You gotta laugh

This is how the Guardian described Alister Black’s blog in their latest article on political blogs:

A neatly designed blog with extensive photo galleries. Alister Black’s site has many good points, and covers “conspiracy theory” stories the mainstream media doesn’t usually touch.

Conspiracy theories?

The icing on the cake? He was located in the centrist section…

The Lucy Parsons Project

The Lucy Parsons Project (not to be confused with the Alan Parsons Project) website is dedicated to Lucy Parsons, a late 19th century/early 20th century anarchist labour activist, one of the founders of the Industrial Workers of the World, as well as the widow of one of the Haymarket martyrs. A remarkable woman, not in the least because she fought for workers’ rights at a time when the United States was still an extremely sexist and racist society.

[…]Born in Texas, 1853, probably as a slave, Lucy Parsons was an African,Native and Mexican-American anarchist labor activist who fought against the injustices of poverty, racism, capitalism and the state her entire life. After moving to Chicago with her husband, Albert, in 1873, she began organizing workers and led thousands of them out on strike protesting poor working conditions, long hours and abuses of capitalism. After Albert, along with seven other anarchists, were eventually imprisoned or hung by the state for their beliefs in anarchism, Lucy Parsons achieved international fame in their defense and as a powerful orator and activist in her own right. The impact of Lucy Parsons on the history of the American anarchist and labor movements has served as an inspiration spanning now three centuries of social movements.

While most people remember Lucy Parsons in relation to the events surrounding her husband, Albert
Parsons, and their comrades’ executions (known as the Haymarket affair), Lucy’s own legacy and passions have a long and courageous life history all their own. Lucy was known for her writings, her courage as a dissident woman of color, her unbending commitment to social justice, and, most of all, her powerful, fiery public speeches. She led tens of thousands of workers into the streets in mass protests, drew enormous crowds wherever she spoke and was considered a dangerous, explosive and robust threat to authorities across the United States. For over 30 years her lectures were shut down by the police, often arresting her before she ever reached the podium. Hearing Lucy speak at all was a rare opportunity that sparked a passion for rebellion in working and poor people from coast to coast. The Chicago police labeled Lucy Parsons “more dangerous than a thousand rioters.” [1]

The Haymarket Massacre happened on 4 May 1886 when during a police raid on a meeting of labour organisors somebody threw a bomb which killed one police officer. After this the police went wild and in the ensuing riot several more police men were killed, as well as an unknown number of civilians. During the police reprisals which followed, Lucy’s husband Albert Parsons was arrested and later condemned to death

[…] Following the bomb at Haymarket the police responded the next day by rounding up several of the city’s leading anarchist labor activists, including Lucy & Albert Parsons and several of their associates, none of which had anything to do with the bombing – most were not even at the event. Lucy was jailed several times for the event and eventually released, but her husband, Albert, and 7 other anarchists were sentenced, not for the bombing, but for their beliefs in anarchism. Lucy went on a nationwide tour gathering support across the US for her husband and comrades in jail, delivering powerful speeches and reaching hundreds of thousands of people within a couple of months, but it was not enough. In the end, 1 of the anarchists, Louis Lingg killed himself in prison. 2 others, Michael Schwab, and Samuel Fielden, were sentenced to life in prison, while Oscar Neebe got 15 years; and the other 4, Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer, and George Engel were hung. [2]

The IWW, or Industrial Workers of the World was one of the first American unions to push for a broad union, wanting to organise all workers, not just the ones in a given craft Its ultimate goals was not as much to improve condiutions for its members as it was revolution. Lucy herself had also helped found an earlier union, the International Working People’s Association, of which the IWW would take over several principles.

The IWW was born in Chicago in 1905, a product of more than 200 trade unionists, socialist, anarchists and industrial unionists. From its inception the IWW offered a radical strategy and perspective counter to mainstream labor unions of the day. Unlike the American Federation of Labor, for instance, the IWW set forth to organize women, people of color, immigrants and unskilled workers into one big union, organized along industry lines instead of by craft, and many prominent people of color and women took leadership roles in the IWW such as Ben Fletcher, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Frank Little. The IWW believed “the working class and the employing class” had “nothing in common” and urged direct action on the job to win demands and build working class power. [3]

It’s quite inspiring to read about Lucy Parsons and know that no matter how bad the current situation is, things were once worse, that it was due to the hard work of people like Lucy Parsons that we got the freedoms we have today. If she could overcome racism, sexism and class prejudices to do what she did, surely we can do no less.

Please check out the website as it provides an excellent overview of Lucy Parsons’ life, as well as the struggles she was involved in, from workers’ rights to civil rights for black people. If only there were more of this sort of social(ist) history websites.

[1] From the biographic summary at the Lucy Parsons Project.
[2] From the Lucy Parsons Project pages on the Haymarket Massacre.
[3] From the Lucy Parsons Project pages on the IWW

The sordid history behind Diego Garcia

Diego Garcia is an uninhabited island in the Indian Ocean, part of the Chagos Archipelago, home to one of the most important US military overseas bases, from which e.g. B-52 bombing missions were launched against Afghanistan and Iraq. Diego Garcia is not an US possession though, but is leased from the United Kingdom, starting from 1971. The US needed a secure base in the Indian Ocean, both to counter Soviet moves as well as to establish a secure intelligence post there.

At the time when the US first started showing interest into establishing a base in the Indian Ocean in the early 1960ties, the Chagos Archipelago was part of the British colony of Mauritius, which was on the brink of independence. The UK offered Mauritius their freedom, as well as 3 million UK pounds if they gave up their claim to the Chagos islands. Having done so, the UK then incorperated them as well as some other islands into the British Indian Ocean Territory, or BIOT. This was then quietly, without debate in Parliament, leased out to the Americans for fifty years, in order for them to built their base. In return, the US offered a $11 million subsidiy on the Polaris nuclear missile system the UK was then buying from them.

So far, so what. Letting your ally establish a military base on your territory is hardly sordid, now is it? In this case, it is. Because at the time the US started building its base there, it wasn’t uninhabited. Nor where the other islands of the Chagos Archipelago. Before the US started building, the island group was home to the Ilois, which had been there for at least two hundred years.

So what happened to them, that they don’t live there anymore ? They got forcibly removed to Mauritius, forbidden to return to their homes and indeed kept away from it by force, all without any form of compensation, because the US wanted their base to be “secure”. All of which was blatantly illegal, both under international law and under British law, as established by the judgement in a lawsuit against the British Foreign Office undertaken by several of the Archipelago’s inhabitants:

“Section 4 of the Ordinance effectively exiles the Ilois from the territory where they are belongers and forbids their return. But the ‘peace, order, and good government’ of any territory means nothing, surely, save by reference to the territory’s population. They are to be governed: not removed. … I cannot see how the wholesale removal of a people from the land where they belong can be said to conduce to the territory’s peace, order and good government. … In short, there is no principled basis upon which section 4 of the Ordinance can be justified as having been empowered by section 11 of the BIOT Order. And it has no other conceivable source of lawful authority.”


Now originally, the US wanted to establish a base on a different island elsewhere in the Indian Ocean, the island of Aldabra, north of Madagascar. But this was home to a rare species of giant turtle and if a base where to be established there it would undergo much opposition from ecologists and nature lovers. Whereas nobody would bat an eyelid if a few hundred or so islanders would be robbed from their homes, as long as it could be plausibly denied that they were permanent residents.

Which is exactly what Britain did, starting from 1965 onwards. They consistently talked about the people living in the Chagos Archipelago as if they were only migrant workers for the copra plantations, and were “reall” Mauritanians. The British Foreign Office knew perfectly well this was untrue, but it was a convenient figleaf to justify the expulsion of the Ilois people. For the next thirty years, this would continue to be the official line of the UK government, until the island people finally won recognition through their court case against the Foreign Office. Not that this meant their troubles were over; the US still refuses to let them back into their homes.

I came across this case while reading Body of Secrets, a history of the US National Security Agency, written by James Bamford, which intrigued me enough to do some more online research about it. It just one example of why I don’t trust either the UK or US very much when it comes to the War on Terror and the invasion of Iraq, regardless of whether I trust Bush or Blair personally. Both are far too willing to chose realpolitik over humanitarian concerns and plain decency.

Body of Secrets, James Bamford, ISBN: 0-09-942774-5 (UK edition), pages 163-166
The Chagos Islands: A sordid tale, BBC News online, 3 November 2000.
Thirty years of lies, deceit and trickery that robbed a people of their island home, Ewen MacAskill and Rob Evans, The Guardian, November 4 2000
Diego Garcia: The ‘criminal question’ doctrine, Charles Judson Harwood Jr.

Tranquility Bay

It’s been difficult these last few years not to become anti-american, to judge the US by the actions of its government, to not let the stupidity and venality of a minority (I hope) of its citizens sour me on the country as a whole. Articles like this two part series in the Observer don’t help, because they confirm all the stereotypes of Americans I’ve been tempted to believe lately, that y’all are halfway on your way to fascism and happy with it:

Were you to glance up from the deserted beach below, you might mistake Tranquility Bay for a rather exclusive hotel. The statuesque white property stands all alone on a sandy curve of southern Jamaica, feathered by palm trees, gazing out across the Caribbean Sea. You would have to look closer to see the guards at the wall. Inside, 250 foreign children are locked up. Almost all are American, but though kept prisoner, they were not sent here by a court of law. Their parents paid to have them kidnapped and flown here against their will, to be incarcerated for up to three years, sometimes even longer. They will not be released until they are judged to be respectful, polite and obedient enough to rejoin their families.

The last Resort, part I

The last Resort, part II

The first article goes on to describe the routine inside Tranquility Bay, how the children are treated, e.g. how they get to it in the first place:

The first most teenagers hear of Tranquility is therefore when they are woken from their beds at home at 4am by guards, who place them in a van, handcuffed if necessary, drive them to an airport and fly them to Jamaica. The child will not be allowed to speak to his or her parents for up to six months, or see them for up to a year.

The second article follows up with interviews with some of the people involved: staff, parents and the children itself.

Susie is 16, from New York, and here ‘because of having sex. Not going to school. It was my attitude. It wasn’t, like, drugs. The problem was, me and my mom, we just didn’t have a relationship. We could say how was your day, that was about it.’ The possibility that this was a normal phase is adamantly rejected by Susie.

‘No, that wasn’t normal. I would be doing the same thing all my life. I would never have got out of it.’ Her friend Michelle believes, ‘I’d be living on the streets now. And I think one of the biggest things I’ve learnt here is that everything happens for a reason. I came here for a reason. You see, I just wasn’t meant to be living the life I was living. I wasn’t meant to be homeless.’

What emerges from these articles is a picture of what I could only call a re-education camp; it would fit right in with current practises in North Korea. There’s the isolation from society, the constant supervision, the emotional abuse and breakdown of personality, the brainwashing by constant repetition, the punishement for unwanted behaviour and thoughts culminating in a “rewiring” (as they call it
themselves) of the children’s personality. Can you imagine sending your children there? Yet the article asserts it’s legal in the US and would be legal in the UK as well…

UPDATE: Long Story, Short Pier has more about this, including eye witness reports of survivors.

Found via PolitX, an excellent (UK) political blog.


Or, one man’s journey into sectarianism:

We’ve all been there, it’s a wet Saturday morning, you drag yourself into the city centre to part with some of your meagre funds, fighting your way through the throngs of shoppers, teenagers, stressed out parents, and there they stand, the radical lefties. Thrusting their ‘radical’ left wing politics at you, asking for your name on their petition, stopping you with loaded questions such as ‘Do you think the National Health Service needs more funds?’ or ‘Do you agree with the governments policy on immigration’ and then pulling you into a debate they are quite sure they are going to wipe the floor with you in. You are finally presented with the party paper to purchase for your greater advancement at the measly sum of &#1632.50, or another such price which at the time seems just a bit too much for a piece of paper packed with political headbanging, which you will glance at idly one afternoon and then use to line the cats litter box, or mop up a spilt cup of tea. Who are these people, why do they spend their Saturdays doing this? Well, opening the dusty closet door of my murky past I can now reveal some insights, for, yes, shame of shame, I WAS ONE OF THEM!!

The Revolutionairy Communist Party of which he talks no longer exists; they’re now the people behind Spiked Online, just as weird, but “left-libertarian”.