Global Justice School – Days 1-5

Posted April 10, 2008

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.