Wednesday, March 15, 2006 

Follow-up on "It was a natural death": should have know, part ii

Celticfire has posted the latest information about the murder of Martin Lee Anderson. A second autopsy, appearntly preformed by someone who can tell the difference between massive internal hemorraging and sickle cell trait, has ruled that in fact Mr. Anderson's death wasn't so natural after all.

In response to his post, a regular commenter offered the following, to which I responded. Both are posted below:

Jack said...
I was initially saddened by the video footage but even more so now with the news of these reports. Obviously the kid had issues, but whatever they were, this is awful. Physical action should not have been taken whatsoever.

Nelson H. said...
Obviously the kid had issues"...

I'm interested in hear just what exactly the kid's "issues" are, and the analysis behind this assertion.

Specifically, I am wondering if you draw any conclusions from Celticfire's on target inclusion of the growing rate of Black incarceration, the fact that he had already been relegated to a prison-like setting (at 14), that 2 other Black youths have been murdered in Florida boot campus in recent history, and the hideously long history of Black enslavement and brutal treatment by white (and other Black) "guards."

Finally, I'd like to deepen the analysis, juxtaposing my comments against the Douglass quote (possibly my all time favorite work by him - outside of the "As goes the South" maxim, of course). The murder of Martin Lee Anderson is but one of the latest examples of Black national oppression.

First, Fredrick Douglass. As a historical subject his is quite a complicated one; standing to the left of many, yet knowingly to the right of some very important freedom fighters (Tubman, J. Brown, D. Walker, etc). Despite understanding much of the Irish question (specifically with regards to self-rule), he was never able to place the plight of his own people in a proper historical context (of colonialism and national oppression). This became most manifest as he built a huge, plantation style mansion for himself and his white wife outside DC, while urging Black sharecroppers feeling the brunt of Klan repression in the Black Belt to "stick it out" rather than emigrate to Kansas (or make any land demands for that matter - again completely misunderstanding the key demands in semi-feudal contexts).

It becomes very difficult to draw correct lessons from Martin Lee Anderson’s murder without first recognizing the deep relationships between the former slave-patrols, who later became bull-dozers, who later joined the Klan, who still work in "law-enforcement" (here I think of Celticfire's point in an earlier post concerning socialist democracy: "for who, and to do what?"), and the correct point Douglass makes in his “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July” – namely that the Fourth of July means nothing to individuals who are defined as “other” in the process of imagining American national identity.

So we return to the “issues” some claim the young, murdered Mr. Anderson had, and the environment (presented in its proper historical materialist context of Panama City’s relative closeness to the heart of Black America in the Black Belt, and the great Black urban migrations as a result of semi-feudal pauperism) in which he was raised. He may very well have had some “issues,” and I am not proposing that we disregard them. Quite to the contrary, I uphold the eloquent demands of Amilcar Cabral that all oppressed people face our shortcomings, do so fulling recognizing the context of purposeful underdevelopment and the effects of institutional violence on people, nations and culture, and share our struggle to overcome these shotcomings with our comrades and the people. But we must not allow ourselves to offer half justifications for police killings, even if we have no intention of doing so, and especially not when said killings are put of a 400 year campaign of forced labor, cultural genocide, and national oppression.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006 

Interfaith Worker Justice Calls-Out McDonalds

The Chicago based Interfaith Worker Justice has issued the following statement to McDonalds. Phase two of the Collation of Immokaleee Workers' struggle for justice in the fields is picking up steam. The full statement is below:

IWJ calls on McDonald's to Give Tomato pickers a Raise

As God worked to create the world, our religious traditions value those who do the world's work. The work of tomato pickers is among the most undervalued in our society: In South Florida, tomato pickers live in extreme poverty, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) continues to document cases of slavery in the fields.

Taco Bell and its parent company Yum! Brands nearly doubled wages for workers who pick their tomatoes by entering into an historic agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Under this agreement, Taco Bell pays one penny more per pound for their tomatoes, all of which is passed directly to workers. Interfaith Worker Justice calls on McDonald's and other fast food chains to follow Taco Bell's lead and work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to ensure tomato pickers in their supply chain receive fair wages and enjoy human rights in the fields.

Interfaith Worker Justice envisions a nation where all workers enjoy the rights to:

* Wages, health care and pensions that allow workers to raise families and retire with dignity;

* Safe working conditions;

* Organize and bargain collectively without harassment, intimidation or retaliation;

* Equal protection under labor law - regardless of immigration status - and an end to the practice of pitting immigrant and U.S. born workers against one another;

* Fair and just participation in the global economy that promotes the welfare of both domestic and foreign workers.

The CIW organizes tomato pickers to win these basic rights. The CIW is led by tomato pickers and is internationally recognized for its groundbreaking work to end slavery in the fields and help workers' win better wages and conditions. CIW is working successfully with Yum Brands to raise workers' wages significantly and quickly. Any "solution" that leaves out the CIW, which speaks for the organized tomato pickers in the Immokalee region, is inadequate. Workers should be part of shaping any solution that affects their lives and their livelihoods.

Instead of partnering with the worker-led CIW, McDonald's is partnering with Socially Accountable Farm Employers (SAFE) to monitor conditions in the fields. SAFE is a grower-led organization that merely pledges to follow existing labor laws, laws that allow workers to toil in extreme poverty and unsafe conditions. No worker-led organizations are partners in this initiative. Close examination of SAFE's website reveals that the organization purported to represent the interests of tomato pickers is the Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA), a child-care agency that receives regular and generous donations from the growers association.

Instead of trusting growers to monitor themselves, McDonald's should move quickly to partner with the worker-led CIW in a proven process to improve wages and conditions for tomato pickers. McDonald's recent
decision to serve fair trade coffee is commendable, and IWJ calls on McDonald's to extend their support of fair trade to include just wages for tomato pickers via a partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.


Friday, March 10, 2006 

Celticfire's "What About Stalin?"

Celticfire runs a pretty good blog I've started reading (found it through the Burningman's Red Flags). Earlier in the week he posed a question: should revolutionary socialists uphold the Stalin period and if so what parts? Very important questions for those of us coming out or currently invovled in organizations that came out of the anti-revisionist (and specifically M-L-M vein) trend. Before I posted the comments had focused on the CPUSA and it's revisionist errors. What follows are some comments I made; the whole thread is here.

I'm very taken with thomas lb post concerning CPUSA given the content of the thread. It really connects to one of my main thoughts about the Stalin period concerning the growth of Soviet and international revisionism, which ultra-orthodox folks have always placed on solely Khrushchev while absolving Stalin of any role.

I feel like such a position stems from major misunderstandings of the Stalin period, the connections between socialist defeat/capitalist restoration and growing authoritarian state apparatuses, and the crisis of socialism. While I reject the bourgeois historical reductionism that claims of the "all systems (/except capitalism) produce monstrous dictators," I don't think that we should uphold a man who in many ways a new tsar.

I don't really buy Avakian's recent claim that a cause of capitalist restoration is because "most of the time, most communists are not communists." I especially reject this view with regards to the upsurge of Soviet revisionism and the first consolidation within a once socialist country of capitalist-roader power. The reason why many in the CPSU (and by extension much of the international communist movement) bought into Khrushchev’s revisionism is that his critique of Stalin was grounded in a lot of truth. A very good piece on Maoism as an attempted response to these failures was published in Freedom Road magazine a couple years back in the issue on Revolution In the Air.

Does this deny the incorrectness of their line, or their anti-revolutionary practice and outlook? Absolutely not! Does this mean that some, perhaps even many in the party fell victim to the sort of ideological outlook Avakian describes, most certainly. But pretending that Stalin wasn't a crazy, paranoid autocrat doesn't mean that we are ceding a major front of struggle to the enemy. Instead, it’s correctly applying Cabral’s revolutionary maxim to “hide no difficulties.” Our movement fucked-up under Stalin, in really bad ways. And like all forms of liberalism, a refusal to recognize this is a slippery slope to telling proverbial lies and claiming proverbial easy victories.

Two questions that I would pose that are helpful for me in evaluating the Stalin period are:

1) In the realm of anti-revolutionary actions, was Khrushchev’s pact with the West any worse than Stalin's alliance with the cutting edge of world fascism (especially given the CPUSA and other revolutionary forces in the 30's and early 40's correct line on the united front against fascism that included an alliance with the same ruling classes that Khrushchev was selling out to)?


2) If Stalin had not built such a police state in the USSR and consolidated such an iron grip on the ComIntern, would capitalist restoration been possible in Russia without a civil war and would Khrushchev’s revisionism been able to so greatly influence the international communist movement?

On 1) I would say no, Stalin's alliance with Hitler was no better than Khrushchev’s revisionism. And while I am a committed anti-revisionist (and this opinion is not really based on anything other than my gut reaction), I find Stalin's alliance more disgusting. I think that this is important because it shows (imo) a real beginning for socialist betrayal that is more grounded than the "since they expelled Trotsky" non-sense. FRSO [Fight Back]'s slip into revisionism, grounded in their refusal to accept in any way the crisis of socialism, is yet another real world example of how a "culture of appreciation" for Stalin can lead to really bad line.

Also, in the realm of interacting with real people here, I was involved in a major argument last week with leaders in my union (informal all friends kind of conversation) over whether Stalin was “less bad” than Hitler. Whatever limited theoretical gains can be made from studying Stalinist thought pale in comparison to the political suicide upholding the “5 heads.” We cannot fight on all fronts and expect to win on any.

on 2) I would answer flatly, No. After capitalist restoration in China there was armed struggle and an underground Maoist movement that has lasted going on forty years. (The fact that some hard-line Stalin supporters like Fight Back's publishers write this movement and the Tiananmen Square demonstrations/general strike off as anti-revolutionary is another example of the point I'm trying to make with question 1). There was some struggle in the Soviet Union, but the ability to engage in anything like real struggle within the Soviet police state was greatly different from post-Cultural Revolution China. Look at Prague. Likewise, had there been anything like open debate and exchange within the ComIntern, rather than Soviet domination and first-among-equals bullshit, the spread of revisionism would likely have been much more limited.

In the end, the Stalin period drives home key questions about the need for democracy and ideological hegemony that is not simply militaristic red-fascism during socialist transition. A failure to get this has lead to myriad failures on other fronts, especially around issues of gender, national oppression and sexuality. It shows that state power can make real advances (like Celticfire points out in his initial post). Similarly, a strong ideological center in the international movement can work to address major contradictions within certain countries’ parties and produce real positive improvements in those parties’ line (ComIntern’s role in rectifying the CPUSA’s line on the Black national question is primary in my mind here). Yet most importantly it shows that if we are not struggling to build people power (and not simply consolidating the state power we have won), we will fail. Perhaps not immediately, but at some point we will fail.

And I don't want to hear another word about Moses!


Joining a Church

Being raised Catholic was, by far, the most politicizing expierence of my life. Much of what I see in my mind's eye when words like community, justice, and conversely patriarchy, authoritarian and decadent is drawn from early expierence interacting with the small amount of good and the increasing amount of evil to be found in Holy Mother Church.

Yet for the past two months I have been attending a Church (scandal!), which while not Catholic is quite similar in liturgey and theology. This piece on CounterPunch earlier this week sums up my decision to begin attending Church again with a clairity I have been wanting for the uncomfortable silence that follows "what did you do this weekend" type small talk in my left circles.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006 

¡Anne Braden, presente!


Noam Chomsky on Latin America

Let me preface by saying that while I do not identify with academics, like bell hooks and others I am a fierce supporter of intellectuals and the important roles they can play in social change and an ardent opponent to narrow anti-intellectualism in all forms. That said I've never been able to get into Chomsky. His stuff is just to dense and stiff; much more academic than intellectual if you accept the contradiction as hooks and others have presented it. This is in large part why I have never understood the so-called "cult of Chomsky."

So imagine my surprise finding this Chomsky credited piece on CounterPunch that is not only (relatively) short but also very approachable. Interviews are often the easiest way to interact with academy types. That is certainly the case for this short piece packed full of important insights on key questions facing both the Latin American left and by extension the US left (e.g. the necessity of overcoming the disconnect between the party and social movement lefts, the need for 21st century socialism to synthesize the lesson of 20th century socialism and see democracy, elections, etc. as central to revolutionary society, the centrality of minority nationalisms be they indigenous First Nations, Blacks and Chican@s within US borders, or pan-nationalist sentiments in Africa, the Arab world or Latin America, etc.).

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