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Arundhati Roy: ‘We’re lurching into an unknown future, in a blitzkrieg of idiocy’

Mon, 05/20/2019 - 03:49

via Ecologise

Arundhati Roy, The Guardian

I am truly honored to have been invited by PEN America to deliver this year’s Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture. What better time than this to think together about a place for literature, at this moment when an era that we think we understand – at least vaguely, if not well – is coming to a close.

As the ice caps melt, as oceans heat up, and water tables plunge, as we rip through the delicate web of interdependence that sustains life on earth, as our formidable intelligence leads us to breach the boundaries between humans and machines, and our even more formidable hubris undermines our ability to connect the survival of our planet to our survival as a species, as we replace art with algorithms and stare into a future in which most human beings may not be needed to participate in (or be remunerated for) economic activity – at just such a time we have the steady hands of white supremacists in the White House, new imperialists in China, neo-Nazis once again massing on the streets of Europe, Hindu nationalists in India, and a host of butcher-princes and lesser dictators in other countries to guide us into the Unknown

While many of us dreamt that “Another world is possible”, these folks were dreaming that too. And it is their dream – our nightmare – that is perilously close to being realized.

Capitalism’s gratuitous wars and sanctioned greed have jeopardized the planet and filled it with refugees. Much of the blame for this rests squarely on the shoulders of the government of the United States. Seventeen years after invading Afghanistan, after bombing it into the ‘stone age’ with the sole aim of toppling the Taliban, the US government is back in talks with the very same Taliban. In the interim it has destroyed Iraq, Libya and Syria. Hundreds of thousands have lost their lives to war and sanctions, a whole region has descended into chaos, ancient cities—pounded into dust. Amidst the desolation and the rubble, a monstrosity called Daesh (ISIS) has been spawned. It has spread across the world, indiscriminately murdering ordinary people who had absolutely nothing to do with America’s wars. Over these last few years, given the wars it has waged, and the international treaties it has arbitrarily reneged on, the US Government perfectly fits its own definition of a rogue state. And now, resorting to the same old scare tactics, the same tired falsehoods and the same old fake news about nuclear weapons, it is gearing up to bomb Iran. That will be the biggest mistake it has ever made.

So, as we lurch into the future, in this blitzkrieg of idiocy, Facebook “likes,” fascist marches, fake-news coups, and what looks like a race toward extinction—what is literature’s place? What counts as literature? Who decides? Obviously, there is no single, edifying answer to these questions. So, if you will forgive me, I’m going to talk about my own experience of being a writer during these times—of grappling with the question of how to be a writer during these times, in particular in a country like India, a country that lives in several centuries simultaneously.

A few years ago, I was in a railway station, reading the papers while I waited for my train. On an inside page, I spotted a small news report about two men who had been arrested and charged with being couriers for the banned, underground Communist Party of India (Maoist). Among the “items” recovered from the men, the report said, were “some books by Arundhati Roy.” Not long after that, I met a college lecturer who spent much of her time organizing legal defence for jailed activists, many of them young students and villagers in prison for “anti-national activities”. For the most part this meant protesting corporate mining and infrastructure projects that were displacing tens of thousands from their lands and homes. She told me that in several of the prisoners’ “confessions”—usually extracted under coercion—my writing often merited a reference as a factor that led them down what the police call “the wrong path.”

“They’re laying a trail – building a case against you,” she said.

The books in question were not my novels (at that point I had written only one – The God of Small Things). These were books of nonfiction – although in a sense they were stories, too, different kinds of stories, but stories nevertheless. Stories about the massive corporate attack on forests, rivers, crops, seeds, on land, on farmers, labour laws, on policy making itself. And yes, on the post 9/11 US and Nato attacks on country after country. Most were stories about people who have fought against these attacks – specific stories, about specific rivers, specific mountains, specific corporations, specific peoples’ movements, all of them being specifically crushed in specific ways. These were the real climate warriors, local people with a global message, who had understood the crisis before it was recognized as one. And yet, they were consistently portrayed as villains—the anti-national impediments to progress and development. The former Prime Minister of India, a free-market evangelist, called the guerrillas, mostly indigenous people, adivasis, fighting corporate mining projects in the forests of central India the “Single Largest Internal Security Challenge”. A war called “Operation Green Hunt” was declared on them. The forests were flooded with soldiers whose enemies were the poorest people in the world. It’s been no different elsewhere – in Africa, Australia, Latin America.

And now, irony of ironies, a consensus is building that climate change is the world’s single largest security challenge. Increasingly the vocabulary around it is being militarized. And no doubt very soon its victims will become the ‘enemies’ in the new war without end. Calls for a climate ‘emergency’, although well meaning, could hasten the process that has already begun. The pressure is already on to move the debate from the UNFCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) to the United Nations Security Council, in other words, to exclude most of the world and place decision making straight back into the den of the same old suspects. Once again, the Global North, the creators of the problem, will see to it that they profit from the solution that they propose. A solution whose genius will, no doubt, lie deep in the heart of the ‘Market’ and involve more selling and buying, more consuming, and more profiteering by fewer and fewer people. In other words, more capitalism.

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The post Arundhati Roy: ‘We’re lurching into an unknown future, in a blitzkrieg of idiocy’ appeared first on Infoshop News.

A radical publisher has set up an ‘anarchist Big Issue’ scheme in London and it’s thriving

Mon, 05/20/2019 - 03:12

via The Canary

On 11 May, Dog Section Press (DSP) said it had distributed 800 copies of its newspaper DOPE to “homeless vendors around Whitechapel, London” over the past month. So The Canary spoke to DSP about its “experiment in radical publishing solidarity”.


DSP is a London-based publisher and distributor running on a not-for-profit basis. It deals in what the publisher describes as “seditious literature”, focusing on anarchist and radical left ideas. And it carries this ethos through to the texts it puts out, stating that:

We aim to keep our publications as affordable as possible, and we distribute books and pamphlets that are inexpensive; at the same time, we refuse to compromise on quality – because there’s nothing too good for the working class.

Furthermore, all of its books are not only free to read online but also available on a Creative Commons licence for republishing. DSP told The Canary that it did this because:

we don’t believe in intellectual property – though we’re able to do that because we’re much smaller than most of the big radical publishers, and mostly voluntarily run.

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The post A radical publisher has set up an ‘anarchist Big Issue’ scheme in London and it’s thriving appeared first on Infoshop News.

Towards Mass Movements: Presentation on Intermediate Analysis

Mon, 05/20/2019 - 03:05

via Black Rose Anarchist Federation

Below we present a transcribed talk by Pablo Barbanegra on the concept of “intermediary analysis.” Pablo was a member of Miami Autonomy and Solidarity (MAS) which was one of the several groups that merged to found Black Rose/Rosa as a national political organization in 2014. While MAS did not originate the concept of the intermediate or intermediary level (which is used interchangeably as Pablo does within the talk below), the group contributed to developing the analysis and arguing for the level as a strategic site of struggle for the time period. While some of the political context has shifted since this was talk was presented in 2012, this piece provides context, definition, and the arguments around it’s strategic importance.

The following is an audio transcription of a presentation by Pablo at the Los Angeles Anarchist Bookfair on September 8, 2012. The audio version can be found here.

Hi, well, thank you guys for coming and definitely thank the organizers of the LA anarchist bookfair for inviting me here. It’s a real honor to be present here and be part of the LA anarchist scene and what you guys are doing.

Today, what I wanted to discuss a bit is, I’m a member of a specific anarchist political organization, like [event MC] said. And the organization I’m a part of — Miami Autonomy & Solidarity — has been together since 2008. Many of us came together after a long time of being involved in social movement work. I started off doing student organizing. And then some kind of paid organizing, community organizing, but after a while of doing that kind of stuff, you know, I kept on running into certain walls, right, certain walls with bureaucracy, certain walls with you know, the idea of where the executive directors of some of the organizations wanted to go. You know, all the limits that exist in trying to work in that world. So I was introduced by a couple of comrades to this idea of especifismo, which is a tradition that originates in South America, starts largely in Uruguay, and has spread out to several different countries in Latin America — Chile, Argentina — definitely has made its way around the continent, and it definitely emerges out of their particular situations dealing with dictatorship and repression and, you know, anarchists for a long period of time, you know, suffering from that kind of repression dealing with competing tendencies and all those challenges and sort of coming back in the 1990s and trying to regroup and once again become a social force in the social movements that exist.

Pablo Barbranegra (left) at the 2012 Anarchist Bookfair in Los Angeles.

So those ideas kind of inspired me to start thinking about: well, what can we do as anarchists to ensure that we don’t just become just a subculture, just a hobby, you know, just like a lifestyle, or a personal interest, but to actually have an impact and effect on social movements and to build with them and to grow with them. That was the purpose of forming a group like Miami Autonomy and Solidarity and taking that approach; but one of the things that we are starting to see as we formed this organization is that the context of the United States and of course of a city like Miami, which is renowned for its kind of reactionary, right-wing politics, makes it very difficult to operate like a specific anarchist organization. Whereas in some other parts of the world or even some other parts of the country, you have infrastructures of what we might call the left where people can plug into. You have a stronger history of mass movements and that memory of strong social movements is there. In Miami, that’s largely non-existent, right? So we have to really think hard about how are we as anarchists going to begin to play a role in the almost either really small or non-exist mass organizations in Miami. How do we begin to work so we can have an impact and start to spread around more libertarian ideas, anarchist ideas, and become relevant again to the class struggle.

Part of what we’ve been thinking about for the past couple of years, since I‘d say 2010-11, we’ve been thinking hard about how to do that. One of the things that we’ve identified where we’re at and we think this is also relevant to many parts of the United States: there exists a layer which we recognize as the intermediate layer (and I’ll explain what that is in a second). Just to give a little back story or you know theory, or sorry, an explanation of how many anarchists have been involved in mass movement work tend to think about how to go about carrying out that work. We tend to think about there’s a revolutionary level, and then there’s a mass level right? And as far as these two levels are concerned, we tend to express within the especifist tradition and other traditions that run concurrent with that particular tendency, we tend to think that anarchists have to be involved in both levels. So there’s a need for revolutionary anarchist organizations; but we also need mass movements and these two things have to go together. Right? You can’t just have a revolutionary organization without any mass movements and mass movements without revolutionary organizations who are in there working, agitating, you know, creating propaganda and kind of growing side by side with these movements, at times they can take many different directions — directions which we might feel are going to take us to that level of social revolution and eventually something like an anarchist communist society. So we begin from that point.

What I’m going to talk about today is looking a little bit at the nature of the period that we’re in, and then thinking about some of the objectives that we would like to carry out and bring into effect, talk a little bit about the different levels that we see existing, and talk about why the intermediate level might be the most strategic site of struggle for movements in North America today. And then we can have some discussion about what people’s experiences have been with things like that [asking if] this kind of analysis and proposal makes sense? We can talk about that stuff after the presentation.

The Nature of the Period

What’s the nature of the period? If we’re going to categorize the nature of the period in the United States, we are currently living through what we might describe as a period of low level of mass struggle and militancy, right? We don’t exist, we don’t live in a time where there are burgeoning social movements, where there is this very sharp class struggle that can be exhibited. So this is the condition that I think we are dealing with in the United States and especially in a city like Miami, where I live. In regards to mass movements, the mass movements that do exist during this time period, we find that either at times they are non-existent (again Miami is a good example of that) or they are highly bureaucratized mass organizations, right? So here we have a picture of course of SEIU, Obama, kind of one hand washes the other. Critiques of the non-profit industry have been something that have been put out with more and more force lately and that’s definitely a good development. But we still haven’t overcome that yet; we’re still dealing with this issue of non-profit bureaucratized struggles, struggles that are largely co-opted or cooperativist, that work with capital instead of trying to overturn it. So often times the level of consciousness is also there. It’s also like a funny, you know, kind of portrayal of the left in these times you know, everybody will talk shit about how the system sucks and, you know, lesser of two evils, but at the end of the day, you know, we’re still going to vote for them; we’re still going to support that, and that’s what we have to do, right, to stay connected with the mass movements again that largely are either non-existent or very bureaucratized.

As far as the left and many revolutionary traditions, I think that definitely anarchists will fall within this: there seems to be a disconnect in terms of being able to influence, being able to have an ongoing dialogue and discussion with mass movements or mass organizations. Often times the activities of anarchists and revolutionaries seems to be very disconnected from the daily lives of struggle of average people; you know, working class people.

Thinking Strategically

Alright, so as class struggle revolutionary anarchists which is how MAS sees itself, our objectives are to at some point work towards this point where we will have something like a social revolution initiated by the popular classes, by the working classes, by those most oppressed in a capitalist, in an imperialist system. So we definitely think that if a revolution is to happen and if something like anarchist communism is ever something that we might see or work towards, then we need to start thinking strategically. We need to start thinking strategically about how we do our work, how we come to have an influence, how we come to play a larger role, in mass struggles or mass organizations. So the primary goal of revolutionary organizations in the short, medium and long-term is to contribute to building an autonomous, self-managed, libertarian revolutionary consciousness, capacity and power of these movements so that they can create that revolution in the long term.

Most of us have the analysis that revolution of this sort isn’t going to happen overnight, it’s a long term struggle. Most of us will probably — I don’t like to say this, I don’t like to think about this — but we may not even see it within our lifetime. So we have to be committed to a long term struggle to keep on pushing and in order to do that we definitely need to be strategic.

So we think that in these moments where mass organizations are in the state that they’re in, class struggle is in the state that it’s in, we need to figure out a way in which again anarchists and anarchism can become relevant within these mass struggles and mass movements. What MAS is going to propose is that instead of just thinking about there’s a revolutionary level and there’s a mass level and that revolutionaries should be working within the mass level, we might even have to just start thinking about: how do we build up a mass level, right? And if mass organizations aren’t in existence, then how do we do that? How do we as revolutionaries not become detached, disconnected, simply becoming a populist group, [or] a group that sits around just talking theory and not being able to create an action that actually challenges capitalism or being involved in struggles that actually challenge capitalism?

The Mass, Intermediary and Revolutionary Levels

So this intermediary level, it’s not necessarily a new analysis. If we look at the history of many different revolutionary groups, they’ve come to similar conclusions, they’ve identified that we see not only a mass level and a revolutionary level; but there’s also what I’d describe as an intermediary level and the intermediary level is basically the level where people are definitely more conscious, they’re more militant; but they many not necessarily be united around a particular set of beliefs or ideology. But they are capable of working together for mid-term and short-term goals. So we see that largely as an intermediate level. And we want to be able to develop this level more, so that this level can in turn help to build up mass movements and build them up in a direction where you know, they’re not going to become bureaucratized or they’re going to try to fight those tendencies that are trying to co-opt them. So that little graphic is supposed to kind of show the complexity and interplay that exists between mass level, intermediate level and the revolutionary level. Of course reality is messy and, you know, we find that there are revolutionaries in the mass level, there are revolutionaries in the intermediate level, there are people who are from the mass level in the intermediate level. It’s not necessarily kind of like a clean-cut situation.

Now, each level exists regardless, right, of whether there’s an organization there. So the mass level exists, whether the mass level is organized is a different story, right? Same think with the intermediate and revolutionary level. These levels exist. There are people who are thinking about these things; there are people who are trying to fight for certain needs; but they may not be organized themselves yet. So it’s important to draw that distinction between that and try to unify the level with organization. So the level as a theoretical concept definitely is full of a lot of gray areas and one thing I’d like to point out is that this is more of an analysis at this point that we are trying to develop into a practice and that is part of the reason that I am doing this talk today; because I want to hear what people to think about this and to see if folks have experience with this and are thinking about this on the same terms because we’re still developing a strong practice that can either prove or disprove this analysis.

So the mass level, right, is the broadest level. At the mass level, usually it can include people from all types of backgrounds, all types of ideological backgrounds, right? You have people who are thinking very much within the system, Republican/Democrat, and you also have people who are thinking outside of it as well maybe in a more radical direction. So mass level organizations are open to anybody in those sectors, anybody who is trying to fight around particular needs usually can be part of a mass organization. A good example of this, of course historically, has been labor unions. Labor unions for the most part, members did not have to belong to a specific party. Again, you can be a democrat, you can be a republican, you can be no party affiliation, you can be an anarchist, a communist, it didn’t matter. But the whole point of the mass level is that you’re fighting around these struggles that affect your day to day life, it could be wages, it could be anything of this sort.

Now at this time, the mass level, is mostly associated with these very short term objectives. When we look at mass organizations, we’re usually talking about short term objectives: a wage raise, you know, certain securities at work, for the most part mass level organizations at this point are not discussing a longer term strategy, are not at the point where they’re talking revolution yet. So this is where we find ourselves in this moment.

Alright, now, when it comes to the intermediate level, we find people that tend to be more committed to struggles and are unified around a certain set of objectives. They may not have theoretical unity with each other. That means that they may not all seek the revolution in the same way; they may not all see it ultimately happening in the same way; but at least they have currently some unity around these short term and mid term strategies.

Now in the intermediary level, you could have multiple intermediary level groupings or organizations within a mass organization, right? Again, like I said, a good example would be unions. In a union you can find people of all stripes. So what are the kind of purposes for something like the intermediary level: to work on short term objectives as well as medium term objectives. And this can be struggling around wages; struggling around some job site grievances. It could be longer term, it could be related to bringing together people of different industries, right? So like for example, you have a workplace you’re organizing in; maybe that struggle is successful, maybe it died down. What do you do with those people? Where do those militants go? They’ve just engaged in a struggle which has altered their consciousness and made them feel more empowered. They recognize that: alright this is limited, I need to go further. Where do they go? Do they go straight into a revolutionary organization? Maybe, maybe not. So the intermediate level can serve as a space where people can develop themselves further as they’re going along that process and trying to figure themselves out.

Now the revolutionary level, right, is, it’s a level where, when we say it’s a “high” level, it doesn’t mean that it’s in a hierarchy above the mass level. It’s simply that the level of unity required to exist within a revolutionary organization is usually higher. So people who are in revolutionary organizations tend to be on an ideological level, on a theoretical level, on a strategic level, and usually on a tactical level. So that’s the people we’re talking about. But again, in that revolutionary level, you’re gonna have a variety of tendencies, you’re gonna have anarchists, you’re gonna have, you know, socialists, you’re going to have all types of different groups. So that’s what the revolutionary level is referring to. It just refers to that higher kind of level of commitment to coherent theoretical positions, coherent strategic positions and tactical coordination.

Ok. Now when it comes to the revolutionary level, the revolutionary level is going to try to push for these kind of longer term goals. So for the revolutionary level, it’s important that we start looking again at this intermediary level in order to start to build towards that longer term struggle and start engaging folks in those conversations about not just the changes that we want today but the changes they’d like to see in the future. So the revolutionary level can meet within the same intermediary level organization. So what this is basically talking about is that as revolutionaries, right, the revolutionaries that may be of different tendencies may still be able to fight together, may still be able to work together at this intermediary level, where they would not be able to work together at the revolutionary level because of significant differences in the way that you — how these social struggles should be formed; how the revolution should come about. So this becomes a space for that kind of activity to happen as well, which we think that is important, that is necessary. And that’s something that, you know, needs to be happening amongst revolutionaries of different stripes.

Alright, so why is the intermediate level a strategic focus for our revolutionary tendency at this time? It goes back to this issue that there’s this disconnect between long term and short term, right? There’s a lot of disconnect between what revolutionaries are advocating for in the long term and then what’s actually happening in the short term. We want to be able to bridge that gap, we want to be able to close that gap between our long term visions and how we operate and what we’re doing at the short term level and mid term level.

Ok, now when we think about the intermediary level, it can also serve as a kind of autonomous force within social movements, one that can build mass level organizations or activate militants within the mass level or militants in mass organizations. To kind of put that into more concrete terms: I’m a member of a union, right? My union, politically speaking, is very conservative, sometimes downright reactionary. So in that space, sometimes our activity is going to be quite limited because when we try to push for certain things in the union there could be very serious repercussions to our jobs, to our livelihood. So we may not be in the type of space where we can push for what we’d like to see in the midterm and the long term. But the intermediary level, can operate independently, from that mass organization while still engaging people at the mass level. So in my case, what I’m currently trying to work on as a teacher is: I’m a member of my union, right, I’m a member of my union because I feel like even though I feel like the union for the most part, the leadership is pretty whack, they suck, you know, they don’t back us up; at the same time there’s people who joined that union who want to fight. So I’m going to try to find those people and group up with those people so that together we can start building up a tendency and start pushing within our union and we can do this both within and outside of the union. So where the union is limited by, say, legal questions these autonomous organizations, if they’re powerful enough, if they’re large enough, can potentially either push those contradictions to the forefront, right, and show them to the union membership — that ok, our union has these limits, we need to break beyond them — or simply act where the union or where the mass level organization would not be able to act.

From the Intermediate Towards Mass Movements

Part of the goal or purpose of the intermediary level is for us to be able to build connections to broaden the dialogue to become pretty much a force multiplier because we need to be able to do that if we hope anarchism to once again become a relevant ideology, a relevant you know a relevant approach to revolution. If we’re not able to do that, if we’re not able to broaden these conversations to become a force multiplier, we become disconnected and often times wither away and die out. So that’s why that’s relevant and important.

So at the intermediary level, activists and militants that we meet, we get to know them, we build relations, and we learn to struggle together. I think a big part of building mass movements and building this type of work is about building relations. So we always have to be conscious of how we build relationships with other militants. And again, I feel like if we are going to be able to attract working class people to anarchism again, it’s critical that we build relationships over a period of time so that when struggles do erupt, when things start to heat up, people see us as individuals who can be trusted, who are disciplined, who they can count on, and who they know are going to fight with them side by side when times get hard.

In order for popular class movements, they’re going to be those responsible for really making a social revolution, the revolutionary organization needs to be able to connect and engage with the mass level and the intermediary level. This is an important point. Without mass level work, without mass organizations, revolutionary organizations or intermediary organizations pretty much are useless. If we cannot connect, if we cannot build relations, if we cannot, you know, activate militants in these struggles, if we cannot help push for our points of view and also grow — have our views grow alongside those who are actually engaged in struggle, we run the risk of becoming irrelevant. We run the risk of becoming, as it shows there, a head without a body, right? A theory group, a group that doesn’t do much, talks a lot but doesn’t get much done.

One thing to keep in mind is that these levels aren’t static. So what is possible to a large extent will depend on what’s happening at that current moment historically and we do have to keep that in mind. So again the intermediate level, the revolutionary level, and the mass level are always going to look different depending on where we’re at historically, where the class struggle is at.

One thing we should do is try not to confuse the intermediary level for the mass level. Recognize that the intermediary level, we’re talking about individuals who are starting to think more in the mid-term and long term, there are people who are actively involved in struggles, there are people who are looking to expand the struggles. They’re starting to recognize the limitations of the mass organizations that they’re involved with. So we shouldn’t confuse that intermediary level for the mass level.

We have to also be careful with kind of becoming distracted by simply mobilizations, and starting to think that if we’re able to mobilize lots of people we’re actually doing something to build up the mass level, we may not be. And sometimes mass mobilizing can be very powerful but it can quickly disappear and we still have to ask ourselves what are we left with when that does happen. So we have to make sure that we’re not just thinking in terms of mobilizations. This is not a question of numbers right, at least not only about numbers, it’s a question about how are these mass struggles becoming more combative, how are they becoming radicalized? So a way that we find it useful to explain that distinction is massification vs. mobilization. And massification would be the kind of work that I’m talking about: which is deepening those struggles at the mass level and not just mobilizing a lot of people and having a lot of warm bodies, you know at a protest or at an event or something like that.

What we’d like people to consider is how this relationship is supposed to work and what we’re saying is that, the um, kind of again, the purpose is to get people who are at the intermediate level to work at the mass level right, so we identify folks who are at this intermediate level then we should be trying to work together to get involved at the mass level and in mass organizations. I come back to the example of the union that I gave earlier. Which is you know, I identify teachers who are disillusioned with the union, that are disillusioned with the way things are working. Um so we’re going to go and try to fight within the union but we’re also open to working outside of the union if necessary.

For MAS we think that it’s very important to try to get mass level militants to join the intermediary level or to kind of move up into that intermediary level and begin engaging other folks at the mass level, at the level of the mass organizations. Though, of course, the other one from intermediary to mass level is still important. So some examples of what we’re talking about: workers networks, we see this often times in groups like IWW have played this role where there have been mass struggles at a particular workplace and for whatever reason, either because they were successful and they gained things or because the struggles were too prolonged, started falling out, but you still had folks who became radicalized through that process: what do you do with them? What can they do? So building up a network of militants across an industry, potentially, is one example of how that intermediary level might work. Again the teacher example I gave earlier, taking teachers who are members of the union and then fighting with them both inside and outside with teachers who have become more politicized is another example of an intermediate level.

So in a nutshell the intermediate level for us is the strategic sight for struggles today because again, we’re facing a time period where class struggle in the united states even though recently there has been resurgences, there has been what we might call “moments”, we’re not in the time where we have “movements” yet perhaps. And so I think we’re still in that process of building. So the question of how we build them and how we participate in the building up of movements so that they maintain an independent autonomous character, so that they don’t become simply co-opted by you know, bureaucratic forces. It’s a critical question and this is the type of question that we’re trying to grapple with and we think that building up this intermediate level to do work at the mass level is perhaps the most strategic work that revolutionaries and members of anarchist political organizations can be doing today.

Pablo “Barbanegra” Avendaño (1983-2018) was Argentinian-American born and raised in Miami, FL. He became active in student organizing and occupy before joining Miami Autonomy and Solidarity, which would merge to form Black Rose/Rosa Negra. In 2013 he moved to Philadelphia and became active in struggles around police violence and joining Philly Socialists. Tragically in 2018 he was involved in a fatal bicycle accident while working for a food delivery app service. #RestInPower

Read a biography on Pablo Barbanegra here.

An additional reading on the discussion of the mass, intermediate and revolutionary level is “The Problems Posed by the Concrete Class Struggle and Popular Organization” by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.

The post Towards Mass Movements: Presentation on Intermediate Analysis appeared first on Infoshop News.

Update from Nicaragua

Sun, 05/19/2019 - 16:05

via Crimethinc

One Year after the Insurrection

A year has passed since the uprising that threatened the government of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua—a largely left uprising against a nominally socialist government. Today, as the US government seeks to promote a civil war in Venezuela in order to expand its sphere of political and economic interests, the questions raised by the Nicaraguan insurrection are more pressing than ever. What should people do who oppose both Maduro’s authoritarian version of socialism and Guaidó’s authoritarian version of democracy? Does “anti-imperialism” just mean supporting governments connected to rival empires like Russia and China? What about the Sandinistas, feminists, indigenous peoples, environmentalists, students, and campesino movements who oppose Ortega? What about the Venezuelan socialists and anarchists who oppose Maduro?

And, at the same time, what does it mean when both neoliberal US politicians and the EZLN support a protest movement in Nicaragua? What does it mean when anarchists, communists, and the US military all support the experiment in Rojava—but with completely different agendas? How do we support movements like the ones that oppose the Ortega government in Nicaragua without simply providing cover for capitalists to manipulate social movements into opening up new markets? How do we ensure that anti-authoritarian movements are not exploited as a way to install new authorities? How do we strategize to resist reactionary forces inside of popular movements without sabotaging the movements themselves?

For years, we have corresponded with anarchists and grassroots organizers in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and elsewhere who have described situations that sound a lot like the ones that poor people and people of color face in more explicitly capitalist countries, despite the supposed socialist agendas of the presiding governments. While some of the participants in resistance to the Maduro and Ortega regimes are clearly motivated by the desire to profit on the introduction of even more oppressive economic policies, others are driven by legitimate grievances and a real desire for equality and self-determination—just like those who rose up against the Brazilian government under Dilma Rousseff in 2013 or the people who rose up in Ferguson in 2014 under Obama’s administration. If international revolutionary movements do not offer the poor and desperate opportunities to fight for liberation from all forms of state oppression, some of them will end up naïvely enlisting in uprisings orchestrated by neoliberals.

We have to build powerful movements that do not legitimize any form of capitalism or state power. Otherwise, we will be forever forced to choose between the lesser of two evils—and geopolitics will suffer from the same foreclosure of possibility as the two-party system in the US. Both neoliberal capitalist governments and authoritarian socialist regimes cynically make use of each other’s in order to promote themselves as the only possible alternative. This has been going on for almost a century; it’s up to us to create a real alternative.

It’s striking how readily many leftists in the global North have supported the yellow vest movement despite the participation of outright fascists, but have ignored the uprising in Nicaragua or stigmatized it as reactionary. We have a lot of work to do.

The following report was supplied by Miranda de las Calles and Mark Alexander.

Our previous coverage:

The April 19 Uprising in Nicaragua

Update from the Nicaraguan Insurrection

Different Currents in the Nicaraguan Insurrection

Taking Stock of the Nicaraguan Insurrection

One Year Since the Nicaraguan Insurrection

It’s been a long year since the popular uprising in Nicaragua. To recap: starting in April of 2018, following years of corruption, authoritarianism, nepotism, economic violence, and environmental destruction perpetuated by the Daniel Ortega government, people took the streets in a way not seen in Nicaragua since 1979. The uprising was led by students, workers, feminists, campesinos, and indigenous people from a variety of economic, social, and political backgrounds. The main demands were for Ortega to resign; to allow new democratic possibilities including educational autonomy, participatory democracy, and a radically new judicial system; and to offer reparations for all the violence perpetrated by the state, the police, and paramilitary forces.

A year later, the government continues to utilize violence against the Nicaraguan people, independent media outlets have been forced into exile, human rights organizations have stopped operating, and all dialogue and mediation has failed. In the following report, we go over some of the historical context for the Nicaraguan uprising and present an update on the situation as it stands today.

The Past

In part because of the history of conflict between the state and the people in the Caribbean, there is a longstanding tradition of autonomous activism in the Caribbean region. Community activists have had to work outside of the structures of the state to combat issues such as state-sanctioned sexual violence against young girls and women and various forms of economic colonization. A brief history of the region can show the roots of the tendency towards self-organized community activism and direct action on the Caribbean side.

The Spanish empire colonized the pacific region of Nicaragua, while the Caribbean was set up as a “protectorate” of the British empire, which colonized it in a different way. There are multiple ethnic and cultural differences between the two regions as well: 96% of the people of the Pacific are relatively homogenous (mestizo) and speak Spanish. The Caribbean is populated by multiple ethnic groups—Miskitos, Afro-Caribbean, Garifunas, Sumu, Rama, and others—speaking multiple languages.

In 1894, with the assistance of the United States, José Santos Zelaya (president of Nicaragua from 1893-1909) annexed the Caribbean coast. The state branded the annexation as a “reincorporation”;—however, people on the coast still refer to it as the “overthrow.” This is the origin of a longstanding struggle pitting indigenous and black people of the Caribbean against the Nicaraguan state to reaffirm their rights to their ancestral lands.

Here are a few notable examples of autonomous activism in the Caribbean coast:

  • In 2009, in opposition to the Nicaraguan government, nearly 1000 people organized by community activists in Bluefields to occupy over 860 acres of communal land on which to grow their own food and build dignified housing. This was the birth of the “Back to the Land Movement.”
  • In April 2009, indigenous people from the Caribbean declared independence from the state due to racism, poverty, hunger, and land colonization. They have asserted that they have “enough will and ability to govern themselves for the well-being of their own community.”
  • Mestizo land colonization is the biggest crisis facing Black and indigenous communities in the Caribbean. Some people have armed themselves and resorted to insurrectionary direct action to protect themselves from this threat.
Photo courtesy of Courtney Parker (

The Ortega Government and the Caribbean Coast

The Ortega government’s response to the spontaneous rebellion in Nicaragua has been similar to the strategy that they have been utilizing against the indigenous and Black people of the Caribbean coast for decades. The strategy includes the arbitrary use of state violence against anyone the state considers to be a threat, mass surveillance, increased police and military presence, and the criminalization of community activity.

For the people of the Caribbean, the experience of militarization has continued steadily for many decades without much change. As capitalists have used the police and military to secure their interests in the Caribbean region, the state has used the war on drugs to justify and legitimize the militarization. In spite of Ortega’s anti-imperialist rhetoric, his government has worked closely with the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) to advance the racist “war on drugs.” Ortega also works with ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to implement US anti-immigration policies.

In 1987, Nicaragua signed a law establishing two autonomous regions on the Caribbean coast: the RACNN (North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region) and RACCS (Southern Caribbean Autonomous Region). However, the autonomy law has had little effect in practice: today, Black and Indigenous communities have been under attack by settlers that have taken over communal lands. The colonos (mostly mestizo ranchers) have been attacking and kidnapping people. Many people on the coast believe that the Ortega government is offering the colonos lucrative loans, assisting them in illegally purchasing the land, in order to establish control of the region.

Large plots of indigenous communal lands are being occupied and used to raise cattle. This is inflicting a devastating impact on the people and the environment. The most blatant illustration of the Ortega government’s contempt for the people of the Caribbean is his proposal to build an environmentally devastating canal that would displace thousands of Black and indigenous people.

The state has determined that struggles for communal land rights and indigenous and Black self-determination are contrary to the security goals of the (mestizo) Nicaraguan state. Consequently, Black and indigenous people are stigmatized as criminal drug dealers. At the same time, those who rebelled or demonstrated any form of solidarity with the April 18th rebellion are stigmatized with the label of terrorists and golpistas (coup d’etat plotters).

Ortega’s war on drugs has been propelling the county towards mass incarceration. During his tenure, the Nicaraguan prison population has seen one of the sharpest increases in the world: from 2007 to 2018, the prison population more than doubled, increasing from 119 to 276 prisoners per 100,000 of the national population. Black people are disproportionately represented among the prison population. In Bluefields, for example, over half of the prison population is Black, although Black people represent only a quarter of the total population. Most of Nicaragua’s prisons are operating at more than double the capacity, and Ortega’s solution to the issue of overcrowded prisons has been to build more prisons using funds seized from the drug war.

Image courtesy of CEJUDHCAN.

The Present

Here, we’ll briefly review some of the developments in the year since the uprising was suppressed.

62,000 Nicaraguans in Exile

The United Nations Refugees Agency claims that since April 2018, 62,000 Nicaraguans have sought refuge in Costa Rica, living in precarious conditions and facing local xenophobia. Nicaraguans in Costa Rica have been creating solidarity and support infrastructures to the best of their ability.

In response, the Orteguista government has created a new program offering safe return to refugees, but nobody trusts this program. One student returning from exile was immediately arrested in Managua.

An Increasingly Isolated Regime

In December of 2018, the GIEI, a Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts, produced a 400+ page report based on evidence and testimony on the ground in Nicaragua concluding that the Ortega government committed crimes against humanity. This claim is supported by the Organization of American States, the UN, and the European Union. This report further isolated Ortega from the rest of the world; in Latin America, Ortega is only supported by the governments of Cuba and Venezuela. Ortega has virtually no allies in Europe, and many European organizations have cut ties with Nicaragua. This report has legitimized the demands of protest movements on an international scale and has isolated the Orteguista government.

The Nica Act

With Ileana Ros-Lehtinen leading the charge, the United States government passed the Nica Act in December 2018 with bipartisan support. This act completely changes the relationship between Nicaragua and the United States. The United States has applied direct sanctions to government officials and to the Ortega family. Slowly, the diplomatic relations with Nicaragua will rupture, leading to more economic instability and sanctions.

Unfortunately, many Nicaraguan people depended on foreign aid, which funded hospitals and clinics. They will now face economic uncertainty. This has been compared to an embargo, which also affects Nicaragua’s diplomatic and economic relationship with other countries. The Nicaraguan bourgeoisie will also be affected by the Nica Act.

Zapatista Solidarity

In a communiqué from the Consejo Indigena de Gobierno (Council of Indigenous Government), the Zapatistas extended their solidarity and support to the people of Nicaragua. In a meeting at the Second General Assembly with Campesina leader Francisca Ramirez from Nicaragua, the Zapatistas stated that Ortega had betrayed the ideals of the Sandinista revolution.

The Civic Alliance

A new attempt at dialogue between the government and the so-called “Civic Alliance” started in February 2019. This was the first time the government had been willing to negotiate since June 2018. This new attempt has generated growing frustration over the lack of accountability and response by the government but also for the “soft” approach of the Civic Alliance. The Civic Alliance is largely tied to the capitalist class. Also, not a single woman was seen on either side of the negotiating table. These negotiations have slowed down, as the government has not met the many deadlines that have been established. The first agreement is to release all political prisoners and then to open a process of democratization. The Civic Alliance is focusing on electoral reform and speeding up the 2021 elections. Their macro strategy is framed as pragmatism: the idea is that first Ortega will step down, then we figure out what kind of country we want to live in.

The “Civil Alliance.”

The Return of Liberation Theology

Nicaragua is a predominantly Catholic country that observes many religious celebrations. The current crisis and situation has turned processions, religious celebrations, and Sunday services into political spaces in which people denounce the violence of the government. People have been gathering and protesting inside of churches. The bishops, who have been neutral for the last 20 years, are now sending messages of social justice and political change.

Monsignor Baez, the most outspoken bishop in Nicaragua, has been compared to Monsignor Romero in his demands for justice in Nicaragua. Pope Francis has suggested Baez seek refuge in Rome for a while, a decision that most Nicaraguans lament, as they now lose a public powerful critic against the Orteguista government. The pope claims that peace can be achieved through dialogue.

Political Prisoners

In February 2019, the state freed about a hundred political prisoners, giving hope that more liberations were on the way. The state has been holding political prisoners hostage as currency for the negotiations. Over five hundred political prisoners remain in custody. Two months ago, the government stated that it would release all political prisoners within a 90-day period. As of yet, there has been no sign of this happening. Some prisoners are refusing to leave prison until everyone is released at the same time. Despite the government’s claim that it will release prisoners, it continues to detain people who participate in spontaneous protests.

Several political prisoners have organized protests inside the prisons by escaping to the roofs of the prison buildings, dancing, chanting, and constructing barricades inside of the prisons. Police have used tears gas and rubber bullets to suppress these protests.

In addition, the head producer of the news outlet 100% Noticias and the journalist Lucía Pineda were arrested in December and have been held in solitary confinement since January.

“Freedom for political prisoners!”

Self-Organization, Direct Action, and Mutual Aid in Nicaragua

The traditional principles of anarchism—self-organization, mutual aid, and direct action—have gained traction in the Pacific region of Nicaragua since the April 18th rebellion. For example, activists put up roadblocks throughout much of the country that almost managed to topple the Nicaraguan government. The city of Masaya, a traditional Sandinista stronghold, declared that it would no longer recognize the government of Daniel Ortega and formed a commission to self-govern. Not surprisingly, this provoked violent retaliation from the state.

Right now, the most common form of direct action is the piquet or “sting.” It involves a call for decentralized small-scale manifestations all around a city, in which affinity groups of any size can rapidly protest and then disappear. Some examples of these piquetes involve rapidly taking the streets, disrupting food courts in malls, calling out chants in public buses, doing banner drops, intentionally causing traffic congestion with your car, dropping gallons of white and blue paint in the street, setting up impromptu memorial graves, protesting inside a church, tying balloons to street poles and trees, and more. The goal of these piquetes is to overwhelm the police and create panic in their ranks, since they try to rapidly locate and disrupt such actions.

The Future

What are the next steps for anarchists in Nicaragua?

The Nicaraguan people still face uncertainty. It’s important to strengthen social movements now, in order that they will have more power later. In Nicaragua, this means supporting the campesino movement, the feminist movement, and the Afro-Descendant and Indigenous movements from the Caribbean coast, all of which promote strong critiques of capitalism and the state. These movements have started to establish and articulate what the differences are that distinguish them from pro-neoliberal and pro-state movements. The most progressive of the student movements is the Coordinadora Universitaria por la Democracia y Justicia (CUDJ). There is a lot of support and affinity for anarchist thought in this student organization.

You can check out Hora Cero, an online self-run news and critique program born from CUDJ.

Anarchist solidarity networks are slowly emerging in Central America and worldwide. Writing and sharing information are speeding this process, but it is taking place out of necessity. On social media, anarchists are taking advantage of widespread discontent against the state, bourgeois interests, and authoritarian violence, and have thus far succeeded in resisting right-wing and neoliberal attempts to co-opt the struggle.

On the ground in Nicaragua, it is very hard to organize meetings or public events, but several people have formed study groups to share, debate, and develop ideas. Piquetes continue to happen spontaneously.

Further Reading Leftist Critiques of Ortega

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Workers’ Conditions in UK Warehouses

Sun, 05/19/2019 - 05:14

via Libcom

It is hard to describe how awful the job is. Almost anyone could do it for a few minutes, even find it stimulating, nice bit of exercise, find a location, a bit of mental stimulation, almost a game. But give it an hour, the feet hurt, the knees hurt, the lower back hurts, the brain hurts… give it a few days and there is no learning curve anymore. Give it a few weeks and you are no longer the same person. You are the walking dead between seven and three.

With the latest revelations about the horrendous working conditions in JD Sports and ASOS warehouses, comparing them to “dark satanic mills”1, we have decided to publish the following letter from an ICT sympathiser about his own experience during the Christmas period of one of these very same warehouses currently in the news. It sheds a grim light on the situation of the working class today, as “capital is turning to digital technology to devise ways of cheapening the cost and squeezing more out of workers in what are already low-paid, low-skilled, labour intensive sectors.”2

Warehouse work. A day in the life of the modern Prometheus.

On 5th November I started a job at a local warehouse. I finished on Christmas Eve for a number of reasons. I likely will return to the same workplace in the future during the high demand of the pre-Xmas peak. This seems like a brief period of time but as Stephen Hawking fans know, time is not always as simple as it seems and life under the dictatorship of the clock is lived far from briefly. Every day was a carbon copy of the last for five weeks. Here is the bare skeleton.

Wake up at 5.15am. Shower (heat the reticent muscles), coffee, breakfast, prepare sandwiches, watch news, travel to work, arrive at 6.40am, contend with car park, place all belongings in a locker, nothing goes inside except the specifically issued work clothing, blue and black, pass through metal detecting security gates, clock in with a number and a handscan before 7am, attend a team briefing consisting of meaningless statistics and encouragement to work ever harder falling on deaf ears, collect a wrist mounted computerised device with a screen and laser scanner attachment. Work starts.

Collect a trolley approx. 8 feet long 3 feet wide, place empty crates (totes) on trolley approx. 8. Scan one’s current location with laser, screen instructs where to go, some box on some shelf somewhere. Probably within a hundred metres if fortunate, remove an item from the box, scan it with laser, place in crate, scan crate. Now and again the screen asks to empty trolley by placing crates on a conveyor belt. Everything is done with the target in mind. Collect a certain percentage of a certain number of items or you are vulnerable to dismissal.

Four hours later.

Break time. Clock out, go through security where random checks are carried out for theft. Eat, chat or use a computer. Forty-five minutes later clock in, continue as previous, for three hours, home time. 3pm. Empty trolley, queue ages to clock out.

Negotiate the car park. Usually about 3.20pm, get on the road home. Eat. Everything aches, zombified torpor. Nine o’clock bed.

As I say this is went on for five weeks, this is the life of the order picker. At the end of my work period I was assigned a different task, a temporary task which involved labelling items. Apparently, this task arose because Trump’s USA demands to know where all goods are from, connected to tariffs, so some of us in groups of two or three would spend the day opening up plastic wrapping, placing “Made in XYZ” labels on the items, mostly clothes and shoes. Whilst this was initially a welcome change, it grew old very quickly. We were told we had targets to achieve, so many pallets per day, but we dismissed this and took an easy pace as we knew the job was temporary. At first we were in a quiet area, later we were moved to a noisy area which was a pain.

Then back to order picking.

It is hard to describe how awful the job is. Almost anyone could do it for a few minutes, even find it stimulating, nice bit of exercise, find a location, a bit of mental stimulation, almost a game. But give it an hour, the feet hurt, the knees hurt, the lower back hurts, the brain hurts… give it a few days and there is no learning curve anymore. Give it a few weeks and you are no longer the same person. You are the walking dead between seven and three. Time dominates, the passing of time, nothing else matters, the activity is the same, the difference is the time. One hour wears away the defences, the inner pep talk, the attempt to maintain good cheer. Two hours is tragedy, half way, no way out. Three hours and you are beyond caring. Four hours and the morning is over. Everything hurts again, never mind Tesco’s finest gel insoles.

Everyday there are small acts of defiance. People stop and chat to each other. Take toilet breaks for the sit down. We know what we are doing, we are risking missing the God Almighty targets and loss of employment, but who really cares that much, who can really face living according to the rules, who can kill themselves off every day to take the cheese out of the mousetrap? I went out of my way to learn phrases in Polish and Romanian to talk to the populations of migrant workers who possibly outnumbered the native English speakers. I did this with intent, often during team briefings (in reality for the majority of us there were no teams, it was all solitary work…) in defiance of the many casual racists. But we know this target threat is no mere bluff, every day people are dismissed, failing to meet the targets. Taking unauthorised absences. Failing drugs tests. And there are new people starting all the time. Groups of a dozen or so are constantly being given the tour, the instructions. My cohort dissolved like snow in the sunshine, the initial twelve became ten became nine, became eight, became two, became me, I left.

Moneywise it was slightly above the going rate if I can rely on this data I found on the net.3 I was earning £8.71 an hour which is above the adult minimum wage, but I expect a lot of warehouse workers are very young, hence lower earnings. I was obliged to do a seven day and a six day week over the Black Friday period. My total earnings were £2033 before tax. However, I was also working one evening a week at a local school three hours and teaching Spanish privately three evenings a week. This made the regime much more difficult even if lucrative. I could not simply come home and ride the couch, I had to get my act together, prepare teaching materials and deliver. This is one of the reasons I left, it was not sustainable. I was burning the candle at both ends and losing the will to move.

Another reason for my departure was the Xmas holiday. Never in my life, and I am 52, have I not had Xmas holidays (note the plural). I enclose the content of an e-mail I circulated at the time… suitably curious I went to the office today and asked what the story was for Xmas rota.

“You work as normal, but Xmas day is off”.

“Uh, OK, what about New Year’s Eve/Day”

“You work as normal”

“What! One day off altogether!”

“Yes, Xmas day.”

“What’s the pay rate on New Year’s Day?”

“As normal.”

Call me infantile, but the thought of spending Xmas holidays in Auschwitz (not meant to offend, simply reporting how my fellow workers described it) was, let us say, difficult.

As it happened, though Xmas Eve was an obligatory workday, the place was hardly populated. The workers had voted with their feet. And I say well done. I felt somewhat ashamed of actually turning up when many of my fellow proles had risked dismissal and stayed home, and that thought weighed on my mind until Boxing Day when I texted in my notice.

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There’s a third position that can be taken on Brexit…

Sun, 05/19/2019 - 05:09

via The South Essex Heckler

With Nigel Farage staging a whirlwind tour across the south of Essex today (Saturday 18.5), it seems like a good opportunity to restate our position on Brexit which is basically this – a pox on all of your houses! We’ll try to clarify what we mean by this…

We’re anarchists and as such, distrust all power structures. By definition, we’re opposed to the European Union because it is a power structure that promotes corporate interests – think back to the thankfully failed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Invest ment Partnership. Also take a look at Fortress Europe – there may well be freedom of movement within the EU but for anyone from outside, particularly if they’re non-white, there are massive barriers to their entry into Europe.

Also, look at how one of the leading powers in the EU treat their citizens when they rise up in protest against a neo-liberal imposed austerity. We’re talking about France and the increasing repression by Emmanuel Macron’s paramilitary thugs of the grassroots Gilets Jaunes protest movement. This has been going on since last autumn. A number of protesters have lost their lives. Many more have been seriously injured and maimed.

If this is what a leading EU power can get away with without being taken to task, we want no part of such a union. What shocks us is the number of so called liberal minded people who still see the EU as some kind of cuddly, benign organisation. They’re not – when push comes to shove, EU member states will have little compunction about launching violence on their own citizens who may have the temerity to take to the streets in protest against government policy.

During the course of last year and into this one, we have published a number of posts looking at the disruption and chaos that could arise as a result of a no-deal Brexit. We wrote these posts not as part of ‘project fear’ or because we’re ‘Remoaners’ but because we wanted communities to be as prepared as possible for the consequences. You only have to look at the staggering levels of ineptitude at national and local government level to realise that building grassroots neighbourhood resilience to deal with this chaos is a sensible option. All the time we emphasised that building this grassroots neighbourhood resilience and solidarity could potentially be the first step in building a movement that would eventually tear down the top down power structures that are screwing us over.

Onto the Brexiteers… Just because we reject a neo-liberal EU, it doesn’t mean we’re going to be running into the arms of the likes of Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg…or even Claire Fox for that matter! Farage, Johnson and Rees-Mogg are carpetbaggers who see a no-deal Brexit as the perfect opportunity for them to launch their disaster capitalism, sucking what’s left of this country’s battered and demoralised public services into the private sector. None of the many Leave voters we know want this outcome. As for Fox, there’s probably a book that can be written about her political journey…

To all of those Remainers and Leavers who think there are only two sides in the seemingly never ending Brexit debate, we say there’s a third, radical option of rejecting what the EU stands for on the one hand and what the carpetbaggers and asset strippers such as Farage, Johnson and Rees-Mogg want on the other hand. To put it crudely, they’re nothing more than two cheeks of the same arse and we emphatically reject both of them!

Bear in mind that in the 2016 referendum on EU membership, one in four of eligible voters did not cast a vote. There are a variety of reasons for this. One is the feeling that the arguments from both Remain and Leave didn’t offer enough in the way of verifiable facts to enable them to make an informed decision. Another is instinctively recognising that neither the EU or a so called ‘sovereign’ Britain offer any solution to a working class beaten down by almost ten years of austerity.

Whether it’s remaining in a neo-liberal supporting EU or going it alone under a post Brexit Boris Johnson premiership, there’s nothing on offer from either that will tackle the increasing sense of precarity our class is enduring. The only option that will ensure a decent future for us is bringing power right back down to the grassroots. As we’ve said many times before, the chaos Brexit has already wreaked upon the party political system in this country potentially provides us with the best chance we’ve had in ages to bring about this change…

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Climate Change: Capitalism is the Problem

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 05:06

via Libcom

by Communist Workers’ Organisation

The capitalist mode of production, characterised by exchange for profit, private property, wage labour and capital accumulation, has only existed for around 300 years. Since the late 19th century it has found its way to even the most remote corners of the Earth by the way of exploitation, dispossession and imperialist competition. It has brought immense scientific and technological progress but at great cost. Wars, poverty, hunger, inequality, and oppression have plagued this system throughout its existence.

We have been on this planet for roughly 300,000 years, in one way or another shaping and re-shaping the ‘natural’ environment. It is no coincidence that the impact of human beings dramatically increased with the arrival of the capitalist mode of production, which, as Marx put it, “comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt”.

Now, at last the fact that capitalism is the major cause of global warming and threatens the existence of life on earth is accepted by growing numbers of people. Young people in particular are horrified to realise they will face ‘natural’ disasters threatening the conditions of existence of humanity in their own lifetime. For many, the logic is obvious: since capitalism is the cause of the problem, capitalism must be got rid of. Or must it? Many are deluded into thinking that a more realistic option is to nudge capitalism into reforming itself.

If only things were so simple. It’s easy to become exhilarated in the various movements to save the planet. Earth Strike is skilful at flagging-up demos but their radical-sounding demands are in fact utopian. “Until the world’s governments and businesses are held accountable to the people, we are refusing to participate in the system that fills their pockets. There will be no banking, no offices full of employees, no schools full of children, until our demands are met”. OK, capitalism – or “governments and businesses” can tolerate the occasional walk-out of kids from the classroom and the kids themselves will face no great loss. But an effective global strike would have to involve a prolonged refusal of masses of wage slaves to go to work, and for millions that means they wouldn’t have the means to live. Maybe they would even start running things for themselves. Indeed, revolution against capitalism is the only way to start to remedy the damage capitalism has done and is doing to the environment. But that must come from a conscious movement of the world’s exploited: the wage slaves, the working class, not the all-inclusive ‘people’ – bankers, bosses and all. The Earth Strikers are plainly not aiming to get rid of capitalism. Far from it, their vision of “governments and businesses” that are “accountable to the people” has no mention at all of any changes to the capitalist world order. This is obvious from their call for an “immediate start on global co-operation”; “International, unambiguous and binding commitments”; ditto for “agreements” … it’s pie-in-the-sky reformism.

And whilst talking of pie-in-the-sky, we might mention Extinction Rebellion, another radical reformist grouping which claims inspiration from various celebrated ‘non-violent’ figures, from Gandhi to Martin Luther King. They want the government to “tell the truth”, “enact legally binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to zero” and “a national Citizen’s Assembly”, to oversee it all. Presumably they mean after the Brexit paralysis is resolved.

Factions of the Establishment propose a Green New Deal

In the light of this, it is no surprise that some reformist politicians have suggested a so-called Green New Deal that will solve the environmental question and remedy capitalism’s listless economic growth. It harks back to Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s, a state capitalist response to the Great Depression of 1929 that sought to provide relief for the unemployed and poor and reform the financial system to help the economy recover. In the aftermath of the 2007-8 financial crisis, sections of the US Democratic Party (Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise Movement) and the UK Labour Party (Labour for a Green New Deal), as well as Green Parties across the world, now seek to kickstart the troubled economy with a set of new policies, a “green jobs revolution”, which will combine economic growth with an environmentally conscious approach.

The Green New Deal would aim to tackle climate change by a gradual transition to renewable energy and investment in social welfare, without upsetting the internal dynamics of capitalist accumulation. The state would funnel money into clean energy and social programmes, set up 100,000s of new green jobs, and attempt to reduce toxic air pollution. The expected result would be the decarbonisation of the economy, minimising the output of greenhouse gasses. This is in line with the provisions set out by the Paris Agreement (at least 40% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, an 80-95% cut by 2050). The actual implementation of the Green New Deal remains vague, and whether the material resources for such a move exist or not is being questioned. But even if some form of the deal was to actually pass into law, it would be too little, too late, and it would not address the cause of the problem.

Roosevelt’s New Deal did not solve the economic problems of the US. In fact, the 1950s economic boom only happened thanks to the destruction wreaked on the planet by the Second World War, a massive devaluation of capital which restored profit rates and began a new cycle of accumulation. In 2019 we are in a similar position. Without a drastic devaluation of capital (the consequences of which would be tragic), the system is unable to produce an economic boom that would finance renewable energy and social welfare. The 2007-8 financial crash is still with us. It is a ticking time bomb. The ruling class has no real answer to this crisis, and any short-term solutions will come at the expense of the working class. State expenditure will be financed by appropriation of more and more surplus value from our labour. Rather than a Green New Deal, we are much more likely to see a state led Green Austerity. Solar and wind energy paid for by higher taxes and quantitative easing, fortified by nationalism, an enhanced border regime and population control (i.e. decarbonisation with Chinese characteristics).

The problem is capitalism We have only two or three decades to overturn it

Production based on never-ending accumulation, no matter the consequences, is the prime motor of the capitalist system. For life on earth to remain sustainable the choice facing humanity is simpler than ever. Either we put an end to the current capitalist system which has already dragged us beyond the point of no return, or we face social and ecological collapse within the next few generations. The ruling class, with its private jets and helicopters, security guards, bunkers and luxury apartments, are already planning how to escape the effects of climate change, rising sea levels, and all kinds of disasters.

On the other hand, the global working class and the poor will have no such privilege. We are already paying for capitalism’s economic crisis. This is now merging with the environmental crisis. And again we are the first victims. The recent Cyclone Idai which hit southern Africa has left behind at least 750 dead, hundreds more missing and 100,000 now living in camps with the looming threat of cholera and malaria outbreaks. Disasters like this are only going to become more frequent and more intense. Along with the threat of imperialist war, the upcoming environmental crisis may not be as sudden but it will be no less serious.

It does not have to be this way. It is in our interest as workers to organise towards a new mode of production before it is too late. One where need and not profit guides our collective decision making. Where a global solution to environmental damage will be possible because classes, states, borders and money are a distant memory of a homicidal self-destructive past. Where humans can meet the challenges of the natural world through mutual aid and not cut-throat competition. That is our solution. Unlike the utopian schemes to push existing governments into saving the planet, worldwide communist revolution, where the producers decide collectively what they need to live in the light of what is sustainable, is the only practical alternative. The material conditions for this already exist (houses stand empty while people sleep on the streets, food rots on the shelves or is simply thrown away while millions die of hunger, technological advances are wasted on war machines rather than medicine, exponential amounts of personal consumer goods in ‘rich countries’ are thrown away just because of fashion). But as long as capitalism rules, environmental destruction will continue.

We have a world to save. In the process we need to abolish the system of profit for the few and take over the running of things from the ground up.

The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 47) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.

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An Anarchist Case for UBI

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 04:18

via C4SS


Universal Basic Income (UBI) is quickly becoming a hot topic this presidential cycle due to the likes of Andrew Yang and his supporters. Since he began his campaign, many other candidates have been interrogated about their support for the idea and more and more are responding positively, even if half-heartedly. Sadly some, such as Bernie Sanders, have remained skeptical of such a program and have instead called for measures such as a higher minimum wage and a federal jobs guarantee. Such solutions are rooted in backwards economic thinking and only serve to tie us further to the current state-capitalist system. A UBI, however, would offer us much more freedom from economic oppression and state bureaucracy while possibly paving the way for us to build an economic situation that is far better than what we have now.

First off, let’s start out by deconstructing the common alternative solutions before diving into the criticisms of UBI. The traditional solution to poverty wages comes in the form of minimum wage laws. In the past, I’ve written about why the Fight for $15 movement is misguided and how minimum wage laws merely serve as a distraction while effectively only offering a temporary bandaid to our problems at best. Such sweeping laws only serve to benefit some workers at the expense of others who are priced out of the market for various reasons.

Of course, a federal jobs guarantee would solve that issue, right? A higher minimum wage would have a net positive effect if no one could be priced out of the market due to the government guarantee of a job. And sure, there are absolutely lots of jobs that need to be done. Creating green energy jobs, infrastructure jobs, and the like would open up a lot more opportunities for work, but enough to guarantee a job for every single person? Between the prevalence of “bullshit jobs” in existence currently and increasing automation, it seems highly unlikely that there would be enough productive work to provide a truly universal job guarantee. As such the only ways to do so would either be to produce to such excess that we create a surplus of waste or to run production so inefficiently as to require extra labor and with it a larger carbon footprint, both of which are counterproductive to their proponents’ claimed environmental goals. Besides, no one feels truly satisfied when they know their work is pointless.

So why is UBI a better alternative? Well because it helps everyone regardless of job status and doesn’t pretend that ones’ worth should be based on ones’ production, while also compensating currently unpaid labor such as housework, childcare, and community volunteer work. But, of course, there are many detractors who have a number of criticisms to lob at the proposal. Some are worth taking more seriously than others, but I will do my best to tackle criticisms made by those with a variety of different viewpoints.

The most common criticisms surround the UBI’s relationship to our current welfare system. Conservatives fear that it will be a massive expansion of the welfare state and will stack upon current benefits without cutting down on costs at all, while liberals tend to fear the exact opposite, that a UBI would be seen as an excuse to cut current welfare benefits while not being an adequate enough replacement. Both fears make sense. We neither want a system so costly that it collapses, nor do we want people to lose out on aid they currently need and are receiving. However, none of the proposed plans feed into these fears. Most proposals either fund the UBI via a new established tax (i.e. Fair Tax, VAT tax, negative income tax, etc.), obtain funding by cutting the budget in other areas where it is much less needed (i.e. military spending, current welfare bureaucracy, etc.), or more commonly a mix of the two. Most proposals would not stack on current welfare benefits but are proposed as an alternative.

As an alternative to our current welfare system, a UBI would be far less bureaucratic and costly to administer. Currently, there are over 70+ means-tested welfare programs in existence. These include everything from renter’s assistance to food stamps to medical coverage. Currently, however, these programs come with a whole host of qualifications which require one to stay within certain criteria in order to maintain benefits. The problem with this model is that it limits opportunities for growth. One must manage their economic life in such a way that they either truthfully meet the criteria by way of turning down opportunities for advancement, or one must arrange their work to be off the records entirely which also limits one’s job opportunities even if less so. To top that off, the benefits received come with a multitude of restrictions. Someone getting $200 in food stamps per month doesn’t have the option to use said money to invest in a business opportunity which would supply them with way more grocery money than food stamps alone while also offering a chance at more long term stability. Hell, someone on food stamps can’t even buy hot food legally which doesn’t make much sense for those who are homeless and receiving such benefits.

So collapsing these various means-tested welfare programs into one program which everyone qualifies for regardless of income level or other such qualifiers would not only allow people more economic mobility, it would also allow them much more freedom in how to spend the money they receive. Of course this could be harmful to those currently receiving more benefits than what the UBI would pay out, however there is a solution that has been proposed. Andrew Yang has suggested that instead of fully replacing one system with another, we offer people a choice between the two systems. This way they would not stack on top of each other costing the taxpayers tons of extra money, but rather people would be given a choice between heavily restricted means-tested benefits or cold hard cash with no strings attached. As long as the UBI is set at a livable level, most people would likely choose the cash, allowing the current welfare system to fade into obscurity. Partnering a UBI with other solutions in the fields of healthcare and schooling access can also go a long way towards making sure individuals don’t fall through the cracks.

The other major criticism from the left is based upon the notion that we should be fighting to increase our bargaining power whereas UBI serves more to make us into passive consumers. This idea is still based on increasingly outdated modes of production. While there will always be other work to do, job retraining programs have largely proven to be ineffective at helping a large majority of manual laborers and other skilled and unskilled workers retrain for much more high tech jobs such as coding. With the current rate of automation, the idea of worker-ownership within our current economic model increasingly looks like a handful of capitalists owning fully automated companies while the rest of us are unemployed and starving. Now of course not every industry can be automated in such a way, but the point is that with the threat of automation displacing workers, focusing on bargaining power only helps those workers not currently automated away. For everyone else, they just have to hope that the bargaining power of the employed is used to benefit the working class as a whole (including the unemployed) and not just themselves and their co-workers.

But the entire notion that UBI doesn’t increase bargaining power is completely untrue. The main reason most people hesitate getting involved with labor unions is due to fear of losing their job in retaliation. This fear is automatically less immediate if one has a UBI to fall back on to meet their basic needs. This means that the labor movement would have more freedom than ever. And workers who wish not to work under a boss can pull their UBIs together with others in their communities to form worker cooperatives, collectives, partnerships, and sole proprietorships. Between a newly unleashed labor movement and a newfound capital base, workers are much less tied to the whims of their bosses and are freer to shape the economic situations they desire than they would otherwise be able to under our current system.

Lastly, UBI has been criticized for giving people no incentive to work. While it does lessen the coercive aspects of working since you will still have your basic needs taken care of regardless and you are not put in a “work or die” scenario, that is in no way a bad thing. Such coercion is completely unnecessary. Establishing a UBI would allow us to rid the market of “bullshit jobs” and focus on more meaningful work. People will still work to solve problems in their communities because it actively improves our lives as a communal species. People will do the work necessary for the survival of themselves and those they care about and as a communal species, we realize we can better survive by helping our communities. In fact, with fewer people tied up in “bullshit jobs,” we will have more people with the free time to focus on the work needed to survive and solve other problems which may come up. People will also be inspired to create new technology as proven by the open source movement and others. These things do not happen because we are coerced into them, they happen because we actively enjoy doing these things and/or see the benefit to them getting done. And sure we will see a shift away from mass production of rather pointless goods and accessories and towards everyday necessities, cherished luxuries, and artistic ventures. However, freed from the coercion of “work or starve,” these goods and services that we find most valuable will influence the dynamics of supply and demand and the market will naturally shift accordingly. In other words, a market more free of coercion tends to be better at reading actual market signals and functions better. After all the freer the market, the freer the people.

So all in all, a UBI provides us a means to shrink the welfare state (and possibly the military budget and other bloated areas), gives workers more control and bargaining power, and gets us closer to a truly free market. It is not the end goal but rather a useful transition in the here and now. A solution that no anarchist should have qualms fighting for,

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Seize the Media

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 20:55

via Commune

by Kim Kelly

It’s time for journalists to really make the news.

The current state of digital media in the US is, in a word, tumultuous. It’s never been what anyone would call stable, really, and has always been as exploitative as one might expect from an industry beholden to both capitalism and the whims of billionaires—but for a while there, it looked as though the Vices and Buzzfeeds of the world would at least be lucrative. Digital media was going to revolutionize the news, they said; it was going to change everything. And it did, for some people—the bosses, CEOs, and founders. Unfortunately for them (and far more unfortunately for all the people they’d been underpaying and overworking from the jump), a genuinely sustainable business model remains digital media’s Moby Dick. Chasing ad dollars through a maze of Facebook boosts and Google ad buys became too difficult, so when older media capitalists like Rupert Murdoch and Disney came calling, the top brass betrayed their millennial image by actually picking up the phone.

Journalism’s great shining hope begat an influx of venture capital begat “pivots to video” and mass layoffs begat more mass layoffs in a perpetually unspooling drama of near-Biblical proportions. As workers finally revolted in 2015 and started to organize, they flocked to unions like the Writers Guild of America, East and the News Guild. This pivot to unionizing enabled them to publicly challenge their treatment, and to bargain and win contracts that forced their employers to improve their working conditions. Things got a little better down in the blog mines, but, unbeknownst to the workers themselves, the investor cash had started drying up; C-suite leeches across the mediaplex recoiled—and restructured.

The industry itself is broken, but those responsible for its decline are doing just fine. I mean the bosses, of course: the rogue’s gallery of aging hipsters, #Resistance hacks, and self-styled “progressives” running the shitshow are all still flying high even as the industry they’ve captained sinks. They’re still rich, for one, waltzing on the deck of the Titanic as the lifeboats capsize below. Even the ones with bruised egos and tweaked job titles can console themselves with the piles of material wealth, social capital, and cultural cachet they’ve accumulated thanks to their employees’ sweat, blood, and misery. Make no mistake: a temporarily embarrassed millionaire (or billionaire, in some cases) is still a deadly predator, and the next crop of eager young media workers are their intended prey.

None of this is new, mind you. It’s not exactly revolutionary to bring up the fact that capitalism is killing us and that those who profit off of it are bad people. We could apply this simple (but accurate!) analysis to any number of industries, but for now, let’s turn our attention inward. Right now, you’re reading an article that was written by a freelancer. It was commissioned by an editor, who will pay me for said article at the agreed-upon rate, and then we’ll go our separate ways until the next time I’ve got a story idea to run by them. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than having to defer to some jagoff with a lackluster resume and a lifetime membership to the company boys’ club. Up until recently, I was on staff at a digital media company, and spent nearly half a decade there observing and digesting the meaning of its inner workings. Like many, many other digital media workers, I was laid off earlier this year; my employer decided to Marie Kondo the company’s “global structure” to the tune of several hundred workers’ livelihoods, so now I’m navigating digital media’s chummy, shark-infested waters as an independent contractor. This has given me some time to think about the current state of digital media, and moreover, to come up with the kernel of a plan on how to get us out of this mess.

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If Politicians Can’t Face Climate Change, Extinction Rebellion Will

Wed, 05/01/2019 - 16:50

via the New York Times

by David Graeber

On April 15, thousands of activists from a movement called Extinction Rebellion started occupying several sites in central London, shutting down major roads and demanding the country’s politicians take immediate, drastic action in the face of climate change.

For more than a week, the streets were awash with an infectious sort of hope. Beyond the potent symbol of popular power represented by their presence in the heart of the city, activists and passers-by had the chance to experiment with collective politics. Yes, there were camera-worthy stunts and impossible-to-ignore disruptions of business as usual. But people also assembled, broke into discussion groups and returned with proposals. If the government wasn’t talking about the climate, Extinction Rebellion would lead by example.

The action was the crest of a wave that arguably began with the high school walkouts over the climate that had been sweeping Europe since late last year, and it was remarkable for including thousands of citizens — many from small towns with no experience of radical politics — who were willing, sometimes even eager, to risk arrest.

Their demands were, and are, simple. First, that the government declare a state of emergency and “tell the truth” about the global situation — that thousands of species are in danger of extinction, that there is a very real possibility that human life itself may eventually follow. Second, that Britain set a goal to eliminate all carbon emissions by 2025, and third, that the specifics of this emergency program be worked out not from above, but through the creation of citizens’ assemblies.

Amid simmering public anger over dissatisfaction with government inaction on the climate, the protests changed the public conversation so quickly and so widely that politicians have been forced to take notice and meet with activists they could once have safely ignored.

The apparent paralysis of the forces of order in the face of what looked a lot like a nonviolent uprising merely echoes the paralysis of the government itself. For months now, Parliament has largely abandoned the business of government entirely, unable to resolve the question of how and whether Britain will leave the European Union, yet at the same time seemingly unable to seriously discuss, let alone legislate, anything else. But the squabbling and endless recriminations in Westminster are just a particularly farcical version of a global phenomenon. The world’s political classes are, increasingly, rendering themselves almost completely irrelevant in the eyes of their constituents.

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How West Virginia teachers defied the state—and their unions

Wed, 05/01/2019 - 16:38

via Libcom

Michael M describes his experience helping organize the West Virginia teacher strikes in 2018 and 2019, as a member of the West Virginia United caucus, and the IWW. This article was first published by the Organizing Work blog.

I’ve always been a radical, even before I had a red card. Joining the IWW in early 2017 was more a culmination of years of imbibing leftist political theory and history than it was a first step into the world of militant unionism. During the 2018 West Virginia teachers’ strike, however, I found out how deep my politics ran.

When I began teaching in 2016, the building representative (“shop steward” in other workplaces), where I taught was also, by coincidence, the local West Virginia Education Association president. A veteran educator and unionist, Dan had been a lifelong WVEA member and participant in the 1990 statewide teacher strike. He had signed me up for WVEA when I first started teaching, since membership is not compulsory in West Virginia. Dan had informed me about the annual statewide Delegate Assembly for WVEA members, and when our local began voting for members to attend DA, it was Dan who had vouched for me. At DA, it was Dan who introduced me to WVEA’s leadership team, and when I talked with Dan about becoming our building representative, it was Dan who gave me every piece of advice or material I would ever need to continue in his footsteps.

What my relationship with Dan and those more veteran unionists taught me more than anything else that year, however, was how isolated leadership was from member concerns. Dan was an active local president and building representative. He was known for dragging out faculty senate meetings with WVEA updates. Every month, Dan diligently placed a brightly-colored union memo in each of our faculty’s mailboxes, of which there were close to one hundred. Dan made it a habit to visit new faculty members early on, taking note of their interests and breaking the ice with his encyclopedic knowledge of films and popular culture. Dan was everything a good building representative and local president should be, according to WVEA. When there was an issue with administration, Dan was there to talk to about your concerns. When a member had a question about legislation, Dan was there to discuss it ad nauseum with you.

Unlike other local presidents, Dan cared about member concerns, and wanted to see those taken to the state level. But his years in WVEA had taught Dan that union leadership was immovable. Above him, members’ concerns fell on deaf ears. Requests for more local autonomy or assistance from the state level were not always heeded. Building power from below seemed impossible.

In 2017, Dan retired, and I took over as building representative.

Online organizing transforms labor organizing

Coincidentally, it was Dan’s desire to have more active members that led me to meet up with the Charleston organizers who would go on to start a nationwide revolution. Over the summer of 2017, Jay O’Neal, later the co-founder of the Public Employees United Facebook page that would be used to help organize education workers, messaged me to discuss some details about my anger at WVEA leadership. He had read my article in the Socialist Worker and had become ecstatic when he had realized he wasn’t alone. Jay felt a similar way about where leadership was heading, and that it would require a massive upheaval of membership to overhaul the system. Skeptical of this strategy though I was, I decided I would help out with organizing an upcoming rally.

What began as online organizing transformed labor organizing. On a lone Facebook page, education workers began agitating, educating, and organizing one another for bigger and bigger actions. Our page went from a dozen or so of us in October to over 20,000 within a few months. Through this page, we organized #RedForEd days where educators all wore red and took pictures together to post on the page; we discussed concerns about our insurance plan; and we strategized about how to target certain legislators.

The “West Virginia model” would be replicated in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona during 2018 alone. This year, similar actions taken up by organizers in Los Angeles, Oakland, and Denver have won impressive gains while building worker power post-strike. 2019 has also seen renewed actions in West Virginia and Kentucky.

Rank-and-file dissatisfaction with union leadership

In some of these cases, it was the conflict between the rank-and-file and the union leadership that exacerbated the situation, accelerating organizing efforts by members, oftentimes working in opposition to the desires of union bureaucracy. In West Virginia, leadership had been relying on the business union model of organizing for almost three decades, since the last statewide strike in 1990.

The business union model of education relies on three main tactics: contract negotiations, endorsements, and lobbying. Since West Virginia is a right-to-work state and bars public employees from collective bargaining, I’ll focus on the latter two and their relevance in our strikes. Both the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and WVEA have political action committees that make endorsements for statewide and national seats. Those who sit on these committees at the local level can vary depending on the county, but at the state level, it’s almost always the old guard of union bureaucrats. These endorsements for candidates are the primary way that both unions signal to members where they should place their energy in campaigning for, or at least voting for, their endorsed candidates.

If election years go well, the expectation is that the elected representative listens to the union’s concerns and helps push for policy that the union requests. When election years don’t go as well, as happened in West Virginia in 2016, then the calls shift to lobbying of representatives. Historically, unions rely on paid or formal lobbying experts to push for these issues, but will occasionally offer members the chance to engage in this as well. Both AFT and WVEA would hold Lobby Days for union members to attend and meet with their representatives to discuss policy. WVEA had been pushed to call for a Lobby Day in 2017 because of the agitation on the secret Facebook page, but many members felt this tactic was a waste of time. As someone who attended the Lobby Day in 2017 and spoke with the Vice Chair of the state Education Committee Joe Statler, I can confirm this personally. Statler and other Republican members of the House of Delegates stonewalled union members and pushed back on calls for more worker control. “Well,” Statler told our delegation at the time, “We’ve done it your way for so long, and haven’t gotten any results, that I think it’s time we do things our [Republican] way.”

What 2017’s Lobby Day taught many of us was that this tactic was a dead fish. It wouldn’t provide us with the necessary gains we were demanding, to fix our insurance and increase public employee pay. It’s no coincidence, then, that at this Lobby Day, WVEA President Dale Lee stated that, “I’ve heard many members are calling for a strike.” This was the first time Lee and leadership had broached this subject. It was evident that members were angry at business unionism and wanted something more.

Yet, when members offered suggestions for local organizing, leadership at all levels would drag their feet, leaving good ideas to blow away in the wind. When members presented the unions with ideas to engage new members, a typical e-mail response was, “We’ll look into it.” Even the original walkout in 2018 was intended to be just two days, and only happened because union leadership felt they had to finally listen to members’ calls for direct action. The anger generated on the Facebook page forced leadership’s hand to extend it further for an additional seven days.

Four days into the strike, the union presidents stated that they had reached a tentative agreement with Governor Jim Justice to fund our insurance plan and give us our five percent pay raise. This was meant to be a good faith agreement, even though nothing in our legislature signaled that it would pass. The Senate President, Mitch Carmichael, had even said on a radio show that day that he didn’t believe a pay raise bill would make it through the State Senate.

Anger at this perceived betrayal by our leadership galvanized education workers across the state to demand that the walkout continue until legislation for the pay raise was passed. Workers used the Facebook page that we had set up, alongside their own countywide pages, to find locations where they could meet, discuss this proposal, and ultimately determine whether to return to work or not. When some counties decided to continue calling off, this galvanized the rest, who in turn forced their counties to close indefinitely until the pay raise bill was passed.

West Virginia education workers famously defied all three major unions – WVEA, AFT, and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association (WVSSPA) – in this historic wildcat, leading to a major victory: protection of our state’s insurance plan in conjunction with a five percent raise. Clearly, the union membership was beginning to call the shots, cultivated on social media and in county meetings, and by the discontent with the business union tactics that members felt were ineffectual at accomplishing these larger gains.

Striking a second year in a row

This year, our fight was about protecting public education from charter schools and privatization efforts. The Senate Education Committee, run by a Tea Party organizer and homeschool advocate, Patricia Rucker, crafted a retaliatory bill early in this year’s legislative session. SB 451 would introduce unlimited charter schools and allow for educational savings accounts (ESAs) which are similar to vouchers. Both ESAs and charters essentially divert public funds from public schools to private schools or homeschooling, leaving public schools with fewer resources to hire and retain educators. When this happens, class sizes increase, repairs become scarcer, textbooks are expected to last significantly longer, and classroom technology falls behind.

This fight, from the beginning, was one that would either make or break our organizing. Rank-and-file organizers wanted to see this bill defeated through similar tactics that we had developed in last year’s walkouts. Yet, when the House of Delegates passed a watered down version of the Senate’s dreaded omnibus education bill, one that would limit charter growth and ESA’s, AFT-WV began signaling to its membership that this newest bill should be accepted as a reasonable compromise. AFT President Randi Weingarten had even tweeted that the newest bill should be accepted by membership. State AFT leadership soon began emailing members to avoid “third-hand social media sites” (a clear dig at the social media campaigns we had built last year) and instead listen to them.

Seeing the union’s acquiescence, when the bill returned to the Senate, Rucker’s allies amended it to include further privatization measures. This was too far. AFT was forced to join WVEA and WVSSPA in calling for an indefinite walkout in opposition to the legislature’s obstinacy.

In both 2018 and 2019, a militant majority of the membership had been activated and their anger redirected towards direct action. A long period where membership had stagnated and politicians could effectively squash union resistance was transformed in the span of only a few months.

Building a caucus

After 2018, well-known education organizers from across the country began looking to our cohort for bridge-building opportunities. This was our opportunity to create something bigger, bringing together organizers for something more concrete. We decided that the best course of action was to create a rank-and-file caucus within our unions, and so those of us who had been activated by the 2018 strike wave formed the West Virginia United caucus. This caucus brought AFT and WVEA members together for a common goal – strengthening the militant minority of members who felt they deserved to have a greater role to play in their union.

A note on how union membership is allocated: since affiliation is by member choice, members can be anywhere in the state. Some regions have higher percentages of one union over another – the Northern Panhandle has more WVEA members and the rural counties further south have more AFT members – but everywhere else, membership is more dependent on building representatives’ efficacy than anything else. Even though there could be buildings split 50-50 across affiliation, AFT and WVEA members rarely organized together. The 2018 walkouts were the first time that anyone could remember where AFT and WVEA worked across unions for a common goal. Those of us who had organized together wondered why this superficial line had been drawn and why it was maintained, seemingly only for the benefit of the union bureaucrats. So, one of our primary goals was to increase contact and capacity between membership and through this, break down the artificial lines separating members.

Our caucus rollout was aided by the attention attracted by the 2018 walkouts. Those of us who founded the caucus were invited to speak at the biennial Labor Notes conference, and through this, we developed a working relationship with our national affiliation, UCORE (United Caucuses of Rank and File Educators). UCORE is comprised of rank-and-file caucuses with similar goals from across the country. The caucus that took over the Chicago Teachers Union prior to their 2012 walkout, CORE, is affiliated with UCORE, as is the caucus Union Power that helped lead the UTLA strike this year. This affiliation provided us with access to resources, conferences, and strategizing opportunities to begin building power from the ground up in ways that WVEA and AFT-WV had never allowed.

The biggest challenge that our caucus faced early on was that our state had gone from a massive statewide walkout into building mass power, rather than the other way around. In Chicago, the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) that had worked diligently for years prior to the 2012 Chicago teacher strike, building power in schools and showing the strength of the caucus in action, before presenting members with the ask of engaging in a lengthy strike. We had helped push our unions into accepting calls for a statewide walkout with little more than a Facebook page and angry members. Basically, they were pissed off union members who wanted to see something done, but there was no one, or no group, leading the charge. Local coordination of the walkouts was left to building representatives or, when not possible, the most militant member in that school. Food drives for students were not always directly tied to AFT or WVEA, so no one group had any particular legitimacy to claim victory from the first strike for their ability to bring together all members.

Online organizing won resounding successes in four key states – West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona – by mobilizing disaffected union members quickly. That strategy alone, though, could not last a second year.

Organizing challenges

Diverting power from a predominately online organizing platform into one on the ground in schools presented challenges for us. Few members attended listening tours held by a new task force committed to finding a solution to our broken health insurance system. Membership at local meetings saw an initial boost but then dropped back to pre-strike levels. We had to begin finding members who were supportive of continuing this work but doing so with the discipline of an organizer, someone not caught up in the “sexy” side of organizing (striking), but who could go into their schools, make asks of members, and continue bringing more interested parties into the conversation.

Members who were upset at the current political situation but who also felt betrayed by their primary union affiliation were recruited for caucus work. The strategy was simple enough – find simple “asks” of members who were fired up about the activity from last year and repeat as needed. Red for Ed days were again common, but so too were in-school presentations on charter schools.

The “asks” of these new members grew post-election, when Patricia Rucker worked with Mitch Carmichael to craft the punitive bill SB 451, described above. In order to placate teachers into accepting this deal, the omnibus bill had included a five percent raise across the board – roughly $2,000 for teachers in new state spending. The plan was to trick educators into accepting this payout in exchange for opening the floodgates to private education corporations.

In the span of one month, the West Virginia United caucus managed to set up statewide walk-ins in twenty of fifty-five counties. A walk-in involves teachers holding signs and passing out literature in front of their schools roughly twenty minutes before the first bell rings. As buses roll in and parents drop off their kids, they see teachers standing together with handmade signs, making demands of the legislature. It helps bring in parents who might otherwise never know about some educational issues. It also builds solidarity: when the bell rings, all teachers walk in together, in unison, rather than separately from their cars as we would normally do. This helps normalize escalation tactics for teachers who are hesitant to strike.

Our caucus also used our social media platforms to push pro-public school infographics that attacked the dark money interests behind Rucker’s omnibus bill (i.e., the Koch Brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council), and we drew upon our national connections to create and share solidarity videos from well-known educators and striking teachers. In addition to this, the caucus managed to put out a “meeting in a box” that could help train organizers remotely to hold their own meetings in schools across the state, to teach community members what a charter school was and why it was dangerous to the state. This was picked up by education advocates who were not directly tied to public school work, such as Our Children Our Future and Families Leading Change, and soon, the connections our caucus built with advocacy groups grew.

Member anger holds leadership accountable

Our most recent statewide strike this year crystallizes the power of this movement. An otherwise sluggish if not outright hostile union leadership had sought to sit on its laurels from the previous year and not appear too hostile to the new legislature, for fear that such talk could endanger much-needed community support. In the interim between the two strikes, union leadership had stated that our energy should be put towards elections, and when that didn’t pan out as they had wanted, the goal was to work with the legislature, find friends in the House of Delegates, and lean on possible Republican allies to water down the omnibus bill mentioned above. As they pursued “wait and see” politics, we organized. The militants in our caucus had read the situation correctly, ratcheting up members yet again until finally a two-day walkout killed the dreaded omnibus bill package.

Those who had otherwise been disenchanted with union work but felt another walkout was unthinkable became amenable to the idea when they saw the crisis plain and simple. This was why, when a vote of authorization to call a strike went out in early February, support was at similar percentages as it was in 2018. Anger, betrayal, and fear helped bring together members for a second year to once again strike against harmful legislation. This time, however, it was done in defense of public education. Members found their voice in protecting the common good, and the discourse on teachers as inherently greedy, a common tactic used by the right-wing to discredit educator concerns, was countered.

My thoughts as a wobbly

Education is now a “hot shop”: a workplace where the majority of workers are agitated and ready for action. Only the “hot shop” is an entire state (e.g., West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma) or an entire city (e.g., Los Angeles, Oakland, Denver). Our goal should be to try to build active union members to engage in this type of mass direct action before state repression takes its toll, before teachers possibly lose support or grow weary of the fight, or before electoral politics divert this energy towards national political campaigns.

When determining the parameters of our caucus, we had long debates about whether we would emphasize direct action or lobbying as our primary set of tactics. Would we use our new strength to flex our muscles and endorse candidates for office in November, or would we resign ourselves to staying outside of electoral politics altogether (we officially formed in September 2018)? Because Wobblies do not see lobbying or elections as strategic tools for building worker power, this ideological background helped me to make the argument throughout these debates as to why we should emphasize direct action over lobbying, fundraising, campaigning, and electioneering. In hindsight, this was the right call. The caucus chose not to formally endorse any candidate in November, nor did we decide to engage in lobbying efforts.

The post How West Virginia teachers defied the state—and their unions appeared first on Infoshop News.

What was the purpose of the ISO?

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 17:27

via Libcom

by Scott Jay

“The purpose of a system is what it does. This is a basic dictum. It stands for a bald fact, which makes a better starting point in seeking understanding than the familiar attributions of good intentions, prejudices about expectations, moral judgements, or sheer ignorance of circumstances. ” — Stafford Beer

The International Socialist Organization in the United States, founded in 1977, survived for over forty years before its members voted recently to dissolve it. There were many obvious problems that arose over the years, but it seemed far more likely to shrink into obscurity and continue indefinitely like the Socialist Workers’ Party (in either the US or UK for that matter) than to disappear entirely. The cruel irony is that, when the organization was finally turning a corner, finally recognizing and abandoning a number of restrictive, top-down organizational methods, that very turn toward openness exposed the full depth of the rot, convincing most to abandon it.

How this all played out is documented well here, so we will only review it briefly in summary. First, there was a widespread discussion about bullying and abusive practices to keep people in line. After this was widely accepted as a problem, people of color began openly talking about how they in particular had been bullied, shut down and dismissed for so long in the organization, and how they in particular had been a victim of these attitudes. Accusations of transphobia soon followed. Then, the straw that broke the camel’s back, or perhaps sped up the breaking of the camel’s back, was the revelation that the Steering Committee of 2013 shut down the investigation of a rape by a member who would in 2019 be elected to the leadership himself.

In a period of weeks, the ISO went from putting itself on the cusp of turning a corner to dissolving itself entirely.

These issues of bullying and racism and transphobia and misogyny, discussed out in the open, made the continuance of the group impossible. An open discussion of those issues will hopefully continue by those who experienced them. What this article will discuss is, what exactly was the ISO?

If we look at the concrete goals of the ISO, to build an organization based in the working class and playing a role in leading workers struggles, we can make a judgment about that. The ISO never accomplished this, not because it was never able to reach the size it aspired for, nor because it was impossible. Instead, for the most part, it put off this goal indefinitely. It was always an organization that wanted to do this in the future, but never “right now.” There was always a reason or, less generously, an excuse, to do something else instead.

Between things ended and things begun

“Between things ended and things begun” — International Socialist Review editorial, June 2001

“Between things ended and things begun” — International Socialist Review editorial, March 2018

For over forty years, the ISO always remained if not a campus-based then at least largely a campus-built organization. Overwhelmingly, members were recruited as college students, sometimes from elite universities, or they were college graduates who tended to find themselves in post-college Left environments. The ISO had a number of off-campus branches, but many of them struggled and in many cases they went from operating in a neighborhood (in Oakland, for example) before retreating to a campus (such as UC Berkeley) where recruitment was much easier, and then back again to the neighborhood after a year or two. No matter what happened, whatever difficulties the they faced, ISO branches could always retreat to the campuses to pick up some members and renew the organization’s morale.

For almost twenty of the ISO’s forty years, the perspective was that we were in a period “between things ended and things begun.” That is, the bitter defeats of the 1980s were over but a new era of rising, mass struggles of the working-class had not yet arrived.

This essentially codified the ISO’s lifelong perspective: the working class is not ready to revolt, so neither are we. One wonders where they thought that working-class revolts come from. Yes there are “spontaneous” upsurges of militancy throughout history, but class struggles have often been led by revolutionaries among the working class. Everybody agrees on that. But revolutionaries are not just the people we read about in books who lead mass struggles, they are also the people who lead small struggles that fail, and then get punished for their efforts with job loss and imprisonment. The idea of waiting for working class rebellion before building a workers’ organization that could lead working class rebellions, is completely foreign to revolutionary politics, except those politics that thrive on a college campus.

The ISO always remained fundamentally a group focused on meetings, recruitment, paper sales, as well as activism, which tended heavily toward panel discussions and marches. It occasionally was involved in things like strikes and abortion clinic defense and, very occasionally, eviction defense. But these tended to happen episodically and were rarely (if ever) the long term focus of an ISO branch. The focus of every branch was to grow. When a branch shrank or stagnated, the leadership flew in to blame somebody local and set them back on track to focus on branch building.

The purpose of a system is what it does. Not what it wants to do or says it will do, but what it actually does, in this case for forty years. The purpose of the ISO was to recruit itself into being a larger organization, and there was really no endgame beyond that.

Born-again reformers

The “between things ended and things begun” perspective also codified the ISO’s rigid, unchanging internal life. One account of the ISO’s demise by one of the group’s leading reformers, describes the problem as follows:

In the end, the ISO had two dialectally-intertwined obstacles. We couldn’t do anything about objectively-given circumstances, the neoliberal defeat of the working class and oppressed. And although we struggled mightily against subjectively-generated internal shortcomings, by the time the objective situation finally changed (2017-19), our shortcomings undid us . . . [I]t was always a race against time.

There is quite a bit of truth about this statement, but there is so much more that needs to be said.

On the comment that “we struggled mightily against subjectively-generated internal shortcomings,” it has to be asked, who do you mean “we?” That same author, one of the ISO’s main enforcers of the now-discarded old guard, just a year ago was attacking union members in the ISO for “factionalizing,” ie talking to each other without the permission of the Ivy League educated leadership, many of whom have not worked a real job in decades.

He spent just the past few years defending the ISO’s members in the union bureaucracy who campaigned for Democrats and promoted pension reform for public sector workers, as well as arguing for due process over believing survivors of sexual assault accusations, even arguing that those who disagreed were adapting to “identity politics.” This is just a sample of the glory that some of the ISO’s leading reformers have wrapped themselves in over the years.

Some of these reformers now claim that, “for the life of them,” they cannot understand how the previous leadership could think that covering up a rape accusation would be successful. Perhaps they might take into account how a number of people inside and outside the ISO argued how poorly and dishonestly the ISO was dealing with a very similar issue at exactly the same time–and how some born-again reformers went out of their way to shut down people raising those concerns for years. On the other hand, some of “us” have challenged this situation for years, and accepted the consequences for having done so. “We” did not have the luxury of knowing that anybody was going to have our back, we simply spoke up because it was the right thing to do, and more important than avoiding the wrath of petty, arrogant assholes in the leadership.

If this is the face of ISO reform, it is no wonder that the reform failed. Such revolutionaries would only reform this rotten situation when it was absolutely essential for the ISO’s survival which, it turns out, was far too late to do any good. Their one saving grace–and it is literally their only saving grace–is that most of the ISO’s reform leaders were not in the wrong place at the wrong time: on the ISO Steering Committee in 2013, when it was covering up a rape investigation. Many of them were lucky enough to only join the Steering Committee a year later. Every other thing that the ISO did wrong, these folks are responsible for carrying out.

If it was a race against time to fix the ISO’s internal life, then it was a marathon that lasted forty years, where the runner walked slowly the entire way, and every time somebody pointed out that they were veering on the wrong path they just covered their ears and walked slower. Time has rarely ever been so generous to a group of revolutionaries, who had over 40 years to get their shit together, “subjectively” speaking.

If some of these leading reformers had actually tried racing against time earlier, like a decade ago, then perhaps the ISO would exist today. Instead, they spent the last ten years attacking any effort at reform–until it was too late.

What changed, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, was the rise of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), during the Bernie Sanders campaign for President but even more so after the election of Trump. The DSA went from a paper membership of a few thousand to a paper membership of today more than 50,000, but still so large on the ground that some city branches have regular meetings in the hundreds. Not only was this an alternative to the ISO, it was much more appealing, not because the politics or the strategy were better but because it was a blank slate. Nobody can tell you in the DSA (though they might try) that you cannot hold an opinion or express it openly. This, and not anything in particular in the class struggle, is what made the ISO no longer tenable, as members fed up with the ISO’s bullshit left for greener pastures.

Around 2017, most ISO members began realizing that the organization was woefully inadequate in the DSA-era, and then, yes, it seemed like a race against time, because the clock should have started ticking years ago. For many of us it did, and watching the ISO go through a tragicomedy of errors and self-inflicted wounds was like watching the SWP in slow motion, carried out by people who insisted they were not the SWP. It turns out now that they were exactly as bad as the SWP.

The ISO only changed when it had to, for its own survival, not because the class struggle needed it, but because the ISO needed it. Until then, far too many were far too willing to accept the status quo.

In the end, time had nothing to do with it. There was a race against reality, and reality caught up.

Organizational needs

An organization is like an organism, it has to meet certain needs if it is going to survive. An organization does not need to have a paid staff, but if it does have a paid staff, then it will quickly rack up bills in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. This requires a consistent base of dues payers, even if the membership is a revolving door. But even a revolving door requires a steady base of experienced members, a “cadre,” to carry out this recruitment and they have needs as well. They need to be convinced that the ISO is worthwhile. They need to find some value in paying dues and going to meetings. And for the amount of effort required to build the ISO, they need to believe it is really going to pay off some day. The ISO did not need to play a leading role in the class struggle, the membership just needed to believe that maybe it could in the future. For the ISO to survive, it merely had to keep people excited and engaged enough to pay dues, go to meetings, and recruit.

Of course, many ISO members lived paycheck to paycheck, were burdened by student loans, were evicted from their apartments and struggled to pay for their healthcare. The problem is, the ISO did not really do anything about these things that would concretely help their members, except in particularly rare circumstances. People did not join and stay in the ISO because it helped them keep their job (unless their job was being an ISO organizer) or protect them from other social ills. People joined the ISO for the promise that it could help make these things happen some day in the future. That promise usually came in the form of a meeting or a non-confrontational march.

Every year, the ISO held panel discussions at their national conference in Chicago in front of a thousand cheering socialists. These events were never going to impact the class struggle, but they were exciting enough to feel like they might impact in the class struggle, and that was enough. The purpose of these events was to keep the machine running. Most members were too excited to appreciate that maybe something was amiss, and that was largely the point.

The contradiction at the heart of the ISO is that the full-time leadership needed to keep criticism to a minimum so that they could maintain their positions more or less indefinitely, but the membership needed to believe that the ISO could play a role in a future revolution. Some rank-and-file members would help shut down criticisms precisely because that conflicted with their need to hold onto this belief, and because the tension created by the criticism was a drag on the enthusiasm of the branch. This also helped strangle the ISO’s ability to flourish. For forty years the membership and the leadership maintained this relationship, until the DSA made it no longer tenable and the whole thing blew up.

Building a university-dominated socialist group (instead of a class struggle organization) for forty years was not a mistake, or at least not an accident, regardless of what intentions anybody had. It was planned from the very beginning and a necessity for survival.

The ISO’s founding myth

“Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.” — Marx and Engels

The ISO was founded (so I heard many times from its founders) and initially led largely by a group of people, many in and around university politics, mostly in their early twenties. They split from the their predecessors in the International Socialists (IS) over a number of things, including the IS’s perspective of focusing on industrial workplace organizing and an overly optimistic perspective for the class struggle in the short term. The split was at the instigation of the British Socialist Workers’ Party, which the ISO remained aligned with for many years.

Again, this is simply the narrative that I understood from older ISO members. But putting exactly what happened and why and who was right and wrong aside, the ISO found itself in a particular position at a particular place in time. That is, being a group of 100 or so people in or recently graduated from (often elite) universities in 1977, what were they to do?

If the ISO needed to play a role in the class struggle in order to survive, it would have ceased to exist long ago. Instead, it was specifically designed to be a buffer against the misery of class struggle. Unions were getting hammered, strikes were going down in defeat, attempts to resist the capitalist system with militancy were being isolated. No problem, said the ISO throughout the 1980s, we will simply hunker down and build a group of people who are not going to be affected by these things.

Believing (correctly, it turns out) that the working class was entering a period of defeats and not victories, which would drastically push back the class struggle and worker organizing for many years, which would drastically isolate and demoralize much of the Left, and being small, and having no base in the working class anyway, they decided that it made far more sense to build up their forces by training and recruiting a socialist cadre to keep the flame of Marxism alive for the time being and hoping to play a role in building some kind of workers’ revolutionary organization in the future. Even this was not always easily done, but it was most easily done on college campuses where, it turns out, the ISO was already quite comfortable.

How could the ISO have been different? Take, for example, what happened after Trump was elected in 2016. Among the various pockets of organizing was a widespread recognition of the need to defend immigrants against deportations. This included building networks of people who not only knew immigrants’ legal rights but also prepared to resist immigrant roundups and provide refuge for those who needed to go into hiding.

This sort of organizings begs the question–why could not the ISO have done this kind of thing consistently over its forty years of existence? Or something like it? There is no reason why it couldn’t have, except that it didn’t need to do it in order to survive, and was built as a refuge against the dangers of this type of activity. And there are certainly dangers, and there were even more dangers in the 1980s. But what is the point of a revolutionary socialist organization if it does not do these things? It would have been more valuable–to the class struggle and to the Left–to engage in this sort of activity as best they could, succeed where they could, and pass on the lessons for the future. In other words, it could have made efforts to build a revolutionary workers organization from the very beginning, it just didn’t need to in order to survive.

What does it take to build a revolutionary workers’ organization? It takes two revolutionary workers.

Organizing a general strike, or even a regular strike, may take much more obviously. Of course, an ideological Leftist might thumb their nose at an organization of two people. No, we need a mass party for mass action, they would say, and that is all fine. But what does an individual worker need? They need another worker, or preferably more, to help them deal with whatever challenges the capitalist system is throwing at them–defending their job, dealing with their boss, defending themselves from their landlord, not to mention defending themselves against sexual harassment, police brutality, or gay bashing. All of these efforts would benefit from a mass party of hundreds of thousands, but none of them necessarily require more than a few people in order to do something at all and sometimes succeed.

The next big thing

The ISO did some of these things, some of the time but typically abandoned long-term efforts in favor of movements where they could more easily recruit people. At which point the relationships built by hard-working comrades would be abandoned in favor of The Next Big Thing, which was usually a mass march with no direct action component, out of which the ISO expected to recruit, often successfully.

The ISO needed The Next Big Thing–whatever it happened to be at any one time–in order to survive. It kept the members engaged and it kept the revolving door of recruitment continuously revolving.

Working class people who face the brunt of the capitalist system do not throw themselves into action in order to recruit people to ideas. They move to act in order to defend themselves or others, and they “recruit” people who will be equally courageous and self-sacrificing, not those who can write an interesting article about China or convince a room of college students that Sweden isn’t socialist or get people to go sell newspapers. None of this is socialist activity, if by “socialism” we mean the struggle for working-class self emancipation.

This is the founding myth of the ISO–we are too small and isolated to do much, so we will recruit and train Marxists to launch a future workers’ party. This may have even made sense for a few months, or even a year or two, although I doubt it. But the idea that doing this for decade after decade would eventually yield something different than what it was doing was just a myth. Such a thing was unlikely to ever happen successfully under any scenario.

The purpose of a system is what it does, and what the ISO did for forty years was its purpose. What the ISO did not do for forty years was not its purpose or its goal, no matter how clearly these other goals were laid out in the Where We Stand section of Socialist Worker. Some far off idea of launching a revolutionary party someday was just a convenient motivating factor to keep the machine running.

The smartest guy in the room

With all the terrible things we hear about the ISO, one might wonder, why would anybody ever join it?

For many, the ISO and similar organizations are a repository for the hopes and dreams of young socialists. They may not need the class struggle themselves–although most of them would certainly benefit from things like free healthcare–but they definitely want it.

A class struggle organization that can really challenge capitalists interests will often face bitter, cruel defeats and will often not feel like a place people can go to indulge their excitement about socialism. An organization where people can indulge their enthusiasm for socialism is unlikely to play a serious role in class struggle. This is the great irony for this model of organizing, an irony that is extremely difficult to grasp for those fully ensconced in their own enthusiasm.

For some, becoming a Marxist allows you to be The Smartest Guy in the Room. There have been any number of graduate students, for example, who went through the ISO for whom proletarian revolution was a means for projecting their own self image. They could give talks to captive audiences, write articles, maybe even books. And when internal political battles came up, so long as they stood on the right side (the side of the leadership) they could self-confidently and arrogantly crush their opponents. They rarely have to deal with the world telling them how wrong and incompetent and worthless they are–the sort of things that poor people hear about themselves every day. Being a clever Marxist in an organization that is so wrapped up in its ideas is fantastic for the ego of the intellectual.

Members with this personality type create a perfect buffer for the lifelong, full-time socialist leader who needs people to defend them. And a group like the ISO is the perfect space for these people to strut their otherworldly intelligence to well-meaning people who are intimidated into agreeing with them.

This sort of thing is perfect ego fodder for the aspiring intellectual, who see themselves as the potential subjective factor of history, so long as everybody else recognizes their self-importance. They are sure that they are smarter than most people, they relish the power of being able to shut down their critics with the stroke of a pen and a turn of phrase from a podium. The ISO gave them the opportunity to fulfill this very dream. Unfortunately, working class struggles are led by very different people, who have no such aspirations or delusions of grandeur. Unfortunately, the Marxist intellectual has far too much invested in their own intellect, and their special role in history, to ever appreciate this irony.

Alternatives to “Leninism”

People who build organizations because they have to, not because they want to, end up building very different types of organizations. For example, a homeless camp is an organization–often a very complex one, with enormous challenges, weary veterans, young upstarts, leaders, followers, etc. A group of women who work together and meet for lunch and drinks after work to talk about how to keep the boss from sexually harassing them, is also an organization. A group of Black teens who march against the police and throw rocks at cop cars is an organization, sometimes (but not always) a temporary one.

These organizations need to recruit people, they need to vet them, kick them out, keep them around, and many other things a group like the ISO does. And yet, they do this with a completely different set of strategies and criteria for judging success. For example, people without homes do not look at the state of the class struggle and decide, well, not much is possible, so we are better off having a Marxist study group instead. They do what they need to do to survive–sometimes battling the police and politicians along the way. Not building some sort of encampment may not be an option. These things could not possibly be done by people who did not have to do them. Their organization is fundamental to their survival and they will fight like hell to defend it, and if it is destroyed, they will build another one, not because they want to but because they have to.

These organizations do not hold panel discussions or convince people of the need to build a revolutionary party. They do not herald a new socialist mood based on opinion polls or election results (in fact they tend to be the most cynical and apathetic section of the population regarding elections), or split over disagreements about the nature of Soviet Russia. All of this would be silly and counterproductive. Rather, they are stuck dealing with hard, bitter realities which will not be so easily resolved by finding a bunch of enthusiastic college students at Berkeley, Columbia or Brown.

So this is one reason why the ISO had to grow as it did–only impressionable young people with little previous political experiences could have been won over by the fables of Leninism pushed by the ISO. Veterans of left-wing politics–or “cynics” as the ISO would call them–would never be particularly impressed by a group of Brown and Columbia and Northwestern alumni proclaiming their path to the revolution.

This changed a bit in the late 1990s, when the ISO had recruited enough of us young people to start looking impressive. This was the ISO shell game–put enough pieces in place and maybe you can conjure a socialist movement with big enough numbers and large enough banners. Or as Hal Draper would say, you want there to be a socialist movement so you go about inventing one out of thin air, without realizing that this is not how a socialist movement is created at all.

The ISO played a better shell game than most, but at some point the game had to end and reality had to begin.

Scott Jay was a member of the International Socialist Organization in the SF Bay Area from 1997 – 2011.

The post What was the purpose of the ISO? appeared first on Infoshop News.

The Rough Road to Power: Comments on “Goodbye Revolution?”

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 03:48

via Black Rose Federation

By Patrick Berkman

A commentary by Patrick Berkman on the essay “Goodbye Revolution?” by Tim Horras which grapples with various debates around power and the path to socialist transformation.

In a new essay for Regeneration, Tim Horras examines just how fraught the alleged parliamentary roads to socialism are. Taking aim at debates within and around Jacobin and DSA, Horras goes after two general variants. The first is the suggestion that all we need to do is elect enough socialists, who will then be able to enact their platform and transition society away from capitalism:

The more sophisticated democratic socialist will grant that capitalist class power deforms the functions of government, but argue that the existing constitutional order is indestructible and/or a neutral, objective tool which can be made use of by any class. Thus, the existing state apparatus could be either used on behalf of the working class and the oppressed, or peacefully transformed from an apparatus of capitalist rule into an instrument of the working-class sovereignty. In other words, the idea is that if the Left wins enough elections to possess a majority in Congress, the capitalist state (with its courts, police, prisons and military) can then implement “full-throated democratic socialism” with the consent of “voters.” Thus, reformists generally posit a scenario whereby the capitalist class and their military and career civil service cede power in a relatively peaceful process to the working class majority.

To that Horras asks, “do we really think that the most powerful and ruthless ruling class
in human history will quietly acquiesce as they find their ill-gotten wealth
expropriated?” Ever since the dawn of the modern socialist movement those privileged few
at the top of capital and state have worked tirelessly to ensure that, by hook or by
crook, they hold onto their wealth and power. They won’t let a silly formality like
elections get in their way: socialists in power must either submit to the will of capital,
or bad things can happen.

The second variant critiqued is one that at least attempts to take seriously the real
problems of capital strike, intransigence and sabotage from the permanent state apparatus,
and violence from the armed forces and reactionary groups:

Immediately upon winning the election, capitalist resistance to the democratic mandate of
the masses begins: this could take the effect of juridical interference, capital strikes,
and violent fascist provocation.[…]

To their credit, left reformists do not try to minimize these problems. However, given
that their sole recourse to counterrevolution is mass mobilization and vague appeals to
the ability of “movements” to stymie the bloody tide of reaction. This is wishful thinking.

Mass mobilizations, broad popular support, and the weapon of the general strike certainly
ought to be tactics in the arsenal of any socialist movement. But in the face of the
ruling class’s trump card – a full-blown military coup d’etat – it is likely even these
powerful forces will prove insufficient without an armed and organized resistance. And
since these very same democratic socialists reject out of hand the possibility of
insurrection (and, presumably, also dispense with the need to make preparations today for
the eventuality of armed struggle), we are faced with the ironic prospect that democratic
socialists will not prepared to defend their own reforms.

If civil war is likely to be an inevitable component of the transition to socialism, our
movement must make every preparation necessary – psychologically and in practice – to
ensure that the forces of the working class and oppressed come out on top in such a contest.

Presenting an existential threat to the capitalist class is a deadly serious affair, and
historically, socialist parties in parliament have not been up to the task: “In the
context of a revolutionary situation, defensive measures will need to quickly pivot toward
an all-or-nothing struggle for power or else face utter annihilation. Halfway measures and
equivocation will lead us straight to the graveyard.”

The critique in this essay is thorough, well-reasoned, and worth a read.

However, after offering a compelling case against the parliamentary road to socialism,
Horras still leaves the door open to it, seemingly in spite of himself. Aside from citing
Lenin and writing that revolutionaries must “leap into political openings when they
present themselves,” no justification is offered. How “political openings” themselves are
identified is no straightforward matter, and depends on both real-world conditions and the
theories, analyses, and strategies that animate those of us examining them.

As anarchists we’ve concluded that the history of revolutionary socialist struggles points
to electoral and parliamentary engagements as methods that do not move us closer to
achieving a successful break with capitalism and the state, and indeed are actually
detrimental to that goal. Horras’ critique of socialists in power who have rejected armed
resistance to capital’s backlash (or rarely, those who have supported it weakly or
ineffectively) implies that this was a voluntary choice – that different socialists in
office could have done things better. But the demobilizing effects of parliamentarism are
baked into the project itself. As Rudolf Rocker, a one-time German SDP youth activist
expelled for criticizing the reformism of the party leadership, put it when he examined
socialist parties in Europe in the 1930s:

These very parties which had once set out to conquer Socialism saw themselves compelled by
the iron logic of conditions to sacrifice their Socialist convictions bit by bit to the
national policies of the state. They became, without the majority of their adherents ever
becoming aware of it, political lightning rods for the security of the capitalist social
order. The political power which they had wanted to conquer had gradually conquered their
Socialism until there was scarcely anything left of it.

The advancement and defense of the working class must be done by the working class itself:
those who wish to get beyond capitalism should firmly place electoralism among the many
other tactics and strategies the socialist movement has rightfully abandoned over the past
two centuries.

Patrick Berkman does graphics design work and is a member of Black Rose/Rosa Negra based
in Burlington, Vermont. The piece was originally published here.

The Rough Road to Power: Comments on “Goodbye Revolution?”

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The Anarchists Who Took the Commuter Train

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 04:43

via Longreads

Amanda Kolson Hurley | An excerpt from Radical Suburbs: Experimental Living on the Fringes of the American City | Belt Publishing | April 2019 | 19 minutes (4,987 words)

The Stelton colony in central New Jersey was founded in 1915. Humble cottages (some little more than shacks) and a smattering of public buildings ranged over a 140-acre tract of scrubland a few miles north of New Brunswick. Unlike America’s better-known  experimental settlements of the nineteenth century, rather than a refuge for a devout religious sect, Stelton was a hive of political radicals, where federal agents came snooping during the Red Scare of 1919-1920. But it was also a suburb, a community of people who moved out of the city for the sake of their children’s education and to enjoy a little land and peace. They were not even the first people to come to the area with the same idea: There was already a German socialist enclave nearby, called Fellowship Farm.

The founders of Stelton were anarchists. In the twenty-first century, the word “anarchism” evokes images of masked antifa facing off against neo-Nazis. What it meant in the early twentieth century was different, and not easily defined. The anarchist movement emerged in the mid-nineteenth century alongside Marxism, and the two were allied for a time before a decisive split in 1872. Anarchist leader Mikhail Bakunin rejected the authority of any state — even a worker-led state, as Marx envisioned — and therefore urged abstention from political engagement. Engels railed against this as a “swindle.”

But anarchism was less a coherent, unified ideology than a spectrum of overlapping beliefs, especially in the United States. Although some anarchists used violence to achieve their ends, like Leon Czolgosz, who assassinated President William McKinley in 1901, others opposed it. Many of the colonists at Stelton were influenced by the anarcho-pacifism of Leo Tolstoy and by the land-tax theory of Henry George. The most venerated hero was probably the Russian scientist-philosopher Peter Kropotkin, who argued that voluntary cooperation (“mutual aid”) was a fundamental drive of animals and humans, and opposed centralized government and state laws in favor of small, self-governing, voluntary associations such as communes and co-ops.

The Stelton colony revolved around its school, the Modern School. Leaders believed that education could free the young from fear and dogma. “We claim for the Modern School,” wrote colony co-founder Harry Kelly, “that the hope of the future lies in the ability of the rising generation to think and act independently without regard to the prejudices of the past.” It followed a theory of education not dissimilar from today’s “unschooling” movement. Arts and crafts was a main focus. The school’s longtime co-principals, Elizabeth and Alexis Ferm, believed that the best kind of education for a child was creative, active, and above all, self-directed. There were no formal hours or set lessons: school was life, life was school. A printer named Joseph Ishill had come to Stelton right after its founding and taught the children to set type and print on his old hand press. Under the Ferms, pupils continued to print their own magazine, Voice of the Children, and also did carpentry, weaving, pottery, and metal work. Each morning began with a song-and-dance circle, “Aunty” Ferm accompanying the children on the piano.

Jon Toreau Scott grew up in Stelton in the 1930s and ’40s. He didn’t learn to read until he was ten, but went on to become a professor of atmospheric science. “You could learn to read whenever you wanted to, you could play all day if you wanted to,” he told me. “You could go out and play in the brook, which is what I did. Ice skating, sled riding, hiking, swimming … That was the way it went.”


Heading to Stelton for the first time from my home in Maryland on a summer day, I cruised up the New Jersey Turnpike. The closer I got to New York, stands of pine trees gave way to warehouses, vast troughs of commerce where tractor-trailers lined up to feed. A few miles past the Joyce Kilmer Service Area, I turned off onto Route 18, following the curve of the Raritan River through New Brunswick. After skirting the campus of Rutgers University, the road crosses the river; then I forked right, onto Metlars Lane. I took another right onto Suttons Lane, passing a giant Rutgers parking lot topped by a canopy of solar panels, and saw the sign for School Street, once the spine of the Stelton colony.

School Street takes a dramatic couple of twists past a daycare center and around a cluster of modest vinyl-sided townhouses. Out of the corner of my eye, as I turned the wheel left and then right, I could already see what I’d come for. Two small houses — cottages, really — flicked by. The first was freshly stuccoed, but unmistakable for its boxy form and fat roof. The other was so unusual that I stopped and parked on the muddy verge of the road, which by this point had narrowed into a country lane.

Scrutiny of the anarchists intensified, and police began to infiltrate their meetings. The center’s leaders worried about the militants among their group poisoning the atmosphere for the children.

The window frames of the cottage were filigreed in patterns reminiscent of Art Nouveau, and some were painted a deep blue. The plaster on the walls had been sculpted into decorative reliefs. As I approached on foot, I could make them out: stylized flowers, a swan, and a man and woman in peasant clothes, he with an axe slung over his shoulder, both gazing hopefully into the distance. This was definitely Stelton. Where else in suburbia would you find this?

The cottage was once the home of Sam Goldman, a Russian Jewish painter and decorator, and his wife, Gusta, who ran a small dairy business on the property, selling raw milk and homemade cheese and butter. The house is still owned by Leo Goldman, Sam and Gusta’s younger son. “Jon Scott [the former science professor] was my best friend,” he recalled of his childhood. “His father was strictly anarchist, where my father was Communist. The parents didn’t get along, but Jon and I did. We did our thing.” Leo Goldman’s middle name is October; it was supposed to be October Revolution, but, he explained, “They wouldn’t allow my mother to put Revolution on the birth certificate, so it’s just October.”

Most of the Stelton colonists had originally met at the Ferrer Center, an anarchist association in New York. It was named for the Catalonian anarchist and educator Francisco Ferrer, who had set up a famous democratic school — la Escuela Moderna — in Barcelona and was executed by the Spanish authorities in 1909. Emma Goldman, the legendary anarchist firebrand “Red Emma,” was the guiding force behind the center, which hosted adult classes and lectures by the likes of Scopes-trial lawyer Clarence Darrow. In 1911, the Ferrer Center started a school for working-class children along the same lines as its namesake’s, first on East Twelfth Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and later in Harlem.

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Against the Logic of the Guillotine

Sat, 04/20/2019 - 13:33
Why the Paris Commune Burned the Guillotine—and We Should Too

via CrimethInc

148 years ago this week, on April 6, 1871, armed participants in the revolutionary Paris Commune seized the guillotine that was stored near the prison in Paris. They brought it to the foot of the statue of Voltaire, where they smashed it into pieces and burned it in a bonfire, to the applause of an immense crowd.1 This was a popular action arising from the grassroots, not a spectacle coordinated by politicians. At the time, the Commune controlled Paris, which was still inhabited by people of all classes; the French and Prussian armies surrounded the city and were preparing to invade it in order to impose the conservative Republican government of Adolphe Thiers. In these conditions, burning the guillotine was a brave gesture repudiating the Reign of Terror and the idea that positive social change can be achieved by slaughtering people.

“What?” you say, in shock, “The Communards burned the guillotine? Why on earth would they do that? I thought the guillotine was a symbol of liberation!”

Why indeed? If the guillotine is not a symbol of liberation, then why has it become such a standard motif for the radical left over the past few years? Why is the internet replete with guillotine memes? Why does The Coup sing “We got the guillotine, you better run”? The most popular socialist periodical is named Jacobin, after the original proponents of the guillotine. Surely this can’t all be just an ironic sendup of lingering right-wing anxieties about the French Revolution.

The guillotine has come to occupy our collective imagination. In a time when the rifts in our society are widening towards civil war, it represents uncompromising bloody revenge.

Those who take their own powerlessness for granted assume that they can promote gruesome revenge fantasies without consequences. But if we are serious about changing the world, we owe it to ourselves to make sure that our proposals are not equally gruesome.

A poster in Seattle, Washington. The quotation is from Karl Marx.


It’s not surprising that people want bloody revenge today. Capitalist profiteering is rapidly rendering the planet uninhabitable. US Border Patrol is kidnapping, drugging, and imprisoning children. Individual acts of racist and misogynist violence occur regularly. For many people, daily life is increasingly humiliating and disempowering.

Those who don’t desire revenge because they are not compassionate enough to be outraged about injustice or because they are simply not paying attention deserve no credit for this. There is less virtue in apathy than in the worst excesses of vengefulness.

Do I want to take revenge on the police officers who murder people with impunity, on the billionaires who cash in on exploitation and gentrification, on the bigots who harass and dox people? Yes, of course I do. They have killed people I knew; they are trying to destroy everything I love. When I think about the harm that they are causing, I feel ready to break their bones, to kill them with my bare hands.

But that desire is distinct from my politics. I can want something without having to reverse-engineer a political justification for it. I can want something and choose not to pursue it, if I want something else even more—in this case, an anarchist revolution that is not based in revenge. I don’t judge other people for wanting revenge, especially if they have been through worse than I have. But I also don’t confuse that desire with a proposal for liberation.

If the sort of bloodlust I describe scares you, or if it simply seems unseemly, then you absolutely have no business joking about other people carrying out industrialized murder on your behalf.

For this is what distinguishes the fantasy of the guillotine: it is all about efficiency and distance. Those who fetishize the guillotine don’t want to kill people with their bare hands; they aren’t prepared to rend anyone’s flesh with their teeth. They want their revenge automated and carried out for them. They are like the consumers who blithely eat Chicken McNuggets but could never personally butcher a cow or cut down a rainforest. They prefer for bloodshed to take place in an orderly manner, with all the paperwork filled out properly, according to the example set by the Jacobins and the Bolsheviks in imitation of the impersonal functioning of the capitalist state.

And one more thing: they don’t want to have to take responsibility for it. They prefer to express their fantasy ironically, retaining plausible deniability. Yet anyone who has ever participated actively in social upheaval knows how narrow the line can be between fantasy and reality. Let’s look at the “revolutionary” role the guillotine has played in the past.

“But revenge is unworthy of an anarchist! The dawn, our dawn, claims no quarrels, no crimes, no lies; it affirms life, love, knowledge; we work to hasten that day.”

-Kurt Gustav Wilckens—anarchist, pacifist, and assassin of Colonel Héctor Varela, the Argentine official who had overseen the slaughter of approximately 1500 striking workers in Patagonia.

A Very Brief History of the Guillotine

The guillotine is associated with radical politics because it was used in the original French Revolution to behead monarch Louis XVI on January 21, 1793, several months after his arrest. But once you open the Pandora’s box of exterminatory force, it’s difficult to close it again.

Having gotten started using the guillotine as an instrument of social change, Maximilien de Robespierre, sometime President of the Jacobin Club, continued employing it to consolidate power for his faction of the Republican government. As is customary for demagogues, Robespierre, Georges Danton, and other radicals availed themselves of the assistance of the sans-culottes, the angry poor, to oust the more moderate faction, the Girondists, in June 1793. (The Girondists, too, were Jacobins; if you love a Jacobin, the best thing you can do for him is to prevent his party from coming to power, since he is certain to be next up against the wall after you.) After guillotining the Girondists en masse, Robespierre set about consolidating power at the expense of Danton, the sans-culottes, and everyone else.

“The revolutionary government has nothing in common with anarchy. On the contrary, its goal is to suppress it in order to ensure and solidify the reign of law.”

Maximilien Robespierre, distinguishing his autocratic government from the more radical grassroots movements that helped to create the French Revolution.2

By early 1794, Robespierre and his allies had sent a great number of people at least as radical as themselves to the guillotine, including Anaxagoras Chaumette and the so-called Enragés, Jacques Hébert and the so-called Hébertists, proto-feminist and abolitionist Olympe de Gouges, Camille Desmoulins (who had had the gall to suggest to his childhood friend Robespierre that “love is stronger and more lasting than fear”)—and Desmoulins’s wife, for good measure, despite her sister having been Robespierre’s fiancée. They also arranged for the guillotining of Georges Danton and Danton’s supporters, alongside various other former allies. To celebrate all this bloodletting, Robespierre organized the Festival of the Supreme Being, a mandatory public ceremony inaugurating an invented state religion.3

“Here lies all of France,” reads the inscription on the tomb behind Robespierre in this political cartoon referencing all the executions he helped arrange.

After this, it was only a month and a half before Robespierre himself was guillotined, having exterminated too many of those who might have fought beside him against the counterrevolution. This set the stage for a period of reaction that culminated with Napoleon Bonaparte seizing power and crowning himself Emperor. According to the French Republican Calendar (an innovation that did not catch on, but was briefly reintroduced during the Paris Commune), Robespierre’s execution took place during the month of Thermidor. Consequently, the name Thermidor is forever associated with the onset of the counterrevolution.

“Robespierre killed the Revolution in three blows: the execution of Hébert, the execution of Danton, the Cult of the Supreme Being… The victory of Robespierre, far from saving it, would have meant only a more profound and irreparable fall.”

Louis-Auguste Blanqui, himself hardly an opponent of authoritarian violence.

But it is a mistake to focus on Robespierre. Robespierre himself was not a superhuman tyrant. At best, he was a zealous apparatchik who filled a role that countless revolutionaries were vying for, a role that another person would have played if he had not. The issue was systemic—the competition for centralized dictatorial power—not a matter of individual wrongdoing.

The tragedy of 1793-1795 confirms that whatever tool you use to bring about a revolution will surely be used against you. But the problem is not just the tool, it’s the logic behind it. Rather than demonizing Robespierre—or Lenin, Stalin, or Pol Pot—we have to examine the logic of the guillotine.

To a certain extent, we can understand why Robespierre and his contemporaries ended up relying on mass murder as a political tool. They were threatened by foreign military invasion, internal conspiracies, and counterrevolutionary uprisings; they were making decisions in an extremely high-stress environment. But if it is possible to understand how they came to embrace the guillotine, it is impossible to argue that all the killings were necessary to secure their position. Their own executions refute that argument eloquently enough.

Likewise, it is wrong to imagine that the guillotine was employed chiefly against the ruling class, even at the height of Jacobin rule. Being consummate bureaucrats, the Jacobins kept detailed records. Between June 1793 and the end of July 1794, 16,594 people were officially sentenced to death in France, including 2639 people in Paris. Of the formal death sentences passed under the Terror, only 8 percent were doled out to aristocrats and 6 percent to members of the clergy; the rest were divided between the middle class and the poor, with the vast majority of the victims coming from the lower classes.

The execution of Robespierre and his colleagues. Robespierre is identified by the number 10; sitting in the cart, he holds a handkerchief to his mouth, having been shot in the jaw during his capture.

The story that played out in the first French revolution was not a fluke. Half a century later, the French Revolution of 1848 followed a similar trajectory. In February, a revolution led by angry poor people gave Republican politicians state power; in June, when life under the new government turned out to be little better than life under the king, the people of Paris revolted once again and the politicians ordered the army to massacre them in the name of the revolution. This set the stage for the nephew of the original Napoleon to win the presidential election of December 1848, promising to “restore order.” Three years later, having exiled all the Republican politicians, Napoleon III abolished the Republic and crowned himself Emperor—prompting Marx’s famous quip that history repeats itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

Likewise, after the French revolution of 1870 put Adolphe Thiers in power, he ruthlessly butchered the Paris Commune, but this only paved the way for even more reactionary politicians to supplant him in 1873. In all three of these cases, we see how revolutionaries who are intent on wielding state power must embrace the logic of the guillotine to acquire it, and then, having brutally crushed other revolutionaries in hopes of consolidating control, are inevitably defeated by more reactionary forces.

In the 20th century, Lenin described Robespierre as a Bolshevik avant la lettre, affirming the Terror as an antecedent of the Bolshevik project. He was not the only person to draw that comparison.

“We’ll be our own Thermidor,” Bolshevik apologist Victor Serge recalls Lenin proclaiming as he prepared to butcher the rebels of Kronstadt. In other words, having crushed the anarchists and everyone else to the left of them, the Bolsheviks would survive the reaction by becoming the counterrevolution themselves. They had already reintroduced fixed hierarchies into the Red Army in order to recruit former Tsarist officers to join it; alongside their victory over the insurgents in Kronstadt, they reintroduced the free market and capitalism, albeit under state control. Eventually Stalin assumed the position once occupied by Napoleon.

So the guillotine is not an instrument of liberation. This was already clear in 1795, well over a century before the Bolsheviks initiated their own Terror, nearly two centuries before the Khmer Rouge exterminated almost a quarter of the population of Cambodia.

Why, then, has the guillotine come back into fashion as a symbol of resistance to tyranny? The answer to this will tell us something the psychology of our time.

Fetishizing the Violence of the State

It is shocking that even today, radicals would associate themselves with the Jacobins, a tendency that was reactionary by the end of 1793. But the explanation isn’t hard to work out. Then, as now, there are people who want to think of themselves as radical without having to actually make a radical break with the institutions and practices that are familiar to them. “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living,” as Marx said.

If—to use Max Weber’s famous definition—an aspiring government qualifies as representing the state by achieving a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory, then one of the most persuasive ways it can demonstrate its sovereignty is to wield lethal force with impunity. This explains the various reports to the effect that public beheadings were observed as festive or even religious occasions during the French Revolution. Before the Revolution, beheadings were affirmations of the sacred authority of the monarch; during the Revolution, when the representatives of the Republic presided over executions, this confirmed that they held sovereignty—in the name of The People, of course. “Louis must die so that the nation may live,” Robespierre had proclaimed, seeking to sanctify the birth of bourgeois nationalism by literally baptizing it in the blood of the previous social order. Once the Republic was inaugurated on these grounds, it required continuous sacrifices to affirm its authority.

Here we see the essence of the state: it can kill, but it cannot give life. As the concentration of political legitimacy and coercive force, it can do harm, but it cannot establish the kind of positive freedom that individuals experience when they are grounded in mutually supportive communities. It cannot create the kind of solidarity that gives rise to harmony between people. What we use the state to do to others, others can use the state to do to us—as Robespierre experienced—but no one can use the coercive apparatus of the state for the cause of liberation.

For radicals, fetishizing the guillotine is just like fetishizing the state: it means celebrating an instrument of murder that will always be used chiefly against us.

Those who have been stripped of a positive relationship to their own agency often look around for a surrogate to identify with—a leader whose violence can stand in for the revenge they desire as a consequence of their own powerlessness. In the Trump era, we are all well aware of what this looks like among disenfranchised proponents of far-right politics. But there are also people who feel powerless and angry on the left, people who desire revenge, people who want to see the state that has crushed them turned against their enemies.

Reminding “tankies” of the atrocities and betrayals state socialists perpetrated from 1917 on is like calling Trump racist and sexist. Publicizing the fact that Trump is a serial sexual assaulter only made him more popular with his misogynistic base; likewise, the blood-drenched history of authoritarian party socialism can only make it more appealing to those who are chiefly motivated by the desire to identify with something powerful.

Anarchists in the Trump Era

Now that the Soviet Union has been defunct for almost 30 years—and owing to the difficulty of receiving firsthand perspectives from the exploited Chinese working class—many people in North America experience authoritarian socialism as an entirely abstract concept, as distant from their lived experience as mass executions by guillotine. Desiring not only revenge but also a deus ex machina to rescue them from both the nightmare of capitalism and the responsibility to create an alternative to it themselves, they imagine the authoritarian state as a champion that could fight on their behalf. Recall what George Orwell said of the comfortable British Stalinist writers of the 1930s in his essay “Inside the Whale”:

“To people of that kind such things as purges, secret police, summary executions, imprisonment without trial etc., etc., are too remote to be terrifying. They can swallow totalitarianism because they have no experience of anything except liberalism.”

Punishing the Guilty

“Trust visions that don’t feature buckets of blood.”

-Jenny Holzer

By and large, we tend to be more aware of the wrongs committed against us than we are of the wrongs we commit against others. We are most dangerous when we feel most wronged, because we feel most entitled to pass judgment, to be cruel. The more justified we feel, the more careful we ought to be not to replicate the patterns of the justice industry, the assumptions of the carceral state, the logic of the guillotine. Again, this does not justify inaction; it is simply to say that we must proceed most critically precisely when we feel most righteous, lest we assume the role of our oppressors.

When we see ourselves as fighting against specific human beings rather than social phenomena, it becomes more difficult to recognize the ways that we ourselves participate in those phenomena. We externalize the problem as something outside ourselves, personifying it as an enemy that can be sacrificed to symbolically cleanse ourselves. Yet what we do to the worst of us will eventually be done to the rest of us.

As a symbol of vengeance, the guillotine tempts us to imagine ourselves standing in judgment, anointed with the blood of the wicked. The Christian economics of righteousness and damnation is essential to this tableau. On the contrary, if we use it to symbolize anything, the guillotine should remind us of the danger of becoming what we hate. The best thing would be to be able to fight without hatred, out of an optimistic belief in the tremendous potential of humanity.

Often, all it takes to be able to cease to hate a person is to succeed in making it impossible for him to pose any kind of threat to you. When someone is already in your power, it is contemptible to kill him. This is the crucial moment for any revolution, the moment when the revolutionaries have the opportunity to take gratuitous revenge, to exterminate rather than simply to defeat. If they do not pass this test, their victory will be more ignominious than any failure.

The worst punishment anyone could inflict on those who govern and police us today would be to compel them to live in a society in which everything they’ve done is regarded as embarrassing—for them to have to sit in assemblies in which no one listens to them, to go on living among us without any special privileges in full awareness of the harm they have done. If we fantasize about anything, let us fantasize about making our movements so strong that we will hardly have to kill anyone to overthrow the state and abolish capitalism. This is more becoming of our dignity as partisans of liberation.

It is possible to be committed to revolutionary struggle by all means necessary without holding life cheap. It is possible to eschew the sanctimonious moralism of pacifism without thereby developing a cynical lust for blood. We need to develop the ability to wield force without ever mistaking power over others for our true objective, which is to collectively create the conditions for the freedom of all.

“That humanity might be redeemed from revenge: that is for me the bridge to the highest hope and a rainbow after lashing storms.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche (not himself a partisan of liberation, but one of the foremost theorists of the hazards of vengefulness)

Communards burning the guillotine as a “servile instrument of monarchist domination” at the foot of the statue of Voltaire in Paris on April 6, 1871.

Instead of the Guillotine

Of course, it’s pointless to appeal to the better nature of our oppressors until we have succeeded in making it impossible for them to benefit from oppressing us. The question is how to accomplish that.

Apologists for the Jacobins will protest that, under the circumstances, at least some bloodletting was necessary to advance the revolutionary cause. Practically all of the revolutionary massacres in history have been justified on the grounds of necessity—that’s how people always justify massacres. Even if some bloodletting were necessary, that it is still no excuse to cultivate bloodlust and entitlement as revolutionary values. If we wish to wield coercive force responsibly when there is no other choice, we should cultivate a distaste for it.

Have mass killings ever helped us advance our cause? Certainly, the comparatively few executions that anarchists have carried out—such as the killings of pro-fascist clergy during the Spanish Civil War—have enabled our enemies to depict us in the worst light, even if they are responsible for ten thousand times as many murders. Reactionaries throughout history have always disingenuously held revolutionaries to a double standard, forgiving the state for murdering civilians by the million while taking insurgents to task for so much as breaking a window. The question is not whether they have made us popular, but whether they have a place in a project of liberation. If we seek transformation rather than conquest, we ought to appraise our victories according to a different logic than the police and militaries we confront.

This is not an argument against the use of force. Rather, it is a question about how to employ it without creating new hierarchies, new forms of systematic oppression.

A taxonomy of revolutionary violence.

The image of the guillotine is propaganda for the kind of authoritarian organization that can avail itself of that particular tool. Every tool implies the forms of social organization that are necessary to employ it. In his memoir, Bash the Rich, Class War veteran Ian Bone quotes Angry Brigade member John Barker to the effect that “petrol bombs are far more democratic than dynamite,” suggesting that we should analyze every tool of resistance in terms of how it structures power. Critiquing the armed struggle model adopted by hierarchical authoritarian groups in Italy in the 1970s, Alfredo Bonanno and other insurrectionists emphasized that liberation could only be achieved via horizontal, decentralized, and participatory methods of resistance.

“It is impossible to make the revolution with the guillotine alone. Revenge is the antechamber of power. Anyone who wants to avenge themselves requires a leader. A leader to take them to victory and restore wounded justice.”

-Alfredo Bonanno, Armed Joy

Together, a rioting crowd can defend an autonomous zone or exert pressure on authorities without need of hierarchical centralized leadership. Where this becomes impossible—when society has broken up into two distinct sides that are fully prepared to slaughter each other via military means—one may no longer speak of revolution, but only of war. The premise of revolution is that subversion can spread across the lines of enmity, destabilizing fixed positions, undermining the allegiances and assumptions that underpin authority. We should never hurry to make the transition from revolutionary ferment to warfare. Doing so usually forecloses possibilities rather than expanding them.

As a tool, the guillotine takes for granted that it is impossible to transform one’s relations with the enemy, only to abolish them. What’s more, the guillotine assumes that the victim is already completely within the power of the people who employ it. By contrast with the feats of collective courage we have seen people achieve against tremendous odds in popular uprisings, the guillotine is a weapon for cowards.

By refusing to slaughter our enemies wholesale, we hold open the possibility that they might one day join us in our project of transforming the world. Self-defense is necessary, but wherever we can, we should take the risk of leaving our adversaries alive. Not doing so guarantees that we will be no better than the worst of them. From a military perspective, this is a handicap; but if we truly aspire to revolution, it is the only way.

Liberate, not Exterminate

“To give hope to the many oppressed and fear to the few oppressors, that is our business; if we do the first and give hope to the many, the few must be frightened by their hope. Otherwise, we do not want to frighten them; it is not revenge we want for poor people, but happiness; indeed, what revenge can be taken for all the thousands of years of the sufferings of the poor?”

-William Morris, “How We Live and How We Might Live

So we repudiate the logic of the guillotine. We don’t want to exterminate our enemies. We don’t think the way to create harmony is to subtract everyone who does not share our ideology from the world. Our vision is a world in which many worlds fit, as Subcomandante Marcos put it—a world in which the only thing that is impossible is to dominate and oppress.

Anarchism is a proposal for everyone regarding how we might go about improving our lives—workers and unemployed people, people of all ethnicities and genders and nationalities or lack thereof, paupers and billionaires alike. The anarchist proposal is not in the interests of one currently existing group against another: it is not a way to enrich the poor at the expense of the rich, or to empower one ethnicity, nationality, or religion at others’ expense. That entire way of thinking is part of what we are trying to escape. All of the “interests” that supposedly characterize different categories of people are products of the prevailing order and must be transformed along with it, not preserved or pandered to.

From our perspective, even the topmost positions of wealth and power that are available in the existing order are worthless. Nothing that capitalism and the state have to offer are of any value to us. We propose anarchist revolution on the grounds that it could finally fulfill longings that the prevailing social order will never satisfy: the desire to be able to provide for oneself and one’s loved ones without doing so at anyone else’s expense, the wish to be valued for one’s creativity and character rather than for how much profit one can generate, the longing to structure one’s life around what is profoundly joyous rather than according to the imperatives of competition.

We propose that everyone now living could get along—if not well, then at least better—if we were not forced to compete for power and resources in the zero-sum games of politics and economics.

Leave it to anti-Semites and other bigots to describe the enemy as a type of people, to personify everything they fear as the Other. Our adversary is not a kind of human being, but the form of social relations that imposes antagonism between people as the fundamental model for politics and economics. Abolishing the ruling class does not mean guillotining everyone who currently owns a yacht or penthouse; it means making it impossible for anyone to systematically wield coercive power over anyone else. As soon as that is impossible, no yacht or penthouse will sit empty long.

As for our immediate adversaries—the specific human beings who are determined to maintain the prevailing order at all costs—we aspire to defeat them, not to exterminate them. However selfish and rapacious they appear, at least some of their values are similar to ours, and most of their errors—like our own—arise from their fears and weaknesses. In many cases, they oppose the proposals of the Left precisely because of what is internally inconsistent in them—for example, the idea of bringing about the fellowship of humanity by means of violent coercion.

Even when we are engaged in pitched physical struggle with our adversaries, we ought to maintain a profound faith in their potential, for we hope to live in different relations with them one day. As aspiring revolutionaries, this hope is our most precious resource, the foundation of everything we do. If revolutionary change is to spread throughout society and across the world, those we fight today will have to be fighting alongside us tomorrow. We do not preach conversion by the sword, nor do we imagine that we will persuade our adversaries in some abstract marketplace of ideas; rather, we aim to interrupt the ways that capitalism and the state currently reproduce themselves while demonstrating the virtues of our alternative inclusively and contagiously. There are no shortcuts when it comes to lasting change.

Precisely because it is sometimes necessary to employ force in our conflicts with the defenders of the prevailing order, it is especially important that we never lose sight of our aspirations, our compassion, and our optimism. When we are compelled to use coercive force, the only possible justification is that it is a necessary step towards creating a better world for everyone—including our enemies, or at least their children. Otherwise, we risk becoming the next Jacobins, the next defilers of the revolution.

“The only real revenge we could possibly have would be by our own efforts to bring ourselves to happiness.”

-William Morris, in response to calls for revenge for police attacks on demonstrations in Trafalgar Square

Voltaire applauding the burning the guillotine during the Paris Commune.

Appendix: The Beheaded

The guillotine did not end its career with the conclusion of the first French Revolution, nor when it was burned during the Paris Commune. In fact, it was used in France as a means for the state to carry out capital punishment right up to 1977. One of the last women guillotined in France was executed for providing abortions. The Nazis guillotined about 16,500 people between 1933 and 1945—the same number of people killed during the peak of the Terror in France.

A few victims of the guillotine:

  • Ravachol (born François Claudius Koenigstein), anarchist
  • Auguste Vaillant, anarchist
  • Emile Henry, anarchist
  • Sante Geronimo Caserio, anarchist
  • Raymond Caillemin, Étienne Monier and André Soudy, all anarchist participants in the so-called Bonnot Gang
  • Mécislas Charrier, anarchist
  • Felice Orsini, who attempted to assassinate Napoleon III
  • Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst—members of Die Weisse Rose, an underground anti-Nazi youth organization active in Munich 1942-1943.
Emile Henry.

Sante Geronimo Caserio.

André Soudy, Edouard Carouy, Octave Garnier, Etienne Monier.

Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst.

“I am an anarchist. We have been hanged in Chicago, electrocuted in New York, guillotined in Paris and strangled in Italy, and I will go with my comrades. I am opposed to your Government and to your authority. Down with them. Do your worst. Long live Anarchy.”

Chummy Fleming

Further Reading

The Guillotine At Work, GP Maximoff

  1. As reported in the official journal of the Paris Commune:

    “On Thursday, at nine o’clock in the morning, the 137th battalion, belonging to the eleventh arrondissement, went to Rue Folie-Mericourt; they requisitioned and took the guillotine, broke the hideous machine into pieces, and burned it to the applause of an immense crowd.

    “They burned it at the foot of the statue of the defender of Sirven and Calas, the apostle of humanity, the precursor of the French Revolution, at the foot of the statue of Voltaire.”

    This had been announced earlier in the following proclamation:


    “We have been informed of the construction of a new type of guillotine that was commissioned by the odious government [i.e., the conservative Republican government under Adolphe Thiers]—one that it is easier to transport and speedier. The Sub-Committee of the 11th Arrondissement has ordered the seizure of these servile instruments of monarchist domination and has voted that they be destroyed once and forever. They will therefore be burned at 10 o’clock on April 6, 1871, on the Place de la Mairies, for the purification of the Arrondissement and the consecration of our new freedom.” 

  2. As we have argued elsewhere, fetishizing “the rule of law” often serves to legitimize atrocities that would otherwise be perceived as ghastly and unjust. History shows again and again how centralized government can perpetrate violence on a much greater scale than anything that arises in “unorganized chaos.” 
  3. Nauseatingly, at least one contributor to Jacobin magazine has even attempted to rehabilitate this precursor to the worst excesses of Stalinism, pretending that a state-mandated religion could be preferable to authoritarian atheism. The alternative to both authoritarian religions and authoritarian ideologies that promote Islamophobia and the like is not for an authoritarian state to impose a religion of its own, but to build grassroots solidarity across political and religious lines in defense of freedom of conscience. 


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Steal Something from Work Day 2019! Three Epic Tales of Workplace Resistance

Sat, 04/20/2019 - 07:37

via Crimethinc

This year, to observe Steal Something from Work Day, we present three stories of ordinary workplace resistance. In the first, an employer seeking to cheat minimum-wage employees is outsmarted by an employee who secretly evens the score for the workers. In the second, a proponent of healthy eating smuggles a crucial implement out of a high-security situation. In the last one, a Steal Something from Work Day epic, two low-wage workers—one dressed as “McGruff the Crime Dog“—sneak into a hockey game in a surrealistic example of what our exploiters call “time theft.” We take great joy in celebrating the everyday heroism and good humor with which workers stand up for themselves and assert their dignity in the face of a dehumanizing system.

Employers see workplace theft as a major threat to their profits, if not to the stability of the order that enables them to profit. Traditional doctrinaire socialists ignore it or regard it as a pressure valve that ensures the continued functioning of capitalism, alleging that rather than organizing for the revolutionary seizure of the means of production, employee thieves try to solve their problems on an individual basis.

But we should approach workplace theft as a point of departure for a better world. This widespread phenomenon illustrates how many people don’t actually buy into the social constructs that sustain the current order. Even if theft does play a role in the continued functioning of capitalism—for example, by sustaining workers who could not subsist on their meager salaries alone—it can only serve that function if it takes place in secret, individualistically. When we celebrate it, when we create public forums in which to compare notes and reinforce the shared conviction that we all deserve better than this, we transform isolated acts of rebellion and survival into a basis for the kind of collective revolt that can never be reintegrated into the preservation of the status quo.

We honor the courage of those who refuse to be exploited, of those who seek to even the score. Let’s find each other and take action together.

Click the image to download the PDF. Correcting Disparities

I live on the border of two states with extremely different minimum wage laws. I worked for a company that moved over the border from the state with the higher (though still not sufficient) minimum wage to the other state. We were able to keep our jobs but we had to take a pay cut. Meanwhile, the boss bought a new house in California and kept her house here as well.

During the process of the move, I happened to find a Post-It note with the admin credentials to the payroll system. Every week for the few months I stayed on after the move, I gave myself and my coworkers a few extra hours of pay to make up for the money they were trying to save.

Nothing happened to me. And it felt like a good deed.

I just wanted to share my story for Steal Something from Work Day.

Liquidating the Bourgeoisie

The morning smoothie is an important tradition at our house. Some grocery stores in our town donate food they would otherwise throw away to the church up the street, and if you get there at the end of distribution process you can lay claim to whatever is left over before it becomes hog food. This gives us access to vast amounts of fruit, which is all well on its way out by the time we get our hands on it. To preserve what’s left, we dehydrate and freeze all we can salvage. The morning smoothie is a joyous celebration of this bounty.

Of course, this plan relies on one piece of essential equipment: the blender. And there came a time when our blender’s future was in question. It had served us dutifully and well; many a frozen banana had met a cruel fate in its gnashing maw. But its time had come to pass on to Valhalla, where it would chew strawberries thrice the size of those in our mortal realm all day and be lovingly soaped and rinsed by Valkyries all night. We all saw its end coming—we could hear the gears grinding. But miserly bunch that we were, we were leaving our next blender—and therefore the future of our house culture—to luck, the invisible hand of the Really Really Free market, or our own future cunning.

At the time, I worked on a ship and was finishing a two-month stint away from home. The day I was leaving was chaotic: we were receiving a truckload of new supplies and preparing for the next voyage. Typically, when we load supplies, we form a human chain and pass boxes deep into the bowels of the ship. On this day, I was located in the part of the chain where I was passing thirty-pound boxes of engine parts past the door to the galley (that’s ship talk for kitchen).

In plain view, on the counter, mere feet away, was the blender.

To protect the identity of this machine, lets call it the NutriStir. I had watched this sleek example of engineering prowess do things our warrior back home could only dream of. At home, we’d present our blender with a daunting task and often it would need assistance to accomplish the feats we asked of it. We’d have to stop it, stir the contents around, fish them out, chop them finer, and generally give the old battle-scarred veteran a leg up. The NutriStir, by contrast, made quick work of everything thrown into it. I had never see it even twitch at a job, no matter how formidable. If we had a blender like that, I thought to myself, our lives would be revolutionized.

Now, it’s common knowledge in shoplifters’ lore that it isn’t a good idea to steal from a place you can’t escape from. Trains, airports, ferries, and the like don’t offer you a way out; you’re in a closed population of suspects if suspicions arise. I admit it: despite knowing that it’s a bad idea, I love stealing from these places. These closed environments enable our exploiters to charge us exorbitantly more than they could if we had alternatives. I’m offended by these case studies in capitalist logic.

That said, it’s especially dangerous to steal on a boat. And a blender is not a small item: I couldn’t just pocket it and walk away. To get it to my room, for instance, I’d have to pass through many different spaces full of my coworkers, some of whom I knew I couldn’t trust, and into a room I shared with two other people. In only a few hours, I would leave the boat to catch my bus out. I thought about it all day, but no solution occurred to me. In my experience, a good theft demands either meticulous planning or a lightning flash of opportunity.

But then I was tasked with taking care of a stack of dirty towels.

In order to get to the laundry room, I had to pass by the galley. Looking through the doorway, I saw that it was empty. I ducked in and threw the towels over the coveted blender. Then I washed my hands in the sink so I would have an excuse if someone had seen me walk into the galley and happened to follow me in. In what felt like a slick move but probably looked extremely awkward, I picked up the towels and unplugged the blender underneath them. I carried my bounty to the laundry room and set down the heap in the corner, hoping to return before anyone else went to put them in the washer.

Then it was time to leave the boat. I packed my bags and said my goodbyes. My hidden treasure lay in the last room I would pass through on my way out. I was hoping to walk in, deftly put the blender in my backpack, and be on my way with no one the wiser.

An empty room would have been ideal. But one of my coworkers, a notable slacker, was hiding in the laundry room watching videos on his phone to avoid working. I hadn’t really come with an excuse prepared, nor could I imagine one that would make sense. “Oh, just left a sock in this pile of dirty towels.” “I can’t find my charger, so I’m checking everywhere.” I could gamble on trusting my coworker, but it was a gamble I didn’t want to take.

“Hi,” I said. He had headphones in and didn’t lift his eyes from his phone.

Often on boats, there is very little privacy. To cope with those conditions, we create our own little bubbles and focus on whatever tiny spaces of mental freedom we can arrange. In the crew lounge, it’s not uncommon to see one person watching a loud movie while another is intently reading and yet another is having a phone conversation a few feet away. I walked in, sorted through the towels, stuffed the blender in my backpack, and walked out. I feel confident my coworker didn’t even register that I had entered the room.

I arrived home victorious and proud. We had the nicest blender on our block. It effortlessly minced concoctions that would have destroyed our previous blender. It’s been well over a year since I brought home this new addition to our family, and I get a tinge of joy every time I hear it grinding away.

Sometimes I wonder what they thought when they discovered that the NutriStir was missing. There weren’t many places it could have gone. There really was no logical explanation other than what happened. Despite the fact that gossip on ships spreads fast and inflates fairly benign dramas to extraordinary levels, I never heard a word about it. I think the most likely answer is that they saw that it wasn’t there, pulled out a spare, and went on with the workday.

Our blender likely has a few years left in it. But if it starts to falter, the ship I work on now has an even nicer blender, waiting to be liberated.

When life gives you lemons… get revenge.

McGruff the Steal Your Time Back Dog

The National Museum of Crime and Punishment. I was an anarchist working at the National Museum of Crime and fucking Punishment.

Don’t let the name fool you. Though located in Washington, DC, it wasn’t a “national” museum in the same sense as the Smithsonian—it was a private collection of chintzy memorabilia and copaganda. The museum exhibited a life-size prison cell, a self-directed polygraph test, and a chronology of the evolution of crowd control weapons—cheap exhibits that could only fascinate a class of people entirely unacquainted with police and carceral violence… and as luck would have it, that’s precisely the class of people who could afford the $25 admission! The crime section of the museum actually had some cool stuff—daring prison breaks, bank robberies, piracy old and new, and no less than a dozen anarchists scattered throughout. But that’s not what the bootlicker clientele came for. The big hits were the police training simulators, “The Cop Shop” (the gift shop—apart from the lobby, the only part of the museum free to the public), and last but, by definition, not least, the America’s Most Wanted television studio.

So what the fuck was an anarchist like myself doing there? It wasn’t because it paid well, that’s for sure.

“Actors! Looking to build your resume? Need a job with a flexible schedule? A new, one-of-a-kind museum is coming to Washington, DC and we are looking for ACTORS to help promote it. Commission bonuses available!”

The Craigslist ad was for actors. I had recently aged out of a youth-empowerment/anti-oppression theater group1 that had changed my life and I was looking to fill the void its absence left in me.

I even did a half hour of diction exercises before the interview, not knowing if there would be a proper audition as well. As it turned out, the “acting” they needed was dressing up either in an orange prison jumpsuit or as McGruff the Crime Dog in order to draw tourists over to a coupon-monger. The coupons were for a discount of one dollar. One miserable dollar from the twenty-five dollar admission. In other words, touristy bullshit—definitely not acting. But hey, I needed the money, y’know, “until something better comes along.” Jobs are such shit. An endless impotent vow to myself to never again suffer that kind of humiliation just gives way to a readjustment (read: lowering) of expectations and self-worth. What else can one do? No, that’s not a rhetorical question. What else? That is the most important question our generation has to answer.2

But hey, at least I wasn’t the only sucker. A friend of mine—who I’ll call Zoe—from the youth-empowerment theater group also showed up, thinking, like we all did, that it was a more dignified résumé-builder than dressing up as a prisoner or McGruff the fucking Crime Dog.

The museum opened right before summer, which is the big tourist season in DC, but it was already sweltering. DC residents like to say the city was built on top of a swamp—hence the “drain the swamp” chant. That’s a myth, but it’s believable, given how insanely humid it gets.

On one particularly moist and muggy afternoon, I was handing out coupons while Zoe, dressed as McGruff, worked the passing pedestrians on the street. There were legions of them because, just a block away, the hometown hockey team was playing in the Stanley Cup semifinals. White suburbanites, sweating in their Capitals jerseys, rushed past us to get to the game, without time or attention to spare for my half-hearted sales pitch. The few that did engage with us were mostly drunk and exclusively stopped to challenge McGruff to a fight.

Why, you ask? During this time, there was a viral news story about an uptown MetroBus driver who, seeing a cop dressed as McGruff, stopped his bus, stepped out, and socked the crime-fighting mascot. The bizarre part of the story is that there wasn’t much more to it than that. No past grudges, not even much of an explanation—just plain old prole-on-police violence. What’s not to love?

As a result, when my coworker worked as McGruff (I unequivocally refused to ever do so), jokers would often approach and say something to the effect that “he oughta watch out.” Normally, it was easy enough to laugh this off and move on, but it was a different story when a crowd of drunken hockey goons began to form around my friend. Breaking character, Zoe took the head off: “I am so over this.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry about these bozos.”

“Nah, I don’t care about them. It’s this damn costume. I’m sweating like a bama up in here and I can’t even get the fan to work. I feel like I’m gonna faint.”

McGruff’s head was wired with a fan that worked exactly 0% of the time that I was employed at the National Museum of Crime and Punishment.

“Damn. Yeah, just leave the head off. And if you want I could try getting you some ice from Chipot—”

Stop. The air dropped out of my voice and my eyes went wild. The gears of scheming began to turn in my head. You could say I froze…like… ice.

Ice. Cool. Cold. Ice. Rink. Hockey. Hockey! ICE. HOCKEY. Arena. Sitting. Cold cool sitting. Arena. Mascots. MASCOTS! MCGRUFF!!!

“No, wait, fuck that, I bet we could get into that hockey game with the McGruff costume.”

Had it been any other coworker, I don’t think I would have just come out with it. But Zoe and I had been through the theater group together. We came from really different backgrounds and parts of the city, but we had talked about deep shit together—race, oppression, growing up. Still, up to that point, we had never been bad together. My intuition told me that our shared capacity to communicate, both with and without words (for all good actors know that language is not just what we say, but how we say it), would make us good at being bad.

“Oh my god, you really think so?” She didn’t miss a beat. That’s how I knew she was down.

“Definitely. I mean, not legitimately, but…”

“Let’s do it.”

“The only thing is Matt and Laura…”

Matt and Laura. Matt and fucking Laura: our managers. About once per shift, one of them would find us on the street and “check up on us,” pretending like they were seeing if we “needed anything,” but both parties knew they were making sure we weren’t stealing back time while on the clock. If they rolled through and couldn’t find us, we’d have to sit through some patronizing interrogation. Fuck Matt and Laura.

“Fuck Matt and Laura. Oh wait, shit.”


Matt’s voice startled me and I whipped around a little too fast. Did I betray our coworkerly conspiring? Is there a fucking YouTube channel or something where managers watch tutorials about how to creep up on you out of nowhere? They’re all so fucking good at it.

“Hey you two! Just wanted to check up and see if you needed anything!”

My eyes blurred, tearing up with all the effort it took to keep them from rolling. Luckily, it was a bright day, and my look came off more like a sun-squint than a glower.

“Oh, yeah, we’re all good.”

Laura piped in: “Looks like you’re doing a great job out here. Zoe, one thing, the McGruff costume just doesn’t work without the head, I know it’s hot, but maybe you could just stand in the shade?”

We were saving all the shade for you, Laura.

When my eyes came back into focus, I realized Matt and Laura were both wearing Capitals’ jerseys.

“So glad we bumped into you two. We won’t be back for a couple hours, so if you need anything just talk to Brock, ok? Keep up the great work!”

Brock, the security guard. Brock the Pet Rock, as we called him behind his back. The name had as much to do with his stone-cold demeanor as with the fact that the man barely ever moved. Neither before nor since have I met someone so apparently content to stare, for hours, straight across a gift shop lobby. We didn’t have to worry about Brock. And we no longer needed to worry about Matt or Laura—they’d be occupied… inside the very fucking place we were about to sneak into, oh shit!

Zoe apparently just didn’t give a fuck. Reasonable, given that the stadium was full of thousands of other people to blend in with—and the job sucked. I was a little nervous now, though.


“What?” Zoe asked.

“This feels risky, yo. Matt and Laura are going to be in there.”

“Yeah, but so are twenty thousand other people.”

“Still feels risky. Let’s take a break and think it over.”

With a silent nod to Pet Brock, we were back in the museum soaking in the AC. It was slow inside. Barely any customers. Zoe hit the break room, but I took advantage of the empty museum to admire the crime exhibits on my own. Bandits, outlaws, escapees: I was surrounded by some of life’s greatest risk takers. Compared to their escapades, sneaking into a sports game was small potatoes. But what was the payoff? The criminals whose stories and memorabilia surrounded me (the ones I took inspiration from, at least) were after a life of riches and adventure, or else fighting for their freedom. Me, I was just trying to kill time.

“Maybe we shouldn’t…” I thought, “Zoe will be disappointed, but to be honest, I kind of need this job.” The pay was shit, but a couple of weeks without it, while searching for a new gig, would have really set me back.

From an enlarged mugshot, Emma Goldman abruptly butted in: “Puritanism is based on the Calvinistic idea that life is a curse, man must do constant penance, must repudiate every natural and healthy impulse, and turn his back on joy and beauty. Our life is stunted by Puritanism, and the latter is killing what is natural and healthy in our impulses.”

“So, uh, what you’re saying is I should skip work and try sneaking into this game… because it could be joyous and beautiful?”

Silence. I walked on, glancing back at Emma’s motionless face. She was still icily staring down her captors. Calvinistic Puritanism?

As I passed the “Great Trials in American History” section, Albert Parsons addressed me from the Haymarket panel:

“Break this two-fold yoke in twain!
Break thy want’s enslaving chain!
Break thy slavery’s want and dread;
Bread is freedom, freedom bread!”

“Okaay… thanks Albert, but I’m all good on bread. Always plenty in the dumpster. But, uh, that was a very inspiring verse. Thanks. Though to be completely honest I’m not really deciding between freedom and slavery, I’m just trying to figure out whether to sneak into this hockey game.”

On the gallows, next to Parsons, George Engel interjected, “As water and air are free to all, so should the inventions of scientific men be applied for the benefit of all!”

“Right… but, like, you mean hockey arenas?”

No reply.

I ambled on through the museum, lost in contemplation. Was this decision so important that the legends of anarchist history felt the need to speak up from beyond the grave and compel me to disobedience and crime? As I mulled it over, I didn’t even realize I was wandering into the “punishment” part of the museum, until I bumped into the glass perimeter. It was the studio of America’s Most Wanted.

Displayed behind the glass were the program’s biggest “busts.” The first one to catch my eye was Sarah Jane Olson. I recognized her immediately because we had celebrated the good news of her recent release at our infoshop’s last political prisoner letter-writing night. Olson did time for charges stemming from Symbionese Liberation Army actions in the 1970s, but she had lived underground for decades afterwards—even volunteering at the Arise! bookstore and infoshop in Minneapolis.

“There you are!”

Zoe. Right. Shit.

“I’ve been looking all over for you, I even asked Brock. Come on, he’s gonna snitch us out if we stay on break much longer.”

“Right. So, back to work or…?”

“What? What about the game? Or are you starting to feel sketchy about it?”

“Well, I was just thinking…”

The glass began to shake. Sarah Jane Olson’s voice broke through, shattering my inhibitions. “I’m with you, and we are with you!” The voices of all our freedom-loving, law-defying, boss-hating forebears rang out, filling the hall with an eerie, deafening hum. As the hum got louder, it filled me with determination. It wasn’t courage—for I was still scared of getting caught—but now I was determined not to live a life of fear, subjugated to the clock and the Sisyphean scam of earning commission. Then the janitor switched off the vacuum.

“Excuse me. I need to get that spot you’re standing in.”

“Oh, right, sorry. We were just leaving.”

Out of the television studio, back through the prison cell replica, past Parsons and the gang, past Emma Goldman, whose eyes, I swear, changed from icy refusal to pedagogical approval as we passed before them. Past Pet Brock, out of the air-conditioned lobby, into the sun. Too much sun and a flower will wilt, but the spell of a warm kiss after a long freeze will bring blossoms.

I come to life.

“Okay! Put your head on, don’t say a word, and just follow my lead,” I tell Zoe.

“Got it!”

We walk up to the first open door with a ticket taker. We try just walking in naturally, but the ticket taker stops us: “Excuse me.”

“Yeah, uh, McGruff here, uh, for a promotional, yeah, you know?” It’s not even a full sentence. And what explanation do I have for accompanying McGruff? Like, this woman is an adult and understands that there is a person inside the costume—why would they need me to walk the mascot around?

But the totality of the spectacle is powerful. She ignores McGruff and just speaks to me.

“The media check-in is at the loading dock.”

“Oh, right! Yeah, uh, where is that again? My boss forgot to tel—”

“Fifth Street.”

“Right, right, okay, cool! Thank you!”

Zoe complains, “Man I gotta walk to Fifth Street in this?” Fifth Street is on the opposite side of the arena. “At least you got time to work on a better line than ‘promotional, yeah, you know?’”

At the loading dock sits a bored security guard with a radio on his desk and a men’s fitness magazine in hand.

To Zoe, quietly: “Okay remember, let me do the talking.”

To the guard, after taking a second to breathe deep and muster all the improv skills I had honed through my years of theater: “Yeah, uh, here’s McGruff, uh, you know, for a um uh promotional, yeah…”

My supernatural abilities are expanding today. Not only can I communicate with portraits, but I can sense, without even being able to see through McGruff’s big plush head, that Zoe is staring daggers at me with the sidest eyes ever.

Without looking up from his magazine, “Sign here and see the media desk back there to find your registration.”

Find my registration? Fuck. Well, that definitely won’t be happening. I might have turned back at this point if I were by myself, but there isn’t really a way to discuss the situation with Zoe in front of this security guard. Best to just move forward, like everything is going as expected. I sign for both of us. I sign “McGruff McDogg” for Zoe. Dude doesn’t care, doesn’t even look.

The media desk sits about 50 yards down into the bowels of the arena, in front of an elevator. As we walk closer to it, I whisper to Zoe, “Wait, is anybody even back there?”

“Man, I can’t see that far in this thing.”

“I don’t think there’s anyone there. Here, walk quickly with me.” But not too quick, lest the first security guard turn around and suspect something’s up.

We get to the desk, and I scan the area—there doesn’t seem to be anyone around. There’s definitely some cameras pointed this way. But there are always cameras in places like this, right? Is this a part of the building they would prioritize during an event? It’s definitely a controlled access area, but…

The chime of the elevator brings me back. Zoe didn’t hesitate when we got to the desk. She just sidestepped it and called the elevator. Go Zoe! The doors open to reveal a tall man with an ID badge, looking very grumpy, and I immediately offer a jumble of excuses: “Oh sorry we were just making sure our names were here in the book I don’t know what happened to them you see McGruff is doing a promotional, uh, you know, thing, and they told us to sign back here they had our names back there at the entrance so I don’t know where the breakdown in communication was but we’re definitely supposed to—”

“What floor?”

Sweet relief—he’s the elevator operator! We rush past him into the elevator, before anyone actually shows up at the media desk.

“I said what floor?”

“Um…” I scan the numbers “Three?”

The doors close. We are lifted into the belly of the beast. Doors open. We’re in.


“I know Zoe, I know. We fucking did it. But come on now we need to find a bathroom and get you out of this costume.”

“What?! No way, man, this shit’s funny. I always wanted to be on the Jumbotron!”

“Not today, you don’t. Remember, Matt and Laura are here!”

“Man, fuck them.”

“Come on, I don’t want to lose my job.”

“Aight fine.”

Looking back, I shouldn’t have protested against the costume. I don’t remember how I eventually quit that job, but I would have never forgotten if it had been by giving the bird to my bosses over the Jumbotron.

In the bathroom, I think over what to do if we see Matt and Laura. Will I even recognize them? All white people in sports jerseys look the same to me. Maybe I can pass it off like we snuck in here to do some high-volume couponing. The halls are empty, though. It’s the middle of the second period, and the game is tied.

Zoe changing didn’t actually make us less conspicuous. We still had to carry around a giant plush mascot head stuffed with a trench coat, and, worse, we are literally the only two people not wearing hockey jerseys. Everyone is wearing a jersey.

We play it safe and go up to the nosebleed seats. But empty seats aren’t as easy to find as I expected. It’s fucking packed, even up here. And for good reason: the game is TENSE. It’s tied 1-1 when we finally take our seats, but almost immediately—SCOOOOOORE! The stadium erupts. Before I know it, Zoe and I are on our feet cheering, though we don’t know whom for.

“WOOOOOO!!!! What just happened?! I’ve never seen a hockey game.”

“What! Are you serious, Zoe? Then why did you want to come here?”

“Are you kidding me? This is way better than work!”

“Well, uh, I think it was the Capitals, because everyone in here is losing it.”

“We’re winning!” Some stranger screams in my ear as she hugs me. Yes, we are.

The rival team—the Pittsburgh Penguins—start off the third period strong. Two goals right off the bat take away the Capitals’ lead, but it brings suspense back into the game. A fight breaks out on the ice.

“Yo! They’re just letting those dudes brawl!”

“Yeah, that’s hockey.”

“Hell yeah.” Zoe is loving it.

With five minutes to go, I start wondering if we should call it and beat everybody to the exit—especially Matt and Laura. But while I’m discussing it with Zoe—SCORE!!!! The Capitals tie it up again. Four minutes left.

“Aw, fuck it. This is too good.” We stay.

The stadium is roaring. The atmosphere is electric. Time slows down for the next four minutes. Not a soul questions whether their tickets were worth what they paid for them. For once during my employment at the National Museum of Crime and Punishment, the calculator in my head stops evaluating whether $8.50/hour is worth what I’m doing with my time. I am more than fine with sneaking in to watch this game and hang with my friend for $8.50/hour. Fuck, this shit is FUN.

Overtime buzzes in and the crowd is LIT.

I explain to Zoe, “Overtime in hockey is sudden death.”

“What’s that?”

“First goal wins. So as soon as somebody scores we out, okay?”


The whole crowd is screaming their goddamn heads off. Is that Emma’s voice I hear cheering in the stands? Albert’s too!? And George’s? I can’t tell—I can’t take my eyes off the ice. The ice. This is so much nicer than standing around outside in the heat.

Bam! Pittsburgh scores. All the energy is sucked out of the room. My gaze is hypnotically fixed on the ice, along with forty thousand other eyeballs, disbelieving what we just saw. What the fuck is wrong with me? How did I all of a sudden care about this game? Damn, what a rush…

“Hey, we gotta go, right?”

Zoe breaks me out of my daze.

“What? Oh. Yeah.”

We bolt, trying to beat the crowd. But, as we were sitting in the highest section, all the floors below us are full of people clogging the exits.

“Damn, we are definitely stuck. Hopefully we don’t see Matt or Laura.”

“Hey, why don’t we just hand out coupons right here?” Zoe proposes.

“What? We’ll get kicked out or something.”

“So? We’re trying to leave anyway. I’m just saying it’s a bunch of disappointed people who might want something to do now, and we get commission from the coupons, y’know?”

I agree that she has a point.

“Alright, yeah, go get changed.”

The coupons are flying out of my hands. Everyone’s eager to take their minds off the game. Damn, I should’ve brought more.

Two floors down and we’re almost to the exit, when none fucking other than motherfucking Matt breaks away from a conversation and gets in our face, “What are you guys doing in here?!”

“Uh, when the game ended we rushed in, you know—big crowd, lots of coupons.”

“No. No, no. Jesus, you can’t just go into a private establishment and solicit. You’re going to get us in trouble. We need a contract to hand stuff out in here! Get out of here, NOW!”

We turn around and start for the exits.

“Hey! And don’t get caught.”

“You got it, boss.”

  1. In practice, this theater group was one of the most functionally anarchist projects I’ve participated in. At the beginning of the season, we established agreements—rather than rules—that only passed if every single cast member agreed to them. For the first half of the season, we took part in long, challenging exercises addressing racism, sexism, heterosexism, and ageism—not only discussing them as abstract concepts but also sharing stories about the impact of oppression on our own lives, whether we faced the brunt of it or wielded privilege. In the second half of the season, we broke into small groups, each of which developed a one-act play based on our stories. These plays were then woven into a collectively written, full-length play. For me, the most transformative part was that whenever a problem came up in the cast—some beef, drama, or cliquing—if it couldn’t be addressed interpersonally, we addressed the conflict openly. The experience of working out problems between people from really different backgrounds, people who probably would never have met if not for this theater project, cemented my conviction that human beings have the capacity to live in societies without authority figures.No one besides myself would have identified as an anarchist or understood anarchism as anything other than Hobbesian chaos. However, through this project, everyone came out armed with the lived experience of collective organizing, consensus process, conflict resolution, and an understanding of power and oppression. While I treasure certain anarchist critical examinations of consensus process, identity politics, and conflict resolution, I lament the lack of attention given to the anarchistic aspects of the ways people often live, albeit by some other name or without a label at all. Everyday practices that reproduce anarchistic values are as important as our wildest revolutionary aspirations, for the latter require fertile ground to grow in—and the former can provide it. 
  2. Years later, a small scandal emerged over the museum paying black youth to stand outside in orange prison jumpsuits, essentially to entertain tourists. For me, this just illustrates how for targeted populations in a white supremacist society, dependence on a wage and imprisonment in a cage are just different expressions of the same thing—different points on the same continuum of oppression. 

The post Steal Something from Work Day 2019! Three Epic Tales of Workplace Resistance appeared first on Infoshop News.

An Interview with New Syndicalist

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 19:22

via Anarchist Studies blog

by Shane Little

New Syndicalist is a source of worker-led, anti-capitalist theory and strategy founded by members of the Industrial Workers of the World in the UK. The New Syndicalist Editorial Team visited Loughborough University to give a talk titled “New Media for a New Workers’ Movement: Syndicalism for the 21st Century” [listen in here]. Shane Little took the opportunity to find out more about the project.


Shane Little: What is the New Syndicalist and what is the aim of the project?

New Syndicalist: New Syndicalist is a media project for trade union activists and organisers. We aim to publish content that allows trade unionists to think about the activity they are engaged in and learn lessons from others. We hope that the media we produce plays a transformative role in making organising more accessible, practical and effective for our audience.

SL: You mention that New Syndicalist is “unashamedly inspired by Recomposition, Life-Long Wobbly and Kämpa tillsammans!” What is it about these projects that you found important and why did you feel such a project was needed in the UK?

NS: Recomposition was a really important resource to many of us when we were starting to organise campaigns with the Industrial Workers of the World in the UK. Many of us had never really had any trade union experience before and we were recruiting in workplaces that often had no union presence. Articles and reflective pieces from organisers of the Starbucks Workers Union, as well as other campaigns in the US around this period, were incredibly influential. It felt like these writers were just like us – in a hostile environment, finding their feet and trying to work out the practical steps that brought us closer to the lofty goals of our union. Accordingly, as we began to step up our organising here, we felt we needed our own space, focused on the UK experience, that would allow us to think through our choices, successes and failures, and hopefully help others, just like Recomposition had helped us.

SL: How would you map contemporary syndicalism in the UK, and would you say there has been a growth in its importance? If so, why?

NS: Syndicalism or base unionism is still a very small, informal organisational presence compared with the wider trade union movement in the UK, and also compared with other European countries. However, its influence is growing. You can see this increasingly within many TUC unions who are seeking to replicate the efficiency and impact of syndicalist courier organising and campaigns in fast food – both of which punched significantly above their weight when looking comparatively at the resources of the mainstream unions. There has also been a growth in the influence of lay or volunteer-led models of organising (as opposed to just service models of trade unions) within the TUC, something which is a central feature of all syndicalist/base unions.

IWW, IWGB and UVW all have young, healthy and growing memberships which contrasts with the wider pattern of declining and aging membership of mainstream unions. This probably has to be situated in wider political trends emerging from the financial crisis of 2008, however on a simple and practical basis I’d say the key driving force behind the health of these movements is that they are picking fights and winning them. That drive, energy and enthusiasm is inspiring and, hopefully, is serving as a good example to workers everywhere of what fighting unions can achieve.

SL: What is your editorial process like? How do you organise content on your website and what is your approach to adding new content?

NS: Our editorial process is both collective and democratic – qualities we’d like to see replicated in the wider trade union movement. Typically, writers will approach us with an idea as a first stage and we will advise them whether it’s suitable for the blog. We don’t publish sectarian attacks on individuals or groups, news and bulletin style pieces or overly academic pieces that don’t serve to inform practical concerns within organising. We have several existing series that we sometimes recommend writers to use. Like, for example, “What does a Union Mean to You?” which challenges contributors, from a diverse range of jobs, to think through examples of solidarity and support existing in their workplaces. We’ve had several interesting contributions under this title, including a sex worker who shared the challenges of dealing with the time spent waiting for, or finding work (something I’m sure many other types of workers can sympathise with), and the networks that they and their fellow sex workers use to keep safe.

When pieces are submitted, we discuss them as a collective. Most are pretty uncontroversial but on occasion we have had to take a vote on a submission, and we have rejected some content on the basis of it not fully meeting the broader goals of the project.

SL: Regarding strategy and organisation, do you think contemporary syndicalism has any unique characteristics that differentiates it from past expressions of syndicalism?

NS: Syndicalism has historically been very adaptable to changes in working life. The organisations we tend to refer to as the “historic” syndicalist unions – the Industrial Workers of the World, CNT, FAU, CGT etc. (although in reality none really disappeared and, therefore, shouldn’t just be seen as organisations of the past) – were at the forefront of changes to capitalism in the early twentieth century. As capitalism became more technologically advanced, more reliant on assembly lines of “mass workers” and as its workforce became increasingly global, it was these unions who argued for a holistic, industrial model of unionism with the aim of capturing these great new productive powers within industry for the benefit of all. This was while many of the craft unions saw these changes as only a threat to be fought against and were excluding these new types of workers as competition to the skilled labourers that were their traditional constituency. When I look at the way modern base unions have stepped up to organise fast food chains, the service sector and new work in the gig economy I just see a repetition of the same sort of patterns and the same forward-thinking attitude.

SL: Do you see a link between the growth of syndicalist style unions and a change in class composition in the UK?

NS: A lot of the syndicalist unions within London are organised around migrant labourers within the city. However migrant labour is nothing particularly new, in the UK or in the trade union movement, so I don’t think it makes sense to make too much of these compositional qualities. I think certainly a “space” has been opened for syndicalist unions to thrive and grow for workers who have been abandoned, ignored or betrayed by the mainstream trade unions. Likewise, there are many workplaces that are simply seen as too high cost – in terms of time, resources and money – for TUC organisers. Yet these are the workplaces, like bars and restaurants, social care, call centres, agency work, gig economy, etc. where an increasingly large number of precarious and poorly paid workers find themselves.

SL: What is your relationship with similar projects and unions in the UK, and do you see much collaboration between the different syndicalist projects?

NS: We like to encourage a supportive and friendly relationship with all similarly minded projects and unions in the UK. We are a relatively small and young movement and we ultimately will do better working to help and amplify each other.

SL: What do you think syndicalism’s potential is in the UK and what role do you hope New Syndicalist will have going forward?

NS: That’s a tricky question to answer. We would, of course, like our project to play a transformative role in the activity of workers, trade union activists and organisers. Anecdotally we have been told that members have been brought into syndicalist projects based on the content of our blog and have read and referred to our content in trainings and campaigns. That’s nice to hear! However, it’s important to practice some caution when getting out the crystal ball and speculating on our future as a project and what influence we might have. An early IWW organiser, “Big Bill” Haywood, preached a more modest understanding of union activity that its maybe useful to refer to here. He used to sign off every letter with the phrase, “help the work along”. I think that’s a beautiful sentiment. Every member doing their little bit, in their own way, in the service of a much greater cause. So perhaps we shall just say that. If New Syndicalist can simply “help the work along” we will be happy.

The post An Interview with New Syndicalist appeared first on Infoshop News.

A “Green New Deal”?: The Eco-syndicalist Alternative

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 19:17

via Ideas & Action

By Tom Wetzel

Capitalist dynamics are at the very heart of the current crisis that humanity faces over global warming.

When we talk of “global warming,” we’re talking about the rapid — and on-going — rise in the average world-wide surface and ocean temperature. Thus far a rise of 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880. According to an ongoing temperature analysis conducted by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, two-thirds of this temperature increase has occurred since 1975. A one-degree rise in temperature might seem like no big deal. As the NASA scientists point out, however, “A one-degree global change is significant because it takes a vast amount of heat to warm all the oceans, atmosphere, and land by that much.”

We know that carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels is at the heart of the problem. For many centuries the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ranged between 200 and 300 parts per million. By the 1950s the growth of industrial capitalism since the 1800s had pushed this to the top of this range — 310 parts per million. Since then the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen very rapidly — to more than 410 parts per million by 2018. This is the result of the vast rise in the burning of fossil fuels in the era since World War 2 — coal, petroleum, natural gas.

The problem is rooted in the very structure of capitalism itself. Cost-shifting is an essential feature of the capitalist mode of production. An electric power company burns coal to generate electricity because the price per kilowatt hour from coal-fired electricity has long been cheaper than alternatives. But the emissions from burning coal travel downwind and cause damage to the respiratory systems of thousands of people — including preventable deaths to people with respiratory ailments. This is in addition to the powerful contribution to global warming from the carbon dioxide emissions. But the power firm doesn’t have to pay money for these human costs. If the firm had to pay fees that would be equivalent to the human cost in death, respiratory damage and contribution to global warming and its effects, burning coal would not be profitable for the power company.

Firms also externalize costs onto workers, such as the health effects of stress or chemical exposures. The “free market” pundit or hack economist might deny that companies externalize costs onto workers. They might say that wages and benefits paid to workers for each hour of work measure the cost of labor. But the human cost of work can be increased without an increase in the compensation paid to workers. If a company speeds up the pace of work, if people are working harder, if they are more tightly controlled by supervisors, paced by machines or software, this increases the cost in human terms.

Toxic chemicals used in manufacturing, in agriculture and other industries pose a threat to both the workers and to people who live in nearby areas. Usually working class people live in neighborhoods near polluting industries, and often these are communities of color. This is another form of capitalist cost-shifting.

State regulation of pesticides or air pollution often ends up acting as a “cover” for the profit-making firms. Despite the existence of pollutants generated by leaky oil refineries and pollutants emitted by other industries in industrial areas in California — such as the “cancer alley” of oil refineries in the Contra Costa County area  or the similar refinery zone in Wilmington — the government agencies set up to deal with air pollution in the Bay Area and Los Angeles County protected polluters for years by focusing almost exclusively on pollution generated  by vehicle exhaust. In this way the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District have been an example of “regulatory capture” by corporate capital.

Power firms that generate vast amounts of carbon dioxide emissions — and firms that make profits from building fossil-fuel burning cars and trucks or from the sale of gasoline and diesel and jet fuel — have not had to pay any fees or penalties for the growing build up of the carbon dioxide layer in the atmosphere. The global warming crisis thus has its explanation in cost shifting and the search for short-term profits and ever growing markets — features that are at the heart of the capitalist system.

If global capitalism continues with “business as usual”, the warming will have major impacts — killer heat waves, more ocean heat pumping energy into hurricanes and cyclones, rising ocean levels from melting of ice in the polar regions and melting of glaciers, destruction of corals in the oceans, and a greater danger to the survival of many species of living things.

Previous attempts to get global agreement to cut back burning of fossil fuels have been ineffective. The Paris accords merely proposed voluntary targets. NASA scientist James Hansen described it as a “fraud”: “There is no action, just promises.” According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the dire situation calls for “rapid and far-reaching transitions…unprecedented in terms of scale.” The IPCC warns that there needs to be a 45 percent world-wide reduction in the production of heat-trapping gases (mainly carbon dioxide) by 2030 if humanity is to avoid dangerous levels of global warming.

Clearly a global change is needed. But how to bring this about?

The concept of a Green New Deal has been proposed by Green Party activists, climate justice groups and various radicals for some time. The slogan is based on a comparison with the statist planning used by President Roosevelt to respond to the economic crisis of the 1930s as well as the vast and rapid transition of American industry to war production at the beginning of World War 2. The idea is that the crisis of global warming should be treated with equal urgency as the mass unemployment of 1933 or the fascist military threat of the early 1940s.

After the election to Congress of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — a member of Democratic Socialists of America — the Green New Deal resolution was introduced into the US Congress by Ocasio-Cortez  and Senator Ed Markey. This lays out a set of ambitious goals, such as 100 percent electric power generation in the USA from “clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.”

Other goals include “removing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing…as much as is technologically feasible” and “overhauling” the transport sector “to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions” from transport “through investment in zero-emission vehicles, accessible public  transportation and high speed rail.” Along with this resolution, a letter was sent to the US Congress from 626 environmental organizations backing the Green New Deal proposal. These environmental groups made it quite clear they oppose any market-based tinkering — reforms that we know won’t work — such as “cap and trade” (trading in pollution “rights”).

Many have proposed “public-private partnerships” and public subsidies to private corporations. Robert Pollin, writing in New Left Review, talks about “preferential tax treatment for clean-energy investments” and “market arrangements through government procurement contracts.” All part of a so-called “green industrial policy.” A green capitalism, in other words.

But workers are often skeptical of these promises. Companies will simply lay people off, under-pay them, or engage in speed-up and dangerous work practices — if they can profit by doing so. For example, low pay, work intensification and injuries have been a problem at the Tesla electric car factory which has received 5 billion dollars in government subsidies. Tesla recently laid off 7 percent of its workforce (over three thousand workers) in pursuit of profitability.

An alternative approach that looks to statist central planning has been proposed by Richard Smith — an eco-socialist who is also a member of Democratic Socialists of America. Smith characterizes the proposal by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez this way:

Ocasio-Cortez…is a bold,  feminist, anti-racist and socialist-inspired successor to FDR…She’s taking the global warming discussion to a new level…She’s not calling for cap and trade or carbon taxes or divestment or other “market” solutions. She’s issuing a full-throated call for de-carbonization — in effect throwing the gauntlet down to capitalism and challenging the system…[1]1

Smith believes the goals of the Green New Deal can’t be realized through things like “incentives” — and he’s right about that. He points out that the Green New Deal resolution “lacks specifics” about how the goals will be reached. To realize the goal of “de-carbonizing” the economy, he proposes a three-part program:

  • Declare a state of emergency to suppress fossil fuel use. Ban all new extraction. Nationalize the fossil fuel industry to phase it out.
  • Create a federal program in the style of the 1930s Works Progress Administration to shift the workforce of the shut-down industries to “useful but low emissions” areas of the economy “at equivalent pay and benefits.”
  • Launch a “state-directed” crash program to phase in renewable electric power production, electric transport vehicles and other methods of transport not based on burning fossil fuels. Develop programs to shift from petro-chemical intensive industrial agriculture to organic farming.

Even though “AOC explicitly makes a powerful case for state planning,” Smith says, a weakness of the Green New Deal resolution, from his perspective, is the failure to “call for a National Planning Board to reorganize, reprioritize and restructure the economy.” When he talks about nationalization, he notes “We do not call for expropriation.” He’s talking about buying out the shareholders at “fair market value.” This is essentially a proposal for a largely state-directed form of capitalist economy — a form of state capitalism.

Smith’s proposal is wildly unrealistic. Are we to believe that the corporate-media influenced American electoral scheme can be used to elect politicians — through the business-controlled Democratic Party — to enact a multi-trillion dollar program of seizures of the fossil fuel industry, auto manufacturers, and chemical firms and set up a planning board to direct the economy?

The American working class did make important gains in the Thirties — such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (minimum wage, unemployment insurance) and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. These concessions were only won due to an uprising of the American working class in a context of vast struggles around the world — a working class revolution in Spain, plant occupations in France, a communist insurgency in China, the Communists holding on in Russia. In that moment capitalism faced a threat to its very existence.

The USA saw a huge working class rebellion between 1933 and 1937 — millions of workers on strike, hundreds of thousands of workers creating new unions from scratch,  rising influence for revolutionary organizations, a thousand workplace seizures (sit-down strikes), challenges to Jim Crow in the south. And in 1936 this angry and militant mood also pushed very close to the formation of a national Farmer-Labor Party that would have been a major threat to the Democrats. Many formerly intransigent corporations were forced to negotiate agreements with unions. The Democrats chose to “move left” in that moment.

It’s also a mistake to romanticize the New Deal. People talk of the 1930s WPA as the model for “job guarantees” — that is, government as employer of last resort. But there was still 17 percent unemployment in USA as late as 1940. Workers in the WPA often had beefs such as low pay. Communists, socialists and syndicalists organized unions and strikes among WPA workers. The gains that working class people were able to win in the Thirties did not simply come about through electoral politics. Nor were the conservative, bureaucratic “international unions” of the American Federal of Labor the vehicle either. They were more of a road block — exactly why several hundred thousand workers had created new grassroots unions from scratch by late 1934.

Smith is not alone in pushing statist central planning as a solution. This concept is being talked up lately by various state socialists, including people associated with Jacobin magazine and DSA. These advocates often assume the state is simply a class-neutral institution that could be taken hold of by the working class and wielded for its purposes.

In reality the state is not class-neutral but has class oppression built into its very structure. For example, public sector workers are subordinate to managerialist bureaucracies just as workers are in the private corporations. The day-to-day workings of state institutions are controlled by the cadres of the bureaucratic control class — state managers, high end professionals employed as experts, prosecutors and judges, military and police brass. This is in addition to the “professionals of representation” — the politicians — who are typically drawn from either the business or bureaucratic control classes, that is, classes to which working class people are subordinate.

As a top-down approach to planning, statist central planning has no way to gain accurate information about either public preferences for public goods and services or individual consumer preferences. Statist central planning is also inherently authoritarian. This is because it is based on a denial of self-management to people who would be primarily affected by its decisions — consumers and residents of communities, on the one hand, and workers in the various industries who would continue to be subject to managerialist autocracy.

Self-management means that people who are affected by decisions have control over those decisions to the extent they are affected. There are many decisions in the running of workplaces where the group who are primarily affected are the workers whose activity makes up the production process. Taking self-management seriously would require a form of distributed control in planning, where groups who are primarily affected over certain decisions — such as residents of local communities or workers in industries— have an independent sphere of decision-making control. This is the basis of the syndicalist alternative of distributed planning, discussed below.

State socialists will sometimes make noises about “worker control” as an element of central planning, but real collective power of workers over the production process is inconsistent with the concept of central planning. If planning is to be the activity of an elite group at a center, they will want to have their own managers on site in workplaces to make sure their plans are carried out.  Any talk of “worker control” always loses out to this logic.

Statist central planning can’t overcome either the exploitative or cost-shifting logic of capitalism, which lies at the heart of the ecological crisis. Various populations are directly impacted by pollution in various forms — such as the impact of pesticide pollution on farm workers and rural communities or the impact on air and water in local communities. The only way to overcome the cost-shifting logic is for the affected populations — workers and communities — to gain direct power to prevent being polluted on. For global warming, this means the population in general needs a direct form of popular power that would enable the people to directly control the allowable emissions into the atmosphere.

As difficult as it may be, we need a transition to a self-managed, worker-controlled socialist political economy if we’re going to have a solution to the ecological crisis of the present era. But this transition can only really come out of the building up of a powerful, participatory movement of the oppressed majority in the course of struggles against the present regime.

The Syndicalist Alternative for an Eco-socialist Future

The problem is not that people struggle for immediate changes that are within our power to currently push for. Rather, the issue is how we pursue change. Changes can be fought for in different ways.

The basic problem with the electoral socialist (“democratic socialist”) strategy is its reliance on methods that ask working class people to look to “professionals of representation” to do things for us. This approach tends to build up — and crucially rely upon — bureaucratic layers that are apart from — and not effectively controllable by — rank-and-file working class people. These are approaches that build up layers of professional politicians in office, paid political party machines, lobbyists, or negotiations on our behalf by the paid apparatus of the unions — paid officials and staff, or the paid staff in the big non-profits.

Syndicalists refer to these as reformist methods (for lack of a better term). Not because we’re opposed to the fight for reforms. Any fight for a less-than-total change (such as more money for schools or more nurse staffing) is a “reform.” The methods favored by the electoral socialists are “reformist” because they undermine the building of a movement for more far-reaching change. The history of the past century shows that these bureaucratic layers end up as a barrier to building the struggle for a transition to a worker-controlled socialist mode of production.

We can say that an approach to action and organization for change is non-reformist to the extent that it builds rank-and-file controlled mass organizations, relies on and builds participation in militant collective actions such as strikes, and builds self-confidence, self-reliance, organizing skills, wider active participation, and wider solidarity between different groups among the oppressed and exploited majority.

Syndicalism is a strategy for change based on non-reformist forms of action and organization. Non-reformist forms of organization of struggle are based on control by the members through participatory democracy and elected delegates, such as elected shop delegates and elected negotiating committees in workplaces.  And the use of similar grassroots democracy in other organizations that working class people can build such as tenant unions. Non-reformist forms of action are disruptive of “business as usual” and are built on collective participation, such as strikes, occupations, and militant marches.

A key way the electoral socialist and syndicalist approaches differ is their effect on the process that Marxists sometimes call class formation. This is the more or less protracted process through which the working class overcomes fatalism and internal divisions (as on lines of race or gender), acquires knowledge about the system, and builds the confidence, organizational capacity and the aspiration for social change. Through this process the working class “forms” itself into a force that can effectively challenge the dominating classes for control of society.

If people see effective collective action spreading in the society around them, this may change the way people see their situation. Once they perceive that this kind of collective power is available to them as a real solution for their own issues, this can change their perception of the kinds of change that is possible. The actual experience of collective power can suggest a much deeper possibility of change.

When rank-and-file working class people participate directly in building worker unions, participating in carrying out a strike with co-workers, or in building a tenant union and organizing direct struggle against rent hikes or poor building conditions, rank-and-file people are directly engaged — and this helps people to learn how to organize, builds more of a sense that “We can make change,” and people also learn directly about the system. More people are likely to come to the conclusion “We have the power to change the society” if they see actual power of people like themselves being used effectively in strikes,  building takeovers, and other kinds of mass actions. In other words, a movement of direct participation and grassroots democracy builds in more people this sense of the possibility of change from below.

On the other hand, concentrating the decision-making power in the fight for social change into bureaucratic layers of professional politicians and an entrenched union bureaucracy tends to undermine this process because it doesn’t build confidence and organizing skills among working class people. It fails to build the sense that “We have the power in our hands to change things.” Thus a basic problem with electoral socialism (“democratic socialism”) is that it undermines the process of class formation.

The electoral venue is also not favorable terrain for the working class struggle for changes because the voting population tends to be skewed to the more affluent part of the population. A large part of the working class do not see why they should vote. They don’t see the politicians as looking out for their interests. The non-voting population tends to be poorer — more working class — than the voting population. This means the working class can’t bring the full force of its numbers to bear.

A strategy for change focused on elections and political parties tends to lead to a focus on electing leaders to gain power in the state, to make changes for us. This type of focus leads us away from a more independent form of working class politics that is rooted in forms of collective action that ordinary people can build directly and directly participate in — such as strikes, building direct solidarity between different working class groups in the population, mass protest campaigns around issues that we select, and the like.

To be clear, I’m not here arguing that people shouldn’t vote, or that it makes no difference to us who is elected. Often in fact it does, and independent worker and community organizations can also direct their pressure on what politicians do. But here I’m talking about our strategy for change. I’m arguing against a strategy for change that relies upon — focuses on — the role of elected officials, a political party, or the full-time paid union apparatus.

An electoralist strategy leads to the development of political machines in which mass organizations look to professional politicians and party operatives. This type of practice tends to create a bureaucratic layer of professional politicians, media, think-tanks and party operatives that develops its own interests.

When the strategy is focused on electing people to office in the state, college-educated professionals and people with “executive experience” will tend to be favored as candidates to “look good” in the media.  And this means people of the professional and administrative layers will tend to gain leadership positions in an electorally oriented party. This will tend to diminish the ability of rank and file working class people to control the party’s direction. This is part of the process of the development of the party as a separate bureaucratic layer with its own interests. Because they are concerned with winning elections and keeping their hold on positions in the state, this can lead them to oppose disruptive direct action by workers such as strikes or workplace takeovers. There is a long history of electoral socialist leaders taking this kind of stance.

To the extent electoral socialist politics comes to dominate in the labor movement — as it did in Europe  after World War 2 — declining militancy and struggle also undermined the commitment to socialism. The electoral socialist parties in Europe competed in elections through the advocacy of various immediate reforms. This became the focus of the parties. Sometimes they won elections. At the head of a national government they found that they had to “manage” capitalism — keep the capitalist regime running. If they moved in too radical a direction they found they would lose middle class votes — or the investor elite might panic and start moving their capital to safe havens abroad.In some cases elements of the “deep state” — such as the military and police forces — moved to overthrow them. Most of these parties eventually changed their concept of what their purpose was. They gave up on the goal of replacing capitalism with socialism.


Eco-syndicalism is based on the recognition that workers — and direct worker and community alliances — can be a force against the environmentally destructive actions of capitalist firms. Toxic substances are transported by workers, ground-water-destroying solvents are used in electronics assembly and damage the health of workers, and pesticides poison farm workers. Industrial poisons affect workers on the job first and pollute nearby working class neighborhoods. Nurses have to deal with the effects of pollution on people’s bodies. Various explosive derailments have shown how oil trains can be a danger to both railroad workers and communities. The struggle of railroad workers for adequate staffing on trains is part of the struggle against this danger.

Workers are a potential force for resistance to decisions of employers that pollute or contribute to global warming. Workers can also be a force for support of alternatives on global warming, such as expanded public transit. An example of working class resistance to environmental pollution were the various “green bans” enacted by the Australian Building Laborer’s Federation back in the ‘70s — such as a ban on transport or handling of uranium.

A recognition of this relationship led to the development of an environmentalist tendency among syndicalists in the ‘80s and ‘90s — eco-syndicalism (also called “green syndicalism”). An example in the ‘80s was the organizing work of Judi Bari — a member of the IWW and Earth First!. Working in the forested region of northwest California, she attempted to develop an alliance of workers in the wood products industry (and their unions) with environmentalists who were trying to protect old growth forests against clear-cutting.

Worker and community organizations can be a direct force against fiossil fuel capitalism in a variety of ways — such as the various actions against coal or oil terminals on the Pacific Coast, or labor and community support for struggles of indigenous people and other rural communities against polluting fossil fuel projects, such as happened with the Standing Rock blockade in the Dakotas. Unions can also be organized in workplaces of the “green” capitalist firms to fight against low pay and other conditions I described earlier.

The different strategies of syndicalists and electoral socialists tends to lead to different conceptions of what “socialism” and “democracy” mean. Because politicians tend to compete on the basis of what policies they will pursue through the state, this encourages a state socialist view that socialism is a set of reforms enacted top down through the managerialist bureaucracies of the state. Certainly state socialists are an influential element in Democratic Socialists of America.

I think a top down form of power, controlled by the bureaucratic control class in state management, is not going to work as a solution for the ecological challenges of the present. The history of the “communist camp” countries of the mid-20th century showed that they were also quite capable of pollution and ecological destruction rooted in cost-shifting behavior.

On the other hand, the syndicalist vision of self-managed socialism provides a plausible basis for a solution for the environmental crisis because a federative, distributed form of democratic planning places power in local communities and workers in industries, and thus they have power to prevent ecologically destructive decisions. For syndicalists, socialism is about human liberation — and a central part is the liberation of the working class from subordination and exploitation in a regime where there are dominating classes on top. Thus for syndicalism the transition to socialism means workers taking over and collectively managing all the industries — including the public services. This is socialism created from  below — created by the working class itself.

Syndicalist movements historically advocated a planned economy based on a distributed model of democratic planning, rooted in assemblies in neighborhoods and workplaces. With both residents of communities and worker production organizations each having the power to make decisions in developing plans for its own area, a distributed, federative system of grassroots planning uses delegate congresses or councils and systems of negotiation to “adjust” the proposals and aims of the various groups to each other. Examples of libertarian socialist distributed planning models include the negotiated coordination proposals of the World War 1 era guild socialists, the 1930s Spanish anarcho-syndicalist program of neighborhood assemblies (“free municipalities”) and worker congresses, and the more recent participatory planning model of Robin Hahnel and Michael Albert.

A 21st century form of self-managed socialism would be a horizontally federated system of production that can implement planning and coordination throughout industries and over a wide region. This would enable workers to:

  • Gain control over technological development,
  • Re-organize jobs and education to eliminate the bureaucratic concentration of power in the hands of managers and high-end professionals, develop worker skills, and work to integrate decision-making and conceptualization with the doing of the physical work,
  • Reduce the workweek and share work responsibilities among all who can work, and
  • Create a new logic of development for technology that is friendly to workers and the environment.

A purely localistic focus and purely fragmented control of separate workplaces (such as worker cooperatives in a market economy) is not enough. Overall coordination is needed to move social production away from subordination to market pressures and the “grow or die” imperative of capitalism and build solidarity between regions. There also needs to be direct, communal accountability for what is produced and for effects on the community and environment.

The protection of the ecological commons requires a directly communal form of social governance and control over the aims of production. This means direct empowerment of the masses who would be directly polluted on or directly affected by environmental degradation. This is necessary to end the ecologically destructive cost-shifting behavior that is a structural feature of both capitalism and bureaucratic statism. Direct communal democracy and direct worker management of industry provide the two essential elements for a libertarian eco-socialist program.

  1. “An Ecosocialist Path  to Limiting Global Temperature Rise to 1.5°C” ( []

The post A “Green New Deal”?: The Eco-syndicalist Alternative appeared first on Infoshop News.

A ZACF Anarchist in the Landless People’s Movement, South Africa: Interview with Lekhetho Mtetwa

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 04:14


Lekhetho Mtetwa, a member of the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF) discusses his role in the Landless People’s Movement (LPM), formed in South Africa in 2001. While the
LPM was affiliated to Via Campesina, and linked to the Landless Workers Movement
(Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra: MST), its activities centred on urban squatter
communities, rather than farm occupations or organising alternative agrarian systems.
Then-living in a squatter camp in Protea South, Soweto, Mtetwa served as the local
secretary; by 2013, this was the key LPM branch. Several attempts were made by political
parties to capture Protea South LPM, using patronage and promises, leading to the eventual
implosion of the branch. Mtetwa provides an essential analysis of the rise and fall of the
LPM, and the role that anarchists can play in such social movements.

A ZACF Anarchist in the Landless People’s Movement, South Africa: Interview with Lekhetho


The Landless People’s Movement (LPM) was formed in 2001, much of the initial impetus
coming from an NGO body called the National Land Committee (NLC). Although affiliated to
Via Campesina, and linked to the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil, its activity
has centred on the struggles of urban squatter communities, rather than on agrarian
issues, farm occupations or organising alternative production systems. In 2004, LPM
supporters protested the national elections declaring “No Land! No Vote!” In 2008, the
Gauteng province-based LPM sections (now the main LPM affiliates) formed the Poor People’s
Alliance with the squatters’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo and the Rural Network /
Abahlali basePlasini (both in KwaZulu-Natal), and the Anti-Eviction Campaign (in the
Western Cape). The Poor People’s Alliance also took an anti-electoral position.

In the texts provided below, Lekhetho Mtetwa, an activist in the LPM in Protea South in
Soweto, and a member of the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF), discusses the
struggles of the LPM. Mtetwa was, at the time, LPM secretary in Protea South. It is
important to note that by 2013 the LPM in Protea South in Soweto was the main LPM
affiliate. Since Mtetwa’s comments were made, this section has faced notable challenges.
In 2010, a founder member and office-bearer sought to use the LPM to support her running
for municipal office on a Democratic Alliance (DA)-linked ticket. This was defeated by
Mtetwa and others, but a long- term schism resulted. From 2014, many in LPM-Protea South
were (successfully) wooed by the new Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party: Mtetwa
resigned in protest. Despite some subsequent disillusion in EFF, following the 2014
national elections, the section has not fully revived. It seems likely that it will be
replaced by a branch of Abahlali baseMjondolo.

The texts

Two texts are provided below. The first is a lightly edited transcript of an introduction
to the LPM that Mtetwa gave on the 29 September 2013, at the “Politics at a Distance from
the State” conference at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa. The second text is
an interview with Mtetwa, at the same event, by Lucien van der Walt, on 30 September.

Part 1: Lekhetho Mtetwa: The Landless People’s Movement fights for the people’s rights
“I am from the Landless People’s Movement (LPM), a movement that engages the people on
land issues. People have been protesting for their right to land, while the state is
trying to privatise and control land, and also push shack-dwellers away from the cities.
The eviction of people is ongoing, so we fight for the “right to the city,” and for the
right to land and housing.

“Another issue we address is unemployment: land is not enough. The workers and the
unemployed should occupy factories and workplaces, so that we can have jobs and meet our

“What does the word ‘state’ mean? The state rests on violence against the working class.

“At election times, politicians make empty promises, but after the elections they deploy
violence against us, the working class. Our structures have been attacked by police and by
vigilantes. In 2004, we had comrades who were arrested and tortured when they campaigned
at election time, saying “No Land! No Vote!” In 2007, on the 3rd September, we were
barricading roads, and we lost one comrade: he was knocked over by a van that rode away.
The police attacked us, although we were exercising and demanding our rights.

“I am involved in the LPM in Protea South, Soweto, where we are shack-dwellers. The state
wants to remove all the shack dwellers, and to then use the land for houses for other
people. This is a major issue that we are fighting. Forced removals are what we are
facing. Housing is what we want: to be housed properly.

“We also face a lack of consultation from our so-called elected municipal councillors:
they do things, without consulting the community. The politicians rely on the votes of our
grandparents: they use them to get elected, promising this and that to get at the end of
the day more votes.

“These are the problems that we are facing. To organise and fight for the things I have
mentioned, we as LPM Protea South usually have a protest march or barricade the streets,
so we can be seen by the state as fighting for our demands. Normally we make it a point
that no-one from our community goes to work during the protests. There are shops in our
area: we make it a point that no-one opens on that day also.

“If each and every person joins the struggle, we can make changes. We need to fight the
struggle together: even fighting for our rights in Protea South is not only a fight for
LPM members only, but for everyone who lives in in this community and in this world. We
are fighting for everyone who needs land and freedom.

“All social movements should organise all the ordinary people to take direct action to
defeat the state and the capitalists. If we always talk and talk without action, we are
like an empty vessel. We need to be creative, and I push the idea of a poor people’s
summit, to build for big day of action and to allow struggles to be linked up.”

Part 2: Lekhetho Mtetwa: Rebuilding the Landless People’s Movement from below

Lucien van der Walt (LvdW): Thanks very much for agreeing to be interviewed. Can you tell
me a bit about yourself and about the Landless People’s Movement (LPM) and its work?

Lekhetho Mtetwa (LM): I am Lekhetho Mtetwa, secretary of the LPM in Protea South, from
Chiawelo, in Soweto.

The LPM was set up in Protea South in 2001, and the person who introduced it was Maureen
Mnisi. She became its chairperson for plus-minus 11 years, and was also Gauteng LPM chair.

How did I join? I raised issues in a public meeting, around land, and people said, “You
know what, come and join us.” And I was given light on how the LPM movement works, by word
of mouth. Later I was given the documents of the movement. Eventually I was selected as a
secretary, because I was politically strong. Initially I was co-opted onto the committee,
later I was elected.

The LPM fights for the rights of the people, for housing, land, and jobs and against
evictions. It fights so that the people may be able to support their families.

It doesn’t support elections to the state, including to town councils. LPM focuses on the
needs of the youth, and the community. We take the demands, and go to the local
councillor, and present the demands. If nothing happens then, we take our demands to the
top. And if nobody listens, then we march on government offices, and present a memorandum,
and we barricade the roads, and stay-away from work.

LVDW: Can you can you tell me more about the current situation of the LPM? How is it doing
these days?

LM: We are trying our best to rebuild the movement, and most of the support we have, we
are getting from our community – and also from other social movements, which support us.

The LPM was, at one stage, claiming to be a country-wide organisation. Today, though, the
main branch is in Protea South, Soweto. One of the issues is that there is not a structure
linking different branches, even if they did exist. But as far as I know, the only other
existing branch involves comrades in Durban. But there is nothing which I heard from that
side for some time, about what they are maybe doing. We have contacts with them, but there
is nothing we have planned together.

Understanding the problems, let us remember our branch of the LPM and other branches also,
have faced repression. In our case has included arrests and assaults, and also attacks
from vigilantes from nearby better-off areas in Soweto.

But there are also internal challenges. Recently there was a change in the leadership of
the LPM branch in Protea South: I am the secretary of the new leadership. This change was
linked to a fight against people who were using the movement for their own benefit,
including trying to push it to join political parties, and provide votes. This is part of
a bigger problem of nepotism, favouritism and opportunism that we see in some movements,
and that we fight.

The earlier leadership tended to be top-down, not always even elected. We have changed
that. What we are doing now is involving each and every person in our community, so that
they can be part of us. What I am trying to say is that, as “leadership,” we are not
saying that, because we are the leaders or office-bearers, we will control and do
everything. Instead, before we take things forward, we call a mass meeting wherein the
community brings up suggestions and issues. Then we sit down as a committee, look at these
matters, and then work out a way ahead. Then after that, we go back to the community: if
they agree with everything, then we go further with everything; that is what we do;
otherwise we again take the points and again change the plan, and again go back to the

Our focus is our branch’s work, where we try our best to make the LPM movement go back to
what it was before, but better. At this present moment we are trying to rebuild the
movement within our community, and from there, we are planning to start other branches in
other places.

LVDW: In the past, the LPM used the slogans “No Land! No Vote!” and then “No Land! No
House! No Vote!” once it helped form the Poor People’s Alliance along with Abahlali
baseMjondolo and others in 2008. Do these slogans still get used?

LM: Yes, it doesn’t end. It doesn’t end as long as we are living under the circumstances
under which we are living.

LVDW: And in the long-run what would be your vision of a new, a better South Africa? And
what would be required to make this into reality?

LM: For me, I want to see everyone owning land and resources together, in common; everyone
having a house, people living equal lifestyles and having useful jobs.

We should introduce the anarchist principles: all movements should come together and fight
the system and in that way, build for revolution. We will then be able to defeat the state
and the capitalists and thereafter the working class and poor people will be the ones
controlling everything – everything which the bosses and politicians are owning and
controlling at this present moment.

LVDW: How do you think we can create, solve the job problem in South Africa?

LM: By kicking out the bosses and taking over the factories and workplaces. That is the
only way.

LVDW: Thanks very much for your time.

LM: Thanks a lot, com.

SOURCE: Lekhetho Mtetwa, 2018, “Interview: The Landless People’s Movement Fights for the
People’s Rights,” 29-30 September 2013, in Kirk Helliker and Lucien van der Walt (eds.),
Politics at a Distance from the State: Radical and African Perspectives, Routledge:
London, New York, pp. 149-152.

A ZACF Anarchist in the Landless People’s Movement, South Africa: Interview with Lekhetho Mtetwa


The post A ZACF Anarchist in the Landless People’s Movement, South Africa: Interview with Lekhetho Mtetwa appeared first on Infoshop News.