Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Revolution in Nepal

Last week i heard a talk about the Maoist revolution sweeping the countryside in Nepal. François Thibault had visited the Himalayan nation last November as one of nine members of an "International Brigade," spending a little over a week meeting with members of the Communist Part of Nepal (Maoist) and villagers in a liberated zone. When not talking to members of the CPN(M) and its People's Liberation Army, Thibault and the other Brigade members helped work on the "Martyrs Road" being constructed by the Maoists and villagers in the region.


i realize that this is quite a long post,
so you may prefer to download it as a pdf.

This talk was organized by the Revolutionary Communist Party (Organizing Committee) of which Thibault is a member, in co-operation with the Center for Philippine Concerns. (For those interested in leftist archeology: I am not an expert on the different Maoist groups, but i can tell you that the RCP(OC) is not identical to Bob Avakian’s RCP… so far as i know  the latter has no presence in Canada, whereas the RCP(OC) is a “pre-party formation” based primarily in Quebec, but which hopes to establish a Canada-wide Party later this year.)

I found Thibault’s talk very interesting, and it made me appreciate the importance of what is going on in this tiny country on the other side of the world. This is a story for some of the poorest, most oppressed people on this planet struggling and succeeding in winning a better life for themselves and their children. Despite serious political misgivings about aspects of the CPN(M)’s practice and programme, what is going on in Nepal strikes me as one of the most advanced revolutionary struggles today. Advanced both in terms of how close they are to succeeding, and also in the quality of their ideas.

I’m not going to even attempt to summarize the chain of events which have led the CPN(M) to the brink of power – I would instead recommend that interested people check out the Wikipedia Nepal People’s War page, the page maintained by the RCP-USA on the conflict or else this article from Monthly Review by John Mage. I would also strongly recommend the book Dispatches from the People’s War in Nepal by Li Onesto, which i read as further background to this posting. (i will indicate when citing information from this book and not Thibault’s talk.)

Thibault started his presentation with a brief history of Nepal, which i will not attempt to summarize. He also provided some background facts on the country which i found interesting. Nepal has a population of 26 million people – almost the same as Canada! – and is the second poorest country in the world, with a per capita income of just $240 US, and an average life expectancy of less than sixty years. There are over thirty major ethnic groups in the country who speak over 100 languages.

Onesto helps to further flesh out the context:

…70 percent of the population live below the poverty line. There is extreme class polarization and social inequality. Ten percent of the population earn 46.5 percent of the national income and own 65 percent of the cultivable land; 85 percent of the population live in the rural areas, most without electricity, running water, and basic sanitation. There are hardly any doctors in the countryside and malnutrition is widespread […] The infant mortality rate is more than 75 per 1,000, about ten times the rate of Japan or Sweden. (p. 3)

…the Khas nationality, the Hindu religion, and the Nepalese language have been imposed throughout the country. And for centuries, the Nepalese ruling class has exercised discrimination, exploitation, and oppression against other religions, languages and nationalities. (p. 185)

Onesto also writes that 2.6 million children in Nepal work as child laborers and one million work without pay as “bonded laborers.” (p. 146) Slavery in our sparkling 21st century, didja say?

This widespread misery forms the background to the “people’s war” being waged by the CPN(M) for ten years now, a war which started as an insurgency with only two firearms (one of which we were told did not even work!) and which today controls most of the country.

Taking it for granted that the monarchy must be overthrown and that the people are right to rebel, i’m interested in the nature of this Nepalese revolution. If they succeed, the CPN(M) will be the first people to wage a successful “people’s war” under the communist banner since i was a wee child, so this is something new for me. I want to know what kind for society the Maoists are fighting for. Will this be something inspiring, or will this be yet another embarrassing example of what happens when “authoritarian leftists” seize power?

In a nutshell: i want to know if things will get better or worst.

I have no crystal ball, so with this question in mind, what i’m most interested in is what life is like in areas controlled by the Maoists right now.

Life in the Liberated Zones
According to Thibault, the CPN(M) has already taken control of 80% of Nepal. The young Maoist was adamant that the areas controlled by the rebels were truly being liberated, that everything there was now much better than before.

The main accomplishments he described in these liberated zones were in terms of agriculture, healthcare and eradicating the oppression of women.

Three out of every four people living in Nepal are peasants, and growing food is not only their main occupation but it is also their means of sustenance. The work can be back-breaking, and yet studies by UNICEF in the 1990s were showing the malnutrition was widespread, indeed it was the norm amongst children, with 64% of children aged 6-36 months being stunted and 6% suffering from wasting.

Little surprise that increasing agricultural production and land reform are both priorities for the rebels…

In areas controlled by the Maoists, landlords have had their lands expropriated and redistributed to the peasants. Bonded labourers (i.e. slaves) have been freed and their former employers forced to provide them with land or money (Onesto 66). The land tax has been abolished, a “People’s Production Bank” has been established so that people can take out loans without having to pay exorbitant interest (under the monarchy interest is often over 100% a year!), and ponds have been built to make fish available year-round.

Private property has not been abolished – peasants have their separate plots of land, and keep their own personal belongings – but the CPN(M) encourages co-operative farming methods where peasants help each other farm, each keeping what is grown on their own plot. This combined with agricultural education classes has resulted in a 10-15% increase in productivity.

When people are going hungry, 10-15% more food is no trivial matter!

The 1996 Nepal Living Standard Survey found that less than half of all households had access to a health facility within walking distance of 30 minutes or less. To remedy this situation, the CPN(M) has tried to set up clinics throughout the countryside, so that people can receive quality healthcare.

The Party has also set about training both “barefoot doctors” (described as being “half way between a nurse and a doctor, and able to take care of everyday health matters”) and midwives. Although Thibault didn’t spend much time discussing the midwives, one would imagine that they must be especially important, as under the monarchy every year an estimated 6,000 women have died from complications during pregnancy and childbirth. According to the BBC, women have a 1-in-24 chance of dying of such complications in Nepal! (by way of comparison, in Canada the rate is 1-in-20,000…)

Women’s Oppression
Nepal is apparently the only country in the world where the female life expectancy is actually lower than the male, testimony to the particularly harsh form of patriarchal oppression there. Traditionally women are not even supposed to speak in public, girls are forced into arranged marriages with no possibility of divorce, and women do most of the hardest work (according to Marilyn Waring, when she visited the county in the 1980s 70% of agricultural work was being done by women), while men legally own whatever property the family holds.

Most of us have an image of classes being half-male half-female, all members of the same family having the same class position – men, women and children combined. Yet after reading Dispatches from the People’s War in Nepal one might consider that women peasants form a distinct class, more oppressed and more exploited even than their husbands and brothers. Indeed, often exploited also by their husbands and brothers! As such, they constitute a particular class within the revolutionary struggle.

To quote Onesto:

Young peasant women – illiterate, facing nothing but a back-breaking future – leaving their villages, taking up arms, learning to read and write, and studying politics […] women who grew up angry about the way feudal society oppresses women and who had jumped at the chance to join the People’s Army. This is clearly another element fueling this revolution.
[W]hen the armed struggle started in 1996, it was like opening a prison gate – thousands of women rushed forward to claim an equal place in the war. Some had to defy fathers and brothers. Some had to leave backward-thinking husbands, Others ran away from arranged marriages where parents had decided their fate. They all had to rebel against feudal traditions that treat women as inferior and make women feel like their ideas don’t matter. (p.166)

In this vein, Comrade Parvati (a senior member of the Central Committee and head of the Women’s Department) has suggested that women constitute a “basic revolutionary class” and that “you can virtually say that women are running [the] peasant’s economy in Nepal.” (“Interview with Com. Parvati”, People’s March: Voice of the Indian Revolution October 2004)

So it is not surprising that Thibault and the other Brigade members were really struck by the radical gains women were making within the revolution. He explained that when an area is liberated by the CPN(M) there are no more arranged marriages, women have the right to divorce – and very importantly, the right to take one half of the family’s property with them if they do so. In the liberated areas he claimed to see no sexual division of labour and that men and women worked an equal number of hours.

He also noted that the CPN(M) has made a priority to suppress trafficking in women, rape, and male alcoholism (often a factor in violence against women).

Hearing Thibault talk about all of the positive developments in areas liberated by the Maoist rebels provoked some mixed feelings for me. On the one hand, what he was describing sounded great… and yet he mentioned none of those things that i would expect in such a situation – i.e. contradictions amongst the people, the tensions between military necessities and popular freedoms, male resistance to losing power over women. If, as Comrade Parvati argues, women have specific class interests, then such radical moves to defend and promote these interests should encounter some resistance, no? Every revolution has to grapple with contradictions like these, but from last week’s talk one would get the impression that it’s all smooth sailing.

As an example of this, when describing how young boys were friendly to the Brigade members but some girls were too shy to talk to them, Thibault explained that “Even though women are now liberated in the base areas, over two hundred years of backwards traditions have left traces.”

Let’s just say that to me this seems to be a pretty mechanistic view of revolution, one where now (because the CPN(M) holds the area) patriarchy is now a thing of the past, and any lingering symptoms are mere “traces.” This contrasts with the more sober, yet still very optimistic, picture painted by Onesto:

In the areas controlled by the Maoists there is a struggle against institutions and ideas that prevent women from equal participation in society. Entrenched feudal tradition and ideology – like the view that women should not inherit or own land or that women should be restricted to particular jobs - still exert a very powerful force, including among the revolutionaries themselves. Parvati says that there is sometimes covert or even overt pressure on women cadres to get married; unmarried women are treated with suspicion by men as well as women. As a result, some women marry against their wishes or before they are really ready to get married. And there is still a tendency for people to look down on women who are single, divorced, or have been married more than once. (p. 180)

Perhaps the more simplistic picture painted by Thibault resulted from the nature of the “International Brigade” – which clearly saw its mission as promoting the CPN(M) – or perhaps it came from the fact that he was in Nepal for only a little over a week, or perhaps it has to do with his being a man and Onesto being a woman…

Because of its role in maintaining patriarchal relations in various “real existing socialist societies” i was interested in what Thibault had to say about women’s work, and how this is viewed by the Maoists. He stated that there was no longer any sexual division of labour, and in liberated communities men and women worked the same number of hours. i was curious about this, and asked him afterwards how it was decided what counted as work and what did not – this often being a key stumbling block in getting rid of sexist double-standards. Is childcare “work”? breastfeeding? cooking? gathering fuel for the fire? mending clothes?

To this question, Thibault answered that now that women have a right to divorce, and to claim half of the family’s property, any man who does not carry his weight in the home may find himself without a wife. In other words, the Party itself does not take a pro-active stand on this issue, but has created conditions in which women can take matters into their own hands.

Now i appreciate the honesty in this answer, but it is a lot less rosy and utopian, and much less precise, than “there is no longer a sexist division of labour.” It leaves untouched the question of what the CPN(M) considers to be “work,” and suggests that women in Nepal now have options similar to those in imperialist countries who find themselves in unfair marriages – i.e. the right to divorce. But (so far) going to the Village Development Committee to complain about your husband not doing enough childcare does not seem to be what is happening.

(I should note that Onesto repeatedly quotes different women – both in the People’s Liberation Army and sympathetic villagers – who she interviewed in 1999 and who stated that men were doing far more housework since the people’s war began …)

When i asked Thibault about access to abortion and contraception in the rural clinics i was told that the CPN(M) supports women’s reproductive freedom, but due to poverty and a lack or medical supplies it has been unable to make these widely available.

i was surprised, as access to abortion has been a burning issue in Nepal for years, and around the world women have experimented with ways of terminating a pregnancy without having to depend on hospitals or expensive technology. Likewise, at the very least i would imagine that things like sex education classes could teach about the rhythm and cervical mucus methods and other low-tech/no-tech forms of birth control if that’s really all that can be managed at this point. Remember, this is a country with one of the highest mortality rates due to complications arising from pregnancy and childbirth, so women’s reproductive health is a pressing concern.

(Onesto does refer to the CPN(M)’s women’s organizations carrying out sex education campaigns in 1999... this may be a case of the situation on the ground being better than Thibault realized… or it may not!)

Omens Good…
The CPN(M) has set up two “model communes” in areas where the class struggle had been particularly advanced even prior to the Maoists launching their people’s war. One imagines that these model communes are meant as examples/experiments to see how far communist practice can go in the here and now. Jaljala was established in 2001 and currently has 155 people living in it, and Ajambri was established in 2003 and currently has 93 members, all of whom are either Party cadre or the families of PLA soldiers and martyrs.

In the model communes there is absolutely no sexual division of labour, and this extends even to housework, which is organized collectively. Furthermore, all the lands are held in common, the harvest is redistributed according to people’s needs, and there is no private property – “not even a thread or a needle.” (We were told that initially private belonging had been accepted, but this led to “contradictions” between the commune members…) There are literacy classes, running water, and in Ajambri there is a library with 500 books – a rarity in rural Nepal.

I was curious as to how decisions were made, not only in the model communes but also in the villages liberated by the rebels. Thibault explained that when the Maoists seize control of an area they set up their own Village Development Committees, the members of which are elected by people living in the area. There are positions set aside for women and members of different oppressed nationalities and social classes. As for the politics of VDC representatives, Thibault insisted that there were no restrictions - in fact, he said that even monarchists could run in the elections, though he added that in fact there were no monarchists in the Maoist-controlled areas!

(Onesto only mentions Village Development Committees in the context of the monarchy’s government system. As for the people in liberated zones, she refers to 3-in-1 Committees which seemed to be significantly different in their make-up… one is left to assume that there have been changes in the six years since Onesto was in Nepal…)

If true, this willingness to accept political pluralism strikes me as a positive indication of the way this revolution might go. CPN(M) leaders have expressed their desire to establish a Constituent Assembly to govern the country, one in which other political parties would be allowed to participate. One wonders how the Maoists plan to resist the monarchy and fight for the interests of the most oppressed while also establishing and defending a State which may include representatives of exploiter classes. Yet given the track record of certain Leninist revolutions, i admit to being encouraged that the CPN(M) seems to be willing to err on the side of tolerance…

Indeed, the CPN(M) seems much more sophisticated than most Maoists i have encountered. (Hey, i said most, not all!) They have engaged in public self-criticism, and have acknowledged what many of us would consider to be the key weakness in the whole “MLM tradition.” To quote from Parvati’s article People Power in Nepal:

…the question of continuous democratization of the state power leading to the withering away of the state is a thousand times more difficult and complex than capturing state power. Thus the key question is how to combine the dictatorship of proletariat with elements of continuous revolution in running the state. This can only be done by putting politics in command and subjecting the state to the control, supervision, and intervention of the masses so that the people’s front goes on expanding while reactionaries’ base continues to shrink.

So let’s be clear: these ain’t exactly cartoon cut-out Maoists!

…And Bad

After the talk, i asked about the CPN(M)’s position on queers… and i was told that - “regrettably” - the CPN(M) “opposes homosexuality”!!!

Thibault was quick to reiterate that the RCP(OC) supports equal rights for gays and lesbians, and tried to explain the CPN(M)’s position by referring to the “backwards” and feudal society in which they are operating… not an explanation i accept!

I thought such homophobia was a possibility (coz it always is!) but i wasn’t really expecting this – a couple of months ago i had tried to look up the CPN(M)’s position of queers after a discussion about police harassment of transsexual prostitutes in Katmandu, and i had found nothing on the subject except this cryptic entry on Wikipedia’s Socialism and Sexual Orientation page that “The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) claim to be recruiting homosexuals to their guerrilla forces.”

As for Onesto, she does not mention homosexuality even once in her 256 page book. (As a possible explanation, shall i mention the fact that the RCP-USA with which she seems to be affiliated held a similar anti-queer position until 2001 – two years after the trip to Nepal on which she bases her book? Yes i think i shall…) What she does mention, which may not bode well for how the CPN(M) would deal with queers, was that the Party has censured men who cheat on their wives – arranging for their public humiliation – and is waging a campaign against polygamy, at times compelling the “second wife” to leave the marriage. (Onesto 175)

While both polygamy and adultery may be ways in which men enjoy unfair power or privilege, i can’t help but feel squeamish at the idea of revolutionaries intervening to forcibly promote monogamy. (Please don’t wash that glass, as A.K. might say…)

I asked Thibault what would happen if two fighters in the People’s Liberation Army were found having queer sex, and his answer was that in Nepal affection between members of the same sex is considered so normal that he imagines any queers in the PLA would be able to hide their affair. Not exactly a clear answer!

Thibault suggested that queers were so invisible in Nepal that homophobia may be an academic question – as he put it, with the Maoists poised to take power it’s not the principal contradiction right now. When i pointed out that there is a queer community in Katmandu, and the position of the CPN(M) will not be academic to those people the day after a succesful insurrection, he agreed and conceded that this was something the members of the Brigade should have questioned their hosts about more.

I must say that i found Thibault’s answers to be honest and forthright, and in the context of a public discussion that’s the most i could expect from him. But given the mixed experience of queers in socialist societies, i was disappointed that the Brigade members had not made a point of “getting to the bottom” of this question while they were in Nepal. One wonders how important Brigade members take such homophobia – after all it is not mentioned once in their official report on their trip. Not dealing with such questions, or only dealing with them superfcially or in passing, is not respectful of the oppressed classes in Nepal, some of whom are certainly queer. Furthermore, it is disrespectful towards the CPN(M), who are clearly serious revolutionaries, and as such should be taken seriously.

Finally, while i am just a relatively ignorant white guy from an imperialist country who has never seen a revolution unfolding in real-time, i can’t help but think there is potential for common ground between some of the discussions going on within the CPN(M) – especially Comrade Parvati’s excellent critique of marriage and the family, and her complaint that the Party has “a tendency to take sexual offenses more seriously than political offenses” – and a radical argument in favour of sexual freedom. (Let those thousand flowers bloom!)

And in the interim, before “struggling with” and “getting to the bottom of” this important question, serious revolutionaries would also do well to find out exactly what “opposing homosexuality” means. Is this an internal code for the PLA or CPN(M)? Is this something likely to be imposed in a socialist Nepal by the criminalization of homosexuality? How does the CPN(M) relate to LBGT groups in Nepal (like the Blue Diamond Society) – with indifference, tolerance, or hostility?

These are life and death questions.

Summing Up
The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) may seize State power in the near future. If it does, this will be the first left-wing revolution to occur anywhere in the world for over twenty years!

Already in the areas it has liberated from the monarchy, the CPN(M) has facilitated real improvements in the lives of the most oppressed. In terms of world revolution, the Nepalese Maoists seem to be trying to innovate with models that promote political pluralism while struggling against class oppression. These seem like positive developments within the Marxist-Leninist tradition. Finally, like many other Maoist organizations in the Third World, the CPN(M) seems to be reacting to the increasing levels of global patriarchal violence by reaffirming the relationship between women’s liberation and communism.

All of these are good things.

As for the Leninist model of revolution, in the past seizing State power has allowed revolutionaries to do some good, but has not provided a sustainable vehicle for radical change. Eventually, every single State run by revolutionaries has ended up becoming a fetter on the forces of liberation. Socialist revolutionaries have often used women’s energies in their march to power, but have proved far less eager to combat patriarchal relations after the revolution. In some cases Marxist-Leninist victory has arguably constituted a defeat for the most oppressed, as the new “socialist” State has been even more vicious and exploitative than the old!

These historic limitations of Statist revolutions must be dealt with on a case by case basis – i am neither an anarchist nor a Leninist, and i am willing to concede that some socialist revolutions have made things much better. There is much cause to hope that this will be the case in Nepal, for at least so far the CPN(M) seems to be taking questions of democracy and pluralism seriously.

However, i doubt a new post-revolutionary Nepalese government would be an unambiguous step along a straight path to communism. As a best case scenario, i would hope that the revolution would radically improve people’s lives and give them a vantage point from which to struggle for even more, but eventually i would expect that struggle to separate from and then turn against the State itself.

That the CPN(M) seems more open to radical democracy gives one hope that elements amongst the Maoists would continue to struggle on the side of the people even when this struggle may involve combatting the Party itself. If enough do so, this process need not disintegrate into just another authoritarian nightmare.

More precisely, and less optimistically, the CPN(M) seems to have a serious weakness when it comes to sexual freedom, and this could become a serious problem. As past experience has shown, a “real existing socialist” State which embraces homophobia simply creates new classes of oppressed people, and in doing so weakens the revolution itself. “Patriarchal liberation” is a contradiction in terms, and there can be no communism without sexual freedom.

Just as important, and far less abstract: there are many queers in Nepal, especially in the urban areas still controlled by the monarchy, who may needlessly suffer as a result of this error on the part of their “liberators”. These are people who may have every material reason to support a struggle against the ultrapatriarchal monarchy, and yet they may find themselves in a position of not knowing where the lesser of two evils lies.

Where to Now?
For myself, i will be staying tuned to the Revolution in Nepal. A lot more is happening there than i would have ever guessed…

…and I encourage you all – and not just you Maoists – to keep abreast of the situation there too. If you live in Quebec, you can hear François Thibault speak about the Brigade’s visit to Nepal and the revolution there at the following times and places in the weeks to come:

  • Wednesday, March 29th in Sherbrooke, QC, at 7:00 p.m., at the CEGEP de Sherbrooke, 475, rue du Parc, room 2-53-570

  • Thursday, March 30th in Montréal, QC at 7:00 p.m., at the Université du Québec à Montréal (pavillon des Sciences de la gestion) 315, rue Sainte-Catherine Est, room R-R150

  • Thursday, April 6th in Trois-Rivières, QC, at 7:00 p.m., at the CEGEP de Trois-Rivières (pavillon des Humanités), 3175, boul. Laviolette, room HA-1323 (the "loft"). (Presented in collaboration with the Groupe d’actions sociopolitiques et environnementales)

  • Tuesday, April 11th in Montréal, QC, at 7:00 p.m., at the CEGEP du Vieux-Montréal, 255, rue Ontario Est (look for the café étudiant l'Exode)

If you want to organize a talk about Nepal in your city (in your school, workplace or elsewhere), François Thibault speaks english, and can be contacted at the following address: francois_thibault1982@yahoo.ca

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Stop the Violence in Indigenous Communities!

This from the excellent Kumtux blog:

Stop The Violence Movement

Cheyenne proverb: A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then it is done, no matter how brave its warriors or how strong its weapons.

To all Nuu-Chah-Nulth Nations,

RE: STOP THE VIOLENCE in Indigenous Communities!

As Nuu-Chah-Nulth women and men we are regenerating our responsibility to uphold our Sacred Laws. It is with this strength of spirit and out of love for our communities, the land, justice, and freedom that we demand the immediate stop of violence, be it physical, sexual, emotional or spiritual abuse in the homes and communities of our women and children. We are demanding the restoration of respect for the role women have, for their ability to bring life into this world.

As Nuu-Chah-Nulth peoples we have resisted 200 years plus of violence at the hands of the colonizers and their guns, canons and diseases. All Indigenous peoples experience colonialism through the racist policies and legislation of the department of children and family services, which dictate to us whether we are ‘fit’ to raise our own children. The travesty we face today is this rage and frustration turned inward; a perpetuation of colonialism and violence within our own communities.

It is not acceptable to allow our women and children to be constant victims of violent abuse. It is against Nuu-Chah-Nulth values, principles and laws. This can only be addressed if we stand together and prepare to address this issue in a meaningful way.

Join us in a walk to stop the violence from May 5-14, 2006. We will travel through each of the NCN territories, ending up in Tla-o-qui-aht for mother’s day. Families are welcome, including women, men, elders and youth. Join us in our struggle for freedom from violence and oppression!

For further information and to offer support please feel free to contact me at (250) 386-0760 or by e-mail at rogilvie@shaw.ca.
Ha'wiih'thlup (David Dennis) (604)868-4283 dave@unns.bc.ca
Na'cha'uaht (Cliff Atleo Jr.) (250)720-7275 cliffatleojr@gmail.com

Cuu, with respect and love,
Chiinuuks (Ruth) Ogilvie

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Some Thoughts on Anti-Muslim and Anti-Jewish Vandalism in Montreal

Some people are keeping busy in Montreal. Over the past months four mosques and two synagogues have been vandalized. It’s not clear if this is all the work of the same people, or (as is quite likely) different fuckers each with their own racist agenda.


Chronologically, then…

During the first week of January, swastikas were painted on stores in the Snowdon and Cote-des-Neiges areas, adjoining neighbourhoods which are home to a large number of Jews as well as immigrants from Russia, the Philippines, the Caribbean, North Africa and many other parts of the world. The Nazi graffiti in question included the website address of the Russian National Socialist Organization.

Then, on February 2nd, five hundred children were evacuated from a Jewish elementary school in Cote-des-Neiges after a bomb threat was phoned in at lunch-time. There was no claim made in the media that this was an anti-Semitic incident, but seeing as United Talmud Torah school had been set on fire in 2004 it must be kept in mind that bomb threats to Jewish schools are unlikely to be simply random acts.

About this time, which was when the “cartoon controversy” was at its height, the first two mosques were attacked, their windows smashed late at night. They were both in the suburb of Laval, home to many Jews and Arabs.

Less than a week later Montreal Imam Faycal Zirari was returning home by metro from afternoon prayers when he was attacked by a man, punched in the face, and stabbed. The police refused to consider this a “hate crime” (of all the people on the metro platform, the one dressed in traditional Muslim clothes was the one attacked… a coincidence!) and – in a sequence of events which spells CANADIAN RACISM – within a month of the stabbing Zirari found himself deported as his recent application for refugee status was denied!

It was in this context that on February 13th Salam Elmenyawi, Chairman of the Muslim Council of Montreal, advised Muslims to be extra careful when using public transport, especially at night, and to avoid traveling alone. He specifically emphasized that this advice was important for women wearing the Islamic head scarf or those who wear Islamic looking dress.

(It’s worth mentioning that last December it was the police who shot and killed Mohamed Anass Bennis in Cote-des-Neiges, most likely in a case of racial profiling as Bennis was dressed in traditional Muslim attire…)

And then this week it was announced that Said Jazari’s St-Michel mosque had been vandalized. Jazari was the Imam who organized February’s peaceful demonstration against the infamous Danish cartoons in Montreal. According to The Muslim News this was the fourth mosque vandalized in recent months (which means #3 was completely left out of the news).

Finally, two days ago a synagogue in the Cote-des-Neiges was defaced with Nazi graffiti. As the media latched on, news emerged that another synagogue had been similarly vandalized in the neighbourhood a couple of weeks earlier.


At this point a few comments are in order.

All of these are clearly racist attacks, all of these attacks deserve our condemnation, and together that should prompt comrades to start thinking in terms of anti-fascist activism. Whether this means informal activism, joining a pre-existing group, or else integrating some kind of antifa capability/thinking into groups in which one is already active… the most important thing at this point is start thinking in terms of “how to intervene”.

But this is a tricky question, for various reasons.

First, because the buildings vandalized may themselves be right-wing or conservative religious institutions, even though this is not why they are being attacked. The experiences of the 1990s taught us that anti-fascists need to be able to act in solidarity with the victims of fascist violence while at the same time maintaining an autonomous stance, which means not automatically lining up behind the media-appointed leadership of the Muslim or Jewish communities. These “community leaders” may occasionally have a progressive line, but they often adopt a self-defeating and right-wing strategy of depending on the police or obscenely using these attacks to bolster reactionary groups within their own milieux (i.e. right-wing Islam or Zionism).

Secondly, because the media coverage of these incidents has so far been far from even-handed. Whereas some francophone newspapers like La Presse gave comparable coverage to both anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents, not one of the four mosques attacked merited a single mention in The Montreal Gazette, the city’s only anglophone daily. Compare this to the fact that every single anti-Semitic attack mentioned in this posting has been reported on in the Gazette. This racist double-standard should be condemned, but we must also avoid the trap of pitting the vandalized mosques against the vandalized synagogues – certain journalists may consider some racist attacks more serious than others, but we can’t.

Thirdly, in a situation where the revolutionary left is weak to non-existent, people understandably want to call on the police when they feel under attack. Indeed, they often may feel that they have no one else to call. While we can be sensitive to these feelings, we cannot be complicit with them.

The Montreal police have stated that they will step up patrols in Cote-des-Neiges as a result of the recent anti-Semitic attacks there, but what kind of solution is this? In what seems to be a racist case of literally “jumping the gun” the police already murdered a young Muslim in Cote-des-Neiges in December. Black youth who live in this area already know what racism is all about, and they often experience it at the hands of the police. While Nazi graffiti in this neighbourhood is a problem, police violence is also a problem – and how disgusting would it be to fight against the former by bolstering the latter?

Montreal has seen intense attempts at far-right organizing in the past, by all manner of racist fuckers. The Klan, the Heritage Front, the French National Front, bonehead gangs and others have tried to set up shop in this city over the years. The most effective response has always been community mobilization tying anti-racism to a radical left-wing and extra-legal strategy. Depending on the police or “community leaders” has never been the way to go – rather, it has often led to disaster.

These are the lessons of the past fifteen years, they should not be forgotten.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Oglala Sioux Resist South Dakota Abortion Law

Cecilia Fire Thunder

The following is from Indian Country Today; thanks to the reader who sent it my way:

South Dakota's abortion ban has sweeping implications
Posted: March 24, 2006
by: David Melmer / Indian Country Today

PIERRE, S.D. - The South Dakota Legislature created a firestorm when it passed a bill that banned abortion with only one exception: to save the life of the mother. It was signed by Gov. Mike Rounds on March 6.


The bill will become law on July 1 unless either a lawsuit or petitioners get the issue on the November ballot. The law will make it a felony for any doctor to perform an abortion unless the procedure is necessary to save the woman's life. It would make no exception for cases of rape or incest.

Currently only one clinic in the state performs abortions: the Planned Parenthood clinic in Sioux Falls at the extreme eastern part of the state. Doctors from Minnesota come to the clinic, said Kate Looby, director of South Dakota's Planned Parenthood.

Looby told the Legislature that she would consider filing a lawsuit to stop the law from taking effect. She is now working to gather signatures on the petition. Some legislators, while debating the bill, were aware that a lawsuit would be imminent and that it eventually would end up at the U.S. Supreme Court. Some comments from the floor of each house reflected an interest in overturning Roe v. Wade.

A fund has been set up to collect donations to help defray the costs of possible litigation; however, if the petition drive collects enough signatures, litigation will be delayed or not considered.

Both sides of the issue claim they are ready to bring the issue to a vote. Polls indicate the bill will be repealed on a statewide vote because it is too extreme.

Banning abortion is an affront to women and denies them the choice over their bodies that the Creator has given them, said Cecilia Fire Thunder, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

''I have very strong opinions of what happened. These are a bunch of white guys determining what a woman should do with her body,'' Fire Thunder said.

Fire Thunder was a nurse and has worked with women who were traumatized by rape.

''When a woman is raped and becomes pregnant she does not have the choice of aborting. How many men at the state house have ever been raped?'' Fire Thunder asked.

American Indian women will be impacted, if the law takes effect, in greater numbers than any other group. According to national statistics, American Indian women are sexually assaulted at a rate 3.5 times higher than all other racial groups. That means there are seven rapes per 1,000 American Indian women.

''It is very important that we have access to safe, legal pregnancy termination services, whether it is emergency contraceptives right after the assault or an abortion service,'' said Charon Asetoyer, director of the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center located on the Yankton Sioux Reservation.

She said her organization gets asked weekly by women for referrals. She added that her organization refers the women to Planned Parenthood.

American Indian women who live in the western part of South Dakota must either travel the few hundred miles to Sioux Falls or to Nebraska, which in both cases becomes expensive.

''This will force women out of the state and would cost more money and more time and a lot of women may not realize they have that option. It increases the trauma for those who have been sexually assaulted,'' Asetoyer said.

''It's this big myth that Native American women don't terminate pregnancies; they have always terminated pregnancies, do now and will in the future,'' she said.

She said it is the woman's personal business and that it is not to be scrutinized in the political arena.

Fire Thunder echoed that sentiment and added that adequate funding for sex education, including instructions on how to use contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancy, should be a priority.

A bill that was defeated in the current session of the state Legislature would have dictated a method of teaching sex education that was based on abstinence only.

''If they are going to outlaw abortions [they should] put more money into sex education and pregnancy prevention. It's fine to tell people to abstain from sex. Adult people in our country expect young people to abstain when they don't abstain,'' she said.

''It's my personal opinion that it's a woman's choice. She makes the decision and the only person she is going to be accountable to is the Creator and the spirit of that child,'' Fire Thunder said.

Both women said they would support a move to build a Planned Parenthood-type clinic on a reservation where the state would not have jurisdiction. Fire Thunder said Pine Ridge would not be the place.

''I think that somewhere on any reservation in South Dakota, somebody has to step up and make that offer and build such a facility,'' Fire Thunder said, adding that she will not be that person.

The anti-abortion bill has been in the works the past few years during legislative sessions. Rounds vetoed the last bill that came up two years ago on a technicality. He signed the bill this year and the latest poll, taken by a national polling company, found his rating had dropped substantially from a 72 percent favorability rating to 58 percent during the month in which the abortion bill was mostly debated.

Seven other bills that would have restricted women's rights were also defeated this year. An informed consent bill would have required a woman who considered an abortion to undergo a mental screening. Asetoyer said that would open the door to discrimination against women.

Past versions of the abortion bill were supported by out-of-state organizations and many critics claim that is the case this year as well.

''This bill was driven by a small group of right-wing, religious coalition groups. They are trying to do this in several states and they targeted South Dakota primarily because it could be swayed.

Fire Thunder drew a parallel with sovereignty of nations by saying that a woman is a sovereign nation.

''The Creator gave every human being [the right] to make choices for yourself. Another person may not think that is the right choice and a lot of people have made bad choices in their lives, but it's their choice,'' Fire Thunder said.

''We have to honor the gift the Creator gave us; one of the greatest gifts is to choose for ourselves.''

Fire Thunder said she hoped that women who were raped would band together and send a powerful voice across the country.

During many of the hearings on the abortion ban bill, many American Indian women were present as witnesses or observers in hearing rooms.

''It is so inspiring to see this groundswell of Native American women to fight for our rights,'' Asetoyer said.

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And It Wasn't Even My Birthday!

A pleasant surprise floated into my PO Box the other day, in the form of a new newspaper from Vancouver, The Rain Review of Books.

(Despite the fact that i have been soooo bored every time i have visited Vancouver, i must concede that the city does churn out great publications a few times every decade…)

It’s just so nice that people send me presents – especially ones like this!

The Rain Review of Books was apparently started in 2003 by Michael Barnholden (himself the author of a book on rioting in Vancouver!) and is now edited by Aaron Vidaver – it’s basically a few tabloid size pages of book reviews of radical books, by radical reviewers. The issue i received has reviews of Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch (by Fiona Jeffries), Anna Pratt, Securing Borders: Detention and Deportation in Canada (by Harsha Walia) and Richard Day’s Gramsci is Dead (by Roger Farr)… amongst others!

Anyways, the long and short of it is that this is a cool paper, and those of you who like to read should check it out. Apparently it is available for free in branches of the Vancouver Public Library, and will eventually be distributed in other cities too. For the time being, though, those of us who don’t live way out west can check out some of the reviews online or else can send a letter and subscribe. It is apparently $12/year but is offered free of charge to prisoners. Send your cash and/or letter to:

The Rain Review of Books
PO Box 2684
Station Terminal
Vancouver, Coast Salish Territory (British Columbia)
V6B 3W8


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Thursday, March 23, 2006

An Anti-Capitalist Perspective on Global Warming

I rarely talk about so-called “environmental issues”.

The “green” movement rubs me the wrong way – both because its analysis is often superficial and because it seems to offer no coherent strategy for change. The mainstream environmental movement has little class or political analysis, and even eco-radicals often point the finger at vague entities (“human society”, “Western values”, “civilization” or somesuch) which is not really helpful in establishing a revolutionary perspective on environmental issues.

Nevertheless, i think it’s fair to say that what appear as environmental questions from our perspective – being in the present looking forward to the future – will in fact emerge as critically important terrain in the future, when they may be experienced first-hand as “really” being about class, nation or gender.


Which should not come as a surprise, for these are the ways in which everything is parceled out under capitalism. It is misleading of me to write about this in the future tense, because it is already happening, and has been happening for as long as class society has existed.

Look at New Orleans. Class oppression, racist oppression (remember what J. Sakai has said: “‘Class’ without race in North America is an abstraction. And vice-versa.”) – and underlying it all some basic facts of urban planning and the worst hurricane season on record. A reality which some insist is “non-political” manifests itself under capitalism as a racist calamity.

Writing this, i am thinking that my problem with a lot of “green” activism is that i (perhaps incorrectly or unfairly) get little sense that this aspect of environmental breakdown is really appreciated. Outside of those groups dealing specifically with environmental racism, i don’t hear a lot about the way “non-political” or “natural” realities will be experienced in a manner determined by capitalism, imperialism and patriarchy – not some too-big-to-see “civilization”.

What’s more, this plays against the “end of the world” mystique surrounding many predictions - there is no way climate change or GMOs or pollution is going to kill “us” all, any more than “everyone” in New Orleans was left homeless. There is no homogenous “us” to kill any more than there was a homogenous “everyone” there. Different classes, different nations, different realities.

The cruel irony is that this makes environmental violence under capitalism more deadly to oppressed people while at the same time making it less threatening to the ruling class.

Take a look at global warming. For most of the people on this planet, this is going to have life and death consequences. Remember how Ronald Reagan wouldn’t say the word “AIDS” until well into the crisis? That’s what i think of when i remember how politicians and corporate scientists spent years denying there was solid evidence for what was happening to the climate.

Like AIDS, global warming is going to be genocidal in scope. Most obviously to those peoples who live on coastal areas, low-lying islands, or the Arctic. Indigenous nations like the Inuit are already being hit hard. Massive numbers of people from different nations will be displaced as their homes become either flooded or else unsafe. In other areas, people will be displaced as their farm lands dry out, or when local animal populations they may depend on will move away or else be driven to extinction.

In each of these situations, those who have money will find it easy to adapt. Those who don’t may just die.

As for capitalism itself, it definitely will not be threatened any more than the privileged capitalist classes. A quick think back through the past several centuries reveals quite clearly that massive dislocation and poverty is what capitalist economies thrive on. The larger the number of desperately poor people the greater the pressure to accept subhuman work at starvation wages. The more people’s communities are destroyed the more they will be alone and vulnerable to new and heightened levels of exploitation.

It’s all been done before. Not the end of the world – just more of the same shit.

(i should point out that while thinking about this i have been thinking of the “dialectical method” as described by Bertell Ollman.)


Beyond the obvious “smash capitalism”, i am not pretending to have some brilliant solution. Relating what i am writing to a previous post, i do think this question highlights the inadequacy of adopting a non-hegemonic strategy, as suggested by Richard Day in his book Gramsci Is Dead – however it comes about, any meaningful response to global warming will have to be hegemonic.

Bet just because i don’t have a solution doesn’t mean i can’t think of certain things radicals should be doing.

Most importantly, we should be incorporating issues like global warming into our strategic thinking. This is tricky, as disasters and dramatic calamities tend to distort one’s analysis, often leading one to focus on details more than the big picture, sometimes even descending into dumb conspiracy theories. Nevertheless, by looking back at how conflicts and change have played out in the past, we can gain insight into how they are likely to play out in the future.

In Canada, for instance, it is already clear that the receding Arctic ice will lead to a heightened level of State violence and aggression against the Inuit people, who will be increasingly displaced from their coastal communities at the same time as their lands and the Arctic seaways become increasingly valuable to the Canadian ruling class. Already during his recent election campaign, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised that if elected he would be stationing armed icebreakers in the region, building a deep sea port in Iqaluit, and stationing the military in Nunavut's capital. This is at the same time as the Conservatives have clearly signaled that they will adopt a more aggressive approach to nullifying First Nations land claims.

One doesn’t need to be a climatologist to see where this could be leading in ten or twenty years time.


Want to get an idea of what global warming might mean?

The Canadian government actually has some interactive maps available online, with which you can zoom in and see how different areas will be effected by the different effects of climate change (forest fires, flooding, sea level rise, erosion, etc.). When viewing the Coastal Sensitivity to Sea-Level Rise Map remember that up until a few weeks ago, the prevailing guesstimate was that sea levels would rise 90cm over the next hundred years – however, recent news that the Greenland ice sheet is melting much more quickly than previously thought means that this figure may be much too low.

(Compare these maps to the government’s 1996 Aboriginal Population interactive map to get a chilling idea of what is to come.)

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

V for Vendetta; A for Anarchy

Click Here To Buy V for Vendetta Graphic Novel by Alan Moore for $19.99

I particularly enjoyed watching V for Vendetta yesterday because i had been misinformed – some dumbfuck had described it as “anti-communist” for reasons i cannot fathom, and so i was kept slightly off-balance all the while watching.

Needless to say, this is not an anti-communist movie.


Sticking to my regular practice, i won’t include any spoilers in this review - enjoy watching it on your own.

It certainly got me wondering, though. What’s with the hunger movie-goers have for cinematic radicalism, propaganda of the deed and all? From the Matrix to Star Wars Episode III and let's not forget Fight Club (whether you considered the boys fascists or not), movies featuring the “good guys” being the ones described as terrorists, revolutionaries, etc. keep on getting churned out and attracting crowds…  i mean far more than Born in Flames or the like…

Enough to make me spend three seconds wondering if the situationists were on to something (i know i know, two seconds more than they’re worth). More promising yet, perhaps psychology is what i should study in order to get what’s up, because clearly something is being projected on the big screen and it’s something that is familiar to that tiny minority of us willing to own the fantasy of revolution.

The kicker with V for Vendetta is that it is based on a comic book written by real-life anarchist Alan Moore. The character V in the original book is an explicit and self-conscious anarchist, not a simple anti-fascist trying to “set things right in this country”. V’s revolutionary plan is true to anarchist form (not all anarchists, just some i know…) in its faith in “gee whiz” stunts to provoke an uprising. Not sure if Moore’s novel fared any better, but despite the fact that the evil government is clearly homophobic and racist, there seems to be no particular class or gender or anti-colonial character to the revolution. Overwhelmingly white, and from all walks of life. Like some real-life anarchists, V appeals to “the people” undifferentiated and free from any contradictions worth mentioning – not a realistic view, though easily excusable in a sci-fi film (less so in real life).

(Moore has completely washed his hands of the film because of the way the politics were watered down – fair enough, but from the perspective of the movie-viewer not the comic-creator, this is still worth seeing.)

Some NYC anarchists have been handing out literature and “engaging audiences” by acting out scenes from Moore’s comic which were cut from the movie! Having participated in this kind of action before – here in Montreal we passed out pamphlets about BPP/BLA prisoners outside theaters showing the Van Peebles film Panther – i think it has a lot of potential. Despite the whole “escape from reality” thing, people leaving a movie are often more open to discussing the movie or reading about it than one might expect. So handing out propaganda outside cinemas is actually a pretty good idea, worth doing and not just in NYC…

p.s. Oh yeah, almost forgot… the aesthetics of this movie… well it’s better than mediocre but not fantastic. Gotta admit i find knives don’t lend themselves well to martial arts fight-scenes. Also, the Guy Fawkes mask really didn’t do it for me. Acting? Well, it wasn’t painful but it wasn’t Brokeback Mountain or Freedomland either. I liked the fact that special effects did not dominate, the plot was good, and the characters were complex. Beyond the obvious political canvas, this was also a movie about morality and personal freedom – but it can’t be stressed enough, it was primarily escapist science-fiction.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Support Mohawk Sovereignty!

I am forwarding the below call to support the Mohawk Nation. The authors ask that people forward it by email or post it to their websites.

March 2006
The Coalition in Support of Indigenous Sovereignty - Native Caucus is asking that you take some time to phone, email or fax the authorities below to register your objection to a potential incursion onto Mohawk Territories this spring and at any other time.

This request comes as a result of warnings by community leaders in Akwesasne, Kahnawake, Kanehsatake and Tyendinega who are preparing for a joint Canadian Forces/RCMP raid on April 1, the latest in a series of actions designed to destroy the Mohawk tobacco trade. Our position on this issue is as follows:


In 1876 the Indian Act imposed the band council system of government on the indigenous people of Turtle Island (North America). Among other things, this law:

  • Deposed already existing leadership to establish band councils and the areas over which they had jurisdiction. The Indian Act was passed without consultation with any indigenous leader, usurped the treaty process (nation to nation agreements) and made First Nations governments null and void, despite the fact that these governments had served our ancestors for millennia before Europeans arrived on Turtle Island. This is akin to the US government passing a law that disbanded the current Canadian government, determined what type of government Canada must have and designated the limitations of its power.

  • Made First Nations Communities economically dependent on Ottawa. The federal government controls the only sources of revenue for social programs, economic development projects or job creation in FN communities. Ottawa determines through a variety of legal and financing mechanisms what band councils can and cannot do for their communities. Even the process of pursuing a land claim is legislated by Ottawa, funded (or not) by Ottawa and decided ultimately in Canadian courts. Land usage on FN territories is determined by Ottawa. There are many examples in history when the federal government leased or sold First Nations lands or resources and consequently reaped huge profits that did not accrue to the community. Clearly, the poverty that exists in First Nations communities is, and always has been, by Ottawa's design.

  • Blatantly discriminated against women by recognizing Native descent through the male line so that First Nations citizenship rights for women were recognized only through their father's lineage and husband's status, and by prohibiting them from voting or running for office in band elections. This was a complete contradiction to traditional First Nations practices, in which descent for many communities was reckoned along the female line, and where women had significant authorities in political, economic and social life. While there were many nations and many practices, it is safe to generalize and say that women held positions of leadership directly and/or appointed male leaders and held them accountable. This was completely overturned by the Indian Act.Although women now have the right to vote and run for band office, almost a century of being excluded from political, economic and social decision-making has left First Nations women on and off reserve in very vulnerable situations. Women are among the poorest in First Nations communities. They have been targeted through various amendments to the Indian Act and thousands were stripped of their status along with their homes, benefits and any treaty rights they may have had. The hundreds of women who are missing from our communities, dead and murdered, is a direct result of a deliberate and calculated attack on the rights and authorities of First Nations women by the Canadian government.

  • Determined who could call themselves an "Indian" and live in First Nations communities. The Indian Act established an Indian registry and with subsequent amendments there has emerged a complex set of legal categories (status & non-status Indians, Treaty Indians, Bill C-31 Indians, etc.) designed to divide and disempower First Nations families and communities. Non-status Indians are those who are not recognized by Ottawa as First Nations. They cannot live in their communities, do not enjoy benefits or treaty rights and are not permitted to participate in band council elections. Again, this is akin to the US determining who could be a Canadian and who could not, as well as who could live here and vote in Canadian elections.

Initially through the use of Indian agents with sweeping powers and more recently through purse strings, Ottawa has controlled band councils, band chiefs and the Assembly of First Nations. Whether this current control is perceived of as friendly or hostile is irrelevant and sidesteps the basic assumption that First Nations people are children who cannot manage their own affairs. To recognize that some band councils, their chiefs and police are sincerely interested in serving their communities while others are corrupt may be true but fails to recognize that the band council system is itself inherently corrupt, paternalistic and racist.

The Indian Act was and is an instrument of genocide. Likewise, the system of reserves, band councils and taxes are all tools of genocide. At best, the levying of taxes by Canada or the provinces on commercial activities within and among First Nations communities is an infringement of sovereignty as well as a violation of the treaties that exist, not to mention the inherent rights of First Nations people.

This is particularly objectionable when the levying of taxes applies to transactions involving tobacco. It was First Nations people who developed, cultivated and cared for tobacco plants. Our ancestors were the first to understand and benefit from the use of tobacco in ceremony (even in times when our ceremonies were illegal). Canada now assumes it has a right to control the tobacco trade, which is consistent with its assumption that it has a right to control the lives of First Nations people. Now that tobacco is being used to generate income and sustain First Nations-owned businesses (an anti-genocidal activity), Ottawa wants to step in and crush the initiative.

We reject the portrayal of Mohawk communities as divided between the minions of organized crime and law-abiding citizens. Mainstream media and Canadian authorities would have us believe that thugs are defying legally elected First Nations governments and Canadian laws. Such an analysis does not acknowledge the impact of a band council system, imposed, funded and controlled by Ottawa. It does nothing to educate us on the long history of genocide that remains official policy in this country. It does not examine Ottawa's historic role in sabotaging activities that contribute to the economic independence of First Nations people. On these grounds we are asking that you and your organization fax or email the officials below and voice your concerns regarding a potential violation of Mohawk sovereignty, which would follow a systemic pattern of violations over the years. Below is a sample letter that you can edit, cut and paste into your own email if you choose.

Nia:wen / meegwich / thank you for your support.

For more information contact: daryljamesbucar@yahoo.ca or amadahy@rogers.com.

Scroll down for the sample letter. To voice your concerns send an email, phone or fax:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper:
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa K1A 0A2
Fax: 613-941-6900
Email:  pm@pm.gc.ca

Jim Prentice,
Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Metis and Non-Status Indians
Parliament Hill: House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6
Telephone: (613) 992-4275
Fax: (613) 947-9475
E-Mail: Prentice.J@parl.gc.ca


To: Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Jim Prentice, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Metis and Non-Status Indians

I am writing to register my concern regarding ongoing violations of Mohawk sovereignty and continued actions that threaten the health and safety of the residents of Akwesasne, Kahnawake, Kanehsatake and Tyendinega.

I strongly urge you to put a stop to government-sponsored activities that portray these communities as being bastions of "organized crime" engaged in an illegal tobacco trade. Furthermore, I suggest your government cease operating under the assumption that Band Councils and the Assembly of First Nations, which are funded and controlled by the federal government, are the only legitimate representatives of First Nations communities.

Many studies, some commissioned by the federal government (such as the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People), have determined that the issues confronting First Nations communities include sub-standard health care, inadequate and sub-standard housing, inadequate employment opportunities, poverty, violence, racism, etc. These studies clearly attribute this set of deplorable conditions to the actions and inactions of consecutive Canadian governments.

Raiding Mohawk communities and seizing tobacco products does nothing to address the day-to-day issues confronting First Nations people. In fact, such activities actually contribute to worsening the oppressive conditions under which First Nations people live by depriving families of their livelihood as well as assaulting their dignity and violating their inherent rights. Military and police incursions onto First Nations territories are not a solution to the long standing issues confronting these communities. Moreover such actions shame non-First Nations people, many of whom reject complicity in a centuries-old genocide project.

Your government has the option of creating a disaster that would rival the Oka Crisis, Gustafson Lake and the murder of Dudley George put together. Or you can decide to deal with First Nations communities in a way that is proactive, peaceful and respectful, for the first time in Canadian history. I strongly urge you opt for the latter of the two choices.


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Friday, March 17, 2006

Dialectical Futurism

Dialectical Materialism… what the hell is that?

If you’re like me, you have a rough idea (thesis/antithesis/synthesis) but a rough idea is pretty much all you have…

So it was with some pleasure that i read this essay by Bertell Ollman which was posted on the Autonomy and Solidarity website (and the Red Flags blog, where i actually spotted it first). Ollman is some kind of Marxist university professor, and his essay is an easy to read introduction to one aspect of the “dialectical approach”, that aspect concerned with understanding where we’re coming from and where we’re going, and using both to throw light on where we actually are.


Ollman observes that the defeat of most 20th century State socialist experiments has engendered a kind of “future shyness” amongst many on the left, an unwillingness to actually put forward bold visions of how the world could be a better place. Any yet he persuasively argues that without such future-visions even the most limited discussions of problems in the here and now end up getting short-circuited:

What does a critical analysis of capitalism without any accompanying conception of socialism look like? It describes how capitalism works, shows who gets ‘screwed’ and by how much, offers a moral condemnation of same, prescribes – faute de mieux – reformist solutions, and – because these no longer work – lapses into emotional despair and cynicism. Sound familiar?

Not only in terms of political strategy, but even just as a way of understanding the world in which we live, knowing about the past and imagining the future are both necessary:

When someone is completely lost in the past or the future, we have little difficulty recognizing this as a mental illness. Yet, the present completely walled off from either the past or the future (or both) can also serve as a prison for thinking…

According to Ollman, Marx has this whole technique of developing a picture of the future that was neither hedged in by the realities of the present (what science fiction writers call “nowism”) nor simply a fanciful imagining. (1) He would first concentrate on the present, on the main characteristics of the world right now. (2) He would then try and look at how these characteristics had developed this way, what factors led them to come about, and (3) he “then projects these interrelated processes, reformulated as contradictions, from the past, through the present, and into the future.”

Finally, in a mild mindfuck, Marx would take this future vision as a vantage point from which to consider the present; using “the socialist and communist stages of the future at which he has arrived as vantage points for reexamining the present extended back in time to include its own past, now viewed as the sum of the necessary preconditions for such a future.”

It puts science fiction in a whole new perspective.

Taken altogether, the future proves to be as important in understanding the present and past as they are in understanding the future. And always, the return to the present from the future instigates another series of steps from the present to the past to the future, using what has just been learned to broaden and deepen the analysis at every stage.

At first this may seem counterintuitive, but when you think about it, thinking about how the present will appear from the perspective of people in the future is really a very sensible way to think out what our priorities should be, what strategies we should use, what we should ignore and what we should pay attention to.

I encourage you all to check out this essay yourselves:

Why Dialectics? Why Now? By Bertell Ollman on Autonomy & Solidarity)
Why Dialectics? Why Now? By Bertell Ollman on Red Flags – worthy checking out for the lively discussion in the “comments” section)

Or as a PDF here.

Please note that Ollman’s essay, while a good explanation of why the future is such an important reference point for those of us who wish to understand (and change!) the present, is really very introductory, and just glosses over the actual mechanics of dialectics, which are concerned with actually understanding the different characteristics of each age and how they relate to each other:

A lot of the specialized vocabulary associated with dialectics—"contradiction", "quantity-quality change", "interpenetration of polar opposites", "negation of the negation", etc.—is concerned with this task [of teasing out the patterns in which most change and interaction occur – Sketchy Thoughts]. Reflecting actual patterns in the way things change and interact, these categories also serve as ways of organizing for purposes of thought and inquiry whatever it is they embrace. With their help, we can study the particular conditions, events and problems that concern us in a way that never loses sight of how the whole is present in the part, how it helps to structure the part, supplying it with a location, a sense and a direction. Later, what is learned about the part(s) is used to deepen our understanding of the whole, how it functions, how it has developed, and where it is tending. Both analysis and synthesis display this dialectical relation.

I’m interested in knowing if anyone can recommend any short texts on the above – it doesn’t have to be simple, but preferably something that someone like me with no background in philosophy can nevertheless wrap their brains around. So far i found this Dialectics for Kids site which seems to give a good overview (very simple!), but i’d be interested in any other recommendations – just put them in the comments section!

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine Condemns the Arrest of Its General Secretary and Calls on All to Shoulder Their Responsibilities

by The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
15 March 2006.
Ramallah: The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine condemns all those who directly or indirectly caused the criminal arrest of its General Secretary, his comrades, Brother Fu'ad ash-Shawbaki, and numerous other militants of various patriotic and Islamic forces who were subject to arbitrary political imprisonment based on American-Zionist dictates. The PFLP declares that the invader forces committed the crime of that arrest, as well as the attack on the Jericho prison and the destruction of the Muqata'ah building inside, with the complicity of America and Britain, as the officials of the Palestine Authority -- their minds controlled by the fear of the Israeli response to anything that they might do -- trembled and wavered.  This followed the naive faith they had put in agreements, even those under the protection of America and other such countries.  Ehud Olmert, meanwhile, sought at this moment to prove to the Israelis that he is the spitting image of Sharon so that he and his party might gain politically and in the coming elections.


The PFLP states that it had delivered an official memorandum in the name of its Political Bureau to the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its Chairman in the presence of the Patriotic and Islamic forces in which it demanded that the order of the Palestine Supreme Court to release the General Secretary of the Popular Front be carried out and stated that the PFLP took full responsibility for his life and security.  But this document was not treated seriously.  Nor was serious attention paid to the American and British warnings issued on the 8th of March that indicated that the Anglo-American protection of the prison was going to be lifted.

The Popular Front declares that it holds the Israeli occupation and the leadership of Israel and its security agencies responsible for any harm that might be done to the life of the General Secretary of the Popular Front or his comrades.  It also holds responsible America and Britain, which abandoned their commitments to protect the prisoners, thereby confirming the Anglo-American collusion and participation in the crime.

The Popular Front declares that the battle to free Ahmad Saadat and his comrades has not ended and would never end until he is released.  The PFLP, and with it all the patriotic forces, will continue to press the Palestine Authority to carry on pursuing the case inasmuch as it is an assault on its sovereignty and a violation of an abominable agreement signed under a hail of bullets in the Muqat'ah in Ramallah.

The Popular Front calls on the Patriotic and Islamic forces, the organizations of Palestinian civil society, and all the forces for freedom and justice in the world to continue to act in rejection of this American-backed Israeli piracy and to press for the liberation of the General Secretary from his new place of imprisonment.

The Popular Front declares that this crime will in no way reduce its will, which has been baptized in the blood of the martyrs and is experienced in the ways of struggle.  Its response to the crime will be painful.  The PFLP calls for an end to depending on illusions connected with agreements that are violated before their ink is dry.  The flimsy excuse that the continued confinement of the General Secretary and his comrades was for their protection has been torn apart by the treads of tanks and bulldozers.  Protecting him outside the prison would have been easier than leaving him inside the facility where at every minute he could be targeted for death.

The Popular Front concludes its declaration by appealing for an end to pinning hopes on the promises of America and others that yield nothing but temporary, transitional agreements that bring us back to the Oslo whirlpool.  The PFLP calls for a continuation of the comprehensive Palestinian national dialogue aimed at strengthening national unity on clear and deeply rooted bases that bolster the steadfastness and resistance of our people.  It also calls for the establishment of a patriotic coalition government and for the rebuilding of the Palestine Liberation Organization on democratic bases and with the participation of all, inasmuch as it is the supreme authority of our people and their sole, legal representative wherever they are located.

Arabic original at www.pflp.net. This English translation was provided by Muhammad Abu Nasr.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Israeli Occupation Forces Storm Jericho Prison in order to Arrest or Assassinate Ahmed Sa'adat

the above Associated Press photo shows prisoners being
detained by Israeli Occupation Forces outside Jericho prison

this bears reposting:

Israeli Occupation Forces Storm Jericho Prison in order to Arrest or Assassinate Ahmed Sa'adatTwo Guards Killed So Far in IOF Operation

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights Press Release

Ref: 31/2006
Date: 14 March 2006
Time: 12:00 GMT

In another escalation in violence, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) stormed Jericho Prison on Tuesday morning, 14 March 2006, in order to arrest or assassinate Ahmed Sa'adat, Secretary General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and a number of other prisoners. The operation has so far left two guards dead and has injured a number of others.


According to investigations conducted by PCHR, at approximately 10:10, IOF, reinforced by at least 80 vehicles, including two bulldozers and two helicopters, moved into Jericho. They took position near the Palestinian governmental compound (/Muqata'a/) and Jericho Prison. They called through megaphones on all those who were inside the prison to surrender. Later, they specified their demand that Ahmed Sa'adat, Secretary General of the PFLP; Fu'ad al-Shoubaki, a member of Fatah, who is accused of smuggling weapons; and Majdi al-Reemawi, who is accused of assassinating the late Israeli Tourism Minister, Rehavam Ze'evi, must all surrender. A number of the prison guards confronted IOF. Two guards have been killed and 8 others have been wounded. The victims have not yet been identified as a result of the strict siege imposed by IOF on the area. At approximately 11:30, IOF started to demolish external walls of the prison and parts of the /Muqata'a/, where the prison lies. According to several sources, the US and British forces which guard Sa'adat left the prison 15 minutes before this attack.

It is worth noting that Sa'adat was arrested by Palestinian security services on 15 January 2002. He was detained in the Palestinian presidential compound in Ramallah, together with 5 other Palestinians, who are wanted by Israel. No charges were presented against him. On 1 May 2002, Sa'adat and the other five detainees were transferred to Jericho Prison in accordance with an agreement in this regard, in which the US administration played a major role.

Contrary to the case concerning 4 of the other detainees, who were convicted by a Palestinian military court of assassinating the late Israeli Tourism Minister, Rehavam Ze'evi, in Jerusalem in October 2001, no charges have been presented against Sa'adat, nor has he been brought to trial.

On 3 June 2003, the Palestinian High Court of Justice ordered the immediate release of Sa'adat, in response to a petition submitted by PCHR challenging the legality of Sa'adat's detention and demanding his immediate release.

Last week, PCHR, in cooperation with Hickman & Rose Solicitors, filed a lawsuit before the UK judiciary against the British government for its role in monitoring the illegal detention of Sa'adat in violation of the Palestinian High Court of Justice ruling. PCHR believes that this role violates the international law and humanitarian law.

PCHR strongly condemns this operation by IOF and expresses its shock at the withdrawal of the US and British guards from Jericho Prison before the operation took place. PCHR hold IOF fully responsible for the safety of Sa'adat and all other prisoners in Jericho Prison.

PCHR calls upon the international community to immediately intervene and pressure the Israeli government to stop its military operation in Jericho Prison, as this operation will inevitably lead to more casualties among prisoners and guards.


For more information please call PCHR office in Gaza, Gaza Strip, on +972 8 2824776 – 2825893

PCHR, 29 Omer El Mukhtar St., El Remal, PO Box 1328 Gaza, Gaza Strip.

E-mail: pchr@pchrgaza.org
Web: http://www.pchrgaza.org

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Talking About A Revolution: Reading Richard Day's Gramsci Is Dead

Gramsci Is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements
ISBN 0745321127
Pluto Press 2006

In Gramsci Is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements, Richard Day of Queens University argues for a supposedly “new” kind of radical activism, one which is neither revolutionary nor reformist. He describes this “new” activism as “non-hegemonic” and his own theory as “post-anarchist”.

While the book deals with questions of ethics vs. morality, post-structuralism, identity politics and more, what interests me most – and what i will focus on here – is the question of revolution, which we are told to abandon.

Let’s see if we can make some sense of this, shall we?

(you may want to read my previous posting on Richard Day’s Montreal talk about Gramsci Is Dead as background to this posting - also please note that this entire discussion is available for easier reading as a PDF file.)

Affinity vs. Hegemony
Gramsci Is Dead is all about differentiating between two modes of political activism: the “hegemony of hegemony” and the “logic of affinity”.

According to Richard Day, hegemonic changes “(1) are to be felt over an entire social space, usually a nation-state, and (2) are expected to occur across a wide spectrum – indeed, the widest spectrum possible – of social, political, cultural, and economic structures and processes.” (65) As Day explained when he spoke in Montreal last month, hegemonic (or revolutionary) strategies rely on offensive force (i.e. violence, and not just in self-defense) and involve “organizing others” in order to realize their “grand schemes”.

(Day also claims that privileging one form of oppression as being more important than all others is an aspect of hegemonic thinking. Class is the example most often used. While this is an important question, and one perhaps related to the rest of Day’s anti-hegemonic thesis, it is not tied in so tightly as to directly relate to the question of revolution that I am choosing to focus on here. Perhaps another post on another day, huh?)

Opposing hegemony, Day suggests that radicals adopt a “logic of affinity” – in fact he looks to the anti-globalization movement and claims that activists have already been doing so. Rejecting hegemonic goals and the belief that there is one fundamental form of oppression, the logic of affinity recognizes that “as individuals and members of communities, [we] must free ourselves, in an effort that cannot be expected to terminate in a final event of revolution.” (127) The “logic of affinity” requires us to concentrate on setting up alternative structures, combating oppression within these structures and then reaching out to others in solidarity.

If affinity does not lead to revolution or other “totalizing” transformations, it can nevertheless be effective at radically changing society. Borrowing from Martin Buber, Day refers to such “non-revolutionary non-reformist” change as “structural renewal”.

So far so good, and yet it remains difficult to grapple with this, because Day seems to vacillate between different possible implications of what the “logic of affinity” might entail. Much of the time, Gramsci Is Dead seems willing to push things as far as they will go, bravely rejecting any and all hegemonic goals or strategies. One is left with a romantic, futuristic vision of “packs” (as opposed to classes or movements) carrying out small-scale experiments “under the radar”, embracing that “incoherence within the ranks of those who oppose the neo-liberal order, each for their own reasons.” (152) “The figures of the hacker, the monkeywrencher and the invisible hero of Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler… all come to mind.” (174)

Occasionally though, you can hear something else poke through, as when Day protests that “I am not advocating total rejection of reformist or revolutionary programs in all cases […Rather, I am] arguing that non-hegemonic strategies and tactics need to be explored more fully than has so far been the case.” (215)

This is a critical distinction. How really opposed to “hegemony” is Day? Does Gramsci Is Dead propose to reject the old hegemonic paradigm, or is it merely a call for us to supplement it with “affinitive” tactics? This question makes all the difference in the world…

I have chosen to respond to Day’s arguments as if they are intended as an outright rejection of hegemony. Throughout his book there seems to be a consistent argument against hegemonic goals, which are described as being fundamentally opposed to the logic of affinity, and intrinsically authoritarian. I recognize that he does also point in other directions – including several positive examples of “hybrid” projects – and I accept the possibility that I may be misreading him (indeed, I hope that this is the case!) – nevertheless, for an argument to be coherent it must be interpreted in one way or another… and Day’s book does seem predicated on this wholesale rejection of hegemony.

Gramsci Is Dead spends quite a bit of ink tracing the history of hegemonic ideas, from Hegel on. Leninists and bourgeois reformists will find themselves rejected as intrinsically authoritarian, subjected to the standard anarchist critique of any and all Statist programmes.

One might expect Day to really test his argument on anarchists, for as he is forced to admit, many of these make claim to being both revolutionary and completely opposed to “state-centred models of social change”. As such, a credible revolutionary anarchist position would seem to disprove Gramsci Is Dead’s entire argument.

Effectively answering this challenge, Gramsci Is Dead includes an interesting chapter on utopian socialists and anarchists, in which two different tendencies – one hegemonizing (i.e. revolutionary) and one affinitive (i.e. non-revolutionary) – are teased out of 19th and early 20th century circle-a thought. As he puts it, “the logic of affinity has been always already present in anarchism, […] it has existed as a counter-pole to the tantalizing revolutionary urge that dominated not only anarchist socialism, but every other political ideology of the modern era as well.” (95)

Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876) emerges as the “hegemonic” anarchist par excellence, and yet in criticizing him Day basically takes him to task for being a vanguardist. His point seems to be that were Bakunin (or subsequent anarchist revolutionaries) to succeed in smashing the State, they would be faced with the same challenges as Leninists, and could be expected to make similar decisions…

Day identifies what he considers to be a non-revolutionary anarchist tradition emerging with Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) and then more clearly still with Gustav Landauer (1870-1919). Despite an interesting overview of Landauer’s political ideas, i feel that Day exaggerates the evidence of an actual “affinitive” anarchist tradition. Not only is his case regarding Kropotkin (described as “the first postanarchist to begin to emerge out of the modernist quagmires of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century socialism” (123)) very weak, but he ignores the fact that the vast majority of historical anarchists (including Kropotkin, as Day himself acknowledges) insisted that their goals were revolutionary (i.e. hegemonic). As a coherent tendency “affinitive, non-hegemonic anarchism” seems to be at most a promise or potential within historical anarchism, if even that…

In regards to revolution tout court, Day’s key objection goes beyond the anti-vanguardist critique he aims at Bakunin and the Leninists, but is instead based on an extreme anti-authoritarianism which opposes anybody coercing anyone. Take for instance the following quote, shocking in its implications:

We cannot wait for ‘everyone’ to choose to live in non-statist, non-capitalist relationships, or we will very likely wait forever. Nor can we force socialism on anyone, since that would violate our commitment to respecting the autonomy of individuals and groups. (126)

This goes far beyond simply objecting to Statism – the above paragraph raises the bar so high (in regards to not forcing socialism on anyone, including one assumes the bourgeoisie!) that one is left wondering what, if anything, we can do to change the way anything works?

Day gives us a poor answer: “there is no choice for those of us who desire to live differently but to begin to do so ourselves.” (126) Clearly this is unsatisfactory, as “beginning to live differently ourselves” may cover “constructing alternatives” without any “violation of autonomy”, but little else.

In fairness, despite the fact that Day sometimes seems to contradict himself, he does provide us with clues as to what the “logic of affinity” would entail. He claims that it would allow for “conscious attempts to alter, impede, destroy or construct alternatives to dominant structures, processes, practices and identities.” (4) Plus, he specifically refers to indigenous struggles, “non-branded tactics” (by which he means tactics that “work” but which nobody “owns”, like Independent Media Centres or Food Not Bombs), intentional communities, the Zapatistas and People’s Global Action as all being affinitive experiments.

In other words: people who share certain beliefs should act on them when appropriate, but without having any larger “totalizing” imperatives to bring about any global change (that would be hegemonic). Through such actions we will help usher in the “coming communities” which will be based on “shared ethico-political commitments that allow us to achieve enough solidarity to effectively create sustainable alternatives to the neoliberal order.” (186)

To the degree that these “coming communities” will alter, impede or destroy bits of the system, one assumes it will simply in the way of self-defense – i.e. to protect their own autonomy – not as part of any offensive logic.

The State and Other Bad Things
Day’s rejection of hegemonic change (either revolutionary or reformist) is the result of how he understands the State and other structures of domination:

Landauer insisted that the state is a condition, a certain sort of relationship. […] In analyzing the state as a set of relationships among subjects Landauer grasped the key insight of Foucault’s governmentality thesis – that we are not governed by ‘institutions’ apart from ourselves, by a ‘state’ set over against a ‘civil society’. Rather we all govern each other via a complex set of capillary relations of power. (124-5; italics in the original)

It is because he considers the State to be everywhere in everyone that Day rejects hegemonic solutions as ineffective. Even if they destroy a particular institution or oppressive structure, they will not be able to abolish the State itself, because the State is everywhere – even (especially?) within the hegemonic revolutionaries themselves. At worst such solutions lead to totalitarianism; at best, they represent a blind alley: “while we might rid ourselves of particular states, we can never rid ourselves of the state form. It is always already with us, and so must be consistently and carefully warded off.” (140)

Indeed, not only is the State “always with us” as a potential, but as a potential which most people are likely to prefer. Even in cases where a State might collapse, “as has happened so many times before, very few people would be ready to accept a life of non-domination and non-exploitation – most would seek new masters, and a few would try to accommodate them.” (34)

This pessimistic vision owes a lot to Foucault, but its greater debt is to Christianity. Consider for instance this approving passage: “Foucault sees that within each of us as individuals, and within any group, there is a potential for things to go ether way, or to go both ways at once.” (137) Every soul can be saved, any soul can be lost… good and evil existing as potentials that each person can choose, either resisting Satan’s (the State’s?) temptations or giving into them. This flows right into that Christian idea of personal salvation, or every person being able to save their own soul. God deals with us on a case by case basis, he is loving and fair, so do good (act in a non-Statist way) and he will be pleased.

To say that this Landauer/Foucault/Day conception is also a very Christian one is not meant to discredit it, or to be a snotty put-down. These ideas are useful (which is why they were adopted by the Church, the original capitalist think tank, one that “thinks in centuries”) but on their own they are inadequate. They are one dimension of politics, but not the whole thing. Which is why the Church has always paid so much attention to what people think and do in their personal lives, while at the same time doing all it can to use coercive, hegemonic institutions like the State to order society.

(i should mention that Landauer was in fact inspired by elements of anti-authoritarian Jewish mysticism, not Christianity – a subject ignored by Day, but which would be interesting to examine at some future date…of this subject see the book Future Imperfect: Utopian Thought for an Anti-Utopian Age, by Russell Jacoby)

Mesmerized by the “capillary” ubiquitous existence of power, some people miss the point that as complex as it may be, there are still significant differences between different forms of domination. Between, if you will, the “cop in your head” and the cop in the street. Analyzing and combating “capillary” forms of domination is important – that’s a key insight of many different liberation movements, most notably the women’s movement – but “analysis” means measuring, studying, understanding something. What doing so reveals are distinct mechanisms of power and exploitation, linked in a particular fashion. Not a web so fine that we should throw up our hands, admit it is too complex to be understood, and simply say “it’s all equally bad” and move on!

This vision of seamless domination – too complex and microscopic to measure – underlies much of Day’s critique. Really, it is an unwillingness to see quantitative changes as ever becoming qualitative, of saying “this is worst than that” or “this is of critical importance” or “this is bad, but it’s not going to change until we tackle this larger problem”. It is an ahistorical vision, which closes its eyes to the fact that capitalism did not spread over the world by simply “percolating into everyday relations” (124), but rather required violent, dramatic, hegemonic struggles in which a particular class (the bourgeoisie) gained power, and in which most of the world was conquered.

The one place where Day seems to acknowledge that qualitatively different kinds of domination exist is when dealing with the differences between the First and Third Worlds. One gets the feeling that this is his way of justifying his enthusiasm for certain Third World struggles which often violate the limits of a pure logic of affinity. Yet a historical analysis of how capitalism, patriarchy and the State form spread across the globe shows these asymmetrical realities have a common point of origin, and that the only thing that could have put imperialism in check would have been a hegemonic event of one sort or another – either revolution in Europe or the defeat and smashing of the new settler states in the colonies.

Is this to say that there was no “percolating”, “capillary” side to the imperialist plague? Of course not. The way in which capitalism and patriarchy ensnared and seduced ambitious male classes around the world is well documented – it is what made the European conquest of the world so devastating, as it corrupted and transformed every culture and nation it came in contact with. (See Butch Lee’s The Military Strategy of Women and Children or Jailbreak Out Of History: the re-biography of Harriet Tubman, Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch, and Carol Devens’ Countering Colonization: Native American Women and Great Lakes Missions, 1630-1900 for more on these processes.)

But to pretend that “percolating” and “capillary” power is all that was involved, or to suggest that capitalism could have emerged from these and these alone, is to close one’s eyes to equally well known and well documented facts. Primitive accumulation required massive violence and coercion, hegemonic “winner take all” battles, genocide and the enforced subjugation of women, not just bribery and subterfuge.

Not So Newest After All?
Despite Day’s claim that the “logic of affinity” is inherently opposed to “hegemonic” politics, what emerges from a look back at past revolutions is the incredible degree to which they have all in fact incorporated “non-branded tactics” and at times even embraced the “logic of affinity”. Such “hybrid” revolutionary movements are not exceptions, but rather the unexceptional norm. Indeed, it is difficult to think of any movement for radical or revolutionary social change which has been purely hegemonic.

To understand why Day considers hegemony and affinity to be not different aspects, but mutually incompatible modes of social change, we must take a closer look at this Revolution that affinity is supposed to eschew. According to Day, this is a “totalizing”, “final” event, of millenarian proportions. On a par with Moshiach’s arrival or Christ’s return, Day’s hegemonic Revolution endeavours to change everything, everywhere, for everyone.

Yet this is obviously a strawman of sorts.

Although I am not a Marxist (and am thus not knowledgeable enough to be 100% sure of this!), my understanding is that dialectical materialism implies a lack of such “final” events, because every thesis is expected to give rise to an antithesis. Furthermore, both of the main branches of Leninism have their own “unfinal” ways of looking at social change, be it in the Trotskyist doctrine of “permanent revolution” or Mao’s “one divides into two”. You don’t have to agree with these, or even understand them, to see that they surpass the kind of all-at-once-or-nothing-at-all ethos that Day paints the entire tradition with.

And in fairness, many anarchist revolutionaries have also rejected the simplistic idea of revolution as “end of history”. Not only Kropotkin, but in fact many if not most anarchist revolutionaries have a more sophisticated and nuanced view of revolutionary change than Day gives them credit for. In the words of Alexander Berkman, for instance, “you must not confuse the social revolution with anarchy. Revolution, in some of its stages, is a violent upheaval; anarchy is a social condition of freedom and peace. The revolution is the means of bringing anarchy about but it is not anarchy itself. It is to pave the road to anarchy, to establish conditions which will make a life of liberty possible.”

In other words, neither anarchism nor Marxism depends on equating “revolution” with “utopia”. The former is a hegemonic event not in the sense of changing “everything, everywhere, all at once for everyone”, but rather in changing as much as possible for as many as possible as quickly as possible (“occur[ing] across a wide spectrum – indeed, the widest spectrum possible – of social, political, cultural, and economic structures and processes” (65)). As such, it preserves its hegemonic ambition, while accepting that victory need not be “total” to be victorious. Many of us would happily concede that more than one revolution may be necessary…

(I am tempted to suggest – with my tongue planted firmly in my hyperbolic cheek – that revolution itself, as has been actually practiced warts and all, is simply a “non-branded tactic” passed down to us from the radical past…)

A Dangerous Fantasy
(In fairness, before getting into the next section I must repeat what I wrote at the beginning of this embarrassingly long review, namely that Day does occasionally seem to contradict his apparent thesis by claiming without explanation that he does not necessarily reject all hegemonic strategies and goals… which, if it is the case, would obviate some of what follows.)

According to Gramsci Is Dead, setting up alternatives and making the State “redundant” is not only our best weapon, it is the only offensive weapon we should use in our struggle against domination.

Such a strictly “non-hegemonic” ethos may be beautiful, but it is also suicidal. If radicals close their eyes to the inherently hegemonic dimensions of our struggle, they risk being unprepared and disarmed when it counts the most. They risk even being dead, or responsible for the deaths of others.

This is serious stuff, so it is worth breaking down where “non-hegemonic” purism goes most seriously wrong…

Most of the time the system is not in a state of collapse, and radical social movements are not threatening to actually make capitalism unprofitable or make the State “redundant”. Indeed, such crises are rare here in the First World. In this stable context, the State’s interests are best served by not imposing hegemonic choices on radicals, by not being too repressive. For the State to declare war on the left would reveal to much about the system’s true nature, and risk destabilizing the ruling class’ own internal equilibrium.

So most of the time First World radicals deal with a certain level of repression, but are not in an actual state of war with the system. This is true post-911 just as it was before, the significant increase in repression these past years notwithstanding.

But what would happen if the State did see itself being made “redundant” by a radical movement? Or – to use one of Day’s awkward terms which seems to mean “business as usual being disrupted” - what if its “flows were impeded”?

This could be expected to happen were Day’s “affinitive” radicalism to prove effective. More and more people would make their “lines of flight” to escape the system, more and more would opt out, more and more would choose to relate to each other in a non-Statist manner. When discussing what might happen, Day suggests that the system may simply collapse:

“[I]f this kind of action proliferates sufficiently, the flows will start to decay beyond the ability of systems of control to manage them. This is especially true as the neoliberal world order expands in size and complexity. […] Extending this line of analysis further, though, we encounter another problem: the sudden collapse of the neoliberal order would indeed create the conditions for a modernist revolution, which many of us would find quite heartening. But, as has happened so many times before, very few people would be ready to accept a life of non-domination and non-exploitation – most would seek new masters, and a few would try to accommodate them.” (33-34)

This is where Day’s vision becomes a fatal mirage.

States do not allow themselves to “become redundant”, and classes to not non-violently relinquish power. What’s more, when “collapse” does occur, domination is not re-established by some consensual “seeking masters who will accommodate”… what you actually get is not a smaller weaker Statist enclave but an explosive authoritarian rebirth: the Taliban, the Nazis, the Ayatollahs and such. While some children of America may still be able to “escape” Bush’s bad dream, the children of Liberia will tell you that when the shit hits the fan, you can’t just tune in and drop out.

Even before State power crumbles, the ruling class has qualitatively, not just quantitatively, different levels of repression kept in reserve. If a movement for social change “percolates” beyond a certain point, those in power will radically up the ante, placing the entire terrain of struggle on a completely different level. Assassinations, internment camps, martial law... those conditions which Day concedes may make hegemonic struggles acceptable in the Third World will suddenly be brought home, only without a hegemonic vision nobody would be prepared… and yet the State prepares for this eventuality even in times of non-crisis because it understands its own existence in hegemonic terms – it’s just ruling class common sense, like driving with a seat belt or diversifying your portfolio.

In other words: the ruling class will not fade away. If it goes, it will go out with a bang –once a certain line has been crossed, it will engage perceived threats in an “all or nothing”, “totalizing” conflict.

This is not melodrama, it’s simply an unexceptional (and if you think about it, not very surprising) lesson to be learned from even a cursory look back at history. Under what circumstances did Pinochet take power? And Franco? How did the “dirty war” in Colombia come about? How come so many Black Panthers ended up getting murdered way back when? Why is Leonard Peltier still in prison? Do you remember how the “War on Terror” began – do you think it was really just because Bush cares about dead stockbrokers, or might someone have felt their power challenged?

Did America “percolate” into Baghdad?

If the State decides it is threatened by the “newest social movements” – or even if some faction simply wants to exploit some space that has temporarily left capital’s orbit – we will be in a new situation. It will be like playing chess, but only knowing the rules for checkers. Our only hope involves planning, preparation, and ambition which cannot be limited to the strictly non-hegemonic. Offensive actions; neutralizing problems before they become threats; learning skills in anticipation for this future conflict; and most importantly raising awareness that, in the long term, we can not co-exist with this system, but must think in terms of killing it… these are the historic “modernist” “hegemonic” responsibilities of those seeking fundamental radical social change.

To close our eyes to this is to allow ourselves – and others! – to be lead peacefully to the slaughter.

In Conclusion
Gramsci Is Dead is well argued, and provides interesting insights into how radical change occurs. It also lays the theoretical foundations for valuing the unglamorous but necessary everyday work that is necessary to build liberation.

Richard Day is not suggesting radicals merely drop out of society and engage in their own escapist fantasies. He clearly considers this system to be evil, and holds that radical activism can influence things for the better. But his vision of how this can be done is too timid. He tells us that the best we can hope for is to win people over from their desire to support the system (or try to re-establish it if it happens to collapse), and argues that the only way we can do this is by showing people alternative ways of doing things.

Nobody is disputing the value of affinity. “Here and now” projects, aimed at building social structures and institutions that put our beliefs into practice are vitally necessary, and serve as strong foundations for our future liberation. This is where most of us should be putting most of our energy most of the time. By providing a theoretical explanation for why such alternative structures are necessary, and how “lifestyle choices” in fact intersect with political activism, Gramsci Is Dead contributes to our vision of radical social change.

So read this book. Apply the logic of affinity to your own practice. By all means, “trust in non-unified, incoherent, non-hegemonic forces for social change” (155) – not because “hegemonic ones cannot produce anything that looks like change to you at all”, but rather because it’s good to keep your eyes on the ball, which should be how to make this world a better place.

But keep your eyes open too – and your mind as well. Clear skies don’t mean there aren’t clouds beyond the horizon. A cloudy sky doesn’t mean the sun no longer exists. Don’t only think about whether or not Day’s argument applies to your reality so far, think of the implications in other situations, ones that you have no guarantee of avoiding forever.

I have always embraced the logic of affinity, and am glad to read what Richard Day has to say about this.

Still, I remain open to the promise of hegemony.

Because in the end, that’s what it will take.

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