AQAP in Yemen

There has been a lot of noise in recent weeks from the Trump administration about increasing US military involvement in the ongoing gang-fight in Yemen, and helping Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the Hadi regime in their war against the Saleh-Houthi alliance.  Any such escalation will very likely bolster the position of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), notwithstanding America’s own ongoing military campaign against them.

This contradiction became hilariously and horrifically apparent in the aftermath of the US special forces raid against an alleged AQAP compound back in January, shortly after the transfer of power in the US to the Trump administration.  The raid targeted important leaders of the al-Dhahab family, which is a key backer of AQAP, and is related by marriage to Anwar al-Awlaki, the infamous Yemeni-American preacher and al-Qaeda recruiter.  But the family is also closely linked with the Hadi regime; Sheikh Abdel-Raouf al-Dhahab, one of the key figures killed in the raid, had met with Hadi’s military chief of staff just a couple of days prior and had received a nice sack of money to help him and his tribal militia fight the Houthis in a nearby city.

This fits in with the larger pattern of more or less overt cooperation between the Hadi regime and AQAP — which, oddly, enough, the US government itself appears aware of, although it does not appear to be influencing the overall military strategy.  Some key connections include:

  • Nayif al-Qaysi, one of Hadi’s provincial governors, who is accused of both the US and the UN of being a senior AQAP official
  • Abdul Wahab Al-Homayqani, the head of a powerful Salafist political party and an advisor to Hadi, who is accused by the US of being an AQAP official and helping mediate financing between Saudi donors and AQAP
  • Al-Hasan Ali Abkar, a pro-Hadi militia commander who is accused by the US of funneling money and weapons to AQAP

Connections between the “official” regime in Yemen and al-Qaeda isn’t new, either.  The ex-dictator Saleh maintained links with al-Qaeda and other Salafi-jihadist groups for decades, right up until he linked up with the Houthis and went to war against Hadi, his old vice president, and his former allies among AQAP.  Saleh encouraged Salafi-jihadists to fight against his enemies in the socialist south during the 1994 Civil War, including a few prominent militants like Jamal al-Nahdi, who planned al-Qaeda’s first attack against the US, and who would go on to join Saleh’s political party and become an important member of the state security apparatus.  Saleh continued to exploit AQAP militants against political rivals (including the Houthis) even as he took in hundreds of millions of dollars from the US to fight AQAP throughout the 2000s.  Now, Saleh and his loyalists in the military have jumped sides to the Houthis, while the security establishment that Hadi took over are still deeply intertwined with AQAP and other Salafi paramilitary groups.

So what is the US plan for all of this?  Pushing the Saleh-Houthi alliance back will almost certainly mean a de-facto alliance with AQAP, which has already demonstrated its ability to take over areas “liberated” by the pro-Hadi coalition.  On the flip side, attacking AQAP means undermining the regime that the US is backing, and letting the Houthis consolidate their gains.  At this point, it seems like the US is content to simply shoot at everybody, strategy be damned.  A drone strike here, a refueling mission there, and so on, until…well, who knows.  At least the defense industry creeps will be happy.


Analysis of science and technology from radical leftist perspectives is often dreadfully dreary and dystopian, focusing on pessimistic narratives around job-killing automation and the planetary crisis of climate change.  So its quite nice to come across more optimistic pieces that imagine positive deployment of technology, and call for leftists to be proactive in taking charge of techno-scientific systems for progressive ends.

Last December, The New Inquiry published an interview with Helen Hester of Laboria Cuboniks, a small group of feminists from around the world who wrote “Xenofeminism: A Politics For Alienation” (warning: site may induce epilepsy), a polemic arguing for the positive use of technology to smash hierarchy and oppression, particularly as they relate to gender.  This could be seen as part of a diverse lineage of critical feminist analysis of technology, which includes classics like Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, technology, and socialist-feminism in the late twentieth century” [PDF], and the lesser known works of Italian Marxist-feminists like Tiziana Terranova, who has written on things like communist algorithms.

Xenofeminism casts itself as ruthlessly and unapologetically “anti-natural”, noting that the standard of naturality has often been used as a cudgel against marginalized and oppressed people, particularly when it comes to gender and sexuality.

The real emancipatory potential of technology remains unrealized. Fed by the market, its rapid growth is offset by bloat, and elegant innovation is surrendered to the buyer, whose stagnant world it decorates. Beyond the noisy clutter of commodified cruft, the ultimate task lies in engineering technologies to combat unequal access to reproductive and pharmacological tools, environmental cataclysm, economic instability, as well as dangerous forms of unpaid/underpaid labour.

The manifesto goes on to attack observed tendencies within the radical left to retreat from broad analysis and ambitious, large-scale projects, as well as to exist only within the realm of critique and analysis instead of concrete, practical action.  Xenofeminism also adopts a firmly “abolitionist” view with regards to gender, race, and class, while also rooting social hierarchy in capitalism.

Ultimately, every emancipatory abolitionism must incline towards the horizon of class abolitionism, since it is in capitalism where we encounter oppression in its transparent, denaturalized form: you’re not exploited or oppressed because you are a wage labourer or poor; you are a labourer or poor because you are exploited.

Specific comments on technological systems range from the relationship between architecture and gender, to the emancipatory potential of bio-engineering, all along peppered with demands for experimentation and ambition.

Without the foolhardy endangerment of lives, can we stitch together the embryonic promises held before us by pharmaceutical 3D printing (‘Reactionware’), grassroots telemedical abortion clinics, gender hacktivist and DIY-HRT forums, and so on, to assemble a platform for free and open source medicine?

All in all, the Xenofeminist manifesto is a nice bit of poetic polemicizing around an optimistic vision of technology and engineering.  In particular, I enjoyed the presence of an underlying philosophy that sees little distinction between the natural and the artificial, as a framework that I haven’t stumbled across in a long time, but that I’ve always personally leaned toward.

Its unclear whether the theory is connecting with any real organizing yet, but it certainly has a lot of potential to fit into a larger assemblage of left-wing struggles that are looking to appropriate and/or control technological development.

What should the radical left do about Syria?

First, we need to recognize that this is a bad question.  We need to back up a bit, and recognize that the radical left (specifically, in the US) is in no position to do anything about Syria.  We’re weak, divided, confused, and largely isolated from the American masses.  We have depressingly little influence on domestic policy, let alone on how US imperialism functions abroad.  Most of our debates are academic and abstract.  Our protests — especially our anti-war protests — are reactive, and utterly disconnected to any kind of larger, coherent strategy around fighting imperialism and building a revolutionary movement.

With this in mind, the next step is to consider what would constitute an effective program around Syria.

The core plank of an effective program would be establishing and deepening concrete ties with people in Syria.  I’m not talking about re-Tweeting activists in Aleppo or helping “raise awareness” through interviews or whatever — I’m talking about actual coordination, planning, and resource transfer with organizations on the ground in and around Syria.  From this perspective, the most effective programs thus far have been 1) solidarity efforts with Rojava, such as fundraising for supplies and volunteering to fight, and 2) solidarity efforts with refugees, which have been particularly impressive in southern European countries like Greece.

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Historical attempts at workers’ inquiry

Asad Haider and Salar Mohandesi wrote a lengthy and in-depth introduction to Viewpoint Magazine’s Issue 3 on Workers’ Inquiry.  It is worth reading in full in order to get an understanding of various attempts at the project that have taken place in the West.  Workers’ inquiry started off as an idea by Karl Marx himself to combine the perspectives and experiences of workers with an anti-capitalist communist program.

This practice of workers’ inquiry, then, implied a certain connection between proletarian knowledge and proletarian politics. Socialists would begin by learning from the working class about its own material conditions. Only then would they be able to articulate strategies, compose theories, and draft programs. Inquiry would therefore be the necessary first step in articulating a historically appropriate socialist project.

The analysis looks at the efforts of three groups: the Johnson-Forest Tendency in the USA in the early ’50s, Socialisme ou Barbarie in France in the ’50s, and Operaismo (workerism) in Italy in the early ’60s.  Here are some of the characteristics and insights of each group:

  • Johnson-Forest Tendency: Split off from Trotskyism; saw workers’ inquiry as a way to engage in agitation and raise class consciousness by rooting political analysis in the day-to-day experiences of people; largely divided society into four groups — workers, blacks, women, and youth; their work veered more into the realm of historical fiction than empirical analysis, as it seems that they weren’t very embedded among common people
  • Socialisme ou Barbarie: Closely linked with the Johnson-Forest Tendency and communicated with them quite a bit; connected with several groups of industrial factory workers over time; advanced the idea of workers’ inquiry to be much more of a fusion between intellectuals and workers researching and analyzing day-to-day proletarian experience (seems similar to the Maoist concept of the mass line); over-determined the importance of male factory workers and didn’t pay much attention to the experiences of race and gender (unlike the Johnson-Forest Tendency); some internal splits over the importance of the workers’ paper and how to balance out intellectual analysis and “raw” and “unfiltered” writings from workers
  • Operaismo: Well-connected with workers in various factories; the role of technology in the workplace was a noteworthy focus of analysis and inquiry; as opposed to the other two groups, which seemed to look at the alienating conditions of the workplace as the key contradiction of capitalism, the Italians used their inquiries to look at the larger systemic tendencies of capitalism, and thus built toward the theory of class composition and the role of working-class struggle in being the driving force of capitalist development and restructuring; like the French, they over-determined the role of male factory workers, but this was strongly pushed back by later work by Italian Marxist feminists of the same currents

These seem to be the main groups that took up the most formal kind of workers’ inquiry.  But if we expand the idea of inquiry to be more general, to refer to any kind of serious on-the-ground investigation and analysis of people’s lives and problems and relationships with capital and state, there are a couple of other examples that come to mind, that are actually more rooted in a strategy that embeds research/investigation with an actual revolutionary organization.

  • Abdullah Ocalan and the other founders of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) spent at least a year traveling through Kurdish areas of south-eastern Turkey to talk to people, survey their grievances, analyze terrain and geography, and map out the presence of the state, prior to their launching of a more open organizing campaign and the armed actions in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
  • Amilcar Cabral, the founder of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), rooted his political organizing in the surveys and inquiries he made of tribes and other communities in Guinea-Bissau during his time as an agricultural researcher, which took him all around the country and allowed him the opportunity to talk to various social and political leaders.  This enabled him to analyze and synthesize the experiences of many different groups, and ground the revolutionary anti-imperialist struggle against the Portuguese Empire with the nuances of local context.

Regardless of whether we’re talking about a formal kind of workers’ inquiry that is used to generate Marxist theory, or the more general kind of research that is used to arm revolutionary organizations with local knowledge and networks, inquiry is definitely something that radical leftists of all stripes need to take seriously.  Too many radical left groups are yelling into the wind, attempting to engage with an amorphous and abstract “public” through vague denunciations of capitalism — instead of trying to meet people where they are at, make a genuine effort to understand how other people are working, living, surviving, and resisting under capitalism, and understand that abstract texts from 50 or 100 years ago aren’t sufficient for crafting a revolutionary strategy today.

Radical left critiques of liberal identity politics

The last few years — and particularly the 2016 election season and its aftermath — were packed with a variety of contentious perspectives on race, and how to best go about fighting racism and white supremacy.  In particular, there has been lots of development around radical left critiques of mainstream liberal identity politics.  Here is an incomplete selection of some essays that I find compelling.

Who Is Oakland: Anti-Oppression Activism, the Politics of Safety, and State Co-option is a lengthy essay from a group of radicals in Occupy Oakland that analyzes and critiques a variety of issues associated with mainstream conceptions of race and identity.  The piece touches on the nature of non-profits, the way elites of color can and do participate in white supremacy (and thus, the inadequacy of making elite institutions “more diverse”), the role of capitalism in producing/reproducing racial stratification, the way liberal analysis tends to essentialize/reduce/boxe-in people to their respective “identities”, the way liberal analysis tends to infantalize and remove agency from people deemed “oppressed”, the way identity politics can be cynically used to erase people of color from allegedly “white” spaces, and more.

Dear #BlackLivesMatter: We Don’t Need Black Leadership by R.L Stephens II of Orchestrated Pulse is a critique of observed tendencies for “identity politicians” to exploit the people and the communities they claim to speak for in order to increase their own individual power, and looks to the historical examples of the ’60s-era Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and mass politics during the Reconstruction era as political models to emulate today.

Fighting racism and the limits of “ally-ship” by Khury Petersen-Smith and Brian Bean in Socialist Worker is a critique of the concept of “allyship”, specifically in the way it over-emphasizes individual inter-personal relations at the expense of mass struggle.  

From charity to solidarity: a critique of ally politics by Cindy Milstein in ROAR Magazine is a critique of the concept of “allyship”, specifically on the way it depends on a narrow and superficial understanding of race, the way it reinforces unhealthy tendencies of guilt and self-righteousness, and how it pushes people away from being autonomous political actors.

The Safety Pin and the Swastika by Shuja Haider of Viewpoint Magazine analyzes the way many parts of liberal identity politics is being appropriated by the far-right as a way to create an unironic form of “white identity politics” that is used to uphold white supremacy and white nationalism, and the need to return to substantive multiracial organizing and grounding anti-racism with anti-capitalism.

White Purity by Asad Haider of Viewpoint Magazine is a critique of privilege theory, arguing that we need to see white supremacy as detrimental to white people as well as non-white people, as argued by old-school communists like W.E.B. du Bois.

A letter from students and workers “of color” in the Takeover of Humanities 2 is a communique from a group of leftists at University of California, Santa Cruz, countering critiques from liberal campus activists about the alleged “whiteness” of an occupation, and raises larger points about multiracial organizing and the tendency of certain kinds of “identity politicians” to side with institutions of power.

Black Panther Party and the Young Patriots Organization, Chicago 1969

The shiny gloss of liberal tolerance, coating a violently racist global system

Nike recently announced a new line of athletic hijabs, making them the first multinational fashion/clothing company to do so.  How progressive!  And yes, they do have their “swoosh” corporate logo on the side.

Liberals will likely laud this move, and conservatives will likely get irritated, but I’d prefer to get away from America’s culture wars and ponder what the supply chain for manufacturing these hijbas will look like.  As of 2014, most of Nike’s clothing was manufactured in China, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Malaysia.  Any guesses as to what conditions might be like for the Muslim women working in the Indonesian, Pakistani, and Malaysian sweatshops that will be making Nike’s hijabs?  I’m a bit surprised that Bangladesh isn’t on that list, but looks like Nike has slowly backed out of the country since the series of garment factory collapses in 2013, most notably the Rana Plaza collapse that killed more than 1,000 workers.

Point being, mainstream culture wars in the West around race, religion, etc. tend to completely ignore the way discrimination functions in global capitalism — especially when the focus of discussion is on the aesthetic nature of commodities, and are driven by the public-relations strategies of powerful multinational corporations.  And it isn’t like people don’t understand the inherently superficial nature of corporate liberalism (after all, “college diversity brochure” is a constant punchline all by itself), but it still feels like this kind of cringey pandering is the dominant trend of anti-racist theory and practice in the US.

The juxtaposition between mainstream corporate liberalism against the racialized and violent nature of global capitalism is captured beautifully in the introduction of this recent essay on race and the 2016 election:

Back in the day, two knucklehead members of my old union local at a Union Carbide plant in New Jersey fashioned KKK hoods out of chemical filtration paper and paraded through the lunchroom on Halloween. The corporate HR executive sent to investigate summarily terminated both workers within hours of arriving at the plant. She loudly proclaimed the company’s “zero tolerance” to racial harassment.

Now this was very interesting considering that her employer was the prime suspect in the unpunished industrial murder of 764 mostly African American workers on the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel in the 1930’s and its current corporate chairman, Warren Anderson, was a fugitive from justice wanted by the Indian government in connection with the 1984 criminal manslaughter of at least 15,000 Indians in Bhopal. Over the next 15 years, the same HR exec who showed Phil and John the door was the point person in the shutdown of all three unionized Union Carbide plants in New Jersey, leaving behind a series of toxic waste sites contaminating communities throughout the state and 2,000 black, white and Hispanic workers, many suffering from uncompensated industrial diseases.

This episode comes to mind while contemplating the detritus of the Republican and Democratic conventions and the growing trope that the rage of the white (male) working class has propelled both the Trump campaign and the critique of the Clinton campaign from the left. The politics of race and gender often obscure much more than they reveal. It is true that individual white workers can be horribly racist and misogynist. But it is also true that the worship of “diversity” often serves as a cover for gross hypocrisy and ruthless class rule.

Obviously, the take-away here should not be that individual acts of racism, bigotry, prejudice, etc. should be tolerated.  On the contrary, these people should (and do) get their ass kicked.  But casting individual prejudice as 100% the source of racism and bigotry, as many mainstream liberal commentators seem to argue, ignores the larger systematic ways in which racialization is an inherent tendency of an unequal and hierarchical capitalist world, and in fact can often be manipulated to justify the power and privilege of the ruling class.  Nike hijabs will do very little to either fight Islamophobia in the US or raise the status of working-class Muslim women globally.  But expropriating and collectivizing Nike’s Asian factories, on the other hand…

Afghanistan and UAE finance capital

A little while back I made a note on the importance of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the ongoing war in Afghanistan.  I took a closer look and found some interesting reports about the cozy economic relationship between Afghan and UAE elites, which gives insight on the financial/economic dimensions of imperial governance.

The 2010 Cablegate leaks of the US State Department communications revealed the way powerful Afghan elites used the UAE as a nexus for money laundering and graft, with hundreds of millions of dollars passing to and fro Emirati banks on a monthly basis.  The Vice-President was in one case observed to have flown into Dubai with $52 million in cash, and the disgraced ex-chairman of Kabul Bank at the center of the 2010 banking crisis, who helped steal nearly $1 billion, holds numerous pieces of lucrative real-estate in the UAE.  The property market in Dubai generally seems to be a favored vehicle for investing ill-gotten gains by warlords, drug traffickers, and corrupt political officials (none of which tend to be mutually exclusive categories).

As this Financial Times article points out, the flow of money is a result of a deep connection between Afghan businessmen and UAE banks.  Many elites fled to Dubai after the Taliban took over in the ’90s, infusing their capital into local conglomerates and business ventures.  Indeed, the famous Palm Jumeirah development apparently took in a large amount of Afghan capital.

Brought to you by Afghan oligarchs! (And South Asian indentured labor)

The current flow of capital out of Afghanistan is even higher than it was prior to the Kabul Bank crisis:

…the Afghan business council estimates about $10bn flows between Dubai and Afghanistan every year. Analysts and Afghans say most of it leaves the country and some of it is derived from corruption and shady business deals. “The closest functioning banking system is here, so a lot of the money coming in could be legitimate but a lot of it is not. It’s drug money, graft money, extortion money,” says Theodore Karasik, a director of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (Inegma).

And it is worth reminding ourselves of the deep connection between the Afghan political economy and US/NATO/UN military presence.  As I noted from Ahmed Rashid’s 2013 book on the Af-Pak region, an overwhelming majority of Afghanistan’s economy — 97% as estimated by the World Bank in 2011 — was linked with foreign military spending.  Individual programs, like the USA’s “Commanders Emergency Response Program” had bigger budgets than the Afghan government itself.  Much of this unaccountable military spending is done in coordination with pro-US Afghan elites, who of course tend to be the same people who have deep connections with the UAE.  In other words, a substantial portion of the billions of dollars spent on Afghanistan has likely been recuperated back into the currents of international finance capital — and little, if any, has reached the Afghan people.