Thursday, February 23, 2017

2568. World Meeting of Popular Movements: Modesto Manifesto

By Popular Movements, Modesto, California, February 19, 2017
Participants in the Popular Movements in Modesto, California, February 16, 2017. CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski

An initiative of Pope Francis, the World Meeting of Popular Movements’ (WMPM) purpose is to create an “encounter” between Church leadership and grassroots organizations working to address the “economy of exclusion and inequality” (Joy of the Gospel, nos. 53-54) by working for structural changes that promote social, economic and racial justice.

Popular movements are grassroots organizations and social movements established around the world by people whose inalienable rights to decent work, decent housing, and fertile land and food are undermined, threatened or denied outright. These movements primarily represent three increasingly excluded social sectors:
  • workers who are at risk or lack job security;
  • landless farmers, family farmers, indigenous people and those at risk of being driven off the land by large agribusiness corporations and violence; and
  • the marginalized and forgotten, including persons who are homeless and persons living in communities without adequate infrastructure.

The World Meeting of Popular Movements (WMPM) is designed to bring these communities together with faith leaders from across the world.

U.S. Regional Meetings

Attendance for the U.S. Regional WMPM is by invitation only.

The U.S. Regional WMPM, to be held February 16-19, 2017 in Modesto, California, will bring together hundreds of grassroots leaders from various cultures and communities across the United States with representatives from the Vatican, international grassroots groups, and U.S. Bishops. The convening of faith and social justice movement leaders is co-sponsored by the Vatican’s department for Integral Human Development (IHD), the Catholic Campaign for Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and PICO National Network.

The Organizing Committee for the Modesto meeting has included representatives from the following groups:
  • Direct Action & Research Training Center
  • Gamaliel Foundation
  • Homeboy Industries
  • Interfaith Worker Justice
  • Jesuit Ministries of the Jesuit Conference of Canada & the United States
  • National Domestic Workers Alliance
  • PICO National Network
  • Service Employees International Union
  • U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives
  • View the 2017 WMPM Agenda
  • Ver la agenda en español

*      *      *

Manifesto of the Modesto, California, meeting
Grassroots popular movement leaders from across the United States, along with our brothers and sisters from 12 countries met for the First U.S. Regional Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto California, February 16-19, 2017. Two-dozen U.S. Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Peter Turkson, staff from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Vatican department for the Promotion of Integral Human Development joined us during our meeting.

We live every day the reality that Pope Francis describes when he says that our families and communities are being assaulted by a “system that causes enormous suffering to the human family, simultaneously assaulting people’s dignity and our Common Home in order to sustain the invisible tyranny of money that only guarantees the privileges of a few.” With the Pope we recognize that we are at a “historic turning-point” and that resolution of “this worsening crisis” depends on the participation and action of popular movements.

In this spirit, we transmit the following urgent message to popular movement members, and leaders in the United States and globally, and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Pope Francis.

We believe that every human is sacred with equal claim to safe water, education, health care, housing and family-sustaining jobs. All people are protagonists of their future. We each have a right to be included in the decisions that shape our lives. Our faith leaders and congregations are called to stand with those whose backs are against the wall. We will be remembered not just by the empathy we express but by the actions we take. Our economy is meant to be in service of people not profit. Racism and all forms of human hierarchy, whether based on skin color, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, arrest and conviction records, immigration status, religion or ethnicity are immoral.

We experience the pain inflicted on people by racial discrimination and economic oppression. The lack of good jobs, affordable housing and clean water and air is literally killing people. Racism is stripping Black, Latino, Asian, Muslim, Native people of their humanity and fueling police abuse and mass-incarceration, and fueling a crisis of homelessness and displacement. Raids and Trump Administration Executive Orders are scapegoating immigrants and ripping families apart.

We understand that a small elite is growing wealthy and powerful off the suffering of our families. Racism and White Supremacy are America’s original sins. They continue to justify a system of unregulated capitalism that idolizes wealth accumulation over human needs. Yet too often our faith communities and religious leaders fail to heed the mandate to denounce greed and stand with the poor and vulnerable.  The issues we are facing are intertwined and require all of our voices and actions.

As Pope Francis told us: “The system’s gangrene cannot be whitewashed forever because sooner or later the stench becomes too strong; and when it can no longer be denied, the same power that spawned this state of affairs sets about manipulating fear, insecurity, quarrels, and even people’s justified indignation, in order to shift the responsibility for all these ills onto a “non-neighbor.”

We propose the following actions:

1. Sanctuary

We urge every faith community, including every Catholic parish, to declare themselves a sanctuary for people facing deportation and those being targeted based on religion, race or political beliefs. Being a sanctuary can include hosting families at-risk of deportation, accompanying people to ICE check-ins, organizing to free people from detention, holding Defend Your Rights trainings and organizing rapid response teams. All cities, counties and states should adopt policies that get ICE out of our schools, courts and jails, stop handing over people to ICE and end practices that criminalize people of color through aggressive policing and over-incarceration.

As Pope Francis has said to us: “Who is this innkeeper? It is the Church, the Christian community, people of compassion and solidarity, social organizations. It is us, it is you, to whom the Lord Jesus daily entrusts those who are afflicted in body and spirit, so that we can continue pouring out all of his immeasurable mercy and salvation upon them.”

2. Disrupting oppression and dehumanization

We must put our bodies, money and institutional power at risk to protect our families and communities, using tools that include boycotts, strikes, and non-violent civil disobedience.

As Bishop Robert McElroy said to us, “We must disrupt those who would seek to send troops into our communities to deport the undocumented, to destroy our families. We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies. We must disrupt those who train us to see Muslim men & women as a source of threat rather than children of God. We must disrupt those who would take away healthcare, who would take food from our children.”

3. Bold prophetic leadership from faith communities

At this moment of fear and anxiety, we urge our clergy and faith communities to speak and act boldly in solidarity with our people. As Cardinal Tobin shared with us, sometimes our faith leaders need to walk out in front and show that they are not afraid either. We ask our Catholic Bishops to write a covenant that spells out specific actions that dioceses and parishes should take to protect families in the areas of immigration, racism, jobs, housing, and the environment.

4. One People, One Fight

We commit to break down the walls that divide our struggles. We will not let corporate and political elites pit us against each other. We are in one fight to rebuild a society in which every person is seen as fully human, has a full voice in the decisions that shape their lives and is able to thrive and reach their human potential.

5. International Week of Action May 1-7, 2017

We are calling on people in the U.S. and across the globe to stand together against hatred and attacks on families during a week of action May 1-7, 2017.

6. State and regional meetings of popular movements

We propose meetings of popular movements in each of our states over the next six months to bring this statement, the vision of the World Meetings and the Pope’s message of hope and courage to every community in the United States.

7. Popular education

We propose to develop a shared curriculum and popular education program to equip people with analysis and tools to transform the world. We will focus on the development and leadership of young people. We will draw on the wisdom of our faith and cultural traditions, including Catholic Social Teaching. We recognize that our spiritual and political selves are inseparable. We have a moral obligation to confront and disrupt injustice.

8. Political power

To defend our families and protect our values we must build political power. We must change the electorate to reflect our communities, through massive efforts to reach out to tens of millions of voters who are ignored and taken for granted by candidates and parties. We must hold elected officials accountable to the common good and encourage people in our communities to take leadership themselves, including running for office, so that we can govern the communities in which we live.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

2567. Book Review: The Liberal Defense of Murder

By Philipe Sands, The Guardian, February 20, 2009

This book addresses two issues: why the US uses force, and why some leftists and liberals provide support. Both give rise to speculative responses, and propel the writer into a hazardous exercise. Who can say, after all, the real reason that President Bush decided to go to war in Iraq, or what truly motivated a particular individual to lend support. Beyond instinct or intuition, both issues require mastery of many factors - history, geopolitics, money, psychology, political philosophy, to suggest but a few. To engage in both tasks, as Richard Seymour does with this ambitious book, is to undertake a project that faces considerable hurdles.

Seymour believes that the US has long been engaged in an imperial enterprise, and that its foot soldiers include a great number of liberals and progressives (Nick Cohen and Michael Ignatieff among them). Seymour casts these thinkers and writers as enablers. "Imperialism is not a distant relic, but a living reality," he writes, "and the moralisation of the means of violence has been the task of liberal and progressive intellectuals since they first competed with clerics for moral authority." The charge is deep. It may be sustainable for some of his targets, in some instances, but the generality of the attack undermines its effectiveness.

One reason is that Seymour never grapples with the reality that the US has used force for a multitude of different reasons over the past five decades, and that some instances are justifiable whereas others are not. In short, not every use of force justifies a charge of murder. You need some basic criteria to distinguish between what is just and unjust, lawful and unlawful, murderous or not. Seymour doesn't identify any. On this account, it seems all force is wrong, so that any liberal support may be treated as liberal justification for murder. That doesn't hold up. Iraq I (1990) wasn't Kosovo, which wasn't Sierra Leone, which wasn't Afghanistan, which wasn't Iraq II (2003). There is no seamless link between these military expeditions. The reality is more complex, and requires engagement with a basic question: when can one state use military force against another?

The answer, in law if not morality, was "settled" by the UN charter in 1945, a document that Seymour ignores. Against the backdrop of the second world war, the then world of nation states - less numerous than today, ostensibly more colonial - came together to replace the status quo that basically allowed them to use force whenever they wanted. Under the new rules, military force was lawful in just two circumstances: self-defence (when an armed attack had occurred or was imminent) or where the security council authorised its use (requiring a resolution adopted by a positive vote with no permanent member voting against). That, at least, was the theory. In practice, the scheme had many opponents, not least the neocons who sat in the upper galleries of the Bush administration, drawing inspiration from another bunch of former progressives - men such as Irving Kristol and Nathan Glazer - from the 1950s who proceeded to travel another path.

The UN drafters sowed the seeds for a third possible justification for war, the heart of Seymour's critique. For the first time in a multilateral treaty, the charter gave legal force to the notion of fundamental human rights for all. But that commitment was to be balanced with an obligation not to interfere in the domestic affairs of another state. Ever since, the $64m issue has been how to balance these competing commitments. Did the drafters of the charter envisage circumstances in which a huge threat to human rights in one country could justify the use of force? An affirmative answer opens the door to humanitarian intervention. Seymour seems to come down on the side of those who believe human rights violations should not justify force, while many of those he aims at - irrespective of whether or why they supported some or all of Iraq I and II, or Kosovo, or Afghanistan (in 2001) - take the opposite view.

So the book becomes a bit of a rant. In charting the intellectual roots of this apparently open-ended appetite for violence, mayhem and murder, important points of detail are missed - what was the justification for the war? - and the transformed framework of rules and principles is bypassed. Iraq I was explicitly authorised by security council resolution, Iraq II was not. Afghanistan was, at least initially, seen to be justified by the unanimous security council resolution 1373, an act of self-defence. Many will not be pleased by such security council actions, but their existence has important consequences and they cannot be ignored.

Humanitarian intervention has been the subject of longstanding attempts at codification. After Kosovo, which was problematic on many grounds, the Canadian government sponsored an effort to develop new principles, known as the Responsibility to Protect. After 2003, that effort ground to a halt, as Iraq made clear the potential for abuse. Over the long term, the real critique of those who supported the latest Iraq war is that they killed off any hope, for now at least, of garnering support to use force where massive violations of fundamental human rights are taking place. It is not sufficient to label the US as "the chief inheritor of the legacy of violent white supremacy". The more obvious conclusion - if such a claim is to be made - is that those who are on the receiving end of what Seymour perceives as US excess have, through the acts of their own governments, or their failure to object, contributed to their own oppression.

The Liberal Defence of Murder glosses over vastly important issues. Was the post-second world war human rights project intended to create new conditions of colonial domination? Has it contributed to circumstances in which there will be more oppression and misery, rather than less? Have the economic rules promoting globalisation engendered war? A scattershot aim at "liberal and progressive intellectuals" doesn't hit home. Force can be justifiable in some circumstances, in domestic law and in international law. The difficult issue is when, and the answer to that turns on the particularities of each case. The generality of Seymour's conclusion, the broad sweep of his argument and the passion of his attack are overstated, dissipating their force. More nuance and context could have made this potentially important book compelling. It is a shame, as buried in these pages and their footnotes is a great deal of damning material on the apologists of recent illegalities.

2566. Book Review: The Intimacies of Four Continents

By John Holmwood, Theory, Culture and Society, November 4, 2015

Abstract: Lisa Lowe’s book addresses the colonial relationships that connect the continents of Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. These relationships of appropriation and dispossession are integral to liberal thought and no matter how much it seeks to present itself as transcending these contexts, liberal thought is continually fractured by them. The book asks its readers to confront the formation of modern political subjectivity and its implication in the very disciplinary subjects through which we claim to know.

This is a challenging book, which should be read by all those interested in the history of capitalism and the formation of the social sciences. It is especially challenging to sociologists who have, for too long, worked with a standard account that serves to establish core concepts of contemporary sociology. According to this standard account, capitalist modernity is a key object of sociological inquiry which focuses on the rise in Europe of the nation state, political democracy and a civil society organised around market exchanges. The colonial conditions of modernity rarely get a look in.

Within sociology, the standard approach has been challenged by Gurminder K Bhambra (2014) and her idea of connected sociologies. Lisa Lowe – professor of English and American studies at Tufts University – develops a similar argument for an expansive understanding of the global social and cultural conditions of what is typically regarded as European modernity. For many of us working in the social sciences, we might be moved to ask at the end of the book; why has our range of engagements with the history of modernity been so limited? And why are the humanities more open to the insights of postcolonial critique than the social sciences?

Lowe’s arguments are compelling, even if her data is unfamiliar. The focus of her book is, “the often obscure connections between the emergence of European liberalism, settler colonialism in the Americas, the transatlantic slave trade, and the East Indies and China trades in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century” (2015: 1). Where do we learn of these phenomena in our histories of sociology? ‘Settler colonialism’, for example, is not one of our ‘forms’ of capitalist modernity, at least not in the standard sociological accounts, and not in what we teach our students. We may have learned to add to the writers deemed to be canonical, but we have yet to disrupt our conceptual canon.

Lowe makes a bold claim and a moral claim and I, for one, am persuaded by both aspects: “the social inequalities of our time are a legacy of these process through which ‘the human’ is ‘freed’ by liberal forms, while other subjects, practices, and geographies are placed at a distance from the ‘human’” (2015: 2). The dispossession of Native Americans through colonial enclosure, the movement of populations through enslavement and indenture – the figure of the ‘slave’ and the ‘coolie’ – are these not all implicated in the protection of our ‘hard-earned’ patrimony in the fences currently erected in the US and in Europe against migrants? We continue to promote our invention of freedom and deny it in the present, just as we denied it in the past. Importantly, we are implicated as liberal subjects – as citizens – but we are also implicated as purveyors of social scientific reason formed in the very concepts that are at issue.

The arguments of the book are more aligned to cultural studies than to studies of social structure, but we should not be insensible to their mutual implication. The chapters set out different ‘journeys’ and the narratives they describe illustrate and illuminate mutual entailments of freedom and subjugation, privilege and degradation, possession and expropriation – these entailments are the ‘intimacies’ of the title. They are geographically extensive and they bring social structures of colonial modernity in their wake.

Lowe sets out four key journeys: the life journey, or autobiography, of formerly enslaved African, Olaudah Equiano, published in London 1789 in the same year as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in Paris; Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and the journeys of colonial commodities that embroider the text and provide key settings, unobtrusive in the background but defining meanings; the journeys of the East India Company to China and Hong Kong establishing trades in opium and indentured labour; the journeys of enslaved Africans and their representation in historical narratives that elide the self-emancipations recorded by C.L.R. James and W.E.B. Du Bois.

There is much to enjoy in each of these chapters, especially, the dialectical interweaving of liberal conceptions and their negation, and the careful delineation of context and claim. Ultimately, however, the book is a dissection of liberalism and its fractured and fracturing presence in the modern world. It takes its place alongside, Chakrabarty’s (1989) Provincializing Europe, or Mehta’s (1999) Liberalism and Empire. More than anything, it also sends us back to C.L.R. James (1963 [1938]) and his Black Jacobins, not least because one of the inspirations was his remark that, “Thackeray, not Marx, bears the heaviest responsibility for me” (cited by Lowe 2015: 73). For Lowe, it is Thackeray, rather than Marx, who registers the presence of colonial commodities and their circulation through Victorian households.

Yinko Shonibare’s ship in a bottle which was installed on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square in 2010-2012, confronted Nelson’s column celebrating his victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. Lowe chooses it as an illustration of her book and it is fitting. Shonibare’s ship confronts Britain’s colonial and Imperial past, but in looking to the past, it also brings that past into the present where it continues to live. This is precisely the point of Lowe’s book. Our political discourses and our disciplinary discourses are each formed by the past. The promise of freedom remains a promise precisely because it constructs ‘the human’ in a separation from ‘other humanities’ which remain always displaced in a promise that, for them, is unrealised.

Bhambra, Gurminder K. (2014) Connected Sociologies, London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Chakrabarty, Dipesh (1989) Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
James, C.L.R. (1963) The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. New York: Vintage.
Mehta, Uday Singh (1999) Liberalism and Empire. A Study in Nineteenth Century British Liberal Thought. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

John Holmwood is Professor of Sociology in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham.

Monday, February 20, 2017

2565. 'Science for the people': Researchers Challenge Trump Outside US Conference

By Hannah Delvin and Alan Yuhas, The Guardian, February 19, 2017
Members of the scientific community, environmental advocates, and supporters demonstrate on Sunday in Boston. Photograph: Steven Senne/AP

Hundreds of scientists rallied in Boston on Sunday to protest what they call the “direct attack” of Donald Trump and Republicans on research, scientific institutions and facts themselves, as a community reckons, and argues, with a new era of American politics.

Gathering in Boston’s Copley Square, outside the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), several scientists gave speeches to a crowd holding signs shaped like beakers and reading “Stand up for science”. The speeches reflected a sea change in the culture of many labs and universities, where many researchers long maintained that good scientific work could speak for itself.

At the AAAS conference, scientists this week have discussed political activism, the psychology of “fake news” , and how to protect climate science from hostile governments. But a rift has opened up in the community between those in favor and those opposed to rallies focused on science, including a March for Science planned across multiple cities in April.

Professor Jim Gates, the eminent string theorist and former adviser to Barack Obama, told journalists that the march appeared to lack an end goal – a prerequisite for political action – and would simply be perceived as “science against Trump”.

“At least as far as I can detect, there is no theory of action behind this,” he said. “This bothers me tremendously.

“I don’t understand how the organisers of this march can guard against provocateurs, quite frankly,” he added. “I don’t think they’re ready for that, I don’t think they’re considering that kind of danger. To have science represented as this political force I think is just extraordinarily dangerous.”

Others urged the protesters on, including Rush Holt, the CEO of AAAS, said that his organization would work with other US societies to “make the march a success”.

“It’s the first time in my 50-year career that I have seen people speaking up for science at large,” he said. “I’ve seen for or against nuclear power or whatever. This is an unusual phenomenon.”

Astrid Caldas, a climate scientist and member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that the rally showed that “scientists who are usually happy in the corner of their labs are speaking”.

“I think that scientists are realizing that they have to use their voice, as scientists, in self-defense.”

Dr Jacquelyn Gill, an ecologist at the University of Maine, was one of the speakers Sunday, and is tentatively considering whether to run for Congress in 2018.

“A lot of scientists are realizing that the institutions that fund and support and science in this country – science for everyone, publicly funded and transparent – those institutions are under direct attack,” she told the Guardian.

Trump, she said, “not only doesn’t value our institutions, he doesn’t seem to value evidence-based decision making at all. That is alarming to us.”

The president’s views about science – he has variously called global warming a “hoax” and pledged to “unlock the mysteries of space” – is not the only concern on the scientists’ minds. “I’m concerned that we’re going to lose the EPA. I’m concerned that we’re going to lose regulations that have a direct impact on human health, like automobile emissions,” Gill said. “People will get sicker. People will die because of a lack of environmental regulation and medical research.”

 Activists in Boston call attention to what they say are the increasing threats to science and scientific research under the administration of Donald Trump.

Beka Economopoulos, one of the rally’s organizers and a co-founder of the Natural History Museum, a mobile exhibition, said that scientists could no longer truly avoid politics. “That ship has sailed,” she said, noting that researchers have a long history protesting, for instance against nuclear proliferation in the 1970s.

“It’s not just about scientists, it’s about science,” she said. “Communities are going to bear the brunt of the impacts of these attacks on science in the public interest.”

Gill also stressed that the nascent movement wanted to stress “science for the people, by the people and for the people”.

Arguments about “trimming the fat” of budgets, she said, did not stand up to scrutiny, considering that the government’s science and medical research funding makes up a tiny percentage of the federal budget.

“That money has got one of the best returns on investment you could possibly hope for,” she said. “The real stakeholders are the citizens that stand to gain or lose the most if the institutions are weakened.”

Another organizer, Emily Southard, said that the rally and the march in Washington, were meant to help “demystify what scientists do”.

She defended “science that delivers clean, safe drinking water to our faucets, science that’s being taken for granted – and that’s the science that’s being taken under attack.”

Economopoulos used the Environmental Protection Agency as an example, criticizing its newly confirmed head, who repeatedly sued the agency in favor of corporations as Oklahoma attorney general . “We have a sort of fox in the henhouse situation here with Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA, an agency that he has sued 14 times,” she said.

Gill also said that researchers needed to do more to take control of their image, noting the ways scientists had been politicized by lawmakers in debates over climate science. “Throwing more information or more data doesn’t really change minds, whether it’s climate change or vaccines,” she said. “Empathy trumps fact when it comes to people’s minds.”

Such disputes were nothing new, she said: “Science and religion clashes go back to Darwin and Galileo and Copernicus.”

Caldas said that she hoped scientists would continue organize at local levels. “The federal government may not be on board, but local government works hardest with people who see these problems at their doorsteps, and they cannot deny it.”

Members of Congress facing re-election, she said, were already starting to feel pressure from constituents about climate change. “The stakes are really high but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

2564. Book Review: Liberalism: A Counter-History

By Chris Byron, Marx and Philosophy, January 31, 2013

Liberalism: A Counter-History is Domenico Losurdo’s trenchant analysis of the question what is Liberalism in its historical development and who may we consider to be a Liberal? Without very serious reflection few people would contest that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, John Locke, Thomas Paine, Alexis de Tocqueville, to name but a few, are both Liberals, and worthy of the designation. Losurdo however demonstrates that the classical Liberals we learned about in school are in fact separated by huge gulfs in their philosophical views and political practice. Moreover, what frequently unites them in practice is more their tolerance and often cheerful willingness in implementing certain forms of severe oppression (e.g., indigenous genocides, slavery, work labor camps). At the end of Losurdo’s masterful condemnation, the theory of Liberalism, which we have come to take for granted, and the founders who we assume with equal certainty to be embodying some particular philosophy, are left with only the most tenuous of connections to any set of pristine principles regarding the Liberty of man.

Losurdo opens his work admitting that even posing his question is somewhat ‘embarrassing’; the knee-jerk response is that Liberalism has always been the philosophic-politico tradition concerned with the Liberty of the individual. Yet the dawn of Liberalism on either side of the Atlantic, as best expressed by the writings of Locke, Grotius, Franklin, and Smith, were conjoined to, and involved in, ‘a process of systematic expropriation and practical genocide first of the Irish and then of the Indians’, not to mention the rapid rise of ‘black enslavement and the black slave trade’ (20).This simultaneous birth, which in itself is a politico-historical contradiction, also has deep seated philosophical contradictions. Whereas Grotius ‘affirmed’ slavery ‘without the least reticence’, Locke’s ‘legitimation of slavery’ is only perceptible between the lines of his written works (26-7). Both are historically considered Liberals, but the connection is now more tenuous than first appeared. And as Losurdo’s shrewd analysis shows, slavery was not an institution that unfortunately was grandfathered into the birth of Liberalism, instead slavery engendered its maximum development based upon the success of Liberal revolutions.

A general theme is consistent throughout Losurdo’s book. Each chapter takes a historical moment (e.g., French Revolution, Glorious Revolution, San Domingo Revolution), and points out the contradiction between several elements: philosophy, political practices, and important thinkers of the time. Liberalism as a philosophy and political practice are then juxtaposed to the ideas of certain Liberal thinkers, leading to the usual conclusion that what is common to all is often some support of oppression and not personal Liberty. Isaiah Berlin, as Losurdo points out, gave us the strong dichotomy between Positive and Negative Liberty. No one would doubt that slaves and victims of genocide are not exercising Positive Liberty. Strangely though, even advocates of Negative Liberty are often themselves not capable of exercising it due to their own tyrannical legislation. For instance, a common theme in the Liberal tradition was tantamount to eugenic breeding, that is, Liberal’s thought that breeding with the oppressed was to mix the superior with the inferior race. As Benjamin Franklin said to a doctor ‘Half the Lives you save are not worth saving, as being useless; and almost the other Half ought not to be sav’d, as being mischievous’, he goes on to condemn the doctor for declaring war on the ‘Plan of Providence’ (115). As a result of such horrifying views, members of the higher classes that may desire to marry or educate those seen as ‘useless’ and ‘mischievous’ were denied their Negative Liberty by their class’s own standards. This attitude led to a snowballing effect of how a slave or servant could be treated legally, even when the owner of said slave desired to treat his ‘property’ differently than the law commanded (e.g., slave owners who were disbarred from teaching their slaves to read). If the slave is property, by the Liberal standard, then this is most assuredly an infringement upon Negative Liberty.

Reverse oppression carries over into other areas besides Negative Liberty. For instance, Losurdo presents in alarming detail the degree to which ‘white slavery’ was rampant in Liberal societies. During the process of colonization, stricter penal codes and forced labor camps grew in tandem. But the penal code, initially intended to force labor upon the colonized, began to reverberate back upon whites. Forced labor and indentured servitude, of both slaves and now whites, became staples of the economy of colonizing nations; both in conquering, and conquered, states. In an eerily Orwellian spin, Liberal’s tried to say that indentured servitude did not so much deny Liberty, as embody it. Since agreed upon contracts are a staple of Liberal society, and servant and master enter into a contractual relation, the servant is exercising Liberty, according to Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès: “in the way most opportune to him”. Moreover, the servant is “receiving more than what he gives up” (82). As with Negative Liberty, Liberals have jettisoned Positive Liberty amongst the white race too.

Liberals might be inclined to disregard Losurdo’s work as bombastic and hyperbolic, but they would be exercising poor judgment to do so. Although a few references are to the works of Marx and other critics of Liberalism, the primary sources of Losurdo’s works are historical documents, the writings of Liberals, and scholarly texts on Liberal history. This is not revisionist history, but history told from the point of view of those who are making it. Almost each page of Losurdo’s work contains at least half a dozen footnotes from either contemporary scholarly research or the works of Liberals from the period he is analyzing. Of course this has its downside too. The footnotes can be rather jarring when you are trying to determine if the just cited sentence came from an actual Liberal or a recent historian, and at times they can make you wonder how much of Losurdo’s work is unique, and not just repetition. Nonetheless, the constant reminder of the sheer number of sources Losurdo has used to drive home his thesis is constant testament to the labor embodied in Losurdo’s writing.

But hia thesis itself remains somewhat confusing. Losurdo is essentially posing a philosophical question: what is Liberalism and who can we say belongs to its ranks? But the answer he gives in each chapter is less a philosophical one than an intricate empirical analysis of historical facts. The book sits atop a fence between philosophy and history, without being enough of one (philosophy) and too much of the other (history). After all Losurdo is an accomplished scholar on Hegel and Marx, not to mention an accomplished philosopher, but primarily this book reads as history, with a pinch of unanswered philosophical questioning peppered throughout. Perhaps that is Losurdo’s point, the fluidity of the Liberal philosophy, and its representatives, leads to the impossibility of a solid conclusion regarding the primary question of his research. But that too is a rather philosophical position that requires more elaboration than Losurdo has given us.

Without detracting too much from Losurdo’s accomplishment, another criticism needs to be considered. The structure of the book is often erratic and confusing. A chapter might begin with a question e.g., who was a Liberal in the French Revolution, and end with a summary of Christian Radicalism during American Industrialization. The connection between the introduction, and the conclusion, is often tenuous. To name one more example, during the middle of a discussion regarding the French Revolution, an unexpected detour is taken into Bolivar’s campaigns throughout Latin America. The reader will thus learn copious amounts of history, but at the end of many chapters will be left wondering how to tie it all together. And in this regard, the condemnation of Liberalism can seem a little helter-skelter.

Nonetheless, Losurdo’s historical account is as horrifying as it is vigorous. Radicals and Socialists have long known that the birth pangs of Liberalism have been bloody, authoritarian and hypocritical. He has offered compelling research to attest to our suspicions and he leaves no room for serious rebuttal. If one still wants to declare themselves a Liberal after reading this, they have a serious hurdle to face: their own philosophies genesis. As Losurdo has demonstrated, Liberalism is not Liberty for the individual in the positive or negative sense; it began, and continues to be, a fluid ideological defense for those in power to justify their positions of power.

2563. Neighborhood Committees in the Iranian Revolution of 1979: A Case Study

By Kamran Nayeri, February 20, 2017
A scene from the February 1979 insurrection. Photo: Iranian Historical Photograph Gallery. 
I arrived at Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport on February 1, 1979, in a plane that took off from Paris Orly Airport soon after the plane that carried Ayatollah Khomeini and his entourage.  As our plane circled the sky above Tehran in preparation for landing, I could see the throng of people lining up the streets across the city to welcome Khomeini from the exile. BBC reported there were as many as 5 million people. 

When our plane landed and we were waved through customs and immigration I found the airport and the streets mostly empty of people as if the crowd had welcomed the Ayatollah and gone back home.  

After I settled in my parents' house in the northeastern middle-class district of Tehranpars I quickly met with the young men there who were organizing local resistance to the Shah's regime. Even though I had been in the United States for the previous ten years, my integration into our neighborhood group was almost instantaneous.

Neighborhood committees were an important part of the grassroots movement that originated in the struggle against the Shah’s dictatorship.  During various strikes, especially the oil workers strike that began on October 21, 1978, there was a need to acquire and distribute goods and services in neighborhoods.  While stopping oil exports and oil flow to the Shah’s regime, oil workers delivered gasoline and cooking and heating oil and gas to the population to ensure they did not suffer in the cold fall/winter months. Neighborhood committees rationed and distributed these and other needed supplies equitably.  The need for the neighborhood committees became acute when the martial law was declared on November 6. 

Our neighborhood committee had already “expropriated” a house on the street where my parents lived as the owner, a man with close ties to the Shah’s repressive regime, had gone into hiding or fled the country. The neighborhood committee did not touch the furniture that was left behind. But the house provided a rent-free headquarter for the group where the assembly of a few dozens was held daily to discuss various issues, define tasks, get volunteers to carry them out, and so on.  

On February 4, Ayatollah Khomeini appointed Mehdi Bazargan, the leader of a very small Islamic-Nationalist party, Nehzat-e Azadi (Freedom Movement), as the prime minister of a provisional government in opposition to the government of Shahpour Bakhtiar that the Shah had installed on January 4 to appease the people. Bakhtair was the leader of the very small secular nationalist party, Hezb-e Iran (Iran Party). Khomeini’s move provided for a governmental dual power forcing a decision on who to support especially on those who worked for the government.  On February 9, Homafars (air force technicians) who were in Niroo Havayi (Air Force) Garrison in east Tehran declared their support for the Bazargan government.  Within hours the Imperial Guard moved to crush them and fighting broke out. I happened to be near the garrison when the fighting occurred and saw urban guerrilla fighters joining the fight in defense of the Homafars as did many ordinary people with military training and arms.  The Imperial Guard had to withdraw. The next day, February 10, Bakhtiar declared martial law which backfired as rebellion spread in the ranks of the armed forces and the general population began to attack police stations, garrisons, and military bases.  I saw the police station near my parents' house set on fire by the young men and some boys from the neighborhood. 

On that day, I went to the Eshrat Abad Garrison near Fawzieh Square (named after Shah’s first wife, Princess Fawzieh of Egypt and renamed after February 1979 as Imam Hossein Square, after the Shia’s third Imam).  Fighting was ending when I reached there.  The garrison surrendered after suffering some causalities and the soldiers joined the people. There were some casualties among the people, including a young Armenian Trotskyist. All armament were expropriated by the people. Even though I had no military training and no love for armament, I took several rounds of J3 battle rifle ammunitions for the neighborhood committee. 

On February 10 and 11 insurrections in all major cities and some smaller towns crushed the Shah’s armed forces and armed the population. People stormed the Shah’s prisons and torture chambers and all political prisoners were freed.  Tehran University became the tribune of the revolutionary youth where many open air meetings were held, speeches delivered, literature, mostly by the socialist groups, distributed.  

An almost natural reaction by the neighborhood committees across Tehran was to set up road barricade as sniper attacks by the Shah’s armed supporters continued despite the regime’s collapse.   In our neighborhood assembly that met on February 11, we learned that collectively we had 30 J3 battle rifle and a lot of ammunitions.  We quickly decided to centralize these arms in the headquarter and train volunteers to use them at the roadblocks.  There were 60 volunteers, most with some military training.  Kaveh, a young Trotskyist in the neighborhood who had just returned from London and had military training, headed up the effort to train others in the use of the J3. 

My own contribution was more political and organizational, to bring up the political aspects of our work and to help organize and run the assembly meetings and volunteers in a way to ensure our urgent tasks were carried out in a way consistent with the utmost attention to the democratic and national revolution underway.  All other neighborhood committee members were pulled into politics only in the past several months and even Kaveh had joined the Iranian Trotskyist group in England only a year earlier.  I had the good fortune of working single-mindedly as a socialist since 1971 gaining experience in practical socialist politics as well as intensely studying classical socialist literature. 

I wrote a one-page manifesto that defined the political function of the neighborhood committee, gave it a name, Defense Committee of the Southwestern Tehranpars, and with Kaveh’s help found a young woman in the neighborhood who typed it up. The assembly discussed and approved this initiative and we distributed copies to each household.

As the worries with the remnants of the Shah’s supporters diminished revolutionaries began to take notice of the repressive measures of the newly installed Khomeini-Bazargan provisional government. Within 24 hours after February 11 victory which lifted the censorship on the mass media, including in the state radio and television (Seda va Sima) which now broadcasted statements from various political groups, including the socialist currents, Khomeini reimposed censorship on the state-run radio and TV and appointed Sadegh Ghotbzadeh to purge its employees to impose an Islamic character on the state media.  At the same time, Khomeini called for the population to return their arms to the mosques that began to act as the headquarter for the neighborhood committees in the sections of the cities where practicing Muslims dominated.  

In our neighborhood, the cleric from the nearby mosque came to one of our assembly meetings, spoke highly of our effort but reiterated Khomeini’s call to turn all arms to the mosques, and invited us to function from the mosque and under its supervision and then left.  Some days later a military man came in uniform and said mostly the same things.  The committee membership was divided by these interventions.  Those who harbored religious feelings felt compelled to honor Khomeini’s orders and left to continue their volunteer work from the mosque. Those with a leftist political orientation remained but the future of the Defense Committee of the Southwestern Terhranpars was in question.  How could we justify it when almost half of our members left for the mosque already?  Also, there was much ambivalence towards the Khomeini-Bazargan government in those days, only the political current Kaveh and I subscribed, the Socialist Workers Party, publically held that it was a capitalist government that revolutionaries should not support. We advocated a government of workers and peasant in its place and a constituent assembly based on the grassroots movements that had emerged to draft its constitution.  Almost all other leftist political tendencies either supported the provisional government or did not speak in opposition to it.  Given this political crisis, the neighborhood committee dissolved. 

While I know of no study of the neighborhood committees as a grassroots movement, I believe a similar political crisis resulted in their dissolution across Iran except in some regions of the oppressed nationalities, like Turkman Sahra and Kurdistan.  In all other locations, they were reconstituted as the Islamic Revolution Committees (Komitehehaye Enghelab-e Eslami) that gradually became part of the oppressive forces of the Islamic Republic regime and continue to be so today.  As such, a revolutionary grassroots movement was destroyed by the clerical capitalist Khomeini regime and some its members recruited into an oppressive force.  A similar process befell other grassroots movements in Iran.  For example, the workers shoras (councils) were destroyed or replaced with Islamic Shoras or Islamic Associations (these are capitalized to denote that the very meaning of a shora/council which requires workers democracy was subverted).  

2562. Iranian City of Ahvaz Covered in Brown Dust

By Thomas Erdbrink, The New York Times, February 19, 2017
Ahvaz in dust storm. Photo: Mostafa Gholamnejad
TEHRAN — Days of protests over dust storms, power failures and government mismanagement in one of Iran’s most oil-rich cities subsided on Sunday after security forces declared all demonstrations illegal.

Residents of Ahvaz, a city with a majority Arab population near the border with Iraq, had been protesting for five days in increasingly large gatherings, shown in cellphone video clips shared on social media.

The region around Ahvaz is a center of oil production in Iran, and since economic sanctions were lifted, Iran’s government has been hoping for foreign investment in the area to update refineries and power stations and fix deepening ecological problems.

The cellphone clips show protesters calling for the resignation of the local governor. And as the number of demonstrators grew, the demands started to include a call for top officials from the capital, Tehran, to come to Ahvaz to see the problems for themselves.

Demonstrators can also be heard shouting, “Unemployment, unemployment,” another big problem in the region, and urging their countrymen to offer assistance: “Iranian compatriots, help us, help us.”

In the weeks before the demonstrations, Ahvaz was hit by large dust storms. Rain turned the dust into mud, which caused power stations to stop working.

Oil production was also affected, with the Ministry of Petroleum reporting that production had temporarily fallen by 700,000 barrels a day.

In addition to the short-term effects of the dust storm, the city is wrestling with long-term environmental challenges.

Ahvaz, home to around one million people, is surrounded by petrochemical factories that emit pollutants on a large scale.

A 15-year drought, in combination with poorly planned dam building, has caused local marshes to dry up, increasing the level of dust particles in the air to record highs.

The World Health Organization said in 2015 that Ahvaz was the most polluted city in the world.

Locals said they felt ignored and had had enough. “We feel as if we live in a special zone, where the government only makes money from,” said Mobin Ataee, a local student. “It seems they would prefer people to leave so they can turn this whole area into an oil-business-only region.”

State television, dominated by hard-liners, highlighted the protests at first, seemingly to place the moderate government of President Hassan Rouhani in a difficult position. One local reporter even presented the news wearing a protective mask against air pollution in protest.

But as the number of protesters started increasing, the official news media fell silent.

On Saturday, the local police issued a statement calling on people to refrain from “illegal gatherings,” warning that they would be “confronted” if they took part.

Witnesses reported the presence of riot police officers on the streets of Ahvaz. The Iranian authorities did not allow a New York Times reporter to visit the city.

“The major part of the flaws and defects have either been resolved or are in the process of being resolved,” said the police statement, published by the semiofficial Fars news agency.

The complex mix of problems facing the city, from dust to water shortages and unemployment, may prove hard to solve.

“The situation is terrible and extremely complex,” said Mitra Hajjar, a prominent Iranian actress and ecological activist.

A photograph of her posing on a landmark bridge in Ahvaz wearing a protective mask was widely shared on Instagram, Iran’s most popular social media tool that is not filtered by the authorities.

“The government is now trying to flood the marshes,” Ms. Hajjar said. “That is a good first step, but basically, we have to restore an entire ecosystem.”

Visitors to the city are often quick to complain of the pollution there, said Forough Emam, 26, an Ahvaz native who moved to Tehran to study. “But for us from Ahvaz, pollution means you can’t see two meters ahead, and everything is covered in brown dust.”