Nov 16, 2007

16 year-old antifa stabbed to death in Madrid

70 years on and within Spain there is still struggle with fascism. Fascist groups, like others across Europe, are organizing on anti-immigration grounds. Both in the streets and at the ballot boxes, fascist groups are leveling attacks against Arabs, South Americans, Asians and Africans. November also includes the dates of death of two of Spanish fascisms icons, General Franco and the radical Falange movements leader, Primo de Rivera. The following info is from the site, Slackbastard. In Berlin antifascist skinheads, RASH, held a demo in remembrance of Carlos.

"On November 11 in Madrid, a local neo-Nazi party, Democracia Nacional, organised a public rally, officially in order to protest “anti-Spanish racism” (sic). Madrid antifa organised a counter-protest...

Carlos Javier Palomino was stabbed in the heart... and about six people were injured as the rival groups fought with knives, pepper sprays and fire extinguishers inside a subway train and the Legazpi station, police said.

Police said they arrested a 24-year-old man suspected of killing Palomino.

The man had been beaten by anti-fascists and taken to hospital after the incident, police said.

Hundreds of anti-fascists later fought police with sticks and molotov cocktails as they tried to stop the march by members of a youth wing of the small far-right National Democracy party."

Nov 10, 2007

Islamism is not Fascism: A Critique of the Three Way Fight

Published on: October 30, 2007
Author's note: The following article is from Issue #5 of the journal Upping the Anti. Please help support this "Journal of Theory and Action" by ordering hard copies and a subscription at

from the article:
At the moment, imperialism poses a much greater danger to humanity than fascism. And Islamists - not the left - are the main force resisting it in Western Asia, where it is most brazen and barbaric. This does not mean that the American left can't criticize Islamism and Islamists, but to do so by mechanically applying a "theory" derived mostly from white anti-racist work in North America to the Middle East on the basis of little knowledge of the history, politics, and social movements of the region is highly problematic. The result is a reliance on generalizations, a lack of concrete examples (historical, current, or even personal experiences) and, therefore, little context - all of which contribute to racism and Islamophobia. This is not to say that Lyons, Staudenmaier, and others who subscribe to the TWF are racist. But their lack of, to use Staudenmaier's phrase, "a sophisticated and dynamic political analysis" of issues related to Arabs and Muslims does nothing to fight racism and may even contribute to it.

Nov 1, 2007

Is left anti-Zionism anti-Jewish?

As I've written previously on this blog, there's a myth that leftists have to choose between fighting antisemitism and fighting Zionism. One version of this myth trivializes antisemitism and sometimes embraces it: witness James Petras's claim that "the Jewish lobby" controls U.S. policy on the Mideast. The other version of the myth shies away from a systematic critique of Zionism out of the belief that such critique is inherently anti-Jewish.

This is a false choice. Zionism -- by which I mean the movement and ideology that says Israel is and should be the state of the Jewish people -- is not only inherently oppressive to Palestinians but also deeply harmful to Jews. I've written about this in "Why I Oppose Zionism", and I won't repeat all of my arguments here.

I do want to respond to some criticisms of left anti-Zionism that appeared on Three Way Fight this summer. In a string responding to Allen Ruff's critical review of Petras's book, The Power of Israel in the United States, two lengthy comments argued that all existing anti-Zionism is antisemitic. Both comments are unsigned but they appear to be written by the same person. I'll call them Anonymous 7/23 and Anonymous 8/18, for the dates when they were posted. The two comments, I believe, reflect a perspective that is widespread in sections of the left.

For the sake of organizing my response more clearly, I will summarize the main arguments in Anonymous 7/23 and Anonymous 8/18 as follows:

Claim 1: Left anti-Zionists wrongly conflate Zionism in its totality with imperialism. This is an economistic perspective that ignores the role of cultural oppression in Israel's founding.

Claim 2: Left anti-Zionists deny that Jews constitute a nation with the right of self-determination in a specific body of land. This denial reflects the antisemitic view that Jews are not real flesh and blood humans, but rather air beings defined by abstraction, internationalism, and money.

Claim 3: Left anti-Zionists don't recognize European Jews' right to flee their oppression, especially the Nazi genocide, and that Israel exists to fight antisemitism and be a place of refuge for Jews.

Claim 4: Left anti-Zionists don't take antisemitism seriously as an object of analysis. Three Way Fight authors, specifically, have never tried to understand antisemitism as a system with its own logic of oppression. Doing so would force them to confront the anti-Jewish assumptions that underlie their own anti-Zionism.

In tackling these claims, I will draw particularly on two books: Matzpen's The Other Israel and Isaac Deutscher's The Non-Jewish Jew. In an earlier response to Anonymous 7/23, I suggested these works as examples of anti-Zionism that takes cultural oppression seriously. Anonymous 8/18 rejected that suggestion.

The 1972 book The Other Israel: The Radical Case Against Zionism (nominally edited by Arie Bober) consists of essays by members of the Israeli Socialist Organization, better known by the title of its newspaper, Matzpen (Compass). Matzpen was founded in 1962 as an anti-Stalinist offshoot of the Israeli Communist Party united around anti-Zionism and revolutionary socialism. The essays gathered in The Other Israel helped to bring Matzpen's analysis to an international audience. The book has its limitations (its take on nationhood is arguably dated, it says little about Ashkenazi oppression of Mizrahi Jews, and nothing about the oppression of women), but it remains valuable, among other reasons, precisely because it critiques Zionism while taking Jews' cultural identities and anti-Jewish opppression seriously. (The full text of The Other Israel is available online at

The Non-Jewish Jew is a 1968 compilation of essays by the Polish Marxist Isaac Deutscher, published shortly after his death in 1967. Over his adult life, Deutscher moved from Stalinism to Trotskyism to an independent position that hoped (naively) for peaceful reform of the Soviet bureaucracy, but his writings are infused with a thoughtful, undogmatic spirit and were my introduction to Marxism as serious scholarship. As Anonymous 8/18 rightly pointed out, I was mistaken to describe The Non-Jewish Jew as anti-Zionist -- following the Nazi genocide Deutscher refused to condemn Zionism, but refused to embrace it either. Exploring this position critically can shed some useful light on the debate.

Now let's look at Anonymous's various claims, one by one.

Claim 1: Left anti-Zionists wrongly conflate Zionism in its totality with imperialism. This is an economistic perspective that ignores the role of cultural oppression in Israel's founding.

Contrary to what Anonymous 8/18 asserts, The Other Israel states clearly that the Zionist movement originated as a reaction to anti-Jewish persecution and discrimination in late 19th century Europe, and that the Nazi genocide transformed Zionism from a minority current to a dominant political force among Jews worldwide. But, the Matzpen writers argue, the "solution" that Zionism offered was inherently oppressive -- to transform Jews from a persecuted people into settler-colonial oppressors of another people:

"Israeli society and the Zionist state are the products of Zionist colonization of Palestine. This colonization process consisted of the organized immigration of Jews; the influx of capital under Zionist control; the formation of exclusively Jewish political, educational and cultural institutions; the construction of Jewish armed forces; the development of an exclusively Jewish economy through land purchases from absentee Palestine landlords, followed by the violent dispossession of the Palestinian peasantry; denying Arabs employment in industries working with capital under Zionist control; and a tightly enforced Jewish boycott of Arab-produced goods. In 1948, this process reached a climax in the establishment of the state of Israel – and in the physical expulsion of almost a million Palestinian Arabs from the territory occupied by the new state. The process is by no means at an end."

The nature of this program "required the economic, military and diplomatic support of one or more imperialist powers. From the very beginning, a primary goal of Zionist leaders has been to cement the alliance with imperialism.... Without this support the settler community could not have been secured, and the state could neither have been established nor could it continue to exist in the face of the implacable hostility of the violently dispossessed Palestinians and the intensifying opposition of the other Arab peoples. And because of this, the alliance is by no means one of equals; on the contrary, the imperialist partner is overwhelmingly dominant, and the Zionist state is utterly dependent on imperialism."

"Israel is the only country in the Middle East that not only is not economically exploited by imperialism but is actually subsidized by it. The Zionist state, in short, is a client state of imperialism, and Israeli-Jewish society as a whole has the aspect of a counter-revolutionary, military outpost of imperialism." (All three of the above quotes are from the Conclusion to The Other Israel.)

Elsewhere, The Other Israel notes that Israel isn't just an imperialist puppet. It's an autonomous player ready to act on its own or take advantage of divisions between imperialist powers -- as in 1956, when it joined with Britain and France in invading Egypt against U.S. opposition.

As a left anti-Zionist, I agree with all of the above points. Is this analysis "economistic"? Decide for yourself.

(Two secondary points: First, Anonymous 8/18 claims that the Soviet Union's support for Israeli independence in 1947-48 weakens the argument that Israel is intrinsically tied to western imperialism. That's like claiming that Chiang Kai-shek wasn't pro-capitalist because the Soviets supported him in the mid 1920s. The USSR's abandonment of revolutionary politics led it to support "progressive" capitalist regimes repeatedly for geostrategic reasons. Second, Anonymous 8/18 misreads The Other Israel in claiming that its authors "don't just accept, but they explain away the open anti-semitism of the Grand Mufti Haj Muhammed Amin al-Husseini, whose illustrious career included organizing Muslim SS units." On the contrary, The Other Israel emphasizes al-Husseini's "religious fanaticism and right-wing nationalism," as well as his hypocrisy in denouncing Zionists publicly while collaborating with them privately.)

Claim 2: Left anti-Zionists deny that Jews constitute a nation with the right of self-determination in a discrete body of land. This denial reflects the antisemitic view that Jews are not real flesh and blood humans, but rather air beings defined by abstraction, internationalism, and money.

Zionism claims that all Jews everywhere form one nation and that Israel is our state. This is an abstract, ahistorical, essentialist conception of Jewishness that obscures the many national differences and divisions among Jews, including the emergence of an Israeli Jewish national community. Matzpen pioneered in addressing this point. The group rejected the Zionist claim of Jewish nationhood while arguing that Israeli Jews constitute a nation with a distinctive national culture, language, and class structure. "Despite the fact that it was created by Zionism, a Hebrew nation in the full sense of the term now exists in Palestine. And as such it has the right to self-determination, not certainly in the Zionist sense, but within the context of a socialist federation of the Middle East" (Chapter 12).

What did this concept of an Israeli-Jewish nation mean? On the one hand, it meant rejection of the anti-democratic principle, central to Zionism, that Israel is the state of all Jews worldwide, rather than a state of its own citizens. Thus The Other Israel called for "the abolition of Jewish exclusiveness (which is inherent, e.g., in the Law of Return) whereby a Jew living in Brooklyn gets more civil and political rights in Israel than a Palestinian Arab who was born there (whether he is now a refugees or an Israeli citizen). In our view, the fact that the Brooklyn Jew feels an emotional tie to the Holy Land does not entitle him to have any political rights in the country, whereas the Palestinian Arab is entitled to full civil and political rights" (Chapter 13).

On the other hand, asserting that Israeli Jews constituted a nation meant that they could not be "driven into the sea," but had a right to share the land on the basis of civil and political equality with Palestinian Arabs. Further, Matzpen's conception challenged the formula of "a democratic secular state in which Muslims, Christians, and Jews can live together" (put forward by the PLO in the 1970s) because this formula treated Jews as only a religious community. As internationalists, Matzpen advocated a socialist union of the Middle East, but argued that this union must recognize the national rights of all peoples in the region, including both Arab peoples and non-Arabs such as Kurds, Israeli Jews, and South Sudanese.

As a number of leftists have argued, the traditional Marxist discussion of nationhood and national liberation needs to be reexamined critically in the light of changing realities, notably that most national liberation movements have either collapsed, been coopted by global capitalism, or been eclipsed by the anti-imperialist right. With that caveat, Matzpen's approach remains a far better starting point than either the Zionist concept of Jewish nationhood or versions of anti-Zionism that dismiss Israeli Jewish collective identity.

Claim 3: Left anti-Zionists don't recognize European Jews' right to flee their oppression, especially the Nazi genocide, and that Israel exists to fight antisemitism and be a place of refuge for Jews.

The Other Israel criticizes Zionism not only for its oppression of Palestinians, but also for of its oppressive impact on Jews. As the books argues, Zionism's response to antisemitism has been defeatist, in one of two ways: some Zionists have argued that persecution of Jews is inherent in human nature, while others have argued that such persecution is actually helpful because it forces Jews to band together. "The first approach considers anti-Semitism an evil and integration an inevitable failure; the second considers anti-Semitism a blessing and integration an evil to be avoided" (Chapter 11).

As a result, many Zionists have treated antisemites "not as an enemy against whom an implacable struggle must be waged, but as a potential bargaining partner with whom arrangements can be negotiated to achieve a common goal; e.g., the removal of Jews from non-Jewish society and their concentration in a society of their own" (Chapter 11). Such negotiating partners have included the Tsarist government of Russia and even the Nazis. David Ben-Gurion, de facto head of the Zionist settlement and future prime minister of Israel, argued in 1938 that efforts to save Jews from Nazism were a threat to Zionism unless the Jews were brought to Palestine. (In a related statement quoted in Lenni Brenner's Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, Ben-Gurion wrote, "If I knew it would be possible to save all the [Jewish] children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half by transporting them to Eretz Yisrael, then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the life of these children, but also the history of the People of Israel.")

To the Zionist and Israeli leadership, building the Jewish state has consistently been more important than fighting antisemitism. Many instances show this besides the ones cited in The Other Israel. We could discuss the many Zionists who have echoed anti-Jewish stereotypes and attacked the living Jewish cultures of the diaspora; the Israeli government's urging of Argentinian Jews in the 1970s to keep quiet about the antisemitic terrorism of the Argentinian military junta (an Israeli trade partner); or the Israeli government's efforts in the 1980s to force Soviet Jewish emigres to settle in Israel and nowhere else, e.g. with the help of Dutch police who in 1991 used attack dogs to capture a group of Jewish asylum seekers and forcibly put them on a plane to Israel.

We could also discuss the semi-theocratic nature of the Israeli state, which gives Orthodox rabbis legal authority over Jews regarding marriage, divorce, abortion, rape, and domestic violence. This system penalizes non-Orthodox Jews and, above all, subordinates Jewish women to a culturally reactionary, all-male hierarchy.

What about Jews' right to flee oppression, especially the Nazi genocide? Here let's turn to Isaac Deutscher. Anonymous 8/18 quotes a famous passage from The Non-Jewish Jew in which Deutscher offers a metaphor to explain the founding of Israel:

"A man once jumped from the top floor of a burning house in which many members of his family had already perished. He managed to save his life; but as he was falling he hit a person standing down below and broke that person's legs and arms. The jumping man had no choice; yet to the man with the broken limbs he was the cause of his misfortune. If both behaved rationally, they would not become enemies. The man who escaped from the blazing house, having recovered, would have tried to help and console the other sufferer; and the latter might have realized that he was the victim of circumstances over which neither of them had control. But look what happens when these people behave irrationally. The injured man blames the other for his misery and swears to make him pay for it. The other, afraid of the crippled man's revenge, insults him, kicks him, and beats him up whenever they meet. The kicked man again swears revenge and is again punched and punished. The bitter enmity, so fortuitous at first, hardens and comes to overshadow the whole existence of both men and to poison their minds" (pp. 136-7).

On an individual level, the metaphor of a person jumping from the burning house vividly portrays the tragic irony facing Jewish refugees from Nazism who became Israelis. No question, people facing genocide or the threat of genocide have the right to flee to safety wherever they can. But as a metaphor for the Zionist movement, the passage is deeply misleading. Because the Zionist movement did not urge European Jews to jump to safety wherever they could, but told them instead, "you have to jump to this one spot, on top of this other person's head. It's wrong for you to jump anywhere else, and we will block any attempts you make to do so."

Deutscher himself recognized elsewhere in the same essay that Israel -- not the Palestinians -- bore primary responsibility for the failure to establish a "rational relationship": "Israel never even recognized the Arab grievance. From the outset Zionism worked towards the creation of a purely Jewish state and was glad to rid the country of its Arab inhabitants. No Israeli government has ever seriously looked for an opportunity to remove or assuage the grievance." Further, Deutscher warned against treating the Arab-Israeli conflict as "only a clash of two rival nationalisms, each moving within the vicious circle of its self-righteous and inflated ambitions.... The nationalism of the people in semi-colonial or colonial countries, fighting for their independence, must not be put on the same moral-political level as the nationalism of conquerors and oppressors. The former has its historic justification and progressive aspect which the latter has not. Clearly, Arab nationalism, unlike the Israeli, still belongs to the former category." At the same time, Deutscher warned that Arab nationalism, too, carried its own "streak of irrationality, an inclination to exclusiveness, national egoism and racism" (p. 138).

Claim 4: Left anti-Zionists don't take antisemitism seriously as an object of analysis. Three Way Fight authors, specifically, have never tried to understand antisemitism as a system with its own logic of oppression. Doing so would force them to confront the anti-Jewish assumptions that underlie their own anti-Zionism.

I find this charge particularly galling, since analysis of antisemitism has in fact been central to my work over the past eighteen years on fascism and right-wing movements more broadly. For recent examples, see my "Critiquing Neocons and Scapegoating Jews" (posted on Three Way Fight in May 2006) or my review of April Rosenblum's pamphlet on antisemitism in the current issue of Upping the Anti.

My analysis of antisemitism draws on Marxists such as Abram Leon, Maxime Rodinson, and Moishe Postone; feminists such as Ella Shohat, Elly Bulkin, and Andrea Dworkin; and liberals such as John Higham, George Mosse, and Sander Gilman. For me, understanding the distinctive "logic" of anti-Jewish oppression and scapegoating is pivotal for understanding how some rightists can present themselves as a revolutionary alternative -- an understanding that's central to three-way fight politics. At the same time, the three-way fight also means critiquing movements that oppose revolutionary rightists (such as neonazis) by bolstering the established oppressive order. Zionism -- including left Zionism -- is a prime example.

Oct 23, 2007

libertarian theology and resistance to capital

the following was posted as a comment to the blog, Democracy and Hip-Hop Project, as a response to the ongoing discussion on anti-imperialism and reaction.

Matthew offers insights on the need to engage people of faith and to support and help expand "libertarian" religious expressions of thought and resistance to authority and domination. a central thrust to his argument is that militant secularism has "boxed out" alternative and liberatory visions on the basis that they emanate from a theology, rather than the materialist rationalism of the Enlightenment's liberal middle classes. citing the Neo-Con agenda for re-making the Islamic Middle East as the most blatant expression of this secular arrogance, Matthew also challenges the secular "racism of the Left" by asking the question, "when are we going to actually propose alternatives that engage with religious thought seriously in its own vocabulary, language, etc.? When will revolutionaries throw their full support behind Muslims who are attempting to articulate libertarian Islamic theologies of liberation"?

Hey KB,

This is a fascinating and timely discussion. I agree with the Three Way Fight folks that sometimes anti-imperialist forces can take on an insurgent Right wing or fascist character, and that there are some Islamic versions of that in the Middle East today.

But it seems to me that Three Way Fight tends to overemphasize the influence of these right-wingers. Do the Al Qaeda networks and the Taliban really have that much clout internationally? How many everyday Muslims actually support them?

People like David Horowitz and the organizers of Islamofascism week at campuses across the country next week claim that most Muslims support these fools. But that is just witch-hunting and imperial propaganda. Obviously the 3-Way Fight folks aren’t coming from the same angle as Horowitz and it seems they would be equally as opposed to his white supremacy.

But could they also be overemphasizing the power of the Islamic right? I would argue that Al Qeda and the Taliban are relatively marginal in terms of the politics of the world’s several billion Muslims. It seems there is much more international grassroots support for groups like Hizb’Allah and Hamas because they are the most prominent forces currently on the ground mounting mass struggles against Israeli apartheid and for social reconstruction. But are these groups really fascist or on the Right? In many ways they have more in common with authoritarian Leftism: their program is a kind of revolutionary cultural nationalism with a state capitalist/ social democratic emphasis on social justice and aid from above.

In this, they are no doubt oppressive forces poised to betray the workers, women, queer folks, and other everyday Muslims who have at times expressed very militant aspirations for democratic self-government (for example the popular committees of the Intifada). But this betrayal is not a result of Hamas or Hizb’Allah’s Islamic character. After all, plenty of secular nationalist and socialist parties in the Middle East performed similar betrayals in earlier stages of anti-colonial struggles, and that’s at least one of the reasons why so many folks have turned to Islamic politics as a supposed alternative.

Secular populist, Leftist, and state capitalist regimes have also launched brutal campaigns against women, queer folks, indigenous peoples, and others, (as Matthew recognized with Chavez and Ortega). Reinventing an earlier secular nationalism or Communism is not viable considering these historical failures. Whether Islamic or not, something new is desperately needed. The key question is, where will folks go once they see the new Hizb’Allah and Hamas “Islamic” versions of state capitalism betray them once again?

I would argue that this will not automatically be in a secular direction. It could also be a different type of Islamic politics, a more libertarian or direct-democratic vision from below. This is of course not guaranteed but it is one viable possibility worth fighting for.

It is good to see some activists in the US working to critique both US imperialist attacks on Arabs and Muslims and also the patriarchal and authoritarian aspects of right-wing Islamic movements today. These are important first steps. But when are we going to actually propose alternatives that engage with religious thought seriously in its own vocabulary, language, etc.? When will revolutionaries throw their full support behind Muslims who are attempting to articulate libertarian Islamic theologies of liberation? Are they despairing that such folks do not exist in the Muslim community? In my experiences, they do exist, but are often boxed out and squeezed between the secular chauvinism and racism of the Left, the conservatives of the mosque and Muslim Students Association leadership, and the authoritarianism of insurgent Islamic tendencies. What types of political organization will open up space for new Muslim possibilities? I would argue that the largely atheist forms the Left has taken historically are inadequate for this task.

Many young folks are slowly but surely becoming fed up with the bootlicking leadership of groups like the MSA who constantly try to prove to whitey that they are the “Good Muslims” unlike the “Bad Muslims over there.” Many of these young Muslims will see no alternative in authoritarian Islamic insurgents and will turn instead to some version of secular Arab or Muslim power politics. Others will similarly see no alternative in authoritarian Islamic insurgents and will turn instead to some vision of Islamic liberation theology. Revolutionaries of all religious and non-religious backgrounds in the US need to be prepared to respect, support, and understand, and further BOTH potential developments and cannot subordinate either one to the other. These tendencies will only be vibrant if they cross fertilize each other.

Incidentally, I would argue a similar orientation is needed to deal with Christian imperialism and fundamentalism in the US. This is not the place to articulate a full vision on this front, but preliminarily, we need to recognize that a) liberal, multicultural and “interfaith” oriented Christian theologies generally serve as smoke-screens for US Empire because they argue that the US is a progressive force in the world because God ordained America (manifest destiny) to spread separation of church and state, dialogue, and tolerance in order to uplift backwards Third World cultures, especially Islamic ones. b) this liberal theological consensus is fracturing domestically because it cannot contain the frustrations of class tensions, de-industrialization, people loosing their jobs, etc. c) one response to this is an insurgent, populist Christian right that has definite fascist groupings within it that function as vanguards with influence beyond their numbers. d) we need to combat both the liberal imperial theology as well as this insurgent Christian right (we need a 3 way fight), e) it is not enough to simply make a secular critique of both theologies and encourage people to leave Christianity; we need to actively develop Christian liberation theologies that pose insurgent alternatives to both. A top priority in this should be to articulate, in uncompromising and militant Christian prophetic language, why it is crucial for Christians to stand in solidarity with everyday Muslims against imperialism, white supremacy, and fascist attacks.

I’m glad you pointed out some of the legacies that such a liberation theology could draw from, ranging from the late medieval peasant uprisings to the militant abolitionism of John Brown and David Walker. This whole history needs to be retrieved and reconsidered. Again, I can’t go into sufficient depth here, but in many ways it wasn’t capitalism that waged an assault on feudalism in Europe but rather a whole range of insurgent Christian heretic groups, as Sylvia Federici has documented. Capitalism was a middle class counter-revolution that attempted to co-opt this anti-feudal movement and establish a new ruling class. As a result, the middle class’s secularism is not unambiguously progressive. Enlightenment liberals struggled against the Church hierarchy and its feudal ties, but they also struggled against direct-democratic Christian visions from below and attempted to contain the self-activity of peasant, artisan, and early workers who were becoming Christian revolutionaries. Nowadays this middle class secularism takes its most destructive form in the NeoConservatives who act like Napoleon, attempting to shove the Liberal revolution down Muslim peoples’ throats from above and secularize them whether they like it or not. Revolutionaries must distinguish ourselves from this imperial project at all costs, while still mounting our own struggles against religious authorities whether these be conservative, liberal, or insurgent Rightists.

What is missing in the mix are revolutionary religious forces from a direct democratic perspective who can jump into the 3 way fight without subordinating their distinctive religious content and vision. These urgently need to be articulated and organized.



Oct 14, 2007

Islamic fundamentalism and the three-way fight: an exchange

How should leftists respond to Islamic fundamentalist movements? The following dialogue between two contributors to Three Way Fight explores this question, touching on issues such as secularism, Islamophobia, state repression, heterosexism, and, above all, the role of women and women's oppression in the global political struggle.

The dialogue centers on the work of Azar Majedi, who is a leader of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran and the founder of the Organization for Women's Liberation - Iran. The exchange began when Bromma sent Matthew the text of Majedi's article, "When a lesbian says: 'We are all Hezb' Allah now'" (posted to Three Way Fight yesterday).

Please note that the emails below were originally written for a private exchange, not for publication.

= = = = =

September 2, 2007


Thanks for the Majedi piece. Were you wanting to submit it to Three Way Fight? I am concerned about Majedi's conflation of the Islamic Right with Islam in general. That doesn't necessarily mean we wouldn't post it, but probably with some sort of commentary.


= = = = =

September 4, 2007

Hi, Matthew.

I didn't really have a definite purpose in sending the Majedi piece, except that I thought you might find it interesting, and wondered what your take would be. It bears on aspects of the 3-way fight that seem to be...underemphasized? If you print the piece with a commentary, that might cause some valuable discussion, but you know best.

The worker-communist folks (like Majedi) usually specify that one of their two antagonists--one of the "two poles of reaction" confronting them--is "political Islam" or "Islamist" movements. I don't have a problem with this. There is a political Islamist movement; it is reactionary just like Zionism, Hindu nationalism and Christian fundamentalism. It isn't all fascist by any means, but it includes a strong fascist vanguard with influence beyond its numbers.

I also don't have a problem with Majedi's militant secularism.

I do think Majedi probably causes unnecessary controversy by the way she uses the terms "Islam" and "Islamic" in the piece I sent, even though her meaning is clear enough.

After all, Majedi isn't some Western bigot. She probably has friends and family members who adhere to Islam as a religion. She does distinguish between "ordinary Moslems" and political Islam. (See, for instance, her passionate call-out of Oriana Fallaci for racism against Muslims:

She also has direct experience with Islamist state power. She is a survivor of Iranian fundamentalism, who witnessed revolutionaries tortured and killed by the thousands. She, along with the other Iranian socialist women, was sold out by pretty much everybody, including anti-imperialist men of the Left and Right.

Which brings me to what is so important about the perspectives of women like Majedi, and the women in OWFI in Iraq and RAWA in Afghanistan. (Their perspectives are by no means monolithic, of course.) These are revolutionary women on the front lines of the 3-way fight, whose knowledge is based on lived reality. They have been working on this problem for many years, with life and death stakes. It makes me wonder why more of us aren't interested what they've learned.

I think that the struggle for control over women is the key to the 3-way fight. Imperialism is moving swiftly to reconfigure gender relations in the world; re-creating a proletariat based ever more openly on oppressed women and children.

Meanwhile, rebellious right-wing populism is powered by and fixated on misogyny; populated by men who are furious about losing "their" women.

And how about us? Where do we stand on women's freedom? In my opinion, the politics of gender are the key to distinguishing between freedom fighters and right-wing populists (including their phony "left" variants like Chavez).

There isn't going to be much progress on 3-way fight politics here unless we start paying serious attention to the pivotal role of gender in this dynamic. And unless we start giving props to the women in the 3-way battle zones who are the pioneers and natural leaders of this underdeveloped new politics.

By the way, I have definite reservations about the worker-communist perspective, but from a completely different angle--a topic for another day, maybe...


= = = =

September 10, 2007

Hi B,

Your September 4th email makes a lot of good points, about both Majedi's essay and larger issues of gender and the three-way fight. Actually I think your email could be the basis for an initial commentary accompanying the Majedi piece, although I think there are other points that should be raised as well.

Yes, there is a right-wing Islamist movement, but I question whether that label accurately describes all forms of "political Islam." Furthermore, there are important differences within the Islamic right itself -- about gender and other issues -- which western critics routinely gloss over. Majedi's writings play into this. It's not just a question of whether she herself is a western bigot, but how her voice is or will be exploited by western bigots. Majedi is a sophisticated political actor and has a responsibility to take this into account, but (despite her letter to Fallaci) I see little evidence that she does so.

For a helpful discussion of this issue specifically in relation to anti-queer violence in Iran, see "People-to-People Dialogue Key to Human Rights Progress" by Mitra Roshan and Kourosh Shemiani, and the accompanying comments on Karl Kersplebedeb's Sketchy Thoughts blog

Like you, I don't have a problem with militant secularism. I do have a problem with calls for the capitalist state to restrict religious behavior -- especially when such calls selectively target the religious behavior of groups that are already persecuted and demonized widely -- as opposed to religious groups that are socially and culturally dominant. Majedi comments elsewhere ( that we should make a clear distinction between criticizing or ridiculing Islam (good) and "insulting people by reference to their religion" (bad). Sounds like "hate the sin but love the sinner." In any case, I don't think it's a distinction that holds up very well in practice -- not in today's political climate anyway.

Majedi advocates ( a ban on the burka (with face covering) from all public places and any form of religious veil (such as headscarves) for underage girls. She claims that "'a child has no religion.' It is the parents' religion that is imposed on the child." (Really? A 14-year-old has no religion?) She writes that France's law against wearing any religious symbols in state schools is a step in the right direction, but "its main shortcoming is to still allow private religious schools to operate. This leaves the girl's fate in the hands of religiously fanatic parents to send her to private religious school and ghettoize her life completely." By this logic, we should simply forbid practicing Muslims to raise children -- they should all be raised by secular families or in secular state institutions.

In that same essay Majedi does claim in passing that all (all?) religions are misogynist, but her consistent focus is on attacking Islam. In today's U.S. this plays directly into the hands of Bush-allied rightists, although clearly that's not Majedi's intention. Why single out Islamic practices? Given the west's Islamophobia (a concept which Majedi dismisses as a creation of Islamists and their apologists) any secularist attack here on Islamic heterosexism and misogyny has to be couched in terms of a more forceful attack on Christian heterosexism and misogyny. And beyond that, what about secular heterosexism and misogyny? Does it really empower a 14-year-old Muslim girl to tell her she can't wear a headscarf but it's okay to wear a baby t-shirt that says "porn star"?

None of these thoughts are new to you, I'm sure, but I find it helpful to put them into words, and you did ask what I thought.

Best wishes,

= = = =

September 12, 2007

Hi, Matthew.

I'm in favor of making proper distinctions, especially since the intersection of politics and religion is so emotionally charged.

However, I think the most important thing is this essential fact: there is a powerful misogynist fundamentalist movement that has taken the dominant leadership role within the Islamic Right (and actually within the growing world-wide rebellious Right, for which it is a role model). This is a dynamic movement which encompasses tens of millions of adherents and supporters; one which threatens hundreds of millions of women and men. It is, in my opinion, a real-world embodiment of one pole of the 3-way fight. I think this is an underlying premise of Majedi's piece.

It is Islamic fundamentalists who are engaged in the main armed struggle with global Capital, who have taken over in Iran and Afghanistan, who are insurgent and growing in dozens of countries, including Iraq of course. I am disgusted that the Western Left talks about Iraq every day, but evades this critical issue.

In terms of the 3-way fight, this is 100% dysfunctional, since what we are actually observing in these countries is one of the most important examples and symbols of "3-way fight" today; one with which thousands of revs and beleaguered women in Iraq and many other countries are desperately trying to cope.

The male-dominated Left everywhere is unable to provide leadership, because it can't/won't grasp the centrality of women in the world political struggle. Certainly trying to define 3-way politics without dealing with the wars on women is trying to fight with both hands tied behind our backs.

I'm not aware of any significant right-wing political Islamist trends that are pro-women. Maybe you could give me examples?

We should bear in mind that in both Iran and Afghanistan, fundamentalists were smart enough to play on the sympathies (and opportunism) of left-wing men--at least until they came into power. Once in power, they massacred leftists by the thousands.

Today the Iranian regime has lobbyists and agents who monitor Western "progressive" circles and appeal to their credulous, selective, male-identified multiculturalism to blunt potential criticism. This doesn't stop the Iranian state from daily carrying out the most vicious attacks on women and gay people back home.

The thing is, the fundamentalists already have a pretty good take on the 3-way fight and the pivotal role of gender within it. They calibrate their tactics toward the other two poles with considerable intelligence. They are way more sophisticated politically than we are.

Since there is tremendous anti-fundamentalist discontent among the Iranian population, especially among youth and women, the last thing the regime wants to see is the rise of global solidarity for Iranian secular revs, women and gays. Ditto for other fundamentalists. Their entire paradigm is based on male domination, and they use every means at their disposal to defend it.

We have obliged them nicely. We generally let Left groups in the metropolis cuddle up to sharia-loving "resistance" groups without comment, while observing scrupulous silence about atrocity after atrocity committed by the fundamentalists in the name of Islam because it might be "culturally insensitive" to speak up, or might give "aid and comfort" to imperialism.

Everybody on the Left understands that Capital uses "women's rights" as a hypocritical smokescreen for imperial savagery. What the Left seems unable to grasp, so far, is that the Islamic fundamentalists use "multiculturalism" as a smokescreen for male terror and gender apartheid. This has been explicitly discussed by revs in the battle zones. Many times.

Fundamentalists do find women to front for them sometimes. On the other hand, the imperialists have Condi, and all kinds of women and non-white sycophants, to front for them. This is normal today. In modern politics, both imperialism and reactionary populism have learned how to manipulate culture and multiculturalism. Needless to say, we should not be let either reactionary pole manipulate us.

The conditions of women in Iran or Afghanistan or other places where insurgent political Islam has taken power are not timeless "cultural attributes," as the fundamentalists want us to believe. Rather, they are radical reversals of previous secular trends. In other words, they represent very contemporary political defeats for us.

The fundamentalists use phony neo-feudal Islamic tropes (not unlike the way Hitler used "aryan" mythology) as ideological cover, as demagogic shorthand for a distinctly modern oppressive class agenda. I believe this is part of what Majedi means by her use of the term "political Islam." She's not just talking about Muslims who happen to be involved in politics, but about a defined political force loose in the world now. Like Zionism, or Christian nationalism or Hindu nationalism. Whatever we want to call it (I prefer "Islamic fundamentalism,") it exists.

I would argue, actually, that any quest for male religious state power is by its nature reactionary. But this abstract principle is less important than the hard practical realities of current politics.

Millions of modern, often cosmopolitan women experience the burka and the veil as a badge of apartheid, of submission. Millions live in fear of the violent misogynist crimes committed daily by Islamist rightists. Millions are under relentless, violent male pressure to accept degrading roles for themselves and their daughters--roles that they neither endorse nor were born into. Will we speak up for those women, or will we leave them to be "defended" by the tender mercies of the likes of George Bush? (Or the French state?)

I think it is good to be vigilant about "feeding into" classic Euro chauvinisms--national, racial and religious. But there is also a different kind of Euro chauvinism that treats women in colonized societies as if they were somehow less worthy of realizing their human rights than white Western women are. This chauvinist view imagines that women in so-called Islamic regions--and in the colonial world generally--don't really want freedom like women here do.

Suppose the US crashes into chaos and collapse, losing its wealth and dominance in the world. How would (will?) radical women in the US feel about a new "cultural" or "Christian" requirement to wear clothing that makes sports impossible; that shames women into hiding their face or hair? That forces girls to visually declare loyalty to Christianity at every moment, that embodies an overt and drastic double standard for boys and girls? That prohibits dancing and non-religious music and parties? (Of course I am talking here only about the very mildest of fundamentalist practices, not the deadliest ones, like stoning to death, honor killing, arranged "marriages" of very young girls, acid-throwing, etc.) Would we want Muslims or people overseas to "respect" these things as "part of our culture" or as "religious matters," and to politely refrain from helping us overthrow them?

And for that matter, why is it that radical women here and in Europe are expected to "demand" reproductive rights, but nobody says word one about reactionary stands on abortion by Chavez, Ortega and several other male bosses of Latin American populism? Sometimes it seems that only US and European white women are supposed to insist on secular and personal freedoms. Surely that can't be because our "culture" is so great--or theirs are so terrible.

It's complicated, of course. Being a new pole of the 3-way fight is going to make new enemies, including some forces who used to be progressive. (Anti-fascists learned that in the '30s.) But silence doesn't get us off the hook. We already know that every time we criticize one reactionary pole, we'll be accused of helping the other. We have to advance on this thing, not hope it will go away.

It would be good to see the whole question of gender and the 3-way fight aired in some way. The Majedi piece might be a good jumping-off point, even though there are other documents from RAWA and the worker-communists that are probably more diplomatically written. It's important to disentangle chauvinist attacks on Islam and people of color from legitimate attacks on insurgent fundamentalism, and her article seems to raise that issue. If you want to collaborate on something, let me know.

I'm probably speaking out of turn, but I think it would be a major step forward just for the web site to start featuring regular political analysis by radical women in the colonial world who are fighting both fascist fundamentalism and imperialism. Whatever their errors and weaknesses, aren't these people our pioneers? Maybe that's too big a redefinition of "3-way fight," but that's how I see it.



= = = = =

September 20, 2007

Hi B,

Thanks for your detailed September 12th email. Once again I find your comments important and thought provoking. Let me start by noting some of our main areas of agreement. I agree with you that misogyny is central to Islamic fundamentalism and to the global "rebellious Right" in general, and that the male-dominated left has failed to confront this centrality of women and women's oppression in the world political struggle. I agree that many of us who are trying to develop a 3-way fight analysis need to do a much better job on this question ourselves, that the TWF blog should address this much more than it has done so far, and that "featuring regular political analysis by radical women in the colonial world who are fighting both fascist fundamentalism and imperialism" would be a valuable step forward. I agree, further, that "it's important to disentangle chauvinist attacks on Islam and people of color from legitimate attacks on insurgent fundamentalism," and that Islamic fundamentalists have promoted this confusion effectively to shield themselves from criticism (which much of the left, again, has failed to address).

I do want to clarify one general point. When I suggested that there are significant differences within the Islamic right over gender politics, I didn't mean that some Islamic rightists are "pro-women." But misogyny comes in different forms, and the differences matter, both to women's experiences with Islamic fundamentalism and to a strategic understanding of the movement. The Taliban have systematically worked to destroy all educational opportunities for women and girls, while Iran's Islamic Republic has almost doubled the female literacy rate. Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front has murdered women for appearing in public without the veil, while Lebanon's Hezbollah, as far as I have been able to determine, has not tried to enforce any such restrictions on women within the regions it controls. Such differences, I would argue, are tied in with differences in how the many branches of the Islamic right relate to global capitalism, from full-scale warfare to various degrees of accommodation and collaboration. Furthermore, while some Islamic rightist movements are essentially all male, others have recruited large numbers of women as activists and even (within certain parameters) leaders. We need to try to understand how these women have been recruited, what motivates them, and what effect they have had on the Islamic right, not just dismiss them as sell-outs or victims of internalized oppression. (I've discussed these issues in "Notes on Women and Right-Wing Movements," which was the first essay I wrote for Three Way Fight. See

Beyond that, I reiterate my specific concerns about Majedi's critique of "political Islam," which was our starting point. I think that she largely fails in her stated goal to critique Islam without insulting Muslims, because she selectively targets Islamic misogyny in a way that meshes with the dominant western discourse. I am particularly disturbed by her appeal to the capitalist state to restrict the religious behavior of a persecuted social group, a point which you did not address. These issues go far beyond the question of whether Majedi's writing is diplomatic.

That said, I welcome your invitation to collaborate on some kind of piece about gender and the three-way fight. Let's explore that further. In the meantime, I propose that our full correspondence starting with Majedi's Hezb'allah piece could be published on the Three Way Fight blog.

Best wishes,

= = = = =

September 22, 2007

Hi, Matthew. Thanks for your comradely email. I appreciate your emphasis on unity, and your patience with my rants.

I've been thinking over your idea about publishing our emails so far. I like it because it's quick, informal, and would allow other people to have easy access to the discussion. So I'm for it. Even though the writing on my end is pretty raggedy. Maybe you could mention that this was originally a private exchange, not intended to be published?

Best wishes,


Oct 13, 2007

When a Lesbian Says: We Are all Hezb' Allah Now!

The following essay by Azar Majedi previously appeared on the websites ( and Secularism is a Women's Issue (

Azar Majedi is a member of the central committee of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran and the founder of the Organization for Women's Liberation - Iran.

(A dialog between Three Way Fight contributors sparked by this essay was posted shortly after this essay.)

by Azar Majedi

When my daughter’s friend told me a couple of weeks a go, that her socialist lesbian friend has a poster on her wall saying: "we are all Hezb' Allah Now!" I said: "my God! (And I am an atheist) something has gone fundamentally wrong."

I asked myself, what are they trying to do, mocking socialists? Or, are they simply brainwashed? What is this world coming to?

This young woman has all the necessary ingredients for fighting against political Islam and Hezb' Allah. First of all she is a woman. Just the fact of being a female, is enough to make you a staunch enemy of a radically misogynist movement, unless you are brainwashed to do the opposite.

To add to the irony, she is a lesbian. Homosexuality is a crime punishable by death according to Islam and in countries under its rule. To be homosexual makes you want to flee from any place that the Islamists have any power. Dozens of homosexuals have been hanged in recent months by the Islamic Republic of Iran. She, a lesbian, born in Iran, or in a region under Hezb' Allah, would have to seek refuge in Britain. But she is lucky enough to be born here and does not have to live in the fear of her life, like poor Pegah who fled Iran to seek refuge in Britain, and who now British government wants to deport back to Iran*. Is this socialist-lesbian supporter of Hezb' Allah aware that her support of political Islam makes Pegah’s case even more difficult? Home Office does seek legitimization for such deports by these quasi left Islamist propaganda. And finally she claims to be a socialist. Wherever one stands in political spectrum, it is a well-known and accepted fact that socialism is about equality, fairness and aspirations for a more egalitarian and fairer society. If one chooses socialism, that should mean, one cares for fellow human beings, aspires equality and freedom, all those values that are despised by the Islamic movement. Many thousands socialists have been imprisoned, tortured and executed by the Islamic Republic alone.

Then, what has gone wrong? Why is she so passionate about the Hezb' Allah?

An ideological falsification is responsible for this turn of events. Pragmatism has helped the course of events, as well. Let’s start with the latter. This most probably good-hearted young woman is rightfully sick and tired of American and British aggression and crimes committed in Iraq and the Middle East. She is sick and tired of the injustices imposed on the Palestinian people. She rightfully condemns American and British states for all these crimes and atrocities and for their full fledged support for the state of Israel and last year’s war on Lebanon. She is just to do so. However, on the other side, since George Bush has defined the enemy as Islamists, she automatically turns into full support for the Islamists.

The American and British aggression and military actions against the people in the Middle East has helped to draw a wrong image of the Islamic movement. Islamic movement and ideology have been falsified as the liberators of the people in the Middle East or the Palestinians. This is false. Islamists are one the most brutal movements in the history of mankind. They are no liberators. They are a force of reaction and darkness. This message must be spread.

Islamists are not the spokesperson for the Palestinians or Iraqi people. They do not represent the pain and grief these people suffer by these wars. They are not people’s representatives; they are as brutal and as ruthless. What we need to make clear is: in the war between US and Islamists, between the two poles of terrorism, we do not need to support either. We must condemn both. We should form a third pole, a third voice to oppose both.

24 August 2007

= = = = =

* An open letter by Organisation for Women’s Liberation in defence of Pegah Emam Bakhsh, an Iranian Lesbian who is to be deported to Iran is attached. Please do support her.

The Organisation for Women’s Liberation-Iran
- Address: PO Box 42300
- London N12 0WY
- England
- Chairperson: Azar Majedi
- Tel: +44-7886973423
- Fax: +44-8701358385

Open letter to the Home Office,
- The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner
- 5th Floor, Counting House, 53 Tooley Street, London, SE1 2QN England
- Telephone: 020 7211 1500
- Fax: 020 7211 1553

- Copies to the UK media and Mr Richard Caborn,
- MP for Sheffield Central

Re: Pegah Emam Bakhsh
- 21 August 2007

Pegah is a young Iranian woman who faces deportation from the UK. She applied for asylum in the UK fearing her life in Iran as a lesbian. She was refused asylum by the British authorities. Last week she was detained without warning and sent to Yarlswood for deportation on 16th August. At the very last minute she was granted stay until August 27th so her MP for Sheffield Central, Mr. Richard Caborn, could look at her case. Another report states that a new removal date has been issued for August 23rd at 9.21.

The Iranian Queer Organization - IRQO ( - tel: 001-416-548-4171) has been active to stop Pegah’s deportation. We sincerely hope that Mr. Caborn together with the active role of IRQO can save Pegah from being deported to Iran where she will be arrested tortured and most likely executed.

In Iran, homosexuality is a crime and punishable by hanging or stoning. The Islamic Republic of Iran has executed many homosexuals openly and in public. It is a well known fact.

We support Pegah’s application for political refugee status in the UK and urge all to oppose the UK government’s decision to deport her and support her case. Pegah SHOULD NOT be deported. She has, according to international human rights convention the right to be granted refugee status by the British government. If deported to Iran she will be persecuted for her sexual orientation and the British government will be in breach of its agreed human rights convention.

What are the real issues here? Increasing the number of deportees to meet the targets? Or deport her and see what happens? When she is tortured in Iran then she will have a strong case for asylum?! With the publicity she has now, the chances of the latter are more probable. Would that help the British authorities? Will it set the record straight? A battered or dead woman’s body proving the British authorities wrong! What a civilised way to settle the matter. One thing is sure if Pegah is returned to Iran the target has been met! We are talking about human life not statistics. Pegah has to be saved.

3rd pole anti-imperialism against war and reaction

The following article ( Imperialism, local reaction and the duty of communists) and subsequent discussion was let known to us by an anonymous poster from redFlags, specifically how the piece and discussion raises concepts of Iranian resistance to both imperialist efforts by the US as well to the reactionary IRI (Islamic Republic of Iran).

The piece by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) looks at this resistance in the context of a possible attack by the US on Iran, a possibility that is on many lips here in belly of the beast as well as internationally.

Not willing to play fortune teller, I wouldnt make claims with assurance that the US will strike at Iran, but given some of the neo-cons positions (neo-con and far-right Zionist, D. Pipes, who previously stated,"The eruption of civil war in Iraq would have many implications for the West. It would likely: Invite Syrian and Iranian participation, hastening the possibility of an American confrontation with those two states, with which tensions are already high") and the Bush faction of the ruling class, well, why not think that such a possibility isn’t on the horizon. Shoot, even Martin Walker said on the Aug 17th edition of the McLaughlin Group, Bush “will bomb before he leaves office”.

I think the importance here lays in two issues, 1) given the pitiful track record of the anti-war “movement”, what response from the radical and revolutionary forces is necessary in the face of current saber rattling and/or possible attack, 2) what is our analysis of the different forces at play, specifically, the forces that get lumped into the generic anti-imperialist category. With regards to the later question, as revolutionary antifascists and libertarian socialists (from social rev anarchist to left communist to beyond), what constitutes an “anti-imperialist” praxis.

The article and following debate, while suffering from the typical cultish communist version of “What would Jesus do?” (but instead substitute Mao or Lenin or Stalin or Avakian for Jesus) raises insights into the situation that may aid us in developing our own critical perspectives on the war and power plays among the capitalist players.

Below are excerpts from the initial CCCPI document,

"With the intensification of the contradictions between the US and the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), the possibility of a military attack on Iran has become the main question in Iran and the world political scene...

Today the political confrontation between the IRI and the US plays a powerful role in shaping the political stance and tendencies of the various strata and classes in Iran...

Obviously, it is not easy to predict how the people would react in the case of a military assault. If and when a war actually breaks out, with everything that would cause, different spontaneous tendencies could emerge. The reality is that the majority of the people, in particular the people in the cities, would not defend the IRI and would remain indifferent in relation to a war between the IRI and the US. But the experience of class struggle shows that such sentiments would not last long. If the advanced and revolutionary forces do not play an active role, the main danger would be that the people will fall victim to the interests of one or another reactionary group. This makes the formation of a revolutionary pole an urgent necessity...

Only an anti-imperialist and anti-reactionary pole could mobilise the people and keep them active. Only by an active policy and putting forward the alternative of the third pole can we create hope and motivation for the masses to participate in deciding their own destiny...

Among Western antiwar forces, we are facing a trend that pays little attention to the class character and the social programme of the reactionary forces resisting the imperialists. They should distinguish between the different forces resisting the imperialists, and take a position in a way that would help the forming of a revolutionary resistance (not a reactionary resistance) against the imperialists."

Oct 7, 2007

Hammerfest Update: Nazi skinhead locations revealed


This Saturday afternoon in Portland’s southeast Lents Park, anti-racist activists held a rally in response to the gathering of white-power skinheads (and their hardcore bands) known as Hammerfest 2007. (See this week's WW story.) After the rally, a diverse group of about 50 people, including a number of anti-racist skinheads, spontaneously arranged a caravan to a nearby neighborhood to leaflet. The fliers warned residents that one of their neighbors is neo-Nazi Randall Krager , who lives with his partner and fellow “racialist” Abbie Chelf on Southeast 70th Avenue near Johnson Creek Boulevard. The white power leader is one of the founding members of Volksfront, an Oregon-based white power group that helped sponsor Hammerfest 2007. Krager and three others founded Volksfront in 1994 while Krager was serving a sentence for nearly beating to death an African-American father of four and leaving him paralyzed.

Most of the people who were handed fliers by the motley parade of anti-racist activists were concerned and somewhat horrified to learn that a neo-Nazi leader lives steps away from their own homes. Standing in Harney Park at Southeast 70th Avenue and Harney Street, a crew of soccer moms read the fliers and called their kids in from the field, expressing plans to talk to other moms in the area about Krager’s presence. After about 20 minutes of walking around the area, the action dispersed and leafletters went their separate ways without incident.

At the time of the rally, members of the organizing group The Ad-Hoc Committee Against Racism and Fascism still didn’t know the location of Hammerfest. Then around 6 pm, anti-racist organizers were tipped off that the Aryan moshpit was taking place at the Sherwood Elks Lodge at 22770 SW Elwert Road in Sherwood, Ore . They immediately posted their findings to activist newswire, with hopes that Portland area residents might pressure the Elks Lodge to shut down Hammerfest by calling the venue’s booking agent at (503) 625-5977. A look at the Sherwood Elks Lodge website revealed that the club’s motto is “charity, justice, brotherly love, and fidelity,” which raises the question of whether the lodge members are aware that they are hosting an anniversary party for a crew of neo-Nazis with a violent history of assault convictions . Both Volksfront and the Hammerskins have been historically linked to the 1988 Portland killing of 28 year-old Ethiopian college student Mulugeta Seraw, who was beaten to death by racist skins on Southeast 31st Avenue.

The Ad-Hoc Committee's Indymedia post says they spoke with the Elks Lodge booker, and paraphrased his opinion that the gathering was "just a bunch of guys playing music." Check back on WWire for Elks response and more updates.

Oct 2, 2007

Portlanders Will Rally Against the Neo-Nazi "Hammerskin Nation" Gang

Contact: Ad-Hoc Committee Against Racism and Fascism,
971.285.4688 (voicemail)

Portlanders Will Rally Against the Neo-Nazi "Hammerskin Nation" Gang
Community Gathering Responds to White Supremacist Festival

Portland, Oregon - As white supremacists plan a three-day gathering to be held in the greater Portland area from October 5 - 7, community members and anti-racists throughout the Pacific Northwest will gather in response on what is scheduled to be Day Two of the "Hammerfest" hate festival. An anti-racist community gathering and rally will take place on October 6, starting at 1PM in Lents Park located on SE 92nd & Holgate. The rally intends to expose white supremacist groups in the Northwest, as well as to bring diverse communities together in a stand against fascist organizing and violence aimed at Jewish people and people of color, sexual minorities, and activists.

The October 5 - 7 "Hammerfest" event is being planned by the neo-Nazi "Hammerskin Nation" skinhead organization. The Hammerskins hope to bring hundreds of racist skinheads and "white power" revolutionists to its twentieth-anniversary celebration. The Hammerskins began their organized activity in 1987, when they were known as the Confederate Hammerskins, a violent and racist skinhead gang in Dallas, TX. The Hammerskins have now grown into a "Hammerskin Nation" with national and international affiliates. The Hammerskins combine thug tactics with recruitment through hate rock, to forward their Hitler-admiring agenda. The upcoming "Hammerfest" in Oregon was organized in conjunction with Volksfront, a Portland-led white supremacist group linked to two of the killers of Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw in 1988. Similarly to the Hammerskins, Volksfront has chapters throughout North America and also on other continents.

Although still small, fascist groups have been growing in post-9/11 America. Small numbers may still have bigger influence, as Neo-Nazi sway is based on a willingness to use violence and to terrorize targets. Last week, a Virginia-based Neo-Nazi website made headlines after it published the personal information of Black high school students accused in the Louisiana "Jena Six" case, calling for their lynching. Just three days before the Portland "Hammerfest" starts, Hammerskin members in Florida will begin trial for the attempted assault of an anti-racist activist there. Those coming together for the Lents Park rally are determined that similar provocations do not take place here.

The October 6 Lents Park rally follows a series of other anti-racist events throughout Portland, including a well-attended "Rock Against Racism" show that was held on Wednesday. This Saturday, September 29 will feature an anti-fascist educational event and training (3PM, Room 236, Smith Center, Portland State University,) plus a "Musicians United Against Racism" show including hip hop, reggae and punk rock performers (8PM, The Recyclery, 1417 SE 9th & Madison).

Details concerning the Saturday, October 6 anti-racist event are below.

WHAT: Community gathering and rally: "Nazis Not Welcome! Unite Against Racism!"
WHO: Speakers and performers currently include Mic Crenshaw of Hungry Mob, Cristien Storm of "If You Don't, They Will" anti-fascist campaign, and Walidah Imarisha of Good Sista/Bad Sista. More to be announced in the coming days.
WHEN: Saturday, October 6, 1PM onwards.
WHERE: Lents Park, corner of SE 92nd & Holgate.

The October 6 rally in opposition to "Hammerfest" has been called by the Ad-Hoc Committee Against Racism and Fascism. Founded this September, the Ad-Hoc Committee is dedicated to monitoring and opposing white supremacist groupings in Portland and beyond. As large neo-Nazi rallies have often been preceded by bigoted attacks, the Ad-Hoc Committee wishes to work with community groups and people of good conscience who want to respond to fascist mobilization.

To obtain a chronology of recent white supremacist activity in the Pacific Northwest, or for more information on anti-racist endeavors, please contact the Ad-Hoc Committee: 971.285.4688 or

Sep 28, 2007

Moishe Postone on History and Helplessness

Beyond questions of fascism or right-wing revolutionaries, the three way fight analysis can also be applied to other situations where the radical left is forced to respond to conflicts between two sets of bad guys. The build-up to the Iraq war presented this sort of dilemma, although much of the left didn’t recognize it as such. Moishe Postone’s recent essay “History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary forms of Anticapitalism” highlights this problem as follows:

“The impasse to which I am referring has been dramatized recently by many responses on the Left, in the United States and in Europe , to the suicide bombing of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, as well as by the character of the mass mobilizations against the Iraq War. The disastrous nature of the war and, more generally, of the Bush administration should not obscure that in both cases progressives found themselves faced with what should have been viewed as a dilemma — a conflict between an aggressive global imperial power and a deeply reactionary counterglobalization movement in one case, and a brutal fascistic regime in the other. Yet in neither case were there many attempts to problematize this dilemma or to try to analyze this configuration with an eye toward the possibility of formulating what has become exceedingly difficult in the world today — a critique with emancipatory intent. This would have required developing a form of internationalism that broke with the dualisms of a Cold War framework that all too frequently legitimated (as “anti-imperialist”) states whose structures and policies were no more emancipatory than those of many authoritarian and repressive regimes supported by the American government.”

Postone’s essay is dense and can be slow-going. It is also not without its problems – most prominently an attempt to sharply divide armed struggle anti-imperialists of the last half-century into “movements that do not target civilians randomly (such as the Viet Minh and Viet Cong and the ANC) and those that do (such as the IRA, al-Qaeda, and Hamas).” Guerilla struggles are always messy, and I suspect that the historical record provides some inconvenient details that might shift the attempted categorization of the ANC and the IRA, for example. Similarly, writing off Frantz Fanon as a person who “glorified violence for the sake of violence” does a disservice to one of the most important and challenging revolutionary theorists of the twentieth century.

Nonetheless, Postone’s contribution to discussions around the problems facing anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism in the new millenium, especially as regards the issue of anti-Semitism, seems to parallel some of the questions being raised under the rubric of the three way fight. This is an essay that deserves to be read and discussed.

Sep 21, 2007

World War 4 Report comment on, Russian Neo-Nazis

The anarchist blog Three-Way Fight wants to know (despite leaving the question marks off their questions):

Why does the media - CNN, MSNBC, FOX, BBC, Harretz, etc - spend today going over and over again, with lots of video footage, of the bust of a supposed neo-Nazi group in Israel that beat up people and vandalized synagogues. [Sic] The group, made up of Russian emigres who had at least some direct relative who had been of Jewish religious/cultural descent, were videoed attacking people and sieg heiling in front of a German flag.

But in the same mainstream press there was almost no reporting three weeks ago of the Russian Nazi's (whether real or perhaps created by the Russian state agents as a way to spread propaganda against the regions [sic] actual growing far-right movement, with some estimates reaching 50,000) who kidnapped and murdered two men - one by beheading and one by blowing the poor mans brains out. The report and video emerged around August 15th. If there was reporting it was brief and buried.

Why do Nazis in Israel get coverage. [Sic] But when Nazis murder two men of possible Muslim origin (one who was from Dagestan and one who was a Tajiki), and issue a video that makes any Jihadi beheading video look amateurish, seem to get a media blackout. Why is there "outrage" and questions of "how is this possible" when it's over threats against Israelis, yet actual killings of Muslims by Russian neo-Nazis seem ignored?

Well, the story about the Russo-Nazi surgence (a phenomenon eerily predicted by Bollywood, BTW) certainly does warrant greater attention—but it did get fairly prominent treatment in the New York Times Aug. 14—while the Times' Sept. 9 coverage of the Israeli Nazis rated less ink and less prominent placement.

Also, the Israeli Nazi story has the man-bites-dog quality that the media always find so irresistible. (Although if we—the media, reading public and alienated Russian youth alike—remembered our history better, the notion of Russian Nazis would seem nearly absurd as Israeli Nazis.)

More troubling is Three-Way Fight's use of the word "supposed" for the Israeli Nazis—there is nothing "supposed" about them, unfortunately; they are quite obviously in deadly earnest. The Times also makes clear that these kids are not Jews: "Russia has a problem with neo-Nazi groups, and the phenomenon arrived in Israel with relatives of Jews who came here from the former Soviet Union but who are not themselves Jewish."

But nothing is more fashionable on the left these days than downplaying any threat to Jews. And we'd like to know why that double standard is any better than the one Three-Way Fight is decrying.

Sep 10, 2007

russian neo-nazis


Why does the media - CNN, MSNBC, FOX, BBC, Harretz, etc - spend today going over and over again, with lots of video footage, of the bust of a supposed neo-Nazi group in Israel that beat up people and vandalized synagogues. The group, made up of Russian emigres who had at least some direct relative who had been of Jewish religious/cultural descent, were videoed attacking people and sieg heiling in front of a German flag.

But in the same mainstream press there was almost no reporting three weeks ago of the Russian Nazi's (whether real or perhaps created by the Russian state agents as a way to spread propaganda against the regions actual growing far-right movement, with some estimates reaching 50,000) who kidnapped and murdered two men - one by beheading and one by blowing the poor mans brains out. The report and video emerged around August 15th. If there was reporting it was brief and buried.

Why do Nazis in Israel get coverage. But when Nazis murder two men of possible Muslim origin (one who was from Dagestan and one who was a Tajiki), and issue a video that makes any Jihadi beheading video look amateurish, seem to get a media blackout. Why is there "outrage" and questions of "how is this possible" when it's over threats against Israelis, yet actual killings of Muslims by Russian neo-Nazis seem ignored?

more later.

Sep 7, 2007

Hurricane Katrina and the Crisis of Black Politics

from the new online journal, New Beginnings

It wasn’t Hurricane Katrina that destroyed New Orleans. This natural disaster just completed for the ruling class what they started decades ago. The process began long before the flood and it will threaten many other American cities if working people do not begin to fight back.

Through the centuries, New Orleans was built up into a thriving social edifice. Workers came from up and down the Mississippi and were exploited on the docks and assembly lines. Nevertheless, their workplaces, their neighborhoods, their relationships, and their homes were the breeding grounds of a rich culture that would define the American ethos. When industry was automated in New Orleans, like in other industrial centers many of the workers who had built up the city were left stranded and shunted aside because they were no longer necessary to produce corporate profits. Many clung to their homes tenaciously and refused to leave as much of their social infrastructure was obliterated.

Hurricane Katrina accelerated this process. Official society decided long ago that it no longer needed large numbers of Black workers in the city, so when the Hurricane hit they seized upon it as an opportunity to cleanse the city of what they saw to be its “surplus population.” That’s why the struggle that Katrina refugees are waging to rebuild their city is emblematic of the kind of struggle that many workers will find ourselves waging in crumbling industrial cities from Newark to Detroit to Gary.

The Rise and Fall of Chocolate City

Although their labor on Southern plantations had produced the wealth necessary to power American capitalism, with a few exceptions Black folks were generally excluded from the industrial expansion that swept America after the Civil War. Exploited for generations as sharecroppers and low-wage laborers, Black workers eventually fought and struggled their way into jobs in major American industries. Many migrated to industrial cities such as Detroit and Chicago. In New Orleans they sought work in factories, oil refineries, and the port which was a crucial international shipping point servicing growing industries up and down the Midwest.

This growing Black working class seized the opportunity presented by official society’s need to staff labor-intensive assembly line production. They mobilized on and off the job to demand equal pay and access to core production jobs. The Civil Rights and Black Power movements represented hundreds of thousands of Black workers who began to assert their desire to control these workplaces that had been built upon their backs and their neighborhoods. In many industrial cities such as New Orleans they shook the racist establishment to the core.

Amidst the possibilities of more urban uprisings and concerns that the international image of American Democracy and the credibility of official society were collapsing, moves were made to quickly co-opt a sector of this movement and to consolidate a new set of elites who could govern an increasingly restless Black population. In majority Black cities such as New Orleans, a new Black middle class political machine of ward bosses, social workers, and administrators of local patronage networks was established. While the old regime of white terror continued to exist just miles outside of the city (and consolidated itself further in suburbs built by white flight), in places like New Orleans, Atlanta, and Detroit, Black mayors and police chiefs eventually came to power.

These were no Uncle Toms. They often spoke a language of Black pride and presented themselves as dripping in cultural authenticity. Their police forces continued to crack the heads of Black youth in the streets and they continued to smash strikes initiated by Black workers. However, unlike the white man of a fading era, they were able to use their body politics to diffuse criticism of the new regime. For some, they were Black Power realized. For others, they were a betrayal of what the movement of the 1960s and early 1970s was trying to achieve. People failed to be vigilant about maintaining their autonomous political power within the cross-class alliances of the civil rights and Black Power era.

Katrina represents a fundamental crisis for this middle class establishment. Many have asked why this “Rainbow Coalition” of Black city managers has been unable to stem the tide of social disintegration, educational chaos, poverty, crime, and pollution that has wrecked inner city areas in the past several decades. Why was it that tens of thousands of Black residents of New Orleans were living without the social infrastructure necessary to support a basic dignified life, long before Katrina hit? Is this because Black leaders like mayor Ray Nagin are simply tokens whose hands have been tied by a white power structure that controls them from behind the scenes at the state and federal level? Is it because the working poor are especially out of control and jeopardizing the civilizing mission of the talented tenth? Is it because of drugs, or bad morals, or single mothers, or because a vengeful God is angry?

In the wake of Katrina, all of these suggestions were put forward to explain the situation in New Orleans. All of them fail to explain what happened there and what is happening in our cities across the country. In reality, the Rainbow Coalition of Black mayors and police chiefs came to power in the 1970s just as the ruling class began to destroy the industrial base located in the cities leading to economic collapse.

The reasons for this are complex, but it can be said they have their roots in the failures of the American labor movement in the 20th century. The CIO wave of organizing opened up possibilities for working people to gain economic and political control of society. However, these were compromised and eventually beaten back by a new union bureaucracy that formed a partnership with capital and the state. With working people disarmed, it prepared the way for capital disinvestment.

At the same time the CIO movement promised to overcome the systematic racism that blocked Black workers from unions and smash a white unionism that made peace with Jim Crow. Battles in the south were particularly fierce, but in the north equally so. Through the 1940s to the 1970s, from A. Philip Randolph’s march on Washington to the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, civil rights and Black Power took place in the community and at the same time in the workplace. The failure to maintain leverage over the bureaucracy and to successfully destroy barriers to equal treatment people of color working people fatally comprised these movements.

With automation, speedup and eventual disinvestment and de-industrialization a result, a large unemployed population began to emerge in cities. With automation, employers could produce the same amount with only a fraction of the workers, and from the ruling class’s point of view large segments of the Black urban population were no longer needed.

Because the rulers of the city realized that they could not simply remove all their Black former employees (that would lead to massive resistance here and abroad), they instead tried to contain them. Because these folks were no longer needed as workers they would not need to be educated, housed, or properly kept alive like barnyard animals in order to be exploited for maximum profit. As a result, the new Black middle class became the prison wardens and state administrators of a large sector of Black youth and men shunted from dysfunctional schools to prisons to an early death while the city’s social infrastructure began to collapse.

Many unemployed and underemployed youth tried to fight back. From Detroit to Newark, the cry rang out: “The City is the Black Man’s Land.” Young people mobilized in Black Power rebellions and organizations like the Black Panthers. But these were soon crushed by the police or politically degenerated. The Rainbow Coalition de-mobilized any trends in this direction—much like the CIO movement—by diverting the rebellious energy of the 1960s into support for electoral candidates and ward bosses who were supposed to be able to direct patronage, money, and power into the communities.

They did a little bit of this, but mostly they presided over a regime of diminishing returns. New Orleans witnessed a slow undermining of any basis for a city in the first place. Rising unemployment brought rising crime, and some of this was organized into gang activity. Sometimes the ward bosses of the Rainbow Coalition had to collaborate with these elements in order to maintain control, and social life became increasingly difficult. All the while they pulled cheap gimmicks like naming public schools after historically important Black people to raise the kids’ self-esteem. They tried to keep people’s eyes off the fact that the schools themselves would be shut down or gutted, one by one, with the compliance of so-called Black leadership. Today, while the effects of Katrina continue, they have conferences about banning the n-word, attacking hip hop, and want to pass laws to have people pull their pants up.

Operation Ghost Town: The Occupation of New Orleans

Under normal conditions, all that official society would dare to do to the people of New Orleans would be to kill people softly. However, Katrina gave them another option. It presented a major pretext to get rid of large numbers of the Black working class that were no longer needed by the capitalists. People were shipped off to different cities like Atlanta and Houston, prevented from entering the towns around New Orleans by Jim Crow housing laws. The media—nothing but the propaganda arm of official society—began the usual racist rants by portraying the thousands of people who took things from stores to survive as looters. An untold number of dollars were spent on private mercenary forces to guard rich people.

Many journalists have documented the vast degree of “negligence” during and after the storm on the part of the Federal, state, and local governments. Suffice it to say here that certain facts stand out: the levees were well over a foot too short and the federal government failed to alert the local authorities that they had breached in time for them to launch an evacuation. The New Orleans emergency plan failed to account for the thousands of New Orleanians without cars. The facts indicate one of two possible situations. Either the state is failing miserably to keep its citizens safe (the very task it stakes its right to govern upon) or, this “negligence” is at least in part a deliberate carelessness, a way to accelerate the process of disintegration that had begun long before the storm.

It was terrifying yet revealing to watch how quickly the Rainbow Coalition collapsed during the storm. Refugees found themselves face to face with the ugly ghost of the Old South reborn in the white vigilantes in coalition with local police who fired at them as they tried to flee across bridges into the suburbs. After the federal government waited long enough for the city to be destroyed, they sent in National Guardsmen with shoot-to-kill orders and built the kind of massive military occupation usually reserved for the streets of Baghdad or Gaza City. The Rainbow Coalition did a few media stunts: Ray Nagin cried on TV and Kanye West whined that, “George Bush hates Black people.” But the reality of the matter is that the Black middle class was able to do absolutely nothing to stop the wholesale cleansing of New Orleans’ historic Black communities.

Bringing the Middle Class Economy to New Orleans

The occupation did not end when the floodwaters subsided. The military and the police kept many from returning to their city and their homes to rebuild. Public housing that wasn’t even damaged by the flood was boarded up, its residents kept out at gunpoint. This housing had the misfortune to be located on prime real estate next to the tourist districts that were somehow miraculously rebuilt in time for Mardi Gras.

The state government of Louisiana eventually decided to protect and authorize landlords to throw out all the belongings of refugees who could not return, while opportunists and vultures gouged rent prices and maintained an artificial housing shortage.

While pundits across the country attacked Katrina refugees for being lazy leeches on Federal aid, Black workers were actively discouraged and prevented in many ways from returning to work in New Orleans. With housing still scarce in the city, many were told they would lose their FEMA trailers if they got jobs in the city.

George Bush suspended many labor laws including the requirement that workers in the construction trades be documented. On the surface this was presented as an attempt to rebuild the city as rapidly as possible. In fact it was just the opposite. Predatory contractors hired thousands of undocumented Latino migrant workers onto construction sites in the city at drastically low wages. In many cases they were essentially “rent-a-slaves” kept in poor housing and then refused pay when they finished their jobs.

This is not at all a matter of Latinos “stealing” Black folks’ jobs. In reality official society doesn’t give a damn about Latino or Black people and has no intention of having permanent jobs in New Orleans in the first place. That’s why they are employing a transient population they can more easily expel when they are finished rebuilding the few things they actually want rebuilt, namely the port, military bases, universities, white collar businesses, oil pipelines, and casinos. The service sector and highly automated heavy industries that must remain require few permanent long-term workers and therefore official society is only interested in rebuilding a tiny residential city. The number of workers they need in reconstruction work is larger than the number of residences they will actually be constructing so therefore these jobs cannot be given to anyone they would ever consider allowing to stay in the city.

This is also evident in the fact that the school administration fired thousands of public school employees, in a direct assault on one of the few remaining public sector unions, the teachers’ union. The administration is now replacing the teachers with corporate run charter schools with overcrowded classrooms. It appears the government believes that such a separate and unequal education will be good enough for youth to learn how to do the only thing they will be doing in the Big Easy: cleaning semen and stale beer off of French Quarter floors.

If New Orleans really were to be rebuilt into a thriving, human city populated by citizens rather than ghosts there would be more than enough jobs available in rebuilding social infrastructure. This work could provide a good wage not only for every returning New Orleanian refugee but many immigrants as well.

However, the ruling class wants a city of ghosts and a nation of refugees. Oprah chafed when those displaced by Katrina were called “refugees” crying, “but they’re Americans!” Nevertheless, the future the rulers have in mind for New Orleans is a Third World one. Like many Caribbean nations, it will be shackled to the poor man’s game of resource extraction and tourism, a supply city and pleasure island for the national and global elite who live elsewhere.

In reality, this is a future faced by many American cities. Katrina simply accelerated a process of disintegration of social infrastructure that is evident in the bullet ridden, boarded up homes of Detroit and the Supermax prisons that have replaced the steel mills of Youngstown, Ohio. And this is not simply a future faced by Black folks; in various ways it is hitting white workers across the rust belt as well, with violence and drugs spreading in the shadows of abandoned smokestacks.

Moreover, this process is accelerating with rapid ecological degeneration. Tour boat operators in the Louisiana swamp may callously remark, “that’s what people get for living below sea level, it’s just one more example of human arrogance and Katrina was nature’s way of teaching us a lesson.” The reality is when New Orleans was built it was protected by miles of precious swamp ecosystems which have since been destroyed by oil pipelines, salt water shipping canals, and other infrastructure that was designed to benefit people living elsewhere. This destruction of the Gulf Coast is only accelerating with global warming and rising sea levels. New Orleans, like many cities, is not suffering from a vague “human arrogance” but rather from the very specific arrogance of elite economic planners who simply do not care if their vision of “development” dumps millions of human beings and nature into a toxic cesspool.

Emerging from History’s Floodwaters

So, given this bleak scenario, what is to be done? A provisional answer to this question is offered by the heroic efforts of everyday New Orleanians who have struggled to rebuild their city against the wishes of the landlords, the bosses, the police, and the politicians. While the feds were stalling and then shooting, a rescue operation proceeded as everyday people appropriated boats, water, food, and clothing, taking from stores where necessary. Many helped out their neighbors rescuing children and old folks. Later on, unemployed workers used their skills to begin rebuilding with no support from the state. Community members have forcefully occupied public housing, renovating and reopening their old homes without the state’s approval. Others opened up a medical clinic and began helping folks under the shadow of military helicopters. People are struggling to rebuild houses and neighborhoods that the government would like to leave as permanent piles of rubble.

These efforts are inspiring yet they face major obstacles. The levees in New Orleans are still too small. The flood-management pumping systems are likely to malfunction in any future Katrina-sized storm. Federal and private aid have been delayed by bureaucratic red tape while entire neighborhoods continue to decay. Ultimately the residents of New Orleans have a right to the material resources and infrastructure that the state is denying them. They helped produce the wealth of America and they have a right to seize it and use it to rebuild the kind of city they want to live in. This alone will secure Katrina refugees their right to return to their homes.

But the whole history of American industrial cities from the early 20th century to today indicates that the government will not hand over these resources unless a massive grassroots movement mobilizes to do it with or without them. Given the sheer power of the forces aligned against the displaced citizens of New Orleans, such a movement would have to be national (and international) in order to succeed.

Fortunately, we are not without historical precedents that shine a light on the way forward. Where communities are now facing an outright attack on education, we might learn something from the community-controlled free schools built by Black folks in the Reconstruction era after the Civil War. With the ever-present armed attacks and police brutality against New Orleanians after Katrina, we might take heed of the 1950s and 60s examples of the Deacons for Defense or Robert F. Williams of the Monroe, NC, chapter of the NAACP. These were two organizations that took seriously the question of armed self-defense in the face of white supremacist violence from both white vigilantes and the official police force. In addition, we cannot afford to forget that those industries that provide the greatest profits to capitalism are also its weakest points. The 1934 dockworkers’ strike on the West Coast brought major gains for laborers and remind us today of the strategic importance for organizing of the ports and other points of production that do remain in New Orleans’ own backyard. These steps, and many more, are yet to be taken.

Meanwhile, workers elsewhere should not simply act out of charity. Our own future is wrapped up in this struggle, and our solidarity with New Orleans is a test of our ability to conceive a world besides the one in which our children will be shunted from one prison-school to another as we become permanent economic refugees. In the aftermath of the storm, many Black folks saw Katrina as a sign that the existence of our communities in America cannot be taken for granted. But if that’s the case, why have Black workers, and workers of all races, in other cities not initiated solidarity strikes to force the federal government to stop blocking the reconstruction efforts? Why have the unemployed not rushed the streets, asserting that an injury to one city is an injury to all? Ultimately, the American working class must see that unless we act now our own future is reflected in the floodwaters of New Orleans.