The average person has every reason to be suspicious of those who appear waving flags or proclaiming themselves "revolutionaries". This applies to socialists and communists preaching literal revolution as well as to management consultants, talk-radio hosts, and dot-com executives preaching metaphorical revolution. Few groups of people have inflicted more misery on the world than those who eagerly take on the job of overturning the order of other people's lives.
So if we're talking about a fundamental change in life today, we had better have a damn good reason. Of course today, you can look out of just about any window and see quite a few good reasons. Your falling bank balance, the homeless wandering the streets and the firestorms of war ready to engulf the world are only the most obvious ones.
If talking about revolution seems ridiculous today, talking about anything else seems even more ridiculous. We do not aim to put change on the agenda for the heck of it _ rather, the mad dash of today's society guarantees change. The question is will this made dash end at a point of sanity, humanity and community, or not. We go into this at length in the lead article of this issue.
Here we want to say a few things about those other folks talking about change. Against Sleep And Nightmare magazine has been published for about ten years, off and on. We've aimed to show how the system works without using "isms" or ideology. Certainly, Marxists, anarchists and others have influenced us. But if we do anything worthwhile, it will involve breaking out of any specialty, whether sociology, psychology or "Marxology". Rather than imagining that we, ourselve will construct a new world, we imagine our actions will inspire others to act for themselves.
We use the term "the left" to describe those folks who take themselves as the specialists and the managers of social change. This varies from the hacks of the democratic party to the hacks of the various "communist" parties and a wide variety of folks labeling themselves anarchists _ though not everyone under the loose label "anarchist".
Anarchism is one rather simple "ism"
that has somehow recreated itself after being virtually dead for sixty years.
Anarchist magazines run from the neo-social
workers of "Onward! Magazine" to inchoate
nihilists, with a few more interesting things in-between. Why are they worth
criticizing now? One reason is that they have some
involvement in the class struggle. Another reason is that they have an open enough
framework some could accept average people taking power for themselves without
ideology. We can see "anarchistic" rebellions
today in Argentina or Algeria with virtually no
self-described anarchists involved. The contrast of anarchy versus anarchism has a grain
of truth to it. Still, some of the self-described anarchists can "get" that these
spontaneous revolution are a model for the
dispossessed taking back our world. A final reason
for dialogue is that there is a certain amount of space in the anarchist movement.
Anarchists don't always try to stop us from speaking
in the way that the Stalinists of A.N.S.W.E.R. systematically attempt to muzzle the
September 11th and Anti-Imperialism
There is a trace of ambiguity about September 11th in some of the anarchist magazines, and you hear it in loose talk. We will not name the publications concerned, but you can find arguments along these lines: though thousands of workers died, there were a few stockbrokers jumping out of windows as well! When the Allies destroyed the city of Dresden in 1945, there were no doubt Nazi officials there as well as thousands of residents and refugees, but this doesn't make the bombing any less of a war crime. The World Trade Center consisted of a pair of vertical factories peopled by workers in cubicles. Whoever was responsible for September 11th, whether it was al-Qaeda, the CIA, Saudi Arabia, Israel or some combination of them all, it was another crime against the working class committed by the capitalist class.
The reason for this ambiguity is liberal white guilt. Here is an example: American antifascists encourage `self-criticism (challenging our own skin privilege)' (cited in `Little Beirut', issue one). A similar mental anguish inspires some of the left in Britain. On the first anniversary of September 11th, Islamic extremists held a meeting in London to celebrate. The right-wing British National Party came out to protest. The police kept the two sides separate, so there was no danger of any violence, but the extreme left turned up to oppose, not both sides, but only the BNP _ not racists, but WHITE racists. We recommend Jim Goad's polemic against anti-white racism, `The Redneck Manifesto'.
The most coherent variant of anti-imperialist guilt can be found, not in the scribblings of anarchists, but in the works of Lenin. Writing around the time of World War One, Lenin argued that the workers of Western countries benefit from the worse conditions of workers in the South. This error arose from allowing morality to creep into economics. Americans don't benefit from competition from workers in Vietnam making shoes for $42 a month. Michel Chossudovsky analyzes the position in the productive process of Bangladeshi and US workers in the clothing industry. In his typical example, a Bangladeshi worker gets 1.7% of the price of what he produces, and an American sales assistant a whopping 3.4% of the price of what he sells. There is "no relationship of `unequal exchange' between factory workers in Bangladesh and retail personnel in the US".
We are against morality because it maintain the law of value. It seeks to exchange one act of exploitation for another. Rather seeking to equalize misery, we seek a collective empowerment that ends exploitation entirely. While we seek to combat the racism and inequality of this society, we do not believe that being exploited is a privilege for any member of the working class.
White guilt does nothing for the dispossessed. Worse, it leads to support for those who exploit them. The Vietnamese national liberation movement, a darling of sixties liberals, started its career by suppressing workers' strikes in Saigon, in 1945, while the country was still occupied by France. The government created by this movement now viciously represses workers who fight their exploitation by Nike and other companies. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela's supporters tortured and murdered their opponents, including a fourteen-year-old, with impunity, partly because they were idolized by liberals around the world. We don't hear much about South Africa these days. This is because the workers are now struggling against evictions, layoffs and murder dished out by a black government. When they were fighting the white apartheid regime, they were always in the news. There should be no room for white guilt or anti-imperialism in an analysis of September 11th. Frank Ophelia
The Globalization of Poverty, Michel Chossudovsky, Zed Books, 1997
The Redneck Manifesto, Jim Goad, Simon & Schuster, 1997
"Schwarzkopf in particular draws fire for approving a cease-fire that permitted the Iraqi military to fly helicopters after the war. Soon afterward, Iraqi helicopter gunships were used to put down revolts against Hussein in the Shiite south and the Kurdish north of Iraq. Only later were `no-fly zones' established to help protect those minority populations" Washington Post, Jan 27 2003.
The above quote is a classic example of how the ruling class's media bury even the clearest expressions of conflict between, and solidarity within, classes. In the first place, allowing Saddam Hussein to use helicopter gunships to suppress the uprisings of 1991 was an example of solidarity within the ruling class. The US had just waged war on Saddam's government _ but when the working class threatened this government, the US supported it. Differences within the ruling class are set aside when the more important differences between them and the proletariat are expressed. In the second place, the uprisings were not `Shiite' or `Kurdish'. The working class of Iraq is concentrated around the oil fields of the North, in Kurdistan, and the South, around Basra. The northern Kurdish proletariat explicitly expressed solidarity with the rest of the Iraqi proletariat: "We will celebrate our New Year with the Arabs in Baghdad!". Most of the southern Iraqi workers are not `Shiites'. The Basra region is one of the most secular in the Middle East. Finally, the `no-fly zones' were established after the proletariat had been crushed, to protect the warlords of Kurdistan, and enable them to keep `their' proles contained.
It is a measure of modern media saturation that a word like proletariat might seem like a hoary relic from a bygone day. In fact, it is a very useful term. Historically, "the proletariat" has meant the tendency of working and impoverished people to unite as a group to serve their interests. If we say "bush is attacking the proletariat", We aren't implying that the ruling class secretly talks about things in these terms. Bush or Rumsfeld would express their fear of dispossessed seizing power using vague terms like "until the current unrest subsides, Saddam's regime is critical for maintaining order, civil society and commerce." But this bland language of "public policy" still comes down to the rulers expressing their interests. It is in the interests of the rulers to make the collective interests of the poor unclear. It is in our interests to use terms which make them clear.
Directly after Schwarzkopf and Powell had assisted Saddam in massacring the rebellion, revolutionaries in Britain made contact with their counterparts in Kurdistan and produced a leaflet `Ten Days That Shook Iraq' which was translated into several languages and widely distributed. The original is still available by writing to BM CAT, London WC1N 3XX, England. This is a summary of the flyer.
The Gulf War of 1991 was ended by the mutiny of the Iraqi army. So comprehensive was the mutiny that not one Allied soldier was killed. The armed workers sparked off uprisings in Southern Iraq and in the Kurdish area of the north. Only the central region around Baghdad remained firmly in the hands of Iraqi state. The uprising was neither religious nor nationalist. The politics of the participants ranged from traditional Communist Party to real revolutionary ideas like forming workers' councils. A revolutionary group, "Communist Perspective", played a major role in the uprising. Naturally, revolutionaries in Iraq are armed to the teeth. They do not have discussions about the legitimacy of violence.
There was little support for the Kurdish nationalists in the north. We have all heard of the Halabja massacre of 1988, when Saddam `gassed his own people', though we don't usually hear that the USA supported him materially and politically. Neither do we hear that, far from being a massacre of Kurdish nationalist insurgents, the massacre was assisted by the Kurdish parties, who prevented people from leaving Halabja and then went on to pillage from and rape some of the survivors.
Although, as we have said, the Iraqi workers refused to fight, this didn't stop the Allies from attacking them. The horrific pictures of the dead Iraqis on the road to Basra are not pictures of the massacre of a retreating army, but of a mutinying one. Conversely, the only part of the Iraqi army still loyal to Saddam, the Republican Guard, was left untouched so it could also massacre the mutineers.
The reason the allies didn't `finish the job' by removing Saddam in 1991 was that they needed him to finish a more important job _ crushing the insurgent proletariat. Assisted by sanctions, which have killed millions, mostly children, he has now completed his contract and is about to be fired.
This doesn't mean that US policy toward Iraq today is entirely rational. The USA has not announced any coherent plan for the post-Saddam era, but presumably the Ba'athist Party and the Kurdish Nationalists will find a place, having shown their usefulness to international capitalism over the years.
The position of the proletariat of the Middle East is not currently a happy one. Secularism has been gradually supplanted by Islamism, and the oil workers are kept divided by nationality.
The `anti-war movement' in the West is largely confined to a pacifist orientation, pleading with the rulers of the West to be more ethical. You might as well try to reason with a hungry tiger. The leaders of this movement will do anything to hold back a more militant and effective opposition, calling out `no violence!' as they collaborate with the most violent state in the history of the world. But this state is in trouble, and knows it _ hence its constant attempts to provoke terrorism. The current recession is like the unexpected scraping noise which disturbed the revellers on the Titanic _ you ain't seen nothing yet. The patriotic fervor and exhortations to stand firm against the mighty forces of the `axis of evil' will sound even more shallow as the US economy heads south _ in the direction of Argentina.
Hopefully this short article will go some way toward explaining the real nature of the relationships between the ruling classes of the USA and Iraq, and the potential for international solidarity between workers in the west and in the east. Frank Ophelia
Anti-terrorism as a pretext for repression
In 1974, bombs were going off in Britain regularly. The Provisional IRA (Irish Republican Army) seemed to have the initiative. On 21st November, 21 random pub-goers were killed, and dozens horribly injured, by bombs in two pubs in Birmingham. The six men subsequently convicted and imprisoned for sixteen years were easy suspects. Two hours after the explosions, they met at a station to get the train to the boat to Ireland to attend the funeral of an IRA man. It is easy to understand the determination of the police to get convictions, and the almost universal acceptance of the truth of the allegations against the six.
Nonetheless, they were innocent. The forensic evidence against them turned out to have been forged, and their confessions were extracted by torture. It is worth remembering this every time you read of the Brits "cracking a terrorist cell".
If the British police were under pressure to get someone after the Birmingham bombs, how much greater must be the pressure on the FBI today. The police and the state prosecution service have the job of getting convictions. Their performance is measured by the number of people they successfully prosecute, regardless of their actual guilt or innocence.
As part of the FBI's attempt to cover their red faces following their failure to prevent the September 11th attacks, a certain Mohamed Abdirahman Kariye was arrested at Portland airport one year later. He is the leader of the city's largest mosque. The police initially claimed to have found traces of an explosive in his luggage. The media repeated this story. Subsequently, it turned out there wasn't any explosive after all. A group of his supporters demonstrated for his release in the middle of Portland. Five of them were subsequently arrested and charged with conspiracy to levy war against the United States, conspiracy to provide services and material support to Al-Quaida and the Taleban, and firearms offences.
It is alleged that they travelled to western China in October 2001 with the intention of entering Afghanistan to fight the American forces, who had just started bombing the country. The evidence mostly consists of tape recordings made by an undercover agent. They have been subjected to trial by media. One of the five, Patrice Lumumba, allegedly sent anti-Semitic emails to the mayor of Portland. The content of these emails? "Portland should break off sister-city relations with Ashkelon, Israel, citing that nation's treatment of Palestinians" ('Willamette Week', October 16th, 2002). This suggestion would be regarded as a moderate proposal almost anywhere else in the world, but equating opposition to Israel with anti-Semitism is common throughout the American media. The truth is the opposite: supporters of Israel thrive on anti-Semitism, and there are numerous examples of them collaborating with anti-Semites to help their nation-building plans. A concise history can be found in Lenny Brenner's 'Zionism in the Age of the Dictators' which is available in a free online edition.
The lawyers for one of the accused, October Lewis, argue that a judge in the case has already allowed evidence to 'spill over' from another defendant to her _ which does not of course imply that it is admissable against any of the defendants. It includes secretly taped conversations which have bits missing, and activities which are not illegal, such as downloading Islamic extremist views from the Internet, and learning to shoot. The prosecution wants to avoid allowing the defence to cross-examine the key prosecution witness, which might undermine some aspects of the alleged conversations. It may be that some of the self-incriminating statements are nothing but machismo.
As to the alleged plot, it is impossible to enter Afghanistan via western China _ the forty-mile frontier, guarded even more heavily than usual since the US attack, consists of one of the most formidable ranges in the Himalayas. The police claim that, after failing to get in via China, they tried to get to Pakistan, but couldn't get a visa, so they dispersed to Malaysia, Bangladesh and Oregon. Their behavior is not quite consistent with that of the hardened Islamist militants the prosecution alleges they are.
The Feds are thinking of trying the John Walker approach, and threatening the five with the capital charge of treason to get a plea bargain. Walker was found fighting with the Taleban in Afghanistan. He ended up in prison in Mazar-al-Sharif in the tender hands of the Northern Alliance. When they and their CIA allies tried to murder the prisoners, they rebelled, killing a CIA man in the process.
Many of them ended up dead, others in a concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay where they are kept in cages and only allowed out for two 15-minute breaks every week (BBC website, Jan 11 2003). There have been fifteen attempted suicides, and whereas the State Department dismissed allegations of torture as 'ridiculous', the Pentagon said they are being investigated (BBC website, Feb 14 2003). It is worth reminding US officials that many countries still adhere to the Geneva Convention, and they may be pursued in future for crimes of humanity against these prisoners of war.
John Walker was 'persuaded' to confess to planning to attack Americans as a member of al-Quaida. If this were true, why would they risk his life on the front lines of northern Afghanistan when he would be more useful travelling to the West with his US passport? He was threatened with the capital charge of treason. Joining the Afghan army before the US invasion may be dumb, but it isn't treasonous. Nevertheless, he broke down, and accepted a plea bargain resulting in a twenty-year sentence. Since the Portland Five are US citizens, it might be wondered why they are not being charged with treason. It's because, under the Constitution, proof of guilt in treason cases is a very high bar for the prosecution to jump over, so the state has cooked up various substitutes _ conspiracy to levy war against the US is one of them.
If they can't prove anything in an ordinary court, they'll try a military one. If that doesn't work, they'll intern the suspect without trial, though if you are a US citizen, you may eventually get to meet a lawyer _ but not privately. A Palestinian academic, Sami Amin al-Arian, and three others have been arrested in Florida, charged with financing 'terrorists' fighting against Israel. Sami is well-known for his outspoken defence of the Palestinian intifada. But he is also an establishment figure. Sami was invited to the White House as a Muslim leader before and after September 11th (LA Times/Wash. Post Service, Feb 22 2003). He has met president Bush and campaigned for him. He appears to be a victim of a factional shift within the White House in favor of Israel. At 4:30 am on March 8th, 120 FBI and INS agents arrived at the University of Idaho on military aircraft. They arrested a Saudi student, terrorizing the families who live in the same block, and told everyone to stay indoors. Twenty other students were interrogated. The suspect is being charged with visa fraud because he used his computer education, obtained in the USA, to maintain websites expressing support for the Islamic tendency in the intifada _ in other words, a thought-crime.
The definition of 'terrorism' has rapidly changed from being an emotive substitute for the word 'murder', to damage to property, to sending money to people fighting ethnic cleansing, and now, even to expressing pro-Palestinian opinions.
Even the 'Economist' magazine, one of America's few remaining friends abroad, compares the direction the administration is going with apartheid South Africa (March 8-14 2003). It is worth distinguishing our position from that of civil libertarians. More important than the legal erosion of the Constitution is the actual amount of repression the state can get away with. The crushing of the Black Panthers or the Waco holocaust were not permitted by any law. Nevertheless, passing new repressive laws does make it easier for the FBI. We should not be diverted solely into fighting repression on the legal front. In Seattle, June 2-6, a conference on Law Enforcement will be addressed by Attorney General John Ashcroft and Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. Topics announced include 'criminal protest groups' and 'left wing terrorism'. They want to put damage to corporate property in defence of the environment, or blockading the street, in the same category as murdering innocent people. The net is widening, but people in Seattle have put out a call to be there and protest.
The horror of September 11th should lead to opposing the US government and its domestic and foreign policies, which have been disastrous if judged according to their stated aims, not to supporting making them worse. Frank Ophelia, March 13, 2003
In Chile, "September 11th" means the date of the military coup of 1973. This coup, backed by the American government, resulted in the deaths of about ten times as many people as the World Trade Center massacre of 2001.
The point of this article is not to complain about the chauvinism of the media in telling us that the lives of Americans are far more important than those of the denizens of the developing world. It is to spell out as simply as possible the lessons of what happened in Chile. These lessons need to be clearly stated and learned as the world descends into crisis and the USA into dictatorship. It's not rocket science, yet today millions of people in South America and beyond still put their faith in elected left-wing leaders. 1973 should have tested that faith to destruction once and for all. By "the left" we mean that part of the capitalist political apparatus whose specific purpose is to tie the working class to the state.
Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva, the leftist president of Brazil, was elected in October 2002 and promised to abolish poverty by legal means. The legalistic left have also crawled out of the woodwork in Bolivia, Venezuela and Argentina. But the world's ruling class, its banks and death squads don't respect the law, and anyone who goes around saying they do is spreading illusions which work in their interests, even if they murder him.
Chile's left-wing Popular Front government of Salvador Allende was elected in 1970. Richard Nixon's US administration, working with the major corporations with interests in the country, particularly the copper mining companies, did everything they could to undermine this government. This had the effect of strengthening it _ AND THEREFORE WEAKENING THE WORKING CLASS.
There are essentially two parties in society: the Arm The Working Class Party and the Disarm The Working Class Party. Allende belonged to the latter.
Allende's supporters today claim that all the strikes by workers between his election in September 1970 and his murder three years later were caused by right-wing provocateurs. There were strikes by truck owners, supported by the CIA, who wanted to overthrow Allende and make Chile safer for business. But there were also genuine working-class struggles. Allende used the unions to undermine them and the police to suppress them, like all governments do, and his supporters slandered strikers by amalgamating their struggles with those of the right.
The chief of the military, Schneider, who was loyal to the elected government, was murdered by a right-wing terrorist group funded by the CIA. He was replaced by Prats, another democratic sucker, but Prats had to resign in August 1973 in the face of insubordination by the more conservative officers. He appointed General Pinochet to take his place, and Allende confirmed the appointment. This was not quite as dumb as it appears in hindsight _ Pinochet kept his membership of the coup plot secret even from the American embassy. But in any case, Allende continued to believe that the military would obey his orders, and told the workers and shanty-town dwellers to remain calm. So subservient to his democratic capitalist beliefs was Allende, he refused to arm the workers to save his supporters. He said the arms were not available. This is nonsense. In the whole of Chile, there were thousands of loyal soldiers and sailors with access to armories. When the coup started, the generals and admirals had many of these servicemen murdered. An attempted coup on June 29th 1973 was easily crushed by loyal soldiers acting under Allende's orders. The Chilean armed forces consisted mostly of conscripts, workers in uniform, prepared to stand against their right-wing officers. Even Allende's last words included an appeal to the workers to `remain calm' and not to resist, to avoid bloodshed.
In the workplaces, as the coup progressed, the unions tried to suppress working class resistance. `"Since there is a remote possibility that things may return to normal once the putsch is put down", a union leader said, "why don't we take this opportunity to discuss how we can expand our textile production and improve the distribution?"' (Samuel Chavkin).
Before the military takeover, the armed forces arrested working-class militants in possession of guns, using a gun-control law enacted by Allende. According to his hagiographer, Chavkin,
"As it turned out, this regulation was not applied to such Fascist groups as `Patria y Libertad' but instead was used to terrorize pro-Allende supporters". Shocking, isn't it?
In a straight military battle, armed workers cannot defeat a trained military force one-tenth of their size. But workers do have the advantage of being able to paralyze the economy. It is impossible to run the economy at gunpoint. Capitalism needs unions and "workers' parties" to undermine resistance as well as tanks.
Chile 1973 was the violent announcement of the neoliberal epoch, which is now falling apart. The word "liberal" in "neoliberal" refers to laissez-faire economics, the idea that the state leaves businesses to get on with it. In fact, the policy depended on extensive state intervention from both left and right.
Despite the disarming of the proletariat, literal and metaphorical, by the left, and the massacres of the Pinochet regime, the Chilean working class gradually recovered, resisted, and forced concessions from its rulers. Today, it enjoys the highest standard of living in South America. Frank Ophelia
The Murder of Chile, Samuel Chavkin, Everest, New York 1982.