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Why the Green New Deal needs mass direct action

Sun, 03/17/2019 - 04:04

via Rising Tide North America

Last weekend in San Francisco, my friends and I with Diablo Rising Tide hosted two friends from Germany on the “Scale Resistance” tour that Rising Tide has organized with radical climate group Ende Galaende. The talk left me thinking a lot about resistance (the real kind, not the stuff being sold by Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and the corporate Democrats).  The Green New Deal is currently capturing the imagination of the progressive climate movement and becoming a centerpiece of climate “resistance.” But it needs a massive social movement moving forward at a large scale, taking serious action, at its foundation to succeed.

For the past 5 or 6 years, Ende Galaende (“Here and No Further” in English) has organized a massive nationwide coalition, that includes everyone from small radical groups to big green non-profits, to stop lignite coal mining in Germany. Their demands were an immediate phase out of lignite coal mining. Rooted in the anti-nuclear movements of a previous era, their tactic was mass disruption of coal infrastructure. Their action campaigns included mass direct actions numbering in the thousands at open pit coal mines in the Rhineland region and a multi-year tree sit in the Hambach Forest.

This critical direct action campaign has put the German political establishment on the defensive around coal and climate issues. The establishment responded with an agreement for a 20 year phase out of coal in Germany, not an immediate one as demanded  by Ende Galaende.  Their campaign continues.

Nationally in the U.S., the fossil fuel infrastructure fights have also challenged the legitimacy of the oil and coal industries.  The hard fought campaign in the bayous of Louisiana has stopped Energy Transfer Partner’s Bayou Bridge pipeline for at least a year. Indigenous led resistance to Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline has also put the future of that pipeline into question. In Appalachia, the locally led campaign against the Mountain Valley Pipeline that has included long term tree-sits and disruptive protest along the construction route has also delayed the completion of that project. The purveyors of the Keystone XL pipeline are also bracing for a massive social movement response.  Last week, the state of South Dakota passed a set of anti-pipeline protest bills targeting both people in South Dakota, as well as any outside groups that provide support. There are dozens of these state laws being passed or proposed.

Globally, the climate and environmental uprising is spreading with ferocity as well:

  • Barefoot lockdown in Gibberagee State Forest.

    Australia: About 40 protestors took action in the Gibberagee State Forest in protest of illegal logging of koala habitat. A number of activists locked onto Forestry Corporation machinery. The action follows claims by North East Forest Alliance that an audit found the Forestry Corporation was only protecting half of the koala trees is it required to. Among the protestors was  veteran forest activist Nan Nicholson, who was instrumental in saving the forest at Terania Creek in the late 1970s.

  • Australia: In late February, Adani’s Abbot Point Port was targeted by anti-coal activists. Trains were stopped in a near continuous shutdown for over 75 hours during a week of non-violent direct action in central Queensland. Seven activists from across Australia, all committed to fighting the threat of thermal coal induced climate change, took action against Adani. The seven scaled fences, evaded drones, locked themselves to rail infrastructure and suspended themselves from trees and tripods to block coal trains from entering the port.
  • Finland: Climate protesters climbed Finnish Parliament House pillars. Members of several Finnish environmental groups demonstrated at the Finnish Parliament on 6 March. Eight protesters were detained after scaling the giant stone columns.
  • Scotland: About 20 conscientious climate protectors stayed in the National Museum of Scotland on behalf of Extinction Rebellion Scotland after closing time. They sat in to protest the ‘oil club’ dinner being hosted there tonight. A group of over 900 oil executives from the UK and beyond were gathered in a national museum and monument to celebrate their own relevance and profit-making from the destruction of the climate. 12 of our friends were arrested rather than leave after police warnings.
  • Greta Thunberg.

    Climate Strikes:  Across the globe, students and youth are taking action with walkouts and mass protests to protect a future that older generations (particularly those in political and corporate offices) don’t give a shit about. Another mass climate strike is expected on March 15th.

The Sunrise Movement is already using direct action in pushing members of Congress for the Green New Deal. It kicked off with hundreds sitting in at Nancy Pelosi’s Capitol Hill offices in November with 51 arrests. A couple of weeks later on Dec. 10th, Sunrise followed up with a massive Green New Deal lobby day that included sit-ins and 143 arrests.  In response to GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell trying to stop the Green New Deal before it starts, 43 climate activists were arrested in his Capitol Hill offices in late February.  In a stunning response, McConnell postponed the vote where he’d hoped to stop the Green New Deal’s march through Congress.

As Naomi Klein recently penned in the Intercept,

“I have written before about why the old New Deal, despite its failings, remains a useful touchstone for the kind of sweeping climate mobilization that is our only hope of lowering emissions in time. In large part, this is because there are so few historical precedents we can look to (other than top-down military mobilizations) that show how every sector of life, from forestry to education to the arts to housing to electrification, can be transformed under the umbrella of a single, society-wide mission.

Which is why it is so critical to remember that none of it would have happened without massive pressure from social movements. FDR rolled out the New Deal in the midst of a historic wave of labor unrest: There was the Teamsters’ rebellion and Minneapolis general strike in 1934, the 83-day shutdown of the West Coast by longshore workers that same year, and the Flint sit-down autoworkers strikes in 1936 and 1937. During this same period, mass movements, responding to the suffering of the Great Depression, demanded sweeping social programs, such as Social Security and unemployment insurance, while socialists argued that abandoned factories should be handed over to their workers and turned into cooperatives. Upton Sinclair, the muckraking author of “The Jungle,” ran for governor of California in 1934 on a platform arguing that the key to ending poverty was full state funding of workers’ cooperatives. He received nearly 900,000 votes, but having been viciously attacked by the right and undercut by the Democratic establishment, he fell just short of winning the governor’s office.

All of this is a reminder that the New Deal was adopted by Roosevelt at a time of such progressive and left militancy that its programs — which seem radical by today’s standards — appeared at the time to be the only way to hold back a full-scale revolution.”

We’re in a moment that needs massive social movement pressure to break through political and corporate barriers to respond to the climate crisis. Following the lead of organizers from our past, in other parts of the world today, the anti-infrastructure movements and the revitalized youth climate movement, it’s time to scale up and say “here and no further.”

###

Scott Parkin is a climate organizer working with Rising Tide North America. You can follow him on Twitter at @sparki1969

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Optimize What?

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 03:45

via Commune

Silicon Valley is full of the stupidest geniuses you’ll ever meet. The problem begins in the classrooms where computer science is taught.

In November 2018, over six hundred Google engineers signed a public petition to CEO Sundar Pichai demanding that the company cease work on censored search and surveillance tools for the Chinese market, code-named “Project Dragonfly.” During the ensuing public outcry, Pichai appeared before Congress, human rights groups protested in front of corporate offices in ten countries, and the company quietly put the project on hold.

This is merely one episode in what has been a long year for Big Tech, roiled by an increasingly intense series of protests and political scandals. Salesforce, Microsoft, and Amazon workers petitioned their executives to cancel lucrative contracts with US Customs and Border Protection. Facebook was found to be lobbying Congress and employing a right-wing PR firm to quell criticism from activists. Lyft and Uber drivers protested outside corporate headquarters over the companies’ rate cuts and deactivation policies.

All this has spawned a renewed interest in the ethics of technology and its role in society, with technologists, social scientists, philosophers, and policy wonks all chiming in. Of all the factions coming to the rescue, however, the most intriguing is the academic field of computer science. Recently, for instance, Stanford University’s School of Engineering launched a “Human-Centered AI Initiative” to guide the future of algorithmic ethics, and offered, for the first time, a course on data ethics for technical students. Other universities are following suit, with similar courses, institutes, and research labs springing up across the country. Academics hope that, by better teaching the next generation of engineers and entrepreneurs, universities can produce socially conscious tech professionals and thereby fix the embattled tech sector.

Yet in positioning itself as tech’s moral compass, academic computer science belies the fact that its own intellectual tools are the source of the technology industry’s dangerous power. A significant part of the problem is the kind of ideology it instills in students, researchers, and society at large. It’s not just that engineering education teaches students to think that all problems deserve technical solutions (which it certainly does); rather, the curriculum is built around an entire value system that knows only utility functions, symbolic manipulations, and objective maximization.

_____

In spring 2018, Stanford offered, for the first time, a course on data ethics specifically for students with a background in machine learning and algorithms. At the time, I was a graduate student in the Computer Science department, and attended the class when I could. One particular case study was on a controversy from 2009, shortly after California’s infamous Proposition 8 was passed, which defined state-recognized marriage as being between a man and a woman. The anonymous creators of a website called Eightmaps had used the Freedom of Information Act to retrieve records of donations to organizations that supported the measure, then plotted them on a map. Visitors to the site could see the names, donation amounts, and approximate locations of individuals who had donated at least $100 to the Proposition 8 campaign. As use of the tool spread, the exposed donors received angry messages and threats of physical violence. “What could be done,” the instructor asked, “to prevent these scenarios in future elections?”

The students had many ideas. One suggested that, in the interest of protecting small donors, the $100 minimum donation threshold be increased. Another conjectured that there was some inherent trade-off between having transparent public information and preserving the privacy needed for democratic participation (including the right to donate to campaigns). Thus there might be some intermediary way to make campaign finance information more coarse-grained so as to protect individual identities, while providing aggregate information about where the donations came from. Several classmates nodded in agreement.

By this time, I had plucked up the courage to raise my hand. “Isn’t it a bit insane,” I asked, “that we’re sitting here debating at what level of granularity to visualize this data? Is this a technical problem that can be optimized to find some happy balance, or is it a political question of whether elections should be run this way, with campaign contributions, in the first place?”

Read more

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Why Extinction Rebellion can’t save the world

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 03:21

via Slow Burning Fuse

Extinction Rebellion was established in the United Kingdom in October 2018 as a movement that aims to use tactics of nonviolent direct action in order to avert the effects of climate change.

While we support the means of using direct action tactics it is their ends that needs greater examination. Extinction Rebellion is essentially a reformist movement, whose earnest activists lack a real vision of what is needed if we are serious about halting the damage to our environment. Instead, they are pinning their hopes on merely making adjustments to the present system which is destroying our world.

We argue that this isn’t enough, and the only way to effectively campaign to halt climate change is to impart a true picture of a capitalism whose insatiable hunger for profit is not only undermining the working and living conditions of hundreds of millions of working people but the basis of life itself. The future of our planet depends on building a livable environment and a movement powerful enough to displace capitalism.
Extinction Rebellion are guilty of thinking that their demands can create an idyllic capitalism, managed by the state, that can end the destruction being caused to the Earth’s environment They see their role as just needing to make enough noise to wake up political and business leaders. Theirs is a view which sees capitalism moving towards sustainability and zero growth. It is the idea that capitalism can be reformed to become a green system. In this model of capitalist society lifestyles change and infrastructure are reformed while technical green advances are applied. It supposes that all would be well if we all bought organic food, never took a holiday anywhere which would involve flying, and put on more clothes in winter rather than turn up the heating. Green capitalism presumes it will be enough to replace fossil fuels with renewables, whilst leaving the overall system intact.
We argue that such a scenario completely ignores the way capitalism operates, and must operate, and is therefore hopelessly utopian. The present capitalist system is driven by the struggle for profit. The present system’s need for infinite growth and the finite resources of Earth stand in contradiction to each other. Successful operation of the system means growth or maximising profit, it means that nature as a resource will be exploited ruthlessly. The present destruction of the planet is rooted in the capitalist system of production and cannot be solved without a complete break with capitalism. Yet ending capitalism is something that Extinction Rebellion  does not appear to be prepared to countenance, they are only attacking the symptoms rather than the cause. They see their green capitalism as a type of capitalism worth fighting for.

We, rather, see the need to create a different form of social organisation before the present system destroys us all. The entire system of production based on wage labour and capital needs to be replaced with a system which produces for human needs. All the half measures of converting aspects of capitalism to limit the damage to the environment, while the fundamentals of capitalism remain in place, are just wishful thinking, and to pretend they could solve our problems is deception on a grand scale.

The fact is that before production can be carried out in ecologically-acceptable ways capitalism has to go. Production for profit and the uncontrollable drive to accumulate more and more capital mean that capitalism is by its very nature incapable of taking ecological considerations into account properly, and to be honest it is futile to try to make it do so.

A sustainable society that is capable of addressing climate change can only be achieved within a world where all the Earth’s resources, natural and industrial, are under the common ownership of us all, as well as being under grassroots democratic control at a local and regional level. If we are going to organise production in an ecologically sound way we can either plead with the powers that be or we can take democratic control of production ourselves, and the reality is to truly control production we have to own and control the means of production. So, a society of common ownership and democratic control is the only framework within which the aims of Extinction Rebellion can be realised. In reality, to achieve their wish of halting climate collapse, those within Extinction Rebellion should be anarchists.

One of the demands of Extinction Rebellion is a call for participatory democracy, and yet they also talk of giving governments emergency war-time powers. It’s not altogether clear what they mean by this. Does it mean, for example, seizing fossil fuel industries and shutting them down? Enforcing new low-carbon, low-travel, and low-meat shifts in consumption? Or imposing sanctions against companies or countries trafficking in fossil fuels? Will it see imprisonment for those whose protest when they feel their interests may be compromised by green government legislation?
In the past, warlike conditions and major disasters typically were seen to justify the temporary abolition of democratic liberties, but how long will they last for this fight, what will be the endpoint, or will the special war-time powers last indefinitely? Would such a suspension of democracy be easy to reverse anyway? These are big questions, and, for those of us that value the limited freedoms we have, they need to be addressed.
Giving more power to the state is also a case of putting all your eggs in one basket as there is no one simple response to fixing climate change. Climate change will bring many issues, those that we can have a go at predicting, but also many unforeseen. Increasing the powers of the state reduces its ability to be flexible and capable of learning from policy mistakes. The fight against climate change must be associated with greater local democracy. We need more democracy, strengthening local and regional capacities to respond to climate change. For those in Extinction Rebellion who think that there can be only one pathway to addressing climate change, the erosion of democracy might seem to be “convenient.” History, however, tells us that suppression of democracy undermines the capacity of societies to solve problems.
Those campaigning with Extinction Rebellion are no doubt sincere and caring people who want something different for themselves and future generations. In their own lifestyles they probably have made genuine changes which are in line with a more ecologically sustainable way of living. So have we, but we are well aware that our individual lifestyle changes are not going to change the fundamental nature of the social system which is damaging the planet. Millions of us might give up using products which destroy the environment, but what effect do we really have in comparison with the minority who own and control the multinational corporations. Just 100 companies have been responsible for 71% of global emissions since 1988. They, and all businesses, have an interest in keeping their costs down, and profits up. If their profits come before the long-term interests of people, who can blame them for sacrificing our needs? They can act no other way.

We do not have faith that capitalists, or their parliamentary representatives, can act in time to limit climate change in a meaningful way, but when we make a call for revolution, the answer we mostly get is that the lesser evil of piecemeal reforms will take less time to achieve than our grand anarchist aims. However, we think it is an ill-advised attitude to take that small improvements are more worthy of support than realisable big ones. There is unlikely ever to be a government passing meaningful green legislation. Governments may pass a few minor reforms to appease green voters, the business owners themselves may realise that some of their brands may be harmed by a lack of environmental concern, and greenwash their product, but ultimately these acts will be a sticking plaster when what is required is major surgery.

If anyone concerned with Extinction Rebellion read this and grasps the impossibility of what they are asking for, then we would say it’s time to keep the methods of direct action that you are advocating, but change the demands. If Extinction Rebellion ever wants their arguments to carry any force, then they need to campaign to abolish capitalism and create a system of grassroots democracy.

Full article from Aotearoa / so-called New Zealand here:

http://awsm.nz/2019/03/12/can-extinction-rebellion-aotearoa-nz-help-save-the-world/

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Criticizing Israel isn’t Anti-Semitic, Here’s What Is

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 04:17

via CounterPunch

by Sarah Gertler

Weeks ago, when the first accusations of anti-semitism were being leveled against Representative Ilhan Omar, I was deeply agitated.

Not long ago I saw her address these accusations at a local town hall. She reminded the world that, as a Black Muslim woman in America, she knows what hate looks like — and spends her life laboring against it. Her words were clear, bold, and unflinching.

When members of Congress not only continued to gang up and falsely smear Omar as anti-semitic, but even created a House Resolution painting her words as hateful, I wasn’t just agitated. I was absolutely disgusted.

Omar has criticized the U.S. government’s support for Israeli actions that break international law. And she’s spoken out against the role money in politics plays in shoring up that support.

Neither is anti-semitic.

What is anti-semitic is the cacophony of mainstream media and politicians saying that criticizing U.S. policy toward the state of Israel is the same as attacking Jewish people.

Like most American Jewish youth, I grew up knowing Israel. During holidays, I sang prayers about Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel. In Hebrew school, I learned about the country’s culture, its cities, its past prime ministers. At my Jewish summer camp, we started every day with the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah.

My image of Israel was a rosy one. When I finally visited it in college, I was spellbound by the lush landscapes and sparkling cities, certain I would one day move to this golden ancestral home myself.

All this emotional buildup made it all the more sickening when, in the years that followed, I learned the realities of the Israeli occupation.

The modern state of Israel was established by Zionists — a nationalist movement started by European Jews with the aim of creating a “Jewish state” as a refuge for persecuted Jews.

It’s true that Jews have faced centuries of brutal persecution in Europe. But the Zionists’ project shared unmistakably European colonialist roots.

In 1948, Israel’s war of independence led to the Nakba, an invasion driving 700,000 Palestinians from their homes. These Palestinians were never allowed to return, creating a massive refugee population that today numbers over 7 million.

While I was able to travel freely up and down Israel, the Palestinians who once lived there are legally barred from returning. While I wandered the marketplaces trying stews and shawarmas, Palestinians in Gaza can’t afford even the gas to cook their food because of the Israeli blockade.

Zionism didn’t create an inclusive Jewish refuge either. In fact, the diverse Mizrahi — or Arab — Jewish population that was already thriving in Palestine was pushed out of Israeli society as Ashkenazi — or European — Jews became the elite class.

What it did create is an imperialist stronghold that continues to break international law by building settlements deeper and deeper into Palestinian territory, giving Jewish Israelis superior legal status to Arab Israelis and Palestinians, and attacking all who protest.

Since Israel’s origin, the U.S. has supplied tens of billions of dollars of military aid and ardent political support. Congress consistently ignores dozens of UN resolutions condemning Israeli abuses, and year after year gives it more resources to violently oppress impoverished Palestinians.

Pro-Israel lobbying groups’ considerable political influence has even pushed Congress to consider bills punishing Americans who support Palestinian rights. (Around half of all statesalready have such laws.)

More broadly, they rely on villainizing critics with false claims of antisemitism — especially when the criticism comes from a person of color, as we’ve seen with Angela Davis, Marc Lamont Hill, and Michelle Alexander before Rep. Omar.

I, along with an increasing number of young American Jews, want to discuss U.S. support of Israel. Talking foreign policy is not anti-semitism.

What is anti-semitic — always — is saying that all Jews support violence and imperialism.

Sarah Gertler is the Newman Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Recent Rise of Visible Anti-Semitism

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 04:09

via First of May Anarchist Alliance (M1)

By Miriam of the Michigan Collective, a retired Jewish autoworker. Miriam was raised as a communist in Compton, California and is now an Anarchist operating out of the Detroit area.

The recent rise in visible Anti Semitism – vandalism of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, shooting and murder in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, the fascist slogans pointing to Jews as the enemy – shows that the ground of security is once again cracking.  The economic and social insecurities thrown up by the decay of capitalism, and its attempts to stabilize itself globally through a neoliberal strategy, have allowed hatred of “the other” to rise to the surface. This enables racists to publicly act out against Black people, questioning their right to be in public places; it enables public policies to detain, and sometimes murder, refugees seeking survival and protection; and it enables hatred of Jews.

Israel’s role in the world as agent of the United States and apologist for apartheid allows a conflation of Jews and Zionism.  They are not the same. Zionism and the state of Israel is supported by people and institutions that are not Jewish; there are Jewish people who do not support the state of Israel.

Currently, Jews have assimilated into the United States to such an extent, particularly through the professional class, that they are seen as the face of authority among other groups, who have also been othered, and discriminated against, particularly Black people.

The Jewish people have been seen as other, as heretics from their first refusals to go along with Roman authorities during the rise of Christianity.  Driven from living spaces, corralled in ghettos (Italy) or the Pale of Settlement (Russia), the diaspora, or dispersion, spread Jews throughout the world.  Expelled from Spain (1492), they were forbidden to live openly in Spanish colonies. They lived as secret Jews, or Marranos (pigs), openly Christian, following Jewish traditions in secret.

The first Jewish settlement in what is now New York was in 1624.  Through peaks of nativism, hostility against Jews rose periodically.  Jews were forbidden to live in certain areas, there were quotas on their entrance to schools, they were caricatured, identified as greedy, money hungry, sly and devious, dirty, and, of course, the killers of Christ.

Jews sought assimilation and were allowed to participate as settlers; as Europeans displaced Native Americans across the western United States, Jews were among their number.  In order to become “white”, or “truly American”, one must adopt attitudes of anti-Blackness. This was the route all settlers took as they established themselves as Americans, as they threw off their European identities.

The first major influx of Jews to the United States was in the 1840s, primarily from Austria and Germany, after the failed revolutions in Europe.  They were primarily shopkeepers and financially able to secure employment and businesses. In Europe Jews were prevented from becoming farmers and were denied access to education and to the professional classes.  They sought protection from their anti Semitic neighbors by appealing to the king or members of the king’s court for protection. They were often used as usurers, or money lenders, as this profession was forbidden to Christians.  This role linked them to banking and money in the public eye; it also linked them to the ruling classes.

This group set itself against the second wave of Jewish immigration around the late 1880s-1900s, which was larger, poorer and escaping from the Russian and Polish pogroms.  This wave also brought the anarchist and Communist influence into the Jewish communities, into the working class neighborhoods where they settled, and into the shops they helped organize.  The many daily newspapers in Yiddish provided cultural adhesion, along with a strong cultural practice of poetry, theater and music, and a high value placed on education.

The “Jewish Community” has always been divided among itself – culturally and by class; by religious expression and by how it identifies itself.  Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist are all forms of religious Judaism, each one seeing itself as the “true” Jewish religion. The humanist or secular Jews also see themselves as Jews, but without a religious identity, living within a cultural tradition.

These divisions were aggravated with the establishment of Israel as a “Jewish” state in 1948.  Set up as a British and United States outpost in the Middle East, intended to represent British interests against the rising independence movements of the Arab states and as a place to send Jews displaced by World War 2, that were not welcome in the United States or in Europe.

Zionism was never the ideology of all Jews.  Jews hold a range of politics and opinions, based on their upbringing and experiences, their desires to assimilate or remain a part of a Jewish community, whether religious or secular.  It has served the purposes of both Israel and western imperialism to conflate Jews with the Israeli state and with Zionism. This has aggravated many Jews who do not identify with either.

Jews have played a major role in the various professional layers of American society – doctors, lawyers, businessmen, academics, movie moguls.  Some have amassed great wealth and use this for the benefit of the many right wing causes and politicians they support.

Part of the othered persona has led Jews to a role of middleman, particularly in regard to Black people.  They are the owners of stores in Black communities, the managers of recording artists, the landlord or slumlord willing to rent to Black people when others would not.  This relationship has exacerbated a particular understanding of Jews as the face of the white man, even when the white man does not consider the Jew white, or allow them to live in their white only neighborhoods. Many Jews changed their names and hid their identities in order to attend schools with Jewish quotas. The fact that they were able to pass allowed a degree of assimilation unavailable to more recognizable groups.

Jews have also played major roles in various left wing and social justice movements, putting ideas and bodies into the struggles for rights for working class people.

One of the lessons of the German Holocaust is that assimilation into a capitalist society will not save an othered group from the thuggery of predators.  As the right wing becomes more empowered and feels itself enabled to be open about its politics, its root anti Semitism once again reveals itself: in vandalism, in Nazi slogans, in murder.

 

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Garment Workers Have Organized Strikes for Over 100 Years As They Pay the Human Cost of Fashion

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 03:50

via Teen Vogue

by Kim Kelly

On February 25, Ivanka Trump criticized Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s signature policy proposal, the Green New Deal, during an interview with FOX News. The specific part of the proposal — which seeks to address the dire threat of climate change as well as fight economic inequality — that Trump had trouble with was its promise to provide “a job with a family-sustaining wage…to all people of the United States.” Trump’s response was hard to make out around the silver spoon jammed into her mouth, but she managed to spit out, “People want to work for what they get. So I think this idea of a guaranteed minimum is not something most people want. They want the ability to be able to secure a job.”

Many critics were quick to point out the hypocrisy inherent in her words, spoken as they were by a millionaire heiress who grew up rich, was handed a high-level job at her father’s company, and now serves in his administration despite her complete lack of government or political experience. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez joined the chorus, commenting on Twitter, “As a person who actually worked for tips & hourly wages in my life, instead of having to learn about it 2nd-hand, I can tell you that most people want to be paid enough to live.”

Others, like writer Ira Madison III, called attention to Trump — whom he dubbed “Sweatshop Shannon” — and her comments in the context of her experience as a businessperson. Madison skewered Trump’s relationship with the predominantly Bangladeshi and Indonesian garment-factory workers who manufactured her clothing line; the Guardian has reported that Indonesian workers “describe being paid one of the lowest minimum wages in Asia.” In 2018, Trump shut down her eponymous clothing line in order to focus on whatever it is she does in Washington, after years of flagging sales, boycotts, and backlash from consumers who turned on the brand because of its association with the president. However, her complicity in the deep-rooted and ongoing issue of sweatshop labor remains.

Trump’s was far from the only fashion brand to allegedly mistreat and exploit an overseas workforce. Nike, Wal-Mart, Gap, H&M, and even Beyoncé’s Ivy Park have faced similar accusations and criticisms over hazardous conditions and low wages in the factories that these and other U.S.-based companies contract to manufacture their products. The rise of semi-disposable “fast fashion” — a term for low-quality, cheap, trendy clothing that takes ideas from high fashion and celebrity culture and rushes them onto store shelves — and the high production quotas, fast turnarounds, and potential exposure to harmful chemicals characteristic to its production have placed immense pressure on already underpaid, overworked employees.

Read more

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Venezuela-Baiting: How Media Keep Anti-Imperialist Dissent in Check

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 22:20

via FAIR

by Alan MacLeod

Corporate media have always attacked leftists for their positions on Venezuela, a country consistently demonized and misrepresented in the US press (FAIR.org, 6/1/02, 11/1/05, 4/1/13, 2/22/19). But with President Donald Trump’s latest tightening of sanctions, and signs of a build-up to a long-rumored invasion (Fox News, 2/27/19), the media’s Venezuela-baiting has been turned up to 11.

The political right is uniting with establishment Democrats in denouncing presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders for his supposedly pro-dictatorship stance on Venezuela. And the media are piling on.

Bernie Sanders tweets (1/24/19) on Venezuela.

Yet Sanders’ statements on the Venezuelan crisis were quite critical of President Nicolás Maduro, saying his 2018 re-election was a vote “many observers said was fraudulent.”  He condemned his “violent crackdown on Venezuelan civil society,” and insisted “humanitarian aid” be allowed in the country. He has consistently maintained a strongly adversarial position to Venezuela, calling Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chávez a “dead Communist dictator.”

In fact, the 2018 Venezuelan elections were watched over and endorsed as free by over 150 international observers, although media uniformly ignored those bothersome facts (FAIR.org, 5/23/18). It should also be noted that “civil society” is not a neutral, but a highly loaded term (FAIR.org, 1/31/19). In a study of over 500 articles across a 20-year period, I found that the term was used exclusively to refer to the light-skinned US-backed Venezuelan elite, and never once to the largely black, largely working-class groups who support the government.

The UN and Red Cross have also rejected the US “aid” Sanders demands be let in as politically motivated, and have long worked closely with the Venezuelan government in supplying and distributing genuine international aid across the country. Moreover, the McClatchy DC bureau (2/7/19) has already exposed how weapons are being smuggled into the country from the US. Thus, the senator’s statements echoed and supported many of Trump, John Bolton and Elliott Abrams’ discredited regime change talking points.

But at the same time, Sanders stopped short of openly endorsing the Trump administration’s attempt to overthrow the Maduro government, warning, “We must learn the lessons of the past and not be in the business of regime change or supporting coups—as we have in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil & the DR.”

Some in the establishment applauded Sanders’ position. In a Foreign Policy essay headlined “The Left Keeps Getting Venezuela Wrong” (1/28/19), writer James Bloodworth distinguished Sanders from left politicians like Ilhan Olmar and Tulsi Gabbard who supposedly “favor dictators—as long as they mouth anti-American platitudes”:

It’s possible to oppose US interventionism without making further excuses for the dictatorship in Caracas. The unequivocal statements put out by US Sen. Bernie Sanders make a nonsense of the idea that the left has some duty to protect dictators simply because they purport to be socialists.

(Bloodworth has turned Venezuela-baiting Western politicians into a career, writing the same article for years—Spectator, 11/23/13; London Independent, 2/19/14; International Business Times, 7/4/17; New Statesman, 8/2/17; Huffington Post, 5/22/18.)

The Washington Post (1/31/19) scolds Bernie Sanders for not recognizing “the fading of US will to topple toxic regimes.”

Yet most corporate media coverage condemned Sanders’ position as a shameful, slavish support of a dictatorship. The Wall Street Journal (1/28/19) attacked the senator for worrying about “regime change”:

Regime change is exactly what the people of Venezuela want. Bernie is siding with the dictator, who survives in power only because of the military and Cuban intelligence.

The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl (1/31/19) wrote that Sanders was “poorly informed” and “dead wrong” about Venezuela, since in Diehl’s view the “US has avoided full-scale confrontation with Venezuela” for decades—ignoring Washington’s support for overthrowing the Venezuelan government going back at least to 2002, and devastating sanctions that have crippled Venezuela’s oil industry and access to credit.

The Washington Examiner (2/21/19) wrote of the senator’s “choking immorality” and “rank hypocrisy” for refusing to call for the removal of Maduro, aka “the child butcher of Venezuela.” The Miami Herald (2/1/19) began an article, “Shame on you, Bernie Sanders!”—claiming that, by “parroting a dictator’s propaganda,” he was doing Trump a favor by driving voters to the president’s supposedly more sensible position on the country.

Politico (2/21/19) increased the pressure on Sanders, claiming he could not be the Democratic nominee while endorsing a “dictator,” giving free rein to multiple sources to attack him for his supposedly “disgusting,” “clueless” and “extremely ignorant” comments, which proved “he is not going to be the nominee of the Democratic Party” because “he does not understand this situation.”

Politico presented Maduro as an isolated tyrant and the White House’s regime change position as common sense. In a nod to balance, it did inform readers that countries like North Korea, Syria, Iran and Russia opposed the plan. It did not inform readers that states such as Norway, Italy, Switzerland, Mexico and South Africa, nations that are not continually demonized in the US media, also recognize Maduro’s government.

Wolf Blitzer (CNN, 2/26/19) questions Bernie Sanders on his failure to use the approved propaganda term when condemning Nicolás Maduro.

For over a month, the media have continued to pursue Sanders with the same question. Sanders was grilled live at a town hall by Wolf Blitzer on February 25 (CNN, 2/26/19): “Why have you stopped short of calling Maduro of Venezuela a dictator?” the journalist demanded.

In reality, 75 percent of the world’s countries have rejected the US position that Juan Guaidó is the legitimate president of Venezuela, according to a study by Venezuelanalysis (2/6/19). The UN has formally condemned the US sanctions, with a UN special rapporteur comparing them to a “medieval siege” and declaring the US guilty of “crimes against humanity” (London Independent, 1/26/19). These inconvenient truths that form the basis for international understanding of the situation have not been reported by the New York Times, CNN, MSNBC or other national news outlets.

International opinion, never in favor of the US, is fast turning actively hostile to Trump’s plans, most of which are tacitly or explicitly endorsed by Sanders. The US was excoriated at a UN Security Council meeting (2/26/19), while the unity of the Lima Group—a collection of right-wing Latin American states created by Washington with the express intention of regime change in Venezuela—is disintegrating. Even Brazil’s fascist government has backed away from Trump’s military build-up, stating under no circumstances would it be part of an invasion (The Hill, 2/25/19). Other key partners like Colombia, Chile and Peru made similar statements, while important European allies Spain and Germany have categorically rejected the military option (Guardian, 2/25/19). Thus, in trying to isolate Venezuela, the extreme position the US has taken has virtually isolated itself.

Nevertheless, the media continue to heap pressure on Sanders to conform to Washington’s aggressive foreign policy, deemed too extreme even for far-right governments like Brazil to countenance. Despite his denouncing Maduro and backing the US’s dubious “humanitarian” demands, his reminder that the US has a record of “inappropriately intervening in Latin American nations” appears to be too much for columnists and TV anchors to accept.

In their seminal study of the media, Manufacturing Consent, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky argued that there is an all-pervading anti-socialist secular religion in the press. They noted that leftists at home are constantly accused of supporting the “atrocities” of “socialist” countries, keeping them permanently on the defensive and demanding they support reactionary policies abroad in order to prove their democratic credentials.

The London Telegraph (2/4/19) demonstrates that Venezuela-baiting is a handy tool on either side of the Atlantic.

So useful is Venezuela-baiting that it is being used around the world to chide leftist politicians into supporting regime change. The Daily Telegraph (2/4/19) claimed that “the tragedy of Venezuela” shows how “dangerous” UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is, while the Daily Express (2/5/19) accused Corbyn of “moral bankruptcy” for his failure to sufficiently denounce Maduro. Meanwhile, leftist Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has been condemned for his failure to support those “fighting for a democratic Venezuela” (Ekathimerini, 2/7/19).

Sanders has faced similar baiting before, over his position on Russia—another official enemy. Despite consistently endorsing the Russiagate narrative and condemning President Vladimir Putin for interfering in US elections, he was constantly attacked as a Russian puppet himself (FAIR.org, 7/27/18). The Washington Post (11/12/17) asked its readers, “When Russia interferes with the 2020 election on behalf of Democratic nominee Bernie Sanders, how will liberals respond?”

The reality is that nothing but complete capitulation to this extractive right-wing tactic will be accepted. Redbaiting is a time-honored technique of enforcing discipline by directing flak for those who step outside the range of “respectable” opinion. Sanders should know this; he once shared a stage with Chomsky (5/20/85), introducing the professor’s  lecture on how the US media distort the image of Latin American countries as a first step towards military intervention. They also attempt to destroy and defame anyone not sufficiently excited by the prospect of regime change in America’s “backyard.”

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A Workers’ Party and Elections or Class Struggle?

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 22:00

via Zabalaza.net

The Question of State Power and the Anarchists’ Answer

The question of state government elections and running a Workers or Socialist political party continues to be raised in the working class movement and the Left globally. As we may know, there was excitement about the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party in Britain, left political parties in certain parts of Europe and Latin America and, more recently, certain shifts to more centrist positions in the United States amongst a section of the Democratic Party calling themselves “Democratic Socialists”. In South Africa, many workers and some activists seem cautiously optimistic by NUMSA’s[1] formation of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party that will seek to participate in the 2019 general elections.

With this in mind, we need to look at issues of social transformation within the framework of what we want to achieve and the relationship between the means and ends of struggle in pursuit of these aims. The historic and ultimate socialist end is a society characterised by collective democratic control of the political and economic systems and one without class divisions and oppression of all types – in real terms, a society without the state and capitalism in particular. If this is so, is this revolutionary transformation possible through the means of state power and political parties that aim to capture this form of power? The question is not only one of ideological orientation, but also the strategic and tactical implications imposed by ideological adherence.

Before we get into it, I want to stress that we are participating in and waging a battle of ideas. This is not just between an embattled working class – broadly understood as workers, the unemployed and their families – and the opposing ruling class. It is also a battle of competing tendencies, or ideologies within the working class itself, e.g. nationalism, populism, various Marxist-Leninist tendencies, anarchism/syndicalism, etc. As such, anarchism argues for a political organisation specific to the goals of developing and promoting anarchist ideology, strategy and tactics within the working class and society broadly. The aim is to win the popular classes to its ideas and methods of struggle, resistance and social reconstruction. It is not an anti-organisational approach, but one that argues for an organised, collective and directly-democratic response to the issues posed by the battle of ideas. Anarchism and its trade union strategy, syndicalism, does, however, vehemently oppose the participation of these political organisations in the mechanisms of state rule, including state government elections.

The question of elections and political parties has to be interrogated within the dual contexts of this battle of ideas (inter and intra class) and the relative weakness of union movements in relation to the forces of the ruling class – the state and the corporation. Whereas corporations and their capitalist philosophies have become ubiquitous throughout the world, the influence of unions and the ideas of collective organisation as combative and transformative forces are relatively quite weak. There may be large numbers of workers unionised, but this does not necessarily translate into socio-economic transformative action through the unions. This general weakness is not only characteristic of unions – many other working class social and Left movements are unable to continue struggles against the oppressive nature of modern day capitalism beyond protests and petitions. As such, much action is defensive in nature (e.g. for wage increases above inflation, for access to affordable energy in poor townships, etc.), and rarely are there attempts at changing the relations of ownership and expanding working class control and power into the economy and society.

It is therefore understandable, in a conjuncture of generally weak workers’ and Left formations, that the idea of a Workers Party is appealing for many people and sections of the Left. However, the need to capture state power is also a long-standing idea held and developed by the statist Left ideologies guiding these people. The claim of the need for such a party asserts a new locus for struggle, the voice for socialist ideas and an entity that can bring together working and popular class movements across a range of sectors. Its claim rests on the idea that unions can only ever be economic organisations that aim at day-to-day improvements in the lives of members and workers. An ahistorical claim, if ever there was one! Accordingly, the socio-political realm can only therefore be engaged by a political party that best represents the wishes of the working class as a whole. This they call the vanguard. Another bold claim indeed!

Clearly many people on the Left think the real goal is to achieve state power to realise the promises of the future. In reality this means building a political party and pouring a substantial amount of resources – human and financial – into its development. Many also believe that a Left party, however problematic, would be better than the existing parties, particularly those of the radical right and populists promoting race essentialism and xenophobia, who foment fear of and between different social groupings. History is not too kind, however, to the belief that political parties are vehicles of radical, progressive, socialist transformation.

The idea of state power is wholly under-scrutinised from a critical perspective. Few discussions, if any, exist within working class organisational circles as to the nature and impact of state power on political organisations and mass formations linked to parties in power. Hardly any debates take place regarding the state’s role as an institution of ruling class power and whether or not the state, with its hierarchical structures of centralised, individual control, can ever be accountable to a mass working class base. Also missing in the discussions about elections, parties and the labour movement, is a serious evaluation of the track record of parties – whether in power or in opposition. In this conceptual vaccum, many continue to argue that the problem is existing parties have failed because they have had bad leaders. This may account for the excitement about Corbyn’s influence in the UK’s Labour Party, Cyril Ramaphosa ascending the ANC throne in South Africa, or Bernie Sanders’ popularity in the USA. For others, the problem is bad ideas, with the solution being a better manifesto thereof. However, little attention is paid to structural issues – of organisation, decision-making and control. At the extreme, some of these Left lines of thought propose a better Communist or Socialist Party because of the failure of the historical incumbent. However, there is little interrogation of what these failures were, why they occurred (beyond bad leadership and alliances) and whether or not these failures are inherent to the very idea and hierarchical structure of a self-anointed “vanguard” party.

When we focus attention on these and other such questions, perhaps we can account for what happened to the ANC[2] in South Africa particularly in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. It suggests more than just the impact of key personalities or even programme. Once in power, the ANC – hierarchically structured and founded on an unprincipled mishmash of neo-liberal capitalist principles trumpeting faith in free markets on the one hand and Developmental State leanings on the other – rapidly developed into a party characterised by state looting, corruption and social repression. There are many similarities shared with liberation movements that came to power elsewhere in the former colonial world, as well as with the old Labour, Workers and Socialist parties in other parts. Once they got into office and despite many promising early initiatives, the new ruling party proved incapable of fostering substantive, transformative socio-economic development.

There are also shared histories amongst trade union movements that chose similar political pathways, particularly of alliance to political parties who claimed to speak on behalf of the working class, or, as in many cases in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the “oppressed nation”. In the South African case, an official alliance between the ANC and COSATU[3] has, for various reasons, had a devastating impact on the union movement. Amongst a host of other issues, it has caused the fragmentation of the workers’ movement and its organisations, a decline of union democracy, individual jockeying for union position to access wealth and future political power via the ANC (leading to assassinations in many cases), and the spread of corruption. Many of these issues stem from the alliance, with union position seen as a ladder for personal political and economic gain.

We need to look at the trajectory of rot, failure and perhaps even betrayal here in South Africa to understand the similarities between events in post-colonial Africa and elsewhere. This can be a basis for a more informed discussion about ideas for the way forward for the working class – away from mere rhetorical flourishes, sloganeering and rehashing of old ideas that have failed our class again and again.

The reality is that a project of building political parties to capture state power to free the popular classes – through elections or force – has been a colossal failure in relation to its initial socialist aims. Once elected, political parties are incorporated into the institutional life of the state machine. However, not only is the state always an institution of ruling class power, run by and for exploitative economic and political elites, one of its primary goals is to secure its power as an institution over society and its politics. This self-sustaining approach is the very design and function of the state. It exists primarily to secure its control over the means of coercion and administration. It is this key form of control that positions top state managers as key members of the ruling class alongside owners of means of production (as an aside, all states also control substantial productive economic means, such as land, property and corporations like Eskom, Petrobras, the Emirates airline, etc.).

All states are structured as hierarchies of control and privilege – structures that centralise more and more power in fewer and fewer individuals as you go up the chain of command. This very structure is contradictory and opposed, in form and content, to a democratic, emancipatory working class project. Once a party is involved in the self-sustaining state machinery, its leaders are drawn into the day-to-day necessities of the interests of competing parties and politicians. The party and individual representative’s mandate must then change from one that may have sought to serve broad social interests, to a primary focus on remaining in political power. Thus, the state, party and politician serve the primary purpose of maintaining their social, economic and political positions of power – control and privilege. The party and its servants are warped to serve this elitist interest, and its leaders, now working and residing in the halls, offices and residences of ruling class political power, become the very problem they may have sought to rid society of. They now have become part of the ruling class.

Power over daily life, the neighbourhood, policing, education (let’s call it the means of administration and coercion) when rested in the hands of the state and its institutions does not and cannot trickle down to the masses; it merely shifts between sections of the ruling class. Let us be clear: the state is a fundamentally undemocratic institution that we have vested with social, political and economic power. Although you may vote for certain representatives in government, government is but ONE arm of the state machine. You do not and cannot, by law, vote to elect leaders of the other arms of the state: the judiciary, the police, the army and state-owned enterprises. Not very democratic, it seems!

If the ANC under Nelson Mandela, the Bolsheviks under Lenin, the SACP under Joe Slovo could not break the pattern – and in many ways reinforced the authoritarian power of the new state institutions they came to control – no way is it going to be different the next time one chooses to vote, no matter the personalities and programmes involved. The desire for state power, and to hold onto it, supersedes all others. There is no basis at all for the faith that new or reformed Left or national liberation political parties will somehow succeed in creating the kind of order that serves the interests (individual and collective) of the working class. This seems a faith based more on ideological dogma, a selective reading of the past, an unscientific analysis, or even just a belief in pursuing a “lesser evil” hoping life would be more tolerable under different rulers. This hope is fair and not to be sneered at, but is not aligned to a vision for a socialist future.

The very act of voting in state government elections is, in and of itself, a dereliction of one’s personal political obligation. The act places your power of decision-making in the hands of representatives, and thus is referred to as representative democracy. This is the power to make decisions on your behalf and, usually, without you. Voting in government elections is not done by citizens informed by any knowledge of the outcome of their vote, but in the hope that those they elect would actually meet their election promises. This particular form of voting, therefore, reduces society to atomised individual actors alone in the vast political world, reinforces the misplaced idea that it is a meaningful political act, and further undermines the transformative collective political action of the working class and poor. Over time and years of ruling class propaganda, we place more faith in this handover of political power than the potential capabilities of our organisations – the trade union and community-based social movement, the realms of economic and political life where working class people can exercise actual control.

An uncritical approach to discussing the state, parties, unions, organisational structure and the role of voting, prevents the development of an adequate ideological and strategic set of conclusions about what has gone wrong in the past. It also may blind one to what has and continues to achieve real victories. We need to focus less on the overall ideological and strategic orientations of parties and the tactical choices that follow. As I have argued, parties and state power are incapable of creating substantive socialist socio-economic transformation. We should focus more on the process that wins real change – working class struggle by itself, for itself. Even to achieve reforms, we need mass-based struggle from below – at the workplace and in communities. For deeper systemic change, a revolutionary change, we need particular struggles from below – workplace and community struggles for reform that aim at constantly broadening working class organisational control over the immediate means of production, coercion and administration, i.e. everyday life. Both forms of struggle, for reforms and revolution, are indelibly linked. These require building working class counter-power – organisations, especially unions, fomenting a revolutionary front of the oppressed classes. These organisations must also be informed by a new worldview that is socialist/anti-capitalist, anti-statist and non-hierarchical, in other words, anarchist/syndicalist. This we can call a counter-hegemonic view, or more precisely a revolutionary counter-culture; the leadership of a revolutionary mind-set won in the day-to-day battle of ideas inside this movement by the political organisation promoting these ideas. This movement of working class organisations, therefore, is to be built on the twin tracks of revolutionary counter-power and counter-culture, focused outside and against the state, and is forged in struggle. The anti-statist position is not one that ignores the state, but realises it as an organ of ruling class power that we are unable to reform in our favour. Our aim is a self-managed, egalitarian form of reconstruction – of our organisations and world – and a future society based on these principles.

This is a call for a prefigurative politics grounded and shaped in working class realities – a politics that marries means of struggle to the social, political and economic ends collectively agreed to. This means revisiting anarchism and syndicalism, and the libertarian left, and leaving the party-state project behind. This means drawing from the deep well of working class history, organisation, theory and practice, moving from a politics of recycling failed statist projects to one that develops confidence in our own initiatives, one that valorises working class unity, ingenuity and independence.

Notes:

  1. The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa.
  2. African National Congress, the ruling party since 1994.
  3. Congress of South African Trade Unions.

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New York Times lets Israel do its “fact checking”

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 21:54

via Electronic Intifida

by Michael F. Brown

The New York Times has told me it is perfectly content to accept the word of the Israeli government over the facts.

I had advised the newspaper of record that columnist Bret Stephens misrepresented the facts in his implicit rejoinder to Michelle Alexander’s incisive opinion piece calling to break the silence on Palestine.

Stephens wrote: “Nearly 1,300 Israeli civilians have been killed in Palestinian terrorist attacks in this century: That’s the proportional equivalent of about 16 September 11s in the United States.”

This is wrong.

According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, which keeps meticulous statistics, 823 Israeli civilians were killed from 29 September 2000 until the end of January this year, along with 433 “Israeli security force personnel.”

In the same period, nearly 10,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel – the equivalent of dozens of September 11s, to use Stephens’ yardstick – although for him, Palestinian casualties apparently don’t matter at all.

Read more

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Trump and Democrats unite to smear Ilhan Omar

Tue, 03/05/2019 - 17:50

via Electronic Intifada

by Ali Abunimah

Ilhan Omar has come under renewed attack for speaking about the outsize influence of the Israel lobby, and simply for being a Black Muslim woman.

A poster that appeared in the West Virginia state capitol, for instance, implicitly blamed Omar, who came to the US as a refugee from Somalia, for the 9/11 attacks.

But instead of defending the Minnesota congresswoman, her own Democratic colleagues are piling on – continuing to falsely accuse her of anti-Semitism for legitimate comments about the Israel lobby.

“I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” Omar said at a town hall meeting last week.

As if to prove Omar’s point, her Democratic colleague Congressman Juan Vargas declared in response that “questioning support for the US-Israel relationship is unacceptable.” In other words, Vargas – who like Omar sits on the foreign affairs committee – clearly insists on unquestioning allegiance to Israel.

Read more

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Revew: Rupturing the Dialectic by Harry Cleaver

Tue, 03/05/2019 - 17:22

via Anarchist Writers

by Anarcho

There is nothing worse than seeing a film labelled “inspired by true events” (or a TV series “inspired” by the stories of Philip K. Dick) for you know that any relation to actual events is purely accidental. This does not mean the film will be bad – indeed, it may be excellent (Blade Runner springs to mind as regards Dick adaptations). It just means that when you discover the source of the “inspiration” you realise the film does not reflect it very much, if at all.

Harry Cleaver’s new book, Rupturing the Dialectic: The Struggle Against Work, Money, and Financialization (AK Press, 2016), is very much like that – he claims to be inspired by Marx’s Labour Theory of Value but he crafts an analysis very much his own. This, I hasten to add, is no bad thing – but it gets distracting to see Marx constantly given credit for Cleaver’s analysis. In this, it follows his most famous book, Reading Capital Politically (AK Press, 2015), and like that work, this book inspires the same question – if Marx had meant all the various ideas and arguments which Cleaver extracts from his words then why did it need Cleaver to write his book to show it?

In short, if that was what Marx “really” meant then he would have written all that in the first place and we would not be dependent on someone else to make it explicit. So, for Cleaver, Marx’s analysis is routed in the imposition of work by capital – or, at least, attempts by capital to impose said on the proletariat. As a result, he rejects those who suggest Marx was working in the Labour Theory of Value (LTV) tradition of the classical economics (Smith, Ricardo). That Marx took the LTV as involving a commodity having some kind of “congealed” labour in it rather than the imposition of work is, I think, clear from his writings. This is particularly obvious when considering his comments and examples on the “transformation” of labour-values into prices contained in volume 3 of Capital, but it appears in elsewhere in Capital – particularly volume 1.

Simply put, if Cleaver were right then Marx would not have bothered with the so-called “transformation problem.” It would have been irrelevant to show how labour-values transformed into prices, for the imposition of labour by capital is not reflected in the exchange-value of commodities denominated by labour-time. Ultimately, there is a reason why most Marxists have interpreted Marx as they have – for if Marx had meant what Cleaver says he did then he would have said so in Capital. This does not mean that his analysis is not without merit, just that its barely counts as “Marxist” if, by that word, we mean consistent with Marx’s expressed ideas.

Which raises another question, namely the status of Cleaver’s brand of Marxism. Cleaver is America’s most famous Autonomist Marxist, a branch of Marxism which primarily developed within Italian Marxist circles between the 1950s and 1970s (see Steve Wright’s Storming heaven : class composition and struggle in Italian autonomist Marxism [Pluto Press, 2017] for a good history and overview). This operaismo (workerism) concentrated on the class struggle, a position – like the name (ouvriérisme) – raised decades earlier by French syndicalists who saw the worker as an active agent who violates the mechanical laws capitalism by no longer playing the role allotted them by Capital, namely a commodity (see Émile Pouget’s writings, particularly his classic 1904 pamphlet Direct Action). These Marxists, like the council communists before them, rejected numerous aspects of Marx’s own politics – not least parliamentarianism. So how far can you move from the postulates of a theory in the face of changing circumstances, new developments, etc. before it becomes something else? If later-day Marxists draw conclusions similar to those Marx attacked when Bakunin advocated them, does – can? – it still count as Marxism?

So Cleaver’s “Marxist” perspective reflects many anarchist/syndicalist ideas, indeed the most important aspect of Autonomist Marxism is the centrality of direct class struggle in the workings of the system. This is a welcome change from those who write as if capitalism were simply a machine, independent of human will or influence. Even the best (libertarian) Marxist writers, like Paul Mattick, expressed this vision of capital driven by its “laws” to collapse with class struggle only playing a role in reaction to events it cannot and does not influence. That this is the dominant perspective in almost all Marxist circles is no coincidence given Marx’s writings, even if many pay lip-service to denouncing the “mechanistic” Marxism of the Second International (council communist Anton Pannekoek being a notable exception in actually challenging it in his 1934 article “The theory of the collapse of capitalism” [Capital and Class, Spring 1977]).

As such, his analysis is to be welcomed and reminds us of the importance of looking at and fighting on the class terrain. However, a key problem with the book is that he is too optimistic – everything seems to be driven by working class rebellion and so the proletariat seems all powerful. This flies in the face of the serious defeats we have suffered under neo-liberalism for decades. Indeed, reading his account of the defining power of the working class within capitalism makes you wonder what needs to happen before his optimism is dented, before he admits a defeat has occurred.

While a needed counter to the all too common “proletariat as victim” narrative on the left (reinforcing the capitalist narrative of “you can change nothing, so don’t even think about it”) , it simply goes too far in the opposite direction. It could be counter-productive to real organising as a perspective inspired by this could easily conclude that revolution was always immanent so little was needed to be done (indeed, organising may be counter-productive as it could get in the way, like the bureaucracy of mainstream trade unions do). From my experiences as a worker, union rep and anarchist activist, this is hard to accept. Yes, we resist – but all too often these days this is atomised, individualistic, below-the-radar because people lack the confidence and structures to take open, collective action. When limited collective action is taken via trade unions, many cross the picket lines (even union members!) and it is unlikely, to say the least, that this is because they are disgusted at the reformist and bureaucratic nature of the current unions…

Yes, Cleaver is right to say the capitalist class is constantly planning to increase its power and profits, but he paints this as being always in response to an ever-rebellious working class. Likewise, there seems to be no room for ignorance, incompetence, idiocy or ideological dead-ends on the part of the ruling class – nor hubris or delusions. All play their part, just like developments which do flow from the workings of the system itself. For example, the Monetarist experiments in the early 1980s in Britain and America and the mass unemployment it helped increase undoubtedly helped to tame a rebellious working class, but we should not suggest it went exactly as expected.

In short, objective and subjective factors are at play. Cleaver tends to downplay or ignore the former while concentrating on the latter. This means that he is right to stress that crisis can occur due to working class strength – that of the 1960s and 1970s which saw social-democratic Keynesianism come off the rails is an obvious example and one which clearly influences his analysis. He is wrong not to suggest that crisis can occur due to working class weakness – as shown by the 2008 financial crisis and its extremely slow path to “recovery.” But, then, working class weakness seems excluded by definition from his analysis.

To conclude, Cleaver’s book is well-worth reading as it emphasises the role of the working class in the workings of the system, even if marred by excessive optimism. He may build upon Marx’s analysis (I’ll leave the Marxists to fight over that), but we must remember that it is his own ideas rather than Marx’s which fill the bulk of the book. As an autonomist, he would be better served expressing his autonomy from Marx and being less modest.

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There’s Nothing Radical about the Green New Deal

Tue, 03/05/2019 - 16:13

via CounterPunch

by Kristine Mattis

We are at the precipice of ecological collapse. There are no two ways about it. And despite what you hear, it is about far more than just catastrophic climate change. In a nutshell, our current biological predicament is the result of overuse of natural resources beyond their capacity to regenerate, the creation and mass production of never-before-known (often toxic) substances, and the accumulation of massive amounts of waste and pollution.

Exploitation. Over-production. Over-consumption. Waste. Pollution. Greed. Opulence. Excess. Power. These vices constitute the origins of our ecological problems, including anthropogenic global warming. Not coincidentally, poverty, extreme inequality, racism, sexism, and militarism also stem from these same sources. And of course, they all form the roots of the tree of capitalism. But if we can sum up the fundamental cause of our existential crisis in one simple phrase, it is this: our way of life. It is a way of life predicated on the desire for more – more energy, more products, more technology, more synthetics, more manufactured goods (i.e., bads), and more manufactured wants. Yet, our insatiable yearning for more has left us with less of the one thing upon which our entire lives depend: the natural world.

Radical

In biology, the radicle is the embryonic root of a plant. Likewise, its homophone, radical, means relating to or affecting the root, origin, or fundamental nature of something. To be radical, therefore, indicates that one seeks to get to the root of problems. This prospect tends to be frowned upon in America, where we like to do all we can to gloss over, circumvent, and deny our issues until they become too large of a burden to continue to ignore or obfuscate.

Consequently, we find ourselves faced with ever-increasing levels of anxiety, depression, and suicide with no signs of abating, despite the plethora of drugs dispensed by the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry and despite the increased use of psychological treatment which is no longer stigmatized as it once was. We continue to die mainly from heart disease and cancer and pour millions of dollars into painful and/or risky treatments like statins, radiation, and chemotherapy, though we know from studies of remote indigenous cultures that cancer could be rare, or at least, greatly reduced and that heart disease can be virtually non-existent in non-industrial populations.

We are deplorably unsuccessful in healing (rather than simply mitigating and condoning) our physical and mental illnesses for the same reason that we have not come close to healing our planet – because we have yet to address the root cause our all these ills.

The (New) New Deal

By now, most people know the historical context of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. FDR’s administration passed fairly sweeping economic reforms for the benefit of workers in order to quell the enormous upswell of socialism at the time, but also to maintain capitalism. Sure, the robber-barons (industrialists and entrepreneurs) did make some concessions – none of which amounted to any sacrifice at all to them – but the New Deal legislation still secured their standing as plutocrats. Moreover, massive environmental degradation and deleterious human health effects stood as externalities to the assumed economic necessity of capitalism and industrialism, just as they remain today. All in all, while providing some moral and crucial short-term economic relief for people, the New Deal left a hole wide open for corporate capitalism to stage a dramatic comeback. And so it has over the past half century, leaving wholesale environmental and economic catastrophe in its wake.

Enter the Green New Deal (GND). The recent version (not to be confused with the original, which emanated from the Green Party) outlines an ambitious strategy to eliminate our use of fossil fuels for energy in order to reduce carbon emissions while attempting to foster greater economic equality and prosperity. The low-carbon, more equitable future sought by the GND resolution is undeniably a good one; however, its foundation based on our current paradigm of prosperity – i.e., more energy, more production, more industry, more technology, more consumption – renders it insufficient to effect the radical changes we need for a sustainable future.

Impractical, Unreasonable, Infeasible, Pie in the Sky

Those who tend to ignore the truth or the totality of our environmental dilemma dismiss the GND as not politically or economically feasible. Somehow feasibility is never an issue when it comes to funding corporate interests (including the military-industrial complex). The reality is that continuing on our current trajectory is politically and economically infeasible and unreasonable, because without a livable planet, politics and economics do not even exist. Therefore, their dismissive arguments are hardly worth mentioning. We have never, ever prioritized environmental concerns, which is why we find ourselves in this precarious predicament in the first place. Without fundamental changes, ecosystems will continue to deteriorate all around us to the point where our species is permanently imperiled. Humans have spent the past several centuries (at a minimum) despoiling the planetary ecosystem on which we all rely for life. The idea that it is impractical to attempt to deal with our ecological crises is frankly, insane. It suggests one must be either too obtuse to comprehend the simple scientific realities of our time, or too self-absorbed to care.

What is pie in the sky about the GND is imagining that high-tech innovation and increasing economic development based upon increasing industrialization will save us. In recent interviews, Bernie Sanders repeatedly stated that we have 12 years to transform to a sustainable energy system. But energy is one small part of the issue. In reality, we have likely less than 12 years to transform to a sustainable world-wide societal system. To reduce our environmental problems and remedies to carbon emissions is to focus on a symptom not the disease. Climate change may be the most glaring symptom right now, but there are many others. We don’t need just sustainable energy. We need sustainability.

We have not only disrupted the global carbon cycle, resulting in catastrophic climate change, we have disrupted the global water, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur cycles, to name a few. In the U.S., we are close to exhausting our landfill space, which houses the useless garbage from our production/consumption lifestyle. Most politicians and many academics have insisted that environmental solutions should be market-based, but markets always fluctuate. Now we see the obvious folly of their philosophy, as the market for recycling (not to say recycling itself is at all a solution) has collapsed since China stopped importing the recyclable bits of our disposable products. Thus, in many places our “recyclables” are now being incinerated into highly toxic pollutants like dioxin. In addition, we have deforested the majority of the planet and poured toxicants (especially pesticides) into our air, food, and water, all of which have contributed more to our other prominent crisis of species extinction than climate change has, or maybe ever will.

Techno-salvation

When confronted by Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes about the GND, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex asked, “What is the problem with trying to push our technological capacities to the furthest extent possible?” Well, the problem is that many of these high-tech innovations rest precisely at the root of our problems to begin with. It doesn’t help that Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff originates from Silicon Valley, one of the most extractive, consumptive, wasteful, toxic, and exploitative industries imaginable when viewed from cradle to grave.

In her formal announcement of the GND resolution with Congressman Ed Markey, Ocasio-Cortez stated, “Climate change and our environmental challenges are one of the biggest existential threats to our way of life.” But our way of life is the threat, and if her suggestion that the GND legislation exists as an attempt to preserve our way of life, then it will surely not succeed in preserving our life as a species. Here, she acknowledged that our challenges comprise more than just climate change, but how much does she, or any politician, truly figure the entirety of these environmental challenges into their thought processes and policies?

What troubles me is that many look to the GND as a move toward a futuristic techno-utopia, as Kate Aronoff envisions in her piece in the Intercept. That viewpoint is what is unrealistic about the GND. Aronoff imagines a semi-socialist bourgeois existence on a technological path toward becoming more like the Jetsons. To maintain a livable planet, we probably need to start thinking about a future scenario more in line with the Flintstones. We can still strive to “have a yabba dabba doo time,” but we might have to enjoy ourselves in manner closer to “modern stone-age” rather than a high-tech.

We love to believe that high-tech innovations will fix everything. To produce all of our fanciful technology, many of the raw materials are derived from exploiting other people’s land (Africa, South America, Asia), and the manufacturing comes at the expense of other people’s health and livelihood. Let’s hope eliminating this sort of environmental racism figures into the GND platform. Beyond that, thus far in the course of humanity, our technology has only further amplified all of our detrimental ecological issues. It involves over-consuming natural resources and over-producing more of what we don’t need, while leaving us with less of what we do – organisms and ecological systems.

Policy Change and Personal Change = Paradigm Change

While it is way past time for comprehensive environmental legislation incorporating social and environmental justice and equity to reach the halls of Congress, we should be aware that given our multiple ecological (and economic) crises, the GND in any form will never be a panacea. We certainly need to put an immediate end to fossil fuel consumption, but we also need to drastically reduce all consumption. To combat climate change along with widespread ecological degradation and inequality, we need more than reductionist policy ideas. We need a massive mobilization of action in challenging and fundamentally changing our way of life.

Social, economic, and environmental justice are undoubtedly vital goals. Incorporating these aspects of equity into GND is not just commendable but essential. However, this prospect need not be predicated on jobs, which are often frivolous (see: Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber) and unsustainable (a topic that I have delved into here and here) and which leave us all in indentured servitude to the oligarchs and plutocrats. Instead, it might better focus on providing provisions for basic human necessities and dignity.

Essentially, the idea of everyone having more, and continuing to produce and consume more is unrealistic. Granted, many people in this country and throughout the world do need more of the necessities – ownership of affordable clean housing, nutritious fresh food, clean water, and high-quality durable clothing. Everyone should be entitled to these basic human rights. But many others need far, far less. Of course, I’m speaking primarily of the millionaires and billionaires, whose ecological footprints are completely off the charts. Yet the ecological footprints of even most Americans with modest incomes are way too large to be sustainable as well.

Yes, the people at the top of the economic ladder are by far the worst offenders when it comes to ecological destruction and contributing to climate change. They are the worst offenders, period (as I’ve outlined before). The more you have, the more you contribute to all our problems. But these people will never change. Their lives are built on more. They created this paradigmatic mess to economically and materially benefit from it. They are willing to let every organism on the earth die rather than relinquish their money and power. Their psychopathy is evidenced by the fact that they would rather waste their billions building underground bunkers for what they perceive as either an upcoming revolution of the 99% or ecological catastrophe, than sacrifice one single iota of their opulence to help build a sustainable, livable planet for us all. (By the way, good luck with that, billionaires. Too bad you didn’t pay closer attention in biology class. You may have to hide in those bunkers for a very long time, in which case you might like to learn about the Biosphere 2 experiment…)

For this reason, it is up to us. We have to force their hands and seize their ill-gotten purses and power. More importantly, we must reject and replace their psychopathic paradigms about how to live if we want to save the planet. Psychopaths have no empathy. The rest of us must.

No, individual actions will not make a difference in seclusion. And no, they alone will certainly not avert ecological doom. But personal changes are as imperative as policy changes to produce new paradigms that get to the root of our ecological problems. Green policies should enable and support the collective personal changes necessary for an equitable and sustainable future.

Personal changes are important because they are part and parcel of systemic change. As an example of negative collective action, our car culture exists because millions of individuals bought and continue to buy automobiles, prompted by legislation (in collusion with the auto and gasoline industries) facilitating the fateful and foreboding transition from other forms of transportation. On the positive side, after decades of propaganda, obfuscation, and outright scientific fraud from the tobacco industry, governmental policies were enacted to curb tobacco use. But when it comes down to it, lung cancer death rates decreased dramatically in recent years due to the cessation of smoking by large numbers of individuals. Boycott and divestment campaigns are another good example of collective individual actions which, along with institutional ones, support systemic change. And then there is Bernie Sanders. Whatever his faults, his 2016 Presidential campaign brought a number of more obvious, moral, and even radical ideas to the fore of American discourse. His campaign could not have been accomplished without the small monetary contributions of millions of individuals. Likewise, the collective contribution of millions and billions of individuals is vital to supporting changes needed for a livable planet.

President Jimmy Carter recognized the need for collective personal as well institutional conservation in his famous (or infamous) “malaise speech.” Regardless of its flaws, his lecture does contain some nuggets of wisdom: “Too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning.” Nor does it satisfy the requirement of a sustainable global ecosystem for survival.

Renowned climate professor Kevin Anderson also views collective actions at the individual level as crucial components of battling the climate crisis. Thus, he not only talks the talk about the necessity of reducing consumption, but also walks the walk by using low-emission forms of transportation among many other personal actions.

Forging a livable planet means abandoning our bourgeois consumer aspirations and replacing them with mature, wise exemplars for life. No more equating adulthood with working to buy fancy clothes, fast cars, and a huge house. No more fascination with lavish luxuries. No more dreaming of diamonds. No more fantasies about flying all over the world. No more infatuation with fatuous gadgetry. No more preoccupation with products and purchases. No more somnambulant staring at screens. No more appetites for vapid materialism. No more conspicuous consumption. No more extravagance; no more excess. (On a sustainable planet, a monstrosity like this can never exist.)

A change of social norms and social values is imperative. Our new paradigm must value intangibles like simplicity, communication, community, nature, and empathy over commodified “things.” Sustainability requires becoming global citizens who can thrive with less stuff, rather than global consumers who constantly crave more.

Radical is Sustainable

Indeed, so many before have written radically about the roots of our ecological crises. E.F. Schumacher considered some of the same issues in Small is Beautiful. John de Graaf, David Wann, and Thomas H. Naylor tackled consumerism in Affluenza: the All-Consuming Epidemic. Annie Leonard examined the economic, psychological, and environmental effects of our consumer treadmill with The Story of Stuff. But perhaps the best, most simple yet accurate portrayal of our predicament was outlined in Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax. A sustainable archetype for society cannot keep “figgering on biggering and biggering and biggering and biggering.” As long as the GND continues to do so, it will surely fail future generations as it perpetuates the root causes of our ecological issues.

People are saying the Green New Deal is impossible. What is impossible is saving our planetary ecosystem while preserving our current way of life. For any GND legislation to be successful, it must work to conserve more rather than produce more. Moreover, it must facilitate collective radical personal changes to our way of life that fundamentally change the underlying paradigms of our existence. Otherwise, it will be as fleeting as the original New Deal, and ultimately much more deadly.

When it comes to a Green Deal, the only sustainable policies are radical ones. And when it comes to a sustainable global environmental paradigm, unless you are talking about the natural world, less is always more.

Kristine Mattis received her PhD in Environmental Studies. As an interdisciplinary environmental scholar with a background in biology, earth system science, and policy, her research focuses on environmental risk information and science communication. Before returning to graduate school, Kristine worked as a medical researcher, as a science reporter for the U.S. Congressional Record, and as a science and health teacher. She can be reached at:  k_mattis@outlook.com.

The post There’s Nothing Radical about the Green New Deal appeared first on Infoshop News.

Focus on Climate Action

Tue, 03/05/2019 - 15:21

A global grassroots climate action movement is growing and organizing. The world leaders and the nation states keep dragging their feet at this critical time. They aren’t doing enough to curb fossil fuel use or capitalism, which is the root of the problem. We know that global climate change is driven by the activities of the Climate 90 corporations and the U.S. military.

Infoshop News will be compiling links to news about the global grassroots climate change movement.

Updated March 5, 2019

Young People Climate Change Movements Climate Change Movement – United States

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The Misguided Exceptionalism of US-Israeli Relations

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 02:04

via C4SS

by Mila Ghorayeb

I used to hear people talk about Islam or Muslim-majority states and sense that something was not right. It wasn’t that everything people were saying was necessarily wrong, but it was about how they said it. Namely, it was that the tropes they used, such as “barbaric” and “savage,” could understandably be seen as distasteful. After all, the history of colonialism in the Middle East and in Africa often relied on tropes about indigenous “incivility,” and leftists are sensitive toward (or should be sensitive toward) the reproduction of colonial rhetoric. Nonetheless, we sometimes see colonial rhetoric simply adapt to the times that we are in, as I have recently argued.

Similarly, there are ways that people criticize Israel that do not intentionally target it qua Jewish state, but nonetheless draw on pernicious tropes about Jewish people. As I have argued before, we on the left ought to listen to Jewish people and be aware of how our critiques can draw on oppressive stereotypes. And they often can; by our own admission in left-leaning political theory, hegemonic ideology affects our conception of the world regardless of who we are. If we admit that white supremacy exists as a hegemonic ideology, surely we must admit that we have all internalized pernicious tropes about people that are marginalized by whiteness.

White supremacy makes us conceive of Israel’s relationship with the United States as exceptional. And this is not a left versus right issue. Some on the right have argued that Israel is exceptional for evangelical reasons, claiming that Israel will bring the second coming of Jesus. Some on the left argue that Israel controls American political affairs, which makes the United States care more about Israel than about domestic politics. This line in particular brings in some infamous dual loyalty accusations — another historically anti-Semitic trope. And such tropes should not be welcome in a movement that purports to combat white supremacy.

Here is the problem. Israel is unexceptional in ways that are relevant to American politics. To claim that it has some exceptional power over America while overlooking other ways in which money has a role in American politics is to fall into the hands of white supremacist stereotypes. Instead, we ought to conceive of this issue by focusing on two things.

First, the American government is not democratically representative of everyday Americans’ interests. It is comprised of wealthy individuals with little regulation on their financial conduct. These individuals all have personal economic interests, and we do not have good reason to believe that they operate in American politics for purely ideational reasons rather than as self-interested agents.

Second, the wealthy political class in the United States benefits from supporting governments that are politically cooperative and aligned with their interests. Israel is one of these states; they are a channel for the United States to defend its interests in the Middle East. The United States receives intelligence about anti-American “threats” while Israel can profit from military sales to the United States. But I must emphasize again: this is unexceptional. The United States also has similar beneficial alliances with states like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, which have contributed to the brutal suppression of pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain and the murder of countless Yemeni civilians. They have a track record of allying with right wing governments abroad.

While avoiding pernicious language that paints Israel as a uniquely bad partner-state, we ought not to turn a blind eye to the fact that Israel and the Netanyahu administration is part of the global right wing alliance that cooperates with the United States’ interests abroad. This is not an Israel problem per se, but a matter of wealthy and powerful anti-democrats that are allied under American global hegemony. It is also not a matter of some small and elite council of people meeting and conspiring to control our political views. Rather, it is a matter of rational agents operating in positions of power under a capitalist system and bolstering themselves with convenient and common hermeneutics.

So, let’s establish that Israel is unexceptional when it comes to American political action. The U.S. is not controlled by its allies; rather, it is influenced by alliances and has interests in maintaining them. It is not that America is otherwise free, but influenced not to be. Rather, the U.S. has a set of geopolitical interests that alliances with anti-democratic powers can further. Israel is one of many right wing governments in this alliance.

Now, there is another way to treat Israel exceptionally that we should avoid, which is to ignore its role in this hegemonic alliance. That is, acting as though Israel is not a right wing government that benefits from allying with other right wing governments. This alliance means that Israel can influence American politics to an extent without necessarily “controlling” anything. Just like the U.S. and other states involved influence each other all the time. If it is in the interest of the American elite to ally with Israel and American representatives are self-interested agents, it makes sense that that would influence American politics. This does not mean that one controls the other. In fact, it would be absurd to deny American hegemony for the sake of arguing instead that Israel controls America. But it does mean that people are well warranted in pointing out that American politicians are incentivized to unconditionally support Israel — for their own benefit, and not necessarily Israel’s. We need not single out support for Israel here though. For instance, I do not take America’s support for Saudi Arabia to be about genuine care for Muslim interests, and I am sure plenty of American Muslims would agree with me. We can oppose politicians’ support of Saudi Arabia and similar states as well and identify the stakes of US political support for these regimes.

American exceptionalism is at the heart of this problem because it pushes the idea that America is an otherwise good and wholesome democracy, so long as other foreigners don’t intervene. But America’s international conduct shows that this is demonstrably false. American politicians have contributed to funding al-Qaeda affiliated groups and overthrowing democratically elected governments to create conditions favourable to them.

But because white supremacy is hegemonic, it often is the quickest and most available language and conceptual framework people have. Hence, people resort to language that relies on white supremacist conventions, including the trope that Jewish people control America, and including the trope that Middle Eastern states are rogue and uncivilized and in need of intervention.

Critiques of Israel must be situated in America’s relationship to the Middle East. If we properly situate and contextualize our critiques, we will avoid both the use of pernicious stereotypes that single out Israel as an international player and the treatment of Israel as an exceptional state that deserves protection from anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist criticism.

Art: Mr. Fish / Truthdig

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Life in “Mueller Time”: The Politics of Waiting and the Spectacle of Investigation

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 23:53

by CrimethInc

For almost two years now, faithful Democrats have waited for special counsel Robert Mueller to file his report about collusion between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian attempts to interfere in the US election, not to mention Trump’s involvement in obstruction of justice. Whenever Trump’s activity provokes them or a subterranean rumbling within the Justice Department emboldens them, the faithful take to the streets and social media with hand-held cardboard signs and internet memes to proclaim that Mueller Time is close at hand. Yet even if the Mueller investigation concludes with Trump’s impeachment, the spectacle of the investigation has served to immobilize millions who have a stake in systemic social change, ensuring that what comes next in the United States will be politics as usual—not liberation.

When you’ve fallen on the highway
And you’re lying in the rain,
And they ask you how you’re doing
Of course you’ll say you can’t complain
If you’re squeezed for information,
That’s when you’ve got to play it dumb
You just say you’re out there waiting
For the miracle, for the miracle to come

-The 20th century’s greatest messianic thinker, Leonard Cohen

Within weeks of the beginning of the investigation, there were already think pieces and t-shirts proclaiming “It’s Mueller Time.” Let’s take the t-shirts at their word: maybe it’s been Mueller Time all along. Maybe Mueller Time is not a specific date that is about to arrive, but the era we’ve been experiencing these past two years.

In that case, Mueller Time is not an hour on the clock, but a way of experiencing time, a kind of time—like crunch time or quality time or go time, but the opposite of all of them. It is not a scale of time, like geologic time, or a time zone, like Eastern Standard Time—Mueller Time is more like the End Times, perpetually anticipated.

To be precise, Mueller Time is the political suspended animation in which the Democrats have waited for a repeatedly deferred deus ex machina to deliver them from this unbearable pres(id)ent. This condition of waiting, itself, rather than any of the grievous injustices that have taken place during it, is the very essence of hell.

Dante, the Marco Polo of the Abyss, located Limbo, the residence of those who wait, in Inferno, not in Purgatory. Waiting is not transformative or redemptive—it is the sort of sin for which the punishment is the crime. “Limbo” shares a Latin root with liminal—it is homeland of those who tarry on the threshold, those who are on the fence.

If you can get people used to waiting, you can get them used to anything.

To understand Mueller Time better, we can begin with its namesake. “Miller time” is a time to take a load off, to ease our pain by drugging ourselves into oblivion. It’s a profound expression of despair—“I can only relax in this world by deadening my senses”—disguised not just as relief but as celebration. What is the glee with which Democrats invoke Mueller Time if not an admission of their own abject powerlessness and dependence? “Rejoice,” says the Democrat, “Justice will be done! And thank goodness, as usual, the FBI will take care of everything.”

Miller Time and Mueller Time are both chronotopes, to use the term popularized by literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin: they are specific relationships to time. You cannot understand a group of people without understanding how they experience the passing of time. Peering between chronotopes produces strange refractions, like looking through a glass of water. How different the world appears to a person whose activism consists chiefly of waiting, in contrast to how it appears to those for whom waiting and acting are opposites! It is the difference between spectator and athlete, between the consumer and the inventor, between those who suffer history as if it were weather and those who make history as a side effect of understanding themselves as the protagonists of their time.

And Miller Time and Mueller Time are both marketed chronotopes. Miller Time is the “5 o’clock somewhere” that unites wage labor and intoxication in a mutually reinforcing false opposition—but even more importantly, it is the branded colonization of that time. Likewise, Mueller Time is not just the “he’ll get his” which all people of conscience wish for Trump, but a particular deferral of responsibility. Both are successful advertising campaigns that concentrate capital in certain hands precisely by inducing people not to take their problems into their own hands.

“The politicians’ stubborn faith in progress, their confidence in their ‘mass basis,’ and, finally, their servile integration in an uncontrollable apparatus have been three aspects of the same thing.”

Walter Benjamin on how Social Democrats permitted the Third Reich to come to power in Germany

All this is familiar to those who were raised as Adventists, believing that the outrageous sinfulness of the prevailing world order indicates the imminence of the Resurrection and the necessity of repentance before authority. Mueller Time is the redemption, the arrival of the Millennium, when the legitimate authorities will reassert their dominion and the obedient will be rewarded for their patience. Good Christians have awaited this for two thousand years; they have made a religion out of waiting. You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

To keep people waiting for salvation indefinitely, it helps to shift every once in a while from one source of dramatic tension to another. Some hoped Trump would run the country “like a business.” Now that the signature forms of evil associated with capitalism—nepotism, profiteering, corruption, race baiting, sexual harassment, misinformation—characterize the presidency, Democrats are proposing to return to the good-old-fashioned signature forms of evil previously associated with government: bureaucracy, clientelism, experts deciding the fates of millions behind closed doors. All the things that helped Trump come to office.

For the purposes of relegitimizing government, it is ideal that Robert Mueller is not just a “good” authority figure, but specifically, a white male Republican—an FBI director who first made a name for himself overseeing the killing of Vietnamese people. He is everything the average Democrat would oppose if Trump had not moved the goal posts by pursuing the same Republican agenda by potentially extra-legal means. Mueller represents the same FBI that attempted to make Martin Luther King, Jr. commit suicide, that set out to destroy the Occupy movement. Under Mueller’s leadership, the FBI determined that the number one domestic terror threat in the United States was environmental activism.

Mueller Time is a way of inhabiting the eternally renewed amnesia that is America. This is the real “deep state”—the part of each Democrat’s heart that will accept any amount of senseless violence and murder and oppression, as long as it adheres to the letter of the law.

“Definitions of basic historical concepts: Catastrophe—to have missed the opportunity. Critical moment—the status quo threatens to preserve itself. Progress—the first revolutionary measure taken.”

-Walter Benjamin

What will be the fruits of Mueller’s labors?

Rank-and-file Democrats still don’t understand how power works. Crime is not the violation of the rules, but the stigma attached to those who break rules without the power to make them. (As they say, steal $25, go to jail; steal $25 million, go to Congress.) At the height of Genghis Khan’s reign, it would have been pointless to accuse the famous tyrant of breaking the laws of the Mongol Empire; as long as Trump has enough of Washington behind him, the same goes for him. Laws don’t exist in some transcendent realm. They are simply the product of power struggles among the elite—not to mention the passivity of the governed—and they are enforced according to the prevailing balance of power. To fetishize the law is to accept that might makes right. It means abdicating the responsibility to do what is ethical regardless of what the laws happen to be.

In the struggle to control the law-making and law-enforcing apparatus of the US government, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have secured a solid majority. They remain at an impasse. The most likely explanation for Mueller’s delays is that he has been biding his time, waiting to see if the balance of power in the US government would shift enough that there could be some consequences to his report.

The wait
The wait
The wait
The wait

The wait
The wait
The wait
The wait

-Killing Joke, “The Wait”

Ironically, the only thing that could guarantee that Mueller’s report will have an effect would be if this impasse were disturbed by forces outside the halls of power—for example, by a real social movement utilizing direct action. If millions of people were in the streets preventing the Trump administration from accomplishing its agenda, then the power brokers in Washington would consider sacrificing Donald Trump to preserve business as usual.

In standing back and waiting, affirming the authority of the FBI and Congress to take care of matters, Mueller’s fans make it less likely that his investigation will pose a serious threat to the administration. The rank and file Democrats are left gazing at their screens, watching the bureaucratic equivalent of the spinning wheel of death.

In this case, the more you clap your hands, the less Tinkerbell exists.

I’m in the waiting room
I don’t want the news—I cannot use it
I don’t want the news—I won’t live by it

But I don’t sit idly by
I’m planning a big surprise
I’m gonna fight for what I wanna be
And I won’t make the same mistakes
Because I know how much time that wastes

-Fugazi “Waiting Room”

The arc of history is long, but it curves towards—death. There is no excuse to delay. Tomorrow will use you the way we use today.

What would it mean to stop waiting?

It would mean to stop looking to others to solve our problems, no longer permitting a series of presidents, Speakers of the House, FBI directors, presidential candidates, and other bullies and hucksters to play good cop/bad cop with us.

It would mean figuring out how to deal with the catastrophes that Trump’s presidency is causing directly, rather than through the mediation of other authority figures. It would mean building up social movements powerful enough to block the construction of a border wall, to liberate children from migrant detention facilities and reunite them with their families, to feed the hungry and care for the sick without waiting for legislators to give us permission to make use of the resources that we and others like us maintain on a daily basis.

Remember when we shut down the airports immediately after Trump took office? It would mean doing more of that, and less sitting around waiting on politicians and bureaucrats. That was our proudest moment. Since then, we have only grown weaker, distracted by the array of champions competing to represent us—the various media outlets and Democratic presidential candidates—all surrogates for our own agency.

Let’s stop killing time. Or rather—let’s stop permitting it to kill us.

“We live the whole of our lives provisionally,” he said. “We think that for the time being things are bad, that for the time being we must make the best of them and adapt or humiliate ourselves, but that it’s all only provisional and that one day real life will begin. We prepare for death complaining that we have never lived. Of all the people I know, not one lives in the present. No one gets any pleasure from what he does every day. No one is in a condition to say On that day, at that moment, my life began. Believe me, even those who have power and take advantage of it are plagued with anxieties and disgusted at the dominant stupidity. They too live provisionally and spend their whole lives waiting.”

“Those who flee the country also spend their lives waiting,” Pietro said. “That’s the trouble. But one mustn’t wait, one must act. One must say Enough, from this very day.”

“But if you do not have the freedom to act?” Nunzio said.

“Freedom is not a thing you can receive as a gift,” Pietro said. “You can be free even under a dictatorship on the simple condition that you struggle against it. A person who thinks with his own mind and remains uncorrupted is free. A person who struggles for what she believes to be right is free. You might live in the most democratic country in the world, but if you are lazy, callous, and servile, you are not free—in spite of the absence of violence and coercion, you are a slave. Freedom is not a thing that can be begged from others. You must take it for yourself, in whatever share you can.”

-Ignazio Silone, Bread and Wine

Further Reading

Take Your Pick: Law or Freedom

The Centrists

Art: Mike Flugennock

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Class War 09/2019: “Yellow vests”

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 18:40

We published recently on our blog, as we had access to them and they reached us, some documents produced by and around the “yellow vest” movement that has been shaking France since several weeks. The following is a kind of introduction to all of them (an introduction that we usually publish before, indeed).

We will not come back to the history of the movement, to particular events or expressions. We can refer interested readers to different websites and blogs that assume this task very well.

What we would like to deal with here is the way how we approach this movement, how we analyze it, how we evaluate its importance in the framework of class struggle. And we don’t want to hide that various articles spitting on this movement produced and reproduced by too many groups of ultra-left were a (negative) inspiration for this contribution that we can intimately call: “What’s NOT to be done”.

However we are aware of many weaknesses expressed by the movement and we are the first to criticize them, we can hardly agree with the methodology used by those groups – methodology that limits the movement only to those weaknesses, that generalize those weak points and illusions expressed only by a part of “yellow vests” like if it was the nature of the movement, an analysis grasping the class as something static, sociologic, mechanic…

We will not go through all the arguments used by the ultra-left against the “yellow vests”, but we have at least to mention the most absurd ones in order to reply to them, to put this movement into its right place in the class struggle, to put it back on its legs and make it not walking anymore on its head…

Two conceptions of the class: proletariat as a sociological entity versus proletariat as a struggling force

Many of those who despise the “yellow vest” movement pretend that it is an interclass movement, a mixture of bourgeoisie and proletariat, a multitude of interests and programmes historically opposed. Such a point of view is based on a sociological definition of the working class – proletarian = worker, or better a factory worker if possible.

For us the proletariat is not a static group of individuals defined by their payroll, but rather an entity that structures itself in the struggle and through the struggle, a force that exists only as a potential in the times of social peace and that turns into a real force only while fighting united by its historical programme that it partially express in every clash with Capital.

We of course define the proletariat as the exploited class, but we do not let ourselves to be fooled with new forms of social statuses that capital invents to be more flexible, more profitable. All those little shop owners, freelancers and white collars that bother so much the ultra-left smarties share exactly the same living conditions (sometimes even worse), the same problems, the same misery as the “pure proletarians”.

It is in fact a very successful strategy of Capital and its democracy to dissimulate different categories of proletariat under the mask of different strata of society in order to prevent the class to recognize itself, to unite. And to present others, formally indeed wage workers, like if they would be proletarians, even if they objectively stay on the other side of the barricade.

The very development of democracy sees to it that the present importance of the simplification/exacerbation of the contradictions of capitalism is being concealed by the permanent obliteration of class frontiers. This is affirmed by specific ideological forms which develop total confusion in this respect, mainly those based on a complicated set of juridical and formal statutes that supposedly divide society – not into two antagonistic classes – but into an indeterminate number of more or less vague and elastic categories.

This is how, for instance, at one pole of society, a whole of juridical forms conferring pseudo-waged status tends to camouflage the bourgeois nature of entire structures of the state. This is the case, for instance, for army and police officers or for high level officials in administration or in industry, for bureaucrats of all kinds… who, under this cover, are classified as neutral categories, without any class-belonging or worse still, are assimilated into “working class social groups”.

At the other pole of society the same is happening: a whole of juridical forms of pseudo-owners – “peasant” cooperatives, agrarian reforms, artisans,… – which objectively camouflage the existence of huge masses of proletarians, associated by capital for the production of surplus-value (the wage character disguised). This and other ideological mechanisms tend to present us as being opposed to each other and as having different interests from those of other sections of the proletariat: urban/agricultural, active/unemployed, men/women, “workers”/employees, manual/intellectual workers… [GCI-ICG, Theses of Programmatical Orientation, thesis no.14]

Finally, the ultimate evidence of the social position of those that some leftists refuse to call proletarians (the list vary according to the group but we can find this approach applied on freelancers, little owners, unemployed, pensioners, etc.) is the fact that the presence of these social strata in the movement doesn’t change anything on the programme of the movement. These groups of “impure” proletarians do not impose any agenda of petty bourgeoisie (as some would like to persuade us is their intention); on the contrary, they join and develop the proletarian critique, the proletarian programme.

Instead of these sociological pseudo analysis that the leftists keep to be occupied with the movement is rather busy with defining itself as a class antagonistic to the bourgeois class, to the bourgeois society:

We, workers, unemployed, pensioners, we live on wages (including disguised as turnover for self-employed entrepreneurs) and on social welfare. This salary and social welfare are obtained by selling our labour force to a boss. And that’s how he manages to make money, that’s how the economy runs, at our expense. We can understand calls for unity within the yellow vests. But when this unity means walking with those who exploit us on a daily basis and with their political representatives, it is no longer unity, it is domestication. In reality, our interests are irreconcilable and this is also expressed at the level of demands. [Jaune – Le journal pour gagner]

Another common argument that some leftists use is that “yellow vests” is not a proletarian movement, because it represents a minority, because the majority of the class doesn’t participate to it. But this logic is completely upside down. We can hardly reproach to those who struggle that the others do not do so. Yes, the movement has to spread and generalize, yes, the rest of the class has to stop to watch it on television or discuss it on Facebook and join it in practice. And the “yellow vests” are pretty aware of it as we can read new appeals to the rest of the class to join them.

However it is not the quantity that can be a measure of whether something is proletarian or not. The movement indeed since the beginning grew in number but especially in the content. The “yellow vests” overpassed through a flow of workers and unemployed that has been joining them the original form of a movement against taxes and continue to create a movement against our living conditions, turning into a tidal wave that shakes the whole society, at least in France.

Everything that has been experienced and continues to be experienced at roundabouts, blockades or riots has enabled a whole people to regain their political capacity, that is, their ability to act that even a RIC [“Référendum d’initiative citoyenne”] cannot contain. [Yellow vests. End of the first round?]

And it is this content (which forms part as a tendency of the process of practical and theoretical negation of bourgeois State, economy, ideology…) that defines it as a proletarian movement beyond its protagonists’ consciousness, beyond the flags they wave.

The whole secret of the perpetuation of bourgeois domination can be summed up as being due to the proletariat’s difficulty in recognizing itself for what it really is, in recognizing its own struggle in the struggle of its class brothers (in whatever part of the world, and whatever categories the bourgeoisie might be using to divide it). This recognition is an indispensable condition for its constitution as an historical force. [GCI-ICG, Theses of Programmatical Orientation, idem]

It is not by chance that those who have a problem with seeing proletariat in “yellow vests” are finally those who have difficulties to see our class in youngsters’ revolts in suburbs or uprisings outside of Europe. As one of the texts we publish claims:

The majority of the comrades hostile to the yellow vest movement are in such a position because they chose not to make the distinction between what is said (the much mediatized legitimacy discourse) and what is done (the blockages and the kind of actions they announce). [Yellow Vest or not? We need fuel to burn it all down]

They limit the movement to its weaknesses and ideologies without seeing the process of their overpassing.

History of the struggles of our class shows us that many similar proletarian movements, especially when they originate outside of the workplace and therefore do not directly confront the production of commodities, tend to start with claims and demands related to our class interests in a confused way. As long as their dynamics is on the rising curve, as long as they attract proletarians across the sectoral and sociological boundaries imposed on us by Capital, as long as the confrontation with the State in its many incarnations intensifies, the class nature of the movement becomes clearer and clearer.

This leads to crystallization of two opposing currents in the movement. The proletarian one – which so far has an upper hand inside the movement – is pushing for always deeper ruptures with the capitalist society: no dialogue with the ruling class, explicit affirmation of the violent confrontation with the repressive forces, attempts to spread the struggle to the workplaces, attempts of internationalization of the struggle, etc. Another, Social Democratic one, is trying to pacify the struggle and bring it back under the democratic umbrella of citizenship – in this case represented by all those “media stars” from the ranks of “yellow vests”, all those little “leaders” trying to transform the movement into a political party or trade-union, or to hook it up with the existing ones, all those calls for referendum and patriotic exposés.

We want to underline that the constitution of the proletariat as a class is a process, a process of struggle, a process in which our class clarifies its position as a class with one and unique interest, a process of ruptures with the bourgeois ideology and its material forces:

This colossus no longer knows his name, no longer remembers his glorious history, and no longer knows the world where he’s opening his eyes. Yet, as he reactivates itself, he discovers the magnitude of his own power. Words are whispered to him by false friends, jailers of his dreams. He repeats them: “French”, “people”, and “citizen”! But by pronouncing them, the images that come back confusingly from the depths of his memory sow a doubt in his mind. These words have been used in the gutters of misery, on barricades, on battlefields, during strikes, in prisons. It’s because they are from the language of a redoutable adversary, the enemy of humanity who, for two centuries, has masterfully handled fear, force and propaganda. This deadly parasite, this social vampire, is capitalism!

We are not this “community of destiny”, proud of its “identity”, full of national myths, which has not been able to resist social history. We are not French.

We are not this mass of “small people” ready to close ranks with their masters as long as they are “well governed”. We are not the people.

We are not this aggregate of individuals who owe their existence only to the recognition of the State and for its perpetuation. We are not citizens.

We are the ones who are forced to sell their labour force to survive, those from whom the bourgeoisie makes most of its profits by dominating and exploiting them. We are the ones who are trampled, sacrificed and condemned by capital, in its survival strategy. We are this collective force that will abolish all social classes. We are the proletariat. [Call of “Yellow Vests” from Paris east side]

“Blockade of economy” versus its destruction

Many reproach to the movement also the fact that it doesn’t make any real harm to the economy; it doesn’t block the flow of capital. And another argument logically follows – it doesn’t develop at work places, therefore it has nothing in common with how the workers get organized.

Let’s recall first of all, that the movement is not as toothless as for the danger for the capitalist economy. Friendly blockades of roundabouts, all these people sleeping and freezing in tents, will surely not change anything. But let’s not forget that there were also successful occupations and blockades of depots of gasoline that (for a too short time unfortunately) provoked a shortage of oil and therefore a panic on the market. Let’s not forget that “yellow vests” have been occupying also many points of toll collect, letting the people using highways for free, they also destroyed thousands of radars on roads all over France. And let’s forget neither the riots nor the spectacular destruction in city centres and various cases of looting that also represent a certain level of a direct attack against capital, and thus re-appropriation of a small part of the social wealth produced by our class, by us proletarians, just a tiny and minuscule moment in the general process of expropriating the expropriators, of negating the private property of capitalists [“Yellow vests” – The struggle continues]. Put this way, the “yellow vests” made to the economy much more harm than any unionist general strike negotiated and prepared together with the bosses long ahead.

But of course all this is not enough. If the movement wants to survive, to strengthen itself, to generalize and to develop its critique in practice until the final consequences; it has to go further. And indeed to do so it has to get organized also on work places. So far it was not easy:

The yellow vest movement ends at the workplace gates, i.e. where the totalitarian rule of employers begins. This phenomenon is the result of various factors. Let’s remember three of them: 1) The atomization of production, which sees a large number of employees working in (very) small companies where closeness with the employer makes it very difficult to strike. 2) The social insecurity of a large proportion of employees, which seriously deteriorates their ability to deal with conflict in the workplace. 3) Exclusion and unemployment, which put many proletarians out of production. A large proportion of yellow vests are directly affected by at least one of these three determinations.

The other component of the wage-earners, the one that works in large corporations and has better job security (permanent contracts and status), seems to be cosseted, on which the powerful force of the movement breaks like the wave on the rock. A special treatment, consisting of managerial efficiency and shameful trade-union collaboration, is reserved for this segment of the working population. The bourgeoisie has understood that this category of workers has the power to strike at the very heart of capitalist production, through the indefinite general strike. This is why it consolidates pacification by giving lollipops in the form of “exceptional end-of-year bonuses”. [Call of “Yellow Vests” from Paris east side]

But the question is even more complicated. An action “in the factory” is not a guarantee of anything and strike is not a synonym of a revolutionary action as it is its content that determines it. Union-like strikes for crumbs held “when the situation of the company allows it” would not change anything even if they were run out of control of unions, organized by workers themselves or presented a step towards the mysterious “workers autonomy” (within capitalism) that its partisans want to build through escalating series of demands.

Organization at work places cannot be put in opposition to the need to get organized on the class basis also outside, throughout all the society. To do so means to follow the same logic as the bourgeoisie applies in order to divide the movement into good workers (in factories) and bad rioters (in the streets). The following quote about this could easily be labelled as a genuine pearl of the bourgeoisie though coming from a group that claims to represent “communism”:

City centres are a tremendous backdrop for television and the internet but they are totally opaque and disembodied when it is a matter of hitting the value chain of capital. The looting and damage caused to these opulent town centres are acts foreign to and sometimes even hostile to the hundreds of thousands of workers, most often poor, who are exploited there. The protagonists of these violent actions act as warriors against the future offensive struggles of the proletariat, against its autonomy, against its struggle against exploitation and oppression. They must be considered as auxiliaries of the armed forces of the bourgeoisie and the objective props of capital’s order and its state. [Mouvement Communiste/Kolektivně proti Kapitălu, GILETS JAUNES: the first attempts at mobilising “the people” for a strong state against the proletariat]

When the abhorrent vies with the vile!!! Let’s also emphasize that we could give hundreds of such quotes ad nauseam from ultra-leftists self-proclaiming to be the “vanguard” of the revolutionary proletariat but which are just able to show what and where objectively they stand for in face of a movement of struggle that doesn’t fit to their ideological and rhetorical screen of smoke… We don’t call them for grasping more dialectically the social matter and the processes of class war developing right in front of our eyes, not at all! We just say that their obscene stances locate them on the other side of the social barricade, with our enemies, and that the proletariat while rising up globally will have to pass over their corpses…

But let’s now continue what we said above, the action at work places is necessary, not in order to negotiate little something for this or that company workers or this or that industrial branch but in order to put forward radical content. Therefore it is not about a strike, not even about a general strike, the question is not only to block economy, but to take control over the production and to transform it in order to satisfy the needs of the movement and destroy the logic of the market and value that is at the basis of this movement.

We must use the extraordinary as well as determined force developed by this movement to achieve what millions of exploited people have wanted for so many years, without ever having succeeded doing so: to paralyse production from inside, to decide on strikes and their coordination in general assemblies, to unite all categories of workers, with the same objective of overthrowing the capitalist system and re-appropriating the production apparatus. [Call of “Yellow Vests” from Paris east side]

But we are not that far yet and it is not sure that the movement will be able to go that far.

“Yellow vests” is a contradictory, but hardly a counterrevolutionary movement

Sooner in this text we talked about constitution of the proletariat as a class as about a process of ruptures. This process necessarily includes eternal series of clashes between the class in the process of re-birth, its re-emerging consciousness obtained in and through the practical struggle and the false consciousness deeply rooted in the mind of every individual, false consciousness that is a foundation stone of every false community of “citizens”, “people” or “nation”. It would be crazy to expect that any movement can skip this process of developing ruptures and have a clear class consciousness since the beginning, and it would be also crazy to condemn a movement because it doesn’t have it at a certain phase of its existence. What is important is the fact that this dynamic of clarification exists, that the proletarian program is appearing always more explicit in opposition to all attempts of political and trade-union recuperation. If the result of this clash is far from being clear at this stage, it is obvious that this conflict exists, continues and develops inside of the “yellow vest” movement, as it always appears in every proletarian movement.

We can already see some very important ruptures with traditional unionists’ actions. As summarizes one of the texts we publish:

The movement has developed outside and in some sort also against traditional structures (parties, trade unions, media…) that capitalism equipped itself with in order to make any practical critique inoffensive. (…) Even if the media try to enclose the demonstrators in the framework of struggle against taxes”, the universal motto is rather fight against the poverty in general” in all its complexity (low wages, high prices, wasting our lives at work, alienation…) and therefore, in final consequences, it puts into question the capitalist order as such. The movement is organised regionally and it is overcoming the usual trade-unionists’ divisions according to production branches. (…) The movement, or its big part, is radical and therefore violent and it assumes it (…) what makes the usual tactics of the bourgeoisie to divide the movement in good demonstrators” and “bad vandals” difficult to use. (…) Nothing is sacred for the movement, no symbols, no legends, no identity, no ideology that could not be burnt down, destroyed, rooted out. [“Gilets jaunes”… “Communards”… “Sans-culottes”… “Va-nu-pieds”… “Wretched of the earth”…]

We are indeed also very critical towards the “yellow vest” movement. It is not very difficult to describe the most evident weaknesses of the movement. What gives us hope is that none of these weaknesses is expressed by the movement as a whole, not even by its majority and any time that this or that version of bourgeois ideology appears, it is confronted with a critique coming from the movement itself. Every issue expressed by the movement is an object of contradictions, of discussions of critique and of a more or less violent conflict between rejection and acceptance of the bourgeois ideology. That is the process we mentioned above – the breaking line with the state doesn’t exist only in the street confrontations, it expresses itself also inside of the movement.

The question of nationalism, so much promoted by media, is an example of this process. Yes, indeed, we also saw some national or regional flags on demonstrations and blockades. Yes, indeed, we also read the story of some demonstrators who handed over refugees to the police. But we saw others helping to immigrants, expressing solidarity with struggling proletariat in other countries, calling for a unity not on the basis of community of ID cards or skin colour, but on classist basis. What is important for us as communists is not what this or that individual “yellow vest” thinks, but what the movement as a whole brings to the class struggle, in which the rupture with nationalism is an important part of. That means to be in opposition to the nationalist position, to fight against it inside of the movement, to impose this rupture to the movement. Many expressions written or unwritten of this struggle inside of “yellow vests” exist:

But this list [the first list of 42 demands written by the reformist part of the movement in December 2018, note of CW], is also a clear expression of a nationalist tendency, with four measures against foreigners, far from our problems and much further from their solution. You must be stubborn to believe that the problems in France come from elsewhere. That leaving Europe would allow us to live well or that hunting for undocumented migrants will increase our salary. It is precisely the opposite that would happen. (…) The fascists just want to make a bigger place for themselves at the exploiters’ table while doing like Trump. And we have absolutely no reason to help them do that.

In reality, no one cares about this list of demands. Only politicians can hope to get anything out of it, and of course the media and the government, which will not miss the opportunity to make us look like far-right thugs. But, as when someone is called by a first name that is not his own, we don’t pay attention. [Jaune – Le journal pour gagner]

The same goes for illusions about democracy (direct or participative), referendums, the president, elections etc., the critique appears always stronger:

(…) another initiative, supported by many political organisations from the far left to the far right, was soon to give us a hard time: the RIC [Citizens’ initiative referendum] in the name of the people and democracy. (…) It is bourgeois propaganda that makes us believe that before we are proles, we are citizens; that the life of ideas comes before that of material conditions. Yet the Republic does not fill up the fridge. And the RIC has surfed on this illusion. It must be said that at first sight, the proposal was attractive. We were told that with this, we would finally be able to be heard directly, that we could regain power over our lives. We would decide everything. And even without struggling, without risking our lives on the roundabouts and in demonstrations, just by voting, on our computers in our living rooms, with slippers near a cosy crackling fireplace! But in business, when you have a product to sell, you lie: “Yes, once you have the RIC, it’s possible to get everything through!” That’s wrong. How the hell to ask the bourgeois for their opinion on whether they agree to increase our wages? [Jaune – Le journal pour gagner]

This democratic arrangement would not solve anything, even if it was adopted. It would just stretch the electoral elastic while maintaining the relation between social classes – its conditions as well as its stakes – with an extra strengthening of legal reformism, that poor relation of the already illusory economic reformism. It would be tantamount to a more direct endorsement of ordinary enslavement. [Call of “Yellow Vests” from Paris east side]

The same for the motto “Macron resign”:

To counter the RIC, some of us have said: no need for RIC to win, we quite simply want Macron to resign. This demand has the good idea to highlight our action, to refocus the debate on our collective force. Indeed, it’s the street that will make Macron to leave, not the polls. But, right after saying that, everyone is asking the question: who will replace him? That’s precisely where the problem lies. Macron, as arrogant as he may be, is replaceable and his successor will do exactly the same to defend profit. The baby must clearly be thrown out with the bath water. The institutions that exist are there to defend the logic of money and exploitation. [Jaune – Le journal pour gagner]

Outside and against trade unions

As we have said, the “yellow vest” movement has developed from its rejection of the traditional bourgeois framework structures like political parties and trade unions. Since early December, the trade unions (regardless of their tendencies) have, as usual, toed the line before the government, which is looking for a way to defuse a social movement that might spread to other sectors of the proletariat: denunciations of interclassism are launched in a desperate attempt by the unions to discourage its members from joining the “yellow vests”.

Today, we are witnessing attempts at “convergence of struggles” and once again the movement is divided and hesitant: some “yellow vests” call for direct collaboration with the central structures of the trade unions; others on the contrary refuse this collaboration but call the proletarians in enterprises for also struggling, and that’s deeply right. Calls were made to prolong the “national day of [in]action” on February 5th (called by the trade unions and mainly the CGT) and to transform it into an “indefinite general strike”. We would like to warn, if necessary, the “yellow vest” comrades about the very essence of trade unions and trade unionism.

The role of trade unions has always been openly revealed in moments of struggle, by their willingness to put out the social fire. The unions, whose role is normally and precisely to prevent this kind of explosion, to act as a buffer and, if necessary, to frame any autonomous expression of our class, try to slow down the struggle by making believe they organize what’s beyond them. If, after decades of undermining our struggles, trade unions are no longer highly rated, the “yellow vest” movement taking place outside of them is one more evidence of this.

But a more subtle form is unfolding to restore control over our subversive struggles and it is to be found in all current struggles, which is what we could globally call workers’ parliamentarianism. Even when struggles break out on the basis of a formal rupture with the trade unions, even if a certain level of violence is assumed by the proletarians, this rupture is never complete, pushed until its ultimate consequences: that is, not only to get organized outside of trade unions, but also against them. This means to radically break up not only with the organisations, but above all with the practice: trade unionism, which is nothing else than negotiating the sale of our labour force with our exploiters…

From “people’s assemblies” to assemblyism!?

From the very beginning of the “yellow vest” movement, many idealistic and ideological ultra-left sects have been denouncing it because it didn’t get organized into “general assemblies”, considered as the holy Grail. Since then, news on the establishment of assemblies in Commercy, Saint-Nazaire, Montreuil, etc., have appeared, not to mention the “informal” assemblies organized around occupied roundabouts and various blockades.

On the one hand, the proletariat has historically always structured its struggle around assemblies, coordinations, councils, soviets, communes, committees, etc. We can only welcome the fact that proletarians are reclaiming control over their struggle, that they are meeting each other, that they are discussing together, that they are getting organized, that they are making plans for the future, that they are re-appropriating thousand and one aspects of life, that they develop conviviality, comradeship, that they participate in “liberating the speech”,… on the other hand, we would like to emphasize that no structure, whatever it may be, will never be a guarantee as to the development and content of our struggles.

On the contrary, the practice of democratism, of assemblyism, of fetishizing the massiveness in structures of struggle often hinders the extension and radicalization of struggles. If proletarians reject trade unions, they would yet be at risk of reproducing the same trade union and reformist practice within their “assemblies”. The emergence of “roundabouts’ direct democracy”, of large “general assemblies” open to everyone, often means the practice of trade unionism without a union. The “assemblies” and their “magic” of the delegates “elected and revocable at any time” have never provided any formal guarantee. Historically, our only guarantee has been our social practice. It is never the form that prevails, but always the content…

Moreover, the prevailing democratism in these “assemblies” means that everyone can express themselves “freely”, strikers as well as strike-breakers, radicals as well as moderated: rather than “liberating the speech” (and it is obvious here that we don’t claim “freedom of speech” that our enemy the democracy is so much praising in order to better make us talk, to silence us), they often also liberate the chitchat at the expense of direct action. What’s the point of voting for very “radical” great resolutions if the proletariat does not break the forces of inertia that block the extension and development of the struggle!?

And further?

We tried to show here that the “yellow vest” movement, as every proletarian movement in the past, is contradictory. For the moment there are expressions of both, the bourgeois society ideology in the form of the false consciousness of our class, but also the proletarian interests, the final goal to destroy capitalism. And its proletarian content is facing two dangers – reaction and reformism.

But the false consciousness can and has to be overpassed only in and through the struggle, in experience of our class born and reborn in every new open class conflict. The task of the communists is not to spit on a movement because it is not pure enough, because it doesn’t refer to good sources or because it is missing this or that aspect that we consider important.

For those who still toy with this wish, how can we imagine that the revolution could break out? Do we really think that it will be the work of a convergence of social movements, all endowed with their just demands, driven by decisions taken unanimously during assemblies where the most radical idea would win the fight? And so with a scenario of this kind: a movement with a great cause is born, at its head are the most enlightened militants who lead it from battle to battle while obtaining exciting victories; its ranks grow, its reputation grows, its example spreads in a contagious way, other similar movements emerge, their power meets, they feed and multiply each other, until reaching the final confrontation during which the State is finally killed… What a beautiful story! Who produced it, Netflix? What episode are we on? If you don’t want to laugh about it, you can always be serious. (…)

Because throughout history, the spark of riots, insurrections and revolutions has almost always arisen not for deep reasons but simply because of pretexts (e.g. the relocation of a battery of cannons triggered the Paris Commune, a protest against the grub in the military navy ignited the Spartakist revolution, the suicide of a street vendor launched the so-called Arab Spring, the removal of a few trees led to the Gezi Park revolt in Turkey), we find it really embarrassing those who, faced with what is happening with the yellow vests (…), only sharpen their eyes to find traces of the communist programme, or anarchist thought, or radical theory, or anti-industrial criticism, or… Thereafter, following the disappointment of not having discerned enough subversive content in the street, of not having counted masses large enough, of not having noticed enough proletarian origins, of not having noticed enough parity in female presence, of not having heard enough correct language – the list could be extended to the infinite – it only remains to be horrified and ask who can benefit from all this social agitation. [Finimondo, Di che colore è la tua Mesa?]

The task of the communists is neither to approve anything what the movement does. The task of the communists is to grasp the movement on the basis of its radical dynamic and to encourage this dynamic to develop as a revolutionary praxis, in favour of the revolutionary project of the proletariat. We as communists should accompany the class in its struggle of clarification of this project against both – reaction and reform, to represent the connection between the current and the past struggle of our class while sharing the experience we have obtained in it as a class and also between the current and the future struggle in order to draw lessons from the first one, briefly to represent the historical struggle of our class.

We are aware of the fact that it is not easy. The “yellow vests” are a contradictory movement like every other proletarian movement in history. And maybe nothing will come of it for the moment, except a strong experience of struggle and ruptures, consolidating our “class memory”. But it is difficult to grasp a movement through the prism of what it becomes when it is defeated (especially if the defeat is far from being finished).

On the other hand a part of the movement already opened a rupture with bourgeois society, its ideology and its institutions – trade unions, left or right wing parties, national antiterrorist unity, etc. And the proletarian content of the movement can open the way towards wider class struggles.

Finally, although it might seem provocative, we affirm that all the media hype around the “yellow vest” movement can in no way make us forget this essential thing that there is no such thing as a “yellow vest” movement, that it has never existed and cannot exist. And this is for a simple, fundamental, unavoidable reason: because there is no “yellow vest” class or social project…

Here and now, everywhere and always, it is proletariat against bourgeoisie, two social classes with resolutely antagonistic projects…

Indeed, there are only two projects facing each other for the future of humanity: on the one hand, the historical process of abolishing capitalist social relations and its State, which are the cause of misery, war, exploitation, alienation, oppression and domination… On the other hand, the forces for the conservation of this nightmare…

# Class War – winter 2018/19 #

Yellow Vests!? Some stances (Texts & Videos)

The post Class War 09/2019: “Yellow vests” appeared first on Infoshop News.

The Rigors of Organizing: On the Road with the German Climate Resistance

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 04:48

via CounterPunch

by Jeff Ordower

Recently, press in the United States told the story of the great transition that the German Coal Commission announced. Benevolent governments like Germany are deciding to make a just transition away from coal and have even set an end date, 2038, for a long-term orderly transition to occur. The mainstream media is hailing this transition as a model for the rest of the world.

There are two problems with this narrative. First, the current German plan renders it impossible for Germany to meet its goals under the Paris accords. Despite what the German governmental spin is, Germany’s proposed coal exit is well behind the 2030 exit of other European countries and includes a transition to fracked gas.

Second, the narrative overlooks the fact of how pressure is exerted and change is made. In the case of Germany, a powerful people’s movement takes over coal mines, sits in trees and engages in mass disruption and civic disobedience in order to exert pressure on the system.

Ende Gelände,which in English means “here and no further,” is a broad coalition that has spent the better part of four years playing a significant role in the German climate resistance. They have organized annual takeovers of a lignite coal mine. Last fall, Ende Gelände was part of a mass mobilization of 50,000 people who came to defend over 80 tree-sit occupations in the Hambach forest, which is regularly encroached upon to clear land for mining. Ende Gelände is less an organization than a broad-based coalition and a true movement, which comes out of the rich tradition of German anti-nuclear organizing, a regular set of European climate camps, and local resistance and “buergerliche (citizen’s) initiatives. Many different small organizations and affinity groups have comprised and undergirded the larger Ende Gelände mobilizations.

The rigor of the organizing is apparent. A year of work before the first mine takeover resulted in Ende Gelände organizing 150 direct action trainings and helping participants to form countless affinity groups. On top of that they organized a vast infrastructure that could maintain a camp of thousands, train a large number of medics as well as creating a space welcoming of a wide array of cultural workers.

Currently, activists from Ende Gelände and the climate camps, along with Rising Tide North America are touring the United States. Ende Gelände will share what they have learned which includes three major takeaways for us. First, they will share the discipline of what they do. Summers of climate camp and hundreds of direct action training have created the rigor through which hundreds of autonomous affinity groups can be prepared for mass direct action. As so much of the approach involves recruitment of new organizations, Ende Gelände is skilled at providing a way for everyone to participate at a variety of levels of risk. Second, too often social movements in the United States get co-opted or organized out of taking the boldest actions, because of the need for financial resources. Once organizers and money arrive, what could be truly disruptive actions become much more scripted and lose some power. Ende Gelände organized the nonprofit sector in Germany to support its aims, rather than the other way around. Finally, Ende Gelände will share their tactical acumen. These are activists who overcome their considerable fears are willing to push past police lines, water cannons and pepper spray.

As an anti-capitalist direct action network, Rising Tide is interested in using this tour to supercharge a disruptive flank in the North American climate movement. There are many current heroes in this work. Appalachians Against Pipelines have been holding tree-sits resisting the Mountain Valley Pipeline for over a year. Water Protectors in Northern Minnesota are living through their second winter surviving frigid conditions to stop Line 3. The organizers at L’eau Est La Vie camp have risked life and limb and felony charges in their struggle against the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. Affinity groups like the Valve Turners, including a recent action by four Catholic Workers in Northern Minnesota, risk prison time for their acts of courage and resistance. And, most of this modern wave of predominantly Indigenous-led activism emanates from Standing Rock, which significantly changed how millions of people viewed issues of extraction and Indigenous sovereignty.

The German movement, despite its scale, is a cautionary note that collectively, we need disruption at unprecedented levels in order to solve the climate crisis. If being able to mobilize 50,000 people and intermittently shut down mines with a fairly progressive government still leaves us short of Paris, then what scale and scope of disruption might be needed in the United States to deal with a hostile government where both parties are held captive to fossil fuel interests?

Ende Gelände has some of the same questions for us. They wonder about the interplay of direct action versus organizing in smaller rural communities, and how one makes common cause with those who feel like they benefit the most from mining. It is not only the scale, but also the who is involved.

Rising Tide North America views the Ende Gelände tour as a potential catalyst for more. We wonder if people will be inspired to join the resistance camps in Minnesota or build new ones. We hope that cities resound with takeovers of fossil company headquarters, disruption of shareholder meetings, and mass shutdowns of global financial institutions financing the extraction state.

We hope you join us for the Ende Gelände tour, either in person or online in the webinars being organized by Rising Tide . More importantly, we hope you join a freewheeling, scheming, free-form direct action disruptive movement at the points of resistance or at home where you live. One action, one camp, one long-term occupation in our vast country is insufficient. We look forward to your creativity, strategy and willingness to do the hard work to build a disruptive movement.

For a list of EG tour stops and how to follow the tour, you can sign up here.

Jeff Ordower is a long-time community and labor organizer and a member of the Rising Tide Collective, who is currently peripatetic.

The post The Rigors of Organizing: On the Road with the German Climate Resistance appeared first on Infoshop News.

Collaboration between farmers and vegans

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 04:16

via The Ecologist

by Mark Banahan

Picture the scene: a cold January evening and we have just arrived at a small village hall in Staffordshire. It is packed with a hundred angry, jostling farmers bearing pitchforks and glaring at my colleague and I, who are sitting on the stage trembling. We volunteered to take part in Blymhill Agricultural Discussion Group’s debate on veganism, and the intensity is sinking in.

I am guilty of more than a little bit of hyperbole here. The audience were not angry and there were no pitchforks in sight.

This is just how I imagined the scene before I arrived, especially with recent news stories of animosity between farmers and vegans. As It happens the debate was amicable, entertaining and enlightening.

Powerful evidence 

We opened with our case that non-human animals have rights because they are sentient beings, just like us, that are capable of feeling pleasure and pain.

It follows that their interests should be considered when making decisions concerning them. Only in exceptional circumstances could you argue that it is in an animal’s interests to be killed, for example, if they are seriously ill or injured and in great pain.

The overwhelming majority of animals that are killed and used for food do not fall into this category, so being killed or used is not in their interests and violates their rights.

On the environment, our case drew upon a large quantity of scientific evidence that reveals the harm caused by the livestock industry. Animal agriculture is responsible for a significant amount of global deforestation, fresh water use, greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution and biodiversity loss.

Additionally, animal agriculture takes up far more land than plant-based products require and is very inefficient as from every 100 calories fed to livestock, only 12 percent are retained in their food products, like meat, dairy and eggs.

Cultural attachments 

Researchers at Oxford University conducted a study last year which concluded that eating a vegan diet is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the Earth – this is more than reducing the amount of flights you take or switching to an electric vehicle.

On health we explained that the NHS and the British Dietetic Association (BDA) confirm that you can get everything your body needs from a vegan diet and that it is suitable for all ages. Diet-related ill health costs the NHS a staggering £5.8 bn annually and the UK is on average well short of meeting the recommended 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Vegan diets typically contain more fruit and vegetables, making it easier to hit this target, whilst also containing plenty of fibre. Some research also indicates that vegans have lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and lower instances of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.

Despite this powerful evidence, our other panellists didn’t agree. Their case was expressed by a local NFU official and a veterinary surgeon, focusing on the essential nature of animal farming for health and cultural reasons.

As per the NHS and BDA’s statements, it is clear that animal products are not essential for human health. It is harder to refute cultural attachments to animal farming, however, just because something has been happening for a long time does not mean that it should continue. What is considered acceptable changes over time; for example, slavery, women’s right to vote and child labour.

Green transition

The audience’s questions revealed a desire to know more about veganism and the consequences arising from the current shift in dietary choices.

The Vegan Society does not want conflict with farmers. We are keen to collaborate and advocate for policies that help farmers transition to a more sustainable and kinder system. It is the system that is at fault, not individual farmers, who are just trying to make a living like everyone else.

We don’t want farmers to lose their jobs, their farm or to move away from the areas their families have lived in for generations, but rather to transition away from animal agriculture. Consumer demand for plant-based food is rising rapidly which presents an opportunity for British farmers and we want to see them benefit.

Our Grow Green campaign calls for a package of policies designed to make this transition easier and reduce the risk that farmers take when seeking to change.

We want to see greater education around the environmental and economic benefits of plant protein production. Pulses like beans, peas and other protein crops take nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots, ensuring soil quality does not diminish.

Grow Green

Our campaign also calls for subsidies to be directed more towards protein crops than their animal alternatives; designated funding for market research and development; the use of climate finance to support rewilding for land that cannot be used for plant-based food production; and a package of support for farmers transitioning away from animal agriculture.

All of these issues and more will be discussed at the inaugural Grow Green Conference on 11 April at The British Library, London, exploring the potential challenges of the shift towards farming more plants and looking at the environmental, public health and animal benefits.

Speakers from across agricultural, academic and food policy areas will discuss how we can meet climate change targets and adapt food production to mirror consumer demands. Ecologist readers can benefit from a 10 percent discount on the delegate rate by using code GROW10.

Jay Wilde, from the BAFTA-winning documentary 73 Cows, will also be sharing his experiences. Jay gave his livestock to an animal sanctuary with help from The Vegan Society and is now building infrastructure on his land to produce organic vegetables with hopes to open a vegan bed and breakfast as well.

More and more farmers are contacting us saying they want to do the same. Things are changing and to be effective we all need to work together.

Whilst it is doubtful that many of the audience will have changed their minds following Blymhill Agricultural Discussion Group’s event, I am optimistic that everyone will have left with the knowledge that vegans and farmers can engage meaningfully on these issues. This gives me hope for a successful, peaceful transition to a more sustainable and kinder agricultural system.

This Author

Mark Banahan is Campaigns and Policy Officer at @TheVeganSociety and a keen vegan and political activist. Follow him on Twitter: @MarkBanahan.

To find out more about the inaugural Grow Green conference visit the website, and use discount code GROW10 to book your ticket.

The post Collaboration between farmers and vegans appeared first on Infoshop News.

Socialist Dog Catchers (or Presidents) Won’t Save Us

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 03:44

via Libcom

There’s a certain type of socialist that reminds me of highway planners.

For years now, researchers have held up convincing evidence that adding lanes to highways does not improve traffic congestion. It’s counter-intuitive: certainly adding more lanes means there’s more room to drive! However, empirical studies have conclusively shown that the result is that traffic increases to fill that extra capacity in what’s referred to as induced demand.

Press any DOT official or highway planner enough about the research and they’ll gravely nod their heads and admit that it requires a serious re-evaluation within their sector. But it’s almost impossible to find these insights incorporated into actual planning, a seemingly permanent blind spot kept there by a combination of politics and sheer inertia. As a city planner tells Arthur Dent in the opening pages of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “It’s a bypass. You’ve got to build bypasses.”

Similarly, the past few centuries have provided countless empirical examples of the futility of trying to achieve socialism through electoral pursuits. But for one reason or another, the common wisdom many socialists cling to—that helping socialists take hold of part of the capitalist state gets us closer to socialism—is rarely dislodged, even when they are forced to admit the mountain of failures of the past.

The latest salvo from the electoral left comes from an expected quarter, Jacobin, but from a not-entirely-expected source: Nathan J. Robinson, founder of Current Affairs and self-avowed libertarian socialist.

In “A Socialist in Every District,” Robinson encourages socialist electoral campaigns at every level of government possible, a kind of red version of former DNC chair Howard Dean’s “50 State Strategy.” Robinson writes:

A democratic-socialist president needs a movement behind them. They also need a Congress that is as far to the left as possible. That’s why, if socialists are going to make a Sanders presidency succeed, we must stake out an ambitious goal for 2020: there should be no election, at any level, without a socialist candidate running.

Every one of the 435 house seats. Every one of the 33 open senate seats. However many of the 50 governors and 7,383 state legislators there are. The dog catcher in Duxbury. Wherever there is a position of power democratically contested, a socialist should be offered up as an option.

One of libertarian socialism’s defining features is its rejection of both the Leninist vanguard party and the electoral incrementalism of social democracy and democratic socialism. Encouraging socialists to move en masse into electoral campaigns up and down the ballot is, to put it mildly, uncharacteristic of the political tradition Robinson pins himself to.

Robinson’s key arguments are that socialist ideas are more popular and widespread than ever before, that it’s impossible to know in advance which seats are winnable, and that even campaigns that lose are still valuable educational tools. The broad brushstrokes in Robinson’s essay have long been refuted, recently in “The Lure of Elections,” written by members of Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation.

Socialists who try to capture state power are aspiring to cut off the very branch they’re sitting on. Socialist electoral campaigns are parasitic of, and ultimately destructive to, the working class movements upon which their momentum depends. Mitterand in France, Papandreou and Syriza in Greece, Ortega in Nicaragua, Allende in Chile: socialists who reach the heights of state power must either bend to the dictates of capital or they are removed. This consistently happens on the local level too, including Bernie Sanders’ tenure as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, which was marked by the “pragmatic” abandonment of his signature campaign pledge to stop the privatization of the city waterfront. Meanwhile, the siphoning of social movement energies and personnel into electoral and state apparatuses means that the one counterweight to capital—the organized working class—no longer has the independence and clear battle lines needed to fight back. (It’s long been understood that the most effective way to impose neoliberalism and austerity with the least pushback is to have leftist and social-democratic parties be the ones who do it.) And as we’re seeing now across Europe and countries like Brazil and Venezuela, the inevitable stalling of the state-based left rolls out the red carpet for the forces of reaction.

To paraphrase anarchist Rudolf Rocker: elected socialists haven’t been a toehold of socialist movement within the capitalist state, they’ve been a toehold of the capitalist state within the socialist movement.

All Sewers, No Socialism

What I’d like to discuss in particular is Robinson’s nostalgic invocation of the socialist politicians of America’s past. He writes:

Socialists have succeeded electorally before. There were once a thousand socialist elected officials in the United States. Socialists in state legislatures introduced bills that got passed. The Socialist mayor of Milwaukee served twenty-four years. The Wall Street Journal has just published a fascinating discussion of the history of socialist congressional representatives in the United States, from Vito Marcantonio to Ron Dellums. It’s remarkable to see the nation’s business paper admit that “socialists are no strangers to Congress.”

Electoral efforts at the municipal level are often referred to as “sewer socialism,” a recognition that the actions of socialists in city councils and mayor’s offices had much more to do with public infrastructure than, say, jailing the rich and inciting workers to seize their factories. Indeed, there was so little dangerous content in the governing agendas of elected socialists that many of their ideas were borrowed wholesale by their liberal political competitors (most famously in the case of Roosevelt’s New Deal). The practical exigencies of governance within the capitalist state meant that much of the radicalism that propelled them to office was simply abandoned, and the best that elected socialists and their constituents could hope for was a friendlier and more competent management of capitalism. And that’s a task you don’t need to elect socialists to do.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the height of American socialists’ electoral success, libertarian socialists were there too. But instead of rounding up donations and votes for socialist politicians, Robinson’s political forebears were critiquing the practice as a counterproductive distraction from the essential task of organizing the working class.

One of the first sewer socialists was Emil Seidel, elected Mayor of Milwaukee in 1910 and picked as Eugene Debs’ running mate in the 1912 presidential race. Coinciding with the election of the Socialist Party’s Victor Berger to Congress, Milwaukee became a mecca of sorts for electoral socialists across the country. Despite his celebrity status, Seidel’s decidedly un-socialist tenure in office was not missed by the most prominent libertarian socialist periodical of the day, Mother Earth. In its May 1910 issue, after listing the key platform planks of Milwaukee’s socialist politicians—spanning from cheaper gas and trolley fares to cheaper heating fuel through the city—H. Kelly writes, “Not one of the above reforms, promised by the new Social Democratic administration at Milwaukee, is objectionable to the bourgeoisie as a class.” Kelly’s analysis is worth quoting at length, as it applies to much more than just Milwaukee:

It cannot be urged too strongly that it is no part of the Anarchist or Socialist to administer bourgeois government more efficiently. It is their business to destroy capitalism, and on the ruins of that system found the Free Commune or Socialist Commonwealth… Politics will not, because it cannot, touch fundamental questions, and if the “Milwaukee Victory” were duplicated in every city in America, the capitalist question would remain unsolved, unless the exploited themselves rose in revolt against their oppressors and took possession of the land, railways, factories, etc.
[…]
Socialists all over the world will be interested in one reform Mayor Seidel inaugurated immediately after assuming office. He increased the hours of labor for municipal employees from six to eight a day. Every capitalist paper in the country has applauded this “Socialist reform,” as well they might, for this is “efficiency in government” with a vengeance, and has no doubt brought the Co-operative Commonwealth several laps nearer. True to the party platform, which calls for eight hours a day even when it means increasing the hours instead of decreasing them.

The next year Emma Goldman, reporting on her Midwestern travels in Mother Earth, made a similar assessment with her characteristic sarcasm:

Seriously, has anything been changed with the ascendency of the Socialist régime? Yes, Mayor Seidel has declared that the only way the 25,000 unemployed in Milwaukee can be helped now, is to cut the salaries of all the city employees. Really, now? All city employees, including also Mayor Seidel, Congressman Berger and the rest of the official staff? Nixie. No such class-consciousness for theirs. By city employees only the two-dollar-a-day wretches are meant. Surely the Seidels and Genossen are not expected to share their hard-earned thousands with slum proletarians. The latter must starve until economic determinism will determine the entire machinery of government into the hands of Socialist politicians.

All this, of course, assumes socialists are allowed to run for office and serve if elected. The first half of the 20th century shows just how easily even sewer socialists can be kicked out of the offices they spent so many resources to win. For example:

  • In January 1919, all five members of the Socialist delegation to the New York State Assembly were barred from taking the seats they had rightfully won. The vote to suspend them was bipartisan and almost unanimous, 140–6. Notably, in response the socialists hung their rhetorical hat not on opposition to the rotten system itself but on being better stewards of the capitalist state, with a Socialist Party leader claiming, “it will draw the issues clearer between the united Republican and Democratic parties representing arbitrary lawlessness, and the Socialist Party, which stood and stands for democratic and representative government.”
  • That same year, Socialist Party politician Victor Berger was barred from retaking his seat in Congress due to his conviction under the Espionage Act for anti-war speeches. After barring him, a special election was held for his seat, which Berger won again — and was again denied by Congress, keeping the seat vacant until 1921. (Only the Supreme Court overturning Berger’s conviction, conveniently after World War I had concluded, allowed him to be seated in Congress after winning yet again in 1922.)
  • In 1947, proportional representation in New York City was abolished, entirely due to Democrat-stoked Red Scare threats of radicals being elected.These kinds of procedural shenanigans are still available should individual politicians or parties become a nuisance. In the 2000s, Democrats in Maine, faced with the first elected Green Party member in the state House, preferred to redistrict him instead of work with him. In Burlington, Vermont, Democrats and Republicans in city hall conspired to repeal Instant Runoff Voting because a Progressive Party member kept getting elected mayor.

    We should also be wary of the notion that socialist campaigns are, as Robinson puts it, “educational tools,” expanding the debate leftward. History is littered with left candidates and politicians who have, when the moment was most urgent, hardened and even narrowed the left-end of acceptable opinion. It was French Socialist Party leader François Mitterand who, in May 1968, denounced the young workers revolting in Paris and elsewhere as having a “mixture of imitation Marxism [and] hotchpotch of confused ideas”. It was Jean Quan who, after having won Oakland’s mayoralty with a campaign touting her union-organizing and left activist history, called in hundreds of police to violently suppress Occupy Oakland in 2011. Indeed, the sprouting of popular movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter shows just how far we can move popular opinion and political consciousness with social movements while resisting co-optation by left officeholders.

    H. Kelly’s 1910 Mother Earth article concludes by comparing the fruits of recent votes taken in Milwaukee and those in Philadelphia. Whereas the votes cast in Milwaukee were by citizens, sending a handful of socialists into city hall, the votes cast in Philly were by workers of the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company. That vote committed thousands of workers to the picket line and led to a citywide general strike, the conclusion of which brought significant wage increases for transit workers across the region and reshaped the labor landscape for the next decade. Kelly puts it succinctly:

    The Socialist administration of Milwaukee has, as the first fruits of a twenty-five year agitation, raised the hours of labor, while the strike of Philadelphia raised wages.

    Confronted with the perennial failure of socialists in office, the electorally-minded generally portray them as either sad accidents or cruel betrayals, but like the highway planner who thinks I know the evidence, but maybe just one more lane will do the trick, they refuse to understand that the problem is a systemic, structural one.

    Understanding Libertarian Socialism

    Where does this leave Nathan Robinson and his curious brand of election-friendly libertarian socialism? He expands on his understanding of the term in an essay on Noam Chomsky:

    Libertarian socialism seems to me a beautiful philosophy. It rejects both “misery through economic exploitation” and “misery through Stalinist totalitarianism,” arguing that the problem is misery itself, whatever the source. It’s a very simple concept, but it’s easy to miss because of the binary that pits “communism” against “capitalism.” Thus, if you’re a critic of capitalism, you must be an apologist for the most brutal socialist governments. But every time there has been such government, libertarian socialist critics have been the first to call it out for its hypocrisy. (Usually, such people are the first ones liquidated.)

    Omitting libertarian socialism’s opposition to social democracy seems intentional, as Robinson writes elsewhere, “I myself happen to be a pragmatic [socialist], who dreams of a stateless society but thinks sensible government guided by socialist principles of economic democracy will do in the meantime.”

    “Pragmatism” is a catchphrase used almost exclusively to punch left and artificially narrow the realm of possibility, so for our purposes let us strip it of its baggage and consider pragmatism as simply using the most-assured methods to achieve partial progress on the way to a larger goal. In that case, the libertarian socialist theory of change within present-day society (Robinson’s “meantime”) is substantially more pragmatic than one that requires socialists to run for office. Libertarian socialists generally argue that it is the balance of class forces, not the party composition of the political class, that determines legislative and policy outcomes under the capitalist state. If we want reforms in our favor, we must shift that balance through popular organization and mobilization, regardless of who is in power. (Often a wave of new, further left elected officials is a lagging indicator: a result of that shift, not its cause.)

    In the words of anarchist Errico Malatesta, “we will take or win all possible reforms with the same spirit that one tears occupied territory from the enemy’s grasp.” It’s a profound mistake to think we need a seat at capital’s table to do so, and we need not look back a century to find evidence.

    Just last month the U.S. federal government’s partial shutdown was ended not by Democrats, or the Congressional Progressive Caucus, or even Bernie and Ocasio-Cortez: it was the stirrings of wildcat strikes spreading through the ranks of federal workers and related industries — perhaps most crucially, airline workers like those in the Association of Flight Attendants. On similar terrain, Trump’s first travel ban was put on hold in significant part due to widespread direct action disrupting airports. And just days ago a statewide strike by West Virginia teachers scuttled a proposed bill to gut the state’s public education system, with victory coming mere hours after the strike took effect. This action occurred almost exactly a year after these same educators and support workers launched a strike that both won them raises and sparked a wave of teacher strikes across the country, in both Republican- and Democrat-controlled states, that continues to this day.

    Robinson is correct that his political commitments do not oblige him in the slightest to apologize for the authoritarian states ruled under the banner of socialism. But if he insists on what is functionally a social democratic strategy he does need to account for its past crimes and failures, including:

    • the mountains of stolen resources, the millions of exploited people oceans away, and extracted fossil fuels that drove the taxable profits that made the welfare state hum;
    • the historically contingent, tenuous, and compromised basis for its successes (the particular configuration of the world economy, the size and combativeness of labor and other movements, the background threat of the Soviet Union, and the willingness of capitalists to temporarily play along); and
    • its slide into neoliberal austerity everywhere, including Bernie Sanders’ beloved Scandinavia, teeing up the far right to gain ground.Even more daunting for folks like Robinson is that they’re then obliged to explain why, this time, it will somehow be different. There’s no reason for confidence in a social democratic strategy to even get to the “sensible government” he hopes will get us through the meantime, and every reason to believe such a strategy will both sabotage the basis for positive reforms in the here-and-now and take us further from the break with capitalism upon which humanity depends.

      In the 1930s, Rudolf Rocker witnessed firsthand the profound failure of electoral socialists, including such titans as Germany’s SDP:

      In Germany, however, where the moderate wing in the form of Social Democracy attained to power, Socialism, in its long years of absorption in routine parliamentary tasks, had become so bogged down that it was no longer capable of any creative act whatsoever…

      But that was not all: not only was political Socialism in no position to undertake any kind of constructive effort in the direction of Socialism, it did not even possess the moral strength to hold on to the achievements of bourgeois Democracy and Liberalism, and surrendered the country without resistance to Fascism, which smashed the entire labour movement to bits with one blow.

      Resisting the mirage of state seizure is a deadly serious imperative. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the twentieth century that left one branch of socialists wrecked on the shoals of neoliberalism and another branch determined to remake the state as a singular authoritarian capitalist.

      Instead of “a socialist in every office,” a much more interesting and urgent call-to-action would be a union in every workplace (and prison!). A tenant union in every apartment building. A student union in every school. A mass assembly in every working class neighborhood. These are the building blocks for winning victories now and the foundation for a future society beyond capitalism and the state.

      There will always be liberals ready to volunteer to be the officials from whom we will extract concessions. But while opportunists are a given, an organized and militant working class isn’t. It’s up to all of us to make it happen.

      Originally posted on Medium.

The post Socialist Dog Catchers (or Presidents) Won’t Save Us appeared first on Infoshop News.

The left needs to get radical on big tech – moderate solutions won’t cut it

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 02:11

via The Guardian

by Evgeny Morozov

To note that the “techlash” – our rude and abrupt awakening to the mammoth powers of technology companies – is gaining force by the month is to state the obvious. Amazon’s sudden departure from New York City, where it was planning to open a second headquarters, attests to the rapidly changing political climate. The New Yorkers, apparently, have no desire to spend nearly $3bn in subsidies in order to lure Amazon – a company that, on making $11.2bn in profits in 2018, has paid no tax and even managed to book $129m in tax rebates.

  • Ignored in most accounts of the growing anti-Silicon Valley sentiment is the incongruence of the political and ideological forces behind the techlash. To paraphrase a Russian classic: while all the happy apologists of big tech are alike, all its critics are unhappy in their own way. These critics, united by their hatred of the digital giants, do make short-term tactical alliances; such arrangements, however, cannot hold in the long term.

One can distinguish three camps in today’s anti-tech landscape. They cover almost the entire political spectrum, from the pro-market neoliberal right to the pro-solidarity socialist left, even if the most prominent faces of the latter are still to take an explicit position on these issues.

The two better-known currents of the techlash represent what we might call “economism” and “technocracy”. Adherents of the former insist that the users of digital platforms are systematically shortchanged for their data and need to be compensated in some way. Such ideas are also rapidly gaining relevance in the policy world. In a major speech in mid-February, Gavin Newsom, California’s new governor, called on the tech giants to embrace the idea of a “data dividend”. “California’s consumers,” he said, “should also be able to share in the wealth that is created from their data.”

Why dub this “economism”? Well, in part because this perspective does not easily admit non-economic critiques of today’s big tech; the only power relationship it detects and scrutinizes is that between firms and consumers. There are no citizens – let alone social and public institutions – in this political universe.

Read more

The post The left needs to get radical on big tech – moderate solutions won’t cut it appeared first on Infoshop News.

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