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An Education Through Earthsea

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 19:47

via The New Republic

By Ryu Spaeth

The most beguiling promise of fantasy fiction is that of self-knowledge. At some point the protagonist discovers, with the force of a calling from God, that he is no mere mortal, but a wizard, a dragonslayer, a king. It is an irresistible idea for adolescents particularly, who are in the midst of discovering themselves and trying on different identities. How much easier everything would be if the choice were essentially made for you! And how amazing it would be to find that you were, as you might have secretly hoped, special, that you could speak to animals or move objects with your mind. It puts the “fantasy” in fantasy, and is one reason this genre is often associated with young adult fiction.

The Earthsea cycle by Ursula Le Guin, who died in January at the age of 88, excels at these tropes. A boy discovers that he possesses great magical power. A girl in a forgotten corner of the world learns that she has a critical part to play in that world’s fate. Another boy, after an arduous trial, realizes that all his effort has been a prelude to him meeting a historic destiny. These are familiar fantasy plotlines, clichés even. Although rooted in our oldest legends, they hold less appeal to adults in the twenty-first century than Le Guin’s more critically celebrated works—her visionary novels exploring the mutability of gender and the glittering nightmare of market capitalism. (These, unlike the Earthsea books, were marketed to mature readers.) As Le Guin has written, “Enchantment alters with age, and with the age.”

In our age, movies and television have taken over the enchantment business. From Star Wars to Game of Thrones, the themes are familiar from our news feeds—terrorism, class war, the anthropocene—and the audience’s sense of wonder is evoked with computer-generated giants and battle scenes. The Harry Potter series is a model of the new type. It not only reflects the Hollywood mainstreaming of fantasy fiction, but also combines the basic fantasy set-up (normal boy is spirited away to a parallel world of magic and adventure) with the leaden, self-serious spectacle of the modern fantasy epic (army of good guys fights evil racist despot and his minions).

To return to Earthsea today is to encounter a different kind of fantasy work, where knowing oneself is a painstaking, ceaseless endeavor. It is an end in itself, not a means for characters to engage in bigger, supposedly more consequential issues. It is what the story is about, and the wonders Earthsea offers are scaled accordingly, to the sublime horizons of a life.

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Afrin Resists Turkey for 17th Day

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 15:23

via Worker’s Solidarity Movement

The Turkish invasion of revolutionary Rojava has now entered its 17th day. NATO’s 2nd largest army has failed to achieve any significant breakthrough against the defenders of Afrin despite deploying some of the most advanced tanks, helicopters, artillery and jet bombers. On our graphic the small map at top centre shows Turkey in orange, the tiny blue area under Turkey is the canton of Afrin, the target of this invasion and one of the 3 original cantons of the Rojava revolution. These cantons are where the experiment in direct democracy, gender equality, and sustainability began in 2012 in the most impossible conditions of the Syrian civil war and the ISIS invasion of two of the cantons.

The invading force is made up of elite Turkish army units with state of the art equipment often supplied by Germany and other NATO countries who command and control a much larger force of militia formed from the various pro-Turkey factions of the Free Syrian Army including jihadi units. A detailed report from the ‘Democratic Self-Administration’ on the invasion even includes a listing of 16 or so unit commanders who have previously fought as part of ISIS.…/report-on-turkish-state-s-wa…. Several atrocity videos are in circulation which were recorded and posted by either members of these units or by the Turkish army accompanying them which show the torture of civilians and in the worst case the mutilation of the body of a fallen YPJ fighter which included cutting off the breasts of the dead woman. Reports say she, Barin Kobanie, was killed with 3 other women of the YPJ when they were surrounded while defending Qarnah village on Jan. 30…/world/midd…/syria-video-kurds.html Again remember this operation is being ran by the 2nd largest army in NATO with weaponry supplied by other NATO members.

Up to this point in time Afrin was largely untouched by the war on ISIS and the rest of the Syrian Civil War. So its both home to the last of the untouched Yazidi communities (some 25,000 people) but also became home to many of the internally displaced refugees in Syria. Some of these have tried to flee over the Turkish border where some have been shot dead while others have frozen to death. Much of the fighting has been in the mountains that fringe the border with Turkey but in particular if the fighting reached the city of Afrin civilian casualties would rapidly escalate, hundreds have already died, many in Turkish airstrikes and artillery.

In the aftermath of the 2016 coup Turkish president Erdogan escalated his purges of the officer core. This alongside the furious resistance of the defenders of Afrin may be why the invasion has made little progress to date beyond the pockets on the border. Key mountain tops were announced to be captured by day only to be lost again that night. Even pro-government Turkish media has admitted to the loss of at least 3 Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks, the German equivalent to the M1 Abrams alongside perhaps a dozen lesser armoured vehicles. From the same sources and video posted by the SDF these have been taken out by a variety of anti-tank missile systems of various origins but mostly of Russian manufacture.

The source is of some importance as Erdogan was keen to blame the US for having armed the SDF for their fight with ISIS. In reality US supplies to the SDF seldom if ever included ATGM systems except where they were supervised and recovered afterwards by US Special forces. And despite the presence of ISIS and Al Qaeda figures among the Turkish proxy army the US has not lifted a military finger to support the SDF forces who were and continue to be the only effective ground force fighting ISIS elsewhere in Syria. This was entirely predictable, as the Kurds would often say ‘We have no friends but the mountains,’ and echos past betrayals like that during WWII when the Allies handed the names of anarchists from Spain who had fought in their armies over to Franco at the end of the war. Many were later imprisoned or executed when they tried to liberate the Spanish state from the hand of fascism.

Kurdish communities across Europe have been mobilising in protest and in several cases attacked by Turkish mobs associated with the fascist ‘Grey Wolves’. In Rome and London they have also been attacked by the police, even in Dublin there were scuffles with Turkish embassy ‘security’ staff. The Turkish state has arrested over 500 people in Turkey for opposing the invasion, many of these have been arrested for simply tweeting opposition. Alongside this the Turkish state has escalated its demands that Twitter remove pro-Kurdish accounts and/or make their tweets unavailable in Turkey. This includes many tweets that mention civilian casualties and its reported that 100 or more accounts have been shut down. Much of this censorship is actually being implemented in the Dublin headquarters of Twitter and other social media outlets, the companies have long conceded an overwhelming censorship power to the Turkish state. Even Irish pages have had their accounts suspended for simply using the image of Ocalan, the ideological leader of the revolution who has been in jail in Turkey for over 20 years.

The coming days are going to either see the Turkish offensive being quietly brought to a halt in recognition that its stalemated or a massive escalation of the violence to try and overcome the defenders. If – as is likely – Erdogan takes the second route than the civilian death toll was soar into the thousands and tens of thousands. With the SDF forced to redeploy their forces to Afrin to fight the invasion a major resurgence of ISIS becomes quite likely. ISIS have already moved onto the offensive after two years of being driven back and into the desert by the SDF, even losing their capital city Raqqa. In both cases while the Turkish state bears the direct responsibility so to do the rest of the NATO powers who have reacted to the invasion by staring at their shoes and hoping it ends before public pressure forces them to some measure of action. That pressure is greatest in Germany because of the major and very visible role played by German manufactured tanks in the invasion, Germany had agreed to upgrade the Leopard tanks it had already sold but outrage at the invasion has forced Berlin to suspend that deal.

We will continue to provide occasional summaries like this one but for more timely news follow our Twitter account where we will be retweeting reports from what we consider to be reliable sources. For those who might be concerned although we ourselves view some of the more gruesome videos and images coming from Afrin for verification purposes our standard practise is not to retweet such graphic footage, although as above we may describe it.

For our background material describing the Rojava revolution see

The New Debt Colonies

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 01:49

via Viewpoint Magazine

By Jerome Roos

Today we are wit­ness­ing the resur­gence of an old phe­nom­e­non: the debt colony. A decade after the col­lapse the U.S. hous­ing bub­ble and the onset of the worst cap­i­tal­ist cri­sis in liv­ing mem­o­ry, gov­ern­ments around the world con­tin­ue to bear the bur­den of his­tor­i­cal­ly unprece­dent­ed pub­lic debt loads. In some cas­es, most spec­tac­u­lar­ly in the periph­er­al coun­tries of the Euro­zone but also in a num­ber of emerg­ing mar­kets, these mount­ing finan­cial oblig­a­tions have led to crip­pling sov­er­eign debt crises – which have in turn impelled the dom­i­nant cred­i­tor pow­ers to inter­vene aggres­sive­ly on for­eign bond­hold­ers’ behalf, impos­ing high­ly intru­sive regimes of inter­na­tion­al finan­cial super­vi­sion on dis­tressed bor­row­ers in order to ensure con­tin­ued debt ser­vic­ing. The fis­cal auton­o­my of Greece and Puer­to Rico, in par­tic­u­lar, has now been abol­ished in all but name, although sim­i­lar process­es have long been afoot else­where as well.

This con­tem­po­rary expe­ri­ence in turn car­ries strong his­tor­i­cal echoes. A cen­tu­ry and a half ago, Karl Marx already observed how the emer­gence of the nation­al debt in ear­ly-mod­ern Europe con­sti­tut­ed one of the “most pow­er­ful levers of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion,” lead­ing to the “alien­ation of the state” by pri­vate financiers and “giv­ing rise to stock exchange gam­bling and the mod­ern bankoc­ra­cy.” These dynam­ics inten­si­fied dur­ing the Age of Impe­ri­al­ism in the late 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­turies, when the export of Euro­pean and U.S. cap­i­tal to the new­ly inde­pen­dent coun­tries of Latin Amer­i­ca and the Mediter­ranean added an inter­na­tion­al dimen­sion to this long-stand­ing process of dis­pos­ses­sion through debt. Dur­ing this peri­od, the dom­i­nant cred­i­tor pow­ers reg­u­lar­ly sub­ject­ed dis­tressed sov­er­eign bor­row­ers to exter­nal finan­cial con­trol – often under force of arms. The British inva­sion of Egypt in 1882, the Ger­man push to estab­lish an Inter­na­tion­al Finan­cial Com­mis­sion in Greece in 1898, and the appear­ance of Euro­pean gun­boats on the Venezue­lan coast in 1902 are but some of the most promi­nent cas­es in point.

Today, such long-stand­ing process­es of finan­cial sub­ju­ga­tion con­tin­ue in a new form – through what has euphemisti­cal­ly come to be known as “inter­na­tion­al cri­sis man­age­ment.” Ever since the Mex­i­can debt cri­sis of 1982, banks and bond­hold­ers in the wealthy cred­i­tor coun­tries have increas­ing­ly come to rely on their own gov­ern­ments and inter­na­tion­al finan­cial insti­tu­tions like the IMF and World Bank to impose painful struc­tur­al adjust­ment pro­grams on cri­sis-strick­en debtor coun­tries in the devel­op­ing world. Over the course of two decades, inter­na­tion­al cred­i­tors – pri­vate and offi­cial alike – went on to plun­der the immense wealth of the Glob­al South, from Argenti­na to Zaire, aggres­sive­ly open­ing up local economies to for­eign cap­i­tal and restruc­tur­ing them in line with the neolib­er­al pre­rog­a­tives of the Wash­ing­ton Con­sen­sus. The result has been a vast flow of cap­i­tal “upstream,” from pub­lic hands in the glob­al periph­ery to pri­vate hands in the advanced cap­i­tal­ist core, with devel­op­ing coun­tries trans­fer­ring an esti­mat­ed $4.2 tril­lion in inter­est pay­ments to their cred­i­tors in Europe and North Amer­i­ca since 1982, far out­strip­ping the offi­cial-sec­tor devel­op­ment aid these coun­tries received dur­ing the same peri­od.1

In the wake of the glob­al finan­cial cri­sis, these same meth­ods have now come to be applied on a mas­sive scale in the cap­i­tal­ist heart­land itself. The result has not just been a new wave of “accu­mu­la­tion of dis­pos­ses­sion,” but in some cas­es also the effec­tive abo­li­tion of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty. When Greece’s fledg­ling Prime Min­is­ter Alex­is Tsipras was forced into a humil­i­at­ing capit­u­la­tion to his Euro­pean cred­i­tors in the sum­mer of 2015, for instance, an anony­mous diplo­mat from a Ger­many-allied coun­try can­did­ly described the terms of sur­ren­der as “akin to turn­ing Greece into an eco­nom­ic pro­tec­torate.”2 In his mem­oirs of his brief tenure as Greece’s finance min­is­ter, Yanis Varo­ufakis repeat­ed­ly denounces the cred­i­tors’ finan­cial intim­i­da­tion tac­tics as an exam­ple of “lat­ter-day gun­boat diplo­ma­cy.” When Poland’s for­eign min­is­ter was asked for the rea­son behind his country’s refusal to join the euro, all he had to do was point south: “Greece is de fac­to a colony,” he explained, “We don’t want to repeat this sce­nario.”

These ongo­ing devel­op­ments raise a num­ber of impor­tant ques­tions about the rela­tion­ship between con­tem­po­rary pat­terns in inter­na­tion­al cri­sis man­age­ment and Europe and America’s long-stand­ing his­to­ry of finan­cial impe­ri­al­ism. How dif­fer­ent is our con­tem­po­rary era real­ly from the “era of gun­boat diplo­ma­cy” in the late 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­turies, when the dom­i­nant cred­i­tor pow­ers also reg­u­lar­ly inter­vened in the debtors’ sov­er­eign affairs to defend bond­hold­er inter­ests? What are the con­ti­nu­ities and dis­con­ti­nu­ities between the two peri­ods? And can the hot­ly debat­ed and polem­i­cal notion of impe­ri­al­ism still serve as a use­ful ana­lyt­i­cal tool to help us make sense of the cur­rent con­junc­ture? If so, how far can the clas­si­cal Marx­ist the­o­ries of the phe­nom­e­non take us in elu­ci­dat­ing the asym­met­ric pow­er rela­tions at the heart of the con­tem­po­rary glob­al polit­i­cal econ­o­my – and what, if any­thing, can be done to revamp exist­ing the­o­ret­i­cal frame­works to bet­ter reflect the endur­ing rel­e­vance of impe­ri­al­ism in our time?

In what fol­lows, I will argue that impe­ri­al­ism clear­ly remains an impor­tant fac­tor in the ear­ly 21st cen­tu­ry – even if the orig­i­nal Marx­ist accounts require exten­sive revi­sion in light of the recent trans­for­ma­tions of glob­al cap­i­tal­ism. The last­ing con­tri­bu­tion of the clas­si­cal the­o­rists was to anchor their cri­tiques of impe­ri­al­ism with­in a broad­er cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my, high­light­ing the cen­tral role of finance in dri­ving impe­ri­al­ist rela­tions of dom­i­na­tion. This, I argue, should remain the start­ing point for any con­tem­po­rary analy­sis of impe­ri­al­ism. At the same time, how­ev­er, the clas­si­cal the­o­ries also suf­fered from a num­ber of impor­tant lim­i­ta­tions. Most con­se­quen­tial­ly, per­haps, they tend­ed to empha­size the more overt man­i­fes­ta­tions of impe­ri­al­ist pow­er (ter­ri­to­r­i­al con­quest and mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion) at the expense of its more sub­tle, struc­tur­al dynam­ics (oper­at­ing through the glob­al finan­cial sys­tem), which end­ed up blind­ing them to some of the under­ly­ing depen­den­cies that lat­er kept the asym­met­ric pow­er rela­tions between debtors and cred­i­tors in place even in the absence of ter­ri­to­r­i­al con­quest or mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion.

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The Eagles’ Super Bowl Win Shows That Having a Conscience Does Not Distract From Winning the Game

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 23:54

via The Nation

by Dave Zirin

Let’s get the easy part out of the way: that was the greatest Super Bowl I have ever seen in my life. The Philadelphia Eagles beat the almighty New England Patriots 41-33, sending the City of Brotherly Love into a spasm of lusty joy. Instead of the Patriots winning their 6th title in 16 years, the Eagles win their first. Ever.

There are many reasons to feel a tremendous sense of satisfaction about an Eagles triumph, and not just to cheer for a long-suffering sports town. The Super Bowl champs are a team that spent the 2017 season at the heart of the protests and gestures staged during the anthem against police brutality, mass incarceration and this president. They have now shown the world that having a conscience is not a distraction from team success, a vital civics lesson that will trickle down to high schools and sports far from football. The next time a coach tells a player that they are putting themselves ahead of their team by giving a damn about their community, that young athlete can point at these Eagles and stand – or kneel – with confidence.

And what a damn game! According to @NFLResearch, Super Bowl 52 had the most total yards, 1,151 yards of any game in NFL history. Patriots All-World MVP quarterback Tom Brady became the first QB in any game ever to throw for 500 yards and three touchdowns, zero interceptions, and still lose. Hell, the Patriots did not even punt once and still they lost. Brady was somehow out-dueled by Eagles backup quarterback Nick Foles, starting in place of injured star Carson Wentz. For folks who are still football fans–despite the many reasons the league has generated to push us away, from the blackballing of Colin Kaepernick to the horrific effects of head injuries–this game was the goosebump-generator that Roger Goodell desperately needed.

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Lucy Parsons Labs sues Chicago over refusal to release #AmazonHQ2 proposal

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 23:41

via Muckrock

by Grace Raih

Digital rights and transparency advocacy group Lucy Parsons Labs filed suit last week against the city of Chicago, stating that the Mayor’s Office refusal to release documents regarding the city’s bid for Amazon’s second headquarters constituted a “willful violation of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.”

LPL is maintaining that Chicago is in violation of FOIA law by refusing to release the details of their proposal under the guise of competitive harm, with the suit arguing that, “Since the bidding period has ended, disclosure cannot result in competitive harm.” The bidding period for Amazon HQ2 ended this past October, yet many cities have used similar rationale to avoid publication.

“Legal action is a warranted but expensive task that people should take on”, wrote LPL’s Freddy Martinez in an email. LPL argues that other finalists Boston, Miami, Philadelphia and Montgomery County, Maryland, have all broadcasted their proposals to the public and are, “highlighting the fact that disclosure will not cause competitive harm”. These cities have all released their bids to MuckRock.

LPL cites another important piece of Illinois FOIA law and the essence of FOIA itself…

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Hemel Hempstead Amazon workers’ report: ‘Power hour’ or Workers’ Power?

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 23:35

via Libcom

By AngryWorkersWorld

With our Amazon workers’ reports we hope to not provide yet another sad victim story of how Amazon turns humans into semi-robots. We leave this to the mainstream media.

With our series of Amazon workers’ reports [1] we want to dismantle the myth of Amazon being the all-powerful and well-organised global giant. We want to support the small but important efforts to turn Amazon’s international structure into the basis for a global exchange and coordination of workers:

We want to use the reports to address workers around us. We have to do this face-to-face and for this aim we have written and distributed leaflets at Amazon Hemel Hempstead this winter. We spoke to workers at the company bus stops in west London in the morning and with Amazon workers at the warehouse:

Two of our friends wrote reports after working at the Hemel Hempstead FC. Feel free to circulate them and to get in touch:

Report one: Counting galore

Getting hooked

I worked for Amazon in Hemel Hempstead from mid-October until early January during their peak period. Like many of my workmates when I started the first impression of Amazon was good. They had a lot of focus on health and safety, free coffee and tea, a nice canteen with games in it, and a seemingly well organised warehouse. However, whilst working there I quickly realised that these were just things that made Amazon look good on the surface, but in reality they did not care about workers and were just using us for a short time before getting rid of us no matter how hard we worked.

When we started in October all the temps were paid £8.20 an hour. Quite a few temps started in that period but it wasn’t enough for the peak period so Amazon tried desperately to lure more people to join them. First, they told us that we would get more than £1000 in bonuses if we referred up to 5 friends to work with Amazon. That sounded great, but the big catch was that we would only get paid that bonus if both we and the people we referred stayed until Christmas. Of course, most people were fired well before that and strangely enough I never met anyone who had ever received a reference bonus.

Another way they tried to attract people to join them for the peak season was giving temps contracts that were supposed to last 9 or 11 months. Unfortunately, a lot of temps believed that if they got a 9 month contract they would work 9 months. Imagine their shock when they, like most others, were fired after 1 or 2 months. Some of my colleagues had come to the UK for the job under the expectation of working for Amazon at least the length of the 9-month contract. When they were then fired after a few months they suddenly found themselves without income, unaffordable bills, and few job prospects so most of them were forced to leave the country again without any of the savings they had hoped to earn at Amazon.

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Unconstitutional “ag-gag” laws criminalize journalism and insulate factory farms from accountability

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 20:32

via Freedom of the Press Foundation

by Camille Fassett

In 2013, animal rescue worker Amy Meyer filmed a forklift moving a sick cow at a Utah slaughterhouse. She was arrested and slapped with a misdemeanor charge of “agricultural operation interference”, and although her case was dropped after it attracted intense media attention, she became the first in the United States to be prosecuted under laws that ban documenting farm conditions with film or video.

Several states, in recent years, have passed so-called “ag-gag” laws, which are meant to protect the animal agriculture industry from public scrutiny by, in many cases, explicitly attempting to criminalize journalists and whistleblowers who expose its operating conditions.

Many of the politicians who have drafted and sponsored such legislation have direct ties to the industry and a vested interest in outlawing investigations, such as Representative Annette Sweeney, a former director of the Iowa Angus Association, who sponsored the Iowa “ag-gag” law. Authors of a similar bill in Minnesota that ultimately did not move forward included farm owners and a past president of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association. Here’s how the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently described how Idaho’s ag-gag law was drafted:

The bill was drafted by the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, a trade organization representing Idaho’s dairy industry. When the Association’s lawyer addressed legislators, he stated that one goal of the bill was “to protect Idaho farmers from wrongful interference. . . . Idaho farmers live and work spread out across the land where they’re uniquely vulnerable to interference by wrongful conduct.” Another goal was to shield the agricultural industry from undercover investigators who expose the industry to the “court of public opinion,” which destroys farmers’ reputations, results in death threats, and causes loss of customers.

The law in question explicitly outlawed entering making “audio or video recordings of the conduct of an agricultural production facility’s operations” without the owner’s consent. This is no accident—“ag-gag” laws intentionally aim to shield one of the country’s most secretive industries from accountability and public scrutiny by attempting to criminalize undercover journalism.

Thankfully, though, many courts are now ruling them unconstitutional. A federal judge ruled last year that the Utah law under which Meyer was charged violated the First Amendment. An appeals court ruling that recently struck down key parts of the Idaho law was a broad and robust defense of press freedom and undercover journalism.

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What happens when anarchists run a country? History has an answer.

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 20:20

via Big Think

by Scotty Hendricks

When most people hear the word “anarchy”, they think of chaos. It brings to mind images of gangs fighting in the streets, looting and rioting, without a police force to help end the madness. It can be hard to grasp why anybody would ever declare themselves to be an “anarchist.” After all, most of the news about anarchists in the United States focuses on their violent demonstrations.
But, you might be surprised to learn what happened when Anarchy reigned in Spain.

During the Spanish civil war, a brutal conflict between Franco’s Nationalists and the Republicans, eight million people in Catalonia engaged in their own revolution. Based on anarcho-syndicalism, organized by trade unionists, and briefly very successful, the revolutionaries offer us a possible image of what happens when anarchy reigns.

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Illustration: Clifford Harper

The punk rock internet – how DIY ​​rebels ​are working to ​replace the tech giants

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 20:14

via The Guardian

by John Harris

he office planner on the wall features two reminders: “Technosocialism” and “Indienet institute”. A huge husky named Oskar lies near the door, while the two people who live and work here – a plain apartment block on the west side of Malmö, Sweden – go about their daily business.


Aral Balkan and Laura Kalbag moved here from Brighton in 2015. Balkan has Turkish and French citizenship, and says their decision was sparked by two things: increasing concerns about the possibility of Britain leaving the EU, and the Conservative government’s Investigatory Powers Act, otherwise known as the snoopers’ charter, some of which was declared unlawful this week by the court of appeal. The legislation cut straight to the heart of what now defines the couple’s public lives: the mesh of corporate and government surveillance surrounding the internet, and how to do something about it.

Kalbag, 31, is from Surrey, has a web design background and says she’s “always been a very socially minded, troublemaking kind of person”. Balkan, 41, traces what he does now to his experiences as a small child, designing his own games for a personal computer. It was “the last time when we actually owned and controlled our computers – there wasn’t some corporation somewhere watching everything we were doing, storing it and monetising it.”

Now, they style themselves as “a two-person-and-one-husky social enterprise striving for social justice in the digital age”.

Balkan and Kalbag form one small part of a fragmented rebellion whose prime movers tend to be located a long way from Silicon Valley. These people often talk in withering terms about Big Tech titans such as Mark Zuckerberg, and pay glowing tribute to Edward Snowden. Their politics vary, but they all have a deep dislike of large concentrations of power and a belief in the kind of egalitarian, pluralistic ideas they say the internet initially embodied.

What they are doing could be seen as the online world’s equivalent of punk rock: a scattered revolt against an industry that many now think has grown greedy, intrusive and arrogant – as well as governments whose surveillance programmes have fuelled the same anxieties. As concerns grow about an online realm dominated by a few huge corporations, everyone involved shares one common goal: a comprehensively decentralised internet.

Balkan energetically travels the world, delivering TED-esque talks with such titles as “Free is a Lie” and “Avoiding Digital Feudalism”. His appearances have proliferated on YouTube, although he himself uses an online video player that doesn’t harvest personal data. (“If there’s a free and open, decentralised and usable alternative, we try to use it,” he says – he favours, for example, the privacy-respecting search engine DuckDuckGo over Google.) At the same time, he and Kalbag are on a painstaking journey that involves ideas and prototypes aimed at creating a new kind of digital life.

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Anarcha-Feminists of the Past and Present are an Inspiration for Today

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 10:00

via Your Voice Magazine

For anarcha-feminists, the struggle against patriarchy is an inherent part of the struggle to abolish the state and abolish capitalism, since the state itself is a patriarchal structure.

Although there is a rich, global history of people of color and/or feminist anarchist movements, within the U.S., it’s not uncommon for anarchist spaces to suffer major blind spots when it comes to race and gender. Given that anarchism, even more than socialism and communism, explicitly denounces any form of hierarchy in political organizing, it is especially ironic when white male anarchists fail to recognize the ways in which they replicate hierarchy by participating in racist and patriarchal forms of domination against their comrades. 

So here is a brief introduction to anarcha-feminism—loosely defined as a political philosophy and movement whose goal is not only to abolish the capitalist state, but also all forms of patriarchal domination as well. Anarcha-feminists do not see the goals of feminism as distinct from anarchism—rather, they see feminism (in its true form) as a kind of anarchism, and vice versa. For anarcha-feminists, the struggle against patriarchy is an inherent part of the struggle to abolish the state and abolish capitalism, since the state itself is a patriarchal structure.

In a manifesto titled “Anarcho-Feminism: Two Statements,” the authors note: “We believe that a Woman’s Revolutionary Movement must not mimic, but destroy, all vestiges of the male-dominated power structure, the State itself — with its whole ancient and dismal apparatus of jails, armies, and armed robbery (taxation); with all its murder; with all of its grotesque and repressive legislation and military attempts, internal and external, to interfere with people’s private lives and freely-chosen co-operative ventures.”

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‘Open source’ is not ‘free software’

Sat, 02/03/2018 - 21:37


by John Mark Walker

In the open source universe, using terms such as FLOSS (Free/Libre and Open Source Software) is common and represents a casual conflation of the terms open source and free software, which are often used interchangeably. I would be remiss if I didn’t also admit that I have been guilty of same. I won’t be doing that anymore—or at least I’ll try not to—for a simple reason: Using the terms interchangeably is dangerous to the goals of free software and open media advocates (read “anti-DRM”). To continue this practice is to undermine beliefs that are fundamental to free software and associated movement.

Free software is about freedom

Free software is a social movement, with nary a hint of business interests—it exists in the realm of religion and philosophy. Free software is a way of life with a strong moral code. Central to the spirit of free software is the idea that everyone should be able to use, modify, and share, with a defined limitation that you can’t modify without sharing. This is the origin of the “free software is a virus” meme that makes the GNU GPL seem especially scary to some business folks. To embrace free software is also to embrace sharing culture and mandate sharing, which is a step too far for most businesses. The point of free software was to undermine the existing order of proprietary Unix vendors and enforce principles of sharing. And when it comes to espousing that freedom, it’s difficult to embrace the free software culture and philosophy without also acknowledging the onging fight for unlocked devices, open media formats, net neutrality, and safety from private as well as government surveillance. For the rest of this post, I’ll use “Free Software” as shorthand for all of those movements

Open source is about something else entirely: Supply chain efficiency

When I wrote There is no Open Source Community a decade ago, I asked the question, “Why do developers release open source code?” As it turns out, there are good reasons for doing so from an operations standpoint.

To embrace open source is to embrace a development model that utilizes a decentralized supply chain. Whereas before, proprietary vendors would control the entire software supply chain in-house, the open source model directly refutes that approach. The open source model is about using common components of multiple origins to achieve higher efficiency and agility in creating software-based products and services.

Initially, open source projects did heavily use GPL’d software, due to the fact that the GNU project was started some 10 years before the first Linux kernel, and at least 15 years before the term open source was coined. The effect of this head start was that by the time open source as a business-friendly concept gained steam, there was already a wealth of GPL’d code—not to mention a well-developed culture of sharing.

That there is now a trend of new open source projects migrating away from copyleft GPL-style licenses toward “liberal” Apache-style licenses should come as no surprise. In retrospect, this was inevitable. In a world defined by business interests and not philosophy, enforced sharing doesn’t really make sense. Sure, one could argue that it does. After all, lots of companies have formed profitable ecosystems around GPL’d GNU and Linux code. But let’s assume that most business types disagree with the whole enforced-sharing bit.

In the Apache-style open source model, developers can choose whether or not to release their modifications. They often do, simply because they have realized the benefits of participating in open source ecosystems—but there are many who sometimes do not. In an open source world, this simply doesn’t matter. If the point of open source development is to optimize your supply chain and economies of scale, who cares about sharing?

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Retreat, America

Sat, 02/03/2018 - 20:25

via The Week

by Ryan Cooper

The most disturbing part of President Trump’s first State of the Union address was his war-peddling bombast on North Korea. In a clear echo of George W. Bush’s fulmination against Iraq in 2002, Trump argued that “North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland. … We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and to our allies.”

In this, as in other policy arenas, a reliable heuristic to find sensible, wise policy is what we might call the Costanza Doctrine: Whatever Trump is proposing, do the opposite. If Trump is angling for war in North Korea, America should push for peace. If Trump wants to build a wall on our border with Mexico and deport millions of immigrants, America should give full amnesty to all of them. And so on.

The same is true of our many brushfire conflicts around the globe, which many of the warmongers whispering in Trump’s ear want to pour gasoline on. America should do the opposite. Nearly all of these conflicts should be ended, and American soldiers brought home.

American troops were deployed in well over 150 countries, and Special Forces in 138 countries as of 2016. Lest you think this accounts for just a random troop stationed here or there, overall, as of September 2017, there were significant deployments of over 1,000 troops in 19 countries: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Belgium, Cuba, Djibouti, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Jordan, South Korea, Kuwait, Qatar, Spain, Syria, Taiwan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom, according to a Pentagon spreadsheet.

The two biggest deployments are Cold War-vintage bases designed to check the Soviet Union. Germany has 47,055 U.S. troops and Japan has 51,452 military personnel. These, at least, seem relatively harmless. But that’s about all that can be said for them.

Why are we bothering to maintain huge bases at vast expense in the middle of peaceful countries, almost three decades after the principal reason for their existence has vanished? Most or all of these Americans can come home. America can easily maintain the nuclear security umbrella over Europe with a couple submarines. We don’t need tens of thousands of people there.

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The Iran Protests: A Third Path to Political Change?

Sat, 02/03/2018 - 03:17


by Fouad Oveisy and Behnam Amini – The Bullet

An Alternative to the Politics of “National Security” Emerges

Days of protests in Iran have caught statesmen, analysts and observers by surprise, even though the anti-austerity and anti-establishment sentiments behind this primarily working-class revolt have been brewing for years. All the same, surprise is not a common reaction across the media. An early analysis offered in a tweet by the popular and self-styled Marxist pundit, Ali Alizadeh, captures a sentiment which is common across an array of responses to these events from individuals and groups as disparate, in both aim and ideas, as the Iranian reformists, the Iranian postcolonial left, and middle class Iranians both inside and outside Iran. Alizadeh asks: “Do you realize that it is because[the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI)]is secured and external threats[to Iran’s national security]have been minimized[by the policies of the IRI], that the right to protest[inside Iran]is now recognized[by the IRI government]?…[This is why I]insist that[regional]security is the prerequisite to everything else, including[civil, political and personal]freedoms.”

Here, Alizadeh suggests that the long term stability of the IRI state is the prerequisite for the growth of democracy inside Iran, given that the many international and civil wars plaguing the region have imperilled the prospects of long term security and democracy in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Libya. Over the years, reformist, postcolonial and conservative commentators have employed narratives similar to Alizadeh’s as a key reason for supporting the Iranian reformist movement. Offering itself as the only viable alternative for political change in Iran that does not jeopardize the safety and stability of the Iranian people and state, the Iranian reformist movement has largely deployed Alizadeh’s narrative toward establishing hegemony over articulations and mobilizations of dissent inside Iran. The reformists claim that concrete political change inside Iran, and any transfer of power from the conservative faction of power spearheaded by Ayatollah Khamenei to the Iranian people, is possible only via their gradualist and revisionist agenda.

Neoliberal State and Expansionist Force

The coextensivity of internal security and regional stability for the IRI is, however, erased in Alizadeh’s analysis. In reality, the signature strategy of the IRI’s foreign policy is to mobilize the exigencies of policing the Middle East region as a means of policing dissent inside Iran: as long as the Middle East is unstable and the IRI must take an active part in securing its interests all over the region, all political projects for change inside Iran must take a backseat to the contingencies of national security. Since 1979, the IRI has had to contend equally with the possibility of subversion from both inside and outside Iran. Therefore, and without reducing the role of international and regional players such as the United States, Russia and Saudi Arabia in destabilizing the Middle East, it is necessary to foreground how the reformist disavowal of the strategic relation between Iranian regional and internal security (which Alizadeh here articulates for the mass media) only works to erase the role of IRI as a neoliberal state and expansionist force in the Middle East region.

On one hand, this reformist erasure promotes a reductive dichotomy between the Iranian state and international threats to its regional hegemony. On the other, it establishes an anti-democratic antagonism between the Iranian state and grassroots movements for radical change inside Iran. Alizadeh and others employ this erasure to suggest that the new round of protests in Iran only advances the agendas of IRI hardliners and Washington neoconservatives, because any form of dissent that projects itself outside the accepted avenues of reformism ultimately undermines President Hassan Rouhani’s reformist-backed presidency. Evidently, this reformist narrative also overrides the agency of subaltern classes to present an alternative to the Iranian middle class’s reformist agenda, a strategic and tactical platform that has delivered little in plans and promises in the 22 years of its hegemony over the discourse of political dissent in Iran.

The new round of protests offers an alternative path for political change inside Iran. The most defining characteristic of this new movement is its differences, in both form and demands, from the majority middle-class, reformist movements that have appeared in recent years. From the Green Movement to the many online and electoral campaigns that promote a mainly liberal agenda, the reformist protests of the past evolved from and revolved around liberal economic and political demands, with an emphasis on nonviolence as a tactic of political dissent. But the new protest movement is not only primarily working class, with demands centered around social and economic justice, but also more defiant, less conciliatory in tone, and equipped with a strongly anti-establishment array of slogans.

Importantly, the new protest movement’s calls for an alternative to the options tabled by the reformist/conservative status quo harbours a transformative potential for a third, and more effective, movement for political change in Iran. Its transformative character is evident, first and foremost, in its unwillingness to confine its political options to the political gradations and horizons fixed by the IRI state: these protesters chant, “Conservatives, Reformists, One Way or Another / It’s All Over!”. Antonio Gramsci famously remarks that “appearances are historical necessities.” We contend that the new protest movement’s anti-establishment counternarratives should be interpreted as such “necessary” expressions of a deep divide and disconnect between the Iranian working and middle class movements. These new slogans are making all Iranians inescapably aware of deep socioeconomic contradictions within their ranks. No matter the outcome of these protests, the Iranian reformists can no longer claim to represent the political interests and aspirations of all Iranians.

If the growing debate over a “third path” of “transition” from reformism which presently occupies Iranian statesmen, analysts and observers is essentially a concern with the implications of the new protest movement’s political counternarrative, it is because neither the reformist nor the conservative factions of power in Iran can possibly offer a long-term solution to the unequal labour conditions and subsistence issues and demands of the Iranian working class. The Iranian economy is structurally incapable of catering to these demands in the long run, and the neoliberal exigencies of Iran’s transition to the global markets will only exacerbate the shortcomings that plague the lives of Iranian subaltern classes.

It is therefore necessary to situate the political consciousness of Iran’s new protest movement in the context of the Iranian working class’s long-term view of the economic policies of the IRI state over the past four decades, which have led to the present impasse in Iranian politics. As we will demonstrate, it is precisely the homegrown and subversive character of this recent wave of protests which defies any simplistic, reductive and disempowering classification of this as an “imported,” “co-opted” or “supervised” project of “regime change” devised and navigated by the West and its regional allies.[1]

The IRI’s Violent History of Eliminating Political Alternatives

The IRI has historically confined the limits of the language of political dissent and organization inside Iran to a choice between its own conservative and reformist/centrist political factions. And, despite internecine power struggles between these two factions, which have on occasion led them to conflicts as serious as the contentions over the results of the 2009 elections, in practice and overall strategy these two groups have historically functioned as a unified clique of power. This clique has ruled Iran since the 1979 revolution and upholds a tacit, but inviolable, inter-factional agreement regarding the “principles of the IRI state” (Ayatollah Khamenei’s favorite terminology).

The ruling IRI clique consolidated its hold over power in the post-revolutionary 1980s by way of eliminating all left, liberal, secular and “Islamist-socialist” (Mujahedin-e Khalq) parties that participated in the 1979 revolution. In 1992, the leaders of Iran’s Kurdish Democratic Party were assassinated in Berlin, and by the time the Serial Killings of Iranian intellectuals were carried out in 1998 all domestic alternatives to the rule of the IRI clique had been exterminated from the post-revolutionary political stage.

The IRI’s template for consolidating power was first cast and put into practice prior to the 1990s, however, throughout the Iran-Iraq war. In the name of resisting Western imperialism and “paving the road to Al-Quds through[the Iraqi city of]Karbala,” the ruling IRI clique led by Ayatollah Khomeini extended and protracted a largely won and waning war campaign against Saddam Hussein’s retreating army, only to domesticate the military security and ideological imperatives of fighting a war against the U.S.-backed Iraq in order to exterminate all political opposition that threatened the internal security of the Iranian state, thus inaugurating Iran’s notorious and bloody “eighties.”

This ‘wage war and rule’ strategy would later set the template for the current hegemonic “national security” discourse, which justifies political oppression inside Iran in the name of securing the strategic “Shi’ite Crescent” that extends from Iran to Israel through Northern Iraq and central-southern Syria. If the strategic import of the state of Israel to securing the perimeters of American foreign policy in the Middle East region is indubitable, it is necessary to emphasize – in contrast to all reductionist definitions of Iran’s “national security” – that pursuing an Iranian foreign policy agenda based on transnational Shi’ite solidarity is shrewdly coextensive with securing the domestic hegemony of a state ruled by pretensions to Shi’ite jurisprudence. Thus, it is insidious to argue that the IRI pursuit of regional and international interests does not necessarily activate the same exigencies internally. Rather than constituting a mere precondition for ensuring national security, this foreign policy agenda also enables the IRI to maintain its internal hegemony.

The post Iran-Iraq war era imposed its own imperatives on the IRI’s economic agenda. Having already nationalized and monopolized revenues from big industries such as oil, and confiscated the assets of the capitalist class loyal to the Pahlavi regime in the immediate years after 1979, the IRI clique managed to significantly “bridge” the class divides that it had inherited from the Pahlavi era throughout the early and mid-1980s. Nevertheless, the high costs of the protracted war campaign and the need to rebuild the state and country after the war were simultaneous to the devastating 1980s oil glut and the drop in the global demand for energy.

The loss in oil revenues, coupled with Khomeini’s sudden death, served to intensify the conflict between two competing interpretations of the IRI’s foundations and its future: the centrist-conservative faction led by the then-president Khamenei and speaker of parliament, Hashemi Rafsanjani, who advanced the cause of the structural adjustment programs of the IMF and the World Bank; and the left-Islamist (now reformist) faction led by figures including the Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, who instead promoted a statist program of economic reform and rejuvenation. In this conflict, the latter camp was ultimately sidelined from power, and the neoliberal phase of the IRI’s existence was inaugurated.

Significantly, the privatization and deregulation policies carried out under this neoliberal economic regime favoured the economic interests of the ruling power clique and its affiliates, with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which had found its way to political and strategic decision-making power during the Iran-Iraq war, as a primary beneficiary. This change of fortunes would transform the IRGC into a powerbroker of the Iranian economic, military and political spheres over the following decade.

Nonetheless, the conservative faction’s economic reform program – officially dubbed “The Reconstruction Era” – was essentially only a continuation of the Pahlavi regime’s own development program, one that favoured the expansion of industry and services to the urban metropolises at the expense of under-developing the peripheries and margins of Iranian urban geography. Consequently, the neoliberal version of the Pahlavi economic agenda pursued by the IRI during the 1980s and 90s produced the same results as in its earlier political incarnation under the Shah: it bloated the urban middle class at the expense of the working and marginalized classes. “The Reconstruction Era” led the country’s economy to such a degree of inflation and recession that a first round of working-class revolts erupted in 1992 from the urban and economic peripheries.

This first round of working-class revolts, coupled with the legitimacy crisis provoked by the Mykonos court’s revelations and the pressure of Bill Clinton’s “D’Amato” round of economic sanctions, forced the conservative faction of the IRI to reinvite the sidelined reformist faction to a power sharing project aimed at restoring the legitimacy of the IRI state. This feat was accomplished with a landslide vote in the 1997 elections, when Iranians appointed Mohammad Khatami – deemed the “Chief of Reform” – to the office of the president. But this time around, the reformists were only loyal to the neoliberal economic agenda of the ruling IRI clique. And even though the reformist government did allow for controlled expression of criticism within liberal media and culture, the conservative faction remained in firm control of key state institutions such as the Judiciary, the Guardian Council, the IRGC and, most importantly, the office of the Supreme Leader. As a result, Khatami and his reformist faction managed little in the way of critical reforms during their two terms in the president’s office; they rarely challenged the conservative faction’s monopoly over state power, and even gradually lost ground on the media and cultural reforms that they had initially implemented.

The critical shortcomings of the “Reformist Government” of Mohammad Khatami alienated core demographics of its support base, and particularly its middle-class power base. In the absence of middle-class support, the conservative hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rode a populist wave of working-class dissatisfaction with the reformists’ prolongation of the IRI’s neoliberal economic agenda to surpass the reformist candidates in the first round of the 2005 elections. In the second round, a strong “no” vote cast by the working class against Hashemi Rafsanjani (the reformists’ coalition partner at the time) in favour of Ahmadinejad, returned the control of the president’s office to the conservative faction.

Proving more strategic in his economic plans for the subaltern classes, Ahmadinejad implemented popular subsidiary, housing and loan policies backed by a sudden upsurge of oil prices in the international markets. Nonetheless, it was ultimately Ahmadinejad’s notorious “surgical” cuts to many essential subsidies that inaugurated a new era of austerity politics in Iran, culminating, initially, in the rise and subsequent crackdown of the working-class “Bread Revolts.” Ahmadinejad’s two terms in office were also simultaneous with the inauguration of a notorious era of economic profligacy, corruption and consolidation of capital by the IRI clique, and in particular by the IRGC military-industrial complex, which took advantage of Ahmadinejad’s popular mandate to extend its influence to every significant economic and political institution of the IRI.

The fear of Ahmadinejad’s corrosive corruption, the dire economic consequences of the U.S. sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program, as well as growing concerns over the IRGC’s widening influence, mobilized the middle classes to rally around the resurrected reformist-backed candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, during the 2009 elections. Facing the possibility of a humiliating defeat and – at a critical juncture when the IRI was under international pressure for accelerating the development of its nuclear program – the transfer of power to a more conciliatory reformist “nuclear rhetoric”, the conservative faction backing Ahmadinejad hijacked the results of these elections in an organized coup d’état sponsored by the Supreme Leader and the IRGC, and went on to violently suppress the reformist Green Movement that disputed this anti-democratic takeover.[2]

Despite mass discontent with the IRI’s state apparatuses in the aftermath of revelations about the violent crackdown on Green Movement protesters, in 2013 the Iranian middle class once again voted for the reformist-backed candidate, Hassan Rouhani. This time, it was the crippling and isolating effects of the Obama round of sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program, and the plummeting oil prices resulting from Saudi Arabia’s increased production, which sent the Iranian demos back to the voting booth. As for the IRI hierarchy, they were already negotiating the foundations of the 2015 nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) in secret via Omani mediation, and appointed Rouhani – Iran’s chief negotiator during the initial round of nuclear talks in 2003 – as the candidate to bridge a consensus over the seemingly irreconcilable divide between the IRI state and the Iranian nation.

In the meantime, and throughout Ahmadinejad’s second term and Rouhani’s first, the IRI state media, along with many reformist websites and papers, had waged an effective campaign to convince Iranians that U.S. sanctions against the nuclear program were the primary obstacle to improving their deteriorating livelihoods.[3]This propaganda campaign effectively transformed an increasingly subversive disillusionment with the IRI’s economic and political record into popular support for the nuclear program as a matter of “national security” and “sovereignty”, invoking historical comparisons with Mohammad Mossadegh’s Pahlavi-era decolonization of the oil industry in the reformist media. If Iran’s economy were to improve, the Iranian people were convinced that they would have to fully support the IRI throughout the bargaining process with the Americans. In the process, the IRI also manufactured the expectation that, with the end of economic sanctions against its nuclear program, the economic situation of the country would also drastically improve. Though the dismal effects of the U.S. sanctions on the lives of Iranians cannot be overstated, it was the IRI’s media campaign that galvanized legitimate sentiments against these sanctions into support for Iran’s nuclear program and regional ambitions.[4]

This domestic media campaign was twinned with a foreign policy strategy that ultimately forced America’s hand during the nuclear negotiations. Obama’s “Shift to the Pacific”, the decisive interventions in Syria and Crimea by Russia, Iran’s ally, the rise of ISIS, an ineffective U.S. foreign policy in Iraq and the Gulf states (which had handed Iraq over to Iranian control and spread IRI influence in the mainly Shi’ite nations of Bahrain and Yemen) and finally the upheavals of the Arab Spring movements in northern Africa, had altogether destabilized the established balance of power in the Middle East and jeopardized American control over strategic waterways in the Black, Mediterranean, Oman and Red Seas that were essential to the movements of its navy and the flow of oil to international markets.

Throughout this strategic shift, Iran’s unilateral support for the Assad government in the form of intelligence and policing aid had led an initially peaceful Syrian protest movement down the path of the current civil war. The IRI tactics went even so far as transferring Al-Qaeda leaders held captive in Iran to Syria, all in order to “radicalize” the protest movement and justify Assad’s crackdown against Syrian opposition. The IRI therefore kept the Shi’ite crescent intact by maintaining its vital and threatening access to Israel via Lebanon’s Hezbollah; Assad-controlled regions of Syria; and, during Iraq’s civil war, to Baghdad-controlled areas of Iraq. Moreover, the IRI’s orchestrations in Syria helped nurture the violent spectre of ISIS as a formidable straw man with which to frighten the residents of both the Middle East and the West into cynicism and submission – a feat accomplished only with the help of other regional powers that pursued their own political ends in Syria, as well as, critically, the regional and global backlash against a violent history of Western imperialism in the region.

The stark ‘success’ of the IRI’s strategy affirmed the status of Iran as an “island of stability in the region” (Alizadeh’s popular reappropriation of Carter’s terminology) and rallied popular support for its “national security” campaign, forcing the U.S. government into a tactical checkmate: having already conceded part of its control over the Middle East, the Americans now had to resign themselves to the new status of Iran as a legitimate nation-state and unacknowledged regional partner. The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action soon followed, because the continuation of the Iran – USA dynamic of hostilities was no longer plausible in its traditional forms and rhetoric.

Having effectively set its strategic depth and borders outside Iran and across state lines in the region, not only had the IRI secured its bargaining rights over the nuclear deal and pushed back against U.S. sanctions, but it also appeared for a time (prior to the new round of protests) that the IRI had finally established and consolidated itself as the legitimate, rightful representative of the Iranian people. With the success of Iran’s regional project, it was also inevitable that the likes of the security discourse expressed by Alizadeh would be utilized by the IRI regime and its reformist intellectuals as a tactical and ideological measure against those expressions of dissent inside Iran that threaten the IRI hierarchy and the ‘stability’ this regime provides for Iranians through its policing of the Middle East region. In this hegemonic security discourse, the reformists are then framed as the “rational” and “moderate” faction of Iranian politics that can secure both the IRI’s regional and international ambitions, without risking the economic and political costs incurred by hardliners such as Ahmadinejad.

Naturally, Iran’s renewed access to global markets secured through the nuclear deal could only materialize through further deregulation and neoliberalization of the labour and finance markets inside the country. A welcome prospect for many middle class Iranians who sought renewed ties to the West after years of international isolation, Rouhani’s campaign promises to rejuvenate the post-sanction Iranian economy and its international image – such as lowering the inflation rate to “below 25%,” raising the “minimum wage,” and “improving bilateral ties” with regional actors such as Saudi Arabia – secured him a second term in office in 2017.

But, having already weathered the storms of the nuclear sanctions and the wars in the Middle East, the two factions of the IRI’s ruling clique waged a vicious election campaign against each other prior to Rouhani’s landslide win. With a bounty of new economic deals with Europe and the rest of the world at stake in this runoff, the reformists and conservatives aired each other’s dirty laundry during presidential debates live-streamed on Iranian State TV, exposing the Iranian public to a disillusioning array of scandalous, corrupt and nepotistic practices by both sides.

Last month, in order to justify cutting subsidies on foodstuff and petrol, Rouhani’s team leaked an overlooked component of his government’s budget. Yet, the leak backfired: the list of offices, institutions and religious, military and paramilitary persons and organizations connected to the office of the Supreme Leader and the IRGC – all of whom pocket a large segment of Iran’s annual budget – provoked a wide wave of popular discontent with the direction and policies of his government (and the IRI as whole) that swept the print and online media landscape. The timing of this leak was critical to the events that followed: over the course of the months leading up to the new protest movement in Iran, close to a thousand protests and strikes had been staged all over the country by various labour and retiree unions who were disenfranchised by the economic policies of the Rouhani government, as well as by ordinary citizens who had lost their life savings to fraudulent or bankrupt financial institutions. The climate of domestic public opinion about the IRI was ripe for an abrupt shift.

Retaliating against Rouhani’s targeted leak, a hardline cleric connected to the conservative factions reportedly staged a protest in the city of Mashhad to underline Rouhani’s poor track record with the poor, and further undermine the reformists’ flagging reputation with the subaltern classes. Staged against a background of dissatisfaction and impatience with the slow pace of economic recovery after the lifting of U.S. sanctions – an expectation formed by IRI’s own propaganda during the nuclear negotiations – the events in Mashhad quickly triggered rounds of working class protests all over Iran that lasted several days and spread to more than 90 cities.

As expected, protests were carried out in the margins and cities peripheral to Iranian urban centres, and their central rallying cry of “Bread, Work, Freedom!” has translated marginalized Iranians’ economic concerns into an emergent political program. Interestingly, when these protesters vandalized public and private property, their targets consisted of venues which were symbolic of the IRI’s state power, such as patrols of Basij (an IRGC-affiliated paramilitary organization), and banks and offices of the Supreme Leader’s clerical representatives in their cities.

So far, more than twenty-two protesters have been reported killed, while close to four thousand more are believed to be in prisons and detention centres all over Iran. At least a hundred students with leftist and labour rights backgrounds were arrested early on in the protests to deprive the new movement of its pulse and representation in universities. According to the Iranian authorities, no charges have been filed against the arrested students and the arrests are strictly “pre-emptive” in intent. Besides, a growing number of demonstrators are believed to have been killed in custody. Having kept relatively silent about the protests, president Rouhani recently announced that the “security forces did a good job, and the issue is now over.”

Access to Instagram and Telegram are now permanently blocked, the latter of which is the most popular social media platform among Iranians. Telegram harboured the notorious channel that reportedly kick-started the social media campaign of the protests, before it was shut down by the company in response to an official request from Iran’s Minister of Information Communication and Technology. What is more, it seems that the IRI has taken note of the protesters’ demands and is working to ‘alleviate’ their discontent by implementing measures such as barring the forecasted rise in the price of bread and other items.

In view of the above, to brand this movement – as some reformist, Marxist and postcolonial commentators do – as simply a “plot” orchestrated by the Saudis, the West or the Iranian conservatives against the Rouhani government erases the wider and recent histories that inform the political spirit and demands of these protesters and, moreover, grossly misrepresents the intellectual and popular roots of a movement that has forced the IRI to suppress it “pre-emptively.”

The Necessity of a Third Path to Political Change

In a live interview with Vahid Yaminpour, an Iranian state TV host and IRGC affiliate, Alizadeh spoke from London, England, firstly to stress the need to recognize and “manage” the legitimate anti-corruption demands of the working class, only to then suggest that the radical and anti-establishment overtones and slogans of this movement had to be repressed, for “any riot” in England or the U.S. deserves this fate.

Echoing this mindset, some leftist, postcolonial and pro-reformist Iranian academics inside and outside Iran have equally undermined the new protest movement by reducing its political demands to “diffuse” expressions of ideological or purely economic “grievances.” Critically, these commentators erase these protesters’ deep consciousness of their treatment by the IRI, a long history from which their new movement draws its radical aspirations.

Marxist and postcolonial commentators on Iranian politics should instead focus on countering the right wing and orientalist narratives offered by Western policymakers and the mass media, without overlooking the many critical nuances of political developments inside Iran. In overemphasizing the role of the United States and other global actors in shaping the economic hardships endured by Iranians – which also underestimates the aforementioned histories of the plundering and brutalizing of the Iranian subaltern classes by the Iranian ruling clique – these leftist, postcolonial and reformist commentators risk complicity in reproducing the very conditions of suffering denounced by Iranian protesters.

In the name of reconciliation with the West and the global markets, the reformist Iranian middle class has been likewise complicit in Rouhani’s economic policies and the IRI’s expansionist agenda in the Middle East. In instigating market reforms and subsidy cuts, Rouhani’s policies have only jeopardized the livelihood of working class Iranians. In a climate of dissent, where many of the leaders of the working class movement are in prison for charges of “acting against national security” and Rouhani’s popular foreign minister repeats that “there are no political prisoners in Iran,” the Iranian working class is now articulating its own distinct social movement in order to distinguish its demands from the middle class support for the IRI’s internal and regional agenda; their new protest loudly chants, “Leave Syria Alone / Do Something for One of Your Own!”

Reformist commentators may very well argue that it is the heavy presence of anti-riot forces and machinery in the capital and major urban centers, and the recent painful memory of the Green Movement crackdown, which has prevented the middle class from joining their fellow working class Iranians. They also highlight how the heavy presence of the IRI task force in the center has left its disciplinary organs in the peripheries thin and under-equipped, thus allowing the new working class movement to fill the power void. But regardless of how the Iranian middle classes choose to heed the chants of their fellow working class Iranians – “Don’t just observe us from up there/ Come and join us down here!” – the Iranian people as a whole know well enough that the radical economic and political character of the recent protests is rooted mainly in the long-standing and cumulative discontent of subaltern classes from the margins, and that their anger is the expression of a deep dissatisfaction with the entirety of the ruling clique and its capitalist, authoritarian and expansionist rule over many years.

The political aspirations behind the economic slogans of the new protest movement are directed at the IRI’s economic corruption and political repression. However, outside the heavily moderated presidential elections and the choice between reformists and conservatives, there are no other established venues for democratic dissent within the Iranian political space. Neither will the IRI tolerate any political education and organization outside the reach of its own state apparatus, leaving the Iranian working class with a lacking, or poorly-equipped, language of dissent.

The question of transition from reformism must therefore contend with three future possibilities. The first two of these will not bring these groups any nearer to their aims and demands, namely, the possibility that the new protest movement may fall prey to the populist promises and plans of the likes of Ahmadinejad once more, or that the classes behind this movement may hold other rounds of protests in the future, only to risk even more arrests and killings. But there is also a third possibility, that of transforming the new protest movement’s class consciousness into a radical platform for political change in Iran. The stakes for such a practice are high, and the strategic field for its implementation is mined with danger, but the tactics of Dual Power and Democratic Confederalism are proven possibilities in the Middle Eastern political scene and could very well form the strategy for this radical political transition.

The Iranian middle class voted for Rouhani just four years after the Green Movement, despite his collusion with state oppressors at the height of the crackdowns, and there is no guarantee that, in the absence of a political alternative, the middle class will not empower the reformists, its traditional representative in Iranian politics, once again. What is more, the structural and political deficits that characterize the dichotomies of Iranian politics are only symptomatic of a late capitalist milieu of confinement to what we might term the “Clintonite”-“Trumpist” dyad, which currently haunts neoliberal politics from the USA, to France and Japan. The Iranian people would do well to articulate their own transition out of this international impasse, toward an egalitarian principle of democratic self-governance and international politics.


[1]Although the slogans of this movement do, in many instances, openly call for “regime change,” we will show that these subversive chants for the overthrow of the clerical hierarchy, as well as the songs which refuse the proffered choice of the reformist/conservative dyad, are different in demands and aspirations from similar expressions found in the political language of exiled opposition and monarchist groups.
[2]Needless to say, the IRI’s clique’s costly support of Ahmadinejad’s hawkish politics, and its increasing belief in the necessity of acquiring nuclear technology as a matter of national security, were directly correlated with the presence of American forces around Iranian borders in the post 9/11 era.
[3]For example, the ban against medicine – one of the most unpopular items on the U.S. sanctions list – was not on the U.S. Treasury’s official list of sanctions against Iran. Controversial revelations by Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, Ahmadinejad’s health minister, regarding the IRGC’s ‘mismanagement‘ of funds earmarked for medicinal supplies from abroad, were followed (after her removal) by Seyed Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi’s concession that “The medicine problem is caused by ourselves, it is not related to sanctions at all.” The Iranian public had been led to believe that the drug shortages were mainly due to the U.S. sanctions.
[4]In fact, this campaign was so comprehensive and effective in manipulating public opinion in Iran that the results of a controversial 2016 survey by IPOS showed that 59% of Iranians now believed that no election fraud had taken place during the 2009 elections, and that Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Forces in Syria, enjoyed a 38% popularity rating, with Foreign Minister and nuclear deal negotiator Javad Zarif polling at 76%.

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How Did Trump Win? Follow the Dark Money

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 21:56

via naked capitalism

by Yves Smith

AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News, I’m Aaron Maté. It’s been over a year since Donald Trump pulled off what is likely the biggest upset in U.S. political history, but we have yet to fully understand how it is that a reality television host with no political experience managed to do it. The widespread perception is that it was a combination of Russian meddling and a last minute October surprise from then FBI director James Comey. Well, a new study takes a much deeper look than has been done to date and a very different picture emerges. It points to, among other things, a major last minute infusion of secretive dark money on Trump’s behalf. The study is put out by the Institute for New Economic Thinking and it’s called, “Industrial Structure and Party Competition in an Age of Hunger Games: Donald Trump and the 2016 Presidential Election.”

I’m joined by one of its three co-authors. Thomas Ferguson is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Welcome Professor Ferguson. Before we get into the overlooked factors that you found, let’s look at the dominant narrative, which is that it was indeed Russian meddling and Comey that helped sway voters to turn on Clinton, who was leading in the polls, and vote for Trump. What is your though on that?

T. FERGUSON: This is the real heart of the problem with both the Comey and the Russian internet story — it’s that when you actually look at what happened, not only did Hillary dip in the polls, but at the very same time the chances of the Democrats taking the Senate collapsed. When you’ve got two collapses, not one, and they very closely tracked each other, as we show in a figure in our paper, so, what’s going on there? Well, when you look, first of all, you can take the Senate one very straightforwardly. There’s no doubt about what happened. Mitch McConnell and company were going to donors and saying, as nice articles in Bloomberg and elsewhere on this that we cite, they’re saying, “You guys can’t afford to lose both the presidency and the Senate. So, you better help us.”

They did. An enormous wave of cash came in for the Senate and the other thing we discovered when we looked was we created a day by day … Paul Jorgensen, Jie Chan and I created a day-by-day file of contributions into the Trump campaign and included dark money. You say, how do you know it’s dark money? Obviously, it’s not all provided. The answer is very straightforward. We’ll see this cash coming in from an entity, usually has kind of a fake charitable name attached, and then you will see the cash coming out but no cash going in. That’s what they’re legally allowed to do because everybody knows these are not charities. They are in fact there to do politics. And so, you can tell the dark money easily. When we look at the dark money for Trump in the final weeks we were astonished, ’cause Trump had — and there’s actually a clip of Trump saying he wouldn’t take dark money.

DONALD TRUMP: They’re raising all of this money and they’re gonna spend it on the campaign and we have … The candidates aren’t supposed to be involved in all that stuff but they have all this money going. Nobody even knows who the people are. Nobody knows where they are. Nobody knows what they’re doing with the money. It’s a whole big scam.

T. FERGUSON: Well, he had a bigger wave of dark money than Romney did in 2012. That’s what we used as comparison. We thought two Republican presidential campaigns with a lot of dough. That should be pretty fair. In that sense, the real problem with the Comey or the Russian story, just to repeat is, hey, you’ve got two waves of collapses and two big waves of money. More than likely than not what you’re seeing in both cases is the sound of money talking. It’s that simple.

AARON MATÉ: You are known for having developed the investment theory of politics, the theory that it is big business, big corporations and elites who play the most decisive role in the outcome of elections, in this case in terms of seeing Trump as an investment, how did so much money come into him if it was widely perceived that he was gonna lose?

T. FERGUSON: Well, I think I’ve made the joke elsewhere, it might be the greatest out of the money options in world history and one you could take up cheap. But seriously, the story, never mind my take, my colleagues and I have a pretty careful analysis of the money in the Trump’s campaign. And what we basically find is in the early stages he did attract a lot of individual money from small donors, and overall his campaign was remarkable. I never saw anything like it in the Republican party, unless it were maybe the Goldwater ’64 campaign — and I know that this immediately betrays that I’m as old as the Egyptians on that point. But I mean, that was full of small donors too. But I mean, normally Republican campaigns are not full of small donors. They are dominated by big donors but Trump in the early stages of the campaign was just by himself, pretty much. Financing his campaign along with this big wave of small money. In May, he’s actually telling reporters, we cite in the paper, that he doesn’t need the usual billion dollars to run.

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Women would lose $4.6 billion in earned tips if the administration’s ‘tip stealing’ rule is finalized

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 18:27

via the Economic Policy Institute

By Heidi Shierholz, David Cooper, Julia Wolfe, and Ben Zipperer

The Department of Labor (DOL) has proposed a rule that would make it legal for employers to pocket their workers’ tips, as long as they pay those workers at least the minimum wage. The proposed rule rescinds portions of longstanding DOL regulations that prohibit employers from taking tips.1 We estimate that if the rule is finalized, every year workers will lose $5.8 billion in tips, as tips are shifted from workers to employers.2 Of the $5.8 billion, nearly 80 percent—$4.6 billion—would be taken from women who are working in tipped jobs.3

DOL has masked the fact that this rule would be a windfall to restaurant owners and other employers—out of the pockets of tipped workers—by making it sound as if this rule is about tip pooling. Of course, once employers have full control of tips, one of the things they could do with those tips is distribute them to “back of the house” workers like dishwashers and cooks. But the proposed rule does not require employers to distribute the tips, so employers would be no more likely to share tips with back-of-the-house workers than they would be to make any other choice about what to do with a business windfall, including using the money to make capital improvements to their establishments, to increase executive pay, or to line their own pockets.

Many employers pocket tips even now, when it is illegal for them to do so (for example, research on workers in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York found that 12 percent of tipped workers had tips stolen from them by their employer or supervisor).4 The fact that illegal tip theft is so prevalent underscores that when employers can legally pocket tips, many will. And basic economic logic dictates that it is highly unlikely that back-of-the-house workers will get more pay. There is currently no limit to what these workers can be paid, so employers are already paying their back-of-the-house workers what they need to pay to attract workers willing to work in those jobs. If employers do share some tips with them, it will likely be offset by a reduction in their base pay, leaving their take-home pay largely unaffected.

The economic effects of this rule are as follows: (1) tipped workers will lose $5.8 billion a year in tips, (2) the take-home pay of back-of-the-house workers will remain largely unchanged, and (3) employers will get a $5.8 billion a year windfall. The $5.8 billion is 16.1 percent of the estimated $36.4 billion in tips earned by tipped workers annually and amounts to more than $1,000 per year on average across all tipped workers.5

Table 1 breaks down the $5.8 billion by gender and by race/ethnicity, and Table 2 breaks down the $5.8 billion by state.6 Table 1 shows that women working in tipped jobs would lose $4.6 billion annually as a result of the rule, while men working in tipped jobs would lose $1.2 billion. In other words, nearly 80 percent of the tips that would be taken by employers as a result of this rule would come out of the pockets of women and their families. (The specific share, calculated from unrounded numbers, is 78.7 percent.) Because women are both more likely to be tipped workers and to earn lower wages, this rule would disproportionately harm them.

Table 1 also shows that white non-Hispanic tipped workers would lose $3.5 billion, black non-Hispanic tipped workers would lose $480.2 million, Hispanic workers of any race would lose $1.4 billion, Asian workers would lose $382.5 million, and tipped workers who are of another race would lose $102.4 million. The differences among these groups can be attributed to several broad factors, including differences among the groups in number of tipped workers, amount of tips earned, and share of tips earned at or above the minimum wage (the last factor matters since, under the proposed rule, employers must pay workers the full minimum wage before they can legally take tips).7 There are likely many root sources of these underlying differences, including differences in job opportunities and pay, discrimination in tipping, and different concentrations of groups in states that allow employers to take large tip credits.

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Anarchists, Maoists, and Anti-Imperialism

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 00:12

via PM Press

This interview, conducted by Luther Blissett, originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of the anarchist journal Freedom. It is also available online at Freedom News.

Luther Blissett: When looking at liberation movements and struggles for social justice, especially non-pacifist, there seems to be an emphasis on the folks who clash physically, and often lose, with property and authority. This is discussed a bit in Who’s Afraid of the Black Blocs. Is this an accurate, albeit short and generalising, representation? What are some of the other roles that are vital in supporting movements How do you think movements can attract more members to these other roles?

Gabriel Kuhn: These are really big questions. I’ll try to differentiate a bit. To begin with, we must not confound militant liberation struggles with street fighting tactics such as the black bloc. Black blocs are largely an urban First World phenomenon. They have their place under certain circumstances but the realities of militant masses in the Third World fighting both national and international oppressors is very different.

With respect to black blocs and militant resistance within First World autonomous movements, there have certainly been problems with fetishising the young, male streetfighter. There have also been problems with adventurism, irresponsibility, and a lack of both political and strategic vision. This does not discredit the tactic but it challenges us to reflect upon its use and improve it, mainly by tying it to broader social movements and other means of resistance in a collaborative effort that involves a bigger diversity of people.

Mass movements that employ militant means might have similar problems, but the variety of these movements is so big – from spontaneous popular uprisings to Maoist people’s armies – that it would be utterly inappropriate to make any generalisations. Where these problems exist, they need to be addressed, but to decide on whether or how this has to happen is up to the people involved on the ground.

Which roles are vital to support movements? I won’t gather points for originality here, but the answer is: any role that strengthens the research, analysis, propaganda, mobilisation, and confrontation that movements require. All kinds of people will be attracted to these roles as long as the struggle promises them a better life and they feel empowered rather than reduced to pawns in someone else’s game.

Blissett: Since the election of Trump, have you seen or heard changes in attitudes in Sweden such as an increase in fascist attacks or activity?

Kuhn: I don’t think that what has been dubbed “everyday Trumpism,” that is, the emboldening of the far right to seize public space and harass and humiliate people, has significantly increased in Sweden or other European countries because of Trump winning the election. Hate crimes — in particular directed against migrants and refugees – have been up for a while and there has been a strong anti-feminist and anti-civil-rights backlash.

But Trump’s victory certainly boosted these tendencies. One only needs to read the far-right’s publications or related websites. Trump’s victory is hailed as a confirmation that the chauvinistic politics of the far right indeed capture the will of the people. The US presidential elections have a huge impact the world over and in this case it has been particularly bad.

Blissett: Why do you think militants are drawn to Mao or Maoism?

Kuhn: In the 1960s and 1970s, Maoism seemed to be a bridge to world revolution as a Third Worldist adaptation of Marxism-Leninism. Radicals around the world rallied behind it. With the crisis that the Left has been experiencing since the end of the Cold War, the onset of neoliberalism, and the political and economic developments in China, the revolutionary hopes put in Maoism largely disappeared. In the First World, Maoism nearly went extinct.

In some Third World countries, however, among them Nepal, India, and the Philippines, fairly strong Maoist movements survived. The appeal of Maoism for Third World revolutionaries remains the application of Marxist-Leninist principles to the conditions of poor peasant societies. Today’s resurgence of Maoism among First World radicals is, in my opinion, due to three reasons:

1. A fair number of First World radicals have grown tired of what J. Moufawad-Paul, in his book The Communist Necessity, has called “movementism” — the belief that as long as people are in some way politically active, revolutionary change will occur based on the convergence of their efforts. Many radicals have come to see this as a dead end and believe that common strategies and visions are required to help this process along. We could also call this a critique of 21st century anarchism in practice. Maoism provides a tighter analytical framework for political action and a clearer vision of revolutionary change.

2. Maoism still benefits from its image as an unorthodox and progressive variety of Marxism-Leninism, given its Third World appeal, the historical background of the Sino-Soviet split, the radicalness of the Cultural Revolution, and a certain affinity with post-colonial studies. Loosely speaking, it’s more hip than tired old Leninist stuff.

3. Even when the Third World communist movement was in decline, there have been Maoist mass movements, posing a threat to the capitalist order and, in the case of Nepal, contributing to groundbreaking political changes (even if the subsequent actions of leading Nepali Maoists have been the subject of much criticism).

These are strong material manifestations of political engagement. In contrast, anarchism sometimes seems to have little more to offer than a few infoshops in gentrified neighbourhoods of First World cities. Needless to say, anarchism’s influence goes further in many ways, but some radicals are attracted by the large-scale social changes that Maoism promises.

Blissett: What are some of the most important current theory-centered concerns or work for libertarian anti-imperialists for the next five or 10 years?

Kuhn: a) We have to find ways to combine national and international (or transnational) working-class struggles. Nationalism has been dividing the global working class since about 200 years, creating various layers of workers, toiling and living under extremely different circumstances. It is one of the most effective means of “divide and conquer” ever conceived. Workers from one nation state see workers from another mainly as competitors, which is expressed in protectionism, anti-immigration sentiments, and plain racism and chauvinism.

The far right is exploiting these sentiments the world over. A truly internationalist working-class struggle means to identify the workers’ true enemies — the rich and powerful — and to formulate a common vision for achieving justice in global production and distribution. For workers in the First World – sometimes referred to as the “labour aristocracy” — this might imply the loss of some privileges that the imperialist order has bestowed upon them. Workers find it no easier to let go of privileges than anyone else. But no matter how difficult the challenge, it needs to be taken on if we want to get anywhere.

b) We need to slip libertarian convictions into this process without sliding into “movementism.” I consider an alliance of radicals with different ideological backgrounds mandatory if we want to play any role in current struggles.

One of the anarchists’ main tasks would be to keep the development of coercive power structures in check, which is a danger that is always looming. Anarchism has its shortcomings, and certainly not all the answers we need considering the complex societies we live in.

But it needs to be part of the revolutionary process in order to avoid pitfalls of the past. I don’t think it helps to throw hysterical fits whenever someone assumes “authority” or when a “hierarchy” is emerging, but someone has to make sure that no such structures consolidate, become a means in themselves, and form a new class of rulers.

Blissett: In terms of historical scholarship, where do you think the anarchist and anti-imperialist movements need more work?

Kuhn: To me, what seems most important is to analyse revolutionary change. How did it occur? What were the circumstances? How do they compare to the ones we are facing today? What happened afterwards? What went right? What went wrong? I think we have largely lost our grip on revolution. People still like to throw the word around to distinguish themselves from “reformists” or “liberals”, but very few can articulate what they actually mean by it. We have to rectify this, provide the term with meaning again, and pursue relevant politics.

Blissett: What is your current project that is closest to publication? Will you share some of the projects you currently have in the works?

Kuhn: I have just completed a German translation of Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s excellent book From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. This is coming out soon. The next bigger project is another translation, this time into English. Kersplebedeb will publish an English edition of Torkil Lauesen’s Det globale perspektiv, which I am very excited about.

Torkil was a member of the so-called Blekingegade Gang, a group of Marxist revolutionaries in Denmark that committed various high-revenue robberies in the 1970s and 1980s and passed on all the proceeds to Third World liberation movements. I already collaborated with Torkil for the PM Press book Turning Money Into Rebellion and am looking forward to doing so again.

Review: Straight Edge Oral History

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 22:40

via PM Press

by Gabriel Kuhn

Eight years after the PM Press release Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics, a new book adds to the still slim catalog of literature on this persistent drug-free subculture.

Tony Rettman, who brought us NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980-1990 in 2014, has once again teamed up with underground music publisher Bazillion Points, this time to produce Straight Edge: A Clear-Headed Hardcore Punk History. Rettman doesn’t fool around when it comes to oral history. Except for a staccato-like rundown of straight edge highlights that fits on the inside flaps of the dust jacket, a one-page foreword by Anthony “Civ” Civorelli, and listings of “essential” straight edge records, the book consists exclusively of quotes from people who have been involved in straight edge culture in one way or another. This does not belittle Rettman’s role. It might not be the classical task of an author, but turning quotes from over 100 interviews into a narrative requires both skill and dedication. Needless to say, the approach puts the focus on anecdote rather than analysis, but there is nothing wrong with that. The stages that Rettman is taking us through are the ones to expect: DC, Boston, Southern California, New York, Salt Lake City, all the way up to “East Coast 2000”. There is no shortage of illustrations. The book is visually stunning and includes fantastic photographs and flyers.

In terms of politics, Rettman’s clear-headed history is strong on self-empowerment and DIY, perhaps less so on social issues. This, however, might just be an accurate representation of straight edge culture, especially in the US – which brings me to two reservations that are probably predictable for a European lefty:

One, by including three chapters totaling 23 pages on straight edge outside of the US, Rettman gives a nod to straight edge having become a worldwide movement. But, in my opinion, this backfires, as it suggests that the other 357 pages deservedly go to the US. I would have considered it more appropriate to ditch the foreign parts and call the book for what it essentially is, namely a history of straight edge in the US.

Two, I know that accusations of overrepresenting men when chronicling the history of male-dominated movements are problematic. Consciously reducing men’s numbers can help cover up a problem rather than highlighting it. But a man-to-woman ratio of about 100:1 is pretty brutal. Yes, straight edge might be a boys club, but that there aren’t more women with something meaningful to say about its history is hard to believe.

As I said, these quibbles are probably characteristic for a certain type of reader and might be entirely irrelevant for others. Anyone with an interest in straight edge history will find something worthwhile in this volume.

(January 2018)

The geopolitics of the Kurds and the case of Rojava

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 22:24


by Ercan Ayboga

Nowadays, with the defeat of the so called “Islamic State” (IS) on the ground in Syria the geopolitics of the Syrian Kurds is discussed more than ever. To be precise, we should speak of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and of the political structure “Democratic Federation of Northern Syria” (DFNS) of which Rojava (West/Syrian Kurdistan) is a part. What is of interest for this article is the criticism by some (or many) leftists against the military cooperation with the US. However, speaking only of the US would be too limiting, since in this particular conflict Russia, Turkey and Iran are also closely involved.

The geopolitics of the Syrian Kurds can be understood only in connection with the democratic-leftist Kurdish Freedom Movement (KFM). Starting with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in North Kurdistan (Bakur; Turkish part) in the 1970s, it spread to Rojava and East Kurdistan (Rojhilat; Iranian part) in the 1990s. When in 2003 the Party of Democratic Union (PYD) was founded, it accepted Öcalan’s political concept of Democratic Confederalism as basis. Due to the intensive repression by the Baath regime, the space remained small, but the organization of the population never ceased to exist.

In 2011, when the uprising against the Syrian regime started, the PYD saw its interest in benefitting from the weakness of the regime in order to organize people democratically in Rojava and the big cities of Syria. In the first months, the aim was to develop the self defense capacity as it was difficult to foresee further developments against the Baath regime as well as against the armed reactionary opposition. In the following months the revolutionary movement had been organized as TEV-DEM which apart from PYD included dozens of social organizations and people from the growing people’s councils all over Rojava. The Barzani-linked ENKS, the conservative Kurdish party bloc in Rojava, remained weak while TEV-DEM became the main player in Rojava. In spring 2012 when it was clear that the war is intensifying, the preparation for the liberation of Rojava started. The movement needed to be ready for the right moment.

TEV-DEM was faced with two basic decisions: Either Rojava will be defended by its own forces or it had to be given up. The second outcome would mean that other forces like the ENKS and/or the reactionary Syrian opposition would control Rojava.

Rojava was more difficult to defend than other parts of Kurdistan. On the level of terrain, the area is mainly flat and spread out. Furthermore, many international and regional powers had armed many warring forces in Syria. The unarmed democratic groups in Syria and the TEV-DEM, on the other hand, had no support from abroad. TEV-DEM had declared it a duty to defend Rojava, otherwise it would be a great setback for the KFM in all parts of Kurdistan. The point was to defend this revolution and to learn lessons from former revolutions in the world.

With the beginning of the successful liberation of Rojava’s towns in July 2012, the attacks against the area grew stronger. First, it was some FSA groups and Al-Nusra Front which could be defeated by the YPG (People’s Defense Units) and YPJ (Women’s Defense Units). Then came ISIS (later IS), and at first, from summer 2013 until May 2014, could be defeated as well. But with the occupation of Mosul IS had grew so strong to challenge even state armies. The Baath regime also attacked Rojava at times, motivated by the Iranian regime.

Currently the biggest threat to this region is the Turkish army which has been launching attacks since October 2015 almost daily at the borders and on the front lines. In fact, all of the regional and international powers had no interest in seeing an independent and democratic force in Syria become strong, this includes western states, which just ignored TEV-DEM, and Russia which met with TEV-DEM, but with no common goals. Even Turkey, Syria and Iran met with TEV-DEM politicians (later the Democratic Self-Administration (DSA) founded in January 2014 as a democratic enlargement), but with the sole aim to incorporate it into their own bloc.

In the summer of 2014 IS was at the peak of its power. The world was shocked and considered it a new major threat. This was the case in the Middle East as well as in the rest of the world. This was also the time when forces of the KFM were resisting against IS in Şengal, the main settlement of the Kurdish Ezidis in Başur. In the beginning of August 2014 both the PKK and YPG/YPJ rescued up to 80.000 Ezidis and prevented a bigger genocide – it was not the “international community” that saved these people, but those who who were till then either considered “terrorists” or ignored. From that moment, the perception of the Kurds in general, particularly of Rojava and the PKK started to change. A US led global coalition against IS was formed, at first focused only on Iraq.

Then, the large IS attack on Kobanî happened in September 2014. The Kurds resisted with whatever they had. Tens of thousands of people in Bakur gathered continuously at the border to Kobanî in order to show solidarity and protest Turkish states support for the IS. Around a thousand crossed the border to fight the IS. Because of the global IS threat and the successful resistance in Şengal the international media were also present at the border. Never before did the Kurds get so much attention. They were recognized not only as suffering, but rather as resisting. Kobanî was now well known and well seen worldwide.

The resistance was strong, but it was not enough in the face of IS. Because of the Turkish embargo, the YPG/YPJ from Cizîre, the biggest region in Rojava, could not join the resistance. If that was not the case, there would have been a balance of forces and international support would not have been necessary.

During the first days of October 2014 the US publicly declared that it could see no hope, even if it was already bombing IS in parts of Syria. A few days later, the US started to bomb IS systematically in and around Kobanî city. The resistance in Kobanî, a big uprising in Bakur/Turkey and the global public request for Kobanî support were the main driving factors for that. This intervention in Kobanî started under specific political conditions and it was not clear how long it will last. Only after that, did serious negotiations happen.

Motivations for the US and Syrian Kurds

On the short-term, the main motivation for the US was seeing that the defeat of IS in Kobanî would be very beneficial for their own strategy in Syria and Iraq. Indeed, Kobanî became IS’ Stalingrad. For the revolution of Rojava the defense of Kobanî was crucial, otherwise it could be marginalized in Syria. This is how two forces opposed ideologically ended up having the same short term interests.

The bombing of IS gave the US a strong partner in Syria. This comes after the US along with Turkey and some of the Gulf states had been supporting armed opposition groups. These groups however, were unable to overthrow the regime and were becoming weaker, or becoming more and more extreme in their Islamic ideology. Furthermore, these groups were less committed to their western sponsors and more to Turkey and the Gulf sponsors, which the US saw with suspicion. This is why a cooperation with the YPG/YPJ promised to give the US more influence in Syria and having an active role in designing a new Syria.

In the beginning of the military cooperation the USA planned to subordinate Rojava militarily to the government of Başur. The notes of the talks on March 14, 2015 between several HDP (People’s Democratic Party) parliamentarians and the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan state that the US exercised pressure on the YPG/YPJ to accept to be part of the PDK-Peshmerga commando structure, and that Öcalan took position against that. This did not happen, but the cooperation continued.

There are certainly other long-term motivations for the US to start the military cooperation with YPG/YPJ/SDF. One is to come back to the Middle East political scene and appear as a positive force after the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan which turned the US into an unwanted force in almost all Muslim majority countries.

This military engagement also served to limit the influence of Iran in Iraq which increased especially in the years until 2014. This became yet more important after Trump was elected.

Another reason is pressuring the Turkish government which has been moving away from its western allies in the last years. Turkey, has been trying to benefit from the conflicts between different powers, particularly the US and Russia to increase its influence in the Middle East. The support for Al Nusra and IS was part of this strategy while bypassing the embargo on Iran. For several years, the NATO has looked at these actions with suspicion. Turkey’s main concern in its international policies are the Kurds.

Furthermore, the US has actively supported the big parties PDK and YNK (PUK) in Başur since 1991 which led to a status of autonomy. There were expectations, among others, that the two parties would dominate the three other parts of Kurdistan and push back the KFM. But they failed. Instead, their corruption pushed Başur into a big economic and political crisis. Also, the PDK has been influenced by Turkey’s policies, especially by the sale of oil through Turkish pipelines.

Öcalan’s vision, on the other hand, is an inspiration for a new inclusive and democratic approach. Democratic Confederalism is the most powerful democratic concept in the Middle East. Millions of people in Bakur and Rojava had the possibility of experiencing it. Successful coalitions for democracy are formed with Turks, Arabs, Assyrians and others.

Neither the western states nor the Russian-Chinese block can propose anything to the multidimensional crisis of the Middle East – they are out of ideas. The discussion is almost only about “defeating terrorists, stability and building walls against refugees”.

The US wants to instrumentalize the KFM for its own interests either by taming the whole KFM or by disconnecting Rojava from the rest of the KFM. This could be done by offering more military support and international political support in exchange for promises of a strong political status within Syria if the DFNS would distance itself from Öcalan, and reject the KFM in Bakur (and the PKK), while giving more space to the PDK of Barzani and the YNK. However, since the beginning of the military cooperation in October 2014, there has not been much change in the balance of power and dependency between the two.

It would be much harder for the SDF to defend its territory without American military cooperation. The DFNS would be more vulnerable to attacks from Turkey and the Syrian regime, now that IS in no longer an existential threat. Now the SDF have much more fighters, technical capacities, motivations and thus a higher defense capacity, even if they had been defending their territory before US support.

Russia’s cooperation

The DFNS has important relations with Russia too, since 2012. Russia’s has multiple interests in this relationship, including that the SDF not deepen its military cooperation with the US.

For Russia this limited cooperation with the SDF can be used against Turkey, and the same goes for the US. While Turkey wanted to overthrow the Baath regime in the first years of the Syrian uprising, since 2016 it focuses almost only on limiting the growing power of the new democratic project in Rojava/Northern Syria. This approach of the Turkish government gives Russia the opportunity to play on the Turkish fears.

Having strong political-economic-military relations with Turkey, Russia allowed the Turkish army to invade the triangle region between Jarablus, Al-Bab and Azaz in Northern Syria, in return Turkey cut the support for armed groups in Aleppo. This invasion disconnected Kobanî and Afrîn. And with the Turkish army in Syria, Russia can exercise pressure on the SDF. This is the case especially around Afrîn, the site of the Turkish assault and where Russia has observation points it uses against both Turkey and SDF.

Russia has also been trying to seek an agreement between the growing DFNS and the Baath regime. The DFNS have repeatedly declared that they seek a strategic agreement with the Syrian regime which would make Syria democratic and federal. It has become public that the two sides have met several times. In these meetings, the Syrian regime was only ready to accept cultural rights for Kurds and a strengthening of municipalities, while the DFNS insisted that the reality of a broad democracy in Northern Syria and a basic democratization of Syria as a whole will be accepted. However, at the end of October 2017 the Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid Muallim, said that negotiations about autonomy for the Kurdish regions can be discussed, a surprising development. But this is a dangerous and unacceptable proposal because it would divide the Kurdish and Arabic regions. Here the DFNS is in a more advantageous situation and continues to insist to be accepted by the Baath regime as a federal region.

The DFNS considers its relations with Russia beneficial in several terms. One objective is to limit the attacks by the Turkish state against the SDF liberated territories. Another objective is to use Russia’s influence to pressure the Syrian regime to negotiate a democratic solution and include the DFNS in the international negotiations to end the armed conflict in Syria. The third objective is not to deepen the relations with the US and benefit from the conflicting interests of the two international and regional powers. However, both states have in their international policies the interest to stay in contact or even to develop ties with the Kurds which now includes also the KFM – even if it is tactical.

Characteristics of the cooperation

The military cooperation has often characterized by tensions. One big controversial discussion was over Minbiç (Manbij) which the SDF wanted liberated while the USA focused on Raqqa. The SDF launched its operation in Minbiç anyway without American support, and was already in the outskirts of the city when the US gave support to the operation, and finally achieving its goal on August 12, 2016. This case shows that the cooperation between the SDF and the US is not one-sided.

When at the end of August 2016, the Turkish army moved to occupy Jarablus, the SDF tried to reach the city and strike back at the Turkish army by pushing out IS from the south. Although the Turkish army suffered losses, it could take over Jarablus city while IS retreated within one day without fighting. Several days later a de-facto ceasefire between the SDF and the Turkish army was negotiated by the Americans and came into effect. But with the American support of the Turkish invasion, the coordination between the SDF and the US fell into crisis for several weeks.

Nonetheless, the SDF was able to resist quite successfully against the moving Turkish troops around Al-Bab. The fight only ended when Russia and the US sent soldiers to the front around Minbic.

The number of US soldiers in Northern Syria should not be exaggerated as they are not fighting on the ground, except in Raqqa city. They are however involved in training and coordination of arriving military equipment.

One month before the liberation of Raqqa, the SDF started the “Cizîre storm” operation to liberate the whole region east of the Euphrates river in the Deir Ez-Zor province. The SDF commanders stated that they were going to carry the operation even if the Americans were opposed to it because it was urgent: the Syrian army was progressing quickly towards Deir Ez-Zor city. The operation was successful.

Although there is military cooperation between the SDF and the US led Global Anti-IS Coalition, it is not possible to speak about a political cooperation. The US makes a clear distinction between the political and military dimension and have not insisted that the DFNS is part of the Geneva negotiations. Although the US government refused public accusations by Turkey that the YPG are terrorists using American weapons that will eventually fall in the hands of the PKK, it has never said anything positive in public about the political process in Rojava/Northern Syria. Until now, no leading figure from the DFNS or SDF was allowed to visit the US.

Although the military relationship with Russia is much less developed than with the US, politically Russia gave more direct and positive statements about the Syrian Kurds and the DFNS. For example in the beginning of 2017 Russia prepared a draft for a new constitution which included that Kurds should be involved in the international negotiations. Just recently Russia announced a “people’s congress of Syria” to which the PYD/Kurds would be invited.

Background of the war

The KFM says that what is happening in the Middle East is the Third World War with Syria at the very center, and there are three main forces: first is international imperialism represented mainly by the US and Russia ; second is the regional status quo powers with Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia as the main players with imperialist characteristics ; and third is the revolutionary and democratic forces led by the Rojava Revolution and the PKK. These three forces are fighting among one another and the result is complicated with continuously changing coalitions and armed conflicts. Each force develops relations with those who seem to be opposed to the enemy, in order to achieve their strategic interests.

This is related to the deep and structural crisis of capitalism experienced violently in the Middle East. It is not enough to have an ideological and political approach as many leftist and socialist organizations do, rather an organizational and military approach is crucial. Without being dogmatic, it is necessary to fight against threats, but also to be able to restructure one’s organization according to the conditions and to understand the dynamics and contradictions of other players in order to be able to benefit from them. The goal must be to defend the gains and build a strong self-organized society wherever it is possible to strengthen one’s own power. The creation of zones of freedom is not only possible with friendly forces. A dogmatic position will lead to the defeat, so each step needs to be calculated well, particularly for the Kurds who have been colonized by four nation-states. Because the KFM acts on this approach since its foundation, it could achieve the current level of strength. The stakes are high: either the forces of imperialism and capitalism win, or a new space for freedom is forged for humanity in the region, and this is why international and regional powers are fighting so violently to preserve the status quo.

The people in Rojava

Irrespective of all developments and discussions it is important to see how the military cooperation with the US affects the society of Rojava. There are two main questions. First, how do political activists and the population consider this military cooperation. And whether and how the economic-political-cultural structures have experienced any changes through this cooperation.

Between February and March 2017 I held around 50 interviews with political activists and people from different administrative bodies on their political work and the political-social situation. Apart from one person, no one regarded the military cooperation without any concerns. The interviewees said mostly that this cooperation has come up because of difficult conditions – particularly in Kobanî – and numerous enemies, but does not include a political dimension. For them the US is cooperating for its own interests and the cooperation is a tactical one. There was a clear awareness that the revolution should not rely on this military cooperation which could end at any time, but should try to benefit from it. The same goes for Russia. These were important answers based on a critical perception and far-sightedness. Activists continue to develop and deepen their political work and insist on a strongly self-organized society. I observed that in Rojava a self-organized and self-sufficient society includes more and stronger communes, people’s councils and other political structures, a communal economy which produces its own needs as much as possible, an independent education and health system and self-defense in all neighborhoods, communes and villages. This approach is connected to a 40 year experience of the KFM which never depended on any other political power. In the general political discussions, the military cooperation with the US was seldom a subject.

Like other political and social structures, the press of Rojava does not put the military cooperation in the center of the news. Rather the focus is on the political project of democratic federalism/autonomy, defense, liberation, the building of new structures in society and public demonstrations.

I met few people who expressed a big expectation from the US. The silence of the USA/NATO states when the Iraqi Army attacked Kirkuk after the referendum in Başur in September 25, 2017 has confirmed that a critical approach is crucial.

The efforts to build up communes everywhere never ceased after the start of the military cooperation with the US; rather the number of communes doubled. Also the creation of cooperatives continued; today there are a few hundred of cooperatives. The democratic-communal economy continues to be developed. The anti-capitalist mentality was stronger in 2017 than in 2014 when I traveled for the first time to Rojava.

In discussions with YPG and YPJ members there was not much attached value on the relations with the US: it certainly provided more military equipment, but the human is always the strongest weapon in a war.

A member of the YPG, who is in direct relations with commanders in all areas, told me that the US military never tried to impose anything directly or tried to intervene in the political-social-economic model or life because they are aware that the SDF and DFNS would never accept any kind of intervention in their internal policies. He also emphasized that they are prepared for an end of the military cooperation with the US Army at any time. According to him the cooperation has some serious advantages, but has also risks. Particularly to get used to the US support over time is a risk which needs to be discussed permanently, thus the YPG has to take measures. Another challenge is that because of the US presence within Syria the disputes with the Syrian regime should not end up in a big war because the DFNS wants to come to a mutual and respectful agreement with the Ba’ath regime.

About whether the SDF coordination has fears that the cooperation could change the interest and political vision of the fighters, he said: “We believe that we have a strong political project with Democratic Confederalism which is an inspiring tool for us. What kind of ideas offer does the US or other states offer to us? We have a stronger democracy which is direct and inclusive and a gender liberation in rapid development. Most importantly, we have a vision for a new life for the people of the greater region. What the capitalist states have, is money, weapons and democracy in structural crisis, not more.”

I spoke to dozens of international volunteers who are still coming to join the Rojava revolution, mainly from Europe or North America. Most had a positive position on the development in Northern Syria and wanted to stay longer and learn how people organize themselves, discuss and share what they have.

The many internationalists do not consider the military cooperation between SDF and USA as an obstacle for their engagement in Northern Syria. There are at least several hundred internationalists, not counting the Arabs, Turks and other people of the Middle East. This fact should be considered when people only see the cooperation with the US and neglect all the other deep revolutionary and social developments in Northern Syria.

But if the US ends the military cooperation without any peace agreement for Syria, the SDF controlled territory would be more vulnerable to big military attacks from the Turkish army and the Syrian regime. This would mean a new intensification of the whole Syrian conflict with an unclear outcome. Furthermore, the continuing cooperation could develop over time into a dependency of the DFNS/SDF on the US due to deteriorating conditions in Northern Syria.

The risks of the military cooperation with the US are debated openly. And the population understands the positive and negative sides which creates a sort of immunity against dependency.

Another mechanism against dependency is to benefit from the contradictions between all powers involved in the Syrian war. For instance by maintaining relations with Russia which is interested to have relations with the Kurds in Syria and Iraq for its own long-term interests.

For the KFM it was possible to survive within the Syrian war thanks to the “revolutionary diplomacy”, while developing a new political model, first in Rojava and then in other parts of Northern Syria. The revolutionary diplomacy includes permanent evaluation in order to see upcoming risks as well as initiatives to be active in these political and military cooperations.

Another important mechanism – of course also a principle – is to develop the international solidarity with the revolution of Rojava and in general with the KFM, for instance with the internationalists who would transfer the revolution to their countries, or the continuous political work on international level. The resistance in Kobanî has created a solidarity movement worldwide, but it is not strong enough. International solidarity should not be underestimated as anti-revolutionary forces lobby against the revolution at all stages. Only a strong international solidarity – also in the Middle East – with this revolution will make the revolutionaries less dependent on military cooperations with the US.

If the revolution of Rojava would fail, this would probably be a setback for democratic and revolutionary forces in Kurdistan, Syria and also the Middle East and the world. Its survival and development, however, has the big potential to change the mindsets of millions of people in Middle East.

Related Link:…ojava


Review: Anarchist Encounters. Russia in Revolution

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 22:17


by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.

Anarchist Encounters. Russia in Revolution. Edited by A.W. Zurbrugg (London: Anarres Editions -Merlin Press, 2017)

With the occasion of the recent centenary of the Russian Revolution of October, 1917, Anthony Zurbrugg has edited a wonderful contribution to our understanding of those turbulent times. As the revolution turned into a bitter civil war, exacerbated by the blockade of Soviet Russia by the allies of the Entente –mostly France, Britain and the US-, news of what was really going on in Russia were scarce. While the bourgeois press published horror stories, the left-wing movements associated to the Bolshevik movement reproduced propaganda documents which idealised everything Soviet. It was only in 1920 that it became possible for foreigners to visit the Soviet Union, and many unionists and revolutionaries from all over the world did so in order to offer they support and to witness the revolution with their very own eyes. The trip was not easy: often the travellers would be arrested by the countries of the so-called “free world” on their way in or out of the Soviet Union. However the hardships of such a trip, the testimonies left by these visitors give us an invaluable insight into the revolution as it developed, its complexities, hardship, difficulties, achievements and disappointments.

Bringing to life a world in revolution

What we found in this collection of reports put together by Zurbrugg, are testimonies written by anarchists who visited the USSR in the crucial years of 1920-1921, in a period in which still the majority of the anarchist movement supported the Bolsheviks, being oblivious (or in denial) of the suppression of the anarchists which started in 1918 and knowing little or nothing about the Makhnovist movement in the Ukraine. In short, these testimonies constitute a most valuable collection of encounters with the realities of an authoritarian revolution by libertarians. Many of these testimonies are available here for the first time in English, such as those written by Vilkens, Ángel Pestaña, Armando Borghi and Gastón Leval. The lengthy document by Emma Goldman, The Crushing of the Russian Revolution, had been published by Freedom Press in London in 1922 and it has been, as far as I am aware, unavailable since. These witnesses, are quite extraordinary figures. The Asturias born Manuel Fernández Alvar, aka Vilkens, to give but one example, went to Russia in 1920 to fight in the Red Army, but growing increasingly critical was arrested between October and November 1920, and then allowed to leave for France. He would die eventually in 1936 fighting fascism in Spain, in the defence of Guadarrama. Informed by these encounters, a critical stance of the international anarchist movement started to develop, as put succinctly by Vilkens: ‘The Russian revolution proves undeniably, against the opinion of reformists, that the capitalist class is not needed at all, that it is a parasite that society can do without. And here we are in agreement with the communists, except that the latter wish to impose a transitional regime which will make them the profiteers of the revolution while we do not expect anything for our own particular benefit and fight for the people themselves to benefit from the revolution’ (p.67).

Let us acknowledge that, like any testimony, these are highly subjective. It is also true that given these testimonies were written in 1920-1921, we miss an important element of the whole picture: they can’t tell us in what ways society actually did change in the period 1917-1920, because none of them was a witness to pre-revolutionary Russia nor to the first years of the revolutionary upheaval -the only Russian in this collection, Goldman, had left Russia in 1885 when she was a teenager. However, this is compensated with a wealth of information they provide about the day to day hardships of ordinary people and their impressions on the political realities of a society in revolution. They bring to life this fateful period with vivid snapshots. These testimonies are well-informed. All of the contributors spent months and even years in the land of the Soviets. None of them was hostile at first. All of them travelled to support the revolution and evaluate ways to defend it and expand it. Some of them had travelled to the International Congress of Unions of July 1920, as representatives of their own organisations, at a time when the Third International was coming into being. It was after their encounter with the harsh realities of post-revolutionary Russia, that they developed a critical stance. At first, however, most of them yearned intimately to be wrong when confronted with the evidence of the bureaucratic and despotic turn of the revolution. ‘How I would have preferred to be mistaken!’, thought Pestaña, ‘How I wold have preferred that this could be nothing but the workings of a fevered imagination, driven by the prejudice that might influence me driven by life under capitalism!’ (p.73). It is perhaps the fact that they had come with hopes and expectations what made their clash with reality the bitterer. And yet, in spite of their bitter disappointment, they still made efforts to be as balanced as possible, sometimes bordering on the pathetic, like Vilkens defending the Cheka of the accusations of torture in the international press: ‘Yet it is wrong to say that torture is employed by the Cheka. It executes easily, judges without guarantees, commits all sorts of injustices in the name of the proletariat, but as for torture, nothing would be so untrue. Bourgeois spies invent that. The Cheka is odious enough just as it is. It is the White armies that carry out savage mutilations and executions among the communists and the people’ (p.56).

The problem of creating a new society in the shell of the old

The value of these testimonies, above all, is that they are a reminder of the enormous difficulties of changing society, forcing us to put some more thought into general problems which are found in any revolutionary situation. No revolutionaries ever chose the conditions under which they will do the revolution and often they have had to work in exceedingly difficult circumstances of famine, civil war, embargoes, blockade, as the anarchist would found twenty years later in Spain. But the context of revolutionaries influences outcomes in other ways. Inasmuch as most revolutionaries want to also change radically society, there is never a blank slate in which to start putting into practice their social projects: they have soaked in values of the dominant society, they have to build a new world when the structures of the old permeate culture, communities, infrastructure, and institutions of all sorts. In spite of the claim that the Bolshevik revolution stamped out the last vestiges of the Czar’s regime, many of the testimonies here point at the continuities between the old regime and the new regime after the revolution. Most of these continuities referred to State structures, but also to political, community and class dynamics –here we find early critiques on how elements of the old regime managed to thrive and reproduce socially their privileged status through the bureaucratic structures of the State, a problem faced not only by radical revolutions, but also by reformist attempts elsewhere. Years later, Charles Bettelheim –who most certainly wasn’t an anarchist- would explore in detail this process in his famous Class Struggles in the USSR(Monthly Review Press, 1976). To what a degree the Bolsheviks reproduced the dominant ideology of the old regime, and how their ways aped the ways of the autocracy, is reflected here in an anecdotal fashion: following the official fashion of naming everything through acronyms, people in Russian cities derided the Sov-bourg, or the Soviet Bourgeoisie, that is, commissars, bureaucrats and technocrats, together with the Sod-Koms, or the mistresses of the commissars, many of whom came actually from the old aristocracy (p.36).

The international arena as a straight-jacket

Another big problem which revolutionaries have encountered time and again lies in the international arena, where often they found themselves surrounded by reactionary regimes, such as the Holy Alliance in the 18th century against French Revolution, and the Entente and its criminal blockade of Russia in 1920. These regimes are bent on isolating, invading, strangling, starving and smothering the revolution, thus making it non-viable and avoiding its spread to their own realms. The role of the Western capitalist countries in relation to the Russian tragedies and the famine of the early years of the revolution has been largely white-washed in mainstream historical accounts, in which they single-out the Bolshevik policy as sole responsible of this most dreadful body-count. The testimonies in this book put the record straight. The veteran anarchist Pyotr Kropotkin, in a private conversation with Goldman, in which she asked why he hadn’t denounced the arbitrary nature of the Bolshevik rule, confessed that ‘so long as Russia was being attacked by the combined imperialists of Europe, and Russian women and children were starved to death by the criminal blockade, he could not join the shrieking chorus of the ex-revolutionists in the cry of “Crucify!”’ (p.139). The Spanish anarcho-syndicalist Pestaña, while acknowledging the many faults of the Bolsheviks, also lashed out against the criminal behaviour of the West in outrage:

We refuse to hold them responsible for all the evils that afflict the Russian people. In saying so we proceed with the same candour that we used in rejecting and challenging the political procedures and sophistries that the Bolsheviks deployed to seize and remain in power. Yes, they are partly responsible, but for the smallest part, we must add from the off.
Material responsibility for all the miseries we witnessed in the seventy days we spent in Russia, falls as an affront, a stigma and a terrible accusation against Europe’s governments and bourgeoisie (…) One must absolve the Bolsheviks of this sin. They have enough faults already on their conscience as socialists and as actors in the drama of the dawning of a new world, without also burdening them with ones they did not commit, and sins for which they cannot be held responsible
’ (p.10-11)

The Kurdish in Rojava have found this same problem –as they have fought to create a new world based on the principles of freedom, autonomy and equality, they have faced a fierce reaction by the most conservative elements of the region, as well as the active military opposition of the Turkish State. But the international arena poses another most subtle problem which has massive repercussions for the organisation of a new and revolutionary society. As no nation can survive on its own in a world interconnected as this in which we live in, the relations to a world still organised in the form of conventional Nation-States poses enormous challenges for revolutionaries. The Kurdish of Rojava, for instance, in order to dialogue with the outside world, had to develop democratic autonomous administrations which mirrors more traditional representative administration, with its parliament, parties and ministers. Although this system has been described as transitional and it runs in parallel to the more direct-democracy oriented council network, it still imposes limitations to the ability of the revolutionaries to change radically their society. These objectives difficulties cannot be overstated and any serious movement aiming at changing society need to factor them in.

The thin-line that divides defence of the revolution from repression

Other immense problem for revolutions is posed by privileged sectors of society, even sectors of the subordinate classes enjoying meagre and very relative privileges: since times immemorial some sectors of the oppressed have been used by those in power to oppose other oppressed. How to proceed, as anarchists, with sectors who, without being part of the dominant classes still want to keep a privileged position in relation to other oppressed groups? Coercion, a fundamental fact in social life, has been always elusive in anarchist thinking, although revolution, as such, is a coercive action by definition –the suppression of some sectors of society, no matter it is made in the name of justice and freedom, is not a sweet affair. An example of this problem is explored in the testimonies of Pestaña, who discusses the situation of the anti-Bolshevik (and presumably anti-revolutionaries) Tula munitions factories’ workers, who had staged a strike shortly before he had visited them, which had been crushed with a great deal of ruthlessness by the Bolsheviks. His testimony, though short, is full of insights to feed into broader debates around these issues:

It should be pointed out –always in the interest of fullest impartiality and so that readers’ judgment is not distorted- that the sentences passed on these strikers (…) to us (…) seemed harsh and disproportionate, the strike was unjustified; furthermore at that moment it had counter-revolutionary consequences. Tula munition workers (…) enjoyed benefits and privileges not enjoyed by workers elsewhere. And these privileges were respected by the Soviet Government, inasmuch as was appropriate and possible (…) So (…) being in a superior position as compared to other workers all over Russia, what could justify a call to strike? Moreover, there was another factor that made the circumstances of this strike all even more tragic.
(…) Workers decided to declare a strike and stage a conflict in these workshops at the very moment when the whole world was anticipating the threat of a Polish invasion of Russia. Such a strike would leave the Red Army defenceless against the enemy, would it not? (…) the declaration of a strike might have led to an invasion by reactionary armies.
’ (p.70-71)

This testimony shows how bluntly real life puts to test the lofty theories and good intentions of genuine revolutionaries. No matter how reasonable the argument provided here, one may wonder if the Kronstadt workers and sailors weren’t accused in similar terms of potentially aiding even if involuntarily, the reactionary forces. Surely there were important differences –while the Kronstadt sailors and workers were actually defending the revolution and demanding an end to its bureaucratic deviations through a very practical programme elaborated in the original spirit of the Soviet system, the Tula workers seemed bent on gaining particular demands for themselves, placing their own relative privileges above the general needs of the bulk of the oppressed. However the historical verdict on this particular case, it proves that dealing with conflicting interests at a time of deep change, is always difficult and complex. No amount of well-meaning rhetoric can do away with this problem, and no one-size-fit-all solutions exist in order to deal with it either. Again, Vilkens summarises in powerful terms the difficulties faced by actual revolutions in terms of the thin line which divides defence of the revolution from repression, abuse and arbitrariness: ‘We do not believe that a revolution must be sweet and united, but what appears as unjustifiable and criminal is that it should be treated as an umbrella for all things’ (p.56).

History at the service of a better future

All in all, this is a highly recommended book which adds to the efforts being done by Anarres -Merlin Press, of making available to an English speaking audience a number of documents of the international anarchist movement which are rarely available in this language. However critical of the centralisation and the dictatorship of the single-party which developed in the USSR, these testimonies, as we have seen, are far from a black and white narrative. The narrative is complex, emotional but nuanced. If there is hurt and bitterness in these pages it is precisely because these are not detached observers. There is a rich texture here, in which the concerns of these militants, all committed to the revolution in their respective countries, comes up to the very forefront. They are just not observing events from a distance as train-spotters. They are thinking of what they can take with them to help them in their own revolutionary activities. They are trying to understand the events in Russia as a way to advance social transformation in their own contexts. It is with these eyes that contemporary activists should approach history in general and this book in particular. Almost a hundred years later, the voices of these anarchists still have a great contribution to make in the endeavour for a better future.

José Antonio Gutiérrez D.
25 January, 2018

We Will Breathe the Ashes of the Dead for the Rest of Our Lives

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 22:06

via Center for a Stateless Society

by William Gillis

Tuesday, as the world prepared to listen to the State of the Union, a small piece of news slunk out with horrifying implication. The Trump administration had withdrawn its pick for ambassador to South Korea, Victor Cha, after he privately expressed disagreement with a plan for a “limited strike” on North Korea.

This piece of news largely passed by unnoticed in the US, our media preoccupied with the FBI investigation into Trump and the daily circus of partisan conflict. But it is quite arguably the most blood chilling and stomach curdling development of the last year. It’s been widely reported that Trump is pressuring for a military strike on North Korea, over the objections of just about everyone in the military. But the implication has faded into the general miasma of surreality attached to the current administration, bigger buttons and all.

This move to drop an ambassador in favor of one on board with war would be so astonishingly reckless as means of signaling it suggests the administration is truly committed to military action — truly sees itself in the planning stages of a desired conflict. The tale of an embittered President under investigation seeking to distract and harness jingoistic approval by bombing a distant country is now almost a classic motif in US politics. But while Bill Clinton’s bombing of Afghanistan and Sudan were surely heinous, the prospect of an attack on North Korea occupies an entirely different dimension.

Beyond the nuclear warheads directly in play, beyond the risk of things spiraling out of control with The People’s Republic of China, there’s the simple fact that tens of millions of South Koreans sit under the guns of the North Korean regime. Seoul alone has a metro population of twenty five million. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed on the order of a couple hundred thousand, a crime that scarred generations; the catastrophe of an outright war on dense modern megacities like Seoul and Tokyo is unimaginable. Even the most fantastically conservative estimates of conflict with North Korea strain credulity to slide a death toll under a few million, and after the intial holocaust starry-eyed planners still talk of a conflict with only tens of thousands dead per day. There are fucking words for the scale of human suffering that is being casually gambled with.

One can list figures all one likes, one can point out that if the odds Trump starts a war are just 1/3rd that’s a roll of the dice where the payout likely averages to millions dead. No matter what you judge the risk of an full blown conflagration to be, it has become non-negligible, and must be multiplied by the scale of casualties. The human brain is poorly equipped to comprehend such statistics. Steve Bannon has talked of ten million dead. If you had but a fucking minute each to meet, to observe, to see rapid flashes of their lives, their loves and struggles, of every person in that number it would take you over nineteen sleepless years.

Gone in a matter of days. Gone because we remained worthlessly transfixed on the spectacle of a reality tv president. Can you imagine how generations to come — if, again, a conflict does not geopolitically spiral into a final cataclysm for the planet — will judge us in this moment? How will they look upon our inaction? The callousness of our audacity to dwell in shellshocked numbness? There will never be time enough to weep. We will never stop lining the museums of this holocaust.

If we allow Trump and Kim to achieve in an instant a scale of evil which took Stalin, Hitler, Leopold, Mao, and Churchill years we will never recover from it. We will live forever in the echo of the immensity of it. We will breathe the ashes of the dead for the rest of our lives.

Be assured, there will be no escaping this one. No consigning it beyond the reach of our cameras in the Congo or Java. No cute shell game to shuffle causation beyond our attention, to obfuscate systemic murder.

And the wound will cut across the entire world. You think the Syrian refugee crisis was bad? You think ecological collapse is proceeding at a breakneck pace now? You think current geopolitical developments are brutal?

That the world would finally come to unite against the thrashing rabid monster of American imperialism goes without saying, as does Trump’s ultimate fate. But it would dramatically empower many evils beyond Trump, beyond the long blood-drenched American empire and its establishment.

Those political movements most empowered will be the reactionaries of the left and right. No one will profit more than those leftists so inane and beyond redemption they already fly the flag of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The fiery cataclysm of war would consume not just the lives of those directly incinerated or ripped apart, but the memory of those already enslaved and murdered by the fascistic regime of the DPRK. A second slaughter, the sudden dismissal of generations of evil by the Kim regime into the margins of a new tale of sudden genocide. And in the billowing ashes it will be the fetishists of authoritarian communism — addicted to power fantasies and the aesthetic of mass graves — best positioned to seize the mantle of anti-imperialism. To speak for the dead, to paint the vampires of North Korea as Davids before Goliath. And who in the left will dare to tell the truth — that the fallen regime was itself an unimaginable blight — who will dare to tell the truth when it serves the “narrative” of Goliath? If history has shown anything it has shown that they will get away with it. There is no better way to paper over an atrocity than with another one.

And almost indistinguishable from these goblins is the alt-right. Richard Spencer has long flown the flags of his fellow ethnonationalists Assad and Kim, an orientation that smoothly lines up with the interests of his Russian patrons and allies. The alt-right has always known they would have to jump ship on Trump, they’ve been setting it up for ages, and the old paleoconservative pretenses of opposition to US imperialism are once again emerging in the platforms of literal fascists. Oh to be sure, Trump’s dumbass base will embrace anything that triggers the libs, including a Korean genocide, just as they delightedly shouted “nuke em till they glow” after September 11th. But just as with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, when the mistake becomes undeniable they will smoothly reposition themselves. No one on the right will have a better established narrative to justify and reframe their embrace of Trump than the literal fascists.

And in the background Russian and Chinese imperialism will delightedly expand to fill the crumbling edifice of American power, their own horrors from Chechnya and Tibet extended outward. A bloated empire riddled with resistance finally replaced in a fit of genocidal stupidity by upstart evils unburdened by as many contradictions. The US not finally overthrown by forces for liberation with their own strength and momentum, but collapsed around us like a rotting house.

If you are perverse enough to search for one in a Korean holocaust, rest assured, there are no silver linings.

Decency may eventually be rallied in the resulting ash-choked landscape, but if it comes it will not be as a result of such atrocity, but in spite of it.

Just as the bare minimum of conscience is not inaction but action, decency does not spring from passivity but active engagement.

Before such looming horror, we can feel powerless, mites condemned with awareness of the inexorably grinding gears around us. And there is a case to be made that — mites though we may be — throwing our bodies onto the gears of the war machine is the only conceivable way to retain our souls. For what are the lives of thousands of us in comparison to what is on the table?

That we must act is beyond question. But is there anything more insulting than a purely performative act?

History will not judge us for our ignorance, the inaccessibility of solid answers from our muddled state, but it will correctly judge us for our effort. It will ask why we could not bother to raise our eyes from the spectacle, could not look beyond the pressures of our immediate conflicts. It will demand to know how we could stare at an appreciable possibility of mass death and not do the fucking numbers.

It will view us as a man walking past a drowning child. Thousands of drowning children. Hundreds of thousands. Millions even. And it will know our true values. No bracelet, no performance of abnegation disconnected from consequence, will eclipse that reality.

There is much we do not know, the future is always unwritten. But there is no such thing as moral luck. Those with the benefit of historical distance will examine us not in light of what they know, but in light of what we know today. The problem isn’t that a war is certain, it’s that we have let it get on the table.

Almost any price is worth paying for even a sliver of a chance to stop this possibility. If we cannot find things to do with such a sliver of a chance then it is on us to search for them. Not to settle for performance. There are no easy answers, no easy retreats, that will wipe away this blood. What is demanded of us is immense. We must not hide from it.

I cannot tell you in these pages what to do. In part because speech is not free in this country and any urge to meaningfully resist evil risks getting you swiftly imprisoned. But also because I know that I do not know and cannot know the best means of resistance. Answers if they are to be found will be made by individuals looking around, each from their own unique vantagepoints, finding creative actions, ingenious ways to attack and derail the train of death.