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Saturday, June 16, 2007


The Takeover

In a discussion with a German comrade awhile back, I brought up the appeal of Marwan Barghouti, jailed former leader of the Tanzim, and his political faction Al-Mustaqbal. Barghouti had abandoned the Tanzim after a series of suicide bombings, and has a history of collaboration with Israeli left groups such as: Women in Black, Gush Shalom, Yesh Gvul, Ta’ayush etc. My German friend wrote me back saying: "Yes, his politics sound good, but how many guns does he have?"

At the time I was skeptical of his response. The Palestinian intifada had proven (in its best moments) that popular resistance to occupation could overcome a more powerfully armed adversary. What relevance to emancipation would the side with the most weapons really have?

This question was in a way answered rather brutally two days ago in Gaza. By now the basic course of events should be well known: after Hamas' election and refusal to engage with the terms of the Quartet, i.e. ongoing negotiation based on the Oslo accords, tensions developed to explosion between Fatah and Hamas, leading to a state of civil war. What are less clear is what events precipitated this. To understand the current moment we have to return to the period directly after the Hamas election. The boycott of the Hamas government by the west had not gone on for very long when public sector workers in Gaza reacted against the new austerities imposed upon them by Hamas' rejectionism, staging strikes and demonstrations against the government late in 2006. Proving their democratic credentials, Hamas attempted to break the strike, firing on the demonstrators and encouraged students to scab against their teachers.
"As a protest against the attempts by the banks to confiscate part of the emergency money paid out to workers for loan repayments, demonstrators stormed offices of banks in the occupied territories. The industrial action taken by the workers resumed the the same day and rumours of an impending all out strike began to circulate
The strike included at its start, 37,000 teachers, 25,000 health workers, and 15,000 other public-services workers
In front of the parliament there were continuous demonstrations with thousands demanding payment of wages, unemployment benefit and the creation of more jobs. They shouted slogans, threw stones at building and stormed the gates until they were brutally repressed by the riot police.

In Ramallah on the 30 August, a crowd of 3,000 people demonstrated outside a venue were Abass was meeting UN Secretary General, Kofi Anan. The demonstrators shouted “From today there is no government anymore. From this day on, there is no parliament anymore!” and “We have no money in our pockets.”
Less than a year ago the local Hamas leadership spoke about the possibility of an Intifada against the PNA. Now it is starting to understand that they themselves could be the target of such an event. The government is in negotiations with the strikers and it looks possible that the conflict will come to a negotiated end. The political direction is towards the formation of a unity government.

(Socialist World)
By the time tension between Hamas and Fatah was building towards explosion in the Gaza strip, Hamas had again to cope with the large-scale walkout of 15,000 public sector workers this April. How could Hamas slow this potential Intifada against its government? We could ask Rasem Al Bayari, Palestinian trade unionist of the PGFTU, one of many workers whose life was targeted by Palestinian security forces (led by Hamas). But sheer violence and repression were not adequate to contain the unrest. Hamas found other means more familiar to its activists. By firing or permitting the firing of rockets into southern Israel, Hamas could continue to make the eliminationist case for claims on Israeli territory, creating a focal point of 'national resistance' through which the population could be distracted with the fantasy of evicting the Israeli population. These rockets also double as bait for Israeli counterattacks, which in the event of a large-scale reoccupation of Gaza, Hamas would be in a position to unify the Palestinian factions on its own terms (since this interplay has been one of Hamas' major strategies after disengagement, it is obvious why Olmert has refused to hit Gaza in any major way so far). The focal point of the rocket launches more importantly allowed the party to compete with rival factions in Gaza, where Hamas struggled to increase its influence in streets that it did not fully control.

One of Hamas' major focuses in the Gaza strip since the disengagement has been an effort to recoup the political forces that have held power in the strip after disengagement. The eruption of working class struggle and the challenge of the Fatah faction made these efforts even more important. In Gaza, many of the forces patrolling the ground are clan forces, who may not have an essential loyalty to either Fatah or Hamas. This was made clear in the abduction of Alan Johnston by what are speculated to be Gaza clan forces (whom Hamas cannot crush outright), and his recently announced impending release subsequent to the Gaza coup. In this way Hamas plays a power game with the clans. This NPR segment sheds more light on clan influence in Gaza:
"WESTERVELT: ...in the security vacuum, well-armed clans have stepped in and appear to be consolidating control over key neighborhoods, as well as smuggling operations in Gaza commerce, legal and illegal. Professor Iyad Barghuthi, who runs a Palestinian human rights group, now counts more than 50 unofficial armed groups in Gaza.

Professor IYAD BARGHUTHI (Palestinian Human Rights Activist, Gaza City): You are talking about families. You are talking about, you know, groups with political movements. There's some mafias. And each one of the 53 wants to show that he has the power and he can do whatever he likes.

WESTERVELT: One of the most dominant local factions in Gaza today is the Dogmush clan. Palestinian security officials are extremely reluctant to even talk about the clan, but a senior Israeli security official who spoke on condition of anonymity, warned of growing weapons smuggling in Gaza and said, quote, "the Dogmush clan tells the story of Gaza today. It's clan business and no one in the Palestinian authority has the guts to stand up to them. There is no accountability," end quote.

A few of the many examples of Gaza chaos: masked gunmen recently shot up the convoy of the Gaza director of the U.N. agency that provides emergency food aid to nearly one million local people. The attackers remain at large; no one has been arrested. Last week, the new interior minister tried to survey the damage after sewage flooded a North Gaza village, killing five people. When the minister arrived, well-armed local families tried to kill him."
Since the channels of real local control in the strip were not fully open to Hamas, and in fact in some respects threatened a counter power, Hamas made its decision to seize political power. Hamas spokesmen like Hamdan Osama came up with a motive, describing clans patrolling in Gaza as 'lawless forces', and 'fiefdoms in Gaza'. Nevermind that Gaza is itself now a lawless fiefdom. The attack that came on the Fatah security forces was therefore at the same time an assertion of dictatorial rule over these clans, and clearly the Gaza working class, since during these melees Hamas forces fired on demonstrators demanding the cessation of hostility between factions. Just yesterday Hamas killed two unarmed peace demonstrators (to no international outcry). 26 people died in the ongoing street struggle in the same day and at least 600 have died in the period since the factional militias began feuding.
"The morgue was overflowing, with four bodies lined up on the floor, and some of the wounded were sleeping on cardboard on the floor.

Two men were killed in revenge slayings Friday, including a Fatah gunman thrown from a roof in what Hamas described as a family grievance - the gunman, they said, had killed a member of a Hamas-allied family. Another Fatah loyalist was shot dead in southern Gaza.

Since Hamas' victory late Thursday, about a dozen Fatah gunmen had been killed in gangland-style executions, Fatah said."
Now that Hamas has effectively split Palestine into two different enclaves it is critical to look at the wider implications and background of forces which made this possible.

Context of the Crisis

The insurgency against the US armed forces in Iraq has completely changed the coherency of American imperialism in the middle East and these changes are visible in the recent events in Gaza. In the midst of the largest crisis of American foreign policy in its history, Washington is increasingly trying to shelve not only the management of the Iraqi state in crisis, but also its stake in the proxy war waged by Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria in Iraq onto American allied Arab states in the region. This 'disengagement' could take the form of withdrawal with a political settlement negotiated among regional powers (including Iran) or an escalation into a wider regional Middle East war involving a mobilization of Saudi Arabia against Iran (the Iraqi civil war is an anticipation of this conflict). The results of the latter would be particularly grave for humanity. Washington has gone so far as to look the other way as Turkey invades Kurdistan to attack Kurdish nationalist militias like the PKK, with the Machiavellian logic that perhaps this pressure could produce a compromise on the bitterly contentious city of Kirkuk. Within this, the American ruling class is trying desperately to shore up its position in the Middle East in order to maintain a potential threat in the region.

That has meant in the context of Hamas' putsch in Gaza that the strip could be abandoned to Hamas while the West Bank and even camps in foreign countries like Lebanon are brought under the control of Fatah and the new PA. It is under these conditions that the US would release funding for the newly established PA and Israel will release tax revenues withheld from the Hamas government. The ending of the sanctions will in some ways be an improvement, but only for those in the west bank. In this way, America tries to prop up a new Palestinian Authority, loosely federated with the remaining American-allied ruling classes in the region: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Lebanon and Iraq (both shaky).

The reinforcement of Fatah is primarily an effort by the Western ruling class to reinforce its credible threat against the emerging opposition belt from Lebanon to Iran to Syria. There have already been many arguments in the media for bringing both Fatah and Hamas into the 'Sunni orbit', which refers to the American-allied states in the region. Hamas on the other hand is largely viewed as a lost cause due to its engagement with Iran and Syria.

By now much of the left is able to identify the ruthlessness of Hamas in the Gaza takeover. Some on the far left even take a clear position against both Hamas and Fatah, whom they argue will to varying degrees repress struggles within Palestinian society. In a discussion recently a comrade summarized this position succinctly:

"...it's a conflict between two completely reactionary forces and ideologies."

I would agree with this statement in many ways. However, it does not acknowledge that in Fatah and Hamas we are dealing with two ideologies (and therefore forces on the ground) which have very different goals and implications. The goals of the US, the quartet and the PA etc. are quite clear: territorial compromises in the West Bank to Israel and an ominous segmenting of Palestinian territory in exchange for a Palestinian state that can effectively control its population. There are larger themes at work here but I would argue that their motivations are based in the classical interest of state control over territory. In contrast it has long been clear that Hamas is part of a wider spectrum that includes forces calling for the complete elimination of Israel. Not only Ahmedinajad, but Syria, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood etc., in Europe elements of the right and some on the left who while making disclaimers are only too quick to apologize for the efforts of Hamas and Hezbollah. All of these parties are strictly speaking 'rational actors' on bourgeois terrain: they want to extend their influence just like America and NATO does, the difference is that they use eliminatory rhetoric, which dehumanizes Israelis. This sort of irrational discourse against Israelis has become quite common. By now it is cresting in industrial action by British unions against all Israeli academics (instead of a specific critique and hostile engagement with those who have supported the occupation), which isn't a lot different from the logic that drives the eliminatory factions. Britain's UNISON union and the largest trade union in South Africa, the Casatu, have jumped on this train and are seeking to spearhead their own boycotts. Rapidly the left (but more importantly, popular opinion) is losing analytical specificity for the texture of the entire conflict. I have argued in my piece 'When the Grass is cut, the Snakes will Show' that this is a direct result of the collapse of American imperialism in the mid-East and that while it has potentially good implications in terms of a slow end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, that the easy discourse which managed to blame the brutality of capitalism on Arabs themselves (and justify suspicion towards them domestically) will now be turned against Israel and in turn, Jews, in the absence of a popularized communist critique capable of exposing the capitalist crisis beneath.

Anti-Israel pathos of course shares many characteristics of anti-semitism, but not all of them. One similarity is the universal appeal of both trains of thought, that people anywhere who may have even no contact with Jews, are able to convince themselves that there is an all-powerful Jewish conspiracy working out of Geneva or Jerusalem directing American domination of the middle East. More and more thought like this substitutes for class struggle and in the worst ways, becomes an ideological inversion bent on its own defeat.

The question is what steps can be taken not only to attack the economic relations which we animate (class struggle), the same relations which empower the imperialist regional war in the middle East, but also how a political break with the existing war discourse can be produced. The former must be the priority since there are no forces waiting in the wings so to speak which could tip the scales in our favor, i.e. forces which could embody or popularize a better society. In the middle east for instance, one by one, the competing militias inherit the torture chambers of the regimes they supposedly opposed.

As far as a political break with the war discourse, I do not think that the communist indictment of both sides of the regional war has made many inroads. If anything alienation from the entire subject has grown epidemic and the influence of liberatory ideas in these frameworks has not expanded by much (1). Increasingly, people turn to any savior that appears to have even an ounce of integrity (see the popularity of presidential candidate Ron Paul for one example). But in particular, it is action and discussion around Israel that has entered a spiral of misinterpretation.

Where obvious idiots like the anti-semites of the libertarian right (anti-war.com etc.), and 'left' anti-imperialists like George Galloway, Sue Blackwell and so on pave the way for a hollowed out discussion of Israeli history, more concretely, Islamic Jihad and others give life to an ideological identification of all Israelis with the occupation government, by dumping missiles into Southern Israel, demonstrating the appeal of killing, or terrorizing any Israeli for 'their' crimes. Although Hamas is a different organization, it shares these tactics, differing only in that as a ruling state party it is obligated to channel (and outright oppress) class struggle in the classical sense.

Given this, and the struggle to produce eliminationist spectacles on Gaza's northern border, the nationalist factions more and more find their audience in the attack upon Israel as a body (partially because suicide bombing is now less of an option). That is, where a real class struggle would necessarily come into conflict with the occupation forces, even this is discarded towards a more general nihilistic assault on Israel as a place, Israel as an idea. I think this is at least a major difference between the first intifada and the second and this change has of course been consciously driven by elements in Palestine, Damascus, Tehran, Hezbollah etc. In the same way we see the growing influence of these actions reflected in worldwide popular opinion.

The attacks against Israel on the plane of history and ideology present a particular danger in my view. Popular opinion is generally drifting towards the idea that Israel is a nation that deserves either abandonment, dissolution or, in the extreme, elimination. I'm prepared to argue the exact opposite: that Israel is the only nation with a good reason to exist. That is, along with some on the German left, I think that an opposition to capitalism, imperialism and nationalism must include a solidarity with Israel, a nation whose creation was an inevitable result of the failure of the first revolutionary wave which could not prevent or defeat Europe's lapse into anti-semetic barbarism. The subsequent history of Zionism and Israel is as much a history of liberation as it is a history of imperialism and colonialism.

Since Israel is itself a participant in the imperialist conflict in the mid-east now, this solidarity does not include support for its military adventures. I would argue along with some on the Israeli left that there could be an Israeli nation that both defends itself against elimination and refuses the wars that the west requests of it (for instance, Olmert was requested by France to 'regime change' Syria during the second Lebanon war). Making an exception for Israel does not excuse in every way the manner in which the nation came about, its imperialism nor its treatment of its neighbors, I'm arguing only for the necessity of a Jewish nation after Auschwitz, not its use as a warhead against its Arab neighbors.

Israel has enough of its own contradictions in regards to its own population to make obvious that in many ways it fails its own mandate (the oppression of the Mizrahi Jews, or the past employment by the state of Nazi war criminals are some examples that speak to the depth of Israeli contradictions). Like any nation, for whatever ideal it is created for, it will act as an incubator for the state and capitalism, and thus deserves to be overcome by a wider human community. Israel itself is far from an embodiment of liberatory or even classic bourgeois ideals, and in many ways reflects their failures. Nevertheless, these smaller contradictions do not amount to an argument for prioritizing its abolition above others. Nor do they justify unrealistic expectations on Israelis to dissolve themselves into a single society with their neighbors (the position of many of those who voted to boycott Israel in the UCU) which is not a demand placed on any other people in the world. The chief motor of the imperialist malaise lies in the developed countries (specifically the west) and that's where our opposition should be; within that opposition I think we have to stand against the slide into negationist history by expressing a critical solidarity with Israel.

(1) One good example (and there are many others) of a struggle across borders has been provided by the Fire Brigades Union of Britain, who lugged two fire engines through Europe and Turkey into Iraq to fight the fires of war.

Scream Quietly or the Neighbors will Hear

From Layla Anwar...
I remember reading a book some years back. I cannot remember the name of the author though. I did warn you that I am bad with names. But the exact title is well lodged in my mind: "Scream quietly or the neighbors will hear".
The book was about female battering. You know what woman battering is don't you?

It is basically when a man beats, strikes, punches, kicks, pounds...a woman and sometimes severly enough that she ends up in hospital and sometimes severly enough to bring about her death.

It is interesting to note that the verb "to batter" is also used in cooking i.e to make a dough. The French have similar anologies between battering a woman and food. They would say he turned her into a "compote".(compote is cooked fruits). Ditto for Arabic expressions. They would say he broke her bones, they became like "soup"...
Am sure other "cultures" have more analogies of the same sort. I will leave it to you to dig up some expressions that you are familiar with, along the same lines...

Did you notice something here? A common trait in the use of words, in the use of language?

It is as if they allude to render that "thing" liquefied, easily moulded, soft to the palate...
In sum, easily mixed and easily digestible. I will also leave it to you to make further associations on the same theme.

No society is immune from woman battering. I will not dwell on figures now. All societies are guilty of it. East and West, equally guilty. And R.Kipling was wrong when he said that East and West shall never meet. They do meet. They met. They met in Iraq.

They met in Iraq, the land, the earth, the Mother...
They also met and agreed on her daughters bodies - Iraqi Women.

That body which, since the "liberation", has become a public commodity. A public thing. A thing to be veiled, a thing to be controlled, a thing to be ordered about, a thing to be disposed of, a thing to be battered, moulded, shaped into a liquefied, soft, yielding thing. A digestible thing.

Yes, batter, pound, strike, punch, beat, rape, torture, imprison...that "thing" and ultimately dispose of it, annihilate it.

Both "East and West" are bent on the destruction of Iraqi women.
It is as if, plundered, occupied Iraq has become the center point, the "lieu" where these forces can pour out their venom, their deep hatred, their frustrated instincts, their perversities...In sum their collective misogyny.

And those who know me a little by now, know what I mean by East & West. Just in case you are new to this blog. East is metaphorically used for Iran and West for none other but the "greatest democracy on earth", America.


Thursday, June 14, 2007









「Lebanon still bears deep scars from the civil war. In all, it is estimated that more than 100,000 people were killed, and another 100,000 handicapped by injuries. Approximately 900,000 people, representing one-fifth of the pre-war population, were displaced from their homes. Perhaps a quarter of a million emigrated permanently. Thousands of land mines remain buried in the previously contested areas. Some Western hostages kidnapped during the mid-1980s (many claim by Hezbollah, though the movement denies this) were held until May 1992[31]. Lebanese victims of kidnapping and wartime "disappeared" number in the tens of thousands[citation needed].」


「The number of civilian casualties is disputed, and is probably between 10,000 and 12,000. The math is as follows: An Nahar, a Lebanese paper published in Beirut, estimated that the total military personnel and civilians dead from the Lebanon campaign (up to and including the siege) was 17,825. Subtract 2,000 Syrian dead, 1,400 PLO and 1,000-3,000 civilians killed in the southern campaign, 1,000 PLO killed in the siege, and the 368 IDF killed. This number excludes the 750-3,000 Palestinian refugees killed in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, which occurred when Israel broke into West Beirut after the assassination of Gemayel, in defiance of the peace accord negotiated by Habib, and allowed Phalangist forces into the camps.」


「The Israeli Army occupied most of the area south of the Litani River, resulting in the evacuation of at least 100,000 Lebanese [5], as well as approximately 2,000 deaths.」




「In an orgy of bloodletting, several hundred people were murdered in a few hours, most of them civilian. Estimations of the total number of victims range between 200 and 600.」




「On August 12 the camp finally fell, following an on-and-off siege of several months. During the last two months, the siege had tightened with Syrian backing. Heavy artillery shelling damaged much of the camp and killed a number of inhabitants. As the militias took control of the camp, its inhabitants were forcibly evacuated - or ethnically cleansed - towards Muslim-held Western Beirut. During the evacuation, militia forces are said to have machine-gunned refugee columns, and others were killed with gunfire, grenades and knives inside the camp; a large number of rapes were also reported. The camp itself was completely obliterated to prevent the return of the inhabitants.

Harris (p. 165) writes that "Perhaps 3,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, died in the siege and its aftermath"
Cobban (p. 142) writes that 1 500 camp residents were killed in one day and a total of 2 200 were killed throughout the events.」



「# On 15 May 1974 members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine infiltrated the Israeli border town of Ma'alot from Lebanon, killing five adults and taking grade 11 children in a local school hostage. They eventually shot 21 of the children, before being killed by IDF soldiers, in the Ma'alot massacre.

# On the night of 4 March 1975 eight PLO gunmen travelled from Lebanon to Tel Aviv by sea in a rubber dinghy, entered the Savoy Hotel and took dozens of hostages. During the rescue mission three IDF soldiers were killed and eight hostages wounded; the PLO gunmen retreated to a room and attempted to blow themselves up, killing eight hostages and wounding 11, as well as killing seven of the PLO gunmen. See Savoy Operation.

# On 11 March 1978, 11 Fatah members led by the 18-year old female Dalal Mughrabi travelled from Lebanon and killed an American tourist on the beach. They then hijacked a bus on the coastal road near Haifa, and en route to Tel Aviv commandeered a second bus. After a lengthy chase and shootout, 37 Israelis were killed and 76 wounded [1]. This, the Coastal Road Massacre, was the proximate cause of the Israeli invasion three days later. (Cobban, p.94, Shlaim p.369)」




「Harris (p. 162) notes "the massacre of 1,500 Palestinians, Shi'is, and others in Karantina and Maslakh, and the revenge killings of hundreds of Christians in Damur".」



「Twenty Phalangist militiamen were executed and then civilians were lined up against a wall and sprayed with machine-gun fire. An unknown number of women were raped, babies shot at close range, and bodies were mutilated and dismembered. None of the remaining inhabitants survived.[2] Estimates of the civilian dead range from 25–30[3] to 582[4] with the most reliable figure probably being around 330.」


「The bulk of the attacking forces seems to have been composed by brigades from the Palestinian Liberation Army[9] and as-Sa'iqa, as well as other militias including Fatah. Some sources also mention the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and the Muslim Lebanese al-Murabitun militia among the attackers. There are also reports that mercenaries or militiamen from Syria, Jordan, Libya, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan were part of the assault, and even Japanese commandos who were training in Lebanon.」




The camps war 1985–7
Between 1985 and 1987, the Syrian-backed Amal Movement, a major Shia militia, attacked several Palestinian camps in Beirut and in the south in order to get rid of the remaining pro-Arafat PLO combatants (Suleiman 1999: 68). During periods of intense fighting, many of the camps were besieged and cut off from the outside, and suffered from lack of food, clean water, and medical supplies (USCR report 1999: 8). The Amal Movement was not able to control any of the camps; however, it is estimated that the fighting resulted in the destruction of 80 per cent of homes in Shatila camp (Beirut) and 50 per cent of homes in Burj El Barajneh camp (Beirut). Sabra (an informal settlement next to Shatila) was almost totally destroyed. An
estimated 2,500 people were killed during this period (Khalidi 2000: 7).」


「At the end of the war an official Lebanese government reported that the total number of casualties for these battles was put at 3,781 dead and 6,787 wounded in the fighting between Amal and the Palestinians. Furthermore, the number of Palestinians killed in internal struggles between pro-Syrian and independent organizations was around 2,000. The real number is probably higher because thousands of Palestinians were not registered in Lebanon and the blockade meant that no official could access the camps so that all the casualties could not be counted.」



「October 13, 1990 at 7:00 a.m The Syrian Forces invaded the Eastern areas which support the Lebanese Army. An estimated 700 people were killed by the Syrian invaders that day and 2000 had been injured. Estimates of the Lebanese Army losses during the battle, of whom some were executed by the Syrians and including Prisoners of War as between 400 to 500 soldiers.」


「The Phalangist forces launched a surprise attack on the Tigers, a 500-man militia that was the armed force of the National Liberal Party (Lebanon) of ex-Lebanese President Camille Chamoun. The attack claimed the live of roughly 200 people [1]. Dany Chamoun, leader of the Tigers, managed to escape; his daughter Tracy was injuried.」


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Recent correspondence

Received a nice letter from my friend L (who works with Bustan outside of Jerusalem) in which she enclosed some heirloom seeds native to Israel. I've already got buds in the vegetable boxes, and am particularly looking forward to the dinosaur gourds
and the green jade bush beans!

A few months ago, I had a reply from Phoenix Insurgent, my comrade from Phoenix, replying to my article on worker subjectivity. I think his comments draw out some interesting points. My objective with the piece was to consider some of the directions in which workers grate at the production process in tech industry workplaces. Within that, I wanted to theorize a way to make a break with the traditional confrontation which tends toward a trade union model of struggle, and consider the impact of 'dragging one's feet' or a collective groan which does not make particular demands. He writes:

When I was working for the post office, we were replaced by computers and my entire section was laid off, leaving only a small cadre of old careers doing the work of what used to be a large workforce. We were union, of course, but the union did nothing but lie to us (which wouldn't surprise me now, but then was a source of frustration). Their interest was in defending the careers, who represented the backbone of the union, particularly financially - even though there were permatemps at the site that had been temps for several years.

Anyhow, the point is, there was a lot of cynicism and sarcasm and general shit-talking about the bosses and our obvious fate, but it did nothing. Those of us on the chopping block withdrew some labor, but as the computers came online, our slowdown was undermined by forced early outs (going home early). The careers were protected from this because they had guaranteed minimum hours in the contract that didn't apply to us permatemps. We were hauled into one joint meeting with both careers and permatemps that resulted in no serious challenge to the boss, partly because the shop steward stood right next to the him and lied about the looming layoffs. When the terminations came, we were fired in shifts right before the weekend, so it was very difficult to let anyone know what was happening.

It seemed to me that the divisions in the workplace became impediments because we didn't articulate clear demands that could be defended through solidarity (whether through the union or not). A strong demand that no further automation take place, perhaps backed up by direct action against the computers and a broader work slowdown, would have gone a long way towards defending our jobs, which were already pretty flexible in terms of hours and generally well-compensated with night differentials and such.

I think our inability to act clearly and together towards clear goals was a limitation that allowed management to go forward with their program, eliminating our jobs and, of course, eventually those of the careers as well. Without clear goals, no solidarity could take place with the careers, because they didn't see that our position was just their advanced by a year or two.
Your story keys into the struggle of workers worldwide against redundancies doesn't it? Automation is used as a weapon by managers in order to save on labor costs, meaning that people lose their jobs, and therefore their means to carry on living. PI makes the case that working towards clear goals among employees would have increased communication within the workplace and lead to a broader solidarity. I would say that I agree with this.

One of the contingent factors of the struggle at my own workplace is that we are constantly on computers, we are emailing each other and some people even use instant messaging. This is not live communication, but it does enable a general 'feeling-out' of where we all are at as the day passes, and so we haven't needed to make particular demands. During the more intense periods of confrontation, meetings with management were almost always collective as well, so there was very good communication among workers, only hobbled by a deep sense of trepidation at somewhat important moments. Had our conditions mirrored those of you workplace, I think drawing up demands would have been essential. Thus, some of the points outlined in 'Notes on an Ongoing Workplace Struggle' could not apply to any workplace.

Separate from the question of demands, you raise the question of sabotage and that strikes me as problematic. Let's think about worker opposition to automation. Any wage laborer is prima facie subjected to the conditions of capitalist society, rent, work, wages and so on. Most jobs are worked in order to maintain a person and/or her family. Is the mailroom of a post office not a miserable job? I don't know myself. But it would seem so, and if it is, then by all accounts the workers should be delighted that automation has been introduced to make their roles obsolete. Except that they are not, because their continued subsistence is premised on receiving the wage which the machine obviates. We are stuck at a fork in the road. For the workers to recover themselves they can either oppose the automation, and demand wages on the anti-social terrain of capital, forfeiting a critique of their workplace for a continuous wage. Or they can attempt to attack the workplace socially; we saw this a lot at the end of the 1960s and particularly the 1970s where welfare payments and state spending compensated workers whose jobs were obviated by automation. With this in mind I would claim that the communist effort should be aimed at increasing the level of social struggle around the workplace, such that labor is not trapped on capital's terrain. If anything, the terrain of struggle for precarious and temporary workers is less the workplace than the unemployment office. By building a safety net they critique the organization of society, which automates only to impoverish. If the workers go to war with automation, they will set the stage for new problematic ideologies in my view.
Next, I received a comment on the blog a couple weeks ago from a passing dissident Iranian, who posted a curious rant in Persian. L had her grandmother translate a summary into English for me:
Iran as an official entity is being inflicted by all these hardships and woes because of their father's sins/mistakes that for turning to Islam.

Iran wasn't originally a Muslim country and all the problems they are facing in their government is a result of their mistake of accepting Islam.

Hizbollah has insulted and hurt Iran and everything they (Hizbollah) says is a lie. Those in power in Iran's government are idiots for listening and becoming pawns of Hizbollah. Hizbollah only got ahead and took advantage of Iran because of all the hardships Iran was going through.

Everything going wrong in Iran should really be blamed on Mohommad because he was a disturbed person. (Then there was a long serise of really harsh curses and cussing out of Mohommad and Islam and the Iranian government)

Ristalah is twenty times worse than the devil and the lowest of animals...(not sure what a lot of that paragraph was about).

The Arabs try to say that the kailah e fars (persian gulf) is really the kaligh e arab and belongs to them. There is a big dispute about this. Iranians are upset and outraged about this but meanwhile their actual ruler is Arab (Muslim?) and they don't care about that.
People who are from foreign languages are welcomed and invited to spread this all over. (then it ended with some Arabic).
Well.............I do not think all of modern Iran's problems stem from Mohammed's personal issues. Obviously things run much deeper. Among other things, the discussion could not continue without a meditation on Iran's position as an imperialist prize and the role that the Shah's dictatorship played in that.

Iran is now however at the forefront of the ideological war with the west, it is an imperialist power of its own and uses the anti-semitic critique of Israel to unite European and middle Eastern reactionaries into new alliances. Iran is also the chief sponsor of proxy wars against middle Eastern regimes allied to the west and of course Israel, where Iranian money funds the northern and southern fronts. The conflict between the Iranian government and other Arab regimes, Israel, the West etc. is thus rooted in geopolitics and clothed in the evangelical ideology of fundamentalist Islam.

Lastly, Anonymous writes:
sphinx I have read your blog for a long time
thanks for this post: but I am waiting
for you to give us a long coherent argument, why a communist should "support Israel" (and what do we mean here),
instead of just reposting Liberal, right-wing, etc. articles?
(esp. for those of unfamiliar with the "antigerman" current and related views.)
To which I responded:
Hi Anonymous.

I do think communist solidarity with Israel is an essential element of breaking with many of the problematics that anti-imperialism and flawed analysis of capitalist phenomena have brought into anti-capitalist movements. It is a place to insert oneself that provokes, that suddenly unwinds all the previous assumptions and challenges fundamental assertions. That said, it is a problematic position that ultimately deserves its own super cession. However, an overcoming like that is not visible at all on the left, in fact the opposite is true, that discourse around Israel is getting more and more irrational.

I'll write more in detail in a longer post that I'm working on right now about the rockets in Gaza and the boycott movement.
And back:
thanks for your reply. I'll look forward to the longer piece.

to put very crudely the question your very interesting and attractive formation creates for me: how to reconcile the position you sketch with a consistent internationalist position?

and what do we make of this here in the states, where (unlike say on the European left, where I understand leftist pro-Islamism/antisemitism is common and visible) there is widespread anti-Muslim and Arab sentiment, widespread approval of Israeli policies, and a massive fundamentalist Christian movement inculcating its followers with militant apocalyptic Zionism?

the emotional force of your images is directed obviously against the selective attention to murder on the left, but again, versus the US media what can this mean? versus the editorial page of every local paper in America?
Of course these are important considerations. I am working on a longer piece right now that I hope to have done by the end of June that will clarify my own position, the extreme danger that inter-imperialist conflict represents for the population of the Middle East, and the role that the anti-semitic critique plays in this maelstrom. I will attempt to address the question of why communists should have solidarity with Israel, and also: what could this position mean after the massacres in Beirut, Gaza and elsewhere during the second Lebanon war? Such a position is incidentally the very antithesis of the frothing mania of a Jerry Falwell.

In the meantime, anyone interested in the fundamentals of a communist position that calls for solidarity with Israel is invited to read this interview with Stephen Grigat, and visit the anti-deutsch project.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Against the Boycotts

I have quite a lot to say about the recent boycott attacks against Israelis, but for now this piece will have to do. I send my respect to those in the union who fought this absurd measure and those who fight against this reductionism which leads only to more violence.

Boycotting Israel as moral masturbation
By Bradley Burston

Just for the sake of argument, let's suppose that you're a British academic. You believe strongly that the occupation must end, that the Palestinians should have an independent state, that Israel's military and diplomatic policies are wrongheaded to the point of immorality.

What to do? Simple. Find the one group within Israeli society which has consistently, vigorously and courageously campaigned against the occupation since its inception.

Then attack them.

Single them out for professional ruin. Do your best to get as many of their colleagues around the world to shun them. Yes, just as if you were in seventh grade and had decided to alleviate your own feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, panic and lack of requisite cool by cutting another victim from the middle school herd and lobbying your equally insecure colleagues to abuse the chosen victim.

Choose your victim with care. Select the one group in Israel which has taken substantive physical, professional, legal and personal risks, which has defied the spirit of Israeli nationalism and the letter of Israeli law, in order to seek out Palestinians to search for equitable solutions.

Select the one group which has, from the very beginning, spoken out eloquently for the rights of the Palestinians to self-determination, to freedom from Israeli domination, to freedom from disproportionate and often indiscriminate use of force, to freedom from social injustice.

Then denounce them.

Decide that your moral vision fully empowers you to declare Israeli professors and other university and college faculty to be unworthy of practicing their calling. All of them.

That is, perhaps, the real beauty of the British campaign to declare a quarantine over Israeli academics.

You really must envy the U.K. far-left for its blindness. Its consummate inability to see more than one side, which is to say, its demonstrated refusal to see Jews as fellow human beings, is only exceeded by its exquisite sense of timing.

No matter that in the whole of the 1991 Gulf war, Saddam Hussein managed to hit all of Israel with a total of 39 missiles, and that two weeks ago, Hamas sent 40 rockets into the Sderot area in the space of a single day.

No matter that Sapir College, Israel's largest public college, has for years been a primary target of Qassam crews.

No matter that in boycotting all Israeli academics on the basis of their being Israelis, the measure is patently racist, a grotesque reprise of the history of curbing academic freedom.

No matter that Israeli Arab academics who are staunchly opposed to the occupation are vehement opponents of the boycott as well.

No matter, even, that opposition to the boycott runs strong within the British University and College Union itself. In fact, all the more reason to press on.

For the genuine elitist, the unpopularity of an opinion is the best assurance of its real value.

Perhaps this is why the whole boycott campaign smacks of a uniquely far-left British brand of moral masturbation, a desperate, delusional, sterile, supremely self-contained form of non-activism that risks nothing even as it changes nothing.

There must be some reason why no one in this world does condescension better than the British far-left. There must be some reason why the British far-left manages to satisfy itself with a uniquely public, uniquely self-congratulatory form of ideological self-abuse.

Leftists abroad would do well to respect their Israeli counterparts for defying societal norms to work for the rights of people with whom their nation is at war. Perhaps the Israeli left deserves respect, as well, for having to do this while enduring the racist abuse of leftists abroad.

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