Friday, July 29, 2011

Diary of an Escape - Antonio Negri

Link to my review of Antonio Negri's Diary of an Escape, published by Irish Left Review 

Book Review:Diary of an Escape - Antonio Negri (Polity Press, 2010)
“The recent days have shown the enormous gap that exists between our capacity to produce truth and the court’s inert expression of its unbelievable desire to repress it.”
Antonio Negri.
A discussion of truth in any situation may well be defined as a paradox. Truth - in a trial, in a country which declares itself a democracy, becomes a manifestation of a particular bond of servitude.

Diary of an Escape is Antonio Negri’s version of truth. Negri was accused of conspiring with the Red Brigades, of creating conditions for an insurrection in Italy, as well as charged with seventeen murders and the murder of Aldo Moro, which he deems, “A high level accusation, sustained by lies, and one which cannot be criticized once it has been consecrated by justice.”

Placed in preventive detention for four years, Negri was released from prison in July 1983, after being elected to the House of Representatives. His release and foray into politics created a frenzied debate which was exploited by the media. A few months later, he was stripped of parliamentary immunity and took up residence in France.

Negri’s book is at once a narration of philosophy, politics and personal memoir. Departing from Marxism as opposed to oppressive democracy, the concepts of truth, justice and exile resonate throughout the book. The experience of the oppressed political prisoner divests the courts of their own web of rationality, exposing the system which upholds the semblance of justice. Negri portrays justice as a procedure which disrupts the reason behind the trial.

The necessity of vilifying communism went beyond the objectives of the trial. A spectator as well as participant, Negri discerns the court’s motives; the mandatory expectation of morality to be upheld through the immoral culture of power. The court’s sanctioning of the ‘pentiti’ - people in the communist movement who defected to gain some semblance of immunity from prosecution was a reminder that courts consider themselves to be above all definitions of justice. “…this is just what one would expect: that corruption, dissolution and decadence should give each other a deformed reflection in this infamy.”

Justice manages to deform reality beyond its own illusion. “Democratic prison and democratic political trials - democratic exploitation.” The consequences of conspiracy charges tarnish the eloquence of language and actions. Viewed from the democratic bench of justice, truth and exile become terms which represent a distorted image of the oppressed person’s reality. To the political prisoner, truth is entwined within the revolutionary struggle - it is not to be separated, forged or diminished because to do so would mean annihilating the concept of revolution. Truth was the weapon which flung the conspiracy theories back to the mahogany benches.

Once released from prison, Negri hardly had time to savour freedom. Each time he visited his comrades in prison, whom he had left with the promise of campaigning for their release, they urged him to flee Italy - the threat of re-arrest remained relevant. Negri ponders the spectrum of freedom and exile. Once stripped of immunity, he decides to flee to France out of the desire to safeguard his freedom from the hypocrisy of the courts. Also, Negri realises that mediation with regard to political prisoners is destined to fail. Here again, exile is destined to be mangled by the court’s power. But for the political prisoner, exile is a means of regeneration. An escape which defies the torture of corrupt justice and, even then, it is a last resort, when one realises that to remain within the confines of a country results in deterioration of identity. Therefore, exile is preservation of freedom, a transformation of survival.

Through the book, Negri maintains the fact that courts are frequently irrational and out of contact with society. Due to the strict interpretation of defining guilt and innocence within their own parameters, as well as within the laws that function in favour of power, resistance, especially Marxist and communist ideologies of resistance are considered subversive and therefore negativity accumulates in their regard. With the distinct ideology of class struggle, justice is tasked with forging a strategy which seeks to accommodate society. It fails to identify the minorities or else seeks to engulf them through forced assimilation.

Negri’s language and philosophy is brimming with revolutionary consciousness. In a simpler reflection towards the end of the book, the regeneration of ideals and humanity is pondered upon, as a means to combat the cycle of vengeance found in the halls of justice and oppressive politics. “There is no struggle between nature and liberty - there is a continuity of struggle and of continuous building, of the one and the other.”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

21 Speeches That Shaped Our World

21 Speeches That Shaped Our World
By Chris Abbott
Rider Books, 2010

Review by Ramona Wadi

An insightful journey through history, bringing together some of the most important speeches infiltrating humanity. Chris Abbott has woven the political rhetoric within its era and beyond, creating a provoking discussion that moves beyond the mundane classification of good and evil.

The book portrays a reality which is overshadowed by the flimsy justifications for any action taken by world leaders. From 1913 to 2009, the quest of justice has been championed, albeit on multiple occasions becoming an ideal to ravage later with actions contradictory to political rhetoric. From George W Bush to Osama bin Laden, Dwight Eisenhower and Salvador Allende, as well as Emmeline Pankhurst, Martin Luther King and other prominent historical figures, 21 Speeches That Shaped Our World is far from just a speech collection. Abbot's insight and commentary fuels further debate on the subject, and most of it is far from flattering.

To focus on a fragment of this volume, Abbot elaborates on the diverging political ideology between the US and Latin America, with Allende's speech marking the triumphant expression against the coup wholly supported by the world's superpower. The necessity to remain a superpower led the US to instigate wars against communist countries and the third world - preventing the socialist movement from gaining power. "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide from themselves," declared Henry Kissinger prior to elections in 1970. Allende's graceful exit prior to his alleged suicide contains a rhetoric that is closer to the masses. "These are my last words ... I am certain that, at the very least, it will be a moral lesson that will punish felony, cowardice and treason."

Obama's political rhetoric had raised hopes for Americans and the rest of the world. His special attention and focus on the issues of Guantanamo, torture and the incessant wars in Iraq and Afghanistan led him to receive a Nobel Prize - for positive political rhetoric. The Obama administration has reneged on peace - actions include sending more soldiers to Afghanistan and supporting Zionist action against Palestinians and Palestinian territory.

Abbot makes a distinct observation which people should bear in mind whenever haranguing about one politician or another. Despite the logical conclusion that action is the fodder that matters, rhetoric goes beyond logic and assumes its own prominence, with promises of reform and actions which betray a manipulation of the masses.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Introducing Machiavelli - A Graphic Guide by Patrick Curry & Oscar Zarate

Introducing Machiavelli - A Graphic Guide
by Patrick Curry
Illustrations by Oscar Zarate

Icon Books, 2011

Review by Ramona Wadi

"He who neglects what is done for what ought to be done sooner affects his ruin than his repservation." The Prince - Niccolo Machiavelli

Far from the simplistic views insisting that Machiavelli's philosophy is one of treachery, Machiavelli - A Graphic Guide is an excellent, brief briography and reference of political thought. Considered the epitome of evil and cunning by some, and a profound thinker who discerned the process of power by others, this book gives various interpretations of Machiavelli's philosophy.

One of the most prominent thinkers of the Renaissance, Niccolo Machiavelli is considered one of the main contributors to political science. A civil servant of the political republic, Machiavelli was also a diplomat, philosopher and musician. After the execution of Savonarola, Machiavelli was elected secretary to the chancery of the Florentine republic. He witnessed periods of political upheaval and in 1513 was accused of conspiracy against the anti-Medici government. Machiavelli was arrested and subjected to rope torture - a painful procedure which involved hanging a prisoner from the wrists with the arms tied behind the back and resulted in dislocation of the shoulders.

It was upon his release that Machiavelli drew upon his observations and gave vent to writing. The Prince - his most popular work was not published until years after his death. It was this book that earned him a malignant reputation amongst his critics. However, intellectuals such as Antonio Gramsci (imprisoned by Mussolini in 1926) rethought Machiavelli's masterpiece, interpreting 'the prince' as the 'the people'. It is precisely the appeal and ease of manipulating the concepts to any political framework that sets Machiavelli apart from other theorists.

Machiavelli - A Graphic Guide is a necessity for anyone with the slightest interest in one of the most fundamental political philosophers. Drawing on Renaissance history, Machiavelli's life and work as well as the various interpretations of his thought make this book a valuable asset as well as an analytical reference.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Power and Terror - Conflict, Hegemony and the Rule of Force by Noam Chomsky

Power and Terror - Conflict, Hegemony and the Rule of Force
by Noam Chomsky

Pluto Press, 2010

Review by Ramona Wadi

"The list of the states that have joined the coalition against terror is quite impressive. They have a characteristic in common. They are certainly among the leading terrorist states in the world. And they happen to be led by the world champion."  Noam Chomsky

Power and Terror is a logical breakdown of an irrational facade of justice. Chomsky's rendition of power is less of an opinion; more a sliver of reality which the US is capable of manipulating and presenting as its own concept of truth.

The US government's rhetoric of human rights and freedom serves to alienate the world from its complicity in oppressions. The world's superpower has engaged in many wars, supported right wing military dictatorships in Latin America and waged a 'war on terror' after September 11 which led to the invasion of Iraq. The flagrant hypocrisy of imperialism bludgeoned language to create terminology that soothed their involvement in exploitation and torture.

Hence 'counter-revolutionary' activities was the term used for any terror the US indulged in. Drawing on interference in various countries, Chomsky exhibits the relation between aid and torture, between human rights rhetoric and human rights abuses. For all its condescending attitude, the US government had no qualms about disregarding popular opinion regarding the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions.

In the 90's Colombia had the worst human rights record, yet it was regarded as a US ally and therefore received aid by the world's superpower. Colin Powell had declared "Colombia meets Washington's human rights standards." Taken at face value, considering only the illusion conjured by power, the statement creates a dissonance. Yet, when one considers that the crimes perpetrated by the US in various countries the statement makes perfect sense. The US continues to breach the Geneva Conventions, it supplies Israel with tanks, helicopters and other war supplies to assist in annihilating the Palestinians, it votes against any UN resolutions in order to remain the world's superpower, exploits countries by supplying aid which gives the means to torture, creates and discards allies as it did with Saddam Hussein and blocks any diplomatic efforts in a manner that enhances the possibility for war.

In the world of power, only one side is destined to receive condolences for the dead. The millions of victims exterminated due to the US interpretation of human rights and freedom seem to be almost irrelevant in the grander scheme of things; collateral damage, an unfortunate circumstance which power was reluctant to prevent.