1 May 2013 - The so-called labor movement in the imperialist countries has long been limited in support and influence due to the overwhelmingly privileged conditions that most First Worlders live in. So in an attempt to seem relevant, and to perhaps mask their white nationalism, they proclaim "solidarity" with worker struggles across the world. In the worst cases, this "solidarity" actively works to mislead the struggle of the proletariat towards economism and tailing of First World development models. But even when it is just "solidarity" in words, it is used to defend the privilege of the exploiter populations in the First World. On this May Day, the featured interview on Democracy Now! epitomized this tendency.(1)
Charlie Kernaghan of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights was interviewed for a segment on the recent tragedy in Bangladesh and the labor struggle in general. Kernaghan informed us that 421 people are confirmed dead and another 1000 are still missing, meaning they are probably dead under the rubble of the factory that collapsed. He explained that the workers were not only threatened with no pay for the month, which would equal going hungry, but they faced the immediate threat of thugs with batons. As the recent fertilizer explosion in Texas showed, the profit motive under capitalism puts everyone's lives at risk. Still, there is a quantitative difference between being forced back into a dangerous situation with batons, and being unaware that it exists. The relative risk faced in the Third World is higher.
As MIM and others have shown elsewhere, there is a qualitative difference between First World wage earners in that they earn more than the value of their labor and are therefore exploiters, in contrast to the exploited proletariat.(2) The conversation around the Bangladesh tragedy degenerated into white nationalism when interviewer Amy Goodman began asking about what is to be done. After cheerleading for more protection of Amerikan wages, the guest began calling for trade barriers to goods from countries like Bangladesh until they can follow certain labor standards enforced by U.$. law. Such opposition to free trade organizes the exploiters at the expense of the exploited.
The elephant in the room became harder to ignore as the guest talked of workers making 21 cents an hour in the same breath as the immiseration of Amerikan workers. Yet, when Goodman began dancing around the wage question the guest responded:
"Well, like I said with the legislation, it's not our job to set wages around the world. That's up to the people in their individual countries. But what we can do is we can demand that if you want to bring the products into the United States, that these workers must have their legal rights."
How is it that we can enforce child labor laws, but when it comes to wages the Third World is suddenly on their own? How can you talk about international "labor solidarity" without talking about an international minimum wage? The idea is ridiculous and the only reason it happens is that the Amerikan labor leaders know that the average wage in the world is well below what they are already making. They want to keep earning more than their fair share, while putting up trade barriers for products produced by exploited labor.
We presume that the people of South Asia will not mistake people making $20k a year, and much more, as being part of the proletariat. But as we come closer to the heart of empire, the proletariat's class view becomes more and more skewed. There is no better example of this than in Aztlán today, where migrant workers see the vast wealth around them and the possibility of getting a piece of it. After the oppressed nations took over May Day in the United $tates seven years ago, the left-wing of white nationalism worked overtime to infuse this new proletarian movement in the belly of the beast with the line of the labor aristocracy.
Today, as the federal government claims to be close to enacting "immigration reform" that will amount to more Amerikan exceptionalism and favoritism, we favor the focus on reunification of families that some in Los Angeles called for on this May Day. This is an issue that ties in well with the national question, rather than economist demands for more access to exploiter-level wages. Reunification challenges the repressive border that keeps families apart, and keeps whole nations of people alienated from the wealth that they produce. As integration in the United $tates has advanced, challenging the border and fighting white nationalism, or better yet First Worldism, needs to be at the center of a progressive proletarian movement in Aztlán. These are the issues that really sparked the massive May Day rallies in 2006 in response to pro-Minutemen Amerika.(3) This is the spirit that we celebrate this May Day.
The recent events around the bombings in Boston has been confusing to internationalists. Last week, we mourned the 3 unnecessary deaths and over 200 injuries that occurred in Boston on 15 April 2013. Today we mourn the over 250 unnecessary deaths (and counting) and over 800 more who remain trapped in the rubble in Bangladesh [10 May 2013 update: the death toll has passed 1000]. Yet we are confused, though not surprised, by expressions of sadness that are so disproportionate among Amerikans surrounding these two events. Both were unnecessary results of imperialism. Reports today from one of the bombers in Boston state that he was motivated by the U.$. invasions and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- both imperialist occupations for Third World resources. The deaths in Bangladesh came after a garment manufacturer, who produces goods for the U.$. market, threatened employees with starvation to get them to work in an unsafe building, which then collapsed while they were inside.
People die in bombings everyday in places like Iraq and Afghanistan where there has been heavy U.$. military involvement, and yet we don't see Amerikans respond like they have over the last week. Those who got teary-eyed over the deaths in Boston, while barely registering those in Bangladesh as a blip at the bottom of their TV screen, are emblematic of the problem of national chauvinism in the United $tates. In place of this view we promote a view of collective responsibility. Humyn society is a product of humyn actions that we, as a collective species, determine. For those of us who are citizens of the most powerful country on Earth, our responsibility is that much more grave.
So, the Amerikan reader might ask, should we bow to the demands of anyone who plants a homemade bomb in a crowd? Of course not. What we are saying is that if Amerikans paid as much attention to deaths caused by their nation as they did to deaths inflicted on their nation, then the latter would be less frequent. Of course the latter already pales in comparison to the former, as Amerikans kill far more people of other nations than vice-versa. Taking responsibility for this fact and acting to change it is the single most practical thing one can do to prevent unnecessary deaths of all peoples. Most of the "response" to the bombing in Boston has been political posturing and emotional subjectivism -- all show, no substance. For the people of the world who face death on a daily basis, such platitudes are not enough and only real solutions earn respect, not empty words.
A peaceful world is possible. But a peaceful world is precluded by one without exploitation. You cannot maintain wealth inequality and profit motives without the use of force. MIM(Prisons) stands for an end of such use of force, an end to all oppression and exploitation, and an end to the unnecessary deaths that are the result of the system of imperialism in so many forms. We challenge U.$. citizens to join us in taking collective responsibility for the actions of our government and the deaths and destruction that result from it. Taking responsibility means taking action to change those things, while combating the culture of chauvinism that dominates our society.
Proletarian migrants have fed much of the growth in the prison population within U.$. borders in recent years. As a result they are getting a taste of the torture tactics Amerikans use against their own citizens. A recent report showed that U.$. Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds about 300 migrants in solitary confinement in 50 of its largest detention facilities, which account for 85% of their detainees. Half of them are held in solitary for 15 days or more and about 35 of the 300 are held more than 75 days.(1)
While these terms are relatively short compared to what has become normal in the United $tates, the experiences are particularly difficult for migrants who don't speak English and have been the victims of humyn trafficking.
The authors of the article cited above cautiously state that the United $tates uses solitary confinement more "than any other democratic nation in the world." This implies that other countries may use solitary confinement more. One reason they cannot get stats on imprisonment practices in some countries is that they are U.$. puppet regimes purposely run under a veil of secrecy to allow extreme forms of repression of the most oppressed peoples. We have seen no evidence of a mythical nation that is torturing more people in solitary confinement than Amerika.
Amerikans imprison more people than any other nation even if we exclude the people they are holding in prisons in other countries. With at least 100,000 people in long-term isolation within U.S. borders, it seems unlikely that any other country can top that. Further evidence exists by looking at the state of prisons in many Third World countries, which are far more open than even the low security prisons in the United $tates. And the exceptions to this rule are all countries with heavy Amerikan military/intelligence activity, and usually Amerikans themselves are running the prisons.(3)
U.$. citizen Shane Bauer was imprisoned on charges of spying by the government of Iran, which is independent from the United $tates. Bauer offers examples of how his time in solitary confinement differed in both positive and negative ways to those held in Pelican Bay SHU in California. But one stark contrast is the time in solitary, which for him was only four months. In a comparison of the "democratic" U.$. injustice system and that of Iran, Bauer wrote:
"When Josh Fattal and I finally came before the Revolutionary Court in Iran, we had a lawyer present, but weren't allowed to speak to him. In California, an inmate facing the worst punishment our penal system has to offer short of death can't even have a lawyer in the room. He can't gather or present evidence in his defense. He can't call witnesses. Much of the evidence -- anything provided by informants -- is confidential and thus impossible to refute. That's what Judge Salavati told us after our prosecutor spun his yarn about our role in a vast American-Israeli conspiracy: There were heaps of evidence, but neither we nor our lawyer were allowed to see it."(2)
He later cites a U.$. court ruling:
"the judge ruled that 'a prisoner has no constitutionally guaranteed immunity from being falsely or wrongfully accused of conduct which may result in the deprivation of a protected liberty interest.' In other words, it is not illegal for prison authorities to lie in order to lock somebody away in solitary."(2)
California's notorious Pelican Bay reports an average time spent in the Security Housing Unit there as 7.5 years. Many who fought for national liberation from U.$. imperialism have spent 30 to 40 years in solitary confinement in prisons across the United $tates. MIM(Prisons) has not seen reports of long-term isolation used to this extreme by any other government.
The torture techniques used in Amerikan control units were developed to break the spirits of people and social groups that have challenged the status quo, and in particular U.$. imperialism. Thirty years after their demise, materials from the Black Panther Party still get people in trouble regularly, sometimes even with a "Security Threat Group" charge. That's the Amerikan term for a thought crime.
It could be that these techniques are being expanded into migrant detention centers as a form of discipline of the Mexican proletariat that Amerikans fear as a force of social change. Or it could just be a case of oppressor nation culture spreading its tentacles into other nations. Either way, this is just one of many forms of oppression that serve to undermine the propaganda myth of Amerika as a nation that promotes freedom.
For years, the United $tates has been under criticism by the United Nations as the principal state using torture in the form of long-term isolation. Today, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said, "We must be clear about this: the United States is in clear breach not just of its own commitments but also of international laws and standards that it is obliged to uphold."(4) This was in a statement addressing the 166 foreign nationals held in Guantanamo Bay Prison for more than a decade, most without charges.
Just as high-tech weaponry could not win the war in Afghanistan for the Amerikans, the sophisticated torture techniques of the modern control unit cannot overcome the widespread outrage of the masses living under imperialist domination. The opportunities for making internationalist connections to the prison movement within U.$. borders only increases as more people from outside those borders get swept up in the system.
A paper published this week challenges the psychological conception of "conformity bias" that evolved from the Stanford Prison Experiment by Zimbardo and the Teacher/Learner experiment by Milgram.(1) The paper makes connections to recent work on the oppression carried out by Nazis in Hitler's Germany, and generally concludes that people's willingness to hurt or oppress others in such situations is "less about people blindly conforming to orders than about getting people to believe in the importance of what they are doing."
In the Stanford Prison Experiment (1971) students were assigned roles as guards and prisoners in a simulation, and soon both groups took on the typical behaviors of those roles, with the guards treating the prisoners so harshly that the experiment was stopped early. MIM(Prisons) has used this as an example that oppression is systematic and that we can't fix things by hiring the right guards, rather we must change the system. In ULK 19, another comrade referred to it in a discussion of how people are conditioned to behave in prisons.(2) The more deterministic conclusion that people take from this is that people will behave badly in order to conform to expectations. The Milgram experiment (1963) involved participants who were the "teacher" being strongly encouraged to apply faked electric shocks to "learners" who answered questions incorrectly. The conclusion here was that humyns will follow orders blindly rather than think for themselves about whether what they are doing is right.
"This may have been the defense they relied upon when seeking to minimize their culpability , but evidence suggests that functionaries like Eichmann had a very good understanding of what they were doing and took pride in the energy and application that they brought to their work.(1)
The analysis in this recent paper is more amenable to a class analysis of society. As the authors point out, it is well-established that Germans, like Adolf Eichmann, enthusiastically participated in the Nazi regime, and it is MIM(Prisons)'s assessment that there is a class and nation perspective that allowed Germans to see what they were doing as good for them and their people.
While our analysis of the Stanford Prison Experiment has lent itself to promoting the need for systematic change, the psychology that came out of it did not. The "conformity bias" concept backs up the great leader theory of history where figures like Hitler and Stalin were all-powerful and all-knowing and the millions of people who supported them were mindless robots. This theory obviously discourages an analysis of conditions and the social forces interacting in and changing those conditions. In contrast, we see the more recent psychological theory in this paper as friendly to a sociological analysis that includes class and nation.
As most of our readers will be quick to recognize, prison guards in real life often do their thing with great enthusiasm. And those guards who don't believe prisoners need to be beaten to create order don't treat them poorly. Clearly the different behaviors are a conscious choice based on the individual's beliefs, as the authors of this paper would likely agree. There is a strong national and class component to who goes to prison and who works in prisons, and this helps justify the more oppressive approach in the minds of prison staff. Despite being superior to the original conclusions made, this recent paper is limited within the realm of psychology itself and therefore fails to provide an explanation for behaviors of groups of people with different standings in society.
We also should not limit our analysis to prison guards and cops who are just the obvious examples of the problem of the oppressor nation. Ward Churchill recalled the name of Eichmann in his infamous piece on the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center to reference those who worked in the twin towers. Like those Amerikans, Adolf Eichmann wasn't an assassin, but a bureaucrat, who was willing to make decisions that led to the deaths of millions of people. Churchill wrote:
"Recourse to 'ignorance' -- a derivative, after all, of the word 'ignore' -- counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in -- and in many cases excelling at -- it was because of their absolute refusal to see."(3)
The authors of the recent paper stress that the carrying out of something like the Nazis did in Germany required passionate creativity to excel and to recruit others who believed in what they were doing. It is what we call the subjective factor in social change. Germany was facing objective conditions of economic hardship due to having lost their colonies in WWI, but it took the subjective developments of National Socialism to create the movement that transformed much of the world. That's why our comrade who wrote on psychology and conditioning was correct to stress knowledge to counteract the institutionalized oppression prisoners face.(2) Transforming the subjective factor, the consciousness of humyn beings, is much more complicated than an inherent need to conform or obey orders. Periods of great change in history help demonstrate the dynamic element of group consciousness that is much more flexible than deterministic psychology would have us believe. This is why psychology can never really predict humyn behavior. It is by studying class, nation, gender and other group interests that we can both predict and shift the course of history.
It is with great pleasure that we announce a new release that MIM(Prisons) is adding to the labor aristocracy section of our must-read list. Divided World Divided Class by Zak Cope contributes up-to-date economic analysis and new historical analysis to the MIM line on the labor aristocracy. I actually flipped through the bibliography before reading the book and was instantly intrigued at the works cited, which included all of the classic sources that MIM has discussed in the past as well as newer material MIM(Prisons) has been reviewing for our own work.
The Labor Aristocracy Canon
Before addressing this new book, let me first put it in the context of our existing must-read materials on the labor aristocracy, which has long been the issue that the Maoist Internationalist Movement differentiated itself on. MIM(Prisons) recently assembled an introductory study pack on this topic, featuring material from MIM Theory 1: A White Proletariat? (1992) and Monkey Smashes Heaven #1 (2011). We still recommend this pack as the starting point for most prisoners, as it is both cheaper to acquire and easier to understand than Cope's book and other material on the list.
Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat by J. Sakai is a classic book documenting the history of Amerika as an oppressor nation whose class nature has always been bourgeois. It is for those interested in Amerikan history in more detail, and particularly the history of the national contradiction in the United $tates. While acknowledging Sakai's thesis, Cope actually expands the analysis to a global scale, which leads to a greater focus on Britain in much of the book as the leading imperialist power, later surpassed by Amerika. This complete picture is developed by Cope in a theory-rich analysis, weaving many sources together to present his thesis. HW Edwards's Labor Aristocracy: Mass Base of Social Democracy is a less cohesive attempt at a similar approach that is almost half a century old. Edwards is wishy-washy on the role of First World "workers," where Cope is not. Edwards provides a number of good statistics and examples of his thesis, but it is presented in a more haphazard way. That said, Labor Aristocracy is still on our must-read list and we distribute it with a study guide.
MIM went back to the labor aristocracy question in MIM Theory 10: The Labor Aristocracy. This issue built on MT 1 some, but primarily focuses on an in-depth look at the global class analysis under imperialism by the COMINTERN. The importance of this issue during WWII is often overlooked, and this essay gets deep into the two-line struggle within the communist movement at the time. We have a study pack on this piece as well.
The last work that we include in the canon is Imperialism and its Class Structure in 1997(ICS) by MC5 of the Maoist Internationalist Movement. This book is most similar to Cope's work, with Cope seeming to borrow specific ideas and sources without ever acknowledging MC5's work. Since Cope is very generous in acknowledging ideas he got from others, one suspects that there is a political motivation behind ignoring the number one proponent of the position he is trying to defend in his book. We think MC5 would see Cope's work as a compliment and a step forward for the scientific analysis, particularly since Cope does not bring in anything to oppose the MIM line or to confuse the issue. Cope's book is very well researched and put together as an original work, and we have no interest in defending intellectual property.
The major new contribution in Cope's book is the historical analysis of the labor aristocracy in the context of the global system of imperialism. He also does some original calculations to measure superexploitation. His analysis of class, nation and modern events is all found in contemporary Maoism. Cope seems to be walking a line of upholding MIM Thought, while not dirtying his reputation with the MIM name. This is seen in his discussion of nationalism, which is often a dividing line between MIM Thought and the social democrats of academia. Cope gives a very agreeable definition of nation, and even more importantly, an analysis of its role and importance in the imperialist system related to class divisions. Yet, he fails to cite Stalin in doing so, while Maoists are honest about Stalin's contributions on the national question. So what we have is an excellent book on the labor aristocracy that avoids other issues that are difficult for the left-wing white nationalists to handle. In a way, this sanitized version of what is already a very bitter pill for readers in the First World may be useful to make this theory more available in an academic context. But no serious communist can just ignore important questions around Stalin and even the smaller, yet groundbreaking work of MIM itself.
MC5 or Cope?
For the rest of this review I will discuss Divided World in relation to Imperialism and its Class Structure (ICS) as they are parallel works. The above-mentioned sanitizing is evident in the two books' different approaches and definitions. Both attempt to present the basics, before getting into some intense analysis later on. Yet Cope sticks to discussing mostly Marx, with a healthy dose of Lenin's theory of imperialism without too much mention of the Soviet Union, while MC5 cites the practice of Stalin and Mao as leaders of socialist countries, as well as the contemporary pseudo-Maoists. It is a connection to communist practice that makes ICS the better book politically.
Cope's work, by default, has the benefit of having more recent statistics to use in part II for his economic analysis, though his approach is very different from MC5's anyway. Part III, which focuses on debunking the myths promoted by the pseudo-Marxist apologists for high wages in the First World, also has fresh statistics to use. MC5 addresses many ideological opponents throughout h book, but Cope's approach leaves us with a more concise reference in the way it lists the main myths promoted by our opponents and then knocks them down with basic facts.
MC5 spends more time addressing the ideas of specific authors who oppose the MIM thesis, while Cope tends to stick to the general arguments except when addressing authors such as Emmanuel who is an early trail-blazer of MIM Thought, but said some things that Cope correctly criticizes. Overall this provides for a more readable book, as the reader can get lost trying to figure out what position MC5 is arguing against when s/he refers to authors the reader has not read.
The model of imperialism that you get from each book is basically the same. Both address unequal exchange and capital export as mechanisms for transferring wealth to the First World. Both stress the structural basis of these mechanisms in militarized borders, death squads, monopoly and much higher concentrations of capital in the First World due to primitive accumulation and reinforced by the mechanisms of continued superexploitation.
While both authors take us through a series of numbers and calculations to estimate the transfer of value in imperialism, MC5 does so in a way that makes the class structure arguments more clearly. By focusing on the proportions, MC5 leaves the revisionists looking silly trying to explain how greater production per wage dollar in the Third World coexists with supposedly lower rates of exploitation in the Third World. Or how the larger unproductive sector in the First World can make similar wages to the productive sector, while the productive sector in the First World allegedly produces all the value to pay both sectors, and profit rates and capital concentration between sectors remain equal. Or if they acknowledge a great transfer of wealth from the Third World to the First World, and it is not going to 99% of the population as they claim, why is it not showing up in capital accumulation in those countries? As MC5 points out, remembering these structural questions is more important than the numbers.
Cope takes a numbers approach that ends with a transfer of $6.5 trillion from the non-OECD countries to the OECD in 2009 when OECD profits were $6.8 trillion. This leaves a small margin of theoretical exploitation of the First World. He points out that using these numbers gives $500 of profits per year per OECD worker compared to $18,571 per non-OECD worker. So even that is pretty damning. But he goes on to explain why the idea that OECD workers are exploited at all is pretty ridiculous by talking about the percentage of unproductive labor in the First World, an idea that MC5 stresses. Both authors make assumptions in their calculations that are very generous to the First Worldist line, yet come up with numbers showing huge transfers of wealth from the Third World to the First World "workers." Cope even uses OECD membership as the dividing line, leading him to include countries like Mexico on the exploiter side of the calculation. MC5, while a little less orthodox in h calculations, came up with $6.8 trillion in superprofits going to the non-capitalist class in the First World in 1993 (compared to Cope's $0.3 trillion in surplus being exploited from them in 2009). As both authors point out, they make the best of data that is not designed to answer these kinds of questions as they try to tease out hidden transfers of value.
Implications to our Practice
If Cope's book helps bring acceptance to the reality of the labor aristocracy in economic terms, there is still a major battle over what it all means for revolutionaries. In MIM's decades of struggle with the revisionists on this question we have already seen parties move away from a flat out rejection of the labor aristocracy thesis. Cope's conclusions on the labor aristocracy and fascism are well within the lines of MIM Thought. But already Cope's conclusions have been criticized:
As mentioned in an earlier post, this kind of "third worldism" represents the very chauvinism it claims to reject. To accept that there is no point in making revolution at the centres of capitalism, and thus to wait for the peripheries to make revolution for all of us, is to abdicate revolutionary responsibility--it is to demand that people living in the most exploited social contexts (as Cope's theory proves) should do the revolutionary work for the rest of us. (2)
Some see MIM Thought as ultra-leftist, and just plain old depressing for its lack of populism. Practitioners of revolutionary science do not get depressed when reality does not correspond to their wishes, but are inspired by the power of the scientific method to understand and shape phenomenon. But there is truth in this critique of Cope's book due to its disconnection from practice. A seemingly intentional approach to appeal to academia has the result of tending towards defeatism.
When it comes to practice in the United $tates, the question of the internal semi-colonies has always been primary for the revolutionary struggle. Yet today, there is a much greater level of integration. Cope's conclusions have some interesting implications for this question. On the one hand there is no anti-imperialist class struggle here "since economic betterment for people in the rich countries is today intrinsically dependent on imperialism". (Cope, p. 304) Yet assimilation is still prevented by the need for white supremacism to rally Amerikans around defending imperialist oppression of other peoples. Since national oppression will always translate into some relative economic disadvantage, we may be witnessing the closest real world example of national oppression that is independent of class. And Cope argues that this will continue within U.$. borders because you can't educate racism away, you must destroy the social relations that create it. (Cope, p. 6)
While Cope is explicitly non-partisan, MC5 provides a bit more guidance in terms of what this all means for imposing a dictatorship of the proletariat in a majority exploiter country, and how class struggle will be affected after that dictatorship is imposed. MIM also gives the explicit instruction that we do not support inter-imperialist rivalry or protectionism. This becomes a bigger challenge to promote and enforce among our allies in the united front against imperialism. Certainly, promoting these books and other literature on the topic is one part of that battle, but we will need other approaches to reach the masses who are taken in by the social democrats who dominate our political arena as well as their own potential material interests.
As long as would-be anti-imperialists in the First World ignore the labor aristocracy question, they will keep banging their heads against brick walls. It is only by accepting and studying it that we can begin to make breakthroughs, and this is even true, though less immediately so, in the Third World as Cope acknowledges (Cope, p. 214). Despite works dating back over a hundred years discussing this theory of class under imperialism, we are in the early stages of applying it to the polarized conditions of advanced imperialism with the environmental crisis and other contradictions that it brings with it.
15 September 2012 -- Tens of thousands of people in dozens of cities and slums across Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and parts of Europe and Australia have demonstrated in recent days in response to a film made in the United $tates attacking the Prophet Muhammad. Protests primarily targeted U.$. embassies and other symbols of imperialism including an Amerikan school, a KFC restaurant, and a UN camp.(1) The latter was one of many locations where authorities shot at protestors with live ammunition. Many have died so far. Some common unifying symbolism of these actions has been burning of Amerikan flags and chants of "Death to Amerika!"
The first protest that got the world's attention was in Libya, where U.$.-backed forces recently overthrew the decades-old government there. Timed to occur on the anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United $tates by Al Qaeda, rebels grabbed headlines by laying siege to the embassy, killing as many as a dozen people, including the new U.$. ambassador. Since then protestors have attacked imperialist embassies in Tunisia, Yemen and Sudan without firearms.
While incumbent U.$. President Barack Obama has been making plenty of mention of his role in the assassination of Al-Qaeda's former leader Osama bin Laden in campaign speeches, hundreds of protestors in Kuwait chanted outside the U.$. embassy, "Obama, we are all Osama." Osama's vision of a Pan-Islamic resistance to U.$. occupations and economic interference in the Muslim world has reached new heights this week.
The Amerikan media has tried to play it off as a small group of trouble makers protesting, while Amerikans are shocked that they can be blamed for a fringe movie they have never seen and think is a piece of crap. At the same time, Amerikans seem very willing to condemn the protestors as ignorant, violent, low-lifes -- just as the movie in question portrayed Muslims. But the trigger of these protests is far less important than the history of U.$. relations to the people involved. The most violent reactions occurred in countries that have all been under recent bombing attacks by the U.$. military, two of them for many years now, and the other had their whole government overthrown. Cocky Amerikans won't recognize that the ambassador was targeted as the highest level representative of the U.$. puppet master in Libya.
MIM has held for some time that Muslim organizations have done more to fight imperialism in recent years in most of the world than communists have.(2) And while there are plenty of ways communists could theoretically be doing a better job, they are not. As materialists we must accept and work with the people and conditions we are given. And we do not hesitate to recognize that Islam has brought us the biggest internationalist demonstration of anti-imperialism we've seen in some time.
Step Up: Revolution centers around a dance crew called The Mob that is based in a "slum" of Miami, though has recruited members from all over the world. Their "slum" origins are questionable as they all have bodies of professional athletes and dress like models. And while The Mob always has the resources for the most fantastic props for their performances, we never see any signs of poverty or oppressive conditions in their neighborhood, except for almost being displaced by a development project. Like the billboards for this movie suggest, there is a focus on the forbidden love story between Mob co-founder Sean and daughter of the rich developer who threatens to destroy their neighborhood, Emily, throughout the movie.
The story line is mostly a joke as one would expect, since we all came for the crazy dance moves, right? The only semi-interesting line of dialogue in the whole film is when Emily challenges The Mob for not even saying anything in their art. This is particularly interesting juxtaposed to Sean's line throughout the film that The Mob was created so that their voices could be heard in a city where they are "invisible."
On the one hand, Emily's challenge is a valid critique when the leaders of The Mob are clear that they are all about being financially successful through their art from the beginning to the very last line of the film. At the same time, it perpetuates the idea that there is art without a message, which just isn't true.
This critique reflects back on the greater art form that is the film itself. This is apparently a popular genre now, building off the success of TV talent shows like American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance and America's Got Talent. Many of the performers in the movie are recruited from these shows, and are real-world examples of the success that The Mob is working for. The Step Up series of movies is all about providing the audience with an adrenaline rush with ever-more intense dance moves, soundtracks and visual effects.
It seems that they were pushing up on their limits in creating more extreme dance performances, and they stepped into the realm of protest art for a minute to up the ante with this latest edition of Step Up. In this genre there is often a strong element of competition, which can provide a source of drama and maybe a fight or two to add to the excitement. But this version stepped it up by having a dance crew that went up against the system, sort of.
The Mob actually starts out as a highly trained flash mob, rather than protest art. Instead of using performance art to convey a specific message in a more impactful way, the flash mob is a modern phenomenon that focuses on transforming the moment with no long-term goals or message. Building on Guy Debord's theory of the Society of the Spectacle, some think these disruptions of the spectacle that is the status quo is somehow a revolutionary act. Most just think it's neat and fun. And ultimately that is what The Mob is about, despite their short venture into protesting the destruction of their hood.
In the end the movie abruptly brings you back to the main motivation being financial success, which could have been the producers poking a bit of fun at those who came to see the movie looking for a more subversive message. But at the same time it was true-to-life in the way that dance and music are used in advertising to sell an image of rebellion and being extreme to youth with money to spend. This movie is very much part of that. But that phenomenon is much bigger in the way that oppressed nation culture, especially in the form of hip hop, was taken and sold to white youth as a form of rebellion, then sanitized by the white tastes that then shaped the culture and sold it back to Black youth as something that was supposed to represent them.
It is this aspect of culture that is hinted at in the film when The Mob says they "are everyone" and that they represent the culture of the neighborhood that the developers will destroy with their plans. In reality, the culture presented by The Mob is a very globalized and technologically-centered culture that does not represent one place or one people, but does reflect material wealth, large amounts of leisure time and mobility that is inaccessible to the majority of the world's people. The movie tries to pass this big-money pop culture off as a local scene threatened by big bad corporations. The timing and message was perhaps an attempt to play on the hype around the "99%" movement, who would see these rich kids as the poor.
But it would be wrong to say that the art and culture presented in movies like Step Up is "devoid of content," as implied by Emily's critique. There was a lot of sex and romance culture promotion in this movie, and in the dancing itself. There was a promotion of the art of dance as a big party. And there was the ever-present theme, dating back to Dirty Dancing (and probably before), of the need to break the rules to express yourself. But the source of conflict of this expression in Hollywood movies is usually centered around sexuality and romance. In Step Up: Revolution, fighting the redevelopment project becomes a cause that drives the dancers to break the rules. But even then, the message you are left with is that it is good to push the limits to be cutting edge in order to be successful at marketing yourself. The most radical action of The Mob is scarred as representing the low point and temporary breakup of the group, and it was the only time they actually got in trouble with law enforcement (who were unrealistically absent throughout the movie). It's like the successful politician or non-profit organizer who got arrested once in college for the experience and now has some street cred as a result, but never really represented a challenge to the system. While the term "revolution" has been perpetually overused in marketing, in a way to dilute the power of the word, to use the word in reference to this sort of rebellious behavior is even more insidious. Those who feel like they are doing something radical, when in reality they are part of the system that revolution aims to overthrow, are all too common in the belly of the beast.
This movie takes certain elements of flash mobs and overlaps them with political action in a way to make them seem more radical and powerful than they are. Flash mobs as a phenomenon play into people's desires to be a part of something bigger than themselves and are a combination of youthful rebellion and partying. While sometimes used for political messages as The Mob eventually does, they are generally post-modern forms of expression with no coherent goals or message. The Mob at least has the advantage over your standard flash mob for being well-rehearsed and planned out ahead of time by a dedicated organization, which allows them to easily focus their work on fighting the developers. While they had discipline and hard work, their class interests were what kept them focused on their financial success. The more common flash mob that brings together random people to a location for a party is representative of the same class interests. The post-modern art form takes group action, one of the most powerful tools we have, and makes it inherently individualistic and unconsolidated, making it a spectacle itself. It is much easier to mobilize a mass of petty bourgeois youth to create their own spectacle than it is to exert their power to challenge the system.
While we know this movie wasn't trying to enter into serious political dialogue for solving the world's problems, there are many people holding desires for a better world that end up putting their energy and enthusiasm into self-indulgent dead ends. While dance can be revolutionary, the revolution will not be a dance party. If changing the world was all fun and sexy, don't you think it would have happened by now?
When the 2011 food strike was peaking in California, MIM(Prisons) had mentioned similar tactics being used by Palestinians in Israeli prisons. And just as the struggle in U.$. prisons continues, so has the struggle of the Palestinians. A mass hunger strike lasted 28 days this spring, with some leaders having gone as long as 77 days without food, until an agreement was made on May 15.
"The written agreement contained five main provisions:
The prisoners would end their hunger strike following the signing of the agreement;
There will be an end to the use of long-term isolation of prisoners for "security" reasons, and the 19 prisoners will be moved out of isolation within 72 hours;
Family visits for first-degree relatives to prisoners from the Gaza Strip and for families from the West Bank who have been denied visit based on vague "security reasons" will be reinstated within one month;
The Israeli intelligence agency guarantees that there will be a committee formed to facilitate meetings between the IPS and prisoners in order to improve their daily conditions;
There will be no new administrative detention orders or renewals of administrative detention orders for the 308 Palestinians currently in administrative detention, unless the secret files, upon which administrative detention is based, contains "very serious" information."(1)
While the concessions were a bit more gratifying than those that stopped the strike in California, Palestinians still have to ensure that Israeli actions followed their words, just as prisoners have been struggling to do in California. And sure enough the Israelis have not followed through, as leading hunger strikers have had their "administrative detentions" (which means indefinite imprisonment without charge or conviction) renewed. One striker has been on continuous hunger strike since April 12, and was reported to be in grave danger on July 5, after 85 days without eating. Others have also restarted their hunger strikes as the Israelis prove that they need another push to respect Palestinian humyn rights. [UPDATE: As of July 10, Mahmoud Sarsak was released from administrative detention, after a three month fast. Others continue their fasts, including Akram Rikhawi (90 days), Samer Al Barq (50 days) and Hassan Safadi (20 days).]
MIM(Prisons) says that U.$. prisons are just as illegitimate in their imprisonment of New Afrikan, First Nation, Boricua and Chicano peoples as Israel is in imprisoning the occupied Palestinians. The extreme use of imprisonment practiced by the settler states is connected to the importance that the settlers themselves put on the political goals of that imprisonment. Someone isn't put in long-term isolation because they're a kleptomaniac or a rapist, but they are put in long-term isolation because they represent and support the struggle of their people to be free of settler control.
Brazil has instituted a program in its federal prisons to allow prisoners to earn an earlier release by reading certain books and writing reports on them. In a country with a maximum prison sentence of 30 years, they recognize the need to reform people who will be released some day. The program is interesting for us because it's hard to imagine Amerikans accepting such a program, in a country where there is no consideration for what people will do with themselves after a long prison term with no access to educational programs, and prisoners who do achieve higher education get no consideration in parole hearings.
This reform in Brazil seems to be quite limited. Only certain prisoners will be approved to participate, there is a limit to 48 days reduction in your sentence each year, and the list of books is to be determined by the state. Meanwhile, the standards applied for judging the book reports will include grammar, hand-writing and correct punctuation. Which begs the question of what are the prisoners supposed to be learning exactly? Writing skills are useful to succeed in the real world, but being able to use commas correctly is hardly a sign of reform.
In socialist China, before Mao Zedong's death, all prisoners participated in study and it was integral to every prisoner's release. Rather than judging peoples' handwriting, prison workers assessed prisoners' ability to understand why what they did was wrong, and to reform their ways. The Chinese prison system was an anomaly in the history of prisons in its approach to actually reforming people to live lives that did not harm other humyn beings through self-reflection and political study. This type of system will be needed to rehabilitate pro-capitalist Amerikans under the joint dictatorship of the proletariat of the oppressed nations. It is very different from the approaches of isolation and brute force that Amerikans currently use on the oppressed nations.
While it would be a miracle to have in the United $tates today, the Brazil program demonstrates the great limitations of bourgeois reforms of the current system. The books are to be literature, philosophy and science that are recognized as valuable to the bourgeois culture. And the standards for judging the prisoners will be mostly about rote learning. The politics that are behind such a program will determine its outcome. Without a truly socialist state as existed in China during Mao's leadership, we can never have a prison system truly focused on reforming people.
The point of guerrilla war is not to succeed, it's always been just to make the enemy bleed. Depriving the soldiers of the peace of mind that they need. Bullets are hard to telegraph when they bob and they weave. The only way a guerrilla war can ever be over, is when the occupation can't afford more soldiers. Until they have to draft the last of you into the service, and you refuse because you don't see the purpose. - Immortal Technique, the Martyr
In just over a week, six Amerikan soldiers have been killed by Afghan patriots within the state military that is supposedly working with the U.$. occupation. Nominally triggered by reports of the U.$. military burning copies of the Koran, these killings bring the number of NATO troops killed by their Afghan "allies" to 36 in the last year. This is a significant increase from previous years and some have suggested no other "native ally" of U.$. imperialism has compared.(1) While tiny in comparison to the loss of life by the occupied population, these incidents support the assessment that the United $tates continues to lose their war on Afghanistan. The deaths of Amerikans, while providing fuel for anti-Afghan propaganda, frightens the Amerikan public away from participating in ground wars. It took a long 9 years to turn Amerikan public opinion towards pulling troops out of Afghanistan, and Afghans are still fighting to get them out.(2)
There are two incorrect bourgeois narratives underlying the reporting on recent events. One attempts to hide the fact that the nation has faced a brutal occupation for over a decade, as if Afghans are just irrationally responding to the minor incident of the burning of some books. The second narrative is that there is an outside radical religious element, which must be distinguished from the greater Afghan nation that wants to work with Amerikans. This narrative was used against the Taliban for years before the invasion by U.$. troops even began. The truth being (however flimsily) covered by both of these narratives is that the Afghan nation has supported a decade-long war of resistance to the imperialist occupation led by Amerika. A parallel might be drawn to the media's portrayal of the prison movement where the outside element is "criminal gangs" and resistance is pinned to issues like wanting TV or better food.
In a recent report on NPR, an official stated that USAID had to hide the fact that they were giving aid to the Afghan people, because no one in the country would be seen with a blanket or food with a U.$. flag on it. This fact is a clear demonstration that either the resistance is the Afghan people, or the "outside radical element" is so prolific as to make distinguishing it from the Afghan people irrelevant. Meanwhile, the funeral of an Afghan air force colonel that killed nine Amerikans was attended by 1500 mourners last year.(3) Since this article was first drafted another bomb struck near Bagram Air Force Base where the Korans were burned on March 5. On March 8 the Taliban infiltrated Afghan police in Oruzgan and killed nine of them, while six British occupiers were killed during an attack on their vehicle in Helmand province. Our strategic confidence comes from examples like this, where whole countries have united to reject and fight imperialism. Comparing these conditions to those in the United $tates demonstrates our line on where guerrilla war is possible and not.
"Time works for the guerrilla both in the field -- where it costs the enemy a daily fortune to pursue him -- and in the politico-economic arena."(4) The occupation of Afghanistan is estimated to have cost as much as $500 billion(5), with sources reporting costs per Amerikan soldier at $850,000 up to $1.2 million a year.(6) While almost all of this money goes to U.$. corporations and their employees supplying the soldiers, even bourgeois economists have recognized that militarism is not a sustainable way to prop up a capitalist economy. What they fail to acknowledge is that only a socialist economic system that produces for need, not profit, can eliminate the inherent contradictions in production where circulation of capital must always increase in the interest of profit.
"There is no great novelty in [guerrilla tactics], nor can the Marxist-Leninist camp claim any special credit for it. What is new -- and Mao is the apostle and the long Chinese revolution the first proving ground -- is the application of guerrilla activity, in a conscious and deliberate way, to specific political objectives, without immediate reference to the outcome of battles as such, provided only that the revolutionaries survive."(7)
We are coming out of a period where the universality of Maoism has been dirtied by an association of communism with revisionists and First Worldists. Islam continues to unite the national liberation movement in Afghanistan, while "communism" has an association with foreign invasion. While socialism is necessary to meet the needs of the people of Afghanistan, the movement's ideology so far has kept it isolated from the toxic politics of the First World. This will work in their favor as the people's struggle reaches higher stages.
Here in the United $tates we must continue to find creative ways to help the Afghans' heroic struggle to whittle away at Amerikan support for occupation. And we must learn from the events in Central Asia about who are our friends and enemies, what is possible where, and what it looks like to take on a long struggle with the confidence that you are on the right side of history.