Category Archives: globalization

Red-baiting as the cliff approaches

We draw closer to another imperialist war and as the global economy creaks beneath our feet, red-baiting is again back in fashion.

We are to believe there is no choice between ISIS and Obama.  There is no choice between abject poverty and crushing student loans. No choice between the burka and the bikini. In a culture where choice is worshipped as part of holy agency, holy self-value and atomization, the choices presented to us are rather bare bones – we will have neoliberalism or we will have death. “There is no alternative.” And don’t speak, don’t even think, about seizing the means of production.

In the clip above, released by the US State Department, we have a strange comparison. On the left, we have communism, and on the right, ISIS. The title is “Destruction of Holy Sites”.

At first blush, this might seem rather nonsensical. The two historical and geographic contexts presented to us in the video are completely different. Did the United States and its allies fund communism, for one? But then to examine the context of the propaganda: does communism have a strong history or a foothold in the Arab world? Well, the answer here is yes. Red groups and red money has shaped much of the policies of the region. Today, red groups are making some of the strongest gains against the rag-tag lot of foreign takfiris styling themselves after the sahaba who also call themselves Dawlat Islameeya, the Islamic State. These revolutionaries don’t accept the idea that the barbarity seen mounted on the spikes of the Raqqa’s city centre is homegrown, a natural conclusion to the horrific chapter of American occupation. They don’t accept the idea that this is a tribal spat, an ethnic power struggle. No, they see it as part of class war, as foreign imperialism making a play.

And so a false equivalency is generated to guide those who would otherwise gravitate towards pointing the finger (rightly) at American and Zionist designs on the region, away from a politics of liberation and towards capitalist enclosure.

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I’m a red. The people dearest to me in this life are reds. I have immense respect for Mao Tse-Tung, who liberated the Chinese people not only from imperialism, but also from poverty. Maoism inspired millions of people worldwide to struggle towards their own liberation. And I don’t recall Maoists in China kidnapping women and putting heads on spikes, but perhaps this is a part of the story Maz might not want to discuss. Regardless, back to the context – really? Are reds in a position of power as ISIS is? Can we fairly compare the two? Or is this is a smear against reds in the same tradition as the US State Department video mentioned earlier.

Likewise in Ferguson, Missouri, where we again find the horrified whisper regarding “outside agitators”, a civil rights-era slur against those who struggled for the liberation of oppressed nations in the United States. Now, to be fair and give credit where credit is due, the civil rights movement was certainly supported by communists in the United States and abroad. More importantly, it would be a tragedy and crime to erase incredible leaders such as A. Philip Randolph, Paul Robeson, Bayard Rustin, Angela Davis and most of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense – all reds. But where are they now? Is the RCP secretly getting paid by a Soviet Union that no longer exists? Back to the context! While this smear of “outside agitators” was used against the civil rights movements as a dog whistle for communists, and as it is used today for reds and anarchists, it’s also an exercise in mystification, in red-baiting and in smearing the ideology of socialism as something ‘foreign’ to the people.

Stalinist (or Baathist) is just another term used to defame reds – mainly those who are against imperialist war in Syria. Even as Libya writhes in agony after a NATO war that left the African country with the highest HDI and best public infrastructure in smoldering ruin, to suggest you are against such further aggression will earn you the title of ‘Stalinist.’ And again, to give credit where credit is due, the USSR under Stalin did annihilate the Nazis and liberate most of Europe. But to be called a Stalinist (or even Baathist) by someone who is most certainly not a red is to be smeared, and is unambiguously used to discipline other reds and pinks to shy away from speaking out against NATO intervention in Syria for fear of being a secret Stalinist, whatever that word even means outside Cold War hysterics.

All of these things aside, why now? Why the recent spike in red-baiting? From Arabic-language State Department videos comparing ISIS to communists to VICE “journalists” denouncing Stalin like they’re lifelong members of the fourth international, there seems to be a resurgence on the periphery of some sort of – and I can only call it preventative – red scare. The language of being a red is gone – now you are either a radical or a barbaric Stalinist. Radicals can shill for bombing Libya, radicals can produce ‘ironic’ racist burlesque minstrel shows, radicals represent the underclass and everyone who disagrees with them are now comparable to mercenaries who crucify people (including reds) in public squares in Syria.

So what danger on the horizon, then, from reds?

The disciplining is remarkable – Steve Salaita is fired from a tenured position over his views on Gaza, and an unknown but certainly existing number of academics switch off their profiles, put everything to private. Reds are doxed – their address, their phone numbers, their emails, their boss’s info are posted to the internet along with their designation as DANGEROUS COMMUNISTS and they suddenly disappear. Public campaigns from neocons against leftist magazines that publish anti-imperialist articles. Visits from FBI agents with dossiers triggered by what exactly – maybe it was a tweet? Julian Assange locked in the Ecuadorian Embassy for how many years now? Chelsea Manning in solitary confinement. No wonder people go under pseudonyms – the environment is once again getting dangerous for those who don’t think imperialism or capitalism is such a hot idea.

Consider that much of this red-baiting is in response to a growing, powerful war hysteria. It’s undeniable – a comrade of mine in the states observed it’s worse than the rhetoric in 2002. Ukraine must be protected from Putin’s hordes, Syria must be protected from tyrant Assad, and Iraq must be protected from themselves and their barbarian savages. The drums are beating louder and louder, while the working class of the world stands war weary and exploited to the extreme. The most powerful challenge to capitalism in the history of the world emerged out of the first World War. Impoverished millions sent to die on the front line, and while it may not be our boys off to fight in the trenches this time, a world war that echoes the motivations and methods of 1914 will cause damage and pain such as we’ve never seen. In a global economy where billions are underserved, unemployed or barely working, this war can only be won under a red banner. Indeed, now more than ever, the spectre of working class revolution strikes terror into the hearts of the barricaded ruling class. This is why they persist in their handwringing about Stalinists and Maoists – because the moment of truth is approaching once again, and both Stalin and Mao have never been friends of global capitalist hegemony. A revolution that seizes the means of production is not something that is built overnight, as history teaches us, but we need to start on the foundations of such a project as soon as possible. Their anxiety is a cue for us to intensify in our efforts.

This is why they are resurrecting red-baiting, why they are looking nervously over their shoulders for the communist menace to arise. This is why it’s worth it for them to try and entrap the youth on a micro-level, atomize us further, discombobulate our senses and teach us not to trust what is real and what we know to be true in a material sense. Capitalism has produced its own grave diggers, and they are handed a shovel while being told to go support yet another imperialist war.

On the urgent necessity of anti-imperialism

Many of the youth coming into the anti-imperialist movement today seem genuinely confused about what imperialism is – what it smells like. Off the top of my head, I can think of two reasons why this is. First, popular cultural American portrayals of imperialism focus mainly on nostalgic representations of Victorian society. As the United States is engaged at the height of its imperialism, this does not surprise me. While the empire’s enslaved may be mostly absent from films like Sherlock Holmes, there is a common cultural nostalgia for the fashion and manner of being of the Victorian era. This corresponds with the presentation of imperialism in most American history textbooks, such as when children are taught about the British Empire. Americans struggle to connect their present day culture with that of one hundreds of years ago elsewhere in the world. This makes imperialism, like fascism, something that happened in the past that is no longer with us, though still something we are culturally inundated with through Victorian nostalgia.

I believe the second main reason for the misunderstanding of imperialism is an association between anti-imperialism and broader anti-war activism. Anti-war positions and anti-imperialism, while sometimes coexisting in each other’s spaces, are not equivalent. To many in the anti-war camp, so long as there are no American boots on the ground, no official “war” so to speak, there is no need to fret. So long as the people in mysterious places abroad are accepting the tremendous amount of American aid money with smiles and open hands, we should not see imperialism here. We should instead see the Millennium Development Goals. Only when the fever pitch of war is at its height and the need to win over the American population the most essential do we see women blowing kisses at US soldiers on their way to Baghdad – clear propaganda. Otherwise, the smiles come from women showing off their ink-stained fingers after voting in an election made possible by  US-NATO  intervention – propaganda largely unchallenged. Because there is a near-complete absence in the discourse on what imperialism actually is, there is much confusion. Clarification is needed.

It is in this light that I would like to respectfully respond to Matthijs Krul’s article on imperialism and anti-imperialism.

I hope that many of my comrade scholars and organizers can agree that foreign aid money, not limited to the NED and other so-called democracy-building organizations, represents a rather naked form of imperialism. In fact, there is already a discipline to study this type of phenomenonit is called development. Anyone still paying attention knows that the planet is currently facing a number of challenges, from climate change to human safety. From hunger to diseases and illiteracy. The core issue, however, is one of poverty. Any number of development economists, such as Harvard professor and millionaire Amartya Sen, write extensively on this topic. The focus of all development work is basically the same: how to fix the problems that imperialism has wrought upon the world? But instead of attacking imperialism as the main perpetrator of the above conditions, the development economist hopes to find a way that will solve these problems while keeping capitalism intact. This may be out of an ideological commitment to capitalism, but is just as likely adopted because of the desire to give their plans teeth. Without the financial and logistical backing of the Pentagon and the US-NATO capitalist class, such development might never take place. Alternative modes of development that find success just as often find themselves staring down the barrel of a gun, as the powers that be and their relentless appetite for markets decide to drop bombs when their aid packages and foreign direct investment are not accepted.

This is why anti-imperialism is not simply about drones and boots on the ground, but also about the incredible lengths the class protected by US-NATO goes to shape the  conditions in which decisions about governance are made. A country such as Iran may be relatively untouched by imperialism in a direct way, as far as shock-and-awe or billion-dollar investments  are concerned, but the active proliferation of these mechanisms on their border affect their decision-making. They have agency, certainlyas does technically everyone on earth, but this agency is informed by the surrounding environment. One may have the choice between a noose or pills with which to kill oneself, but one hardly chooses the chronic unemployment, crushing debt, poverty, desperation and loneliness mediated by ubiquitous capitalist atomization.

So, the activist’s new rallying cry is “Hands off!” because imperialism isn’t just about bombs and guns, but hands that go into people’s pockets and livelihoods, into their voting booths, hands that seize their hopes for the future. Madeline Albright and others from the US-NATO’s pack of imperialist running dogs attended to the recent elections in Ukraine. She and other international observers assured us that the election was legitimate. Aside from the fact that the US-backed junta banned communist parties (as they have in Palestine and countless other places), we should also consider that gangs of armed fascists that were funded by American money and manned by US-NATO mercenaries terrorized the Ukrainian people. This included not just communists, but a broad coalition of people who were against a legislative agenda that called itself a “Kamikaze government” due to the ‘unpopular decisions that needed to be made’ for the sake of austerity. In Syria, the United States government calls the upcoming elections prematurely invalid because of the “conditions” within which such elections would take place, and while the US government called the elections in Crimea prematurely invalid because of alleged Russian interference, there was no outcry or allegations of a prematurely invalid election when Madeline Albright was the one confirming the veracity of the polling sites in Ukraine. This is precisely because the conditions under which the election takes place were already heavily influenced and endorsed by the United States. It’s impossible to say that elections in Syria will not be affected by the Americans. But the fact that the sitting Syrian government is on the ballot is precisely the reason why the United States calls it illegitimate. When the election was between alleged “warlords” in Libya, the United States did not object because it had already removed the most direct threat to its influence. After the new government, set up by the  rebel groups funded and armed by the CIA, disappointed, Washington sent tanks rolling again to Benghazi, this time led by their own man from Langley. Imperialism is what sets the conditions for agency.

The fact that the United States and Russia are armed with enough nuclear weapons to destroy civilization many times over, the fact that we are facing a global catastrophe of epic proportions as the climate is radically transformed, these are all conditions that are both caused by capitalism and, at the same time, required by capitalism to subjugate the people of the earth. The main problem (contradiction) is that the constant immiseration of imperialism leads to eruptive civil unrest. This encourages another facet, what we call development, which is focused on delivering heaping spoonfuls of aid to the people who face their misery due to the present system. And yet, the people can’t get aid without first subjugating themselves to imperialism on a legislative and economic level. Each spoonful of aid comes with a truck full of this kind of poisonous influence. Each spoonful gives way to a feeding tube.

Now on to Matthijs Krul’s criticisms. He presents what me and many of my comrades see as a straw man of anti-imperialism. When the protesters shout “No Blood for Oil!” they are not speaking simply as if the United States is going to gobble up all the oil in Iraq. “No Blood for Oil” signifies something more important. As Harvey writes: control of the world’s oil supply and prices is what really matters. With a jackboot on the spigot, the United States-NATO suddenly commands not just the military capabilities of countries that do not have the same bottomless checkbook as the US-NATO, but also the rate of development for many countries. In this light, it is quite legitimate to use this slogan. And if the average protester does not understand wholly the conditions of the world petroleum market, how it works, they are still taking a correct stance against US Imperialism; that is: to condemn it.

There are those who are against certain US-NATO conflicts or intervention, but not all. This is a problem of educating people about imperialism. It warmed my heart to have attended recent meetings and marches in New York against US imperialism, where slogans were chanted in solidarity with several different fronts, not just one in particular. This is because anti-imperialism is not about weighing certain situations against others. It is a broad line. Demanding that people have room to organize without the oppressive conditions US-NATO puts down is the first, important step.

Anti-imperialists based in the United States should not be taking equal time to condemn countries facing the brunt of US-NATO military and economic power. Certainly, there are things to criticize about foreign governments, even things to criticize about all governments as they are currently structured. But behind each government that is allowed to exist on this planet is the background of the world imperialist system. Therefore these issues, such as the continued gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia for instance, are implicitly supported as a way to keep the situation conducive. The United States does not presently take decisive action in a number of fronts not because it doesn’t have the passive consent of the American population, but rather because it is taking different means to an end, using tactics that are more effective, clandestine and (most of all) profitable. When US-NATO takes action in a theater of war or strife in a decisive way, it’s because it is something worth investing in.

Before we proceed: we simply cannot equivocate this stage of US-NATO imperialism to those before the collapse of the Soviet Union. We should look at the present stage objectively. In this stage of imperialism, there is no threat that significantly checks imperialism such as the Soviet Union. The last minor remaining threats to complete US-NATO domination are currently being brought to heel. That which remains of the Soviet Union are hardly ideal models for governance, but US-NATO imperialism has helped decisively shape those very models. Whatever remains of elevated working conditions and a basic standard of living must be eradicated. Imperialism would rather eliminate any traces of a dictatorship of the proletariat. This is why countries such as North Korea, which experience frequent brown and blackouts, are portrayed as existential threats to US-NATO in films such as the Red Dawn remake, or in alarmist propaganda in the news media. These countries may not be much compared to the great power of the US-NATO armies, but they might be able to spur something of a larger challenge, and imperialism cannot abide it.

To call out Marxist-Leninists in the same language imperialist running dog Thomas Friedman assigns to Arabs – “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” – is a straw man. Marxist-Leninist anti-imperialist groups are clear that one should provide moral support to regimes facing the onslaught of US imperialism, but they are hardly ignorant, brainwashed, or naive.

To Marxist-Leninist anti-imperialists, the main condition that prevents the rising of the working class is the violent exploitation, terror, and flat-out murder of working people worldwide. Imperialism first and foremost seeks to strangle these sorts of uprisings in their cradle. As Lenin writes in To The Rural Poor, the people need space to organize in order to make socialism possible. And as we can see by the conditions  worldwide, historically and in the present era, US-NATO influence precludes that space. Whether it is bombing infrastructure, training intelligence services and officer corps, or hand-picking cabinet members, the space for people to think, dream and plan a dictatorship of the proletariat are strangled by imperialism.

This is not an issue we can safely situate in countries halfway across the world – the United States itself is filled with oppressed nations living under the yoke of imperialism, and we have seen their constant oppression, especially with regards to working class or anti-imperialist movements. Untold millions of undocumented workers provide a source for murderous exploitation while African Americans, dragged from the African continent in chains and enslaved for nearly half a millennia, are routinely imprisoned, impoverished, and murdered with impunity.

We must, as Lenin says, fight to achieve this space for organization. We cannot equivocate the governments of US-NATO with those on the periphery. One bloc is focused on a global campaign of domination and subjugation and is armed to the teeth. The others are its shopping list: Syria, Venezuela, Russia, Honduras, North Korea, Ecuador, Ukraine. We really cannot scientifically equivocate here, and we shouldn’t be wasting time contorting ourselves in all sorts of bizarre positions to try and do so. The equation is simple, far from the “realist” view of international relations that anti-imperialists are accused of. No Blood for Oil! Hands off!

The goal for Americans should be to try to hobble the greatest threat to building a better world. This means being loud and unequivocal about our dissent. There will always be those cheerleaders for capital that dredge up dirty laundry and horror stories for the nightly news from fronts across the world, reasons why we should only be passive against imperialism. Anti-imperialism can’t earn the trust of oppressed peoples worldwide by speaking out against imperialism while parroting the talking points of the imperialists. As Audre Lorde said, we cannot destroy the master’s house using the master’s tools. They are tainted, exist only to serve the master.

The “Made in USA” brand earns distrust and resentment worldwide, it’s time we started to speak out against it, trash it. Those who count themselves as revolutionary anti-imperialists know that history text books are falsified, and they know that Victorian nostalgia is window dressing for deplorable crimes. What is needed is a program and organizational strategy towards mass education, an education that connects the plight of the worker here to the plight of the worker in sweatshops abroad, to those workers under fire by US-NATO weapons, those workers who struggle under US-NATO influence. We must have uncompromising solidarity with those people fighting against US-NATO domination or aggression and must insist that at this time, a country founded on dispossession, genocide, slavery, operating on the threat of nuclear weapons and the eradication of people’s movements worldwide has no place to determine the legitimacy of elections, much less determine the ‘superior’ system of government or economies.

This does not mean you need to support the atrocities of these besieged places, the mistakes they make, or the tragedies they oversee. There is a way to denounce and disassociate oneself without doing a favor for imperialism. But it is not alright to be on the side of the imperialists, and that means calling out propaganda for what it is. I’d never heard a supposed communist, even a concerned “leftist” call out the imperialist crimes of Muammar Ghadaffi before Libya was squarely in the imminent sights of US-NATO bombs. When anti-imperialists call out US-NATO support for the tyrannical governments of the Gulf States, they should do so only to expose the fact that US-NATO dictates the conditions in which such tyrannical governments exist – not to point out our alleged “hypocrisy” (Really, there is none!) towards human rights issues. Human rights are the wedge used by imperialism to pry open stubborn mouths to those feeding tubes of aid, arms and influence. If the good of humanity was truly US-NATO’s concern, we should find this current system of world domination immediately dismantled to allow socialism to be built. This is what we must be calling for as anti-imperialists. We do not shout for the end of imperialism and with the same breath embrace its inevitability. We do not shout to end imperialism because we want things to remain the same. We do not accept the conditions built around us. Ending imperialism will bring an opportunity to break this path towards ruination and immiseration, which US-NATO is invested in blazing at all costs.

How I See Victory Day (as an American)

Red salute to the millions who died in the fight against fascism! Tragically, it seems there are more martyrs to come.

Emboldened by US backing of their newly-installed government in Kiev, fascists brutally murdered at least forty anti-fascists in Odessa this last week. The response should have been unequivocal – ¡No pasarán! – but immediately following the tragedy, the spin machine was kicked into full gear. Who could say who actually killed the protesters? Who could say they did not kill themselves with piano wire? And here comes the anti-communist “Left” squad with truncheons, beating back people who mourn the death of these martyrs with their famous slogan: Neither Moscow nor DC.

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Positioning the United States, which is undoubtably at the helm of our planetary slide into darkness, as a comparable threat to Russia, encircled on all sides by the American war machine, is laughable, if not actively malicious.  According the latest SIPRI report on military expenditures, The United States spent $640 billion on “defense” in 2013, while Russia, with its conscripted military, spent a little more than 13% of what the US did.

But to frame this tragedy as a conflict between pro-Ukraine and pro-Russian forces is to buy into the idea that Ukraine is standing bravely, on wobbly fawn’s legs, against the giant monster of Russia. Another way to frame the debate would be that a US funded coup brought a fascist, pro-austerity government into power in Kiev, and mobs of brownshirts are mopping up localized resistance against the fascists in parts of East Ukraine, going as far as to torture and burn them alive. If the Russian government is offering assistance to these  antifascists, among them communists, then shouldn’t we as antifascists even be a bit glad? And yet…

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see: https://twitter.com/keithgessen/statuses/462609427930308608

Even if there were anti-government protesters – *cough* excuse me, I mean to say Pro-Russians – shooting at pro-government protesters – *cough* excuse me, I mean to say Pro-Ukraines* – does this excuse the butcher of 40 armless civilians and then the arrest of hundreds more? I missed the numbers of those killed outside of the House of Labor that day… how many were there?

But for socialists, those who aspire to instill change in our world, who believe the system is fundamentally unjust and stacked against the world’s oppressed supermajority, the insistence on condemning “both imperialisms” is clearly an excuse to do nothing. A cop-out.

Warning flags go up when one hears the following: Yes, but isn’t Putin bad? You’re not saying you’re a “Putin-understander” are you? Saddam did gas his own children. Ghadaffi was leaning towards market reforms, wasn’t he? Iran makes its women wear hijab. It’s not purely socialist. Etc. Chances are these are people who cannot be arsed into marching to support the people being lynched in Ukraine. And if they were, well, they’d feel compelled to hand out flyers while marching explaining that yes, Putin is bad too. When you give credence to the imperialist narrative, you give people excuses not to act. What’s the point? Both sides are clearly in the wrong, and the offender bears the brunt of the barbarity.

This is false propaganda. The American fantasy of a hulking bloodthirsty Russia must be dispelled. Let the Russian left worry about Putin. The American left should be worrying about their own president, their own two-party mock democracy, the oppressed nations of African Americans and the Native Americans, the shadow, superexploited workforce they call “illegal”. And, more pressingly, the billions under surveillance, millions under occupation, drones butchering children, and yes, tax money going into the hands of fascists in Ukraine, who make molotov cocktails and strangle pregnant women to death.

There are fascists marching in Ukraine now. They are doing better than that, they have been installed and recognized by NATO and her allies. They are emboldened. They are firing on their own civilians who march for Victory Day, the day commemorating the unquantifiable sacrifice made by the Soviet Union in smashing Nazi Germany. Forty million killed as USA and UK sat back on their hands and watched, intentionally hoping the two would cull each other’s numbers. When the Ukrainian people hope to beat back the tide of austerity and god knows what else, they are labelled “Pro-Russian”. When they object to an unelected government on a “suicide mission” to strip the population of its last shreds of prosperity, must we allege they are on Russian payroll? Can we not guess that the Ukranian people, themselves having lost millions to Nazi aggression, know the cost is too high without “Russian agents” telling them about it?

So, on this Victory Day I try and remember all the people still fighting fascism today just as much as those who died fighting. As an American, I look to my own heroes and seek to emulate them in my struggle. And this means, as an American, being uncompromising and unwavering in my denouncement of our imperialist aggression abroad.

Dirty Wars (2013)

Jeremy Scahill gets out of the tank and walks with the locals 

Richard Rowley makes a good documentary – well shot, well narrated,  good storytelling – but there was something that kept nagging me throughout the showing. I finally put my finger on it near the end, when Jeremy Scahill was going over his revelations, his horror at how largely evil the world has become in the last 10 years. I remember being a bit of a smug huff at his crawling out of a tank in Afghanistan to explore the surroundings on his own, his anguish in facing a “boring” life back in Park Slope, all pretty normal for a documentary. Even the bloodied Somali corpses as props for Scahill to express appropriate disgust and horror is pretty par for course in an American documentary against an imperial backdrop. But what really had me was – really? What’s changed? Targeted assassinations,  kill lists, death squads, shadow proxy wars.. none of this is particularly new. Not even the part about extrajudically killing American citizens, either at home or abroad. I even asked the question to the panel at the end, maybe is the change something to do with the executive branch having more concentrated power? But this question was glazed over. Instead, we learn about how Scahill’s book (available for purchase by the concession stand) and this documentary were “piercing the veil” and how the New York Times calls it “riveting”. At one point, it was even compared to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was also credited with starting the Civil War, which is not only strange but a weird way of reading history.

But then, the scope was rather small. Even though the film describes 75 countries as suffering JSOC invasions and drone strikes, we are only presented with the theaters we understand a bit about already: Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. It was strange to me how Pakistan – being the main focus of these attacks – was somehow left out of the story. But either way, we are given “Islamic terrorism” and “drug cartels” as being the main reasons behind these attacks, with no broader scope as to the United State’s geopolitical and strategic capital interests. We get the feeling from the film that America needs to be doing something about these terrorist Muslims and drug lords, but perhaps it could be in a more humane way. After all, there is no dialectical relationship between the Taliban and the women and children slaughtered by Hellfire missiles. The link cannot exist because then we must see it also exists between Scahill, the Hellfire missiles being used to kill, and ourselves safe and sound in the IFC theater.

The finest part of the film is where a Somali general tells Scahill how Americans are the “masters of war” and “great teachers”. But the point is given in such a way where Americans watching have the chance to immediately settle back into the comfortable dichotomy of the Taliban vs. innocent Afghanis. Black and white, good guys and bad guys. No relationship, no history, just the sort of hogwash George Bush would hoot about on the radio. After all, we too must scramble to separate ourselves from responsibility. We too must be able, as Americans, to separate ourselves from our government – after all, we voted for Kerry in 2004 and did our part. In this film, there is no dialectical relationship between the people and power.  Surely there can be no connection between our relatively comfortable lives in the United States and children born without limbs in Fallujah – otherwise we really could do something about the violence done in our names.

It was a good documentary, as I said. It’s important that people know what’s going on, how the United States’s endless lust for war affects human beings all over the world. However it should not be understood as “groundbreaking” or something that will change the tide of politics forever in this country. Whipping out my checkbook or signing a petition is not going to stop America’s ravenous appetite for blood and gold. These sorts of things have always happened in American history, maybe not with so much executive power and technological gadgets, but the idea has remained the same for hundreds of years. The question elicited from the film shouldn’t be “what can I do?” but rather, “how does this happen?” Once we understand how the machine works, we can properly throw a wrench in the gears.

The other questions during the Q&A session were mainly concerned with calls to action, what is it that we can do? The questions sounded rather like the “we” meant a crowd of individuals as opposed to “we” the people. They brought up a journalist jailed in Yemen, petitions for his release as he was arrested while covering this story. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, as well-off citizens nestled on the island of Manhattan, is there nothing more you can do than sign a petition? On your own? I guess not. In the theater, many of those watching the horrific catalog of violence wrecked by the American government probably voted for Barack Obama, the man whose voice on the phone actually demanded the Yemeni journalist’s imprisonment, the man whose order slaughters thousands of unnamed innocents. The viewer does not trust their own ability because she is limited by their view of the world where all one can do is sign a petition and vote the lesser of two villainous warmongers.

From the wayback machine, The End of Atomism: a brief critique of the neoliberal agenda – Occupy Times 2011

The following was originally published in the Occupy Times of London on 2 November, 2011:

When I was little, my grandfather took me on his knee and explained the market to me. In theory, it was a way for people to invest in businesses and commodities that they saw had a future in the economy. For a handful of bills, we could own a tiny slice of a business. However, in the last decade this simple act has exploded into complexity. Over-the-counter derivatives, futures contracts, currency speculation, tax credit default swaps… does anyone know what these things even are? And to think these nebulous concepts are being traded nearly at light speed, with incredible profits being made at the blink of an eye.

Market finance became the new Baal worship: What would the market think? What would the market say? Without even knowing why, the common person was suddenly exhorted to care very deeply about how the market “felt” about something. If the market is upset, something so unspeakably terrible would happen! Better to offer up our flesh and blood as sacrifice, cut social spending and our children’s futures short so that the market might be pleased. The high priests of power encourage us to trust them and to simply let them act in our best interest whether or not we understand what is going on.

“Why,” we might ask, “is it so important to develop an understanding of the market and of neoliberal market theory?” There are two answers to this: first, it is not difficult to understand what is going on. There might be very confusing terms thrown about but it boils down to simple concepts. Secondly, because neoliberalism is the cause of this crisis and your reason for being here. This “Occupy ____” movement is, at its heart, a movement that is the sworn enemy of this system. Speaking about the bankers, the traders, the bail-outs, this is all well and good. Yet this is like going to the doctor and complaining of a sore throat, stuffy nose, and chills without simply saying you think you have a cold. We are living in a sick world, and the sickness is what we can safely identify as neoliberalism. In order to cure an illness, we must first diagnose it. Only then will we be able to formulate the proper medication needed to get better.

Neoliberalism is a term that can cause confusion while trying to pinpoint a standard definition. David Harvey defines it as “a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.” To put it simply: the market must be free, without government interference past enforcing private property laws. The confusion sets in when we remember that with all these bailouts, tax cuts, and slaps-on-the-wrist, the market isn’t really free at all! If anything, it is now intimately connected with the state. So, neoliberalism is something that is inherently contradictory to its stated ideology.

Yet if we understand neoliberalism as an ideology that at heart encourages the rich accumulate more and more at the expense of the poor by any means possible – a radical redistribution of social and economic power – then state involvement by way of bail-outs and austerity cuts suddenly seems more reasonable.

Neoliberalism assumes that the state has a new role in our lives. Instead of it being something that is elected by and for the people, it is now an institution that is the protector/enforcer of the market and its whims. In return, the state gains an incredible amount of power. Under the auspices of “protecting private property”, governments now have the legal ability to intrude on your life in ways never before imagined.

Neoliberalism started out by attacking the most vulnerable among us: those who live hand to mouth in the third world, the poor, the mentally ill, the cold, and the hungry. Yet just as capitalism demands more access to markets in order to expand, so too does it demand new populations to bring low.

The United States is a fantastic example. A reckoning for the sins of the father came upon the United States in the form of rotting houses in New Orleans, empty factories in Detroit and homeless veterans from our imperialist wars freezing to death in the streets of New York. The wealth gap grew, as wages started to fall, and as jobs grew scarce, we began to notice that our social safety net had been cut from under us: no health insurance, unemployment compensation at £120 per week, houses being foreclosed on and suddenly empty retirement accounts. As social security and education is hauled up on the chopping block, so too are our futures being consumed by the great monster the United States itself enabled.

Yet the most dangerous part of neoliberalism is that it assumes that society is simply made up of individuals and that these individuals are to participate in a democratic fashion by buying things. This individualization of humankind created not only a vacuous consumer culture, but also ended up isolating us to an astonishing degree. The true miracle of the Occupy movement has been a reclaiming of public space and mass solidarity. When was the last time you stood around and spoke to perfect strangers about how the world should be run? And it is this, this kernel of hope incubated in every human gathering of minds who recognize their sacred (non-monetary) value that terrifies the 1%. This is why skulls get cracked in New York, flash bangs and gas gets thrown in Oakland, and the police parade around with machine guns here in London.

It is the simple act of gathering that the 1% is most afraid of … if it is not around the television and not on Oxford Street, then it is unacceptable to them! If the people have found a way to excuse themselves from their bleak existence by gathering, feeding and caring for each other for free, then this does not fit into a system built on speculative profit.

Therein lies the real threat to the 1% – not health and safety or fire codes or losing tourist money – it is a people who are self-actualized without the help of bankers who know better and the endless cycle of consumption. And therein may lie the cure to the disease of neoliberalism.

on open borders

A new piece by   for the Jacobin advocates:

It is for the Left to square the circle the other way, by globalizing labor; that is, eliminating borders… No penalties, no electric fences, no drone surveillance, no papers, no fear. Instead, universal human rights, consecrated in struggle, enforced by solidarity.

Paul Romer’s concept of “charter cities”, too, advocate multinational and highly mobile labor:

The world needn’t choose between forcing migration on countries that do not want it and shutting out those who want to escape inefficient rules. Charter cities offer a third option. By copying rules that work, new cities can quickly give millions of people the chance to move to places that start with better rules.

from Charter Cities dot org 

What is problematic about open borders, so much so that certain sectors of both the left and right clamor for it? For sure, the idea here is not to enhance or give any credence to the cruel and inhumane ICE system in the United States, with countless risking their lives to make runs for the border and the possibility of jobs. Yet there is very little in common between the world’s workers at this point in time; we are intentionally shut off from one another. An influx of more exploitable labor is not going to draw the hotel cleaners closer to the bourgeoise. If anything, it will destabilize and fragment labor markets in favor of capital. This argument also puts aside the implication that all workers will have equal opportunities to be mobile – case studies from all sorts of sourcing countries, including South Asia and SE Asia show this to be false.

The UAE is a fairly good example of a labor economy that is incredibly diverse. Over 90% of workers who are in the UAE originate elsewhere. Yet on arrival, their situation is largely determined by their race, language abilities, and place of origin. A white worker from England working in a bank in Dubai has a different situation than a man from India working on a construction site – and you will rarely find a British man working on a construction site in any capacity other than a managerial or oversight position. For sure, the state still holds a lot of power in this situation – workers are there at the pleasure of their employers, as they would likely be in a borderless situation where relocation costs are mainly absorbed by the employer and then held over the heads of the workers, who often have to surrender their passports to their managers.

In a borderless situation for labor, capital would also have the ability to move workers to areas they see fit – for example, a place where labor laws are less regulated or perhaps a place where they have near-perfect legal control over their workforce, such as Dubai. For instance, moving workers in South East Asia over a border or two could drop the price of labor significantly, as well as promise more control of a vulnerable labor force to capital.

Then there is the issue of brain drain, as doctors, engineers, scientists and other professionals will find incentive in practicing their craft elsewhere, disrupting labor markets both at their point of origin and at their destination. In some locations even today, the social investment that goes into training doctors is lost entirely as the doctors decide to emigrate elsewhere for higher wages.

I agree that deportations should halt and that surveillance of undocumented communities should cease. However, I don’t think it is so simple to assume that a borderless labor force is the answer to everyone’s problems. It seems too much like an argument that markets can equalize themselves given less barriers to access and less regulation, which any leftist should question immediately.

the geography of de-sovietization & modernization

A recent study conducted by the Carnegie Endowment in Russia and the Caucuses  determined that Stalin – still “commands worryingly high levels of admiration”. The report is littered with incredible bias, including but not limited to accusations about the “Russian Character” that include their dependency issues and lack of  exposure to twitter. However the most interesting accusation, to me,  is the geographical divide between the two parties – those who generally approve of Stalin and those who generally disapprove.

Beyond indifference, in Moscow, 18 percent of those surveyed perceive Stalin positively and 46 percent negatively, while in small towns the figures are 29 percent and 16 percent and in villages the difference is even more striking—35 and 18 percent.

The main reason for this being, in CF’s own words, that de-Sovietized Russians are likely to be:

…products of the new, postindustrial economy that has developed chiefly in Moscow. They belong to the modern globalized world and have learned to assume responsibility for their choice of careers and lifestyles. They have an achiever’s mentality, something the traditional Russian experience could not have taught them.

Here we have a fascinating insight into the mechanizations of the “civilizing” theory of urbanization. To digress for a moment: I only have experience in the Middle East when it comes to truly having dialogue with NA countries, but the city/village divide was coming on strong. In Palestine, it added extra injury to the situation because children leaving their families in the countryside because vacant land is soon seized by the occupation. People had to leave for the cities because that’s where restriction hit the least (almost all of Area A, the part “governed solely” by the Palestinian Authority is located in urban areas) and where jobs were the easiest to find. These émigrés changed the urban landscape as well, turning tight communities where everyone knew each other into frightening possibilities in strangers who had no communal accountability.  Still, both émigré and local would down their noses at “baladeeya”, those from the countryside. In Palestine, the countryside is the root of national identity. Before the occupation, Palestinians were mainly rural.

Now, just like everywhere else in the world, communities are becoming more urbanized. The largest human migration in human history is currently taking place in China, where hundreds of millions have moved from the countryside – once Mao’s seat of power – to the cities. They flock to the promise of jobs, but, more often than not, end up in cheap housing, sometimes considered “slums” on the outskirts of town.

The culture that has sprung up around this phenomenon is that of the modern urban dweller (not citizen) – those more “plugged in” to the global economy, are more sophisticated and informed than those who live in the countryside where life is more backwards. As the $300m Carnegie Endowment for Peace says:

The key point here is not so much that Russia’s poor, depressed, stagnating, and often declining provinces are a repository of Soviet-style thinking, but the reasons behind those attitudes. These areas lack social diversity, most communication is basic and personal, and the price of human life is very low. A few institutions (mainly schools and television stations) compensate for the lack of development by indoctrinating citizens with collective symbols and ideas. In big cities, by contrast, increasing individualism and more complex social interactions lead to a rejection of the myth of Stalin, not just indifference to it. (Emphasis mine) 

The city, therefore, is the factory in which the 21st century human being is made. Stalin had gulags and was the head of a system that killed a lot of people, sure. He was also the head of a system that did indeed win the Great Patriotic War. The city seeks to erase this, make the former vestiges of what was once a point of fact into a lesson on individualism.

Stalin’s death was accompanied by an outpouring of public grief. In a last act of mass murder on March 9, 1953, the deceased tyrant caused hundreds of deaths as hysterical mourners were crushed and trampled in the gigantic crowds trying to take a last look at Stalin’s body.

This kind of contempt for the people parallels with the photos of mourning we see being published from Venezuela. Collectivization is a source of  shame and hysteria, the countryside and villages are bastions of backwardness. The people don’t know anything, they are dumb animals who will trample each other and languish in stagnation. The individual is the only subject to address, the only being with rationality. The hope for the future is found in a new economy based in the cities, where access to individualism and “complex social interactions” (not defined in this paper) will pull the backwards, collective-thinking global countryside into the slums and black markets – both considered admirable examples of free trade in neoliberal literature – of the 21st century.

Instead of looking at the material conditions of the countryside, where support of Stalin has risen over the last decade, the paper assigns racist and classist attitudes towards rural lifestyles and traditions. The mass automation of farming and industrialized slaughter of livestock has led to the impoverishment of billions worldwide who are left with little choice but to move into urban centers and engage in cheap manufacturing or service-based livelihoods. Their lives were probably better under the Soviets. Yet it is not their collective conditions to be examined, rather, their individual attitudes.

For the first time in recorded history, more humans live in cities than in rural areas. The idea of the “citizen” is stripped away as collective society disappears and the notion of dwellers as consumers is adopted. They are not entitled to anything and should expect nothing from anyone – an individual, after all, is responsible for his own well-being. If the trajectory of the global economy continues, then the folks over at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace have nothing to worry about – Stalin should be dead soon.