Classical Fliberalism

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Some young dudes turning their back on a dope.

 

What was it Jack Layton once said?  It was way back, something along the lines of “Liberals make promises and don’t keep them, while Conservatives make promises and you hope they don’t keep them.”

Something like that.  Before I go on about Trudeau’s latest bungling, let me tell you a bit about my personal history in forming my thoughts about the Liberal Party.

What to make of the Liberal Party of Canada?  Growing up in an NDP leaning household as a kid I remember the Conservatives and Liberals were more or less pointless parties to vote for.  The Conservatives, in my youthful mind, always had a terrible agenda, while the Liberals promised a more progressive agenda (a la NDP-sounding stuff) but never ended up delivering on it.  We saw it with Dalton McGuinty in Ontario after the disastrous Harris/Eves period (I rebelled against my parents and voted Libs that time in 2003 – call it youthful rebellion) before joining the NDP in part because of the broken promises after the election.  The other part was both in disgust of Paul Martin and because at the time I was starting to warm up to Jack Layton and the NDP.  (Those were the Bush years in the states so any Canadian politician who had the furthest agenda from W. was good news for me.)

So, getting involved with the NDP and going leftward from there, I developed a low opinion for the Liberals, the so-called natural governing party of Canada.  As a young person, and a much younger person in the early 2000s, I found both the Conservatives and Liberals to be out of touch with youth.  Most youth, unfortunately, were completely disengaged with the political process, and aside from already being neglected by mainstream politicians, made it a self-fulfilling prophecy by not engaging.  Much of the youth vote, from what I saw though, went to the NDP and Greens, largely in part in protest.  With my disillusionment with the NDP, particularly under Thomas Mulcair’s typical ‘old boy’ leadership, I, for a brief period, with the campaign of Justin Trudeau (in his early 40’s which is young for politics) thought that maybe Trudeau’s Liberals would be different.

In fact, Justin Trudeau’s majority Liberal government largely came to be as a result of the suddenly engaged masses youths in Canada.  And tacking to the Left during the election, while the traditionally Left leaning NDP streamed rightward (for some reason), was just what was needed to appeal to an overwhelming left-leaning youth demographic.

It turns out, from what I am seeing now, that this isn’t the case, and the Liberal Party of Canada, now in power, is up to it’s same old tricks, a trail of broken promises leading from the election.

It began with Trudeau doubling back on his electoral reform promises, something favoured overwhelmingly by .

“We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.

We will convene an all-party Parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reforms, such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting.

This committee will deliver its recommendations to Parliament. Within 18 months of forming government, we will introduce legislation to enact electoral reform.”Liberal Party platform 2015

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Trudeau 2016

 

Now that he’s won, he’s saying it’s no longer needed.  Of course he is.  If he introduced electoral reform his party would lose overall power.  Apparently Justin seems to think only people who wanted Harper gone wanted electoral reform.  This is untrue, Canadians have been talking about changing the first-past-the-post system long before Harper was even Prime Minister.

Environmental issues, another thing often favoured as important by millennials, particularly the challenge of climate change,  was something that Trudeau talked about often on the campaign trail.  Many people are disappointed now that he has gone back on this too.  On top of all this, when it comes to First Nations issues, it seems Trudeau is doubling down as well, largely through inaction which does not match his past rhetoric.

I guess I was naive to think that this Liberal Prime Minister would be different.

Many, many young people, people far younger than myself, feel betrayed as well, and are vocalizing their displeasure.  It is good to see that they are still engaged.

It is unbelievably ridiculous, the statements made by his Finance Minister.  Bill Morneau’s callous, pretty much “tough shit” statement about precarious work for millennials has really clinched something in the young people of this country.  The idea that a government that was voted in to make change, especially for the next generation(s), is planning to do nothing about the challenges faced by youth, is simply absurd.

Can this be the end of the honeymoon for Trudeau’s Liberals?  Are they being revealed to be just as out of touch as the Conservatives?

Are they revealing themselves, finally showing their true colours?

It’s sad that the NDP is not really currently prepared to offer much of an alternative for youth, with some exceptions of course.

Some on the far Left might say this is the reality of so-called bourgeoisie democracy, that nothing ever really changes, only the veneer of change.  Still, either way, it is at least good to see youth engaged in a way like never before.

We’ll have to see.  In the meantime, watch for wolves.

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It’s True Dough.

 

Pseudo-Conspiracy Crap Coming to Roost?

With the upcoming Presidential Election in the United States and the Trufuckump-up that will undoubtedly lead to the election of President Hillary Clinton (for good or for bad), I thought I would focus on the very serious threat that is now posed by pseudo-conspiracy theories.

I’ve written extensively on this subject, blogging about it here previously.

Having spent years in activist circles for a long while one of my pet peeves has been pseudo-conspiracy theories and the people who show up at legitimate protests and demonstrations to hijack the discourse and peddle their nonsense.  Occupy Toronto was largely overtaken by 9/11 Truthers and NWO believers.  It has been disappointing to say the least to see real human issues get drowned out by misguided conspiracy theories, many of which have intense anti-intellectual and in some cases blatantly anti-Semitic (no, not anti-Zionist, actually anti-Semitic) undertones.

I fear, from what I can tell, that in the weeks and months ahead, we may see the long-term results of the culmination of pseudo-conspiracy mindsets in the American population with the period after the election.  With Donald Trump refusing to concede if he loses, citing rigging of the election, with the most die-hard followers of any presidential candidate I’ve seen, the possible scenarios are quite frightening.  Trump has reinvigorated neo-nazis, the KKK, other white nationalist and white supremacist fringe tendencies, and militiamen, along with immense support from pseudo-conspiracy theorists.

People have already raised the alarm bells of possible post-election violence.  Trump has called on his sheep-like followers to band together and go to voting polls to look for “irregularities” = dog whistle for non-white voters.  Anyone who reads history (actual history, not pseudo-history) would be familiar with groups of thugs such as the Red Shirts, and the White League and others who would attack former slaves trying to assert their rights in the post-civil war era in the South.  Of course, pseudo-conspiracy believers don’t know much actual history.  People who believe in Illuminati and Lizard People typically don’t have an in-depth understanding of history.  This is why they are so dangerous.

At first I thought of conspiracy theorists as annoying fringe elements.  Now, nearly a decade after I started dealing with activism, I see them as a serious threat.  With the spread of these strange right-wing populism strains with it’s tenets of irrationality, the pseudo-conspiracy mindset has been pushed into the mainstream.

Alex Jones, and other extremists may have been funny all these years, but with literally millions paying attention to him and others like him, literally convinced that Hillary Clinton is a demon, the possibility of Donald Trump making a call-to-arms statement instead of conceding defeat, is truly a frightening thought.  Adding to this is the recent break-up of a plot by Christian extremists in Kansas to attack a mosque after the election.

How many people, many armed to the teeth, are convinced that Hillary Clinton is literally an evil demon who is going to rig the election and usher in a dystopia?   What will it take to get these groups out from the shadows and into the streets?  With types like Jones fear-mongering and “giving warnings” to these true believers, how do we know this won’t result in an unprecedented wave of violence that could make the militia movement of the 1990’s seem like a tiny prelude?

We may see how dangerous these pseudo-conspiracy peddlers truly are in the days ahead.

 

Left Group Gripes: Spilling the Beans on an ineffective group within the NDP

ANONDP:

Typically with ANONDP we examine bad experiences that took/take place with the party establishment, but this time we examine an organization on the ground, one that shall be nameless throughout this report, one that is highly questionable in tactics and behaviour.  We received this anonymous expose on this group:

There are numerous sub-groups in the New Democratic Party, and have been different organizations that have sought to influence the NDP’s political trajectory.  We are well familiar with the New Politics Initiative (NPI) as well as The Waffle.  Both of these organizations came to be at a time similar to 2016, a time when the NDP seemed to be drifting rightward.  When I became involved in the NDP in the early 2000’s, as a young and highly idealistic student who saw the centrist drift of the party and wanted to make a change, I got involved with a group I thought would be influential in making such changes.  Instead I ended up in a largely ineffective organization that I found actually hurt the Left side of the party, and was run by an individual who seemed to have a knack for alienating potential allies.  What follows is my story.

I first got involved in the NDP around 2003-04, having only recently gotten involved in politics, starting out largely in the anti-war movement when I started to identify as ‘left-leaning’ politically.  In around 2007-08 I was noticing that the NDP was largely drifting to the right for a number of reasons, notably in the language adopted by the party brass and MPs.  At university I got involved in numerous activist organizations, the members of which were largely unhappy with the NDP and felt that there was no use in joining the NDP to create any legitimate change with regard to poverty issues in particular.  While getting more involved in the NDP I came across this group.  It was a kind of party within a party, some called it entryist, which is definitely was.  At the time I believed that there ought to be a united left, and that anyone who considered themselves left of center ought to join the NDP to make it one big left tent.  So I liked the idea of this group.

It was unmistakably Marxist, Trotskyist arguably, but it seemed somewhat different from many of the other tiny groups that spent more time fighting one another than actual, y’know, oppressors.  Something else that made it different (this group which won’t be named here) was that it was involved in the NDP, seeing the NDP as ultimately a labour party and worthwhile being involved in, which was very different from a lot of the lefties I met at university.  I thought it was worthwhile.  I was very wrong.  This group was not only terribly ineffective, but also led by the most alienating self-appointed leader.

Let me back up a bit.  So I got involved at an Ontario New Democratic Youth convention.  The leader, which he (or she…ok, he) took me aside, wanting to talk to me about my political career.  At the time my plans were to run in the NDP, being one of the more left-leaning reps if I was ever lucky to make it so far.  He recruited me into the organization, giving me various reading materials (charging me for the monthly revolutionary newspaper though).  There were a number of stances that were listed that I had to agree with to be a member though.  I do not recall them now, but it did seem somewhat strange to be made to agree with certain points to be a member.  This was my first red flag.

I spoke to other NDPers about this group, particularly to many members and friends who too wanted to see the party move more leftward again.  Every single person outside of the group whom I asked had nothing positive to say about this group.  This surprised me at the time, as I thought that the more left-leaning members would be pleased with a group whose stated objective was to keep the party left.  Members I spoke to found this group to be very stagnant and ineffective, some describing it even as “cult-like”.  At first I did not see this, but overtime I began to see these tendencies.

During events, whether they were movie nights, talks, or less formal meetings, it was always dominated by the leader.  Others contributed, but the leader seemed to chair every meeting and directed the conversation.  One time I remember I had to leave an event early, I had some personal things to attend to at home, and I went to the leader during a talk and told him I had to go. “Why are you leaving now??” he asked in a frantic manner, eventually persuading me to stay.  I felt less like I was involved in a movement and more like I was in some pyramid scheme session or a scientologist meeting.  There was always pressure on me, the leader being very pushy and bossy to the point of it being nearly bullying.  Whenever I was at an event, a march or a demonstration, oftentimes I would go with friends, usually other activists from university, and every time when this group was there the leader would demand I help them give out flyers or sell newspapers or hold their banners.  I realized that since I had agreed to join this faction, the leader was demanding my time over all other organizations I was with or allied with.  At the time I was part of many groups, including a pro-Palestine one, and local NDP campaigns, including one in which a very close friend of mine was running as a candidate.  I had thought that joining with this group met being allied with it and contributing what I could, instead it seemed to me, at least to the leader, that I give it all of my attention.

It was a very uncomfortable place to be, I was slowly realizing.  At first I thought many people in the party, particularly the party brass, disliked this man because he was a threat to them, a kind of firebrand.  It was partly true, they disliked him because he was far left from the party, at least many of them, but in truth he was not much of a threat to them.  The real threat he posed was actually to the left of the party.  I don’t quite know what it was, but he seemed to be making the left side of the party look bad and ineffectual.  It’s unfortunate because I liked many of the other members of the group (there were maybe ten regulars at most). After every convention he, the leader, would claim “We have signed on so many new people at the last convention!  We have grown more than any other organization in the NDP!” And yet, every time I met with them, this group, it was the same people every time.  Occasionally I would see some new people, but they would drop off, likely feeling alienated from the domineering personality of the self-appointed leader.  I also noticed there were not many young people (people closer to my age, was in the mid-20’s then).  It seemed strange as most mass movements require youth.  This group was obsessed with selling papers, had no tech savviness or social media skills, which, as anyone who knows how modern movements work will see as problematic.

For me, apart from constantly being talked down to, the leader taking on a patronizing tone with me whenever I challenged anything he said, the breaking point was one day when I was at the leader’s house.  I was picking up some flyers to distribute for him.  He showed me his study where he had his computer and printer and I asked him if this was where he made his writings.  He replied that: “This is the nucleus of the revolution.”

Something snapped inside me when I heard that.  I did not argue with him, but in that moment I realized the full extent of this man’s ego.  For me, revolutions are a collective effort.  It involves many people and is a synthesis of ideas.  This man literally believed he was a self-appointed leader of the revolution.  I stopped taking him seriously after this.

Still, I stayed with the little group a while long.
I remember at the NDP convention in Halifax (2009) I was helping my candidate friend out.  He and I had planned an extensive campaign (both in the riding back in Toronto that he was running in) and at the convention. I told the leader about my friend’s campaign idea, to distribute flyers and reach out to the community even before an election as called.  The leader scoffed and laughed at what I said, dismissing my ideas.  I pledged to help my friend at this convention, reaching out to different sectors of the party and getting his name known.  The leader was constantly calling me over to help his little group instead, and when I told him I was here to help my friend, he said: “He’s a big boy, he can help himself.”  He then told me to come to all the group’s event and vote on resolutions with them, citing the group as a “collective”.  So, in other words, I, as an individual delegate, had to vote with the group on every issue the same way.  By “collective” he meant “You need to vote for what I tell you to”.  At another point, he did something else that made me question this group more.  He was a self-declared feminist, yet he privately came to me at one point, voicing frustration with Olivia Chow for calling the question during a discussion, calling her a “stupid bitch” to me privately.  I liked Olivia Chow a lot at this time and was quite angered by this.

I quit the group before the convention ended.  I felt a great weight lifted off of my chest when I did.  I could be part of the party the way I wanted to be.  I now understood that the rest of the party, and yes, that includes the higher ups, disliked this man and this group not because they were radical leftist, but because of the attitude and controlling tendencies that this leader exhibited.  Another friend of mine, also a more left-leaning NDP member at the time whom I associated with, stated that he felt that radical ideas could be more easily accepted in the party if it weren’t for this organization and this leader.  I recall the two of us, my friend and I, were at an event some years later at Trinity-Bellwoods Park in Toronto with a group of urban gardeners.  This is a movement that has gained a lot of support in the past few years, these largely co-operative farming methods.  The leader of the group was there, and his group (the same few people as before, no one new) was hosting an event after the main talk, a report back from a labour meeting.  One of the lead urban gardeners did a workshop that my friend and I (and the leader of the little group) attended.  Toward the end of the workshop the leader of the group started aggressively arguing with the urban gardener, saying that his ideas were useless in the face of capitalism, or something to that affect, totally hijacking the conversation.  After the workshop ended the people there (a bunch of us radical lefty activist types) were to split in groups to attend a secondary workshop on urban gardening or listen to the leader’s report back on the labour meeting.  No one went to the leader’s report back, so the report back never happened.  Everyone chose to go with the urban gardeners instead.  This is the alienation I am speaking of.  This group, this leader, seems determined to patronize, scoff at, and browbeat every potential ally he has.

Something that has really bothered me was the mainstream media constantly reporting about this tiny group and referring to it as the NDP’s left-wing faction.  This group is one man’s pet project, with maybe a few well-meaning people with him, but it is really just a key group of people, not a large-scale faction of the NDP by any stretch.  The leader simply presents himself as part of a faction to the media, always looking for a chance to toot his own horn and make his group seem more influential than it is.  It has literally been decades that this group has been around and has so little, if anything to show for it.  It has not influenced the party in the least.

The NPI and the Waffle were different from this little group.  Both the NPI and Waffle actually have accomplished some things, the NPI having played a major role in electing Jack Layton as the leader of the party back in 2003 for instance.  These organizations could reach out to other people, build bridges and alliances.

This group could not, and cannot do any of that.  It is a waste of time, both in it’s tactics and in the domineering self-interested attitude of the self-appointed leader going on a non-stop ego trip that has done more detriment to the party’s left than anything else.  If there were an effective left-wing faction of the NDP I might have stayed on in the party.

 

Here we go again(s)!

Sunny ways!

Is Justin Trudeau’s honeymoon period over?

Wayne Smith, the guy who replaced Munir Sheikh as the head of Statistics Canada, has issued his resignation as of today (September 16, 2016).  His reason?  Mr. Smith is upset that Trudeau has not allowed Statistics Canada to be independent:

“I have made the best effort I can to have this situation remediated, but to no effect. I cannot lend my support to government initiatives that will purport to protect the independence of Statistics Canada when, in fact, that independence has never been more compromised.  I do not wish to preside over the decline of what is still, but cannot remain in these circumstances, a world leading statistical office.  So I am resigning, in order to call public attention to this situation.” – Wayne Smith

This is despite the fact that the federal Liberals campaigned to restore the independence of Statistics Canada, one of the many things they said to differentiate themselves from the Harper Conservatives.

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#renewal

Is it just me or is Justin Trudeau all talk?  It should be interesting to see where this goes and if it changes any public perception of the “sunny ways” mantra of the new Canadian government.

 

Moving rightward, the Conservative Party of Canada is still looking for a new leader.  They have two interesting candidates so far that remind us why conservatives are a no-no.  One of them is trying to bring back the same-sex marriage issue by painting two cartoon faces on his fingers:

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Weirdo.

So a guy named Brad Trost from Saskatoon is running for party leadership with a not so dog-whistle politics campaign against same-sex marriage (in 2016).   I thought this was a dead issue even in the Conservative Party by now.  I suppose now that the controlling Harper is gone all the odd fringe types are trying to assert themselves.  A poll cited in the CBC has found that within the Conservative Party less than 1% of the party supports him, and 71% claimed to not know who Brad Trost was.

So not only is he a dinosaur, but a near unknown dinosaur.  So basically Brad Trost is an Eosinopteryx.

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Well he certainly leaves an impression.

 

In other Conservative news, there is Kellie Leitch, another leadership contender who is also employing not so subtle dog whistle politics, this one scapegoating immigrants instead of LGBT peoples.  Conservatives eh?   That’s what the right does.  Rather than try to address people’s grievances through systemic issues, they like to focus on blaming ‘others’.  Leitch is the one who introduced the concept of “Canadian” values tests for immigrants.  I am not really sure what “Canadian values” are.  Personally I was raised to believe it was tolerance of other cultures, but that is sadly largely a myth.  Desmond Cole recently wrote an amazing article debunking the tolerance myth and explaining that suspecting “others” has always been part of the Canadian reality.  Please read it here.

Many of the racist comments on the facebook page for this article sadly confirm what Cole is saying.

Many critics of her approach believe she is referring only to “certain” immigrants (less white skinned), wondering if she uses the same standard for, say Orthodox Jews or more traditional Catholic immigrants. Recently Leitch was called out for her “values” stance on the CTV:

This really reminds me of the post-Mitt Romney Republican Party discussion on how the party can no longer be the “old boy’s club” and how to become politically viable the GOP would have to appeal to changing demographics and culture. It seems the Conservatives of Canada have not really learned this lesson.  Of course, with Trump, this went in another direction altogether.  Maybe Kevin O’Leary will latch onto the ALT-RIGHT trolls and catapult to the top of the dung heap?

Time will tell.

NDP #Renewal

Did you hear?  There is an online attempt to get Thomas Mulcair back on as the leader of the Canadian New Democratic Party.

Why?

Apparently the creator of the facebook page thinks the convention (you know, the one in Edmonton where party members followed the NDP constitution and delegates decided that they did not want to renew Mulcair as leader?)  was “a sham”.  I suppose it’s seen by Mulcair supporters are unfair.  I wonder if they thought it was “fair” when Thomas Mulcair purged pro-Palestinian candidates in 2015.  Oh well, I digress…

#renewal

In other news, public healthcare is Canada is being challenged once more.  What is often called “creeping privatization” by public healthcare proponents has been an issue for a long time in Canada.   Personally, public healthcare and the NDP’s long-time stance on maintaining it, was one of the major reasons why I joined the NDP in the first place way back.  NDP reps have been talking about it and plan to make it a big issue come this fall, which is potentially a great thing.  If a divided and unpopular NDP could mobilize on this issue, it could change things.  Healthcare is still largely the top priority for Canadians and something they feel most politicians are ignoring.  In the days of Sanders and Corbyn, something like this could tip the scales…no?  The NDP would be going back to it’s roots.

So far I have not seen Thomas Mulcair himself speak on the issue since this latest challenge to public healthcare in BC.  Correct me if I am mistaken.

It should be interesting to see how things go from here.

Anti-Imperialism and the Syrian Revolution

I have been meaning to post about the Syrian crisis/civil war and the worldwide Leftist response and analyses of it for some time now.  I feel it would take many blog posts to explain my feelings on it, and while I was deciding how to proceed I came across this article from Socialist Worker that explains my opinion fully.  I will be posting some personal experiences of the Syrian War and the discourses, including the loss of a dear comrade, in the days ahead as well.  In the meantime, please read Socialist Worker’s amazing article on this:

Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution

Ashley Smith explains what’s at stake in a critical test for the international left.

Destruction caused during the siege of Aleppo

Destruction caused during the siege of Aleppo

THE SYRIAN Revolution has tested the left internationally by posing a blunt question: Which side are you on? Do you support the popular struggle against dictatorship and for democracy? Or are you with Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime, his imperial backer Russia, his regional ally Iran and Iran’s proxies like Hezbollah from Lebanon?

Tragically, too many have failed this test.

From the very beginning of Syria’s revolution–even before the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front some years later–a whole section of the left opposed the popular uprising against the Assad dictatorship that began in early 2011, part of the Arab Spring wave of popular rebellions against dictatorship and repression.

Since then, they have turned a blind eye to Assad’s massacre of some 400,000 Syrians, and his regime’s use of barrel bombs, chemical weapons and barbaric sieges of cities like Aleppo. Today, 11 million people–half the country’s population–have been displaced, with the Assad regime responsible for the lion’s share of the death and destruction.

The U.S. has been seeking a resolution that might push Assad aside, but that above all maintains his regime in power, preferably with representation from reliable pro-Washington figures associated with the uprising.

Barack Obama came under pressure to intervene militarily in Syria after the regime carried out a chemical weapons attack in a suburb of Damascus in 2013, but he backed a Russian-brokered resolution that protected Assad.

His administration has hoped to use figures on the rebel side to provide a new face for Syria’s dictatorship. But Assad held on–thanks in no small measure to the fact that the U.S., while accepting some supplying of the rebels, denied these forces the heavy weaponry they pleaded for to stop the regime’s assault.

The result today is that the Obama administration has struck a de facto alliance with Russia to wage the war on ISIS, with the acknowledged consequence that even the Syrian regime’s hated figurehead will likely stay in place, while those who rose up for democracy and justice continue to bear the brunt of the violence.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

EVEN IN the early stages of the Syrian uprising, when it was plainly following the inspiration of the popular revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, Stalinist groups like the Workers World Party, Party for Socialism and Liberation, and Freedom Road Socialist Organization never wavered in their support for the Assad regime. They have always preached uncritical support for opponents (perceived or real) of the U.S. government, no matter how oppressive and reactionary.

But they weren’t alone. Prominent figures on the broader left adopted a similar position.

Journalists Patrick Cockburn and Robert Fisk erase the anti-Assad revolution in their coverage of Syria and present the situation as a geopolitical conflict–between the U.S. and its proxies on one side, and Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies on the other.

Even important antiwar formations like Britain’s Stop the War coalition have adapted to Assad supporters, giving a platform to allies of the dictatorship, while denying the same to supporters of the revolution. For example, Stop the War toured regime apologist Mother Superior Agnès Mariam de la Croix, despite an open letter protesting this decision signed by dozens of Syria solidarity activists.

In the U.S., the small antiwar formation United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) staged a demonstration that included people carrying the flag of Assad’s regime–some even wore T-shirts emblazoned with the dictator’s face.

The American Communist Party’s U.S. Peace Council went so far as to send a delegation that met with Assad and his henchmen. They justified their sympathy with Assad by claiming that he was resisting U.S. imperialism’s backing of Islamic fundamentalist forces to carry out regime change in Syria.

“Most of Syrian society [has] unified behind the state to protect a secular Syria against the divided and sectarian result the U.S. and its nefarious allies have been working and killing to generate,” wrote Henry Lowendorf about his visit with Assad in a post that circulated on the United for Peace and Justice e-mail list. “Syria has what is apparently a national unity government, focused during the crisis on fighting off the vicious mercenaries of most powerful country in the world and its allies.”

This is a complete distortion of reality that is used to justify standing on the side of dictatorship, counterrevolution and imperialist intervention. The pro-Assadists are discrediting the left in the eyes of Syrians who have fought heroically on the side of the revolution.

A genuine internationalist left must stand with Syria’s popular resistance to Assad, which began as a nonviolent uprising against the dictatorship–and against intervention by American and Russian imperialism, as well as by the region’s main powers.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

HOW COULD opponents of U.S. imperialism end up supporting a dictator–one who has been known to collaborate with the U.S. in torturing “war-on-terror” prisoners in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program.

The answer starts with the Stalinist left’s support of Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China during the Cold War era. It supported those state capitalist dictatorships not only as opponents of U.S. imperialism, but as positive models of socialism.

Thus, some of the same currents that today support Assad yesterday defended murderous repression of workers’ rebellions and even imperialist invasions in the past.

They stood with Russia’s crushing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Czechoslovakia’s Prague Spring in 1968 and Poland’s Solidarity in 1981. They supported Mao’s China when the regime wrecked workers and peasants’ lives through the Great Leap Forward and oppressed Tibetans in a decades-long occupation. They defended regimes like Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe as anti-imperialist, despite his relentless crackdown on all dissent.

Even today, when all the world’s states are obviously capitalist, these leftists support oppressive regimes as “anti-imperialist” so long as they oppose the U.S. in some form. Under the faulty logic that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend,” popular struggles for democracy are denounced as the work of American imperialism if they protest the wrong regime.

This attitude, referred to as “campism,” has distorted much of the left’s response to popular uprisings in the Middle East. For example, Iran’s “green movement” was dismissed as a creation of the U.S. drive to overthrow former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

As a consequence of this flawed underlying approach, the campist left reacted to the Arab Spring in a completely incoherent fashion.

Everyone on the left supported the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions of early 2011 because these countries were considered U.S. allies. But the campists opposed pro-democracy uprisings in Libya and Syria, even though these revolts were driven by the same economic and political grievances–and clearly inspired by the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt.

Why? Because the dictatorships that masses of people were rebelling against could be depicted as “anti-imperialist” opponents of the U.S.

In reality, both the Libyan and Syrian regimes had been “frenemies” of Western imperialism–sometimes collaborating with and at other times dissenting from the designs of the U.S. government and its European allies. And both regimes were happy to work with Russian and Chinese imperialism. In no way can they be accurately categorized as “anti-imperialist.”

Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi curried favor with Europe by acting as a border patrol for the EU, stopping North Africans from crossing the Mediterranean Sea and imprisoning large numbers of them in his country’s gulag.

As for Assad in Syria, his dictator father joined the first “coalition of nations” for the U.S.-led Gulf War against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1991. Bashar al-Assad got his chance to collaborate with a Bush during the “war on terror” years after 2001, when prisoners of war were smuggled into Syrian jails to be tortured for information and then returned to U.S. custody.

At one point, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went so far as to call Assad a “reformer” worthy of engagement.

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THE CAMPIST left’s attitude is based, to at least some degree, on a misreading of the structure of today’s world order and America’s position in it. They presume that there is only one imperialist power in the world–the U.S.–and that it is an all-powerful manipulator of international events.

The U.S. does remain the world’s dominant imperialist power, but as a result of its failed war in Iraq and other factors, it has suffered a relative decline in strength. Washington is now challenged internationally by imperialist rivals like China and Russia, as well as regional powers. In this new imperial order, the U.S. is less capable of controlling world events–it fears popular revolt all the more.

The campist misreadings, however, have led them to the conclusion that the U.S. government is pulling the strings in the rebellion in Syria. Some have gone so far as to argue–absurdly–that the U.S. backs ISIS against Assad. Ironically, this puts the campists in agreement with Donald Trump, who, in his latest ravings, claims that Obama and Clinton were “founders” of ISIS.

Leaving everything else aside, such arguments display an arrogant dismissal–not unlike defenders of imperialism–of the capacity of exploited and oppressed people to fight for liberation. Instead, we get a classic Orientalist trope: Western imperialism manipulating the ignorant and reactionary local tribes for its own purposes.

In reality, the U.S. retreated in general from outright regime change as its strategy in the Middle East after the failure of its invasion and occupation of Iraq. The main priority behind the alternative direction for U.S. imperialism pursued by Barack Obama is that the U.S. should avoid destabilizing regimes for fear of the chaos that ensues in the aftermath.

Thus, the voices of the campist left are stuck in the past, trying to find the evidence to expose a strategy of regime change that the U.S. has abandoned.

The rebranding of U.S. imperialism under Obama left its mark on Washington’s response to the Arab Spring.

The first instinct was to rally to the defense of the old regime–as Hosni Mubarak’s police were killing protesters, Secretary of State Clinton praised the government for “demonstrating restraint.” But when that became untenable, Washington pressed for a policy of orderly transition, sacrificing dictators in order to save the existing state apparatus.

After the first tide of the revolt receded, the U.S. was all too happy to support the reassertion of the old order–as when Washington’s ally Saudi Arabia sent troops to crush an uprising in Bahrain. And now, after the rise of ISIS, chiefly as a consequence of the disastrous occupation of Iraq, the U.S. is solely and obsessively focused on defeating this counterrevolutionary force in Iraq and Syria.

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IN SYRIA, however, Washington’s goal is obvious, and has been for some time: It doesn’t want regime change. Perhaps the hated figurehead of Assad will be pushed aside, but U.S. policy from the beginning has been to preserve the core of Assad’s state.

Why? Above all, the U.S. fears an unpredictable outcome, whether as a result of the advance of the Nusra Front or ISIS–but especially in the form of a popular revolution.

Anyone who doubts the popular nature of the Syrian Revolution should read Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila al-Shami’s stirring account of it in their book Burning Country–or for a shorter online description, Mark Boothroyd’s article “Self Organization in the Syrian Revolution.” This is a struggle from below that imperialism has always feared the most.

In its initial stages, the uprising in Syria had a nonviolent and mass character, but the savage repression and violence carried out by the regime militarized the conflict. The U.S. blocked the shipment of heavy weaponry, such as anti-aircraft systems, that would have strengthened secular and democratic forces that have borne the brunt of the Assad regime’s terror.

The net effect of U.S. policy was to assist in the marginalization of anti-Assad forces committed to the democratic goals of the uprising from its beginning–and to provide an opening for the predominance of reactionary jihadist military forces like Nusra or ISIS.

Perversely, Assad himself sought to cultivate these fundamentalist currents by releasing hundreds of jihadists from prison while jailing and torturing the leaders of the popular uprising. Assad rightly understood that the reactionaries could be used to crowd out popular forces, uprising and would be an easier opponent to defeat.

Today, Washington’s goals are to wipe out ISIS and to secure a negotiated settlement in Syria that preserves the regime, if not Assad himself. In America’s camp, regional powers like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have tried to push the envelope even further, backing various jihadist forces to strengthen their position in region and weaken their opponents, from Assad to Iran, as well as challengers from below such as the Kurds.

On the other side of the international geopolitical rivalry, Russia–profoundly weakened since its defeat in the Cold War a quarter century ago–is reasserting its imperial power through its all-out support for the Assad regime in Syria.

Russia wants to secure its position as a power broker in the region, push back against the U.S. and maintain a base in Syria. For its part, the Iranian government wants to stop Assad from being toppled for fear of losing a valuable ally in the region. And Assad is eager to manipulate all of the above to preserve his dictatorship.

While each of these players has different interests, they overlap in ways that confound the campist left’s flawed analysis.

For example, the U.S., Russia and Assad are in a de facto collaboration in the war against ISIS. Thus, Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry is pursuing a cooperation pact with Russia that would cement a counterrevolutionary peace based on preserving the existing state.

However, Russian and Iranian intervention in Syria has been successful enough that Assad may be able to block demands for a transition that sidelines him. With at least a section of the U.S. foreign policy establishment willing to support a resolution that leaves Assad intact, it’s quite plausible that Washington could bless such an outcome, creating yet another awkward point of agreement between campists and the U.S. imperialists they deplore.

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UNFORTUNATELY, CAMPISM has shaped the viewpoint of whole sections of the left–even parts that are far removed from the Stalinism of the Workers World Party. It has, for example, informed the attitudes of Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and especially her vice presidential running mate Ajamu Baraka.

Stein rightly opposes U.S. intervention in Syria, but has made little to no criticism of Assad and his war on the Syrian people. Even worse, Baraka openly supports the Assad regime. Both have appeared on Russia’s state-sponsored, English-language RT television network to speak in opposition to U.S. war crimes, while remaining silent about Putin’s and Assad’s atrocities.

Many Syrian revolutionaries and solidarity activists are rightly furious about this stance from the major left-wing alternative in Election 2016. Stein and Baraka each have proud records of standing against exploitation, oppression, racism and war, and their campaign is, in almost every other respect, a principled challenge to the two parties of capital and militarism–the Democrats and Republicans. But anti-imperialists must not stay silent about this awful exception.

Certainly, the candidates of the two capitalist parties have no alternative on Syria, let alone any other question.

Donald Trump is a racist bigot who wants to bar Muslims from the U.S. and supports Assad’s regime as a lesser evil to ISIS.

But Hillary Clinton is no ally of the Syrian people. She calls for the U.S. to enforce a no-fly zone in Syria, and some of her advisers support air strikes against the Assad regime for the stated aiming of stopping attacks on civilians. But Clinton certainly does not support the original aspirations of the Syrian Revolution.

At most, Clinton supports another strategy to achieve the same aim her former boss, Barack Obama, advocates: a negotiated solution that preserves the core of the Syrian state, preferably with Assad out of power, but possibly with him remaining.

No one committed to solidarity with the Syrian struggle can align themselves with either wing of the U.S. imperial establishment. Instead, the left must reject imperialism in any form, including Russia’s.

Rather than look to imperialist powers or dictatorial regimes in either camp, the left should stand for workers’ struggle across borders and in defense of oppressed nations and their fight for self-determination.

In Syria, the revolution has suffered a defeat for the time being. While civil society activists continue to seize every opportunity to assert their goals, their forces have been ravaged by counterrevolution–in the form of the Syria regime and its international allies on the one hand, and the Nusra Front and ISIS, which was particularly eager from the start to target the rebels than regime forces, on the other.

But as Gilbert Achcar argues in his book Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising, this setback, however devastating, comes amid a long period of revolutionary crisis in Syria and the whole region.

The task of the international left today is to oppose intervention by any of the imperialist and regional powers, reject the tyranny of the Assad regime itself, demand the opening of the borders to those fleeing the violence and chaos, collaborate with Syrian revolutionaries–and win people away from campism to the politics of international solidarity from below.

Green

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Mayday!  Did you hear?  May may quit?  Not in May, but sometime soon!

Leader of the Green Party of Canada and Member of Parliament, Elizabeth May, has recently stated she may be leaving the leadership position.  Why?  Well, the reason given is the third rail of Canadian politics: Israel/Palestine.

Strange.  Let me talk a little bit about the Green Party of Canada and my personal experiences of/from them over the years.

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As a former die-hard foot-soldier for the NDP (always decked in orange, covered in NDPness)(….), I never liked them.  The NDP, especially under Jack Layton, I felt, was already green enough, especially in 2005-2010.  The NDP, both federal and Ontario, had many legitimate environmentalists on their side, so I always felt the Green Party was somewhat pointless, at least as a dipper.  On top of that, despite that the Greens are often associated with the political Left, there were many conservatives in their ranks, including the federal party’s leader before Elizabeth May, Jim Harris, who started out as a Progressive Conservative.  There were also many right wing candidates running for the federal Greens, such as a former member of the Canadian Alliance.  No, seriously.

So, it was frustrating as an NDPer to see our potential support get taken from us by what appeared to be a more right-leaning party.  The types of people who often supported the Greens, at least at the university I went to, were largely counter-culture types, many of whom would have likely supported the NDP if the Greens did not exist.  In 2006, I remember, climate change was the biggest issue on a lot of voter’s minds (the financial crisis had not happened yet), so it felt that the environmental sustainability vote was effectively split among the NDP/Greens, and to an extent the Dion Liberals.  People would say they were voting Green and I would tell them reasons not to vote Green and the would just say: “Green.” So, I had a low opinion of the Green Party.

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In my post-NDP hardcore days I have warmed a little to them, finding some things about Elizabeth May’s party and her leadership somewhat respectable.  There were still some strange things from them; anti-science tendencies that were surprising, as well as accusations of taking up causes of Men’s Right Activists.  Suffice to say, the Greens always seemed to me to be a group of misfits, like those weird toys that no one wanted on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  Overtime I came to respect them more though, especially their principled stances on Bill C-51, pipelines, and continuing to raise the issue of climate change.  I was pleased when Elizabeth May lauded the rogue page for her Stop Harper demonstration as well.

Anyhow, back to the present and why Elizabeth May may be leaving the Greens.  I wont go too in-depth into Israel/Palestine here, as I have done so elsewhere for years.  Michael Laxer, over at our sister blog (or so I wish) has gone into more depth here, please read.  To put it simple, I am quite disappointed in Ms. May.  Pretty much, party members voted to endorse BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) against the state of Israel, and this is why May is considering leaving as she disagrees with this course of action.  I know full well that she is likely under extreme pressure from pro-Israel organizations to repudiate the members of the party’s decision.  As a leader that has always talked of more democracy and grassroots democracy, it seems very odd that she wants to consider leaving now that she disagrees with a decision made below.  I recall, during the last election, and hearing it from others, that Elizabeth May specifically criticized the NDP for not listening to it’s members, differentiating the Greens from the NDP on that issue.  I, unfortunately, do not have any sources to prove that and I ask that you type in a message with a link if you, reader, know of any. Either way, it seems rather hypocritical.

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In a series of letters where she debates commentators more sympathetic to BDS, she explains her case, please have a read for more context.  At one point  in this dialogue Elizabeth May stated that, rather than support BDS, she wished to support a group called Security First, which is made up of former Israeli security forces and Mossad members that are opposed Netenyahu and the settlements.  By doing this, she relies on the words of former Israeli military people rather than a movement that was started by grassroots organizations of Palestinians, which I find disgustingly inappropriate on so many levels.  Here it seems that she is favouring blaming only the Netenyahu government for the present situation and not viewing it as a systemic issue.  She has also said very troubling things in the past, regarding Canadians For Justice in the Middle-East as “anti-Israel”.

So, in short, the Green Party may be ending after all these years.  It’s too bad because I was actually considering voting for them.  I will say, that I don’t buy a lot of the talk coming from NDP circles calling May right-wing.  She worked for the government of Brian Mulroney in the 1980’s, but so did Stephen Lewis as Canada’s ambassador to the UN.  Although I do not see May as very left-wing per say, if she is right-wing then Thomas Mulcair is ultra-right.

What do you think?  If May leaves is that it for the Greens?  Will May leave for the Liberals?  Is the talk about her leading the NDP of any merit?  Probably not.  May B.

(worst last words of a blog post yet)