Remembering Ali Mustafa

As we reported on our Facebook and Twitter accounts, journalist Ali Mustafa, an editorial associate of New Socialist Webzine (and a former editor), was killed in Syria on March 9. A fine memorial website has been created here. A brief tribute from the NSW editors is among the tributes there, and we'll be publishing an obituary article soon.

Articles on Venezuela & Ukraine (updated)

Canadian mainstream media coverage of the quite different situations in Venezuela and Ukraine has one thing in common: how very misleading it is, and its slant. So here's a selection of articles worth reading:

On Venezuela:

Mike Gonzalez writes from Caracas

George Ciccariello-Maher on Venezuela at the crossroads

Jerome Roos on why it's the opposition that's undemocratic

Jeff Webber and Susan Spronk's major analysis

On Ukraine:

Interview with Denis, a radical unionist in Ukraine

A very useful two-part piece by Gabriel Levy, writing from Ukraine

A few pieces worth reading

We'll soon have some new articles to publish, but in the meantime here are links to 3 pieces worth reading: Dan La Botz on the Zapatistas 20 years after the Chiapas uprising, Derrick O'Keefe on the NDP's condolences on the death of Ariel Sharon, and Panos Petrou on the situation in Greece today.

Marta Russell obituary

Marta Russell died a few days ago in Los Angeles. A journalist and commentator about issues affecting disabled people as well as a film industry worker for many years, Russell was best known for her landmark book, Beyond Ramps: Disability at the end of the Social Contract (Common Courage Press). Here she set out a compelling critique of how capitalism marginalizes and oppresses disabled workers. Reading it as a young disability rights advocate, Marta was like a breath of fresh air, combining passionate advocacy with an understanding of political economy and how disabled people are systematically oppressed by capitalism. Marta was particularly unique in focusing on an anti-capitalist critique of disablement policy in the United States where postmodern analysis of the disabled body has predominated. With Jean Stewart, she wrote a remarkably biting piece about prisons and disablement for Monthly Review. She was also not shy about criticizing misguided strategies by disability rights movements that she felt were too moderate or co-opted. Disabled since birth, Marta leaves behind a daughter and countless disabled people she radicalized around the world. Advocates of socialism from below would do well to revisit her work on this too often ignored topic.

Ravi Malhotra is a member of the Human Rights Committee of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and co-authored an article with Marta Russell in Socialist Register in 2001. 

Tags for articles

Articles in New Socialist Webzine have now got subject tags, so you can see what's been published in each category via the tag cloud. So far only the articles published in 2013 have been tagged. More will be added soon.

The fight to save Canada Post urban home delivery

"We believe that there is a real possibility to build a movement spanning Canada and Quebec to stop these attacks, and even build the power to make positive transformations to our postal system. There are four key reasons why we don't think this isn't just wishful thinking," argue Doug Nesbitt and David Bush in their article "We Can Beat the Right and Win the Fight at Canada Post."

Canadian Union of Postal Workers activist Dave Bleakney writes that "the proposed cuts are simply another round in a long fight. And we will need to shift gears if we are to succeed... This is not simply a struggle for postal workers: people should not wait for permission to save their post offices and push for increased service." Read his "This post office belongs to everyone."

CUPW has a new page for its campaign here.

Support Postal Workers is a useful resource page created in 2011 around CUPW's rotating strike-turned-lockout.

 

 

 

Scandals and politics: "dangerous in more ways than one"

"We are gripped by scandal." Stephen Harper, Mike Duffy, Rob Ford and more. In an important analysis, Stefan Kipfer asks "Can progressive and left forces benefit from scandalized politics?" and argues that the "scandalization of politics" today favours the Right. Read it here.

 

 

Rob Ford: analysis from the left

With the controversy around Toronto mayor Rob Ford filling the mainstream media with a flood of shallow chatter, here's a selection of views from the left about his rise and the current scandal:

Parastou Saberi and Stefan Kipfer, "Rob Ford in Toronto: Why the Ascendancy of Hard-Right Populism in the 2010 Mayoral Election?"

Herman Rosenfeld, "Toronto Mayor Rob Ford: A User's Guide"

Rinaldo Walcott, "Rob Ford and the Truth about Privilege"

Shawn Whitney, "Three Reasons Why Rob Ford Should Stay"

Two new books on the Middle East

I have read both of these books and they are both worth reading.

Achcar's book is more academic and it includes some Marxist theory as Achcar explores the question of why the Arab revolt spread throughout the Arab countries, but not beyond. Achcar has been an activist in Arab politics for decades, as well as an academic specializing in this area, so his knowledge of the Middle East is encyclopedic. For example, Achcar (citing another scholar) takes us through the numerous and contradictory diplomatic initiatives of the Emir of Qatar. Many of us know that the Emir launched Al Jazeera, but that's where our knowledge stops. With Achcar, that's where it starts.The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising

Scott Anderson's book Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East is more journalistic and anecdotal.  It's an easier read, full of fascinating behind-the-scenes accounts.

Syria: Against any military intervention

Two statements by socialists:

Against any military intervention by France's New Anti-Capitalist Party

We Stand Behind the Syrian People’s Revolution - No to Foreign Intervention, a statement by socialist groups in Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon and Iraq.


Syria: "No to Washington! No to Moscow! No to Riyadh! No to Tehran!"

In Syria, the Revolutionary Left Current is involved in the struggle against the Assad regime and opposes intervention by the US, Russia and other countries. As talk of a Western military attack on Syria grows, check out this blog that publishes material from them in English and Arabic: Syria Freedom Forever

A few thoughts on radicals and workplace activism

Halifax activist David Bush has written an article on radicals and the workplace that deserves to be read and discussed by people on the left.

His conclusion is one I gladly echo: "Left wing organizations should be offering their energies, capacities and analysis while also humbly recognizing and understanding it is a learning process for the far left. This does not mean whole-hearted agreement with every step, but it does mean making engagement with rank and file movements a strategic priority. It also means we need to encourage, facilitate and organize rank and file activity where it does not exist... If we are serious about challenging capitalism and injustice in Canada and winning real gains for working people the left must organize itself in manner that can orient itself to building and enriching rank and file movements."

David's piece observes that "The far-left, for a variety of reasons has largely abandoned a practical orientation towards workers' movements in Canada over the past twenty years. Largely this is a capacity question, membership in far-left organizations has dwindled and thus there is an organizational inability to carry out a concerted strategy within workers movements. Implicating oneself in workers' movements is hard, unsexy work that requires time, resources, and patience. It is the type of work that only really produces results in the long-term and thus only groups with a long-term sense of struggle can engage in it."

I think there's a lot of truth to this, but I'll add two points.

First, I think the move away from such an orientation dates back further, to the early 1980s when the main far left groups built in the Canadian state over the previous 20 years dissolved (the Maoists) or lost most of their members (the Revolutionary Workers' League). The largest group on the radical left, the Communist Party, collapsed at the end of the 1980s along with most of the Stalinist regimes it supported. However, most of its union activists had long oriented to trying to change unions from above, by allying with left (and not so left) officials (see the comments on the role of the CP in the important fightback movement in BC in the early 80s in Bryan Palmer's book Solidarity: The Rise and Fall of an Opposition in British Columbia).

Second - and more important for us to reckon with today - is that in addition to a loss of capacity there's been a political shift among radicals away from seeing workplace struggles as important. The underlying reasons for this are the drastic decline in the level of workplace struggle and the decay happening within unions in recent decades.

Another point that needs to be raised in any discussion about "building and enriching rank and file movements" is the problem of sectarianism. It has been all too common for members of left groups to put the interests of their group ahead of what's best for workers' rank and file organizing (this was true of most of the far left groups of the 60s and 70s). For example, members of a radical left group may treat recruiting workplace militants as the most important goal when building relationships with them, and may try to keep them from making connections with other radicals who are seen as competitors.

So while it would be great for more radicals to adopt the orientation David argues for, this needs to be accompanied by a root-and-branch rejection of sectarianism. Otherwise new efforts will do little good or even be counterproductive.

A last thought: David identifies the "the activity and orientation of the left" as "the most important factor" in explaining "what accounts for vibrant rank and file networks and movements." The efforts of radical activists who are genuinely part of workers' self-organization are undoubtedly very important. But crucial to past successes by radicals has been the presence of a wider layer of militants of which the radicals have been a part (this was an important lesson eventually learned by some of the socialists who set out to build rank and file movements in the 1970s without fully recognizing how much had changed since the 1930s, as discussed here). Today this layer of militant workplace activists is probably weaker than it's ever been - a fact that needs to be appreciated by all of us who agree with David that there "is a role for the left to play in this current moment of rank and file reconstitution."

David Camfield

How Sir John A Macdonald used hunger to "ethnically cleanse" the Prairies

"a key aspect of preparing the land was the subjugation and forced removal of indigenous communities from their traditional territories, essentially clearing the plains of aboriginal people to make way for railway construction and settlement. Despite guarantees of food aid in times of famine in Treaty No. 6, Canadian officials used food, or rather denied food, as a means to ethnically cleanse a vast region from Regina to the Alberta border as the Canadian Pacific Railway took shape." Read historian James Daschuk's article in the Globe and Mail.

Train Explosion in Lac Megantic

"Residents of Quebec and across Canada are shocked by this catastrophe, but scarily, they ain’t seen nothing yet. The transport of petroleum products by rail in Canada is skyrocketing." Read the rest of Roger Annis's article on his site.

Coup in Egypt (Updated)

"The governments and media outlets of the American and European bourgeoisie are trying to describe what has happened in Egypt as if it were only a military coup against a democratically elected president, or a coup against the “legitimacy” of formal democracy.  But what has happened in reality far surpasses formal democracy with its ballot boxes.  It is legitimacy via the democracy of the popular revolution, direct democracy creating revolutionary legitimacy." So argues a statement from the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt.

An article by Turkish socialist Sungur Suvran offers a different perspective: "The deadlock born from the confrontation of two nearly equal social and political forces was simply inextricable. It threatened civil war. It was into this void that the army stepped in and staged its coup. This was a classic case of Bonapartism."

A July 4 video interview with Gilbert Achcar about events in Egypt: part one here and part two here.

Interview with Ahmed Shawki, who argues "the army didn't intervene to help the revolutionary movement make bigger gains or radicalize further of course. The aim was to contain the movement. But in a certain sense, this was also as an acknowledgement of the fact that the popular will of Egypt will not tolerate the Morsi government anymore."

In a new (July 6) statement, the Revolutionary Socialists argue that "The popular uprising of 30 June threw the Muslim Brotherhood out of power, and its plan is now clear. The Brotherhood is seeking to take over the squares in order to project an image of false popularity for the president who was removed by the uprising. It may even be aiming to negotiate his return to power with the support of the US and other imperialist powers in order to accomplish what Mursi promised to do for them in Syria and the region... The masses who made the revolution in January 2011, and sought to complete it in June 2013, are the only ones who can save it from danger."

The "Brazilian Spring"

If you're looking to understand what's been happening in Brazil, here are some articles to check out:

Interview with Joao Machado of the Party of Socialism and Freedom (PSOL) (June 23 and 27)

An article by Rodrigo Santaella (June 26)

An article by Euan Gibb, a Canadian activist in Brazil (June 26)

An article by Sean Purdy, a Canadian in Brazil who belongs to PSOL (June 26)

Ecosocialist talks online

Video and audio recordings of workshops at the Ecosocialism conference in New York City, April 20, have been posted on the Ecosocialist Contingent website. See the links here.

RBC layoffs not about foreigners vs Canadians

"Once again the temporary foreign worker program has erupted in controversy where it is being used to pit workers against each other," write Chris Ramsaroop and Syed Hussan. But "The answer cannot be banning migrant workers from entering Canada." Read their article here.

North Korea/US tensions

"What the hell is going on? Are we really as close to war as this sounds? Why all the buildup if North Korea was bluffing? What’s up with the “dialing back” of U.S. forces? And what brought us to this point?" Read Tim Shorrock's article (recommended by a comrade in South Korea for readers abroad) here.

Activism, Feminism, Marxism and Queer Politics

"How can we build a united movement that respects difference and autonomy, and also advances common struggles against oppression and exploitation? What are the linkages, and tensions, between feminism and queer politics? And how can we understand women's liberation in the context of other movements against oppression?" Check out the video of presentations by Johannah May Black and Alan Sears here.

Leninism and small socialist groups

Recently some socialists (for example, here and here) have been writing about the relevance or irrelevance of the Leninist model of party organization for socialist groups of at most a few thousand members in advanced capitalist countries today.

This question was key for a group of Canadian socialists around the magazine New Socialist who left the International Socialists (IS) in 1996 and set out on a path of renewing socialism from below. As a modest contribution to discussion, here we publish the section of a document written while still in the IS that deals with this question:

"The political core of the problem is a particular conception of leninist party-building which has pushed people to attempt to skip historical stages, and in the process to distort their reading of their own capacities and the state of the class struggle.

Lenin's contribution to the development of revolutionary theory and practice remains a crucial one. The need for a democratic mass vanguard party as part of the process of working class self-emancipation is central to revolutionary socialism. The unevenness of working class consciousness and the centralization of capitalist power in the state makes a party a key component of the process through which the majority of the working class is won to seizing power with their own hands.

However, this tells us little about the immediate tasks confronting us as revolutionaries. We are a small group of socialists on the margins of the working class movement. In so far as we turn to the Leninist tradition to guide us in the task of building small groups, we run into trouble. There is, in fact, no serious Leninist tradition of building small groups. The key lessons of Leninism are based on the experiences of the Bolsheviks in Russia as generalized through the first four Congresses of the Communist International. The Congresses laid down guidelines for building mass workers' parties in a revolutionary period.

The I.S. is one of many groupings that have taken these guidelines and attempted to use them to direct the development of small groups outside the working class in periods which are not revolutionary. These groups have operated on the assumption that a mass revolutionary party develops through an established series of stages (circle/propaganda group/agitational group/mass party). It is a kind of "automatic Leninism" which works like an escalator that you enter at a particular point with your ultimate destination and route determined in advance.

This approach to building small groups leads organizations into many sorts of problems, whether that means imagining themselves as tiny perfect versions of the revolutionary party or attempting to speed the progress through those stages by skipping crucial historical steps. The current claim that the I.S. is in transition from being a propaganda group into an agitational group capable of influencing large-scale struggles represents an attempt to skip crucial historical steps.

We must begin with a more modest conception of the small group project and the immense gap that separates it from the building of a revolutionary party. This gap is not unbridgeable, but it cannot be crossed by sheer will. it is the specific combination of the spontaneous development of working class insurgency with effective socialist current that creates the basis for a genuine mass revolutionary party. Organized socialists matter in this process, contributing to political clarification and acting as an organizational catalyst. However, small organizations do not automatically "turn into" mass revolutionary parties; they may contribute certain (necessary) elements to something new that is qualitatively distinct from them.

The "Where We Stand" column is therefore wrong to claim under the heading of Revolutionary Party that we "are beginning to build such a party." This claim leads to a disproportionate emphasis on building the organizations "professional apparatus and a withering of vibrancy and debate. it also leads to silly arguments that the I.S. is reliving the Bolshevik/Menshevik split of 1903 and that the political core of Bolshevism was an obsession with apparatus-building.

We should instead say that we are working to create a socialist current that can develop a new understanding of how revolutionary parties can be built and contribute to that process. We must not assume in advance that the Russian experience provides a general model for the development of socialist organizations. Lenin himself expressed concerns at the way the Communist International generalized the experience of the Bolsheviks into a universal model of party-building, arguing that Marxist from other countries "cannot be content with hanging it [the Russian experience] in a corner like an icon and praying to it." Lenin always urged other marxists to recognize that new conditions demanded a new analysis. We should not believe that all the answers to all our problems in building a socialist movement can be found in the writings of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Unfortunately, neither Lenin nor the other Bolsheviks had much to say about our situation, as a small group of revolutionaries who are outside the mainstream of the working class, operating in a capitalist democracy, during a non-revolutionary period. We need to take the best of the revolutionary marxist tradition and bring it to life by using it to answer the pressing question of building a small group in the actual conditions we confront today."

(from Declaration of the Political Reorientation Faction, Jan. 1996)

Venezuela after Chavez

Here are a few pieces on the net worth reading in the aftermath of his death:

Venezuela after Chavez

RIP Chavez

Possible Policy Scenarios

The Revolution Will Not Be Decreed

Why socialists need feminism

By David Camfield

The relationship between socialism and feminism has been getting more attention in online discussions recently. This is both for good reasons -- such as the article by Sharon Smith of the International Socialist Organization in the US that looks critically at how the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, which greatly influenced the ISO's politics, has dealt with feminism -- and bad, above all the current crisis in the SWP set off by the disgraceful way that allegations of rape by a leading member were handled.

The idea that socialists should be feminists too is uncontroversial to many revolutionary socialists. But why socialism needs feminism is still worth spelling out.

Every society in the world today is shaped by the oppression of women on the basis of their gender (patriarchy/sexism). There are, of course, importance differences in what form this oppression takes because gender relations are always interwoven with class, race, sexuality and other social relations, which vary (for example, patriarchy in Canada isn't identical to patriarchy in Cuba).

Around the world, women taking action to challenge sexism commonly (thought not always) identify themselves as feminists. If we define feminism in its widest sense as opposition to sexism -- which is what it means in everyday speech today -- it should be obvious why socialists should be feminists.

However, some socialists who are dedicated supporters of women's liberation don't consider themselves feminists. As Smith notes, some Marxists including some in her own political current haven't "understood the need to defend feminism, and to appreciate the enormous accomplishments of the women's movement, even after the 1960s era gave way to the backlash" against feminism and other movements of oppressed people.

But some socialists who have defended and appreciated feminism and been active in struggles against gender oppression have still insisted that socialism doesn't need feminism and so they're not feminists (this is what I was taught in my early years as a socialist, in the late 1980s as a member of the International Socialists -- some of whose members had the kind of really sectarian anti-feminist stance that Smith criticizes). Why?

The best case for this position is that revolutionary socialist politics are deeply committed to liberation from all forms of oppression, including gender oppression, and therefore don't need feminism. This often goes along with the belief that socialist-feminism is flawed because it advocates both united working-class struggle against exploitation and all forms of oppression (seen as the correct orientation) and autonomous (women-only) organizing against patriarchy. Women-only organizing is seen as undermining working-class politics because it allegedly means cross-class politics that don't recognize that the interests of working-class women aren't the same as those of middle-class or ruling-class women.

But even at its best this "socialist, not feminist" approach won't do. Its claim that because socialism is about universal human emancipation it doesn't need feminism evades a real problem: actually-existing socialist organizing and politics aren't the ideal that these socialists talk about. They exist within patriarchal societies. As a result, the actions and thinking of socialists will inevitably be limited and deformed by the patriarchal gender relations that we're committed to uprooting. So socialists need to develop our politics by learning from the actually-existing struggle against patriarchy (as well as learning from history). To do this we need feminism.

It's feminists who are shedding light on how women are oppressed and grappling with how to challenge various manifestations of oppression, from violence against women including sexual assault to eating disorders to how families, workplaces, schools and other institutions pressure women to conduct themselves in particular ways to sexism in contemporary science and many more. Not all feminists equally, of course. Feminist politics range from revolutionary socialist-feminism all the way to pro-imperialist liberalism, and there are lively debates within feminism.

But it's feminists who are on the cutting edge of whatever progress is being made in understanding and fighting patriarchy. Socialists should be part of that action. Socialists need to learn from the best feminisms (both socialist-feminism and others) to deepen our understanding of oppression and how to fight for liberation. The "socialist, not feminist" approach is a barrier to doing this.

"Socialist, not feminist" politics downplay the reality that patriarchy has its own dynamics. These aren't separate from capitalism and class, but they can't be reduced to them either. Marx's theory of capitalism has been developed by Marxist-feminism to explain why specific features of the system perpetuate gender oppression.This is extremely important. However, it doesn't fully explain patriarchy. To do that we also need to draw on -- and develop -- feminist theory in a historical and materialist way.

Socialist opposition to combining mixed-gender and autonomous women's organizing is a mistake. Far from detracting from united working-class struggles, women-only organizing can be an effective tactic for making them possible. In patriarchal societies, mixed-gender organizing is never a level playing field for women. Organizing independently can help women to identify and tackle sexism in mixed-gender activism and make mixed-gender organizing more anti-sexist. It can be a way for women to take initiatives without having to wait for men to catch up with them. And there's no reason that it inevitably sacrifices the interests of working-class women to those of middle-class or ruling-class women.

Another problem with the "socialist, not feminist" approach is that it tends to promote a culture among socialists in which sexism isn't challenged as vigorously as it needs to be. To the extent that it insulates socialists from feminism, it makes it easier for socialist men to avoid dealing with tough questions about our own behaviour. Insulation from feminism can also make it harder for socialist women to challenge sexism among socialists.

Socialists worthy of the name are committed to universal human emancipation. But there's a big difference between proclaiming a commitment and making it real. To make our politics more truly what we say we want them to be, socialists need feminism. We should be feminist socialists, and proud of it.

David Camfield is one of the editors of New Socialist Webzine.

 

"The incredible economic leverage of First Nations today"

"News reports are ablaze with reports of looming Indigenous blockades and economic disruption. As the Idle No More movement explodes into a new territory of political action, it bears to amplify the incredible economic leverage of First Nations today, and how frightened the government and industry are of their capacity to wield it." Read Shiri Pasternak's article "The Economics of Insurgency" here.