Guardian’s subscription solicitation urged that “You’ll help us hold the powerful to account.” When a newspaper has arrived at the point of praising war criminals while deluding itself that it is holding the powerful to account, I know that it’s not a newspaper that I want to keep receiving.

Keywords: Corporate MediaMedia BiasMedia CriticismMedia Propaganda


The struggle of memory against forgetting

Public Transit
Other Voices – March 18, 2017

March 18, 2017 - #

streetcar

The theme of the March 18, 2017 issue of Other Voices is Public Transit.

Public transit – good affordable public transit – is key to a liveable city.

The old style of city, where workers lived within walking distance of their workplaces, has been replaced by a new kind of city, defined by urban sprawl and the need to commute, often over long distances, between home and work. This new kind of urban landscape, defined by and for the automobile, was deliberately brought into being by the oil industry and the automobile companies. In the United States, they bought up and then ruthlessly dismantled public transportation systems across the country, to ensure that people would have no choice except to buy and drive automobiles. In Europe and Asia, and to some extent in Canada, public transportation systems have continued to play a more important role, but there too, and indeed across the globe, car ownership has been seen as a symbol of success and affluence, and almost everywhere governments have pursued policies favouring automobiles, roads, and highways over public transportation.

If successful people drive cars, then people who need to take public transit can easily be seen as losers. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is supposed to have said that “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.” This kind of attitude has led governments in many parts of the world to starve public transit while at the same time providing massive subsidies to create and maintain the roads and other infrastructure needed by automobiles.

But one of the paradoxes of automobile-dominated cities is that they cannot function without public transportation. Most of the people who do the low-paid work without which modern cities cannot survive can’t afford to buy and operate cars – and if they could, cities would be paralyzed by gridlock. Urban capitalism depends on minimum-wage jobs and precarious work, so the state has to provide some level of transit service for the people who do that work.

All too often, however, the service provided is inadequate and unreliable. Why spend more money than absolutely necessary to serve the needs of working people and the poor, who are often immigrants and members of racialized minorities?

Around the world, there are movements of transit riders fighting for better public transit. A key perspective guiding many of these struggles is the idea that transit should be free, that is, paid for not by fares, but out of general revenues. This is how roads are normally funded: their construction and maintenance are paid for by taxes, rarely by user fees.

Free public transit by itself would not be enough, however. We also need good transit, transit that runs frequently and goes where people want to go. It also needs to be pleasant and safe. This requires substantial new investment.

The cost of building and providing transit systems cannot be ignored. Real estate developers continue to perpetuate and worsen sprawl, building widely dispersed subdivisions which cannot be served by transit in any reasonably affordable way. Thus they continue to worsen society’s dependence on cars at the very time when the climate crisis requires us to radically reduce our dependency on the automobile. It is clear that government regulations have had little impact on the behaviour of real estate developers. The issue that we will have to address sooner or later is the question of private ownership of land: the strange idea that rich people and corporations should be able to buy land and then do with it whatever they please.

Transit struggles, such as the ones described in the articles in Other Voices about Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and Los Angeles, have met with success to the extent that they have formed alliances between drivers and riders. One favourite strategy of governments is to blame high fares and poor service on ‘greedy’ transit workers, whose demands for good pay and working conditions supposedly leave governments with no choice except to cut back on service. Divide and conquer is the favourite tactic of those in power, and to fight back successfully, we need to recognize that tactic and reject it.

See the March 18 issue of Other Voices here. Sign up to receive Other Voices by email here


Keywords: Public Transit Public Transportation Public Services Environment/Role of Public Transit Urban Transit



Other Voices – April 1, 2017

April 1, 2017 - #

Other Voices always strives to present alternative views on important topics. The April 1 issue offers some really alternative perspectives and even some “alternative facts.” As always, read critically – and enjoy.

See the April 1 issue of Other Voices here. Sign up to receive Other Voices by email here


Photo by Angelika Scheffler

Photo by Angelika Scheffler



Affirming life, resisting war, reporting UFOs
Other Voices – April 30, 2017

April 30, 2017 - #

Sheep abducted by UFO The theme of the April 30 issue of Other Voices is Affirming life, resisting war, reporting UFOs.

What do we do when those in power recklessly put the future of the entire planet at risk with their acts of aggression and military provocations, while they ignore the growing disaster of climate change?

We fight back and organize, on every level, wherever we are, doing whatever offers the hope of resisting and of building a movement that can stop and overturn the out-of-control monster of late capitalism.

In this issue, you’ll learn about workers, peasants, scientists and Zapatistas meeting to explore ways of ensuring that science is guided by ethics, social responsibility, and human needs. You’ll read about how indigenous women, who often experience the first and worst effects of climate change, struggle to protect their environments. In the People’s History section, you’ll find a story about the Quechua people and their centuries-long project of developing and protecting more than 2,000 varieties of potato: a heritage that is a gift to the entire world, more important than ever in the face of climate change.

We travel back to look at the historical background of the current tensions in Korea, a background that includes a long history of American attacks on, and threats against, North Korea, with the predictable result that North Korea’s leadership feels it has to deter another U.S. attack at all costs.

UFOs are not normally a topic that receives much attention in Other Voices, but in this issue we draw attention to a flood of phone calls to the hotline set up by the U.S. government for reporting illegal aliens. It seems they have been getting so many phone calls reporting UFO abductions, and describing Star Trek episodes in great detail, that the hotline (1-855-48-VOICE) is essentially out of service. Oh dear!

Our topic of the week is Militarism and Democracy. Or, more precisely, the irreconcilable conflict between militarism versus the possibility of having a real democracy.

See the April 30 issue of Other Voices here. Sign up to receive Other Voices by email here


Keywords: Militarism & Democracy Science and Society Indigenous Women Potatoes


Resisting injustice
Other Voices – May 28, 2017

May 28, 2017 - #

Candelight protest Korea

The theme of the May 28 issue of Other Voices is Resisting Injustice.

The issue looks at the relentless persistence of people challenging injustice and entrenched power in places around the world, including Palestine, Korea, China, Canada, and the United States.

We spotlight the ongoing hunger strike by Palestinian political prisoners languishing in Israeli prisons, workers’ strikes in China, and people in South Korea taking on a corrupt government. In the United States, the Equal Justice Initiative is collecting soil from places where blacks were lynched as a way of remembering their lives and the brutally racist society that murdered them.

An article on recent terrorist attacks in Britain asks what underlies ideological violence and sociopathic rage. Ralph Nader asks why people who are supposed to be professional questioners avoid asking hard questions of those in power. An article on the Korean War relates the history of that war, and the U.S. role in it, to the attitude of North Korea to the United States today.

See the May 28 issue of Other Voices here. Sign up to receive Other Voices by email here

Keywords: Corporate MediaMedia Bias


Public Safety
Other Voices – June 26, 2017

June 26, 2017 - #

In the June 26 issue of Other Voices we look at how public safety is being sacrificed by governments cutting costs and corporations pursuing profits.

It is becoming increasingly clear that we have been witnessing a drastic rolling back of the systems and structures which Western societies developed over the past century or more to safeguard public health and safety. Politicians and business leaders, permeated with free-market ideology, have been jettisoning, with little thought or understanding of the consequences, the apparatus previous generations built, piece by piece, to mitigate the most dangerous aspects of industrial civilization.

Systems which were established to protect public health have been deliberately dismantled by governments driven by a fanatical hatred of the public sector, in the name of eliminating “red tape.”

What we are losing as a result are not only specific protective and regulatory mechanisms, important as they are, but the understanding of why they exist, why they were created in the first place. The hard-won experiences of the past, the disasters that our ancestors learned from at great cost, are disappearing down the memory hole.

Governments, infused with neo-liberal ideology, have made it an article of faith that the private sector is the most efficient provider of most products and services, and that, if a service absolutely has to be provided by the public sector, it should be modelled on the private sector model or provided in partnership with the private sector. Social-democratic and ‘third way’ politicians share this unquestioning faith in the private sector and its ways with their conservative counterparts. The result, all too often, is that responsibility for ensuring public safety is left in the hands of companies and agencies who are in a grave conflict of interest: the less they spend on infrastructure, maintenance, safety equipment, and staff, the higher their profits.

Capitalism has always produced disasters, but in an era where the drive for corporate profits has resulted in ever-lower taxes for corporations and the rich, spending on public welfare and public safety continues to be slashed, all too often with predictable and disastrous results.

In this issue, we look at a few of those disasters, from Grenfell Tower fire in London, to the Flint water crisis, to the 1984 Bhopal disaster. We look at the huge risks that industrialized farming presents to public health, and we recall the Walkerton water contamination disaster. If you follows the subject links into the online Connexions library, you’ll find more pieces of the story, including the stories of people who are organizing and fighting back against those whose greed and negligence put their lives at risk.

See the June 26 issue of Other Voices here. Sign up to receive Other Voices by email here


Keywords: AusterityCorporate CrimeDisastersPublic SafetySafety


Grenfell Tower fire


Hedy Muysson
1939 - 2017

July 14, 2017 - #

Hedy Muysson

Our friend Hedy Muysson died this afternoon.

She insisted that no cermony or memorial gathering be held after she died, but her friends Peter and Charlie have created a web page commemorating her life.

I also created a page with some photos of Hedy and her place.


Secrecy and Power
Other Voices – July 22, 2017

July 22, 2017 - #

Top secret

The July 22 issue of Other Voices focuses on the relationship between secrecy and power.

It is one of the essential attributes of power that it insists on secrecy. Or, more precisely, those who wield power over others routinely claim that the details of what they do, and why they do it, are far too sensitive to be revealed to the public.

The decisions they take, the discussions they have, the information they consider, the lobbyists who influenced them: all this must remain behind closed doors. Terrible (though unspecified) calamities would result if their jealously guarded secrets were to be revealed.

Self-serving as this view may be, it contains an important germ of truth. It is a defining characteristic of almost all bodies that wield power – governments, public agencies, courts, police, corporations – that they view the people they ostensibly serve as the enemy. If the public finds out that they are seen as the enemy, the interests of the power-holders could indeed be harmed. Having their secrets exposed to the public is seen as an existential threat, and is met with fury: witness, for example, the extraordinary vindictiveness which the American state directs at whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and Julian Assange.

It is on the level of national security that the cult of secrecy is most apparent and most pathological. It is also on this plane that the distinction between secrecy and privacy is clearest.

Privacy is something that belongs to individuals. It is the right to go about one’s business without being spied on by the state or corporate entities. Governments and corporations hate the idea of privacy, and do everything they can to deny anyone, anywhere, the right to privacy. They suck up information, all kinds of information, anything and everything, and trade it like a commodity.

Secrecy, on the other hand, is a weapon used by the state and other wielders of power against the public they ostensibly serve. Whereas everything that every member of the public does must be subject to surveillance by those in power, everything important done by those in power must remain a secret.

The same attitudes are prevalent wherever power is wielded. Far-reaching international agreements, such as the so-called “free trade” deals, are always negotiated in secret. Pesticides and other chemicals are routinely approved on the basis of ‘evidence’ which can’t be revealed because it is a trade secret. On those rare occasions where corporations are successfully sued by those they have harmed, the actual settlement is concealed behind a court-imposed non-disclosure clause, so that others can’t take advantage of the precedent. International financial agreements have been carefully crafted to allow the wealthy to move and hide their money to avoid paying taxes. Trials of those accused of crimes against the state are held in secret; sometimes those taken into custody are held in secret prisons without even the benefit of a trial.

One of the paradoxes of the cult of secrecy, as it pertains to national security, is that very often it doesn’t work. Security agencies, with their thousands of employees and their billions of intercepted communications and storehouses full of secrets, routinely fail to foresee events which journalists and ordinary observers on the ground see, analyze, and understand without access to any secret information.

But then, it would be naive to think that the goals those in power claim to be pursuing are their real goals. Wars are profitable. Trade deals are profitable. Toxic chemicals are profitable. Keeping the real enemy – the people – from interfering is essential. And therefore, so is secrecy.

In this issue of Other Voices, we shine a light on the relationship between secrecy and power.

See the July 22 issue of Other Voices here. Sign up to receive Other Voices by email here


Keywords: SecrecyPowerCorporate PowerBureaucracy



Official Enemies
Other Voices – August 27, 2017

August 27, 2017 - #

The August 27 issue of Other Voices looks at Official Enemies.

We are never left in any doubt about who our enemies are. The word goes out from the United States that a certain country is a dictatorship which abuses human rights, supports terrorism, and poses a terrible threat to the U.S. and to the world. The mainstream media then swing into action with military precision and flood us with stories, images, and commentary about how dreadful country ‘X’ is. The U.S. and its client states – also known as its ‘NATO allies’ – then move into action with a standard package of sanctions and forms of pressure, which may include economic warfare, military threats, and measures to lay the groundwork for a coup via clandestine contacts with opposition leaders and those elements of the military command who have been on the CIA payroll for years. When regime change is the goal, any method, from buying an election to military invasion, is acceptable.

There is also no doubt that ostensible reasons for branding a country as an official enemy are never the real reasons. One clear indication of this is the way a particular leader or government can be an ally one day, and an enemy the next. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was an American ally, showered with favours and military hardware, until the day Saddam disobeyed the U.S. and took over the Kuwaiti oil fields. Suddenly the U.S. discovered that Hussein was a dictator who didn’t respect human rights, and invaded Iraq. It was a similar story in Panama, where President Manuel Noriega, a brutal thug and known drug dealer, was a trusted U.S. ally who was on the CIA payroll for years. When Noriega got too greedy and started stealing from U.S.-owned businesses, the U.S. invaded and overthrew him, killing a few thousand people in the process. It was a similar story with Assad’s Syria, which served the U.S. as a clandestine location to which it sent prisoners to be tortured (e.g. Canada’s Maher Arar). When its strategy in the Middle East changed, the U.S. suddenly discovered the Assad was a nasty dictator who tortured his enemies, and who had to be overthrown.

Huxley: Propaganda

The standard pretexts for demonizing a particular country would be laughable if the results weren’t so grim. For example, the U.S. government and the house-trained media which spread its message would have us believe that Venezuela, a country which regularly holds internationally monitored, closely contested, elections, is a dictatorship which needs to be overthrown, while countries like Egypt, Israel, the Philippines, and Saudia Arabia, whose jails are overflowing with political prisoners, are stalwarts of the free world.

In this issue of Other Voices, we go beyond the mainstream media to look at the complex realities and histories of the current group of official enemies: Venezuela, North Korea, Syria, and Russia. These articles don’t suggest that there is nothing to criticize about these states. There is no doubt that North Korea and Syria, for example, are brutal dictatorships. It is nevertheless possible, as one article suggests, that many people in Syria, faced with the stark choice of a secular dictatorship or rule by the Islamic state or Al-Qaeda, would choose the existing state. North Korea may be a dictatorship, but its international policies have a core of rationality: asking for negotiations and guarantees on non-intervention, while maintaining a military strong enough to deter an American attack.

The ultimate conclusion these articles point to is this: war is not a solution, and U.S.-NATO intervention in other countries invariably makes things worse.

See the August 28 issue of Other Voices here. Sign up to receive Other Voices by email here

Keywords: InterventionNorth KoreaMedia PropagandaRegime ChangeRussiaSyriaUnited States Foreign PolicyVenezuelaWar Propaganda



Meeting the Challenge of the Right
Other Voices – October 9, 2017

October 9, 2017 - #

The October 9 issue of Other Voices focuses on the challenge of meeting the Right.

When we talk about the Right, it is well to keep in mind that “the Right” is by no means a unified political force or organization, but rather a label used to describe a disparate collection of ideologies, parties, groups, and individuals.

Many of the mainstream political parties which hold government office or form the official opposition in countries such as Germany, Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Canada carry the label ‘conservative,’ meaning that they are on the right of their country“s political spectrum. In most of these countries, little distinguishes these parties from the mainstream parties to their left. If the programs of the conservative parties typically call for austerity and cutbacks in public spending, coupled with more tax breaks for the rich, the programs of their more ‘progressive’ opponents will tend to call for a little bit less austerity and slightly smaller tax breaks for the rich. These parties have been following the same neo-liberal template for decades, and as the failure of neo-liberalism to improve the lives of anyone except the wealthy has become increasingly apparent, they have steadily lost support.

No right turn

The hegemony of the virtually indistinguishable mainstream parties has been challenged by the emergence of hard-right parties in places such as India, Ukraine, Hungary and Poland (countries where they hold power), in France, where the National Front has become a major political force, and in Germany, where the anti-immigrant AfD finished in third place in the recent national election. With millions of people unemployed or working in marginal precarious jobs, desperation and hopelessness is leading some to listen to right-wing demagogues who offer scapegoats – usually immigrants or other minorities – or who divert their attention to social ‘evils’ such as abortion, homosexuality, and sex education. These far-right parties in fact have no real solutions to offer, but they pose a very real danger to those they target as scapegoats.

Further still to the right are a wide variety of groups and movements that openly flaunt racist and Nazi symbols and rhetoric. These groups and individuals, who have been given the name ‘alt-right’ in the United States, are by no means united, and their numbers are small, but they have shown that they are quite capable of committing serious acts of violence against those they hate. They have been challenged by anti-fascists who work to stop fascists in their tracks whenever they seek to march in the streets.

The strategy and tactics of meeting the challenge of the right are naturally subjects of debate. Those activists who identify with the label ‘anti-fa’ tend to focus their energies on trying to stop fascists from marching. Important as this is, it can also serve to divert energies from the important organizing that needs to be done. The real problem, arguably, is that the right – the more mainstream right as well as the fascists – has succeeded in attracting support among the broader population because they are putting their energies into grassroots political organizing, while much of the left has given up on organizing, or even talking to, ordinary working people.

The emphasis on fascist fringe groups also can lead to ignoring the most dangerous anti-democratic forces. The greatest totalitarian threat comes, not from small fringe groups, but from the state’s security apparatus itself: the police and the myriad agencies that monitor and record everything that we say and do. They are the ones who driving the push to ever-increasing police militarization, surveillance, and restrictions on civil liberties in the name of ‘anti-terrorism.’

See the October 9 issue of Other Voices here. Sign up to receive Other Voices by email here


Keywords: Anti-fascismAnti-racismFascismHateNazi HistoryPolice StateThe RightStrategies for Social ChangeWhite Supremacy



Left parties
Other Voices – November 11, 2017

November 11, 2017 - #

“There is no alternative.” That is capitalism’s message in the neo-liberal era. The rich keep getting richer and richer, millions of people are unemployed, millions more are trying to survive on precarious, marginal, and part-time work, hundreds of millions are without health care, housing, education, or clean water. Environmental collapse is increasingly likely, masses of people are fleeing wars and economic disasters, nuclear war is a real danger. And all that the corporate elite, the corporate media, and the mainstream political parties have to offer is their insistence that there is nothing we can do about it: there is no alternative.

In those countries where some version of liberal democracy still exists, an ever-increasing percentage of the population has stopped participating in elections where none of the parties offer an alternative. The parties that used to offer something for working people – the various versions of social democracy – have been absorbed into the neo-liberal consensus, and where they form governments, alone, or in coalition with other neo-liberal parties, they enforce the same neo-liberal program.

Left turn

The political vacuum left by the mainstream parties has opened up space for new parties and political movements to emerge on both the right (see Other Voices October 9, 2017 and the left. In recent years, a number of left parties have emerged out of mass movements in countries like Spain (Podemos), Germany (Die Linke), and Greece (Syriza). In Latin America, in the last two decades, left movements or parties have formed governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, and Uruguay. In Britain, exceptionally, the emergence of a socialist left has happened within the mainstream Labour Party, inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’s articulation of a socialist vision that has attracted enormous numbers of new members to the party. In the United States, Bernie Sanders’ campaign also showed that a politician who calls himself a socialist can inspire millions of people, though Sanders’ insistence on channelling their energies into the Democratic Party undermined the possibilities for a new political movement that his campaign could have opened up.

What these new left parties/movements have in common is a strategy of engaging in grassroots organizing and also running in elections. They all describe themselves as socialist, though in many cases their programs are more reminiscent of what social democrats used to advocate decades ago: reforms that would tame and manage capitalism rather than abolish it. Their ultimate vision may be a world without capitalism, but their immediate proposals are more modest and incremental, though still significantly to the left of the neo-liberal consensus.

The ambiguities and contradictions in their goals are in large part attributable to the fact that, being based on social movements, they are therefore coalitions incorporating diverse points of view, some radical, some less so.

A second tension is one that emerges in every leftwing political movement that engages in elections. Those who are elected to office, and the party/parliamentary apparatus that surrounds them, are almost inevitably absorbed into the narrow world of elections and parliamentary politics. This is all the more true if a left party manages to attain office.

Indeed, the experience of the left parties to emerge in the last two decades shows that the real test, and the real danger, comes when a left party forms a government, or becomes part of a coalition government.

A coalition by definition requires the parties participating in it to sacrifice parts of their programs. When a socialist party enters a coalition with a non-socialist party, it is always on the basis that the socialist parts of its program are set aside in exchange for including some of the specific reforms it wants in the coalition government’s agenda. The prospect of achieving a share of political office in a coalition can be extremely tempting, but for a left party the result is almost always a political disaster.

The dangers and challenges of achieving office are most starkly posed when a left party comes to power in its own right. Being in government is not the same as being in power, as it soon comes to learn. Real power is wielded by the capitalist class, those who control the levers of finance. When they don’t like the results of an election, they move their money out of the country, and international money markets institute a de facto boycott of the disobedient country. International institutions, such as the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, as well as the biggest and most powerful international institution of all, the American Empire, bring enormous pressure to bear. In this, they have the help of a ‘fifth column’ within the country: the corporate sector (including the corporate media), as well as significant parts of the state apparatus, such as the senior bureaucracy, the police, and the military.

If a left party is to have any hope of surviving and carrying out its program, it has to have a clear understanding of the obstacles it will face, and a strong determination to meet them head on. Even more importantly, it can only succeed if it remains the expression of a broad-based social movement. An isolated left government has no chance. A movement of millions of people which is committed to an ongoing process of social transformation can sustain a left government, even as such a government can help to achieve the goals of the movement.

See the November 11 issue of Other Voices here. Sign up to receive Other Voices by email here

Keywords: Left PartiesBolivarian SocialismBritish Labour MovementPolitical AlternativesStrategies for Social ChangeSyriza


Rotten to the core


Collective Memory and Cultural Amnesia
Other Voices – December 17, 2017

Decvember 17, 2017 - #

The December 17, 2017 issue of Other Voices, the Connexions newsletter, focuses on Collective Memory and Cultural Amnesia.

Our society is obsessed with the short-term present. It devalues memories and the past. That’s the nature of capitalism, especially the speeded-up hypercapitalism of today. The past is useless: profits are made by getting rid of the old and replacing it with something new.

Certainly this applies to commodities, which, as Marx taught us, are both the incarnation of value under capitalism, as well as the embodiment of capitalist values. Commodities (whether or not they take a physical form) have to be destroyed or made obsolete so that new commodities can be sold.

The need to eclipse the past also applies to ways of living. For the sake of increased profits, steady jobs have to be eliminated and replaced with precarious work. Unions have to be ground down and where possible destroyed. Farmers practising traditional agriculture have to give way to industrial farming, or be forced off their land. Culture has to be packaged as a product so it can be bought and sold.

This ceaseless enterprise of social engineering works best if people can be made to forget that things once were different. Collective memories of unionized jobs with benefits, air you could breathe and water you could drink without being poisoned, times when you could live your life without being spied on by the government and the corporations – such memories are dangerous. It’s best if people forget that such things ever existed.

Even more dangerous are collective memories of resistance – times when people got together, and fought for their rights, sometimes winning, sometimes losing. The very idea that things were different in the past, and could be different in the future, is perilous because it gives people dangerous ideas.

Official society, including the mainstream media, busily carry on their daily work of fostering social amnesia, focusing on the present and the trivial, while erasing the past by misrepresentation or neglect. Certainly neither media nor governments have any interest in having people remember the lies that were used to justify past wars and past crimes. Recycled lies (including promises of a better future) work best if people don’t remember how often the same false tales have been told in the past.

But there are those who do remember, and who work to preserve and share our collective memory. They do their work for different reasons, in different places.

Sometimes the impulse is nationalist or even racist. Those who live on conquered or stolen land rarely care to remember much about how the land came to be theirs. They prefer collective myth to collective memory.

But they have to contend with the collective memories of those who were displaced. From Canada to Palestine, from South Sudan to Burma, people are working to document their stories and bring them to the attention of the world. In such instances, and others, the burning impulse is truth: to tell what happened to us.

Other initiatives and projects – Connexions itself is an example – see historical memory as a way of contributing to the struggle for a different world. For us, knowledge of history is subversive, and remembering can be a form of resistance. To understand how we can change society, we have to understand it. That means understanding where it – where we – came from.

When we know and understand more about those who came before us lived and fought, we can gain a deeper understanding of how we can best live and fight.

In this issue of Other Voices, the last of 2017, we share some stories about people's struggles to use collective memory as a form of resistance and a tool for creating a better world.

See the December 17 issue of Other Voices here. Sign up to receive Other Voices by email here

Keywords: Collective MemoryHistoryLeft HistoryMemoryOral HistoryPeople’s History


The struggle of memory against forgetting


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