Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Syriza shines a light -- radical left organises for power

Like a swan moving moving forward with relaxed confidence while paddling furiously beneath the surface, Syriza, the radical left coalition that could become the next government of Greece, is facing enormous challenges calmly but with intensifed activity.

In the palatial setting of the Greek parliament, Alexis Tsipras, the president of the radical left coalition Syriza’s parliamentary group, opens the first meeting of its 71 new deputies with his characteristic mix of cool and conviviality. At the same time, across Greece, other Syriza activists are organising neighbourhood assemblies, maintaining "solidarity kitchens" and bazaars, working in medical social centres, protecting immigrants against attacks from Golden Dawn, the new fascist party that won 7 per cent of votes in the election, creating new Syriza currents at the base of the trade unions – and kickstarting the transition from a coalition of 12 political organisations (and 1.6 million voters) to a new kind of political party.

In the midst of all this they still find time to cook, dance, debate and organise at a three-day anti-racist festival. This annual festival, now in its 16th year, was founded with 40 organisations to "intercept", in the words of Nicos Giannopolous, one of its driving forces, "the growth of nationalism and racism in the early nineties". In its aims, principles of organisation and the plural culture that it promotes, it symbolises the strength of the internationalist civil society that Syriza has both helped to build and of which it is in good part a product. Now more than 250 organisations and parties are involved in organising the event and more than 30,000 people of every age and ethnic origin pour into the still-public space of Goudi Park in Athens.

A common focus in all this activity is how to turn the electoral support for Syriza into a source of self-organised social power for change, as well as to build on it as the electoral path to government. When, on May 6, Syriza won 17 per cent of the vote in the general election, most activists were stunned. After all, three years ago the alliance had only just scraped past the 3 per cent barrier to parliamentary seats, with 4.7 per cent. By June 17, when the second election saw Syriza’s vote rise to 27 per cent, members had begun seriously to imagine their coalition in government.

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Solitary confinement: Torture chambers for black revolutionaries

Former Warden of United States Penitentiary Marion, the prototype of modern supermax-style solitary confinement, Ralph Arons, has stated: "The purpose of the Marion Control Unit is to control revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and in the society at large."

One of these revolutionaries is Russell "Maroon" Shoats, the founder of the Black Unity Council, which later merged with the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party. He was first jailed in early 1970.

Hailing from the gang-war-torn streets of West Philadelphia, Shoats escaped twice from prison system, first from Huntingdon state prison in September 1977 and then again in March 1980.

Shoats' escapes - the first of which lasted a full 27 days, despite a massive national search complete with helicopters, dogs and vigilante groups from predominantly white communities surrounding the prison - earned him the nickname "Maroon", in honour of slaves who broke away from plantations in Surinam, Guyana and later Jamaica, Brazil and other colonies and established sovereign communities on the outskirts of the white settler zones.

Still, it was not until Shoats was elected president of the prison-approved Lifers' Organisation in 1982 - the closest thing to a union for inmates, through which they demanded basic rights such as proper visiting hours, access to legal documents and healthier food - that the prison system decided he was a "threat" to administrative stability and placed him in solitary confinement.

For the past 30 years, Maroon has been transferred from one "torture chamber" to another, where his best efforts to interact with his fellow prisoners or resurrect his old study sessions for the younger generation are thwarted at every turn.

In 2006, the US had an incarceration rate for black males that was more than five-and-a-half times greater than that of South Africa at the end of the apartheid era in 1993.

Yet most mainstream authorities on the prison system in the US - such as the eminent scholar Michelle Alexander, whose book The New Jim Crow suggests that the prison system is racially "biased" - do not come close to touching on the phenomenon of political prisoners, let alone on the inmates who take up the cudgels on behalf of their fellow detainees and attempt to carve out niches of justice in a massive chamber of terror.

h/t