Review diverse books (because the anti-capitalist literature can be so boringly monochrome)

Something I’m going to start doing on this blog: reviewing diverse books. What does this mean? Well a blog called read diverse books had this challenge to read diverse books in order to fight against the cultural industry’s tendency to tell us stories about how great white people are, particularly males, particularly middle class, straight, heteronormative whites, etc. It looks like a good idea so I’m adapting it here.

I say adapting because the original challenge (and a similar one at wocreads) is mostly oriented to fiction, so it focuses on lead characters. I’m more into non-fiction political books, so I’m adjusting the challenge to focus on authors rather than protagonists (except for biographies, then it is about the authors and the protangonists). I’m also adding some additional dimensions beyond gender/sexuality and race: things like class, experience of state repression, and linguistic communities. And instead of just reading I like to review so as to engage with the ideas and hopefully share the most useful thoughts and tools with those who can make use of them.

The challenge looks like this. I have to review:

  • A book authored/edited by a woman

  • A book authored/edited by a homosexual

  • A book authored/edited by somebody from Latin America

  • A book authored/edited by somebody who grew up as an ethnic or racial minority in their country

  • A book authored/edited by somebody from Africa

  • A book authored/edited by somebody who identifies as part of an ethno-national community that is without a state

  • A book authored/edited by somebody from Asia

  • A book authored/edited by a biracial person

  • A book authored/edited by a transgender person

  • A book authored/edited by a refugee

  • A book authored/edited by somebody with a disability

  • A book originally written in a language other than English

  • A book originally written in one of the over 2000 UNESCO designated endangered languages.

  • A book authored/edited by somebody without university-level education

  • A book authored/edited by somebody who was imprisoned for at least a year

  • A book authored/edited by somebody who lived under state socialism

  • A book authored/edited by a collective

One of the problems with checklist challenges is that the goal often end up being to complete it so you can say “look how fuckin diverse I am”. The main reason I’m doing this is to show how uniform the anti-capitalist literature tends to be. The checklist will be used mostly as a commentary during reviews about how diverse or undiverse the books are. And the emphasis is on commentary – not a rating. I don’t want this to end up like a judge in the oppression olympics.

Looking back at what has been reviewed so far on this blog, two were written or edited by individuals (How to change the world, and New forms of worker organisation), both white males from the US and the UK, employed (currently or at some time in their lives) as university professors, presumably straight, abled bodied, and originally written in English for English-speaking audiences. The two books on Rojava reviewed here are also written for US/English-speaking audiences, but they at least are edited by collectives, and include some essays and interviews translated from Kurdish and Turkish. Both collectives do seem to be north america-based though.

On the other hand, Teaching Rebellion, is also edited by a collective, this time Mexico-based, and although it is unclear whether it was written originally for a Spanish-speaking or English-speaking audience, almost the entire bulk of the book is composed of interview/testimony pieces which are certainly translated. Clearly the most diverse book reviewed so far here, but it just shows how much things need to improve. Looking forward to seeing what books this challenge leads me to.

Statement on attacks by Syrian and US regimes from alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists

This antiwar and anti imperialist (anti all imperialists involved) statement coming from groups directly living through the war in Syria is worth reading and sharing. Shared from the Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists website.

“The Trump administration’s  April 6 targeted missile strike on the Syrian airbase from which the chemical attack was launched, is not a reflection of any genuine concern for the Syrian people.  It will not help the struggle against the Assad regime, ISIS and Al Qaida.    Instead, this administration’s latest airstrikes are motivated by other aims.

April 7, 2017

The chemical bombing of innocent civilians in the Syrian town of  Khan Sheikhoun (Idlib province) which was perpetrated by the Assad regime and its allies, Russia and Iran on April 4,  is  yet another step in the murderous campaign to destroy what is left of the popular opposition to the Assad regime.  After putting under siege and destroying  Eastern Aleppo, the most important center of the popular and democratic opposition,  and forcing the survivors as well as the survivors from other besieged opposition areas to go to Idlib , the regime is now concentrating its forces on bombing the civilian population in Idlib and Aleppo provinces.

The Trump administration’s  April 6 targeted missile strike on the Syrian airbase from which the chemical attack was launched, is not a reflection of any genuine concern for the Syrian people.  It will not help the struggle against the Assad regime, ISIS and Al Qaida.    Instead, this administration’s latest airstrikes are motivated by other aims.

Just two days earlier the Trump administration had announced that its priority was not the ouster of Assad.  Once the Assad regime’s chemical bombing delivered a blow to the credibility of U.S. imperialism however, the decision was made to strike Assad’s air base.    In order to calm some dissent within the Republican party’s leadership, Trump had to show that contrary to Obama, he had some “red lines.”

Furthermore,  given the daily new revelations about the Trump administrations close ties to Putin’s Russia and the ways in which these revelations have  seriously damaged  its  credibility even among its supporters, the missile strike in Syria was  a way for this administration to partially distance itself from Russia.   However,  at this point,  we can say that this strike which was announced in advance to the Russian government,  does not indicate any strategic change in U.S. policy concerning  the future of Syria or the Assad regime.  The focus of the U.S. government will still be seeking a transition  in which the core of the Assad regime is not challenged.  Such a policy will  be justified by this administration in the name of the “War on Terror.”

In general, since coming to office, the Trump administration has given every indication that its goal is to promote undemocratic, racist, sexist Middle Eastern leaders and strengthen the repressive environment of the Middle East:   He or his advisers have met with Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu,  Turkish president Recep Tayyip  Erdogan and  foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Egyptian president, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi,  Saudi Arabian Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,  King Abdullah of Jordan.  On March 30,   U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson’s visit to Turkey   gave a nod of approval to Erdogan  who has arrested over 70,000 people in the past year,  continually bombed the Kurdish population of Turkey and Syria, and is aiming to vastly expand his  repressive powers against all forms of dissent,  through a referendum on April 16.  Tillerson’s visit also led to some unannounced agreements which do not bode well for the Kurds in Turkey and Syria.

Most importantly,   recent American airstrikes  in Mosul, Aleppo and Raqqa which are supposedly aimed at stopping ISIS, have brought about large civilian death tolls.  They have been some of the deadliest since U.S. airstrikes on Syria started in 2014.   They show that greater U.S. military intervention in Syria will only lead to more death and destruction.   One resident of Mosul, Iraq who was fleeing ISIS, compared the destruction brought about by the latest U.S. airstrikes in Mosul to  the U.S.  dropping of a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima.  (See Tim Arango, “Civilian Deaths Rising in Iraq and Syria as Battles Intensify in Dense City Areas.” New York Times, March 28, 2017).  According to Airwars, during the month of March alone, as many as a thousand civilians have been killed by U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria in the name of the “War on Terror.” (https://www.democracynow.org/2017/3/27/more_than_1_000_civilians_killed)

These realities not only  reveal the Trump administration’s motives but also  compel us to condemn all the states that are carrying out wars against innocent civilians in the Middle East:  The Syrian and Iranian regimes, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, all the other authoritarian regimes in the region, ISIS, Al Qaida, as well as Russian and Western military interventions.  They are all part of an imperialist logic and the maintenance of authoritarian and unjust systems.  They all oppose the self-determination of the peoples of the region and their struggles for emancipation.   Hence, anti-war activists whether in the Middle East or the West need to address all forms of repression and authoritarianism, and condemn all forms of foreign intervention against the interests of the people of the region, instead of  limiting their criticisms only to the West and Israel.

Clearly, no peaceful and just solution in Syria can be reached with Bashar al-Assad and his clique in power.  He is the biggest criminal in Syria and must be prosecuted for his crimes instead of being legitimized by international and regional imperialist powers.

Clearly, an effective way to help Syrians and to change the worsening course of events in the region today is for those Iranians and Russians who oppose their rulers’ military intervention in Syria to build strong anti-war movements that show the connections between their governments’ support for the Assad regime and the worsening domestic repression and impoverishment.   Why has this not happened?  Is government repression inside Russia and Iran the only reason?

In Russia, last week, tens of thousands demonstrated against the corrupt practices of prime minister Dmitry Medvedev and other Russian oligarchs.   Criticism of Putin’s imperialist wars however was not highlighted by most who focused on the internal corruption of the rich.  Whether these demonstrations expand their horizons remains to be seen.

In Iran,  not a day goes by without labor protests in various parts of the country.  These protests have focused on the non-payment of wages, layoffs, temporary contracts without any rights or benefits, “privatization” of government jobs, lack of work and safety regulations,  non-payment of pensions and the very low minimum wage ($240 per month) in a country in which the minimum needed for an urban family of four to survive is $1000 per month.

It is the responsibility of Iranian socialists to show the connections between the worsening economic and social conditions of the Iranian workers, teachers and service workers, and Iran’s capitalist, militarist and imperialist policies in Syria and in the Middle East region as a whole.

The failure to draw these connections partly stems from the strength of the Iranian regime’s propaganda which presents the Syrian opposition to the Assad regime as entirely consisting of ISIS and Al Qaida.  The nationalism of those Iranian leftists who implicitly or explicitly support the Assad regime and Putin,  has also  assisted the Iranian government.

As the Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists,  we have made efforts to address these issues through our analyses and by airing the views of those Iranians who oppose their government’s military intervention in Syria.   We welcome more ideas and comments from those who represent THE OTHER IRAN and who want to create an anti-war movement to stop Iran’s support for the Assad regime.

We agree with those Palestinian who protested in Ramallah, Occupied Palestine,  against the Syrian regime’s chemical bombing of Khan Sheikhoun.   They chanted:  “Not Leftists, Not Leftists,  Those Who Stand with Bashar al-Assad.”

Joseph Daher and Frieda Afary

Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists

April 7, 2017″

No Pasaran for today

 

A few months ago, in the happy days before Trump stole the election or the Brexit referendum or the escalation of Erdogan’s repression following his gift from god, I went to a film. No Pasaran, directed by Daniel Burkholz. A documentary comprised of interviews with veterans from the International Brigades. It was very inspirational. For the most part, it was the events and motivations that led them to join the Brigades that were discussed. Again and again, different interviewees stressed that the Spanish Civil War was a fight against European Fascism in its entirety, and the war in Spain only represented the best place to confront it at the time. As one German Jew recounted how after fighting in Spain and then seeking refuge in France “we proposed to the French army that we could join their army and fight Nazi Germany. They agreed and suggested to us that we enlist and they would station us in North Africa to relieve Foreign Legion soldiers who would be deployed to the German front. So we got together and had a meeting to discuss this and we all agreed that No. Our fight was with Nazi Germany, not to defend the french empire” (warning: quote is a misquote).

nopasaran_poster__english
Image from roadside-dokumentarfilm

A few years ago, 2012 or so, I read The Age of Empire by Eric Hobsbawm. I was very taken with it at the time, in particular the idea that there was a sense of crisis that permeated every aspect of society: the generalised crisis in modernist certainties of progress caused by global recession of the capitalist system, which was only averted through the imperialist project in Africa, something that only temporarily displaced the internal systemic contradictions, but which in a short amount of time just led to renewed inter-national capitalist competition amongst the ‘great powers’, which in turn led to world war and the working classes embracing nationalist sentiment and standing against and slaughtering one another. What amazed me reading it in 2012 was how similar this pre-war period was to the austerity regime we were going through then. Now having seen No Pasaran I’m more inclined to say our period resembles the period prior to the second world war with the changes that have come in the last 5 years. The fascist right are having electoral success in Austria, the Netherlands, Finland, France, Hungary, and the US. In other countries they are strong on the streets, they have infiltrated the police, or even the army, in places like Greece, Britain, and the US. And they are to be seen wearing new clothes in the form of ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and in the likes of Putin and Erdogan in Russia and Turkey. And another similarity with today that was highlighted in the film (although I don’t think they meant to make this analogy) is that in the same way that those fleeing Franco’s Spain to France were put in camps, only to be handed over to the Nazis when France fell, we are doing the same thing today by containing and shipping those fleeing ISIL off to the likes of Erdogan’s Turkey under the EU’s scandalous deal. If you think back to how it was through Coup d’Etats that the Fascists came to power in Spain and Austria in the 1930s, all it would take today is for the military to make a move against Syriza’s government or possibly in Italy, and the ‘refugee camps’ with their razor wires would be a gift horse they wouldn’t look in the mouth. The same with the prison industrial complex which have played up anti-terror hysteria to escalate their practices of policing and imprisoning racial minorities. Although we don’t call them “concentration camps” now, de facto concentration camps is exactly what are being built.

What is clear is that an anti-Fascist movement that is Europe-wide and further towards the Arabian Peninsula is needed. And it is necessary to see all the distinct issues – the far right, austerity, ISIL, refugees, police killings, drone attacks – and to unite them as part of the one system: 21st Century Fascism. Above all, this is a struggle for humanity, and in the spirit of the first intercontinental against neoliberalism and for humanity, the struggle for humanity is the struggle of the left. Although the socialist revolution looks further away than at anytime since maybe the 1980s (with the exception of Rojava), the road to revolution will only be made through walking. As another Brigadista interviewed in No Pasaran described life in Franco’s POW camps: “every morning they would line up three people to be executed. Any last words? Long live socialism, long live anarchism, long live communism! And they were shot” (also a misquote). They died believing that by fighting the fascists they were making the revolution.

There is a lot of work for this anti-21st Century Fascist movement to do. Included within:

  1. Direct aid to refugees, particularly ‘new arrivals’.

  2. Fight the policy whereby refugees are shipped to Turkey

  3. The fight against ISIL is the fight of the Left. Eventhough it is dominated by hostile powers (US, Russia, Turkey), ISIL are the most extreme manifestation of right-wing nationalism, and as such it is our fight. Like the International Brigades went to Spain as the most strategic place to fight European fascism, today we need to unite with the Kurds in Rojava (because with the growing budiness between Erdogan, Putin, and Trump, I reckon the days of US support for Rojava are numbered – although I don’t yet know what to make of the strike on the Syrian military airbase).

  4. Stop the further success of the far right in Europe, whether in elections or on the streets.

  5. Practice community self-defense with targeted groups.

  6. Fight borders. Whether this is physical construction of barriers, intensification of policing the borders, or bio-political-economic control from a distance – where people are dissuaded from crossing or even approaching borders by their associated costs like the dangers of traveling through hazardous routes, extortion by smuggler cartels, the precarious existence of ‘irregular’ living on the other side. The ultimate aim should not just be freedom of movement and refuge for those arriving from unsafe places, but also legal, safe, and free (as in free speech and free beer) passage for all.

  7. Fight against the conditions that strengthen the right: the state of things where the costs of economic crisis are being lumped onto the working classes, or where domestic economies are boosted by fighting foreign wars.

  8. Be prepared to work with liberals where this is likely to lead to direct material improvements in security for targeted groups. But constantly remind the world that it was the liberal centre that empowered the rightist surge by sitting-out and eventually exhausting the left-led mobilisation in the earlier years of austerity.

  9. Work with groups that specifically push beyond the confines of the liberal response. This can include for instance Black Lives Matter, who’s very existance insists that the liberal doctrine is false. I.e. that All Lives Do Not Matter to the US state, regardless of how many times it is written in some laws that they do. Also groups who campaign on the basis of migration as reparation for colonialism, to push beyond the whole ‘migrants are not a threat to our way of life’. We are a threat – we are a threat to and we aim to take down the whole capitalism-colonialism-nationstate nexus.