Join Our Mailing List
Email:

Bookmark and Share


  Home > News > Additional Stories

The Demanding, Essential Work of Samuel Delany: The Atheist in the Attic

Buy book now | Buy the eBook now | Back to Samuel Delany's Author Page




Insurgent Supremacists: Truthout Pick of the Week

In his new book, Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire, Matthew N. Lyons takes issue with the notion that the far right is a united force. Lyons dissects what is different and what is the same about groups that have varying visions of what is the priority in governance vis-à-vis the status quo of the state. The following excerpt is from the introduction to Insurgent Supremacists.

For people who thought the US far right was an irrelevant lunatic fringe, the 2016 presidential race seemed like madness. It was bad enough that the victor was a right-wing populist who called for excluding people from the country based on ethnicity or religion, advocated torture, boasted about sexually assaulting women, and encouraged his supporters to beat up dissenters at campaign rallies. But on top of that, his campaign received important help from a network of activists known as the alternative right or alt-right, who want to break up the United States into racially segregated “ethno-states.” Styling themselves “fashy goys” (fascistic non-Jews), alt-rightists bombarded social media with gas chamber jokes, rape and death threats against women, and internet memes that vilified both liberal multiculturalists and mainstream conservatives. The alt-right helped Donald Trump score upset victories over his Republican rivals and Democrat Hillary Clinton, gaining unprecedented visibility and attention in return. But alt-rightists were never committed Trump fans, and just a few months after he took office they were bitterly criticizing Trump for abandoning the “America First” nationalism of his campaign for a more conventional conservatism. Around the same time, many began to shift their focus from online activism to street protests and fighting.

Before 2015 or 2016, most mainstream reporters and political pundits had never heard of the alt-right, and they scrambled to figure out what the movement was and what it stood for. Because alt-rightists didn’t look or act like stereotypical Neo-Nazis, people accused them of trying to hide their white supremacist politics behind a “benign” label, even though in fact many of them went out of their way to sound as offensive and bigoted as possible. Because alt-rightists were explicitly white nationalist, many observers didn’t notice that they also promoted a misogyny so extreme that even many Neo-Nazis criticized it. And because some “anti-globalist” conservatives started using the alt-right label, many critics missed the distinction between fellow travelers and committed adherents — between those Trump supporters who wanted to reclaim control of the American republic for white Christian men and those who hoped for the republic’s collapse. Although media coverage of the alt-right gradually improved, this initial confusion underscored the need to rethink superficial, overgeneralized, and outmoded conceptions, and to recognize the far right as a dynamic, changing collection of movements.

This book is about far right politics in the United States. It is an effort to understand movements such as the alt-right: what they want, what they do, who they appeal to, and how they interact with other political forces. It is also an effort to place these movements in historical context, to analyze how and why they have developed over the past half-century, and how current circumstances affect their strengths and limitations.

The term “far right” needs clarification, since it has been used in many different ways. Depending on the user and the context, far right may refer to white supremacist ideology or hard-line conservatism, authoritarianism or laissez-faire economics, a fascist vision of a new order, or a reactionary drive to turn back the clock. Each of these concepts is relevant to the subject of this book to some degree, but none of them really describes what it is about.

Instead of focusing on a specific doctrine, my approach begins with a specific historical turning point: in the 1970s and 1980s, for the first time since World War II, rightists in significant numbers began to withdraw their loyalty from the US government. This marked a sharp break with the right’s traditional role as defender of the established order, as one of the forces helping economic and political elites to maintain social control. In my view, the resulting division between oppositional and system-loyal rightists is more significant than ideological differences about race, religion, economics, or other factors.

As an imprecise working definition (not for all times and places but for the United States today), “far right” is used here to mean political forces that (a) regard human inequality as natural, inevitable, or desirable and (b) reject the legitimacy of the established political system. This definition cuts across standard ideological divisions. It includes insurgent factions among both white supremacists (whose supremacist vision centers on race) and Christian rightists (who advocate social and political hierarchy based on gender and religion, among other factors). It also includes many Patriot movement activists, who may or may not advocate racial or religious oppression but who champion unregulated capitalism and the economic inequality it produces. The definition excludes system-loyal white supremacists, Christian rightists, and Patriot activists, as well as other rightists who want to roll back liberal reforms but leave the basic state apparatus in place. The definition also draws a line between the far right and radical leftists, who reject the existing political system but, at least in theory, seek to transform society based on egalitarian principles.

My analysis of the far right is based on a number of core premises:

The far right is made up of regular human beings…. Far right organizations attract and keep supporters because they speak to human hopes and fears, grievances and aspirations, and because they offer appealing explanations for big problems and confusing changes in society. Understanding the far right’s human appeal is important because it helps us to combat it more effectively and relate that struggle to the larger struggles for human liberation.

The far right grows out of an oppressive social order. The far right is often described as an extremist threat to democracy, yet the United States is not and never has been a democracy. It is a deeply unequal society where a tiny capitalist elite holds most economic and political power and multiple systems of dominance/subordination shape most human relations. These systems foster scapegoating and demonization of oppressed groups — and violence against them — by far right and mainstream forces alike, a dynamic that will not be eradicated as long as these systems remain in place.

This doesn’t mean that the United States is a dictatorship. It has always been a shifting mix of pluralistic openness and repression, where real political space has been won for some people and some ideas that would not be permitted in a wholly authoritarian system, including opportunities to organize, debate, participate in electoral politics, and criticize those in power. Pluralistic space has provided an important tool for managing conflict and a safety valve for popular discontent. Yet those who seriously challenge the underlying structures of power risk jail or worse, and many people (especially low-income people of color) routinely face police harassment and the threat or reality of violence — up to and including death. Such political repression has increased during various crisis periods in US history and has been trending upward for the past several decades.

The far right is politically autonomous. While some liberals have glossed over the deep connections between far right politics and mainstream institutions, some leftists have made the opposite mistake by treating far rightists simply as tools of the ruling class. It is certainly true that economic or political elites have sometimes found white supremacist and fascist forces useful — for attacking the left or the labor movement, for example — but the relationship between them is at best ambivalent. In calling for the US political system to be abolished or broken up, far rightists do not speak for any significant faction of the capitalist elite, although that could change.

The US far right has a contradictory relationship with the established order, reinforcing it in some ways and attacking it in others. This tension is often expressed in a kind of double-edged ideology. On the one side, far right groups offer people a way to defend the relative social privileges and power that they enjoy over oppressed groups such as people of color, women, LGBT people, and immigrants, and speak to fears that traditional privileges have been lost or are under threat. But the far right also speaks to people’s sense of being disempowered and downtrodden by groups above them, by denouncing groups that they identify with elite power, such as the federal government, liberal intellectuals, global corporations, or Jewish bankers.

Far right ideology is not just about race. When people say “far right” they often mean white supremacist or white nationalist. There are several problems with this. For one thing, people who want a society dominated and defined by people of European descent don’t all necessarily want to overthrow or secede from the United States. And equating the far right with white nationalism leaves out important rightist forces that reject the legitimacy of the US political system but don’t put race at the center of their ideology. A prime example is the Christian right’s hardline faction — embodied most clearly in Christian Reconstructionism — which wants to replace the US government with a full-scale theocracy based on biblical law. In addition, while all major far right currents in the United States are predominantly white, some have made real efforts to recruit people of color, and these efforts could grow.

Far right politics don’t stand still. The Marxist historian Isaac Deutscher commented once that after World War I, many German leftists thought the main danger from the right was going to be efforts to restore the monarchy. They were blindsided when the main rightist danger turned out to be a movement that had no interest in restoring the monarchy, but instead carried a red flag and put both “Socialist” and “Workers” in the name of its organization — the National Socialist German Workers Party, also known as the Nazis.

One of the most striking features of the US far right over the past half-century has been its repeated efforts to develop new doctrines, arguments, strategies, and forms of organization. As an example, many opponents assume that far rightists remain oriented toward classical fascism’s vision of a strong state and a disciplined, top-down political organization. In reality huge swaths of the far right have abandoned this approach and have embraced some form of political decentralism, ranging from the Neo-Nazi-based “leaderless resistance” strategy to Christian Reconstructionism’s vision of a locally based theocracy enforced through the small-scale institutions of church and family.

The far right presents multiple kinds of threats. In the short term, it’s extremely unlikely that far rightists could seize power and bring about the kind of society they envision. While this cannot be ruled out in the longer term, there are several more immediate reasons to take the far right seriously. First, far rightists carry out harassment and violence against targeted groups, and they encourage other people to do the same. Second, far rightists create more space for system-loyal forces to intensify their own bigotry, scapegoating, and violence, both by offering an example for system-loyal groups to learn from, and also by providing an “extreme” example that helps more “moderate” versions look legitimate by comparison. Third, far rightists can exploit popular grievances to draw support away from left-wing liberatory alternatives. Fourth, far rightists can infect the left itself with their poisonous ideas or recruit leftists to work with them.

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission

Buy book now | Buy the eBook now | Back to Matthew Lyon's Author Page




Donald Trump Uses Right-Wing Populism to Unite Divergent Groups

By Mark Karlin
Truthout

July 8th, 2017


No, the right wing is not a monolithic force. One of the key points Matthew N. Lyons details in his book Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire is that the right wing is composed of groups with different historical roots. Trump, Lyons argues in this interview, is a right-wing populist.

Mark Karlin: Why is it important to break the far right in the United States into distinctive components?

Matthew K. Lyons: Because different branches of the far right represent different types of threats. They have different social bases, target different scapegoats, pursue different strategies, and have different strengths and weaknesses. Understanding these differences helps us fight them more effectively.

For purposes of analysis in Insurgent Supremacists, I define the US far right as encompassing those political forces that (a) regard human inequality as natural, desirable or inevitable; and (b) reject the legitimacy of the existing political system. That cuts across a lot of political divides. Many far rightists put race at the center of their program, but others focus more on religious doctrine, or gender or a more generic form of elitism. Some far rightists advocate paramilitary organizing while others focus on electoral activism, or building community institutions, or a “metapolitical” transformation of cultural norms and assumptions. Some sections of the far right are working-class oriented while others have a base that’s predominantly middle class or professional. Some recruit whole families while others are only interested in men.

Matthew N. Lyons.Matthew N. Lyons.PM Press

It’s not just the differences and divisions within the far right that are important, but also the interactions and creative tensions between different factions. Every far-right upsurge in the US over the past 40 years has been powered by different rightist currents coming together. In the 1980s, the convergence between Klan and Nazi forces — which had distrusted each other for half a century — gave us the modern white nationalist movement. In the 1990s, the explosion of Patriot/militia groups was fueled by a new mix of white nationalism, Christian Reconstructionism, John Birch-style conspiracism and gun rights ideology. Over the past decade, the rise of the “alt-right” has followed the same dynamic.

Where does the “alt-right” fit in?

The “alt-right” is the newest major far right current to emerge in the United States. It started to cohere around 2010, when Richard Spencer founded the online journal AlternativeRight.com to foster intellectual debate and discussion among right-wing critics of mainstream conservatism. A lot of different ideological ingredients have gone into the mix, but some of the most notable ones have been paleoconservatism (a dissident branch of US conservatism that has advocated economic nationalism and white Christian cultural dominance and opposed most US military interventions abroad), the European New Right (a high-brow initiative to rework fascist ideology that started in France in the late 1960s) and the manosphere (an online anti-feminist subculture that has fostered some of the most virulent misogyny, in both theory and practice). White nationalism has always been a dominant force in the “alt-right,” and at this point, those “alt-rightists” who didn’t embrace white nationalism have apparently all left the movement. Both Nazi and non-Nazi versions of white nationalism are represented.

A key feature that sets the “alt-right” apart from earlier far-right movements is its emphasis on web culture, social media and the use of memes. Neo-Nazis have pioneered in the use of computer networks and information technology since the 1980s, but the “alt-right” started out by developing a major online presence and only later started to form member organizations and hold physical rallies. “Alt-rightists” got very skilled at using political irony and mounting meme campaigns, such as the #cuckservative campaign in 2016, which significantly helped Donald Trump in the presidential primaries by attacking his main Republican competitors. Borrowing a tactic from the manosphere’s Gamergate campaign, “alt-rightists” also barraged political opponents with vicious online harassment, such as flooding their inboxes with rape and death threats.

The “alt-right” has suffered a series of setbacks over the past year, through a combination of internal failings and external pressures, and it’s a lot weaker and more isolated than it was when Trump was elected. But it’s had a lasting impact, not only by helping to put Trump in the White House, but also by fueling supremacist violence and injecting supremacist ideology into mainstream discourse. And even if the “alt-right” itself never recovers, it’s likely that sooner or later we’ll see a resurgence of another far-right movement that builds on its example, promoting similar ideas in different form.

Why do you think there are so many different perceptions of fascism?

To some extent, it’s because fascists have never developed an agreed-upon body of political theory the way Marxists, anarchists, liberals and even conservatives have done. Mussolini declared that fascists were more concerned with action than with doctrine, which has misled some critics into thinking that fascism doesn’t stand for anything except grabbing power and brutalizing people. But opponents also perceive fascism differently because of their different starting points, different ways of understanding the world. Is fascism fundamentally an expression of “hate,” a mass psychology of exclusion? Is it an outgrowth of capitalism, or even a “stage” of capitalism in decline, as many Marxists have claimed? Or is it, as some conservatives have argued, essentially “big government” run amok?

People on both the left and the right have often used “fascism” more as a political epithet, a way to denounce your opponents, than a term of analysis. There’s a long tradition of liberals and leftists denouncing every repressive move by right-wing politicians as “fascist,” from Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts to George W. Bush’s “war on terror” to Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. To me, all of these are actually examples of authoritarian conservatism, which is a top-down impulse to defend the established order and ruling-class interests. I see fascism as an outgrowth of an organized mass movement that wants to sweep away established institutions and impose a new kind of supremacist order. Fascism may cut a deal with established elites, but is at root an autonomous force with its own agenda, not a ruling-class puppet. Contrary to popular usage, fascists are not the only ones who impose dictatorships, and they are not the only ones who carry out genocide.

Are many far right groups populist in nature?

Yes, in the United States, pretty much all of them are populist to one degree or another. I follow political scientist Margaret Canovan’s approach in defining populism as an effort to rally “the people” around some form of anti-elitism. There are a lot of different versions of populism, some of which have positive elements. But right-wing populism, as Chip Berlet and I and others have argued, is a subcategory in which anti-elitism is combined with a drive to bolster the oppression, exclusion or annihilation of one or more oppressed or marginalized groups. In addition, the anti-elitism that right-wing populists promote is distorted, in that it diverts people’s anger away from the actual systems of power (such as capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy) onto a scapegoat (such as “globalist elites,” or “liberal intellectuals” or “Jewish bankers”).

There have been many right-wing populist movements in US history, but most of them have been system loyal, in the sense that they have not really called the established political order into question. The far right of recent decades is part of a larger right-wing populist upsurge, which regards the limited gains made by oppressed social groups since the 1960s as the result of a plot by “sinister elites” to undermine Western civilization. There are different versions of this narrative — some racial, some religious, some economic, and so on. System-loyal right-wing populists essentially argue that the sinister elites can be put in their place through reforming the existing system, while far rightists believe that the system is beyond repair and a political revolution is needed — a revolution of the right, an insurgency to impose a new supremacist order.

What are the relationships between national security forces, law enforcement and the paramilitary right?

This is a complex story and delving into it is one of the elements that sets Insurgent Supremacists apart from most books about the US far right. There’s a long history of federal agencies colluding with — or actively sponsoring — right-wing violence against people of color, organized labor and the left. For example, in the early 1970s, federal agencies sponsored right-wing organizations in the Chicago area and southern California that carried out break-ins, physical attacks and assassination attempts against leftists. In 1979, an FBI informer and an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms both helped plan an operation in which neo-Nazi and Klan groups murdered five members and supporters of the Communist Workers Party in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Candidate Trump got more help from far rightists than any other major presidential candidate in living memory.

But when right-wing paramilitaries have turned against the state, federal agencies have cracked down hard on them. In the 1980s, security forces smashed The Order, a neo-Nazi group that had issued a declaration of war against the “Zionist Occupation Government” in Washington, and rounded up members of half a dozen other armed fascist organizations. In the 1990s, the FBI created a phony neo-Nazi organization called the Veterans Aryan Movement to help it gather intelligence about genuine far-right groups — a classic counterinsurgency tactic. The federal government has also sometimes used far-right violence as a useful scapegoat to justify increases in state repression. For example, the Clinton administration used the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to help push through the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which civil liberties advocates have excoriated. Yet in recent years, federal security forces’ responses to the paramilitary right have been largely reactive, inconsistent and even passive. At the Bundy Ranch confrontation in 2014, federal officers backed down when confronted by armed Patriot movement activists pointing guns at them, and the government waited almost two years before bringing any charges for the incident.

This kind of cautious response partly reflects pressure from conservatives, but it may also point to awareness that federal government efforts to control the paramilitary right have sometimes backfired — spectacularly. In the 1960s, FBI infiltration of Ku Klux Klan groups (carried out not to end racist violence, but to bring to heel a heavily armed network operating outside government control) significantly weakened the Klan in the short term, but it massively discredited the Bureau in the eyes of white supremacists, and helped push many of them to embrace revolutionary, far-right politics. The 1992 assault on the home of white supremacist Randy Weaver — in which federal agents shot to death Weaver’s teenage son and gunned down his wife while she was holding their baby — helped spark the rise of the Patriot movement as a reaction against fears of government tyranny.

Federal security forces do their job clumsily at times and skillfully at others, are subject to a variety of internal biases and external pressures, and have to contend with shifting political circumstances. Fundamentally, however, their purpose is to protect ruling-class power. Broadly speaking, paramilitary rightists serve that purpose when they defend the existing order, and clash with that purpose when they seek to overthrow it.

How does Trump fit in with the history of insurgent supremacists in the United States?

I see Donald Trump as a right-wing populist who is system loyal, but whose rise is symbiotically connected to the far right. Trump has skillfully appealed to the double-edged sense of grievance that many Americans feel — a fear that their traditional privileges have been or are being eroded, coupled with an anger and resentment at economic, political and cultural elites above them. Many successful US politicians have done this, but few of them have opposed the political establishment as squarely as Trump did, and few of them have leaned on far-right support the way he has. Candidate Trump got more help from far rightists, especially the “alt-right,” than any other major presidential candidate in living memory. And in turn, his campaign helped “alt-rightists” gain visibility, media access and a degree of legitimation they would never have had otherwise. Several of the advisers Trump picked for his administration echoed the “alt-right” to varying degrees. Some of them (such as Steve Bannon) have left, but others (such as Stephen Miller) are still there.

Most “alt-rightists” supported Trump’s candidacy because of his anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant positions, because he repudiated standard taboos (for example, advocating torture, calling for violence against political opponents and bragging about sexual assault) and because he made establishment conservatives look like fools. In the early days, long before anybody thought he could win, “alt-rightists” saw him as somebody who could destroy the Republican Party. Their view of Trump was essentially: He is not one of us, but he is useful to our cause, because he can buy us time and open up more space for us to get our message out. Since the inauguration, “alt-rightists” have applauded some of Trump’s moves, but they’ve also been frustrated and alienated by some of his actions (such as his missile strikes against Syria) and what they see as his capitulation to the conservative establishment on many issues.

As many “alt-rightists” have understood clearly from the beginning, Donald Trump is not a far rightist. His policies are racist but not white nationalist (because he doesn’t advocate a white ethno-state and the mass expulsion of people of color) and authoritarian but not fascist (because he wants to suppress opponents but doesn’t aim to impose one totalitarian ideology on all spheres of society). Also, unlike fascists, he did not build an independent organization, but instead cobbled together an elite coalition of “America First” nationalists and mainstream conservatives, and over time the latter have mostly come out on top. Despite some inconsistent steps away from the establishment line on free trade and foreign policy, Trump’s main impact has been to intensify conventional conservative policies, such as deregulating industry, making the tax system even more regressive and making life even harder for undocumented immigrants.

To be clear, Trump isn’t just more of the same. He builds on his predecessors (Republican and Democrat), but he is qualitatively worse than them. Trump is accelerating the decline of the United States’ liberal-pluralist system (often mislabeled “democracy”), and his rise has helped to mobilize popular forces that have the potential to turn toward more insurgent forms of right-wing politics. In this situation, it’s important for leftists to join with others in opposing the growth of repression, demonization and supremacist violence. At the same time, it’s also important for us to strengthen and amplify our own critiques of the established order, our own visions of radical change — and not let far rightists present themselves as the only real opposition force.

Progressive Pick

Insightful books, DVDs, and other products hand-picked weekly by Truthout staff. By purchasing a Progressive Pick you are supporting Truthout's non-profit mission.

Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire

There are many different strains to far right groups in the US. To take on their insidious challenge, Matthew Lyons educates us about their histories and ideologies.
Truthout Store
Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Mark Karlin is the editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout. He served as editor and publisher of BuzzFlash for 10 years before joining Truthout in 2010. BuzzFlash has won four Project Censored Awards. Karlin writes a commentary five days a week for BuzzFlash, as well as articles (ranging from the failed 'war on drugs' to reviews relating to political art) for Truthout. He also interviews authors and filmmakers whose works are featured in Truthout's Progressive Picks of the Week. Before linking with Truthout, Karlin conducted interviews with cultural figures, political progressives and innovative advocates on a weekly basis for 10 years. He authored many columns about the lies propagated to launch the Iraq War.

 
Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission

Read more at Truthout

Buy book now | Buy the eBook now | Back to Matthew Lyon's Author Page




The Dark Side of the Silicon Gold Rush

Q&A with Richard Walker, author Pictures of a Gone City

By Richard Florida
CityLab
July 3rd, 2018



Pictures of a Gone City i
s the culmination of the life’s work of Richard A. Walker, a professor emeritus of geography at the University of California, Berkeley. A student of the great Marxist geographer David Harvey, Walker brings a profoundly historical approach to his scholarship. His lens spans economics, urban design, politics, and the environment, to name just a few of his interests.

Walker’s new book is urban geography for our times. It illuminates the basic crisis and contradiction of the San Francisco Bay Area, which is an example of capitalism at its most innovative and dynamic, and simultaneously the site of severe inequality and failing public policies and infrastructure. Walker has lived and worked in the Bay Area for most of his life. I was delighted to speak with him about topics ranging from the real geographic definition of the Bay Area, to its history of innovation (stretching back to the Gold Rush days), to the contemporary movements that might help the Bay Area reclaim its radical roots.

One of the things I like most about your book is its historical perspective. The Bay Area has always been a much desired and relatively expensive place to live. What’s different now?

In the 1950s postwar era, when the Beats were going strong, and right through the 1960s, San Francisco was remarkably cheap, actually, because it wasn’t as in demand as New York. So people could find places to rent in North Beach, which now is regarded as very luxurious. What [happened] is, around 1970, there’s an inflection point where prices in California in general take off and start to outrun most of the rest the country. And then there’s another inflection point around the 1990s.

Trying to explain this, of course, is what everybody’s got their pet theory about—but it’s not simple. Certainly, it has to do with the unbelievable success of California, and particularly with the success of the Bay Area, which has outrun California. California created enormous numbers of jobs for a very long time, and then it’s generated massive wealth, particularly here in the Bay Area.

That means that the upper 20 percent of the population have an enormous amount of disposable income they can spend on rent, [so] they’ve bid the rents up for the desirable parts of the city.

What is it about the area that allowed it to create such an advantage in high-tech industries?

It’s always had a very high component of skilled labor. It always had tons of capital—it really was the number-two financial center in the country since World War II. And that had always supported new industries. There’s a certain social culture of openness and opportunity. It really goes back to the Gold Rush. This is something that runs very deep in the Bay Area, and California as a whole.

The Bay Area is a major tech economy, but not a one-industry economy, the way steel was to Pittsburgh or autos were to Detroit. Talk more about that breadth.

It’s much more on the New York model or even the Chicago model than some of these more one-horse places. It is “Tech Town,” the most dominated by the tech industry of any place in the world. But at the same time, it has this long history of manufacturing, especially related to agriculture, as well as mining and canning and food production.

Because of higher education and research, it developed biotech ahead of everybody. This is where the beginnings of gene splicing [were] done. So we have this huge medical-tech and health-service complex; [a] higher-education complex. And then a surprising amount of logistics, because of the Port of Oakland. San Francisco was the biggest port on the West Coast up until World War II. And then Oakland took over as one of the major container ports for many years, with all the associated warehousing and transport. That’s still pretty big.

And the tech industry is itself different because it is so fertile in terms of the potential uses of electronics and chips—that we could go from chip-making to the internet is a huge leap. And then you could leap into the software of the internet and social media and all the rest.

One of the things you also write about is how big and fractured the Bay Area is: 125 municipalities sprawling out in every direction—with its own Inland Empire. Give us a picture of what this region really looks like.

New York absorbed its challenger in Brooklyn in a way that San Francisco never was able to do with Oakland; and then Silicon Valley pops up, and so you have a third head. The book Edge Cities used the outer East Bay as one of the prime cases of the Edge City along the 680 corridor, with the decentralization of offices that was going on there starting in the 1980s. And now we have suburbs going all the way into Central Valley. We’re merging with Stockton and even Sacramento.

Even people here are just waking up to this. But it’s important to see that we have an Inland Empire, to see the whole and not just the parts. It’s important for people elsewhere to realize how enormous this place is. It’s the fourth biggest city [metro area] in the United States after Chicago.

In your book, you talk about the perils of prosperity. You outline the dynamism of the Bay Area and the problems that come with it—unaffordability, inequality, poverty, sprawl, environmental degradation, and more.

I call it the Communist Manifesto problem. Marx and Engels write one of the great paeans to capitalism in that statement. It has produced wonders far beyond any previous civilization—massive potential for well-being. And at the same time, tremendous immiseration of the working people, disruption, “all that is solid melts into air,” modernity that undermines all fixed conditions.

I try to keep juggling the two sides. I think it’s too easy—and I think the left often falls victim to this, and I’m on the left so I’m saying this sympathetically—to go for the low-hanging fruit. Like, the emptying out of Detroit is catastrophic, how could a country could let this happen?
But in this case, I want to show that this is the center of the dynamism of capitalism today. As one person put it, “Tech makes capitalism fun again.” And there is a sense of that. I think you have to recognize the excitement of this industry, the excitement that modernity has always generated.

My challenge is to say, “Okay, given that this place is so successful, perhaps the most successful place on Earth certainly in the last decade, what’s still wrong and how could it go so wrong?” How could you have this gross inequality, how could you have so many working people earning minimum wage? A quarter of them are earning minimum wage; a third of them can’t earn a living wage. And then the homeless situation is just beyond immoral. Perhaps the most disgusting homeless situation anywhere in this pretty heartless country. And so that’s what I do, is take it apart and show both sides.

So what are the things that have gone badly wrong in the Bay Area?

We are one of the leading generators of inequality, which is hidden because we look at our high median income—the highest in the world of any big city—and say, “Wow, that’s great.

Capitalism lifts all boats.” On the top you see that most of the big boats are bobbing around quite nicely, steaming ahead. But then the little boats are getting swamped.

The next thing is housing. The housing crisis is really grotesque here. Hundreds of thousands of people are being priced out of the city and having to move either far out into the Central Valley, where you’re 100 miles away from the center, or they give up and go to Las Vegas or Reno or Oregon, or wherever the possibilities seem better for ordinary working folks.

“You look at the revival of San Francisco and many of the centers, like Oakland. But at the same time, urban sprawl goes on forever, with all the negatives of that.”

Urban sprawl—that has not been solved at all. You look at the revival of San Francisco and many of the centers, like Oakland. But at the same time, urban sprawl goes on forever, with all the negatives of that, which I discuss in a whole chapter on environmental impacts, because that is still eating land like crazy and eating resources and water, and we’re dealing with its air pollution.

Another big thing is the ideology of the tech industry. The siren song of the innovators and of the tech moguls saying that they’re creating this new world, a much better world, which we’re all discovering is not the utopia that we were promised. Far from it: In some respects it’s a nightmare.

The last thing is, we have a long and pretty honorable tradition of progressive politics in the Bay Area. And the question is, where’s that going? Even though we’re still the bluest of the blue, that doesn’t necessarily mean that our radical edge, our progressive edge, is doing well. A lot of that has been blunted.

You made the point that tech made capitalism fun. But it doesn’t feel like fun anymore. As you say, it seems to be turning into a nightmare for many people and communities. We can all sense the growing backlash against Big Tech. What is causing this shift in the Bay Area, specifically?

I think it’s a problem Americans have always had, and illusions that we’ve always had about the promise of technology. We want to believe that technology will deliver us from evil without cost, which never turns out to be what you hoped. It may be wonderful and dynamic and deliver a lot of goods. But it delivers a lot of social change, social upheaval, new kinds of problems that you never imagined. And that’s what we’re getting: a lot of the unexpected consequences.

Americans have always thought that the market delivered competition and that we’re a country of small business. Now you may have a proliferation of little-guy startups, which seems very dynamic and kind of fulfills the American Dream, but what happens of course if the industry is really successful [is] a few of these guys turn into corporate giants like Google and Facebook, and then they start gobbling up the little guys.

That becomes the endpoint of a startup—it’s not to enter the market and compete, but to end up being acquired by a corporate giant, and you become a multimillionaire. You’re delivered your cut of the goodies, but it doesn’t deliver the promised competition, and instead you end up with these mega-monopolies who made most of their money off advertising. What could be more boringly American and less like the promised land than simply having to deal all the time with electronic billboards?

***

Richard Florida is a co-founder and editor at large of CityLab and a senior editor at The Atlantic. He is a University Professor and Director of Cities at the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute, and a Distinguished Fellow at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate.


Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Richard Walker's Author Page




The Young C.L.R. James in Against the Current

By Jason Schulman
Against the Current
July-August 2018


The Making of C.L.R. James

The Young C.L.R. James:
A Graphic Novelette
Illustrated by Milton Knight
Edited by Paul Buhle and Lawrence Ware
PM Press, 43 pages, $6.95 paper.

THERE’S LITERALLY NO reason for any socialist to not pick up this illustrated novellete, even if you’ve already read all of C.L.R. James’ writings and have read the biographies and studies of his works written by Paul Buhle (the novellete’s co-editor), James D. Young, Kent Worcester, Frank Rosengarten and others.

This pamphlet is a delight, a charming caricature drawn in a whimsical style by Milton Knight, an artist who’s worked on everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics to World War 3 Illustrated.

As one would expect from its title, The Young C.L.R. James mainly concentrates on the relatively little-known details of James’ early life. It also has much to say about culture in early-20th century Trinidad, then a British colony, such as the annual carnival in Tunapuna, described as “[a] celebration of West Indian Cultures” and “[a] festival of sport, music — and debauchery” which the British authorities consistently failed to repress.

This allowed for “a period of physical and emotional release” under “the incredible color-obsessed ‘order’” imposed by Britain. James himself finds escape from both racist colonialism and the “armor” of his household’s “respectability” though calypso music, magazines and literature, and — as anyone who’s read his book Beyond A Boundary knows well — cricket. (Young James’ growing obsession with cricket quickly makes his parents less than happy.)
Even as he studies British history, enters Queens Royal College and acts as a “good British subject,” James soon finds himself becoming a literary “bohemian” within the black Beacon Group, all of whom are devotees not only of calypso but the American jazz of Louis Armstrong.

A section of the pamphlet depicts the rise and fall of big band jazz and specifically swing dancing, which ends as a mass phenomenon with the closing of the Savoy Ballroom in 1958.
A text piece points out that James was a swing dance devotee, attracted to its “promise of freed and rhythmic motion” and presaging the insights into American popular culture found in his book American Civilization, written in 1950 though not published until 1992.

The increasingly radicalized James declares that “Blacks would be fools and worse to go through life as imtiation whites,” and while in London he writes Toussaint L’ouverture, an explicitly political three-act play about the best-known leader of the Haitian Revolution of 1791. James is surprised to find that the “Stage Society” will only produce it provided that renowned singer Paul Robeson accepts the leading role, which he does.

Perhaps ironically, Robeson, whom James greatly admired, would become a devout supporter of the Soviet Union, while James, in the heterodox wing of American Trotskyism, would denounce the USSR as totalitarian state capitalism.

James’ opposition to Stalinism is mentioned in the novellete’s opening text piece but is not depicted via graphics. Aside from Knight’s excursion into swing music history, The Young C.L.R. James ends with the first performance of Toussaint L’ouverture in 1936, even though James had become a Trotskyist in 1934.

Of course, there are many other sources where one can study James’ Trotskyist “career” as well as his later development into a forerunner of what was later labeled Autonomist Marxism. Biographies of James abound, and there’s little reason for another to appear.

Instead, The Young C.L.R. James does an excellent job at performing its particular task — as its co-editors describe, explaining “how such a universal mind could have grown from humble origins in a backwater of the British Empire.” It’s also a fun read.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Paul Buhle's Author Page | Back to Milton Knight's Author Page | Back to Lawrence Ware's Author Page




Q&A with Richard Walker, author Pictures of a Gone City in the San Jose Mercury News

By Kate Murphy
San Jose Mercury News
June 28th, 2018


The geographer Richard Walker is out with an unflinching examination of the San Francisco Bay Area, the epicenter of the tech boom — and he opens the book with a poem published more than a half-century before the iPhone:

“The world is a beautiful place / to be born into / if you don’t mind happiness / not always being / so very much fun / if you don’t mind a touch of hell / now and then / just when everything is fine / because even in heaven / they don’t sing / all the time,” it begins.

The work by Lawrence Ferlinghetti — “Pictures of a Gone World” — has always resonated with Walker, and it inspired the title of his new book: “Pictures of a Gone City: Tech and the Dark Side of Prosperity in the San Francisco Bay Area.”

The 394-page volume is both literally and thematically heavy, discussing the winners and losers of the latest tech boom along with themes of racial and economic segregation, displacement, urban sprawl, the foreclosure crisis and today’s housing crisis. The retired UC Berkeley geography professor said he wrote it with the “educated public” in mind, people “who want to figure out what’s going on” in this prosperous, yet turbulent time.

We caught up with Walker, who still lives part-time in Berkeley, about his latest book. This interview has been edited for length and clarity:

Q: What do you mean by “Gone City?”

A: There’s a book of poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who opened City Lights bookstore and was one of the founding members of the beat movement in San Francisco in the early ‘50s. And there’s one poem in that collection that I have always loved. It speaks to the present reality. It speaks to the contradiction of living in a place that’s kind of fantastic — “gone,” in the lingo of the post-war era, meant good, but it also meant that it’s disappeared, a city that isn’t there anymore. Ferlinghetti’s poem speaks to that sense of being in a place and enjoying the life and the scene of a city as the writer moves through it, and at the same time having to step over homeless people. The poem is written in these couplets, of the world is a beautiful place if you don’t see the problems around you.

Q: There is one line where you talk about “the entire urban fabric being made over by forces beyond popular control and the powers of local government.” You write, “By the time it settles down again, the city will never be the same.” How so?

A: Having lived long enough and being an observer of this city since I was a teenager, I’ve been impressed, again and again, by the radical changes every decade or so. Every time there’s one of these major growth booms, the city is turned upside down. And then we forget. … We take the city again as normalized, we get used to it. And especially as young people come of age or people move into the Bay Area, you take the city as you find it and you think “Oh, that’s the way it’s always been.”

Q: You also take aim at a popular narrative that the fundamental problem behind the Bay Area’s high housing costs is artificially low housing supply, and that local restrictions on new development are largely to blame. Why is this wrong?

A: It’s wrong for a couple of reasons. It takes developers literally years to get a project off the ground, and that’s not the fault of regulation. It’s the reality of what it takes to assemble properties in a private market, to get financing, to get your architects and engineers and draw up the plans, organize your contractors, especially in a time where everyone wants contractors, and eventually get the darn thing built. Everybody knows it takes two, three, four, maybe five years. So the idea that a housing market can just respond like that if people get out of the way is nuts, it’s just completely false.

The second problem is that it ignores what’s going on right now, which is one of the greatest booms in the history of the Bay Area, in a city that is one of the most fast growing and the richest in the world. When you have a place that’s growing extraordinarily fast, extraordinarily rich, extraordinarily unequal and then to ignore all that and say, “Well the problem is the supply” — no, the problem is the demand, the demand generated by a boom, possibly a bubble, this extraordinarily high average income and enormous wealth at the top. In that kind of hot-house situation, prices rise very fast, there are extreme bottlenecks of supply that are generated by this exaggerated demand, and prices go through the roof.

Q: You also write that the housing crisis has produced a “flurry of policy debate and new legislation — most of which is based on erroneous ideas about how property markets work.” What do you mean by that?

A: This simple idea that if you just clobber all local governments and all local regulations, really come down hard on them, that will release this massive, pent-up supply, that’s what’s wrong. If you look at permitting in places like San Francisco or Berkeley you’ll find that there’s actually hundreds of permits for new units that are already approved but haven’t been built. It’s not like all local governments have been restraining the caged tiger of the developers.

Most local planning regulations actually make a lot of sense: Where are you going to build the building? How big is the building? Does it fit the neighborhood? … However it is true that there are a number of exclusive enclaves — like Palo Alto, Atherton, Orinda, most of Marin County — that could accommodate a lot more apartments and density, and they refuse.

Q: You predicted that the peak of the real-estate market would be in 2017, but prices are still going up. Will it be in 2018?

A: Looks like I’m wrong again. It peaked the first time in 2015, started softening in 2016, then it took off again in 2017 and there were signs of softening in 2018, but prices seem to still be going up. There have been repeated debates amongst economists and stock-market watchers over the the last three years about when is the next recession going to hit. Because it will, it always does — that’s the nature of capitalism, and there’s no getting away from it. The question is when?

Q: What do you make of the rent-control debate and the ballot initiative — which is eligible for the November ballot — to repeal Costa Hawkins, the state law restricting local policies?

A: Rent control is based on a battle between the class of renters and the class of property owners and landlords. There’s an awful lot of active intervention to drive up rents and transform who is living in these buildings, particularly in the very high-rent centers like San Francisco. Landlords are taking more money out of renters’ pockets every month. How do renters fight back? One way is politically, through rent control. When we had a movement in the ‘80s, the landlords went to the state with their very powerful lobbies and said we’ve got to cut these guys off at the knees, and that’s when they got Costa Hawkins in 1995. It was an effort to stop the rent control movement. It was a political battle that the landlords won in a much more conservative time, when California swung way to the right.

The point is not that rents don’t go up. It’s that you allow them to go up at a much more measured pace so that it keeps up with cost of living. You don’t put a lid on the market without a safety valve.

Q: Did you say you were a renter?

A: I have a rented house in West Berkeley. I have a very nice landlord — because there are some — who doesn’t raise the rent much. I’ve had some very good landlords. I’ve also had some crummy landlords in my day.

Q: What kind of reception has “Pictures of a Gone City” gotten?

A: It’s clearly hit a nerve. People are very engaged, very excited about a book that speaks to the problems that they see. Now, again, I don’t want people to get the wrong impression because this book is not simply a complaint. It’s about how important and dynamic and amazing this urban area is, and how vital it is to the world economy, especially the tech world.


Richard A. Walker

Age:  70

Hometown: Stanford

Education: Palo Alto High School, bachelor’s at Stanford University, Johns Hopkins for Ph.D

Career: professor of geography at Berkeley, teaching from 1975 to 2012

Family: one stepdaughter, age 41, one daughter age 25


Five things about Richard Walker

1. He splits his time between Berkeley and a village in Burgundy, France, where he owns a home.

2. His 25-year-old daughter lives with him in Berkeley because she can’t afford the rents.

3. He grew up at Stanford University in the 1950s and 60s and watched Santa Clara County turn into Silicon Valley — so his first scholarly project for his Ph.D was a study of the how and why of suburbanization.

4. He is “very old-stock American” who thinks this country was built on immigrants — his long-ago ancestors include a German who fought in the Revolutionary War.

5. He fell in love again at 70, “something I never thought would happen.”



Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Richard Walker's Author Page




(H)afrocentric Comics in Socialism & Democracy

By Paul Buhl
Socialism & Democracy
June 2018

A new generation of African American-comic art is now in full swing.

For those who have followed the likes of Milton Knight, Lance Tooks and Afua Richardson, among others on hand for the memorable African-American Classics (2011), the new styles may seem rather jarring. (H)afrocentric is rooted at once in alternative comics and in the main- stream superhero mold. It is jarring in the sheer vulnerability of its characters, especially the lead, one Naima Pepper.

The “Ronald Reagan College [RRC] perched atop the hilly red- woods in Oakland” sounds suspiciously like Mills College, an old line liberal school for women that has been transitioning itself for decades into something uncertain (including, with luck, survival). Like real-life Mills, RRC is a top-flight school situated within a poor, black community undergoing gentrification from neighboring Berkeley and the whole Bay Area link to Silicon Valley. How to navigate the connections and disconnections of students from modest backgrounds on the way up, and yet tied to the community with threads of sympathy and empathy – this is a problem with no evident solution.

Campus radicals a half century ago, this reviewer included, passed out leaflets, published “underground” newspapers, and sometimes even supported candidates for office on campus and off. Today’s activists would naturally act differently in several key ways, with social media at hand and a desperate need to get to other students, often enough, through the world of beige-toned corporate liberalism. What makes Naima especially interesting are her own contradictions. She’s a suburban girl by origin, and perhaps for that reason, definitely sees through the self-image offered her as role model, future business success and so on. But where does that leave her?

Often enough, and very realistically, a bit disoriented. Especially in Oakland, once home of the Black Panthers, the legacy of the 1960s hangs heavy, sometimes inspiring and sometimes more burden than help. How to live up to civil rights and Black Power giants? What lessons do their lives, often enough wrought with tragedy, have for today in general, and for Naima in particular? She wants badly to know, because she has emerged as a leader of a proto-political group whose members have their own problems and confusions, political and per- sonal. What to do with fellow students, for instance, looking for the magic of some kind of psychic energy? or with fellow co-eds who get beyond fashions and boyfriends, and then seem to slip back? What about Naima’s own deep desire to be mighty good looking and dressed? And most of all, what to do with the African American males who are definitely awed by Naima but not so eager to be led, actually led, by a woman?

She says, on one page and after the death of an aged community resident, “looks like we won the battle but lost the war against gentrification.” The odds are too great. And then ... she bounces back by recalling the spirit of George Jackson, the “Soledad Brother” shot dead by prison guards in 1971. The ghost tells her to ask herself, and she finds another self, a Fairy Godmother with “a striking resemblance to Fanny Lou Hamer,” who gets her a job as a “racial interpreter” – “translating” words, actions and above all, the meaning of the great silence between potential agents of intersectionality. She’s not happy with what she finds, mainly well meaning but befuddled white liberals.

And here, in the complexity of these pages, the accomplishment of this comic art – drawing and narrative line alike – shows its strongest side. We might recall that a small group of especially notable African American artists found their calling or at least a living in animation, until the animation industry moved off shore or simply eliminated the work with further automation. Milt Knight and Lance Tooks draw comics like animators would, with extraordinary effort given to a
kind of visual depth and density. Another stream, best represented by multiple award-winner Afua Richardson, have made their mark through something close to mainstream or semi-mainstream fantasy and superhero genres, and perhaps Richardson’s larger-than-life heroic women are a bit closer to the work in (H)afrocentric.

But there is something else here, rooted (in my view) in the existing limitations of the indie comic world. Diverse in almost every sense, often politically radical, and very d.i.y. in both production and distribution, it has been blessed with too few artists of color, and too few probings into the world of black youth today. With admirable exceptions, it has not much treated the legacy of the great past movements that reshaped African American life, and the victories denied by repression and the steady advance of neoliberalism. (H)afrocentric would be remarkable if only for its subtle take on these legacies and how they are perceived, ignored or understood, refigured or recycled by the following generations, marked indeed by mixed-race youngsters, the source of the “H” in the comic’s title.


Buy (H)afrocentric | Buy (H)afrocentric e-Book now | Back to Juliana "Jewels" Smith's Author Page




Yugoslavia: Peace, War, and Dissolution - A Review

By Milenko Srećković
Translated by Kosta Tadić
https://www.milenkosreckovic.com/new-book-by-noam-chomsky-yugoslavia-peace-war-and-dissolution-2018/
May 19th, 2018

The recent publishing of Noam Chomsky’s collected texts about Yugoslavia has caused a wave of outrage among the supporters of “humanitarian” military interventions on social networks. The disastrous imperialistic military interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria have showed the real face of the human-right military aggressions, proving that they have caused nothing but the complete collapse and tragedy in the life of normal, ordinary people. These intervention supporters have found their last shelter in the mythological Hollywood interpretation of the breakup of Yugoslavia, where the bad guys (the Serbs) can be stopped only by the NATO bombing. The Middle East military interventions are usually justified by the Bosnian war, and the phrase “Srebrenica: Never Again!” has become a battle cry of the American military-intelligence propaganda machine.

This is why the Chomsky’s analysis of the German and American role in triggering the wars in Croatia and Bosnia is so annoying to the imperialistic agents – the same ones who have “found” weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and lied about chemical attacks in Syria. The hypocrisy of the Western media is shown in their constant horrification by the war crimes in Yugoslavia, their repeating that NATO should have acted more aggressively in their prevention… and their silence when it comes to the imperialistic support to the militant nationalists and separatists on each side: to Alija Izetbegović – the Muslim fundamentalist who spent some time in a Yugoslav prison in the early 1980s because of his religious fanaticism – and to Franjo Tuđman – who gained the political power by using the resurrection of the Croatian WWII fascist Ustasha Movement. On the other hand, the West didn’t mind the Milošević’s Serbian nationalism but his “communism”, and he was labeled “the last communist dictator in Europe”, while the Serbian opposition leaders like Vuk Drašković and Zoran Đinđić enjoyed the constant Western support because of their transparent nationalism and anti-communism.

The Chomsky’s analysis is completely opposite to the propagandic stereotypes of the Bosnian war – stereotypes created by the “intellectuals” defending the militant humanism, e.g Bernard-Henri Levy and Marko Attila Hoare. Chomsky is not uselessly crying over the war crimes – he is speaking about the imperialistic interests which had encouraged the secessions of the former Yugoslav republics and led to the war. The Western journalists often blame the West for not intervening and preventing the Srebrenica murders, not mentioning that the Western interventions had in fact caused the war by sabotaging the peace negotiations between the belligerent nations. In fact, the Bosnian war started after the Americans had instructed the Bosnian Muslims to withdraw their Lisbon Agreement (Carrington–Cutileiro peace plan) signature and unilaterally declare the Bosnian independence. Chomsky is not the only one dealing with this subject – there are numerous other serious accusations against the US administration. I would like to mention the very precise testimonies by the Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia James Byron Bissett and the Canadian Major-General Lewis Wharton MacKenzie – known for establishing and commanding Sector Sarajevo as part of the UN Protection Force – which can be seen here:




The book Yugoslavia – Peace, War, and Dissolution consists of three chapters. The first part is dealing with the Josip Broz’s rule, “self-managed socialism” and Yugoslav dissidents. The second part is about the late 1980s and early 1990s Yugoslav crisis. In this chapter, Chomsky is talking about the wider background of the crisis, about the breakup process and the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. The third part is dedicated to Kosovo and Metohija, the events that led to the NATO bombing, as well as the ones after it. An introduction to the book was written by Andrej Grubačić, and every chapter includes the comments by the book editor Davor Džalto. The book was published by PM Press, an independent leftist publishing house, and it can be bought on the publisher’s official website: https://secure.pmpress.org/index.php?l=product_detail&p=881

The whole process of Yugoslavian breakup could be really understood and seriously analysed only by a person with a serious political experience which Noam Chomsky undoubtedly had and still has. His writings are extremely valuable to everyone who wants to understand the global imperialistic geopolitical interests and the methods used for their achievement. His work is also a testimony about shameful immorality of the numerous war-supporting “intellectuals” and journalists. Hiding behind “humanitarianism”, they – together with the war machine and intelligence agents – are turning the ordinary people’s lives into hell.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Davor Džalto's Author Page | Back to Noam Chomsky's Author Page




Yugoslavia: Peace, War, and Dissolution - A Review

By Niklas Pivic
Niklas’ Blog
May 2018

Reading Noam Chomsky’s analyses of political power is always recommendable. Regardless of what one may think of him, his oft-piercing words penetrate the cobwebs that demagogues and kleptocracies throw out in order to maintain their own status quo.

When I was in high school, the war in Yugoslavia broke out.
My dad’s from Yugoslavia and our family sported a Yugoslavian surname, which lead to a bunch of kids coming up to me, asking which part of Yugoslavia I came from. Who do you side with? Even though I knew very little of the past conflicts that had affected Yugoslavia not only recently at the time, but since the start of the 20th century, it was clear to me that this was a war that was reported in disingenuous ways via mainstream media. I read some things, and then heard from my cousins via ICQ and the likes; while the media gaslighted people into thinking that Serbs were basically atrocious murderers, my cousin told me of NATO missiles that precision-bombed apartments belonging to resistance leaders.

I wish I’d had this book as the war went on.

This is not a hagiography, or any kind of finger-pointer, but rather a two-pronged book:

The first part is not written by Chomsky, but mainly by Davor Džalto (Editor) and Andrej Grubacic (Preface), who have constructed a clear-cut view of Yugoslavia from before, during, and after World War II; it helps a lot to understand the complex dealings within Yugoslavia, not to mention how they differed from their (at-times) allies, e.g. the Soviet Union.

The second part consists of a few articles written by and interviews with Noam Chomsky, most of which have appeard in the illustrious Z Magazine. Chomsky lays into NATO as he should, and he basically uses NATO statements to show how they went against the UN in every way, went against NATO member states (e.g. Greece and Italy) in attacking parts of Yugoslavia, and also what most probably lays behind the decisions of NATO; Chomsky radiates at his very best when he investigates the moral claims by the likes of Bill Clinton and NATO commanders, where they used “we couldn’t very well just have stood by and watched this happen” to explain something as horrific as their 78-day-long bombing of Yugoslavia, while doing nothing in countries where NATO could have stopped sheer atrocities.

It would be hard to criticise the makers of this book for anything, really; I found this book both enlightening and uplifting, as one has to understand our history in order to do better. Still, this will probably have no impact whatsoever on US foreign policy which has only escalated and progressed since.

To those who have followed mainstream media for news on the war in Yugoslavia this book will most likely be eye-opening; to me it was, especially where finding out how both the American and British government escalated the killings and why, and also of how mainstream media chose to not be more than stenographers to government.

Examples from the book:

This is by no means the only impressive feat of doctrinal management. Another is the debate over NATO’s alleged “double standards,” revealed by its “looking away” from other humanitarian crises, or “doing too little” to prevent them. Participants in the debate must agree that NATO was guided by humanitarian principles in Kosovo—precisely the question at issue. That aside, the Clinton administration did not “look away” or “do too little” in the face of atrocities in East Timor, or Colombia, or many other places. Rather, along with its allies, it chose to escalate the atrocities, often vigorously and decisively. Perhaps the case of Turkey—within NATO and under European jurisdiction—is the most relevant in the present connection.

Its ethnic cleansing operations and other crimes, enormous in scale, were carried out with a huge flow of military aid from the Clinton administration, increasing as atrocities mounted. They have also virtually disappeared from history. There was no mention of them at the fiftieth anniversary meeting of NATO in April 1999, held under the shadow of ethnic cleansing—a crime that cannot be tolerated near the borders of NATO, participants and commentators declaimed; only within its borders, where the crimes are to be expedited. With rare exceptions, the press has kept to occasional apologetics, though the participation of Turkish forces in the Kosovo campaign was highly praised. More recent debate over the problems of “humanitarian intervention” evades the crucial U.S. role in the Turkish atrocities or ignores the topic altogether.

NATO chose to reject diplomatic options that were not exhausted and to launch a military campaign that had terrible consequences for Kosovar Albanians, as anticipated. Other consequences are of little concern in the West, including the devastation of the civilian economy of Serbia by military operations that severely violate the laws of war. Though the matter was brought to the War Crimes Tribunal long ago, it is hard to imagine that it will be seriously addressed. For similar reasons, there is little likelihood that the Tribunal will pay attention to its 150-page “Indictment Operation Storm: A Prima Facie Case,” reviewing the war crimes committed by Croatian forces that drove some two hundred thousand Serbs from Krajina in August 1995, with crucial U.S. involvement that elicited “almost total lack of interest in the US press and in the US Congress,” New York Times Balkans correspondent David Binder observes.
The suffering of Kosovars did not end with the arrival of the NATO (KFOR) occupying army and the UN mission. Though billions of dollars were readily available for bombing, as of October the U.S. “has yet to pay any of the $37.9 million assessed for the start-up costs of the United Nations civilian operation in Kosovo.” By November, “the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance has yet to distribute any heavy-duty kits and is only now bringing lumber” for the winter shelter program in Kosovo; the UNHCR and EU humanitarian agency ECHO have also “been dogged with criticism for delays and lack of foresight.” The current shortfall for the UN mission is “the price of half a day’s bombing,” an embittered senior UN official said, and without it “this place will fail,” to the great pleasure of Miloševi?. A November donors’ conference of Western governments pledged only $88 million to cover the budget of the UN mission in Kosovo but pledged $1 billion in aid for reconstruction for the next year—public funds that will be transferred to the pockets of private contractors, if there is some resolution of the controversies within NATO about how the contracts are to be distributed. In mid-December the UN mission again pleaded for funds for teachers, police officers, and other civil servants, to little effect.

KFOR officers report that their orders are to disregard crimes: “Of course it’s mad,” a French commander said, “but those are the orders, from NATO, from above.” NATO forces also “seem completely indifferent” to attacks by “armed ethnic Albanian raiders” across the Serb-Kosovo border “to terrorize border settlements, steal wood or livestock, and, in some cases, to kill,” leaving towns abandoned. Current indications are that Kosovo under NATO occupation has reverted to what was developing in the early 1980s, after the death of Tito, when nationalist forces undertook to create an “ethnically clean Albanian republic,” taking over Serb lands, attacking churches, and engaging in “protracted violence” to attain the goal of an “ethnically pure” Albanian region, with “almost weekly incidents of rape, arson, pillage and industrial sabotage, most seemingly designed to drive Kosovo’s remaining indigenous Slavs … out of the province.” This “seemingly intractable” problem, another phase in an ugly history of intercommunal violence, led to Miloševi?’s characteristically brutal response, withdrawing Kosovo’s autonomy and the heavy federal subsidies on which it depended and imposing an “Apartheid” regime. Kosovo may also come to resemble Bosnia, “a den of thieves and tax cheats” with no functioning economy, dominated by “a wealthy criminal class that wields enormous political influence and annually diverts hundreds of millions of dollars in potential tax revenue to itself.” Much worse may be in store as independence for Kosovo becomes entangled in pressures for a “greater Albania,” with dim portents.

There are other winners. At the war’s end, the business press described “the real winners” as Western military industry, meaning high-tech industry generally. Moscow is looking forward to a “banner year for Russian weapons exports” as “the world is rearming apprehensively largely thanks to NATO’s Balkans adventure,” seeking a deterrent, as widely predicted during the war. More important, the U.S. was able to enforce its domination over the strategic Balkans region, displacing EU initiatives at least temporarily, a primary reason for the insistence that the operation be in the hands of NATO, a U.S. subsidiary. A destitute Serbia remains the last holdout, probably not for long.

Something else interesting happened after that. Yugoslavia brought the case to the World Court. The court accepted it and deliberated for a couple of years, but what is interesting is that the U.S. excused itself from the case, and the court accepted the excuse. Why? Because Yugoslavia had mentioned the Genocide Convention, and the U.S. did sign the Genocide Convention (after forty years). It ratified it, but with a reservation, saying it was “inapplicable to the United States.” In other words, the U.S. is entitled to commit genocide. That was the case that the U.S. Justice Department of President Clinton brought to the World Court, and the court had to agree. If a country does not accept World Court jurisdiction, it has to be excluded, so the U.S. was excluded from the trial on the grounds that it grants itself the right to commit genocide. Do you think this was reported here? Does any of this get reported?
All in all, a very needed book.


Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Davor Džalto's Author Page | Back to Noam Chomsky's Author Page




The Global Imagination of 1968 in Foreword Reviews

By Kristine Morris
Foreword
June 2018

A world without hunger, without war or an international arms race, without militarized nation-states and arbitrary authorities: even now, in the twenty-first century, these goals seem out of reach, but that we can envision them at all is a legacy of the global imagination that emerged to rock the world half a century ago.

In 1968, world-historical social movements erupted in nearly every country; people were seeking freedom, not only from grinding poverty and social injustice, but to create themselves anew. The New Left, with its call for “individual autonomy amidst community” and an end to racial, political, economic, and patriarchal domination, had global appeal.

More than that, global insurgencies benefited from what George Katsiaficas calls the “eros effect,” in which “people’s ties to each other become more significant than patriotic allegiances or class and racial identities.” This term makes the concept of the “global imagination” of 1968 clear, encapsulating how, despite enormous cultural and political differences between nations, revolutionaries everywhere stood together in their dreams of freedom, taking action according to similar revolutionary norms and values and sharing a sense of solidarity.

Katsiaficas provides today’s activists with the wider historical context for action. The Global Imagination of 1968 is a guide to mobilizing the creativity to resist, disrupt, and change the lingering racism and patriarchal structures, attitudes, and economic systems that still restrict our freedom—a challenging task now that the organs of social control are militarized and often act with impunity.

Despite what appears to have been the failure of the New Left, Katsiaficas declares that its passionate challenge to the establishment left an amazing legacy of global progress and the advancement of values and ideals that can fire the imagination and nurture the dreams of a new generation of activists.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to George Katsiaficas 's Author Page



Search

Quick Access to:

Authors

Artists

New Releases

Featured Releases


Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women

On the Fly! Hobo Literature and Songs, 1879–1941