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Betraying ’68

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 21:00

via The Commune

by Lorenzo Raymond

For those who despise nostalgia, the fiftieth anniversary of 1968 must have been a relief. The rebellions of the era were not smugly celebrated in the United States, far from it. Many of the most outspoken and committed radicals of the era like Abbie Hoffman and Daniel Berrigan are no longer alive to give fresh media commentary, so retrospectives were often dominated by devotees of nonviolence who believed that most of the lessons to be derived from the late sixties were negative. 1968 and its aftermath were scrutinized through the lens of present-day political struggle and their example found wanting. The curiously stillborn and furiously co-opted #resistance against Donald Trump would only lose further ground if it were to manifest an openly insurrectionary and anti-capitalist character, it was said. Pacifist organizer Robert Levering wrote that most of the actions at the ’68 Democratic National Convention were completely counterproductive, going so far as to imply that militant protesters—including Students for a Democratic Society cofounder Tom Hayden—were responsible for prolonging the war they were trying to stop. Ex-Weathermen spokesman Mark Rudd lamented that “what Antifa does and what we did in the Weather Underground are exactly what the cops want.” For the coup de grace, ex-SDS official and full-time apostate Todd Gitlin proclaimed that 1968 was actually the “year of counter-revolution.”

The most seemingly credible retrospective came from Rudd. Rudd was once an icon of youth rebellion, helping to lead the famed 1968 Columbia University occupation. The most visible of his musings was a New York Times op-ed where he pointed out that “what made the [Columbia] protests so powerful” was “the leadership of black students.” But his most thorough statement of purpose was a feature interview with Chris Hedges where he excoriated the militancy of the late sixties, made similar condemnations of contemporary anti-fascists, and espoused “practical pacifism.”

Mark Rudd speaking at the Columbia occupation in 1968

In Hedges’s article, Rudd holds up Columbia ’68 as a strictly nonviolent protest and therefore “an example of the kind of strategy that the left has to adopt.” Rudd counterposes his insurrectionary Weathermen days with the “mass movement” that had arisen at Columbia. Forceful protest doesn’t even qualify as strategy to Rudd, but is “pure self-expression”—catharsis which only causes backlash and disunity, and must be avoided at all costs.

It’s easy enough to denounce the excesses of the Weathermen: their Leninist vanguardism, their fetishization of the North Vietnamese state, their early flirtation with terrorist bloodshed—the humanist heart intuitively shrinks from such tendencies. But to try and sever ultra-militancy as a whole from the accomplishments of the late sixties is flamboyantly deceptive. Exhibit A is Rudd’s own New York Times piece on Columbia ’68, where he mentions that “in a loose alliance with the Student Afro-American Society (SAAS)…we even held the dean of the college hostage in his office.” Another example is this recollection of the beginning of the protests recently given by SAAS leader Raymond Brown to Vanity Fair: “The students were trying to rip down the [twelve-foot-high] chain-link fence around the gym site, and some of the cops got in a wrestling match with the students, including a couple of good friends of mine.”

“The Columbia administration was terrified of what Harlem might do if the police were called,” Rudd wrote cryptically in the Times. “Administrators waited a week as the occupations and support demonstrations grew, and Columbia became worldwide news.” Again Raymond Brown is more forthcoming: in a strategy session with H. Rap Brown and other Black Power leaders, the SAAS agreed that “you’re in this position where you’re counting on the fear of the police and the city administration that Harlem will react violently if you’re mistreated.”

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What Time Will It Be After Capitalism?

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 22:01

via Verso Books

by Christophe Bonneuil

What if the future were something other than a ‘present 2.0’? What we are facing is not a climate crisis to be managed with ‘solutions’ or an economic globalization to be regulated, but the possibility of collapse. After the demise of so many political systems over the past five millennia, and with reports on the upheavals affecting the Earth reaching us from all sides, is it not overly reckless to consider capitalism immortal?

Some people prefer to highlight the apocalypse of an extinction of the human species. But this scenario fascinates only at the cost of obscuring any geopolitical and social analysis of resource asymmetries, singularities and resiliences that are differentiated between human groups around the world. As against this overwhelming perspective, which leads to the actual collapse being obscured, Jérôme Baschet, historian emeritus at the EHESS and fellow-traveller of the Zapatistas, believes that ‘another end of the world is possible.’[2] Until recently many people said that it was easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism, but the wind is changing, and Baschet’s book will help propel this change.

Baschet analyses our age as a civilizational blind alley in the face of five transformations: a digitalization that disrupts work and our ways of being together; a neoliberal bifurcation of capitalism that has restored a level of inequality comparable to the Old Regime; a new regime of existence on Earth, propelled out of the Holocene by an industrialism and consumerism that have become global; a great naturalistic divide between Nature and Culture, which is eroding while the West is now simply a province of the world; and, finally, a crisis in the way of articulating past, present and future and of situating ourselves in the temporality born with industrial modernity, also ending the certainty of a necessarily better future.

This observation of an epochal change is conducive to reopening the future, once we reject the denial by the currently prevailing presentism of other possible worlds, and do not see the overcoming of capitalism as guaranteed by inexorable laws of history or the Earth system. This process pursues an uncertain path of insurrection and experimentation with forms of organization and life emancipated from the triple abstraction of the state (as totalizing mode of constitution of the community), of commodities and productivism, and of a West-centric universalism, as Baschet has already sketched in a previous essay (Adieux au capitalisme. Autonomie, société du bien vivre et multiplicité des mondes, 2014). In this new book, he focuses on one of the cultural conditions for the abolition of ‘capitalist tyranny’: a transformation in our relationship to time (escape from the hegemony of abstract time) and to times (new ways of composing past, future and present that go beyond both the traditional cyclical regime of historicity, the modern regime, and the presentist regime). Here the political desire to weaken the dominant mode of production of our reality is combined with the scholarly desire of an accomplished historian, offering a profound epistemological reflection on historical knowledge, memory and historicity. The search for paths beyond capitalism thus goes hand in hand with an ambitious epistemological re-foundation of history, emancipating historical knowledge from the conditionings that had presided over its birth as a discipline, at the heart of the imperial and industrialist nation states.

The notion of ‘regimes of historicity’ was proposed by François Hartog to indicate the ways in which societies articulate past, present and future, with the object of being intelligible to themselves.[3] The traditional regime constructs a cyclical time, in which the account of past actions prescribes what must be today and tomorrow. The horizon of expectation for the future is entirely contained in the field of experience inherited from the past. With the entry into the industrial age, the modern concept of history emerges through an opening up of the future (progress) in which the horizon of expectation is no longer limited by the field of experience, creating a narrative arrow pointing towards a future increasingly different from what has already been and what is happening now.[4] For Hartog, this is the ‘futuristic regime of historicity’, which Baschet more simply calls ‘modern’. The past is seen as over and done with (and therefore open to the objective knowledge of the historian), and is also depreciated (ideology of progress). The future organizes the meaning of past and present (future-centred point of view). This gives a direction to History, conferring on it a power of definition of what has not (yet) happened but is believable, in competition with that of religions.

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“The Rich Will Never Let You Vote Away Their Wealth” – Victorian Socialists; An Anarchist Response – ASF Geelong

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 17:22


ASF Geelong

February 2019

With the looming federal election, the campaign circus ramps up again. ASF Geelong contributes this article in order to clarify its anti-electoral stance. This is made more important given the development of new electoral groupings in Victoria drawing substantial support from activists on the far left.

On the 16th of February 2019 the Victorian Socialists held their first official ‘founding’ conference. Commitment to the new electoral project was formalised by Socialist Alternative, Socialist Alliance, and individual activists. After their first electoral efforts (during the last state elections), the conference decided to continue the electoral project and contest the upcoming Australian federal elections. The regroupment of the larger Trotskyist organisations in Victoria into the Victorian Socialists project has created the most significant electoral socialist presence in the country since the original Communist Party. Large numbers of volunteers have been mobilised, some progressive unions gave relatively significant financial support, and the initial campaign garnered a reasonable amount of media attention. In some electorates, the Victorian Socialist project brought in a larger portion of the vote than socialists have received in a long time, and only missed out on one seat because of preferencing. While performing stronger than socialist electoral efforts in recent decades, this is not an earth shattering result. As anarchists, we can draw lessons from the achievements of the Victorian Socialist campaign in mobilising people around working class issues, but we are not here to sing praises for the project. It is more important is to remind ourselves of the reasons we believe electoral politics is a dead end for the working class.

Anarchists do not hold anti-electoral politics for no reason. We have always been well aware that the state cannot become a path to liberation – attempts to use it as such by the socialist left results in the individuals in parliament becoming, at best, an irrelevance with their campaigns a waste of time and resources, and at worst, becoming the most virulent defenders of the state and privilege. Despite the undoubtable integrity of some genuine revolutionaries entering parliament, a principled position in parliament can only last so long.

“The political arena leaves one no alternative, one must either be a dunce or a rouge.” – Emma Goldman

Given that a government of socialists, either in the minority or majority, do not control the entire apparatus of the state under bourgeois democracy, they must attempt to implement a minimum plan. As standard practice, socialists argue to increase taxes on the rich, or to use funds from other state sectors and invest them in poorer communities. This is all well and good, but by involving themselves in this task, they suddenly find themselves burdened with running the very system they claim to want to overthrow. Consider what would happen if a Victorian Socialist candidate is elected and achieves some of the aims of their manifesto, for example, the proposed recycling plant in the northern suburbs. Though the plant will provide some positives – it will create jobs, and meet environmental needs – in a capitalist system, workers will inevitably struggle with their pay and working conditions. Subsequently, the socialist councilors will have to mediate the struggle and potentially discipline striking workers. This highlights an inherent contradiction when ‘revolutionaries’ in government have no choice but to administer the capitalist state. The greatest idealism is shipwrecked on the shores of the reality of capitalist economics. It may sound like quite an abstraction, but historical precedence would indicate this is a very real concern. Throughout history workers have had to face ‘socialist’ strikebreaking many times.

Some of the groups and members within the Victorian Socialist tent will point out that as revolutionaries they should be using parliament to denounce bourgeois democracy (the best line in this situation), but others will see the small reforms as achievements. They will push the party to continue this line of ‘progress’, drawing more and more resources and activists towards parliamentary activity. Given that the Victorian Socialists are a broad project and not an explicitly Leninist organisation, there will be more space for reformists to manoeuvre and rise within the ranks of a growing party apparatus, pushing increasingly conservative demands on the basis of ‘practicality’, that is, what will get them elected. This presents yet another tension between electoral needs and the maintenance of revolutionary principle.

When a party measures progress by the vote tally they can become obsessed with chasing numbers. Imagine a campaign that may have initially started with a radical program. As the party gains seats and power, it is likely to drop its more radical ideals in order to maintain its positions in parliament. Though supposedly progressive, in its last terms of government Labors inability to legislate for gay marriage was a clear example of acting from fear of being ‘too radical.’ In the end, it was the conservatives that legalised gay marriage – after decades of pressure from social movements. We see the same process taking place today with the rightward shift of the Greens, from an activist party to one of ‘professional politicians’. Slowly but surely, Victorian Socialists, like every socialist party before them, will become more invested in the running of, and for positions within, the state, until such a situation that they become the very defenders of electoral democracy. At this stage, the Socialist Equality Party have a better position in regards to participation in bourgeois democracy!

We know that it is social movements and struggle that force politicians left, not parliament. If that were not true, we wouldn’t have seen significant reforms benefiting the working class come from conservative politicians during periods of mass movement and rebellion. On February 19th this was proven once again with the striking teachers in West Virginia, USA, defeating market-oriented reforms by Republican politicians. By contrast, we wouldn’t have seen leftist parties around the world implement tragic and authoritarian laws and punishments upon the working class again and again, betraying them at pivotal moments.

Where Victorian Socialists are leading people is a dead end. If we really want socialism, the working class must learn to organise and lead struggles themselves. Placing hope in politicians is misleading when workers would be developing militant class consciousness based on their direct actions. Victorian Socialists members will certainly argue that this is not what they are attempting to achieve. Rather, they believe they are playing the ‘inside, outside’ game; where they leverage parliamentary office to help build social movements. This was famously Adam Bandt’s justification for becoming a Greens MP. Participation in electoral politics is the socialist’s shortcut, just as insurrectionism is the shortcut of ‘anarchists’. Both seek to skip the slow, often painstaking work of building the consciousness of a class that can fight for itself, and organise its own structures to run the world. Elections are not just another ‘tool in the toolbox’, rather they are a tool that actively harms the other work a revolutionary organisation is engaged in.

Elections build the idea that you sign someone up, everyone votes, and when the preferred representative gets into parliament, the party’s demands are implemented. It’s fun and it’s easy to hand out ‘how to vote’ cards – to spruik the virtues of your preferred candidate against the others – but it doesn’t develop the critical relationship with electoral and capitalist politics we have to work towards. Millions of people today are disaffected with politicians. Adding socialists to the list of vultures that ‘get voted in and do nothing’ will not help us build revolutionary ideology. Parliamentary activity does very little to build the capacity of the working class itself to struggle, let alone the idea that the working class can run the world.  As MAC-G have written “A Victorian Socialist in the Legislative Council of Victoria might make stirring speeches in support of grassroots struggles and might fight hard to get reforms out of this neo-liberal Labor Government, but if they don’t explain to the working class that this isn’t how we’ll win Socialism, they’ll be leading workers in the wrong direction.”

In practical terms, consider the example of Kasama Sawant, the Socialist Alternative (unrelated to the Australian grouping of the same name) councillor in Seattle. Kasama was elected in 2013, hailed as a major breakthrough as the first ‘socialist’ elected anywhere in the USA for generations. She was elected around a demand for “$15 Now”, that is $15 an hour minimum wage within the Seattle region. She faced significant hostility from business interests, and was funded by the unions to fight for this platform. Though elected, she failed to get this reform through and ‘$15 now’ became ‘$15 later..’ Whilst in Seatac, a city basically next door, the labour movement maintaining autonomy managed to get a republican to pass the legislation without sacrificing themselves to parliamentary limits. The limits of relying on politicians is clear; we see Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez voting to fund ICE in the USA, while simultaneously claiming to want its abolition. The DSA project is yet another example of a growing anti-capitalist consciousness kneecapped by electoral politics.  While it is as much a reflection of the current limits of politics within our unions, and paltry compared to the donations to the Labor party, the funds given to the Victorian Socialist project could have gone into ‘on the ground’ organising efforts, fighting campaigns and strike funds.

We can only wonder at the wisdom of the Victorian Socialist campaign at this time. No one from any group within the Victorian Socialist tent has put out a significant theoretical piece explaining their decisions to engage as ‘Victorian Socialists’ in parliamentary politics yet. Socialist Alternative refused to participate in elections until only last year and haven’t yet justified their change of tactics publicly with a material analysis. The closest thing one can find to Socialist Alternatives position on electoral participation being articulated is Mick Armstrong’s 2016 piece from Marxist Left Review ‘The Broad Left Party After SYRIZA.’ While promoting a healthy understanding of the limits of SYRIZA, Armstrong defends the actions of DEA, Socialist Alternatives sister organisation in Greece that participated in the SYRIZA coalition, with the ‘inside, outside’ (or ‘fighting with both fists’) strategy (struggle inside parliament, struggle outside in the movements),

When SYRIZA enacted its historic betrayal of the Greek people, DEA led a revolt that split away from the party… only to repeat the tactic and participate in the formation in a new coalition, Popular Unity. The difference is that now they take a miniscule amount of the vote, losing any position in parliament and having virtually no influence on the struggle. First as folly, then as farce.

We believe they made a fundamental mistake by participation in the first place. The left can be more effective in power at implementing capitals agenda than the right, as social movements that become invested in a party take their foot off the gas in order to allow the new government to ‘perform.’ As such, all the resources that went into the struggles within SYRIZA who would inevitably betray the Greek people by virtue of participation in the state could have gone into developing an even more militant element to the class struggle in Greece. To the union movement and building strikes, to the anti-fascist struggle, to the countless occupations and direct action struggles, to defending the worker controlled factories like VioME – where we see embryonic forms of workers democracy and expropriation of capitalist interests. As Fred Hampton points out, you have to build power where the people are. As anarchists we know that these new forms of social power are infinitely more important than the struggle within parliament.

Armstrong would disagree, arguing in the MLR piece ‘To directly counterpose building strikes and radical movements in the streets as the alternative to a political intervention in a radical left party like Syriza is to lapse into a syndicalist or movementist error that fails to see the dialectical connections between the two. The forces needed for a revolutionary party are not going to be accumulated simply by building mass movements and strikes; and conversely mass movements and strikes are ultimately not going to be successful in challenging capitalist rule without a mass revolutionary party being built.’

Armstrong would appear to see the dialectic incorrectly. Rather than a project like Victorian Socialists acting as a foothold for radical ideas in a broader workers movement, participation in parliament establishes a foothold for reformist ideas in revolutionary organisations. We believe in building mass social organisations that can overthrow capitalism – but they are not the vanguard party.

“…according to the Syndicalist view, the trade union, the syndicate, is the unified organisation of labour and has for its purpose the defence of the interests of the producers in the existing society and the preparing for and the practical carrying out of the reconstruction of social life after the pattern of [libertarian] Socialism. It has, therefore, a double purpose…” – Rudolph Rocker

As such, the accusation of syndicalist and movementist errors only holds true to a socialist who believes that only the vanguard party can lead the working class to make the revolutionary rupture with capitalism. However as anarchists and libertarian socialists, we know that historically this is untrue. Syndicalism also provides a mass organisation where workers take up the battle of ideas in all facets of society, making the critique of both capitalist and state socialist visions, and promoting the vision of a free and equal world. It is only the narrow view of socialists who believe revolutionary unions cannot play this role. Despite eventual failure of the classic workers revolutions, the working class has nonetheless shown its capacity to overthrow the state and capitalism without the ‘vanguard party.’ Revolutionary experiments in the Ukraine ‘19-21 and Spain in ‘36 attempted to establish a society where ‘the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things’. It would be facetious to argue that the Bolsheviks were the only ‘successful’ example of working class revolution when what they achieved was a bloody and repressive failure certainly no worse than the failure of the libertarian revolutions. If your only criteria of revolutionary success is the crushing of counter-revolutionary military forces, then the Bolsheviks were indeed successful. However if your criteria is the building of a workers democracy from the bottom up, then they failed almost from the very start. World revolution has not been achieved, but we can remain certain that socialists in parliament is a strategy that cannot lead to socialism.

“We assert that social problems can only be resolved by a revolutionary movement that transforms the economy while at the same time destroying bourgeois political institutions.” – Garcia Oliver

While within the libertarian movement we can debate various forms of anarchist organisation from syndicalism to especifismo, anarchists all seek to propagate the idea of self-management and direct action, and assist the working classes to build new forms of self-governance beyond capitalism. This differs vastly from the Leninist party. After all, the state and party have proven in the last instance to be the defenders of bourgeois interests and the gravediggers of the social revolution. Even if we agreed with Lenin, we doubt very much that the defence of electoral participation by the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917 in any way translates to a strategy for today – especially for a ‘mass socialist party’ that isn’t yet much more than a coalition of propaganda groups based out of the universities.

Only coherent and combative anarchist organisations with distinct class politics can become an alternate pole of attraction to fill the space on the revolutionary left – anarchism is becoming a stronger revolutionary current around the world once again, given the abysmal failure of Marxist politics in the 20th Century, and with ‘21st Century Socialism’ proving to achieve either nothing, futile reform, or some meaningful reform but no capability to move beyond capitalism (Socialist Alliance in the UK, SYRIZA, and Venezuela come to mind respectively.)

Internally to Victorian Socialists, fractures within the revolutionary cadres of Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance will begin to become more pronounced as resources are pulled from practical needs and in the situation of a Victorian based party – other state branches. Revolutionary socialists who understand the dead ends of electoral politics will break away from electoral projects like Victorian Socialists in time, and we must be there to meet these militants who have always had the right idea in understanding the many problems of capitalism. What they will need is a better perspective of the state.

Far more important than winning over militants from the socialist groups however is winning new workers over to the anarchist movement. For too long the anarchist movement in Australia has been internal looking. Our struggle as libertarians should be where the working class itself is fighting, and our ideas should inform our action. It will be our motion that draws people in, not just our ideas – this for example is part of the initial explosion of ‘success’ of the Victorian Socialist project.

Anti-capitalist ideas are growing traction around the world, and we want anarchism to become the dominant form of revolutionary politics once again. It is easy to forget that anarchism was once the predominant ideology of the revolutionary left, a far cry from the liberal mess we find passing for much of anarchist politics today. To return to relevance, we require insertion into the important movements and struggles of our time to help build their mass character, and playing a leading role in the redevelopment of a labour movement. To counter the growth of electoral projects anarchists also need easy ‘on ramps’ to politics too, but not ones that will channel workers into handing their fate over to political parties. To build our own organisations and militant movements requires developed and specifically anarchist politics to guide our strategies and tactics. It is our task to reveal the fatal flaw of following strategies like the Victorian Socialists electoral attempts, and reaffirming that the revolution can only be made by the struggle of the workers themselves.

“The working class has no Parliament but the street, the factory, and the workplace, and no other path than social revolution.” – Buenaventura Durruti

ASF-IWA Geelong Section.

For a more comprehensive understanding of the limits of electoral politics we recommend the pamphlet “Socialist Faces in High Places”, by the Black Rose / Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation.

The post “The Rich Will Never Let You Vote Away Their Wealth” – Victorian Socialists; An Anarchist Response – ASF Geelong appeared first on Infoshop News.

What Do the Anarchists of Belarus Stand For?

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 04:44

What are the goals of the anarchists?

Some anarchists are focusing on social transformations, saying that the purpose of the movement is the abolition of the institutions of power and the replacement of their self-government structures. Others complement this idea, stressing the need to spread a new lifestyle and new values, corresponding to the anarchist ideal of a free and responsible person, actively involved in the management of their own life. The ideas of the new society and the “new man” for anarchists are closely connected. For their realization, there is a need to create horizontal relationships at all levels: from interpersonal interaction to ways of making decisions regarding millions of people.

In the economy, the realization of the principle of plane means the creation of networks
of production and consumer cooperatives. These structures will allow both small and large
producers to negotiate directly with consumers about the supply of the right species and
the right amount of products. On the opinion of the anarchists, such an economic model
will solve the problem of economic inequality and change the attitude to the environment,
as it will not be aimed at maximization the profits of individual players but on the
sustainable development. Some anarchists claim that such an economy does not exclude
competition, but the latter will be shift in the area of quality of products and will not
affect the economic welfare of the “losers” competition.

In the sphere of decision-making, anarchists advocate the organization of a step-by-step
system of self-Government, where all basic powers will be in the hands If necessary, local
assemblies will be able to guide their delegates to coordinate at the level of the area,
city or whole region. At the same time, some anarchists believe that at the grass-roots
level, it is possible to create organs with limited power powers, but they will have so
little opportunities and so much controlled by local assemblies, which will not threaten a
horizontal public structure.

For such a system to work, celebrate anarchists, it is necessary to spread a new culture
based on equality, respect and pluralism. All divisions on racial, ethnic, gender and
other grounds will not create hierarchies.

What methods implies anarchism to achieve its goals?

All anarchists agree that the ways of approaching anarchist ideal can be the most
different and depend on a specific public-political situation. Anarchism involves a wide
range of practices: from educational activities, symbolic street shares or publishing
activities to the armed resistance of power.

Some anarchists believe that an important activity is the organization of alternative
horizontal institutions meeting the needs of participants: Housing projects, production
and consumer cooperatives, educational initiatives, etc. It is expected that the numerical
growth of “Alternative Society” can lead to a conflict with power institutions, which will
create Revolutionary situation.

Part of the anarchists among the ways of realizing social transformation is called active
inclusion in existing social movements: Working, women, environmental, anti-racism and others.

All these methods and practices unites the principle of direct action, meaning that the
oppressed to exercise their rights act on their own without resorting to the help of any
representatives of the power and without creating a hierarchy in their movement. In other
words, direct action is the alignment of goals and means.

What are the examples of the incarnation of undisciplined ideas in practice?

There is no example of the realization of the anarchist ideal, which would be absolute,
and the mass and long-term. This has many reasons.

Some major attempts to create anarchist structures are forcibly are by the state. This was
the case with agricultural communes and self-control industrial production in catalonia of
the civil war in 1936-1939 and with the 1918-1921 mahnovskim experiment

Part of the projects to create an alternative society is born, integrated over time into
the environment. For example, Israeli kibbutzim, the commune of Aurovilâ in India and the
mondragon cooperative in Spain.

However, there are a number of examples of the realization of anarchist or close to
anarchism experiments today. These are whole regions like the Mexican state of chiapas and
the autonomous cantons of Syrian Kurdistan, many production and consumer cooperatives
around the world, occupied by workers in 2001 in ARGENTINA FACTORIES (e.g. plant plant).

In the political sphere, the coordination of the world al´terglobalist movement, the
“Occupy Wall Street” Movement, the “nuit debout” or “Yellow vests”.

In the interest of what social groups changes offered by anarchists?

In the first place, in the interest of those social groups that experience at least one of
the kind of structural oppression or do not have the possibility of equal participation in
decision-making, which directly relate to the conditions of their And such, by the way,
the vast majority of the population.

In the interest of employees who will finally be able to dispose of their labor, time and
skills. Women who will become just people, not “second floor”. men of lower and middle
classes who will not die in wars for the interests of elite. People with special physical
needs, for which there are resources and opportunities to create an inclusive environment.
People suffering from pollution of the environment and the destruction of nature.

As a rule, anarchists imply that all these seem to be ” narrow ” and ” individual ”
interests internally interrelated and can be included in the general project of social

The only group, any interests of which are infinitely far away from the anarchists, is a
small economic and political elite, which has centred on the privileges and levers of the
management of society

The massive anarchist transformation of society is a long and difficult process. But what
specific changes of anarchists offer to commit already now?

When it comes to specific and relevant social transformations, many anarchists have
already been hard to formulate a specific answer.

However, part of the respondents formulated clear and reasoned steps:

* Achieve Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of organizations. Here is the
abolition of all laws related to “extremist activities”. it will help bring back some part
of society in political life

.* to empower local authorities with great powers. This will make power a more transparent
and controlled society. In those areas where possible, it is necessary to convert these
organs to local assemblies.

* At least partly deprive the state of monopoly on violence. That is to legalize at least
a traumatic weapon, soften or abolish articles on violence against security. This will
make it possible to approach the problem of police violence, reduce the level of
repression and, in the long term, bring back the society the opportunity to take care of its

What is the anarhiceskoe movement of Belarus?

Many anarchists say there is no anarchist movement in Belarus if under the movement to
understand a certain mass force capable of influencing the socio-political situation.
Instead, there are a number of activist groups, communities and individual people sharing
anarchist beliefs and leading work to create a full-fledged movement. Among them: free
food distribution “Food not Bombs” (, Media Collective “Pramen´”,
“Anarchist Black Cross” Initiative (,
Libertarian Library “FREE THOUGHT” ( and Really Free market Minsk

The main difference of anarchists from other political forces of Belarus is the lack of
desire to get into power. Some anarchists see dishonesty and opacity that politicians use
the discontent of some social groups or some social conflicts to ” gain political glasses
“, which will eventually help them take a place in ” big offices ” and enjoy Such a level
of life that will be unavailable to most of the ones with whom they are today, as it
seems, together. The Anarchists, on the contrary, directly and openly declare their
interests not different from the interests of the majority of the population.

How to join the anarchists of Belarus?

In General, it is necessary to meet some of the anarchists and engage in the work of one
of the initiatives. For example, visiting open events like Food not bombs, or Freemarket.
many anarchists note that it is difficult enough because the repression has to comply with
a number of security measures.

In addition, it is possible to create an autonomous initiative or group, and the thinkers
will be sure to contact.

Finally, the intention to join or help can be written by any of the above initiatives. For
example, to mail

Petro Fomašov for pramen.

The post What Do the Anarchists of Belarus Stand For? appeared first on Infoshop News.

If You Want a General Strike, Organize Your Co-workers

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 04:26

via Black Rose Federation

The following interview with Joe Burns, author of the important labor text Reviving The
Strike, takes up the evergreen questions of the role of strikes and building a base within
our workplaces. With the recent wave of teacher strikes these questions are back on the
radar of the U.S. left but this interview from 2012 spoke to then-current discussions of
how to move the left from fleeting activist mobilizations to building long term roots
within the working class.

The “Build Power, Show Power” campaign, also referred to as
“Occupy May 1st,” was an effort initiated by groups within the anarchist milieu, some
later coalescing into what became Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation, which sought to channel the numbers and energy of those radicalized by the Occupy movement towards a
May 1st, 2012, General Strike. Ultimately the political temperature and activity in the
wake of the Occupy movement cooled and contracted into a “post-Occupy lull” rather than
heating and the campaign culminated in anti-capitalist themed rallies in a number of
cities instead of hoped for strikes. But the effort wasn’t without basis in 2012 given the
widespread popularity of the general strike in the prior year – calls for a general strike
electrified the wider left during the April 2011 Wisconsin uprising called for by members
of the IWW and endorsed by local labor unions and the one-day general strike carried out
in November 2011 by Occupy Oakland which resulted in shutting down the Port of Oakland and activists taking over the downtown core of the city.

With renewed discussions around the use of general strikes during the January 2019 federal
government shutdown by the leader of the flight attendants union, Joe Burn’s advice that
we need to be organizing at our workplaces and building rank-and-file organizations are
just as relevant then as they are now.

-Adam Weaver

Many in the Occupy movement have called for a general strike on May 1st but most Occupy
activists aren’t involved in labor organizations or organized in their workplaces. While
General Assemblies may be somewhat effective institutions at reaching the agreement of
assorted activists around future direct actions, workplace stoppages require the large
scale participation of workers in decision-making structures. The interview below gives
some organizing advice for those who have called the general strike. I hope that this
interview will inspire Occupy activists to consider the difficult work ahead that is
needed to build democracy in the workplace. We are the 99%!

-Camilo Viveiros, 2012

Camilo (CV): You’ve written this very important book Reviving the Strike that gives us a
lot of insight about some of the challenges, but also the importance of strikes as a
tactic. Thank you for your work promoting the increased use of the strike as a tool to use
building working class power. In “Reviving the Strike” you argue that the labor movement
must revive effective strikes based on the traditional tactics of labor- stopping
production and workplace-based solidarity. As someone who sees the strike as a vital
tactic to achieve economic justice I want to ask you a few questions.

Right now Occupy and other activists across the country have been agitating for a general
strike on May 1st. Resolutions have been passed at General Assemblies around the country.

There are a lot of new activists that have joined the Occupy Movement, some never having
had any organizing experience or labor organizing experience. Could you share some of the
examples of creative ways that newer activists and established labor activists can think
about this coming year, maybe toward next May 1st or toward the remote future of how
people can embrace new creative strategies to organize toward strikes involving larger
numbers of folks.

Joe Burns (JB): First of all, I think the fact that people are talking about this strike
and the general strike is a good thing because it starts raising people’s consciousness
about where our real source of power is in society, which is ultimately working people
have the power to stop production because working people are the ones who produce things
of value in society. On the other hand, if you look back through history about how strikes
happened, how in particular general strikes happened, what you’ll find is that they’re
organized in the workplace by organizers organizing their co-workers. And that’s really
the key aspect here. If you look at how most general strikes in the United States have
come about, it’s because there’s been strike activity in the local community, people have
built bonds of solidarity. And then, let’s say one Local goes out on strike, they put out
an appeal for other Locals to help them, and then eventually it breaks out beyond the
bounds of the dispute between just them and their employer and becomes a generalized
dispute between all the workers in the city and the employers in the city. So it really
happens as part of a process of solidarity being built step by step.

It hasn’t really happened where people have put out a general call saying let’s strike,
let’s do a general strike on this day.

One of the things that I focus on in my book, is the need to refocus on the strike. And to
do that, that really takes workplace organizing in both union and non-union shops, where
people go in and do the hard work of talking to their co-workers, forming an organization,
and ultimately walking out together. I think it’s scary to do, to strike, to ask people in
these isolated workplaces to strike all by themselves makes it very difficult.

CV: What do you think it would take to actually organize, to bring back the capacity to
have a general strike in the United States?

JB: In order to have a general strike I think we need to have a workers’ movement that’s
based in the workplace. If you look at, in the early 1970’s there’s a good book called
Rebel Rank and File that a number of folks edited and it’s got articles. It’s really about
how the generation of 60’s leftists, a lot of them went back into the workplaces and did
organizing, and that in the early 70’s there were tons of Wildcat strikes which aren’t
authorized by the union leadership. Some of them, like the Postal Strike of 1970 involved
200,000 postal workers striking against the federal government, in an illegal strike. But
that didn’t happen just by itself, it happened because people went in to their workplaces
and organized it. So, how are we going to get a general strike in this country? I think
it’s going to be because we redevelop a labor movement or a broader workers’ movement
that’s based on the strike. I think the efforts of Occupy for the class-based sort of
thinking will help in that. Ultimately, though, I think we need at some point to devote
our attention to the workplace, because the workplace is the site of where the strike and
struggle need to generate from.

CV: During the takeover of the capital building in Wisconsin some folks speculated that
what should have happened is that public sector workers who were under attack should have
gone on strike. But in some ways public sector workers are even more restricted around
strike guidelines than private sector workers and so they have less right to strike. What
are your thoughts around public sector workers who are really bearing a large brunt of the
attack on labor over the last year, and what would the challenges be to building the
solidarity necessary to consider strikes of public sector workers?

JB: I think what you find studying labor history is that even though strikes were illegal
up until 1970, Hawaii became the first state to authorize a legal strike, regardless of
that workers struck by the hundreds of thousands, public sector workers in the 1960’s. And
in fact the laws giving them the right to strike were done after the fact, and they were
only passed because workers were striking anyway and legislatures decided to set up an
orderly procedure to govern strikes. So what you find is hundreds of thousands of teachers
striking throughout the 1960’s, and that’s really how public employees built their unions.
And they did it in the face of injunctions, so a judge may order them back to work and
start jailing leaders, but like in Washington state in a rural community all the teachers
showed up together, everyone who was on strike, and told the judge to arrest them all. And
the judge backed down because it didn’t look good.

So that’s really how we won our unions to begin with in the public sector, in the 1960’s,
so when you fast forward to today and look at strikes in the public sector, when you look
at Wisconsin in particular, clearly the Wisconsin teachers is what really kicked off the
whole Wisconsin battle. They organized calling in sick, and two-thirds of Madison teachers
didn’t show up to work and that’s what really kind of fueled the beginning of the takeover
of the capitol, along with the grad students and so forth. So it was based on a strike.
Some people wanted that to expand into a general strike, but that really wasn’t going to
happen unless the people most involved which were the public employees, took the lead on
that. And they chose, and made a strategic decision after four days to go back to work and
fight by other means. I think that’s the strategy that they wanted to do and that made
sense for them.

CV: With union density not at its peak what are the some of the opportunities for
non-union organizations to use striking as a tactic? What are some of the lessons we can
learn from the Wildcat strikes of the 70’s, and how can we have enough flexibility to try
to go beyond the stranglehold that Labor law has on workers’ organizations right now?

JB: I think there’s been a lot of good movement in recent years to look at different forms
of worker organization beyond the traditional unions. So you’ve had workers’ centers,
you’ve had various alternative unions, the IWW and so forth, all looking at how do you
organize particular groups of workers. The question that all of them eventually run into
is, you can have your alternative form of organization but ultimately it’s a question of
power, and do you have the power to improve workers’ lives. And to do that traditionally,
that’s been at the workplace the ability to strike or otherwise financially harm an
employer. So I think part of what moving forward we’ll see with the revival of the
workers’ movement in this country is a lot of coming together of these different forms of
organizations, embracing tactics such as the strike. And really some of them are the best
situated to do it, because they don’t have the huge treasuries and buildings and
conservative officials that you find in a lot of unions.

CV: So, what would your advice be to a non-union Occupy activist who maybe voted for a
general strike during a general assembly, or who wants to see a general strike come to
fruition at some point, what would your suggestions be for those activists that are out
there who are seeing the need for this tactic to be embraced.

JB: I think go into your workplace. The strike and strike activity needs to be rooted in
the workplaces, and if it’s based on people outside of the workplace calling on people to
engage in strike activity, that’s not going to work. Not saying you need to just bury your
head in some local place, you need to have a broader perspective and broader activism, but
if you really want to see a general strike, go out and organize workers, your co-workers
or however you want to do it to build forms of organization in the workplace.

This article was originally published at From Activism 2 Organizing.

Joe Burns is staff attorney and negotiator, with the Association of Flight Attendants/
Communications Workers of America and author of Reviving the Strike.

Camilo Viveiros has been an organizer for over 20 years with a focus on training,
education, and strategy.

The post If You Want a General Strike, Organize Your Co-workers appeared first on Infoshop News.

Death by charity: the dark side of decluttering

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 03:46

via ROAR magazine

by Khadijah Kanji

n the newly released Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” the eponymous host demonstrates the art and joy of conscious decluttering through a series of home makeovers. As illustrated by the widespread media coverage and social media excitement, the show clearly resonates with those of us who simply have too much and would be happier with less.

Amid the #konmari buzz came news of the tragic death of Crystal Papineau — a 35-year old homeless woman in Toronto who died while trapped in the deposit slot of a clothing donation bin. She had likely been searching for the warm clothes that would sustain her during the harsh winter months.

The nuisance of excess and the deadliness of deprivation make for a sharp and devastating outline of the binary reality of life under capitalism.

An Inevitable Tragedy

Indeed, Papineau’s death is devastating. But as housing and shelter activists have noted, it is not surprising. There are over 8,000 homeless people in Toronto, Canada’s largest city. The night Papineau died, Toronto shelters were, like so many other nights, at capacity. Amid these conditions of widespread homelessness and insufficient respite, 145 homeless people died in Toronto between January 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018. This year, Papineau has already been replaced as the latest death of a homeless person in the city.

Papineau’s death is devastating — but it is not unprecedented: at least six others in Canada have died after becoming stuck in donation bins. An incident in West Vancouver led to the closure of all of the city’s receptacles.

Papineau’s death is devastating and it should be ironic: a woman living in poverty was killed by the infrastructure specifically designed to facilitate charitable giving. But it is only ironic if we consider charity to be separate from, and counter to, the cruel and violent logic of capitalism. In reality, charity is not only compatible within capitalism — it is the product of its logic, and makes its perpetuation possible.

A Partner in Crime

Consider one particular “charitable” industry in Canada: food banks. Introduced as a stopgap measure during the recession in the 1980s to mitigate the pressures of unemployment, yet, 30 years later, they are a mainstay of the Canadian landscape. Each month, over 850,000 people in Canada access food banks.

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Venezuela Coverage Takes Us Back to Golden Age of Lying About Latin America

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 03:10

via FAIR

by Mark Cook

I was sitting in my apartment in Caracas, Venezuela, reading the online edition of Time magazine (5/19/16), which carried a report that there was not even something as basic as aspirin to be found anywhere in Venezuela: “Basic medicines like aspirin are nowhere to be found.”

I walked out of the apartment to the nearest pharmacy, four blocks away, where I found plenty of aspirin, as well as acetaminophen (generic Tylenol) and ibuprofen (generic Advil), in a well-stocked pharmacy with a knowledgeable professional staff that would be the envy of any US drugstore.

A few days after the Time story, CNBC (6/22/16) carried a claim that there was no acetaminophen to be found anywhere, either: “Basic things like Tylenol aren’t even available.” That must have taken the Pfizer Corporation by surprise, since it was their Venezuelan subsidiary, Pfizer Venezuela SA, which produced the acetaminophen I purchased. (Neither Time writer Ian Bremer nor CNBC commentator Richard Washington was in Venezuela, and there was no evidence offered that either of them had ever been there.)

I purchased all three products, plus cough syrup and other over-the-counter medications, because I doubted that anyone in the United States would believe me if I couldn’t produce the medications in their packages.

Unrelenting drumbeat of lies

Venezuelan Youth Orchestra in New York City, 2016

In fact, I myself wouldn’t have believed anyone who made such claims without being able to produce the proof, so intense and unrelenting has been the drumbeat of lies. When the Youth Orchestra of Venezuela gave a concert in New York in early 2016, before I moved to Caracas, I went there thinking, “Gee, I hope that the members of the orchestra are all well-dressed and well-fed.” Yes, of course they were all well-dressed and well-fed!

When I mentioned this in a talk at the University of Vermont, a student told me that he’d had the same feeling when he was following the Pan American soccer championship. He wondered if the Venezuelan players would be able to play, because they’d be so weakened from lack of food. In fact, he said, the Venezuelan team played superbly, and went much further in the competition than expected, since Venezuela has historically been a baseball country, unlike its soccer-obsessed neighbors Brazil and Colombia.

Hard as it may be for followers of the US media to believe, Venezuela is a country where people play sports, go to work, go to classes, go to the beach, go to restaurants and attend concerts. They publish and read newspapers of all political stripes, from right to center-right, to center, to center-left, to left. They produce and watch programs on television, on TV channels that are also of all political stripes.

Supporters of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (photo: TeleSur)

CNN was ridiculed recently (Redacted Tonight, 2/1/19) when it carried a report on Venezuela, “in the socialist utopia that now leaves virtually every stomach empty,” followed immediately with a cut to a demonstration by the right-wing opposition, where everybody appeared to be quite well-fed.

But surely that’s because most of the anti-government demonstrators were upper-middle class, a viewer might think. The proletarians at pro-government demonstrations must be suffering severe hunger.

Not if one consults photos of the massive pro-government demonstration on February 2, where people seemed to be doing pretty well. This is in spite of the Trump administration’s extreme economic squeeze on the country, reminiscent of the “make the economy scream” strategy used by the Nixon administration and the CIA against the democratic government of President Salvador Allende in Chile, as well as many other democratically elected governments.

Rival demonstrations

Últimas Noticias on Twitter (2/1/19): “Capriles: The Parties Weren’t Supporting the Auto-Inauguration of Guaidó”

That demonstration showed considerable support for the government of President Nicolás Maduro and widespread rejection of Donald Trump’s choice for president of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó. Guaidó, who proclaimed himself to be president of the country and was recognized minutes later by Trump, even though a public opinion poll showed that 81 percent of Venezuelans had never heard of him, comes from the ultra-right faction in Venezuelan politics.

The pro-Maduro demonstration suggested, not surprisingly, that Guaidó had failed to win much popular support outside the wealthy and upper-middle class. But Guaidó couldn’t even win support from many of them. The day before rival rallies February 2, Henrique Capriles, the leader of a less extreme right-wing faction, gave an interview to the AFP that appeared in Últimas Noticias (2/1/19), the most widely read newspaper in Venezuela. In it, Capriles said that most of the opposition had not supported Guaidó’s self-proclamation as president. That may explain the surprisingly weak turnout at Guaidó’s demonstration, held in the wealthiest district of Caracas, and obviously outshone by the pro-government demonstration on the city’s main boulevard.

The New York Times did not show pictures of that pro-government demonstration, limiting itself to a claim by unnamed “experts” (2/2/19) that the pro-government demonstration was smaller than the anti-government one.

Readers can look at the photos of the rival demonstrations and judge for themselves. Both groups did their best to pull out their faithful, knowing how much is riding on a show of popular support. The stridently right-wing opposition paper El Nacional (2/3/19) carried a photo of the right-wing opposition demonstration:

If that was the best photo it could find, it was remarkably unimpressive compared to the photos in the left-wing papers CCS (2/2/19)….

…and Correo del Orinoco  (2/3/19), which were only too happy to publish pictures of the pro-government event:

Unlikely humanitarian

A huge anti-government demonstration was supposed to make possible a coup d’état, a maneuver the CIA has used repeatedly—in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Brazil in 1964 and many more, straight through to Honduras in 2009 and Ukraine in 2015. The turnout at the Trump administration’s demonstration was disappointing, and the coup d’état never occurred. The result is that Trump has expressed a sudden interest in getting food and medicine to Venezuelans (, 2/9/19).

Trump, who let thousands die in Puerto Rico and put small children in cages on the Mexican border, seems to be an unlikely champion of humanitarian aid to Latin Americans, but the corporate media have straight-facedly pretended to believe it.

The CBC (2/15/19) acknowledged that the bridge depicted as being blocked to humanitarian aid has in fact never been opened.

Most have suppressed reports that the Red Cross and the UN are providing aid to Venezuela in cooperation with the Venezuelan government, and have protested against US “aid” that is obviously a political and military ploy.

The corporate media have continued to peddle the Trump-as-humanitarian-champion line, even after it was revealed that a US plane was caught smuggling weapons into Venezuela, and even after Trump named Iran/Contra criminal Elliott Abrams to head up Venezuelan operations. Abrams was in charge of the State Department Human Rights Office during the 1980s, when weapons to US-backed terrorists in Nicaragua were shipped in US planes disguised as “humanitarian” relief.

Canada’s CBC (2/15/19) at least had the honesty to acknowledge that it had been had in swallowing a lie from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the Venezuelan government had blockaded a bridge between Colombia and Venezuela to prevent aid shipments. The newly built bridge has not yet been opened: it has never been open, apparently because of hostile relations between the two countries, but the non-opening long predates the US government’s alleged food and medicine shipments.

The absurdity of $20 million of US food and medicine aid to a country of 30 million, when US authorities have stolen $30 billion from Venezuela in oil revenue, and take $30 million every day, needs no comment.

‘Failed state’

The Financial Times (4/11/16) reported in 2016 that Venezuela was a “failed state,” “pure chaos” with “something akin to a civil war going on.”

The campaign of disinformation and outright lies about Venezuela was kicked off in 2016 by the Financial Times. Ironically, it chose the 14th anniversary of the 2002 failed coup d’etat against President Hugo Chávez—April 11, 2016—to claim that Venezuela was in “chaos” and “civil war,” and that Venezuela was a “failed state.” As with the Time and CNBC reports, the Financial Times reporter was not in Venezuela, and there was no evidence in the report that he had ever been there.

I asked right-wing friends in Venezuela whether they agreed with the Financial Times claims. “Well, no, of course not,” said one, stating the obvious, “there is no chaos and no civil war. But Venezuela is a failed state, since it has not been able to provide for all the medical needs of the population.” By that standard, every country in Latin America is a failed state, and obviously the United States too.

The New York Times has run stories (5/15/16, 10/1/16) claiming that conditions in Venezuelan hospitals are horrendous. The reports enraged Colombians in New York, who have noted that a patient can die on the doorstep of a Colombian public hospital if the patient has no insurance. In Venezuela, in contrast, patients are treated for free.

One Colombian resident in New York said that his mother had recently returned to Bogotá after several years in the United States, and had not had time to obtain medical insurance. She fell ill, and went to a public hospital. The hospital left her in the waiting room for four hours, then sent her to a second hospital. The second hospital did the same, leaving her for four hours and then sending her to a third hospital. The third hospital was preparing to send her to a fourth when she protested that she was bleeding internally and was feeling weak.

“I’m sorry, Señora, if you don’t have medical insurance, no public hospital in this country will look at you,” said the woman at the desk. “Your only hope is to go to a private hospital, but be prepared to pay a great deal of money up front.” Luckily, she had a wealthy friend, who took her to a private hospital, and paid a great deal of money up front.

Such conditions in Colombia and other neoliberal states go unmentioned in the US corporate media, which have treated the Colombian government, long a right-wing murder-squad regime, as a US ally (Extra!, 2/09).

“Latin American Juvenile Cardiac Hospital, Caracas: It’s Chávez’s Fault!” (YouTube, 3/31/11)

Well, OK, but are the reports of conditions in Venezuelan hospitals true or grossly exaggerated? “They are much better than they were ten years ago,” said a friend who works in a Caracas hospital. In fact, he said, ten years before, the hospital where he worked did not exist, and new hospitals are now being opened. One was dedicated recently in the town of El Furrial, and another was opened in El Vigia, as reported by the centrist newspaper Últimas Noticias (3/3/17, 4/27/18).  The government has also greatly expanded others, like a burn center in Caracas and three new operating rooms at the hospital in Villa Cura.

Meanwhile, the government is inaugurating a new high-speed train line, The Dream of Hugo Chávez, in March (Correo del Orinoco, 2/6/19). Since the US media have never allowed reporting on any accomplishments in the years since  Chávez took office in 1999, but only any alleged, exaggerated or, as noted, completely invented shortcomings, readers have to consult an alternative history. Here is one offered by a Venezuelan on YouTube (3/31/11): “Por Culpa de Chávez” (“It’s Chávez’s Fault”). Depicting new hospitals, transit lines, housing, factories and so on built under Chavismo, it might help many understand why the Maduro government continues to enjoy such strong backing from so many people.

Economic warfare

This is not to minimize Venezuela’s problems. The country was hit, like other oil-producing countries, and as it was in the 1980s and ’90s, by the collapse of oil prices. That failed to bring down the government, so now the Trump administration has created an artificial crisis by using extreme economic warfare to deprive the country of foreign exchange needed to import basic necessities.  The Trump measures seem designed to prevent any economic recovery.

Like any country at war (and the Trump administration has placed Venezuela under wartime conditions, and is threatening immediate invasion), there have been shortages, and products that can mostly be found on the black market. This should surprise no one: During World War II in the US, a cornucopia of a country not seriously threatened with invasion, there was strict rationing of products like sugar, coffee and rubber.

The Venezuelan government has made food, medicine and pharmaceuticals available at extremely low prices, but much of the merchandise has made its way to the black market, or over the border to Colombia, depriving Venezuelans of supplies and ruining Colombian producers. The government recently abandoned some of the heavy price subsidies, which resulted initially in higher prices. Over the past few weeks, prices have been coming down as supplies stayed in Venezuela, especially as the government gained greater control over the Colombian border to prevent smuggling.

There has never been a serious discussion of any of this in the US corporate media, much less any discussion of the campaign of lies or the Trump administration warfare. There has been no comparison with conditions in the 1980s and ’90s, when Venezuela’s neoliberal government imposed IMF economic recipes, resulting in a popular rebellion, the bloody 1989 Caracazo, when wholesale government repression took the lives of hundreds (according to the government at the time) or thousands (according to government critics), and martial law took the lives of many more.

Efforts by the right-wing opposition to provoke a similar uprising, and another Caracazo that could justify a foreign “humanitarian intervention,” have failed repeatedly. So the US administration and corporate media simply resort to the most extreme lying about Latin America that has been seen since the Reagan administration wars of the 1980s.

The post Venezuela Coverage Takes Us Back to Golden Age of Lying About Latin America appeared first on Infoshop News.

Amazon and the Jobs Charade

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 01:24

via Jacobin

by Liza Featherstone

Thanks for nothing, AOC,” reads a billboard now in Times Square, citing “lost NYC jobs,” “lost wages,” and “lost economic activity for NY.”

The billboard, a dig at New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Left over Amazon’s recent reversal of its plan to open a second headquarters in Long Island City, Queens, was sponsored by the “Job Creators’ Network,” created by Home Depot cofounder Bernie Marcus and funded mostly by the right-wing Mercer Foundation. That these actors lack credibility as champions of working-class Queens is obvious, not to mention the fact that AOC, though she did support community activists in their fight against Amazon, had no authority over the deal and her district doesn’t even include Long Island City.

Yet the billboard’s far-right take hasn’t been that different from that of the mainstream media: one giant concern troll over these “lost” Amazon jobs and the Left’s complicity in that calamity. There’s been much hand-wringing on the issue even from well-meaning progressives and liberals. Mayor Bill de Blasio himself joined the chorus of scolds, reprimanding AOC for her support of the anti-Amazon campaign: “Working people want jobs.”

But in truth it’s the Left, not Amazon, that’s been working hard to create good jobs in New York City.

It’s surprising how many people seem stuck in the 1980s on this matter. Capital flight isn’t an issue for 2019 New York City, and we’re not short on tech jobs: our tech sector is the nation’s second-biggest after Silicon Valley. A 2017 report by the New York State Comptroller found that employment in the city’s tech sector grew three times faster than the rest of the city’s private sector between 2010 and 2016.

The Amazon HQ was a giveaway to Big Real Estate, creating jobs that would allow people to buy expensive condos in Long Island City and North Brooklyn. Jobs that pay $150,000 a year don’t create new opportunity; they merely multiply the options of the “haves.” A person who gets such a job most likely already has one, probably in a place that isn’t as cool as Long Island City. Not one of the $150,000 positions would have gone to anyone currently living in a Queens housing project.

Amazon HQ would also have brought administrative and custodial jobs, some of which might have been more accessible to people not currently in the labor force. But Amazon is a notoriously awful place to work. A union would have improved matters, but Amazon has been a doggedly anti-union employer. Indeed, when politicians, responding to activists’ criticisms of the company, tried to make labor organizing rights a condition of Amazon HQ, Amazon balked, and this may have been the last straw for the company. In any case, those jobs will still be created — just somewhere other than Queens.

Large, anti-union companies like Amazon or Walmart aren’t just bad for their own workers. They set low standards, poisoning the labor market throughout a city or region, dragging many other workers’ wages and conditions down. A robust left movement insisting on workers’ rights, the kind nourished by the anti-Amazon fight, could do the opposite.

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A few more Marxist myths

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 19:38

via Anarchist Writers

by Anarcho

Since last blogging, I’ve been concentrating on my two talks. Both were well attended (beyond official capacity) and seemed to go down well, although obviously the audience decides that. I tried to get too much in the first talk, but then I had to cover a lot of ground (maybe in ten libertarians would have been better?). Still, it was nice to go through such important activists and thinkers – particularly women libertarians, as these are often overlooked (which was why the Five Leaves people wanted it organised).

This summation work has helped me clarify A Libertarian Reader, which is now definitely being organised in two volumes based on eighty periods – one from 1857 to 1936, then from 1937 to 2017. While eighty years is a strange cut-off point, I think it makes sense in this case – not least because it makes volume 1 end with the Spanish Revolution. Not quite ending with Durruti’s rightly famous interview (due to a Camillo Berneri article that needs to go in), but it does end with a rare Emma Goldman speech. While the texts are not completely finalised, the introduction is now at its first draft stage – so progress is being made.

In relation to the talks, I’ve tracked down a few André Léo texts from the Commune which are going in. I’ve also thought about adding another Lucy Parsons one. Which brings me to my first Marxist myth of this blog, namely the contrast made by Marxists between Parsons and Goldman. Needless to say, these add to the various Marxists myths about anarchism already debunked in AFAQ.

After reading quite a few accounts, I think it is fair to say that Leninists really hate Emma Goldman with a passion – even to the extent of systematically distorting both her life and her ideas. For example, my reply to an ISO diatribe can be joined by another to be found here on Lucy Parsons:

‘By the turn of the century, Emma Goldman was the most popular anarchist in the U.S. Her focus was on the freedom of the individual, primarily around the question of sexual independence and “free love.” Goldman and Parsons became fierce, lifelong adversaries over their differing perspectives on revolution.

‘Parsons charged Goldman with ignoring the class struggle and “addressing largely middle-class audiences.” Goldman attacked Parsons for failing to prioritize the fight to “smash monogamy.”

‘For Parsons, it was ridiculous to talk about women’s sexual liberation without a struggle around economic issues. “I hold that the economic is the first issue to be settled,” she writes. “That it is woman’s economical dependence which makes her enslavement possible…How many women do you think would submit to marriage slavery if it were not for wage slavery?”

‘As the anarchist label came to be associated with those moving away from a focus on the working class, Lucy Parsons became increasingly disenchanted with anarchism. Soon she would be writing, “Anarchists are good at showing the shortcomings of others’ organizations. But what have they done in the last 50 years?…Nothing to build up a movement; they are mere pipe-dreamers dreaming. Consequently, anarchism doesn’t appeal to the public.”

‘In 1905, Lucy Parsons would participate in the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a revolutionary-syndicalist organization.”

I must note when the text quoted after “Soon she would be writing” dates from. Given the context of the article, the reader would be forgiven to thinking it was written sometime between 1900 (“the turn of the century”) and 1905, the founding of the IWW. No such luck. The quote is from a letter written on 27 February 1934 – soon, at least for the ISO, means around 30 years! The dishonesty is simply shocking, but sadly not an isolated case.

What of the feud between Parsons and Goldman? Well, it seems to be true the two did not get on (an issue not limited to anarchists, as shown by numerous splits by Marxists over the years). However, the rest is an invention – I particularly like the “smash monogamy” quote, as if Goldman used such words (or anyone used such terminology before the late 1960s at the very earliest…). Goldman – it must be stressed – was fully aware of the class nature of both capitalism and how to change it. I’ve indicated this in my review of Carolyn Ashbaugh’s terrible book – which is the main source for the ISO’s invented narrative.

There is a strange quality to this kind of diatribe, namely that anarchists are painted as being unable to hold more than one idea in their heads at any one time, combined with similar monolithic approach to tactics. Thus anarchists are class struggle orientated (like Parsons, and so “syndicalists” and so good because they are nearly Marxists) or they are culture orientated (like Goldman, and so “individualists” and express “anarchism”). In reality, anarchists are like everyone else and can hold multiple ideas and advocate multiple tactics – thus Goldman advocated syndicalism along with personal transformation, she recognised the importance of individual liberation along with having a class analysis of society and social change. These positions are not mutually exclusive, in other words.

As she recounts in Living My Life, Goldman was a worker and she took part in strikes while a worker – and supported strikes when she became a full-time anarchist activist, along with writing on and lecturing about syndicalism. Hell, Lucy Parsons sold Goldman’s pamphlets – including we can assume the one advocating syndicalism! Which makes claims like “Parsons’ merciless and principled critique of lifestyle anarchist and Zinn hero Emma Goldman” laughable – but clearly Leninists feel that they can come out with this kind of nonsense, presumably being sure that their readers will not find out the reality of the situation by reading the authors in question – indeed, why would they given the picture pained?

Just to state the obvious, Goldman was not a “lifestyle” anarchist but rather a class struggle anarchist and her feminism was rooted in class analysis and class struggle – for example, “how much independence is gained if the narrowness and lack of freedom of the home is exchanged for the narrowness and lack of freedom of the factory, sweat-shop, department store, or office?” (Anarchism and Other Essays, 216) Ironically, she critiqued the feminists of her time for ignoring the reality of class society long before her later critics put pen to paper – but, then, they clearly did not read her books before doing so (a better option than knowingly lying, the only other option).

So the picture painted by Ashbaugh and repeated by the likes of the ISO is simply an invention. I suppose the narrative of an anarchist critical of anarchist orthodoxy, who became a syndicalist and moved towards Marxist principles is just too appealing to reject. It is a morality tale for young anarchists to help them see the errors of their ways and so evidence and logic are not necessary. Likewise, articles like these are for young party members, to discourage them from reading the likes of Goldman and their eye-witness accounts of the failure of Bolshevism in practice. Indeed, her critique of Lenin in power was rooted in a very clear class analysis:

“There is another objection to my criticism on the part of the Communists. Russia is on strike, they say, and it is unethical for a revolutionist to side against the workers when they are striking against their masters. That is pure demagoguery practised by the Bolsheviki to silence criticism.

“It is not true that the Russian people are on strike. On the contrary, the truth of the matter is that the Russian people have been locked out and that the Bolshevik State – even as the bourgeois industrial master – uses the sword and the gun to keep the people out. In the case of the Bolsheviki this tyranny is masked by a world-stirring slogan: thus they have succeeded in blinding the masses. Just because I am a revolutionist I refuse to side with the master class, which in Russia is called the Communist Party.” (My Disillusionment in Russia, xlix)

Goldman was more than able to have more than one idea in her head… and in terms of her enriched perspective, she was right. Class struggle politics do not need to exclude a concern over other issues, nor a desire to expand individual freedom in the here-and-now. It is only the impoverished politics of Leninism which concludes it must.

Which raises a question, did Parsons join the Communist Party of the USA in 1939 as Ashbaugh claimed? Her book has no footnote indicating any evidence or source – given the claim, this seems strange. The wikipedia entry on Lucy Parsons shows the problem – for it refers to post-Ashbaugh texts which repeat her claims uncritically as if they were proof of the initial claim. Given the tone of her book as well as the inaccuracy of many of her statements (particularly as regards anarchism and anarchists), it seems that anything in that book should be taken as questionable.

It is interesting to note the influence of Ashbaugh’s claims. Thus we find Sam Dolgoff stating in 1971-2 that “I met Lucy Parsons” when she attended an anarchist talk and that she “later became a Communist sympathiser, leading her name to their affairs, petitions, and causes.” (Anarchist Voices, 422) In the 1980s, he quotes her stating “[a]lthough I am not a Communist Party member, I do work with them because they are more practical” before adding: “According to Carolyn Ashbaugh’s biography of Lucy Parsons, she became an outspoken member of the Communist Party”. (Fragments, 41-2) So in spite of being active at the time, Dolgoff was not aware she had joined the Communist Party and only mentions it after Ashbaugh’s book made the assertion!

Interestingly, in 1986 Ashbaugh presented some oral history which seems on the face of it to contradict her claim. She quotes an interview of James P. Cannon who worked with Parsons in the International Labor Defense in the 1920s: “But we never talked Party. I never talked Party to her. I just assumed she was an anarchist and that didn’t affect my willingness to cooperate with her – nor her with me, apparently.” (“Remembering Lucy Parsons”, Haymarket Scrapbook, 187). He makes no reference to her joining the party later, which seems a strange omission.

This is hardly irrefutable evidence (although more than Ashbaugh gave!). Cannon became a Trotskyist in 1928 and after attempting to form a Left Opposition within the Workers (Communist) Party was expelled in October that year. He may have wished to save Parsons’ memory from association with Stalinism…. Which raises an obvious question – why Trotskyists are so keen to defend the assertion Parsons joined the Stalinists in 1939? On the face of it, it is hard to understand. This is after the defeat of the Russian Revolution, the attack on Trotskyism in Russia and then internationally (not that there was a great deal of difference between the two…), the Moscow show trails, the 1933 Soviet pact with fascist Italy, the (cross-class) Popular Front, the betrayal of Spain, the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact, etc., etc., etc. To join the Stalinists after all this should, surely, be unworthy of praise?

Moving to another question, namely the issue of the “Chicago Idea” and the Haymarket Martyrs. These will be the subject of my second Precursors of Syndicalism article –I’m including an article by Albert Parsons in A Libertarian Reader on how they viewed unions as the embryos of a free society. It ends as follows:

‘The International recognises in the Trades Unions the embryonic group of the future “free society.” Every Trades Union is, nolens volens [whether willing or not], an autonomous commune in the process of incubation. The Trades Union is a necessity of capitalistic production, and will yet take its place by superseding it under the system of universal free co-operation. No, friends, it is not the unions but the methods which some of them employ, with which the International finds fault, and as indifferently as it may be considered by some, the development of capitalism is hastening the day when all Trades Unions and Anarchists will of necessity become one and the same.’ (The Alarm, 4 April 1885)

Lucy Parsons made the same point a few years later in an article included by Albert in his very good 1887 book (see my review):

“We hold that the granges, trade-unions, Knights of Labor assemblies, etc., are the embryonic groups of the ideal anarchistic society.” (Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Scientific Basis, 110)

This is the second Marxist myth I want to discuss, namely the contrast between anarchism and syndicalism (as reflected in accounts of the Goldman/Parsons feud). It is quotes like these made Ashbaugh claim both Parsons and the other Haymarket Anarchists were not anarchists but really syndicalists – indeed, she insisted on putting anarchist in quote marks! Strange, given that Ashbaugh argued that Lucy Parsons had been ignored because she was a worker, a woman and black, that Ashbaugh herself ignores her politics and proclaims she knows better than Parsons herself what she believed…

This seems to be a common position. Historian Bruce C. Nelson, for example, proclaims in his Beyond the martyrs: a social history of Chicago’s anarchists, 1870-1900 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1988) that “[i]f European anarchist is identified with Proudhon and Kropotkin” and “immigrant anarchism with Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, then the membership of Chicago’s IWPA was not anarchist” (153) and later adds Bakunin (171) – indeed, Chapter 7 has the title “Bakunin never slept in Chicago.”

Of course, it would be churlish to note that Marx likewise never slept in Chicago – nor in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Peking, Havana, etc. Still, let us look at the arguments being made in order to evaluate the case being made. Nelson is not, as far as know, a Marxist but his arguments reflect an all-too-common Marxist narrative that anarchism and syndicalism are different things (see, for example, my critique of Darlington).

Nelson states that the issue “should not be approached with twentieth-century labels”. (153) While, of course, Nelson is right to suggest that current notions should not be projected backwards, he seems to forget that anarchism and socialism were nineteenth-century “labels.” As such, we need to understand what the terms meant at the time – and their meaning in the twentieth-century reflects that use, to some degree.

He states that the Internationalists were “Political Republicans,” “Economic Socialists,” “Social-Revolutionaries,” “Atheists and Freethinkers.” This meant that this “was not an evolution from socialism to anarchism but from republicanism, through electoral socialism, to revolutionary socialism.” (171) He is somewhat confused in his claims, noting “Republican images pervaded socialist and anarchist rhetoric” (171) and that “[i]f the Martyrs moved ideologically from socialism to anarchism, the active membership seems to have moved from republicanism, through parliamentary socialism, to revolutionary socialism.” (173)

Yet at the time – and now, for that matter – anarchism was a form of revolutionary socialism, one which rejected “political action” (parliamentary socialism) in favour of economic action and organisation. So the likes of Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin all called themselves socialists, indeed revolutionaries. In terms of “republicanism,” Proudhon considered himself as part of the French republican tradition – although a member deeply critical of its mainstream which was centralised, unitarian, Jacobin. Thus we find him advocating in 1857 an “industrial republic” along with “industrial democracy” (Property is Theft!, 610) while 1848 he suggested:

“The Republic is the organisation through which all opinions and activities remain free, the People, through the very divergence of opinions and wills, thinking and acting as a single man. In the Republic, all citizens, by doing what they want and nothing more, directly participate in the legislation and the government as they participate in the production and circulation of wealth. Therefore, all citizens are kings because they all have complete power; they reign and govern. The Republic is a positive anarchy. It is neither liberty subject to order, as in the constitutional monarchy, nor liberty imprisoned in order, as the provisional government understands it, but liberty delivered from all its obstacles, superstition, prejudice, sophistry, speculation and authority; it is a reciprocal, not limited, liberty; it is the liberty that is the MOTHER, not the daughter, of order.” (280)

Bakunin, likewise, in 1868 wrote that the Alliance of Social Democracy “acknowledge[ed] no political form other than the republican form” (Selected Writings, 174) and later that “States must be abolished, for their only mission is to protect individual property, that is, to protect the exploitation by some privileged minority, of the collective labor of the mass of the people; for in that very way they prevent the development of the worldwide economic republic.” (The Basic Bakunin, 196) He also pointed out the former (and do note he calls his ideas socialist):

“If socialism disputes radicalism, this is hardly in order to reverse it but rather to advance it. Socialism criticizes radicalism not for being what it is but, on the contrary, for not being enough so, for having stopped in midstream and thus having put itself in contradiction with the revolutionary principle, which we share with it. Revolutionary radicalism proclaimed the Rights of Man, for example, human rights. This will be its everlasting honor, but it dishonors itself today by resisting the great economic revolution without which every right is but an empty phrase and a trick. Revolutionary socialism, a legitimate child of radicalism, scorns its father’s hesitations, accuses it of inconsistency and cowardice, and goes further” (The Basic Bakunin, 87)

So Proudhon and Bakunin moved from republicanism to socialism and a rejection of electoral politics – and in Bakunin’s case, to social revolution. Kropotkin made the same journey, as did many anarchists. As did many in the First International – as shown by the rise of revolutionary anarchism within it. As such, the process of the 1880s in America does mirror that of the late 1860s and early 1870s in Europe. Anarchism did not just pop into being, it evolved and we should not be surprised that it did so in different periods experiencing similar environments and experiences – particularly when the latter evolution clearly knows of and is informed of the previous one!

In addition, in term of “Republicanism,” well, along with noting that Nelson admits they rejected change by the ballot-box we can simply indicate that Proudhon and Bakunin came out of the European Republican tradition and did not aim to abolish the idea of “one-person, one-vote” within their preferred federal socio-economic self-organisation. As for the Chicago anarchists called themselves socialists… as if Bakunin and Kropotkin did not! Here is Emma Goldman stating the obvious some decades latter:

“While it is true that I am an Anarchist. I am also a Socialist. All Anarchists are Socialists, but not all Socialists are Anarchists. Anarchism is the higher form of Socialism. All Socialists who think and grow will be forced to the Anarchist conclusion. Anarchism is the inevitable goal of Socialism. We Anarchists believe in the socialisation of wealth and of land and of the means of production. But the doing away with capitalism is not a cure-all, and the substitution of the Socialistic state only means greater concentration and increase of governmental power. We believe in the revolution. The founders of Socialism believed in it. Karl Marx believed in it. All thinking Socialists of today believe in it. The political Socialists are only trimmers and they are no different from other politicians. In their mad effort to get offices they deny their birthright for a mess of pottage and sacrifice their true principles and real convictions on the polluted altar of politics.” (“Anarchists Socialists” The Agitator, 1 April 1911)

Nelson also noted that Albert Parson’s book included extracts from Marx’s economic analysis along with anarchists like Kropotkin. (161) This means little, given that Bakunin recognised the importance of Capital and its analysis. If agreeing with the idea that capital exploits workers by appropriating the surplus-value of labour then Bakunin – and Kropotkin, etc. – were all “Marxists.” Indeed, this analysis predates Marx’s Capital for Proudhon expounded a similar analysis twenty-years before – and, years before that, so did many of the so-called British “Ricardian Socialists.”

So Nelson seems to have, against his own warnings, applied the twentieth-century dictionary definitions of anarchism and socialism onto the activists of the 1880s. I say “seems” for it is left for the reader to work out what is meant by that, for the politics of Bakunin and Kropotkin are not actually defined. Perhaps just as well, for both rejected “political action” in favour of reforms and revolution by direct struggle by labour organisations – which is precisely “the Chicago Idea.” As Kropotkin noted:

“Were not our Chicago Comrades right in despising politics, and saying the struggle against robbery must be carried on in the workshop and the street, by deeds not words?” (“The Chicago Anniversary,” Freedom, December 1891)

Indeed, Goldman repeatedly referenced the Martyrs – including noting “that in this country five men had to pay with their lives because they advocated Syndicalist methods as the most effective, in the struggle of labor against capital” (Syndicalism: the Modern Menace to Capitalism)  – and Mother Earth explicitly linked itself to them twenty years after their judicial murder before arguing the following clearly “lifestyle” position:

“Bitter experience has gradually forced upon organized labor the realization that it is difficult, if not impossible, for isolated unions and trades to successfully wage war against organized capital ; for capital is organized, into national as well as international bodies, co-operating in their exploitation and oppression of labor. To be successful, therefore, modern strikes must constantly assume ever larger proportions, involving the solidaric co-operation of all the branches of an affected industry – an idea gradually gaining recognition in the trades unions. This explains the occurrence of sympathetic strikes, in which men in related industries cease work in brotherly co-operation with their striking bothers – evidences of solidarity so terrifying to the capitalistic class.

“Solidaric strikes do not represent the battle of an isolated union or trade with an individual capitalist or group of capitalists ; they are the war of the proletariat class with its organized enemy, the capitalist regime. The solidaric strike is the prologue of the General Strike.

“The modern worker has ceased to be the slave of the individual capitalist ; to-day, the capitalist class is his master. However great his occasional victories on the economic field, he still remains a wage slave. It is, therefore, not sufficient for labor unions to strive to merely lessen the pressure of the capitalistic heel ; progressive workingmen’s organizations can have but one worthy object — to achieve their full economic stature by complete emancipation from wage slavery.

“That is the true mission of trades unions. They bear the germs of a potential social revolution; aye, more – they are the factors that will fashion the system of production and distribution in the coming free society.” (“The First May and the General Strike,” Mother Earth, May 1907)

So it would seem that not only Lucy Parsons, Albert Parsons and the other Haymarket defenders were ignorant of anarchism but also Bakunin, Kropotkin… and Goldman! At least Paul Avrich knew enough about anarchism to note the following:

‘The “Chicago idea,” in its essential outlines, anticipated by some twenty years the doctrine of anarcho-syndicalism, which, in a similar way, rejected centralized authority, disdained political action, and made the union the center of revolutionary struggle as well as the nucleus of the future society. Only two notable features were lacking, sabotage and the general strike, neither of which was theoretically developed until the turn of the century. This is not to say, however, that anarcho-syndicalism originated with Parsons and his associates. As early as the 1860s and 1870s the followers of Proudhon and Bakunin were proposing the formation of workers’ councils designed both as a weapon of class struggle against the capitalists and as the structural basis for the libertarian millennium. A free federation of labor unions, Bakunin had written, would form “the living germs of the new social order, which is to replace the bourgeois world.”’ (Paul Avrich, The Haymarket Tragedy, 73)

I should note that the General Strike was raised by Bakunin, amongst others, in the First International (Marx and Engels were against it, obviously). Malatesta and Kropotkin were raising it again in 1889 onwards, as did Louise Michel who was lecturing on it in London in 1890. Talking of Louise Michel, I found this report of a lecture of hers in London as reported in New Zealand Herald, 8 November 1890, in one long paragraph:


A Meeting was held in the Athenaeum, Tottenham Court Road, on September 4, when Mdlle. Louise Michel spoke upon the “General Strikes and the Social Revolution.” Mdlle. Michel said the general strike which was imminent would in all probability be brought about. by the employers themselves. The tendency in all the methods of production was towards an increased use of machinery; in fact, so perfect was machinery becoming that more and more workmen were thrown out of employment every year and left to starve. In Paris they found a refuge in the bosom of the Seine, which told no tales; in England, the workman who was unable to obtain subsistence for himself and his family was driven into the workhouse. This state of affairs could not last. Workmen were held down by soldiers and police, but when the time came when the soldiers and police saw that the balance of power inclined to the working classes, they would at once come over to their side ; and when that happened the time would soon arrive when they would see the downfall of the capitalists. The unemployed in Paris, if they demonstrated, were shot, down; in London they had the privilege of walking about the streets in their misery. This state of things could only end in a general strike against all laws and Governments. They could not continue to be driven like animals to the slaughterhouse. They saw great magazines of food and raiment all round them, whilst they were naked and starving. What was to prevent them from going in and helping themselves? The whole of the capital of the world was getting into the hands of great financiers, who used it to exploit the workers, and this was only a gigantic system of robbery. Religion had been suggested as a means to bring a better state of affairs, but the only valuable principle and teaching in Christianity was the precept to do unto others as they would that men should do unto them, but the system of rewards and punishments, by which the teachings of Christianity were enforced, was a fatal drawback to its value as an elevating agent. Faith in the future progress of the human race was necessary for them all. Machinery was an obstacle in that progress, and should be replaced by intelligence. It was only by raising men to the higher state of intelligence that they could satisfy the growing needs of humanity. When labour was free the cultivation of the soil would be much more perfect. The fields were ready to supply all their needs if properly treated, but the present system of cultivation brutalised the workers, who reaped no benefit from their labours. The present system of government was a system of robbery by assassins, who shot down those who differed from them. It was the same in Republican France as in Monarchical England. She looked forward to the time when they could put an end to the struggle for existence now going on and bring about a true Republic – the Republic of Humanity, in which all would work together for the common good.

Two things. First, Michel talks of “a true Republic” and so reflects the same “Republican” symbolism Nelson mentions, talk which he suggests means the Chicago activists were not anarchists. Second, all this places the “standard” narrative (as repeated by Leninists) that anarchists turned to syndicalism in the mid-1890s after the failure of “propaganda by the deed” in the early 1890s. Yet this is nonsense, given the actual writings of the likes of Malatesta, Kropotkin, Michel, etc. – and the ideas and activities of Bakunin in the First International. The key date is 1889 and the London Dock Strike but here is Kropotkin from 1892 at a Martyrs commemoration:

“No one can underrate the importance of this labour movement for the coming revolution. It will be those agglomerations of wealth producers which will have to reorganise production on new social bases […] to organise the life of the nation […] and means of production. They — the labourers, grouped together — not the politicians.” (“Commemoration of the Chicago Martyrs,” Freedom, December 1892)

In terms of politics, the links with the “Chicago Idea” to anarchist politics is pretty clear – once you have a basic grasp of anarchism and its history.

Similar comments are applicable to historian James Green who, in Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing That Divided Gilded Age America (Anchor Books, 2007), suggested that the Chicago Anarchists had “turned away from electoral competition and adopted Karl Marx’s strategy of organising workers […] building class-conscious trade unions as a basis for future political action.” (50) He repeats the claim: “they faithfully adhered to the lesson they had learned from Karl Marx: that socialism could be achieved only through the collective power of workers organised into aggressive trade unions.” (130)

Except, of course, Marx advocated no such thing. Yes, Marx supported unions but he did not think the workers movements should be based on it. Rather, he argued for the creation of workers’ parties and the use of “political action” in the shape of standing for elections. Indeed, he explicitly mocked Bakunin’s programme in 1870 for advocating the ideas Green proclaims as Marx’s:

“The working class must not occupy itself with politics. They must only organise themselves by trade-unions. One fine day, by means of the Internationale they will supplant the place of all existing states.” (Marx, Engels, Lenin, Anarchism, and Anarcho-Syndicalism, 48)

Surely Green should know that? There is a long, long history of Marxist attacks on syndicalism – social-democratic and Leninist – which echo Marx’s attack on Bakunin, namely that it ignores the need for political organisation (workers’ parties) and political action (electioneering). So if Green’s summary is correct – and in terms of their ideas, if not their source, he is – then the Chicago activists were… Bakuninists. Or, as he puts it elsewhere in his book:

“The Chicago militants thought of themselves as socialists of the anarchist type –that is, as revolutionaries who believed in liberating society from all state control, whether capitalist or socialist.” (129)

As anarchists were and are socialists, aiming for an anti-state socialism, his point is confused. In terms of individual acts of violence, it should be noted that Bakunin never advocated that. As for Kropotkin, he suggested “the spirit of revolt” as an alternative to “propaganda by the deed” and urged – in 1881 – an approach identical to that advocated by the Chicago Anarchists a few years later in a two part article entitled “Workers’ Organisation”:

“The French proletariat thus announces that it is not against one government or another that it declares war […] it is against the holders of capital […] that they wish to declare war. It is not a political party that they seek to form either: it is a party of economic struggle. It is no longer democratic reform that they demand: it is a complete economic revolution, the social revolution. […] the enemy is capital, along with all the Gambettas and the Clemenceaus from today or in the future who seek to uphold it or to serve it. The enemy is the boss, the capitalist, the financier – all the parasites who live at the expense of the rest of us and whose wealth is created from the sweat and the blood of the worker. […] The great struggle that we are preparing for is essentially economic, and so it is on the economic terrain that we should focus our activities.” (Le Révolté, 10 December 1881)


“In order to be able to make revolution, the mass of workers must organise themselves, and resistance and the strike are excellent means by which workers can organise. Indeed, they have a great advantage over the tactics that are being proposed at the moment (workers’ representatives, constitution of a workers’ political party, etc.) which do not actually derail the movement but serve to keep it perpetually in thrall to its principal enemy, the capitalist. The strike and resistance funds provide the means to organise not only the socialist converts (these seek each other out and organise themselves anyway) but especially those who are not yet converted, even though they really should be. […] What is required is to build societies of resistance for each trade in each town, to create resistance funds and fight against the exploiters, to unify [solidariser] the workers’ organisations of each town and trade and to put them in contact with those of other towns, to federate across France, to federate across borders, internationally. […] We must marshal all of our efforts with the aim of creating a vast workers’ organisation to pursue this goal. The organisation of resistance [to] and war on capital must be the principal objective of the workers’ organisation, and its methods must be informed not by the pointless struggles of bourgeois politics but the struggle, by all of the means possible, against those who currently hold society’s wealth – and the strike is an excellent means of organisation and one of the most powerful weapons in the struggle.” (24 December 1881)

I guess that makes Kropotkin, like Bakunin, a Marxist?

The problem is that Nelson and Green do not define what they mean by “anarchism” or what it meant at the time (these are not automatically the same thing). Thus we get an implicit suggestion that anarchism and socialism are different things rather than anarchism being a school of socialism. Which means saying that the Chicago anarchists aimed for socialism means little – Bakunin aimed for that, as did Proudhon , Kropotkin, etc. They differed from other socialists on tactics and on what constituted a genuine socialist society – hence Kropotkin arguing social democracy would produce state-capitalism, not socialism.

In short, having an awareness of the ideas of anarchism and its development within the First International would result in a better understanding of the “Chicago Idea” – and why the Chicago militants called themselves anarchists. Instead, we get myths – myths in which Bakunin’s ideas are assigned to Marx…

The next myth relates to the International and Proudhon, as expressed by David Harvey in his Paris, capital of modernity (New York: Routledge, 2003). I know, Harvey again, but this book is of note for its contradictory nature and unwillingness to really engage with ideas and movements being discussed. It is very much informed by the Marxist myth of how the victory of “collectivism” in the International in 1868 meant the end of “Proudhonism” rather than its transformation – and it definitely did not mean the victory of Marxism.

In terms of activists, Harvey notes “the eclipse of the mutualists like Tolain and Fribourg and their replacement by communists like Varlin and Malon” (299) Yet this is extremely misleading given that the term used – “communist” – is loaded with a lot of subsequent history. In short, the reader is encouraged to conclude they were Marxists when, in reality, they were not.

Yes, the right-wing mutualists would have called both Varlin and Malon “communists” for they had both argued for the collectivisation of land along with industry. For reasons better explained by fear of a rural backlash as happened during the 1848 revolution rather than Proudhon’ actual ideas, the “mutualists” rejected extending association to land ownership (given that most land in France was worked by families, there was not much wage-labour to abolish). Varlin did call himself a “communist,” but with a significant qualification:

“The principles that we must strive to uphold are those of the almost unanimous delegates of the International at the Congress of Basel [in 1869], that is to say collectivism or non-authoritarian communism”. (James Guillaume, L’internationale: documents et souvenirs [Paris, 1905-09] I: 258).

Varlin and Malon both had contact with Bakunin before the Commune – afterwards, Malon worked with the Federalist wing against the Marxists, being expelled from the Geneva International for his troubles.

Sadly, Harvey makes no use of the standard work on Malon. For if he had, he would have discovered a radical very far from a “communist.” Thus, “all active militiants shared a great deal” and the “intellectual orientation of this collectivism was primarily Colinsian and anarchist, not Marxist” (Colins being a Belgium socialist, who influenced César de Paepe). Their “ultimate goal was a decentralised control of property, with administration by workers’ cooperatives. The majority of French militants, in short, though collectivist, still favoured a federalist structure of society.” In short, we must appreciate “how federalist and mutualist – hence a-Marxist or pre-Marxist – this collectivism was.” Malon, post-Commune, argued the International had “to avoid Jacobin and Blanquist centralisation, and to pursue a vigorous program of federalist socialism.” (K. Steven Vincent, Between Marxism and anarchism: Benoît Malon and French reformist socialism [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992], 16, 20, 40)

So definitely not Marxists, as most people would conclude by the use of the term “communist.” Ah, but perhaps I’m being unfair as Harvey earlier defined “two sorts” of communists (283), but neither Varlin nor Malon were followers of Blanc, Blanqui, Cabet and others of that type. Both were influenced by Proudhon and so were federalist socialists. If Malon in the 1880s did embrace a reformist social-democracy, it did not make him a Marxist in the 1860s.

Early Harvey admits as much, noting “most workers seem to have looked for some form of association, autogestion, or mutualism rather than centralised state control.” (154) Except, of course, mutualism advocated self-managed (autogestion) associations in production to replace wage-labour, a concept Harvey seems to have difficulties understanding. His presentation of Proudhon’s ideas starts as follows:

“Buchez […] argued for bottom-up associations of producers with the aim of freeing workers from the wage-system […] factory owners and employers were just as parasitic as the aristocracy and landowners. This idea was later taken up […] by Proudhon.” (75)

I should note that he does not reference a single book by Proudhon, but does at least reference K. Steven Vincent’s excellent Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and the Rise of French Republican Socialism. He quotes Vincent (pages 144-6) and then asserts that Proudhon “never sought to abolish the distinction between capital and labour.” (76)

This is nonsense, as shown by Vincent – for Harvey stops short of the quote provided by Vincent in which Proudhon notes “the member of the association is essentially […] wage giver and wage earner” (146) and the page following were Vincent writes “in Proudhon’s system there was no owner of the association other than the associates themselves: there was, therefore, no idle proprietaire who could appropriate profits.” (147) Likewise Harvey fails to quote Vincent on how Proudhon aimed at “abolishing the wage system” and “ushering in the regime of associations – a regime in which the exploiters of labour and the idle rich would be eliminated.” (160)

So Harvey should know better. Yet even if we do not check his reference, he does contradicts himself in the space of a few short paragraphs by going from how Proudhon took up the idea of “bottom-up associations of producers with the aim of freeing workers from the wage-system” as “factory owners and employers were just as parasitic as the aristocracy and landowners” to asserting he “never sought to abolish the distinction between capital and labour.” (75, 76) As a Marxist, he should know that abolishing wage-labour means reuniting the worker with the means of production, of abolishing the distinction between capital and labour. Proudhon was well aware of it, explicitly and repeatedly arguing for the combination of the two roles in the same people. As Harvey puts it latter:

“Cooperation and mutualism meant a new conception of workers’ democracy in the labour process, and it was to be backed by mutual credit and banking, mutual insurance and benefit societies, cooperative housing schemes, and the like.” (283)

So if association did aim to “reorganise work and reform the social relations of production” how would this be possible without “abolish[ing] the distinction between capital and labour”? (155, 76)

Harvey also suggests that “Proudhon supported private property in housing” (283) while at the same time noting “a whole wing of the workers’ movement, particularly influenced by Proudhon, [which led it] to disapprove of strikes, push for association, and confine their opposition to financiers, monopolists, landlords, and the authoritarian state rather than to private property and capital ownership.” (155) Of course, by “private property” in housing Proudhon did not mean having landlords – that was a form of property which produced theft. Nor is it clear that Proudhon favoured private property in housing – Engels suggested so, but he misrepresented Proudhon’s ideas. Sadly, Harvey presents no actual references to support his claim so we cannot confirm or refute.

Likewise, association within production automatically meant opposition to “capital ownership.” As for “private property,” Proudhon argued that individual associations would control their own affairs (in determining what they produce, how to produce it, how much to sell it for, etc.) rather than being dictated to by some central authority. It confuses two radically different things to proclaim this “private property.” As it stands, Harvey ignores Proudhon’s repeated calls for the socialisation of property.

Harvey, then, contradicts himself again. After noting how the mutualists expressed “opposition to […] landlords” (155) he then suggests that Proudhon was “in favour of individual home ownership for workers […] Proudhon’s influence was so strong that no challenge was mounted to property ownership under the Commune, when resentment against landlords was at its height.” (200) What is it? Were they opposed to landlords or not?

In terms of the Paris Commune, I doubt that the lack of a “challenge to property ownership” is best explained by Proudhon’s influence (assuming Harvey is correct!), particularly given that the majority of the Commune’s council were Jacobins. Rather, I would argue that it is better explained by the fact the council was overloaded with issues and focused on political and social issues. Even the attempt to promote co-operatives was marked by a bureaucratic mentality – the call was not to expropriate workplaces but rather to call form a commission to look into the matter:

Decree on convening workers trade councils

Journal officiel de la République française, 17 April 1871

The Paris Commune (16 April 1871)

Considering that a number of factories have been abandoned by those who were running them in order to escape civic obligations and without taking into account the interests of workers;

Considering that as a result of this cowardly desertion, many works essential to communal life find themselves disrupted, the livelihood of workers compromised.


Workers trade councils [chambres syndicales ouvrières] are convened to establish a commission of inquiry with the purpose:

1. To compile statistics on abandoned workshops, as well as an inventory of their condition and of the work instruments they contain.

2. To present a report on the practical requisites for the prompt restarting of these workshops, not by the deserters who abandoned them but by the co-operative association of the workers who were employed there.

3. To develop a constitution for these workers’ co-operative societies.

4. To establish an arbitration panel which shall decide, on the return of said employers, on the conditions for the permanent transfer of the workshops to the workers’ societies and on the amount of the compensation the societies shall pay the employers.

This commission of inquiry must send its report to the Communal Commission on Labour and Exchange, which will be required to present to the Commune, as soon as possible, the draft of a decree satisfying the interests of the Commune and the workers.

I translated this decree for A Libertarian Reader, but it probably will not be included – it is hardly an example of a libertarian approach even it goal is. Indeed, reading this decree you can appreciate Kropotkin’s critique of the Commune and the need for workers to “act for themselves” in taking over their workplaces rather than waiting for a commission to be convened, its investigations made, its report written, then read and – finally! – acted upon. All done before the word “prompt” can be in a position to be actioned! To include it would mean to summarise all that, so the introductory comments would be longer than the text…

I cover this in an article on the Commune which I am in the process of revising (another project which I need to get back to!) so I will leave it here.

All this is more than sloppy research – I think it shows the negative impact of Marxist myths on Proudhon, the International, the Commune, amongst others. Suffice to say, contradicting yourself in the course of a few pages is unfortunate but it does show what happens if you let ideology get in the way.

Finally, I came across this claim recently:

“Many of the left intellectuals Marx and Engels most strongly criticised had antisemitic or proto-antisemitic leanings: not just the young Hegelian Bruno Bauer, to whom Marx’s essays ‘On the Jewish Question’ were a response, but also the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the co-operative socialist Charles Fourier, the radical philosopher Eugen Dühring, the insurrectionist socialist Louis-Auguste Blanqui, and the revolutionary anarchist and pan-Slavist, Mikhail Bakunin. Marx’s and Engels’ criticisms of these and like-minded authors were directed in part at their anti-Jewish prejudices and more especially at the political and intellectual limitations of which these prejudices were symptomatic. These critiques indicate how actively and purposefully Marx and Engels confronted anti-Judaic and antisemitic currents running through the ‘left’.” (Robert Fine and Philip Spencer, Antisemitism and the left: On the return of the Jewish question [Manchester University Press, 2017], 33)

Surely Fine and Spencer must know that this claim is nonsense? They must know that Marx and Engels made no mention of these author’s anti-Semitism when they attacked them? So, yet another myth is created – one which I am sure Fine and Spencer sincerely wish were true but for which no evidence is presented because none exists. I made a similar point before against another Marxist:

Looking at the fate of Jews in Russia, what is significant is “the total silence Marx and Engels seem to have observed, in private as well as in public,” about the anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia in the spring of 1861. While, of course, this means little, it “does suggest a significant blind spot” (along with “the stream of vituperation [of Jewish people] that runs for decades through the private correspondence of Engels and Marx”). A similar combination of public silence and private racism marks their opinions of Blacks ([Peter Fryer, “Engels: A Man of his Time”, The Condition of Britain, John Lea and Geoff Pilling (eds.)]). (A reply to Louis Proyect’s “A Marxist Critique of Bakunin”

Fryer’s account is, sadly, the accurate one of the two – having read a lot of Marx and Engels, particularly their attacks on Bakunin and Proudhon, I can state that a desire to combat anti-Semitism was not an aspect of them. Nor did Marx write much about anti-Semitism, even “On the Jewish Question” is usually quoted as being an anti-Semitic screed (“misread” or “selectively quoted,” scream Marxists – which seems poetic justice in so many ways!). Similarly, Marx made no public comment against Proudhon’s sexism (all I have found is a passing comment on “the miserable patriarchal amourous illusions of the domestic hearth” in his letter to Annenkov on System of Economic Contradictions) – Indeed, I did think about including some sexist comments by Marx in my second talk but decided against it as mostly irrelevant (the slide still exists, but in an appendix which remained unshown on the night).

Then there is the question of the article “The Russian Loan,” published in the New-York Daily Tribune on 4 January 1856. This was included by Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling in the 1897 collection Karl Marx, The Eastern Question (London, S. Sonnenschein & co., 1897) but has been excluded from the Marx-Engels Collected Works – due to its anti-Semitism. Perhaps the editors are right and Marx did not in fact write the article, but that his daughter included it must suggest that she at the very least did not think it completely at odds with what she knew of his views on the subject?

And what if he did write it? Does that mean his other contributions are nullified? Sadly, due to the standard attacks on Proudhon and Bakunin by Marxists, Marxists have painted themselves into a corner here. If they say Marx was a man of his time and occasionally expressed ideas we now reject as wrong, then they must say the same about Proudhon and Bakunin. Then they would be left with critiquing their actual ideas – or, more likely, a caricature of them or an invention – and that would be awkward for them given how right and relevant those are.

So this Marxist myth is counter-productive. Attempts to portray Marx and Engels as enlightened people expressing all the sensibilities of the late-twentieth or early twenty-first century left are simply misplaced – and historically inaccurate and unlikely, and – surely? – a violation of historical materialism? People are embedded in their times and while they can and do question aspects of the dominant culture we cannot expect them to predict every aspect of over 150 years of social development in their writings.

Thus I read Proudhon’s sexist comments and despair at his backwardness but read his 1863 defence of giving black slaves full citizenship (as they were equal members of the human race) and – along with the white proletariat – property to stop the wage-labour the republicans aimed to give them as liberty (when not seeking to transport them from the country!) and see that here he was in the vanguard of opinion. We can attack the first while still recognising his contributions to socialism.

Ultimately, attacking the personal failings of individuals gets us nowhere – it is the pathetic “likeability” factor raised during American Presidential elections. Who would be fun in the pub is not a firm basis for political decisions…

The question is whether these opinions are in contradiction to the underlying core principles and are whether they a significant aspects of their ideas – can they be removed without impact the rest of the ideas? The answer is yes to both, in the case of Proudhon’s sexism and anti-Semitism as well as Marx, Bakunin, etc. We should deplore the comments, note the palpable contradictions and seek to do better.

Ultimately, if the critique of Proudhon – or Marx! – is based on their unpleasant personal bigotries and ignore the bulk of their ideas, then its not a serious critique. Not least because it will come back to haunt you as it will, inevitably, be applied to your tradition by those with the same low standards of debate. We can see that by the numerous right-wing blogs on Marx as anti-Semite – let us hope they don’t come across Engels’ writings on unhistoric peoples

Finally, talking of Proudhon, I must note that his papers from the 1848 revolutionLe Représentant du peuple : journal des travailleurs and successors – are how available at Gallica, where they join Les Temps Nouveaux and a host of other important texts. When is the British Library going to the same for its archives? A full set of Freedom, at the very least, would be nice!

Until I blog again, be seeing you….

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When Being an Opponent of White Supremacy Means Being Not Nice

Sat, 02/23/2019 - 21:11

via Brown Girl Magazine

by Saira Rao

“Nice people made the best Nazis. My mom grew up next to them. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly and focused on happier things than ‘politics.’ They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resisters.”

These are the words of author Naomi Shulman, whose mother spent her childhood in Nazi Germany.

Nice. It’s a word I hear a lot, mostly as an instruction from white women. There are variations, of course:

“Honey attracts more bees than vinegar. Saira, think about employing a different strategy. Stop being so divisive. You’re alienating people.” (By people, they mean other nice white women.)

At first, it was confusing. How was calling out white supremacy “not nice?” Now, I’ve come to understand it.

When I am told to be nice, it means a variation of the following:
  • Shut up.
  • Stay in your lane.
  • Stop saying things that require me to self-reflect and take ownership of my own white supremacy.
  • Stop making me feel guilty.

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News Arts Music Screens Food & Drink Calendar Best Of SA Slideshows Promos + Events Subscribe Advertise Tweet Email Print Share New Worlds Man: Groundbreaking Science Fiction Author and Editor Michael Moorcock...

Sat, 02/23/2019 - 20:54

via San Antonio Current

by Sanford Nowlin

Even if you haven’t read Michael Moorcock, you’ve likely encountered his ideas and influence in the fantastic end of the pop culture spectrum.

The gritty, morally ambiguous fantasy of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire? Moorcock went there first with his Elric sword and sorcery novels. The mashup of science fiction and rock ‘n’ roll? The dirigibles and steam-powered Victoriana of steampunk? Science fiction as literary fiction? Moorcock was hitting on all of those present literary conventions as well — and as early as the ’60s and ’70s.

Moorcock isn’t a regular at science fiction conventions, so his presence at the upcoming San Antonio Pop Con is a rare treat for local fans — an opportunity to interact with one of the grand masters who helped redefine a genre.

While the British author, who now lives part of the year in a small town east of Austin, is best known as the guy who made fantasy and SF part of ’60s counterculture, he’s never been willing to hang his hat on that alone.

Moorcock’s published more than 80 books, edited a groundbreaking science fiction magazine and, unlike a lot of his contemporaries, he didn’t just inspire lyrics for spaced-out rock bands. He directly collaborated with them, cowriting songs with Hawkwind and Blue Oyster Cult and drafting members of both to play on his own musical projects.

“In my era, almost everybody in rock ’n’ roll read science fiction,” Moorcock said during a recent interview in his home. “I could pretty much go anywhere, talk to anyone in the music business and say, ‘I like your work a lot,’ and they’d say the same back to me.’ That went for Pink Floyd very early on, Syd Barrett anyway. He said, ‘Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun’ was based on one of my books.’”

Beyond his credentials as a member of London’s psychedelic counterculture, Moorcock was also a groundbreaking editor and tastemaker. While running the British science fiction magazine New Worlds, he was among the first to publish writers that represented a more literary and experimental side of the genre, many of whom — J.G. Ballard, Brian Aldiss and Thomas Disch among them — went on to become icons.

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‘Office Space’ Is Low-Key a Masterpiece About Unionizing Your Workplace

Sat, 02/23/2019 - 20:35

via Vice

by Stacie Williams

When Office Space premiered in 1999, I was still revolving through a series of low-stakes retail jobs on campus where I called in sick at least once a month due to a hangover-related ailment. I finally watched the cult classic a few years later with some Gen X friends who were determined to work their way up in industries that were going extinct even then. We laughed with tears in our eyes about Gary Cole’s smarm-laden request to “go ahead and come in” to work on Saturday.

The movie was spot on about so many things that remain relevant. Cubicles are the worst; women are still being reduced to their sexual desirability and ability to perform happiness on the job for the privilege of being paid less than their male counterparts; tech culture still lacks a moral center; white people are still microaggressing people of color about their names. And above all, corporate executives continue to believe that firing human beings is the only way to maximize profits.

To recap the film, Peter Gibbons—played by Ron Livingston as a breathing approximation of Marx’s theory of alienation—is unmotivated by his boring job at a tech company in one of those indistinguishable suburban office parks that’s adjacent to mid-range chain restaurants. He gets hypnotized one evening and returns to work giving even fewer fucks than ever before. He doesn’t go to work, doesn’t call in, and guts a whole fish on his desk after an impromptu fishing trip. For this he fails upward into a promotion, given by the consultants hired to lay off his co-workers. Peter and his newly unemployed friends use a computer virus to embezzle funds from the company. Mild hijinks ensue. Along the way, the audience is treated to the banality and inanity of white collar and food service work through now-memed phrases about TPS reports, a “case of the Mondays,” and counting flair. Corporate banners that could have been ripped from any number of dystopian flicks posted around the office trumpet “Is it Good for the Company?” and “Planning to Plan.” It’s the late 1990s, so racist, sexist and homophobic jokes abound, though in the present-day, those parts of the movie read less as comedy and more as matter-of-fact documentary about working in predominantly white and male environments.

Looking back on the movie today on its 20th anniversary, it’s clear that the post-WWII labor model skewered so darkly by director Mike Judge (Idiocracy, King of the Hill) was not destroyed solely by the Great Recession and Silicon Valley. Technology simply blurred the lines of pre-existing exploitation, and of work and personal space until they were indistinguishable. The increase of technological advancements into all labor sectors met weakened unions to create a perpetual state of precarity. Fewer jobs have permanence or the health insurance benefits that the Greatest Generation offered as incentive during the war to retain employees when an Executive Order froze pay raises.

Anyone with a phone or internet connection can be a brand that makes money, or join the gig economy, which promises people freedom to make money on their own time by offering up their homes or cars or personal items for use. On the other side of that, people have to use their homes or vehicles to make money, and use them a lot in order to make the kind of money that keeps food on the table. Not to mention that even when you are at rest, those apps are gathering data on you to further monetize your person and figure out what you’re more likely to buy. Also, the gig economy is rife with inhumane output expectations that can lead to serious health ramifications.

Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox

At his lowest point, Peter opines that “human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles looking at computers all day.” But in the 20 years since the movie came out, that is increasingly how human beings spend their days—sitting in front of computers, or using their phones, not just to make a living but also because it’s become an integral part of living. There exists a deep, rich irony when you consider Peter’s phrase in light of the fact that The Matrix also came out that same year. We could envision ourselves as alienated enough from our labor to flip off our boss or we could choose the blue pill and continue living in a virtual reality while AI harvests our soft, hairless bodies like human-formed Duracell batteries. The movie’s focus on Peter’s developer job and on Joanna’s (Jennifer Aniston) waitress job at the fictional TGIFridays-esque Chotchkie’s in hindsight seemed to foreshadow tech and the service industries as the jobs experiencing strong growth in an economy marked by its deep divide between the 1 percent and everyone else. One industry pays its engineers so well they have negatively altered the social ecosystems in large cities, displacing low-income workers outside of the metropolitan areas. Workers in the other industry are still lobbying elected officials to reach $15 an hour as a minimum wage.

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How to decentralize social media, according to Wikipedia’s co-founder

Sat, 02/23/2019 - 20:03

via The Next Web

by Larry Sanger

The problem about social media is that it is centralized. Centralization empowers massive corporations and governments to steal our privacy and restrict our speech and autonomy.

What should exist are neutral, technical standards and protocols, like the standards and protocols for blogs, email, and the Web. Blockchain technology — the technology of decentralization — is perfect for this, but not strictly necessary. Such protocols would enable us to follow public feeds no matter where they are published. We would eventually have our pick of many different apps to view these feeds. We would choose our own terms, not Facebook’s or Twitter’s, for both publishing and reading.

As things are, if you want to make short public posts to the greatest number of people, you have to go to Twitter, enriching them and letting them monetize your content (and your privacy). Similarly, if you want to make it easy for friends and family to follow your more personal text and other media, you have to go to Facebook. Similarly for various other kinds of content. It just doesn’t have to be that way. We could decentralize.

This is a nice dream. But how do we make it happen?

After all, the problem about replacing the giant, abusive social media companies is that you can’t replace existing technology without making something so much more awesome that everyone will rush to try it. And the social media giants have zillions of the best programmers in the world. How can we, the little guys, possibly compete?

Well, I’ve thought of a way the open source software and blockchain communities might actually kick the legs out from under the social media giants. My proposal (briefly sketched) has five parts. The killer feature, which will bring down the giants, is (4):

1. The open data standards

Create open data standards and protocols, or probably just use adequate already-existing ones, for the feeds of posts (and threads, and other data structures) that Twitter, Facebook, etc., uses. I’m not the first to have thought of this; the W3C has worked on the problem. It’d be like RSS, but for various kinds of social media post types.

2. The publishing/storage platforms

Create reliable ways for people to publish, store, and encrypt (and keep totally secret, if they want) their posts. Such platforms would allow users to control exactly who has access to what content they want to broadcast to the world, and in what form, and they would not have to ask permission from anyone and would not be censorable. (Blockchain companies using IPFS, and in particular Everipedia, could help here and show the way; but any website could publish feeds.)

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Error 404: digital party democracy not found

Sat, 02/23/2019 - 19:24

via ROAR magazine

by Julia Rone

n the 1960s, German student activist Rudi Dutschke put forward the concept of “the long march through the institutions,” described by Herbert Marcuse as a strategy to work “against the established institutions, while working within them.” It referred not simply to subverting existing order, but to something much more elegant: to do one’s job properly and learn how institutions work while at the same time remaining critical. In order to change the rules of the game, one first has to master it.

But as social movements’ scholar David Meyer noted, the problem is that marching through the institutions usually transforms the marchers more than the institutions.

Fifty years later, transforming radical indignation into positive change seems no less challenging. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, activists came up with a techno-utopian vision, a brave new idea about how to institutionalize, while preserving their critical impulse and democratic inclusiveness.

The solution was to radically “update” and democratize the party form itself through the use of digital media and advanced online platforms for decision making. Following the example of the Pirate Party’s Liquid Feedback software, The Five Star Movement in Italy set up its own platform called Rousseau, while Podemos in Spain created Participa.

But have these “digital parties” become really more democratic? Has “marching through the platforms” not created its own power imbalances? The Digital Party, the latest book by Paolo Gerbaudo, lecturer at King’s College London, addresses these thorny questions on the basis of 30 interviews with party insiders and experts and a comprehensive analysis of party publications.

The Greatly Exaggerated rumors of the Party’s demise

The Digital Party revisits Gerbaudo’s earlier work on power relations and the movements of the squares, some of which have now re-emerged as political parties. Entering in a productive dialogue with the recent book by della Porta et al., Movement parties against austerity, Gerbaudo analyses the rise and organizational structure of digital populist parties, including the Pirate Party in Germany and Sweden, the Five Star Movement in Italy, Podemos in Spain, La France Insoumise in France and the digital campaigns of British Labour and Bernie Sanders in the US.

In times when political scientists were despairing about declining party memberships and general apathy in society, the political party made an impressive comeback in a radically transformed form. As Simon Tormey and Ramón Feenstra have shown, despite fierce criticism of party politics, 295 new political parties were registered in Spain between 2009 and 2010 alone, and this number nearly doubled in the period of countrywide protests that occurred between 2011 and 2012.

Yet it is safe to assume that, apart from people with expansive knowledge of Spanish politics, no one has even heard of most of these parties. The case is different when it comes to digital parties that managed to rise from obscurity and gain thousands of members in very short time with their particular brand of techno-populism. How did they do it?

To begin with, the rise of the digital party reflects the appearance of a new political cleavage in response to two separate and yet intertwined events: the Great Recession beginning in 2008 and the “digital revolution.” The new cleavage observed is the one between the “political and/or economic insiders” and the “connected outsiders” — the people who

though having levels of education and internet access above the average of the general population, often face serious economic hurdles, precarious working conditions, spells of unemployment, low wages and more generally a sense of alienation from the political system and its forms.

These young and educated but often broke people have found in digital parties a channel to voice their demands on digital freedoms (privacy and transparency above all), real democracy, and economic justice — demands that mainstream parties have failed to respond to and that have become the basis of digital parties’ impressive electoral success.

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Arts Organizing Lifts Oakland Teachers Strike

Sat, 02/23/2019 - 19:07

via Common Dreams

by David Solnit

“The Power of Youth. The Power of Educators. The Power of Labor. The Power of Community. The Power of The Art Build.”
—Keith Brown, President, Oakland Education Association

“Culture is a space where we can introduce ideas, attach emotions to concrete change and win enthusiasm for our values. Art is where we can change the narrative, because it’s where people can imagine what change looks and feels like.”
—Favianna Rodriguez, one of the artist’s contributing artwork to the Oakland teachers strike.

Surrounded by a hundred teachers and supporters painting banners, screen printing fabric picket flags, and learning strike songs, Oakland teachers union president Keith Brown held a press conference announced that Oakland teachers would hold a strike vote. Every square inch of the union hall offices and parking garage was filled with people making art and singing strike songs. This is one key part of how Oakland teachers built momentum and got ready to strike. The victorious Los Angeles teachers strike last month held a similar pre-strike arts mobilization. Teacher and union arts organizer Joe Brusky says, “the art created for L.A. played a major role in winning a victory.”

For the last two months a massive #strike-ready art-making collaboration between the Oakland Education Association, local artists and a team of arts organizers has been building momentum, participation and created thousands of pieces of hand made art that has been used in public actions leading up to the strike and will be seen on the picket lines.

San Francisco Bay Area socially engaged artists Favianna Rodriguez, Micah Bazant, Miriam Stahl, Eric Norbert, Melanie Cervantes and Jesus Baraza, Kim Cosier, Emory Douglas, Claudio Martinez, Jeanette Arellano and Paul Kjelland all contributed designs to support the teachers, and teachers and students also contributed designs.

Joe together with a team of artist-organizers from Milwaukee (Kim Cosier, Nicolas Lampert, Paul Kjelland, Claudio Martinez, and Josie Osborne) started this model of ambitious large scale art builds for teachers unions. They went on to co-organize the art builds in Los Angeles and Oakland, where I was the local arts organizer working with Oakland teachers. Joe, a photo journalist, was the UTLA teachers union official photographer for the LA Strike, both documenting and pushing out images and stories on social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Lu Aya of the Peace Poets worked with teachers to write and train each other on strike songs.

Milwaukee art team member and artist-education Nicolas Lampert writes, “Art builds – at their core – are community building events. They produce banners, picket signs, patches, and signs for the movement, but more so they brings together teachers, students, parents, and the community in a common struggle. The OEA art build was no different and the OEA union space and their parking garage was transformed into an art build space with hundreds of people taking part, often staying for six-to-eight hour shifts or longer.”

For two decades I have been organizing arts with a range of movements—from the shutdown of the WTO in Seattle in 1999 and other global justice mobilization to the victories of the Florida farm workers of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, to the climate justice movement marches and actions– bringing the arts into the center of our organizing, education and actions. I have never seen a national union place arts at the center of the strategy to win, as the National Education Association has.

I asked Joe some questions about how this all happened and about it’s impact. Here’s what he said.

How did you start making art with teachers’ unions? What impact or use did it have for teachers’ fights?

I guess the beginning of my making art with teachers’ unions was bringing Overpass Light Brigade (after-dark visibility action using l.e.d.-lit words on signs) messages to school board meetings, but my first art build with the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association was in February, 2017. I had been to the People’s Climate March in NYC in 2014 and was in the May Day Space to see that art build. I also saw art builds in Milwaukee for the group Voces de la Frontera. I saw immediately the power of those events and I figured we could apply the idea to public education advocacy and union issues, so we organized one to build protest ephemera (art) for a series of budget hearings taking place around the state.

That art build was transformative for our union. We brought many new activists and artists into the union movement in addition to building a huge inventory of signs, posters, and banners. We activated many local artists who designed images but also started to become more involved. They started showing up to school board meetings, public hearings, and actions organized around our issues. The art was well received and we got requests from around the country to use the art and share the idea. The art traveled with the budget hearing around the state and we saw photos posted around the state of the art made in Milwaukee, so the effect was massive.

How did it come about that the NEA made art builds a major part of the support for striking teachers unions?

NEA took notice of our first MKE art build and a subsequent art build in Minneapolis, and wanted to try and replicate some of the ideas for their National Conference on Racial and Social Justice in June 2018 in Minneapolis. We painted 15 parachute banners on the conference floor over two days with participants from all over the country. NEA loved the idea and the high level of participation from conference goers. They knew they wanted to expand the idea nationally, and the L.A. strike happened to be coming up around the same time. They also noticed the buzz we created using social media around the art build — and the creation of photos from the art build could be used to generate social media content far after the event was completed. Since L.A. needed a ton of picket signs, banners, and posters, the art build idea was put to use full scale, and we’ve seen the success of that art in helping to build a successful victory for L.A. Teachers.

What role did the art build and the art play in the LA Teachers Strike victory? How does the art help win a strike?

I think the art created for L.A. played a major role in winning a victory. Nisha Sethi’s “Teachers: We Work for the People” and Ernesto Yerena’s “Stand with L.A. Teachers” both were designs created from portraits of actual California educators, which really helped humanize and personalize the fight for educators. These two images alone were visible at every action I attended. The very act of building the art together at the art build really seems to galvanize and unite those organizing on the ground. When you build the art together you want to hold the art together. The designs were able to take often very complicated education issues and made them easy to understand and sympathize with. Privatizers have purposely made the education landscape confusing, and the art produced helped make it easy to understand for all.  Another powerful component was activating local artists in the struggle. The artists who designed images may have been supporters of public education, but by producing designs they publicly staked their claim as activists fighting for change. This brought many of their followers into the fold who might otherwise never have entered the movement. The L.A. images are already iconic and will forever hold special meaning.

What is the role of photo/video documentation and social media in the arts-making and the strikes . . . your role?

An art build and the actions following never happened if they aren’t documented. Documentation is critical. I use social media to tell the story of the art build as it unfolds in real time. It’s important to capture not only the pieces produced, but the people producing them and the reason behind their efforts. These stories not only humanize those participating, but bring the art and the struggle into the view of those who might not be informed. Our documentation has also sparked interest from other groups and has captured the audience of people who might otherwise never have supported. The art build provides amazing optics that are easily digested on social media and help to build buzz around the issue or event being organized around. Not only is the union sharing the stories and the visuals, but other participants are generating their own social media and stories as well. This exponentially increases the amount of people talking about and sharing your issue.

For strikes, my role is to just capture moments and share stories that help sustain those on the line. The beauty is, the art created in the hands of those picketing tells so much of the story on their own. As a released classroom teacher working for my union, I try to tell stories from the point of view of an educator who has been in the classroom experiencing the issues we’re organizing around. This helps me when I’m interviewing or speaking to other educators. I tell them I am a teacher taking photos. They feel very comfortable taking photos or interviewing with me because they know I am one of them. It helps them let their guard down and be more real. I see my role as capturing spectacle, emotion, and joy. I want people to see my photos and feel like a part of the action. I want my photos to capture the essence of the moment but to also pull in those on the fringes waiting to be called in.  Social media must occur before, during and following an art build or strike. I’ve found the images I use live on long after they are posted. Since I put a non-commercial, attribution creative commons license on my photos, they are used far and wide by other unions, non-profits, and independent media outlets. I want to provide these groups with quality content they can use to help build wherever they are. I also tag my photos so they are easy to find on Google searches and the World Wide Web.

All photos throughout by Joe Brusky or Brooke Anderson. Some related links for this article:

Joe Brusky photos
Brooke Anderson Photos Essay: Oakland Teachers Ready to Strike
Art Build Video: Fighting to Keep Teachers in Oakland

CBS NEWS: Oakland Teachers Hold ‘Art Build’ To Make Statements Ahead Of Potential Strike

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

The post Arts Organizing Lifts Oakland Teachers Strike appeared first on Infoshop News.

One Cheer — More or Less — For the Green New Deal

Fri, 02/22/2019 - 01:15

via Center for a Stateless Society

by Kevin Carson

In critiquing and analyzing a state policy proposal like the Green New Deal from an anarchist perspective, I should throw in the usual disclaimers about my working assumptions. I’m not an insurrectionist and I don’t believe the post-capitalist/post-state transition will be primarily what Erik Olin Wright called a “ruptural” process. Although the final transition may involve some ruptural events, it will mostly be the ratification after the fact of a cumulative transformation that’s taken place interstitially.

Most of that transformation will come from the efforts of ordinary people at creating the building blocks of the successor society on the ground, and from those building blocks replicating laterally and coalescing into an ecosystem of counter-institutions that expands until it supplants the previous order.

Some of it will come from political engagement to run interference for the new society developing within the shell of the old, and pressuring the state from outside to behave in more benign ways. Some of it will come from using some parts of the state against other parts, and using the state’s own internal procedural rules to sabotage it.

Some of it will come from attempts to engage friendly forces within the belly of the beast. Individuals here and there on the inside of corporate or state institutions who are friendly to our efforts and willing to engage informally with us can pass along information and take advantage of their inside positions to nudge things in a favorable direction. As was the case with the transition from feudalism and capitalism, some organizational entities — now nominally within state bodies or corporations — will persist in a post-state and post-capitalist society, but with their character fundamentally changed along with their relationship to the surrounding system.  If you want to see some interesting examples of attempts at “belly of the beast” grantsmanship and institutional politics, take a look at the appendices to some of Paul Goodman’s books.

A great deal, I predict, will come from efforts — particularly at the local level — to transform the state in a less statelike direction: a general principle first framed by Saint-Simon as “replacing legislation over people with the administration of things,” and since recycled under a long series of labels ranging from “dissolution of the state within the social body” to “the Wikified State” to “the Partner State.” The primary examples I have in mind today are the new municipalist movements in Barcelona, Madrid, Bologna, and Jackson and the dozens and hundreds of cities replicating that model around the world, as well as particular institutional forms like community land trusts and other commons-based local economic models.

There is no “magic button” that will cause the state to instantaneously disappear, and it has currently preempted the avenues and channels (to paraphrase Paul Goodman) for carrying out many necessary social functions. So long as the state continues to be a thing, I prefer that its interventions in society and the economy take the least horrible forms possible, and that its performance of the necessary social functions it has preempted be carried out in the most humane and humanly tolerable ways possible during the period of socializing them — i.e., returning them to genuine social control by non-coercive, cooperative forms of association. I prefer that reforms of the state be Gorzian “non-reformist reforms” that lay the groundwork for further transformations, and bridge the transition to a fundamentally different society.

In dealing with cases like catastrophic climate change, where lifeboat ethics comes into play and it’s justifiable to forcibly shut down economic activities that actively endanger us, when the regulatory state has already preempted the avenues for otherwise shutting down such activities, stepping back and allowing the state  to actually do so — especially when it’s acting against entities like corporations which are abusing power and privilege granted by the state in the first place — may be the least unsatisfactory short-term option. When the state has created and actively subsidized the entire economic model that threatens the biosphere, intervening to partially curtail and reverse that model is probably the form of intervention I’m least likely to lose any sleep over.

To take a case from ten years ago as an illustration, something like Obama’s stimulus package was necessary, given the existence of corporate capitalism on the current model and its chronic crisis tendencies towards surplus capital and idle productive capacity, to prevent a Depression. So long as capitalism and the state existed, some such intervention was inevitable. Given those facts, I would prefer that the hundreds of billions of dollars in stimulus spending go towards fundamental infrastructures that would bridge the transition towards a more sustainable and less destructive model. I recall reading at the time that for $200 or $300 billion dollars — about a third or less of the total package — it would have been possible to build out the bottlenecks in the national railroad system and transfer around 80% of long-haul truck freight to trains, thereby reducing carbon emissions from long-distance shipping to a fraction of their former value. Instead, Obama elected to dole out the money to “shovel-ready” projects, which meant local infrastructure projects already promoted and approved by local real estate interests and other components of the urban Growth Machines, to promote further expansion of the ultimately doomed model of car culture, sprawl, and monoculture.

Given that massive deficit spending to avert Depression was inevitable, it would have been far less statist to simply spend money into existence interest-free along the lines suggested by Modern Monetary Theory, either by appropriation for government projects or simply depositing it into people’s checking accounts as a Citizen’s Dividend, than to finance deficit spending by the sale of interest bearing securities to rentiers. It would have been less statist to carry out quantitative easing functions by eliminating the current central banking model of authorizing banks to expand the money supply by lending it into existence at interest, and instead creating new money by simply issuing in the form of a Basic Income. It would have been better to make the bank bailout conditional on banks marking mortgages in default down to their current market value and refinancing them on more affordable terms. You get the idea.

Which brings us back to the Green New Deal.

Getting back to our earlier principle that, if the state has already entered the field, I prefer state interventions that are less shitty rather than more shitty, I would definitely prefer that tax money be spent building public transit that partially reverses or undoes a century of social engineering through state subsidies to highways and civil aviation, to interventions that continue to subsidize the further expansion of car culture.

The question is, to what extent does the Green New Deal actually do this?

Insofar as it proposes shifting public funding from the automobile-highway complex and civil aviation system to local public transit and intercity passenger rail, or reducing fossil fuel extraction and shifting to renewable energy, I think it’s about the best line of action we could possibly expect from a state given the likely realities in the near-term future.

But there are two main structural problems with the Green New Deal as proposed by Michael Moore, Jill Stein, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. First, it takes for granted most of the existing economy’s patterns of energy use and simply calls for decarbonizing actual power generation.

As an illustration of the general spirit of this approach, Alex Baca mentions a Berkeley parking garage:

It’s got “rooftop solar, electric-vehicle charging stations, and dedicated spots for car-share vehicles, rainwater capture, and water treatment features” — not to mention 720 parking spots. It cost nearly $40 million to build. At night, it positively glows. And it’s a block from the downtown Berkeley BART station.

That America’s most famous progressive city, one where nearly everything is within walking distance, spent $40 million to renovate a parking garage one block from a subway station suggests that progressive Democrats remain unwilling to seriously confront the crisis of climate change.

In fairness to Ocasio-Cortez, she does favor shifting a considerable share of public subsidies from highways to public transit. But the overall thrust of her approach is far more towards decarbonizing power generation than changing the ways we use energy.

The Green New Deal, Baca says, “has a huge blind spot.”

It doesn’t address the places Americans live. And our physical geography — where we sleep, work, shop, worship, and send our kids to play, and how we move between those places — is more foundational to a green, fair future than just about anything else. The proposal encapsulates the liberal delusion on climate change: that technology and spending can spare us the hard work of reform.

Baca points, in particular, to the car-centered urban design model — promoted by decades of social engineering by the automobile and real estate industries in conjunction with urban planners — which locates housing and work/shopping in monoculture enclaves widely separated from one another and linked by freeways. More than anything, we need to return to the kind of urban layout that prevailed before widespread car ownership: compact population centers with a mixture of residences and businesses where people can get to work and shopping by walking, wheelchair, bicycle, bus, or streetcar. And rather than just replacing internal-combustion vehicles with electric ones and coal plants with solar panels, we need to travel fewer miles and consume less power.

Baca’s focus on urban layout, as on-the-mark as it is, doesn’t go nearly far enough. Equally important is industrial organization and the need to relocalize production and change the fundamental ways that production and distribution are organized.

Because of a combination of massive subsidies to energy consumption and transportation, entry barriers that promote cartelization and enable oligopoly firms to pass on overhead from waste and inefficiency to consumers on a cost-plus basis, socialization of the cost of many material and social inputs to production, and artificial property rights like trademarks and patents that facilitate legal control over the disposal of products whose manufacture is outsourced to overseas firms, we have market areas, supply chains, and distribution chains many times larger than efficiency-maximizing levels if all costs were internalized by capitalist firms. And even when production within a plant is rationalized on a lean or just-in-time basis, the existence of continental or trans-oceanic distribution chains means that the old supply-push model of the mass production era is just swept under the rug; all the in-process inventories stacked up by the assembly lines and warehouse inventories of finished goods that characterized Sloanist production have just been shifted to warehouses on wheels and container ships.

Ultimately, what we need is a relocalized economy on the lines described by Kropotkin, Mumford, and Borsodi, which capitalizes on all the advantages offered — but ignored — by the introduction of electrically powered machinery in the Second Industrial Revolution. Namely, we need high-tech craft industry with community and neighborhood workshops using general-purpose CNC machine tools to produce for consumption within the community, frequently switching between product runs as orders come in on a just-in-time basis. This would eliminate not only a huge share of the transportation costs embedded in the current system, but additional costs associated with mass marketing in an environment where production is undertaken without regard to existing orders, and the cost of waste production (planned obsolescence, the Military-Industrial Complex, car culture and suburbanization, etc.) that is used as a remedy for idle production capacity.

Building “infrastructure” as such is not progressive. It’s only progressive when it’s compatible with things like industrial relocalization and the replacement of the car culture with compact mixed-use communities.

Second, the Green New Deal is very much an agenda for saving capitalism in the same spirit as the original New Deal. It’s an anti-deflationary program to create new outlets for surplus labor and capital and provide “jobs” for everyone, instead of directly confronting the fact that technical progress has drastically reduced the amount of labor and material inputs required to produce a high standard of living and seeing that the leisure and productivity benefits are distributed fairly.

This was central to the Green New Deal model proposed by Michael Moore several years back, and it’s central to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s version.

The Wikipedia article on “Green New Deal” attributes first use of that phrase to Thomas Friedman, who envisioned it as a way to “create a whole new clean power industry to spur our economy into the 21st century.” And the creation of new “green” industries as a huge source of “jobs” has been the chief selling point of every Green New Deal proposal since. More broadly, it’s the defining theme of the whole “Progressive Capitalist” or “Green Capitalist” paradigm promoted by Warren Buffett, Bill  Gates and the like. The idea is to use new technology as a weapon against capitalism’s chronic problem of surplus capital without a profitable outlet, by enclosing it as a source of profit, and using it to create new industries and new support infrastructures that will provide a new “engine of accumulation” or “Kondratiev wave” to soak up capital for another generation or so. This creation of new industries is one of the “counteracting tendencies” to the tendency for the direct rate of profit to fall that Marx described in volume 3 of Capital.

And that’s basically the same vision promoted by Michael Moore: run those Ford and GM factories at full capacity and put millions of auto workers back to work building buses and bullet trains, and employ millions more building solar panels and wind generators. The problem is that the cheapening and ephemeralization of production technology is rendering a growing share of investment capital superfluous at such a rapid rate that building buses and trains and generators will barely put a dent in it. And in any case, a major share of existing production is waste that just needs to be ended, not run on a different power source;  while replacing necessary transportation with more environmentally friendly forms is a great idea, the fact remains that most existing transportation is also unnecessary and should be eliminated by restructuring the layout of cities and industry. The buses and bullet trains may take up the slack left by ceasing to produce cars for a few years, at most.

There is simply no way to invest enough money in producing alternative energy, trains and public transit to guarantee 40-hour-a-week jobs, get the assembly lines moving in Detroit again, and prevent the bottom from falling out of the capital markets, without enormous levels of waste production.

So to the extent that AOC and her friends want to keep oil and coal in the ground and promote decarbonization, and end America’s subsidies to car culture, I wish them well. But “green jobs guarantees,” promises of economic expansion through new “green industries,” and similar approaches aimed at prolonging the long-term survival of capitalism, are a dead end.

Where does that leave us? What do we do in the meantime?

In framing the alternatives, I start from the assumption that our primary purpose is actually building the post-capitalist society, and that our engagement or lack of engagement with the state is a secondary course of action whose main purpose is to create a more conducive, less harmful environment in which to do the building. If you want to vote strategically for the sake of damage mitigation, or try to push the state in less environmentally harmful directions, or shift its existing interventions in a more environmentally favorable direction, more power to you.

It was this kind of thing that Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt referred to, in Declaration, as part of a symbiotic strategy between the horizontalist left with its practice of building prefigurative counter-institutions, and leftist parties attempting to influence state policy. It’s fine for grassroots movements engaged in constructing a new society outside the state to throw support behind political actors who are taking specific measures to push things in the right direction, or enlist their help in running interference for us and creating a more favorable environment for the process of building the new society. But it’s absolutely vital to retain total autonomy and freedom of action, and resist being turned into the social movement auxiliary of a political party as Van Jones tried to do with Occupy, and not let leftist parties in government divert suck up all the energy and oxygen from those engaged in building counter-institutions like Syriza did to Syntagma after coming to power in Greece.

Our most important strategic focus must be on institution-building. The most important form of institution-building is at the local level, and some of it may or may not entail incidental engagement with local government.

Pressuring local government to scale back zoning laws that mandate sprawl and monoculture, and to stop actively subsidizing sprawl through below-cost extension of utilities to outlying developments, may well be fruitful. But the most productive path in local decarbonization will be the work of actually retrofitting suburbs and strip malls into mixed-use communities with diversified local economies.

These things will become a matter of necessity for survival, as the combined effect of Peak Fossil Fuel and monkeywrenching efforts aimed at keeping it in the ground make long commutes prohibitively expensive for growing numbers of people, and growing numbers at the same time are forced by rising unemployment, underemployment, and precaritization to supplement or replace their wage incomes with direct production for use in the social economy.

When it comes to strategic action to promote decarbonization, direct action to make the fossil fuel industries unprofitable and fossil fuel projects unworkable in practice are at least as important as any local “carbon free” initiatives. Physical obstruction of pipeline projects, the use of the legal system and bureaucracy to sabotage them with their own system of rules, divestment efforts, and sabotage of existing pumping stations and other vulnerable nodes, together offer great hope for making such projects increasingly risky and decreasingly attractive and hastening post-carbon transition.

And it’s the people engaged in open hardware and micro-manufacturing efforts, hackerspaces, neighborhood gardens, community currencies, community broadband projects, squats in abandoned buildings and vacant lots, community land trusts and cohousing projects, tool libraries and other genuine sharing efforts, who are actually building a society that will function on zero waste and sustainable energy.

In the end, I think it’s a mistake to put our hopes in a party or in progressive celebrities like Bernie Sanders or AOC, no matter how much better they are than more mainstream politicians. I have much more modest hopes for whatever level of political engagement with the state I choose. A political party — the Millennial wing of the Democrats, the Greens, DSA — will not be the avenue by which we create a post-state, post-capitalist society that’s worthy of the human beings who live in it. Our main goal, and most attainable one, is simply using whatever opportunistic center-left non-entity is most likely to get elected to stave off the immediate fascist onslaught and buy time. At best, in the most ideal situation — and this is at least plausible as the demographics of both the country and Democratic Party shift toward leftish Millennials — we might hope for a caretaker state that offers a somewhat less virulent social democratic model of capitalism and allows a relatively benign atmosphere for our own efforts.

But if you want to see the actual future, look at what people are building on the ground. As a character in Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time put it, revolution, was not uniformed parties, slogans, and mass-meetings; “It’s the people who worked out the labor- and land intensive farming we do. It’s all the people who changed how people bought food, raised children, went to school… who made new unions, withheld rent, refused to go to wars, wrote and educated and made speeches.”

The post One Cheer — More or Less — For the Green New Deal appeared first on Infoshop News.

10 Steps to Detecting Conspiracy Theories & Bullshit

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 04:56

by Pink Panther – AWSM

When the Internet made its appearance there was a lot of talk about the information super highway in which people would be able to click on a few buttons and get whatever information they were looking for.

Cue forward to 2019 and the information super highway is looking a lot more like the information rubbish tip. While its undeniable there is some good solid stuff out there, it’s also true that not only is some of the information irrelevant to what we’re looking for (as anyone who has used Google Search can attest to) but it is also unreliable. One of the reasons is the number of charlatans such as conspiracy theorists who have made the Internet their home.

Despite what you might think, lots of different kinds of people can be sucked in by conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, it is becoming all too common for people who should know better, to fall victim to this nonsense. This matters because we can only fight back against the very real material and political problems of the world as it is, by understanding reality. Once we know what is really going on, we will have a sound basis for organising resistance to it. So how can we detect if what we are reading is nonsense or a conspiracy theory? The ten step guide below is what I use to sift fact from fiction or half-truths. When that fails I turn to sites like and which are both non-partisan debunkers of bullshit, no matter what side of the political spectrum it comes from.

I. Use of Vague Statistics.

Any claim that uses a statistic like “One in three people are…” should always be treated with great scepticism because they’re meaningless. Without knowing anything like the number of people who were studied or surveyed, the terms of reference for the study or research undertaken or the people or organisation who conducted the research, we cannot determine if the statistic is real or made up. More often than not studies which use such vague references are made up or conducted by highly partisan groups trying to convince people that “research” backs what they say.

II. Awe with Percentages.

How many times have you read a poll that claims that “40% of Americans support Trump” or something similar? Most polls conducted by a polling company tend to interview between 1000 and 1500 people over a given time period and are chosen from electoral or other voting rolls. It’s not hard to realise that it is impossible to determine what millions of people think about anything on the basis of what 1000 or so people say. You also have to consider that such a sample excludes people who aren’t on electoral rolls for various reasons. Despite the claims that such polls are scientific no one has been able to explain just what part of the polling process actually involves science. Percentages without context are another problem. Informing us that the average house price has increased by 35% in a particular area doesn’t tell us anything. Telling us that the average house price in that area was $250,000 back in 2012 then telling us that house prices in that area have increased by 35% gives us information that is useful.

III. Emotive Manipulation.

In some news networks there is a lot of pressure to try and get as many people to support a certain viewpoint or to galvanise support for a particular cause. One way this is done is to get a hysterical parent wailing about how her child is a victim of a certain social or other evil in order to rally support for that cause. The problem with such news stories is little, or no, attempt is made to find out if anything the said parent has claimed is true, false or an combination of both. Also, no attempt is made to put things in context.

The problem with anecdotal, human interest and other stories of this nature is they exaggerate the extent of a social evil in the minds of the public.
An example of this is when a child is snatched off the streets and murdered. Parents stop letting their children walk to school out of fear the same thing will happen to their own children. This is despite the fact that crime statistics from the United States and other countries repeatedly show that the chances of anyone, let alone a child, being snatched from the streets and killed by strangers is very rare. For example, according to the New York Times (August 17th, 2016), the FBI reported that only 1,381 of the 11,961 homicides reported within the United States in 2014 involved people who were unknown to the victims.
Emotionally manipulative news items can also have serious consequences. U.S President Donald Trump’s crack down on undocumented immigrants and his so-called “Muslim ban” was largely the result of emotive hysteria whipped up by Fox News about crimes committed by undocumented migrants and terrorist acts by Islamic State in Europe.

IV. The Defying of Reality.

Let’s be blunt. Most conspiracy theories and incorrect news stories are exposed as such because they fail to pass the most basic test of “Is it practical or realistic that such a thing could happen?” The 9/11 Truthers often come unstuck on this one. They would have us believe that multiple American government agencies conspired to murder thousands of their fellow Americans so that George W Bush could justify invading Afghanistan for its oil and gas reserves.

There’s at least four major problems with that:

1. A plot to kill thousands of people would’ve required a degree of co-operation between various government agencies that did not exist at the time – and still doesn’t. U.S government agencies are notorious for jealously guarding their jurisdictions and tend to avoid co-operating unless circumstances or the law requires them to do so. It was the lack of co-operation between government and intelligence agencies that enabled the 9/11 hijackers to enter the United States despite the terrorists involved in the hijackings being on known or suspected terrorist watch lists. It was to ensure better information gathering and sharing between these agencies that the Department of Homeland Security was created. Yet, despite this, co-operation between various government agencies is the exception rather than the rule.

2. American civil servants are required to take an oath to uphold the U.S Constitution. As the U.S Constitution forbids extra-judicial killings (of which plotting to kill thousands of Americans would be an obvious breach of said Constitution) public servants would’ve had the legal requirement to come out and denounce such behaviour.

3. Afghanistan was not invaded for either gas or oil because Afghanistan has neither. It was invaded because George W Bush believed that the Taliban were harbouring the man they believed was responsible for orchestrating the 9/11 attacks.

4. Genuine whistle-blowers go to credible news organisations like CNN, ABC or NBC or newspapers like the L.A Times, Washington Post or New York Times. They don’t go to websites like InfoWars or tabloids like National Inquirer.

V. Ignorance of basic facts.

Conspiracy theorists often lack a basic understanding of the relevant fields they are lecturing about. None of the 9/11 Truthers or so-called “Scholars for 9/11 Truth” have relevant qualifications or expertise in the fields that would be most relevant in any investigation into the 9/11 terrorist attacks such as building demolition, structural engineering, air crash investigation, architecture, disaster management, building and construction or even chemistry. Instead, the 9/11 Truthers are made up of people like celebrities, religious scholars, former intelligence officers, ex-military officers and sports stars. In other words, people who simply don’t have the expertise or knowledge to answer if a building can collapse pancake-style from causes other than an explosion or if molten steel would contain thermite independent of any explosives. That’s why air crash investigators, arson investigators and police detectives don’t just look for one or two things when they suspect damage might’ve been caused by a bomb. They look for many things because sometimes explosive residue can be found at the site of a disaster that has been caused by something else.

For example, explosive residue was found on Partnair Flight 394 which crashed off the coast of Denmark on September 8th, 1989. Many people, particularly in Norway, initially believed it was a bomb because of reports of a loud explosion and because the Prime Minister of Norway had recently flown on the same aircraft. The reason why explosive residue was found on the wreckage was the result of contamination resulting from military ordinance littering the sea floor from various naval battles fought in the area. The cause of the crash was the failure of counterfeit aircraft parts used during aircraft maintenance.

VI. Confusing Authority with Expertise.

Yes, there is a difference between authority and expertise. Authority is gained from one’s position or title within a group or organisation. Expertise is gained from learning, working in and mastering a particular skill, trade or area of knowledge.

Among conspiracy theorists there is a tendency to ignore the experts in their chosen fields in favour of authority figures. The more common authority figures they listen to are celebrities, ex-wrestlers like the former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, former military officers and former police officers.
Few conspiracy theorists see the absurdity of debunking authority figures who have the expertise to back up what they are saying by claiming they’re all in cahoots with the evil, omnipresent government or Big Something-or-other but not the authority figures who go along with their conspiracies.

VII. Playing on prejudices.

They play on people’s prejudices to advance their nonsense. Despite what the moral relativists may claim it’s not necessary to be a white heterosexual male to indulge in stereotyping. Stereotyping is attributing to all persons within a certain group attributes – both negative and positive – that may or may not be held by many people within that group. Some of the more obvious stereotypes are the hard working and well educated Asians who are all work and no fun, the Muslim terrorists who want to impose Sharia law upon us, the lazy drug addicted welfare queen… I’m sure there’s many other stereotypes that one can think of. Stereotyping often comes about as the direct result of selective reporting about certain groups within both traditional and social media that is picked up and used to vilify anyone who belong to those groups. All arguments presented by anyone from those groups will be greeted with comments like “Oh you would say that because you are one of them!” and people who defend those being stereotyped will be attacked with comments like “That’s what we expect from an apologist for these people.”

VIII. Treating the masses with contempt.

For people who claim to speak for the ordinary person in the street or who desire to “educate” them the conspiracy theorists regularly abuse and vilify the masses by labelling them “sheeple”, “muppets”, “ignorant” or “liars”. Rarely, if ever, do they assume the masses might have enough intelligence to work out the facts for themselves. A search on YouTube for anything to do with debunking anti-vaccination campaigns, 9/11 Truthers or Pizzagate will provide ample examples of this contempt in the Comments section.

IX. The Obsession with the word “Big”.

An obsession is prefixing any sector of society they dislike with the word “Big” as in “Big Pharma”, “Big Agriculture”, “Big Business” and “Big Government”. Everything they say and write ends up being about how something prefixed with the word “Big” is behind everything they dislike. Accusing people of belonging to Big Something-or-other is a sure-fire way to try and discredit anyone who challenges the claims made by a conspiracy theorist.

That leads us to the single biggest indicator that something is wrong or a conspiracy theory.

X. Using supposedly “Anti-Establishment” sources because they provide “alternative sources of news”.

A British conservative may be happier reading The Times while a liberal counterpart may be more contented with reading The Guardian but both newspapers contain the same basic content. What separates the two newspapers is their bias. The former is biased towards its conservative readership and the latter is biased towards its liberal readership. Bias doesn’t make a news story fake or the news organisation a fake news peddler or a bunch of conspiracy theorists.
While both The Guardian and The Times are Establishment publications they employ editors, sub-editors, fact checkers, reporters and journalists who actually go out and find out if what is being told to them is true. They usually come back with different interpretations of what has happened but they don’t differ when it comes to the basic facts. They also distinguish between opinion pieces where a writer peddles their viewpoint and the news. Most supposedly “Anti-Establishment” or alternative news sources have none of these things. They don’t distinguish between facts and opinions. They don’t bother to find out if what is being written or broadcast is true or false. They only care that what they produce fits in with their world view. That usually means they cite from sources of like-minded groups and individuals.

‘All’ that most multi-billion dollar media companies want us to do (which is bad enough in itself!) is read stories while they harass us with endless advertising and marketing campaigns that keep the money rolling in for these companies. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation is the multi-billion media empire it is because it encompasses newspapers, magazines and websites that have at least some diversity of opinions. That correspondingly brings in at least some diversity of readers and viewers whom Murdoch’s advertisers can harrange with advertising. They have a vested interest to tell us the truth most of the time, even if it’s usually biased in favour of Capitalists and Capitalism.

Don’t be fooled by the news charlatans and conspiracy theorists. They aren’t providing you with ‘alternative facts’ from alternative news sources. They make up what they say and they’re playing you for suckers as they laugh all the way to the bank with the money they got from hacking your personal data when you clicked on their site. You might find it temporarily comforting to believe you’ve been handed the mysteries of the universe via a website run by somebody living in his Mum’s garage. Spending hours listening to podcasts about chem-trails, our alien lizard overlords, the flat earth or the moon-landing ‘hoax’ etc. will perhaps provide psychological distraction from wondering how you’re going to pay this week’s rent. What it won’t do is give you the tools necessary to overcome and struggle effectively against the hard, cold and sometimes ‘boring’ realities of the world we really live in.

Related Link:…shit/

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What is “Primitive Accumulation”? Marx’s and Kropotkin’s Viewpoints—A Background

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 04:46


by Wayne Price

Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1 (my emphasis)

[Adam Smith and other theorists of bourgeois political economy explained “primitive accumulation”—also translated as “primary” or “original” accumulation—this way:] In times long gone by there were two sorts of people; one the diligent, intelligent, and, above all, frugal, elite; the other, lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living…Thus it came to pass that the former sort accumulated wealth, and the latter sort had at last nothing to sell except their own skins. And from this original sin dates the poverty of the great majority…and the wealth of the few….Such insipid childishness is every day preached to us…. [Instead, Marx refers to the enclosures which drove European peasants off their land, colonialism in India and elsewhere, African and Native American slavery, etc.]

In actual history it is notorious that conquest, enslavement, robbery, murder, briefly force, play the great part….The so-called primitive accumulation, therefore, is nothing else than the historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production. It appears as primitive, because it forms the pre-historic stage of capital….The history of this, their expropriation, is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire….

The advance of capitalist production develops a working class…. [Today] direct force, outside economic conditions, is of course still used, but only exceptionally. In the ordinary run of things, the laborer can be left to the “natural laws of production,” i.e., to his dependence on capital….It is otherwise during the historic genesis of capitalist production. The bourgeoisie, at its rise, wants and uses the power of the state to “regulate” wages…to keep the laborer himself in the normal degree of dependence. This is an essential element of the so-called primitive accumulation….

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement, and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of blackskins, signalized the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation….They all employ the power of the state, the concentrated and organized force of society, to hasten, hothouse fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and the shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power….

Peter Kropotkin, The State: Its Historic Role
(Kropotkin’s views on the origins of capitalism and the modern state are consistent with those of Marx)

The role of the nascent state in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in relation to the urban centers was to destroy the independence of the cities; to pillage the rich guilds of merchants and artisans; to concentrate in its hands the external commerce of the cities and ruin it; to lay hands on the internal administration of the guilds and subject internal commerce as well as all manufactures, in every detail to the control of a host of officials….Obviously the same tactic was applied to the villages and the peasants. Once the state felt strong enough it eagerly set about destroying the village commune, ruining the peasants in its clutches and plundering the common funds….

Such was the role of the state in the industrial field. All it was capable of doing was to tighten the screw for the worker, depopulate the countryside, spread misery in the towns, reduce millions of human beings to a state of starvation and impose industrial serfdom.

Peter Kropotkin, Modern Science and Anarchism
(However, Kropotkin had criticisms of Marx’s concept of “primitive accumulation.”)

What, then, is the use of talking, with Marx, about the “primitive accumulation” —as if this “push” given to capitalists were a thing of the past? In reality, new monopolies have been granted every year till now….Everywhere the state has been, and is, the main pillar and the creator, direct and indirect, of capitalism and its powers over the masses….The state has always interfered in the economic life in favor of the capitalist exploiter. It has always granted him protection in robbery, given aid and support for further enrichment. And it could not be otherwise. To do so was one of the functions—the chief mission—of the state.

Karl Marx, Grundrisse [unpublished notebooks]
(Marx says that in the epoch of capitalist decline, capitalism returns to its earlier, non-market, methods, such as monopolization and state action.)

As long as capital is weak, it still itself relies on the crutches of past modes of production, or of those which will pass with its rise. As soon as it feels strong, it throws away the crutches and moves in accordance with its own laws. As soon as it begins to sense itself and become conscious of itself as a barrier to development, it seeks refuge in forms which, by restricting free competition, seem to make the rule of capital more perfect, but are at the same time the heralds of its dissolution and the the dissolution of the mode of production resting on it.

David Harvey, A Companion to Marx’s Capital.
(Harvey is a well-known Marxist geographer and theoretician. My emphasis.)

There were important aspects to the dynamic [of primitive accumulation] that Marx ignores. For example, the gender dimension is now recognized as being highly significant, since primitive accumulation frequently entailed a radical disempowerment of women, their reduction to the status of property and chattel and the reenforcement of patriarchal social relations….

There is…a real problem with the idea that primitive accumulation occurred once upon a time, and that once over, it ceased to be of real significance…Rosa Luxemburg put that question firmly on the agenda nearly a century ago….The long history of capitalism centers on this dynamic between continuous primitive accumulation on the one hand and the dynamics of accumulation through the system of expanded reproduction described in Capital on the other…

Since it seems a bit odd to call them primitive or original, I prefer to call these processes accumulation by dispossession.

(Harvey cites Luxemburg, but, like Federici, apparently is not aware that Kropotkin had made a similar criticism of Marx’s “primitive accumulation.” However, it could be argued that this criticism is unfair to Marx, since he did recognize that “direct force, outside economic conditions, is of course still used” and indicated that there would be a return to the methods of “so-called primitive accumulation” when capitalism “become conscious of itself as a barrier to development”— that is, in its epoch of decay, with the rise of modern imperialism, monopoly-finance capitalism, and the anthropocene.)

For further discussion see
: From the Great Witch Hunt to the Epoch of Capitalist Decay—Review of Silvia Federici Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation

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We Will Not Negotiate

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 04:36

Via Commune

by Andy Battle

I’m standing on a lonely, dog-shit-covered pier at the western tip of Long Island, the winter wind eating through my denim jacket. Before me lies Roosevelt Island. once home to New York’s hospitals, prisons, and asylums, now full of luxury apartment and a Cornell University “tech campus” meant to drain money and talent from Silicon Valley. Beyond that is Manhattan’s east side—United Nations headquarters, the gaudy Trump World Tower, and the subdued money behind the bricks of tony Sutton Place. To the north rises the steel hulk of the Queensboro Bridge, which ferries 170,000 automobiles a day between Manhattan and its sister to the east, while behind me sit a shuttered restaurant, a rotting wooden pier, and a series of brick warehouses. This site, hard by the shore of the East River, was to be the footprint for Amazon’s “HQ2,” where tens of thousands were supposed to toil for the world’s most aggressive retailer. But now the deal is dead, cut down by a swell of opposition from neighborhood activists and elected officials that caught the company and its supporters flat-footed.

Amazon’s retreat is significant. Subsidies to private firms are not new, but HQ2 was the moonshine of development deals—strong, pure, and harsh. For many New Yorkers, the deal became a symbol of everything they find objectionable about contemporary urban politics. Amazon’s market valuation exceeds a trillion dollars; its founder, Jeff Bezos, is the world’s richest man. Nonetheless, city and state officials offered the firm at least three billion dollars in subsidies on the heels of a year-long search process that doubled as a humiliating showcase for the sovereignty of private wealth over desperate municipal governments. The deal, shrouded in secrecy and engineered to abrogate whatever democracy remains in New York’s planning process, stood as a monument to the contempt with which both corporate and elected officials treat ordinary people in any role except that of customer.

Long Island City

During the last ten years, Long Island City has changed as much as any place in New York. Real estate developers have converted large swaths of industrial waterfront into glass-fronted playgrounds for today’s rich. At midcentury, Long Island City sat at the center of a vast belt of industry folded around the western fringe of Long Island. The intensity of this landscape drove the scribes of the Federal Writers’ Project to rhapsody:

Long Island City, fronting the East River and Newtown Creek around the approach to the Queensboro Bridge, is a labyrinth of industrial plants whose harsh and grimy outlines rise against the soot-laden sky. Within an area of a few square miles, gridironed by elevated lines, railroad yards, and bridge approaches, are gathered about 1,400 factories, producing chiefly spaghetti, candy, sugar, bread, machinery, paint, shoes, cut stone, and furniture. Its bakeries alone turn out about five million loaves weekly; its paint and varnish factories, about ten million gallons a year; its stoneyards handle about 90 percent of the cut stone and marble imported into the United States. On the oily waters of Newtown Creek, which separates Queens from Brooklyn, tugboats and barges plow busily all day long, entering with coal and raw materials and leaving with manufactured products.

Food and chemicals were the neighborhood’s mainstays. When La Guardia Community College opened in 1971, the neighborhood smelled like “bread and gum,” recall teachers. When the Chiclets factory exploded in 1976, workers poured out of the plant “still smoldering,” reminding a shaken witness of photographs depicting Vietnamese children attacked with napalm. In retrospect, the blast feels like the coda to an era, an angry outburst by machines protesting their impending retirement. By the 1980s, the deindustrialization of New York was virtually complete, leaving the city hooked on finance and real estate as motors of the local economy. While its Rust Belt counterparts descended into penury, New York parlayed its historical advantages into a new season of opulence, riding high on asset bubbles and debt-gorged turbulence administered from its downtown boardrooms. New York may be built on quicksand, but at least it is built on something.

“Competition suffuses every inch of Amazon’s soul.”

Other historical legacies abound in Long Island City. The Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing project in the United States, sit five blocks north of the HQ2 site. Completed in 1939, the twenty-nine squat brick structures evoke an abandoned American social democracy. Today, while luxury towers rise to the south, the New York City Housing Authority lurches from crisis to crisis. Eighty percent of public housing residents went without heat some time last winter. Some have lived like this for ten years. Lead paint, piles of trash, dirty water, no water—an archipelago of Flint, Michigans stretches across each New York borough.

Between the 1960s and the 1980s, the Queensbridge Houses, like other New York public housing complexes, became sites of concentrated, racialized poverty, the consequence of a slowing economy, labor markets cleaved along racial lines, and state policies that fostered segregation. More than most projects, though, the Queensbridge Houses spoke to the world. The compound is famous for its poets. In the 1980s, MC Shan, Marley Marl, Roxanne Shante, and the Juice Crew helped set the template for New York hip-hop. Their ‘90s descendants—Nas, Cormega, Tragedy Khadafi, and others—honed the style into something harsher, less playful, more world-weary.

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How the NYC Left Took on Amazon and Won

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 03:51

via Jacobin

By Liza Featherstone

Dear Amazon,” the Valentine’s Day meme read. It was the day Amazon announced it would not, after all, be setting up a second headquarters in Long Island City. “It’s not us. It’s you.”

The meme, created by CAAV Organizing Asian Communities, one of many groups fighting the Amazon deal, was cute and funny, but only partly true.

After all, it was “us” — the combined forces of the New York left, from new kids on the block like Queens Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), to community groups like CAAV and DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving), who have been in Queens for years, to RWDSU (the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union) and many other people and organizations. This coalition deserves credit for defeating Governor Cuomo’s terrible plan to give a highly profitable, famously tax-evading company billions in tax breaks to enrich developers and make Long Island City even less affordable for the many working-class people who live there.

It’s an astonishing victory for the working-class and the Left. The global elite sees it as a bewildering defeat, far beyond a local story.

Amazon’s decision to pull out of Long Island City was on the front page, not only of the New York Times but also the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, and all three papers have given it significant coverage, much of it hand-wringing from the business perspective: “how could this have gone so wrong?” Bourgeois commentators are blaming Amazon for mishandling the situation, the way a normal person might blame a victim of violent crime (“he was probably a drug dealer”; “why was she walking alone so late?”) to reassure themselves they’re safe.

Amazon wanted this deal. The governor wanted it. The mayor wanted it. Most importantly, the real estate industry wanted it: there was so much money to be made gentrifying Long Island City. Even as little as a year ago, nothing else would have mattered.

What worked for the Left here? “The organizing,” says Abdullah Younus of DSA.

The Left argues — a lot! — about the best approach to fighting capital. Should we focus on electing progressive or socialist-leaning politicians to office? Or should we build a base by talking to people about the issues? Public education or protest? Do we work with labor unions or with immigrant workers outside of such structures? Do we pressure politicians at the city or state level or organize working-class people in the community?

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