Posts Tagged ‘Political Repression’


About ten years ago I set up a Facebook account purely in order to get back in touch with old friends I’d lost touch with. Mission accomplished.

After that, I left the account to moulder, but for very occasional interactions with those old friends.

Now it’s time to terminate that account. And I’d urge you to do the same.

Why?

  • Facebook has poisoned political discourse in the U.S. and much of the rest of the world.

How?

There are three primary ways it’s done this:

  • Facebook feeds you “news” you already agree with. This aggravates problems with both under-informed leftist and rightist subscribers in that it reinforces established, irrational views. Facebook for the most part doesn’t expose or challenge already established ignorant viewpoints. It reinforces them.
  • Facebook promotes a “let’s you and him fight” attitude by thrusting into your face the most obnoxious opinions opposed to yours. That drives engagement (time spent on Facebook). It’ll raise your blood pressure, leave you depressed, will leave no one convinced of the rightness of your viewpoint — and increase your time spent on Facebook.
  • Facebook encourages people to think they’re informed, no matter how crazy the views it pushes at them. To put this another way, other than being spoon fed crazy conspiracy theories, how could the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist have gone in guns blazing?

Beyond that:

  • Facebook is a “walled garden” controlled by self-interested oligarchs, the exact opposite of the “open Internet” a lot of us were hoping for two decades ago. The Facebook oligarchs harvest and sell your/our data, and their purchasers use that data to sell us things we don’t need and politicians and political movements we really don’t need.

And beyond that:

  • Facebook is the ideal means for repressive governments to spy on citizens. This goes beyond direct surveillance — very easy via Facebook — to the set-up of honey traps to ensnare political opponents. “Black Lives Matter”? (They do.) The FBI (in all probability) and Russians (certainly) have set up fake “black lives matter” accounts to lure political dissidents, mislead them, and track them.

Then there’s the obvious:

  • Facebook is a huge time suck, and wasting time on it will not only pour your precious time down the drain but will waste the time you could use to do something — anything — more useful.

And after that, for the few who want to use Facebook to good ends:

  • Almost any other means of online organizing (see vpn, TOR browser) is safer than Facebook.

Here’s a link to how to deactivate or delete your Facebook account. I hope you’ll do either.

https://www.trustedreviews.com/news/how-to-delete-facebook-account-2950145

I’m now free of the near unmitigated evil of Facebook.

Please join me.

Again, your choice: family photos, cat videos, and enabling those who exploit and oppress you, or a temporary minor inconvenience. Your choice.

(There’s a great new book on the topic, Antisocial Media, that I’ll review here shortly. More details when I do so. Please stay tuned.)

 

 


(We received this a few days ago from our Venezuelan comrades connected with El Libertario. It begins with a note from our compañeros/as announcing a series of pieces on the current rebellion and repression — arrests, beatings, and torture — of anarchist and other protesters by the “leftist” Maduro regime, and expressing thanks to those who spread this information.

The images interspersed below showing the aftermath of the beatings are pretty large. Please scroll past them to continue reading the interview.)

Beginning on April 4, 2017, a popular rebellion has been developing against the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro. We’ll shortly be sending out a series of interviews with compañeros/as who have been detained and tortured for protesting. We appreciate the translation and dissemination of these interviews in other languages.

Anonymous Rebel: “Organize in whatever way you want, with whomever you want, but don’t be complicit.”

In the first days of July, in the city of Maracaibo in the state of Zulia, an anarchist comrade was arrested by the Bolivarian [federal] National Police (PNB) with the complicity of officials attached to the public transportation system of that city. In order to protect him from physical retaliation, we’re using the pseudonym “Anonymous
Rebel” here.

We spoke with him after he was released from the detention site. He’s currently well, but he was beaten during both his arrest and imprisonment and is under an order to present himself to the police once a week. In good spirits, he spoke with us about how the popular rebellion is progressing.

Can you comment on how you were arrested and if you were tortured?

In the area where I live, the people have been protesting, and I’ve always been participating in these peaceful protests with everyday people such as medics, hairdressers, people distributing free food, everyone from kids to old people.

Everything was going fine until a group of about 30 people, some in the uniform of the Metro [public transit system], poured out of the Metro station to intimidate us. They shot at us and hurled rocks at us, and we went running, with them coming after us, accompanied by the Bolivarian National Police, throwing rocks at houses, apartment buildings, and vehicles.

My arrest was a set-up because [we had stopped] to tell a regional policeman that we weren’t shooting and that it was those who had come out of the metro with rocks in one hand and a pistol in the other.

The aftermath of a beating by Nicolás Maduro’s police

Then to our surprise, we were attacked from behind by the PNB, in what quickly took on the appearance of a battlefield, with tear gas all over the place. We ran, but the PNB on motorcycles tried to corner me two or three times, until they finally got me and arrested me for carrying a bag. They got me down on the ground and battered me with their shields. [Translator’s note: This appears to be a standard tactic with the PNB. They beat their victims to the ground and then slam down the bottoms of their heavy plastic shields on their bodies.] Then, giving us some kicks, they threw me and some other people into a paddywagon.

Later my compañera and another arrested woman arrived, and they took us to the command post of the Guardia at 7:00 pm, where they produced planted evidence to incriminate us: Molotov cocktails, a bag with sharp wire spikes protruding, and the helmets she and I had been wearing. They let my compañera go in the early morning hours, the other woman later in the morning, and they detained me [and other male protesters].

They never read us our rights, and it was until days later that they allowed me a call, which I didn’t make myself, but rather a guard  called my family telling them to bring me clothing while I was detained.

Were you in a cell with other detainees? How were the conditions?

They didn’t put us in a cell, because the jail in that command post was full. There were 40 other people there on various charges besides the protesters, so they put us on the patio and handcuffed us. At 5:00 am they woke us so we could shower. I should mention that I didn’t sleep the entire night, because of the anxiety and helplessness I felt. Five minutes to shower on a patio where there was only a hole in the ground in which to piss and shit.

At this time, an anti-mutiny squad arrived, and four of them, while we were showering, began striking us on our legs, butts, and backs, saying, “These damn anti-Chavistas, we should leave them in a ditch. I don’t know why they brought them here.”

There were two kids of 14 and another aged 17, who they also beat, one of whom, one of the 14-year-olds, when he was arrested they threw to the ground, along with other protestors, and threw the powder or crystals from their tear gas bombs directly on them and then threw water so that the chemicals would penetrate, causing allergic reactions and skin damage.

During the five days I was detained, which I passed under the sun on the patio, they only allowed us to use the toilet facilities [the hole in the ground] twice a day no matter when we ate. Our families could bring us food, but I learned after I was released that the guards had stolen one lunch and dinner my family brought for me.

Here I should thank the Centro de Atención Manos Solidarias along with the everyday people who donated to the imprisoned protesters. I had enough food, but the detainees whose families didn’t supply any benefited greatly from the aid of this social center. We were very grateful for the aid.

How did your detention affect your family and other loved ones?

My mother is 65 years old and disabled, and is in delicate health, but she was strong and was there every day. I thought a lot about her health, but my compañera is the best, and took good care of her. It’s in these moments when one realizes who your true friends and comrades are. Many of the neighborhood people supported us, some monetarily, and some with food and transport. We’re very grateful for their solidarity!

How is life in Maracaibo?

Maracaibo is a difficult city [in which to live], perhaps because the heat makes us so irritable. There’s a very noticeable discontent. The quality of life grows worse with every passing day, as everyone notices. The stereotype of the Maracaiboan is of someone paunchy, but there are [now] many skinny people who are going without necessities.

People have been protesting here since 2015. There is no apathy [in the political sense].

Why do you protest? What impels you to participate in this militant form of popular mobilization?

I’ve been protesting for several years, always anonymously. I don’t like being out front, and I don’t want any praise for doing it; I do it because I’m fed up with the situation, tired of dealing with screwed-up situation after screwed-up situation just to make enough money to buy food day after day. I’m tired of living in a militarist country where we pay taxes to feed those who treat us so badly.

I have my point of view about the protests I go to. We can’t talk about anarchism there and the people aren’t interested in it, the true rebels who put their bodies behind a placard. The majority that I’ve seen only want to get rid of this government, and it doesn’t matter to them what comes after. They only want to get rid of this band of the inept and corrupt. There’s a lot of solidarity in the protests; we’re all equal, brothers and sisters in the struggle.

Is it worth the trouble.

It’s always worth the trouble to fight for your rights, as it always should be; our discontent should be open and should be clear  — we can’t remain paralyzed with fear; it’s necessary to overcome it.

Do you think that after 100 days we’re experiencing a popular rebellion?

Today, July 10, 2017, I think that each day we’re coming closer to a popular rebellion, in that every day the people become less attached to MUD [the opposition coalition] and any political party. They’re fed up with MUD. Today I can say that thanks to this government there’s a rebellious youth, with experience in the street and that, whatever government we’re saddled with, they’re prepared and ready to defend our rights and liberties.

What do you think of the cliche that we shouldn’t support the protests because they benefit the right?

That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen and heard. I don’t got out to play games with the MUD, who go out to protests and ask the people who resist which party they belong to. Every day people become less and less tied to the political parties.

How do you see the silence of many overseas anarchists about what’s happening in Venezuela?

In the end, I’ve felt with respect to the great majority of such “anarchists” who whine on social networks and say that they won’t come out [and say anything] because there are groups like the National Rebirth [Renacer Nacional] that are fascist, that are political manipulators. But that’s no reason to remain silent.

It’s necessary to fight for our ideals. It doesn’t matter who’s out there. We need to organize however you want, with whomever you want. But don’t be complicit! Don’t be critical of everything! Don’t be “anarcho” window dressing. Enough with indifference. When you see your brothers and sisters falling, it’s time to fight.

What should be the posture of anarchists in regard to the future?

It’s time that anarchists get in tune with history, get out on the streets to struggle against militarism, against hunger, against corruption, against the injustices they rail against in fanzines, songs, and the poetic fusillades of intellectuals. It’s time that Venezuelan anarchists take to the streets with a clear message and unite with the resistance.

Released political protesters/prisoners in Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela

I also hope for the creation of a serious bloc of anarchists that could become the Anarchist Network, that in truth would not consist of fanzines or music of one band or another. NO. One can’t believe in true anarchist fronts or movements advancing the struggle. It’s necessary to become involved in the barrios, the community councils, in one’s community. It’s necessary for all to say that in this moment, in this totally divided country, that’s broken into two pieces, if not many more, that we ought to take advantage of this space to say who we are and for what we struggle.


(Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow. Macmillan, 2017, 379 pp., $26.99)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

In Walkaway, Cory Doctorow takes on one of the most vexing matters of our time: Automation (more broadly, technological advances) is, at an accelerating rate, making human labor ever less necessary.

But what will it lead to?

A post-scarcity, egalitarian, “to each according to their wants” economy of abundance in which working is a matter of choice? Or to a version of the present artificial-scarcity economy in which there are an army of the poor and oppressed, and a few super-rich individuals who will resort to anything to retain their positions of power and privilege?

In Walkaway, the answer is both. In Doctorow’s medium-near future, there’s both a drastically more repressive version of current society — to alter the famous quotation from Lincoln Steffens, “I have seen the future, and it’s worse” — and a (small “l”) libertarian and egalitarian alternative built by those who “walk away” from the dominant “default” society, a “post-scarcity” alternative made possible by sweeping technological/productivity advances.

Therein lies the main virtue of Walkaway: Doctorow’s convincing, detailed, and attractive portrayal of that post-scarcity society and its workings.

To get a bit politically wonkish, what Doctorow describes, though he never uses the term, is an anarcho-communist society (in contrast to the other flavors of anarchism: individualist, mutualist, and syndicalist).

Other virtues include Doctorow’s insightful treatment of technological advances, notably in the liberatory and repressive possibilities they entail, and in the book’s humor, which mostly appears in its first 150 pages.

One of the main points Doctorow makes in support of a post-scarcity, egalitarian societal set-up is that meritocracy, in both authoritarian capitalist society and in libertarian alternatives, is a very bad idea, as the following dialogue between two of Doctorow’s characters, Gretyl and Iceweasel, illustrates:

“Your people are all fighting self-serving bullshit, the root of all evil. There’s no bullshit more self-serving than the idea that you’re a precious snowflake, irreplaceable and deserving . . .”

“I’ve heard all this. My dad used it to explain paying his workers as little as he could get away with, while taking as much pay as he could get away with. . . .”

“You’re assuming that because [the rich] talk about meritocracy, and because they’re full of shit, merit must be full of shit. It’s like astrology and astronomy: astrology talks about orbital mechanics and so does astronomy. But astronomers talk about orbital mechanics because they’ve systematically observed the sky, built falsifiable hypotheses from observations, and proceeded from there. Astrologers talk about orbital mechanics because it sounds sciencey and helps them kid the suckers.”

“You’re calling my dad an astrologer then?”

“That would be an insult to astrologers.”

Two other notable aspects of Walkaway are the full-spectrum sexual diversity of the characters, and that Doctorow includes two explicit, well written sex scenes. (This is in stark contrast to the usual, annoying avoidance of such scenes in the vast majority of science fiction novels, where disgustingly graphic depiction of violence is perfectly acceptable, but — horrors! — not graphic depiction of sex; the only other sci-fi authors I can think of who include explicit, fitting sex scenes in their work are Richard K. Morgan and Walter Mosley.)

As for the plot, it would give away too much to say more than that it revolves around the brutal repression of the walkaways, and their use of nonviolent resistance in response, after they develop a technology that the ultra-rich of “default” society find threatening.

The description of this conflict takes up more than two-thirds of the book, which is likely too much of it. In too many places, the latter portions of Walkaway drag. After reading the first 225 or so pages, I found myself wondering when it would ever end; I kept reading only because I wanted to see how Doctorow would resolve the conflict between the walkaways and “default.”

Anther problem with the book is that it seems disjointed at times. This is in part due to Doctorow’s using five p.o.v. characters. This isn’t necessarily a problem (see George Turner’s effective use of multiple [five] p.o.v.s in Drowning Towers), but it is here. Doctorow switches from one to another purely to advance the story, with the amount of time devoted to the different p.o.v.s varying considerably; and, as Walkaway progresses, it all but abandons the p.o.v. of what I originally thought was the primary p.o.v. character.

It doesn’t help that there’s little if any overlap — no differing views of the same things, a la Rashomon — in the events described from the different p.o.v.s, which aggravates the disjointedness problem.

Still, Walkaway‘s virtues — especially it’s detailed, attractive portrayal of a libertarian post-scarcity society — outweigh its faults.

Walkaway is quite probably the best fictional description of a post-scarcity society ever written.

Recommended.

* * *

Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel, and on an unrelated sci-fi novel, in his copious free time.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover


Fidel Castro

 

by Chaz Bufe, publisher See Sharp Press

It’s time to speak ill of the dead.  It’s been time for nearly a century. Since 1918, the left in both the U.S. and Europe has had a dictator-worship problem. First it was Lenin; then it was (yes) Stalin; then Mao; most recently the dictator of choice has been Fidel Castro.

To illustrate the depth and nature of this problem, let me recount an incident from Cuba in the 1960s. In the 1970s, a maoist friend told me about his experiences there as part of a Venceremos Brigade a decade earlier. (Venceremos Brigades were bands of American leftists who traveled to Cuba to work in the cane fields in support of “the revolution.”) At one point, Fidel himself showed up where they were working in the fields. My friend told me that the reaction of his fellow brigadistas was like that of 14-year-olds at a Beatles concert.

Anarcho-Syndicalist ReviewSince then, the American left in large part has continued to idolize Castro and his Stalin-admirer cohort, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, overlooking their  crimes. We’ll get to those crimes shortly, but let’s first speak of Castro’s, and his “revolution’s,” achievements. During his half-century reign, Fidel Castro and the Cuban Communist Party achieved the following:

  • The literacy rate in Cuba in Cuba went from approximately 70% (figures vary) in 1959 to an estimated 96% today, thanks to the Cuban government’s literacy campaigns and universal education for those aged 6 to 16.
  • Cuba has universal, free medical care. One example of its success is that infant mortality in Cuba fell from 37.3 per 1,000 live births in 1959 to 4.3 per thousand today. (In contrast, the infant mortality rate in the U.S. is 5.8 per 1,000 live births today.)
  • Higher education in Cuba is free for most Cubans.
  • There is remarkably little street crime in Cuba.
  • Every Cuban adult is guaranteed a low paying job, with pay averaging about $20 a month.
  • The Castro regime did show that a Latin American regime can defy the United States government (and the corporations it serves) and survive.

Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Well, consider this:

  • Freedom of speech does not exist in Cuba, nor do the other freedoms listed in the U.S. Bill of Rights. Since its inception, the “revolutionary” Castro regime has jailed opponents for exercising their freedoms of speech and assembly. Human Rights Watch notes: “Many of the abusive tactics developed during his [Fidel Castro’s] time in power – including surveillance, beatings, arbitrary detention, and public acts of repudiation – are still used by the Cuban government.”
  • All media outlets (newspapers, magazines, book publishers, radio stations, television stations) are controlled by the Castro regime, and access to the Internet is tightly restricted.
  • Cuba is a one-party state.
  • In its first four-plus decades in power (ending in 2003), the Castro regime executed hundreds if not thousands of its political opponents. Amnesty International estimates that that regime executed 216 political opponents between 1959 and 1987. Other estimates run up well into the thousands.
  • The Cuban government maintains a surveillance network in every neighborhood in Cuba, the so-called Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs — more accurately, Committees for the Defense of the Regime), which not only spy upon residents, but have considerable control over their lives. As an example, The CDRs can ban political dissidents from even applying to institutions of higher learning.
  • One of the first things the Castro regime did when it took power was to destroy independent unions, either jailing or driving into exile unionists who opposed its takeover. For over half a century, all unions in Cuba have been controlled by the government. (See Cuban Anarchism: The History of a Movement, by Frank Fernández. Full disclosure: I translated and edited the book.)
  • There is no workers’ control, no workplace democracy in Cuba. All workplaces are tightly controlled by government apparatchiks.
  • The Cuban government denies its citizens the right to travel, the right to emigrate. Since 1959, over 1.5 million Cubans have fled the country (current population 11 to 12 million). At least hundreds of thousands fled on rickety boats and rafts, and at absolute minimum thousands of men, women, and children died in the crossing. The actual figure is likely well up into the tens of thousands. No one really knows.

Since Castro’s death last week, the American left has, by and large, continued to sing Fidel Castro’s praises. To cite but one example, a few days ago Amy Goodman, on her generally excellent “Democracy Now” broadcast, devoted a full hour (bar the first few minutes devoted to news) to Castro. There were a few seconds (considerably under a minute) near the start devoted  to generalized mention of the repressive nature of the regime, but there was no mention whatsoever in the rest of the hour of any of the crimes listed above. It was largely a love letter to Castro.

One might mention that many antiauthoritarian Latin American leftists and anarchists deeply resent the largely uncritical support given Castro (and until his death Hugo Chávez in Venezuela) by the American left. They see it as a betrayal of principles — and themselves — and consider it utterly hypocritical, especially when coming from those who loudly proclaim their allegiance to human freedom, human rights — in the United States, but not Cuba (or Venezuela). They believe that the typical leftist refrain, “Well, we wouldn’t want that repressive system here, but the Cuban people are better off for it,” is grossly patronizing to those who are the victims of repression and those who struggle against it.

They have a point. If you believe in human freedom, in civil liberties, you believe in them everywhere, and you support all those struggling against repression. You’re either for freedom of speech or against it. You don’t make excuses for repressive regimes because you know “what’s best” for the people in those countries, because you know better than the Cubans (or Venezuelans) struggling against repression. If you make excuses for authoritarian regimes, if you don’t stand against repression everywhere, please don’t pretend that you have principles, please don’t pretend that you’re anything but a political apologist, a political hack.

If you think a one-party state, suppression of civil liberties, government control of the media, suppression of independent unions, replacement of capitalist bosses by “Communist” bosses, secret police, prisons, executions, a network of neighborhood informers, militarism, and a personality cult are a good tradeoff for the Cuban people in exchange for free health care, free higher education, and a guaranteed low-paying job, by all means support the Cuban dictatorship, and continue to sing Fidel Castro’s praises.