Political Action

Friday Rant: Idiots and Morons

Democratic Convention Watch - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 06:31

A long time ago I had a boss my family referred to as “Bad Eric”. (I later had a boss named “Good Eric”). Anyway, Bad Eric thought he was a really smart guy. I’m not talking about any of those esoteric views of intelligence, he thought his actual, tested, IQ was higher than anyone else’s in the company, especially mine. This was a big deal to him. He liked to say hello to me in the following way “Good Morning, you dumb b***h”, although in fairness, he sometimes used the “c” word in lieu of the “b” word.

Working for Bad Eric was no picnic, but I did end up learning the difference between “idiot” and “moron”. It turns out that “moron” used to have a technical meaning in DSM classifications of someone with an IQ of 80 or below. (100 is average on a Bell Curve.) And so, when I talk about the stupid things that voters do, I no longer refer to them as morons, I use the strictly pejorative term “idiot”. And today, I’m going to rant about idiots. Feel free to skip to the end to find out what happened when Bad Eric and I went head to head in the quest for who was smarter.

In the past few days, a number of media outlets have gone out and interviewed Trumpkin voters who will now be affected by changes to the ACA. Their overall response is that while they do understand that they will no longer be able to afford insurance, and thus cancer treatments, insulin and other necessary medical care, they believe that  #TheAngryPumpkin will actually save them because he’ll negotiate with Paul Ryan and let them keep, basically, the ACA as it is. I kid you not. Idiots.

Rachel Maddow spent most of last night talking about  the connection between the Administration and the Russians. If you haven’t seen it, watch it here. You’ll need to sign in to MSNBC, but it will be an hour that you won’t regret.  It’s a lot of proof and the timeline. The end segments are an interview with ex-Ambassador Fried, who explains what is really going on with the State Department purge. Be smart, understand what’s at stake.

I receive a lot of  communications — emails, texts, messages…and some of them make me really angry. I’m going to share a few of things I hope to never see again. First, and this is so far the ultimate winner for 2017. Paraphrased: “My issue is the Pacific Garbage Dump. When are you going to fix that?”. It really is going to be hard to top that. If you know me personally, you are well aware of the answer I wanted to send back. Idiot.

The Indivisible team with which I work is concerned about reaching out to people of color in our county. We are planning on attending some trainings, and working to come up with a plan. I interact with a man who refers to himself as “melanic” (and I had to look it up – it means someone with a lot of melanin in his/her skin.) I offered to meet with him, invited him to a number of functions, and his response was to send me an article entitled “Your Calls for Unity are Divisive as F**k” (Source) which linked to a second article where the first line was “I don’t like white women”. (Source) No one here is an idiot, but this is not a way to win friends and influence people. I want to work together, he wants to insult me. Truly a sad situation, but at least he’s stopped calling and yelling at me.

People like to complain to me that I’m personally not doing enough to solve their problems. These “problems” involve impeaching #TrumptyDumpty, stopping the Muslim Ban, saving the ACA, making the DNC over so that it’s a progressive organization, and you get the idea. Don’t get me wrong, I get a lot of communications from people who want to work on these, and other issues, and want support and guidance. My objection is to the people who believe any one person can actually fix these things. I am unclear whether this can be attributed to laziness, or frustration, or abject terror. But I don’t have time to find out.

I’m working with five candidates running locally this year. Am providing tangible support in the form of advice, strategy planning, money, and am hoping that I’ll be able to find people who will help knock doors. Because this is the start of  how we stop the bleeding of the government. We are a representative democracy, and the only way to  move the needle is to elect local people this year, and state and Federal people next year. We do that by knocking doors and giving money until it hurts. I hope you will join me; there are elections in every state, city and town this year, next up being the jungle primary in Georgia. Here in Pennsylvania, the ballots will be announced over the next week, and then the canvassing starts. To anyone who contacts me, my answer from here on out is “are you knocking doors?” and if he/she says no, I’m done. Writing postcards and letters, and calling reps is good as far as it goes, but those people need to be replaced. It’s easier to canvass for a local person, so if you’re new, consider this year practice. And a huge YAY!!! to every person who is running for office this year. It matters in every way imaginable.

So circling back to Bad Eric. He wanted to us to take online IQ tests and see who got the higher score. I told him that we should do it the real way: he could take the Mensa test and compare his score to the one I’d gotten. A real contest. Let’s just say that I stayed a Mensa officer, he didn’t get into Mensa, and I ended up taking the job working for Good Eric at another company.

End of rant — message me if you’re ready to start canvassing, and I’ll cut your turf for your neighborhood, give you a script and training and you too can help save the world.


Categories: Political Action

Marxism and democracy

Socialist Worker - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 01:00

The question of democratic rights--both how the left can struggle against restrictions on ours and whether our protests against right-wingers are infringing on theirs--has featured prominently and controversially in the discussion on the left recently. As a contribution to it, Alan Maass looks at how the Marxist tradition has approached the question--starting with its founder, who showed, theoretically and practically, how the struggles for socialism and democracy are bound together.

Students at UC Berkeley organized a strike after mass arrests in a Free Speech Movement protest (Don Kechely)

THE PRESIDENT of the United States is an ignorant autocrat, willing to trample on any right he can, with an administration filled with bankers, generals and ideologues who "represent" the richest and most reactionary margins of society.

And he only managed to become president by relying on the Electoral College relic of 19th century slave owners, the disenfranchisement of many of the most vulnerable in society, and the total alienation of nearly half of those still eligible to vote after all the restrictions.

Welcome to the "world's greatest democracy."

It's understandable that people who oppose injustice might be cynical about "democracy" as practiced in the U.S. And when we hear lectures about our supposedly "inalienable rights" from political leaders who constantly try to do away with them, it can seem like they aren't worth much.

But it's a problem when skepticism about the existing political system tips over into something else: Individuals and organizations on the left disregarding or minimizing the importance of basic principles of democracy.

Add to this the fact that the "left"--it's really official liberalism, but don't expect the mainstream media to make the distinction--has become associated in popular consciousness with restrictions on speech and different forms of expression, particularly in schools and universities.

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, the Millennial generation is more likely than older generations to say that the government should be able to ban or otherwise prevent offensive statements against oppressed groups.

The intention of this sentiment may be positive--to prevent racism and bigotry from polluting the world. But fully 40 percent of Millennials, according to Pew, are willing to let the state--not even an institution generally thought of as well intentioned, like a university, but the government, with all its obvious unfairness--be the judge of what gets forbidden.

This is dangerous ground. First of all, a ban doesn't stop the bigots--it doesn't banish their ideas from people's minds. The right has to be challenged politically by a left that can win the majority to a different vision.

Moreover, the state in particular, and many other institutions to boot, have a long history of using restrictions on democratic rights and practices against the very people who are meant to be protected.

Historically, socialists have fought not for the restriction of democracy, but for the widest possible expansion of it. Some of the most important struggles in our history--for the abolition of slavery, for the right to vote in the Jim Crow South, for the legal recognition of unions, for the freedom to assemble and protest--were partly or wholly about winning democratic rights and making them real and meaningful.

When we challenge the right--whether in protesting the policies and actions of a reactionary government, or in confronting individuals and groups which try to spread right-wing ideas and organize on the basis of them--we want it to be clear that our side is fighting for more democracy.

We can't pin any hopes to some shortcut of getting the "powers that be" to curb the right's influence or stop their actions. We need to defeat the right, politically and organizationally, by winning the majority of people to oppose them.

The eruption of mass struggle against the Trump presidency proves this is possible. But to make the possibility a reality, we need to rely on our rights--won by preceding generations through struggle--to speak out, dissent, persuade and protest.

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FOR KARL Marx and Frederick Engels, socialism and democracy were bound together from the very first struggles they were part of in the middle of the 19th century.

As the American socialist Hal Draper wrote, the two things are woven together in Marx's theory, which "moves in the direction of defining consistent democracy in socialist terms, and consistent socialism in democratic terms."

This flows from the most essential building block of Marxism--that socialism must be the self-emancipation of the working class and can't be accomplished on its behalf.

Our goal is only possible as the act of the conscious masses of the majority class in society, and that requires the fullest expansion of democracy--whether workers achieve democracy on the basis of their own actions and organization or by relying on rights established under the existing system and defended by their mobilization.

The defenders of the capitalist system need the opposite. They need to straitjacket and contain mass involvement, whether within the political system or in struggles and movements outside it. So they seek to undermine or diminish or even abolish democracy. This applies not just to right-wing ideologues, whose contempt for actual freedom is obvious, but to liberals whose defense of status quo puts them in opposition to mass expressions of democracy that threaten it.

For Marx, this conflict--between the expansion of democracy and the limitation of it--was an essential part of the class struggle.

Some of the confusion arises because the government is routinely on the wrong side of the conflict--even though it's the place where democracy is supposed to "happen."

This is because the state, including its elected component, isn't neutral. Under a capitalist system, it's on the side of the capitalists--which means in the struggle for democracy, it's ultimately on the side of limitations and constraints.

As Marx and Engels famously wrote in the Communist Manifesto, "The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie."

That doesn't mean the state always does the bidding of each and every capitalist. First of all, there are conflicts among them, and some members or sections of the ruling class lose out.

Moreover, "managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie" may mean restraining individual capitalists or sections of capital to protect the system that benefits them all. In cases where the war on workers or support for repression and oppression threatens to unleash unrest and instability, the state is there to manage the problem. Sometimes, the form of that management is to cite norms of democracy and political rights that supposedly apply to all people equally.

The point, though, is that the state plays this role in the service of the ruling class as a whole. Its first priority is to maintain the essentials of the status quo: most of all, capitalist rule over the whole working class.

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THIS UNDERSTANDING of the state was developed further by the Russian socialists Bukharin and Lenin in the lead-up to the 1917 revolution.

They were especially concerned to contrast the bourgeois state under capitalism with the socialist vision of a workers' state.

One contrast to start with: Under capitalism, the part of the state that's subject to democracy is only a part, and not even the most important part. Beyond the elected government is the military and the bureaucracy, both of which are supposed to be subject to the control of an elected executive, but which have unaccountable powers that have been used against elected officials.

Further, the state under capitalism is concerned with political democracy, but not economic democracy. Under the classic models of representative democracy, even the most liberal governments have no formal power over private capital, which remains a collection of petty tyrannies.

And even the formally democratic part of the capitalist state is warped and constricted in all kinds of ways, owing to its central role in protecting and serving the minority ruling class that dominates society economically and socially, and therefore politically.

The British socialist Paul Foot captured the contradictions in writing about the supposedly sacred principle of "one man, one vote":

An industrial magnet has one vote, and so does each worker he can fire or impoverish. A millionaire landlord has one vote, and so does every person he evicts. A banker has one vote, so does every person impoverished by a rise in [interest rates] or a financial takeover. A newspaper proprietor has one vote, so does each of the readers he deceives or seduces every day of the week.

Are all these people really equally represented? Or does not the mighty, unrepresentative economic power of the wealthy minority consistently and completely overwhelm the representative power of Parliament?

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SO MARXISTS maintain that democracy under capitalism isn't so democratic at all. But that doesn't mean we are agnostic about the form of political rule under capitalism. Obviously, it matters very much to socialists whether we live under a dictatorship or under a representative democracy, where elections take place and political rights exist, however qualified.

"Whatever its chronic weaknesses and paralyses," Foot wrote in a book on how the vote was won in Britain, "the parliamentary system and then rule of democracy it offers us are indispensable to any agitation for progress."

But part of that agitation for progress, Foot continued, is making the case for more democracy. "The weakness of representative parliamentary democracy lies in the fact that it is nothing like representative or democratic enough," he wrote.

As Hal Draper wrote in the first of his several books outlining the essentials of Marx's theory of revolution, Marx didn't let his disgust with the hypocrisies of the political system under capitalism overshadow his understanding of its advantages and importance.

"It was rather a matter of making a class analysis of the elements of bourgeois democracy: sorting out what was specifically bourgeois (for example, property qualifications for voting) from what furthered the widest extension of popular control," Draper wrote.

Socialists need to make that analysis at every step--about how, and by what means, we can best to move things in our direction in the overall conflict between the expansion or limitation of democracy.

This point is obvious when you make it concrete to our own times.

Socialist Worker has always argued that in almost all elections in the U.S., the choice for voters is limited to the candidates of two capitalist parties, the Republicans and the Democrats--which is to say, a far too narrow choice.

But no one can seriously believe that the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s was directed at a trivial distinction in defeating Jim Crow restrictions on the vote.

Winning voting rights for African Americans was an essential part of a mass social struggle for racial justice, with huge class dimensions in its own right--and it opened the way for struggles that went even further for the whole population of the U.S.

To put it in Draper's words, the struggle for this "element of bourgeois democracy" pointed toward "the widest extension of popular control," well beyond the limits of the U.S. political system.

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IT WAS exactly on these terms that Marx and Engels took their first practical steps as revolutionaries.

They came into political activity as part of the extreme left wing of the democratic struggle against the old aristocratic order in Germany and around Europe. In fact, the author August Nimtz makes the case that no two people contributed more to the struggle for democracy--and at a decisive period for that struggle.

Europe in the mid-19th century was a place of explosive struggles against the old ruling order--kings, tsars, dukes and lords who held power on the basis of hereditary titles. The economic power of capitalism had been born and developed within this order, and the rising bourgeoisie had grown in wealth and economic power. But it remained politically subordinate to the monarchs and aristocrats.

Just as the Communist Manifesto was published in early 1848, a wave of revolutions swept across Europe, everywhere throwing the rule of the old order into question.

Marx and Engels were totally committed to these rebellions against the old ruling class. But they were also merciless critics of those in the rising new order, representing the bourgeoisie, for their concessions and betrayals of the effort to replace autocracy with democracy.

After the revolutionary wave crested and fell back, leaving the old order intact, Marx nevertheless devoted a portion of his writing to analyzing the new constitutions proclaimed at the high point of the struggle in 1848.

Marx showed how the forces representing the bourgeoisie were willing to compromise on the promise of democracy. Even as they established expanded suffrage, freedom of the press and so on, they left loopholes. Thus, the constitution of the short-lived French Republic stated that freedom of association, opinion and the like could not be limited in any way except to protect "the equal rights of others and the public safety." Then as now, "national security" was the escape clause for would-be tyrants.

Marx concluded that the goal of the capitalist class was to provide only as much democracy and freedom as would guarantee their own power and legitimize the rule of their minority class as representing all the people. Even in the midst of the revolutionary struggles of 1848, the representatives of the bourgeoisie took care to restrict any further expansion of democracy as a threat to their rule.

But where the balance falls at any point depends not only on what the rulers of society are willing to live with, but what they're forced to concede--that is, what our side fights for and achieves.

The reason the struggle for democracy was so important to Marx and Engels was that the ruling class--both the reactionaries and the liberals who speak the language of change--want the minimum possible expansion of rights and political participation, while it's in the interests of the working-class movement to have a maximum, unlimited expansion.

In other words, struggles over democratic rights are part of the terrain of the class struggle. The goal of socialists is to expand democracy and freedom to the maximum extent within the political system--and to extend democratic forms and the principle of popular control outside it, into the economic sphere and every corner of society.

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MARX'S VIEWS on the democratic struggle remained a cornerstone for socialists who came after him--maybe none more so than Lenin, who in an article written at the beginning of his political life in 1898, restated Marx's central principle on this question: "It is in the interests of the proletariat alone to democratize the political system completely."

It probably didn't hurt that Lenin lived under the worst tyranny in Europe--the rule of the Tsar. In a society where the most basic democratic rights and institutions didn't exist, there was no minimizing the importance of struggles to claim those rights or their connection to the wider social struggle.

Throughout his writings, Lenin emphasized the need to embrace all democratic demands--a republican government, popular elections, equal rights for women, self-determination for the subjugated nations of the Tsar's empire--as contributing to the revolutionary struggle against capitalism. As he wrote in 1915:

The proletariat cannot be victorious except through democracy, i.e., by giving full effect to democracy and by linking with each step of its struggle democratic demands formulated in the most resolute terms...

While capitalism exists, these demands--all of them--can only be accomplished as an exception, and even then in an incomplete and distorted form. Basing ourselves on the democracy already achieved, and exposing its incompleteness under capitalism, we demand the overthrow of capitalism, the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, as a necessary basis both for the abolition of the poverty of the masses and for the complete and all-round institution of all democratic reforms.

There can be doubt from that passage about the commitment of Marxists to "winning the battle of democracy," as the Communist Manifesto put it.

Socialists are harsh critics of the false and limited "democracy" that exists under capitalism. But this isn't to minimize it, but rather the opposite: To state the central importance of extending democracy to the fullest extent as part of the struggle for socialism.

The centrality of democracy to our vision of a future socialist society can't be stated often enough--especially with the meaning of socialism so distorted in most people's minds by the tyrannies, like the former USSR or China to the present day, that claimed to rule in its name.

Democracy, popular control, equal rights, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to protest--all of these things must be cornerstones of our struggle for a new world. Because if they aren't, then we aren't fighting for socialism.

Categories: Political Action

Our hope is in ourselves

Socialist Worker - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 01:00

On March 8, International Women's Day, large numbers around the country took part in protests, stay-aways and other events as part of "A Day Without a Woman" and an International Women's Strike to shine a light on the role of women workers.

In Chicago, some 650 people attended an indoor rally at the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters, where speakers representing the struggles for trade unions, Black Lives Matter, Palestinian justice, LGBTQ rights, Planned Parenthood and more. Here, we print a speech, edited for publication, from the Chicago event by Charlotte Heltai, a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and a member of the International Socialist Organization and the UofC Resists coalition.

Protesting an anti-trans ordinance in an Alabama town (WAMU 88.5)

I'VE BEEN asked to say a few words about what Trump's America looks like for queer, trans, non-binary and gender-nonconforming people. The short answer, from where I stand, is that it looks really scary--and a lot of people are in far more precarious positions than I am.

But I, as a socialist, as a queer and gender-nonconforming woman, and as the proud sister of a brave trans man, am afraid. I am afraid because Donald Trump does things like rescind Obama's executive order which had given trans students, like my brother, the right to use the bathroom they wished to, and I am afraid because I know the real, human cost of policies like that one being issued from the White House.

No less than seven trans women of color have been murdered in this country in the last two months alone: one of them right here in Chicago. Her name was Tiara Richmond. She was just 24 years old.

So more than afraid, I am angry. I am angry at Trump and the people who support him, because they do everything they can to embolden the ugly forces of bigotry which already exist in our society--a society in which trans people are fully twice as likely to be unemployed as non-trans people and a society in which the life expectancy of Black trans women is just 35 years.

Those statistics remind us that we cannot allow our anger to begin and end with Donald Trump. We must also be angry because after eight years under Obama, trans and queer and gender-nonconforming people are still not legally protected in their workplaces, and thousands of queer and trans folks are still homeless and hungry.

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WE MUST be clear about the fact that Trump is a hideous symptom, and the escalation, but not the cause of a society in which a myriad of bigotries, including queer and transphobias, are both pervasive and institutionalized, and purposefully so.

It is the entire political establishment--constituted by both Republicans and Democrats--that is complicit in upholding that oppressive and exploitative status quo. Republicans and Democrats alike have failed queer people, they have failed working people, they have failed women, and they have failed all marginalized communities.

I do not believe that hope for the oppressed can be based within that political establishment.

The Democrats expect that bathroom bills and marriage equality are enough to win the allegiance of queer people, but in isolating those issues, they ask us to forget the thing that we know: all issues are queer issues, because there are queer people of every color, faith and nation on this earth, and because all people--not only queer people--are adversely impacted by things like rigid gender norms and heterosexism.

So when the Democrats ask us to put our "radical" demands aside in order to campaign for them and the lesser evil they promise us, we must remember what that lesser evil really looks like for oppressed people.

Barack Obama's lesser evil looked like thousands of unarmed Black people shot down by cops, it looked like millions of xenophobic deportations, it looked like a generation of young people in crippling debt, it looked like pipelines poisoning our water and orphans in Iraq, and Syria and Palestine.

The Democratic Party and their lesser evilism surely cannot be our hope, but that doesn't mean there is no hope.

There is hope--it is right here. In this room is our hope! Our hope is in the millions of people who have marched over the last two months, for women's rights, for immigrant rights and in solidarity with Muslims and refugees.

Our hope is in the people who have been part of the Black Lives Matter movement and the heroic struggle at Standing Rock and in the Chicago Teachers Union teachers, who fight to stop schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods from closing.

Our hope is in the thousands of people who took the streets of Chicago just last week to fight for trans* liberation. It is us, we, the workers and the marginalized, who have the power and the motivation to fight for and win more than just a lesser evil.

We can win a better world: if we are organized, if we are unapologetic and independent in our aims, and if we are united in our commitment to stand in solidarity with all oppressed people--whatever they look like, wherever they come from, whoever they pray to and whoever they love.

On this International Women's Day, and on every other day, we must remember that none of us are free until we all are free, and that opening the borders and ending the wars and closing the prisons, and winning education and health care and reproductive justice and a living wage for all--those are women's issues, those are queer issues, those are everybody's issues!

Categories: Political Action

Leaked Report Slams European Link Tax and Upload Filtering Plans

Deep Links - Thu, 03/09/2017 - 17:59

Earlier this week we explained how the tide is turning against the European Commission's proposal for Internet platforms to adopt new compulsory copyright filters as part of its upcoming Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. As we explained, users and even the European Parliament's Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) have criticized the Commission's proposal, which could stifle online expression, hinder competition, and suppress legal uses of copyrighted content, like creating and sharing Internet memes.

Since then, a leaked report has revealed that one of the European Parliament's most influential committees has also come out against the proposal. As the IMCO committee's report had done, the report of the European Parliament's Legal Affairs (JURI) Committee not only criticizes the upload filtering proposal (aka. Article 13, or the #censorshipmachine), but renders even harsher judgment on a separate proposal to require online news aggregators to pay copyright-like licensing fees to the publishers they link to (aka. Article 11, or the link tax). We'll take these one at a time.

JURI Committee Scales Back the EU's Censorship Machine

The JURI committee would maintain the requirement for copyright holders to "take appropriate and proportionate measures to ensure the functioning of agreements concluded with rightsholders for the use of their works." But the committee rejects the proposed requirement for automatic blocking or deletion of uploaded content, because it fails to take account of the limitations and exceptions to copyright that Europe recognizes, such as the right of quotation. The committee writes in an Explanatory Statement:

The process cannot underestimate the effects of the identification of user uploaded content which falls within an exception or limitation to copyright. To ensure the continued use of such exceptions and limitations, which are based on public interest concerns, communication between users and rightsholders also needs to be efficient.

The committee also affirms that the agreements between rightsholders and platforms don't detract from the safe harbor protection for platforms that Europe's E-Commerce Directive already provides (which is analogous to the DMCA safe harbor in the U.S.). This means that if user-uploaded content appears on a platform without a license from the copyright holder, the platform's only obligation is to remove that content on receipt of a request by the copyright holder.

We would have liked to see a stronger denunciation of the mandate for Internet platforms to enter into licensing agreements with copyright holders, and we maintain that the provision is better deleted altogether. Nonetheless, the committee's report, if reflected in the final text, should rule out the worst-case scenario of platforms being required to automatically flag and censor copyright material as it is uploaded. 

European Link Tax Faces its Toughest Odds Ever

The leaked report goes further in its response to the link tax, recommending that it be dropped from the new copyright directive altogether. Given the failure of smaller scale link tax schemes in Germany and Spain, this was the only sensible position for the committee to take. The Explanatory Statement to the report correctly distinguishes between two separate aspects of the use of news reporting online that the Commission's original proposal incorrectly conflates:

Digitalisation makes it easier for content found in press publications to be copied or taken. Digitalisation also facilitates access to news and press by providing digital users a referencing or indexing system that leads them to a wide range of news and press. Both processes need to be recognised as separate processes.

Instead of introducing new monopoly rights for publishers, the JURI committee suggests simplifying the process by which publishers can take copyright infringement action in the names of the journalists whose work is appropriated. This would address the core problem of full news reports being republished without permission, but without creating new rights over mere snippets of news that accompany links to their original sources. Far from being a problem, this use is actually beneficial for news organizations.

The JURI committee report is just a recommendation for the amendment of the European Commission proposal, and it will still be some months before we learn whether these recommendations will be reflected in the final compromise text. Nonetheless, it is heartening to see the extreme proposals of the Commission getting chiseled away by one of the Parliament's most influential committees.

The importance of this shouldn't be underestimated. Although the above proposals are limited to Europe at present, there is the very real prospect that, if they succeed, they will pop up in the United States as well. In fact, U.S. content industry groups are already advocating for the adoption of an upload filtering proposal stateside. That's why it's vital not only for Europeans to speak out against these dangerous proposals, but also for Internet users around the world to stand on guard, and to be ready to fight back.

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Categories: Political Action

EFF Applauds Amazon For Pushing Back on Request for Echo Data

Deep Links - Thu, 03/09/2017 - 17:00

The number of Internet-enabled sensors in homes across the country is steadily increasing. These sensors are collecting personal information about what’s going on inside the home, and they are doing so in a volume and detail never before possible. The law, of course, has not kept up. There are no rules specifically designed for law enforcement access to data collected from in-home personal assistants or other devices that record what’s going on inside the home, even though the home is considered the heart of Fourth Amendment protection. That’s why it’s critical that companies push back on requests via currently existing rules for data collected via these new in-home devices.[1] EFF applauds Amazon for doing just that—pushing back on a law enforcement request for in-home recordings from its Echo device.

The widely-publicized case involves a first-degree murder investigation out of Bentonville, Arkansas. The victim, Victor Collins, was found in November 2015 his friend’s home. The two had been drinking and watching football with a few others at the friend’s home the night before. The friend, James Bates, was charged with first-degree murder. He pled not guilty and is currently awaiting trial.

During a search of the defendant’s home in December 2015, police found an Amazon Echo in the kitchen. The police seemed to think that the device—which is “always listening” to its surrounding for its “wake” words, Alexa, Echo, or Amazon—may have recorded what went on inside the home. They seized the device and later served Amazon with a warrant for any “audio recordings, transcribed records, or other text records related to communications and transactions” between the Echo device and Amazon’s servers for a 48-hour period surrounding the incident, along with subscriber and account information. Amazon turned over the defendant’s subscriber information and purchase history, but it refused to turn over any recordings or transcripts.

The police sought to get the data via another route. A few months later, they got a second warrant—this time to search the devices they had in their possession: the physical Echo device and the defendant’s two cell phones (which, if the defendant used the Alexa app, could have contained Alexa recordings or transcripts). They were able to “extract the data” stored on the Echo device and one of the defendant’s phones, but the second phone was encrypted. 

In December 2016, the State of Arkansas informed Amazon that it intended to enforce the original warrant. Amazon filed a motion to quash the warrant on February 17, 2017. Amazon argued that the request for the Alexa recordings and transcripts implicated First Amendment protected speech and that the police therefore needed to make a heightened showing before it could compel Amazon to turn over the information. As Amazon explained, the First Amendment protects not only users’ verbal requests to Alexa, but also Alexa’s responses. Alexa’s responses are protected for two reasons. First, they contain expressive material specifically requested by the user, such as podcasts, books, or music. Second, the responses are also the speech of Amazon, and they are protected the same way that a search engine’s results are protected. (Read: Despite some early reports to the contrary, Amazon never argued that the device itself had constitutional rights.)

Amazon argued that because the police were seeking access to First Amendment protected content, they needed to show a compelling need for the information and establish a sufficient nexus between the information sought and the underlying investigation. The Bentonville police hadn’t done that, so Amazon was right to push back.

A hearing on Amazon’s motion was scheduled for March 8, but it was cancelled after the defendant agreed to release the information to the authorities. With Bates’ consent, Amazon has since turned over the requested recordings to the Bentonville police. We applaud Amazon for sticking up for its user’s rights and pushing back until it had that consent.

[1] Depending on what data is requested, generally applicable data protection laws may apply, but they may not in all cases, especially where the data requested is especially sensitive.

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Categories: Political Action

Will the TPP Live on in NAFTA and RCEP?

Deep Links - Thu, 03/09/2017 - 14:19

The collapse of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was the worst defeat suffered by big content since we killed SOPA and PIPA five years ago. But our opponents are persistent, well-funded, and stealthy, and we can't expect them to give up that easily. So, just as they have continued to push for SOPA-like Internet censorship mechanisms in various other fora, so too we have been keeping a watchful eye for the recycling of TPP proposals into other trade negotiations. It hasn't taken long for that to happen.

Preliminary steps towards the renegotiation of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, have already begun, and Alan Davidson, former director of digital economy issues at the Commerce Department, has flagged the problematic e-commerce provisions of the TPP as suitable for transplanting into the renegotiated agreement. "TPP is a terrific starting point," he is reported as saying.

Across the other side of the world, TPP is also being touted as the right standard for Asia's secretive Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), whose negotiators met in Tokyo last week. This week an Independent Commission on Trade Policy, composing seven former trade negotiators and academics from the Asia-Pacific region, released a report titled Charting a Course for Trade and Economic Integration in the Asia-Pacific. The report recommends "that policy makers should, in light of the U.S. withdrawal, advance the TPP’s high standards in the Asia-Pacific region."

Tying these developments together, the trade ministers of the former TPP countries, which include most of the NAFTA and RCEP members, are convening in Chile next week [PDF], and it is expected that several countries will use that meeting to push for the resurrection of the TPP, without the participation of the United States.

But the folly of this project is that by failing to learn from the history of the TPP's demise, the participating countries are doomed to repeat it. The proximate cause of the deal's collapse was not the withdrawal of the United States, but the factors that caused that withdrawal—widespread public dissatisfaction with the secrecy of these agreements and their domination by big business, all in the promise of economic gains that have failed to materialize. 

Such is the message that more than 200 civil society groups from across the world gave today, in a letter sent to their trade ministers as they head to Chile. The letter, which EFF endorsed, says in part:

[W]e believe it is not acceptable for TPP rules to be used as a model for future trade negotiations whether bilateral, regional or multilateral, including the World Trade Organisation. We urge you to accept that this model has failed, and to engage with us and others in a more open and democratic process to develop alternative approaches that genuinely serve the interests of our peoples, our nations and the planet.

Without correcting the underlying faults in the process by which the TPP was negotiated, there is no point in attempting to replicate its provisions in future trade deals. We join colleagues from around the world in calling on trade ministers to abandon the closed, captured model of trade negotiation that led to the failed TPP. As disappointing for trade ministries as the failure of the TPP was, they need to head back to the drawing board, fix this broken process, and meaningfully consult with users before attempting any future trade deals that affect the Internet.

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Categories: Political Action

Digital Privacy at the U.S Border: A New How-To Guide from EFF

Deep Links - Thu, 03/09/2017 - 11:03
Protect Yourself While Traveling To and From the U.S.

San Francisco - Increasingly frequent and invasive searches at the U.S. border have raised questions for those of us who want to protect the private data on our computers, phones, and other digital devices. A new guide released today by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) gives travelers the facts they need in order to prepare for border crossings while protecting their digital information.

“Digital Privacy at the U.S. Border” helps everyone do a risk assessment, evaluating personal factors like immigration status, travel history, and the sensitivity of the data you are carrying. Depending on which devices come with you on your trip, your gadgets can include information like your client files for work, your political leanings and those of your friends, and even your tax return. Assessing your risk factors helps you choose a path to proactively protect yourself, which might mean leaving some devices at home, moving some information off of your devices and into the cloud, and using encryption. EFF’s guide also explains why some protections, like fingerprint locking of a phone, are less secure than other methods.

“Border agents have more power than police officers normally do, and people crossing the border have less privacy than they usually expect,” said EFF Staff Attorney Sophia Cope. “Border agents may demand that you unlock your phone, provide your laptop password, or disclose your social media handles. Yet this is where many of us store our most sensitive personal information. We hope this guide makes preparing for your trip and protecting your devices easier and more effective.”

Many travelers are confused about what is legal at the border, and the consequences for running afoul of a border agent can run the gamut from indefinite seizure of your phone and computer, to denial of entry for foreign visitors, although American citizens always have the right to re-enter the country. EFF’s new guide hopes to clear up misinformation while recognizing that there is no “one size fits all” approach to crossing into the United States. In addition to the full report, EFF has also created a pocket guide for helping people concerned with data protection.

“The border is not a Constitution-free zone, but sometimes the rules are less protective of travelers and some border agents can be aggressive,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Adam Schwartz. “That can put unprepared travelers in a no-win dilemma at the U.S. border. We need clearer legal protections for everyone, but in the meantime, our report and pocket guides aim to put more power back into the hands of travelers.”

For “Digital Privacy at the U.S. Border”:

For EFF’s pocket guide:

For EFF’s summary of your constitutional rights:

Contact:  SophiaCopeStaff Attorneysophia@eff.org AdamSchwartzSenior Staff Attorneyadam@eff.org
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Categories: Political Action

Why are South Asians facing a wave of violence?

Socialist Worker - Thu, 03/09/2017 - 01:00

Pranav Jani puts recent attacks on Indian-Americans in the context of the history of xenophobia and racism toward immigrants from India and other South Asian countries.

Sikh, Hindu and Muslim religious leaders send a message of solidarity at a vigil for Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Kansas (Crescent Peace Society | Facebook)

FOUR SOUTH Asian-Americans--all of them from India--have been shot in the last two weeks, two of them fatally.

Srinivas Kuchibhotla was killed and Alok Madasani was injured after a white gunman shot them in a Kansas bar on February 22. Witnesses report that the shooter yelled, "Get out of my country!"

Harnish Patel, the owner of a small convenience store in South Carolina, was gunned down in front of his home on the night of March 2. Authorities aren't confirming the shooting as a hate crime.

Deep Rai was shot in the arm on March 3 after being accosted by a white man while working on his car outside his home near Seattle. The shooter told Rai: "Go back to your own country."

In the wake of these attacks--which have been more intensely covered by news outlets in India than in the country where they took place--a wave of fear and anger has washed across the Indian-American community.

People are reconsidering whether they really want to move to, visit, study in, or remain in the U.S. There is a general sense that something has changed about a country that was seen until recently as a place where you faced discrimination, but could make a life.

Many are asking themselves the same question posed on Facebook by Sunayana Dumala, the widow of Kuchibhotla: "Is the U.S. the same country we once dreamed of?"

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WHILE READING the news over the last two weeks, I've had to sit down at times and take a deep breath to steady myself from the feelings of rage and sadness, combined with a sense of isolation and being out place in this country--even though this is my country, a place where I've lived since I was 10 months old.

I've felt this way before. The time after 9/11 was hard for me and mine. Like then, we feel today like a target has been carved deeply and permanently into our backs, and we wonder what the future holds.

I want to explain what's different about anti-South Asian violence in the Trump era, and what's very much the same--just another chapter in the long history of violence against South Asians in the U.S., going all the way back to the last quarter of the 19th century.

Specifically, I want to make the case to my fellow activists and organizers that racism against South Asians is part and parcel of the history of racism and racialization in this country. It is linked both to the foundational violence against Native Americans and Africans, and the special violence reserved for people of color whose labor builds this country, but who are used as tools to preserve profits for U.S. capitalists.

In progressive circles, there is a tendency to speak of South Asians and racism mainly in two ways: to denounce racist attitudes within South Asian communities or, when the violence is recognized, to see it only through the lens of Islamophobia.

There is something to each of these points: Racism within our communities is a reality, and heightened Islamophobia is certainly a root cause of violence against Muslim and non-Muslim South Asians. But there is also a need to talk about anti-South Asian racism, in and of itself.

In doing so, we must guard against another tendency: to minimize the scale of violence and prejudice against South Asians because of their wealth, whether real or perceived.

Many South Asian radicals themselves write in these terms, perhaps eager to demonstrate to others that we are renouncing our "privilege." Instead, we should use our own experience of racism to make ourselves better anti-racist fighters--for others and for ourselves.

This is not simply an ethical position, but emerges from an understanding of history. Anti-South Asian violence serves a specific purpose in the framework of U.S. racism and capitalism, and needs to be opposed unconditionally, regardless of whether the victims are financially successful or conservative.

If we can understand how Barack Obama, the head of U.S. imperialism during his presidency, can experience anti-Black racism, we should have no trouble taking seriously the instances of racist discrimination suffered by small businesspeople, technical workers and engineers.

Rejecting the myth of the "model minority," a key ideological tool of U.S. racism, the left needs to bring a deeper awareness of this racism into the larger picture of this country's anti-Black, anti-Native and anti-immigrant racism.

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THE HISTORY of racist violence against South Asians goes back to the last quarter of the 19th century, when laborers and a few students began coming to the North American West Coast.

The British Empire had been exporting its colonial subjects from India across the world to fulfill various needs. After the slave trade was abolished, laborers arrived in the Caribbean to fill the shortage in plantations. They were transported on crowded, disease-ridden ships that left many dead. Indians were brought in as businessmen to colonized Kenya to create a "buffer" race between the British and Black Africans.

When the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 kept Chinese and Japanese workers away from the farms and railroads of California, the stream of Indians, mostly Punjabis, increased. Many, unable to bring their families, married Mexican women. In Harlem, Detroit, and New Orleans, as Vivek Bald argues in Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America, new working-class communities emerged as Indians married Black, Creole and Puerto Rican women.

But soon, law after law stripped Indians of their property and land rights. Riots led by racist workers, like the 1907 riot in Bellingham, Washington, against South Asian lumber mill workers, terrorized the population and drove them away--with a local newspaper praising how the migrant workers were "wiped off the map."

The 1914 incident of the Komagatu Maru in Vancouver--in which 376 Indians were barred from setting foot on Canadian soil, held offshore for two months and then taken back to British India by the Canadian military--resonated across the world.

Indians didn't take it lightly. Political organizations sprang up. The Ghadar Party of students and workers was formed in San Francisco in 1913--it denounced British India and U.S. racism in its newspapers and even smuggled activists back into India.

The Ghadar Party's solidarity with the Easter Uprising in Ireland in 1916 drew the attention of Irish labor unions in California. In 1919, they voted to prevent the deportation of any Indian activist who was targeted for fighting the British.

South Asian immigration was sharply reduced by the 1923 Supreme Court ruling in the United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind case, which determined that Indians were not white and were ineligible for naturalized citizenship.

Lawyers for Thind, a U.S. military veteran of the First World War, had built a case not on the grounds of equality, but on the argument that Indians were also "Caucasian," and therefore shouldn't be subject to the country's racist immigration policies. In response, the majority opinion of the Supreme Court stated:

It is a matter of familiar observation and knowledge that the physical group characteristics of the Hindus render them readily distinguishable from the various groups of persons in this country commonly recognized as white. The children of English, French, German, Italian, Scandinavian and other European parentage quickly merge into the mass of our population and lose the distinctive hallmarks of their European origin. On the other hand, it cannot be doubted that the children born in this country of Hindu parents would retain indefinitely the clear evidence of their ancestry.

It is very far from our thought to suggest the slightest question of racial superiority or inferiority. What we suggest is merely racial difference, and it is of such character and extent that the great body of our people instinctively recognize it and reject the thought of assimilation.

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IN 1965, the pressures of the civil rights movement and the need for more technical workers to compete with the USSR, particularly the space program, led the U.S. to lift some restrictions on Asian immigration, but limit entry to those with a background in science and technology.

This selective admission of South Asians lies at the root of the "model minority" myth, which used the relative success of some Asian Americans to both perpetuate the American Dream narrative and scold African Americans and others for supposedly not measuring up.

This notion has persisted despite the fact that, as more families of the post-1965 generation emigrated in the 1980s and 1990s, Indians and South Asians as a group have became increasingly working class.

Economic crisis and anti-Asian sentiment--driven by the rise of economic nationalism not unlike Donald Trump's anti-China rhetoric today, but directed at America's then-chief economic rival Japan--led to the murder of Chinese American Vincent Chin in Detroit in 1982.

Less well known are the attacks on 15 Indians in Jersey City, New Jersey between 1987 and 1988 after The Jersey Journal published a threatening letter signed by an organization calling itself the "Dotbusters." "If I'm walking down the street," the letter warned, "and I see a Hindu and the setting is right, I will just hit him or her."

These weren't idle threats. Navroze Mody, beaten with a baseball bat, died from his injuries. Bhered Patel was beaten with a metal pipe while he slept; taxi driver Malkiat Singh was shot to death.

In the hyper-Islamophobic climate after 9/11, South Asian Muslims bore the brunt of the racist attacks. But many non-Muslim South Asians, particularly Sikhs, were also harassed, beaten and killed--as documented in Valeria Kaur's film Divided We Fall. Balbir Singh Sodhi was the first casualty, killed outside his gas station in Arizona on September 15.

"The unprecedented violence we saw following the September 11 attacks has returned, electrified by a hostile 2016 presidential election," reads a report by the advocacy group South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT). Note that this report was published in January 2017, before the recent shootings.

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AT EVERY step, the struggles of South Asian Americans have been tied to the struggles of other racially oppressed groups in the U.S.

But because of social engineering in immigration policy, their higher income levels than many other groups and their relative social conservatism, South Asians are often seen as being cut off from this history.

Understanding immigrant labor as labor, whatever the skill level or salary, is central to understanding why anti-South Asian violence is climbing at the same time as hateful rhetoric from the White House against Mexicans, Blacks, Arabs and other groups.

The violence right now is being fueled by a combination of Islamophobia and a xenophobic discourse that accompanies economic nationalism. There is a widespread idea that Indians are "taking" white-collar U.S. jobs through the visas given to students with technology backgrounds.

The sort of hatred that Indians face is exemplified in the chilling comments of a right winger about video taken last year of Indian families relaxing in a park in suburban Columbus, Ohio. Here is the uploaders's description of the video, since removed, but not before it got 500,000 views on YouTube:

It was the summer of 2016 and Save American Information Technology Jobs was on the ground with a video journey about the presence of Indian guest workers in the Great Midwest. Our walk in the park provides evidence as to who has the Jobs in this area, and they are not the citizens of Ohio. It is proof on the ground how guest workers are not only taking over jobs, but also taking away the real estate and parks. The USA Ohio IT Workers have disappeared to oblivion. In August 2016, Indians are seen as colonizing and occupying white American land, and making themselves rich.

Against this emerging hatred, we need to build greater and greater degrees of solidarity. A statement by the group India Civil Watch sends the right message:

We must get organized in broad coalitions with others who care and intend to defend immigrant and minority rights: African-American, Asian-American, Latinx, white and other immigrant groups. This is the moment to research, locate and get involved with local immigrant, civil or human rights organizations.

Our strength lies in our recognition that most of us are here as workers, whether we drive taxis in NYC or write code in the Bay Area, and the only way forward is to build solidarity with other workers, regardless of where exactly we might be located on the economic ladder. That the U.S. economy rewards each of these workers differently must not blind us to the fact that we are all targets of racist discrimination, and that the relative wealth of some of us only appears to insulate us from violence.

This is well put. But in addition to getting South Asian-Americans, and specifically Indian-Americans, to understand the need for solidarity and transformations within their communities, we also need others to challenge racism against Asians, from its ideological expression in the "model minority" idea to the material impact of discrimination and deadly violence.

Categories: Political Action

The movement needs to invite debate

Socialist Worker - Thu, 03/09/2017 - 01:00

What issues are involved in the decision of an SJP chapter to rescind an invitation to an independent journalist? Eric Ruder looks at how solidarity activists can move forward.

CONTROVERSY ERUPTED on the left after a recent decision by the University of North Carolina Students for Justice in Palestine (UNC-SJP) chapter to rescind an invitation to independent journalist Rania Khalek to speak on the issue of Palestine and Black liberation.

Khalek is known for her reporting on Israeli apartheid, the noxious current of Islamophobia running through U.S. politics, and the adoption of Israeli methods of repression by U.S. police departments, among other topics.

But she has been sharply criticized, including by SocialistWorker.org, for her writings on the revolution in Syria and the Assad government's war against it. In numerous articles, Khalek has depicted the opposition to the Assad regime as puppets of U.S. intervention, while downplaying or excusing atrocities committed by the Syrian government and its international allies.

UNC-SJP explained its decision in a Facebook post on February 26 that states, in part:

After receiving much feedback and after careful consideration, we have decided to cancel tomorrow's event with Rania Khalek. We do not endorse nor reject her views on the Syrian civil war, as they remain relatively unclear according to our members' diverse opinions of Rania's analyses.

After the chapter announced its decision one day before Khalek's scheduled appearance, a group of activists assembled and circulated a statement entitled "Against the Blacklisting of Activists and Writers," with about 100 signatories.

The statement objects to the cancelation for being "based on the notion that there is a political litmus test of views on Syria that are requisites to have a public voice in the Palestinian rights movement." It also notes that "some of those who lobbied UNC-SJP to cancel the event have stated publicly that they want to destroy Khalek's reputation and livelihood."

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THE DEBATE about UNC-SJP's decision quickly spiraled into a bitter battle among Palestine and Syria solidarity activists.

This may have been inevitable given the highly polarized disagreement. Khalek's supporters believe her position on Syria is being used as an excuse to "blacklist" her, while defenders of the Syrian revolution think she has crossed a line with her virulent denunciations of opponents of Assad.

Below, I want to propose some guidelines for an approach that can hopefully be productive.

1. The left must aim to debate even bitter arguments--and not, under any circumstances, resort to threats or actions against the ability of left journalists, bloggers and activists to make a living.

On almost any other question but Syria, few of the activists on either side of the debate would disagree with Khalek's journalism.

It is her reporting on the civil war in Syria that has generated fierce controversy. And it should. We at SW have been highly critical of Khalek's implicit apologies for the Assad regime and blanket condemnations of Syrian revolutionaries as pro-U.S. imperialism.

Khalek has suggested that U.S. sanctions are responsible for the humanitarian crisis in Syria, when it is the Assad dictatorship that has been the cause of the vast majority of the death and suffering.

Khalek's article "How U.S. Support for Syrian Rebels Drove the Refugee Crisis That Trump Has Capitalized On" draws on dubious research to imply that all opponents of the Assad regime are Islamic fundamentalists, with backing from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

This inexcusably ignores the actual history of the popular rebellion in Syria that began in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring uprisings, but was ruthlessly repressed by the Assad regime. Syria's uprising has been all but crushed, but genuine revolutionaries in the Arab world are capable of opposing both the U.S./Saudi camp and the Assad/Russia/Iran/Hezbollah camp.

It's tragic that Khalek has used her journalistic platform and social media presence to, for example, participate in a smear campaign against the White Helmets, which provides ideological cover for the regime's actions.

These positions should be adamantly challenged. Yet the statement condemning the UNC-SJP's cancelation points out--with justification--that some who campaigned in favor of disinviting Khalek have sought "to destroy Khalek's reputation and livelihood."

"I will never stop," tweeted Oz Katerji, one of the people who supported UNC-SJP rescinding its invitation. "Not with any of you. I will never rest while you are given platforms or publishing opportunities."

This approach mistakenly shifts the emphasis away from exposing and defeating Khalek's wrong arguments and analyses, and toward attacking her ability to have her views heard at all and even earn a living. These tactics can't be accepted as a legitimate means of fighting for what's right.

2. UNC-SJP had the right to rescind its invitation to Rania Khalek.

The statement in defense of Khalek characterizes UNC-SJP's decision to rescind its invitation as "blacklisting." This is wrong.

No one is owed a platform "just because," and every organization has the right to decide who it wishes to invite to appear at its events--including the right to disinvite people.

Middle Eastern studies professor Stephen Zunes made this case in a post on Facebook:

If you are an organization that speaks out against Israeli bombing of heavily populated civilian areas, defends reputable human rights organizations that document such war crimes, and recognizes that the Palestinian resistance is made up of more than foreign-backed Islamist terrorists, it really hurts your credibility to provide a forum for those who defend Syrian bombing of heavily populated civilian areas, attack reputable human rights organizations that document such war crimes, and insist that the Syrian resistance consists of only foreign-backed Islamist terrorists.

The UNC chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine was therefore correct to cancel Rania Khalek's talk. It was not a matter of "censorship" or a "blacklist." While she certainly has the right to speak, no student group is obliged to sponsor her. It was an appropriate ethical and strategic decision, and they should not be attacked for it.

Unfortunately, this is not how UNC-SJP explained its decision to disinvite Khalek.

The chapter stated that its own members have "diverse opinions of Rania's analyses." This suggests that rather than acting on the basis of a principled opposition to Khalek's ideas, the chapter decided to duck the question after facing opposition for having invited her in the first place.

This is unfortunate and veers close to the idea that Khalek's views on Syria should be banned, rather than debated--or, worse, simply tossed aside to avoid "controversy."

Given that the chapter itself appears divided regarding the various debates surrounding Syria, it would have made more sense to invite someone to join the panel in order to fully air the various points of view regarding the Assad regime, the Syrian revolution, and their relationship to the struggle in Palestine.

3. Criticism of Khalek's views on the Syrian revolution shouldn't be dismissed as a misguided political litmus test.

Khalek's defenders argue that "a group seeking justice in Palestine [that] subjects speakers or members to a political litmus test related to their views on Syria...inevitably leads to splits, silencing, confusion, and a serious erosion of trust."

Some go even further, arguing that those who raise opposition to the Assad regime in the context of Palestine organizing are helping to advance a Zionist plot to divide and demobilize the solidarity movement.

This is a dangerous slander. Since the earliest days of the Syrian uprising, this issue has divided the Palestinian movement because of real differences of opinion. Some consider the Assad regime "anti-imperialist" and a supporter of Palestinian liberation, while others--including SocialistWorker.org--have long pointed out how Assad manipulated the Palestine issue for his own purposes.

Budour Hassan is one of many Palestinian activists who once held the view that the Syrian uprising represented a "threat" to the Palestinian cause, only to revise her views after witnessing the unspeakable brutality of the Assad regime in repressing a movement fighting for the same liberation and dignity that Palestinians demand.

It's a grave mistake for the Palestine solidarity movement to align itself with a dictator, even if that dictator occasionally expresses support for the Palestinian cause. This approach truly does lead to an "erosion of trust"--by placing Palestinian activists on the wrong side of a struggle between a dictator and the people he ruthlessly represses.

Such a position frustrates the potential for solidarity between the Palestinian and Syrian liberation movements, which should aim to forge solidarity from below against all dictatorships and international powers.

If SJP chapters choose not to invite Khalek and other apologists for Assad because they feel that this strategy undermines the Palestinian struggle, it is their right to do so. Ultimately, it would be good for the movement to reject support for Assad, because it is counterproductive to the cause of Palestinian liberation.

But it is also dead wrong to try to advance this argument by avoiding engagement with Khalek and others who share her views--still worse with any form of a ban.

Defining such views as "unacceptable" does nothing to advance the debates and discussions that are critical to building a more sophisticated and more united movement against empire and dictatorship.

Categories: Political Action

This VOICE tells racist lies

Socialist Worker - Thu, 03/09/2017 - 01:00

Christopher Baum reports on the Trump administration's plan for a new agency that will spread the dangerous slander that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes.

Donald Trump delivers his first speech to Congress

THE TRUMP administration is planning to create a new agency inside the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) whose main purpose is to inflame xenophobia and spread the lie that immigrants are likely to be violent criminals.

Trump first called for the creation of the VOICE (Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement) Office in his January 25 executive order. The details of how this order would be carried out were released a month later in a memo issued by DHS Director John Kelly. The order and Kelly's memo establish three priorities for VOICE:

First, act as a liaison between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and "known victims of crimes committed by removable aliens," providing information to victims and their families about the immigration and custody status of the alleged offenders.

Second, issue monthly reports of "statistical data regarding aliens apprehended by ICE," including a wide variety of information concerning the alleged offenders' countries of origin, criminal history, gang affiliation, prior immigration violations, etc.

Third, issue weekly reports concerning "non-Federal jurisdictions that release aliens from their custody, notwithstanding that such aliens are subject to a detainer or similar request for custody issued by ICE to that jurisdiction"--in other words, to name and shame sanctuary jurisdictions for refusing to cooperate with deportation efforts. As outlined in Kelly's memo, this report, too, will contain as much information as possible about the alleged offenders.

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VOICE IS being proposed as a solution to something that few people outside the right wing's bubble think is a problem: that crime victims aren't given enough information about the immigration status of the alleged offenders. According to the DHS memo:

Criminal aliens routinely victimize Americans and other legal residents. Often, these victims are not provided adequate information about the offender, the offender's immigration status, or any enforcement action taken by ICE against the offender. Efforts by ICE to engage these victims have been hampered by prior Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy extending certain Privacy Act protections to persons other than U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, leaving victims feeling marginalized and without a voice.

This is pure demagoguery. If someone is victimized by, for example, a drunk driver, their concern is with the criminal act of drunk driving, not the immigration status of the driver. Not being aware a driver's immigration status doesn't make them any more marginalized or "voiceless" than not knowing the driver's religion or political affiliation.

The same principle applies to any crime, however serious: From the standpoint of seeking justice for victims and their loved ones, the immigration status of the offenders can make no possible difference.

It can, however, have considerable political value, and this is surely what Trump and Kelly are seeking to exploit.

There is an undeniable emotional power to claiming to the family of a murder victim that their loved one's killer "never should have been in the country to begin with." The shock and grief resulting from this news can easily be used for propaganda purposes: Even if the grieving family do not themselves become activists against "criminal aliens," their story can still be exploited to encourage others to follow this path.

It was for precisely this reason that, when announcing the creation of VOICE in his February 28 joint address to Congress, Trump pointed out "four very brave Americans" in the audience, all of whom have lost loved ones to violent crimes allegedly perpetrated by undocumented immigrants.

This, apparently, is what it means to "give a voice" to such people: trotting them out for an internationally televised event and publicly exploiting their grief and loss in order to further your own racist anti-immigrant agenda.

The executive order that gave rise to VOICE also directs the DHS to "prioritize the removal" of undocumented immigrants in a variety of categories, including those who have been convicted of a crime, charged with a crime--or committed "acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense," but have not been charged or otherwise pose a threat to public safety or national security "in the judgment of an immigration officer."

The effect of these guidelines, in short, is to declare any undocumented immigrant whom an ICE agent thinks is a criminal to be a criminal.

It remains to be seen whether this very broad conception of "crime" will be carried over into the reports produced by VOICE compiling "statistical data" about crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and weekly reports concerning the non-cooperation of sanctuary jurisdictions. The possibility is certainly there--notice, for instance, that VOICE's monthly report will provide statistics about people apprehended by ICE.

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FROM THE earliest days of his presidential campaign, Trump declared loudly and often that the U.S. is experiencing an epidemic of crime committed by undocumented immigrants, and he cultivated alliances with racist anti-immigration groups and individuals.

Now that he's in power, Trump's executive order is an attempt to criminalize immigration itself--and VOICE is the poison he wants to pump into the culture to get people to go along with it.

One of Trump's key allies in this effort is Maria Espinoza, co-founder and National Director of the Remembrance Project, a Houston-based organization that "advocates for families whose loved ones were killed by illegal aliens," most notably by adding their names and images to its "Stolen Lives Quilt."

According to Espinoza's biography on the project's website--which doesn't mention her ties to white nationalists like John Tanton--she has worked since 2009 to "unite the 'stolen lives' families, educating the public of the epidemic of killings across the country, and raising the awareness of the effects of illegal immigration. It is not a victimless crime."

This brief passage lays bare the two lies at the heart of the Remembrance Project, and of Trump's own agenda: First, that undocumented immigrants are responsible for an "epidemic of killings across the country"; and second, that illegal immigration itself leads to violent crime.

In fact, research has consistently shown that immigrants are statistically less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, and that there is either no correlation between crime rates and levels of immigration. If anything, crime rates appear to decrease as immigration levels rise.

But even if immigrants were not less likely to commit crimes, VOICE would still be cause for concern. The clear intent of these measures is to stoke public hatred of immigrants--and the administration's rhetoric about "upholding the laws of this nation" is a coded racist message aimed at that end.

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THE UNVEILING of VOICE immediately--and rightly--prompted comparisons to Nazi Germany. As Peter Beinart wrote in The Atlantic:

In The Nazi Conscience, Duke historian Claudia Koonz notes that the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer ran a feature called "Letter Box," which published readers' accounts of Jewish crimes. When the Nazis took power, the German state began doing something similar. Frustrated by the failure of most Germans to participate in a boycott of Jewish businesses in April 1933, Adolf Hitler's government began publicizing Jewish crime statistics as a way of stoking anti-Semitism.

In Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of Persecution, the historian Saul Friedlander notes that, until 1938, Hitler's Ministry of Justice ordered prosecutors to forward every criminal indictment against a Jew so the ministry's press office could publicize it.

The parallels between the Nazis' use of crime statistics and those contemplated by VOICE are troubling enough. But because of its status as a "legitimate" government agency, VOICE's programs also have the potential to inject into the mainstream the propaganda of far-right publications and websites that are the modern-day equivalent of Der Stürmer's.

These publications have already managed to do great harm. For instance, Dylann Roof, the anti-Black terrorist who slaughtered nine people in a South Carolina church in 2015, acknowledges that he he came across "pages upon pages of these brutal Black on white murders" on the website of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a notorious white supremacist organization.

In Roof's case, the connection between racist "reporting" of crimes and violence is unusually direct and explicit. But if his story is an extreme case, it is by no means unique. And, of course, the CCC is far from the only such group publishing lists of the alleged crimes of nonwhite Americans, as we've already seen with the Remembrance Project.

Notably, Breitbart News, when it was under the leadership of Trump's current chief strategist Steve Bannon, responded to the Black Lives Matter movement by gathering stories of alleged crimes committed by African Americans under the "Black Crime" tag.

These sites are notorious for cherry-picking their stories for maximum effect and publishing false or misleading information. One reason they've found a wide audience is that "Black-on-white" crime is also overreported in the more "respectable" media.

Now Trump, Bannon and Kelly want the U.S. government to get in on the act. We shouldn't let them get away with it.

Categories: Political Action

Five days that ended an empire

Socialist Worker - Thu, 03/09/2017 - 01:00

Dan Swain explores the relevance of Russia's February Revolution to revolutionary politics today, in an article published at revolutionary socialism in the 21st century.

Delegates to the Petrograd soviet gather at the Tauride Palace during the February Revolution (Wikimedia Commons)

IN 1917, Russia was a vast empire covering much of modern-day Poland in the west, Armenia and Azerbaijan in the south, and Kazakhstan and Siberia in the east. It had been ruled for centuries by an autocratic monarchy that gave little space to any democratic institutions. While Europe's other empires had all, to one degree or another, rebalanced the relationship between their monarchies and parliaments, granting greater power to institutions which were at least formally democratic, the Russian Tsar retained the status of "supreme autocrat."

In the space of five days in February 100 years ago, all of this changed. The people of Russia removed the Tsar from power, and replaced his rule with not one, but two democratic institutions. In doing so, they set the stage for a dramatic year of revolution.

This year will be marked by countless conferences, articles, books and reminiscences about what remains one of the biggest sources of inspiration, fear and fascination in history. This article, however, will consider its first, dramatic months. How was it that one of Europe's great ruling powers fell from grace so rapidly that they not merely ended a monarchy, but made it possible to usher in an entirely new system of social life?

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1. The Stage

To say that Russia had been staunchly autocratic is not to say it lacked a revolutionary tradition. Throughout the 19th century, different varieties of radicals had tried to drag concessions out of the Tsar. The "Decembrist" movement of 1825 had tried to enforce a democratic constitution. National liberation movements, particularly in Poland, had tried to achieve independence from the empire. Later generations of radical liberals had turned to the peasants, going to the countryside to work and live among them. These "Narodniks" (from narod, meaning "people") divided into those who aimed to spread propaganda in the countryside, and those, less patient, who advocated political assassination. The chronicler of the revolution Victor Serge notes that:

between 1872 and 1882 there were six attempted assassinations (three of these successful) against high officials, four against police chiefs, four against Tsar Alexander II, nine executions of informers and twenty-four cases of armed resistance to the police. Thirty-one revolutionaries were hanged or shot.

This generation of revolutionaries acted as much out of despair as hope. Alexander Herzen, a deep influence on the Narodniks and on early Russian socialism, wrote in 1851:

Detached from the life of the common people by European civilization and cut off from Europe by despotism, [the Russian] is too weak to overthrow it and the only thing left is flight...We are slaves because we have not the means of liberating ourselves. Anyway we'll accept nothing from the enemy...Russia will never revolt with the sole objective of getting rid of Tsar Nicholas and obtaining as reward for victory Tsarist representatives, Tsarist courts, or Tsarist laws.

The regime was intolerable, but apparently immoveable. But into this impasse came a new force: the working class movement. One reform that the Tsar had permitted, more from economic necessity than any political will, was to abolish serfdom in 1861. This had meant peasants were no longer tied to land owned by their lord, but became owners of land in their own right. Of course, for many this meant being gradually driven off the land as it was bought up by landlords, and pushed into the cities. As industrial production began to increase in the late 19th century, these people, now proletarians in the classic sense, filled the factories.

Alongside a growing proletariat came parties that sought to represent, mobilize and emancipate it. At the Second International's Paris Congress in 1889, Georgi Plekhanov, representing the first explicitly social-democratic group in Russia, announced that "the Russian revolution will triumph as the revolution of the working class--else not at all." In the late 1880s "Unions of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class" began to appear in many towns and cities, and in 1894 the first congress of the Russian Social Democratic Party was held in Minsk. It did not take long, though, for divisions to arise, firstly over how much to focus on political issues, and secondly over the kind of organization that was necessary. In 1903 this resulted in division into Bolsheviks ("majoritarians") and Mensheviks ("minoritarians").

Alongside the Social Democratic Party and its factions was the rise of the Socialist Revolutionary Party (SRs), whose members would go on to play important roles throughout 1917. The SRs continued the Narodnik tradition of looking to the people as a whole, and thus attempted to build a party of the working class, peasantry and intellectuals all at once. Serge suggests, however, that:

whereas Social Democracy demands that these enter the service of the proletariat, and only gives them a hearing to the extent that they speak for the proletarian cause, in the Socialist Revolutionary party it is the intellectuals as such who are given a decisive role. Narodnik theory teaches, in effect, that conscious individual personalities, "endowed with critical thinking" and constituting a minority elite, have a crucial influence over the destinies of society.

Thus they continued the tradition of high profile assassinations and individual terrorism, and were met with repression. The SRs thus populated the prisons as much as supporters of Social Democracy did.

And then came 1905.

The previous year, in the hopes of securing his rule and extending his territory, the Tsar had initiated a disastrous imperial war with Japan. This war was to end in utter humiliating defeat, which sparked off protests and strikes across the country. In January 1905, struggles between management and workers broke out at the Putilov works in St. Petersburg. The workers were aided by a radical priest known as Father Gapon. Gapon, apparently in the sincere belief that he would listen, organized a petition to the Tsar, calling for an eight-hour day, political and religious freedoms, and the right to strike. The petitioners were met with machine guns and cavalry charges, in a massacre which became known as Bloody Sunday.

Following Bloody Sunday, trade unions began to spring up across the empire. General strikes were called, which in some places (notably Warsaw) took on the character of an insurrection. Over the course of 1905, strikes and protests spread across the empire, and new and varied institutions and organizations sprung up--trade unions, strike committees, and, most importantly, on October 13, the St. Petersburg Soviet, a democratic workers' council, organized on the basis of one deputy per 500 workers. Four days later, the ruling powers moved to catch up with this enthusiasm for democracy, and established a parliament--the Duma. Any further revolutionary change, though, was halted. The revolutionary movement was violently suppressed. The following year, the Tsar made it clear that he retained power over the Duma as "supreme autocrat." In the coming years he dissolved it on several occasions.

In 1914, the First World War broke out, providing the revolutionary movement with a test most of them failed. For the Tsar and his supporters, this was an opportunity to whip up nationalist sentiment. For the revolutionaries, this was a chance to agitate against both the war and the imperial interests it defended. Sadly, both the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries fell in behind the war, refusing to oppose it. Plekhanov, by this time a Menshevik, became a particularly vocal supporter of the war. The Bolsheviks, on the other hand, adopted Lenin's slogan: "Turn the imperialist war into civil war." In November, the five Bolshevik deputies in the Duma were arrested and deported to Siberia.

Though bolstered by an initial burst of enthusiasm for the war, by the beginning of 1917 the Russian state was in deep crisis. Grain increased in price by a factor of ten, while landowners increasingly hoarded grain in order to push up prices. While most peasants were fighting in the war, landowners had asserted control over large tracts of previously communal land. While the war took its toll on ordinary people, it became increasingly unpopular among soldiers and the wider population. An estimated 1.5 million soldiers had deserted over the course of 1916. By the end of January 1917, the food shortages reached a state of deep crisis, with only 10 days of grain left for the city of St. Petersburg. As food queues formed, some women took action into their own hands by breaking in and stealing bread. In February, the Bolsheviks called strikes against the arrest of their five members of the Duma. The Mensheviks, too, called strikes explicitly in favor of the Duma, while the Bolsheviks, emboldened, called for the overthrow of the Tsar.

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2. The Drama

The revolution began on International Women's Day. It is quite striking how often this is overlooked by mainstream accounts of the revolution, preferring to talk passively, as if demonstrations merely happened. Yet the dates chosen for these demonstrations surely matters. Those who demonstrated that day certainly did not believe they were beginning an insurrection, or even foresaw it as a likely outcome. But they knew that the occasion was worth marking, an opportunity to do something, to be on the streets, to demonstrate their dissatisfaction and their power. The choice of day indicates how international the working class had become. International Women's Day had first been held in 1909 to remember a strike of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union in the United States. It had then been taken up by the Socialist International as part of a general strategy for promoting women's suffrage and the rights of women, and was first marked in Russia before the outbreak of war. It also indicates the centrality of women to the events, demanding not just bread, but also a voice of their own.

International Women's Day was not the only anniversary marked by protest in early 1917. In January, the Bolshevik Party had organized strikes on the anniversary of the 1905 Bloody Sunday massacre. Around 30,000 struck in Moscow, while 145,000 struck in St. Petersburg, with smaller strikes taking place across the Empire. Of course, at one level, these were simply convenient dates--reasons to mobilize and motivate people and to get them on the streets, to help demonstrate their power to themselves and to the authorities. Yet perhaps there is also something important about the way such anniversaries invoked a historical memory, reaching back into the past in order to be able to project forward, confronting and exorcising a defeat alongside imagining a victory.

In any case, the unrest went further than most expected. Groups of textile workers went on strike, while 128,000 demonstrated on the streets of St. Petersburg. By the next day 200,000 workers were on strike, nearly half of St. Petersburg's workers, with demands becoming increasingly specific, shifting to the overthrow of the autocratic regime. Clashes with the police become increasingly frequent, while fraternization begins between protestors and the military. As Trotsky wrote:

The police are fierce, implacable, hated and hating foes. To win them over is out of the question. Beat them up and kill them. It is different with the soldiers: the crowd makes every effort to avoid hostile encounters with them; on the contrary, seeks ways to dispose them in its favor, convince, attract, fraternize, merge them in itself.

Reports of unrest reached the Tsar. He had already been warned earlier that month about the possibility of unrest, and urged to share power with the Duma. The Tsar ignored that warning, and he failed to recognize the significance of the protests. His telegram from the front was unequivocal. The police must ensure the unrest stops. By this point, though, this meant only one thing, as the following response from a police chief makes clear:

This telegram, how could I say it, to be frank and sincere, was for me like a sledge hammer blow. "To stop as of tomorrow." How? What was I going to do? How "stop?" When they asked for bread, we gave bread and that was the end of it. But when the flags are inscribed "down with autocracy" it's no longer a question of bread. But what then? The Tsar had ordered--we had to shoot.

On the morning of Sunday, February 26 [according to the Julian calendar in use in Russia at the time--the revolution begun on March 8 according to the calendar we use today, and this Sunday was March 11], the state began to fight back in a more systematic way. One hundred revolutionary leaders, from a range of parties, were arrested, while troops opened fire on workers in Petrograd, killing 169 and injuring over 1,000. Outraged at this, soldiers from another regiment try to stop them. By nightfall the same day, 66,000 soldiers, who 24 hours earlier were ordered to fire on the protestors, had instead joined the cause of the protestors.

On February 27, the Tsar's adviser convened a meeting of the Duma. Even at this stage, the goal was to somehow salvage the Imperial power, and keep the Tsar in place. The Duma formed a committee, which resolved that the only possible resolution was shared power between the Tsar and a Prime Minister. The Tsar refused, and abdicated in favor of his brother Mikhail. Mikhail too refused the throne, and with that, it was over. "Like the chewed stump of a fag, we spat their dynasty out," wrote the poet Mayakovsky. For Trotsky, "the last day of February was the first day after the victory: a day of raptures, embraces joyful tears, voluble outpourings; but at the same time a day of final blows at the enemy." People gathered in the streets to celebrate the first days of spring, and the possibilities of rebirth.

How had this happened? Trotsky quotes a liberal officer reflecting on events:

It is customary to say that the movement began spontaneously, the soldiers themselves went into the street. I cannot at all agree with this. After all, what does the word "spontaneously" mean?...Spontaneous conception is still more out of place in sociology than in natural science. Owing to the fact that none of the revolutionary leaders with a name was able to hang his label on the movement, it becomes not impersonal but merely nameless.

Historical writing often has a hard time dealing with events like February. Either it is the master plan of a few great masterminds, or the random reflex of a blind, faceless mass. But the people in February had faces. No doubt the revolution felt and looked spontaneous even to many who participated in it. This sense is heightened by the fact that many who might have taken credit were in prison or exile. Yet to call it spontaneous is also to fail to do justice to the actions of individuals who knew exactly what they were doing. Someone chanted "down with autocracy" in the middle of a bread queue. Actual people went to fraternize with the soldiers, and actual soldiers, confronted with orders they couldn't obey, didn't obey them.

Alongside these dramatic moments of decision, though, is the more patient activity of revolutionaries, who had been organizing, debating and explaining in the workers' movement for the past decade. These individuals had helped, both practically and theoretical, people to recognize their own collective power and collective interests. They had called the demonstrations, on which, even when revolution looked remote, people (as the late John Berger put it) "begin to recognize that the function of their class need no longer be limited: that it, too, like the demonstrations itself, can create its own function." In this sense, the revolution was, as Trotsky put it:

the result of an independent and deep process of growth, not only of hatred for the rulers, but of critical understanding of their impotence, an accumulation of experience and creative consciousness which the revolutionary insurrection and its victory only completed.

Thus the people made the revolution--but the people itself had been formed by the experience of struggle and conflict; from isolated, powerless individuals into a powerful, self-conscious collective, capable of bringing down the regime, and replacing it with something else.

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3. The Results

Just as in 1905, the revolution gave birth to two democratic institutions. Unlike in 1905, the power of the state to limit the ambitions of either was broken. The Provisional Committee of the Duma, having failed to convince either the Tsar or his brother to share power, proceeded to form a Provisional Government, with the express intention of carrying out a transition to democracy. Even for many of the revolutionaries, this was the logical step--Russia had finally had its democratic revolution, it had finally caught up with the rest of Europe, and so it required a government to match them. But at almost exactly the same time, another center of power was forming. Harking back to the memory of 1905, the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies was formed, and in the days that followed further Soviets were established in other towns and cities. This created the situation Trotsky called dual power.

The Provisional Government found themselves in a peculiar position. As the historian Christopher Hill puts it, "the members of this government had not created the revolution: they merely occupied the vacant seats of authority." Nevertheless, in recognition of the depth of feeling, this government introduced a series of sweeping political reforms. In a letter of March 2, printed in the first issue of Izvestia, the newspaper of the Soviet, the government announced its activity would be guided by principles which included:

-- An immediate amnesty for political and religious prisoners (including terrorist acts and military revolts).

-- Freedom of speech, press and assembly, and the right to form unions and to strike; the abolition of all restrictions based on class, religion and nationality.

-- A constituent assembly elected on the basis of direct suffrage and secret ballot to determine the government and constitution of the country.

-- The replacement of the police with a people's militia, accountable to elected local government.

-- Civil rights for soldiers, including those who took part in the revolution.

Writing later that year, Lenin himself declared that Russia was now the most democratic state in Europe. Another exile, Alexandra Kollontai, was one of the first to return, and recalled her arrival:

On Russian soil stood a soldier. A bright red ribbon fluttered on his chest. "Your identity papers, please, citizenness!" "I have none. I am a political refugee." "Your name?" I identified myself. A young officer was summoned. Yes, my name was on the list of political refugees who were to be freely admitted into the country by order of the Workers' and Soldiers' Soviet. The young officer helped me out of the sleigh and kissed my hand, almost reverently. I was standing on the republican soil of liberated Russia! Could that be possible? It was one of the happiest hours of my whole life.

One reason for the depth of these reforms was that the Provisional Government depended, in large part, on the consent of the Soviet. Elections to the Executive Committee of the Soviet had become dominated by the Mensheviks and the SRs, with the Bolsheviks a clear minority. Dominated by a stageist approach, the Executive Committee had authorized and defended the Provisional Government. This, wrote Trotsky, was the great paradox of the February Revolution:

[T]he socialists, having so easily arrived at the head of the soviets, were worrying about only one question: Will the bourgeoisie, politically isolated, hated by the masses and hostile through and through to the revolution, consent to accept the power from our hands?

While these two institutions shared power, only one offered a way beyond the current state of affairs. This is first true in the case of the war. The war had undoubtedly been one of the catalysts of the revolution itself. It had been the incubator of the crisis in which the revolution exploded and at the same time it had united the ruling classes behind a common, external foe. It had formed the ruling class, as Lenin put it, into "one bloody clot," united in their support for the war effort and their defense of Russian imperial interests.

And with the Tsar gone, the bloody clot remained at the top of society, and continued to defend the status quo. While the provisional government was willing to grant all manner of freedoms, and to turn a blind eye to the mutiny behind the revolution, it could not countenance ending the war. On March 2, the new foreign minister Miliukov explained to French journalists: "The Russian revolution was made in order to remove the obstacles on Russia's road to victory." This fantasy stood in sharp contrast to the words of one soldier: "When we heard that the Tsar had abdicated, we all thought it meant that the war was over...The Tsar sent us to war, and what is the use of freedom if I have got to rot in the trenches again?"

While the Provisional Government supported continuing the war, the Executive Committee of the Soviet dithered. The Mensheviks met to take a position on the war, but did not announce what it was! Eventually, the Soviet reached an uneasy balance between support for peace alongside a "defensive" war in order to protect the newly free and democratic Russia. In their minds, the distinction between this defensive war and the imperialist war preferred by Miliukov et al must have been significant. To the soldiers at the front, it wouldn't have felt very different. Nonetheless, despite not being prepared to end the war, the Soviet did have the power to do so. One of its first acts, encouraged by the Bolsheviks, had been to assert its own authority over the army, and establish a military section, encouraging the army to elect its own delegates and representatives.

The Soviet thus offered a way out the war, even if at that point its leadership did not take it. It also, however, offered a way out of Russia's predicament in a broader sense. As an institution based on a deep form of democracy and rooted in the lives of workers and soldiers, it also offered the opportunity to deepen the revolution. While the provisional government could pass political reforms from above, the Soviet was capable of transforming social life in communities and workplaces. It was, at least potentially, a form capable of acting, as Marx argued the Paris Commune did:

as a lever for uprooting the economical foundation upon which rests the existence of classes, and therefore of class rule. With labor emancipated, every man becomes a working man, and productive labor ceases to be a class attribute.

That, at least, was the wager made by Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

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4. Rehearsals and Reenactments

For those of who believe that these were not just unfortunate events of the past but simultaneously beacons for the future, what does fidelity to February mean today? For one thing, it means being honest about it. In a way, those of us who also claim fidelity to October are better placed for this. In much of the mainstream commentary of this anniversary year there will be a fairly clear dichotomy--February good, October bad. February was a popular revolution, establishing democratic norms and a legitimate government, which October abolished.

Yet February, too, was a revolution. It had its fair share of violence and bloodshed on both sides. As Trotsky remarked, "the liberals had no other ground for calling the February revolution bloodless except that it gave them the power." And it was an uprising against a way of things which had been seen as legitimate and normal. It was, indeed, a democratic revolution, but no vote was taken, no consultation was held. It began in one city, and radiated out into the rest of the country. While much of the rest of the population greeted it happily, no one asked them. As Trotsky said:

The revolution was carried out upon the initiative and by the strength of one city, constituting approximately about 1/75th of the population of the country. You may say, if you will, that this most gigantic democratic act was achieved in a most undemocratic manner...This casts a sharp light on the question of the function of democratic forms in general, and in a revolutionary epoch in particular. Revolutions have always struck such blows at the judicial fetishism of the popular will, and the blows have been more ruthless the deeper, bolder and more democratic the revolutions.

This is perhaps overstating the case, but the point is sound. Any revolution, even the most democratic, involves a break with existing legal and constitutional norms, and involves the determined action of a minority. Revolutions have centers. They start somewhere, with some people, and they displace the fetishized form of democratic institutions in favor of deeper ones.

Writing from afar, Lenin observed that both the events of 1905 and the subsequent reaction had played a fundamental role in laying the ground for the events of February:

This eight-day revolution was "performed," if we may use a metaphorical expression, as though after a dozen major and minor rehearsals; the "actors" knew each other, their parts, their places and their setting in every detail, through and through, down to every more or less important shade of political trend and mode of action.

Perhaps, then, fidelity to February means being prepared for our own rehearsals, to identify the stages and arenas in which we can act out and prepare for our own dramas. If the actors in the February revolution were well rehearsed and prepared, the same cannot be said of us today. Indeed, we are often accused not of rehearsing, but re-enacting. Not preparing for our own performance, but merely restaging other people's, while the rest of the world moves on, leaving us looking more and more like anachronistic enthusiasts. If this criticism stings us, it is probably because there is much truth in it. We have often been more concerned with re-enactment than rehearsal, ready for last year's performance and not this year's.

At the same time, we should be aware how any rehearsal can quickly, and dramatically, become the real thing. And this is where the metaphor stretches to breaking point. We do not have the luxury of weeks of rehearsals before opening night. The real thing can come when we least expect it. And so, while we look for our own opportunities for rehearsals and preparations, this should not make us turn away from a sincere examination of the past. After all, what else is there for us to examine? What else is there to do but to confront the past honestly and directly while being at the same time urgently focused on the future?

First published at rs21.org.uk.

Categories: Political Action

Racism is horrifying

Socialist Worker - Thu, 03/09/2017 - 01:00

The movie Get Out turns the racial prejudices, whether cloaked or openly expressed, of so many horror movies on their head, writes Mike Ehrenreich.

Daniel Kaluuya stars Jordan Peele's new film Get Out

WHY DON'T more horror movies deal with racism?

Race, of course, is always lurking underneath the surface, especially from a white protagonist's perspective. In many horror films, the monster is some unconscious manifestation of racial anxiety or white guilt, like the prosperous, Reagan-voting family in Poltergeist, haunted by the vengeful spirits of Native victims of genocide.

Or worse, the monster is a thinly veiled stand-in for a racial menace, a monster that preys on virginal white teens, as in Eli Roth's Green Inferno, in which well-meaning liberal youths are menaced by Indigenous cannibals.

Only rarely does horror give us the perspective of people of color dealing with the racist terror that undergirds everyday life in the U.S. This is what led writer-director Jordan Peele to write horror thriller Get Out.

"I felt like race has not been dealt with in my favorite genre, which is horror," Peele said in an interview with NPR. "Every other human horror has its sort of classic horror movie to go along with it. So I kind of wanted to fill the gap in that piece of the genre of conversation."

Review: Movies

Get Out, written and directed by Jordan Peele, starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams and Lil Rel Howery.

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GET OUT takes us on a terrifying ride through the racist landscape of so-called "colorblind" America.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young Black photographer, is meeting his white girlfriend Rose's (Allison Williams) parents for this first time. The first half of the movie is consumed with the awkward, uncomfortable, and at times patronizing and offensive interactions Chris has to suffer through with Rose's family and friends.

Kaluuya excels at communicating Chris's exhausted and bewildered emotional state throughout the film--including his enormous patience and restraint in navigating the myriad insensitive comments, unsure if he is confronting veiled hostility or merely the tone-deaf racism of her liberal family.

It doesn't even occur to Rose that she should mention Chris is Black to her parents. After all, they're nice upper-class liberals who don't waste any opportunity to tell you they would have voted for Barack Obama a third time if they had the opportunity.

In an early scene, the gulf between white and Black experiences with the police is on display when Chris and Rose are pulled over, and Rose repeatedly defies the police officer, while Chris tries to quietly move the interaction along.

Throughout the first half of the movie, Get Out lays out the subtle ways modern white supremacy manifests itself, while imagery evocative of Jim Crow and slavery establishes a continuity with earlier eras of racism.

It quickly dawns on Chris that there is more going on with the Armitage family than just well-meaning clumsiness. Their Black servants, dressed as if they are hired help from the Jim Crow era, act in increasingly inhuman and erratic ways. Rose's brother, a perfectly on-point frat-boy stereotype, makes the veiled racism explicit, openly admiring Chris's "genetic make-up" and trying to provoke him into a fight.

As more and more evidence stacks up, it becomes clear that some sort of conspiracy is targeting Chris, just as his friend from home, Rod--played by Lil Rel Howery, who provides much needed comic relief--had warned him.

The film leads to a heart-stopping conclusion, as satisfying as it is draining.


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WE LEARN that the white people aren't merely brainwashing Black people to make them loyal servants, but are auctioning off their bodies for brain transplants. Not content with just the oppression and subordination of Black people, the Armitages are seeking complete control over their bodies.

It's a twist reminiscent of the first zombie stories that originated in Haiti--of people whose bodies are possessed and compelled to labor for malevolent sorcerers. Not coincidentally, these stories gained more popularity during the U.S. occupation of Haiti and the forced labor that followed.

The white people in Get Out covet the bodies of the Black people they encounter, obsessed with all sorts of racist, pseudoscientific ideas of their supposed physical superiority.

Just as chilling is an art dealer named Jim Hudson (Stephen Root), who is self-aware enough to know that these racist ideas are baseless, but cynical and monstrous enough to use them to his own benefit. "Why Black people?" asks Chris, and for Hudson, there is no special reason, other than the fact that he can get away with it.

The last act reaches a climactic and thoroughly cathartic finish, as the racists continuously underestimate the humanity of their victims and their capacity for resistance. Even with all the ideological and technological tools at their disposal, they could never stamp out the individuality and humanity of their victims.

The theater I was in broke into applause at least five times during the last stretch of the movie. We could barely catch our breath as the film cuts to the credits.

Get Out is not just an opportunity to inject racial issues into horror, but a loving tribute to the genre as a whole. Visual and musical allusions to Alfred Hitchcock and John Carpenter abound. The film is rich with all kinds of different references I can't wait to unpack on future viewings.

I couldn't recommend Get Out enough to left-wingers and horror geeks alike, especially if you can see it in the theater. Both as a stinging indictment of our racist society and as a thriller, it's a smashing success.

Categories: Political Action

Know Your Rights in Colorado

American Friends Service Committee - Wed, 03/08/2017 - 16:03
Jordan with KYR Pamplet

Jordan with KYR Pamplet

Photo: AFSC/

(Seguido en Español)

AFSC Colorado has a long history of accompanying, supporting, and learning from immigrant and refugee communities. We believe that all human beings must be treated with dignity and respect.

Categories: Political Action

Agitate, Educate, Organize: The Radical Printmaking of Justseeds Collective

Creative Commons - Wed, 03/08/2017 - 13:11
Agitate-Educate-Organize, Josh MacPhee

If you’ve ever attended a demonstration in North America, chances are you’ve seen the work of the 30 person artist collective Justseeds, a group of printmakers who have made an indelible impact on activism and art through their free, distributed graphics. The nearly twenty-year-old collective of printmakers work as agitators, educators, and artists to support grassroots struggles for peace and justice with an evocative style and large online catalog of free images that has helped them spread their message and aesthetic far past the streets and homes of activists around the world.

As a collective committed to social justice, they allow their members to work autonomously and from a diversity of perspectives and political positions – their vision that another world is possible depends upon it. In this interview with Creative Commons, cooperative co-founders Roger Peet and Josh MacPhee discuss solidarity, licensing, and their unique responsibility toward artists. All images in this piece are CC0.

With 30 members working in a variety of countries and languages, how do you deal with representation and diversity within your communities? How do you deal with various interests and engagement in your political work?

Resist, Jesus Barraza

Roger: Something that has defined Justseeds from its earliest stages as a cooperative has been the breadth of perspectives and political positions within the group. We all agree on a lot of things, but certainly not everything, and I think that we’ve thrived by maintaining a space for a variety of visions. We trust each other to represent our individual views responsibly. We rely on our members to articulate their own ideas and their particular passions, and those are more or less subsumed into the broader public presentation of Justseeds. In that way we’re a complex political object- we don’t spend a lot of time articulating group positions, and we rely to a certain degree on our audience’s interpretation of the work that we create to produce our public persona. There is no central program that we adhere to, but we rely on that aforementioned trust to maintain the political pole around which the cooperative turns. The only case in which we vet work as a group is when we’re distributing art by people who aren’t members of the cooperative.

We are Irreplaceable, Jordan Alam and Jess x Snow

Josh: Autonomy is one of the key organizational principles of Justseeds. Some of it is built into our model, but much of it is a default function of being so geographically spread out, and increasingly coming from different experiences and communities. We have have little centralized and coordinated representation of “Justseeds.” Our most visible collective presence is our website, which has an extremely neutral design, allowing the content to drive the experience of the viewer/user, and the content is entirely created by individual coop members, from the items they sell to their blog posts to their downloadable graphics. Collective projects also have a place on the site, but they tend to be polyphonic, and are rarely represented with a single artists image or work.
Each member is afforded the trust to work, create, and organize in their communities as they see fit. The hope and goal is that we all will benefit from each others work. The more we each invest in the issues that are important to us, the better off we all are, and the more collective knowledge to draw from for our own goal work.

What is the role of the political artist in 2017?

Roger: To fight, bluntly. To maintain and broaden the fight for a different society and for a different relationship with the world outside of human priorities. To contribute to the destruction of Capitalism and white supremacy in whatever manner possible. Most importantly, however, the role of the political artist is to persist. Many of the members of Justseeds have been making political art in a variety of contexts for more than twenty years, and although the contemporary situation is more fraught on a daily basis, it’s not new.

We have been working to support political, social and environmental struggles and confronting the bitter brute heart of this society for decades, and we will continue to do so- constantly in pursuit of new methods and new alliances by which to achieve a new world.

Josh: I’m not sure it’s a new role, but it seems much more clearly now to be the creation of culture which furthers and amplifies the work that communities and groups are doing on the ground in protests, actions, organizing, and campaigning. Our art and projects role out in the street, in community spaces, within the media, across social media, and in our private spaces. All are important venues for pushing forward messages and ideas.

We Won’t Go Back, Roger Peet

In addition, artists have the privilege to raise questions and make challenging images which might not be at the top of the agenda for a very goals-oriented campaign or organization. We need instrumentalized protest culture, but we also need work that challenges norms, makes audiences inquisitive, and threatens the status quo in its own right.

How do you deal with varying approaches to copyright within the organization? For example, much of Nicolas Lampert’s work is Creative Commons, but many other artists don’t adopt the CC label, even though their work is free to reproduce and share? What kinds of tools do you use to support artists who want to work within your collective and their differing approaches to collective work and action?

Roger: I think the reason that most people in Justseeds don’t apply a Creative Commons assignation to their work is that they’re unfamiliar with how it works, or that we as a group have a rather blasé attitude to how our work might populate the public domain. Personally I feel that a lot of the work that I make available on our free graphics page is geared towards a specific audience, and that I more or less trust that audience to use it as they and I might see fit. I realize that’s a pretty naïve attitude but I haven’t had any experiences that have pushed me away from that position. Yet. It would probably behoove us to develop an institutional policy whereby we assign all graphics with a Creative Commons license- maybe we’ll get around to that after this interview.

Josh: I honestly don’t think most of us have put a lot of thought into it. I know that when Favianna Rodriguez and I put out Reproduce and Revolt, a book of political graphics intended to be used by activists and organizers, we put the entire book under Creative Commons license. But for my own work, I never even think about it—instead I just almost always give permission when ever anyone asks. It’s not because I even have any criticism of CC, I’m just generally not that concerned about who uses my work.

Sanctuary Cities Now, Pete Railand

How are you working toward a culture of the commons, where artists and communities can share resources together? How does your work promote giving and gratitude?

Roger: Trying to make a living as an artist is a challenging prospect, and perhaps especially challenging as a political artist. There is a lot of pressure on artists to make their political work available for free, or to do new work in support of causes without expectation of remuneration. It can be a difficult line to walk, but I think that Justseeds artists have, in general, a pretty responsive and responsible attitude towards what they are and aren’t willing to do for free. Basically that could boil down to “If nobody’s making any money, then I will gladly contribute my work for free. If people are getting paid, however, then I the artist also need to be paid.” As political artists, all of the members of Justseeds make a lot of free work for movements and causes because we feel that we are a part of those movements, or that we feel compelled to offer our art to them as a gesture of solidarity or support. Much of our work is about ideas, and we want those ideas to spread- so a lot of our work is always going to be available for free.
Something that I like to do with my work is to create an edition of prints featuring an image that I offer for sale on the Justseeds site- and then also create a high-res downloadable graphic version of that image that I put on our free graphics page. What I hope happens in that situation is that people wanting to use my image for political work will download it and do what they need to with it, and that those who want a nice, handmade version of it for their workspace or as a gift will purchase the print.

Josh: I really wanted to build into our new website a solid, functional, searchable, and expandable free graphics page, because in my experience so many artists and organizers want to create downloadable graphics, and set up individual silo-ed sites for their projects—whether its a set of anti-war posters, or images related to the environment, or graphics about reproductive justice—and they promote the site for a week or a month or a year, and then the site slowly descends into the swamp of the internet, never to be visited again. One of the real benefits of Justseeds is that we already have a consistent flow of traffic of the very kinds of people that are looking for graphics to download, so we are a perfect aggregator. People have raised questions about how it might be perceived that we are using the free graphics as “bait” to bring people to the site to buy things, but I actually think it functions the other way around. People come to buy things, and then see how much cool stuff they can just download for free. Hopefully in the long run people will do enough of both to allow us to keep going, and to keep building a broader and deeper collection of free images.

No Bans on Stolen Land, Dylan Miner

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Categories: Political Action