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Editor’s Note: We are quite aware that the author below is no Marxist. But his views on world affairs are always interesting, and have recently been taken seriously by both Obama and Sanders, but not Clinton. So with more than a grain of salt, he’s worth a read.
The American Interest
April 17, 2016 – As its era of global dominance ends, the United States needs to take the lead in realigning the global power architecture.
Five basic verities regarding the emerging redistribution of global political power and the violent political awakening in the Middle East are signaling the coming of a new global realignment.
The first of these verities is that the United States is still the world’s politically, economically, and militarily most powerful entity but, given complex geopolitical shifts in regional balances, it is no longer the globally imperial power. But neither is any other major power.
The second verity is that Russia is experiencing the latest convulsive phase of its imperial devolution. A painful process, Russia is not fatally precluded – if it acts wisely – from becoming eventually a leading European nation-state. However, currently it is pointlessly alienating some of its former subjects in the Islamic southwest of its once extensive empire, as well as Ukraine, Belarus, and Georgia, not to mention the Baltic States.
The third verity is that China is rising steadily, if more slowly as of late, as America’s eventual coequal and likely rival; but for the time being it is careful not to pose an outright challenge to America. Militarily, it seems to be seeking a breakthrough in a new generation of weapons while patiently enhancing its still very limited naval power.
The fourth verity is that Europe is not now and is not likely to become a global power. But it can play a constructive role in taking the lead in regard to transnational threats to global wellbeing and even human survival. Additionally, Europe is politically and culturally aligned with and supportive of core U.S. interests in the Middle East, and European steadfastness within NATO is essential to an eventually constructive resolution of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
The fifth verity is that the currently violent political awakening among post-colonial Muslims is, in part, a belated reaction to their occasionally brutal suppression mostly by European powers. It fuses a delayed but deeply felt sense of injustice with a religious motivation that is unifying large numbers of Muslims against the outside world; but at the same time, because of historic sectarian schisms within Islam that have nothing to do with the West, the recent welling up of historical grievances is also divisive within Islam.
Taken together as a unified framework, these five verities tell us that the United States must take the lead in realigning the global power architecture in such a way that the violence erupting within and occasionally projected beyond the Muslim world—and in the future possibly from other parts of what used to be called the Third World—can be contained without destroying the global order. We can sketch this new architecture by elaborating briefly each of the five foregoing verities.
First, America can only be effective in dealing with the current Middle Eastern violence if it forges a coalition that involves, in varying degrees, also Russia and China. To enable such a coalition to take shape, Russia must first be discouraged from its reliance on the unilateral use of force against its own neighbors—notably Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltic States—and China should be disabused of the idea that selfish passivity in the face of the rising regional crisis in the Middle East will prove to be politically and economically rewarding to its ambitions in the global arena. These shortsighted policy impulses need to be channeled into a more farsighted vision.
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By Martin Nicolaus
November 16, 2015
In the turmoil of the moment, French President Francois Hollande probably should be forgiven for calling the terrorist attacks of last Friday in Paris “an act of war.” It’s the kind of grandiose nonsense politicians say. Really, calling these massacres “war” is like referring to shooting fish in a barrel as “sport.”
Is he a “warrior” who turns his Kalashnikovs on a concert hall full of unarmed teenagers? How is this person any different than the sociopath who machine-gunned movie viewers in Colorado, or the pervert who calmly murdered 77 students in Norway, or the numerous shooters who are taking young lives in American schools? The claim that these crimes deserve esteem because they are done in the name of an ideology or a religion is laughable. The bullets and bombs in Paris sprayed death at random. No target of military significance was touched. No perceived symbol of religious insult like Charlie Hebdo was in the cross-hairs. The attacks hit no architectural icon of imperial domination, like the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. The only ideology that these acts expressed, if they expressed any, was anarchism and nihilism.
It does not dignify the cowards who carried out these killings that they took their own lives by triggering their suicide vests. If suicide made heroes or martyrs then Hitler was one. Almost all the school shooters in the U.S. also killed themselves. Their self-destruction was not heroism or martyrdom. It was an evasion of responsibility. If they had to stand before a tribunal, they would ultimately be overcome with shame.
But perhaps, in the larger picture, Hollande is not so far off, after all, to call this kind of encounter “war.” We have people sitting at computer screens in air-conditioned offices in Nevada committing mass murder of wedding parties by drone on the other side of the earth, and we call that “war.” We have pilots whose main fear is fuel shortage or mechanical failure flying bombing runs to obliterate unarmed villages and clearly marked hospitals. Our close allies and arms customers the Saudis, who behead more people each year than Daesh, drop an enormous tonnage of explosives on civilian targets in Yemen every week. Others have done and are doing the same. And all of that, and more, our press calls “war,” even though most of the time no one is shooting back.
Perhaps Hollande is right. The deliberate military massacre of civilians has been an integral part of war for as long as I’ve been alive. The Nazi bombardment of Rotterdam and of Guernica, the V-2 attacks on London were early examples. After overcoming initial scruples, the Allies answered with massive bombing of civilian populations in Hamburg, Essen, Dresden, and other cities. And what was the American bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki except an extreme act of terrorism against the civilian population?
So this is what war has come down to. Cowards with AK47s v. cowards with drones. There will be no quick end to this kind of conflict because it is all too easy for both sides. We can always build more drones. Daesh can easily recruit another eight or ten small-time criminals and misfits willing to end their meaningless lives in a media spotlight to the applause of the Salafist cheering squads.
Where is this going? France and the US and possibly others will retaliate with further and heavier air strikes, as they have begun to do with attacks on Raqqa. The pressure will grow to expand these strikes, to reduce the whole town to rubble, much as Hafez al-Assad did to crush the Islamist rebellion in Hama in 1982. But it’s probably too late for that. Daesh is far more deeply rooted and better organized. It is a devil’s medley of Salafist jihadism with Iraqi Baath party professionalism. It draws popular support from a Sunni minority ousted by the U.S. invasion and victimized by the Shia-based Baghdad regime that the U.S. installed and supports.
Of all the strategic stupidities committed by the U.S. in the Mideast, the invasion of Iraq stands as the poster child. Joe Biden is the author of an infamous paper advocating as war goal the breakup of Iraq into three countries: Shia, Sunni, and Kurd. Well, that has largely occurred. But the Shia section, which still controls Baghdad, is now virtually a satellite of neighboring Iran. The Sunni section has evolved into Daesh. Only the Kurds are still allies if not agents of U.S. policy, but at the price of renewed war with neighboring Turkey. Washington has spent trillions and killed hundred of thousands strengthening its old enemies and manufacturing new ones.
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Palestinian workers from Hebron at Tarqumiya Checkpoint. Photo by Emil Salman
By Eva Illouz
Feb. 7, 2014 – Open Haaretz on any given day. Half or three quarters of its news items will invariably revolve around the same two topics: people struggling to protect the good name of Israel, and people struggling against its violence and injustices.
An almost random example: On December 17, 2013, one could read, on a single Haaretz page, Chemi Shalev reporting on the decision of the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli academic institutions in order to “honor the call of Palestinian civil society.” In response, former Harvard University President Lawrence Summers dubbed the decision “anti-Semitic in effect, if not in intent.”
On the same page, MK Naftali Bennett called the bill to prevent outside funding of left-wing NGOs in Israel “too soft.” The proposed law was meant to protect Israel and Israeli soldiers from “foreign forces” which, in his view, work against the national interest of Israel through those left-wing nonprofits (for Bennett and many others in Israel, to defend human rights is to be left-wing).The Haaretz editorial, backed by an article by regular columnist Sefi Rachlevsky, referred to the treatment of illegal immigrants by the Israeli government as shameful, with Rachlevsky calling the current political regime “radical rightist-racist-capitalist,” because “it tramples democracy and replaces it with fascism.” The day after, it was the turn of Alan Dershowitz to call the American Studies Association vote to boycott Israel shameful, “for singling out the Jew among nations. Shame on them for applying a double standard to Jewish universities” (December 18).
This mudslinging has become a normal spectacle to the bemused eyes of ordinary Israelis and Jews around the world. But what’s astonishing is that this mud is being thrown by Jews at Jews. Indeed, the valiant combatants for the good name of Israel miss an important point: the critiques of Israel in the United States are increasingly waged by Jews, not anti-Semites. The initiators and leaders of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement are such respected academics as Judith Butler, Jacqueline Rose, Noam Chomsky, Hilary Rose and Larry Gross, all Jews.
If Israel is indeed singled out among the many nations that have a bad record in human rights, it is because of the personal sense of shame and embarrassment that a large number of Jews in the Western world feel toward a state that, by its policies and ethos, does not represent them anymore. As Peter Beinart has been cogently arguing for some time now, the Jewish people seems to have split into two distinct factions: One that is dominated by such imperatives as “Israeli security,” “Jewish identity” and by the condemnation of “the world’s double standards” and “Arabs’ unreliability”; and a second group of Jews, inside and outside Israel, for whom human rights, freedom, and the rule of law are as visceral and fundamental to their identity as membership to Judaism is for the first group. Supreme irony of history: Israel has splintered the Jewish people around two radically different moral visions of Jews and humanity.
If we are to find an appropriate analogy to understand the rift inside the Jewish people, let us agree that the debate between the two groups is neither ethnic (we belong to the same ethnic group) nor religious (the Judith Butlers of the world are not trying to push a new or different religious dogma, although the rift has a certain, but imperfect, overlap with the religious-secular positions). Nor is the debate a political or ideological one, as Israel is in fact still a democracy. Rather, the poignancy, acrimony and intensity of the debate are about two competing and ultimately incompatible conceptions of morality. This statement is less trivial than it sounds.
For a long time, the debate between different factions of Jews was framed as an ideological, strategic or political one (“when, how and what to negotiate with Palestinians”). But with time, in the face of the systematic colonization of the land, the pervasive exclusion of Arabs from the body collective, the Judaization of Israel, the tone of the debate has changed and been replaced by a question about the moral nature of Zionism. Moral evaluations – whether we think people are “good” or “bad,” “just” or “unjust,” “worthy” or “unworthy” – are more fundamental to judgment than political opinion or aesthetic taste. In that sense, moral evaluations are far less negotiable than any other form of evaluation.
I will call one group the “security as morality” group. For this group, Israel is twice morally beyond reproach. First, because Jews were the super victim of history and because of Israel’s inherently vulnerable state amidst a sea of enemies. The status of victim – whether potential or actual – disculpates Israel from the crimes of the strong. Second, because its weakness commits it to the forceful defense of its military security, its land and its identity.
Surveying history, the “security as morality” group observes that might has regularly been right, and that Israel is no less entitled to its violent policies than America or other countries have been to their own. For this group, then, Israel is exonerated by the fact that it’s at once a victim and doesn’t have a worse historical record than the strong nations of the world. Israel’s morality becomes defined by the outrages of its enemies, Nazis or Hamas, and by the worst deeds of the enlightened nations.
The second group of Jews derives its positions from universal standards of justice, and from the observation that Israel is fast moving away from the pluralistic, multiethnic, pacific democracies of the world. Israel stopped being a valid source of identification for these Jews not because they are self-hating, but because many of them have been actively involved, in deed or thought, in the liberalization of their respective societies – that is, in the extension of human, economic and social rights to a wider variety of groups.
From the standpoint of that struggle, successfully waged in most Western countries, Israel makes an unacceptable demand: it requests from Jews loyalty to its policies, claims to have a moral and political status superior to that of its neighbors, yet consistently violates the human rights of Palestinians, Arabs, and liberal Judaism; uses violence; violates international law; and practices state-sanctioned discrimination toward non-Jews. For liberal Jews, Israel bullies like a Goliath, yet persists in wanting to be admired as a David.
Interestingly enough, there are not many episodes in history where groups have fought over moral issues. Most struggles in history are usually connected to belief and dogmas (e.g., religious wars), economic interests (class struggles) or to political power (nationalist liberation movements). Very few struggles have been about a moral debate on how a group or nation should treat a third group of people.
There is, however, one well-known episode of history in which a single group divided itself in two sides around the moral question of how a third group of people should be treated, and this episode was the American antislavery movement.
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The Hotel El-Djazair, formerly known as the Hotel Saint-George, is an oasis of calm in the tense city of Algiers. A labyrinth of paved pathways winds through beds of hibiscus, cactuses and roses, shaded by palm and banana trees. In the lobby, bellhops in white tunics and red fezzes escort guests past Persian carpets and walls inlaid with mosaics. Beneath the opulence, violence lurks. During the week I was there, diplomats descended on the El-Djazair to repatriate the bodies of dozens of hostages killed in a shootout at a Sahara natural-gas plant between Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Algerian Army.
Violence was in the air as well in January 1956, when the celebrated writer Albert Camus checked into the Hotel Saint-George. The struggle against French colonialism was escalating, with civilians becoming the primary victims. Camus was a pied-noir—a term meaning “black foot,” perhaps derived from the coal-stained feet of Mediterranean sailors, or the black boots of French soldiers, and used to refer to the one million colonists of European origin living in Algeria during French rule. He had returned after 14 years in France to try to stop his homeland from sliding deeper into war. It was a perilous mission. Right-wing French settlers plotted to assassinate him. Algerian revolutionaries watched over him without his knowledge.
The Casablanca-style intrigue—freedom fighters, spies and an exotic North African setting—seemed appropriate. Camus, after all, was often thought of as a literary Humphrey Bogart—dashing, irresistible to women, a coolly heroic figure in a dangerous world.
Camus is regarded as a giant of French literature, but it was his North African birthplace that most shaped his life and his art. In a 1936 essay, composed during a bout of homesickness in Prague, he wrote of pining for “my own town on the shores of the Mediterranean…the summer evenings that I love so much, so gentle in the green light and full of young and beautiful women.” Camus set his two most famous works, the novels The Stranger and The Plague, in Algeria, and his perception of existence, a joyful sensuality combined with a recognition of man’s loneliness in an indifferent universe, was formed here.
In 1957, Anders Österling, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, acknowledged the importance of Camus’ Algerian upbringing when he presented him with the Nobel Prize in Literature, a towering achievement, won when he was only 43. Österling attributed Camus’ view of the world in part to a “Mediterranean fatalism whose origin is the certainty that the sunny splendor of the world is only a fugitive moment bound to be blotted out by the shades.”
Camus is “the single reason people outside Algeria know about this country,” says Yazid Ait Mahieddine, a documentary filmmaker and Camus expert in Algiers, as we sit beneath a photograph of the writer in the El- Djazair bar, alongside images of other celebrities who have passed through here, from Dwight Eisenhower to Simone de Beauvoir. “He is our only ambassador.”
I still find compelling the main points about modern imperialism articulated by Lenin in his famous essay on the subject. Reflecting on the transformations of capitalism from its early manufacturing days until the twentieth century he argued that economic concentration had replaced a multiplicity of semi-independent economic actors, manufacturing capital had merged with financial institutions creating a system of monopoly finance capital, and as a consequence the export of capital–what we would call today foreign investment, financial speculation, and the debt system–would replace the export of commodities as the dominant form of economic exchange on a global basis. During some periods capitalist states would divide up the world each extracting wealth of all kinds from its own sphere of influence and during other periods they would engage in competition and even war to pursue profits. Lenin could not foresee a time, from the mid-20th century until now, when resistance would come not only from competing and militarized capitalist states but from masses of people in colonized, neocolonial, and dependent societies.
The Cold War and Post-Cold War International Systems
The latest phase of the system Lenin described was constructed at the end of World War II. The United States emerged from the war as the most powerful nation and used military, economic, political, and cultural tools to enshrine its dominance. This meant building a system to crush the emerging Socialist Bloc, controlling the drive toward independence of former colonies, and shaping the politics of lesser but significant capitalist states. To achieve these difficult goals, the United States began to construct a “permanent war economy.”
By the 1960s, the United States capacity to control the economic and military destiny of the world was severely challenged. The Tet Offensive of January, 1968 represented a metaphoric great divide as U.S. presumptions of hegemony were sorely challenged by a poor but passionate Vietnamese people’s army. From the late 1960s onward the U.S. was challenged not only on the battlefield but in the global economy. Rates of profit of U.S. corporations declined. Industrialization had led to overproduction. Working classes in the United States and other capitalist countries had gained more rights and privileges. Socialist countries were experiencing significant growth spurts. Countries of the Global South began to demand a New International Economic Order that regulated the way global capitalism worked. In addition, inter-capitalist rivalry grew. On top of all this the price of oil increased markedly.
The response of the global capitalist powers (the G7 countries) to the crisis of capitalism was a dramatic shift in the pursuit of profit from the production of goods and services to what became known as financialization, or financial speculation. The banks Lenin talked about became instrumental. With rising oil prices, oil rich countries awash in new profits, and banks swelling with petrodollars, nations were enticed and forced to borrow to pay for the oil that cost many times more than it had in the recent past. The global debt system was launched. When the United States freed the dollar from the gold standard, currencies themselves became a source of speculation.
The debt system gave international financial institutions and banks the power to impose demands on countries that required loans. Thus, the IMF, the World Bank, regional international banks, and private institutions demanded that the world’s countries open their doors to foreign investors, cut their government programs, privatize their economies, and shift to exporting commodities to earn the cash to pay back the bankers. The era of neoliberalism was advanced by globalization, the scientific, technological, and cultural capacity to traverse the globe. No geographic space could maintain autonomy from global capitalism. So a Cold War that was launched by creating a permanent war economy was transformed by financialization, neoliberalism, and globalization. With the shift of work from higher wage capitalist centers to low wage peripheries, deindustrialization became a common feature of the economic landscape.
By the 21st century the system of neoliberal globalization was facilitated by new techniques of empire. Wars which traditionally had been fought between states were now fought within states. The United States established a military presence virtually all across the globe with an estimated 700 to 1,000 military installations in at least 40 countries. Major functions of the globalization of military operations had become privatized so massive U.S. corporations gained even more profits from war-making than they had during the days of the Cold War. The military—public and private—began to engage in assassinations and covert “humanitarian interventions.” And, aided by new technologies, the United States and other capitalist countries, using unmanned aerial vehicles or drones, could make war on enemies without “boots on the ground.” As we have learned, intelligence gathering, spying on people, has immeasurably advanced as well.
To put it succinctly, while imperialism remains generically as it has been throughout history today:
This narrative is not unfamiliar to us. What is less familiar is the idea that throughout history the forces of domination have been challenged by resistance, sometimes successfully, sometimes less so. It is important to note that the drive for U.S. hegemony, for example, has been affected by resistance. A recent articulation of this narrative appears in the writings of Vijay Prashad, who has described the efforts of the newly independent nations of the Global South to achieve political and economic sovereignty. Many of these efforts from the 1950s to the 1970s faltered at the steps of the debt system and neoliberal globalization. But the struggle has continued. In addition, there have been examples of people such as the Cubans and the Vietnamese who, with much pain and suffering, were able to achieve some measure of economic sovereignty and political independence.
21st century movements for change are varied and complicate the efforts of imperialism to achieve its goals. Resistance includes the following:
Where Do Left and Progressive Forces Fit?
First, we on the left need to “bring imperialism back in;” that is socialist organizations can through education revisit and revise the theory of imperialism so that it is more serviceable for 21st century socialist movements.
Second, progressives should link war/peace issues to environmental issues, to gender issues, to class issues, and race issues. As Martin Luther King declared in 1967: “I speak of the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam.”
Third, every socialist and progressive organization should challenge the permanent war economy. Andrew Bacevich pointed out that the framers of the permanent war economy in the 1940s believed that the role of the citizenry was to remain quiescent, pliant, and supportive of the decisions made by the foreign policy establishment. That assumption must be resisted.
Fourth, local and national work should link economic justice, environmental preservation, and peace. These issues are inextricably connected.
Finally, left and progressive groups should respond to specific imperial transgressions by:
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
In 2011 the grassroots revolts that spread all across the Middle East caught the traditional imperial powers in the region–the United States, Great Britain, and France– by surprise. Even more so, the Middle East theocracies and dictatorships–Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and others–were threatened by those young people, workers, unemployed, and women, who took to the streets motivated by the vision of another world. The United States watched the street protests hoping against hope that the authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt would weather the storm. The Obama administration did not move publicly to aid these regimes to crush the protest but withheld its endorsement of the grassroots democracy movement. The idea of popular revolt spread to places all across the globe including Madison, Wisconsin; Santiago, Chile; Athens, Greece; Madrid, Spain; and Quebec, Canada. The Occupy Movements in the United States expanded.
Globally, movements for a 21st century democratization seemed to be replicating 1968.
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Egypt’s unions join protests.
By Bill Fletcher Jr.
Via The Progressive Magazine
August 24, 2013 – One of the most striking features of the current Egyptian crisis has been the response by most of the US Left and progressives. It is not that US leftists and progressives are ignoring the crisis, but that there has been an utter failure to engage with Egyptian leftists and progressives despite the fact that the latter have been writing regular analyses of events, analyses that frequently differ from that created on this side of the Atlantic.
In a political situation that ranks as among one of the most complicated and contradictory of our lifetime, the points of view of Egyptian leftists and progressives have been largely ignored here in the USA or treated as if they are mouthpieces for the Egyptian military if they have stood against the Morsi government.
In order for us—in the USA—to get a better sense of the complications and tragedies connected with the ongoing struggle in Egypt, one must recognize that there has been an on-oing battle for much of the last century between two distinct “projects.” Those projects, and their progeny, help to set the context for the engagements underway.
National populism vs. Islamism
Beginning with the 1952 Egyptian Revolution, which overthrew the monarchy and ultimately led to the rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser as president, a particular current emerged that has been described by Egyptian Marxist theorist Samir Amin as a “national populist project.” Arising out of the Egyptian anti-monarchist/nationalist movement that had begun much earlier, this project was a nationalist initiative at progressive change that aimed at moving aside classes and formations that were compromised with colonialism and proceeded to engage in progressive and anti-imperialist development. It was not, however, the same thing as socialism. In national populist projects, as witnessed in Egypt under Nasser, there was limited political democracy, capitalism as such went unchallenged, and the process of change was led by a small group. Though Nasser had considerable popular support, there were very restricted means for the grassroots to involve themselves in the change process. Similar change processes were untaken in other states in the global South including in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, the Sudan and much later, Libya.
Operating within the national populist coalitions was generally to be found the political Left, though the relationship was almost always rocky. Nasser, for instance, had a strong relationship with the Soviet Union, but would periodically turn on the domestic Egyptian Left. This tension resulted, throughout the Arab World, in constant debates and struggles within the Left as to how best to relate to nationalist leaders, such as Nasser in Egypt and Qassem in Iraq, who were perceived as anti-imperialists while at the same time being unwilling (and sometimes unable) to advance the domestic change process very far. This tension resulted in historic miscalculations by the Left, including in Iraq and the Sudan where the Left constituted a significant force but held an almost uncritical stand toward nationalist leaders.
Countering the national populist projects were two main forces. The obvious one was external and was represented by the imperial interests of the global North. They and their domestic allies were constantly trying to undermine independent development and turn these various nation-states into neo-colonies.
The other opponents were those forces who came to be known as Islamists. This movement has its origins in the 19th century and early 20th century where an intellectual movement emerged against both Western imperialism and republican-nationalism (and the imperialism of the Ottoman Empire). The Islamists of the 21st century, led by organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, had a very different project. Their project was Pan-Islamist in nature and thoroughly reactionary at its core. It called for a return to a mythical caliphate state.