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DSA/Jacobin/Haymarket-sponsored ‘Socialism’ conference features US gov-funded regime-change activists

By Levenshtein

The 2019 Socialism Conference, sponsored by American leftist juggernauts the DSA, Jacobin magazine, and ISO’s Haymarket Books, features regime-change activists from multiple US government-funded NGOs.

By Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal

Socialism is now apparently brought to you by the US State Department.

From July 4 to 7, thousands of left-wing activists from across the United States are gathering in Chicago for the 2019 Socialism Conference.

At this event, some of the most powerful institutions on the American socialist — but avowedly anti-communist — left have brought together a motley crew of regime-change activists to demonize Official Enemies of Washington.

One anti-China panel at the conference features speakers from two different organizations that are both bankrolled by the US government’s soft-power arm the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a group founded out of Ronald Reagan’s CIA in the 1980s to grease the wheels of right-wing regime-change efforts and promote “free markets” across the planet.

Another longtime ally who has spoken at every single annual Socialism Conference since 2009, Anand Gopal, works at a liberal foundation that is directly funded by the US State Department. He is headlining a panel this year to provide “A Socialist View of the Arab Spring.”

Yet another 2019 conference panel rails against the socialist governments of Nicaragua and Cuba — two-thirds of John Bolton’s “troika of tyranny” — with outspoken proponents of regime change. One of the speakers, Dan La Botz, hosted an event in 2018 that featured right-wing Nicaraguan activists wearing masks and disguised as students, who were junketed to meet with Republican lawmakers in Washington by the US government-funded right-wing organization Freedom House.

The Socialism Conference’s regime-change lobbying “Nicaragua expert” La Botz has admitted in leaked emails obtained by The Grayzone that “there is virtually no left among the opposition” to Nicaragua’s democratically elected socialist government.

La Botz, a leader within Democratic Socialists of America, likewise acknowledged in these emails that there is “little likelihood of an outcome to the rebellion that goes beyond a more democratic capitalist regime.” But he has still vociferously lobbied for Nicaragua’s Sandinista government to be overthrown by US government-backed insurgents — and is using his platform at the biggest socialist conference in the United States to do it.

Merging of largest US socialist organizations

The 2019 Socialism Conference is advertised under the catchy slogan: “No borders, no bosses, no binaries.”

Each ticket comes in at a neat $105 per person (or a $250 “solidarity rate,” for the hardcore supporters) — and this doesn’t include the rate for the rooms at the hotel where it’s held.

For years, the Socialism Conference functioned as a platform for the International Socialist Organization (ISO), a small group steeped in the tradition of sectarian American Trotskyite politics, which pushed a hardline anti-communism and attacked virtually all socialist governments in history as “not truly socialist.”

Founded in 1977 after a long line of sectarian splits, the ISO never became a significant political force. It was mostly relegated to recruiting young impressionable students on liberal arts college campuses.

As an avowedly anti-communist organization, the ISO eschewed symbols long associated with the communist left, like hammers and sickles and red flags. Instead, it chose a clenched fist — one eerily similar to the symbol used by the US government-funded Serbian activist group Otpor and similar offshoots in Eastern Europe, which carried out Washington-backed neoliberal “color revolutions” in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the restoration of capitalism.

The ISO claimed to be anti-war, but its leaders spent a disproportionate percentage of their time and resources attacking the anti-imperialist left. They could more accurately be referred to as the anti-anti-imperialist left.

This March, the ISO voted to dissolve — in a decision some former members joked was the most democratic act ever undertaken by the organization, which had been dominated by an unelected leadership of veteran Trotskyite activists.

The dissolution was prompted by evidence that the ISO’s steering committee mishandled sexual assault allegations. It also came as the ISO’s membership was shrinking and rapidly being absorbed by a newly burgeoning anti-communist organization, the Democratic Socialists of America, or DSA.

Now that the ISO has dissolved, some of its past prominent members have entered the ranks of the DSA, burrowing from within to inject their anti-anti-imperialist politics into the group.

Because Trotskyites are so sectarian and notoriously incapable of holding together organizations, they are infamous for infiltrating larger, more popular groups and trying to take them over, in a tactic known as entryism.

This is precisely the strategy being used by former members of the ISO — and by another tiny US Trotskyite organization, Solidarity, which was led by anti-Nicaragua regime-change activist and Socialism Conference speaker Dan La Botz, now a leader in DSA.

Democratic Socialists of America is the largest self-described socialist organization in the United States, with more than 60,000 card-carrying members. It is also very heterogeneous, with many internal contradictions and conflicting political views.

In 2019, for the first time, the organizers of the Socialism Conference — including many holdovers from the ISO leadership — joined together with two new sponsors: DSA, and the closely DSA-allied Jacobin magazine, another platform for anti-communist and anti-anti-imperialist politics.

At the bottom of the Socialism conference website, a note reads, “Brought to you by Haymarket, Jacobin, and the Democratic Socialists of America.” Haymarket is the book publishing arm of the now-defunct ISO, and its editorial board features some of the group’s former leaders.

Top speakers at the conference include Democracy Now host Amy Goodman, Jacobin magazine founder and editor Bhaskar Sunkara, and journalist Naomi Klein, the inaugural Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture and Feminist Studies at Rutgers University. Klein was chosen to head the final plenary, titled “Care and Repair: The Revolutionary, Democratic Power of a Global Green New Deal.”

The 2019 Socialism Conference, like its annual predecessors, combines calls for radical economic democratic transformation and progressive social progress with the demonization of independent foreign governments that are targeted by the US government for regime change, such as Nicaragua, Cuba, Syria, Iran, China, and Russia.

The schedule of panels on foreign policy and international issues features a veritable who’s who of leftist regime-change activists. There is even a talk devoted specifically to demonizing the anti-imperialist left.

Curiously, the 2019 Socialism Conference has no panels devoted specifically to Venezuela, which since this January has endured a US-led right-wing coup attempt, and which is suffering under suffocating sanctions that amount to a de facto economic blockade. In the past, the ISO has harshly criticized Venezuela’s democratically elected socialist government, condemning Presidents Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro for not being radical enough and for not supposedly implementing the vague concept of “socialism from below.”

In this way, the 2019 Socialism Conference also stands out as a sign of the effective political merging of what had previously been two distinct political trends: the Cliffite Trotskyites of the International Socialist Organization and the anti-communist social democrats of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Anti-China ‘workers’ rights’ groups funded by anti-labor US government

One of the most eyebrow-raising panels at the 2019 Socialism Conference is entitled “China and the US: Inter-Imperial Rivalry or Class Struggle and Solidarity?” The panel portrays the US and China as equally malicious imperialist powers, downplaying and whitewashing the uniquely destructive nature of Washington’s foreign wars and corporate domination.

The panel features three speakers, two of whom work for anti-China groups that are funded by the US government’s regime-change arm, the National Endowment for Democracy. The third speaker is Ashley Smith, a former leader of the ISO who has spent the past eight years romanticizing foreign-backed, far-right sectarian Islamist “moderate rebels” in Syria.

The first speaker listed on the panel is Elaine Lu, the program officer at China Labor Watch. This group is described by the Socialism conference website simply as “a New York-based NGO advocating for workers’ rights in China.”

What Socialism Conference sponsors DSA, Jacobin, and Haymarket did not disclose is that its speaker’s employer is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

The NED states without qualification that its goals include supporting “free markets” abroad. At the top of the about page on its website is a video of right-wing cold warrior Ronald Reagan inaugurating the US government-funded body.

The National Endowment for Democracy’s 990 tax forms show how Washington’s regime-change arm has bankrolled China Labor Watch for years. Substantial NED funding goes back to at least 2009.

According to the NED’s 2015 form 990, China Labor Watch received a $150,000 grant that year. On the NED’s 2013 tax form, it lists another $110,000 grant for China Labor Watch.

In 2014, China Labor Watch got $150,000 from the NED. According to the group’s annual report that year, its total revenues for all of 2014 was $238,003, meaning 63 percent, or nearly two-thirds of its funding came from the US government.

China Labor Watch’s other major donor is the Tides Foundation, a liberal organization that also happened to be one of the main financial sponsor’s of the ISO’s parent non-profit. In 2014, Tides gave $40,645 to China Labor Watch, another 17 percent of its budget that year.

Joining Elaine Lu as the other main speaker on the Socialism Conference’s anti-China panel is Kevin Lin, who coordinates the China program at the Washington, DC-based NGO the International Labor Rights Forum.

The Socialism Conference once again failed to mention that this group is also bankrolled by the National Endowment for Democracy.

According to the NED’s 2016 form 990, the US government’s regime-change arm gave the International Labor Rights Forum $150,000 that year alone.

The International Labor Rights Forum likewise received $96,590from the NED in 2015, and $62,500 in 2014.

The Socialism Conference also identified Kevin Lin as a co-editor of the Made in China journal, which focuses on labour rights. A disclaimer at the bottom of the publication’s swanky website notes that it is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020, a neoliberal business program which the European Commission describes as “the financial instrument implementing the Innovation Union, a Europe 2020 flagship initiative aimed at securing Europe’s global competitiveness.”

These are the financiers behind the speakers that the Socialism Conference and its sponsors the DSA, Jacobin, and Haymarket brought together to explain why China is a malevolent imperialist power.

Some of these groups may seem progressive, but they operate in effect as vehicles for US government soft power, exploiting the cause of human rights or labor rights to undermine and destabilize foreign governments that Washington has targeted for regime change.

China Labor Watch and the International Labor Rights Forum are far from the only ostensibly progressive anti-China groups funded by the US government.

Other China-related NED grantees include “human rights” organizations like the Network of Chinese Human Rights DefendersHuman Rights in ChinaChina AidChina Change, and China Rights in Action (another Tides grantee), along with the New York-based Chinese Feminist Collective and news websites like China Digital Times.

China Labour Bulletin, which maintains a map of strikes going on across the gigantic country, is likewise frequently cited by left-wing websites in the US. While its slogan is “Supporting the Workers’ Movement in China,” China Labour Bulletin (CLB) is actually based in Hong Kong, and it is funded by the US government.

CLB notes on its website that it “receives grants from a wide range of government or quasi-government bodies, trade unions and private foundations, all of which are based outside of China.” For decades, CLB’s founder and executive director Han Dongfang broadcasted anti-China programming on Radio Free Asia, a US government-funded propaganda outlet that was founded by the CIA to push anti-communist disinformation. Han’s work is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, and he was a leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

The ISO’s newspaper Socialist Worker has praised Han Dongfangas a leftist hero, without ever disclosing his extensive links to the US government’s regime-change machinery. Socialist Worker has repeatedly drawn on the work of China Labour Bulletin, over more than a decade. The ISO’s journal the International Socialist Reviewhas also relied on the US government-funded organization’s research, and Jacobin magazine has noted CLB’s “roots go back to the Tiananmen Square protests.”

Human Rights Watch, another key part of the regime-change lobby, has lionized Han, happily noting that his show on the US government’s Radio Free Asia “is one of the network’s most popular programs.”

China is just one of the countries where the US government’s soft-power arm funds such putative progressive groups. The NED likewise funds many liberal anti-Cuba organizations, such as the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, Center for a Free Cuba, the Cuban Institute for the Freedom of Expression and Press, and the news website CubaNet. Or there are NED-funded groups pushing regime change against Syria and Iran, like the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies and Human Rights Activists in Iran.

While the United States has one of the lowest rates of unionizationin the industrialized world, a bloody history of worker repression and anti-labor laws, and historically weak unions among those that still do exist, its regime-change arm the NED has funded workers’ rights groups to promote a progressive image of America abroad.

For decades, for instance, the NED has bankrolled the international Solidarity Center of the major union federation the AFL-CIO. The center receives tens of millions of dollars from the US government’s regime-change arm annually, and returns the favor by avoiding topics that would anger the US State Department and bite the hand that feeds it.

Throughout the Cold War, the AFL-CIO remained a reliably anti-communist union that received funding from US government agencies, including the CIA, in order to combat and ultimately try to eliminate communist influence in the American labor movement. It was a textbook example of a controlled opposition.

This is not to say that NED-funded groups cannot at times have a positive impact on the lives of average people in repressive environments. But their work is always part of a larger agenda, with ulterior imperial motives guiding them along the way. A controlled opposition can make some changes, but it always remains controlled.

US State Department-funded speaker providing ‘socialist’ take on ‘Arab Spring’

Yet another speaker at the 2019 Socialism Conference works for a liberal foundation directly funded by the US government.

Journalist Anand Gopal, who has been a close ally of the ISO for a decade, has a panel all to himself this year: “A Socialist View of the Arab Spring.”

The Socialism Conference website did not provide a bio for Gopal, yet alone disclose that his employer is funded by the US government. It simply described him as a “Pulitzer-Prize nominated journalist,” and said he will explain how to understand “the lessons of the protests, uprisings, rebellions, and wars that shook the Arab world beginning in 2011.”

Left unmentioned is that Gopal serves as a “fellow with the International Security Program” at the New America Foundation. This foundation’s website makes it very clear that it is directly funded by the US State Department, along with massive corporations and banks — clearly institutions that are invested in advancing the revolutionary socialist cause.

Anand Gopal has harshly attacked the anti-imperialist left for opposing the international proxy war on Syria. He strongly supported the Syrian opposition, which is dominated by Salafi-jihadists, but which Gopal has consistently whitewashed and portrayed as a supposedly progressive force.

Gopal likewise reported inside al-Qaeda-occupied territory, which The New Yorker euphemistically described as “Syria’s Last Bastion of Freedom.” And he has constantly downplayed the billions of dollars of funding and weapons from the US, Europe, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar that kept the Syrian opposition afloat, fueling the brutal war for years.

Going back to at least 2009, Gopal has spoken at every single one of the ISO’s Socialism Conferences — in 20182017201620152014201320122011, and 2010.

Gopal has also done more than a dozen extensive interviews for the ISO’s newspaper Socialist Worker and journal the International Socialist Review, blaming the rise of ISIS on Official Enemies and spreading the conspiracy theory that the US is actually “helping the regime” of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, not truly trying to overthrow it.

‘Socialist’ lobbying for US-backed right-wing coup in Nicaragua

Another noteworthy 2019 Socialism Conference panel, called “Problems of the US Left: The Cases of Cuba and Nicaragua,” is led by Dan La Botz and Samuel Farber, veteran Trotskyite activists and outspoken proponents of regime change in the two respective countries.

The speakers’ problem with the US left appears to be that it has demonstrated too much solidarity with socialist governments in Havana and Managua, which, in their view from inside the United States, “rely more on bureaucracy than democracy.”

Farber is a Cuban exile who left the country for unspecified reasons in 1958 – a year before its revolution – and spent the rest of his life as a professional critic of its socialist government. Today, he contributes regular attacks on the Cuban Revolution to journals from Jacobin to New Politics to In These Times, where he published a trenchant denunciation of Fidel Castro upon his death in 2016.

Farber accuses Castro of developing a model of “state capitalism,” wielding a term Trotskyite ideologues routinely fling at any revolutionary government that is insufficiently pure. He calls for “a revolutionary democratic alternative… through socialist resistance from below.”

The concept of regime change “from below” is also central to the rhetoric of exile groups like the People’s MEK, a US- and Saudi-backed cult of personality that calls for toppling Iran’s government through “indigenous regime change.”

Dan La Botz, for his part, has risen to prominence as a full-time opponent of another member of the Trump administration’s “troika of tyranny”: the socialist government of Nicaragua, and the Sandinista movement that it represents.

La Botz has published an anti-Sandinista manifesto with ISO publisher Haymarket Books, which is advertised as a survey of “the failures of the Nicaraguan Revolution, by one of the most important Marxist-historians of Latin America.”

In June 2018, as a US-backed, violent regime-change attempt surged across Nicaragua, threatening the rule of democratically elected President Daniel Ortega, La Botz attempted to mobilize left-wing US support for the anti-Sandinista opposition. That month, he joined an anti-Sandinista event — co-sponsored by DSA’s New York branch, Haymarket, the academic journal NACLA, and the Marxist Education Project — at Saint Peter’s Church in New York City, to drum up local support for the coup.

The event featured speeches by several Nicaraguan anti-Sandinista activists who were involved in the regime-change attempt, including self-described students who wore masks on stage, concealing their identities from the audience.

The Grayzone has obtained internal DSA email reports authored by La Botz which revealed that, days after the event at Saint Peter’s Church, those same students met with right-wing Republican legislators on Capitol Hill, including neoconservative Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

The students beamed with pride, appearing without masks in photo ops with the avowedly anti-socialist members of Congress. Their trip was financed by Freedom House, a right-wing soft-power organization that is funded almost entirely by the US government.

Humbled to meet with Nicaraguan student leaders who are risking their lives fighting for freedom. Their bravery and perseverance will overcome the Ortega dictatorship’s tyranny. #SOSNicaragua pic.twitter.com/BGkc6kEVTc

— Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) June 6, 2018

The students’ US-backed delegation included Victor Cuadras, a fanatical right-wing activist who openly supported Donald Trump’s agenda for Latin America and blamed the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua for the caravan of desperate asylum seekers on the US-Mexico border.

Victor Cuadras (@AndinoCuadras), the Nicaraguan student coup leader who was flown to DC by US govt @freedomhouse to drum up regime change, echoes and endorses Donald Trump’s anti-migrant fanaticism against the #Caravan pic.twitter.com/CzwDCOMiMu

— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) November 6, 2018

On June 15, 2018, Dan La Botz sent an email report to DSA leadership, reflecting on the event. He acknowledged that “the Nicaraguans both on the panel and in the public had virtually no political analysis and no vision or program for the future of their country.”

Then in a follow-up email report sent to DSA leadership on July 24, La Botz defended the students’ collaboration with neoconservative politicians like Rubio and Cruz.

“The students, ages 21 to 24 or so, who spoke on our panel then went off to speak with Republican legislators, guided by a rightwing foundation,” he wrote. “While, of course, we do not think that this is a good strategy, this is perfectly understandable given that the Republicans are in power and have the ability to do something about Nicaragua.”

While marketing the anti-Sandinista activists as grassroots youth deserving of left-wing solidarity, La Botz admitted in his internal DSA report, “Nicaraguan opponents of the regime in the United States hold a wide variety of political views, though there is virtually no left among the opposition here that I am aware of.”

And while publicly framing the regime-change operation in Nicaragua as a progressive uprising, La Botz privately conceded, “There is, however, little likelihood of an outcome to the rebellion that goes beyond a more democratic capitalist regime.”

As The Grayzone reported in 2018, the US government’s regime-change arm the National Endowment for Democracy boasted of spending millions on anti-Sandinista civil society and media outfits “to lay the groundwork for insurrection” in the years and months ahead of the coup.

While the coup attempt in Nicaragua was portrayed as a peaceful people’s uprising by figures like La Botz, it was in fact a violent putsch that saw armed elements erect roadblocks across the country, holding up ambulances, torturingbrutalizingkidnapping, and murdering supporters of the Sandinistas.

Anti-Sandinista insurgents dragged an unarmed, on-leave police officer to death from a truck and then burnt his corpse at a roadblock. They raped a 10-year-old girl at a roadblock and burnt the homes of local Sandinista legislators. They occupied and ransacked a public university campuswrecked a women’s health center, and torched a daycare center.

The armed opposition wreaked this havoc while attacking police stations with mortars and gunfire, during a national dialogue in which the police were ordered to remain in their barracks. In the end, Nicaragua’s opposition caused the deaths of over 60 innocent people, while grinding the country’s previously productive economy to a halt.

Once the coup was extinguished, the US Congress passed the Nica Act without debate, imposing harsh sanctions on Nicaragua’s economy that emulated those already leveled against Venezuela and Iran.

On January 9, Dan La Botz appeared at a meeting of the New York City DSA Anti-War Working Group to amp up the attack on Nicaragua’s socialist government. There, he was challenged by Gunar Olsen, a contributor to The Grayzone, about the event he organized last year with masked right-wing Nicaraguan students sponsored by Freedom House.

La Botz claimed that the event had originally been planned as a discussion of his book, but that “somebody said, these students were coming through. And I said, that sounds great.”

He continued: “My view is, they came from their country because someone gave em some money, and they can come to the United States and they wanted to talk to somebody who might be able to help their country… It may have been though that there were some conservative political forces working with them and the Republicans, it may have been that there was some of those four students that was more hip than the others but it wasn’t my impression.”

La Botz concluded by telling Olsen and the DSA crowd, “I don’t feel at all bad, I don’t think it was a terrible thing. I think they were four young people coming to this country that wanted to speak there. We didn’t know they were going there, we didn’t know where they were heading, I didn’t know they were gonna speak there. Would I do it again? If I knew what was going to happen I’d probably say, let’s see if we can find some other students.”

However, in his private email assessment of the event to DSA leadership, La Botz had defended the students’ subsequent meetings with right-wing Republicans as “perfectly understandable.”

In his internal DSA report, La Botz went on to characterize those in the US left that opposed the coup in Nicaragua as “foreign leftists” who are “backers of Putin, Assad, Iran, Hamas, and now Ortega.”

La Botz did not respond to several attempts to reach him by phone.

‘Revolutionary socialists’ funded by the non-profit industrial complex

The force behind the annual Socialism Conference, the International Socialist Organization marketed itself as a radical, even revolutionary movement supporting “socialism from below.” But it was deeply embedded in the non-profit industrial complex.

The ISO operated legally through its parent non-profit organization the Center for Economic Research and Social Change. A tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, CERSC received huge grants from the Tides Foundation.

The Tides Foundation is well known for funding progressive groups, but only as long as they do not rock the boat too much.

A Canadian environmental activist who has participated in projects funded by Tides told The Grayzone that the foundation funded a trip to the 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, but eventually pulled funding for their environmental group’s excursion to the 2012 UN conference in Doha, Qatar, because the foundation was afraid the activists would carry out peaceful forms of civil disobedience.

“They funded some people — those who wouldn’t rock the boat because they didn’t want people engaging in civil disobedience,” the Canadian environmental activist told The Grayzone.

Another activist published a “whistleblower’s open letter to Canadians” explaining that the Tides Foundation, which funded many environmentalists in the country, was “too afraid of reprisals from the government to act,” after the office of right-wing Prime Minister Stephen Harper threatened to challenge the foundation’s charitable status.

Why a milquetoast liberal foundation would fund the ISO, a supposedly revolutionary socialist organization, raises serious questions about that group’s agenda.

In fact, while the Tides Foundation was serving as one of the biggest financiers of the ISO, it was also funding Democratic Party-aligned organizations and even pro-Israel groups like J Street and the New Israel Fund, which actively campaign against the Palestinian call for BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel) and support the preservation of a settler-colonialist ethnically exclusivist state.

Haymarket Books, blending important literature with regime change propaganda

While the ISO was marginal during its existence, it punched above its weight through front organizations and prominent members who worked in the mainstream media and academia.

The ISO’s publishing arm, Haymarket Books, has been especially influential. Haymarket describes itself as a “radical, independent, nonprofit book publisher based in Chicago,” which had been the base for the ISO.

Haymarket has indeed published many important books on pressing issues. However, it has supplemented these works with anti-anti-imperialist screeds that echo the US State Department’s rhetoric, but framed as “from the left.”

Among Haymarket’s most aggressively marketed releases of 2018 was “The Impossible Revolution,” a collection of essays by the Syrian exiled writer Yassin al-Haj Saleh, who now lives in Turkey and functions as a lodestar to self-styled left-wing supporters of regime change in Syria.

Al-Haj Saleh’s book was blurbed by Charles Lister, a former functionary of the UK’s Conservative Party who became a top lobbyist for arming Salafi-jihadist insurgents in Syria at the Gulf monarchy-funded Middle East Institute in Washington, DC.

State Department cables exposed by WikiLeaks indicate that Yassin al-Haj Saleh was a US government informant in regular correspondence with American officials in Damascus. One such memo, dated April 24, 2006, features advice by al-Haj Saleh apparently delivered to US officials in the country to use Islamism as a weapon against the government of Bashar al-Assad.

Haymarket has also recently published “Indefensible,” a book-length denunciation of the anti-imperialist left by the writer Rohini Hensman.

The manifesto features ham-fisted attacks on journalists Julian Assange, John Pilger, and Seymour Hersh, along with unqualified support for virtually every US and NATO military intervention in the past 30 years, as well as the dirty war on Syria and the Maidan coup in Ukraine.

Anand Gopal, the longtime ISO ally who speaks at the Socialism Conference every year, while working for a liberal foundation funded by the US State Department, praised Hensman’s book as a guide to “how to be a principled internationalist in the era of imperialism.”

More recently, Hensman took to the DSA’s official website to attack The Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal, Seymour Hersh, and Robert Fisk as “neo-Stalinists” engaged in a “convergence” with neo-Nazis. No evidence was provided to support the extreme claim.

Ashley Smith, an ideologue of the now-defunct ISO, says he is currently writing another anti-anti-imperialist book for Haymarket entitled “Socialism and Anti-Imperialism.”

Tiny, irrelevant Trotskyite groups, from South to North America

Trotskyite groups are notorious throughout the world for their extreme sectarian tendencies. The organizations rarely last long, frequently splintering into tiny groupuscules over political disagreements.

Unsurprisingly, then, the so-called “left” opposition in Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba — which is celebrated by Trotskyite groups like the ISO — is in fact infinitesimal and insignificant.

Nils McCune, a socialist and environmental activist who has lived in Nicaragua for years, explained in an interview on our podcast Moderate Rebels that one of these parties, the Movement for the Renovation of Sandinismo (MRS) is a tiny group that is irrelevant in the country. Unable to mobilize popular support, this “left” opposition can only lobby the US government for regime change.

As Blumenthal, a co-author of this article, revealed in MintPress News, the MRS has received direct support from the US government in its campaign to prevent the election of Daniel Ortega as president, and lobbied for sanctions against Nicaragua after he was elected.

Similarly, in Venezuela the ostensible left opposition has offered “critical support” to Washington’s regime change efforts.

This February, a leader of the marginal Venezuelan Trotskyite group Marea Socialista held a friendly meeting with Juan Guaidó, the US-appointed right-wing coup leader.

On February 5, Guaidó tweeted a photo of a meeting with Marea Socialista’s Nicmer Evans.

Juan Guaidó hails from the far-right party Voluntad Popular, which was practically founded by the US government and has been deeply involved in street violence throughout Venezuela.

Hoy sostuvimos un encuentro con ex Ministros del Gobierno del ex presidente Chávez. Escuchamos sus planteamientos, y coincidimos en la necesidad de resolver los problemas de los venezolanos.

Seguimos trabajando y escuchando a todos los sectores que quieren un cambio #VamosBien pic.twitter.com/4FGM0gecZO

— Juan Guaidó (@jguaido) February 5, 2019

Jesus Rodriguez Espinoza, a Chavista who lives in Venezuela and is editor of the independent news website, the Orinoco Tribune, told The Grayzone when we reported in the country in February that Marea Socialista is “tiny” and has “no power.” He was genuinely surprised at how much coverage these minuscule groups have received in the US progressive media, because inside Venezuela they have negligible influence.

Yet the Trotskyite organization has constantly been given a platform by the ISO’s newspaper Socialist Worker (Marea Socialista even enjoys its own tag on the website). Jacobin Magazine, the self-declared “leading voice of the American left,” has also given a huge platform to Marea Socialista operatives to push for what they call a “Chavismo from below” — despite the fact that the Trotskyite group is virtually unknown to average Venezuelans, including to millions of poor and working-class Chavistas.

Also featured in the February 5 photo of the meeting with US-backed coup leader Juan Guaidó was the anti-Maduro liberal intellectual Edgardo Lander, who is popular in anti-communist left-wing circles in the US but almost unknown inside Venezuela. Like Marea Socialista, Lander has enjoyed very positive coverage in the progressive Anglo press.

Democracy Now, which has advanced regime-change propaganda on Syria on repeated occasions, offered its platform to Lander this May. Hosts Amy Goodman and Nermeen Sheikh lobbed softball questions at the intellectual, and failed to disclose that he met with Guaidó.

In his Democracy Now segment, Lander admitted that his outfit is a “small collective,” whereas the Chavista movement he criticizes is massively popular in working-class barrios across the country.

The International Socialist Organization has played a similar role in the US, with little visibility outside the left and almost no grassroots base.

Now that the ISO has disbanded, its veterans can reach into the rapidly growing ideologically diffuse world of Democratic Socialists of America, using platforms like Socialism 2019 to infect DSA’s youthful core with the imperial politics of regime change – but always “from the left,” and always “from below.”

By Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal

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Not one woman less. “Other” femicides and systems of oppression that create and favor murderers

By Syspirosi Atakton

[…] The lake is the blood of times,

drops of sweat and blood of others.

Your only offer was innocence

Bargained away through time,

in everyday expressions,

Filipino, negro, whore…

Are you shocked?

Please…

Yes, yes, I know, not you.

You would never.

You’re a philanthropist, by definition superior. […]

a quote from the poem: “Why are you shocked?” by Giorgos Pericleous.

Mary Rose Tiburcio, Sierra Graze Seucalliuc, Arian Palanas Lozano, Maricar Valtez Arquiola, Livia Florentina Bunea, Elena Natalia Bunea. Bodies of women and girls,immigrant and insignificant lives for both the cypriot state and the cypriot society. Murdered bodies, thrown into wells, in ponds, in suitcases, that heavy rain and accidental reports from tourists brought recently to the surface. The fact that so far seven women and girls have been murdered indicates something far more abhorrent: the deep racism and misogyny of the Cypriot institutions and the Cypriot society itself.

The invisibility of the immigrant women living and working in Cyprus has transformed into a horrifying spectacle, reminding us of the daily violence to which these women are exposed due to racism, unjust working conditions and patriarchy; conditions established -not only- in cypriot society and consciousness.

The marginalization of the immigrant female workers from the realm of the “political” and their social position as abjects -not subjects- of the institutions of the Cypriot State were revealed by the total indifference of the State to their existence/luck. Once again, the “occupied part of Cyprus”, the “black hole”, functioned as an excuse to the reluctance of the State to deal with such matters. However, the failure to deal with the disappearances is at the same time a failure to recognize the social oppression of immigrant female domestic workers in Cypriot reality; a failure to recognize the violence of gender and power relations.

Behind the distinct story of each murdered woman, there is a structure which is no exception but the common ground of all femicides around the world: patriarchy. From America to Saudi Arabia, from Argentina to Spain, and from Turkey to Cyprus, the basic tool of patriarchal societies is gendered violence. Psychological and physical violence against women is one of the basic methods of their obedience. This type of violence has different manifestations and a different degree of brutality: it starts with words that afflict the bodies of women and objectify their bodies and their sexuality, it becomes systemic and subordinates on the basis of origin, color, class, salary, labor, sexuality and desire, while in its outburst it could result to physical abuse and murderous mania.

Patriarchy has for centuries sowed poison in the minds of men perpetuating a culture of sexism, deeply rooted in inequality and gender discrimination, the economic weakening of women, and the acceptance of toxic masculinity with its nationalistic and militaristic impacts. It is no coincidence that so many centuries of systematic violence create repeated expressions of sexist enforcement: in communication, in contact, in the workplace, in public space. Sexism is the daily expression of patriarchy in our lives. Because in the bipolar concept of power-domination one finds a whole range of sexist violence; from vulgarity to speech, to physical violation, and from rape to death.

The scariest thing of all though, is that we are progressively led to the normalization of this sexist culture and, without reducing the severity and tragedy of the femicides, we must recognize that they are only the tip of the iceberg from the surface of which are emerging cycles of gender violence and hatred that patriarchal societies have imposed in the form of physical, psychological, sexual, economic, institutional and symbolic subordination. Nikos Metaxas is flesh from the flesh of patriarchy in Cyprus, that sees the bodies of immigrant women as temporary, consumable, worthless.

Today, we stand in solidarity with the marginalized communities of immigrant domestic workers and their struggle for visibility and (social) justice. We recognize the privileges we have in making our voices heard more. That’s why we are walking side by side, shouting to uncover institutional violence.

It is our duty to create collective structures that will fight against sexism, patriarchy, racism and nationalism. Our debt is to change the public discourse and the public space so that it shows zero tolerance to cases of sexism.

SILENCE SHALL NOT BE OUR DOMAIN OF ABJECTION.

FEMINIST SELF-DEFENSE EVERYWHERE!

Syspirosi Atakton

10th May 2019

 

Will the EU elections shake the “European project”?

By puk
an article from Sonja Grusch, from SLP the sister organisation of NEDA in Austria and the section of CWI in Austria Is it a choice between nationalism and Europe? Between the far-right and democratic rights? Or is there more? All over Europe, politicians and parties have started their campaigns for the European Parliament elections in […]

Cypriot Consciousness

By Syspirosi Atakton

Note: The translation of the text was done in the framework of the documentary TONGUE –
(https://www.facebook.com/tonguefilm/?fb_…LnadcjU02Q)

Cypriot Consciousness

By Costis Achniotis
Within The Walls, Issue 35, September 1988

This text is my lecture for the event that our magazine has organized at Famagusta Gate. At the same event Mehmet Yiaşin spoke about the “Turkish Cypriot identity in literature”. We will publish Yiasin’s presentation in the next issue in which there will be a feature on Turkish Cypriots. We will also answer to some articles published in the newspapers about our event there.
____________________________________________________________________________

Firstly, I clarify that I understand the definition of collective consciousness (and its contents) not as stable and unchangeable and of course I do not give it the dimension of a natural order. Collective consciousness just as any social concept is changeable and follows the shifting needs of of a society.

This changeability of course is not at all mechanic. The superstructure can drastically act on social evolution. For example the appearance of industries shapes the totality of workers that are possible to become carriers of labor consciousness. Labor consciousness is potentially common for all nations and can determine the totality of the workers of the world. Of course, this understanding is macroscopic. Other factors (individual consciousness) act and shape opposing subtotalities.

For the purpose of this text, I call Cypriot Consciousness, the consciousness of the Cypriot Independence. Therefore, its carrier is anyone who understands Cyprus and its people as an independent entity and strives as a consequence for the protection of the corresponding state institution, the Independent Cypriot State.

Of course the understanding of Cypriot Independence is basically a subject that has not been studied neither historically nor sociologically, nor politically, and this stands for both communities. And it is entirely natural as since the 50’s the consciousness for Enosis (Union with Greece[1]) and for taksim (separation[2]) were entirely dominant. Regardless of the acceptance of this so-called Independence in 1960, the governing teams of both communities were (or were acting like) for Enosis or for taksim. Therefore only this version of history was projected with its corresponding ideological response. It is indicative how misguiding history is in Greek-Cypriot schools.

So it is not easy to realise that CPC (Communist Party of Cyprus) took an anti-union stand. I will quote an excerpt:
“…CPC sees as its duty to protest by any means, firstly against local English government which due to its indifference contributes in the intensification of intercommunal hate between the citizens of Cyprus and secondly against the fraudulent leaders of this place which spoke and will speak in the name of the Cypriot people. DOWN WITH ENOSIS – LONG LIVE THE INDEPENDENCE OF CYPRUS – LONG LIVE THE PROLETARIATS OF THE WORLD (Neos Kosmos, 25.4.1925)

We see that the understanding for Independence was already in combination with the effort to escape bicommunal conflicts.

Of course there is no doubt that since then, up until the categorical acceptance of “Enosis and only Enosis” by AKEL after about 25 years of inaptitude, the folk sentiment of the Greek-Cypriot community was all the more oriented toward Greece. The Turkish-Cypriot minority seems to have lagged behind in terms of following the developments and eventually takes a position after EOKA’s struggle. When AKEL leaned toward Enosis, the Trotskyist Party of Cyprus (which was a small communist organisation) criticized them harshly, as they saw independence as a self-government of the oppressed classes, without mentioning the Turkish-Cypriot community.
I quote an excerpt:

“COMRADES,
May this year’s 1st of May find us on the frontlines of the struggle for the handing down of power to our people, for SELF-GOVERNMENT. The traitorous abandonment of the position for Self-government on the part of the stalinist leadership and the adoption of the position for Enosis should make us come to our senses. We ourselves must stop the poisoning by Enosis. We must make the ill-fated leaders of our laborer’s organisations get on the right track of serving workers’ benefits. If they deny, we should set them aside and keep moving forward in a new polemic, with class-awareness and decisive leadership for the struggle for the handing down of power to the workers and farmers. Enosis can provide us neither better working conditions nor better wages, nor can it ensure our social emancipation. It will merely exchange our chains. Nothing more, nothing less.

WORKERS, FARMERS, OPPRESSED,
Move forward in the struggle for our emancipation. The struggle for our economic and political demands. The battle for the improvement of our working conditions and Social Security. For the creation of more jobs for the unemployed. For unemployment benefits. For the organisation and class awareness of all of the oppressed. For SELF-GOVERNMENT. For a Government of Workers – Farmers, that feels for the worker and protects the farmer. For the complete national and social liberation.”

In this text there is no mention of Turkish-Cypriots. But in the municipal elections the idea of proportionate representation of Turkish-Cypriots is projected from the candidates of this party and at the same time the request for Enosis is condemned in exchange for the request for Self-Government. The request for Enosis is considered a request which is entirely bourgeois (Ergatis, 15 May 1949).

The organisation of Trotskyists broke up and got dismantled soon after. One of the reasons is that a fraction of the members becomes for Enosis as one can witness through the conversational essays in it’s later editions.

We can see that briefly before the 50s, the Greek-Cypriot left tends to ambiguously want independence without always condemning Enosis and combines this demand with an intense worker’s politics (it is not by chance that the last labour struggles happened back then) and an understanding of danger that is included in a possible intercommunal conflict (and certainly other reasons such as geopolitical ones).

I do not know whether you, like myself, see that history actively justified the dears of the leftists of the era.

Whereas the Greek-Cypriot community votes for “Enosis and only Enosis” as one in 1950, and for the entire decade it leaves no space for anything else, I suppose that hidden within the bourgeois class exist thoughts for independence, because of course it cannot be by chance that Makarios gave that infamous interview in 1957 or that the national council of the time takes part, even in disagreement, in the negotiations in Zurich and London.

In making a report of the 50s, we can in summary say that the entire revolutionary force of the Cypriot people, Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot, was wasted on marginalising the conscious participation of the working class, in order for an intercommunal conflict to be built and for neither self-government nor Enosis but for dependence to be given.

This is why Cypriot Consciousness is always a newborn consciousness. It has never overcome the stage of infancy. In consequence, its face is marked by the sorrow of profound old-age and the main sentiment that it can feel is the uncertain pain of existence. Cypriot Consciousness exists trampled under the feet of its adversaries who are caught in an infinite hand-to-hand battle. From the point of view of where it exists, on the ground, it sees them as enormous giants. Regardless of the constant trampling, the Cypriot Consciousness is saved by the fact that none of the giants is entirely dominant. Otherwise the Cypriot Consciousness would be lost.

The Cypriot Consciousness thinks itself weak. That’s why it plays possum, waiting for better days.

The Cypriot Consciousness is weak and humble. It knows it and doesn’t go to battle. It settles for cackling at the weakness of its far stronger adversaries who are nonetheless also too weak to impose their own order of things. In its ears the voices echo like empty words and fanfare.

Cypriot Consciousness has the arrogance of the marginals.

 

[1]. The dominant Greek Cypriot Discourse which called for union with Greece.

[2].  The dominant Greek Cypriot Discourse which called for complete separation of the two communities.

ECOPOLIS FESTIVAL, 25-27 July

By Syspirosi Atakton

 

 

 

Ecopolis is a 3-day anti-commercial festival with no sponsors. All events will be free. This year’s festival schedule is as follows (more info soon):

25/07 – Talks, presentations, and discussions
26/07 – Art exhibitions and performances
27/07 – Concert

Donations help us maintain the festival’s independent and self-funded character, so they are more than welcome.

The city as the main field of social activity and action reflects the wider social environment. Ecopolis festival aims to reveal, challenge, and renegotiate the social tensions of everyday life in the streets, squares and benches of Nicosia. A city that is drowning in coffee shops, street-side tables and fashionable bars. The old city of Nicosia has changed face: from sub-developed historical center it has now fulfilled its potential as an ideal city-commodity, maintaining the advertisable image of the “last divided capital”, while the accelerated gentrification of the last years has constituted it as an urban jewel “clean” from social relations and situations that oppose commodity relations mediated by spectacle.

Skyscrapers for high-class apartments and businesses, pedestrian zones occupied by the tables of countless interchangeable shops, the lack of public benches, fences around Faneromeni church that get taller every year, sidewalks full of parked cars, sky-rocketing rents that become prohibitive for migrant residents –all a result of gentrification and the consumerist influx which followed, creating a city where the only acceptable social / political activity is consumption. Meanwhile, barbed wire, barrels and armies force us us to live our geographical and historic site as half, mediated by the symbols of hatred and tedious queues at the checkpoints to walk a distance of 100 meters.

For us, these are factors composing a challenging landscape of action, in which we intervene creatively by expressing and making proposals for societies organized outside hierarchical, capitalist and sexist mentalities and institutions, on the basis of self-organization, solidarity and companionship. The Ecopolis festival is being held this year for the first time by the Ecopolis working group on ecology and the city. Ecopolis festival aims to put forth the claim to the city as a Common, as a field of resistance to the social and environmental endeavors of neoliberalism. We want to create the conditions in which the city is experienced as a point of reference and socialization, action and experimentation, rather than as a polished real estate commodity bought and sold according to the laws of the market and current trends.

[Beyond Europe] We won’t accept anything less!

By siata

Short-statement on the gathering of Beyond Europe – Antiauthoritarian Platform Against Capitalism in Nicosia (Cyprus) from the second to the fourth of March 2018

Last weekend antiauthoritarian groups from all over Europe came together in the divided town of Nicosia on the Island of Cyprus, located in the eastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea. Some of us hadn’t seen each other since the riotous nights of the G20 summit in Hamburg in July of last year, while many met for the first time. In 2013, when the platform Beyond Europe was formed, we were riding a wave of emancipatory unrest all over Europe, the United States of America and Northern Africa. This unrest was reacting to the economic crisis of 2008 and how it was handled politically. Today we are facing a different beast. It has risen out of the crackdown of this wave of unrest by the cooperation of neoliberal and authoritarian regimes. What we find as a result of the normalisation of the crisis through the policing of the social and militarization of the police-force is this: A massive resurgence of nationalism and populism in their many intersections with the various guises of authoritarianism and patriarchy. Going back to the recipes of the past, their promise is the promise of an easy solution. Politicians of all colors keep telling us that what separates us are the irreconcilable ‘natures’ of our ethnicities, nationalities, identity cards and genders, of our belonging. But if three days of discussions with fifty people from five countries and eleven cities has proven one thing, it is that this is a lie.

Under global capitalism, more connects us than it separates us. The culturalisation and naturalisation of bourgeois politics and capitalist economy does not solve one single contradiction arising from them. It simply displaces and externalises them. In this way it hinders progressive politics. Its discursive and material prominence is a danger for the safety and livelihood of everything different. The changed situation thus demands of us to take critical stock of our previous attempts. We are still few, weak and isolated. Our own reproduction often depends on the system and the mechanisms we seek to overcome. And we struggle to make our different histories as movements and the circumstances under which they were formed productive. But in a world divided by borders and classes, brutalized and depraved, we are far more surprised by how much common ground there is among us – how similar our desires for a different world are, and how careful we sometimes can be with each other. In several working groups this weekend – on labour and digitalisation, eco-social-struggles, feminist politics, the authoritarian formation and the rise of new fascisms – it became clear that our answer cannot be retreating into a position of self-defense. Even though they were won only by and after hard-fought battles of social movements, liberal rights or the social-democratic welfare state would not be able to counter Nationalism and Capitals even if they were tenable in the current situation. Nationalism and Capitalism are implicated in liberalism and social democracy, managing their on-going proceedings and enacting their exclusions. Instead, we need to expand and proliferate our struggles over the collective self-organisation of our lives: In the household and the neighborhood, the factory, the call-center, cyberspace, on the school-yard or the lecture hall, the fruit plantation, the coal mine or the hospital. The social and democratic experiment of Rojava, erected and defended admit the horrors of the Syrian war, surely is one example. The movement of #blacklivesmatter is another.

Together we will have to figure out what is to be done with so many issues and only very limited resources on our hands. This will take some time and we warmly invite you to join the discussion. This much is clear: It is only together that we can overcome the obstacles erected between us and the construction of a better life – be it the exploitation of our work, of our life or of our environment for the sake of profit and power. Whatever its form, Capitalism will continue to produce misery, surplus populations, war and the destruction of the Earth. So antiauthoritarian politics will have to change, but our goal remains the same: To move beyond state, nation and capital, be it in their national or supernational European incarnations. We won’t accept anything less. – Beyond Europe, Nicosia, 4.3.2018.

[Beyond Europe] Going for the revolutionary 8th of March!

By siata

On this 8th of March, Beyond Europe takes an antiauthoritarian, anti-capitalist and anti-nationalist stance in the feminist struggles. This means that we are moving beyond traditional borders and radicalizing hegemonic narratives. The traditional approaches that link patriarchy either only to the state or capitalism need to be overridden so that they can be considered antiauthoritarian.

By drawing attention to the facts that patriarchy is the oldest system of oppression but also has the ability to move beyond borders and norms, we call upon its authoritarian structure.

Let’s fight authority on all its levels: from the local to the transnational. Join us in solidarity by supporting your local groups which strive for feminist demands.

We, as Beyond Europe, gathered today outside the Archibishop´s  Palace in solidarity of feminist struggles. Particularly, we aim to support the demands for reproductive justice in Cyprus, since abortion is still illegal. There are currently initiatives for decriminalizing abortion in the law and Church of Cyprus is one of the forces who are actively against abortion as well as other political and wider eco-social struggles.

Here you can find the petition that gathers signatures for supporting the decriminalization of abortion in Cyprus: https://secure.avaaz.org/el/petition/Kypriaki_Voyli_Proothisi_tis_protasis_nomoy_gia_tis_ektroseis/?fLcxxab

Here’s the link for the initiative: fb.me/abortionscy

MY BODY – MY CHOICE! OUR RIOT – OUR VOICE!

Reproductive justice, the right to abortion, and the case of south Cyprus 

By Syspirosi Atakton

by Sispirosi Atakton
December 2017

Over the long view of history, the reproductive rights debate has given rise to a vast number of conflicts as a result of an ever-expanding state, in which edicts of the church are often enshrined in law, and a gradual process of full politicization of the womb as a public space subject to legal and social regulation. These conflicts occurred both in the 19th and 20th centuries when many countries criminalized and recriminalized abortions (there were some exceptions as the fascist regimes in Germany and Austria adapted abortion restriction to eugenics and pro-natalist goals, while in Catalonia, Spain, abortion laws were briefly liberalized in the 1930s, but any efforts to implement reforms were squashed by the victory of the fascist Franco regime), and again in the late 20th century when many countries reformed and liberalized their abortion laws, after a heightened debate on the issue, leading to legislative change and partial decriminalization (1960s-1980s).

It is essential that every person has control over their body, and the ability to make informed decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive health, such as for example if and how many children one will have. Every woman, or person of any gender which might get pregnant (such as trans men, non-binary, agender people, etc.), must have the access and right to opt for abortion services, regardless of their reasons for wanting to terminate the pregnancy. This right to control our bodies is indispensable in the struggles for liberation and social justice, as nobody should be forcefully assigned the role of a child-bearing reproductive machine.

In our discussion it is crucial to think of abortion as just one of the issues of reproductive justice, which expands the pro-choice agenda to incorporate a wider array of economic, social and political issues affecting women’s power to decide about their bodily autonomy, reproduction and well-being. Legal abortions are meaningless if those who want them can’t afford them, and this framework allows to see the inequalities in women’s control over reproduction. Besides, middle and upper class women, with privileged access to relevant information, have always had access to abortion, by making use of the loopholes in the existing law, or by travelling to countries where abortion was/is legal. Working class women, on the other hand, not trained to argue with the authorities and/or could not pay for a doctor’s (legal or illegal) help, were the ones who have always been at risk. Thus, we can conceptualize a struggle not only for the right to choose, but for the social, political and economic conditions necessary to exercise that right. It entails a movement oriented approach, in addition to demands for safeguarding reproductive rights and accessible reproductive health services.

The acknowledgement of reproductive work as unpaid labor in the 60s made it possible to redefine the domestic or private sphere as an anti-capitalist site of struggle. In this sense, strict restrictions on abortion can be interpreted as an attempt to control the labor-supply, and deviations from the form of the procreative, heteronormative family and gender roles as resistance to this mechanism [1]. Radical and liberal feminists often disagreed about the demands the women’s movement should have, with the former arguing amongst others for free abortion on demand, free child-care and equal pay, while the latter were mainly concerned with the legal right to abortion and equal employment opportunities. The radical feminist agenda included practices such as consciousness raising and setting up self-help clinics and women’s shelters; discourses centered on liberation and sexual difference (rather than equality); and a political stance to which abortion and, more generally, the reclaiming of the sexed body, was central. Those were considered moments of deep feminist challenge to the dominant patriarchal culture and the state. Those creating policy and articulating hegemonic cultural norms responded (to a greater or lesser extent) to feminist threats to the status quo, and engaged in processes of negotiation and transformation [2].

It seems that with the demise of the radical feminist movements of the 70s which expressed an unapologetic stance for abortions, and the co-optation of women in legal debates over the matter, a shift occurred towards a defensive and prevention based stance. The focus has shifted from reproductive autonomy and self-determination to issues of sex education and contraception methods, with abortion framed as an avoidable last resort. In this way, regardless of how useful and necessary sex education and the availability of contraceptives might be, abortion is kept secret, shameful and regrettable, and the liberating potential of choice is surrounded by feelings of shame and guilt. It seems that the new, gendered language that was developed along the radical feminist movement with which to speak of one’s body, one’s sexuality, one’s pain and alienation faded away.  Despite the efforts of radical feminist movements to center the debate on abortions around women’s self-determination, linking thus abortion to men’s assumed responsibility for controlling and monitoring women’s sexuality and reproduction, in most countries the initial debate is framed around the unborn fetus, doctors’ rights, or the state’s response to rising illegal abortions. It is important to bring back the unapologetic demand for abortions and the repeal (what has been called the decriminalization of abortion without limitation), not reform, of abortion laws into current struggles, as modernization of abortion laws does no justice to women, who are still denied agency.

It seems that a woman’s desire to end a pregnancy is not enough in itself, for it has to be approved first by a “respectable” authority figure, be it her husband, her father, her family, her community, her nation. Denying women the right to end a pregnancy is like denying them the right to own their bodies, which, in turn, results in women’s infantilization, which is all about rendering them incapable of making an independent decision. Historically, and ontologically, women and the feminine were strictly associated with the passion of the body; a body which was simply considered, by the Cartesian/humanist philosophical canon, to be inert and passive, silent and inferior, part of an unchangeable nature. On the contrary, the so-called superiority of the logos of the mind was associated with men and the masculine. Consciousness, rationality, intelligence, selfhood and subjecthood were synonyms of the masculine, and men were identified with the thinking subject and, by extension, with the universal [3]. There was no place for women’s voices to be heard, while their right to (own) a self was forbidden. They were supposed to live for others and their bodies were considered property of the autonomous (male) subject, as he was the one making all the decisions –nationally, institutionally, domestically– on her behalf. In a word, women were denied their existential freedom [4]; they were denied their status as thinking subjects, who could make decisions for their own bodies and choose between having a baby or not. This discourse is extremely important to the extent that it somehow sets the frame to understand better the arguments, claims, and struggles of the pro-abortion/pro-choice movement.

In other words, despite the fact that abortions are performed on women’s bodies, policymakers have often framed it in other terms –doctors’ rights, fetal rights, law enforcement, morality, religion, progressivism, family planning, eugenics– rather than discussing women’s choice, health, autonomy, agency, or sexuality. The dominant framework of the issue when abortion first arrived on the public agenda, was either the status of the unborn fetus (e.g. Great Britain, the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium), or doctors’ rights (e.g. France, Canada, USA), or state’s integrity in the face of rising rates of illegal abortions (e.g. Germany, Italy) [5]. The debate about how abortion policy could strengthen women’s autonomy was completely absent. Once again, women were not the talking subject, but rather a silent participant in a malestream debate, whose decisions were to determine the future of her own body. The political semiotics of representation play a crucial role here as, in this case, the object of representation (the fetus), permanently speechless, becomes the representative’s (patriarchal institutions) wet dreams because it can be easily naturalized and disengaged from the discursive realm. Women who want abortion simply vanish or become the enemy because they have opposing “interests”. The only actor left whose voice can be heard is the one who represents and is traditionally related to the hegemonic masculinity mostly articulated in juridical and medical discourses [6]. For this reason, concepts such as self-determination and agency are really important for the abortion debate because they put women, as subjects who are not afraid to speak their truth, back at the center of the way we talk about abortion.

However, relying solely on politics of ‘choice’ and ‘rights’ obscures the presence of other factors affecting the person’s choice over an abortion, such as access to subsidized care and job security [7]. Framing abortion and parenthood as an exclusively private issue suffers from an insensitivity to the way the private/public dichotomy fails communities whose social, political and economic realities are incompatible with this distinction. For example, migrant women’s paid labor is often domestic labor, and child-rearing is often intertwined with interpersonal relations and bonds of solidarity and cooperation for the overall well-being of the community, even in individualistic societies. When systemic inequalities result in the material conditions which determine the necessity of an abortion, defending only the right to choose is inadequate. Such a narrow-focused approach leaves unchallenged the fact that even if accessible abortions permit greater women’s access into the workforce, thus challenging the subordination of women in the private sphere, the burden of unpaid reproductive and domestic work remains disproportionately on them. In cases where abortion was legalized, legalization alone proved useless in claiming the resources women need to maintain control over their bodies and lives. While mainstream feminist movements made sure that women could have access to male-dominated workplaces, they abandoned reproductive work and the domestic sphere as a site of struggle. Terms like autonomy, empowerment and choice, historically employed by the feminist movements to raise consciousness, have been deployed by media and the state to promote the ideal of an active, individually responsible working and consuming female citizen. This promoted ideal does not suffice to challenge the exploitative relations of the capitalist mode of production and reproduction, and has accelerated the undoing of the radical women’s movements.

Additionally, focusing only on modernizing abortion laws, neglects the way age, class and ability influence one’s reproductive health priorities, and how under neoliberal restructuring of economies, the cost of the relevant reproductive health services is falling on the individuals. At the same time, women are more visible to governmental agencies, through the required medical intervention in abortions, giving birth, postnatal care, menopausal issues, breast-cancer checks, etc [8]. Reproductive capacity is monitored and medically controlled throughout a woman’s life. Even in countries where abortions are more readily accessible, women who want to undergo sterilization, the most permanent of contraceptive methods, are often forced to lie about their reasons and denied the agency in taking decisions affecting their bodies. Whereas the right to voluntary motherhood has become more accepted, the denial of a woman to procreate is often dismissed as an immature and immoral choice.

Upon impregnation, the person is stripped off their bodily autonomy, and anyone who wants to have an abortion must face the consequences of confronting not only medical authorities and their policies, but also the defenders of the procreative role assigned to women by capitalism and the nation-state. The latter insist on the patriotic mobilization of mothers against imagined demographic threats, either from minorities within the Republic of Cyprus, or by “Turkish settlers” in the north [9]. Lower birth rate, a phenomenon frequently associated with accessible abortions, is wrapped in nationalistic rhetoric and presented as a problem by government officials. The role of motherhood has been elevated over the past century to mother-of-the-nation, a heroic figure responsible for protecting traditional morals and producing the future defenders of the country’s national interests, as well as the younger sector of the workforce that would strive for the country’s economic recovery and growth. Future dehellenization and lack of local labor supply are expressed as the second most important problem after the Cypriot issue by conservatives and the right-wing, or even as an integral aspect of it [10]. This is not to say that everyone against abortions falls in these categories. As long as the debate over when human personhood begins remains open, some of the opposition might also be rooted in liberal defense of individual liberties. What we can conclude from this however, is that it would be a contradiction for the state to offer free accessible abortions. Defending abortions and reproductive justice requires to overcome the pervasive nationalistic rhetoric and militarist attitudes in society.
In October 2017, there was an arrest and 5-day detention of a woman and her doctor for an abortion, which is a criminal offence according to current laws, after a complaint filed by her partner, who was unaware of the event [11].

The Criminal Code of Cyprus (sections 167-169 and 169A), as amended in 1986 (Law No. 186), permits abortion if two medical practitioners are of the opinion that continuance of the pregnancy would endanger the life of the pregnant woman, or that physical, mental or psychological injury would be suffered by her or by any existing child she may have, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, or that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such serious physical or psychological abnormalities causing severe disabilities.  The Criminal Code also permits abortion following certification by the competent police authority, confirmed by medical certification whenever possible, that the pregnancy resulted from rape and under circumstances in which the pregnancy, if not terminated would seriously jeopardize the social status of the woman or of her family.  Although the Code does not specifically address socio-economic grounds other than as a factor in the criminal indication for abortion, in practice, “mental and psychological injury” is generally interpreted as including socio-economic grounds.  The Code was first liberalized in 1974, when provisions permitting abortions only on therapeutic grounds were replaced. Prior to the liberalization of abortion laws in Cyprus, laws were not strictly enforced.  Abortion could be obtained in private clinics. Most abortion clients were married women with multiple births or young unmarried women.

Any person performing an unlawful abortion is liable to seven years’ imprisonment.  A woman inducing her own abortion is liable to the same punishment.  Any person unlawfully supplying or procuring anything knowing that it is unlawfully intended to be used to procure an abortion is subject to three years in prison.  An abortion must be performed by a registered medical practitioner.  Although not specified by law, in practice abortion is performed within 28 weeks of gestation[12a,12b].

In February 2015, a new bill for decriminalization of abortions was proposed by four big political parties, but was never discussed in parliament and no voting was carried out, due to also direct and indirect influence of the church in order for this new bill not to proceed [13]. Just last year, in September 2016, the Archbishopric, the National Committee of Bioethics and the Pancyprian Medical Association organized the scientific convention “Abortions: medical, social, legal, spiritual dimensions” [14]. During the convention, positions against abortion under any justification were express and signed for by the three institutions in a memorandum of understanding. This alliance does not surprise us. The liberating potential of someone prioritizing themselves, usually against the patriarchal roles assigned to them, poses a threat towards the state, church and medical/scientific authorities. We perceive the decision for abortion as a matter of self-determination of our bodies, and consider unacceptable the criminalization and arrest of those pregnant and seeking abortion, as well as the doctors who help terminate a pregnancy safely.

As emerges from the analysis above, the capitalist-patriarchal state is deeply invested in control over reproduction, but when faced with acute social pressure key political and social actors are compelled to revise their positions. This includes elements of engagement with feminist arguments, but mostly a modification of those arguments, by refocusing the debate on a discourse of (sex-less) individual rights. Creating a legal consensus on abortion is seen across the political spectrum as key to the stabilization of socio-political life. More fundamentally, by controlling reproduction through an articulation of the conditions in which abortion is allowed, the state attempts not only to control population, but also to lay down the boundaries of acceptable values and behaviors [15]. Thus, it is important that abortion should be accessible to all women without discrimination, and each person seeking abortion to have access in safe abortion services around the world. On the contrary, abortion is either prohibited or criminalized or extremely limited (for example Ireland and Poland). When abortion is criminalized, it means that the person seeking abortion is denied fundamental rights over their bodies, health, self-determination, dignity and to have access to rights without discrimination. It means that the person will either seek abortion methods that would endanger their life and/or health and that they would try to seek for abortion in other countries. The right to abortion is just one part of the struggles for safe access to sexual and reproductive health care for everyone, which should entail access to counseling and support before and after the abortion if necessary. Lack of access to abortion services is an attack on the freedom to self-determination, and paves the way towards dangerous methods of terminating the pregnancy. Let’s not forget that the existing ‘way out’ through private doctors and clinics comes with a financial burden which prevents those with low income, migrants, teenagers and others from having an abortion. As long as the state monopolizes authority and uses it to define which medical and surgical procedures are accessible, it is necessary to proceed immediately into a discussion and amendment of the legislation, and decriminalize abortions without requirements for justification and medical opinions. It should ensure that everyone, regardless of gender and gender identity, will have access to these services when they need them.

The pro-choice, feminist movements and those in the radical left struggling for reproductive justice should not rest on their laurels, even in countries which witnessed progress on reproductive rights or positive abortion law reforms. As the anti-abortion camp is pushing for retrogression in abortion laws, it is becoming increasingly evident that abortion law reforms are insufficient to safeguard women’s increasing access to abortion. For example, Armenia, FYROM, Georgia, Russia and Slovakia have recently reintroduced preconditions for accessing abortions. Even in countries with legal abortions, long waiting periods and biased counseling services act as barriers to accessing an abortion safely. Legislative proposals for near-total bans or retrogression to stricter abortion laws also took place in Latvia, Lithuania, Spain, Romania, and Poland; however, they were met with public outcry and protests and never realized. Andorra, Malta, Liechtenstein, Ireland, Monaco and San Marino currently have very restrictive abortion laws, with the former two prohibiting all abortions. As in Cyprus, most of these countries’ criminal codes include sanctions for women who undergo unauthorized abortions and those who assist them to do so [16]. Amidst the rise of authoritarian populism and the resurgence of traditionalist values in public discourse, it is crucial that we do not remain silent in front of the attacks on reproductive rights and our sexualities. In our struggles for social justice, deciding for one’s own body is an inalienable right, without the intervention of any authority threatening one’s health, life or freedom. Our bodies are ours, and not reproductive machines of any system.

 

References and further reading

[1] Silvia Federici, “The reproduction of labour-power in the global economy, Marxist theory and the unfinished feminist revolution”
Silvia Federici, “The reproduction of labour-power in the global economy, Marxist theory and the unfinished feminist revolution”

[2] McBride Stetson, Dorothy (2003) Conclusion: Comparative abortion politics and the case for state feminism.
https://www3.nd.edu/~ggoertz/sgair/McBride%20Stetson2002chp13.pdf

[3] Braidotti, Rosi (2002) Metamorphoses: towards a materialist theory of becoming (Cambridge: Polity Press); Grosz, Elizabeth (1994) Volatile bodies: toward a corporeal feminism (Sydney: Allen and Unwin).

[4] Τούτος εν ένας όρος που εδιατυπώθηκεν πρώτα που την Katha Pollitt. Για περαιτέρω συζήτηση γυρώ που την έκτρωση σαν ένα ηθικό δικαίωμα, δες Pollitt, Katha (2014) Pro: Reclaiming abortion rights (New York: Picador).

[5] McBride Stetson, Dorothy (ibid)

[6] Για μια πιο εκτενή συζήτηση γυρώ που την πολιτική σημειολογία της αντιπροσώπευσης, δες Haraway, Donna (1992) The promises of monsters: a regenerative politics of inappropriate/d others, in: Lawrence Grossber, Cary Nelson & Paula A. Treichler (eds.) Cultural studies (New York, London: Routledge), pp. 295-337.

[7] Dorothy Roberts, “Reproductive Justice, Not Just Rights”

Reproductive Justice, Not Just Rights

[8] Madame Tlank, “The Battle of all* Mothers (or: No Unauthorised Reproduction)”
Madame Tlank, “The Battle of all* Mothers (or: No Unauthorised Reproduction)”

[9] “Αυξάνονται οι αλλοδαποί, μειώνονται οι Κύπριοι”, Sigmalive
http://www.sigmalive.com/archive/simerini/politics/reportaz/451616

[10] An example of this argument can be found here: http://www.cna.org.cy/webnews.aspx?a=13b07a14e43f4f4e9bd2b891d8310818

[11] Woman who had illegal abortion released (Updated)

Woman who had illegal abortion released (Updated)

[12a] Ο περί Ποινικού Κώδικα Νόμος (ΚΕΦ.154), ΜΕΡΟΣ IV ΠΟΙΝΙΚΑ ΑΔΙΚΗΜΑΤΑ ΠΟΥ ΠΑΡΑΒΛΑΠΤΟΥΝ ΤΟ ΚΟΙΝΟ ΓΕΝΙΚΑ, Ποινικά Αδικήματα εναντίον των Ηθών
http://www.cylaw.org/nomoi/enop/non-ind/0_154/division-dd12fa068c-825c-475f-8af5-93cb97376e6e.html

[12b] www.un.org/esa/population/publications/abortion/doc/cyprus1.doc

[13] Εκτρώσεις: Τι προβλέπει η πρόταση νόμου του 2015
http://www.philenews.com/koinonia/eidiseis/article/437883/ektroseis-ti-problepei-i-protasi-nomoy-toy-2015

[14] Ιερά Αρχιεπισκοπή Κύπρου: Επιστημονικό Συνέδριο με γενικό θέμα: «Εκτρώσεις: Ιατρικές – Κοινωνικές – Νομικές – Πνευματικές διαστάσεις»

Ιερά Αρχιεπισκοπή Κύπρου: Επιστημονικό Συνέδριο με γενικό θέμα: «Εκτρώσεις: Ιατρικές – Κοινωνικές – Νομικές – Πνευματικές διαστάσεις»

[15] Pollitt, Katha (ibid)

[16] Women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in Europe
https://rm.coe.int/women-s-sexual-and-reproductive-health-and-rights-in-europe-issue-pape/168076dead

“I do not fear them. I have nothing to lose” – Iran’s current “No Future”- movement challenges the Islamic Republic

By Syspirosi Atakton

 by 

from Hamid Mohseni, Iranian-German activist and free-lance journalist based in Berlin, who is involved in the Iran solidarity networks since the 2009 uprising

It’s kicking off in Iran. Millions have taken to the streets in anti-government protests. Twenty people are reported dead, more than 500 arrested. But the dynamic is not declining. Unlike 2009, this period of protest has much more potential, because Iran’s no future-generation – like here in Europe – has nothing to lose and is willing to risk everything.

There is a saying in Iran: Every thirty-ish years, there is a regime change. In 1979, a people’s revolution chased away the Shah, this was before the Islamists around the first supreme leader Khomeini took over the state violently and transformed it into the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). Exactly 30 years later, in 2009, the country saw its last big uprising, orchestrated by and around the “reformist” current of Iranian real-politic – a movement which gave not only reformists, but all who wanted change a plausible reason for hope for improvement. But in the end, neither the controversial former conservative president Ahmadinedjad and the current supreme leader Ali Khamenei nor the principles of the Islamic Republic were touched. The movement was cracked down on. Is the cycle of regime change broken? Recent events in Iran give us hope that it’s only delayed. This movement – certainly in its beginning yet – has far more potential than in 2009 because in some crucial points it differs vastly from the 2009 movement. It is making the Islamic Republic’s elite shake and gives all of us who want to see the Islamic Republic gone and the people in Iran living in dignity and freedom a reason to hope.

First of all, very briefly: what is happening in Iran right now?

We are witnessing the transformation of social revolt into a more and more radical social movement all over the country. This is the biggest protest-wave the country has seen in eight years. The aim of it can be summed up as “Bread, Work, Dignity, Freedom” – and large numbers of the millions in the street are demanding nothing less than the end of the Islamic Republic.

The reasons why it’s kicking off are complex and have been growing for years, if not decades. In the news, it is said the spark was escalating egg prices and unemployment. Indeed, inflation in Iran is disastrous and combined with harsh austerity politics it outreaches the level of wages and incomes by far. In many cases these conditions push not only the unemployed, but even the masses of precarious employed Iranian to the edge of surviving. This is why Iran is at an unrest for a long time: the state funded organisation Isargara counts 1700 protest actions of social character only between March 2016 and today – be it wildcat strikes by factory workers or actions by pensioners and public sector employees – despite harsh prosecution against (radical) unionism and any kind of similar organisation. The end of the previous, hurtful UN-sanctions did not bring back economical recovery except for some corrupt Mullahs and their economic-military complex, the Revolutionary Guards.

But, the state’s economic struggle isn’t the only problem for people living in Iran. The increasing authoritarianism under Ahmadinedjad was not really stopped by the current president Rouhani, who is considered a reformist, and at least a moderate type of guy. The religiously motivated, authoritarian pressure on daily life, especially the harassment against women and alternative young people, the executions in the name of Allah etc. have not declined at all. The pollution especially in big cities is so bad that some blocks at some hours are only to sustain with masks. Last but not least many Iranians are furious that the expansionist IRI sponsors ideologically related struggles in the region, like in Palestine or in Lebanon with billions of dollars, but does not give a dime about the suffering people back home.  

But what is different now compared to 2009 – the year of the last uprising, which did not succeed?

The character of the protest and what it’s all about. 2009 was a genuinely political protest in the sense that it was concerned with “real-politic” in Iran. It was orchestrated around and within the “reformist” current, with the former candidates for presidency Mousavi – the same man by the way, who was premier minister under Khomeini during the mass executions against about 40.000 political opponents at the end of the 80s. But we will come back to the desperation of Iranian reformism later. However, the founding moment was the election within an autocratic and totalitarian regime, which implies, that the reformist wanted to take power within the Islamic Republic and – if possible – do things better slightly. More democracy, more individual freedom, less harassment, slight opening towards the West – all perfectly capable within the Islamic Republic, who have tolerated these changes already in 1997 during the last reformist candidate Khatami.

Now, the whole situation is turned around. The reformists are in power in the form of Rouhani, but the problems are the same, if not even worse. This is why the demands are more existential and the struggle, the conflict, is far more fundamental. It is not about choosing between different currents within the ruling class, but rather against the ruling class itself. In fact the first rally of this protest cycle on 28th December 2017 in the city of Mashad was organised by conservative hardliner and Rouhani-rival Raisi, but quickly got out his hand. The people are fed up of being used as negotiation masses between the reformist and the conservative currents of the real-politic – none of which are able to solve fundamental, existential problems. This was expressed during one of the first demonstrations in the current protest cycle at Teheran University, when people shouted “Reformists or Conservatives – the game is over”.

The subject of the struggle. The 2009 uprising was led by the urban, educated middle class, which was not suffering existentially in a material sense, but ideologically. They were – and they had every right to be – fed up with the aggressive, authoritarian development under Ahmadinedjad, whose administration massively increased the attack on genuinely democratic and individual rights like freedom of the press, assembly, opinion and so on. He manoeuvred Iran into a more and more leading role in opposing the West (who, despite the sanctions did not get tired of doing massive business with the IRI, though) and mobilising the country and regional allies as the West’s counterpart – as kind of an “anti-imperialist block of the 21stcentury”. While Ahmadinedjad was able to unify the lower classes by appealing to the national identity, the middle class wanted to take part in the globalisation of the western world – but not revolutionize Iran. They put their hopes into the reformist candidate of presidency to achieve that and chose the parliamentary way – which is a structural problem in a totalitarian state, where the supreme leader has to approve all the candidates.

Now, it is totally another social group revolting in the street: It is mostly the (young) lower classes, the (precarious) labourers, the non-represented, but also students (which are part of every big uprising in Iran) – and, very importantly, one of the strongest movement in Iran for decades, progressive women in the front. Most of this huge part of Iran’s population has literally no future. They have no perspective whatsoever. They want a life in dignity, they want something to eat, they want work in order to afford basic needs and they are frustrated about religious justifications of the misery. They have – unlike the 2009 urban class – nothing to lose and the mentality to risk everything. A young man from the south said during the riots: “I live with my parents and we can hardly afford meals for all of us. I cannot find work. What will they do? I do not fear them. I have nothing to lose”. It is astonishing, how this sentence in its exact wording could come from the (South-)European youth, who live in another world but suffer the same problem of being un-represented, dispensable in the eyes of the ruling class – and becoming ungovernable.

The determination and the symbolism of the protest. Consider this: Iran’s repressive apparatus is one of the most advanced and most ruthless in the region, if not in the world. There is not only police, but the better organised, more important and more brutal Revolutionary Guard and their unofficial, paramilitary arm the “Bassidj” militia, founded by Khomeini himself. This is why it takes a huge amount of courage to go out and demonstrate even peacefully at all. There is practically no right to do so, especially if it turns against the government. In this context, it is even more impressive what the people shout during these illegal assemblies. There are basically no religious slogans being heard. Unlike 2009 where one of the most central slogans was “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) in order to symbolize a loyalty to the principles of the Islamic Republic. You cannot find this slogan here. On the contrary, the people shout in masses and in all cities “Down with Rouhani”, “Down with the Dictator”, “Mullahs go home” even “Down with Khamenei” and finally “Down with the Islamic Republic” – these slogans can be prosecuted as “mohareb” (sin against God) and punished with the death penalty. According to the revolution in 1979 as well as Western republican revolutions they also demand “Independence, Freedom – an Iranian Republic” and reject the IRI by that as well.

The people seem to keep radicalizing every day. They do not let themselves be chased away by police, in many cases they overwhelm the riot units and set their cars and police stations on fire. In the videos, you can see that during militant actions, the people care for each other and stop others if they about to harm innocent people. There is a big sensitivity in the riots. The targets of direct actions are also very clear: people turn against police buildings and cars, banks, local administration buildings and especially against property of the hated Revolutionary Guard. Furthermore, they tear down huge posters of the Supreme Leader and burn the flag of the Islamic Republic. One of the most important signals for secular and progressive protest is the presence and the active involvement of women, many protesting without the Hijab. A young, protesting woman turning her Hijab to a flag became the symbol of this movement.

 

The geography of the protest. Unlike 2009, the actors of the current uprising are not limited on the relatively small urban middle class in three or four cities, but distributed all over the country. Iranian society is very heterogeneous– 60% is made up by the Persian majority, which in many cases aggressively claim the hegemony of the nationality “Iranian”, and there are several smaller and larger ethnic, cultural, religious minorities, like Azeris, Kurds, Lurs, Baha’i and so on. 2009 had a very crucial problem – it basically did not reach any of those minorities, because it never convinced those minorities why they would have a better fate with a reformist president. No wonder, since this topic was not a considerable part of their programme.

This year the social protest does not prefer any of those identities, but is very existential and includes all. While 2009 was massively orchestrated around Tehran and Isfahan, this year’s cycle started in the North-West (close to Iranian Kurdistan) and then was swept to Teheran and around 70(!) more cities in every parts of the country, including the minorities’ regions like Khuzestan, Kermanshah and Kurdistan. This is a nationwide movement of millions and it includes a very large part of society, 2009 did not.

The organisation of the movement. Naturally, the 2009 movement was a classical political movement with a narrow window of demands and – most importantly – with leaders. Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnaward and the co-candidate of the reformists, Karroubi, did not only consider themselves as leaders, but they were called as leaders by the movement. They and their team were responsible for the programme and choreography of the movement – and they also decided what was important enough to ask for, i.e. they warned of too much radicalization – naturally. But in a totalitarian state, this top-down-organisation is not a mistake for ideological but for pragmatic reasons. When the state was ready, they imprisoned these leaders and the dynamic was harmed heavily. Easy game. The protests did not stop but in many ways the movement became headless.

This year’s protest movement is much more decentralised and self-organised. People in the different cities coordinate with Internet tools and by taking recordings they see what is going everywhere, so they can refer to each other. They usually come together after work or school, when it gets dark, start chatting about politics and life, then they shout slogans and eventually take direct action – and disperse. Come and go, Hit and Run. Sure, there are attacks from security forces, arrests, people die. But nonetheless the protesters keep coming and coming, with a certain calmness. This has a spontaneity which a genuinely political movement like 2009 usually does neither know nor tolerate. There is nothing to behead for the authorities (yet?), this makes it so painful to stop. 

Reactions within the state apparatus and perspectives. The state apparatus is kept hesitating a long time, now it is slowly getting into position. After the protests got so big that they could not ignore them anymore, they started their usual blaming game: terrorists, agent provocateurs, foreigners and other enemies are responsible for the revolt. It is said, though, some police officers and soldiers have resigned already and deny duty. There are efforts to high jack the protest from conservative forces, for example, yelling “Allahu Akbar” through the microphones, but those efforts were shut down everywhere in Iran. Recent “demonstrations of power” where loyalists of the regime should come out in “masses” were beyond expectation. But the state has not mobilised all of its repressive apparatus yet. The revolutionary guard and the Bassidj militia are keeping clear for now. They want to see how it turns out. The reformists, given their misery and their pointless hope of transforming a totalitarian regime effectively by just installing a different president, will probably turn out as the accomplice of the conservatives in the end and form a “unity of reason” government, i.e. a unity of those who want to uphold the Islamic Republic and confront the movement.

However, here is one crucial difference to 2009: a lot must happen that the people become scared and stay home. They are hungry, unemployed or employed but feel miserable just like the unemployed, fed up with the Islamic regime and have no future. Even if the death toll is relatively much higher than 2009 (2009: 60-70 killed after 6 months, now more than 20 after 7 days), they keep staying on the street. This is what makes them dangerous, unpredictable and this is why it is probably not possible for political reasons to crack down the movement militarily. The state has men and material for sure, but they too surely fear a further escalation, that will expose further the regime to the outer world.

The misery of Iranian Reformism. Not only are the reformists not really part of this movement – many parts consider it as hostile. First, because the man in power is considered in their political current: When he got elected, reformists – imagine how desperate they are – celebrated that as a victory. But Rouhani’s era was more than disastrous and one more signal that reformism within the Islamic Republic is not an option.

Facing the protests now, I would even go further and say that the reformist promises and its real outcomes are a big part of why people got angry and take to the streets now. Despite his election campaign, Rouhani’s cabinet was heavily conservative – neither women nor representatives of a minority were part of it. This cabinet was a love letter to the supreme leader. During his campaign he heavily agitated against the Revolutionary guards, now he seems not to get enough of cuddling up to them and he refers to a “brotherhood” with them. Furthermore it was leaked that billions of the government’s budget was invested in religious projects outside and inside the country – but none of those really helped people in social need in Iran. But at least he lowered the numbers of executions? No, he did not. No wonder that two months ago a campaign under the name “I regret it” went viral, where people and celebrities (like former football star Ali Karimi) expressed their disappointment in the reformist current.

Reformism, its false promises and their historically consistent, fatal cooperation with conservatives and hardliners and selling that as “the lesser evil” are a reason for the misery in Iran and why it is kicking off everywhere now. They deserve nothing less.

What can we do here?

Organise solidarity. We know from many sources within Iran that it is vital for them that their struggle receives global attention. Not only do they feel empowered for the rightfulness of their struggle, but it has a political-strategic value: a tweet by USA’s Ahmadinedjad, Donald Trump, warning the Islamic Republic to maintain standards of human rights (what an irony), makes the Islamic Republic think twice about shooting down protesters. On the other hand, the Islamic regime is highly professionalised in transforming comments like these into their fake news, where they make foreigners responsible for the protest – an important ideological twist. Nonetheless we should not be silenced by that, never and from no regime to practice solidarity to a struggle we support. If there are solidarity actions in the whole of Europe or the whole world, it can and will make the Islamic Republic shake at least a little bit more – even if they claim the opposite.

Furthermore in a globalised world like ours, the struggle in Iran has to do with us. Have a look how, despite the sanctions, European capital makes large profits through trade with the Islamic Republic. According to the campaign “Antifa Teheran” from 2009/2010 you will be surprised how many companies in Europe not only have innocent trade and commerce links, but, for example many German and British companies, also deliver intelligence and material for the Islamic Republic security regime, for example riot gear and less than lethal crowd dispersal weaponry. In what way so ever: there are many ways to show solidarity. Make use of it and do not hesitate to clarify, what you are in solidarity with, i.e. social justice, secularism, freedom and peace – and with what not. The community of exiled Iranians is highly political and includes all sorts of political currents, partly extremely well organised: Several leftist currents, Mudjaheddin, nationalists, neoliberals, monarchists.

Let’s not forget: Iran’s regional and geopolitical importance is obvious by now. And the people of Iran – like everywhere – deserve a much better fate than the super-authoritarian, clerical IRI. But the 2009 movement in Iran was the start of the global protest wave, which swept over Arab countries, the USA and the movement of squares in Europe – even if not everywhere the rebellion succeeded or if there was no direct action connection with Iran. Now, after the terrible global rise of the right wing and authoritarian formations, it must be our time again. And Iran can be the beginning – again.

Φύλα & Εξουσία Vol. 5 – Genders & Power Vol.5

By Syspirosi Atakton

For the fifth consecutive year, Syspirosi Atakton, an anarchist, anti-authoritarian, anti-oppressive group rooted in Nicosia organizes the Genders and Power festival.

The aim is to discuss and elaborate on the ways genders, in their intersections with multiple sociopolitical and cultural categories of difference, interact in myriad ways and arbitrarily produce systemic inequalities. This year, discussions will focus on women’s agency, reproductive justice, lesbian desire, and queer Cypriot art. Abjected voices and their resistance to hegemonic power structures will be put at the center of our struggle. Genders and Power festival neither essentializes nor naturalizes identities or experiences of any kind. It rather seeks to signalize, understand and deconstruct various societal systemic power relations in order to resist them; and here lies its political importance. Accountability, situatedness, and self-reflexivity are all really important elements of our festival’s approach as it seeks to denormalize and delegitimize power differentials and categories through engaging discussions, interactive performances, and parties with politics. Join us on Friday 8th and Saturday 9th of December!

Hands off our bodies! For the decriminalization of abortions and the right to self-determination of our bodies!

By Syspirosi Atakton
It is essential that every person has control over their body, and the ability to make informed decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive health, such as for example if and how many children one will have. Every woman, or person of any gender which might get pregnant (such as trans men, non-binary, agender people, etc.), must have the access and right to opt for abortion services, regardless of their reasons for wanting to terminate the pregnancy. This right to control our bodies is indispensable in the struggles for liberation and social justice, as nobody should be forcefully assigned the role of a child-bearing reproductive machine. This text was written after the recent arrest and 5-day detention of a woman and her doctor for an abortion -a criminal offence according to current laws-, after a complaint filed by her partner, who was unaware of the event.
Under the current legislation, established in 1974, procedures of “medical termination of pregnancy” are prohibited and included in the “Criminal offences against the Morals” of the Criminal Code. This does not apply in cases of rape or incest, and/or the health of the woman or the mother of the fetus is in danger, or if there is a risk of a child being born with physical or psychological abnormalities causing severe disabilities. In all those cases however, for the procedure to be legally carried out two doctors are necessary to consent. The church approved this law at the time, so that Greek Cypriot women raped by Turkish soldiers during the war could abort. Therefore, abortions for any other reasons are rendered illegal. 
In February 2015, a new bill for decriminalization of abortions was proposed by 4 big political parties, but was never discussed in parliament and no voting was carried out. In a society like the Cypriot one, where patriarchy, sexism, moralization and the power of church over the state and almost all the aspects of our lives dominate our everyday lives, issues regarding fundamental human rights and the self-determination over our bodies are not allowed to progress, neither on the legislative level, nor on the social. Just last year, in September 2016, the Archbishopric, the National Committee of Bioethics and the Pancyprian Medical Association organized the scientific convention “Abortions: medical, social, legal, spiritual dimensions”. During the convention, positions against abortion under any justification were express and signed for by the three institutions in a memorandum of understanding. This alliance does not surprise us. The liberating potential of someone prioritizing themselves, usually against the patriarchal roles assigned to them, poses a threat towards the state, church and medical/scientific authorities. We perceive the decision for abortion as a matter of self-determination of our bodies, and consider unacceptable the criminalization and arrest of those pregnant and seeking abortion, as well as the doctors who help terminate a pregnancy safely.
The right to abortion is just one part of the struggles for safe access to sexual and reproductive health care for everyone, which should entail access to counselling and support before and after the abortion if necessary. Lack of access to abortion services is an attack on the freedom to self-determination, and paves the way towards dangerous methods of terminating the pregnancy. Let’s not forget that the existing ‘way out’ through private doctors and clinics comes with a financial burden which prevents those with low income, migrants, teenagers and others from having an abortion. As long as the state monopolizes authority and uses it to define which medical and surgical procedures are accessible, it is necessary to proceed immediately into a discussion and amendment of the legislation, and decriminalize abortions without requirements for justification and medical opinions. It should ensure that everyone, regardless of gender and gender identity, will have access to these services when they need them. In our struggles for social justice, deciding for one’s own body is an inalienable right, without the intervention of any authority threatening one’s health, life or freedom. Our bodies are ours, and not reproductive machines of any system.
Syspirosi Atakton
October 2017 

Solidarity to the activists who fight for the protection of songbirds and all other species of wild life

By Syspirosi Atakton
“All the birds of the world
wherever they might fly
wherever they might have built their nest
wherever they might have sung…”
The shoots which were fired last night against activists, who every year risk their life in their attempt to protect our ecological commons, demonstrate and prove once again the links between the ampelopoulia mafia in Cyprus, the capitalist system and a rotten nationalist rhetoric, the combination of which becomes an allibi for those who abuse our ecological commons. The protest of the supporters of the non-sellective and massive use of limesticks, mistnets and electrical sound mimicking devices, against the presence and action of “foreigners”, and “members of a foreign organisation” shows precisely the extent to which such circles have been appropriating over the years our common natural heritage in the name of an invented tradition. Both, the refusal / tolerance of those governing, as well as the weakness / inadequacy of the competent authorities to eliminate the (otherwise) illegal, non selective and massive trapping, killing and trading of migratory birs, has turned the lives of both the birds, as well as of the activists into “bare lives”, which are being deprived of their rights, not solely their reghts to resist, but also to exist.
No matter how many prisons they built
and even if the siege is getting harder,
our mind is a vagabond
that will always escape”  
Solidarity to the activists who fight for the protection of songbirds and all other species of wild life.
We will not be subdued to the ampelopoulia mafia. We continue the struggle, for the commons and degrowth, for environmental justice and social freedom.
Sispirosi Atakton *
Friday, 15 September 2017
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