Archive for May, 2008

If this is the Tories’ idea of protecting children, I’d hate to see their idea of not protecting them

It’s funny how the Tories will talk the good talk of defending children when it suits their ideologically narrow world view only to turn around and actively exploit even more vulnerable children by having them guard our military assets and killing machines.  It’s of course, not ‘ha ha’ funny, but rather more on the sardonic side.  If this is what protecting children means to the Conservatives, I’d hate to see their definition of not protecting the children.

An excerpt from an article by Thomas Walkom in today’s Toronto Star:

“Back in 2002, Canada signed on to an international treaty aimed at rehabilitating child soldiers.

In fact, Canada was the first to ratify the so-called Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty that requires signatories to give special consideration to captured enemy fighters under the age of 18.

The treaty says they are to be segregated from adult combatants. As well, those who capture children must make every effort to reintegrate them into society.

[...]

Amir Attaran, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, and Andy Knight, a University of Alberta political scientist, make the case that, in Afghanistan, Canada is running afoul of the very treaty it once championed.

I first heard the pair on CBC Radio’s The Current. Yesterday, I phoned them up. Attaran, who has been a vocal critic of Canada’s detention policy in Afghanistan, points out that government documents released in a court case last fall show that Canadian troops in Kandahar indeed capture child fighters, only to turn them over to Afghan security forces for what is usually a brutal interrogation.

That, he says, is a clear violation of Canada’s international obligations and – depending on how the children are treated by the Afghans – almost certainly a crime under Canadian law.

Citing press reports, Knight told me that there is also some suggestion of Afghan teenagers being used, with NATO co-operation, to guard military facilities.

A national defence spokesman told me yesterday that the Canadian Forces hand over suspected child insurgents to the Afghan authorities who incarcerate them in a juvenile wing at Kandahar’s main prison.

But the two human rights experts say this isn’t sufficient. They say that when Canadian troops capture children, they should hand them over to UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund. It operates a rehabilitation centre in the country for former child soldiers and so far has successfully demobilized 7,400.

Confidential documents released as part of a court case brought against the government by Amnesty International point out that Ottawa is well aware of the UNICEF project. Yet none of the minors captured (and thanks to the ongoing federal court case, we know there have been at least three) has ended up there.

[...]

“Canada was once at the top of the heap in this regard,” says Attaran. “Now we’re keeping company with those at the bottom.”

As a Marxist, I’m obviously not prone to quoting from the Bible, however one quote does spring to mind:  It’s the Biblical definition of the hypocrite outlined in Matthew 7:4:

“cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then
thou shalt see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

Just how big is Quebec’s shift away from the right wing? Pretty big

Given the recent provincial by-election results in the province of Quebec, bloggers and politicians everywhere have been talking about the results and their implications.

As with any event, it helps to actually review what happened and then, based on this, generate an analysis.  If we do it the other way around, we risk being like a Conservative cabinet minister who, during a Question Period session shortly after the by-elections, tried to ridicule Gilles Duccepe by saying that the by-elections were a huge victory federalists and a huge defeat for the PQ.  (I don’t remember which Tory cabinet minister it was who said it, but I remember being shocked when I heard it).

In fact, contrary to the Tories’ contention, both the by-election results and the recent provincial polling results show a rather different story.

First, the by-election results.

Simply put, the Tories’ closest provincial ally, the ADQ, witnessed a staggering collapse.  This is rather significant since the far-right ADQ is lead by Mario Dumont, a man who attracted the attention of the international press in 2007 and who was (appropriately, in my opinion) called “Canada’s Le Pen” by the U.K.-based newspaper The Independent (source).

In the three by-election ridings, the ADQ’s support collapsed to just over 1/3 of their formerly mighty self.  Now, even though none of these ridings were strong ADQ ridings, nothing I think could have prepared political observers for just how spectacular of a collapse the ADQ made.  For instance, in my riding (Hull), the ADQ dropped from being the 3rd place party to being dead last among the 5 main provincial parties with both the Greens and Québec solidaire (which is an amalgamation of left-wing provincial parties including the Quebec Communist Party) finishing above them.  In fact, only the tiny Parti indépendantiste did worse then the ADQ in my riding.

Turning to the province-wide provincial polling results since the last provincial election, we see an equally bleak picture for ‘Canada’s Le Pen’ and the far-right ADQ.

Following the last provincial election, the ADQ had actually improved over their provincial results and were polling as the #1 provincial party with seemingly prohibitive odds of forming the next provincial government, either minority or majority.

As you can see, Quebec’s repudiation of far right politics since that time, clearly extends beyond merely the three ridings which had by-elections earlier this month.

Now that it seems as though the Québecois are well on their way to throwing out their version of Le Pen and become once again a beacon to progressives throughout Canada, maybe Canadians can learn from this and get to work on throwing out their version of George W. Bush.

Marx on religion: Dispelling more myths about socialism

Never has there ever been a worldview, never has there ever been an idea, and never has there ever been a word so misrepresented and so misunderstood as ‘socialism’… except possibly for ‘Marxism’. Because of this, it has been an ongoing feature here at Paulitics, to dispel some of the myths surrounding socialism (see here and here).

For some time now, I have been wanting to do a short featurette on Marx’s views on religion to dispel them once and for all, and today, having read the same blatantly mis-quoted phrase claiming to be written by Marx for the hundredth time, I finally decided that it was time to dispel this myth once and for all.

The first myth to dispel is that of the famous quote supposedly from Marx which is his opponents use to paint him as a dangerous elitist who scorned the masses. The quote which everybody seems to think Marx wrote is:

Religion is the opiate/opium of the masses”

The only problem with this is that nowhere in any of Marx’s writings, did he ever write these words.

Even the very few instances where this ‘quotation’ is given a citation, the citation is often not entirely correct thus making verification of this quotation even more difficult. The most common citation for this quotation is that it was written in 1843 and occurs in Marx’s essay “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”. In actuality, this quotation occurs in the Introduction to Marx’s Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right and was actually written right at the cusp between 1843 and 1844, many months after the main portion of the Critique was written. Indeed, because of this, many ‘collected works’ editions of Marx’s writings do not even feature the Critique as a part of the same text as the Introduction because Marx had written and published other material, most notably On the Jewish Question between his completion of the two parts.

Nevertheless, the full quotation of Marx’s ideas on religion expressed in this essay are actually, when read in context, rather anti-elitist. In fact, Marx’s ideas in his Critique are rather sympathetic to the religious masses whilst simultaneously being highly critical of the institution of religion itself.

The full quotation reads as follows:

“The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly a struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of men, is a demand for their real happiness. The call to abandon their illusions about their conditions is a call to abandon a condition which requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, the embryonic criticism of this vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

-Karl Marx.
Quoted in “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction.”
Robert C. Tucker, ed. The Marx-Engels Reader. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1978. p. 54.

When reading the full quotation, the necessity of the ruling class never quoting the entire passage in its entirety becomes clear. Reading the incomplete non-quotation supposedly from Marx, one has the impression of a Christopher Hitchens or H.L. Mencken-like figure who looks down upon and scorns the masses for their religiosity.

Another important, oft-forgotten aspect related to this famous quotation is that Marx was not even the only person to say something along these lines. Four years after Marx wrote this quotation, Charles Kingsley, a Canon of the Church of England — a man who more likely than not had never read the then obscure and unknown Karl Marx — wrote that the Bible was used as an “opium dose for keeping beasts of burden patient while they were being overloaded.” (Howard Selsam & Harry Martel. Reader in Marxist Philosophy. New York: International Publishers, 1963. p. 224). Keep in mind this is a man of the church saying this independently of Marx.

So, it is really little wonder that the vast majority of the population takes Marxism and socialism to be synonymous with all that is evil.

The goal of this post and the series on dispelling the myths about socialism is not designed so much to convince people that Marxism and socialism are not evil (although I obviously think they’re the opposite of evil).  The goal of this series is to provide irrefutable proof that much of the popular conceptions about Marxism and socialism are either caricatures, half-truths or downright fictions.

The public can do with this knowledge what they like.  But it is clear to me that if a truly fair hearing of Marxism or socialism ever were to become possible, the ruling classes would not know what hit them.

Progress for same-sex rights in Cuba

Today marked a great victory and the promise for substantial future progress for our gay brothers and lesbian sisters living in Cuba.

http://paulitics.files.wordpress.com/2008/05/cuba-same-sex-marriage.png?w=195&h=188AP reports that:

“Cuba‘s gay community celebrated unprecedented openness — and high-ranking political alliances — with a government-backed campaign against homophobia on Saturday.

[...]

“Cuban state television gave prime-time play Friday to the U.S. film “Brokeback Mountain,” which tells the story of two cowboys who conceal their homosexual affair.

“Prejudice against homosexuals remains deeply rooted in Cuban society, but the government has steadily moved away from the Puritanism of the 1960s and 1970s, when homosexuals hid their sexuality for fear of being ridiculed, fired from work or even imprisoned.

“Now Cuba’s parliament is studying proposals to legalize same-sex unions and give gay couples the benefits that people in traditional marriages enjoy.

“Parliament head Ricardo Alarcon said the government needs to do more to promote gay rights, but said many Cubans still need to be convinced.”

The significance of this move from a political perspective should not be overlooked. There is not a single Latin American country that recognizes same-sex marriages due to the high religiosity of the Latin American culture.

Thus, when we look at the recent good moves on this file in Cuba in concert with the multiple attempts by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to make Venezuela the first country on the face of the planet to explicitly recognize same-sex marriages in the text of the constitution, it is clear that socialism, when done right, is a way forward for everyone.

There’s still a lot of work to be done throughout Latin America for the GLBT community, and we should especially make sure not to let the governments — even allied socialist governments — guide the agenda. But, I think, there is very good reason for optimism given these developments.

Oh shit…

The political situation/catastrophe of contemporary Italian politics is apparently well on its way to becoming an ongoing series of coverage here at Paulitics.

Earlier in the week, I reported that Rome’s new (self-proclaimed) neo-fascist mayor Gianni Alemanno was proudly greeted with straight-arm fascist salutes and cries of “Duce! Duce!” (the Italian equivalent of the German “Führer”).

If that wasn’t enough to make you say “Oh shit…”, how about this one: Rome’s new fascist mayor makes his first policy pledge:

Rome’s new mayor promises purge of migrants:

“Gianni Alemanno, 50, a firebrand neo-fascist and the first Right-wing mayor of the city since the Second World War, vowed to make Rome ‘secure’ as he was sworn into office after his election at the weekend.

[...]

In a sign of things to come, after Mr Alemanno’s election Mr Berlusconi declared: ‘We are the new Falange.’

The original Falange (or Phalanx) was the Spanish fascist party, founded in the 1930s, whose doctrine was adopted by General Franco.

[...]

The new mayor said that his first action would be to begin “immediate expulsions” of the 20,000 immigrants in the city with criminal records.

[...]

Mr Alemanno was the youth leader of the fascist Italian Social Movement and wears a Celtic cross, a symbol of the extreme Right. However, he said he wore the cross only as a religious symbol, and in tribute to Paolo di Nella, a far-Right activist who was stoned to death in a Rome street protest 25 years ago.

Mr Alemanno said he was sick of the ‘continuing search for [my] dark side’, adding: ‘I am bitterly upset from a personal point of view at this demonisation.’

[...]

Graziano Halilovic, a spokesman for one of Rome’s biggest settlements of Roma gipsies, said: ‘We fear there will be night-time raids on the camps. We want a safe city too. Some of our members have heard their parents’ stories of fascism.’

Mr Bossi said on Wednesday that immigrants had to be hunted out, and that if reforms were not forthcoming, his followers would take up arms.

“We have no fear of taking things to the piazzas. We have 300,000 martyrs ready to come down from the mountains. Our rifles are always smoking,” he said.

Mr Alemanno has promised to tear down a £12 million museum around the Ara Pacis, an altar to the Emperor Augustus.”

Happy May Day?

Today is May Day, the original Labour Day throughout the world (including Canada and the U.S.).  And, despite the conscious policy decision to divorce Labour Day in Canada and the U.S. from May 1st, the day should still hold meaning for us to reflect on the democratic victories that our struggles have won but also on the work that needs to be done.

So, in the spirit of the importance of recognizing how much work we have yet to do, how’s this for a ‘happy May Day’?

From The Guardian:

“Italy’s new parliament met for the first time yesterday with applause for Rome’s mayor-elect, Gianni Alemanno, a day after followers celebrated his triumph with straight-arm salutes and fascist-era chants.

Alemanno, a former neo-fascist youth leader, took 54% of the vote in a run-off on Sunday and Monday, crushing his rival, Francesco Rutelli, a deputy prime minister in the last, centre-left government.

[...]

On Monday night, the area around Rome’s city hall rang to chants of “Duce! Duce!”, the term adopted by Italy’s dictator, Benito Mussolini, equivalent to the German “Führer”. Supporters of the new mayor gave the fascist Roman straight-arm salutes.”

But, despite this little tidbit of news that I came across today, May Day wasn’t all bad news this year.  Earlier today on the internets, in my travels amongst its many tubes, I found a fantastic list of Marxist webcasts by university professor named Ron Strickland.

So, if any of you comrades need to wash the unpleasant taste caused by seeing modern-day Italians give fascist salutes, I recommend one of two things:  Booze; or Marxist webcasts.

I for one have decided to partake in both.

You can access Strickland’s Marxist webcasts here.

Happy May Day comrades!


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