Archive for University

Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities

I had to do an assignment on Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. I tried to pull together some of my thoughts here. Besides, it’s been over six months since I last updated this blog. So what better way to update now than to indulge in this.

When I first read Anderson’s book I quite liked it. Sure, some parts of it left me unsettled, but I couldn’t quite grasp why. It focused largely on culture and consciousness, but its basis was entirely “material” — so to speak — that the developments of capitalism facilitated national consciousness. Ah, historical materialism, I thought. And to a considerable degree, Anderson’s work is a pretty good example of a work that seeks to relate changes in consciousness to changes in material conditions (in a sense), and not doing so in a vulgar way, despite certain pronouncements in his book. But then pulling my thoughts together her helped me realize why I didn’t like it, his historical materialism isn’t properly historical nor properly material. For Anderson, history is not driven by the struggle of peoples — class struggle, in a word.

But I am putting the cart before the horse. Let us first examine Anderson’s argument step by step, so that we may better engage in critique.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (2) »

A book and a birthday

This is a random story. I really like books. You know Walter Benjamin, in one of his essays he writes on unpacking his library. The essay is about not his book collection as such, but about the very process and meaning behind collecting books, and he goes on and on about it. At first, I reacted to it as bourgeois sentimentality, and, soon enough, I realized I was emulating it. Okay, we can all have our vices. The problem is that almost always, whenever I walk into a used bookstore, I can’t walk out without having purchased something; and if it is older, the better. Now this isn’t anything as fancy as what Benjamin’s going after (or, more aptly, anything like what Benjamin’s going after) but I can give you a bit of an idea of what my kind of sentimentality involves.

Over the winter, I was writing a paper on states — that is, the state, what it is, why it is, etc. (and, of course, from a Marxist perspective). I figure the paper would’ve been a really good and sound basis for further studies in political science but that the paper was actually a paper about writing a paper about the state — a “bibliographic essay.” One of the books that was very important in writing this paper was The State and Political Theory, by Martin Carnoy. It was published in 1984 and synthesized many of the Marxist debates on the state up until then (and, in fact, since then the debate has perhaps not gone very far, in many ways). I had to sign it out from one of the college libraries at the University of Toronto because, I think, the Robarts copy is missing (or stolen, it’s worth stealing).

In Markham not too far from where I live, there is a used bookstore. The problem with this one, unlike BMV or any of the other used bookstores downtown, is that stock turnover is really low, and new (old) things take a long time to arrive and be put on display. And, since I spend so many Fridays there, this is one of those rare used bookstores from which I can often walk out without having purchased anything.

But, one Friday, I stumbled upon Carnoy’s book in fine paperback. With the exception of a little bit of hard-to-notice highlighting in the front, the book was spotless. Now, what’s interesting is that what seems to be the original receipt was still in the book. It is a receipt for two texts, actually — one cost $5.95, the other $13.30. I can’t imagine this book costing $5.95, even back in the 1980s (although, the used price was $6.00), so probably it was purchased for $13.30. If, indeed, it is in fact the original receipt. But I’d like to think that it is because the date on the top says “02-12-85″. This, of course, can mean one of two things: February 12, 1985, or December 2, 1985.

For no reason other than sheer sentimentality, which is where we began, I’d like to think it’s the latter — because that’s my birthday.

Comments (2) »

ONDP and Israeli apartheid

I abandoned social democracy a few years ago, but I often find myself wishing that social democrats could at least be proper social democrats. That means focusing more or less on issues that affect the working class, pushing for anti-neoliberal policies (rather than embracing them), fighting racism and the criminalization of the poor, and so on. It might also involve some kind of capacity for enlightened foreign policy engagement (insofar as that goes, for any Western capitalist state — although the examples of Scandinavian social democracies are not particularly heinous). So here I’m going to try and sort out some of my thought on the NDP and its particular (and peculiar) brand of social democracy, and see what folks have to say. I’ll start with the most recent incident, concerning the Ontario NDP.

On Israeli apartheid and the ONDP

When some of us call for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions we are accused of being violators of the sacred principle of academic freedom. Yet, when the legislature of Ontario passes a motion condemning the use of the term apartheid when referring to Israel — and clearly, this is an attack on Israeli Apartheid Week that occurs on campuses around the world — there is little discussion on it. The motivation of the motion itself is remarkable in attempting to circumvent debate, if only by suggesting that debate does not lend itself to debate, and therefore is not conducive to the debate that one should be having about what the correct thing to debate is, and we should not have certain debates lest we debate the improper debates and lose sight of the debate.

University presidents have already smugly released their statements about the necessity of tolerating controversial discussions in advance of IAW, and so on, and so will in all likelihood not respond directly to this absurd motion — unlike when they responded directly to the question of academic boycott of Israeli institutions. Will university presidents in Ontario respond by issuing strong statements that they are not lackeys and stooges of Ontario governments and will not stand for the censoring of Israeli Apartheid Week?

It’s not like one would expect better, but the NDP is another story.

News reports suggested that the motion was endorsed by all parties — i.e., unanimously. Featured quite prominently was NDP MPP Cheri Di Novo. Only 30 members (out of a 107-member legislature) were present and voting, but due to Di Novo’s comments, the ONDP is stuck with this vile attempt at circumventing debate.

But wait, all is well. Don’t lose your faith in the ONDP. For Andrea Horwath, the leader of the ONDP, has released an open letter in which she notes quite forcefully that “[s]ingling out activists or shutting down debate, on this or any other matter, is not constructive and is entirely unhelpful.”

I would provide a source, except that I cannot find a direct source. It’s not on the ONDP web site. It’s not on Andrea Horwath’s web site. As of this writing, it’s nowhere on the Internet except buried somewhere on Rabble and a couple of blogs.

I don’t think this is enough. It’s one thing to have a prominent MPP spout some inane invective in legislature, that gets recorded in Hansard, that gets reported in the media, and it’s quite another to release a letter to activists or to those who e-mail Horwath saying “naw we didn’t mean it.” There appears to me to be something quite opportunistic about it — being everything to everyone. Who, except those who trawl this one left-wing web site and are on some listservs (note, I didn’t get the e-mail from any of the listservs I am on) would even know that the ONDP is against this idiotic motion?

It has real repercussions for activists at Ontario universities.

What’s more, it appears that the federal parliament is getting ready to entertain a similar motion. It’s unlikely that the federal NDP will let a similar debacle unfold, but there are plenty of other debacles it’s fine with — more on which, perhaps, later.

No comment »

Police repression of students: Another brick in the wall

Note: I wrote this article last summer, and it was published in Canadian Dimension, but in a highly edited way. This is the original, unedited version.

POLICE REPRESSION OF STUDENTS: Another brick in the wall

I learned that policemen are my friends
I learned that justice never ends
I learned that murderers die for their crimes
Even if we make a mistake sometimes
And that’s what I learned in school today
That’s what I learned in school

— Tom Paxton, “What Did You Learn in School Today?”

For the first time in over thirty-five years, the University of Toronto’s administration pressed charges against fourteen campus activists, who were arrested in late April by Toronto Police, for alleged forcible confinement, mischief to property and forcible detainer. The criminal offences allegedly occurred over a month before the arrests, at a peaceful sit-in staged on March 20 by over forty students and activists to protest fee hikes. The sit-in ended when administrators ordered campus police to violently remove protestors.

This group of protestors, who with other allies would later form the Committee for Just Education, argues for free education, questions the legitimacy of the administration’s authority, and makes its points through constant direct action. This kind of resistance is quite unsightly when UofT’s administration is publicly calling for the deregulation of student fees and massive commercialization of the university, as demonstrated in its Towards 2030 plan. Among other things, this plan blames poor people for not having the initiative to “assume debt” to finance their pursuit of postsecondary education (http://www.towards2030.utoronto.ca/sec3.html).

Read the rest of this entry »

No comment »

Writing on Mozambique, pt. 1: Discourse on Development

I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to work on a paper on the politics of Mozambique. The reasons for this are both political and personal, and the ways in which these two intersect. It was due at the end of April, which seemed reasonable at the time, but then a whole series of events followed and life in general took a tanking dive and I’ve been trying to deal with a lot of that. I haven’t been able to work on the paper, and when I try, I fail quite miserably.

But if I can’t bring myself write on Mozambique, perhaps I can write about writing on Mozambique (argh, postmodernism’s revenge!). I’ve done a bit of research — having gone through dozens of journal and news articles and a few books. All of this raises more than a few questions for me, to which I have no satisfactory answer. I hope my musings here will help to, at least, organize the issues for me and give me focus in writing the paper.

I took the class in the first place for a few reasons. I could have taken David McNally’s class on Marx’s Capital — which would have been fantastic, no doubt — but I felt like I needed a grounding in the way capitalism works, internationally, on the ground. I have more than a passing interest in the politics of southern Africa and I wanted, also, to examine how the post-colonial moment has been working out (answer: not well). Also, I heard that this might be one of the last times that John S. Saul would be teaching the class (and, indeed, it was the last class he taught), and that it was worth it to take a class with him. (Saul is a noted scholar-activist, and he was involved in the struggles against colonialism and apartheid, back in the day.) Of course, I also heard and kept hearing other stuff about Saul — vague and non-specific rumours, all of which turned out to be unsubstantiated; and the fact that he seemed to assign his own work a lot was a bit disconcerting, but ultimately, it wasn’t a problem at all.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (1) »

14 arrested for protesting fee hikes at University of Toronto

Note: This article was supposed to be published in the next Basics Community Newsletter, but unfortunately because of some misunderstandings was unable to make it. So I’ve published it here in full.

On Thursday March 20, over forty students and allies staged a sit-in at the University of Toronto administration’s offices to protest against increases in student fees. The peaceful protest was met with physical aggression by campus police on the orders of senior university administrators. Undeterred, students and allies formed the Committee for Just Education and organized an emergency rally on March 25 to continue protesting fees. On April 7, they held an open forum on fees and staged another rally on April 10 to protest fees.

Charging fees for university and college is one way to keep the working-class and the poor in check. Although the government discusses grants and loans, these are either hard to come by or add up to huge debt-loads after graduation. Students then become “indentured servants” — working to pay off loans while also trying to maintain a life. But free education is a possibility. Cuba, Ireland, Sweden, Finland and many other countries around the world offer free education at all stages. Others, like Venezuela, are moving toward free higher education.

Free education is something that working-classes and their allies have fought for over the past centuries in various countries. These were not gracious policies of the ruling classes, but like health care, the eight-hour working day, and the weekend, are the products of struggle. The students and organizers at UofT are attempting to continue in this tradition of struggle.

But UofT’s administration responded in the most authoritarian way. First, the administration is investigating students under the Code of Student Conduct, which could lead to sanctions including suspension and expulsion. Then, for the first time in over 35 years, they selected 14 students and organizers and got Toronto Police to press criminal charges against them for alleged involvement in the sit-in on March 20. The “Fight Fees 14” were arrested over one month after the events and were released on restrictive bail conditions that prevent their associating with one another, and ban them from UofT property except for classes. One student organizer was in custody overnight, and others were held for unusually long periods of time.

This repression of dissent comes at a time when universities are moving toward increasing privatization and commercialization to intensify serving the needs of corporations and industries, instead of serving the public good. Increasing student fees contributes to the university itself operating like a private corporation instead of a public institution. When students and others protest against this agenda of corporatization, they are met with tremendous repression. At the University of British Columbia, 19 students were arrested on April 4 for opposing the commercialization of campus space, and other universities are introducing or revising Student Codes of Conduct.

We must act now to make the university accountable and accessible to our communities. Please visit www.fightfees.ca and e-mail fightfees@gmail.com to learn more about joining the struggle against student fees and helping the Fight Fees 14.

No comment »

How much does UofT spokesperson Robert Steiner get paid to lie?

About $126,000.

According to CTV News:

[the demonstrators] even mixed up their facts, Steiner added, noting the fee hike is actually 10 per cent.

Ah. Well, according to the University of Toronto’s own documents accessible here (p. 16):

The ancillary will increase the fall/winter residence rates by 20% in 2008-09.

So, if Robert Steiner is capable of getting an incontrovertible fact wrong — either because he was misinformed or willfully misleading everyone — then what else other facts did he get “mixed up”?

He said, “Demonstrators seemed to be protesting everything from the war in Afghanistan to the coffee at Second Cup [...]”

Well, actually, no. The demonstrators were protesting the NC residence fees, and student fees in general. The only time Second Cup was brought up was when one of them asked me why I was drinking Tim Hortons coffee — and that I threw away the cup without rolling up the rim.

(Yes, one of them commemorated the 5th anniversary of the war in Iraq — March 20 — but, last time I checked, being against wars that kill millions of people is a good thing.)

Also:

If there was any “brutality,” Steiner suggested it was on the part of demonstrators who tried to trip staff as they left the building, shouted at security and in one case even bit an officer.

Well, it is evident that protesters were pushed to the floor and held by police officers as members of the administration were escorted out. According to the protesters, the administration members literally walked on top of them. According to Robert Steiner, they were trying to trip staff.

Seeing as Robert Steiner is so full of lies and misinformation, I’m not planning on taking his word for anything. After all, if you get $126,000 a year for “Strategic Communication” you probably know exactly how to spin the truth into lies — even if that contradicts your own documentation.

No comment »

Police Brutality at the University of Toronto

March 20, 2008 thirty-five University of Toronto students occupied Simcoe Hall, the home of the President’s Office, to protest a 20% fee increase. The nonviolent sit-in was accompanied with a peaceful rally outside the building—until the police began brutalizing those inside. This was captured by multiple video cameras.

The students had three simple demands.
1) To be granted a meeting with President David Naylor;
2) To have the proposed fee increase removed from the University Affairs Board meeting, scheduled to take place on March 25; and
3) To be given 15 minutes at the University Affairs Board meeting for a presentation and discussion on broader issues of access to education and the impacts of high tuition upon students, families and communities.

Students attempted to deliver their letter to the University of Toronto President, David Naylor, and to speak to other members of the administration in Simcoe Hall about the rising costs of education in Ontario. The administration refused to meet with the students. The response of the University of Toronto was to violently remove students from their peaceful sit-in. Police aggressively grabbed students and dragged them away from the entrance of the office. The students feared for their safety and after four hours in the building, the police violence forced the students to leave.

Video of these events has been posted on YouTube and it can be viewed here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ketNtnZQIwQ

Images can be viewed here:
http://www.edwardfwong.com/uoftact/9.jpg
http://www.edwardfwong.com/uoftact/10.jpg

Students are continuing to demand a meeting with President Naylor, and the right to accessible and affordable education.

No comment »

Reflections on Israeli Apartheid Week: Zionists retreat, Islamophobic racism at UofT

One

So, as I described in my last post, on Wednesday February 6, Zionists set up a display about “Islamic State Apartheid” in Vari Hall at York. I was two hours late for class and felt too embarrassed to enter, although my professor John Saul is very cool (and was involved in the anti-apartheid and anti-colonial struggles in Southern Africa), so I hung out and took a look what was going on. As I noted earlier, the aim was to “trivialize the use of the word “apartheid” when associated with Israel.”

There was a large crowd of students gathered in front of the display — set up in the middle of Israeli Apartheid Week. A lot of Muslim students were angered. Other Palestine-solidarity activists were there, too. One could notice “circles of debate” where a Zionist was debating with someone else, and a sizable crowd would gather around. I noticed one pro-Israeli speaking lyrically to a group of about six or seven students about how Israel was founded by freedom fighters, fighting for self-determination. How Israel was a democracy. How there was no one to back Israel up, and how Golda Meir went around to Jewish organizations in the United States asking for money. How Israel was not a racist state. This, that, and the other.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4) »

Israeli Apartheid Week 2008

I have some observations I’d like to point out, but for now this video will have to do. Enjoy!

Update:

Last Wednesday, Zionists at York organized a display in Vari Hall, labeled “Islamic State Apartheid.” The aim, a Zionist acquaintance of mine told me later, was to trivialize the use of the word “apartheid” when associated with Israel. By pegging every problem in Muslim societies — and make no mistake, these problems are real — as “apartheid,” the idea was to deflect attention away from Israel and focus it, instead, on Muslim societies. There is an implicit assertion here that there is a more-or-less homogenous application of “Islamic” values within these countries, that the racism, sexism, etc. prevalent in some of these countries is a result of “Islamic culture.” There is no attempt at an actual, historical analysis of what these terms mean and how they play out in these countries. For instance, racial discrimination in Saudi Arabia has less to do with skin colour, as such, and more to do with national origin. The roots of this racial discrimination lie in the systemic super-exploitation of migrant labour from the rest of Asia (including other parts of the Middle East). Xenophobia doesn’t take on the same terms as it does in the West, but it exists, and populists try to enact policies of “Saudiization” of the work force.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (2) »