Posts Tagged ‘Syria

28
May
12

A Communist’s Criticism of Communism (Part IV): America and the World

It would be remiss to discuss the contemporary Communist movement (and indeed, the modern leftist world in general) without taking some time touch on the subject of America, the West, and the Third-World.

Being an American citizen who spent the majority of his life growing up overseas, I’m in a unique position, having seen a little of both worlds. Considering the highly contentious nature of the subjects I’m about to address, I’m hoping you, the reader, will keep this in mind.

With that request, let’s begin.

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“Death to America!”:

You’ve probably heard this slogan, or some variation on it. “Down with the imperialist aggressors!“, “Throw out the neo-colonialists!“, “Destroy the military-industrial complex!” and of course, my favorite, “American pig-dogs!“.

And let’s face it, these insults aren’t without some merit. Even if we forget the attacks on and the abuses of the Native Americans, the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, the countless injustices inflicted on African Americans and Hispanics- the past decade alone, America has committed more terrible acts than I recount (though if you’re looking for some highlights, the wrongful execution of Troy Davis, Citizens United, and the veto of the Palestinian UN membership bid all spring to mind).

Beyond that, there are the obvious cultural issues. The gross excess of consumerism, the fact that nearly seventy percent of Americans are overweight in a world where starvation and malnutrition affect so many- this all serves only to bolster the US’s image as a corrupt and evil empire intent on the pillaging of the world.

And there is a problem with this mentality.

As I said above, I grew up in overseas- in the Middle East, to be specific. I myself have seen the effects of Westernization, globalization, and Bush’s self-proclaimed “crusade” perpetuated even now by the Obama administration. Thereis unquestionably a lot to decry- but there is such a thing as taking it too far.

Bear with me here. When someone says America, chances are, this comes to mind:

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Or this:

ImageOr this:

ImageBut am I the only one who also thinks of this?

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Or this?

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Or this?

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Or even this?

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See, my problem with the criticism and condemnation thrown America’s way isn’t that it’s undeserved, but that it too often becomes generalized. When someone screams “Death to America!“, does that include the homeless population, or the people trying to help them? Does that include Mumia Abu-Jamal? Noam Chomsky? The protestors of America’s various wars? The environmentalists? The activists? Does that include the legacy of John Brown, Eugene Debs, or the members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade?

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“Hey! You socialists who risked your lives fighting against Fascism in Spain! Screw you guys!”

I’m guessing you can see my point here. I’m not saying that criticism is wrong, but the blanket diatribes you often run into when talking to Communists- even American Communists, they’re just… well, dumb. And it’s only dumber when your own nation is guilty of many of the same errors- Europeans, I’m looking at you.

Just look at the English. The British Nationalist Party (BNP)- a fascist political movement with a rabidly racist and homophobic agenda- not only has won seats in British elections, but the BNP’s leader, a particularly vile holocaust denier by the name of Nick Griffin, won a seat on the European Parliament- the legislative body of the EU. To put that into perspective, that would be the equivalent of the leader of the American Neo-Nazi Party winning a congressional election.

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“… but we ARE in it for a racially pure Britain…”

Or just look at France’s bigoted treatment of Muslims and the Roma…

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Or German chancellor Angela Merkel’s declaration that “Multiculturalism has failed”!

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The last time a German chancellor declared the failure of multiculturalism, things didn’t turn out so well…

Now is any of this to say that we can’t criticize each other? Not at all. Is any of this to say that Europe is utterly and totally evil? Of course not. My point is simply this: Everyone- everyone has their issues. Every nation has its heroes and villains. Criticism is good, but only so long as it is directed at the real enemy- and the real enemy isn’t one people or another- it’s injustice, imperialism, capitalism, and oppression.

First Worldism/Third Worldism:

This criticism is really aimed at two different groups, Communists who believe that a Marxist revolution can only occur in a “developed” nation (like the US or a European country), and Communists who believe that the revolution can only occur in a third-world nation (you probably know who I’m talking about here).

Now in response to the “First-Worldists”, I can only say “really?”. “You think that people who enjoy some of the highest standards of living in the world are going to touch off the Communist revolution? You think that so-called ‘development’ is what makes or breaks a revolution?”

“We’re starving, our government has been bought and paid for by foreign corporations, and our homeland is a dumping ground for toxic waste, but until we have air-conditioners and high university graduation rates, we’re just not gonna do a thing about it…”

Granted, having a good education helps. Granted, it’s easier to fight injustice when you don’t have to decide between the picket line and putting food on your family’s plates. Granted, it’s easier to even just have plates to put food on- but let’s face it, you don’t need a PhD to know that you’re being screwed over.

And the reverse arguments aren’t much better. There are those out there who insist that all attempts at revolutionary activity in America and the West are pointless because “there’s no real working class in the first-world”.

Obviously that’s nonsense. Yes, the standard of living in the West is much higher than it is in the rest of the world, but that hardly means there isn’t a Western proletariat, or that they don’t struggle to survive on a daily basis.

“Just look at that decadence…”

I dare you- dare you- to walk through Detroit, Sioux County, Ziebach County, or Appalachia and tell those people that they just have it too well to have “revolutionary potential”.

A wood stove and a plastic bag for a trash bin? Lap of luxury is what that is!

Let’s be serious- if someone wants to join the struggle against Capitalism, do we really care whether he or she is from an industrialized or rural community? Do we really care whether they were born in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti or Athens, Georgia? Do we really care whether or not they had enough cash to fix their roof after a bad storm?

A Red Flag Does Not A Communist Make:

Despite our best efforts, every once in a while it happens- some idiot professing to be a Marxist tries to make some passionate defense for North Korea. It doesn’t happen much, but that fact that it happens at all is troubling. The various tendencies of Communism do have their differences, but one thing we should all hold in common is that the Kim dynasty is. not. Communist.

Helpful Hint: When absolute power is held indefinitely, and passed down from father to son for three generations, it’s called a “Monarchy“…

Not too long ago, I ran into a would-be apologist for North Korea- though considering he was fourteen, whether or not he was into Communism simply for the furry hats was unclear. Despite pointing out that North Korea had become something akin to the lovechild of an divinely mandated monarchy and a military junta, and that a perpetual disgrace to true Communists everywhere, this kid continued to insist that the DPRK was the sole bastion of Marxism in an otherwise degenerate Capitalist world. Short of North Korea hauling down their red-flags and pulling the stars off their buildings, nothing would convince him otherwise.

Now this is an issue in Communism. Even though most every Communist will agree that North Korea is a brutal dictatorship and corruption of socialism, the same basic issue is at play in support for other countries. This was, in fact, one of my first major issues with Communism- having encountered it during the days of Iran’s ill-fated “Green Revolution”, following outrage at the alleged rigging of the 2009 elections. At the time, Ahmadinejad had the support of many leftists- and considering the past (near) decade of the Bush doctrine, I wasn’t all the surprised. The issue of imperialism was still fresh in everyone’s mind, and the consensus many came to was that Iran, while definitely not a socialist paradise, wasn’t without justification in taking an “anti-imperialist” stance. My own conclusion was that “Hey, you can’t force change on people- if there’s anything to learned from Iraq, it’s that. If the people want to change things, then they’ll do it, and they’re they only ones who can or should do it.”

Which is of course, just what they attempted to do in 2009.

Now I thought to myself “Hey, they feel cheated. They feel that there self-determination has been taken from them- if it’s the will of the masses, let it be so.” I also thought to myself that most Communists would feel they same.

I was in for a nasty surprise.

Rather than cheering the people on, most of the blogs and commentary made by the left were in favor of Ahmadinejad, calling the rebels tools of imperialism and the West. Considering that Mousavi’s foreign policy was more or less identical to Ahmadinejad, that didn’t make much sense to me, but nevertheless, that was the response. I tried questioning it, but the single reply was always a chorus of “Anti-Imperialism!”.

With the current conflict in Syria (where I grew up), I’ve found the same pattern. Rather than supporting the rebels, again there has arisen a near-universal show of support of Assad and again claim “Anti-Imperialism” as their justification.

Let’s clear up why this irks me so much.

First, oppression is oppression, regardless of whose doing it. When you’re having your freedom stripped from you, does it matter where the tyrant comes from. Is coercion less heinous for being committed by a compatriot? Is inequality less unequal if it comes from your own government? Clearly not.

Second, this justification makes the assumption that the regime in question is the sole thing standing between the people and a colonization. It makes the assumption that the people have no investment in protecting themselves from imperialism, that they’re incapable of defending themselves from foreign exploitation. It makes the assumption that the people are simply ignorant sheep who will fold to any Western pressure. How Communists can rationalize such a deeply elitist and condescending view is a mystery to me.

Third, the assumption that the rebels are either (1) Western puppets or (2) militant, theocratic Muslims. The idea that the people might actually have some reasonable grievances they want addressed is simply “out of the question”. Again, this is a severely disturbing perspective- I’m not saying that Western puppets or theocratic don’t exist- my complaint here is that this third possibility is never even considered.

Fourth and finally, the greater assumption made here is that anti-imperialism is the sole issue at hand. A dictator can brutalize and pillage his own people, but so long as he takes an “Anti-Imperialist” stance, he merits the support of the left.

If only that were the case. Truth of the matter is, a dictator can brutalize and pillage his own people, but so long as he takes an “Anti-Imperialist” stance against the west. Forgetting Russian or Chinese foreign interests and intervention, just so long as the regime in question isn’t generally cooperative with America or Europe, all is forgiven. It’s like giving a neighbor who’s a wife-beater and an abusive father a free pass because he dislikes the same guy you dislike.

That’s all this is, really. This so-called “anti-imperialist” stance has nothing to do with protecting a people from neo-colonization and globalization, it’s about giving the US the finger. This isn’t Communism- this is simply arrogance at the expense of the people in question. To quote one of my favorite artists:

My revolution is born out of love for my people, not hatred for others.

Seriously, look this guy up…

Look, a few social programs does and opposition to the US does not make a nation “socialist” or worth defending- if that was the criteria, we’d have to support Nazi Germany for their social programs and opposition to America. Support from Communists should never be for a government– it should be for a people. And it should definitely be given simply to put down someone else- which brings me to my final topic…

What Can Communism do for US?

This final criticism is directed more or less exclusively at the Communist movement in the US, though I’d imagine a similar issue may exist in Britain. You see, a lot of the American Communist movement’s energy seems to be directed towards addressing foreign policy- and there’s nothing wrong with that. Palestine, the global antifascist struggle, exploitation of workers overseas, antiwar protests- these are not merely good, but essential to creating, maintaining, and advancing unity among the left around the globe. That said, I can’t help but sometimes feel the issues at home are being forgotten.

Back when I was searching for a party to join, something I noticed was that while most every group had a distinct and clear set of demands for foreign policy, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of addressing the issues of the American proletariat. I know these aren’t the days of the labor struggle, but there’s got to be more to be done. When some poor farmer asks what Communism can do for him, he’s not looking down the road- he’s got kids to feed and bills to pay, and he’s looking for an immediate and tangible reason to back the far left. Simply responding “We’re gonna cut the military budget and raise taxes on the rich” is all good and well, but short of both the Republicans and Democrats forgetting to file some important paperwork, there’s no way Marxists will win a major election in the US anytime soon and these people know it. Again, we need to reinvest our efforts into figuring out how we can improve the conditions of the working class without having power handed to us on a silver platter. How can I, using the limited tools and resources afforded to me, make a difference for myself and my community?

(Lest I be called a hypocrite, I do have some of my own ideas, but that’s for another post…)

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10
May
11

Racism’s Back (Not That It Ever Went Away)

There are bad times ahead.

As the world economy further deteriorates and promises of middle-class prosperity wither, an angry, frustrated public is seeking desperately to find a scapegoat. Convenient targets who can take the blame, and let people prove to themselves that it’s not the system that’s at fault- that they can, if they work hard, be one day rich and happy and famous and secure. And so once again the poor, the powerless, and the different become the targets of a disappointed middle-class, more ready to believe that immigrants and ethnic, national, and religious minorities have conspired against than to accept that the system is somehow flawed.

Yes, it’s yet another post about racism, but it’s a topic that needs to be discussed.

Not to long ago, I found this clip on YouTube.

In short, it’s nearly five minutes of an angry man attacking “Chicano bastards” for “ruining neighborhoods” and “working for less” and a number of other bigoted charges. Right from the start he claims that “The invasion of illegal aliens has caused more misery for the American people than any other race.”. And who are the “American people”, he mentions? They are, as he puts it “The producers- the white people…”. At one point, he even states “We know they can be rounded up… How many Jews did the Nazis round up?”.

But his bigotry is by no means limited to Hispanics, there’s plenty of racism to go round.

Here’s a clip of him attacking the Muslim community in the US:

And another, disparaging the struggles of African-Americans:

Now you might argue “Sure, these videos are disgusting, but it’s all just one nut-case. The internet gives even the worst of us a platform.”. Granted, they’re all videos of the same bigot, but I chose to use them for a reason. At the end of each video, there’s a brief admonition to not provoke his followers as they are “legally carrying weapons”. Problem is, what’s “provoking”? This guy is provoked simply by the fact that some people aren’t white, American, or have “correct” religious views. In short, as crazy as this guy is, he and his followers are armed, and with an ideology based on racism, if that’s not a threat worth mentioning, I don’t know what is.

And Grady is by no means an isolated incident. There are plenty of militant racists out there, made all the more dangerous by the fact that they don’t actually believe themselves to be racists. Take for example, the case of a major German banker, who lost his job after making anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim remarks. Further, rampant Islamophobia has become common in Europe, with many Europeans questioning the ability (and indeed, legitimacy) of Muslim immigrants integrating into various nations. In fact, prejudice against Muslims has become so open, that France has actually banned veils covering the face, a form of modesty among some Muslim women. Other European nations plan similar laws. And it’s not just Muslims feeling the brunt of racism in Europe, Roma Gypsies have been repeatedly expelled from France, and in other countries, the Roma face violent persecution. This is, in sum total, government sanctioned xenophobia.

And what can we do about it?

On the whole, people have tried espousing a philosophy of extending compassion and building understand, and to extent, it works. Racism is rooted, after all, in man’s survival instinct- we’re terrified of the strange because what we don’t know might hurt us. When racism stems simply from ignorance of the group being discriminated against, breaking down barriers and building mutual knowledge is the principal weapon against prejudice. But what about racism in a modern age, when simple ignorance is no longer an excuse?

I grew up in Syria, a country that, after spending a few centuries being stomped on by imperialist boots, was unceremoniously dragged into the modern era. Even now, there are parts of the country where farmers and Bedouin are living lives identical to those their ancestors lived thousands of years ago. These people, many of whom are illiterate, who’ve had no education, who’ve been exposed to no news of the outside world except through what state-controlled media decides, who’ve never seen Ijanib (“foreigners”) before, still treated me and my family with hospitality, generosity, and warmth. When my family moved to Syria in the early 90s, right after the first Intifada had taken place, our landlords were Palestinians. They, of all people, had a right to be hostile to us. What did they do instead? They babysat me and my little sister. They had my family down for visits.

Now what racism in the West? In Europe and America, there is almost unlimited access to news, media, books, and information about other cultures, nationalities, and ethnicities. At any point in his or her day, a racist can go on-line, or go to a library, or even just walk down the street and find information about someone different, or better yet, someone different. At any time, a person can open his or her eyes and realize the self-evident equality of all human beings.

But they don’t. Despite all opportunity, racists choose to be racist.

And I’m tired of it.

At what point does a person stop being responsible for the ignorance- the willful ignorance– of another? With every book, article, essay, declaration, and manifesto written about human equality, with every documentary, movie, and play, with every website, advocacy group, and movement- if the sum of the equality movement and all logic and reason cannot convince them, what can we do?

Only this: In the old racist- he or she may be ignored. Hopefully, whatever poison’s still pent up in them will die with them. In the case of the ignorant, we have to reach out a hand- they certainly aren’t going to. But in the case of the institutional and militant racists, the line has been drawn. They choose to ignore every calm and collected call for understanding, and nothing will convince them otherwise. For these people, ready to persecute and kill in the name of bigotry, there can be no response but that of violence. There is only one way to deal with Fascists, and it is to introduce their heads to the pavement.

22
Sep
09

Communism, Capitalism, and Culture

In film and literature, Communist (or at least, Communistic) societies are often portrayed as dark, Spartan places where variety is almost non-existent. Indeed, Communism is sometimes portrayed as espousing complete and utter uniformity- and perhaps this is understandable. After all, Communism does demand a single class where all citizens are equal without exception, and Soviet city-planning and architecture tended to be more than slightly lacking as far as aesthetics go.

However, as has been repeatedly stated throughout this blog, Soviet Russia was not a true Communist country and as far as equality goes, “equality” doesn’t mean “identical”. For the average foundry worker to live in an equal society, the rest of society doesn’t have to be average foundry workers- they must simply have the same rights, responsibilities, and opportunities. Within equality lies endless variety- more so than can ever be achieved in the Capitalist society.

Now this statement may seem to be based on faulty reasoning, after all, if Capitalism presents opportunity for anyone and everyone to sell their own product or service, then there will be an unending fountain of culture, technology, art, music, and so on. Now if Capitalism were only the opportunity of every individual to sell his own product or service, this might be true. In reality, Capitalism doesn’t quite work that way. You see Capitalism based heavily on competition- the struggle for dominance over others. In order to attain Capitalism’s end goal- capital (money)- the individuals selling their products and/or services forced to compete with each other for the customers. In short, if there are two tailors in one town, they are going to be at war with each other for customers. “But surely this would cause their quality to increase, their prices to drop, and the variety of products to expand!” You might retort. Now this is partly true- and only temporarily so at that. As much as the competitors will try to undercut each other’s prices, there is a point they will not drop below to ensure a profit is still made. Eventually, one of the competitors, either through poor planning or just bad luck, is going to lose and the moment that happens, the winning competitor no longer has any reason to keep prices low or variety wide. In a free, Capitalist society, this is what inevitably happens- the weak are killed off and devoured by the strong until eventually, one company reigns supreme and becomes a monopoly. We can see this battle of giants all around us- Pepsi versus Coke, Apple versus Microsoft, Nintendo versus Xbox versus Play Station 3, and so on. Do we actually imagine this to be some sort of dualistic system- that these companies will forever be locked in a fight for dominance? No- eventually, Pepsi is going to fall to Coke or Coke will fall to Pepsi or both of them will be conquered (somehow) by Jones Soda. “But this will never happen- there’s always going to be some fresh competition to challenge the old dinosaurs. Monopolies are impossible.” Really? Just take a look at history- read about Standard Oil and the British East India Company. “Granted,” one might reply “but the consumer still has a basic level of control over the monopolies- if there’s a Pepsi monopoly and Pepsi raises its prices too high, the people can’t be forced to buy Pepsi. In fact, Pepsi is limited to selling its products at the price the public will pay for them.” Very well then, but what about a different kind of monopoly. What about a lumber monopoly, or an oil monopoly? Society is dependent on these resources to function without regressing to the stone age. Even if a single monopoly were to arise that controlled the mining of Coltan (a rare mineral used in cell phones and communication), the world could be brought its knees.

But perhaps I’m getting a little off-track. The point is, after enough expansion, Capitalism can trade variety for cut production-cost profit. “So what if that is true? We don’t have monopolies at this point in time- Capitalism still offers us variety now.” For the sake of space, we’ll skip addressing the issue with concentrating only on the here-and-now and focus on how Capitalism, which, even at a pre-monopoly stage, reduces variety rather than promoting it.

As I was traveling through the US this summer, I was presented with an interesting thought. No matter how many towns and cities I drove through, there were always (to varying degrees) the same stores, restaurants, and hotels. Every hamlet in America now has a Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Starbucks, etc. Granted, it’s not dramatic, but let us keep in mind that this is only in a single country. Lets take a look at the world. Now with distances of over a thousand miles between some of these countries, one would imagine the cultures would be diverse- alas, this is no longer true. Due to the imperialistic march of McDonalds, Starbucks, and other companies, the cultures already present within are suddenly forced to compete with the Western culture these companies represent. Take the cases of Syria and Jordan, for example. Syria has, on the whole, resisted foreign interference in its affairs, and, after pretty much closing its borders to would-be investors such as McDonalds, has managed to retain much of its cultural heritage and traditions. The same cannot be said for its neighbor to the south, Jordan. Jordan has embraced the West and Western companies, such as McDonalds, Papa John’s, and various clothing outlets, have thrived there. If you were to walk down the fashionable area of Amman, it would be hard for you to tell if you were in the Middle East or Southern California. While Jordan does still have a unique culture, that culture has been drowned out by the commercialism of the West. Is this the West’s fault? No- not entirely, anyways. The companies that attempt to exploit foreign markets are spreading Western culture, but doing so only because they themselves are part of Western culture. Quite simply, if you are told it is fashionable to dress in Western clothes (and Western clothes outlets are more than happy to let you have that illusion), then chances are your traditional dress will be forgotten. If local restaurants are forced out of business by fast-food, then chances are the aspect of eating (a form of socializing in almost every culture) will change dramatically. In short, along with expansion of companies is the expansion of the cultures of those companies. As we can see by looking at the world today, rather than promoting diversity, Capitalism destroys it.

But what about Communism? Doesn’t it, like Capitalism, attempt to spread across the globe? Yes, Communism does attempt to encompass the world, but Communism has nothing to gain from a monocultural society. Quite the opposite, Communism can only flourish if variety and diversity are accepted- we can’t expect a society to exist if everyone acts the same way and holds the same values. Indeed, the very lack of corporations telling you what is and is not fashionable or desirable can lead nothing other than a diverse society. In conclusion, don’t be sold on the Capitalist illusion of culture.