Mar 14, 2007

Challenges to Capital, Challenges for the Left

The text of a talk given at the National Conference on Organized Resistance, entitled "Challenges to Capital, Challenges for the Left: Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and the Three Way Fight."

"The nineteenth century Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin famously remarked that “freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice, but socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.” Something similar is at work here: anti-fascism without revolution (the Euston position) guarantees capitalism’s continuing misery and devastation, while revolution without anti-fascism (the Left Turn position) all but ensures that the insurgent right will ace out the insurgent left. We need both anti-fascism and revolution."

Read the entire talk here.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
J said...

What I find lacking in both the "Left Turn" analysis and the three way fight position is a historical understanding of where the growth of radical, at times anti-imperialist, Islamist forces stems from. Check out this recent article by Tom Englehardt for a pretty good summation and link to why this is so important today:

U.S. support, along with the U.S. allowing support from Saudi Arabia and private sources, to the mujahideen during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan during the 1980s spawned the movement from one on the outs to one of international magnitude. The U.S. gambled, knowingly, on these forces' ability to contain and eventually lead to the defeat of the Soviet Union. While I don't doubt the authenticity of anti-U.S. sentiment throughout the Mid East, the division between Sunni and Shia which has grown since the invasion of Iraq may ultimately serve the interests of American empire the most. This is particularly true if Iran, rather than Iraq, is the actual prize hoped for by the so-called neo-cons today.

The Left Turn position seems to ignore this history and its present possibility, although I am admitedly lacking in familiarity with the specifics of their analysis. The three way fight position, particularly in this recent piece, seems to ignore the fact that Islamist forces have filled the vaccum left by the failure of explicitly "left" groups in the Mid East (nationalists and commies alike).

I'm not sure where this analysis leaves us though. Islamist forces are largely at the front of anti-U.S. resistance in the Mid East right now. Their objectives, particularly in the social realm, are far from agreeable and it is possible their current growth is a continuation of the imperial gamble that began during the 1980s in Afghanistan.

North_Carolina said...

Im guessing that "J" is not a reader of Left Turn magazine, since the things he/she mentions are all major points that they consistantly point out (ie. the role of US direct intervention combined with the funding of right wing islamic movements during the cold war etc).

Read Mahmoud Mamdani's "good muslim, bad muslim" for more insights into this topic.

As for the longer post by Mike, im not sure what to say. Left Turn does not have one line on the subject, and they have *never* uncritically supported Hizbullah or any other armed grouping in the world (perhaps the Zapatistas at times it might be argued).

Why not just stick with the Sparts and Workers World and their more simplistic analysis of middle east events, there your arguments are completely right on. Each long post on the topic makes it clear that you have not really read left turn for more then a few random articles or a few blog posts by different people within the organization who hold different views.

To me, equating (or it seems if i read it correctly, even elevating) the effects of anti-semetic oppression today in the US above what every single arab and muslim family face on a daily basis is just not accurate. I cant say more then that. Anti-semitism is real, it has a long history, no real leftist would argue that point.

Check out the plans for the new cable tv "terrorism network" whos hit comedy show "Jihad to be there" features arab characters, all named ahmed (or something similar), complete with strapped explosives etc. I wont both mentioning the Danish cartoons or anything like that. I somehow doubt anything similar could be shown about any other population of people. It would be nice if some of the TWF analysis would touch on some of this stuff, but im afraid its probably just not on the radar because of either their specific background and or position in life, or because they are too focused on anti-semetism in the left.

I think the thing you are missing is that developing an analysis that helps the building of an effective anti-war movement here in the US (not germany in the 80s, not anywhere else) does have to be rooted in an anti-arab racist lens.

The argument that basically the "Left Turn analysis" leads you to an "Chavez-Ahmadinejad International" is a total straw argument, not based on anything Left Turn stands for (it is true of some other, but completely irrelevant sectarian groupings).

I commend your work on trying to flesh out the politics of this sometimes complex issue, but Matt's follow up article was way more insightful then this last one by Mike. Focusing on that one sentence about hillary clinton (not the best argument i agree) out of a 5,000 word article is not the way to generalize about "segments of the left".

I hope Rami or someone else from Left Turn has the time to set the record straight.

Anonymous said...

Well said!

I think its interesting on how the so called "left" cant seem to stop tearing down ("dissing") other projects even when they are really dynamic. Left Turn magazine is hands down the best left/anti-capitalist/anti-authoritarian publication that has been published in the US for several decades possibly.

I do agree with some of Mike's arguments, but as far as I know Left Turn seems to be one of the few left outlets to actively go deeper into issues of anti-arab racism while the rest of the left just tacks it on as a slogan "no war, no racism" and thats it.

Good blog, keep it up!


Mike said...

Hello North Carolina,

Actually, Rami El-Amine was in the audience when this talk was first given at NCOR, and he contributed much to the discussion afterwards, but he never suggested that I had mischaracterized his position or that of Left Turn. (At the same time, you’re right that I’m not a regular reader of the magazine, and was generalizing almost exclusively on the basis of El-Amine’s article.)

Whether or not the “Chavez-Ahmadinejad International” reflects Left Turn’s analysis – and technically, I didn’t say that it did – it is not a straw man. It is a real position held by lots of radicals, including several in the audience at NCOR, who have otherwise interesting politics and are not members of “completely irrelevant sectarian groupings.”

Certainly you are right that Matthew’s piece “Further Thoughts on Hezbollah” was more insightful than my talk, in terms of the depth of analysis of what Hezbollah is and isn’t, but my purpose was different: I was attempting to address multiple shortcomings that I see in the radical left in the US.

Finally, I think you’re wrong when you suggest that the Three Way Fight blog overall is too focused on anti-Semitism. Not focused enough, I’d say, even though I generally agree with your point that islamophobia is a greater problem (and one I’d like to see addressed in more detail at 3WF).


WEVS1 said...

North-Carolina writes:

“I wont both mentioning the Danish cartoons or anything like that. I somehow doubt anything similar could be shown about any other population of people.”

Are you referring to media in the West or in the Islamic world? In either case, cartoons depict Jews in an even worse manner than the recent MoToons depict Muslims. Have a look at Joel and Dan Kotek’s “Au nom de l'antisionisme: L'image des Juifs et d'Israël dans la caricature depuis la seconde Intifada” (Brussels: Éditions Complexe, 2003) to see what I’m talking about. The authors include examples from Muslim media and European media. Whether you’re looking for vampiric blood suckers, Judaic tentacles covering the planet, or hooked noses, it’s all there.

You also seem to think that TWF is “too focused on anti-semetism in the left.” Actually, there is not much on the TWF website beyond admitting that anti-Semitism actually exists. IMHO the website that is doing the most thorough job of critically examining anti-Semitism on the left is Engage in the U.K.:

As to why any of this matters, here’s what a former anarchist who happens to be Jewish thinks...Anti-Semitism on the left has a very real possibility of turning Jewish folks off to your radical political projects, whatever those happen to be. Worse, if you happen to be a leftist, left anti-Semitism has the very real potential to move Jews towards the right.

Mike, a link to this article was posted on the Engage blog: