Issue 259 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published January 2002 Copyright © Socialist Review

Letters

 

Courage of our convictions

I've just read the discussion between Luca Casarini and Alex Callinicos on war and state repression (December SR). There are a few points I'd like to focus on. First of all, the issue of leadership. In Italy we're seeing the rise of a big movement against capitalism. Even after 11 September we have been able to organise massive demonstrations against the war and for labour rights. The problem is that the desire for change will be tragically dispersed and lost if it is not directed at challenging the system. So at the moment it's not a question of showing the way to others, which is the logic of the masses and the vanguard. But at the same time we are facing the risk that any movement has to face--of being dispersed and ultimately losing its way.

Capitalism is learning something new every day about how to increase its psychological influence on people, so it's suicide to just trust spontaneity when your enemy is trying to divide you. Although political differences inside the movement are important and comrades can learn a lot from the experience of new activists, we must have the courage to do all we can to bring this knowledge into the movement. Without a democratic organisation there is no hope of going beyond massive demonstrations to create any lasting fightback.

In Italy one of the lessons that we learnt in the 1970s was that a movement which expresses conflict but does not reach its goals ends in tragic political disillusionment and destruction. It's evident that without conflict we cannot fight for another world. But conflict itself must never be separated from the reasons for the conflict and the strategy to carry the struggle forward. Big demonstrations are important for organising and focusing the anger against capitalism, but they are not enough. We have to identify who we are fighting against. The only way to gain rights or justice is to fight in our own cities or states where, if we are organised, we can still have some influence. We say, 'Think globally, act locally,' but the problem we've seen on recent demonstrations is that we tend to think globally and act vaguely. We all agree on the destructive nature of the G8, the WTO and the other institutions, but we won't go far until we can fight local institutions who make the decisions of those global monsters legitimate.

The experience of the Tute Bianche has been important in Italy, due to its innovative way of dealing with the mass media and its contact with civil society. It is important to pass from the concept of mass to the concept of multitudes, to realise the complexity of society today and its political movements, and to learn to stand together. If repression comes from your state then it is your state you have to deal with. The state is organised and we have to be organised. Mass demonstrations and organisations are making a difference but risk going down into nothing unless we can build a real challenge and an alternative to the capitalist state.
Angelo Simioli
Rome

  • The discussion between Luca Casarini and Alex Callinicos was fascinating both for the wide areas where Luca and Alex agreed as well as where they disagreed. As Luca points out, however, Genoa raised the issue of how the movement was to develop, and the question has been sharpened by the 'war on terrorism'. We are now fighting not only the giant corporations and the global institutions of capital but also their armed wing.

    Here I think Luca's discussion about leadership is vitally important. We face a foe prepared to take on all comers. Luca's assertion that we need to develop a 'network made up of many temporary centres' disturbs me. Ultimately our aim must be to dismantle the system that lies in our path and do so against the threat of massive force. For this to be successful we need to build a mass movement capable of acting together and striking at where capitalism is vulnerable.

    This is why it is so important to re-examine Marx's concept of working class self emancipation. This means that organisations which aim to challenge capitalism must be part of a living movement and must constantly learn from it. It is vital that perspectives can be argued out freely but also, when it counts, the correct perspective as to how to defeat the enemy is won.

    A network of temporary centres cannot aim to reconcile differences of perspective and strategy within the movement. We need to build revolutionary parties which can play a central role in forging a concerted struggle for millions of workers.
    Rob Ferguson
    South London


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    RACISM:THE SOFT UNDERBELLY OF AMERICA

    Shortly after the Guardian published my essay on why blacks should fight against the war, someone e-mailed me.'Dear Swine,' he politely began, 'you will be exterminated.' The message was anonymously signed, 'An American.' The fact that the man's full name and address appeared in the e-mail header tells us two things about this war--namely that it is founded on both ignorance and racism. To stop the war we will need to counter both. I would like to suggest how.

    The first main myth about the American peace movement is that there is one. Fahd, a former student of mine in New York City (and a socialist of Pakistani descent), wrote to me saying, 'Since 11 September public dissent has been almost nil.' The absence of an American opposition is so acute that people think it is anti-American to be anti-war. Chelsea Clinton went so far as to say that, because of the anti-war sentiment in England, she no longer wants to have non-Americans as friends--no doubt disappointing most readers of Socialist Review. An American Guardian reader even told me to 'go back to Africa'. As it happens, I do come from the Third World--a place where, if you question the government, you could lose your job, get bomb threats and be arrested without charge--a place called Nashville, Tennessee.

    Some of the victims' relatives oppose the war, and demonstrations in San Francisco and Washington have drawn thousands. A peace movement can be built, but we need to know where to start and how to do it.

    The second main myth about the war on terror is that it is one. In fact, Americans care little about terrorism when the victims are black and the terrorists white.

    Only three years ago a statue honouring the founder of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest, was erected in Nashville. There is even a state park named after him. In the 1960s J Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI and an avowed white supremacist, fashioned a secret programme called Cointelpro to 'neutralise' black leaders. His targets were Martin Luther King (a Communist taking orders from Beijing, apparently), Malcolm X (especially after his move towards socialism), and the Marxist-Leninist Black Panther Party. Hoover spent $100 million to accomplish this task, using methods ranging from frameups to assassination. Yet the FBI headquarters are named after him.

    The greatest act of domestic terrorism before 11 September took place in Oklahoma, but not in 1995--in 1921. Jealous over the economic success of local blacks, whites in Tulsa, Oklahoma, razed 'Black Wall Street' to the ground, bombarding it by air and killing hundreds, perhaps thousands.

    Similarly, in 1985 police in Philadelphia dropped a bomb on a house belonging to some local black political activists. Six adults and five children who lived in the house died. Some 60 neighbourhood buildings went up in flames, and hundreds lost their homes. The police and fire commissioners were held responsible and fined $11. When the victims of terror are black there are no cries for retaliation, no calls for vengeance, only the silence of smouldering ashes.

    So why, then, is the war being fought? Wiser heads than mine talk of the Caspian Sea and oil. Maybe they're right. But the men prosecuting this war are not wise--their reasons may be simpler. They like to bomb brown people.

    My suggestion for how we can begin to turn the war around is simple, and involves both individuals and organisations. Each of you as an individual can find your favorite American newspaper--the New York Times, USA Today, the Tennessean--and write a letter to the editor, saying, 'We will take your war on terror seriously when you crack down on the KKK, when you jail policemen who murder innocent blacks, when you give reparations to the terror victims of slavery and segregation.' Americans will then be forced to defend their domestic policies, whereas right now they feel no need to justify anything. America with one arm tied behind its back would at least have only one arm free with which to bludgeon the rest of the world. If the militarists now claim the high ground, then let us drive them off it with lightning.

    Organisations need to make contacts at local and national level with African-Americans. The Socialist Alliance should have high profile meetings with Louis Farrakhan, the head of the Nation of Islam, Jesse Jackson, and Congresswomen Barbara Lee and Cynthia McKinney. Discussions should focus on the war, Cointelpro, and reparations for slavery and segregation. Contacts should also be made with hip-hop artists and magazines like the Source, and with the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a consortium of 200 black newspapers. If groups here in Britain can work to remind African-Americans that we have been victims of 200 years of terror, for which Uncle Sam has not shed a tear, then we can build an anti-war movement 40 million strong.

    Racism, to borrow a phrase from Churchill, is the soft underbelly of America. It cannot be defended, and there are millions who are willing to assail it there if they are roused to action. African-Americans are willing to fight against terror--the terror of the KKK, the police and the FBI. We are willing to combat religious fundamentalists and their unelected leaders--like George Bush. While most African-Americans now support the bombing, it is still significant that a black woman was the sole member of Congress to vote against Bush on the war.

    Bush says that we are either with him or against him. African-Americans, if prompted, will agree. We are against him.
    Jonathan Farley

    Dr Jonathan Farley is a Distinguished Scholar at Oxford University and a Green Party candidate for the US congress (farley@maths.ox.ac.uk)


    STREETWISE

    The student anti-war movement continues to build here. On 10 and 11 November the Berkeley Stop the War Coalition (BSTWC) hosted the California Schools Against the War(C-SAW) conference, which was one of three major regional anti-war conferences that weekend. The Northeast and Midwest regional conferences each drew about 200 to 300 student activists. Berkeley's conference drew about 1,000 activists for a weekend of discussions workshops and planning.

    BSTWC has continued to hold teach-ins and large demonstrations. We demonstrated, for the second time, outside the offices of Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein when she proposed her racist ban on international students who were nationals of the seven countries listed by the State Department as 'terrorist-sponsoring state[s]'. She withdrew this provision after the demonstration drew national and international media coverage. Many of us in BSTWC also participated in the Students for Justice in Palestine demonstrations that were held throughout the US on 29 November, International Palestinian Solidarity Day. These actions were endorsed by all of C-SAW, as was a statement of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for human rights.

    Most recently the BSTWC staged a day of actions against the war on 10 December in recognition of Human Rights Day. This was part of solidarity demonstrations that were going on throughout the US. This United Day of Action was agreed upon by the representatives of the 60 colleges and universities that attended the C-SAW conference in November. Actions focused upon the grave humanitarian crisis that still looms over the innocent in Afghanistan, the horrendous human rights abuses of the US's new ally, the Northern Alliance, and the continuing horrors of US bombing.

    Student anti-war activists are presently planning many larger national mobilisations. BSTWC voted to mobilise for the demonstrations against the World Economic Forum in New York. Working with student anti-war and anti-capitalist activists at Columbia and other New York area schools, we are organising a national anti-war and anti-capitalist conference to be held the weekend of the WEF meeting, 31 January to 5 February. We are planning activist workshops and training, and planning participation in the WEF demonstrations. Along with the anti-capitalist activists, we see the importance of staying on the streets.
    Hoang Gia Phan
    Berkeley


    A CASUAL ATTITUDE TO WORKERS' RIGHTS

    We would not be human if we were not disappointed that James Martell and Euromin had been found not guilty of Simon Jones's manslaughter. They have, however, been found guilty of serious crimes that show their criminal negligence led directly to Simon's death.

    In passing guilty verdicts on charges relating to Euromin's duty of care towards its workers, the judge described Euromin and Mr Martell's attitude to safety as 'absolutely deplorable' and giving 'wholly insufficient thought and attention' to safety. The law's refusal to punish these crimes seriously is just one more indication of how little importance our lawmakers give to casual workers' health, safety and right to life. We would like to restate what this campaign has been all about--ensuring that the circumstances surrounding Simon's death were put in front of a jury and that the truth about casualisation was exposed. We have achieved this.

    We are, however, painfully aware that in 21st century Britain the fight for the most basic of workers' rights--the right not to be killed or injured at work--is still being fought. The Crown Prosecution Service have put obstacles and obstructions in the path of this prosecution at every turn. The Health and Safety Executive have consistently shown themselves to be either unwilling or unable to take the necessary action against employers to ensure the safety of workers. Without direct action James Martell and Euromin would never have faced prosecution in the High Court for Simon's death. This prosecution only took place because Simon's family and friends broke the law to ensure that it was. As long as this government and its agencies refuse to take action against companies that profit from casualisation at the expense of their workers' lives we will continue, where necessary, to break the law so that justice will prevail.
    Simon Jones Memorial Campaign
    Brighton


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