Archive for the 'Politics' Category

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.

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.

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.

Beauvoir on “Halfway between revolt and slavery”

Writing on forms of logic, ethics, and actions in a male-centered and shaped society Beauvoir speaks of the existentialist position and phenomenological experience of women in that society:

It is understandable why, from this perspective, woman objects to masculine logic.  Not only does it have no bearing on her experience, but she also knows that in men’s hands reason becomes an insidious form of violence; their peremptory affirmations are intended to mystify her.  They want to confiner her in a dilemma: either you agree or you don’t; she has to agree in name of the whole system of accepted principles: in refusing to agree, she rejects the whole system; she cannot allow herself such a dramatic move; she does not have the means to create another society: yet she does not agree with this one.  Halfway between revolt and slavery, she unwillingly resigns herself to masculine authority.  He continuously uses force to make her shoulder the consequences of her reluctant submission…

The woman does not positively think that the truth is other than what men claim: rather, she holds that there is no truth.  It is not only life’s becoming that makes her suspicious of the principle of identity, nor the magic phenomenon surrounding her that ruin the notion of causality: it is at the heart of the masculine world itself, it is in her as belonging to this world, that she grasps the ambiguity of all principles, of all values, of all that exists.  She knows that when it comes to her, masculine morality is a vast mystification.  The man pompously drums his code of virtue and honor into her; but secretly he invites her to disobey it: he even counts on this disobedience; the whole lovely facade he hides behind would collapse without it.

His relations with woman thus lie in a contingent region where morality no longer applies, where conduct is inconsequential.  His relations with other men are based on certain values; he is freedom confronting other freedoms according to laws universally recognized by all; but with woman–she was invented for this reason–he ceases to assume his existence, he abandons himself to the mirage of the in-itself, he situates himself on an inauthentic plane; he is tyrannical, sadistic, violent or puerile, masochistic or querulous, he tries to satisfy his obsessions, his manias; he “relaxes,” he “lets go” in the name of rights he has acquired in his public life (651-2, emphasis in bold is mine).

Reference

de Beauvoir, Simone.  2010.  The Second Sex.  Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovancy-Chevallier.  New York: Alfred A Knopf.

West’s Prophetic Pragmatism

Photography by Stephen Charles (click for photographers Flickr page).

In a book analyzing Cornel West‘s (1953– ) philosophy and politics Mark David Wood writes:

Prophetic pragmatism, one of the most fully elaborated and progressive expressions of post-Marxist politics in the present era, appeals to academicians, politicians, and business leaders precisely because it poses no serious threat to the class of individuals who control and appropriate the lion’s hare of the Earth’s resources and humanity’s collectively generated wealth.

[I]t seeks to implement a reform agenda that attempts to address the needs of both rulers and ruled by establishing cross-class alliances on the grounds of shared moral, parental, or national identity…and…it seeks to solve human problems without challenging the moral legitimacy and social consequences of privatized control of production and planning of social development (185-6).

Reference

Wood, Mark David.  2000.  Cornel West and the Politics of Prophetic Pragmatism.  Illinois: University of Illinois Press.


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