Tag Archives: Austerity

Prison, Race and Police Brutality: Corporate Capitalism Is the Foundation of Police Brutality and the Prison State! The Relationship Between Economic Inequality, Poverty and Racism.

6 Jul

 

 

Our national conversation on race and crime is based on a fiction. It is the fiction that the organs of internal security, especially the judiciary and the police, can be adjusted, modernized or professionalized to make possible a post-racial America. We discuss issues of race while ignoring the economic, bureaucratic and political systems of exploitation—all of it legal and built into the ruling apparatus—that are the true engines of racism and white supremacy. No discussion of race is possible without a discussion of capitalism and class. And until that discussion takes place, despite all the proposed reforms to the criminal justice system, the state will continue to murder and imprison poor people of color with impunity.

More training, body cameras, community policing, the hiring of more minorities as police officers, a better probation service and more equitable fines will not blunt the indiscriminate use of lethal force or reduce the mass incarceration that destroys the lives of the poor. Our capitalist system callously discards surplus labor, especially poor people of color, employing lethal force and the largest prison system in the world to keep them under control. This is by design. And until this predatory system of capitalism is destroyed, the poor, especially people of color, will continue to be gunned down by police in the streets, as they have for decades, and disproportionately locked in prison cages.

“The strength of ‘The New Jim Crow’ by Michelle Alexander is that, by equating mass incarceration with Jim Crow, it makes it rhetorically impossible to defend it,” said Naomi Murakawa, author of “The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America,” when we met recently in Princeton, N.J. “But, on the other hand, there is no ‘new’ Jim Crow, there is just capitalist white supremacy in a state of constant self-preservation

 

 

A Bookstore at the Vanguard of the Revolution
A Bookstore at the Vanguard of the Revolution

 

 

“We should talk about what we are empowering police to do, not how they are doing it, not whether they are being nice when they carry out arrests,” she said. “Reforms are oriented to making violence appear respectable and courteous. But being arrested once can devastate someone’s life. This is the violence we are not talking about. It does not matter if you are arrested politely. Combating racism is not about combating bad ideas in the head or hateful feelings. This idea is the perfect formula to preserve material distributions in their exact configuration.”

Murakawa, who teaches at Princeton University, laid out in her book that liberals, in the name of pity, and conservatives, in the name of law and order—or as Richard Nixon expressed it, the right to be safe and free of fear—equally shared in the building of our carceral state. “Liberal racial pity mirrored conservative racial contempt,” she writes. These “competing constructions of black criminality, one callous, another with a tenor of sympathy and cowering paternalism,” ensured that by the time these forces were done, there was from 1968 to 2010 a septupling of people locked in the prison system. “Counting probation and parole with jails and prisons is even more astonishing still,” she writes. “This population grew from 780,000 in 1965 to seven million in 2010.”

Racism in America will not be solved, she writes, by “teaching tolerance and creating colorblind institutions.” The refusal to confront structural racism, which in the 1930s and ’40s among intellectuals “situated domestic racism and colonialism abroad in an integrated critique of global capitalism,” led to a vapid racial liberalism that, as Penny Von Eschen writes, conceived of racism as “an anachronistic prejudice and a personal and psychological problem, rather than as a systemic problem rooted in specific social practices and prevailing relations of political economy and culture.”

Police brutality will not be solved, Murakawa points out, by reforms that mandate an “acceptable use of force.” The state may have outlawed lynching and mob violence—largely because of international outcry and damage to the image of the United States abroad—but insisted that capital punishment “could be fair with adequate legal defense for the poor, proper jury instructions, and clear lists of mitigating and aggravating circumstances.” Racial violence was seen as an “administrative deficiency.”

 

 

 

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Murakawa goes on in the book:

Liberal lawmakers would come to evaluate fairness through finely honed, step-by-step questions: Did legislators enact a sufficiently clear criminal statute? Did police properly Mirandize? Did prosecutors follow protocol in offering a plea bargain or filing charges? Did parole officers follow administrative rules of revocation? And, in any single step, did a specific actor deviate from the protocol or intentionally discriminate? As a methodology for ‘finding racism’ in the criminal justice system, liberal law-and-order reinforced the common sense that racism is a ghost in the machine, some immaterial force detached from the institutional terrain of racialized wealth inequality and the possessive investment in whiteness. At the core of liberal law-and-order was the promise to move each individual qua individual through a system of clear rules that allow little room for individual bias. In effect, a lasting legacy of liberal law-and-order is this: we evaluate the rightness of criminal justice through the administrative quality by which each individual is searched, arrested, warehoused, or put to death.

All penal reform, from President Truman’s 1947 Committee on Civil Rights report to the Safe Streets Act of 1968 to the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 to contemporary calls for more professionalization, in effect only hand more power and resources to the police. It does nothing to blunt police abuse or reverse mass incarceration. It does nothing to address the bias of white supremacy. “Truman’s version of the civil rights agenda came through lynching,” Murakawa said. “It illuminates how the rule of law and white supremacy operate hand in hand. Lynching hurt U.S. credibility. It hurt its force projection abroad. The concern over lynching was not a concern for black lives. It was a concern that mob and state violence were too easily conflated. The objective became to make a sharp difference between white supremacist mob violence and white supremacist state violence. The difference is not that one is white supremacist and one is not. The difference is one [is] proceduralized, one is rights based, one is orderly, bound by rule of law with ever more elaborate procedures. That is the only thing that makes it different from the lynch mob.”

The real crime—poverty, institutional racism and capitalist exploitation—is rarely discussed. Therefore, the blame for crime is easily shifted to the “pathology” of black families. The Moynihan report, for example, argues that black criminality results from dominant black mothers and absent black fathers.

“You can perfect due process so it operates like a machine and have perfect quality control,” Murakawa said. “This is what the due-process-right revolution was. You can have full adherence to the panoply of rights. And yet you also have a machine that only grows. Everyone thought the Miranda decision would stop the rate at which police arrest people. They thought it would curtail the scale and scope of policing. Instead, Miranda rights are used to protect police officers in civil litigation. Police officers say they got the waiver. They say people were informed of their rights. Miranda is used mostly to deflect lawsuits against police departments. These little procedural interventions give the system a patina of legitimacy. If we are processing at the same scale and at the same racial concentration, then the machinery of death only gets bigger and bigger.”

The more that “carceral machinery was rights-based and rule-bound, the more racial disparity was isolatable to ‘real’ black criminality.” In other words, as liberals and conservatives became convinced that the machinery of the judiciary and the police was largely impartial and fair, the onus for punishment shifted to the victims. State-sponsored white violence remained entrenched. Institutionalized murder remained acceptable. In the minds of liberals and conservatives, those who were arrested, locked up or shot deserved to be arrested, locked up or shot. Federal mandatory minimum statutes tripled under President Bill Clinton, and this is one example Murakawa points out of how “with each administrative layer to protect African Americans from lawless racial violence, liberals propelled carceral development that, through perverse turns, expanded lawful racial violence.”

By 1993, she points out, “African Americans accounted for 88.3 percent of all federal crack cocaine distribution convictions.” And because the judicial system is stacked against poor people of color, it does not matter, she said, if the arresting officers are also people of color.

 

 

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“There is no evidence that having a minority police officer changes arrest or use of force,” she said. “The better evidence suggests that black police officers tend to arrest everyone at higher rates across races. I interpret this as black professionals having to over-perform in any number of professions to get to comparable ranking. Maybe interpersonally, people will find it a little less offensive. But it does not diminish the violence.”

By the Clinton administration, liberals and conservatives were competing with each other to be “tough” on crime. Murakawa notes that between 1968 and 1976, no one was executed in the United States. But this changed under Clinton. Democrats and Republicans proposed bill after bill until the number of crimes punishable by death leapt from one in 1974 to 66 in 1994. The two parties engaged in “a death penalty bidding war.” Then-Sen. Joe Biden was one of the most enthusiastic proponents of expanding the death penalty—he boasted that he had “added back to the Federal statutes over 50 death penalties”—and the Democrats effectively “neutralized soft-on-crime accusations with punitive outbidding.” But while this may have been politically advantageous to the Democrats, it was devastating to poor people of color and in particular blacks.

Change, Murakawa said, requires us to formulate a very different vision of society.

“We should follow Angela Davis’ call to ask the question: What is it we have to imagine if we abolish the social functions of police and prisons?” she said. “What is it we have to build if we can no longer jail people who are mentally ill or suffering from long-term addiction or homeless? We are going to have to build a lot.” <!– BEGIN JS TAG – TruthDig.com Article Page 300×250 ATF But few people, and perhaps no one in the political establishment, are asking these questions.

“These bipartisan coalitions are conjoined in the rhetoric of cost cutting,” Murakawa said, referencing Marie Gottschalk’s book “Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics.” “They may say there is bias, that it is not racially fair. They may attack prisons as big government, as inefficient or as a bad investment. But once you follow the logic of austerity, you push the cost of punishment on those who are punished. You are not committed to building anything. The reason Portugal has been so successful with drug legalization is because of the Portuguese National Health Service. Fighting addiction requires pharmacological and medical intervention, along with psychological and financial support.

“I worry that we are once again moving toward more professionalized police who have had more training but still have the scope to arrest and issue citations and summonses the same way they do now,” Murakawa said. “Indeed, there will probably be an increase in arrests, citations and summonses if the police forces get bigger. Even with scaling back the war on drugs, I worry that we will still have a massive number of people embroiled in the criminal justice system. It will be death by a thousand cuts rather than the 20-year mandatory minimums for drug conspiracy. Bipartisan coalitions that are about cutting costs justify pushing the cost of punishment on punished populations. I worry we are moving toward a population, mostly black and poor, that is cycling through jail and effectively serving 20-year sentences but in stints of about 90 days at a time. With each jail stay they accumulate more debt for room and board. A municipality in Missouri is billing people for the Tasers used against them—$26 per Taser discharge. Roughly half of all states are now charging people for the services of indigent criminal defense. A 2013 Supreme Court decision said that extended families could be held responsible for the debts of those incarcerated.

“There are 10 to 12 million arrests every year; about half will never be processed because these arrests are for charges so trivial they are not worth pursuing or there is no evidence,” she said. “Maybe 5 percent of these arrests are for charges of violent crime and 15 percent for property crimes.

“There is no reason why police on patrols should be armed,” she went on. “If we were serious about stopping executions without trials, we would be committed to the idea that all police have to call in special forces. What we now see as regular police units would be SWAT patrols that have to be specially called in to use lethal force. We have to diminish the scale of everything. We have to wipe clean penal codes. Most arrests are for misdemeanors, petty offenses like public drunkenness or loitering. These are things no state agent with a gun should be addressing. The only way to reduce the scale of police brutality is to reduce the scale of policing. People should not be arrested for not mowing their lawn or for selling loosies.

“The idea we can put police officers through training to address their implicit bias and then give them guns—the idea that two days of intensive training will diminish the probability of shoot to kill—is absurd,” Murakawa said. “I have zero faith in this.” Posted on Jul 5, 2015 By Chris Hedges

 

 

George Jackson, as pictured in The Black Panther newsletter, 1971

 

The Struggle Inside…War behind the Walls! The American for Profit Prison system. Profiting From Human Misery; Private Prisons maximizing their profit received nearly $3 billion in revenue from imprisonment of undocumented immigrants, deportation, exploitation, Mass Incarceration, draconian drug laws

 

Greater and greater numbers of human beings and citizens will be consumed. The poor, the vulnerable, the undocumented, the weak, the elderly, the sick, the young. combined with moves by congress such as “the critical battle over our civil liberties that were being waged at the NY US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Foley Square. NDAA will essentially allow military law to supersede civil law. It gives dictatorial authority to the President of the US, not seen since before the signing of the Magna Carta. It allows for the abduction of American Citizens, it allows our government to hold citizens under military law indefinitely, with no right to due process, no right to an attorney or access to evidence.  NDAA was written and backed by bipartisan support from the US Congress, Under these new regulations every American and legal US resident who independently publishes articles or blogs that in any way criticize America’s actions at home or abroad; like peace activists and those who speak up for the rights of Americans and those who Occupy Wall Street, can be named terrorists”. Corporate Fascism is real and it is here today, Now! Your health-care, banking, food production, media, justice system, state and local police are all being operated and controlled by giant corporate entities you as citizens allowed to be called PEOPLE!

 

Profiting From Human Misery By Chris Hedges  OpEdNews Op Eds 2/18/2013 at 01:53:21

 Marela, an undocumented immigrant in her 40s, stood outside the Elizabeth Detention Center in Elizabeth, N.J., on a chilly afternoon last week. She was there with a group of protesters who appear at the facility’s gates every year on Ash Wednesday to decry the nation’s immigration policy and conditions inside the center. She was there, she said, because of her friend Evelyn Obey. Obey, 40, a Guatemalan and the single mother of a 12-year-old and a 6-year-old, was picked up in an immigration raid as she and nine other undocumented workers walked out of an office building they cleaned in Newark, N.J. Her two children instantly lost their only parent. She languished in detention. Another family took in the children, who never saw their mother again. Obey died in jail in 2010 from, according to the sign Villar had hung on her neck, “pulmonary thromboembolism, chronic bronchiolitis and emphysema and remote cardiac Ischemic Damage.” “She called me two days after she was seized,” Marela told me in Spanish. “She was hysterical. She was crying. She was worried about her children. We could not visit her because we do not have legal documents. We helped her get a lawyer. Then we heard she was sick. Then we heard she died. She was buried in an unmarked grave. We did not go to her burial. We were too scared of being seized and detained.” The rally — about four dozen people, most from immigrant rights groups and local churches — was a flicker of consciousness in a nation that has yet to fully confront the totalitarian corporate forces arrayed against it. Several protesters in orange jumpsuits like those worn by inmates held signs reading: “I Want My Family Together,” “No Human Being is Illegal,” and “Education not Deportation.” “The people who run that prison make money off of human misery,” said Diana Mejia, 47, an immigrant from Colombia who now has legal status, gesturing toward the old warehouse that now serves as the detention facility. As she spoke, a Catholic Worker band called the Filthy Rotten System belted out a protest song. A low-flying passenger jet, its red, green and white underbelly lights blinking in the night sky, rumbled overhead. Clergy walking amid the crowd marked the foreheads of participants with ashes to commemorate Ash Wednesday. “Repentance is more than merely being sorry,” the Rev. Joyce Antila Phipps, the executive director of Casa de Esperanza, a community organization working with immigrants, told the gathering. “It is an act of turning around and then moving forward to make change.”
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The majority of those we incarcerate in this country — and we incarcerate a quarter of the world’s prison population — have never committed a violent crime. Eleven million undocumented immigrants face the possibility of imprisonment and deportation. President Barack Obama, outpacing George W. Bush, has deported more than 400,000 people since he took office. Families, once someone is seized, detained and deported, are thrown into crisis. Children come home from school and find they have lost their mothers or fathers. The small incomes that once sustained them are snuffed out. Those who remain behind often become destitute. But human beings matter little in the corporate state. We myopically serve the rapacious appetites of those dedicated to exploitation and maximizing profit. And our corporate masters view prisons — as they do education, health care and war — as a business. The 320-bed Elizabeth Detention Center, which houses only men, is run by one of the largest operators and owners of for-profit prisons in the country, Corrections Corporation of America. CCA, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, has annual revenues in excess of $1.7 billion. An average of 81,384 inmates are in its facilities on any one day. This is a greater number, the American Civil Liberties Union points out in a 2011 report, “Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration,” than that held by the states of New York and New Jersey combined. The for-profit prisons and their lobbyists in Washington and state capitals have successfully blocked immigration reform, have prevented a challenge to our draconian drug laws and are pushing through tougher detention policies. Locking up more and more human beings is the bedrock of the industry’s profits. These corporations are the engines behind the explosion of our prison system. They are the reason we have spent $300 billion on new prisons since 1980. They are also the reason serious reform is impossible. The United States, from 1970 to 2005, increased its prison population by about 700 percent, according to statistics gathered by the ACLU. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the ACLU report notes, says that for-profit companies presently control about 18 percent of federal prisoners and 6.7 percent of all state prisoners. Private prisons account for nearly all of the new prisons built between 2000 and 2005. And nearly half of all immigrants detained by the federal government are shipped to for-profit prisons, according to Detention Watch Network. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which imprisons about 400,000 undocumented people a year, has an annual budget of more than $5 billion. ICE is planning to expand its operations by establishing several mega-detention centers, most run by private corporations, in states such as New Jersey, Texas, Florida, California and Illinois. Many of these private contractors are, not surprisingly, large campaign donors to “law and order” politicians including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

 

 

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In CCA’s annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission for 2011, cited by the ACLU, the prison company bluntly states its opposition to prison reform. “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal laws,” it declares. CCA goes on to warn that “any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration” could “potentially [reduce] demand for correctional facilities,” as would “mak[ing] more inmates eligible for early release based on good behavior,” the adoption of “sentencing alternatives [that] … could put some offenders on probation” and “reductions in crime rates.” CCA in 2011 gave $710,300 in political contributions to candidates for federal or state office, political parties and 527 groups (PACs and super PACs), the ACLU reported. The corporation also spent $1.07 million lobbying federal officials along with undisclosed funds to lobby state officials, according to the ACLU. CCA, through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), lobbies legislators to impose harsher detention laws at the state and federal levels. The ALEC helped draft Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law SB 1070. A March 2012 CCA investor presentation prospectus, quoted by the ACLU, tells potential investors that incarceration “creates predictable revenue streams.” The document cites demographic trends that the company says will continue to expand profits. These positive investment trends include, the prospectus reads, “high recidivism” — “about 45 percent of individuals released from prison in 1999 and more than 43 percent released from prison in 2004 were returned to prison within three years.” The prospectus invites investments by noting that one in every 100 U.S. adults is currently in prison or jail. And because the U.S. population is projected to grow by approximately 18.6 million from 2012 to 2017, “prison populations would grow by about 80,400 between 2012 and 2017, or by more than 13,000 additional per year, on average,” the CCA document says. The two largest private prison companies in 2010 received nearly $3 billion in revenue. The senior executives, according to the ACLU report, each received annual compensation packages worth well over $3 million. The for-profit prisons can charge the government up to $200 a day to house an inmate; they pay detention officers as little as $10 an hour.

 

 

 

 

“Within 30 miles of this place, there are at least four other facilities where immigrants are detained: Essex, Monmouth, Delaney Hall and Hudson, which has the distinction of being named one of the 10 worst detention facilities in the country,” Phipps, who is an immigration attorney as well as a minister, told the gathering in front of the Elizabeth Detention Center. “The terrible secret is that immigration detention has become a very profitable business for companies and county governments.” “More than two-thirds of immigrants are detained in so-called contract facilities owned by private companies, such as this one and Delaney Hall,” she went on. “The rise of the prison industrial complex has gone hand in hand with the aggrandizing forces of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, which, by the way, has filed suit against the very government it is supposed to be working for because they were told to exercise prosecutorial discretion in their detention practices.” [Click here to see more about the lawsuit, in which 10 ICE agents attack the administration’s easing of government policy on those who illegally entered the United States as children.] There is an immigration court inside the Elizabeth facility, although the roar of the planes lifting off from the nearby Newark Airport forces those in the court to remain silent every three or four minutes until the sound subsides. Most of those brought before the court have no legal representation and are railroaded through the system and deported. Detainees, although most have no criminal record beyond illegal entry into the United States, wear orange jumpsuits and frequently are handcuffed. They do not have adequate health care. There are now some 5,000 children in foster care because their parents have been detained or deported, according to the Applied Research Center’s report, “Shattered Families.” The report estimates that this number will rise to 15,000 within five years. “I am in family court once every six to eight weeks representing some mother who is surrendering custody of her child to somebody else because she does not want to take that child back to the poverty of Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador,” Phipps said when we spoke after the rally. “She has no option. She does not want her child to live in the same poverty she grew up in. It is heartbreaking.” We have abandoned the common good. We have been stripped of our rights and voice. Corporations write our laws and determine how we structure our society. We have all become victims. There are no politicians or institutions, no political parties or courts, that are independent enough or strong enough to resist the corporate onslaught. Greater and greater numbers of human beings will be consumed. The poor, the vulnerable, the undocumented, the weak, the elderly, the sick, the children will go first. And those of us watching helplessly outside the gates will go next.

 

 

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David Harvey: reclaiming the city from Kobane to Baltimore urban life as the terrain of contemporary class struggle. No War but Class War!

28 Jun

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In this interview with ROAR, the leading Marxist geographer reflects on Rojava, Baltimore and urban life as the terrain of contemporary class struggle. by Sardar Saadi on May 26, 2015

David Harvey is the Distinguished Professor of Anthropology & Geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). He was in Diyarbakir for a visit to the region and also to participate in a panel at the 1st Amed Book Fair on his latest book, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, translated in Turkish by Sel Publishing. ROAR contributor Sardar Saadi sat down with him for an interview.

A Bookstore at the Vanguard of the Revolution
Left Wing and Progressive Books

 

Sardar Saadi: Professor Harvey, welcome to Kurdistan! Thank you so much for accepting our interview request for ROAR Magazine. It was very difficult to arrange a time for this interview. You have a very busy schedule. Would you tell our readers what brought you to Kurdistan? I heard you have been to Kobane as well?

David Harvey: Well, this is my third visit to this part of Turkey, and I have some strong personal connections with some of the people teaching at the Architecture Faculty of Mardin Artuklu University. Mardin is a very beautiful place to visit, so I found a way to combine pleasure and some work. But I’m also here because of the general situation in Turkey and particularly also in Rojava. The Syrian side is fascinating. At the same time, it is pretty horrific. So I have taken a bit of interest in that lately.

I was trying to get to Kobani, too, but the Turkish government has basically closed the border.

As you know, the governments of Turkey and the Kurdish region of Iraq have imposed an ongoing embargo on Rojava. How do you connect this to what is going on in Rojava?

I can only speculate that nobody wants whatever is happening in Rojava to be given any prominence internationally, and nobody wants whatever is happening there to succeed. That would be my guess. It is the most obvious one.

There are so many initiatives for rebuilding Kobane. The airstrikes and bombings have left the city almost entirely destroyed. What is your perspective on reconstructing Kobane, and on the possibilities of creating anti-capitalist alternatives in the area?

Red Youth Marching

 

I saw this map with satellite data of the level of destruction, and clearly Kobane is about 80 percent destroyed. Reconstruction is essentially going to revolve around surface buildings and bringing the people back in. This offers a range of opportunities to think creatively about an alternative urbanization.

One of the big difficulties, I think, is going to be facing the existing property rights to a degree that the existing population can re-establish itself. They probably want to build their property rights in the way things were before, so they will get back to old-style urbanization, and that is maybe what will happen — in which case the question will be where the resources will come from.

Still I think the opportunity exists to explore anti-capitalist alternatives. Whether this opportunity has been taken, I don’t know. But to the extent that Kurdish thinking has been influenced by somebody like Murray Bookchin, I think there is a possibility for the population to explore something different. I was told there are assembly-based forms of governance in place in Rojava, but I haven’t seen anything yet. I worry a little bit, you know, the left sometime has this romanticism. The Zapatistas said “revolution” and everybody got romantic about what they were doing.

I actually made a comparison between the revolution in Rojava and the Zapatistas. I raised the question if Rojava is becoming like the Chiapas of the Middle East. Do you think there is a similarity between these two struggles?

Not so much of a similarity — in the sense that the Zapatistas were organized, took control of their territory and managed to protect it in a particular way and at a particular time. They were not devastated by war. They did not have many of the problems that the people of Rojava are facing. But they had a pre-existing communal structure in place, so there was a form of governance there already — they didn’t have to implement everything from scratch. So I think there are a lot of differences.

I think the similarity is the romance that some people on the left in Europe and North America may have that, ‘oh well, this is the place, finally!’ And I always say to them that the place we should be constructing revolutionary socialism is in the United States, not hoping that something in Chiapas or in Northern Syria will rescue us from capitalism [laughs]. It’s not going to happen.

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How do you think the international solidarity movement can be productive in helping Rojava?

There are some basic things, I would say. No matter what happens there, I think the emancipation of the Kurdish people — to the extent that there is a level of self-government — is something worth supporting. I am happy to support it myself. To the extent that these communities are experimenting with new forms of governance and they want to experience new forms of urban development, I think I will be very interested in talking to them. I am glad that people are thinking about doing something different, and to the extent that I can help or help mobilize help, I would want to be able do it.

Of course, what we are seeing is that there are going to be barriers to that. We are going to have to find ways to circumvent those barriers. For instance, there is an alternative group of people from Europe and North America who are actually trying now to re-design urbanization in Gaza. I think that if they are actually able to do something there, they could mobilize to do something in Rojava as well.

There are some real possibilities here. But just speaking personally, I would want to be cautious about saying, ‘oh this is a great thing that happened, everything is great.’ I would want to say: ‘look, I think things are going in an interesting direction worthy of our support and discussions, and we should do our best to try to support whatever it is that the population itself is trying to come up with.’

You mentioned in an interview with Firat News Agency during a conference in Hamburg that the Middle East is a region that’s falling apart. Yet Rojava is flourishing as an alternative in this chaotic environment, don’t you think?

Well, what is going on in this region is a crucial part of the world geopolitically. The Middle East is in a real mess right now. Everybody’s got their finger in the pie: the Russians, the Chinese, the Americans, the Europeans. It is a zone of conflicts, and it has been for some time. I mean, look at what’s happening in Syria — and then there was the Lebanese civil war, the situation in Iraq, and now what is going on in Yemen, in Egypt, and so on. This is a very unstable geological zone and geopolitical configuration of the world, which is producing disaster for local populations.

But one of the things that often happens with disasters is that new things come out of them. These new things can be very, very significant. I think the reason why disaster produces something new is because the typical bourgeois power structure disappears, and the ruling classes are unable to govern. That creates a situation where people can start to govern themselves outside of those traditional power structures. So we are likely to see possibilities emerge, not only in Rojava but also elsewhere. Some of them, of course, will not be very nice — like ISIS. So I am not saying everything is going in the right direction at all. It is a zone of opportunities as well as disasters.

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I would like to open another topic in this conversation, and it is about cities — something you have written a lot about. In the last decade or so, we have witnessed the rising importance of cities in Kurdish politics. In Diyarbakir, where we are right now, the pro-Kurdish municipality is intervening in the socioeconomic and political life of the city as well as re-appropriating urban spaces according to their agenda. Also, for the first time, Kobane’s resistance is the resistance of a city — unlike previous uprisings in the history of the Kurdish movement that were traditionally more about a tribe, a traditional leader, or a nationalist political party leading the resistance.

I am wondering if we can connect the resistance in Kobane or the example of the municipalist movement in Diyarbakir and other Kurdish cities in Turkey to the larger global movement we have seen in the last few years in places like Tahrir Square in Cairo, the Occupy movement that started in New York, the Gezi protests in Istanbul, or most recently the riots in Baltimore. Do you see a connection between these emerging forms of urban street politics?

Well, yes, the world is increasingly urbanized and we increasingly see discontent emerging around the quality of urban life. So you can see this discontent producing uprisings in some instances, or mass protests like Gezi and what happened in Brazil shortly after Gezi. There is actually a long tradition of urban uprisings — the Paris Commune in 1871 and other instances well before that — but I think that the urban question is really becoming a central question today, and the qualities of urban life are moving to the forefront of what contemporary protests are about.

But at the same time, increasingly, we see political protest internalized within the cities. What we are starting to see, with the Israeli Defense Forces confronting Palestinians in Ramallah and places like that, is that this is no longer about state-versus-state — it is about the state trying to control the rest of the urban population. We have even seen that in the U.S., in a place like in Ferguson, where an armed force came out to confront the protest. And in Baltimore, too. So increasingly, I think, we are going to see this kind of low-level urban warfare going on between populations, and increasingly we are going to see the apparatuses of the state isolating themselves from the people they are supposed to serve, becoming part of the administrative apparatuses of capital that are repressing urban populations.

Supporters of radical leftist Syriza party chant slogans and wave Greek national and other flags after winning elections in Athens

So we are seeing these sorts of emerging urban uprisings in a patchy way all around the world: in Buenos Aires, in Bolivia, in Brazil, etc. Latin America is full of this sort of stuff. But even in Europe we have seen major urban unrest: in London, Stockholm, Paris, and so on. What we have to do is to start thinking of a new form of politics, which is what anti-capitalism should fundamentally be about. Unfortunately, the traditional left still focuses narrowly on workers and the workplace, whereas now it’s the politics of everyday life that really matters.

The left is sometimes very conservative in terms of what it thinks is important. Marx and Engels had a vision of the proletariat of a certain kind. Well, that proletariat has disappeared in many parts of the world, even if it has reemerged in places like China and Mexico under different conditions. So as a general matter the left has to be much more flexible in its approach to the anti-capitalist movements emerging in and around the question of urban life that we have seen in the revolts in Baltimore and in Tahrir Square and so on. Which is not to say they are all the same — because they are not — but there is clearly a certain parallel between these movements.

What do you think of the possible outcomes of something that happened in a place like Baltimore for the global movement against capitalism? Are they just momentary protests in their specific spatio-temporal conditions, or can they be seen as indications of something fundamentally wrong with the system?

One of the biggest difficulties, politically speaking, is to get people to see the nature of the system in which they live. The system is very sophisticated in disguising what it does, and how it does it. One of the tasks of Marxists and critical theorists is to try to demystify, but you can see this happening intuitively sometimes. Take the indignados movement: something happens in Spain and then, next thing, suddenly it happens in Greece — and then suddenly it happens elsewhere. Take the Occupy movement: suddenly there are occupations going on all over the place. So there is connectivity here.

A specific event like Baltimore doesn’t do anything in itself. What it does do, when you add it to Ferguson and you add it to some of the other things that are going on, is to show that large populations have been treated as disposable human beings. This is going on in the United States as well as elsewhere. Then, people suddenly start to see this is a systemic issue. So one of the things we should be doing is to emphasize the systemic nature of these type of events, showing that the problem lies within the system.

Anarcho-Syndicalism

I used to live in Baltimore for many years — and what is happening there now is really a re-run of what I encountered in 1969, one year after a lot of the place was burnt down. So we went from 1968 to 2015, and things are still the same! You kind of go, ‘hey, what is keeping it all the same?’ Despite of all the promises of those who claimed they were resolving the situation in the 1970s, or those who claim to be resolving it today, it doesn’t happen — it just doesn’t happen. In fact, a lot of it is getting worse.

Baltimore is interesting not only because of what happened in the poor areas. The rest of the city has actually become extremely affluent and gentrified — so it has really become two cities. There always were two cities, but now there are two cities with a much wider gap in between, and everybody sees the difference. I read an interview with somebody in Tahrir Square, and one of the things they said was that they always lived in not very affluent conditions, but what they noticed was that some people were getting filthy rich. They couldn’t understand why those people were getting filthy rich while the rest were going down or just staying the same. And it is the anger over this disparity that turned them against the system. This is true in Baltimore as well: ‘their part of town is fine, and my part of town is in a nose-dive.’

This is actually true for most cities. You look around and see it in Istanbul, and you see it everywhere. What is government doing about it? Well, it is clearing people out of their so-called slum areas because they are sitting on high value lands, and they could give them to developers who can then build shopping malls and office spaces — and people say ‘this is not right!’ That is how you get to the point where people begin exercising their right to the city, which is to use the city for their own purposes.

We want to exercise our right to the city in our particular way, which is radically different from that of capital. We want to make a different kind of city. How do we do that? Can we do it? These are difficult questions. When people raise this demand, a further question arises: can you do this within the existing structure of property rights? There is a belief in the United States that private property and land ownership are not a problem. Part of the solution, I suppose, lies in people starting to realize that it is part of the problem. Then you will begin to see that we have to come up with an alternative structure of property rights that are not private. They are collective. They are common. And at the same time they have to offer security and take away the fear of speculation for capital.

Ferguson-Riot[1]

I want to end by asking what inspired you on your trip to Kurdistan. Is there anything that will bring you back here?

Well, as I said, this whole region is a rather critical region. I actually had fantasies not so long ago that I would relocate entirely to somewhere around. I thought I could base myself in Athens, and I would then spend my time working a bit in Turkey, a bit in Lebanon, a bit in Egypt, because it is that zone between Europe and the region. What is going on here seems to be fascinating, so I like to be in the region. I also have very good friends here, and I have a wonderful publisher, Sel Publishing. I must say they have done a wonderful job of both translating and generally inviting me here and getting me to see things. If I get into Kobane, it is because they have worked really hard on it.

I hope we soon see your books translated in Kurdish as well — and I am sure the people of Diyarbakir will be happy to host you if you ever wanted to relocate in the region. Thank you so much for your time, Professor Harvey. I hope you will get into Kobane soon.

Sardar Saadi is a Toronto-based activist and a PhD student in anthropology at the University of Toronto.

The Anarchist International

America’s Electoral Farce, Every action we take now must be directed at ripping down the structures of the corporate state.

21 Jun

capitalist system

 

I intend to devote no more time to the upcoming presidential elections than walking to my local polling station on Election Day, voting for a third-party candidate, most likely the Green Party candidate, and going home. Any further energy invested in these elections, including championing Bernie Sanders’ ill-advised decision to validate the Democratic Party by becoming one of its presidential candidates, is a waste of time. Every action we take now must be directed at ripping down the structures of the corporate state. This means refusing to co-operate. It means joining or building radical mass movements. It means carrying out sustained acts of civil disobedience, as Kayactivists are doing in Seattle and fishing communities such as Kodiak, Cordova and Homer, as well as a dozen indigenous tribes, are doing in Alaska, to physically halt fracking, drilling for oil and natural gas or U.S. Navy training exercises in the pristine waters of the Arctic. It means striking for a $15 minimum wage. It means blocking city streets to demand an end to the indiscriminate use of lethal force by militarized police, especially against poor people of color. It means, in large and small ways, acts of open rebellion. It means always having as the primary objective the disrupting and overthrowing of corporate power. It means not playing the game. (Americas Electoral Farce Posted on Jun 16, 2015  By Chris Hedges truthdig.com)

 

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The corporate state seeks to get us to participate in the political charade of choreographed elections. It seeks to make us play by its rules. Our corporate media, flush with the dollars from political advertising, fills the airwaves with the ridiculous and the trivial. Candidates, pollsters, political strategists, pundits and celebrity journalists provide endless loops of banal and absurd “political” chatter, all of it a grotesque form of anti-politics. We will be bombarded with this propaganda, largely centered on the manufactured personalities of candidates, for many months. Tune it out. It means nothing.  The voices of those who matter will not be heard in these elections. The marginalized and poor in our internal colonies, the 2.3 million people in our prisons and their families, the Muslims we persecute here and in the Middle East, and the suffering of the working poor are airbrushed out of the discussion. In this Potemkin America there is only a middle class. Our liberties, including our right to privacy, along with the consent of the governed—all of which have been taken from us—are held up in this electioneering farce as sacred and inviolate. We are assured that we live in a functioning democracy. We are promised that our voice will count. And even Sanders will tell you no different. If he stepped forward and spoke the truth, especially about the Democratic Party, he would be banned from the debates, vilified and crushed by the Democratic establishment, stripped of his Senate committee chairmanships and tossed into the political wilderness to which Ralph Nader has been exiled. Sanders, unfortunately, lacks Nader’s moral fortitude. He will, when it is all done, push his followers into the vampire-like embrace of Hillary Clinton. He is a Pied Piper leading a line of children or rats—take your pick—into political oblivion.

Political theater works because many in America have been systematically indoctrinated and severed from reality. Our corporate masters have built a mass culture centered on the cult of the self, unchecked hedonism and spectacle. Neoliberal ideology infects every institution and belief system. Those who suffer deserve to suffer. Victims are responsible for their victimhood. We can all achieve wealth and prosperity with hard work. This mantra permits us to be cruel and heartless to the weak and the vulnerable, especially the poor as well as women and children, whom we discard as human refuse. Our warped neoliberal vision is defined as progress.

 

 

America celebrates itself as virtuous and good while it inflicts terrible human suffering at home and abroad on those it deems unworthy of life. The particular and self-centered definition of good that defines the primacy of American imperial and corporate power is presented as a universal good. There are Americans, especially those beset by falling incomes and a dismal future, who find in state power an expression of personal power. They see in the mythical virtue of the nation a personal virtue. Attack systems of power and this American “virtue” and they feel attacked and disempowered. And the state can count on those who cling to this myth to turn with fury against all of us who seek to exist in a reality-based universe. The state will stoke hatred among these “patriots” to incite violence against all who dissent. Standing up to the corporate state, refusing to play by its rules, will be difficult and dangerous.

Today’s servant of systems of power is what Friedrich Nietzsche referred to as the Last Man. “The time is coming when man will give birth to no more stars,” Nietzsche wrote about the Last Man in the prologue of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” “Alas! The time of the most contemptible man is coming, the man who can no longer despise himself.” “They are clever and know everything that has ever happened: so there is no end to their mockery,” Nietzsche went on. Nietzsche’s Last Man endows the banality of his private life with the meaning he has withdrawn from larger concerns, indulging his “little pleasure for the day, and [his] little pleasure for the night.”

Chalmers Johnson made much the same point when he called America a “consumerist Sparta.” And Curtis White in “The Middle Mind” argued that most Americans are on some level aware of the brutality and injustice used to maintain the grotesque excesses of their consumer society and the heartlessness of empire. White posited that most Americans do not care. They do not want to see what is done in their name. And the systems of mass media cater to this desire for ignorance. The replacement of history with myth, the use of mass surveillance and the Espionage Act to shut down any investigation into the centers of power, the collapse of journalism, the deformation of education into a vocational program for the corporate state, along with mindless forms of entertainment and spectacle, create obedient subjects that demand their own enslavement. Mahatma Gandhi castigated the West for its fictitious histories and false moral crusades to justify slavery, oppression, colonial occupation, massacres, despotism, and the destruction of indigenous traditions, religions and languages. The relentless assault by imperial powers against the wretched of the earth was not, he noted, part of the price of progress or the advance of civilization. It was part of the raw exploitation of the weak by unfettered capitalism and imperialism. The mythical narratives used to defend this exploitation, Gandhi pointed out, created a cult of history much like the cult of religion or the cult of science. It permitted immorality in the name of noble and virtuous ideals. These visions of an emergent world of light and universal civilization are always employed by those in power. And these visions can, as Albert Camus wrote, “be used for anything, even for transforming murderers into judges.”

“The West does not like to admit this fact about itself,” William Pfaff and Edmund Stillman wrote in “The Politics of Hysteria”—that it “has been capable of violence on an appalling scale, and has justified that violence as indispensable to a heroic reform of society or of mankind.” The atomic bomb, napalm, phosphorus raids and indiscriminate area bombing were used by Americans and the British in “a mission of bringing liberty to the world.” The technological and scientific advances of industrialized nations made possible the conquests and the theft of natural resources in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. “To be a man of the modern West,” Pfaff wrote, “is to belong to a culture of incomparable originality and power; it is also to be implicated in incomparable crimes.”

 

 

Nietzsche on the State

 

 

This evil lurks within the body politic. It is fueled by an induced ignorance. The specter of meaningless presidential elections caters to this idiocy. Our corporate masters are counting on most of us remaining entranced by the shadows they project on the wall of the cave.

“The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding,” wrote Albert Camus in “The Plague.” “On the whole, men are more good than bad; that, however, isn’t the real point. But they are more or less ignorant, and it is this that we call vice or virtue; the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance that fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill.”

There is, however, a new, emergent consciousness. It has not reached the majority. But it has reached enough of the minority to make resistance possible. It is a consciousness grounded in truth and the bitter reality of our age. It sees through the myths and self-delusion. It understands the configurations of corporate power. It knows that, as the ecosystem unravels and the most terrifying security and surveillance apparatus in human history holds us hostage, revolt has become a moral imperative. The state, too, is ready. It has its spectacles, including its political theater, and it has its goons. It will use whatever tools work to maintain power. Asleep or awake, we will all pay a heavy price.

 

 

 

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