Headlines: White House Forces Out GM CEO; Thousands Protest G20 in London

Democracy Now Headlines: White House Forces Out GM CEO; Thousands Protest G20 in London

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.<

Spanish Court Launches Probe of Bush Administration Officials

A Spanish court has launched a criminal investigation into whether six Bush administration lawyers, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, violated international law by providing the legal framework to justify the Bush administration’s use of torture at Guantanamo. Spain’s law allows it to claim jurisdiction in the case because five Spanish citizens or residents who were prisoners at Guantanamo Bay say they were tortured there. The case was sent to the Spanish prosecutor’s office for review by Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge who ordered the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998. The other former Bush administration officials facing investigation are former Justice Department officials John Yoo and Jay Bybee, Pentagon official Douglas Feith, Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff David Addington, and Pentagon lawyer William Haynes. Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights praised the Spanish court’s decision and said arrest warrants might have already been issued.

Michael Ratner, author of The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld: “If you’re any of those six at this point, you don’t want to go to the twenty-five countries that make up the European Union, because you may be subject to immediate arrest. What will happen next is this investigation will most likely continue in a very vigorous form. It will look at those six, and it also has the possibility of going up the chain of command, not just to Rumsfeld, but all the way up to Cheney and Bush. So it’s a serious investigation. It’s one that the Obama administration has to take very seriously. And it means, for them, that the pressure is increasing really in this country to open its own criminal investigation.”

Waterboarding, Torture of Abu Zubaydah Produced False Leads

Meanwhile, former senior government officials have told the Washington Post that the CIA’s decision to waterboard and torture their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaydah, produced little intelligence. The officials said not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaydah’s tortured confessions. Most of the useful information gained from him was obtained before waterboarding was introduced.

Dozens Killed in Pakistan as Militants Seize Police Academy

In Pakistan, gunmen seized a police training academy in Lahore and killed as many as forty police officers before Pakistani officials were able to retake the building after an eight-hour siege. As many as eighty officers were injured. The Pakistani newspaper Daw said militants attacked the police academy with machine guns and grenades. 850 young cadets were inside the building when the assault began.

President Obama Outlines Plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan

The attack came two days after President Obama defended his decision to send 21,000 more US troops to Afghanistan and to increase aid to Pakistan. Obama said his one goal is to wipe out al-Qaeda militants whom he said were plotting new attacks on the United States.

President Obama: “The world cannot afford the price that will come due if Afghanistan slides back into chaos or al-Qaeda operates unchecked. We have a shared responsibility to act, not because we seek to project power for its own sake, but because our own peace and security depends upon it. And what’s at stake at this time is not just our own security; it’s the very idea that free nations can come together on behalf of our common security.”

The New York Times reports the Obama administration was divided over what to do in Afghanistan. The commanders in the field wanted a larger surge of troops but Vice President Joseph Biden reportedly warned against getting into a political and military quagmire.

White House Forces Out GM CEO Wagoner

In business news, General Motors Chair and CEO Rick Wagoner has stepped down after he was asked to resign by the Obama administration as part of the government’s demand for GM and Chrysler to restructure before receiving more federal aid. President Obama is scheduled to unveil his full plan for the auto industry today. The McClatchy Newspapers reports Obama will reject requests for almost $22 billion in new taxpayer bailout money for GM and Chrysler, saying the car makers have failed to take steps to ensure their viability. The government sought the departure of the GM chief and said the company needed to be widely restructured if it had any hope of survival. The government is expected to provide the company with sixty days’ operating capital to give it time to undertake reforms. The government will also grant Chrysler thirty days’ operating funds, but said it must merge with the Italian car maker Fiat in order to remain viable. So far, GM and Chrysler have received $17.4 billion in government rescue money, a fraction of what the government has given to help revive the banking industry.

Unemployment Rate Over 10% in Seven States

New employment figures show Michigan still has the nation’s highest unemployment rate at 12 percent. In February, the unemployment rate jumped into double figures in Nevada, North Carolina and Oregon. The jobless rate is also above ten percent in California, South Carolina and Rhode Island.

35,000 Protest in London Ahead of G20 Summit

At least 35,000 protesters marched in London Saturday to kick off a series of demonstrations leading up to the G20 summit. Protest organizers said the turnout was three times larger than expected. Protest organizer Chris Knight with the group G20 Meltdown said the demonstrations will focus on the bankers who wrecked the economy.

Chris Knight: “The main message to them, really, is you are–you are financial fools. You are the architects of this catastrophe, with the exception of Barack Obama, of course, who has to make a choice which side he’s on still. But those fools, what makes them feel that they are the people qualified to sort out the mess? And if you ask me what do we want from them, I would say it’s quite a lot, actually. It’s–we want the earth. Give us back our planet. We want it; you’ve got it. We’re gonna take it, and you should be good-humored about it. You are incompetent idiots who have messed everything up, and you should step aside and let the people take over.”

The protest against the G20 is expected to be the largest anti-capitalist demonstration in London in years.

Terry Pierce, protester: “We say that unless the leaders of the world break from capitalism, unless there’s a change in the whole attitude towards climate change and towards poverty, towards the problem in the world, then there’s no chance resolving these problems. We need a socialist alternative.”

Large demonstrations are also expected this week in France and Germany during the NATO summit in the French city of Strasbourg.

Gates: US Has No Plans to Shoot Down N. Korean Missile Test

In news from Asia, North Korea says it will launch a communications satellite as early as Saturday, but Japan and other nations have accused North Korea of secretly testing an intercontinental ballistic missile. On Sunday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the US has no plans to shoot down the missile.

Robert Gates: “I think if we had an aberrant missile, one that was headed for Hawaii, that looked like it was headed for Hawaii or something like that, we might consider it. But I don’t think we have any plans to do anything like that at this point.”

Vast Electronic Spy Network Unveiled; Targeted Dalai Lama

A team of Canadian researchers have uncovered a vast electronic spy network that infiltrated the offices of the Dalai Lama, the Asian Development Bank, the Associated Press and many foreign embassies. Researchers linked the spy operation to servers in China but cautioned that there is no direct evidence implicating the Chinese government. Intelligence analysts say many governments, including those of China, Russia and the United States, use sophisticated computer programs to covertly gather information. The spy network known as GhostNet infiltrated nearly 1,300 computers in 100 countries. Once a computer is infected, the spies gain the ability to turn on the camera and audio-recording functions of the computer, enabling monitors to see and hear what goes on in a room. The spy network also gained control of mail servers for the Dalai Lama’s offices, allowing the spies to intercept all correspondence.

Israeli Troops Shoot at West Bank Protesters

In the occupied West Bank, Israeli troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets on Friday at a crowd of Palestinians protesting the construction of the separation wall in the town of Bilin. Reuters video showed an Israeli soldier shooting a Palestinian demonstrator with a rubber-coated bullet at point-blank range, injuring his leg. Palestinian legislator Mustafa Barghouti attended the demonstration and said the new Israeli government will further damage the lives of the Palestinians.

Mustafa Barghouti: “The only thing that the new Israeli government is bringing is more settlement, more land confiscation, more discrimination, more apartheid and more building of this wall that is killing the lives of the Palestinians and destroying the option of peace based on two-state solution.”

Campaign to Boycott Motorola Launched in New York

The company Motorola is a target of a new boycott campaign organized by the group New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel. Organizer Ryvka Bar Zohar accused Motorola of supporting Israel’s military occupation.

Ryvka Bar Zohar: “Motorola produces bomb fuses, communications devices, surveillance technology, that’s used directly by the Israeli military in its ongoing occupation of the Palestinian people.”

Eight Die in NC Nursing Home Shooting

In North Carolina, eight people died Sunday after a gunman opened fire at a nursing home in the town of Carthage. Seven elderly patients died as well as a nurse. The Raleigh News and Observer reported the gunman’s estranged wife was working at the nursing home at the time of the attack but was not listed as a victim.

Union Activist & Folklorist Archie Green, 91, Dies

And the union activist and folklorist Archie Green has died at the age of ninety-one. The New York Times said Green single-handedly persuaded Congress to create the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. For decades, he studied what he called laborlore: the work songs, slang, craft techniques and tales that helped to define the trade unions. Two years ago, he published The Big Red Songbook (Charles H. Kerr), a collection of lyrics to more than 250 songs written by the Industrial Workers of the World, best known as the Wobblies.

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Revolutions of 1848: A Social History

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Many books on 1848 tend to be heavily analytical. They focus on the connecting factors and underlying causes of the Revolutions, and thus tend to lose the narrative. Priscilla Robertson, however, fortunately takes the opposite approach. She focuses on a few of the major upheavals during 1848, and retells each of them as a single contained story.

Of course, it would be impossible to cover every single 1848 Revolution in one book. (“No one has ever numbered the revolutions which broke out in Europe in 1848” Robertson writes in the introduction. “…[But] there must have been over 50”.) Robertson therefore narrows her focus to France, Germany, the Austrian Empire (including a subsection on Hungary), Italy, and a short afterward on Britain and Ireland.

Even within these major countries, there were several different cities that experienced different revolutions. Therefore, in the section on Italy, for example, Robertson breaks it up by devoting separate chapters to Milan, to Rome, and to Venice.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. Robertson is an excellent story teller, and she’s able to not only make the history come alive, but also to create a lot of suspense in the narrative. On the whole, it makes for enthralling reading.

The disadvantage, however is that every 75 pages or so you get pulled out of one story and have to work at getting yourself immersed into another. If you’re reading the whole thing straight through, it’s a bit jolting to go through the trouble of acquainting yourself with all the circumstances and actors in one revolution, only to find yourself yanked out and transported across the map into another set of circumstances and characters. The stories of the rise and fall of each different revolutionary government can start to feel repetitive after a while.

However, with a little bit of self-discipline, if you stick with the book I did find that I would gradually get immersed into each separate story. And because Robertson works so hard to recreate the feeling of those days, I had the pleasure of feeling like I was transported to several exotic cities in 19th century Europe. The reader of this book gets to spend time in revolutionary Paris, the student government in Vienna, Milan, Rome, Venice, Frankfurt, Dresden, various cities in Hungary, et cetera. (For someone like me who has never been to Europe, it was a great way to visit all of these cities vicariously).

There were a lot of emotions in the 1848 Revolutions, and Robertson does a good job of guiding us through them all. At the outbreak of the revolutions, we can feel the romanticism at each the dream of a utopian republic. “All schools of romantic thought had their day in 1848,” Robertson writes (p. 367).

Once the new governments begin to crumble, this early optimistic feeling all too quickly leads to despair, which Robertson also captures. Of the various people she quotes, perhaps the Russian socialist Herzen describes it most eloquently. “Half of our hopes, half of our beliefs were slain, ideas of skepticism and despair haunted the brain and took route in it. One could never have supposed that, after passing through so many trials, after being schooled by contemporary skepticism, we had so much left in our souls to be destroyed” (p. 96).

As often happens in history, the old order reasserted itself with astonishing brutality, and Robertson records several civilian massacres when the revolution fell.

1848 stands at the crossroads of history in more than one-way, and Robertson explores many of these. For one thing, 1848 represented the split between republicans and socialists. Under the old system, capitalists and workers alike felt themselves constrained by feudalism, causing the industrial class to often be at the forefront of the revolution. “1848 was the last time that business could seem radical” Robertson writes of the Vienna Revolution (p. 206).

Before 1848, most European republicans dreamed of a utopian fusion of the classes under a liberal republican government. “Only after the liberals won power did they discover that they were afraid of the workers; when the workers found this out, they turned to Marxian gospel” (p. 6).

1848 also saw the emergence of nationalism as a popular force. The desire for the various German and Italian states to unite as one country, as well as the desire for the independence among the various ethnic groups in the Austria-Hungarian Empire. As Robertson points out, the failure to resolve these matters in 1848 has been the cause of much of the bloodshed in the 20th century in the former Austria-Hungarian lands.

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Because the action in this book spans across a whole continent, it takes in its scope most of the prominent names of the time: Garibaldi, Mazzini, Bakunin, George Sand, Marx and Engels, Jacob Grimm, Metternich, Richard Wagner, Herzen, and Proudhon all figure prominently in this book (to list some of the bigger names). But there are many, many more names to keep track of. In each country we visit, we are introduced to the figures of the old regime, the moderates, the republicans, and the radicals. It’s a bit daunting keeping track of everyone, and it required a lot of going back to the index for me. Fortunately, the index in this book is excellent. So, if you don’t mind having to flip back and forth occasionally, it’s not a huge problem.

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A lot of popular history books recently are often advertised as having parallels to our current situation, or are recommended for leaders in Washington. But if I was controlling the reading list of Washington, I’d make sure to add this book. It shows the difficulties of creating republics in countries that are not used to democratic traditions, and how fragile those new republican governments can be.

(Of course, it has yet to be seen whether the United States is serious about creating democratic institutions in Iraq and Afghanistan, or simply establishing client states. But assuming the neo-cons are serious about building new republican governments, I think this book can help illuminate the mine-field they’re getting into.)

Interestingly enough though, this is not a recent book. It was first published in 1952. I’m not sure if any new scholarship on the subject makes it outdated now, but when I last in a major bookstore I saw it was still up on the shelves.

Priscilla Robertson, Revolutions of 1848: A Social History, (Princeton University Press, 1971).

Headlines: Iceland Government Collapses Due to Economic Crisis; House Subponeas Karl Rove

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Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Pfizer, Caterpillar, Sprint Announce Major Layoffs

The list of major companies announcing mass layoffs grew on Monday as Pfizer, Home Depot, Caterpillar, Sprint Nextel and at least eight other firms announced plans to cut more than 75,000 jobs. Pfizer said it would cut nearly 20,000 jobs as part of its acquisition of Wyeth. Caterpillar plans to eliminate 20,000 as well. 8,000 jobs are being cut at Sprint Nextel, 7,000 jobs at Home Depot, 3,400 jobs at Texas Instruments and 2,000 jobs at General Motors. Last week, Microsoft announced it would cut as many as 5,000 jobs in the company’s first mass layoffs.

Senate Confirms Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary

The Senate has confirmed Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary by a 60-to-34 vote. Democratic Senators Russ Feingold, Tom Harkin, Robert Byrd and independent Bernie Sanders all voted against Geithner, as did thirty Republicans. Part of the opposition to Geithner centered on his failure to pay $34,000 in taxes from 2001 to 2004. As Treasury Secretary, Geithner will oversee the Internal Revenue Service. Less than an hour after he won Senate confirmation, President Barack Obama came to the Treasury Department to participate in a swearing-in ceremony.

President Obama: “I came here tonight, because at this moment of challenge and crisis, Tim’s work and the work of the entire Treasury Department must begin at once. We cannot lose a day, because every day the economic picture is darkening here and across the globe.”

Tim Geithner vowed to move quickly to aid the distressed US economy.

Tim Geithner: “We are at a moment of maximum challenge for our economy and for our country, and our agenda, Mr. President, is to move quickly to help you do what the country asked you to do: to launch the programs that will bring economic recovery sooner, to make our economy more productive and more just in the opportunities it provides our citizens, to restore trust in our financial system with fundamental reform, to make our tax system better at rewarding work and investment, to restore confidence in America’s economic leadership around the world.”

Iceland Government Collapses Due to Economic Crisis

Fallout from the global economic crisis continues to be felt across the world. Iceland’s coalition government collapsed Monday after weeks of protests by Icelanders upset by soaring unemployment and rising prices. Protesters hurled eggs at the car of Iceland’s Prime Minister Geir Haarde and banged cans on the car’s roof. Iceland has been in an economic crisis since September, when three of its largest banks collapsed, and the value of its currency plummeted. Meanwhile, demonstrations are threatening other European governments. Riots were seen in Latvia after the government pushed through wage and spending cuts. Major protests were also held in Lithuania. In the Spanish city of Zaragoza, tens of thousands of people took to the streets last week to protest soaring unemployment.

Israeli Soldier Killed on Gaza Border

In the Middle East, an Israeli soldier was killed earlier today in a bomb attack near Gaza. Three others were wounded in the blast. It was the first deadly attack on Israeli troops since Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire ending its twenty-two-day assault on Gaza. Israel responded by sending some Israeli troops back into Gaza as helicopters hovered overhead firing machine guns. Israeli troops later killed a Palestinian farmer.

BBC Refuses to Air Appeal for Palestinian Victims in Gaza

Meanwhile, the BBC is continuing to come under criticism for refusing to broadcast an appeal by aid agencies for Palestinian victims of Israel’s recent military actions in Gaza. The three-minute appeal aired on many British channels last night. The charities behind the appeal include the Red Cross, Oxfam, Save the Children, and Christian Aid. Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News also refused to air the appeal.

Susan Rice Vows to Engage in Direct Diplomacy with Iran

On her first day as US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice vowed to collaborate more with international partners and to step up efforts to combat global warming. Rice also said the Obama administration is deeply concerned about the threat that Iran’s nuclear program poses to the Middle East but pledged to engage in direct diplomacy with Iran.

Susan Rice: “We look forward to engaging in vigorous diplomacy that includes direct diplomacy with Iran, as well as continued collaboration and partnership with the P5-plus-1, and we will look at what is necessary and appropriate with respect to maintaining pressure towards that goal of ending Iran’s nuclear program.”

Obama Asks Britain to Send 4,000 More Troops to Afghanistan

The Times of London reports President Obama has asked Britain to supply up to 4,000 extra frontline troops to take part in a US-led surge of forces in Afghanistan. Obama has already endorsed a Pentagon plan to nearly double the US presence in Afghanistan.

House Panel Subpoenas Karl Rove

House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers has subpoenaed Karl Rove to testify about the Bush administration’s firing of nine US attorneys and prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman. Conyers said, “Change has come to Washington, and I hope Karl Rove is ready for it. After two years of stonewalling, it’s time for him to talk.”

Obama Orders New Fuel Economy Standards

President Obama has begun reversing the climate policies of the Bush administration by clearing the way for new rules to force auto makers to produce more fuel-efficient and less polluting cars. On Monday, Obama issued directives requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to consider allowing states to cut greenhouse gas emissions spewed by vehicles and ordered the Transportation Department to boost fuel economy standards for cars and trucks for the 2011 model year.

President Obama: “We must ensure that the fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow are built right here in the United States of America. Increasing fuel efficiency in our cars and trucks is one of the most important steps that we can take to break our cycle of dependence on foreign oil. It will also help spark the innovation needed to ensure that our auto industry keeps pace with competitors around the world. We will start by implementing new standards for model year 2011, so that we use less oil and families have access to cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks.”

Clinton Names Special Envoy for Climate Change

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has tapped Todd Stern to be the administration’s special envoy for climate change. Stern will be the administration’s chief climate negotiator.

Islamist Fighters Seize Somalian Parliament After Ethiopian Troops Pull Out

In Somalia, Islamist fighters seized Somalia’s parliament building and the town of Baidoa on Monday, just hours after Ethiopian troops pulled out of the country. In the two years since US-backed Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia, more than 16,000 people have died, and one million people have been displaced. But Ethiopian efforts to oust the Islamic Court Union from control failed, and Islamist militants once again control much of Somalia, including most of the capital city Mogadishu.

Blagojevich Impeachment Trial Begins Without Blagojevich

In Illinois, the impeachment trial of Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich began Monday, but the governor was a no-show.

Thomas Fitzgerald, Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court: “Is the Governor present? Is there anyone present on behalf of the Governor? The record will reflect that the Governor has chosen not to be present either in person or by counsel.”

Governor Blagojevich spent the day on what the Chicago Tribune described as a bizarre TV tour, making appearances on Good Morning America, The View and Larry King. In an interview on NBC on Sunday, Blagojevich compared himself to Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

Rod Blagojevich: “The day unfolded, and I had a whole bunch of thoughts–of course, my children and my wife. And then I thought about Mandela, Dr. King, Gandhi, and tried to put some perspective in all of this.”

White House Peace Vigiler William Thomas Dies

And the anti-nuclear activist William Thomas has died in Washington, D.C. Thomas is best known for setting up a permanent peace vigil outside the White House. For twenty-seven years, Thomas held daily vigils against US militarism and nuclear weapons in Lafayette Park across from the White House.

Anarchism For Beginners

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Anarchism is a political ideology that has been largely forgotten among the political mainstream and has been largely forgotten by the institutionalized left. While a number of socialist and communist newspapers continue to be published across the United States, anarchism has considerable less public visibility. However, as Marcos Mayer shows in Anarchism For Beginners, despite its lack of visibility since the Second World War, anarchism remains a popular political philosophy. Unlike many mainstream histories of the topic that treat anarchism as a distinctly 19th and 20th century phenomenon, Mayer argues that anarchism continues to have influence on society, particularly after the Soviet experience discredited the socialist and communist left.

A Brief Overview of Anarchist History

Mayer begins his short, illustrated introduction to anarchism by talking anarchism’s resurgence in the anti-globalization movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s. He cites contemporary thinkers such as Noam Chomsky who identify as anarchist–along with a renewed interest in the topic–as being key in keeping the philosophy alive. From this introduction, Mayer segues into an overview of anarchist theory and action over the past 200 years. He gives short overviews of the major theorists Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Goldman, while looking at the historical successes and failures of the movement, including the Spanish Civil War, the terrorist campaigns of the late 1800s, and its contribution to women’s rights. Whereas many histories confine their discussions to one continent, Mayer gives a global overview of anarchism, looking at the movement in Europe, the United States, and South America.

Expected Shortcomings

As would be expected in such a short book (169 pages with illustrations on every page), Mayer’s book has to leave out some topics. Unfortunately, while it goes further than many books in that it recognizes the continued relevance of anarchism, it comes up short in offering examples beyond the anti-globalization movement. In the discussion of anarchism after World War II, Mayer talks only of its influence on artistic movements such as Dadaism, the French Situationists and May 1968, and punk rock. Of all these, the discussion on punk rock could have been greatly improved, as Mayer focuses only on the more commercialized sections of the punk scene, rather than the anarcho-punk movement that has fostered an underground network of publications, collective houses, and music labels, all of which are often intimately tied with political action. Similarly, while he touches on it briefly in his discussion of Murray Bookchin, Mayer misses the opportunity to look at anarchism’s role in the radical environmental movement. Contributions to the animal rights movement are also overlooked.

A Worthy Introduction

Overall, Anarchism for Beginners is a worthwhile starting point for someone looking for a quick overview of anarchism. Its short length and cartoon style make it a worthy introduction to a complex topic, and its brief descriptions of different anarchists and movements offer a good jumping off point for further exploration. Moreover, unlike a lot of primers on anarchism–this one was actually written in this century. After reading this book, interested readers might consider moving onto No Gods, No Masters: An Anthology of Anarchism or An Anarchist FAQ: Volume 1, both of which will expand on the concepts introduced in Anarchism for Beginners.

Marcos Mayer, Anarchism For Beginners, (For Beginners, 2008).

Riots Continue in Greece

Widespread riots and protests continue across Greece. While it’s still difficult to assess what is happening, there are three new pieces out–including an interview with a Greek anarchist–that provide essential background reading on the rebellion.

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Since writing about them earlier this month, riots have continued in Greece through the holidays. At the same time, solidarity actions took place across the world and estimates are that thousands of actions have happened around the country. As a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz writes, “These are no single-issue protests or vague grievances. This is full-blooded revolutionary anarchism.”

Writing from the US, it’s hard to determine how we should relate to what is happening in Greece. To be sure, there is a long legacy in Europe of militant left movements–whether they be student, trade union, or immigrant-based–winning major victories and changes in their respective countries. This legacy of militancy and willingness to fight to protect gains won by social movements have created a vastly different political and social climate than what we find in the US. Whereas the left in the US is often rendered ineffective and irrelevant, the left in much of Europe–including the anarchists in Greece–is a force to be reckoned with. Hence, the struggle in Greece and the reports that the French president is backing off plans to pass controversial legislation out of fear of a backlash from the left. Other European leaders reportedly share Sarkozy’s concern.

To help us understand what is happening in Greece, the following recently published articles have been immensely helpful:

You might also check out our earlier piece on the Greek situation.

Some Background on the Riots in Greece

The ongoing riots in Greece have gotten a bit of coverage in the corporate media–including the Grand Rapids Press–but there has been relatively little effort to explain what is actually happening or the political context from which the riots emerged. Here’s a collection of articles and resources that offer some information to fill the gaps.

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Over the past two weeks, widespread rioting and protest has consumed much of Greece in response to the shooting of a 16-year old Greek anarchist. The protests have been organized predominately by anarchists and other leftist groups, and there appears to be a real possibility that they could last for weeks to come and possibly force the conservative Greek government out.

The protests have involved a wide range of tactics from nonviolent street protests and riots, to the occupation of factories, universities, government buildings, and television stations.

Of course, looking for information about the protests in the mainstream corporate media is a futile endeavor. Here in West Michigan, The Grand Rapids Press ran a short article from the Associated Press last week, but it was typically devoid of content and missed much of what is going on.

For those interested in what is happening in Greece, we encourage you to check out the following websites:

Looking at the riots from the perspective of someone living in the US can be confusing, especially without an understanding of the political context in Greece. However, here are links to a few articles that might make it easier to understand:

One of the more interesting aspects of the riots has been the solidarity demonstrations that have spread rapidly across the world, even to the US. So far, there have been actions in Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York City, with more planned for the 20th. The 20th has been dubbed a day of international solidarity actions by a group of Greek anarchists who have called for actions across the globe. Outside of the US, solidarity protests have involved riots and occupations.

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Vive la Revolution: A Stand-up History of the French Revolution

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Both from the title and the opening dedication of the book to the deceased singer of the legendary punk band The Clash, it is clear that Mark Steel’s <Vive la Revolution: A Stand-up History of the French Revolution is not going to be a stale and overly academic history of one Europe’s great revolutions. Steel is writing not to bemoan the deaths of the royal family and their supporters, as so many historians do, but rather to examine how both how the revolution was led “from below” by the poor and how it has been portrayed in histories since. Steel describes how the period is regularly portrayed as a period to be hated, yet he finds inspiration in the actions of ordinary French citizens who realized that their collective power could topple a regime that was believed its power came from God. He examines all the “major” events of the period while also exploring the minor events that have been frequently ignored, especially focusing on events and activities that challenge the prevailing interpretations of the French Revolution. He writes with the passion that writing about a revolutionary movement demands, eschewing the dispassionate and stale rhetoric that so often characterizes how history is written and instead brings to the front the inspiration that the study of revolutionary movements should give to contemporary activists.

Having received a degree in history and having an interest in pedagogy and its relationship to social movements, I found Steel’s comments and analysis on historiography of the period to be one of the most interesting aspects of his book. While never focusing any significant time on the French Revolution while in college, the topic was addressed briefly in the compulsory “World History” courses (renamed from “Western Civilization” in order to attempt to mask the fact that they were in reality primarily histories of “great” white leaders). The courses presented the French Revolution in a generally vague and convoluted manner, ignoring the specifics of what happened to focus on “key” aspects such as King Louis XVI lavish spending, the “unfortunate” status of the lower classes (with little analysis of why people were starving), the storming of the Bastille, the deaths of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the reign of “Terror,” and the rise of Napoleon. The brief overview had an underlying sympathy for the royal family, essentially suggesting that while there were significant problems with inequality, revolution was not a solution. Of course, in a system where the King’s power is believed to derive from God, there really is no other option, but such is the use of history when it is taught in a manner that promotes an ideological adherence to capitalism. People can, occasionally, organize in “official” ways, such as demanding the right to vote or asking for legal equality, but once they begin to challenge the underlying basis of society, they are forever seen as “extremists” in “official” histories.

Throughout the book, Steel weaves in an analysis of other histories of the French Revolution, but it is his two introductions (one to this US edition and the other to the original British version) in which he provides the bulk of this analysis. Steel argues that the French Revolution has been portrayed as a “dreadful episode with no redeeming features.” This has been aided by popular films and novels, which have advocated an idea that most of the revolutionaries were bloodthirsty and unthinking. Perhaps most frustrating is the fact that the influential histories of the period have advanced similar assertions, with books such as Thomas Carlyle’s The French Revolution and Simon Schama’s Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, containing numerous personal attacks on leaders of the revolution, especially Jean Paul Marat. Other books, including The French Revolution and Its Legacy, have gone so far as to say that Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco were the “heirs of the French Revolution.” At the same time, other historians have advanced an interpretation that the French Revolution had no lasting impact. In both interpretations, the Terror is played up as being a defining feature of the revolution, while the efforts to create a society based on fairness, equality, and democracy have been minimized.

Vive la Revolution is an entertaining book that is both easy to read and useful in illuminating one of the more misunderstood periods in European history. For those who have relied on their basic western civilization textbooks to learn about this period or even those who have undertaken a more detailed study of the period using more scholarly sources, they have likely seen the revolution portrayed as an uncoordinated and horribly violent attack on “order” that resulted in a “dark” period of European history. In an amusing and lucid way, Steel rejects such interpretations and shows that it had components that constituted a “revolution from below” and argues that it is possible to find inspiration for contemporary struggles within the French revolution. Steel ends the book by discussing how the French Revolution shows that when “peasants, slaves, postmen and washerwomen” get together they can change the world because “there are more of them than there are nobles, priests and kings.” He relates this to the present by pointing out that the 360 richest people in the world own the same amount as the poorest 2 billion, suggesting that the current system is vulnerable if organizing brought together the 2 billion.

Mark Steel, Vive la Revolution: A Stand-up History of the French Revolution, (Haymarket Books, 2006).

Memoirs of an Italian Terrorist

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From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, there were frequent terrorist acts in Italy, from assassinations and bombings, to kidnappings. While there is some debate over government involvement in using the attacks as a precursor for suppressing radical left-wing movements that advocated “armed struggle,” nothing can take away from the reality that Italy was a violent place. Giorgio, an anonymous member of the “armed struggle,” sent this story to an Italian magazine where it was originally published in 1981.

I came upon this book by accident at the library, but after reading the jacket, felt it would be an interesting read in light of earlier studies on the Weather Underground in the United States. However, this book is not an exploration of the politics and analysis that motivated Giorgio to turn to armed confrontation, rather it is an account of the isolation of living underground. Giorgio managed to write a surprisingly revealing glimpse into his own psychological condition, despite the necessity of keeping many details of his activities a secret for security reasons. His honesty and refusal to glamorize the life of an underground radical is refreshing, while his criticism of such a life is unrelenting. Certainly, there is no sense that Giorgio regrets his decision, but he presents an honest appraisal of the life when he states that A-the life we lead does not encourage solidarity, but rather tension, resentment, and constant conflict–

Memoirs of an Italian Terrorist

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, there were frequent terrorist acts in Italy, from assassinations and bombings, to kidnappings. While there is some debate over government involvement in using the attacks as a precursor for suppressing radical left-wing movements that advocated “armed struggle,” nothing can take away from the reality that Italy was a violent place. Giorgio, an anonymous member of the “armed struggle,” sent this story to an Italian magazine where it was originally published in 1981.

I came upon this book by accident at the library, but after reading the jacket, felt it would be an interesting read in light of earlier studies on the Weather Underground in the United States. However, this book is not an exploration of the politics and analysis that motivated Giorgio to turn to armed confrontation, rather it is an account of the isolation of living underground. Giorgio managed to write a surprisingly revealing glimpse into his own psychological condition, despite the necessity of keeping many details of his activities a secret for security reasons. His honesty and refusal to glamorize the life of an underground radical is refreshing, while his criticism of such a life is unrelenting. Certainly, there is no sense that Giorgio regrets his decision, but he presents an honest appraisal of the life when he states that “the life we lead does not encourage solidarity, but rather tension, resentment, and constant conflict,” a reality that no doubt is in direct opposition to the feelings that motivated his actions. He is also strikingly realistic about the potential failure of their movement, admitting that the likely outcome is prison–or worse.

My main problem with this text came from a lack of knowledge of regarding the historical context. While Antony Shugaar provides an introduction that attempts to explain the intricacies of the various radical groups, of both the left and the right, that operated during the time when Giorgio was active, I found his introduction to be rather muddled and not as helpful as I would have like. Giorgio’s story is interesting, but without a developed understanding of the reasons that some left-wing groups turned to armed struggle, it remains little more than that.

Giorgio, Memoirs of an Italian Terrorist, trans. Antony Shugaar, (Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003).

Seven Red Sundays

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While I am generally not a fan of fiction, I often find myself gravitating towards novels that have a “radical” undercurrent in them or that take place within revolutionary periods. It was for this reason that I picked up Sender’s a href=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0929587294?ie=UTF8&tag=medmou-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0929587294″&gt;Seven Red Sundays, a novel written in 1936 during the revolutionary upheaval in Spain and the Spanish Civil War.

The subject of the novel is a group of revolutionaries in Madrid who are affiliated with the FAI (a Spanish anarchist organization) and what happens after a seven-day period. The upheaval begins with the murder of their comrades at a syndicalist meeting, followed by a general strike that throws the countries into a chaos–a situation in which it is unclear as to whether or not there will be a revolution or if things will return to normal. During this period, the characters engage in various tactics including sabotage and distribution of literature, all while working towards the goal of a libertarian (anarchist) Spain.

The book does an excellent job of capturing the revolutionary spirit of Spain and the periods of euphoric hope and despair that often accompany revolutionary periods. There are passages that are intensely beautiful in the novel, but there are also many that are rather bland, although this could be a conscious effort by the author to capture both the hopes and disappointments of revolutionary periods. While this novel is by no means bad, and indeed has a rather innovative writing and narrative style for the time, I think that George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia is a much better work for those that are searching for a fictional treatment of the revolutionary Spain.

Ramon J. Sender, Seven Red Sundays, (Elephent Paperback, 1990).