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About 30km north-west of the French city of Nantes lies the sleepy little commune of Notre-Dame-des-Landes. This small, sleepy town is surrounded by tiny farms, fields and hedgerows – a throwback to the ancient field patterns which once covered most of France before falling en masse to agricultural modernization in the 1960s. Just south of the town lies the proposed site of the Aéroport du Grand Ouest, which for about forty years now has been the subject of locals’ protests. Seemingly defeated in the 80s, the idea was recently revived as a “gateway to Western France” with support from some of the highest officials in the French government (yes, even the “Socialists”).

Construction on this reviled megaproject was to begin last year. It didn’t.

For years residents had attempted to fight the proposal through community groups like ACIPA, to little effect. With numbers starting to dwindle as neighbours gave in and sold their land, those who remained decided to try something different. In 2009, the area was chosen for a “Climate Camp”, a convergence of activists like those which had protested airports across the UK. As usual, activists busied themselves pitching tents, holding workshops and disrupting the local airport (Nantes already has one, by the way), but instead of packing up at the end, the locals invited them for an extended stay. Taking an old bureaucratic acronym for the site from the 1970s, meaning “Deferred Development Zone”, it was renamed the “Zone À Défendre”, and the ZAD was born.

Over the next three years a steady stream of dreamers, outcasts, activists and anarchists arrived to make the ZAD their home. They moved into farmhouses abandoned by families who sold, built their own off-grid homes or took up residence in Rohanne Forest. Though relations weren’t always easy, farmers and squatters managed to work together and created a 4000-acre autonomous zone on the threatened lands. In the spirit of anarchist and mystic Hakim Bey’s classic essay about Temporary Autonomous Zones, they carved out a free space large enough for a self-sustaining community, right in the middle of Western France. What emerged was a mix of traditional French country life and radical experiments in sustainable living, from dirt-cheap eco-building styles to permaculture farming – a present-day, post-apocalyptic utopia, of sorts.

Obviously, such blatant disobedience couldn’t be tolerated, and the French government eventually ran out of patience. On October 16th of last year an army of 1200 riot police converged on the ZAD, hoping to “cleanse” the area in time to begin surveys the next month. With bulldozers and tear-gas, they drove inhabitants back and began to demolish their homes and gardens. At one point they reportedly fired at least 250 cans of tear gas into Le Sabot, the market garden which had fed 100 “ZADists” a week, seemingly in an attempt to contaminate it. Defenders responded by building barricades and digging in. Nine of the twelve squatted homes were razed and numbers reportedly dropped to a few hundred at best. All seemed lost, were it not for a year-old, half-cocked plan to “re-occupy the Zone” four weeks after the first evictions.

Four weeks later, the “re-occupation” arrived. A massive convoy with an estimated forty thousand demonstrators and four hundred tractors arrived bearing mountains of supplies. Human chains of people delivered stacks of lumber as effortlessly as ants carrying away a picnic, and the farmer’s union encircled the remaining encampment with their tractors to protect it from police bulldozers. They filled the Zone with a whole new generation of inhabitants and began the rebuilding process. When police attempted to expel them, masked youth fought back by slinging rocks, mud and occasionally worse. They managed to drive the police out of the zone, who fortified at “checkpoints” on major roads, though they still return regularly to menace the ZADists.

In the months since, the ZAD has endured in an uneasy standoff behind police blockades with the occasional exchange of rocks, tear gas and concussion grenades. The government is still pledging to get work under way, but behind the barricades, the occupation lives on.

This struggle has seen almost no attention in the English-speaking world, even in social media, which is really unfortunate. As far as environmental struggles go, this one is right out of Tolkein, complete with hobbit-homes and medieval siege warfare. It’s the largest squatted community in Western Europe, and represents a whole host of crucial experiments in off-grid living. The massive scale of the ZAD allows them to be largely self-sufficient economically and nearly impossible to fully evict, something which most European squats or even squatted neighbourhoods like Copenhagen’s Christiania haven’t been able to manage. Thus, the ZAD grew into more than protest, an occupation or a squat – a living, breathing microcosm of a different world – and one without airports, governments or capitalism.

ZAD.nadir.org – ZAD Homepage (English)
Rural Rebels and Useless Airports: La ZAD, Europe’s Largest Postcapitalist Occupation (Part 1, and Part 2)
Against the Airport and Its World – A collection of translated texts from the struggle.
Breaking Concrete: Selected Texts From Lèse-Béton – More translated texts from Lèse-Béton, one of the main ZAD publications.

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Almost a year ago, I wrote a rather nasty article about today’s socialist parties. At times, I looked back with a little regret. I’ve got friends in the NDP, and like most, the party tends to fall into the “best of a bad bunch” category. The trends I described, however, were real, and have reached disgusting new depths. And so, it is with a heavy heart that I must again lambaste their leaders, a group who might as well now be known as the ‘far right of the left wing’.

The story of the French “Left” and the Algerian war for independence is something of a historical black eye, to the point where Socialist President Guy Mollet’s visit to Algiers in 1956 is still known as “la journee des tomates” for the hail of rotten fruit he had to endure. Despite some misgivings, French control of Algeria was seen as a necessary precondition of any “socialism” there, and so Mollet (with communist support) opted for a troop surge and widespread use of torture. In the end, this exceptionally brutal war cost them not only control of Algeria (and soon, many others), but also their government (the “Fourth Republic”) itself. There were, of course, a few dissenters – names you might know like John-Paul Sartre, Guy DeBoard and, of course, French anarchists of the time such as Daniel Guerin. For the most part, though, the self-interest of leftist parliamentarians kept them from any Support for this appalling war wasn’t just a betrayal of their “principles” or a horrible strategic choices, it put them squarely “on the wrong side of history”, and both the French left and Algerian population suffered dearly.

Of course, they talk of Algeria, but moderately. In order not to lose face the press growls a little. But it is understood that there shall be no agitation. . . The effect on the working-class — and this is, perhaps, the aim of this policy — is to demobilise it completely. Nothing like the Marseilles dockers strikes or the demonstrations for the release of Henri Martin have developed. The workers are disgusted with the Algerian war but they have been left without guidance or direction. The [Communist Party] is reaping what it has sown — when it needs the masses it no longer finds then) . . . Meanwhile 500,000 young men waste their time, if not their health or their lives in Algeria, the economy stagnates and workers goon short time. And this is the result of this Ballet of the Left, with one partner waltzing smartly off to the right in order to avoid the embrace of the other . . .
– John Paul Sartre (from “Is This The Time“, a critique of Socialist and Stalinist Imperialism)

One might think today’s French socialists would be a little hesitant to try such a thing. Alas, they’re not.

Faced with sagging approval ratings and a lacklustre term so far, France’s new “Socialist” president, Francios Hollande, did something any (dis)respectable politician would do. He started a war. Launching air-strikes and a ground invasion of Mali at the invitation of a government openly run by generals, his government is now doing battle with one of only fifteen countries listed lower than Afghanistan on the UN Human Development Index.

Can we stop calling them “freedom fries” now?

The French socialists, of course, are not alone on the left in their support for this war. Canada’s (still ostensibly socialist) NDP recently sided with Harper on support for the French war effort through, which now apparently includes special forces. This has allowed Harper to talk of a “broad national consensus”, which he states will be necessary if we’re to expand our involvement. This is exactly why I warned about Thomas Mulcair last year. Unlike his predecessor Jack Layton, who routinely questioned Canadian involvement in Afghanistan, Mulcair is using the party’s newly found clout as Official Opposition to welcome the war, thus avoiding any unpleasant parliamentary criticism.

If there’s one conclusion which can be reached from the examples above, it’s that opposition to this kind of militarism tends to fade as these parties get closer to power. It’s a lesson we’ve learned too many times from parties of all colours, only to continue hoping that next time, things will be different. These are necessary sacrifices, we’re told, if the party is to survive and thrive. What few stop to ask is: what good is a party that can’t or won’t stand by their principles if ever they should actually find themselves in a position to make the changes they talk about?

A politician is a politician is a politician, I suppose. And they wonder why people are so cynical…

This kind of thing almost never goes unnoticed. “Left” or “right”, everybody loves to hate hypocrites. Anybody who was previously irked by the moralistic tone is going to seize the opportunity to single it out, as will anybody who previously agreed. Both the National Post and Socialist Worker seem to be taking particular delight on in the domestic politics behind this war. Beyond the sectarian warfare, though, is the effect on those who aren’t hardened warriors in those battles. For most, the entire affair is just one more reason to avoid politics altogether. If this was only a problem for “politicians” I wouldn’t have much problem with it, but as these parties bring a lot of radical imagery into their marketing campaigns, they tend to cast a lot of suspicion on grassroots organizers as well. This is what Sartre means when he talks about completely demobilizing the working class.

Politics needs to be more than a fashion statement on behalf of groups vying for power. If the ideas put forward by parties are no less superficial than the colours and mascots of football teams, then why bother ‘getting off the couch’ at all? Many people, if not most, already feel this way about “politics” in general, and that’s a big part of the reason Canadians and Americans are so famously disinterested. At what point do we stop shaming people for being “apathetic” and “ignorant”, and admit that their feelings aren’t exactly baseless.

In the face of the biggest upsurge of “leftist” beliefs since the 1960s, the “parliamentary left” is instead taking a hard turn right. While this gives me a lot of hope for the future of social movements, it doesn’t exactly encourage me to vote. Attempting to get ahead in a battle of ideas by becoming more like those you oppose may win a few supporters in the short run, but over the longer term it starts to resemble surrender. I must admit, this leaves me confused – why join a socialist party if you honestly don’t think “the masses” have any appetite for socialist ideals?

It’s hard to know how “the masses” would react if confronted with a clear, honest and concise explanation of “socialism”. It’s been so long since anybody’s had the guts to say such a thing publicly that it’s hard to guess. One poll last year found “socialism” with triple the approval rating of Congress. Another poll in 2010 found that 42% of Americans thought the phrase “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” was taken from the Bill of Rights or other founding documents. Keep in mind, that’s America. We may never know how such an election would go, since these positions just aren’t being articulated by anybody who might conceivably win an election. Then again, given the history of states which actually attempted “socialism”, that might be just as well. Either way, I’m not holding out a lot of hope for parliamentary activism.

Last weekend on the streets of Toronto I saw what might be the largest demonstration I’ve attended since Quebec City in 2001, and it was only one of a great many in the few weeks alone. With or without politicians, the revolution is going ahead. The incredible and unprecedented wave of demonstrations which has swept the globe over the last few years has been almost entirely disconnected from traditional parties, and it’s not hard to see why. Just as Obama crushed our hopes that Democrats might be less interested in dropping bombs on Muslims, Hollande and Mulcair are showing that “socialist” politicians can be just as big a disappointment. Thankfully, as Bookchin reminds us, there’s a lot more to politics than statecraft.

Ok, I’ll admit it. “We” are not invading Mali. I’m not. I should hope anybody who reads this blog isn’t. Our countries, as Canadians, Americans, British and French citizens, are. At least in a support role. So while I have no particular love or allegiance for our government nor it’s imperial misadventures, I can’t exactly pretend I’m not involved. As the people of aggressive “peacekeepers” such as Canada, it’s our job to make these distinctions.

Every time I see, hear or read about this new war in Mali I find myself getting incredibly depressed and discouraged. For all the nightmarish horrors of neocolonialism, I would have liked to believe that another outright military conquest of Africa by Europe was out out of the question. As western forces now do battle with Muslims in the eighth country in four years and our leaders start once-again using bush-style, war-without-end rhetoric, it’s starting to look like “the dark continent” is once again in the crosshairs.

Understanding the conflict in Mali requires a little more context than it’s been given in most of our papers. Mali is a former French colony win West Africa, named after the Empire of Mali which held power in the region staring around a thousand years ago. After gaining independence in 1960, it was run as a one-party state (first socialist, then military) until 1991, when a mass-movement forced the dictator to hand power over to a multi-party democracy. It’s enjoyed decades of good relations with the West, since the days of the military dictatorship (and it’s IMF collusion), and until recently was seen as fairly stable by regional standards.

Serious trouble started about a year ago when a rebellion broke in the north, largely among the Tuareg, the area’s traditionally nomadic indigenous peoples. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA), a secular army demanding national autonomy, took over a number of towns and cities including Timbuktu and declared autonomy for the Azawad (“northern Mali”). This rebellion was joined by Islamic insurgents Ansar Dine, but fighting soon broke out between them and the MNLA was routed (they’ve since offered to join the French campaign). Both sides got a tremendous boost as fighters returned from Libya, bringing fresh NATO weapons and battlefield experience with them, as well as a growing sense of solidarity with other rebellions in the region.

Captain Amadou Sanogo

While the army battled for control of the north, another threat appeared in the South. Frustrated by the administration’s lack of progress against insurgents, a military coup led by Captain Amadou Sanogo deposed President Amadou Toumani Touré and suspended the constitution last March. This seriously inflamed the situation, leading to an international condemnation from both inside Africa and out, as well as a total loss of control over the north. In response, a “transitional” President, Dioncounda Traore, was sworn in and a civillian Prime Minister, Cheick Modibo Diarra, appointed. This didn’t change much – at one point “pro-Sanogo youth” forced their way into the president’s office and beat him so badly he needed a medical evacuation to France. Months later, in December, Diarra was forced from power by a group of soldiers acting on Sonogo’s orders, replacing him with the country’s latest leader, Django Sissoko.

This is the quagmire that French troops are walking into.

That France is taking the lead with this intervention is telling. The UN Security Council did pass a resolution late in December (you can read it here), but it doesn’t even mention France. Instead it authorizes an African-led force, under the supervision of the security council, to assist local authorities in restoring order, but also calls for the restoration of democracy and negotiations with rebels (days ago Ansar Dine reportedly split, with a faction seeking to negotiate). The French justification centres around requests from the Malian “government” for assistance, but it isn’t hard to see why some might doubt the “legitimacy” of their authority. Given the multiple threats and condemnations in this resolution directed toward Sonogo, I certainly do.

Law of Unintended Consequences
The colonial tone of this intervention is of not going unnoticed. Given the horrific legacy of slavery, imperialism and neo-colonialism, this was bound to inflame tensions across the region, and it has. The first response was an attack on a natural gas facility in Algeria which killed dozens, now reports are coming in of a 23 more killed in attacks around north-eastern Nigeria. As we’ve already seen far too many times with the War on Terrorism, the indignation caused by western intervention is more than capable of replacing every insurgent it kills.

Algeria harbours a frightening history of its own (extremely bloody) fight for independence from France, and more recent Islamic insurgencies. These later conflicts literally exploded in the 1990s after the government cancelled elections Islamists were expected to win and are said to have received substantial help from former Mujahideen fighters who’d fought (with CIA help) in the Afghan/Soviet war. Nigeria, a former British colony which has spent most of the time since its independence under various military juntas, has seen increasing unrest over the past two decades, largely in opposition to oil extraction which has taken a horrendous toll on the area’s environment. Initially taking the form of mass, nonviolent actions, Nigeria caught the world’s attention when Ken Saro-Wiwa and other leaders hung on false charges with suspicious connections to Shell Oil. In the years that followed, disillusionment lead to armed resistance through the Movement to Emancipate the Niger Delta (MEND), often attacking at foreign oil companies and kidnapping workers. In recent years, they’ve been joined in the conflict by Islamists Boko Haram, who are believed to be behind the recent attacks.

Islam…
Since every one of these conflicts involves Islamic militants of one form or another, I should be clear about what I mean (and what I don’t). Unlike our leaders or the press, I do not mean to equate any or all Muslims who bear arms or resist governments. Not only would that be appallingly racist, but it would also be totally inaccurate. There are well over a billion Muslims on earth, so it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t be involved in a few rebellions. There are certainly groups with abysmal theocratic aims who employ horrific tactics, but so does every other race and religion, and that’s the context they need to be seen in – they’re just like any other fascists. It needs to be noted that 90% of Mali’s population are followers of Islam, and most want nothing to do with Ansar Dine.

Islamophobia isn’t just a crass and obnoxious prejudice, it’s an important part of the ideology of modern warmongering. With Mali, we can see how the (perceived) threat of an Islamic insurrection (or worse, a state!) seemingly justifies any break with international law or UN resolutions. We saw it in Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, Palestine and so many others. “Islamic terrorism” is considered so dangerous it must be faced by subverting elections, arming rival insurgents/paramilitaries/tyrants, “pre-emptive” invasions, torture and a global campaign of drone bombings. The mythology behind this, like most racist fantasies, suggests a vast conspiracy interconnecting Muslims around the globe, tying together every nasty thing done by any Muslim anywhere. With this twisted logic, a “foothold” anywhere could lead to a new barrage of attacks everywhere. It’s essentially a 21st century version of the “Domino Theory“, and it’s just as fanciful as the last.

The problem with such racist reasoning isn’t just that it totally ignores the context of any violence that happens, replacing it with cartoonish stereotypes. If this were simply a matter of never, ever believing that any follower of Islam could have a legitimate reason to take up arms, it would at least be consistent. Unfortunately, geopolitics isn’t so simple and there are some situations in which even the Pentagon feels they do. The Afghan-Soviet War is the obvious example, but there are others – the Kosovo Liberation Army, for instance, had Al Qaeda links. So did many of “our rebel allies” in Libya and Syria. Mali’s crisis, as mentioned above, traces right back to Libya, where both Tuareg and Islamist fighters acquired much of their weapons and battlefield experience.

The two-faced strategy practiced by western leaders against “terrorism” has failed twice. First, because of the willingness to embrace “Islamic fundamentalism” when it suits them, which played a large role in creating the modern Jihadi movement. Second, by then over-reacting to the threat and lashing out at entire nations, they galvanized the support base by proving what nasty imperialists they could be. Putting Al Qaeda in the crosshairs for this global war legitimized them in ways they could never have accomplished otherwise, and 12 years later “terrorism” is bigger than ever.

Mali’s Gold
No article about the invasion of Mali would be complete without a picture of its resources, which betrays a slightly different agenda underlying this invasion. Gold-mining has been at the centre of Mali’s economy since the days of the old Empire. Currently it’s the third-largest producer of gold on the continent. The largely undeveloped north is thought to contain large reserves of metals like uranium (this region supplies much of France’s electricity) and possibly oil (Nigeria and Algeria both have considerable oil/gas reserves). Mining interests also explain some of why Canada is so eager to get involved, as there are more than fifteen Canadian mining firms currently active in Mali.

Gold might not have been the most important resource a few years ago, but thanks to a near-chronic fear of another financial collapse, many individuals and investors have started buying gold in the hopes it will hold it’s value. This has led gold prices to skyrocket, attracting speculators and fueling the rise. In recent weeks this trend has started to reverse, leaving many to wonder about it’s sustainability, but still fixate on it’s importance. With Africa (and often the poorest regions) supplying much of the world’s mineral and metal demands, this makes western-friendly governments (democratic or otherwise) a must.

History Repeats
They say those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Another “intervention” makes me wonder if we’ve learned anything from either the last decade or century. This invasion, like any other, will have long-reaching consequences which will go well beyond Mali’s borders. Even if the French-led forces capture northern Mali, they will never manage to contain all insurgents in the region. The legacies of poverty, repression and ecological destruction caused by debt, land grabs and foreign mining/drilling exploits have consequences of their own, providing a desperate and indignant recruiting ground for Al Qaeda and others. The rise of Islamic militants, like so many other problems the region faces, is deeply rooted in colonialism, and that’s not a problem more colonialism is going to fix.

There are no angels here, no devils, just people, and while I might sympathize with some groups (MEND) more than others (AQIM), I have to admit that it’s not actually any of my bloody British-descended business. Control over African political affairs needs to belong, once-again, to Africans, whatever I might think of their choices. Without understanding that principle, any attempt to “bring” democracy to the region is doomed from the outset. Until richer nations stop seeing invasions, military aid and “friendly” dictators as acceptable ways to influence affairs in poorer regions, this kind of chaos is going to continue. It’s high time to renounce the role of emperors and accept the status of allies, at least if we care at all for any of the people actually living through this nightmare.

Greek conservatives, under the banner of New Democracy, have narrowly won the country’s elections against SYRIZA, the radical leftists threatening to derail the country’s austerity programs, winning 29.7% versus SYRIZA’s 26.9%. PASOK, the former socialist ruling party who had originally signed on with the bailout/austerity deal was left with only 12.3%, and the neo-nazi Golden Dawn managed 6.9 percent. Since, like the last (failed) round, no party won a majority, coalition talks will now begin. Markets were relieved, with both the Euro and Asian markets rallying since the news hit, but that enthusiasm was short lived as markets crashed again by this morning, with Spanish debt again hitting record interest rates.

Guardian Live Coverage – Results and Coalition Talks

This result isn’t entirely surprising, given what Greece has been through since it began to look possible that Syriza would take power and turn it’s back on the austerity programs which had been destroying the country. With threats that even food and electricity would be cut off, a very clear message was sent to the Greek people. Greece was ‘pushed to the brink’ as investors pulled their money out an watched the economy crumble.

This is an old tactic in times when radical shifts at the polls threaten the agendas of the rich and powerful – often known as “making the economy scream” – a nod to the secret order given by Nixon to destroy Chile’s economy after electing Salvatore Allende (eventually leading to the Pinochet regime). Since then, the phrase has since become popular with everybody from Noam Chomsky to Canadian punk legends Propagandhi in reference to cases like Argentina where economic warfare has been used to encourage populations to “vote responsibly”.

This weekend also saw two other major elections. French Socialists, under Hollande, won a solid majority in parliament, pledging to turn back austerity plans. In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood won a second round of elections yesterday, a victory which was overshadowed by constitutional changes announced by the incumbent military regime, retaining control over most of the government and enraging the populace.

All three of these elections had very different outcomes, but in the end all reflected the same sad truths about “democracy”. First, that voters are not in control, and at best have enough input to derail the plans of those in power. Second, that those in power can mount reprisals if they do, economically or militarily. And third, that a nation’s choices are limited more by their standing in the world order than any other factor. At the end of the day, even after two of the best-known protest movements on earth last year, both Greece and Egypt were seriously hampered in their ability to choose governments, with only wealthy, western France really having the option to elect a “radical” government.

Of course, none of these struggles are over. Greeks and Egyptians will be back on the streets within days if not a week or so, as will others from Montreal to Moscow. The European economy will continue to come apart at the seams, the bailouts will continue and austerity measures will keep coming. These elections, like most, were distractions, with the main event still yet to come.

Results are in for the most recent European elections – austerity did not fare well. In France incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy was defeated by Francois Hollande, the socialist candidate. In Germany, Angela Merkel’s ruling party suffered losses in regional elections. And of course, the Greek ruling coalition disintegrated in a flurry of protest votes. Today the leading centre-right “New Democracy” announced their failure to form a government, well short of the three days they were allowed. This has plunged the financial world into a panic, causing markets to drop around the globe.

They’re calling it “austerity fatigue“. Forced on nations across Europe and beyond, these cuts were hoped to revitalize Europe’s economies – instead they became both a political and economic disaster. Popular rage against the measures has been simmering for years (particularly in Greece), but lately it’s become very hard to ignore, especially as nations like Spain and Britain slip back into recession. Even large parts of the business press now openly condemn these measures. To quote the Globe and Mail

Over the past two years, France and Germany have steered Europe through the debt crisis — though not always well. Germany and France declared an end to the flagrant flouting of deficit limits that led Europe into the crisis.

But the crackdown could not have come at a worse time — with the world economy slowing — and propelled Europe into a vicious austerity spiral. Cutting spending — which meant laying off state employees and ending stimulus programs — further slowed nations’ economies and produced less tax revenue, which meant more cuts were needed to meet deficit targets.

The rest of this week should be interesting, and will likely be beyond chaotic. Within the span of a single weekend, any hopes that we’d left the uncertainty and fear of last year behind us have been totally destroyed. Like one year ago, nobody knows if Greece will stay in the EU, whether Europe could survive such an exit or what that would mean to the rest of us.

Looking “across the pond” right now, it’s pretty clear where austerity is taking us. These efforts to loot and pillage entire economies have so far led to social and fiscal disaster. Canada is only starting down this path, but we only need to look at Europe to see where it’s leading. We still have time to stop this, before our cities too are choked with the black smoke of burning skylines, before public suicides become a standard form of protest and before cabals of bankers start replacing our elected officials with “technocrats” of their choosing. Again, I have to ask – what kind of maniac would willingly do this to our country?

All eyes will be on Europe this week, and there’s no telling what the situation could look like by Friday. It’s a complete clusterfucking quagmire, but it may also be the first opportunity to stop this madness before it gets any worse.

“Sell-out”, depending on who you talk to, it’s a slur or a sin, but not something anybody wants to be called, especially in any kind of radical circles. The term “sell-out” is a nasty one, either a slur or a sin depending on who you ask, so it’s with a heavy heart that I use it here. The wikipedia entry on “selling out” states this perfectly for the context and makes perfectly clear why the term applies perfectly.

In various political movements (usually communists and anarchists), a “sellout” is a person or group pretending to adhere to a genuinely pro-working class ideology, only to follow these claims up with actions directly contradicting them, often (whether actually or implicitly) supporting capitalism. Equally it could be utilised by supporters of parties for persons that subsequently formed coalitions with those they seemed to oppose, such as the Liberal Democrats’ leader Nick Clegg’s coalition with the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom.
“Selling Out” – Wikipedia

Defining “socialism” isn’t quite as easy. It’s a subject I’ve dealt with before, and one I’m sure will come up again (I hope…). Broadly defined, socialism refers to various ideas which seek to collectivize capital in the hands of “the people” – an incredibly wide range of ideas spanning two centuries and many ideologies (communism, anarchism, social democracy, market socialism etc). More specifically, in common usage, “socialist” has come to suggest something more moderate than “Communism” but more radical than progressives and liberals, though there’s lots of overlap. It’s an incredibly charged term which means about as much as a $10 “Rolex” from a New York street vendor, but then, so are most in politics.

Which socialists am I talking about? The socialist parties. All of them.

This isn’t to point a finger at millions of well-meaning members and supporters, but it’s time to stop pulling punches when it comes to their “leaders”. Too long has the rest of the left “looked the other way” when it came to the failings of our own parliamentarians, perhaps out of a naive hope that we might one day be among them. Even a quick skim of the world news over the last week shows a few too many examples. This isn’t just an issue of making concessions in tough times, these are fundamental ideological shifts which betray a growing set of structural problems.

In Canada, this is of course most visible within the NDP, our official social-democrats. In the race to succeed the late Jack Layton who made unprecedented gains in the last election, one figure stands out more than most: Thomas Mulcair. Perhaps most notorious for his support of Israeli militarism, he’s a former Quebec Liberal and seems to be gaining the support of many of Canada’s richest financial elites. like Anthony Munk (Barrick Gold) and Gerald W. Schwartz (Canwest, Onex). Given the near-demise of the Liberal Party over the past few elections, this kind of attention was to be expected, but as Mulcair leads in some polls, this does not bode well for the party.

To the south, Latin America has been witness to a grand experiment over the past decade. Led by the likes of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia, or Rafel Correa in Ecuador, this “Bolivarian revolution” has now swept several countries. Chavez in particular has been extremely vocal in his opposition to American imperialism abroad and determined in his reforms at home. Looking closer, though, cracks have appeared. Indigenous regions in Bolivia have been rapidly losing faith after battling plans for a new highway cutting through their lands. In Ecuador, indigenous movements have lost patience over similar moves in favour of oil and mining development. Chavez himself has a much better reputation when it comes to the rights of poor and indigenous peoples, though this comes as a result of the gifts given by his “petroleum socialism”, which has in recent years nationalized oil companies and begun work on Venezuela’s colossal heavy oil (tar sands and oil shale) deposits and corresponding pipelines

Then there’s Europe, for years the shining example of prosperous and successful “Euro-Socialism”. Today, they lead the world more in embarrassing “Socialist” failures. There was the defeat of Spain’s Socialists last year, abandoned by a nationwide radical movement opposed to the austerity programs it attempted to impose. Then there’s Greece, still being torn apart by austerity programs pushed by the ruling PASOK (social-democrats) and paramilitary support from the KKE (parliamentary Communists) and PAME (militant communist unions) against raging protesters. This week in France, Socialists sided with Sarkozy’s plans for Roma (“gypsy”) internment camps, perhaps the single most terrifying example here. Across the continent the ETUC (European Trade Union Confederation) is catching heat for their complicity in the austerity programs. And what can be said of Britain? As the above-quoted Wikipedia entry states, Nick Clegg has pretty much come to define “sell-out”.

I could list other regions, or examples from these. China’s communists would be an obvious choice, Nepal’s (former) Maoists or Cuba’s post-Castro reforms. America, of course, doesn’t really have a socialist movement (at least, not one in any position to “sell out”) and there’s really never been anything “socialist” about Obama (no matter how much he might have sold out).

There is an undeniable pattern here. It isn’t just a trend toward making concessions on economic issues in “tough times” – the social aspects of these trends, especially against Roma, indigenous or Palestinian people are utterly atrocious. The environmental implications are terrifying (particularly from Mulcair or the “Bolivarians”). In this context, the international drive toward austerity measures certainly isn’t surprising (though disappointing), it fits perfectly. While these leftist parties might have been the last line in defense against this international agenda, it’s fairly clear that they’re far more interested in their status as political parties than any alleged “leftist” beliefs.

I write this not to lament the death of the parliamentary socialist movement, but to issue a warning to those just beginning. As those involved with the Occupy movement and others like it debate whether to get involved in parliamentary parties or start their own, it’s important to take a look decades, even centuries down the road. Problems like these can’t arise without a tremendous amount of support and success. To sell out, you must have something worth buying, and that takes time to build. The size and clout of parties like the NDP set a tempting example for those groups and movements just starting out, and it’s only human to assume that one’s noble ideas or nature will prevent the same mistakes.

Political parties are traditionally viewed as an “evolution” of movements and struggles, out of the precarious world or direct action and grassroots organizing. Examples like these call into question whether that’s really the case. Can “change” really happen because a new group of leaders implement a new set of policies? Or are the those who attempt it more likely, in the end, to be changed themselves?

As predicted, the protests in France have only gotten far more interesting. Many parts of the country are now paralysed by fuel shortages, road blockades, strikes and riots. Almost 1500 people have been arrested so far. The crisis has resulted in global fuel price spikes and now even solidarity riots in Brooklyn, New York.

Leading the charge are many striking high school students, many very young, willing to battle the police in the streets. Reminiscent of the near-revolution of 1968 – the young are fighting hard in a battle large (and ostensibly) about the rights of their grandparents (pension reforms and raising the retirement age), yet in reality about far larger issues. In the last month we’ve seen a General Strike against these austerity measures in Spain, coupled with massive demos in nations like Greece, Ireland and Belgium. We’ve seen years of prolonged rioting in Athens, as well as Paris, and many other major European cities. Millions of people, at a time, have been marching in the streets.

With all the elections brewing of late, it’s easy to forget the most simple of stone-aged voting technologies; the rock. Consider it the cutting edge of European direct democracy, or simply an angry and frustrated outburst at a sadly unsustainable social system, things are only going to get more intense from here. Even without the temporary collapse of a major European nation, the world’s economy is not in great shape. And the worse things get for ordinary people (through the recession and resulting cuts), while they watch rich corporations get handed trillions in bailout funds, the angrier people are going to become.

P.S. Am I the only person annoyed that it took over a week of serious nationwide action for France to arrest more people than Toronto did during the G20 Weekend?

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