Climate change as political murder

Morrison Trump

Australian PM Scott Morrison with Trump (AP: John Minchillo).

This piece by Derek Johnson was originally delivered on the Where’s My Jetpack podcast: jetpack.zoob.net

This piece will be printed in Fightback’s upcoming magazine issue on Climate Change and Ecosocialism. To subscribe with PayPal or credit card, click here.

A study by the United Nations has found climate change could drive 122 million more people into extreme poverty in the next 15 years, in part due to the impact it is already having on small-scale farmers. We now know that for decades, beginning in 1977, Exxon concealed its own findings that fossil fuels cause global warming, alter the climate and melt Arctic ice.

Hindsight is 20/20, but if not for Exxon’s cover up NASA and others could have brought proof and the importance of climate change to our governments to do something in the late 1970’s.

Talking about climate change can be nihilistically depressing because for the first time in our planet’s history, we are a species aware of its impending extinction. We are living through the sixth extinction. I’m going to get to the brass tacks and the suicidally depressing roots and propose an optimistic solution.

The U.S. presidential race is off the rails again. Politicians and the media are in panic mode, because of progressive candidates who might improve lives, not because Trump is a fascist who needs to be removed immediately and cannot serve a second term. As much as I like to see them all lose control, they are turning the screws on us.

Trump must go, but beyond that, I don’t care who the next president is and I don’t want anybody to be president. We need to stop having presidents. They don’t know what to do anymore and the schisms are showing. The economy is about to tank again like 2008 and the government and capitalists and their political class are flipping out in panic. This election scam is a symptom of systemic problems with Really Existing Capitalist Democracy or REC’D as Chomsky calls it.

The most pressing issue of our time—our own fucking possible extinction – is only mentioned because of Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at least, but overall the political class and MSM are ignoring the fire outside as California literally burns down. They all know deep down that capitalism has killed the habitability of this world.

They fucked up and killed us all. We all have to get used to struggle. We are in the struggle of our fucking lives now. It looks like things are going south quicker than we will ever have a revolution to overthrow this shit and save our species, but I hope not. The planet is going to survive, but it’s going to be uninhabitable for human life. This is beyond unacceptable.

Going slow about changing our economy and using oil is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, while us radicals warn about the iceberg.  We have to get used to endless struggle. Even something like a Green New Deal is being violently resisted.

Demagogues right and left are going to try and convince people that its a Malthusian overpopulation problem. Malthusianism has long been debunked and technically we already live in a post-scarcity civilization, but scarcity is enforced by markets and the state.

The problems of “overpopulation” – habitat destruction, famine, drought – are the direct result of our economic system which needs false scarcity and planned obsolescence to function.

We have enough food, shelter, and medicine for every person on the planet, but resource/”wealth” distribution is dictated by a system with no ability for long term planning.

We live under a system that allows for-profit medicine/healthcare and – based on the statistic I can’t stop pointing out—America has not only enough money to feed the hungry and house every homeless person, but there are enough empty homes that every homeless person would get 6 houses each.

I agree that we need to stop focusing on neoliberalism as a new strain of capitalism, but see that it has actually given way to the return to a more raw and predatory capitalism – as it used to be and always was. I think, now, we are entering a new era of naked capitalism. We often have to ask ourselves when confronted by rulers who see the threat and choose to do nothing and hasten it.

Global warming is in progress and now irreversible. I don’t want to get into conspiracy theories, but it is a reasonable hypothesis that past a certain point, the ruling elite intentionally planned to do nothing, knowing it would get locked in and all the people would die.

This is looking to be by design. Not that the rich created climate change to kill us all, but rather they are adapting to it and exploiting it rather than doing something about it. Perhaps what we’re witnessing in global warming is an improvised planned genocide of many global south nations that will make prior genocides seem quite small in comparison.

Global warming denialists are Holocaust deniers in their own right and should be treated as such. I’m afraid that, rather than combat climate change the powers that be can enforce walling in countries, closing immigration/migration and starve out and kill people with the elements and act like they didn’t do it on purpose. It really looks like rather than doing anything, they are planning to just build walled- in cities and let the poor die.

They can cull the populations like never before. Under this unleashed raw capitalism, they get to wipe out the so-called “developing world” and surplus labor here and there. The weakest and poorest are intentionally being left to bear the worst brunt.

This may technically be genocide by proxy through economic policy if you will, but intentional inaction is ethically no different than intentional planning/action. It really looks like rather than doing anything, they are planning to just build walled in cities and let the poor die. This is essentially genocide.  This is no different than what Stalin did to Ukraine except on scale.

The proper term is democide.

This term was revived and redefined by the political scientist R. J. Rummel as “the murder of any person or people by their government, including genocide, politicide and mass murder”. For example, government-sponsored killings for political reasons would be considered democide under Rummel’s hypothesis.

Democide can also include deaths arising from “intentionally or knowingly reckless and depraved disregard for life”; this brings into account many deaths arising through various neglects and abuses, such as forced mass starvation.

Rummel explicitly excludes battle deaths in his definition. Capital punishment, actions taken against armed civilians during mob action or riot, and the deaths of non-combatants killed during attacks on military targets so long as the primary target is military, are not considered democide.

According to Rummel, democide surpassed war as the leading cause of non-natural death in the 20th century. Rummel estimated that there have been 262 million victims of democide in the last century. According to his figures, six times as many people have died from the actions of people working for governments than have died in battle.

This destroys Stephen Pinker’s thesis that less people are dying from war, conflict and violence because of strong states, thus justifying states and ultimately capitalism. His calculation only works if you ignore democide and structural violence.

In my opinion, I feel as if, in scorched Earth fashion, capitalists are literally making sure there is no alternative if they collapse the economic order or are overthrown. We may get eco-socialism or full communism—but in a Mad Max wasteland.

We need a fundamentally new society because the status quo can no longer hold. Martin Luther King said it best: we need a revolution in values.

We need a social revolution. Our task now is to hasten such a global socialist revolution, to forge an eco-socialism for an actually free and sustainable future. We may have to go down trying to build that better society or we are going to live in Mad Max. It’s “Communism or barbarism” as Rosa Luxemburg said, indeed.

 

Fightback withdraws from Organise Aotearoa

A statement approved by the Fightback Editorial Board and sent to the National Secretary of Organise Aotearoa, 14th January 2020.

When Organise Aotearoa was launched, it appeared potentially the healthiest socialist organisation in the country. The only organisation not to emerge from a split, the largest, and youngest – all promising signs. Fightback – an Australasian socialist media project – agreed to get involved in the organisation.

Yet issues have emerged that seem unlikely to be resolved, especially on questions of internationalism. Even though the OA leadership has changed personnel over the last year or two, the prevailing politics of that leadership on what they call “internationalism” could be best described in our terms as “soft campism” (see our 2015 article, “Against Campism”: https://fightback.org.nz/2015/11/05/against-campism-what-makes-some-leftists-support-putin/)

Members of the leadership have specifically stated that they feel that “internationalism” for Leftists in New Zealand should mean only opposing imperialist actions by the New Zealand state and explicit allies of the New Zealand state (e.g. the USA or the UK). Some have even argued that for us to criticise the People’s Republic of China in particular – even on the subject of the attempted genocide of the Uighurs and the repression of popular protest in Hong Kong – implies a certain “colonialism”. This misuse of radical theory to suggest that Western imperialism is the only imperialism, or to support authoritarian capitalist nationalism in “non-Western” countries, is in opposition to Fightback’s basic principles.

However, being in a minority position on internationalist questions alone would not be enough in itself to cause us to break with OA. The breaking point for us has been a culture within OA of avoiding honest and comradely debate, and on characterising political disagreements in terms of personal attacks.

Attempts to debate the question of what internationalism means have been met with either studious silence, or negative personal characterizations of Fightback members. Instead of seeking clarity on these questions, the approach of the OA national leadership has consistently been to seek a lowest common denominator “fudge”, where positions are taken on the basis of minimising any opposition or sharp debate.

For example, after our extensive internal discussion documents arguing for support for the Syrian revolution were met with no reply, Fightback members proposed a motion at the last national AGM condemning all intervention in Syria – US, Turkish, Russian and Iranian without distinction. Two different arguments were given by its opponents, who had the majority at the AGM:

  1. The now-National Secretary of OA submitted a document arguing that the central issue as far as they saw it was to oppose “US imperialism” (given that Turkey is a member of NATO) – even when, as any unblinkered observer could tell you, the main imperial power causing damage, destruction, murder and oppression right now in Syria is Russia.
  2. It was also suggested at the AGM that it would be premature for OA to take a position when there’s disagreements among members – an explicit admission of OA’s culture of fudging important political questions.

Fightback are not the only comrades to point this out. Last year, one of us co-wrote a position paper with a Marxist-Leninist OA member, who disagreed entirely with Fightback’s internationalist position but agreed that:

Currently, nothing is being done to collaboratively increase the political acumen of OA members on both theoretical and practical issues, beyond what comes up planning events. In fact, there is a culture within some parts of the organisation that disregards this vital part of any left organisation in favour of a forced, sterile ‘unity’ – in effect, sweeping political differences under the carpet.

OA currently seems to instinctively “duck for cover” on issues around which there are strongly conflicting views upon within the organisation. There have been several issues, particularly around internationalism, where debate has simply been shut down and deferred until an unspecified “right time”; or alternatively, debate has been avoided with specious arguments that (for example) certain issues are simply “out of bounds” for our group because the New Zealand state is not directly involved in them.

The issue of the Syrian conflict – which has come up multiple times in discussion on internationalism – is a glaring example of this. Anyone who has followed these issues will know that the two authors of this document have had completely contrasting positions in this debate. However, we now find ourselves united in frustration and opposition to the way in which the leadership and many other members of our organisation have not wanted to have the debate at all.

As of time of writing, nothing has changed in terms of the lack of political education for OA members. It is simply the case that if an organisation’s political unity relies on a continuous process of “fudge”, there can be no internal political education because all the hard questions must be avoided.

Most distressing in OA is the culture where criticisms of the leadership or their political line are met with personal attacks. At the AGM, a Dunedin member who raised issues with the problematic behaviour of a leading member was met with a shockingly dismissive attitude, accused of trying to launch a ‘weird coup.’ The Dunedin member’s recommendation of a No Confidence vote was voted down. Later, on social media, members of the OA leadership responded to criticisms from a Fightback member with negative characterizations of that member’s character and tone, refusing to deal the political issues altogether.

While Organise Aotearoa remains the largest socialist group in this country, it appears to have no plausible strategy to grow further, let alone found a mass party as was the stated aim. Many observers (including those with no connection to Fightback) have described the attitude of the OA leadership as “grandiose” – that is, that they have an unrealistically high vision of OA’s potential and power, which is bound to lead to disappointment and disillusionment if they don’t reassess their capacities more modestly. Discussions of local body strategy in Auckland, for example, seemed to massively overestimate the ability of OA to gain large votes or even win seats in working-class South Auckland. The organisation seems to have no interest in learning from the past experience of socialist and communist groups in this country.

With a political line in turns campist and confused and with no realistic strategy, it is no wonder that the OA national leadership can only respond to political disagreement with personal attacks and the other moves of “clique politics”. At this time, Organise Aotearoa only has its size to recommend it – with members taking frankly terrible positions on international issues, exhibiting problematic behaviour, and no culture of open debate or accountability that could address these issues. While we believe we were right to attempt to get involved in the project initially, we believe our time and energy would be better used to work with organisations who are prepared to engage in honest, respectful debate.

Fightback members are therefore withdrawing our membership from Organise Aotearoa as of now. We are sorry to be stepping away from our friends and good comrades within the organisation, and we look forward to working closely with Organise Aotearoa comrades in the movements and on particular projects. But we believe that our withdrawal will be a relief to both Fightback and the Organise Aotearoa leadership.

Snapshots of the ecological crisis in Australasia

Dunedin Smoke

NZ’s South Island with and without bushfire smoke (pic from Alpine Guides).

By Ani White.
This article will be published in Fightback’s upcoming magazine issue on Climate Change and Ecosocialism. To subscribe through PayPal or credit card, click here.

New Years’ Day 2020, Ōtepoti/Dunedin (Aotearoa/New Zealand)
Ironically, my first real-life encounter with the Australian bushfires – not mediated by Facebook, Twitter, or a press article – is the smoke that drifts to Dunedin, Aotearoa/New Zealand. Ironic because despite being born in NZ, my current place of residence is Victoria, Australia – a region which was only directly affected after my NZ holiday began. NZ is over 3,000 kilometres from Australia – contrary to a common misconception, we are not near to each other – so the smoke reaching Dunedin in NZ’s far south is not insignificant.

Although the yellow tint over Dunedin is less severe than habitats and homes destroyed, or deaths, the directness of the experience affects me more. It’s the first time the bushfires make me tear up. The concept of climate grief names this experience. Two weeks later, on my return to Melbourne, its air quality is the worst in the world1, though my flat is out of the path of the fire itself.

Environmentalists often wonder how to convey a crisis that you don’t experience directly. Yet now in Australasia and elsewhere, we are beginning to experience the ecological crisis directly. Even with this shift from abstract to concrete, the denial from key players remains, whether conservative denial of the basic facts of anthropogenic global warming, or liberal denial about the scale of changes needed.

***

October 28th 2019, Narrm/Melbourne (so-called Australia)
A ragtag collection of socialists, anarchists, indigenous protectors, and liberal environmentalists blockade the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

For me, it’s all very reminiscent of NZ’s weapons conference blockades. In both cases the crowd is narrower than the mass marches, and more militant, yet notably intergenerational. In both cases the tactic is to directly stop industry actors even if only for a day, to take direct action, not just symbolic action. And in both cases, police repression is brutal. Although the tactics are portrayed in the press as violent, they are fundamentally the tactics of non-violent civil disobedience – putting your body on the line. The weapons conference actions recently led to the cancellation of the conference in NZ, after a number of years moving between venues and cities in a futile attempt to escape protest actions.

My first hour is spent at the front line, the main entrance. Our arms locked together, cops pressing from behind, knees into backs. The horses arrive, always a terrifying moment of intimidation, and we chant ‘get those animals off those horses.’ The first arrest targets Jerome Small, a prominent socialist who is on the megaphone. A number of cops descend on him, knocking him to the pavement, and we cry ‘shame.’

An organiser requests bodies for another entrance. This is part of the difficulty of these blockades – the coordination to cover multiple entrances without spreading yourself too thin. About ten of us head to this smaller entrance. This site is quieter, though cops visit us a couple of times, monitoring us rather than trying to break the picket. We film them and they film us. During that time the police crackdown at the main entrance intensifies, with multiple arrests and at least one limb broken. Unfortunately I miss the participation of my own union, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), despite wearing an NTEU shirt myself.

Later, a photograph of one cop shows him pulling the OK symbol, recently adopted by far right trolls.

***

September 20th 2019, Narrm/Melbourne (Australia)
The biggest Climate Strike yet. An estimated 100,000 attend in Melbourne.2 More than 3.5% of the population attend the demonstrations in Aotearoa New Zealand. 3

My union endorses the strike. A colleague’s tutorial overlaps with the strike, so it’s cut short. In my classes, the majority of students are engaged with the climate movement, despite being generally uninvolved in party politics.

The NTEU contingent joins the student contingent joins the main march, at state parliament. At that point I move to the pavement to watch, and film, the tens of thousands streaming past, a stream not stopping for well over half an hour. My favourite sign says ‘Aliens will be so disappointed we chose capitalism over existence.’

***

August 26th 2019, Narrm/Melbourne Victoria (Australia)
SBS Australia reports the following:

A tree with smoke billowing out of it was discovered just after daybreak on Monday nearby the site of a mass protest demonstration to save sacred Djab Wurrung trees located in Victoria’s western districts.

Traditional Owners who have been camped out in an attempt to stop a controversial upgrade to the state’s Western Highway between Ararat and Buangor said they were left feeling “gutted” by the act of vandalism…

The Western Highway development along a 12.5km stretch of land could potentially see nearly 1000 trees bulldozed.

The suspected attack comes in the wake of a mass gathering at the Djab Wurrung Embassy in the past week, as supporters of the land and trees brace for an imminent eviction so that construction of the bypass can begin.4

The Djab Wurrung Tent Embassy, set up to protect ancestor trees from a highway expansion, is around 2 hours’ drive from my flat. I’ve visited twice, when the organisers sent out Red Alerts concerning potential police encroachment. When the arson at Djab Wurrung is perpetrated, the 2019 Australian bushfire season has not begun, but the Amazon fires are ongoing. Across the world, indigenous people are canaries in the coal mine, standing at the front lines of the fight to protect nature from colonial capitalism.

***

Even for those of us with a low opinion of right-wing politicians, the brazenness of Australian PM Scott Morrison’s non-reaction to the bushfires is shocking. Although much has been made of his family holiday, surely more significant is the initial refusal to allocate funding to volunteer firefighters. Surely, even for a man who once held a lump of coal up in parliament saying “don’t be scared”, this is an obvious national emergency. Surely even if you treat this as purely a natural disaster, disconnecting it from the context of increasingly dry land and rising temperatures, it’s good optics to at least pretend you take it seriously.

On December 29, months into the crisis, Morrison finally allocates some payments for New South Wales volunteer firefighters. Yet this is restricted to those who are self-employed or work for small or medium-sized businesses.5 Unemployed volunteers are still threatened with losing benefits, as they are no longer available for paid work.

The New South Wales bushfire is the largest fire front in Australia’s history.6 The Australian bushfires are bigger than the Amazon fires or the California fires. And yet they are met with sheer complacency and negligence, bordering on mockery.

Morrison is confirming our worst fears: that much of the ruling class have decided to simply let the world burn, let the poor die, and retreat to their bunkers (a number of them located in the South Island of NZ7). Morrison is now very unpopular, but if he loses out as a result of a reshuffle, the Liberals will likely continue his policies. Australia has recently charged through 3 leaders in 4 years, a political Hydra.

Although NZ’s Labour government is not quite as overtly atrocious as Australia’s, their response is still grossly inadequate. The recent Zero Carbon Act was heralded for achieving bipartisan success. For all the hashing out of various details on paper, the fact that emitters will face no consequences for failing to meet targets makes the whole thing basically toothless. The reality is that reducing emissions means confronting entrenched powers such as NZ’s agriculture industry. Bipartisanship and ecological justice cannot be reconciled. We’re left with outright denial at worst, and symbolic commitments at best.

I still hold to the position, not new but articulated recently by Extinction Rebellion, that only a mass social movement can force the necessary institutional changes – let alone replace destructive institutions entirely. Yet as the movement grows, institutions remain as yet unchanged, and the world literally burns around us.

1Smoke haze makes Melbourne’s air quality world’s worst, for a time, The Age https://tinyurl.com/ukk3b8z

2‘This crisis, it affects everyone’: Organisers say 100,000 at Melbourne’s climate strike, The Age https://tinyurl.com/y2zptemn

3Tens of thousands of New Zealand children kick off new climate strikes, Reuters https://tinyurl.com/w3ykfzl

4Ancestor tree on fire in suspected arson attack outside Djab Wurrung embassy, SBS Australia https://tinyurl.com/y5zl4v8e

5Scott Morrison announces compensation payments for New South Wales volunteer firefighters, ABC News https://tinyurl.com/vkbemue

6NSW Bushfires: Largest fire front in Australia’s history, Nine News Australia https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvUDFCwSF9M

7The Super Rich of Silicon Valley Have a Doomsday Escape Plan, Bloomberg https://tinyurl.com/yaa4jzdy

Bus drivers refuse to accept abuse

Bus drivers march down central Auckland road calling for better pay and conditions, December 9, 2019.

Guest post by an anonymous bus driver.

For Wellington bus drivers it is “TIME” to take action, like Auckland drivers have just done.

For the record, earlier this year, our concerns were forwarded onto the head of the Trade Unions, Tramways Union Secretary and the Transport Ministers office, with the reassurance from these parties, that our concerns would be addressed as early as May 2019.

Considering the MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] agreement that was accepted by all participating parties, it is quite clear that the agreement has been breached, by not addressing our concerns as requested in May 2019.

In all fairness to the MOU partners, you have attempted to address one of our concerns, that of our hourly pay rate.  Albeit you gave us a very low and unsatisfactory pay increase of just 3%, without consultation or respect of our concerns raised before the pay increase was given.

Even proper toilet, restroom, and kitchen facilities have been denied drivers to date in appropriate locations.

All Parties fully understand that bus drivers’ rights and certain conditions have been compromised under the new contracts signed with Bus Operators in 2018, that is one of the main reasons why over 100 drivers left the industry in 2018.

The GWRC [Greater Wellington Regional Council] have admitted they “got it wrong” when they implemented the new bus network in July 2018.  Unfortunately, instead of addressing our raised concerns as to the main reasons for the network failure, (poor pay and conditions for existing drivers) The GWRC continues to blame the network failure on the bus operators simply not being “able to recruit new drivers.”

Recently over 50 drivers have resigned in frustration, any new raw recruits will quickly become disillusioned and end up resigning unless urgent action is taken.

The other “sad and disturbing” fact is: Recent advertising to recruit new raw drivers at the same rate as professional drivers shows a “total” disregard for drivers that are “experienced” and “faithful” to their Employer to date.

The general public are not easily deceived, The feedback on social media clearly shows that the majority of people fully understand that the main issue behind the network failure to date, is because the GWRC  is not looking after existing drivers and they (the public) have stressed that the minimum pay for experienced drivers should be $26 per hour.

Why then do all the MOU partners deliberately breach the agreement and continue to ignore the general public’s opinion   and continue to blunder along?  The answer is simple – to “Try” and save costs at the Drivers expense!!    “Unless” the drivers are well looked after, the costs and the failures of the network will continue to escalate, as has been the case to date.

As long as the MOU partners continue to blame other factors and avoid addressing poor pay and conditions for bus drivers, as to the main reason why the bus network is failing so badly, they will have headache after headache and incur further increased costs for all parties, unless the drivers concerns are dealt with in fairness and integrity.

 Instead of addressing the current driver issues, MOU partners are “sweeping them under the carpet,” and desperately trying to recruit drivers, knowing full well the  “pay and conditions for drivers is “below standard and uneconomical for drivers,”  causing real hardship and frustration for drivers and their families.

To date the Unions have failed to fully represent the “frustrated” drivers at MOU meetings and seem to be running their own agenda to a certain extent. They also endorse recruitment of overseas drivers at a higher pay rate than existing drivers, rather than ensuring that existing drivers get proper pay and conditions.

Because of the lack of constructive progress that the MOU partners are making in their meetings to date to make drivers pay and condition better, it clearly shows that the majority of existing bus drivers, potential new drivers and the general public are becoming totally “disillusioned” by the MOU partners and their antics to date that has caused so much disruption.

Even when the failure of the MOU partners to look after existing drivers pay and conditions has been exposed, the MOU partners blindly continue to spend  $ 100,000’s of dollars, trying to recruit and import drivers from overseas at higher basic pay rates than existing drivers based on a minimum rate of $ 25 per hour.

 The continuation of the MOU partners to “blunder on” and ignore the existing drivers and the general public’s concerns regarding the failed bus network in Wellington, will no doubt add to the current havoc in the bus industry, create many more potential bus accidents and the continual loss of drivers will continue to plague the industry, “until” current drivers are full respected and appreciated.

 Bus drivers have been “fighting” since 2018 to regain better pay and conditions, since new bus operators’ contracts were signed back in July 2018.  The actions/inactions of MOU partners to date, regarding the complete lack of real progress to address driver pay and conditions, is simply: “Unfair”, “Unjust”, “Wrong”, and “Out of Order.”

The bus passengers also have had “enough” of the network disasters and disruption,  failure to urgently address the matters raised re the above will leave bus drivers no other option but to take “industrial action”, the status quo can no longer afford to be allowed to continue ignoring the main issues that are continually been “swept” under the carpet.

Zombie Stalinism: 25 years later, who wants the Berlin Wall back?

honecker

This piece was originally printed on the IS Network (UK) website on the 18th November 2014.

We reprint it in light of the lapsing of that original post, aswell as our own convergence with the analysis of Stalinism and ‘campism’ (see for example Daphne Lawless’ Against Campism: What makes some leftists support Putin?).

Twenty-five years on, how has the fall of the Berlin Wall affected our analysis of Soviet Russia? How has what we have learnt changed our analysis of post-’89 Eastern Europe, Russia and the current situation in Ukraine?

The deepest discussions in the international workers’ movement about the relationship between dictatorship and democracy happened in the years after 1917 and either side of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the 1980s, revolutionary Marxists faced a growing crisis of Stalinist power in the East, and of the Stalinist parties in the West. Unlike the 1930s or 1940s, the failure of the Stalinist states to deliver democratic rights was more visible to many workers than capitalism’s failings. That, coupled with the low level of class consciousness, meant that many aspirations of working people and our allies could easily be channelled into social democracy and other pro-capitalist avenues. The way that the USSR and the other Stalinist states misrepresented the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ meant that workers rejected it both East and West.

In the 1980s, working people around the world were looking for alternatives to the dogmas of Stalinism. Stalinism was the root of elitist schemes in which a paternalist and monolithic party excluded workers from power, on the premise that freedom of discussion opened up the possibilities for counter-revolutionary ideas. Because it reflected the common sense of the post-war imperialism, this notion spread beyond the Stalinist parties and into parts of the social democratic and revolutionary Marxist movements.

The search for alternatives took place largely outside these parties and flowed into the social movements. In the East and the West, class consciousness was deeply stratified and uneven. Struggles spilled out in many directions, picking up the movements and leaderships to hand, like flood waters flowing down the path of least resistance.

The paucity of open, democratic and accessible organisations on the left had two results. First, the anti-Stalinist movements had to find direction independently, much as early feminist movements rejected by the western Communist parties found their ways into the social movements: the Stalinist narrative saw independent movements only as counter-revolutionary. Second, the left could not learn from those movements if it failed to recruit from them.

Schemas and dogmas, however, were not the sole preserve of Stalinists. Many revolutionary Marxists equated socialism with states that used nationalisation to deprive imperialism of a toehold, regardless of the concrete power of the working class. That blind spot meant that some socialists found themselves quite adrift. Some ended up supporting state-capitalist enterprises that operated in order to intensify the profit system. Many found themselves disoriented when working class movements confronted states that opposed a larger imperialism or defended nationalised property. They focused attention on the crimes of imperialism, but failed to make solidarity with the masses when they confronted governments which simultaneously excluded imperialism and the people from power. This acquiescence to the repressive secret-police apparatus of the Stalinist states meant that some socialists underestimated the degree to which the Stalinist co-option of socialist rhetoric would channel working class struggles into trade union, church and democratic movements.

Some comrades found themselves caught in the political dead-end that Ernest Mandel, the pre-eminent leader of the post-war Fourth International, called “campism”. Writing in 1983, Mandel criticised those who subordinated the interests of the working class and the revolution to the interests of defending the camp of states that opposed Western imperialism. He pointed out that the bureaucratic leaderships of these states were often mortal enemies of national liberation movements and working class struggles.

This campist viewpoint was widespead in the Trotskyist movement, notably in the English-speaking countries, as well as in the social democratic and Communist parties. In 1986, for example, the US SWP wrote that the progressive character of the Russian states was “a far more weighty factor for the world revolution than the obstacles represented by the Stalinist bureaucracies”. Mandel’s position was the opposite: “The counter-revolutionary role of the Soviet bureaucracy weighs more heavily on world history than the objective positive effects.”

These dogmas made much of the left unable to understand the developments of the anti-Stalinist movements, and the reality of the new movements’ fragile foundations led many on the left into quite disoriented positions.

The fall of the Berlin Wall remains a useful yardstick for revolutionaries. The working class moves imperfectly, and works with the ideas and the leaders it has to hand. The left must celebrate and learn from its imperfect legacies, from the NHS to the unfinished struggle for equality and unity in Germany.


On the 20th anniversary Gareth Dale wrote in the International Socialism journal to remind us of  the revolutionary nature of the movement for unification in East Germany. Those struggles are outlined well in his trio of books on the end of the DDR. However, Dale showed an appreciation of his readers when he wrote, “Readers of this journal are unlikely to be participating in the twentieth anniversary celebrations of the ‘transition to capitalism’ in Central and Eastern Europe and it’s easy to see why.”

Ironically it is Gregor Gysi, spokesperson of Germany’s ex-Stalinist party, who struck a more useful note on the 25th anniversary. Speaking last week, he reminded the Bundestag that the fall of the Wall was a victory for the masses: they confronted a dictatorship and defeated it in order to fight for democracy.

The challenge for the left is to celebrate the fall of the Wall as a progressive, revolutionary accomplishment of the German working class. The East German masses took up the ideas they had to hand: pacifism and trade unionism. The peace movement provided the initial core for the New Forum, a movement eventually backed by 200,000 East Germans. It argued for participatory democracy to reshape society but, partly because the trade unions were state organs, it mobilised workers through a grassroots movement rather than through the workplace.

That said, trade union militancy has deep roots in Germany, which had been warped by the DDR to meet the needs of the state. With the movements for democracy came new labour struggles and the foundation of independent trade unions, starting in East Berlin, encouraged by the positive experience of the independent Solidarity union in Poland. There were also unsuccessful attempts to move the New Forum into the workplaces by demanding a general strike, as Linda Fuller mentions in her book Where Was the Working Class? Mathieu Denis and Gareth Dale have also written convincingly about the role of workers in the movement: something removed from pro-capitalist and campist narratives about reunification. We should not deny the mass, revolutionary nature of these movements because of the later failure to defend and extend the social state, or because of the collapse of heavy industry on both sides of the former border. The ‘counter-revolution’ in East Germany did not happen in 1989, but before the establishment of the DDR itself. The creation of the DDR, far from creating socialism, had replaced one brutal, repressive dictatorship with another.

Nor, as John Rees does, should we view the outcome of reunification primarily as a matter of shifting walls between camps of states. In Rees’s opinion, the mass movement in 1989 was doomed because of the absence of socialist ideas. On the Counterfire website, he writes, “When Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev abandoned his East German satellite there was no social force that could resist the embrace of right wing West German chancellor Helmut Kohl. German unification would be a Western annexation, not the beginning of a social revolution…  The neoliberal offensive that took a huge step forward in Germany in 1989 has created a wall between the rich and the poor that is higher than ever, and more difficult to cross.”

This view is mistaken. Echoing Dale’s 2009 article in International Socialism, the revolutionary struggle in East Germany is discounted because of the prior absence of the ideal social force: a working class with revolutionary socialist ideas. The outcome is measured only in the partial attenuation of inequality between West and East, and the geopolitical defeat of Russia. For Rees, it seems, the development, success and memory of mass movements that ended the Stalinist dictatorships are nothing when weighed up against the expansion of NATO.

The same must be said of other struggles. Campism is alive and well, most clearly in relation to Ukraine and Syria. Some socialists have cultivated the absurdity of seeing Putin, leader of the Russian plutocracy that has used IMF diktats to suck wealth out of Russia, and his allies as governing an anti-imperialist bloc of states. The revolutionary struggles of the Syrian workers and peasants against the Syrian dictatorship are discounted by these comrades because US imperialism finds it expedient to oppose dictators who are independent of its sphere of control. In Ukraine, with a different constellation, some comrades are championing reactionary ultra-nationalists in the Donbass against a mass democratic movement. The nationwide Maidan movement took the path of demanding democratic rights and legal protections against corruption and oligarchical power. Because that movement mistakenly believed that an association with the EU was the most effective path towards those victories, some socialists discount the positive nature of the mass movements because one faction of imperialists benefits.

The reality is that mass movements do not always arise in the form of a working class acting consciously for itself. Whatever the level of class consciousness, factions of imperialism will try to co-opt, channel the course of and benefit from progressive movements. Transforming these capitalist factions into blocs whose interests outweigh progressive working class movements leads us to not celebrate the masses’ victories, but eventually to see them as counterproductive struggles which should be subordinated to the interests of neoliberal elites in Russia, Syria and elsewhere.

Socialists must learn different lessons from the fall of the Berlin Wall. The working class and its allies will never have perfect self-consciousness. Our task is to support its forward movement, preparing for the reality of the uneven and unknown path ahead, and never to mourn partial victories.

Ernest Mandel on state campism:

What lies today behind the argument of the ‘international relationship of forces’ is in reality the strategy of ‘state campism’, which tends to subordinate the interests of the working class and the revolution in a given country to the interests of defending this or that workers’ state, or the so-called ‘socialist camp’ of states in its totality. We do not accept that subordination in any shape or form – again not for ‘dogmatic’ reasons, but because history has proven again and again that any victorious spread of revolution strengthens the international situation of any and all workers’ states, because it weakens imperialism and international capitalism. Reciprocally, the defeat of revolution in any country, whatever may have been its origins or the pretexts for which it was sacrificed, weakens the international situation of the workers’ states and the working class.

So in reality, those who defend revolutionary self-restraint and self-limitation (including in Poland) do not defend the interests of the working class, the workers’ states, world socialism or world peace. They defend the interests and material privileges of the labour bureaucracy, even if this defence finds its ideological roots in the ‘dialectic of partial conquests’. In the bureaucratised workers’ states, these layers have become a monstrous ossified caste which rules despotically over society and oppresses the great majority of the working class. In open conflicts with that working class, they do not defend the workers’ state. They defend their privileges and their monopoly in the exercise of power, which are barriers on the way forward towards socialism. Likewise, when they oppose the international extension of the revolution, including with ‘pacifist’ arguments of the type ‘We do not want to provoke imperialism into launching war’ or ‘Destabilisation undermines peace’, they do not serve the interests of the workers’ state, of world socialism or of world peace. They serve the particular, conservative, anti-socialist interests of the bureaucracy. So there is no reason whatsoever to yield to these reactionary strategies and arguments.

Sources

Dale, Gareth, ‘A short autumn of utopia: The East German revolution of 1989’, International Socialism 124 (autumn 2009), http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=581&issue=124

Denis, Mathieu, ‘Labor in the Collapse of the GDR and Reunification: A Crucial, Yet Overlooked Actor’, doctoral dissertation, http://edoc.hu-berlin.de/dissertationen/denis-mathieu-2007-05-31/PDF/denis.pdf

Fuller, Linda, Where Was the Working Class?, University of Illinois Press, 1999

Mandel, Ernest, ‘The Threat of Nuclear War and the Struggle for Socialism’, New Left Review http://bit.ly/Campism

Rees, John, ‘Berlin: the wall that came down and the walls that went up’, http://www.counterfire.org/articles/analysis/17510-berlin-the-wall-that-came-down-and-the-walls-that-went-up

Editorial: Syria – Revolution and Counter-Revolution

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Fightback is releasing a pamphlet on the Syrian revolution in English and Arabic. To buy a copy for $10, please email fightback.australasia@gmail.com. To subscribe to our publications for a year, please visit fightback.zoob.net/payment.html

As you probably know, this pamphlet was crowdfunded, not only to cover regular costs but to pay a translator to print in both English and Arabic. We thank everyone who contributed to the crowdfunding campaign, and Miream Salameh who translated the articles.

This pamphlet contains five articles on the Syrian revolution, originally published over five years, from 2015-2019 on the Fightback website (http://fightback.org.nz). Given this time span, some are outdated in the facts they present, representing the time of publication.

In Syria today, Assad and his lackeys are flattening entire neighbourhoods, so this little collection of writing seems like a small contribution in terms of solidarity.

However, ugly lies about Syria have become commonplace, infecting even the left1 which claims to be a bastion of solidarity. We therefore consider it important to tell the truth about Syria, as an absolute minimum commitment of anyone who believes in democracy and self-determination. As the authors of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War put it, “the start of solidarity is to correct the narrative.”

We insist on the need to learn from a real 21st century revolution, from its inspiring highs to its tragic lows. We have tried to draw from the knowledge and experience of Syrians themselves, with two reviews of books by authors embedded in the revolution, and an interview with a Syrian artist in Australia.

Some may ask what socialists are doing promoting a revolution that’s not directly for socialism. However, as Yassin al-Haj Saleh aptly observes in The Impossible Revolution, political freedom and economic justice are intimately connected. Socialism suffocates without democracy, as the legacy of 20th century revolutions reminds us.

On a sombre note, on the 15th of March 2019 far-right terrorists attacked two mosques in Christchurch, with 51 killed. Christchurch has long been a hotbed of white supremacist groups, however this is an escalation in a country that has not experienced mass shootings for over a century. We are glad to see Jacinda Ardern call these attacks what they are – terrorism – however we also note that successive Labour and National governments have focused their ‘anti-terror’ efforts on indigenous, left and Muslim groups as far right terrorists grew unchecked. Those attacked included Syrian children, having escaped state terror at home only to encounter more terror at the end of their journey. We stand against racism, sectarianism and Islamophobia everywhere it emerges.

Meanwhile, the ‘Arab Spring’ has re-emerged in Sudan and Algeria. The revolution will never die.

We hope you find these articles edifying.

1

E.g. Chris Trotter claimed on New Zealand’s most popular left blog that the CIA armed rebels from the early days of the Syrian revolution in 2011 (in fact this did not occur until 2013): https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2016/10/17/a-howling-moral-vacuum-americas-syrian-policy/

Introduction: ‘Fighting Islamophobia and anti-Semitism’ Special Issue

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To order our pamphlet on Fighting Islamophobia and anti-Semitism for $20, please contact us at Fightback.australasia@gmail.com, or subscribe to our publications at Fightback.zoob.net/payment.html.

This Special Issue began as a response to the events of March 15th in Christchurch New Zealand, the murder of 50 Muslims by a far right terrorist.

On a personal note, a week or two before the attack I visited a local mosque to purchase a book. One old man, perhaps sensing a nonbeliever, kept saying “We are one people, Homo sapiens.” The awkward attempt to be inclusive was appreciated. The story of the old Afghani man at Al Noor mosque whose last words were “welcome brother” reminded me of this. Muslims welcome strangers into their places of worship, yet are not welcomed in so many countries.

We argue that stopping events like the March 15th attack from happening again requires that wider social processes are identified and stopped – particularly the spread of Islamophobia.

We also seek to undermine the false dichotomy between fighting Islamophobia and fighting anti-Semitism. Both reinforce each other, both are key building-blocks of fascism, and both are interlocked with all other forms of oppression and exploitation.

Despite the cries of ‘religion not race’, both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are racist: race is not a genetic category, it is a social one, and religious minorities are racialised by white supremacists. As for claims that Islam is inherently regressive, the Arab Spring proved that Muslim-majority countries are crying out for radical democracy, although the revolutions have now collapsed.

All forms of racism do not operate identically. The US regime, still the most powerful nation on Earth, promotes Islamophobia to justify its expanding military and surveillance state. Anti-Semitism has not apparently enjoyed the same level of structural support – although Trump recently dog-whistled about George Soros, reflecting his general tendency to not so much widen the Overton Window as tear it off its hinges. Russia, a nascent imperialist power, encourages both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as part of its strategy of courting the international far right.

Anti-Semitism poses a distinct kind of threat for the left. As Marxist theorist Moishe Postone highlights, anti-Semitism does not rely on a myth of inferiority like most racism, but rather a myth of superiority – the myth of a conspiratorial elite. This myth has found a new lease on life in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis. This means while anti Semitism is not distinct to the left, and not the only form of racism that leftists reproduce, it can pose a special threat on the left, because it appears superficially to match a class critique of capitalism – yet it covertly replaces class with ethno-nation, a dangerous swap that lets many exploiters off the hook while scapegoating many of the exploited.

This collection comprises two Fightback articles, and two reprints. The first three pieces form a chronology of responses to the Christchurch attack; first, Faisal al-Asaad’s “Today we mourn, tomorrow we organise”, published the day after on Overland; second, a Fightback analysis of the processes that led to the attack, published a week after; finally, a piece reflecting on the relationship between Islamophobic attacks and anti-Semitic ones, published just over three weeks after.

The fourth and final piece was first published in 2014. This offers a more general perspective on how to criticise Israel – a key promoter of Islamophobia – without being anti-Semitic.

We hope this collection helps foster the solidarity needed to finally overcome the nightmares that continue to plague humanity.

Ani White, coordinating editor

‘Feminism for the 99%’ book review: Neither femocrats nor fascists?

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Argentinian women’s strike against femicide.

Review of Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto by Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser (https://www.versobooks.com/books/2924-feminism-for-the-99)

By DAPHNE LAWLESS

When Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya and Nancy Fraser announce that their “manifesto”, Feminism for the 99%, is consciously inspired by perhaps the most famous Manifesto of our time – Marx and Engels’ Manifesto of the Communist Party (582)1 – you can only applaud their ambition. Certainly, one of the (few) hopeful features of the global radical scene today is how many women, queer and gender-queer authors and analysts are standing up to offer new thinking and possible ways out of the impasse into which our movement has sunk, in the twilight of neoliberalism and the era of Trump and Brexit.

This short book is divided into the “Manifesto” proper, and a “Postface” which goes into more detail about the intellectual basis upon which their authors make their political proposals. The authors set themselves the task of combining modern “intersectional” feminism with Marxist political economy – a necessary task in the modern era, which they sum up as follows:

As feminists, we appreciate that capitalism is not just an economic system, but something larger: an institutionalized social order that also encompasses the apparently ‘noneconomic’ relations and practices that sustain the official economy. (619)

The roots of their analysis lies in Social Reproduction Theory. The authors use an excellent turn of phrase to sum up the division that this theory makes between the two spheres of work in capitalist society: “profit-making and people-making work” (230). “People-making” work (aka social reproduction) includes housework, care for children, the sick or the elderly, emotional labour, and all the other little things which go together to make life under capitalism (barely) liveable. The great trick of capitalism as an economic system is that capitalists only pay for profit-making work, and that for less than it is worth; families and individuals are stuck with the responsibility and the costs for performing essential people-making work (excluding some meagre support in countries with a welfare state). The authors rehearse the analysis of the Marxist tradition, starting with Engels, that capitalism deliberately encourages gender oppression and the institution of the patriarchal nuclear family, which keep women docile and isolated, thus ensuring a continual supply of unpaid people-making work.

The crucial advance the authors make is to argue that, since people-making work is as vital to the survival of capitalism as profit-making work, that the weapon of the strike – workers withdrawing their labour – is potentially as powerful in the people-making sphere of society as it is in the profit-making sphere, and even more so in the current neoliberal era where workers’ organisation at the point of production has been so run down. They point to two major “Women’s Strike” waves in different part of the world – a Polish women’s strike against that country’s laws against abortion, and an Argentinian women’s strike against a court ruling acquitting two men of the rape and murder of a teenage girl (75) – which later linked up as part of an “International Women’s Strike” on International Women’s Day, 2017. It was working on this very strike which brought the three authors of the book together (607).

The authors point to this phenomenon as not only an extension of the strike weapon into the people-making sphere of society, but its reinvention in a new context:

this burgeoning movement has invented new ways to strike and infused the strike form itself with a new kind of politics. By coupling the withdrawal of labor with marches, demonstrations, small business closures, blockades, and boycotts, the movement is replenishing the repertoire of strike actions, once large but dramatically shrunk by a decades-long neoliberal offensive. At the same time, this new wave is democratizing strikes and expanding their scope – above all, by broadening the very idea of what counts as “labor”. (91)

The authors are very clear that the idea of a “women’s” or “feminist” strike is not a new form of the separatist-feminist politics of the 1980s.

Not only women and gender-nonconforming people, but also men have joined the movement’s massive demonstrations against the defunding of schools, health care, housing, transport, and environmental protections… Feminist strikes are thus becoming the catalyst and model for broad-based efforts to defend our communities. (116)

strikes belong to the working class as a whole – not to a partial stratum of it, nor to particular organizations. (802)

The Manifesto proper is divided into eleven “Theses” which mark out an explicitly intersectional approach. “Feminism for the 99%” is, the authors say, not only essentially anti-capitalist, but internationalist, anti-racist, and ecosocialist. They draw a very convincing parallel between the exploitation of women’s unpaid “people-making” work and the dispossession of indigenous people: “the racialized expropriation of unfree or dependent peoples has served ever since as a hidden enabling condition for the profitable exploitation of ‘free labor’” (433). And this is in turn paralleled by the ransacking and degradation of the global environmental “commons”:

women occupy the front lines of the present ecological crisis… [and] are also at the forefront of struggles” against it… women model new, integrated forms of struggle that challenge the tendency of mainstream environmentalists to frame the defense of ‘nature’ and the material well-being of human communities as mutually antithetical. (470–488)

One of the authors’ most sharp criticisms of neoliberal feminism is the observation that privileged women in the Global North have only managed to liberate themselves from the social obligation to provide unpaid people-making work by passing the burden down a “global care chain” (758). Their relative economic success allows them to pay for women from the Global South to take up this labour as nannies, cleaners and carers – to the extent that some Southern countries, at the behest of the IMF and similar institutions, have made a positive policy of sending women overseas to perform such labour, thus depriving their own communities of carers. “The overall result is a new, dualized organization of social reproduction, commodified for those who can pay for it and privatized for those who cannot” (766). The Global North not only imports women’s care work, but exports women’s oppression – as in the Export Processing Zones of northern Mexico, whose mainly female workforce is disciplined in part by sexual violence (332).

Critique

One very curious omission is that the book makes no reference to sex work or sex workers. This omission is particularly puzzling given that sex workers were a vital part of the International Women’s Strike which brought the authors together (see https://www.redpepper.org.uk/on-international-womens-day-sex-workers-are-going-on-strike/). The book’s existing analysis of “global care chains” could easily be expanded to consider women from ‘peripheral’ nations trafficked or economically migrating to ‘core’ nations, so it would be interesting to see the authors comment on this. Additionally, the Women’s Strike strategy enables sex workers to take action for their own interests, rather than paternalistically being regulated by the state as both conservatives and sex-worker exclusionary ‘radical feminists’ advocate.

But by far the greatest weakness of the book in the sense of practical politics is an attempted equivalence of “reactionary populism” and “progressive neoliberalism” as twin enemies against whom this new movement is to be built. There seems to be a clear disconnect in the Manifesto between its very convincing Marxist-feminist analysis and its political appeal to a language of populism. The very turn of phrase, “the 99%” (which came out of the Occupy movement at the start of the decade) indicates a populist rather than a class analysis, appealing to “anti-elite” sentiment while deliberately glossing over precisely who the “1%” are. As is shown when it is taken up by the populist Right, this slogan can be directed against the “fancy” lifestyle habits of the urbanized, professional middle-class rather than the real culprit of our misery, global capitalism and the class which embodies it – or a fictitious “cabal” of ethnic, political or sexual Others who are believed to have seized control.

One example of this is the authors’ acceptance of the argument of Right-wing populists, and their fellow travellers on the “alt-left”, that Donald Trump is now the President of the United States because “Hilary Clinton failed to excite women voters” (51).  This is an extremely tendentious reading of the 2016 election, which Clinton would have won by a clear margin if the United States elected its President by global standards of democracy. The other major fact ignored by this analysis is that, according to exit polling, 52% of white women who voted in the 2016 US presidential voted for Trump, the “pussy-grabbing” candidate of white supremacy and misogyny.Perhaps there might be other reasons that white women would vote for a white-supremacist candidate other than “the less racist candidate didn’t excite them”, particularly their whiteness and racism.

It is quite distressing in this context that the authors use “anti-elitist” tropes which are clearly associated with right-wing attacks on the Clinton campaign, such as dismissive mentions of “pant suits” (139) or even “brunches” (78).3 The authors have every right and justification to criticize the politics of what they call “femocrats” – the Sheryl Sandbergs (and yes, the Hillary Clintons) of this world who simply want more women to get ahead under capitalism. But such glib re-use of the slogans effectively used by Right-populism by people arguing for a Left political project is not just lazy. In the current conjuncture, it is dangerous. It does not draw a line between class opposition to the hollowness of neoliberalism’s promises of equality and diversity, and Right-populist attacks on those politics altogether. The authors themselves recognize this danger when they discuss “those currents of left-wing parties in Europe that propose to ‘co-opt’ the Right by themselves opposing immigration” (414). What shall we then say about co-opting the Right’s culture-war sneering at “pant suits” and “brunch”?4 It seems particularly strange in a context where the authors praise the success of the #MeToo movement, which began among women working in Hollywood, a subculture which seems particularly “brunch-prone” (332).

The danger of “99%” populism which concentrates too much on opposition to liberal hypocrisy is shown when the authors discuss what rights women currently have under progressive neoliberalism:

The only way that women and gender non-conforming people can actualize the rights they have on paper or might still win is by transforming the underlying social system that hollows out rights. By itself, legal abortion does little for poor and working-class women who have neither the means to pay for it nor access to clinics that provide it… laws criminalizing gender violence are a cruel hoax if they turn a blind eye to the structural sexism and racism of criminal justice systems. (150)

From Marx onward, socialists’ opposition to the rhetoric of bourgeois democracy and human rights has been that these promises are but a shadow of what real liberation would be like. But that cannot allow us to believe that bourgeois democracy and rights mean nothing. Just because abortion rights in the United States are de facto restricted (financially and by local reactionary laws) doesn’t mean that it is a matter of indifference as to whether the Supreme Court, including one Trump appointee who has been credibly accused of sexual assault as a young man, overturns the Roe v. Wade decision and abolishes that bourgeois right altogether.

To describe bourgeois democracy and rights as a “cruel hoax” does not take serious account of what would happen to women and the gender-queer in a world where such laws and rights were swept away, or where the bourgeois establishment stopped even pretending to pay lip service to them. One possible answer can be seen before our eyes in Putin’s Russia. The replacement of progressive neoliberalism with reactionary populism or fascism is not a matter of indifference to the most vulnerable workers. It has been previously noted that the leading voices who put the critique of progressive neoliberalism ahead of hard opposition to Right-populism – what Idrees Ahmad calls the “alt-left” (https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/2017/8/25/the-alt-left-is-real-and-its-helping-fascists) are white (mainly male) media professionals, the kind of people who are not only not the first targets of fascism, but if they are smart and/or cynical enough, may be able to make a good living as regime publicists5.

Although the authors are correct that we have to build a movement which fights “reactionary populism but also its progressive neoliberal opponents” (193), we cannot be indifferent between these two evils here and now – especially when our own forces are so weak. The authors blithely announce: “We reject not only reactionary populism but also progressive neoliberalism. In fact, it is by splitting both these alliances that we intend to build our movement” (542). The question of who “we” is in this paragraph is an important one. It presupposes an anti-capitalist, pro-democracy global movement which has sufficient social weight to fight both these evils. It is imperative to build this movement, independent of and critical of progressive neoliberalism – but the support shown by (at least) a plurality of white women voters in the United States for the Trump movement shows how difficult it will be to “separate working-class communities from the forces promoting militarism, xenophobia and ethnonationalism” (552)6. Note the problematic formation here – the section of the working-class which (in Western countries) either active or passively supports reactionary politics are overwhelmingly white. The black and Latin@ working class did not vote for Trump, neither did black or Latina women. Racist ideas will destroy any working-class or feminist movement, and they don’t go away simply by blaming the progressive liberals for not fighting them hard enough. The fate of socialists in Britain who thought they could “piggyback” on the momentum of the Right-populist Brexit movement to shift it in a socialist-international direction should be a warning for everyone.

Conclusion

Arruzza, Bhattacharya and Fraser stake out a convincing claim for a revolutionary socialist, internationalist and anti-racist feminism which rejects both right-wing populism and the “progressive” wing of neoliberalism. But the fact must be faced that, at this point in history, it is the former who are in ascendancy and the latter who are on the defensive. It is certainly easier to turn a mass of excluded, despairing workers and poor people against this class of managers and privileged workers than against an abstract global “system”; but this is precisely what the populist Right and its fascist fringe is doing right now.

The authors are correct that “a crisis… is also a moment of political awakening and an opportunity for social transformation” (194). It is also, as we have seen, an opportunity for all manner of fascist and fascist-like monsters to crawl out of the gutters of history, to attack the very ideas of diversity and equality that progressive liberals pay lip-service to. Thus, the Left cannot hope to cynically reuse the Right’s attack lines for our own ends. We have to promote a message of fulfilling the promises of progressive liberalism, opposing their hollowing-out by neoliberal economics; not treat the femocrats and the fascists as if there were no choice between them. Thankfully, the authors’ call for the reinvention of the tactic of the mass strike for the 21st century, extending it into the “people-making” sectors of society, is a cogent and intelligent one, which will hopefully be taken up by the broader radical Left.

Our movement today finds itself rehashing the arguments of the 1920s and 1930s of how anti-capitalists should react to a situation where a growing Right-wing populist and fascist trend threatens bourgeois democracy. The first reaction of the global Communist movement, which had come under the domination of Joseph Stalin’s authoritarian government in Moscow, was the “Third Period” analysis (1928-1933) in which Communist Parties performatively rejected both liberal democracy and fascism – helping smooth the path for the latter, and thus their own path into the concentration camps. In some cases, as in Germany, Communists actually worked side-by-side with the Nazis to put pressure on the establishment parties. Once the true horror of fascism in power became apparent, Stalin decreed a switch to the equal and opposite error – where the Communists joined a “Popular Front” against fascism with the bourgeois establishment, suppressing their own independent politics and thus throwing workers’ interests under the bus. Although Leon Trotsky’s alternative tradition of revolutionary socialism can be seen as problematic for many reasons, his insistence on rejecting both these cynical approaches in favour of united working-class anti-fascist action is still a guiding light for those who want to stop the rise of global fascism before it’s too late.

1 References are made to Kindle locations in the e-book edition.

2 Other polling analysis has cast doubt on whether the 52% figure is accurate, but still comes up with a preference by white women voters for Trump over Clinton: see http://time.com/5422644/trump-white-women-2016/.

3 See an interesting article suggesting that using “brunch” as a target of political derision is in itself misogynistic: https://www.glam.com/lifestyle/reasons-to-love-brunch/

4 It becomes even stranger when you realise that all three of the authors are professional academics at universities in New York and London – surely members of precisely the class whose consumption habits they are ridiculing? I would be surprised if the authors had a personal objection to eating brunch or wearing pant-suits in their day-to-day lives.

5 It is possibly significant that this Manifesto has been published by Verso Books, who have come under fire from many leftists and liberals for publishing authors who push an anti-neoliberal message which comes perilously close to apologies for right-wing authoritarianism and populism – for example, Max Blumenthal, the propagandist for Putin’s imperialist war in defence of Syria’s Assad regime (see https://twitter.com/im_PULSE/status/1113640209516781568). As Marxists and therefore materialists, we must critically interrogate whose voices get amplified by professional publishers and institutions, and what the material incentives behind such decisions are – even on the self-described “Left”.

6 Dutch author Flavia Dzodan’s exposé of “alt-right feminism” is worth reading in this context: https://medium.com/this-political-woman/alt-feminism-and-the-white-nationalist-women-who-love-it-f8ee20cd30d9

From Pittsburgh to Christchurch: Why we must fight Islamophobia and anti Semitism together

Vigil for victims of synagogue shooting, Pittsburgh, USA - 29 Oct 2018

Left: Al Noor Mosque, Christchurch. Right: Tree of Life synagogue, Pittsburgh.

By Ani White.

Fightback plans to release a pamphlet on Fighting Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism. To buy a copy for $20, please get in touch at fightback.australasia@gmail.com. Subscribers will also receive a copy, you can subscribe by PayPal or credit card here.

On the 27th of October 2018, a fascist terrorist killed 11 attendants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg, USA. Five months later, on March 15th of this year, another fascist killed 50 worshippers at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand.

It should now go without saying that both attacks reflected an international upsurge of the far right. Despite targeting different faiths in different countries, both attackers were motivated by transnational far right ideas fuelled by mainstream dog-whistles, and incubated in ugly corners of the internet. Both posted their plans on niche online forums just before carrying them out.

However, the links between the attacks are more intricate than this simple observation. After the Christchurch shooting, the Tree of Life synagogue released the following statement on their website:

We stand beside our Muslim brothers and sisters and mourn alongside the families and friends who have lost loved ones in this unconscionable act of violence. We will continue to work towards a day when all people on this planet can live together in peace and mutual respect.”1

The group also established a gofundme to support the Muslim community in Christchurch, raising over $60,000 at the time of writing.2 In the wake of the Pittsburgh attack, Muslim organisations raised over $200,000 for the victims.3

The Tree of Life synagogue’s solidarity with Christchurch Muslims was a continuation of a long-standing policy. In fact, their support for Muslims and refugees played a role in motivating the choice to target Tree of Life. The shooter posed the following statement to white supremacist-friendly social media site Gab:

HIAS likes to bring invaders that kill our people.

I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.

Screw your optics, I’m going in.4

The post refers to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), which helps resettle refugees in Pittsburgh. Although the HIAS was founded to help Jewish refugees, in the 2000s the group expanded to help refugees from all backgrounds. Seven days before the shooting, the HIAS led Jewish groups in a ‘Refugee Shabat.’5 After the attack, HIAS senior vice president Melanie Nezer released a statement saying: “[T]here’s no denying that this is a devastating moment… But I don’t think it lessens our resolve. If anything, it makes us feel more strongly that we need to stand up for what’s right.”6

As pointed out in a Vox article at the time, an old conspiracy theory about Jews populating ‘white’ countries with refugees and immigrants motivated the attack:

The obsession that appears to have tipped the gunman over the edge was a conspiracy theory insinuating that the migrant caravan currently making its way through southern Mexico, and which President Donald Trump and conservative media have treated as an existential threat to the United States, is a Jewish plot.

His response was an attack that was both anti-Semitic — an attack on Jews and Jewish values — and characteristic of Trump-era xenophobia, which is generally expressed toward Muslims and Latinos.7

In other words, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism fed eachother in motivating the attack. This contrasts with accounts that Israel’s crimes motivate the rise of anti-Semitism: the far-right’s Islamophobia undermines such an explanation. In fact some on the far right have come to support Israel as a bastion against Islam, in spite of their continuing anti-Semitism.

It’s essential that we have a sharp analysis of the far right. Unfortunately, many left-wing responses to the situation are grossly inadequate. After the Pittsburgh shooting, a branch of the UK Labour Party voted down a motion to condemn the Pittsburgh shooting and anti-Semitism in general.8 At best this reflects a fight over the definition of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, prioritising factional battles over the principle of opposing violent anti-Semitism everywhere. At worst, the decision reflects genuine anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. The most convicing way to discredit accusations of anti-Semitism is to not behave anti-Semitically. A dispute over what constitutes anti-Semitism may be legitimate, but not a dispute over whether to condemn anti-Semitism.

Conversely, Israeli reactions to the Pittsburgh shooting were also inadequate. First of all, Israel’s Ashkenazic chief rabbi David Lau refused to recognise the Tree of Life synagogue as a synagogue, since it does not follow Orthodox Judaism.9 Secondly, Israeli officials refused to condemn Trump for fuelling racial hatred, reflecting a recent tendency to actually befriend racists and anti-Semites outside Israel. Finally, Israeli opposition leader Avi Gabbay said the attack should motivate Jews to immigrate to Israel rather than staying in the USA.10 An article in Haaretz, a liberal Israeli newspaper, suggested that “American Jews may never forgive Israel for its reaction to the Pittsburgh massacre.”11

In part, these inadequate responses reflect a strategic perspective of Zionism (note: modern political Zionism can be most usefully defined as support for a Jewish state, on Palestinian land). For Zionist leaders, there is no point in fighting anti-Semitism in the diaspora, rather Jewish people must migrate to Israel. In this account, the colonisation of Palestine is the only way to ensure Jewish safety. In this sense, anti-Semitism in the diaspora fuels Zionism, as Israeli leaders take advantage of anti-Semitic attacks to call for escape to Israel. It’s often pointed out that Israeli propagandists weaponise accusations of anti-Semitism to discredit legitimate criticism, but their refusal to fight genuine anti-Semitism in the diaspora is a subtler strategy. Combating anti-Semitism in the diaspora is therefore essential to undermining the Zionist colonial project.

The need to fight Islamophobia and anti-Semitism together is not only ethical, it is practical, as they reinforce eachother. The solidarity between Pittsburgh and Christchurch, in the face of attacks that seek to divide, is a model for all who seek liberation. The Jewish diaspora slogan “wherever we live, that is our homeland” must be demonstrated in practice, by ensuring Jewish and Muslim communities are safe and welcome everywhere.

See also

‘Fighting Islamophpbia and anti-Semitism’ pamphlet to be released

In the wake of the Christchurch tragedy, Fightback plans to release a pamphlet on Fighting Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

If you would like to pre-order a copyfor $20, please contact us at fightback.australasia@gmail.com. Subscribers will also receive a copy, you can subscribe here: https://fightback.zoob.net/payment.html