marxism 2011 program notes: racism, economic recovery (not), canada's vietnam, solidarity in the 1930s

This is the last installment of my notes from the 2011 Marxism conference in Toronto. The series starts here.

This post is less complete than the preceding Marxism 2011 posts. They are Allan's notes from the sessions I chaired, and two sessions he attended without me. Apparently Allan is not the note-taker I am!

But I've learned that you never know who is reading or who is Googling, and what they might need. In that spirit, here are four short takes on four more talks from Marxism 2011.

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Racism, Islamophobia and Attacks on Multi-Culturalism
Dr. Jasmin Zine and Ayesha Adhami
May 29, 2011

Dr. Jasmin Zine discussed the rise in Islamophobia since the September 11, 2001 attacks. She asked some open-ended questions: What is a radical? How can we identify a radical? She talked about the common public image of a violent jihadist, how that image is developed, by
whom, and why.

She asked: What are the limits of tolerance, the limits of multi-culturalism? What kind of ideas are tolerated and allowed?

She mentioned a few examples of home-grown terrorism in Canada, such as the Toronto 18. But she was quick to point out that in many of these cases, the people arrested have been impressionable young people goaded and prompted by strong suggestion by government agents and informants. Dr. Zine was very clear: the federal government state is creating a threat to justify ongoing war spending and the further suppression of various groups. This is tied into the further militarism of society.

Academics have been embedded in the security industrial complex,pushing an anti-multi-culturalism line of thinking.

She has also conducted extensive interviews with young adults. They were not radicals but they understood the mindset that could make someone a radical/violent because they have seen imperialism and the destruction that it causes. But the SIC and other do not want to hear anything about that - too nuanced, not black and white, good or bad.

Ms. Adhami discussed Canada's long history of clamping down on alternate points of view, of various immigrant groups, and of ignoring the real grievances of many. The War Measures Act of 1914 suppressed free speech. Union people were deported in the 1930s.

Reasons for denying entry to Canada for various groups: "unsuitable to the climate of Canada" (blacks); "peculiar customs".

Afghanistan: Canada's Vietnam
Derrick O'Keefe
May 28, 2011

O'Keefe stated the obvious: that the "war" (occupation) in Afghanistan is unwinnable, and then discussed how an unwinnable war can be sold to the public.

He also made a point-by-point comparison of the war against Vietnam with the war in Afghanistan. The similarities and parallels are numerous.

He also highlighted the NDP's apparent fascination with Obama. Yet, in many ways, Obama is worse than the Bush/Cheney administration. Obama has adopted almost all of the Bush/Cheney executive statements, and has even expanded them. The US continues to torture innocent people in secret concentration camps throughout the world. And Obama's embrace of these policies has effectively neutered the dissent of the Democrats and people on the left. And in a two-party state, that means it is off the table as a point of contention. It has become the normal way of doing things.

Canadian Economic Recovery: Fact or Fiction?
John Bell
May 29, 2011

Bell talked about the constant mantra before the 2008 federal election that Canada was in an economic recovery, there were new jobs and a measure of stability that other countries, such as the United States, did not have. Canada had taken a small hit, relatively speaking, and been able to bounce back.

It was not really true, of course. Corporate tax cuts were a very important part of the "recovery". They helped fuel the engine of any supposed "recovery".

Bell concentrated on the banks. Supposedly, Canada's banks were rock solid and did not need any sort of bailout. This, too, was a lie. Tthe Canadian banking system received roughly $235 billion in a "bailout by stealth". In late 2008 and early 2009, the responsibility of upholding $125 billion in mortgages was shifted from the banking industry onto the shoulders of Canadian taxpayers. Canadian banks also received a whopping $111 billion from the US (well, from US taxpayers).

Bell noted that people are informed of the soundness of the economy in five-second soundbites. If a corporation has profits, that is the media's template for a strong economy. A company cuts jobs and its stock price and profits increase. Which means, allegedly, that the economy is improving - even as thousands of people are losing their jobs or their homes or both.

It's the economy of the corporations that is being reported on, not the economy of working people.

After the Crash: How Workers Resisted in the 1930s
Jonathon Hodge
May 28, 2011

Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first term as president began in March 1933. He was a fiscal conservative and no friend of labour.

In 1933, there were more strikes than in any year since 1921. In 1934, there were approximately 2,000 strikes across the United States - an average of five or six per day! That led to the formation of several militant political parties, such as the American Workers Party.

The AWP played a huge role in the Toledo Auto-Lite Strike on 1934, which eventually led to the formation of the United Auto Workers union. Two other successful strikes that year - the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike and the West Coast Longshore Strike - were instrumental in the rise of industrial unionism during the decade. They showed what was possibility when there was solidarity among workers.

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