Wednesday, April 20, 2016

“It it’s red, white & blue, it’s not real socialism”

Bernie took a drubbing in the NY state primary yesterday, despite the mobilization of much of the NYC left. I am in the strange position of thinking it's great that so many regular folks are open to some of the things Sanders is saying, while actually horrified that so many leftists have set aside their principles and historical legacy to dive in to the Democratic Party. I think long term that nothing good can come of Sanders’ redefining of socialism and revolution to mean something akin to the right wing’s corrupted definition. Anyway, hopefully this meme gets at the difference between Bernie Sanders’ professed socialism and the real socialism of someone like Eugene Debs, who was unequivocal in his opposition to capitalism itself. Nobody on the left should be waving those stars and stripes. Point that fucking bloodsoaked imperialist banner somewhere else.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mao Badges

I bought my first Mao badge when I was a teenager in the early 1970s. Since then I have accumulated a collection of several hundred. I thought I'd share a few of my favorites. I'll post up more in a few days. These badges were produced for decades, starting in the 1940s before the whole of China was liberated. The heyday of Mao badges was the Cultural Revolution, 1966-1976, when millions of varieties were manufactured for mass consumption: most of these were the red and silver "bicycle reflector" type made of aluminum, none of which I'm actually showing today.

The first two photos here show photos from badges of the early period, stamped out of steel and enameled. I'm told that these early pins have been heavily counterfeited, which surprises me not one bit, so who knows if this are legit originals, I don't. Notable here is the pin above with the silhouettes of Mao and Stalin, the one below dated 1948, and the one below showing a Chinese volunteer bayonetting a red blob labelled "America," issued in solidarity with the DPRK, clearly a composition like the "take that" stamps I have featured here The Cahokian.

This final batch of badges are all plastic: the heart and two of the white pins are soft, squishy, puffy vinyl.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Vote Soltysik/Walker! #REV16

In my old age I have become convinced that voting is generally a meaningless enterprise, a false form of democracy that amounts to being forced to play a loser's game. As anybody who has read my blog for a few years knows, this is not the position I have always held: indeed my tempered enthusiasm for Obama 2008 is quite evident in the earlier pages of this blog. Let's just say I have learned my lesson.

So I'm back to thinking about the symbolism of voting. I have been extremely favorably impressed by the modest electoral campaign of Mimi Soltysik and Angela Walker of the Socialist Party USA. I'm not going to make a thorough analysis right now of their campaign, of the checkered history of the SPUSA, or even of the reasons I believe organizing for fake socialist Bernie Sanders represents a major strategic mistake, betrayal even, but I would like to urge my readers to check out the #REV16 campaign. Whether or not they are officially on the New York ballot in the fall, this is the ticket I will be casting my meaningless vote for in November. I am skipping the primary, condemning both Sanders, Clinton and of course the frightening trio on the Republican side.

Soltysik and Walker seem like really great, dedicated activists, down to earth working class folks, and their campaign is being run on a platform far to the left of the Green Party; and unlike other leftist candidates with the possible exception of Mary Scully, they are running full up against the Sanders social democratic juggernaut. The Party of Socialism and Liberation and the Green Party seem both to be engaged in a soft endorsement of Sanders until his probable defeat in the primaries: #Rev16 is engaged in no such ridiculousness, confronting the issues from a revolutionary point of view up and down the line right now.

Voting won't bring revolution, but standing up for what you believe in and making a statement sure doesn't hurt. Meanwhile, the fight for socialism is in people talking to each other, organizing, preparing, sharpening our tools. #LessVotingMoreRevolution

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A second blog!

EPRP demonstration in Ethiopia in 1976.

“What!?” you say, “He can barely keep up with this one!”

Well, it's true, I've become a very lazy blogger. While I'm extraordinarily proud of the year I wrote for this blog once a day, my contributions here have become far and few between. During the period I was writing for the Kasama Project, now ended, I hardly posted here at all. I'm finding my voice again though, so don't give up on me. Meanwhile, however, I have undertaken a new project I'm really excited about.

My new, second blog, certainly not replacing this one, is called “Abyot: The Lost Revolution” and it is documenting a research project I have undertaken on the Ethiopian revolution of the 1970s. I started this blog over a year ago and didn't really tell anybody about it; but now that I am well into the research project itself, I want to share what I'm learning, and I have begun much more regular postings.

It's a subject I have been interested in for, no lie, forty years. Here's an excerpt from my new blog's statement of intent:

In 1976 I was eighteen years old and a university student in Chicago. My brief tenure in college was marked by my increasing radicalization, as I became involved with the American revolutionary left. I became a voracious consumer of worldwide revolutionary literature along with the classics of Marxist theory. I attended protests and forums, conferences and demonstrations, and, in those long-ago days, admired the organization and fortitude of leftist students from around the world from places like Iran, Ethiopia, Eritrea and elsewhere. I went to demonstrations where police or right-wingers were menacing and threatening, and certainly saw the potential of brutality. In my years as a radical I've witnessed hundreds of arrests and atrocious acts of police violence. But my life has rarely been in direct danger as a result of my political activities....

In 1976 a revolution in Ethiopia was experiencing a crucial shift, and I watched and studied these events as they happened. Military officers were consolidating their co-optation of a mass, popular uprising. Thousands of revolutionary students my very age were out in the streets fighting for that revolution and attempting to resist the hijacking of the revolution by the military. The students, along with workers and peasants, were organized under the red banners of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP), at the time a largely clandestine Marxist-Leninist formation. Very shortly the EPRP faced a massive, genocidal government campaign of violence and extermination. Dubbed "The Red Terror" by the military government, soon thousands of student revolutionaries my age were rounded up and murdered. The commitment of these young revolutionaries was inspirational to me, and gave me great pause to consider the contrasts and contradictions.

This blog is an investigation project.

What was the EPRP at the height of its power? What were the forces it was up against? What was the dynamic of the Ethiopian Revolution? Why did the EPRP lose?

I hope to excavate, if not rehabilitate, the historical reputation of the EPRP during its Marxist-Leninist period through a process of curation, collection, research and reportage. I will post articles, artwork and photos, book excerpts, reviews, and if I find them, reminiscences, about the Ethiopian revolution, primarily in the second half of the 1970s but extending through the 1980s.

At the new blog I have also posted a more expanded series of study questions which explains some of the issues I'm trying to understand. That post is entitled “8 Study Questions on the Ethiopian Revolution.”  And I've posted — and will update, as I go — the reading list of works I'm consulting for my research. I'm posting cool artwork, photos I find, sharing bits of the research and provocative bits of the story as it unfolds, and I hope to eventually produce more substantial essays about the subject of my studies itself.

If you're interested in revolutionary history, a story that is really woefully forgotten or misunderstood, hop on over and take a look!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Crucial Message for Our Times

Cover of the 1920s Turkish Communist journal Aydinlik picturing Rosa Luxemburg

The excerpt below is not rare or hard to find. It's been in print for generations, and thanks to the good comrades at the Marxist Internet Archive, it is freely available on the internet. But this crucial document, Rosa Luxemburg's timely attack on Bernsteinian revisionism "Reform or Revolution?" should be required reading for today's generation of socialists, especially those who, in the process of #FeelingTheBern, think they are merely choosing one of many strategies for a better world. Youthful optimism is a beautiful thing. But sometimes it is of dire importance to look back over a hundred years ago. Truly, there's nothing new under the sun. The revolution is nothing without the wisdom of fighters, leaders, comrades, philosophers and theoreticians who have fought these battles before. Their sacrifices are supposed to make our struggle easier.

Pay attention!

Below are excerpts from Reform or Revolution, chapter 8, "Conquest of Political Power," first published in 1900 and revised in 1908. Luxemburg's entire pamphlet is available on MIA.

"[D]oes the development of democracy render superfluous or impossible a proletarian revolution, that is, the conquest of political power by the workers?

Bernstein settles the question by weighing minutely the good and bad sides of social reform and social revolution. He does it almost in the same manner in which cinnamon or pepper is weighed out in a consumers’ co-operative store. He sees the legislative course of historic development as the action of “intelligence,” while the revolutionary course of historic development is for him the action of “feeling.” Reformist activity, he recognises as a slow method of historic progress, revolution as a rapid method of progress. In legislation he sees a methodical force; in revolution, a spontaneous force.

We have known for a long time that the petty-bourgeoisie reformer finds “good” and “bad” sides in everything. He nibbles a bit at all grasses. But the real course of events is little affected by such combination. The carefully gathered little pile of the “good sides” of all things possible collapses at the first filip of history. Historically, legislative reform and the revolutionary method function in accordance with influences that are much more profound than the consideration of the advantages or inconveniences of one method or another....

Legislative reform and revolution are not different methods of historic development that can be picked out at the pleasure from the counter of history, just as one chooses hot or cold sausages. Legislative reform and revolution are different factors in the development of class society. They condition and complement each other, and are at the same time reciprocally exclusive, as are the north and south poles, the bourgeoisie and proletariat....

That is why people who pronounce themselves in favour of the method of legislative reform in place and in contradistinction to the conquest of political power and social revolution, do not really choose a more tranquil, calmer and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal. Instead of taking a stand for the establishment of a new society they take a stand for surface modifications of the old society. If we follow the political conceptions of revisionism, we arrive at the same conclusion that is reached when we follow the economic theories of revisionism. Our program becomes not the realisation of socialism, but the reform of capitalism; not the suppression of the wage labour system but the diminution of exploitation, that is, the suppression of the abuses of capitalism instead of suppression of capitalism itself....

No law obliges the proletariat to submit itself to the yoke of capitalism. Poverty, the lack of means of production, obliges the proletariat to submit itself to the yoke of capitalism. And no law in the world can give to the proletariat the means of production while it remains in the framework of bourgeois society, for not laws but economic development have torn the means of production from the producers’ possession....

In a word, democracy is indispensable not because it renders superfluous the conquest of political power by the proletariat but because it renders this conquest of power both necessary and possible. When Engels, in his preface to the Class Struggles in France, revised the tactics of the modern labour movement and urged the legal struggle as opposed to the barricades, he did not have in mind – this comes out of every line of the preface – the question of a definite conquest of political power, but the contemporary daily struggle. He did not have in mind the attitude that the proletariat must take toward the capitalist State at the time of the seizure of power but the attitude of the proletariat while in the bounds of the capitalist State. Engels was giving directions to the proletariat oppressed, and not to the proletariat victorious....

Just as all roads lead to Rome so too do we logically arrive at the conclusion that the revisionist proposal to slight the final aim of the socialist movement is really a recommendation to renounce the socialist movement itself."


Saturday, February 13, 2016

How much is Assata's life worth?

Assata Shakur is a hero of our time. Her autobiography is required reading. "Assata Taught Me" tee-shirts have become ubiquitous in the era of #BlackLivesMatter. And yet, liberal Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is on record voting to extradite Shakur, called here "Joanne Chesimard," from Cuba where she now lives, back to prison in the United States. How do supporters of Sanders justify this? Personally, I hope Assata doesn't ever #FeelTheBern and stays free in socialist Cuba.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Hijack! Bernie Sanders and the Message of Occupy Wall Street

There is a clear straight line from the rhetoric of Occupy Wall Street to the rhetoric of the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Back in Occupy, there were three contending forces challenging economic injustice in this country. There were the End The Fed Paulite rightwingers, who thankfully in NYC were always a tiny minority; there were the Money Out of Politics people, usually also in the minority but generally identifiable as more middle class and more Democratic Party/mainstream oriented; and then there were the social radicals, the anarchists, leftists, and community activists. There was certainly tension in this last group between those who wanted to bring up big-picture, ideology-rooted solutions and those who wanted to engage in strictly responsive organizing, but this third group managed to dominate Occupy as a whole. It certainly did in Occupy Sunset Park in which I was very active.

The genius of Occupy Wall Street included building the kind of united front where these forces could coexist. Had either the End The Fed people or the Money Out of Politics people dominated, Occupy would have been truncated, and of negligible longevity or impact. It was the presence of the social radicals—and I credit the anarchists above all—who dared to make challenging the fundamentals of capitalism seem like everyday possibility.

What we are seeing in the 2016 elections is the seizure of the message and the remnants of momentum by the Money Out of Politics people, and this is not actually a good thing. It was very clear watching Bernie Sanders in the New Hampshire debate how limited this vision is, and how un-radical it is. This is actually Sanders' central focus, and far from containing any kernel of socialism, it is anything but a politically revolutionary demand. Of all the exploitative, oppressive, and broken things about capitalism in the USA, the fact that money buys political influence is the least remarkable. It is either naive magical thinking or deceptive ideological dishonesty to present money in politics as the keystone issue of our times, and to channel the obvious and massive popular discontent into the umbrella of reforming campaign financing and Wall Street influence represents not the triumph of popular upsurge but an attempt by a certain ideology to hijack social momentum. Sure, Wall Street is odious. But it is odious because it is the essence of capitalism not some discoloration of imaginary American democracy.

The enthusiasm behind Sanders' campaign is certainly remarkable, showing many of the signs and symptoms of a real social movement. But let's be clear: the Sanders campaign is not some kind of spontaneous popular upsurge, it is a Democratic Party election campaign, and even if it is often at odds with wings of the Democratic establishment, it is anything but a real social movement with open-ended revolutionary potential. Social radicals, who understand how ideology, class, and leadership function, should not be coddling the illusions consciously fostered by the Sanders campaign; it will come to regret surrendering to a wing of the Democratic Party.

Occupy reminded us that "another world is possible." The world the Sanders campaign is advocating looks a lot like this one. The rich ideological heritage of social revolutionaries identifies capitalism as the problem, and presents us with the imperative of revolutionary change. Setting aside competing strategies and visions for the moment, we would do well to remember all those ideologues and freedom fighters who understood that it is literally impossible to see mass justice and liberation under capitalism, even a capitalism slightly tamed by reform. Hope is a beautiful thing, but to triumph, hope must be informed by an accurate diagnosis of the problem and a prognosis for a cure.

Social radicals who have signed up to organize for Sanders are surrendering the future for the illusion of popular support. It's called opportunism, and it also doesn't work. The Democratic Party is stronger than we are, and they're gonna stay that way unless we make the break that generations of freedom fighters before us understood.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Bernie Sanders Killed Rosa Luxemburg

Print from Max Beckmann, The Martyrdom of Rosa Luxemburg

Bernie Sanders killed Rosa Luxemburg.
Well, no of course he didn't. But his ideological predecessors did. They did it because, like Sanders, they embraced and defended capitalist state power against actual revolution. They, like Sanders, redefined socialism to mean something so much less than the bravest of revolutionary philosophers actually understood. It's a pleasant fantasy to think of Sanders' electoral campaign as some kind of "political revolution," but nothing could be further from the real truth.
There are no short cuts to actual revolution—unfortunately!—and in the extraordinarily unlikely event that Sanders is elected, he will be custodian of the most massive instruments of repression the world has ever known, and like a previous pleasant fantasy (Obama's "change we can believe in") he will use them. Sanders' modest list of reforms, which will not actually be enacted, do not add up to the actual radical realignment of society we so desperately need. Socialism is not the system of state-administered programs Sanders supporters suggest but the transfer of power from the capitalist class to the working class, and that is something no electoral candidate can deliver.
It is very very frustrating that reality disproves the optimism of many Sanders voters, which is why I am beyond frustrated at leftists who are cynically lying about the possibilities behind his campaign. The truth needs to remain our weapon. Sure, the Republican candidates represent some of the worst of humanity; they're terrifying in obvious ways. But look deeper: the truth is that Sanders, Clinton, or Obama before them are a terribly inadequate line of defense against those forces of reaction, and actually if you look into the totality of their records, they are examples of some pretty horrible humanity themselves. Obama, for instance, who speaks movingly about gun violence while green lighting massive violence against civilians in other countries. Remember it was mostly not horrible Republicans who smashed the Occupy movement in acts of violence, it was Obama and the nation's liberal and Democratic party establishment. Bernie Sanders has sat in government for decades funding the machineries of war and vigorously backing such US allies as apartheid Israel. 
Rosa Luxemburg and her collaborators challenged the socialist (social-democratic, more accurately) mainstream of her own time when she loudly condemned German socialists for supporting German imperialism in WW1. In the ruins of Germany's defeat, she dared lead an insurrection, attempting to take advantage of capitalism's disarray. The social democratic mainstream chose instead to defend the German state from that insurrection, and drowned the insurrection in blood. Luxemburg is remembered by today's left as a kind of symbolically humanist alternative to Lenin, who bourgeois history has written off as discredited. Nothing could actually be further from reality, and let us not miss the main point of Luxemburg's lifelong dedication, like Lenin's: the overthrow of capitalism. Because to do this thing is the only way to save humanity from the cannibal brutality of the system that has now survived her murder by almost a century. 
It is beyond obvious that there is no organized revolutionary force capable of challenging the capitalist status quo in the USA. Indeed even Rosa Luxemburg's insurrection was probably premature and rash. But as long as we blind ourselves to the lessons of history — speaking of American exceptionalism! — the seeds and sprouts that signal the possibility of a better world (Occupy, ‪#‎BLM‬) will fall, unwatered, on the sterile ground of playing electoral games that by design cannot actually meet our actual needs. Sure, we have to start somewhere, we need a real and legitimate mass movement. But the Bernie Sanders election campaign is not that movement, not even the seed of that movement. That's gotta be painful for some to hear in a season when we could really use some hope. 
I'm glad my Facebook feed is filled with memorial postings to Rosa Luxemburg: in 21st-century America that's kind of a miracle. But the best way to honor her memory is to finish her actual work.

I really don't want to #FeelTheBern.


(crossposted from my Facebook)

Friday, July 31, 2015

Sandra Bland, killed by slave catchers

Here's my latest, crossposted from Kasama.

A 21st-century slave patrol murdered Sandra Bland

#SayHerName #SandraBland
#SayHerName #SandraBland

Let the truth be known: Sandra Bland, an activist in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, was kidnapped and murdered by modern day slave catchers. Her “crime” was daring to act like a human being in the face of the arbitrary and brutal violence of white supremacy and male authority.

Watch the videos of her outrageous kidnapping and weep for what you know is coming. Watch the video of a brave and self-assured woman menaced, brutalized, and thrown to the ground, and rage against the horror documented on 21st-century technology. Look for the crude attempts by the authorities and their captive media to edit, to mislead, to lie, to distort, to deflect, to assassinate Sandra Bland’s character. But don’t be fooled. Sandra Bland did not kill herself.

For moving her car out of the way of an approaching Texas pig patrol car, Sandra Bland was assaulted, dragged off to jail for three days, and murdered in her cell. For insisting on her right to be upset with being treated like shit in the midst of a random encounter she was tarred as “uppity” and marked for death. Her voice is clear in the videos of her kidnapping—both the edited one released by the pigs and the bystander video showing her flat on the ground—and in the message she left from prison on a friend’s phone: she was disgusted with what was happening to her but frustrated at being powerless to stop it.

In her autobiography, liberated Black freedom fighter Assata Shakur presciently warns us about how white supremacy will seek to absolve itself of responsibility for the deaths of its captives: “In prisons it is not at all uncommon to find a prisoner hanged or burned to death in his cell. No matter how suspicious the circumstances, these deaths are always ruled ‘suicides.’ The are usually Black inmates, considered to be a ‘threat to the orderly running of the prison.’ They are usually among the most politically aware and socially conscious inmates in the prison.”

Graphic from Sandra Bland's Facebook page showing Dylann Roof at left.
Graphic from Sandra Bland’s Facebook page showing Dylann Roof at left.

We may never learn how the pigs killed Sandra Bland, but even if the dubious and suspicious official narrative about suicide by garbage bag turns out to be other than the time-worn lie it appears to be, the pigs at the Waller County Jail are still her murderers: Sandra Bland did not do this to herself.
We don’t know that the authorities knew who Sandra Bland was before they kidnapped her, but her presence in social media was out front and they certainly figured it out once they had her behind bars. Her Facebook page bore the slogan “Now legalize being Black in America” with a banner illustration contrasting how racist terrorist Dylann Roof was treated after being arrested (with a cheeseburger) to how a Black man is treated (bloodied and beaten). In a series of videos, Bland was outspoken against Police violence, white privilege and racial injustice, and spoke movingly about a cause she felt strongly about:
I was asked, was I trying to racially unite or racially incite. Well, honestly I feel that my goal is to racially unite. Now, in the process of doing that some people will be incited, i.e., upset, because based on the history of America it is not good when it comes to Black and white people. But I want us to try and get past that and that is ultimately impossible until certain people realize that they were born into a certain kind of privilege.… Black people are gonna be mad when we see our people gunned down and murdered.”
It’s a familiar pattern, well known to the communities preyed upon by the death squads in blue, but now plain for anyone with eyes to see: A Black person encounters so-called law enforcement, and winds up dead.

Sandra Bland. Kindra Chapman. Sam DuBose. Tamir Rice. Freddie Grey. Walter Scott. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Akai Gurley. Charly Keunang. Shantel Davis. Kimani Gray. Ramarley Graham. Kyam Livingston. #SayTheirNames and grit your teeth, for these names are only a few of untold hundreds of innocent Black people murdered by the modern slave catchers year after year, most with complete legal impunity.
Show me in American history where ‘all’ lives have mattered. Show me where there have been liberty and justice for all, like that fucking pledge of allegiance we love to say….if ‘all’ lives mattered would there need to be a hashtag for #BlackLivesMatter?” —Sandra Bland in #SandySpeaks
Let us be clear, again. So-called law enforcement is not some tree bearing good and rotten apples: it is a noxious, poisonous growth that must be uprooted and destroyed. The police are not acting in an aberrant fashion: they are doing what they were designed to do, enforcing the structures of white supremacy that maintain the capitalist order. The rampant lethal violence of these modern day slave patrols against communities of color is fully sanctioned by the state despite being documented not only by brave citizen copwatchers but on the state’s own bodycams and dashcams. The police reform schemes of liberal politicians like New York City’s mayor DeBlasio and President Obama are revealed to be nothing other than feel-good window dressing for the same old repressive business as usual.

Graphic from Sandra Bland's Facebook page.
Graphic from Sandra Bland’s Facebook page.

We are heartened by the growth of the #BlackLivesMatter movement now confronting racist terror across the country. It is exciting to see activists from communities of color, notably led by women like the martyred Sandra Bland, take the lead in combatting this country’s structural white supremacy, confronting politicians, ripping down confederate flags, defacing racist monuments, building networks of support and discussing the implications of the deep intertwining of racism and capitalism. More than one activist in this movement has pointed out that the first flag of slavery in this country was not the confederate stars and bars, but the stars and stripes itself, and we hope these are steps in a path that brings this movement to an understanding of the need for revolution, the abolition of white supremacist institutions and structures, and the destruction of capitalism itself. This movement will not soon be silent.

In the words of Sandra Bland’s mother, Once I put this baby in the ground, I’m ready…This means war.”

#SayHerName #AvengeSandraBland #SmashSlavePatrols

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Real enemies, False Friends: Imperialism and homophobia in Africa

This article originally appeared on The Kasama Project on 8 February 2014. Reposting here to preserve a broken link. It may also be accessed here.

“What Clinton and Obama have done is weaponize gay rights in the service of neocolonialism.”


Gay people in African countries have long confronted existential challenges. But now old laws that criminalize homosexual behavior are being supplemented with harsh penalties and new laws designed to push gay people back into the shadows. This massive wave of repression is being led by local demagogues and visiting American missionaries. But underneath it all, decades of neocolonial exploitation and blatant imperialist hypocrisy have created a perfect storm of terror for gay Africans.
We celebrate the fact that Uganda is a no go zone for the gay people. Let them die like cockroaches and insects with no purpose. We praise the lord that our leaders are put them in their places;- graveyards, cells, prisons and out of Uganda. Yeessssssssssssssssssss this is it, we shall get them.” —a Ugandan supporter of anti-gay legislation, on Facebook
After being stalled for several years and having undergone various revisions, Uganda's parliament made headlines in December by finally passing a deeply repressive bill against gays and lesbians. While the death penalty clause was removed from what was originally referred to as the "Kill the Gays Bill," it sets penalties including life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality,” and also criminalizes the failure to turn in known homosexuals for their behavior. According to the Guardian, “Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda under a colonial-era law that criminalised sexual acts 'against the order of nature,' but the Ugandan politician who wrote the new law argued that tough new legislation was needed because gay people from the west threatened to destroy Ugandan families and were allegedly 'recruiting' Ugandan children into gay lifestyles.”

b2ap3_thumbnail_Uganda-GEHO.jpgUgandan President Yoweri Museveni has so far refused to sign the bill into law, saying the bill would not solve the problem of “abnormality.” But regardless of the status of the bill, Ugandan gay people, referred to as “kuchus,” report a sharp increase in anti-gay harassment and violence. Activist David Kato was murdered in 2011, and Andrew Waiswa of the Gender-Equality and Health Organisation of Uganda (GEHO) was beaten by thugs in December requiring hospitalization. Waiswa, now recuperating at home, reports that his friends are threatened daily on the streets. Says Waiswa, “So they want to kill me for being me and trying to help fellow LGBTq brothers and sisters??? Now that's madness!! I have survived many attempts and I know some of us might lose our lives in this battle, but giving up the fight is not an option....We are born this way!!! We are gay! We are here... we can't hide anymore, we have nowhere to run...yes we are Ugandan Kuchus!!”

A Worldwide Trend?

Unfortunately, Uganda is not the only country in Africa, or indeed elsewhere in the world, where gay or queer people are now being targeted. In January, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan surprised observers by signing a similarly repressive law that criminalizes gay marriages but also criminalizes the ability of gays and lesbians to associate or to form organizations. Immediately following the enactment of this law, dozens of gay Nigerians were arrested, according to human rights activists.  In northern Nigeria where Muslim sharia law coexists with civil Nigerian law, the new law seems to have fueled a wave of popular anti-gay protest demanding harsh penalties for those arrested.

Nigerian student Udoka Okafor summarizes:
Openly LGBT persons in Nigeria are simply struggling to survive a culture that is hostile to them because of their sexual and gender orientation. The legal system criminalizes them, society ostracizes them, and politicians spit out negative demagogueries about them that further indoctrinate people into a culture of hostility towards LGBT persons.
Elsewhere, Gambia's president Yahya Jammeh used the occasion of his September speech to the United Nations in New York to denounce homosexuals and their supporters: "Those who promote homosexuality want to put an end to human existence...Homosexuality in all its forms and manifestations which, though very evil, antihuman as well as anti-Allah, is being promoted as a human right by some powers.”

A legislator in Liberia is promoting a law that would also criminalize gay marriage: “[Homosexuality] is a criminal offence. It is un-African...It is a problem in our society. We consider deviant sexual behaviour criminal behaviour,” said the legislator, Jewel Howard-Taylor.

Back in 1995 President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe notoriously said, “I find it extremely outrageous and repugnant to my human conscience that such immoral and repulsive organizations, like those of homosexuals, who offend both against the law of nature and the morals of religious beliefs espoused by our society, should have any advocates in our midst and elsewhere in the world.” He has kept up this anti-gay attitude ever since and non-sexual gay behavior was criminalized in Zimbabwe in 2006. There are many other examples across sub-Saharan Africa.

And of course there is the law in Russia, signed by President Vladimir Putin last summer, that bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.” This law effectively shoves Russia's gay and lesbian community back into the closet, as any open activity can now be cited as “gay propaganda” that might expose children to homosexuality. While homosexuality itself remains decriminalized in post-Soviet Russia (at least for now), activists report a disturbing increase in violence directed against the Russian gay community. The Russian anti-gay law has been a focus of world-wide activists seeking to use the winter Olympics in Sochi to publicize what's happening there and punish the Olympics' supporters for enabling repression by calling for protests and a boycott.
Finally, in December of last year, India's supreme court shocked the world by reinstating a colonial-era law recriminalizing homosexuality. The 1861 law had been struck down in 2009. In the new year, the supreme court even rejected complaints by human rights activists and stood firm on its decision to make homosexuality punishable by up to ten years in jail.

Why Is this Happening?

Yet things look very different in the United States. While violence against transgendered people remains at an unprecented high level, and while a bill against workplace discrimination against LGBT people (ENDA) languishes in congress, the rapid increase in the number of states legalizing same-sex marriage equality would suggest a rising tide of acceptance toward gay people here at home. Despite the furious activity of anti-gay hate groups and the frothings of fascist teapartiers on the American right, mostly the story in the US has been one of rapid legal advance for gay civil rights. So why all this backlash against gay people in so many places around the world?

Many of the African politicians behind these anti-gay laws claim that homosexuality represents something un-African being imported into Africa by criminal European or American gays for nefarious purposes like child molestation. These politicians say there is no history of homosexuality in Africa, despite the fact that this is widely disputed by scholars. Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa, one of the architects of the Uganda bill, wrote, “Homosexuality is illegal, unnatural, ungodly and un-African: In Uganda as most of the global South, homosexuality is an 'evil and repugnant sexual act' which simultaneously breaks four established laws [including] the law of our African tribal cultures which have been handed down to us by our fathers from thousands of years of civilized traditions.”

It is true that a moden gay identity owes much to the evolution of gay consciousness in European and American culture, but gay historians and anthropologists have documented same-gender sexuality and gender-nonconforming behavior all over the world, including in many traditional African cultures. It's ironic that what these politicians are actually defending is a legal system and religious morality established by the British colonial masters, who introduced harsh anti-gay codes at the point of bayonets to the indigenous populations of the African regions they conquered in the 19th century.
And it's not as though there are no African gays standing up for their own rights. There are LGBT organizations across Africa. The very fact that African gays now have a roster of martyrs like David Kato of Uganda, or Roger Jean-Claude Mbede and Eric Lembembe of Cameroon, disproves this notion that gay people are outsiders. And who can forget the heroic anti-apartheid activist turned HIV-activist Simon Nkoli?

So what is really happening? Two actual outside forces are involved.

The Evangelical Link

Scott Lively is a right-wing American Christian fundamentalist activist who has devoted his career to attacking LGBT people. The author of a slanderous book that claims Nazi Germany was the product of a homosexual conspiracy, he traveled to Uganda in 2009 to give a series of lectures warning of a gay menace to Ugandan society. His message is not just one of religious conservatism, but a call to political action. American evangelical missionaries have been using allegedly charitable intentions to build networks throughout Africa. Their ubiquitous presence in local relief work, including massive involvement in HIV/AIDS charities, has given them entry to local politics. Their work is not all about mere charity: it comes with a heavy dose of social conservatism and politically reactionary ideology. Their AIDS relief work, where they have become a channel for US government funding, puts AIDS prevention in the context of conservative religious practice and morality, focusing for instance, on abstinence and marriage. Remember the abortive and bizarre “Kony 2012” campaign? The people behind that were part of the same community of zealous missionaries working hard to capture the minds of communities across central Africa.

Lively and others like him, apparently on the losing end of the so-called culture wars in the United States, have found a receptive audience in countries like Uganda. In the U.S., Lively's organizations are derided as hate groups. In Uganda, in the midst of a massive religious revival where antigay attitudes have become commonplace, Lively's political message has found fertile ground. Martin Ssempa, already engaged in a campaign against sexual permissiveness in AIDS prevention, became one of his chief local disciples. An American journalist visiting Uganda in 2005 described Ssempa's message:
In his sermons, he condemns homosexuality, pornography, condoms, Islam, Catholics, certain kinds of rock music, and women’s rights activists, who he says promote lesbianism, abortion, and the worship of female goddesses. He told me that Satan worshipers hold meetings under Lake Victoria, where they are promised riches in exchange for human blood, which they collect by staging car accidents and kidnappings.
b2ap3_thumbnail_caseagainst_cartoon_Page6.jpgScott Lively and the American evangelicals have become the catalyst for the transformation of these reactionary ideas into political reality. Although Lively claims to be against harsh punishment for homosexual acts, it's clear that his pseudo-historical and pseudo-scientific diatribes against gay people have sent anti-gay sentiment in Uganda over the top. It's worth noting —and frightening — that Lively has lately been making numerous appearances in Russia. (He's also being sued in the state of Massachusetts for “crimes against humanity” by a Ugandan LGBT group called SMUG, Sexual Minorities of Uganda, backed by the Center for Constitutional Rights).

While Lively is the most prominent of the reactionary evangelical leaders implicated in anti-gay legislation, there are religious organizers across the region influencing popular attitudes and legal processes. The Catholic Church, the conservative wing of the Anglican church, numerous protestant denominations, and in the case of some countries, Islamic fundamentalist movements like Nigeria's Boko Haram, are all preaching intolerance toward gay people.

But it's a mistake to simply blame the new wave of anti-gay repression on mere backward religious ideas. The real issue is power, and this is revealed as we consider who is actually benefiting from this repression.

The Weaponization of Gay Rights

There is a second outside force behind the wave of anti-gay reaction in Africa and elsewhere, and it's actually the more sinister one. Ironically, this force is dressed in pro-LGBT language and intent. This force is the U.S. State Department.

Hillary Clinton, acting as President Obama's secretary of state, made a speech at the UN offices in Geneva in 2011 in which she said, "Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct, but in fact they are one and the same.”  The speech was a sweeping condemnation of anti-gay repression world-wide. Under her leadership, the State Department followed up the speech with broad policy statements that “the United States would use all the tools of American diplomacy to promote LGBT rights around the world.”

American and international LGBT organizations widely welcomed Clinton's remarks, hoping that the United States would use its “leverage” to advocate for gay civil rights in places like Uganda. The American LGBT population largely cheered Clinton and Obama, which was, of course, part of the idea.

But here's the problem. The United States is not actually a force for good in the world, and certainly not a force for good in Africa.

The real interest of the US in Africa is power; economic and political power. In the fifty-plus years of the post-colonial era, African countries have learned well and good what domination by the US means. In countries like Congo, Rwanda, Liberia, and Angola, the US has meant decades of genocidal civil strife and the looting of natural resources. It has meant coup d'etats and rule by viciously corrupt western puppets. It has meant poverty for the masses of people while a select few at the top of African countries are blessed with untold wealth and influence. It has meant crushing national debts and environmental disaster. It has meant brute force against uprisings or national attempts to break free of imperialist — of neocolonial — domination. The United States and its corporations profit from African misfortune.

What Clinton and Obama did was weaponize gay rights in the service of that neocolonialism.
b2ap3_thumbnail_africom1.jpgIt's no accident that Clinton issued this statement when she did. Obama has his eye fixed clearly on one of the main battlefields of neoliberal globalization. American “advisers” and even armies have been dispatched to central Africa. Drone bases have been set up in west Africa. US military incursions and drone attacks continue in Somalia. And US military aid and mercenary assistance (in concert with its junior partner the Israeli military-industrial complex) is all over east Africa. The radical-looking governments once supported by the Soviet Union have mostly disappeared, but Chinese imperialism has replaced Russia as an economic threat to the US in Africa. The US has used its crocodile-tears version of “human rights” as a weapon before, but now some symbolic concern for LGBT rights has been added to the American armory. Let us be clear: this is not a good thing for the gay, lesbian, transgender, or queer people of Africa.

US Africa policy is drenched in blood. Sure there's lots of money going to famine relief, AIDS prevention, and resource exploration. But each dollar is a strand from a spider's web. And how dare the United States, prison capital of the world, lecture any other country about civil repression?
The neocolonial domination of Africa looks different than the colonial domination of Africa. It requires allowing national governments the appearance of independence. The corrupt, anti-democratic rulers of so many African countries understand this well too. What the weaponization of gay rights allows them is a cheap form of utterly fake anti-imperialism. It allows them to deflect actual criticism of their repressive rule by blaming gay people as subversives and pointing to their own opposition to imperialism by loudly resisting the bullying of the State Department on gay-related social policy. The real fact that the US government and multinational corporations are propping up undemocratic regimes because it's strategically and economically profitable to do so is consciously obscured. The millions of dollars that fatten the accounts of local compradors from their collaboration with imperialism are no longer the focus when these compradors turn around and announce that they are standing up to unfair pressure from the most powerful country on the planet.

Last July, Zimbabwe's Mugabe commented after Obama's visit to a handful of African countries:
Then we have this American president, Obama, born of an African father, who is saying we will not give you aid if you don’t embrace homosexuality....We ask, was he born out of homosexuality? We need continuity in our race, and that comes from the woman, and no to homosexuality....we will cut their heads off.
The anti-gay demogogues in Uganda and Nigeria are also clear on this, finding great utility in the time-honored traditions of scapegoating and showboating. One can see exactly what has now happened by examining the Facebook page “Nigerians Must Unite and Liberate Nigeria.” A really interesting page, full of anti-imperialist content, it's the site of daily postings against Nigerian government corruption, ethnic and religious sectarianism, against corporate destruction of the Nigerian environment, and plunder of Nigerian resources. But along came the anti-gay marriage law, and now it is filled with posts and comments praising President Jonathan. We are forever looking forward to the slightest opportunity to commend Goodluck Jonathan the President of our nation, in the hope that he will do better. In that spirit, my compliments, and in no small measure, go out to President goodluck jonathan, for having the courage to stand up to enormous American & European pressure, by signing into law, the Anti-Gay bill and criminalizing same-sex marriage and public celebration of gay love in Nigeria. Thumbs up on this one.” And, “Good News from Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan has signed into law a wide-ranging bill which not only criminalizes same sex marriage, but all cohabitation, meetings, gatherings and advocacy by or on behalf of gay people in the country: The signed bill says the gays, lesbians in Nigeria will risk a 14-year jail term...Brave President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.” Pro-gay commenters were called CIA agents and banned.

So not only is bigotry triumphant, but the corrupt national leaderships which actually profit from their relationship with neocolonialism and the multi-national corporations are let completely off the hook.

Against Homonationalism

The reaction of the LGBT establishment in the US has been predictable,  lining up to demand that the US, the EU and other governments increase their pressure on African governments. The corporatist LGBT civil rights group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) even traveled to Davos to present at the World Economic Forum vulture nest: "When countries like Russia or Nigeria pass laws that threaten the human rights of LGBT people, world leaders must make it clear that those actions have consequences,” said HRC head Chad Griffin. The HRC basically identifies with imperialism and calls for more misery to be inflicted on Nigeria. Talk about not doing African gays any favors. (For more information on how the HRC actually profits from global exploitation check out these reports: “HRC and the Vulture Fund”  and “HRC International Expansion Funded by the Worst Humans.”)

While the impulse toward solidarity with oppressed lesbian, gay and transgender people in countries like Uganda and Nigeria is positive, it's really impossible under the circumstances of US imperialist hegemony to fail to contextualize what's going on in Africa, and to fail to understand the hypocrisy of American intent. The liberation of Africa's gay people may wind up looking different than the civil rights trajectory in Europe and the United States. This is in no way to excuse or mitigate the brutal repression being inflicted on gays in Uganda and Nigeria; indeed it should be firmly and loudly condemned by communists, as imperialism and the corrupt rule of the compradors should be equally condemned.

But the liberation of Africa from neocolonialism, imperialism and neoliberalism (including the liberation of African gay people) must be the work of Africans themselves.

As in the Middle East, where apartheid Israel is using its supposed acceptance of gays as a propaganda weapon in its war against the Palestinians, the concept here of “homonationalism” is useful.

Writing in Jadaliyya, Maya Mikdashi identifies homonationalism in the context of what Hillary Clinton's aggressive statement really meant: “In her speech Secretary Clinton was...reproducing this generative alienation between political and human rights. She emphasized that LGBTQs everywhere had the same rights to love and have sex with whomever they choose as partners, and to do so safely. In making this statement, she reiterated a central tenet of what Jasbir Puar names homonationalism: the idea that LGBTQs the world over experience, practice, and are motivated by the same desires... Secretary Clinton suggested that queers everywhere, whether white or black, male or female or transgendered, soldier or civilian, rich or poor, Palestinian or Israeli, can be comprehended and interpolated through the same rights framework. But the content of what she she calls 'gay rights' is informed by the experiences and histories of (namely white gay male) queers in the United States, and thus there is an emphasis on visibility and identity politics and an elision of the class and political struggles that animate the lives of the majority of the third world's heterosexual and homosexual populations. Thus detached from its locality, 'gay rights' can travel internationally not only as a vehicle for normative homo-nationalism, but as a vehicle for neoliberal ways of producing politics and subjects more broadly.” 

Thus, part of the problem is that the imposition of American will on African countries is rightfully going to produce backlash, leaving the actual lesbian, gay, transgender or queer Africans forced into making false and dangerous choices. And it's fair to suggest that the active embrace of US bullying by elements in the American gay community who have embraced the agenda of the Obama State Department might mark a transition from “homonationalism” to “homoimperialism.”
Mikdashi concludes with a warning, which is really important when thinking about how to respond to calls for justice against the oppression which is real and horrifying, coming from people and places drenched in the bloody hypocrisy of empire:

We cannot 'choose' to not be who we have become, but we must recognize how we have been formed as neoliberal rights seeking and speaking bodies, and how this formation is linked to a history of depoliticization and alienation. In other words, we must be both tactical and skeptical when this language reaches to embrace us, and when we, as activists and as academics, use it ourselves. We must find ways to critically inhabit this homonational world and try, always, to act within the uncomfortable and precarious line between rights and justice.

Lenin famously said that communists should be “tribune[s] of the to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects.” And so we are called to speak out against the rise of anti-gay repression in Africa, in Russia, in India, and to challenge the credentials of those who claim they are somehow defending African-ness by oppressing gay people. But for us, this work begins here in the US: the State Department, the Clintons, the Obamas, the fascist hate groups and the ilk of Scott Lively, these mortal enemies are all here right at home.

As Andrew Waiswa of GEHO says, evoking past liberation struggles in Africa, “A luta continua!”

IWD: Oppression transformed into revolutionary power

This article originally appeared on The Kasama Project, 8 March 2014. Reposting here to preserve a broken link. It may also be accessed here.

Where does the revolutionary spark come from? How do some people come to transcend and challenge the crushing oppressions of the world? International Women's Day (IWD) has something to teach us. If the political theoreticians of the radical movements of the 19th and early 20th century were mostly men, it was radical women, close to the grinding brutality and poverty of industrialism's golden age, who encapsulated the personal rage and determination needed to transform suffering and oppression into resistance. It was female anarchist Emma Goldman who said succinctly and straightforwardly, "Ask for work. If they don't give you work, ask for bread. If they do not give you work or bread, then take bread.”

b2ap3_thumbnail_women-workers_opt.jpgThe IWD holiday was first carved out as a day for working women to celebrate their mutual solidarity and empowerment back in 1908, by striking women workers in Chicago. A few short years later in 1914, the world socialist movement adopted March 8 as a political holiday to demand political and social rights for women. The ideals of that socialist movement were promptly tested as the world plunged into war and much of the socialist movement betrayed internationalism, but brave women kept the holiday alive.

And then by 1917, this simple holiday showed its revolutionary potential: A women's day demonstration in Russia for peace and bread (shown above right) turned into a mass strike which quickly became the February Revolution that overthrew the centuries-old rule of the Tsars. Revolutionaries had been organizing against the Tsars for decades with increasing mass success. But it took a demonstration of women workers, of mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, lovers, making an urgent heartfelt plea for an end to death and hunger that captured the mass imagination and changed the once unthinkable into the possible.

After the October revolution in Russia, International Working Women's Day, often shortened to just International Women's Day, was added to the canon of revolutionary holidays celebrated by communists around the world. It became a moment of recognition for women attempting to create new realities in socialist countries, and a rallying cry for women around the world challenging capitalism and imperialism.

In the modern era the holiday has been often co-opted by the mainstream bourgeois feminist movement: instead of radical appeals for social transformation, this depoliticized holiday came to celebrate the "sisterhood" of reactionary female politicians, or served to elevate women celebrities. But even cheapened into a feel-good holiday affirming the humanity and achievement of women, IWD has not lost all its power. (It's a remarkable statement that after all these years female humanity still needs to be affirmed.) The deep connection between women's experience of oppression and their potential to lead revolution remains.

b2ap3_thumbnail_1979Iran.jpgIn 1979, Iranian women played a major role in the overthrow of the U.S.-backed Shah. Communist women had joined guerrilla forces and urban revolutionary groups and been subject to bloody, brutal and violent repression along with their male comrades.

The Iranian revolution triumphed when the political opposition was joined by the mass Islamist movement. After the Shah was overthrown, the new rulers attempted to impose conservative religious laws on the general population: On IWD 1979, thousands of Iranian women filled the streets of Tehran to object (right). Under slogans like "In the Dawn of Freedom There Is no Freedom!" "Women's Liberation Is Society's Liberation!" and  "We didn’t make a revolution to go backwards!” they organized marches and sit-ins for six days. While the laws mandating compulsory hijab were eventually put in place, Iranian women's resistance ensured that, even under the forms of repression that followed, women were not driven from the political sphere.

Today women are a significant part of the revolutionary movement: whether in the rural regions of India where armed women Maoist rebels challenge Indian capitalism (photo at top), or in the mass movements of the squares from Egypt to Wall Street, or in the spheres of theoretical exploration and debate necessary to take the communist movement to its next stage, women's voices are a crucial part of grounding the struggle in the reality of experiencing and challenging oppression.

Revolutionary sisterhood is indeed powerful. Let's see what it can do next. Happy IWD! —ISH

Urban rebel music subverting your earwaves

This article originally appeared on The Kasama Project 21 March 2014. Reposting here to preserve a broken link. This article may also be accessed here.


When people start talking about radical or political music, I'm always surprised how the topic of conversation rarely moves outside the genres of hardcore head-banging punk or earnest sing-along folk. Sometimes talk moves on to the well-worn populism of mass-appeal pop-rock, the Springsteen/Mellencamp/Fleetwood Mac tunes so beloved by bourgeois politicians trying to put something over on voters, and there's the counterpoint of classic hip-hop with its righteous anger against cops and sometimes problematic derision of women and gays.

Without disparaging any of these rich genres of music, I want to recommend some really great and really radical tunes from genre-busting urban musicians who sometimes defy easy categorization but whose visionary art is something that revolutionaries can really embrace.

These aren't all brand-new cutting edge musicians by any stretch of the imagination. But these are hard-working artists with a message in their music that deserves exposure. Some of these musicians have been gaining mass exposure in venues like Brooklyn's annual Afropunk festival (photo above), but others rely on in-the-know loyal fanbases.

Jill Scott

You say you mean good for me
But you don't do it
You say you have a plan but you just don't go thru with it
You say you know the way to go
And I should follow
But all of your empty promises
Leave me hollow
And oh
How do I trust you
How do I love you
When you
Lie to me repeatedly
And oh
How do I have faith, in you
When you just don't come thru
Like you say you could
One can be forgiven for hearing these lyrics and thinking that actress/poet/singer JIll Scott is singing about a failing relationship. Well, she is in a way, but she's not singing about her partner. "My Petition," from her Beautifully Human album of 2004 is one of the most awesomely subversive songs ever. You realize as the song unfolds, musically quoting that wretched anthem "The Star-Spangled Banner," that she's addressing the America of the failed dream. When she sweetly but accusingly sings, "I believe you owe it to me/Give it to me like you said you would," she's not talking about a lover's advances. When she says, "I want to have faith in you/I really do/but you keep lying to me/It hurts," the natural reaction is to tell her to leave that lying m-fer cold. When you realize that the lying m-fer is the USA, the song becomes transformed. It's sheer brilliance, in the form of a vaguely adult r&b ballad.

Here's the audiotrack on Youtube:

Ursula Rucker

In my youth revolution was what we rose with the sun to seek
we were fierce

Now, our glory days are nothing but a page,
in an edge worn book
an afro a raised fist,
a black beret, black pride
set aside to mere history,
it saddens me,
hmm it saddens me,
but will these words fall on deaf ears cos my tears won't
fill up the riverbed of resistance and change,
it's gone dry
and gone and unkown are the names which gave that river its
tranquility, its beautiful force and godspeed
rise up out of the complacency induced sleep
we need, an Awakening.

Bring the noise daughter
now is the time for you and your generation to put this universal
chaos in order...
Philadelphia-based Ursula Rucker is a performance artist and poet; her work is sometimes sung but more often takes the form of poetry chanted in cadence to music. She made her professional reputation cutting tracks for American and European DJs like King Britt, 4Hero, Jazzanova and Little Louie Vega, but she has a string of brilliant solo albums as well. In "The Awakening," recorded for 4Hero on their 2007 album Play with the Changes, she constructs a dialogue between generations as a mother attempts to pass a radical legacy on to her daughter and a new generation. "This planet and life are gifts to all/not just a chosen few, but now our future are up to you/so what are you and your brothers and sisters gonna do?" The daughter despairs, "But Mama, the resistance seems so futile/when all the while, government and media massacre my dreams/We, my brothers and sisters and me/are at the mercy of Dotcoms/Bombs that kill at least 30 daily..."

In response the mother affirms, "Baby girl, you sound ready to me/the spirit, fire, of Assata, Angela, Gandhi, King and Garvey in your veins/bleed for your legacy, keep the eyes on the prize of peace/and don't pardon me while i preach..." It's movingly soulful jazz poetry against a drum-and-bass dance music soundscape. Much of her other work is also political, bringing a womanist, spiritually-visionary sensibility to song topics like 9/11, Afro-Caribbean cultural heritage, domestic violence, ecological catastrophe, and the quest for liberation in the face of deadening, challenging urban dangers.

In "Release" off her second solo album Silver or Lead, she recites:
So here I stand... at the crossroads of my life
Do I choose plata or plomo?
Silver or lead

When boys be dying on blocks everyday
An the TV and the paper don't never say
Nothing about them
When tattered yellow paper flags be taped to forgotten project windows
When billowing waving flags be perched on car tops of bigots and
Crooked politicians
Has anything changed?
What changed?
Who really changed?
Rucker is basically pleading for people to give a shit; arguing against apathy, against the status quo of false choices. Her words are righteously hypnotic.
The 4Hero production video for "The Awakening" is on Youtube:

Erykah Badu

To my folks on the picket line
Don't stop til you change dey mind
I got love fo' my folks
Baptized when the levy broke
We gone keep marchin' on
Until you hear dat freedom song

And if you think about turning back
I got the shotgun on ya back
And if you think about turning back
I got the shot gun on ya back
Erykah Badu is an extraordinarily creative musician with a provocative edge and a complex sense of humor. Melding a jazz sensitivity to a hip-hop sensibility her work is rich in ideas. Her last two albums were entitled New Amerykah (part 1: 4th World War and part 2: Return of the Ankh). I think of her as kind of earthy, hippified antithesis to the slick sell-out commerciality (and terrible politics) of Jay-Z and Beyonce, with whom she shares Brooklyn as a home base. "Soldier" is a standout track from the first part of New Amerykah. Not unlike much of Rucker's work, "Soldier" is about a generation struggling with a sense of obligation to engage with what's wrong with the world. She sings, "You need to watch da dirty cop/Dey the one you need to watch." It's the same haunted world that Rucker sings of. "You get the wake up call/When you saw the buildings fall/Bowties with the final call/Get ya money dollar bill, ya'll" she sings, obliquely evoking the Nation of Islam in a search for answers.

"Do you want to see?/Everybody rise to the next degree?/Raise ya hands high if you agree." The lilting groove-heavy music belies the song's deadly serious call to rise up and fight.
A pre-release performance video of Soldier is online:

Boots Riley/The Coup

Don't talk about it
It won't show
Be about it
It's 'bout to blow
Oakland activist and Occupy veteran Boots Riley's incredible song "The Guillotine" has been noted on Kasama before. From his group The Coup's recent album Sorry To Bother You, "The Guillotine" is not only an exciting marriage of rock and rap, but a compelling political manifesto. Riley doesn't hold back from a call for revolutionary retribution against the capitalist system. And not only is it a call to action like the other songs I've written about here, it's got a clarity of vision with a resolute determination and brutally straightforward diagnosis and prescription.
Hey you!
We got your war
We’re at the gates
We’re at your door
We got the guillotine
We got the guillotine, you better run
If the other songs I've quoted have faults, it's a sense of ambivalent weariness weighed down by the tragedies and hardships of urban life under capitalism; or in the case of Badu and Rucker, their need to place their hopes on the next generation. Scott, Rucker and Badu sometimes seem to be waiting to be proved wrong about how dire the situation is. "The Guillotine," however, dispenses with the sentimentality and uncertainty. "Sleep in the doorway, piss on the floor/Look in the sky, wait for missiles to show/It’s finna blow cause/They got the TV, we got the truth/They own the judges and we got the proof/We got hella people, they got helicopters/They got the bombs and we got the, we got the...Guillotine." This song makes it clear: we have a reason to fight, the obligation to do so, and the tools we need to win. "You can hear the sound of limitations exploding." Who can resist this call to arms?

The extraordinary video for "The Guillotine," which hilariously riffs off of the Quincy Jones/Michael Jackson film version of The Wiz, is a must see on You-tube.

Welfare Poets

so don't tell me he's down with the people
because of that ganja shit
cuz the billionaires will put a black face at the head of american imperialism
ponder it
The "he" in this lyric is none other than President Obama, and so for obvious reasons the final act I'd like to recommend is much more on the underground tip. The Welfare Poets are an incredible Afro-Caribbean performance/hip-hop troupe out of the Bronx, New York. These lyrics are from their song "Let It Be Known," recorded right after Obama's first election in 2008. I first saw the Welfare Poets perform at an event sponsored by Occupy Sunset Park in Brooklyn last year. Their mix of live music, singing, rap, dance and beats was explosive and exciting. And their message is completely unsubtle. They're explicitly anti-imperialist and fierce advocates of independence for Puerto Rico.
its egregious, he so facetious
deceiving the people regarding change we can believe in
as he turns a deaf ear
on real people grieving
The song closes with an extended clip from Rev. Jeremiah Wright (who Obama had recently thrown under the bus) recounting the hypocritical adventures of American imperialism. It's really stirring stuff.

The video opens with quotes from Harriet Tubman and Audre Lorde. It's on You-tube and vimeo.

Who Are You Listening To?

I would be really interested in hearing from Kasama readers if you have other subversive rebel music to recommend. What artists are inspiring and moving you? Drop a recommendation in the comments!

Iraq crisis: the people suffer, US vultures circle

This article originally appeared on The Kasama Project on 14 June 2014. Reposting here to preserve a broken link. It can also be accessed here.


Imperialism's chickens are coming home to roost in Iraq, and once again it is the people of the region who will pay the price.

In a week of events that is in some ways shocking and in other ways not even slightly surprising, a radical Islamic fundamentalist group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, sometimes translated as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or referred to by the Arabic name Da'ish) seized Iraq's second largest city of Mosul, and capturing more cities along the way, has advanced as far as Baquba, just 50 kilometers from Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.

In the face of a sudden advance by the black-clad, black-flag bearing fighters, lightly armed and driving around in open trucks, the massively US-funded and trained Iraqi army melted away. The unravelling of the Iraqi army in the north seems to have been a combination of demoralization and, at least according to some sources, a revolt by former Baathists loyal to the deposed Saddam Hussain.
b2ap3_thumbnail_Iraq_map.jpgIn any case ISIS seized control of city government, immediately announced the imposition of a strict Islamic law, and reportedly began executions of civilians and other opponents. It also apparently seized millions of dollars from Mosul banks. Hundreds of thousands of civilians including the large Iraqi Christian population of Mosul reportedly fled immediately to the neighboring semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan Region.
Fighters from that Iraqi Kurdistan Region quickly seized the moment and occupied the nearby city of Kirkuk, strategically located amidst the northern oilfields and long coveted by Kurdistan as its capital, despite being one of the most multi-ethnic cities in Iraq. Iraqi Kurdistan first carved out some autonomy in the 1990s after the first US war against Iraq; it's been pushing towards possible independence ever since. (Kurdish independence would certainly be just, despite the massive oil-company induced corruption that now rules the autonomous zone.)

In the face of the ISIS surge, the central Iraqi government led by Nouri al-Maliki has been seemingly paralyzed. Its parliament has been unable to make a quorum. The leaders of Iraq's Shi'a Muslim community have started to rally support to defend Baghdad: Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and the militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr have called for Iraqi Shi'ites to form militias to defend Shi'ite-populated cities against the ISIS advance. And the government of the neighboring Islamic Republic of Iran, ironically now the chief backer of the Maliki government, is reportedly already sending in troops to defend its fellow Shi'ites from the ISIS attack. One report suggested that Iraqi soldiers lining up to defend the Baghdad “Green Zone” are wearing civilian clothes under their uniforms should they need to make a hasty retreat and discard any signs of allegiance to the government.

What is ISIS?

b2ap3_thumbnail_49790Image1.jpgISIS is one of the militias that has come out of the bloody civil war in neighboring Syria. While apparently funded by wealthy interests in the Gulf, it competes in the civil war against the Syrian government with forces like the so-called Free Syrian Army, and while it shares a Sunni Muslim identity and a hard right-wing sectarian ideology, it has been deemed too extreme even by Al-Qaeda. It has also been opposed by the Syrian Kurdish movement. Its goal is a unified Islamic state across a wide swath of what is now several different countries.

While from a communist perspective one might be tempted to welcome the success of ISIS against corrupt capitalist governments and former US puppets, it is clear its ideology and practice is deeply sectarian and brutally repressive against the people. Disturbing videos can be seen online showing that ISIS has a policy of horrifying, random terror against those deemed to be its enemies. One video, shot from inside an ISIS vehicle, shows fighters in a speeding car randomly gunning down passing civilians.

ISIS's advance in the north of Iraq is not actually their first major victory. They already control portions of northern Syria, and most of Iraq's Anbar province, having seized the long-suffering city of Fallujah several months ago. Fallujah was of course the scene of brutal battles between Iraqi Sunni insurgents and the US occupation army; it's notorious for being dosed by “depleted uranium” weapons which have left a horrible legacy of health problems for the local population.

Triple legacy of imperialism, Zionism and revisionism

When British and French imperialism co-opted the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire a hundred years ago during WWI, they created a patchwork of states that didn't really correspond to real ethnic or religious divisions in the Middle East. States like Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq were created to the advantage of imperialism, which understood the growing importance of oil and therefore their strategic imperatives in the region. As in Africa, divide and conquer was their watchword. Soon nationalism and anti-colonialism grew in response to the regional imperialist mandates, forces of rebellion appeared all over the Middle East. Communist parties and militant labor movements blossomed.

But with the creation of the Zionist entity of Israel in the late 1940s, suddenly the obvious divisions of class were not the only faultlines. Palestine was occupied and a whole nation dispersed. Iraq before Israel had a large Jewish population, and this population was a backbone in fact of the Iraqi Communist Party. As Israel insisted on the “Israeliness” of Jewish Arabs, suddenly sectarian identity became crucial, pushing rifts in contradictory societies to the fore. Jewish Arabs fled to Israel en masse. Arab nationalist forces kicked out direct imperialist rule across the Middle East and tried to forge secular societies, often using at least the rhetoric of socialism. Leftists (perhaps best identified as “revisionists”) subordinated their politics to those of the nationalists in country after country, and over the decades found themselves in turn co-opted or brutally repressed. Meanwhile, the State of Israel, opposed by radicalizing, communist-influenced guerrilla armies of Palestinian fedayeen, quietly began to foster the development of Islamic social movements to subvert the influence of secular nationalism and communism.

But with the victory of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 and the collapse of Soviet influence in the region ten years later, nationalism and leftism buckled ineffectively against the continued injustice and brutality of the Zionist state. All of a sudden the sectarian and ethnic tensions began to flare, first with the Lebanese civil war, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, then the Iran-Iraq war, and eventually three invasions by US imperialism. Islamic fundamentalism gained new legitimacy as an effective form of opposition to local corruption, to imperialism and to some extent Zionism, and suddenly secular ideologies, including Marxism, seemed irrelevant. (Islamic fundamentalism also gained a fortune in aid from the US as it positioned itself against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan; even Osama bin Laden was America's best friend for a hot minute in the 1980s).

ISIS, like Al-Qaeda, is a product of this new reality. Social revolution, though vastly different than what how we communists define it, is now the watchword of the religious far right. Of course the Middle East is not the only place where that is increasingly true: there's a serious warning embedded here for leftist revolutionaries. The social revolution promised by ISIS involves a repressive, deeply conservative view of Islam.

Today's Iraqi government was created by US imperialism in the aftermath of its unprovoked invasion in 2003. The government was set up in a power-sharing arrangement between Iraq's Sunni, Shi'ite, and Kurdish populations, inverting the dominance from Sunni under Saddam to Shi'a under al-Maliki. The US stopped a Sunni insurgency through a combination of mass violence and bribery. And then the US left.

The blood-soaked arrogance of US imperialism

Let's be direct: responsibility for the violence in Iraq can now be laid squarely at the feet of US imperialism. The US broke and shattered the country of Iraq by invading and dismantling the existing secular state. Without shedding tears for the anti-communist dictator Saddam, it's important to recognize what happened when the most powerful country in the world (allied with a host of the world's reactionary forces from British imperialism to local reactionaries like the Saudi Arabian monarchy) steamrolled over Iraq. By destroying nation-states and replacing them with cesspools of corruption they have unleashed the worst kind of intercommunal violence.

American media, pundits, and most politicians all cheered the drive to war in the aftermath of 9/11. They ignored the simple fact that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11; they wrapped themselves up in falsified evidence and lies; and they ignored a mass antiwar movement inside the US. So sure of themselves and their superiority in a one-superpower world, they lead the US into a war that cost uncountable thousands of Iraqi lives, and made the daily lives of the Iraqi people a dangerous hell. They bolstered the reactionary Al-Qaeda they claimed to be fighting, sending thousands of Iraqis into its arms as a rallying point for resistance.

b2ap3_thumbnail_041113_fallujah_hmed_9a.h2.jpgThe US adventure in Iraq was simply a failure for imperialism. Aside from its atrocious but futile toll in Iraq itself, it had a devastating effect on the US economy. It damaged US hegemony over Europe. And the weakness it revealed in US imperialism's resolve to sustain an extended conflict has emboldened a resurgence of Russian imperialism, which seems to no longer be particularly concerned about US intimidation, witness events in Syria and Ukraine. And now the US is faced with the ignoble prospect of simultaneously bullying and threatening Iran over its nuclear program while watching Iranian ground forces forestall an ISIS sweep into Baghdad. And as further evidence of the wreckage of imperialist policies, US allies have poured millions into Syria to arm reactionary armies including ISIS that the US is now trying to figure out what to do about.

When ISIS swept Iraq last week, all the familiar stinking vultures of the US political scene started squawking. Everybody from ideologue-fantasist Kenneth Pollack and disgraced government media agent Judith Miller who both stoked the 2003 invasion to actual war criminal John McCain have started to offer their opinions and demand US action. The Republican speaker of the house, John Boehner, virtually called President Obama a “lazy ni**er” for failing to send in the bombers. When Obama finally spoke up, he outrageously lectured the Iraqi government about how it should be respecting Iraq's religious diversity better. He says he has not yet decided how to respond to the ISIS advance. It is certainly possible he will unleash his war machine, which is good news for nobody but imperialism.

Obama was elected in large part due to his vote against the Iraq war; and while he has long ago come to own the US adventure in Iraq and Afghanistan, he knows that as disinterested in international affairs as Americans seem, they're not eager to put up with another military adventure that puts boots on the ground; especially on the same ground that so many lives were already thrown away. Probable presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who voted in favor of George Bush's 2003 invasion, has also chosen the grotesque path of lecturing the Iraqi government. She dared to say, “Because you’d be fighting for a dysfunctional, unrepresentative, authoritarian government and there’s no reason on earth that I know of that we would ever sacrifice a single American life for that.”

Really these politicians are shameless, disgusting pigs. Their path is a nightmare for the people of the Middle East and indeed the whole world.

No US intervention!

US imperialism cares absolutely nothing for the people of Iraq. They don't care how many lives are wasted. They don't care if their victims are Shi'ite or Sunni or atheist. They just care about their power. We must stop any further US intervention in Iraq: no invasion, no bombing, no drones, no proxies or "contractors," no mercenaries, no "no fly zones," no advisers, no bases.

The antiwar movement after 9/11 was significant. It dissipated in the face of the 2004 elections. Occupy in 2011 was a significant challenge to the domestic status quo. It dissipated in the face of the 2012 elections (and in the face of coordinated repression directed from Washington). President Obama went from being a supposedly anti-war candidate to the master of drones that have killed thousands of civilians in over a half dozen countries across the Middle East and Africa. Hillary Clinton's record of support for war is perfectly clear. Liberal darling Elizabeth Warren has already indicated her hawkishness on Iran and Israel.

The next elections, including the upcoming 2014 midterms and the following 2016 president elections are a loser's game where the people are guaranteed to lose no matter who wins. Just like the previous elections, they're a trap for social movements in the US.

It's time to stop worrying about those creepy, lying politicians and start to build and sustain a real anti-war movement to stop the machinations of the empire. The best way those of us inside the belly of this beast can help the beleagured Iraqi people is to destroy US imperialism from within. The mess imperialism has left behind in Iraq and Afghanistan suggests how weak imperialism actually is. It's dangerous, it's intimidating, but it's not invincible. We need to stand up and oppose any further US intervention in the middle east, Africa, or anywhere else.

The movement against the Vietnam war back in the 1960s and 1970s revolutionized US society. It obviously wasn't successfully transformed into a movement to defeat capitalism itself, but it shows us how things can begin.

Are you as disgusted at what's happening now as I am? Let's get to work!