Category Archives: Politics

Newsflash @ Trump

So, you’ve picked John Bolton as your new national security adviser…a man who, according to NPR this morning, is likely to derail planned negotiations with North Korea and sabotage the nuclear arms agreement with Iran. Add this to the trade wars you’re starting, etc., etc., and I just have to say: “Hey, buddy, this is not your private corporation to play around with. It’s our country, our world, and lives are at stake. You’re not to blame for everything wrong with our system, but the fact that it could cough you up and make you president is all the proof we need that it needs immediate, radical change. You’re ridiculous, but so dangerous it’s not funny.”

Come on, everybody — there are plenty of grounds for impeachment — have been since inauguration day. Let’s add a demand for it to the list, just ahead of gun control, for the midterm elections. We can’t wait 3 plus years to get rid of this clown!

The dark side of “democracy”

Recently, “Alternative Radio” rebroadcast “The JFK Assassination & the Gangster State,” a talk given by Michael Parenti, in Berkeley, CA on 11-22-93. You have to listen to Parenti (alternativeradio.org) to get the full effect of his sarcastic (and funny) delivery, but here are some key elements of what he said (edited, as always for brevity and clarity – also, for those of you who groan at my long, dry, mostly quoted blogposts, this is pretty important, and I make some comments of my own at the end)…

“I’ve been looking at history, and I’ve been impressed and depressed by the fact that it’s a chronicle of immense atrocities. Whenever there’s more than a subsistence economy, some portion of the population does everything it can to enslave and expropriate the labor of the rest of the people – whether it’s a slave society, as in ancient Greece and Rome, or a feudal society, with people reduced to serfs, or a capitalist society, where people are driven to the edge of insecurity and made to work faster and harder. One of the things that’s used in that arrangement is a very conscious instrument of control: the state, ‘an organization,’ as Max Weber, who wasn’t a Marxist, called it, that has a ‘monopoly of the legitimate use of force.’

Even in democratic France, democratic England, or democratic U.S.A., all countries have instruments and agencies that act like a bunch of gangsters, repressively, using surveillance and every dirty trick in the book – unequal enforcement of tax laws, bringing drugs into neighborhoods and communities, trumped-up murder charges, and assassination. In the middle of even a so-called democracy you have the state-within-the-state known as the national security state that’s capable of the most unspeakable crimes that you can think of, perpetrated against its own people and people all around the world.

Not long ago I got a letter from a woman who was a community organizer in Chicago. She said, with grief in her heart, ‘I remember the tremendous democratic organization and leadership that was developing in Latino and African American communities during the 1960s. And every one of those leaders is either dead, shot by the police, or in Marion Prison on trumped-up charges. I also remember the demoralization that took place with the shattering of those organizations, including the coming in of drug traffickers, aided and abetted by federal agents.’ This is a state engaged in domestic counterinsurgency, preferring an unorganized and demoralized population than one effectively fighting for its democratic rights. Because if it’s organized and it’s effective, it will start cutting in on the interests that those police and undercover people are dedicated to protecting – protecting the status quo, protecting those with property against those who don’t have it.

By the way, for the last thousand years we’ve had theorists who have proudly made that point. Adam Smith said, ‘As the divisions of property become increasingly unequal, it is more and more necessary to have a state to defend those who have property from those who do not.’ John Locke: ‘The purpose of the state is to defend those who have property from those who do not.’ James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and others said similar things.

Throughout the world, dominant economic interests have enlisted the efforts of assassins and torturers. The CIA and other such agencies in this country and others have sponsored violence, torture, death squads, and drugs in scores of countries, from Zaire to Angola to Mozambique to El Salvador to Guatemala to Indonesia, and to western Europe, the U.S.A., Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and New York. They’ve systematically targeted the clergy; peasant, student, and labor-union leaders; intellectuals; journalists; workers; and community activists. Tens of thousands have been murdered and assassinated to prevent social change, to destroy any kind of redistributive politics, any kind of government, or any kind of social movement not willing to reduce its people to economic fodder.”

Having made these points, Parenti goes on to the JFK assassination in which “the gangster nature of the state is revealed. To know the truth about the JFK assassination is to call into question the entire state system and the entire social order it represents. This is why for 30 years the mainstream press has suppressed or dismissed out of the hand the findings about JFK’s death by independent investigators like Peter Dale Scott, Harold Weisberg, Carl Oglesby, Mark Lane, Anthony Summers, Philip Melanson, Jim Garrison, Cyril Wecht, and dozens of others. They’re called “assassination buffs,” a limiting and marginalizing and diminishing term. Would you talk about “Holocaust buffs”? No – they are serious investigators of a serious crime, which leads to serious understandings about the state. This is why the mainstream media and the opinion leaders and the political leaders of this country relentlessly attack or ignore this literature. This is why they give fulsome, gushing, ready publicity to the likes of Gerald Posner, with his book Case Closed, which got put into every major magazine. I couldn’t put the TV on all week without seeing this guy’s face and hearing him blather these kinds of cliché statements whose credibility is dependent on your being totally ignorant of what the investigators for 30 years have been uncovering and the questions they’ve been raising.

This is why they savaged Oliver Stone’s movie “JFK,” a movie that was very accurate about the specifics of the murder, a movie that reached millions of people, and that was attacked six months before it was released in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Time, and Newsweek, and for a year after it was released. This is also why in this past week, for the 30th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, they kept up the relentless propaganda campaign to show that Oswald was the lone assassin. All the serious investigators have a different question, and Oswald wasn’t one of the people who shot Kennedy – he was just a fall guy.

If you want to know why they do this, just listen to what they say. The propagandists of the right and the center know why they’ve got to trash and contain this issue. Tom Wicker of the New York Times has never written a movie review in his life. But when “JFK” came out, this Washington columnist for the Times suddenly became a movie reviewer, and instead of getting the usual movie-review length of 800 words, he got 2,000 words, a whole page. He tells us that ‘if the wild assertions in Oliver Stone’s movie are taken at face value, Americans will have to accept the idea that most of the nation’s major institutions conspired together to carry out Kennedy’s murder. In an era when mistrust of government and loss of confidence in institutions, the press not the least, are widespread and virulent, such a suggestion seems a dubious public service.’ So truth has nothing to do with it – the question is institutional legitimacy.

In 1978 the House Select Committee reported after an investigation that there was more than one assassin shooting at Kennedy and therefore there was a conspiracy. In response, the Washington Post immediately editorialized, ‘Could it

have been some other malcontent whom Mr. Oswald met casually?’ [Laughter] ‘Couldn’t as many as three or four societal outcasts, with no ties to any one organization, have developed in some spontaneous way a common determination to express their alienation in the killing of President Kennedy? It’s possible that two people acting independently attempted to shoot the president at the same time.’ Possible, but not at all likely. Sometimes those who deny conspiracies create the most convoluted fantasies of all. David Garrow, for example, who wrote a biography of Martin Luther King, benignly, patronizingly looks at you, the public, and says that ‘a large majority of the American people believe in assassination conspiracies, allowing events to have large, mysterious causes instead of small, idiosyncratic ones.’

But the question of conspiracy has to be decided by an investigation of evidence, not by unscientific and patronizing presumptions about the public mind. In any case, the evidence in King’s assassination doesn’t involve large, mysterious causes but very immediate actualities. And investigators like Peter Dale Scott, Harold Weisberg, and Mark Lane weren’t impelled by some yearnings; they were impelled by questions of evidence, by things that didn’t seem to make sense, by immediate, empirical things. These independent investigators demolished the Warren Commission.

If you watched television this week you heard, for the 78th time, that Oswald was a ‘loner,’ an incompetent, not very bright. You heard he was emotionally disturbed. Gerald Posner got on TV, turning instant psychiatrist, and said Lee Harvey Oswald ‘had a disturbed childhood,’ and was ‘passive- aggressive.’ Passive-aggressive? A passive-aggressive assassin? That explains why he used a rifle that couldn’t shoot straight. He was also ‘a leftist,’ according to Alexander Cockburn. The truth is something else. All of Lee Harvey Oswald’s IQ tests show that he was of above-average intelligence, a bright guy, a quick learner. Lee Harvey Oswald also spent most of his adult life not as a lonely drifter but directly linked to the U.S. intelligence community. In the U.S. Marines at the age of 18, he had secret security clearance and was working at Marine Air Control in Atsugi, Japan, a top-secret base from which the CIA launched some of its U2 flights and did other kinds of covert operations in China. The next year, at the age of 19, he was assigned to El Toro Air Station in California with a security clearance to work radar. Here Oswald started playing Russian-language records at blast level in his barracks, addressing his ‘comrades’ in Russian, and touting Soviet communism as ‘the best system in the world.’

The U.S. Marine Corps in 1958 wasn’t exactly known as a bastion of liberal tolerance and freethinking. It constantly surveils anyone who acts the way Oswald did. But in this instance his commanders didn’t mind. He kept his security clearance, and had a wealth of sensitive information from black operations, as they were called. If Oswald was a Soviet spy or a Cuban spy, as some people now claim, he certainly had a novel way of building a cover. In February 1959, Lee Harvey Oswald failed the Marine Corps proficiency test in Russian. Six months later he was practically fluent in Russian. In 1974, a document was released that showed that Oswald had attended the U.S. Army Monterey School of Languages. Now, Monterey is not open to anyone who just happens to have a language hobby. You go only for serious training and you are sent by the government. And it must be related to government work in a language picked by the government which is related to specific assignments. Oswald was also given an early discharge from the Marines because his mother injured her foot. A jar had fallen on her toe. He put in the request and got it within a week. His fellow Marines were astonished at the velocity of the release. The jar fell on her foot a year before the discharge, but she was unhappy: it wasn’t healing right. This was only one of a number of very strangely favorable treatments that the U.S. government gave Lee Harvey Oswald. He then defected to the USSR. To get to Russia in those days it would have cost $1,500. Lee Harvey Oswald’s bank account showed a deposit of only $203. He arrived in Helsinki from London on a day when there were no available commercial flights that would have allowed him to make it in one day. He had some kind of private transportation. In Russia, he announced – in the U.S. embassy – that he was renouncing his U.S. citizenship and that he had secrets he was going to give to the Soviets. The Soviets didn’t bite. They let him stay but at no time thought he could be an agent of any use to them. He worked in a factory, and belonged to the factory’s gun club, though he showed no particular interest in guns. He used to join in rabbit shoots, and could never hit the rabbit. He was a miserable marksman, as he had been in the U.S. Marines. Lee Harvey Oswald couldn’t hit the side of a barn.

What’s done in all defections, definitely those connected with government and military, is that there’s a damage assessment. No damage assessment was ever made on Oswald’s defection. Why? After two and a half years, he applied to return to the U.S. Instead of being grabbed when he came out and tried as a traitor, the U.S. accepted him back. He says he was never debriefed, but in fact, he was debriefed in Amsterdam, though the CIA has no record of this. Their explanation before the Warren Commission was that there were so many tourists coming in and out that there was nothing about him that would catch our attention. After the assassination, the CIA claimed that they suspected he was a Soviet spy. The State Department at this point gave Oswald money to travel back to the U.S. and get set up. They paid all his and his wife’s travel and moving expenses, and he was given back his passport with full rights to travel anywhere. His wife was exempted from the usual immigration quotas – no waiting, no exclusion for having belonged to the Soviet Komsomol, the Communist youth organization, a violation of U.S. immigration laws.

Once back in Dallas, Oswald settled in under the wing of George de Mohrenschildt, a right- wing Russian with CIA ties. Based in Dallas and New Orleans, he then made short-lived forays into the public eye as a leftist. He started a one-person Fair Play for Cuba organization in New Orleans, but in all this time never once contacted anyone in the Communist Party or any other left organization, though he wrote lots of letters to the Communist Party USA and the Socialist Workers Party, two groups which at that time weren’t even talking together. Dear Comrades, How are you? We fight. Forward. What should I do? Send me instructions. He blazed a trail: local TV, fistfights, inflammatory incidents, leaflets. One of the leaflets shows that his organization was on Camp Street in the same building that Guy Banister, an FBI agent, had his office. A number of right-wing Cuban émigré groups were also there. Oswald’s personal relations were with right-wing anti-Communist Cubans, right-wing crypto-fascists, and CIA types like Robert Morrow, a right-wing businessman who worked for the CIA, and David Ferrie, the same. So while he supposedly was this leftist – and if you ever heard any of the tapes of him speaking and explaining what communism was or socialism was, it’s laughable – all his personal associations were with right-wing people linked to the intelligence community, including Jack Ruby.

Now, they would have us believe that this man who couldn’t hit the side of a barn took a Mannlicher Carcano rifle, whose sights weren’t even set – an Italian weapon, which the Italians said had never killed anyone on purpose – fired it, and killed the president of the United States. That he got a job just at that time at the Texas Book Depository, three weeks before, when nobody knew that Kennedy’s limousine was going to pass right in front of the depository, and fortuitously happened to be up there that day. That he would forego shooting President Kennedy when the latter was coming right at him down Houston Street, but waited till the car turned down Elm Street. And as Kennedy went by and had only his head and a little portion of his shoulders visible, firing through the trees, he rapidly got off three shots in a few seconds, something which the best marksmen in the country weren’t able to emulate until after much practice and after the sights on the Mannlicher- Carcano were reset, brought into a laboratory and fixed. Right through a tree that was later cut down. We’re asked to believe that a bullet would go through John Kennedy, pause in midair for 2 seconds, change direction, wound Governor Connally in two places, and then reappear intact on a stretcher, having fallen out of Connally’s body. By the way, this magic bullet didn’t reappear on the stretcher as if it had fallen out of someone’s body – it was apparently intentionally wedged into the side of the stretcher. We’re asked to believe that a treasure trove of physical evidence, the interior of the presidential limousine itself, which should have all sorts of evidence, bits of shrapnel, blood, and lines of fire, was just accidentally taken, instantly torn out, destroyed, and totally rebuilt, and that this wasn’t a deliberate cover-up. We’re asked to believe that Kennedy’s brain just disappeared, that the X-ray, which now shows a reconstructed head with no exit wound is, oddly, taken with no jaw, so it could be anybody’s – you can’t do any kind of dental identification. That the autopsy was just botched innocently.

We’re also asked to believe that Jack Ruby, a gambler and gangster with links to right-wing Cuban exiles, who once worked for Congressman Richard Nixon for the House Un-American Activities Committee in Chicago when his name was still Jack Rubenstein, took it upon himself to kill Oswald because he was so moved by the suffering that Oswald had caused the Kennedy family. Ruby a year later in jail repeatedly kept alluding to the fact that, ‘You don’t know the whole story,’ and, indeed, there is much more behind all of this. We’re asked to believe that the 21 witnesses, persons or persons otherwise related to the case in some close way, with some information, privy to some conversations, all of whom met violent deaths, were part of a colossal coincidence, like the one the Washington Post was talking about. That later on, in 1978, a second round of killings started after the House Select Committee investigation, sixteen more dying violently. One of those sixteen was George de Mohrenschildt, killed by a gun blast to the head 3 hours after a House Assassinations Committee investigator tried to contact him to set up an interview. George de Mohrenschildt was not only close to Oswald, but in his telephone book there was found an insert to George ‘Pappy’ Bush; he was a close friend of George Bush and there was a correspondence between them. The sheriff’s office in Palm County, Florida, found that his shooting was ‘very strange,’ and it was ruled a suicide. William Sullivan, a third guy in the FBI, who was supposed to appear before the House committee, was shot outside his home by a man who claimed to have mistaken him for a deer and was charged with a misdemeanor. Sam Giancana died from natural causes when his heart stopped beating after a bullet went through it, one day before he was to testify about mob and CIA connections, while under government protection. There are linkages between the CIA and mob families. After all, the mob can do the kind of dirty things that the CIA may sometimes want them to do…I have a whole bunch of other things. And I find I’ve run out of time.”

“Keep going! keep going!” the audience shouts.

“The people have spoken. There are even some on the left, like Noam Chomsky and Alexander Cockburn, who argue that interest in the assassination comes from a ‘Kennedy revival,’ a ‘Camelot yearning for a lost messiah.’ Cockburn, Chomsky, and others challenge the notion that Kennedy was assassinated for intending to withdraw from Vietnam or undo the CIA or end the Cold War. These things couldn’t have led to his downfall because they weren’t true. Kennedy was a cold warrior, a counterinsurgent who wanted a military withdrawal from Vietnam only with victory. Chomsky, Cockburn, and others have also claimed that the change of administration that came with JFK’s assassination had no large-scale effect on policy, or even tactics. In other words, if Kennedy had lived, he likely would have fabricated a Tonkin Gulf casus belli; he would have introduced ground troops and a massive land war, as Lyndon Johnson did; he would have engaged in merciless B-52 carpet bombings of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, as Richard Nixon did; and he would have risked destroying his own electoral base, proving himself a mass murderer as bad as Nixon. Chomsky and Cockburn don’t tell us how they know all this, but we do know is that Robert Kennedy became an antiwar critic, broke with the Johnson administration, and he said that his brother’s administration had made terrible mistakes. John Kennedy, in fact, observed Cambodian neutrality and negotiated a ceasefire and coalition government in Laos, which the CIA refused to honor. They preferred to back a right-wing faction that continued the war.

Chomsky says much about troop withdrawal. He just wrote a whole book on this, Rethinking Camelot. But he says very little about troop escalation other than to offer Roger Hilsman’s speculation that Kennedy might well have introduced U.S. ground troops in the South Vietnam. In fact, Hilsman noted in the New York Times not long ago that in 1963 Kennedy was the only person in his administration who opposed the introduction of U.S. ground troops. He was the only obstacle to an escalation of the war.

Whether or not there are certain left analysts who think Kennedy was or wasn’t a progressive or liberal and thinks that the CIA had no reason to kill him or other people had no reason to be dissatisfied with him, the fact is that entrenched interests are notorious for not seeing the world the same way that left analysts do. In 1963, people in right-wing circles, including elements in various intelligence organizations, didn’t believe Kennedy could be trusted with the nation’s future. Some months ago on a San Francisco talk show, I heard a guy come on who said, ‘I never said this before, it’s the first time I’m saying it. But I worked for Army intelligence, and in 1963 I was in Japan. The accepted word then was that Kennedy would be killed because he was messing too much with the intelligence community. And when word came of his death, all I could hear were delighted comments like “We got the bastard.”’ JFK’s enemies fixed on his refusal to provide air coverage to the Bay of Pigs, his refusal to go in with U.S. forces, his unwillingness to launch another invasion of Cuba, his no-invasion-of-Cuba guarantee to Khrushchev, his atmospheric test ban treaty with Moscow, his American University speech calling for re-examination of our Cold War attitudes towards the Soviet Union, his unwillingness to send ground forces in a massive form into Vietnam, his antitrust suit against General Electric, his fight with U.S. Steel over price increases, his challenge to the Federal Reserve Board, his warm reception at labor conventions, his call for racial equality and responsiveness to civil rights leaders, and his talk of moving forward to a ‘New Frontier.’

I disagree with people who say that the Warren Commission did a hasty, slipshod job. The Commission sat for 51 long sessions over a period of several months, and compiled 26 volumes of testimony and evidence, with the investigative resources of the FBI and CIA at its command. Far from being hasty and slipshod, it painstakingly crafted theories that moved toward its foreordained conclusion that Oswald was the lone assassin. It framed an argument and moved unfailingly to fulfill that argument. It failed to call witnesses who saw something different from what it wanted to hear, who saw – who not only heard but who saw – people on the grassy knoll shooting. It ignored or reinterpreted what little conflicting testimony crept into its proceedings. All this took deliberate and painstaking effort. But the American public hasn’t bought the official explanation: 78% say they believe there was a conspiracy. Chomsky and Cockburn tell us we mustn’t reduce great developments in history to conspiracy, for then we lose sight of institutions, class, and other systemic factors of American capitalism. I don’t need them to tell me about systemic factors in American capitalism – I use a structural analysis in all my writings. Besides, in investigating the JFK conspiracy we’re hitting upon the nature of state power in what’s supposed to be a democracy. Conspiracy isn’t something that’s in contradistinction to structural analysis; it’s part of it. The ruling elites will use conspiracy or legitimacy, they’ll finance elections, use publicity campaigns, set up liberal-ish organizations and alternative trade-union movements, and use assassins or death squads. They’ll use every conceivable thing there is. And this was one of the things they used. When they had someone who was giving them trouble, when they had someone who was standing in their path because he was too bright and too shiny, and when they had an agenda to save southeast Asia from communism, they killed one of their own.

That’s a tremendous and startling revelation, opening the eyes of the American public to the kind of a gangster government and national security state we really have in this country and what it does around the world. ‘The great continuities of corporate and class interest’ – Cockburn’s phrase – don’t happen of their own accord. There’s a conscious interest being pursued here, and these events are created by policymakers intentionally pursuing specific interests. It’s the essence of the state and the function of state institutions to act consciously to create and recreate the conditions of politico-economic hegemony. That’s what it’s there for. To achieve their goals, state leaders, especially those within the national security state, will resort to every necessary form of mass manipulation, deception, and violence, even against one of their own whom they’ve come to see as a liability.

Our interest in this is born of democratic struggle – a desire to know what’s going on, a desire to have rulers who are worthy of our name and the name of democracy. Thank you.”

I would add as an anarchist that we also have the alternative of self-rule – no “rulers.” ‘Cause that’s where the trouble starts.

I also want to add that all of this reminds me very strongly of the TV series “Homeland,” which I’ve been watching with a friend. The show also reveals, dramatically, the amorality of the CIA, which will do anything, including attacking one of its own, to maintain the bare power of the United States, domestically and around the world, and to maintain its own power, or the power of its current director, as well. Not an institution compatible with democracy. I assume the FBI is the same, along with all entities charged with “national security,” which of course involves lots of secrets.

 

Understanding what’s happening in the Middle East

Are you having trouble understanding what’s happening in Syria and the Middle East? You’re not alone – it’s complicated. I found a good analysis in an interview Ashley Smith of the Internationalist Socialist Review, did with Gilbert Achcar, a professor at the University of London (published in the Review’s Winter 2016-17 issue). Achcar is the author of numerous books including The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder (2006); The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising (2013); and, most recently, Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising (2016). Smith asked him about the left’s understanding of, and approach to, Islamic fundamentalism.

Smith: One of the key developments in the Middle East over the last three decades has been the rise of what commentators variously call political Islam, Islamism, and Islamic fundamentalism. Why do you argue that this political current is better called Islamic fundamentalism?

Achcar: The term one uses is related, of course, to assessment and political judgment, each term having different implications. People use the term “Islamism” to refer to political movements that regard Islam as their fundamental ideology and program. But the term has also been used in the past to refer to Islam itself, so it gets mixed up with Islam as a religion in the minds of most people who hear it. And because “Islamism” has become almost synonymous with terrorism, it leads people to confuse terrorism and Islam per se, feeding already widespread Islamophobic bigotry.

The term “Islamic fundamentalism,” has two advantages. The most important is that there is fundamentalism in all religions. The second is that the notion of fundamentalism helps in fine-tuning the distinction between different currents and groups that give Islam a central place in their ideological identity. While the goal of an “Islamic state” based on sharia is, to various degrees, common to all the groups in the category of Islamic fundamentalism, these groups pursue different strategies and tactics. Thus, there are moderate fundamentalists who have a gradualist strategy of achieving their program within society first, and in the state thereafter, while others, like ISIS, resort to terrorism or state implementation by force. They’re all dogmatic and reactionary.

S: What are the roots of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East? How and why did it arise as a political force?

A: The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, born in the 1920s, was the first modern political organization based on an Islamic fundamentalist agenda. That was also the time when the theorization of the Islamic state, the core Islamic fundamentalist doctrine, took its modern shape, also in Egypt. There were, of course, earlier brands of fundamentalism and various sorts of puritan sects in the history of Islam like in other monotheistic religions, but the Brotherhood pioneered a brand of Islamic fundamentalism that was adapted to contemporary society in the form of a political movement.

The Brotherhood emerged at the conjunction of a number of events. The first was the proclamation of a secular Turkish republic and the abolition of the caliphate after the end of World War I. This came as a shock for those who rejected the separation of Islam and government. It was also contemporaneous with the foundation of the Saudi kingdom in the Arabian Peninsula, a state based on an Islamic fundamentalist premise, albeit one of an archaic tribal character.

Egypt at that time was ripe for revolution with an accumulation of social problems, terrible poverty in the countryside, a rotten monarchy, leaders despised or hated by the people, and British domination. The Egyptian left was weak, and the workers’ movement had come under repression in the 1920s. So you had a conjunction of factors, which enabled the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism as a political movement capitalizing on popular discontent.

From a historical materialist perspective, Islamic fundamentalism is a striking illustration of what Marx and Engels identified in their Communist Manifesto as one of the ideological orientations among the traditional middle classes. A fraction of the traditional petty bourgeoisie, the craftsmen, and the small and middle peasantry suffer from the crushing effects of capitalism, which develops at their expense turning a big section of them into proletariat, compelling them to shift from a status of small producers or merchants into one of wage earners obliged to sell their labor power in order to make their living. A fraction of these petty propertied classes oppose capitalist development by wanting to “turn back the wheel of history.” Modern Islamic fundamentalism stems from a revolt against the consequences of capitalist development fostered by foreign domination, wanting to go back to a mythical Islamic golden age.

S: What’s the relationship of Islamic fundamentalism to imperialism? Is it in opposition to it or in collusion with it?

A: Both, I would say. The troops of Islamic fundamentalism are people reacting in a reactionary manner to the consequences of capitalism as well as to imperialist domination and imperialist wars. Faced with capitalism and imperialism, they could opt for a progressive struggle, aiming at replacing unregulated capitalism with a socially just egalitarian society. [That’s considered Western, however, and many, at least in Egypt and Syria, think it was tried – and failed – with the Middle Eastern “socialism” of Nasser and Baathism. Both of those efforts centered around dictatorships, however.]

Since it is a reactionary response, Islamic fundamentalism ended up being used by all sorts of reactionary forces, including imperialism itself. From the time it was founded, the Muslim Brotherhood built a close connection with what was and still is the most reactionary, antidemocratic and anti-women state on earth, the Saudi kingdom. They established this link because of the affinity between their own perspective and what’s usually called Wahhabism, the ideology of the tribal force that founded the Saudi kingdom.

The Muslim Brotherhood worked in close alliance with the Saudi kingdom from its foundation until 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait leading to the first US war on Iraq. Till then, the Brotherhood was a major ally of the Saudi kingdom and of the United States, the kingdom’s overlord. Both used them in the fight against left-wing nationalism, particularly against Nasser in Egypt (1952–70), but also against the Communist movement and the Soviet Union’s influence in Muslim-majority countries. This unholy alliance of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Islamic fundamentalist movements was reactionary through and through.

The Saudis broke with the Muslim Brotherhood because the latter didn’t follow the kingdom in supporting the 1991 US onslaught on Iraq. That was because they found it difficult ideologically to condone a Western intervention against a Muslim country from the territory where Islam’s holy places are located. They also had to take into consideration the fact that their constituencies were very much opposed to that aggression, as was the overwhelming majority of public opinion in Arab countries. So, most regional branches of the Muslim Brotherhood condemned the US onslaught, leading the Saudi kingdom to break with them. They therefore sought out and found another sponsor: the emirate of Qatar, which has been their chief supporter ever since. Qatar, of course, is another close ally of the United States in the region, hosting the forward headquarters of the US military Central Command (CENTCOM), the most important platform for US air wars from Syria to Afghanistan.

When the Muslim Brotherhood held power in Egypt during the presidency of their member Mohamed Morsi, they earned the praise of Washington. Other more “radical” brands of Islamic fundamentalism have also collaborated in the past with the United States. Al-Qaeda, for example, originated in joining the US-Saudi-Pakistani-backed guerillas against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan before turning into violent foes of the United States and the Saudi royal family after 1990, for a reason similar to that which led to the Brotherhood’s break with the kingdom.

S: Has the class character of Islamic fundamentalism changed with the development of these state sponsors? Is it still the case that it’s an expression of the petty bourgeoisie or has it become “bourgeoisified?”

A: First of all, Islamic fundamentalism is not restricted to one movement. It’s a broad spectrum of forces and groups, as I emphasized, from the Muslim Brotherhood to jihadists to totalitarian fanatics like ISIS. Even the Muslim Brotherhood is a regional and global organization whose strategies and tactics vary from place to place. If we focus solely on Egypt, however, there has indeed been “bourgeoisification.” After Nasser repressed them, many of their members and leaders ended up in exile in the Saudi kingdom. Several of them became businessmen there and profited from the oil boom of the 1970s. The connection with the Saudi state and Gulf capital played an important role in developing a layer of “devout bourgeoisie” in Egypt – a section playing an increasingly important role inside the Brotherhood.

While this capitalist fraction grew considerably in importance within the Brotherhood, the bulk of its rank and file, its troops, remain among the petty bourgeoisie and poorer layers of society. The Brotherhood was never anti-capitalist anyway, beyond the general calling for social equity that you hear from even the most conservative parties. The Brotherhood talks about caring for the poor, in order to say that Islam provides the solution and that Islamic charity will alleviate poverty. All of this fits neatly with a neoliberal perspective that supports privatization of social care and its delegation to private charities. Unsurprisingly, when the Brotherhood came to power recently in Tunisia and Egypt, they continued the economic policies of the previous regimes. They adhered to IMF stipulations and did everything they could to please the capitalist class, including the old regime’s crony capitalists in both countries.

S: Why did Islamic fundamentalism become such a strong political trend in the Middle East? This is surprising given the rich history of secular nationalism and Communist organization in the region.

A: This is a very important issue. An impressionistic view prevails today, as a result of the media’s continuous reports on various strains of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, that religion, in general, and Islamic fundamentalism, in particular, has always dominated politics in the region. But that isn’t true. Except for Egypt, left-leaning secular nationalists and Communists were prevalent in the Middle East during the 1940s, and things began to change in Egypt with the Nasser’s 1952 coup. His regime passed land reform, nationalized foreign properties, including the Suez Canal in 1956, and Egyptian private assets. The leftwing radicalization of these nationalists – with the towering figure of Nasser central to the process – made them tremendously popular, not only in Egypt but in the whole region and in all the Third World. That was because of their social reforms and their opposition to imperialism and Zionism, which echoed the aspirations of the masses. Early on, after a brief period of cooperation, they clashed with the Muslim Brotherhood and repressed them. From then on, the Brothers became the bitterest enemies of the nationalists, and the Saudis and Washington used them as a weapon against Nasser. They’d lost their appeal, however, having no solutions to offer to the real social problems of the masses, whereas the nationalists addressed these issues in part.

The turnaround came with Israel’s 1967 victory over Nasserist Egypt and Baathist Syria. Like Egypt, Syria had undergone a leftwing nationalist radicalization led by a group that Hafez al-Assad, president of Syria from 1970 to 2000, would topple soon after. With the 1967 defeat, followed in 1970 by the crushing of the Palestinian guerillas in Jordan, Nasser’s death, and the overthrow of the leftwing faction of the Baath, radical Arab nationalism suffered a massive setback, which opened a space for the Muslim Brotherhood’s comeback.

Nasser’s successor, Sadat, reversed all the progressive policies of the Nasser era – agrarian, industrial, anti-imperialist, and anti-Zionist. He released the Muslim Brotherhood from jail and opened the door for its members in exile to return, needing them as allies in his reactionary enterprise. They happily played that role, becoming the shock troops of an anti-left backlash. Sadat allowed them to rebuild their organization into a mass movement, provided they didn’t challenge his rule, and they maintained this relationship with his successor, Mubarak. In the context of a weak organized left, whose most visible section was involved in a similarly ambiguous relation with the regime, the Brotherhood filled a vacuum, attracting disgruntled sections of the population. With funds brought by the new capitalists in their ranks and provided by their Saudi sponsor, the Brotherhood managed grew spectacularly. With their newfound power came ambitions of playing more of a political role than the regime would allow, leading at times to periods of temporary repression.

History shows that when there is a progressive current with some credibility, it can counter fundamentalism. In the Middle East, the left faces Islamic fundamentalism as one of two main poles of reactionary politics, the regimes constituting the other. The progressive forces expressing the aspirations of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising soon tumbled against the regimes, on the one hand, and the Islamic fundamentalist oppositions to the regimes on the other hand, both equally opposed to the aspirations of the revolutionary wave and, in some countries of the region, directly collaborating in thwarting its radicalization.

S: How should the left position itself in relation to Islamic fundamentalist forces fighting imperialism or Zionism? For example, how should the left approach Hamas and Hezbollah?

A: The left has developed a rich tradition that we should draw on in approaching this question. This consists in supporting just struggles against colonialism and imperialism, regardless of who is waging them, without turning this into uncritical support of those waging the struggles. For instance, when fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, it made complete sense for any anti-imperialist to oppose the invasion, even though Ethiopia was ruled by the extremely reactionary regime of Haile Selassie, who wasn’t supported uncritically. The same approach should be followed today. Hamas and Hezbollah have been engaged in struggles against Israeli occupation and aggression, and we support them in this. But Hamas isn’t the only group fighting Israel; there are other groups on the Palestinian scene, and we need to determine within that range of anti-Zionist groups which are closer to our political perspective. The same goes for Lebanon.

Hamas grew at the expense of the Palestinian left. At the time of the first Palestinian intifada in 1988, the left was the leading force in the 1967-occupied territories. But its groups ended up directly or indirectly condoning Yasser Arafat’s capitulation to the US and Israel, opening the door to Hamas. Hamas was founded by the Muslim Brotherhood’s branch in Palestine, which until then had been actually favored by the Israeli occupation as an antidote to the PLO.

Hezbollah emerged after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, but it was the Communist Party and leftwing nationalist forces that initiated the resistance to the invasion, drawing on a tradition of struggle against repeated Israeli invasions. Hezbollah built itself at the expense of these forces, especially the Communist Party. The latter had a strong influence in Shia-majority regions in Lebanon and was therefore seen as a major competitor by Hezbollah, which went so far as to assassinate prominent Shia figures in the Party. Although it became the dominant force in a just fight – the struggle against the Israeli occupation – it isn’t progressive force. It achieved its status while repressing and squeezing out progressive forces waging that same struggle. It’s dependent on Iran, and has gone along with the neoliberal reconstruction of Lebanon.

Similarly, if the US or Israel launched an attack on Iran, we wouldn’t hesitate in supporting that country, even though its ruling regime is reactionary, repressive, and capitalist – an enemy of the social cause for which we fight. This is important to grasp because, in recent years, Iran and Hezbollah have come to the rescue of the counterrevolutionary regime in Syria, supplying it with key shock troops that have joined its onslaught on the popular democratic movement.

In the Middle East in general, tragically, we’ve seen progressive forces align themselves with Islamic fundamentalists against the regimes – as happened in the first stages of the uprising in many countries, and is still happening in the Syria – while other sections of the left lined up with the regimes against the Islamic fundamentalists. It’s crucial for progressives to assert a third revolutionary pole, equally opposed to both counterrevolutionary poles now dominating the scene, if they are, at some point, to embody again the aspirations that inspired the Arab Spring in 2011. Short of that, we’ll see more of the ongoing disaster with the region overwhelmed by the clash between the two counterrevolutionary poles. The best scenario in the short term is a coalition between the two reactionary poles, as happened in Tunisia where the local equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood entered into a governmental coalition with the old regime forces, or in Morocco where the king coopted the local equivalent into government. Washington and its European allies are very much pushing for this scenario almost everywhere in the region. Such reconciliation would be beneficial from a progressive perspective, because it would compel progressive forces to oppose both counterrevolutionary poles and facilitate their emergence as the alternative to both of them. The future of the left in the Middle East hangs on getting this orientation right.

 

 

Shimmer

Editors Anna Tsing, Heather Swanson, Elaine Gan, and Nils Bubandt introduce Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet (2017) by saying that “the deep time of geology, climate, and natural science is collapsing into the historical time of human technology.” Our species, Anthropos, “has become an overwhelming force that can build and destroy, birth and kill all others on the planet.”

We can counter this process by noticing what Deborah Bird Rose, in Chapter 3, calls “shimmer,” however. Rose notes that what’s occurring in the extinction crisis is more dire than the numbers of extinct and threatened species indicate. Because everything is connected, “relationships also unravel, mutualities falter, and whole worlds of knowledge and practice diminish…Shimmer, the ancestral power of life, arises in relationship and encounter, so extinction cascades drag shimmer from the world. The loss is both devastating and barely comprehensible…

Shimmer is an Aboriginal aesthetic that calls us into multispecies worlds. I use the term ‘aesthetic’ in a nontechnical way to discuss things that appeal to the senses, things that evoke or capture feelings and responses. Flowering plants, for example, have lures that both entice one’s attention and offer rewards.

In his classic essay ‘From Dull to Brilliant,’ anthropologist Howard Morphy discusses art in the Arnhem Land region of North Australia. His focus is on the Yolngu term bir’yun, which translates as ‘brilliant’ or ‘shimmering.’ When a Yolngu painting has just its rough shape, the artists describe it as ‘dull.’ The crosshatching that comes next shifts the painting to ‘brilliant,’ and it’s the brilliance of the finely detailed work that captures the eye. Bir’yun is the shimmer, the brilliance, a kind of motion that brings you into the experience of being part of a vibrant and vibrating world, the ephemeral dance of it all.

In contrast to Morphy, I didn’t work with people who were visual artists; I encountered people who focused on ritual performance, connecting bodies and earth through dance and song. In music, there are multiple temporal patterns, and through them one can also experience shimmer.” The seasons, from the dullness of the dry to the shimmering new growth of the wet, pulse this way, too. “Absence is potential rather than lack. This is where one grasps the awful disaster of extinction cascades: not only life and life’s shimmer, but many of its potentials are eroding…

The term bir’yun, which doesn’t distinguish between domains of nature and culture, is characteristic of a lively, pulsating world, not a mechanistic one – a world not composed of gears and cogs but of multifaceted, multispecies relations and pulses. To act as if the world beyond humans is composed of ‘things’ for human use is a catastrophic assault on the diversity, complexity, abundance, and beauty of life.”

It’s time to press harder for impeachment

This past Wednesday, December 6th, the House voted 364 to 58 to table a resolution, authored by Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, that would have initiated impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. Of Washington’s 10 U.S. House members, only Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Seattle voted for the measure; none of Oregon’s representatives did. Green said Trump had associated his presidency with efforts rooted in bigotry and racism, citing the president’s blaming both sides for violence at white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville in August, and his recent retweets of videos that purported to show violence being committed by Muslims. “Whether we like it or not, we have a bigot in the White House who incites hatred and hostility,” Green wrote in a letter to colleagues Tuesday. “What are we going to do about it?”

In an emailed statement after Wednesday’s vote, Jayapal said Trump has committed violations of the Constitution, including the Foreign Emoluments clause that prohibits presidents from receiving payments from foreign governments. “His administration is reckless and dangerous, and we owe it to the American people to at least begin a discussion about how to hold him accountable for the many ways in which he is undermining our democracy and engaging in violations of our Constitution. Our focus in Congress should be on fulfilling our duty to conduct strong oversight over this administration, and it’s past time for Republicans to join this effort and put country over party.”

I’ve ignored the various movements calling for impeachment so far, thinking they had little chance of success. Then I listened to an interview on “Democracy Now” in which, on December 1st, Amy Goodman spoke with constitutional attorney John Bonifaz, co-founder and director of Free Speech for People. Bonifaz convinced me that, whatever its chances of success, we need, as citizens, to push for impeachment. And, despite the vote in Congress 12-7, the movement is growing at the grassroots level, with 17 communities on record across the country calling for impeachment proceedings to begin, and millions of Americans signing petitions at ImpeachDonaldTrumpNow.org and action.needtoimpeach.com. We don’t have to wait for the Mueller investigation into whether the president and/or his allies have committed criminal offenses, since, as Bonifaz notes, impeachment can be non-criminal – a matter of “whether the president has abused his power and the public trust.”

Bonifaz’s group, RootsAction, launched its impeachment campaign on the day of the inauguration “because the president had refused to divest from his business holdings all across the world in defiance of the anti-corruption provisions of the Constitution.” These are the Foreign Emoluments Clause and the Domestic Emoluments Clause. “The Foreign Emoluments Clause makes clear that no federally elected official, including the president, shall receive any payments or financial benefits of any kind from any foreign governments. The Domestic Emoluments Clause applies only to the president and says he shall not receive any financial benefits or payments of any kind from the federal government or the state government other than his federal salary. This is a president who has 111-plus business interests all over the world, many of which involve illegal foreign government benefits to him personally, through his company, the Trump Organization, as well as having properties all over the United States that involve state government benefits and the federal government, through the leasing of the Post Office Square in Washington, D.C., the place where the Trump International Hotel resides. So, what we’re dealing with here is a president who was warned by constitutional scholars, prior to taking the Oval Office, that he needed to divest from his business interests in order to comply with those anti-corruption provisions. He refused to, and is now engaged in treating the Oval Office as a profit-making enterprise at the public expense.”

Bonifaz added that since January the list of impeachable offenses “that require an impeachment investigation in the U.S. Congress parallel to the Mueller investigation” has grown. “This isn’t a question of having to wait and see whether or not the federal criminal investigation that’s proceeding turns up violations of federal criminal law by the president or any of his associates. That’s a separate question. The question here involves crimes against the state. That’s what impeachment is about – abuse of power, abuse of the public trust, and not only through the violations of the anti-corruption provisions. There is now, of course, evidence of obstruction of justice. There’s evidence of potential conspiracy with the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 elections and violate federal campaign finance laws, among others. There is now evidence of abuse of the pardon power in the pardoning of former Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. There’s recklessly threatening nuclear war against a foreign nation. There’s misuse of the Justice Department to try to prosecute political adversaries. And there’s the giving aid and comfort to neo-Nazis and white supremacists. All of this deserves an impeachment investigation in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Goodman said that “in response to some Democratic leaders warning against calls for impeachment before Robert Mueller’s investigation has been completed, billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer defended his $20 million ad campaign to impeach President Trump, saying in a TV ad that ‘he’s brought us to the brink of nuclear war, obstructed justice at the FBI, in direct violation of the Constitution taken money from foreign governments, and threatened to shut down news organizations reporting the truth. If that isn’t a case for impeaching and removing a dangerous president, then what has our government become?’ Can you talk about what Steyer is attempting to do in the Need to Impeach campaign and whether you’re working with him, John Bonifaz?”

Bonifaz: “We’re in communication with Tom Steyer and his team about collaborating, since he’s helping to elevate the national conversation and we agree with what he’s saying about the need for an impeachment process to move forward in the House of Representatives. The more voices that come forward from the American people all over the country to help push that forward in Congress, the better. Six members of Congress introduced five articles of impeachment on November 15th. Prior to that, two members of Congress, Al Green from Houston, and Brad Sherman from Los Angeles, had introduced articles of impeachment around obstruction of justice. The newer articles include that, as well as the violations of the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses and the president’s continued attacks on freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary. What’s significant here is that these articles have been introduced by members of Congress despite continued opposition by their own party’s leadership. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has made clear that she doesn’t think impeachment should move forward at this time, and yet they’re going ahead and asking other members of Congress to join them. Americans, all across the country, should also push for an impeachment investigation and urge their members of Congress to take the same kind of action.”

Goodman: “What Democrats like Pelosi are saying is that this isn’t the way to retake the House in 2018, that if you disagree with the president, the way to deal with that is through elections. Explain why you see impeachment as key.”

Bonifaz: “We’re a nonpartisan organization – not involved in the political strategy of any party. We’re focused on defending the Constitution and our democracy, and don’t think it’s acceptable to kick the can down the road and wait until after an election cycle to lay the groundwork for impeachment proceedings. They may not happen tomorrow or next month. But we need to be laying the groundwork and making this call now. Members of Congress, whether they’re Democratic, Republican, independent, or what have you, need to be stepping up to protect and defend the Constitution. That’s the oath they and the president took – to protect, defend and preserve the Constitution. And the other point on this, Amy, is that Nancy Pelosi has been saying that we don’t have the facts out, we don’t have the Mueller investigation completed. But we already have the facts about what this president has done with respect to the emoluments clauses, with respect to obstruction of justice and many other impeachable offenses.”

At this point in the discussion, Goodman mentioned the warning issued by Roger Stone, one of President Trump’s oldest advisers, in August that any politician who voted to impeach President Trump would face a violent response. She played a clip in which Stone said, ‘Just try and impeach him. You’ll have a spasm of violence in this country like you’ve never seen. This isn’t 1974. The people won’t stand for impeachment. A politician who votes for it would be endangering their life. I’m not advocating violence, but I am predicting it.” Bonifaz called Stone’s words “outrageous,” and added that “we can’t allow fear to dictate our response to this lawless president. We can’t say that we’re going to stay on the sidelines while the Constitution is being shredded, because of claims that Roger Stone or anyone else might make.”

Asked how the impeachment process would work, Bonifaz said, “the House of Representatives would need to pass a resolution that would advance to the House Judiciary Committee the question of an impeachment investigation or articles of impeachment. The Committee would then have subpoena power and hear witnesses. People say, ‘Well, the Republicans control the House Judiciary Committee. They control the House of Representatives. They control the Senate. Where do we think this process could actually go?’ But there were plenty of people who argued on the day that we launched this campaign, on Inauguration Day, that there was no way people would be standing up to demand this, and now we see millions of Americans doing just that, along with 17 communities, and seven [now 58] members of Congress. And the facts continue to build that this president is defying the rule of law.”

Asked how he would “lay out the articles of impeachment,” Bonifaz said, “We’d start with the violations of the two anti-corruption provisions of the Constitution: the Foreign Emoluments Clause and the Domestic Emoluments Clause. Then you have obstruction of justice in the firing of FBI Director James Comey for not letting go of the Flynn investigation and seeking to stop similar investigations in the Senate. The potential conspiracy with the Russian government, potential collusion, to violate federal campaign finance laws and other federal laws and to interfere with our elections, is an impeachment as well as a criminal question, and the House Judiciary Committee should take it up. Then we have the abuse of the pardon power, a presidential power that isn’t unlimited. What the president has done with the pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, has undermined the due process rights of the thousands of people in Arizona impacted by Arpaio’s illegal actions. This is the sheriff who was found in criminal contempt of court for refusing to stop his illegal practices of detaining people based on the color of their skin, and the president used the pardon power in a wrongful way to pardon him. Then we have the giving aid and comfort to neo-Nazis and white supremacists – not just what the president said after the Charlottesville tragedy, but also his most recent retweets of inflammatory anti-Muslim videos. Then there’s recklessly threatening nuclear war. He may be commander-in-chief, but the president doesn’t have the power to initiate a war. That’s established under the War Powers Clause, despite the fact that we’ve seen violations of it in the past. But Trump is taking it to a whole new scale by recklessly threatening nuclear war against a foreign nation. That reckless and wanton disregard for the established norms, putting millions of lives at stake, is an impeachable offense. Finally, most recently, the president has talked about how he’d like to see the Justice Department prosecute Hillary Clinton and other political adversaries. This attempted misuse of the Justice Department to prosecute political adversaries would be another impeachable offense worthy of investigation.”

When Goodman asked Bonifaz how much support he has around the country, he said that “over 1.3 million have signed our petition, and over 3 million so far have signed Steyer’s. And some members of Congress have said that they’ve been responsive to what they’re hearing from their constituents. So I think people are ready to stand up, and they need to, because this is an urgent matter. This isn’t something we can wait till 2019 or 2020 to deal with. We need to lay the groundwork now for the call for impeachment proceedings against this president.”

I’m going to sign all the petitions urging impeachment and contact my senators and representatives. There’s too much at stake to wait.