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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Struggle on the Streets of Greece (Part 2) 

Today, the Greek socialist parlimentary majority, PASOK, approved a rigorous plan of austerity and privatization in order to facilitate a bailout from the IMF and the ECB. It is pretty much acknowledged that, if implemented, the plan will consign a generation of Greeks to poverty. Police were unrestrained in their use of tear gas in an attempt to clear away protesters from nearby Syntagma Square:

Protesters fought pitched body-to-body battles with riot police, toxic levels of tear gas filled the air and Syntagma Square, the nerve centre of Greece's new resistance movement, descended into chaos.

Within minutes, the plaza resembled a war zone, more reminiscent of Gaza than the flourishing hub of a western capital with the detritus of battle everywhere: in its burning barricades, smashed pavements, shattered masonry, looted shops, destroyed kiosks and trees.

Dangerous amounts of tear gas are being used to terrorize people, said Athanasios Pafilis, a communist MP as parliament wrapped up two days of debate on the debt-reduction measures. It's an intolerable situation … what we are seeing is chemical warfare and it has to stop.

Unprovoked riot police were firing it all over the place, said Andreas Skourtis, an architect demonstrating against the measures.

They were clearly working to a very well-organised plan. This is a government that has gone out of its way to not only keep crowds away but pass the measures no matter what. People are really angry. Civilians have been attacked not only in Syntagma but all over the city centre.

Other accounts convey the eruption of violence throughout the central city of Athens:

18.25 GMT+2 About 20 DELTA motorcycle cops rushed through the crowd situated in Ermou Street near Kapnikarea. A clash between groups of protesters and joined DELTA, MAT forces followed. One of the DELTA cops crashed with the protesters and got badly beaten right afterwards.

18.18 GMT +2: The use of tear gas inside Syntagma metro continues; the cops invade now. The people disperse in all directions at the risk of being trampled.

18.15 GMT +2: The cops moved from the surrounding streets and have invaded Syntagma square. The people are encircled. The cops hit brutally, throwing chemicals and stepping over the demonstrators’ tents.

18.05 GMT +2: The forces of repression are shooting rubber bullets at Stadiou and Voukourestiou streets.

18.00 GMT +2: People have gathered in Propylaea, responding to the gathering call at 6 pm.

17.53 GMT +2: Attempted arson at the Agrotikil Bank on Panepistimiou Street. People are smashing the surrounding banks. The protesters who tried to burn the bank stopped when they realized that there were people inside.

17.20 GMT+2: Street battles now in Filellinon Street. Continuous reports of severely wounded protesters. A municipality pillar was burned. Everybody demands the withdrawal of cops; great fatigue and anger of the people. Apart from the merciless chemical warfare, the cops are throwing stones back against demonstrators since hours.

Beyond the ongoing struggle on the streets, there are some obvious lessons. First, there is no government on the European continent that will resist the dictates of international capital as given expression through the World Bank, the IMF, the US Federal Reserve, the Bundesbank and the ECB. Democratic processes exist for the purpose of legitimizing policies imposed by them. Second, social democratic parties, like the PASOK in Greece, stand ready to preserve state authority by acting as the intermediary by which these policies shall be approved and implemented. lenin has identified the problem:

One might expect social democratic parties to take a different approach, to mobilise their constituencies around a defence of public services and social security. But their long years of complicity in managing neoliberalism means they are unable to think of an alternative to spending cuts. In opposition, they offer gradual and responsible austerity, but they still mean to cut, and cut deep. In government, the emphasis shifts from gradual to deep.

This process doesn't only threaten the major parties. At stake is the very legitimacy of the states carrying out these measures. Hitherto, they have relied on two key sources of public support. One is the ideology of prosperity, in which great inequalities of wealth are tolerable so long as the economy keeps growing. But in the last 30 years, that has depended on record private debt, which is no longer sustainable. The other is welfare, in which the government will provide a basic minimum of nourishment, health and education so that, in theory, all can participate in the opportunities of a market economy. If the market fails, the government will be there with a safety net. This is now under unprecedented attack.

lenin recognizes the severity of the situation, but refuses to draw the obvious conclusion: social democratic parties in Europe, with Marxist, Leninist and Trotskyite influences, cannot conceive of a future in the absence of the state institutions by which which they have sought to create a more egalitarian society. Terrified of a collapse of state authority that would make it impossible to use the state's administrative apparatus to provide social welfare in the form of public services, universal education, health care and social security, they are willing to eviscerate these programs in the hope that future generations can revive them. Forced to choose between continued fidelity to neoliberal policy and alternatives that risk permanently reducing the authority of the state, if not fully eliminating it, they will always act in defense of the state. Here, in the US, we experience a peculiar variant of this in regard to the liberal embrace of the state as necessary to protect civil rights and people of color, thus rationalizing support for Democratic party policies that impoverish much of the country in much the same manner as previous Republican ones have done.

Despite the vote, Greece is stalemated. The government has obtained the legal authority to impose more merciless austerity measures upon the populace, but lacks the capability to effectively implement them. Accordingly, as already mentioned yesterday, foreign investors are already seeking to induce a Greek Pinochet to come forward and enforce workplace discipline because Papandreou, PASOK, and the labor unions associated with them, are rapidly losing the ability to do so. An attempt by PASOK affiliated transit unions in Athens to disrupt protests through the ruse of participating in the general strike failed as many workers, at the request of the movement, reported to work to operate the subway system.

Meanwhile, the left, despite its great successes, has not developed a sufficiently broad based coalition capable of rendering Greece ungovernable under conditions imposed by the EU, the IMF and the ECB. Such a coalition will be necessary as Greece enters a new phase of conflict. The centers of confrontation will be the workplaces of public sector workers and publicly owned resources, such as the port of Athens, which is designated, along with other public assets for privatization, as well as the banks and other European institutions that will adminster the Greek economy. We can anticipate a coordinated campaign, with violent and non-violent features, for the purpose of making it impossible to carry out the mass firings and asset sales mandated by the austerity plan. European bank branches in Greece, especially German and French ones, are going to be the targets of ongoing vandalism. But it is important to note that, as far as we know, the police are standing steadfast with the government.

The anti-authoritarian movements of Greece face a great challenge, the urgency of participating in a broader coalition of resistance in which many of the participants either do not understand or do not fully share their ideological vision of society. Hence, criticism of the protesters in Syntagma Square for their fetishization of non-violence is not particularly helpful, but engaging them about the synergy created by a movement with violent and non-violent features can release a tremendous radical potential. It is precisely for this reason that a reformist media outlet like the Guardian insists upon placing violent and non-violent protesters in opposition to one another in its coverage, characterizing the violent ones as hooligans, without a base of support, so as to maintain the spiritual purity of those who resist non-violently. Of course, it is not very persuasive, because, after all, there are a lot of people resisting the attacks upon the square and taking the initiative by vandalizing banks and corporate businesses in downtown Athens. And yet, there is, dare one use the word, some sectarianism that must be overcome. Ultimately, the question is not so much one of violence and non-violence, but, rather, the effectiveness of various forms of resistance against this onslaught. In other contexts, social movements have been able to bridge the violent, non-violent direct action divide, as was done during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Such an approach requires a willingness of all involved to recognize the possible consequences of their actions in relation to those undertaken by others.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Struggle on the Streets of Greece (Part 1) 

Clashes between protesters and the police in Athens in advance of a parliamentary vote tomorrow on intensified austerity measures required for additional IMF and European Central Bank funds are ongoing:

23.30 GMT+2 Up to this time, there are constant harsh clashes. Continually, medics run to help numerous injured protesters, transferring them from outside Hotel Grande Bretagne.

23.17 GMT+2 Dissent is generalized; there are people hurdling rocks to the police across the centre of Athens. In Stadiou Street police are now attacking demonstrators, and the clashes continue in Syntagma as before. Filellinon and surrounding streets are lined with police squads. There are at least 5-6 police units outside the Russian Church near Syntagma. At the Zappeion hundreds of DELTA motorcycle police forces. At the junction of Ardittou and Vouliagmenis streets, near First Cemetery of Athens, there are dozens of motorcyclist cops.

23.15 GMT+2 A huge crowd at Syntagma tonight, multiple times larger than the crowd at the general strike demo in the morning. Clashes between police squads and demonstrators forced the temporary halting of the concert. There are many stun grenades and tear gas thrown against demonstrators’ heads.

Such confrontations have been taking place for hours:

17.00 GMT+2 Demonstrators move away, so the tension shifts to the lower side of the square. Othonos Street has re-opened and is gradually filled with people. The area is under continuous attack from tear gas and shock grenades.

16.50 GMT+2 Syntagma: A lot of tear gas inside the metro station, from Amalias Street. The majority of anarchists are not present at the time, but comrades remain near Syntagma. Police raid en mass the upper side of the square; melees between demonstrators and cops. From Othonos Street a minor militant group with football fans’ distinctive features throws stones against the numerous repression forces. Several organizers of the Syntagma Assembly, possibly along with far-right ‘300 Greeks’, are offering Maalox in order to protect people from chemicals.

16.40 GMT+2 Ongoing clashes; tear gas thrown now in front of the Unknown Soldier Monument. The majority of the people have split away from the place. It is estimated that approximately 2,000 remain gathered. Nevertheless, demonstrators do not leave the square.

16.05 GMT+2 According to reports, three people have been detained at Syntagma – one of the detainees is a trade union member.

15.57 GMT+2 Protesters are taking back the area around Filellinon Street, at the lower side of Syntagma square.

15.45 Athens: Police squads evacuated Amalias Street by a savage chemical warfare operation; asphyxiant gases were poured inside the metro station and thrown even against the Medical Centres’ tend in Syntagma square.

For updates, go here and here.

Obscured by the pyrotechnics of the immediate confrontation is the probability that the Greek government will approve the austerity measures by a slight margin. Upon such approval, the conflict will enter a new phase, mass resistance to the implementation of the austerity and privatization program. European capitalists are already aware of this prospect, as reflected in this article in the Guardian last week:

There is doubt, though, over whether the measures can be imposed on an increasingly unhappy population.

Everything depends on Greece implementing the measures, Lord Brittan, the former vice president of the European commission, told the BBC's Today programme. Legislating is one thing, implementing is another, and Greece's history of implementation is not a happy one, Brittan added.

Jane Foley of Rabobank International agreed, saying there was widespread scepticism in the bond markets about the ability of the Greek political system to implement the reform.

In effect, investors are beginning to imply that regime change will be necessary to ensure the repayment of Greek debt to French, German, British and American financial institutions. Or, to put it more bluntly, a coup, whether initiated by the military, or by a government of national unity within the existing political system. So far, Prime Minister Panpandreou and the Socialists have been unable to reach agreement with the rightist opposition, but the EU, the IMF and the ECB may soon broker such a marriage to preserve the constitutional legitimacy of the austerity program and the repression required to execute it.

No doubt, the EU, the IMF and the ECB are desperate to avoid the installation of a new junta in the service of international capital, given the grave damage that it would inflict upon the project of a united Europe, but, if necessary, they will accept it. Supposedly, Greek media outlets have been disseminating alarms over the possibility of military intervention in recent days. Proposed new border controls within the EU, prompted by fears of a mass migration from North Africa, will also serve the purpose of keeping most Greeks incarcerated in their newly created debtor's prison. One hopes that the Greeks are already planning beyond this week to resist these measures.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Taking Care of My Mother 

So, I probably won't be posting anything until early next week. But I do anticipate getting back in the regular routine soon. I have, however, had enough time to notice that the Greek situation is getting more and more turbulent, with the US, through the IMF, trying to muscle through a full bailout of European lenders. Can the Greeks on the street stop it? Can they pull down the edifice of the neoliberal European social order?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Blockade of Greek Parliament Planned for Tomorrow 

My mother is ill, and I am visiting her to assist with some medical issues. Meanwhile, there is a blockade of the Greek parliament planned for tomorrow to prevent it from approving yet another, more severe austerity plan imposed by the IMF, the EU, and the European Central Bank. For an anti-authoritarian perspective as events unfold, go here. While protesters are about to engage in a massive direct action, the bankers are haggling over the terms of the destruction of the Greek social welfare state, which may, if successful, serve as a model for application throughout the EU. Rumors of a possible coup, or other methods of extreme social repression, should not be discounted. I was troubled by the fact that Obama made an explicit reference to the importance of resolving the Greek problem, a subject that I never heard him speak about before, during a meeting with Chancellor Merkel of Germany last week. More recently, the New York Times published an article about the Greek crisis, suggesting that a default would result in an economic catastrophe analoguous to the 2008 one that it claims was precipitated by the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Will the EU, ECB and the IMF, with US approval, impose austerity upon Greece through the barrel of a gun? It is a question that we should start taking seriously.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

The Perpetual Warfare State 

The leadership of the United States is bent upon proving that the truth of the old anarchist maxims about the relationship of the state to violence, as concisely articulated by Randolph Borne: War is essentially the health of the state. One cannot access any news source in the US without being confronted with stories about US military actions in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Libya, with articles about the prospects for an attack upon Iran appearing periodically. Curiously, the occupation of Iraq is downplayed, probably because of an interest in falsely persuading the public that this conflict has been brought to an end.

I am just over 50 years old, old enough to recall the latter stages of the Vietnam War, and I have never lived through a period in which US military operations were so ubiquitious, a period in which political figures and the media emphasize recourse to the violence of the US military as the primary, most effective means of imposing docility among those opposed to the US. In most instances, the possibility of resolving disputes through negotiation is derided, usually by villifying the leaders that we would have to speak with, Chavez, Ahmanijedad, Gaddafi, Hussein, the Taliban, among others. Anyone who refuses to play along with this polarizing binary opposition finds themselves subject to villification to varying degrees as well, as indicated by the surly treatment of Putin, Schroeder, Erdogan and Lula.

It is superficially tempting to ascribe this intolerance to the Israelification of US foreign policy, a process by which the global objectives of Israel and the US and the means by which they should be attained, appear more and more congruent. Superficially tempting, but false. First of all, as reflected by the most important, most enduring utterance of George W. Bush, it was the US that summarized its policies post-9/11 as You are either with us or against us. Bush's concise expression of policy had many influences with roots in American culture and politics, especially in regard to the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans on the frontier and imperial expansion in the Caribbean and East Asia. Bush's response echoed the jingoism that erupted after a border fight in disputed territory in Texas in 1845 and the explosion upon the Maine in Cuba in 1898. The objectives of his war on terror are remarkably similar to those of the US military during the Spanish American War. Just as the peoples of the Phillippines were initially described as victims of oppression, only to be subsequently maligned as ungrateful primitives when they sought independence from the US upon the defeat of Spain, the people of Iraq were subjected to the same perverse media manipulation.

Hence, Israel fits into this narrative as a projected colonial outpost, one that, as explained by the Retort collective, serves as an example of something more American than the US, a purer representation of our past ideals and willingness to put those ideals into practice through action. It is, in essence, the frontier transposed, from the prairies, the Rockies and the deserts of the western US to Palestine. If John Ford and John Wayne were alive and filmed The Searchers today, Wayne's character, Ethan Edwards, would be searching for his niece in either Palestine or the greater Arab and Muslim world beyond it. For it is the wilds of Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan that are desperately in need of pacification, and thus, full incorporation into the modern world of capitalist production and commodification. From a psychological perpective, a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians would be devastating blow to the American political psyche, as it would contradict one of the essential aspects of American exceptionalism, the necessity of forcibly imposing order and rationality to the frontier.

Bourne correctly observed that the state perpetuates itself and its control over its citizens through violence, but did not recognize that it frequently requires the permanent urgency of bringing order to a chaotic, elastic frontier to justify it. Of course, the US is not the only example of this phenomenon. One need only look to the Han Chinese empire, the British empire, the creation and expansion of the German state in the 19th and 20th centuries and the suppression of indigenous peoples in Central and South America for other ones. Within this context, there is a perverse logic to the recent public statements of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Last week, he was interviewed on National Public Radio:

And the Pentagon chief, who retires later this month, says that even as the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan hopefully wind down, there will be no shortage of threats for the U.S. military to be preparing for.

There are Iran and North Korea, he notes. Also, you have a very aggressive weapons building program in China and revolutions throughout the Middle East.

The U.S. military has never been at a loss in being told to find things to do," he says. They've always had a full menu.

Leaving aside Gates' oversimplification of American history in regard to the military, there's always an ever-shifting frontier of threat, of non-conformity, that must be addressed through military force. Interestingly, the paradox here is that the frontier must never be eliminated, it must instead evolve and transform, there must always be an us and a them, otherwise the US military would have no reason to exist.

Gates pursued this logic earlier today in a speech before representatives of the NATO countries in Brussels:

Three weeks before standing down as Pentagon head and retiring from decades at the heart of the US security establishment, Gates used a 20-minute valedictory speech in Brussels to read the riot act to a stunned elite audience of European officers, diplomats, and officials.

Nato had degenerated into a two-tiered alliance of those willing to wage war and those only interested in talking and peacekeeping, he fumed in his bluntest warning to the Europeans in nearly five years as the Pentagon head.

Washington's waning commitment to European security could spell the death of the alliance, he said. The speech was laced with exasperation with and contempt for European defence spending cuts, inefficiencies, and botched planning.

The Libya mission was a case in point, Gates said, pointing out that the Anglo-French-led campaign was running out of munitions just weeks into operations against an insubstantial foe. The US had again had to come to the rescue of the Europeans in a campaign on Europe's shores and deemed to be of vital interest to the Europeans, he complained.

As reported, Gates' remarks are striking. His condemnation of countries only interested in talking echoes back to the colonization of English colonies of North America. Talking is, at best, time wasting, at worst, a refusal to take action against obvious enemies, back then, usually Native Americans, now Arabs, Muslims and other dark-skinned people. Talking never gets you anywhere, but your fists and your guns, do. His comments about the Libyan campaign are a reflection of historic American arrogance. No one can calm the frontier like the US, and when others try to do so, they need the Americans to bail them out.

Beyond this, Gates is frustrated that the Europeans don't understand that permanence of the frontier of threat and the importance of allocating resources to address it. Perhaps, this is because the countries of Europe face a more immediate peril from people unwilling to accept the evisceration of social welfare programs to pay for the speculative losses of bankers and increased defense spending in support of endless American military operations. In Europe, unlike the US, the preservation of state authority is coming into question.

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Thursday, June 09, 2011

Zionist Food Coop of Sacramento (Part 2) 

The saga continues. For those of you who read the linked article, you will discover that it describes activities reminscent of what transpired in regard to the attempted takeover of KPFA in the late 1990s. In both instances, the governing boards acted to concentrate power in themselves so as to render them unaccountable to anyone else. At KPFA, the Pacifica Board wanted to prepare the ground for selling the station, while, at the Sacramento Natural Foods Coop, the Board, fearful of allowing the members any opportunity to express their opinion on boycotting goods originating from Israel and the occupied territories, has destroyed the ability of members to implement socially progressive policies independent of the Board. Apparently, the defense of Zionism necessitates the evisceration of democratic institutions. Who knew? But, for now, Sacramento Natural Foods Coop members face a more troubling question: if they adopt a corporate governance model of operation, as proposed by the Board, why have a coop? Why not just initiate negotiations with Raley's for a sale of the business?

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

GeneSharpTaughtMe 

I don't recall if I have posted about it here, but I have ascerbically commented elsewhere upon the ethnocentrism associated with the belief that American radical pacifist Gene Sharp played a promiment inspirational role in regard to the Egyptian protests that brought down Mubarak, as reported in the New York Times in February:

Few Americans have heard of Mr. Sharp. But for decades, his practical writings on nonviolent revolution — most notably From Dictatorship to Democracy, a 93-page guide to toppling autocrats, available for download in 24 languages — have inspired dissidents around the world, including in Burma, Bosnia, Estonia and Zimbabwe, and now Tunisia and Egypt.

When Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement was struggling to recover from a failed effort in 2005, its leaders tossed around crazy ideas about bringing down the government, said Ahmed Maher, a leading strategist. They stumbled on Mr. Sharp while examining the Serbian movement Otpor, which he had influenced.

When the nonpartisan International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which trains democracy activists, slipped into Cairo several years ago to conduct a workshop, among the papers it distributed was Mr. Sharp’s 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action, a list of tactics that range from hunger strikes to protest disrobing to disclosing identities of secret agents.

Well, you know, those ignorant Arabs, they would have never thought of engaging in civil disobedience unless Sharp and activists associated with his work told them about it. Because, after all, as devout readers of the Times, know, Arabs and Muslims are reflexively violent in their response to anything they find objectionable. They could have only embraced civil disobedience with the assistance of purportedly more urbane, sophisticated American activists. Until Sharp, Egyptians never engaged in hunger strikes and never disclosed the identities of people involved in the security services.

Of course, the ignorance associated with this pop culture interpretation of events surrounding the Egyptian protests is breathtaking. For example, Egyptians have engaged in hunger strikes or threatened them on a number of occasions in the last decade alone, such as here and here and here and here. While one should not discount the possibility that Sharp and his acolytes may have indirectly influenced the more recent ones, the more likely possibility is that Egyptians learned from, among others, the example of Palestinians nearby. Incarcerated Palestinians have frequently engaged in hunger strikes over the years to protest the occupation and their conditions of confinement, and continue to do so, as anyone who conducts a cursory search on the Internet will readily discover. Meanwhile, the notion that Egyptians never considered publicly exposing the identities of people in the security services as a method of resistance until coming into contact with speakers from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict is absurd on its face.

But this narrative, no matter how implausible, does serve a political purpose outside of Egypt. For educated Americans, Zionist ones, in particular, it is a reasssuring one, an Arab revolutionary movement significantly influenced by secular, American theories of non-violent direct action. Or, alternatively, it can be described as a reassuring narrative centered around the belief that Arabs can only rebel in a way that conforms to Eurocentric values of social and cultural superiority. From this perspective, given that North Africa and the Middle East are characterized as backward societies, they can only undergo radical political transformation by reference to modern, Eurocentric approaches to protest and rebellion. An indirect expression of this ethnocentrism can be found, again, in the pages of Times, where, as As'ad Abukhalil often observes, the reporters rely excessively upon Arabs and Muslims living the US to provide insight into events in their countries of origin thousands of miles away. Because, as we all know, an Arab or Muslim living in the US, having benefitted from the social, cultural and educational advantages of our society, is a more knowledgeable source than an indigenous one.

In regard to Egypt specifically, the reverence for Sharp is especially misguided. First of all, contrary to the desperate need for American elites to describe them as non-violent, the Egyptian protests were, in fact, quite violent, and they were as violent as required to overcome the repression of the Mubarak security forces, as explained by Hossam el-Hamalawy:

Suez was dubbed as Egypt’s Sidi Bouzid during the 18 day uprising. The city witnessed some of the bloodiest crackdowns by the police, and also some of the fiercest resistance by the protesters. In the video above, shot on the Friday of Anger, January 28, the revolutionaries in Suez after storming the police stations and confiscating the rifles, are using them to fight back the police.

One of the biggest myths invented by the media, tied to this whole Gene Sharp business: the Egyptian revolution was peaceful. I’m afraid it wasn’t. The revolution (like any other revolution) witnessed violence by the security forces that led to the killing of at least 846 protesters.

But the people did not sit silent and take this violence with smiles and flowers. We fought back. We fought back the police and Mubarak’s thugs with rocks, Molotov cocktails, sticks, swords and knives. The police stations which were stormed almost in every single neighborhood on the Friday of Anger–that was not the work of criminals as the regime and some middle class activists are trying to propagate. Protesters, ordinary citizens, did that.

Egyptians understand well what a police station is for. Every family has a member who got abused, tortured or humiliated by the local police force in his/her neighborhood. And I’m not even talking here about the State Security Police torture factories. I’m talking about the ordinary police.

Other symbols of power and corruption were attacked by the protesters and torched down during the uprising. Revolutionary violence is never random. Those buildings torched down or looted largely belonged to Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.

In a number of provinces like in N Sinai and Suez, arms were seized by protesters who used them back against the police to defend themselves. State Security Police office in Rafah and Arish, for example, were blown up using RPGs, hand grenades and automatic rifles, while gas pipelines heading to Jordan and Israel were attacked.

Amazingly, there is a revisionist, pro-Sharp response to Hamalawy. Eric Stoner of Waging Nonviolence actually condemns the Egyptian protesters for attacking the forces that had subjected them to such repression:

No proponent of nonviolence would ever argue that by using nonviolent action protesters will not face violence from the state. In fact, in most cases, when facing repressive regimes violence should be expected.

Moreover, no one that I know ever claimed that there was absolutely no violence in Egypt. We acknowledged the violence of the protesters on this site and were critical of it.

That said, to argue that it was the rocks, Molotov cocktails, sticks, swords and knives that won the day in Egypt is crazy. Could anyone really think that these crude weapons were any match for Egypt’s military and security apparatus?

Rather than being a key to their eventual victory, the moments when protesters resorted to violence were the closest points during the uprising that they came to losing control. The throwing of rocks was about as useful strategically in Egypt as it is in Palestine. Such desperate acts distract onlookers from the cause they are fighting for and provide a ready excuse for state repression.

The truth is that most people in Tahrir Square and throughout Egypt did face violence without responding in kind and their nonviolent discipline was a key to their success. If most people had responded with violence the death toll of the revolution would have been dramatically higher and Mubarak may very well have prevailed.

So speaketh the sanctimonous American pacifist, who pompously proclaims that El-Hamalawy doesn't understand non-violence. If given a choice between a failed non-violent protest movement, or one that resorts to violence and succeeds, Americans like Stoner will choose the latter every time. Even worse, people like Stoner would relegate the peoples of the lesser developed world to imperial subjugation until they can overcome their masters non-violently. If that can't be done, well, too bad, things well get better when they ascend to heaven. No wonder the Times embraced Sharp in the service of its fictional characterization of the Egpytian protests as his insistence upon non-violence transforms a potentially immediate, radical, often violent revolutionary movement against the governments of US client states in North Africa and the Middle East into a long term, evolutionary one that is likely to preserve the prerogatives of capital, if it succeeds at all.

Clearly, the emphasis upon non-violent protest methods disseminated in Egypt by the International Center, as with the comical exaggeration about the importance of social media, is also about obscuring the class aspect of the Egyptian protests. There has been growing labor unrest in Egypt over the last decade as the clientelist policies of the regime began to be supplanted by neoliberal ones. While it would, of course, be an exaggeration to ascribe the success of the protests to the emerging labor movement in Egypt, it did, undoubtedly play a significant role, as explained by here and here by Joel Beinin. Labor protests in 2007 and 2008 against employers supported by Mubarak foreshadowed much more massive ones against the regime this year. By exaggerating the role of Sharp and social networking media, the Times, and other news agencies that did so as well, sought to persuade the American public that the protests were classless. Had Mubarak prevailed, it is likely that they would have been described in different, more ominous terms.

But I have digressed badly. I started this post with the intention of showing how Egyptians have responded to the claims of Sharp's importance to their protest movement. Here is a sample of some of their comments:

@3arabawy: I was happy all my life under Mubarak, but suddenly #genesharptaughtme I must rebel.

@Zjen1: #GeneSharpTaughtMe how to grow and eat garlic and breath in my enemies faces so they will faint.

@M_Alhalaby: #GeneSharpTaughtMe that washing eyes with Pepsi lessens the effects of tear gas.

@CVirus: #GeneSharpTaughtMe how to dodge bullets.

اي اتظاهر تضامنا مع قانون منع التظاهر@moneloky: #GeneSharpTaughtMe How to protest in support of the law that bans protesting

@prof_mostafa: #GeneSharpTaughtMe how to make a Facebook group

@alaa: #GeneSharpTaughtMe how to throw rocks at thugs, baricade myself behind burned out car hulks, dodge petrol bombs

Personally, I like these three best:

@deetaha: #GeneSharpTaughtMe that social networks is the only method to communicate, even when the Internet is down.

@nermin79: #GeneSharpTaughtMe that the west always wants to be sure that white men get credit for all the great things that happen

@ArabUprising: #GeneSharpTaughtMe that backward brown & black people need the permission of the white man to #revolt against his puppets

Apparently, the Egyptians have learned a lot from Gene Sharp, and fortunately, it is different than what the Times would have us believe.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Portland BDS Flash Mob at the Zionist Food Coop of Portland 

Will this sort of protest at the Concordia New Seasons soon take place at the Sacramento Natural Foods Coop? Well, something close to it already did. On Sunday, Sacramento Coop Owners for Free Speech and Democracy sang for the benefit of the patrons entering the store:

For more background about this protest in Sacramento, go here and here. For more information about the BDS movement in Portland, go here.

Interestingly, as described in the YouTube video, New Seasons has added products from Israel and the occupied territories, and removed a photography exhibit about Bedouins and Palestinians there:

New Seasons cannot claim to be friendly and local while it continues to stock products made by Israel, a gross violator of international law, said Wael Elasady, member of Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights and flashmob participant. There’s a glaring discrepancy between their ethical image and the products they profit from.

The now-burgeoning BDS Coalition, endorsed by groups such as Jews for Global Justice and the ILWU Local 5, has submitted a petition with over 500 signatures from New Seasons shoppers. The petition asks New Seasons to respect the boycott call issued by Palestinian civil society in 2005, and stop selling Israeli products until Israel complies with international humanitarian and human rights law. Additionally, hundreds of customers have submitted comment cards supporting the boycott.

New Seasons has been under recent scrutiny for its decision to remove photographs by Jewish artist Stephen Kerpen. Images of Palestinians and Bedouins from Kerpen’s recent trip to Israel and the West Bank were removed by New Seasons management just hours after being installed in the Seven Corners’ local artists gallery. Kerpen was told that the abrupt reversal came in response to the complaint of a single customer.

New Seasons immediately removed Stephen’s images after one complaint, yet refuses to address the hundreds of customers who have supported the boycott,” said Elasady. The store chose to stop selling Rockstar energy drink on ethical grounds, so the precedent for this type of action has been set. It’s time for New Seasons to live up to its image and respect the demands of hundreds of customers.

The decision of New Seasons to remove the photographs is evocative of the recent one by the Sacramento Natural Foods Coop to refuse to permit several Sacramento progressive organizations, including Veterans for Peace, to table in support of the Palestinians.

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Monday, June 06, 2011

Another Coup in Greece? 

Just over a week ago, German and Turkish media reported the following:

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency warned in a report that the tough austerity measures and the dire situation could escalate and even lead to a military coup, according to a report by Germany’s popular daily Bild.

According to the CIA report, ongoing street protests in crisis-hit Greece could turn into escalated violence and a rebellion and the Greek government could lose control, said Bild. The newspaper said the CIA report talks of a possible military coup if the situation becomes more serious and uncontrolled.

While by and large unreported in the US and much of Europe, there is a massive, growing protest movement against even more harsh austerity measures being imposed upon Greece by the IMF, the European Union and the European Central Bank, as indicated by this account of protests in Greece yesterday:

A crowd whose size is difficult to even estimate gathered in central Athens to protest against the crisis and the Memorandum tonight. The call to a pan-european call of action saw more than 100,000 (some estimates give much higher numbers) flooding Syntagma square and many central nearby avenues. In contrast to previous gatherings, police presence was much higher, with fencing erected around the parliament building and double, or triple rows of riot police around it.

The city is now building up for the General Strike of June 15th, which is also the next date of action announced at Syntagma square. Both mobilisations are aimed against the new agreement between the government and the troika (IMF/EU/ECB) which is planned to be voted at parliament on the morning of the 15th. The general assembly of Syntagma square has already called for a blocking of the parliament from the night of the 14th. In addition to the fencing installed around the parliament, a police water canon has also appeared nearby.

Similar demonstrations took place in Thessaloniki, Patras, Heraklion, Larisa, Volos and many other Greek cities. In the Cretan city of Chania, fascists bearing arms appeared in the gathering, in a failed attempt to provoke the gathered crowd.

People are protesting a new financial bailout plan that places the people of Greece at the mercy of transnational institutions, virtually eradicating any semblence of Greek sovereignty and local political participation:

Representatives of the European Commission (EC), European Central Bank (ECB), and International Monetary Fund (IMF) signaled Friday that more bailout money would be forthcoming for Greece next month, after the Greek government assured them it would implement billions of euros in cuts and privatizations.

The EC, ECB, and IMF said that the government of Prime Minister George Papandreou had agreed to sell off 50 billion euros in state assets by 2015, and that Athens had also agreed to set up an independently managed privatization agency to oversee the sale.

While the press release did not provide details, the wording implies that the privatization and sell-off of large portions of the Greek state will take place under the control of international banks and financial institutions. Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the Eurogroup forum of euro-zone finance ministers, made similar proposals last month.

The group, which concluded a four-week mission to Athens on Friday, added that the Greek government's proposal includes a significant downsizing of public sector employment, restructuring or closure of public entities, and cuts to social programs.

In a post written prior to the acceptance of the bailout terms by the Greek government, Yves Smith of naked capitalism explained why it is likely to fail, with this remarkable commentary:

Another reason this rescue is not a rescue is that one of its major elements, that of stripping Greece of assets, is unlikely to raise the €50 billion expected. The demands here are astonishing. Greek premier George Papandreou agreed to only €5 billion of asset sales a year ago; the best state owned assets are expected to fetch at best €15 billion. Trust me, if that’s all you can get from the best properties, anything else that can be cobbled together is likely to be worth at most half that in toto. So it’s not hard to foresee that the receipts from the infrastructure sales are likely to fall short by about half.

And the notion that the invading banker hoards are going to supervise tax collection is sure to mean that they will make certain that they are first in getting tax receipts. As various readers have pointed out, lower middle and middle class Greeks have taxes withheld from wages; it’s the rich and the participants in the black economy that escape. It is far fetched to think that foreign involvement will improve matters; indeed, I’d expect everyone who can to operate out of the black economy as an act of rebellion.

Greece looks to be on its way to be under the boot of bankers just as formerly free small Southern farmers were turned into debtcroppers after the US Civil War. Deflationary policies had left many with mortgage payments that were increasingly difficult to service. Many fell into crop lien peonage. Farmers were cash starved and pledged their crops to merchants who then acted in an abusive parental role, being given lists of goods needed to operate the farm and maintain the farmer’s family and doling out as they saw fit. The merchants not only applied interest to the loans, but further sold the goods to farmers at 30% or higher markups over cash prices. The system was operated, by design, so that the farmer’s crop would never pay him out of his debts (the merchant as the contracted buyer could pay whatever he felt like for the crop; the farmer could not market it to third parties). This debt servitude eventually led to rebellion in the form of the populist movement.

Of course, there is also another historical parallel, one that should not be readily dismissed given the contempt that many Greeks have for the military and the police, and that is, of course, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Meanwhile, over at Counterpunch, Michael Hudson provides the background of this crisis, most importantly its origins as a consequence of the tax evasion policies of the 1967-1974 Greek junta and subsequent reliance on the issuance of debt for Greece by transnational financial institutions to maintain the country's infrastructure.

Interestingly, some Marxists do apparently believe that Greece may be on the verge of a revolutionary situation:

Yesterday's gathering in Athens, apart from its impressive size, had many new elements. The awkwardness and blind rage that characterized the first days of the movement have given way to enthusiasm. The masses have acquired a sense of confidence through the collective show of strength. While the early days were focused on the idea of a silent angry people, yesterday the mood had changed. The people shouted ingenious slogans against the government and the Troika, and everywhere groups of people were spontaneously formed in which everyone wanted to express an opinion on the movement and on the next steps to be taken.

At the same time, in the most advanced part of the protesters, especially in the youth, an interest to seek a political solution for the next day was evident. This explains the enormous interest in participating in the People's Assembly of Syntagma Square, which was attended by 10,000 people, patiently waiting to participate, although very few were able to speak.

From 9.30 pm onwards, the density of the protest made it impossible even to approach the site of the assembly. The predominant element in the meeting was the spontaneous opinions voiced by ordinary workers, unemployed and young people expressing the need to continue the struggle.

Many proposals were made: to besiege the parliament on the day the austerity measures are put to the vote; to fight to set up popular meetings in every neighborhood; to put into practice the decision of the People's Assembly for an indefinite general political strike; to fight the media propaganda with an organized campaign in the neighborhoods and squares. On one point all were agreed: next Sunday there will be a million people in the streets of Athens!

From here, it sounds a little hyperbolic, although we should not, as I already mentioned, dismiss it. The CIA certainly hasn't, as this scenario has prompted it to suggest the possibility of a military coup if uncontrollable unrest erupts when the Greek Parliament attempts to approve the agreement. But there is another reason why we should be fearful about the prospects for a crackdown in Greece. In Chile, the US, through the CIA, corporations like the International Telephone and Telegraph and labor unions like those affiliated with the AFL-CIO, sought to instigate a coup in Chile for economic reasons, not because of violent instability. Indeed, the US deliberately intensified pre-existing economic problems and social conflict within Chile in order to push rightists and high ranking officers within the Chilean military to forcibly remove Allende and subsequently destroy democratic institutions and the power of the working class.

The junta, lead by General Augusto Pinochet, created a dictatorship for the purpose of disempowering the populace for the benefit of capitalists, or, as liberals would say, investors, both within and without Chile. Social welfare programs for low and middle income people were slashed, while generous subsidies were provided for investors willing to purchase state assets. Unions were domesticated under legal restrictions that persist to this day. Radical protest was ruthlessly suppressed, with many leftists either killed or driven from the country. Land reform was, of course, reversed to the extent that it had been implemented at all. Chile thus became the laboratory for neoliberal economic experimentation that was thereafter implemented throughout most of the Americas.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? In fact, it sounds a lot like the increasingly severe austerity measures that the EU, the ECB and the IMF have compelled the Greek government to accept over the last year and a half. In such a situation, the restoration of workplace discipline is essential. Capitalists, or, investors, if you will, can't recover their profits if the populace insist upon protesting the measures through job actions, strikes, protests and industrial sabotage. In this instance, the bankers of Germany, and especially France, can't collect their loans, plus interest, if the workers of Greece refuse to work more hours for less pay with increased productivity. Hence, the true threat of a coup lies, not so much in the spasmodic violence associated with protests against the bailout, but, rather, in the economic necessity for strict measures to force the populace to work under conditions imposed by the government and its foreign allies. Needless to say, such measures are much more easily imposed through a military dictatorship than through an obstensibly democratic political system weakened by the economic crisis. So, the leaked release of the CIA report may actually be an act of black propaganda, designed to obscure the real reasons for the coup if it should happen.

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Saturday, June 04, 2011

Zionist Food Coop of Sacramento (Part 1) 

Faced with the competitive peril of the direct delivery of organic produce by local farmers, it is hard to imagine how the embrace of Zionism by the Sacramento Natural Foods Coop is going to help.

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Friday, June 03, 2011

The Counterrevolution 

Day by day, the US/Israeli/Saudi directed counterrevolution intensifies the violence in North Africa and the Middle East. In Libya, NATO military operations obstensibly launched to prevent a mass slaughter of civilians is now being conducted for the express purpose overthrowing the Gaddafi regime. Predictably, an intervention originally described as one of limited duration has become open-ended, with British military advisors already on the ground. Libya therefore constitutes one form of the colonial manipulation of the democracy movements that have erupted across the Middle East, the incorporation of legitimate demands for social transformation within a broader context of increasing imperial control over the region. Given what has transpired in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, the mission has an urgency that it would otherwise lack, the necessity of containing the liberatory social forces within those countries. Of course, the immediate victims are the people of Libya, caught between a violent, kleptocratic dictator and a rebel movement dependent upon NATO and religious extremists.

If they are not already concerned, the people of Egypt and Tunisia should be alarmed at what is happening nearby. Because of the weakness of the rebellion, the inability of its participants to remove Gaddafi without outside assistance, the door was opened for countries like France, Italy and the US to attempt to reassert a more overt imperial role. Hence, we should not dismiss the possibility that, if social reforms fail in Egypt and Tunisia, resulting in violent conflict, the US, Europe, and, more covertly, Saudi Arabia and Israel, will intervene to render them ungovernable. Such an outcome, analoguous to what transpired in Lebanon in the 1980s and, in a much more extreme case, Algeria in the 1990s, is a more acceptable outcome than the emergence of stable governments capable of charting an independent course. Indeed, it appears that the Saudis are already providing substantial funding to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and there are rumors that the violence between Copts and Muslims is being instigated by outside forces, such as, again, the Saudis. Meanwhile, Obama has publicly announced a carrot for Egypt, a billion dollars in loan guarantees and a billion dollars of debt relief, subject to Egypt's meeting its commitments, a euphemism for continued participation in the effort to crush Palestinian resistance in the occupied territories.

For the occupied territories remain the most vexing problem for the counterrevolutionaries. Despite the efforts of Fatah and Hamas, a Palestinian mass movement has stepped onto the stage in the most spectacular fashion, centered around, horror of horrors, the right of return for people exiled to refugee camps for decades. On Sunday, May 15th, the IDF found itself confronted by thousands of people, insistence upon entering Israel and the Golan Heights to return to the locations where they had once resided. Consistent with past practice when facing large numbers of Palestinians, it fired large ammunition, and, in Gaza, even artilliery shells. 15 died, with many more wounded. As with much lesser episodes of IDF violence, such as, for example, force directed against protests seeking to stop construction of the apartheid wall in the West Bank, there was no condemnation, and, in the US, there was nearly universal political support for Israel's actions. Protests are again planned for this weekend, and the IDF is naturally prepared to respond with force. The protests are an inevitable manifestation of something far more serious, the imposition of social control and surveillance measures throughout the occupied territories by Israel that make it impossible for any peace settlement, other than the creation of a new unitary state throughout all of Palestine, to be implemented. Accordingly, the IDF violence in response to the May 15th protests is a foreshadowing of much greater violence to come, as the segregated society of Palestine, both within and without the occupied territories, can only be perpetuated through the increased application of it.

As a consequence, Syria presents a counterrevolutionary dilemma. Certainly, the US, the Saudis and the Israelis would love to be rid of Assad, particularly because of the relationships that Syria has preserved with Hizbollah and Iran. But there is a serious problem. Assad has maintained control over the Syrian populace when it comes to challenging Israel over its retention of the Golan Heights and its treatment of the Palestinians. On May 15th, Assad either lacked the ability of use force to prevent protesters from attempting to enter the Golan, or had no inclination to do so because of criticism over his repressive measures to retain power. One need only look to Egypt to recognize what the US, the Israelis and the Saudis fear if Assad is removed, a newly assertive populace insistent upon ending collaboration with Israel. With the fall of Mubarak, the situation is so acute that the military is manipulating sentiment against Israel in order to preserve its socioeconomic privileges. A public expression of support for Israel is an act of political suicide, while harsh criticism is received enthusiastically. Thus, there will be no NATO airstrikes upon Syrian targets and the deployment of military advisors to assist the movement. The counterrevolutionary expectation is probably that Assad survives in a much weakened position, but even that is problematic, because Assad would find it much more difficult to impose restrictions upon political activity, as current events demonstrate.

Bahrain is a tragedy, one that will haunt the US much as the treatment of the Palestinians by Israel does. In Bahrain, the US and the Saudis, as discussed here previously, responded to the democracy movement by sectarianizing it, characterizing it as an Iranian inspired Shia scheme to destroy the monarchy. With US and Saudi acquiescene, the Sunni royal family has unleased a sadistic repression, rounding up Shia so that they can be tortured and raped, firing them from their jobs and bulldozing mosques. As stated here previously:

If Salih in Yemen and al-Khalida in Bahrain succeed in suppressing public protest, they will then proceed to impose even more severe authoritarian measures of social control, with the assistance of private contractors recommended by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. As with the current violence, the US will issue public denunciations without adopting any measures to induce Salih and al-Khalida to ameliorate their repressive measures, indeed, as noted, it will instead provide covert aid to intensify them, hidden from public view through the black box of war on terror programs. The poor populace of both of these countries are going to soon find themselves subject to the sort of technological surveillance and violence inflicted upon people in the occupied territories and Afghanistan. The need to economically exploit these people for the benefit of the elites will be the only contraint upon it.

Indeed, the suppression of the Shia has been accompanied by a public relations campaign to assure everyone that all is well, so that people from countries in the developed world will feel comfortable enough to return and enjoy Bahrain as a tourist destination.

The counterrevolutionaires face an inescapable contradiction in Bahrain. In order for Bahrain to be rendered sufficiently stable in order to continue to play a valuable role in the perpetuation of US, Israeli and Saudi hegemony, it must modernize sufficiently to be incorporated into a global neoliberal axis that is hostile to feudalism and sectarian strife. Bahraini modernization therefore requires the creation of a Shia middle and upper middle class that associates their status with the policies of regime. But the Sunni elite cannot retain control of Bahrain without drawing sharp distinctions between Sunni and Shia so as to justify harsh measures against the Shia. In this, Bahrain has disturbing implications for the Saudis themselves. For the US, the problem is a different one. US troops still remain in Iraq, a country with a Shia majority. Opposition to the occupation remains strong, with recent public protests against it. The government does not feel secure enough to enter into an agreement to provide a legal authorization for US troops to continue to be stationed within the country. If they were under any doubt, events in Bahrain reveal what the US really thinks about the social and political empowerment of the Shia. As elsewhere, the counterrevolution is dependent upon the use of military force and repressive measures of social control to prevail, administered to the degree necessary.

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