11 December 2008

Best of my Blog Reader: What Went Up While I Was in West Bengal [UPDATED]

I spent little time reading the news over the last week in India. I managed to scan a few copies of The Telegraph and Times of India, but for the most part, I was busy with visiting relatives, attending various familial functions and watching Lizzie B repeatedly vomit in public and in private.

So today I clicked over to my blog reader to skim the basics of what folks were talking about while I was gone.

Mumbai

The big-name South Asian thinkers are weighing in on the attacks in Mumbai over at the SSRC's blogs.

Arjun Appadurai goes Rushdie-style nostalgic with a twist of globalization and an oblique aside on the Sonal Shah controversy: “Our parents also thrived in this golden period of friendships and business relationships which cut across differences of language and food, religion and neighborhood, though always restrained by the exclusions of caste and class, which we Anglophones were privileged to ignore. I left Bombay for the United States in 1967 and though I visited regularly thereafter, I soon knew that things had begun to change… The late 1980s, widely seen as the period when Islamic fundamentalism went global, also witnessed the birth of an aggressive global Hinduism, sponsored by traveling Hindu ascetics, youth camps, newspapers, and fund-raising campaigns that connected overseas Hindus, especially in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom to their models and teachers in India…This twenty-five year process today threatens to sneak by even the sharp eyes of President-elect Obama’s transition team.”

Vijay Prashad gives a working-class perspective on arguments about Mumbai’s cosmopolitan history: “Credit for the city’s cosmopolitanism goes to the mill workers. It is they, writes the late historian Rajnarayan Chandavarkar, who gave the city its “diversity and hybridity, not wholly surprising in a city of migrants. Its public life was marked by its secularism, its equidistance from the particularisms of caste and religious community and often its transcendence of their differences.” When globalization’s authors padlocked the textile mills, the workers’ culture took a turn from popular secularism to virulent communalism. Without an agenda for the betterment of the lives of the workers, the Congress Party tried to gain legitimacy by making connections based on religion. The Congress was outflanked from the right by the Shiv Sena, whose ascent in the 1970s presaged that of the Bharatiya Janata Party in north India ten years later. Slowly, surely, the politics of the Shiv Sena and the BJP, as well as their allied organizations, wore down the forms of secular culture that had been in formation for a century.”

Dipesh Chakrabarty strikes an Obama-ian note, noting that divisive politics is not only bad in fueling these types of attacks, but also crippling the State’s ability to respond to them: “The growth of this politics of identity has made elections into the mainstay of Indian democracy. It has distanced politics from issues of governance, and has gone hand in hand with a deepening degree of corruption, financial and otherwise, on the part of politicians and officials. A large number of the elected members of parliament have criminal cases pending against them, and media reports suggest an elephantine, unaccountable, inefficient bureaucracy mired in the self-indulgent use of resources (corruption and inefficiency often going together).”

Continued Sonal Shah Controversy

Obama transition team member Sonal Shah just released another statement addressing her involvement with the fundamentalist Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHP-A) and renouncing the VHP’s role in violence in Gujarat, though still dodging the issue of the length and depth of her involvement in the organization. Read it over at the National Journal, if you wish.

If nothing else, her inability to make a forthright statement in the midst of this dust-up leads me to believe she should quietly fade out of the limelight. We do not need more Ari-Fleischer-like obfuscations and partial answers from the leaders of our government. Speaking of which...

Big Politics and Research Obstacles

The National Security Archive (NSA) is pushing the Obama administration-elect to make a priority of reforming the Freedom of Information Act process and working to counter the eight-year war on transparent government waged in the GWB years. [pdf of NSA recommendations here; h/t to Progressive Historians.]

A more sinister twist on government interference with research comes from Russia. SRB reports on the Russian raid on the offices of liberal NGO Memorial: “…the police did confiscate a laundry list of materials. According to a statement issued by Memorial, those materials include several hard drives that contain ‘biographical information of tens of thousands of victims of Stalinist repression collected by Memorial over the last 20 years, a unique collection of photographs and copies of archival documents on Stalinist terror, the results of searches of camp cemeteries and firing ranges in the territory of the former USSR, and an archive of audio interviews with former GULAG prisoners.’ … The seizure of historical documents relating to terror unsurprisingly raises the specter of Stalinism and its place in Russian historical memory.”

NACLA has a heart-wrenching story on the terrible impact of the US-sponsored war on drugs on a graduate student conducting research on the Ecuador-Colombia border: “Then the bombs began to explode on the camp, ten 500-pound Paveway bombs—the same kind the United States military had dropped during the first Gulf War on Iraq. A sudden wind gusted through the caletas. She heard screams. A tree erupted into flames right in front of her. Her sleeping bag felt wet. Lucía saw that it was drenched in blood. Maybe Lucía Morett had not fully anticipated the risks when she chose the subject for her thesis on the uses of popular song and theater in Latin American guerrilla movements: ‘Colombia: Theater for Revolution and Revolution for Theater.’ … The troops tore through the camp, flipping over the bodies of the dead until they found the one they were looking for: 'Raúl Reyes' (not his real name), the FARC's second in command under Manuel 'Tirofijo' Marulanda (another nom de guerre)… Both Reyes and Conrado were trophies of targeted assassinations: the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had posted a $7 million reward for the two men, dead or alive, and the Colombians needed the cadavers to collect. The soldiers approached Lucía and saw that she was still alive. She tried to get to her feet and run but she could not move. She was still bleeding heavily from shrapnel wounds and feared the Colombians would finish her off. But the soldiers had what they had come for and were not all that interested. Lucía and her friends were just collateral damage.”

Labor and Migration

The NYT covers the brutality of ICE raids (via RaceWire): “Advocates for immigrants here demanded an investigation Tuesday into a series of federal raids last month that they said left at least six Guatemalan men bloodied and bruised in a roundup of nearly 100 people. Immigration and Customs Enforcement denied all accusations of misconduct by agents in the raids on Nov. 19 in three South Florida counties, noting that the operation focused on sex trafficking and led to charges against seven people and the release of several women. But lawyers working with other detainees said they were concerned that the agency was using human trafficking laws as a front for broader operations, and a cover for harsh tactics…In the case involving the accusations of beatings, none of the men have been charged with sex trafficking.”

Window on Eurasia reports a strike of Tajik migrant workers in Ekaterinaburg: “Some 250 migrant workers from Tajikistan are in the sixth day of a strike in Yekaterinburg, the first such major job action by immigrants in the current economic crisis and one that not only raises the specter in the minds of many Russians of more such moves but could in the current environment easily lead to violent clashes.”

Literature and Art

The New York Times has released its annual list of 100 notable books published in the past year. I remember, back in pre-graduate-school life, when I would have already read at least a dozen of these. Now I peruse the list just so I am not completely out of the loop when I meet “real people.” If you’re short on time, there’s also the abridged 10 Best Books. Just in time for holiday schmoozing.

Sam McPheeters has a typically discomforting and disorienting piece up over at Loom of Ruin on ambition and getting fired from a dying video store in southern California: “[David Foster Wallace] rented regularly. I was careful, on later encounters, not to make eye contact or further small talk or glance at any of his rental titles. Still, the interactions seemed awkward; he finessing a possible stalker, me suppressing several thousand questions on how one could find a life as a professional writer and escape retail servitude at age 39.”

Chto Delat? prints an open letter on the Kandinsky Prize, Alexei Belyaev (Guintovt) and the politics of the contemporary Russian art scene: "We thus have no vested interest in criticizing the Kandinsky Prize. Founded on the cusp of the recent Russian art boom, this $50,000 award (with its longlist show of sixty artists) is a contemporary version of the salon, the institution that has defined art throughout the bourgeois age. Initiated by the glossy art magazine ArtKhronika, supported by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, and sponsored by Deutsche Bank, the Kandinsky Prize is clearly yet another neoliberal franchise, easiest to promote with a servile, aggressively populist local contingent. Its first edition eared at least some credibility by supporting the beleaguered curator Andrei Yerofeyev and giving its top award to activist-turned-formalist Anatoly Osmolovsky. But now, as the overall socio-political situation shows signs of changing for the worse, the divided jury of the Kandinsky Prize has decided to include Belyaev in the short list of its “Artist of the Year” nomination. Belyaev, however, is a crypto-fascist. The liberal press immediately picked up this scandal. Such scandals in the salon always play into the hands of the artist, his gallery, his admirers, and the critics. Most importantly, they promote the political views of these people. We do not share the rosy liberal illusion that the free market and the circulation of capital can fully convert any kind of engaged art, that artists like Belyaev tame and defuse potentially dangerous ideologies. Instead, the market makes them fashionable among the salon’s novelty-loving clientele in a mutated, glamorous form."

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What else did I miss?

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UPDATE: How did I not mention this? And you slacker readers--you should have reminded me!



Via Crooked Timber

4 comments:

rootlesscosmo said...

You know about UE, right? One of the Left unions expelled from the CIO in 1949; there was even a breakaway, IUE, that (with Murray's blessing) took away some bargaining units. (The CP to its eternal discredit counseled UE's leadership to rejoin the "mainstream" of labor; Albert Fitzgerald, no Red, and Jim Matles, a Red and proud of it, told the Party to fuck off, and rightly so.) It's no surprise this unit--whose work force seems to be preponderantly Latino--is in UE, and that their union backed them up 100% when they took direct action. I'm jittery about hope but this sure is an encouraging story.

Buster said...

To my discredit, I had only a nebulous impression of UE's lefty inclinations, with little sense of its history. At some point, I need to sit down and compile a list of labor history must reads to correct my uneven education... I'm actually more curious about the degree to which these Latino workers took inspiration from South American models of occupations and resistance. Wish a good journalist/ethnographer was "embedded"/working in solidarity with them and publishing.

rootlesscosmo said...

You may well be right about the models they looked to. But of all the unions around, probably UE and the ILWU (which also got kicked out of the CIO) would be the likeliest to support them rather than try to hustle them off-stage and cut a deal with management or the bank.

I'm not the one to suggest a list of labor history Must Reads--my reading is much too unsystematic and outdated. But Len deCaux's memoir Labor Radical is very readable and gives a sense of what it was like when the desk of the CIO's newspaper editor (his job until after WW2) regularly got letters from groups all over the country saying "We are the employees of XYZ Corp. and we've just organized, please send us a charter and what do we do next?" DeCaux was still hoping in the 70's that something like that would happen again; I counsel breathing regularly while waiting, but that's just me.

Buster said...

I've actually been eying *Labor Radical* for the past six months. There's a nice copy of it at a Brooklyn bookstore, but unfortunately, it seems the owner knows it is a nice copy and priced it accordingly. I keep vacillating on whether to make the investment. This may push me over the edge.