21st Century Socialism on the Move – Reflections on ‘The Path to Human Development’

This review is published on Socialist Voice, here: http://www.socialistvoice.ca/?p=379

Within an otherwise bleak reality of capitalist crisis, Mike Lebowitz has provided us with an eloquent restatement of the case for socialism – The Path to Human Development: Capitalism or Socialism? This short text is now circulating widely in Venezuela, in Spanish, as a pocket-sized pamphlet, has been published in Monthly Review, and is about to be published in Canada in pamphlet format by Socialist Project.

This is not the first text Lebowitz has published on the need to argue, fight for, and build socialism. The Path was written on the foundation of Lebowitz’s 2004 book Build It Now! Both works were written with the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela in mind. This is no accident. Lebowitz, a professor from Canada, has been living in Venezuela for years and has been an active participant in the Bolivarian revolution. The imprint of that revolutionary process is strongly stamped on this short work.

The Path argues that:

  1. Full development of creative human potential is the goal of life for human beings.
  2. This full development is impossible under capitalism.
  3. Socialism – protagonist democracy in the economy and all aspects of social life – is the path to human development.

Path breaking: a return to a socialist offensive

In the minds of many workers and anti-capitalist activists, the positive attributes of the socialist goal are obscured by the monsters of 20th century bureaucratic states. The general points raised by The Path stand as corrections to this legacy of Stalinist horrors. Such states that claimed the mantle of communism have nothing in common with Lebowitz’s “development of human potential.”

The Path states, “Our goal cannot be a society in which some people are able to develop their capacities and others are not: we are interdependent, we are all members of a human family. The full development of all human potential is our goal.” This recalls the manuscripts of the young Marx, where he sketches the blocks capitalism puts up against the free development of the creative, “sensuous” life of people. Lebowitz returns this theme in asking, “What do we all want?” and answers “To be all that we can be.”

From decades of defense and retreat, in which socialism has been defined by excuse or apology for Stalinist crimes, The Path forges, yes, a path. It is a return to the offensive – defining the ideological terrain of 21st Century Socialism.

Internationalism at the heart of The Path.

There are no We workers and Those workers in The Path. “The struggle between capitalists and workers (…) revolves around a struggle over the degree of separation among workers,” Lebowitz points out. “The premise is not at all that we have the individual right to consume things without limit but, rather, that we recognize the centrality of ‘the worker’s own need for development.’ ”

And at the same time, “As a human being in human society, you also have the obligation to other members of this human family to make certain that they also have this opportunity, that they too can develop their potential.” The Path does not draw any national borders around this human question.

For revolutionaries in imperialist countries this must sound loudly. At a time of great capitalist crisis and especially given the organizational and public-political weakness of the left, there is a great danger that the angers of many workers be directed at constructed Others: immigrants, racialized people, and particularly at people racialized as Islamic. The Path proposes “human society,” the “human family” – in other words, internationalism – as the axis of struggle. It demands equal access by all to everything each needs for their personal development.

A direct appeal to workers in imperialist countries

The Path’s rejection of a purely economic measure of standards of living is especially prescient. In the larger context of universal human development, he argues, money is not the point. This does not cancel out the important and constant struggles for improvements in the economic sphere, but reminds us that these struggles are part of a bigger picture. From that point of view, “Whether workers wages are high or low is not the issue any more than whether the rations of slaves are high or low.”

Lebowitz argues that the working class has in common – regardless of wage levels – a spiritual poverty based in alienation from the fruits of their labour. He sees consumerism – even and perhaps especially for workers who make “good money” – as substitution for meaning, within an alienated condition: “We try to fill the vacuum of our lives with the things we are driven to consume.”

So, on top of its internationalist appeal, The Path challenges the “well-paid” worker to reexamine what we really want from life for ourselves and those we love. and whether capitalism will allow these desires. For those revolutionary activists (like me) who vacillate daily on the question of whether the imperialist/colonialist country working class has revolutionary potential, this challenge is encouragement not to lose hope amongst the details.

The vicious circle of capital

Lebowitz points out the difficulty of advancing revolutionary ideas – even within capitalist crisis. But where Jim Stanford, Canadian Union of Auto Workers economist, reaches for a neo-Keynesian outlook out of hesitations with socialism (see www.socialistvoice.ca/?p=3671), Lebowitz maintains that such difficulty is precisely why revolutionary ideas must be sown through practice. “No crisis necessarily leads people to question the system itself. People struggle against specific aspects of capitalism … but unless they understand the nature of the system, they struggle merely for a nicer capitalism, a capitalism with a human face.”

He outlines what he calls the “vicious circle of capitalism” where people without are compelled to sell their labour power to fulfill their material needs of survival. Then, having consumed, they are compelled anew to “produce for capital’s goals.” These “phases are interdependent, you cannot change one without changing them all.”

The virtuous circle of socialism

Against the “vicious circle” of capitalism, Lebowitz advocates what he calls the “virtuous circle” of socialism. Here his points may be less familiar to anti-capitalists and workers skeptical regarding socialism.

Lebowitz’s ideas begin with the concept of human development, are worked out through understanding the inhuman laws of capitalism, defined through working out its opposite, and developed by returning again to his premise of human development. Lebowitz outlines how socialism can and must accommodate all levels of human need – not just the material. The Path sees material security as the precondition for universal spiritual, cultural, creative development.

The Path outlines the “virtuous circle” of socialism: “We begin with producers who live within a society characterized by solidarity” who “enter into an association in order to produce for the needs of society and in this process develop and expand their capacities as rich human beings. Thus the product of their activity is producers who recognize their unity and their need for each other.”

Protagonism, the state, and socialist struggle

Lebowitz paints a vivid and living picture of the formation of a post-capitalist society in utero, through Venezuela’s Bolivarian cooperatives and other base organizations. He poses these revolutionary organizations as the foundations upon which post-capitalist society will be constructed.

He argues for the Venezuelan concept of “protagonism.” By creating mass organizations (in workplaces and in the neighborhoods) people can take control over the direction of their lives and satisfaction of their desires. Protagonism is a path to and, at the same time, the developing definition of a revolutionary democracy which can only be born of practice.

This is an important imaging. It is critical that we conceptualize and live the revolutionary process as a great organism and not as a vanguard atop a complacent mass. The Path asks and answers the question of why we should fight for socialism, but it is important to note some questions it leaves hanging.

Capitalist protagonism

If workers and other oppressed people are not protagonist today – in capitalist society – then who is? Workers’ protagonism (by “workers” I mean all working and oppressed peoples, to include Indigenous people, poor unemployed people, farmers, unofficial workers, etc.) can only be built through overturning protagonism as we know it – capitalist protagonism. The Path does not fully deal with capitalist protagonism, or what Antonio Gramsci called hegemony, but many times Lebowitz points in this direction.

Capitalist protagonism is embodied in the state. Lebowitz points out that “capital creates the state it needs.” While Lebowitz talks about economic regulation and ongoing “primitive accumulation” or capitalist expropriation, it is also possible to extract a broader generalization. The state includes the government and all its national and international institutions. Through these protagonist bodies, the state is joined arm in sleeve with capital.

Whether the mass deregulation and privatization of neo-liberal reforms or mass bailouts of crisis-hobbled banks, auto companies and mortgage firms, the state carries out these demands of capital. And when Chilean President Salvador Allende (to pick an example not so far from Venezuela), threatened the protagonism of capital within the government itself, another branch of the state – the army generals – smashed him and the Chilean socialist movement with terrible violence and murder.

The Venezuelan experience proves that it is possible for class struggle to be carried out within the halls of capitalist protagonism. But it also shows the limits of the possible within a capitalist state apparatus. What we see at play in Venezuela is a constant battle between opposing protagonisms – the capitalist and the workers – in open struggle for power. This struggle must end with workers extending workers’ protaganist democracy to all aspects of life and all fields of production by depriving the capitalist class of the state, what Lebowitz calls “capital’s ultimate weapon.” Lebowitz does not deal with this directly, but he does point out that capital “never stops trying to undermine any gains that workers have made either through their direct economic actions or through political activity.”

As Marx and Engels outlined it in the Communist Manifesto: “The first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.” Anything less than abolishment of the capitalist state leaves the capitalist class a ready weapon for counter-revolution, and leaves working people the prospect of losing at any moment all gains fought for and won.

The Path as weapon against capitalist barbarism

In the introduction to The Path, Mike Lebowitz explains that he intended it as a weapon “in the struggle against barbarism.” But a weapon is only effective if used. The Path is written to be studied in groups, and it deserves such attention – both from seasoned veterans of the socialist and anti-capitalist movements and from people who have never read a Marxist essay or been to a demonstration before. The Path educates and challenges in its reasoned appeals to revolutionary practice.

The publication of The Path can be important for the regeneration of the international socialist movement. Today workers all over the world are afraid and wondering what will become of them and why. The Path not only poses answers to the questions of why, but imagines how life could be different, how a better world is possible and what it might look like. It could not have been published at a more critical time.

The Path to Human Development has been published online by Monthly Review at http://monthlyreview.org/090223lebowitz.php 2and by Socialist Project at http://www.socialistproject.ca/documents/ThePath.pdf


United Europe Represses the Right to Protest Against NATO

also available here: http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/bullet201.html

Ivan DruryNew Anti-Capitalist Party on the march

On April 4th the leaders of the NATO member countries met on the French-German border in Strasbourg France for the 60th anniversary of NATO. At this meeting the US was to propose an escalation of the war in Afghanistan and ask for greater troop commitment from NATO countries.

A major demonstration was organized to oppose this meeting, the occupation of Afghanistan, and to call for the dismantling of NATO. This demo also happened to coincide with the end of my time in Belarus, just days before my flight out of Germany back to Canada, so I was able to attend.

What happened in Strasbourg

French President Sarkozy had ordered every possible measure be used to put down the demonstration. But while he succeeded in stopping the protesters from setting foot in the streets of Strasbourg, the demonstration was all that was to be seen of the NATO summit in the news and the public imagination. In part, this can be seen as a victory of the demonstration: the state had pulled all the stops to suppress the voices of the street opposition to NATO, and the street had refused to be silenced. That the voice of this street appeared in the media stripped of criticism of NATO should not be surprising – it would not have been regardless of the specific behavior of some of the demonstrators.

Before the demo began its course was set. Nearly two thousand protesters, some Black Bloc, some Clowns, some independent activists, some organized socialists, had set up camp to the south of Strasbourg. This camp had been negotiated with the government by the International Coordinating Committee, because the government had refused better accommodations to the protesters. But from the beginning of the camp – on Wednesday night, four days before the demo – the police began to attack it, harassing and provoking the Black Bloc. From Wednesday night on, the police attacked the camp with tear gas, provoking fights with the Black Bloc, sealing the protesters in and harassing them in their temporary ghetto.

In official circles the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) also met with blocks from the state. Up until the night before the demonstration the government would not agree to a march route, a rallying point, or even to the legality of the demonstration. The state was maneuvering with the intention of shutting the demonstrators out of the NATO summit entirely.

The plan, which the ICC had set with the state months in advance, was that a German contingent would meet on the German side of the “Europe Bridge” (the open German-French border bridge symbol of a united Europe) and a French contingent would meet on the French side. The demonstration would begin with the two sides meeting in the centre of the bridge and then marching back to the French side for a rally and continued march. The march organizers wanted the march to lead into the city of Strasbourg from there to oppose the NATO meeting happening there at the European parliament. Protest as usual. But no.

The day before the demonstration the police sealed off the centre of Strasbourg – which is ringed with canals and accessible by foot and car bridges – with armed guards in riot gear, gates, and high fences. The morning of the demo they intensified this blockade and completely cut off the rallying point from anyone staying on the north side of the city, where I was staying. After scouting numerous routes, I settled for a two hour walk around the long periphery of the city to get to the rallying point. But long before reaching the Europe bridge, the sound of tear gas cannons already filled the streets.

I have been going to demonstrations for about fifteen years, and the police repression at this demo shocked me. They were not only attacking Black Bloc participants either. As example, after the police had broken up the organized rally and driven the protesters back onto a train bridge, a group of mostly older peace activists stood with facing the advancing police with their hands over their heads. The Black Bloc was no where around us. Even I was surprised when the cops fired a volley of a dozen tear gas canisters high up directly at this line of people with hands in the air. These people turned and scrambled, slid, ran down the steep bank then through the blackberry bushes and to the street below.

The police were working very hard to provoke the Black Bloc as rationale for attacking the protest as a whole.

Two fires were set: a border office and a government visa building. The police – completely in control of the area around the visa office – waited two hours before calling the fire trucks in, letting the fire take over the building and spread on to burn a pharmacy and a hotel. Of course, the cops, the government, and the media blamed the protesters for the burning of the pharmacy and the hotel in a working class part of town… but no one knows who started this particular fire. When I was asked by a media rep about the police claim that it was protesters, I said that I was very suspicious of such police claims.

The police were clearly herding the crowd. Firing gas from lockdown positions to drive the crowd down a certain street, the easing off and letting the march go in the direction they’d driven it, firing gas again to stop us from moving down side streets, then easing off again. The march seemed completely out of the control of the organizers. My experience was that there were no organizers in sight, only the organization of some of the socialist groups who tried to hold together their contingents and the organization of the Black Bloc which rushed furiously around the periphery of the march in constant battle with the police. Finally the police herded us into their planned dead end: an industrial area with warehouses on each side with walls and fences bordering the street on each side.

A line of police cut us off at the front end, and the cops rolled a pair of freight train cars in to block the street behind us. They were so prepared for this trap that they had readied a train to barricade us into a blocked position in this street. They took position on top of and around this train and, with the crowd completely immobilized, began again to fire tear gas into the crowd from each end apparently with no other intention than to break the heart of the demonstration.

The Left organization(s)

Some difficulties within the French left were laid bare at the anti-NATO demonstration. On one hand, an impressively broad coalition had been pulled together to organize the demonstration. It was composed of a disparate and usually divided collection of organizations, parties, trade unions, and parliamentarians. But on the other hand, this coalition was unable to act as a coalition in a united way. This showed in the indecisiveness and lack of cohesive leadership in the face of state blocks in advance of the demonstration, against severe police repression, and also in the lack of political cohesion in presentation of demands on the face of the demonstration. There was no clear central demand rising out of the chaos of the day, no coalition made signs for independent demonstrators to carry. Some of this could have been remedied by a rally, if a rally had been allowed to happen. But this division hampered the ability of the demonstration to present itself politically (beyond the fact of the demonstration itself) and laid the demo vulnerable to the manipulations of the state in advance and the attacks and repressions of the police in the midst. In the chaos that resulted from this situation, the Black Bloc – although only two thousand amongst some thirty thousand demonstrators – emerged as a deciding force that played a disproportionate role in the character of the demonstration. In terms of their specific goals within the demonstration, they were better organized and more cohesive than the main demo. Also, the state created a chaotic situation which was better suited to the operation of the Black Bloc.

At first I had a hard time understanding why people were tolerating the Black Bloc at all, until I understood that they are a part of the French and German left / social movement, with a long history of a sort of co-existence with the other tendencies of this movement. Some aspects of this co-existence were visible when they would provide medical assistance to people overwhelmed by gas, and when some of them attacked a post office the crowd around them booed, and they stopped. As a World Social Forum organizer explained it to me, the Black Bloc is there, they are made by society too – the question is not whether to work with them, but how.

But more important than the Black Bloc – which is a comparatively static movement – the most interesting and encouraging aspect of the demonstration for me was the role of the NPA.

When the crowd was trapped between lines of police with individuals breaking off with their hands over their heads, most of the left parties and organizations also headed for the hills. It’s not our fight, they said. But in this environment the NPA stood their ground. They dismantled the pallet barricades and formed three front lines of activists with arms interlocked at the head of a retreat. Some of their leaders went on and made the hard – but completely necessary – decision to negotiate a retreat with the police. These leaders were verbally attacked for these negotiations by some in the rally, but if the crowd was allowed to remain trapped any longer the slow disintegration would put people in serious danger – the NPA realized this and made a move that showed real movement leadership. I joined arms in their lines of activists to lead the crowd out from the trap we were in. These street leader activists were uniformly young, spirited, calm, and morally disciplined. Some of these young people I spoke to had been members of the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) before it dissolved into the NPA, and some of them were new members or sympathizers of the NPA.

The NPA acted in the interests of and as part of the social movement, and they bore a great deal of responsibility. From what I saw, they are true to their claims of being a movement based, pluralist anti-capitalist party; distinctly different from the attitudes and behaviors of a sect.

During the retreat through the lines of cops the crowd was attacked again and again, four or five times, with tear gas at close proximity. Each time the NPA would form a tight formation to maintain the grouping of the crowd, wait out the effects of the gas, and then loosen and march on. They waited until everyone was clear of the police lines then we pushed the train cars out of the street by hand and marched on.

After the demonstration

The police repression in Strasbourg continued after the demonstration was over. All trains to Germany were shut down and police blockades of bridges and streets were replaced with police check points for the day after the demonstration. All young people, and particularly Arab and Black appearing youth were stopped, searched, and forced to produce documentation in the streets. People were detained, photographed, and fingerprinted if found with fliers related to the demonstration or NATO. I saw the racist harassment everywhere while I walked the streets all day after the demonstration. Although I happened to be dressed entirely in black clothes I was not stopped even once: I am over thirty years old and am racialized White.

Ten thousand police had been mobilized to put down the demonstration. During the demonstration and its immediate aftermath more than 350 people had been arrested. Over the entire week or so long NATO summit the total arrests are over 600. These people charged are being tried immediately according to a new rapid trial law that applies only to people engaged in public disturbances. On Monday April 6 – just days after the demonstration – ten young people were to go on trial. Without time for preparation the legal defense lawyers did not stand a chance against a judge that cleared the courtroom and declared that he would be treated all charged as examples to be set. One man, who was caught with a rock in his pocket, was sentenced to six months in prison. Another man – with no evidence raised against him other than the word of a single cop who said he’d seen the defendant with the Black Bloc – was sentenced to three months in prison. A young man, who was arrested in a supermarket parking lot with a bottle of gas and a bottle of white spirits he’d just bought, was also sentenced to six months in prison. The “justice” branch of state repression in the courts is hitting just as hard as the gas bombs, flash balls, and concussion grenades used by the police in the streets.

As far as I know, the NPA is the only group to issue a statement condemning the police clearly and without reservation. They were also the only group whose members showed up outside the disgraceful Sarkozy show-trial, along with around a hundred local university student activists who (also along with the NPA) have been involved in the now ten week long France-wide student strike.

On Sunday after the demonstration a pre-planned conference was carried on. The program had been planned as a discussion of the anti-war movement but was completely overtaken with a discussion of the Black Bloc. The three hundred or so participants of the conference were predominately from the peace movements and most issued strong condemnations of the Black Bloc’s actions. More interesting for me was the comments of the representative of the Greek anti-war movement who strongly condemned the state repression and insisted on the right of people to defend ourselves against police attacks. Also, John Rees from the Stop the War Coalition (UK) said the anti-war movement must examine itself and move more resolutely to identify with the anti-imperialist resistance movements in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq. He argued that young people will identify themselves more and more with the radical tactics of the Black Bloc if the anti-war movement cannot embrace radical politics.

All in all, the Strasbourg demonstration must be seen in the light of the aggressive move by the French and German states to repress the right to protest, and not by the media broadcast light of flames. The state repression of this demonstration marks a intensification of their policy of dealing with dissent and movement people must be careful not to overlook this. We cannot be caught up in the clever capitalist media and government manipulations of arguing about the Black Bloc. The right of resistance, long under attack in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, and all over the world, has come under a new offensive in Europe and it is the responsibility of the leftist and solidarity movements to fight this front along with the ones abroad.

In the immediate sense, we should not allow those persecuted by Sarkozy’s policies of ‘law and order’ to be made examples of; we must now fight for our right to protest, our right to defend ourselves. As another speaker at the day-after conference said: to protest against injustice should not have to be an act of courage – it should be a matter of course.

“There are Colonists”

A reply to Avishai Ehrlich’s essay: Stop the War, January 2009[1]

Ivan Drury

This article has also been published on the Campo Anti-Imperialista website, here

“There are neither good nor bad colonists: there are colonists. Some of them reject their objective reality: carried along by the colonial apparatus, they do each day, in deed, what they condemn in their dreams, and each of their acts contribute to maintaining oppression.”

Jean-Paul Sartre, Introduction to Albert Memmi’s “The Colonizer and the Colonized”[2]

In a collection of essays, Colonialism and Neocolonialism[3], published for the first time in English in 2001, Jean-Paul Sartre deals with colonialism as a system of dominance and domination. He argues that, like Marx’s proletariat, colonized people too carry inside of them the secret of the destruction of the system that oppresses them.[4] He argues, “when a people’s only remaining option is in choosing how to die, when they have received from their oppressors only one gift – despair – what have they got to lose? Their misery will become their courage; they will turn the eternal rejection that colonization confronts them with into an absolute rejection of colonization.”[5]

I’d like to compare Sartre’s collection of essays, directed against the French colonialists in Algeria, with a article written in the face of the January 2009 Israeli siege on Gaza by an Israeli colonist in Palestine, Avishai Ehrlich. This article, “Stop the War Now“, was published by Socialist Project (SP), a publication that I maintain friendly association with in Canada. I understand that this article was published because, even if the editors of SP do not wholeheartedly endorse it, they see some merit in it – perhaps because it was written by an Israeli colonist who has been active in the Peace movement in Israel for some decades. In general I agree with this approach, but I find no redeeming merits in this particular article. In my opinion, it stands in the Zionist camp that seeks to contain the Palestinian resistance and broker a “Peace” on terms of maintenance of the Zionist colonial project. It is important to recognize that SP regularly publishes a range of decidedly anti-Zionist articles about Palestine and about Israel – the article by Ehrlich stands out as an exception.

In the first paragraph Ehrlich establishes his political position: The current siege on Gaza is the fault the “cynicism of both leaderships”. He argues “Had the two sides agreed to negotiate (…) the conflagration could have been avoided.”

Ehrlich sidesteps the fundamental argument that underlies the Palestinian national liberation movement – that the “two sides” are fundamentally different in character, interests, and leadership. This is forgotten at our peril: Israel is the aggressor, colonizing power, and the Palestinians are the anti-colonial fighters.

Not only is there a profound imbalance in military force between Palestine and Israel, this military inequity is but a manifestation of a political, economic, social, and state inequality. The “leadership” of Israel is a powerful modern, late capitalist – that is, imperialist – nation state apparatus. It protects and seeks to further the interests of, first and foremost, the capitalist class in Israel.

Secondly, the existence and development of the Israeli state is a Zionist project – therefore also an ideological project. Woven through the class divisions in Israeli society is a necessary cross-class commitment to Zionist colonialism. Where the state opposes the interests of Israeli workers in all aspects where they relate to society as workers, it defends their interests as settlers – against the colonized Palestinians. And while Israeli workers share interests with Palestinians against the Israeli capitalist state, the Israeli settler (who shares a body with the worker but for their divided heart), joins in practice with the Israeli settler state against the Palestinian. Ehrlich demonstrates this division well.

In his essay, Colonialism is a System, Sartre points out “the colonialist is fabricated like the native; he is made by his function and his interests.”[6] Ehrlich, in this introductory paragraph, is setting out to defend settler interests by erasing the historical and actual lived conditions of Palestinians (and Israelis) – setting up a universe that exists totally in the imagination of the settler.

Like it or not, Hamas is part of this system too but on the other side; the native is also created by their functions and interests in necessary opposition to the settler. For revolutionary activists Hamas should have an important distinction beyond “Islamists”. They are the manifestation of the popular will of the Palestinians – indisputably so in Gaza. Theirs is the current organizational form of the Palestinian resistance. And what they lack in strong state administrative forms, they make up for in their grassroots connections to the people; for the Palestinian national movement is not of strict class character like the bourgeois state of Israel.

Ehrlich continues along the same lines by directly blaming Hamas for “sending increasing numbers of rockets into Israeli towns”. How could they not expect such a response, he complains, “especially not after Lebanon in 2006”? From the perspective of a colon, the colonized should have learned their lesson from previous showings of the “terrible face of Israel”and given up their struggle.[7] The colons cry in Tel Aviv – Hamas cannot win! Why are they continuing to fight?! In the face of such insolence, Ehrlich believes, “the Israeli claim that no state would have tolerated [the Qasam attacks] is plausible.”

Then, after a paragraph that both recognizes the terror being unleashed currently by Israel and conflates Israel with the Jews in the holocaust – another point that anti-Zionist Jews have fought against for decades – Ehrlich continues his complaints: about the “racism that singles out Israelis” amongst imperialist aggressors! His concern, while witnessing a mass worldwide movement against Israeli terror, is that this movement demonstrates, not a rise of anti-imperialist consciousness, but a rise of anti-Semitism… Like the Zionist Youth clubs on University campuses in Canada and around the world, Ehrlich equates criticism of Israel – or in this case mass movements against Israeli colonial violence – with anti-Jewish racism. This is an often effective diversion that aims to silence opposition to the Zionist colonial project through intimidation.

Then, suddenly, a more generalized post-class liberalism appears: there is a “disparity between our conceptions of how wars ought to be fought and the way present wards are actually fought.” He continues: “We have yet to come to realize that present day war has returned to barbarism, and we have to think of long-term strategies to reverse this horrible tendency.” Like his later imagining that Israel has come late to the field of war crimes, Ehrlich asks us to imagine here the possibility of Just and Fair wars of conquest. No colonial or imperialist interests appear in his analysis; such vulgarity would crowd his script. He strains on tip toe to see over the destruction of Gaza a history of a humanely administered colonialism and asks for a “long-term strategy” to return to those imagined days of garden paradise.

It all comes clear when Ehrlich begins his criticism of the methods of the resistance movements; “nor can freedom fighters be exonerated when they (…) break all humanitarian rules.” This sentence lies with double meaning: to make clear that against superior state power, and incalculably superior military power, and the unlimited, extra-legal, amoral terrorist methods of the occupier, the freedom fighters must be the ones bound to colour within the lines. Sartre explains Ehrlich’s psychology; “The oppression justifies itself: the oppressors produce and maintain by force the evils which, in their eyes, make the oppressed resemble more and more what they would need to be in order to deserve their fate. The colonist can absolve himself only by systematically pursuing the ‘dehumanization’ of the colonized, that is by identifying a little more each day with the colonial apparatus.”[8] In this statement Ehrlich also embeds a literary device of foreshadowing for his frightening conclusion – to come later.

Ehrlich then turns to the “root causes” of the “current conflagration”. He explains, in my view correctly, that Israel’s reported retreat from Gaza was no such thing. The Israeli “withdrawal” was a tactical maneuver to move the IDF prison guards to stations on the prison walls and out from amongst the colonized prison population. However, buried in this truth, he sneaks in an additional complaint: this maneuver was “not part of the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel”. And this is the reason he can’t understand why Hamas won’t negotiate with Israel, for him two states – a state for the colonizers, and a state for the colonized – is a good negotiated compromise. What appears to him a reasonable compromise is, to the Palestinian national movement, a defeat and a continuation of the same intolerable and suffocating situation they currently face.

Ehrlich is like the French citizens Sartre interviewed who had enough of the war in Algeria: “The end of the war (…) Let’s put an end to it! Let us not hear about it anymore” but who will not accept defeat. Sartre comments, “Overall these responses enlightened me: the contradiction in France today is not between those who are in favor of the war and those in favor of negotiation, between the sworn enemies of the Arabs and whose who seek to understand them. It is in the hearts of individuals who want everything at once.”[9] It is not the oppression of the colonized that sickens them, it’s the knowing of it. This is Ehrlich.

Again he shows his divided heart by cheering Israel for stopping the flow of Qasam rockets into the West Bank “which lies closer to Israel’s economic and population centers.” Then in his next breath, Ehrlich recognizes this as the place where power imbalance shines through bright and unavoidable: “While the Israeli occupation dominates, controls and disrupts every aspect of Palestinian life, the Israeli population demands its government do everything to enable peace-like existence for Israelis.” But despite the implications of this evidence he blames the “deterioration” of the “situation” on the Palestinian elections of 2006, implying the Palestinians were not ready for democracy, that Bush pushed ahead with elections “against Israel’s advice” and the worst happened: Hamas, which “does not recognize Israel’s right to exist” was elected. It is no accident that Ehrlich does not ever raise the problem of Israeli apartheid. This apartheid system – based on the construction of Bantustans, Cantons, Ghettos, Reservations to contain the Indigenous population, imported round about from the “successful” colonial project in Canada – is the heart of the Israeli state project. The question of “Israel’s right to exist” is a straw argument. This argument dodges through diversion the logic of a national movement’s opposition to the colonial project that oppresses it – because it is very difficult to honestly defend colonial apartheid. Yes I am against the existence of Israeli apartheid. And I have a question: when did it become acceptable for revolutionaries or even “Peace” activists to uphold the “rights” of imperialist states?

The rest of the article reads as a cry for the catastrophe suffered by Israeli international public relations by the state’s siege on Gaza and the horrifying (to colonists, who prefer sanitized “Pro-Western” / imperialist regimes) rise of pan-Islamic resistance movements:

“Pro-Western Arab regimes” tried to help Palestinians overcome the split between Fatah and Hamas to no avail. “Radical regimes” stepped in – “Hezbollah supplies arms, Syria hosts leadership (…), Iran foots the bill.”

In the case of war, which Ehrlich already explained was inevitable because of Hamas and their non-recognition of Israel’s rights plus their rockets, Israel had no choice but to “dissect” Gaza with targeted strikes. The tightly packed population of Gaza would prove too costly an adversary for a ground war, he explains. Too many Israeli soldiers could be killed in such a siege. Of course in the dissection of Gaza there have been “unavoidable numbers of civilian casualties (…), mobilizing the world against Israel.” Remember, this is a problem according to Ehrlich because such a mobilization signifies an anti-Semitic outbreak.

As he closes in on conclusion, Ehrlich makes pains to restrict his criticisms of Israel to the January bombing of Gaza alone. In anticipation of Israel’s unilateral ceasefire, he makes clear that any demand from Hamas to end what Kathy Kelly calls Israel’s “economic siege” would be “cynical”. He writes, “Even if one regards the cynical politics of Hamas as equal to the politics of Israel the fact that Hamas behavior is despicable does not justify Israelis becoming war criminals (…)”

In no way is Hamas equal to Israel. On no scale. Israel is a colonizing power that creates the political conditions Hamas and all Palestinians are forced to navigate. Any conditions Palestinians are able to craft are counter-hegemonic and due only to their struggle against colonialism. The “fact” that Palestinians are born into is not the “despicable behavior” of Hamas, but of a powerful state that denies and attempts to erase their existence as a nation and as human beings. Palestinians exist in the barrel of the fact of 61 years of Israeli war crimes in the name of conquering “a land without a people for a people without a land.” And an pause in Israel’s bombing campaign will not end the human travesty imposed on Gaza through Israel’s blockade of medicine, food and all other vital supplies into the Strip.

Between blows Ehrlich lets go an important concession; “Hamas was elected democratically – whether Israelis like it or not.” He also admits that their election “reflected the radicalization among Palestinians after us quelling brutally the second Intifada.” Okay, so he also (again) conflates the State of Israel with all Israelis, but at least he’s clear that it’s his setter heart talking.

But then he finishes with a warning – and the conclusion of the literary foreshadowing I mentioned earlier: “the more they are beaten, the greater their despaired [sic.] and the more radical they become. What will happen after this campaign? What horrible new generation will grow out of the debris of Gaza?”

Sartre anticipated this too: When “the traditional social structures have been pulverized, the natives ‘atomized’ and colonial society cannot assimilate them without destroying itself; they will therefore have to rediscover their unity against it. These people excluded from the system will proclaim their exclusion in the name of national identity: it is colonialism that creates the patriotism of the colonized.”[10] The “horrible new generation” will be the awakening of the secret that colonized people carry within them against colonialism – just as the proletariat carries their secret for the negation of capitalism. The Palestinians are not the ones to blame if the polite left does not like the ideology that arms their struggle – they are making do with what is available.

Ehrlich concludes: “they [Hamas] cannot win, and Israel [We] cannot win either. And we gradually loose [sic.] the morality of our existence”. But there is another way, the passage that Ehrlich has done all he can to detour: to fight against Israeli apartheid for a single state in Palestine that includes all residents as democratic rights bearing citizens.

To move in this direction, which is the majority direction of the world Palestine solidarity movement, its participants cannot afford to be caught up in Ehrlich’s arguments. His is a marriage of workers interests to the interests of Zionist colonialism on a bed of racism, Islamophobia and Eurocentrism. Sunk into this bed it is possible to complain, and it is possible to sleep, but it is impossible to act. I am afraid of what “horrible new generation” this wedding will bring to pass – and not only what it could mean for Palestine, but for colonists and colonized people in Canada and everywhere in the world.

[1] Ehrlich, Avishai, Stop the War, published as the “Socialist Project Bullet #178”, January 13, 2009.

All quotations and references to Ehrlich are taken from this article. It can be found – along with valuable anti-Zionist, anti-Colonial articles about Israel’s siege on Gaza – at http://socialistproject.ca

[2] Thanks are due to Glen Coulthard for pointing me in the direction of Sartre’s anti-colonial writing with his own work applying the anti-colonial theory of Sartre and Fanon to the struggles of Indigenous people against Canadian colonialism

[3] Sartre, Jean-Paul, Colonialism and Neocolonialism, 2006, Routledge Classics

[4] Sartre, Jean-Paul, from the Introduction to Albert Memmi’s “The Colonizer and the Colonized”, pg 62

[5] Ibid.

[6] Sartre, Jean-Paul, Colonialism is a System, from “Colonialism and Neocolonialism”, pg 51

[7] Sartre, Jean-Paul, We are all Murderers, from “Colonialism and Neocolonialism”, pg 74 “It must be repeated every day to the imbeciles who wish to terrify the world by showing it the ‘terrible face of France’: France terrifies nobody, she does not even have the means to intimidate anymore; she is beginning to disgust, that is all.”

[8] Sartre, Jean-Paul, Introduction to Albert Memmi. pg 60

[9] Sartre, Jean-Paul, The Frogs who demanded a King, from “Colonialism and Neocolonialism”, pg 122-123

[10] Sartre, Jean-Paul, Introduction to Memmi, pg 61

Links to “Race & Policing” (and a disclaimer)

A different (shorter) version of the article on the police killing of Frank Paul was published on Socialist Voice and in the Socialist Project Bullet: http://socialistproject.ca/bullet/bullet106.html under the title: “Race and Policing: Inquiry into Police Killing of Frank Paul Shows the Power of Protest”

I’m currently working in the Yukon and have limited access to the internet. Please forgive any delays in posts and / or correspondence. The delay in posting the links to the other version of the Frank Paul article is a good (though regrettable) example…


The Police Killing of Frank Paul: Limitations of Public Inquiry & the Power of Protest

By Ivan Drury

No case has illuminated the blind alley of the police “public inquiry” more clearly than that of the 1998 police killing of Frank Paul in Vancouver. The Frank Paul inquiry, restricted from the beginning from finding fault or laying charges, has the potential of becoming a crossroads from which the entire corrupt policing and “justice” system can begin to be challenged by the communities they have brutalized for hundreds of years.

This potential was clear to the BC government from the start. Solicitor-General Rich Coleman made that plain in 2001 when he sent a letter to Police Complaint Commissioner Don Morrison explaining that he would not open a coroner’s inquest into Frank Paul’s death where “culpability, liability and issues of racial discrimination are likely to become the central features. (…) [A] responsible coroner would not permit the pursuit of those matters. Public acrimony would almost certainly follow.”

Police brutality – a fact of life in Canada

Between 1992 and 2007, 52 people died at the hands of members of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD). Not a single one of these deaths resulted in charges being laid against a single officer.[1] Vancouverites have gotten so accustomed to police brutality that we take its existence for granted. When it is reported, most of us take the side of the victim against the police. Most people in Vancouver do not trust the police to deal fairly with oppressed people.

For evidence of widespread disillusionment with the Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP, we need only look at the public response to the death of the would-be Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at the hands and tasers of the RCMP at the Vancouver airport in October 2007. Anticipating inevitable outcry, news coverage by even the most corporate of media organs snapped up and played and replayed civilian video of Dziekanski’s death.[2] The groundswell of opposition that followed exposed a deep rooted and convinced distrust of the police reaching far beyond the “usual suspects” of the protest world. A demonstration in Vancouver, initiated by people who were not known activists, was pulled together spontaneously through Facebook and drew over a thousand people.[3]

Perception of public inquiry as solution

The demands of the “Rally for Robert” were limited to banning tasers, the specific weapon used by the police in Robert’s death, and for a public inquiry into what happened at the airport.

In Canada the call for a public inquiry means an investigation of the police by the police themselves. The Frank Paul case lays bare the fraudulent character of such inquiries.

The killing of Frank Paul

Frank Paul’s death is more typical of police brutality cases in Vancouver than Robert Dziekanski’s. It’s instructive to note the difference in media coverage of the police killing of a European immigrant versus that of a homeless Indigenous man.

On December 5, 1998, Frank Paul, a 47-year-old Mik’maq man, was dragged, soaking wet and unconscious, from the downtown holding cells in Vancouver and dumped in an alley across town. He was drunk and, according to the testimony of the police constable who dropped him in the alley, could not stand or speak clearly. His body was found at 2:30am in the same alley by a passerby.

According to the pathologist report, Paul had died of hypothermia accelerated by acute alcohol poisoning that he had likely already been suffering as he was examined by the jail sergeant who decided Frank Paul was not drunk. He was likely already dying of hypothermia when Sergeant Russel Sanderson ordered the rookie wagon driver Constable David Instant to drag Frank Paul out of the jail house by his feet and dump him back into the night.[4]

Sergeant Sanderson testified, nearly ten years later that “anybody, a normal, for lack of better word here, citizen, Joe Q. Public that was not known as a seasoned alcoholic, if they had arrived that way, they would probably have been medically assessed (…) anybody in a suit would have been assessed (…) anybody neatly dressed would be assessed.”[5]

A case study of the investigation of police by police

If Frank Paul’s death is sad and tragic, the investigation process that followed is frightening and infuriating.

The death of Frank Paul was investigated by Detective Robert Douglas Staunton, one single officer. Staunton pursued his investigation “in a way I thought would be neutral.” At the inquiry Staunton testified that “neutrality” meant he worked to not find fault, and instead worked to obscure evidence of the criminal actions of the police that led to the death of Frank Paul.
In contravention of police regulations Staunton did not remove Const. David Instant, the suspect in Frank Paul’s death, from the crime scene. He did not interview Instant, or his commanding officer Sergeant Sanderson; relying instead on their contradictory duty reports and prepared statements that were, in Staunton’s understated words, “a little incomplete.”[6] He did not search for witnesses in the area Paul was found nor did he release a plea for witnesses to come forward. He did not perform any of the routines normal for a homicide investigation.

Why this “neutral” stance in cop killings? Staunton explained that unless, before the investigation started, it was already known that the suspected police-criminals “were absolutely guilty of a criminal offense, it basically served no purpose” because if investigators took steps towards prosecution “we would receive no information.” He explained, “that is a practice that the Major Crime investigators followed” in all 52 or so cases of deaths at the hands of the police in the previous 15 years. “We didn’t make judgments. We would just gather as many and all the facts that were available.”[7]

Det. Staunton’s astonishing admission that police officers would refuse to cooperate with a prosecution investigation of the police is rooted in history: When the Office of the Police Complaints Commission ordered an investigation into fifty complaints of police brutality issued by the Pivot legal society in 2002, the investigation came up empty because, according to Pivot in 2005, “at least 45 Vancouver Police officers refused to cooperate with the RCMP investigation, including the Chief.”[8]

Staunton’s “neutral” investigation in fact effectively paralyzed any process of accountability for the death of Frank Paul. Former Vancouver Coroner and former Mayor Larry Campbell explained that as coroner he would always take the word of the investigating officer over that of crown prosecution on the viability of charges, “I take the evidence of the person who was first – who was at the scene.”[9] He did not account for police “neutrality” in the investigation of other police. The Police Complaints Commissioner at the time of the Frank Paul killing, Don Morrison defended the same “neutrality” when he opposed calls for a public inquiry in 2001 saying, “What do you want me to do, wreck a young officer’s career?”[10]

The result of the VPD internal investigation was a slap on the wrist for each officer directly involved: a one-day suspension for Instant, and two days for Sanderson.

Complaints process uncovered

In the final days of the public inquiry, Mike Tammen of the BC Civil Liberties Association accused the Vancouver Police Department of cover-up. In fact, the cover-up was not solely the work of the police. From the investigation, to the Office of the Police Complaints Commission, to the Coroner, to the BC Liberal government, all channels remained closed against any investigation or inquiry into the killing of Frank Paul. A conspiracy of silence around Frank Paul’s death continued, virtually without exception, until early 2008. It included the NDP, who did not speak a word about Frank Paul until halfway through the inquiry.

The Frank Paul cover-up is only too typical of standard police procedure. In a document called “Towards More Effective Police Oversight” the Pivot Legal Society explains how complaints against police in BC are processed.[11] The complaints process is compromised from start to finish, the Pivot document shows, by the watchful eye of the police as well as by the government and ruling elite that the police protect.

The report cites John Westwood of the BC Civil Liberties Association, “I have never met an internal investigator who is biased in favour of a civilian complainant, though I have met a few who apparently view their job as assuaging the complainant while taking the officer’s statement at face value. Nor have I assisted in a complaint where the police witnesses support the complainant’s account of events in opposition to the accused officer’s account.”

The Pivot Society calls this the “blue code between officers which undermines the public interest in police accountability”[12]

Role of police in society

The “blue code” serves the underlying role of police in society as protectors of the status quo of capitalist property and property relations. The heavy arm of policing is exercised against capitalism’s victims – especially the poor, the sick, and racialized minorities. The young constable Instant, who dumped Frank Paul to die in an alley, described the process of a rookie cop adjusting to the demands of the job as “trying to work your way through a number of situations where what you think is normal and what you believe to be how things should be in fact aren’t. It’s not normal where I grew up that people sleep on the street in the middle of December, but the reality was we did have people sleep on the street in the middle of December.” He said that he learned from “experienced” officers that it was his job to contain and control people with “significant problems” like Frank Paul.

It is quite true that neither Constable Instant nor his colleagues create the conditions that killed Frank Paul. The set-up was carried out by the provincial and federal governments, in collaboration with the downtown eastside real estate barons who sit on block after block of empty buildings as speculation schemes, and with the big capitalists who juggle market relations to maintain a reserve army of labour in the person of people like Frank Paul.

A quick study of the effects of the neo-liberal reforms carried out by the BC Liberal government since 2002, or by the Harris and McGuinty governments in Ontario reveals the agenda of the government towards poor, oppressed and working people. These forces call in the police as shock troops to put down dissent. Hundreds of years of colonial genocide and repression have hammered people like Frank Paul in order to steal and plunder the land of the Mik’maq and other Indigenous nations.

David Dennis, the Vice-President of United Native Nations, an organization that represents off-reserve Indigenous peoples, said that Sanderson and Instant “weren’t represented by their police union; they were just let out to dry. It’s the brass that’s protecting the culture of the Blue Shield. It’s convenient for them every now and then to dole out a small head for us to cut off.” He explained how this scapegoating conceals “a structurally racist institution that reacts indifferent to the deaths of aboriginal people, period. No matter how many small heads you cut off, that won’t change that culture.”[13]

Dennis sees this culture, which reaches beyond the members of the police department, as being responsible for the day-to-day oppression and racism that many native youth experience. “There’s a direct relationship between the way the police are treating these young people and the way that these young people end up getting dead.”[14]

How the inquiry was won

Against all of these systemic barriers, a demand for a public inquiry came out of part of the Indigenous community in Vancouver; and an inquiry was won. A major factor in making Frank Paul’s death an issue big enough to force an inquiry was the work of Kat Norris and the Indigenous Action Movement (IAM). In an interview conducted in the last days of the public inquiry, Kat Norris explained how the government’s refusal to prosecute the cops who killed Frank Paul led to her organizing rallies that became a regular scene in front of the Vancouver jail. “What happened to him should not happen to anyone. The gall of racism just hit me. I just couldn’t let it go by without doing something.”[15]

The United Native Nations (UNN) was the first organization to lay a public complaint about the death of Frank Paul in 2002.[16] The UNN remained involved in Frank Paul’s case throughout the public inquiry. David Dennis said that UNN was interested in Frank Paul’s case because, he said, it confirmed “our fears about the polices role, the cover-up that occurred and the kind of the complicity of the provincial government to keep this death at the hands of the police suppressed for so long. We’ve always maintained the position that the reason the police aren’t solving the problem of the missing and murdered women is because they’re too busy arresting our young men and killing them.”[17]

It wasn’t until February 2007 that the government allowed the public inquiry to go ahead.

Limitations of the Frank Paul inquiry

The very fact that the death of Frank Paul, which had been covered-up, lied about, and silenced for nearly ten years, made it to public inquiry is a testament to the strength and potential power of social movements. However, the Frank Paul inquiry can only be considered a partial victory for the movement that fought and organized for it.

Kat Norris points out that although Const. Instant “is being used as a scapegoat to take the blame (…) he was following someone’s orders.” And David Dennis explains, “There are limitations to the inquiry, and we’ve been really vocal about how it’s not designed to assign fault. But it can assign responsibility to people and with that we can take it further.”

The final stage of the Frank Paul inquiry, April 28 to May 16, focuses on government and police policy hearings. While the inquiry commission cannot place binding recommendations on the government or police, it has and will present a platform where demands can be put forward. UNN present their demands in the courtroom of the inquiry on May 1st, and IAM will be making their demands heard in the streets with a march from the Vancouver Detox to Main and Hastings on May 8th.[18]

For both of them, the inquiry has opened a window to bring pressure against higher places in the police administration and government. David Dennis said, “In short what I’m saying is that we need someone like Police Chief Graham or Solicitor General Coleman to go down. These are the ones who knew about [the murder of Frank Paul] and didn’t do anything about it.”[19]

Development of movement demands

In the gap between the accountability process that an inquiry is supposed to be and the token fact-finding and scapegoating that it has actually been is the space where change is possible. It is in this space that the same groups that had organized and fought for the inquiry are demanding further action.

Kat Norris wants “to bring the police to justice. Someone has to answer for what happened to him. Someone needs to be held accountable. I want for this to never happen to one of my people again.” For her, the inquiry itself has been “a sign of how much power the police and the justice system has over its own… they take care of their own. The police and the higher-ups are great friends. I’ve always said that just by instinct. But you can see it. It all goes back to land ownership and the corporations.”

David Dennis and the UNN are working out a more ambitious program of reform, beginning with “tangible things that can be changed” like challenging the provincial contract for the RCMP that comes up for renewal in 2012. One of UNN’s specific demands is for civilian investigations. Davis Dennis explains that civilian investigation is “a distinction from oversight; every time someone dies in custody, this group of civilians are enacted.”

But Dennis recognizes the potential problem of corruption in this civilian investigation body. Volunteers for a similar group in Ontario are mostly former cops. The other danger is that people who join also quickly join the mentality of the “Blue Shield.” To protect against these trends, UNN is demanding that membership in such a body be based on recommendations from Indigenous leadership and other affected community groups. “People who are there are our eyes,” he says. “It’s kind of one step up.” In other words, he hopes to connect these civilian investigation units with the grassroots movement and mass organizations that will fight to keep the units in line.

Reform and the need to survive

Both David Dennis and Kat Norris share a priority of the survival of Indigenous communities and people against police repression. Police racism, harassment, brutality, and even murder is a grim reality for Indigenous peoples, particularly those who live off-reserve in urban centres.

In an article published by the United Nations Chronicle in 2007, Melissa Gorelick quantifies the hostile relationship between the Canadian “justice” system and Indigenous peoples; “According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, aboriginals make up about 19 percent of federal prisoners, while their number among the general population is only about 3 percent [see note 20]. Between 1997 and 2000, they were ten times more likely to be accused of homicide than non-aboriginal people. The rate of natives in Canadian prisons climbed 22 percent between 1996 and 2004, while the general prison population dropped 12 percent.”[21]

Kat Norris points out that Frank Paul “represents the discrimination, racism, murder, sexual abuse, residential schools, colonization that our people have suffered. He represents our people.” And she draws a connection between police harassment and colonization. “We’re suffering simply because the imperial powers desired our land. Once they realized the bountiful harvest they could gain financially, the greed started. They began the harvest of our children so they could harvest our land.”[22]

In the face of this brutal oppression, oppressed peoples respond with strategies for survival. Their day to day struggle against police violence is an immediate component of the movement to get rid of police and prison institutions along with the entire capitalist structure they serve.

The front lines of struggle

The Indigenous community has taken on the struggle against police repression more consistently and effectively than any other community in Canada. The work of United Native Nations, the Indigenous Action Movement, the Downtown Eastside Womens’ Centre Elders Council, Knowledgeable Aboriginal Youth Association, and others in Vancouver points the way. They must not be left to struggle alone. They need broad and effective support.

Racialized people all across Canada are familiar with the club and gun of the police departments – whether you are Latino or South Asian in Vancouver, Black in Toronto, or Arab in Montreal. The same is true of the multi-racial communities of the hand-to-mouth poor, homeless, drug users, and mental health consumers in neighbourhoods like the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. We should work to forge unified action groups between these diverse communities and cultures and their supporters.

White workers have a strong stake in supporting these struggles. First, racist treatment must be opposed because it divides working people and violates the human dignity of us all. Secondly, police are also the enemies of the labour and activist movements as they struggle for progressive change. Unionists who have found their strikes and actions attacked by police defending the bosses’ interests understand this well, as do activists who have been beaten up and arrested by police because of their actions for social justice.

The movement for a public inquiry into the police killing of Frank Paul holds an important lesson. Without a grassroots struggle in the streets, the demands of the movement – survival-based or otherwise – would not have carried weight. In fact, the street movement is where the demands are rooted, and where survival-based demands for reform can move forward.

The movement that Kat Norris has helped initiate has a potential to advance both the survival struggle and the broader movement against police violence, provided it is backed by the mounting pressure that only a street movement can advance. The breadth and strength of the grassroots movement against police brutality will decide how powerful and far reaching these demands can become.



1. Frank Paul inquiry, Feb 14 2008, testimony of Staunton (pg. 130)

2. There are numerous samples of this coverage

3. http://justice4robertd.blogspot.com/ | http://www.robertdziekanski.org/

4. Frank Paul inquiry, Jan 7 2007, testimony of Sanderson

5. Frank Paul inquiry, Jan 7 2007, testimony of Sanderson

6. Frank Paul inquiry, Feb 14 2008, testimony of Staunton

7. Frank Paul inquiry, Feb 14 2008, testimony of Staunton

8. Pivot Legal Society press release, Nov 3 2005

9. Frank Paul inquiry, Jan 25 2008, testimony of Larry Campbell


11.“Towards More Effective Police Oversight”, Pivot Legal Society, September 2004 http://pivotlegal.org/pdfs/Effective_Police_Oversight-Sept2004.pdf

“According to the Police Act, a complainant must make a complaint in writing on the appropriate form (Form 1) and include the complainant’s name and address. A complaint must be submitted either to the Police Complaint Commission, the Discipline Authority (either the Police Chief or the municipal Police Board) or a senior constable of the police department on duty when the complaint is made. Once a complaint is properly submitted and categorized, the receiver of the complaint can: dismiss the complaint if it finds it “frivolous or vexatious”; recommend informal resolution; or order an investigation.

“Under the current Police Act, investigations into police misconduct are generally conducted internally. That is, if a complaint is made against a Vancouver Police Department officer, that complaint will be investigated by the Internal Investigations Department of the VPD. Depending on the findings and recommendations of the internal investigators, the Discipline Authority, often the Chief Constable, has the power to take corrective action through disciplinary proceedings.

“The Police Complaints Commission is responsible for reviewing the decisions reached by the Discipline Authority after an internal investigation has been completed.” (pg.4)

12.“Six Recommendations for Policing Reform”, Pivot Legal Society, Fall 2005 (Pg. 1) http://pivotlegal.org/pdfs/Pivot–six_recommendations_for_policing_reform.pdf

13.“Interview with David Dennis”, Ivan Drury, March 26 2008

14.“Interview with David Dennis”, Ivan Drury, March 26, 2008

15.“Interview with Kat Norris”, Ivan Drury, March 27 2008

16.“Interview with David Dennis”, Ivan Drury, March 26, 2008

17.“Interview with David Dennis”, Ivan Drury, March 26, 2008

18.March and Rally organized by Indigenous Action Movement, May 8th, 5pm at Vancouver Detox (377 E. 2nd Ave, Vancouver) http://indigenousaction.blogspot.com/

19.“Interview with David Dennis”, Ivan Drury, March 26, 2008

20.Statistics on numbers of Indigenous people in Canada vary greatly depending on the source used. 3% is a common (though dated) government number, based on “Status Indians” and those voluntarily identified by census. Other sources place Indigenous peoples at between 5% and 10% of the population in Canada. Many Indigenous nations regularly refuse to participate in the Canada census, and an unknown number of individuals do the same.

21.“Discrimination of aboriginals on native lands in Canada: a comprehensive crisis”, UN Chronicle, Sept, 2007, Melissa Gorelick http://www.un.org/Pubs/chronicle/2007/issue3/0307p50.html

22.“Interview with Kat Norris”, Ivan Drury, March 27 2008


For more information on the police killing of Frank Paul and policing in Vancouver see:

• The website for the commission of the Frank Paul Inquiry contains updates on the inquiry and a complete .pdf collection of transcripts from the inquiry:

• Indigenous Action Movement http://indigenousaction.blogspot.com/

• Pivot Legal Society http://pivotlegal.org/

• United Native Nations http://www.unns.bc.ca/

National Post Pro-War / Anti-MAWO article

The National Post has weighed in on the “honest anti-war position” and, big surprise, it’s pro-occupation… and covers it’s anti-anti-war movement attack with an easy anti-MAWO smear.

Last Wednesday Lauren Oates, who’s quoted in the article below, squared off against StopWar.ca’s Derrick O’Keefe in a debate at the Vancouver Public Library about the occupation of Afghanistan. In the opinion of this audience member, Derrick destroyed her arguments easily. She, along with Terry Glavin and others who find themselves in bed with the National Post, rest their cases on a combination of mythology about the benevolent nature of “Canadian peacekeeping” and outright lies about the occupation of Afghanistan. Lauren Oates explained that the armed forces of NATO countries are the only forces preventing war in Afghanistan. That is, she insists that war is not war, occupation is not occupation and warlords are not warlords.

In the audience at last week’s forum I sat behind Ian King, 24Hours newspaper columnist and member of Lauren Oates’ and Terry Glavin’s “Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee” (CASC) that is also cited below. When Oates’ double talk was challenged by Derrick, Ian King showed the best and the brightest of his sides manners by lurching forward in his seat and giving Derrick the finger with both hands. At one point he just couldn’t contain himself any more and interrupted the discussion by yelling out at Derrick over the moderator.

Mimicking King’s double-finger salute, the National Post is attempting to smear the anti-war movement by case-studying MAWO. It’s shameful and dishonest of the Nat’l Post (big surprise, I know) to drag out the MAWO card as a smear tactic. The ease with which this can be done is another negative mark on Ali Yerevani’s contributions to the left. On the positive side, however, this kind of dishonest smear is also a sign that anti-war consciousness about the occupation of Afghanistan is continuing to grow amongst people in Canada.

The sense I got at the forum was that Lauren Oates, Terry Glavin, Ian King, Stan Persky (?!) and others who mouth this “benevolent” imperialism line are putting forward the ideas that are most important to argue against in the debate about Afghanistan. Seeing this article doubles this suspicion for me. I think CASC is an outgrowth of the government and media constructed popular misunderstanding about what “Canada” Is on the World Stage, combined with some (equally constructed) lingering fantasies about the White Man’s Burden.

It amazed me that Lauren Oates had the gall to suggest that the occupation of Afghanistan can only be ended if the “root causes” of Afghanistan’s “real problems” are addressed. I agreed with her about what the real problems are: outside interference, poverty, lack of social infrastructure. But she never said what the “root causes” are. I think the anti-war movement has a far better chance of explaining than her.

=== === === === ===

The honest anti-war position: Support
New B.C. group aims to laud, not decry, Afghan mission
VANCOUVER -The rabble will gather again today, outside this city’s main public art gallery on a large, downtown square, near clothing shops and record stores. A good spot for an anti-war protest.

As they always do, leaders of the group Mobilization Against War and Occupation will distribute propaganda-filled leaflets. MAWO’s message: Canadian soldiers deployed in Afghanistan are criminals, “battling a popular resistance movement of regular Afghan people.”

The recent decision in Parliament to extend Canada’s mission in Afghanistan “means two more years of plunder, two more years of destruction … we must demand an end to this cruel war drive,” reads MAWO’s latest pamphlet.

A poorly formed view, but not uncommon. Similar sentiments are expressed throughout the country. But a new countermovement has formed, one that lauds the Canadian Forces and its efforts in Afghanistan. (…)

Support for John Graham continues

On Wednesday March 26th I went to a discussion forum organized by the Vancouver John Graham Defense Committee. In the room was a tension uncommon to most political meetings. There amongst the seventy people who filled every seat, with some sitting on the floor, were many who knew John. Some had grown to know him while helping in various aspects of the support work done by the Defense Committee throughout the years that he had been in Vancouver under house arrest. They sat in the forum unsettled, as though uncomfortable that they were there while John sits in prison. Others, like Mr. Graham’s daughter Naneek Graham, had known him their whole lives and, on top of anger and un-resolvable frustration, they projected shock at having a loved one taken from them by the courts of Canada and the US.

Some people evoke the word ‘complicated’ against the case of John Graham in order to avoid taking a stance, or even to excuse his extradition. This seeming ‘complication’ even reared its head at the forum, in the person of a woman who slipped into the room three-quarters of the way through and interrupted the event screaming “John Graham killed a woman!” I am familiar with this sort of Complication, having formerly been a member of a group, Fire This Time (FTT), that drew the same conclusions as the woman who interrupted this event. However, as the speakers at the forum outlined, the Complication insisted by groups like FTT is more of a subjective confusion developed under the machinations of the courts and media than an objective complication of the case of John Graham’s extradition. Rex Weyler, a seasoned journalist and one of the panelists at the event, explained, “As a journalist I am trained to look at facts to understand what is going on in any case. The facts in the case of John Graham speak for themselves.”

John Graham was an activist with the American Indian Movement (AIM) in the 1970’s. He was active on the Pine Ridge Reservation on Lakota Sioux territory at a high point of struggle that was marked by a heavy handed campaign of violent and secret agent style terrorist disruption carried out by the FBI under the auspices of their counterintelligence COINTELPRO program, the US Fifth Army, SWAT teams, and the vigilante GOON squads of the corrupt Tribal Council. According to Jennifer Wade, the founder of the Vancouver branch of Amnesty International, “In the 1970’s, Pine Ridge was a war zone. People were being killed left and right.”

In this climate of intense government suppression, the body of AIM organizer Anna Mae Aquash was discovered in the hills. FBI Agent David Price, who had told Anna Mae just six months before her death “if you don’t cooperate with us you won’t live out the year,” reported that he could not identify her body. She was classified a Jane Doe, her death was ruled “by exposure”, her hands were cut off for identification, and she was buried, unannounced, “in a paupers grave” as Jennifer Wade explained.

It was only because her family demanded her body be exhumed that her identity was discovered. It was only because her family demanded her body be exhumed that the .38 bullet hole in the back of her head was discovered, and her death reclassified as murder. The FBI had covered up the murder of this leader of Indigenous struggle.

“Time passed,” Rex Weyler explained, “and the FBI traveled all the way to the Yukon to track down John Graham.”

Jennifer Wade said, “John wisely refused to meet with with FBI behind closed doors,” but he did agree to talk to them in the park where they confronted him. They offered him a deal, “you give up the leadership of AIM and we’ll offer you immunity.” Wade continued, “I love John’s response, ‘Immunity from what?’” The FBI said “maybe it’ll turn out” that he had killed Anna Mae.

Panelists Billy Pierre and Lynn Highway explained that the FBI’s COINTELPRO program was one part systemic violence, and one part arbitrary terrorism to suppress the actions of communities by making examples of individuals. They said that this strategy is being carried out still today. “The case of John Graham is an example of policing at its best and most efficient,” Highway said.

Mike Gifford talked about John Graham’s continued commitment to Indigenous power and struggle through the years that passed between the struggles at Pine Ridge and his arrest for the alleged murder of Anna Mae in 2003. He said that John Graham had gotten involved in anti-Uranium mining actions in the 1980’s in northern Saskatchewan. In 1980 he organized a “Caravan for Survival” that traveled from Regina to La Ronge, the uranium mining hub in northern Saskatchewan. Then, in as part of the same campaign against the development of the mine that went on to become the largest uranium mine in the world, he was part of establishing the “Anna Mae Aquash Survival Camp” on the road to the proposed mine site.

Throughout this time, Jennifer Wade said, John Graham had remained worried about the FBI framing him for the murder of Anna Mae because of the threat they’d made against him for not cooperating with the US government smear campaign on AIM.

According to the extradition treaty between Canada and the US, it is not necessary for the US to provide evidence in order for Canada to extradite anyone requested by the US. Because of this far reaching treaty, the US did not have to supply any evidence of the charges they leveled at Graham. In the legal disclosure documents that have been released, the US government case rests on the testimony of Arlo Looking Cloud. Jennifer Wade called Looking Cloud the “Myrtle Poor Bear of the John Graham extradition.” Poor Bear had been the primary prosecution witness of Leonard Peltier’s trial around the deaths of the two FBI agents in 1975. Her testimony was held up as the justification of Peltier’s extradition from Canada. She later recanted her statements, saying that the FBI had manipulated and intimidated her into making a statement against Peltier, who she had never met and did not know. Like Poor Bear, Arlo Looking Cloud is a vulnerable oppressed man who, Weyler explained, “has many challenges,” and who the FBI plied with drugs and liquor. He has already recanted his statement and said that he will never take the stand against Graham.

John Graham was arrested in Canada based on the extradition request of the US government, and finally was extradited on December 6th 2007. John Graham’s eldest daughter Naneek Graham, spoke at the forum about the last moments her father spent in Canada. “On December 6th Dad was waiting for his turn to use the phone in the holding cell at 8am. Suddenly he was told that he was being moved, and was immediately put in leg irons and hand cuffs. He asked to call his lawyer, and they said no.” In the parkade of the Surrey Pre-Trial, fifteen minutes before the execution of his extradition was decided by the supreme court of Canada, he was transferred to a black SUV. He asked again to call his lawyer. The cops responded, “Don’t make trouble.” Naneek Graham continued, “They drove to the border at high speed and handed Dad over to the US police.” He was gone before anyone in Canada knew what was happening.

What stood out to this forum participant was that, while the panelists tore apart every claim the US government has laid against John Graham, it is around his extradition that ambiguities fall away, and the real issues that matter to Indigenous people and other working and oppressed people stand clear. The US Government’s claims around what might have happened on Pine Ridge in 1976 have less than zero value in the context of the serious stakes at play in this case, especially considering that if it was not for the concerted FBI attack on the American Indian Movement, Anna Mae would still be alive today.

The extradition treaty between Canada and the US is a tool still on hand for these two states to attack Indigenous organizers and all people who fight against injustice. These two states share an overwhelming interest in suppressing Indigenous fighters, whether their struggle is for self determination, Red Power, or against uranium mining. After all, if it were not for the suppression of Indigenous title over the entire territory now called “Canada” and the “United States”, neither of these states would exist. The struggle against colonialism and capitalism has been hurt by the extradition of John Graham. The speculations, complaints and hesitations of a handful of abstentionist or collaborationist Complicators further confuses the real issue of the need for continued struggle against the governments of the US and Canada. Justice for Anna Mae and all the hundreds of people killed in Pine Ridge in the 1970’s can only be served by charging the FBI and the US government. Their guilt is indisputable. Only the same movements that the governments of the US and Canada attempt to suppress can see through these charges to win justice.

The John Graham Defense Committee encourages you to write words of encouragement and solidarity to John where he is held in jail in the US:

John Graham
307 St. Joseph Street
Rapid City
SD 57701

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For more information on John Graham’s case, see:

Stop the Deportation of John Graham!”, by Ian Beeching, Socialist Voice, July 4th 2007

“Who Killed Anna Mae?”, by Rex Weyler, Vancouver Sun, January 8, 2005.

A collection of articles and updates, as well as announcements for upcoming solidarity events and actions is available on the John Graham Defense Committee website and the Our Freedom blog