Wednesday, January 30, 2008

This Is What Liberal Democracy Looks Like

This is what liberal democracy -- whose Third World poster child Washington has made "Shining India," as New Delhi broke ranks with the Non-Aligned Movement and sold out Iran -- looks like: "Kidney Thefts Shock India" (Amelia Gentleman, New York Times, 30 January 2008). The rich get richer, the poor poorer, and the rich literally live off the poor.

"Over-staffing" in Iran?

The Financial Times complains of "over-staffing"1 at the government offices and state-owned companies in Iran, citing the editor of a business monthly Iran Economics.
"Because of the big youth population ["in Iran, where more than two-thirds of the population is aged under 30 and where 750,000 people enter the labour market each year"] there has been a tendency to hire extra personnel, so most of the government offices and state-owned companies are over-staffed," says Heydar Pourian, editor of Iran Economics. (Anna Fifield, "Iran Suffers as a Generation Goes in Search of a Job," 30 January 2008)
Why not make that -- i.e. hiring "extra personnel" -- a solution to the problem of unemployment (estimated by Iran's government to be about 10%) and underemployment, though? What's "over-staffing" in the eye of neoliberalism may be just the right-staffing from the point of view of workers.

1 This is not a new complaint about Iran (or any other state-dominated economy or even the public sector per se for that matter) from the neoliberal quarters. See, for instance, Akbar Karbassian, "Islamic Revolution and the Management of the Iranian Economy" (Social Research 67.2, Summer 2000):
In spite of much political rhetoric about the necessity of privatising state enterprises, their fate remains uncertain. During the past twenty years many state enterprises have become over-staffed with underpaid workers, and many still continue to operate at a loss. Only some 200 of these companies have been sold so far, and not without problems. A few have been bought jointly by active state managers and employees. There is no consensus about the fate of these enterprises. The private sector still remains distrustful of the state's intentions, arguing that privatization will not succeed without accompanying deregulation of the economy. Some privatized companies have been de-privatized during the past few years and taken over once again by the selling state agencies. Problems have occurred when, due to the layoff of redundant workers, labor went on strike. Disturbed by the possibilities of widespread unrest and other undesireable social consequences, the government ordered reposession of the sold companies, without immediate payment of indemnity to the owners.
The account of privatization, workers' reaction against it, and the state's response to workers given by Karbassian above suggests that "over-staffing" in Iran is an indication of the strength of Iran's working class.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Russia: An "Island of Stability"

Who has the chance of coming out ahead as the US economy begins to tank, dragging the rest of the world down? Those who have a lot of oil and depend little on the USA. That means two of my favorite countries: Iran and Russia. Washington's sanctions have forced Iran to turn away from the USA and toward Asia and Europe, and "Russia's exports to the United States account for only 3 percent of its total, compared with 16 percent to Brazil, 19 percent to India and 21 percent to China" (Andrew E. Kramer, "Russia Talks of a Stability Beyond Ties to the U.S.," New York Times, 25 January 2008). The Russians are already crowing: "Russia will be an 'island of stability,' Finance Minister Aleksei L. Kudrin boasted this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland" (Kramer, 25 January 2008).

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hizballah, Organic and Cosmopolitan

According to Y. -- an Arab woman from a Sunni Muslim family, who has a European passport and many Israeli friends -- interviewed by Meron Rapoport, Hizballah is "the only real political party in Lebanon."
Hezbollah's base is very solid. Not just among the Shi'ites. The middle-class Christians, supporters of the former general Michel Ayoun, believe Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government represents the interests of the large, old families. They want social mobility, and this they find with Hezbollah. The movement represents a possibility for change.

In addition, says Y., Hezbollah is the only real political party in Lebanon. The state does not exist: The public schools are terrible, and anyone who wants a decent education goes to private schools. There is zero health insurance. The other political parties exist on paper. In fact, these are one-family parties. Hezbollah, however, is everywhere; it provides education and welfare. Non-religious people also enjoy its services.

Hassan Nasrallah also knows how to adapt and be flexible. A while ago, relates Y., a market for organic food opened in one of Beirut's prestigious Christian neighborhoods. A small market, sky-high prices. Just a few weeks went by, she says, and Hezbollah opened a competing organic market. Ten times larger and rock-bottom prices. Everyone was happy. Both the Shi'ite farmers from the south who can sell their produce, and the Beirut residents, who can buy good merchandise at good prices.

Nasrallah also claimed he is in favor of environmental quality and recycling. He has put new meaning into the term "green revolution."

From time to time Y. herself is in contact with Hezbollah members. They are always efficient and organized and they have spokesmen in every possible language -- French, English, German. (Meron Rapoport, "Hezbollah, the Only Party in Lebanon," Ha'aretz, 24 January 2008)
I cannot but love this anecdote of Hizballah opening an organic market "ten times larger" than its posh Christian competitor, selling goods at "rock-bottom prices," making both farmers and customers happy.

A real political party that is at once cosmopolitan and organic (rooted in popular classes1 and in favor of environmentalism), whose competence inspires confidence in the minds of people. That is not exactly the definition of socialism of the 21st century, but secular leftists of many nations have yet to rise to the high standard of organizing set by Islamo-Leninists, the new masters of centralisme démocratique in the Middle East.

1 Note the overlap in support for Hizballah and support for the transport strike:
In areas where support for Hezbollah is strong, such as in south Beirut, southern Lebanon and the northeastern parts of the impoverished, mostly farming Bekaa Valley inland, union activists closed roads and some set car tires ablaze to block roads before security forces moved in.

But in coastal cities like Sidon and Tripoli, with strong pro-government backing, life seemed normal. In Tripoli in the north, dozens of protesters gathered at the central Tal Square, only to disperse peacefully half an hour later. Traffic on highway entrances to Beirut also flowed normally. (Bassem Mroue, "Lebanon Transport Unions on Strike," Associated Press, 24 January 2008)

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Opposition That the Islamic Republic of Iran Needs

Nazila Fathi of the New York Times reports that, from 2003 until recently, Iran's Islamic government "permitted relative freedom" to the Marxist Left -- "Leftist students [who] use an anti-imperialist discourse toward the United States and say they have no plans to overthrow the Iranian government" but "refer to the government as a capitalist regime and condemn pro-democracy politicians who support change as 'bourgeois'" -- because "it rejects the liberal reform movement and attacks the West" (Nazila Fathi, "Radical Left, Iran’s Last Legal Dissidents, Until Now," 20 January 2008), though space for dissent is closing down again.

The way the New York Times reports on Marxist students in Iran (about 500, estimates the paper), they are unlikely to pose a material challenge to the government or eclipse the religious liberal opposition. They can, however, act as a protest group that puts pressures on the government from the Left on such issues as privatization (for which nearly all factions of the power elite, from Ali Khamenei down, are in favor, whether they are reformists or neo-conservatives or Rafsanjanists).

The Islamic Republic needs an opposition of the Marxist anti-imperialist sort, not the liberal pro-Western kind some of whose members are funded by the empire's "regime change" machinery, and it needs to learn to tolerate its existence again. (This is one issue on which the Cuban and Venezuelan governments, if they talk to the Iranian government about it in the right way, can help make a difference, for the Iranian government does want their support to maintain and expand its international legitimacy.) Such an opposition can only strengthen the republic.

The job of those of us who live in the West is to get the empire off the back of the Iranian people, so the dialectic of the government and its left opposition can safely and productively unfold.

Interview with Bolivian Vice President García

Interview with Bolivian Vice President García:
"Brazil and Argentina's Support Restrained Adventurists' Plans in Bolivia"


by Pablo Stefanoni

Evo Morales' Vice President believes that regional backing neutralized the most radical sectors among secessionists.

The 10oC "summer" weather in Bolivia's capital city is strongly felt in Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera's house, which has no heating, like nearly all the houses in La Paz.

For almost an hour we went over the conjuncture of a week of uncertain negotiations between the government and opposition, in search of an anxiously awaited national accord.  "The media inflate political tension," he said.

Clarín: Is a political accord close?

Álvaro García Linera (AGL): On the part of the government there is an open, frank, and determined search for an accord.  We have demonstrated great flexibility and broadmindedness regarding the issue of the distribution of the hydrocarbon taxes and the reopening of discussion on the new constitutional text in order to correct errors and see how we can make it compatible with the sensible proposals of regional autonomy.  But there are opposition sectors that are reluctant to accept this.

Clarín: Not long ago you spoke of a "point of bifurcation."  How do you negotiate in these conditions?

AGL: I took the idea from the Nobel physicist Ilya Prigogine, the idea of an order arising out of chaos.  A system can evolve towards one of two possibilities: it can return to the original state of equilibrium (in the political terrain, to the old state) or else it begins to self-organize until it constitutes a new structure.

A point of bifurcation is a point of tension between forces, which in 1952 occurred in the form of a civil war.  In 2008, President Evo Morales is wagering on resolving it by the ballot box (a constitutional and revocation referendum) and an agreed-upon solution.

Clarín: And if no accord is reached, how tense could the situation become?

AGL: It is difficult to predict.  But some are betting on regionalized entrenchment, violating laws with a de facto autonomy by means of an illegal referendum.  And if they accompany this with the occupation of institutions, they will enter into the path of illegality without exit.  If that is the case, the government will use the constitutional means available to guarantee institutionality.

Clarín: There has been even talk of civil war -- do you consider it possible?

AGL: It was thought that on 15 December [when the four eastern departments declared autonomy] the civil war would erupt.  The media greatly inflate political tension.  Stop watching the media for a week, and you can size up the real dimension of the confrontation.

Today there is a common sense, whether you are from the Left or the Right, about the protagonist role of the state in economy, redistribution of wealth, equality between peoples, and decentralization and autonomy.  There are a national project and regionalized resistances. There are no longer two national projects.  In this process of replacement of elites, those who used to have national power are today bunkering down in the regions.

Clarín: Could secessionist ideas tempt some radical rightist groups?

AGL: There is a democratic right wing and a fascist right wing that burn houses, draw up blacklists. . . .  Within the authoritarian Right, there are small minority groups of a secessionist character, with a desperate intent to preserve their privileges.  They don't constitute a real danger, but they are there.

Clarín: Do they have influence on regional governors?

AGL: Yes, but a very marginal influence.

Clarín: On what must Santa Cruz yield?

AGL: People voted for autonomy in the referendum, but the statute establishes a federal and more than federal regime.  They must respect what was voted on 2 July 2006.

Clarín: How do you evaluate the importance of regional support for the stability of Bolivia?

AGL: Very important.  Brazil and Argentina, and also Chile, gave a very strong message of support for democracy and hope in the transformations.  I believe that this has temporarily neutralized the most extremist sectors that perhaps thought they could find some external support for their adventurist plans.  The signal was very clear.

Clarín: Does the recent change in the commander of the armed forces have any significance?

AGL: Institutionally, this is meant to occur after the second year.  This is the first military general staff in decades that has resulted from observance of the norms.  The rotation between forces is custom and usage of the armed forces, and we have respected it by naming a member of the air force.

Clarín: Does the government have confidence in the institutional fidelity of the armed forces?

AGL: Definitely.


The interview originally appeared in the 13 January 2008 issue of Clarín.   Translation by Federico Fuentes and Yoshie Furuhashi.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Every Day Is Ashura, Every Land Is Karbala

Listen to "Salam bar Hossein," sung by Sadegh Ahangaran, to commemorate the day of Ashura.


Via Ihsan

Ali Shariati said, "Every day is Ashura, every land is Karbala." It means the same thing as Karl Marx's answer to John Swinton (John Swinton, "Karl Marx," The Sun, 6 September 1880):
"What is?" I had inquired, to which, in deep and solemn tone, he replied: "Struggle!"
PS: Several other songs by Ahangaran are made available at the Web site of Radio Iran.

Bush in Arabia

George W. Bush's Persian Gulf tour, meant to create a Gulf Arab front against Iran, fails to impress even the staunchly anti-Iranian Washington Institute for Near East Policy: Simon Henderson, "Bush in Arabia: Work in Progress or Waste of Time?" (17 January 2008).

Even Gulf Arabs prefer Iran to the empire, as has been confirmed by the 30 November-5 December 2007 poll conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow. Could it be that the bankrupt master can no longer count on the service of his most loyal house slaves?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sanctions Fail to Isolate Iran

Delightful news from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO): Iran's international trade has grown dramatically since the imposition of US sanctions against Iran in 1987.

Click on the chart for a larger view.
Iran's Total Exports and Imports, 1986-2006
"Iran Sanctions: Impact in Furthering U.S. Objectives Is Unclear and Should Be Reviewed," GAO-08-58, 18 December 2007


Since 2003, foreign firms have signed energy contracts with Iran worth $20 billion, too, so Washington's recent attempts to intensify the sanctions have also been a failure.

The US sanctions have merely changed the makeup of Iran's trade partners, who are now primarily Asian and secondarily European.

Click on the table for a larger view.
Iran's Top Export Markets, by Country, 1994-2006
Iran's Top Import Suppliers, by Country, 1994-2006
"Iran Sanctions: Impact in Furthering U.S. Objectives Is Unclear and Should Be Reviewed," GAO-08-58, 18 December 2007

Saturday, January 12, 2008

What's Wrong with "Anti-Stalinism"?

Lenin's Tomb asks: "Why did so much anti-Stalinist criticism descend into mysticism, platitudes, heroic 'stands' and dogma? Why was it so easily co-opted?" ("Alasdair MacIntyre and the Moralists," 11 January 2007).

What's wrong with "anti-Stalinism"?

One, it never made sense to elevate the mere fact of being a minority faction on the Left oppressed by the majority faction to a system of political philosophy, let alone morality.

Two, "the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it," said an eminent nineteenth-century philosopher. What "anti-Stalinists" should have done is not to specialize in denouncing "Stalinism" but to figure out how to become the majority faction on the Left, take power, and run things better than "Stalinists." But they never managed to take that first step, and they have never properly analyzed why they couldn't.

John Singer Sargent at War

John Singer Sargent was born on 12 January 1856. He was an official war artist in 1918, commissioned to paint a work symbolizing cooperation between Britain and America during World War 1. A leading portraitist of high society, he was not known for his interest in politics, and yet his paintings of war allow the viewer to glimpse the Janus-faced brotherhood of warriors in class society and its political implications.

Take his "Gassed" and "Tommies Bathing."

John Singer Sargent, Gassed, 1918
Gassed, 1918

John Singer Sargent, Tommies Bathing, 1918
Tommies Bathing, 1918

It is solidarity with comrades, much more than loyalty to an abstract idea of nation or obedience to their superiors, that keeps men at war.
"He didn't have to go to Iraq. He chose to go. He wanted to be with his brothers." These are the words of the clearly distraught and heartbroken mother of Thomas, a marine recently killed in Iraq, describing her son's fatal decision to extend his enlistment in order to deploy with his unit. Of course, his family tried to convince him otherwise, but Thomas was adamant that "abandoning" his comrades as they headed into harm's way was not an option. . . . We fight, then, neither to achieve victory nor to kill an "enemy." We fight and, like Thomas, we die, because we love and could not live with the guilt and the shame of abandoning our brothers. (Camillo Mac Bica, "The Brotherhood of Warriors: The Love That Binds Us" MRZine, 19 March 2007)
In other words, the ruling class grasp what is best and noblest in men, their love for one another; mutilate it by excluding the Other -- enemy soldiers and civilians and homosexuals in their own ranks, for instance -- from men's love; and exploit it for their profit. "Gassed" reveals the physical and spiritual consequences of mutilated and exploited love; "Tommies Bathing" shows what love can be in a world without war.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Reformists before Parliamentary Elections in Iran

Farideh Farhi frets that, in the run-up to the next parliamentary elections, "the 'successes' the conservatives have had in defending Iran’s 'national sovereignty' and standing tall on the nuclear issue will be touted with a constant reference to those who were ready to give in on the question of enrichment out of fear" ("If Americans Are Wise They Would Not Meddle in Iran's Affairs," Informed Comment: Global Affairs, 11 January 2008).

The problem is that, in this case, hard-liners have a point: reformists indeed tried to argue that the Ahmadinejad administration in particular and hard-liners in general were putting Iran in danger by their refusal to compromise on Iran's national rights and that Iran ought to appease the empire by suspending uranium enrichment (see Majeed Naghdi, "Trading the National Rights of Iranians for Factional Gain," MRZine, 2 December 2007). That position was neither principled nor, as it turned out, politically smart.

Reformists might have, instead, focused on the cost of living first and civil rights and liberties second, seeking to win back working people who once voted for them, while defending Iran's sovereignty as vigorously as their political competitors. But that is not in their nature.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Iran: the Strait of Hormuz Incident from the Point of View of Iran

Here's a video from Press TV (uploaded into Politube), which shows the same incident that Washington is using for its "Gulf of Tonkin"-style war propaganda from Iran's point of view: "Iran: Strait of Hormuz Incident from the Point of View of Iran."


Richard Holt of the Telegraph reports on this Press TV video: "Iranian Video 'Shows No Threat to US Navy'" (10 January 2008).

The video debunks the much-hyped Pentagon hoax about the incident, as Daniel M. Pourkesali points out: "Straight Facts about the Persian Gulf 'Incident'" (MRZine, 10 January 2008).

Update

Check out an excellent Steve Bell cartoon on the incident: "USS Lastgasp Lameduck: 'Cry "Harassment" and Let Slip the Ducks of War'" (Guardian, 8 January 2008). I hope that's all there is to it.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ervand Abrahamian on the Persian Gulf "Incident"

"The Persian Gulf 'incident' comes at a convenient time, inaugurating President Bush's trip to the region to convince America's Arab clients that they should fear 'hegemonic' Iran." -- Ervand Abrahamian, 9 January 2007

Is Washington back on track in its Iran campaign, now that it has apparently found a replacement for Musharraf: "In Musharraf’s Shadow, a New Hope for Pakistan Rises" (David Rohde and Carlotta Gall, New York Times, 7 January 2008)?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Poland -- No Longer an American Trojan Donkey in Europe?

Check this out: Poland's Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski says that the deployment of an anti-ballistic missile shield is "an American, not a Polish project" and that Poland can't accept it "until all costs and risks are considered," adding, "We feel no threat from Iran" (Judy Dempsey, "Poland Signals a Shift on U.S. Missile Shield," International Herald Tribune, 6 January 2008). Poland -- no longer an American Trojan donkey in Europe?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Do Away with the Rhetoric of "Peak Oil"

Leftists must do away with the rhetoric of "peak oil." The problem is not that fossil fuels can't be physically found, but the "peak oil" rhetoric suggests that it is, confusing people.

Instead, tell the truth.

The material problem is this: fossil fuel reserves that are being found today and will be found in the future are more expensive and more ecologically destructive to exploit than those found before.

One of the political problems is this: the state companies and countries in the South that have oil and gas don't have enough capital and technology (the problem for the popular classes); and the companies and countries in the North that have capital and technology don't have the right to many of the oil and gas reserves that they covet (the problem for the ruling classes).

Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov notes: "Ninety percent of the world's proven hydrocarbon reserves are under some form of state control. Such state control of energy resources is offset, however, by the concentration of cutting-edge technology in the hands of private transnational corporations" ("Containing Russia: Back to the Future?" MRZine, 21 July 2007). That is the central problem for the US-led multinational empire's energy policy, as well as its challengers, today. (See National Petroleum Council, Facing the Hard Truths about Energy: A Comprehensive View to 2030 of Global Oil and Natural Gas, 18 July 2007; and the papers presented at the Baker Institute Energy Form conference "The Changing Role of National Oil Companies in International Energy Markets," 1-2 and 12 March 2007.)

Another of the political problems is this: how can we "better negotiate the necessary trade-offs between economic development and social justice, between requirements of productivity or efficiency and environmental sustainability or quality life which is not entirely a matter of material progress or economic growth" as Randhir Singh puts it ("Future of Socialism," MRZine, 29 December 2007)? Leftists have yet to figure out this question of trade-offs.

Patrick Bond writes in "From False to Real Solutions for Climate Change" (MRZine, 6 January 2008):
In contrast to carbon trading, what is reverberating within grassroots, coalface, and fenceline struggles in many parts of the world is a very different strategy and demand by civil society activists: leave the oil in the soil, the resources in the ground.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I have mentioned this demand in many sites over the past two years, enthusiastically commenting on the moral, political, economic, and ecological merits of leaving the oil in the soil. Unfortunately, in addition to confessing profound humility about the excessive fossil fuel burned by airplanes which have taken me on this quest, I must report on the only site where the message dropped like a lead balloon: with dear comrades in petro-socialist Venezuela.
Well, stop development and cut consumption is seldom a popular demand beyond the interlocking directorate of environmental NGOs and intellectuals. Not in Venezuela. Not even in Cuba.

La izquierda en crisis

La izquierda en crisis

Por Yoshie Furuhashi
Traducción Néstor Gorojovsky

Tanto las respuestas al debate Robert Brenner-Sam Gindin (7 de diciembre de 2007) como el debate en sí mismo me hacen pensar nuevamente que los izquierdistas deberían olvidarse de la remanida pregunta sobre si el capitalismo está en crisis, y hacerse otras preguntas.

El capitalismo, como modo de producción, jamás entrará en crisis a nivel planetario. Siempre hay tendencias económicas globales, y a veces algunas golpean negativamente a las tasas de ganancia, pero hay diferencias dramáticas en el modo en que impactan en los diversos países; el impacto depende de sus economías políticas, sus estructuras sociales, y (lo más importante) de sus condiciones culturales (que son las únicas sobre las cuales en este momento pueden intervenir los izquierdistas, hasta cierto punto al menos, antes incluso de encontrarse en condiciones de cambiar la economía política y la estructura social de un país determinado).

El capitalismo siempre está cambiando, pero hay períodos durante los cuales los cambios son más profundos y marcan la transición de un régimen de acumulación a otro; se pasa entonces de viejas estructuras políticas nacionales e internacionales que eran funcionales al viejo régimen a otras, nacionales e internacionales, que se ajustan mejor al nuevo régimen. La Segunda Guerra Mundial hizo posible la hegemonía estadounidense que puso fin a la era de las guerras interimperialistas: fue uno de esos pasajes. El fin de la expansión de posguerra fue otro. Quizás hoy nos encontremos ante otro pasaje, marcado por la posibilidad del fin de la hegemonía del dólar, que está asomando en el horizonte.

En cada transición se ofrecen aperturas políticas a las clases populares. La pregunta está en saber si están motivadas y organizadas de modo de aprovecharlas. Sobre este asunto crucial, Brenner y Gindin están de acuerdo: esté o no en crisis el capitalismo, lo seguro es que lo están los izquierdistas, en especial los del Norte; en buena medida debido al problema innegable de que los trabajadores del Norte, sobre todo en los EEUU, están cada vez más atomizados, y en una medida no menor debido a la ausencia de una alternativa sistémica1 al capitalismo que inspire al pueblo y consiga su lealtad.

Cuando el pueblo no está organizado ni motivado para aprovechar las aperturas, las clases dominantes lo hacen, y establecen un nuevo régimen de acumulación.

Y no siempre que los pueblos están motivados y organizados lo están por fuerzas e ideas originados en la tradición marxista.2 "En realidad, y al menos por ahora, Marx ha cedido el escenario de la historia a Mahoma y el Espíritu Santo. Si Dios murió en las ciudades de la revolución industrial, se ha vuelto a poner de pie en las ciudades postindustriales del mundo en desarrollo", declara Mike Davis ("Planet of Slums," New Left Review 26, Marzo-Abril 2004).

Aijaz Ajmad reconoce el mismo fenómeno, y agrega:
El mundo secular tiene que ser justo por partida doble: tiene que serlo según los términos que definió para sí mismo, y también para defenderlo de la afirmación de que Dios hubiera ofrecido mejor justicia. Dicho de otro modo, tiene que contener suficiente justicia como para que no haga falta invocar la justicia de Dios contra la injusticia de los no creyentes. ("Islam, Islamism and the West," Socialist Register 2008)
Pero, ¿cómo? Randhir Singh aclara lo que hay que hacer en mejores términos que Davis y Ajmad: "negociar mejor las transacciones inevitables entre desarrollo económico y justicia social, entre requerimientos de productividad y eficiencia, por un lado, y por el otro sustentabilidad ambiental y calidad de vida, que no son reducibles a progreso material o crecimiento económico" ("Future of Socialism," MRZine, 29 de diciembre de 2007). Pero está muy lejos de ser evidente por sí mismo, y para los religiosos está más lejos que para nadie, que los izquierdistas seculares puedan negociar mejor esas transacciones -- así como otra, la que se da entre libertad y seguridad -- que aquellos que "invocan la justicia de Dios contra la injusticia de los no creyentes", dada la experiencia del socialismo de Estado del siglo XX y los gobiernos de quienes se autoidentifican como socialistas u otros izquierdistas seculares que existen hoy.

Así que la crisis de la izquierda secular continuará. Reconocerla como un problema más urgente que el de si hoy el capitalismo es dinámico o se ha estancado es el primer paso hacia su superación.

1 La idea de "socialismo del siglo XXI" por la que se combate en Venezuela, Ecuador y Bolivia, aún está en su infancia y es hoy más una alternativa a la hegemonía estadounidense y al régimen neoliberal de acumulación que una alternativa al captialismo como tal, y las fuerzas que han llevado al poder a Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa y Evo Morales (y allí los mantienen) se componen de clases y corrientes políticas contradictorias.

2 Concientemente, al menos. Pero la tradición marxista ha dejado marcas indelebles en todas las fuerzas de las clases populares, incluso las que la han rechazado expresamente.
A pesar de la moda de compararlo con los movimientos políticos de la extrema derecha, la mejor definición del islamismo sería "islamo-leninismo". Si bien el leninismo es un movimiento secular que niega su origen religioso y el islamismo es un movimiento que se reconoce religioso mientras suprime su deuda con el pensamiento secular, el pensamiento escatológico es igualmente central para ambos. (John Gray, "Faith in Reason: Secular Fantasies of a Godless Age," Harper's Magazine, Enero 2008, p. 88)
Haría un comentario a la observación de Gray: se debería reservar el término "islamo-leninistas" para aquellos islámicos que, como los de Irán, Hizballah y Jamas, pueden construir organizaciones de masas de las clases populares en función de sus propios proyectos nacionales de inflexión populista y antiimperialista, que no hay que confundir, por ejemplo, con el islamismo de las células terroristas al estilo de Al-Qaeda.

New Covert Push within Pakistan

This just in: "U.S. Considers New Covert Push within Pakistan" (Steven Lee Myers, David E. Sanger, and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, 6 January 2008).

No wonder that the New York Times no longer wants to say much about human rights violations in Iran and would rather talk about the elegance of Islamically correct fashion there (Nazila Fathi, "Designer's Rainbow Brightens Iranian Women's Look," 2 January 2008) instead.

The political unconscious of Democratic Iowa caucus voters, especially of Independent PMC (or richer) ones, is in tune with the changing focus of the empire: Obama, alone among all presidential candidates, emphasized early on the readiness to move more aggressively into Pakistan (a nuclear armed state whose population is more than twice that of Iran), as Doug Ireland reminds us ("Obama casse la baraque," Bakchich, 4 January 2008). This new push, too, will blow back against the empire.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Left in Crisis

Responses to the Robert Brenner-Sam Gindin debate (7 December 2007), as well as the debate itself, make me think, yet again, that it would be better for leftists to drop the oft-asked question -- "Is capitalism in crisis?" -- and ask different questions.

Capitalism as a mode of production will never be in crisis on the global scale. There are always global economic trends, some of which negatively impact profit rates sometimes, but their impacts differ dramatically from one nation to another, depending on their political economies, social structures, and (most importantly) cultural conditions (which alone are subject to leftists' interventions at least to a certain extent even before leftists find themselves in a position to change political economy and social structure on the national level).

Capitalism is always changing, but more profound changes happen during some periods than others, changes that amount to transition from one regime of accumulation to another regime, shifting from old national and inter-national political structures functional to the old regime to new national and inter-national ones that better fit the new regime. The emergence of US hegemony, made possible by the Second World War whose outcome ended the age of inter-imperialist wars, was one such shift; the end of the post-WW2 boom was another such shift; the possibility of the end of the dollar hegemony on the horizon today may be yet another shift.

Each transition presents popular classes with political openings. The question is whether popular classes are so organized and motivated to take advantage of them. It is on this crucial question that Brenner and Gindin agree: whether or not capitalism is in crisis, it is certain that leftists, especially leftists in the North, are, in large part due to the undeniable problem of increasing atomization of working people in the North, working people in the USA above all, and in no small part due to the absence of a systemic alternative1 to capitalism that inspires people and commands their allegiance.

When people are neither organized nor motivated to take advantage of the openings, the ruling classes will, establishing a new regime of accumulation.

Even when and where people are organized and motivated, they are not necessarily organized and motivated by forces and ideas that come from the Marxist tradition.2 "Indeed, for the moment at least, Marx has yielded the historical stage to Mohammed and the Holy Ghost. If God died in the cities of the industrial revolution, he has risen again in the postindustrial cities of the developing world," declares Mike Davis ("Planet of Slums," New Left Review 26, March-April 2004).

Recognizing the same phenomenon, Aijaz Ahmad says:
The secular world has to be just twice over: in terms of what it has defined for itself, and also to ward off the claim that God would have given better justice. That is to say, the secular world has to have enough justice in it for one not to have to constantly invoke God’s justice against the injustices of the profane. ("Islam, Islamism and the West," Socialist Register 2008)
But how? In more practical terms than Davis and Ahmad, Randhir Singh clarifies what is to be done: "better negotiate the necessary trade-offs between economic development and social justice, between requirements of productivity or efficiency and environmental sustainability or quality life which is not entirely a matter of material progress or economic growth" ("Future of Socialism," MRZine, 29 December 2007). And yet it is far from self-evident to all, the least of all to the religious, that secular leftists are better at negotiating the aforementioned trade-offs -- as well as another trade-off, that between liberty and security -- than those who "invoke God’s justice against the injustices of the profane," given the experience of state socialism of the 20th century and still existing governments led by self-identified socialists or other secular leftists.

The crisis of the secular Left will thus continue. Recognizing that as the more urgent problem than whether capitalism today is dynamic or stagnant is the first step toward overcoming it.

1 The idea of socialism of the 21st century, struggled over in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia, is still in its infancy, at present more an alternative to US hegemony and the neoliberal regime of accumulation than an alternative to capitalism as such, and forces that pushed and have kept Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa, and Evo Morales in power are composed of contradictory classes and political currents.

2 At least consciously. The Marxist tradition, however, has left indelible marks upon all forces of popular classes, even those that have expressly rejected it:
[D]espite the fashion for comparing it with political movements of the far right, Islamism could more accurately be described as "Islamo-Leninism." If Leninism is a secular movement that denies its origins in religion, Islamism is an avowed religious movement that suppresses its debts to secular thinking; eschatological thinking is equally central to both. (John Gray, "Faith in Reason: Secular Fantasies of a Godless Age," Harper's Magazine, January 2008, p. 88)
I'd qualify Gray's remark: those who may be properly called "Islamo-Leninists" are those Islamists, such as the Islamists of Iran, Hizballah, and Hamas, who have the capacity to build mass organizations of popular classes for their own national projects inflected with populism and anti-imperialism, not to be confused, for instance, with terrorist cells of Al-Qaeda-type Islamism.

Update
Read it in Spanish: Yoshie Furuhashi, "La izquierda en crisis," Traducción Néstor Gorojovsky, Critical Montages, 6 de enero de 2008.