Friday, August 30, 2013

Depravity & Hypocrisy Laid Bare: The Meaning of Syria

Crossposted from The Kasama Project:

 Who gassed 1,300 civilians in a suburb of Damascus one Summer morning?

The United States government says it was the government of Bashar al-Assad. The rebels fighting to overthrow Assad, and I heard an estimate this morning that there are as many as a thousand different rebel groups and factions, agree. The Russian government, which backs Assad, says it was done by the rebels, whom it calls terrorists. Others say it was done by Israeli intelligence agents waving the impossible to prove or disprove "false flag" that ends all arguments. Still others say nothing happened at all, a bunch of faked pictures and staged news reports. (A report this morning, as plausible or questionable as any other, claims the gas was Saudi-supplied and accidentally set off by inept rebel mishandling). The United Nations says it is investigating! The United States says it doesn't really care what the UN says, it's too late for facts.

President Obama says the U.S. must respond to what happened with as-yet-undefined military force. As he beats the drum for an attack on Syria, the American people don't seem particularly interested in supporting a new war. And yet, for those voices that are beginning to speak out against the idea of a new war, there seems to be a lot more silence. I think we need to look into what is going on.

If anything is clear in the midst of this muddle (besides the fact that a lot of people seem to be dying), it's that the reputation of the U.S. government for telling anything resembling the truth is completely in the shitter.

President Obama's sudden drive for military retaliation against Assad can't be heard without the reverberation of deafening echoes of the propaganda and disinformation campaign waged by President Bush and his neocon allies in their drive to attack Iraq just over a decade ago. Everyone knows, now, that Bush and his cronies were lying, and most people assume that Obama and his cronies are lying now.


This is a photo of Obama's current secretary of state, John Kerry — then a Senator — and his billionaire wife having an intimate dinner for four with Mr. and Mrs. Assad at a classy Damascus restaurant a couple years ago. Secretary Kerry has just called the alleged chemical weapon attacks "a moral obscenity." He went on to claim, "Our sense of basic humanity is offended."

As happens so often lately, one doesn't know whether to laugh or cry at this imperialist politician's words.

Basic sense of humanity? Is this the same basic sense of humanity that caused the U.S. to starve untold thousands in a decade-long blockade of Iraq, and when that didn't seem to advance their agenda, to invade that country, unprovoked, causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands? The basic sense of humanity that sends drones to assassinate thousands of people on all corners of the globe without trial or evidence, or apparently, even very good aim? Many avert their eyes and ears from the monstrous claims of these politicians, but few actually believe them.

But even as the politicians were crying "But, chemical weapons!," long suspected news was confirmed that the CIA had no problem assisting Saddam Hussein back in the days when he was fighting U.S. Enemy Number One, Iran. Let's quote the headline: "Exclusive: CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran. The U.S. knew Hussein was launching some of the worst chemical attacks in history — and still gave him a hand." That water under the bridge is experiencing a bit of a backflow.

And, speaking of WMDs, chemical weapons and moral obscenities, a little bit of cursory historical research reminds us that it was the U.S. that was the first and only nation to use nukes against civilians. The U.S. blanketed Vietnam with the chemical defoliant Agent Orange, still causing birth defects generations later. The U.S. used depleted uranium weapons in both its wars against Iraq, again leaving a multi-generational legacy of of horrible birth defects. Then there's white phosphorus munitions, shared with its Israeli client state, that turn mere explosives into toxic explosives. Or how about that tear gas used by repressive governments across the Mediterranean, made in U.S.A.? Or closer to home, is not the pepper spray that drenched the Occupy movement a chemical weapon? Indeed let's discuss moral obscenities, shall we?

Occupy Wall Street veteran Mickey Z., in a great article detailing some of the government and media hypocrisy over Syria, wagged, "When I first read about a dictator unleashing chemical warfare upon "his own people," I thought the media was finally discussing how President Obama appointed Michael Taylor (vice president for public policy at Monsanto) to the position of deputy commissioner for Foods at the FDA." Mickey's joke makes a serious point: who the fuck are these people to be lecturing anyone? They don't actually care about people at all: they care about money, votes, power.

This is a picture of U.S. marines walking the streets of Fallujah, Iraq. Fallujah was levelled after its rebellious inhabitants killed and strung up some hired American mercenaries. You'll need a strong stomach to follow up links on what vengeful Americans did to the people of that city. Now, these same masters of outrage say that Assad must be punished for using gas "against his own people." They say they don't want to invade Syria, they don't want to take sides in the civil war, they don't want regime change, they just want to lob a few missiles on the country to teach them a lesson. Would could possibly go wrong?

Remarkably, at least for now, the British parliament just voted down a motion by the Prime Minister to join the U.S. in retaliatory strikes against Syria. (Unsurprisingly for anyone who knows anything about the party obscenely calling itself "socialist" in France, the French President, Socialist Party leader Françoise Hollande has pledged full support to any U.S. attack. France is always eager to remind its former colonies, like Syria, who still wields the stick of imperialism.)

What is less good news is the apparent broad cynicism, apathy or resignation of the U.S. population.
A handful of demonstrations against the threat of a U.S. attack on Syria have already taken place, but they've been small, nothing like the huge demonstrations that met Bush's drive to war. A call went out for local demonstrations at noontime on Saturday, August 31, but I expect these to attract mostly core activists and suspect they will be widely ignored by the media.

The liberal establishment and its media have fallen in lockstop behind the Democratic president Obama. It's a subject for its own discussion elsewhere, but the repulsive liberal vilification of military and NSA whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden and heroic journalists like Glenn Greenwald, is a sad spectacle to behold. The New York Times, which shilled endlessly for the Iraq war, losing quite a bit of journalistic prestige and integrity in the process, has already run one grotesque OpEd piece entitled "Bomb Syria, Even If It Is Illegal." Another creepy OpEd piece suggested that the best scenario for the U.S. and Israel (always the first concern of Times journalists) would be an extended civil war that drains the resources of all sides.

Vocal opposition to a strike on Syria seems to be coming more from the right wing of American politics. Republicans and Libertarians, ever eager to condemn Obama for anything at all, have seized the moment. Of course it helps these posers that they're on summer break right now. I would be surprised, in the end, if the U.S. congress doesn't acquiesce to whatever Obama chooses to actually do. He hasn't yet formally asked Congress for authorization, and in any case he refused to do so when "backing" the NATO attack on Libya.


We were treated to the spectacle this week of watching President Obama interrupt his plans against Syria to make a speech lauding the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr on the 50th anniversary of the civil rights March on Washington. While plenty of people in attendance remembered that Dr. King was vehemently opposed to the Vietnam War, suffice it to say that the liberal politicians speaking from the podium didn't call out this dramatic contradiction. Obama's speech seemed wooden and full of empty platitudes, and even liberals in the African-American community took notice: "Dr. King was a pacifist and anti-militarist who believed that America was the greatest single cause of violence in the world. Barack Obama, while giving his own March on Washington anniversary speech, has already, or soon will, order the United States military to attack Syria....In his soaring rhetoric, Barack Obama chose to return to an old trope, and what is for him, a comfortable narrative. He would speak about his dream of a post-racial America, one that is still a work in progress.....That Barack Obama would decide to lecture and scold Black America on the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s speech and the March on Washington is disturbing." (Chauncey De Vega)

In the face of all of this it's not surprising that people feel overwhelmed and anxious. People are worried and concerned about a new war, but disgusted at self-evident hypocrisy and politicians with a long history of lying. That doesn't seem to be enough to coalesce an antiwar movement. The rampant spread of demoralizing conspiracy theories among young people disaffected with liberalism is not helping. Why bother protesting if there is always a hidden hand manipulating reality?

Frankly I think the fact that some remnants of the old anti-war movement have now tied themselves to support for Assad in the Syrian civil war doesn't help, either. The Workers World Party's International Action Center seems to have furnished an antiwar demo I attended in New York with Syrian government flags and portraits of Assad; the PSL's ANSWER coalition seems to take a soft-peddled but similar approach.

There needs to be a real anti-war movement. People should be out in the street, angry and pissed off. It is absolutely incredible that this frayed worn script is being used to rationalize another war. It's outrageous that there are so few strong public voices against it.


As a communist, as an activist in my community, I'm gonna go out on the street with folks I met during the Occupy movement and we're gonna make some noise. I think there will be few of us. I think most people will pass us by. And the depravity of this situation is so horrible, so exhausting, I get that. If we don't look, maybe what's happening a million miles away won't get closer. But I think we should talk for a minute about what we're doing this for: what do we care?

For a hot minute Obama and Qaddafi, the Libyan dictator he eventually helped depose, were buds. In that same rarified world, the Kerrys and Assads can sit down to a gentile dinner or, as shown in another now classic photo, Donald Rumsfield and Saddam Hussein can share a hearty handshake. These photos reveal something profound about the world, the world that communists want to overturn.

It's just not true that for every bad guy there's a good guy. One of the great pieces of wisdom in Marxism is that people do things for material reasons: the world is not turned by a war between good and evil, or by black and white, but by material self interest. The actions of people with different class interests become predictable; and the key to changing the injustices of the world is understanding where the leverage lies, where the sources of power are.

Communists should oppose imperialism, this is absolutely true, and so very important.

The best thing we communists in the U.S. can do for all those who struggle around the world is to do what we can to defeat the monster in whose belly we live. But communists should also support the struggles of the people worldwide for liberation, for self-determination, for freedom. This means that while the Bushes and the Obamas and the Rumsfields and the Kerrys of this world are our enemies, the Qaddafis, the Saddams, the Assads, the Putins of this world, they are not our friends. That is not how the world is divided, not now. These are all, every last one of them, depraved, hypocritical, corrupt, capitalist politicians with a taste for the blood of the people.

Regardless of what the currently unknowable truth is behind the tragedy in that Damascus suburb, Assad and many of the rebel factions have committed easily documentable atrocities against regular people who want nothing more than their own right of self-determination. The western nations falsely posing as humanitarians have a documentable record of even worse atrocity. Communists must point to the horizon and say it doesn't have to be like this. We can win the world for ourselves, for the global majority.

Oh it's an idea not an exact number, but you remember, to coin a phrase, the 99%.
We must sweep away the clutter. Out with the bombs and missiles of imperialism. Out with the duplicitous false parties of capitalist politics. Out with the armies of sectarianism and division. Out with the self-serving, lying murderers who rule the nations of the world. Out with the lying mouthpieces of the mainstream media.

Stopping the war on Syria would be a very good start to making those things happen. Are you with us?

—by Ish

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Anti-Americana: Common Interests

Dating from the 1960s, when the Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea) was a little more self-identified with the socialist camp, this poster shows an armed Korean and and a very Che-looking armed Cuban bayoneting a cowering American figure in the corner who seems to look a lot like U.S. President Lyndon Baynes Johnson (LBJ). The flags are those of North Korea and Cuba, and sadly, once again my ignorance of Korean means I have no idea what the caption says. It's a classic distillation of the North Korean anti-American propaganda style.

North Korea and Cuba have of course both defied the presence of the strongest anti-Communist military power camped out right on their borders for decades. The threat to the Cuban and North Korean governments is evident every day still in 2013. Solidarity apparently actually helps!

In 1960, Che Guevara actually visited the DPRK on behalf of revolutionary Cuba, and here is a brief clip of him sitting down with DPRK leader Kim Il Sung. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Stop the U.S. Attack on Syria!

It seems like it's finally about to happen. In the aftermath of an alleged poison gas attack on Syrian civilians, President Obama and his government are finally making noises about directly attacking Syria. There is widespread speculation in the press over so-called surgical cruise missile strikes against Syrian infrastructure and American naval forces in the Mediterranean are already steaming toward Syria. This, despite the fact that there is zero clarity over the nature of the supposed gas incident and what exactly happened and who exactly is responsible. The U.S. has even poo-pooed the fact-finding visit by U.N. weapons inspectors as "too late." It's deja-vu all over again, with flashbacks back to Iraq in the early part of the last decade.

The U.S., the biggest threat to world peace, now sets its sights on Syria. Let it be said: the U.S. cares nothing about the Syrian people suffering in a civil war, it cares only about geopolitical advantage and removing any threats to the State of Israel. The result is predictable: more Syrian people will die. There will be more terrorism and less stability. This is not a "humanitarian" anything, it will be murder, plain and simple, no different than the murders of Syrian people committed by the Assad dictatorship and the U.S./Saudi-backed Islamist rebels. The cruise missiles of the United States are a deadly threat aimed at anyone in the world who doesn't bow down to the brute force of imperialism. The record of American aggression is clear.

The attack must be stopped!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Anti-Americana: Unwelcome Visitor

I'm not entirely sure of the provenance of this image. It started appearing on my Facebook feed after the massacre of Ikhwan supporters in Egypt after the military coup. It shows a deadly spectre leaving a trail of blood as it moves along a hallway with doors marked "Pakistan," "Iraq," "Libya," "Syria" and "Egypt." The spectre is decked out in the stars and stripes, and its scythe is wrapped in the colors of the Israeli flag.

It is remarkable to me that the U.S. has, at least among its own citizens, preserved the laughable notion of being a benevolent, pacific world power gently using its influence for the greater good of the world's people. President Obama has displayed a remarkable clumsiness in foreign policy, as his speeches full of moral platitudes and lofty sentiment collide with American realpolitik, self-interest and remarkably self-evident hypocrisy. Sooner or later, all empires fall.

Anti-Americana is an ongoing series of anti-American propaganda art and caricature.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

35 Years

"Who goes to prison when the government catches you lying? You. Who goes to prison when you catch the government lying? Nope, still you."

Bradley Chelsea Manning was sentenced today. 35 years.

Not sentenced today: George W. Bush or any of his co-conspirators for war crimes. Not sentenced, Wall Street hucksters for the 2008 economic crisis. Not sentenced, Barack Obama for sending drones to kill innocent civilians including US citizens. Not sentenced, George Zimmerman for racist murder. Not sentenced: Michael Bloomberg or Ray Kelly, for ruining the lives of hundreds of thousands of young black and brown people.

Assata Shakur is still free, so hope springs eternal. FREE BRADLEY CHELSEA MANNING!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Egypt: Sometimes Revolutions Fail

The aftermath of the army's crackdown on the Ikhwan: A grief-stricken man among the bodies in a makeshift morgue.

‘[I]f the state is the product of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms, if it is a power standing above society and “alienating itself more and more from it,” it is clear that the liberation of the oppressed class is impossible not only without a violent revolution, but also without the destruction of the apparatus of state power which was created by the ruling class and which is the embodiment of this “alienation”.’ —V.I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, 1917

It has been two and a half years of hope, cycled with fear and disappointment. In the winter of 2011, millions of Egyptians took to the streets. In Cairo, Tahrir Square was turned into a carnival of revolution, an encampment where hundreds of thousands shook off the quiet of decades of political and military repression. In a model for the Occupy movement which followed later in the U.S. (which, it must be said, never quite reached the critical mass of the Egyptian — or Greek— squares movements), people camped out in public spaces, talking and celebrating and building a new reality 24 hours a day, defying the rules and laws of established order. There were waves of repression and violence, sectarian tension, and massive social ferment. Egyptians watched as the military, key to Egyptian state power in the most obvious ways, stood down and then consented to the overthrow of the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak in February of 2011.

It's worth calling out the role of the United States during the Egyptian revolution: while cops used American-supplied teargas against protesters, the Obama government made equivocating noises until the die was cast that Mubarak would fall. As the U.S. has loudly shouted "Democracy!" it's clear what they've really meant was "Order!" It's also clear their primary concern is for the protection of Israel: Egyptian revolutionaries have over and over again called into question the peace treaty signed by Anwar Sadat, even as successive governments including Morsi's have done their part to enforce the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Jumping ahead a moment, the new military regime has been coordinating military attacks against Islamist rebels in northern Sinai with Israel and Israeli drones.

An interim government — again with the backing of the military — organized elections. After a long period of confusing debate a run-off election seemed to exclude both liberal democrats and leftists, forcing Egyptians to choose their new leadership either from a candidate tainted by association with the previous machine, or Mohammed Morsi, the candidate of the long-banned Ikhwan, or Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political party and social movement that sought to establish an Islamic State in a multi-sectarian nation. The Ikhwan promised to be more moderate than the far-right Salafist Islamist parties. Morsi won the election, and proceeded to use his new government to undermine democracy and give the Islamist movement permanent advantage. Leftists, liberals and Egypt's significant Coptic Christian population began to get nervous.

Fast forward to this summer, a new movement called "tamarod" ("rebellion") mobilized millions of people back into the streets. Some claimed that the ensuing demonstrations were the largest gathering of human beings ever. The military moved into action quickly, delivering an ultimatum not to the protesters, but to the Morsi government. In July, the military acted, and it deposed Morsi in a quick show of force. Millions celebrated the coup d'etat in the streets, though not the Ikhwan, who recognized that it had been backed into a corner.

A woman protester challenges a cop breaking up an Ikhwan protest encampment

The Brotherhood soon set up its own protest camps in different districts of Cairo. Demonstrations turned violent, and a confrontation seemed imminent. This week, the military acted and attacked those camps. Over just a few days, hundreds maybe thousands of people have been killed, significantly including dozens of members of security forces. A heartbreaking post from an eyewitness on Facebook conveys some of the horror of the military crackdown on the Ikhwan:

"For the first time in my life I thought I wasn't going to make it home. This is a nightmare. After Friday prayer we had the Day of Rage march spilling out of the mosque into the streets. We prayed upon the deceased, wrapped in shrouds at the front of the minbar, their loved ones crying out in pain and raising their hands to the sky. We drove to Ramses, where all of the protests around the country were funneling into a massive one. As soon as I started walking, I saw reporters scurrying here and there with their cameras trying to get into the mobs. Smoke was everywhere...for the first time I experienced tear gas. That stuff hurts. Your eyes water, your throat cracks, you can't see, and the only way to relieve it is to pour pepsi into your eyes or water with yeast and breathe into a cloth. I was walking with my family into the crowd when we saw people running back, warning us not to go, they are firing live ammunition, people are dying. Helicopters are everywhere, dropping tear gas canisters. You can distinguish the crisp shots of live ammunition as opposed to the muffled blunts of the cartouche. I look up and I can see snipers atop the buildings. All of a sudden it is chaos. Everyone is running, everyone is pushing you or pulling you along; on one side there are thugs advancing upon you with sticks, on the other side are snipers and helicopters. The only thing you can do is flatten yourself against the walls of the buildings. One man lost his temper and started screaming in the middle of the streets, almost ripping his clothes off, telling us "WHY ARE YOU SCARED. THEY ARE TEN. WE ARE TEN THOUSAND. STAND YOUR GROUND." None of the protestors were armed. No one. As we advanced ahead, more gunshots, more people with cartouche wounds in their face. Small motorcycles were operating as makeshift ambulances as they urgently puttered back and forth, each time with a different man or woman on it covered in blood, some lifeless, some screaming in pain. There aren't enough motorcycles; some people are holding others like babies and running in the streets to the mosque which is housing injured folk. Dead bodies are being transported atop floor mats. There are mini fires on every corner of the street so as to make smoke so the helicopters don't see clearly. As we turned to head home, we found the street we were on was blocked with thugs. We took a side alleyway, hoping it was safer. As I was walking in the quiet alley, passing by a guy making bean sandwiches, I heard a sharp rat-a-tat-tat and turned to my right. A man not one meter in front of me, RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY FACE, got shot in the head and plopped to the floor, lifeless. His brother was holding him when this happened and started shaking the man's bloody face. He gave one last futile kick...I swear I saw his soul go out of him...and sunk like jello. His brother screamed in anguish...the deepest anguish I've ever seen, and threw himself at my feet. Sobbing uncontrollably, pounding at the floor like an infant, wiping his face and smearing blood everywhere. People picked him up, hugged him, kissed him, consoling him for something that couldn't be consoled. The dead man was carried away, pools of viscous ruby red pouring out of his head on the floor. When I walked home I saw a tank with soldiers sitting on it, stoic expressions on their faces. One woman in hysterics asked them if they were content in their hearts, to which the soldier replied yes, yes I am very content. I don't even know anymore. You can sit behind your computer screen talking politics, talking about churches or mosques or brotherhood or the STUPID word 'islamists' all you want...go ahead. This stuff can't be unseen."Eman Haggag (August 16)

Not clear from this account is the massive division taking place in Egyptian society. It seems the military government has the support of massive numbers of Egyptians. And it's true, even as the Ikhwan is being violently repressed (again, U.S.-supplied teargas and weapons), its supporters have been attacking Christian churches as they retreat.

A statement from Tahrir-ICN, an anarchist network, nails the danger faced by the Egyptian people:

"The events of the past couple of days are the latest step in a sequence of events by which the military can consolidate its hold on power, aim towards the death of the revolution and a return to a military/police state.

The authoritarian regime of the Muslim Brotherhood had to go. But what has replaced it is the true face of the military in Egypt — no less authoritarian, no less fascist and for sure more difficult to depose.

The massacre carried out by the army against pro-Morsi supporters in Nadha Square and Raba’a has left around 500 killed and up to 3000 injured (Ministry of Health figures — the reality is likely much higher). It was a pre-orchestrated act of state terrorism. Its aim is to divide the people and push the Muslim Brotherhood to create more militia’s to revenge and protect themselves. This in turn will enable the army to label all Islamists as terrorists and produce an “internal enemy” in the country which will allow the army to keep the military regime in an ongoing state of emergency.

They go after the Muslim Brotherhood today, but they will come after anyone who dares to criticize them tomorrow. Already the army has declared a state of emergency for one month, giving the police and military exceptional powers, and a curfew has been declared in many provinces for the same amount of time from 7pm to 6am. This gives the army a free hand to crack down on dissent..." (August 15)

A cumpled poster for overthrown President Morsi

So what has happened here? How is it that a revolutionary process that seems to have birthed so much hope all over the world seemingly come to such a terrible, bloody end, with an entrenched military dictatorship stronger than ever?

Let's go back again to Lenin:

"A state arises, a special power is created, special bodies of armed men, and every revolution, by destroying the state apparatus, shows us the naked class struggle, clearly shows us how the ruling class strives to restore the special bodies of armed men which serve it, and how the oppressed class strives to create a new organization of this kind, capable of serving the exploited instead of the exploiters."

It seems this crucial bit of revolutionary understanding has been lost. Even the Ikhwan, which rightfully saw seizing the government as key to its social agenda, seems to have forgotten that the state is nothing without the naked power of the military. The working-class communist left was destroyed by the radical nationalist Nasser in the 1950s. As happened across the Middle East, repression by rightward drifting nationalist forces drove a Leninist understanding of the state underground. While Egypt has a new generation of left organizations, none of these seems to have a strong mass base. The Trotskyist Revolutionary Socialists, for instance, seems to have bravely taken part in these two years of revolution, even losing martyrs to the repression. But in the end the Revolutionary Socialists supported the election of Morsi that has led to this predictable conclusion.

In my opinion, what the tragic unfolding of events in Egypt teaches us are some of the limits of horizontalism. Who could fail to be inspired by millions of people going out in the streets? Who could fail to be inspired by the new reality created in the mass democracy of the squares? In the early days of the revolution in 2011 there was some discussion of popular and factory committees, suggesting some will toward parallel horizontal self-reorganization of society; I can't tell how widespread or continued this movement was. But it's clear that this inspiring movement of people into the streets never challenged the real source of power of the Egyptian state. Indeed, Egyptian popular reverence for the military is repeated in news accounts ad nauseum. The whole world crossed its fingers and hoped that the Egyptian people would win, would win a new reality. How could millions of people in the streets, a scale unimaginable in the United States, lose? And yet, here we are.

What seems misunderstood to me in a horizontalist, or anarchist, critique of Leninist tradition, is the notion of how revolutionaries should organize. Horizontalists deride "vanguardists" for substituting themselves for the people, for being the seed of a future organized class of self-privileged dictatorship. I agree with anarchists that this is a danger, documented by certain historical failures. But what if the role of revolutionary leadership is to preserve the memory of theoretical and historical lessons? The capitalist state seems to well understand where its power comes from. In today's world it's true that not a lot of people are listening to communists, and there are lots of reasons why this is true, many of them excellent. But communist — Leninist — theory is rich with an understanding of the power of the state, and I think that it is incumbent on communists to offer up a bit of leadership by telling the truths it has learned about how revolutions unfold.

Egypt proves that none of this is an abstraction:

“According to the Marxist theory of the state, the army is the chief component of state power. Whoever wants to seize and retain state power must have a strong army. Some people ridicule us as advocates of the "omnipotence of war". Yes, we are advocates of the omnipotence of revolutionary war; that is good, not bad, it is Marxist. The guns of the Russian Communist Party created socialism. We shall create a democratic republic. Experience in the class struggle in the era of imperialism teaches us that it is only by the power of the gun that the working class and the laboring masses can defeat the armed bourgeoisie and landlords; in this sense we may say that only with guns can the whole world be transformed.”Mao Zedong (1938)

The Egyptian revolution should remain an inspiration to all of us. It was a brilliant display of popular power, faults and all. Lenin talks about Marx's attitude toward the heroic Paris Commune, which was crushed in 1871:

"It is well known that in the autumn of 1870, a few months before the Commune, Marx warned the Paris workers that any attempt to overthrow the government would be the folly of despair. But when, in March 1871, a decisive battle was forced upon the workers and they accepted it, when the uprising had become a fact, Marx greeted the proletarian revolution with the greatest enthusiasm, in spite of unfavorable auguries.... Marx, however, was not only enthusiastic about the heroism of the Communards, who, as he expressed it, "stormed heaven". Although the mass revolutionary movement did not achieve its aim, he regarded it as a historic experience of enormous importance, as a certain advance of the world proletarian revolution, as a practical step that was more important than hundreds of programmes and arguments. Marx endeavored to analyze this experiment, to draw tactical lessons from it and re-examine his theory in the light of it." 

So many popular movements have been successful in the past few decades, even though they may have not been socially transformative or socialist revolutions, it's hard to see this one apparently collapse. And sadly it probably won't be the last time the people are defeated as blood runs in the streets. We remember the 1960s as the decade when the Vietnamese were waging their ultimately victorious struggle against US imperialism, but we forget that was also the decade when half a million Indonesian communists were killed in a counterrevolution. So this is an opportunity to learn, and prepare ourselves for the next time.

What if the Occupy movement had been stronger? We saw how much the state felt threatened, how repression, albeit non-lethal repression, was quickly (and ultimately successfully) wielded to crush occupations across the country. What were the limits of our own radically rebellious horizontalism? While I think it would have been silly to suggest getting guns and running off to the woods to practice armed struggle, for equal reasons I think it would also be wrong, as some leftists are suggesting to the post-Occupy milieu, to channel all that rebellious energy to fielding electoral candidates. We must create and build popular power, but never forget the enemy we are up against. When there are millions and millions of Americans out in the street— and I believe this will happen one day — we will need to be there to share the lessons of history, and "The people united will never be defeated" is inspirational but incomplete.

(Crossposted to the Kasama Project).

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Anti-Americana: You Don't Scare Us

"You Don't Scare Us" reads this Russian-language Soviet poster, vintage 1984. It shows a burly Soviet worker, with hammer and sickle on his hardhat, getting his job done, while a wormy looking American politician threatens to push "the button" while military jets labelled "US" scramble in the background. "Pushing the button" was of course shorthand for launching an apocalyptic nuclear attack against the Soviet Union.

The occasion for this poster was no doubt the disturbing "joke" played by the senile U.S. president at the time. On August 11, 1984, cold warrior Ronald Reagan made this quip during a soundcheck before his weekly radio address: "My fellow Americans I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that would outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes." The audio was subsequently leaked. While it had no apparent effect on his landslide reelection in a few short months, some of us were shocked.

In time-honored tradition, President Reagan joked about committing nuclear genocide. Some of us didn't find it so funny. The poster below (I had a copy) was soon popular on the left. This was the climactic height of the cold war, an era of renewed nuclear terror when the threat of apocalypse seized the popular imagination. Check out the films "Threads" (viewable on Youtube!) and "The Day After" (Youtube link) for a taste of what it was like to live with that terror.

The cold war and threat of nuclear destruction were even repeating themes of popular music. There was Nena's "99 Luftballons" (English or original German versions) which speculated about a war being triggered by misunderstanding, or the brutally cynical "Two Tribes" (when two tribes go to war, a point is all that you can score) by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Different versions of the Frankie song were released, but here's one video version from 1983:

This all seems timely with mildly-renewed tensions between the United States and the now post-Soviet, utterly de-socialized Russian Federation. Authoritarian (elected) strongman Vladimir Putin seems to relish posturing against western imperialism, despite the fact that Russia is now far from the twin superpower it once was. One wonders whether tension over Iran and Syria, or Russia's granting of temporary asylum to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden are markers of a sort of renewed cold-war style tension. Obama and the U.S. are pretty clear that they're holding the stronger hand of cards and so have reacted at least publically temperately, but it's also clear that the U.S. won't suffer real competition for world hegemony.

The bullying foreign policy of the U.S. is one of the reasons I've been slow to make a public stand on the developing Stoli Vodka/Olympics boycott over outrageously repressive anti-gay laws being passed by the Russian government. I'm heartened to see clarity on the part of New Zealand revolutionary queers organizing support for the boycott under the slogan "Neither Washington nor Moscow but international queer liberation." Homonationalism is a real threat in the U.S., especially given the Obama government's pro-gay posture. The Wellington Queer Avengers slogan makes it really clear that cheering on imperialism isn't a road to liberation. I'm sure I'll have more to say on this subject later.

Anyway, cold war 2? Fun times ahead, again?

Anti-Americana is a regular feature of Anti-American art from around the world here at The Cahokian.