Javier Sethness, “Communalist, Autonomous, and Indigenous Movements in Latin America: Concrete Hope for an Alternative to Capitalism”

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Javier Sethness, Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation

Comments presented at the July 14 launch of the Coalition for Peace, Revolution and Social Justice at a public meeting at the Westside Peace Center, Culver City

Communalism: relating to the community or Commune; referring to communal or popular power; also collectivism

Autonomy: resisting the State and capital

Indigenous: Native, non-mestizo; most oppressed

“Concrete hope”: Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hopeconcrete utopia

  • “concrete” here in its Hegelian sense as con crescere, a dialectical growing together of tendencies and latencies
  • The struggle for liberation is a constant effort to realize “the Not-Yet-Become, towards viable possibilities of the light”

 

The following is an excerpt from the introduction to Angel Cappelletti’s Anarchism in Latin America, forthcoming from AK Press. Reproduced with permission.

 

The environmentalist and ecological movements in Latin America have produced their own martyrs, including Chico Mendes and Berta Cáceres, as well as Mariano Abarca and Bernardo Vásquez Sánchez, anti-mining organizers from Chiapas and Oaxaca, respectively, together with countless others. Indeed, ecologists and land-defenders have been singled out for repression at the hands of States and private interests in Latin America, with hundreds of organizers killed annually in the past few years. The severity of such suppression reflects the fears of the ruling classes regarding the potential for autonomous indigenous, communalist, and anarchist movements engaging in radical ecological praxis: recovering and communizing the land, expropriating the expropriators, employing agroecology, abolishing or at least minimizing alienated labor, completely redistributing wealth and resources, redesigning the cities for collective living and sustainability, overthrowing pollution and productivism, halting economic growth, delineating biosphere reserves, and equilibrating the overall relationship between humanity and nature.

Against such ends stand arrayed foreign and domestic capital and the State. Canadian capital, for example, owns between 50-70% of all mines in Latin America, and for this reason is responsible for vast environmental destruction and widespread human-rights abuses. In many cases, Latin American States serve as facilitators of these extractive ventures, or themselves greatly accelerate domestic extractivist projects, as seen in the “Pink Tide” countries of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil and Uruguay that are pursuing a “Twenty-First Century Socialism” that closely mimics neoliberalism. Such productivism in turn belies these States’s claims to be environmental champions: while Brazil commits itself to the goal of “zero illegal deforestation” by 2030, researchers project that the majority of Amazonian tree species will be extinct by mid-century at current rates of clearance. The Brazilian Labor Party has also encouraged the construction of hundreds of dams in the Amazon, with the most notorious being  the Belo Monte mega-dam on the Xingu River, a project that would flood vast expanses of the rainforest, forcibly displace tens of thousands, threaten the survival of indigenous peoples, and affect peasants both in Brazil and regionally. The stipulation that nature or Pacha Mama has a right to be “comprehensively respected,” as enshrined in the Ecuadorean Constitution since 2008, has hardly ensured that the highly biodiverse Yasuní National Park not be opened up to extract petroleum. For its part, the resistance of the US government to any contemplation of a regional decriminalization or legalization of drugs effectively perpetuates the power of the cartels, whose paramilitary-capitalist operations involve considerable environmental damage, while its direct military support for the Mexican and Colombian States’s counter-insurgency operations and its coordination of hemispherical trade and investment are directed at maintaining the ecologically and socially suicidal business as usual.

Let us now turn to considering revolutionary indigenous movements in Colombia and Mexico that represent dialectical inversions of the dominant, globally ecocidal and thanotic trends.

In Mexico, in parallel to the contemporary authoritarianisms that took the lives of thousands in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, the “Dirty War” of the 60s and 70s saw the full repressive power of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) directed against leftists, youth, organizers, and the landless peasantry in the wake of the Tlatelolco massacre of October 2, 1968. The State murdered hundreds of students in Mexico City that day, and the PRI forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed thousands more as part of its counter-insurgent strategy to suppress the generalized societal outrage provoked by the same. The EZLN itself was founded in 1983 as a union between landless indigenous Chiapanecxs and urban-based mestizo and European-descended militants from the Fuerzas de Liberación Nacional (FLN), which had been created in 1969—much as the ten-year Colombian civil war known as La Violencia that claimed thousands of lives catalyzed the founding in 1964 of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army). The neo-Zapatista insurrection on January 1, 1994, proclaimed a radical halt to the ceaseless ethnocide targeting indigenous peoples since the Spanish conquest. The rapid response of domestic and international civil society to the uprising limited the intensity of direct repression by the Mexican Army, resulting paradoxically in the PRI’s resorting instead to employing paramilitary terror against Zapatista support-bases and Zapatista-sympathizing communities in Chiapas—a strategy that continues to this day. Following the inevitable breakdown of negotiations with a racist State failing to observe the San Andrés Accords (1996), the EZLN focused intensely on furthering communal autonomy by strengthening the participatory alternate institutions that comprise the movement which exists alongside the military structures, including cooperatives, autonomous education processes, the public health sector, and popular assemblies. This project of autonomy advanced importantly in 2003 with the announcement of the Good-Government Councils (JBG’s), comprised of delegates, sometimes as young as adolescents, who rotate in the administration of the five regions of Chiapas in which the EZLN has a presence.

Hence, while it is true that the EZLN’s initial uprising sought to inspire a regional- or country-wide revolution to take over the State—with the Zapatistas hoping to march on Mexico City and liberate it once again—the neo-Zapatista movement has distinguished itself from other Latin American guerrilla struggles by the anti-electoralism and anti-statism that has defined the development of its autonomy. A decade ago, the EZLN launched La Otra Campaña as an effort to unite a nation-wide anti-authoritarian left alternative to political parties and the State amidst the ongoing battle for power between the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) and Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the social-democrat candidate, in the 2006 elections. Yet now, after having greatly emphasized such autonomy as alternative for some time, the EZLN joins its comrade-representatives from the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) in endorsing the proposal for an Indigenous Government Council (CIG) and in presenting the Nahua traditional healer María de Jesús “Marichuy” Patricio Martínez as CIG spokesperson, councilor, and candidate for the 2018 presidential elections. The CNI describes this move as “going on the offensive,” and it paradoxically claims not to want to administer power but rather to dismantle it. Since the announcement, Marichuy and comrades have stressed that the focus is not on the ballot but rather favoring “organization, life, and the defense of territory.” Yet the conclusion of the Fifth CNI in early 2017 is clear: the CIG is meant to “govern this country.” It remains to be seen how this move will play out, and how it will affect the Zapatista movement and autonomous indigenous movements elsewhere in Mexico and Latin America. This shift toward electoralism is presumably being met with a degree of resistance within Zapatista ranks, particularly among the youth.

Next, in southwestern Colombia, the Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca (Regional Indigenous Council of the Cauca, or CRIC), is a collective organization of 120 indigenous council governments comprised of Coconuco, Nasa, Misak, Totoró, Ambalueño, Quizgüeño, Heperara, and Inga peoples. Founded in 1971, the CRIC is engaged in the recuperation of the commons, the expropriation of privately-owned lands, the furtherance of cooperatives, the maintenance and expansion of indigenous government, resistance to mega-mines, organizing in favor of political prisoners, and advocating a popular and reconstructive resolution to the country’s civil war. Yet in parallel to the repression faced by the EZLN, the seizure of lands by CRIC communards for purposes of communal subsistence often meets with direct military and paramilitary repression, particularly during days of collective labor. Paramilitary violence against organized indigenous-campesinx communities in Cauca seeks to clear the way for capitalist maldevelopment, such that only the “the dedicated and sincere organization, actions in solidarity, and struggle of all the oppressed social classes and sectors” can do away with “the unhappy world of mineral and agro-industrial exploitation of the land and labor.”

 

In several states of southern Mexico, communal self-defense groups and autogestive processes have arisen in recent years to resist caciques (local bosses), the State, foreign extractive industries, and narco-traffickers alike, thus continuing the more than half-millennium of resistance to capitalist oppression on the continent. In Guerrero, the Regional Coordinator of Communal Authorities-Communal Police (CRAC-PC) have defended scores of indigenous communities from these forces for two decades, while In April 2011, women from the P’ur’hépecha community of Cherán K’eri, Michoacán, rose up to overthrow the hegemonic drug cartels engaged in mass-deforestation, establishing an emancipatory Commune in the process. In 2013, autodefensas surged elsewhere in Michoacán to resist societal domination by the Knights Templar cartel, leading President Peña Nieto to send the Army in to quell and disarm the revolt. Though these autodefensa brigades, some of which explicitly organized in the model of popular security, achieved a great deal in a short period of time, many of them ultimately integrated into the State or the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, rivals to the Knights Templar. In contrast, in Ayutla de los Libres, Guerrero, home of several of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa who were forcibly disappeared by the State in Iguala in September, 2014, the majority of neighborhoods and communities opted for autogestión via popular assemblies during a vote in June 2017, thus exercising their right to associate according to indigenous “uses and customs” and so reject political parties and electoral politics. This right, recognized by the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169, is hardly binding on States, being part of international law: indeed, current events and the history of Latin America clearly reveal a systematic disregard from above for indigenous autonomy, human rights, collective liberation, and environmental balance. Within such a context, amidst the utter failure of capital and authority to address such radical demands, these hegemonic forces must be swept away so that the rest of us can get on with doing so. Today, a hundred years since the Russian Revolution, the time is ripe for another global rebellion against capital and the State: another Mexican Revolution, a worldwide neo-Zapatista uprising.

Zach Medeiros, “Solidarity with the Oppressed, Not the Oppressors: Why We Should Support Syrian Revolutionaries”

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Zach Medeiros, Socialist Party of the USA

Comments presented at the July 14 launch of the Coalition for Peace, Revolution and Social Justice at a public meeting at the Westside Peace Center, Culver City

How can we support revolutionary Syrians and the Syrian people as a whole? This is not an easy question to answer. Yassin al-Haj Saleh, one of Syria’s greatest intellectuals and a former political prisoner jailed for nearly two decades for speaking out against his government, once wrote that “Syria is the world, and the world is Syria.” In other words, Syria has not only become a global issue, but the world has become a Syrian issue. When Syrians first took to the streets in 2011 to protest the brutality, corruption, poverty and discrimination that defined life for most living under the Assad regime, who could have foreseen that they would become the world? In those heady days, where dictators who had ruled for decades were falling like cards before the might of the people, who could have imagined that over six years later, Bashar al-Assad would still be on his butcher’s throne, propped up to one degree or another by most of the regional and global powers?

With each passing year, the chances for a free, peaceful, and just Syria shrink under the pressures of war. Since Syrians first revolted against their dictatorship, over 500,000 people have been killed and half of the pre-war population has been displaced, mostly by Assad and his allies. Poverty and unemployment has skyrocketed, life expectancy has plummeted by nearly 20 years, and the material cost of the war is measured in the hundreds of billions. These shocking numbers cannot fully transmit the individual stories of suffering and loss—what it is like to see your neighbors and loved ones shot, ripped apart, crushed, gassed, or burned alive in front of your eyes; to watch your home, shop, or community flattened into rubble, to be forced to flee from your land, to not be able to go to school, a doctor, or to the market without worrying about regime, Russian, or Western pilots dropping death on you from above.  Syria is now host to an entire galaxy of unquantifiable crimes and tragedies, innumerable stories of murder and massacre, deprivation and desperation, trauma and torture, rape and loss. Communities like Daraya, Homs, Darraa, Aleppo, and so many others have been reduced to bombed-out, besieged shells of their former selves. Sectarianism and ethnic chauvinism have infected the hearts and minds of many Syrians, dividing them so they can be more easily conquered. As Frieda noted, this has weakened the revolutionary movement immensely, and the blame here should fall not only on the Assad regime and religious extremists, but on the leadership of the nationalist, bourgeois opposition and the PYD, the main Kurdish party in Syria. Though greatly weakened, ISIS still rules parts of Syria, and less bloody but still dangerous groups like the former al-Nusra Front have grown more powerful as the war has dragged on, fed by the brutal conditions.

The beating hearts of the revolution—the Local Coordinating Committees, the democratically elected local councils, the White Helmets and other nonviolent activists—are under constant attack, not just from armed actors within Syria, but from those who demonize them abroad as tools of Western imperialism. With a handful of exceptions, the so-called international community has abandoned Syrians, content to wring its hands when it isn’t sabotaging the revolutionary struggle or actively aiding the counterrevolution. They have their tactical differences, but they are united in their desire to see the Syrian problem-that is, the problem of an enslaved people who know what freedom tastes like- stamped out once and for all. Foreign powers and foreign fighters treat Syria as the proxy site for their geopolitical maneuvers, a laboratory for their arsenals of death, and a stage for their personal redemption plays. The United Nations, for the most part, talks and talks, but still cooperates with the mass-murdering regime.

Much of the global Left—which is so quick to hurry to the side of justice when the U.S. and its allies are the primary villains—has either kept silent or openly sided with Damascus, Russia, and Iran, trading in critical analysis for propaganda and internationalist solidarity for knee-jerk political contrarianism. Yes, the list of Syria’s enemies is lengthy indeed, and their cowardice and their crimes will not be forgotten.

But all is not lost. I don’t harbor any illusions about my own influence regarding Syria. Far more authoritative figures than I have called for the world to support Syrians in their time of greatest need, only to find that the slaughter keeps on keeping on. This speech will not defeat fascism in Syria, whether that is the little fascism of ISIS or the greater fascism of the Assad regime, from which all other evils in Syria flow. It will not stop imperialist meddling and interventions in Syria, whether Western or Eastern.

That said, I implore everyone here, everyone who cares about the lives of Syrians and still hopes for a just and free Syria, to act. Arm yourself with the truth: not just about the daily atrocities inflicted upon the Syrian people but about their heroism in the face of it all, and the real nature of their revolution.

Do not lose sight of the fact that this conflict began as a popular, democratic uprising against a clique of thieves and butchers, and that this essential core remains beneath all the bloodshed. Listen to the countless Syrians who know what it means to struggle against tyranny, injustice, and death, even when victory only means living to see another morning, or to save the life of one other human being. Talk with them. Learn from them.This is their country. No matter our racist presumptions, we don’t know it better than they do. Promote Syrian voices and actions whenever and wherever possible. Counter those who spread lies and ridiculous conspiracy theories to give cover to the butchers of the Syrian masses. Assad is not the lesser evil, the regime has used chemical weapons on civilians, and the United States is not trying to overthrow it, especially not with an army of jihadists. Help organize solidarity work centered on the democratic and human interests of the Syrian people. Support groups like the White Helmets, the Syrian American Medical Society, Doctors Without Borders, and other organizations doing vital humanitarian work. Support Syrian revolutionary society, and particularly the many female revolutionaries. Spread the word about their grassroots initiatives, like the council movement inspired by Omar Aziz, or the Local Coordinating Committees that Razan Zaitouneh and her comrades helped build. Speak out for the rights of all the peoples of Syria, whether they are Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Turkmen, or Druze, Sunni, Shiite, Christian or Alawite.

Echo demands Syrians have issued, such as an end to all sieges, the immediate release of all political prisoners, a massive increase in direct humanitarian aid, the removal of all foreign armies and militias from Syrian soil, accountability for war criminals, and the creation of real safe zones, designed by Syrians for Syrians. Even in the age of Trump, we cannot give up the fight for the rights of refugees.

As a Marxist, I believe that every revolutionary struggle in the world is connected in a great chain, just as the forces of capitalism and imperialism are. When one link in that chain is forged and strengthened, all the oppressed people of the world advance. When one is destroyed, all are weakened. That’s the spirit and material truth of proletarian internationalism. Although our first duty, especially in the belly of the beast that is the United States, must be to make revolution at home, that’s a truth we need to embrace, I think. After all, the evils Syrians are fighting are not so different than what we are fighting here in the US, California, and Los Angeles. Syrians understand what it’s like to live in fear of the police and a repressive, vicious State. Syrians understand what it’s like to be persecuted because of their class, their religion, their ethnicity, their gender and sexuality. Syrians know the violence of poverty, the heartbreak of homelessness, the slow burn of hunger and sickness. They know the lengths to which the rich and powerful are willing to go to protect or enhance their wealth and power, how many of us they’re willing to sacrifice in the process. While the names and places that feature in their lives may be unfamiliar to us, the experiences of Syrians are not so foreign. Their thoughts, their feelings, their demands are not so alien. Like all of us, like most human beings, they want peace, freedom, and dignity.

When you get right down to it, that’s the essence, I think, of this coalition. We are here today because we believe that a better world is possible, if we don’t blow ourselves up with nukes or cook the planet to a crisp first. For that vision to become more than a dream, however, we must fight for it, and we must do so together. To quote Yassin al-Haj Saleh again, “what we need to do is change the world that prevented change in Syria.” Let us stand with Syrians and all the people fighting for that change and do what we can for peace, revolution, and social justice at home and in the rest of the world.

Thank you.

Kevin B. Anderson, “Rightwing Populism, Neofascism, & Imperialism in the Trump Era: Where Do We Go from Here?”

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Kevin B. Anderson, International Marxist-Humanist Organization and Professor of Sociology, UC-Santa Barbara

Comments presented at the July 14 launch of the Coalition for Peace, Revolution and Social Justice at a public meeting at the Westside Peace Center, Culver City

The year 2017 has brought forth a new and ominous situation for the US, the world, and for progressive and revolutionary movements. First, we have seen the rise to power in the US of a form of rightwing populism with fascist overtones in the Trump regime. Trumpism shares some common features with neofascist movements abroad like the racist, anti-immigrant National Front in France or the neofascist Orban regime in Hungary. Trumpism is a hybrid form, however, as it continues many features of neoliberalism — like a cabinet of plutocrats — alongside those of rightwing populism. What is clear is that the new Trump regime is more openly authoritarian, racist, misogynist, anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, and anti-environment than we have ever seen in the U.S. at the national level, even under Nixon, Reagan, or Bush.

Second, the people of the U.S. are fighting back with force and determination. For we have in 2017 also witnessed the largest popular mobilizations of progressive and leftist forces since the 1960s. This has been true not only in the U.S., with the women’s march, the scientists’ march, and the almost daily marches of immigrant rights, environmental, and anti-racist activists.   It has also been seen at the large protests outside the G20 Summit in Germany, and in the leftwing populist Mélenchon candidacy in France and that of Corbyn in Britain, and of course, the Sanders campaign here last year. (In the U.S. in 2017, the continuous mobilizations are also keeping alive the split within the dominant classes as seen in the hearings over Russia or the firing of Comey.)

This Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice was originally conceived as a new type of antiwar coalition that would be able to oppose war and imperialism not only from the U.S. and its allies like Saudi Arabia, but also from their rivals like Russia and its allies like Iran. Thus, we wanted to oppose the murderous actions of Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime in Syria, at the same time that we opposed the wars of the U.S. and its allies in Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

With Trump’s election, however, a broader focus was needed, as Trump is waging wars on the people of the US as surely as he is doing so abroad. As the French put it at their protest today against Trump and Macron, these leaders are engaging in a “social war” against their own populations. In some instances, Trump has lessened the temperature of US-Russia confrontation in Syria as both attack ISIS, but this has the downside of colluding with Assad, Russia, and Iran as they impose a peace of the graveyard after a civil war in which 500,000 human lives have been lost, mainly at the hands of the Syrian regime. (Obama and Kerry were already moving in that direction, however.) While events in Syria are a bit murky, what is crystal clear is that Trump is waging his social war inside the U.S. against any and every type of progressive movement or cause, whether around labor or the environment, or around race, gender, or sexuality.

Our coalition has been conceived as an independent and revolutionary pole of resistance against the Trump regime and the system that produced it. On the one hand, we want to separate ourselves from those nostalgic for Obama and Clinton who don’t want to acknowledge how these liberals created an opening for Trump through their failure to deal seriously with economic and class divides wracking this country and the world. On the other hand, we want to have our own independent existence as a Coalition, separate from those wings of the peace movement that abstain from targeting forms of war and imperialism that do not stem from the U.S. and its allies. But of course, we are not barring joint actions with other wings of the peace movement and other progressive and revolutionary organizations.

Let us examine briefly war and imperialism in the world today, by considering two major threats of war and three ongoing wars. These are only examples, of course.

The first and most dangerous war threat we face today is the U.S.-North Korea confrontation. The U.S. has never recognized the North Korean regime and it was explicitly targeted — alongside Iraq and Iran — in Bush’s infamous 2002 Axis of Evil speech. Since then, this brutal totalitarian regime has escalated its nuclear program, setting off multiple tests of nuclear bombs, and most recently, launching a missile that could reach Alaska. While they have not yet miniaturized their nuclear warheads to fit onto a missile, it is conceivable that this will happen in the next few years. At the same time, the U.S. has targeted North Korean territory with nuclear weapons for decades. Moreover, Trump has issued some incredibly bellicose rhetoric toward North Korea, which they might well interpret as an explicit threat of imminent attack. While this conflict is exacerbated by the bellicose, unhinged language of both Trump and Kim Jong-il, its underlying cause can be found in the U.S.-China rivalry for imperialist domination of East Asia.

The second most dangerous war threat we face is the U.S., the Saudis, and their allies vs. Iran. During the campaign, Trump vowed to rip up Iran’s nuclear agreement with the U.S., the UN, and the European Union. This was not a big departure from previous Republican candidates for president, like supposed moderate John McCain, who infamously sang “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran” during his 2008 presidential campaign. But Trump has gone one step further, using very bellicose language against Iran during his trip to Saudi Arabia in May, where he did so just a few hundred miles from Iranian territory. Trump issued his threats just as Iran was re-electing a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, to the presidency.   We need to find ways to oppose Trump’s war threats while also supporting democratic and revolutionary movements inside Iran, like the mass uprising of 2009. We need also to be cognizant of the fact that Iran sits astride the Persian Gulf, across the water from Arabia. Iran is a growing regional power that, with its allies Russia and Syria, forms a counterweight in this strategic region to a U.S. imperialism that has been exhausted by the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the Great Recession.

I also want to mention three ongoing wars. The first of these has been unleashed upon Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, where Saudi Arabia escalated even further its murderous air attacks in the wake of Trump’s visit. The highly sectarian Sunni Muslim Saudi rulers have seized upon the fact that the Houthi rebels who control most of the country, and who follow a somewhat fundamentalist version of Shia Islam, have received some limited backing from Iran. In this one-sided conflict, where the Saudis and their allies control the skies, some 10,000 people, overwhelmingly civilians, have already been killed. UNICEF reports that as a result of the destruction of the infrastructure of the country, cholera stalks the land, with 1600 deaths already reported and nearly 300,000 infected. Torture has also run rampant, with the Saudi-allied United Arab Emirates having roasted detainees on a spit over a slow fire, this according to a June 27 report in the respected French newspaper Le Monde. These attacks would be impossible without U.S. support, both in military equipment sold to the Saudis and their allies, and in the indirect but crucial participation of U.S. military forces. Since Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the brutal Yemen war has escalated, with no end in sight, and virtually no media coverage.

The second war I would like to mention is Israel’s ongoing siege of Gaza, which amounts to war, although it has been punctuated by actual shooting wars, as in 2009, 2012, and 2014. It’s about time for another one, if Israel keeps on schedule. At present, without an outright invasion going on, Gazans have electricity for only 3 hours per day, which means no real refrigeration of food or medical supplies. It amounts to the slow strangulation of a people. The far-right Zionists who control the Israeli government are exacting a collective punishment on Gaza for having voted for the Islamist movement Hamas in 2006, the last free elections in the Palestinian territories. While Hamas has some reactionary and fundamentalist features, these pale in comparison to the Saudi regime, which is a quasi-ally of Israel. And if the goal of Israel’s siege is to diminish support for Hamas, it is having the opposite effect, as seen in the student government elections in May at Birzeit University on the West Bank, where a pro-Hamas slate won for the third year in a row. Behind Israel stands U.S. imperialism, which arms it to the teeth, as it does with Saudi Arabia, but in this case at U.S. taxpayer expense. However, Israel remains the most reliable ally of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East region.

The third war I want to mention is the Syria war, which has been covered by several other speakers. This is the most destructive conflict of our time in human terms, with over 500,000 deaths, countless people tortured by the Assad regime, and millions of refugees and exiles. It is the last, tragic act of the Arab revolutions of 2011. These uprisings, beginning in Tunisia and Egypt, inspired Occupy and a host of other radical movements that continue today. In the last few years, two sets of freedom fighters have struggled inside Syria, the more democratic sector of the uprising against the Assad regime, and the Syrian Kurds. Both of these movements espouse revolution and grassroots democracy, although they have sometimes been at odds. For its part, the Assad regime is so weak internally that it would probably fall without the support of Russia, Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah, and other militias allied with Iran. Among the anti-regime rebels, machinations from Turkey and from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies have served to strengthen the more fundamentalist and authoritarian factions, one of which evolved into the reactionary ISIS movement. The U.S. largely stood by and watched this happen, in large part because both the U.S. ruling classes and the public had no stomach for another war in the Middle East, or anywhere for that matter. As progressives and revolutionaries, we cannot turn our backs on Syria, any more than we can on Yemen or Palestine. Last fall, during the siege of Aleppo, when Russian planes and pro-Assad forces carried out horrific massacres, it was a great tragedy that not only the world’s governments, but also the progressive and peace movements, remained largely silent. That silence was a major reason for the founding of this coalition.

We in the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice aim to oppose all forms of imperialist war and oppression, whether they emanate from the U.S. and its allies or from other powers, large or small. We also aim to target the capitalist system that lies behind these conflicts and which requires imperialism and war as part of its quest for global domination. Millions of people in the U.S. are enraged about this and are increasingly targeting capitalism explicitly. Today in DC at a demonstration against the Republican healthcare plan, Rev. Traci Blackmon, a civil rights activist from the environs of Ferguson, Missouri, inveighed against the Trump forces in striking language that combined Black liberation theology and anti-capitalism: “It’s time to stop calling God by other names when you really want to call God ‘capitalism.'”

While we certainly need more critical reflection tonight and after, there is also a time for action, and that time is now!

Given the large number and the organizing experience of those at tonight’s gathering, I think it is not too early to consider moving this discussion out onto the streets of LA. I’m not saying we are necessarily ready for this now. But just as an example of what this Coalition could do, think about August 6, Hiroshima Day. There could be a demonstration with slogans like these:

Abolish nuclear weapons everywhere, including those of all powers active in Korea and East Asia!

Stop the war threats against Iran!

End Israel’s Occupation and Its U.S. Enablers! For a Free Palestine!

Stop the Saudi-US war on Yemen!

Stop the Russian-Iranian imperialist interventions in Syria! For Syria and Freedom!

Stop Trump’s Social War on the people of the U.S.!

Frieda Afary, “How Did We Go from the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement to the Destruction of the Syrian Revolution and the Global Rise of Racist Authoritarianism?”

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Frieda Afary, Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists

Comments presented at the July 14 launch of the Coalition for Peace, Revolution and Social Justice at a public meeting at the Westside Peace Center, Culver City

In 2011, the world was abuzz with the spirit of the Arab Spring, a revolutionary movement for social justice, freedom and human dignity which aimed to overthrow authoritarian states in the Middle East.   This movement seemed to come out of nowhere but was actually the result of decades of deep mass dissatisfaction with worsening poverty and political repression under authoritarian regimes such as those of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria.

The revolts in Tunisia and in Egypt involved the participation of youth and women as well as large labor unions. They led to the overthrow of the dictators, Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt.   The uprising in Syria against the regime of Bashar al-Assad had the most diverse composition, involving youth, workers, women, and not only the Sunni Arab majority but also the Kurds, an oppressed national minority, as well as members of the Alawite Muslim minority, Christians, Assyrians and the Druze Shi-a community.   The Arab Spring was really a Middle Eastern Spring that involved non-Arabs and even extended to protests against poverty and corruption in Israel. It was also preceded by the Iranian Green movement, a mass protest movement against the fraudulent presidential election in 2009 which lasted several months before it was brutally crushed by the Iranian government.

It was the spirit of the Middle Eastern Spring that many consider to have been the inspiration for the Occupy Movement which was also a response to the 2008 global economic crisis. The first Occupy protest to receive widespread attention was Occupy Wall Street in New York City’s Zuccotti Park in September, 2011. It became a global movement which spread to 30 countries and all the continents, and stated that it was anti-capitalist. It focused on opposing the influence of corporations in politics, called for a more equitable distribution of income and for tax reform. Its defining slogan became:   “We are the 99%”

Now let’s return to the Middle East today in 2017. The masses of both Tunisia and Egypt are worse off economically, face greater corruption and higher unemployment than they did before 2011. In Egypt, after the election of Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood as president, and after the ensuing mass dissatisfaction,  a military coup by General Al-Sisi restored the old regime.

In Syria, the diverse and powerful mass protests for social justice, democracy and human dignity were brutally repressed by the Assad regime.  Between 2011 and 2016 the majority of the Syrian people continued to resist Assad’s death machine which directly or indirectly killed over 500,000 innocent people and caused the displacement of 12 million or half the population, close to 6 million of which have become refugees in other countries. The Syrian revolutionaries under siege mostly by the regime faced counter-revolutionary religious fundamentalist forces, including Al-Qaida and ISIS, which had been let out of prison or let in the country by the Assad regime. The revolutionaries were also assaulted by military intervention from Iran and Russia which supported the Assad regime.   The Gulf states intervened to promote religious fundamentalism and to destroy revolution.   Turkey intervened to crush the Kurdish struggle for self-determination in the Rojava region and to promote religious fundamentalism. Although the U.S. and European governments offered some initial help to the secular anti-Assad opposition, they really wanted the regime to stay to maintain “stability” in the region.   Their imperialist logic would have never allowed them to support the genuine revolutionaries.   The U.S. intervened in 2014 under Obama to destroy ISIS.

Today, although there are still expressions of mass resistance to both the Assad regime and the religious fundamentalists in Syria, the Syrian revolution has been destroyed. One million people are still under siege mostly by the Assad regime.   Over 300,000 political prisoners are in Assad’s dungeons, and over 12 million people are still internally displaced or refugees in other countries.

Now let’s return to the United States in 2017.   Six years after the rise of the Occupy Movement, we have seen the electoral victory of Donald Trump, the epitome of capitalism, an outright racist and misogynist. Trump received almost 63 million votes or 3 million votes short of Hillary Clinton’s almost 66 million.  But thanks to the rules of the Electoral College, he was able to declare victory.   Trump’s victory has marked a regression from liberal democracy toward racist authoritarianism. His administration has openly included Alt Right white supremacists and has appointed outright racists to key judicial posts, hence lifting the veneer of democracy that has hidden the reality of racism and white supremacy in this country. Furthermore, this administration is systematically assaulting laws that are supposed to defend civil rights, consumers, immigrants and the environment.   It makes openly arbitrary and personal decisions. Its nepotism casts aside claims to democracy or meritocracy.

As far as foreign policy is concerned, U.S. intervention in Iraq and Syria has led to indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas in the name of the war against ISIS. Trump is attempting to start a wider war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, threatening to attack Iran, threatening to start a war against the insane and hawkish regime of North Korea, using a hawkish language toward China, and taking steps to build a wall on the Mexican border to prevent the entry of Latino immigrants. His administration has also succeeded in imposing a travel ban which severely restricts the entry into the U.S. of people from six majority-Muslim nations.

So, how did we get from the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement to this suffocating reality of counter-revolution and the rise of racist authoritarianism? Why couldn’t the global Occupy Movement forge alliances with revolutionaries in the Middle East on the basis of a thorough challenge to the capitalist system?

First, it has to be acknowledge that the revolutionary movements that became known as the Arab Spring had many internal contradictions, namely class bias, sexism, various forms of ethnic and religious prejudice, homophobia and the lack of an alternative to capitalism. Although the uprising in Syria involved the participation of Kurds and religious minorities, it wasn’t able to offer a banner that was truly inclusive. Most Arab leaders of the Syrian revolution did not welcome any talk of Kurdish self-determination or federalism.   Hence the Assad regime was able to take advantage of the class and ethnic divisions that already existed in Syrian society. The Kurdish Rojava region in northern Syria has been able to offer a model which includes secularism and women’s rights. But its leadership, the Democratic Union Party, PYD or YPG embodies certain authoritarian practices and views, and has engaged in off and on non-aggression pacts with the Assad regime.

What about the Occupy Movement? What were its defects?   I would argue that its main defect was that it reduced anti-capitalism to simply being against income inequality, big corporations, Wall Street and neoliberalism.

If we return to Marx’s Capital, and Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts or Humanist Essays, we will learn that capitalism is not simply an unjust mode of distribution. It is a mode of production based on alienated labor, an extreme mental /manual division of labor that turns work into a meaningless, undifferentiated, monotonous activity, and turns the human being into a cog in a machine. It alienates us not only from our products but also from our potential for free and conscious activity and from other human beings. Since labor under capitalism is alienated and mechanical, it is expressed in a uniform and undifferentiated symbol such as value or money.   Hence, capitalism as a system based on alienated labor and value production is not limited to the private property of the means of production and a market economy or neoliberalism. It can also exist as state-capitalism, a form of which I would argue existed in the former Soviet Union, Maoist China and their satellite countries. Another form of it existed in Nazi Germany. More democratic forms of it have existed in welfare states.

Unfortunately, the Occupy Movement’s limited understanding of capitalism as free markets and neoliberalism allowed people like Trump and other nationalist populists like him around the world to use the language of anti-globalization to appeal to many opponents of globalization and to promote an authoritarian state capitalism as an alternative.

Another major defect of the Occupy Movement was that it limited imperialism to simply Western imperialism.   Hence, many of those on the Left who claim to be anti-imperialists have supported the Assad regime in Syria because it has claimed to be against U.S. imperialism and its regional imperialist backers, Israel and Saudi Arabia.   Some leftists have openly supported Russian imperialist intervention in the Middle East and Ukraine, as well as Iranian regional imperialist or sub-imperialist intervention in Syria and Iraq. This unprincipled and inhuman attitude, this failure of those who claim to be against capitalism to see the connection between capitalism and the rise of imperialist powers other than those in the West, was another one of the factors that led to the destruction of the Syrian revolution.

I began this presentation by asking how we went from the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement to the destruction of the Syrian Revolution and the rise of racist authoritarianism.

I would argue that in 2011 humanity had an unprecedented chance to launch a global anti-capitalist movement. That chance was lost however both because of counter-revolutionary forces such as repressive regimes, imperialist intervention and religious fundamentalism in the Middle East, and because of defects within the revolutionary movements in the Arab Spring and within the Occupy Movement in the West.   The Occupy Movement that did claim to be anti-capitalist, reduced anti-capitalism to being merely against income inequality, and neoliberalism. The movement did not address the issue of how to overcome the alienation arising from the capitalist mode of production and how that alienation related to racism, sexism, misogyny and homophobia.     The movements in the East and the West failed to connect because of   the lack of an affirmative humanist alternative to capitalism. As a result, the capitalist drive for profitability which had encountered a major crisis in 2008 was able to use the language of anti-globalization, and appeal to racism, sexism and homophobia to win over parts of the global working class.   Thus authoritarian state capitalist regimes such as those in China and Russia which were treated as exceptions to capitalism have now become the image of the future of the rest of humanity.

Any effort to challenge this ominous reality has to begin by asking what is capitalism? What is imperialism? Why are they intertwined with racism, sexism, heterosexism, militarism?   Where do we begin to develop an affirmative humanist alternative to capitalism?   How do we create international solidarity with struggles for social justice around the world? These are questions that the Coalition for Peace, Revolution and Social Justice will be addressing in its future panels and actions.

Frieda Afary produces the blog, Iranian Progressives in Translation (https://www.iranianprogressives.org), and is a member of The Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists (https://www.allianceofmesocialists.org/latest-additions)

Launching the Los Angeles Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice (CPRSJ)!

You are invited to a panel discussion: LAUNCHING THE LOS ANGELES COALITION FOR PEACE, REVOLUTION & SOCIAL JUSTICE!

This coalition aims to develop a thoughtful, multidimensional, and
proactive opposition to the warmongering authoritarianism that has become evident around the globe, as exemplified by Donald Trump in the U.S., Vladimir Putin in Russia, and Xi Jinping in China. We target the connections among capitalist class oppression, imperialism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, environmental destruction, nativism, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism.

The panel, to be moderated by Mimi Soltysik (Socialist Party USA), will consist of these speakers/topics:

Frieda Afary, Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists
How Did We Go from the Arab Spring & the Occupy Movement to The
Destruction of the Syrian Revolution and the Global Rise of Racist Authoritarianism?

Zach Medeiros, Socialist Party U.S.A.
Solidarity with the Oppressed, Not the Oppressors: Why We Must Support Syrian Revolutionaries

Javier Sethness, Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation
Communalist, Autonomous & Indigenous Movements in Latin America: Concrete Hope for an Alternative to Capitalism

Kevin B. Anderson, UCSB Sociology professor & member of International Marxist-Humanist Organization
Rightwing Populism, Neofascism, & Imperialism in the Trump Era: Where Do We Go from Here?

Friday, July 14, 2017, 7-9 p.m., Peace Center, 3916 Sepulveda Blvd, Culver City

For more information, see https://www.facebook.com/events/1930493243895210/ or call 310-409-3932

Please see a PDF of our Points of Unity here.

Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice (CPRSJ) Principles of Unity

 

The Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice (CPRSJ) aims to resist capitalism, imperialism, and authoritarianism in the Trump era. We are helping to develop a thoughtful, multidimensional, and proactive opposition to the intensifying authoritarianism that has become evident around the globe, as exemplified by Donald Trump in the U.S., Vladimir Putin in Russia, and Xi Jinping in China. We oppose NATO and U.S. imperialism because they underpin capitalist-militarist hegemony around the globe. In general, we target rampant class oppression, imperialism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, nativism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and environmental destruction.

Domestically, we resist Trump’s absurd and deranged proposals to build a vast border wall with Mexico, deport millions of people, broaden the prison-industrial complex and police powers in the name of law and order, cut tens of millions off from healthcare access, further deregulate the economy, suppress climate science, and greatly expand U.S. military and nuclear capabilities. We note that Trump is in sync with neofascist movements in Europe, especially in France, Austria, the UK, and Hungary.

In contrast to liberals who oppose Trump on the basis of the neoliberal politics of Clinton and Obama, we believe that the problems facing us lie in the very structure of contemporary capitalism.

In contrast to the authoritarian left, we oppose and organize against the machinations not only of U.S. imperialism and its subimperialist allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia, but also those of Russian imperialism and of subimperialist powers like Iran.  Thus, we oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Saudi Arabia’s barbarous war on the people of Yemen, and the untold brutality of Assad’s suppression of the Syrian Revolution, which has been abetted by Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and other Shi’a militias.

In the U.S., we support issues and movements like Black Lives Matter, women’s rights, free abortion on demand, climate and environmental justice, a living wage, the rights of immigrant labor, justice for Latinx, struggles of Indigenous peoples for autonomy and liberation, healthcare for all, and full rights for transgender people.

Our class politics recognizes the fundamental importance of an affirmative, liberatory, and humanist alternative to capitalism and the unity of all working people across national borders on the basis of international solidarity.

Our principles of unity follow:

  1. We strive for the firmest unity of working people in the U.S. across racial and ethnic lines, and across rural/urban and regional divides, together with all those who oppose capitalism’s inhumanity on the basis of affirming Black and Latinx liberation, women’s rights, LGBTQIA rights, immigrant rights, prisoners’ rights, and climate/environmental justice.
  2. We note the specific detrimental role of white supremacy in U.S. history as a factor in undermining working-class unity. We also note that African Americans have been in the forefront of progressive and revolutionary movements throughout the history of this country.
  3. We proclaim the underlying importance of class analysis and anti-authoritarianism in our theory and practice.
  4. We oppose all forms of imperialism and state terrorism, including the U.S. and NATO’s military interventions in the Middle East, Latin America, Asia, Africa and elsewhere, even if under the guise of humanitarianism.
  1. We also oppose terrorism by non-state organizations such as ISIS, the Ku Klux Klan, and fascist groups. Instead, we call for people to people solidarity with those who oppose both fundamentalist terrorism and authoritarian regimes.
  2. We hold the growing influence of Trump and Putin and the growth of neofascist movements in Western Europe to be key manifestations of the increasingly authoritarian direction of global capitalism, as also seen in China, India, Brazil, and South Africa.
  3. We envision a liberatory and humanist social movement opposed to capitalism, imperialism, and militarism that equally opposes reactionary regimes that happen to be at odds with the U.S.
  4. We believe that power must be devolved to the people through grassroots democracy and that democracy without social justice is meaningless.
  5. We do not consider authoritarian states that have claimed to be socialist or communist to be models of socialism or democracy in any sense. We strive instead for real human emancipation.
  6. We uphold the principles of internal democracy and transparency in our own efforts, and commit ourselves to these ends.

We invite other organizations and individuals who share these views to join this coalition.

Initial conveners include the following socialist and anarchist organizations:

Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists

Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation-Los Angeles

International Marxist-Humanist Organization, West Coast Chapter

Socialist Party, Los Angeles Local

Members of Solidarity: A Socialist, Feminist, Anti-Racist Organization, Los Angeles Branch

 

Adopted May 11, 2017

Announcing the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice!

We are pleased to announce the foundation of the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice (CPRSJ) in Southern California.  We envision this coalition, which is comprised of socialist and anarchist organizations, as organizing resistance to capitalism, imperialism, and militarism in the Trump era from an anti-authoritarian perspective.  Soon we will publish the Principles of Unity we have agreed to as a coalition.

In solidarity,

CPRSJ