Monthly Archives: March 2006

March fourteen, march shmorteen: a response to a response to an alleged response

This entry is a response to a comrade who has a response to March 14-ites, whose March 14-ism is allegedly a response to and a revolution against oppression.

I will divide this post into six sections, each a response to the corresponding section on the original post.

First: In order to develop a worker's revolution, you do need class awareness (among the proletariat, of course). But to begin with, the concept of a "revolution" in itself does not apply to March 14, let alone a worker's revolution. So it is a moot point. March 14 was a stupidity waiting to come to light, much like the continuous stupidities that the Lebanese state and its so-called guardians have been engaged in ever since its founding.

Second: March 14 was never about bettering the conditions of the working class; it was about defending the "honour" of a clan leader and brutal capitalist, the assassination of whom led his clan to arouse the masses in a racist manner against his alleged murderers. March 14 was, more than anything else, a tribal reaction, with rival clans joining the leading clan a la "if you can't beat them, join them". The argument that there were many workers who took part in the protests to better the economic and working conditions, is a big fat outright lie. There weren't "many" workers who did that out of economic concerns; there were probably a few individuals who did, but as I said, it would've been on an individual level not a group level (not even a small one). Had there been such a group of people there would've been hope that one day they would turn the tides against the stupidity rampant in this country. I am afraid such a thing is not possible in Lebanon. 99.9% of the people are simply ignorant and have, as a result, fallen victims to the fallacies of tribal leaders and warlords, who play on their insecurities and perpetuate them in order to perpetuate their hegemony.

Third: Domestic production is not necessarily a rule of the thumb when it comes to improving the proletariat's conditions. Take for example Ghandour. Would you or would you not agree that Ghandour is a chocolate and biscuit production giant, a national (albeit not nationalized) company, which nevertheless has more or less monopolized the local chocolate market? As for foreign labour, to say that it should be ruled out in favour of domestic labour is inherently racist. Instead, foreign labour should be subject to several conditions, to prevent the use of cheap labour. If foreign labour is prefered even after there are equal payment laws, then that would only be fair (from a non-nationalist point of view), after all these people would not be hired for the sinister reason that they are now employed for, i.e. cheap labour… This is a problem that many leftists fail to understand: foreign labour is not the enemy per se, the abuse of foreign labour is. And of course, there is no such thing as "partial racism". Either there is racism or there isn't.

Fourth: On the Syrian economic domination, this is a very thorny issue, and thorny not because it is controversial but because it is complicated. First of all, you have the Syrian government, which has been using and abusing its own labour force (Syrian labourers) as cheap labour. This provides a double fait accompli, in that it gains both from the incomes of these labourers from an outside (non-Syrian) source, as well as through the cheap products that it exports to Lebanon. The problem, I think, is more a Syrian one than a Lebanese one, and here there should be more class solidarity across frontiers between Lebanese and Syrian proletariat. Unfortunately the grievances of the workers are given a nationalistic nature and tone, and this is due to indoctrination and in part also to pressures from elites in both countries. Another and more important issue is the problem of hierarchies, and I say problem because it is a problem. There is nothing to be contested there. And here I would criticize the advocacy of hierarchism by Marxists. A real workers' party would have to be an absolutely horizontal one, for if it is vertical, it does not differ much from other elite-run parties, and in fact ceases to be a workers' party. Workers do not need leaders, they need mass mobilization. That is the essence of a proletariat revolution. A mass-led movement for a mass cause.

Fifth: You hail the Union as an example of a successful implementation of Marxism, but I can assure you that it was far from it. It had, from the beginning (although it gradually occupied a more important place in Soviet policy), an imperialist nature and set out to Russify the subject nations. For example, Russian was actually proclaimed to be the language of the revolutionaries, despite the fact that most of the nations in the Union were not Russian. Furthermore, it is no secret that the Bolsheviks actually forced themselves on many countries. For example, their entry into the Transcaucasus, via Azerbaijan, was facilitated by the Azerbaijani troop mobilization towards Shushi/Shusha (in Nagorno-Karabakh), which left the northern border unguarded, and of course the Bolsheviks did not miss the opportunity and marched on Baku straight away. Their entry to Armenia was a forced capitulation for political reasons, i.e. the inability of Armenia to stand alone against the Turks. So the regional reverberations argument has little practical proof to stand on.

Sixth: I am not sure what you mean by this point; do you mean that the new leaders are not sectarian and more importantly, are drawn from the proletariat??? If so, then I think you need a March 14 101. And we will call the March 8 course 102 (hopefully Sheikh Nasrallah would not call me a zionist for deprioritizing March 8 ).

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Update and last-minute notice

I haven't updated this blog for some time now, and the main reason is that I was having computer and connectivity problems, which were resolved only a few hours ago. But I guess I didn't miss much, although it certainly felt weird to miss reading the news for so many days. I did have access to dial-up on my parents' computer, mind you, but I get nervous when using dial-up, and doubly nervous when I use my parents' slow computer… Anyhow, I am back just in time to observe the Israeli elections, although I am not sure there is much to be observed; it is all fairly homogenous over there (as it is classical over here). I mean, the Israeli left is only left in relation to the right (and in most cases not even that).

Other than being extremely busy and annoyed by my computer woes, I have been doing some readings on a number of subjects. Of course, I always tend to read unrequired material, leaving required material aside "for later" (which never arrives). I expect to be even busier in the coming few weeks, as I need to get my hands deep into research and readings for my two papers (one on Nagorno-Karabakh and the other on Zionist "socialism"). I will post updates on my progress on both, but the first will be posted on my other blog, for obvious reasons.

Moving on, the other day I was sitting at the Social Sciences department at the Lebanese American University (Beirut campus), and all of a sudden I heard people shouting and chanting. I rushed to the balcony to see what it was all about; there were a bunch of students (20, or 30 tops) at the lower gate, chanting anti-American slogans "al mawtu li-Amrika" (death to America) and "Beirut hurra" (Beirut is free) and something about UN SCR 1559 (obviously anti) that I couldn't catch. And there were also three cars, not extraoridinarily luxurious or protected. One was trying to get in but was having difficulty in doing so, because the entrance is narrow as it is, and the presence of the protestors and a large number of bystanders had complicated matters further. I don't know what happened but the car could move only a couple of metres further, and after a few minutes the crowd moved on towards the front of Irwin Hall.

Someone who was with me on the balcony throughout the drama shook her head and said "I don't get it, they want to attend an American and Christian university and chant death to America". I was offended. Very offended. But I didn't want to get into an argument. One reason is that we both work in the same department and I wouldn't want things to turn nasty because then I would have to live with a nasty "attitude" and I really have no time for such things. So I just went inside as soon as she said that. Hopefully she got the clue. First of all, despite its name, LAU is in many ways NOT an American university. Although it has a board of trustees in New York, it is mostly run by Lebanese, and except for the funding it receives from the U.S government (compare that to the funding Israel receives for its military programs and occupation) its Americanness can be found only in name (and in a few professors' pro-American attitudes). This has been my personal experience, and it might be different for others, especially at the undergrad level where there is more indoctrination compared to the grad level. Second, a Christian university? I didn't know universities had religions… How exactly would a "Christian university" differ from a "Muslim university"? Third, even if the university is an "American" one, does that mean that one should agree with the policies of the American government? Note that this protest was aimed at the American ambassador, Jeffrey Feltman, who is the representative of the American government in Lebanon… To the best of my knowledge the mini-protest had nothing to do with anti-American racism, and everything to do with denunciation of American policies. Also, the statement "Christian university" implies that she believes that the protestors were exclusively Muslims. Even if that was the case, which it wasn't, because I know at least one non-Muslim who took part, what prevents – in her ignorant, sectarian mentality – Christians from being against American policies? Is there some written rule that I have failed to take into account? Or is it that the teachings of Jesus prohibit the adoption of anti-Americanism? As the popular saying goes, "what would Jesus do?" What would he do, indeed? I suppose I should ask the president of this great "Christian university" for the answer. I shall not go on further, for fear of writing obscenities against her and her ilk.

Finally, and on a related note, I wanted to tell you about a talk that will be held tomorrow. I apologize for not having publicized this until the last minute, as I knew about it about a month ago (since I was asked to make some changes to the poster announcing the event). The guest speaker is Dr. Suad Joseph, a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Davis. Here are the details:

In Black & White: Representations of Arab and Muslim Americans and Islam in U.S. Print News Media.

Date & Time: Wednesday, March 29, 2006, at 12:00 pm

Location: Irwin Hall conference room, LAU Beirut campus

Unfortunately I will be unable to make it, as I will be working.

Whither Lebanese left?

Ghassan Makarem has this to say on Lebanese leftism (emphasis mine):

For instance, one of the main disagreements between the independent left and the party left has been around issues of sexism and homophobia … There is a fear of diverse spaces without a “historical” leadership, as they put it.Most intellectuals on the Lebanese left see themselves as having a messianic purpose and think that activists should follow their orders and stick to their priorities. Unfortunately, these priorities are not much different than those espoused by the UN and the NGO community and thus they do not represent the working class or any marginalized social segment.

The traditional left, even the supposedly more radical groups such as the 4th International, considers issues of sexism, oppression, and diversity as being separate and secondary to the class struggle. For us, due to local particularities, the issues of sexism and sexuality were breaking points; our politics forced us to break with the traditional left. At the same time, the entire left is still male dominated and it is still common for men to deny the need to develop women’s leadership.

[W]e always stress the importance of the international movement at all its levels and critique the nationalism of the traditional left, which refuses to look at events outside of Lebanon. For us, the struggle is local, national, and international at the same time.

Interesting observations, although I am less optimistic than Mr. Makarem on the existence of an independent Lebanese left… I have grown to despise the elitist and exclusivist nature of the left in Lebanon, and here I am not even talking about the traditional party left (forget about them) but the self-identified "alternative" (and even intellectual) left. I will neither name people nor point fingers, but they will be fairly easy to "detect" by observers. I was having an e-mail discussion with someone on this issue (in particular about the alternative left's adoption of standard Lebanese political discourse), and although I might've sounded very rude (I call it honesty), I think my arguments hold. I will post only the bits that I wrote, because I consider the e-mails I receive confidential unless given a green light to make it public:

I don't have a problem with people's attachment of a value to the work they've done, but I do have a problem with exaggeration and over-valuation (if such a word exists). As for "being active on the ground", with all due respect, I don't think there is any such thing in Lebanon. Had there been one I would've already been part of it. Those who break with the standard discourse are usually accused of being impractical. But impractical they are not. Those who accuse us of being impractical adopt the policy of "if you can't beat them, join them". There is no "linkage" issue here. You either accept such [standard Lebanese political] discourse or you don't. It's that simple.

There was also a discussion of the role of leftist groups in "bridging the gap" between different parties in Lebanon, and here are my observations:

Sectarianism cannot be cured by expanding interaction. That's a myth. There is interaction. But there is also sectarian mentality that transcends interaction. So for example, a Christian and a Muslim would interact at school (and they do), or even outside of school, be friends, and so on, but at the same time they can be sectarian (as most are) when it comes to politics (even in terms of local administration). Sectarianism is not about utterly refusing to interact with "the other". Moreover, are you saying that [leftist] groups would be bridging the gap between other sect-based groups (such as LF, HezbAllah, FM, etc.)??? Correct me if I am wrong, but that is the impression I got. If I am right, then I couldn't disagree more. I mean, these people don't need anyone to bridge the gap. They will bridge their gaps if their respective zu'ama do. So if these sheep (that's what they are) see Al-Siniora and Nasrallah cracking jokes, they (i.e. Sinorites and Nasrallahites) will immediately start cracking jokes with one another. And so on… You cannot work within the system because you will BECOME the system if you do. You might say I'm not realistic but the desire to change the world is not about realism, it's about utopianism.

On idealism, the system, and alliances:

I guess you can call me an idealist "who sit[s] on the side and watch[es]", but it's a matter of choice and principle, and it's better than not sitting on the side and watching and instead engaging in the standard Lebanese discourse and battle of words, as well as inappropriate alliances.

Those who argue for joining the system for its own sake are indeed opportunists. But those who argue for joining the system for the sake of the cause that they claim to represent are worse: they are defeatists. And defeatism is enemy #1 because it is the enemy within.

Finally:

I am simply disappointed at the exclusionary policies of leftists, and here I am […] talking about […] the "veil of secrecy" that is uncalled for in some instances (for example, I feel offended when someone who KNOWS ME WELL ENOUGH says he/she does not trust me with a "secret" on a leftist initiative. Wouldn't you?). I mean, besides the fact that everyone who knows me knows that I can be trusted with secrets, there is the issue of making such a huge deal out of a very small thing, making it sound like one is planning a freaking military revolt… Leftists really need to stop being so paranoid about people THEY KNOW. Period.

60 years later…

Would you live in the same apartment building as an Arab?

NO: 68% of Jews

YES: 26% of Jews

Would you allow an Arab to visit your home?

NO: 46% of Jews

YES: 50% of Jews

Segregation of Jews and Arabs in places of recreation?

YES: 41% of Jews

NO: 52% of Jews

“Arabs are a security and demographic threat to Israel”

AGREE: 63% of Jews

DISAGREE: 31% of Jews

“The state needs to support the emigration of Arab citizens”

AGREE: 40% of Jews

DISAGREE: 52% of Jews

“Arab culture is inferior to Israeli culture”

AGREE: 34% of Jews

DISAGREE: 57% of Jews

Upon hearing people speaking Arabic, you feel:

DISCOMFORT: 50% of Jews

HATRED: 18% of Jews

No entry

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Ooops, wrong class.

Al-Mustaqbal’s priorities

Al-Mustaqbal (Hariri clan) newspaper is oblivious to the events that have been taking place in Lebanon … except for the presidency issue, of course, and the Syrian opposition. While every other major newspaper (see for example Sada Al-Balad, Al-Nahar) has dedicated either a front page or a second page (or at least the main story on the online edition if not the paper edition) to the confirmation of the identities of the fallen in the last battle of the civil war – whose remains were discovered recently – and the ceremony that took place in their honour yesterday, Al-Mustaqbal seems to consider printing a picture of Al-Saniura having lunch at some restaurant (also appeared on page 2 of today’s print edition) infinitely more important than printing pictures of the ceremony, which appeared only on page 6 of the print edition and was found on the online edition only after a search… This is the priority that the Hariri clan accords to the defenders of the state. Now imagine the (non)priority that Hariri clan (by no means the only one) bestows upon commoners like you and me. Unless of course I missed the pictures and the report on the front page of the newspaper, in which case I stand corrected and a thousand apologies to the Hariri clan.

Paris Riots II, the Left, and Black Bloc

r1263708551.jpgA scene of riots in Paris. Overturned and burning cars. Scenes of injured protestors and rows of riot police. All these have gone virtually unnoticed by the media. Compare this to the coverage given to the riots a few months back. The explanation is simple. One word explains the reason for widespread coverage of the riots for the terrible living conditions and unemployment rates of poor immigrants (and children of immigrants): racism. Racism because its intention was to show to the whole world the supposed barbarism of Arabs and Muslims. Make no mistake about it; this is exactly why the riots were so publicized. The fascists (for example, see the coverage dedicated to it by one pro-Israeli Jew: one, two, and of course how can one miss the Little Green Fascists coverage: 1, 2, 3, … n) were of course quick to jump on the opportunity and accuse the Arabs and Muslims of being uncivilized brutes. These same people ironically post no such photos of the riots at Sorbonne and elsewhere regarding the new labour law. This is what I call selective coverage. Now are you surprised that mainstream media and fascists go hand in hand? And I would not be surprised if quite a few of the relatively-well-off Sorbonne rioters criticized the poor rioters of November 2005 for doing the same things that they have been doing: burning cars, breaking windows, throwing stones, etc. Make no mistake, the Sorbonne protests and riots are not exclusively leftist in character. As in all protests there are bound to be hypocrites and fascists protesting alongside leftists, socialists, and anarchists, under the same slogans. I call that situational tolerance, although I doubt that anarchists and fascists would co-exist in the same rally… Now don’t misunderstand me. I actually support the cause for which these students and youngsters are protesting. But at the same time I am critical of the divisive (ethnic and religious) lines that seem to be part of most leftist movements. No class revolution is revolutionary if it is based on exclusivist agendas.

Another point that I would like to address is the violence issue. Is violence necessary? Justified? From my experience, most acts of violence during rallies are initiated or instigated by the police forces. As such, resistance becomes necessary, and violence unavoidable. But there is a different aspect to all this: violence as a strategy/tactic. Many leftists and in fact anarchists criticize the use of violence as a tactic. Of course, the most notorious “group” when it comes to violence are the black bloc. I was having a debate about them with someone the other day. I was defending their tactics, while he was attacking them. First of all, there are many misperceptions of the black bloc within the leftist camp, in no small part due to infiltrators who want to give effective activism a bad name. That the black bloc is interested in engaging in a fight with the police is a myth. Black bloc activists have been the least effected by police violence; they have been very effective at watching their and their comrades’ backs, and instrumental in freeing arrestees. That black bloc has been a “source of infiltrations” (according to the person I was debating with) is laughable. If there are any sources of infiltration, they are the pseudo-leftist groups that make up the bulk of the “activist” movement. These people not only believe in hierarchic / vertical set-ups, they have also been very much limiting the freedoms of protestors that they supposedly are advocates of. For example, they have, on more than one occasion, pushed protestors, ordered them where to stand and where to go, and so on. Some, on the front lines, have been very aggressive and inviting of police attacks. I for one have been on the front lines and have tried to calm them down, but not only was I accused of being “one of them”, I was also the scapegoat of the violence that the police enthusiastically took up. In activism there is a difference between unplanned violence and a planned one. The violence adopted by these pseudo-leftists has been for the most part unplanned and reactionary, often even pro-police. It is these irrational haphazard acts of violence that have turned off many people from attending rallies. The black bloc, on the other hand, while often engaging in property destruction, has a clear purpose and agenda. For example, read some portions of the communique issued by the ACME collective–black bloc in response to accusations following Seattle, 1999:

[P]rivate property–especially corporate private property–is itself infinitely more violent than any action taken against it.

Private property should be distinguished from personal property. The latter is based upon use while the former is based upon trade. The premise of personal property is that each of us has what s/he needs. The premise of private property is that each of us has something that someone else needs or wants. In a society based on private property rights, those who are able to accrue more of what others need or want have greater power. By extension, they wield greater control over what others perceive as needs and desires, usually in the interest of increasing profit to themselves.

Private property–and capitalism, by extension–is intrinsicly violent and repressive and cannot be reformed or mitigated. Whether the power of everyone is concentrated into the hands of a few corporate heads or diverted into a regulatory apparatus charged with mitigating the disasters of the latter, no one can be as free or as powerful as they could be in a non-hierarchical society.

The number of broken windows pales in comparison to the number broken spells–spells cast by a corporate hegemony to lull us into forgetfulness of all the violence committed in the name of private property rights and of all the potential of a society without them. Broken windows can be boarded up (with yet more waste of our forests) and eventually replaced, but the shattering of assumptions will hopefully persist for some time to come.

Speaking of this necessitates speaking of long-term versus short-term planning and execution of plans. The person I was arguing with is for long-term planning. I am for short and decisive steps that would set the stage for the long struggle ahead. It is pointless to plan for years – in the dark – only to be met with a new set of realities, or factors that were not taken into account. That would send you many years back. Instead work on actions that can make solid, albeit small, changes. Furthermore, the guy argued: if you smash a Nike store, you would be hurting the owner, not Nike. Yes, my friend, the owner is as much of an oppressor as Nike is. The owner makes a living off the backs of sweatshop workers. However indirect such a contribution is, it is undeniable that by selling Nike products the store-owner is supporting the use of cheap labour for corporate profits. This is the problem with the mainstream (and even some of the alternative) left. They place far more emphasis on “peaceful means” than on the end that they are supposedly pursuing. They fail to take note of the fact that none of the corporate owners hesitate to use violence and inhumane treatment for their capitalistic ends. What do these “leftists” propose? Fighting the violence of capitalism by absolutely peaceful means, so much so that they have made the smashing of shopping windows of Nike dealers and Starbucks corporate headquarters taboo. If we are to trust a bunch of armchair leftists and defeatists (not to mention centralists/hierarchists) like World Social Forum to bring us a revolution, we might as well start believing in the coming of the Messiah.