Contributions to revolutionary theory from the Mexican highlands: A review of ‘Lucio Cabañas y la guerra de los pobres’ (book review)

March 26th, 2019


Lucio Cabañas y la guerra de los pobres.
Silva Nogales, Jacobo. 2015.
Mexico City: Deriva Negra and Cooperativa Rizoma. 207 pages.
Cooperativa Rizoma:
Deriva Negra:

Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — Many biographies have been written on Lucio Cabañas. This one’s value derives from how it highlights his contributions to revolutionary theory. In the first chapter we see how he was in teacher training in the early 1960s in the state of Guerrero, home to Acapulco but also one of Mexico’s most violent and y despotic. When he left school he was assigned to a school in the rural county of Atoyac where he got involved in the small revolutionary movements of the time, the Teacher’s Revolutionary Movement (MRM), the Mexican Communist Party, and a group that the latter directed, the Independent Farmer’s Confederation (CCI).

That same year he graduated, Cabañas organized the community to force a local sawmill to fulfil its promises to bring into the town the drinking water, electricity, telephony, and roads in exchange for the business permit. After the success of that campaign and another inside the school to resist imposition of uniforms, he had gained local recognition. He soon called on the community to form the Association of Farmers, Small Business People, and Parents (UCPCPF) which “took up the banner of all possible demands, not only those of the school children’s parents”.

With this grouping the author underlines how from his origins, Cabañas held an outlook distinct from those prevalent in his days: la Association was not an exclusively farmer or proletarian organization, but rather one of the entire oppressed and exploited population. In each section he directs our attention to this aspect, coming to name it as Lucio’s poorism.

This poorism led the movement to winning statewide and national notoriety, as well as gain and hold a free territory stretching through three counties that lasted more than half a decade.

During that time Cabañas fought for a socialism different from the “bureaucratic” model, one of a single class, and even less so of a socialism directed by a single party. This is why Silva Nogales gives recognition as the originator of a variety of socialist thought distinct from Leninism, Maoism, Trotskyism, and so on, assigning him a place hard by Guevarism thanks to its anathema to centralism. The book offers abundant examples, in fact from nearly every crossroad, of how Cabañas called the ranks together in meeting to take the necessary decisions.

The book has only two chapters, a first one having a more bibliographic style, and a second that starts out in the same pattern. That second chapter gradually passes into a more academic mode that semantically and systematically deconstructs the slogans and actions of the Party of the Poor (PDLP) in accordance with the declared intent to prove that poorism constituted a novel form of insurrectionist organization and revolutionary thought.

It is more evident that Cabañas knew of and took inspiration from the commune in the neighbouring state of Morelos in 1914, of when the twin armies of the Convention, the Northern Division (DN) led by Francisco “Pancho” Villa and the Liberation Army of the South (ELS) led by Emiliano Zapata ruled Mexico City for more than a year. Yet unlike that year, when the Workers of the World (COM) opposed the peasant army, Cabañas did not limit himself to one side or the other of the worker-peasant duality, but rather originated a manner of operation that brought both in as natural allies against the wealthy. Although the book does not mention it, it is beyond doubt that the names of the trilogy of immensely popular movies by Pedro Infante — We the Poor, You the Rich, and Pepe the Bull — helped to orient the masses in favour of such cosmovision.

What the author does consistently in that second chapter is to compile the experiences of the Party of the Poor and its growing influence in the state that won contacts throughout the country, giving evidence of how every movement, organization and military tactic was conceived and carried out in accordance with a democratic structure, setting an example of how a future, just society may be.

In sum, this reader affirms that Silva Nogales builds a consistent, convincing argument that Cabañas’s poorism represents an important contribution, and possibly in certain aspects original, to socialist thought on how to motivate and organize capitalism’s victims to march together in the same direction.

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, a time in which they have held a liberated territory extending through several counties and in which they are carrying out an experiment in building a society beyond capitalism, this article is submitted in the hopes of its obtaining the greatest possible number of readers.

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Chuck Collins

March 26th, 2019


Chuck Collins is director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, where he coedits

He is the author of a number of books including Born on Third Base.

Can you explain what your work involves?

My main work at the Institute for Policy Studies is to support social movements that are working to reverse the extreme inequalities of income, wealth and opportunity. This includes working with activist partners, co-editing the web site, and coauthoring reports on the racial wealth divide, top heavy philanthropy, the disruptive impact of luxury real estate, and the problem of hidden wealth and extreme inequality.

What was the motivation behind your book Born on Third Base and what is it focused on?

Born on Third Base is really about demystifying advantage, trying to explain the workings of the multi-generational nature of inequality. I grew up in the richest 1 percent and share my own experience alongside what I’ve learned about the narratives that hold inequality in place. I’ve got a pretty good list of the 101-plus ways that intergenerational advantage works.

My experience campaigning around tax fairness and addressing poverty has reinforced why this work is important. There is, for example, a fair amount of amnesia when it comes to people remembering how they got to where they are. White people forget about government funded programs that helped build white wealth after World War Two – and thwarted wealth-building by people of color. Business owners forget about family help that may have been essential to their own success narrative.

In Born on Third Base I lift up the stories of people who society would view as wealthy and successful – and amplify the part of their stories where they disclose the family and government help that made their situation possible. I call these the “I Didn’t Do It Alone” stories. It is an attempt to replace the destructive myth with a more accurate narrative of wealth-creation.

What in your view is the dominant narrative around poverty and poorer people in America? How does it differ from the narrative that surrounds the rich?

The dominant narrative about poverty is the mirror image of the dominant narrative justifying great wealth. If I were to summarize it on a bumper sticker it would be, “People are (economically) where they deserve to be.” In other words, people possess wealth because they work hard, take risks, have greater creativity and intelligence – they have greater virtues such as grit, etc. And the shadow corollary to that story: people are poor because of individual deficiencies.

Of course, there are individual differences in effort, skills, etc. And these might account for differentials in rewards. But such relatively minor differences should not be deployed to explain deep and systemic inequalities. The narrative of individual “deservedness” has the effect of taking big systemic causes and individualizing them or personalizing them. The implication is, therefore, to fix poverty we must “fix the individual” or fix the “delivery mechanism” of access to education, services.

Why do these narratives exist?

Without these simplistic narratives, we would have to address the underlying systemic roots of inequality, including historical barriers to ownership, wealth, land. We would have to face the legacy of systemic white supremacy and colonialization on wealth building – and how the past shows up in the wealth accounting of the present. We would have to understand the deep inequality of opportunity and the legacy of trauma and deprivation that weighs down some people more than other.

These narratives serve the interests of powerful elites who are interested in individualizing the causes of structural inequality.

Sometimes I worry that the focus on poverty sometimes keeps the frame of vision and conversation focused on fixing poverty. Whereas a unified narrative of wealth and poverty that explains systems of institutional oppression and wealth extraction leads to a very different set of solutions and interventions.

How do these narratives impact on our understanding of poverty and poorer people? 

These narratives confuse people about the nature of poverty and people who are impoverished. A narrative framework is a mental short-cut that allows us to quickly and simplistically explain the world –without having to learn individual stories or face larger systemic challenges. They are sometimes necessary as we go through our days, but can be destructive.

The narratives of deservedness enable the brains of the non-poor to categorize or ignore other people’s experience of material deprivation and social isolation that foster trauma, loss and illness. We do need to listen to one another’s stories –which requires attention, openness, even vulnerability.

Project Twist for more

25 years ago: Clinton on the defensive over Whitewater

March 26th, 2019

Bill Clinton in 1994

On March 7, 1994, US President Bill Clinton was forced to open a press conference with the declaration that his wife, Hillary Clinton, was “not a criminal,” following a widening investigation, begun in January, into allegations about the Whitewater real estate investment in which the Clintons had lost money.

The same week, ten top aides in the Clinton administration were subpoenaed. White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum, who submitted the original request for a special prosecutor in the Whitewater case to Attorney General Janet Reno, resigned. Nussbaum was replaced by Lloyd Cutler—a millionaire corporate lawyer and former White House counsel under Jimmy Carter—shortly after. “Within hours after Nussbaum stepped down, White House officials had begun to use the phrase ‘a Lloyd Cutler model’ to describe the ideal successor. But it became evident only late today that the description was intended as more than a metaphor,” the New York Times noted on March 8, 1994.

The media speculated openly on whether or not the Whitewater scandal would lead to the impeachment of a sitting president, with the US evidently facing a political crisis not seen since Watergate.

The campaign against the Clintons was a byproduct of right-wing hostility over their proposed health care “reform,” tepid and conservative as it was, emanating from the Republican Party but embraced by sections of the “liberal” media, particularly the New York Times. While Whitewater itself proved a dry well, the independent counsel investigation into the Clintons ultimately triggered a political firestorm over Bill Clinton’s sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, leading to his impeachment in December 1998.

The International Workers Bulletin, a US forerunner of the World Socialist Web Site, wrote at the time: “Whitewater is only the latest in two decades of political scandals which have been used to manipulate governments, dictate their policies or drive or force them from power. Each time the result is a further shift to the right in the whole framework of American politics …

“Whether Clinton survives or not, the policies of the administration will be reshaped along the lines of big business … In the course of this process, the democratic forms in America have more and more eroded.”

World Socialist Web Site for more

Greenwald: White House spread false story about Venezuela burning aid trucks to win support for war

March 25th, 2019


“Hundreds of protesters are gathering in Washington DC to demand “No coup! No war! No sanctions!” on Venezuela, and show support for Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro against regime change efforts.
“A large sea of demonstrators met at Lafayette Park for a march on Washington Saturday afternoon to show opposition to the Trump administration’s effort to overthrow Maduro and replace him with opposition figure Juan Guaidó, who has declared himself president with the support of the US, Canada, many European nations and other leaders.”
PHOTO/TEXT/© Twitter / Anya Parampil/RT TV

An investigation by The New York Times has found that several trucks carrying so-called humanitarian aid that were set ablaze during a showdown at the Colombia-Venezuela border last month were not caused by President Nicolás Maduro’s forces, as was widely reported at the time by the media and Trump administration officials. We speak with Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of The Intercept. His latest piece is “NYT’s Exposé on the Lies About Burning Aid Trucks in Venezuela Shows How U.S. Government and Media Spread Pro-War Propaganda.”

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, I also want to talk to you about Venezuela. An investigation by The New York Times found several trucks carrying so-called humanitarian aid that were set ablaze during a showdown at the Colombia-Venezuela border last month were not caused by President Nicolás Maduro’s forces, as was widely reported at the time by both media and Trump administration officials. This is Vice President Mike Pence.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Maduro’s loyalists turned on their own people. As the world watched, they set fire to trucks loaded with food and medicine desperately needed by the Venezuelan people.

AMY GOODMAN: Independent journalist Max Blumenthal first raised questions about what happened, in a piece on February 24th that was headlined “Burning Aid: An Interventionist Deception on Colombia-Venezuela Bridge?”

Glenn, your latest piece is headlined “NYT’s Exposé on the Lies About Burning Aid Trucks in Venezuela Shows How U.S. Government and Media Spread Pro-War Propaganda.” Talk about the latest in Venezuela and how this has fueled that.

GLENN GREENWALD: Every time the U.S. wants to start a new war, it does it the same way, which is, it invents some really inflammatory, emotionally wrenching lie that gets people to hate the government they want to topple so much that they set their rationality aside and support the war. So, they claimed North Korea—or, North Vietnam attacked U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, which was a lie to start the Vietnam War. They claimed that Saddam had been ripping babies out of incubators in Kuwait, to start the Gulf War, which was a lie. They claimed weapons of mass destruction, which was a lie, to start the Iraq War.

And now you have Marco Rubio and John Bolton and Elliott Abrams, the crew, the neocon crew, who are experts at lying to start wars, going around telling lies about what the Maduro government is doing. And regardless of what you think about the Maduro government or President Maduro himself, you should be highly angry when your own government, with the help of its media, lies to you in order to start a war.

And this incident on February 23rd was incredibly important because that imagery of burning humanitarian trucks was very powerful. And the claim that it was Maduro’s forces that did it came not just from Marco Rubio, who cited anti-Maduro media outlets with no evidence. CNN—CNN—lied to the world. They claimed that their own journalists witnessed with their own eyes Maduro’s forces throwing incendiary devices that set those trucks on fire.

Right away, independent journalists, including Max Blumenthal, as well as Dan Cohen, who works at RT, looked at and studied—they were in Venezuela—the available footage and said that it was clear that it was the anti-Maduro protesters who set those trucks on fire. But those people were ignored by the corporate media in the United States, which only paid attention to the people who were lying on behalf of the U.S. government, only aired the lies that it was the Maduro forces who did it. And then, suddenly, The New York Times comes out with a good exposé that proves that it was a lie. They didn’t bother to credit any of the independent journalists who did it two weeks ago using much of the same evidence, but they did show that it was a lie.

And since then, Marco Rubio has got caught in two other lies. He claimed that babies were dying in hospitals, and then The Wall Street Journal reporter in Venezuela went to that hospital and said no babies had died. And also he claimed that a dam, that he called the German Dam, had collapsed because of the energy shortages, when, in reality, there was no dam that collapsed. The person who reported it was named Germán Dam, and Marco Rubio confused that and thought that it was a dam that had collapsed.

So he’s running around Venezuela telling all kinds of lies, acting like a buffoon and a clown, with John Bolton and Elliott Abrams in tow, in order to try and start a new war in Venezuela. And as usual, the corporate media—unlike Democracy Now!, which has put Venezuelan officials on to give the other side of the story, the corporate media in the U.S. have completely excluded any questioning or dissent of any of these storylines and have allowed these lies to go unchallenged, and, in the case of CNN, have often vouched for the lies themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I wanted to go to this issue that you just raised, local reporting emerging that ongoing power outage has killed 17 people in hospitals, where backup generators failed; President Maduro saying last week anti-government saboteurs backed by the U.S. took the nation’s main hydroelectric power station at the Guri Dam offline; meanwhile, The New York Times reporting the sanctions have affected Venezuela’s ability to import and produce the fuel required by the thermal power plants, that could have backed up the Guri plant once it failed. If you could respond to all this, and especially President Maduro’s accusation that the power outage, which has plunged the country into darkness, though the electricity is coming back now, was as a result of a plot backed by the United States?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, one really interesting part of that New York Times exposé that got very little attention, was buried within, I think, the 12th or 13th paragraph, was an acknowledgment that the reason for the power outages, at least in large part, were the sanctions that the U.S. has imposed on Venezuela, that has made it impossible for Venezuela to get the energy that it needs to provide to its people. And so, as usual, the sanctions regime that’s being done in the name of helping the Venezuelan people is one of the biggest factors in their suffering deprivation and misery.

Democracy Now for more

Hindu nationalists are known for Islamophobia. But Adityanath’s religious order shares a history with Islam

March 25th, 2019



Some Hindu nationalists in India are noted for their admiration for Nazism, along with their hatred for Muslims that can at times reach genocidal proportions.

Recently, sections of Hindu nationalists have found another hero in the form of President Donald Trump, whose racist and bigoted rhetoric has resonated with many of them.

Trump’s travel ban on citizens from five Muslim-majority countries entering the US was enthusiastically supported by the Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, who called for similar measures to tackle terrorism in India.

Adityanath is the spiritual leader of the Nath community of Gorakhpur, a city in north east of Uttar Pradesh, which represents the ascetic Saiva sectarian movement (sampradaya) dating back to the 13th century.

Traditionally, however, the Nath Yogi movement has resisted the application of fixed religious identities of Hindu or Muslim, and the tradition “blurred the borders in a dialogical process where they combined elements from both traditions,” as noted by social anthropologist Véronique Bouillier.

In fact, the collection of vernacular poetry attributed to Guru Gorakhnath, the founder of the movement, contains several multi-religious references resisting modern religious categorisation.

A well-known passage, as pointed out by the American scholar Marrewa Karwoski, states:

The Hindu meditates in the temple,
the Muslim in the Mosque.
The Yogi meditates on the supreme goal,
where there is neither temple nor mosque.

The Nath sampradaya has a long ecumenical history with Islam. The greatest Sufi poet of Sindh, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, expressed unconditional love and admiration for the Nath Yogis in his poetry.

Looking at the Nath Yogi tradition from the Sufi perspective of Shah Abdul Latif’s poetry puts it in contrasts with the modernist Hindutva rhetoric of Adityanath.

Yogis and Sufism

The holiest site of the Nath Yogi tradition is located in Hinglaj in Balochistan. The traditional route of the annual pilgrimage on foot to Balochistan is the settlement of Mount Ganjo, a hill in District Hyderabad.

It is said that Shah Abdul Latif had spent around three years in the company of the wandering ascetics. His travels with the Yogis left a deep impression on him and the theme of Yogis as perfect practitioners of spiritual life feature prominently in his Risalo, a large collection of Sindhi lyrical poetry considered to be the greatest classic of Sindhi literature.

A translation of the Risalo was published in English this year by the British scholar Christopher Shackle and I have used his translations in this article.

Dawn for more

John Smith on imperialism (part 1)

March 25th, 2019


Dispossessed workers, farmers, small producers still await their day of liberation

This is part one of a four-part interview of John Smith by Farooque Chowdhury. Click here to see all parts of the interview, which will be published in next several days. The interview begins by addressing how imperialism is defined. —Eds

Today, it is impossible to ignore the question of imperialism in any discussion concerning people as imperialism is distorting and destroying all aspects and areas of life. Ignoring the question of imperialism is synonymous to betrayal of people’s cause. John Smith, former oil rig worker, bus driver, telecommunications engineer, longtime activist in the anti-war and Latin American solidarity movements, and author of Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis (Monthly Review Press, January 2016), discusses the question of imperialism in the following interview taken by Farooque Chowdhury during July 2018-February 2019.

The analyses, interpretations and observations made, the narratives presented, the terms used, and the way persons, politics, ideologies and trends characterized in the interview are completely of John Smith, and, those don’t always correspond to the interviewer’s opinion, interpretation, etc.

How do you define imperialism?

John Smith:
 The most succinct and concrete definition of imperialism that I can come up with is the subjugation of the entire world to the interests of the capitalist ruling classes of a handful of oppressor nations. This contains both the economic and political dimensions of imperialism—‘subjugation’ denotes the political subjection of governments, states and peoples to imperialist rule, while ‘interests of the capitalist ruling classes’ refers to their economic interests, essentially their appropriation of the lion’s share of the surplus value generated by the workers and farmers of the world, not just by those resident in their own countries. The summary definition also speaks of the ‘ruling classes of a handful of oppressor nations’, rejecting the influential view (which exists in many variants and whose most prominent exponents are Leslie Sklair and William Robinson) that these ruling classes have merged into a ‘transnational capitalist class’, and it therefore implies that the interests of these ruling classes may not coincide, that inter-imperialist rivalries persist. Furthermore, the definition advanced above can be developed to take account of ‘sub-imperialism’, that is, when the capitalist rulers of a subject nation in turn subject other, even weaker, nations and peoples to their political and economic domination.

What is/are the difference/s between the definition you are using and other definitions?

The definition provided above is concrete in that it applies to now, as opposed to a generic definition applicable to all manifestations of imperialism throughout the ages. In the above definition, ‘imperialism’ is an analytical category that can be developed into a theoretical concept. In contrast, trans-historical, generic definitions of imperialism can only ever be descriptive, highlighting superficial features which different manifestations of imperialism in different periods of human history appear to have in common. As Lenin pointed out in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, “Colonial policy and imperialism existed before the latest stage of capitalism, and even before capitalism. Rome, founded on slavery, pursued a colonial policy and practiced imperialism. But ‘general’ disquisitions on imperialism, which ignore, or put into the background, the fundamental difference between socio-economic formations, inevitably turn into the most vapid banality.” The essence of contemporary imperialism is to be found in the contradictory social relations specific to capitalism, not in “human nature “or any other ahistorical abstraction.

That’s not to say that generic uses of the term are useless, or that the noun “imperialism” (and even more so the adjective “imperialist”) cannot be used to describe diverse forms of chauvinistic behavior and mentality—but unless we are conscious of the difference between imperialism as a descriptive term and as an analytical category, we will inevitably fall into the ‘vapid banality’ that Lenin warns against.

Monthly Review Online for more

Weekend Edition

March 22nd, 2019

Ardern’s sincere words and actions

March 22nd, 2019


New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses and answers reporters’ questions in the wake of the massacre of 50 Muslims, with equal number of people inured in the city of Christchurch. VIDEO/CBC News/Youtube
“Ms Ardern (pictured with a mosque-goer) visited the Wellington based mosque to pay her respects and comfort those affected by the tragedy – New Zealand’s worst ever mass shooting” PHOTO/Daily Mail

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern meets members of the Muslim community / PHOTO/BORIS JANCIC/AAP/PA Images/Female First

white nationalist/terrorist

an Australian living in New Zealand went on a killing spree, killing 50

Brenton Harrison Tarrant is a white nationalist/extremist/terrorist

17-minute video of the 36-minute attack Tarrant also live-streamed

Friday the 15th of March 2019 became a black day for New Zealand


power of words

words can be used as weapons to hurt, to harm, and to kill

words can also be used as balm to soothe, to heal, and to console

words can be used to mislead, to incite, and to violate

words can also be used to guide, to calm, and to respect

words exude love when uttered at the right time and with deep sincerity

there are grim situations that crop up suddenly

those are times when true leadership must rise above the mundane

rare are leaders with guts, and common sense who exercise just logic

and who also display empathy while facing the grave crisis at hand


Jacinda Ardern

Ardern is that rare leader who showed her mettle in facing local terrorism

true progressive giant among communal, racist, sexist/homophobic pygmies

with courage and conviction she criticized a white nationalist explicitly

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said:

He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist.

“But he will, when I speak, be nameless.”

Ardern clearly demonstrated her greatness when she declared:

“That quiet Friday afternoon has become our darkest of days. 

But for the families, it was more than that. It was the day that the simple act of prayer – of practising their Muslim faith and religion – led to the loss of their loved ones lives.

Those loved ones, were brothers, daughters, fathers and children.

They were New Zealanders. They are us. 

And because they are us, we, as a nation, we mourn them.”


they are us

“they are us”

three simple words of English

neither difficult to pronounce nor hard to remember

but very tough words to utter for politicians who thrive on divisiveness

as they presume sincerity, humanitarian outlook, and freedom from hate,

Arden has it all

she is the yardstick for judging an honest politician

even though an agnostic, Ardern covered her head when she met Muslims

it was her way of comforting them; making them feel she was one of them

Ardern’s rejection of Tarrant was wholehearted and unequivocal

You may have chosen us – we utterly reject and condemn you.

Ardern also took swift action to announce “every semi-automatic weapon…”

the Australian terrorist “…used in the terrorist attack … will be banned.”

a true first, indeed …


B. R. Gowani can be reached at

Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib show Muslim women don’t need saving

March 22nd, 2019


US congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib (wearing glasses were sworn into office in January PHOTO/Reuters

The two US congresswomen are shattering all kinds of damaging stereotypes about Muslim women.

The image of a Muslim woman conjures up stereotypes of meek, subjugated women in need of saving. The arrival of Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib to the American political scene, however, has exposed the fallacy of these gender stereotypes.

Their brash, fearless, and irreverent responses to the heightened scrutiny of their every word show how these two Muslim women are poking American patriarchy in the eye.

Not only are Omar and Tlaib shattering the image of the powerless Muslim woman in distress, but they are breaking taboos that have long suppressed all women in the United States.

Tlaib curses like a sailor while in the same breath declaring her intent to impeach a notoriously misogynistic US president. Omar unabashedly questions powerful white male elites like Elliot Abrams at Foreign Relations Committee hearings. And both women are unafraid to defend the human rights of Palestinians, the most vilified people in US media, contrary to the advice of their senior colleagues.

As a result, our predominantly white patriarchal political elite are having a meltdown.

Refusing to be instrumentalised by superficial notions of diversity that exoticise and infantilise minority women, Tlaib and Omar vocally challenge the power structure.

A case in point is Tlaib’s reference to President Donald Trump as a m********* at a bar after her confirmation. Her words triggered tens of media stories despite more pressing issues like a government shutdown. The disproportionate attention evinced the depth of our society’s infantilisation of Muslim women. Male politicians curse and they are just engaging in “locker room talk“. But when women curse, they are dishonourable – a tripe framing used to silence women around the world.

Indeed, President Trump reprimanded Tlaib by calling her comments disgraceful and lamenting “she dishonoured herself, and I think she dishonoured her family using language like that…I thought it was highly disrespectful to the United States of America”.

These patronising words came from the same man who was caught on tape stating he grabbed women by their genitals and forcibly kissed them and who has called women fat, bimbos, and rated them on the size of their breasts.

That Trump was still elected president notwithstanding such lewd behaviour, not to mention his use of profanity on a regular basis, is further proof of misogynistic double standards infecting our political system.

Another case in point is Ilhan Omar’s reference to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in a tweet. Along with Tlaib, Omar is a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign which emulates the South African anti-apartheid movement in the use of non-violent divestment as a political tactic to oppose the Israeli government’s violation of Palestinian civil and human rights.

When Omar responded “AIPAC” to a question on Twitter about whom she “thinks is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel”, her tweet triggered a common anti-Muslim trope – the anti-Semite. Alongside the oppressed Muslim woman, Islamophobia perpetuates a stereotype that Muslims are inherently violent and anti-Semitic.

These Islamophobic stereotypes contribute to the erasure and delegitimisation of Palestinian experiences from mainstream discussions in the US about the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. They lead to the vilification of Arab and Muslim American academics on blacklists reminiscent of the McCarthyist era.

Islamophobia also fed the attacks on both Omar and Tlaib during their campaigns and after the elections. At a campaign event in August 2018, for example, the two Muslim women were subjected to a diatribe by a conservative activist, calling the activists “jihadi” and accusing them of supporting “terrorists”.

And when, after her election, Omar sought to remove the prohibition on headwear on the House floor, conservative pastor EW Jackson said: “The floor of Congress is now going to look like an Islamic republic. We are a Judeo-Christian country. We are a nation rooted and grounded in Christianity and that’s that… Don’t try to change our country into some sort of Islamic republic or try to base our country on Sharia law.”

While the anti-Semitic trope of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world is real, both past and present, to analogise it to criticism of AIPAC is a red herring.

Like any other lobbying firm in Washington, AIPAC seeks to influence politicians on the Hill and in the White House pursuant to its motto “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby”. To its credit, AIPAC is one of the most successful lobbying groups alongside the National Rifle Association, Koch Industries, and the US Chamber of Commerce.

AIPAC boasts significant political influence arising from its over $3.5m annual investment in lobbying. Indeed, AIPAC astutely leveraged the controversy over Omar’s tweet to ask its supporters to donate, declaring: “We are determined to continue our bipartisan efforts in support of the shared values that unite America and Israel.”

The aspersions cast on Ilhan Omar’s character bring into sharp relief the ways in which allegations of anti-Semitism are frequently used to silence Muslims with dissident views and when these are coupled with misogyny, Muslim women become easy targets.

Tropes of the “bad girl” are weaponised to police women’s speech and behaviour. Men exploit arbitrary civility codes to chastise women and minorities who do not accommodate existing power structures. Any expression of anger, indignation, or rebuke of the status quo is quickly reprimanded – hence the calls on Omar to resign, while dozens of white male Republican politicians peddle Islamophobia on a regular basis.

To be sure, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib will continue to be caught in the crosshairs of Islamophobia and American misogyny. But like the millions of other confident, ambitious, smart Muslim women in the US, they are up to the task.

And for those who cannot accept Omar and Tlaib’s presence on Capitol Hill, Omar has some advice: “You’re gonna have to just deal.”

Al Jazeera for more

Theses on the path to socialism

March 22nd, 2019


This note was motivated by an interesting discussion on Doug Henwood’s Facebook page regarding Karl Kautsky’s political legacy. A prior version of the post ended in item 15. The remainder was updated on 3/11/2019.

  1. One can learn from history, but more than that is required to build socialism. It will take a gigantic leap in mass creativity to resolve the singular, novel problems the struggle faces today, let alone those that it will face tomorrow.
  2. To learn from history means two things: (1) to study it in light of the present needs of the struggle and (2) to socialize this knowledge (i.e. to help working people appropriate this knowledge) in and through today’s struggles as widely and deeply as possible.
  3. In principle, the more educated, organized, and united the working class is before taking the reins of the State, the more likely to withstand the tsunami of opposition that will be unleashed against it.
  4. However, while the task of socialism is to endow the workers’ movement with the sharpest historical consciousness and careful political planning, the struggle will necessarily be subject to a host of surprising circumstances or shocks and, more importantly, to wild swings in the people’s energy and morale.
  5. It is incumbent upon the leadership of the movement (and there will be a leadership, though better if it is committed to historical self-effacement) to anticipate these ebbs and flows in the disposition of the people and prepare conditions by careful organization and planning to increase the chances of success in each of the struggles.
  6. As a rule, when the people are disposed to struggle, the task of socialists is to help them prepare and organize their political campaigns most carefully. While it is a responsibility of socialists to warn people when their movements are misguided, make them aware of potential difficulties and risks, socialists should not seek to discourage or demoralize the people, but rather be supportive of them in their struggles.
  7. When people are most demoralized, the task of socialists is to go back to the basics in terms of the preparatory work of organization from the bottom up, drawing the hard lessons from prior experience. This preparatory work consists of helping the workers organize to carry out local, temporary, narrow, concrete struggles to improve their living and working conditions within the confines of the existing social order. It is only on the basis of a substantive development of this basic-level organization that the workers get themselves ready to take up broader political struggles.
  8. A democratic socialist State will seek to minimize the use of coercion even against its most ruthless adversaries, because the productive forces spent in coercion are diverted from the most essential tasks of reconstructing social life. While seeking to minimize coercion, a democratic socialist State, with due respect to its own laws, must be ready and willing to use coercion decisively against those who may take illicit action to disrupt the social order under construction. The rulers will not, except in isolated individual cases, respond to persuasion. They will only answer to the language of coercive power or credible threat thereof.
  9. The material content of all social power is cooperative labor power. The highest form of social power flows from labor cooperation elicited by logical and factual comradely argument. Cooperation elicited by coercion, by psychological manipulation, or by exploiting necessity leads to lower forms of social power that wind up backfiring.
  10. To minimize coercion, the workers need to (i) enlighten themselves (i.e. appropriate extant science and technology subordinating them to their needs), (ii) build up and strengthen their organization (i.e. develop a complex organizational ecosystem, with overlapping networks of working-class mutual support), and (iii) unite broadly while fostering division, disorganization, and demoralization among the rulers.
  11. Ability to disrupt the social order is cheap. The social order itself is already highly disruptive of human life and of the metabolism between human society and the rest of nature. Entropy is not our friend. Organization is. Ability to construct a new social order, to reorganize social life on a new democratic basis is dear. Again, the ability of people to consciously structure a new social order depends on their self enlightenment, organization, broadest unity, and militancy.
  12. The ultimate concern of the ruling class is not profit but profit-making, i.e. the social order they rule. Their real concern is not quantity, i.e. the speed with which their capital grows, but quality, i.e. their ability to exploit labor recurrently, which requires the permanent fragmentation and impoverishment of the direct producers: the workers.
  13. As a consequence, any serious political challenge will confront the kitchen sink, i.e. the ruling class will seek to sabotage, disrupt, disunite, throw a monkey wrench in economic and social conditions overall, and then blame socialism for the mess. The rulers will resort to terror with 100% certainty, and the most serious and formidable terror is not that of paralegal thugs, but the terror of the State apparatus. Hence the need to conduct the struggle in ways mindful of the essential need to win over the rank-and-file workers in the State apparatus.

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