Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Musing on 21st Century Socialism

I've been thinking a lot about what socialism means in the context of modern times. I am radically opposed to the revisionist histories that suggest somehow the current climate is different than in the past. Many of our comrades seem to ache for a past where socialism was an idea that was widely accepted and popular. I continue to search the history books to find when precisely this may have been. In the times of Eugene Debbs, 100 years ago, when the SPUSA was at its apex, Wobblies were being assassinated by capitalists, none of the capitalist press covered socialist or anarchist movements with any credibility, and Debbs himself was jailed while running for president. Then came the Sedition Act, the Red Scare, McCarthyism, etc. etc. etc.

Perhaps things were better in Europe, but somehow I doubt there was ever a mass politics that measures up to the dreams of some. Certainly there is no reason to change politics simply to try to be popular! I often correlate my experience as a Marxist to that of early Protestants and draw inspiration from the author of "The Pilgrim's Progress," John Bunyan. It took hundreds of years for Protestantism to break the stranglehold of Catholic hegemony. Regardless on how good an idea may be, the more revolutionary it is, the more resistance it shall face because it attacks the interest of a larger base of power.

Considering the past 100 years, I think socialism has done pretty damn well!

What does 21st century socialism look like? Well, this advertisement presents a compelling vision. Take a gander: http://www.veninfo.org/


An interesting new article has been published at openDemocracy, which explores the ongoing controversy over political and corporate attempts to crack down on internet activities, and to enforce intellectual property rights especially. This should be of particular concern at the present time, considering the recent example of "Don't be evil" Google's blatant collaboration with the Chinese government.
The movement to keep the internet free will be the defining fight in the information age, just as the environmental movement is the defining fight of the industrial age. As our physical make-up is reduced to a string of ones and zeros, and knowledge replaces property and labour as the means of production, democratic access to information becomes a basic civil right.

The copyfight has many parallels with the early environmental movement. Valid interest in access to information unhindered by intellectual property law is diverse – from librarians to scientists to developing world campaigners fighting for the right to distribute lifesaving generic antiretrovirals in Africa.

These parties are beginning to organise together, as shown by Consumers International's recent condemnation of the UN World Intellectual Property Organisation's pursuit of tighter intellectual property controls. Just as peace campaigners joined with conservationists, animal rights activists with anti-nuclear protesters, so will the people who fight on the fringes of the information war join forces.

Speaking of McDonald's...

Seeing McDonald's and strikes mentioned reminded me, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers community organisation is also busy taking on the Evil Empire, this time in Florida. The CIW represents agricultural labourers (mainly of Latino, Haitian, and Mayan origin), many of whom work in the tomato fields used to supply McDonald's for the purposes of producing their sandwiches, salads and so on. They often work in sweatshop conditions and are subject to violence and intimidation, in what amounts to modern-day slavery. The CIW, and its allies in the Student / Farmworker Alliance, are fighting for:
  • The right to a fair wage, after more than 25 years of sub-poverty wages and stagnant piece rates;
  • The right for farmworkers to participate in the decisions that affect their lives, after decades of sweatshop conditions and humiliating labor relations;
  • The right to a real code of conduct based on modern labor standards, after McDonald’s and its suppliers unilaterally imposed a hollow code of conduct comprised of minimal labor standards and suspect monitoring.
The rotters! Anyway, on April 1st farmworkers from Immokalee (Fl.) and other activists will be staging a rally in Chicago, global headquarters of McDonald's, in support of their basic human rights. The CIW is also asking sympathisers to deliver this letter to their local McDonald's franchise.

Bush In India: Just Not Welcome

This article by Arundhati Roy appeared in The Nation this week, and is so bloody funny I had to repost it (with my own pictorial contributions, of course). As an infrequent follower of the capitalist media (I get all my news from The Monthly Review, In These Times, The Texas Observer, and the like) I didn't even know Bush was going to visit India. Nevertheless, India is heavy upon my mind for many reasons. As an IT worker, I have worked for years with men and women from India. More recently I've learned a lot about the rich socialist heritage of India (previous post) and the current struggles between the neoliberal, globalist agenda and the grass-roots but strong socialist and communist traditions. Also of note is the succesful Maoist struggle in Nepal (previous post) which is in the verge of liberating the entire nation from reactionary monarchical rule.

In any case, Roy effectively captures the humor and hubris of Bush's visit to India. Below is an excerpt:
On his triumphalist tour of India and Pakistan, where he hopes to wave imperiously at people he considers potential subjects, President Bush has an itinerary that's getting curiouser and curiouser.

For Bush's March 2 pit stop in New Delhi, the Indian government tried very hard to have him address our parliament. A not inconsequential number of MPs threatened to heckle him, so Plan One was hastily shelved. Plan Two was to have Bush address the masses from the ramparts of the magnificent Red Fort, where the Indian prime minister traditionally delivers his Independence Day address. But the Red Fort, surrounded as it is by the predominantly Muslim population of Old Delhi, was considered a security nightmare. So now we're into Plan Three: President George Bush speaks from Purana Qila, the Old Fort.

Ironic, isn't it, that the only safe public space for a man who has recently been so enthusiastic about India's modernity should be a crumbling medieval fort?

Since the Purana Qila also houses the Delhi zoo, George Bush's audience will be a few hundred caged animals and an approved list of caged human beings, who in India go under the category of "eminent persons." They're mostly rich folk who live in our poor country like captive animals, incarcerated by their own wealth, locked and barred in their gilded cages, protecting themselves from the threat of the vulgar and unruly multitudes whom they have systematically dispossessed over the centuries.

So what's going to happen to George W. Bush? Will the gorillas cheer him on? Will the gibbons curl their lips? Will the brow-antlered deer sneer? Will the chimps make rude noises? Will the owls hoot? Will the lions yawn and the giraffes bat their beautiful eyelashes? Will the crocs recognize a kindred soul? Will the quails give thanks that Bush isn't traveling with Dick Cheney, his hunting partner with the notoriously bad aim? Will the CEOs agree?

Read more of Bush in India: Just Not Welcome

Saturday, February 25, 2006

When Hot Chicks Strike, We All Win

All across New Zealand, service industry workers are organizing and striking at Starbucks, McDonald's, Burger Kings and the rest of the usual suspects.

Check it out here: http://supersizemypay.com/

Socialism India

Most discussion about India in the West these days focuses on IT outsourcing. Few are aware of the fierce debate within India about the future of socialism in that country. Fewer still are aware that the very constitution of India was constructed upon socialist principles. The very constitution of India states the national goals as being "Democracy, Socialism, Secularism and National Integration."

In fact, India is an incredibly diverse nation made up of many national identities, religions and cultures. Also, India has been fighting a battle against the dual legacies of the caste system and colonialism. Nevertheless, despite recent trends towards market capitalism and globalization, socialism and communism have played a very important part in the sovereign political development of the Indian people.

A recent editorial by Sitiram Yechury CPI(M) in the Indian Express states clearly:

India empowered, thus, means the true economic emancipation and empowerment of all its people. To achieve this, we require a system—politico-legal; socio-economic; cultural-linguistic—which actually makes people the masters of the country’s resources and hence of the country’s future. India empowered, thus, means a country where there shall be no exploitation of man by man. This is no wild dream of an idealist. This vision is perfectly tangible both in today’s world and today’s India. India empowered means the socialist republic of India.

Socialism in the constitution of India is described by Wikipedia as follows (my emphasis):

The word socialist was added to the Preamble by the 42nd amendment act of 1976. It implies social and economic equality. Social equality in this context means the absence of discrimination on the grounds of caste, colour, creed, sex, religion, language, etc. Under social equality, everyone has equal status and opportunities. Economic equality in this context means that the government will endeavour to make the distribution of wealth more equal and provide a decent standard of living for all. This is in effect emphasizing a commitment towards the formation of a Welfare state.

What about the current economic "boom" in India and what it means for the prospects of Socialism in that country?

India's economic boom is causing unsustainable environmental damage and is blinding people to the misery of hundreds of millions of poor. [...] Even if you know what is going on, you can't help thinking India is this cool place now, Bollywood is 'in' and all of us have mobile phones. [...] India's economic boom is driven by policies which are causing unsustainable environmental damage. [...] There is no understanding whatsoever of what price is being paid by the rivers and mountains and irrigation and ground water. Mass destruction of urban squats and poor neighborhoods are another effect.


There is a "deadly cocktail" of factors at play that drives farmers to despair, [when] their crop has failed. [Indian farmers] have been reeling under drought with crop failure having become common. Official figures have 250 farmers having committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh between 1995 and 1998. The government says nearly 3,000 farmers in that state alone have committed suicide over the past six years.

So we can see what liberal economic reform has brought to India over the past 20 years. An expanding middle class with all that entails, to be sure, but also massive primitive accumulation and what amounts to mass murder of the urban and rural working-class and poor, and the appropriation of their land, livelihood and self-sufficiency.

Only a return to the socialist values nobly enshrined in the Indian constitution will bring sufficiency and peace to the hundreds of millions of proletarians in India who are very much worse off due to the current trends which have been sweeping this beautiful country.


The Soul of Man

I continue to be very pleased to find that many of the smartest, most creative, and most interesting and admirable people turn out to be socialists. Of course the classic example is Albert Einstein, but today I discovered that Oscar Wilde was also a socialist and wrote an excellent piece outlining his vision for a libertarian socialist society.

Below is a portion of the piece and a link to the full 14,500 word document at libcom.org/library.
The chief advantage that would result from the establishment of Socialism is, undoubtedly, the fact that Socialism would relieve us from that sordid necessity of living for others which, in the present condition of things, presses so hardly upon almost everybody. In fact, scarcely any one at all escapes.

Now and then, in the course of the century, a great man of science, like Darwin; a great poet, like Keats; a fine critical spirit, like M. Renan; a supreme artist, like Flaubert, has been able to isolate himself, to keep himself out of reach of the clamorous claims of others, to stand "under the shelter of the wall," as Plato puts it, and so to realise the perfection of what was in him, to his own incomparable gain, and to the incomparable and lasting gain of the whole world. These, however, are exceptions. The majority of people spoil their lives by an unhealthy and exaggerated altruism - are forced, indeed, so to spoil them. They find themselves surrounded by hideous poverty, by hideous ugliness, by hideous starvation. [...] Accordingly, with admirable though misdirected intentions, they very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease.

They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the poor.

But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible. [...] Charity creates a multitude of sins.

There is also this to be said. It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property. It is both immoral and unfair.

Read the entire text of The Soul of Man by Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Socialist World Map Project - Africa

After much painstaking work, I have finally compiled the socialist map of Africa. Like the previous installment of the western hemisphere, this map displays countries color coded by their degree of socialism (see previous Socialist World Maps). This is based on the platform of the ruling party or coalition of the country in addition to historical tendencies.

Africa was very difficult. First there are a lot of countries in Africa, but more importantly, many nations of Africa are in terrible shape due to the "African World War" in adition to general strife and the legacy of colonialism and the slave trade.

Nevertheless, there is a surprisingly large Marxist community in Africa, with much being centered in south Africa. Ethiopia was a socialist country for many years, but the drought and civil war invovling Eritrea and Djibouti, as well as conflict with Somalia, led to total state collapse in the 1980s and 1990s.

Tunisia and Lybia are classified as socialist because their official government position and economic systems are largely socialist, and after speaking with an Arab friend who has travelled in both countries gave me some insight into what the cultures there are really like.

Socialist World Map - Africa

Monday, February 13, 2006

Papandreou Elected Head of Socialist International

"With your help, we will all work hard to keep the flame of social democracy burning. A flame of hope for this challenging world."

More than 350 leaders and representatives from some 110 political parties and organizations gathered in Athens for the Council meeting of the Socialist International (SI) on 30-31 January 2006.

Athens News Agency (ANA-MPA) reports (link here):
Athens, Jan 30, 2006. [...] George Papandreou was unanimously elected as the new president of the Socialist International, during a meeting here on Monday of the organisation's council.

Papandreou was the uncontested candidate for the position, following his official nomination by a SI working group, headed by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero. The working group's recommendation was unanimously adopted in a show of hands vote.

In addressing delegates, Papandreou, the former Greek foreign minister, outlined what he called a vision for a better world and the central role that socialists have in such a prospect.

The PASOK leader cited an emphasis on greater freedom and democracy around the world, greater security, prosperity, equality and opportunities, but distinctly less poverty and hunger. "This will be a world that is more peaceful, with more cooperation," he said.

Papandreou added that the means humanity has at its disposal today can eradicate poverty, stop the "green house" effect, guarantee gainful employment, reduce infant mortality, improve healthcare, achieve equality between the sexes, include immigrants in local societies and stop the trafficking of drugs, weapons and people, among others.

Moreover, he outlined seven priorities for the organisation during his presidency, including:
  • "democratisation of globalisation", noting that it is impossible to "have true democracy in the world when there is a massive accumulation of capital and power in the hands of the few; when multinationals challenge the power of democratically elected representatives of the people; and when mass media is controlled by vested interests and big business"
  • Developing regional cooperation;
  • Uniting citizens in common action, saying that socialists must today "redefine the balance between productivity, social justice and freedoms", while he again voiced his support for the "Scandinavian model", as he said;
  • Relations between political parties and citizens;
  • Cooperation with the "society of citizens" and the creation of new alliances;
  • Gender equality, and finally,
  • Building peace around the world and resolving crises, especially terrorism.
"We won't eradicate terrorism unless we tackle the reasons that cause it (terrorism)," he underlined.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Recommended (Socialist) Reading

Lately, I've been reading a lot which my comrades may find of interest. I find pleasure in reading, or media consumption in general, when 1) the content changes the way I thought about something, 2) when I learn something new, or 3) the content is entertainingly clever, which in my case tends to mean bitingly ironic social critique.

The January issue of the Monthly Review (Vol. 57, No. 8) contains three excellent and relevant cover stories all of which I highly recommend.

The first "The New Geopolitics of Empire" by John Bellamy Foster gives us the historical context of geopolitics and describes how it is being implemented today as explicit US policy, and specifically as constituted by PNAC and the Bush administration. The basic foundation of the theory is that all states are in constant competition with each other and must continually expand, both economically and militarily. The theory focuses on the geography of this realpolitik defining the geography as the stage. Sadly but not surprisingly, this is a very anti-humane worldview (states are the actors, not people) and further was a very influential concept with the Nazis.

The second is "What Will We Do?" by Ursula Huws. In part, this article is a discussion of individual identity as related to job categories and skill sets. This article also makes the argument that the current drive towards a "knowledge worker" global economy is, at its root, the creation of a global reserve army of labor. She describes historical trends to contextualize the current landscape of labor and touches on all the contemporary topics such as outsourcing and the heretofore decline of industrial unionism.

The third is "What Was The Matter with Ohio?" by James Straub. This fascinating article is an analysis of the shift in working class politics from the left to the right in the US, one outcome of which was Ohio going to Bush in the 2004 election (note: I am personally convinced that the evidence is more than complete to show that the Diebold voting machines had a lot to do with the election results). He describes how the evangelical churches have become a haven for a working class stripped of its jobs as industrial jobs are shed in Ohio by the hundreds of thousands. Straub tells the story of Ohio populism and progressive politics and its role as a catalyst for worldwide unionism, all of which has been devastated by the movement of industrial production to the Mad Max capitalism of the periphery areas, such as the Asian Rim. He quotes one of Karl Rove's strategists as describing the evangelical churches as the "new unions" - places where people find solidarity and where their politics are molded. Unfortunately these institutions are completely reactionary and focus the working class resentment along racial and gender lines. Not surprising considering they are largely funded by the ultra-right wing corporatocracy.

The Jan-Feb 2006 issue of ISR (International Socialist Review, Issue 45) has many interesting articles, a series of which focused on the California execution of Stan “Tookie” Williams changed my mind and opened my eyes. Especially relevant as February is “Black History Month” in the US, the articles tell the story of Stan Williams, his role in the Los Angeles gangs, arrest and conviction, and the incredible amount of work he did from jail to work to keep youths away from drugs and out of gangs. I encourage all to read the articles and (re)open your eyes to the truth of class warfare waged along race lines in America.

Finally, two book reviews from the Jan 13. Texas Observer (Vol. 98, No. 1) described a Texas I’d never know about – the Mexican-American radical communist-anarchists of El Paso at the turn of the last century (1890s-1920s). Ringside Seat to a Revolution by David Romo tells the story of El Paso during these times. Romo is a native of El Paso and he delves in the multiple micro-histories using psychogeographic techniques to weave a compelling and rich tapestry of a city experiencing dramatic social change.

In The Hummingbird’s Daughter, Luis Alberto Urrea is a novel, telling the story of his great-aunt Terresita Urrea, a famous healer and the Joan of Arc of the Mexican Revolution. Urrea was an inspirational figure in Mexico but had to flee to El Paso due to persecution by the Mexican Army. She was said to have healed over 10,000 people on one occasion, and many revolutionary fighters claimed that her apparition appeared during battles to lead them to victory.

Most of these articles should be available online, but I fully recommend subscription to any or all of the above mentioned publications.

Net Freedom Now

Some relevant propaganda, I encourage you to sign the petition:
What if …
  • AT&T and Verizon blocked you from viewing your favorite podcasts and blogs?
  • BellSouth cut off your net phone because you weren’t using their service?
  • Comcast forced you to download MP3s from their store while slowing other music sites?
This threat is more real than you might think. Right now, the major communications companies are planning to discriminate against the online content and services that they don’t yet control.