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COLUMN SIXTY-SEVEN, JANUARY 1, 2002
(Copyright 2002 Al Aronowitz)

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FUZZY THINKING FROM THE DOCTRINAIRE FAR LEFT
 

Subject: RE: Davidson - Terrorism & the Present Danger
Date: Thu, 22 Nov 2001 12:51:12 -0500
From: portsideMod@netscape.net
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[Kim Scipes < sscipe1@icarus.cc.uic.edu > 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.]

Dear Folks--

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!)

Carl is 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.

The problems 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.)

Perhaps the best way to address his argument is to go through and discuss major issues/positions upon which he stands.

Carl suggests 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 political power (regardless of how attained), there's no way in hell we could run this country without the active support of working people in this country---hell, we probably couldn't even run the heating system in one skyscraper by ourselves!  (I don't think we should have skyscrapers, but am arguing we don't have a whole lot of technical skills that are pretty basic to a complex economy.)  Again, I think our role is to join with and encourage people and social forces that are challenging the "system," treating them with respect, and both learning and sharing with them:  but we absolutely should not try to dominate them!

Carl suggests 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....)

Carl applauds 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 East and Southwestern Asia like Robert Fisk and John Pilger--that the Northern Alliance is much worse than the Taliban!  And Carl is supporting our allying with them????

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!)

Carl advances 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; it is not "America."  Second, and more to this point, by creating and putting in parallel the "two Americas," Carl is suggesting that there really is such a thing and that they are equal in political, military, economic, cultural power.  Excuse me..."  One, there are not two "Americas," but one, and two, that one is dominated by all kinds of undemocratic, imperialistic forces of the Empire.  Yes, there are some of us--unfortunately, relatively few--that refuse to accept the Empire and struggle against it in any way that we can, but to suggest that we are supported by most Americans on a comparable level, or that we have an equivalent amount of power to effect the world, is beyond ludicrousness!  This is NOT to say we are powerless, or that we cannot construct a mobilization to support our world view against the Empire---in fact, I argue that we must---but to suggest even in our most wildest dreams that we are equal in power to the Empire is so unreal I cannot even imagine someone making this claim in any way, shape or form!

Carl argues 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.

Personally, 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 simply wrong.

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.

A political 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.

In solidarity--

Kim Scipes  ##  

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