Friday, April 27, 2012

Their guns and ours

By Caleb T. Maupin
Published Apr 26, 2012

In New York City, it is illegal to carry a firearm, whether a handgun or sporting rifle, without a permit. With this ban as an excuse, the New York City Police Department carries out a policy of "stop and frisk" that is aimed primarily at youth of color.

The police, for no legal reason, frequently stop Black and Latino/a youth and pat them down under the guise of hoping to find illicit weapons. The justifications given for these degrading "stop and frisks" are outrageous, such as "a suspicious bulge" or "furtive motions." As a coalition of mostly young Black activists fighting this policy put it, the real reason is almost always nothing more than "walking while Black."

Recently, Ramarley Graham was walking home in the Bronx. He was stopped by police, but rather than be searched, he escaped. In response, the police stalked him and fatally shot him in his apartment.

There is a group of "gun rights" activists who call themselves the Second Amendment Movement, referring to the part of the U.S. Constitution that guarantees the right of the people to bear arms. However, they are not involved in the struggle against "stop and frisk." Nor can they be found among those who have been part of the heroic civil disobedience campaigns and protests aimed at this repressive policy.

This right-wing movement instead campaigns for capitalist politicians, rails against communism and now champions the racist killer George Zimmerman.

They and the rest of the gun lobby are sponsored by firearms manufacturers and the military-industrial complex. The aim of these forces is not to protect oppressed people from the repressive capitalist state, but to protect and reinforce the racists and vigilantes who terrorize oppressed people.

In addition, these groups whip up racist stereotypes and fear of crime in order to sell more of their products. They promote this vile racism, resulting in more senseless killings.

Does this mean that a ban on firearms would be a good thing? No! A ban on firearms would be a setback for the workers and oppressed peoples of the U.S.

Right to self-defense

Racist murderers like George Zimmerman and his racist ilk in the Ku Klux Klan and other neofascist vigilante groups will always be able to obtain weapons. Their allies in the police departments, the FBI and other organs of the state will enable them to wage terror against oppressed people, whatever laws exist.

A ban on firearms would also not disarm the racist murderers in the police departments throughout the country. The Pentagon brass, the greatest collection of armed, warmongering profiteers, would remain armed to the teeth.

Marxist-Leninists unapologetically defend the right of workers and oppressed people to defend themselves with any means available. Historically, there have been many occasions in the people's struggle for justice where guns have been utilized.

When civil rights activists were being murdered in the South, the Monroe, N.C., chapter of the NAACP, under the leadership of Robert F. Williams and Mae Mallory, beat back KKK terror in the 1960s through armed self-defense of their community. The Black Panther Party shook up the racist establishment when its young members patrolled Oakland, Calif., monitoring the activities of the police while carrying shotguns and law books.

During the Depression, when Nazis from the Silver Legion of America mobilized to attack the Teamsters in Minneapolis, the union, led by communists, formed workers' defense guards. This caused the fascists to back down.

For years coal miners had to arm themselves against the violence of company goons trying to break their union.

As long as class oppression and racist violence exist, workers and oppressed people will need to defend their just struggles, sometimes with weapons in hand. It is a right that must not be surrendered.

The writer is a youth organizer in Workers World Party and FIST (Fight Imperialism, Stand Together).

Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

The saint

A wonderful bit of anti-clericalism from the latest New Left Review:
Marco D'Eramo
The spiritual career of Padre Pio poses a challenge for those who, following Max Weber, expected that the world should become more and more disenchanted in the face of modern capitalist civilization. [1] It also helps to dismantle the notion that modernity is a univocal concept; rather, we must speak of plural modernities, simultaneous and mutually irreducible. From the former perspective, it is difficult to explain the fact that Francesco Forgione—as Pio was named on his birth in 1887—would become the most famous Italian of the last century. Neither Antonio Gramsci nor Benito Mussolini can match the hordes of pilgrims, several million each year, who visit San Giovanni Rotondo to worship at Forgione's grave. How could this sickly, ill-educated southerner achieve such global renown? The details of his life have been rehearsed endlessly in media of every kind. Yet this translation of Sergio Luzzatto's outstanding biography gives Anglophone readers the first opportunity to consult a serious account of the Padre Pio phenomenon, a study of the man and of his socio-political environment, based on comprehensive research by a skilled and subtle academic historian.
Most of the books and articles devoted to Forgione—Luzzatto rightly speaks of a 'logorrhoea' inspired by the saint—have set out to confirm or deny his holiness, his capacity to bestow miraculous cures upon the sick, his legendary stigmata. Luzzatto, a professor of modern history at the University of Turin, declares his intention to avoid such matters in the book's preface: 'All those seeking answers—affirmative or negative—as to whether the stigmata or the miracles were "real" had better close this book right now. Padre Pio's stigmata and his miracles interest us less for what they tell us about him than for what they tell us about the world around him.' And that world showed—and shows—a desperate hunger for belief in the sacred and the supernatural. Heine and Nietzsche first spoke of the 'death of God', and some philosophers went even further in the 1960s, formulating a 'theology of the death of God'. This report of divine mortality proved to be as mistaken as Weber's theory of disenchantment: not only has God not died, but all of the various gods continue to prosper, as witnessed by the rapid diffusion of Pentecostalism around the world, the strength of Christian fundamentalism in the hyper-technological and capitalist usa, the popularity of Islamist movements and of India's Bharatiya Janata Party. Superstitions, do-it-yourself beliefs, all sorts of magic are thriving. Who in the early twentieth century would have expected that in a hundred years' time, several Christian denominations would each have more followers than all the parties of the global workers' movement put together?
Francesco Forgione was born in the village of Pietrelcina in southern Italy, about sixty miles east of Naples. In all the years preceding his death in 1968, Forgione never travelled more than eighty miles from his birthplace. He became a novice at the age of fifteen and joined the Capuchin Order two years later. Having managed to perform his military service well away from the front line during the First World War, Forgione secured a discharge on grounds of physical disability and entered the convent of San Giovanni Rotondo in 1916, never to leave this corner of the Gargano Peninsula again. In the summer of 1918, as the war approached its conclusion, wounds appeared on the hands and feet of the man who would become Padre Pio: they were soon interpreted as stigmata by the believers, who compared them to the wounds of Christ's crucified body.
Luzzatto is greatly interested in those elements of mass psychology which create and disseminate popular beliefs about the extraordinary powers of a certain person's body—a king, a duce, a saint. His early research on the French Revolution was influenced by Marc Bloch's seminal work on the healing power of French kings, and Luzzatto's study of Padre Pio follows his previous book The Body of Il Duce: Mussolini's Corpse and the Fortunes of Italy (2005). The historian evokes the trauma of the First World War to explain why, as soldiers returned from the front—many carrying their own wounds—belief spread that a humble Capuchin in a southern convent had received the sanguinary marks of Christ. The immediate context for this belief was of course the traditional superstitions and the almost folkloric cult of saints among southern Italians, as evoked by the Fascist writer Curzio Malaparte: 'St Martin on horseback, St George with his spear, St Lucy with her eyes on a plate, St Rocco with his unguents for the plague, St Anthony among the pigs, St Christopher at the ford, St Joseph with his carpenter's plane, St Agnes of the seven swords.' Yet already by the 1920s, the Padre Pio cult had become a national phenomenon, transcending its southern origins. 'The majority [of pilgrims] came from Tuscany', notes Luzzatto, 'followed by Liguria, Lazio and Lombardy, with a few from southern regions of Puglia, Sicily and Sardinia.' Nor was belief in Padre Pio's miraculous gift confined to Italy: the guestbook at San Giovanni Rotondo for 1924 already contains signatures from Spain and France, Brazil and Argentina, Ireland and Chile.
The birth pangs of the cult coincided with another event that brought San Giovanni Rotondo to national attention: the shooting of eleven Socialist demonstrators by government troops in the autumn of 1920. Padre Pio did not hesitate to bestow his spiritual authority upon the 'party of order'—fascio d'ordine—preparing to engage in temporal battles against the rising Left. Shortly before the massacre, the saint had emerged from his cloister to bless the banners of right-wing army veterans in the town. He would go on to receive Giuseppe Caradonna, a prominent southern Fascist whose squadristi transformed Puglia's political conflicts into a one-sided civil war, also playing their part in the March on Rome. As Luzzatto recalls, Caradonna's great enemy in the region was the trade unionist Giuseppe Di Vittorio; born a short distance from San Giovanni Rotondo, Di Vittorio would himself become a 'secular saint' of the Italian labour movement, his photo circulating among working-class militants much as images of Padre Pio did among the faithful. (After Di Vittorio's death in 1957, Pio's hagiographers made baseless claims that he had planned to visit the monk: not even a Communist could escape the divine embrace.)
However committed he may have been to the defence of the established order, Forgione's immense popularity was by no means a source of delight for the Vatican. One of the main themes of Luzzatto's book is the conflict between the popular religiosity inspired by Padre Pio and the distrust of the institutional Church. The monk endured several years as a 'prisoner of the Vatican', compelled to isolate himself from the laity on strict orders from the church hierarchy. During this period some of Forgione's more enthusiastic partisans suggested that he might play the role of a modern-day Savonarola, purging a 'decadent' Church of its worldly leaders, while Vatican loyalists compared him to Rasputin. Pius xii—whose dubious relationship with the Axis powers remains a source of occasional awkwardness for the Church—was the first pope to embrace Padre Pio and grant free rein to his cult. This coincided with the emergence of Pio as a global celebrity in the period following the Second World War. Before the war he had received 9,000 letters annually; by 1945 there were 40,000 arriving at San Giovanni Rotondo every year, and the numbers continued to rise.
The story of the hospital built under Pio's supervision, the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, illustrates his passage from outlaw status within the Church to respectability. The project began with a huge donation of 3.5 million francs bestowed upon the Capuchin by his most devoted supporter of the inter-war period, a certain Emanuele Brunatto, who had worked as an informer for Mussolini's secret police and made his fortune on the black market in occupied France supplying luxury goods to the German officer class. One hagiographer quoted by Luzzatto prefers to overlook such unseemly matters: 'It has never been clear from where such a sum in francs, so large for those times, could have come'. Yet work was completed on the hospital after the war with the help of a new sponsor: Barbara Ward, foreign editor of the Economist. A devout Catholic who had visited San Giovanni Rotondo in 1947 and found herself 'enchanted' by Padre Pio, Ward was also the fiancée of Robert Jackson, deputy chief of the un Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. Her lobbying efforts, in tandem with those of the Vatican and the Christian Democrats, ensured that the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza would receive 250 million lira from unrra; by contrast, the entire Red Cross organization in Italy was given just 130 million lira. As the crucial election of 1948 approached, us officials could see the propaganda value of a large grant to Padre Pio, who thus found himself in charge of the best-equipped hospital in southern Italy.
Luzzatto describes the ten years after 1948 as the 'golden age' of Padre Pio's cult. San Giovanni Rotondo and its environs witnessed a tourist boom as pilgrims travelled from every corner of the world to pay homage to the Capuchin miracle-worker. He was the first Catholic saint to be embedded in the celebrity system, to ascend simultaneously to heaven and to stardom. Pio became a favourite of the rotocalchi—weekly magazines that have the same role in Italy as the Anglophone tabloids, full of celebrity pictures and gossip—where his image could be seen alongside that of Claudia Cardinale on their front pages. He was asked for blessings by sportsmen such as the cyclist Gino Bartali and the race-car driver Tazio Nuvolari. In the Italian edition of the book, Luzzatto draws parallels between Pio's iconic status and that of Che Guevara or Marilyn Monroe; the comparison would doubtless strike the Anglo-Saxon reader as so outlandish that the translator preferred to drop it from the English text.
Another affinity which comes to mind is that between Pio and Diana Spencer, between a saint who was also a star and a star who was also a saint. In both cases the body—and its underlying sexuality—played a crucial role. Each was seen, in defiance of any logic, as a foe of the establishment. The popular emotion which surrounded them developed against the traditional institutions, be it the monarchy or the Church. Diana was hailed as an adversary of Britain's royal family, while Padre Pio was considered a 'popular saint' in opposition to the Vatican hierarchy. Although his public character expressed what is known in Italy as 'clerico-fascism', believers still credit Pio with a left-leaning heart. Despite the fact that he gave his blessing to the squadristi who perpetrated the massacre at San Giovanni Rotondo, I have myself seen his image in many southern branches of Rifondazione Comunista. While Padre Pio appears at first glance to have been a deeply traditional figure, there is nothing archaic about the Pio phenomenon, which is unmistakably a product of the modern age. The state-of-the-art Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, and Pio's own incorporation into the star system, are perfect examples of the plural character of modernity noted earlier—and of what the late German scholar Reinhard Koselleck called 'the simultaneity of the non-contemporaneous'.
The trajectory and significance of Pio's life are described with remarkable skill by Luzzatto. It is perhaps to be regretted that the book concentrates so heavily on the 1919–39 period, which accounts for two-thirds of its extent. Even though the author recognizes that Padre Pio's celebrity is largely a post-war phenomenon, the remaining 28 years of the saint's existence, and the four decades of his afterlife, are given too concise a treatment. This imbalance has both subjective and objective roots: Luzzatto specializes in the history of the Fascist era, and the Vatican archives beyond 1939 are still not open for study. Taste and disposition perhaps also played a role: it appears that Luzzatto feels more at ease with archival documents, correspondence, police reports and chancellery files, than with tabloid culture, holy trinkets and souvenirs; more comfortable with history than with anthropology.
The accession of John xxiii to the papacy brought fresh attempts to circumscribe the Pio cult. The new pope ordered an investigation into rumours of personal impropriety and sought to curtail the undignified scenes at San Giovanni Rotondo, where pilgrims anxious to win a place in the queue for confession sometimes came to blows inside the church itself. His private view of Pio was contemptuous, describing the monk as a 'straw idol'—idolo di stoppa. As Luzzatto remarks, 'stoppa (oakum, made of jute fibres) has served the Church for centuries as a symbol of the transitory nature of human life, being burned symbolically during the papal investiture to the chant of sic transit gloria mundi.' The metaphor was, he notes, 'a pitiless one'. Yet Pio would outlive John xxiii by five years, and his posthumous glory was secured when Karol Wojtyła became pope in 1979. The Polish cleric had first visited San Giovanni Rotondo in 1948 and was unshakeably devoted to the Pio cult. Forgione's beatification in 1999 marked the final victory of his supporters inside the Church, after eight decades of struggle. A million-strong crowd in St Peter's Square heard Wojtyła refer to Padre Pio as the 'living image of a suffering, risen Christ'. Today, as Luzzatto remarks, the tiny chapel where Pio began his monastic career has been replaced by a 'twenty-first-century temple of glass and concrete', designed by Renzo Piano, 'big enough to hold eight thousand of the faithful and with room for many thousands more in the plaza outside'.
[1] Sergio Luzzatto, Padre Pio: Miracles and Politics in a Secular Age, Picador: New York 2011, $22, paperback 371 pp, 978 0 312 61166 8

The wonders of capitalist lab science

The article calls out two problems that are compromising the ability to detect drug resistant pathogens.
  1. de-skilling of microbiology labs
  2. proprietary lab kits whose constituents are kept secret, from the lab workers who use them, to protect manufacturers profits

Drug-Resistant 'Superbugs' Go Undetected


...some researchers think that poor training has left microbiologists unaware of how best to interpret test results. Kenneth Thomson, director of the Center for Research in Anti-infectives and Biotechnology at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, says that an ongoing "de-skilling" of microbiology laboratories in Europe and the United States is problematic. He says that lab directors with PhDs are not being replaced when they leave, and that budget constraints are cutting continuing education for laboratory staff.

Left Front and French election results: conflicting views

A note I sent to Workers World newspaper re the article below expresses my own perspective on the French election results, which differs significantly from the WWP balance sheet:
This article mischaracterizes the Left Front candidacy of  Jean-Luc Mélenchon on several points.
First, after the Left Front's defeat,  Jean-Luc Mélenchon endorsed Hollande without making any anti-austerity demands of the SP candidate.  Mélenchon's lesser-evil support for Holland and the SP was unconditional.
Clearly this indicates the article's contention that "Left Front wants to defeat Sarkozy without making any deal with Hollande" is incorrect.
Second, the Left Front's mobilizations of supporters were of an electoral character only.  They did not reflect any long term perspective of organizing the working class and leading it in independent class action to defend its own interests.  In fact, the Left Front lead the supporters it inspired back to the Socialist Party of Hollande, and nowhere else.
The article itself:
By G. Dunkel
Published Apr 26, 2012

Voters in the first round of France's presidential election on April 22 reflected the impact of the capitalist economic crisis on the population. A high vote for the fascist National Front (FN) party raised a danger flag for the European working class. This was partly countered by the Left Front's mass actions during the election campaign.

France's incumbent center-right president Nikolas Sarkozy got 27 percent of the vote, two percentage points behind François Hollande, the candidate of the so-called Socialist Party, whose program is not much different from that of the U.S.'s Democratic Party. This is the first time an incumbent president has trailed a rival in the first round since the founding of France's Fifth Republic in 1958.

While polls had indicated that a large number of voters intended to abstain, a record number actually voted.

Sarkozy and Hollande will run in a second round on May 6. The winner of that contest will become president, which is the most powerful post in the French government.

Ten parties ran in the first round. ­Marine Le Pen, candidate of France's fascist FN, got 18 percent. The Left Front, whose candidate was Jean-Luc Mélenchon, got around 11 percent. A centrist party got around 9 percent, and all the other parties, including two other small leftist parties, got 2 percent or less.

The highest-ever FN vote has led to calls from Sarkozy's party, the Union for a Popular Movement, to campaign by appealing to the fascists. That would mean emphasizing his already-racist approach to foreigners, especially to Muslims and Africans.

The French Communist Party (PCF) did not run independently. It had a very close alliance with the Left Front, helping to coordinate its campaign.

Two major issues raised

In March a French citizen, born in France to Algerian immigrants, named Mohammed Merah, apparently killed three French paratroopers and in a later assault killed three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school.

While Sarkozy and Hollande stopped campaigning until after the funerals and condemned the killings unequivocally, both the PCF and the Left Front, while condemning these criminal acts, tried to put them in the context of the racist oppression of North African Muslims and expressed sympathy with the distress of Merah's father.

Sarkozy tried to use the incident against Hollande and Mélenchon. A number of commentators on French blogs thought this incident cost Mélenchon votes.

The other issue that surfaced in the election was the economy. Sarkozy has pushed for a policy of austerity that he developed in conjunction with the German government. Hollande promoted higher taxes and for more economic expansion.

Sarkozy ran in 2007 on a platform of transforming the French economy to make it more like the U.S. economy. The level of productivity — the output per hour — is about the same in both countries. But in France, although Sarkozy's government has chipped away at the benefits the French working class had won through hard struggles, workers still have guaranteed vacations, free day care and higher education, universal health care and a shorter work week. In the United States, the productivity gains of U.S. workers increased the profits of the 1%.

The Left Front ran on a platform of the fundamental reorganization of the French state and economy, withdrawing French troops from Afghanistan and France from the euro zone and NATO, and building a more just and humane society. The Left Front wants to defeat Sarkozy without making any deal with Hollande. More significant than its vote, however, was the Left Front's ability to mobilize mass anti-capitalist and anti-racist demonstrations, the largest being 100,000 in Paris on March 18.

Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The fraud that is Mélenchon

What was French Left Front candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon's campaign?

By Alex Lantier in Paris
26 April 2012

After obtaining 11 percent of the vote in Sunday's first round of the French presidential election, Left Front candidate and former Socialist Party (PS) minister Jean-Luc Mélenchon has openly fallen into line with PS candidate François Hollande.

On election night, Mélenchon unconditionally endorsed Hollande against incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy in the May 6 run-off. Hollande even thanked Mélenchon for not asking the PS for anything in return for his support; polls show Mélenchon's roughly 4 million voters will overwhelmingly vote for Hollande. Having declared himself to be "very dangerous" to the banks, Mélenchon is now fully backing an individual who called himself "not dangerous" in talks with London bankers in February.

These events provide an appropriate setting to draw an initial political balance sheet of the Left Front—a coalition of long-time PS allies such as the Stalinist French Communist Party (PCF), Mélenchon's Left Party (PG), which split off from the PS in 2008, and a faction of the petty-bourgeois "left" New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) led by Christian Picquet. It also puts into context the praise various petty-bourgeois "left" parties have showered on the Left Front.

Thus the British Socialist Workers Party headlined its article on Mélenchon: "Left surge shakes French ruling class." It described him as a "radical left politician who has upset the balance of France's presidential campaign."

In the United States, the International Socialist Organization's Lee Sustar praised Mélenchon as the center of a "left-wing surge." He enthused that Mélenchon had "forced the entire political debate to the left … Mélenchon's campaign platform marks a break from the Socialist Party's typical pro-business rhetoric. He calls for a 20 percent increase in minimum wage, a ban on layoffs by profitable companies, a heavy tax on financial transactions, and annual limits on incomes to $472,000, with anything over that amount going to taxation."

In fact, the Left Front did not shift the "political debate to the left," because its own campaign was at bottom a political lie. Mélenchon always stressed that he intended to call for a second-round vote for the "left" candidate with the most votes—that is, Hollande. In a campaign dominated by two uninspiring candidates, Hollande and Sarkozy, Mélenchon's job was to provide a bit of demagogic "left" rhetoric that would have no impact on what Hollande would do, but that would generate false hopes in the population and strengthen the PS vote.

This explains why Mélenchon can now unconditionally back a candidate of the financial aristocracy, who is committed to €115 billion in budget cuts and will not implement any of the demands for which Mélenchon ostensibly campaigned. Mélenchon observed yesterday that he might be "erased from the new political landscape." More to the point, now that he has handed his voters over to Hollande, he sees his role in the presidential election as completed.

Such transparent political cynicism is one of the reasons why large numbers of French voters are now likely to register a protest vote not with the bourgeois "left" parties, but through a vote for the neo-fascists. Mélenchon finished fourth, behind neo-fascist candidate Marine Le Pen (18 percent), whom he had vowed to surpass.

This predictable outcome of the maneuvers carried out by the Socialist Party's "left" satellites did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm for Mélenchon in the French and international petty-bourgeois "left." What these forces saw in the Mélenchon phenomenon—besides the possibility that a few more Left Front officials might win seats in the June legislative elections—was a campaign based on virulent hostility to Marxism and the political independence of the working class.

This is the product of Mélenchon's unsavory political history. He started out in student politics after the 1968 general strike, joining the Internationalist Communist Organization (OCI) in 1972—the year after the OCI broke with the International Committee of the Fourth International, which today publishes the World Socialist Web Site. At the time, the OCI was operating on a false, nationalist perspective: by pressuring the PCF and the newly-formed PS to form a "Union of the Left" and take power, the OCI could build a mass revolutionary movement.

Mélenchon subsequently joined the PS in 1976, working under President François Mitterrand. He became a Senator after Mitterrand carried out his "austerity turn" against the working class in 1983, and then a minister in the 1997-2002 Plural Left government. From his time in petty-bourgeois "left" politics, however, Mélenchon retained a talent for combining unserious protest slogans and French nationalism, couched in a pseudo-left vocabulary hostile to socialism.

Mélenchon laid out his program for the 2012 elections in two documents, the Left Front's 2012 election program, Humanity First, and a longer book, They Should All Go Away—Quick, a Citizens' Revolution. This refers to the "citizens' revolution" upon which Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has based his presidency, and which Mélenchon admires.

The term "citizens' revolution" itself immediately makes clear that what Mélenchon has in mind is not a movement based on the working class, but on all the citizens of the nation. Such a perspective has nothing to do with Marxism.

Even viewed purely in the context of French history—where every great revolutionary struggle after the French Revolution of 1789 saw a violent confrontation between the working class and the capitalists—such a program can only have a right-wing character. Its thrust, as Mélenchon makes clear, is the claim that the exploiting and exploited classes in a nation have common interests.

He notes that the notion of a "general interest" common to the entire nation is criticized by those who believe that "the social interests of the dominators and dominated are necessarily in conflict. For them, the general interest can only be an illusion in the service of the dominators to make their interests appear to be the common good. … I think that political ecology has the advantage of settling this debate. Yes, there is an objective general interest, common to all of humanity, which affects every aspect of life: it is saving the ecosystem on which human life depends. The citizens' revolution is oriented by political ecology."

Characteristically, Mélenchon avoids identifying who and what he is arguing against: the ABC of Marxism, which argues that the interests of capital and labor are in conflict. On the contrary, the "citizens' revolution" aims to reconcile the "dominators" and the "dominated," as Mélenchon calls them, on the basis of suppressing social revolution.

Calling for the "primacy of the ballot box," he writes: "The revolution that I desire is a citizens' revolution first of all in this, that if it is rooted in the social movement, it is triggered and develops through ballots and elections…. It is not shouting, in an old-fashioned way, 'the mine to the miner and the earth to the tiller.' … We must tear ourselves from all our prejudices and personal interests." He denounces those who "stupidly" associate revolution with "an armed 'great night.'"

Briefly put, what Mélenchon calls "revolution" is using trade-union protests ("the social movement") to affect the outcome of elections to the bourgeois state. This is not revolution, but the conventional course of political life under capitalism in France and many other European countries.

To the extent that Mélenchon refers to the heritage of classical Marxism and 19th-century revolutionary struggles, it is simply to hold that up to mockery. Despite his empty bluster about taxing the rich, Mélenchon has no intention of giving "the mine to the miner" or, more broadly, democratic control of the economy to the working class. Such demands have no place in Mélenchon's plans for "revolution" through the ballot box.

His crude denunciation of those who believe in an "armed 'great night'" is not directed against acts of individual terrorism, to which the term "great night" is not applied, but against social revolution. The fact that Mélenchon's "citizens' revolution" can do without a storming of the Bastille, or the Aurora firing on the Winter Palace to signal the Red Guards to take power in revolutionary Russia, signifies simply that it is not, in fact, a revolution.

An experienced politician, Mélenchon knows well that the demands he is ostensibly advancing for greater social equality cannot be realized save by massive social upheaval, to which he is hostile. How can he then continue to advance his slogans? Mélenchon explains, "I consciously treat my desires as if they were reality. This makes them contagious. I find this method stimulating. It is radicalness as I understand it: very concrete and governmental."

This extraordinary comment goes to the heart of the political lie that was Mélenchon's campaign. Listening to Mélenchon speak is, by his own admission, entering into a land of political make-believe, in which he can propose anything to win support and, ultimately, to tie the working class to the PS or similar bourgeois, pro-austerity parties. This is not the "method" of a revolutionary, but the modus operandi of a careerist operative without any political convictions.

Armed with right-wing social demagogy inside France, Mélenchon steps onto the world stage, where he reveals himself to be a vulgar defender of imperialist war. By his own account, he holds the view that war as a basically unavoidable feature of human society.

In They Should All Go Away, he explains: "The permanent drive to fight one's neighbors, both internal and external, each time there is a conflict of interest, still deeply divides human communities. The world is already driven by the conflicts between the major powers. They will be as exuberant tomorrow as the explosion of the number of humans. Do you realize? There are as many people living today as have existed since the beginning of humanity … And you think that History will calm down?"

At first glance, Mélenchon's foreign policy musings have two main targets: the United States and Germany. A closer examination of his positions soon reveals a difference, however.

His anti-American outbursts and his call for "global" independence from Washington have not prevented him from supporting France's participation in recent US-led wars—both the NATO bombing of Libya and operations to back pro-imperialist forces in Syria. Nor has Mélenchon made any real criticisms of the recent imperialist interventions France has spearheaded with US support in its former colonies, such as in Ivory Coast. Mélenchon is, in fact, fully on board with French imperialism's recent alignment with Washington's foreign policy.

Mélenchon refers extensively to a confrontation with Germany, writing: "Unfortunately I do not think Europe is destined for peace … We Frenchmen must realize that the generation of rulers of reunified Germany is no longer that which was brought to reason by remorse and contained by the division into two states. To uninhibited German leaders we must oppose disillusioned French leaders."

Despite his chauvinist pretenses that France is a "universalist" nation, he makes no appeal for international class solidarity to German workers against the risk of war inside Europe. Rather, he entertains the possibility of annexing eastern Belgium, to beef up France against Germany.

Dismissing Belgium as an "artificial state," he writes: "One could easily imagine that if the Flemish seceded from Belgium, the [Francophone Belgian] Walloons could vote to join the French Republic. Many Frenchmen, like me, are enthusiastic … It would make a really big France."

Foreign policy, Trotsky remarked in an interview with an American newspaper a few months before his assassination by a Stalinist agent, is an "extension and development of domestic policy." Mélenchon's plans to redraw the map of Europe, are in their own way the most telling commentary on the class character of Mélenchon's "citizens' revolution."

His goal is not revolution, but to exploit the political confusion created by the long domination of "left" politics by bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties to control the working class at home and promote the global interests of French imperialism. This is why Mélenchon lines up behind a more influential imperialist politician, Hollande, and why his presidential campaign has attracted the support of middle class, ex-left forces on an international scale.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Reform, revolution, resistance: Platypus event

This was left as a comment on the Red Ink article:

Reform, revolution, resistance: what kind of weight do these categories hold for the Left today? How are they used, to where do they point, and what is their history? Join the Platypus Affiliated Society for a discussion concerning a question that has renewed immediacy in light of the #Occupy movement.

Thursday, April 26, 2012 — 7:00 PM
238 Thompson Street, Room 279 (NYU Global Center)

1. John Asimakopoulos (Institute for Transformative Studies)
2. Todd Gitlin (Columbia University)
3. Tom Trottier (Workers' International Committee)
4. Ross Wolfe (Platypus Affiliated Society)

Mexico Today

Mexico to hold elections in midst of social catastrophe

By Rafael Azul
24 April 2012

The July 1 elections in Mexico will take place in the midst of a social crisis of historic proportions.

The statistics are grim. Since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006, some 50,000 Mexicans have been killed by drug syndicates, the police or the army; 100,000 have been internally displaced by the same violence; another 5 million have been forced to flee to the United States, Spain or other countries.

The "war" on drug syndicates is consuming an increasing share of the federal budget, further burdening the population. Big business is demanding that the next president impose budget cuts and tax increases that will make life even more intolerable for workers and peasants.

Already, 28 million Mexicans, or a quarter of the country's 112 million people, suffer from malnutrition. Six million live in extreme poverty, and some parts of the country are experiencing famine.

Out of a labor force of 45 million workers, nearly 3 million are officially unemployed. Another 6 million jobless are not counted in the official unemployment figures. The annual jobs deficit—the gap in the number of new jobs needed to maintain current employment levels—has risen from 500,000 to 800,000.

For those who are employed, three decades of plummeting living standards have left many in deep poverty. Officially, real wages have fallen 42 percent since 2006.

As described last week by Andrés Hervis Mayoral, a leader of the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), in the 1980s the basic food budget for a family of five was 80 pesos a day. The same food basket today costs 200 pesos. Relative to today's minimum wage of some 60 pesos a day, this represents a lowering of buying power of 80 or 90 percent. Instead of paying workers for seven days, as required by Mexican law, many employers are paying for only six days, an effective 14 percent wage cut.

The agricultural crisis, driven by global warming and drought, has made food unaffordable in rural areas of northern Mexico. In 2011 alone, 600,000 tons of corn and beans were lost to the environmental catastrophe, together with thousands of heads of cattle and millions of chickens. Starving peasants who were forced to consume their seed reserves will be unable to plant crops without massive government aid.

The impact of the crisis has been multiplied by financial speculation on maize, which has driven up the price of tortillas, a staple of the Mexican diet.

The government's indifference toward the poorest sections of the population was evident in its response to a March 20 earthquake in the southwestern state of Oaxaca, which damaged or destroyed the straw and adobe homes of 40,000 people, many of whom are still sleeping in the streets.

Economic growth has taken place at a dismal 0.8 per cent per capita and distributed to the top layers of the population, while for the vast majority living standards are collapsing.

By every socio-economic measure, Mexico is moving backwards.

The working class has come into struggle against these conditions throughout the Calderon years, as under his predecessor, Vicente Fox. From Oaxaca to Cananea, miners, teachers, airline workers and utility workers have carried out strikes and mass protests in which they confronted the police and military, only to be betrayed time and again by the corporatist CTM and other union federations.

The "drug war" has evolved into a dirty war that targets the Mexican working class and peasantry. The mobilization of the Mexican armed forces in the name of fighting the drug cartels, beginning in 2007, has led to an acceleration of civilian disappearances and deaths, as well as torture, rape and repression at the hands of the army and national police.

Meanwhile, the depredations of the drug syndicates have increased. In major cities such as Guadalajara and Monterrey the gangs set up roadblocks and carry out terror attacks. The crime cartels intervene openly and with impunity to block the candidacy of anyone they do not like. A division of labor between the narco gangs and the state security and military forces is emerging, directed against the working class and peasantry.

The United States and Europe, particularly Spain, are paying a great deal of attention to the coming elections. In March, US Vice President Joseph Biden visited Mexico and spoke with the three major candidates—Josefina Vazquez Mota of the ruling National Action Party (PAN), Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).

Biden relayed the Obama administration's demand that Mexico continue the drug war. At the conclusion of his visit, he reported that all of the candidates had assured him the present policy would remain in place.

The cost of this policy is truly ruinous. In addition to the death and social disruption over the last six years, 11 billion pesos have been spent on weapons and munitions. Over 4 billion were spent in the last year alone. This is 2.6 times what the government spends on food aid to the poor, according to a report this month in Contralínea, a Mexican investigative journal.

The bulk of this money has gone to transnational arms dealers. The criminal gangs, for their part, get automatic weapons, vehicles and ammunition from the other side of the US-Mexico border. This means that corporations are arming both sides.

An earlier article in the same journal reported that Mexico represents between 10 percent and 30 percent of the global profits of transnational weapons manufacturers such as Boeing, BAE Systems, EADS, General Dynamics and Honeywell. These and other arms dealers are financed by international financial institutions that operate in Mexico, likely channeling laundered money from drugs and other criminal activities to the weapons corporations and completing a bloody vicious cycle.

Despite repeated requests from President Calderon, US President Obama, whose government has deported hundreds of thousands of Mexican immigrants, has shown very little interest in stopping the flow of arms into Mexico. Roughly 90 percent of weapons confiscated from drug syndicates in Mexico originate in the United States.

The syndicates are fully integrated into the global economy. According to a 2010 Chilean academic study, US financial institutions manage between 8 and 25 billion dollars of cartel money annually.

Besides their direct involvement in legal, illegal and semi-legal activities across the world, from human trafficking to casinos to toy factories, the cartels channel their funds through banks, hedge funds and capital markets to governments and corporations in the US, Europe, and elsewhere.

The response of all the political forces in the coming elections to this social catastrophe is to propose a further dismantling of social programs and labor rights, higher taxes on the poorest Mexicans, and more concessions to big business, in particular the banks. The ruling clerical National Action Party and the more secular bourgeois nationalist Institutional Revolutionary Party for all practical purposes share the same program, in keeping with the PAN-PRI legislative coalition during Calderon's term.

Speaking in Veracruz on April 4, PRI candidate Peña Nieto made it clear that he supports the Mexican army's continuing occupation of Veracruz and other Mexican states. If elected, he intends to add a 40,000 strong paramilitary force, akin to Spain's infamous Guardia Civil, to the current mix of police agencies, military and other security forces that are being deployed in this extraordinary war. For her part, the PAN's Vazquez Mota proposes increasing the size of the national police to 150,000.

The PRI and PAN favor privatizing the state-owned oil company, Pemex, together with all other government-owned enterprises. Also in support of this policy is Gabriel Quadri, candidate of the New Alliance Party (PANAL), which is controlled by the SNTE teachers union.

All three major candidates favor measures that, in the name of labor flexibility, would remove virtually all obstacles to firing workers and limit the right to strike. A labor "reform" currently being discussed in the national legislature also includes curtailing Social Security and medical benefits and downgrading pensions for government workers.

The PRD's Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador (known in the press as AMLO) is a former mayor of Mexico City. In 2006, AMLO lost the presidential election by less than 1 percent of the total vote.

He has tried to distance himself from the other candidates through demagogy. He calls for raising the minimum wage, pledges to create 1.2 million jobs annually and provide youth employment and educational opportunities, and promises to conduct the drug war differently. Lately he has also called for a national referendum on the legalization of drugs.

In 2006, the Coordinating Corporate Council (CCE), a powerful and reactionary Catholic business lobby, and COPARMEX, an association of Mexican CEOs, bitterly opposed AMLO, running ads that called him a "danger to Mexico" and comparing him to Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. In that campaign, Lopez Obrador presented himself as an enemy of corporate influence, denouncing the CCE and COPARMEX as "power mafias."

Six years later, a new relationship has been established. Not only have both the CCE and COPARMEX met with AMLO and called on him to support their legislative agendas, but the candidate himself has enlisted corporate leaders from the industrial city of Monterrey, a group that calls itself "México Wake up!"

He has signaled his willingness to negotiate a free market agenda aimed at the destruction of living standards and working conditions of Mexican workers. The PRD's differences with the PAN and PRI are largely tactical.

The PRD is being supported by the Political Organization of the People and Workers (Organización Política del Pueblo y de los Trabajadores—OPT), the political arm of the Mexican Electricians Union (SME). The OPT is in turn supported by a number of pseudo-left organizations, such as the Popular Socialist Party (PPS) and the Revolutionary Workers Party (PRT).

The OPT uses revolutionary and anti-imperialist rhetoric to mask its opportunist alliance with AMLO and the PRD. It presents its support for the PRD as a step toward the formation of what it calls a "National/Popular Front Block" that will unite "progressive liberal and socialist forces" against the "main enemy"—imperialism and neo-liberalism.

History has demonstrated that such alliances, fronts and blocks are traps for the working class, leading to betrayal and defeat. The OPT is, in fact, providing a cover for the rightward movement of the PRD, behind which the forces of reaction are preparing massive attacks on the working class and peasantry.

The refusal of the above-mentioned "left" forces to fight for a working class movement that is socialist and internationalist is driving the proposal by a layer of students for young people and workers to vote a blank slate on July 1. The "vota en blanco" protest campaign is being supported by poet Javier Sicilia, whose own son was a victim of the drug war and who has organized protest marches against Calderón's war. Other loosely organized groups are campaigning in the social media along these lines.

Despite the political confusion that exists in their midst, these forces reflect a growing frustration and anger with the Mexican political elite.

However, the drug war, unemployment and poverty cannot be ended through protests. What is required is a political party that expresses the interests of the working class and fights for the creation of a planned economy, democratically controlled by the working class, that places social needs before profits. Such a socialist program includes the nationalization of the banks and corporations and their transformation into public utilities.

At the heart of this struggle is the unification of the Mexican, North and South American and international working class in a common fight to establish workers' governments and socialism.

Red Ink

Occupy Wall Street: what is to be done next?

How a protest movement without a programme can confront a capitalist system that defies reform

Slavoj Žižek, Tuesday 24 April 2012

What to do in the aftermath of the Occupy Wall Street movement, when the protests that started far away – in the Middle East, Greece, Spain, UK – reached the centre, and are now reinforced and rolling out all around the world?

In a San Francisco echo of the OWS movement on 16 October 2011, a guy addressed the crowd with an invitation to participate in it as if it were a happening in the hippy style of the 1960s:

"They are asking us what is our program. We have no program. We are here to have a good time."

Such statements display one of the great dangers the protesters are facing: the danger that they will fall in love with themselves, with the nice time they are having in the "occupied" places. Carnivals come cheap – the true test of their worth is what remains the day after, how our normal daily life will be changed. The protesters should fall in love with hard and patient work – they are the beginning, not the end. Their basic message is: the taboo is broken, we do not live in the best possible world; we are allowed, obliged even, to think about alternatives.

In a kind of Hegelian triad, the western left has come full circle: after abandoning the so-called "class struggle essentialism" for the plurality of anti-racist, feminist etc struggles, "capitalism" is now clearly re-emerging as the name of the problem.

The first two things one should prohibit are therefore the critique of corruption and the critique of financial capitalism. First, let us not blame people and their attitudes: the problem is not corruption or greed, the problem is the system that pushes you to be corrupt. The solution is neither Main Street nor Wall Street, but to change the system where Main Street cannot function without Wall Street. Public figures from the pope downward bombard us with injunctions to fight the culture of excessive greed and consummation – this disgusting spectacle of cheap moralization is an ideological operation, if there ever was one: the compulsion (to expand) inscribed into the system itself is translated into personal sin, into a private psychological propensity, or, as one of the theologians close to the pope put it:

"The present crisis is not crisis of capitalism but the crisis of morality."

Let us recall the famous joke from Ernst Lubitch's Ninotchka: the hero visits a cafeteria and orders coffee without cream; the waiter replies:

"Sorry, but we have run out of cream, we only have milk. Can I bring you coffee without milk?"

Was not a similar trick at work in the dissolution of the eastern european Communist regimes in 1990? The people who protested wanted freedom and democracy without corruption and exploitation, and what they got was freedom and democracy without solidarity and justice. Likewise, the Catholic theologian close to pope is carefully emphasizing that the protesters should target moral injustice, greed, consumerism etc, without capitalism. The self-propelling circulation of Capital remains more than ever the ultimate Real of our lives, a beast that by definition cannot be controlled.

One should avoid the temptation of the narcissism of the lost cause, of admiring the sublime beauty of uprisings doomed to fail. What new positive order should replace the old one the day after, when the sublime enthusiasm of the uprising is over? It is at this crucial point that we encounter the fatal weakness of the protests: they express an authentic rage which is not able to transform itself into a minimal positive program of socio-political change. They express a spirit of revolt without revolution.

Reacting to the Paris protests of 1968, Lacan said:

"What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a new master. You will get one."

It seems that Lacan's remark found its target (not only) in the indignados of Spain. Insofar as their protest remains at the level of a hysterical provocation of the master, without a positive program for the new order to replace the old one, it effectively functions as a call for a new master, albeit disavowed.

We got the first glimpse of this new master in Greece and Italy, and Spain will probably follow. As if ironically answering the lack of expert programs of the protesters, the trend is now to replace politicians in the government with a "neutral" government of depoliticized technocrats (mostly bankers, as in Greece and Italy). Colorful "politicians" are out, grey experts are in. This trend is clearly moving towards a permanent emergency state and the suspension of political democracy.

So we should see in this development also a challenge: it is not enough to reject the depoliticized expert rule as the most ruthless form of ideology; one should also begin to think seriously about what to propose instead of the predominant economic organization, to imagine and experiment with alternate forms of organization, to search for the germs of the New. Communism is not just or predominantly the carnival of the mass protest when the system is brought to a halt; Communism is also, above all, a new form of organization, discipline, hard work.

The protesters should beware not only of enemies, but also of false friends who pretend to support them, but are already working hard to dilute the protest. In the same way we get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice-cream without fat, they will try to make the protests into a harmless moralistic gesture. In boxing, to "clinch" means to hold the opponent's body with one or both arms in order to prevent or hinder punches. Bill Clinton's reaction to the Wall Street protests is a perfect case of political clinching; Clinton thinks that the protests are "on balance … a positive thing", but he is worried about the nebulousness of the cause. Clinton suggested the protesters get behind President Obama's jobs plan, which he claimed would create "a couple million jobs in the next year and a half". What one should resist at this stage is precisely such a quick translation of the energy of the protest into a set of "concrete" pragmatic demands. Yes, the protests did create a vacuum – a vacuum in the field of hegemonic ideology, and time is needed to fill this vacuum in in a proper way, since it is a pregnant vacuum, an opening for the truly New. The reason protesters went out is that they had enough of the world where to recycle your Coke cans, to give a couple of dollars for charity, or to buy Starbucks cappuccino where 1% goes for the third world troubles is enough to make them feel good.

Economic globalization is gradually but inexorably undermining the legitimacy of western democracies. Due to their international character, large economic processes cannot be controlled by democratic mechanisms which are, by definition, limited to nation states. In this way, people more and more experience institutional democratic forms as unable to capture their vital interests.

It is here that Marx's key insight remains valid, today perhaps more than ever: for Marx, the question of freedom should not be located primarily into the political sphere proper. The key to actual freedom rather resides in the "apolitical" network of social relations, from the market to the family, where the change needed if we want an actual improvement is not a political reform, but a change in the "apolitical" social relations of production. We do not vote about who owns what, about relations in a factory, etc – all this is left to processes outside the sphere of the political. It is illusory to expect that one can effectively change things by "extending" democracy into this sphere, say, by organizing "democratic" banks under people's control. In such "democratic" procedures (which, of course, can have a positive role to play), no matter how radical our anti-capitalism is, the solution is sought in applying the democratic mechanisms – which, one should never forget, are part of the state apparatuses of the "bourgeois" state that guarantees undisturbed functioning of the capitalist reproduction.

The emergence of an international protest movement without a coherent program is therefore not an accident: it reflects a deeper crisis, one without an obvious solution. The situation is like that of psychoanalysis, where the patient knows the answer (his symptoms are such answers) but doesn't know to what they are answers, and the analyst has to formulate a question. Only through such a patient work a program will emerge.

In an old joke from the defunct German Democratic Republic, a German worker gets a job in Siberia. Aware of how all mail will be read by censors, he tells his friends:

"Let's establish a code: if a letter you will get from me is written in ordinary blue ink, it is true; if it is written in red ink, it is false."

After a month, his friends get the first letter written in blue ink:

"Everything is wonderful here: stores are full, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, movie theatres show films from the west, there are many beautiful girls ready for an affair – the only thing unavailable is red ink."

And is this not our situation till now? We have all the freedoms one wants – the only thing missing is the "red ink": we feel free because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom. What this lack of red ink means is that, today, all the main terms we use to designate the present conflict – "war on terror", "democracy and freedom", "human rights", etc – are false terms, mystifying our perception of the situation instead of allowing us to think it.

The task today is to give the protesters red ink.

 • This article is based on remarks Slavoj Žižek will be making at an event at the New York Public Library on 25 April, ahead of publication of The Year of Dreaming Dangerously (2012).


Monday, April 23, 2012

The Militant 1949 now available
from The Militant, 01/10/1949