open free world

thought provoking tidbits collected from here and there...

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

People's History

While most historians study the role of great men in affecting history, Howard Zinn chronicles history from the bottom up, from the street, the home, and the workplace. His signature work, A People's History of the United States, is told from the viewpoint of—and in the words of—its women, factory workers, African-Americans, Native Americans, working poor, and immigrant laborers. In his contribution to a balanced understanding of history, Zinn describes how many of the country's greatest internal battles—for labor laws, women's rights and racial equality—were carried out at the grassroots level, against steel-willed resistance. It is "a history written from the standpoint of those who have been marginalized politically and economically and whose struggles have been largely omitted from most histories."

Here is a link to Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States available online. A must-must-must read.

Hear a Dramatic reading of Zinn's A People's History of the United States from Democracy Now!

Some quotes of zinn...
...the idea that history is made from the top, and if we want change to come about we must depend on our presidents, on the Supreme Court, on Congress. If history shows anything, to me, it shows that we cannot depend on those people on top to make the necessary changes towards justice and peace. It's social movements we must depend on to do that.

...It's not possible because all history is a selection out of an infinite number of facts. As soon as you begin to select, you select according to what you think is important. Therefore it is already not objective. It's already biased in the direction of whatever you, as the selector of this information, think people should know. So it's really not possible. Of course, some people claim to be objective. The worst thing is to claim to be objective. Of course you can't be. Historians should say what their values are, what they care about, what their background is, and let you know what is important to them so that young people and everybody who reads history are warned in advance that they should never count on any one source, but should go to many sources. So it's not possible to be objective, and it's not desirable if it were possible. We should have history that does reflect points of view and values, in other words, history that is not objective. We should have history that enhances human values, humane values, values of brotherhood, sisterhood, peace, justice and equality. The closest I can get to it is the values enunciated in the Declaration of Independence. Equality, the right of all people to have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those are values that historians should actively promulgate in writing history. In doing that they needn't distort or omit important things. But it does mean if they have those values in mind, that they will emphasize those things in history which will bring up a new generation of people who read history books and who will care about treating other people equally, about doing away with war, about justice in every form.

I have my biases, my leanings. So if I'm writing or speaking about Columbus, I will try not to hide, omit the fact that Columbus did a remarkable thing in crossing the ocean and venturing out into uncharted waters. It took physical courage and navigational skill. It was a remarkable event. I have to say that so that I don't omit what people see as the positive side of Columbus. But then I have to go on to say the other things about Columbus which are much more important than his navigational skill, than the fact that he was a religious man. That is how he treated the human beings that he found in this hemisphere. The enslavement, the torture, the murder, the dehumanization of these people. That is the important thing.There's an interesting way in which you can frame a sentence which will show what you emphasize and which will have two very different results. Here's what I mean. Take Columbus as an example. You can frame it, and this was the way the Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morison in effect framed it in his biography of Columbus: Columbus committed genocide, but he was a wonderful sailor. He did a remarkable and extraordinary thing in finding these islands in the Western Hemisphere. Where's the emphasis there? He committed genocide, but ... He's a good sailor. I say, He was a good sailor, but he treated people with the most horrible cruelty. Those are two different ways of saying the same facts. Depending on which side of the buck you're on, you show your bias. I believe that it's good for us to put our biases in the direction of a humane view of history.
Hear an interview of Howard Zinn by Bob McChesney, host of Media Matters.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Alternative Media

How often do you get a chance to see an interview with Noam Chomsky on a television channel? How often do you get a chance to hear a presentation by Arundhati Roy or Howard Zinn? The so called "Free Press" and "Free Media", have been hijacked by the empire. It is high time that we create a universe of alternative information. The journey has already begun, to create an alternative media that can say loudly that the "King is nude".

Alternative Radio is a weekly one-hour public affairs program offered free to all public radio stations in the U.S., Canada, Europe, South Africa, Australia, and on short-wave on Radio for Peace International. AR provides information, analyses and views that are frequently ignored or distorted in other media.
South End Press is a nonprofit, collectively run book publisher with more than 250 titles in print. Since our founding in 1977, we have tried to meet the needs of readers who are exploring, or are already committed to, the politics of radical social change.

Democracy Now!'s War and Peace Report provides our audience with access to people and perspectives rarely heard in the U.S.corporate-sponsored media, including independent and international journalists, ordinary people from around the world who are directly affected by U.S. foreign policy, grassroots leaders and peace activists, artists, academics and independent analysts. In addition, the War and Peace Report hosts real debates - debates between people who substantially disagree, such as between the White House or the Pentagon spokespeople on the one hand, and grassroots activists on the other.
Hear Arundhati Roy's presentation “Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy, Buy One Get One Free”, presented in New York City at The Riverside Church on May 13, 2003 from Democracy Now!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

NGO-isation of resistance

This is an article titled "Help That Hinders" by Arundhati Roy (the picture above is of Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan), posted without her permission. But I am sure she wouldn't mind it, since the message has to reach as far as possible. A realization of the politics behind NGO-isation, how it turns what people ought to have by right into charity, aid or benevolence, how it defuses resistance and political anger towards the state. A must read...

Help That Hinders

by Arundhati Roy
Because of globalisation the distance between decision-makers and those who endure the effects of those decisions has never been so great. Gatherings such as the World Social Forum allow local activist movements to reduce that distance and get to know their counterparts from wealthier countries. When the first private dam was built, at Maheshawar, links between the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the organisation Urgewald (Germany), the Berne Declaration (Switzerland) and the International Rivers Network (Berkeley, US) made it possible to divert many banks and international companies from the project. That would not have been possible without solid local resistance and international support to allow the local voice to be heard globally, which led to investors withdrawing from the project.

One problem faced by mass movements is the NGO-isation of resistance. It will be easy to twist what I say into an indictment of all NGOs, but that would be false. There are NGOs doing valuable work; there are also fake NGOs set up either to siphon off grant money or as tax dodges. But it’s important to consider the NGO phenomenon in a broader political context.In India the funded NGO boom began in the late 1980s and 1990s, coinciding with the opening of India’s markets to neoliberalism.

At the time the state, in keeping with the requirements of structural adjustment, was withdrawing funding from rural development, agriculture, energy, transport and public health.

As the state abdicated its traditional role, NGOs moved in to work in these areas. But their available funds are a minute fraction of the cut in public spending. Most wealthy NGOs are financed and patronised by aid and development agencies, funded by western governments, the World Bank, the United Nations and multinational corporations. Though they may not be the same agencies, they are certainly part of the same political formation that oversees the neoliberal project and demands the slash in government spending.

Why should these agencies fund NGOs? Could it be missionary zeal? Guilt? It’s more than that. NGOs give the impression that they are filling a vacuum created by a retreating state. And they are, but in a materially inconsequential way. Their real contribution is that they defuse political anger and dole out as aid or benevolence what people ought to have by right. NGOs alter the public psyche. They turn people into dependent victims and blunt political resistance. NGOs form a buffer between the sarkar and public. Between empire and its subjects. They have become the arbitrators, the interpreters, the facilitators.

In the long run NGOs are accountable to their funders, not to the people they work among. They’re what botanists would call an indicator species. The greater the devastation caused by neoliberalism, the greater the outbreak of NGOs. Nothing illustrates this more poignantly than the phenomenon of the US preparing to invade a country while simultaneously readying NGOs to clean up the resultant devastation.

To ensure their funding is not jeopardised and that the governments of the countries they work in will allow them to function, NGOs have to present themselves in a shallow framework, more or less shorn of a political or historical context (an inconvenient historical or political context anyway). Apolitical - therefore extremely political - reports of distress from poor countries and war zones eventually make the (dark) people of those (dark) countries seem like pathological victims. Another malnourished Indian, starving Ethiopian, Afghan refugee camp, maimed Sudanese in need of the white man’s help. They unwittingly reinforce racist stereotypes and reaffirm the achievements, the comforts and the compassion - the tough love - of western civilisation. They’re the secular missionaries of the modern world.

Eventually, on a smaller scale, but more insidiously, the capital available to NGOs plays the same role in alternative politics as the speculative capital that flows in and out of the economies of poor countries. It begins to dictate the agenda. It turns confrontation into negotiation. It depoliticises resistance. It interferes with local peoples’ movements that have traditionally been self-reliant. NGOs have funds to employ local people who could be activists in resistance movements, but instead feel they are doing some immediate, creative good while earning a living. Real political resistance offers no such short cuts.

Lord Rama not a Homo Sapien!

Before I could recover from the hang-over of writing the post Aryan Invasion: History or Politics? about politizising history, this one caught my eye. First an intro, excerpts from an article from
NASA Images Discover Ancient Bridge between India and Sri Lanka - Space images taken by NASA reveal a mysterious ancient bridge in the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka. The bridge's unique curvature and composition by age reveals that it is man made. The legends as well as Archeological studies reveal that the first signs of human inhabitants in Sri Lanka date back to the a primitive age, about 1,750,000 years ago and the bridge's age is also almost equivalent. This information is a crucial aspect for an insight into the mysterious legend called Ramayana, which was supposed to have taken place in treta yuga (more than 1,700,000 years ago).
Now let me take you to this superb article The Hoax Of The NASA Bridge by Prabir Purkayastha.
THE recent story of NASA discovering a “mysterious 1.75 million year ancient bridge”... was initially propagated by Vaishnava News Network an ISKON web site and was promptly hailed as a scientific proof of Ramayana by Hindutva internet sites. Not much notice would have been taken of such claims... if PTI and television channels had not picked up the story.

...we need to delve into the mindset of the Hindu fundamentalists... This mindset believes that there is a deep-seated “western” conspiracy to deny Hindus the rightful place as the most ancient civilisation. The "proof" of this conspiracy is that there are a few “western” men – David Frawley (initiated name Pandit Vamadeva Shastri) and Michel Cremo (initiated name Drutakarma Dasa) -- who are themselves saying that there is a “western” conspiracy to deny Hindus their rightful place.

Frawley, who by his own admission is close to VHP and has met with the senior RSS leaders gets all the RSS luminaries in attendance when he visits and “lectures” here. ... David Frawley runs an Institute called American Institute of Vedic Studies and provides astrological consultations and runs correspondence courses on astrology. Similarly, Michael Cremo... has met with Murli Manohar Joshi to discuss the Drwarka marine archaeology attempt to date an alleged sunken ancient city off the Gujarat coast. This is in spite of having no expertise in archaeology of any variety.

The problem with the age of the yugas is that it then suggests that human beings were around from Sat Yuga and therefore for millions of years. Yet the fossil record is very clear. The Homo sapiens have been around for about 150,000 to 180,000 years. Homo erectus emigrated out of Africa about 750,000 years back and even the hand axe had not been discovered 1.7 million years ago, the supposed time of occurrence of Ramayana.

The need of fundamentalists all over the world is similar: all of them find evolution supported by the fossil record runs counter to what is written in the scriptures. In the case of the Christian fundamentalists, the age of all living beings cannot be older than 6,000 years and of course God created the first man and woman. The Muslim fundamentalists also support the Adam and Eve myth and therefore deny evolution.

The creationists in the USA have been trying for the last hundred years to stop the teaching of evolution in schools...It is the same debate that is now reaching India. Just as the fundamentalists there tried to get various parts of scriptures enter the schools, the fundamentalists here have attacked the school curriculum. The Ramayana epic and its historicity is obviously a major issue. After the Ramjanmabhoomi “movement”, it is necessary to focus Ramayana as more than just an epic, which may or may not have historical basis. The method here is also similar: the Ramajanmabhoomi – as per the VHP – is a matter of faith and not of proof. Similarly, the chronology of Ramayana must also be a matter of faith. If science is an obstacle to such claims, then science must be demolished. And if it can be done using science itself, then so much the better.

The scientific community in India is not aware of the kind of attack that the Hindu fundamentalists are planning on the entire educational system. The current changes in the NCERT textbooks are only symptomatic of this mindset. The aim here is to subvert the method of science and substitute instead with belief in myth and prejudice. It is this mindset that proclaimed that sun revolved around the earth and punished Galileo. It is the same mindset that suggests that the scriptures must be correct and science wrong if human beings as we know them today have arisen only 150,000 -180,000 years back. And it is the same belief in scriptures that leads a Giriraj Kishore to claim that the life of a cow is much more important than the life of five dalits. And unless the scientists are willing to join the fight against this distortion of education, and knowledge we are likely to lose the battle for a better future.
NASA has distanced itself from such claims:
"The images [...] may be ours, but their interpretation is certainly not ours. [...] Remote sensing images or photographs from orbit cannot provide direct information about the origin or age of a chain of islands, and certainly cannot determine whether humans were involved in producing any of the patterns seen."
Are we moving towards a world full of misinterpreted history and science?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

An honest self-criticism by a Leftist

I have been going through regularly ever since I found it googling. The article by Prakash Rao titled "Contemporary Communism and the Relation of the Party to Political Power" is an excellent one and is an honest self-criticism by a true Leftist. Prakash Rao convincingly states that "the communist party cannot substitute itself for the class" and that "a communist party that fights for power for itself, at any stage, will become transformed into a bourgeois party". Excerpts from the article:-
We are living at a time when the greatest offensive is being carried out by imperialism and the reactionary bourgeoisie against the theory and practice of communism. The degeneration of the Bolshevik Party and the social system in the Soviet Union created the spectacle of a caricature of communism. In particular, it led to the conversion of the dictatorship of the proletariat into the dictatorship of the party of the new bourgeoisie. Imperialism and the international bourgeoisie screamed against this ‘one party dictatorship’ as they organised the final destruction of the shell of socialism and ushered in classical capitalism and the multi-party dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

The real problem with Soviet democracy was that the role played by the working class and cooperative peasants in the exercise of political power ceased to develop, after the initial stage of socialism. The communist party started concentrating all decision-making power in its own hands, instead of playing its role as the advanced consciousness and enabler of the working class to exercise power. The Communist Party of Soviet Union (Bolshevik) succumbed to the imperialist pressure and embraced modern revisionism. It failed to play the leading role as an abler of the toiling masses to rule themselves, consistent with their capacity and consciousness at the stage of socialism that existed in the Soviet Union after the end of the Second World War. It degenerated from a party of revolution into a tool of the new elite.

When the party ceased to play its role as the vanguard of the working class, the nature of political power began to change. The dictatorship of the proletariat degenerated into the dictatorship of the party of the new elite. The socialist state was converted into a social-imperialist superpower. Discontent spread among the masses of people, which was used by imperialism and the emerging Russian bourgeoisie to wipe out the Soviet Union itself, along with all traces of socialism.

The pressure of imperialist bourgeois ideology and the illusion of power created by the parliamentary system will not be such big problems if the communists and other progressive forces draw the appropriate lessons from the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Far from drawing the lessons and modernising the theory of proletarian democracy, there are parties within the communist movement that are conciliating with the system and political process of capitalist democracy. Such class conciliation within the communist movement is the main roadblock to the strengthening of united struggle of the working class and all the oppressed in this period.

The most important lesson from the rise and fall of proletarian democracy in the 20th century is that a communist party cannot and must not strive to bring itself to power, or keep itself in power. A proletarian party, by definition, seeks power for its class and not for itself. In order to achieve this goal, it must build the united political front of all the oppressed, and imbue the working class with the consciousness to lead the oppressed masses in the struggle to overthrow the bourgeoisie and establish proletarian democracy.

The classics of our doctrine teach us that the communist party is the vanguard party of the working class in which the advanced sections of the class militate. The communist party cannot substitute itself for the class. It must refresh and develop its role as the vanguard of the class at each stage of the revolution and socialism. A communist party that fights for power for itself, at any stage, will become transformed into a bourgeois party.
Excellent indeed. We need more such efforts to instigate the idea of true Leftism.