Street art in Glasgow, Scotland, UK,
by Belgian artist Dzia Krank.
Photo by Dzia Krank.
In May this year, Corporate Watch researchers traveled to Turkey and Kurdistan to investigate the companies supplying military equipment to the Turkish police and army. We talked to a range of groups from a variety of different movements and campaigns.
Below is the transcript of our interview with three members of the anarchist group Devrimci Anarşist Faaliyet (DAF, or Revolutionary Anarchist Action) in Istanbul during May 2015. DAF is involved in solidarity with the Kurdish struggle, the Rojava revolution and against ISIS’ attack on Kobane, and has taken action against Turkish state repression and corporate abuse. They are attempting to establish alternatives to the current system through self-organization, mutual aid and co-operatives.
The interview was carried out in the run-up to the Turkish elections, and touches on the election campaign by the HDP, the pro-Kurdish Peoples‘ Democratic Party. Soon after the interview took place, the HDP passed the threshold of 10 percent of the total vote needed to enter the Turkish parliament.
The DAF members – who all preferred to remain anonymous – began the interview by talking about the history of anarchism in the region.
DAF: We want to underline the relationship between the freedom struggle at the end of Ottoman times and the freedom struggles of Kurdistan.
In Ottoman times anarchists organized workers’ struggles in the main cities: Saloniki, Izmir, Istanbul and Cairo. For example [the Italian anarchist, Errico] Malatesta was involved in organizing industrial workers in Cairo. The freedom struggles of Armenia, Bulgaria and Greece had connections with anarchist groups. Alexander Atabekian, an important person in the Armenian freedom struggle, was an anarchist, translating leaflets into Armenian and distributing them. He was a friend of [the Russian geographer and anarchist, Peter] Kropotkin and distributed Kropotkin’s anarchist leaflets.
We are talking about this as we want to underline the importance of freedom struggles and to compare this to the importance of support for the Kurdish struggle.
Corporate Watch: what happened to anarchists after the Ottoman period?
Towards the end of the Ottoman Empire, at the end of the 19th century, Sultan Abdul Hamid II repressed the actions of anarchists in Turkey. He knew what anarchists were and took a special interest in them. He killed or deported anarchists and set up a special intelligence agency for this purpose.
Anarchists responded by carrying out attacks on the Yildiz Sarayi palace and with bomb attacks at the Ottoman bank in Saloniki.
The government of the Ottoman Empire didn’t end with the Turkish republic. The fez has gone since but the system is still the same.
At the beginning of the [Kemalist] Turkish state [in 1923] many anarchists and other radicals were forced to emigrate or were killed. The CHP, Mustafa Kemal’s party, didn’t allow any opposition and there were massacres of Kurds.
From 1923 to 1980 there was no big anarchist movement in Turkey due to the popularity of socialist movements and the repression of the state.
The wave of revolutions from the ’60s to the ’80s affected these lands too. These were the active years of the social movements. During this period, there were revolutionary anti-imperialist movements caused by the Vietnam war, youth organizations, occupations of universities and increasing struggle of workers. These movements were Marxist-Leninist or Maoist, there were no anarchist movements.
In 1970 there was a long workers’ struggle. Millions of workers walked over a hundred kilometers from Kocaeli to Istanbul. Factories were closed and all the workers were on the streets.
Was there any awareness of anarchism in Turkey at all at this time?
During these years many books were translated into Turkish from European radicalism but only five books about anarchism were translated, three of which were talking about anarchism in order to criticize it.
But in Ottoman times there had been many articles on anarchism in the newspapers. For example, one of the three editors of the İştirak newspaper was an anarchist. The paper published [Russian anarchist, Mikhail] Bakunin’s essays as well as articles on anarcho-syndicalism.
The first anarchist magazine was published in 1989. After this many magazines were published focusing on anarchism from different perspectives; for example, post structuralism, ecology, etc.
The common theme was that they were written for a small intellectual audience. The language of these magazines was too far away from the people. Most of those involved were connected with the academia. Or they were ex-socialists affected by the fall of the Soviet Union, which was a big disappointment for many socialists. That’s why they began to call themselves anarchists, but we don’t think that this is a good way to approach anarchism, i.e. as a critique of socialism.
Between 2000 to 2005 people came together to talk about anarchism in Istanbul and began to ask: ‘how can we fight?’. At this time we guess that there were 50-100 anarchists living in Turkey and outside.
Can you explain how DAF organizes now?
Now we get 500 anarchists turning up for May Day in Istanbul. We are in touch with anarchists in Antalya, Eskişehir, Amed, Ankara and Izmir. Meydan [DAF’s newspaper] goes to between 15 and 20 cities. We have a newspaper bureau in Amed, distributing newspapers all over Kurdistan. Until now, it is in Turkish but maybe one day, if we can afford it, we will publish it in Kurdish. We send Meydan to prisons too. We have a comrade in Izmir in prison and we send copies to over 15 prisoners.
A few months ago there was a ban on radical publications in prisons. We participated in demos outside prisons and we managed to build enough pressure so that now newspapers are allowed into prisons again.
The main issue for DAF is to organize anarchism within society. We try to socialize anarchism with struggle on the streets. This is what we give importance to. For nearly nine years we have been doing this.
On an ideological level we have a holistic perspective. We don’t have a hierarchical perspective on struggles. We think workers’ struggle is important but not more important than the Kurdish struggle or women’s struggles or ecological struggles.
Capitalism tries to divide these struggles. If the enemy is attacking us in a holistic way we have to approach it in a holistic way.
Anarchy has a bad meaning for most people in society. It has a link with terrorism and bombs. We want to legitimize anarchism by linking it to making arguments for struggles against companies and for ecology. Sometimes we try to focus on the links between the state, companies and ecological damages, like the thing that Corporate Watch does.
We like to present anarchy as an organized struggle. We have shown people on the streets the organized approach to anarchism.
From 1989 to 2000 anarchism was about image. About wearing black, piercings and “mohawks”. This is what people saw. After 2000, people started to see anarchists who were part of women’s struggles and workers’ struggles.
We are not taking anarchism from Europe as an imitation. Other anarchists have approached anarchism as an imitation of US or European anarchism or as an underground culture. If we want to make the anarchist movement a social movement, it must change.
DAF’s collectives are Anarchist Youth, Anarchist Women, 26A cafe, Patika ecological collective and high school anarchist action (LAF). These self-organizations work together but have their own decision-making processes.
Anarchist Youth makes connections between young workers and university students and their struggles. Anarchist Women focuses on patriarchy and violence to women. For example, a woman was murdered by a man and set on fire last February. On 25 November there were big protests against violence against women.
LAF criticizes education and schooling in itself and tries to socialize this way of thinking in high schools. LAF also looks at ecological and feminist issues, including when young women are murdered by their husbands.
PATIKA ecological collective protests against hydro-electric dams in the Black Sea region or Hasankey [where the Ilisu dam is being built]. Sometimes there is fighting to prevent these plants from being built.
26A cafe is a self-organized cafe focusing on anti-capitalist economy. Cafes were opened in 2009 in Taksim and in 2011 in Kadıköy [both in Istanbul]. The cafes are run by volunteers. They are aimed at creating an economic model in the place where oppressed people are living. It’s important to show people concrete examples of an anarchist economy, without bosses or capitalist aims. We talk to people about why we don’t sell the big capitalist brands like Coca Cola. Of course the products we sell have a relation to capitalism but things like Coke are symbols of capitalism. We want to progress away from not-consuming and move towards alternative economies and ways of producing.
Another self-organized collective, PAY-DA — ‘Sharing and solidarity’ — has a building in Kadıköy, which is used for meetings and producing the Meydan newspaper. PAY-DA gives meals to people three times a day. It’s open to anarchists and comrades. The aim of PAY-DA is to become a cooperative, open to everybody. We try to create a bond which also involves the producers in the villages. We aim to have links with these producers and show them another economic model. We try to evolve these economic relations away from money relations. The producers are suffering from the capitalist economy. We are in the first steps of this cooperative and we are looking for producers to work with.
All of these projects are related to DAF’s ideology. This model has a connection with Malatesta’s binary model of organization.
These are anarchist organizations but sometimes people who aren’t anarchists join these struggles because they know ecological or women’s struggles, and then at the end they will learn about anarchism. It’s an evolving process.
As DAF we are trying to organize our lives. This is the only way that we can reach the people who are oppressed by capitalism.
There is also the Conscientious Objectors’ Association, which is organized with other groups, not just anarchists. Our involvement in this has a relation with our perspective on Kurdistan. We organize anti-militarist action in Turkey outside of military bases on 15 May, conscientious objector’s day. In Turkey the military is related to state culture. If you don’t do your military duty, you won’t find a job and it’s difficult to find someone to marry because they ask if you’ve been to the army. If you have been to the army, you’re a “man”. People see the state as the “Fatherland”. On your CV they ask whether you did military service. “Every Turk is born a soldier” is a popular slogan in Turkey.
Is Kemalism [the ideology associated with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk]as strong a force as it used to be?
Kemalism is still a force in schools but the AKP [the ruling Justice and Development Party] has changed this somewhat. The AKP has a new approach to nationalism focused on the Ottoman Empire. It emphasizes Turkey’s “Ottoman roots.” But Erdoğan still says that we are ‘one nation, one state, one flag and one religion.’ There is still talk about Mustafa Kemal but not as much as before. Now you cannot criticize Erdoğan or Atatürk. It’s the law not to criticize Atatürk and the unwritten rule not to criticize Erdoğan. The media follows these rules.
Can you talk about your perspective on the Kurdish freedom struggle?
The Kurdish freedom struggles didn’t start with Rojava. Kurdish people have struggled for hundreds of years against the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish state.
Since the start of DAF we have seen Kurdistan as important for propaganda and education.
Our perspective relates to peoples’ freedom struggles. The idea that people can create federations without nations, states and empires. The Turkish state says the issue is a Kurdish problem, but for us it is not a Kurdish problem, it’s an issue of Turkish policies of assimilation. It’s obvious that since the first years of the Turkish republic the assimilation of Kurdish people has not stopped. We can see this from the last Roboski massacre [of 34 Kurdish cross-border traders by Turkish F16s on 28 December 2011] by the state during the “peace process.” We can see this in the denial of Kurdish identity or the repeated massacres. Making people assimilate to be a Turk and making nationalist propaganda.
The AKP say they have opened Kurdish TV channels, allowed Kurdish language and that we are all brothers and sisters, but on the other hand we had the Roboski massacre which occurred under their rule. In 2006 there was government pressure on Erdoğan at a high level. Erdoğan said that women and children who go against Turkish policies would be punished. Over 30 children were murdered by police and army.
The words change but the political agenda continues, just under a new government. We do not call ourselves Turkish. We come from many ethnic origins and Kurdish is one of them. Our involvement in conscientious objection is part of this perspective. We want to talk to people to prevent people from going to the army to kill their brothers and sisters.
After the 2000s there has been an ideological change in the Kurdish freedom struggle. The Kurdish organizations no longer call themselves Marxist-Leninist and Öcalan has written a lot about democratic confederalism. This is important, but our relation to Kurdish people is on the streets.
Can you talk about DAF’s work in solidarity with people in Rojava?
In July 2012 at the start of the Rojava revolution, people began saying that it was a stateless movement. We have been in solidarity from the first day of the revolution. Three cantons have declared their revolution in a stateless way. We try to observe and get more information. This is not an anarchist revolution but it is a social revolution declared by the people themselves.
Rojava is a third front for Syria against Assad, ISIS and other Islamic groups. But these are not the only groups that the revolution is faced with. The Turkish republic is giving support for ISIS from its borders. The national intelligence agency of the Turkish republic appears to be giving weapons to ISIS and other Islamic groups. Kurdish people declared the revolution under these circumstances.
After the ISIS attack on Kobane began [in 2014] we went to Suruç. We waited at the border as Turkish forces were attacking people crossing. When people wanted to cross the border to or from Kobane they were shot. We stayed there to provide protection.
In October, people gathered near Suruç, and broke through the border. Turkish tanks shot gas over the border at them.
From 6 to 8 October there were Kobane solidarity demonstrations across Turkey. Kader Ortakya, a Turkish socialist supporter of Kobane, was shot dead trying to cross the border.
We helped people. Some people crossed the border from Kobane and had no shelter. We prepared tents, food and clothes for them. Sometimes soldiers came to the villages with tear gas and water cannons and we had to move. Some people came through the border searching for their families and we helped them. Other people came, wanting to cross the border and fight and we helped them. We wore clothing with DAF’s name on it.
The YPG and YPJ [the People’s Protection Units of Rojava, the YPJ is a women’s militia] pushed ISIS back day by day. Mıştenur hill was very important for Kobane. After the hill was taken by the YPG and YPJ some people wanted to return to Kobane. When they went back their houses had been destroyed by ISIS. Some houses were mined and some people have been killed by the mines. The mines need to be cleared, but by who and how? People need new houses and help. We have had conferences and talked about how to help Kobane. There was a conference two weeks ago in Amed.
What is your position on the elections?
We do not believe in parliamentary democracy. We believe in direct democracy. We do not support the HDP in the election, but we have links in solidarity with them on the streets.
Emma Goldman said that if elections changed anything they would be illegal. There are good people in the HDP who say good things, but we think that the government can’t be good because the election system isn’t equal.
In Rojava they do not call it an anarchist revolution, but there’s no government, no state and no hierarchy, so we believe in it and have solidarity with it.
Can you tell us about the bombing in Suruç [we asked this final question by email, weeks after the original interview].
More than 30 people who wanted to take part in reconstruction of Kobane were killed by an ISIS attack. This attack was clearly organized by the Turkish State. They did not even do anything to stop it although they got the information of the attack one month before. Moreover, after the explosion the Turkish State attacked Rojava and launched operations against political organizations in Turkey. Now there are many operations and political pressures on anarchists and socialists and Kurdish organizations. They are using the explosion as a reason to make this political repression on both the domestic and international levels.
We have lost 33 of our comrades, friends who struggled for the Rojava Revolution against the state’s repression, denial and politics of massacre. There are people who are killed by state, ISIS and other powers. But our resistance won’t stop, our struggle will continue, as always in history.
This article was originally published by Corporate Watch and has been republished with their permission.
Corporate Watch is an independent research group that investigates the social and environmental impacts of corporations and corporate power. You can follow them on Twitter via @CorpWatchUK.
By Andre Damon
4 September 2015
With the approach of the 2016 elections, the Democratic Party and its trade union allies are once again ramping up their efforts to fraudulently posture as advocates of working people. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have called for raising the federal minimum wage, while the Obama administration has made much ado about a set of trivial changes to miscellaneous work rules that it claims will significantly benefit low-income workers.
But these attempts to palm off the Democrats as defenders of the working class, and in particular of low-income workers, stand in stark contrast to the actual record of the Obama administration, which has waged a systematic and determined campaign to slash the wages of workers in order to further enrich the banks, hedge funds and major corporations.
This reality was made clear in a report published Wednesday by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), which showed that, despite the reduction in the nominal unemployment rate and continued increases in productivity, workers’ wages fell sharply under the Obama presidency.
Overall, workers’ wages declined by four percent, after adjusting for inflation, between 2009 and 2014. But the lowest-paid workers saw the sharpest decline: those in the lowest-earning quintile had their wages fall by 5.7 percent, compared with a 2.6 percent decline for the top-earning quintile.
“Stagnant wages have become a fact of life for nearly all of America’s workers, but workers in lower-paying occupations are finding it especially tough to keep up with the rising cost of living,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the NELP, in a statement. “Not only are their paychecks not growing, but their purchasing power has shrunk considerably, and to a far greater extent than that of higher-wage earners.”
For workers in low-paying industries, including food preparation workers, janitors and cleaners, personal care aides, home health aides, maids and housekeeping cleaners, the drop was even sharper. The report notes, “Food preparation workers and cooks saw wage declines of 7.7 percent and 8.9 percent, respectively (amounting to roughly $1,622 and $2,185 less in income in 2014 than in 2009).”
Retail sales workers had their real median wages fall by 5 percent, personal care aides had their wages fall by 6.6 percent and janitors had their wages fall by the same amount.
To the extent that there has been a growth in the number of jobs in the US labor market, it has been overwhelmingly in low-wage sectors. A 2014 report by the NELP found that while US businesses had added 1.85 million low-wage jobs over the previous six years, they had eliminated 1.83 million medium-wage and high-wage jobs during the same time.
This trend is only set to continue in the coming period. The new report notes, “Five of the ten occupations that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects will add the greatest number of jobs between 2012 and 2022 were at the bottom of the occupational distribution in 2014, with real median wages between $8.84 and $10.97.”
It added, “In addition, six of the 10 highest-growth occupations experienced real wage declines of 5.0 percent or more between 2009 and 2014, as compared to a 4.0 percent average decline across all occupations.”
The report notes, “The declines in real wages since the Great Recession continue a decades-long trend of wage stagnation for workers in the United States.” But Irene Tung, a senior policy researcher at the NELP told the New York Times that “the imbalance in the economy has become more pronounced since the recession.”
The same day as the NELP published its findings, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) published a report showing that while labor productivity has continued to grow since 2008, wages have fallen dramatically, with the entire benefit of the growth in productivity going to corporate shareholders and executives.
The EPI reported, “Net productivity grew 72.2 percent between 1973 and 2014. Yet inflation-adjusted hourly compensation of the median worker rose just 8.7 percent, or 0.20 percent annually, over this same period, with essentially all of the growth occurring between 1995 and 2002.”
The report added, “If the hourly pay of typical American workers had kept pace with productivity growth since the 1970s, then there would have been no rise in income inequality during that period.”
These figures express the consequences of the decades-long assault on workers’ wages and benefits that has been dramatically accelerated under the Obama administration.
Beginning in the 1970s, the US ruling class responded to the decline in the world position of American capitalism with a ruthless policy of deindustrialization and class warfare. With the full complicity of the trade unions, US corporations slashed millions of manufacturing jobs and used the resulting rise of mass unemployment to slash workers’ wages and benefits.
The US government responded to the 2008 financial meltdown by seeking to impose the entire burden of the crisis onto the working class. Even after the Obama administration funneled trillions of dollars into Wall Street banks, it made the expansion of low-wage manufacturing a precondition for providing funds to the automakers in the 2009 restructuring of GM and Chrysler. This set a precedent for slashing wages throughout the economy.
Now, seven years after the 2008 crisis, the US and world economy appear headed toward another financial crisis and slump. Under these conditions, the ruling class will only accelerate and deepen its offensive against workers, seeking once again to impose the burden of the capitalist crisis onto the working class.
4 September 2015
The gut-wrenching images of a three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach, lying face-down in the sand, his lifeless body then cradled by a rescue worker, have brought home to people all over the world the desperate crisis that is unfolding on Europe’s borders.
The family of the toddler, Alan Kurdi, had come from Kobani, fleeing along with hundreds of thousands of others. A protracted siege by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and an intense US bombing campaign has left the northern Syrian city in ruins, its houses as well as water, electrical, sanitation and medical infrastructure destroyed. The boy was one of 12 who drowned in an attempt to reach Greece, including his mother and five-year-old brother. His distraught father, the family’s sole survivor, said he would return to Syria with their bodies, telling relatives that he hoped only to die and be buried alongside them.
There is plenty of blame to go around for these deaths, which are representative of many thousands more who have lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean or suffocated after being stuffed like sardines into overheated vans.
Canada’s Conservative Party government ignored a request made in June by the boy’s aunt, who lives in British Columbia, to grant Alan’s family asylum.
The countries of the European Union have treated the surge in refugees as a matter of repression and deterrence, throwing up new fences, setting up concentration camps and deploying riot police in an effort to create a Fortress Europe that keeps desperate families like Alan’s at bay and condemns thousands upon thousands to death.
But what of the US? American politicians and the US media are deliberately silent on Washington’s central role in creating this unfolding tragedy on Europe’s borders.
The Washington Post, for example, published an editorial earlier this week stating that Europe “can’t be expected to solve on its own a problem that is originating in Afghanistan, Sudan, Libya and—above all—Syria.” The New York Times sounded a similar note, writing: “The roots of this catastrophe lie in crises the European Union cannot solve alone: war in Syria and Iraq, chaos in Libya…”
What, in turn, are the “roots” of the crises in these countries which have given rise to this “catastrophe”? The response to this question is only guilty silence.
Any serious consideration of what lies behind the surge of refugees into Europe leads to the inescapable conclusion that it constitutes not only a tragedy but a crime. More precisely, it is the tragic byproduct of a criminal policy of aggressive wars and regime change interventions pursued uninterruptedly by US imperialism, with the aid and complicity of its Western European allies, over the course of nearly a quarter century.
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US ruling elite concluded that it was free to exploit America’s unrivaled military might as a means of offsetting US capitalism’s long-term economic decline. By means of military aggression, Washington embarked on a strategy of establishing its hegemony over key markets and sources of raw materials, beginning first and foremost with the energy-rich regions of the Middle East and Central Asia.
This strategy was summed up crudely in the slogan advanced by the Wall Street Journal in the aftermath of the first war against Iraq in 1991: “Force works.”
What the world is witnessing in today’s wave of desperate refugees attempting to reach Europe are the effects of this policy as it has been pursued over the whole past period.
Decade-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, waged under the pretext of a “war on terrorism” and justified with the infamous lies about Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction,” succeeded only in devastating entire societies and killing hundreds of thousands of men, women and children.
They were followed by the US-NATO war for regime change that toppled the government of Muammar Gaddafi and turned Libya into a so-called failed state, wracked by continuous fighting between rival militias. Then came the Syrian civil war—stoked, armed and funded by US imperialism and its allies, with the aim of toppling Bashar al-Assad and imposing a more pliant Western puppet in Damascus.
The predatory interventions in Libya and Syria were justified in the name of “human rights” and “democracy,” receiving on this basis the support of a whole range of pseudo-left organizations representing privileged layers of the middle class—the Left Party in Germany, the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France, the International Socialist Organization in the US and others. Some of them went so far as to hail the actions of Islamist militias armed and funded by the CIA as “revolutions.”
The present situation and the unbearable pressure of death and destruction that is sending hundreds of thousands of people into desperate and deadly flight represent the confluence of all of these crimes of imperialism. The rise of ISIS and the ongoing bloody sectarian civil wars in both Iraq and Syria are the product of the US devastation of Iraq, followed by the backing given by the CIA and US imperialism’s regional allies to ISIS and similar Islamist militias inside Syria.
No one has been held accountable for these crimes. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell and others in the previous administration who waged a war of aggression in Iraq based upon lies have enjoyed complete impunity. Those in the current administration, from Obama on down, have yet to be called to account for the catastrophes they have unleashed upon Libya and Syria. Their accomplices are many, from a US Congress that has acted as a rubber stamp for war policies to an embedded media that has helped foist wars based upon lies upon the American public, and the pseudo-lefts who have attributed a progressive role to US imperialism and its “humanitarian interventions.”
Together they are responsible for what is unfolding on Europe’s borders, which, more than a tragedy, is part of a protracted and continuing war crime.
Bill Van Auken
Photo Credit: via Sanders campaign
Who knew, when Bernie Sanders announced a run in the Democratic primary, that not only would he meet with hostility from his main opponent’s chief surrogates, but that the media would acquiesce and even collude to such a great degree?
When analyzing the quantity and content of the vast majority of what is said and written about Sanders, his campaign platform, and appearances, one finds a running theme across the so-called liberal media. The New York Times has been called out by more than one analyst, myself included, for its complete lack of serious coverage of Bernie Sanders.
Since joining the staff at the New York Times, Maggie Haberman has written about Sanders on fewer than a handful of occasions, while she has written about the other candidates in the race more often. While it is understandable that Hillary Clinton would be the subject of more numerous articles, it makes no sense for Martin O’Malley to have more articles written about him than Sanders, given the pecking order that emerged right from the start, yet that is what has transpired so far.
In articles that address various aspects of the Democratic side of the primary, Senator Sanders’ ability to succeed is always described in doubtful terms, even as Hillary Clinton’s troubles in the polls are being described. The New York Times has published fewer than a dozen pieces that are Sanders campaign-specific and each is problematic in the way he is portrayed. Most often, Sanders’ age and hair are highlighted, and the incorrect moniker “socialist” is applied. (Socialist and Democratic socialist are not interchangeable terms.)
While the age of a candidate might matter to some when thinking about a candidate’s experience or mental capacity, Bernie Sanders is 73, only six years older than Hillary Clinton. His mental capacity has never been a subject of contention. One can only conclude from the repetition of negative references, that writers are attempting to condition readers into thinking of Sanders as the “unkempt” elderly stereotype.
Most presidential candidates have been older than 60. Think of Ronald Reagan. The distance between 67 to 73, in human years, isn’t that significant from either the experiential or health standpoints. If anything, Sanders’ breakneck schedule, accounting for work in the Senate, crisscrossing the nation to hold rallies, and appearing on cable news shows demonstrates a high level of mental and physical energy.
The most harmful way anti-Sanders media bias has been manifested is by omission. In this respect, the New York Times is joined by the vast majority of the mainstream media in not typically reporting on Sanders, especially on policy. Overall there is a version of a “wall of silence” built by the media when it comes to serious reporting and analysis of his policies; or when analyzing or reporting on the policies of his opponents, a failure to mention Sanders’ in contrast, especially when his is the more progressive position. This behavior hasn’t gone unnoticed by readers. You can see numerous complaints from readers about the Times organization’s bias toward Sanders. You see it in the New York Times comments section, on the Facebook pages and comments sections of all the major publications, and just about everywhere else. Readers complain about the lack of substantive coverage as well as the bias in what little is published. The Times’ Jason Horowitz’ piece, “Bernie Sanders Draws Big Crowds to His ‘Political Revolution” drew over 1600 comments, double what the most popular columns usually fetch, with most in protest over the obvious bias of the piece and the Times’ egregious lack of coverage of Bernie Sanders news.
Bernie Sanders’ campaign has centered around economic justice and his plans to reform banking, taxation, trade, stimulate the economy, promote manufacturing at home, and institute jobs programs. I’ve yet to see side-by side comparisons of the top two Democratic candidates’ prescriptions for the US economy. Most economists and economic writers chose to publish pieces on the Clinton economic plan before she gave her speech. Few wrote about it after, and with reason: The speech didn’t deliver much in the way of specifics, and was vague about policies that the voting public expects. Sanders’ version of an economic plan has yet to garner serious analysis and discussion. Both Clinton and Sanders base their economic prescriptions on economist Joseph Stiglitz’ most recent work, Rewrite The Rules. Paul Krugman has, on three occasions, talked up Hillary Clinton’s economic platform, specifically on wages, without so much as mentioning Sanders. Clinton favors a minimum wage of $15 per hour in New York City, and $12 an hour nationally. Sanders has called for the minimum wage to be raised to $15 an hour for everyone. The Times had reported, in May, that Stiglitz’ work would likely greatly influence Clinton’s platform. If it has, one wouldn’t know it, judging by subsequent writings.
Plan for Racial Justice
While news outlets were reporting on the disruptions of Sanders by the Black Lives Matter movement, few followed up on the story as Sanders began to respond positively. Sanders gave a major speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on July 27. It received very little attention from the press. And within a week, Sanders delivered his answer to Black Lives Matter, by way of a plan. The New York Times has yet to make mention of Sanders’plan for racial justice, link to the senator’s website, or publish it outright in an article. And the media has ignored the fact that the racial justice plan has received praise among a number of Black Lives Matter leaders, including activist Deray McKesson.
Clarence Page recently wrote about Sanders in an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune. He took a tack that many in the press now use: comparing and contrasting Sanders to Donald Trump. Given the kinds of controversy Trump has kicked up with his racial statements, and the treatment Sanders has received over his racial justice bona fides, it is no surprise that many of Sanders’ supporters are angry. Page begins his op-ed with: “The farther the left and right wings in politics move toward extremes, an old saying goes, the more they resemble each other.”
In any other context, that kind of contrast might have been fair, but not in a piece about Trump and Sanders. In his third paragraph, Page writes: “In recent days we have seen how both Trump, now a seasoned reality TV star, and Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist, have faced sharp criticism within their separate political tribes for omitting or offending key constituencies.”
While it is true enough that Trump has been making racially offensive statements about all constituencies that aren’t key to his campaign, that same accusation does not apply to Bernie Sanders, who in stark contrast to his main opponent, has never, in 50 years of documented political activism and public office, uttered a racially offensive statement, or favored policies that are detrimental to minorities.
Page praises Sanders’ plan for racial justice, without any discussion of its points and then goes on to characterize the diversity of Sanders’ supporters: “But his impressively huge crowds have been even less diverse than his 95-percent-white home state of Vermont.” There’s not been a study or poll of the crowds at Sanders events. From what I could see of Sanders’ Los Angeles and New Orleans rallies, the crowds seemed to match the diversity of the locale. Of note is the fact that there hasn’t yet been a large-scale poll of the black community on its support of Sanders following the publication of his plan for racial justice.
Over a month after the publication of Sanders’ plan for racial justice, the media continues to portray him as someone who is racially wounded, when to begin with, that “problem” came into existence the day of the Netroots Nation disruption under the guise of eliciting needed policy from all candidates, even those who are considered friends. As the top Democratic candidate continues to owe such “needed policy,” Hillary Clinton continues to enjoy relative insulation from the perception of having any racial wounds, in spite of a record of promoting policies that have led to the very reasons for the birth of Black Lives Matter.
Over at Vox, coverage of Sanders by everyone but Ezra Klein has mostly been overtly negative. Dara Lind address a portion of the race issues in her interview of comedian Roderick Greer, who came up with the Twitter hashtag BernieSoBlack. But that piece contained much more than an explanation of some funny hashtag, and all of it was slanted in the direction of stripping Sanders of his civil rights achievements, even as the piece was titled to indicate Greer’s frustration at Sanders’ supporters. Attacking Sanders’ supporters and portraying them as racist or borderline racist has been a running theme in the press. Since his record on civil rights cannot be impeached and he has never committed a racial faux-pas, the only way to attack him on race is through his supporters, and that is how in piece after piece, Sanders’ record is being sullied.
The attacks on Sanders began with a curious refusal to give him any credit for taking part in the civil rights movement, and have been followed up by pieces designed to paint him as dispassionate about human rights and racial justice. Few are those who cite Sanders’ longstanding near-perfect rating by the NAACP and ACLU, or mention those, like Senator Cory Booker, who have spoken up in defense of Sanders’ lifelong record with the African-American community.
Since when don’t records matter?
Up until Bernie Sanders, a politician’s record has always been the measure by which evaluations are made. This is of particular import here because Sanders’ main opponent, Hillary Clinton, also has a very long record and it isn’t being scrutinized. When Clinton met with protesters in New Hampshire and she was confronted with policies of hers and Bill Clinton’s that have harmed the black community, little was made of it in the press. All chatter about Clinton’s behavior at that meeting has practically come to an end, and she has yet to publish her own policy proposals for racial justice.
Sanders has focused his tenure as a public official on economic justice. That doesn’t mean he paid no attention to racial justice. His stump speeches, with few exceptions, make mention of the racial disparities in our society. One example that comes to mind is Sanders’ appearance in front of the Council of La Raza, where he spent several minutes addressing racial disparities harming African Americans.
The characterization that Sanders’ position on solving the problems of racial injustice is through addressing economic inequality is patently false. Sanders has long been on record as saying that racial inequality is a separate problem that needs to be addressed in parallel. Almost to a voice, the U.S. mainstream press corps avoids any mention of that in order to cement the perception that Bernie Sanders isn’t serious about redressing America’s original sin.
At a time when economic and racial inequality are at their deepest, we are again at a similar moment in time as when the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was speaking out in favor of racial unity to fight poverty and inequality. In one of his last speeches, “The Three Evils of Society,” King described the conditions we find ourselves in today. His prescription came in the form of his Poor People’s Campaign, uniting the nation’s whites and blacks to fight for economic justice. It is painful to hear and read those who are intimately familiar with King’s speeches joining in the same behaviors as the rest of their colleagues in the media in praising Bernie Sanders and putting him down all at once, at times even using the very same Martin Luther King quotes included in Sanders’ plan for racial justice.
To Martin Luther King Jr., racial, educational and economic justice were always inexorably tied. To James Baldwin, racial, educational and economic justice were indivisible from each other. It takes a rare cynic who is well versed in the writings of Baldwin and King to use them as bludgeons against Sanders, all the while withholding salient facts from the public, so it can do its job as described in Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time:
“And here we are at the center of the arc, trapped in the gaudiest, most valuable, and most improbable water wheel the world has ever seen. Everything now, we must assume, is in our hands; we have no right to assume otherwise. If we—and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on or create, the consciousness of the others—do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world. If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, recreated from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!”
In the absence of fair media coverage, how do we create the consciousness of the others? How do we achieve our country? How do we avoid repeating history?
By Joanne Laurier
3 September 2015
Christian Petzold’s Phoenix is now playing in movie theaters in the US. This is an edited version of an article that appeared as part of the coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival on September 24, 2014. Labyrinth of Lieshas yet to be released in the US.
Whether their creators intended them as responses to the resurgence of German militarism or not, two films screened at this year’s Toronto film festival, both set in the postwar period, dealt quite strongly with the devastating consequences of Nazism. One way or another, as the recent resolution of the Socialist Equality Party of Germany noted, “History is returning with a vengeance.”
The fact that, as the resolution goes on to say, “Almost 70 years after the crimes of the Nazis and its defeat in World War II, the German ruling class is once again adopting the imperialist great power politics of the Kaiser’s Empire and Hitler,” must have the most significant implications for German filmmakers and artists.
Christian Petzold’s Phoenix and Italian-born Giulio Ricciarelli’s Labyrinth of Lies are both skillfully made, intelligent films that delve, in quite different ways, into the legacy of fascism.
In Phoenix, set in the immediate aftermath of World War II, a Jewish concentration camp survivor, Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss, in another collaboration with Petzold), is grossly disfigured and traumatized. With the help of her close friend Lene (Nina Kunzendorf), Nelly undergoes plastic surgery in Berlin. Her face is altered, although Nelly did not want to forfeit any of her past identity, including her looks—presumably as an act of defiance toward her persecutors. It soon becomes clear that she also wants to be identifiable to her beloved husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld).
Lene, who works for the Jewish Agency for Palestine, tries to dissuade Nelly from searching for Johnny, claiming that he divorced her and betrayed her to the Gestapo. With a sexually enigmatic devotion to Nelly, Lene works toward their relocation to Israel.
Nelly, at one time a well-known performer, eventually locates Johnny, formerly a pianist, doing menial work in a sordid cabaret in the rubble-filled American sector of the city. Believing his wife to be dead, he does not recognize the surgically repaired Nelly.
Seeing an opportunity to get hold of his former wife’s inheritance, he proposes to remake the mysterious woman (the real Nelly) into his wife. For various emotional reasons, including her need to be near Johnny, Nelly allows him to change her clothes, hair and walk—he is pleased that her handwriting is already a close match! Johnny is prepared to go to great lengths to convince friends and family that Nelly survived the Holocaust and is now able to claim her fortune.
Petzold’s dark cinematography bolsters the film’s portrayal of a devastated society, suffering from the impact of enormous historic crimes, and a population that has been nearly effaced, physically and emotionally. In the film, postwar Germany is a wreckage made up of broken people and places that cannot be put back together again.
Neither Johnny nor Nelly has any hope of returning to his or her prewar self. Their respective experiences have qualitatively and permanently transformed them. In a real sense, Nelly is “unrecognizable” to Johnny. Despite the war’s end and despite the settling of personal accounts, there is no immediate relief from the almost universal suffering and sense of betrayal, both of which may be insuperable.
Labyrinth of Lies
In the Allied-organized Nuremberg trials (1945-46), twenty or so prominent Nazi leaders were prosecuted and convicted. Nearly two decades later, the Auschwitz (concentration camp) trials, which opened in Frankfurt on December 23, 1963 and ended August 19, 1965, marked the first time that Nazi officials were brought before courts in the German Federal Republic (West Germany). Some 1.1 million prisoners, 90 percent of them Jewish, died in the network of Auschwitz camps.
Of the more than 6,000 to 8,000 former members of the SS (Nazi Party paramilitary organization) who guarded Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945, only 22 came before the Frankfurt court.
Giulio Ricciarelli’s Labyrinth of Lies opens in Frankfurt in 1958. An ambitious young prosecutor, Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling)—a fictional composite of three prosecutors who participated in the Auschwitz trials—is eager for more challenging work than his current caseload of traffic violations. Although traffic court is where he meets and eventually falls in love with Marlene (Friederike Becht), whom Johann initially prosecutes for a minor infraction—the incident is also going to prove what an incorruptible, “by-the-book” sort of individual he is.
Coming into Johann’s life as well is an energetic, contrarian journalist, Thomas Gnielka (André Szymanski), who forces the prosecutor to recognize how many former Nazis still function unimpeded in West German society. Chief Prosecutor General Fritz Bauer (played by the late Gert Voss, to whom the film is dedicated, who died in July 2014 at 72), well aware of the Nazi plague, encourages his young associate to pursue the matter. (See this three-part WSWS series: “Forty years since the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial,” part 1, part 2,part 3.) Working with Gnielka and concentration camp survivor Simon Kirsch (Johannes Krisch), Johann is stunned when he learns the vast dimensions of the Nazis’ machinery of extermination at Auschwitz and that many of those who ran the “factory of death” now have comfortable careers in public service. (“The public sector is full of Nazis. And none of them has anything to worry about.”)
Sifting through the chaotic records of 600,000 individuals stored at the U.S. Army Document Center, Johann discovers that thousands of former Nazis seamlessly returned to their prewar lives. In his pursuits, he is aided by the testimony of Auschwitz survivors, his endearing and principled secretary Schmittchen (Hansi Jochmann), and a fellow prosecutor, who initially ridicules Johann about the project.
In one of the film’s most powerful moments, Auschwitz survivors file through Johann’s office, one after the other, to provide testimony. There are no words in the sequence, just a series of headshots of people with resolute, determined expressions and horror stories to recount. Schmittchen cannot contain her grief and shock.
At first, Johann is exclusively focused on capturing the elusive Dr. Josef Mengele at the expense of lesser targets. After discovering that his girlfriend Marlene’s father was a Nazi, Johann begins to wonder about his own now-deceased parent, whom he idolizes and idealizes. At one point, one of Johann’s hostile superiors angrily asks: “Do you want every young man in this country to wonder whether his father was a murderer?” Labyrinth of Lies successfully dramatizes the events leading up to hearings that helped illuminate the truth about the death camps and had a strong impact in particular on a younger generation of Germans.
Expressive of some of the current ideological difficulties, neither Phoenix norLabyrinth of Lies makes any attempt to explain German fascism as a historical and social phenomenon. The Nazi regime is rather an appalling “given,” the starting point in both cases for a legitimate and compelling drama. Each work tends to reduce the problem to individual moral choices, summed up in this comment by one of the lead characters in Labyrinth: “The only response to Auschwitz is to do the right thing yourself.” This sidesteps the question, however, of how it was that Auschwitz came into being to begin with and whether its existence was inevitable.
Nonetheless, both are serious and sincere films and serve as warnings against any attempt to minimize or relativize the crimes of the Third Reich.