Review of The FARC: The Longest Insurgency

Written by an investigative journalist who’s spent decades with the FARC, including some times as their captive, Gary Leech’s book The FARC: The Longest Insurgency presents the largest and oldest Marxist-Leninist insurgency movement in North America. They are, I believe, second only in size in the world to the Naxalite movement in India. FARC-EP, the group’s official name, stands for Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army.

The origins of the group stemmed from the country’s gross economic inequality and lack of access campesinos had to fertile land. Since Independence, the descendants of the Spaniard ruling class used their access to capital and arms to dispossess indigenous peoples and peasants of their land. Purchasing foreign made goods and directing the state to invest more in men to protect private property than democratic institutions, uneven development transpired in a way that put the people at odds with the State. Inspired by the revolutionary movements in Latin American and abroad that followed the Second World War, the group started advocating and fighting on behalf of the agricultural workers.

The beginning of cocaine production in the Southern/Putumayo region in the 80s gave the organization a new influx of money. Such an influx of money wasn’t without additional problems – as narco-traffickers started buying large tracts of land and dispossessing others until they became the largest class of landowners in the country conflict between the two groups became inevitable. As the Medellin cartel had greater access to capital, they were dominated them though reached a modicum of peace as they needed to redirect their forces to fight the Cali Cartel, which had allied itself with the DEA and the Colombian Government. While reading I was bemused, though not surprised, that the growers in the region under the control of the FARC consistently made more money from their coca crops than did those under the control of the Cartels.

In discussing the issue of human rights as it relates to the FARC, Leech presents a view that is nuanced, yet does not get bogged down in the details. He shows how it conceives of itself, an alternative to the official state that functions as a judiciary and sponsor of economic development in the areas it controls. While he does find some faults with it, compared to the official Colombian state as well as its paramilitary apparatus it is adjudged as the superior adherent to human rights. It’s this and the long history of the organization which ought to justify the categorization of the guerillas as combatants rather than narco-terrorists or, alternately, just terrorists.

 

 

 

Leech addresses a number of the reasons why, despite their clearly not being as responsible for reprehensible acts of terroristic violence against civilian populations as right-wing paramilitaries, they are vilified. For one there is Colombia’s long history of violence against and assassinations of leftists. Such campaigns were not limited only to guerillas but also those journalists who brought greater clarity and context to the stakes of the violence in their writings. Operating under the dialectics of suspicion, those that were considered sympathizers were equated with the actual combatants and seen as fair game for AUC and others. Secondarily, as a covert organization it is difficult to hold press conferences and talk with reporters that are already wary of being seen as sympathetic to the FARC. As a result many reporters fail to investigate the veracity of the press conference spectacles held by the military. Third, the news largely reflects the political interests of the owners. Stories published and broadcast highlight the kidnappings by the FARC for ransom, conceived of as a just response to non-payment of taxes, and typically ignore those narratives about human displacement caused by corporately funded paramilitary operations. Thus the stories of rich people being kidnapped, an act which at it’s height peaked around the 1,200 mark and has since decreased to around the 100s, silences the between 3.2 and 4.9 million people that have been forced to relocate due to violence.

The relationship between the FARC and the Government as well as the United States role in providing assistance to the latter is another area the Leech extensively reports upon. Since the passage of Plan Colombia in 1998, which made the country the second largest recipient of U.S. aide, casualties have mounted and the FARC has lost much of it’s territory. As far as I’m aware the La Gabarra, False-Positives and other scandals that illustrate the depth of cruelty of the Uribe government haven’t made the news, though high profile scandals, such as the kidnapping of Ingrid Betancourt and U.S. missionaries have despite the former issues being bloodier.

In his conclusion Leech is not hopeful that there will be peace anytime soon between the AUC, the FARC and the Government as the government has consistently pursued neo-liberal policies and made these exempt from negotiations during their peace accords. Since the conditions that lead to the FARC in the first place aren’t dealt with and the Colombian and U.S. government have made liability for engagement in civilian dispossessions and massacres to protect corporate profits, any future peace is likely not to be long-lasting.

Review of Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson

Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson are selected letters written by a Black Panther’s Party member who was not involved with the group on the streets of Oakland or elsewhere but one who nevertheless contributed to the group through his articles published through the Party paper. Jackson was convicted of stealing $70 from a gas station and was given a prison sentence of one-year-to-life of which he served eleven years.

The letters cover a five-year period and are addressed to people such as his mother and father as well as radical luminaries such as Angela Davis. In them he describes the psychological effects of being imprisoned by corrections officers that openly voice racist views and encourage violence between the inmates, how he has kept his spirit alive despite almost eight years being in solitary confinement, his views on Amerikan society, education, black culture and the affairs of the third-world. Throughout these letters he displays cutting insights gleaned from reflection on his experience as well as his prodigious reading.

In these letters we Jackson states familiarity with the works of Karl Marx, V.I. Lenin, Franz Fanon, Mao, Ho Chi Minh and others. These thinkers helped Jackson form a critical analysis of politics, economics, history, and psychology such that he believes that the current struggles for community patrols and armed self-defense from police action will one day turn into a more intensified militant struggle by linking the plight of the poor blacks in the USA to the colonized people abroad.

Making these connections between American military involvement in Indochina with police repression domestically is, he recognizes, incredibly dangerous to the status quo political establishment. He goes so far as to presciently state that t’s likely that he will be killed for stating his views through the articles smuggled out of prison and publicized through the Black Panther Party newspaper. Ten months after the publication of these letters, Jackson was killed allegedly trying to escape.

Despite the above statements about the content of the letters, the majority of them are not short essays by any means. A number of them deal with Jackson trying to proselytize to his father to adopt a more activist, militant stance for how he carries himself in the white world. His intentions are good, Jackson states, but he still defers to white cultural values of how to act proper rather than be assertive. This is considered preferable to the “niggerism” which Jackson decries, which is the replication of white predatory behavior by blacks upon blacks but it still, according to Jackson, perpetuates white supremacist thinking and action. When addressing himself to his mother Jackson is more gentle with in his imprecations

Jackson, like his hero Malcolm X, came to a viewpoint that advocated for black power, but not out of a sense of racial superiority but from a sense of radical revolutionary solidarity with those oppressed in the world. It is perhaps not surprising that he, like so many others that advocated this position in the 60s and were considered leaders of some sort, was murdered but through these at times banal and at times beautiful letters, we get a greater insight into a great soul.

Review of Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies

I’d first picked up Judith Stein’s book Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies for my History of Capitalism course at NYU. I’d only read a few chapters, however, and only recently did I decide to review my notes on the book and then complete the unread sections as I slowly start putting together a reading list/syllabus for the history of American neo-liberalism.

Stein’s book is primarily an institutional history from Nixon, the last New Deal president, to Clinton, the New Democrat. Although she does bring up the policies of Bush the Second and Obama, it is largely just to show how they continued to transform regulations and laws to align with neoliberal policy proscriptions suggested and enacted since Carter. The economic polices chosen by the presidents are contextualized within the rapid changes in the global trade networks in the post-WWII/Cold War world, detailed through the domestic circumstances that lead to such decisions and shows how the effects it had on the country’s working people lead to industrial flight and a declining middle class.

American policy makers feared European nations coming under Soviet influence following the second World War. The numerous Communist parties, which had varied relations to the Soviet Union, were initially quite successful in obtaining support. The State Department quickly realized that in order to prevent this they would need to not only engage in political manipulation in various forms but that they also needed to make sure that they received sufficient loans to rebuild their industries, that the status quo in the Middle East was maintained so that oil deliveries would be regular and tariffs lowered so European industries would have a market for their goods while they rebuilt. The loans were easy, however the nationalist revolutions and OPEC made maintenance of such amiable relations difficult and this often made foreign policy considerations direct economic policy. As a result of OPEC’s the oil-producing nations were able to demand higher prices in the 70s, the “greatest non-violent transfer of human wealth in human history” occurred. 2% of industrialized nations GDP went to these countries. As the U.S. lowered trade restrictions and became a market of last resort, domestic industries soon saw sales going increasingly to the goods produced by the newly capitalized EU and Japanese factories.

The focus on presidential campaigns in the beginning third of the book is somewhat slow reading and seems spurious until later when, implicitly, it’s shown how these events helped limit the political options of organized labor. Though the United States has never had the sort of comprehensive industrial policies in the same way that Germany and Japan did, hence assisting capital formation their due to the decreased competition in the domestic industries, Carter and Reagan furthered the anarchy of the market through deregulation that would lead to numerous boom and bust cycles and lead to the U.S. going from a creditor to a debtor nation that consistently maintained unfavorable trade imbalances.

Trilateralists, whose “professional diagnosis” on how to manage the nation’s economy just so happened to be aligned with the interests of the bourgeoisie, dominated Carter’s administration. Carter’s presidency shows an aversion to macroeconomic policies to deal with inflation, dismantling of social safety nets in favor of voluntariast community assistance and antipathy towards organized labor beings the large-scale political movement away from the traditional Democratic base towards business interests. These combined with a tepid economy due to failed auto and steel trade regulation policies and foreign policy problems, such as the Iran Hostage Crisis, leads to a one-term presidency.

Reagan continues much of what Carter had started. His breakup of the PATCO strike was just one of many public displays of antipathy to American unions. In addition to that his private assertions to business owners couple and underfunding of the NLRB and other worker’s protection organizations meant that a full-on offensive by the business community against the New Deal state could work towards unraveling hard-fought workers protections.

Through Stein’s historiography of Carter and Reagan’s presidencies, the pivotal moments of her Pivotal Decade is on full display. With barriers to foreign investment being dropped left and right capital flees overseas and finance, which once played a marginal role in the economy soon becomes a hegemonic sector. Through these dynamics and the turn towards supply-side economic policies – magical thinking on the part of the bourgeoisie economists, the immiseration, both economically and politically, rapidly accelerates and within two generations leads to the destruction of the affluent society now appealed to by right and left.

Menagerie

Menagerie

Weasels are wily creatures
Mischievous, devious and cute –
Sleek, svelte, soft, supple and as
Sweet as passion fruit.

Though moles live in holes in the soil
Favoring light like someone who drank
Too much the night before
They are for all except for the farmer
Also impossible not to adore.

Kittens too imbue their viewers with a
Overwhelming sense of aww
Hence watching short scenes of their antics
On the internet is a routine that many do.

A corollary to the wealthy’s quest
For high ROIs are status granting possessions
Some enjoy collecting animals, those ones more unique
Than those I aforementioned.

Albino tigers, stripeless zebras, miniature giraffes
Hyenas that coo and cry like babies instead of laugh
Or some beast that goes to show the degree of power and
Control one holds, that one is patron – like Pablo’s lions and hippos.

So too are the features of another appreciated,
Though it’s a creature that’s quite common
The one that it’s impossible to escape encounter with
As it’s the one which all life is based on – yes – woman.

Abroad lusty oil sheiks and sultans operate harems
Elsewhere hourly encounters are judged as success’s true emblem –
Prized are high cheek lines, dimples on the lower back
A full but fit figure and skin that can take a hearty smack

The list goes on and on and has as many
Variations as can possibly exist
Depending on the person
And their particular fetish.

Make me rich (no really, please make me rich)
And see how this collection disease affects not me
How wholly I am pleased solely by you –
My moley, my weasel, mi tigre, mi badger
My best-friend, my lover, my wife, my forever –

Your brains and beauty, strength and duty,
All fit me just like a key and
Provide for me all that I could ever need
Like manna sent from heaven.