25
Jul

By Bill Gallegos

Over the last several weeks, the Trump Administration has ramped up its ethnic cleansing campaign aimed at the forced removal of more than 11 million undocumented workers in the US. While the overwhelming majority of this population is Mexican@, it also includes significant numbers of Centro American@s, Asian, and African peoples. It even includes about 500,000 undocumented European immigrants.

But what especially outraged the souls of most people in the US and the world is the humanitarian crisis caused by the kidnapping and incarceration of 3000 children from Latin@ families seeking refugee asylum, fleeing the danger of criminal violence or domestic violence. Jeff Sessions, the outrageously racist US Attorney General, has instructed the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to no longer honor asylum requests based on such violence. With no planning, children ended up in holding centers on the other side of the country sometimes in dog-kennel like facilities, where no one spoke their language (many spoke indigenous languages) or, in the case of babies, they could not talk at all, only cry. There was no plan as to how to re-match these children with parents after the indefinite incarceration period as if that was not important.

After several months of separation, a federal court ordered the Administration to restore the children to their families post haste. But even after the July 10 deadline for children under 5, many are still misplaced, or their parents already deported. Trump’s avowed aim with this cruel policy was to discourage Latin@s from seeking refuge in the US. This is state political terror: threatening to harm a child if the adult does not cooperate. The imprisoned children are held hostage to Trump’s demands for a border wall, greater militarization of the border, and massive reduction of legal immigration. The Party of Christian and “family values,” like the slave owners of the past, do not believe non-white families are fully human.

These horrendous violations of human rights have inspired broad and sustained resistance throughout the US., spearheaded by Chican@-Mexican@s and Latin@s, but including a broad cross-section of the US population, from Black Lives Matter, to elected officials, to media personalities, to labor unions, Indigenous networks, and even the Prime Minister of Canada, who has said that Canada would accept these refugees. Literally, thousands of resistance actions have taken place throughout the US since the kidnapping began.

But while this is just the most egregious of immigration policies, and while xenophobia has found open expression and action in Trump’s administration, the detention and deportation of immigrants, often causing family separation, is not new. The Left must fight for an end not just to the kidnapping of children, but all of the injustices embedded in our immigration and refugee policies. At bottom, it is a fight against hatred, fear, and selfishness. We will win through unity, courage, and acting on our knowledge that an injury to one is an injury to all.

10 Points of Analysis

1. White supremacy is “in,” vociferous, open, encouraged, rewarded. New- Confederate ideology is dominant; that is, a belief that this is a white country, that Black and Brown lives don’t matter, and that everything and anything must be done to keep America white and unequal. This includes repression of citizens of color, making it lengthy, difficult, and expensive for legal immigrants to gain citizenship, tracking and deporting all without papers, using harsh measures such as the snatching of the children to make immigration as terrible as the situations in the home country, and stopping the entry of people seeking asylum due to documentable threats of violence from political or social oppression. continue

Category : Uncategorized
22
Jul

“All revolutions go down in history, yet history does not fill up; the rivers of revolution return to whence they came, only to flow again.” – Guy Debord1

By Paul Saba

July 19th, 2018

Will the ongoing revival of American socialism stimulate interest in one of its lesser known antecedents? Verso Books certainly hopes so. That’s why they’ve reissued Max Elbaum’s Revolution in the Air, originally published in 2002, now with a new foreword by Alicia Garza, co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter. The book chronicles the history of the US “new communist movement” (NCM) from the late 1960s through the 1980s, when thousands of young activists, radicalized by the Vietnam War, the Chinese Cultural Revolution and liberation movements in communities of color at home and abroad, embraced Marxism-Leninism and committed themselves to changing the world.
When Revolution in the Air was written, George W. Bush was President and 9/11 and the “war on terror” were still in the future. The American left was in disarray and on the defensive. Behind it were a long series of defeats – the neo-liberal transformations inaugurated by Reagan and Thatcher, the collapse of the Soviet Union and its allied regimes, China and Vietnam’s increasing adoption of capitalist forms of economic development, the retreat of liberation movements across the Third World.

Nearly two decades later, the international balance of forces still favors the right, but the prospects of the US left appear to have significantly improved. Bernie Sanders’ electoral campaign saw millions of Americans voting for a candidate who openly called himself a socialist. Thousands of young people have swelled the ranks of DSA. Workers are organizing and striking. Class struggle is back on the agenda.

Elbaum wrote Revolution in the Air in 2001 to reclaim the lessons of the new communist movement for contemporary militants who, like their early sixties’ predecessors, became activists when the radical left was fragmented and weak. How relevant is this history and the lessons he draws for us now, in this new period of left upsurge?

I. Revolution in the Air’s Strength: A Clear Chronological Narrative

The greatest strength of Revolution in the Air is its compelling chronological narrative of the origins, rise and proliferation of various NCM groups and their subsequent crises and decline. Elbaum carefully tracks the arc of NCM history from the initial burst of energy that birthed the first organizations, to the stillborn unity initiatives of the early 1970s, to the growing difficulties and splits of the mid- and late-1970s, to the decline/collapse of many groups and the movement as a whole in the 1980s.

Elbaum does a good job of identifying the NCM’s strong points:

The movement’s strengths centered on three crucial issues that – albeit in altered form – remain pivotal to any future attempt at left renewal: commitment to internationalism and anti-imperialism; the centrality of the fight against racism; and the urgency of developing cadre and creating organizations capable of mobilizing working people and the oppressed.2

The NCM combined ‘60s moral fervor with a degree of ‘30s political realism. Its anti-imperialism “led to practical activity that materially and politically aided popular movements in other lands and that benefited oppressed people in the US by weakening the common enemy.” It “put the fight for equality at the center of its politics,” “insisted that challenging the oppression of peoples of color lay at the heart of the revolutionary project,” and “stressed the importance of winning whites to self-conscious opposition to racism.” The NCM demonstrated a dogged commitment to developing cadre and forming disciplined organizations. Emphasis on the vanguard nature of its organizational forms “encouraged activists to think in broad, long-range terms; to ponder all dimensions of the class struggle; to take their work and themselves seriously; to assume a great deal of responsibility and push themselves to their limits.3

These strengths enabled the NCM to both significantly influence the broader left milieu of its time and to “maintain a militant, anti-capitalist current for longer than most other tendencies that came out of the upheavals of the 1960s.”4

But Elbaum is alert to the movement’s weaknesses as well – its ultra-leftism, dogmatism and sectarianism – and its fragility. The NCM was continuously buffeted by centripetal and centrifugal tendencies. Organizations sought to come together in unifying party-building initiatives and were driven apart by numerous political and ideological differences, with many smaller groups resisting the pull of both dynamics. Of necessity in a book of this length, the focus is on the major NCM formations and their initiatives. However, something of the genuine breadth and diversity of the movement as a whole is lost in the absence of more attention to the less well known, out-of-the-way groups.

The NCM preached the importance of building multi-national organizations. Yet for much of its history, groups of white communists and communists of color evolved on separate but parallel tracks – the first primarily emerging out of student, anti-war and anti-draft movements; the second out of liberation movements in the Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican and Asian American communities. The very different origins of the movement’s two components had profound repercussions for their long-term prospects.

For all groups, the challenge was to create and maintain stable and growing organizations while implanting themselves in the working class and/or local communities. Often these tasks were summed up in the slogans “unite Marxist-Leninists; win the advanced to communism.” Both tasks proved to be extremely difficult, in no small part due to the ways militants undertook to implement them.

Every serious group, no matter how small, considered itself a new communist party in embryo (or at least a part thereof). Hence the need to formulate positions on all important issues. But the more issues a group had a position on, the more opportunities existed for differences and disagreements to arise over them – internally, in relation to other groups, and in relation to the “advanced” they were trying to recruit. Elbaum puts much of the blame for the resulting disputatiousness on the NCM’s Maoism but this is a problem that has plagued every branch of the communist movement, as anyone familiar with the fissiparous history of Trotskyism can attest.

The early NCM groups strongly identified with the Chinese revolution and the Chinese Communist Party (CPC), just as the first communist parties at the dawn of the twentieth century had strongly identified with the Bolshevik revolution and the new Soviet state – and for the same reasons. The Chinese line seemed to offer the best chance of defeating imperialism and promoting world revolution, and China’s prestige and attractiveness to revolutionaries worldwide was expected to rub off on its American supporters.

Had the NCM seriously studied the lessons of the first communist parties’ unwavering adherence to Soviet policy they might have avoided the pitfalls of this model. In the early 1930s, particularly in the depths of the Great Depression, capitalism seemed to be faltering while the USSR’s economy was taking off. The Soviet example drew many Americans to communism (“I have seen the future and it works” – Lincoln Steffens) and to the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA). Likewise, the Soviet Union’s militant anti-fascist policies attracted opponents of developments in Italy and Germany who might otherwise have shown little interest in the communist experiment.

But as the 1930s wore on, Soviet prestige began to wane under the impact of internal purges and great power politics. The low point was reached in the 1939 with the Soviet-German non-aggression pact and the concomitant demand that the Communist International abandon its anti-fascist priorities. A close association with the Soviet Union now turned from an asset into a liability. Soviet prestige was briefly restored during the war years, but, with the onset of the Cold War, the CPUSA’s ties to the USSR became an enormous millstone around the Party’s neck, one that almost finished it off when Khrushchev’s 1956 secret speech on the Stalin period became public.

A similar process occurred over the life of the NCM. China’s championing of world revolution in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and the example of the Red Guards – millions of Chinese young people taking history into their own hands – initially thrilled American leftists, many of whom were being radicalized in the fight against US imperialism in Vietnam. Here, unlike the post-Stalin Soviet Union, was a country ready and willing to confront the “main enemy of the peoples of the world.”

But all too soon, things began to change. In 1974, when China first put forward its “Theory of Three Worlds,” few recognized the implications for Chinese foreign policy or the impact it would have on the NCM. Step one was elevating the USSR to a “social-imperialist superpower” on the same level as US Imperialism. From there it was only another small step to characterizing the USSR as the “more dangerous” of the two superpowers, the one against whom the main fire of revolutionaries had to be concentrated. The consequences of these formulations were profound. China, whose prestige had been tied to its anti-imperialist, revolutionary stance, was now backing reactionary regimes and movements around the world if they took up anti-Soviet positions and moving toward a de facto alliance with the United States.

These policy changes, together with the fall of the “Gang of Four” after Mao’s death and the CPC’s subsequent repudiation of the Cultural Revolution, tarnished China’s revolutionary credentials internationally and sparked an increasingly acrimonious debate, not only within the broader American left milieu, but within the ranks of the NCM itself. At issue was the extent to which the movement could continue to describe itself as Maoist or maintain its allegiance to CPC positions.

What began as debate soon became a crisis, manifesting itself in different ways in different organizations. One of the largest groups – the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) – underwent a debilitating split. Other groups, forsaking the CPC, looked for an alternative leading center for the world communist movement. When China and Albania had a falling out, some found it in Tirana. Still others, identified as “anti-dogmatist/anti-revisionists,” seized on the crisis to challenge the NCM to rethink its basic allegiances and its theoretical foundations. Line of March, Elbaum’s own former group, progressively abandoned its anti-revisionist identity and moved toward openly pro-Soviet positions. Other organizations, like the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) (CPML), remained loyal to China and tried to carry on as if no crisis existed.

Had this crisis erupted at a time when NCM groups were otherwise enjoying successes in recruitment and base building its impact might have been less severe. However, in this realm, too, many organizations were beginning to experience a crisis of a different character. This one was generated by the cumulative effects of their own organizational weaknesses and isolation. Disillusionment with a lack of progress was setting in, memberships were falling, and confidence in old certainties was beginning to wane.

These twin crises hit the predominantly white NCM organizations harder than those groups composed primarily of people of color. As noted earlier, white communists in the main came out of the student, anti-war, and anti-draft struggles. These were all conjunctural struggles, born of a particular moment in history and largely disappearing once that moment had passed. By the late 1970s the two main predominantly white groups – the CPML and the RCP – were feeling the combined effects of the melting away of the mass base from which they had emerged and their lack of real successes in building a new one in the working class.

The CPML, which, of all the Maoist groups, had secured the “China franchise” from CPC leaders, was most affected by the crises.5 In 1980 it entered a terminal decline and expired the following year. The RCP, already much weakened as a result of the 1977 split, pinned its hopes on championing Mao’s legacy and defending the Gang of Four against the post-Mao Chinese leadership. But, forsaking the working class for youth and lumpen elements, its practice quickly degenerated into a series of ultra-left campaigns and media-events. Membership declined, and a growing focus on the writings of Chairman Bob Avakian pointed toward the leader-cult groupuscule the RCP would soon become. continue

Category : Uncategorized
16
Jun

The Communist Manifesto foresaw the predatory and polarised global capitalism of the 21st century. But Marx and Engels also showed us that we have the power to create a better world.

By Yanis Varoufakis

The Guardian

April 20, 2018 -For a manifesto to succeed, it must speak to our hearts like a poem while infecting the mind with images and ideas that are dazzlingly new. It needs to open our eyes to the true causes of the bewildering, disturbing, exciting changes occurring around us, exposing the possibilities with which our current reality is pregnant. It should make us feel hopelessly inadequate for not having recognised these truths ourselves, and it must lift the curtain on the unsettling realisation that we have been acting as petty accomplices, reproducing a dead-end past. Lastly, it needs to have the power of a Beethoven symphony, urging us to become agents of a future that ends unnecessary mass suffering and to inspire humanity to realise its potential for authentic freedom.

No manifesto has better succeeded in doing all this than the one published in February 1848 at 46 Liverpool Street, London. Commissioned by English revolutionaries, The Communist Manifesto (or the Manifesto of the Communist Party, as it was first published) was authored by two young Germans – Karl Marx, a 29-year-old philosopher with a taste for epicurean hedonism and Hegelian rationality, and Friedrich Engels, a 28-year-old heir to a Manchester mill.

As a work of political literature, the manifesto remains unsurpassed. Its most infamous lines, including the opening one (“A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism”), have a Shakespearean quality. Like Hamlet confronted by the ghost of his slain father, the reader is compelled to wonder: “Should I conform to the prevailing order, suffering the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune bestowed upon me by history’s irresistible forces? Or should I join these forces, taking up arms against the status quo and, by opposing it, usher in a brave new world?”

For Marx and Engels’ immediate readership, this was not an academic dilemma, debated in the salons of Europe. Their manifesto was a call to action, and heeding this spectre’s invocation often meant persecution, or, in some cases, lengthy imprisonment. Today, a similar dilemma faces young people: conform to an established order that is crumbling and incapable of reproducing itself, or oppose it, at considerable personal cost, in search of new ways of working, playing and living together? Even though communist parties have disappeared almost entirely from the political scene, the spirit of communism driving the manifesto is proving hard to silence.

To see beyond the horizon is any manifesto’s ambition. But to succeed as Marx and Engels did in accurately describing an era that would arrive a century-and-a-half in the future, as well as to analyse the contradictions and choices we face today, is truly astounding. In the late 1840s, capitalism was foundering, local, fragmented and timid. And yet Marx and Engels took one long look at it and foresaw our globalised, financialised, iron-clad, all-singing-all-dancing capitalism. This was the creature that came into being after 1991, at the very same moment the establishment was proclaiming the death of Marxism and the end of history.

Of course, the predictive failure of The Communist Manifesto has long been exaggerated. I remember how even leftwing economists in the early 1970s challenged the pivotal manifesto prediction that capital would “nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere”. Drawing upon the sad reality of what were then called third world countries, they argued that capital had lost its fizz well before expanding beyond its “metropolis” in Europe, America and Japan. continue

Category : Uncategorized
29
Mar

By Wilfred Burchett

A sense of realism is one of the great qualities of the Vietnamese leaders, which impresses all who have come in contact with them in Hanoi or the jungles of the South. This viewing of things as they are, together with their extreme sincerity and modesty, derives from the personality and style of work of President Ho Chi Minh, with whom most senior cadres have been closely associated for 30 or 40 years. Vietnamese leaders, of both the DRV and NLF, have never sought short term results by creating false optimism among the people. Two generations of Vietnamese have been educated to look danger and adversity squarely in the face; and the results are clearly demonstrated by the youths and girls of the defense militia, calmly and unflinchingly aiming their rifle sights at diving, strafing jets, awaiting the precise moment to squeeze the trigger. Although the difficulties to be confronted and the need for sacrifices are never minimized, there is, at the same time, great insistence on the power of the people and inevitability of final victory. To instill these principles in people’s minds, to give them confidence in their own power, has been a primary task of the armed propaganda units.

Wilfred Burchett interviews General Giap, Hanoi, May 1966.

“Armed propaganda consists in using the armed forces to carry out political propaganda, to sow confidence among the population so they will be convinced that our forces are powerful. After this confidence is established, it must be transformed into political consciousness. Let our people have confidence in the solidarity of our people. To irresolute or undecided they refuse to mend their ways despite warnings, we must resolutely wipe them out.”

In the actual cases I learned about in the South, except for a few persons like the monstrous Chau, who collected human ears (referred to in an earlier chapter), three warnings were usually given before execution and in 90% of such cases the warnings themselves were sufficient.

“Usually people find the revolutionary forces are well armed,” continues Giap, “and it is when they start paying attention to the weapons that the moment comes to give some simple advice, explaining that the power of weapons is only of secondary importance whereas the power of the whole people is invincible, unbeatable. If we do not succeed in convincing people by such explanations, they will be left with some superstitious belief in the power of weapons alone. In this case we will not have achieved our aim of armed propaganda…”

In most other armies a display of arms, a display of force is always intended to dazzle or intimidate people with the all-powerful nature of weapons and those who hold them. But it was typical of the leaders of Vietnam’s armed forces, even from the first moment they had weapons in their hands, to refrain from any boasting. All of General Giap’s writings reflect the absolute certitude that the people were all potential allies and that the armed forces were really a “people’s army” with aims completely identified with the aspirations of the people.

“When the people find that the revolutionary forces have arms in abundance, they will start to think the revolution will succeed easily. This is the moment to explain in a way that people will understand that the business of revolution is full of dangers and difficulties. The imperialists may undertake very violent, very savage acts of repression. Along the path of our struggle, it is possible that we will have temporary setbacks. It is very necessary also to educate people in the sense that if secrets are revealed, we will immediately be subject to the enemy’s terrorist activities. One must not hesitate to say this,” advises Giap, and he then gives some concrete details of another aspect of armed propaganda work:

“After the propaganda activities, the work of consolidation follows. Certain of the most ardent young people can be selected and given some training. For armed propaganda teams on the move from one place to another, training is not easy. Two methods are necessary, one to support the movement in the given locality, the other to form regional cadres as rapidly as possible, that is to say, to recruit into the ranks certain young people; they will be trained as opportunity presents itself while moving around with the armed forces. If necessary we will send them back to continue their activities in their own villages. This process of consolidation is very effective. It should be followed when one wants to establish extensive bases in as short a term as possible. These are the general principles of armed propaganda among the population. For vacillating elements, armed propaganda skillfully utilized can be a two edge weapon.

“There are people who doubt our revolutionary strength, but they will come over to our side when they see our weapons. They are the consciously vacillating elements. But there are also irresolute elements who hate the revolution; they only want to sabotage it but lack the courage to expose themselves as out-and-out reactionaries. Sometimes, frightened at our armed strength they either improve a bit, or they are horror-struck and become complete reactionaries, even conscious traitors. Therefore, in carrying out armed propaganda toward doubtful elements, we must carefully measure our words. We must come to understand fully the local situation, after which everything must be examined carefully, every possible scrap of information must be collected, in case of incidents. We must always act with restraint.”

Giap then deals with the execution of traitors, one of the most delicate of all questions, the one for which the NLF is most attacked, and the implications of which are used by American congressmen and columnists as a pretext for justifying the indefinite American “presence” in South Vietnam. The Western Armies after World War II had no scruples about trying Nazi and Japanese war criminals and hanging them. It was considered absolutely normal for the Norwegians to execute their Quislings, the French their Lavals and other Western countries their respective traitors, but Vietnamese are supposed to “forget and forgive” their Quislings and Lavals. It was considered a laudatory expression of patriotism in World War II for those living under the Nazi scourge to assassinate with whatever means possible any member of the hated occupation regime or any traitor-collaborators without any legal formalities of peacetime laws. But Vietnamese execution of traitors is labeled “Vietcong terrorism.”

Actually, in the South today as in Vietnam during the period about which Giap writes, grounds for executions have been far more limited than was the case with the West European resistance movements. This is explicable because of the essentially political motivation of the Vietnamese national liberation struggle. The possibility of “mass reprisals,” a blood bath for tens of thousands of those who had collaborated with the Americans in South Vietnam, is only conjured up by those who want to justify perpetual American occupation of South Vietnam.

“Concerning the extermination of traitors,” writes Giap, facing up to things with his habitual frankness, “we should execute them more resolutely and also more discriminatory. If we are not resolute, there will sometimes be disastrous consequences. But if we are not careful, executions may be unjustified and the effects could be no less fatal. The principle must be applied that only those guilty of high treason should be executed, only really incorrigible traitors and even then only after all possibilities of convincing them to mend their end ways have been exhausted. In order that such executions should have a correct influence, great attention must be paid to public opinion towards the traitor; one must be guided by the people’s will. Things must be handled in such a way that the population fully understands all the crimes of the condemned person; that they understand the tolerance and patriotism of revolutionary militants… In the case of execution of traitors, if the indictment is not exact, if the proceedings have not been given due attention because of lack of wisdom, firmness of care, the result will be the opposite to that intended…”

To apply in practice rejection of indiscriminate reprisals against known collaborators and traitors who have harmed the onward march of the resistance forces, implies strong political control at all levels of the armed forces. Thus it is necessary to clarify the nature of this political control before exploring other aspects of armed propaganda.

The armed propaganda units were the precursors of the three types of armed forces: self-defense guerrillas, regional troops and mobile regular troops. Political leadership within these units, as they were set up, was ensured by political cadres who were given parallel status at all levels with military commanders. This system is utilized today by the Vietnam People’s Army in the North and the Liberation Army in the South. This dual control is possible only when political and military aims in a given struggle are completely identical, integrated and coordinated, which in practice means that the political and military strategies must be decided at the same headquarters; and the political and military leadership share the same headquarters.

Régis Debray has justifiably criticized situations in which political cadres interfered in military affairs while the political leaders, as in certain countries in Latin America, were sitting in the cities trying to maintain a legal, political existence while the military leadership was in the mountains enduring the hardships of illegal existence. In such a case military activity is reduced to some sort of weight to be thrown onto the scales whenever the political leadership deems it expedient in its dealings with other political forces. Such a situation, I was told by certain guerrilla leaders from Latin America,[1] leads to a “legal” political leadership ordering all sorts of impractical military activities just to bring pressure to bear on some specific deal in the making; to secure an advantage in some temporary alignment of parliamentary forces, for example; or to bargain over the possibility of a few seats in a government. Armed insurrection is not something that can be switched on and off by a control, especially a control that is out of contact with the whole forward movement.

continue

Category : Marxism | Vietnam
18
Feb

Revisiting Patriarchy and Hegemony

 

By Martha Sonnenberg
Tikkun.org

I was 24 years old in 1970, when I read Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex, a year younger than she was when she wrote the book. The book catapulted me from the limitations of the Left organization of which I was a member into the world of Women’s Liberation.  There was no going back once I saw and felt the chauvinism of the Left, how women’s issues were  seen as tangential to the more important priorities of  “real” radical politics, rather than seeing feminism as “central and directly radical in itself.” Women in my organization typically played a supportive role to the men, the theorists, the writers, the speakers—we made coffee, mimeographed pamphlets, passed out the pamphlets, sometimes we spoke at meetings, and even had a women’s caucus within the organization, but, as Firestone told us, we were still “in need of male approval, in this case anti-establishment male approval, to legitimate (ourselves) politically”.

When Shulamith Firestone died, at the age of 67, in 2013, ravaged by mental illness and forgotten by many, her sister, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone said in her eulogy, “She influenced thousands of women to have new thoughts, to lead new lives.  I am who I am, and a lot of women are who they are, because of Shulie.”  I was one of those women.

Recently, I took my dog eared copy of The Dialectic of Sex down from my bookshelf as the #MeToo movement evolved, and was once again astounded by the incendiary brilliance of the book, now nearly 50 years old.  Shulamith Firestone was the first, and maybe the only, to probe the depths to which a misogynistic patriarchy permeated our society, developing a concept of a “sexual class system” which ran deeper than economic, racial, or social divisions.  With prescient analytical perspective, she placed the traditional family structure at the core of women’s oppression.  She wrote, “Unless revolution uproots the basic social organization, the biologic family—the vinculum through which the psychology of power can always be smuggled—the tapeworm of exploitation will never be annihilated.”  While the establishment press characterized her ideas as preposterous, many of her notions of how patriarchal social organization would be “uprooted” have come to realization—in vitro fertilization, how children are socialized, children’s rights,  gay rights and the legalization of  gay marriage, the whole LGBTQ movement, ending traditional marriage roles,  the freeing of gender identity from biologic destiny.  And it is within the context of these historical developments, upending the socio-economic buttress of traditional gender roles and identities that #MeToo has emerged. These factors have given #MeToo  a power and force that previous “waves” of women’s liberation lacked, not because previous issues or efforts were any less important, but because they were unable to reach women in all levels of society, transcending class, race, profession, and age. #MeToo , with its revelations of the ubiquity of abuse and violence against women,has reached all these women.  Importantly, too, it  is a movement that began not with “leaders”, but from grass roots in communities all across the country, and, in fact, all across the world.

The history of #MeToo has been obscured by the media frenzy that concurrently emerged.  Tarana Burke, an African American woman, created a non-profit organization called Me Too in 2006, to help women of color who had been sexually abused or assaulted. This was not about naming perpetrators or holding them accountable; it was only to give the affected women a voice. This, the media ignored.  But in 2017 two things happened which did get media attention:  The New York Times published revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse of Hollywood women, and following that, an actress, Alyssa Milano, who became aware of Tarana Burke’s work, wrote in social media, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me Too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”  What followed was the flooding of social media with stories of abuse and harassment, and a way for women to tell their experience and stand in solidarity with other abuse survivors. In the first 24 hours of Milano’s post, more than 12 million “MeToo” posts appeared.   All these aspects of #MeToo, its mass base and its revelation of the pervasive and perverse alignment of misogyny and power, make it dangerous to the established power structure.  Not surprisingly, that power structure has responded quickly in its attack on #MeToo.

Power and patriarchy defends itself

Efforts to maintain current power structures and cultures take multiple forms.  One of the most insidious forms of preserving the current power relationships lies with the established media.  While the “media” is not an autonomous entity, the individuals who contribute to it, the writers, the pundits, the “newsmakers”, promote in various ways the dominant culture of institutionalized sexism, and the undermining of #MeToo.  It does so in the following ways:

1) It focuses on individuals, primarily celebrities or people of power—thus, the “Harvey Weinstein” phenomenon, which unleashed multiple “outings” of famous  men who abused, assaulted or harassed women.  The focus on individuals took public attention away from the mass movement underlying #MeToo.  It made the problem one of famous “bad apples”, and ignored the systemic problems that #MeToo was revealing–not about famous people, but about abuse, violence and harassment in all workplaces, in families, in doctors’ offices, in schools, in churches and temples and mosques.

2) It separates the “good guys” from the “bad guys”. If there are “Bad Apples” among men, then the rest of them must be “Good Apples.”  There followed a flurry of more articles by men who professed their support of feminism, and who proclaimed they had never abused anyone, or weren’t aware that such abuse existed.  One is reminded of the white liberals who professed themselves free of racism, like the father in the film “Get Out”: “I would have voted for Obama a third time!” A few of these “good apples”, however, got caught in the media’s attention: Louis C.K., John Conyers, Al Franken. How, liberal pundits fretted, could #MeToo, take down such good guys? And it was true: none of these men had raped women. But they had engaged in various behaviors that would be considered harassing, from masturbation in front of women, to imposing unwanted kisses, to taking “comic” photographs touching the breast of a sleeping woman.  The pundits protested that these men were talented, creative, politically progressive men, and some allowance should be made. But when all was said and done, these protests were nothing more than a liberal version of the “Boys will be boys” meme, a widely held enabler of rape culture, and once again, left the underlying problems intact and unquestioned.

3) It focuses on consequences and punishment of these individuals, implying that once individuals were punished, or otherwise held accountable, the problem would be solved–A few firings, new policies, maybe some reforming legislation, and the problem would go away.  These punishments, however, also left the dominant power relationships and the social-psychology of misogyny/patriarchy unchallenged.

The anti-#MeToo “feminists”

In response to all of the above, a new wave of punditry evolved, this time mostly from other women, many calling themselves feminists, who attacked #MeToo for being a ”witch hunt”, “McCarthyism” and yes, totalitarian.  The most blatant example of this was the letter from 100 French women to Le Monde, and famously signed by Catherine Deneuve.  #MeToo was castigated for enslaving  women “to a status of eternal victim,” and further victimizing the  men “who’ve been disciplined in the workplace, forced to resign…when their only crime was to touch a woman’s knee, try to steal a kiss, talk about “intimate” things during a work meal, or send sexually charged messages to women who did not return their interest.”  This has led, the letter stated, “to a climate of totalitarian society.” The letter further defended the “freedom to offend” as essential to artistic creation and…”we defend a freedom to bother as indispensable to sexual freedom.”  Women, the letter states “need not feel traumatized by a man who rubs himself against her in the subway,” but rather should consider it a “nonevent.”  In a subsequent statement, published in Liberation, Deneuve said she signed the statement because she opposed the “media lynching” of men accused of inappropriate behavior.  One writer characterized #MeToo as responsible for the same “vigilantism” that characterized the Salem Witch Trials and the McCarthyism….(Continued)

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Category : Democracy | Gender | Hegemony | Women
11
Feb

 

By Rod Such

The prominent Palestinian intellectual Edward Said, author of Orientalism and The Question of Palestine, admired the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci for his views on cultural hegemony. What might have transpired if these two intellectual giants were able to collaborate on strategy and tactics for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement launched by Palestinian civil society in 2005, two years after Said’s death and 68 years after Gramsci’s?

This essay explores Gramsci’s concepts of moral leadership, common sense and good sense, cultural hegemony, superstructure, “taking inventory,” “war of position,” and the philosophy of praxis, their influence on Said’s thinking, and their relevance to the BDS movement. Underpinning this exploration, I seek to answer whether a Marxist or socialist perspective on BDS is even needed, let alone desired. Why is it not enough that socialists simply answer the call of Palestinian civil society and find ways to support the BDS movement in practical activity? Does Marxist theory contribute anything of importance to this movement? The conclusion reached is that both Gramsci and Said left behind a legacy that provides invaluable insights and reasons for why and how BDS can succeed in Western capitalist countries, particularly the United States, and become part of a global Intifada that works in tandem with Palestinian resistance on the ground in Palestine.

Marxism is unique as a philosophy that goes beyond merely interpreting the world by announcing that its intention is to change the world. This essay, therefore, also explores a three-year-long BDS campaign in Portland, Oregon. The goal is to determine if the Gramscian-Said legacy might have helped guide it. A dialectical relationship exists between theory and practice in which neither is complete without the other. Theory guides practice, and practice in turn deepens, corrects, and enriches theory. Theoretical precepts, according to this view, must be tested in the laboratory of human activity.

Moral Leadership, Hegemony, and ‘Good Sense ‘vs. ‘Common Sense’

Gramsci’s concept of “moral leadership” is apt in this context. For Gramsci the working class was “economist” if it spoke only for itself. He urged Italy’s Socialist Party and later its Communist Party to take up the “Southern Question”—that is, the plight of the peasantry, particularly in the less-industrialized southern part of Italy. But Gramsci was not content with just a worker-peasant alliance. He called for the working-class parties to provide “moral leadership” for all “subalterns,” who he defined as anyone in a subordinate position in capitalist society or what today we would call the 99 percent.

Similarly, in his book Orientalism Said stakes out a viewpoint of moral leadership in his underlying theme of challenging the way Western colonialism and its literature dehumanized and denied agency to colonized peoples. Said’s critique of the West’s conception of the Orient is ultimately based on a radical understanding and rejection of the notion of superior cultures, placing the “Orientalist” framework firmly in the context of colonialism and imperialism.

Gramsci’s notions of common sense and good sense are intimately linked to his idea of cultural hegemony and superstructure. For Gramsci the advanced capitalist countries enforced their rule and control not just through the repressive state apparatus—the police, the courts, the prisons, the military—but also through the institutions that emerge in civil society. The state apparatus is primarily based on force and coercion to maintain capitalist rule while institutions of civil society—ranging from trade unions to churches to the media to what we call today nongovernmental organizations—often help manufacture consent with the established order of things rather than challenge that order.

The notion of cultural hegemony derives in part from Marx’s famous dictum in The German Ideology: “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.”

Gramsci pondered why workers succumb to these ruling ideas when their class interests are diametrically opposed to those of the capitalists. He invoked the ideas of common sense and superstructure to explain how ruling class ideas establish hegemony over society at large and make it seem as though the capitalist order is merely the common sense outcome of human affairs.

In a sense Gramsci anticipated by nearly 100 years Thomas Frank’s exploration in his best-selling What’s the Matter with Kansas of why voters in the state of Kansas, once a center of abolitionism and agrarian socialism, voted against their own economic interests by embracing the Republican Party’s social agenda.

To establish this cultural hegemony and to keep it functioning smoothly, the ruling class also helps sustain a superstructure, such as the academy, civil society organizations, and the media, to ensure that its ideas remain supreme. The chief architects of “common sense”are our media and academic pundits who manage to disguise or obscure the systemic nature of capitalist oppression and exploitation. People learn to embrace and accept ideas contrary to their own interests because they are surrounded daily by a virtual gestalt of hegemonic ideas that must be true because seemingly everyone believes them to be true. To be controversial is to be dissident, an outlier from the established order of common sense.

Edward Said and Common Sense

In The Question of Palestine and The Politics of Dispossession, Said deconstructs the “common sense” ideas that have buttressed the Israeli narrative for decades and made the existence of a Jewish state seem reasonable to many people. These include the argument that the crimes of the Holocaust left the Jewish people with no alternative but to establish a Jewish state of their own for their own protection and refuge. Palestinian resistance to Zionist displacement in the “common sense” narrative then became simply a continuation of the persecution of the Jews. Israel became heroic David to the Goliath of surrounding Arab countries, according to this hegemonic narrative.

To counter this narrative, Said applied “good sense,” as opposed to the prevailing “common sense,” unerringly dissecting every hypocrisy, lie, and contradiction within the Israeli narrative by showing how they contravened established ideas of human rights and democracy. In doing so, Said, along with many others, established the Palestinian narrative as a hegemonic alternative to the dominant paradigms.

In Orientalism, Said acknowledges the influence of Gramsci, calling out in particular the distinction Gramsci made between civil society and state institutions and the role played by civil society in establishing cultural hegemony. Said writes:

“Gramsci has made the useful analytic distinction between civil and political society in which the former is made up of voluntary (or at least rational and noncoercive) affiliations like schools, families, and unions, the latter of state institutions (the army, the police, the central bureaucracy) whose role in the polity is direct domination. Culture, of course, is to be found operating within civil society, where the influence of ideas, of institutions, and of other persons works not through domination but by what Gramsci calls consent. In any society not totalitarian, then, certain cultural forms predominate over others, just as certain ideas are more influential than others; the form of this cultural leadership is what Gramsci has identified as hegemony, an indispensable concept for any understanding of cultural life in the industrial West. It is hegemony, or rather the result of cultural hegemony at work, that gives Orientalism the durability and the strength I have been speaking about so far.”  continue

Category : Hegemony | Middle East | Strategy and Tactics
6
Jan

China’s Loose Canon

 

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Qing Dynasty painting depicting Confucius presenting Buddha to Laozi

By Shaun Tan

China-US Focus

Many people are familiar with the Western canon, those core works of literature, history, and philosophy that are considered essential to the study of the subject. In the West, students of literature read Shakespeare and Cervantes, students of history read Herodotus and Thucydides, and students of philosophy read Plato and Aristotle. This canon is considered an integral part of Western civilization, and has shaped thinkers, artists, and statesmen for generations.

Yet few outside China know much about the Chinese canon, a canon that is as rich and valuable as its Western counterpart, that has been revered and reviled at different points in Chinese history, and which may be the key to consolidating the Chinese Communist Party’s authority – or destroying it.

In the field of literature, it includes what’s known as “the four great books,” The Water Margin, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, The Journey to the West, and Dream of the Red Chamber.

The Water Margin features 108 heroes who, renouncing a corrupt and unjust Song Dynasty, form a band of outlaws and live, Robin Hood-style, in a marsh, righting wrongs and defending the weak in accordance with their own (extremely violent) code of honor. It explores the theme of a just insurgency, with the heroes choosing to serve “the will of heaven” over the Song rule of law.

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a historical novel, and follows the breakup of the Han Dynasty into three warring kingdoms. It relates the battles and the intrigues as the three kingdoms vie for supremacy. Its characters show strategic brilliance, nobility, and valor, but also hubris, stupidity, and self-destructive envy, in short, the full spectrum of human nature amidst triumph and disaster.

The Journey to the West is a fantastical account of the monk Tripitaka’s journey to bring Buddhism from India to China, in the company of an anarchic fighting monkey, a lustful pig demon, and a fearsome sand demon, and the adventures they have on the way. The central theme of the comic novel is the tension between temptation and virtue, between passion and discipline, as the heroes strive (or fail) to live up to Buddhist ideals.

The greatest of the four is Dream of the Red Chamber. This novel follows the doomed romance of the protagonist Baoyu with his cousin Daiyu amidst the decline and revival of the illustrious Jia family. Its excellence lies in its execution, in its witty and spirited characters, in its colorful depiction of life inside a great house peopled by relatives and servants and the complex, shifting relations between them. It is a meditation on the meaning of life, as Baoyu is caught between his natural romanticism, the stern Confucianism of his father, and the Buddhist detachment born of suffering and enlightenment. Blurring the lines between reality and illusion, it is a bittersweet tribute to youth and youth’s end.

In the field of history, the Records of the Grand Historian are widely regarded as the greatest classical work of history. Written by Sima Qian, the Records cover over two thousand years of Chinese history. Depicting rulers with all their virtues and vices, it’s the primary means by which we know of many of them today.

The Chinese philosophical canon begins with Confucius. Far from the patron saint of Asian authoritarianism, as he is so often made out to be by opportunistic Asian dictators and clueless Western commentators, Confucius actually counseled balance, reciprocal obligations between ruler and ruled, and integrity in the face of unjust authority.

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Category : China | Intellectuals | Philosophy