Thursday, June 12, 2008

Achcar interview on Middle East

Gilbert Achcar makes a number of good points in an interview on ZNet. I can wholeheartedly endorse his discussions of the history of Israel and the PLO, of the surge, the Sadrists, and the Kurds.

There are a couple of points where I'm not sure whether or not I agree. First, his view on the one-state/two-state debate:
To be frank, I consider this debate to be largely a waste of time. I mean this is a debate on utopias in both cases and yet, some are conducting it as if the stakes were at hand... Of course, an "independent Palestinian state" that would be limited to the West Bank and Gaza is totally utopian. But I would also say that a single state with ten million Palestinians and six million Jews is much more of a utopia, since it requires the destruction of the Zionist state... That is why I think that these are utopias and too much energy is focused on this debate, such that it becomes a waste of time. In my view there are two levels to be considered when facing the Palestinian issue. On the one hand are the immediate and urgent interests or needs of the Palestinian people. What are the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank fighting for? They are fighting to get rid of the occupation, of course -- not for the right of voting in Israel. They want sovereignty over their territories. Their fight should obviously be supported... Now, on the other hand, if you are considering a long term solution to the question, I mean if one wants to elaborate a long term program with a utopian dimension, then why limit it to Palestine, whether with one or two states?

... I would say that no long term, final, lasting and just solution can be conceived other than at a regional level and under socialist conditions -- through a socialist federation of the Middle East and beyond. Of course, this is a utopia, but this is an inspiring utopia. As I say all the time, if you want to be utopian, go for an inspiring utopia, not a mean one. Go for the big one... This is an interesting utopia, whereas a one-state, "one person one vote" solution limited to Palestinians and Israelis strikes me as an uninspiring utopia. I'm not convinced at all that the Palestinians would like to be citizens of the same state with the Israelis, even if they were the political majority under hugely unequal social conditions like what you have now in South Africa where whites still constitute by far the main section of the dominant class and are getting richer, many of them living in gated communities. And I am positively sure that the Israelis will never accept being a political minority. So this is a dead end.
Achcar is right, on the one hand, that we must support the demand for an end to the post-1967 occupations. He's also right that there's no solution within historical Palestine alone, and that even a secular binational state modeled on modern-day South Africa would hardly be all joy and goodness. But I'm not sure that makes the one-state/two-state debate "a waste of time". The promotion of a two-state "solution" as, in fact, a sufficient and complete solution, is used consciously both by the Fatah leadership Achcar rightly excoriates and by liberal and centrist Zionists to foreclose debate on Zionism as such and on the settler-colonial nature of Israel. A one-state solution might not be feasible absent a massive regional upheaval of the sort that would place greater things on the table, but it can illustrate the basic issues of justice and equality at stake without assuming agreement on the need for a socialist revolution. This is fine. A revolutionary must agitate not only on the basis of demands that can be won short of revolution, but also on the basis of demands which, while not on their face revolutionary, cannot ultimately be satisfied under the capitalist world order.

The second point, on supporting the resistance:
I don't think that you can have a general rule here. It depends on which situation you are talking about. For instance in Iraq you have groups that are fighting the US occupation but the same groups are simultaneously involved in sectarian violence. And these groups have killed many more civilians on sectarian grounds than coalition troops. In such circumstances, to say "We support the Iraqi resistance" is completely wrong and misleading. You cannot say that you support such forces. One should say "We support the fight against occupation" or better, for didactic purposes: "The fight against the occupation is legitimate, by all means (truly) necessary." That's fine. You support the acts selectively, not the actors when you cannot take responsibility for all their acts. In Iraq, you cannot support any specific force because all forces that are fighting the occupation are at the same time sectarian forces. So two wars are being waged at the same time: a just war and a very reactionary one.
Achcar goes on to argue that by contrast, one can say "we support the resistance" when one is referring to Hezbollah or Hamas in the fight against Israel, though one must also remain critical of their leaderships. With that I have no issue.

The thing is, no one of whom I am aware who says "I support the resistance" means "I support the groups resisting the U.S. no matter what they do, be it attack U.S. soldiers or bomb Iraqi civilians." The "resistance" in leftist usage refers to precisely what Achcar wants to support - "the acts selectively, not the actors". (This may not be just a Western leftist usage; though I do not have the book in front of me, I recall that Nir Rosen writes in In the Belly of the Green Bird that Iraqis too commonly make a distinction between the "honorable resistance" and the salafis or jihadis.) So Achcar's critique here is really linguistic rather than political. Of course, as far as language goes, he may be right.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Cops are here to protect you

Latest post in an ongoing series from Rad Geek People's Daily:

Cops are here to protect you by stopping an upset man from cutting himself with a knife by shouting at him in a language he doesn’t speak, then, after he fails to obey commands he couldn’t understand, by tasering him, firing pepperballs at him, and then shooting him dead — with several shots fired after he had dropped the knife.

All for his own good, of course. It became necessary to kill Odiceo Valencia in order to save him.

Cops are here to protect you by pulling you over if your car seems suspicious to them and then, if you want to know what you were pulled over for, pulling you out of the car, getting up in your face, and shouting, Ever get smart-mouthed with a cop again, I show you what a cop does, threatening to arrest you for some fucking reason I come up with, bragging that they can come up with nine other things to arrest you for, insisting, when you tell them that their conduct is being recorded, shouting I don’t really care about your cameras, ‘cause I’m about ready to tow your car, then we can tear ‘em all apart, and then proceeding to give you a ten-minute lecture on how you should properly address your public servants.


When every fucking week brings another story of a Few More Bad Apples causing Yet Another Isolated Incident, and the police department almost invariably doing everything in its power to conceal, excuse, or minimize the violence, even in defiance of the evidence of the senses and no matter how obviously irresponsible or dangerously out-of-control the cop may be, it beggars belief to keep on claiming that there is no systemic problem here, that cops ought to be given every benefit of the doubt, that the same police department that hires and trains these goons ought to be trusted to handle it internally (which means secretly), and that any blanket condemnation of American policing is a sign of hastiness and unfair prejudice. The plain fact is that what we have here is one of two things: either a professionalized system of control which tacitly permits and encourages cops to exercise this kind of rampant, repeated, intense, and unrepentant abuse against powerless people—or else a system which has clearly demonstrated that it can do nothing effectual to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.

Indeed. It's worth reposting here some of what Tim Wise wrote a few months ago after the Sean Bell verdict:
... there are any number of problems with the resurrection of the "heroic cop" image in the public imagination.

First, if we define heroism by the extent to which one puts his life on the line in the course of his work -- and apparently that's the operative definition nowadays -- then there is nothing all that heroic about policing. According to the Department of Labor, the on-the-job fatality rate for police is lower than that for gardeners, electricians, truck drivers, garbage collectors, construction workers, airline pilots, timber cutters, and commercial fisherman. In fact, fishermen have an occupational fatality rate that is fifteen times higher than that for cops, but rarely do we hear those who provide us with an endless supply of mahi-mahi described as heroes.

An average of 66 police officers per year were killed feloniously during the 1990s, with the number falling to only 42 in 1999. As Marie De Santis, Director of the Women's Justice Center explains, the flawed presentation of cops as embattled heroes is not only inaccurate, but also dangerous: "By cultivating a hyper-inflated myth of heroes sacrificing their lives for you, police have created a shield of public veneration to defend against criticism of any misdeed. Who then can blame police for building arsenals against the citizens, for firing at first blink, for medieval codes of silence?"


Secondly, there is nothing inherently noble about police work. After all, would most Americans think highly of law enforcement officers in North Korea? Or Iraq? Of course not. What makes policing noble is always and only the validity of the system for which officers are working. And while I am hardly analogizing the U.S. justice system to that of North Korea, Iraq, or any other authoritarian nation, the point is still valid. If the system is rife with inequality and injustice, then those whose job it is to uphold that system are part of the problem...
The fundamental role of the cops under capitalism is to preserve bourgeois rule. That's not all there is to say, but ultimately it's that simple.

Obama on Israel

Arab leaders have reacted with anger and disbelief to an intensely pro-Israeli speech delivered by Barack Obama, the US Democratic presumptive presidential nominee.

Obama told the influential annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Council (Aipac): "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided."
Of course, no one has any justification for being surprised. Ali Abunimah described Obama's move away from any sympathy with Palestine in early 2007, his refusal to promise to be out of Iraq by 2013 was news later last year, and Stephen Zunes outlined the conventional nature of his broader foreign policy thinking several months ago.

Continuing from the Al-Jazeera article:
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told Al Jazeera on Thursday: "This is the worst thing to happen to us since 1967 ... he has given ammunition to extremists across the region".
The worst thing? Really? Not Black September? Not the PLO's defeat in Beirut, and Sabra & Chatila? This is a reductio ad absurdum of the Abbas/Oslo position.

The Hamas spokesperson is the only one quoted in the article who is willing to say the obvious:
"These statements slash any hope of any change in the American foreign policy. [They] assure that there is a total agreement between the two parties, the Democratic and the Republican, on support for the Israeli occupation at the expense of the rights of Arabs and Palestinian interests."

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Moscow lesbians & gays fool homophobic government and reactionaries

A press release from the Gay Liberation Network:
Despite the banning of their protest for the third year in row and attempted pre-emptive arrests by the authorities, Moscow Lesbians and Gays today successfully held Pride with widespread coverage by alternative, prominent international and some mainstream Russian media. A few hours before the protest, authorities attempted to arrest Moscow Pride's most prominent organizer, Nikolai Alekseyev, who successfully evaded them in a car.

A little later, the authorities, neo-fascists and religious zealots took the bait that Pride was going to take place as a picket in front of notoriously anti-gay Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's City Hall. While riot police were busy blockading City Hall and arresting some of the fascists and religious fanatics who showed up to physically stop Pride, Alekseyev had secretly spirited the media to a nearby monument to the great 19th Century Russian Gay composer Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky, where Pride was successfully held with widespread coverage.

To add icing to the cake, Moscow Pride organizers then pulled off a dramatic banner drop right across the street from City Hall while the fascists and riot cops fumed below. The banner read "Rights to gays and lesbians - homophobia of Mayor Luzhkov to be prosecuted."

Russian authorities later arrested some of the activists who pulled off the banner drop, and for several hours put an activist's apartment under siege for more than 7 hours before apparently getting a court order to kick in the door and arrest the four activists inside – but not before they conducted a series of media interviews through the locked door, including with Interfax and RTR (the main TV channel in Russia).

Despite the arrests, the day was a resounding success for Russian gays and lesbians, who through clever organizing and hard work hoodwinked the authorities at just about every turn. As Alexeyev commented in an email posted after the actions:

"No human rights group or opposition [has] ever humiliated the Moscow authorities so much. We wanted to defy the Mayor in front of his office. Not only [has the] homophobia of Mayor Luzhkov been advertised today, but also the full collapse of his administration to prevent gays and lesbians [from] realiz[ing] their constitutional rights to march. Today, we showed that our group is powerful not only in gay and lesbian aspects, but in general. Our fight is only at its beginning."

Even during the siege of their apartment, the activists inside managed to keep good humor about the situation. When a journalist asked one of the besieged, Kirill Nepomnjaschij, if the four had enough food and other supplies to last very long, Nepomnjaschij replied, "Well, we are not going to beat the record of the blockade of Leningrad, but we will stay. We have food here and everything." In the longest siege in the history of modern warfare, during World War Two, Nazi armies besieged the City of Leningrad for more than 900 days, before the blockade was defeated.

Shortly after the arrests of the activists in the apartment, all major Russian gay websites went down, in an apparent attempt to squelch news about the successful Pride events. In spite of the censorship, as of this writing, Russian gays were still able to keep news flowing through their blog,, which is by far the best and most complete account of the day's events.

This is the third year in a row that Moscow Lesbians and Gays have attempted to commemorate the 1993 decriminalization of homosexuality in Russia. Before the previous two years' events, Russian gays filed for permits to hold Pride events, only to be rejected by Moscow authorities. This year the authorities banned the event even before applied for the permit.

Previous years' Pride events have seen physical attacks by Russian fascists on Pride participants, infamously bloodying German MP Volker Beck, British gay activist Peter Tatchell, and Austrian gay activist Kurt Krickler last year. They, along with many other international LGBT supporters, had attended Moscow Pride in solidarity.

Despite the "pre-emptive" ban on this year's Pride, there were contradictory signals from the authorities that indicated that this year's event might not face the same degree of repression that previous year's events had endured. A few weeks ago, in response to active campaigning by, Russian authorities finally dropped the ban on gays donating blood – a gain that many western countries, including the United States, have yet to achieve.

A few days ago Russian federal authorities reported that they had "suggested" that the city authorities allow Pride to proceed unmolested this year. Given the near-total control of Russian political affairs by the increasingly autocratic government of President Dmitry Medvedev (and power behind the throne, Prime Minister Vladmir Putin), such a "suggestion," if it were genuine, should have meant clear sailing for this year's Pride.

Fortunately, Russian Lesbians and Gays were not so gullible as to believe this subterfuge by the Medvedev/Putin government, and carefully prepared some subterfuges of their own so as to successfully carry out today's Pride activities.

Activists around the world are strongly encouraged to contact the Russian embassies in their countries and to demand that the Russian authorities immediately release all Pride participants who have been arrested, and drop all of the charges that they are facing.

In the United States, please phone the Russian Embassy at the following telephone numbers:
202-298-5700, 202.298-5701, and 202.298-5704
The Pride participants have since been released, per a blog of events by activists in Russia.

A good example, maybe, of the kind of tactical acumen Roobin recently advocated at Lenin's Tomb.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

New Communist Movement working-class colonization

I've just finished Max Elbaum's Revolution in the Air and will likely have something to write about it sometime in the next few days. Meanwhile, here are an interesting couple of stories from Mike Ely, who was active in the RCP in the 70s, about the role of religion among his fellow coal-miners:
And Don stood up, with great emotion, to speak about the loss of his son. And then, to everyone’s astonishment announced that he would not sign the petition. And no one should either. And the reason, he said, was that the whole meaning of this incident and this death was being misunderstood by everyone. And that it had nothing to do with railroad companies or the disrespect shown to people living on the river bottom. Don said that he believed that his son had died because God had wanted this boy’s great goodness to be with God in heaven. And his son had died to punish him, Don, because his love of this boy had come to rival and even eclipse his worship of God. And that there was a lesson here about the larger meaning and plan behind all events, even when they seemed so horrific and painful.


But he did tell me how the split had happened in the larger church. It has happened when my co-worker Don and Ron (the twin holly rollers of the Jimmy Swaggert camp) had asked to come preach (as often happens in these church circuits). And when they got to the podium they had launched a huge attack on the reactionary campaign this church was waging. I later learned that Don had spoken quite boldly (given the times and the kinds of red-baiting going on) about working with me, and knowing my wife, and learning what our views were. And without, for a second (!), retreating from his own, very extreme and conservative views, he tore into (and he could be scorching!) how ignorant and wrong it was to launch a campaign against people active in the cause of working people.

And by the time he was done, folks in that congregation who were uneasy about all this, were embolded to walk out. And the folks left behind were never able to escalate their attacks on us any further.