Uganda’s Counterinsurgency Pogrom

British military training Ugandan army regulars in counterinsurgency techniques

On the Ugandan army’s counterinsurgency against the rural population (claiming it’s to rid Acholiland of the Lord’s Resistance Army) Sverker Finnström writes:

It was after about ten years of war that the Ugandan government decided to forcefully resettle a large number of the population into camps…threats and violence [by the Ugandan army] were common.  Those who first refused to move were sometimes beaten until they did move…In some cases, the Ugandan army shelled villages whose inhabitants refused to leave.  The Ugandan president officially announced the policy of moving the rural people to camps on September 27, 1996, but the army had evidently forced people to the camps earlier than that…Concentrating large numbers of civilians in camps has been an intrinsic part of the Ugandan army’s counterinsurgency warfare.  When people try to go back to their home villages they are occasionally beaten by the army (141).

Finnström, Sverker.  2008.  Living with Bad Surroundings: War, History and Everyday Moments in Northern Uganda.  Durham, USA: Duke University Press.

Living in Bad Surroundings in Northern Uganda

Civilians and Ugandan soldiers in Northern Uganda (photo by Peter van Agtmael click on photo for his website)

In his 2008 book Sverker Finnström wrote about how international observers have viewed the conflict in Northern Uganda (which has now moved to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Southern Sudan) and the realities on the ground:

The causes and consequences of the war in northern Uganda, the reasons for it, and the facts about it–they all differ, depending on whom you are listening to.  There is no one version that is fully agreed upon by all parties involved.  Perhaps this is a truism to many readers, but it is still important to emphasize because contemporary conflict analyses often tend to emphasize single causes for war in ways that are reductionist.  Regarding war in Africa, ethnicity is the most often invoked as one such single cause.  Consequently, African realities are reduced to little more than the antithesis to the roder of Western civilization, which on the other hand is taken for granted as modern and civilized…

During some periods, the [LRA] keep a low profile and their attacks are few, and consequently Ugandan authorities relax, being cooperative and even friendly to outside research.  During other periods, the rebels are very active, and in the Ugandan counterinsurgency practices almost everyone can be regarded as an enemy collaborator, including the researcher…

The war is indeed a global war even if fought on local grounds.  For some two decades, it has rolled back and forth, like the changes from rainy season to dry season and back to rainy season.  The massive influx of international humanitarian aid has ended up being deeply entangled with the realities on the ground

During some periods the rebels are disciplined and seek local support, more like fish in the water, to recall Mao Zedong’s  famous dictum on the guerilla fighters’ absolute need of local support to survive.  In such periods the repressive measures of the Ugandan authorities increase…In January 2003, the magistrate’s court in Gulu town reported that two boys aged fourteen and sixteen who returned home from rebel captivity were charged with reason, and that twenty-five more minors were being held in military custody without charges, under pressure to join the Ugandan army or face treason charges…The justice system became one of the first institutions to suffer from the war, and most cases of rebel as well as Ugandan military abuse of the civil population have not been addressed (8-9).

Reference

Finnström, Sverker.  2008.  Living with Bad Surroundings: War, History and Everyday Moments in Northern Uganda.  Durham, USA: Duke University Press.

Fanon on the Intellectual

In his work The Wretched of the Earth Fanon writes:

The human condition, plans for mankind, and collaboration between men in those tasks which increase the sum total of humanity are new problems, which demand true inventions.

A permanent dialogue with oneself and an increasingly obscene narcissism never ceased to prepare the way for a half delirious state, where intellectual work became suffering and the reality was not that of a living man, working and creating himself, but rather words, different combinations of words, and the tensions springing from the meaning contained in words.  Yet some Europeans were found to urge the European workers to shatter this narcissism and break with this unreality.(312-3).

Reference

Fanon, Frantz.  2004.  The Wretched of the Earth.  Translated by Richard Philcox.  New York: Grove Press.

Plato’s Cave and Modern Day Metaphysics

In his new book philosopher Crawford L. Elder argues from a realist Hegelian point of view that objects (“familiar objects”) actually do exist in our world.  This claim actually runs counter to much modern day philosophical thought that familiar objects actually do not exist (i.e. a “dog” is just a bunch of atomic particles that consist of what we perceive to be a “dog,” etc.).  Elder argues that this amounts to a modern day “Plato’s cave” in where philosophers are only arguing for the existence of the “shadows” of objects and not the objects themselves.

In general, contemporary metaphysics is deeply sceptical of the familiar objects in which common sense believes.  It is far more ready to attribute reality to entities that are much smaller – to the particles and wave packtes and strings which microphysics treats as real, or to the “mereoloigical simples” for which philosophical reflection provides some support.  Any such view must find some way of explaining why there appear to be familiar medium-sized objects in the world…The main business of this book is to argue that leading examples of such explanations fail.  For time and again such explanations project downwards, onto the small entities of the preferred ontology, structures and relations and features that properly belong to familiar objects.  Such projections are harmless so long as one allows that there also are, in addition to the small entities, the familiar objects that form the starting point of the projection.  But if – as generally the case – the aim is to expunge familiar objects from ontology, the invocation of such structures and relations and features is illegitimate.  The opponetns of familiar objects are then helping themselves to shadows cast downwards, onto the level of the preferred small entities, while denying that the sources of these shadows exist.

What explains this scepticism?  I shall being…by suggesting that contemporary metaphysics is dominated by the style of thought which Hegel – using the nineteenth-century vocabulary of faculties – called “the Understanding,” and that “the Understanding” is constitutionally antipathetic to familiar objects.  But first a few words about the style of thought that finds familiar objects congenial – the style of thought which Hegel identified under the title “Reason.”

A prime characteristic of “Reason” is that it is willing to recognize what Hegel called “identity in difference.”  “Identify in difference” is a form of sameness which articulates itself in difference…Typically, a familiar object goes on being itself while passing through different phases or properties, that is, while differing from itself.  Indeed in many cases – and especially if we count such properties as age among the relevant ones – a familiar object can go on being numerically the same object only by differing more and more from its earlier self…It is the same composite only because it is differently composed…Common sense is quick to agree that these properties fall into contrary ranges, each contrasting to graded degrees with its own proper rivals.  The Hegelian claim – on which I shall focus at length…is that for any genuine property, its having the intrinsic positive character that it has just is (at least in part) its contrasting as it does with its own proper rivals.  Its being just that property is its differing, in just those ways, from just those other properties (1, 166-7).

Reference

Elder, Crawford L.  2011.  Familiar Objects and Their Shadows.  New York: Cambridge University Press.

Transnational Theory and the State

In her new book on globalization, “labor brokerage”, and Filipina/o migrant workers Dr. Robyn Magalit Rodriguez (you can gain access to her current lectures at UC Davis here) offers a critique of current scholarship on globalization (and hence postcolonial and transnational theory).  Especially in the field of Filipina/o studies where a huge focus has been on ignoring the roles of nation states and class structures under the current flows of global capitalism and American imperialism.

Philippine international migration is emblematic of globalization.  In describing the increasing mobility of labor, it is often Filipina and Filipino migrants that scholars refer to as a primary example of this phenomenon.  To suggest that the Philippine state is crucial to an understanding of Philippine international migration, as I do here, therefore, it to make an important intervention in the scholarship on international migration.  Much of the scholarship on international migration of late has tended to reify capital flows from “above” to undersand global labor flows or, in opposition to this scholarship, has examined globalization, specifically immigrant transnationalism from “below.”  My research shows that the state plays a central role in both these processes, but just as importantly my research shows how the state links and mediates between these two processes through a case study of Philippine migration.  I argue that the state is fundamental to globalization, just as importantly global processes constitute the state (143-4).

Reference

Rodriguez, Robyn Magalit.  2010.  Migrants for Export: How the Philippine State Brokers Labor to the World.  Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press

The Proletariat and the “Creation of Class”

In an essay on Mao Zeodong’s philosophical  thought Richard Johnson writes:

Because, relative to that of the Communist, the socioeconomic persona of the proletariat is limited–and, give the empirical existence of political vicissitudes, may remain so indefinitely–the chance that from such a basis alone will be launched a coherent, direct, and enlightened politics, is slight.  Understandable then, in this light, is the enigmatic logic of the Manifesto, where, inscribed among the historic character of communists, is the task of the “formation of the proletariat into a class.”  The apparent paradox that an entity that is already a class, must be made to become a class, is comprehensible when it is remembered that the historical process of consciousness is not identical to the consciousness of the historical process; that, moreover, “ideological forms” have a historical depth related to, but not immediately determined by, material development.  It is thus by this logic that the qualitative transformation of empirical, perhaps sporadic, political action into direct, and conscious, class-based political programs exists within the historical scope of an organizing medium led by a group of enlightened elites, vis Communists (211-2).

Reference

Johnson, Ricahrd.  “A Compendium of the Infinite: Exercises of Political Purpose in the Philosophy of Mao Zedong.”  In Critical Perspectives on Mao Zedong’s Thought, eds. Arif Dirlik, et. al., 207-233.  Amherst, New York: Humanity Books.

Logocentrism in 19th Century European Thought

In his seminal work Of Grammatology Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) breaks down the idea of logocentrism within European philosophical thought:

Within this age of metaphysics, between Descartes and Hegel, Rousseau is undoubtedly the only one or the first one to make a theme or a system of the reduction of writing profoundly implied by the entire age.  He repeats the inaugural movement of the Phaedurs and of De interpretatione but starts from a new model of presence: the subject’s self-presence within consciousness or feeling.  What he excluded more violently than others must, of course, have fascinated and tormented him more than it did others.  Descartes had driven out the sign–and particularly the written sign–from the cogito and from clear and distinct evidence; the latter being the very presence of the idea of the soul, the sign was an accessory abandoned in the region of the senses and the imagination.  Hegel reappropriates the sensible sign to the movement of the Idea.  He criticizes Leibniz and praises phonetic writing within the horizon of an absolutely self-present logos, remaining close t itself within the unity of its speech and its concept.  But neither Descartes nor Hegel grappled with the problem of writing.  The place of this combat and crisis is called the eighteenth century.  Not only because it restores the rights of sensibility, the imagination, and the sign, but because attempts of the Leibnizian type had opened a breach within logocentric security.  We must bring to light what it was that, right from the start, within these attempts at a universal characteristic, limited the power and extent of the breakthrough.  Before Hegel and in explicit terms, Rousseau condemned the universal characteristic; not  because of the theological foundation which ordained its possibility for the infinite understanding of logos of God, but because it seemed to suspend the voice.  “Through” this condemnation can be read the most energetic eighteenth-century reaction organizing the defense of phonologism and of logocentric metaphysics.  What threatens is indeed writing.  It is not an accidental and haphazard threat; it reconciles within a single historical system the projects of pasigraphy, the discovery of non-European scripts, or at any rate the massive progress of the techniques and deciphering, and finally the idea of a general science of language and writing.  Against all of these prussures, a battle is then declared.  “Hegelianism” will be its finest scar (98-9, bold mine).

Reference

Derrida, Jacques.  1997.  Of Grammatology.  Translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.  Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.

Challenges With Building a Leftist City

In his classic book, Left Coast City, Richard Edward DeLeon wrote about the challenges that left-winged “progressives” would have in being able to take control of the San Francisco government apparatus while still holding onto their progressive politics under a capitalist regime:

A…reality progressives must face is that a small business economy by itself is inadequate to support a progressive regime…[T]he city’s small businesses are not always beautiful, and its petty bourgeoisie will never be the economic vanguard of radicalism.  Leftist arguments that romanticize small business and demonize big business fail to capture the diversity and complexity of San Francisco’s business community.  In the city’s service economy, what most small service firms serve are big businesses.  To discount the economic importance of large corporations or to view them simply as objects of expropriation is to validate claims that progressives are unable to think strategically about the city as a whole…

Yet the progressives are onto something in their love affair with small business.  Their emphasis on preserving and promoting small firms and neighborhood shops follows logically from a slow-growth perspective on land use and physical development…(172-3, bolded words are mine).

Reference

DeLeon, Richard Edward.  1992.  Left Coast City: Progressive Politics in San Francisco, 1975-1991.  Lawrence, Kansas: University Press Kansas.

Black Working Class Radicalism in Oakland

Black Panther Party members outside of a Safeway, in the East Bay, during the Safeway boycott (photo by Stephen Shames).

Historian Robert O. Self, in his book on geography, capitalism, and its affects on the Black population in the San Francisco East Bay, wrote:

In the workplaces and communities of midcentury West Oakland, African American residents forged a distinct laborite culture that blended class politics with civil rights.  Based in the Brotherhod of Sleeping Car Porters and other black railroad unions, as well as the left wing of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) on the docks and the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union (MCSU) on the ships, this culture extended its influence broadly through the East Bay…This culture extended its reach across time.  Black longshoremen, veterans of the brutal class wars on the docks in the 1930s, articulated an internationalism that would, by the 1960s, influence Oaklanders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale as they founded the Black Panther Party.  Black leaders from the railroad unions established political strategies in the 1940s that would guide a generation of activists in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  From one decade to the next across the second half of the century, these neighborhoods were home to a rich range of laborite, community, civil rights, and eventually black liberation politics.

Oakland provides an excellent vantage from which to launch an inquiry into this history.  Best known as the birthplace of the Black Panther Party in 1966 and as a national fulcrum of black radicalism throughout the late 1960s, Oakland was also a major seat of African American influence in California politics beginning in the late 1940s and the home of an extensive tradition of black social advocacy and organizing.  Indeed, the generation of black activists before the Panthers developed strategies, alliances, and sources of power that profoundly shaped the political terrain of race in both the East Bay and California as a whole.  Recovering the story of that generation, men and women who achieved none of the national media exposure and fame of the Panthers and faced little of the state-sponsored harassment and investigations, allows us to appreciate both the surprising continuities as well as the jarring divergences between the activists of the 1940s and 1950s and those of the 1960s and 1970s…The long postwar black liberation movement in the East Bay featured a fluid political environment in which philosophies and strategies competed with and interpenetrated one another.  Above all, in the decades after World War II, civil rights in Oakland stood less for civil rights than for economic rights, the foundation on which black American political demands had rested since the 1930s (5-6, 12).

Reference

Self, Robert O.  2003.  American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland.  Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

The Falsehood of Multiple Modernities

"On White" by Wassily Kandinsky

Critiquing the concept of alternate modernities and its consequences toward understanding universalist theories, Žižek explains:

The significance of this critique reaches far beyond the case of modernity–it concerns the fundamental limitation of nominalist historicizing.  The recourse to multiplication (“there is not one modernity with a fixed essence, there are multiple modernities, each of them irreducible to others…”) is false not because it does not recognize a unique fixed “essence” of modernity, but because multiplication functions as the disavowal of the antagonism that inheres to the notion of modernity as such: the falsity of multiplication resides in the fact that it frees the universal notion of modernity of its antagonism, of the way it is embedded in the capitalist system, by relegating this aspect to just one of the historical subspecieis…

Jameson’s critique of the notion of alternate modernities thus provides a model of the properly dialectic relationship between the Universal and the Particular: the difference is not on the side of particular content (as the traditional differentia specifica), but on the side of the Universal.  The Universal is not the encompassing container of the particular content, the peaceful medium-background of the conflict of particularities…In other words, the Universal names the site of a Problem-Deadlock, of a burning Question, and the Particulars are the attempted but failed Answers to this Problem (34-35).

Reference

Žižek, Slavoj.  2009.  The Parallax View.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.


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