Assata: Revolutionary Relatability

 

"Examining the theory, practice, and rhetorical strategies of Assata Shakur's powerful autobiography, ASSATA, this essay from a Kasama supporter reflects on Assata's text as an exemplary work of revolutionary pedagogy, a work that relates radical and revolutionary ideas to concrete experiences, and represents the revolutionary project in ways that are both bold and yet relatable to wide sectors of the people. This story of how revolutionaries who are also educators can provoke discussion using accessible and inspiring radical texts helps contextualize the process of developing revolutionary consciousness.A version of this article appears at Red Wedge. Part one can be viewed on Kasama here. 

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“I was a puppet, and I didn’t even know who was pulling the strings.”

 Assata’s long line of social self-criticism starts in the living room, with a discussion of Television, and how watching it as a child led her to internalize dominant images of beauty, domesticity, and (white) middle class normativity, so pervasive and insidious in 1950s America. Shakur harshly recounts her unsympathetic and judgmental attitude towards her own mother for “failing” to recreate the middle-class consumer ideal as depicted on TV. “Why didn’t my mother have freshly baked cookies ready when i came home from school?” she writes, “Why didn’t we live in a house with a backyard and a front yard instead of an ole apartment? I remember looking at my mother as she cleaned the house in her old raggedy housecoat with her hair in curlers. ‘How disgusting,’ i would think. Why didn’t she clean the house in high heels and shirtwaist dresses like they did on television” (37). She shows her younger self to be an ingrate and a complainer, an unfair judge of her working-class, single mother. “I was a puppet,” Shakur reflects later, “and i didn’t even know who was pulling the strings” (38).

At the same time, Shakur frames this embarrassing self-critique as a social commentary on the cultural apparatus that enabled and encouraged her anti-social and deluded ideology. It was not something she came to “on her own”; she is both an object and a subject in this process. In framing matters so, Assata not only offers a model of humility and self-critique, she targets particular – and pervasive — social institutions and ideologies in such a way as to welcome readers to interrogate (and perhaps confront and transcend) the influence of these same institutions and ideologies in their own lives. The influence of mass media commodification and consumer ideology, of course, is as pervasive today as ever, making her discussions all the more relevant to contemporary readers.

A particularly memorable self-critical exposure comes soon after this, with Shakur’s account of how, as a child, she publicly denigrated her close friend—and would-be boyfriend — Joe, a boy she honestly likes. She tells off Joe, stating that he is “too black and ugly” to ever date. The young Joanne does this to avoid the scorn of peers, who make fun of Joe at school as looking like a “black frog.” “I will never forget the look on his face,” Shakur writes, reflecting on her own opportunistic complicity. “He looked at me with such cold hatred that I was stunned. I felt so ugly and dirty and depraved. I was shaken to the bone. For weeks, maybe months afterward, I was haunted by what happened that day, the snakes that had crawled out of my mouth. There was nothing I could do but change myself. Not for him, but for me” (72). Across the board, students were moved by this moment, as well as by Assata’s later historical and theoretical reflections on how such internalization of racism and black-on-black dehumanization can be traced all the way back to habits and rituals forcibly imposed on Black people in the context of plantation slavery. Again, Assata’s (self-)critical reflection on a particular bad practice is tied to an argument that foregrounds the larger structural and institutional forces at work through these practices. In the process, the text offers us living proof of how important a grasp of history and of social power relations can be for a critical navigation of everyday life, even as it also lays the basis for imagining an inclusive and welcoming political collectivity, one that will include not just those subjects who have somehow (allegedly) come through racist-imperialist, patriarchal capitalism unscathed, but also, crucially, those who have been in various ways damaged by this process, even to the point of victimizing others. Shakur presents herself as having been ensnared in the very contradictory net that traps so many others, and that she is working to escape, and to shred for good.[1] By connecting, contextualizing and politicizing the “personal” wounds that the system has inflicted on herself and on others (including those wounds that she has helped to inflict on others!), Assata challenges readers to refuse the divide and conquer strategies — both ideological and repressive — that serve ruling class-ends, by turning people with so much in common against one another, and against themselves. Shakur’s narrative shows us how humble yet bold reflection can transform what turns us against one another into what unites us, laying the basis for building a common, revolutionary strength.

Notably, in this early episode with young Joe, Shakur describes her participation in this black-on-black “colorism”without herself believing in it; her only drive is to “desperately be one of the pack” (71). In pursuing this goal, Joanne harms not only Joe, but herself, insofar as she and her family both have grown fond of Joe’s innocent flirtations and affections. Thus, in a manner that once again welcomes readers into parallel self-interrogations,Assata’s self-critique extends from the phenomenon of internalized racism (in particular, racism within the oppressed community) to the broader practice of succumbing to peer pressure, cynically going along with the dominant fashion, even when at some level one knows better.

As Shakur puts it later, provocatively, if in a different context: “Everything is a lie in amerika…the thing that keeps it going is that so many people believe the lie” (158). Shakur’s account of denigrating young Joe shows us that it is not necessary for people — be they kids or adults — to actually believe the “lie” in order keep to that lie going; all that is necessary is to act as if one believes. Objective belief — and the reproduction of ideology — does not require subjective sincerity, but only a cynical going through the motions, a willingness to stifle one’s own true(r) feelings and thoughts for the sake of keeping up appearances, and avoiding conflict with other “believers.” Adding to the tragic irony here, but also laying further basis for revolutionary rupture, is the distinct possibility that those “believers” whom one fears offending are themselves not sincere subjects of the bad ideology (racism, colorism, etc), but are equally cynical — which is also to say cowardly — participants in the performance of a ritual that they don’t “really believe” in either. The revolutionary hope here lies in the potential implied by this shallow shell of cynical conformity; once one of these tight-packed eggs cracks…others may quickly do the same.[2]

Later, in a more overtly political vein, Shakur discloses how she was spurred toward rethinking her views of “America” and its foreign policy, in 1964, before the anti-war movement really blew up, not first by her own studies, but by being publicly embarrassed, confronted with her own ignorance — and her cynical parroting of half-baked ideology. Fancying herself “an intellectual” coming out of high school, she spouts off patriotically to a group of African students regarding the Vietnam War, saying that both the war and the broader American struggle of “Democracy” against “Communism” are “all right.” The African students leap to refute her. After hearing all the historical and political knowledge they bring to bear regarding French and US colonialism, corporate interests, and more, Shakur recalls that “my mind was blown.” Yet,” she adds:

I continued saying the first thing that came into my head: that the u.s. was fighting communists because they wanted to take over everything. When someone asked me what communism was, i opened my mouth to answer, then i realized i didn’t have the faintest idea. My image of a communist came from a cartoon.… The Africans rolled with laughter. I felt like a bona fide clown. (151)

Again, Shakur follows up this account with a more general reflection on her particular embarrassment, one that welcomes readers to apply her general insight to the texts of their own lives: “I never forgot that day,” she writes,

We’re taught at such an early age to be against the communists, yet most of us don’t have the faintest idea of what communism is. Only a fool lets somebody else tell him who his enemy is.… I never thought i could be so easily tricked into being against something that i didn’t understand. It’s got to be one of the most basic principles of living: always decide who your enemies are for yourself, and never let your enemies choose your enemies for you.

“After that,” she adds, “I began to read about what was happening in Vietnam” (152).

assata-shakurObviously, as a wanted “terrorist” who continues to be subject to character assassination (and perhaps to actual assassination attempts) by the US government, Shakur’s warning about believing in “bogeymen,” and especially in “bogeymen” constructed by one’s enemies, resonates not only in relation to the issue of communism — though students were still sparked by this aspect — but also in relationship to her particular case, and, by extension, to the entire contemporary US discourse around “terrorism.” She implicitly asks readers to reflect critically on the extent to which the US government continues to do our thinking for us, deciding who is an “enemy” and who is not. She prompts readers to admit how they too, like the young Joanne, may at times have found themselves mouthing official ideologies that they don’t even understand — and how these very moments of cynical, quasi-robotic conformity may, if brought to consciousness, mark out fault-lines of potentially radical self-shattering. Being able to admit such embarrassing, complicit moments is key to Assata’s process of transformation, and to the effective radical pedagogy of her text. She models the humility and the courage of self-critical practice.

At a typographical level, Assata’s revolutionary humility is symbolized by her refusing the convention of capitalizing the first person singular, “i” throughout her book.[3] In this way, Shakur sets off her narrative from more self-congratulatory accounts by self-proclaimed political “leaders,” including various “cults of personality” that afflicted so much of the New Left, and even the BPP itself. With this move, she refuses the mantle of individual heroism, suggesting that her “self” is but a moment in an evolving and collective process of constant, self-reflexive struggle and transformation. The “self” she has become was not something she was born into, or something that she herself determined through sheer will or wisdom, but a product of collective struggle.[4] In bringing out the necessarily contradictory nature, and the transformative potential of both her own subjectivity and that of others — and of their mutual dependence — Assata provides us with an account of becoming revolutionary that is as relatable as it is radical, as humble as it is hopeful. It is, I believe, an exemplary mode of revolutionary self-representation for dark, cynical times like ours.

Assata’s Political Lessons

What makes Assata an outright revolutionary text, and not just a radical one, is that Shakur does not confine critical thinking to her own private or personal experiences, but applies it also to her self-consciously political, collective, outward-oriented activities, as an organizer in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, a member of the Black Panther Party, and a cadre in the Black Liberation Army. Her story of “personal” transformation is one that includes extended discussion of revolutionary theory and practice, strategy and tactics. Her rhetorical and pedagogical strategies, as detailed above, are of interest in themselves, for the humble-hopeful method they enact, but also because they function as effective means for stimulating broad and sustained engagement with radical and revolutionary “contents.”

A full discussion of the strictly political content of Assata’s autobiography falls beyond the scope of this essay. But her key insights include the following:

*We must be clear about what we mean by “revolution.” For Shakur this means “the revolutionary struggle of Black people had to be against racism, capitalism, imperialism and sexism and for real freedom under a socialist government” (197).

*We must define the enemy in a sharp yet open way. “One of the most important things the [Black Panther] Party did was to make it clear who the enemy was, not the white people, but the capitalist and imperialistic oppressors. They took the Black liberation movement out of a nationalist context and put it in an international context” (203).

*Colonialism is not just about race, but about class. Blacks can become oppressors and exploiters just as whites have (191).

*Being for racial equality or black liberation in the USA requires being anti-capitalist, for as long as there is a class hierarchy race will be used to justify and reproduce the exploitation at the bottom of it.

* Those who speak of “climbing the ladder of success” are accepting class inequality, a system with a “top” and a “bottom,” where some stand over others. Such “ladder” schemes are to be rejected (190).

*Multi-racial unity among and across oppressed and exploited groups is necessary for a revolutionary alliance that can win, but must be built upon the basis of independent strength within the Black revolutionary movement itself (and in the other oppressed groups as well), not by ceding leadership to others outside that community (192).

*Black (or any) nationalism that is not fundamentally internationalist is reactionary.

*There can be no revolutionary theory divorced from practice (180).

*Listening is primary, often more important than speaking. Many of the best “teachers” are to be found on the street, in prison, and in other unexpected places.

*Revolutionaries need to build and maintain close ties to the masses of people; the isolation of revolutionaries from the people is a great danger, and is one of the enemy’s primary goals (181).

*Revolutionaries cannot depend on dominant institutions (such as the existing educational structures) to do our work for us; new and independent institutions must be constructed, even as struggle is carried on within and around the existing ones.

*The movement for community control over schools and local resources quickly and necessarily raises the question of who controls economic and military power; serious mobilization for reform soon brings up the question of state power and of revolution, and of the need for something like a People’s Liberation Army (182-83).

*Such a People’s Liberation Army needs to be thought of as primarily political, secondarily military. “No people’s war can be won without the support of the masses of people. Armed struggle can never be successful by itself; it must be part of an overall strategy for winning, and the strategy must be political as well as military” (242).

*It is not enough to want to “rebel,” one must want to actually “win.” And to win, one must study so as to develop ascientific approach to making revolution possible. (242).

*Humility and Respect for the People is key, and must be a matter of daily practice; Leftist “revolutionary” arrogance is a major obstacle (218). “I hate arrogance whether it’s white or purple or Black,” Shakur writes, reflecting on a rude and foolish Panther cadre she encounters, “Some people let power go to their heads. They think that just because they have some kind of title in front of their name you’re supposed to bend over and kiss them on the ass.” As she elaborates: “The only great people I have met have been modest and humble. You can’t claim that you love people when you don’t respect them, and you can’t call for political unity unless you practice it in your relationships. And that doesn’t happen out of nowhere. That’s something that has got to be put into practice every day” (218).

*Effective revolutionary education means transforming “students” into teachers and “teachers” into students (189). Teacher-student hierarchies may become another form of oppression; restructuring pedagogical approaches can unlock hitherto untapped potential of what appear to be “bad” or resistant students.

*The process of creative, collective struggle itself can function as “medicine” for the people, as they emerge from the existing society with all their wounds and worries: “The more active I became the more I liked it. It was like medicine, making me well, making me whole” (189).

*Political education should meet people where they are at, through dialogue, and by speaking to questions that are on people’s minds, not through the imposition of dogmatic principles and phraseology, and should teach them their own history, not only the history of radical movements elsewhere. An awareness of history is crucial to breaking people from their old (bad) habits of slavish identification with their oppressors.

*The Black Panthers’ audacity captured the imagination of the masses, and drew many cadre to them, but this bold and provocative approach could turn into ahindrance when working among the people. As Shakur reports, “I preferred the polite and respectful manner in which civil rights workers and Black Muslims talked to the people rather than the arrogant, fuck-you style that used to be popular in New York. I said they cursed too much and turned off a lot of people who would otherwise be responsive to what the Party was saying” (204).

*Despite various problematic tendencies, many people in the BPP were sympathetic and responsive to such sharp internal criticisms; such an ability to absorb and encourage criticism and self-criticism must be a key feature of any healthy revolutionary organization.

*The cult of macho personality and martyrdom needs to be rejected, as does the macho approach that encourages non-strategic and non-viable direct confrontation with the state. As Assata paraphrases Mao’s writings on guerrilla warfare: “Retreat when the enemy is strong and attack when the enemy is weak” (227).

* Both the fear and the actuality of state infiltration, disruption, and repression pose real threats to maintaining the culture of revolutionary creativity, openness, and trust that is necessary to any healthy growing organization (231).

* Revolutionaries must work collectively and in a spirit of love to overcome inevitable and often acute differences and misunderstandings. A sectarian failure to reconnect and regroup on the basis of fundamental unities played a key role in the fragmentation and stagnation of the BPP.

*Criticism and Love are not mutually exclusive categories; criticism of other revolutionaries and of one’s own revolutionary organization should come from a place of seeking a new and better unity, which is not at all to say that such criticism should not be sharp, honest, and direct (232).

Assata Shakur

Assata’s political lessons take the form of criticism (and self-criticism) of tendencies within the radical movement in which she herself participated. She offers a number of criticisms of the BPP, its leadership, culture, and methods of work, while making clear her love for the organization, foregrounding her gratefulness for the way it “really opened my horizons a helluva lot,” and reminding readers of the important barriers to Party work created by COINTELPRO disruption and repression (221). But while recognizing the impact of massive state repression, Assata also reflects on practices that were within the BPP’s power to control. For instance, she asserts that the group — and the radical movement generally — tended to under-emphasize, in both theory and practice, the necessity of serious and mass political education. Further, she argues that even when it did happen, much of the educational work of the Black Panthers and other revolutionary groups was too dogmatic and too focused on conditions, texts, and experiences from elsewhere (such as in revolutionary Russia or China). As she puts it, “They were reading the Red Book, but didn’t know who Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, or Nat Turner were. They talked about intercommunalism but still really believed that the Civil War had been fought to free the slaves. A whole lot of them knew barely any kind of history, Black, African or otherwise” (221). She also laments that political education tended not to focus enough on spreading the tools of organizing beyond the main cadre. While giving a moving account of her participation in Panther breakfast programs and freedom schools, Shakur still laments how the BPP became isolated from the people, not only because of the vicious state attacks it faced, but because it failed to forge new roots with masses beyond the ranks of radical and progressive allies.

She criticizes the arrogance, egotism, and machismo of particular radical leaders, black and white alike, even as she offers a persuasive argument that interracial alignments are essential to any united front strategy. Pointedly, she laments the ways in which sectarianism and dogmatism afflict the movement, as different wings and regions of the BPP itself are not able to resolve their differences internally, and the revolutionary movement fails to maintain unity amidst the strife exacerbated by state repression.

More generally, Shakur criticizes herself and others for having acted primarily as “romantic” and “emotional,” rather than “scientific” revolutionaries, overestimating the revolutionary force of spontaneous mass anger and rebellion. As she writes of her political attitudes in Cuba: “I was no longer the wide-eyed, romantic young revolutionary who believed the revolution was just around the corner…. I had long ago become convinced that revolution was a science. Generalities were no longer enough for me.” She elaborates: “I believed that a higher level of political sophistication was necessary and that unity in the Black community had to become a priority. We could never afford to forget the lessons we had learned from COINTELPRO…. I couldn’t see how we could seriously struggle without having a strong sense of collectivity, without being responsible for each other and to each other” (266-67).

At the same time, Shakur does not disown the idealistic thrust of her own narrative. She gives us a vivid account of both the revolutionary optimism and the rage of the late 60s, particularly in a long italicized section describing her immediate reaction to the news of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968. “I don’t want to rebel, I want to win” she writes (195). Reflecting on the brutal police suppression of the urban uprisings that follow, she adds, “I am tired of watching us lose. They kill our leaders, then they kill us for protesting. Protest. Protest. Revolution. If it exists, I want to find it. Bulletins. More bulletins. I’m tired of bulletins. I want bullets” (196). She embraces this revolutionary passion and anger even as she reflects on the need to give it more disciplined and strategic form.

In the end, although Shakur writes the closing lines of her autobiography from the hopeful shores of socialist Cuba, citing the ten million revolutionary people who have “stood up” there as proof that “The cowboys and bandits didn’t own the world” (274), Assata offers no facile optimism, and no easy formulas. Despite her expressed faith in the tradition of struggle, she continues to pose the question of revolution precisely as a question, not as a set doctrine, nor a dogmatic catechism. She certainly offers lessons and warnings for radical-minded readers today — but principally she invites us to think and to discuss for ourselves how to answer this question theoretically and practically (with both passion and a scientific critical consciousness) for our own time. Her book sets the table for a conversation that is very much needed, and does so in such a way as to welcome new participants to that table.

Footnotes

  1. Remarkably, at one point, Shakur goes so far as to offer humanizing reflections on how the African American youth who attempt to gang rape her have come to the point of “hating her” so much. Ready to fight these would-be rapists to the death — she is able to drive them off — Assata still concerns herself afterwards with thinking about their dastardly actions not just in moral terms, but in terms of the social and historical forces that are at work through such wretched, violent, sexist ambitions. This astonishing act of understanding reminds me of Marx’s favorite proverb: “Nothing human is alien to me.”
  2. The allegory of the “Emperor’s New Clothes” is useful here. What shatters the naked, deluded Emperor’s hegemony over his subjects is not the imparting of any particular new knowledge to the populace, but ratherthe shifting status of already existing knowledge, prompted by the naïve actions of a child, who says aloud and publicly what everyone else is only thinking silently and privately: “The Emperor has no clothes!” It is in a sense not just the Emperor who is exposed in this moment, but the cynical, cowardly people themselves, who now, stripped of cover by the spontaneous blurting of a child, can (must!) see one another for what they really are. Once this occurs, turning against an Emperor is all but inevitable. See my discussion in “Revolutionary Underground: Critical Reflections on the Prospect for Renewing Occupation,” Socialism and Democracy, vol. 26 No. 3, November 2012; also my discussion of Occupy, written as this event unfolded, in the introduction toCultural Logic’s special issue, Culture and Crisiswww.clogic.eserver.org.
  3. She also refuses to capitalize the names of her enemies, and enemy institutions, from the u.s.a. to the names of various judges, police, US presidents, and district attorneys she discusses. The refusal to capitalize in these cases, while it represents a similar refusal of Authority, has a more provocative and antagonistic quality. Shakur does capitalize the names of her friends and allies (and allied organizations).
  4. Indeed, Assata’s adopted Yoruban name means literally “Woman in Struggle” or “She who struggles.”

US bloody hands on South Sudan's civil war


The following article first appeared on Counterpunch. We post here to give readers some background into the meaning of current events in South Sudan and particularly the role of imperialist rivalry in the conflict.

Another Proxy War

The USA v. China in South Sudan

by THOMAS C. MOUNTAIN

If one asks the question "who benefits from the South Sudanese civil war?" the answer is clear. The USA is presently the ONLY beneficiary of the ongoing horrors in South Sudan for this latest round of conflict has once again shut down the Chinese run oil fields in the country.

The USA has determined that its in its "national interests" to deprive China of access to Africa's oil fields and has succeeded in its goal of again shutting down Chinese oil production in Sudan, the only majority Chinese owned oil field in Africa.

What other evidence links the USA to the South Sudanese civil war? Thanks to Wikileaks we know that the USA via the CIA has been paying the salaries of the South Sudanese Army (SPLA) since 2009. In other words, both the soldiers ("rebels") supporting Riek Machar and the soldier supporting President Salva Kiir are being paid by the USA, paid to kill each other? Don't take my word for it, go check Wikileaks.

Another question NOT being asked by the international media is how is Riek Machar funding his army? Where is he getting the funds to pay for his soldiers ammunition, the fuel to run their trucks and equipment, to pay for their food? Where is this money coming from in a country complete destroyed by the ongoing fighting? If its coming from funds stolen by Riek Machar while he was Vice President of South Sudan, where are the funds deposited and how is he accessing them?

The USA prefers proxies to do its dirty work so as to keep its self insulated from charges of foreign interference and to keep its "hands clean" so to speak. The fact that "rebels" supporting Riek Machar have been receiving weapons from Ethiopia is a matter of public record with reports from the past year exposing what is just the tip of the iceberg in the matter.

What is Ethiopia's interest in this, isn't the Ethiopian regime a "neutral party" hosting "peace talks"?

The fact that Ethiopia has some 10,000 soldiers/peacekeepers on the Sudan/South Sudanese border this past year including the oil fields is another matter being ignored by the media. Again, thanks to Wikileaks, we know that Ethiopia has an ongoing fuel crisis and spends up to 75% of its foreign currency earnings on fuel imports. The Sudanese oil fields are the only immediately available supply for Ethiopia's problem and with Brazil promising to build a $1 billion railway from the South Sudanese border to Addis Ababa this would be the quickest solution to Ethiopia's major headache.

I for one am really, really sick of Africans being portrayed as tribalistic animals murdering each other in never ending slaughters when the only real beneficiary of such are foreign powers, mainly the USA and its western vassals. If one does just a little research into these holocausts one begins to see who really benefits and when it comes to the civil war in South Sudan the only party presently benefiting from these crimes is the USA.

How this will play out will be an omen of things to come for the USA and China are certain to be at odds in the future when it comes to exploiting Africa's oil fields which today supply half of the USA's oil imports.

Thomas C. Mountain is a life long revolutionary activist, educator and cultural historian, living and writing from Eritrea since 2006. He can be reached at thomascmountain_at_gmail_dot_com

As Geneva 2 talks begin - US crimes and double talk


Today is the first day of the Geneva 2, "so-called" peace talks regarding the civil/proxy war in Syria. There is little hope that the talks will lead to any kind of peace as the constellation of "rebel" fighters on the ground don't take them seriously, nor do they accept the Syrian National Coalition and its weak Free Syrian Army that the US and its allies want to prop up as "legitimate" rulers. At the same time Assad's army seems to be winning against the opposition in battle and is unlikely to cede control of Syria, a key condition of the US and the West going into the talks. As imperialist powers led by the US one side and Russia on the other - along with regional powers such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Iran all jockey for stronger political position, the people of Syria continue to suffer and their is little prospect that the so-called "peace talks" in Geneva will do anything to improve their situation. Here in the US let's strongly condemn the role of the US government in the atrocities being carried out on the Syrian people and call for the US government to stay out of Syrian affairs. - Nat Winn

The following article by Ajamu Baraka appeared on the Counterpunch website. Baraka lays out quite powerfully the farce of the current talks in Geneva and the crimes of US imperialism that lay behind all its hypocritical talk of seeking out a "democratic" solution. 

Undermining the Peace Conference

The Obama Administration's Orwellian Subterfuge on Syria

by Amaju Baraka

There is one thing that the so-called peace conference on Syria is guaranteed to achieve and that is that when the last speech is made and the delegates leave the hall, the grotesque bloodletting and devastation will continue for the people of Syria. Why? Because for the Obama Administration, the diplomatic process was never intended to bring about a peaceful resolution to the war. Its main purpose was always to affect their main strategic objective – the removal of President Bashir al-Assad from power and the disappearance of Syria as an independent state.

Fidelity to this goal continues to drive U.S. policy. U.S. strategists care little about the fact that, in their quest to oust the Syrian President, they have created an unholy alliance between the U.S. and its Wahhabi allies from Saudi Arabia and al-Qaeda as their "boots on the ground." It is an alliance that ensures that, should the Al-Assad government fall, the Syrian people will either live under totalitarian fundamentalist Wahhabi rule or see their country disappear as a coherent state and into warring factions.

By juxtaposing U.S. rhetoric that expresses concerns for democracy, pluralism and the human rights of the Syrian people with actual U.S. decisions, we see a dramatic illustration of the astonishing hypocrisy of U.S. policies. The Obama Administration understood the scale of human suffering it would unleash in Syria by arming, funding, training and providing political support for the opposition—opposition that it moved from a non-violent protest movement to a violent insurgency, as part of its larger geo-strategic plan for the region.

That is why commitment to regime change, rather than to a peace based on Syrian realities and the needs of the Syrian people, is the price of admission to this week's conference in Montreux, Switzerland. It is a conference that it would be more accurate to call a 'war conference' rather than a 'peace conference' due to U.S. Secretary of State Kerry's insistence on keeping the scope of the conference confined to the terms of the Geneva I communique, which calls for a political transition in Syria.

The Syrian National Coalition is a mirage. Its "Free Syrian Army" has no standing and the most effective fighters are the al-Qaeda linked jihadists armed by the U.S. and the Saudi government. They are now the real power brokers on the ground.

For these fighters, Geneva II is an irrelevant sideshow that has no bearing on them and they have rejected the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition. So who does the Syrian National Coalition represent, when the bulk of the fighters have shifted to al-Qaeda and the other more than 1,000 Islamist rebel groups that between them have 100,000 fighters, all united in their commitment to a post-Assad state in which Sharia, or Islamic Law, will be established throughout Syria?

Yet on January 16, Kerry restated the U.S. position on Geneva 2 "It is about establishing a process essential to the formation of a transition government body — governing body — with full executive powers established by mutual consent," he told reporters.

The consent of whom? Who assumes power and will a new government represent the aspirations for democracy, civil liberties, workers' rights, respect for religious and community difference that the "revolution" promised or is Syrian's future already written from the Libyan experience?

There are now voices inside and outside the Administration saying that the U.S. should abandon the Syrian National Coalition and work instead with the Salafi-Wahhabi fundamentalists who have joined together under the umbrella of the Islamic Front (IF) and are being presented as the "moderate" alternative to the radicalism of al-Qaeda. However, the Syrian people, who have a history of secularism and respect for different religions, have not signed on to a post-Assad society and government ruled by a group that has publically stated its opposition to democracy and intention to establish an Islamic state under Sharia law.

But who cares what the Syrian people want? It does not seem to matter to the U.S. that supporting Salafi-Wahhabi fundamentalism is the antithesis of the justification it gave for supporting the "revolution" against al-Assad. It does not matter because in the end the interests of the Syrian people are of little concern to these policymakers who prioritize U.S. imperialist interests above every other consideration.

In the long annuals of crimes by U.S. and Western imperialism, the slow, protracted destruction of the Syrian state, including the tens of thousands of lives sacrificed, is starting to emerge as one of its most significant crimes, if not in numbers then in terms of scale. It can be listed with crimes like the Christmas season carpet bombing of North Vietnam in 1972 and the millions murdered in Iraq during the period of sanctions and full-blown military attack.

In this era in which war is peace and wars are fought for "humanitarian purposes," it is hard for many to get to the truth. But one thing is certain—the humanitarian disaster in Syria that was supposed to be the justification for intervention by the U.S. and its allies will continue unabated for the foreseeable future.

Ajamu Baraka is a human rights activist, organizer and writer. He is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, D.C. and editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report. Baraka's latest publications include contributions to two recently published books "Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA" and "Claim No Easy Victories: The Legacy of Amilcar Cabral."

 

First Statement from the Self-Defense Group of Aquila, Michoacán

In the past week Mexico's federal government moved into towns in the southwestern state of  Michoacán to disarm self defense groups that have emerged to fight a powerful drug cartel in the region named the Knights Templar. In many of the towns the local people resisted the government forces and supported the defense groups. In the struggles a number of civilians have been killed by federal troops. Reporters in the mainstream press are reporting that the self defense groups are shady and have ties to rival drug cartels. The following statement comes from one of the defense groups in the municipality of Aquila. It appeared in english on the El Enimigo Comun website. It is dated January 18, 2014. 

First Statement from the Self-Defense Group of Aquila, Michoacán

Aquila, Michoacán
January 18, 2014
Translated by Scott Campbell
From the Self-Defense Group of Aquila, Michoacán to the general public:

Today, the residents of the municipal seat of Aquila, tired of the extortions, rapes, killings, kidnappings and all sorts of criminal acts committed by the Knights Templar; given the complete abandonment of the citizenry by the municipal and state governments who for 12 years did not provide the security needed for our people to have a peaceful and dignified life; we have decided to organize our self-defense group in order to expel organized crime from our town, and we invite the rest of the people of the municipality to rise up against crime, so they never again feel fear or pay protection fees.

As is known from the national and international media, our municipality previously attempted to remove the yoke of organized crime. This movement was led by members of the indigenous community of San Miguel Aquila. This community is one of the four that comprises the municipality, and is owner of an iron mine whose resources are exploited by the transnational mining company Ternium. This company pays a royalty to the indigenous community for the extracted iron, which it hauls from Aquila, Michoacán to Tecomán, Colima, and organized crime charges them a monthly quota. That is to say, they ask the residents to part with the money they receive. If they don't pay, they kill them. So the indigenous from this community decided to form their community guard in order to protect their heritage, life and dignity. They invited us to join them, but we, as prisoners of fear of the reprisals from organized crime, decided not to support them.

The illegitimate municipal president, Juan Hernández Ramírez, was invited to join the movement and to stop paying fees to the criminals in the region, but instead decided to flee and to leave his people at the mercy of organized crime. It is known that this president obtained his post as a result of fraudulent elections, during which the Knights Templar cartel undertook to intimidate people into voting for Juan Hernández. They also burned ballot boxes where he had a clear disadvantage. But all of their tricks were not enough, as the rival candidate won the elections. So the criminals threatened him with death so he would not take the position. And that was how Hernández Ramírez became municipal president at the hands of the Templars. The period of July 24 to August 13, 2013 – when the community guard of the indigenous from the community of San Miguel Aquila operated in the area – was one of immense calm. The rapes, kidnappings and payments of protection fees disappeared as the criminals fled. Seeing the results of the community movement, we became inspired to support the cause of the community. However, on August 14, a joint state and municipal government operation, together with the Marines, entered Aquila and dismantled the community movement. They took 45 prisoners. The Special Operations Group (GOES) and State Judicial Police killed two and also beat women, children and elderly who called for them to return the men who were defending them from organized crime. When the community guard was dismantled, the Knights Templar, under the auspices of the state and municipal governments, decided to "exterminate" all the residents of San Miguel Aquila. Miguel Alcalá Alcalá, Emilio Martínez López and Miguel Martínez López were tortured and murdered by Templar criminals. Later, Ignacio Martínez de la Cruz, Francisco Javier Ramos Walle and Carlos Zapien Díaz were disappeared on November 25, 2013 and haven't been heard from since. The remaining residents were displaced, prisoners of panic and sadness as their government did nothing to protect them.

Once the community guard was completely dismantled by the tripartite alliance of the Knights Templar-State Government-Municipal Government, the Knights Templar decided to charge fees from the entire population, which particularly impacted our humble neighbors who are of limited means. We thought that if we didn't support the community guard, the Templars would have compassion on us and wouldn't charge us fees, or at least would not increase them, nor hassle our families. However, they returned more ambitious and bloodthirsty. The Templars increased the fees because they lost income from those who were jailed, murdered, disappeared and displaced. Only some in the community hand over payment to the Templars, but they are the ones who have ties to them. They are José Cortes Méndez, Miguel Zapien Godínez, Fidel Villanueva Espinosa, Juan Carlos Martínez Ramos, Juan Zapien Sandoval, among others.

The self-defense phenomenon in Michoacán has great momentum, every day there are more people who decide to expel the criminals from their regions, which has caused the Templars to migrate to neighboring regions, in particular into our area, increasing the wave of violence in Aquila. So we are faced with the panorama of violence which we are returning to live in again, with the complicity of our state and municipal government and the apathy of our federal government. It is for these reasons that the residents of the municipal seat of Michoacán opened our eyes and decided to organize as a self-defense group in order to expel all criminals from the area. Our social struggle will not end just when Federico González, alias "El Lico," the boss of the Knights Templar cartel in the Aquila-Coahuayana region, falls, but when all his partners and gunmen do.

Our self-defense movement organized by the residents and people in general of the Aquila area is inclusive. Because of this we gave a vote of confidence to municipal president Juan Hernández Ramírez and invited him to join the struggle against crime. But the mayor once again showed his Templar leanings, he decided to leave the area. As such, our self-defense group and the people who support the movement condemn the criminal and indifferent attitude of Juan Hernández Ramírez. Let it be clear that our self-defense movement was born of social necessity, against organized crime. It seeks to reestablish peace and order for our people. We invite other towns, villages and communities in the municipality of Aquila to join our struggle, as we seek only well-being and social peace.

SINCERELY
The Self-Defense Council of Aquila, Michoacán

Mexican people form self-defense groups to battle cartels

 The following appeared on aljazeera.com

In Pictures: Mexico vigilantes battle cartels

Styling themselves as 'self-defence groups', militias in the state of Michoacan are battling powerful drug cartels.

In Mexico, a country home to powerful drug cartels, groups of armed vigilantes known as "fuerzas autodefensas", or self-defence groups, have formed in the past year. In recent weeks, they have even taken over communities in the state of Michoacan; in one case surrounding a city thought to be a key stronghold for the Knights Templar cartel and taking over nearby towns after violent street clashes.

In these newly occupied towns the citizen militia have disarmed and detained local police, claiming that both police and government forces are corrupt and in league with the cartels. 

Mexico's drug war has wreaked havoc on the country, bringing staggering levels of crime and violence. These civilians, armed with AK-47s, have been fighting back in what they see as a bid to liberate the country.

On December 29, Manuel Mirel - the leader of the Michoacan militia - harangued people in Churumuco after his forces took the town.

On December 29, Manuel Mirel - the leader of the Michoacan militia - harangued people in Churumuco after his forces took the town.

The militias advanced through the streets of Paracuaro on January 4.

The militias advanced through the streets of Paracuaro on January 4.

 

The militias have detained people they suspect of involvement with the drug cartels.

The militias have detained people they suspect of involvement with the drug cartels.

Many members of the militias are armed with rifles and semi-automatic weapons.

Many members of the militias are armed with rifles and semi-automatic weapons.

Militia members in the town of Paracuaro on January 6.

Militia members in the town of Paracuaro on January 6.

This truck bears the logo of one of the militia groups.

This truck bears the logo of one of the militia groups.

On January 10, the leader of the militia made a speech in the church square to explain to the people of Antunez the goal of their presence in the town.

On January 10, the leader of the militia made a speech in the church square to explain to the people of Antunez the goal of their presence in the town.

Vigilantes advanced on Antunez on January 11.

Vigilantes advanced on Antunez on January 11.

On January 11, vigilantes detained three teenagers after they stole a car from a journalist. They were allegedly working for the Templar cartel as "punteros", or watchers, and had set fire to two trucks on the road to Antunez.

On January 11, vigilantes detained three teenagers after they stole a car from a journalist. They were allegedly working for the Templar cartel as "punteros", or watchers, and had set fire to two trucks on the road to Antunez.

The Knights Templar set up a roadblock by burning trucks and buses in order to slow the advance of vigilantes on Antunez.

The Knights Templar set up a roadblock by burning trucks and buses in order to slow the advance of vigilantes on Antunez.

On January 11, as the militia advanced on Antunez, smoke from a roadblock set up by the cartel filled the air.

On January 11, as the militia advanced on Antunez, smoke from a roadblock set up by the cartel filled the air.

The militia awaited the signal from their leader to move towards Nueva Italia on January 12.

The militia awaited the signal from their leader to move towards Nueva Italia on January 12.

Fighting between vigilantes and the Templar cartel raged for more than three hours on January 12 in downtown Nueva Italia before the militia was able to claim victory.

Fighting between vigilantes and the Templar cartel raged for more than three hours on January 12 in downtown Nueva Italia before the militia was able to claim victory.

 

PSL on Nepal: a heroic struggle for socialism

Originally by Liberation News here.

Issues behind the election boycott in Nepal

A heroic attempt to reinvigorate the struggle for socialism.

The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, one of the largest political forces in the country, is leading a boycott of the country's upcoming Constituent Assembly elections, scheduled for Nov. 19. Thirty-two other political parties initially joined in the boycott movement.

A one-day general strike across Nepal’s urban centers shut down transportation, business, industrial facilities and education houses Nov. 11. This is being followed by a transportation strike to last through election day. The state has responded with violent repression, arrests and raids against strike and election boycott organizers. The government’s election “security” plan involves the deployment of 61,000 soldiers across the country along with 54,000 police, 20,000 paramilitary Armed Police Force officers and 40,000 temporary police, a blatant violation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the 1996-2006 People’s War led by the Maoists.

There have been scores of arrests targeting CPN-M cadre. Many activists were dragged from their homes in the middle of the night without official warrant.

The first Constituent Assembly, tasked with drafting a new constitution, was constructed after a 10-year armed struggle led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). That struggle led to the 2006 “People’s Movement 2,” which finally overthrew the brutal feudal monarchy headed by King Gyanendra. The Constituent Assembly’s term finally expired in 2012, after multiple extensions, without having produced the constitution. This left Nepal in a state of political limbo that the ruling elites hope to break with the second CA election on Nov. 19.

The CPN-M argues that the election is a plot, primarily authored by India, to impede Nepal’s self-determination. There is a long history of Indian expansionism infringing on the sovereignty of smaller South Asian nations–the classic example being the annexation of Sikkim in 1975. The ruling classes of Nepal and India coordinate closely, with the latter playing the dominant role while subjecting the former to unequal trade terms.

The first CA election in 2008 fulfilled a key demand of the communist-led People’s War: abolishing the monarchy and breaking up the feudal land holdings. These were key tasks of the country’s bourgeois democratic revolution, along with the demand for a federal system that respected the rights of Nepal’s many nationalities. The stated doctrine of the Maoists was that this stage would facilitate, not impede, the ultimate seizure of power by the workers and peasants.

The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)–which added the word “Unified” after a series of controversial mergers–enjoyed the prestige of leading the People’s War and scored huge electoral victories. 

Sharp differences among communist forces

Read more...

Filipino Maoists: All out mobilization for typhoon relief

Originally published at Democracy and Class Struggle here.

 

MEDIA RELEASE
CPP Information Bureau
11 November 2013

Carry out all-out mobilization for relief support to disaster victims

T

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) calls on the entire Filipino people, including those overseas, to mobilize and generate the maximum possible emergency funds and supplies for the victims of the recent super typhoon Yoland (international name Haiyan).

An estimated nine million people, or 10% of the entire Filipino population, suffered the wrath of the storm considered to be the strongest in recorded history, which barreled through 36 provinces. Majority of the victims of the storm are small peasants, farm workers, fisherfolk, mountain people, workers and other poor people who are the most vulnerable to the storm.

Wide swathes of land were engulfed by the surging seas resulting in massive destruction of public infrastructure, homes, property and agricultural land. It is feared that the number of deaths may run up to several thousand people.

The revolutionary forces under the CPP commiserate with the entire Filipino people, especially those who lost friends and family members and who are suffering from the grave impact.

The CPP calls on all progressive and democratic forces to immediately organize the collection of funds and supplies for relief and rehabilitation work and ensure their immediate transport of these to the affected areas. Main attention is justifiably centered on extending assistance to Tacloban and the Eastern Visayas provinces. There should also be sufficient attention given to other areas in Central Visayas, Panay, Negros, Masbate, Mindoro and Palawan as well as in Bicol, Southern Tagalog and Eastern and Northern Mindanao.

The national mobilization of resources is necessary to sufficiently extend assistance to all areas devastated by the storm. There must be appropriate national coordination and cooperation in order to appropriately distribute help and supplies. Priority should be given to those requiring immediate medical attention, the children and the elderly.

The CPP calls for the formation of organizations of disaster victims in order to facilitate the distribution of emergency supplies and prevent the situation from leading to widespread chaos. The people need these organizations of disaster victims in order to extend information about their situation and needs.

The commands of the New People’s Army (NPA) units operating in the devastated areas have immediately changed their mode of operation and have carried out search, rescue, relief and rehabilitation efforts.

 

Within the guerrilla front areas, barrio (village) committees, provisional revolutionary government units, and revolutionary mass organizations have immediately been mobilized to carry out efforts to assist the people and organize rehabilitation efforts to help the people resume production and other aspects of their normal lives.

 

In line with policy, the concerned NPA commands, including the NPA Mt. Amandewin Command (NPA-Leyte Island), and leading committees of the CPP can issue appropriate ceasefire orders to their respective units, putting NPA units on defensive mode but ever vigilant to enemy offensive operations. These can seek to facilitate the entry of organizations and agencies extending relief and emergency supply and ensure the safety of relief workers. The people should vigorously oppose continued suppression activities being conducted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines under Oplan Bayanihan, especially in areas ravaged by the storm.

 

The Filipino people are angered over the Aquino regime’s slow and terribly inadequate response to the disaster. They critize Aquino for blaming the people for being unprepared. In the hours immediately after the storm, the Aquino government was practically absent in

Tacloban and other parts of the country. They further criticize Aquino for making use of the disaster to make a pitch for the much-detested President’s Social Fund and Disbursement Acceleration Program when, in fact, it has allotted only a minuscule for calamity response.

On the other hand, the CPP extends the people’s gratitude and commendation to various local and international media agencies which have made use of their resources to provide crucial information service to disaster victims. The Filipino people welcome local and foreign volunteer civilian organizations and agencies whose contributions have been invaluable.

The CPP calls on all international civilian agencies to extend maximum possible support to the victims of the disaster. The CPP denounces the Aquino and US governments for taking advantage of the disaster to again deploy more US warships and armed US soldiers in various areas in violation of Philippine sovereignty. The CPP urges foreign governments who wish to extend aid and direct help to course their assistance through their civilian agencies or organizations.

Obama and Syria: this is a bloodletting

U.S. preparations for attacking Syria and Obama's speech

The Middle East is a pivotal region for the whole world – economically and geopolitically – and the U.S. has dominated it since WW 2. Everything it has done and continues to do is based on maintaining and deepening that domination. Right now the region is in tremendous upheaval – the old arrangements that "held things together" (for the imperialists and local butchers) have come under increasing strain and in some cases begun to disintegrate, and there is a massive scramble by all kinds of forces. These include rivals like the Russians, who back Assad; "friendly" imperialists like the French, who back the rebels; all kinds of local butchers; etc. And, painfully, there is no coherent progressive force acting within this mix. ...

In this situation, the U.S. may be pulling a page from the bloody playbook it used in the Iran-Iraq War. In that war, the U.S. aimed for both sides to devastate each other, and the result was a million deaths.

Many people will see this as a situation in which "something must be done." Even people who have some sense that the U.S. is driven by anything but humanitarian motives will argue that at least U.S. intervention will stop the horror right now.

But reality doesn't work that way. It matters – in fact it is decisive – to understand the nature of a U.S. attack on Syria, and what would be driving it. It would be an attack driven by the needs of a global capitalist-imperialist superpower intent on maintaining its domination of the planet. How is any move on that basis going to contribute anything positive to a humanitarian nightmare in Syria?

 

2 September 2013. Following are excerpts from two articles that appeared in Revolution, newspaper of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. The first, posted on 27 August 2013, is entitled "Only Worse Suffering and Horrors Can Result from a U.S. Attack on Syria". The second, signed by Larry Everest, was called "Obama's Speech on Syria: Lies to Justify an Immoral War".

There is a growing danger of a direct U.S. military attack on Syria – which is being framed as a "surgical strike"– using planes and/or Cruise missiles. U.S. Secretary of "Defence" Hagel announced that "the U.S. military is "ready to go" if ordered to attack Syria.

These attacks must be opposed with determined political protest and clear-eyed understanding of how they would make the situation worse. It is essential that people understand what is behind U.S. moves and not be duped into passive complicity with a U.S. attack on Syria that would make the situation much worse for the people of Syria, and the world.

The rulers of the U.S. view atrocities and war crimes – real, or invented – through the warped and twisted lens of "How does this work for us." Shelling hospitals, like Israel did in the 2008-9 massacre in Gaza is ignored. Staged, fake human rights outrages, like false testimony in the U.S. Congress that Iraqi troops disconnected incubators killing babies in Kuwait are concocted and then invoked to justify all kinds of U.S. crimes. The incubator hoax was invoked to justify the first U.S. invasion of Iraq, "Operation Desert Storm", that killed 100,000 Iraqis and created great suffering for millions, including babies who died as a result of cutbacks in medical care resulting from U.S. sanctions that followed that war.

Read more...

The people stand up in Colombia

While everyone's eyes have turned toward an impending US attack on Syria, another people's uprising has emerged, this time in Colombia. Campesinos originally initiated the uprising in opposition to free trade agreements with the United States and the European Union. These trade agreements are ruining their way of life, by driving down prices of agricultural goods and driving many into the slums around Bogota. Starting on August 19th as a movement of campesinos, the protests have grown as miners, students, and others joined and declared their indignation with the current situation.

The mainstream media has been deafeningly silent about the uprisings in Colombia which have involved hundreds of thousands of people and have faced heavy police and even military repression. As we post this the miltary has occupied Bogota and the situation has calmed down. 

The Colombian government has been the main US ally in Latin America in the context of a situation where a number of left wing governments have been elected into power. This makes the events in Colombia all the more significant.

The following article from Green Left Weekly sharply lays out some of the context and details of the current rebellion. I encourage others to share more information, including on the clashes between tens of thousands of students and police on Thursday (August 29th), that the Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos has used to red-bait and to call in the army. (intro by Nat Winn)

Colombia: Rural uprising breaks out for fair prices, against 'free trade'

by Christian Tym

An uprising of the rural poor (campesinos) in Colombia entered its 11th day on August 29. An estimated 250,000 people took part in strikes and highway blockades across the South American country's highlands, where most of Colombia's population of 42 million is concentrated.

The central objective of the uprising is to guarantee minimum prices for agricultural products, and to annul Colombia's free trade agreements (FTAs) with the United States and the European Union.

The blockades are strongest in the provinces of Boyaca and Cundinamara, in the centre of the country around the capital, Bogota. The region is home to 8.5 million people.

Despite worsening food scarcity, residents in Bogota have shown their support for the uprising by blockading highways on the outskirts of the city, where they have engaged in a running battle with riot police.

In the south of the country, blockades in the provinces of Narino, Caqueta and Cauca have cut off traffic between Colombia and Ecuador and countries further south.

Protesters have also temporarily blockaded highways around Cali and Medellin, Colombia's second and third-largest cities, over the past week and a half. As of August 27, 48 highways were blockaded across eight provinces.

Violence

As of August 25, one police officer had been killed and more than 160 wounded in the uprising, according to the government.

The casualty list for the campesinos remains unknown. Though none have been killed, there have no doubt been several hundred if not a few thousand injured among the protesters.

The campesinos' central negotiating committee has denounced the "criminalisation of the protests, the disproportionate use of force, and the police use of firearms" to create fear and intimidation.

A student journalist arrested at the site of one blockade also denounced police violence. Along with five others arrested with him, he was beaten by police after being captured. After being charged and released, the journalist had to be hospitalised.

Oscar Gutierrez, spokesperson for Dignidad Cafetera (Dignity for Coffee-Growers), told Associated Press: "We are fighting [the riot police], but it is a very difficult situation. The government is really sticking it to us."

Further intensifying the situation, on August 25 a guerrilla attack in the south-east reportedly killed 14 Colombian army soldiers. The attackers were unknown, but may have been guerrillas from the left-wing National Liberation Army (ELN). The ELN is not taking part in the peace negotiations being held in Cuba between the Colombian government and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), the largest guerrilla army on the continent.

Context

When the uprising began on August 19, the central concern was the collapsing prices for agricultural products provoked by FTAs with the US and EU. The campesinos want minimum price guarantees for their products, along with government support for fertilisers and other inputs.

Agriculture in the US and EU is heavily subsidised. An estimated 18% of US farmers' income comes from government subsidies, and in the EU the figure is 35%. In this context, the "free-trade" deals cut between Colombia and the US and EU have left Colombian campesinos in an impossible situation.

"Before, we used to earn 800 pesos [$0.46] for every litre of milk sold," said Moisés Delgado, a campesino spokesperson.
"Now, with the free trade agreement, we only get 500 pesos and we cannot live off this."

The FTA with the US came into effect in May last year.

This situation has forced many campesinos to sell their lands and join the burgeoning slums in Colombia's cities. This has led to the further concentration of land in the hands of agribusiness.

This also fits with one of the FTA's central aims ― to increase the profitability of Colombian textile factories, which rely on cheap urban labour.

President Juan Manuel Santos claims to want to find a solution to the problem, "so that the campesinos can have a dignified income, can stay in the countryside, and can see the future with hope and optimism". But his trade policies tell a different story.

As Cesar Pachon, leader of the potato-growers sector, made clear, the uprising follows protests in November 2011 and May, each of which led to negotiations with Santos's administration, but no real change.

"We have been tricked twice now," Pachon said. "This time we are not going to yield until we see dramatic solutions."

The rural uprising has since become a lightning rod for discontent against the US-backed Colombian government. This extends to opposition to privatisation of social services and cheap concessions to multinational mining corporations.

On August 28, campesinos were joined in protest by unions representing teachers, health-sector workers, students and industrial workers. Truck drivers are also striking alongside the campesinos.

regional implications

Colombia is the highest recipient of US military aid in Latin America and is the US's key ally in the region. In a region of left and left-leaning governments pursuing policies aimed at regional independence from Europe and North America, Colombia hosts several US military bases.

In June, it also made overtures towards participation in Nato. Its right-wing, US-friendly stance therefore stymies further integration between the left-wing ALBA alliance, and particularly between Venezuela and Ecuador. With elections due in May next year, any change in the political climate in Colombia would be of dramatic significance for South America.

Colombia's right-wing status quo is, however, sustained by perpetual political violence. The country has been repeatedly condemned by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for the high rates of assassination of journalists, human rights workers and trade unionists.

The campesinos' negotiating committee has denounced paramilitary intimidation of protesters at several sites. They also report that police have been offering up to 10 million pesos ($5000) to protesters who identify the uprising's leaders.

A serious campaign for political change has begun in Colombia, but significant progress will come about only through further, intense struggle.

 

 

India: The Right to the City

Dr. Parthosarathy Ray gives a lecture entitled, "India: An Urban Battleground," on urban struggles and the right to the city in India.