Thursday, 16 November 2017

Coming out of the Shadows - Intersex people in Kenya

LGBTI people in Africa have become a pawn in cultural arguments. Their experiences and struggles are used both as ammunition for homophobic commentaries on the supposed damage that tolerance can lead to wider society. Or to cement racist narratives about savage natives.

So I think its important to see what they themselves have to say on these matters. This a documentary about the struggles of Kenya's Intersex population and how attitudes towards them have changed over time. Its roughly positive and includes a formerly homophobic priest who having attended a sensitivity training course became an advocate for his community and mentor to a local intersex person.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Liverpool 1981 - An Eyewitness Account of the Toxteth Riots

In 1981 tensions over racist police officers abusing and harassing local black Liverpudlians exploded with a riot that for a few weeks managed to drive the police out of the area and force the government to respond and look into concessions. However, with the use of CS (Tear) gas for the first time in the UK and reinforcements enabled the police to take back control of the streets.

Racism in policing hasn't gone away and riots against police harassment would become more common in the 80's. And of course the response to police killings of coloured people has sparked the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and UK.

Friday, 10 November 2017

The CIA's First Coup in Latin America - Guatemala 1954

The CIA is notorious for its operations in Latin America. Its hard to argue that any other organisation has done more to attack and restrict democracy around the world. Their operations to topple the Presidency of Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 was the first of many operations carried out that lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans, and even managed to get several US citizens killed too.

 The ideological justification for the death squads and mercenaries that terrorised the continent was of course the claim that Communism would take control of the region. Of course this wasn't true, Communists of various ideologies were always in the minority even in Cuba the rebels who overthrew Batista were a coalition of very different political groups, if anything US hostility to the new regime gave the small Communist faction the opportunity to grow and become dominant.

Many of the governments targeted for coups and destabilisation were punished solely for wanting to carry out limited social and economic reforms. Some of the governments weren't even left wing but moderate right wing Christian Democratic administrations. Arbenz was not a communist, his crime was cutting into the profits of United Fruit and pursuing an independent policy. The wars fought in Latin America in the 20th century were always about protecting profits and influence.

Monday, 6 November 2017

The First Revolution of 1917

Its the one hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution of 1917. There have been events, retrospectives, new books, fresh praise and denunciations. However almost all of it concerns the second revolt in the Russian Empire of that year, the October (November in Gregorian calendar) Revolution.

The first Revolt, the one that actually toppled the Romanovs and Tsarism occurred in February (March Gregorian calendar). It gets overlook a lot and that's a serious weakness for those who wish to understand the impact of the Revolution of October. We have this popular misconception of Revolution being this one explosive event that sweeps much of the old ways away overnight and that simply isn't accurate.

For example, without the February revolution the October revolution would be impossible. The Bolshevik party leadership including Lenin were stuck in Switzerland, and when news reached them of mutinies and demonstrations within Russia they were initially sceptical. It wasn't until the extent of the uprisings were known that became enthusiastic. Further the overshadowing of February by October has lead to a seriously damaging myth that Revolts can only succeed under the direction of an elite group from above, the February Revolt was propelled by a series of spontaneous actions of workers, peasants, soldiers and sailors.

Bread riots by working class women in Petrograd is considered the first shot of the revolt but discontent and mutiny soon spread to the military and the factory districts, while peasants began to attack their landlords and re-establish Communes. At the head of the new Republican government was a coalition of liberal and social democratic party members. Eventually Kerensky became the nominal head of these changing coalitions. The governments moderation and commitment to continuing the First World War and its hostility to dissident Socialist and Anarchist groups soon caused popular support for the new regime to collapse and it wasn't long before a coalition of radicals dubbed the `Reds`* would overthrow the increasingly despotic coalition government.

The video below is dedicated to the February revolt and its impact.

*Contrary to popular thought the October Revolt was not solely a Bolshevik operation, it relied heavily on Anarchists and the Left Wing of the Socialist Revolutionary Party and their supporters to carry the day.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Iranian Regime Kills Labour Activists - Bread and Roses TV

Afshin Osanlu; a Labour activist targeted by the Iranian government

The "Anti-Imperialist" regime of Iran has for many years targeted Labour activists and trade unions in the country.

From 2007

 Like many supposedly revolutionary governments, this regime has been particularly harsh to workers and their representatives who have dared to protest the injustices that pervade the present system in Iran.    On April 9 this year, Iranian agents arrested Mahmoud Salehi, the founder of an independent bakery workers association. And then on three separate occasions since 2005, this same Iranian regime has arrested and imprisoned Mansour Osanloo, the president of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, an independent labor association of transportation workers.
   Most recently then, on July 10, 2007, reports indicate that plainclothes Iranian agents kidnapped, assaulted and imprisoned Mr. Osanloo.
   When transport workers have attempted to strike in order to protest their lack of rights and the arrest of their representatives, the Iranian regime has beaten them and compelled them to return to work. Iran's deplorable behavior violates its own legal obligations under its own Constitution.
And it hasn't gotten any better in recent years.

From 2015

April 29, 2015—On the eve of International Workers’ Day on May 1, Iranian authorities have arrested at least five labor leaders. The arrests have taken place in the context of intensifying labor protests, strikes, and arrests of individuals organizing or participating in labor protests.
“The Government views any labor mobilization as a national security threat,” said Hadi Ghaemi, Executive Director of the Campaign. “Workers should be allowed to peacefully defend their common interests, without risking years behind bars.”
“Rouhani needs to turn his attention to the people of Iran. Workers are suffering and their demands need to be heard,” added Ghaemi.
Tehran Security Police arrested two members of the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, Ebrahim Maddadi and Davood Razavi, in their homes on April 29, and two other labor activists, Mahmoud Salehi and Osman Ismaili, were arrested in the city of Saqez in the Kurdistan Province on April 28. On April 25, plainclothes security agents in Sanandaj, Kurdistan, arrested the labor activist Reza Amjadi.
On April 20, four days after thousands of teachers protested against low wages, Alireza Hashemi, head of the Iran Teachers Organization, was detained and transferred to Evin Prison to serve a five-year sentence originally handed out to him in 2013.
Independent labor unions are banned in Iran, strikers are often fired and risk being detained, and labor leaders face long prison sentences on trumped up national security charges.
Despite this, a growing wave of strikes and worker protests have roiled many sectors in Iran over the past year, as a combination of international sanctions and economic mismanagement has taken a heavy toll on the economy, with workers bearing the brunt of the economic pain.
Some 70% of workers’ wages are now under the official poverty line in Iran, and approximately 90% of all contracts are temporary, affording workers no insurance or protections.
Over the past year, workers in dozens of factories have experienced more than 6 months of unpaid wages. For example, 900 workers in the Ahvaz City Metro Construction project haven’t received their wages for more than four months.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Mother Night - Kurt Vonnegut

"You should be careful about what you pretend to be, because in the end you are what you pretend to be"

Some stories don't age well, some are timeless, and a few like Mother Night get better and more important with age. Mother Night is about an American √©migr√© who grew up in Germany between the wars. When the Nazi's come to power he stays on the country and is recruited as a spy for the American intelligence service. He is called Howard W. Campbell, Jr, a well respected playwright who is taken into the Propaganda ministry. 

The rub and the point of the story is that in order for Howard W. Campbell, Jr to rise and get close the Nazi party leadership he not only has to convince them he's a believer in Aryan supremacy and German victory he has to prove himself as a master propagandist. And he passes with flying colours, he develops a radio show addressing English speaking audiences as the `last free American`. He also forms a volunteer army for American prisoners, he appeared in Slaughter House Five to recruit in Dresden.

He does not believe a word of the horrible Nazi things he says in his role, but he's so good at what he does even the deranged and ridiculous anti-Semitic rants he delivers are received very, very well by his audience. He may not believe that "Rosenfeld" is a Jewish agent corrupting America from within, but many who listened to his radio broadcasts did. Even after the war he becomes a celebrity amongst the sad fringe of neo-fascists who diligently reprint and re-record his propaganda to inspire themselves. 

This is the issue, we are never given any reason to doubt Howard W. Campbell, Jr's sincerity when he refutes and ridicules his own Nazi lies, but the question of whether it matters is not quite as clear. Several characters point out to him that he served the Nazi regime so well in his endeavours that a true believer couldn't have done better. And we do see the effects of his poison seeping into a new generation. He may of made up all that nonsense about Jewish Bolshevism, but hundreds of angry and confused people the world over still believe in it, and are using it to support and strengthen their movement. 

The story is about the relationship between intentions and actual effects. And its for this reason that I think Mother Night has become more important than ever in the internet age. The internet has lead to the growth of subcultures and bubbles, one drawback to this is that it has stimulated the rise of "Irony culture". Irony is now basically a shield for any toxic nonsense you want to publicise, just adopt a flippant tone, and assure people you're joking if and when you get a backlash and there you go. Racism, sexism anti-Semitism, the use of slurs and threats is suddenly ok now, its being "Ironic".

Mother Night in a hundred and sixteen pages explains pretty clearly why even if that were true -I'm going to leave aside the possibility of lying for the moment- it doesn't in anyway change the fact that often what's being passed off as Ironic memes, is just bigotry toxic ideas with a wink. If you post a meme to Facebook using racial stereotypes, your still pushing racial stereotypes, and encouraging others to do so too. If you respond to other users on a forum using slurs in a jokey we're all in this together way you're still using slurs and encouraging others to do the same. If your joking amongst friends on a public platform you're still saying its ok to insult minorities to a wider audience.

Irony used in this way (and to be honest a lot of it doesn't even qualify as Irony) is no different from sincerity. You and your close circle of friends might not have a bigoted bone in their bodies, but their are plenty who do. And you'd be amazed at just what some of them can latch onto for encouragement. Quite a few people think one way to enjoy Irony without actively offending by going to extreme outlandishness, but that was what Howard W. Campbell, Jr did. Its also showing a complete lack of understanding of how the reactionary subculture works.

Actual racist talking points can be shockingly daft and wacky. It would be funny to hear how car parts breaking down often is part of a Jewish conspiracy to say wreck a nations economic efficiency via traffic jams[1] if they weren't deadly serious and act upon these fears. You cannot come up with a racist theory so ludicrous that a segment of the far right won't accept and make use of. I'll give a personal example, I make a lot of pdfs and I write a lot of blogs, I've discovered online archives of Fascist texts with pdfs I've made and posts I've written. One that stood out also had a lot of Kropotkin and Bordiga and Marx nestled between Mosley and Evola.

And none of those were jokes they were rather dry even boring texts about economics and social history.

I think a big example of this lack of understanding the targets of ridicule was the Nazbol/Anfash meme that was popular on Twitter a few months back. There was a spate of jokes and parody accounts for members of the "National Bolsheviks" and "Anarcho-Fascism". The problem being that these are actual ideologies with real members and activists. Nazbol is an undercurrent of Russian Fascism but it has a presence in several other Eastern European nations. All the ones I've encountered have been Germans.

I can assure you from experience they're just as loopy as the joke posts. But that's the trouble, if you can't tell a joke from a real threat aren't you just making it easier for the threats to move around in public? If you can use the "just a joke excuse" to diffuse criticism and backlash why can't they? Everyone's free to do what they want and I can't stop anyone who wants to meme ironic bigotry, but you should ask yourselves are you ok with people taking your jokes and using them in sincere campaigns of bigotry?


1: That was in Four Lions, but I have seen Fash types seriously suggest this

Friday, 27 October 2017

Giuseppe Pinelli - Death of an Anarchist

The 1970's were a dangerous time to be politically active in Italy. Neo Fascist paramilitaries were mounting a prolonged bombing campaign killing many. As an extra sting the fascists often posed as left wing guerrilla's in an attempt to provoke and justify an authoritarian crackdown. There were leftist paramilitaries most well known were the Rosa brigades, but they tended to focus on kidnappings and assassinations instead of bombing public buildings and train stations.

After one such bombing Giuseppe Pinelli a local railroad worker and Anarchist activist was arrested in a dragnet. Whilst in police custody he went through a fourth floor window. The police maintained that he accidentally went through the window of his own accord, but the official story was so full of holes an entire play was written debunking it.

In 2001 a new investigation found three members of a Neo Fascist group responsible for the bombing that Giuseppe Pinelli had been detained for. So in addition to being killed by police he was innocent of the charges too. The interview below gives details of his life and death, including interviews with his family. There is also a discussion of this period of Italian politics, often dubbed the Strategy of Tension period, after the plans of the Fascist groups to increase tensions to breaking point.

I'd just like to make one critical comment, in the discussion afterwards the existence of the Strategy of Tension is dismissed and likened to a conspiracy theory. This is incorrect but appears to be based on a misunderstanding. The expert refers to the Strategy of Tension as being directed by the Italian state as a sort of evil block, and that's not really what the allegation is based on.

Its often described as a state within a state because it concerned the actions of networks of Neo-Fascists and members of the security services. Charges were on occasion brought up against members of Italian right wing groups and some state officials were investigated over this period. It was less a plot by a governmental monolith and more an attempt by a faction within the government to enforce its platform. For example in 1974 Vito Micelli the former head of the S.I.D (Italian secret service) stood and won a parliamentary seat as a member of the MSI. The MSI was the party that was founded by surviving members of Mussolini's defunct Fascist regime.

He had to stand down from his S.I.D job because he was connected to a coup attempt in 1970. But he was just one example, in order for the framing of leftists and anarchists to work it required the involvement of many within the intelligence and policing services. Most arrests in the aftermath of bombings were done by tip offs from the S.I.D, arrests which were often overturned and found to be spurious once an inquest was mounted.

The strategy of Tension was a conspiracy but it wasn't a conspiracy theory, because like MK Ultra it was exposed pretty conclusively. It can only be denied if like the expert you take it at its most extreme interpretation. At one point the expert claims the strategy of tension was fictitious because its aim of turning Italy into an authoritarian dictatorship didn't happen. Well he's right, but it wasn't for like of trying, in 1970 the Fascists were so frustrated with the liberal government they attempted to overthrow it with a coup. But even when that failed senior plotters were still able to stay in their powerful positions for years afterward.

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