Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Authoritarian Leninists against real human emancipation

Alex Callinicos, a theorist of the British SWP, has produced this reflection on the European Social Forum. Callinicos comments:
The London ESF was accompanied by plenty of political noise. To a significant degree this reflected the fact that our very diversity means that there are plenty of political disagreements. For example, many comrades, especially from France, didn't like the fact that the war in Iraq was very prominent in London, as it was in Florence.

In part this disagreement reflects differences in national context. In Britain the war dominates politics and is far and away the biggest mobilizing issue. Without the prominence of the war and the leading involvement in the ESF of the British peace movement, the Forum would have been a far less dynamic affair, and the final demonstration would have been little larger than the participation in the Forum itself.

But there is more involved here. The war in Iraq is also the dominant issue in world politics. This is not simply because of the divisions that it has provoked among the major powers. The Bush administration's unilateral assertion of military power, the brutality of the occupation, its accompaniment by the imposition of the full neo-liberal economic programme on Iraq - all of this for many activists sums up what is wrong with corporate globalization.

Others - and they are particularly influential in France - disagree. They believe there is no necessary connection between the Bush war drive and neo-liberal globalization. I think they are mistaken, and that every day that passes underlines the importance of understanding the links between economic and military power that are at the heart of modern imperialism. This is a substantive political disagreement with which we are going to have to learn to live while working together in the same movement.

Often it is more difficult to acknowledge the significance of these disagreements because they are presented as procedural problems. Thus a number of French networks have complained about the fact that the platform at one seminar were all agreed in defending the right of young Muslim women to wear the hejab, even though this does not seem to have prevented a very vigorous debate taking place from the floor. This seems to me like an evasion of the real issue.

The truth is very many activists in the rest of Europe find the support that much of the French left and union movement gave the law banning the hejab in French state schools quite incomprehensible. ATTAC France's recent assessment of the ESF complains about the role of 'confessional organizations' in London. But a secularism that excludes the most oppressed sections of French society is as communalist as any of the Islamist organizations it denounces.

The issue of the hejab is really a symptom of the real problem, which is how to expand our movement to embrace those at the bottom of European society who suffer both economic exploitation and racial oppression and many of whom, for that very reason, strongly attach themselves to their Muslim faith.

I wholly disagree with Callinicos. I think that, first, the war in Iraq is far less important than what should be the real issue for the Social Forum movement: the everyday and structural violence built into the present organisation of world capitalism. A focus on the war evades thinking through the real issues around globalisation. Worse, in the current climate, a focus on the war appeals opportunistically to various constituencies who do not care at all about dealing with these issues (Little England and Little Europe isolationist, liberals, etc) or who are straightforwardly reactionary (political Islamists and their fellow travellers). This opportunism, typical of the SWP and their patron Ken Livingstone, puts getting a good turnout (then read as a sign of some sort of upturn in class struggle) over thinking through - or acting on - the real issues. This opportunism is disingenously described by Callinicos as 'the movement expanding' to 'embrace' more people.

Second, obviously, I agree with these French folk who think that political Islam is not the voice of the most oppressed, but is in fact a dangerous, reactionary, oppressive ideology, which is not only anti-woman, anti-gay, etc, but is fundamentally anti-freedom and anti-human. In other words, it has no place in the broad movement for another world.

Related posts: The democratic imperium, The threat of internal extremism, Bem Gelada, Livingstone and the Left, Resistance?, Democracy in the socialist movement, No disrepect: the Kilroy of the left, Debating Iraq, Whose side are you on?

Don’t they know the Cold War’s over?

Brief history of Colombia: Why have nearly 3 million Colombians fled home?
"Against all odds, there are dozens of Colombian peasant organisations and human rights groups. They face persecution from all sides, so these activists are incredibly brave to poke their heads above the parapet."

Previous posts: US corporate power destroys Colombia

Head and Heart

From Just Opinions:
I believe the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were the right thing to do, and that the successful elections in those countries vindicate the policy, and are a great historic breakthrough.

I believe that an unfettered free market and global free trade are the surest ways to fight poverty.


I support Israel.

I believe that the mainstream media and academia are biased, far to the left of the American people.

I believe the United Nations is a hopelessly corrupt thugocracy protective association.

I believe that affirmative action does more harm than good.

Although I have been a liberal, indeed a far-left radical all of my life, when I look at what’s happening dispassionately and rationally, I can’t help coming to these conclusions. There’s no getting around it. I have become a conservative. And yet, much as I agree with, respect, and even admire quite a few conservative pundits and politicians, including George W. Bush, I am uncomfortable with many of my bed fellows. The reason I am uncomfortable is because I detect a distinct lack of heart over here on the political right. And not only heart, but something more indefinable, a lack of art and joy and Dionysian abandon, a lack of imagination.

A couple of examples. I admire David Horowitz. His autobiography, Radical Son, is one of my favorite books. I peruse his web site, frontpagemag.com, on a regular basis. I even wrote an article for it, and I am grateful for the important work he does. I just wish he would marry or befriend somebody with taste. Frontpagemag.com, and his new web site, discoverthenetwork.com, are two of the ugliest sites on the web. The medium message they convey is uncultured, fanatical, narrowly focused, and anti-art.

Another site I check regularly is James Taranto’s Best of the Web. He is clever, witty, and on the right side of current history, but all too often his brittle humor is at the expense of the poor and the powerless, as in this post of his:

The Wolf’s Meow
From a USA Today story on a prison-abuse case:

Margaret Winter, the ACLU’s lead attorney in the case, said the findings by Moriarty’s office reflect an attempt to “whitewash” Johnson’s claims.

Winter said that because of Johnson’s sexual orientation and his inability to defend himself, he should not have been put into the general population section of the James Allred Unit, a 3,500-bed facility near Wichita Falls that is known as one of Texas' roughest prisons. In that environment, she said, Johnson was like “catnip to a pack of wolves.”

It’s a queer sort of wolf that’s interested in catnip, is it not?

When I read something like this I can’t help imagining myself in this man’s place, the horror of it, which I am sure is beyond anything Mr. Taranto has had the misfortune to experience.

I could give many more examples. I realize that conservatives hate being called uncompassionate just because they don’t believe in simplistic, socialistic, wealth redistributing solutions to society’s problems, and it is a bad rap in that sense. Nevertheless I think that there is substance to the charge. There is a coldness and lack of empathy in the ease with which the poor, the homeless, those without health insurance, the unemployed and poorly employed, the inner-city ghetto residents, the addicted, illegal immigrants, are dismissed and left to the vagaries of the free market and the justice system.


The American people are not nearly so polarized as the politicians we are forced to choose among. We want the best of both worlds. We want real compassionate conservatism and real clear-thinking liberalism.

The democratic imperium

In the new issue of Radical Philosophy, French philosopher Alain Badiou writes of a new form of global liberalism, which he perversely calls "democratic materialism" for which:

"Communities and cultures, colours and pigments, religions and religious orders, traditions and customs, disparate sexualities, public intimacies and the publicity of the intimate: everything and everyone deserves to be recognized and protected by the law.

Having said that, democratic materialism acknowledges a global limit to its polymorphous and animalistic tolerance. A language that does not recognize the universal juridical and normative equality of languages does not deserve to benefit from this equality. A language that claims to regulate all the others, to rule over all bodies, will be termed dictatorial and totalitarian. Then it is no longer a matter of tolerance, but of our 'right to intervention': legal, international and, if necessary, military intervention. Aggressive actions serve to rectify our universalistic claims, along with our linguistic sectarianism."
I can't decide if this is sensible analysis or nonsense.

Related posts: The best Eid ever, Debating Iraq, Swooning with rapture, Thuggish Islamists and the tsunami in Indonesia, Allah and the tsunami
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Naked Punch

Great article by Ben Watson on Marx and art here.

Previous posts: Nello, elitism and postmodern critique

AntiHorowitz vs AntiChomsky

Response from Micah Holmquist of HorowitzWatch to a FrontPage article by Benjamin Kerstein of diary of an anti-chomskyite:

I agree with the main point of Benjamin Kerstein's "Chomsky's Myth of the Leftist Silent Majority" (FrontPage, December 14, 2004) - there is little evidence that there is any sort of "leftist silent majority" in the United States, at least in terms of the way "majority" is usually meant to mean in electoral politics.

However, Kerstein's makes some problematic assertions, including:

-Noam Chomsky, the author of a 1986 article entitled, "The Soviet Union Versus Socialism," is one of the "foremost advocates" of "authoritarian socialism."

-Ronald Reagan's actions lead to the downfall of the Soviet Union. While this is something that can neither be proved nor disproved, it is worth noting that Moshe Lewin and others have provided compelling counter-explanations.

Fisking Chomsky

diary of an anti-chomskyite: Rousting the WikiChomskyites

Previous post: Measured Critique

In memorium

I want to mark the sad passing of the great Hunter S Thompson.

"Work was impossible. The geeks had broken my spirit. They had done too many things wrong. It was never like this for Mencken. He lived like a Prussian gambler--sweating worse than Bryant on some nights and drunker than Judas on others. It was all a dehumanized nightmare... and these raddled cretins have the gall to complain about my deadlines."
-- Hunter Thompson, "Bad Nerves in Fat City", Generation of Swine

HST's words: Patrick Roy and Warren Zevon -- two champions at the top of their game

Blog links: diary of an anti-chomskyite: Requiem for Raul Duke, I am Correct, blurt: Hunter Stockton Thompson

The threat of internal extremism

Interesting post from alt.muslim here.

Previous post: Allah and the tsunami, Does Pakistan still love a man in a uniform?

Monday, February 21, 2005

Four-letter words: a view from America

Jogo writes:
Fans of La Brigada Jogo know that we are not terribly impressed by European claims to superiority over Americans -- especially moral superiority. European moral failure, past and present (and from all indications, well into the future) is so enormous that it would take a lot of evidence to convince us that, all things considered, Europe is even slightly more advanced than we are.

But we must say, while reading The Observer this morning, we were impressed by something that popped out at us from an article titled "Fallen City star claims gay bigotry," about a man who alleges that unrelenting homophobia at Deutsche Bank, his employer, caused him so much distress that he has become seriously ill, clinically depressed and suicidal.

The man, Sid Saeed, says he was called a "fucking fag," and that one of his managers, who was aware of his sexuality, talked openly about "shit stabbers."

We know this because The Observer printed it, word for word. An American paper would not have done so -- even today when what Americans call "four-letter words" are routine and unremarkable in the conversations of almost all people, educated and not, in all sorts of company, polite and otherwise, and in almost every social situation.

Not only do American media not print or speak these words, they are unlikely to do so in our lifetime or even fifty years from now. That's really stupid, but there is nothing anyone can do about it because these prohibitions are deeply installed in The Split (which is what we call the irrational space between what is actually so and what is publically admitted to be so).

Of course every society has its version of The Split. It is not possible for any society to exist without Split of some kind. It is just that this particular one is very annoying, and really has no good or useful purpose; quite the contrary actually.

However, none the above should be taken to mean that we think anything goes in the public domain. We do not think that. For example, everyone got that Janet Jackson breast-business completely wrong. It was not an issue of "breast prudery." Her costume did not "fail" out of nowhere. It "failed" because the dance number being done at that moment by her and Justin Timberlake was miming a man ripping a woman's blouse off. This imagery -- more than slightly suggestive of sexual violence -- is not appropriate for family-day entertainment like the Super Bowl halftime show.

So that's the root cause of why Janet Jackson's breast became exposed. Liberal social critics cannot see it because they're aesthetically shallow, dialectically programmed, and too invested in showing how we're a bunch of hicks over here. Boy, are they wrong. And boy, are they gonna lose another election if leftist intellectuals don't start being honest.

The Supreme Chutzpah

According to one judge, "Yiddish is quickly supplanting Latin as the spice in American legal argot."

Friday, February 11, 2005

Bem Gelada

A new list:
Born at the last Caracol-Intergalaktika at the last World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, 2005, Bem Gelada is a group of actvist-researchers, or people who consider the intellectual work they do as part and parcel of developing the theories and politics of the alternative globalization movement-- globally and in the places where we all are. The list will serve as a site for coordinating the creation of a web-portal and resource base, as well as a space to post relevant and politically incisive pieces of writing. This list is meant as a first attempt to connect European and North American activist-research networks of this sort with Latin American ones, as such all messages and posts will be in both English and Spanish.
A nice name. I think it means 'well chilled'.


Newly out from Black Rose Books: the first volume of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, charting anarchist thought up to 1939. Some important texts and authors in it, including some who are mostly forgotten today. Some of those that caught my eye are Gerrard Winstanley, Gustav Landauer, Bernard Lazare, Ricardo Flores Magón, as well as an extract from Voline's classic on the Russian 'revolution' The Unknown Revolution. My hero Rudolf Rocker is there too.

Previous posts on anarchism: Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, Libertarians East of the Mediterranean Sea, Libertarian Centenary

Hard to be a leftist Jew these days

Responding to this Guardian article, Keith writes:
"As a Jew and lifelong Guardian reader who has to continually defend the paper against accusations of anti-semitism by fellow Jews, I was dismayed to note the Jewish community's virtual invisibility in the special G2 section celebrating London's extraordinary cosmpopolitanism.
The decision to class Jews as simply a religion left one of London's oldest and most distinctive communities quite literally off the map (with the bizarre exception of South African Jews). Yet Judaism, like Islam, is in fact a complex mixture of ethnicity, religion and nationhood.
You also missed London's substantial Israeli population - parts of Golders Green today are a mini Tel Aviv. Perhaps you are ambivalent about Israel, but you can't deny the significance of the Israeli diaspora.
Do you understand how treating Jews as simply a subset of the 'white' population denies our distinctiveness and exacerbates our already strained relations with other communities?
Do you have any idea how hard it is to be a leftist Jew who celebrates diversity and cosmopolitanism these days? Your thoughtlessness has only made things harder."
My thoughts exactly!

Recent debates in the UK on 'incitment to religious hatred' obscure the fact that Sikhs and Jews, for example, are not simply faith groups, but ethnic communities. For Jews, the effacement means pretending that Jews are now just other white folks. This might please some Jews, but ultimatly is politically dangerous.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


While it is no longer acceptable to think that Stalin was a great emancipator, many otherwise sane people think Che and Castro were. Here's some reading on this from the blogsphere:

For the independent libraries of Cuba, against the Stalinist libraries of America: Babalu Blog: Irregardless of Literacy

Anti-Che T-shirts banned by CafePress: CafePressWatch

Previous post: Real axis of evil


Apparently, , there are more Iraqi refugees in the US than there are American soliders in Iraq, more international observers keeping an eye on American elections than on Iraq's elections, and similar voting levels...


One for the CommieProfWatch category: a no-holds-barred attack on Ward Churchill: whacked in Colorado.

Pervious posts: Messianic thought, Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, Swooning with rapture

New Labour, new anti-semitism?

William Rees-Mogg writes:
THERE are two great anti-Semitic personas in English literature. Both were created by men of genius, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, in works of genius, The Merchant of Venice and Oliver Twist. Both portray a stereotypical Jew as avaricious, ruthless and cunning. The names of both of these characters are so familiar that they have entered the language. They are Shylock and Fagin.

Yesterday, The Mail on Sunday rightly published two striking photographs side by side. Both are carefully staged, with a Fagin figure holding an old-fashioned pocket watch on a chain. The first is a picture of Barry Humphries actually playing Fagin. The second is a Labour Party poster of Michael Howard, carefully chosen to fit the Fagin image. MORE

Melanie Phillips writes:
This image [in the Labour Party poster] conveys the subliminal message that Mr Howard is not to be trusted because he is a Jew. It does this by drawing on two caricatures straight out of the lexicon of anti-Jewish prejudice. The first is the image of the money-grubbing Jew, like Shylock. Worse still is the suggestion that Mr Howard is trying to hypnotise the public, which plays directly on the ancient canard that the Jews are some kind of sinister conspiracy manipulating the world to their own nefarious ends. MORE
See the pictures here and here


2005 is the centenary year for the deaths of the great Louise Michel and of the gerat Elisee Reclus. See here


Kurish refugee folk musicians Arras Ali and Marewan Mohmaud, of folk group Newroz, are threatened with deportation back to Iraq. For information e-mail newrozcampaign@hotmail.co.uk.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The best Eid ever

From Iraq, a reminder of how precious democracy is:
Last night I couldn't sleep well. I was so excited and I wanted to be at the voting center before it even opens its door. I was afraid that I was going to be among a minority who are going to vote, but I was still very happy for rather a different reason. It's that just as I care about the outcome of this election and that democracy would work in Iraq, I cared no less about voting on a personal level. This was my way to stand against those who humiliated me, my family and my friends. It was my way of saying," You're history and you don't scare me anymore". It was my way to scream in the face of all tyrants, not just Saddam and his Ba'athists and tell them, "I don't want to be your, or anyone's slave. You have kept me in your jail all my life but you never owned my soul". It was my way of finally facing my fears and finding my courage and my humanity again.

The Rage of the Intellectuals

From Ha'aretz, this gushing and under-edited interview with historian David Ohana is very interesting. His new book The Rage of the Intellectuals is a critique of messianic thinking. One example he gives of such messianic thinking is David Ben-Gurion. The rage of the messianic is reflected, for example, in Ben-Gurion's denunciation of the state of Exile: "it must be utterly rejected." For Ohana, such absolutism is deadly.

"Egalitarian, absolute visions of redemption lead inevitably to the opposite," Ohana says... "There is an ineluctable law that brings you from paradise to hell." The just men of this Sodom, according to Ohana, are the intellectuals who were against messianism in its various forms, be it secular or religious. Camus is one example.
You can read more of Ohana here.