Anti-choice caravan fails

By Michelle Robidoux

An attempt by anti-choice activists to galvanize opposition to abortion has
failed miserably.

On May 29, the so-called ‘New Abortion Caravan’ left Vancouver on a cross-country trek that arrives in Ottawa July 1st. In every city they have visited along the way, they have been met by pro-choice protests and their message has had no hearing.

In Toronto on June 28, the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, a few dozen anti-choice zealots were confronted by 100 pro-choice activists. Chanting “Women’s rights are here to stay, We’re never going back!” the pro-choice forces received strong support from local residents. Many stopped to sign petitions against the Tory motion 312 which would open the door to recriminalizing abortion.

Unions such as CAW, USW, OPSEU and CUPE were well represented at protests across the country. This kind of solidarity will be key to defeating Conservative attempts to roll back the gains of past struggles. In the spirit of the original Abortion Caravan of 1970, people across the country are once again mobilizing to make sure that women have full access to free abortion from BC to Newfoundland.

See video here:

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Oil spills spread devastation across Alberta

By Bradley Hughes

Oil pipelines aren’t safe. The three pipeline spills in Alberta are just the most recent in a long list of spills.

At the end of May and twice more during June, large oil spills from ruptured pipelines in Alberta made the news.

In May over 3.5 million litres of mixed oil and water spewed out over 10 acres near Rainbow Lake, north of Grand Prairie, Alberta. This is likely to be the third largest oil spill in Canada, yet. A nearby school was forced to close after the fumes from the leak caused disorientation and nausea among staff and students

In the second week of June around 470,000 litres of crude oil spilled into a tributary of the Red Deer River. Red Deer River provides drinking water for thousands of people.

A farm owner whose land was soaked in oil, Gord Johnston told the Globe & Mail, “My place is destroyed. My whole life’s work is gone. I’ve pretty well lost it all here.” He was forced to seek hospital treatment for his exposure to the oil fumes.

Less than two weeks later another pipeline spilled 230,000 litres of oil across farmland outside of Elk Point, Alberta.

Spills are not unusual for the oil and gas industry. A 2007 Alberta Energy Utilities Board report revealed that between 1990 and 2005 there were at least 860 spills each year of various hydrocarbons, mostly oil. Three years saw over 1100 spills each.

Pride is political

By Darren Edgar

Since the 1960s, the advancement of rights and status for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people has been remarkable, but this progress was not inevitable and its pace has slowed considerably over the past few decades. However, with the re-politicization of the queer community in recent years, many people are radicalizing with ideas far beyond the scope of legal or social reforms and instead are looking toward ending their oppression altogether and creating a world of true liberation.

With the Stonewall Inn riots in 1969, our modern era of struggle for LGBT rights was born. The Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement, the labour and student movements and the anti-war movement were the locus of activity for people of that time wanting to end oppression—racist, sexist, imperialist—and these movements provided the training ground for the most militant activists within the nascent movement for gay liberation.

These movements also served as the inspiration for many other people to fight for themselves for the very first time, but it was the solidarity between the various movements which gave each of them their radical edge: working-class people fighting together to end the oppression the capitalist system creates and which it relies on as a wedge to divide people, one against another.

But after this initial burst of radical activity put the struggle for LGBT rights on the map, we saw an inward turn toward identity and lifestyle politics. Only LGBT people could fight for their liberation and “coming out” or “being queer” were elevated to principles, slowing the advancement of the struggle for all those who deviated from the heterosexual or male-female gender binary “norms.”

However, just like the AIDS crisis spurred a muted movement into a more militant position, the age of austerity since the global financial crisis of 2008 has forced today’s movement out of its complacency again.

While many LGBT people in Western nations have fought and won struggles for equal rights and access to health benefits, housing and job security, civil unions, marriage and spousal benefits, anti-discrimination laws and the ability to work and live openly, the vast majority of LGBT people—those in much of the world—do not enjoy these same rights. The status of trans people continues to lag far behind that of their more traditionally male- and female-identified counterparts. The march of progress is not inevitable, for advance on one front doesn’t preclude retreat on another.

 

Re-politicization

Take, for example, the repeal of the US military’s ridiculous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. This occurred while many American states passed legislation banning “gay marriage” and President Barack Obama continued to dither over his support for same-sex marriage, even if he now supports it.

In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper claims his Conservative party has no intention of re-opening “the marriage debate” while it simultaneously passes legislation making it more difficult for more LGBT refugees and immigrants to enter or stay in Canada, and it defunds HIV/AIDS organizations and Pride festivals.

It is because of these set-backs—these rights which already have been won, only to be taken away—as well as all of the room for improvement still to be made in the lives of LGBT people that the re-politicization of Pride is taking shape. After all, just as working people and students around the world—from Egypt to Wisconsin, from Greece to Spain, from Chile to Quebec—are uniting to resist the austerity agenda being forced upon them by the ruling class, so must LGBT people join in solidarity to reject the notion that they should pay for this most recent crisis of capitalism when they did nothing to create it.

If an injury to one is an injury to all, then so too is a victory for one a victory for all. This is why we fight in common struggle throughout the year, and why we come together now during Pride: to remember our past victories as well as our defeats, to generalize the lessons we’ve learned from all these and to push our struggle forward. A better world is possible—a world free of exploitation and oppression which can allow for the expression of the full range of human diversity—but only if we fight for ourselves, together: people of all genders, sexualities, races and abilities.

Bill C-31: a danger to queer refugees

By Amelia Murphy-Beaudoin

Queer refugees already face homophobia and transphobia in the refugee claim process, and if Bill C-31 passes through the Senate, this will be compounded by increasing the likelihood that queer asylum seekers will be rejected.

Bill C-31 passed through the House in June. It aims to fast track refugee claims from countries deemed to be “safe,” with no chance of appeal . This will definitely result in queers being sent back to countries where they will face unjust incarceration, violence, and murder.

Sharalyn Jordan, of the Rainbow Refugee Committee explains the impact of Bill C-31’s safe country list: “A list cannot accommodate the current complexity and flux in protection and persecution for LGBTQ people,” she says. “For example, the Ukraine has an elected parliament, an independent judiciary, and civil society organizations. Based on Bill C-31, it could be designated, and yet its parliament is considering a law banning speech or writing that promotes homosexuality, and neo-Nazis are attacking LGBTQ people in the streets of Kiev.”

The system under Bill C-31 will demand that queer refugees have documentation to make their claim as a queer asylum seeker. This kind of documentation is difficult to compile, especially in the short timelines imposed.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney insists that this bill will curb human smuggling and make the system more efficient, but we know this bill at its center is a disastrously racist statement of the new Canadian values under the reign of Harper, and refugees–queer and otherwise–will suffer because of it.

The Harper government’s appalling record on refugee rights are also glaringly apparent in the drastic cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program, which take effect June 30. The changes to the program will be deadly–severely restricting access for refugees to medicine and healthcare.

Reading the Comintern Fourth Congress

By Abbie Bakan

Socialists are, almost universally, avid readers. As a minority current in capitalist society, socialists often feel isolated in their sharp criticism of how the ruling class rules, and seek to exchange and advance their ideas through intense, serious reading. Among the most engaging collections of reading material for socialists are the proceedings of the first four congresses of the Communist International, or Comintern, that took place between 1919 and 1922.

The recent publication of the first English translation of the proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Comintern of 1922, Toward the United Front by John Riddell, presents an inviting opportunity for socialist readers. It has the potential to open a vastly expanded conversation about this rich period of socialist history. John Riddell’s helpful introduction, biographical notes, and annotations add texture and depth to this formative moment.

But the volume is a challenge to read.

Certainly, at just over 1300 pages, it is a hefty volume. But length alone is not a deterrent for modern readers; each one of the seven-volume Harry Potter series, written by J. K. Rowling, was met by millions of readers with keen anticipation.

The challenge rests more specifically in shaping the context of the proceedings, and the context today. What elements of the Comintern discussions are relevant, and how are they relevant, for socialists today?

Actuality

Taking place in the immediate aftermath of World War One and the Russian Revolution, reading this period of living history is exciting. The actuality of the revolutionary process is palpable. The text provides a sense that another world was not only possible but was in the making, as the delegates discussed and debated next steps.

The 1930s ended with the return of world war, and the first four congresses continued to provide a source of inspiration and clarity for revolutionary socialists.

Leon Trotsky, a central participant in the first four congresses, pointed to these proceedings as a pivotal laboratory for socialists. As he stated in 1933:

“The first [four] congresses of the Communist International left us an invaluable programmatic heritage: the character of the modern epoch of imperialism, that is, of capitalist decline; the nature of modern reformism and the methods of struggle with it; the relation between democracy and proletarian dictatorship; the role of the party in the proletarian revolution; the relation between the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie, especially the peasantry (agrarian question); the problem of nationalities and the liberation struggle of colonial peoples; work in the trade unions; the policy of the united front; the relation to parliamentarianism, etc.—all these questions have been subjected by the first four congresses to a principled analysis that has remained unsurpassed until now.”

History

Preserving this history after ninety years, including periods of intense repression, would not have been possible without the monumental efforts of working class movements—and socialist readers, writers and translators—all over the world. Framing “revolutionary continuity” has, understandably, become a central feature of contemporary readings of the classical socialist tradition.

There is commonly an emphasis on the persistence of capitalism, imperialism and war, and a stress on similarities between the movements of today with those that have come before us. This is a standard frame for reading about the Communist tradition.

But in the twenty-first century, obviously much has changed. To read Communist international history in a way that contributes to the reality of building socialism today demands recognition of new contexts and new questions, as well as the points of continuity.

John Riddell’s Toward the United Front brings to life the deliberations of activists living in demonstrably different times. Many of the conversations and debates are strikingly relevant, but others appear, sometimes disturbingly, archaic.

Regarding the life and conditions of women, for example, the one day of the Congress devoted to discussions on “the woman question” was presented by the chair as a concession. And women in general were no more than ten per cent of the organized parties in the Comintern. The contributions of these early feminist pioneers are very inspiring. But without in any way minimizing the continued barriers of capitalism and oppression, the women’s movement has advanced tremendously since this time.

Moreover, the period after the Russian Revolution was widely anticipated to be a pause in the continuing movement of global socialism. But this has not been a linear path. It would be a mistake to burden the comrades of the Fourth Congress with the assumption that they were speaking to those of us, decades later, who had endured the longue durée of post-war liberal capitalist democracies.

Toward the United Front is not an ABC guide or “how to” book for socialists. It is not a textbook, to be quoted as if it could apply mechanistically to present day conditions. But it is a profoundly interesting history book. It is rich in lessons of the challenging conditions of the time and some of the efforts to build a new world of freedom.

Iran 2009: precursor to the Arab Spring

By Paul Kellogg

In the 1970s, under the brutal Shah of Iran, Iran was one of the chief allies of the U.S. The Shah was overthrown by revolution in 1979, but hopes for change were dashed when social forces, represented by the Ayatollah Khomeini, hijacked the revolution. There was a brutal crackdown on the left and the social movements.

In 2009, however, we caught a glimpse of the ferment that has been developing beneath the surface of Iranian society, a ferment that exploded in a massive pro-democracy movement, anticipating the great Middle East democracy movements of 2011, and giving notice that developing inside Iranian society are the forces which can rekindle the hopes of 1979.

June 12, 2009, was election day, and it was widely expected that the results would indicate trouble for President Ahmadinejad. In office since 2005, he had presided over a militarization of Iranian society, embedding the dreaded Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IGRC) throughout the national state, and in all 30 provinces. The IGRC is part of a network of repressive apparatuses in Iran, which are important both politically and economically. The IGRC, by 2009 had acquired “a vast economic empire, from oil and construction to cellphone technology”, according to one observer.

The campaign against Ahmadinejad coalesced around Mir-Hossein Moussavi. Deeply embedded in the elite which ran Iran in the 1980s, he had been involved in disputes and splits in that elite, but never as a “revolutionary”. In 1997, he emerged as a key adviser to then president Khatami, a presidency that sought a tentative “modernizing” of the Iranian revolution.

Ahmadinejad’s 2005 presidency represented a conservative reaction against this “modernizing” trend.

But behind the scenes, Iran was in fact modernizing. The chart on this page, showing the ups and downs of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, gives an outline of this process.

The 1979 revolution took place in the context of very steep economic crisis. Recovery from that crisis became impossible in the 1980s, after Iraq—egged on by the US—launched a terrible war against Iran. One million died, countless were maimed, and the economy went into a tailspin.

But with the war finally over, in the 1990s, Iran’s economy began to steadily grow. By 2006, GDP per capita had been growing very fast for a decade, and was finally significantly greater than before the revolution. The country’s principal city, Tehran, had emerged as a massive urban centre of some 8 million people. The millions of young people in the new urban centres felt little affinity with the conservative clerics who were the ideological backers of the president. When growth came to a halt in 2007, and the economy began to stagnate and slowly decline, a new movement erupted.

That movement was not visible in the 2008 parliamentary elections, which proceeded in the familiar dull pattern of previous years. But 2009 was completely different.

Moussavi, in a June 3 televised debate, called Ahmadinejad a liar and a dictator. This was unprecedented. The next day, thousands took to the streets chanting “death to the liar”.

 

Green Movement

The crowds wore green. A young man named Mostafa Hassani had come up with the idea that those who wanted change should use green—on ribbons, armbands, headbands, scarves—and the sign of the breadth of the movement was the spread of the colour throughout the country.

The election campaign in Tehran was electric. Into the wee hours tens of thousands campaigned in a citywide free-for-all. Every morning Tehran was abuzz with the latest election news. Men crowded around newsstands to read the headlines and to discuss the previous night’s candidate debate. Just inside the main gate to Tehran University, two days before the election, a middle-aged guard who had lost a leg in the war with Iraq in the 1980s marveled at the thousands of students marching past, flying green banners in support of Moussavi’s reformist movement. “Enghelab!” he said, nodding. ‘It’s a revolution!’”

Tens of millions of votes were cast (Iran is a large country with some 73 million people). But miraculously, those tens of millions of votes were “counted” in just two hours. Ahmadinejad was declared the victor, ostensibly winning two-thirds of the votes from a record turnout.

In protest, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets. The IGRC was already there. While people were still voting, trucks full of IGRC troops had taken up strategic positions in the major cities. Officially, 37 people were killed in the crackdown that followed. The real figure is likely twice as high. In the first wave of arrests, 2,000 went to jail. By August, that figure had grown to 4,000. The movement continued into the winter, but the pressure of the regime was unrelenting. The 2009 movement was not able to sustain itself.

Like all movements at their beginning, the one in 2009 was a confusing mixture. At the top were old conservatives like Moussavi, reminted as a reformist. Behind the scenes were sections of big capital, who were (and are) seeking an end to the sanctions which are making economic life in the country so difficult. But on the streets were ordinary students and workers, who jumped into the breach created by a split at the top of society, to demonstrate for an end to repression, and for meaningful reforms in the way in which politics and economics are structured in their country.

The response of those outside Iran was, in many cases, not helpful. There were many who dismissed the Green Movement as a tool of the U.S. But there is no future with a left that uncritically backs repressive figures like Ahmadinejad.

Real solidarity needs to operate on two fronts: against threats from the US and Israel to bomb Iran, and in solidarity with the social movements which are taking shape, in very difficult circumstances, to fight for democracy.

Snow White revisited

By Fava Zaharuk

Snow White and the huntsmen is not the classic brother Grimm fairy tale. This modern interpretation depicts the protagonist as an active participant in her own liberation. This is not the classic damsel in distress tale that the brothers Grimm left us rather this piece takes the old story and gives it a modern and some might even say feminist twist.

Well lets not get carried away…First of all we cannot ignore the classic tale of envy, the wicked Queen Raveena (Charlize Theron) is a woman scorned by love, her heart has been broken which has left her believing her only value is her beauty. This tragic tale of older women envying younger women is portrayed by the evil Queen actually consuming the beauty of youth from young women leaving them dead or elder looking when she is finished with them. This type of competition for the power that youthful beauty brings devours the Queens attention, she is so obsessed with the way she looks that she lets her entire kingdom die of starvation around her.

Juxtaposed to this evil death loving Queen is the life giving Snow White (Kristen Stewart) portrayed as life itself/the healer of the land. Snow White is a change agent in this version of the story, at no point in the film does a man save her, her first escape depicts her fighting off the Queens evil brother and jumping into a sewer to escape the kingdom! Second when she is captured by the dwarves, at no point does she become their domestic servant (as in the Grimm version) rather they become united in the fight against the evil Queen when she learns of their struggle as unemployed miners.

I think this new version of Snow White is important to see with a critical eye because it is significant that what some have classified as the classic tale of a “damsel in distress” is being told at this moment in history in an entirely new light. Despite it’s flaws and the apparent celebration of the cult of youthful beauty as a form of actual power, I think this piece could be archived as a bench mark of how far we have come.