Monday, December 11, 2017

Why do the literati hate Marx (and Engels)?

Note on Facebook from a UK comrade:

Why do the literati hate Marx (and Engels)?

Last week the National Theatre screened a live performance of “The Young Marx” from the newly opened Bridge theatre in London. Sir Nicholas Hytner previously the Artistic Director of the National Theatre in London directs the play. It is a farce whose aim, it is claimed, is to present the ”human” side of Marx. Why would they want to do this, especially as the first production in Hytner’s new multi-million pound theatre? Basically, to discredit Marx’s theoretical and political legacy by portraying him - and Marxism - as farcical. As the Financial Times put it: ‘Been and Coleman (the play’s authors) find comedy as well as pathos in an extraordinarily accurate account of the thirtysomething Karl Marx’s debaucheries and predations in 1850s Soho.’ It is claimed that everything in the play is based on fact. What these people so hate – and are fearful of - is Marx (and Engels) scientific analysis of the workings of capitalism, his revolutionary commitment and involvement in working class struggle, and his explanation why the very workings of capitalism would produce its own gravedigger, the working class. And that all this is pertinent in today’s world.

There isn’t anything sacrosanct about Marx’s life. Placed in some serious context it might be fun to devise a plot involving Marx and Engel’s pub-crawls up the Tottenham Court Road and other foibles (the FTs so-called “debauchery) - if you are that way inclined. Moreover, radical groups and individuals, to this day, involve themselves in perennial inanities, and Marx had to put up with all sorts of cranks and misfits. Indeed, Marx was not amiss to using comedy to make serious points. In this regard, he wrote a satire of many such individuals in his “Heroes of the Exiles” and their ‘venomous internecine struggles, … petty personality conflicts, complicated intrigues, pretentious political manoeuvres and sordid compromises with the realities of living in exile with "dubious sources of income"’ (Rodney Livingston, translator). Our authors choose instead to trivialise everything, sneering at, and dismissive of Marx’s world historic achievements. A whole chunk of the play is focused on Marx and Engels sexual relationships, hypocritically inviting the audience to judge their morality. Hytner wants us to laugh knowingly at something he self-admittedly knows nothing at all about. In the Q&A session after the performance that I attended, Hytner claimed disingenuously to have read the first 5 pages of Capital, only to give up, he said, because he found it unintelligible (he didn't say which volume). You see: science is useless if it takes a little effort to understand, especially if it defies common sense. So much for quantum mechanics!

Little wonder that the writers and director prefer to facetiously counter-pose the perceived iniquities of the man rather than encouraging the audience to think about his thoughts. So, the plot has Marx climbing up and down chimneys, hiding in cupboards to avoid creditors and running across rooftops to escape the secret police – presented as harmless Keystone cops. A potentially amusing scene has Marx in a pawnshop explaining the difference between use value and exchange vale. But that is immediately undercut by portraying him as being so stupid to be outwitted into giving away his wife’s family silver, rather than raising money. What a laugh! He is depicted as fighting a duel out of jealousy against a supposed would-be seducer of his wife. Marx did indeed fight a duel, except it took place when a student youth long before he became in any way political, let alone a communist. It had nothing to do with his love life. What is also true is that Marx applied for a job on the railways – to the laughter of nine tenths of the audience - but in 1862, not 1850. In another “statement of fact” the playwrights have Marx engaged in a brawl in the British Museum, thereby belittling the long hours of intensive study he engaged in there. Charles Darwin is drawn into the carnage. Whilst Marx greatly admired Darwin, the two never met. Jenny Marx, for her part, is presented as the long-suffering housewife, fending off suitors, rather than the political activist she was, who, alongside Marx, willingly subordinated her lifestyle to revolutionary activity. Moreover, she was fully involved in Marx’s theoretical and political work. She joined the “League of the Just” – a precursor of the Communist League – before either Marx or Engels. Then, towards the end, they have the nerve to portray Engels attacking Marx for being too academic and self-centred, and implying that Marx’s identification of the working class as the agency for overthrowing capitalism was purely theoretical. This is just at the time they are writing the articles mentioned earlier that later made up the pamphlet “Class Struggles in France” - in which they were fully immersed - and when the perspective of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” is enunciated for the first time and de facto counter-posed to the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie” aka capitalist democracy. Poetic license? I don’t think so.

Anything is considered good for a laugh. But what exactly is so funny about a political refugee hounded by the secret police, arrested, briefly imprisoned, and deported from first this country, then that, then another, as he strove to be centrally involved in the revolutionary upheavals of that period – much to the consternation of the powers that be? As they fled arrest to London, most of his and Jenny’s belongings had to be abandoned (they were given 24 hours to leave France), and, funnily enough, when they arrived they had no money or steady source of income. For many years, they lived on the breadline, given some financial support by friends (especially Engels) but having to avoid creditors and landlords when unable to pay their rent and other debts (ring a bell?). They couldn’t even pay the medical fees to try to save their dying son. Even Marx’s ill health is a subject of mirth. He suffered especially painful boils which often prevented him from sitting down whilst willy nilly continuing his voluminous research. Boils? What a joke. Is it appropriate to poke fun at all this? Is it all just good humour to present refugees as “scroungers”? Where have we heard that one before? And whilst we are at it, what exactly is so hilarious about being a rail worker?

For some unfathomable reason, 1850 is chosen as the year of the “young” Marx. This is a bit of a mystery as he was already 32 years old and by this time had basically settled accounts with the utopian socialists and had more or less put together the basic planks of his overall theory. In another statement of fact, the authors claimed that Marx was demoralised by the outcome of the defeats of the 1848-49 European revolutions, and moreover was suffering from a ‘writers block’. Nothing could have been further from the truth. In fact Marx (and Engels) were, incorrectly, expecting a new uprising. As to a writers block, at the start of 1850, he and Engels prepared a long report to the Communist League drawing the lessons of these revolutions. This was elaborated in a series of articles by Marx published during the course of 1850 in the “Neue Rheinische Zeitung: Politisch-ökonomische Revue”. These articles needed time-consuming research, involving extensive interviews with activists in the revolutions, also based in London. As Engels testified ‘after the spring of 1850 Marx once again found leisure for economic studies, and first of all took up the economic history of the last ten years.’ Further, intensive discussion must also have taken place between Marx and Engels during this period, because by the time the fourth and last article was published as a double issue in the Autumn of 1850, co-authored with Engels, they had revised their views as to whether a new outbreak of revolution was imminent. In fact, they now thought that objective conditions did not exist for a victorious revolution in Europe (economic crisis) and, crucially, what the course and character of these revolutions showed was that the revolutionary role of the bourgeoisie had been exhausted.

This said, however, there is a second good joke: the suggestion in the Q&A session that John McDonell, shadow Labour Chancellor (Finance minster), and even Jeremy Corbyn, are Marxists. Hence the play’s purported relevance. One is reminded of Marx’s remark in relation to the proclivities of some self proclaimed Marxists: if their politics are Marxist, he said “ce qu'il y a de certain c'est que moi, je ne suis pas Marxiste” (“what is certain is that I myself am not a Marxist”). It is in relation to the on goings in the Labour Party that the star speaker was a one Tristram Hunt, previously a member of Labour’s shadow cabinet under Ed Miliband. He resigned as MP shortly after Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the leadership election and became director of the Victoria & Albert Museum (salary and perks circa £250,000). His other qualification was being the author of a biography of Engels. The play was clearly inspired by this work, in particular, its central theme that the personal and the political must be combined in order to judge the worth of any theory – as the title of his biography makes clear (“The Frock-Coated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels”). Tell that to Albert Einstein.

Despite some generally good acting, unless you’re into Xmas pantomimes don’t waste your time and money. Wait instead for a serious treatment of the “young Marx” in a film of that name directed by Raoul Peck, the Haitian filmmaker who won critical acclaim earlier this year for his James Baldwin documentary “I Am Not Your Negro”. Whilst already released in most of the world, the film has yet to find a UK distributor. But one lives in hope. Find a review of the film here:

(In Review)

‘Young Karl Marx’ portrays birth of

communist movement

The Young Karl Marx, 2017 film, directed by Raoul Peck.


Acclaimed Haitian director Raoul Peck’s new film, “The Young Karl Marx,” is an inspiring and historically accurate portrayal of the 1847 formation of the first international revolutionary working-class party — the Communist League. Peck has also directed the films “Lumumba” and “I Am Not Your Negro.”

The League`s goal was to win workers to its program, the Communist Manifesto, drafted by two young fighters, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, and published the following year. The two revolutionaries were 29 and 27 years old at the time.

The film — based on correspondence between Marx and Engels, with free-flowing English, French and German dialogue and distributed with subtitles in 20 languages — vividly transports viewers back to this turning point in history. The 1848 bourgeois revolutions in Europe would break out shortly, with the rising industrial bourgeoisie struggling for political supremacy against the declining feudal landowners and their monarchies, but at the same time more and more fearful of the growing industrial working class.

These momentous changes in social and economic relations were reflected in radical challenges to traditional philosophical and political thought in the halls of academia in Germany and elsewhere, and among a vanguard layer of revolutionary factory workers and artisans in cities like Paris; London; Manchester, England; and Cologne, Germany.

Harassed by the Prussian police for writing newspaper articles criticizing the rulers’ treatment of workers and peasants and challenging the philosophical justifications for the established order, Marx and his aristocratically born but highly political wife Jenny Marx and their children are forced to flee to Paris.

Here, the film shows how Marx met Engels in 1844. Engels was born into wealth, unlike Marx who lives in poverty. His father is a German industrial capitalist and co-owner of a cotton spinning mill in Manchester. Engels works there as a skilled clerk in the office with a bird’s-eye view of the class struggle on the factory floor, realistically presented by Peck. Mary Burns, a militant mill worker in the plant, becomes Engels’ wife and introduces him to the conditions faced by Irish workers in England.

Marx and Engels find they’re on the same political wavelength. The meeting is the beginning of a lifelong political collaboration between the two.

We are with them as they begin to wage a struggle against their political opponents and clarify their own ideas in the debate. They explain the capitalists are class enemies and that the working class is destined to lead a revolutionary movement to abolish the capitalist system. Polemics they wrote that helped shape revolutionary Marxism come to life as we see them take on Pierre Proudhon, known as the founder of anarchism, and others.

Over the course of the film, as they did in life, Marx and Engels are increasingly attracted to a group of workers organized in the League of the Just as they seek to convince them of their materialist and scientific views. This culminates in a dramatic scene where Marx and Engels are accepted into the organization by the group’s leaders in London, who ask them to help draft a new program and organizational structure to present to the next congress of the League.

Communist League founded

In a rousing scene at the congress, Engels makes a speech explaining that all men are in fact not brothers. Capitalist factory owners are enemies of the working class. Finally a programmatic document prepared by Marx and Engels is adopted by majority vote with much cheering and shouting. The old League slogan “All men are brothers” is transformed into “Workingmen of all countries unite!” The name of the organization becomes the Communist League, a public organization proudly proclaiming its revolutionary program.

The film concludes with Marx and Engels drafting the Communist Manifesto, reading aloud as they write.

Just before the credits roll Peck presents a striking photomontage of world events today. It is effective in getting across the idea, which Peck expressed in a question and answer session I participated in following the screening of the film in Montreal, that the Communist Manifesto is as relevant today as it was when it was published by the League 169 years ago.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Peck’s minor conflations in the story — like his decision, for time reasons, to present the League’s first two congresses with Marx and Engels participating as one — don’t weaken the credibility or impact of the film.

Those looking for a way out of the deepening, economic, social, political, and moral crisis of the capitalist system should see this film. It shows the birth of the movement that the Socialist Workers Party and Communist Leagues in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. trace their continuity to.

I recommend you contact these parties to learn what you can do today to advance the fight to overthrow capitalist rule and open the door to the construction of a socialist world. 


Monday, December 4, 2017

Into the country of the Kurds

Chapter 4 of Geoffrey Household's translation The Exploits of Xenophon.


4. Kurdestan

The Greeks were now north of Mosul, near the present frontier between Iraq and Turkey. They had no maps, and the country ahead of them was utterly unknown and inhabited by wild, unconquerable mountain tribes.

In the world of that time no people but the Greeks would ever have attempted such a march. They alone had the discipline—and the intelligence. Their quick minds could learn by experience. Xenophon and his fellow-generals had imitated the Persian cavalry charge. And they were beginning to use light infantry, which had never had any importance in Greece, just as a modern commander would. The lessons they learned made it possible, seventy years later, for Alexander to conquer the whole Middle East and to change human history.

When Cheirisophus and the main body of the army had come down from the hills, they found themselves again in the valley of the Tigris. Parties at once set off to lift cattle and supplies from the nearby villages, and were cut up by the Persian cavalry. Tissaphernes promptly set fire to the villages, so all their hopes of a decent meal were disappointed.

Cheirisophus had to march out in force to rescue his men, and I met his column as my mountain party and I were making our way down to the plain. They were pretty down-hearted and I did my best to cheer them up.

‘If Tissaphernes is burning the villages,’ I said, ‘it looks to me as if he has at last admitted that the country is ours, and not the King’s. What do you think, Cheirisophus? Shall we fight for it?’

‘No,’ he answered. ‘There’s a better trick than that. We’ll burn some villages ourselves. That’ll puzzle ’em! They’ll begin to wonder if we mean to starve them, too.’

In this country we seemed to have come to a dead end. We had either to cross the Tigris or march into unknown mountains or go back. We looked at the Tigris and sounded its depth with our spears. It couldn’t be crossed. One of our Rhodian soldiers had an ingenious idea of making a bridge of skins blown up into balloons. This might have worked, but Persian cavalry were in position on the opposite bank to stop us landing. So we decided to go back; but, before we did, we carried out Cheirisophus’ suggestion of burning all the villages in sight.

This bluff completely beat Tissaphernes who could not make out what our next move would be. When he saw that we had turned back towards Babylon, he continued his march to the west. We never set eyes on his army again.

What to do next we did not know, so the generals had all the prisoners brought up to headquarters to be questioned on the geography. We learned that if we marched east we should come to the highlands of Persia and the capitals of Ecbatana and Susa, where the Great King used to spend the summer. That was of no more use to us than the road south to Babylon.

The road to the west led to Asia Minor. But that was the route Tissaphernes had taken, and we had had quite enough of him. So the only possibility left was to march north into the country of the Kurds.

The prisoners told us that these Kurds were a very warlike people who had destroyed to the last man an army of 120,000 men which the King had sent against them. But if, they said, we could force our way through the mountains of Kurdestan, we should come to Armenia. This was a rich and prosperous province of the Empire with roads leading anywhere we might want to go.

The first of the mountain passes was close to us. We decided that it must be captured at once before the Kurds could defend it. So we told the men to turn in as they were and be ready to march after midnight.

After prayers and sacrifices, we crossed the plain under cover of darkness. At dawn we were in the pass. Cheirisophus led the advance with all our light infantry, and I took the rear guard as usual. Since there seemed to be no more danger of attacks on the tail of the column, I had only the heavy infantry of the line.

In the valleys and on the terraces of the mountains were many tiny villages. They were all deserted, for the Kurds with their women and children had fled to the high ground. We took what food we needed and were careful not to loot—though they had some fine bronze pots and pans—for we still hoped that the Kurds might let us through in peace. We called to them whenever we saw them, telling them that we, too, were enemies of the Great King, but they made no reply.

We were on the march for some sixteen hours, and it was dark again when we came out into kinder country. Just as my rear guard was emerging from the pass, we were smartly attacked by a small body of Kurds who surprised us and did a lot of damage. This was a nasty warning. If they had had time to concentrate a larger force, they could have wiped out half our army in the dark. We bivouacked in the valley, and we didn’t like it. All around us, in a circle on the mountains, were the watch fires of the Kurds.

The next morning, which was November 13th, the generals determined to abandon all prisoners, slaves and noncombatants, all unnecessary private property, and any of the transport animals that were weak. To see that our order was obeyed we posted ourselves at the narrowest part of the road and confiscated anything that we did not approve.

That day passed with only a little fighting, but on the next a great mountain storm swept over us. We could not camp because we were again short of food. With the storm came the Kurdish arrows, so we were continually trying to clear the pass and making very little progress. Again and again I would send a runner up to the head of the column, asking Cheirisophus to slow down. Usually he did, but once or twice he just told us to stop our counter attacks and hurry up. The march, at any rate in the rear guard, became uncommonly like a run. I lost two first-class men here—a Spartan shot through shield and leather jacket and an Arcadian shot clean through the helmet.

I have never seen anything like those Kurdish archers. Their bows were five feet long, and they drew the string with the left foot planted against the lower end of the bow. The arrows were a yard long and so heavy that we picked them up, fitted them to our throwing thongs and used them as javelins.

When at last we came into camp, I had it out with Cheirisophus. But as usual he was right.

‘Look at that path going straight up the mountain!’ he said. ‘And remember we have to follow it! That’s why I was in a hurry—to seize the pass before the Kurds could get there first. Well, they have—as you can see by that mass of men up there. The guides say there is no other way.’

The position was desperate. I had a couple of Kurdish prisoners whom we had taken in a counter attack, and I suggested to Cheirisophus that we should question them separately. The first denied and kept on denying that there was any other path, in spite of all we did to him. That one was killed, and when the other Kurd saw what had happened to him, he talked.

‘There is a way round,’ he told us, ‘and good enough for pack animals. My friend wouldn’t speak about it because he has a married daughter who lives along the road. But I will take you.’

We asked what difficulties we had to expect, and found out from him that there was a ridge which we must seize and hold if the army was to have any hope of getting through. So we called an officers’ conference, explained the situation and asked for volunteers.

Three Arcadian officers of the line stepped forward, as did a light infantry captain who had a fine record of gallantry. They collected an assault party of 2,000 men, had a quick bite to eat and set off at once with the prisoner as guide. The dusk was coming down and torrents of rain with it.

The rear guard under my command marched straight for the high pass which the enemy were holding in force. It was only a feigned attack to distract their attention, but we could not have driven it home even if we had wished. The Kurds began to roll down boulders, some of them weighing tons, which smashed and splintered on the rocks around us. It was just like being under heavy fire from slings. We kept on probing their position until it was dark, and then returned to camp. All night long the enemy went on rolling their great stones, and we could hear them booming and crashing in the ravine.

Meanwhile, the assault party surprised a strong enemy post near the top of the ridge. They assumed then that their job was done. In the morning they found it wasn’t, for they had captured merely an outpost. But fortunately dawn broke with a mist, and they were able to creep up on the Kurds who were holding the main mountain pass. They sounded their trumpets as a signal to us, who were waiting far below them, that they were going into action. Then they charged and swept the enemy off the mountain.

At the call of the trumpets Cheirisophus attacked straight up the road, and the other generals led their contingents at the steep hill-sides, the men hauling each other up with their spears. I, with the rear guard and all the transport animals, followed the side road over the ridge. The assault party had cleared it and gone on, but now the enemy had had time to reform. We had to storm three separate crests to get through. Coming down the last of them, I had a narrow escape. The enemy were hot on our tail; they rolled down rocks again, uttering terrifying yells. My orderly, who was carrying my shield, bolted. I was saved only because Eurylochus, an Arcadian, ran up and got me away under cover of his own shield.

The end of the day, with all the army reunited, was thoroughly satisfactory. We found ourselves in a district of really well-built houses, with plenty of provisions in the barns and big cemented cisterns full of wine. Cheirisophus and I arranged a short truce with the Kurds, and they gave us back our dead, whom we buried with the full military honours due to brave men. We released our guide.

The next day the Kurds defended one roadblock after another, and one after another we outflanked them. If Cheirisophus was held up, I took to the hills, got above the enemy and dislodged them. When the rear guard was attacked, he did the same. It was a model of co-operation. In spite of the weight of our shields and arms, we could climb as well as the Kurds, who carried nothing but their bows and slings—though we could never catch them when they ran away. Our Cretan archers, commanded by Stratocles, were invaluable.

On the evening of November 17th we saw below us at last the plain of the river Centrites. This was an enormous relief, and, as we had plenty of food, we passed a happy night swapping tales about the Kurds and sleeping well. The last seven days had been one long, continuous battle which had cost us more men and suffering than the whole of the fighting with Tissaphernes and the King.

It was just as well that we had time to rest, for the river Centrites did not look so inviting in the morning. On the far bank were cavalry, armoured from top to toe, to defend the crossing. There was only one way up from the water, and that was a real road, properly engineered, which showed that we were back in civilization again. Drawn up across this road, a hundred yards back from the river, was a powerful force of infantry. These were mostly Chaldean troops who were in the pay of the Imperial Governor of Armenia and were said to be a free, brave people.

We tried the ford, but it was out of the question for heavily armed men. The water was over our chests, and the river bed was of great slippery stones. We had not a hope of crossing under fire.

On the edge of the mountains, near our pleasant camp of the night before, the Kurds were massing, ready to fall on our rear as soon as we were in difficulties. We did not know what to do, so we camped where we were for thirty-six hours, feeling that our luck had run out.

That night I had another dream, which was undoubtedly sent from the gods. I dreamed that my legs were chained, that the chains fell off and that I could then stride across anything I wished. As soon as it was dawn, I told this to Cheirisophus, who at once saw the point of it and was delighted. All the generals offered sacrifices, and the appearance of the victims’ bodies promised us good fortune.

The troops then had breakfast. While I was eating mine, two young men came running up to me. Everyone knew that I never minded being woken up or having my meals interrupted if the business were military.

The two reported that they had been up the river to collect firewood. On the opposite bank they had seen an old man and some women and little girls storing away bundles of clothing in a hollow rock by the water’s edge. The river seemed to be shallow, so the two young fellows undressed and tried the crossing, carrying nothing but their axes. They expected to have to swim at some point; but, to their surprise, the water never quite covered their legs.

Opposite the crossing which they had found, the foothills of the Armenian mountains fell sharply into the river. On that sort of ground the enemy could not use their cavalry.

I poured out cups of wine for the young men and myself, and we drank to the gods who had saved us and gave them thanks. As soon as Cheirisophus heard the story, he ordered the army to strike camp and fall in for the march. While they were packing up, we generals discussed the coming operation. We decided that Cheirisophus should fight his way over the river with half the army, and that the transport should follow when he had established a bridgehead. Meanwhile, I was to hold our side of the river and watch the Kurds.

We had half a mile to go, and as we marched along the bank the enemy cavalry kept pace with us on the other side. When we arrived at the ford which the young men had discovered, the army halted and piled arms. Then the chaplains held a service and offered sacrifice to the spirit of the river Centrites. Cheirisophus put a ceremonial wreath on his head and threw off his red cloak. The soldiers sang the battle hymn, and the vanguard took to the water in column of companies with Cheirisophus in the centre.

As soon as they were on the way over, I called up the fastest troops in the rear guard and raced with them back along the river towards the deep ford with the good road on the other side of it. That drew off the enemy cavalry, who saw that they would be trapped between the hills and the river if both our parties got across.

The threat was quite enough for the Imperial troops, and they bolted. Cheirisophus, now safely over the river, did not pursue them, but swung left and attacked the Chaldean infantry. These were not going to face the Greek line without any cavalry, so they abandoned their position.

So far all had gone perfectly, but my rear guard was still on the wrong side of the river. Our problem was how to cross it with our defenceless backs exposed to the arrows of the Kurds. I split my force into two—one half to face the river and get the transport over, the other half to form line against the Kurds and attack. When at last this second half was all alone on the bank, it must have seemed to the Kurds a mere handful. They stormed down on us from the hills, chanting their barbarous songs.

Cheirisophus at once sent his archers and slingers to cover the crossing of the last of the rear guard. I ordered them to wait at the ford and hold their fire until we were actually in the water. Then we charged the Kurds and drove them back. At the call of the trumpets we broke off the attack and ran for the river. But the Kurds continued running in the opposite direction. They knew what our trumpets meant, and wanted no more of it. When at last some of them spotted the trick, turned and opened fire, we were in the middle of the river and under cover of our own archers. And so we arrived safely in Armenia, at the expense of only a few men wounded.

Sunday, December 3, 2017


From the article

"How Israel was founded:

Is Zionism national liberation?"

By August Nimtz

(fourth of a series)

....There was, however, a crucial difference between the Zionists and other movements for the liberation of oppressed nationalities. The Zionists did not direct their movement against their oppressors-the capitalist rulers.

Rather than fighting for a Jewish state or even

autonomous territory in Europe , the middle-class Zionist leaders sought to make a deal with the imperialist powers that controlled the remaining world territories. This orientation is the origin of what is an essential ingredient of Zionism to this day-its dependence on and support for imperialism.

Rather than seeking to build a Jewish state at the expense of the imperialists , the Zionists built their state in alliance with the imperialists and at the expense of the Palestinian Arabs, who were in no way responsible for the oppression of the Jews .

The Bundys: Not Guilty

Tape shows Bundys acted to protect rights of all ranchers  


LAS VEGAS — The government frame-up trial of cattle rancher Cliven Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and supporter Ryan Payne entered day 12 in U.S. District Court here Nov. 27. Prosecutors put Bureau of Land Management agent Robert Shilaikis on the stand. The jury heard the secret government recording made by Shilaikis of a phone call between BLM agent Michael Johnson and Ryan Bundy on March 27, 2014. Johnson and Shilaikis were assigned to go to the Bundy ranch in Bunkerville to inform them the government planned to move in and seize their cattle.

Government prosecutors played 13 minutes of conversation, arguing that this was the only part relevant to the charges. Under pressure, prosecutors agreed later to play the full 46 minutes.

In response to threats by agent Johnson to enforce court orders to confiscate the Bundy family cattle, Ryan Bundy said, “We will do whatever it takes to stop your gathering of our cattle.” When Johnson pushes Bundy on what it would take to avoid a confrontation, he replied, “Don’t come to take the cattle. We have the right to defend ourselves if you are taking our property. We don’t claim ownership to the land, we claim ownership to water rights, grazing rights and the ranching improvements.”

Despite Johnson’s best efforts to get Bundy to say ranchers would respond with violence, he never does so.

Defense attorney Ryan Norwood reintroduced one segment from the BLM tape the next day, where Ryan Bundy says the Bundys met with hundreds of ranchers from throughout the region. “These ranchers believe that if we go down that they will be next. These ranchers will stand with us,” Bundy says. “People in Japan, China, all over the world are interested in the issue of how the Bundys’ rights will be handled.”

Everyday Cuba

‘In Cuba there’s a lot of solidarity, you feel relaxed’



NEW YORK — “I’ve never seen anything like it! It was very impressive to see how officials came to assist those who needed to evacuate from less secured homes,” Luisa Coxall told me when she came back from Cuba. She described how the revolutionary government there organized the massive evacuation of 1.7 million people before the devastating landfall of Hurricane Irma Sept. 9. Coxall is a Cuban-American from Brooklyn who was visiting relatives in Havana when the storm hit.

“Buses and trucks came to pick up people, along with their belongings, and they all knew where they were going,” she said. “They only have six television channels, but they kept people informed — calmly and accurately — at every stage of the hurricane.”

She described how the civil defense workers came “down to each block in the neighborhood.”

I met Coxall in 2015 when we both joined a march here to protest the cop killing of Eric Garner in Staten Island. She’s a hospital worker, a member of Service Employees International Union Local 1199 for 26 years, who is now retired. This was her first extended visit back to Cuba since she came to the U.S. in 1966 as a child.

She said it was a revelation to see how working people in Cuba use their mass organizations — with the full support of their government — to advance their society and to mobilize to preserve human life when hurricanes or other natural disasters strike.

I said that this, along with the other accomplishments of the socialist revolution in Cuba, are living proof that working people can unite, organize, fight and transform ourselves as we participate in struggles. It’s the road workers and farmers in Cuba have been on since January 1959 when they took political power from the capitalist rulers and began building a society based on human solidarity.

She described other everyday experiences she witnessed during her stay that really had an impact on her. “I went to a dental clinic,” said Coxall. “Don’t expect to find a chair like the ones you see here in the United States, where they press a button and it moves up and down. No, they have to crank it up into position with a pedal. But the care was good, and it was free of charge.

“The doctor addresses you by first name, and with respect,” she said. “And they don’t lie to you about what you need to have done, because it’s not about money, they’re not going to charge you.”

Cubans don’t have medical insurance because health care is free and available to all.

“My sister got a beautiful set of new dentures for 20 Cuban pesos — less than one dollar!” she said, still in disbelief at the contrast with life under the capitalist profit system in the U.S.

“I saw a lot of solidarity. The neighbors look after each other, you feel relaxed,” she said, “You don’t have the shootings we have here. You can walk at night safely anywhere.”

“And I did,” she said with a smile.

Syria today

....The crisis that led to the civil war in Syria remains unsolved. Assad’s regime has been bombarding towns and villages in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta — one of the de-escalation zones. Some 400,000 people live there. Syrian forces have held these towns under siege since 2013, resulting in famine and devastation. Children’s malnutrition levels there, the U.N. reported Nov. 29, are “the highest ever recorded in Syria” and one-third are “stunted.”

Weeklong airstrikes and mortar attacks against Eastern Ghouta killed more than 118 civilians as of Nov. 21, Dr. Faiz Orabi, a spokesman for the area’s health directorate, told the Wall Street Journal. Three hospitals were also struck.

Most residents see no alternative to staying put, regardless how bad things are. “Where are all the people going to go? To homes that aren’t theirs? To tent camps?” Anas Al-Khole, a journalist and government opponent in Eastern Ghouta, told the Journal. “Most of the people say that death is more merciful than leaving my home.”

Since 2011, some 75,000 people arrested by the government have been “disappeared” and at least 26,446 children are recorded as killed, a vast majority by government forces, reported the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

Assad regime targets Syrian Kurds

The Assad regime is taking aim at the Syrian Kurds, who are seeking to establish an autonomous region in northern Syria. Assad regime officials say they plan to oust the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces “occupiers” from territory in Raqqa and parts of Deir el-Zour province.

“I believe what happened in Iraq must become a lesson to the SDF,” Syrian presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban said Nov. 7, referring to the attacks by Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi militia on Kurdistan Regional Government territory following the referendum there for independence.

Turkish President Erdogan, who once railed against Assad’s rule, now says he’s for cooperating with Assad in rolling back gains won by the Kurdish YPG in Syria. The Turkish rulers fear the impact that an autonomous Kurdish region along Syria’s northern border with Turkey will have on inspiring the fight by some 15 million Kurds in Turkey against national oppression and for their own homeland.

“There is a concept of a new war against the Kurds in all four parts of Kurdistan that aims to annihilate all the gains Kurdish people have made in recent years,” said Feleknas Uca of the Kurdish-based People’s Democratic Party (HDP) at a rally in Van, Turkey, Nov. 25.

More than 30 million Kurdish people — the world’s largest nationality without their own state — live in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. The rulers in all these countries oppose any moves toward Kurdish independence or autonomy.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon “is likely to announce” that Washington has about 2,000 troops in Syria, two U.S. officials told Reuters Nov. 24. Before this, Washington had only admitted to having 503 U.S. troops there, as well as 5,262 in Iraq. And they aren’t going anywhere soon.

Zimbabwe today

....working people there face the consequences of a decadeslong capitalist economic crisis, a product of both the worldwide capitalist contraction and disastrous policies by Mugabe’s government designed to enrich his family and allies. In the midst of uncontrollable inflation in 2009 the government abandoned the currency, the Zimbabwe dollar. While the U.S. dollar replaced it in larger-scale commerce, for the overwhelming majority of Zimbabwe’s people barter became the norm. Over 90 percent of Zimbabwean toilers live outside what the government calls its “formal economy.”


Saturday, November 18, 2017

“Politically correct” liberal media act self-righteously as prosecutor, judge and executioner all at the same time.

Defend women’s rights! Protect right to presumption of innocence!



Widespread and disturbing revelations about sexual attacks and abuse, starting with Hollywood and reaching into the halls of Congress, have come out over recent weeks. Something that has been widely known but talked about only behind closed doors has suddenly exploded into the open. To anyone who’s worked under a boss determined to get his own way and has control over hiring, firing, job assignments, pay raises and conditions at work, all this has a familiar ring.

But the situation is nowhere close to what it was half a century ago, before the modern movement for women’s rights emerged. “Women continue to be integrated into the workforce, and barriers to women and men working alongside each other as equals, performing the same jobs, are progressively being breached in both imperialist and semicolonial countries,” the Socialist Workers Party explained in its 2005 resolution, “Their Transformation and Ours.”

I traveled to Bangladesh a couple years ago to talk to garment workers, and this was really brought home to me. Millions of women had left their villages and started working together in a fast-growing garment industry. For the first time, they were part of a collective workforce, fighting together. In addition to safer workplaces, higher wages and shorter hours, they stressed the important gains they were making against the bosses’ sexual harassment and threats. This was a central demand of their unions and labor federations.

The same thing happened in the U.S. earlier. As barriers to women’s employment in one job and industry after another were battered down, so too were sexist behavior and abuse beaten back.

This political fight for women’s rights and dignity needs to be on the banner of the unions, an issue for all working people.

Anyone who says they’ve faced such abuse must have their charges seriously considered. If convicted, the perpetrators should go to jail.

But just because the acts are so despicable, it’s important not to throw out the window political rights and protections the working class has won over decades of battle. What’s involved are key questions for the working class.

Today the “politically correct” liberal media act self-righteously as prosecutor, judge and executioner all at the same time. Actors have been fired, dropped from future productions and publicly pilloried without any chance to defend themselves. None of the accusations have so far led to charges, let alone indictments.

This liberal hysteria has totally thrown out any presumption of innocence.

“The presumption of innocence has taken hundreds of years for working people to win,” SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes told a September 1988 meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, on the eve of the opening of the frame-up trial of party member and packinghouse unionist Mark Curtis on charges of rape. It is “one of the most important milestones on the march to human solidarity.”

While the courts are not an arena where working people find justice, the presumption of innocence is one elementary protection from being railroaded to prison or executed at the whim of the ruling class and their anti-labor press.

“It’s not that you’re innocent until proven guilty. You are innocent. Innocent,” Barnes said. “This is a country where everything is the opposite. It’s the presumption of guilt that dominates in the ‘democratic’ United States.”

In addition to the presumption of innocence, other indispensable rights workers have won include the right to face and confront your accuser, not to be tried twice on the same charge and laws covering statutes of limitation.

Whenever the rulers want to frame up and victimize someone, they whip up a campaign in the media and move to undercut our rights. It helps them a lot if they’ve chipped away at those rights beforehand, using particularly vile incidents to do so.

When inroads are made into these protections, it comes down hardest on the working class, especially the most vulnerable among us. We will find no justice in the rulers’ “justice system” — their cops, prosecutors and courts, their crooked grand juries and “plea bargain” system. We shoot ourselves in the foot if we allow ourselves to be convinced to throw out the presumption of innocence in the name of fighting abuse.

Today workers face blows from the boss class’s drive to make us pay for the crisis of their capitalist system. We can expect bigger battles ahead over our rights and more frame-ups promoted by the employers and their government!

Defend women’s rights! Protect the hard-fought political rights we’ve won and need! 


Saturday, November 11, 2017

To conquer power, workers need to build communist parties


The war roused the working class to its feet in the revolutionary sense. Was the working class, because of its social weight, capable of carrying out the revolution before the war? What did it lack? It lacked the consciousness of its own strength. Its strength grew in Europe automatically, almost imperceptibly, with the growth of industry. The war shook up the working class. Because of this terrible and bloody upheaval, the entire working class in Europe was imbued with revolutionary moods on the very next day after the war ended. Consequently, one of the subjective factors, the desire to change this world, was at hand. What was lacking? The party was lacking, the party capable of leading the working class to victory. …

In 1917, in Russia we have: the February-March revolution; and within nine months — October. The revolutionary party guarantees victory to the working class and peasant poor. In 1918 — revolution in Germany, accompanied by changes at the top; the working class tries to forge ahead but is hurled back time and again. The proletarian revolution in Germany does not lead to victory. In 1919, the eruption of the Hungarian proletarian revolution: its base is too narrow and the party too weak. The revolution is crushed in a few months in 1919. …

In September 1920, we lived through the great movement in Italy. Precisely at that moment in the autumn of 1920 the Italian proletariat reached its highest point of ferment after the war. Mills, plants, railways, mines are seized. The state is disorganized, the bourgeoisie is virtually prostrate, its spine almost broken. It seems that only one more step forward is needed and the Italian working class will conquer power. But at this moment, its party, that same Socialist Party which had emerged from the previous epoch, although formally adhering to the Third International but with its spirit and roots still in the previous epoch, i.e., in the Second International — this party recoils in terror from the seizure of power, from the civil war, leaving the proletariat exposed. …

In Italy, in September, the working class was eager for battle. The party shied back in terror. In Germany the working class had been eager for battle. … But its efforts and sacrifices were not crowned by victory because it did not have at its head a sufficiently strong, experienced and cohesive party; instead there was another party at its head which saved the bourgeoisie for the second time, after saving it during the war. And now in 1921 the Communist Party of Germany, seeing how the bourgeoisie was consolidating its positions, wanted to make a heroic attempt to cut off the bourgeoisie’s road by an offensive, by a blow, and so it rushed ahead. But the working class did not support it. Why not? Because the working class had not yet learned to have confidence in the party. It did not yet fully know this party while its own experience in the civil war had brought it only defeats in the course of 1919–1920. …

The relations between the parties and the classes, between the Communist parties and the working classes in all countries of Europe are still not mature for an immediate offensive, for an immediate battle for the conquest of power. It is necessary to proceed with a painstaking education of the Communist ranks in a twofold sense: First, in the sense of fusing them together and tempering them; and second, in the sense of their conquering the confidence of the overwhelming majority of the working class. 

The Militant - November 20, 2017 -- To conquer power, workers need to build communist parties

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Constitutional right to the presumption of innocence

Revoked Obama directive had zero to do with 
women’s rights



Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued interim guidelines Sept. 22 to replace an executive order issued by the Barack Obama administration that gutted the constitutional right to the presumption of innocence in the name of fighting sexual harassment on college campuses....

Full story:

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Democrats, Republicans splinter

Political crisis of US rulers continues to unfold


President Donald Trump’s turn to collaboration with Democratic Party congressional leaders to pass a three-month extension of the U.S. government debt ceiling and $15 billion for hurricane and flooding victims took many liberal political pundits — and leaders of the Republican Party — by surprise.

Liberals and the middle-class left have called Trump a fascist, a racist, an arch-reactionary Republican. They want to drum him out of office by any means necessary. Some even applauded the attempted assassination of Republican congressmen at a June softball practice by Bernie Sanders supporter James Hodgkinson.

Donald Trump is none of these things. He is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, though he has been registered in both parties. He won the election by winning the backing of millions of working people, including millions who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. He condemned the “carnage” being visited on working people and castigated the Democratic and Republican “establishments” in Washington.

Trump’s election is a reflection of the coming apart of the two capitalist parties that have alternated in power for decades.

Millions of workers are fed up with the depression-like conditions ravaging cities and countryside alike because of the decline of capitalism, and with the leaders of the two capitalist parties who live in a different world than they do. Faced with the choice of Hillary Clinton or Trump, many stayed home.

Millions of workers voted for Trump because he said he would “drain the swamp.”

Trump’s election sent paroxysms of fear through the heart of the meritocracy — millions, even tens of millions, of well-paid staffers for so-called nonprofit foundations, charities, community organizations and nongovernmental organizations, as well as professors, opinion writers and apparatchiks for government regulatory agencies, who believe their “smarts,” sophistication and liberal ethos are essential for the smooth running of capitalism.

They’re useful to the ruling class. They bolster the illusion that if you are talented, there are no limits to how far you can go. But their livelihoods are unconnected to the production of goods, crops or anything of value to humanity. Their position is precarious and to the rulers they are ultimately expendable, especially in times of deepening economic crisis. They fear the working class today and what they sense are class battles to come.

A Sept. 11 opinion piece in the New York Times by columnist Charles Blow captures their hysteria and fear. Blow says the “vast majority of America” — that is, the people he knows — believe “this administration and this man are abominations and they will not sit silently by.”

“We are in hell,” he concludes.

Blow is not referring to the hell faced by working people — unaffordable health care, millions of workers without jobs, ongoing police brutality, the opioid epidemic, the workers in uniform sent to die in never-ending imperialist wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

People like Blow are consumed by fear and disdain of those they view as the “deplorables” — the workers who voted for Trump or skipped the election entirely.

Blow says the biggest problem are those who refused to vote for Clinton. “The lesser-of-two-evils argument is poppycock,” he says, claiming that there is no comparison between Clinton and Trump.

His argument is aimed at anyone — like the Socialist Workers Party — who urges working people to break from capitalist “lesser evil” politics and to organize independent working-class political action.

“Progressive” Democrats like Charles Schumer in New York and Nancy Pelosi in California have outflanked Sanders’ efforts to build “resistance” to Trump.

In Berkeley, California, Pelosi encouraged and abetted antifa goons to attack those they called “fascists” who wanted to protest there Aug. 27. In fact, the Patriot Prayer group they targeted is composed mainly of supporters of Donald Trump who wanted to defend free speech and who denounce white supremacists and racists. The goons beat anyone they thought had the wrong demeanor.

So far, the only places these antifa forces have been able to carry out their attacks is where liberal Democrats have enabled them by instructing the cops to pull back.

Democrats, Republicans splinter
The fractures in the Democratic and Republican parties became clear during the 2016 campaign.

“Progressive” Democrats rail against those in the party — like Bernie Sanders and his “Revolution” movement — who they believe threaten the party establishment and its chances in 2018. In her new book What Happened, Hillary Clinton turns her guns on Sanders, saying he “didn’t get into the race to make sure a Democrat won the White House, he got in to disrupt the Democratic Party.”

A similar fracturing is taking place in the Republican Party. Trump won the nomination by defeating 16 of the party’s “best and brightest.” He has backed “insurgent” candidates for 2018, including the challenger to incumbent Sen. Jeffry Flake in Arizona. Trump charges that Republican Party congressional leaders are unable to deliver legislation he supports. They’re just another part of the swamp.

He says he’s open to more deals with Democrats to try and get some of his proposals adopted into law.

While Trump was not the favored candidate of the U.S. ruling families, they can live with him as president. Underneath all the demagogy and bluster, he’s a rich capitalist businessman like they are. The policies and actions he has taken in defense of U.S. imperialism at home and abroad — from prosecuting Washington’s wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East to stepping up deportations of immigrants convicted of crimes — are in continuity with previous administrations.  


Kurdish liberation struggle

‘The Kurdish people are one nation’

Baghdad’s 1988 Anfal extermination campaign and the 1991 
Kurdistan uprising



SULAYMANIYAH, Kurdistan Region, Iraq — “What happens in any part of Kurdistan has an impact on other parts. Because emotionally, historically, and linguistically, we’re one nation.”

Hazhar Majeed, owner of the Endese bookshop and publishing house in this southeastern Kurdistan city, was talking with us July 24 about the Kurdish people’s resistance to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s assaults between 1986 and 1991. The more than 40 million Kurds in the Middle East are the world’s largest people without a nation-state — something that was denied them at the end of World War I and ever since by the victors in that colossal slaughter. They remain carved up to this day by arbitrary borders, largely between Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria.

“The division that exists is a political division imposed on us,” Hazhar said. “Otherwise the Kurds would never have been separated. Even with the division, Kurds still have very close cultural, social and political ties.”

During our three-day stay in Sulaymaniyah, Hazhar arranged for us to visit the former regional headquarters, prison and torture chamber of Saddam’s secret police — the Amna Suraka (Red Security). Now a museum, it focuses on two chapters from that regime’s quarter-century-long reign of terror.

The first is Saddam’s 1988 Anfal Campaign of extermination and forced removal of Kurds, during the closing stages of Baghdad’s eight-year-long war against Iran. Visitors to the Amna Suraka enter through a corridor lined with a mosaic of 182,000 shards of shattered mirror, recalling the number of Kurds slaughtered in the most horrible ways during the Anfal. The passageway is dimly lit by 4,500 small bulbs marking Kurdish villages destroyed in the operation.

The second theme is the March 1991 uprising in Kurdistan against that hated regime, captured in part by the still bullet- and shell-pocked walls of the garrison, liberated by Kurds March 7 that year. The museum also recounts the subsequent mass exodus from cities, towns, and villages, as the regime’s helicopter gunships sought to drown the rebellion in blood.

The Anfal
Hazhar Majeed was born and raised in the Kurdistan region of Iran, before moving to Sulaymaniyah in Iraq as a young man in 1998. “Even though the border was tight during the Saddam years, and it was hard physically to move from one side to the other, there was still a lot of contact among Kurds,” Hazhar said. “In many families, the father might be Iraqi, the son Iranian. The same with uncles, aunts, cousins and so on. The political subdivisions weren’t able to separate Kurds from each other.”

That was already true “before mass media came into being,” he said. “Now, with so many means of communication, solidarity among Kurds in all four countries — Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria — has become even more cemented. Right now, Kurds from Iran and Iraq are fighting ISIS in Syria alongside Kurds from there. Solidarity is growing.”

As for Saddam’s Anfal atrocities, Hazhar said, “I was still in my early teens at that time, so I don’t remember a lot. But I’ll tell you what I do remember, as well as what I’ve read and heard from family members, friends and others.”

During Anfal, some 100,000 Kurds from Iraq took refuge in Iran, in addition to the same number or more driven from their homes by various Baghdad regimes over the previous decade or so. “Kurds in Iran considered them brothers and sisters, not refugees,” Hazhar said.

“When they came to Iran,” he said, “many just divided up among families in Kurdistan, or local mosques and schools.” Then came Baghdad’s shelling of the town of Halabja with chemical weapons on March 16, 1988, during which some 5,000 Kurdish men, women and children suffered horrifying deaths. This was the deadliest but far from the only use of weapons of mass destruction against Kurds, ordered by Saddam through his cousin Gen. Ali Hasan al-Majid, branded with the infamous nickname “Chemical Ali.”

“I remember very well that when refugees from Halabja came through our city in Iran, the government in Tehran said they were contaminated by chemicals and wouldn’t let them disembark, as it had done earlier,” Hazhar said. “But people from across the city lined the road — and I was there — with blankets, food, tents, whatever we had in our houses. We’d throw them on the government trucks that were transporting them. I still get emotional when I think about it.”

There were so many refugees that many couldn’t be housed simply by relying on people in Iran’s towns and cities. So the government authorized a couple of international agencies to establish camps.

Washington, which backed Baghdad’s war against Iran while professing “neutrality,” largely kept its mouth shut about the Anfal until the story of this human catastrophe became useful in 1990-91 to rationalize the U.S. war against Iraq. The major media followed the U.S. government’s lead.

1991 Kurdish uprising
In August 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, on Iraq’s southern border. Ever since 1979, when the shah of Iran had been toppled by a revolution, the U.S. government had been looking for a pretext to unleash its military might in the Middle East to defend its interests in the oil-rich and strategically important region. The Iraqi regime handed it the chance.

After Washington defeated Saddam’s forces in Kuwait and southern Iraq in early 1991, the U.S. rulers chose to sidestep the risks of pushing north to overturn the government in Baghdad. Instead, on the eve of the U.S. ground assault in late February, President George H.W. Bush publicly called on “the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands to force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside.”

The Kurds revolted across Iraqi Kurdistan in early March, driving out Baghdad’s forces. The Shiite population across southern Iraq also took the streets. But Washington had lifted its air cover over Iraq, enabling Saddam’s regime to unleash its helicopter gunships and troops against the rebel population. Thousands were killed. By the end of March, there was another massive exodus of Kurds fleeing their homes in search of refuge in Iran or Turkey.

The U.S. government wanted to do nothing that would break up Iraq and begin undoing the borders and social relations imposed on the peoples of the region in the aftermath of two world wars. And the U.S. rulers had pledged to Turkey’s brutal regime — which itself oppresses millions of Kurds — that it would oppose an independent Kurdistan in Iraq.

Neither of the two main Kurdish liberation organizations — the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) or Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) — “initiated the Kurdish uprising in March 1991,” Hazhar said. Under the blows of the Anfal in 1988, these organizations “had unraveled, and most of their leaders were living in Tehran or elsewhere.”

So the Kurds who rose up weren’t under the command of any organization, he said. “The rebellion began on the fifth of March, in Ranya, a town about two hours north of Sulaymaniyah. Of course, fighters from the peshmerga” — the military units of the KDP and PUK — “are always in the cities, towns and villages, living undercover. So when the people rebelled, the peshmerga joined in with their rifles, handguns, whatever they had.

“And many other Kurds were armed, too, not only those in the peshmerga. Many Kurds had weapons at home and were using them to attack Saddam’s forces and defend themselves and their families,” Hazhar said. “More recently, you recall Kobani, don’t you? Old men and women, teenagers and others were armed and resisted the brutal occupation by Daesh, by the so-called Islamic State, of that Kurdish town in northern Syria. They helped fight off Daesh in Kirkuk too, right here in Iraq.

“That’s what began happening in Ranya on March 5, 1991. And in 16 days, all of Kurdistan had been liberated,” he said.

“Those we refer to here as the jash also took part in the rebellion,” he added. “That literally means ‘donkey’ in the Kurdish language. It’s the term we use for Kurds who joined armed units subservient to Saddam and earlier repressive regimes. They were mercenaries. They did much of the government’s dirty work, including during the Anfal and the gassing of Halabja and other towns.

“So as Saddam’s forces retreated in face of the uprising, the jash had to do something to try to exonerate themselves in the eyes of the people and the eyes of the Kurdish leaderships. So these armed units joined in the rebellion, too,” Hazhar said. “I should add that many of them have continued functioning as jash for the current Kurdistan Regional Government, for both the KDP and PUK leaderships, to this day.”

Kurdistan Regional Government
“Kurds on both sides of the border, in Iraq as well as in Iran, welcomed the blows to Saddam’s regime in 1991. We had nothing to lose,” Hazhar said. “It was the inevitable course of history unfolding, and we enjoyed it and took advantage of it. Baghdad’s defeat opened a wedge for our uprising, and then in 1992 for the establishment and survival of the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq.”

Washington, London, Paris and other powers sought to cover their own tracks regarding the Kurds’ unrelenting struggles for their national rights. These governments seesawed between tactically arming Kurdish organizations to a tiny degree, followed by cynical betrayals, depending on their shifting interests and relations with successive regimes in Iraq, Iran, Turkey and across the Middle East. Newspaper, radio, and television outlets largely taped shut their eyes and mouths in deference to the governments they serve and promote. The silence during and after Baghdad’s Anfal campaign was deafening.

“But there have been two events in the Middle East over the past quarter century that finally caused the world press to pay attention to the Kurdish question,” Hazhar said.

“One was the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the Kurdish uprising, and Baghdad’s initial repression of it, which caused the world to despise Saddam Hussein.

Full story here:

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Behind Attacks on workers rights 

Liberal attacks, ‘antifa’ thugs threaten rights 
workers need


The propertied rulers in the U.S. face an unprecedented political crisis today, precipitated by the changes in class reality that were reflected in the election of Donald Trump as president and the deepening crisis of their capitalist system that stand behind that vote. Both of their political parties — the Democrats and Republicans — are wracked by deep divisions.

A facet of this crisis is the relentless resistance of liberal Democrats and media, some Republicans and the middle-class left against Trump’s presidency. All tactics are fair game in their effort to get him indicted or impeached. And against those they label as racists and fascists they say have been unleashed by Trump.

As part of this effort, liberal Democratic politicians and self-proclaimed antifa thugs are mounting attacks on freedom of speech and assembly. Their attempts to shut down conservatives and alleged white supremacist speakers and rallies give a handle to the government to go after the working class and its political rights.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin — who calls himself a “real progressive” — is pushing the University of California there to cancel “Free Speech Week” Sept. 24-27, organized by the conservative student group Berkeley Patriot.

Arreguin said the presence of rightist Milo Yiannopoulos and conservative Ann Coulter, who the group has invited to participate, could provoke antifa thugs to “create mayhem” and cost “the city hundreds of thousands of dollars fixing the windows of businesses,” adding that “there is a line between freedom of speech and then posing a risk to public safety.”

The university administration is charging the College Republicans $15,000 for security costs for a Sept. 14 speech by Ben Shapiro, a former Breitbart News editor. Speech is “free” — if you can pay for it.

House Democratic Party Leader Nancy Pelosi called on the National Park Service to deny a permit to a conservative “Liberty Weekend” in San Francisco Aug. 26, saying it was a “white-supremacist rally.”

Acting as enforcers for the liberal politicians, the next day antifa thugs beat up Trump supporters and others they claimed were white supremacists, as well as reporters, during an anti-racist protest in Berkeley.

An anonymous anarchist replied to criticism of antifa thuggery with a post on titled “Eternal Liberal Handwringing: Response to Antifa Smears.” The essay is marked by the group’s glorification of violence, its anarchistic elevation of small-group actions over politics, and its alienation from the working class — all features that point toward the transformation of its members from “anti-fascist” to fascist.

In the history of the workers’ movement, others have travelled this road, including left Socialist Benito Mussolini, who ended up leading the fascist forces to power in Italy in 1922.

Attacks on workers rights 
The New York Times published an opinion piece Aug. 29 calling on the Internal Revenue Service to take away the tax exemption of white supremacists and others with viewpoints that are “fundamentally untethered from American values.” The liberals believe those they disagree with should be “nudged” off the playing field — or knocked off, if antifa is at hand.

Calls for the IRS to decide who is eligible for tax exemption based on political criteria opens the door the rulers will gladly use to go after working-class organizations

The American Civil Liberties Union has come under attack for filing a suit supporting the right of organizers of “Unite the Right” to hold its Aug. 11 rally in a downtown park in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Within the week, the ACLU caved. ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero told the Wall Street Journal that “if a protest group insists, ‘No, we want to be able to carry loaded firearms,’ well we don’t have to represent them.”

I guess they don’t think the Black Panther Party should have gotten legal help from civil libertarians, or the Deacons for Defense and Justice in the fight for Black rights in the 1960s.

The biggest danger to the political rights of the working class today comes from the liberal Democratic politicians, radical groups and antifa-style forces that cut off political discussion and debate. Allegedly aimed at stopping racist and rightist groups, their thug attacks and efforts to restrict the rights of those they target will increasingly be turned against the working class as the class struggle heats up.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

George Novack on Jewish survival

What united Spinoza, Heine, Marx, Rosa Luxemberg, Trotsky, and Freud?

Belief in:

A. Lawfulness of the universe and history.
B. The unceasing changefulness of all things.
C. The relativity of good and evil.
D.  True and effective knowledge is inseparable from practice.
E. Ultimate solidarity of humanity.

How Can the Jews Survive?

A Socialist Answer to Zionism

By George Novack

Price: $5.00

List price: $5.00

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Updike and Faulkner: How to Read Fiction by Terry Eagleton

How to Read Fiction by Terry Eagleton.

….We may begin with a sentence from John Updike's novel Rabbit at Rest: ‘A shimmery model, skinny as a rail, dimpled and square-jawed like a taller Audrey Hepburn from the Breakfast at Tiffany days, steps out of the car, smiling slyly and wearing a racing driver's egg-helmet with her gown made up it seems of ropes of shimmering light.’ Apart from one rather careless near-repetition (‘shimmery’, ‘shimmering’), this is a highly accomplished piece of writing. Too accomplished, one might feel. It is too clever and calculated by half. Every word seems to have been meticulously chosen, polished, slotted neatly together with the other words and then smoothed over to give a glossy finish. There is not a hair out of place. The sentence is too voulu, too carefully arranged and displayed. It is trying too hard. There is nothing spontaneous about it. It has the air of being over-crafted, as every word is put fastidiously to work, with no loose ends or irregularities. As a result, the piece is artful but lifeless. The adjective ‘slick’ springs to mind. The passage is meant to be a bit of detailed description, but there is so much going on at the level of language, so many busy adjectives and piled-up clauses, that it is hard for us to concentrate on what is being portrayed. The language draws the reader's admiring attention to its own deftness. Perhaps we are particularly invited to admire the way it propels itself through so many sub-clauses, all draped around the main verb ‘steps’, without for a moment losing its balance.

There is a lot of such stuff in Updike's fiction. Take this portrait of a female character from the same novel:

Pru has broadened without growing heavy in that suety Pennsylvania way. As if invisible pry bars have slightly spread her bones and new calcium been wedged in and the flesh gently stretched to fit, she now presents more front. Her face, once narrow like Judy's, at moments looks like a flattened mask. Always tall, she has in the years of becoming a hardened wife and matron allowed her long straight hair to be cut and teased out into bushy wings a little like the hairdo of the Sphinx.

‘Like the hairdo of the Sphinx’ is a pleasing imaginative touch. Once again, however, the passage draws discreet attention to its own cleverness in the act of sketching Pru. This is ‘fine writing’ with a vengeance. The phrase ‘in that suety Pennsylvania way’ is rather too knowing, and the image of the pry bars is striking but too contrived. ‘Contrived’, in fact, is a suitable word for this style of writing as a whole, as Pru herself threatens to disappear beneath the density of detail with which she is overlaid. The passage has the effect of describing an object rather than a person. Its style freezes a living woman into a still life.

Contrast Updike's prose with this extract from Evelyn Waugh's short story ‘Tactical Exercise’:

They arrived on a gusty April afternoon after a train journey of normal discomfort. A taxi drove them eight miles from the station, through deep Cornish lanes, past granite cottages and disused, archaic tin-workings. They reached the village which gave the house its postal address, passed through it and out along a track which suddenly emerged from its high banks into open grazing land on the cliff's edge, high, swift clouds and sea-birds wheeling overhead, the turf at their feet alive with fluttering wild flowers, salt in the air, below them the roar of the Atlantic breaking on the rocks, a middle-distance of indigo and white tumbled waters and beyond it the serene arc of the horizon. Here was the house.

It is not a passage that leaps from the page. It has none of the self-conscious sculpturedness of the Updike piece, and is surely all the better for it. Waugh's prose is crisp, pure and economical. It is reticent and unshowy, as though unaware of the skill with which, for example, it manages to steer a single sentence from ‘They reached the village’ to ‘the serene arc of the horizon’ through so many sub-clauses with no sense of strain or artifice. This sense of expansiveness, of both syntax and landscape, is counterpointed by the terse ‘Here was the house’, which signals a halt both in the story and in the way it is being delivered. ‘A train journey of normal discomfort’ is a pleasantly sardonic touch. ‘Archaic’ might be an adjective too far, but the rhythmic balance of the lines is deeply admirable. There is an air of quiet efficiency about the whole extract. The landscape is portrayed in a set of quick, deft strokes which brings it alive without cluttering the text with too much detail.

Waugh's prose has an honesty and hard-edged realism about it which show up well in contrast to Updike. They also compare well in this respect with the following extract from William Faulkner's novel Absalom, Absalom!:

In the overcoat buttoned awry over the bathrobe he looked huge and shapeless like a dishevelled bear as he stared at Quentin (the Southerner, whose blood ran quick to cool, more supple to compensate for violent changes in temperature perhaps, perhaps merely nearer the surface) who sat hunched in his chair, his hands thrust into his pockets as if he were trying to hug himself warm between his arms, looking somehow fragile and even wan in the lamplight, the rosy glow which now had nothing of warmth, coziness, in it, while both their breathing vaporized faintly in the cold room where there was now not two of them but four, the two who breathed not individuals now yet something both more and less than twins, the heart and blood of youth. Shreve was nineteen, a few months younger than Quentin. He looked exactly nineteen; he was one of those people whose correct age you never know because they look exactly that and so you tell yourself that he or she cannot possibly be that because he or she looks too exactly that not to take advantage of the appearance: so you never believe implicitly that he or she is either that age which they claim or that which in sheer desperation they agree to or which someone else reports them to be.

This kind of prose, much favoured by some American creative writing courses, has an air of spontaneity about it which is almost entirely fabricated. Despite its casual way with order and convention, it is as artificial as a Petrarchan sonnet. There is something fussy and affected about the way it strives to sound natural. Its air of artlessness is too self-regarding. What is really a kind of clumsiness (‘where there was now not two of them’) is passed off as having the rough edge of real experience. An attempt at impressive intricacy in the final lines comes through as pedantic cleverness. The lines know nothing of tact and reticence. They sacrifice elegance, rhythm and economy to a kind of writing which (as someone once remarked of history) is just one damn thing after another. The passage is too garrulous by half. This is the kind of author whom it would be ferociously hard to shut up. And how on earth can one look exactly nineteen?

Excellence in fiction: How to Read Fiction by Terry Eagleton

How to Read Fiction by Terry Eagleton

....A literary classic, some critics consider, is not so much a work whose value is changeless as one that is able to generate new meanings over time. It is, so to speak, a slow-burning affair. It gathers different interpretations as it evolves. Like an ageing rock star, it can adapt itself to new audiences. Even so, we should not assume that such classics are up and running all the time. Like business enterprises, they can close down and start up again. Works may pass in and out of favour according to changing historical circumstances. which have fallen into near-oblivion may be jolted into fresh life by historical developments. In the crisis of Western civilisation that culminated in the First World War, metaphysical poets and Jacobean dramatists who had also lived through a time of social turmoil were suddenly back in favour. With the rise of modern feminism, Gothic novels with persecuted heroines ceased to be regarded as minor curios and acquired a new centrality.

....there are criteria for determining what counts as excellence in golf or fiction, as there are not for determining whether peaches taste better than pineapples. And these criteria are public, not just a question of what one happens privately to prefer. You have to learn how to handle them by sharing in certain social practices. In the case of literature, these social practices are known as literary criticism. This still leaves a lot of room for dissent and disagreement. Criteria are guides for how to go about making value judgements. They do not make them for you, any more than following the rules of chess will win the game for you. Chess is played not just according to rules, but by the creative application of such rules; and the rules themselves will not tell you how to apply them creatively. That is a matter of know-how, intelligence and experience. Knowing what counts as excellence in fiction is likely to decide the issue between Chekhov and Jackie Collins, but not between Chekhov and Turgenev.

Different cultures may have different criteria for deciding what counts as good or bad art. As a foreign onlooker, you might be present at some ceremony in a Himalayan village and say whether you found it boring or exhilarating, high-spirited or stiffly ritualised. What you could not say was whether it was well executed. To judge that would involve having access to the standards of excellence appropriate to that particular activity. The same goes for works of literature. Standards of excellence may also differ from one kind of literary art to another. What makes for a fine piece of pastoral is not what makes for a powerful piece of science fiction.

Works which are deep and complex would seem obvious candidates for literary merit. Yet complexity is not a value in itself. The fact that something is complex does not automatically earn it a place among the immortals. The muscles of the human leg are complex, but those with calf injuries might prefer them not to be. The plot of Lord of the Rings is complex, but this is not enough to endear Tolkien's work to those who dislike donnish escapism or medievalist whimsy. The point of some lyrics and ballads is not their complexity but their poignant simplicity. Lear's cry of ‘Never, never, never, never, never’ is not exactly complex, and is all the finer for it.

Nor is it true that all good literature is profound. There can be a superb art of the surface, such as Ben Jonson's comedies, Oscar Wilde's high-society dramas or Evelyn Waugh's satires. (We should beware, however, of the prejudice that comedy is always less deep an affair than tragedy. There are some searching comedies and some trite tragedies. Joyce's Ulysses is a profound piece of comedy, which is not the same as saying that it is profoundly funny, even though it is.) Surfaces are not always superficial. There are literary forms in which complexity would be out of place. Paradise Lost reveals little psychological depth or intricacy, and neither do Robert Burns's lyrics. Blake's ‘Tyger’ poem is deep and complex, but not psychologically so.

Plenty of critics, as we have seen, insist that good art is coherent art. The most accomplished works of literature are the most harmoniously unified. In an impressive economy of technique, every detail pulls its weight in the overall design. One problem with this claim is that ‘Little Bo Peep’ is coherent but banal. Besides, many an effective postmodern or avant-garde work is centreless and eclectic, made up of parts that do not slot neatly together. They are not necessarily any the worse for that. There is no virtue in harmony or cohesion as such, as I have suggested already. Some of the great artworks of the Futurists, Dadaists and Surrealists are deliberately dissonant. Fragmentation can be more fascinating than unity.

Perhaps what makes a work of literature exceptional is its action and narrative. Certainly Aristotle thought that a solid, well-wrought action was central to at least one species of literary writing (tragedy).Yet nothing much happens in one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century (Waiting for Godot), one of the finest novels (Ulysses) and one of the most masterly poems (The Waste Land). If a sturdy plot and a strong narrative are vital to literary status, Virginia Woolf sinks to a dismally low place in the league tables. We no longer rate a substantial plot as highly as Aristotle did. In fact, we no longer insist on a plot or narrative at all. Unless we are small children, we are less enamoured of stories than our ancestors. We also recognise that compelling art can be spun out of meagre materials.

What, then, of linguistic quality? Do all great literary works use language in resourceful and inventive ways? It is surely a virtue of literature that it restores human speech to its true abundance, and in doing so recovers something of our suppressed humanity. A good deal of literary language is copious and exuberant. As such, it can act as a critique of our everyday utterances. Its eloquence can issue a rebuke to a civilisation for which language has become for the most part crudely instrumental. Soundbites, text-speak, managerial jargon, tabloid prose, political cant and bureaucratese can be shown up for the bloodless forms of discourse they are. Hamlet's last words are

‘Absent thee from felicity awhile, / And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain, / To tell my story … the rest is silence.’

Steve Jobs's last words were ‘Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow.’ Some might feel that there has been a certain falling-off here. Literature is about the felt experience of language, not just the practical use of it. It can draw our attention to the opulence of a medium that we usually take for granted. Poetry is concerned not just with the meaning of experience, but with the experience of meaning.

Even so, not everything we call literary has a sumptuous way with words. There are literary works that do not use language in particularly eye-catching ways. A good deal of realist and naturalistic fiction employs a plain, sober speech. One would not describe the poetry of Philip Larkin or William Carlos Williams as lushly metaphorical. George Orwell's prose is not exactly luxuriant. There is not much burnished rhetoric in Ernest Hemingway. The eighteenth century valued a lucid, exact, serviceable prose. Works of literature should certainly be well written, but then so should all writing, including memos and menus. You do not have to sound like The Rainbow or Romeo and Juliet to qualify as a reputable piece of literature....