Mandela and Socialism

The passing of Nelson Mandela, undoubtedly one of the greatest national liberation figures of the 20th century and one of the world’s great inspirations in the struggle against white supremacy and other forms of oppression, has naturally led to an outpouring of commentary and analysis. It is hardly necessary to add to this yet another overview of his life and accomplishments: his forging of the alliance between the ANC and the SACP – of which he was a Central Committee member when he was imprisoned for treason – is well known, as are his roles in the founding of the militant anti-apartheid organization Umkhonto we Sizwe and his heroic resistance against all attempts to bribe or suborn him during his long imprisonment. These accomplishments have nothing to do with the image of Mandela as a hero only of pacifism and reconciliation. While Mandela and his comrades rightly did not choose lightly to engage in violence, they did not spurn it when the needs of the day required it either.

That Mandela has undergone a process of modification akin to that long ago achieved with Martin Luther King, that is to make both seem as much more friendly, conciliatory, and moderate than they really were, is precisely a testament to the strength and effect of their actual militant efforts: these have been so powerful that even their very enemies are unable to simply oppose them, but must pretend that their own aims and those of Mandela or King were always reconcilable. As Bob Herbert writes in Jacobin, “the primary significance of Mandela and King was not their willingness to lock arms or hold hands with their enemies. It was their unshakable resolve to do whatever was necessary to bring those enemies to their knees. Their goal was nothing short of freeing their people from the murderous yoke of racial oppression. They were not the sweet, empty, inoffensive personalities of ad agencies or greeting cards or public service messages. Mandela and King were firebrands, liberators, truth-tellers – above all they were warriors. That they weren’t haters doesn’t for a moment minimize the fierceness of their militancy.” Continue reading “Mandela and Socialism”

Military Coup in Egypt

It is always difficult for socialists in one part of the world to pronounce on events thousands of miles away – at least without a certain degree of hubris and a certain risk of making oneself ridiculous. This applies perhaps in particular for those countries where the political forms and institutions, immediately apparent to outsiders, do not actually reveal much about the internal political and economic stucture: one can think here of Turkey, Pakistan, and the like. In a sense, it can perhaps be said that generally poor countries are effectively more divided than rich ones. This should come as no surprise given the desperation of poverty, the strength of religious divisions in such places, and the nature of class conflict. Sometimes these divisions are relatively clear and transparent to the outside, but often they are not, and even when properly understood reveal nothing much more than the many contradictions that keep such countries in a social and economic trap of poverty and violence. Egypt seems to fit the latter mold.

Nonetheless, I think it can be useful and justified for Western commentators to speak about events there, even if they know neither the country nor the language very well. There are several reasons for this. The first is owing to the political conclusions drawn by the various progressive forces in the West from events abroad, which makes the struggle over how to interpret these events also a struggle over the political outlook locally. Such arguments by proxy are, as I have argued before, often inherently questionable and misleading, but they are frequent. Secondly, the internationalist and cosmopolitan viewpoint that the current age demands and solidarity with people abroad requires a lively interest in their affairs, including in assessing the successes and mistakes of the progressive movements and parties of the places in question – but without thereby implying that some recipe for success exists in this or that office in London or Chicago. Such certainties are exactly the domain of the world improving free traders in the international economic organizations, and their all-knowing charity has done immeasurable harm. Rather, our perspective should be to see what the events and politics abroad look like to us, and what we can learn from them rather than to telling people far away what to do. But of course any intellectual independence also requires the courage to identify and comment on a mistake when one sees one, even if it is just to unleash a discussion on strategy. Due to its relation to ongoing events, such a strategic discussion can be infinitely more fruitful than overly abstract and general chatter about ‘workers’ parties’, ‘united fronts’ and so forth. But this, too, requires to obtain as much knowledge as possible for an outsider about the place in question, and a critical sifting of the writings and actions of the people on the ground. Continue reading “Military Coup in Egypt”

What Can We Expect in Egypt?

The Egyptian Parliament has just convened, recently elected by a partly proportional and partly district-based system in the first more or less meaningful elections in recent Egyptian history. Confirming the worries I laid out in earlier articles on developments in Egypt, the socialist and liberal parties performed according to their narrow, largely urban working and middle class bases (respectively); the great victory went to the Muslim Brotherhood and to Al-Nour, the more explicitly religious reactionary party. Now the first thing is to dismiss any attempts by Western commentators to condescend toward the Egyptians, to state the results as evidence that Arabs don’t know what is good for them, that pro-Western dictators are better than votes, and so forth. This kind of chauvinistic laziness only serves the interests of the thieving and warmongering cliques around the so-called ‘secular dictators’ in the Arab world, and the interests of the Western governments who supply them with money and arms. Continue reading “What Can We Expect in Egypt?”

Intervention in Libya

The United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force by member states in Libya to prevent the Ghadaffi regime from mass murdering its opponents, whom it hitherto had been getting the better of in the battlefield, has given a new dimension to the revolutionary wave in the Arab world. It has united all right and liberal forces in their enthousiasm for yet another campaign of war and intervention under the banner of the ‘humanitarianism’ of our great leaders, a humanitarianism that does not extend to the people of Bahrain or of Yemen, whose equally tyrannical and murderous regimes are even now being actively supported by those same liberal well-wishers. Yet merely pointing out the hypocrisy is not good enough, and the left, recognizing this, has been greatly divided on what to make of this new turn of events. On the one hand, nobody supports ‘Colonel’ Ghadaffi’s idiotic regime, whose socialism is as fake as is his anti-imperialist posture. On the other hand, many on the left think it behooves us to oppose any kind of military action which tends to support or increase the stranglehold of the great imperialist powers over the lesser brethren of our world, in particular in the greater Middle East and North Africa. Continue reading “Intervention in Libya”

Hope for the Arab World

There are many confused reports coming in about events in Libya, but so far things appear to be going in the direction of revolution, despite the widespread bloodshed committed against the protesters by the Ghadaffi regime. Some claim that the city of Benghazi, the second largest in the country, is in the hands of the rebels; other state that Tripoli itself is under siege. There have been reports that people have attempted to storm Ghadaffi’s compound and have been repelled with heavy losses. In the meantime, the weak position of yet another seemingly almighty regime is confirmed by the haphazard appearance of one of the Colonel’s many sons on state television, who bored his audience with a lengthy and incoherent rant blaming the circumstances on essentially everyone but the real culprit – the oppressive government itself. Needless to say, this will do nothing to stop the protesters nor will it convince anyone outside Libya of the government’s good will or competence. The fact that Ghadaffi, according to repeated information, has seen fit to send special forces and even mercenaries from elsewhere in Africa against his own people is an indication of the hollowness of his appeals to socialism or being a popular hero, and it reveals the absurdity of his ‘Jamahiriya, a state of all the people. Instead of distributing the oil income and developing his country, Ghadaffi protects the foreign companies and distributes bullets among the crowds. A government which has been ruling for 42 years, the longest period in the Arab world and one of the longest in the world altogether, is now teetering on the brink of destruction.

What does all this mean? In past years, the American establishment’s view of foreign policy was that if the hated ideology of Communism were able to take over just one country, it would soon topple all the others, one by one. This so-called ‘domino theory’ was the justification given for the brutal intervention in the Vietnam War by successive US Presidents. In reality, there was never much indication that it was true – self-proclaimed Communist leaders taking over in places as diverse as Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Mozambique had no real effect on their surrounding countries. Now, however, a real domino effect seems to be taking place, and one that the United States finds as baffling as the one they originally feared. It is the domino effect caused by the rising of the Arab peoples, in particular their large proportions of young people. For decades on end, Arabs have lived under various petty tyrants of one stripe or another, often for entire generations under just one or two different rulers. These geriatric figures would claim now to be pan-Arabists, then to be defenders of Islam, sometimes friends of Palestine, sometimes modernizers, whatever suited their needs at the time. But the only consistent aspect of their rule, whether in Yemen, in Syria or in Egypt, was their corruption, their repression of all political independence, their fear of an informed populace, and their ruthless use of violence, torture, and intimidation against anyone who might appear as a challenger to their rule. These latter-day pharaohs are now being overthrown one by one, and not a single outside power is capable of preventing it. Pressured by the high youth unemployment, the lack of prospects, and the dropping living standards as a result of the crisis’ impact on food prices, the Arab peoples have woken up from their government-induced sedation and discover that they are strong. Mao said: ‘imperialists are paper tigers’, and by this he meant to strengthen the confidence and will of his people against the seemingly overwhelming might of the United States. And indeed, the United States, with all of its armies and all of its money and all of its power, was defeated by the armed people of Vietnam and had to evacuate its personnel by helicopter from Saigon. The Arab peoples are now discovering that their own dictators, the ones who have imperialized their own nations, plundered their peoples’ wealth, talked down to them with tales of pretend heroism while preventing any independent source of information or opinion to spread in their lands, are in the end paper tigers as well. Nobody seemed as firmly in the saddle as Hosni Mubarak, given 1.5 billion dollars a year from the United States and in charge of one of the region’s largest armies as well as one of the most feared security apparatuses – and yet, when the people rose, he was overthrown within two weeks.

For too long have the Arabs in the world been seen as weak and cowardly. The idea was always, explicit or unspoken, that in any part of the world popular resistance could become a reality except in the Arab world. Arabs, it was often proclaimed behind closed doors in foreign ministries and intelligence agencies, were people who were willing to put up with any dictatorship, who were willing to accept any misery, as long as they were spoon-fed stories of martial glory and religious fervor. The greater Middle East was the playground of absolute monarchs, petty generals, and armed fanatics, and behind all of them the strategic manipulation of the US and other Western nations, favoring and disfavoring them not unlike the Roman Emperors of old did to their vassals. But if this revolutionary movement succeeds and carries its task through to the end, this story will be forever known to be myth. For the Arabs have finally risen up, not just against their own rulers, but at least as much against the condescension of the world’s ‘opinion makers’ and pundits, against all the experts on their affairs, and have shown that they have a will to be free and a right to rebel as much as any Jefferson or Marat. Nobody had foreseen that this would happen, least of all that it would happen so fast, and right now, but such is the nature of all revolutionary events in history. Let us hope that this wave of revolt will sweep away more of the ‘muck of ages’ in this region: Ghadaffi, Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Kings of Bahrain and Morocco, perhaps even the arch-tyrants, the House of Saud. But however these individual struggles may end, one thing is certain: there is now once again hope for the greater Middle East, and Arabs anywhere in the world can once again raise their head in confidence, no longer mocked.