Friday, June 22, 2012


CeCe McDonald

It is political prisoner Friday at Scission and I know I am going to get the same criticism from some I got last week.  They will say that CeCe McDonald is not really a poltical prisoner, no matter how unfair her case may be.  They will argue she was not a political activist at the time of her arrest.  They are probably right about that last one.  They will say the act that precipited her arrest was not a poltical one.  I will contest that fact.  They will say she is not locked up as a poltical prisoner.  I say she is locked up for obvious political reasons and to ignore that she was fighting back against a hate crime is depoliticize something that is surely political.  Furthermore, to overlook the fact that she is black and transgender is to stick your head in the sand.  Finally, to ignore both is to pretend the cops and the criminal justice system are not instruments of the State

It's my blog and I say that CeCe McDonald is a political prisoner and she should be freed.

Last February CeCe wrote the following:

Just like the triumph of a warrior’s journey
Just like the love and strength that I have given
Just like the rewards of a bee’s honey
I now have victory, because I have risen”
-Don Floyd

Sometimes I feel blank, like a canvas. Waiting for its oils and pastels and watercolors to help bring out its true colors. To become the Monet or Mona Lisa of this reality. I dream for the paints of life to create my beautiful existence. Where vibrant colors aren’t just seen, misunderstood. But taken for all their glories. Bright and Beautiful like you and I… we are the colors. And without the colors our lives will be blank. Like the untouched canvas, mundane and lacking.

Our canvases are created to be filled, which is condign. And the colors of our lives are to consume the canvas to express love, joy, individuality, growth and all the pictures that express our lives. And as we are the canvas, we are also the illustrator. And with every stroke of the brush, we decide how our art of life will be. Pictures full of lifes achievements and the possibilities. Creators of our own masterpieces, how will you depict your picture? Will you leave your canvas blank and unfulfilled, or will your tableaux show all that life as to offer?

And so, I ask that you all will not leave your canvases undone. Use every color imaginable to show who you are inside and out, for every tint and every hue counts. And as you create your picture remember you are the illustrator, so no one can create your picture but you. So make it the most precious and most beautiful picture that you can, with love, truth, and joy in every color.

Love,Honee Bea

The article below is from Ebony.

Why Aren't We Fighting for CeCe McDonald?


Last week, Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald, a 23-year-old Black transgender woman, was sentenced to 41 months in prison for second-degree manslaughter despite clear evidence of self-defense. Making matters worse, she is now being forced to serve her time in a men’s prison. CeCe McDonald’s case not only represents a tragic miscarriage of justice, but also speaks to the fundamental unfairness of the criminal justice system for the Black trans community.

On June 5th 2011, McDonald, a Minnesota based college student, was out having a good time with her friends. They walked past the Schooner Tavern, where McDonald and her friends were harassed and verbally assaulted by two White women and Dean Schmitz, a White man, who referred to them as “n*ggers,” “faggots,” and “chicks with dicks.”

The assault quickly became physical when one of the women hit McDonald with a cocktail glass, puncturing her cheek and salivary gland. A fight ensued that resulted in the stabbing death of Schmitz. McDonald was arrested, charged, and ultimately convicted of the crime. She was the only person arrested that night.

Although state officials on every level insist they hold no bias against the Black transgender community, their behavior at every stage of the CeCe McDonald case suggests otherwise. More importantly, the state’s mistreatment of McDonald is a reflection of a criminal justice system that systematically denies the fundamental rights, safety, and humanity of transgender bodies.

Even a casual review of the facts demonstrates that CeCe McDonald and her friends (all of whom were LGBTQ youth or allies) were the targets of hate and violence on the night of her arrest. By ignoring the evidence against her attackers, police reinforced the notion that violence against the Black trans community is not a significant concern for law enforcement. Studies show that, despite comprising only 8 percent of the LGBTQ community, transgender women account for nearly half of all LGBTQ hate crime murders. Among this group, transgender women of color are nearly twice as vulnerable to violence as their white counterparts. In addition, according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 50% of Black transgender individuals face harassment at school and 15% are physically assaulted at their jobs. Such evidence speaks not only to the rising tide of violence against transgender populations, but a lack of commitment from law enforcement to protect and serve them.

As we see in the case of CeCe McDonald, police agencies tend to expend their time, energy, and resources criminalizing rather than protecting the Black trans community. By ignoring her obvious self-defense claim, instead arresting her and no one else at night, McDonald was legally punished for surviving a transphobic hate attack. This is a common occurrence, as transgender Blacks are routinely targeted, profiled, and often arrested for crimes linked to their gender, race and class rather than their behavior.

More than any population, transgender people are unfairly brought into the criminal justice system as the targets of false or unlawful arrests. Transgender women are regularly stopped and arrested for prostitution simply for walking or standing in public space. Male and female trans people are often charged with presenting false identification or using the “wrong” bathroom. Because of law enforcement’s lack of understanding or respect for transgendered citizens, many trans people end up with criminal records simply for being transgendered.

The Black trans community is also further criminalized for being poor. Members of the Black transgender community regularly live in extreme poverty, with 34% reporting a household income of less than $10,000, more than four times the general Black population rate, and eight times the national rate. The poverty numbers are enhanced by staggering levels of job discrimination -studies show up to 90% rates of job discrimination among trans populations- all of which contributes to the 41% homeless rate among Black transgender people. These conditions, combined with excessive police presence in poor Black neighborhoods, cause the trans community to also be routinely charged with “survival crimes” like sex work and petty theft, as well as “quality of life crimes” like loitering and sleeping outside.

At the same time that Black transgender people are unfairly targeted by police, acts committed against them are typically rejected by law enforcement. Every day, victims of transphobic violence are ignored by police or treated in ways that only exacerbate the situation. This is often due to the belief among law enforcement that transgendered people deserve the violent acts committed against them. As a result of this belief, police are often openly hostile to transgendered victims. According to studies, 38% of Black trans people indicate that they have been harassed by the police. Even worse, 20% state that they have been physically or sexual assaulted by police. Given this pattern of criminalization and abuse over protection, it is no surprise that most victims of transgender violence (52%) do not report the crimes to law enforcement. It  is also unsurprising that CeCe McDonald’s claims of self-defense were ignored and ultimately criminalized by police.

The injustices of McDonald’s case continued inside the courtroom. Throughout the trial, the judge and prosecution consistently and intentionally misgendered McDonald, referring to her by masculine pronouns, further demonstrating a refusal to acknowledge her as a woman. Despite considerable evidence -including medical evidence, toxicology reports, eyewitness accounts, and unrefuted testimony that Schmitz initiated the altercation- McDonald’s self-defense claim was dismissed by prosecutors. Even worse, the judge ignored the fact that McDonald was the target of a hate crime, despite the racist and homophobic language used by Schmitz seconds before the fight began. The court even refused to admit Schmitz’s criminal record into evidence, not to mention the swastika tattooed on his chest, as evidence of his history of violence and bigotry.

With the court refusing to hear exculpatory evidence, or even acknowledge the plight of transgender individuals, McDonald was forced to accept a plea deal that resulted in the three and half year sentence. This is an all-too-common occurrence for Black transgendered people in the criminal justice system, who often face an uphill battle against substandard legal representation, homo- and transphobia, and a judicial system that consistently reneges on constitutional promises of equal protection and due process.

Now, in the aftermath of her unjust conviction, the State continues to abuse the rights of CeCe McDonald. Immediately after her sentencing decision, Minnesota prison officials issued a statement confirming that CeCe McDonald would be sent to one of the state’s male facilities. In their statement, officials continued to misgender McDonald, referring to her as a man and showing little regard for the risks to which she would be exposed because of their decision to place her in a men’s prison.

By placing transgender women in men’s prisons, the government is asserting a right to define gender on its own terms (by birth) rather than how individuals identify, socialize, and function in the world. As a result of this choice, trans individuals are subjected to prison sentences during which they will be labeled and treated as a gender rather than their own. Such a practice, if done to straight cisexual individuals, would clearly be understood and challenged as torture.

But the risks aren’t merely psychological. By misgendering CeCe McDonald and placing her in a men’s facility, prison officials are also exposing CeCe to extreme physical danger. While sexual assault is a real threat for all inmates, trans populations are 13 times more likely to be abused by prisoners and prison officials.  In the United States, 59% of trans inmates are sexually assaulted during the time in prison. Those who report abuse to officials often find themselves at greater risk by inmates and prison officials, who believe that transgender inmates deserve to be physically abused because of their gendered appearance. Disturbingly, 0% of transgender inmates consider prison officials to be allies in protecting their physical safety. In essence, CeCe McDonald has been sentenced to 41 months of sexual violence.

In addition to being unconscionable, the practice of placing transgender women in men’s prisons violates international laws against torture as well as their Eighth Amendment right to protection from cruel and unusual punishment. In addition, the practice constitutes a deprivation of individual dignity protected by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments’ due process clause. Irrespective of one’s position on CecCe McDonald’s guilt or innocence, her placement in a men’s prison is immoral, illegal, and unimaginable if she were anything other than transgender.

In the final analysis, CeCe McDonald is a transgender Black woman who had the courage to “stand her ground” and defend herself from a hate attack. As a punishment for surviving, she has been sentenced to 41 months of torture inside of a men’s prison.

We must send a different message.

We must send a message that this shameful miscarriage of justice is unacceptable. We must send a message that transgender people have the right to defend themselves from hate and violence. We must send a message that we are committed to defending the rights and humanity of everyone.

The case of CeCe McDonald must be an urgent matter for anyone interested in justice. This requires support not only from Black LGBTQ organizations and movements, but White mainstream gay and lesbian organizations, which have too often focused on white victims like Tyler Clemente or alleged Black violators like Isaiah Washington.  This also means that mainstream Black advocacy organizations like the NAACP and Urban League must take up McDonald’s cause with the same intensity as the Trayvon Martin case.

Most importantly, we must view the case of CeCe McDonald as more than an isolated incident of injustice. Instead, we must use the case as a springboard into deeper conversation and engaged action against a criminal justice system that abuses transgender bodies at every level.

We cannot wait another minute.

you can get involved in Cece's fight for justice here.

NOTE:  On the night of June 4th, hours after CeCe’s sentencing,  supporters took to the streets outside the Hennepin County Jail and staged a noise demonstration so that CeCe–and others incarcerated in the jail–could hear them inside. Leslie Feinberg, renowned transgender activist and author of Stone Butch Blues andTrans Liberation, was arrested in solidarity with CeCe. Leslie is currently being held in the Hennepin County Jail on probable cause for property destruction.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Nationalism is an "ism" we can all do without.  Some people like to argue about different types of nationalism, and, I suppose the case can be made.  After all, the national liberation struggle of the Vietnamese is certainly different then the racist nationalism of the German Reich.  Still, I could do without any of it.

A few weeks back an avowed Marxist Leninist on a facebook page I used to frequent argued for a strategy of fighting to divide the USA up into various little national regions and then, she figured, communists could infiltrate and take over.  Dumb idea.  Reactionary idea.  Pretty much a similar idea to that floated around by a myriad of white nationalist sects for years.  

The past few decades have seen breakups of various multi-national states into ethnic states and enclaves.  Hopefully, we are about done with that and we can get back toward moving to the future...a future which includes more of an internationalist flavor and less of an "us against them" one.  The real idea, my friends, is to not create your own little national state, the real idea is to SMASH THE STATE.  The idea is for the working people of the world to unite and throw off the fetters that bind them.  The real idea is for the multitude to replace the Empire of global capital with an alter globalization of themselves, ourselves.

Meanwhile we have this nonsense of an election in Scotland to liberate the nation from the UK.  

As in all forms of nationalism, what Scottish nationalism does is subsume class analysis, class consciousness, class struggle, and internationalism into some "Gee, we are all Scots" frame of mind.  Well, ye all may be Scots, but some of ye Scots will continue right on exploiting other of ye Scots, stealing the labor power of the working people of Scotland, and probably drift in a rightward direction.  Ye folk may get out of the UK but you won't get out of the Empire.  Ye folks will have accomplished nothing.

Gee, am I supposed to be all out for that.

I don't think so.

There is so much more I could say, but then I wouldn't have much of a reason to post the following analysis from libcom.

Some quick thoughts on Scottish independence

Some quick thoughts on Scottish independence

For most people outside Scotland, myself included, the debate over Scottish independence has been largely peripheral. I've come across it occasionally, but bigger things have always taken my attention and I've only found myself discussing it in depth when with comrades from Scotland. This is perhaps a mistake, since the vote in 2014 will have ramifications for both Scotland and the rest of the UK, and there is a marked lack of libertarian communist analysis on the issue.

Referendums aren't great, liberating acts of direct democracy. They offer us no revolutionary change and the debate around the question is framed by various sections of the ruling class. This is as true for the independence referendum as for any other - the options on the table being four variations between the status quo and full independence for Scotland.

In no case is the Scottish electorate offered a say on the form that this variation takes. Not that this is a surprise, since whether the UK remains as it is, or we have an independent Scotland, or we get "devolution plus" as an in-between option, the socio-economic status quo prevails. Extended social democracy or some form of state socialism are not up for the vote. Let alone libertarian communism.

You'd think this a fairly obvious point. Yet some sections of the left are looking at this referendum as though it is a revolutionary moment. I have been told by one comrade that Scottish independence is important for "smashing the British state and British imperialism." A motion at PCS conference (which I think was guillotined) offered support for "an independent, socialist, nuclear free Scotland."

Away from such hysterical rhetoric, the Scottish Socialist Party argue that whilst "swapping the Union Jack for the Saltire would not rid Scotland of inequality, low pay, pensioner poverty and the other problems inherent in any capitalist economic system, ... it would allow normal class politics to develop more naturally than ever before." Since nationalism "has acted to deflect attention away from the real source of Scotland’s problems," removing the nationalist tension created by being part of the UK would "clear the way for politics to be fought out on the basis of ideology and class rather than on the basis of nation."

The problem with this line of reasoning, however, is that it seeks to move past nationalism essentially by rolling with it. But if there are marginal gains from independence it will only help to intensify nationalist sentiment. As a member of the Glasgow Anarchist Federation said on this site, "having the political class closer to home doesn’t necessarily make replacing them any more difficult. If anything, the intensification of the nationalist project championed by all apparently ‘progressive’ opinion could have a significant effect in mystifying power and class relations and undermining the self-organisation of the working class in favour of its passivity and support for new forms of failed ideas."

The Scottish National Party's own pronouncements bear out this fact. Whilst devolution has brought some social democratic benefits, such as free prescriptions and university places, the SNP have declared that they want to set competitive tax rates. In other words, using lower taxes to draw in business and investment. Hardly conduitive to a social democratic expansion of the welfare state.

Combine that with the Scottish deficit, and the logic of capitalism (which an independent Scottish government will be tasked to manage as the UK government are now) demands austerity. The Guardian has compiled some useful data on this, showing that public spending per head is higher in Scotland than any other part of the UK bar Northern Ireland. It also shows that Scotland's share of North Sea Oil revenues is only significant if granted on the basis of geographical share rather than per capita share, which seems unlikely. Even then, there is an £10.7 billion deficit to deal with.

Faced with such, an independent Scotland will have to make cuts. There may be alternatives along the lines of the general PCS argument against UK austerity, but the plain fact is that without the working class exercising its power to force such (which we don't have), that is a moot point. The Scottish government will do what the markets demand and be as staunch defenders of capital as the UK government.

But what of "smashing the British state"? Well, to be frank, I rank that up there with the people who cheered for France over England at football "because of imperialism1." It's a shallow internationalism that, rather than analysing situations on the basis of class interests, opts to choose one state over another. As the Glasgow AFed member points out, "British imperialism is a pale shadow of its former self, probably doesn’t require Scotland and isn’t of intrinsic importance to capitalism anyway." Not to mention that Scotland is not under the yoke of an oppressive military regime, or the victim of external aggression. Hence "national liberation" potentially coming from a cross on a ballot paper rather than as a result of armed struggle.

This all being said isn't an argument in favour of the union any more than the problems of the UK government are an argument for independence. Both camps ultimately represent class interests other than our own, no matter how much parliamentary leftists might argue otherwise. Even whether independence will make the lives of working class Scots (and Brits in general!) better or worse is a question of the degrees of capitalism.

In both scenarios, it remains true that what will win positive gains in the present - and a better world in the future - is organised class struggle. Regardless of the referendum, our class remains relatively weak and unable to press its own interests in most areas of life. We need to build up a strong, militant workers' movement from the ground in order to change this. That task remains regardless of whether the union does.

I guess the only conclusion I can come to is that I'm neither really in favour of or against Scottish independence. Either way, it offers little in the way of practical answers to our class's problems. An independent Scotland will not be a socialist (let alone communist!) Scotland, nor is it by its own merit the path to such a thing. Those who pretend otherwise are simply hanging trite leftists slogans onto "good" nationalism.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


I'm not sure that I have written anything about Syria.  I'll tell you why.  I can't figure out what to write.  I mean, I have no use for Bashar Assad, none, zero, zip.  He is a brutal tyrant whose Ba'ath party has been oppressing the people of Syria and repressing all left opposition for decades.  I would love to see him gone.  Then there is the "resistance."  Well, I think it started out as pretty much a popular uprising which has been hijacked by Islamic fundamentalist, and petty capitalist who would be big capitalist if only they could.  Got no use for either of them.  Then there are the Western powers always wringing their hands about the suffering of the Syrian people, as if they care.  Really can't get too excited there, that's for sure.  And the Saud's and their chums, they would love to bring their brand of horror to Syria, too.  No thanks.  Finally, there are the international bodies like the UN and the Arab League.  A bunch of chumps, if you ask me.

I feel very concerned for and stand with the Syrian people, the working people, the poor,  who get to mostly just get killed by one side or the other.  Although I believe the original uprising came from them, I think now, that popular resistance is just about as confused as I am about what to do.

The Empire can be a very confusing and a very awful place.

There will, though, come a time, in Syria and throughout the Empire when the multitude shrug off the whole wicked, lazy bunch of tired old potentates of the Imperial provinces and their puppet masters.

I still don't know what to write about Syria today though, so I will present you with someone else's thoughts.  The following post is taken from CounterFire.  

NOTE: I know that I am not in complete agreement with the analysis presented below (for example, I think the old theory of imperialism has died and am more into Empire theory myself), but I think there is a lot of good information and analysis there all the same.

Sami Ramadani speaks to Samuel Grove about the dynamics of the conflict in Syria, arguing that democratic resistance to Assad's brutal regime has been eclipsed by reactionary forces, backed by Western and Gulf states

The upheaval in Syria is an enormously difficult subject for Western outsiders to get a handle on. One of the reasons for this is the sheer number of different interests jostling for position and power, from both within and outside the country. Let us start with the regime itself. Can you give us a brief history of where the Al-Assad family came from and the direction they have taken the country since they came to power in 1970?
Following the magnificent peoples’ uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, toppling two entrenched dictators, there developed a tendency not to closely examine the nature of the various forces competing for political power both within the opposition movements and the Arab regimes. Events in Libya and NATO’s intervention there have alerted most people to the dangers of hijacking the peoples’ struggle for freedom by reactionary forces. A brief look at the nature of the Syrian regime and its changing role in the region is crucial in trying to understand the current conflict and the reactionary forces’ success in hijacking the people’s struggle for radical change.
Syria has been run by a ruthless, corrupt regime. Syrian left activists have been on the receiving end of severe repression since Hafiz Assad’s coup in 1970. It was after that coup that Henry Kissinger described Syria as “a factor for stability,” despite Soviet military backing for the regime. Hafiz Assad’s regime, funded by the Saudi medieval dictators, played a leading role in the 1970’s and early 80’s in weakening the Palestinian resistance.  During the 1975-6 civil war in Lebanon Syrian troops sided with pro-Israeli Phalange and other extreme right wing forces. The regime, in return for US promises over the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights and Saudi petro-dollars, also backed the 1991 US-led war over Kuwait.
The Syrian forces’ presence in Lebanon had the full support of the US and Saudi rulers and the tacit support of Israel. It was only after Syria’s gradual foreign policy shift and reversal of roles from enemies to allies of the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance movements that the US and Saudi rulers shifted their stance. They pursued an aggressive campaign to force a Syrian withdrawal (1985) from Lebanon, particularly after the 2003 occupation of Iraq. US forces even killed some Syrian soldiers on the Iraqi-Syrian borders.
In relation to the media coverage today, it is important to note that, before Syria’s shift the media were silent about the repressive nature of the regime. This is similar to the their silence towards repression by a variety of ruthless dictatorial allies. Today they talk of Sunni Saudi rulers opposed to Alawite-Shia in Syria, but back then, the media did not bother highlighting the fact that the Wahabi-Sunni Saudi rulers were bankrolling the Syrian regime nor did they push their sectarian poison. A similar sectarian coverage unfolded in relation to Saudi-Iranian relations after the 1979 Iranian revolution and the overthrow of the Shah, a favourite US ally.
The opposition to the Syrian regime was not confined to the left, but included the Muslim Brotherhood, who led a popular revolt in 1982 in their stronghold of Hama. The regime crushed the uprising by bombarding the City and killing thousands of people. Nevertheless, Arab nationalism has for a century or more been Syria’s main ideological current, developed in the struggle against Ottoman rule and, much more deeply, against French colonial rule. Syria won its independence from France in 1946.
The Brotherhood today are backed by the Qatari and Saudi dictators, but the media rarely dwell on the irony of these dictators championing democracy in Syria while crushing any opposition to their rule and sending their troops to help crush the people’s uprising in Bahrain.
In 1967 Syria was invaded and a strategic part of its territory, the Golan Heights, was occupied by Israel. Since then, successive regimes legitimised their rule partly by working for or at least appearing to be actively trying to liberate Syria from occupation. However, US promises of rewarding Syria by forcing Israel to pull out of the occupied lands came to nothing despite Syria’s compliant policies.
Concurrently with the failure of the US to deliver on its promises, a number of factors changed Syria’s role. These include the rise of Iran as a formidable anti-US anti–Israeli power, the Palestinian uprisings, the unstoppable rise of the Lebanese resistance, led by Hizbullah, leading to the liberation of southern Lebanon from occupation and defeat of Israeli-Saudi-US backed forces, the arrival of hostile US forces along Syria’s borders with Iraq, and the rise of Iraqi resistance and defeat of US forces in Iraq.
The Syrian armed forces and security apparatus, with its multi-layer pyramids of informers, form the backbone of the regime’s control over Syrian society. Much is made of the sectarian nature of the Syrian regime and its reliance on the Alawite communities. I think this is highly exaggerated and ignores the much wider circles of support that the regime has acquired, whether this support is active, passive or of the ‘better devil you know’ type.
The powerful, mostly Sunni, merchant classes of Syria, particularly in Damascus and Aleppo, have close links with the regime. Indeed, the US-led economic sanctions are partly directed at this merchant class to force it to shift its stance. Sections of the middle and upper middle classes also tacitly support the regime. Syria’s religious minorities, including Christians who form 10% of the population, are fearful of the Muslim Brotherhood’s social and cultural agenda for Syria. They too would rather have the secular regime than a state dominated by a Saud-Qatari backed Brotherhood. Importantly, the Kurdish minority are also fearful of the influence of Turkey on the Muslim Brotherhood and the fact that the Syrian Free Army is headquartered in Turkey, which has a horrific record of killing over 20,000 Kurdish people in Turkey. Millions of women also fear the social programme of the Brotherhood.
In the context of the current conflict, the poor, the unemployed and students who were supportive of the initial, largely spontaneous protest movement are now much more reticent, partly due to regime repression but primarily because of their opposition to the NATO-Saudi-Qatari meddling and the militarisation of the sections of the opposition, particularly the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the Free Syrian Army which are dominated by the Brotherhood.
You describe the recent protest movement as 'largely spontaneous'. This doesn't mean obviously that grievances weren't building up over a long period of time, however it does suggest a lack of strong long term organisations of resistance—as was the case in countries like Egypt and Tunisia for example.
Left and progressive opposition to the Syrian regime has been going on for decades, particularly after the 1970 Hafiz Assad coup, which ousted the ‘left’ faction led by Salah Jedid. That faction backed the Palestinian resistance movements based in Jordan against the military onslaught launched by King Hussein’s armed forces in September 1970. Hafiz Assad, who was minister of Defence before the coup, instantly appeased the US and Saudi rulers by siding with King Hussein and starting a crack-down on all left forces in the country.
The left in Syria was for much of the 20th century mostly organised by the Syrian Communist Party. Founded in 1924, the party was subjected to varying degrees of state repression. Since the 1970's the more militant factions within the party and other left organisations and figures have suffered imprisonment, torture and exile. However, the party leadership’s docile stance towards more militant forms of struggle within Syria, Palestine and Lebanon, and servile support for the Soviet Union’s Middle East policies gradually turned it into a party of sections of the intelligentsia rather than a genuine working class party. Perhaps the latter would have appealed to wider society with a socialist programme that also reflected Syria’s neo-colonial status and being part of the wider struggle in the area against imperialism and Zionism. As it happened the political vacuum was filled by the Islamic and nationalist movements, including the Baath party, who champion the Syrian, Palestinian and wider Arab nationalist causes. A similar process happened in Algeria where Marxists initially advocated the line of the French CP declaring that Algeria would be free once France became socialist!
In the context of the current conflict, all the left forces in Syria supported the initial protest marches that followed the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. The marches, which started in Deraa on the border with Jordan, were also supported by the Muslim Brotherhood. The demands of the protest marches were focused on issues relating to corruption, unemployment and democratic rights. Though large scale marches were held across many cities it was significant that no such marches took place in Syria’s largest two cities, Damascus and Aleppo, where more than half of Syria’s population reside.
It was also noticeable that the more NATO intervened and militarised the protest movement in Libya the smaller mass peaceful protests became in Syria. The marchers shrunk from hundreds to tens of thousands and to thousands and less. Obviously, regime brutality was a factor, but I don’t think that fear played the biggest role. I think the main reason is that most of the democratic opposition in Syria is also staunchly anti-imperialist and naturally fearful of NATO and Israeli plans for Syria. Events in Libya and, above all, the bloodbaths in and destruction of neighbouring Iraq by the US-led forces and the terrorist gangs, played the leading role in making most of the Syrian democratic secular opposition fearful of the consequences of the escalating conflict. They could not fail to notice that while Iraq burned Syria itself became home to a million Iraqi refugees.
On the other hand, the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood and opposition leaders based in Istanbul, Paris and London have effectively utilised the publicity they enjoyed on all Arab state-controlled media, particularly the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera. Events have also shown that years of planning had gone into the funding and arming of parts of the Syrian opposition.
Having lost Bin Ali and Mubarak in quick succession, US, Saudi, Qatari and Turkish attention turned to Syria. The massive uprising in Bahrain, headquarters of the US fifth fleet, also sharpened their sense of danger and fear of the people’s uprisings. Saudi and other Gulf sheikdoms sent in their forces to help King Hamad crush the uprising, which is still active.
Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and areas in Iraq became the centres of the counterrevolution in Syria. Arms were smuggled into Syria and the US-created Iraqi militia al-Sahwa backed the armed ‘rebels’ and Libyan fighters were smuggled into the battle zones. Terrorists operating in Iraq also joined the “jihad” against the Syrian regime.
On the other hand, years of repression rendered the Syrian democratic opposition too weak to lead the struggle in the country. As organised forces, they are no match for the counterrevolution’s vast resources. Their only hope was to keep the protests peaceful and sustained. Like in Libya, counter-revolution had other plans.
The left here has to also recognise that the regime does have the support of most of the affluent middle classes, particularly in Damascus and Allepo. The numerous ethnic and religious minorities and large sectors of the female population are also fearful of the socially reactionary nature of the Muslim Brotherhood and the type of regime that they might impose on Syria. Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahir’s call for armed Jihad to overthrow Assad’s regime has also further frightened the population of a sectarian conflict.
This puts us in a difficult situation. As left wing activists we support the rights of people to freedom, equality and self-determination. As activists based in the imperial centres we are opposed to the actions of our governments to deny people these rights. So our support for freedom and equality and our opposition to imperialism tend to go hand in hand. However the picture you are depicting in Syria is tied to the implication that we cannot do both these. Is it possible to support Syria's democratic struggle AND oppose foreign intervention? Or is this a luxury we cannot afford?
You raise a very important question. Let me make it crystal clear: it is vital for the left to always oppose both imperialism and regimes that repress the masses. This is a matter of principle that should never be abandoned. Movements that abandoned one or other of these inseparable objectives have committed serious and sometimes fatal errors.
The Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) is a good example in this context. Within three decades, it shrunk from being a formidable party of the working class, enjoying the support of the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people in 1958-9, to a pathetic grouping that probably received funds from Saudi Arabia in 1991 in return for siding with US-led 1991 Gulf war, and protection-at-a-price from Barzani’s KDP from 1978-9 onwards. In practice, it betrayed brave chapters of struggle against imperialism and domestic reaction with a chapter of shame by serving the US-led occupation authority in 2003. It abandoned the struggle for democratic socialism in 1959 in the name of opposing imperialism and abandoned the fight against imperialism from 1990 onwards in the name of fighting for democracy.
Which of the twin objectives becomes the main focus of the struggle is always in a state of flux. However, within the context of an era of accelerated imperialist aggression and wars, exposing imperialism and its exploitation of the peoples of the world is always at the heart of the work of the left. Imperialism is a manifestation of monopoly capitalism that exploits the masses at home and abroad. The left in the “imperial centres” has the added internationalist duty of firmly upholding this task: to always side with the oppressed peoples’ struggle against imperialism and for self-determination. However, siding with the oppressed masses also means backing them when they rise up against domestic oppressors. These uprisings and struggle for democracy are part and parcel of the struggle against imperialism.
For me the complexity of the problem resolves itself in determining whether the people’s struggle for civil rights and social emancipation are clearly directed against both domestic reaction/repression and imperialism. In Iraq and Libya yesterday and Syria today, imperialism has succeeded in exploiting the struggle for democracy and eclipsing the progressive opposition forces. The left has to face the facts and not sweep inconvenient developments under the carpet. Syria today has NATO-backed armed groups, led by Saudi/Qatari-funded reactionaries. Syria is a major target of US-led imperialism to install a client regime or, failing that objective, to plunge the country into a sectarian blood bath. The duty of the left in Britain is to firmly uphold and raise the banners high: “Hands off Syria”, “Don’t Iraq Syria”, “Don’t Iraq Iran”, “It is for the Syrian people to determine their future”…
Al-Jazeera is a news station that has developed a reputation on the left for covering the Middle East (some would say the news in general) with more sophistication and seriousness than the mainstream media in this country. And yet you say that in relation to Syria and Libya their role has been very insidious. Can you explain how? Can you append to this your impression of the British media’s coverage of Syria?
With very few and notable exceptions, it really doesn’t take much to provide a more serious and reliable coverage of the Middle East than the mainstream media here. With significant exceptions, the media here echo the line adopted by the Foreign Office on any particular event or country. A complex array of ideological, political, social, economic and commercial factors are at play in the way the media reports on the Middle East and world affairs in general. “British national interests” are perceived by media owners and editors as being expressed by the Foreign Office, which is seen as the neutral depository and slide-rule of the “national interest”. No distinction is made between the genuine interests of the British people and those of the arms manufacturers and oil companies.
Coverage of Israeli policies, Palestinian people’s rights, Mussadaq’s Iran (1953), Nasser’s Egypt (1952-1970), Qassem’s Iraq (1958-1963), the murderous sanctions policies on Iraq, the Iraq War, NATO bombing of Libya and the current covert NATO intervention in Syria are examples of how the mainstream media towed the line advocated by the government of the day. Similarly, the ruthless and socially repressive nature of the Saudi regime is glossed over, because the Saudi medieval rulers are seen as important allies.
As it happens, Al-Jazeera had its own historical link with the media here! The satellite broadcaster was launched in 1996 following the sudden collapse of the BBC Arabic station, which was a joint venture with a leading Saudi prince. The collapse followed Saudi insistence on monitoring all broadcast material, forcing the BBC to pull out. The Qatari rulers seized the moment and launched Al-Jazeera, with scores of the BBC Arabic service staff on board, and with the Qatari ruling family as the owners and political custodians.
The dead hand of the assorted dictatorships in the Arab world made all Arab TV stations be perceived, to varying degrees, as purveyors of state lies, half-truths and, at best, safe-reporting. The advent of satellite stations and the Internet opened the doors for the Al-Jazeera to project itself as the antidote to state censorship.
The more cosmopolitan and less vulnerable Qatari rulers, who were at odds with the Saudi rulers, saw in Al-Jazeera a vehicle for spreading their political influence. They gave Al-Jazeera a free hand to report on the Arab and Muslim world, while maintaining tight control on the Qatari state TV station. But it was of course not allowed to report negatively on the Qatari dictators or to investigate how the current Qatari ruler deposed his father with US blessing. Qatar became the headquarters of US military operations throughout the Middle East, including Afghanistan and Iraq.
One aspect of Al-Jazeera that does not attract much scrutiny is the station’s tendency to negatively report on the Saudi royal family and Saudi princes’ widespread financial and property interests, which are hindering Qatari investments and influence in the Middle East. The friction between the Qatari and Saudi royal families became much more intense after the Qatari rulers started showing keen interest in widening their influence in the Middle East. Occasionally, however, Al-Jazeera’s intrepid reporters on the ground upset US military planners in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In response to Al-Jazeera, the Saudi rulers funded al-Arabiya and other satellite stations.
The uprisings in the Arab world, especially in neighbouring Bahrain, however, threatened all the ruling families of the Gulf region. This prompted the Qatari and Saudi rulers to make common cause in suppressing the uprisings in Bahrain and Yemen while backing NATO intervention in Libya and bankrolling sections of the Syrian opposition and working for militarising the conflict in Syria. For they are aware that militarising the conflict will not only facilitate covert and possibly overt NATO intervention but will thwart the progressive anti-imperialist forces’ efforts to lead the people’s struggle for democracy and radical social and economic change.
Al-Jazeera English targets a different audience but still has to compete with other stations, particularly Iranian and Russian satellite stations. But both Al-Jazeera Arabic and English, along with nearly all Arab TV stations, target Iran in a barrage of negative reporting, with a racist and sectarian undertones against “Persian” and “Shia influence” in the region. This aspect of Al-Jazeera’s reporting is becoming increasingly important in the context of possible Israeli or US attacks on Iran.
Permit me here to quote from an article I wrote last year in which I referred to the role of Al-Jazeera within the Arab uprisings:
“Though Al-Jazeera has now become the most influential political tool of counter-revolution in the Arab world, its role in Libya and the impact of the sectarian nature of its coverage of the Bahrain uprising would have been much less lethal had it not been for the massive prestige and authority it had gained at the height of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. [...] This [has given it] a unique position to influence events and perceptions, particularly in relation to Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen and Iraq. [...]Although Al-Jazeera has always had a sectarian undertone at an editorial level, a marked shift in direction came when the Qatari ruling family [...] buried their longstanding conflict with the Saudi ruling family in the wake of the revolutionary tidal wave reaching Bahrain [...]
The channel’s silence towards the violent suppression of the protesters in Bahrain, headquarters of the US fifth fleet, was backed up by live interviews with Sheikh Qaradhawi, a very influential Egyptian cleric and a guest of the Qatari ruling family.”
Doing serious damage to the democratic forces in Syria, Al-Jazeera has been trumpeting the Qatari and Saudi rulers’ calls for the militarisation of the conflict. It has given voice to the pro-NATO intervention forces in the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army, who do not represent a majority of the Syrian people and are dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Perhaps more damagingly is the way they suppressed the anti-intervention democratic opposition voices in Syria.
How do you see this conflict playing out? Do you see a victory for the reactionary forces as moving us closer to a war with Iran? Is there still a potential for revolutionary change in Syria?
Yes, I think that a victory for the Saudi and Qatari ruling classes, backed by the US, will be a major setback for the people in Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and the entire region. It will plunge Syria and the entire region into a sectarian bloodbath, and will strengthen plans to attack Iran.
In an alarming move pointing to future developments, a major US-led military exercise is taking place in Jordan. 12,000 multinational forces from 20 NATO members and Arab states are taking part in Operation Eager Lion 2012, the first of its type in the region. US military sources do not hide the fact that the simulation of amphibious landings and other war manoeuvres were intended to be “noticed” by Syria and Iran.
Syria is of pivotal importance not only due to its historic role and strategic location but also because it is Iran’s only ally in the region. Installing a pro US regime in Damascus, or crippling Syria through severe sanctions, terrorist attacks and sectarian civil war will apply further pressure on Iran to either concede to US demands or be attacked.
I think that Iran’s nuclear energy programme is not the major US concern, especially given that the CIA itself has admitted that there was no evidence that Iran was working on producing nuclear weapons. Iran is a formidable regional power, and one of the world’s largest oil producers, which happens to be implacably opposed to US and Israeli policies. Its policies run counter to US plans and have created problems for the US in Afghanistan and Iraq and for Israeli policies in Palestine and Lebanon.
Following the uprisings, the Saudi and Qatari rulers are being encouraged by Washington to strengthen their influence in the Middle East by restoring their lost influence in Syria and Lebanon. In the latter, defeating Hizbullah (and its Christian and left and nationalist allies) is the main objective. They are trying to drag Hizbullah into another Lebanese civil war. Al-Jazeera and Arab states’ media have been conducting a prolonged and intense racist and sectarian campaign against Iran, portraying it as the main enemy and accusing Syria and Hizbullah of being stooges of Iran.
This is not to argue that the counterrevolutionary onslaught will be successful. The people of Syria are overwhelmingly opposed to political and social change in their country that is funded and backed by the dictatorships of Riyadh and Doha. Women, most of whom enjoy vast social rights compared to Saudi women, ethnic and religious minorities and the democratic left in Syria are a formidable force against Saudi-Qatari-funded forces and are opposed to calls for NATO intervention. Militarisation of the conflict and resorting to terrorist attacks are signs of failure of the reactionary forces to gain mass support for their line. However, the struggle of the anti-imperialist left and other democratic forces in Syria, as in Iraq, remain difficult and very complex, due to the brutality of and corruption-ridden regime on the one hand and the intervention of NATO and Saudi-Qatari rulers on the other.
Years of repression by the dictatorships, backed by colonial and imperialist powers for so many decades, has organisationally weakened the left and other democratic forces. It is obvious that with Saudi-Qatari backing, the leaderships of the Brotherhood and Salafi forces are, in the short term, reaping the fruits of the uprisings. These forces have always played a dual role amongst the poorest sections of the population, giving voice for their demands while acting as a lid on the more politically and socially radical demands of the people. At critical times, as in Egypt, Iraq and Syria today, they have played a counter-revolutionary role and were accommodated by imperialist powers.
However, the uprisings in the region have unleashed massive popular energies that bode well for the future.
In the short term I am quite pessimistic about radical democratic transformation in Syria. I think that is no longer possible in the current phase of the struggle, because of the weakness of the left organisations and the foothold gained by the reactionary forces in the country. But longer term the uprisings across the Arab world are laying new foundations for the left to organise and prepare for the protracted battles to come. The masses have flexed their muscles in an unprecedented way. I think their triumphs and setbacks are massive schools for the new generations to develop more effective means and organisations to lead the struggle forward.
Sami Ramadani is a senior lecturer in sociology at London Metropolitan University and has been an active participant in campaigns against Saddam's regime and anti-imperialist struggles for many years.
Samuel Grove is an independent researcher and journalist.
This interview first appeared on the New Left Project website.