March , 2015

JK Alternative Viewpoint

Challenges & Responses to Conflictual Politics

There is a small silver lining to the dark cloud that hangs over U.S.-Egypt relations ...
Palestine, wherein a Jewish state had been created to give a legitimacy of purity to ...
AS THE debate over America’s Afghan troop withdrawal grinds on, it’s time to consider the ...
Interview with a Militant Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens ALEXANDER MELEGROU-HITCHENS is a Research Fellow at the International Centre for ...
IT is deeply unfortunate that the trials of alleged war criminals in Bangladesh, 30 years ...
Democracy in America today (I) Who has more rights to human rights? Washington believes that one of ...
Israel is heading towards a profound internal crisis: a Jew-on-Jew confrontation, which has major implications ...
The Obama administration is sending contradictory messages on a crucially important national security subject. ...
The Washington-created anti-Islamic State coalition was to set an example of international cooperation in the ...
In the months following the Abbottabad raid, Islamabad was abuzz with rumours that the ...

Archive for the ‘Art/Cuture/Cinema/Travels’ Category

Idea of inclusion-Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

Posted by admin On March - 5 - 2015 Comments Off


The book imparts a broad prescription for the drivers of contemporary Indian society and is a valuable tool for practitioners and students of sociology, social anthropology and political science. By VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN
Professor T.K. Oommen’s work as an Indian social scientist spans over five decades. He has addressed the Indian social reality in all its diversity. The complex historical processes that have contributed to the development of Indian society, its social and religious pluralism as well as its diverse stratifications based on caste, community, gender and class, along with society’s democratic demands and struggles for social and economic justice have all been reflected in the scores of books, monograms and reports he has authored.

If one were to try and summarise the key theme or concept of this multidimensional intellectual pursuit, it would have to be done by placing Oommen as a modernist and progressive Indian sociologist who has a clear understanding of the concept being Indian and the advancement of sociology, particularly Indian sociology, as a social science. Unlike many of his predecessors and peers, Oommen has sought to situate the idea of Indian sociology within the constitutional framework of the Indian Republic, the vision enshrined in the Constitution about the kind of society and citizenship that it wanted to evolve. In other words, the understanding in terms of the constitutional framework of what India should be and not as a perspective, which perceived India as a mere extension of past traditions and Indian sociology as something that was primarily based on this.

More specifically, he questioned the concept that sociological training in India is grounded in Sanskrit or any such language in which the traditions have been embodied as symbols and the argument that social research in India will be limited and deficient if it did not conform to these parameters. In advancing this distinct approach, Oommen also emphasised the relevance of having perspectives from below to “apprehending social reality in a hierarchical society”. Naturally, his own work encapsulates the varied perspectives from below.

Oommen’s latest book, Social Inclusion in Independent India: Dimensions and Approaches, marks a logical progression of this thematic approach. In fact, he states that the “idea of this book has been in the making for the last three decades”. However, he adds an important qualification in the very beginning of the book. This comes in the form of a categorisation of social inclusion in independent India and its dimensions and approaches and the assertion that its contents need to be perceived differently from other sociology-related treatises. Oommen points out that “Indian sociologists are accused by planners, administrators and even fellow social scientists of their disinclination to pursue research themes which are relevant to social policy” and goes on to add that “this book is conceived as a modest beginning to break this impasse”.

In the next 287 pages, he makes an attempt to “locate the causes of deprivations to which different excluded categories are subjected to” and also suggest and evolve some prescriptions that could be taken for their inclusion.

As in all his works, Oommen goes about his argument methodically, bringing together the micro and macro perspectives with nuanced objectivity. In terms of broad classification, Social Inclusion in Independent India is divided into 11 chapters, each dealing with a specific subject of exclusion or lack of inclusion. Starting with the overall colonial track record, this categorised discourse covers the plight of Dalits, Adivasis, the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), the religious and linguistic minorities, women, migrants (including refugees, outsiders, foreigners) with a special reference to north-eastern India, the poor and persons with disabilities. A wide range of data pertaining to each of these categories is marshalled while discussing each of them. These, along with the thematic projections, add value to the discourse.

Dealing with the specifics of each of these categories, Oommen points out that “inclusion is the buzzword in contemporary societies, and people from all walks of life—politics, business, academia and religion—advocate it, although they do not have a shared understanding of the meaning of inclusion”. The discussion in terms of each of the specific categories highlights these myriad understandings, which from time to time work against each other and against the real processes for inclusion. The importance of the detailed discussions in Social Inclusion in Independent India is that it seeks to address these varied perspectives and related themes in terms of the subject under consideration, the various approaches that are being advanced by various vested interests, and the modus operandi and methodologies they employ to advance their case and cause.

An example of this kind of detailed delineation of the multiple nuances and dimensions relating to inclusion is evident in Oommen’s discourse of gender and Dalit exclusion. The book specifically points out that factors such as patriarchy, heterogeneity and hierarchy cause multiple deprivations for a poor Muslim woman of Dalit background while an upper-caste Hindu woman would only face deprivation relating to patriarchy. Social Inclusion in Independent India underscores the need to carefully identify the parameters of exclusion in order to devise effective inclusion strategies.
It suggests that various forms of discrimination and marginalisation that continue to persist in large parts of contemporary India can be eradicated only by ensuring social, economic and political justice for the socially and educationally backward classes of citizens through the implementation of clearly defined, inclusive, growth policies and plans. Oommen also signifies the continuing relevance of affirmative action or positive discrimination in various sectors.

Beyond the specific India-related factors dictated by stratifications based on caste, community, gender and class, Social Inclusion in Independent India also addresses universal factors that have been decisive in terms of exclusion and inclusion. Oommen says the three moments crucial in this context are European colonialism, the Cold War and globalisation. Issues raised by the current context of globalisation are discussed in relation to each of the categories and also in terms of the solution which Oommen terms “towards a category specific social inclusion policy for India”. The detailing on this policy summation focusses on four points. “One, recognising and nurturing cultural diversity within the national state; two, institutionalising political pluralism; three, abandoning the centre-periphery distinction (both spatial and social); and four, de-legitimising caste hierarchy.”

Indeed, the formulation and the discourse that leads to it do impart a broad prescription to follow for the drivers of contemporary Indian society, particularly its political and administrative classes. But, on account of its methodological approach Social Inclusion in Independent India is also a valuable tool for practitioners and students of sociology, social anthropology and political science. Over and above all this, at the ideological level, the book underscores Oommen’s steady contention that “as a discipline, sociology should endorse, and its practitioners should internalise the value package contained in the Indian Constitution, the differing interpretation of these values notwithstanding”. The importance of a work like this is immense in the current juncture in Indian polity, when the constitutional framework is being challenged from different quarters and by varied vested interests, both within the established power structure and from ideological, political and organisational structures proximate to it.

China’s changing working class-Review by Charlie Hore

Posted by admin On February - 3 - 2015 Comments Off


Earlier this year, the South China Morning Post—the Hong Kong equivalent of the New York Times—ran an interview with Geoffrey Crothall of the China Labour Bulletin, which began by asking, “Why are we seeing an increased number of strikes and worker protests in China?”1 His answer is worth quoting at some length:

One of the key reasons is simply that strikes are much more visible. Just about every factory worker, especially in Guangdong, has a cheap smartphone and can post news about their strike and the response of management and the local government to it on social media and have that information circulate within a matter of minutes.

This enhanced visibility has also encouraged more workers to take strike action. They see workers from other factories or workplaces that are in exactly the same position as them taking strike action and they think, “We can do this too.”

And the fact that there are so many strikes means that workers have less to fear by staging protests, there is safety in numbers and in many cases, they have nothing to lose by going out on strike.

Younger workers, especially, have higher expectations and are no longer willing to tolerate the abuse and exploitation their parents had to endure. In the early days of China’s economic growth, workers from the countryside were lining up to get jobs in the cities; today there is a shortage of workers and as such, workers have greater bargaining power and they are better able to utilise that power effectively.


China rising
China’s rise as a major world economic, political, and military power is one of the defining features of the twenty-first century. Already the world’s second-largest economy, economists now argue about exactly when—not if—China will overtake the United States, an argument that would have been unthinkable even twenty years ago.2

One of the key drivers of that rise has been a fundamental transformation and reshaping of the Chinese working class. In the course of a generation, several hundred million former peasants have become urban workers, mostly in cities that grew up overnight, providing a seemingly bottomless well of labor for the exporting factories that have made China the new “workshop of the world.”

The particular nature of the new industries has meant that workforce has been made up of mainly young people, about a third of them women, though because jobs are heavily gendered, in some cities as many as 70 percent of migrants are women. Only about a third of migrant workers actually work in manufacturing, with the rest working mainly in construction, transport, as street traders, and providing “household and other services” (“other services” often being a euphemism for sex work).3 However, as the largest single occupational group, and the most prone to collective action, they are the group most often studied.

The unparalleled growth of the Chinese economy has been accompanied by a similar growth in migrant workers’ combativeness. In recent years, a number of strikes and protests have made headlines around the world—the 30,000 Yue Yuen footwear workers earlier this year,4 the coordinated strikes across the auto industry in 2010,5 and the Foxconn workers’ suicide protests.6 As the article quoted above makes clear, those are the tip of an iceberg.

In fact, since the late 1990s, migrant workers have fought numerous battles against attacks on them and (less often) for higher wages and better conditions, struggles that have been too little recorded outside specialist publications. It is telling that one of the authors reviewed here still felt it necessary to write in 2009 that “the stereotype of Chinese workers as passive victims of capitalist globalization and authoritarian government does not fit the reality of industrial relations in China.”7

However, over the same period, something like eighty million former workers in state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have lost their jobs in a massive restructuring of traditional industries that dwarfs anything seen in the West. Again, this has disproportionately impacted women, with almost two-thirds of the jobs lost being women’s, and women’s average urban wages falling to just 70 percent of men’s in 2000.8

Understanding the very contradictory nature of change and workers’ struggles in China is crucial for socialists, and the aim of this article is to review some of the recent literature on both workers and wider social movements in order to pick out some of the most useful titles to recommend.

The first book that everyone interested in this topic should read is a much older one though. Ching Kwan Lee’s Against the Law (Berkeley: University of California, 2007) is in many ways the foundation stone of modern China labor studies, and several of the books reviewed here see it as a key reference point. The British left academic Perry Anderson said of it, “Nothing like it has appeared since E. P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class”—possibly a slight exaggeration, but it gives some sense of the book’s scope.9

Ching wasn’t quite the founder of modern China labor studies—that honor probably belongs to the Australian writer Anita Chan—but Against the Law is the first full-scale study of the Chinese working class as a whole.10 The book contrasted what she described as the “rustbelt” of state-owned industries, mostly in central and northern China, with the “sunbelt” industries growing up in China’s South. But her focus was firmly on workers’ resistance, illustrated by example after example from her very detailed field research.

At the time, this was still mainly expressed as resistance to attacks on living standards, or atrocious working conditions—“defensive” rather than “offensive” struggles, or as she put it, “protests of desperation” and “protests against discrimination.” In showing workers as actors rather than simply victims, she highlighted the important victories that had been won, and brought to light some of the near-insurrectionary battles waged by state-sector workers following mass layoffs. Much has changed since the book was written, but it remains an inspiring and thought-provoking read.

Shenzhen—the heart of China’s “export miracle”
The first three books reviewed here are all academic studies of militancy and organization among migrant manufacturing workers in southern China, though with very distinct approaches. The Challenge of Labour in China is likely the most straightforward, being a study of workers’ experiences and resistance in Shenzhen, and in one factory in particular.

Shenzhen is in many ways an exemplar of the new China, having grown from a population of some 30,000 people to over eight million in under twenty-five years. As early as 1993–94 there was a wave of strikes among migrant workers for wage rises to cover inflation, but militancy thereafter declined as a new labor law gave workers legal remedies against mistreatment.

However, by 2004 the number of strikes surged again as workers discovered that the law gave them little real protection. Numbers are difficult to come by, but the author quotes an NGO worker as saying “at least half the workers she met had experiences of striking.” This increase in militancy coincided with, and may have been partly produced by, a shortage of labor that began in Shenzhen as early as 2003. This was a relative rather than absolute shortage, with growing numbers of peasants either staying in their villages as agricultural rates increased or going further north for better-paying jobs, but it left Shenzhen short of some 300,000 workers.

The response of the local authorities was to increase the minimum wage in 2005, and again in 2006—an increase of almost one-third in two years. A minimum-wage law was introduced in 1994, though Shenzhen’s local government had already introduced it the previous year. The theory is that the minimum wage reduces competition between employers for labor and slows down turnover as workers can’t leave for higher-paid jobs elsewhere. To what extent this works is unknown, but what is certain is that workers are very aware of minimum-wage rates.

Just how aware workers are was shown in July 2007, when the local government followed the provincial government in not increasing the minimum wage for that year. This was met by a new round of strikes, which forced the local government to backtrack and raise the minimum rates in October. Small wonder a businessman interviewed felt that “China is different from other countries. In the West, it is the rich people who influence politics and the government fears the rich. Now, in China, it is the rich who fear the government and the government fears the poor. The poor have a high potential to threaten social stability and social order.”

The following year, of course, the world economic crash hit, with some twenty to thirty million migrant workers in China losing their jobs as plants closed, and workers losing the advantages they had enjoyed over previous years.11 Chan’s research stops before the economic crash, so his picture is one of a working class growing in militancy and confidence, with the ability to coordinate stoppages in different plants of the same company.

However, this view is balanced by his finding that strikes left no lasting organization behind, and that strike leaders often lost their jobs following their return to work. High turnover and the effects of the hukou system (household registration that denies migrant workers the right to settle permanently in the cities) also contributed to the loss of momentum following strikes.

Chan’s account of the factory he studied is fascinating, fully alive to the contradictions of workers’ experience. He is clear-sighted about gender divisions, the role of supervisors and the minority of skilled workers in organizing strikes and protests, and the contradictory nature of place-of-origin association. These organizations of workers from the same village, county, or province are often how workers get jobs in the first instance, and they provide everyday support in workplaces and communities where workers speak various dialects or languages, have many customs, and eat very different foods.

But they can also turn into criminal gangs, as anyone who has seen “The Godfather” knows, and Chan shows both the negative effect they have in migrant workers’ communities and how they work with lower management inside the factory. But he rightly sees all of these as obstacles to the formation of class consciousness that can be overcome, and his account of the strike is inspiring: “For those participating in the protest, the overriding sensation was that it had been fun. ‘It was fantastic. Everyone came together for fun. Wow, all of us felt great!’ Xiao Lin said. The workers were especially thrilled when they heard a rumour that the mayor had gone to the control station to take command of the police in person.”

The ACFTU—fit for purpose?
In the first years of this century, workers gradually pushed back the limits of what was possible. Although there is still no legal right to strike in China, in practice strikes will be tolerated if they stay within acceptable limits—demands on the employer over wages or conditions. Any attempt to raise wider political questions, or to talk about independent unions, will attract repression.

And yet the frequency of strikes necessarily raises the question of permanent organization if workers are to defend the gains that they win during a strike. It is thus not surprising that groups of workers try to get around this by taking over or introducing the state-run union—the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). Both Tim Pringle’s Trade Unions in China and Eli Friedman’s Insurgency Trap look at whether this is a feasible strategy, though from quite different perspectives.

Trade Unions in China opens with two chapters on workplace organization and workplace militancy from the Maoist era until the early 2000s, including an account of the battles around redundancy terms and agreements among workers in state-owned enterprises, from a perspective quite close to that of this journal. In those battles the ACFTU was at best irrelevant and at worst part of the problem.

The ACFTU was, from 1949, an integral part of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) apparatus of government and control, with no particular attempt to disguise this. For instance, from 1949 to 1951, CCP veteran Li Lisan was both minister of labor and chair of the ACFTU until he was fired from the union job for “economism.” Inside the individual workplace, the ACFTU was essentially a welfare organization, which worked together with the CCP and factory management as a transmission belt for the CCP’s key policies. But with the growth of private and foreign-owned or foreign-invested industry through the 1990s, ever greater numbers of workers fell outside this mechanism of control. The mass sackings in state-owned industry further weakened it, with membership dropping by sixteen million in just four years in the late 1990s.

The next chapter is an excellent (if too short) overview of migrant workers’ militancy, which extends past 2008 and so integrates the effects of the world economic crisis. Like Chan, Pringle demonstrates how the growing militancy was a conscious choice made by increasingly confident workers:

Whereas in the past a collective strike was, generally speaking, a last resort to be used only after other forms of redress had been exhausted, it is increasingly the case that workers take strike action as a more efficient alternative to formal and crowded dispute resolution procedures. In other words, they have become more militant.

At the center of the book are three very detailed examinations of particular initiatives by local ACFTU sections to make themselves more relevant to migrant workers. The most interesting one comes from the city of Yiwu in Zhejiang province, where the ACFTU set up a workers’ rights center that, on the evidence here, worked well at enforcing workers’ legal rights against recalcitrant employers. He concludes that “the YFTU [Yiwu Federation of Trade Unions] was able to make use of its status as essentially a government agency in order to exercise political and administrative leverage to persuade employers to back down.” The problem, of course, is that it was doing so on behalf of workers, but without doing anything to build workers’ confidence within the factories.

Pringle’s analysis is very even-handed, and both partisans and opponents of working with the ACFTU will find ammunition for their arguments. His conclusion, however, seems to suggest that in the short term workers have little alternative:

The general level of worker organisation is not at the stage of presenting an organised challenge to ACFTU’s monopoly on representation. Indeed militant workers are usually very keen to avoid such a dangerous challenge in favour of calling for the open election of worker representatives. As the case studies show, the ACFTU is capable of responding to militancy at the local level, where the challenge has been most acute, by developing structures and practices that by no means overcome the limitations of state-sponsored trade unions, but which provide building blocks for the future.

In the immediate, this is undeniable. The problem, of course, is precisely the future. If organization is to be sustained, at some point it has to go beyond sections in individual factories to linking up inside the same employer or same industry—at which point the ACFTU’s structures will necessarily be a block. The auto strikers of 2010, for instance, could not have used the ACFTU to make links among various plants. But for all we might disagree with some of the conclusions, this is an extremely well-researched and well-argued contribution to the literature, which assesses the ACFTU in terms of how well it can serve as a vehicle for worker militancy. Even if we don’t like all of the answers, this book asks the right questions.

China in revolt?
Eli Friedman is probably the best known of the authors reviewed here, from his 2012 article in Jacobin magazine, “China in Revolt,” in which he argued that “More than thirty years into the Communist Party’s project of market reform, China is undeniably the epicenter of global labor unrest.”12 Unfortunately, the book doesn’t fully deliver on what the article promised, essentially because of a shift of focus: he describes his primary aim as “not to describe the dynamics of worker resistance but rather to provide an analysis of how the state, through the auspices of the unions, is responding to this conflict.”

Similarly, the “insurgency trap” of the title refers not to workers being unable to go beyond revolt to workplace organization, but rather the state being unable to reach its goals because it won’t allow workplace organization. And the analysis is caught within a larger framework that sees one of the key problems as the “commodification” of labor—the fact that workers now simply receive wages, whereas under Mao the labor market disappeared, and workers’ needs were met through direct provision: “Wage labor was greatly reduced or eliminated, and markets, to provide for most human needs, disappeared or were tightly constrained. Although there was ongoing abject poverty during this period, to the extent that people’s needs were met, this occurred through nonmarketised mechanisms.”

This is conceptually problematic, to say the least, but it’s also factually wrong. While it is true that under Mao state-owned enterprises paid a substantial “social wage” in subsidized food and housing, as well as free education and health care, these were not enjoyed by all urban residents. And even state-owned enterprise workers were still paid money wages, which they mostly spent on food (when it was available).13 There were massive waves of strikes for higher wages in 1956–57, 1974, and 1986.14

We should pause for a minute on the phrase “to the extent that people’s needs were met.” Urban incomes doubled between 1978 and 1985, and again between 1992 and 1995.15 Although the rate of increase has slowed down since then, and the share of total output going to consumption has dropped since the 1990s, it is still the case that almost everyone in China has a much higher standard of living than they had in the mid-1970s.

I have started with what seems to me the essential weakness of Insurgency Trap, but there is much here that is useful: in particular, an extended account of one of the Honda strikes of 2010, and some remarks (more would have been useful) on the “dispatch” system of temporary labor introduced in 2008 and how this has affected workers’ ability to fight.

But much of what is useful comes when the evidence contradicts Friedman’s thesis. For instance, he spends six pages outlining the evolution of a collective agreement between the local ACFTU and eyeglass manufacturers in Rui’an city in Zhejiang province. “Faced with instability in employment relations, the union, government, and employers came together and through negotiation and compromise, reached an agreement on wage-level standards for the entire sector,” writes Friedman. “It was a true win-win-win for workers, the state and employers.” He then throws in a caveat that completely undermines this conclusion: “But on spending a bit more time in the field, I discovered there was just one problem: the contract was not being enforced.”

In several other cases, he details very innovative-sounding arrangements between union bureaucrats and either local government or employers, before speaking to workers who said they had never heard of them. He is also very good on the threat by employers that they will relocate inland in China, away from the militant coastal areas, pointing out that this will simply mean migrants being able to go home, but also positing: “It then becomes possible to imagine how workplace struggles could be linked up to community-based (reproductive) struggles over public education, social services, and usage of public space.”

If you already know something of the politics of migrant labor in China, this book will be very useful, but it does seem something of a missed opportunity. The Challenge of Labour in China and Trade Unions in China are excellent resources, which any socialist can learn from, and which I think would work particularly well read together. Insurgency Trap is more a book for specialists, the worthwhile research unfortunately tangled up in a very flawed conceptual framework.

Scattered sand
However good an academic book may be, authors are always under a certain pressure to make political judgements in forms acceptable to the academy. As the late Peter Sedgwick once famously noted:

This arises because the considerable time and energy spent in writing them may have to be justified to departmental colleagues or seniors, and their names may well be included in a list of published works submitted in application for a research grant or a job. (How do I know? Guess.) Titles like Smashing Capitalism or Sukarno: The Last Betrayal are therefore out. (In view of current vogues, however, such variants as Smashing Capitalism: Towards a Conspectus of the Consensus or Bargaining and Betrayal in Elite Formation: Some Indonesian Instances might well be considered.)16

Hsiao-hung Pai, the author of Scattered Sand, is under no such constraint. A socialist journalist, she is an activist writing for activists, and aiming to give readers a sense of the contradictory lives of migrant workers. When I interviewed her on her book’s publication, she told me how she came up with the title: “I used these words because I heard a lot of migrant workers using them, talking about their own movement into the cities—a spontaneous and unorganised movement. They say we’re like the scattered sands: disunited.”17

She has a chapter on factory workers in Guangdong that echoes the other books reviewed above in discussing the growing militancy and spread of strikes, with accounts of the Honda strikes and several others. And she makes the important point that the labor shortages that employers are experiencing are not just demographic: “This labor shortage certainly partly reflects the growth of labor militancy as well. Many second-generation migrant workers have become increasingly reluctant to take up the lowest-paid jobs. Although workers’ gains are a small drop in the ocean of China’s low wages and poor working conditions, they have undoubtedly set a precedent for fighting those abuses.”

In widening her focus beyond Guangdong, though, she gives some sense of the depth and breadth of that ocean. We meet—all too briefly—miners working in illegal private mines in Shanxi, workers in brick kilns on the outskirts of Tianjin, and earthquake refugees in a Sichuan labor market. All are angry at what’s being done to them, even if they don’t know how to fight back. One old man in the Sichuan labor market launches into an impassioned tirade:

Rulers in China know about the poser of those from the countryside . . . China’s history is all about how the peasantry has been burdened and oppressed, and how each time they rose up to overthrow those in power. . . . We peasants brought the Party into power. Without the power of the peasantry, China wouldn’t have defeated the imperialists and the corrupt Kuomindang. . . . But once they came into power, we became burdened and exploited again!

His speech is unusual in that it indirectly attacks the central government, when the anger of most migrants is centered on local officials. Pai shows how they are closely tied to the “illegal” industrial operations, and gives example after example of them demanding bribes and illegal fees.

She also takes stock of migration outside China, both legal and undocumented. One company alone has sent more than four million workers abroad, but many more have travelled illegally. In one of the most moving chapters, she recounts a migrant’s attempts to reach first the United States and then Britain, a man whom she met researching her first book Chinese Whispers—the True Story Behind Britain’s Hidden Army of Labour.18

Chinese Whispers was inspired by and centered on one of Britain’s worst industrial tragedies for decades—the drowning of twenty-three Chinese cockle-pickers in Morecambe Bay in 2004. Cockle-pickers walk miles out onto exposed sands at low tides to gather the shellfish, and it’s an extremely dangerous job if you know the land and the tides. For a group of Chinese migrant workers, who were left to work without supervision at a time when most other companies had withdrawn their workers because the conditions were too dangerous, it was a death trap. One body was never recovered, and one woman, believed to be from Shandong province, was never identified.

That international dimension is a very useful addition to her picture of the migrant experience, as are her accounts of the connections between racism and migration in Western China. Xinjiang province, where the book ends, has a majority Muslim population that is being shut out from the current economic boom:

Peasants have been recruited from all over China, in particular from neighboring provinces, to work in the coal mines and oil fields, which are estimated to be twice as large as those in Saudi Arabia. . . . But Xinjiang’s oil industry is completely run by Han Chinese: the China national Petroleum Company recruited most of its workers from outside the province . . . and brought in Han Chinese migrant workers to construct a $14 billion pipeline that links the region’s natural gas fields to Shanghai.

It’s a sombre conclusion to an enthralling book, which shows both the possibilities of migrants organizing collectively to fight for better conditions and also the huge constraints that face them. That downbeat message is shared by all of the books reviewed here; though they have quite different views about how China’s migrant working class is likely to develop, none disagree with the conclusion drawn by Ching Kwan Lee in her pioneering study: “To date, however, workers’ insurgent consciousness exceeds their insurgent capacity. That is, their insurgent identities seem to project a universalistic and inclusive group boundary, yet labor mobilization remains mostly cellular, localized, and fragmented.”19

It’s thus hardly surprising that most of the authors reviewed should focus on the question of organization, and on the ACFTU, because going beyond that fragmentation requires some form of collective organization, and the ACFTU is the only form that the CCP will allow. The big question is of course whether the ACFTU can, at any level, be made fit for that purpose.

For the moment, both workers and the government seem caught in the ‘insurgency trap’—workers can win concessions by striking and demonstrating, but then see those eroded; while the government can neither suppress workers’ insurgency nor offer a secure enough future that it will die away. But it is important to see this dynamically rather than statically: for the last twenty years, it is workers who have taken the initiative in changing their lives, and the government that has had to respond to changing expectations. The end of the “bottomless well” of fresh migrants has given workers an additional edge in winning concessions from employers, and the wildfire spread of social media means that this generation has a far greater understanding of the world around them than their parents did.

Most importantly, the rise in workers’ activity is part of a wider increase in protest across Chinese society as a whole. The different local actions and movements do not automatically align, or even sympathize with each other, but taken together they represent a real constraint on what the Chinese government can do. Twenty-first-century capitalism is in large part defined by the fact that the most dynamic economic power on the planet is also the one that fears its own population most. The books reviewed here—Against the Law and Scattered Sand in particular—are necessary reading for anyone who wants to understand how we got here and make sense of whatever comes next.

Patrick Boehler, “Q&A: Strikes Peak in China with New Generation of Interconnected Blue-Collar Workers,” South China Morning Post, August 13, 2014.
See for instance Michael Schuman, “China Could Overtake the U.S. as the World’s No. 1 Economy This Year,” Time, April 30, 2014.
The China Labour Bulletin has a useful set of figures here: “Migrant Workers and Their Children,” June 27, 2014, http://www.clb.org.hk/en/content/migrant-workers-and-their-children. Yan Hairong, New Masters, New Servants: Migration, Development, and Women Workers in China (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008) is a detailed study of domestic workers in China, and Tiantian Zheng, Red Lights: The Lives of Sex Workers in Postsocialist China (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009) uses research among karaoke bar workers in north China to reveal how the sex industry works.
William Hurst, “Chinese Factory Strike Portends Global Workplace Change,” Al-Jazeera America, April 28, 2014.
“Auto Industry Strikes in China,” Auto Industry Notes, October 28, 2010, http://insurgentnotes.com/2010/10/auto-industry-strikes-in-china/.
David Barboza, “Foxconn Resolves a Dispute with Some Workers in China,” New York Times, January 12, 2012.
Pringle, Trade Unions in China, 8.
Au Loong Yu, China’s Rise: Strength and Fragility (London: Merlin Press, 2013), 145.
Perry Anderson, “Sinomania,” London Review of Books 32, no. 2 (January 28, 2010).
See for instance China’s Workers Under Assault—the Exploitation of Labor in a Globalizing Economy (Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 2001).
Pringle, Trade Unions in China, 93 gives a figure of “up to 26 million.”
Eli Friedman, “China in Revolt,” Jacobin, no. 7–8, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2012/08/china….
One detailed study estimated that in 1983 the average “social wage” was 1,000 yuan, compared to the average cash wage of 865 yuan, so even taking the most rigorous definition of “subsidy,” cash wages amounted to 45 percent of the total wage. Nicholas Lardy, “Consumption and Living Standards in China, 1978–83,” China Quarterly no. 100 (December 1984). Thanks to Bill Crane for supplying a copy.
The strikes are covered in detail in Jackie Sheehan, Chinese Workers: A New History (London: Routledge, 1998).
Elizabeth Croll, China’s New Consumers: Social Development and Domestic Demand (London: Routledge, 2006), 33.
Peter Sedgwick, “Thoughts in a Dry Season,” International Socialism (1st series), no. 31 (Winter 1967–68): https://www.marxists.org/archive/sedgwick/1967/xx/thoughts.htm.
Sally Kincaid, Charlie Hore, and Hsiao-Hung Pai, “China’s Scattered Migrants,” Socialist Review, December 2012.
Hsiao-Hung Pai, Chinese Whispers—the True Story Behind Britain’s Hidden Army of Labour ([CITY]: Penguin Books, 2008).
Lee, Against the Law, 239.


Islamic Philosophy I:Past and Present Conditions for Existence and Difference -Mohammed Hashas

Posted by admin On October - 10 - 2014 Comments Off


Classical Islamic philosophy has broadly been a philosophy of reconciliation between reason and revelation. It has tried to differentiate itself from Greek – and now Western philosophy – but it does not seem to have established some other norm than reason as the key to philosophy. Even what is called rational theology, theosophy, and Sufism have all used reason to empower revelation. Yet, some voices of contemporary Islamic philosophy – very few in fact – are trying to re-ground philosophy and its practice, by making ethics, and not reason, the essence of man and philosophy.
These reflections were in mind before three questions were raised recently by two scholars in Columbia University in the US. The Iranian-American international scholar Hamid Dabashi formed a question as follows: “Can non-Europeans think?” (15 January 2013, here). This was a reply, and not only so, to an earlier praise about the renowned Slavoj Zizek, in which Santiago Zabala, a research professor of philosophy at the University of Barcelona, cites philosophers from the West, China, and Brazil, and none from the broad Arab-Islamic world (here). On 12 June 2014, Hasan Azad, a young Columbia University scholar, referred to the article in his “Why are there no Muslim philosophers?” (here). In the piece he borrowed the terms “house Muslims” and “field Muslims” from Malcom X, which created an academic discussion on such a borrowing of the terms and their relevance, in Sociology of Islam Portland University mailing list. In this article, the author leaves the question open, after having claimed that “the Islamic intellectual tradition has had a long history of reading things against the grain,” by stating “I submit this is a question that will trouble some of the best minds for many years to come.” Already here, then, one notices that he implies that there “are” Muslim philosophers. But what kind of philosophers are they? This he clarifies in a follow-up question that came out on 29 June 2014 as “What is philosophy? Or is all of life but a metaphor?” (here). At the end, the author includes mysticism as a philosophical tradition, hence giving space for a large part of Islamic intellectual productions known worldwide as philosophic.  

This piece is not a direct reply to these questions but further reflections on them, with insights from the socio-intellectual history of the Islamic tradition as I understand it at this point of time and space. The point to be presented here is that philosophical questions are historical and contextual, though they appear highly abstract to be so. Various conditions impact the little details that raise questions into abstraction. By implication this means that the essence of philosophy is difference, and not agreement, categorized imagination and rationalized intuition, and not mere reason. Someone says that when two philosophers agree, one of them is not a philosopher!

Classical Islamic philosophy has broadly been a philosophy of reconciliation between reason and revelation. It has tried to differentiate itself from Greek – and now Western philosophy – but it does not seem to have established some other norm than reason as the key to philosophy. Even what is called rational theology, theosophy, and Sufism have all used reason to empower revelation. Yet, some voices of contemporary Islamic philosophy – very few in fact -  are trying to re-ground philosophy and its practice, by making ethics, and not reason, the essence of man and philosophy. This view will be presented gradually into three complementary pieces and steps (Islamic Philosophy I, II, III).

The various questions raised above are not new, but their relevance remains so. Historians of ideas and scholars of Islam, be they Muslim or not, have long debated whether Islamic theology (‘ilm al kalam), for example, is part of the philosophical tradition or not. Some call it “rational theology” to avoid calling it “philosophy,” so as to find space for theologians-philosophers like al-Ghazali or Ibn Taymiyya, who used Aristotelian logic and tried to overcome it in their theological-philosophical arguments. Some use the title philosophers only for figures that were substantially influenced by Greek philosophy, like al-Kindi, al-Farabi, and Ibn Roshd. Other figures like Ibn Arabi, al-Rumi, and al-Shahrawardi are often called “theosophists” because they are troublesome figures. As to Ibn Hazm, Ibn Tufayl and Ibn Bajja, they are considered the pioneering rationalists of the Maghreb and Muslim Spain, the efforts of which culminated in the work of Ibn Roshd, considered by some the most rationalist of all (as the contemporary Mohamed Abed Aljabri positions him), and by others the most mimetic of Aritotle of all (as the medievalist Ibn Sab‘in and the contemporary Taha Abderrahmane position him). Ibn Khaldun, considered the last Muslim philosopher of medieval Islam, is, for some, difficult to position because he worked as a judge, developed historiography and sociology disciplines, and ended in being an isolated Sufi.

Classical Muslim scholars were encyclopedic, or polymath. Most of them saw continuity and complementarity among the sciences and this-and-other worlds. One of them could be a physician, a mathematician, a Sufi, a linguist, and also a judge at the same time. Their understanding of sharia and its prescriptions, and life and its objectives, were not antagonistic entities. This coincided with a time when the Islamic Empires were world-dominant, which meant a strong army, and a strong economy – at least for some periods of time, to avoid essentializing and reducing Islamic history as if it were ideal and uniformist. Such socio-political conditions influenced the intellectual one. There was then no need to enter a differentiation or separation paradigm (like ulema vs. state, or reason vs. science). Even the most rationalist scholars of the Mu’tazila who might have developed such a differentiation paradigm in the Islamic worldview did not manage because the socio-political conditions were against them; they failed terribly; the fact that they were rationalist did not make them democrats or liberal in our modern understanding; however, if they dominated socio-politically, they could have become so with time – as “non-Muslim” scholars of Islam like Montgomery Watt and George Hourani observe.

The classical figures cited above, and many others, practiced philosophy according to their understanding of their tradition, at the center of which stood the religion of Islam. So, why should they not be considered philosophers? Should they reject theology – which in the Islamic tradition deals also with mundane issues like justice and ethics and not only with the divine attributes of God as is the case with Christian theology? Putting theological as well as mystic productions outside the orbit of classical Islamic philosophy is mutilating it, and depriving it of two major characteristics: its originality and its difference.

To theology and mysticism has to be added a very important science in the Islamic tradition: ‘ilm usul al fiqh, or the science of the sources of fiqh, which is not law but theories of law and jurisprudence. This science is among the most rationalist and abstract of the various sciences the Islamic tradition developed. Similar observations apply to Arabic language canonization, which was very much influenced by the Islamic worldview and the study of usul al fiqh.  Similar notes apply to the science of Quran interpretation (‘ilm tafsir al Qur’an), and the science of Hadith (‘ilm al hadith).

These sciences were impacted by sharia worldview; each developed its own rational method; and they did not need to break away with the divine to be rational. If rational methods are enough to call a tradition philosophic, I see no reason why not doing so! Should rational methods be identical to be called so? Would not that (mimicry) imply that maybe they are mimetic of each other, or that one dominates the other? Where is difference in philosophy in all this? Is not difference the way to search for Sophia and Truth? Or has philosophy become nationalized, racialized, appropriated and centrist? Only nationalist, racist, and centrist philosophers can make it so with the type of questions they raise.

As to the modern (since 1789) and contemporary (since 1960s) Muslim scholars, they have a different challenge. If their ancestors (al qudama or assalaf) enjoyed socio-economic and political conditions that broadly allowed their intellectual growth in particular and limited periods of time, the modern and contemporary Muslim scholars (al muhdathun or al khalaf) are deprived of these enjoys or conditions. Their societies have degraded into illiterate and little cultured ones for the last one thousand years; worse of all, they have fallen under European colonial powers for the last two centuries, and experienced dictatorial regimes for the last fifty years or so. Their current status quo (or the disappointing “Arab Spring”) does not augur well for the near future, unless it is looked at optimistically as a process, a labour period for socio-cultural and political “clarifications,” for a better future!

Philosophy reflects the context of the philosopher, however abstract s/he may be.  When space (geography) is colonized either by foreign powers or tyrant locals, and the time is neither traditional nor modern, scholarship cannot be but an expression of such a condition. Succinctly, contemporary Muslim scholars face three major sovereignties that block their intellectual energies: 1) the local dictatorial regimes, 2) the local traditional religious scholarship that refuses change and cultural renewal, and 3) the outside hegemonic powers that benefit from such a condition economically and culturally. This actually makes these scholars the true saviors of the dilapidated Islamic world, because they know the tradition, its strength and its weaknesses, and know the dominant West, its strength and its weaknesses. They are the philosophers of their people and their time, before they are mere philosophers. Mere philosophy is nonsense or simply non-existent; thinking for the sake of thinking is useless, especially at a globalized age when the powerful further weakens the weak, the rich further impoverishes the poor, and the cultured dominates the ignorant. Philosophy raises big questions to reach up to the small problems. Existential questions are still very relevant, but they no longer start at the global level, because the global is tainted, appropriated by the powerful; so, philosophy has to start now locally, to empower the local so that they can be able to exist and raise existential questions. Maybe there was no time in which philosophy was needed more than today, the modern globalized world. It is now that local cultures and philosophies are needed to save man and philosophy as well.  “Different philosophy” – to call it so, not to mean necessarily “resistant philosophy” – seems a must for a serious understanding of what man wants, how he should want this, and for what reason(s) or why!

Islamic societies now still live in the modern world with hybrid lenses that think through the past to catch up with the present, a present it has not contributed to, a fact which confuses its original worldview as experienced in the classical medieval (enlightened) period. They are resisting. They might be the societies that have resisted most Western modernity, at least culturally, and less so economically and politically. A culture of resistance has grown up to replace both the classical sharia model, with its diversity, and the modern model of the West. The three sovereign “blockers” of change – the three powers mentioned above – have brought about such a culture of resistance. I think that only contemporary scholars that have developed various and rich projects since the 1960s are able to unknot this dilemma and end such a culture of resistance with a culture of opening, solidarity and contribution, and not only resistance. The Islamic Left of Hassan Hanafi and Islamic liberation theology of Farid Essack may be inspiring, with updates and revisions.

Overall, what this means is that philosophies differ. They are meant to differ. They reflect the socio-political conditions of philosophers. Their abstraction aims at problematizing the small issues they start grappling with; their abstraction aims at capturing the past and the future, henceforth their aspiration for universality, which they capture minimally or maximally. It is nonsense to expect, for example, scholars in the Arab world to debate exactly similar issues as those debated by scholars in the Euro-American world; the historical periods they deal with are different; borrowing and exchange can help in mutual understanding and share the search for solutions for global issues, but that does not require them to be based on the same grounds.

There is Islamic philosophy and there are Muslim philosophers. Until now, there is no escape from the label “Islamic” in Islamic philosophy; the current historical period still requires it, and both philosophers and their people do not want to, or are unable to, avoid it for now. It is their title of difference, existence and resistance; and they have that right. Some of these philosophers have more prominence in the West than others; some of them are not known at all, or hardly known, even in Islamic studies departments; some of them are read only as scholars, reformists, progressists, or as theologians; and are not labeled philosophers. Some of them are specialized in Western philosophy, but they are hardly read or quoted by Western scholars working on the same philosophy. Some of them have developed clear and modern methodologies of reading the Islamic tradition or have developed critiques of Western modernity, but they are often read only by scholars of Islam in Islamic studies departments or Asian studies departments, and alike departments, and are hardly studied in modern philosophy departments. This is no wonder since only few works are available, for example, of the contemporary philosophers. Even scholars that are over-consumed, like Mohamed Abed Aljabri, Mohamed Arkoun, Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd or Hassan Hanafi, are only minimally translated in English. Added to this, the new methodologies developed by these scholars are hardly translated into methods of research in the social sciences. Sociological and anthropological scholars of Islam writing in English or French, for instance, still use frameworks of Western scholars in the field in their study of Muslim societies and minorities; they are unable to develop sociological apparatuses based on contemporary Muslim reformists, basically because they do not have access to their full works in the languages they command, or simply because they is no intellectual will to take that step. As to classical Islamic philosophy, the works devoted to it can be listed, and mostly include the interesting endeavours of Henry Corbin, Montgommery Watt, Majid Fakhry, Seyyed Hussein Nasr, Hamid Dabashi, Oliver Leaman, besides some others like Jon McGinnis and David Reisman, Peter Adamson and Richard C. Taylor, and Roy Jackson.   

To say the least here, Islamic philosophy should neither be considered identical to nor alien to Greek or modern Western philosophy, since such presuppositions deprive it of the right to exist and the right to difference, if it opts for difference. First, it has established itself as an independent tradition for fifteen centuries, despite the controversies about what is and what is not philosophic in it. It has contributed to philosophy debates in both cases. Second, the socio-political and intellectual conditions that contributed to the flourishing of early Islamic philosophy are different from the current ones. It is erroneous to essentialize it or expect it to either abide by norms of a different (and dominant) philosophy. It is not philosophic to expect such a thing. The classical search for truth, and now the modern search for liberty and justice should be the norms, and not mere “intellectual judo.” Re-grounding philosophy seems a must for all traditions, for common survival, and for diversity.


Image: the philosopher Ibn Rushd
–by Mohammed Hashas, LUISS University of Rome

Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution

Posted by admin On October - 3 - 2014 Comments Off


National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 484
Posted September 16, 2014

For more information contact:
202/994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu
Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution
By Richard Whittle
(Henry Holt and Company, September 16, 2014)
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Praise for Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution by Richard Whittle:
“Endlessly interesting and full of implication… There’s plenty of geekery befitting a Tom Clancy novel to keep readers entertained… Whittle’s account comes to a pointed conclusion: drone technology has already changed how we die, but what remains to be seen is how it ‘may change the way people live.’”

—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Engrossing… [An] impressively researched, thought-provoking history.”

—Publishers Weekly
“Fascinating both as military history and as a look inside a hot contemporary social issue.”

“A brilliant and detailed account of the growing pains of the weapons system of the future. Whittle fully captures the political struggle that almost downed the nascent Predator program.”

—Richard A. Clarke, former National Security Council counter-terrorism director and author of Against All Enemies
“Richard Whittle has delivered what will surely be the definitive history of how the United States came to arm its drones. Both deeply reported and very well written, Predator joins a very short list of books about the future of warfare that will engage any audience, from the specialist to the general reader.”

—Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad
“Predator is a must-read. Love it or hate it, the armed drone represented a transformation in military technology. Like every revolution, this one had a colorful cast of characters, and Whittle tells their story with the insight and authority of a veteran military journalist, drawing on inside sources in the Air Force, the CIA and defense industry. This book should be on the shelf of anyone who wants to understand military power in the 21st century.”

—David Ignatius, columnist for The Washington Post and author of The Director
“All future attempts to understand the how and why of the drone era’s beginnings, and the crucial personalities, disagreements, and decisions that shaped this technology, will be built on Richard Whittle’s authoritative and original account. Predator tells the story of the real people whose insights, biases, and experience changed the realities of modern warfare.”

—James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly and author of National Defense
Washington, DC, September 16, 2014 – The Predator drone, though best known as the CIA’s primary weapon in the war against Al Qaeda, was merely an unarmed, remote-control intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft when the Defense Department first bought it in 1994. As detailed in Richard Whittle’s Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution (Henry Holt and Company, September 16, 2014), the Predator’s configuration was derived from drones developed in the 1980s by former Israeli aeronautical engineer Abraham Karem. Documents obtained by Whittle and posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, www.nsarchive.org, confirm key facts about the Predator’s transformation by the Air Force into the first armed drone used to stalk and kill individual enemies by remote control at intercontinental range.


This Air Force demonstration video includes a variety of views of Predators taking off and landing, a glimpse inside a ground control station, and scenes from actual combat Hellfire shots, though where they were taken is unidentified.


Document 1: Defense Department, Memorandum from John M. Deutch, “Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), July 12, 1993

Source: DOD response to FOIA request by Richard Whittle

In early 1993, President Bill Clinton complained that neither the U.S. military nor the intelligence community could find Serb artillery being used to bombard Bosnian civilians in Sarajevo. CIA Director James Woolsey decided his agency should acquire a reconnaissance drone to solve the problem and the CIA soon bought two Gnat 750 unmanned aerial vehicles from San Diego-area company General Atomics. After consulting with Woolsey, Undersecretary of Defense John M. Deutch took a similar step on July 12, 1993, creating a program to develop a drone for the military in the same class as the Gnat 750 but with greater capabilities. Deutch stipulated that this Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle must be able to fly 500 miles from its launch point, stay over a target area at least 24 hours at altitudes of 15,000 to 25,000 feet, carry 400-500 pounds of sensors, and transmit imagery while being flown via satellite. What became known as the “Deutch Memo” outlines in detail why Deutch believed such a drone was needed and how urgently he wanted the aircraft delivered.
A photo taken September 12, 2001, shows the double wide trailer on the CIA campus in Langley, Va., from where the Air Force team piloted the Predator over Afghanistan. (Photo: Google Earth)Document 2: Office of the Secretary of Defense, Memorandum from William J. Perry, “Assignment of Service Lead for Operation of the Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV),” April 9, 1996

Source: Provided to Richard Whittle by a Predator program participant

Many pilots in the Air Force disdained unmanned aerial vehicles, but the fighter pilot who was that service’s chief of staff from 1994-97, General Ronald Fogleman, set out to wrest control of the Predator away from the Army and Navy and secure it for the Air Force. Fogleman saw a worrisome gap looming in the nation’s ability to conduct airborne reconnaissance — using aircraft, as opposed to satellites, to gather intelligence from above. Fogleman thought the Army was the wrong service to fly and manage UAVs. He also remembered the abysmal history of an artillery-spotting drone called Aquila, which Congress cancelled in 1988 after the Army had spent 14 years and $1.2 billion on the project without making the Aquila fly properly. Fogleman scored his first bureaucratic victory when Defense Secretary William J. Perry signed a memo making the Air Force the lead service for the Predator.


Document 3: Office of the Air Force Chief of Staff, Memorandum from Col. James G. Clark, “Predator,” April 28, 1997

Source: Provided to Richard Whittle by Col. (ret) James G. Clark

On September 2, 1996, the Air Force’s 11th Reconnaissance Squadron took over Predator operations from the Army, which had been flying the drone over Bosnia by remote control from Taszar, Hungary, since March 14 of that year. One day short of a month after the Air Force assumed control, one of the three Air Force pilots at Taszar crashed one of the three Predators based there. Over the next three months, Fogleman received a stream of complaints about the Predator from Army leaders in charge of enforcing the Dayton Accords that ended the war in Bosnia. On January 29, 1997, the vice chief of staff of the Army, General Ronald Griffith, even sent a “message to the field” saying Predator support to the 1st Armored Division was “less than satisfactory” in Bosnia. Army commanders said the Predator wasn’t in the air often enough to do them much good. The Air Force’s Air Combat Command claimed weather was the problem and recommended the Predator unit simply be brought home for the winter and sent back in summer. Others suggested that the pilots the Air Force had assigned to fly the Predator just weren’t very good. Fogleman sent a team of officers to investigate under Colonel James G. “Snake” Clark, whose April 28, 1997, report said the Army might be trying to regain control of the Predator from the Air Force.


Document 4: Office of the Air Force Chief of Staff, Talking Points, “Talking Paper on Predator,” April 28, 1997

Source: Provided to Richard Whittle by Col. (ret.) James G. Clark

This attachment to Clark’s report to Fogleman (Document 3) summarizes key points of discussion regarding problems with the Predator program and offers recommendations.

Inspired by the advent of GPS and his desire to help NATO deter a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, Neal Blue decided General Atomics should develop a kamikaze drone. Displayed at a 1988 air show before the company abandoned it and hired bankrupt Abe Karem, this “poor man’s cruise missile” was the first Predator. (Photo courtesy of William Sadler)Document 5: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Memorandum from Jacques S. Gansler, “Initiation of the Transfer of the Predator Program Office from the Navy to the Air Force,” April 15, 1997

Source: Provided to Richard Whittle by a program participant

Fogleman’s campaign to win total control of the Predator for the Air Force succeeded later in 1997, when Congress directed in the Fiscal 1998 Defense Authorization Act that Navy authority to manage the drone be transferred to the Air Force. Separately, House Intelligence Committee report language accompanying the Fiscal 1998 Intelligence Authorization Act directed the Air Force to designate the 645th Aeronautical Systems Group, an obscure rapid procurement unit known as “Big Safari,” as the Predator’s System Program Office. The report language, inserted by Representative Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), said the House committee “has been keenly interested in the rapid, flexible, and innovative acquisition approaches that hallmark Big Safari.” On April 15, 1998, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, Jacques S. Gansler, officially directed the transfer of the Predator program from the Navy to Big Safari.


Document 6: Headquarters USAFE, Special Order GD-09, [Creating the 32nd Expeditionary Air Intelligence Squadron], January 16, 2001

Source: Public record obtained by Richard Whittle

In September 2000, an Air Force unit began flying an unarmed Predator over Afghanistan for the CIA in an attempt to locate Osama bin Laden, who had been in hiding since August 7, 1998, when Al Qaeda suicide bombers attacked the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The ad hoc Air Force unit — officially the 32nd Expeditionary Air Intelligence Squadron — controlled the Predator by satellite from a ground control station parked at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, headquarters of United States Air Forces Europe (USAFE). Commanded by USAFE’s intelligence director, Colonel Edward J. Boyle, and under the operational direction of Major Mark A. Cooter, the unit spotted and videotaped bin Laden at least twice. To preserve secrecy, the squadron was formed by verbal rather than written orders, which were issued retroactively.


Document 7: Headquarters Air Combat Command, Cable, “RQ-1, Predator, Program Direction,” May 1, 2000

Source: Provided to Richard Whittle by Air Force Col. Sean Frisbee

Contrary to reports that the CIA armed the Predator and the Air Force followed, the decision to put Hellfire missiles on the drone was made by Air Force General John P. Jumper, commander of Air Combat Command. Jumper announced his decision to arm the Predator on May 1, 2000, nearly two months before CIA Director George Tenet agreed to a plan to fly an unarmed Predator over Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden. Initially, Jumper’s plan to arm the Predator had nothing to do with the CIA or the U.S. shadow war with Al Qaeda that was going on at the time. Frustrated by difficulties Allied pilots had in finding and hitting mobile targets during the 1999 NATO air war in Kosovo, Jumper simply wanted to provide a weapon to attack “fleeting targets.” The Predator had been used to find targets in Kosovo; Jumper said arming the drone was simply “the next logical step.”

Special operations helicopter pilot and lifelong computer geek Captain Scott Swanson became Big Safari’s first Predator pilot. Swanson was at the drone’s controls when the Predator’s cameras spotted Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in September 2000. (Photo courtesy of Scott Swanson)Document 8: Department of the Air Force, E-mails, “Predator Weaponization and INF Treaty,” September 2000

Source: Released to Richard Whittle by Headquarters Air Force Public Affairs

Jumper’s project to arm the Predator with Hellfire missiles ran into two early roadblocks. The first, obtaining congressional approval for a “new start” program not previously approved in defense appropriations, was easily overcome. The second, a State Department general counsel’s opinion that an armed Predator would constitute a ground-launched cruise missile banned by the U.S.-Soviet Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987, generated alarm within the Air Force. On Sept. 8, 2000, Col. James G. “Snake” Clark, whose 1997 report (Document 3) on Predator operations had helped the Air Force win total control of the program, forwarded to Lt. Gen. William Begert, assistant vice chief of staff, an e-mail from another officer warning that, if allowed to prevail, the State Department ruling would be a “serious setback” for the future of the Predator and Air Force plans to develop a UCAV, or unmanned combat aerial vehicle. “Sir we need help!” Clark told Begert, advising that the secretary of the Air Force and the chief of staff would have to get involved to reverse the State Department’s treaty concern. These documents, redacted by Air Force Public Affairs to withhold the name of the lower-ranking officer who sent the initial message, is an e-mail chain Clark forwarded to his deputy, Lt. Col. Kenneth Johns.


Document 9: Department of the Air Force, E-mails, “Predator Weaponization,” September 21-26, 2000

Source: Released to Richard Whittle by Headquarters Air Force Public Affairs

An email chain that begins Sept. 21, 2000, includes a message from General Jumper to the Air Force chief of staff, General Mike Ryan, arguing that the State Department opinion that arming the Predator would violate the INF Treaty should not be allowed “to stand or to ripen.” Ryan agrees and thanks Jumper for volunteering to be “Your Junk Yard Dog” on the issue.


Document 10: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Memorandum from Jacques S. Gansler, “Compliance Certification of Predator Tests and the DARPA/USAF X-45A,” December 21, 2000

Source: Released to Richard Whittle by Headquarters Air Force Public Affairs

On December 21, 2000, Undersecretary of Defense Jacques Gansler notified the secretary of the Air Force and the director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that both the Air Force project to arm the Predator and a joint Air Force-DARPA project to demonstrate the technologies needed to develop an armed unmanned combat aerial vehicle, the X-45A, had been deemed permissible under the INF Treaty and other arms limitations pacts. Written justifications for the decisions remain classified. Whittle reports in Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution, that the decision was reached after Richard Clarke of the National Security Council staff intervened. Clarke, who had been deputy assistant secretary of state for intelligence when the INF treaty was negotiated and served as assistant secretary of state for politico-military affairs before going to the NSC, pointed out that, by definition, a cruise missile had a warhead and the Predator didn’t. The Predator was merely a platform, an unmanned aerial vehicle that had landing gear and was designed to return to base after a mission. The X-45A, the first U.S. drone designed from its beginnings to be armed, flew in tests as a technology demonstrator between 2002-2005 and was then retired.

Predator 3034 was initially painted white and bore the marking “WA” — the two-letter base code for Nellis Air Force Base, where the first Hellfire tests were conducted. When 3034 launched the first-ever lethal drone strike, in Afghanistan, the aircraft was painted air superiority grey and bore no markings at all. (Air Force photo)Document 11: Department of the Air Force, Letters Updating Congress on Predator Weaponization, July 11, 2000

Source: Released to Richard Whittle by Headquarters Air Force Public Affairs

On July 11, 2001, Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley sent a memo, cited in the 9/11 Commission Report, telling CIA Deputy Director John E. McLaughlin, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Air Force General Richard Myers, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the White House wanted to deploy Predators “capable of being armed” to Afghanistan by September 1. That same day, the Air Force legislative liaison office sent ten key members of Congress letters reporting that $2.275 million was being transferred from other programs in order “to complete the Hellfire demonstration.” The money would be used, the letters said, “to modify two more Predator aircraft to develop useable tactics, techniques and procedures for weapons delivery from UAVs.” The real purpose of the reprogramming was to provide armed Predators for a potential mission to kill Osama bin Laden.


Document 12: Department of the Air Force, Memorandum from Lt. Gen. Stephen B. Plummer, “Request for HELLFIRE II Missiles and Launders …,” July 12, 2001

Source: Released to Richard Whittle by Headquarters Air Force Public Affairs

On July 12, 2001, Lt. Gen. Stephen Plummer, principal assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, sent a memo to the Army asking for ten Hellfire II missiles and three M299 launchers “to support the expansion of the Predator/HELLFIRE weaponization quick reaction project.” Plummer’s memo added that the missiles and launchers were needed a mere eight days later — a reflection of how urgently Big Safari was trying to finish testing the newly armed Predator for possible use against bin Laden.


Document 13: Headquarters Air Combat Command, Special Orders GB-52 and GB-73, September 18, 2001 and May 29, 2002

Source: Public records obtained by Richard Whittle

As Al Qaeda terrorists launched their attacks on New York and Washington the morning of September 11, 2001, an Air Force team whose core cadre and leadership were the same as the unit that had found Osama bin Laden using an unarmed Predator the year before was reassembling at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. Official orders forming Detachment 1, Air Combat Command, Pentagon, were issued on September 18, 2001, with no explanation of the unit’s mission. Also known as the Air Combat Command Expeditionary Air Intelligence Squadron, the unit was based in a double wide mobile home hidden by trees on the CIA campus and flew armed Predators over Afghanistan and elsewhere from first one and later two ground control stations parked next to the trailer. As the second document here shows, Detachment 1, Air Combat Command, Pentagon, was officially inactivated on May 29, 2002, and replaced by Detachment 1, 17 th Reconnaissance Squadron, a Predator unit headquartered at Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field, Nevada. In 2005, Indian Springs was renamed Creech Air Force Base.

CIA Director George Tenet, with the NSC’s Richard Clarke sitting behind him, watched President Bush address the nation on the evening of September 11, 2001, from the White House bunker. Before that day, Tenet and Clarke were at odds about whether to use the armed Predator to try to kill Osama bin Laden. Afterward, Tenet became a Predator disciple. (Official White House photo)Document 14: Department of the Air Force, Appointment Order, October 19, 2001, and Meritorious Service Medal Citation for Col. Edward J. Boyle, September 18, 2006

Source: Provided to Richard Whittle by Col. (ret.) Edward J. Boyle, USAF

Colonel Edward J. Boyle commanded both the 32nd Expeditionary Air Intelligence Squadron, whose unarmed Predator found Osama bin Laden in September 2000, and Detachment 1, Air Combat Command, Pentagon, the unit that flew armed Predators for CIA from September 2001 through May 2002. Following his retirement in October 2002, Boyle received a Meritorious Service Medal (Third Oak Leaf Cluster) for the latter command. Documents at this link include the order naming Boyle commander of the armed Predator unit and his award citation, which calls the unit the “Expeditionary Air Intelligence Squadron, Air Combat Command at a classified location” and in broad strokes describes how the Air Force team conducted “a revolution in warfare.”


Document 15: Director of Central Intelligence, Meritorious Unit Citation to Expeditionary Air Intelligence Squadron, December 12, 2002

Source: Provided to Richard Whittle by Col. (ret) Mark A. Cooter, USAF

On December 12, 2002, CIA Director George Tenet awarded the first Air Force Predator unit that flew missions for his agency a National Intelligence Meritorious Unit Citation.


The End of American World Order- SHELLEY WALIA

Posted by admin On October - 3 - 2014 Comments Off


he book argues that the unipolar moment is at its end, with Asian economies daring to confront the supremacy of the West. By SHELLEY WALIA
ANTI-AMERICANISM continues to blow across the globe. United States President Barack Obama has made little difference to the unnecessary war initiated by the George Bush-Tony Blair era. Instead of sending in troops, he has been solely responsible for using the ruthless and unethical drone warfare in Afghanistan and Pakistan and more recently in Iraq. The U.S.’ unrivalled military vigour, its corporations and popular culture merge into a “hyperpower” that influences indigenous cultures across the world.

Amitav Acharya, in his new book, The End of American World Order, examines the American experience and its worldwide impact through its far-reaching political and foreign policy, military action, cultural production and consumption, an appallingly prejudiced diet of unawareness and misrepresentation spun out by the media; you name it and it is perceptibly present in the farthest corners of the world. The handling of the rest of the world at the United Nations and its directing of global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is indicative of its hegemony. This is the world order that the author argues is now reaching its end.

Power without informed democratic control is central to the complex relationship of the U.S. to the rest of the world. It claims to export democratic values and yet remains a threat to sovereign nations around the world. One American life lost in Iraq provokes a disproportionate response from the Pentagon. Collateral damage to civilians is of no consequence. The rule of international law is flouted across the board and client regimes are set up wherever the need arises. Whether Iraq or Afghanistan, democracies cannot be affected at will; the multifaceted history of a nation cannot be overlooked. And it cannot be denied that democratic cultures always evolve from within. The false and hypocritical discourse of fighting for democratic institutions and justice stands corroborated by the U.S.’ interventionist and self-promoting foreign policy over many decades.

A country that depends on its global supremacy for marketing itself cannot escape the wave of anti-Americanism. Disparities of wealth, power, freedom and opportunity have given rise to anti-globalisation protests and numerous other movements for justice and peace. The era of undemocratic control of the world economy and the free flow of capital and labour are now at an end. The arrogant denial of the freedom of others clashes with the potential of the present to create alternatives to the U.S. order. In the post-9/11 decade, there is clearly the emergence of the average American who refuses to be lied to. The arrogance of President George W. Bush, the ruthless bombardment of Palestinian civilians, the number of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-engineered coups around the world are more than sufficient to provoke worldwide acrimony. The unipolar moment, Amitav Acharya argues, is now at its end with the rise of the Asian economies, which daringly confront the supremacy of the West.

With these visible signs of decline, the author argues, the world gradually becomes “multiplex” instead of being “mulitpolar, polycentric, non-polar, neo-polar, post-American, G-zero”. “There may be one film running in different theatres in the same complex, but more often there are different films in different theatres in the complex. In a multiplex world, we have different producers and actors staging their own shows concurrently,” he writes. This metaphor underscores the international hegemony of the U.S. that is slowly being replaced by a more decentred world, with regional powers gaining in political and economic strength. There is more confidence in regional and local solutions than in global market forces. The outcome, encouragingly, is interdependence, which is inherently counter to U.S. foreign policy that has little respect for regionalism. The hegemony of the U.S. stands replaced by a viable cooperation between nations, a kind of scenario where “regionalism is less polarising, and more open… and multidimensional”.

“To a large extent, [the role of the emerging powers] lies in preventing or frustrating the continuation of American World Order rather than providing an alternative form of global governance on their own initiative. The lack of unity, vision, and resources makes an alternative construction of global order by the emerging powers unlikely. Hence, cooperation between the established and the emerging powers is critical to the future of global governance. The emerging powers by themselves neither represent nor exhaust the possibility of an alternative, or post-hegemonic, global governance structure. Moreover, while the liberal hegemonic order narrative tends to downplay regional forces or present them as a threat, the emerging power hype ignores the fact that securing regional legitimacy is a major prerequisite for their global ambitions.”

Multipolar world

The view that the U.S. dominance goes hand in hand with its role as a global policeman falls apart in the face of the ensuing idea of mutipolarity that propels notions of justice and development within systems that are underpinned by healthier and more efficient procedures of governance. Today’s global order under the U.S. cultural and political dominance is slowly being replaced by the fast-growing multipolar order. Regional organisations such as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) or the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) are gearing to a mutual understanding of respect for justice, human rights, ecology and democracy, and ensuring that any infringement of justice or international law would lead to the penalising of member states.

As the author argues, the intergovernmental institutions will “introduce a healthy diversity and leadership into the emerging world order instead of the singular dominance of American power or the EU’s [European Union] legalistic and centralised model of cooperation”. Amitav Acharya perceptively analyses the contemporary scenario, which has all the signs of movement towards an intergovernmental control over regions, thereby bringing to an end the eras of hegemonic global powers. The thesis becomes all the more interesting as Amitav Acharya does not go with the conventional view that the corollary to the demise of the U.S. hegemony would be global instability. Rejecting this widely held opinion, he takes a dig at the indispensability of the U.S. world order by giving more credence to the case for interdependability in transnational relations. Indeed, “the unipolar moment in international relations is over, and we are now entering a multiplex world”. This is apparent in the crisis swallowing up Ukraine, which is indicative of the fast-changing scenario of world politics wherein powerful single states now have no control or check on international issues. It would be a fallacy to blame the U.S. leadership for this transformation. The outcome is the result of a “transformed international environment” where it is a foregone conclusion that the ascendancy of the U.S. is being challenged by China or India.

Decline of the U.S. world order

The centre of global economic power is fast shifting with the growth of economic and security interdependence. Though many still disagree with Amitav Acharya’s thesis, the rise of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) economies upholds the inherent argument of the abrupt decline of the U.S. Making a distinction between the U.S. decline and the decline of the U.S. world order, Amitav Acharya holds the view that this development has taken place irrespective of the decline of the American nation.

The U.S.-led hegemonic order is dependent on the notion of superiority, hierarchy and universal presence. What is clear is the end of the empire though the U.S. undoubtedly plays a “central role” in the world: “But the idea that the hitherto ‘American led liberal-hegemonic order’ or American World Order will persist, even in a ‘reconstituted’ form, is questionable. This is because a key problem in debating the persistence of the American World Order … is that we can genuinely disagree about what might persist, and what its form might be. Myths about the old order abound.”

Questioning the reality of the existence of a U.S.-led liberal hegemonic order, he raises doubts about the authenticity of those who really benefited from it: “Some of the claims about what that order actually represented, how far it extended, and the benefits it produced, while not unfounded, are selective and exaggerated.”

While the past of this order remains a questionable issue, its future is also replete with problems. However, “any reconstituted American hegemony has to change a lot, and accommodate, rather than co-opt, other forces and drivers, including the emerging powers and regional groups. It has to adapt to a new multilateralism that is less beholden to American power and purpose.”

Pax Britannica or Pax Americana are concepts of the “single power” global hegemony experienced in the past. And one does not have to go along with the alarmist view that the decline of the U.S. power is a harbinger of some global catastrophe or a bleak future. As succinctly and optimistically argued by Amitav Acharya, this decline, indeed, could very well be an unsurpassed saviour for both the U.S. and the rest of the world.


Like Joyce, García Márquez gave us a light to follow into the unknown-Peter Carey

Posted by admin On April - 19 - 2014 Comments Off

Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez greets journalists and neighbours outside his house in Mexico City earlier this year. Photograph: Edgard Garrido/Reuters
The greatest writer of our time showed us that a large and generous heart is no impediment to genius, says Peter Carey
Sometime in the very early 1970s two Australian friends returned from Colombia and asked me to ghostwrite the story of their adventures, which included a conversation with an unknown writer named Gabriel García Márquez. In an effort to overcome my reluctance they lent me an English edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude. None of us understood that they had thereby changed my life.

I tried, and failed, to help them memorialise their adventure. Worse, I “forgot” to return the book. Worse still, I arrogantly decided that this novel by this unknown writer would be of far more use to me than it could ever be to them.

I was, at the time I became a thief, stumbling to find a way to escape what Patrick White had called “the dun-coloured realism” of my own country’s literature, to make the windswept paddocks on the Geelong Road, say, become luminous and new. The stories worked well enough, but I still wasn’t up to the bigger challenge. The absence of placenames in the stories is a good indication of what I was avoiding, a sign that I was still too young (and damaged) to see that Myrniong was a beautiful strange name and that Wonthaggi was a poem unto itself.

It would take 10 years (some 20 stories and a novel) to free myself of this colonial bind, but the first step, without a doubt, was when I opened One Hundred Years of Solitude and read: “At that time Macondo was a village of 20 adobe houses built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.”

Thus Márquez threw open the door I had been so feebly scratching on.

In truth he had done it before that: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

And he would keep on doing it line after line after line. And I was drunk on Márquez. And of course I had no idea what I was reading. I knew nothing of Colombia, let alone Macado. Thus, like the foreign reader of an Australian saga, I was left free to believe that the novelist has personally invented the koala and the platypus.

Even 10 years later, when this lightning strike began to show its effects in my own work, when I could finally celebrate names like Myrniong and Wonthaggi and the attendant miracles and cruelties of my native land, I still did not have a clue about how Márquez’s art grew from his own soil. I was like my friend the Australian painter Colin Lancely who loved Miró and finally, in Catalonia, those “original” Miró symbols on every corner.

So, like many of my generation, in a swirl of admiration, I learned from Márquez and was even nourished by my misunderstandings.

It is, of course, unseemly to talk about myself when the greatest writer of our time has died. If I persist it is to make a larger point, that while a writer’s greatness can be marked in many ways, it can be objectively measured, across the barriers of translation and oceans, by his or her influence on succeeding generations.

Like Joyce and Eliot, Márquez gave a light to follow into the unknown. He made us braver, he returned us to the path of story and he showed us, thank you Sir, that a large and generous heart is no impediment to genius.

Peter Carey has won the Booker prize twice, for Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang

The Coup Against Salvador Allende-Oscar Guardiola Rivera

Posted by admin On April - 11 - 2014 Comments Off


A detailed account of the Allende presidency and its violent end, as Chile’s military carried out Washington’s bidding

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.”

U.S. National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, just before Salvador Allende was elected president of Chile, to a White House committee which decided which other countries’ internal affairs should be manipulated.

“Our country is a force for good without precedent.”

Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, to the U.S. Army War College, 1997.

“If we have to use force, it is because we are America!  We are the indispensable nation.  We stand tall.  We see further into the future.”

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Allbright, 1998.

In pursuit of its national security, the U.S. no longer need be guided by “notions of international law and norms” or “institutions like United Nations” because it is “on the right side of history.”

Prospective U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, 2000.

(Items 2-4 above are cited in David Cromwell, Why are We the Good Guys?  Alresford: Zero Books, 2012, pp 83-4.)”

It is always other people who pay the price for this hubris, which seems yet to be overtaken by its nemesis despite the deaths, perhaps amounting to tens of millions, it has caused. To crusaders possessed by such messianic fervour, the untidy indeterminacy of ordinary people’s lives and of countries’ dealings with one another, and the capacity of peoples and states to coexist and more, however untidily and indeterminately, is unbearable. For the messianic, the world must be as they fantasise it to be, and anyone who embodies anything else must be removed or exterminated. Salvador Allende, elected President of Chile in 1970, was no communist, but a moderate social democrat; Henry Kissinger and his president, Richard Nixon, were terrified not that he was in office but that his mixed economy would work. It had already worked astoundingly well in western Europe, but that is one region of the world which Kissinger, who himself ordered the illegal saturation bombing of Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War, seems not to have considered destroying.

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, senior lecturer in law at Birkbeck College in the University of London, has written a detailed account of the Allende presidency and its violent end as the Chilean military did what Washington wanted, and did it to oblige major United States corporations who feared having to share even part of their profits with millions of poor Latin Americans on whose backs they made those profits. At least some of Allende’s hopes have been realised in the last sixteen years, especially since Hugo Chávez, a harder-line socialist than Allende, was elected and then repeatedly reelected by the Venezuelan public, starting an era of resolutely social-democratic voting across Latin America.

That continues; in Venezuela, foreign oil corporations pay 16 per cent of their profits to the country, in contrast to the one per cent they used to pay. Chávez told them they could pay or leave. The money, despite corruption and violence, goes into public healthcare, schools, and universities, and so far the efforts of the Venezuelan elites to mobilise against this have failed to rouse the masses. Latin America is the one continent where elected leaders ignore the International Monetary Fund.

Terrible period
Guardiola-Rivera, faced with the task of chronicling a terrible period, starts with one which lies further back but is no less terrible. It was not the Spanish crown but British and American banks which became the dominant powers in Chile, and British families who settled there – like the Edwards family – came to be among the most powerful, funding extractive industries, especially in nitrates and copper, for colossal profits in the northern Anglosphere; their expansion was predicated on the explicit and racist assumption that those they colonised in Latin America had no history or civilisation and were in effect subhuman. King Leopold II of Belgium, one of the most brutal colonists of all in Africa, enthusiastically supported their project, which inevitably involved genocide, in this case the slaughter of most of the Mapuche people in southern Chile.

By the early 20th century, however, resistance was emerging, and the young Salvador Allende, born in 1908, learnt much from Juan Demarchi, a cobbler and one of the many artisan-scholars and worker-poets in the Chile of the time. Allende became a political activist while studying medicine; he shared his fellow-travellers’ concerns about the spread of Fascism in Europe and the United States (where its adherents included Henry Ford), and was a minister by 1938. By 1945 he was a senator, and in the next decade proceeded to create the Chilean national health service, the first such in the Americas.

Elected President – in a close triangular contest – in 1970, having lost in 1964 in a process heavily rigged by the CIA, Allende proceeded to act on a broad range of social-democratic commitments, in particular implementing a doctrine of geoeconomic sovereignty against, for example, foreign corporations, who mined Chilean copper for the voracious U.S. armaments industry throughout the Cold War.

Geoeconomic sovereignty by itself may not have been decisive in his overthrow (even if it was one reason for the failed U.S.-backed coup against Chávez in 2002), and the author brilliantly demonstrates the enormous ideological threat Allende, Fidel Castro, and Ernesto “Che” Guevara posed to the United States. None of them was a slavish follower of the Soviet Union; Castro and Guevara had been disillusioned by the Cuban missile crisis, by the extent and nature of Soviet domestic failures, and by the USSR’s decision to participate in an arms race with the U.S., a race which could only — and did — bankrupt it and also meant that monies which could have gone to domestic and global causes went into armaments. In contrast, the three Latin left leaders thought very hard about political economy. Castro cited Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson before he cited Lenin; Guevara, a doctor, read Freud before he read Marx, and gave up his own idea of leadership for a far more open idea of the state; Allende considered democracy essential for a broadly equal society.

Drawing partly on the work of Raúl Prebisch, the three seriously considered an international economic system independent of the existing convertible currencies and founded on a new international sensibility in which a decent life for all would be central; this would include reparations for imperial and colonial exploitation. They also thought very hard about technology and politics; in a 1962 analysis, Guevara said, “Electronics has become a fundamental political problem.”

Furthermore, Castro and Guevara offered to normalise relations with the United States in 1963. They were, of course, ignored; after the Second World War, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Vice-President Henry Wallace, who openly attacked U.S. domestic apartheid, had been marginalised by the bitterly anti-communist President Harry S. Truman, and within a few years McCarthyism was rampant. It is no surprise that Nixon and Kissinger — and the corporates — were frightened of Allende’s potential impact. The Chilean industrialist Agustín Edwards Eastman was among those in Washington who plotted the coup, and on September 11, 1973 the Chilean air force attacked La Moneda, the presidential palace in Santiago, with British-made Hawker Hunter aircraft; Allende took his own life. Thousands died in mass killings by the Chilean forces, and the new dictator Augusto Pinochet declared himself immune from prosecution. The coup had adoring support from the Chilean elites, and the author notes that rich upper-class women were among the country’s worst bigots.

Guardiola-Rivera adds to remarkable political detail by drawing on his own immense knowledge of literature, poetry, music, and film to show that Allende’s incipient vía chilena — the Chilean Way — amounted not only to a political battle against an enormously brutal society but to also to an existential challenge from below, directed at the crushingly controlling and violently destructive forces of global capitalism. Mighty figures were involved: Pablo Neruda, himself a presidential contender, Delia del Carril, Blanca Luz Brum, Federico García Lorca, Carmen Lazo, and Victoria Ocampo all played crucial parts in the struggle for a decent life for ordinary Chileans; others feature too, like Ariel Dorfman, Beatriz Allende, and the Gaitáns, Jorge Eliécer and Gloria. They were highly intelligent and very passionate people, and their political commitments were as intense as their many sexual liaisons. This is no ordinary political biography.


The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2004-Carlotta Gall

Posted by admin On April - 10 - 2014 Comments Off


The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2004


Author: Carlotta Gall


Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Pgs: 352


Price: $ 28




“When the Taliban took Kabul days later, the first thing they did was drag Najibullah through the streets and string him and his brother up on Ariana Square…The first ring of Taliban fighters controlling the gawping crowds were Urdu-speaking Pakistanis. Some of them dark-skinned and wearing sunglasses, Abdul Waheed Wafa, a colleague who was there, told me. The ISI’s demand had been met,” writes Carlotta Gall, virtually indicting Pakistan’s intelligence agency for the murder of the former Afghan president who had asylum at the UN compound at the time. Pakistan is clearly miffed at the New York Times correspondent Carlotta Gall’s new book, The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2004, that was just released.


Ms Gall’s account of Dr Mohammed Najibullah’s lynching, a war crime by any standard, matches what many Afghans and Pakistan’s Pashtun nationalist leaders have said all along. She also chronicles that the ISI gave orders to kill Dr Najibullah to a Taliban commander Mullah Borjan, who had travelled to Quetta before the imminent fall of Kabul in 1996. Borjan, like many other Taliban, was hesitant to carry out this particular order but confided to a Pakistani journalist that he had come from the ISI offices and that “They are insisting that the first thing we do is kill Najibullah. If I don’t, I am not sure what will happen to me.” Borjan’s Kashmiri guard killed him on his way back to Afghanistan. Someone clearly did not trust Borjan’s vacillation and had a backup plan in place to eliminate him and Dr Najibullah both.

Dr Najibullah was not the only Afghan leader that was killed. Ms Carlotta Gall, again like many Afghans, Pashtuns and analysts, has pinned the responsibility on Pakistan for commissioning a decapitation campaign against the Afghan leaders. She notes that the two Tunisians pretending to be journalists who killed the veteran anti-Taliban leader Ahmad Shah Massoud in a suicide bombing — the first ever in Afghanistan — two days before the 9/11 attacks, had been issued one-year, multiple-entry visas on forged Belgian passports by the Pakistan embassy in London. The assassins travelled from Pakistan to Kandahar to what was a high profile reception by the Taliban there. “The ISI undoubtedly knew of their trip,” Ms Gall has concluded. Ahmed Shah Massoud, like Dr Najibullah, had the appeal and national standing that stood in the way of Pakistan’s plans.

Ms Carlotta Gall traces the tragic journey of another prominent Afghan, the former mujahideen commander Abdul Haq, back into Afghanistan right after 9/11 only to be assassinated on the direct orders of the Taliban interior minister Mullah Abdul Razzaq. She notes, “His brothers blamed the CIA for pushing Haq into Afghanistan when conditions were still too dangerous. Those close to him claimed to see the hand of Pakistan in his assassination, too, since the interior minister was especially close to the ISI, and Haq was a strong charismatic leader who opposed Pakistan’s policies toward Afghanistan.” Ms Gall has accurately noted that Abdul Haq and his two associates were unarmed at the time. It may be worthwhile for her to probe into who denied arms to Abdul Haq starting in the settled areas of Pakistan, across FATA and in Afghanistan. Abdul Haq’s brother Haji Qadeer, who was a vice president under Mr Hamid Karzai, was gunned down nine months later.

The most recent victim of the decapitation spree against the Afghan leadership was Ustad Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former president of the country and the incumbent chair of the Afghan High Peace Council. Ustad Rabbani’s assassination in a suicide bombing was again blamed on the ISI, Ms Gall writes. This time around, Afghan intelligence caught the bomber’s accomplice and under interrogation he revealed that two Pakistani men in Quetta, whom he only knew as Mahmoud and Ahmed, had plotted the attack and sent him in with the suicide bomber. President Hamid Karzai himself has narrowly escaped several attempts on his life, including in his home province of Kandahar. Ms Gall is on the money that someone has clearly wanted the independent Afghan leadership eliminated or bombed into submission.

Ms Carlotta Gall makes a case, and has taken flak for it already, that Pakistan not only wanted these Afghan leaders dead but has all along harboured their killers, including Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. She writes that in 2005 Zawahiri crossed over from FATA into Kohat where “he negotiated to stay for one month in the governor’s home”. Her assertion that a special ISI desk handled Osama bin Laden’s sanctuary, including in Abbottabad, has already appeared in her article last month. She has a point that such operations are by design covert and planned for maximum deniability, thus precluding hard evidence of foul play, but it would have been helpful to see more supporting information in the book about both the al Qaeda leaders and Mullah Omar. It is unlikely though that she would convince any naysayer unless a directive signed in ink is produced, which obviously never happens in the murky world of clandestine wars. The onus, however, should not be on Ms Carlotta Gall to release more information but on Pakistan to officially release its own inquiry report into the raid that netted Osama bin Laden, which hopefully does not imply something more sinister than the incompetence plea Pakistan has taken. The terrorist lynchpin was found in Pakistan’s, not Carlotta Gall’s, front yard, after all.

The book is organised into 14 chapters that move in chronological order from the Taliban’s 2001 surrender through the ‘Pakistan protégés’ unleashing hell on Afghanistan courtesy the ‘suicide bomb factory’ that Pakistan’s tribal areas have become, to culminate in the people of Kandahar finally rebelling against the Taliban in 2013. Ms Gall, who has covered the region from Wakhan to Pashtunabad, Quetta, and has a Rolodex second to none, has stated at the outset, “I do not pretend to be objective in this war. I am on the side of the victims.” The account, delivered in a veteran war reporter’s flawless but unassuming language, stays true to the title drawn from the late US diplomat Richard Holbrooke’s concern that “we may be fighting a wrong enemy in the wrong country”.

The enemy, as the Afghans continue to lament, is not in the villages of Afghanistan but remains headquartered across the Durand Line in Pakistan. Why has the US failed to confront the actual threat is a question asked throughout the work. Squashing the vipers without draining the pit seems like a self-defeating exercise. Ms Gall’s conclusion, like President Karzai’s, seems to be that the US is reluctant to confront a nuclear-armed large country despite the latter’s continued backing of cross-border jihadist terrorism due to geopolitical expediency. She rightly resolves that the Afghans do not necessarily want the foreign troops but need continued assistance, training and support in both civil and military sectors if the second coming of the al Qaeda-Taliban is to be averted. Many in Pakistan are not miffed at Carlotta’s gall just for probing Zawahiri and bin Laden’s whereabouts but because she has chronicled their malicious, hegemonist behaviour pattern towards Afghanistan accurately.
—Dr Mohammad Taqi

The Arab Gramsci- VIJAY PRASHAD

Posted by admin On March - 7 - 2014 Comments Off


The killing of Hassan Hamdan, better known as Mahdi Amel, a highly regarded Marxist theoretician who strove to produce Marxist concepts that would be faithful to Arab reality, is part of a continuing battle between religious fundamentalism and communist doctrine. By VIJAY PRASHAD
ON MAY 18, 1987, Hassan Hamdan left his apartment in west Beirut (Lebanon). He was a professor at Lebanese University and a central committee member of the Lebanese Communist Party (LCP). Hamdan turned right and headed to an errand. On Algeria Street, not far from his home, two men accosted him. They called out his name. He turned. They shot him. He was injured, taken by a passer-by to the American University of Beirut’s hospital, where he died. He was 51.

Lebanon was then in the midst of “the events” (al-ahdath), the civil war that ran from 1975 to 1990. Different phases of the war pitted different sections of Lebanon’s society and its militias—that often acted as proxies for outside powers—against each other.

Palestinians and the Left joined up to fight the Christian Right, a struggle that morphed through Syrian and Israeli military intervention into a brutal war to suppress the Palestinian bases in Lebanon. When the Palestinians were ejected to Tunisia in 1982, the war metastasised into an attack on the Left.

Islamist militias opened a war against the Communists who had powerful strongholds across Lebanon. In 1984, militants captured 52 Communists, forced them to renounce their atheism, killed them and, according to the Communist Party, dumped their bodies into the Mediterranean.

On February 17, 1987, Hussain Muruwwa lay in his bed. Muruwwa, also an LCP intellectual, had injured his leg. He was the editor of the LCP’s newspaper al-Tariq, and had written a series of books that showed how Arab culture was not just about religion and sentiment. It also had deep roots in science and reason. This seam of materialist culture—evident in the 10th century thinkers such as al-Farabi and Ibn Sina (Avicenna)—had been denied by Islamist scholarship. Some men entered Muruwwa’s house and shot him dead. He was 78.

The attack on Muruwwa took place in the context of a battle between the LCP and the Islamist militants. The fight, said Jamil Nahmi, Director General of Lebanon’s General Security (Surete Generale), was between “religious fundamentalism and communist doctrine”, irreconcilable ideologies that first came to blows in south Lebanon. According to the LCP, in the next 10 days, over 40 LCP members were killed, with 17 members kidnapped. A sheikh in southern Lebanon’s town of Nabatiye issued a fatwa that stated: “No communist must be allowed to remain in southern Lebanon.” It was a death sentence. Old communist villages came under attack. Adham al-Sayed, the current secretary of the LCP’s youth sector, calls these “martyr towns”, such as Srifa, Kafr Rumman and Houla, which were once “fortresses of the party”. Party members died or fled, or else abandoned politics.

The killing of Hassan Hamdan is part of this battle, although nothing conclusive can be said of the killing itself. Senior police officers sniff at the lack of information—“after all”, says one, “this is Lebanon”. As with the killing of Muruwwa, theories abound but there is nothing of substance. Police reports do not exist.

Few know Hassan Hamdan by his name. He is known now as Mahdi Amel—in the Arab world one of the most well-regarded and beloved Marxist theoreticians of his generation. Hamdan wrote widely and left behind a score of important books whose topics range from revolutionary theory to poetry. In his apartment, his son Redha tells me that the family and the Mahdi Amel Culture Centre continue to hear from those who find his work inspirational. Most recently, during the uprising in Tunisia, students painted a mural of Mahdi Amel on the walls of their campus. His image looked down on them with a benevolent sharpness. His books—all in Arabic—remain in print, and his work continues to be closely utilised by Arab intellectuals. It has been 26 years since his death, and yet little of his work seems to have faded.

In a corner of the study in Hamdan’s apartment sits his desk. It now carries a portrait of him. This is where he would sit and work at night while his family slept. What drove Mahdi Amel was a simple problem: how to produce Marxist concepts that would be faithful to Arab reality? This is a question that has plagued thinkers across the Third World ever since they encountered Marxism. The Peruvian Marxist Jose Carlos Mariategui’s Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality (1928) sought to understand the history and struggles of the indigenous peoples of the Andes alongside their domination by the Spanish conquistadors and the creation of new land tenure and labour systems. The Egyptian socialist Salamah Moussa’s Our Duties and the Tasks of Foreign Countries (1930) tried to provide a narrative of Egyptian society using socialist concepts. E.M.S. Namboodiripad’s history of Kerala and report on the land tenancy Bill of 1938 are part of this attempt.
In one of Mahdi Amel’s early essays, “Colonialism and Backwardness”, published in al-Tariq (1968), he wrote, “If you really want our own true Marxist thought to see the light, and to be capable to see reality from a scientific perspective, we should not start with Marxist thought itself and apply it to our own reality, but rather start from our reality as a foundational movement.” If one starts with the historical development of a society and its own cultural resources, “only then can our thought truly become Marxist” (translated by Hisham Ghassan Tohme). Marxism could not be adopted whole cloth. The reality of colonial “backwardness” (takhalluf) had to be explored and Marxism elaborated to take this into account.

Arabs bore the stigma of being “backward”, Mahdi Amel wrote. It was as if they were not capable of anything but failure. But the ruin of Arabs was not because of their culture but because of what had befallen them. Colonial rule for a hundred years would alter the structure of politics and economics as well as society. Old Arab notables would be sidelined or absorbed into a new world where they were merely the representatives of forces that lived elsewhere. The new elites that emerged represented external forces, not their own populations. When Paris sneezed, they caught a cold. The United States’ Ambassador became more important than elected officials. (An old joke that used to do the rounds: “Why is there no revolution in the United States? Because there is no U.S. embassy there.”) The experience of backwardness was not the fault of Arabs, Mahdi Amel suggested, but it was the way in which their lives had been structured. Marxism had to take this idea seriously, he argued.

At this time the Pakistani scholar Hamza Alavi had offered his theory of the colonial mode of production; in India there was a debate over the modes of production; and the Egyptian Marxist Samir Amin had produced work on the same theme. Like them, Mahdi Amel saw backwardness not in cultural terms, but in terms of the way the global order had been structured—with the South to provide raw materials and markets, while the North would produce the finished goods and earn the bulk of the social wealth. The feeling of backwardness was a reflection of this order. The political mess in the South was also related to this economic subordination. All these thinkers—with greater or lesser success—tried to provide a theory of how this is so.
The Red Oak

Born in 1936, Hassan Hamdan left Lebanon 20 years later to study philosophy in Lyons, France, at a time when a progressive opening in his homeland had been closed off. Arab nationalism and communism had begun to make strides in Lebanon. An armed uprising led by these two forces was crushed by the Lebanese elite, who were assisted by a U.S. military intervention. In France, Hamdan joined a clandestine group of Arab communists. The Algerian war was in full swing, and Charles de Gaulle would not allow any dissent within the country. It was fitting that Hamdan left France in 1963 for Algeria, where he and his wife, Evelyne Brun, came to help build the newly independent country. Evelyne Brun taught French, while Hamdan taught evening classes on the newly deceased Frantz Fanon in the provincial town of Al-Qustantiniyah (Constantine). Hamdan’s first published article was on Fanon for the review Revolution Africaine.

Political ferment in Lebanon drew Hamdan home. Lebanon’s Communist Party held its second Congress in 1968 where, as the youth leader Adham al-Sayed points out, “we put our own concepts, our own theory to the forefront”. The LCP distanced itself from the Soviet approach to the Palestinian question, throwing itself fully behind the resistance to Israel and to building up the Arab national movement. In the aftermath of this Congress, Interior Minister Kamal Jumblatt of the Progressive Socialist Party gave legal sanction to the LCP. Between 1970 and 1975, as the Left emerged from repression, union activity increased—there were 35 strikes a year. High levels of militancy during the Ghandour food workers’ strike in 1972 came alongside a renewed student movement. In 1974, fifty thousand people demonstrated against the move to privatise education. Veteran LCP labour leader Elias Habr said he had never seen such an event in his life.

In the tobacco fields of southern Lebanon the farmers went on strike, with the South Lebanon Tobacco Farmers’ Union attempting to come out from under the thumb of the old notables. Hamdan had taken his nom de plume —Mahdi Amel—from Lebanon’s southern mountains, the Jabal Amel, one of the homes to the country’s Shia population. This was an area of economic wretchedness. Tobacco is an unfriendly crop. It is hard work to grow and worse on the smoker. But it provided a living, and the peasants in the region had gradually given up their subsistence crops and planted this cash crop. What cash came to them was minimal as the state monopoly seemed to always get the better end of the deal. As the struggles emerged out of and alongside the Communist movement, Mahdi Amel travelled across the tobacco farmers’ bases, giving lectures about Marxism and its relevance to Lebanon’s contemporary problems. He spoke in homes and mosques, remembers Evelyne Brun, and was listened to “with religious silence”. He explained how backwardness worked, and what were the intentions of Lebanon’s right wing (the Phalange) as representatives of outside forces. Years later, Evelyne Brun learned, he was known as “the man with the green beard” and had attained a legendary status amongst the farmers.
Evelyne Brun recalls one of the major themes of Mahdi Amel’s work, “Being a Marxist is being a person who can provide answers to the problems of daily life.” During the Israeli occupation of Beirut in 1982, Mahdi Amel threw himself into organising water distribution with as much energy as he had into helping build the armed resistance. None of these matters had priority. One cannot overturn the condition of backwardness if one ignores the everyday maladies of the people.

When a tree falls

Mahdi Amel was killed in 1987, two years before the Soviet experiment began to fail. Already, the LCP had suffered major setbacks. Entry into the civil war in Lebanon meant that it had to concede to the rhetoric of sectarianism, the war between Christians and Muslims. It was impossible not to be sucked into that logic, as Mahdi Amel noticed in his cautionary books on sectarianism and the Lebanese civil war, say two LCP youth leaders, Adham al-Sayed and Jana Nakhal. It was hard to sustain the party in the new context. It began to flounder.

The Left in the Arab world suffered gravely over the past two decades. Communist parties had largely been destroyed by the Arab nationalist regimes. The room to grow seemed limited. Trade union activity was also not as easy as before, with the relocation of firms breaking links to older union traditions and the importation of migrant workers on restrictive visas making union activity virtually impossible. The rise of religious politics and the reinforcement of sectarianism made the severely rational world of Marxism seem alien to everyday life.

Nevertheless vibrant political movements did emerge in the 1990s and 2000s—new political movements around Palestine solidarity, brave trade union efforts in the mines of Tunisia and the factories of Egypt, and new social movements around women’s rights and the rights of migrant workers. The concatenation of these efforts led directly to the upsurge of 2011, the Arab Spring. Expressions of new left-wing initiatives are visible across the Arab world. In Egypt, for instance, the Eish we Horria (Bread and Freedom) party looks backward to the socialist tradition and forward to a new kind of politics for Egypt against the military-dominated state and political Islam.

But not everything is bright. In Tunisia, the Left seemed in the best position to make a claim on that country’s future through the Democratic Patriots Movement. As the movement grew, one of its leaders, Chokri Belaid, was assassinated outside his home on February 6, 2013. He was 48. Belaid, like Mahdi Amel, wrote poetry. One of his poems was on the assassination of Hussain Muruwwa. The wheel turns, and sometimes repeats itself.

A new perspective on 
antiquity’s greatest slave rebel-Spartacus

Posted by admin On January - 6 - 2014 Comments Off


A new perspective on 
antiquity’s greatest slave rebel-Spartacus
Posterity has left us little more than a dozen pages of writing from antiquity about Spartacus, the Thracian gladiator who in 73-71 BC led the largest slave uprising in the history of the Roman Empire. These accounts and fragments were written long after the events passed, by Roman historians who certainly were not sympathetic to their subject. And yet two millennia later the story of Spartacus still inspires novelists, historians, and filmmakers. Marx once called him the “finest fellow antiquity had to offer.” This rebellion still thrills us with its size and scope—Spartacus’s army, which possibly numbered as many as 40,000, defeated several Roman armies sent to crush it—and the way in which it humbled, even if for only a few years, the greatest empire of the day. It is no accident that the German Revolutionaries led by Rosa Luxemburg called themselves the Spartakusbund.

Aldo Schiavone, professor of Roman Law at the Institute of Human Sciences, retells the Spartacus story in this short book with deftness and poetic skill. He writes, for example, of how in the Rome of Spartacus’s time, gladiatorial combats became “increasingly detached from funerary rites and memories of sacrifice, and were now a stable component in the experience of the festivity, of the spectacle, of city munificence—of the heady sharing in the pleasure of blood and its contaminating heat.”

But the book is much more than a poetic retelling. It places Spartacus in a deep historical context, and, through intelligent conjecture, tries to explain the movements and decisions of the slave army, challenging a number of previously held assumptions along the way.

Most accounts of the rebellion argue that the slave army sought to find a way to escape from Italy, either northward to Thrace (Spartacus’s homeland), or, when that path was thwarted, southward and toward ships to disembark to other shores. Schiavone argues that this story doesn’t make sense, and that a more likely explanation for the movement of Spartacus’s army was that he sought to “transform his revolt into an Italic war and into a civil war.”

Though careful to note that the paucity of information makes hard conclusions impossible, Schiavone’s case is well reasoned, situating the Spartacus revolt in the context of a transitional period full of uncertainty and contradiction between the end of the Roman Republic and the rise of the dictatorial rule of the Caesars.

This period, as Schiavone describes, is marked by a dramatic expansion of the empire through military conquest. The early empire had been built on the basis of the “citizen-soldier,” the small landowning farmers who provided the backbone of Rome’s conquering armies. But the very success of this model undermined it. Conquest opened up vast tracks of land for exploitation by the Roman landed aristocracy, as well as providing the labor—slaves from conquered peoples—to work them. The increasingly powerful landed aristocracy pushed out the small farmers who had been the backbone of the Republic and of its armies, appropriating their land and concentrating them into large estates worked by slave gangs. Economically ruined, many of these former citizen-soldiers were driven into Rome and other cities to become a “proletariat” dependent on the plunder of empire for their subsistence. The increasing demand for slave labor in turn fed the drive toward greater conquest.

The old republican system of rule could not contain these new developments. Increasingly, power became concentrated in the hands of successful generals, posing as either defenders of the privileges of the senate elite or of the dispossessed urban masses and their own soldiers, each competing for political power by using Rome’s urban plebs “as a mass to be maneuvered by opposing forces.”

Spartacus’s revolt coincided with this period of dramatic change and ferment. Schiavone speculates that Spartacus was aware of the Sicilian slave revolt that had taken place a generation earlier, and that he was probably conscious of the difficulties Rome faced in its outward expansion and the wars and conflicts it engendered, including the “Social War” of 90-88 BC, waged between Rome and several Italian cities that had long been Rome’s allies and now wanted fuller citizenship rights. Spartacus was probably also aware that Rome’s best legions were tied up suppressing a rebellion in Hispania and a war with Mithridates’s Pontic Empire to the east.

Spartacus, writes Schiavone, “really did try to step into the political and social vacuum which he somehow felt lay before him, and to take a leap into the dark.” He built up a substantial army, recruiting not only slaves, but also free poor people. But he was never able to conquer and hold any city, and though he was able to defeat several armies sent to crush him, Spartacus was eventually defeated by legions led by Rome’s richest man, Lucinius Crassus.

In the end, Spartacus was not able to trigger a wider revolution or civil war in Rome that might have provided him with the forces necessary to succeed. As Schiavone notes, in “his scheme to win the support of whole populations and cities, Spartacus underestimated the limit represented by the servile origins of his movement. When it came to the crunch, the strong prejudice against slaves ended up closing many doors and debarred many alliances that must have seemed possible to him.”

Most importantly, argues Schiavone, Spartacus’s plan foundered on the “lack of a real political and social perspective to offer to the rebels, capable of going beyond a simple break with Rome and not merely looking to the past, to the autarchic egalitarianism of bygone days.”

The only weakness in Schiavone’s argument is his insistence, drawing perhaps on the great antiquities scholar Moses Findlay, that Rome was a society of “orders” and “statuses,” but not of classes. The concept of classes, the author argues, is merely the superimposition of industrial capitalist relations onto the past. Indeed, he seems to make the case that one can only speak of classes and class society with the rise of capitalism, modern political parties, and the waged working class. He notes in defense of his point that slaves had no real sense of class-consciousness.

Perhaps Schiavone was motivated in his analysis by the fact that the urban struggle in Rome, which pitted representatives of the people against defenders of the power of the senate oligarchy, used the masses as a battering ram—the latter being largely not a producing or exploited class, but a group of propertyless consumers living off the crumbs of empire. These conflicts were not, strictly speaking, class struggles so much as social and political struggles between factions of the elite.

And yet, it is undeniable that a great portion of the wealth of Rome’s ruling elite was derived, outside of direct plunder and taxation, from the labor of slaves. For Marx, classes were determined not only by their consciousness, but of their objective position in the production of society’s surplus wealth. The slaves may not have been a class “for themselves,” to use Marx’s famous term—that is, a class capable of conscious organization in its own interests—but they certainly were a class “in themselves,” that is, an exploited class whose labor was the foundation of Roman wealth.

This weakness, however, does not detract from the great insights and the new, dynamic interpretation Schiavone gives to antiquity’s greatest slave revolt.
–reviewed by  Paul D’Amato


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