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Gig economy strike and the Bologna Riders Union

Wed, 03/07/2018 - 03:23

via Libcom.org

by Cipo Fraioli

“Today we can make a beautiful observation: all that seemed impossible until a couple of months ago, that is to trigger an efficient struggle in the heart of the gig economy, is coming true, and the results are starting to appear.”

On February 23th, food delivery riders in Bologna working for platforms like Just Eat, Deliveroo, Glovo, Sgnam went on strike for two hours, from 7pm to 9pm on a Friday evening. The strike was organized by the “Riders Union” and had a participation so high that the major platforms were forced to suspend their services, at first on and off and then finally for the entire night shift.

The Bologna experience shows that coming together and organising is the only way to answer to the casualisation of the working conditions and of life itself. In other words, the winning tool is always the same, even in an economy that claims to be “new”!

The contractual power of these platforms actually results from the exclusivity of the employment relationship with each courier (recruitment, the handling of a delivery, payment: they all take place through an app). As such, every worker interacts only with the platform and not with the other riders. In fact, some platforms like Glovo use a ranking system that puts riders in competition with each other.

Basically, this “new economy” is anything but new: it uses piecework to set off a race to the bottom between workers, for which in order to be granted with more deliveries you must be willing to take more chances in traffic, to work in severe weather conditions and every weekend, to accept low wages and no job security.

“The platforms hire more people than are really needed and put them in competition with each other. We know that our work is gauged based on our speed, on the successful outcome of the delivery and on our availability, especially on weekends. If you refuse to work on Saturdays and Sundays, you will hardly be assigned any shifts the week after” (Giorgio, a Just Eat rider).

The platforms defend themselves by claiming that they are part of the so called “gig economy”, namely the economy of short-term jobs, but we all know that deliveries are far from being hobbies or side jobs.
By getting together, like in Bologna, the vicious game controlled by these companies can be shattered and an efficient demand can be pushed forward. The demands of the Riders’ Union aim at setting a minimum level of job security such as work contracts that improve on that of mere ‘occasional’ ‘independent’ ‘collaboration’, full accident insurance charged to the company and proper and free equipment, guaranteed working-hours, decent payment without piecework and compensation in case of smog, rain and holiday work.

But this is not all of it, as they declared in a statement published after the strike, “it’s everyone’s struggle, for a city model where on demand services don’t jeopardise the rights to a dignified and guaranteed job and to health.”

Check out the Bologna Riders’ Union on Facebook.

Translation of an article (in Italian) from the Clash City Workers website.

Why what we eat is crucial to the climate change question

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 20:40

via the Guardian

by Ruth Khasaya Oniang’o

Did you know that what’s on your plate plays a larger role in contributing to climate change than the car you drive? When most wealthy people think about their carbon footprint, or their contributions to climate change, they’ll think about where their electricity and heat come from or what they drive. They’ll think about fossil fuels and miles per gallon, about LED lights and mass transit – but not so much about combine harvesters or processed meals or food waste. Few consider the impacts of the food they eat, despite the fact that globally, food systems account for roughly one quarter of all manmade greenhouse gas emissions. That’s more than the entire transportation sector, more than all industrial practices, and roughly the same as the production of electricity and heat.

Meanwhile, the most immediate threat of climate change for most of the global population will be at the dinner table, as our ability to grow critical staple crops is being affected by the warming we’ve already experienced. Between 1980 and 2008, for instance, wheat yields dropped 5.5 % and maize yields fell 3.8% due to rising temperatures. Climate change threatens the food security of millions of poor people around the world. Young people are increasingly keen to protect the environment by shifting to animal-product-free diets. They seek plant proteins which taste like meat, while insects are also growing popular as an alternative.

What these inverse challenges – that food and agriculture are both enormous contributors to climate change, and massively impacted by it – really tell us is that our food systems, as currently structured, are facing major challenges.

There is a much larger problem that implores us to look beyond farm and agricultural practices. We need to open our eyes to solutions that address the full scope of the challenge to create more sustainable and equitable food systems. That way, we can provide healthy food for all people while we protect our planet’s resources at the same time.

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Google’s stranglehold on information

Sun, 03/04/2018 - 00:33

via Monthly Review

by Julian Vigo

Last September, Verge writer Cat Ferguson uncovered that Google had unwittingly allowed shady generators to manipulate its AdWords system.

The fallout from this article revealed that high-cost ads based on rehab keywords actually referred users to telephone hotlines that gave the impression of being independent information services.

The reality is that these services were owned by treatment centre conglomerates.

In response to Ferguson’s article, Google pulled all its AdWords marketing for addiction treatment.

Just last month, an interesting story emerged from a number of small new websites that discovered they had been delisted from Google News without any explanation from Google initially.

Some hypothesised that this delisting of smaller companies was due to the recent search engine optimisation changes, while others are more suspicious as to what is happening as various message boards gave regular updates regarding the situation.

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How to change the course of human history (at least, the part that’s already happened)

Sat, 03/03/2018 - 18:55

via Euro Zine

by David Graeber and David Wengrow

1. In the beginning was the word

For centuries, we have been telling ourselves a simple story about the origins of social inequality. For most of their history, humans lived in tiny egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers. Then came farming, which brought with it private property, and then the rise of cities which meant the emergence of civilization properly speaking. Civilization meant many bad things (wars, taxes, bureaucracy, patriarchy, slavery…) but also made possible written literature, science, philosophy, and most other great human achievements.

Almost everyone knows this story in its broadest outlines. Since at least the days of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it has framed what we think the overall shape and direction of human history to be. This is important because the narrative also defines our sense of political possibility. Most see civilization, hence inequality, as a tragic necessity. Some dream of returning to a past utopia, of finding an industrial equivalent to ‘primitive communism’, or even, in extreme cases, of destroying everything, and going back to being foragers again. But no one challenges the basic structure of the story.

There is a fundamental problem with this narrative.

It isn’t true.

Overwhelming evidence from archaeology, anthropology, and kindred disciplines is beginning to give us a fairly clear idea of what the last 40,000 years of human history really looked like, and in almost no way does it resemble the conventional narrative. Our species did not, in fact, spend most of its history in tiny bands; agriculture did not mark an irreversible threshold in social evolution; the first cities were often robustly egalitarian. Still, even as researchers have gradually come to a consensus on such questions, they remain strangely reluctant to announce their findings to the public­ – or even scholars in other disciplines – let alone reflect on the larger political implications. As a result, those writers who are reflecting on the ‘big questions’ of human history – Jared Diamond, Francis Fukuyama, Ian Morris, and others – still take Rousseau’s question (‘what is the origin of social inequality?’) as their starting point, and assume the larger story will begin with some kind of fall from primordial innocence.

Simply framing the question this way means making a series of assumptions, that 1. there is a thing called ‘inequality,’ 2. that it is a problem, and 3. that there was a time it did not exist. Since the financial crash of 2008, of course, and the upheavals that followed, the ‘problem of social inequality’ has been at the centre of political debate. There seems to be a consensus, among the intellectual and political classes, that levels of social inequality have spiralled out of control, and that most of the world’s problems result from this, in one way or another. Pointing this out is seen as a challenge to global power structures, but compare this to the way similar issues might have been discussed a generation earlier. Unlike terms such as ‘capital’ or ‘class power’, the word ‘equality’ is practically designed to lead to half-measures and compromise. One can imagine overthrowing capitalism or breaking the power of the state, but it’s very difficult to imagine eliminating ‘inequality’. In fact, it’s not obvious what doing so would even mean, since people are not all the same and nobody would particularly want them to be.

‘Inequality’ is a way of framing social problems appropriate to technocratic reformers, the kind of people who assume from the outset that any real vision of social transformation has long since been taken off the political table. It allows one to tinker with the numbers, argue about Gini coefficients and thresholds of dysfunction, readjust tax regimes or social welfare mechanisms, even shock the public with figures showing just how bad things have become (‘can you imagine? 0.1% of the world’s population controls over 50% of the wealth!’), all without addressing any of the factors that people actually object to about such ‘unequal’ social arrangements: for instance, that some manage to turn their wealth into power over others; or that other people end up being told their needs are not important, and their lives have no intrinsic worth. The latter, we are supposed to believe, is just the inevitable effect of inequality, and inequality, the inevitable result of living in any large, complex, urban, technologically sophisticated society. That is the real political message conveyed by endless invocations of an imaginary age of innocence, before the invention of inequality: that if we want to get rid of such problems entirely, we’d have to somehow get rid of 99.9% of the Earth’s population and go back to being tiny bands of foragers again. Otherwise, the best we can hope for is to adjust the size of the boot that will be stomping on our faces, forever, or perhaps to wrangle a bit more wiggle room in which some of us can at least temporarily duck out of its way.

Mainstream social science now seems mobilized to reinforce this sense of hopelessness. Almost on a monthly basis we are confronted with publications trying to project the current obsession with property distribution back into the Stone Age, setting us on a false quest for ‘egalitarian societies’ defined in such a way that they could not possibly exist outside some tiny band of foragers (and possibly, not even then). What we’re going to do in this essay, then, is two things. First, we will spend a bit of time picking through what passes for informed opinion on such matters, to reveal how the game is played, how even the most apparently sophisticated contemporary scholars end up reproducing conventional wisdom as it stood in France or Scotland in, say, 1760. Then we will attempt to lay down the initial foundations of an entirely different narrative. This is mostly ground-clearing work. The questions we are dealing with are so enormous, and the issues so important, that it will take years of research and debate to even begin understanding the full implications. But on one thing we insist. Abandoning the story of a fall from primordial innocence does not mean abandoning dreams of human emancipation – that is, of a society where no one can turn their rights in property into a means of enslaving others, and where no one can be told their lives and needs don’t matter. To the contrary. Human history becomes a far more interesting place, containing many more hopeful moments than we’ve been led to imagine, once we learn to throw off our conceptual shackles and perceive what’s really there.

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Thinking about post capitalist housing

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 20:23

via Slingshot

By Kyle Chastain

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, conversing, and reading about housing under capitalism, what post-capitalist housing might look like, collective housing in capitalism with its potentials and short-comings, and some tactics we might consider in trying to form post-capitalist housing (and solutions to the so-called “housing crisis”). This submission is a reflection of these.

In terms of collective housing and potential for relating to unhoused folks, I recently found a collective house near where I live in Everson, Washington, which brings forth an interesting model for fluid-ish housing and the accommodation of new people to an area. After going to open mics hosted by the house, and to one of their house meetings, I realized that the house was functioning as a transitional space for some people. There are three floors in the house – two of which have community space (non-private living quarters) where people may stay for 5 nights a month free, and the rest of the month at $8.00 a day (to contribute to the cost of the space in utilities, house essentials, etc.). At the house meeting that I attended there were at least four people who were there living in community space, new to the area, and looking for housing. While probably not everyone would be comfortable dealing with the fluid nature of a space like this (having new people in and out of community spaces as they transition into longer-term housing) I think that those who can hold down very important spaces with a lot of potential. They are important in that they not only provide relatively inexpensive places to stay for people new to town – but also in that they are social spaces. They host events like the open mic for entertainment and gathering and provide an actual physical location to go to begin building new relationships in a new place. And collective spaces that have meetings to decide together show radical direct democracy in practice and have the potential to introduce new people to these politics in action (which could inspire more action like this i.e. propaganda of the deed)! Furthermore we move around a lot! Some of us for adventure, some of us to find new social relations, some of us are getting away from something unhealthy; there are so many reasons. If we want to live in a world in which this is easier to do whenever we feel compelled to do so we will have to make it so! Let’s make more social centers like this!

Another alternative to capitalist housing that we might continue to mobilize in the future is squatting1 (there was a lot of mobilization around this during Occupy and earlier movements i.e. Organizing For Occupation, Homes Not Jails, Operation Move-In in the 70’s, etc.). Squatting is a term used in various ways with lots of connotations. Here, I use it to mean: squatting because housing is fucking expensive, squatting out of necessity, squatting to collectively resist and create alternatives to the real estate market that turns homes into commodities, squatting because there are empty houses and people who need them so let’s fucking use them. I just recently finished a book by Hannah Dobbz called, “Nine Tenths of the Law: Property and Resistance in the United States” (I highly recommend it)2 which goes through the ins and outs of squatting in the so-called U.S.

I want to bring up a couple of points that Dobbz makes in this book that are important. One is that squatting could become an effective way of coping with so-called housing crisis. Now, I say so-called because Dobbz makes a compelling point that, in the U.S. as a whole, the housing crisis does not stem from a shortage of habitable housing. She cites statistics that show that even if we were to house all houseless people in the U.S. into their own homes that there would still be an enormous amount of housing empty. Rather, housing is seen as as a commodity (a thing to be bought and sold ideally at a profit) and that is what renders housing scarce. We have an artificial crisis. Another is that public support for squatting has fluctuated through time and by region in the U.S. While this is not important if one’s goal in squatting is to secure housing for as long as you can without getting caught, popular opinion is very important if we’re interested in gaining momentum around squatting as an effective means of dealing with “the housing crisis” (a.k.a. peeps trying to make mad profits off of our shelter) and having serious collective support if and when the police come to evict us. We need to “normalize” squatting.

This could also be dangerous. I think we’d have to watch out for profiteers who might take advantage of public support for squatting to gentrify; I think we’d also need to keep in mind a potential for racist outcomes (particularly in this moment of heightened xenophobia). That is, given the histories and continued institutional racism in the U.S. I think we would need to keep an eye to make sure that we mobilize public support around people of color and LGBTQ folks squatting in particular (this could open up a whole conversation around community self-defense). Maybe some consciousness raising tactics (conversations, reading, demonstrations, etc.) around squatting might be a good place to start?

Lastly, in theorizing post-capitalist housing, and really “ownership”, Dobbz suggests stewardship as a concept of ownership rooted primarily in the use and care of a space as a viable replacement for ownership based on title. In the U.S. the “ownership” of a space is based on legal title. Thus a person may have legal title to a space, regardless of whether they use or care for the space in anyway, and often can leverage legal title (though mostly this means force which is not always legal) to remove people from a place where they have the title even when the folks in the place have been stewards to it (Lower Eastside Squats, actions of settlers in colonizing the U.S., Zuccotti Park during Occupy).

If we could collectively shift to an understanding of ownership based on care, rather than on title, perhaps we could lessen the effects of careless landowning (derelict properties, gentrification, redevelopment with no concern for social equity or ecology, etc.). A non-profit called Land Action in Oakland is beginning some of this work. Land Action has engaged in multiple forms of struggle to create a new form of ownership including: squatting and going to court to gain ownership of property through adverse possession3 and fundraising to buy public lands for urban farming/land stewardship space. I think that this multi-pronged approach to creating decommodified space is very important. Sadly not everyone is down with squatting as a way to acquire lands and housing and this approach currently rubs a lot of folks the wrong way. See their website @ www.landaction.org. There is a video from CNN in which a reporter calls Steve DeCaprio’s actions and attempts at adverse possession “morally yucky.” However another guest on the show, a legislator, backs Steve up about his claims that this kind of caretaking squatting is good for the community and local ecology. According to their website Land Action has also fundraised to create urban farms in Oakland. Their goal is to create 100+ “microfarms” within the next five years which will take these lands out of the speculative land/housing market for good. Land Action is using direct action to counter gentrification which in turn is also raising awareness around squatting, land stewardship, and alternatives to capitalist housing.

In conclusion, perhaps based on the model utilized by groups like Land Action, we should attempt a multi-pronged approach to blow up capitalist housing for good. I think that squatting will remain an essential tactic – both for survival in the now, and for making moves to take care of spaces, and cultivate the kinds of communities we want to live in. I also think that taking a fundraising approach will be good for consciousness raising about both capitalist housing and what that really is, who benefits, etc., and the alternatives that we can use to create housing that benefits more of us in enriching social and ecologically mindful ways.

Editor’s note: We are overjoyed to announce that Alameda County recently dropped squatting-related charges against 4 Land Action organizers after a 2 year legal battle!

3. Adverse possession is a legal principle through which squatters may be able to legally “own” properties after certain amounts of time, or after making improvements to the property or paying the property taxes. Rules around adverse possession vary across the so-called U.S.

How Zombie Crime Stats, Phantom Stats and Frankenstats Paint a Misleading Picture on Crime

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 18:29

via Injustice Today

by John Pfaff

In September 2017, newspapers across the country ran headlines of a similar theme: According to data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, the agency’s official report on criminal behavior nationwide, crime — or at least violent crime — had risen for the second year in a row.

That’s not entirely true. “Violent crime” hadn’t risen. The violent crimes that we count — the so-called “index crimes” of murder/manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault — had risen. Simple assaults? Sexual assaults that don’t rise to the level of rape? We don’t measure those crimes. The crimes we do measure were all chosen during the development of the UCR in the late 1920s, on the grounds that they were common, serious, and generally reported — which is true, but we haven’t updated the list since.

And even saying that “index violent crimes” rose isn’t quite right. Index violent crimes reported to the police had gone up. But a large fraction of crimes are never reported, perhaps fewer than half of all violent crimes and barely 50 percent of all serious violent crimes. And the widely reported UCR data are based only on crimes recorded by the police.

Well, some of the police. Participation in the UCR is voluntary, so it provides data on index crimes reported to the police by departments that then report to the FBI, with some efforts to fill in the gaps from those that don’t report at all or provide incomplete data. About 5,000 of the nation’s 18,000 or so police agencies — so something on the order of 20 to 25 percent — don’t appear to report sufficient data.

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What Happened After Standing Rock?

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 15:48

via BuzzFeed News

by Kate Bubacz

“I think the biggest misconception is that it was a protest and that the Water Protectors were protesters,” Josue Rivas, an indigenous photographer and journalist, told BuzzFeed News of the demonstrations and encampments at Standing Rock in 2016.

The #NoDAPL movement at Standing Rock was forced to disband on Feb. 26, 2017, having failed to stop construction of a controversial oil pipeline that threatened the waters of the Missouri, Mississippi, and Big Sioux rivers and crossed through land sacred to the Lakota people. Despite this failure, the movement around it ignited changes that are still in effect and awareness that is creating conversations throughout the country.

Thousands of people gathered near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, over the course of nine months. The images of local government forces — who were protected by dogs, tanks, and shields while beating Native Americans — quickly became iconic as an intense debate over environmental water rights raged. What started as a local issue in a remote place became a broader fight between ideologies, attracting support from all over the globe.

“What happened at Standing Rock was something that we probably won’t see again anytime soon. People dropped their life and showed up at the camps because they were called to stand up for the water, and in the process they were part of something bigger than themselves,” said Rivas.

“Standing Rock lit a fire in so many of us. Maybe it was because we finally got the opportunity to tangibly feel an entirely indigenous reality. Camp did that for us. And when we left, we were able to take that feeling back into our communities and plant seeds of hope for a better future,” said Matika Wilbur, a Swinomish and Tulalip photographer.

For many non–Native Americans, this was a brief moment of reckoning with the painful history of appropriation, land-use rights, and indigenous customs. Celebrities took up the cause, mentioning the movement on air during awards ceremonies and posting the rallying cry of #NoDAPL on social media platforms such as Instagram.

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Federal officials discussed raising alert level to highest level during Idle No More

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 15:31

via CBC News

By Jorge Barrera

Senior federal officials discussed raising the country’s alert level to the highest tier at the height of the Idle No More movement, which also shaped how Canada’s security agencies handle Indigenous-led protests, according to a new book.

CBC News obtained an advance copy of the book, Policing Indigenous Movements, which charts how police, military and intelligence agencies handled such protest movements through “fusion policing models.”

The book is largely based on documents obtained under the Access to Information and Privacy Act. It is scheduled to be  published in May.

The  book was written by Andrew Crosby, a co-ordinator with Carleton University’s Ontario Public Interest Research Group, and Jeffrey Monaghan, an assistant professor at Carleton University’s Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

The researchers focused on how authorities handled opposition to Enbridge’s failed Northern Gateway project, conflicts between Ottawa and the Algonquin community of Barriere Lake in Quebec, the Idle No More movement and the Elsipogtog First Nation-led anti-shale gas battle in New Brunswick.

The researchers said the documentation shows the federal department of Indigenous Affairs — which has since been replaced by two new agencies — played a central information-sharing role with security agencies.

The department holds a wide breadth of information on communities and individuals, including family information of those with Indian status.

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More than 12 years after Hurricane Katrina, scientists are learning what makes some survivors more resilient than others

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 15:17

via Science magazine

By Kelly Servick

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA—A muggy quiet has settled over New Orleans, Louisiana’s Gentilly neighborhood as it soaks up a late-September rainstorm. Deep puddles hide dips in the street. And in a soggy patch of grass, a wooden kiosk tells a story of catastrophe.

“This place is a memorial to the trauma of the Flood,” reads the text, written by a local nonprofit, Levees.org. Near here, a section of concrete levee gave way one August morning in 2005, sending the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina crashing into the neighborhood. Yet the monument is not only a reminder of suffering, but also, the text insists, “a symbol of the residents’ resilience and determination to return home.”

Resilience and rebuilding—those two appealing themes bring hope after a natural disaster. The reality is more complicated. Many who fled Katrina’s destruction never did return home. More than 12 years later, tidy brick houses in Gentilly are interspersed with empty lots while post-Katrina lives play out elsewhere.

Some of those survivors, wherever they ultimately ended up, are proving more resilient than others. “One household or family manages to recover,” says David Abramson, a public health researcher who studies disasters at New York University in New York City. “The other remains dysfunctional.”

Abramson has been surveying people affected by Katrina every few years since the storm. Poor, predominantly black families on cheaper property in lower-lying areas faced disproportionate damage from Katrina—and a harder road to recovery. But with the passage of years, the paths of survivors have diverged in complex, hard-to-predict ways. “Initially, I thought that those with the least would do the worst,” Abramson says. “That wasn’t always the case.”

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Confederalism, Democratic Confederalism and Rojava

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 00:23

via anarkismo.net

by Zaher Baher
Feb 2018

This article explains the definition of Confederalism by Murray Bookchin and the concept of the Democratic Confederalism by Abdulla Ocalan . The article tries to show the similarities and differences between both concepts and both views . In addition it followed by brief review of what has been achieved in Rojava.

Many religions and ideologies from left to the right have tried to tackle class issues and other societal problems, but none of them has been able to resolve these problems, rather most of them have made the situation even worse.

Whilst these problems have remained unresolved, groups, political parties and individuals have continued to come up with different theories and different ideas for how to tackle them. Confederalism or Democratic Confederalism is one of them.

The idea of federation and confederation dates back several centuries. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) wrote a lot about federation and confederation with regards to Canada, Switzerland and Europe. However, when he observed the debates about European Confederation he noticed that his own understanding and analysis of confederation was completely different from what was actually going on at the time. His comment on this was as follows: “By this they seem to understand nothing but an alliance of all the states which presently exist in Europe, great and small, presided over by a permanent congress. It is taken for granted that each state will retain the form of government that suits it best. Now, since each state will have votes in the congress in proportion to its population and territory, the small states in this so-called confederation will soon be incorporated into the large ones …” Proudhon’s analysis of the situation was right at the time and still right: “The right of free union and equally free secession comes first and foremost among all political rights; without it, confederation would be nothing but centralisation in disguise”1. In fact the EU, which is a union of States, has developed the most bureaucratic apparatuses and has become a very undemocratic confederation.

In addition to Proudhon, others like Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin, have written about confederalism, but none of them has written as much as Murray Bookchin (1921-2006). In fact, Bookchin not only wrote about it, but he also connected confederalism to the issues of social ecology and decentralisation, and considered the building of Libertarian Municipalism as the foundation for confederalism. Bookchin was not just a theorist, he was passionate about his ideas and as a very active, dedicated organiser tried to put his theory into practice during the 1980s, as described here “In Burlington, Vermont, Bookchin attempted to put these ideas[Libertarian Municipalism]into practice by working with the Northern Vermont Greens, the Vermont Council for Democracy, and the Burlington Greens, retiring from politics in 1990. His ideas are summarized succinctly in Remaking Society (1989) and The Murray Bookchin Reader (1997). 2

For Bookchin, building libertarian municipalism is the foundation of confederalism, an alternative to the nation-state, and the way to reach a classless and liberated society. While Bookchin placed libertarian municipalism within the framework of anarchism for much of his life “…..in the late 1990s he broke with anarchism and in his final essay, The Communalist Project (2003), identified libertarian municipalism as the main component of communalism. Communalists believe that libertarian municipalism is both the means to achieve a rational society and the structure of that society”. 2

Janet Biehl, Bookchin’s long-term partner, in her book Ecology or Catastrophe, describes the importance of municipalities and confederalism to Bookchin ” In Bookchin’s eyes , the democratized municipality, and the municipal confederation as an alternative to the nation-state, was the last, best redoubt for socialism. He presented these ideas and arguments, which he called libertarian municipalism, in their fullest form in The Rise of Urbanization and the Decline of Citizenship, published in 1986″.3

In the rest of this article I try to define Confederalism from Bookchin’s viewpoint, and the understanding of Democratic Confederalism by Abdullah Ocalan. This is followed by a brief review of what has been achieved in Rojava.

Although Bookchin had an idea and plan for putting his theory into practice, he knew very well that it would be impossible, or just a dream, to build Libertarian Muncipalism and confederalism among huge existing cities, given the current mentality, education and culture of their peoples and the centralist nature of society. He realised that building Libertarian Municipalism requires a different type of education and organisation, and thought of centralization as one of the main barriers. His thinking has been described as follows: “Bookchin became an advocate of face-to-face or assembly democracy in the 1950s, inspired by writings on the ancient Athenian polis by H. D. F. Kitto and Alfred Eckhard Zimmern. For the concept of confederation, he was influenced by the nineteenth century anarchist thinkers. Bookchin tied libertarian municipalism to a utopian vision for decentralizing cities into small, human-scaled eco-communities, and to a concept of urban revolution”.2
However, Janet Biehl believes differently. She thinks there were other factors that influenced Bookchin. “What really inspired Murray to think about confederation was not Proudhon/Bakunin, etc., but the story of the CNT (Confederation Nacional del Trabajo) in Spain. His book, ‘The Spanish Anarchists’ focuses on the CNT’s structure as a confederation. He was trying to demonstrate that, contrary to the accusation of Marxists, anarchists really could organise themselves, and confederation was the bottom-up structure they chose” (personal communication, 9th December 2017).

Although Bookchin believed in decentralisation and an ecofriendly society, he could not believe that this could be achieved without confederalism – a network through which municipalities could unite and cooperate to share resources between themselves on the basis of their citizens and communities’ needs. However, at the same time he believed each municipality must have autonomy over policy making. His definition of confederalism is “It is above all a network of administrative councils whose members or delegates are elected from popular face-to-face democratic assemblies, in the various villages, towns, and even neighborhoods of large cities. The members of these confederal councils are strictly mandated, recallable, and responsible to the assemblies that choose them for the purpose of coordinating and administering the policies formulated by the assemblies themselves”.4

The road towards confederalism requires the building of Libertarian Municipalism for which working on the primary pillars like decentralization, social ecology, interdependence and feminism are very important tasks. Each of these pillars is connected to the other, such that none of them is workable without the others. Bookchin clarified this very well when he said “To argue that the remaking of society and our relationship with the natural world can be achieved only by decentralization or localism or self-sustainability leaves us with an incomplete collection of solutions”.4 Bookchin also insists that decentralisation and self-sufficiency are not necessarily democratic so will be unable to resolve society’s problems and be successful, he therefore continues to say “It is a troubling fact that neither decentralization nor self-sufficiency in itself is necessarily democratic. Plato’s ideal city in the Republic was indeed designed to be self-sufficient, but its self-sufficiency was meant to maintain a warrior as well as a philosophical elite. Indeed, its capacity to preserve its self-sufficiency depended upon its ability, like Sparta, to resist the seemingly “corruptive” influence of outside cultures (a characteristic, I may say, that still appears in many closed societies in the East). Similarly, decentralization in itself provides no assurance that we will have an ecological society. A decentralized society can easily co-exist with extremely rigid hierarchies. A striking example is European and Oriental feudalism, a social order in which princely, ducal, and baronial hierarchies were based on highly decentralized communities. With all due respect to Fritz Schumacher, small is not necessarily beautiful……..If we extol such communities because of the extent to which they were decentralized, self-sufficient, or small, or employed “appropriate technologies,” we would be obliged to ignore the extent to which they were also culturally stagnant and easily dominated by exogenous elites”.4

Bookchin was not just talking about confederalism in a political way as an alternative to the nation-state. He thought that while the state has its own institutions and politics, and maintains a capitalist economy through its institutions, forces and spies with other administration (Churches, Banks, other Financial Institutions, Media and Courts), its economy can be imposed on and dominate the society. He thought confederalism, through its libertarian municipalities, should create its own institutions, design its own policies and education, build up its own economy, and empower its own individual citizens. So Bookchin stressed that “Confederalism as a principle of social organization reaches its fullest development when the economy itself is confederalized by placing local farms, factories, and other needed enterprises in local municipal hands that is, when a community, however large or small, begins to manage its own economic resources in an interlinked network with other communities”.4

Janet Biehl has tried to clarify and explain Boockchin’s ideas about the above concept in plain and simple language in her book, ‘The politics of Social Economy, Libertarian Municipalism’. In Chapter 11 she explains the meaning of the Bookchin quote above “A confederation is a network in which several political entities combine to form a larger whole. Although a larger entity is formed in the process of confederating, the smaller entities do not dissolve themselves into it and disappear. Rather they retain their freedom and identity and their sovereignty even as they confederate”.5

It is essential that people are economically equal according to their needs otherwise, they will remain in conflict politically. Obviously economic equality cannot happen unless people themselves control their economy. This means the economy should not in any way be in private hands, or in the hands of the State, either in what is called the public sector, or in public-private partnerships. In her book on Libertarian Municipalism mentioned above, Janet Biehl explains in Chapter 12, ‘A Municipalized Economy that the type of economy the community needs is very different from any other type of economy that class-based societies have seen before. She says “Libertarian municipalism advances a form of public ownership that is truly public. The political economy it proposes is one that is neither privately owned, nor broken up into small collectives, nor nationalized. Rather, it is one that is municipalized – placed under community “ownership” and control.”

“This municipalization of the economy means the “ownership” and management of the economy by the citizens of the community. Property – including both land and factories – would no longer be privately owned but would be put under the overall control of citizens in their assemblies. The citizens would become the collective “owners” of their community’s economic resources and would formulate and approve economic policy for the community …………In a rational anarchist society, economic inequality would be eliminated by turning wealth, private property, and the means of production over to the municipality. Through the municipalization of the economy, the riches of the possessing classes would be expropriated by ordinary people and placed in the hands of the community, to be used for the benefit of all”.5

The concept of Democratic Confederalism `

Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) both before and during his current imprisonment has thought about and analysed the PKK movement and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European Blocks. He has also linked the experience and ideology of all the Communist parties in the world with one another, especially in the Middle Eastern Region, and observed that their achievements in real life are not what they claim. However, the trigger point for Ocalan was familiarising himself with Bookchin’s ideas while in prison. Through his lawyer, Ocalan wrote to Bookchin a few times with a view to adapt his ideas to the context of the PKK, but Bookchin was near the end of his life.

At the beginning of this century, Ocalan realised that Bookchin’s proposed citizens’ assemblies and confederalism were the right solution for all the nations and ethnic minorities who are living in the countries of the region. He therefore rejected the idea of the nation-state. In fact he now believes the nation-state is the root of the problem rather than the solution and that it brought and still brings disaster to the people. He wrote “If the nation-state is the backbone of the capitalist modernity it certainly is the cage of the natural society …….. The nation-state domesticates the society in the name of capitalism and alienates the community from its natural foundations”.6

He thinks that not only do nations have no future under the nation-state, but even individuals – the citizens – have no future, except for fitting themselves into a kind of modern society “The citizenship of modernity defines nothing but the transition made from private slavery to state slavery “.6

Ocalan knew the root of the problem in many societies, like the Kurdish society, especially in the region he came from. For him it is not enough just to reject the nation-state, he believes people also need to concentrate on another major problem that has existed in society for a long time, women’s issues. He read a lot about ancient society, from the time of the first civilisation over 10,000 years ago and the role of women through this period. He realised that all issues from the nation-state, through exploitation and slavery to women issues and gender equality are strongly connected and so cannot be resolved separately. Indeed, he thought exploitation started with the slavery and repression of women “Without woman’s slavery none of the other types of slavery can exist let alone develop……without the repression of the women the repression of the entire society is not conceivable”. 6

Ocalan is deeply concerned about women’s issues and he thought even women is nation but a colonised nation. Testament to his genuine belief in what he wrote, is his insistence that the involvement of women is the first and essential step in the struggle to resolve their own issues as well as the entire problems of society. He was working on these ideas when he was in the mountains and he managed to involve many women in guerrilla fighting, even some non-Kurdish women. However, over time he became more aware of the role of women, not just in fighting the state with weapons, but in fighting the state in different ways and in building a new society based on Democratic Confederalism “The democratic confederalism of Kurdistan is not a State system,” he wrote “It is the democratic system of a people without a State.”6

Why was Ocalan so insistent on Democratic Confederalism? What is Ocalan’s definition of this concept?

Ocalan shortened the definition of Democratic Confederalism to just few words “democratic, ecological, gender-liberated society……or democracy without State”.7 He thought that capitalism has been built on three pillars: capitalist modernity, the nation-state, and industrialism, and he believed that people can replace these with “democratic modernity, democratic nation, communal economy and ecological industry”7 respectively.
The idea of democratic confederalism for Ocalan is people organising to manage themselves. He sees it as a grassroots task, enacted by collective decisions made by the people themselves about their own issues through direct democracy, which rejects control by the state or any dominant administration. He wrote “Democratic confederalism is the contrasting paradigm of the oppressed people. Democratic confederalism is a non-state social paradigm. It is not controlled by a state. At the same time, democratic confederalism is the cultural organizational blueprint of a democratic nation. Democratic confederalism is based on grass-roots participation. Its decision-making processes lie with the communities.”.6 He goes on to say “[Democratic Confederalism]…can be called a non-state political administration or a democracy without a state. Democratic decision-making processes must not be confused with the processes known from public administration. States only administrate[sic]while democracies govern. States are founded on power; democracies are based on collective consensus”. 6

Examining the definition and views of Bookchin about confederalism and of Ocalan about democratic confederalism, can we see similarities and differences between the two concepts and views? I personally see that both the concepts as well as Bookchin’s and Ocalan’s views on these concepts share many similarities. They may have chosen different conceptual labels, but the meaning of them and the aims are the same.

Minor differences are that Ocalan replaced the concept of confederalism with democratic confederalism and instead of using the concept of Libertarian Municipalism uses a different form of administration that has been put into practice in Rojava. As far as I know, Ocalan saw his theory as a solution to the conflicts and problems between the nations and ethnic minorities especially in the region he came from. However, Bookchin went further in that he believed that confederalism is the solution for all human beings and the way to end capitalist domination in every way. So for Bookchin confederalism is the solution to the problems that people are facing world-wide and not just in one region or some countries.

There is another difference. Ocalan in his analysis of the history of human civilization, exploitation and slavery believes that slavery started from the enslavement of women and hierarchy started from the domination of men over women, although elsewhere he agreed with Bookchin “I have repeatedly pointed out that the patriarchal society mostly consisted of the shaman, the elderly experienced sheikh, and the military commander. It may be wise to look for prototype of a new society within such development with “a new society” we mean a situation where hierarchy emerges inside the clan. The immanent division is finalised when hierarchy gives rise to permanent class-formation and a state-like organisation”.8 The issue of hierarchy is the soul of Ocalan’s theory, as libertarian municipalism was for Bookchin, although both of them see hierarchy as the foundation of the class society. It is quite clear that Bookchin has looked at hierarchy and hierarchical society in greater depth than Ocalan, and at how domination existed before class society through the heads of tribes, heads of families, elders, and the domination of men over women. Janet Biehl wrote in the Bookchin Reader: “According to Marx “primitive egalitarianism”was destroyed by the rise of social classes, in which those who own wealth and property exploit the labor of those who do not. But from his observations of contemporary history, Bookchin realised that class analysis in itself does not explain the entirety of social oppression. The elimination of class society could leave intact relation of subordination and domination……….Bookchin emphasised that it would be necessary to eliminate not only social class but social hierarchies as well…….. Hierarchy and domination, in Bookchin’s view, historically provided the substrate of oppression out of which class relations were formed”.9

However, Janet Biehl believes that Ocalan’s theory is almost the same as Bookchin’s and that Ocalan put Bookchin’s theory into practice. As she said on one occasion: “The way I think of it, Bookchin gave birth to the baby, and Abdullah Ocalan raised it to a child.” 10 She continued, noting that “Ocalan altered some of Bookchin’s original model. Bookchin was an anarchist, and as such he was opposed to all hierarchies, of race, of sex, of gender, of domination by state, of interpersonal relations. Mr Ocalan emphasised gender hierarchy and the importance of the liberation of women.[That is]one of the biggest theoretical changes I can see.” 10

In addition to these similarities and differences, in my opinion there is another main difference between Bookchin and Ocalan. Bookchin sees building libertarian municipalities as the foundation of confederalism. This building relies purely and completely on the education, organisation and participation of the people. Ocalan believes that participation is the people’s own job and should be done through mass meetings/assemblies to discuss and debate existing and related issues, and that decisions should be made collectively. The main tool that can be used for this purpose is direct democracy and direct action.

For Ocalan, although the aim is the same, as I have shown above, the way of to get to the destination, to a certain extent, or at least as far as we can see in Rojava and Bakur, is different. Until this moment Ocalan is the leader of PKK and he is the spiritual leader of the Kurds in Bakur and Rojava, as well as of many people in Basur and Rojhalat[Iraqi and Iranian Kurdistan respectively]. It is true that Ocalan contacted his party and his people when he had the chance from his prison cell. He tried hard to convince them to transform the PKK into a social movement. As a result, there was a lot of discussion in 2012 and after about the idea of rejecting the nation-state, committing to a ceasefire and discussing anarchism. However the PKK did not transform into what many of us, probably Ocalan included, suggested and wanted.

Once all the contact between Ocalan and the outside was cut off in April 2015 and a new situation emerged when Erdogan announced a very brutal war against all Kurdish people, not just the PKK, the PKK became more militarised. So for the PKK it became more important to concentrate on fighting than to continue the discussion that commenced in 2012. In Rojava more or less the same thing happened. However, there, instead of having to fight the Assad Regime, it was forced to fight against Isis in defence of Kobane and other places*. There is no doubt that during a war in any country the mass movement will be weaker and the military will be stronger. So too in Kurdistan, Bakur and Rojava, the PKK and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) became more powerful at the expense of the mass movement.

From this I can conclude that in Bakur and Rojava a couple of high-disciplinary and authoritarian political parties, PKK and PYD, are behind building democratic confederalism in both Kurdistan, Bakur and Rojava. It is these parties that are the ones making major decisions, planning and designing the policies, and also setting up diplomatic relationships with other countries and other political parties. It is they who negotiate with their enemies or the states, and make war or peace. Of course, these are very big issues and extremely important as they shape the future destination of the society. However, unfortunately it is the political parties which are making these decisions and not the people in their own assemblies and mass meetings, or through direct action.

For Bookchin building Libertarian Muncipalities and confederalism is the task of people, or “Citizens” as he called them, but for Ocalan and PKK, at least at the moment, it is the task of political parties.

Finally we can ask ourselves a question: is what exists in Rojava democratic confederalism?
This is a difficult question especially for me to answer while I am confined to reading about Rojava, following the news on Rojava TV , Radio, websites and social media, especially Facebook. I believe that to answer this question properly and to understand all sides of this issue in relation to the future of Rojava, I may need to go there to do some essential research. This needs to include visiting cities, towns and villages, speaking to and interviewing people at every level and section of society. Visiting the Communes and participating in their meetings, following their decisions, seeing the Cooperatives, analysing the balance of power between the Movement for a Democratic Society (Tev-Dem) and the PYD as well as between them and the Democratic Self-Administration (DSA) and many more work for me to do.
We have all noticed that there has been a lot written about democratic confederalism in Rojava. The vast majority of these writings are positive and supportive and agree that democratic confedralism has been built or at least is on its way to being built there.
I believe the main problem with those articles or essays were isolated the major things, events and the role, from the influence and the power of PYD. The comrades who wrote these articles did not think or did not want to mention that building confederalism and democratic confederalism should be the task of anarchists. It is the anarchists, not political parties, who should participate and involve themselves through the mass movement in this process of building confederalism and democratic confederalism, because some issues that come up can be resolved completely through the libertarian muncipalism that is the foundation of the libertarian society. Bookchin wrote “before the class society there was “However we should not see democratic confederalism (or communalism) as separate from anarchism because they very much follow the tradition of classical anarchism.” 4

In the case of Rojava many questions remain to be asked and many outstanding issues queried, such as: Is everybody free to be involved in politics and take part in the meetings to make the decisions? Are the issues I raised in the previous page discussed and the decisions about them taken collectively through the mass meetings and by direct action? Are the existing Cooperatives really owned by the communes, the Democratic Self Administration (DSA), or a kind of mixture of private-public ownership; also can everybody be a member regardless of who they are, and finally how are the products distributed? Are the Communes and the Houses of the People really non-hierarchical groups or organisations? Why are the chair and co-chairs in position for such a long time? Is the head of the DSA, and those at the highest levels of the Tev-Dem and the Communes elected through direct democracy or just nomination? How hard is democratic confederalism working towards an ecological society and what has been achieved so far? There are actually many other aspects of democratic confederalism that also need to be questioned.

Those of us so far who have written about democratic confederalism, in my opinion, have not answered many questions or have not been following this project properly. I know some of the comrades and friends who have written about it have not stayed in Rojava long enough to know about all sides of the society and investigate these issues. Additionally, those who have stayed long enough were comrades who were or are with the YPG/J.
Having saying all that, we should agree that when we write and analyse Rojava we should not isolate Rojava from the situation that surrounds it, we should see Rojava’s enemies inside and outside Syria and also the continuing war with Isis, the Assad Regime, Turkey, and the probability that Iraq, Iran and Turkey will come together to fight PKK and Rojava in the future. In addition we should acknowledge that there has been no effective or strong international solidarity from leftists, communists, socialists, trade unionists and anarchists, and the same movement has not emerged in neighbouring countries. Had the situation been different and some of the above conditions met, perhaps Rojava could answer my questions in more positive way and set a better example to follow.

*This article drafted before the State of Turkey’s brutal attack on Afrin which was expected by few of us.

Zaherbaher.com

References

Anarchist and Radical Texts/The Anarchist Sociology of Federalism
2 Libertarian municipalism – Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_municipalism

3 Biehl J. Ecology or Catastrophe, The life of Murray Bookchin, Oxford University Press 2015, P 227

4 The Meaning of Confederalism | The Anarchist Library
https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/murray-bookchin-the-meaning-of-confederalism.pdf

5 The politics of Social Economy, Libertarian Municipalism. Biehl, J. P 110 and 118
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6YOyGNakE86b3RLY2RZN0dySUE/view?usp=sharing

6 http://www.freeocalan.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Ocalan--Confederalism.pdf

7 Democratic Confederalism – ROAR Magazine
8 Capitalism and unmasked gods and naked kings: Manifesto for a Democratic Civilization, Volume ll (page 110). Published New Compass Press, Porsgrun, Norway and International Initiatives edition, Cologne, Germany 2017
9 The Murray Bookchin Reader. Edited by Janet Biehl (page 75) https://archive.org/details/themurraybookchinreader
10 Golphy O. Rojava’s democratic confederalism: the experiment of an American theory. 2016. https://www.reddit.com/r/syriancivilwar/comments/4fxpd5/rojavas_democratic_confederalism_the_experiment/

https://www.anarkismo.net/article/30846

50 Years After the Landmark Kerner Report Called Out Media Racism, the Power Structure Persists

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 22:42

via Color Lines

by Joseph Torres

It’s nearly impossible for people of color to achieve racial justice if we are unable to tell our own stories or control the construction and distribution of our narratives. This is a major reason why it is important to remember the Kerner Commission Report, which was released 50 years ago on February 29.

Black uprisings in cities across the country such as Newark and Detroit left more than 80 people dead in the summer of 1967. President Lyndon B. Johnson created the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders—better known as the Kerner Commission—to study the root causes of the uprisings and to prevent them from happening again. A year later the commission released its historic report, which included a chapter about the media’s role in the unrest.

The report criticized the news media for hiring few Black journalists and editors and failing to “report adequately on the causes and consequences of civil disorders and the underlying problems of race relations.” It noted that, “far too often, the press acts and talks about Negroes as if Negroes do not read the newspapers or watch television, give birth, marry, die, and go the PTA meetings.”

“By failing to portray the Negro as a matter of routine and in the context of the total society,” the report concluded, “the news media have, we believe, contributed to the black-white schism in this country.”

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How plant-based diets can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 22:25

via Accuweather

By Jennifer Fabiano

Vegan and vegetarian diets are not just the latest trend. According to climate experts, these diets could actually help mitigate the effects of climate change.

“From a greenhouse gas standpoint and a climate standpoint, there are many advantages to a vegetarian diet and a vegan diet,” Rob Jackson, chair of the Department of Earth System Science at Stanford, said.

Transitioning towards a more plant-based diet could reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by up to 70 percent, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The agriculture industry has major anthropocentric impacts, which are impacts originating in human activities. Reduction of greenhouse gases is the most prominent effects of vegan and vegetarian diets; others include reduced destruction of rain forests, increased efficiency of food production and cleaner, more abundant water.

Reduction of greenhouse gases

Methane is generated in the guts of animals, according to Rob Jackson. The livestock sector of agriculture emits 37 percent of anthropogenic methane, which has 23 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation’s “Livestock’s Long Shadow” report.

The livestock sector is also responsible for 64 percent of anthropogenic ammonia emissions, which contribute to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems.

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Why Is It So Hard for Clothing Manufacturers to Pay a Living Wage?

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 22:15

Via Racked

By Jasmin Malik Chua

In the garment industry, stories about workers who barely eke out an existence on “starvation wages” are legion: Factory workers in New Delhi often describe living in makeshift hovels “barely fit for animals.” A young woman from Myanmar might wrestle with the decision to feed her children or send them to school. In Bangladesh, sewing-machine operators frequently toil for 100 hours or more a week, only to run out of money before the end of the month.

Workers have demanded higher pay in all those countries, of course, sometimes precipitating violence between protesters and police. Companies in general, however, have preferred to sidestep the issue altogether. In fact, no multinational brand or retailer currently claims to pay its garment workers a wage they can subsist on.

To be fair, defining a “living wage” can be a tricky business, one that requires some complex mathematics. Even within the same country, the minimum income a worker requires to afford basic needs — food, shelter, clothing, medicine — can vary wildly from one locale to another.

Plus, as brands are wont to remind people, most of them don’t own the factories that produce their clothes, meaning they neither pay for the garment workers’ wages nor determine what those wages are.

So when H&M declared in November 2013 that it would deliver a “fair living wage” to more than 850,000 workers across 750 factories by the end of 2018, the announcement was nothing short of a bombshell.

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China: Long Held US Fears Becoming Reality?

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 21:59

via Libcom.org

by Internationalist Communist Tendency

The dilemma for the US – and the threat for the world – is that over time China will catch up with the US militarily as well as economically. It’s a long way off. However at some point the US will arrive at the same dilemma which faced the German General Staff in 1914. Their calculation was that by 1916 they would lose what military advantages they had over their imperialist rivals so were facing a pivotal decision and thus gave the green light for support to Austria and Armageddon followed. The current USA-China rivalry will be the axis around which any conflict will take place.

Last year we wrote

“… a decade after the explosion of the speculative bubble there has been no solution to the global economic stagnation which it provoked. With no economic solution in the offing and with the different problems of the various great powers mounting the way has opened up for new and more desperate political forces to make their presence felt. We can see some of these in the new climate of nationalism across the globe and in the growing number of openly enunciated threats by the great powers on the planet towards each other. Add to all that the fact that we have arrived at a point in history where the greatest power of all on the planet for the last century is facing new challenges to its economic and military dominance not seen since the collapse of the USSR.” (“Russia, China and the USA’s New World Disorder” in Revolutionary Perspectives 09)

We followed it up with a shorter piece on our website in November entitled “China Openly Declares Its Imperialist Ambitions”.1 Nothing that has happened since undermines the analysis in either article. Today, there is no shortage of flashpoints around the world which could provide the opening scene for the next great imperialist confrontation. Whilst North Korea and the USA play nuclear Russian roulette with the fate of the planet, the increasing tensions in the Middle East and North Africa now engulf almost everywhere from Libya to Burma/Myanmar. At the same time the unfinished business of the war in Eastern Ukraine stimulates military manoeuvres along the entire Russian border by both Washington (in NATO guise) and Moscow.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of all the barbarous conflicts that imperialist rivalries are inflicting on so much of humanity, and there will be many more to come, but what we would like to focus on here is the new sharpening of imperialist rhetoric in the rivalry between the US and China. What makes this rivalry so dangerous in the longer term is the global mismatch between the world’s latest economic powerhouse, China, and the greatest military power humanity has ever seen in the USA. Although direct conflict is not likely in the immediate term, this rivalry has been open for some time (as we showed in the articles mentioned above). It became even more explicit at the end of 2017. In October Xi Ping cemented his power at the top of the Chinese Communist Party declaring that the “China Dream” was to become the world’s top dog in 2049 (exactly a century after Mao came to power in Beijing).

Trump was not slow to respond and the publication of the new US Strategic Plan in December 2017 gave him the chance to openly declare that “China and Russia want to shape a world antithetical to US values and interests”. Trump refers to both as “rival powers” but only once in Russia’s case whereas China gets several mentions. And harping back to his “China is raping our economy” theme he added “The United States will no longer turn a blind eye to violations, cheating, or economic aggression.” Both sides, in their different ways, are preparing their next moves.

Rebuilding the Silk Road

China’s strength lies in its enormous trade surplus with the world. Its weakness is that it lacks oil and gas resources. Both require secure trade routes. However, China is surrounded by over 400 US military installations including the deployment of the latest THAAD missiles system in South Korea. In a world which is dominated by US control of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, China needs to find other ways to ensure its trade security.

This is why the Chinese Communist Party is pushing forward plans to finance and build infrastructure which will span the continents of Europe and Asia from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The ultimate aim is a Eurasian trading bloc which if allowed to develop unchallenged by the US, could one day effectively see it shut out of many of its traditional markets and isolated as no more than a regional power.

On the 14 May 2017 China welcomed 29 Heads of State or their representatives to a two-day summit to celebrate its $900 billion initiative, “One Belt One Road”. Even Japan and South Korea, who contest China’s bid for hegemony in the region, sent representatives. Most other countries engaged in territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea issue, including Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines also sent official delegations. India and Pakistan also took part. The summit appears to have been a successful exercise in Chinese soft power. In an about turn, the Japanese Prime Minister signalled his intention at G20 2017 to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Philippines’ trade minister has chosen to set aside the country’s maritime border dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea and focus on building economic links.

Based in Beijing, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) was created in 2014 by 57 founder member countries2 including Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain, with 24 more prospective members expected to join. The bank became operational at the end of 2015. At the time, the US suffered a humiliating diplomatic setback when it tried and failed to dissuade its friends and allies from joining. US policymakers assumed that its Asia-Pacific allies would willingly sacrifice the economic opportunities offered by China’s initiative in order to deny Beijing a geopolitical win at Washington’s expense. They underestimated China’s economic pulling power, with only Japan succumbing to US pressure. The AIIB, created for project infrastructure investment, and the Silk Road Fund, intended for investment in related businesses will work together towards developing the initiative. Hong Kong will be a key financial gateway for BRI, helping to find financial partners for BRI projects. The scale of BRI both in terms of ambition and funding is enormous and dwarfs the post war US Marshall Plan. The China Times estimates that the total value of the Silk Road Economic Belt, when it is complete, will be an astronomical $21.1 trillion. This is a long term development plan which contrasts starkly with the policy short-termism that predominates in the US and Europe.

The Belt and Road initiative (BRI) has two main prongs: one is called the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ (the belt) and the other the ‘21st Century Maritime Silk Road’ (the road). In fact, the ‘road’ is not actually a road but rather a sea route linking China’s southern coast to East Africa and the Mediterranean. The ‘belt’ is a series of overland corridors connecting China with Europe, via Central Asia and the Middle East. Work has already begun to put in place an infrastructure for the continent’s economic integration by funding infrastructure projects across Asia and Europe. Beijing plans to lay down an elaborate and enormously expensive network of high-speed, high-volume railroads, motor-ways and airports; as well as oil and natural gas pipelines across the vast breadth of Eurasia. For the first time in history, the rapid transcontinental movement of critical cargo such as oil, minerals, and manufactured goods will be possible on a massive scale, thereby potentially unifying that vast landmass into a single economic zone stretching 6,500 miles from Shanghai to Lisbon. In this way, the leadership in Beijing hopes to shift the locus of geopolitical power away from the maritime periphery and deep into the Eurasian heartland.

Significant progress has already been made on the China-Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC), a huge project of more than $62 billion3, which demonstrates the growing economic and political relationship between Pakistan and China. The CPEC is about 3000 kilometres long consisting of a vast web of pipelines, motor-ways, power plants, wind farms, factories, airports and railways, creating an estimated 1 million jobs .

CPEC will connect China’s Xinjiang province to the rest of the world through Pakistan’s Gwadar port. The project has been divided into different phases. The first phase of the project is the completion of Gwadar International Airport and the development of Gwadar Port. Chinese companies are scheduled to complete the first phase by the end of 2017. Other small projects in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor include the expansion of Karakoram Highway. A fibre-optic line will also be placed in between the two countries to ensure better communication. Pakistan, one of the major countries in South East Asia and a US ally, is already raising the possibility of distancing itself from the US orbit as it sees the possible economic benefits from closer co-operation with China.

The economic corridor is a way for Pakistan to eliminate its transportation problems and both countries to tackle their energy crisis. For China, CPEC represents one of the biggest investments it has ever made in a foreign country but as one of the major oil importers in the world CPEC will give it a safe and sustainable pipeline route for its oil imports.

In early 2017 Chinese wagon trains loaded with Chinese manufactures arrived in Hamburg, Madrid and London from Yiwu in Zhejiang province. The 7,500 mile journey took 18 days and passed through 7 countries. The trains, following the old silk road through central Asia, then across Russia, Belarus and Poland into western Europe are unlikely, initially at least, to have a decisive effect on present patterns of trade because of the necessity to switch freight containers at various points due to different track gauges. It will take time to address these kinds of infrastructure problems especially given the political obstacles emanating from the EU.

The real importance of this is the impact it is likely to have on European businesses and governments, since a network of rail links reduces the distance between Asia and Europe and facilitates trade and commerce. It indicates how the dynamic of capitalist globalisation is now much more complex than simply the transfer of manufacturing from the old industrial heartlands to cheap labour, low cost China. Now China itself is looking for secure supply lines, raw materials and new markets and in so doing posing questions for both Russia and the EU (not to mention the UK) about the wider repercussions for their role in reshaping the international imperialist line-up. Similarly for Asia as a whole, if BRI succeeds the land mass would be more integrated economically. A Chinese railway through Myanmar for instance would provide a route to the sea that bypasses the pinch point of the Strait of Malacca. At the same time, though, these apparently straightforward technical projects also present a threat to established powers, not least Japan and South Korea. At the moment Japan seems to have decided to go along with the project, in so far as ‘opening up’ could also benefit its balance of trade.

Vast infrastructure projects in central Asia and Africa are designed to mop up China’s excess industrial capacity in such industries as steel, cement and aluminium; and to secure sources of raw materials. Beijing wants new investment channels to expand its presence in Europe. The Chinese government wants to draw the rich European nations closer to China. Its vision is to do this by recreating the sea and land routes of an earlier era of globalisation. The Chinese government sees The One Belt One Road idea as being the basis by which the great land mass of Eurasia becomes over time the vital fulcrum of its global power. Their biggest problem is that there will be much political resistance, especially from the European Union states who also have to agree to any investment as stakeholders in the AIIB. This is why the Chinese government still maintains here the mask of taoguang yhanghui (“We should conceal our capabilities and avoid the limelight”) advocated by Deng Tsaio Peng even though it has adopted a more aggressive and bullying policy with its island building in the South China Sea.

The projects that make up the Belt and Road Initiative are thus medium to long-term projects, which will be completed over the next two or three decades. A more immediate benefit to China comes in the form of soft power exactly at the time that the US is retreating into “an America First” position. US sinologist David Shambaugh of George Washington University says that China spends approximately $10 billion a year on foreign-language media abroad, Confucius Institutes, educational exchanges, foreign aid, cultural festivals abroad, and generally trying to portray China as a defender of the international order, trade, and globalisation.

However, One Belt One Road, represents a major extension to this effort and Trump’s dropping of the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade agreement, which includes Vietnam but excludes China, is a blunder that leaves the way open for China to extend its influence in the region. President Xi has already taken advantage of this by calling for a pan-regional Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), which will essentially be a consolidation of existing free-trade deals between China and other regional economies. This, together with the deals that will be made as a result of the BRI, are likely to increase China’s influence in the region.

The Challenge to the USA

Long the dominant power in the world, the US consciously pursues policies which intend to keep the world that way. However, over the last few decades entire libraries have been produced with warnings of the US’ imminent demise.4 US policymakers are acutely aware that other great powers have risen and fallen before them. Not least amongst these is the British experience.

At the turn of the 20th Century, Great Britain’s national debt stood at around 30% of GDP and the pound was the world’s undisputed reserve currency. The first imperialist world war caused Britain’s national debt to increase from £650 million to £7.4 billion which became £21 billion by 1945.5 The bulk of these debts were owed to its major creditor, the US, which emerged at the war’s end as the world’s strongest economy and military power.

No surprise then that at the Bretton Woods Conference it was decided that the world’s reserve currency would be the dollar which would be fixed at $35 an ounce of gold.

A gold-backed dollar worked very well for the US during the long post war boom years. But when the laws of capital accumulation inexorably reasserted themselves in the form of the decline of the rate of profit, the cycle of accumulation entered its phase of decline. The clearest sign of this was that the US was forced to take the dollar off the gold standard in 1971 leaving only US Treasury debt as the basis for global reserves. The balance of payments deficit stemming from the US’ declining competitiveness and lower profit rates – by the 1970’s the US was a net importer of goods – pumped dollars abroad and was exacerbated by foreign military spending. Some of these never returned to the US but became petrodollars or Eurodollars whilst others ended up in the hands of central banks that recycled them to the US by buying Treasury securities, which in turn financed the US domestic budget deficit. This gives the US economy a unique financial free ride, enabling it to finance its deficits seemingly ad-infinitum without creating an inflationary crisis that would have been the case for any other state. The balance of payments deficit has thus financed the US domestic budget deficit for decades. The post-gold international finance system, boosted by such things as the petrodollar, obliges foreign countries (the Chinese government alone holds around $3.5 trillion) to finance US military spending whether they like it or not. And the US uses its “free” military and naval apparatus to police oil routes and ensure that oil producing countries continue to trade in dollars.

One annoying fact for the US in the post-1945 world was that the Soviet Union had fought its way to the Elbe so that Europe became divided into two blocs dominated by the US and the Soviet Union. The US allowed the Soviet Bloc to form because US strategic thinkers thought that the Eastern European Soviet Bloc countries would soon be brought into the more dynamic Western bloc economy because of their inherent economic weakness. However, the Stalin regime enforced non-convertible currencies on them effectively locking out the dollar. Maoist China came on the scene in 1949, and together with the Soviet Bloc, half of the world’s population was frozen out of the “free market”, engendering the tense stand off between the blocs known as the Cold War. This period came to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.

The collapse that US strategists had been predicting in the Eastern European Bloc countries actually occurred in the Soviet Union first. The repeated failure of reform amid the strain of competing with the US in a continual arms race led the Soviet economy to breaking point. The resulting triumphalism of the “Free World” at the “collapse of communism” made the US believe that, as the only super power, it could now use military might around the globe as it pleased. The first Iraq war was followed by Afghanistan and the second Iraq war. Although Saddam Hussein’s fate and the destruction of the Iraqi economy effectively preserved the remaining oil trade for the US dollar, the huge cost of these military adventures, in terms of both financial and political capital, has been disastrous for the US; and demonstrated the limitations of purely military interventions. The hallmark of Obama’s time in office was the exercise of “smart power” and a multilateral approach which tried to reinforce US allies.6 It also led to a reining back on costly military interventions which only exacerbated the national debt in order to improve the US’s international image. Currently, the US is in a difficult position because the use of hard power (under Bush) then soft power (under Obama) has created a sense of incoherence. This has been exacerbated by divisions over foreign policy between Trump’s cabinet, other state departments, the CIA and the US military. So much so, that it’s difficult to see what direction US foreign policy is taking.

It was not always thus. In the 1990s Zbigniew Brzezinski, the US’s top strategist from 1977 to 1981 under President Jimmy Carter, and an adviser to the Clinton administration understood that the end of the Cold War hadn’t made US geopolitical strategy obsolete. He argued that,

“Eurasia is the world’s axial super-continent. A power that dominated Eurasia would exercise decisive influence over two of the world’s three most economically productive regions, Western Europe and East Asia. A glance at the map also suggests that a country dominant in Eurasia would almost automatically control the Middle East and Africa. With Eurasia now serving as the decisive geopolitical chessboard, it no longer suffices to fashion one policy for Europe and another for Asia. What happens with the distribution of power on the Eurasian landmass will be of decisive importance to America’s global primacy and historical legacy… Eurasia’s potential power overshadows even America’s.”

Brzezinski died in 2016 but his warnings have been ignored and effectively undermined by the Trump administration.

US Foreign Policy Manoeuvres

During the US presidential election campaign Trump was very critical of US military adventures around the world, particularly in Afghanistan, which he described as “a complete waste” and the Middle East where he criticised the $6 trillion that the supposedly non-interventionist Obama had wasted on conflicts. He felt that the US and Russia should instead cooperate in defeating ISIS. He declared just after the election: “The destructive cycle of intervention and chaos must finally come to an end,” and he promised that the US would be pulling back from conflicts around the world that are not in America’s vital national interest.

However, Trump in office has seen fit to undertake no less than five acts of foreign aggression in a few short months. The first was a joint operation with Emirati commandos in Yemen, which backfired, leading to the death of a Navy SEAL. The second was an attack on a Syrian airfield, in response to an alleged poison gas attack. The third is the escalation of military manoeuvres in the seas around North Korea. The fourth is the bombing of a cave network in Eastern Afghanistan using the “mother of all bombs”. And the fifth is the deployment of more troops to Northern Iraq and Eastern Syria ostensibly to step up the fight against ISIS.

The rhetoric is also being ramped up against the US’s long-term bogeyman, Iran. In addition Trump has done a full U-turn on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. He is also seeking Congressional approval for a 10% increase in defence spending totalling $54 billion, a massive increase which, to put it in perspective, is almost equivalent to Russia’s total defence budget of $66 billion.7

Far from being apparently random acts announced using twitter, or over dinner with President Xi, they are consistent with foreign policy objectives of the US since the end of the second imperialist world war. The US is concerned about the emergence of a new potential rival in the form of China, which has ambitions to become the dominant player in Asia and beyond. Military actions send it a message about who is still militarily the dominant force on the planet.

The US is also pushing Russia into becoming a closer ally of a China that is looking to extend its influence into Europe as much as it is in Asia. Facing US economic sanctions and military encirclement, Putin is looking increasingly towards the East. Putin said in February 2012, “Russia is an inalienable and organic part of Greater Europe and European civilization. Our citizens think of themselves as Europeans…That’s why Russia proposes moving towards the creation of a common economic space from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, a community referred to by Russian experts as ‘the Union of Europe’ which will strengthen Russia’s potential in its economic pivot toward the ‘new Asia.”

Russia’s relative weakness has led Putin to commit to greater cooperation with China and its Eurasian common economic area. Putin places much store in the Shanghai Cooperation Council where China and Russia combine to keep the US out of Central Asia. However, China has increasingly drawn Russia’s old Central Asian satellites, towards it as a result of its BRI expansion. China imports oil from Kazakhstan; natural gas from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan; uranium from Kazakhstan; operates gold mines in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan; and is searching for rare earths in Tajikistan. The infrastructure projects Beijing has financed in Central Asia, the roads, railways, and pipelines, lead back to China. Consequently, tensions with Russia have increased because Russia’s political and economic influence has been reduced. There are also local tensions as a result of the influx of Chinese workers. But for now Putin is content to ignore this, seeing Russia’s economic and political future as a junior partner in One Belt One Road.

The US cannot afford to allow these ambitions to remain unchallenged, which is why US media has alleged that Moscow intervened in the US presidential elections and that Russia is a serial aggressor that poses a growing threat to European and US national security. This has been going on since Trump’s election. It has been accompanied by a NATO build up in Europe, proxy military interventions in the Middle East and by the recent ramping up of economic sanctions, which are incidentally, deeply unpopular with the US’ European allies, especially Germany, which gets one third of its energy supplies from Russia.

It might seem at first sight that NATO’s recent land and sea exercises in Eastern and Southern Europe as well as the Black Sea frontiers of Eurasia are provocations designed simply to anger and intimidate Russia. It might also seem that the US’ presence in Iraq and Syria is designed to anger and intimidate Iran. But they are at the same time provocations designed to send China a strong message. And this message is being sent at various points along the “New Silk Road”.

In Poland US soldiers have been deployed as part of troop rotations to Europe that the Pentagon has said are intended to bolster ties with NATO allies and send a clear message to Russia. The Polish government allowed more US troops to enter Poland to take part in the recent NATO exercises.

In Romania the US has also built a ground-based $3.9 billion Patriot missile defence system at a site that is just 900 miles from Moscow. The US missile system which was “certified for operation” in May 2016, cancels-out Russia’s nuclear deterrents and undermines the last vestige of Russia as a world super-power.

One Belt One Road had been announced by China in the Autumn of 2013 and Ukraine’s President at the time Viktor Yanukovych visited China in December of that year where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. During the meetings, China agreed to invest $8 billion into the Ukrainian economy. A few months later, the US organised coup took place in February 2014. The US thus annexed a vital land-bridge between the EU and Asia, enabling it to try to control critical rail and pipeline corridors that are drawing the two continents of Asia and Europe closer together.

The New Silk Road’s maritime route into Europe goes through Greece where the Chinese state have purchased the port of Piraeus. From there it will pass by Albania and Montenegro via the Ionian and Adriatic Seas. For this reason, the US has been fomenting Albanian extremism in Macedonia, which has a large Albanian minority, in an attempt to weaken the position of President Gjorge Ivanov. The effect is to threaten the existence of the small Balkan state. Furthermore, the US has been deeply supportive of the “Greater Albania project”8, which would see Albania annex not only parts of Macedonia but also parts of Serbia, Montenegro and Greece. Montenegro’s recent, deeply controversial membership of NATO9 will only exacerbate the problem, since the country remains divided politically, and has close ties to Serbia which remains a Russian ally. One of the US’s main aims with “Greater Albania” is to destabilise Serbia. The New Silk Road’s path into southern Europe thus faces more than a few problems.

Another hotspot of US making along China’s New Silk Road is in North-Eastern Syria. This is also an area in which Syrian Kurds are growing increasingly vocal about independence. Should the US support Kurdish nationalists in northern Iraq and North Eastern Syria, this could create two decidedly pro-US camps along the New Silk Road. If Syrian and/or Iraqi Kurdish nationalists manage to establish a union with the Kurdish nationalist PKK in Turkey, the New Silk Road’s pathway into Turkey could also be threatened; just as the Syrian Ambassador to China has confirmed that China will be given priority in the rebuilding of post-conflict Syria. In July 2017, the China-Arab Exchange Association in cooperation with the Syrian Embassy in Beijing held the Syria Day Expo where Representatives from over 1,000 Chinese businesses specialising in redevelopment, infrastructure and investment met with Syrian officials.

Far from just being a large repair initiative for Syria’s damaged infrastructure, Chinese developmental and investment cooperation could lead to long-term mutual benefits for both China and Syria. Due to Syria’s position on the Eastern Mediterranean and its good relationship with both its Iraqi neighbour and Iraq’s eastern neighbour Iran, Syria is well placed to be an important stop on China’s New Silk Road. The idea that in a few years time, Syrian ports could be an important export route for Chinese goods into other parts of the Mediterranean is one that may come to fruition. The clear loser in such a deal would be the US. In order to counter this therefore, the US continues to increase its presence in Syria.

Ships on the maritime New Silk Road are set to pass through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, which links the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea. Currently, the Strait is under naval blockade from the US’s ally Saudi Arabia. The results of this have led to a humanitarian disaster for the Yemen, which is the subject of the Saudi blockade. The presence of US friendly Saudi ships could also become a threat to China’s shipping routes to the Red Sea.

These flash points on the geopolitical map all look, on the face of it, like aggression and antagonism towards Russia, Syria and Iran. While this is undoubtedly true, they are also in fact, key strategic interventions which either involve direct military aggression or military/naval build ups, broadly tracing the path of the Chinese land and maritime silk roads. The Chinese do, of course, have a degree of flexibility about the path of the land and maritime silk roads and will alter the path as necessary. However, the US is trying to put as many barriers in its way as it can by situating itself or its proxies in areas designed to make China’s commercial/trade expansion as difficult as possible. It seems certain that as China begins to extend the logistical element of its global trade dominance, so too will the US seek to disrupt it wherever it can.

Meanwhile China is using a strategy of building up relationships with its Eurasian neighbours and fostering Eurasia wide infrastructure and trade development to overcome the US; whereas the US relies almost exclusively on military power, deception, covert activity and financialisation.

The Challenge to Dollar Hegemony

As we saw above the US has been able to pass much of the cost of its own economic decline and inflationary spending onto foreign users of the dollar for its own benefit.10 However, by publicly complaining about the way in which the US takes advantage of the dollar as world reserve currency, it is clear that the Chinese and their partners have been actively seeking to alter the balance of power and challenge the dollar’s supremacy.

Arguably, the world is already bi-polar in terms of its most powerful economies. China is now the world’s biggest exporter of manufactured goods. It is the biggest car producer, exceeding the US and Japan combined in 2009.11 In the same year it also surpassed the US as the biggest car market in the world with car sales increasing by 50% to 13.64 million, while US sales fell by around a fifth to 10.43 million. China is second only to the US in oil consumption and is the biggest energy importer (gas and oil) in the world. China has already reached the point where it can no longer continue to grow without directly challenging the dollar’s supremacy. And this is exactly what it has begun to do.

Dollar hegemony stands in the way of China becoming a true equal of the United States for a number of reasons. Dollar hegemony allows the US to spend well in excess of half a trillion dollars every year on military spending. The US Defence budget dwarfs that of China and Russia combined.12 Effectively, with its holding of around 3.5 trillion in dollars and US treasuries, China pays for its own encirclement by the US army and navy. The dollar is the currency in which trade in oil is denominated and if China buys oil from the Middle East it must pay in dollars. China’s huge dollar holdings (largely in the form of US treasuries) represent a high risk since China is vulnerable to dollar devaluation or inflation; and following the 2008 global financial crisis, China also realised that, given the weakness of the international monetary system, dollar dependency would be a major risk moving forward. A further difficulty for China is that the US has a tight grip on the world financial system. The majority of world trade is still in US dollars and the US also controls the international trading system, Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) through which international trade is largely conducted.

For these reasons China has been acting to undermine the dollar as world reserve currency. A start was made in 2001 when the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) was founded by the leaders of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Aside from its political objectives, this represented an early move to challenge the dollar, with a Framework Agreement to enhance economic cooperation, and a long-term objective to establish a free trade area in the SCO agreed in 2003, where the dollar would be excluded. India and Pakistan joined as full members in June 2017.

In 2009 China and Russia called on the IMF to replace the dollar as the world currency with a new currency based on IMF special drawing rights. As the west and especially the US control the IMF and World Bank it predictably failed.13 China has since sought to undermine the World Bank and the IMF. One way was via the creation of the New Development Bank in July 2014, with its head office in Shanghai. The Bank is run by the BRICS countries. Each country has a 20 percent shareholding and voting rights. The bank says all members of the United Nations could join the bank. However, the BRICS nations can never be less than 55 percent of the voting power. The bank is intended to help develop growing economic relations among nations who wish to promote trade and investment and industrial cooperation and, at the same time, avoid US dominated financial institutions like the IMF. The NDB currently has 23 projects costing $6 billion, including $1.7 billion in China and $1.8 billion in India. In 2016 the bank provided over $1.5 billion in financial assistance.

China itself has also established its own institutions like the China Development Bank and the China Export-Import Bank. These are the tools through which it funds overseas developments. In 2010 they overtook the World Bank in supplying such loans for the first time.14

China is seeking wider global use of the renminbi (RMB), in line with its status as the world’s second-largest economy and to challenge the US dollar. Renminbi internationalisation accelerated in 2009 when China established the “dim sum bond”15 market and expanded the Cross-Border Trade RMB Settlement Pilot Project, which helps establish pools of offshore RMB liquidity. In November 2010, Russia began using the renminbi in its bilateral trade with China. This was soon followed by Japan, Australia, Singapore, Great Britain and Canada. As a result of the rapid internationalisation of the renminbi, it became the eighth-most-traded currency in the world in 2013.

As a founding member of BRICS, as well as a major energy exporter, Russia has been leading the way in acting against the dollar. Other nations are now following Russia’s example: Iran and India announced in 2016 that they intend to settle all outstanding crude oil payments in rupees, as part of a joint strategy to dump the petrodollar and trade instead in national currencies. This is a bold move by Iran since, as the CWO has pointed out before[16, Saddam Hussein was overthrown because he instituted a policy of selling oil for euros, not dollars. As a result, there is little doubt that the threat to dollar hegemony was discouraged. But things are beginning to change and China quietly announced in 2016, that it will launch direct trading of its currency, the renminbi, with the riyal of Saudi Arabia and also with the dirham of the United Arab Emirates. This may pave the way for future oil sales between China and Saudi Arabia to be settled in renminbi, which would represent a major blow to the petrodollar. Another incentive for Saudi Arabia to trade its oil in renminbi is that Russia is now the top crude oil exporter to China. A few years ago, Saudi Arabia enjoyed a 20% share of Chinese crude imports, while Russia was lagging far behind with 7%. Now the Saudis find themselves neck and neck with Moscow for the lead in Chinese market share, with both supplying 13-16% of China’s oil needs. Russia’s share continues to grow as Saudi Arabia’s falls because Russia is prepared to accept renminbi for its oil.

There are 23 countries outside of China, which are creating new currency swap lines outside of the dollar including Russia, India, but also significantly, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. This means that the Eurozone itself is preparing to go outside of the dollar, and make use of a new central banking system.

China’s currency reached another major milestone on its march towards internationalisation by breaking into the top five most-used global payment currencies in 2015.

According to data from SWIFT, the international currency clearing system, 2.2 per cent of the world’s payments were conducted using the Chinese currency in December 2014, putting it above both the Canadian and Australian dollars for the first time. The renminbi now sits just behind the Japanese yen, which was used for 2.7 per cent of transactions, the British pound, the euro and the top-ranked US dollar. Use of the renminbi is still well behind that of the euro and the dollar, which together account for three-quarters of all transactions, but growth has been rapid and is set to grow still further. During 2014, payments made in the Chinese currency more than doubled the previous year’s, and have risen 361 per cent since the end of 2012.

There is a momentum towards moving away from the dollar as world currency. What still stands as a major barrier in its way is the understanding that Saudi Arabia and OPEC countries have with the US in ensuring oil transactions remain denominated in dollars under the 1970’s Petrodollar agreement. But even this may be about to change as Saudi Arabia is drawn towards direct trading with China for oil. Saudi Arabia has even publicly stated that ties to the U.S. are open for renegotiation.17

One way in which China has been running down its estimated $1.5 trillion in treasury securities is by buying gold bullion. It has been doing this in very large amounts since 2011. China has a target volume of gold reserves that it is trying to build. No one knows precisely what that target is, nor how much gold China owns. The official reported figure at the end of 2016 is only 1,843 tonnes but the real number is certainly much larger. Diversifying out of the dollar is one reason why China is buying gold since it provides a hedge if the dollar devalues, another reason is that it may have future plans for a gold backed currency, at least in terms of commodity trading.

Beijing has now introduced renminbi gold futures contracts on the Shanghai stock exchange and a renminbi oil futures contract is expected to be launched in the near future. China has long wanted to reduce the dominance of the US dollar in commodities markets. Other commodity futures contracts will be set up over time. This will ensure that foreign traders in commodities and wholesale goods, in particular oil, can sell forward the renminbi they receive in return for gold, increasing the attractiveness of trade finance settled in renminbi compared with dollars. The crude oil futures market will be the first commodity contract in China open to foreign investment funds, trading houses and oil firms. The resulting circumvention of US dollar trade would also allow oil exporters such as Russia and Iran to avoid US sanctions by using this market. In time, renminbi payments for all commodities will have convertibility into gold using the Shanghai Gold Futures Market when it gains greater depth, making it superior to the dollar as a settlement currency. This would give China an advantage over nations only able to offer fiat currencies in exchange for oil, especially during times of financial crisis. The current lack of international confidence in the renminbi as a currency would become irrelevant if it is backed by gold.

All of these measures have been gradual. China has been implementing them quietly and behind the scenes. It is early days, but already, it is becoming increasingly clear that the world economy is dividing into two spheres: a dollar sphere in which central banks in Europe, Japan and many OPEC and third world countries hold their reserves in the form of US treasury debt of declining foreign-exchange value; and a BRIC-centred sphere, led by China, Russia, India and Brazil reaching out to include Turkey, Iran, most of Asia, large parts of Africa and major raw materials exporters that are running trade surpluses. In the BRIC-centred sphere, countries are gradually becoming well supplied with renminbi in order to trade directly with what will eventually become, on all measures, the biggest economy in the world.

Conclusion

So far the Chinese imperialist challenge to the US is economic and financial. However it still needs to break the stranglehold of dollar hegemony in order to further develop as a global economic powerhouse that can challenge US imperialism’s dominant role in the world. This will not be easy but by encouraging the growth of a free trade area outside of the dollar and providing a new financial infrastructure it hopes to achieve it.

This by no means implies that China is neglecting the necessary military build-up to back up this challenge. It launched its first aircraft carrier in 2011 and in June 2017 launched a record new 10,000 tonne guided-missile destroyer. It has been modernizing its navy, especially in the development of submarines to protect the maritime Silk Road and to defend territorial waters. It has no hope of contesting the US militarily on a global level so its aim is to develop sufficient military strength to defend its own regional interests. We have already seen this in the South China Sea where China is building artificial island bases and disputing rights to reefs and islands with other South East Asian nations. The purpose of this is to demonstrate to its neighbours that the US is powerless to prevent China doing what it wants in what it sees as its own back yard.

China’s strategy is based on the fact that, because the US is an outside power, its leadership in Asia depends on formal and informal alliances with countries in the region. Beijing appears to have decided that the best way to undermine US leadership is to weaken those alliances. By applying carefully graduated degrees of pressure on US-aligned countries like Japan and the Philippines over long-running territorial disputes, China is trying to show that the US is no longer willing to confront China on their behalf. For example, five months after Obama’s Asia Pivot speech18, China called his bluff by launching the first of its direct challenges to US resolve in the East China and South China seas. It used armed ships to muscle the Philippines out of disputed waters around the Scarborough Shoal, which had traditionally been under Philippine control. When Manila asked for military support, Washington refused as it was not willing to risk a confrontation with China over an uninhabitable reef. Beijing won its point and soon Philippines President Duterte was making overtures to China. The more China succeeds, the more US leadership in Asia diminishes, and the further China’s power and influence will grow. The strategy is not simply about demonstrating US weakness in the Asia-Pacific region, it is also about leveraging China’s massive economic resources to buy the goodwill of neighbours in the region. The Chinese leadership believes that BRI will ultimately give China leadership of the entire Asia-Pacific region. President Xi Jinping calls this “a time of strategic opportunity” to challenge US leadership in Asia and build “a new model of great power relations” in Asia, with China at its head.

The dilemma for the US – and the threat for the world – is that over time China will catch up with the US militarily as well as economically. It’s a long way off. The US has 737 military bases (and more non-military installations) around the world in over 150 countries. It spends $600 billion a year on “defense”. Russia has just raised its expenditure to $131 billion and China to $66 billion. However at some point the US will arrive at the same dilemma which faced the German General Staff in 1914. Their calculation was that by 1916 they would lose what military advantages they had over their imperialist rivals so were facing a pivotal decision and thus gave the green light for support to Austria and Armageddon followed.

The world’s ruling classes know the consequences of the two previous world wars and that has been a major factor in the avoidance of another one so far. However, the other factor was that until recently there has not been a major power demanding a change in the 1945 world order. The Cold War remained largely “cold” because both the USSR and the USA had fundamentally “done well out of the war”.

The difference today is that the capitalism is on life support. The crisis that erupted in 1971-3 has never gone away despite all the technological changes it has provoked. Basically the capitalist world needs a major devaluation of capital if it is to restore profit rates and begin a new cycle of accumulation. They have tried everything else from Keynesianism to neo-liberalism ending up with the deregulated speculation which finished in tears ten years ago. Since then the system has been propped up by printing money and debt.

In fact, central banks are now the biggest owners of stocks and shares amounting to a staggering $15 trillion.19 The US, European and Japanese Central banks are propping up bond and stock markets to the tune of billions every month. This keeps interest rates low, which is the only way this level of debt can continue. The tipping point will come when interest rates start to rise and make the astronomical levels of debt unsustainable. Central banks will not be able to take on the resulting debt burden as they did after the 2008 crash.

A major crash wiping out trillions of dollars would lead to a very deep depression and it’s difficult to predict what the social consequences of this would be for capitalism. And with all other options exhausted, the prospect of global imperialist conflict will be all the closer. The current USA-China rivalry will be the axis around which any conflict will take place.

Ergosum

  • 1. leftcom.org
  • 2. Final list of founding members of the AIIB: Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Vietnam
  • 3. According to Wikipedia – en.wikipedia.org
  • 4. The classic being Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers but there are a whole host of alarmist books mainly emanating from right-wing conspiracy theorists.
  • 5. en.wikipedia.org
  • 6. 2009: Under the Obama administration, smart power became a core principle of his foreign policy strategy. It was popularized by Hillary Clinton during her Senate confirmation hearing on January 13, 2009 for the position of Secretary of State: Source: Wikipedia
  • 7. globalsecurity.org
  • 8. global-politics.eu
  • 9. en.wikipedia.org
  • 10. leftcom.org
  • 11. World Trade Organisation Report 2009
  • 12. China and Russia defence spending in 2016 was $131.57 billion and $66 billion respectively. So less than two fifths of US spending combined.
  • 13. “China calls for new reserve currency” Financial Times 24 March 2009
  • 14. “The US puts the World Bank under renewed fire” Financial Times 16 October 2017
  • 15. investopedia.com
  • 16. leftcom.org
  • 17. Ahead of James Mattis’ meeting in Riyadh on April 18 2017 with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defence Mohammed bin Salman, Zuheir Harithi, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council, told Al-Monitor that US policy in the past three years has been vague and confusing for the allies, including Saudi Arabia. He added that policies made during the Obama era need to be reconsidered in a way amenable to Gulf countries. He confirmed that there are positive signs indicating that Trump is serious in dealing with regional issues.
  • 18. The “Pivot” or as the Obama Administration re-termed it “Rebalance” was a redirection of military resources that had been freed up by withdrawing forces from Afghanistan and Iraq to be redeployed in East Asia. In November 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed that the nation had reached a “pivot point” allowing it to “redirect” resources that had been going to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to Asia. The administration’s January 2012 defence budget guidance claimed that the Pentagon would “rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific and Middle-East regions.” Later, the Middle East was dropped.
  • 19. uk.businessinsider.com

Kept out: How banks block people of color from homeownership

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 17:28

By AARON GLANTZ and EMMANUEL MARTINEZ of REVEAL

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act banned racial discrimination in lending, African Americans and Latinos continue to be routinely denied conventional mortgage loans at rates far higher than their white counterparts.

This modern-day redlining persisted in 61 metro areas even when controlling for applicants’ income, loan amount and neighborhood, according to millions of Home Mortgage Disclosure Act records analyzed by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

The yearlong analysis, based on 31 million records, relied on techniques used by leading academics, the Federal Reserve and Department of Justice to identify lending disparities.

It found a pattern of troubling denials for people of color across the country, including in major metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis and San Antonio. African Americans faced the most resistance in Southern cities – Mobile, Alabama; Greenville, North Carolina; and Gainesville, Florida – and Latinos in Iowa City, Iowa.

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Prison abolition isn’t impossible. It’s necessary.

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 17:19

via Red Pepper

by David Scott

Alongside critiquing of the deadly harms of imprisonment, penal abolitionists strongly emphasise the importance of building something new and much better in place of prisons.  ‘Abolitionist alternatives’ start with recognition that the extensive use of imprisonment is often situated within the context of profoundly unequal societies.  Abolitionist values, such as solidarity, love, kindness, compassion and friendships stand in opposition to social and economic inequalities. Abolitionist alternatives promote then an ethics and politics of responsibility and abolitionists ask us in our everyday lives to take responsibility for others.

To change the world you have to start with yourself. Ideas about institutional change and transforming society are essential, but in the first instance abolitionism means being kinder; more compassionate; and more generous in how we engage daily with other people: it’s about trying to cleanse ourselves of punitiveness.  Whilst no-one is ever going to be able to completely achieve this, and certainly not alone, it is important to live abolitionist values on a daily basis.  We should attempt to create communities of abolition.  Advanced capitalist societies like England and Wales foster hierarchies and a sense of distance and unrelatedness to other human beings, providing a breeding ground for punitiveness.  Abolitionist ‘non-reformist reforms’ therefor include policies that could reduce inequalities.  This includes radical social policies such as the basic minimum income; the abolition of inheritance; the creation of a maximum wage; and a Robin Hood model of taxation. Such ‘real utopian’ interventions could be immediately implemented to help lead us towards a more social democratic, if not socialist, society

The ethics and politics of responsibility operate on a number of levels. Taking responsibility at a societal level (social responsibility) means being responsible for the social harms generated through class, ‘race’, gender, age sexuality and other social divisions. It means saying YES: yes to a more equitable society and new ways of engaging with human beings so they ae less likely to do wrongful behaviour in the future. It means promoting intervention that can help somebody put something back into society. We should have forward- rather than backward -looking approach to social harms. And we should be generous, giving the best possible interpretation to the actions of other and saying YES, I believe you can do this; I have hope that you can get better or redeem yourself and do something really positive with your life; that as a society we should invest in you, take into account the problems that you’ve had in life, and recognise that that probably is going to make mistakes again.

Abolitionist alternatives should help people to think about what they have done wrong. Many of those processed by the criminal law have grown up in care, been sexually abused as a child, or lived in poverty and hardship for much of their lives. Many have also witnessed domestic violence or been bullied. All those horrors characterise the lives of people in prison. We ned then to say YES, we collectively will take responsibility for addressing those harms, and will attempt to make sure that others do not suffer a similar plight in the future. People can apologise and acknowledge wrongdoing without necessarily going through the logic of blame. Blaming is punitive and counter-productive. Through a process of dialogue a person can think about what they have done and what they can do now to take responsibility for putting right what was wrong.  This is not blaming. Blame is about putting the perpetrator in an abstract scenario, finding guilt and then punishing them. Abolitionists call instead for redress, and to do this in a way which reflects that person’s human rights and human dignity.

The phrase that I would use to sum up abolitionist alternatives is the ‘paradigm of life’. This means focusing on human fulfilment, creating life, generating vitality and fostering human wellbeing. In so doing, there is an implicit criticism of those institutions which do the exact opposite to the paradigm of life:  institutions haunted by the spirit of death. We should focus on building institutions which can protect human beings and lead to a kinder society where people reach their potential, instead of that potential being destroyed at an early age.

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Federal Judge Blocks Construction of Bayou Bridge Pipeline

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 04:49

via Earth Justice

Baton Rouge, LA —

Federal District Court Judge Shelly Dick halted the construction of the controversial Bayou Bridge Pipeline (BBP) across the Atchafalaya Basin. Today’s decision grants a preliminary injunction to prevent ongoing irreparable harm to this ecological treasure while a lawsuit, filed Jan. 11, is being heard.

Judge Dick found that the lawsuit filed by several groups—Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association (West), Gulf Restoration Network, Waterkeeper Alliance and Sierra Club, represented by lawyers with Earthjustice—raises serious concerns and that the 162-mile pipeline would irreparably harm the Atchafalaya Basin.

The groups recently presented live testimony during a hearing showing that the ancient cypress and tupelo trees slated to be turned into mulch while the pipeline right-of-way is being cleared would never return, including evidence that these old-growth trees are the Noah’s Ark of the swamp—providing habitat for migratory birds, bears, bats and numerous other wildlife.

In addition, the groups showed that pipeline construction would further degrade nearby fishing grounds that local commercial crawfishers rely on for their livelihood.

“The court’s ruling recognizes the serious threat this pipeline poses to the Atchafalaya Basin, one of our country’s ecological and cultural crown jewels,” said Jan Hasselman, attorney from Earthjustice representing plaintiffs in this matter. “For now, at least, the Atchafalaya is safe from this company’s incompetence and greed.”

Jody Meche, a third-generation commercial crawfisher and president of the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association-West, testified about how the Bayou Bridge pipeline would make existing problems worse—problems created by the irresponsible behavior of oil and gas companies during construction to previous pipelines in the basin.

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WhatsApp Co-Founder Puts $50M Into Signal To Supercharge Encrypted Messaging

Tue, 02/27/2018 - 21:54

via Wired

In the four or so years since it launched, end-to-end encrypted messaging app Signal has become the security community’s gold standard for surveillance-resistant communications. Its creators have built an encryption protocol that companies from WhatsApp to Facebook Messenger to Skype have all added to their own products to offer truly private conversations to billions of people. And it’s done so as a non-profit with, at any given moment, a tiny staff that includes just two or three full-time coders. Now imagine what it might accomplish with actual Silicon Valley money behind it.

On Wednesday, the creators of Signal announced the launch of the Signal Foundation, which will build and maintain Signal and potentially other privacy-focused apps to come, too. WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton has also joined as the foundation’s executive chairman, his first new role since leaving WhatsApp last fall. And Acton’s not only devoting the next phase of his post-WhatsApp career to Signal, but a fair-sized chunk of his WhatsApp billions, too: He’s personally injecting $50 million into the project.

“Our plan is to pioneer a new model of technology nonprofit focused on privacy and data protection for everyone, everywhere,” Acton wrote in a blog post announcing the move along with Moxie Marlinspike, the cypherpunk programmer who first created Signal and founded Open Whisper Systems, the non-profit organization that has run Signal until now. “Moxie and his team have built something very special in Signal Messenger and I am thrilled to join their effort to provide the most trusted communications experience on the planet.”

In an email to WIRED, Acton writes that since leaving WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook last September, he’s now free to pursue his long-held ideals: transparent, open-source development and uncompromising data protection. “I’m now in a place where I can devote substantial amounts of my time and resources to advance technology in these areas,” Acton writes. “It’s more important to me that we focus on these core ideals than to go off and chase technological fads that are not going to survive into the future.

Acton has known Marlinspike since 2013, when the latter first proposed the idea to Acton of integrating Signal’s end-to-end encryption into WhatsApp, starting with its then hundreds of millions of Android users. Signal’s encryption would bring a new degree of privacy to WhatsApp’s conversations, such that no one, not hackers on the network, not eavesdropping police, not even WhatsApp itself would be able to decrypt users’ messages and phone calls. Marlinspike had met a WhatsApp engineer by chance at his then-girlfriend’s family reunion, and used the connection to finagle a meeting with Acton, who immediately took to the idea. “It boiled down to a matter of principle,” Acton told WIRED in 2016. “If two people want a private conversation, electronic or not, they should be allowed to have it.”

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As Afrin burns, where is the left?

Tue, 02/27/2018 - 20:30

via Open Democracy

by William Eichler

The unofficial motto of the Kurdish people is, as countless opinion pieces have reminded us recently, Kurds have no friends but the mountains. They make strategic alliances with great powers from time to time; but these, predictably enough, tend to end in betrayal. The vagaries of realpolitik do not lend themselves to lasting friendship.

What is less predictable is the lack of support the Kurds have received from progressives.

Turkey’s invasion of Afrin should be bringing the international left out onto the streets of all major capitals. Protesters should be pouring into Hyde Park with the red, white, green and yellow of the Kurdish flag as the chant “We are all PYD now!” fills the air.

But they’re not. The streets are quiet — save a few Kurdish activists — and displays of solidarity are scarce.

Compare this with the situation of another stateless people: the Palestinians. When the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) razes Gaza to the ground, activists waste no time in donning keffiyehs and marching on Whitehall; violence in the Holy Land permeates the major periodicals and Israel is fiercely denounced on social media.

Why, then, the relative silence when it comes to the persecution of the Kurds?

An Islamist-nationalist government, headed by the demagogic Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has invaded a foreign country with the help of local jihadis in order to crush a leftist movement. And this, furthermore, while he strangles Kurdish democratic aspirations at home. Where is the outrage?

I have written about the Israel/Palestine side of this question before. The left is particularly attuned to Palestinian suffering because they are the victims of a western state — a settler colonial country formed under the aegis of a European imperial power.

A shift in left-wing focus in recent decades towards anti-colonialism and anti-racism — and the related move from class to identity politics — has meant Israel’s “western” identity has moved the Palestinian struggle centre stage in the left’s political imagination. And, in the context of the war on terror, it has gone on to steal the show.

Here, however, I want to explore why the Kurds, the world’s largest nation without a state, do not elicit the same passions.

The problem cannot be ideological incompatibility. The Kurdish movement as it is currently constituted in Syria and Turkey (not so much in Iraq) represents the most progressive socio-political movement in the region today. Ideologically, they are more in tune with a leftist outlook than groups such as Hamas or Hezbollah, whose opposition to Israel has earned them a free pass within some sections of the “anti-imperialist” left.

Afrin, the site of Erdoğan’s war games, is in northern Syria or western Kurdistan (Rojava). Here, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) — an affiliate of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — and their YPG/J militias are carrying out a radical experiment in direct democracy under the banner of democratic confederalism.

Formulated by Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, and inspired by the American anarchist Murray Bookchin, this is a form of libertarian socialism that focuses on social and environmental justice, and emphasises the end of patriarchy as a necessary element in the building of a better world.

Critics argue that the democratic rhetoric is just a front for Kurdish separatism. Underneath the egalitarian veneer, they say, lurks a regressive ethno-nationalist programme. Perhaps.

Ascertaining what is happening on the ground is never easy in a time of war and no organisation is perfect. But even if the critics are right, the available evidence suggests the PYD remains more progressive than the Islamic State (IS) jihadists they have fought off, the butcher of Damascus and his theocratic backers in Tehran, or the increasingly authoritarian Erdoğan. Knowing who to make common cause with should not be hard.

For many, however, it is. One possible reason is the complexity of the Syrian civil war and the position of Kurdish forces within it. While the PYD and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the military coalition led by the People’s Protection Units (YPG/J), have made various alliances (most recently with Assad), they have benefitted mostly from US support. This is not on, apparently.

Such alliances, in the eyes of some, have made the Kurds NATO stooges and are helping the west weaken the “resistance axis” which stretches, with Russian support, from Tehran, through Damascus, and into south Lebanon.

There is some truth to this. The SDF’s alliance-of-convenience undermines Assad — even when taking into account recent developments — and puts a dent in Putin’s regional ambitions. It also makes Iranian expansion that little bit more costly.

However, while there is an argument for preventing the collapse of the Syrian state, the idea that the powers propping up Assad represent a progressive force because they are fighting western imperialism and Wahhabist encroachments is fatuous in the extreme.

The Moscow-Tehran-Damascus axis is no ally of the left or any movement concerned with justice and equality. Just ask the residents of eastern Ghouta.

Geo-politics aside, there is another element to consider. As Rosa Burç and Kerem Schamberger point out in Jacobin, a tactical alliance with the American military does not mean the content of the PYD’s programme has changed. The Pentagon is not dictating the Kurds’ domestic agenda. Trump has no influence on the Rojava Revolution; he probably hasn’t even heard of it.

Let’s accept that the difficulties of navigating the Syrian conflict account for some of the left’s silence on the Kurdish question. In the fog of war it is sometimes hard to make out who’s the oppressor and who’s the oppressed. This does not, however, explain the lack of solidarity offered to Kurds north of the border.

In Turkey, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have been persecuted by the government since winning thirteen percent of the vote in the June 2015 elections, temporarily upsetting Erdoğan’s plans to create a presidential system.

Emerging out of the Kurdish rights movement and animated by the pan-Anatolian spirit of the 2013 Gezi protests, the HDP have seen their former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ arrested and scores of activists jailed. This process has only been intensified by the wider crackdown on Turkish civil society in the wake of the 2016 coup attempt.

Judicial oppression soon morphed into violent suppression. In 2015, the peace process aimed at ending the nearly forty-year-old conflict between Ankara and the PKK broke down through a combination of political expediency by the former and miscalculation by the latter.

The ensuing hostilities led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians in 2015 and 2016, and the killing of over 250 non-combatants in Turkey’s south east. But, again, the fate of the Kurds was met with near silence on the left.

The reason for this selective solidarity was touched upon earlier. Kurds, it seems, have the misfortune of being victims of a “non-western” power and so their suffering barely registers. It is irrelevant that Turkey is a NATO power. Or a country trying to enter the European Union. Or just an autocratic state with imperial ambitions and a history of persecuting a local ethnic group.

For many on the left, it is not “western” enough to care about and therefore its victims are invisible.

Thousands from Afrin: “We will resist until the end”

Tue, 02/27/2018 - 20:25

via ANF News

Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM) organized a rally in Mabata district of Afrin to protest Turkish invasion attacks. Thousands attended the rally despite continuous artillery bombing and vowed to resist against the invaders.

Speaking to the crowd, Asya Abdullah, co-chair of TEV-DEM, recalled Afrin’s resistance against the second largest army of NATO for the past month and said that the resistance itself is a victory.

“Turkey aims to destroy the democratic project in Syria’s most secure city. All Northern Syrian peoples are resisting against this invasion attacks” she said.

Pointing out the resistance, Abdullah said, “Afrin is the land of the heroes. We will resist until the last gang is neutralized”.

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