Rojava and the ghost of Kropotkin: “What’s Left?” April 2019, MRR #431

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.
Karl Marx
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852

There’s no Left left.
riffing on Gertrude Stein

 

Does history repeat? Are we living through a rerun of the interwar period (1918-1939) with a repeat of the wealth-crazed Roaring Twenties, the dark rise of Fascism, the growing international crisis, and the imminent threat to progressive politics if not all of civilization as we know it? Karl Marx was using the debacle of Louis Bonaparte rhetorically to elicit historical comparisons, bitterly mocking the political situation of his time after the dismal defeat of the 1848 revolutionary wave. Dialectics kept him from falling into the aphoristic thinking of liberal historiography a la Santayana. In reviewing the current state of affairs, I’m tempted to sidestep Marx’s biting humor to acknowledge that history often happens first as tragedy and second as even greater tragedy.

“There are a thousand differences between what happened in Spain in 1936 and what is happening in Rojava, the three largely Kurdish provinces of northern Syria, today.” So wrote anthropologist and anarchist David Graeber in a 10-8-14 Guardian opinion piece in fleshing out the general parallels so far sited between the two time periods. Besides noting the striking similarities between libertarian socialist politics in liberated territories then and now and alluding to the resemblance between the International Brigades of 1936 and the International Freedom Battalion today, Graeber concludes: “If there is a parallel today to Franco’s superficially devout, murderous Falangists, who would it be but Isis?” In further praising the “remarkable democratic experiment” being conducted by the Kurds in the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, otherwise known as Rojava, he reformulates the fascist enemy in a 2-23-18 Guardian opinion piece:

Today, this democratic experiment is the object of an entirely unprovoked attack by Islamist militias including Isis and al-Qaida veterans, and members of Turkish death squads such as the notorious Grey Wolves, backed by the Turkish army’s tanks, F16 fighters, and helicopter gunships. […] The religious extremists who surround the current Turkish government know perfectly well that Rojava doesn’t threaten them militarily. It threatens them by providing an alternative vision of what life in the region could be like.

I’ll discuss the parallels and distinctions between libertarian socialist politics then and now in a future column. The international situation and disposition of forces today are radically different from what they were in 1936. Liberal parliamentary democracy seemed to be on the ropes back in the interwar period, steadily losing ground to Fascism on the Right and Communism on the Left. Modern decolonization movements in the form of socialist struggles for national liberation hadn’t yet begun. The Soviet Union was touted as a revolutionary socialist society positioning itself as humanity’s bright utopian future around which progressives, social democrats and even anarchists rallied, confirming a world in which “[b]ourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism” according to Rosa Luxemburg. Today there is no “socialist world” and “real existing socialism” is confined to a handful of Soviet-style relic states. A decolonized Third World continues to fragment. Social democracy and progressive politics generally are losing ground to rightwing populism in liberal parliamentary democracies, part of the rightward trend worldwide toward conservatism, traditionalism, authoritarianism, religious fundamentalism, fascism, neo-nazi totalitarianism, etc. There is no “transition to Socialism,” merely the threat from various forms of Barbarism.

The centuries-long legacy of European imperialism and subsequent Third World decolonization left the Kurds and their national aspirations stateless, divided between four artificially constructed Middle Eastern nation-states and among a dozen surrounding ethnic/religious communities. With the Cold War overlay and global contention between the Soviet bloc and the “Free World,” the Kurds had a brief few decades when they sought to choose between socialism or barbarism instead of competing imperialisms. Virtually every Kurdish political formation claimed to be socialist at minimum or Marxist-Leninist in full, with several dozen conflicting Kurdish political parties divided territorially, ideologically, and by tribe/clan, thus generating a highly fractious nationalist politics. I don’t have the space to discuss this complexity other than to note that when Soviet-style Communism collapsed internationally between 1989 and 1991, the US was left the victor and sole superpower. The Kurds reoriented themselves to seeking alliances with and aid from the US, which has repeatedly proven to be a mistake.

The US has blatantly used the Kurds and their nationalist ambitions for short-term American imperialist gain time and again, betraying them without a second thought whenever it was convenient. Through the CIA, the Nixon Administration fomented a Kurdish rebellion in northern Iraq against Saddam Hussein as a favor to the shah of Iran in 1975 which Henry Kissinger then betrayed. In 1991, George H.W. Bush personally encouraged the southern Shia and northern Kurds of Iraq to revolt against Saddam Hussein, only to balk at militarily aiding those rebellions, leaving the Shiite and Kurdish insurgents to be brutally crushed by the Ba’athist dictatorship. Kurdish autonomy and the Kurdistan Regional Government that emerged thereafter were more honored in the breach than the observance by the US, establishing a de facto Kurdish independence after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. That autonomy was compromised after the US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 as the central Iraqi government, backed by Iran, rolled back agreements on power sharing, oil production, and territorial control with the Kurds. The 2011 collapse of Syria into civil war, and the subsequent rise of IS with its 2014 Northern Iraq offensive were followed by the battles for Kirkuk and Mosul, the consolidation of Kurdish power in northern Syria, and the Kurdish defeat of IS in both Iraq and Syria. The US aided this Kurdish military resurgence, but now Trump and the US threaten to betray America’s Kurdish allies once again by a precipitous withdrawal of troops from Syria.

The Kurds see the US as the political and military guarantor of Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq, and now in northern Syria, where Rojava is carrying out a profound libertarian socialist experiment in self-government. But the US is a notoriously unreliable partner, first and foremost because America always pursues its own imperialist interests in the region. Second, the US consistently promotes the interests of regional client states like Israel and Egypt and regional allies like Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The US being the principal imperialist power remaining in the world means that support for the Kurds and Rojava is a complicated affair, especially for the left of the Left.

“Syria In Brief” is an internet project [syriainbrief.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/leftist-groups-on-the-syrian-civil-war/] which summarizes the position of some fifty-four western Leftist groups, all of which “support secularism and socialism […] and oppose intervention by Western powers, but their attitudes towards the Assad regime, the Kurdish PYD/YPG-led Rojava, the vast and multi-colored opposition,” Russian intervention, “and the so-called Islamic State vary greatly.” For the anti-imperialist Leninist Left disparagingly called “Tankies,” those politics are rigid, vulgar and formulaic. Imperialism is categorically bad and US imperialism is particularly bad, so the Butcher of Damascus Assad and his Russian allies are to be supported at all costs. Thus Tankie anti-imperialism means defending the client Syrian state of the former “real existing socialist” state of Russia without fail. By contrast, virtually all of the left communist and left anarchist groups listed—as well as assorted independent Leninists, Trotskyists and Maoists—support the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria/Rojava, the PYD/YPG/SDF, and their libertarian socialist experiment on the ground. Many also critically or partially support the Free Syrian Army in particular and the Syrian opposition generally.

But how to square the circle and support the Kurds without endorsing US imperialism? The short answer is that it can’t be done. An open letter in the New York Review of Books from the Emergency Committee for Rojava on 4-23-18 called for the defense of Rojava by demanding the US government:

  • impose economic and political sanctions on Turkey’s leadership;
  • embargo sales and delivery of weapons from NATO countries to Turkey;
  • insist upon Rojava’s representation in Syrian peace negotiations;
  • continue military support for the SDF.

David Graeber signed the letter, along with Noam Chomsky, Debbie Bookchin and scores of others. Much as the anarchist Peter Kropotkin provisionally supported the Allied cause in the first World War by signing the Manifesto of the Sixteen, the left of the Left today cannot easily back the Kurds of Rojava without tacitly supporting American imperialism. But the crude support for Assad, the Syrian government, and their Russian backers by “sundry ersatz progressives” and “fatuous self-styled ‘anti-imperialists’” means supporting “the genocide and democracide now being planned over in Ankara” and complicity with “the torture, abductions, killings and ethnic cleansing of Kurds that will follow,” according to Anna-Sara Malmgren and Robert Hockett (Haaretz, 2-2-19).

Welcome to Machiavellian realpolitik.

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From WWJD to WWDD: “What’s Left?” April 2016, MRR #395

Save me from this road I’m on
Oh, Jesus take the wheel

Carrie Underwood
“Jesus, Take the Wheel,” Some Hearts (2005)

Stan was my friend in high school. His mom went through an ugly divorce, got a little crazy, and joined a pentecostal Assemblies of God church when I was a sophomore. We made fun of her—speaking in tongues, full immersion water baptism, miraculous healing through prayer—but I admit I was a little freaked out by her beliefs at the time. Having been raised most of my life in southern California, I had a learner’s permit at 15, a driver’s license at 17, and my first car as soon as I could manage. But throughout my high school years, I was dependent on the kindness of parents to give me and my friends rides to and from places and events. Well, Stan’s mom had a bumper sticker on her car that read: “WARNING: In the event of Rapture, this car will be unmanned.”

It wasn’t that I was upset about her belief that “the church” would be physically snatched away from this world by a wrathful god in the “end times.” I just couldn’t understand how an otherwise caring and loving mother would be okay with being raptured out of the moving vehicle she was driving with her children and their friends still in the car. I mean, potentially at least, wasn’t that religiously inspired child neglect? I got another clue to her cognitive dissonance in 1968, the year the federal government made seat belts mandatory. She had a beat-up 1960 Olds 88 4-door sedan without seat belts from the divorce settlement, and concerns were raised by the other parents that her vehicle wasn’t safe enough for the transport of the adolescents in her care. She was apologetic that she couldn’t afford to install proper safety belts because her ex reneged on the child support. “We are all in the hands of our Lord,” she would say. “His eye is even on the tiny sparrow.”

To say there’s a lot of evangelical end-of-days apocalypticism in this country is an understatement. Forty-one percent of American adults believe we’re in the end times. Seventy-seven percent of Evangelicals and 54% of Protestants concur that “the world is currently living in the ‘end times’ as described by prophecies in the Bible.” Forty-five percent of practicing Catholics say the end times have arrived. These are the results of a 2013 OmniPoll conducted by James F. Fitzgerald, who also found that 54% of blacks, 48% of Hispanics, 39% of whites, 46% of married adults, and 47% of parents say the world is in the end times. According to a contrasting 2012 Reuters poll, something like 22% of Americans believe the world is going to end in their lifetime. Either way, there are a fuck of a lot of people in this country who are convinced the world is coming to an end, and soon.

I’m not here to parse out the various and confusing elements of Christian eschatology—Resurrection, Rapture, Tribulation, Second Coming, Millennium, Last Judgment, etc. Nor am I interested in discussing the niceties of Christian Zionism versus Christian Dominionism versus Christian Identity ad nauseam. With anywhere from a quarter to a half of the US population buying into the notion that the end of the world is neigh, is it any wonder that “Jesus take the wheel” is more often then not the default decision made by Americans. That also includes political decisions, anything from what to do about climate change and income inequality to how to handle terrorism and police brutality. Particularly scary is the reality that citizens and elected officials are making decisions about a future they don’t believe is going to happen. Why do anything about global warming or institutional racism when the world is going to end soon?

Take environmental issues. More and more people, and the politicians they elect, don’t believe that global warming or a sixth mass extinction or pollution or even littering are a problem because after the world is laid waste at the battle of Armageddon, the Second Coming of Jesus will usher in a new heaven, a new earth, and a new Jerusalem. This denial of basic reality is a huge fucking problem for the rest of us, and for the survival of the planet. There’s no need to be prudent or plan ahead or take care of the next generation if the world is going to end in our lifetime. Ann Coulter once said that having children is what makes people conservative, because they now have a stake in the game and an interest in the future. But becoming an end time Christian actually makes people nihilistic because that future is predetermined and apocalyptic.

Wow, punk rock, man! No future! Who would have thought that evangelical Christians and punk rockers have so much in common? And you know who else shares this nihilism? Islamic jihadis. Of course, Islam has its own eschatology, involving the Mahdi, al-Dajjal, Isa, Ya’juj and Ma’juj, Dabbat al-ard, destruction of Mecca, al-Qiyamah, and the Day of Judgment. The great majority of Muslims aren’t apocalyptic however. Even those Muslims who narrowly focus on jihad (holy war) aren’t all obsessed with the end of the world. But of those Muslims who believe in an imminent Islamic end time, virtually all practice jihad as a means of realizing their apocalypse. Al-Qaeda, Taliban, al-Nusrah Front, Islamic State—because all these end time jihadi groups are both Sunni Muslim and proponents of a fundamentalist Islamic revivalism known as Salafism, its best to call this type of terrorism Salafi jihadism.

Now, here’s the really scary part. Groups of end time religious fanatics—evangelical Christians and Salafi jihadis respectively—are jockeying for power in this country and in the Middle East, with the aim of bringing about the end of the world. What’s more, they’ve each designated the other as their mortal enemy and vow to fight to the death to defeat their foe. So now we have two fundamentalist end time religious movements potentially squaring off against each other across the globe, not in a war between civilizations or a war to save the West, but in the ultimate holy war to destroy this corrupt world and usher in a purified heaven and earth. It’s Jehovah versus Allah, the Bible versus the Koran, and what’s crazy is that the annihilation of civilization as we know it is not collateral damage, but the avowed goal. During the Cold War between east and west, the proliferation of nuclear weapons by the United States and the Soviet Union was deemed a strategy of mutually assured destruction, a balance of nuclear terror that oddly enough kept us from blowing up the planet. Now, there is a very real danger that religious nuts will gain control and wage holy war in order to realize the end of the world.

To this apocalyptic dualism, add a third element, the Zionist zealotry of Jewish settlers in the Palestinian West Bank. Hasidic Jews like the Satmar have long decried any political attempt to force the hand of the Messiah, of which the State of Israel is the principle instance. It took the settler movement in the Occupied Territories via groups like Gush Emunim to infuse political Zionism with a religious fundamentalism that viewed the establishment of Israel as the inadvertent start of the Messianic Age, allowing the Jewish settlers to consciously hasten the coming of the Messiah by redeeming every centimeter of the Holy Land, Eretz Israel supposedly given by god to the Jews. This theocratic, halachic Zionism encompasses various elements of Jewish eschatology—Gog and Magog, the Day of Judgment, the return of exiles, even the rebuilding of a Third Temple upon the Temple Mount in a new Jerusalem and a return to animal sacrifice—and intends nothing less than building a literal paradise on earth in the form of a Greater Israel. So while the realization of a Messianic kingdom here and now through Jewish efforts is completely opposite to the divine dramaturgy that marks sweeping Christian/Islamic end of the world scenarios, there’s a frightening synchronicity between the messianism of settler Zionism and the apocalypticism of Christianity and Islam.

Progressives often wonder why any sane woman votes Republican, given the GOP’s atrocious record on women’s issues. I constantly wonder why rational individuals have anything to do with end time politicians. I mean, how does one trust a politician or a political organization to work for the common good and a common future when they proclaim that the end of the world is near? Should an evangelical president who fervently believes in the apocalypse have his finger on the nuclear launch button? Not that electoral politics, or politics-as-usual, can do much to diffuse the apocalyptic tango between Christian evangelicals, Islamic jihadis and Jewish extremists that seems to be centered once again in the Middle East.

Evangelical voters are mostly Republicans, and they’re now divided between Rubio and Cruz, with Bush in third place, as we enter February. Trump polls only slightly higher than Hillary (3.3% to 2.1% as of 7-30-15) among evangelicals, but evangelicals are by no means anybody-but-Trump types (see JC Derrick, worldmag.com, for more evangelical politics).

Trump continues to hold steady in the polls even as more and more conservatives comes out against him. The National Review recently editorialized against Trump as “a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.” (1-21-16) NR hosted a symposium in which some 22 leading conservatives vented their opposition to a Trump GOP nomination. Talk show host Glenn Beck, in endorsing Ted Cruz in Iowa, said that he prefers Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump because at least Sanders is honest about being a socialist.

There’s clear evidence that Trump is actually pulling a lot of his support from white working-class Democrats, all the while Trump garners endorsements from the likes of Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin. (See Robert Reich’s “Who lost the white working class?” 1-19-16) The backing from Blue Dog Democrats won’t be enough to get Trump elected president, but it will continue to further fracture the Republican Party and the conservative movement. Meaning that there’s gonna be a lot of blood spilled before this ongoing GOP debacle falls out, and there’s little likelihood the party will unite behind either Rubio or Cruz—the candidates favored by evangelicals—if Trump is not nominated. A split RNC is all but inevitable, and if one or another Republican elite attempts to broker the convention, breakaway movements and third party runs are guaranteed.

So its a win all around, except for the part about Hillary winning the presidency.

Don’t be fooled by the youthful insurgency surrounding Bernie’s candidacy or the supposedly hapless nature of Clinton’s campaign. At this stage of the Democratic primary, she has the numbers and he doesn’t, even without the intervention of party super delegates. No amount of young idealism is going to prevail over old entrenched Democratic Party money and power. It looks like Hillary faces a severely divided Republican field and a critically weakened GOP, so she will prevail. Of course, things can turn on a dime. I’m reminded of that as we go to press, and the news of Scalia’s death comes home to roost. Obama, a rather middle-of-the-road Democrat, now has a stunning opportunity to significantly impact the judicial philosophy of the Supreme Court for generations to come. His appointment in turn will be fought tooth and nail by the Republicans. Chances are good come November 2016, each party will field candidates for President, Vice President, and Supreme Court Justice.

It’s pure smack to this old political junkie.

Israel and Palestine, confict without end: “What’s Left?” October 2014, MRR #377

The middle of the road is for yellow lines and dead armadillos.

Jim Hightower

I’m a middle-of-the-road moderate.

This feels like a stand up AA confession. Me, “Lefty” Hooligan, a moderate. But I’m middle-of-the-road when it comes to the whole Israel/Palestine conflict.

I grudgingly agree that Israel has the right to exist, but I vehemently oppose Israel’s military overkill, its collective punishment and massacre of Palestinians in pursuit of eradicating Hamas terrorism. I grudgingly agree that Palestinians should constitute their own nation, but I adamantly oppose Hamas terrorism, its indiscriminate targeting of Israelis and threats to wipe out the Jewish people. I think that Israel’s overwhelming military and economic superiority over the Palestinians, this massive day-to-day power imbalance, virtually guarantees the abuse of that power in the form of discrimination and slaughter, apartheid and ethnic cleansing.*

I wasn’t always such a reluctant moderate with respect to the bloody Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I know the subject deeply, but narrowly, and from one side only. As an undergraduate at UCSC, I studied Jewish history in general and Zionist history in particular, with a six month stay on an Israeli kibbutz (commune) in the Jezreel Valley with my Jewish girlfriend in the summer and fall of 1974. My grasp of the Arab side of things is glancing at best. Yet, like a shard of hologram properly illuminated, a slice of history properly studied will reveal the whole. What got in the way of my extremist sentiments, and what made me a moderate was what Israelis like to call “the facts on the ground.”

I was and remain a communist. I was intrigued by Zionist socialism and I had an affinity for kibbutz-style communism, but I soon discovered how intrinsically rightwing they were. Zionist colonial society was dominated from 1920 on by the Histadrut labor federation—part trade union, part capitalist owner and employer, and part de facto state. The Histadrut ran close to 75% of the Zionist economy in pre-1948 Palestine until the newborn Israeli state nationalized half of that, and the labor federation’s social power has been on the decline ever since. The national syndicalism professed by the Histadrut and key to Labor Zionism shunned class struggle for Jewish national unity. It was a non-Marxist, even anti-Marxist socialism rooted in Romantic notions of organic nationalism and ethnic purity.

That’s where the supposed radical communism of the kibbutzim came from. Labor Zionism, often used synonymously with Zionist socialism, was first cousin to Stalin’s “socialism in one country” in promoting a “socialism for one people,” the Jewish people. And Zionist socialism transcended its nationalist socialist roots into true proletarian internationalism only in communist fractions evident within the halutzim (pioneers) of the third aliyah (settler wave). These communist fractions were tangential to the kibbutz movement led by the Hashomer Hatzair and then by the old MAPAM political party. They were central to the Gdud Ha’avoda (Labor Brigades) founded by members of the Crimean Commune who followed Joseph Trumpeldor, which were then deliberately destroyed by the Histadrut. As such, this international working class communism, which attempted to make common cause with the Arab workers in Palestine, was a minority of a minority within the Zionist colonial project. It was doomed to failure. Probably why I identify with it to this day. Ze’ev Sternhell’s book The Founding Myths of Israel makes these arguments most cogently. Israeli society has since moved inexorably ever rightward.

Then as now, I’m an anti-statist. I don’t like to see the building and proliferating of nation-states. I don’t like people aspiring to create them, and I certainly don’t like people butchering each other with them. Arthur Waskow once spun out a lovely libertarian utopia for the area of Israel/Palestine that entailed decentralized federations of autonomous Jewish and Arab cantons residing side by side in a fully binational society. Sure, and if the cat laid eggs, so goes a yiddish saying, it would be a chicken. I don’t think I was ever that naive to imagine anarchism taking root in the area anytime in the foreseeable future. I was disabused of such fantasies by having experienced reality in Israel. Part of that reality is the current demographics of the region. There are 6.1 million Jews and nearly 5.8 Arabs living in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

These facts beg for a creative reconsideration of the “one state solution” put forward by the old pre-Oslo Palestine Liberation Organization for a democratic, secular nation-state in the region of Palestine. Not quite as elegant was the call for a binational state in Israel/Palestine by Zionist socialism’s left wing, the aforementioned Hashomer Hatzair and MAPAM, that evaporated with the formation of Israel’s Labor Party in 1968. The chances for either a democratic secular state or a binational state in Israel/Palestine however are slim to none, not without a lot of violence and social disruption. Far more blood and chaos will accompany the least favorable but far more likely solution, the “two state solution” that creates a Palestinian nation-state in the Occupied Territories alongside a mostly intact state of Israel. Not only is the two-state solution the highly probable outcome of decades of suffering and war, but it is likely to reproduce the same power imbalance, a militarily and economically hegemonic Israel running roughshod over a string of poverty-stricken Palestinian Bantustans.

Which is a tragedy considering that, at least on the Jewish side of things, there have been imaginative ways for a people to live and thrive without the need for a nation-state. At the beginning of the 20th century, as youthful European Jews took to socialist ideas and movements of various stripes, Zionist socialism predominated in a nationalist Zionist movement that promoted the colonization of Palestine under the patently false slogan of “a land without a people for a people without a land.” Diametrically opposed to all forms of Zionism were the Jews who committed themselves to Marxist social democracy, specifically to the internationalist socialism embodied by the Bolsheviks and their Third International, which called for world proletarian revolution to bring about a classless stateless society. The Jewish Labor Bund positioned itself between these two poles to develop a hybrid socialism unique to the social situation of the Jewish people.

The Bund operated in eastern Europe, in the territorial ghetto known as the Pale of Settlement to which the Jewish people were confined and in which the Jews often comprised a sizable minority of the population. The socialism advocated by the Bund aligned with the international working class movement while defending the national characteristics of the Jewish people in the Pale of Settlement. The Jews of the Pale lived separately (in urban ghettos and Jewish villages called shtetls), had their own language (yiddish), religion, customs and culture, and shared various autonomous social institutions (schools, community councils, and mutual aid societies). From these facts the Bund derived a form of Jewish nationalism that downplayed any united sovereign Jewish territory for one based on Jewish community control of local schools, police and government. As such, the Jewish Labor Bund’s program prefigured the program of the Black Panther Party in the United States.

The Third Reich’s “Final Solution” put an end to the aspirations of the Jewish Labor Bund by liquidating the Jewish people in eastern Europe. I got to know some Bundists who had immigrated to New York City after the second World War. When they didn’t entirely assimilate, they became either ardent Communists or soft Zionists. Few remained affiliated with the Jewish Labor Bund, which like yiddish has recently experienced a revival in interest.

The spectrum of Zionist socialism/ Jewish Labor Bund socialism/ international socialism parallels a broader spectrum within the Jewish people at large, generated by the question over the nature of the Jewish people. There are those who would argue that the Jews aren’t a people at all, among them outspoken jazz saxophonist Gilad Atzmon, and academic Shlomo Sand whose book The Invention of the Jewish People summarizes this position clearly. Then there are those at the opposite end of the spectrum like the Jewish Defense League who believe that the Jewish people are a nation, even a race, chosen by God and given the land of Israel as their inalienable birth right. Most who weigh in on the subject, including most Jews, hold a middle position, that the Jewish people are some amalgam of race, nation, ethnicity, tribe, culture or religion which cannot be clearly fixed. The point is moot however, given that Jews consider themselves Jews, and define themselves as Jews no matter the argument or the circumstance.

The Jews have existed as a self-identified, dispersed people at least since the Babylonian destruction of the first temple in 586 BCE. Thus, the Jewish people have survived partly or entirely without a nation-state for over 2,500 years. The Roman destruction of the second temple in 70 CE forced the Jews to adapt with the development of the synagogue as a temple in absentia. Yet whether this Jewish dispersal is termed exile or diaspora, it took more than the institution of the synagogue to hold it together. Vibrant centers of Jewish culture and learning overlapped concentrations of Jewish population first in ancient Babylonia, then in Moorish Spain, and finally in Medieval Poland.

These dynamic social/cultural/religious centers provided guidance and cohesion to the Jewish people as a whole, throughout the eastern hemisphere and eventually the world, and were crucial to Jewish survival. It can be argued that this core/periphery structure of Jewish existence was in crisis by 1850, with the rise of the modern nation-state. But what can’t be substantiated is the Zionist assertion that without a Jewish nation-state, the Jewish people will always be threatened by discrimination, harassment, murder, pogrom and holocaust. One of the most dangerous places in the world for a Jew to reside today is in Israel. All it would take is for Israel to lose just one war in order to raise the very real specter of Jewish genocide once again.

Between the wholly inadequate two-state solution and Waskow’s anarchist idyll, there are a number of quite possible, favorable resolutions to the Israel/Palestine conflict. I’ve highlighted as viable examples leftwing Zionist socialism’s binational state, the one-state solution of the PLO’s secular democratic Palestinian state, the Jewish Labor Bund’s socialist program for Jewish territorial autonomy, and the non-state core/periphery structure so critical to Jewish survival as a people over the millennia. This middle ground is quite broad, providing a wide political middle-of-the-road from which true moderation can arise. And a moderate, just solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict would be wonderful. In this instance, I would dearly love to refute Barry Goldwater when he said: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”

*I rely on Max Boot’s exhaustive study Invisible Armies for the distinction between formal military action and terrorism.

Of raccoons and terrorists: “What’s Left?” October 2013, MRR #365

I regularly do a little gardening, more so when I was living in San Francisco’s sun belt south of Market, but still a little now that I’m up in Eureka Valley, just in the tomato zone west of Twin Peaks. Tomatoes are my specialty. But whereas I used to grow tons of heirlooms in SOMA, I haven’t had very good luck up here in the hills. I haven’t gotten the hang of gardening up here yet. The climate hasn’t helped. This past spring and summer it’s been incredibly cold and foggy, unusually so even for San Francisco’s clammy climate. My zebras simply did not make the grade this season. But my stupice tomatoes, well, they are incredibly sweet and abundant, perfectly suited for the climate. When tomatoes are this good, it makes you realize that tomatoes are truly fruit.

Now the problem is raccoons. We have a family of raccoons living in the immediate neighborhood, and once the initial score or so of delicious tomatoes were picked, they wised up and started grabbing the rest as soon as they got remotely ripe. I tried timing matters to outfox the raccoons and pluck the crop ahead of them. No dice. Then I rigged up some chicken wire in ever more sophisticated arrays hoping to protect the plants. The raccoons kept breeching my fences and security, always getting my ripening tomatoes. Finally, I enclosed the remaining tomatoes, still incredibly productive, behind a half inch steel mesh fence, modifying the security so that now it looks like I have a chance of getting a few tomatoes out of the deal. I’m getting indications that frustrated raccoons skirting the perimeter so far have been unable to figure out how to penetrate my tomato enclosure. So far.

I’ve spent perhaps ten times what I originally invested into the garden trying to get some payback. I guess I’m pissed at being outwitted, time and again, by these crazy-assed raccoons. I mean to say, crazy smart raccoons. These wild little fuckers are urban born and bred, intelligent and resourceful as all get out, capable of making meals of someone’s koi pond or backyard garden or unsecured garbage cans, willing to intimidate your pet cat or dog or yours truly if need be. Raccoons have opposable thumbs, and the acuity to outwit most traps set for them. I fully expect my local family of raccoons to continue giving me grief over those tomatoes.

Raccoons are far too wily, far too ingenious, far too brilliant to be limited by that updated adage: “build a better mousetrap, evolve a better mouse.” The anthropomorphic version of this saying is: “build a better lock, train a better thief.” And while the latter is slightly less insulting than the former, both rely on comparisons to common undesirables (mice, thieves). Unfortunately, I’m stuck using these analogies and their unfortunate use of aphoristic lowlifes, to illustrate my point.

Humans are obsessed with their own security, and for finding ways to combat threats to their lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness. At the most basic, our battle against disease exemplifies these maxims at work. We are constantly throwing antibiotics against bacterial-based infections, killing off good bacteria as well as bad, until the antibiotics no longer work and we breed more powerful, drug-resistant bacteria. The use of antibiotics in the raising of livestock only exacerbates the problem. Superbugs, and the threat of uncontrollable, worldwide plagues, are the potential consequence.

Our response to so-called “vermin”—insects, mice, rats, even raccoons—has been to throw every possible means—chemical, biological, physical—in order to exterminate them. In the short term, this produces massive ecological disruption as creatures thoroughly integrated into the natural environment are killed off. In the long term, the results are super insects genetically immune to pesticides, super mice and super rats genetically immune to standard poisons, and super raccoons genetically immune…well, okay, for once, the raccoons seem to be one step ahead of the game. They’re smart enough to be able to outwit most things that humans do to kill them off, flourishing despite everything we do to eradicate them. Short of hiring a pest control company, setting elaborate traps, and immediately exterminating them, raccoons are a fact of urban life in San Francisco.

So, how does this all relate to the most obnoxious pest humans have to deal with—other humans? Ever since 9/11, the US government has geometrically escalated its anti-terrorism measures hoping to keep us, the American public, safe and secure. From FBI surveillance activities, CIA drone programs, and NSA PRISM and XKEYSCORE programs, the Federal government has actually done a halfway decent job of preventing another Twin Towers attack from occurring. But smaller acts like the Fort Hood assault or the Boston Marathon bombing can and do happen, despite the best, most extensive, thorough and encompassing efforts to prevent them. That’s because terrorists are always looking for ways to circumvent whatever anti-terrorist steps the government takes in order to prevent them from initiating terror. No matter how sophisticated a counter-insurgency program put in place by the state, insurgents can and do manage to succeed in foiling that program.

Just look at the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. From Palestinian guerrilla infiltration and warfare, through plane hijackings and hostage takings, bus bombings and suicide attacks, to intifadas and rocket attacks—the Israelis are engaged in a war without end where the casualties for the Jewish state are modest but by no means insignificant despite high technology, overwhelming armament, social isolation and geographic internment. The Israelis have never taken to heart the historical truth that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” much as Americans have failed to understand Benjamin Franklin’s saying: “Those who give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary security, deserve neither liberty nor security.”

REVISIONS:

#1: Several columns ago, I alluded to some of the tenets of Buddhism, which I didn’t quite accurately depict. Buddhism has nothing to do with belief in a god, or lack thereof. When one of his followers asked the Buddha whether there was a god, or how many gods exist, Buddha replied that he had no opinion on such questions. All the Buddha concerned himself with was the inevitability of suffering in life, and the way suffering might be ended. One can be a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, even an atheist, and still be a Buddhist. Technically. Of course, there are many millions of Buddhists who would contend otherwise, who believe in various gods and goddesses, who have deified the Buddha despite his request not to, and some of whom have engaged in sectarian terrorism against Muslims in the name of religious purity. As for suffering, I identified old age, sickness and death, just three of what Buddhists consider the four great causes of human suffering. I left out birth. Not because childbirth has become painless, thanks to medical advances. It hasn’t. The birth in question has to do with the Buddhist belief in rebirth and reincarnation, a belief I don’t share. Despite attempts to medicalize, anesthetize and pharmacize our ills and fears, the basic forms of human suffering will continue to be with us.

#2: The BYOB Youth Movement ’82 gig was not held at the Hollywood Bowl, but at the Hollywood Palladium. Thanks to Ryan Timothy for the heads up!

Attacking Iran (Again): “What’s Left?” May 2008, MRR #300

There I was, boring some friends with the story of how I got politics at 16 in 1968. For that tumultuous year, and several thereafter, most of my friends and I thought that The Revolution was just around the corner. We predicted a popular uprising any day against Nixon’s law-and-order fascism. To which the crusty nonagenarian of the group, Ben, commented, “What in hell were you smoking?”

Exactly!

I published a science fiction novel, End Time, in January of 1994 in which, among other things, the people of southern Mexico rise up in anarchist revolution led by a group calling themselves the Zapatistas. Coincidental to the book’s publication, the EZLN launched their uprising in Chiapas. I in no way predicted the real Zapatista rebellion, but had simply used history to create plausible future scenarios for my story. Most reviewers thought I had, however, so I played up this fortuitous circumstance to get more publicity, and sell more books.

I’ve never been very accurate in my forecasts, even though I’m not shy about making them. Five months ago, I predicted that it would be Clinton and Giuliani in November, and that the US would bomb Iran this spring. It now looks like Obama and McCain will be squaring off for the presidency. I can only hope that my forecast of US military action against Iran is equally wrong. For while few could have predicted the current economic crisis that began with the breakdown of the US sub-prime mortgage market and has expanded into an economy-wide credit collapse, the consequences of attacking Iran should be obvious to anyone.

Just in case they aren’t, let me spell them out, one more time.

I assume that the US engages in military aggression in conjunction with Israel. Their combined attack is a comprehensive assault targeting, not just Iran’s nuclear capabilities, but also that country’s military and political infrastructures, launched sometime this spring when the weather is optimal. The goals are to significantly set back Iran’s nuclear research and development program, and to affect some form of regime change. It’s doubtful that the disastrous results of such a military campaign would be significantly mitigated if the US opts for an American-only strike, or limits military targets solely to nuclear facilities. So let’s start with Iran, and move outward.

Military attacks alone cannot achieve regime change in Iran. The general populace does not rise up against the government, nor do regional or ethnic uprisings seriously threaten Iran’s national stability. What does happen is that hard line forces associated with the Revolutionary Guard, already on the ascendancy over the arch-conservative theocratic mullahs, use any US/Israeli strike to consolidate their power and take out their opposition. Iran stops selling oil to the US and Europe. That country is in a “state of war” with the West, which involves, in part, harassing petroleum shipments from Iraq and the Gulf states, if not blocking the Straits of Hormuz altogether. On a wider front, Iranian terrorist elements initiate attacks on US, Israeli and European interests around the world.

Shiite Iran makes an alliance of convenience with the Sunni Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan to strengthen and broaden the guerrilla resurgence against US and NATO forces. In Iraq, the Shiite population of the south rises up and makes that part of the country a no-go area for the US military, effectively removing southern Iraq’s oil supplies from US control as well. The Sunnis of western Iraq also revolt, driving the US military out, into the last, remaining region of Iraq still friendly to America, the Kurdish north, with perhaps a territorial corridor to the Green Zone in Baghdad. The US-installed Iraqi government pretends to function for a while longer, but the country has splintered de facto into three mini-states. That fact is not lost on Iraq’s neighbors. Iran trains and arms the southern Shia to the teeth, as does Syria and Saudi Arabia the western Sunni. Turkey, now cognizant that northern Iraq is a Kurdish state in all but name, invades and occupies the northern mountainous region of this Kurdistan, ostensibly to “help” the US fight Kurdish PKK terrorism. The Kurds respond to the Turkish invasion by intensifying their guerrilla war inside and outside of Turkey. The US, too preoccupied with problems in the rest of Iraq, is unable to stop this escalation. Meanwhile, oil reaches $400 a barrel and the industrialized North, with the exception of Russia, slides into a prolonged economic depression.

The outright participation of Israel in the third American assault on an Islamic nation in less than a decade reverberates throughout the Muslim world. Lebanon collapses into another civil war, with Hezbollah now the dominant military and political player. Pakistan completely loses control of its western provinces, taking one more step toward becoming a failed state. A failed state with nuclear weapons. Fundamentalist Muslim attacks on US forces, corporations, and individuals skyrocket internationally. Many European countries with substantial Muslim immigrant populations experience varying degrees of urban insurrection, and the United States is once more subject to terrorist attacks on its soil. Civil liberties are curtailed, conscription is reinstated, internment camps are built and populated, total surveillance becomes the norm, and civil society is thoroughly militarized.

You’d think that the quagmire-like nature of US military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the dire circumstances of the American economy, would dissuade Bush and Company from further military adventures in Iran. The recent forced resignation of Admiral William Fallon, Central Commander responsible for the Middle East, has been widely interpreted as a sign that the US executive is indeed preparing to go to war with Iran. An Esquire interview reveals that Fallon was a vocal critic of the administration’s military policies in Iraq and belligerence toward Iran, and describes him as the lone man standing in the way of Bush attacking Iran. Yet I’ve been foretelling an impending US military strike on Iran for the past four years now, thankfully without much accuracy. I appreciate how damned hard predictions are to make as I finish this column in the middle of March, with spring yet to begin. Readers of this issue, the May issue and the 300th issue of Maximum Rocknroll will probably know the accuracy of my prognostications. I do hope that mine are wrong.

Three hundred issues. Who would have predicted it?

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