'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Just Do It 

From The Peninsula, a Qatari newspaper:

Top officials in several Arab countries have close links with the CIA, and many officials keep visiting US embassies in their respective countries voluntarily to establish links with this key US intelligence agency, says Julian Assange, founder of the whistle-blowing website, WikiLeaks.

These officials are spies for the US in their countries, Assange told Al Jazeera Arabic channel in an interview yesterday.

The interviewer, Ahmed Mansour, said at the start of the interview which was a continuation of last week’s interface, that Assange had even shown him the files that contained the names of some top Arab officials with alleged links with the CIA.

Assange or Mansour, however, didn’t disclose the names of these officials. The WikiLeaks founder said he feared he could be killed but added that there were 2,000 websites that were ready to publish the remaining files that are in possession of WikiLeaks after he has been done away with.

If I am killed or detained for a long time, there are 2,000 websites ready to publish the remaining files. We have protected these websites through very safe passwords, said Assange.

Currently, his whistle-blowing website is exposing files in a responsible manner, he claimed. But if I am forced we could go to the extreme and expose each and every file that we have access to, thundered the WikiLeaks founder. We must protect our sources at whatever cost. This is our sincere concern.

Some Arab countries even have torture houses where Washington regularly sends suspects for interrogation and torture, he said.

Philip Agee released this sort of information, and lived into his 70s, being fortunate enough to fall in love with a German woman who married him, enabling him to obtain German citizenship. He spent much of his life after the late 1970s in Germany and Cuba. Ecuador has already offered residency to Assange, and other South American countries, such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Brazil, might do so as well if he requested it. So, there are places where Assange can live outside the reach of the US, or, at least, not any less so than Agee did.

Within this context, it is worth recalling Agee's motivation for releasing confidential information about the activities of the CIA around the world, especially in the Americas:

Agee had left the CIA in 1969 after 12 years working mainly in Latin America, where he gradually became disgusted by the agency's collusion with military dictators in the region and decided to blow the whistle on their activities. The Mexico City massacre of student protesters in 1968 also stiffened his resolve. His 1975 book Inside the Company: CIA Diary spilled the beans on his former employers and enraged the US government, not least because it named CIA operatives.

It was a time in the 70s when the worst imaginable horrors were going on in Latin America, he told the Guardian in an interview published a year ago today. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Guatemala, El Salvador - they were military dictatorships with death squads, all with the backing of the CIA and the US government. That was what motivated me to name all the names and work with journalists who were interested in knowing just who the CIA were in their countries.

Of course, it is easy for someone like me to suggest that Assange should publicly release the information that he mentioned in his Al Jazeera interview. But there is no question that the worst imaginable horrors are going on in northern Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia today, just as they were in the Americas (and Greece as well) when Agee worked for the CIA. For example, consider what is happening now in Tunisia, a police state unknown to most Americans that is considered an important ally in the global war against terrorism. If Assange is speaking truthfully, wikileaks has documents in its possession that will expose US complicity in the abuse, torture and suppression of peoples throughout the Muslim world in places beyond the usual suspects, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, one should not forget to include Indonesia as one of the possible countries involved, even if, strictly speaking, it is inaccurate to characterize it as Arab.

Hat tip to Marcy Wheeler.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

From the Archives: Anarchism and the City 

In Anarchism and the City: Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Barcelona, 1898-1937, Chris Ealham subjects the anarchist experience in Barcelona to a contemporary urban studies analysis, with striking results. Much of it has a strong, contemporary resonance in light of events in Greece. Ealham emphasizes the interrelationship of two features of the early 20th Century development of Barcelona, the emergence of a manufacturing economy incapable of generating sufficient profit to finance the provision of social welfare to the populace, and, as a consequence of the ensuing unrest invariably associated with such economic development, a perpetual contestation between proletarians, the bourgeoisie and capitalists over public space.

Barcelona aspired to be a world city, a Paris of the south, but the low profit margins of its small scale manufacturing activity, and a poorly funded absentee state, rendered such an aspiration implausible from the inception. Catalonia, unlike the rest of Spain, embraced industrialization, but Barcelona, the center of the region's transformation, lacked the resources to provide even the most rudimentary services to the people drawn there to work. For example, housing was grossly inadequate in every respect, there was never enough of it, and it was frequently expensive and dilapidated. Flats originally built for a single family were converted into beehives, accomodating as many as eight families, while casual workers and the homeless rented cheap rooms with beds available at hourly rates, and even paid to sleep on foot in a communal room. As for education and medical care, people found themselves compelled to accept whatever was provided by an autocratic Catholic Church. Anger over the abusive treatment accorded them by the Church in their condition of dependency contributed to church arsons in 1909, 1931 and 1936, and, perhaps other times as well.

Accordingly, the location of the working class within a growing Barcelona, and their use of public space became a permanent preoccupation of the middle and upper classes. Ealham traces a thread of continuity between the monarchy, Primo de Rivera's dictatorship, and, more controversially, the Republic, in regard to policies of social control. Each, in their own way, sought to criminalize various forms of working class resistance and fragment the communities in which the workers lived. Interestingly, Ealham describes much of the byzantine maneuvering among the political factions of the middle and upper classes during this period as being partially explainable by concerns over the ability of the government to preserve public order, by which they meant the preservation of a quiescent workforce. Hence, they abandoned the monarchy for the dictatorship and compelled the liberals of the Republic to resort to more and more expansive police powers prior to the Civil War, while abandoning their promises of social assistance.

Workers, whether formally or informally employed, sought to shape their communities collectively to enable as many people as possible to survive the conditions of extreme deprivation in which they lived, an endeavor that the elites perpetually sought to suppress. They appropriated public spaces in order to gather and protest; they congregated in cafes to plan organizing campaigns; they used the sidewalks to sell goods as street vendors when formal employment, as was often the case, was unavailable. All of these activities were either criminalized or disrupted by police action. Ealham explains how the elites exploited panics over morals and vice to justify these measures. Workers also created their own secular educational and cultural venues outside the control of the state and the Church. Of course, these, too, were subjected to repression during times of class conflict on the streets.

Through such conflict throughout Spain, the Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo, the CNT, the legendary anarcho-syndicalist organization, was born. Ealham asserts that it was most successful when it was interwoven into the communities of the workers and their collective struggles, and supported evolving forms of historic direct action protest, such as forced requisitioning of foodstuffs, raucous street protest, rent strikes, and coerced hiring of unemployed people, but went astray when militants adopted unilateral, individualistic methods such as assassinating employers and other political enemies and expropriating funds through bank robberies. Of course, this is an old debate within anarchism, but Ealham marshals some impressive evidence for his perspective, namely, the precipitous decline in CNT membership between 1931 and 1936 because of police repression of what Ealham describes as militarized anarchism. Between June 1931 and May 1936, CNT membership in Catalonia dropped 291,240 to 122,812, while in Barcelona, it dropped from 186,152 to 98,292.

Hence, on the verge of the coup that everyone anticipated in response to the Popular Front victory, the CNT was, according to Ealham, in a weakened state. While praising the effective armed resistance to the military assault on July 19th, he suggests that the inability of the CNT to follow through upon its success and revolutionize Catalan society was the result of a diminished influence within proletarian communities, as well as a sectarianism that left it vulnerable to the reinvigorated power of the middle and upper classes, this time as manifested, chameleonlike as usual, through the emergence of the heretofore politically marginal Communist Party. A massive influx of new members after the coup concealed this vulnerability.

But could it have been different? Ealham suggests some possibilities. He highlights the empowering dimension of collective action undertaken in challenging circumstances, such as the rent strike launched just before the beginning of the Republic and subsequent ongoing protests by the unemployed and street vendors against efforts to drive them from the streets. Both created opportunities for organizing broad based support within proletarian neighborhoods centered issues of daily subsistence and hostility towards the police. Such support bent in the face of government repression, but the implication is that such actions created an enduring relationship that could not be permanently severed, whereas the small group campaign of assassinations and bank robberies did not. Even so, Ealham displays an ambivalence, as he does acknowledge public support for them as the Depression became more and more acute. Sectarianism also played a role as CNT militants fought with others on the left during these efforts, preventing them from realizing the reward of community based direct action activism.

Furthermore, women were an essential feature of community direct action efforts like rent strikes and efforts to combat inflation in food prices, while only being involved in expropriations, if at all, in an auxiliary role. If women were rarely involved in bank robberies, it can also be assumed that they were similarly infrequently associated violent attacks upon employers. Militarized anarchism therefore had the predictable consequence of sidelining a major portion of the proletariat and lumpen proletariat from anarcho-syndicalist activity. It constituted a marginalization of the already limited role of working women within anarchism, where women, even those within unions, provided support primarily within the domestic sphere. As noted by Ealham, unions were essentially masculine spaces. Clearly, the anarchists were not alone in this, Ealham relates how, during the Civil War itself, the Trotskyite POUMistas sexually segregated their meetings, with male party members mocking female ones. But the result was still the same, the failure of a revolutionary movement to mobilize all of its participants to their fullest potential.

Is it possible that women might have suggested community direct action and mass mobilization alternatives to the small group violence that became such a publicly prominent feature of anarchism in Barcelona in the years before the coup? One does not have to accept gender stereotypes to pose such a question. As Iulia, a Greek anarchist, said in an interview published in We Are An Image of the Future: The Greek Revolt of December 2008:

If we suppose that Greek anarchists are sexist I would say that it has to do with their relationship to violence in a way that excludes other activities that are more feminine in quotation marks. They have to be heroic and if they're not they're not important in the movement. It's this structure of small faction each with their own leader or face, a persona, and I don't like that. It's a patriarchal structure. Greek society is quite patriarchal and we carry these structures into our own groups as well.

As for valuing masculine labor over female labor, we lack the organization in which the importance of female labor becomes obvious. The heroic acts are most important; that's the only narrative we have, and so feminine labor is not valued. I think that's why we don't have many squats in Greece, because it requires organization. But we're getting more and more squats.

In this, the gender relations of Catalonian anarchism provide an echo that can still be heard in the present day.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Notes: Malnutrition in Afghanistan 

This post marks the first in what will likely be an ongoing series of short posts that I'll be titling Book Notes. Not reviews (although I plan to write full reviews of other books when I find the inclination and time), they instead will consist of short observations on various of the many books that pass through my hands as part of my job.

Today's entry concerns a report from the South Asia Human Development Fund Department of the World Bank: Malnutrition in Afghanistan: Scale, Scope, Causes, and Potential Response

Finding this before me, I thought to myself, "Well, I probably won't like or agree with it, but let's see what they have to say about the effects of the war on malnutrition in Afghanistan." Here's about the only reference, beyond a generic reference to conflict, that even alludes to the war:
Public investments in nutrition are critical to support economic and social development and to provide increased stability supportive of national security.
That's it. The chapter on "Political Economy and Capacity to Address Undernutrition" has this to say:
This chapter examines the political economy, institutional structures, and implementation arrangements currently in place in Afghanistan to address undernutrition in relevant sectors. The capacity of theses structures and arrangements to implement effective, scaled-up nutrition interventions is also assessed. Two pillars of the Global Action Plan for Nutrition directly relate to this analysis.

The first pillar is the degree to which nutrition has achieved sufficient salience in the policy arena to be positioned as a foundation for national development. The following question is posed: Does nutrition have high-level support in the central government? The second pillar involves the following question: Does existing central-level support (of whatever magnitude) translate to a strong policy and programming infrastructure and capacity for provincial and lower-level implementation?
There you go, those are the salient political economy issues related to malnutrition in Afghanistan according to the World Bank.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

From the Archives: Unforgiving Years 

Victor Serge was a revolutionary who never strayed from his liberatory instincts. Born in Brussels to exiled anti-Czarist parents, he watched his younger brother waste away as his family lived in poverty. He moved to Paris as a young adult, and participated in the final spasm of anarchism within France before World War I. In 1917, he was among those in Barcelona that carried out the first failed Spanish Revolution. As you might expect, he made his way to Petrograd to align himself with the Bolsheviks in January 1919.

Serge opposed the Bolshevik turn to autocracy from its inception. During the 1920s, he sought to create a coalition that would effectively resist the onset of Stalinism. He displayed a remarkable bravery in doing so, continuing to speak out at mass meetings of workers despite threats of violence. After being jailed on a number of occasions, he was exiled to France in 1936, making his way to Mexico in 1941, where he died six years later. His biography, Memoirs of a Revolutionary, relates these experiences in rich detail, and, perhaps, I may get around to reviewing it some day.

Today, however, I am more interested in examining his great novel, Unforgiving Years, written in 1946, published in France in 1971 and translated into English in 2007. If not for the anti-Stalinism of the French New Left, it is doubtful that the book would have ever been published as Communists and liberals collaborated in its suppression. If not for the efforts of the translator, Richard Greeman, it would have probably never been available in English. Serge has a reputation as someone who placed politics before art, which is undoubtedly true, but Unforgiving Years is the equivalent of a deceased relative's diary accidentally discovered in a musty crate in the attic. Like such a diary, the narrative cuts through our preconceived notions of the past.

Unforgiving Years relates the collapse of the anti-Stalinist revolutionary left just before World War II, the horrors of that war its brave adherents anticipated and their ultimate demise upon the defeat of the Nazis. Serge tells this melancholy story episodically: Paris before the war, where he introduces us to the two protagonists, Sacha (or "D") and, briefly, Daria, his protege, as Sacha, a brilliant Comintern operative, renounces Stalinism and seeks to depart with his lover, Nadine, for the Americas as they leave Daria behind, Leningrad during the siege where Daria participates in the heroic, yet bittersweet, defense of the city, Berlin, just before the fall of the Reich, where Daria, as well as one of Sacha's undercover French Stalinist operatives, Alain, have organized the underground resistance against the Nazis, and, finally, Mexico, where Daria reunites with Sacha.

Serge draws upon his personal experience with all four locales to vividly dramatize the personal and political struggles of his protagonists. He subtlely portrays Paris as immersed in a self-satisfied absorption of the delights of bourgeois life, even as Sacha and his wife flee for their lives, fearful of being assassinated by Stalinist agents for their betrayal. The overall effect is one of a political noirism, with the subsequent fall of France in 1940 a foregone conclusion. But the most riveting aspects of this segment are Sacha's recollections of his involvement in the Bolshevik revolution. They convey an immediacy and intensity that one rarely encounters in any work that purports to emotionally expose the reality of past history.

For example:

If I passed my memories in review, scant happiness was there, no serenity, much harshness, steely exhaltation, labor, hunger, filth, danger, and moments torn as if slashed by knives; a host of cherished dead whose faces memory averts (because they were often worth more than I was), the woman of a night or of a season, the one I thought I loved who betrayed me while I was in prison, and the one who was faithful but died of typhus during a winter of famine, and I arrived too late to see her again, having crossed three hundred miles of snow; there was nothing left for me to keep of her, the neighbors had filched the sheets from the deathbed, the bed boards, the four books we owned, the toothbrush. I called together the taciturn bearded men, the women who faces were stiff with guilt, the nailbiting children. "Citizens!" I said. "You have stolen nothing from us. You have taken what is yours. The belongings of the dead are for the living, and for the poorest first. And we are scarely the living! We live for the men of the future . . ." I was a bad speaker in those days. Some of them came up and shook my hand, saying, "Thanks Citizen, for your kind words, your human words. What do you want for us to give back?" I cried: "NOTHING!"

Similarly, Sacha recalls a subsequent encounter with Daria after he had first met her in 1919:

In the year 1922, I ran into her in Feodossia, tending to her lungs which she said were "as wrecked as the floors of that factory, do you remember?" and striving to keep a glimmer of life going in the body of a scrawny baby girl, ten months old, who was soon to die. Daria was a director of schools, "no paper, no books, twice the children, half the teachers" and those at their wits' end. Hunger: two successive waves of terror. Premature aging had spoiled the childish charm of her youthful looks; her nose was pinched, her lips drained of color; her mouth twisted slightly out of line. I found her obtuse, almost stupid, with an edge of hysteria, one cool night on a pebbly strand bewitched by the most sparkling stars, when I tried to dispel the bitterness I perceived in her by trying to defend the Party's behavior . . . . Forehead banded by a black lace scarf, hands on knees, squatting on her heels like a sulky tomboy, Daria answered me curtly, clipping her phrases as she would have coldly ripped up the beliefs without which we could not have lived: "Spare me the theoretical considerations. And the lofty quotations out of books! I've seen the massacres, theirs and ours. Them, they're made for that, the rubbish of history, the debased humanity of drunken officers . . . But us, if it's no different, then it's a betrayal. We've betrayed plenty, I can tell you. See that rock over there? Officers trussed together, driven with sabers to the edge of the cliff. I saw men falling in bunches like big crabs . . . There are two many psychopaths on our side . . . Our side? What do I have in common with them? And you? Don't answer. What do they have in common in socialism? Keep your mouth shut, or I'll leave."

I kept my mouth closed. Then she let me put an arm around her shoulders. I felt her thinness, I wanted to squeeze her to me in a rush of affection. I only wanted to make her warmer, she froze. "Leave off, I'm not a woman anymore." "A great big child is what you are and always have been, Daria," I told her, "a wonderful child" . . . She shoved me so violently, I almost lost my balance. "Be a man, then. And keep your platitudes for a more appropriate time." We remained good friends.

Serge reportedly wrote quickly, on the run as it were, believing that he did not have the time required to polish it because there was too much to do, too many books and articles to be written in defense of the working class against the twin evils of Nazism and Stalinism, and, yet, you would never know it unless you were told. As proven by the foregoing passages which are consistent with the quality of the novel as a whole, Serge was an extraordinarily gifted prose stylist, capable of fusing abstract concepts, naturalism and personal intimacy within an engaging narrative. Through it all resides a compassionate humanism with which the reader never loses contact.

Such compassion is the touchstone of the remaining three interludes. In the first one, Daria, after being exiled to Central Asia because of her connection to Sacha, is called to Leningrad to assist in the defense of the besieged city. Here, Serge interweaves several paradoxical themes about the nature of the resistance. Most importantly, he respects it as the collective spontaneous response of a people facing the threat of extinction, but one that required that hierarchical leadership of the Party to prevail. It is this dependence to the point of accepting the continuance of the Party's power to set the boundaries of personal relationships, as symbolized by a Party decision to send away Daria's lover without telling her where he had been sent and what was likely to happen to him, that rendered any prospect of immediate reform after the war implausible.

To his credit, Serge does not romanticize this struggle, even as he romanticizes its participants. It was one of his gifts that he could convey an objective sense of history while personalizing those who shaped it. Drawing upon his memories of Petrograd in 1919 and 1920, when the impoverished city nearly fell to the Whites, he highlights the perils and the privations, and, of course, the extent to which the Party leadership exempted themselves from them, while describing the resistance as the accumulation of individual acts of heroism, often of the most mundane kind, sometimes bordering on irrationality and incomprehension. Victory is only evident through the rear view mirror, as are the acts that achieved it.

In the second one situated in Berlin just before the collapse of the Reich, Serge does something quite remarkable: he acknowledges the brutalities perpetrated by Germans even as he empathizes with the physical and psychological destruction of their society. In the 1920s, he had worked inside Germany with the Comintern to clandestinely organize the German working class to overthrow the Weimar Republic. He reveals his emotional attachment to it through several well developed, sympathetic characters, making him possibly the first revisionist who rejected the collective condemnation of the Germans people for the atrocities of the Reich. Coming from a revolutionary leftist associated with countries and peoples victimized by the Nazis, such a perspective comes across as much more sincere and compassionate than its subsequent espousal by right wing Germans seeking to resuscitate a dormant German nationalism.

But there is a more specific reason for it beyond the credibility of the speaker. Serge feminizes the destruction of the German working class in the character of Brigitte, a young woman whose husband was killed on the Eastern Front because, as she is informed by one of his returning friends, his fellow soldiers considered him insufficiently desensitized to the need to undertake savage measures against the populace. Having lost her husband as she experiences the destruction of her community by Allied bombers, she, like everyone around her, lacks the capacity to address anything other than her willingness to live.

Through Brigitte and those around her in the Alstadt district, Serge mourns the burial of the German working class that he and the Bolsheviks had hoped would lead the revolution in Europe. With the Russians remaining under the control of Stalin, and the German proletariat having immolated itself through its involvement, whether passively or enthusiastically, with the Nazis, the period of revolutionary struggle that had commenced with the Bolshevik Revolution was now at an end. Serge acknowledges it through the decision of Alain, now an undercover Communist operative working with Daria in Alstadt, to abandon political action for art upon the arrival of the Americans.

Finally, in the last segment, straightforwardly entitled, Journey's End, Daria travels to Mexico to reunite with Sacha and Nadine. Sacha lives on a remote rural estate in San Blas, the revolutionary now reduced to benevolent plantation owner. As he explains to a disoriented Daria upon their reunion:

I work my peons and pay them well; they steal from me well, too, but within reason; they're aware that I know about it, but not that I judge them to be in the right. If I paid them any more, they'd lose motivation and the local powers would brand me a public menance.

Even a European revolutionary like Sacha, it seems, slips into the role of a paternal father figure in relation to the indigenous populace with ease, without much introspection. As you might have guessed, this is Mexico as seen through the eyes of involuntary exiles. No longer on the cutting edge of history, no longer identified with the purported proletarian agents of transformation, Sacha, Nadine and Daria live a life most analoguous to the aristocracy of the Spanish latifundia. None of them appear to recognize the revolutionary potential of Central America that would manifest itself within the next ten years, as Sacha immerses himself in the geology and the flora of his adopted home.

Upon reading Unforgiving Years in 2008, one recognizes a new theme that has engrafted itself upon the novel. Faced with the brutalities of Stalinism, the anti-Stalinist left, the one that survived Khrushchev's secret speech and the collapse of state socialism in the USSR, increasingly abandoned violence and coercion to acheive its political ends. By the end of the novel, it is evident that Sacha, Daria and Alain no longer possess the will to act violently to bring about the revolution. Pacifism is now the order of the day for their real life descendants. King and Gandhi have replaced figures like Lenin, Trotsky and, to a lesser extent, anarchists like Durruti, as the motivational icons of the left.

It is a substitution that is universally celebrated across the political spectrum. It is unremarked, however, that it is also one that has, with the exception of the emergence of Chavez in Venezuela and Morales in Bolivia, worked to the great benefit of capitalism. Since the time of the novel, capitalism has expanded its reach from being regional to nearly global in scope. While the left has generally rejected violence as a means to attain power, capitalists have used it without hesitation. By the time of the Bush presidency, the US, as the country with the express mission of imposing a global capitalist order, had implemented express policies of first strike military action against any country or group that it perceived as either a military or economic threat.

Pacifism was definitely not an effective means of resistance, as the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Gaza, among others, can explain. It is an inescapable fact that violent non-leftist movements associated with Political Islam have been more effective at restraining the US than non-violent leftist ones. The left has evolved, therefore, into something akin to a secular version of Catholicism. If we nurture non-violence within ourselves, then, someday, we, in the sense of the human race, will someday march into the garden of socialism.

But the left lost more than just the willingness to act violently as a consequence of the grosteque extremes of Stalinism. It also lost the ideological justification for it, a justification that would render it acceptable to many people as a form of self-defense and empowerment. Within the American context, Alexander Berkman recognized that the violence of the state retained a legitimacy that the violence of the individual and non-state groups did not. He never discovered a way out of this dilemma. To this day, the left remains enshackled by it, and until it finds a way to resolve it, capitalist domination through nation states is likely to persist.

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IRS payments and third-party vendors 

I don't plan to turn this platform into a soapbox concerning details of my personal life, but this I thought might actually interest readers here and perhaps spark some discussion, so I thought it could serve some purpose to mention it.

So, I'm on a payment plan with the IRS for unpaid back taxes (unfortunately, I'm no Thoreau, although, truth be told, neither was Thoreau, who did eventually work to pay off his tax debt long before the scourges of imperialism and slavery had been abolished) and this month, due to circumstances I don't care to explain in any detail, I didn't have the money for my payment until the actual date that the payment was due. I called the IRS to see if I could either get them to note in the file that the money was on its way or if I could arrange some kind of electronic payment to them. I was told that the only way to get the money in on time and avoid the threat of default and, hence, a lien on my wages (the only conceivable threat the government could possibly offer me aside from imprisonment) was to go through a "third-party vendor" and that the IRS could only give me the number of this "third-party vendor" and could not, in fact, even provide me with a sense of how much the "nominal fee" for such a "service" might cost. Alas for you, dear reader, but I declined further investigation, gambling on bureaucratic inertia (which has proved successful in the past) otherwise I would report on such matters. I bring this to your attention only to note that in this "information age" era of "e-government," the tax collection authorities of the US federal government are apparently shopping out significant collection duties to private capitalist entities.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

From the Archives: Night of the Golden Butterfly 

It is hard for me to decide whether Tariq Ali is a good novelist or not, although others, such as Fatima Bhutto and Aamer Hussein, believe that he is. I find myself ambivalent about the jarring juxtaposition between his emotional and social insight and the frequent comic narrative devices prevalent in his novels. He cuts against the grain of the sense of serious purpose associated with many great novelists, displaying the irony and cutting humor for which he has long been recognized over the course of several decades of political activity. Perhaps, it is my respect for his political commitment that places the question of his skill as a novelist too close to home. Furthermore, his style is also more akin to the French masters of the 19th Century, like Balzac and Stendhal, as well as possibly chroniclers of the lives of the English gentry, like Trollope, so it is hard for me to judge given my limited exposure to them.

I can, however, confidently say that his novels are enjoyable to read, even as they address difficult and challenging subjects. It is tempting to say, at the risk of incurring his wrath, that Ali is a postmodern novelist, one who manipulates language, history and past experience so as to undermine, if not eradicate, the notion of grand narratives by substituting highly subjective personal ones in their place. I have no doubt that he would be angry with such a characterization, because I did get a rare opportunity to interview him several years ago, and he venomously expressed his contempt for such literary practices. I can still hear my ears ringing when he said, I just hate that! Instead, it is more accurate to say that he is fascinated with the subject of how the grand narratives of history are often subverted by others that his protagonists dismiss or fail to recognize until it was too late.

Clearly, this is one of Ali's major preoccupations in his series of novels known as the Islam Quintet, a series that just concluded with the publication of Night of the Golden Butterfly. In Butterfly, he wistfully contemplates the Pakistani disapora and the degradation of the Pakistan that they left behind. His protagonists are a group of aging Pakistanis who grew up together in Lahore in the late 1950s and early 1960s before leaving for Europe and the US (as he did), never to return except for short visits. He recalls the Lahore of that time with great fondness as a place of intellectual and social ferment, with the leftist characters, much like him, placing their faith in the future in Maoism.

The thread that runs through this group of characters is an intellectual and artist, Mohammed Aflatun, Plato for short. All of them know him, a man who was slightly older, a half generation ahead of them, in Lahore, with one of them, the narrator, Dara, a novelist, subsequently retaining a personal connection with him. Plato, like Dara, spent some time in London in the 1960s and 1970s, becoming a successful artist, known for his ascerbic paintings pillioring the Pakistani elite. Unlike Dara and the other characters of the novel, he returned to Lahore. Even if he was incapable of arresting the ascendency of corruption, Islamic fundamentalism and American clientelism within Pakistan, he preserved a cultural alternative, one rooted in historic Islamic intellectual traditions of tolerance and dissent. Ali relates the toxic effects of these enduring features of Pakistani life in a highly personalized manner, such as, for example, the violence and depravity of the Pakistani officer corps, and the exploitation of antiquated religious practices like Koranic marriage to preserve landed estates for male heirs. He implies that American imperialism gave harsh, outdated religious doctrines a new life in Pakistan after it seemed that they were on the way out during the heyday of 20th Century modernism.

Decades after their time together in Lahore, Plato sets the narrative of the novel in motion by calling Dara, and requesting that Dara write his biography, calling due an old debt. His current lover, the engaging Zaynab, has demanded one. Dara thereafter reestablishes contact with the friends of his youth, and confronts how their lives, and the future of Pakistan, turned out very differently from what they anticipated. Personal and familial achievements have not fully compensated for their failure to attain their idealistic aspirations. And, they live in a European and American world in which their status remains conditional, as Zahid, a surgeon, discovers when Vice President Cheney has him removed from his medical team immediately after 9/11, even though Zahid had saved his life. Ali's prose is clear and sharp, his characterizations devoid of sentimentality, yet empathetic, and his exaltation of the profane is again on display to charming effect.

Interestingly enough, all of the main characters, Dara, Plato, Zahid, Jindie, and Zaynab have created a new elite in exile in contradistinction to the ones that govern Pakistan. Dara is a critically acclaimed novelist, while Plato is a highly regarded artist. Zahid, as noted, is a surgeon, and Jindie, the lost love of Dara's youth, is Zahid's wife. Zaynab comes from a privileged Pakistani family, and finds a way to evade the strictures of a marriage to the Koran, a perverse marriage that even Wahhabi Muslims condemn. It is something worth noting, because it points towards a paradoxical fact: Ali comes from privileged Pakistani origins as well, and his leftism is infused by his anger at the corruption and hypocrisy that he has perpetually encountered. Has his Trotskyism has been a form of leftist refuge that permitted him to retain many of the features of his background in his daily life? Only a diligent and thorough biographer, if one is willing to step forward, can help us answer that question.

One of the most compelling aspects of the novel is Ali's recognition that the adored Maoism of his youth was rooted in Han Chinese nationalism, and hence, could not ultimately provide a model for revolutionary change in the lesser developed world. Here, we hear an echo of his tragic recollection of China's realpolitik decision to align itself with Pakistan when Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) attempted to secede in 1971. Islamic rightists taunted leftists like Ali as they killed and raped the populace, shouting Chairman Mao is with us, not you! He brings this out through the Jindie, a Pakistani Chinese Muslim woman whose family emigrated to Pakistan in the late 19th Century after the Han suppression of a Muslim rebellion in Yunnan province.

Here, too, as he has done in the earlier novels of the Quintet, Ali touches a upon a theme much highlighted by anthropologists in recent decades, the mutability of ethnic identity. In The Art of Not Being Governed, James Scott describes how the hill peoples of Southeast Asia took on new identities, with changes of religion, social organization and language, seemingly at the drop of a hat in response to perils. While the course of Jindie's life is not this extreme, she is, by the end of the novel, a Pakistani Chinese Muslim who has raised a family in the US. What is she? Pakistani? Chinese? Muslim? American? Of course, the answer is that she is all of them, and more, she is, first and foremost, a woman.

Ali has publicly said that he was motivated to become a novelist by his interest in discovering what do you do in a period of defeat? His brilliance lies in his decision to excavate, contemplate and give fictional representation to this subject within the context of Islam and its relationship with Christianity and the West. But his recognition of the importance of the experiences of people like Jindie also suggests that a resurgent left will someday emerge, centered around an understanding that people have a multiplicity of identities beyond the simplistic ones imposed upon them.

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

How anarchist is Wikileaks? 

So, I don't know how provocative this might be, and as I mentioned in comments I'm rather disenchanted with the relevance of this idea as I've thought about it harder, but I'm going to go ahead and see what meaning can be perhaps teased out of what I was originally thinking in the process of writing out this post.

Richard posted, here and here, concerning the relevance of Wikileaks to anarchism. Now, it seems fairly obvious that Assange himself does not consider himself an anarchist. The following interview with Assange wherein, properly pointing out the hypocrisy of the use of the term "terrorism," he repeatedly invokes the "rule of law" and wonders about the US; "is it going to descend into a state of anarchy?" seems to to me to suggest that Assange is no anarchist, as that is definitely not how most anarchists would frame those issues, even if sharing the same concerns.

However, I would like to relate Wikileaks to what is most certainly an anarchist idea, which is the idea of "the long memory," terminologically coined by Utah Phillips, as far as I can determine, but certainly with strong roots in both anarchist practice and theory going back far beyond him. Here's what the late Phillips had to say about "the long memory" in an interview with Amy Goodman:
The long memory is the most radical idea in America. That long memory has been taken away from us. Listen, you young people I’m talking to, that long memory has been taken away from you. You haven’t gotten it in your schools. You’re not getting it on your television. You’re not getting it anywhere. You’re being leapfrogged from one crisis to the next. You know, you can’t remember what happened last week, because you’re locked into this week’s crisis.
As I've heard Phillips talk about "the long memory" in other contexts, it seems clear that he is most often referring to oral history, the passing down of knowledge from one generation to the next within conscious cultures of resistance, and the like. That attitude is certainly epitomized what immediately followed the above:

    No, turn that off. You know, walk away from that. Walk out your front door. Go find your elders. Go find your true elders. Go find your people that lived that life, who knew that life and who know that history. And get your hands down into that deep rich stream of our people’s history. We divided our culture up into a market for youngers, a market for young adults, a market for young marrieds, a market for older people, you know. It’s not that way. And mass media contributed to that by taking the great movements that we’ve been through and trivializing important events. No, our people’s history is like one long river. It flows down from way over there. And everything that those people did and everything they lived flows down to me, and I can reach down and take out what I need, if I have the courage to go out and ask questions. That huge river, you know, it’s like tributaries that flow down into the polluted river and purify it and purify it.

However, immediately before he begins talking about "the long memory" he says:
And no fooling, I think that we’re in the Weimar Republic. And that’s another thing that I would encourage young people to understand, what—that was Germany before the Second World War, the rise of Hitler, the rise of Nazism. Why didn’t people do anything? You know, the big question that young Germans are asking their grandparents: “Why didn’t you do something?” Read about the Weimar, compare the rise of fascism in Germany from the 1920s to what’s happening right here right now.
None of this is necessarily to point to Phillips as a particularly original anarchist thinker, although I would suggest that such an honorific is less important to anarchists who look to traditions of resistance and the maintenance of understandings of how power works as their guides for future action, rather than specific theorists or activist heroes. In fact, I would suggest, that orientation is exactly is what is meant by "the long memory."

The point of "the long memory" that makes it truly anarchist, it seems to me, is that the knowledge of both historical and tactical realities is spread out on as wide a basis as utterly possible. It should not reside in the works of any institutional historian, theorist, or guru, but is instead considered and treated as a public good. The more people have it, the better.

At this point, perhaps the basic trajectory of my argument is already clear, but to make it explicit, I think that even if no-one involved with Wikileaks considers themselves anarchists, their past activities and general strategy should be whole-heartedly supported by anarchists as they can only serve to aid in the production of "the long memory."

This is true firstly in terms of the revelations that have been provided, adding some immediacy to "the long memory." Whereas information of this sort otherwise often takes decades to be revealed, at which point its relevance to current concerns is extremely diluted--think, for example, of the very convincing documentation of CIA interference in the Italian elections of 1948 or of direct White House involvement in the Pinochet coup in Chile, that other September 11th--incidents now well-documented, but not generally considered of current relevance and conveniently dismissed as of the past, in the case of Wikileaks we have very current evidence of (mostly citing Greenwald):

1. The cavalier attitude with which US air gunships are willing to open up on random crowds in urban Iraq.
2. The fact that US forces, as a matter of official policy, ignored torture by Iraqi forces under their tutelage.
3. The US underreporting known civilian deaths resulting from the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations (not that I believe the numbers given in the Pentagon documents given to Wikileaks approach the true scale either).
4. SoS Clinton was directly involved in a plot to spy on top UN officials
5. The Obama administration actively worked to undermine any criminal or bureaucratic investigations into Bush administration involvement in torture and war crimes in Spain, Germany, Britain.
6. Secret air bombardment wars in Yemen and Pakistan.
7. The extreme disparity between the attitudes of the autocratic Arab governments that we support politically, militarily, financially, and diplomatically and the views of the peoples of the region (specifically concerning Iran).

Now, none of these revelations seemed very surprising to cynical old me, but with the activities of Wikileaks, we have an ability to say, "Look, this is how your governments are operating now" and that strikes me as valuable for forming the long memory of the current generation, as opposed to, say, decades-later apologies for supporting the coup in Guatemala in the 1950s, even if it does not seem to making the impression that we might hope in the immediate term.

Finally, the other way that the anarchist perspective should view Wikileaks in terms of "the long memory," I would argue, is as a reminder of the way that the state will react to even minor threats to its prerogatives, in this case, the effective monopoly on important information and speech. The fact that there are calls to utilize the Espionage Act to prosecute Wikileaks should invite scrutiny of the way that the Espionage Act has been used in earlier times, notably for throwing Eugene Debs in prison for "obstructing recruiting" through delivering an anti-war speech and other examples of anti-war suppression.

The "long memory," in other words, should seek to incorporate both the information that Wikileaks has outed as well as the way that the state has reacted to the outing of that information and it should do so with an understanding that these are of a temporal continuum wherein the institutions of the state tends to act and react in similar ways. History, as has been said before, may not repeat itself, but it rhymes.

[much later edit]:

In response to discussion in the comments section, I realized that I had left out a key portion of my original argument as it existed in my head while formulating the idea for the post and I thought I would bring it up here from the comments section (slightly edited for clarity) where it might be clearer to those not necessarily haunting the comments section: "What I should have discussed in the post and was in my original thinking about it--which I now realize was a major omission on my part, partly caused by a very frustrating Windows blue screen of death in the middle of writing it--was that my anarchist perspective leads me to believe that these revelations serve a long-term purpose beyond any simple instrumentalist uses in the here and now, because they provide some (only some!) of the basis for underpinning the long-term memory of how these systems work amongst the broader masses of people (and yes, there's the digital divide and all that, which is of course problematic, but I don't think it undermines my overall point). And, perhaps, that such an understanding of how Wikileaks' contributions would be considered more valuable to the anarchist perspective that seeks the broadest knowledgeable participation in the reconstruction of the world might contrast to what I would perceive to be more instrumentalist perspectives of electoral leftists and even some revolutionary, but more vanguardist, leftists who seem to me to be primarily concerned with the current purposes to which the Wikileaks revelations can be put."

Post script: sorry for the ugly text formatting, I can't seem to figure out what I'm doing wrong with it. Does anyone know what the default font is here?

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Holiday Notice 

I will be on vacation until December 30, 2010. In the meantime, I will repost several book reviews that I consider to be especially important. But there is always the chance that Rojo may surprise us with a provocative new post as well.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Assange: We Can Walk and Chew Gum at the Same Time 

A couple of days ago, lenin put up a good post on the subject of Assange and the ongoing investigation of sexual assault charges against him in Sweden. So, perhaps, my effort today is unnecessary. Even so, I think that there are some important things to note that I haven't encountered much, if at all, during the often heated discussion about it.

Clearly, the publication of extensive details of the allegations against Assange by the Guardian has compelled many on the left who have been uncritically rallying to his defense to reconsider their stance, as Michael Moore did the other day. Lost in the furor, though, is the fact, as I have noted several times, that the credibility of the victims is being more severely damaged by the actions of the Swedish prosecutors and the US government. Of course, this has little to do with whether they are truthful or not (and, as noted by lenin, the historical tendency has been to smear or dismiss the accounts of rape victims), but the apparent coordination between the actions of the Swedish prosecutors and the US, which are hard to characterize as coincidental, contributes to a public perception that the allegations are merely a ruse to deliver Assange into the torturous bowels of indefinite solitary confinement already occupied by Bradley Manning.

Hence, if the Swedes want us to take their investigation seriously, they should publicly announce that they will not transfer Assange into US custody if he is extradited to Sweden for futher investigation and possible criminal prosecution. But, as already noted here, the Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny, has instead opted to evade the issue, thus intensifying suspicions as to her true motivation. Again, it can't be emphasized too strongly that the credibility of the complainants themselves end up being damaged by such shenanigans. Likewise, people with a strong commitment to the investigation and prosecution of sex crimes should urge the Swedes to make such a commitment as well. Otherwise, there is the very real prospect that the outcome of these proceedings will be the delivery of Assange into US custody by the Swedes, without any further investigation of the allegations against him. If that happens, future rape victims will confront even greater skepticism in cases involving public figures.

And, it may already be too late. Given the release of materials from Ny's file, the likelihood of charges being brought, much less successfully prosecuted, has been significantly reduced because of defenses now available to Assange based upon prosecutorial misconduct and the inability to obtain a fair trial. Furthermore, we can't assume that the materials released to the Guardian are comprehensive, the people who leaked the documents may well have held back exculpatory evidence, evidence tending to exonerate Assange. For prosecutors, if they really want to charge and convict someone, the rule is pretty straightforward. Let the defendant play the media game, and talk as much as he wants, through himself or through surrogates, while you keep your mouth shut and let your evidence in court do the talking instead. Experienced prosecutors have known this for a long time, with an exception for a few well-timed leaks to friendly journalists. But you have to be a professional to carry that off, and Ny seems to lack this skill. Again, the complainants are the ones who suffer from the prosecutor's contribution to the media circus that surrounds the investigation. On the other side of the ledger, the apparent fact that the complainants did not go the police until they got together and talked about their experiences is not very helpful to Assange, his supporters' protestations to the contrary. It is, after all, fairly common for women who have been subjected to sexually assaultive behavior to delay going to law enforcement until they have received encouragement, although the fact that the alleged victims provided it to each other does seem unusual.

What about Assange's so-called leftist defenders? I say, so-called, because many of them, like Michael Moore, for example, strike me as liberals instead. In any event, we find ourselves subjected to the same Manichean, good versus evil response that so characterized the response of some leftists to the Iranian protests last year. Just as the protests had to be instigated by the CIA and the Mossad, refusing to consider the possibility that Iranians had their own reasons to be angry with the regime, we now find outselves subjected to claims that one of the complainants against Assange is possibly associated with the CIA through her activities in support of Cuban dissidents. Well, anything is possible, and perhaps we will learn more of substance about this, but, for now, it is important to point out that there have been people on the left who have identified with Cuban dissidents, people such as long time Italian leftist, and former PCI member, Rossana Rossanda, for example. Accordingly, the possibility that Anne Ardin, as a Swedish Social Democrat, could support Cuban dissidents and Palestinian self-determination, is not implausible.

As with the situation in Iran, it is long past time for us on the left to walk and chum gum at the same time, as one feminist blog encouraged us to do in relation to the Assange situation. We can move beyond a faux leftism that sees events through the conspiratorial mirror of US and Israeli actions, and instead relate to them in terms of historic left values of secular inclusion, equality and anti-imperialism, which requires an appreciation of the perspective of radical feminism. Accordingly, we can insist that Sweden commit to not delivering Assange into US custody, even as we likewise insist upon the importance of a thorough investigation of the charges against Assange. It is an essential endeavor, because, in this instance, we can see how the empire, and the capital behind it, have successfully put many people who should be allies at odds with one another. The US has effectively driven a wedge between liberal and leftist supporters of Assange and feminists. Now, not all feminists are leftists, of course, but many are, and we should not allow the empire to divide us. Together, we can fight misogyny, sexual violence and imperial oppression, while divided all three will persist, and possibly gain strength.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Dancing with Dynamite 

Back in July 2007, I reviewed Ben Dangl's The Price of Fire, an excellent book that described how Bolivians collectively organized against the neoliberal globalization process to preserve their access to the resources necessary for their survival. Now, Dangl is back with a new book, Dancing with Dynamite, addressing the problematic relationship that the social movements of several South American countries have with the left leaning governments of the region. Many of these movements are associated with the historic grievances of campesinos and indigenous peoples going back centuries.

It is a timely subject, one that, as with most issues associated with South America, we are tempted to push to the side because of our ongoing, necessary preoccupations with the perpetually expanding war on terror and the sub-proletarianization of the US and Europe. But, given that the people there have resisted the postmodern atomization of social life throughout much of the rest of the world, and insisted upon alternatives to neoliberalism, we should remain engaged with what is happening there. For, it is primarily within South America that we perceive the prospect of either a post-capitalist order or one in which the voraciousness of capital is sharply curtailed. His work provides us with new insights and encourages us to speculate about the social forces that will shape the future.

Generally, Dangl presents a dynamic whereby social movements seek to obtain greater autonomy within the nation state, sometimes in conflict with the electoral left within government and sometimes not, while aligning with leftist political parties when necessary to prevent the reemergence of right wing control as it is universally acknowledged that a return to rightist repression and neoliberal economic policy would be catastrophic. He suggests that social movements retain the most effectiveness in terms of achieving their aspirations and containing the rightist threat, when they preserve an independent stance in relation to the political process. Dangl describes this complex, often contradictory relationship between social movements and leftist political parties as a dance, one that requires cooperation without cooptation.

Both Bolivia and Venezuela are interesting examples of how this dynamic plays out on the ground because of their relative distance from American influence. Not surprisingly, the chapters about the social movements in these countries are the longest ones in the book, and Dangl brings out the similarities and differences in regard to the relationship of their social movements to the state. Both countries are governed by charismatic leaders, who, by virtue of their personal appeal, have the capability of incorporating independent activism into their electoral organizations. But both also require a vibrant, activist culture to remain politically viable.

However, in Bolivia, Dangl relates how Morales, and his political party, the Movement Toward Socialism, the MAS, have, by and large, successfully channeled pre-existing demands for the transformation of society into the decisionmaking processes of representative government. He expresses concern about his discovery that the community organizations of El Alto, once a center of anti-authoritarian resistance to state authority, have become quiescent. Meanwhile, in Venezuela, Chavez remains an inspirational figure for millions of poor Venezuelans, one who encourages them to take charge of their communities through demands for public services, such as water and power, as well as by seeking legal recognition of land seizures, housing developments and cooperative factory takeovers, frequently in the face of institutional resistance. Paradoxically, social movements in Venezuela face the challenge of becoming powerful enough to effectively organize themselves independent of the government, while those in Bolivia struggle to preserve their hard fought independence.

Perhaps, this is attributable to the differing socioeconomic terrain in the two countries. Social movements in Bolivia, especially ones involving indigenous peoples, have the express purpose of decentralizing power to the point of achieving the dissolution of the nation state itself. Conversely, decentralization has been a prominent feature of Venezuelan life for decades, with the people there having lived through the rapid urbanization of the country in the absence of a strong administrative presence. Furthermore, indigenous people play a more prominent role in Bolivia because they constitute a substantial part of the population, while, in Venezuela, they are much less so. Hence, the people of Bolivia have a stronger tradition of resistance to the nation state form of organization imposed by Europeans, resulting in a strong anti-authoritarian sensibility, while the Venezuelan left retains the influence of Trotsky and Luxemburg, probably reinforced through various waves of immigration. But, despite such different ideological traditions, Dangl implies that the momemtum in both countries appears to be in the same direction, towards the creation of a highly democratized Keynesian social welfare state.

Unfortunately, there is a more sinister possibility, as revealed by Dangl's exploration of social and political conditions in Paraguay. In 2008, former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo won the presidential election there, a historic victory for the left in a country dominated by an oligarchy for decades. But, upon visiting there, Dangl discovers that little has changed in the last two years. One political analyst tells Dangl that the powerful interests in the country can be described as follows:

1) the oligarchy, consisting of soy growers and cattle ranchers who rely upon paramilitaries to allow them to expand

2) the narco-traffickers who pay off politicians

3) the lumpen business class, which relies upon international trade and black market goods

4) the transnational corporations who that buy and export soy, cotton and sugar

Accordingly, poor urban and campesino movements remain marginalized, despite Lugo's victory. Campesinos are finding it hard to retain their land against the incursions of the transnational soy business, tragically related to Dangl through the experiences of the victims, much less obtain more through land reform.

Of course, one can imagine similar outcomes in other countries throughout the region, including left bastions like Venezuela and Bolivia, as James Petras has already done. There is nothing irreversible about what has transpired there, particularly given the personality cults centered around Morales and Chavez. Such a propect points toward something that deserves investigation beyond what Dangl has done in Dancing with Dynamite, the role of the industrialized workforce in the social transformation of South America. In his chapter on Brazil, Dangl contrasts the laudable radicalism of the landless workers movement, the MST, with the accommodation of President Lula, and his party, the Worker's Party, the PT, with international capital. The proletariat, and its informalized brethren, are noteworthy for their absence and it is a significant one, given the industrialization of Brazil with the assistance of foreign investment since World War II.

An examination of the relationship between unions, pension funds and foreign investment in Brazil might be revelatory in this regard. Consider, for example, Francisco de Oliveira's evaluation of Lula's record in 2006:

Lula’s reconstruction of the system of power, after the dizzying decomposition that had led to his own election, has been geared around a further, externally oriented shift towards financialization and export-led growth, with new relations of domination powerfully over-determined by globalized capital. Exports have been led by the expanding agribusiness sector. With few exceptions, the other export fronts are in low value-added commodities, with little capacity for establishing strong, inter-industrial relations or self-sustaining growth processes on a national scale. These sectors have limited means for binding together broad social interests and generally tend towards a strong concentration of wealth, as exemplified by agribusiness, founded on an expropriated workforce.

In Brazil’s semi-peripheral economy, capitalization was always closely tied to the state. Financialization, in its latest form, has also been dependent on state-linked capital, via the pension funds of public-sector enterprises; these were developed as a type of private welfare insurance by the military dictatorship, on the model of the Banco do Brasil’s Previ scheme. The 1988 Constitution capped this with establishment of the Workers’ Assistance Fund (fat), now the principal contributor to the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (bndes). There is currently an attempt to attract further foreign investment with new domestic financial instruments, via the pension funds and a banking system that largely depends on transactions involving government bonds. Ultimately, such dependence on external capital flows can only deepen the crisis of peripheral neoliberalism. As Cardoso himself, on whose watch the national debt multiplied tenfold, has put it, It is not the government that controls the debt, but the debt that controls the government. The policy of external financing leads to an exponential increase in the debt burden, hamstringing the accumulation of capital. It also functions as a powerful mechanism for the concentration of income in the financial system. Banks’ profits have risen to staggering new heights under the Workers Party government.

The consequence of such policies are social formations that de Oliveira has described as a duck-billed platypus, a creature that combines external dependency with casualized labour, truncated accumulation with an unremittingly inegalitarian social order. According to de Oliveira, the most conspicuous feature of this order is the creation of a new social class, defined by its access to and control over public funds.

There is therefore an urgency to an effort to move beyond an examination of social movements created by indigenous people, campesinos and the jobless, and their relationship to leftist electoral parties, as so compellingly profiled by Dangl, to others more centrally located in the process of capitalist accumulation in South America. I say more centrally located, because they are workers, whether formal or informal, who directly faciliate the process of truncated capital accumulation referenced by de Oliveira, whereas those emphasized by Dangl constitute its detritus, useful to the current economic order only if they can be reconstituted in a form rendering them subject to the accumulation process.

Similarly, such an examination in Argentina, where Dangl posits the desultory interaction between social movements, such as the jobless piqueteros, the middle class and the government as an explanation for the demobilization of social movements since the economic collapse of late 2001 and early 2002, might provide further insight as well. It might partially explain why Kirchner was able to reconstruct capitalism in Argentina as he has acknowledged.

Beyond clarifying current social conditions in Brazil and Argentina, it could also make a strong contribution to Dangl's effort to show how the practices of South American social movements can be effectively utilized by people in the US, as he has done in relation to the Republic Windows and Doors occupation, successful efforts to reverse the privatization of municipal water systems and the Take Back the Land Movement in south Florida, where homeless people seize empty, foreclosed properties for their homes. In any event, the proletariat, even in its currently disorganized condition, is likely to play a major, possibly decisive role, in deciding the future of the South American left, despite its premature dismissal by Chavez.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Program Note 

In the next day or so, I hope to publish a post about the recent release of the police report describing the factual allegations against Assange, but, for now, I am in agreement with As'ad Abukhalil, the Angry Arab:

Many angry leftists wrote to me in protest against what I wrote last week regarding accusations against Assange. I merely said that leftists should rally to the support of Assange as a victim of a global, US-orchestrated campaign to punish him for the release of documents--the authenticity of which have not been questioned--but should not necessarily rally to his defense regarding the accusations by the two women. Both things can be true: that the accusations may have some validity while it is also indubitably true that the use of the interpol and the prosecutor's office in Sweden is conducted on behalf of the US for political purposes. As I read the long report in the New York Times this morning about the accusations by the two women--and I believe that those accusations should be investigated--I wondered to myself: since when does the horrible New York Times care about the plight of female victims of sexual assault and molestation? Why does not the pages of New York Times be used to investigate sexual crimes in New York City for example?

I am tempted to expand upon this more now, but I have to make sure that my young son doesn't end up watching Kipper all day.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Introducing myself and Jody McIntyre 

Hello all. Richard and Joe have been kind enough to allow me to post the occasional post here. I go by the nom-de-web, Rojo. Regular visitors to comments may recognize me from there. I'll be a relatively infrequent visitor here as long as their forbearance holds out. Within the next couple days, I will be posting with a take on (what else?) Wikileaks. Not on the particular circumstance of Assange, which Richard has been so ably covering, but on the question Richard broached in earlier posts: how anarchist is Wikileaks?

More importantly for now, I'd like to (via Angry Arab) direct your attention to this interview, over at Electronic Intifada, with Jody McIntyre, the young man suffering from cerebral palsy who came to my and many other people's attention after being dragged from a wheelchair by the police during the protests against the educational cuts in Britain and then conducting himself with politically-astute aplomb during a subsequent hostile BBC interview about the matter, pointing out that his treatment, in his view, was due to the police wishing to provoke violence. Among the many valuable points he made in that interview, he briefly suggested that the way the BBC wanted to blame the victim in his case reminded him of how the BBC wanted to blame the victim in the case of the Palestinians. Unsurprisingly, there's more on this point during the EI interview, as the Beeb interviewer was clearly not interested in exploring the issue.

Friday, December 17, 2010

If Extradited to Sweden, Assange Will Be Turned Over to the US (Part 2) 

From The Independent:

US authorities have stepped up their efforts to prosecute Julian Assange by offering Bradley Manning, the American soldier allegedly responsible for leaking hundreds of thousands of government documents, the possibility of a plea bargain if he names the Wiki-Leaks founder as a fellow conspirator.

The development follows claims by Mr Assange's supporters that a grand jury has been secretly empanelled in northern Virginia to consider indicting the wikileaks chief. But the US Justice Department has refused to comment on any grand jury activity.

As Mr Assange arrived last night at the East Anglia mansion after his release from a London prison on bail, he said he considered the threat of US legal action to be extremely serious even though they have yet to be confirmed. He told Sky News: We have heard today from one of my US lawyers that there may be a US indictment for espionage for me coming from a secret grand jury investigation. There are obviously serious attempts to take down the content by taking us down as an organisation and taking me down as an individual.

American officials view persuading Pte Manning to give evidence that Mr Assange encouraged him to disseminate classified Pentagon and State Department files as crucial to any prospect of extraditing him for a successful prosecution. To facilitate that, Pte Manning may be moved from military to civilian custody, they say. Since being charged in July with disseminating a US military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters that killed 17 people in Iraq including two Reuters employees, the soldier has been held at the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia. But members of his support network insist that he has not co-operated with the authorities since his arrest in May.

Frankly, this smacks of desperation. Manning's credibility would be destroyed if he entered into such an agreement, but the Justice Department may be relying upon a nationalistic jury to look past it. Furthermore, Assange's attorneys would be permitted to cross-examine Manning about his harsh conditions of his confinement as well, casting more doubt upon any incriminating statements, unless the judge sharply circumscribed the ability of Assange's attorneys to question him. Of course, there is no guarantee that, even if Manning provided the desired testimony, it would be sufficient to support a verdict against Assange. In any event, there is no indication to date that Manning is cooperating with prosecutors.

And, we are getting more and more troubling information about precisely what is happening to Manning, and, in addition, his supporters on the outside:

According to David House, a computer researcher from Boston who visits Manning twice a month, he is starting to deteriorate. Over the last few weeks I have noticed a steady decline in his mental and physical wellbeing, he said. His prolonged confinement in a solitary holding cell is unquestionably taking its toll on his intellect; his inability to exercise due to [prison] regulations has affected his physical appearance in a manner that suggests physical weakness.

Manning, House added, was no longer the characteristically brilliant man he had been, despite efforts to keep him intellectually engaged. He also disputed the authorities' claims that Manning was being kept in solitary for his own good.

I initially believed that his time in solitary confinement was a decision made in the interests of his safety, he said. As time passed and his suicide watch was lifted, to no effect, it became clear that his time in solitary – and his lack of a pillow, sheets, the freedom to exercise, or the ability to view televised current events – were enacted as a means of punishment rather than a means of safety.

House said many people were reluctant to talk about Manning's condition because of government harassment, including surveillance, warrantless computer seizures, and even bribes. This has had such an intimidating effect that many are afraid to speak out on his behalf, House said.

Some friends report being followed extensively. Another computer expert said the army offered him cash to – in his words – infiltrate the wikileaks website. He said: I turned them down. I don't want anything to do with this cloak and dagger stuff.

When the Washington Post tried to investigate the claim, an army criminal investigation division spokesman refused to comment. We've got an ongoing investigation, he said. We don't discuss our techniques and tactics.

On 3 November, House, 23, said he found customs agents waiting for him when he and his girlfriend returned to the US after a short holiday in Mexico. His bags were searched and two men identifying themselves as Homeland Security officials said they were being detained for questioning and would miss their connecting flight. The men seized all his electronic items and he was told to hand over all passwords and encryption keys – which he refused. The items have yet to be returned, said House. He added: If Manning is convicted, it will be because his individual dedication to human ethics far surpasses that of the US government.

Reminicsent of the effort that placed Leonard Peltier behind bars, the US government effort against Manning and Assange is going to be relentless. And, as with Peltier, the prospect of the Anglo-American system of jurisprudence exercising its independence and ordering their release, if the US eventually extradites Assange here, is nil.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dubstep Rome 

UPDATE: Assange is released on bail in London, as US Attorney General Eric Holder prepares a conspiracy case against him. It looks like the expectation is that Bradley Manning can be abused badly enough in solitary confinement to say whatever is necessary to convict him.

INITIAL POST: As you may have heard, violent clashes erupted on the streets of Rome yesterday after Berlusconi survived a no-confidence vote:

Meanwhile, the electoral opposition to Berlusconi is engaging in the predictable search for police provocateurs as a partial explanation for the eruption of violence in Rome:

Anna Finocchiaro, leader in the Senate of Italy's biggest opposition group, the Democratic party, said: There were evidently people who had been infiltrated [among the rioters] and who put at risk the demonstrators and the police. Who commanded them? Who paid them? What were they meant to cause?

Photographs taken during the disturbances have prompted not only suspicions but bitter memories of the 1970s when rogue members of the police and intelligence services lent themselves to a so-called strategy of tension aimed at raising the level of violence to the point at which it could be used to justify draconian repression or even a coup d'état.

Yesterday, groups of masked and hooded demonstrators rampaged through the capital attacking police, smashing windows, setting fire to vehicles and throwing up barricades. The mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, said first indications were that they had caused damage of about €20m. The disturbances were thought to be the most violent in Rome since 1977.

One of the participants in this week's rioting was photographed hurling a dustbin at members of the revenue guard and wielding a long shovel. But in other shots, he appears to be standing with the guards raising a truncheon in one hand and holding a pair of handcuffs in the other.

I have no trouble believing that there were, in fact, police provocateurs on the streets of Rome yesterday instigating some acts of property destruction, just as there were in London last week. And people in Italy have good cause to be concerned about it because of the 1970s strategy of tension mentioned in the article, a covert program that involved bombings and assassinations carried out by neo-fascists, with the apparent assistance of the Central Intelligence Agency, that were falsely attributed to radical left groups.

But the attacks upon the police, the burning of cars and the smashing of store windows in Rome cannot be entirely attributed to government manipulation. First off, people on the street were already angry, and rightly so. Hence, if provoked, they directed their anger towards whatever symbols of privilege were immediately at hand. Second, it strikes me as implausible to believe that the eruption of conflict was limited to situations exploited by the police. There was an independent agency, and that agency was, again, young people rebelling against the bleak future that the European Union and the European Central Bank have planned for them.

Apparently, the government has confidence that it can benefit from instigating them into more and more acts of property destruction and conflict with the police. But the rebellion is increasingly showing signs of spreading across the entire continent. Greece, then France, then the UK, then Italy and now, Greece, again today. Intensifying social unrest in one place as a means of generating local support for repressive measures may have the unintended consequence of inciting unrest elsewhere on a larger scale.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

If Extradited to Sweden, Assange Will Be Turned Over to the US (Part 1) 

Today, the final pieces of the puzzle fell into place as to how the Swedish extradition warrant against Julian Assange will be used to facilitate his delivery into US custody. Yesterday, Marianne Ny, the Swedish prosecutor who wants Assange returned to Sweden for questioning in relation to a sex crime investigation, posted the following opaque statement about Assange's possible extradition to the United States on the prosecution's website:

Due to general agreements in the European Arrest Warrant Act, Sweden cannot extradite a person who has been surrendered to Sweden from another country without certain considerations. Concerning surrender to another country within the European Union, the Act states that the executing country under certain circumstances must approve a further surrender.

On the other hand, if the extradition concerns a country outside the European Union the authorities in the executing country (the country that surrendered the person) must consent such extradition. Sweden cannot, without such consent extradite a person, for example to the U.S.A.

In other words, as reported by Robert Mackey of the New York Times, the United Kingdom, as the country that executed the extradition warrant, must approve any decision by Sweden to allow the US to take custody of Assange. But, why, you may ask, doesn't the US merely request that the UK transfer him to the US now? Well, according to Mackey, it is pretty difficult for the US to extradite anyone from the UK, citing the case of Scottish computer hacker Gary McKinnon, who remains in the UK despite an eight year old indictment and extradition request.

So, in addition to the fact that Ny has not disavowed any intention to have Assange turned over to the US, there is the additional one that it appears much easier to have Assange extradited to the US from Sweden with UK approval than it is to have Assange extradited to the US directly from the UK. Not to worry, you say, the UK would never do it, you say?

Don't be so sure. Today, there was this bombshell in relation to the appeal of the judge's order to release Assange on bail:

The decision to have Julian Assange sent to a London jail and kept there was taken by the British authorities and not by prosecutors in Sweden, as previously thought, the Guardian has learned.

The Crown Prosecution Service will go to the high court tomorrow to seek the reversal of a decision to free the wikileaks founder on bail, made yesterday by a judge at City of Westminster magistrates court.

It had been widely thought Sweden had made the decision to oppose bail, with the CPS acting merely as its representative. But today the Swedish prosecutor's office told the Guardian it had not got a view at all on bail and that Britain had made the decision to oppose bail.

Lawyers for Assange reacted to the news with shock and said CPS officials had told them this week it was Sweden which had asked them to ensure he was kept in prison.

Karin Rosander, director of communications for Sweden's prosecutor's office, told the Guardian: The decision was made by the British prosecutor. I got it confirmed by the CPS this morning that the decision to appeal the granting of bail was entirely a matter for the CPS. The Swedish prosecutors are not entitled to make decisions within Britain. It is entirely up to the British authorities to handle it.

As a result, she said, Sweden will not be submitting any new evidence or arguments to the high court hearing tomorrow morning. The Swedish authorities are not involved in these proceedings. We have not got a view at all on bail.

If there was any doubt as to whether the UK would object to the US seizing Assange upon extradition to Sweden, this pretty much eliminates it. The Crown Prosecution Office objection to Assange's bail is strong circumstantial evidence that the UK is already working in concert with the US.

If the judge orders extradition (and, as this point, the judge looks like the only thing standing between Assange and US incarceration), the US will request that the Swedes turn Assange over to them in relation to a sealed indictment. The Swedes, after obtaining the approval of the UK, will do so. At some point shortly thereafter, US Attorney Eric Holder will hold a press conference, announcing that a variety of serious federal felony charges have been filed against Assange, and that he is currently in custody at an undisclosed location.

And the conditions of Assange's confinement as a pre-trial detainee, if the ones currently experienced by Bradley Manning are any indication, won't be pleasant:

Since his arrest in May, Manning has been a model detainee, without any episodes of violence or disciplinary problems. He nonetheless was declared from the start to be a Maximum Custody Detainee, the highest and most repressive level of military detention, which then became the basis for the series of inhumane measures imposed on him.

From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every day -- for seven straight months and counting -- he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he's barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he's being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch). For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs. Lt. Villiard protested that the conditions are not like jail movies where someone gets thrown into the hole, but confirmed that he is in solitary confinement, entirely alone in his cell except for the one hour per day he is taken out.

In sum, Manning has been subjected for many months without pause to inhumane, personality-erasing, soul-destroying, insanity-inducing conditions of isolation similar to those perfected at America's Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado: all without so much as having been convicted of anything. And as is true of many prisoners subjected to warped treatment of this sort, the brig's medical personnel now administer regular doses of anti-depressants to Manning to prevent his brain from snapping from the effects of this isolation.

Eventually, Assange's attorneys will be allowed to speak with him, probably after being forced to obtain a court order to do so, subject to serious restrictions. It is entirely possible that Assange will be held indefinitely, as Manning is now, without any charges being brought against him. It is even possible that he will be designated as an enemy non-combatant, although it is more probable that he will be treated as such without a formal designation. It is hard to imagine that the US will allow Assange to be publicly tried, given the thorny problems related to classified information and state secrets associated with such an endeavor.

And, the alleged victims of Assange that have complained to the Swedish prosecutors? No one will ever know what transpired between the alleged victims and Assange except them. If Assange committed sex crimes (and, at this point, I have no confidence in what they might be, given the tabloid news coverage of them), very few are going to believe it after they see what the US has done to Assange with the complicity of the Swedes. The alleged victims will discover that they have been pawns in a more deadly serious game.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Judge Orders Assange Freed on Bail 

UPDATE 4: Want to contribute to the seizure of Palestinian land and the construction of settlements in the occupied territories through Visa, MasterCard and PayPal? Want to contribute to a Zionist group that places a bounty on Palestinians shot by the IDF through them? No problem.

UPDATE 3: Other sympathizers of wikileaks websites that were recently attacked, fought openly. Admittedly, the Google translation of this Dutch article is difficult to understand, but, apparently, some people deliberately refused to conceal their cyberspace identity when they hacked Internet sites in support of wikileaks. If true, that's a major social development, a profound statement of social rebellion.

UPDATE 2: If the Swedish appeal of his release on bail is denied, Assange's release may still be delayed because of the refusal of Visa and MasterCard to allow his supporters to use their electronic payment systems for his bail. Instead, they must raise the full amount of 200,000 pounds in cash. Both Visa and MasterCard deny it putting any impediment in the way of Assange's supporters to raise those funds through their credit and debit cards. Assange is getting a crash course in regard to what many poor people face when they find themselves caught up in the criminal justice system. At least, he's fortunate enough to actually have supporters capable of paying his substantial bail amount, unlike many poor people, who are invariably incarcerated all the way through trial.

UPDATE 1: The Swedes are, of course, appealing the decision, with the appeal to be heard within 48 hours. One gets the impression, more and more, that they are operating pursuant to instructions provided by US intelligence. After all, the extradition warrant does not allege any criminal charges against Assange, and, even if there were charges pending, there is no reason why the terms of the bail ordered by the judge, wouldn't be considered satisfactory. But, that's not really the problem, is it? Instead, it is essential that Assange remain in custody at all times so that he can be turned over to the US. One also gets the impression that there are no charges set forth in the warrant because they are so flimsy that they would expose the whole pretense. If the alleged victims have good reason to want Assange prosecuted, the Swedish authorities aren't doing them any favors.

INITIAL POST: You might also find this interesting:

We now know that Visa, Mastercard, PayPal and others are instruments of US foreign policy. It's not something we knew before, Assange said in a statement likely to add new impetus to the spate of cyber attacks being perpetrated by Anonymous in support of wikileaks.

Oh, and please don't forget that one of the others is Amazon.

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