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Dozens Arrested as Over 1,000 Jewish Activists and Allies Shut Down Entrances to ICE Headquarters Demanding Closure of Trump Detention Camps

Sat, 07/20/2019 - 23:27

via Common Dreams

by Jake Johnson

“It’s not just symbolic—we’re actually shutting down ICE,” said one organizer

Over a thousand progressive Jewish activists and allies on Tuesday shut down the entrances to ICE headquarters in Washington, D.C. to protest President Donald Trump’s treatment of migrants and demand the closure of the administration’s detention camps.

As The Daily Beast reported, ICE employees “were forced to walk around the protesters, looking for ways to enter the building, as people outside caught glimpses of workers inside checking the doors.”

“We will not allow them to get to their destructive place of work,” said one activist who attended the demonstration, which was organized by Jewish advocacy group Never Again Action and immigrant rights campaigners with Movimiento Cosecha.

Protesters locked arms in the middle of the street leading to ICE headquarters and faced off with city police. Dozens of demonstrators were reportedly arrested during the action, which lasted around five hours.

“It’s not just symbolic—we’re actually shutting down ICE,” one organizer told Buzzfeed.

“More than a thousand Jews, immigrants, and allies shut down DHS/ICE headquarters for hours today,” wrote historian Angus Johnston. “This is a more significant development in the history of this administration than the House censure resolution.”

It’s a dark day in America when police are lined up against Jews protesting Concentration Camps.#JewsAgainstICE

— Joshua Potash (@JoshuaPotash) July 16, 2019

Protesters here are singing in Hebrew and Spanish, chanting and insisting they will not be moved. #DC police have blocked off the street outside #ICE headquarters, where a handful of protesters are dancing. No sign of arrests outside the building so far.

— Marissa J. Lang (@Marissa_Jae) July 16, 2019

We are going to shut down business as usual until Congress shut down ICE. Don’t believe us? @NeverAgainActn @CosechaMovement

— Alyssa Rubin (@aly_mixed_up) July 16, 2019

On an overpass, activists unfurled a banner that addressed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is under fire from progressives for approving Republican legislation that handed ICE and other immigration agencies $4.6 billion with no safeguards for migrant children, who are enduring horrific conditions inside Trump’s detention centers.

“Pelosi, never again is now. #DignityNotDetention,” the banner read.

The #JewsAgainstICE protestors have dropped a banner: “Pelosi, never again is now.

— julia reinstein (@juliareinstein) July 16, 2019

“Every undocumented Movimiento Cosecha organizer who shut down ICE HQ today did 100 times more to shut down ICE and close the camps than Speaker Pelosi has done in the past two years,” Never Again Action wrote on Twitter. “It’s time to organize, because the Dems won’t fix this unless we make them.”

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The post Dozens Arrested as Over 1,000 Jewish Activists and Allies Shut Down Entrances to ICE Headquarters Demanding Closure of Trump Detention Camps appeared first on Infoshop News.

The Blob Fought the Squad, and the Squad Won

Sat, 07/20/2019 - 23:08

via CounterPunch

by Rob Urie

For students of political history, a cottage industry has grown in recent years around identifying the historical circumstances and intellectual origins of neoliberalism. While the initial conditions have been identified in the post-WWII effort to cleave German fascism from its American roots, what hasn’t been explained is the hold it has over a broad range of Western political ideology.

This background has bearing on the current effort by the American political establishment to crush ‘the squad’ of left House Democrats whose apparent trespass was to mean what they said about representing the interests of the American public. Establishment incredulity centers on the question: why enact policies when signaling shared beliefs (‘virtue’) has maintained the social order for this long?

The problem that AOC and company created was to put forward popular programs like Medicare for All, a Green New Deal and a Job Guarantee in concert with plausible explanations of how to pay for them. Each of these represent well-considered responses to profound market failures. What their establishment colleagues have yet to come to terms with is that neoliberalism has left a plurality of Americans living in a ‘shithole country.’

Party leaders joining forces to charge ‘the squad’ and their supporters with being un-American is to assert an imagined community. In legal, institutional and historical terms, ‘the squad’ is as American as any of their establishment accusers. What is meant by the charge is that the American ‘community’ is defined by a set of beliefs, not citizenship, geography or institutional affiliations.

Who it is who gets to define this set of beliefs is the point of contention. Given that ‘the squad’ and their supporters are factually Americans, the onus could in theory be reversed to ask: why don’t the establishment politicians and their supporters leave? The answer gets to the self-legitimating nature of representative democracy. The establishment was elected to represent the people, which gives it legitimacy of place, goes the theory.

But the same could be claimed for ‘the squad.’ Its members were elected to represent their respective constituencies. This gets to the deeper question of legitimacy that establishment interests don’t want raised. Understood by the establishment is that ‘the squad’ must get around both party leaderships to get its programs enacted. In this sense, opposition to ‘the squad’ appears as it is: opposition to the public interest.

Lest this be less than evident, if this is played well it is a political gift to the left. As circumstances stand, there is zero likelihood of getting these and like policies past the establishment gatekeepers in both parties. The establishment’s move to join forces to ‘other’ left opposition relies on the Democrats’ conceit that in the eyes of the public they, and the establishment they claim to defend, are worth keeping. Maybe, maybe not.

This same Democratic party establishment has facilitated Donald Trump’s presidency every step of the way. The Russia! scam was a competition for strategic assets. The dirty industries were Mr. Trump’s from the get-go. If he brought over Goldman Sachs and tech to his side, the Democrats would be screwed. This ‘insider-ball’ works only so long as material conditions remain conducive to political somnambulance. The ‘love it or leave it’ gambit suggests rising insecurity within the establishment.

In 2018 establishment Democrats used the #resistance to ‘sheepdog’ the left back into the fold going into the mid-term elections. ‘The squad’ was elected and the House Democrats, who lack the power to enact legislation, set about virtue signaling by passing policies they have no intention of pursuing if returned to power. ‘The squad’ was useful in this regard up to the point it continued pushing an actual agenda.

To support this assertion, soon after being returned to power House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a lieutenant to assure health insurance executives that House Democrats had no intention of enacting Medicare for All. This follows Barack Obama’s move to assure Canadian legislators that his promise to renegotiate NAFTA was just campaign rhetoric. Establishment Democrats quickly tired of ‘the squad’ once it became evident that they are serious.

Much as it was intended when it was used to attack anti-Vietnam War protestors in the 1960s and 1970s, the ‘America, love it or leave it’ slogan is a call-to-arms for an imagined community in the same way that Mr. Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ refers to an imagined past. The ‘othering’ it embodies goes beyond racism to imply that supporters of social democratic policies are anti-American.

Lost on the left is that this gimmick is intended to stir mutual fear and hatred between rural and suburban flag-wavers and urban democratic socialists. ‘The squad’ understands this tactic— this is what makes them a threat. Bernie Sanders went on Fox News to sell Medicare for All as a universal benefit. AOC offered to speak with coal miners in Kentucky who feared being left unemployed and penniless if a Green New Deal were passed.

While public opinion has it that Donald Trump has been more effective at rallying nationalistic rage, establishment Democrats used Russiagate to precisely this same end. Americans were either with the Democrats or they were with Putin, went the chide. With Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump joining forces to construct a nationalist wedge against the left, the political use-value of ‘identity’ politics is on the side of the political establishment— exactly where it has always been.

Another way of framing this is through the question: are Democrats ignorant of their history, or does faith guide their interpretation of the party’s policies? Arch segregationist Joe Biden is converted to a ‘friend of segregationists’ by Democrats who use his words to interpret his acts. The man built a political career advocating for the racial segregation of public schools. He went on to demonize poor blacks as he played a key role in building the racialized gulag system of mass incarceration.

The issue of identity gets to the heart of the neoliberal basis of Democratic politics. Grant for the moment that racism, patriarchy, xenophobia and gender bias describe real social phenomena. (I believe they do). The question then becomes: what, if anything, should be done about them? Each of these describes an aspect of social power. ‘The squad’s’ programs are intended to redistribute power democratically in the dimensions of healthcare, environmental justice and guaranteed employment that pays a living wage.

Given the existing distribution of power, those with the least stand to gain the most from these programs. To the extent that racism, patriarchy and gender bias have determined the existing distribution of power, correcting these would be accomplished via the size of the benefit matching the degree of the disparity. This is the nature of universal benefits. And it is what makes ‘the squad’s’ programs so politically potent.

Asked reverse-wise, why wouldn’t establishment Republicans be overcome with joy at an internecine squabble that threatens to tear the Democrats apart? Donald Trump ran and won as an opposition candidate. The establishment Democrats are running as the viable political alternative to Mr. Trump. Faux opposition between the parties is the mechanism by which establishment interests have long been perpetuated.

Should the left prevail, Mr. Trump would be stripped of his insurgent status. Establishment Democrats have proclaimed themselves guardians of the status quo. It is in their joint interest to ‘other’ the left, which is what they are doing. Otherwise, the Democrats have spent four decades demonstrating that they are fine with racism, xenophobia, patriarchy and gender bias if it serves their political ends. But where is the public interest to be found in any of this?

The faith versus acts divide that Democrats have relied on politically is a carryover from Christian theology. The rationale of the party faithful is that Democrats use racial appeals like the 1994 Crime Bill, opposing school busing and ‘ending welfare as we know it’ to win elections. In contrast, Republicans hold racist opinions, which makes them racists. However, committing racist acts makes people racists, regardless of their beliefs about race.

The subtext of these establishment machinations is that the American political system exists to provide cover for rule by capital. The posture of the political center as the locus of reason is belied by the willingness of establishment forces to risk killing everyone on the planet with nuclear weapons, environmental decline, genocidal wars and dysfunctional economics. It is this political center that is extreme, willing to risk everything to maintain control.

While it may be simplistic to posit a singularity of capitalist interests, is it also true that the manufacture of nuclear weapons is a business, that environmental decline is a by-product of capitalist production, that wars are undertaken both to control resources and to use up military inventory and that the level of economic dysfunction is proportional to the concentration of income and wealth amongst the oligarchs.

One could grant— improbably, that the collective ‘we’ were brought to this place in history honestly, that the world is complicated and that through genocide, slavery and wars too numerous to count, we did the best we could. But this wouldn’t have one iota of relevance to where we take it from here. In this sense, ‘the squad’ exists amongst the potential heroes of this moment.

Possibly of value here is Noam Chomsky’s functional definition of class as who it is that gets to decide. Capitalism has always been ‘authoritarian,’ with owners and bosses doing the deciding. Ironically, from the bourgeois perspective, politics finds these same authoritarians determining public policy through their surrogates in the political realm. Donald Trump’s existence is an argument against concentrated power, not who wields it.

An argument could be made that ‘the squad’ was elected on precisely this point. Policies that promote economic democracy are the best way to achieve political democracy. Conversely, the greatest threat to political democracy is concentrated economic power. The Federal government spent at least a few trillion dollars on gratuitous wars in recent years, and several trillion more on bailing out financial interests. The money has always been there to meet social needs.

From the lips of my Democratic congressman in a recent town hall meeting, ‘prosperity’ is the first order of business for serious Democrats. Through this prism Medicare for All is Obamacare with higher payouts to insurance company executives and the Green New Deal is a public / private partnership to restore Central Park views to apartments along Fifth Avenue. The official lack of urgency surrounding climate change and species loss is profound, even heroic.

The disconnect between believing and acting is just as profound. Given his connections to the Democratic party establishment, it is certain that these views come straight from the top. Democrats ‘believe’ (have faith in) the science regarding climate change just as they believe that ‘prosperity’ has bearing on the lives of the little people who elect them. What more is there to be done after one believes the science? What matters is believing, having faith.

The progressive commentariat has knives out for Nancy Pelosi, much as it has long had for Donald Trump. The question is need of an answer: is the goal better representation for the oligarchs or some semblance of democratic control? The American political establishment exists to serve monied interests. The way to restore democratic control is to de-concentrate wealth. The insistence that ‘the problem’ is a personnel issue only serves to perpetuate concentrated power.

The ‘love it or leave it’ chide suggests that political tensions are rising. This is the time for the left to press on. The public supports programs that make their lives better. AOC can bring in people to credibly explain how we can afford these programs, and how we can’t afford not to implement them. Class, the 0.1%., 9.9% and 90% in income and wealth terms, is a good proxy for the distribution of political power. Universal benefits like ‘the squad’ is proposing would go far toward restoring the power people have over their own lives. The ultimate goal is economic democracy.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.

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Puerto Rican Feminists Demand Governor’s Resignation Due to Remarks

Sat, 07/20/2019 - 22:54

via Black Rose Anarchist Federation

Introduction by Aurora Santiago-Ortiz

La Colectiva Feminista en Construcción, referred to as “La Cole,” began in 2013 when feminist activists from the Puerto Rican student movement and other radical activist spaces decided to create an intentional space to address multiple and simultaneous oppressions affecting womxn and femmes. La Cole is an intersectional political organization, with an explicitly anti-capitalist, anti-racist, pro-queer and trans agenda from its inception. La Cole is a highly visible presence in Puerto Rico’s public sphere and have consistently put forward their opposition to capitalist and neoliberal government policies that have dispossessed and disenfranchised the most vulnerable populations in Puerto Rico: Black, poor, trans, queer, womxn and femmes. These policies are reflected in the closing of public schools, public university funding cuts, and health care and services.

During the past two years, La Cole has carried out an intensive campaign against the alarming number of femicides in Puerto Rico, which were at 23 in 2018, with many more cases under investigation. Among the investigated are members of the Puerto Rican police force. In 2019 to date, 9 women have died at the hands of intimate partners or ex-partners, including a 13-year-old girl. In November 2018, La Cole drafted an Executive Order so that Governor Ricardo Rosselló would declare a State of Emergency and create public policy addressing the femicides in Puerto Rico. La Cole spent two nights camping out in front of the Governor’s mansion, holding workshops and other activities to educate and raise awareness of gender violence. Governor Rosselló did not meet with La Cole and no such State of Emergency has been declared. 

It should come as no surprise that when 889 pages of a private Telegram group chat which included the Governor surfaced this past weekend, the public reacted with outrage in reading the misogynist, racist, and classist comments coming from the Governor, and several of his cabinet members, and advisers.  

Statement by Colectiva Feminista en Construcción, Puerto Rico

Versión en español abajo

Members of the Colectiva Feminista en Construcción demanded the resignation of Governor Ricardo Roselló Nevares, after the publication of a series of Telegram messages, in which he makes misogynistic and homophobic remarks, as do other members of his cabinet.

“For over a year we have been claiming a State of Emergency due to the violence that women suffer in this country. We have addressed our claims to the state, denouncing their inaction and complicity in maintaining this state of emergency, by not taking affirmative and effective actions to address it. If this government has been consistent in anything, it has been in ignoring this reality. That, along with the governor’s unfortunate remarks, such as calling former councilman Mark Viverito a “hooker,” among other sexist and homophobic statements, shows us the discriminatory nature of his administration and his inability to govern this country, so we demand its immediate resignation,” said Zoán Dávila Roldán, spokesperson for the Collective.

For her part, Vanesa Contreras Capó, also a spokesperson for the organization, stressed that the gender violence that plagues the country not only manifests itself within relationships, but is a reflection of social institutions, the education system, the lack of health services, of the government, its public policy, and the recent cases of corruption, in which funds were allegedly diverted from the departments of education and health. Therefore, she considers, citizen action is necessary.

“Yesterday and today have been decisive days for Puerto Rico. The rampant corruption and sexism of the government of this country force us to take to the streets and demand not only the resignation of the misogynist governor, Ricardo Roselló, but also demand resources for a citizen audit of the debt. At times when institutional violence has shown us its worst face, in the Collective we are ready to continue promoting the mobilizations that will succeed in stopping robbery, looting and institutional violence, “said Contreras Capó.

Last November, the Collective stayed for three days in front of La Fortaleza, denouncing the gender violence, in all of its diverse manifestations, that affects women all over the country. There they demanded that the governor declare a state of emergency and implement a plan that addresses this problem in a holistic manner. Similarly, in conversations with his aides, they denounced the austerity measures implemented by his government, which have put the lives and well-being of women and their families in the country at risk. At this time, the governor did not heed the organization. Later, he expressed to the spokespersons of the Collective, that “he would not sign the Executive Order.”

“Now we know why the governor did not hear us while we were three days in front of Fortaleza. Now we know why he did not want to meet with us, now we know why they continue murdering, attacking, raping, abusing, harassing women in this country with impunity; because the one who runs the country is the first to do violence to us,” said Dávila Roldán.

The call of the Colectiva Feminista en Construcción is focused on the state, knowing that it holds the power to facilitate the conditions to overcome the inequalities that women in the country face. Consequently, it has demanded the implementation of education with a gender perspective, a demand which has been ignored by the governor. His remarks not only highlight the need to address gender violence through prevention and education, but it underscores the call for declaring a state of emergency.

“Governor Ricardo Rosselló has done violence not only to women – whom he insults directly – but to the country. His attack was not that he called us “whores,” “kittens,” or any other macho epithet; the governor’s attack is that he still has not declared a state of emergency against gender violence,” concluded Contreras Capó.

Image: Colectiva Feminista en Construcción

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Enclosure of the commons

Sat, 07/20/2019 - 19:37

via New Frame

by Peter Linebaugh

This is an edited extract from Red Round Globe Hot Burning: A Tale at the Crossroads of Commons and Closure, of Love and Terror, of Race and Class, and of Kate and Ned Despard, which has recently been published by the University of California Press.

Global phenomena of resistance to enclosures have been led by the Zapatistas in Mexico (1994), the anti-globalisers of intellectual property at the “battle of Seattle” (1999), the women of the Via Campesino against the corporate seizure of the planetary germplasm, the shack dwellers from Durban to Cape Town, the women of the Niger River delta protesting naked against the oil spillers, the indigenous peoples of the Andes Mountains against the water takers, the seed preservers of Bangladesh, the tree huggers of the Himalayas, the movement of “the circles and the squares” in the hundreds of municipal Occupys (2011) and the thousands of water protectors at Standing Rock (2017). Inspired by these phenomena, revisions of the meaning of “the commons”, and its relationship to communism, socialism, anarchism and utopianism, have become part of the worldwide discourse against the effort to shut it down or enclose it. In general the story is a couple hundred years old.

In 1793, William Blake, the London artist, poet and prophet, came to the conclusion that Enclosure = Death.

This is what Blake wrote:

They told me that I had five senses to inclose me up,
And they inclos’d my infinite brain into a narrow circle,
And sunk my heart into the Abyss, a red round globe hot burning
Till all from life I was obliterated and erased. 

Blake had the prophetic power to imagine a different world, and a different heart. That single phrase, “a red round globe hot burning”, might refer to the war between England and France, or to the struggle for freedom among the Haitian slaves, or to the fires making steam for the new engines of the time – war, revolution and work – but it is even deeper than that. It concerns the planet itself. Blake’s geology anticipates the planetary Anthropocene, the “red round globe hot burning”. As for the five senses that close up his heart and brain, they refer to the dominant philosophy of the time – secular, empirical, utilitarian – and the resulting political economy. How else might knowledge be obtained?

War between France and England began in 1793 and did not conclude until 1815. There is a story of possible republics – France, England, Scotland, Ireland, Haiti and the United States – but each fell short of equality or of any real notion of commonwealth. France became an empire under Napoleon. England became an empire as the United Kingdom. One island disappeared as an independent polity (Ireland), while another’s independence actually began to appear (Haiti). The United States consolidated itself as a white, settler-property regime with Jefferson’s election (1800) and more than tripled its size with the Louisiana Purchase (1803).

The North American continent was taken, surveyed into squares and sold. In England, thousands of individual parliamentary acts of enclosure closed the country, parish by parish. The United States (1789) and the United Kingdom (1801) were new political entities devoted to the enclosure of the commons. They became deeply entangled as plantation production shifted from Caribbean sugar to mainland cotton, destroying cotton production in India and the Ottoman Empire. Cotton imports rose from £32 million in 1798 to £60.5 million in 1802, while the value of exported English manufactures went from £2 million in 1792 to £7.8 million in 1802. Edmund Cartwright’s steam-powered loom was adopted in 1801. Eli Whitney’s cotton gin was at work by 1793, and cotton production had tripled by 1800. It was the machine, particularly the steam engine and the cotton gin, that economically connected the other two structures, Enclosure and Slavery. The ship connected them geographically.

Enclosure refers to land, where most people worked. Its enclosure was their loss. No longer able to subsist on land, people were dispossessed, and in a literal painful way they became rootless. Arnold Toynbee, the originator of the phrase “industrial revolution”, in his lectures of 1888 showed that it was preceded by the enclosures of the commons. Karl Marx understood this, making it the theme of the origin of capitalism.

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The New Imperialist Structure

Sat, 07/20/2019 - 19:26

via Monthly Review


Contemporary capitalism is a capitalism of generalized monopolies. What I mean by that is that monopolies no longer form islands (important as they may be) in an ocean of corporations that are not monopolies—and consequently are relatively autonomous—but an integrated system, and consequently now tightly control all productive systems. Small and medium-sized companies, and even large ones that are not themselves formally owned by the oligopolies, are enclosed in networks of control established by the monopolies upstream and downstream. Consequently, their margin of autonomy has shrunk considerably. These production units have become subcontractors for the monopolies. This system of generalized monopolies is the result of a new stage in the centralization of capital in the countries of the triad that developed in the 1980s and ’90s.

Simultaneously, these generalized monopolies dominate the world economy. Globalization is the name that they themselves have given to the imperatives through which they exercise their control over the productive systems of world capitalism’s peripheries (the entire world beyond the partners of the triad). This is nothing other than a new stage of imperialism.

As a system, generalized and globalized monopoly capitalism ensures that these monopolies derive a monopoly rent levied on the mass of surplus value (transformed into profits) that capital extracts from the exploitation of labor. To the extent that these monopolies operate in the peripheries of the globalized system, this monopoly rent becomes an imperialist rent. The capital accumulation process—which defines capitalism in all of its successive historical forms—is consequently governed by the maximization of monopolistic/imperialist rent.

This displacement of the center of gravity of capital accumulation lies behind the continual pursuit of the concentration of incomes and fortunes, increasing monopoly rents, and captured mostly by the oligarchies (plutocracies) that control the oligopolistic groups, to the detriment of labor incomes and even the revenues of non-monopolistic capital.In turn, this continually growing disequilibrium is itself the origin of the financialization of the economic system. What I mean is that a growing portion of the surplus can no longer be invested in the expansion and strengthening of productive systems and that the “financial investment” of this growing surplus is the only possible alternative for continuing the accumulation controlled by the monopolies. This financialization, which accentuates the growth in unequal distribution of income (and wealth), generates the growing surplus on which it feeds. The financial investments (or, more accurately, investments of financial speculation) continue to grow at breathtaking rates, disproportionate with the rates of gross national product growth (which itself then becomes largely false) or rates of investment in the productive system. The breathtaking growth in financial investments requires—and sustains—among other things, the growth in the debt, in all its forms, particularly sovereign debt. When existing governments claim to pursue the goal of “debt reduction,” they deliberately lie. The strategy of financialized monopolies needs growth in the debt (which they seek and do not oppose)—a financially attractive means to absorb the surplus from monopoly rents. Austerity policies imposed to “reduce the debt,” as it is said, actually end up increasing its volume, which is the sought-after consequence.

The Plutocrats: The New Ruling Class of Obsolescent Capitalism

The logic of accumulation lies in the growing concentration and centralization of control over capital. Formal ownership can be spread out (as in the “owners” of shares in pension plans), whereas the management of this property is controlled by financial capital.

We have reached a level of centralization in capital’s power of domination, such that the bourgeoisie’s forms of existence and organization as known up to now have been completely transformed. The bourgeoisie was initially formed from stable bourgeois families. From one generation to the next, the heirs carried on the specialized activities of their companies. The bourgeoisie was built and built itself over the long run. This stability encouraged confidence in “bourgeois values” and promoted their influence throughout the entire society. To a large extent, the bourgeoisie as dominant class was accepted as such. Its access to the privileges of comfort and wealth seemed deserved in return for the services they rendered. It also seemed mainly national in orientation, sensitive to national interests, whatever the ambiguities and limitations of this manipulated concept might have been. The new ruling class abruptly breaks with this tradition. Some describe the transformation in question as the development of active shareholders (sometimes even characterized as populist shareholders) fully reestablishing property rights. This laudatory and misleading characterization legitimizes the change and fails to recognize that the major aspect of the transformation involves the degree of concentration in control of capital and the accompanying centralization of power. The new ruling class is no longer counted in the tens of thousands or even millions, as was the case with the older bourgeoisie. Moreover, a large proportion of the new bourgeoisie is made up of newcomers who emerged more by the success of their financial operations (particularly in the stock market) than by their contribution to the technological breakthroughs of our era. Their ultrarapid rise is in stark contrast with their predecessors, whose rise took place over numerous decades.

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Noam Chomsky: Trump Is Trying to Exploit Tension With Iran for 2020

Sat, 07/20/2019 - 13:28

via Truthout

by David Barsamian

Any concern about Iranian weapons of mass destruction could be alleviated by the single means of heeding Iran’s call to establish a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone in the Middle East,” says legendary public intellectual Noam Chomsky, but that isn’t stopping the Trump administration from concocting stories about Iran threatening to “conquer the world” in order to escalate tensions and thereby strengthen Trump’s hand going into the 2020 election.

In this exclusive transcript of a conversation aired on Alternative Radio, Noam Chomsky — the brilliant MIT professor and linguist who in one index is ranked as the eighth most cited person in history, right up there with Shakespeare and Marx — discusses Iran’s military deterrence strategy and the actions taken by U.S. leaders who cannot countenance what the State Department describes as Iran’s “successful defiance.”

David Barsamian: Let’s talk about Iran, in particular, locating it in post-1945 U.S. foreign policy. Washington laid out its Grand Area Strategy and Iran takes on enormous significance because of its oil wealth.

Noam Chomsky: Oil wealth and strategic position. It was taken for granted in the Grand Area Strategy planning that the U.S. would dominate the Middle East, what Eisenhower called the “strategically most important part of the world,” a material prize without any analogue.

The basic idea of the early stage of the Grand Strategy and the early stages of the war were that the U.S. would take over what they called the Grand Area, of course, the Western Hemisphere, the former British Empire and the Far East. They assumed at that time that Germany would probably win the war, so there would be two major powers, one German-based with a lot of Eurasia and the U.S. with this Grand Area. By the time it was clear that the Russians would defeat Germany, after Stalingrad and then the great tank battle in Kursk, the planning was modified, and the idea was that the Grand Area would include as much of Eurasia as possible, of course, maintaining control of Middle East oil resources.

There was a conflict over Iran right at the end of the Second World War. The Russians supported a separatist movement in the north. The British wanted to maintain control. The Russians were essentially expelled. Iran was a client state under British control. There was, however, a nationalist movement, and the Iranian leader, Mohammad Mossadegh, led a movement to try to nationalize Iranian oil.

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How American Workers Won the Eight-Hour Workday

Mon, 07/15/2019 - 03:50

via Teen Vogue

by Kim Kelly

We’ve all had one of those days, when the clock seems frozen in time and the workday drags on, and on, and on. Eight hours can feel like a lifetime, the minutes crawling by, your mood souring by the second.

Now imagine how much worse you’d feel if you had been standing on a hard factory floor for eight hours already and were staring down two more hours, or four, or even more than that? And what if you were pulling those kind of interminable days six times a week—or seven? That’s what a typical day used to be like for the typical worker in an American city, who would struggle through 12-plus-hour shifts at a factory, slaughterhouse, cotton mill, or garment shop until they could trudge home and collapse for a few hours before waking up and doing it all over again.

The eight-hour day and the two-day weekend to which we’ve become so accustomed were not always a given. For many years, they were little more than a pipe dream, the kind of outlandish notions that anarchists, socialists, and trade unionists whispered about at clandestine meetings (and shouted about in beer halls). The idea of having two whole days off per week to rest and spend time with family once seemed like an unimaginable luxury to the toiling class, as out of reach as a $15 minimum wage (or the idea of a standard minimum wage at all). The fight for the eight-hour workday once captivated the American political imagination much like ambitious, potentially transformative policy proposals like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal have become rallying cries for the working class.

This all goes back to the Industrial Revolution, a period between 1750 and 1900 that saw the United States, the United Kingdom, and a number of other European countries embark on a rapid shift away from an economic system built around agriculture and hand-crafted goods and toward industrial manufacturing. At first, this primarily impacted the Northeast and Midwest. It took longer for industrialization to take hold in the South and West, where agriculture was king and the greedy railroad barons who controlled farmers’ access to the market kept freight prices high.

That meant that scores of people moved away from the countryside and funneled into expanding cities like Chicago and New York City to find work. Those cities soon became crowded and dirty, and the workers themselves suffered due to the low wages, squalid living conditions, and countless factories belching smoke into the sky that came to characterize turn-of-the-century urban life.

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Noam Chomsky: Trump Is Consolidating Far-Right Power Globally

Mon, 07/15/2019 - 03:42

via Truthout

by C.J. Polychroniou

it is no easy task to make sense of U.S. foreign policy in the current era. Trump is wildly unpredictable and lacks any semblance of a coherent view of world affairs, appearing to believe that all it takes is “the art of the deal” to turn “enemies” into friends. Meanwhile, since Trump’s rise to power, the end of U.S. hegemony has come into sight.

In the exclusive Truthout interview below, renowned public intellectual Noam Chomsky — one of the world’s most astute critics of U.S. foreign policy in the postwar era — sheds considerable light on the current state of U.S. foreign policy, including Trump’s relations with the leaders of North Korea, Russia and China, as well as his so-called “Middle East Peace Plan.”

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, in 2016 Trump called U.S foreign policy “a complete and total disaster,” claiming that previous administrations in the post-Cold War era were guided by unrealistic expectations that damaged America’s national interests. Since taking office, he has withdrawn the country from a series of international agreements, demanding that countries pay for U.S. protection, and seeking to advance U.S economic interests through tariffs and protectionism. These moves have led many analysts to speak of a new era in U.S. relations with the world. What’s your own take on Trump’s foreign policy?

Noam Chomsky: One of the most appropriate comments I’ve seen on Trump’s foreign policy appeared in an article in The New Republic written by David Roth, the editor of a sports blog: “The spectacle of expert analysts and thought leaders parsing the actions of a man with no expertise or capacity for analysis is the purest acid satire — but less because of how badly that expert analysis has failed than because of how sincerely misplaced it is … there is nothing here to parse, no hidden meanings or tactical elisions or slow-rolled strategic campaign.”

That seems generally accurate. This is a man, after all, who dismisses the information and analyses of his massive intelligence system in favor of what was said this morning on “Fox and Friends,” where everyone tells him how much they love him. With all due skepticism about the quality of intelligence, this is sheer madness considering the stakes.

And it continues, in ways that are almost surreal. At the recent G20 conference, Trump was asked about Putin’s statement that Western liberalism is obsolete. Trump assumed he must be talking about California: Western liberalism. Putin “may feel that way,” Trump responded: “He sees what’s going on. And I guess, if you look at what’s happening in Los Angeles, where it’s so sad to look; and what’s happening in San Francisco and a couple of other cities which are run by an extraordinary group of liberal people.”

He was asked why the U.S. alone is refusing to join the G20 in a commitment to address global warming and responded by praising the quality of U.S. air and water, apparently not understanding the distinction.

It’s hard to find a comment on foreign policy that departs from this impressive norm. Efforts to detect some coherent global strategy indeed seem to be a kind of acid satire.

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The post Noam Chomsky: Trump Is Consolidating Far-Right Power Globally appeared first on Infoshop News.

Trump is Not the Main Problem

Sun, 07/07/2019 - 04:19


by Wayne Price

Democrats, Trump, and the Upcoming Elections: How Should Anarchists See Them?

Many liberals and other Democrats see Trump as the main problem facing the U.S. Therefore their focus is on defeating him in the next election (or impeachment). They focus on the
electoral system and hope for salvation through government action. I disagree. Trump is a
major problem, but he is the culmination of years of political and economic development,
and is related to similar politics in other countries. The fight against Trumpism requires
a non-electoral and militant program.

To many liberals, progressives, unionists, activists of various just causes, Democrats of all stripes, democratic socialists, and concerned citizens, the problem the U.S. is facing is essentially that Donald J. Trump is president, and is backed by the Republican Party. I disagree with this widespread belief.

It is likely that Trump will be removed from office in the next two years, whether by
impeachment (unlikely due to the Senate Republicans) or by national elections (probably
but not certainly). Liberals, progressives, etc., look forward to this as a glorious day.
The sun will come out from behind the darkling clouds, little birds will sing again, the
miasma of evil and stupidity will lift from the land, and all will be well again. Things
will finally go back to “normal.”

Alas, I do not think that things will be “normal” ever again. I too long to see the vile
Trump gone. I am not cynical and have hopes for the future. Yet I do not see the
replacement of Trump by a Democrat or other establishment politician as the coming of a
glorious new day.

But first I should make clear my views on Trump. As a revolutionary anarchist-socialist, I
have never liked any of the presidents of my lifetime. But I have particularly hated a
few, starting with the Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson, because of the U.S. war on Vietnam. (We
chanted, “Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today!?”) And I especially hated the
Republicans Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush. They were the cutting edge
of the ruling class’ attacks on working people of the U.S. and the world.

But I have never hated any politician as much as I hate the despicable Trump. Personally
he is utterly devoid of conscience or of empathy for others. Mean and cruel, he is
completely self-centered. Devoid of honor, he breaks laws and ethical norms, big and
little, and sells out friends and associates (and “his” country) without a qualm. He sees
women as things to be used. He is a racist. He cannot keep from lying on matters important
and unimportant. While he has a certain sly cunning, Trump is ignorant, incurious, and
stupid. He makes stupid decisions-not just from my standpoint but from that of U.S.

Politically, he holds some bizarre views which are unusual even among the corporate rich
and the right wing Republican establishment: his attachment to the Russian state and
Putin, his unwillingness to condemn Nazis, his reckless use of tariffs, his commitment to
building a wall on the Mexican border, his quarrels with U.S. allies, etc. While most
Republican politicians have bowed to anti-immigrant fervor, Trump really believes in the
“threat” of immigrants. He is not a fascist but neither is he a non-fascist.

As a result of all this, Trump is a very unpopular president (according to the polls).
This is so even in spite of a relative (if shallow and uneven) prosperity (which raises
the question of how voters would react if the next downturn takes place before the
national election). Why do the Republican politicos still support him? Mitch McConnell,
leader of the Senate Republicans, is an intelligent man, if totally cynical. Why does he
back Trump, considering what he must think of him? There are two pro-Trump forces pressing
on the Republicans, one from above and one from below.

From above: Most of the capitalist class did not support Trump in the last election and
would prefer someone else even now. But they love the enormous tax cuts for the rich which
the Republicans passed, with his strong support. They like his and his party’s attacks on
Obamacare. They love the deregulation which he has pushed through all parts of the
executive branch. They are delighted with the conservative, pro-business, judges whom he
has appointed-to the Supreme Court and throughout the federal judiciary. And so on. They
do not want to kill the goose which is laying the golden eggs, even if the goose is
otherwise nuts.

From below: Around 40 per cent, more or less, of the population supports Trump solidly
and fervently. This is the base of the current Republican Party. Republican politicians
fear being voted out in primaries if they oppose Trump. This grouping ranges from crazed
fascists (who identify with the Nazis and Klan) to some who voted for Obama in previous
elections (the loosest part of this base). These people have been lied to and miseducated
in a conscious effort by right-wing forces. They are fed a steady diet of Fox “News,” talk
radio, and Internet blogs which put them in a delusional bubble. Their sexual fears are
whipped up, over homosexuality and abortion rights, by their church leaders. Many are
strongly racist and vote for Trump for that reason; others vote for him for other reasons
but are not turned off by his racism.

A large section of these people do have real grievances: after eight years of Obama,
including a brittle “recovery,” much of the country was still poor, stagnant, and lacking
good jobs. This included many rural and semi-rural areas, in and out of the “Rust Belt.”
The white workers and middle class residents of these regions rejected Hillary Clinton as
an establishment politician. They expected (correctly) that she would continue the
policies which had not helped them (but many also rejected her because she was a woman).
Unfortunately, turning to Trump was no answer to their problems.

The Historical Pattern of Presidents

Does this mean that kicking Donald Trump out of the White House will bring things back to
“normal”? Even though big business will still push for its program of tax cuts and
deregulation and even though a big minority continues to support right wing politics? Can
these forces be defeated through elections?

It is worth going over some history here. The Democrat Lyndon Johnson, who had betrayed
liberals’ hopes by his war on Vietnam, was followed by Richard Nixon. Hated by the Left,
and caught up in the Watergate Scandal, he was forced to resign. Then his hand-picked
successor was beaten in an election by Jimmy Carter. To liberals, progressives, etc.,
these were indeed glorious developments. A new day dawned! Yet Carter, after one term, was
defeated by Ronald Reagan, a far-right “conservative” (which is what reactionaries are
called in the U.S.). He won two terms, plus one presidential term for his vice president,
George H. W. Bush. But Bush was then defeated by Bill Clinton. Clinton could play the
saxophone and appeared to get along well with African-Americans. Again, a glorious new day
finally seemed to have dawned! But after two terms of Clintonian Democracy, the people
voted down his vice president, Al Gore, and elected George W. Bush. (Actually Gore
probably won the popular vote, by a hair’s width, but the Supreme Court majority put Bush
in.) Bush was terrible and stupid, said the liberals, progressives, etc., gnashing their
teeth. He won a second term (probably fairly).

Then Barack Obama was elected, an African-American president! Liberals were ecstatic. Pete
Seeger sang at the inauguration with Bruce Springsteen. Naturally, African-Americans were
particularly pleased, although few of them believed claims that the U.S. was now a
“post-racial” society. Sure enough, the history-making Obama was then followed by…Donald
Trump. (Actually Trump lost the popular vote by a few percentage points, but the archaic
Electoral College put him in.) I am not going to discuss voting suppression by the
Republicans, and various shenanigans by Comey of the FBI, the Russians, etc., which
undermined Hillary Clinton. The U.S. state has intervened in other countries’ politics at
least as much as Russia has.

This little history does not mention the effects of mid-term elections, which often
empowered the reactionary opposition to bind Democratic presidents from carrying out their
more-or-less progressive agendas (as in Obama’s last six years). Nor am I discussing just
how limited these “progressive” agendas turned out to be, time after time-much to the
surprise and dismay of the liberals, progressives, etc. (as in Obama’s first two years).
My point here is the obvious one that the repeated defeats of reactionary presidents and
presidential candidates has not ushered in the dawn of a glorious new day. Instead, the
more-or-less progressive presidents have repeatedly been followed by another reactionary
president. Over time the Republicans have gotten more reactionary and the Democrats have
occupied the space once taken by the Republicans-until we have reached the current
president, a new low in U.S. history.

Why is this? Partially the reason is the two-party system. Unlike many other countries,
U.S. laws make it very difficult to form effective third parties. (There has not been a
new major party since Lincoln’s Republicans replaced the Whigs.) So if people get fed up
with one party, they have little choice but to turn to the other. The range of political
discourse is very limited, generally from mildly liberal to extremely reactionary (but not
usually fascist). The newspapers and television play this up, mostly analyzing elections
as “horse races” and ignoring programs. Citizens are taught to look at the personality of
the individual running rather than at what programs they might implement.

However it would be a mistake to focus too much on U.S. factors. The growth of right-wing,
nationalist, “populism” is world-wide. Other countries, with leaders with personalities
quite different from Trump’s, and with electoral systems quite different from the U.S.
constitution, have developed their own forms of reactionary “populism.” There is Britain
with its “Brexit,” authoritarian right-wing leaders in Hungary, Poland, Italy, and Brazil,
the rise of the far-right LePen in France, Netanyahu in Israel, Modi in India, Duerte in
the Phillipines, and other examples. There are also authoritarian regimes which do not
bother with elections but have similar politics-Putin’s Russia being somewhere in-between
these types.

So, on the one hand, there has been a pattern of increasingly bad presidents, racheting
down, through waves of “moderate” Democrats and reactionary Republicans. On the other
hand, there is a world-wide growth of far-right, authoritarian, regimes. These
developments demonstrate that the problem is bigger than just Trump.

Something New is Happening

For decades after World War II, U.S. politics swung back and forth between the Democrats
and the Republicans. There was little difference between the two. It was a platitude of
U.S. “political science” that this was a strength of U.S. politics, providing stability
and consensus. This changed about the time that the post-World War II prosperity came to
an end (in the 1970s). The economy stagnated, and the making of profits became more
difficult. Big business declared war on the working class (and the environment) in open
and covert ways. The Republicans became the leaders of that attack. Today many look back
on the era of political consensus with sighs of regret. The bitter partisanship of the two
parties is dismaying to many politicians, political “scientists,” and ordinary voters. The
Republicans have moved to the far-right, and the Democrats have stayed just behind them.

Even this development has been shaken up in recent years. On the right, there has grown
white-supremacist, fascist, violent, forces. (By “fascist” I do not mean people who are
simply very conservative, but people who wish to overturn the representative bourgeois
democracy of the U.S. and replace it with a dictatorship.) They have been encouraged by
Trump and have encouraged him, even if he himself is not a fascist.

Perhaps even more surprising is the growth of a socialist movement. Polls have found
thirty to forty percent of the population-especially young adults-with a positive view of
“socialism.” Many have become disillusioned with capitalism. The presidential runs of
Bernie Sanders built on this sentiment and encouraged it. The Democratic Socialists of
America rapidly expanded, attracting people of varying views (even anarchists joined, to
form a Libertarian Socialist Caucus). Socialists were elected to local and national
office, the most well-known, besides Sanders, being Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

These socialists are not very “socialist.” They do not advocate taking away the wealth of
what Sanders has called “the billionaire class.” They do not propose socializing the major
corporations-not even the oil producers and the rest of the energy sector. By
“socializing” I mean anything from national government ownership to municipal ownership to
worker management to consumer cooperatives. (As an anarchist-socialist, I am for the last
two.) Their model is usually an idealized version of the New Deal of Franklyn Roosevelt.
This was an effort to save capitalism from its own failures in the Great Depression-to
save capitalism from itself. That is, they hope to use the existing capitalist state to
manage the market economy in a more efficient, more benevolent, fashion, supposedly in the
interests of the working population. As such their program is not particularly different
from that of liberals, such as Elizabeth Warren. This should not be surprising given the
semi-liberal programs of European social-democratic parties, such as in the Nordic
(Scandinavian) countries, the UK, France, or Germany. Although far from Stalinist
totalitarianism, liberals and democratic socialists have an unjustified faith in the
effectiveness of the state to solve social problems.

The Democrats?

As I am writing there a year and some months to go before the election. The Democrats
still enjoy over 20 candidates for their presidential nomination. They are struggling over
how “left” their rhetoric should be and how generous their proposals should sound (so far,
not one has called for big cuts in the military budget). If they sound “too left,” they
may seem to threaten the capitalist system. This could drive off the big donors who
otherwise would support them against Trump. And it might (or might not) drive off the
moderate base of the Democrats (as opposed to educating them). But if they are not “left”
enough, they will not really challenge Trump, his Republicans, and his corporate backers.
Nor will they motivate their liberal base. What to do?

Liberals often complain about how wishy-washy and spineless the Democrats are in the face
of right-wing attacks. This is in contrast to the Republicans who are “principled” and
even fanatical about their goals. There is a reason for this difference. If the
Republicans stir up their white, relatively privileged, racist, middle class base into
hysterical frenzies, this might result in the nomination of a Trump or, at worst, an
attack on bourgeois democracy-but not on capitalism. But if the Democrats were to rile up
their base, to excite the African-American community and blue collar workers, to mobilize
unions and to organize mass action by youth-this could threaten capitalism. Unlimited
demands by workers, People of Color, people threatened by climate change, etc., would go
past the limits of the capitalist economy. This the Democrats cannot allow and will not

As far as I am concerned, the Democratic candidates are vying to be the top manager of the
most dangerous institution in the world today, This is the U.S. national military-state
and its capitalist economy. I am not sympathetic to this goal. (The U.S. has a military
force larger than the next eight national states. It is a key part of the
life-threatening, climate-destroying, system of national states and the capitalist world

Some liberals, progressives, etc., are impressed with the current flock of Democratic
candidates. This requires taking their words at face value, ignoring what they do not say
(about foreign policy or military spending, for example). And a focus on individuals,
rather than the history of the party. Others, more realistic, argue that the Democrats are
the “lesser evil.” This is to admit that they are evil, even if lesser. I would not deny
that, especially in comparison to Trump and his minions.

But here is my question: Who has a program which is adequate to solve the deep problems of
the U.S. and world? That is, global warming and other ecological catastrophes, the danger
of nuclear war, the probability of a collapse of the capitalist economy-as well as
“lesser” problems such as continuing racism, gender oppression, LGBTQ repression, economic
inequality, stagnation,”small” wars, political authoritarianism, and so on. The very
survival of industrial civilization, and perhaps of humanity and our fellow creatures, is
at stake. Whether the Democrats mean well or are hypocrites and liars, their programs are
simply inadequate for the crises we face. Can it be claimed, by any knowledgable person,
that any Democrat has such a needed program?

It would be delightful to get rid of Donald Trump, this pustule on the ass of humanity.
But if the result is that we are still on the road to armageddon and the destruction of
the world, then my joy is limited.

What Shall We Do?

This is not a discussion of whether to vote. I don’t really care. I doubt that the votes
of a handful of anarchists-or even of all the conscious socialists and radicals in the
country-would make a difference.

The issue is not what a few individuals should do. it is what we radicals should advocate
that mass institutions and movements should do. This includes the unions, the
African-American community, Latinx communities, LGBTQ groups, the ecological and
environmental movement, feminist organizations, etc. These are the base of the Democratic
Party. They donate a large amount of money, and human energy and time, to the Democrats’
electoral efforts. Yet their rewards have not been great. In recent elections, the
Democrats have turned their backs on them, especially on the unions and the working class.
Similarly, unlike the Republicans, the Democrats have admitted that there is a climate
crisis. Yet they have done little about it and advocated limited programs. They have
sought African-Americans votes but done little to improve their lives. And so on.

Errico Malatesta, the Italian revolutionary anarchist-socialist, was a co-worker with
Bakunin and Kropotkin. He commented, “Electionists…compare what is done in the electoral
struggle with what would happen if nothing were done; while instead they should compare
the results obtained when other methods are followed and with what might be achieved if
all effort used to send representatives to power…were[instead]employed in the fight to
directly achieve what is desired.” (Malatesta 2019; 179)

There needs to be massive union organizing drives through the U.S. There should be city
and regional general strikes to fight back against attacks on working people. There need
to be massive and militant demonstrations, with civil disobedience, to fight against
police brutality and other aspects of racism and poverty. Cities should be brought to a
halt until steps are taken to limit global warming. Colleges should be occupied by their
students. So factories and other workplaces.should be occupied by their workers, who
should run them for the common good.

If a Democrat is elected president, with a Democratic Congress, we can expect liberals,
progressives, and activists to be disappointed. The Democrats, whatever their motives,
will stay within the limits of capitalism. Therefore they cannot stop climate change or
improve the living conditions of working people-not under the current conditions of
capitalist stagnation and decline. This disappointment will lead to greater opposition, I
hope. Opposition should not be channeled into the Democratic Party (there to wither and
die),nor into other electoral parties (that is, into other supports of the capitalist
state). They should be directed to direct action and militant activities.

To save the humans, a different system is needed-one based on cooperation, equality, and
freedom, with production for use not profit, and with radically-democratic self-management
of the economy and all aspects of society. Only a few are for this now, but a radical left
wing of the developing movements can be built to fight for this revolutionary goal. If we
are not mesmerized by the flam-flam of the electoral system.


Malatesta, Errico (2019) (Davide Turcato, Ed.) (Paul Sharkey, Trans.). “Towards Anarchy”;
Malatesta in America 1899-1900. The Complete Works of Errico Malatesta; Vol. IV. Chico CA:
AK Press.

*written for

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The American Counterrevolution

Sun, 07/07/2019 - 02:45

via Commune magazine

The fireworks of the Fourth of July commemorate a slave republic that still deserves to burn.

Forty-one of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence owned slaves. In the rare instances where US history acknowledges this fact, slave ownership by the Founding Fathers is presented as hypocrisy, an embarrassing inconsistency in the American Revolution’s otherwise admirable quest to expand human liberty. But for most of these men, slave ownership was not a moral blind spot within an otherwise liberatory panorama, but an entirely consistent aspect of their belief in an independent, white-supremacist settler state. While the American Revolution had a variety of motivations, the preservation of slavery and the business of slavery was a key issue in elites’ drive for independence. In response to this conservative mutiny, enslaved people led a simultaneous and often divergent revolution for emancipation, one that leaves us a truer legacy of a fight for freedom than that we celebrate on July 4.

The events of the revolution turned, in some sense, upon the plight of a single person. James Somerset was an enslaved man living in Boston, Massachusetts when British customs officer Charles Stewart purchased him and eventually brought him to London. In England, Somerset fled bondage in 1771, though he was soon recaptured and imprisoned on a ship bound for a Jamaican sugar plantation. Somerset’s family, working closely with London abolitionist networks, put in an application for a writ of habeas corpus on Somerset’s behalf and forced the British courts to evaluate whether Somerset’s imprisonment and planned removal were legal. In 1772, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield made the momentous ruling that British law did not positively protect slavery, and so Somerset was set free.

The exact meaning of Lord Mansfield’s ruling continues to be debated. Some interpret it as effectively freeing all slaves within England itself, others as more narrowly prohibiting masters from forcibly taking enslaved people outside of England. Many would continue to be enslaved in England for decades, but in the months and years following the decision, thousands left their masters and claimed their freedom. Regardless of the legal details, then, here was James Somerset, an enslaved man who won his freedom through his escape and thereby enabled countless others to emancipate themselves. The Somerset case terrified elites across the British empire, who feared an imminent ruling banning slavery in the West Indies and mainland North America. Such a decision wouldn’t come until 1833, but in planters’ fervid imaginations, British power had fallen into the hands of radical abolitionists.

The press in the thirteen American colonies raged against the Somerset decision. Forty-three stories appeared in twenty colonial papers, warning colonists of the potential for the British Parliament to tax slaves or even ban slavery altogether. Ads for runaway slaves reported that slaves had fled for England, inspired by Mansfield’s ruling. For southerners especially, Somerset was a dramatic escalation of British tyranny. Parliament’s subsequent failure to act to preserve slavery after Mansfield’s decision was definitive proof that Britain had no interest in protecting its colonies’ economic interests.

Colonists dreaded the loss of economic and political power that would come with emancipation, but they also harbored deep fears of slave rebellions, which they felt the British were ignoring or encouraging. Enslaved people had led a constant campaign against human bondage in the Americas during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, from the 1739 Stono Rebellion, to the 1741 New York Conspiracy, to Tacky’s War in 1760 Jamaica. Anglo-Protestant settlers were furious that the Crown did not take more serious measures to quell these rebellions, angered that England failed, for instance, to fully destroy Spanish Florida, which they saw as key in enabling the Stono Rebellion. Colonists imagined the British were colluding with enslaved people and free indigenous people to subjugate the interests of Anglo-Protestant expansion to a corrupted and increasingly heterogenous empire. Britain’s Proclamation Line of 1763, which banned settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains in a concession to indigenous resistance, further confirmed the Crown’s treachery. Settlers prominently expressed those concerns in the Declaration of Independence, which lists as one of its prime grievances, “[England] has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

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How Community Land Trusts Can Help Address the Affordable Housing Crisis

Sun, 07/07/2019 - 02:17

via Jacobin

By Oksana Mironova

Over the past fifty years, cycles of disinvestment and aggressive reinvestment in urban real estate markets, stagnating wages, and neoliberal shifts in federal housing policy have created a complex housing system that is fueled by debt and fails to serve a large swath of the population. Housing advocates continually struggle with logistical questions about the longevity and depth of affordability in affordable housing and structural questions about the roles of the market and the state in the provision of housing.

It is difficult to pin down the functional definition of what a house is in America: shelter, sanctuary, a societal building block, a wealth building mechanism, and/or a commodity. What is clear, from high rent burdens, widespread evictions, and growing homelessness, is that existing tools are not working.

Over the past few years, the community land trust (CLT) model has been increasingly promoted as a solution by affordable housing advocates of many kinds, from anti-gentrification and tenants advocates to traditional community development organizations to large philanthropic institutions like the Ford Foundation and the Federal Reserve. The CLT model is highly flexible, and has huge potential for addressing the affordable housing crisis in America today.

What Is a CLT?

At its core, a CLT is an entity organized to maintain the ownership of land for a specific, community-oriented purpose, forever. It is designed to be a non-traditional form of property ownership, where the ownership of land is separated from the ownership of property.

The relationship between the entity that owns the land and the entity that builds and operates the buildings that are on the land are defined by what’s called a “ground lease.” In the United States, ground leases are most commonly used in the development of commercial real estate. They give the developer of a building strong control over what happens to a property for a long period of time (for as long as ninety-nine years), while allowing the land owner to retain the rights to the land itself. In real estate terms, a ground lease allows a developer to substantially lower their front-end costs by avoiding paying for land.

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Capitalism is Awfully Nice

Sun, 07/07/2019 - 02:12

The farther down you are on the system’s ladder, the nicer you are required to be

by Fifth Estate # 403, Spring 2019

From childhood, most of us are taught what is supposedly an essential skill for living within industrial capitalist society: how to be nice. To be nice is to act in a way that gives others pleasure, comfort, and satisfaction in order to receive social rewards or prevent social penalties. To succeed in capitalism, it is important to be liked and likable. Nice people can get and keep jobs, make business deals, have social lives, and more.

Expectations of niceness are often higher for women, people of color, and workers, creating much more risk for people in these groups if they are perceived as not nice. With countless stories of women getting assaulted after resisting male sexual advances, it’s no wonder so many women choose to appease men even when they do not desire a sexual interaction. While still costly, it often seems to be significantly lower risk to give in.

Similarly, it is a common experience for people of color to receive more negative attention for expressing anger or dissatisfaction than their white counterparts. Workers also risk losing employment if they do not respond to their bosses and managers in a nice way that keeps them comfortable. This is true even when bosses and managers are communicating in an aggressive way, or making unreasonable demands.

Because of the consequences we may face if we fail to be nice, we often feel compelled to be so even when it is not a genuine expression, and this comes with inherent internal costs. If we authentically wanted to give someone pleasure, comfort, or satisfaction, there would be no internal costs. In fact, it would likely nourish us in some way, like when we see our children eating a healthy meal, or a lover experiencing sexual pleasure.

When we feel extrinsically compelled to act nice in a way that does not reflect what we know to be true, then the dissonance comes at a cost to our own well-being, and can perpetuate systems that do not work.

The cumulative effect of this dissonance over time takes a toll on personal and community health.

Niceness socialization prevents feedback that might disrupt the status quo. That is precisely why the less privilege one has, the higher the risks are for going against expectations of niceness. When we are nice, we play our part in upholding the illusion that the systems we live in work well.

Those who are in positions of power in oppressive systems are prevented from experiencing discomfort and risk, because those costs are taken on by others with less power who have been socialized to be nice.

I grew up in conservative Muslim communities in New York, raised with a huge expectation for me to be nice and obedient.

On top of that, there was also a lot of Islamophobia, before 9/11 and even more after. I felt like I had to represent all Muslims and prove that we weren’t all anti-American terrorists. The combination of this pressure from two directions created a context in which I felt very compelled to be nice. I mostly succeeded at it, having a lot of friends and being well regarded by most of my teachers.

In my teenage years, I rebelled against that pressure, refusing to wear hijab or do much of what I was obligated to do. I went to punk shows and dropped out of high school. I did a major pendulum swing away from being nice, and spoke directly and aggressively even when I lost friends or hurt others.

Both ends of that spectrum were missing something. In my childhood, I was missing authenticity. In my teenage years, I was missing care.

What could it look like if instead of niceness or brutal honesty, we aimed to integrate authenticity and care?

There are two things that are directly necessary to move toward a culture of authenticity and care. One is to build this in microcosmic ways within our communities and movements, and the other is to support each other in facing the risks of refusing to be nice when we engage with oppressive systems.

To increase our capacity to act with authenticity and care within our own communities, we can look at where we have agency in terms of recreating expectations of niceness. For example, if someone has trouble locating their own needs and experience, then they may need practice and support to develop the necessary self-awareness to act authentically.

If someone struggles with receiving feedback without defensiveness, then they may need practice and support to develop the capacity to vulnerably hear others. If someone tends to be received as stoic regardless of an inner experience of care, they may need practice and support to find ways to express genuine care.

We can ask questions to help each other locate our care and experiences so we can express them authentically. We can engage in community dialogue to explore these things together and come up with mutually supportive ideas that engage our unique circumstances and gifts.

In order to increase our capacity to refuse to be nice in the face of great risk, we can act in solidarity with one another. This might look like empathetic or material support once someone has already experienced some sort of cost for refusing to be nice.

It could also look like finding ways to use our collective strength to make it more difficult for someone to be singled out. We see this when workers choose to strike together when only one of them is being targeted for speaking out about terrible conditions.

It could look like supporting each other to actively choose whether we want to take a risk or be nice, rather than do so out of habit. It also means having compassion for ourselves and others when we lack the capacity and support to take the risks of acting authentically with care.

Integrating care into this model means refusing to give in to dehumanizing others even when we are determined to stop them from causing harm. Humans are not compartmentalized beings, and dissonance causes cumulative harm to our communities. It’s no wonder military and police families experience higher than normal domestic violence rates.

Not only does the revolution begin at home, but the war comes home with us whether we like it or not.

Holding care for others does not mean saying things perfectly so that we are managing other’s responses to us. It is not possible to predict or manage someone’s response. It is only possible to authentically express our care and experience, and be willing to take the risk of showing up for the outcome.

Moving away from niceness toward authenticity and care will allow feedback to enter systems and change them. They might not change because someone powerful finally understands something, but because disrupting the norm opens up non-normative possibilities.

Acting authentically makes visible the often invisible costs that we take on in order to survive in an oppressive system. Refusing to be nice can sometimes mean facing very real danger, and it does us no good to minimize that.

We can cultivate willingness to face risks, big and small, with self-awareness, support, and solidarity.

Mars Z. Goetia is a working-class mother, anarchist, musician, and prison abolitionist. She studies and practices group facilitation and radical approaches to conflict and harm. Since 2003, Mars has lived in a close-knit anarchist community in Santa Cruz, Calif.

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Emma Goldman: A New Declaration of Independence

Thu, 07/04/2019 - 17:41

by Emma Goldman

When, in the course of human development, existing institutions prove inadequate to the needs of man, when they serve merely to enslave, rob, and oppress mankind, the people have the eternal right to rebel against, and overthrow, these institutions.

The mere fact that these forces–inimical to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness–are legalized by statute laws, sanctified by divine rights, and enforced by political power, in no way justifies their continued existence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all human beings, irrespective of race, color, or sex, are born with the equal right to share at the table of life; that to secure this right, there must be established among men economic, social, and political freedom; we hold further that government exists but to maintain special privilege and property rights; that it coerces man into submission and therefore robs him of dignity, self-respect, and life.

The history of the American kings of capital and authority is the history of repeated crimes, injustice, oppression, outrage, and abuse, all aiming at the suppression of individual liberties and the exploitation of the people. A vast country, rich enough to supply all her children with all possible comforts, and ensure well-being to all, is in the hands of a few, while the nameless millions are at the mercy of ruthless wealth gatherers, unscrupulous lawmakers, and corrupt politicians. Sturdy sons of America are forced to tramp the country in a fruitless search for bread, and many of her daughters are driven into the street, while thousands of tender children are daily sacrificed on the altar of Mammon. The reign of these kings is holding mankind in slavery, perpetuating poverty and disease, maintaining crime and corruption; it is fettering the spirit of liberty, throttling the voice of justice, and degrading and oppressing humanity. It is engaged in continual war and slaughter, devastating the country and destroying the best and finest qualities of man; it nurtures superstition and ignorance, sows prejudice and strife, and turns the human family into a camp of Ishmaelites.

We, therefore, the liberty-loving men and women, realizing the great injustice and brutality of this state of affairs, earnestly and boldly do hereby declare, That each and every individual is and ought to be free to own himself and to enjoy the full fruit of his labor; that man is absolved from all allegiance to the kings of authority and capital; that he has, by the very fact of his being, free access to the land and all means of production, and entire liberty of disposing of the fruits of his efforts; that each and every individual has the unquestionable and unabridgeable right of free and voluntary association with other equally sovereign individuals for economic, political, social, and all other purposes, and that to achieve this end man must emancipate himself from the sacredness of property, the respect for man-made law, the fear of the Church, the cowardice of public opinion, the stupid arrogance of national, racial, religious, and sex superiority, and from the narrow puritanical conception of human life. And for the support of this Declaration, and with a firm reliance on the harmonious blending of man’s social and individual tendencies, the lovers of liberty joyfully consecrate their uncompromising devotion, their energy and intelligence, their solidarity and their lives.

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Put Away the Flags

Thu, 07/04/2019 - 17:35


By Howard Zinn • Published in The Progressive • July 2, 2006

On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism – that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder – one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

These ways of thinking – cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on – have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.

National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica and many more). But in a nation like ours – huge, possessing thousands of weapons of mass destruction – what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.

Our citizenry has been brought up to see our nation as different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral, expanding into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy.

That self-deception started early.

When the first English settlers moved into Indian land in Massachusetts Bay and were resisted, the violence escalated into war with the Pequot Indians. The killing of Indians was seen as approved by God, the taking of land as commanded by the Bible. The Puritans cited one of the Psalms, which says: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the Earth for thy possession.”

When the English set fire to a Pequot village and massacred men, women and children, the Puritan theologian Cotton Mather said: “It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day.”

On the eve of the Mexican War, an American journalist declared it our “Manifest Destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence.” After the invasion of Mexico began, The New York Herald announced: “We believe it is a part of our destiny to civilize that beautiful country.”

It was always supposedly for benign purposes that our country went to war.

We invaded Cuba in 1898 to liberate the Cubans, and went to war in the Philippines shortly after, as President McKinley put it, “to civilize and Christianize” the Filipino people.

As our armies were committing massacres in the Philippines (at least 600,000 Filipinos died in a few years of conflict), Elihu Root, our secretary of war, was saying: “The American soldier is different from all other soldiers of all other countries since the war began. He is the advance guard of liberty and justice, of law and order, and of peace and happiness.”

We see in Iraq that our soldiers are not different. They have, perhaps against their better nature, killed thousands of Iraq civilians. And some soldiers have shown themselves capable of brutality, of torture.

Yet they are victims, too, of our government’s lies.

How many times have we heard President Bush tell the troops that if they die, if they return without arms or legs, or blinded, it is for “liberty,” for “democracy”?

One of the effects of nationalist thinking is a loss of a sense of proportion. The killing of 2,300 people at Pearl Harbor becomes the justification for killing 240,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The killing of 3,000 people on Sept. 11 becomes the justification for killing tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And nationalism is given a special virulence when it is said to be blessed by Providence. Today we have a president, invading two countries in four years, who announced on the campaign trail in 2004 that God speaks through him.

We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history.

We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.

Published in The Progressive • July 2, 2006

Image: Zinn with Veterans for Peace sign • Photographer unknown • Veterans News Now

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The Counter-revolution of 1776, the Genocide of 1777 and the “Village Destroyer” Washington

Thu, 07/04/2019 - 09:35

by Brendan Maslauskas Dunn

Black Rose Anarchist Federation

This world is engulfed in a whirlwind of myths. But myths give meaning. Every fourth of July I reflect on the power that myths hold over people and how those people above, those that hold all the power, wield those myths and forge them into cudgels, and weapons to be used to keep all of us subservient. To create feelings of doubt when you veer off the path they created. Those myths, especially those creation myths of how the US became a nation started at a young age.

The story was simple when I was young. It’s one that so many of us in the US have been told over the years. The patriots were revolutionaries that were fighting for ideals of liberty, justice and freedom and the British were merciless, blood thirsty colonizers. It makes sense that this creation story is a retelling of David and Goliath. David, as expected, wins. And, even with all of its flaws, the US as a nation, an ideal, was imbued with the notion of progress.

The myth worked for me. I believed in it. I believed in it to such an extent that at the age of thirteen I sent a letter to the Marine Corps requesting to enlist. I was disappointed to learn from the response that I was too young to join but I was given a gift of dog tags that I happily wore, and a promise that the minute I was old enough, a recruitment officer would sign me up.

I held onto that myth of American exceptionalism tightly, but I eventually began to lose my grip and it slowly slipped through my fingers. It was not a rapid change, but one that worked its way into my psyche, little by little over the years.

I was born in the impoverished rustbelt city of Utica, NY. Like all cities, towns and regions in this nation, the national creation myth is repackaged locally. I started to question that local narrative a little more deeply when I was younger, then the national one. In the Mohawk Valley, where I grew up, the heroism of local patriots was lauded. A central figure in the local struggle for independence was militia leader Nicholas Herkimer who died from mortal wounds from the Battle of Oriskany. Another was Reverend Samuel Kirkland, the kind missionary who was a close friend of the Oneida people. Yet another was Peter Gansevoort, the brave commander who repelled the British in their siege of Fort Stanwix – a battle where it is rumored the stars and stripes were first flown. The list of heroic men, with their displays of bravery, honor, and selflessness, is long.

Unsurprisingly, the foes of these great patriots were the British, their loyalist allies, and the Mohawk and other Iroquois warriors who fought with them. They were ruthless, we were told, and wracked a campaign of terror in the Mohawk Valley where they burned down countless patriot villages and massacred civilians. Goliath had reared his ugly head, and only David could slay him.

I remember the day that my high school American History teacher, Mr. Gressler, passed out photocopies of chapters from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States as assigned reading for my class. Zinn’s argument that the “American Revolution” wavered between “a kind of revolution” rife with contradictions and a revolt of political elites, many of them slave owners and land owners, to consolidate their power resonated with me. In any given area that was gripped by the war, the poorer people tended to side with whichever group had fewer elites. Zinn gave me a chisel to start chipping away at that national creation myth. I used it to reveal the truth that was buried in the Mohawk Valley.

Herkimer, as it turns out, was a slave owner and one of the wealthiest land owners in the Mohawk Valley. Gansevoort was part of the Dutch aristocracy near Albany who for years had amassed a wealth from different business ventures, land speculation and, you guessed it, slave labor. Samuel Kirkland helped create a political crisis within the Iroquois Confederacy by persuading many, but not all, Oneida people to side with the patriots. It was a fatal error on the part of the Oneida – their nation is now split into two (one in their ancestral homeland, and the other in Wisconsin from a forced removal). Kirkland went on to found the Hamilton-Oneida Academy (now Hamilton College) – a school for settler American and Indigenous students alike. Although the academy is often painted as a progressive, forward thinking institute, in reality, it was an earlier example of those institutions that wanted to “kill the Indian, and save the man.” Locally, everyone knows the name Herkimer – streets, a town, a county and even a college are named in his honor. But fewer know the names of Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant), Cornplanter, or so many other Iroquois warriors. Or any of the names of those escaped slaves from Upstate New York who joined Butler’s Loyalist Rangers because they saw that their path to emancipation was found by joining the British and putting down the rebellion of slave owners like Washington and Herkimer.

One of the largest omissions of the national creation myth that is conveniently and intentionally left out is Sullivan’s Campaign. This was one of the largest offensive campaigns that George Washington launched during the War of Independence and it occurred just West and South of where I grew up.

In 1779, George Washington gave clear orders to General John Sullivan who was handpicked to lead the campaign against the Iroquois:

The Expedition you are appointed to command is to be directed against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations of Indians, with their associates and adherents. The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more.

I would recommend, that some post in the center of the Indian Country, should be occupied with all expedition, with a sufficient quantity of provisions whence parties should be detached to lay waste all the settlements around, with instructions to do it in the most effectual manner, that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed.

But you will not by any means listen to any overture of peace before the total ruinment of their settlements is effected. Our future security will be in their inability to injure us and in the terror with which the severity of the chastisement they receive will inspire them.

Sullivan carried out Washington’s orders. Thousands of soldiers invaded Iroquois territory with a horrifying display of power and violence. A scorched earth policy entirely burned to the ground over 40 Iroquois villages (it should be noted that these “villages” often had a higher population density than most cities in Europe at the time). Crops were burned, animals killed and people displaced. In one Mohawk village, every single male was arrested and sent to a jail in Albany. The Onondaga, Seneca, Cayuga, Mohawk, Tuscarora and even some Oneida peoples of the Iroquois Confederacy became refugees in their own lands and several thousand fled to Canada to relocate. For Washington and his cause, the offensive was a success. It decisively tipped the balance of power away from the Iroquois and Loyalists. Settlers rapidly took over the lands and villages previously occupied by the Iroquois and the indigenous territory in New York and Pennsylvania was forcefully opened up to the rest of the Great Lakes and even farther west in the longer project of settler colonialism and expansion.

Map detailing Sullivan’s scorched earth campaign of genocide.

I remember visiting Canandaigua Lake last summer for the first time. As the sun set, my eyes met the glow of a small island. That island was both the birthplace of the Seneca Nation and served as a place of refuge for countless Seneca people in 1777 who fled Sullivan’s troops. My hands shook and my eyes watered over at the sheer depth of what happened there.

There is a name for this: genocide. It is no surprise then that Washington earned the nickname “village destroyer” and “village devourer.” It’s a name fitting for every president since him. This very same history recently came up with my Mohawk nephews and their tóta (grandmother in Mohawk). We were all sitting down together last year and one of my nephews mentioned that his class was learning about George Washington and, I imagine, the creation myth that surrounded him. Without hesitation, their grandmother responded, “He was a bad man. He was a very bad man.” We talked about their shared Iroquois history, of the genocide of the Iroquois and brutal institution of slaves, but also the resistance waged by Mohawk and slave alike.

The Hiawatha Wampum Belt, the visual record of the foundation of the Iroquois/Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The resistance against colonial domination continues to this day.

There is a great denial that this genocide is an actual genocide. That it even took place. There are no accurate historical markers, no national acknowledgment of what happened, no requirements to teach this in American history classes. And this connects directly to the myth that people keep alive to this very day. And that is, somehow, that Trump and his administration stand as an aberration to what the US has always been, that his grasp of reigns of power is the exception and not the rule to a longer history of process, democratization, to something that is exceptional. That the concentration camps popping up along the US-Mexico border have no historical precedent.

This nation was built on a foundation of genocide and slavery. As people locally celebrate George Washington, the patriot troops at Fort Stanwix and the martyrdom of Herkimer and other militiamen in the Battle of Oriskany, I can only think of the terrified Iroquois refugees who survived an act of genocide, or of the slaves who toiled in the homes and fields of the Mohawk and Hudson Valleys. But I also think about those slaves who fled their conditions of servitude and enlisted with the British Army, including some of Washington’s slaves, or the former slave involved in a plot to assassinate the ultimate slave master and village destroyer. I also think of all of the indigenous warriors who fought to preserve their culture and their way of life during that brutal war.

Historian Gerald Horne is right. He took Zinn’s argument even further and said that the American “revolution” was a counter-revolution. That the war of independence in large part was launched as a response to growing slave rebellions in the Southern colonies and the Caribbean but also to the early signs of a gradual transition to abolition in England and beyond. The writing was on the wall, and something had to be done to secure slavery as an institution. It’s no surprise that 10,000s of slaves fled to and took up arms on the side of the British during the war. To them, that army, with all its contradictions, was one of revolutionary liberation, not Washington’s Continental Army. The ideas of despotism, violence, oppression, slavery and genocide were woven into the very fabric of the foundation of this nation in 1776. So, what do we make of this nation in 2019?

A painting depicting a Black Loyalist soldier. Slaves openly rebelled and resisted in many forms during the War of Independence. And although some Black soldiers fought in the Continental Army, many more joined Lord Dunmore’s Ethiopian Regiment and fought on the side of the British.

In Trump’s America, the children suffering in concentration camps along the border taken from their parents is not too different from those Iroquois children who were displaced from their homes and their families in 1777 in Washington’s America. It should serve as no irony that just as in 1777, many of the children targeted today by the “village destroyer” are also indigenous – from Mexico and Central America. And just as in 1777, so many targeted by the village destroyer are Black, are poor, are destitute.

I hope that a major takeaway my Mohawk nephews had about our discussion on Washington was not just about the violence and suffering he inflicted on the Iroquois and on slaves, but that countless Iroquois and slaves resisted against that oppression. This is not a question of history. That resistance continues. Today, a small group of activists from across the lands where this genocide took place are descending on the ICE Detention Center in Batavia, NY – a prison for immigrants built by a nation that’s been in the business of creating refugees and displacing people since 1776. Even in Philadelphia, a large group of Jewish activists and their supporters proclaiming “Never Again is Now” marched on the ICE facility and are disrupting the July 4th parade with a demand to shut down the concentration camps.

A police officer with right wing militia tattoos on his arm arrest Jewish activists protesting concentration camps at an ICE facility in New Jersey on July 1 , 2019. Similar actions are taking place on the 4th of July.

Village destroyers, from Washington to Trump, have always known which side they’re on – the side of slave owners and land speculators, prison wardens and generals, white supremacists and killers, politicians and capitalists – we need to have a better idea of what the creation myth of this nation is to better understand that the US today is just a visceral embrace of what it always was. We should call that creation myth for what it is: a myth. Just as the Iroquois warriors and Black freedom fighters who fought against the village destroyer Washington and the system of oppression he represented, we need to follow in their footsteps, and join the growing movement to shut down these concentration camps, and create a world where there are no more village destroyers.

Brendan Maslauskas Dunn is a member of the Black Rose Anarchist Federation, the IWW and is a teacher at the Mohawk Valley Freedom School who lives in Mohawk and Mahican Territory in Upstate NY.

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Electoral Road to Socialism?

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 04:16

via Ideas & Action

by Tom Wetzel

Could a shift from capitalism to socialism be brought about through electoral politics? Ever since the origins of the modern socialist left in the late 1800s, many socialists have viewed the politics of parties and elections as a way they can insert themselves into history — forming a core component of their strategy.

In the World War I era the American Socialist Party (SPA) had gained a hundred thousand members and elected more than a thousand government officials — mayors, members of city councils and state legislators. By the mid-20th century “democratic socialism” had been coined as a kind of political brand to refer to the tradition of the socialists oriented to electoral politics as a strategy for social change.

The “democratic socialist” label was partly meant to show their defense of the systems of “representative democracy” and liberal values in western Europe, North America and elsewhere. This was combined with critiques of the repressive and undemocratic nature of the “communist camp” countries of the mid-20th century — the Soviet Union, Castro’s Cuba, Communist China. This defense of “representative democracy” is tied in with their basic strategy of working to gain political power through elections.

The “democratic socialist” brand gained a huge boost in visibility in the USA in 2016 when Bernie Sanders called himself a “democratic socialist” during his presidential campaign. His attacks on economic inequality echoed the Occupy movement of a few years before and his reform proposals spoke to the conditions of life faced by the younger generation. This led many young people to search out the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). This was the beginning of the vast growth in the membership of DSA — from about five thousand to over 60,000. The new members were overwhelmingly in their twenties and thirties.

DSA derives from the 1980s merger of Michael Harrington’s Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee with the New American Movement. DSOC was one of the fragments of the old SPA when it blew apart in the early 1970s. Harrington advocated the rather delusional idea that the labor movement could be the basis for converting the Democratic Party into an American labor party. The New American Movement, on the other hand, was mainly a product of the student-based New Left of the Sixties. NAM’s founders wanted it to be a non-Leninist “revolutionary socialist” organization. Like the present DSA, NAM was a multi-tendencied organization based on activist chapters. After the libertarian socialist and hard Maoist factions quit NAM in the mid-‘70s, NAM drifted more towards left-liberal reform via electoral politics. Hence the merger with DSOC.

The charter of the merged organization allowed for caucuses and a certain democratic flexibility. And this has helped DSA to accommodate its huge growth. The multi-tendencied character of DSA is reflected in the proliferation of many different caucuses and working groups — from the North Star caucus (the old guard from the Harrington-influenced DSA) to the Libertarian Socialist caucus (a coalition of people with views from syndicalism to building “alternative institutions” like cooperatives). There are also groups defined by interest, such as labor, socialist-feminism, eco-socialism. Many of the local chapters include people who focus on organizing tenants or fighting ICE roundups of immigrants.

A particularly influential tendency in DSA is the Bread and Roses caucus. This goes back to the Momentum slate which elected about a third of the members on the National Political Council of DSA. This effort also included people who created The Call (now the official blog of the Bread and Roses caucus). Various members of Bread and Roses are on the editorial masthead or staff of Jacobin. Bread and Roses proposes a strategy which they call “the democratic road to socialism.” Their strategy is based on combining the building of unions in workplaces and “the politics of mobilization” with an electoral strategy based on the eventual creation of a mass socialist party. Bread and Roses counter-pose their strategy to “ultra-left tactics that substitute adventures organized by a small cadre of activists for a mass, organized working-class movement. And we oppose politics defined by radical posturing that appeals only to the already convinced.” Building “a mass, organized working class movement” is central to the syndicalist strategy, so we can agree on that point.

In Our Road to Power Vivek Chibber points to the lack of a real presence in the workplaces of people with socialist or radical politics. And this is indeed a long-standing weakness of radical politics in the USA. But for Chibber the main focus is building a social base for socialism — a base for a socialist party. For the transition to socialism, the Bread and Roses strategy relies on the role of the electoral socialist party pushing through structural change after winning state power through elections.

The aim of combining electoral politics with a socialist goal has led also to a revival of interest in non-Leninist forms of Marxist theory. A number of the writers and activists around Jacobin magazine and the Bread and Roses caucus have thus revived an interest in the ideas of Karl Kautsky. Kautsky was the pre-eminent Marxist theorist of the pre-World War 1 electoral socialist parties. Kautsky’s strategy was for the “gradual accumulation of forces” through the growing votes of the German Social-democratic party and the growing membership of the centralized German trade union federation. “Class struggle,” for Kautsky, was conducted primarily through electoral politics. He tended to see actual strikes and mass struggle as secondary to “the main battle.”

Kautsky was a major influence on the leadership of the American Socialist Party before World War 1. But the left wing of the party saw things differently. The main publication of the party’s left was International Socialist Review. A perusal of the pages of that magazine shows the strong influence of syndicalism and libertarian socialist ideas. IWW organizer Bill Haywood was part of the party’s left wing. In Industrial Socialism Haywood did see a tactical role for socialist electoral politics. He suggests that electing socialists to head a local government could create a more favorable environment for organizing — helping to keep the police in check for example. But Haywood did not see socialism coming about through an electoral path. For that he looked to the development of a labor movement capable of large-scale mass action — and an eventual “expropriating general strike.”

In explaining “why Kautsky was right”, Eric Blanc points to writings of Kautsky in the 1890s to early 1900s where Kautsky believed that a fundamental “ruptural break” with the capitalist regime would be necessary but differs from the Leninists in “how to get there.” Thus Kautsky believed that the bureaucratic state of the pre-World War 1 German monarchy was far too undemocratic to be used as a vehicle for building socialism. For Kautsky, the power of the autocratic executive authority and the military officer corps were the basic roadblock. He believed that a “revolution” could be brought about by achieving a parliamentary majority. This majority would “occupy government power” and use this as a platform for transforming the state, eliminating the old military corps and the autocratic executive power. Kautsky’s ideal was the supremacy of the House of Commons in the British state. Although Kautsky kept Marx’s language of a “dictatorship of the proletariat” to refer to the rule of the working class, he believed that this could be achieved through the statist “representative democracy” of a British-style parliament.

This makes the statism of Kautsky’s approach clear enough. But the liberal state is not “neutral ground” for the working class. Class oppression is inherent to the structure of the state. This is shown by the subordination of public sector workers to the managerialist bureaucracies of the state — a power base for elements of the bureaucratic control class, such as state managers, prosecutors, judges, military brass.

In its more radical form “democratic socialists” propose that a party committed to socialism could use the state to enact reforms that would break the old capitalist scheme. This would mean, according to Neal Meyer “nationalizing the financial sector so that major investment decisions are made by democratically elected governments and removing hostile elements from the military and police. It will mean introducing democratic planning and social ownership over corporations (though the correct mix of state-led planning and “market socialism,” a mix of publily-owned firms, small privately-owned businesses, and worker cooperatives is a matter of some debate in our movement).”

Here we see one of the traditional problems with electoral socialism: A tendency to think of socialism in terms of nationalization — state takeover and management of banks and other industries and “state-led planning.” This problem seems to fall directly out of the electoralist strategy. After all, politicians are seeking government office. For that reason their program focuses on what they propose to do through the state once elected.

Reformist versus Non-Reformist Methods

For libertarian socialists with a syndicalist orientation, our strategy is fundamentally different than the electoral socialists. The syndicalist strategy is based on the development of movements built on non-reformist forms of action and organization. But what is the difference between “reformist” and “non-reformist” methods?

A “reform” is any partial change in society that is within the power of movements to fight for. There are different ways to fight for “reforms,” different ways to organize and different forms of action. And this will have effects on the development of working class power to make change.

reformist approach relies upon paid “professionals of representation” to win gains “for us” — the layer of paid officers and staff in bureaucratic “service agency” unions, the paid staff and executives of non-profits that “advocate” for us, the politicians who we vote into office. The method of action is indirect because it doesn’t rely on the direct participation and action of working class people themselves. The activists may do door-to-door canvassing to get working class people to vote for candidates, but this does not bring these people into organizations they can control and use as vehicles of direct activity of struggle by working people themselves.

The electoral socialist parties tend to be controlled by the paid layers at top, such as the politicians who are focused on retaining government office and not losing votes. This means they have a lifestyle that will lead them to oppose the development of direct action such as strikes and occupations when these reach a level of social conflict that may threaten their institutional position.

When the focus is on electoral campaigns, this will tend to lead electoral socialists to look to the paid apparatus who control unions, and have financing and staff to support candidates. This has often led electoral socialists to support the positions of the paid officials of unions even when these conflict with the rank and file. In other words, they will tend to accept bureaucratic trade union methods and structures.

But the existing trade unions tend to be controlled by a layer of full time officials and staff. As with the professional politicians, their way of life is based on their institutional role. They tend to favor negotiations staying in their own hands so that they can negotiate deals that the employers can be persuaded to sign onto without risky levels of mass struggle. Like the professional politicians, they will tend to oppose direct action getting to the point of threatening severe risks to the union that is the basis of their prestige and way of life. The present trade unions in the USA tend to be obsessive about not breaking the law. They accept no-strike contracts and stepped grievance systems that take struggles and disputes off the shopfloor and place them in the hands of lawyers and paid officials — thus discouraging direct action by workers themselves. But it’s very unlikely for unionism to be revived in the private sector in the USA without a revival of militant methods of direct action that are likely to violate the restrictive labor law regime in the USA.

When people propose a strategy of seeking changes or improvements to our situation by voting for politicians to enact a reform, or through “mobilizations” crafted and controlled by staff-driven non-profits, or relying on the paid officials of trade unions to negotiate with employers, or building alliances by schmoozing up politicians and other bureaucrats in unions and non-profits, this approach does not encourage participation in decision-making or control of organizations by working people. These methods do not build self-reliance and confidence in our own capacity. The rank and file are not learning about democratic organizing or public speaking or other skills learned through direct participation in building a membership organization and direct collective struggle.

The upshot is this: A reformist strategy tends to build up these layers of political and union bureaucracy apart from the working class. And these layers tend to become a roadblock to the development of wider mass action and direct solidarity that can lead to major class confrontations — conflicts that challenge the power of the dominating classes and threaten the capitalist regime. Thus a reformist strategy will tend to keep the working class captive to the capitalist regime. In Germany Kautsky’s reformist approach necessarily built up layers of trade union careerists, professional politicians and the party apparatus. Already by World War 1 this layer had become a roadblock to a mass struggle for socialism.

We can say that an approach to action and organization for change is non-reformist to the extent that it encourages a reliance on direct struggle (such as strikes and occupations), and builds rank-and-file controlled mass organizations, and builds self-confidence, self-reliance, organizing skills, more active participation, and wider solidarity within the working class.

Non-reformist forms of organization are self-managed by the members — rooted in direct participation (as in the direct democracy of a union meeting) and forms of accountable representation (such as elected shop delegates who still work the job or an elected rank-and-file negotiating committee). Non-reformist forms of action are disruptive forms of collective action based on direct participation — such as strikes, occupations, militant mass marches.

Syndicalism can be defined as a strategy that is based on non-reformist forms of action and organization. The idea is to work to build self-managed forms of mass organization, such as unions controlled by workers themselves and other grassroots mass organizations. By “organizing the unorganized,” we help to build a movement that working people can use to fight the employers, landlords and powers-that-be. By building up the capacity of working people to organize and run their own movement, and build a form of social power they control themselves, we encourage the self-reliance, confidence and links of solidarity needed for advancing the struggle against the system.

To the degree that working class people do not see themselves as having the power to directly change the society, they are likely to see the ambitious agenda for radical change offered by socialists as “pie in the key” or “nice ideas but unrealistic.” On the other hand, growing levels of direct struggle and a stronger development of solidarity in practice builds more of a sense of potential power. When working people participate directly in building unions, or in carrying out a rent strike with other people in their building, or in reaching out to others in the community to build solidarity, this directly engages people in the action — and helps people to learn how to organize, builds more of a sense that “We can make change.” To the extent that the working class builds power through its mass participation and disruptive challenge to the system, this encourages people to develop aspirations for deeper changes in society. In this situation mass organizations of struggle form a setting that allows those active workers who have a radical agenda for social change to connect with the grievances and concerns of other working people.

As this process develops in the course of a growing crisis in the system, the possibility for a fundamental break to the system becomes possible as the working class develops the organizational strength, confidence, participation and aspirations needed for a fundamental challenge to the dominating classes. This consciousness can develop rapidly in periods when large numbers are brought into mass struggle and solidarity is built through widening connections that working people create among the various groups in resistance to the system. The working class needs to develop its own class-wide agenda and “gather its forces” from the various areas and sectors of struggle to form a united bloc with both the power and agenda for change.

What I’m describing here is the process of class formation. This is the more or less protracted process through which the working class overcomes fatalism and internal divisions (as on lines of race or gender) and builds the confidence, organizational capacity and the aspiration for social change. This is the process through which the working class “forms” itself into a force that can effectively challenge the dominating classes for control of society.

The potential for this process of mass struggle to develop into a fundamental challenge to the system depends on the way this dynamic of mass struggle interacts with the political and economic crises of the capitalist regime. We can’t predict exactly how a basic “rupture” with the capitalist regime will develop.

For syndicalists, a key part of a revolutionary process is the takeover of the collective control of the industries by workers, and a process of breaking down the old top-down bureaucratic state and building new self-managed institutions, such as neighborhood and workplace assemblies, and councils or congresses of delegates. From a syndicalist point of view, the democratic promise of the revolution is rooted in the self-managed character of the mass organizations that are driving the process.

Even when this kind of fundamental challenge to the system is “off the agenda,” we need to encourage forms of organization and struggle that leave open the potential for mass extension that can break the framework of the capitalist regime. To do this we need to avoid building up institutional barriers to this movement from below.

Of course many activists are likely to continue to look to electoral politics as part of their strategy. Although much of the working class doesn’t vote, many people do think about candidates for office. Not only because of the media frenzy around elecctions but also because it can make a difference who is elected in some cases. Even if “democratic socialists,” Marxists and other radicals continue to look to electoral politics as part of their strategy for change, many of them also favor a focus on building grassroots organizations and direct struggle — building more democratic unions, pushing strikes to gain working class power, and building other forms of grassroots social movement protest. For many activists in DSA, this may be their main personal focus. To the extent the focus is on building democratic mass organizations, building participation and support for militant struggles, syndicalists and other socialists may be able to work together in a kind of “united front from below” in the organizing situation.

A Revolutionary Path?

In “Our Road to Power,” Chibber concedes there was an era when mass movements did pose a revolutionary challenge to the system:

“Now there’s no doubt that the decades from the early twentieth century all the way to the Spanish Civil War could be described as a revolutionary period. It was an era in which the possibility of rupture could be seriously contemplated and a strategy built around it. There were…socialists who advocated for a more gradualist approach, but the revolutionaries who criticized them weren’t living in a dream world.”

But, as Chibber sees it, a revolutionary strategy is permanently off the agenda:

“Today, the state has infinitely greater legitimacy with the population than European states did a century ago. Further, its coercive power, its power of surveillance and the ruling class’s internal cohesiveness give the social order a stability that is orders of magnitude greater than it had in 1917. What that means is, while we can allow for and perhaps hope for the emergence of revolutionary conditions where state breakdow is really on the cards, we can’t build a political strategy around it…Today, the political stability of the state is a reality that the left has to acknowledge. What is in crisis right now is the neoliberal model of capitalism, not capitalism itself.”

For Chibber, this means that “left strategy has to revolve around building a movement to pressure the state, gain power within [the state]…and erode the structural power of capital.” To do this “democratic socialists” propose to use the labor movement (and “mobilizational politics”) as a social base for participation in electoral politics.

The history of the electoral socialist parties in the 20th century does not provide much reason to hope this strategy will work. By the mid-1980s the various electoral socialist parties in Europe had abandoned any idea of a transition to socialism. They had become parties focused on “managing” capitalism — and quite willing to adapt to the elite demands for a politics of austerity, privatizations and cuts.

In its radical form “democratic socialism” proposes a series of gradual structural reforms to achieve socialism through electoral politics. In fact the capitalist elites will wage a fierce fight against radical reforms that attack capitalist control over the work process, or attack the basis of capitalist profits or capitalist ownership of the industries.

In the 1970s the Swedish social-democrats proposed a fund for the unions to buy out shares of Swedish companies (the 1970s-era Meidner Plan). This plan was opposed at the time by the syndicalist SAC union in Sweden because it would leave the corporate managerialist bureaucracy intact. It was not actually a proposal for worker control of industry. Nonetheless, it was enough of a threat to the owning class in Sweden that the major capitalists mobilized effectively against it. The social-democrats were forced to retreat. They soon moved towards neo-liberal politics — including extensive privatizations of the public sector. The French Socialist Party under Mitterand in the early 1980s had to retreat from an ambitious plan of nationalizations when it was faced with vast capital flight (a “capital strike”). For Chibber, “mass mobilizations” and actions, especially in the workplaces, will be necessary to force the state to grant concessions. But he wants to combine this with “democratic socialists” gaining power within the existing state — pursuing reforms for a series of “breaks” with the inherited capitalist regime.

In fact, this strategy is highly unrealistic because (as I’ve argued above) there is an inherent contradiction between an electoralist strategy and a strategy of mass working class struggle from below. The reformist approach of relying on elections and conventional bureaucratic trade unions builds bureaucratic layers that form a roadblock to the emergence of a mass working class movement with the organizational capacity and aspiration to make a fundamental challenge for power from below. The reformist strategy discourages the development of an independent working class movement with the capacity for an effective challenge to the system.

Success for a working class movement from below works to a different logic than electoral politics and bureaucratic trade unionism. Here the movement builds power by building disruption collective action, such as strikes, and building wider solidarity, overcoming internal divisions (for example, along lines of race or gender). Self-managed, democratic organizations are essential if people are to control the struggle — crafting demands and working out the tactics. The working class develops the capacity and aspiration for challenging the system from below by relying on non-reformist methods of action and organization.

Moreover, the course of world events since the Sixties does not suggest the capitalist regime has either the popular legitimacy or stability that Vivek Chibber seems to think. From the 1960s to 1980s there were a whole series of crises where mass-scale working class movements posed a nearly revolutionary challenge to the system: the general strike in France in 1968, the revolutionary collapse of the state in Portugal in the 1970s, the mass strikes of Solidarity in Poland in 1980. In these cases the movements weren’t defeated by the stability and power of existing states. Rather, they were defeated by the role of Socialist and Communist parties which saw the mass movement from below as a threat to their bureaucratic ambition of sharing in state power.

Given the vast ecological crisis that capitalism faces, the steep financial crash in 2008, the overthrow of various rulers in the Arab Spring or the emergence of radical right-wing populist movements, it’s not clear that the state has the kind of stability or popular legitimacy that Chibber claims. In the USA, elections rarely attract much more than half the eligible population to vote — 55 percent in the 2016 presidential election. And studies show that the non-voters are poorer than the voting population. Much of the working class doesn’t vote. This makes elections a poor venue for working class struggle because our numbers cannot be marshaled there. Left candidates will depend on votes of middle class elements who may not favor a radical working class agenda.

A plausible path to self-managed socialism is going to lead through a revolutionary crisis. If the working class does develop high levels of direct struggle and solidarity through the growth of non-reformist methods of action and organization, this builds organizational strength, wider solidarity among sectors of the oppressed, and greater aspiration for change as people develop a growing sense of their own power. In such a period, the working class needs to develop its own class-wide agenda and “gather its forces” from the various areas and sectors of struggle to form a united bloc or front with both the power and agenda for change. In this way the working class becomes a revolutionary factor in its own right.

The working class front or alliance (made up of grassroots unions and other social movement organizations) that acts as a force of social transformation may have ideologically specific organizations (such as various socialist groups) participating in it. As syndicalists, however, we are opposed to the idea of a party “taking state power” and then implementing its program through the managerialist bureaucracies of a state. The history of the mid-20th century “communist camp” countries suggests where that will lead.

As syndicalists, we believe that a process of social transformation should aim at worker self-management of all the industries but also democratic accountability of social production to the people in the ways they are affected by it — through effects on ecology, through quality of services and products, and by producing for social benefit. This means rooting the governance of society and industry in the democracy of neighborhood and workplace assemblies and councils or congresses of elected delegates.

A revolutionary working class strategy is not about building a small armed group to assault the heavily armed state from outside. In the syndicalist concept of an “expropriating general strike,” the idea is that workers throughout the economy “defect” from management control, taking over control of the places where they work. This includes the public sector. In the Russian, Portuguese and Spanish revolutions there was also very substantial “defection” of the personnel of the military forces to the side of the working class. There was very little initial violence in the October, 1917 transfer of power to the Soviet Congress in Russia because the rank and file of the army and navy were already loyal to the soviets.

An argument against a revolutionary strategy is often based on the kind of dismal, authoritarian regimes that discredited the Communist movement in the 20th century. The problem here is the idea of party hegemony and seizure of state power by a “centralized cadre party.” When a revolution is propelled and controlled by a guerrilla force in the hands of a top-down political group (as in China and Cuba) or a single political party works to gain a top-down party monopoly of state power (as the Bolsheviks did in the Russian revolution), this prefigures the power of a bureaucratic class that rules over the working class.

But guerrillaism or the seizure of state power by a “centralized cadre party” are not the only forms of ruptural strategy. The syndicalist strategy is designed to avoid the bureaucratic class power that emerged in the Communist states. This is accomplished by a strategy centered on democratic mass organizations.

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Trump Is No Friend of the Kurdish Struggle

Sat, 06/29/2019 - 03:45

via Jacobin

by Edward Hunt

Last December, President Trump shocked Washington when he announced that he was pulling US military forces out of Syria. Explaining his decision in a video tweet, Trump declared that “we have won against ISIS” and that US soldiers “are all coming back, and they’re coming back now.”

High-level officials in the Trump administration, who were planning on a prolonged military presence in Syria, were taken aback. Arguing that the withdrawal of US forces would leave a vacuum in Syria that could be exploited by ISIS and Iran, they persuaded the president to delay the withdrawal and maintain a contingent of US forces in the country.

What made the officials’ persuasion campaign notable was that it preserved US military support for Kurdish forces who are leading a leftist social revolution in Rojava, the Kurdish-led area of northeast Syria. The Syrian Kurds, who spearheaded the fight against ISIS, have created an autonomous region that unites several cantons in a system of “democratic confederalism.” The novel governing arrangement, rooted in values of feminism, ecology, and democracy, has given hope to many who desire a path forward from the ravages of the Islamic State and the Syrian Civil War.

Although US officials have never supported the revolution in Rojava, they have backed Kurdish forces in the campaign to stamp out ISIS. Throughout the war, high-level bureaucrats have repeatedly praised the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as the most effective fighters against the Islamic State. “The SDF,” Gen. Raymond Thomas told Congress earlier this year, is “an extraordinary force,” one that “has done most of the fighting and dying in Syria.”

But while Kurdish forces performed admirably against ISIS, they now face serious threats from other actors, including Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and, in particular, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who denounces the Kurdish forces as terrorists.

Naturally, some basic questions arise about the United States’ motives: Why are high-level officials in the Trump administration defending leftist revolutionaries in Syria from Turkey, a NATO ally? And why is the foreign policy establishment demanding that Trump keep US forces positioned in Syria to assist the Kurds, especially now that the Islamic State’s “caliphate” has been destroyed?

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The revolt of the fearless generation

Sat, 06/29/2019 - 03:38

via ROAR magazine

by Leïla Ouitis

hen in early February Algeria’s ailing octogenarian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced his intention to run for the presidency for a fifth term, millions of Algerians took to the streets in response. After weeks of rallies, Bouteflika was forced to resign on April 2, only to be replaced by a triad of government cronies: Abdelkader Bensalah as interim-president, Noureddine Bedoui as prime minister and Major General Ahmed Gaid Salah, who has emerged as the key power broker in the country.

Despite the arrests of two of the country’s former prime ministers and several business leaders on corruption charges, the protests are continuing with protesters demanding a radical overhaul of the military-backed regime. Fresh elections that were originally planned for July 4, were postponed by the constitutional council in early June, allegedly due to a lack of candidates. The postponement of the elections was seen as a victory by the protesters, who feared that hastily organized elections in the short term would benefit the old powers and leave little opportunity for civic parties to prepare.

Leïla Ouitis, a feminist, housing activist and a French-Algerian teacher living in Seine-Saint-Denis, close to Paris, regularly travels to Algeria to visit her family. She has witnessed the protests first-hand, and in this three-part series she offers her reflections on the socio-economic roots of the popular uprising, the background of the different groups and individuals involved with the movement, and the role played by feminists and women’s rights activists in the protests.

In this first part of the series, Ouitis looks at why Algeria remained relatively undisturbed during the Arab Spring that started in 2011, but is now — eight years later — rocked by some of the largest protests the country has witnessed in history.

Although Algeria shares similar characteristics with other countries in the region — massive unemployment among the youth, who account for half the population, polarization of job opportunities over just a few sectors, systemic corruption by clan-like oligarchies in a rent-seeking management of resources — we should be careful with the expression “Arab Spring,” which has been used to describe the current uprising. Commentators tend to forget that it actually refers to a second wave of popular contestation in the Arab world.

The first wave occurred between 1985 and 1989; it began in Sudan and came to Algeria in 1988. Forgetting that first wave means omitting the specificity of Algerian history: 40 years of perestroika in the context of a rentier economy dependent on gas and oil. When Algeria gained independence, it chose the path of socialism, but despite the Algerian bourgeoisie’s developmental projects — surely the most extensive in the region — the Algerian economy has remained totally dependent on hydrocarbon-generated wealth.

What would at first seem to be a source of wealth turns into the opposite: the so-called “Dutch disease,” which refers to the link between exporting natural resources and the decline of the local manufacturing industry. Increased export revenues lead to currency appreciation. In all other sectors, exports become less favorable than imports.

Algeria remains locked in a rent economy, completely dependent on hydrocarbons. Gas and petrol generate 95 percent of external revenue and 60 percent of the state budget, so any changes in the price of oil affects state revenue and the real economy. The country finds itself stuck in growth concentrated in few sectors: manufacturing industry is declining, as are formal occupations, which today account for less than 10 percent of jobs in the country. Manufacturing value added per capita is the lowest in the region and has been dropping since the 1990s. As a result, the employment rate is 40 percent, one of the lowest in the world. Rent allows for reductions in poverty during oil booms, but it does not improve the employment rate.

To keep the peace in this context, the state absolutely must provide support for basic necessities (flour, milk, oil) and it must tolerate the black market, the trabendo, which employs hundreds of thousands of youth. In general, when someone tells you they do not work, what that means is they are caught up in one form or another of informal business and related frauds.

From the Black Decade to the Black Spring

For nearly 40 years, the history of Algeria has been profoundly determined by the price of hydrocarbons. In the 1980s, Algeria began transitioning to a market economy, but in 1986, the price of oil collapsed. The state coffers ran dry as income inequality surged. The 1988 riots, savagely repressed, brought an end to the single-party system. Political Islam emerged as both an expression of marginalization and a way to manage and maintain social polarization.

One year after the 1991 military coup d’état, Algeria was in default and resorted to financial institutions that imposed a structural adjustment plan and new liberalization measures. Those 10 years of austerity devoted to paying off the debt were also the years of the decade-long civil war that left between 100,000 and 200,000 people dead.

During that décennie noire (the “Black Decade”), privatization continued in bouts of clientelism and corruption, allowing for the formation of a rentier oligarchy: state property was ceded to certain dignitaries, some of the public companies were privatized, the old state monopolies on foreign trade were destroyed and replaced with a system of agreements authorizing certain venders and wholesalers to import consumer goods and industrial material to sell back to the state. These monopolistic positions were adopted from within the state, allowing each group to collect a kingly rent. In this way, behind each fraction of the bourgeoisie specialized in this or that import sector, there was a multinational, a major capitalist state and a major Algerian bureaucrat and/or general. This is what is called “the system”: a mechanism supplied with oil revenues that flow into all the little hustles of the informal economy.

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Game Industry Campaign Postmortem

Sat, 06/29/2019 - 03:23


This is the story of my first attempt at organizing in the game industry. Ultimately, it was a failed attempt. No direct action was taken and we never went public. But things were tried that worked and didn’t work, and I’d like to pass those lessons along. This story starts in the spring of 2018 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

There has been a growing interest in bringing collective bargaining to the games industry, an industry that has never seen it and consequently has some of the worst exploitation of white-collar workers. 100-hour weeks with no paid overtime are not as uncommon as they should be. This came to a head at a panel put on by the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), an outfit that’s ostensibly a worker advocacy group but is staffed and headed by executives, meant to talk about the pros and cons of unionizing. The IGDA seemed to mostly want to talk about the drawbacks. Thanks in part to the work of some self-selected labor activists in the industry who would later take the name Game Workers Unite (GWU), the panel turned into a pro-unionization rally. Lots of workers who left that discussion were excited to bring unions to their studios and the industry at large, myself among them.

Wanting something and knowing how to get it are two different things. Back in Seattle, months go by and I’m mostly idle waiting for someone to tell me what to do to get a union. Then, due in part to the misogyny that is rampant in the game industry, a coworker is fired. The reasons for the firing were as cowardly as they were inane. That’s when I learned that waiting for someone else to come along and fight for workers who weren’t fighting for themselves was a losing prospect. I reached out to a local socialist organization that was teaching the basics of workplace organizing.

We started organizing by taking coworkers (many who were as mad about the firing as I was) out for lunch at a nearby restaurant, and eventually formed a core of like-minded coworkers. We all agreed the bosses held too much unilateral power at our studio. Unfortunately, it was immediately clear that despite how unjust the firing was, folks weren’t willing to stick their necks out to try to demand a rehiring. Instead roughly twice a month we brought six coworkers out to talk about what could be run better at the studio and what should change. The problem was there was lots of talk about what the problems were without a concrete plan on how to fix them. This was incredibly demoralizing. The company also did a series of “listening sessions” where they let people vent their feelings about what had happened, after which the company would do next to nothing in response to our feedback.

After a few of these lunches, it becomes pretty clear that I was in over my head. Folks started to lose interest. What tasks I did assign to people were rarely carried out except by one person who was pretty dedicated. Then the Seattle chapter of GWU invited the IWW to one of its meetings. The IWW offered the resources our campaign needed the most: expertise and training. I joined the union and signed up for the next Organizer Training 101. A month later, I returned to the campaign with new energy.

After a number of earlier false starts, an organizing committee was formed. It was composed of myself, the person who consistently helped out, and two other folks who seemed the most interested in bringing a union to the studio. We start doing one-on-ones–intentional organizing conversations with coworkers to gauge their support for unionizing and to try and help them see that collective action can address their grievances. After a few one-on-ones, a picture started to form around a grievance we could take action on: the gender pay gap.

The strategy was simple: write a letter asking for a pay audit, so we would know if there was a gender pay gap. The letter we wrote was polite and agreeable. We’d ask folks to sign the letter if they agreed with the sentiment. Talking to coworkers about this also let us search for folks who might be good candidates to join the organizing committee. If someone signed, we asked them if they’d be interested in gathering signatures with us. This petitioning also came with a logical escalation strategy. If the bosses said yes to the audit, we’d teach the workers they could achieve things together. If the bosses said no, we could use the network of folks who had signed to do our own pay audit. This would teach folks that they don’t need the bosses to take action to make things better in the workplace.

It’s a shame we never got to put the plan into action. Layoffs hit the company. Most of the organizing committee was swept away in them. While it is unlikely we could have prevented mass layoffs, there were things that could have been done differently:

1. Start Early: Had the campaign started the day I got back from GDC I might have identified what resources the campaign needed much earlier. Waiting for a crisis to occur actually left me playing catch up to the situation.

2. Get Training: It is nearly impossible to start organizing until one has an idea of where they’re going and how to get there. The more training the better, but one can at least get started if they are taught:

  • How to have an organizing one-on-one conversation.
  • What the steps of a union campaign are
  • What is and isn’t protected activity under labor law

3. Get a Co-Organizer: It is by definition impossible to organize alone. At minimum a co-organizer can help develop a strategy for the campaign and do one-on-ones (including with you to help you practice). I had at least one person who consistently helped drive people to and from lunches and who completed delegated tasks. But I didn’t treat them like the equal they were. Had I asked for their help on the big stuff when I needed it we might have done much better.

The last lesson I’d like to impart, more important than those last three combined is that Anyone can start organizing at their workplace, even you. Organizers don’t need to read Marx, Lenin, or Chomsky to start making small but real changes in their own work place. The only thing an organizer needs is a desire for better conditions in their shop. If you’re a worker, and especially if you’re a game worker, this is your invitation to get started. Ask yourself “what’s one thing that would make the work day easier to get through,” find the answer and congratulations: you’ve taken the first step.

Download the full issue of the July-August issue of the Seattle Worker.

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Emancipation of the Working Class: The Legacy of the IWW

Sat, 06/29/2019 - 03:12


Founded over 110 years ago on June 27, 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW, created an iconic legacy and rich history of militant unionism in the U.S.  The union was founded by radical unionists and currents within the labor movement with the purpose of building an alternative to the conservative trade unionism of the American Labor Federation (AFL) which promoted harmony between workers and capital and practiced exclusion in their organizing along the lines of race, gender and skill. Today the IWW continues to organize as an alternative to mainstream unions and we celebrate it’s vision of a labor movement committed to the emancipation of the working class. 

William “Big Bill” Haywood

William “Big Bill” Haywood was a veteran unionist and Secretary of the Western Federation of Miners prior to the founding of the IWW. He would go on to become a key early figure of the IWW and was expelled from the executive of the Socialist Party for his advocacy of direct action. Here in his opening address to the founding convention on June 27, 1905, he elaborates in one simple paragraph the radical vision that inspired the what the IWW attempted to create.

Fellow Workers: In calling this convention to order I do so with a sense of the responsibility that rests upon me and rests upon every delegate that is here assembled. This is the Continental Congress of the working class. We are here to confederate the workers of this country into a working class movement that shall have for its purpose the emancipation of the working class from the slave bondage of capitalism. (Applause).

There is no organization, or there seems to be no labor organization, that has for its purpose the same object as that for which you are called together to-day. The aims and objects of this organization should be to put the working class in possession of the economic power, the means of life, in control of the machinery of production and distribution, without regard to capitalist masters. (Applause).

The American Federation of Labor, which presumes to be the labor movement of this country, is not a working class movement. It does not represent the working class. There are organizations that are affiliated, but loosely affiliated with the A. F. of L., which in their constitution and by-laws prohibit the initiation of or conferring the obligation on a colored man; that prohibit the conferring of the obligation on foreigners. What we want to establish at this time is a labor organization that will open wide its doors to every man that earns his livelihood either by his brain or his muscle.

Lucy Gonzalez Parsons

Lucy Parsons organized with women textile workers and was a prominent anarchist who gained international renown for her campaign against the execution of her husband and Haymarket Martyr, Albert Parsons. Her speech at the convention, given on June 28, 1905, articulates a key distinction in the early 20th century left between electoral reform efforts (“political socialists”) versus those who emphasized the collective power of workers to take control of means of life (“revolutionary or industrial socialists”). 

Now, what do we mean when we say revolutionary Socialist? We mean that the land shall belong to the landless, the tools to the toiler, and the products to the producers. Now, let us analyze that for just a moment, before you applaud me.

First, the land belongs to the landless. Is there a single land owner in this country who owns his land by the constitutional rights given by the constitution of the United States who will allow you to vote it away from him? I am not such a fool as to believe it. We say, “The tools belong to the toiler.” They are owned by the capitalist class. Do you believe they will allow you to go into the halls of the legislature and simply say, “Be it enacted that on and after a certain day the capitalist shall no longer own the tools and the factories and the places of industry, the ships that plow the ocean and our lakes?” Do you believe that they will submit? I do not.

We say, “The products belong to the producers.” It belongs to the capitalist class as their legal property. Do you think that they will allow you to vote them away from them by passing a law and saying, “Be it enacted that on and after a certain day Mr. Capitalist shall be dispossessed?” You may, but I do not believe it.

Hence, when you roll under your tongue the expression that you are revolutionists, remember what that word means. It means a revolution that shall turn all these things over where they belong to the wealth producers. Now, how shall the wealth producers come into possession of them? I believe that if every man and every woman who works, or who toils in the mines, the mills, the workshops, the fields, the factories and the farms in our broad America should decide in their minds that they shall have that which of right belongs to them, and that no idler shall live upon their toil, and when your new organization, your economic organization, shall declare as man to man and women to woman, as brothers and sisters, that you are determined that you will possess these things, then there is no army that is large enough to overcome you, for you yourselves constitute the army. (Applause). …

My conception of the strike of the future is not to strike and go out and starve, but to strike and remain in and take possession of the necessary property of production. If any one is to starve … let it be the capitalist class. They have starved us long enough, while they have had wealth and luxury and all that is necessary.


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