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Tag Archive - social protest

Trainspotting Trump v. Sanders from Canada

by Hammerhearts

Like many people in Canada I have been watching the American primaries with a detached morbid curiosity. And this last week in American politics did not disappoint. Bernie Sanders pulled off a stunning upset against Clinton in Michigan on Tuesday. Both of the outsider candidates in the Republican race, Trump and Cruz, continued to rack up primary delegates. The Republican establishment is in full meltdown mode, leading lights and donors of the party secretly met in Sea Island, Georgia to plot against Trump.

Clinton had one of her worst weeks. She easily lost the Miami debate, saw the re-emergence of stories about Libya and Honduras, that reminded voters of her hawkish foreign policy. She pissed off one her core constituencies, the LGBTQ community – especially affluent gay men – by stating Nancy Reagan started the national conversation about HIV/AIDS.

She followed that up by her bizarre response to the Chicago anti-Trump protest, which didn’t condemn Trump but cautioned protestors about using violence with a nonsensical reference to the Charleston murders. And on top of that it looks like her 20-point leads in Illinois and Ohio have evaporated.

More importantly, a different dynamic beyond the election has emerged. The anti-Trump protest in Chicago, which cancelled the Trump rally, has asserted mass politics onto the national stage. While Trump rallies have been met with protests for some time now, the scale of the Chicago protest and its ability to shutdown down Trump was a game changer.

The broad coalition of Bernie Sanders supporters, Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter (BLM), trade-union, immigrant right and student activists who participated inside and outside the rally managed to do what no one else has: shut Trump up! The protest was well organized, but it also turned into a chaotic scene in Chicago.

The energy that the protesters tapped into was the same energy that has driven the Sanders campaign. By making Trump look weak and beatable they inspired and embolden others to take action. His subsequent rallies and public appearances in places such as St. Louis, Cincinnati, Dayton and Kansas City have been shutdown or marred by interruptions and demonstrations. Trump has lost the narrative. The story is about the protests, about his incitement of violence, about his bigotry.

The Sanders campaign and the anti-Trump movement seem to be feeding each other, at least for now. The Sanders campaign has not denounced the protesters and has blamed Trump for the violence. Trump has in turn blamed the Sanders campaign for the protests and even threatened to send his own supporters to Sanders’ rallies. The political field is polarizing with both the establishment of the Democratic and Republican parties in deep trouble.

Within the context of the economic decimation of the working class various movements have come to life over the last number of years – BLM, immigrant rights, Fight for $15, Occupy – that have successfully pushed their politics and caused innumerable fractures in American political life. Both the Trump and Sanders campaigns, from wholly different places, are speaking over the heads of the rotting political class directly to the American masses.

The Sanders’ campaign, when it works best, is giving voice to those social movements, raising expectations of the working class and directing this fear, anger and despair against Wall Street, corporate America and the political establishment.

Trump is not just taking that same energy and directing it towards racist and xenophobic ends, which he most assuredly is. As Thomas Frank notes, Trump is also speaking directly to people’s real fears about job losses and about free trade deals that have crushed American workers. The underlying conditions of the polarization of American politics aren’t the words of Trump or Sanders, they are the very real material circumstances of people’s lives and the debate now is who is going to give political shape and direction to them.

Lost in Canadian Translation 

In Canada, there has been no shortage of fascination with the Trump and Sanders campaigns. The former is viewed with a mixture of humour and fear, while the latter has captured the imagination of large parts of the left. Sanders’ campaign largely embodies what the NDP is perceived to be, a classic New Deal social democrat. But the NDP has tacked so far to the right over the last bunch of decades that Sanders serves simply as a reminder of what the NDP is not.

He supports taxing the rich, opposes free trade deals, he supports breaking up big banks, regulating the financial sector, implementing a $15 minimum wage, he has responded to pressure to and come out against police violence, he is against the guest worker program and he is willing to state he supports socialism.

Those within the NDP apparatus that are attempting to harness this Sanders phenomenon to reenergize the NDP, are with the possible exception of Gary Burrill, aiming at a cheap PR makeover. In this way the NDP party machine has more in common with Clinton, who sees politics as an eternal exercise in branding. Sanders is far from perfect politically but watching his campaign from north of the border shows how narrow our political discourse has become.

Those of us in Canada who are sympathetic to Sanders’ (or Jeremy Corbyn for that matter) message miss something fundamental when we ask, “where is our Sanders or Corbyn or party that expresses a strong left position?” This type of question guides people to look for quick fixes. Sanders arose out of moribund political expression on the left within a context of economic insecurity. The openness of the masses to more radical ideas was far in advance of mainstream political debate.

In this way Sanders’ rise to prominence should be seen as the result of political conditions that have been shaped by social movements on the ground (such as BLM, United We Dream, Fight for $15, Wisconsin Bail Out the People, Climate Justice and Occupy). Sanders’ campaign did not create these conditions but has so far reverberated them, given them political expression, which has served to stoke the latent contradictions within mainstream American politics. The Trump protests were significant because they highlighted what is so very true in this election; the masses are the real force shaping American politics.

Watching the American election is in many ways like watching our future. In Canada, those who want to shift the debate leftwards should think less about dumping Mulcair or changing the NDP and think more about building the movements and local left organizations that can create the conditions for a renewed and militant working class politics. If we fail to do so we are in much worse trouble than a bad election outcome.

Republished from the blog article first published on March 14, 2016.


Syrian Socialists on the Ongoing Struggle Against the Regime

The popular movement against the Assad regime continues. We are publishing a translation of a statement from the Syrian Revolutionary Left, a group of Marxists inside and outside Syria that in January published the first issue of a monthly newspaper. We hope that this will allow more people who read English to become aware of the revolutionary socialist presence in the struggle in Syria.


Wages of Rebellion Without Strategy

By Kaley Kennedy 

Review of Chris Hedges, Wages of Rebellion (Knopf Canada, 2015) 

About two thirds into Wages of Rebellion, Chris Hedges discusses the writing of Thomas Paine, saying "[Paine] spoke undeniable truths. And he did so in a language that was accessible. He called upon his readers to act upon these truths."  

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Hedges. Not only is much of Wages of Rebellion excessively academic, referencing dozens of authors, theorists, and political thinkers who are probably not common reading for those on the front lines of political struggle, but he also presents little in the way of a call to action. 


What is a Revolution?

 By Neil Davidson 

Celebrations at Tahrir Square following the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, 2011. Source: telegraph.co.uk 

When asked to define revolution, socialists often quote a famous statement by Leon Trotsky: "The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historical events." That was certainly true of the Russian Revolution which Trotsky was discussing and it would also be true for any future socialist revolutions; but as a general description it is far too restrictive. It would, for example, exclude most of the great bourgeois revolutions with the exception of the English, the French and a handful of others. 


Revolutions Are Not Over: Adam Hanieh

By Farooq Sulehria

Saudi Arabia, along with other Gulf states, have been key protagonists in the counter-revolutionary wave unleashed against the uprisings. Indeed, 2011 has clearly demonstrated that imperialism in the region is articulated with – and largely works through – the Gulf Arab states.

‘Overall, it is important for the Left to support the ongoing struggles in the revolutions as the contradictions of the new regimes continue to sharpen,’ says Adam Hanieh.

Adam Hanieh is a Lecturer in Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He is author of Capitalism and Class in the Gulf Arab States (Palgrave-Macmillan 2011) and a member of the Editorial Board of the journal Historical Materialism.


Syria: No to Foreign Military Intervention! Yes to the Victory of the Revolution!

By Khalil Habash

The Syrian popular movement has witnessed an increasing mobilization in recent weeks -- the most important since last summer in spite of violent repression, as can see with attack on Homs of Friday, February 3, with 300 martyrs in one night.


Building an Infrastructure of Dissent

By Matthew Brett

Review of Alan Sears, The Next New Left: A History of the Future (Fernwood Publishing, 2013)


The New Movement: Are We There Yet?

By Glen Ford

After decades of misleader-induced lethargy and quietude, Black America is finally in motion – or, at the very least, earnestly seeking ways to resist being plunged deeper into the abyss.


The Intractable Marginality of the Activist Left

By Stephen D'Arcy

Strikes are only one form of struggle, and perhaps less and less important as the years pass. But the disappearance of strikes — documented in the accompanying graph — is not an anomaly. It reflects a pattern of diminishing overall levels of oppositional social mobilization. Although there aren’t (as far as I know) statistics on it, it is obvious that levels of social struggle generally, in the Canadian state, are lower now than at any time since written records have been kept.


Occupy Actions: From Wall Street to a Campus Near You?

By Alan Sears

The Occupy Wall Street movement and the mobilizations of the "indignant" in Europe have sparked solidarity actions in many places around the world. October 15, 2011 was a massive day of action that included over 60 marches in Spain, a huge demonstration of over 100 000 in Rome and Occupy actions in cities and towns across North America and in many other places.


Radical Left Praxis in an Election Year: Lessons for Brazil

By Sabrina Fernandes

                        Rally held in June 2013, Brazil. Source: MidiaNinja media collective

The general commentary regarding Brazilian politics is that the "politicians are all the same" or "there is no political alternative" and that even the good ones get corrupted once they reach power. It is no wonder then, that the massive protests of June 2013 throughout Brazil, which were filled with diffuse voices and eclipsed by broad demands, revealed what many termed a crisis of representation.


David Graeber’s Democracy Project: A Review

By Brian S. Roper 

Review of David Graeber, The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement (Allen Lane,  2013)

Was the Occupy movement an anarchist movement? David Graeber certainly thinks so and dedicates much of The Democracy Project depicting it in these terms.

In reality the influence of Anarchism as a diverse political current was highly uneven across the hundreds of occupations that took place globally in September, October and November of 2011. The relative influence of anarchists, socialists, feminists, Indigenous activists, greens, social democrats, left nationalists, and others varied largely according to the relative strengths of these currents prior to the emergence of the Occupy movement, and how they conducted themselves during the course of the encampments.


The May 15 Movement in Spain

By Murray Smith

On May 15, a new force exploded onto the Spanish political scene. A week before regional and municipal elections, tens of thousands of young people occupied the main squares in Madrid, Barcelona and many other Spanish cities.


NGOization: Depoliticizing Activism in Canada

By Dru Oja Jay

Across Canada, movement organizations are preparing for the People's Social Forum, coming up in August. There's a buzz of excitement and anticipation in the air as committees elect delegates, and strategies are debated. When hundreds of activists gather in Ottawa in a few months, we will be drawing from a rich, long-simmering cauldron of theoretical discussion and insight issuing from astute on-the-ground observations.


Three Years of Revolt in Syria

By Joseph Daher


"Three years of hunger and suffering, but three years of pride and dignity." Photo courtesy Joseph Daher.

The recent death of Canadian photo journalist and New Socialist Editorial Associate Ali Mustafa in a Syrian military bomb blast was a grim reminder of the brutal war that's ongoing in Syria. Joseph Daher wrote a series of six articles in 2012 that analysed the Syrian rebellion. These articles can be found here. In this article Joseph Daher analyses the many forces of reaction within Syria, and celebrates three years of courageous struggle for democracy and social change.


The Mass Popular Uprising in Bosnia-Herzegovina: 20 Years After the War

By Gal Kirn
Year 1995, Dayton, Ohio. The end of three year war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is announced, the end of the war that in the most brutal ways materialized the idea of "end of history" with the global triumph of liberal democracy and transition to capitalism. Many "ordinary" citizens thought everything was going to be better.

Two decades later, BiH seemed to be one of the last places where any kind of political uprisings or emancipatory politics could take place. A collective sense of despair, passivity and helplessness prevailed. But this month, nineteen years after Dayton, the biggest protests in recent decades have taken place in the region.


What Happened in Wisconsin?

By Tessa Echeverria and Andrew Sernatinger

On a cold January day in Wisconsin, the two of us sat over a couple of cups of coffee and started talking, like many others, about what was happening in the world and remarked on the chain of revolts across Europe and North Africa. We got up to leave and passed a copy of January's Economist magazine, the cover reading "The Battle Ahead, Confronting the Public Sector Unions." We crossed East Washington Avenue, a long stretch of vacant manufacturing buildings in Madison, and asked each other, "When is it going to be our turn?"


Editorial on the Crisis in Libya: Caught Between Qadafi and Imperialism

The current popular uprising against Colonel Qadafi in Libya is part of a wider revolutionary wave occurring all across the Middle East and North Africa that deserves our unconditional support. A victory for the Qadafi regime over the rebellion would no doubt represent a devastating blow not only to Libya's own future but to the revolutionary process in the region as a whole. As NATO's no-fly zone over Libya increasingly looks to transform into a long and protracted military operation, it is important now for social justice advocates across Canada to reflect critically upon why the decision to intervene was made, who exactly stands to benefit, and what the likely consequences will be.


Revolutionary Hope and Change Across the 'Arab World': 10 Questions with Gilbert Achcar

By Ali Mustafa

Gilbert Achcar is a Lebanese writer, socialist, and antiwar activist. He is also a professor of Development Studies and International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, and author most recently of The Arabs and the Holocaust: the Arab-Israeli War of Narratives. In this interview, he discusses the significance of the ongoing revolutionary wave of mass protests occuring across the Middle East with one of the New Socialist webzine editors Ali Mustafa.


The G20 Demonstrations and the Criminalization of Dissent

By Jackie Esmonde

In the lead up to the G20 meetings in Toronto this summer, the conclusion that the state perceived anti-G20 protest activity as almost inherently criminal was inescapable.


G20 Protests: Fighting Back Against the Police State

By Alan Sears

On Monday, June 28, a large and boisterous demonstration of about 2500 people that snaked through the streets of Toronto continued the movement to rid this city of the police state regime that took over during the G20 summit. The leaders of the G20 had gone. As expected, their gathering had focussed on finding new ways to restore corporate profits by taking it out of the workers and the poor. But the movement against the police state regime and the G8/G20 agenda is continuing.


Assessing the Anti-Olympics Protests in Vancouver

By Harold Lavender

Opposition to the many negative impacts of the Vancouver Olympics was loud and clear as activists vigorously exercised their right to free speech in wide-ranging protest actions against the 2010 Winter Games.


Where is the Union Movement in the Olympic Resistance?

 By Gene McGuckin

It’s time for someone to mention the elephant that’s not in the room.


Review of Direct Action: An Ethnography

By Jackie Esmonde

A review of David Graeber, Direct Action: An Ethnography (AK Press, 2009).

Vilified by the media, romanticized by scores of young people, viewed by some as the bane of the global justice movement – like it or not, the Black Bloc anarchists who first entered public consciousness at the Seattle demonstrations against the World Trade Organization in 1999 came to symbolize the resistance to global inequality of the late 1990s and early 2000s in North America.


Occupy This!

Review of Judy Rebick, Occupy This! (Penguin, 2012).

By Donya Ziaee

Reading long-time activist Judy Rebick's new e-book Occupy This! re-awakened memories of my experience at the Occupy Toronto encampment in its very early days. The optimism, excitement and hope with which Rebick pens her latest book is quite reminiscent of the sentiments that drew me, and perhaps many others, to the camp in the initial period.


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