EMAIL PAGE SIX
COLUMN SIXTY-SEVEN, JANUARY 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 Al Aronowitz)
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THINKING FROM THE DOCTRINAIRE FAR LEFT
Davidson - Terrorism & the Present Danger
Date: Thu, 22 Nov 2001 12:51:12 -0500
Scipes < email@example.com
> is a former Sergeant in the US Marine Corps who got politicized while on
active duty (1969-73) in struggles against white supremacy and military
authoritarianism. He has been a
political activist for over 30 years in a number of different movements.
Most of his activism has been in and around the labor movement---he's
been a member of the Graphic Communications International Union, the National
Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers---and his labor
activism has taken place both domestically and internationally.
Published in a number of different countries, he has written a book on
the militant wing of the Filipino labor movement, the KMU (Kilusang Mayo Uno
Labor Center). Having returned to
academia, he is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology at the University of
Illinois at Chicago.]
I want to
address the issues raised by Carl Davidson in his recent statement, which he
titled "Terrorism and the Present Danger."
I strongly disagree with Carl's approach, and will be sharp in my
comments, but I don't think it is helpful to label Carl as "this or
that." I think we can
disagree, and quite sharply, without attacking each other personally.
(And of course, readers will have to ascertain whether I've met this goal
in my reply!)
trying to think out what he thinks the Left should do in response to the attacks
on September 11th. In itself, a
positive and needed effort. There's
been a lot of material across the internet---some of which I, too, have
posted---but this needs to be pulled together in a coherent whole so it can be
addressed comprehensively and strategically.
with Carl's efforts, I feel, is that despite nods to certain things---such as
anti-imperialism, etc.---I think this is a terribly ahistorical piece.
(I want to be careful here: I
am not suggesting that Carl's opposition to US imperialism over the years has
been only "rhetorical" or a sham in any way, but that in this
statement, he mentions a number of good things but then goes on as though he
never even mentioned them. There is a "logic" to such a rhetorical strategy,
but what he does politically is undercut the very argument he seeks to make.)
best way to address his argument is to go through and discuss major
issues/positions upon which he stands.
that the role of the American left is to "present ourselves as an
alternative to the current leadership and policy makers of our country...."
There are many problems here, but I'll address two.
(a) It basically implies, if not flatly suggests, that we on the Left
should position ourselves so that we can basically argue that "We can run
the Empire better than they can!" I'm
sorry, but I don't think this is the issue, and I damn sure do not want to argue
this is the role of the US Left: I
argue that our role is to do everything we can to UNDERMINE the Empire, and that
we do it not to save others, but in SOLIDARITY with peoples around the world,
because it is to our benefit as well as everyone else's.
Especially after September 11th, when the failure of the Empire was made
obvious to people in the US---I have argued elsewhere that the US political
elites scared Americans into accepting the Empire after World War II, and in
exchange, promised us economic and social security, while
"guaranteeing" us that we would be safe from external attack, a
failure that was not only apparent as of September 11, but was done in a way
that was obvious for all to see---and with the escalating economic and social
crisis that is spreading across the US (e.g., massive layoffs and the escalating
attacks on civil liberties, among other things), I think the
"benefits" of empire to Americans becomes less and less everyday.
Along with this, (b) it implies a "top-down" approach to social
organization by the Left. I can
think of no worse way to try to position our selves.
I am explicitly an anti-vanguardist (which I know will piss some people
off), and argue vehemently against any such approach.
First of all, whenever tried in this country, it has been a notable
failure. The radical left in this
country has been most successful in times when it has joined social forces that
are in motion, not to try to dominate them, but to support them to become more
radical that they might have been without our efforts.
I think this has largely been true in times like 1917-1919 (mass
campaigns to organize packinghouse and steel workers), 1934 (city-wide general
strikes in San Francisco, Toledo and Minneapolis, plus a national textile
workers strike), and in the Civil Rights and anti-Viet Nam war periods.
(Not to say that certain groups didn't try to dominate these efforts, but
because of their inability to do so, they aided the struggles.)
I'm sure others could refine this list.
Second, let's be honest with ourselves:
even if a Left group did attain
that "The terrorism confronting us is not simply aimed at political and
military targets; it's also aimed at our society and our economic life in the
broadest sense." Carl makes a
number of weak claims here, claiming that the terrorists are responsible for our
we respond to their attacks---I'm sorry, but Bush and Ashcroft are the ones
making the political decisions about our civil liberties not Bin Laden, the
attackers, or anyone else---and including things that even the FBI admits are
not September 11th related, such as "the postal service is
compromised." I find this
"claim" so weak as to not even want to address it further.
But Carl is
right that the attacks WERE aimed at our society and the broader economy, but
not in the way he suggests. The
"US" created an Empire that started soon after the arrival of the
first white settlers in North America, beginning with the theft of land and
lives from the Native Americans and imported African slaves, and then later by
stealing one-fifth of Mexico, and the exploitation and oppression of workers,
both those born here and elsewhere (and all "legitimized" by the
ideology and practices of white supremacy); this reached a qualitatively higher
level of development beginning in 1898 (Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Philippines, and
then in the Caribbean and especially Central America; and then reached another
qualitatively greater level after World War II, when it consciously sought to
politically, economically, culturally dominate all of the world (and was able to
largely do that, except in the parts of the world where the Soviet Empire
dominated, but that ended by the early 1990s when, after the collapse of the
Soviet Empire, the US emerged as the one global "superpower.")
But this Empire not only was intended to support the US's allies in
Western Europe and later Japan, and ultimately Israel, but to support all those
governments that accepted our political-economic-cultural system (such as the
Asian "Tigers"), while punishing all those who failed to be actively
supportive (or to punish them when they "slipped their leashes," like
Noriega in Panama or Hussein in Iraq).
I don't know
about Carl, but I can sure understand that some people oppose this
"system," this Empire being imposed on them, and that they wanted to
strike back. That's not to
rationalize their attacks on the World Trade Center, or to dismiss the
tremendous casualties (which means losses for survivors).
But it is saying that until the US Empire takes our boot off their necks,
we run the risk of being hit ourselves. (And,
it is important to note, that the attacks were on definable targets:
if the attackers were wanting to attack the US in general, they could
have flown airplanes into operating nuclear power plants, or massive
hydroelectric dams, or major suspension bridges, like the Golden Gate or Bay
bridges in the Bay Area....)
the Bush Administration's efforts to build "a broad coalition of countries
against terrorism," and although he doesn't use the term "Northern
Alliance," he certainly refers to them when he mentions "anti-Taliban
forces based upon the Tajik and Uzbek nationalities."
I've seen considerable evidence---particularly reported in British papers
by long-time journalists in the Middle
But there is
a nice little "slippage" here in Carl's argument, when he writes about
the war in Afghanistan: he suggests
this is a good thing, despite Bush not presenting any evidence before his war
that Afghanistan or specifically its Taliban government had anything to do with
the attacks, and thus Bush's war on the people of Afghanistan is legitimate.
Thus the cities the US is bombing, and the Afghans we are killing,
wounding, terrorizing, etc., are all legitimate military targets.
I don't buy this bullshit! Bush
has launched an unprovoked war on some of the most desperate, shit-on people in
the world, and could not even present evidence that they were in any way
involved! Give me a break! (And the US has been busy seeking to justify the war
post-attack, so as to "legitimate" Bush's war, but the fact remains
that the Emperor could not provide supportable evidence before attacking:
Bush, his political and military advisors, and even the officers that
pushed the buttons to launch the missiles and drop the bombs, are each and
collectively WAR CRIMINALS, and should be prosecuted as such.
But the Empire will not allow that!)
this argument that there are "two Americas," one of Empire and one of
Popular Democracy, and claims that Al-Quaida "makes no distinctions between
the two Americas." First of
all, let's end this nationalism by conflating this country, the United States,
with the hemisphere: we can refer
to our people as Americans, and this is acceptable, but we cannot refer to our
country as America: it is the
United States of America, or the US for short;
that "How to stop and defeat this danger [terrorism] is the principal
question on the minds of the American people. I'll admit that the government and
much of the mass media IS arguing this is true, but if this is true in reality,
I sure haven't seen it in Chicago or other places in the upper midwest that I've
traveled to in the past couple of months. Carl
lives here in Chicago, as do I, and if he's seen this here, I'd sure like him to
show me---cause I have not seen it! I
travel extensively on public transportation, and I don't hear people talking
about it, or bringing it up in various work sites I've visited, etc.
It sure is not obvious on e-mail I've seen. Interestingly, I was in
Detroit in mid-October, and stayed with a friend across the border in Windsor,
Ontario. Accordingly, I made two
trips back and forth across the huge bridge there (four crossings altogether
across national boundaries), and in each trip, there was much more security and
difficulty getting into Canada than there was into the United States!
I've heard numerous reports by people who have flown that there hasn't
seemed to be an appreciable increase in security since September 11th, although
this probably varies by airport---still, different from what we're being told.
I'd argue that the massive layoffs and economic dislocation going on in the US
right now is of much more concern for most people than terrorism, and
particularly for folks outside of New York City.
Having sought work for over six months after being "downsized"
with no more warning than "Kim, come down to my office,
please"---among other things, I'm an extremely skilled office worker:
I type over
65 words per minute and have years of experience---and having had my
unemployment expire on me, and not even being able to get an interview for jobs
that paid less than my last one, I am facing economic problems that are much
more real than any potential terrorist attack.
And, unfortunately, I am not alone.
* * *
I don't think
it is necessary to continue to tear apart Carl's argument. He obviously has not convinced me---and I argue that he is
But there's a
larger implication in his argument that must be noted. If we adopt his approach,
what is our political program? The
reality is that it would subsume us UNDER Bush (albeit, "with
qualifications"), and would disembowel any alternative politics in this
country for many years to come. If
you think we are not listened to now, think what will happen if we subvert our
political principles and values of fighting for social and political justice? To
say I think this would be a tragedy---and a tragedy much worse than September
11th---is an understatement.
I think now,
more that perhaps ever, we need to stand up, join with our friends, neighbors,
associates, etc., and struggle for economic, social, political, cultural
justice, and not just for those in the United States, but everywhere in the
world. This means that, above all,
we focus on undermining the Empire, and working with other people around the
world who share our values for justice and popular democracy for the liberation
of all people.
program on these grounds---and certainly, this is only suggestive---gives us an
opportunity to improve the world for everyone.
It is a radically and qualitatively different approach than Carl's.
I hope people will discuss and debate these two approaches, and others
that may emerge, so we can all move forward.
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