What we’re reading

Empire of Borders

The recent books Empire of Borders by Todd Miller and How to Hide an Empire by Daniel Immerwahr are illuminating and useful for many involved with the new immigration movement or combating US imperialism, and wanting more background.

Both show how far the US “borders” extend around the world. And they give fascinating and horrific details on the long history that Trump is building on.

You can get a taste of Todd Miller’s argument in the recent interview with Ashley Smith in Jacobin, where he says:  

“Hardened borders exist and are proliferating to police a world precisely because the global situation is already precarious and unstable. …Washington’s climate, economic, and military policies [along with the EU and others] have wrecked whole sections of the world”.

“When the United States responds to these people by militarizing the border, it only exacerbates the instability. It doesn’t solve the causes of migration but locks them in place; creates chaos at the border, especially for migrants; stimulates corporate investment in the border regime; compromises our civil rights and liberties; and encourages demagogues like Trump to whip up xenophobia and racism.”

Miller ends his interview where we must begin, “The one silver lining in the age of Trump is that his racist attacks on refugees and migrants has produced a new movement to challenge and dismantle the global border regime.”

Also of interest on this topic is a talk by Phil Marfleet at the 2019 Marxism conference, giving an explicitly revolutionary socialist understanding of the uses of borders and oppression of immigrants for capitalism, on YouTube.

Read more of the interview with Miller…

Protests Escalate in Hong Kong

October 5 • Last night a second teenager was shot by Hong Kong police. On October 1st tens of thousands again marched through Hong Kong, on the symbolic “national day” and for the first time, police made good on their threats and shot a protester—an 18 year old student—with live ammunition (“Protester shot in Hong Kong on China anniversary.”) Over a thousand people, including hundreds of office workers, joined by high school students, peacefully marched the next day, and blocked roads in protest over the shooting. Then on Friday “emergency powers” were evoked by the beleaguered Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, more angry protests erupted overnight, and a 14-year old was shot and is said to be in critical condition.  

In the immediate aftermath of the October 1st protests, Kevin Lin was interviewed on Democracy Now by Amy Goodman. See the insightful interview here. Mr. Lin’s previous piece in Jacobin (“Four Points on the Hong Kong Protests”) is also of interest in understanding the situation.

While Protests have won the postponement and then withdrawal of the feared extradition bill that started the demonstrations, people continue to fight for “five demands,” including universal suffrage, for an inquiry into repressive police conduct, and for unconditional release of imprisoned protesters. On Friday October 4th, the government put in place emergency powers not used in 50 years to ban the face masks often worn by protesters afraid of police retaliation. Many fear this is the first step towards emergency powers. Before the ban took effect on midnight there were already new protests against it, with hundreds of office workers in the financial center gathering to march with face masks on. As night fell, at many other neighborhoods angry protesters set fires, built barricades and threw Molitov cocktails at  police, businesses and metro stations. The rail operator just announced that the Metro system would remain closed throughout Saturday.

Even before the October 1st shooting, tactics were being debated throughout the “leaderless” movement, as discussed by Lam Chi Leung. Of course, the state is the source of the violence, and the anger and desire to escalate the protests is understandable. A majority of those not taking part in protests support the students using militant tactics over the police. But firebombing train stations is not the most effective way to keep people from work when workers are already walking out themselves to support the protesters. Battles with armed riot police alone will not win the five demands, or overturn the system.

Important among the options being discussed is winning the movement, and the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, to organize workplaces, unions and strike committees for a real general strike of workers that would add fundamental power to the movement against repression—and even open up new demands in a country that is one of the most unequal in the world.  

Strikes would also isolate the minority of right-wing Hong Kong nationalists who use xenophobic language against mainland Chinese, and want to tie the street movement to the interest of U.S. imperialism. If the movement does not move forward, there is a danger the minority arguments by these “nativists” could gain more influence, as with the protesters mistakenly carrying British or American flags on the demonstrations. Neither of those countries is a friend of democracy and equality in Hong Kong. But this danger is best countered by people active in the movement, in the streets, pointing a way forward. As Au Loong Yu said In Jacobin, there are different sides who want to make people choose “either Washington or Beijing.” But “progressive people, whether in Hong Kong or beyond, should refuse such choices. They are not real choices for working people in Hong Kong, China, or the United States. Workers have nothing to win in this rivalry.” For more on this topic see Kevin Lin’s “How Should the U.S. Left Think about China?” in New Politics.

In the larger picture, coordination of the crowds in the street with worker’s action in Hong Kong and the mainland would raise the possibility of progressive and fundamental change throughout the region.  

From Sudan to Puerto Rico, and Hong Kong to Haiti, we have recently seen how simmering resentment can turn seemingly spontaneously to insurrection. But we also see how worker’s power and political organization are needed to turn an insurrection to fundamental change.

The Path to Climate Justice Runs Through the UAW Strike

September 23, 2019 • For Climate Week, Jane McAlevey discusses the GM strike, the sticking point of pay for workers building electric cars, and argues that “a real win by the GM workers, with active and aggressive and measurable support from the major environmental groups, would be a massive victory that would propel the movement for climate justice forward.” The Nation. Read more…

Ending GM’s two-tired labor system is UAW members’ top demand — and part of a bigger fight against worker misclassification

September 2019 • Nearly 50,000 GM workers are on strike, in part against a two-tiered system enforced by the auto giant that leaves “temporary” workers doing the same jobs as permanent staff for substantially less pay and fewer benefits,” writes Rachel M. Cohen for The Intercept. Read more…

Hong Kong: No Progress without Real System Change

September 2019 •  Interview with activist and Marxist Lam Chi Leung about the protests in Hong Kong. Socialist Review.
For more background, see also: “Hong Kong’s protests in review,” John Smith, Socialist Review July/August 2019, and “Localism’s Contradictions in Hong Kong” by Promice Li, New Politics, June 2019.
Also interesting for its details is “A New Generation Rises,” an eyewitness account by Hong Kong socialist Au Loong Yu, which briefly covers the history, composition, and ideologies of the movement, (New Politics August 2019).  Colin Sparks had an interesting series of articles on Hong Kong at RS21, and Lam Chi Leung briefly argues that “Unity, a general strike and organisation can strengthen the movement in Hong Kong.”
Read more…

In Defense Of Party Building

July 2019 • John Molyneux defends party building after the recent collapse of the US International Socialist Organization. Read more…

Since 1989: the Top 1% Gained $21 Trillion, While Bottom Half Lost $900 Billion

June 2019 • “The top one percent owns nearly $30 trillion of assets while the bottom half owns less than nothing, meaning they have more debts than they have assets” according to a new report by the People’s Policy Project. We know obscene and rising inequality is not news, but the figures are rightly called “eye-popping.” They analysed the Federal Reserve’s newly released “Distributive Financial Accounts” data series, and compared it to past figures to highlight the movement in wealth inequality. “Between 1989 and 2018, the top one percent increased its total net worth by $21 trillion. The bottom 50 percent actually saw its net worth decrease by $900 billion over the same period.” Read more…

Whatever Happened to the Energy Transition?

June 2019 • John Treat of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy examines how market based strategies are failing to make the transition to renewables, and advocates instead for democratic ownership of energy as the best way to make the transition. Read more…

The Syriza Failure

June 2019 • In 2015, Syriza came to power promising change for the people of Greece. Now, the party looks set to lose office, weeks after damaging local and European elections. Greek socialist Nikos Lountos gives his take in Rebel News. Read more…

Why Stonewall Matters Today

June 2019 • Andy Thayer in Jacobin discusses why Stonewall wasn’t just an uprising for LGBT rights — it was also part of a broader movement that fought racism, war, and poverty. To go beyond today’s tepid gay activism, we need to remember its anti-capitalism. Read more…

Ecological Politics for the Working Class

Spring, 2019 • Solving the ecological crisis requires a mass movement to take on hugely powerful industries. Matt T. Huber argues here for a program to tackle the ecological crisis through organizing around working-class interests. Catalyst  Read More…

Betting on Infinite Loss

June 2019 • Alex Callinicos on the new movements over climate change, the latest from International Socialism. Read more…

Social collapse and climate breakdown

May 2019 • Wisdom only begins when we let in the grief and rage of understanding climate breakdown. Can we find radical hope in the face of social collapse around the world? Jonathan Neale discusses in The Ecologist. Read more…

Living on revolution time

June 2019 • This exciting article should be required reading on social movements and revolution. Anne Alexander on understanding the dynamics of the uprisings in Sudan and Algeria. International Socialism 163. Read more…

The Anti-Capitalist Movement and the Revolutionary Left

From the vault • A piece by Alex Callinicos from 2001 that offers an interesting perspective, foreseeing problems with the ISO’s orientation. Read more…

Fascism in Europe today

April 2019 • Mark L. Thomas looks at the rising far right and the resistance growing in Europe in International Socialism. Read more…

What kind of climate movement do we need?

April 2019 • Camilla Royle discusses emerging climate activism in Socialist Review. Read more…

Austria: fascism in government

January 2019 • David Albrich looks at the rise of the far right in Austria in International Socialism. Read more…

Puerto Rico, the Greece of the Caribbean

March 2018 • José Hernández explores the human-made disaster in Puerto Rico at SEK Online. Read more…