Franklin Rosemont 1943-2009

I paste below an anonymous obituary of Franklin Rosemont. I didn’t know Franklin well, but always liked running into them at the Ennui cafe in Rogers Park, where we and others would sit all afternoon pursuing our various enthusiasms. I was reminded of what we’re all about as I paused from Capital v.1 to turn and see them at their table, doodling and writing surrealist poems.

Also, check out this great essay (thanks to D. Finkel for mentioning this!) of Franklin’s, “Karl Marx and the Iroquois” –
http://www.geocities.com/cordobaka/marx_iroquois.html

Franklin Rosemont

Date: 13 April 2009

Franklin Rosemont, celebrated poet, artist, historian, street speaker, and surrealist activist, died Sunday, April 12 in Chicago. He was 65 years old. With his partner and comrade, Penelope Rosemont, and lifelong friend Paul Garon, he co-founded the Chicago Surrealist Group, an enduring and adventuresome collection of characters that would make the city a center for the reemergence of that movement of artistic and political revolt. Over the course of the following four decades, Franklin and his Chicago comrades produced a body of work, of declarations, manifestos, poetry, collage, hidden histories, and other interventions that has, without doubt, inspired an entirely new generation of revolution in the service of the marvelous.

Franklin Rosemont was born in Chicago on October 2, 1943 to two of the area’s more significant rank-and-file labor activists, the printer Henry Rosemont and the jazz musician Sally Rosemont. Dropping out of Maywood schools after his third year of high school (and instead spending countless hours in the Art Institute of Chicago’s library learning about surrealism), he managed nonetheless to enter Roosevelt University in 1962. Already radicalized through family tradition, and his own investigation of political comics, the Freedom Rides, and the Cuban Revolution, Franklin was immediately drawn into the stormy student movement at Roosevelt.

Looking back on those days, Franklin would tell anyone who asked that he had “majored in St. Clair Drake” at Roosevelt. Under the mentorship of the great African American scholar, he began to explore much wider worlds of the urban experience, of racial politics, and of historical scholarship—all concerns that would remain central for him throughout the rest of his life. He also continued his investigations into surrealism, and soon, with Penelope, he traveled to Paris in the winter of 1965 where he found André Breton and the remaining members of the Paris Surrealist Group. The Parisians were just as taken with the young Americans as Franklin and Penelope were with them, as it turned out, and their encounter that summer was a turning point in the lives of both Rosemonts. With the support of the Paris group, they returned to the United States later that year and founded America’s first and most enduring indigenous surrealist group, characterized by close study and passionate activity and dedicated equally to artistic production and political organizing. When Breton died in 1966, Franklin worked with his wife, Elisa, to put together the first collection of André’s writings in English.

Active in the 1960s with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the Rebel Worker group, the Solidarity Bookshop and Students for a Democratic Society, Franklin helped to lead an IWW strike of blueberry pickers in Michigan in 1964, and put his considerable talents as a propagandist and pamphleteer to work producing posters, flyers, newspapers, and broadsheets on the SDS printing press. A long and fruitful collaboration with Paul Buhle began in 1970 with a special surrealist issue of Radical America. Lavish, funny, and barbed issues of Arsenal/Surrealist Subversion and special issues of Cultural Correspondence were to follow.

The smashing success of the 1968 World Surrealist Exhibition at Gallery Bugs Bunny in Chicago announced the ability of the American group to make a huge cultural impact without ceasing to be critics of the frozen mainstreams of art and politics. The Rosemonts soon became leading figures in the reorganization of the nation’s oldest labor press, Charles H. Kerr Company. Under the mantle of the Kerr Company and its surrealist imprint Black Swan Editions, Franklin edited and printed the work of some of the most important figures in the development of the political left: C.L.R. James, Marty Glaberman, Benjamin Péret and Jacques Vaché, T-Bone Slim, Mother Jones, Lucy Parsons, and, in a new book released just days before Franklin’s death, Carl Sandburg. In later years, he created and edited the Surrealist Histories series at the University of Texas Press, in addition to continuing his work with Kerr Co. and Black Swan.

A friend and valued colleague of such figures as Studs Terkel, Mary Low, the poets Philip Lamantia, Diane di Prima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Dennis Brutus, the painter Lenora Carrington, and the historians Paul Buhle, David Roediger, John Bracey, and Robin D.G. Kelley, Rosemont’s own artistic and creative work was almost impossibly varied in inspirations and results. Without ever holding a university post, he wrote or edited more than a score of books while acting as a great resource for a host of other writers.

He became perhaps the most productive scholar of labor and the left in the United States. His spectacular study, Joe Hill: The I.W.W. and the Making of a Revolutionary Workingclass Counterculture, began as a slim projected volume of that revolutionary martyr’s rediscovered cartoons and grew to giant volume providing our best guide to what the early twentieth century radical movement was like and what radical history might do. His coedited volume Haymarket Scrapbook stands as the most beautifully illustrated labor history publication of the recent past. Indispensable compendiums like The Big Red Songbook, What is Surrealism?, Menagerie in Revolt, and the forthcoming Black Surrealism are there to ensure that the legacy of the movements that inspired him continue to inspire young radicals for generations to come. In none of this did Rosemont separate scholarship from art, or art from revolt. His books of poetry include Morning of the Machine Gun, Lamps Hurled at the Stunning Algebra of Ants, The Apple of the Automatic Zebra’s Eye and Penelope. His marvelous fierce, whimsical and funny artwork—to which he contributed a new piece every day—graced countless surrealist publications and exhibitions.

Indeed, between the history he himself helped create and the history he helped uncover, Franklin was never without a story to tell or a book to write—about the IWW, SDS, Hobohemia in Chicago, the Rebel Worker, about the past 100 years or so of radical publishing in the US, or about the international network of Surrealists who seemed to always be passing through the Rosemonts’ Rogers Park home. As engaged with and excited by new surrealist and radical endeavors as he was with historical ones, Franklin was always at work responding to queries from a new generation of radicals and surrealists, and was a generous and rigorous interlocutor. In every new project, every revolt against misery, with which he came into contact, Franklin recognized the glimmers of the free and unfettered imagination, and lent his own boundless creativity to each and every struggle around him, inspiring, sustaining, and teaching the next generation of surrealists worldwide.

Remembering Steffie Brooks

Yesterday there was a memorial for Steffie Brooks, a long-time activist and revolutionary, and member of Solidarity in NYC. About 200 folks attended, many current and more long-time comrades, as well as family members. I was impressed by how deeply Steffie’s integrity, honesty and commitments effected so many people. Below are some remarks I gave at the service. Steffie Brooks, Presente!

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Sadly, I didn’t know Steffie all that long. She joined Solidarity in the summer of 2007. Tough political experiences in another organization had made her a bit apprehensive about finding her political footing with us. But she was obviously excited to be back in a socialist group alongside comrades she’d known for decades, and eager to be engaged with younger and newer activists.

Steffie’s most impressive political quality was that she was a passionate full-timer. Many in our movement – including some of today’s younger activists who have yet to experience movements like those in the 60’s – succumb to the strains and demands of contemporary society and settle down in a niche. They dedicate themselves to an issue or campaign, and often do great work in them. But this specialization often comes at the cost of a narrowing of our horizons and a compartamentalized and semi-retired political life.

Not Steffie. She had the broad-mindedness of the best of revolutionaries. She was an ardent feminist, an anti-racist, and a peace activist. All fully and all at the same time. Steffie took her – and Solidarity’s – feminist politics seriously and she strongly defended women’s right to self-organization. She participated energetically in a Feminist Retreat in January 2008; she called on us to come out to the demonstrations against the verdict letting off the police who’d killed Sean Bell; and she was active in her neighborhood anti-war organization.

These were all equal and intersecting commitments for Steffie, which came together in her work on Cynthia McKinney’s Green Party Presidential campaign. Steffie presented an upbeat and thorough description of the potentials and shaping-up of the campaign at a meeting of our National Committee, and her observations contributed to Solidarity’s endorsement of it. Then she set to work organizing for the campaign in New York City and coordinating our support for it nationally.

One thing related to this campaign, and to Steffie’s character and her desire for political development –

Steffie – despite suffering the stress and pain of cancer – came out to New Brunswick, New Jersey in August to present a workshop on the elections at a large conference organized by Solidarity and other revolutionary organizations and collectives. She would simply not let her illness prevent her from campaigning before an audience of activists.

But the touching and amazing thing occurred afterward. She approached a few of us, asking how we thought things went, and how folks in the room took her remarks. She asked us how she might have done better, expressed things differently, or appealed more deeply to the participants. She had yet another quality of those we call “comrade” – a constant openness to learning from new experiences, and to improving ourselves.

My last long talk with Steffie was around Christmas, when she was in Lenox Hill Hospital. She was obviously weakening and I asked her about how she felt and what we could do to help. I was surprised that she just wanted to talk politics! She had me bring in the latest Solidarity discussion bulletins and wanted details on how our upcoming Convention was coming together. We discussed our views on different questions facing the organization. At a short pause in the conversation, she leaned back and said, “ah, John, I just don’t think I’ll be make it.” I was so impressed with her desire to keep up with and participate in the organization, given her limited abilities; and that a part of her even held out the hope that she’d recover enough to get to our Convention.

She was always there, a real full-time comrade, right in the thick of things. And her life and service to our movements will always nurture and inspire us.

It Can't Get Any Worse, Can It?

I first came to REALLY hate our Democratic senior senator from New York, Charles Schumer, for his ugly and belligerent conduct during the Waco hearings, where he berated Waco survivors as fools and liars and upheld the unquestionably righteous actions of the ATF, FBI, Janet Reno and the Clinton Administration. (I’m not a supporter of the Davidians or a militiaist or conspiracist. I just don’t like self-satisfied lying and bullying, and generally take the victims side when a government firebombs a bunch of kids.)

Schumer was then a rookie senator, but the Waco hearings helped establish him as a loyal defender of the cops and US imperialism forevermore.

Now Schumer and other leading members of the so-called progressive “lesser-evil” Party are at it again – this time justifying a much more horrendous assault and lending their approval to fanatical pro-Israel supporters who call for “wiping out” the Palestinians in Gaza.

At a rally in support of the criminal Israeli war at embassy in NYC this Sunday, Schumer gave us this all-time-awful little nugget – “Israel has sent phone text messages to Palestinians in Gaza saying, “Leave your homes, because there are weapons inside them.” What other country would do that?”

Do what?! Text us, saying “Get out, we’re bombing your building. If you and your family are murdered by our bomb, we will say we warned you and that you were either sheltering terrorists and being used as a human shield.”

Thanks for the notice. Oh, how civilized of Israel.

Well, I’d like to hope that not many would say that, Chuck; I’d like to think there might someday be countries that don’t spout lies about peace and freedom when, at the same time, they’re bombing schools and homes, murdering hundreds of civilians and shattering a whole society.
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At the risk of stirring up the online conspiracist community, there’s another sickening analogy between the atrocities committed in Gaza and Waco – in both cases, the aggressor revises history however which way it wishes to maintain its cause. So, gas bombs and grenades (ATF/FBI issued btw) were used to blow up the Davidian’s compound. Well, Chuck assures us that they started the Davidians started the fire themselves. (The evidence that suggests otherwise “goes missing”, as they say, and is never available for the hearings.)

Israel bombs Palestinian schools and homes. Well, that means, obviously, that weapons were stockpiled and fired from them. (Sometimes though, the aggressors slip on their story, and we should note these occasions – like recently when Olmert or somebody said a certain bombing was “a mistake”, with another Israeli official then using the ‘stockpiling/firing’ bullshit to immediately revise the official record and justify the murder.

Conscientious humans also retch when we hear the “human shield” stuff. Now, we all know that Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas on earth, effectively an open-air prison or refugee camp in the desert. Any military action anywhere there will kill civilians.
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Lastly, a comment on our movements and politics. One of most debilitating things about the Left these days is it’s “issue-basedness”; meaning, we all work in noble campaigns and sectoral struggles, but at a bigger level I think this compartmentalization of politics represents a real victory for the Right. I know we can’t imagine a hegemonic political justice movement out of thin air, but the lack of one is sorely felt these days.

We always talk about “connecting the issues” and it’s hard to do this as part of building effective campaigns that can win the partial victories we constantly need. For instance, say Schumer and some other ‘progressive friends of labor’ get behind the Employee Free Choice Act and actually do some work to really support it (far-fetched, I know). How do we build a movement around that issue – which we should do on some level – while at the same time maintaining that Schumer and Co. are not OUR ‘friends’, but are in fact liars, dangerous demagogues, and staunch defenders of the murderous imperialist ruling class?

That’s an open question.

One part of the answer is to go with where people in motion are at. Tens of thousands of Palestinian and Arab people and their allies here are organizing for an end to Israel’s war on Gaza. There are rallies and direct actions almost everyday in all major US cities. At a recent NYC demo, with thousands of Arab youth, I saw a lot of signs that read “??CHANGE??”, an obvious angry condemnation at Obama’s silence on/endorsement of Israel’s war. A comrade of mine poignantly said, “Well, here’s definitely a group for whom the Obama and Democratic Party honeymoon is over.”

Let’s take the gloves off, and say who these “progressives” really are. Betrayers of justice, and thereby our enemy. Let’s abolish that terrible title “lesser evil” – for people with principles and conscience, there is no “lesser” evil; it’s still plain evil folks.

The honeymoon should be over for all revolutionaries, and people of conscience. Like, yesterday.

On the Chicago Factory Sit-in by Nelson Lichtenstein and Christopher Phelps

The factory occupation by 200 workers at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago, Illinois, recalls one of the most storied moments in American history, when thousands of Depression-era workers took over their own workplaces, seeking union recognition and better wages.

The pivotal battle began on the morning of December 30, 1936, when shop activists shut down a General Motors factory in Flint, Michigan, to restore the jobs of three of their workmates fired by the company. From the windows, they sang in rowdy camaraderie:

When they tie the can to a union man,

Sit down! Sit down!

When they give him the sack, they’ll take him back

Sit down! Sit down!

When GM agreed to recognize the United Automobile Workers, all sorts of workplaces, from dime stores to shoe shops, caught the spirit. Pie bakers, seamen and movie projector operators sat down. Even before Flint, there had been occupation strikes at Hormel in Austin, Minnesota; Goodyear in Akron, Ohio; and Bendix in South Bend, Indiana. As often as not, they won.

There are big differences between those events and the occupation at Republic Windows and Doors. The Chicago workers already have a union. They seek severance pay, not a raise. Theirs is a protest, not a strike. Rather than disrupt production, they refuse to vacate a closed plant. And their numbers are minuscule in comparison to the half-million American workers who sat down in 1936 and 1937.

Some of the underlying issues, however, are the same: preservation of jobs, economic fairness and the meaning of democracy itself. Even if this occupation is quickly settled, it has exposed perfidy and dramatized justice, as did the sit-downs of the 1930s.

Factory occupations are rare because they violate the everyday laws of property, and for the most part American workers are law-abiding people.

They occur only when workers feel morally aggrieved, when they sense that ownership has itself violated the law, when the boss has become the outlaw in their eyes and in that of the community as well.

This was the case in the winter of 1936-37 when corporations such as GM and U.S. Steel defied the newly enacted Wagner Act, which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed to encourage labor unionism and raise purchasing power.

Just a couple of months before, tens of thousands of autoworkers poured out of factories to cheer Roosevelt as his motorcade made a slow tour of Flint and other industrial cities. “You voted New Deal at the polls and defeated the auto barons,” organizers told workers after FDR’s smashing re-election victory. “Now get a New Deal in the shop.”

Will history repeat itself? The Chicago factory occupiers, overwhelmingly Latino, don’t have much clout, but they rightly sense that the national mood is with them.

Just as FDR once told reporters, “If I worked in a factory, the first thing I would do is join a union,” so too has President-elect Barack Obama declared the Republic workers “absolutely right” in their quest for remuneration. More importantly, Obama observed that the Republic factory closure “is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.”

Indeed, it is not just that workers are suffering during a severe recession, but that the owners of capital, both large and small, are morally compromised in the crisis that besets the nation.

Bank of America, the giant lender, played a large role in the Republic factory closure when the bank, noting a decline in Republic’s sales, cut off the company’s line of credit. In normal times, this would have been considered prudent banking practice, but just last month Bank of America received $25 billion in a financial bailout meant to keep loans and credit flowing.

But Main Street managers have dirty hands as well. According to the union, the owners of Republic Windows and Doors failed to give their workers a legally required 60-day notice that they would close. And the Chicago Tribune reports that in the weeks before the factory shutdown, people with apparent ties to Republic formed a corporation that bought a similar plant in western Iowa.

It is hardly surprising that Republic’s workers have laid temporary claim to the factory in which some have given decades of their lives. Its owners and creditors have forfeited their own claims, both moral and legal, to rightful stewardship.

As Sen. Robert Wagner said in response to the 1937 sit-downs, “The uprising of the common people has come, as always, only because of a breakdown in the ability of the law and our economic system to protect their rights.”

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Nelson Lichtenstein and Christopher Phelps.

[this was originally posted at CNN.

Capitalist Absurdity of the Week #2 - Well, of course, the meltdown, "regulation" etc.

In various ways, millions of people are registering their rejection of the proposed $700-billion-plus bailout plan to temporarily save capitalism. Whatever the ostensible arguments put forward from the hallowed halls of Capitol Hill, the obvious ‘hump’ Congress cannot climb over is that they’re collectively terrified of returning to their districts and states to campaign for re-election after have approved such an clear swindle of the majority of us.

With almost every hour, the criminal venality of Washington and Wall Street is exposed in new aspects. Lessons are being learned by many of the toilers, and the false shroud of legitimacy that cloaks this system’s operations is bit by bit falling away. The bourgeois press devotes page after page to this mess each day, dissecting for us the failures of capitalism and offering insight into the true character of our government.

Here’s one example. ‘S.E.C. Concedes Oversight Flaws Fueled Collapse’ (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/27/business/27sec.html?em)

The article contains the following gem, a quote from SEC Chairman Cristopher Cox, which deserves to be quoted at length – “The last six months have made it abundantly clear that voluntary regulation does not work. [It] was flawed from the beginning, because investment banks could opt in or out of supervision voluntarily. The fact that investment bank holding companies could withdraw from this voluntary supervision at their discretion diminished the perceived mandate” of the program, and “weakened its effectiveness,” he added.

REALLY?! Oh, this is a good one folks.

Imagine an economic policy which says that there is a only a “perceived mandate” for me to pay off my credit card debt, but in which I have to “voluntarily” submit myself to such “mandate”, or actively agree to pay my bills.

We learn a little about Chris Cox and the world he inhabits here. Either
1) he really believes in the words that are coming out of his mouth; in which case, he’s pathetically stupid and it’s makes you retch that supposedly ‘regulatory’ agencies are headed by dunces like this. Or
2) he knows he’s spinning a bunch of bull, and is displaying the ugliness and lies that rule in Washington-Wall Street for all to see.

Either way, we’ve got to thank him for these words.

I invite all of you out there to share things you’ve read or seen that make you say “oh wow, I can’t believe what they just asked me to take that seriously” in these carnival days.

Not that the new “regulations” and “oversight” being proposed for the bailout means we will have any democratic control over the finance and investment regimes currently making a hash of our economy. For the real meaning of “oversight”, it’s enough to watch C-Span or Congressional hearings to get a taste of festival atmosphere of glad-handing, corruption, smirkness and self-congratulation that counts for “democracy” for the ruling class.

I don’t want a “bailout”, but a “hollowing-out” program that would wither away Wall Street – a democratically controlled fund based on taxing the rich out of existence that would re-train all those employed in the speculative and paper-trading finance “industries” to work as construction workers to rebuild the Gulf Coast communities and as agricultural workers to work on organic farms (which would replace the corporate plantation agriculture we have today).

"Every beautiful poem is an act of resistance" - Mahmoud Darwish, 1941-2008

A great voice of love, memory and vigilant solidarity has passed. It’s hard to imagine more like Darwish arriving in these cold times. Darwish was a seemingly quiet and private person, yet Arabs and others around the world memorize and sing his poems, and his words are part of the collective unconscious for all the dispossessed. He was Palestinian, yet some say very European in his manners. He wrote of Palestinian exile and struggle in the language of ancient Babylonian, Greek and even biblical myths. He was a poet, but also a resistance fighter, a member of the Israeli Communist Party in the 60’s, jailed many times, a member of the PLO executive until he resigned in protest of the Oslo Accords.

In the Presence of Darwish
by Sinan Antoon, The Nation, Aug 26, 2008

Mahmoud Darwish once said that he considered himself to be a Trojan poet recollecting and reconstructing the voices of the defeated: “The Trojans would have expressed a different narrative than that of Homer, but their voices are forever lost. I am in search of those voices.” Darwish conducted his search as he roamed over a “map of absence,” as he called his homeland of Palestine. On August 9 his odyssey ended when he died after complications from open heart surgery in Houston. Four days later, thousands of Palestinians flocked to Ramallah to bid him farewell at a state funeral, and countless others across the Arab world and elsewhere mourned his passing.

For nearly half a century, Darwish’s heart, and the heart of his poetry, had been public spaces. In the Arab world, it was not uncommon for Darwish readings to draw thousands of people; many thousands more bought his books and listened to his poems as they were set to music. But Darwish was more than a “Trojan poet”: his poetic odyssey included explorations of physical frailty, spiritual bewilderment, erotic love and metaphysical hunger. Darwish may very well have been one of the last great world poets. It is difficult to imagine another poet who enjoyed such immense popularity and endured such political scrutiny, one whose work embodies the collective memory of millions yet also has a universal orbit. Darwish truly contained multitudes. He was many poets at once; his work stubbornly resists categorization.

Darwish was born in 1941 in al-Birwi, a village in the Galilee in Palestine. In 1948 al-Birwi was occupied by Israeli forces, and his family fled to Lebanon; they snuck back a year later, but their village, like hundreds of others, had been destroyed and incorporated into Israel. All that remained of al-Birwi was the village cemetery. The Darwishes settled in another village and were categorized as “present absentees.” Young Mahmoud witnessed and survived the obliteration, displacement and internal exile that would mark the Palestinian tragedy and become central themes in his poetry.

Darwish discovered the power of words early on and wrote fierce poems of resistance and love of land. He was imprisoned five times and placed under house arrest by the Israeli military authorities. Darwish’s poem “Identity Card” (1964), with its unforgettable refrain “Write down, I’m an Arab!” crystallized Palestinian resistance against Israeli attempts to erase Palestinian identity and history. Darwish later joined the Israeli Communist Party, the only Israeli party at the time that admitted Arabs, and worked as a journalist and editor. In 1971, while on a scholarship to Moscow, he made the monumental decision not to return to Israel. He went to Cairo instead and then, in 1972, to Beirut, where he joined the PLO and stayed for a decade. He later lived in exile in Tunis, Paris and Amman.

By the time Darwish arrived in Cairo he was already a famous “poet of resistance.” Palestinians found in his poetry their razed villages, confiscated houses and the scarred topography of their lost memory. But Darwish could also be quite defiant about not wanting his poetry to become a hostage of politics. “Every beautiful poem is an act of resistance,” he once wrote. The symbolism of resistance became a burden at times, a theme he revisited often in his later years: “When I looked for myself I found others/And whenever I looked for them I only found my estranged self/Am I the collective I?” he wrote in Mural, crying out the refrain “I am not mine” whenever he recited the poem. In contemplating Darwish’s legacy, one is reminded of Neruda’s definition of poetry as combining solitude with solidarity. Darwish inhabited the space between solitude and solidarity (with others and one’s surroundings), and navigated its dire straits like no other poet in recent memory. He gradually invited everyone to his internal dialogue with his scattered “I” as it traveled the wind on an eternal journey. He celebrated the resilience of Palestinians but also voiced their fragility and humanity.

If Palestine was and remained the heart of Darwish’s poetic project, it also became a metaphor for history’s devastation. His poetry began, especially after the Beirut period, to address a variety of historical experiences, narratives and myths in order to place the Palestinian saga within the broader context of postcolonial tragedies that have occurred since 1492. His poem “The Penultimate Speech of the Red Indian” is a powerful indictment of the erasure of indigenous cultures and of settler-colonialism: “Let’s give the earth enough time to tell/the whole truth about you and us. O you who are guests in this place/leave a few chairs empty/for your hosts to read out/the conditions for peace/in a treaty with the dead.”

With every collection, Darwish surprised and challenged his readers and critics. During his years in Beirut, he moved from the lyrical style of his early “resistance period” to a fusion of lyricism and longer epic poems employing biblical and Canaanite mythology and symbols. After the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993, he resigned from the executive committee of the PLO over disagreements with Yasir Arafat. He predicted, correctly, that Oslo was political suicide for Palestinians. His poetry turned more autobiographical and explored the personal memory of place. Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone? (1995) was “a poetic defense of narrative and memory” against the erasure of the victim’s rights. A Bed for the Stranger (1998) was devoted to love and erotic themes. So powerful and immense was his status that some complained he was abandoning the cause by writing such poems. Darwish’s ultimate loyalty, however, was to poetry. In 1998 he encountered death for two minutes during heart surgery. He was revived, and the experience of living a brief death led to the epic poem Mural (2000), about confronting death and nothingness and the triumph of art over death. State of Siege (2002) was written during the second intifada, when Darwish was in Ramallah, where he had lived as a citizen since 1996.

Darwish was most inventive and productive during the last decade of his life. His tone grew more conversational and he felt free to address many topics, no matter how mundane or metaphysical. His last few collections, especially those written after his 1998 heart surgery and with the caldrons of Palestine and Iraq in mind, were increasingly concerned with the fragility of human existence and the paradoxical nature of being in an ailing and alienating world. In these works, the poetic persona is often fragmented and on an eternal journey to the unknown. Homes, real and imagined, and the excavation of memory are recurring threads in their narrative fabric. The impossibility of an actual return to a home begins to haunt many of his poems. He even went so far as to eulogize himself in a fascinating work of poetic prose, In the Presence of Absence (2006).

“Death does not pain the dead. It pains those who are alive,” Darwish wrote in In the Presence of Absence. He was buried in Ramallah, never able to return, one last time, to the Galilee he so loved. Death may have eclipsed his body, but his poetry will endure. From The Butterfly Effect:

Sleep gently in your words
And dream that you are dreaming.

About Sinan Antoon
Sinan Antoon is the author of a collection of poems, The Baghdad Blues, and a novel, I`jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody. His co-translation of Unfortunately, It Was Paradise, a selection of Mahmoud Darwish’s poems, was nominated for the PEN Prize for translation in 2004. He is an assistant professor at NYU’s Gallatin School. more…

Save Your Starbucks? (Capitalist Absurdity of the Week)

After reading an article in the NY Times and subsequent googling, I discovered a proliferation of local organizing efforts and blog campaigns to save some of the 600 stores Starbucks announced it is closing due to falling revenue.

How absurd?! The comedian Lewis Black has a brilliant routine where he puts forth that an undeniable sign of the end of the universe appeared to him in the form of two Starbucks DIRECTLY ACROSS THE STREET from one another. New Yorkers know the corner, St. Marks Place. He then joked that such a marketing strategy could only be geared to (“and I mean no harm by this” he says) a community of people with alzheimer’s. It certainly does suggest a civilization off its rails.

The local Starbucks in my neighborhood, with it’s pay-by-the-minute wifi service and $4 coffees, serves as a kind of ad hoc public (but all-too-private) house. There is a community of people who assume their tables every morning and work there for hours at their computers. I personally don’t know how they stand it- the ambience of these places is awful, what with the stupid videos playing on the flatscreens and dreadfully hip narcotizing ‘cafe’ music (for sale too!). It’d be hard to imagine places with less personality. But this ersatz community office stays packed, as it probably provides more services and better hours than the perpetually-downsized-and-underfunded local public library.

The commodification of daily life knows no bounds. How many local cafes, old bookstores, and colorful meeting places – businesses too, but it’s never the same – have been annihilated by the Starbucks/Borders/BarnesandNoble’s empire? What happens socially and psychologically to such neighborhoods and communities? What’s happening to our public libraries and other relatively non-commercial places of gathering and learning?

Now, the Times article quotes folks in Newark who are concerned that their Starbucks is really the only appealing place in the area, and raise the issue that a lot of the closings are happening in poorer, non-white neighborhoods. Anti-redlining campaigns are justified, but what kind of world is it where we are summoned to fight to preserve these awful entities? Where we – as in the “save YOUR Starbucks” slogan – actually identify with and take ownership of these beasts that eat away at us and our communities?

(Full Disclosure – While some appear addicted to the burnt grounds served by the Empire, I can’t stand the shit. And everytime I relent and enter a Starbucks I have to stand behind 8 people ordering an array of coffee drinks like double non-fat mocha frappachinos that take forever, while all I want is simply cup of – undrinkably charred – coffee. If “my” Starbucks is saved, I at least want two lines – simply coffee and whatever else, dammit!)

Short Appreciation of FRSO/OSCL's 'Which Way is Left?'

The following appeared in the Solidarity discussion bulletin after a Solidarity National Committee discussion of ‘Which Way is Left?’ [WWIL] and a joint meeting in NYC between Solidarity, Freedom Road Socialist Organization/Organización Socialista del Camino para la Libertad [FRSO or FRSO/OSCL], and the New York Study Group – a discussion of radical community activists in the city who are interested in revolutionary organization.

A Short Appreciation of ‘Which Way is Left?’ (FRSO/OSCL)

– John M, NYC

1. ‘Which Way is Left?’ is a welcome and important contribution to the discussion on the necessity of and challenges to the creation of a mass revolutionary party or parties in the US. Solidarity should everywhere participate in discussion on the pamphlet and participate more broadly – as recommended in a proposal in WWIL – in discussions with the organized and non-organized Left forces on the crisis we’re jointed confronted with and what is needed to build a vehicle to smash capitalism.

2. Much of the frail organized US Left is mired in a bunker-mentality of territorial or organizational-identity defense. Even the best organizations, Solidarity and FRSO/OSCL included, are not fully immunized against the disease of what the pamphlet refers to as a “miniaturized Leninism”. This organization-fetish relates in no slight manner to the weak state – socially and organizationally – of the class struggle more generally in the US (more on that latter): ‘build our own group, develop our own campaigns, because nothing else ‘out there’ exists.’ But WWIL rightfully calls for us to step outside of our organizational boxes, ‘our issues’, and outside of our tangled histories, to confront present and future challenges.

3. Defensive or offensive? Failures and/or defeats of revolutionary and liberation struggles in the 20th Century have disarrayed the Left, while the present alignment of class forces means the working-class and oppressed are paying an increasingly awful price for the maintenance of capitalist rule. FRSO/OSCL is correct in pointing out that the energy of most revolutionaries and radicals is spent on defensive struggles to hold the line against ruling-class attacks; “the absence of organization effectively condemns the oppressed to constant resistant battles” (28). It often saps all our strength to do just this, and even then we’re losing most of the time; from Katrina to shop floor battles, it’s mostly a question these days, not of what we can win, but how we can lose least-badly.

WWIL argues correctly that such struggles are necessary, but not sufficient. Defensive struggles of themselves will never create the terrain for the overthrow of capitalism; isolated struggles – again, absolutely essential – cannot themselves demonstrate the utter bankruptcy of the whole system, or consolidate the array of organized workers and oppressed peoples to make revolution. A massive and unified political force, united around a program of socialist transformation, is needed, and there is no ‘tomorrow’ when it will be correct to begin elaborating such a force.

This is not to say that a party or organization which would deepen and link various social struggles to a forward-looking program can be developed out of thin air, or that it would immediately, always lead to movement victories. There is a dialectical relation of mutual influence between struggles and party organization, not a causal or mechanic “if A, then B” relation.

Too often the best militants immerse themselves completely in partial, defensive struggles; and no wonder, given the weakness of the Left and the viciousness of the ruling-class offensive. But the conditions of capitalism and the partial struggles against its most awful contradictions do not themselves, automatically, build a revolution. So, we must learn to do both at once – the daily of work of building resistance and the conscious, active elaboration of broader party or parties of revolution.
Another point that I think is more and more urgent these days in this regard. Revolutionary organization and theory is essential for people to put the defensive or resistance struggles, together with their own roles in these, in perspective. Many of our best potential comrades have, even while very young, ‘retired’ due to a combination of burnout and cynicism. A culturally vibrant, broader and more forward-looking revolutionary theory and organization would help these folks keep better balance and keep them in the struggle.

4. Related to above point on the need for an offensive and future oriented revolutionary politics, I think WWIL is right in stating that “a conscious combination” of organization and education has and will always be necessary to build a struggle capable of making revolution. Revolutionary consciousness does not develop organically or automatically; we have to be constantly and consciously agitating and educating ourselves.

The temptations to ignore this are enormous these days. TINA (‘there is no alternative’) consciousness is widespread, and leads to a political philosophy of patiently chipping away at oppression with an infinite accumulation of reforms. Also, the “pragmatism that has folks walking with their eyes close to the ground” is an understandable response to wanting to responsible engage in meaningful struggles and avoid an often clumsy, weak and sectarian revolutionary Left (27). But activism should never absolve us of our co-equal responsibility to consciously and agitationally educate ourselves and others on urgency of and process for building a broader, more vibrant and explicitly revolutionary vehicle.

5. I think the above elements are the strongest, and most exciting, parts of WWIL. Now for some concerns about other parts.

a. Problems with the survey of the international situation. Both the Colombian FARC and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) are mentioned, in a broader context that also comments on recent developments in Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, and popular movements in Mexico – the APPO in Oaxaca – and Brazil – the MST. It is problematic not to assess the FARC and CPP and other militarized movements in respect to the violence committed by them on civilians, civil society leaders, and even other elements of the Left in those countries. Not to take these serious problems up is tantamount to an endorsement of these strategies.

As regards the Brazilian PT and South African Communist Party, questions are raised about the complex conjuncture facing these parties. But, from my view, they have long moved from challenging what the pamphlet calls “neoliberal globalization” to being enforcers of the rule of global capital. Their pretensions to reform away the rule of capital is a serious error that puts them, when in power, in the position of actually enforcing what they’ve historically claimed to be against.

When assessing the international situation and making real links of struggle and solidarity with movements and parties around the world, the revolutionary Left should take serious responsibility to look behind the rhetorical self-presentation of liberation movements to the actual class struggle in those countries, what the relations of forces are and what position these organizations actually occupy therein.

This will become even more important with respect to developments in Venezuela. All revolutionaries in the US should oppose any and all meddling in Venezuela by US imperialism; but there are some in Solidarity like myself who are not so sure “that Mr. Chavez is committed to a social revolution”(17), and are looking to the potentials for a workers movement and political vehicles there that seek to push the revolution independent of whatever Chavez, who has undeniable Bonapartist tendencies, might feel comfortable with.

b. Assessment of the “social movement left.”
The comrades in FRSO/OSCL state that Marta Harnecker’s concept of a party uniting the organized Left and the social movement Lefts “is quite important in our thinking concerning Left Refoundation.” I too think it’s an important concept; the respectable organized Left, especially in out context, recognizes that a revolutionary party or parties worthy of the name will not be built through the numeric increase in the size and influence of any single existing group, or even all of them combined. Rather, a qualitative change must occur, mostly in the larger context of the class struggle, but also in terms of a renewed and militant labor movement, broader and more vigorous social movements, and a Left willing to break out of its isolation. We will all be swept up in such a climate, while hoping to influence its shape and direction.

But social movements in the US today – unlike in the Global South or Europe – are terribly weak themselves. There are essential struggles for racial justice, jobs, housing, health care, etc. – those around the Right to the City network, for example. But nothing on a comparable scale, in terms of members and social/political power, to, say, the MST in Brazil. It is urgent for the organized Left in the US to relate to social movement-type organizations and struggles, like those who participated in the US Social Forum. But let’s not mistake their character and scope, nor hide from ourselves the tragically low level of organized class struggle in the US today.

c. Absence of historical analysis of the US class struggle. Some elements of what WWIL describes as the “neoliberal authoritarian state” are crucial factors in the current ruling class offensive that the Left must grapple with. But WWIL presents almost no serious assessment of the class struggle in the US. If we want to tackle the issues facing those of us who wish to build a broad revolutionary formation, we have to deal with a number of questions: How do we assess the demise of the organized labor movement in the US, including the central roles of the Democratic Party and trade union officials in coordinating this historic collapse? How has the demise of radical and independent Black, Latino, Women’s, etc. movements effected the situation we face today? What of the financialization or internationalization of capitalism in the US? What is the role of new immigrant struggles? What about the collapse of infrastructure in US cities and the increasing signs of ecological disaster? Most importantly, I only remember one or two references to the occupations Iraq, Palestine, and Afghanistan – What’s the Left’s strategy to deal with a situation of continuous and semi-normalized “war on terror”, that either directly assaults subject populations or keeps the others living in a state a petrified fear and isolation?

In sum, we have much work ahead of us to figure out the actual social and political contours of the class struggle in the US, and what to do thereby. ‘Which Way is Left?’ is an exciting and urgent call for us to take our eyes off the ground and look ahead to what we want – and need desperately – to achieve. I look forward to continued engagement with our comrades in FRSO/OSCL and to – one day soon – all of us working together in the revolution.

Global Justice School - Days 6-15

(The arduous pace of the school, and it’s work and social demands, means that I have not been able to keep up with my journal on a daily basis. Thus, I apologize for the partial summaries below; some of the fun, wacky, informal conversations are also left out, as I had to reconstruct some days from my notes. – John)

Wednesday April 2

Murray Smith, a Scottish comrade who works here at IIRE, gives a talk on migration. This obviously continues the theme addressed at the lecture before the school, and more generally links to our discussion of global economic shifts, recomposition of the working class, and nationality, ethnicity and religion.

Murray begins by pointing out that migration in capitalism is nothing new. Dispossessed workers who have nothing to exchange for survival but their labor are pushed and pulled by developments in the process and organizing of capitalist accumulation. The slave trade and import of labor for mining and plantation agriculture were obvious racializations of the exploitation of labor, with profound economic, social and political consequences that operate still today. In Europe, the post-war boom required migrants from the periphery to the capitalist center (North Africa to France, Turkey to Germany, etc.). With the onset of the economic crisis in the 70’s, the need for this labor diminishes, and strict immigration controls are established to help – alongside attacks on wages and work control, privatizations, cuts in pensions – capitalism restructure and increase the rate of profit. Also, the rise of the two-or-three wage ‘family’ and cut-back in social services, requires migrant workers – usually women from the South – to provide superexploited reproductive labor.

An interesting part of our discussion, particularly in the case of the Philippines, is the effect a ‘migrant-labor economy’ has on the home country where folks are migrating from. For example, 50% of the population in Surinam (former Dutch colony) now lives and works in the Netherlands. $12.7 billion in remittances went to the Philippines in 2006, which is 40% of its annual revenue. While some governments, like the Philippines count this revenue in their annual economic measures, they are not funds that go to expanding the productive economy of the home country. Rather, they support private/family consumption, often substituting itself for the provisions of goods and services (education) that should be provided publicly or by the state. Remittance economies have a profoundly deforming effect on the home countries. Other countries – e.g. Pakistan and India – experience a damaging ‘brain drain’ of intellectual and technical workers as part of the global ‘race to the bottom’ for cheap labor.

Thursday April 3

We had a bit of sun today, but it remained cloudy. Francis’ (Belgium) potatoes au gratin took forever to cook and lunch was cancelled, so we were all a little tired and short-nerved during the afternoon. Dinner, with said potatoes and Pakistani curry chicken, was worth the wait though.

Nadia (a comrade from Italy) presented on gender, and our discussion was lively. Women are especially oppressed by the extension capitalist relations of production and life, which uses the divisions set up by patriarchy. In the last few decades, the intensification of competition, restriction of rights and privatization of public services – an job sector employing many more women than others – and the destruction of local and natural resources have all preyed particularly on women. Women are drawn into the labor force, but into the worst jobs with less pay. Nadia argued that it is actual violence or the threat of it, that is the foundation for the oppression of women. Nadia concluded by saying that our political organizations have to recognize other kinds of contributive activity, beyond the often-masculine and alienating emphasis on talking, arguing and writing. But she also said that she does not thing men can be “feminists”, and came near subscribing to a biological or naturalist argument for gender divisions. We all the recognized the need for an autonomous women’s movement and the need to actively support women’s self-organization. I argued for the necessity for men to be feminists, in order to support autonomous spaces and self-organization for women and recognize their own responsibility and stake in destroying patriarchal social relations. Maybe its’ a question of terminology.

In small group discussion, comrades from the Pakistani comrades discussed the severely oppression of women in their countries. Young women are sold between families, ‘stoning’ is on the rise, etc. We discussed how the Islamization of Pakistani-society under the US-support Al-Haq regime in the 70’s coincided with a period of the general weakening of workers and social movements and the strengthening of reaction.

As tomorrow is a free day, we went out to a bar in the center. We quickly strolled through the red-light district – uhhh, kind of nauseating – and ended up at an anarchist squat bar. Comrades danced to Billy Idol and some European punk, and we played pool. We didn’t get back to the Institute, after a long and healthy walk, until past 4am.

Friday April 4

Our first free day. After sleeping off our late night, I head to the Jordaan neighborhood for a coffee and chance to get caught up on some reading

I share a beer with O., my roommate, at a nearby bar when I return. We talk about Morocco and the student group he’s organizing. I say it’d be great to get him to the US to meet students and young activists there. He’s excited at the prospect.

Saturday April 5

Today’s discussion was on ecology and the climate crisis, presented by Daniel Tanuro. Daniel expertly summarized climatology and the nature of the catastrophe we face. He argued for revolutionaries to commit to an ecosocialist perspective and work to build a global single-issue mass movement to prevent climate change. Importantly, he pointed out – rightly, I think – that this is an especially urgent responsibility for socialist, as this crisis threatens the survival of human civilizations and so clearly demonstrates the destructive, “unsustainable” character of capitalist accumulation. Capitalism is anti-nature in the following senses: it demands accumulation and expansion (Daniel said capitalism is like riding a bike – you’ll fall down if you stop pedaling forward); it is constantly increasing its base of production; it is based on profit (so is oriented towards producing things for their exchange value, not their use value); it is based on competition, not cooperation; is tied to the economic rent from the fossil-fuel energy system; and it produces structural inequalities that immiserate whole populations and areas of the world. All these things point to the obvious inability of capitalist “business as usual” solutions – no matter how “green” sounding – to deal with this crisis.

We also discussed how this issue presents an enormous opportunity to socialists to argue for socialism – for radical democracy, a “reconversion” of our current destructive modes of production, suppressing useless, wasteful economic sectors, ending imperialist exploitation of and ‘dumping’ in the periphery, and planning developments independent of their costs but according to the principle of the best rational exchange between humanity and nature.

Sunday April 6

My pancakes this morning were a great success. Not being a wizard in the kitchen, and working with more of a crepe kind of mix, I was nervous; but comrades are demanding I make them again next time our team is cooking.

Our old comrade, Peter D., who co-directed the IIRE for 13 years, is here for two days, and lecturing on LGBT communities and struggles in the dependent world. He highlighted the contradictory role capitalism plays in regards to gender and LGBT politics. Capitalist social relations relay on a sharp distinction between private life and family on the one hand, and the public sphere or market on the other. This family sphere is the arena for establishing heteronormative gender roles and generating (unpaid) social reproduction of labor. But capitalism also allows for the establishment of other identities and communities – such that the post-war boom provided the economic ground for LGBT and other identity struggles. The discussion then addressed the particular effects of the neoliberal assault on LGBT communities – for example, in the privatization or commodification of public spaces, and the new rise of sexual slavery and sex tourism (in the ex-Soviet eastern European countries and Southeast Asia). Peter concluded by calling for the Left to “dare to be first” in taking up LGBT struggles and spoke of the example of the former Mexican PRT, which in the mid-80’s was the first organization on the Mexican Left to promote LGBT struggles and feature a transgender speaker in its forums.

Monday April 7

“To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie WITH ALL ITS PREJUDICES [italics in original], without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church, and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc.–to imagine all this is to REPUDIATE SOCIAL REVOLUTION. So one army lines up in one place and says, “We are for socialism”, and another, somewhere else and says, “We are for imperialism”, and that will be a social revolution! Only those who hold such a ridiculously pedantic view would vilify the Irish rebellion by calling it a “putsch”.” Lenin

Peter opens our discussion on nationalism, communalism and “identity” politics with this quote from Lenin. Emancipation will compromise all movements of the oppressed – not just those under the banner of “workers” or in a purer conflict of ‘labor vs. capital’. “Whoever expects a ‘pure’ revolution, will never live to see it.” And Peter agrees with Lenin that it is the duty of revolutionaries to support all such movements. Marx’s Capital is an abstract – but nonetheless ‘concrete’ – model of the laws of motion of the capitalist mode of production. Contrary to vulgar Marxist revisions and the apostles of neoliberal globalization (Thomas Friedman’s “world is flat” thesis), capitalism relies on state power and the uneven relationship of nations and identities in its process of accumulation – manipulating old tensions, erasing some and creating new lines of force. Current anti-capitalist struggles are often national or ‘identity’ struggles, like the Zapatistas. I was glad to hear Peter discuss the Peruvian socialist Mariategui and his thesis that the South American revolution will be fought around the pole of indigenous struggles for autonomy, specifically the traditional of Incan communism latent in the allyu communal system.

This session obvious connects with themes addressed throughout the school – on the recomposition of the working-class and struggles of resistance under neoliberal globalization, the earlier session on migration, European ‘integration’, and religion and fundamentalism. On the latter, Peter argued us to recognized that in imperialist countries religious identity can be adopted as a stance of national, communal resistance against racism, exploitation and xenophobia. In any event, all struggles of the oppressed, around whatever identity, within imperialist countries deserve our unwavering support.

Peter asked me to address our thoughts on Black nationalism. I said that Solidarity does not have a ‘line’ on the Black national question, with comrades taking a variety of positions in an ongoing discussion on the Black liberation struggle. My own view, I said, was that there is not a ‘Black nation’ according the CP’s earlier Black-belt thesis or Stalin’s abstract criteria. Nonetheless, the fundamental importance of chattel slavery and the struggles against it for the US empire and US history, the specific and legalized racial oppression under Jim Crow, and continued racial oppression and institutional racism have all created a common Black identity and struggle in the US, one that I believe bears many resemblances to national struggles and which is crucially strategic for all other liberation struggles in – and beyond – the US. Debates around Obama’s campaign and the expectations raised by a potential Black President, and the Katrina disaster (with Black Americans, even non-political ones, speaking of “what happened to our people) all indicate a common identity and struggle, qua being Black versus just another subsection of the US population.

The varying territory of political struggle and range of conditions represented by those at the school was very evident around this topic. This is one of the best things about the school. I discussed with a French comrade the LCR’s approach to the right’s campaign for a law banning the wearing of Muslim headscarfs in schools and public places. A position of “neither the veil, nor the law” – saying they’re opposed to the veil but just not by the bourgeois state. He explained the strong secular tradition in France. I said I disagreed with this position, that things like “citizenship” and religion are never even, flat territory, but cut across by various forms of exclusion and oppression. We should just say “we’re against the ban.” Period. But then, that’s just my view from afar.

Tuesday April 8

Stephanie, a leader in the French LCR, gives a talk on strategic debates in the global justice movement, around de-linking vs. an alternative globalization. Neoliberal globalization has created new forms of resistance – truly international campaigns and networks are established to conform global capitalism, while ostensibly local and partial struggles, for example around a factory closing, can link different issues and groups (women, indigenous, environmental, labor, etc.) The space of real reforms – that existed in the developed countries during the post-war boom – is closing, so that even these partial or sectoral struggles for reform can no extend to threaten capitalist priorities and pull people into a united struggle.

The discussion groups focused their discussions around the World Social Forum processes and role of NGO’s in the global justice movement. There is no way to draw a comprehensive summary or political position from these questions – in some places the Forums are totally the property of social liberals and NGOs, and are an obstacle to the creation of mass movements of resistance; in others, like the US, the process is just beginning and still an important area of work. Nonetheless, we do face a problem of how to move deepen or move beyond the ‘networking’ framework, to argue within the movements around issues of democracy, class independence, and unified, strategic struggle against capitalism.

Wednesday April 9

A great presentation by ‘Jaber’ on imperialism, US empire and war. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, liberal theories critiqued the economic or military inefficiencies of colonial empires, until Lenin demonstrated that imperialism is not an unfortunate, avoidable element of capitalism, but an essential stage of its development. The two world wars debilitated European economies and impelled the independence struggles in the colonies. Meanwhile, US economic and political power was growing, “leaping” significantly during the war years (US industry increases 50% during WWII). But the “unipolar moment” of US hegemony is increasing unstable. Severe trade deficits and economic imbalances have compelled the US bourgeoisie to increasing reliance on a strategy of military control over energy resources – to ward off Russia and China – and as the sole military protectorate of the global capitalist system. But the weakened economic position of the US should not mislead us. ‘Jaber’ described the “paradox of the big debtor”; in a situation where all partake of the same game – the US dollar retains suzerainty status as the global currency, crucially with regard to oil – the “big debtors” must still be lent to and supported by the smaller debtors, less these latter parties also fall.
The Achilles heel of the US empire is the US population. Occupations require actual soldiers, and the ability of the US to extricate itself from the Iraq quaqmire and retain it’s status as the police of the global capitalism depends on the military’s ability to maintain its ranks. As the occupation is everyday losing legitimacy, the US military is stretched to the breaking-point; the anti-war movement in the US is key to pushing it over the edge.

Thursday April 10

‘Jaber’ remains with us again, to help us discuss Marxism and religion, in particular the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. This issue obviously relates to others that have been a part of our conversation at the school, like national and other identity struggles.

‘Jaber’ critiqued traditional sociological (Weber) and Marxist (Engel’s on the Peasant Wars in Germany) explanations of religion. Weber had it totally upside down, arguing that Protestant ideology determined the ground for capitalist economic relations. Engels was more complicated, but characterized religion as no more than a “flag and mask” of substantive social content, an accidental form or superstructure assumed by economically determined class struggles. Rather, a refined Marxist analysis of religion must see it as a flexible “protean” ideology which can be shaped according to specific historical conjunctures, but which nonetheless possesses definable “elective affinities” with certain politics and forms of struggle (this is argued by Michael Lowy).

For example, there is a certain “elective affinity” between early Christianity and socialist movements. Both were persecuted enemies of the state, critiqued prevailing forms of family and private property, and were movements of the poor and outcast. Now, this is not to say that Christianity is essentially socialist at its core; note the Church’s subsequent imperial and oppressive history. But it does help explain movements like Thomas Munzer’s in peasant Germany and liberation theology in Latin America.

‘Jaber’ gave a great summary of the rise and context of Islamic fundamentalism: combined population growth and rural exodus (= unemployment) in most of the Muslim world; decline of handicraft production; increasing polarization of society; predominance of foreign control over trade and finance (and as settlers); and the weakness of a national-liberal bourgeoisie. These factors combined the failure of national populist regimes (Nassar) and the active support of the US and Saudi kingdom of reactionary fundamentalist movements to combat the influence of secular national or socialist politics. Also, globalization and anomie, or the disintegration of traditional social/cultural reference points, compel a retrenchment of re-asserted identities.

The outline of the development of Islamic fundamentalist movements in particular countries was detailed, too much to go into here. But the political conclusions for a Marxist approach to religious movements and Islamic fundamentalist movements are important to share.

Parts of the European left have cowered to Islamophobia, the “contemporary form of anti-immigrant racism in Europe”. Other Left groups (British SWP) have politically allied with Islamic fundamentalist organizations in a silly “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” politics. Both are terribly wrong.

Marxists must first distinguish between Islam and fundamentalism, to combat the conflation of the two by the racist Western bourgeoisie and the “war on terror”. Where Muslims are an oppressed people, we must support all of their democratic rights, including religious practices which might appear reactionary. (The hijab might be adopted, in a “judo maneuver”, as a subterfuge or act of resistance; for some Muslim women, it can serve’s a tool of self-defense against sexism and male violence.) Suppression of religion is both anti-democratic and, as Engel’s wrote, nothing guarantees the strength of religious ideas like their explicit suppression. It is also crucial for us to recognize that Islamic fundamentalism is not just “a flag and mask” adopted by oppressed populations, which will wear away in time (a la the SWP’s attitude). Fundamentalism determines the political program and content of struggle of those who adopt it. Revolutionary Marxists can temporarily ally with fundamentalist or religious movements in struggle against a common enemy, but never abandon our ideological – and sometimes physical (e.g. Iran) – struggle against them.

As we are all getting somewhat tired and ‘Jaber’ had to leave early for his flight, we decided to do without our afternoon language and large group meetings. I walked to a nearby park with S., a young comrade from the Labor Party of Pakistan. He got recruited to the LPP as a student activist. He told me about the extremely difficult circumstances for him and the Left in Pakistan these days. There are regular battles on the street with some fundamentalists; fundamentalists are recruiting many of the youth and control whole neighborhoods and economic sectors. He complains that he tries to explain his politics to his family, who just see him as somewhat crazy. We return at dusk, and I prepare some pork chops for us.

Friday April 11

Our second and last ‘free day’. Most of the other comrades were out late at a club last night; I decided to stay in and rest up.

This morning, we walked a few blocks to the International Institute of Social History (http://www.iisg.nl/), one of the worlds largest archives of documents and materials of social movements. The Institute began as a place to maintain archives from the socialist and worker’s movements threatened by Nazism in the 1930’s. Currently they are expanding their collections of material from Central and Southeast Asia.

After a short introductory video, we were taken on a tour of the archives – more than just books and newspapers, the IISG has an amazing amount of other artifacts, like buttons, banners and posters. Most of this material is in boxes, available to the public for research but out of view. However, a few display cases in the archive show some highlights of the collection – like the only surviving piece of an original draft of the Manifesto in Marx’s hand, a letter from Kautsky to Lenin, and a copy of a book of the Leveller’s manifesto from 1669 (!) and the English Civil War.

After lunch, I walk take a long walk to Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s ‘Central Park’ and the city center area. It’s been warming up here, and tourists are flooding in. The interesting nature of this city’s combined development is obvious to anybody who visits the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam’s oldest church, originally Catholic and then – of course – radically Calvinist and Protestant. Much of the old church remains, including the stone slabs that create the floor, but the church is now in disrepair and surrounded on all sides by the Red Light district’s ‘window brothels’.

Global Justice School - Days 1-5

I will attempt to write daily notes on the 3-week Global Justice School (Amsterdam, NE March 28-April 19) organized by the International Institute for Research and Education. I miss my comrades – and the start of the baseball season! – but it is a great experience being here.

March 28

Arrived in Amsterdam, later than expected due to a cancelled flight and re-route through London. Lots of rowdy Brits and Americans on the plane from London, no doubt heading to the red light district for Spring break. Random impressions of Amsterdam – an old European city, but with very modern touches, beautiful, everything seems to fit in place, some many people on bikes and bike roads on every street, cloudy and damp. Calm.

A few comrades had arrived at the Institute, including my roommate from Bombay, India, and we were shown around the Institute’s new building, including its enormous library, a unique archive of the revolutionary tradition that had me salivating.

The Institute is organizing a “Returns to Marxism” lecture series – independently of the Global Justice School – and tonight’s lecture was on the nation-state, integration and immigration in Europe, presented by two women close to the Institute. The first speaker critiqued the abstract, liberal-bourgeois view of “rights” and “inclusion”, with specific reference to France’s banning of the chadar (headscarf). When we look at the actual relation of forces here – the situation of the Muslim community in France – we see that this is not a level playing field where all are free and equal “citizens”, but a relation of power being enforced. The second speaker, a Filipina immigrant activist and Institute associate, spoke about Filipina immigrant workers, specifically women domestic workers. The Philippines government actually promotes migration of its workers, touting remittances as providing some kind of development strategy and integrating itself in the global economy. She critiqued this, saying the government was trying to unload a surplus population, superexploit women, and avoid confronting its internal problems. Half of the Filipino workforce works outside of the Philippines, but the remittances largely go to direct consumption, not any kind of productive development. These workers are part of a superexploited reproductive labor army that now exists on a global scale.

Afterwards, we had an excellent Filipina meal, raised some money for Filipina comrades, and some partied to karaoke.

March 29

Nearly all of have arrived. There are 17 of us here, and we are from Congo, Belgium, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, India, Pakistan, France, Morocco, the US and the Philippines. I’m rooming with Sushovan from India, and O. (21 years old) from Morocco. We’re a good mix.

Introductions and the official start of the school were not till 6PM, so we walk along one of the main canals to the museum district. The Rijksmuseum is undergoing renovations, but a section of it, with all the relevant paintings by the Dutch masters, remains open. Lots of great Rembrandts, and Vermeer up close and in person radiates with calm light and color. After a quick stroll through the Van Gogh museum, I decide I don’t his paintings much. Nice colors I guess, but too sloppy and ill-considered.

We arrive back at the institute and get an orientation to the School. We will have a 3-part lecture in the mornings, followed by a Q and A session, then free time for rest and study. Language groups (Spanish, French, and English) meet for 1 and ½ hours in the late afternoon, followed by another general discussion. We have a couple of free days scheduled during the 3 weeks. But otherwise, it’s pretty intensive. We are split up into 4 teams, and each day one team is the cleaning team and another the cooking team.

March 30

First day of the school. Braulio gives a great talk on the political economy of globalization today. Many details, organized around a couple of key themes. Contradictions between capital and labor resurface explicitly after the post-WWII boom and during the capiltalist’s offensive (privatization, austerity, concessions, factory shutdowns) beginning in the later 60’s and early 70’s. In the periphery, this capitalist retrenchment was extremely aggressive; debt and austerity dispossess tens of millions. But now, Braulio said, we are seeing, for the first time, these contradictions appear with the same aggressivity in the imperialist center, with US mortgage and credit crisis and the fall of the dollar.

After dinner, we head out to a nearby “coffeeshop” for a nightcap.

March 31

Today’s topic is what has become of the working class, presented by Antonio, who is Puerto Rican and close with our comrade Cesar. We all agreed that the working class is bigger than ever, but organizationally and politically very weak. The growth of the service sector and restructuring/relocation of industrial or manufacturing production has fragmented and combined workers together in new ways. There is a tremendous feminization of labor force, and communications and transportation technologies have strengthened capital’s ability to accumulate at the expense of marginalized, desperate workers around the globe. Our inconclusive small and general group discussions produced important questions about what alternative forms of working-class organization and mobilization will look like in the near future, and on the survival of working-class solidarity and the militant legacy of sectors of the class in the last few generations.

Partied late with Antonio, Lillian, Sushovan, Shakeel and others, talking about Venezuela and Chavez and what’s going on in our organizations.

Tuesday April 1
Antonio, a Puerto Rican comrade and friend of Cesar’s who’s been her in Amsterdam for a few years, gives a talk on the role of the State today and Africa. Is the state in the dependent world a transmission belt for imperialist, capitalist exploitation and accumulation, or a “cushion” that can be used to achieve national liberation and promote social justice? Or both? Antonio gave a short, but good, summary of colonialism, the wave of liberation struggles in the 60’s and 70’s, and the current situation of countries torn by war, severely underdeveloped, and where nearly all governments – even those with their origins in liberation struggles (Zimbabwe, South Africa) – have decided “there is no alternative” to policies of privatization, ‘cost-recovery’ provisions of services, ecological destruction, and the further squeezing of workers and the poor.

O., from Morocco and who has asked that I not use his first name, gave a report on Morocco, where a corrupt and oppressive monarchy rules and a country where 45% of it’s revenue comes from tourism and the service sector. Jean-Victor, from Congo-Brazzaville, reports that nearly any development in his country is oriented still towards the exploitation of natural resources by imperialist countries. The treasury is still controlled by the French, and what development aid does arrive is monopolized by “marionettes” and serves the function of consolidating the formation of a comprador class committed to selling off the country. These reports demonstrate the neo-colonial nature of formal independence, and the harsh conditions under which militants and the masses of African peoples struggle in countries brutalized by imperialist domination.

It’s great to have these comrades here, and learn first-hand what their struggles are like.

After dinner, the Pakistani’s showed a movie on the recent lawyer’s movement in opposition to the Musharaf dictatorship. The film showed pictures of marches and clashes with police, and speeches from Pakistani human rights activists. You’d never know from the Western media that this was a mass movement, a crucial struggle struggle for democratic rights. (The following day we celebrated the news reported by Abdul that the decades old ban on student union’s in Pakistan was lifted by the new government. The defeat of Musharaf – the US’s “man in Pakistan” – in the recent elections is certainly good news.)

Great dinner produced by Group D. O. made a seafood soup, served with Greek cucumber salad. Wonderful! O. also plays guitar and – awesome! – likes to grant us tunes from Bob Dylan and the Band. Globalization’s good for some things, no?

Cooking team D seems to have a surplus on talent, whereas my team (B) lacks real initiative or talent. We’ll have to make do, but I’m investigating possibilities of a trade.