Tag Archives: Social Movements

My trip to Europe

Travel in Europe, May to July,  2022

by Peter Bohmer,  peterbohmer@gmail.com

July 26, 2022

I recently returned from a two month visit on July 7, 2022 to seven countries in Europe visiting friends, families and activists. It was a very meaningful and enjoyable trip. I visited Spain, Italy, Greece, Austria, Slovenia, Sweden, the northern part of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The hospitality and warmth people showed to me was incredible. Many were members of the group Real Utopia, Realutopia.org.  Thank You my friends, family and comrades! I truly appreciate you. Part of the reason for my warm reception is the respect people in most countries show to elders, which is much less common in the U.S.

I saw and appreciated beauty in many of the places I visited, nature, homes and beautiful gardens, beaches and lakes and seas, and cities. I learned about the history of partisan resistance against the Nazis in Slovenia, of collaboration with the Nazis in several countries, e.g.,  Sweden, of the Irish Republican struggle for a united Ireland, and more on my family history, especially with regards to the Nazis.

A further summary based on my conversations with people in the countries!

I visited!The “left” as a social force is currently weak in the seven countries I visited–whether anarchists, radical social movements or socialist organizations. However, there are active left groups doing good work in all the places I visited such as “The City Upside Down” in Salonika, Greece and the Pekarna Cooperatives in Maribor, Slovenia and the Kapsylen Cooperatives in Stockholm. Kapsylen is involved in supporting actively political prisoners and selling olive oil from Palestine and coffee from the EZLN.

The isolation caused by the Coronavirus has been a major factor in the weakness of the left as it has limited face to face interactions and meetings and community gatherings.  A greater cause of weakness of the left in the U.S. but also in the countries I visited is the growth of extreme identity politics and the related tendency to cancel people for perceived limitations in their political consciousness, often around transgender issues. Identity of course matters, I am critiquing where identity becomes destiny and the possibility of empathy across identities is denied. This expelling, canceling of people, the turning on each other is exacerbated by social media. This destructive behavior is caused by the weakness of the left, our feelings of powerlessness, and a cause of its further weakness. This problem is probably worse in the U.S. but also widespread in Europe. Transphobia is a continuing problem in the left and wider society; my criticism is how it is being addressed and challenged.

The authoritarian right is a serious danger in almost all of the countries I visited, but at least, not growing.  For example, the Swedish Democrats, whose origins are fascist, are an example of the growing right-wing  anti-immigrant political parties that have recently grown throughout Europe. They seem to have levelled off at about 20% support in the polls and popular support. Ireland was the one exception, fascism and the authoritarian right except for a few Unionist (pro British) groups in the north are minuscule. The Irish history of being colonized up into the 20th century by the British and up to the present in the six counties in the north of Ireland is a cause of identification with the people from other ex-colonies.

In Greece, Golden Dawn is no longer a force but authoritarian rightists including supporters of the 1967 military coup are in the New Democracy led government. The Social Democrats throughout the countries I visited are neoliberal and declining.   There is some growth of the Greens but their economic program is mainly neoliberal and they increasingly accept the growing militarism of Europe.  Political parties in this current period of a global neoliberal economy, unless they are explicitly anti-capitalist or at least anti-neo-liberal in their analysis and policies become neo-liberal over time.  The global and elite pressures are very strong for movement in this direction as is their increasing professional-managerial class membership and the decline of working-class labor unions as their base.

I was surprised at the public support in Sweden for joining NATO. Based on the popular perception of the history of Russian aggression against Sweden and reinforced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, their fear of Russian expansionism and militarism is even stronger than in the U.S. I don’t see Russia as a threat to Sweden or to Finland, who Sweden is closely aligned with.

I see the possibilities of the growth of a left in the countries I visited based on climate and housing justice whose base is precarious workers. Almost everyone I spent time with,mentioned that the climate crisis was here, not just a future danger. I heard much support for an anti-militarist and global Green New Deal.

Except for Vienna, there are housing shortages and rapidly rising rents in every major city in western and southern Europe. The extensive amount of social housing in Vienna has limited the rise in housing prices there, compared to other cities such as Dublin where housing prices are skyrocketing. Housing as a human right and not as an asset to make money off resonated among the people in all the countries I visited.

Neoliberalism has caused less and less secure jobs and more jobs with no benefits, e.g., college teachers increasingly are hired on limited contracts.  Young people are the most adversely affected by these changes in the labor market.  In Athens, there is important labor organizing among these precarious workers.

Europe is no longer, overwhelmingly, “white”. Immigration from the Global South is substantial. Immigrant and refugee justice must be combined with anti-austerity programs in order to combat the belief that immigrants are causing the decline of social benefits, pensions and secure jobs. Challenging in theory and practice this zero-sum ideology that gains for immigrants are the cause of the decline for domestically born workers is a necessary part of creating unity among them.

Many people I was with asked me what is going on in the United States–the repeal of Roe vs Wade, the voter suppression, the amount and worship of guns, mass killings, the support for QAnon, and the continued support for Trump and Trumpism—that it is beyond understanding and worse than anything occurring in Europe. I sadly agreed. I pointed out at the same time, tens of millions participated in the recent Black Lives Matter protests, the growing support for universal health care, the high support for the right to abortion and for socialism. We need to get more organized.

In Solidarity, Peter Bohmer

 

Support Ukraine! Russia Get Out of Ukraine! No U.S. or NATO War!

This is a significantly updated and revised version of the talk I originally gave at the “No War with Russia over Ukraine” rally on Feb. 5, 2022. The rally was sponsored by Economics for Everyone.

The US, Ukraine and Russia: Russia Out, No NATO WAR

Here is the text.

Support Ukraine! Russia Get Out of Ukraine! No U.S. or NATO War!

by Peter Bohmer, February 27, 2021

This is a significantly updated and revised version of the talk I originally gave at the “No War with Russia over Ukraine” rally on Feb. 5, 2022. The rally was sponsored by Economics for Everyone.

The situation between the United States and Russia over Ukraine is very dangerous. Russia is a capitalist country led by an authoritarian and militaristic leader, Vladimir Putin. A major Russian invasion of the Ukraine began on February 24th together with massive bombing.

The Russian aggression against Ukraine is totally wrong and totally unjustified. Yet, from the mainstream media and our leaders, Russia is the only aggressor and the only responsible party for this horrific war. That is not the reality.

An agreement made and then violated – by our side

In 1990, the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev made an agreement with Secretary of State, James Baker, then a close confidant of President, George H.W. Bush. In return for Gorbachev agreeing to the unification of Germany and permitting many nations within the USSR to become independent, the US and European leaders agreed not to station troops east of Germany nor to expand NATO there.

 

Ukraine was specifically mentioned as part of this verbal agreement. The request from Gorbachev for the neutrality of countries in Eastern Europe must be seen in the context of the Soviet Union losing 25 million of its residents from Nazi aggression and wanting to maintain a buffer between Germany and Russia.

From 1999 to 2004, NATO violated this agreement, expanding east of Germany into Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic and the Baltic countries, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The US has recently sent 10.000 US troops to Germany, Poland and Romania with more likely to come. There were major sales of weapons to Ukraine even before the Russian invasion.

 

A negotiated settlement

There could possibly still be a negotiated settlement along the following lines. In return for Russia agreeing to immediately withdrawing fully from the Ukraine and accepting its sovereignty and territorial integrity, the Ukraine, NATO and the U.S. could simultaneously pledge that Ukraine will not now or in the future join NATO. This was the main demand by Putin and the Russian government during their troop buildup on the Ukrainian border. The U.S. totally rejected this reasonable demand so we will never know whether it would have been sufficient to stop the Russian invasion. It still should be made by the U.S. at this late date. Of course, Ukraine should be part of this negotiated settlement.

Does this violate the Ukrainian right to self-determination? Let us not forget that NATO is a military and expansionist alliance led by the US. Sovereignty doesn’t include the right to militarily intervene in other countries which is a central part of NATO. In the longer run, we should demand the dismantling of NATO, a cold war relic.

 

Why is Our Focus on the United States?

The war is catastrophic for the people of Ukraine and could spread throughout Europe and beyond.  Higher energy and food prices globally are happening and likely to worsen as well as a major refugee crisis from Ukrainians fleeing. Negotiations beginning with an immediate ceasefire and diplomacy including in a central way, Ukraine, is the way forward. A neutral Ukraine is a possible, desirable outcome of a settlement.

Let’s demand that the U.S. in addition to calling for ending the Russian invasion and supporting “No Ukraine in NATO” propose sanctions that primarily hurt the rich and powerful in Russia.  Much of their wealth is abroad so freezing their assets and threatening to confiscate it could reduce their support for Putin and the war. 60% of Russian exports are oil and natural gas. Refusing to buy them until a cease fire by Russia and honest negotiations would harm Russian exporters although it would also hurt the Russian people as Russian imports would soon be reduced. The U.S. could temporarily increase oil and gas production and help people here by subsidizing the rising costs they incur for higher energy prices.

Other actions that could put pressure on Russia to end its aggression include banning all Russian banks and financial institutions from the SWIFT messaging system which connects most large banks around the world. This would make it more difficult for Russian entities to process transactions and hobble the Russian economy’s ability to do business beyond its borders. Another possibility is boycotting Russian sports teams such as the announcements by Sweden and Poland that they will refuse to play the Russian national soccer team in the qualifying games for the World Cup.

All these actions minimize the possibilities of a wider war and could further undermine the support for the war inside Russia thus increasing the possibility of the Putin led government ending its war of aggression or even having to resign.

There is a serious danger of the escalation of this war. The Ukrainian people have the right to defend themselves and the U.S. sending defensive weapons such as anti-aircraft artillery is justified but not offensive weapons or troops or military advisers.

Those could lead to a war beyond the Ukraine.

Why is our focus on the U.S and not just Russian aggression?  We live here and we can have more influence on U.S. actions than on other countries. U.S. behavior is partly our responsibility. When people here participate in an anti-war movement to stop US escalation and support peace efforts, it encourages those in Russia seeking peace and increases their credibility in demanding Russian end the war. Each will reinforce the other.

The large protests in Russia against Putin, saying No to War are courageous and inspiring.  More than 3000 have been arrested in Russia since the beginning of the Russian invasion and they are continuing to grow. Let’s support them. The war is not popular in Russia and may lead to Putin’s downfall like what happened to the Czar for leading Russia into the highly destructive WWI.

A war between Russia and the United States over Ukraine?

Let’s continue to oppose the U.S. going to war over Ukraine while supporting the Ukrainian resistance to their invasion. There is a danger of unintended consequences. Specific actions by the US or Russia could be misinterpreted and a broader war that is not planned for could occur.  There is the slight danger of a nuclear war. Let us not take this chance. Let’s  make part of our daily life — and the groups we are part of, a call for diplomacy and a negotiated settlement.

Building an anti-war movement

Let us educate ourselves, our friends and communities, our workplaces and fellow students about the history and current situation in Ukraine including the human costs of the war and Ukrainian resistance.  Let’s build an anti-war movement calling for “No NATO expansion into Ukraine” and Russia out. One of our tasks is to educate and build an antiwar movement for cutting US military spending and closing U.S. military bases around the world. We need a movement against the growing US military build-up and threats against China; a movement that demands the end of sanctions against Iran, Cuba and Venezuela; an end to military support for Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and an end to military sales there.

In building an anti-war movement in Olympia and beyond, we should build one that makes central calls for ending injustice  and oppression in the US and links up with organizations and social movements involved in these struggles.

For example, let us connect the anti-war movement to the demand for freedom for Leonard Peltier.  He was a leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and has been a continuing inspiration to Native Americans and many others.

Leonard has spent 45 years in prison after being unjustly convicted for a 1975 killing of two FBI agents who invaded the Pine Ridge Reservation. Let us demand President Biden grant him clemency on medical and humanitarian grounds.  With enough pressure, this is a winnable demand.

Let’s build solidarity with people across borders who are resisting oppression, exploitation, authoritarianism and repression and foreign intervention.

Let’s connect US militarism and imperialism, not only to its costs, but also to “race”, gender and class oppression at home and to an exploitative capitalist system that we need to replace and transform into a participatory socialist system.

Peter Bohmer is active as a member of Economics for Everyone, Real Utopia, and was a long-time faculty member at The Evergreen State College.

 

My Talk at the No War with Russia over Ukraine Rally, February 5th, 2022

No War With Russia over Ukraine

My talk at the “No War with Russia over Ukraine Rally”,

by Peter Bohmer, February 5th, 2022

I am Pete Bohmer, a member of Economics for Everyone, the sponsor of this rally.

This rally is part of a national day of anti-war actions coordinated by Code Pink, codepink.org.

The situation between the United States and Russia over the Ukraine is very dangerous. Russia is a capitalist country led by an authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin. Russia has increased its military build-up to 130,000 troops near their 1300-mile border with Ukraine.  This is wrong. Yet, from the mainstream media and our leaders, Russia is the only aggressor and threat to peace in Ukraine.  That is far from the reality.

The United States has consistently intervened in other countries, e.g., has tried to overthrow the government in Cuba for over 60 years. In 1990, the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev made an agreement with Secretary of State, James Baker, who was also a close confidant of then President, George H.W. Bush.  In return for Gorbachev agreeing to the unification of Germany and permitting the independence of many of the nations within the USSR, there would be no NATO expansion east of Germany, nor stationing of European and US troops east of Germany.  Ukraine was specifically mentioned as part of this agreement.  This request from Gorbachev for the neutrality of countries in Eastern Europe needs to be put in the context of the Soviet Union losing 20 million people from the Nazi aggression and wanting to have a buffer between Germany and Russia.

In direct violation of this agreement  in the late 1990’s, NATO expanded into Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic and the Baltic countries. Today, there is a major military buildup of Russian troops near the Ukraine but there has also been an increase of 3000 U.S. troops to Poland and Romania with likely increases to come and  increased sales of weapons to the Ukraine. Somewhat ironically, Ukraine’s government, led by Volodymr Zelensky, seems less worried about a Russian invasion than U.S. leaders like Biden and National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan.

                                                                                 Negotiated Settlement!

There could and should be a negotiated settlement along the following lines. A clear statement by NATO that it will not offer membership to Ukraine in the present or future and that there will be no stationing of U.S. or troops from European countries in the Ukraine. In return Russia is likely to accept the sovereignty of the Ukraine, agree to not intervene in its domestic politics, to not invade and to significantly reduce Russian troops from Ukraine’s border.  Of course, Ukraine should be part of this negotiated settlement.

Does this violate the Ukrainian right to self-determination? Perhaps, a little bit but let us not forget that NATO is a military and expansionist alliance led by the U.S. Moreover, sovereignty does not include the right to militarily intervene in other countries which is a central part of NATO. In the longer run, we should demand the dismantling of NATO which is a cold war relic.

A war would be catastrophic for Ukraine and beyond.  Negotiations and diplomacy including in a central way, Ukraine, is the only way forward. A neutral Ukraine is one possible desirable outcome of a negotiated settlement. France is currently making that proposal. Let us demand the United States end its threat of sanctions and military escalation and be a part of a negotiated and peaceful solution. The sanctions being proposed by the U.S. Congress would seriously harm the Russian people and could be put into effect even short of a Russian invasion.

Why is our focus on the United States and less on Russia?  We live here and we can have more influence on U.S. actions than on other countries. U.S. actions are partly our responsibility.  Moreover, by people and an anti-war movement here reducing U.S. escalation and supporting peace efforts encourages those in Russia seeking peace and increases their credibility in demanding Russia de-escalation. Each willeinforce the other.

How likely is war between Russia and the United States over Ukraine?

I don’t know how likely it is, but we are more likely to be effective in stopping a war before an actual war starts. There were massive protests before the 1991 Gulf War (the first war against Iraq), the 2001 U.S. War against Afghanistan and especially the 2003 war against Iraq. Once the U.S. went to war the protests and anti-war movement declined. Also, even if no nation is planning to go to war, there is a danger of unintended consequences of specific actions by the U.S. or Russia, being misinterpreted and a war that is not planned for, occurring.  Moreover, besides the destruction of Ukraine from a war fought on Ukrainian territory, there is even the slight danger of a nuclear war. Let us not take this chance and make part of our daily life and groups we are part of –active opposition to United States escalation of this dangerous situation and a call for diplomacy and a negotiated settlement.

Building an Anti-War Movement

Let us educate ourselves, our friends and communities, our workplaces and fellow students about the history and current danger with regards to the Ukraine. Let us build an anti-war movement in support of diplomatic solutions along lines I have mentioned: No expansion of NATO into the Ukraine.  Ukraine is the immediate danger but also let us also educate and build an antiwar movement in the not too distant future for cutting U.S. military spending, that is against the growing U.S. military build-up and threats against China, that demands the ending of sanctions against Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, and for ending U.S. military support for Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and for ending military sales to those countries.  As already mentioned, let us in the future also call for the dismantling of NATO.

In conclusion, in building an anti-war movement in Olympia and beyond, let us build one that also makes central calls for ending injustice and oppression in the U.S. and links up with organizations and social movements involved in these struggles.

For example, let us connect the anti-war movement to the demand for freedom for Leonard Peltier.  He was a leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and has been a continuing inspiration to Native Americans and so many others. Leonard has spent 45 years in prison for supposedly killing two FBI agents in 1975 who invaded the Pine Ridge Reservation. His trial was a huge misjustice with coerced and perjured witnesses.  The prosecution withheld evidence that could have cleared him. Leonard Peltier has Covid although he had requested a booster shot that he was not given. The conditions at the Federal Prison where he is incarcerated in Coleman, Florida are inhumane.  Leonard has diabetes and high blood pressure and other comorbidities with Covid and is 77 years. Let us demand President Biden grant him clemency on medical and humanitarian grounds.  With enough pressure, this is a winnable demand.

More generally, let us connect U.S. militarism and imperialism, not only to its costs, but also   to “race”, gender and class oppression at home and to an exploitative capitalist system that we need to replace and transform into a participatory socialist system.

Thank You.

 

Reflection on the Election

                                            Comments on the 2020 Election and  What We Should Do Now!

by Peter Bohmer,  of Economics for Everyone, Collective 20, George Jackson Freedom Coalition

November 9, 2020

A huge, huge sigh of relief that Donald Trump lost! His chance of staying in power is slim and we shouldn’t allow it to happen. However, that close to 75 million people  will have voted for this  narcissist liar, this corrupt, misogynist, and racist  by the time all the votes are counted, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic and an environmental crisis that Trump denies, and  an economic recession,  is something we need to reflect on and understand more deeply. To me this vote for Trump is as troubling as Trump himself.  In a country that is declining in economic and global power and simultaneously becoming less white which sadly, scares many white people,  the strength of reactionary and racist ideas and support for people like Trump and the Republican Party is  perhaps not that surprising. The danger of a growing fascist movement is real and one aspect of combatting it, is better understanding  its appeal.

We, on the left,  also need a program that combines economic, racial,  gender and environmental justice with real organizing and popular education that is truly national and includes small towns and rural areas and is ongoing. This is necessary and cannot start a year or less before the election. Also, the millions  who didn’t vote, one-third of the eligible population,  are even more important to talk  with and reach out to than those who voted for Trump.  Your thoughts?

From the exit polls, the majority of white women voted for Trump as did a slight increase in the proportion of Latinx, from 30% in 2016 to 33%-34 % in 2020. This small increase for Trump is sometimes exaggerated. Moreover, there was  a 2/3 increase in Latinx turnout which is a major  cause of Biden winning Arizona and Nevada and probably also,  Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The Native American vote was also central to Biden and Harris  winning in  Arizona.

Would Bernie Sanders and a progressive program have defeated Trump? I am not sure. If turnout among African-Americans had stayed the same as it did  for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, Bernie might have won. The massive vote of African-Americans against Trump and for Biden and Harris in key battle ground States such as Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan is an important and major reason why Biden is the President elect.  Sanders might have lost  as the vote  at the national, U.S. House, state legislatures moved in a slightly more conservative direction. There was  no Blue wave. The anti-socialist propaganda against Sanders would have been far more intense than it was. The leadership of the Democratic Party would have supported Sanders less than it did Biden, although their impact may have been limited. This is not an argument against Sanders but rather the need for more effective and long-run organizing and popular education.

Racism continues to be a major reason for the support for Trump and the Republicans. This is  apparent from the 2016 results and was again repeated in 2020 as demonstrated by the large white working class vote for Trump.  Economic and racial  justice and anti-racism need to be synthesized  and connected in a more effective way than they have been.

We shouldn’t give Biden any breathing room and wait to see what he does before acting. We need to build campaigns and social movements and mass action in the streets for a Green New Deal and environmental justice, a progressive stimulus package, Medicare for All, a Universal Basic Income, full employment, and a living wage, free higher education, increasing taxes on the wealthy and on corporations, significantly reducing the prison population, against police violence and racist policing, for  reproductive justice including childcare for all, for LGBT liberation, for affordable housing for all, immigrant justice, against U.S. intervention abroad and against sanctions on foreign countries and against U.S. militarism, and for global justice. Let us  demand,  beginning now, and organize for the incoming Biden-Harris Administration to support  this program and explain to millions, its value. We should also organize for democratic reforms such as deciding elections by popular vote and expanding the Supreme Court.  Elections certainly matter and are important but there is the danger of a continued very short run perspective and an over focus on elections rather than building power from below. Biden’s cabinet and policies that he proposes are likely to be similar to Obama’s, probably slightly better on climate change but still, neoliberal.

The two remaining Senate runoffs in Georgia are significant and one of the Democrats is progressive, Raphael Warnock.  Although he only got 33% of the vote in the November 3rd election,  all the Republicans together  only got 49% in this race, and  the weaker of the two main Republican candidates  in that election last week is facing Warnock. There will be a runoff election between the leading Democratic and Republican Party candidates on January 5th, 2021. If Raphael Warnock and the other Democratic Senatorial candidate, Jon Ossoff win these elections, the Democrats will have 50 seats in the U.S. Senate which would mean Kamala Harris could be the deciding vote on legislation.

I  am afraid Biden like Obama will try too hard to get Republican support which will not be possible without capitulation. Hopefully the Democrats can win the U.S. Senate in 2022, even if they end up with 48 or 49 seats in the Senate from this election.

I have zero sympathy for centrist Wall Street Democrats who are likely to dominate the next cabinet and Biden agenda. If the left of the Democratic Party, led by people like AOC, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Bernie Sanders;  and leftist Black  and Latinx individuals and organizations such as the Black Lives led Movement (BLM) and The Poor People’s campaign,  inside and outside the Democratic Party,  form a new political party before or after 2024 that could be a significant step forward  although it might have negative short-run impact.  This truly multiracial and left bloc should grow and coalesce, significantly, and become a force,  before it actually forms a political party. A new party  could follow an unsuccessful attempt to change the Democratic Party, and where the  Biden led administration continues the pro-corporate, imperialist  and neoliberal agenda of the Clintons, Obama and Schumer.

In closing, it is important and positive for the world that Trump lost last Tuesday, November 3rd. However, going  back to the policies  of the Obama administration is insufficient for solving the ongoing crises: climate, the Coronavirus, poverty and inequality of income and wealth, economic insecurity, racism, mass incarceration, patriarchy, growing authoritarianism  and alienation.

There are limits to reform of a capitalist society. While working on these reforms, we also need to build the power  and the vision to go beyond minor or even significant reforms, towards ending capitalism and creating a participatory socialist society.

Power to the People!

Si Se Puede!

In solidarity, Peter Bohmer