Archive for the ‘Abya Yala’ Category

Struggles Across Borders: Resisting Climate Breakdown and State Violence

May 14, 2019

Please find below a video recording of my presentation at Highline College in Seattle, Washington, on April 23, 2019, about global warming and resistance.

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Call for Papers – 8th Biennial Conference of the International Herbert Marcuse Society: “Critical Theory in Dark Times: The Prospects for Liberation in the Shadow of the Radical Right”

April 15, 2019

Please see the following call for papers, panels, and presentations at the 8th biennial Herbert Marcuse International Society conference, entitled “Critical Theory in Dark Times: The Prospects for Liberation in the Shadow of the Radical Right,” to be hosted from October 10-13, 2019, at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

I’ve presented at three of these conferences and can highly recommend them. The deadline for proposals is May 1st. Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be sent to ihms2019@gmail.com by that date. Panel proposals and student abstracts are welcomed and encouraged.

A populism of the radical right is on the rise across the globe. What are the counter-strategies of the left? What role does critical theory play in the current context? Embedded in the critical theory of Herbert Marcuse is the promise that reason, with a proper critical orientation, can provide an emancipatory alternative to the deforming oppressions of a given order. But critical reason is occluded in a one-dimensional society, resulting in a society without meaningful alternatives.

Marcuse reminds us that a one-dimensional society with a “smooth, democratic unfreedom” is a society in which there is no fundamental opposition, or where opposition is absorbed and reified into the logic of the system itself. From openly nationalist/fascist/racist parties gaining power in governments across the globe, to institutions manipulated by elites to widen inequalities of wealth and power, to ecological degradation and climate change, to debt traps as a result of uneven development, to mass incarceration and refugee detention policies, freedom becomes an increasingly abstract illusion under the guise of the “normally” functioning global economic system.

We seek papers that address the concerns, challenges, commonalities, and spaces for opposition in the current political context of one-dimensional neoliberal authoritarianism, as well as papers that engage the continued relevance of Herbert Marcuse’s analyses/theoretical insights to critical theory. This includes, but is not limited to addressing questions such as:


  • What is Marcuse”s influence today toward a Critical Theory from the Americas? How might we draw on his theoretical perspectives to interpret structural violence, as well as relations among race, class, and gender and the rise of right-wing populism on both American continents?
  • As the crises and contradictions of neoliberalism expand, how does a Marcusean analysis sharpen the criticism or explain the rise of the radical right? What networks and/or apparatuses are sustaining authoritarianism(s)?
  • Since one-dimensional societies absorb oppositional movements, what steps can we take to move towards a more multi-dimensional consciousness? In what ways are the Black radical tradition, youth, LGBTQ, labor, workers, and indigenous peoples at the forefront of fundamental resistance?
  • What are the pathways for revolutionary and systemic change? What are the dialectics of resistance today?
  • What role can or should forms of education, including higher education, play as and in forms of resistance?
  • Can violence play a role as a means of support and resistance? For precipitating system change?
  • How might we theorize an alternative to the “democratic” unfreedom of today that engages human rights?
  • What are the implications for radical class or group consciousness in a time of rising right-wing populism? What role might it play? Is there potential for a populism of/on the left?
  • How might Marcuse”s vision of radical socialism, a new social order committed to economic, racial and gender equality, sexual liberation, liberation of labor, preservation and restoration of nature, leisure, abundance and peace, inspire organizing today? What is the role of Marcusean aesthetic theory/praxis today?
  • How do the culture industry and digital culture create new forms of propaganda and/or sites of resistance?
  • What is the relationship between movements or organizing ideas such as #BlackLivesMatter, #MariellePresente, #MeToo, #EnoughisEnough, #EleNão and Refugees Welcome, and the “new left”?
  • As basic liberal-democratic values and institutions break down or suffer crises of legitimacy, in what ways does a Marcusean critical theory reveal alternatives to the xenophobic nationalism of the radical right?

Libertarian Socialist Points of Unity Template:

April 8, 2019

The New Municipal Agenda

A points of unity is a formal agreement that shows the terms of unity between persons and groups. A points of unity can help orient a project and spell out the minimal dimensions that such a project must necessarily contain. Such principles can hold persons and collectives accountable as well as demonstrate to other people what organizations and actions are in favor of and against. An agreed to points of unity can serve as a filter for decisions that can round out democracy. A crucial feature of a points of unity is the notion of a gestalt of principles; one principle in reduction of other ones can be extremely insufficient and lead to terrible implications. The following is a template for a points of unity for libertarian socialist and communalist organizations. It should be rounded out, modified, and not considered a perfectly good points of unity. At its best a…

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Entrevista con José Bodas Lugo, sindicalista venezolano: “Este gobierno no es socialista, no es obrerista. Es un gobierno burgués”

April 6, 2019
Cortesía Laclase.info

Originalmente publicada en Laclase.info

Joe Hill (Comités Antiguerra en solidaridad con las luchas por la autodeterminación) (English translation HERE)

Por favor, cuéntenos un poco de usted, su experiencia y formación política.

Soy José Bodas Lugo, trabajador de PDVSA, de la refinería Puerto La Cruz, con 30 años de servicio en la industria petrolera venezolana. Soy operador de planta de esta refinería, abogado y Secretario General de la Federación Unitaria de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras del Petróleo, del Gas, sus Similares y Derivados de Venezuela (FUTPV), desde el primero de octubre del 2009 para un período de cinco años. Desde el 2014 estamos dando una batalla en la industria petrolera para que se realicen las elecciones en la FUTPV, y no ha sido posible porque el gobierno sabe que va a una derrota por el papel totalmente a favor de la empresa, a favor de las transnacionales, que tiene su agente, el presidente de la federación y de la central oficialista del gobierno, Wills Rangel, corresponsable de que los trabajadores petroleros y los trabajadores venezolanos ganemos siete dólares mensuales.

Yo soy socialista revolucionario, antiimperialista. Lucho para que, en Venezuela, en América Latina, y en todo el mundo triunfe la clase trabajadora. Creo en el gobierno de la clase trabajadora, el socialismo con democracia obrera, sin burocracia, con la clase trabajadora y el pueblo movilizado permanentemente.

Los medios de comunicación se refieren a una grave escasez, incluso al hambre, pero muchos en la izquierda desestiman estas afirmaciones. ¿Cómo caracterizaría usted la situación actual en Venezuela?

Sí, en Venezuela estamos viviendo una crisis pavorosa. Se originó porque el gobierno de Nicolas Maduro está aplicando un plan de ajuste, un paquetazo de medidas capitalistas brutales, ha liberado todos los precios de los alimentos, de los medicamentos, ha recortado las importaciones para pagar deuda externa, mientras los trabajadores venezolanos tenemos un salario mínimo de seis dólares mensuales, 18 mil Bolívares Soberanos. Es una situación muy grave la que estamos viviendo, de falta de medicamentos y falta de alimentos por estas medidas del gobierno nacional. El precio de un kilo de carne en Venezuela es de cuatro dólares. Es un hecho, hay hambre. Ahora frente esta realidad el gobierno dice que es por el embargo petrolero de este año, pero esta realidad la estamos viviendo los últimos cuatro años.

Tenemos que decir claramente que el gobierno de Maduro no es un gobierno de izquierda, no es un gobierno antimperialista. Durante el gobierno de Chávez se crearon empresas mixtas en la faja petrolífera del Orinoco y se les entregó el petróleo venezolano, en ellas participan empresas como Rosneft de Rusia, Total francesa, Statoil noruega, ENI italiana, la española Repsol, Chevron de EEUU, así como empresas chinas y vietnamitas. En los informes de la misma Chevron se establece que las mayores ganancias de esa empresa en América Latina se hacen en Venezuela gracias a las empresas mixtas de la faja petrolífera del Orinoco. El gobierno entrega el arco minero, con un ecocidio gigantesco sobre la selva amazónica en Venezuela, a empresas mineras chinas y canadienses. Se está destruyendo las comunidades indígenas–hay masacres en esas áreas–para entregar el oro a esas transnacionales.

Al mismo tiempo, es un gobierno que criminaliza la protesta. El derecho está en la constitución y está en los contratos colectivos, pero los gobiernos de Chávez y de Maduro criminalizan las huelgas y dicen que la autonomía sindical es un veneno contrarrevolucionario. Criminalizan a los trabajadores que luchamos por un sindicato autónomo, de lucha, democrático, sin burocracia, con asambleas y movilizaciones permanentes de la clase trabajadora. Los activistas estamos luchando por la autonomía sindical, por nuestros derechos colectivos, por el salario, por las condiciones del trabajo, tenemos trabajadores como Rodney Álvarez con siete años preso, trabajador de Ferrominera del Orinoco, acusado de un crimen que no cometió y sin haber sido enjuiciado o condenado. Tenemos a Rubén González, también detenido por tener una posición de defensa de los derechos de los trabajadores, y así a gran cantidad de trabajadores y jóvenes detenidos por protestar. Se ha criminalizado la protesta, se ha disparado a las protestas en la rebelión del año pasado en contra del gobierno, misma que la Mesa de la Unidad Democrática entregó en las negociaciones en la República Dominicana. Hubo más de 139 muertos, más de mil heridos, gran cantidad de activistas detenidos, de jóvenes, por luchar en contra de un gobierno que aplica unas medidas brutales.

Políticos como Marco Rubio han presentado los hechos en Venezuela como una lucha democrática contra una “dictadura socialista”, mientras tanto, muchos en la izquierda de este país presentan los eventos como un golpe de derecha contra Maduro. ¿Cómo ves la situación política? Las raíces de la crisis económica son objeto de debate. Las voces de la derecha hablan del fracaso del “socialismo”. ¿Hay o hubo socialismo en Venezuela? Las voces de la izquierda hablan del daño causado por un bloqueo estadounidense. ¿Qué responsabilidad tiene el gobierno de Maduro por la crisis económica?

El gobierno de Chávez y de Maduro, el gobierno del “Socialismo del Siglo XXI” no es más que una estafa. Este gobierno no es socialista, no es obrerista. Es un gobierno burgués. Es un gobierno que aplica medidas antiobreras y antipopulares, que tiene salarios de hambre. Es una vergüenza que en este continente la mano de obra de los trabajadores venezolanos es la más barata. Es un gobierno que ofrece a las transnacionales petróleo por más de cien años, mano de obra reconocida técnicamente y científicamente como una de las mejores, como lo es la mano de obra venezolana petrolera, con más de 100 años de historia, ¡y a un salario de 7 dólares al mes! La Chevron norteamericana en ninguna parte del globo terráqueo le paga un salario de 7 dólares a un trabajador, excepto en Venezuela, porque es el precio que convino el gobierno nacional, PDVSA, con esas transnacionales- un salario de hambre.

Entonces, en Venezuela no ha fracasado el socialismo. Lo que ha fracasado es un capitalismo brutal que llevó adelante un gobierno de conciliación de clases, que entrega la soberanía nacional, que entrega el petróleo, que entrega el oro, que entrega mano de obra semi esclava, que persigue a los dirigentes sindicales que luchan, a los jóvenes que protestan, que persigue a los trabajadores que protestan por salarios dignos. Vemos como muchos de la izquierda en el mundo apoyan a este gobierno, yo quiero decir a esos señores que este gobierno no es de izquierda, que este gobierno es de derecha. Ese movimiento que apoya a este gobierno lo hace porque no lo vive. Si ellos en sus países tuvieran un gobierno como es el de Nicolás Maduro, yo estoy convencido que serían los primeros en combatirlo. Entonces en este sentido es una izquierda en bancarrota. Es una izquierda que abandonó las banderas de la clase trabajadora, es una izquierda indudablemente traidora, la izquierda que apoya a Nicolas Maduro.

Vemos fotos y videos de mítines de Guaidó, ¿qué motiva el apoyo a Guaidó? Maduro también ha organizado concentraciones masivas, ¿cuáles son las motivaciones de la gente al participar en estas manifestaciones? ¿Qué tipo de reacción tienen los trabajadores de Venezuela ante las amenazas de Trump de enviar tropas? ¿Han tendido estas amenazas a reforzar o perjudicar el apoyo popular a Maduro?

Indudablemente el descontento, motivado por el paquetazo brutal que aplica el gobierno de Nicolas Maduro y esta crisis terrible que estamos viviendo los venezolanos, impulsa a los jóvenes a protestar masivamente. Hay movilizaciones también de apoyo a Maduro, pero lo concreto es que cada día son más minoritarias, cada día más se limitan al aparato del PSUV. La determinación mayoritaria de los venezolanos es de luchar contra del gobierno de Nicolás Maduro. Por eso nosotros decimos que con la movilización debemos derrotar las medidas económicas burguesas y al gobierno de Maduro, esa es nuestra posición.

Ahora, ¿qué pensamos los trabajadores de las amenazas y de la injerencia de Donald Trump, de Bolsonaro, de Macri, del grupo de presidentes burgueses de Lima? ¡No! Rechazamos todo tipo de injerencia extranjera en Venezuela. Rechazamos las pretensiones de Donald Trump de intervenir militarmente en Venezuela. Es inaceptable. Nosotros en este sentido llamamos a los trabajadores y al pueblo de Venezuela a impulsar la movilización autónoma y permanente para derrotar al gobierno y no aceptamos ningún tipo de injerencia, ni de Rusia ni de China, de Turquía, de Irán, tampoco del Grupo de Lima ni de los Estados Unidos.

La historia de invasiones de los Estados Unidos en América Latina y en todo el mundo ya la conocemos. La invasión a la República Dominicana, a Nicaragua, la invasión a Cuba, la invasión a Granada. En este sentido, los Estados Unidos, que han apoyado gobiernos como los de Pérez Jiménez, Videla, Pinochet, Trujillo, a los Samozas en Nicaragua, que apoyaron al Apartheid en Sudáfrica, que apoyan el genocidio que comete el estado de Israel contra los palestinos, de verdad que no tienen ninguna autoridad moral para intervenir en Venezuela ni en ninguna parte del mundo, porque sabemos lo que significan las invasiones, lo que significan la destrucción y la muerte de los pueblos agredidos por el imperialismo yanqui.

Vemos como en nuestro país los padres no tienen comida, los hijos no tienen medicamento, pero el gobierno de EEUU habla de una supuesta ayuda humanitaria de cien millones de dólares. Eso para una población de 30 millones de habitantes es insignificante. Y el gobierno dice que no quiere la ayuda humanitaria, sino comprar los medicamentos, pero es el mismo gobierno que recortó en 80% las importaciones para pagar la deuda externa. Ante esta situación muy crítica para los trabajadores y el pueblo venezolano, llamamos a la movilización, a la protesta autónoma, para lograr una salida obrera y popular a la crisis.

Maduro, al igual que Chávez antes que él, se ha presentado como un “antiimperialista”, y muchos en la izquierda señalan las disputas públicas de Venezuela con los Estados Unidos en asuntos internacionales como una confirmación de esta caracterización y una de las más importantes razones para defender a Maduro. Nos parece que el apoyo de Chávez y Maduro al régimen genocida de Assad fue la causa de gran parte de la confusión en la izquierda de los Estados Unidos sobre la lucha revolucionaria democrática siria. ¿Cuáles son tus opiniones sobre estos temas?

Los gobiernos de Chávez y Maduro son gobiernos de falso socialismo, de falso antiimperialismo. A nivel internacional, indudablemente, Chávez y Maduro apoyaron a un criminal como fue Khadaffi en Libia; apoyaron a Mubarak en Egipto, a Assad en Siria, de verdad carniceros, gobiernos criminales que masacraron a sus pueblos, que privatizaron sus industrias. Ellos también tenían una política de conciliación de clase y de pactos con el imperialismo, al igual que el gobierno de Maduro. Maduro al apoyar al gobierno genocida de Assad en Siria, demuestra que no es un gobierno de izquierda, mucho menos socialista o antiimperialista.

¿Hay fuerzas políticas capaces de dirigir un curso independiente de Maduro y Guaidó? ¿Cuáles son algunas de las organizaciones, sindicatos, organizaciones de izquierda, etc., a quienes deberíamos darles seguimiento? ¿Cómo se vería una política de la clase trabajadora independiente en Venezuela? ¿Qué alternativa política propones?

El Partido Socialismo y Libertad (PSL), del cual soy miembro, participa en la Corriente Clasista, Unitaria, Revolucionaria y Autónoma (C-cura), donde estamos luchando por construir una alternativa de clase al Chavismo y a Guaidó, a la derecha proimperialista. Planteamos salir de Maduro por la vía de la movilización autónoma de los sectores populares, de los trabajadores. Frente la crisis, tenemos una propuesta como clase: que el petróleo sea cien por ciento venezolano, sin empresas mixtas, sin transnacionales, y que se invierta el dinero del petróleo en comprar medicamentos, en una reforma agraria para producir alimentos y solventar el hambre. Repudiamos el pago de la deuda externa. Planteamos una PDVSA dirigida por sus técnicos, por sus trabajadores, por sus profesionales. Planteamos una política de recuperación de las empresas básicas de Guayana. Estamos en contra de la venta del arco minero, en contra de la destrucción de la selva de Venezuela que se hace para darle oro a las transnacionales, y por la defensa de la autonomía y la autodeterminación de Venezuela, por nuestra soberanía nacional, y por una educación y universidad gratuita de calidad, y por el derecho a salarios iguales a la canasta básica-en contra de estos salarios de hambre, de las condiciones de semi esclavitud. Para esto, fundamentalmente, es necesario derrotar al gobierno de Maduro. Es decir, estamos por la movilización de los trabajadores, por un gobierno de la clase trabajadora y los sectores populares en Venezuela, un socialismo con democracia obrera. Repudiamos la intervención extranjera. Es nuestra propuesta como PSL adentro de C-cura.

Hay preparativos para marchas en los Estados Unidos para rechazar las amenazas de Trump de intervenir y las sanciones que impone. Los líderes de estas marchas no están levantando ninguna crítica a Maduro. ¿Cuál es tu opinión al respecto? ¿Cómo pueden los activistas en los Estados Unidos contribuir mejor a construir la solidaridad con las luchas populares por los derechos democráticos y las necesidades básicas en Venezuela? ¿Qué propuestas tienes para construir un movimiento solidario?

Creo que es bastante progresivo hacer marchas masivas para rechazar las amenazas de Trump de intervenir y las sanciones que impone a Venezuela. Es muy importante eso. Ahora, los líderes de estas protestas tienen que saber que el gobierno de Maduro no es un gobierno de izquierda, no es un gobierno antiimperialista, es un gobierno que entrega al imperialismo el petróleo a través de las empresas mixtas, al igual que lo hizo Chávez. Es un gobierno que ajusta, que tiene un plan económico brutal capitalista, es un gobierno que impone salarios miserables, que criminaliza y dispara con armas de fuego contra las protestas, que ha asesinado activistas, luchadores, por protestar contra el paquetazo, por protestar contra las restricciones a las libertades democráticas, por protestar contra la política del hambre. Estas medidas, la crisis y la represión son las causas de que más de tres millones de venezolanos se hayan ido de este país, huyen precisamente de las medidas brutales y la falta de libertades democráticas. Es muy importante que se informen de lo que plantea la izquierda revolucionaria venezolana y antiimperialista que no está con Maduro ni con Guaidó, y lo pueden hacer a través de la página de web Laclase.info, una izquierda que está dando una batalla desde los sindicatos, desde la juventud, para convertirse en alternativa ante esos dos bloques que se disputan la renta petrolera. Si vemos el plan económico de Maduro y el “Plan País” de Guaidó, las propuestas económicas, son más de lo mismo, privatizaciones, salarios de hambre para los trabajadores. En este sentido, nosotros creemos que hay que apoyar a las luchas, divulgar las luchas que estamos dando, desde la verdadera izquierda que no está con Maduro, es necesario denunciar los salarios de hambre, denunciar la persecución de los activistas y los luchadores.

Pseudo-Anti-Imperialism: Heimbach, Maduro, Assad

April 5, 2019

In terms of the red-brown axis/alliance, otherwise known as the phenomenon of pseudo anti-imperialism, some notable developments have transpired in the past few days.

First, Matthew Heimbach, formerly of the Traditionalist Workers’ Party (TWP), a Strasserist neo-Nazi organization, tweeted explicitly in favor of this axis just days ago:

Then, just yesterday, the foreign minister of Nicolás Maduro’s regime, Jorge Arreaza, apparently flew to Damascus to meet with “brother” Bashar al-Assad. Considering this an “immense honor,” the obsequious Arreaza remarks at the “experience, wisdom, and advice for resistance, victory, and Peace [sic!]” he supposedly learned from Assad, reflecting the master-slave relationship this despot demands and expects. This development follows the arrival of an estimated one hundred Russian “military advisers” to Caracas two weeks ago.

We must take this menace very seriously.

These are just a few reasons why no one can afford to ignore the red-brown axis, otherwise known as the pseudo-anti-imperialist phenomenon:

  • The case of Chris Burnett, an anarchist radio show host who platformed such a notorious Assadist fascist as Vanessa Beeley, is a good example of this disturbing phenomenon;
  • The same is obviously true of Michael Schmidt and Nina Power at present, and Sergei Nechaev, Mikhail Bakunin (for his conspiratorial anti-Semitism), the Cercle ProudhonGeorges Sorel, and Mihailo Marković (among others) historically;
  • Verso, “the largest independent radical publishing house in the English speaking world,” is publishing a book by Max Blumenthal, a fascist;
  • In his “manifesto,” Brenton Tarrant, the Christchurch mass-murderer of 50 Muslim worshipers, claims affinities with the left/socialism and Trump/the far-right, describing himself as an “eco-fascist”;
  • Rudolf Bahro, an East German dissident ex-Communist and author of The Alternative in Germany, who was much-praised by the lifelong anti-fascist and critical theorist Herbert Marcuse (who died in 1979), drifted increasingly to the “radical” right in the mid-1980’s, even coming to so repugnant a position as to desire the rehabilitation of Hitler in German society, as in the idea of a ‘Green Adolf’: “Is there really no thought more reprehensible than a new 1933? [Referring to Hitler’s year of accession.] But that is precisely what can save us!” (Logik der Rettung [Stuggart and Vienna, 1987], 461). In an interview from 1991, moreover, Bahro declares ominously that, “we will have to have a lot to do with what it was that found expression then [in 1933] and that is seeking another, better expression this time” (Rückkehr: Die In-Welt Krise als Ursprung der Weltzerstörung [Frankfurt: Horizonte Verlag], 24-5 [emphasis added]).
  • Many leftists, including anarchists, have expressed enthusiasm about the “Rev Left Radio” podcast, despite the fact that the host has platformed Stalinist propagandists and genocide denialists, thus advancing red fascism/totalitarianism, as well as the Islamophobia promoted by liberals like Bill Maher and the far-right alike;
  • Many Western leftists, in reacting to the ongoing political, economic, and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, have effectively rationalized Maduro’s brutal rule as the “lesser evil” to U.S.-backed Juan Guaidó using the misleading slogan “Hands Off Venezuela,” echoing everyone from Maduro to Russia Today and The Intercept in falsely claiming the events since January 23, 2019, to represent a “coup.”

There is both a local/domestic and regional/global context to this complex phenomenon, which is indissolubly tied to Trump, Putin, and the “legitimization” of conservative-authoritarian populism, white supremacy, and neo-fascism across the globe. There is a serious risk, as these cases show, that Dan Glazebrook’s fears, expressed in the essay “The Politically-Correct Fascism Gaining Ground on the Left” (Counterpunch Magazine, Feb. 2019), are correct: “Given the lack of a social base for genuine socialism (anti-imperialist and internationalist) in the west, leftists can be utilized by fascism without fear. By helping to delegitimize liberal democracy, leftists can inadvertently help lay the basis for fascism…” (p. 24, emphasis added).

Accountability for Assad’s Murder of Marie Colvin: A Precedent for Justice?

February 6, 2019

Colvin RIP

On Thursday, January 31, a U.S. judge found the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad responsible for the targeted assassination of U.S. journalist Marie Colvin in Homs in 2012. A reporter for The Sunday Times, Colvin had been covering the regime’s besiegement of the Baba Amr district of Homs, whose population had rebelled against Assad’s rule as part of the Revolution which had begun in the southern city of Der’aa in March 2011. Though evacuated with other internationals and journalists within days of her arrival as a precautionary measure in light of a threatened regime offensive, Colvin returned with the French photojournalist Rémi Ochlik and British photographer Paul Conroy to the improvised community media center from where they had been reporting. As Conroy describes, he, Colvin, and Ochlik believed that, by reporting on the regime’s besiegement of Baba Amr, they could affect world opinion and bring relief to civilians under fire.  It was from Baba Amr that Colvin courageously went live on CNN, the BBC, ITN News, and Channel 4 News, on February 21, 2012, to belie the Assad regime’s fabrications that its assault on the district was exclusively targeting so-called “terrorists.” It was for this reason that the regime killed her, the very next morning after the broadcast. They triangulated her location via her cell signal due to Colvin’s bravery in broadcasting the devastating truth to the world, murdering her and Ochlik in a targeted artillery strike. As judge Amy Jackson observes in her ruling, Colvin was “specifically targeted because of her profession, for the purpose of silencing those reporting on the growing opposition movement in the country.”

Colvin’s remarkable story is told in two recent films: Under the Wire and A Private War. I will not here be discussing Under the Wire, which is brilliantly reviewed by Muhammad Idrees Ahmad in the New York Review of Books here. Instead, I will offer some comments about A Private War, a 2018 dramatization of Colvin’s life, directed by Matthew Heineman and written by Marie Brenner and Arash Amel.

Though Colvin covered armed conflicts for three decades, in A Private War, we follow her in her later assignments to war zones in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. It is amidst covering Sri Lanka’s civil war that Colvin suffers a disfiguring injury, leading her to wear a distinctive eye-patch over her left orbit. While there is little sense in the film that Colvin had an anti-imperialist critique of U.S. participation in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, the film depicts her dynamic and increasingly humanist approach to journalism, culminating in her martyrdom in Homs in February 2012. During the Libya segment, which takes place shortly after the outbreak of protests against Mua’mmar al-Qaddafi, we see Colvin outright interviewing the autocrat. Though Colvin never had the chance to question Assad—she was no Vanessa Beeley, a neo-fascist propagandist, but rather the Syrian despot’s direct victim—we get the sense that the writers and director are here channeling Assad’s specter through Colvin’s interaction with Qaddafi, given their similarities, from political authoritarianism to inter-personal repulsiveness and sexism, and their common opportunistic use of nationalist, ‘socialist,’ and ‘anti-imperialist’ rhetoric to legitimize their crimes. It follows logically that both Qaddafi and Assad would present essentially all opposition to their rule as “al-Qaeda” and/or “terrorists,” as they have.

These myriad problematic and questionable characteristics notwithstanding, and regardless of prior close collaboration on the part of both Assad and Qaddafi with imperialism—including intelligence-sharing and the torture of “suspects of interests” to the U.S.—both figures have enjoyed considerable support from “left” pseudo-anti-imperialists, campists, and neo-Stalinists since the Arab uprisings challenged their rule, beginning in 2011. These Stalinist-campists go so far as to praise Assad and his allies for preventing the collapse of his regime, thus avoiding the “Libya model.” Among other claims, they often argue that the chaos resulting from Qaddafi’s overthrow and murder led to the creation of slave markets for Black Africans: and while we certainly should not deny the spread of conditions of slavery after Qaddafi’s fall, neither should we overlook the widespread pre-existing slave markets enabled by the dictator’s racist regime or the mass-detention system for African migrants traversing Libya en route to Europe, a project for which Qaddafi was compensated billions by the European Union. The autocrat knowingly played on neo-colonial and white-supremacist anxieties, promising that he would ‘protect’ Europe from the putative “risk of turning black from illegal immigration,” and even “turn[ing] into Africa [sic].”1

In an ultimately suicidal conciliatory gesture, Qaddafi abandoned his weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programs just months after the invasion of Iraqthough it was not until late 2016 that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed the destruction of the last of Libya’s chemical-weapons stockpile. This is to say nothing of the extraction contracts he negotiated with Western energy corporations after the U.S. government subsequently lifted sanctions against his regime in 2004. By the time of his fall in late 2011, ConocoPhillips and Marathon had invested close to $1.5 billion in the country, whereas Hess and Occidental corporations had bought “rights” to several oil fields, such that, by 2008, the labor appropriated by U.S. companies paradoxically accounted for close to one-third of daily oil production in Libya.

Whereas Qaddafi’s regime was defeated through the combination of a popular rebellion aided by NATO intervention and his person summarily executed, Assad’s tyranny still reigns—unfortunately for Syrians, the region, and the world. Indeed, Qaddafi’s fate has signaled to Assad and Kim Jong-Un not to give up their weapons of mass destruction, despite the terms of the Syrian regime’s fraudulent disarmament overseen by the OPCW a year after the August 2013 Ghouta sarin massacre which killed over one thousand Syrians. In Assad’s case, Qaddafi’s destiny no doubt has influenced the Syrian tyrant not to hesitate to use chemical weapons for tactical advantage, or the sheer purpose of terror and collective punishment of civilian populations who reject his rule.

SYRIA-POLITICS-UNREST

The Baba Amr district of Homs in March 2011. (AFP/Shaam News Network)

The film’s concluding chapter in Syria is very moving. The scene is Homs, Syria’s third-largest city by population, following Aleppo and Damascus. After having repudiated Assad’s oppressiveness as the Syrian Revolution spread in early 2011, the people of Homs together with Free Syrian Army units liberated the western district of Baba Amr from regime control. It was here that Colvin arrived with her colleagues in February 2012 during a retaliatory regime offensive on Baba Amr. There, Colvin bore witness to many tragic scenes, including the acute bereavement of a father whose son, being no older than three or four years of age, is killed in the assault. She is also also depicted interviewing a young mother taking refuge with her infant daughter in the “widows’ basement,” under fire from the regime’s ill-named Republican Guard. Colvin’s final tweet reads:

“In Baba Amr. Sickening, cannot understand how the world can stand by & I should be hardened by now. Watched a baby die today. Shrapnel, doctors could do nothing. His little tummy just heaved and heaved until he stopped. Feeling helpless. As well as cold!”

As Rohini Hensman points out correctly in Indefensible (2018), there is no moral difference between this oppressed Syrian mother and a similarly brutalized Palestinian woman who is besieged by Israel.2 Neither is there is a morally relevant difference between this suffering Syrian child, and a suffering Palestinian child. Therefore, these scenes in the film serve a very critical function in allowing for the possibility that the audience will recognize the confused thinking which many Western pseudo-anti-imperialists advance: namely, that Israel’s oppression of Palestinians is horrific and must be ended immediately, but that Assad’s subjugation of Syrians is less problematic, because his regime is supposedly ‘anti-imperialist’ in orientation. For viewers who are not enmeshed in such ideological thinking, these scenes will likely speak to them on a humanist level, and therefore may serve the progressive function of illuminating the Assad regime’s brutality—a necessary prerequisite for demanding justice for the dictator’s vast crimes.

The cries of the bereaved father whom Colvin encounters—”!یا الله,” Ya Allah! (meaning “Oh God”)—recall the young Karl Marx’s critique of religious suffering as the “expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering.”3 In thusly calling on Allah—who in Islam is believed to represent the qualities of mercy, peace, justice, love, and equity, among others—this Syrian man critiques Assad’s blasphemous violation of these ideal human qualities, as well as the international order’s complicity in the destruction of the country by the regime and his allies.

Watching A Private War, one may feel a great sense of gratitude and respect for those who risk their lives to report on atrocities from conflict zones, so that the world at least knows about war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the atrocious reprisals to which dissidents and their perceived supporters are subjected by fascist regimes, simply for the “crime” of organizing to overthrow dictatorship and oppression. In light of the fate of Syria over the past nearly eight years, and thinking of the fierce discursive struggle regarding happenings there, especially that advanced by “left” conspiracist thinkers who deny Assad’s crimes, it is unclear that mere coverage of the horrors of war will ensure justice or accountability. Moreover, amidst the mass-extermination experienced in Syria since 2011, it would appear that, to focus on the fate of one person—much less a white Westerner—would seem questionable. Yet the regime has murdered numerous international people of conscience, besides Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik: the anarchist Omar Aziz, who inspired the revolutionary model of the Local Coordinating Councils (LCC’s); Dr. Abbas Khan, a British orthopedic surgeon killed in a Damascus prison in late 2013 for volunteering to assist injured Syrian civilians; and the young Syrian-American Leila Shweikani, whom the regime assassinated in late 2016 for rendering aid to civilians in a hospital in Eastern Ghouta—to name just a few.

So the universal can arguably be seen in the particular: that is to say, one can find an illumination of the essential authoritarianism and injustice of capitalism and dictatorship reflected in the contemplation of several individual cases, whether they be martyred U.S. or French journalists, Syrian or Palestinian civilians, or international aid workers.

Following the recent devastation caused by Storm Norma in the Levant, we see that Syrian refugees and internally displaced people are still very much at risk, both in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria proper. The lives of infants and young children are threatened; many have perished due to storm conditions near Deir-Ez-Zor. Amidst the recent moves made to rehabilitate the Assad Regime on a regional level—given the reopening in late December of Bahrain and UAE’s embassies in Damascus, Jordan’s invitation for the Syrian regime to attend the Inter-Arab Parliamentary Union meeting in March, and the Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir’s recent in-person meeting with Assad in Damascus, which took place just days before the start of the ongoing uprising in Sudan—taken together with the regime’s consolidation of territorial control, there is a definite need for accountability and political resistance to such atrocities. To help alleviate suffering, in the U.S., within the electoral sphere, we can advocate for the implementation of the  “Caesar” bill—so named for the Syrian army defector who provided systematic photographic evidence of the mass-extermination of detainees held by regime forces—and for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, at least, we can help support the fundraiser for Med Global, which is providing emergency shelter and other life-saving treatments across the border in Lebanon.

“No justice without accountability.”

MC

1 Emphasis added.

2 Rohini Hensman, Indefensible: Democracy, Counter-Revolution, and the Rhetoric of Anti-Imperialism (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2018), 284.

3 Emphasis in original.

On the Knife’s Edge: We Must Rewind the Doomsday Clock!

January 27, 2019

licorne

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board has released its annual metaphorical assessment of the risks faced by life on Earththe Doomsday Clockfor 2019 as being 11:58pm, or 2 minutes before utter destruction. 🚨 🚨

Citing lack of progress on nuclear risks and climate change dangers as “the new abnormal,” the Doomsday Clock remains at 2 minutes to midnight, as close to the symbolic point of annihilation that the iconic Clock has been since 1953 at the height of the Cold War. […]

“A new abnormal: It is still two minutes to midnight. Humanity now faces two simultaneous existential threats, either of which would be cause for extreme concern and immediate attention. These major threats—nuclear weapons and climate change—were exacerbated this past year by the increased use of information warfare to undermine democracy around the world, amplifying risk from these and other threats and putting the future of civilization in extraordinary danger… The ‘new abnormal’ that we describe, and that the world now inhabits, is unsustainable and extremely dangerous. The world security situation can be improved, if leaders seek change and citizens demand it. It is 2 minutes to midnight, but there is no reason the Doomsday Clock cannot move away from catastrophe. It has done so in the past, because wise leaders acted—under pressure from informed and engaged citizens around the world.”

In January 2017, the Doomsday Clock’s minute hand edged forward by 30 seconds, to two and a half minutes before midnight. For the first time, the Doomsday Clock was influenced by statements from an incoming US President, Donald Trump, regarding the proliferation and the prospect of actually using nuclear weapons, as well as statements made in opposition to US commitments regarding climate change.  Last year, the Doomsday Clock moved forward again to two minutes before midnight.

In addition to this dire prognosis, the Bulletin’s authors present some serious suggestions.

#RewindtheDoomsdayClock is a major message of the 2019 Doomsday Clock statement, with the following action steps among those recommended:

  • US and Russian leaders should return to the negotiating table to resolve differences over the INF treaty; to extend the nuclear arsenal limits of New START beyond 2021 and to seek further reductions in nuclear arms; to discuss a lowering of the alert status of the nuclear arsenals of both countries; to limit nuclear modernization programs that threaten to create a new nuclear arms race; and to start talks aiming toward elimination of battlefield nuclear weapons.
  • The United States and Russia should discuss and adopt measures to prevent peacetime military incidents along the borders of NATO. Provocative military exercises and maneuvers hold the potential for crisis escalation. Both militaries must exercise restraint and professionalism, adhering to all norms developed to avoid conflict and accidental encounters.
  • US citizens should demand climate action from their government. Climate change is a serious and worsening threat to humanity. Citizens should insist that their governments acknowledge it and act accordingly. President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate change agreement was a dire mistake. The Trump administration should revisit that decision, which runs counter to credible science.
  • The temperature goal of the Paris climate agreement—to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius and, ideally, below 1.5 degrees—is consistent with consensus views on climate science, eminently achievable, and economically viable, if poor countries are given the support they need. But countries have to act promptly and redouble their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions well beyond their initial inadequate pledges to the Paris agreement.
  • The Trump administration should revisit its lamentable decision to exit the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for limiting Iran’s nuclear program. The Iran agreement is not perfect, but it serves the interest of the international community in restraining the spread of nuclear weapons. […]

Of course, it is doubtful that the U.S. government will do any such thing. Therefore, it is our collective human responsibility to ensure that either they are pressured into doing this (as through the walk-outs/wildcat strikes which arguably ended Trump’s shutdown)or we do it instead.

“Radical Media & the Blurred Lines of ‘Red’ Fascism”

January 13, 2019

anti-assadist action

Courtesy Joey Ayoub

Many thanks to the anarchist Freedom Press (UK) for republishing my critical analysis of a former comrade platforming Assadist fascist Vanessa Beeley on KPFK! The editors have chosen a new (and fitting) title for it: “Radical Media & the Blurred Lines of ‘Red’ Fascism.”

Javier Sethness looks at the modern rise of “red-brown” politics and its infection of the left through the lens of a recent Indy Media on Air showing with prominent radical media figure Chris Burnett, wh[o] gave Assadist hardliner Vanessa Beeley a platform offering oddly softball questions.

This piece was originally published on the blog of Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice (CPRSJ), and was then reposted here.

kafranbel

Kafranbel, Idlib province, September 2018

American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) Denounces White Supremacy

January 11, 2019

dna

Courtesy Psychology Today

In November 2018, the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) took a public stand against resurgent white-supremacist and neo-fascist ideologies by clearly stating that there is no scientific basis for the purported existence of races among human beings. Race and racial hierarchies are instead social constructs. From the main text:

“The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) is alarmed to see a societal resurgence of groups rejecting the value of genetic diversity and using discredited or distorted genetic concepts to bolster bogus claims of white supremacy. ASHG denounces this misuse of genetics to feed racist ideologies. In public dialog, our research community should be clear about genetic knowledge related to ancestry and genomic diversity. To that end, ASHG affirms the following:

  • Genetics demonstrates that humans cannot be divided into biologically distinct subcategories. Although there are clear observable correlations between variation in the human genome and how individuals identify by race, the study of human genetics challenges the traditional concept of different races of humans as biologically separate and distinct. This is validated by many decades of research, including recent examples.,,,,
  • Most human genetic variation is distributed as a gradient, so distinct boundaries between population groups cannot be accurately assigned. There is considerable genetic overlap among members of different populations. Such patterns of genome variation are explained by patterns of migration and mixing of different populations throughout human history. In this way, genetics exposes the concept of “racial purity” as scientifically meaningless.
  • It follows that there can be no genetics-based support for claiming one group as superior to another. Although a person’s genetics influences their phenotypic characteristics, and self-identified race might be influenced by physical appearance, race itself is a social construct. Any attempt to use genetics to rank populations demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of genetics.

ASHG will continue to advance scientific knowledge and debunk genetics-based arguments promoting racial supremacy. ASHG also encourages all society members to be active as citizens in political, policy, and social advocacy organizations that reflect their values. This is a perfect complement to their scientific contributions to this debate through ASHG. […]

Recognizing that the invocation of genetics to promote racist ideologies is one of many factors causing racism to persist, ASHG will focus in the public arena on contributing new fundamental knowledge to the societal dialog about ancestry, supporting greater diversity in research, continuing to engage the field and public to build genetic literacy, and addressing misconceptions of genetics and ancestry.”

“A Marxist-Leninist Perspective” on Stalin: Totalitarian Propaganda that Fails in Rationalizing his World-Historical Crimes (Part I/III)

November 14, 2018

“Today [in 1958], everyone knows Russian Communism as the greatest barbarism on earth. Stalin is the name which symbolizes this.”

– Raya Dunayevskaya1

Chagall

Marc (Moishe) Zakharovich Chagall, “Festive Design” (1918-9)

Breht Ó Séaghdha’s much-anticipated, “big,” and supposedly “spicy” interview on “Revolutionary Left Radio” with Justin and Jeremy from the “Proles of the Round Table” about Josef Stalin and the historical record is a sustained, nearly three-hour long fraud that above all insults the memory of Stalin’s millions of victims. Unfortunately for the host Ó Séaghdha, who misleadingly presents his guests Justin and Jeremy as following an “empirical and statistical approach” to the history of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the reality is that he platformed neo-Stalinist propagandists on this episode, and either could not or would not challenge them on their myriad lies covering for what the Marxist-Humanist Raya Dunayevskaya rightly terms “the greatest counter-revolution in all history.”2 Given the friendly tone between Ó Séaghdha and his guests during this interview, as reflected in his admission at the outset of his “love and respect” for his “comrades and friends” Justin and Jeremy, his identification of the “Proles of the Round Table” as being “one of [his] go-to podcasts” represents a dangerous concession which reveals that he is following his guests’ lead when it comes to historical events.

Before analyzing and correcting the numerous distortions presented by Justin and Jeremy on this particular episode of “Revolutionary Left Radio,” I must express a very fundamental concern for Ó Séaghdha’s profession in the introduction of the need for leftists “always to show solidarity with our Jewish comrades,” given that not once in this three-hour interview does either the host or the guests discuss or even mention the Molotov-Ribbentrop, or Nazi-Soviet, Pact signed on August 23, 1939. Following in the wake of Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia and the Anschluss with Austria, the terms of this non-aggression treaty, agreed initially to ten years, represented a ‘honeymoon’ for the two totalitarian dictators Hitler and Stalin, setting forth the terms by which Poland, Finland, and Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia were to be divided after the Nazi invasion a week later.

In Tinísima, Elena Poniatowska depicts even so hardened a Stalinist as Tina Modotti, a nurse who worked in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) with Red Aid International, affiliated with the Third International (Stalin’s Communist International, or Comintern), as reacting to the news of the Nazi-Soviet Pact by refusing food, desiring death, and considering this “the betrayal of everything for which we’ve fought.” Arguing with her partner Vittorio Vidali, himself a high-ranking Comintern agent responsible for numerous assassinations of non-Stalinist supporters of the Spanish Republic, Modotti asks:

“And the dead? And the relatives of the dead—who will calm them down? You know how much I love and admire the Soviet Union; you know how I revere Stalin. Everything you say is fine, Toio [Vittorio], but an alliance with Hitler—never!”3

Indeed, as historian Catherine Evtuhov relates,

“The agreement stunned leftist intellectuals and workers, who had believed that Moscow was the vital center of international revolution and anti-Nazism. As Arthur Koestler recalled, the sight of the swastika flying at the Moscow Airport [to mark Ribbentrop’s visit] destroyed his allegiance to communism.”4

The Hitler-Stalin Pact not only carved up Poland and much of the rest of Eastern Europe, but also involved the NKVD and Gestapo exchanging political prisoners, including Communists, and Polish prisoners of war; trade in oil, wheat, and weaponry between the two hegemons; and Stalin publicly praising Nazi victories.5 Furthermore, between 1939 and 1941, Stalin’s regime deported a million and a half Poles, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Jews, Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians to the Far North, Siberia, and Central Asia; approximately one-fifth of those deported perished. Stalin’s forces were also responsible for executing at least 17,000 captive Polish officers in 1940.6

Rendezvous

Cartoon in The Evening Standard (20 September 1939) depicting the partition of Poland between Hitler and Stalin at the dawn of World War II. Notice the Orientalist depiction of Stalin’s face.

With Stalin thus neutralized, Hitler received the green light with which he infamously launched World War II and, shortly thereafter, the Holocaust, or HaShoah, which accelerated in June 1941 when Hitler turned on his erstwhile ally by invading the Soviet Union. Alongside the estimated 25 million Soviet people who died in the war, at least 1 million Jews in Ukraine and five million other Jews were murdered in Poland, the Soviet Union, and other territories of Eastern Europe which were conquered by the German Wehrmacht for Hitler’s pathological, ultra-nationalist concept of Lebensraum (“living-space”).7 In fact, in January 1948, Solomon Mikhoels, chair of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, was executed on Stalin’s orders by the Soviet Belorussian State police before he could bring to light documentation of the Nazi genocide of over 1.5 million Soviet Jews in these same territories conquered by the Wehrmacht “from the retreating Soviets”—territories which previously had been occupied by the Red Army, following Hitler and Stalin’s mutual agreement.8

When it came to actual war with Hitler, Stalin’s myopic incredulousness about the reported 84 intelligence warnings he received about German preparations for invasion led to the immediate destruction of one-fourth of the Soviet air force, effectively granting the Nazi Luftwaffe aerial supremacy during the beginning of “Operation Barbarossa.”9 Whereas the Red Army had “approximately the same number of men on the Soviet western border as the Germans and significantly more tanks, guns, and aircraft,” the USSR’s security was endangered for two important reasons: the Red Army was comprised of peasants who were often demoralized by collectivization and famine, and it was led by inexperienced officers who had effectively been promoted through Stalin’s devastating Purge of an estimated 90 percent of “the highest army commanders, all the admirals, about 90 percent of corps commanders,” and several “divisional and brigadier generals” just a year to two years before the start of World War II.10 That the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had ordered his troops to occupy the new territory gained through the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which lacked any defensive fortifications, was not helpful, either.11

Moreover, Stalin’s disagreement with and overriding of the “leading Soviet military strategist,” General Georgii Zhukov, led to multiple disasters. To name just a couple: first, in August 1941, when Stalin refused to withdraw Red Army divisions from Kyiv (Kiev), the Wehrmacht proceeded to encircle and imprison more than 3 million Soviet officers and troops by the end of the year;12 and second, when, following the successful December 1941 counter-attack to rescue Moscow, Stalin hubristically enjoined offensives across the entire western front that “exhausted his troops and exposed them to Germany’s new campaign, this time aimed at the Caucasus and its oil fields.” Once Kyiv fell, the Nazis systematically murdered its Jewish population—some thirty-thousand men, women, and children—in the massacre known as Babi Yar.13

Beyond this, Stalin’s refusal to sign the Geneva Conventions (1929) governing the treatment of prisoners of war (POW’s) arguably greatly harmed his officers and troops captured by the Nazis, who, in contrast to Western POW’s, were initially generally refused food and medical treatment, if they were not summarily executed. In point of fact, it was on Soviet POW’s that the Nazis first “tested” Zyklon-B gas in the Auschwitz death-camp (September 1941). An estimated three million Soviet POW’s died in Nazi captivity.14 Hitler’s regime did not think to exploit Soviet POW’s as forced labor until November 1941, alongside the millions of Ukrainian and Polish Ostarbeiter slave laborers, though it had no reservations leaving intact collectivized farms in occupied Ukraine, thus “taking advantage of the Soviet invention for extracting resources from the rural population.”15

In light of these incredible omissions about the nearly two-year period of collaboration between Hitler and Stalin, the Holocaust, and the General Secretary’s numerous strategic blunders during World War II itself—which Jeremy and Justin outright ignore, mischaracterizing Hitler’s military defeat in May 1945 as Stalin’s “accomplishment”—it becomes clear that no one on this show has any credibility discussing the historical record.

To put it lightly, it is extremely problematic for anyone appealing to history to uncritically champion the genocidal and imperialist state-capitalist monster known as Stalin in 2018. As Rohini Hensman rightly points out, and as we shall explore more in part II of this response, “Stalin […] in his time had rehabilitated tsarist imperialism.”16 In 1927, Alexander Berkman identified Stalin’s rule as being equivalent to “Tsarist Socialism,” perhaps following Nestor Makhno’s lead in denouncing the “Bolshevik tsars” the previous year.17 According to Hannah Arendt’s analysis, class struggle and internationalism were absent within the politics of Stalinist totalitarianism, beyond merely opportunistic use as legitimating ideologies.18 Dunayevskaya correctly identified the Stalinist bureaucracy as “the most deadly, the most insidious, [and] the most dangerous enemy because it springs from the proletariat and cloaks itself in Marxist terminology.” So why on Earth would revolutionary leftists want to promote the legacy and supposed continued relevance of such decidedly counter-revolutionary distortions of socialism?

There is clearly something rotten in the heart of the Western left, for both neo-fascism and the red-brown alliance are on the rise. Indeed, “[t]his alliance between neo-Stalinists […] and neo-fascists […] is a twenty-first century version of the Hitler-Stalin pact.”19 It should not be surprising, then, to contemplate that Ó Séaghdha uncritically interviewed the pro-Assad propagandist and Russia Today correspondent Rania Khalek six months ago. Amidst such stark realities, I concur with Hensman that we must pursue and tell the truth as well as seek to bring morality and humanity into politics, among other critical tasks,20 and it is in the spirit of these maxims that I respond critically to Ó Séaghdha’s “Stalin podcast.”

tanks

Vladimir Tambi (1906-1955), Tanks

What Did Stalin Do Wrong?

The struggle for total domination of the total population of the earth, the elimination of every competing nontotalitarian reality, is inherent in the totalitarian regimes themselves; if they do not pursue global rule as their ultimate goal, they are only too likely to lose whatever power they have already seized.”

– Hannah Arendt 21

As if the host and his guests could be forgiven for covering up the Hitler-Stalin Pact—which they cannot—Jeremy and Justin’s ‘homage to Stalin’ comes through very clearly in their responses to Ó Séaghdha’s opening question, regarding which criticisms (if any) the “Proles of the Round Table” have of Stalin’s rule over the former Soviet Union. Still, even before responding here, Jeremy and Justin already have denied that Stalin was a dictator, instead suggesting that certain “people” could criticize him without fear of retaliation. Which people do they mean? Surely, they are not referring to M. I. Ryutin, the first Communist to openly denounce Stalin’s personal dictatorship and war on the peasantry in his 1932 appeal to the Central Committee, requesting Stalin’s deposition and an end to forced collectivization. Stalin responded by demanding Ryutin’s execution, yet, due to the objection of members of the Politburo (the highest-ranking body within the Communist Party), this renegade Communist was banished and only murdered five years later in the Purges. In addition, Stalin executed Ryutin’s sons, banished his wife to a prison camp, and temporarily exiled the Jewish Politburo members Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev for their supposed complicity in the affair—thus foreshadowing their ultimate fate in the Purges.22

Evidently, the “Proles of the Round Table” rely on a misunderstanding of what dictatorship is—that is, centralized and effectively absolute power over the State and military apparatus. They miss Voline’s point that “dictatorship […] being universal and universally embraced, the way is open for fascist psychology, ideology and action.” With their comment on Stalin’s openness to criticism, they would consciously eliminate from history all the artists, intellectuals, dissidents, workers, and peasants who were imprisoned, tortured, and murdered in the Stalinist Terror, including the writer Isaac Babel, the renowned poet Anna Akhmatova’s son Lev Gumilyov (imprisoned in the GULAG slave-labor camps) and her husbands Nikolai Gumilyov, who was murdered by the CheKa (precursor to the NKVD, or Soviet Interior Ministry: Stalin’s secret police), and Nikolai Punin (who died in the GULAG), as well as the Russian Makhnovist Peter Arshinov, who was executed in the Terror in 1937 or 1938 on the charge of organizing to resurrect the anarchist movement in the Soviet Union—to say nothing of all the “Old Bolsheviks” killed in the Moscow Show Trials.

Jeremy and Justin therefore reject the historical reality that, following the expulsion in 1927 of his primary rival Lev Trotsky from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, “there is little doubt that Stalin and a narrow circle of aides made all the historical decisions of the period.”23 Kamenev and Zinoviev, who had joined with Trotsky (also Jewish) in 1926 to form a “United Opposition” to Stalin, quickly recanted following Trotsky’s forced exile in 1928. Lacking a base among either workers or peasants, these rivals of Stalin were outmaneuvered by the General Secretary’s construction of a vast bureaucracy.24 The “Proles of the Round Table” thus omit Stalin’s internal liquidation of factions, his utter subordination of foreign Communist Parties to his arbitrary rule, and his war on the remnants of intellectual freedom in the USSR.25 Like other authoritarian socialists, Justin and Jeremy misleadingly conflate the Communist Party bureaucracy with the proletariat and peasantry it exploited and dominated—a notion with which Ó Séaghdha concurs, insisting as he does that historical Stalinist bureaucracies have represented “mass-proletarian movements.” This is a classic exposition of “substitutionism,” whereby élites of intellectuals and/or bureaucrats rule over the working classes by proxy and in their supposed interests, though without any democratic participation on the part of workers and peasants. The ill-named concept of “democratic centralism” expresses the same dictatorial idea.

Therefore, rather than reflect thoughtfully on the history of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union, Jeremy and Justin vigorously defend Stalin’s technocratic and genocidal legacy of authoritarian high modernism, whereby the centralized power of the totalitarian State is employed “scientifically” and expeditiously to transform society not in the interests of humanity or the working classes, but the Party bureaucracy and state-capitalism.26

According to the “Proles of the Round Table,” these were the three greatest mistakes or crimes for which Stalin is responsible during his three decades as General Secretary of the Soviet Union, from 1922-1952:

  1. Justin argues that Stalin should have supported the Spanish Revolution more, although Jeremy is quick to clarify that he did not “betray” it. The pair detail the extent to which Stalin supplied arms and ammunition to the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War—yet Jeremy suggests that, had Stalin provided greater assistance to the Republic, the Soviet Union might not have been able to resist Nazi and Japanese expansionism during World War II. Of course, he fails to mention the Hitler-Stalin Pact here; neither does he seem to consider that, had the Nationalist forces been defeated in Spain, Hitler may have been checked before even launching World War II. Jeremy and Justin contend that Stalin’s intervention in Spain was benign, and that it’s “patently false” that his Comintern agents “maliciously murdered anarchists […] in the streets.” Both claims are complete lies. Firstly, Stalin effectively looted the Republic’s gold reserves by vastly overcharging for the arms sold to it, as historian Gerald Howson has shown, and the Soviets would often send dysfunctional weapons that lacked ammunition. In addition, Stalin treated Spain as a colonial possession, dispatching NKVD and GRU (military-intelligence) agents there who reported to and acted under him, not the Republican government.27 Even so pro-Soviet an historian as E. H. Carr recognized that the Republic ultimately had become “the puppet of Moscow.”28 Secondly, the “Proles of the Round Table” appear willfully ignorant of the “Tragic Week” of May 1937, otherwise known as the “May Days,” when Stalinists from the Comintern-affiliated Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya (PSUC) in Barcelona struck out against the Confederación Nacional de Trabajo (CNT), the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), and the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM), in an effort to uphold “antifascist unity” while crushing the ongoing social revolution. In effect, the May Days “guaranteed the armed victory of the Stalinist-led counter-revolution,” which in turn allowed for the victory of Nationalist forces, following the rationale that “Stalin feared his leftist rivals in Spain more than he did Franco.”29
  2. The deportation to Irkutsk and Siberia of “10,000 Soviet citizens” from the Volga region who were ethnic Germans beginning in 1941, supposedly for fear of their being a “fifth column” vis-à-vis the invading Nazi military. For Jeremy, the error was that Stalin deported these Germans on an ethnic basis, though he definitely implies that the General Secretary would have been justified in deporting or exiling his opponents on a “class” or political basis—because, of course, for Jeremy and Justin, any political opposition to Stalin is “counter-revolutionary,” no matter its actual content, given their absurd view that the General Secretary represented the epitome of the Russian Revolution. In uttering such words, Jeremy unwittingly expresses his support for Stalin’s GULAG system of slave-labor camps on principle. He also underestimates the number of Volga Germans deported by Stalin’s regime by a factor of between 40 and 70.
  3. Stalin’s imposition of Article 121, which criminalized male homosexuality with hard labor, following the Bolsheviks’ earlier suspension of Tsarist-era penal codes against homosexuality after October 1917. Though they criticize Stalin for this reactionary move, Justin and Jeremy try to contextualize the reversal by pointing out the supposedly perceived affinities between homosexuality and fascism at that time, and between homosexuality and pederasty, or pedophilia—thus unironically recalling today’s criminalization of homosexuality under Vladimir Putin. Ó Séaghdha assists by claiming such criminalization to have been standard practice “all over the world” at the time. Yet a fact check shows this not remotely to have been the case.

What’s the problem, then, with these supposed criticisms? For one, they reveal that Jeremy and Justin are not remotely arguing in good faith. To begin with, the guests chuckle when discussing the “shady” actions of NKVD agents “murdering anti-Soviet communists in the background” in Barcelona after Ó Séaghdha questions them about this. They are, moreover, quite dishonest about the overall meaning of Stalin’s intervention in the Spanish Civil War.

Furthermore, regarding deportations, Jeremy completely overlooks Stalin’s far more extensive and systematic ethnic cleansing of over a million ethnic minorities, mostly Muslim, during World War II: Chechens, Crimean Tatars, Kalmyks (Buddhists), Ingush, Balkars, Karachai, and Meskhetians. As there is no mention or discussion of these on the podcast, neither is there any discussion of precisely why Stalin and the Communist Party might have feared these minorities’ siding with the advancing Germans: namely, due to their oppression under the Soviet Union. Forcibly transferred by the NKVD to Central Asia, the Far North, and Siberia like the Cherokee people coerced onto the “Trail of Tears,” many of these oppressed peoples died either during the journey or in exile—leading to the logical conclusion that Stalin is guilty of genocide here beyond any reasonable doubt. Of course, these atrocious mass-deportations go unmentioned by Jeremy, who rather banally asserts that the Volga Germans “had it better” in exile in Russia’s Far North and Eastern Siberia than those Germans and German-Americans detained by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration in internment camps during World War II. For context, he will later add that he considers Lavrentiy Beria, the successor to the “Purged” Nikolai Yezhov as NKVD chief in 1939—a man responsible for the liquidation of Social Democrats in Georgia and Armenia, Old Bolsheviks in the Terror, and Polish officers captured after the Nazi-Soviet Pact—to have been a “liberal.”30

So beyond proclaiming elitism and substitutionism; arguing in bad faith; and denying atrocities such as the Stalinist dictatorship, the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the May Days, Stalin’s mass-deportations of oppressed nationalities, and the GULAG slave-labor camp system (see part II of this response); Jeremy and Justin now present the classic argument of “whataboutism,” which seeks to distract from the issue at hand—Stalin’s totalitarian atrocities—by falsely claiming that that same issue is dwarfed by some similar issue that is ongoing elsewhere. A fact check shows just how dishonest this argument is: 11,000 Germans and German-Americans were interned in the U.S. during WWII, while Stalin’s regime deported at least 400,000 Volga Germans to Siberia and Irkutsk.31 (For reference, the U.S. interned about 120,000 Japanese-Americans during WWII.)

In sum, Jeremy is lying to his audience when he claims that Stalin wasn’t “just f*cking with people just to f*ck with them.”

deportations

Courtesy Asya Pereltsvaig

Notes

1Raya Dunayevskaya, Russia: From Proletarian Revolution to State-Capitalist Counter-Revolution, eds. Eugene Gogol and Franklin Dmitryev (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2018), 317 (emphasis in original).

2Ibid.

3Elena Poniatowska, Tinísima (México, D.F.: Ediciones Era, 1992) 595-596 (my translation).

4Catherine Evtuhov et al., A History of Russia: Peoples, Legends, Events, Forces (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004), 700.

5Ibid 702.

6Ibid 710.

7Ibid 705; Serhii Plokhy, The Gates of Europe (New York: Basic Books, 2015), 269-274.

8Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (London: Vintage, 2010), 340-345; Plokhy 269.

9Evtuhov 702-703.

10Ibid 673.

11Plokhy 264.

12Ibid 264-265.

13Evtuhov 703.

14Ibid 704-705.

15Plokhy 267-274.

16Rohini Hensman, Indefensible: Democracy, Counter-Revolution, and the Rhetoric of Anti-Imperialism (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2018), 47.

17Alexander Berkman, “A Decade of Bolshevism,” in Bloodstained: One Hundred Years of Leninist Counterrevolution, eds. Friends of Aron Baron (Chicago, Calif.: AK Press, 2017), 122; Nestor Makhno, “The Idea of Equality and the Bolsheviks,” in Bloodstained: One Hundred Years of Leninist Counterrevolution, eds. Friends of Aron Baron (Chicago, Calif.: AK Press, 2017), 58.

18Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (San Diego: Harcourt, 1968), xv, 362.

19Hensman 52.

20Hensman adds the political goals of struggling for democracy, centering internationalism, and advocating for the promotion of human rights and democracy through global institutions (279-302). Beyond this, reorganizing society toward popular power through self-organization in the labor, educational, and territorial sectors (on the social level) is an equally pressing task.

21Arendt 392.

22Evtuhov 671.

23Plokhy 245.

24Evtuhov 641-644.

25Arendt 379; Evtuhov 663.

26James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999).

27Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War, ed. Ronald Radosh (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011), xvii-xviii.

28E. H. Carr, The Comintern and the Spanish Civil War (London: Pantheon, 1984), 31.

29Agustín Guillamón, Ready for Revolution: The CNT Defense Committees in Barcelona, 1933-38 (Oakland: AK Press, 2014), 189; Evtuhov 698.

30Evtuhov 692.

31Ulrich Merten, Voices from the Gulag (Lincoln, Nebraska: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 2015), 168-170.