Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Alliance Voices, Revolution and Transition

In light of recent developments (I'd argue both the the continuing crisis in Europe, the advancing revolutionary situation in the Middle East / North Africa (MENA) region, and the continued development on the Latin American alternative, which are all showing in practice the strengths and limitations of different approaches to the question of revolutionary leadership and unity, as well as the subjective ones of the Socialist Alternative's "turn to unity"), there has been some interesting discussion in the lead-up to the next national conference of the Socialist Alliance. I'm going to look at some particular contributions from Alliance Voices, and some related posts, as part of the process of working on some PCD of my own. There have been other good contributions so far - including this piece from three leaders of Resistance which is well worth reading - that I won't comment on just yet.

Nick Fredman, a member of the Alliance from Melbourne branch, has put forward an amendment to the Towards a Socialist Australia (TASA) document to tighten up some sections - particularly, incorporating an explicit call for "Revolution" in 'How will we get there?'. This is, in part, driven by the call put out by Socialist Alternative for unity amongst "Revolutionaries", counterposing it against unity with the "Reformists", whoever that might mean (during discussion at a recent event in Sydney Josh Lee from Socialist Alternative did say that this didn't mean the Alliance...) - which has triggered seemingly endless back and forth on social media.

Graham Matthews, from Sydney West branch, has responded with an argument that the use of the R word is implicit in the TASA document and our perspectives, isn't necessary, and puts up barriers in actually regrouping working class leadership:
"there is certainly no evidence that an important task facing the (revolutionary) socialist movement in Australia today, is convincing large numbers (or even relatively small numbers) of reformist socialists that socialism can only be won through extra parliamentary struggle and, ultimately, social revolution...
In this context in Australia then, where the level of the crisis is so acute, yet where the forces of working class resistance are so defuse and ideologically confused - why would the (relatively) few organised socialists, want to place an ideological and organisational barrier between themselves and those who are coming into political motion?
Peter Boyle, from Sydney central branch (and national co-convener of the Alliance), has weighed in on this debate and other proposals arguing that making our revolutionary politics explicit in material like TASA isn't a barrier, but it shouldn't be done just to defend the Alliance from accusations of "Reformism". He argues that we should explain revolution in a way which draws on Australia's history and the real context of today:
our guide is not just what we (or others in the left) understand, or want, but also where the consciousness of broader layers moving into struggle against the capitalist system is at... most people come to a stronger realisation of [the] need to organise systematic resistance to the violence of the minority only in the process of struggle.
Peter's piece references and draws on Peter Camejo, whose work I think needs to be included in this discussion, particularly Liberalism, Ultraleftism, Mass Action.

There's another that's come up in discussion - Trotsky's Transitional Program, and whether or not it should have any bearing on this discussion, which I wanted to weigh in on a little bit. Before that, I think it's initially worth noting the following quote from Doug Lorimer in the introduction to the Transitional Program published by Resistance Books:
Under certain circumstances, agitation around any of these different types of demands can serve to mobilise working people in mass anti-capitalist struggles. It is the mobilising potential of any of these types of demands at any particular conjuncture in the class struggle that is of primary interest to revolutionists. It is a basic fact of political life that people who are united with others in struggle are more open to radical ideas and new forms of action than those who are atomised and quiescent.
Omar Hassan from Socialist Alternative, who took up this point of transitional demands in a note on Facebook (apparently in reference to a comment made by an Alliance comrade at a recent event in Melbourne) argued that the Transitional Program is hugely problematic and the divide between our ultimate goal and the struggles of today "cannot be synthesised on paper, they must be embodied in the traditions of a revolutionary party." I find this rather problematic. He is certainly right to say "demands don’t create revolutionary crises, objective circumstances do" - but there is a whole world of advances the working class in Australia could be making short of capitalising on a revolutionary crisis to overthrow capitalist property relations. In the words of Trotsky, "transitional" demands lead to "one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat" - but there is a whole lot of struggles to be had between now and that final point which can also be considered "transitional", and it's crucial that we make some advances on that front now. Just because Trotsky misread the revolutionary potential of the impending crisis in 1930 doesn't invalidate the concept as a whole.

Many of the examples of transitional demands Trotsky counterpoises to the "minimum" demands of the Stalinists - indexation of wages to inflation, open the corporate books, no secret diplomacy - are struggles that have at specific times or in limited ways, since been won (or forced upon our rulers, in the case of WikiLeaks) - and although this hasn't been a "bridge" to worldwide socialism yet, at times times they have helped to galvanise various other struggles - WikiLeaks played key roles in the change in government in Kenya or the overthrow of Ben Ali in Tunisia, for example.

"We cannot do away with the schism between minimum and maximum program," states Omar - yet the value of the concept of transitional demands is in approaching the fight for minimum demands - ie reforms - in a strategic way which helps to develop the power of the working class and does actually connect our struggles for "minimum" demands today to our broader strategic vision. To strike at the "weakest point of capitalist hegemony" is a good aim, but to me it only seems of use if we're actually using that strike to develop momentum, win recognition, and actually begin to solve the question of leadership by drawing the broadest possible forces into radical struggle in order to further radicalise them.

This is to me an example of a transitional demand - one which may or may not be able to granted under capitalism, but which brings socialist revolution closer. That is our goal as revolutionaries, after all - for our struggles today to be hastening revolutionary overthrow of class society. And history has shown us that victories in certain key social movements has led to a wave of increased class struggle on a whole variety of fronts - from the success of civil rights & indigenous rights movements in the US and Australia helping to catalyse the upsurge of the 60s and 70s, to the overthrow of Ben Ali & Mubarak empowering already rampant trade union struggle, civil rights struggles by minorities, the women's movement or those of the shanty towns.

This isn't a shortcut to revolution; it's a perspective that putting our shoulder to the wheel in struggles today and making them as successful as possible, not only propagandising about the dictatorship of the proletariat from the sidelines, is the best method of convincing people of the need for a revolution and winning them to a revolutionary party.

Omar and I are both active campaigners for Palestine solidarity here in Australia; I think the demands of the BDS movement are a perfect example of transitional demands. The three pillars of the movement - an end to the apartheid wall, the right of return for refugees, and full civil rights for Palestinians inside Israel - are difficult to imagine ever being granted by the present existence of Israel in its current form as an apartheid state and imperialist attack dog for the region, as their implementation would critically undermine the possibility of maintaining that project with a facade of democracy. But this doesn't mean the struggle for those demands is a dead end reform we should stop fighting for - the inability of Israel to grant those reform helps to develop and broaden awareness of the nature of Zionism as a racist ideology underpinning imperialist dominance in the MENA region. And any cave-ins from the Israeli state on these points will curb the power of imperialism in the region, even if only fractionally.

The rallying cries of the Russian revolution - peace, land, bread - were certainly key transitional demands (nobody's maximum program), and those for real democracy, redistribution of wealth and dignity being raised in the MENA region today likewise fit the bill. Tad Tietze, in the discussion following Omar's post, argued that a demand like climate justice is a similar example of such a transitional demand to struggle for today; at one point this was the rallying cry for a movement of thousands, and although the last two years have seen a decline in such activism, I think every new climate disaster reflects the burning vitality of that demand.

How does this all relate to the above discussion about the goals and politics of the Alliance? Omar gives a throwaway comment that "it is also relevant because those seeking to justify the Alliance program seek to hide behind references to their alleged transitionality." This comment (seeming at odds with the above comments that the Alliance isn't reformist) does reflect a certain truth, but I feel it's being expressed as a pre-emptive hostility over a different tactical perspective for Australia today; a different approach to the question that's been raised - what role should the party play in making the revolution? And what does this mean for our activism today? I think this question is shaping the above Alliance Voices debates, as much as Alternative's call for unity.

The certain truth: I do agree with Peter and Nick that we should be including explicit statements that our ultimate goal is working class revolution in the Alliance constitution or our chief propaganda tool, the TASA document - but Graham is right that the key thing to be done today is win more to socialism, not convince other socialists of the correct path, and that requires we throw our energy into the struggles at the grassroots today, particularly aiming for the most transitional demands to strip the emperor's clothes from Rinehart, Palmer and the whole capitalist system and neoliberal offensive, if we want to educate and unite the class-conscious workers into a force which can take advantage of real revolutionaries opportunities.

But the important thing isn't uniting on our "maximum" program - for now, it should be left at the revolutionary overthrow of class society by the masses. In this low ebb of class struggle, it's far more important that we focus our attention on the immediate "minimum" & "transitional" kinds of tasks to regrow a pole of class struggle today. It's heartening to see the Socialist Alternative turn to unity and agree that we should unite on "a socialist program for Australia today"; but is that program to win more ones and twos to Marxism, or is it to build class struggle as a whole and win a whole generation of activists? As a Marxist in the Alliance, my perspective is certainly for the latter.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Academics right to uphold Israeli boycott

Resistance Sydney released this statement on December 14. 

The Sydney University (USYD) Resistance club condemns the attack by the Australian on the university’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies for its decision to uphold a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

The head of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Jake Lynch, declined a request from Israeli academic Dan Avnon to include him as a contact on his application for an academic exchange. His refusal upheld the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign which refuses academic, cultural and sporting institutions in protest against Israeli apartheid.

Christopher Pyne, federal MP for Sturt, alleged the decision would open the university up to "ridicule".

In fact, USYD would be joining other universities around the world, such as the University of Johannesburg who last year decided to end all relationships with Israeli academic institutions.
This year campus representative bodies across the world have also decided to divest from contracts with companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The Coalition’s attack is an attempt to intimidate universities and academics of conscience out of supporting Palestinian civil society’s call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

“Christopher Pyne is on the wrong side of history”, said USYD Resistance club president Patrick Harrison.

“The fact that he is attacking academic freedom by intimidating those of conscience who heed the Palestinian call to break all ties with Israeli institutions means that he’s learnt nothing from the history books. Apartheid South Africa eventually crumbled with the support of peoples of conscience all around the world, including Australia.

“Mr Pyne’s allegation that the decision has anything to do with Dan Avnon's Jewish religion or Israeli nationality is absurd. His implicit allegation that the University department’s decision is anti-Semitic is also offensive. The Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies hosted prominent Israeli historian Ilan Pappe in September.”

"Interestingly, the Australian isn’t interested in reporting on the major links between the University of Sydney and the University of Technion in Haifa, Israel, which is heavily involved in military research. This academic link included an official exchange program.

“Earlier this year, the online journal New Matilda exposed the systematic attempts by the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) to influence campus politics by providing expenses-paid tours to Israel to student politicians. This wasn't reported by the Australian either.
Clearly the Australian has an editorial bias against any criticism of Israel," said Harrison. “This is despite the fact that most Australians do not support Israel’s attacks on Palestine and that government’s flouting of international law with its illegal settlement building.”

The Australian reported on a protest organised by the Palestine Action Group on December 9 calling on consumers to boycott Israeli businesses which profit from the occupation of Palestine.

"Two people, including one well-known Islamophobe, racially targeted one young pro-Palestine campaigner and aggressively taunted and insulted him. One of these men shouldered him," said Pip Hinman, activist with Stop the War Coalition.

These provocations — in full view of the Australian reporter and photographer, and the JWire reporter — went unreported by either publication.

“The Australian's reporters, Christian Kerr — who authored many of Murdoch's attacks on the Greens support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign — and Rick Morton wrote nothing about the outrageous provocations and aggression by the Islamophobe. Instead, their article alleged that “tempers frayed” because annoyed shoppers wanted to listen to Christmas carols,” said Hinman.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Review: Leila Khaled

Submitted for publication to Green Left Weekly

Leila Khaled: Icon of Palestinian Liberation
Sarah Irving
Pluto Press, 2012

As one of the first of the Revolutionary Lives series of critical biographies published by Pluto Press, Leila Khaled: Icon of Palestinian Liberation couldn't have chosen a better focus. The book opens with the image of Khaled preparing to board and hijack flight TWA 840 on August 29, 1969; however, far more time is spent on the full span of her life, from fleeing her home as a four year old during the Nakba of 1948 to her years of work on the Palestinian National Council and in the General Union of Palestinian Women after her involvement in two hijackings.

In many ways, Leila Khaled: Icon of Palestinian Liberation is as much the story of the history of the struggle for Palestinian liberation and the role the left – particularly the role the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – played in it, as it is the story of Khaled's dedicated and tireless career.

Sarah Irving's work is a must-read for anyone wishing to study Khaled's life; the primary source for many of the sections, particularly those beyond the notorious hijackings of 1969 and 1970, are a week of interviews that Irving conducted with Khaled in her Amman home in 2008 and subsequent communications. These interviews shed light on a variety of topics which have been poorly documented elsewhere, such as the role played by the organised women's movement amongst the Palestinian refugees in the neighbouring countries of Jordan and Lebanon; Irving compares them with the occasionally differing records of events held by others on the Palestinian left or in other published accounts to tease out the different narratives of the resistance's history.

Khaled's comments on the jailing or resignation of cadres of the Popular Front in the 1990s and the rise of Hamas as the alternative to the dominant Fatah leadership, as well as her positive assessment of the role the Arab Spring revolutions and the consequent March 15 movement in Palestine, also show her as a Marxist thinker still firmly grounded in the Palestinian struggle of today. She raises the key demand of the Palestinian left today – reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah, writing that the national split has "weakened the Palestinians (vis-a-vis) Israel, and also weakened Palestinian human rights on the international level."

The biography also draws together a range of perspectives on Khaled and fellow "women revolutionary fighters", and the barriers of perception they had to break through as "good Arab women." While still affirming Khaled's perspective that "[women] are under occupation, and in that we are equal in oppression with men... [but] at the same time there is social oppression, so women participate... in the national struggle and also in the social struggle," Irving considers feminist critiques of women's role within national liberation movements and references the different perspectives advanced by Palestinian women on the subject.

Khaled finishes on the future – despite the many setbacks for the movement she has lived through Khaled insists the conflict will "work itself out". Despite her status as a symbol of resistance to injustice, her humour and optimism makes Leila Khaled: Icon of Palestinian Liberation an inspiring read – and one well worth picking up for any supporter of the Palestinian cause.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Siliana uprising wins demands from government

Submitted for publication to Green Left Weekly.

Once again, protesters have taken to the streets in Tunisia to demand the transitional government of Hamad Jebali fulfil the demands of the January 14 revolution which overthrew dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

The regional city of Siliana, located 130 kilometres south-west of national capital Tunis and capital of the Siliana governorate, was rocked by days of protests over the lack of investment and jobs in the region.

A demonstration called by the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) on November 27 assembled at the office of the regional government to begin a general strike in the region, calling for more jobs, local development and the resignation of Governor Ahmed Ezzine Majjoubi , who protesters felt was "unresponsive" to their needs.

The demands of the protest reflect the lack of real change felt by ordinary Tunisians since the uprising against Ben Ali and the election of the interm troika government, led by the islamist Ennahda party. Unemployment continues to rise, reaching 18 percent in March, while Jebali's promise to create 25,000 on taking office remains unfulfilled.

And police repression of dissent, virulent under the old regime, continues. The November 27 protest and general strike, which drew 5000 to the street, came underbirdshot pellet fire from the police, resulting in two days of running battles in the streets.

Jebali told a press conference on November 29 that the police force was used in response to "throwing stones, Molotov cocktails, burning of state institutions and damaging public establishments".

However, Human Rights Watch reported on December 1 that there was no evidence of incendary devices being deployed – and over 210 birdshot injuries were reported to the local hospital, including 20 cases of eye injuries which required treatment in Tunis.

On December 2, the government announced it had reached a deal with the demonstrators. AlJazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra reported: "the governor is going to be replaced by his deputy... then they have to tackle the biggest issue which is developing this region where people have been complaining for decades about marginalisation, discrimination and also lack of genuine will from the previous government, including this one, to implement dramatic change in the living standards of the local population."

The plight of the under-developed interior region has gained much sympathy all across the nation. Solidarity demonstrations were held by UGTT supporters in both other regional areas and the larger coastal cities; throughout the Siliana governorate, demonstrators continued to clash with police across December 1 and 2.

The cause has also been championed by the united left Popular Front, whose members play a leading role in the UGTT. On December 1, they joined with members of the secular centre-left Republican party to demonstrate in Tunis, demanding the resignation of the Interior Minister Ali Larayedh.

For their activity, left activists have drawn the ire of supporters of Ennahda. On December 4, unionists in the UGTT office in Tunis, preparing for a march to commemmorate the murder of independance leader and unionist Farhat Hached, were attacked by hundreds of Islamists with knives and sticks, reported a Reuters witness.

Over 2000 unionists later rallied outside the government's headquarters, where further clashes with Islamists took place.

In response to the repression and the escalating social struggle, the UGTT has called a general strike for the 13th of December. The AFP reported on December 5 that the demands of the strike would include the dissolution League for the Protection of the Revolution, which state-run TAP reported were responsible for December 4's attack.

The League called a protest in Tataouine on October 18, in which Lotfi Naguedh, co-ordinator of the ex-regime party Nidaa Tounes, died. It's believed the League is associated with ruling party Ennahda; Beji Caid Essebsi, who assumed the role of Prime Minister after Ben Ali's overthrow and is the chairmain of Nidaa Tounes, alleged members ofEnnahda participated in the October 18 march.

A general strike has also been called in Sidi Bouzid, home suburb of martyred fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi and a scene of ongoing demonstrations and strikes since the revolution, for December 6.

Tunisia Live reported Sliman Rouisi, of the regional branch of the UGTT, as saying: "The main demands of trade unionists in Sidi Bouzid are the following: invite the authorities to put an end to these violations against the UGTT, follow-up and hold accountable the criminals, who attacked the unionists yesterday, who attacked the unionists yesterday, and dissolve the League for the Protection of the Revolution because it has committed a crime against the unionists."

In the leadup to the second anniversary of Bouazizi's immolation on December 17, pressure continues to mount on Ennahda and the ruling troika to fulfil their rhetorical support for the January 14 revolution.

And so long as the troika fails to fulfil the demands for a new economic and social agenda for Tunisia, space will continue to open for the left to pose a real alternative.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Book of the year - After Zionism

Green Left Weekly asked me, once again, to contribute to a list of books of the year. This time around, I've chosen After Zionism, co-edited by Antony Loewenstein (who also contributed his favourite choice, The Silenced Majority: Stories of Uprisings, Occupation, Resistance and Hope), and Ahmed Moor. I didn't have the space to draw out any of the themes of the different essays - Ilan Pappe's look at apartheid inside Israel draws a very different conclusion to Jeff Halper's argument for a regional national federation like the EU - so if you can get your hands on a copy and read the different arguments for yourself, do so.

After Zionism is a compilation of the different strands of thought that seek to challenge the dominant narrative in the diplomatic community – that the only possible solution to the occupation of Palestine is with two states. Its dedication – "to the Palestinians and Israelis who deserve better" – and the presence of a variety of Israeli, Palestinian and other voices reflects the shifts that have occurred since the breakdown of the Oslo accords and the second intifada, and the escalating horror of the status quo.

Speaking at events in Australia, co-editor Antony Loewenstein has been quick to point out that the book does not seek to hold the solution to the conflict, but to ask the question: What could the alternatives look like? The contributors do not all argue the same vision – but the evidence presented across the essays, considering the question globally and regionally as well as within the Israeli and Palestinian communities, together builds a compelling argument that the two-state solution is dead.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Education is under attack - stand up, fight back!

Originally published at Green Left Weekly.

Around Australia, attacks on tertiary education have continued throughout 2012, with an ideological onslaught against the idea of well-funded public education being led by proponents of neoliberalism.

In July, Fred Hilmer, vice-chancellor of UNSW and chair of the Group of 8 Universities, a coalition of university managements, called for total fee deregulation and “cutting red tape”.

In an address to the National Press Club, Hilmer signaled that university managements intend to “play in the public policy field a lot more aggressively” when it came to government funding, modeled on the response of the mining industry to the MRRT, reported TheConversation on July 25.

He argued that capped funding requirements were enforcing a culture of “sameness” and stifling diversity in education, hampering the ability of Australian universities to compete for the international student market.

Hilmer’s address took it for granted that “a significant increase in government funding is unlikely” – and so did a report released by accounting firm Ernst and Young in October, “University of the future”, which recieved national coverage.

The report argued that major changes in the education sector are inevitable due to the “contestability of markets and funding” based on a declining level of public investment, as well as the impact digital technologies and the “democratization of knowledge” are having.

In a response, the NTEU national president Jeannie Rea stated that the government had failed to increase public investment.

However, Rea argued that the choice before the government was between the current system of 38 public institutions or a "handful of elite research intensive universities concentrated in the capital cities."

Greens higher education spokesperson Lee Rhiannon, on the other hand, took up the source of the current crisis in tertiary education - decades of "cuts to the bones", with more than $1.3 billion in funding slashed by the Gillard Labor government since the start of 2011.

"'Market contestability' and 'competition' are buzz words designed to paint increased funding cuts to public universities as inevitable and the private sector as the saviour of universities.", said Rhiannon in a statement.

For students, it's quite clear that we need to expand, not maintain or cut, our public investment in tertiary education. Classroom sizes continue to balloon, and areas of study are more and more moulded to corporate priorities. The "democratisation of knowledge" is being used by neoliberal managements to reduce staff hours and face-to-face contact time.

The wave of restructuring cuts which has taken place in 2012 has been driven by the federal government's shift to a demand-driven system which pits universities against each other for students - with the Gillard government uncapping places to encourage universities to over-enroll. University managements are shedding jobs and courses to adapt to the future of market-driven league table-based funding for higher education - yet the reccomendation from Hilmer or Ernst and Young is more of the same.

The current round of cuts are far from over, with the University of Western Sydney (UWS) announcing that over 50 academic jobs and several subjects, including the entire Economics degree, will be cut in 2013.

Students from across the six campuses of UWS launched a campaign and rallied in response on November 21, despite the cuts being announced during the middle of exam period - clearly an attempt to limit the ability of students to organise major responses to condemn the management in the way that they have at other universities throughout 2012.

But so long as student struggles to defend and expand our education remain swept up into student election campaigns, disconnected and unable to link up with campaigns against neoliberalism in other areas of society, the well-organised campaign by the neoliberal ideologues will continue to hold the upper hand.

Students from across Australia gathered at the ANU in Canberra in September for the EduFactory conference to discuss the wave of attacks coming down. The second EduFactory! conference is being held at the University of Sydney over the ANZAC day long weekend 2013, to discuss national education policies and to organise campaigns for the year. Anyone interested in standing up for free, well-resourced public education should attend and get involved in the struggle.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Parramatta BDS protest Nov 15

Over 150 people protested at Parramatta Town Hall on November 15, calling for a boycott of Max Brenner chocolate shops and an end to Israel's recent escalation of attacks on Gaza.

The rally was part of the ongoing campaign for Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Max Brenner's parent company, the Israeli Strauss Group, donates care packages of chocolates to Israeli commandos of the Golani and Givati brigades.

Ultimo, Sydney.

Max Brenner stores have come under protests in Sydney and Melbourne. In 2011, 19 protesters were arrested for "besetting" the QV square store in Melbourne and for trespass in a public place. The charges were dismissed on July 23.

The rally heard from Ray Jackson, President of the Indigenous Social Justice assocation; Sylvia Hale, former Greens MLC; As’ad Awashra, a Palestinian student from Ramallah on exchange at the University of Sydney; Haskell Musry, member of Jews Against the Occupation; and Marlene Carrasco, Bankstown campus chair of the UWS student association.

Marching to Max Brenner

The protesters marched from Parramatta Town Hall to the Max Brenner store located in the nearby Westfields shopping centre, where they confronted around 30 counter-demonstrators who bore anti-Islam signs and Australian flags. Two male counter-demonstrators wore
niqābs and dresses in an attempt to provoke the pro-Palestine protesters; however, there were no incidents of violence.

Haskell Musry, Jews Against the Occupation

Westfields' board member and co-founder Frank Lowy is a long-time supporter of Israel; he joined the Haganah, the Jewish militia in Palestine, in 1945. He served for 2 years before joining the Golani Brigade and participating in Al-Nakba, where he was wounded during the attack on Sajra. Lowy moved to Australia in 1952.

At the end of the demonstrations, a motion to call for a rally on Saturday 24 November was passed; an ad-hoc organising meeting was held to plan details of the rally, which will take place at Town Hall at 12 noon. For more info visit the Palestine Action Group's Facebook or website

We recieved good coverage from Iran's Press TV; I haven't seen or heard the mainstream media coverage, but I've been told it was as atrocious as ever.

Friday, 16 November 2012

A Beautiful Day To Be Alive

After around two weeks in Palestine, I came down with a depressive episode. 

I don't normally talk about my mental health. It's been a year since that time, so I feel like I have enough distance to write about it, and maybe try and draw some lessons for my ongoing life and activism. And i'm doing Movember, so I thought this might be a little bit in the way of an explanation. Male mental health is somewhat stigmatised in a country like Australia, which is a barrier to treatment for many.

And in the face of the bombs raining down on Gaza right now, some of the feelings I've been writing about in this post have risen again, so the best way to work through them seems to be writing about them.

This is dedicated to all the friends, family, partners and comrades who have helped me through dark times. To Frank Tromp - vale. And to the children of Gaza.

When I first arrived at Ben Gurion airport, I was so nervous I couldn't even force myself to smile at the two women on the border security desk. Almost all of my thought in the days prior to my arrival had been on this part of the process, the possibility of being hauled aside and what I would say I'd been doing in Egypt and Tunisia to not arouse suspicions that I might actually think Arabs are human beings. I hadn't thought about getting through without a hitch, and I was quite emotionally unprepared to find myself in a Sherut running alongside the apartheid wall or stepping out in front of the Damascus Gate.

Sultan Suleiman Street, barbeque smoke hanging in the air.

My first few days in Jerusalem were somewhat off the deep end, but the whole experience of life in the holy land still felt surreal, like I wasn't really there, like I was living inside history. It's a simultaneously belittling and uplifting feeling; like the buildings and people around you all bear an ancient weight made up of the labour and lives of thousands of generations of people, and you have a chance to contribute a part of your life to that tradition.

After a few days I began the JAI olive harvest program, which certainly immersed me in life in the West Bank, life under an occupation. The structure of a program like that was good for keeping me moving, and climbing up trees and scratching my hands picking olives all day certainly shook me out of the bubble of surreality and grounded me in the present chapter of that history.


Meeting ordinary people in the West Bank - farmers, residents, workers, families, prisoners - and putting human faces to the suffering I understood on an ideological level didn't only bring me to a deeper understanding of the occupation; it inspired and invigorated me to expand my personal efforts for the Palestinian cause. It also helped me to see that there's a network of people all over the world struggling for justice in Palestine, even if we sometimes feel so few in Australia. The surreality of living in the holy land blends into the impossible reality of life under occupation; I think this contributes to the zest for life and the sumoud of the Palestinians.

Neda the zesty.

The program inspired me to push myself - late nights at the Grotto, early mornings for the harvest, evenings documenting what we'd done. On a day off I started this blog. I felt like the exhilaration of being in Palestine meant that my normal rules about burning myself out didn't apply. But despite the inspiration, I reached the limits of my energy.

After the program finished, I made my way down to Bustan Qaraaqa, a permaculture demonstration farm and project. Several of the friends I'd made doing the harvest had stayed there or knew the long-term volunteers, and I'd found out about it before hand online. It was certainly a fantastic space, and an amazing group of volunteers made it buzz.

As someone who's been involved in permaculture and environment campaigns in Australia, the project really appealed to me; some of the ideas I saw or worked on, like companion planting to make clearing fields more difficult for settlers, using traditional farming techniques to rehabilitate fallow land that hasn't been claimed by the ongoing expansion, or utilising the plentiful roadside plastic bottles to make a greenhouse roof that collects a great volume of rainwater, all make environmentalism another way to resist the occupation.

The reclaimed greenhouse.

However, despite the political interest I had in Bustan, I couldn't give as much energy to it as I would have liked. The thrill that drove me during the harvest program wore off; I found myself sleeping too much, drinking too much, and struggling to motivate myself in the less scheduled and more individual environment of the farm. To finish transcribing the interviews and article notes I'd done in Egypt and Tunisia and finish them became more and more difficult and less and less interesting. And knowing that I wasn't firing on all cylinders brought on some pretty strong guilt - I can't be weak, I have to keep going, I have to do as much as I can while I'm here. I had made some friends in the harvest who were still in Bethlehem, but I didn't have the energy to try and see more of them, or participate in many of the political activities I could have.

Comfort food, Palestinian style - broaster chicken

At first I put it down to another kind of culture shock - this certainly did hit me hard when I first arrived in Egypt - or perhaps missing some of the creature comforts I got in the hotel I didn't at a permaculture farm, but after a while I realised I was pushing myself too hard. To see the occupation up close and personally, just like the holy city, made me feel small and inconsequential - in the face of an injustice with the whole weight of global neo-colonialism behind it, I felt like I could do nothing to make a difference. In a sense, I think what triggered me was a kind of occupation shock.

The guilt I felt for feeling helpless was magnified by the fact that I knew I could go home with relative ease to one of the richest countries on earth, while for the Palestinians around me this weight had been on them their whole lives and didn't appear to be going anywhere. And despite that, the Palestinians live hard, live with sumoud, love and work and struggle far more than Australians who sit in empty cars and avoid each other in the street. I felt guilty for ever feeling weak and alone and depressed when my suffering, too, was so insignificant in the face of the occupation.

Graffiti on the apartheid wall, Bethlehem. I wrote this when I first saw it: "That a Palestinian could spraypaint this on the biggest symbol of their people's dispossession makes me feel ashamed for every day I only got out of my comfortable Queen-sized bed to drive my car to a fast food drive thru"

Seeing my dear friend and fellow Wollongong activist Ella after my time at Bustan, hooking into the network of teachers in Nablus, and having some amazing times travelling the rest of the length of the West Bank, certainly helped me recover. But the thing which cleared my head the most was the fact that seeing Ella again also got me demonstrating - for the Freedom Waves flotilla crew detained for breaking the siege of Gaza (including fellow Aussie Michael Coleman!), documenting the Freedom Rides, and on my last day in the West Bank, joining in the weekly demonstrations against the apartheid wall in Bil'in. To take direct action - no matter how small or ineffective it may be on its own - is our strongest and most empowering collective tool of action.

Demonstration for the Freedom Waves flotilla in Ramallah, 04/11/11

Freedom Riders on a bus being taken through Hizma checkpoint, 15/11/11

Bil'in, 25/11/11

Asides from what I learned about the situation in Palestine (and Egypt and Tunisia), some of the lessons I learned about myself during my travels I've tried (not totally successfully) to apply to my activities here in Australia. It's important that we all take time for self care, and set whatever conditions or limits to our activism are necessary - not only for the sake of long-term committment, but also for approaching our tasks professionally. Some activists I struggle alongside rarely seem to need their own time, while others are ironclad that they have nights or at least one day off every week. I don't want to prescribe a recipe, but whatever your personal limits are, you shouldn't let them be eaten into. To say yes to everything and always be rushing from task to task without an overall clarity on what we're doing is worse than to say no. Here in Australia we're not fighting an underground struggle which uses military means, so we shouldn't take Lenin too literally. The struggle needs us for the long haul.

Sunday, 11 November 2012


Most viewed month: October 2012 (688; Update on the Australian Left + Colours)
Most viewed article: On Revolutionary Organisations Today (295)

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Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Shoutout: Kristel in Palestine

I encourage everyone interested in reading about life in Palestine to bookmark Kristel's blog. She was one of the organisers of the JAI Olive Harvest program I participated in last year, and she's engaged to a Palestinian man who lives on the other side of the apartheid wall from her. Sofar she's made some interesting posts with little snippets about her work & life. Insh'allah she'll keep writing every day :)

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Koori Centre Cuts

Earlier this year, myself, members of the local Redfern community and many supporters of Aboriginal rights staged a small photo shoot in Redfern in front of the Block's Aboriginal flag, to show support for Damien Hooper at the Olympics:

Unfortunately, Sydney Uni doesn't share in the same level of goodwill towards the original owners of our colonised land... Despite acknowledging the Cadigal people of the Eora nation whose land the university was build on, the administration has pushed ahead with implementing a new strategy for Indigenous education which has raised serious concerns by the students, particularly due to the fact that the “Wingara Mura — Bunga Barrabugu” strategy will scatter the Koori Centre’s functions and staff across campus in 16 faculties".

In the above article SRC Indigenous Student Officer Narelle Daniels highlighted the key concerns students had with the changes:

"How long will students have access to Koori Centre facilities like the library, computers and common room?
It’s not just about the rooms, it’s about keeping Indigenous support close to home. We simply don’t want 16 different places … But when we’ve asked for a meeting with him [Houston] reception keeps putting us off."

Although students have gotten word of this restructure coming down on the Koori Centre at the end of Semester 1, due to SRC elections taking place this semester the campus activists who took on the management over staff cuts in Semester 1 didn't play a huge role in organising. Koori students have been collecting signatures and attempting to at least get a meeting with the DVC Indigenous, Shane Houston, to discuss the implications of the restructuring on their experience and ability to remain at Sydney Uni.

Resistance members collecting signatures during the SRC elections

By the end of semester Koori students were feeling quite uncertain about the future - particularly given the break for exams begins this week, and students will be off campus and unable to mobilise any action against closing the common room for months. So at short notice a rally was called for the final week of semester, at which over 60 students turned out to support the Centre remaining open. As soon as the action was called it got picked up by the national movement; Alice Springs radio called Kyol Blakeney, one of the organisers, for a live interview, and a letter was read out from Gary Foley, legend of the Tent Embassy movement!

Kyol told me:

I promote the idea of more black fullas in Uni and more understanding throughout the wider community of the culture but I do not condone the idea of the removal of the Aboriginal support staff as it makes no sense to take away support when you are trying to encourage other Aboriginals to come to uni and succeed. That is the reason why I am in the protest and against Shane Houston.
At a meeting with Houston at the end of the protest, Kyol and the other students from the Koori Centre got the following commitments (posted around the Save the Koori Centre FB page):
Space and facilities – common room, computer lab
Indigenous Student Support & ITAS Co-ordinators – Tanya Griffiths and Freda Hammond to be reinstated into their office in the Koori Centre at 2 days per week minimum with their own office space.
Faculty support – support officer (Indigenous within each faculty.)
2 additional support officers with roles towards – ITAS, Working with Cadigal, Basic Personal Support.
Looking to seek funding for an entirely new Koori Centre that acknowledges the word (Aboriginal/Cadigal) in the title. This will include common room, Computer lab and Indigenous support staff at a minimum.
No faculty-specific common areas – There will be only one big community space for every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student on main campus and the University of Sydney.
Ie they won! (At least the lion's share of demands, although the dispersal of the academic programs doesn't seem to be on the table for discussion anymore, and students of those courses have recieved notification presenting it as a fait accompli).

Of course, we haven't seen the students demands incorporated into the new strategy yet, so it's all tentative... It's now summer break, so the uni may try and take advantage of the absence of students to reneg and hope nobody notices... but the inspiring action sofar has certainly showed that the student movement at Sydney Uni hasn't gone anywhere. And they know the latent power of the student movement and its' ability to create PR nightmares and untenable situations for management.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Next Sydney rally for BDS

This week the chief Chazan and Rabbinate Choir of the IDF performed at a "Salute to Israel" concert at the Central Synagogue of Sydney. Although there was no protest there to greet them, it's nonetheless worthy of condemnation that officials of an occupying military would attempt to tour the world at a time when the writing is really on the wall.

Sydney's next rally for BDS will take place in Parramatta on November 15 - the date has changed after it was originally called for November 8, which clashes with another local event.

As part of the ongoing campaign for solidarity with Palestine, the Palestine Action Group is calling another peaceful protest against Max Brenner at Parramatta Westfield.

Max Brenner is an ongoing target of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign for its support for Israel and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Max Brenner supports the torture, displacement and genocide of the Palestinians. The company is owned by the Israe
li conglomerate the Strauss Group, which provides “care rations” for the Israeli military, including the Golani and the Givati brigades. These were two of the key Israeli military brigades involved in Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza in December 2008/January 2009, which killed more than 1300 Palestinians, the majority of whom were civilian, including over 300 children.

Since the Golani Brigade was deployed to Hebron in late 2011, Palestinian residents of Hebron have reported an increase of arbitrary arrests, home invasions, tightening of restrictions on movement and other acts of aggression as part of Israel's criminal occupation of the West Bank.

Max Brenner wants to "sweeten" the "special moments" of these brigades and be "there at the front to spoil them with our best products". It wants to sweeten genocide. It deserves to be boycotted.
Videos of the last protest:

There's been some recent victories in the global movement that are worth reflecting (and I don't think we'll have a victory anytime soon around Max Brenner, but mobilising in our hundreds to stand up for Palestine is a victory in itself :) The Israeli Batsheva Ensemble dance troupe last week announced they would cancel their performance in Brighton, England due to BDS protests, while protests called by Open Shuhada Street in Cape Town, South Africa won a campaign to have Israeli AHAVA products taken off shelves earlier this month.

The global campaign against Veolia continues to build pressure as well, with actions taking place in London against the Natural History Museum and Perth against the state government for contracting with the company. While I waited for the Palestinian Freedom Riders to get on their bus to Jerusalem, I was passed by several run by Veolia. *UPDATE* I find it quite cool that the Perth activists mirrored those freedom rides in their action by occupying a bus and singing a knock-off of "Wheels on the Bus" - definitely an addition to the West Bank action!

Peace and Justice.

Thursday, 4 October 2012


Hopefully this is a little easier to read...

Update on the Australian left

Against the backdrop of Labor's cave-in to the right on offshore detention of refugees, the whole political establishment using the September 15 #muslimrage protest to whip up Islamaphobia to a level not seen since the Cronulla roots, and the defeat of equal marriage laws for LGBTIQ couples in the Tasmanian and federal, the Australian left has been making some steps forward that
I think it's worth looking at in a little depth.

The mainstream response to the September 15 Muslim rally in Sydney has been predictably depressing. Even supposedly progressive forces like the Greens have wholeheartedly joined the conservatives in condemning the 'bad Muslims' who protested against the film, Innocence of Muslims. Under duress of raids, arrests and threats to increase charges against protesters, Muslim community leaders have likewise joined in the condemnation, rather than highlighting the reasons Australian Muslim youth feel alienated - racism in our society and our participation in wars of occupation against Muslim peoples.

However, there has been a good raft of left responses to the incident and the resulting Islamaphobia. Both Green Left Weekly and Socialist Alternative have run pieces from eyewitnesses highlighting that it was the police, not the protesters, who initiated the violence. This had been substantiated by an SBS report; however, it didn't stop Queensland senator Brett Mason from attempting to pass a motion to condemn Green Left for reporting it. Green Left TV responded with an in-depth report on the issue, featuring researcher Mohammad Tabaa and activist and independant political candidate from a neighbouring electorate to mine, Rebecca Kaye.

A sign-on statement of progressive community leaders and campaigners has started to pick up steam today. However, I've noticed the popularity of the anti-demonstration liberal responses like Peter FitzSimmons's amongst the secular left in the Arab world. We have to understand the context of struggle between revolutionary and counter-revolutionary forces to determine what real gains for democratic struggle and the working class will be won from the Arab Spring; the strategy of both the film-makers and imperialists and the political Islam movements winning elections in the last year is to encourage the revolutionaries to be sidelined by the cultural divide, and we must oppose that however we can wherever we are. For us in Australia, that means standing in solidarity with the Muslim community and doing our best to prevent another Cronulla riot from ever happening.

Looking at the left itself, a little bit of sussurus had been sweeping the internet since Jorge Joquera's announcement that he would be joining Socialist Alternative (btw, get a better search function for that website!). Although he is just one activist, the fact that her is a former leader of the DSP, and active in Cuban solidarity when Socialist Alternative subscribes to the theory of state capitalism, means it's been a significant signal.

In the aftermath, there's been some important steps towards the kind of constructive collaboration Dan Dimaggio talked about that I mentioned in my last post on this topic - the Revolutionary Socialist Party is discussing merging with Socialist Alternative, while the Socialist Alliance and Alternative have also announced the possibility of closer collaboration. These groups have slightly different backgrounds; the RSP split from the DSP, the largest group which initiated the Socialist Alliance, over the question of whether or not the DSP should dissolve into the Alliance after other organised left tendencies pulled out. This eventually happened in 2010 (some figures are sceptical of the reality of this, but my answer is myself and probably half of the other leaders of the Alliance were never in the DSP; I wrote more about this in my earlier posts). The RSP argued that an explicitly Marxist organisation was still necessary, rather than an organisation aimed at forming a broad anti-capitalist pole; this seems a little more in line with the goal of the Alternative project, which likewise prioritises the direct importance of winning revolutionaries to Marxist politics on the level of ideas.

The possibility of these groups coming together in some sort of project or around some points of unity (perhaps Socialist Alternative's Marxism 2013 conference) is at the moment in the air, and a lot of figures on the internet and in the broader campaigning left have been asking me about this in recent weeks, whether we are just being recruited by Socialist Alternative or if there's a deeper regroupment going on here. I can't say how genuine or deep any of these moves will run, but for now I'm somewhat optimistic. I think some of the ideas Derwin/Dimaggio outlined seem more likely to come to fruition for us here - joint events at conferences, joint speakers, cross-publications, etc all seem possible right now. Perhaps a broad "organisational" agreement for these groups is possible somewhere in the future, but there's still competing theories about What Is To Be Done being advanced that seem, to me, to preclude that possibility - For The Moment...

The experience of the recent NSW council elections has also been a step forward for the left. Housing Action, a joint ticket between the Communist Party of Australia, Socialist Alliance & independant left activists, achieved a decent showing, forcing incumbent mayor Clover Moore to respond to the issue of investment in and maintenance of public housing. Although I wasn't directly involved in the ticket's decision making, from all reports the process of sitting down and hashing out what policy all involved could agree upon was the easiest part of the project of all. And out in Auburn, the Battler coalition of progressive candidates has gotten Tony Oldfield of the CPA elected on the back of consistent community campaigning against a radioactive waste dump first brought in by Labor.

Lastly, I recently attended the EduFactory conference at the ANU in Canberra. One participant described it as the largest gathering of the anti capitalist student left she'd seen in around a decade - with all of the 100+ conference participants (who spoke at least) articulating that the neoliberal drive for cuts, rationalisations and restructures on campus must be opposed. Plans have been established to further link up the different campus struggles and potentially launch national campaigns around future attacks on our education.

We live in interesting times...