From the January-February issue of News & Letters:
Readers’ Views, Part 1
THE SYRIAN REVOLUTION AS TEST OF WORLD POLITICS
I have been active in a number of student groups around labor and women’s issues. We always talk about “intersectionality” and recognizing different struggles. Somehow that didn’t seem to apply, though, when it came to the Syrian Revolution. Suddenly people didn’t want to talk about it. I have noticed that when people did support us, they tended to be Marxists. The Lead in the Nov.-Dec. News & Letters (“The Syrian Revolution as the test of world politics”) was good, and very comprehensive. I was happy to read something that makes me feel less alone.
I liked the Lead’s unique perspective on Syria. The U.S. and Iran reached a “Grand” bargain regarding Iran’s nuclear program. What was sacrificed in this bargain was Syria. Apparently, Iran would remain a great player in Syria, hence in Lebanon, in return for a regime of total nuclear inspection plus a minor lifting of the sanctions. Iran is now invited to the next round of Geneva talks, which aims at maintaining Syria’s pillars of power in any transitional arrangement, apparently with Assad still at the helm!
I was asked why I became so active in support of the Syrian people’s struggle. It’s because seeing the courage, the endurance, the love, and all the other great qualities that the people in the Revolution have shown me, has taught me for the first time what it means to be human. What I do for them is really very little. What they do for me is beyond measure.
Some say that the “Israel lobby” is keeping President Obama from sending aid to the Syrian rebels. But it’s more than that. It’s also Arab governments like Saudi Arabia, who are afraid that the fight for freedom will spread among their own people. That should be recognized.
I find it highly unlikely that even the monomaniacal Bashar al-Assad would use sarin gas on his people the day a UN mission to investigate the use of poison gas lands in Damascus. Assad’s immediate agreement to the elimination of all chemical weapons stockpiles is further proof that he and his regime weren’t the perpetrators in this case.
One of the best reporters covering Middle East issues is Borzou Daragahi. So his opinion of the UN’s decision to stop counting the number of dead in Syria should carry a lot of weight. They claim it is too hard to do because of the fighting. He wrote in response, “Bullshit. The UN had no problem keeping a monthly tally of casualty figures in Iraq during the worst years of the war. This is a political decision to appease Bashar, whom the UN needs in order to pretend that it’s delivering help to people.”
BENEATH THE WHEELS
Chuck Roth, suffering from liver and artery disease and unable to walk, was evicted from Astor House in Chicago on Dec. 13 and sent to Stroger Hospital. He was on life support the next day and died on Dec. 18. Many tenants had suffered years of mold, rodents, bedbugs and flooding, only to see the building bought by BJB Properties, which dumped them and their belongings on the street while renovating the building to jack up the rents for new, affluent, mostly white tenants. Northside Action for Justice and Communities United Against Foreclosure and Eviction packed the courtroom for the next hearing on Roth’s eviction, and held a candlelight vigil in his memory. Chuck Roth—killed by gentrification!
Just before Thanksgiving, 200 people marched to oppose an L.A. City Council move to ban feeding the homeless in the street. A homeless man told me of mistreatment of homeless people at feeding centers and shelters, such as waking people by shouting the F-word at them. “House keys, not handcuffs!” we chanted. It is easy to make motions sitting in plush offices in City Hall to support the businesses of this rich city. What is the use of an economic system that cannot provide facilities for the homeless to eat, or even pee? Hunger is not a crime!
Judge Shira Scheindlin, a federal judge in New York City, after months of testimony, found the “stop-and-frisk” program of the NY Police Department violated the Fourth Amendment by authorizing illegal searches of innocent people. Close to 90% of those stopped were Black or Latino youth, and the vast majority of stops produced no evidence of criminal conduct. Mayor Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Kelly, the cops’ union and the tabloid press reacted with anger and dark warnings of rampant criminality. But people of color and progressives celebrated the judge’s ruling.
A new aggressive breed of “entrepreneurs” has settled in San Francisco, with lots of attitude. Some are working on automation technology to replace living workers, including those in the restaurant industry. Others have established semi-legal taxi operations working from cell phone “apps” and using private drivers, who are not trained and who lack adequate insurance. On New Year’s Eve, a driver for Uber, one such service, killed a six-year-old girl, Sofia Lui, in a crosswalk, but since the driver did not have a passenger in the vehicle at the time, he was not covered by insurance, and Uber will not take responsibility for the death.
YOUTH, RELIGION & PATRIARCHY
Christian Nation presents a frightening possibility. (See “Christian Nation,” Nov.-Dec. N&L.) Some people in my family are home schooling their children, indoctrinating them to have a Christian fundamentalist biblical worldview instead of encouraging truly human concepts such as critical thinking and liberation. They hope that their family is a part of the movement to populate the earth with likeminded people. Youth are key to the religious right. My hope is that all people will reject the oppressions of the religious Right and, instead, work for a humane world.
Rejected fundamentalist Christianity
DON’T DRINK THE POISON
An industry spilled a chemical called MCHM into the Elk River, the source of drinking water in and around Charleston, W.Va. A friend of mine in Charleston said, “The best one could say is that this is really embarrassing. As yet, I see no limit to the worst one could say…” When the Governor declared it safe to drink again, he did not mention that no study has ever been done to determine whether it causes cancer or birth defects. There are 80,000 chemicals in use that have not been tested for safety.
WHY THIS NEWSPAPER?
N&L as a revolutionary journal is very much true to its beginning, providing a space where the voices of the lower stratum can be heard and not separate from voices of intellectuals. The relationship of those diverse voices is indispensable to the working out of a coherent theory of liberation. The paper is the necessary intersection where diverse people can meet and engage in a much needed discussion and have their subjectivities respected.
There needs to be a critical engagement with the philosophy of Marxist- Humanism because of its dialectical method. Real human emancipation does not materialize by simply counterposing what one is against but through positive humanism beginning from itself. What is sorely absent in other left-wing formations is the fundamental grasp of the ceaseless movement of thought as the active agent of history.
Crescent City, Calif.
Because of the age of computers, papers are becoming a thing of the past. Prisons like the one I’m in do not provide computers. Few papers that do come in are so filled with the real deal that’s going on in the world. You will not find any of the truth in those papers that I can find from reading N&L. It’s very important that someone stand up and tell it like it is and not sell out to the corporations. It’s the little people who have always made the changes that had to be made in this world. I only wish my eyes were as open years before I came into this place like they are open now, but it’s not where you start in life, it’s how you end. If I ever become a free man again, I will give my time to help you keep doing the work that you do for “us.”
Mt. Sterling, Ill.
The Who We Are statement on the bottom of page 12 is to show we’re not just a paper but also an organization. The relationship between the newspaper and being a member of News and Letters Committees is very organic for me. I practice Marxist-Humanism by eliciting people’s voices and developing articles for the paper. Having a paper gave me a structure and an organizational life. That showed me how that is different from just attending a demonstration as an individual. Now a lot of organizations are based on the idea that they can be a forum for people to express what is on their minds. What makes News and Letters Committees different is the work on developing a philosophy of liberation. It is not enough to publish people’s thoughts, but to engage their thinking, for example with prisoners, developing further: “We want to be validated as human.” A philosophy of liberation engages a movement so it can develop. That may be easy to say but is hard to practice.
Although there is much to be criticized in “What Is to Be Done” the section on the newspaper as a collective organizer is well worth reading. No matter what else, Lenin and the Bolsheviks always had a paper. It is important to recognize that we can learn from them in this regard. I also agree with you on the need to better utilize the paper to help the organization grow. The fact that News & Letters publishes six times a year in the world today is nothing short of a miracle. Every issue is a seed being planted for revolution.
New York City