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The political nature of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Sun, 01/14/2018 - 06:11


by Shawn Hattingh – ZACF

Mechanisation and automation have been called the Fourth Industrial Revolution. But these are not inevitable or neutral economic realities. They are political weapons of oppression under capitalism. It is a war against the working classes to increase profits. It is no an accident that bosses choose to mechanise and automate in the context of the massive crisis of capitalism.

Recently, the accounting multinational company, Grant Thompson, conducted a study amongst 2500 multinational corporations regarding mechanisation, automation and the introduction of artificial intelligence. Of these companies, 56% said they planned to automate parts of their operations within the next year. Another study by Oxford University was even starker. It stated that 47% of jobs in the United States and possibly 50% of jobs in parts of Africa – including South Africa – could possibly be lost to artificial intelligence, mechanisation and automation in the next two decades. It is clear that if this transpires, the consequences will be dire for workers in Africa – including South Africa – and their ability to organise.

Some people have said that this move to use advanced computers and automation is the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’; and that the evitable advance of technology must be accepted. The reality, though, is that automation is not inevitable, but a political choice of the ruling class to wage a war against the working class to increase profits and oppression. It is important to understand how and why growing automation is political, and to do so we need to look at the relations at the heart of capitalism.

Exploitation defines capitalism

Capitalism is a system in which the ruling class, through private property and state ownership, own and control the means of production – in other words the farms, banks, factories, machines, mines and services. They use their control of the means of production and capital to hire workers to produce goods to sell at a profit. In doing so, capitalists also compete with one another in the market. The vast majority of people, the working class, are kept in a position whereby they own very little and are forced to work for the ruling class to survive. The state assists the ruling class to maintain this situation through the law and – when need be – policing.

Workers, however, never get the full value of their labour; bosses only pay workers a small share of the value they produce through wages, and keep the rest that workers produce as profit. It is this exploitation that defines relations between bosses and workers. To keep workers exploited bosses have to try and make them as powerless as possible through oppression. Workers throughout history have collectively resisted and fought to try and win a larger share of the value that they produce in terms of better wages. To try and break this resistance, one weapon capitalists have is to introduce technology like machines and computers.

War through mechanisation

Bosses often choose to introduce mechanisation and automation to drive up profits, because this means they can reduce the workforce, and therefore, have a smaller wage bill and hence more profits. Capitalists, however, will often only mechanise or automate if doing so proves cheaper than continuing with the exiting workforce and levels of workers. So mechanisation and automation is aimed at replacing well-organised workers with machines. Low paid and poorly organised workers, like in sweatshops, are usually not replaced with machines because it is cheaper for bosses to keep on these workers. So mechanisation and automation is an attack generally on more organised and better paid workers.

Linked to this, mechanisation and automation is about disorganising and increasing the oppression of workers. So bosses don’t always introduce all the new technologies that exist or that are possible. They only introduce technology that will drive down wages; or increase oppression and the disorganisation of the working class or both. In many of the companies that choose to mechanise or even automate, there is usually a history of workers organising. Thus, companies mechanise and automate often to try and break organising.

Lessons from the past

We can see how this has worked by looking back at the past. The first machines to be introduced by capitalists into factories took place in 1811 in Britain during what is called the First Industrial Revolution. The machines were introduced so that they could be operated by low paid, unskilled and so easily replaceable workers. Before then skilled craft workers were responsible for spinning and weaving. They were well organised into guilds, and because of their skills they were also well paid – meaning through their wages they were taking a relatively high percentage of the value they produced. To break these workers and their organising, and to drive up profits by lowering wages, bosses began introducing machines that allowed unskilled low paid workers using them to do the weaving and spinning.

The weavers and spinners began resisting being replaced by machines and unskilled workers by entering into factories and breaking the machines. The state then sent the army against them, and implemented the death sentence for workers caught destroying machines. So the state and bosses worked together to smash organised workers, to lower wages and increase profits through introducing machines and unskilled labour. Through this, divisions were also created amongst workers as bosses pitted skilled and unskilled workers against one another – undermining the prospect of united resistance.

Mechanisation and the capitalist crisis

Today we are again seeing a massive increase in mechanisation and automation, the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution. The aim is again to undermine and prevent workers organising and to drive down wages. It is not an accident that bosses are choosing to mechanise and automate today in the context of a massive capitalist crisis. It is also not an accident they are targeting countries and sectors where there has been a recent history of worker organising.

The new drive to mechanise and automate is a response by corporations to try and increase profits in the capitalist crisis. It is also not a coincidence that multinational companies operating in China are at the forefront of automating and mechanising. This is because in recent years Chinese workers have been organising on a massive scale, and through mechanisation and automation there is an attempt by bosses to break this.

The attempts by bosses, however, to automate and mechanise won’t end the current capitalist crisis. This is because the current crisis is partly due to over-production, something which mechanisation and automation does not address and will possibly make worse. In the past, the job losses due to mechanisation were offset by economic growth which created new jobs. Today capitalism is no longer growing, and mechanisation in this context will lead to greater unemployment. This means there will also be fewer workers to buy goods companies are producing, meaning over-production will remain a problem, which will lead to less profits in the long run for companies involved in manufacturing.


It is clear, therefore, that the mechanisation and automation were are seeing in the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution is an attack on the organising of workers. It is also clear that workers need to resist mechanisation and automation, as today in the context of a capitalist crisis it offers the working class very little. But to do so, workers are going to have to experiment with new ways of organising, ways that can build unity in a working class that is now defined by mass unemployment, casualization and huge divisions.

Some unions in this context have called for a just transition that will lessen the impact of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution on workers. The reality though is, capitalists, states and politicians are not interested in any just transition. This means, as part of fighting the new wave of automation and mechanisation, we have to renew the struggle for revolution to overthrow capitalism and the state. If we don’t, the automation and mechanisation we are seeing today, and will see in the future, will have devastating consequences for the working class, including mass unemployment for large sections of the class (something we already see in South Africa).

Indeed, the problem we see is that mechanisation and automation are not neutral but rather reflect and are used as political weapons of oppression under capitalism. In a different society, mechanisation and automation could have benefits, but under capitalism that is experiencing a massive crisis, for the vast majority of people, it is a living nightmare.

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Review: Anarchism in Korea. Independence, Transnationalism, and the Question of National Development 1919-1984

Sun, 01/14/2018 - 05:56

via Black Rose Federation

By José Antonio Gutiérrez

“Anarchism in Korea. Independence, Transnationalism, and the Question of National Development 1919-1984” by Dongyoun Hwang (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2016)

Dongyoun Hwang has been working for many years recovering the history of Korean anarchism, a movement which has been remarkably important for the history of its own country, to the point that anarchism was even mentioned by some South Korean scholars as one of the ten more influential ideas ushering Korea into the 20th century (p.1). Notwithstanding its relevance, it has been largely overlooked by anarchists elsewhere and whose history has been inscribed in a nationalist narrative which misrepresents it. Like Nestor Makhno in Ukraine, in Korea, important anarchist historical figures such as Shin Chaeho have been appropriated in purely nationalistic terms, devoid from social and internationalist/transnational aspirations which are at the very core of their anarchist commitments. But more importantly, the understanding of the movement as inscribed within the boundaries of modern national borders, ignores its transnational genesis. The book of Hwang is an attempt to portray this movement in its own terms and to understand their positions in their own local circumstances. As all good books, it doesn’t exhaust the topic, leaving many avenues to be explored by future research and many questions deserving more analysis.

The main contentions of the book are, on the one hand, that the Korean anarchist movement cannot be dissociated from other regional movements in East Asia, particularly in Japan and China. With these movements they were in constant contact, exchange and there was plenty of ideological and practical cross-fertilisation. He also contends, on the other hand, that Korean anarchism was never a monolithic and homogenous body, with important practical and ideological differences which can be explained to a great degree before of the localisation of anarchism in given contexts. Taking together these two main arguments, I feel the book would have been more aptly called “Korean Anarchisms”, instead of “Anarchism [as if singular] in Korea [as he deals extensively with Korean anarchists in China and Japan too]”.

Korean People’s Association in Manchuria (KPAM, 1929–1931), an autonomous anarchist zone in Manchuria near the Korean borderlands formed by the Korean Anarchist Federation in Manchuria and the Korean Anarcho-Communist Federation. The question of national liberation

Another important contention of the book, is that some of the political options of the Korean anarchist movement –such as their insistence in independence, the national question, their participation in a national front and eventually in the Korean Provisional Government in China- should not be condemned beforehand as deviations from an abstract universal canon, but they should be understood –however critically- in the exceptional circumstances this movement had to face as an expression of a colonised people. In a way not too different to how some national liberation movements during the second half of the 20th century came to view Marxism as a short-cut towards modernity and as a tool to achieve national independence, Korean radicals came to view anarchism as an alternative path to modernity and to national liberation, which originally was part and parcel of a process which ultimately would lead to a radical transformation of society based on anarchist principles.

Anarchism in Korea developed in the aftermath of the March 1st Movement, in 1919, which saw the first mass demonstrations in Korea against Japanese occupation of the peninsula. The yearning for national liberation of a colonised people was key to radicalise segments of society and the youth in the first half of the 20th century, and they embraced and translated anarchism in order to adapt to this circumstances. Naturally, this process was dialectical and these radicals lived in a permanent tension between their national goal and the transnational aspirations shared with other anarchists in the region. Paradoxically, Korean anarchism developed to a great degree because of the exchanges with Japanese anarchists which were made possible by colonialism –Koreans went to work and study to Japan, Japanese publications circulated and thus, Koreans became familiar with anarchist theory and ideas. Anarchism in Korea depended largely on initiatives by students returning from Japan. Among the main influences of Korean anarchists were the writings of the Japanese anarchist Osugi Sakae and of the Russian anarchist Pyotr Kropotkin, whose evolutionary thought and ideas on mutual aid would be a most enduring legacy for Korean anarchism through its various phases, as we shall see.

Transnational networks of discourse and practice

Korean anarchism flourished through networks of discourse and practice, in which Tokyo, Osaka, Shanghai, Beijing and Quanzhou, acted as nodes of these radical transnational networks. But in these networks, discourses and practices did not travelled unaltered, but were localised into the diverse realities in which anarchists had to operate. Anarchism not only was translated and adapted to the local conditions of their colonised homeland by Korean anarchists; their anarchism was also responsive to the local conditions in foreign territories were they became anarchists. There were marked differences in the local compositions of the movement, which was also consequential to discourses and practices. While in Japan the movement was mostly composed by students, who usually had to work to sustain themselves, and of some economic migrants, in China the movements was mostly composed by exiles.

But even within each country, there were important differences according to local conditions. In Japan there was a marked difference between the more ideological anarchist circles of Tokyo -a city attracting mostly Korean students, and with vibrant Japanese anarchist circles- and the more pragmatic, cooperative and labour oriented activities of Korean anarchists in Osaka -an industrial centre with a significant Korean population attracted to work in the industry as cheap labour. In China, anarchists in Shanghai and Quangzhou were engaged in educational activities together with their Chinese counterparts, while in Manchuria their main activity focused on welfare cooperatives and self-defence associations. In Korea itself, anarchists in the largely agrarian south were more ideological and given to propaganda efforts, while northern anarchists were more inclined to labour and pragmatic action for the downtrodden sectors of society, as the north was undergoing a process of intense and rapid industrialisation, hence the concern on the impacts of this process both on the urban masses and on the industrial and urban workers. To what a degree the legacy of anarchists discourses on autonomy, independence, self-sufficiency in the north had an impact over the development of the Juche (self-reliance) ideology which is the trademark of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is not explored by the author, but it is one of those unexplored avenues which this research opens up.

Anarchists and alliances

As Korean anarchism was reflecting the radicalisation of segments of Korean society in the wake of the 1919 nationalist movement, the relationship to nationalism was tense and contradictory. Anarchists in Korea, in their heyday (1925-1930), almost completely failed to mention the idea of independence, emphasising the social –rather than the ‘national’- aspect of the struggle. A similar trend can be seen among Japanese anarchists: whether in Tokyo or Osaka, they were very critical of nationalism, stating above everything the need to change and transform the social relationships produced by capitalism and imperialism. Although ideology was undoubtedly at play here, according to Hwang other more pragmatic reasons may also be at play, since any such pro-independence propaganda in Japan or Korea would have attracted unwanted attention from the ubiquitous surveillance and repressive apparatus of the Japanese empire. Japanese repression had a crippling effect over the movement, shattering not only the anarchists as a movement, but also physically, as soul and bodies. In China, instead, anarchists would have had far more freedom, at least for a while, during the 1920s, and the prime goal of Korean anarchists in China was, undoubtedly, national liberation and independence –except for those anarchists in Manchuria. But likewise, ideological reasons may also be at play here: in China there was a veritable nationalist effervescence which in all likelihood left its imprint in the priorities of anarchists there –while Manchuria remain some kind of hinterland with a poverty-stricken migrant population in need of pragmatic solutions to their urgent and most basic needs.

As Korean anarchists whether in Japan, Korea or China, opposed Japanese imperialism and the discrimination against and oppression of Koreans, there were marked differences also in relation to the question of working with other political currents, particularly with nationalists, socialists and the communists. While anarchists in Japan were very critical of nationalism, rejecting that the social question should assume a secondary role, as Koreans were exposed to all sort of humiliations and discrimination in the country of the coloniser, but also because of the influence of syndicalism and “pure anarchism”, the dominant currents of Japanese anarchists. The socialist movement in Japan had a great deal of common interaction, and in places like Osaka, Korean anarchists cooperated with communists and socialists. Let us remember that some Japanese anarchists, such as founding figures like Kotoku Shusui, came from a Marxist background. Although in Tokyo, the more ideological anarchists were quite vitriolic against the communists, still they were in the same organisation in the early 1920s (splitting in 1922).


In China there was a booming nationalist movement, quite anti-communist in nature, headed by the Guomindang, in which some anarchists participated, although downplaying their anarchism, under constant threat of being purged and concentrating in relatively safe havens such as Quanzhou. While fully immersed in radical circles in China, most Korean anarchists systematically opted to side with anti-communist nationalists. There may have been a number of reasons for this. The nationalist discourse would have been closer to their own longing for national liberation. They may have seen better opportunities to advance their autonomous social projects with them as opposed to a communist movement which they saw largely controlled by the Soviet Union.

Undoubtedly, the fact that Korean anarchism developed in the 1920s, when globally the anarchist movement started a long decline (which also affected the anarchist movements in China and Japan) and the communist parties, led by the Soviet revolutionary example were gaining momentum and filled the vacuum left by anarchism’s retreat, played a significant role in the hostility of many an anarchist against working with communists. This was intensified as news of the suppression of anarchists in Soviet Russia reached Korean anarchists, an experience they learned from a Russian anarchist in China, Vasily Eroshenko, who paradoxically would later in the decade return to Russia and work with Communist Party cultural initiatives. In Manchuria there was a tense alliance with nationalists and active hostility against the communist guerrillas, which lasted until the Japanese invasion of 1931.

But there were also other reasons, more practical in nature, for the Korean anarchists’ rejection of communists. In the case of anarchists in China, particularly since the bloody purge of communists led by the Guomindang after the Shanghai strike of 1927, they had to distance themselves from communists (anarchists would be labelled as “cousins” of communists by conservative nationalists) and thus downplay important aspects of the universal anarchist credo, such as its insistence in revolutionary means, class struggle, and the struggle against the State. In this process, Kropotkin’s ideas of mutual aid, of combining manual and intellectual labour, and his view of an anarchist modernity in which industrialisation would take place in harmony with the development of the countryside, offered a vision which could appeal to the nationalist aspirations of their constituency without risking exposing dangerous ‘communist’ overtones.

Anarchists in government

The Japanese progressive invasion of China since 1931, which started in Manchuria, represented a big challenge but also a big opportunity for Korean anarchists. On the one hand, they lost a safe haven they’ve had for nearly a decade, free of the Japanese repressive State, but also it turned the national liberation question into a political imperative. Whatever goals Korean anarchists had on their top priorities, none were possible under Japanese colonialism and the liberation of Korea was a necessary precondition for any of them. The military triumph of China over Japan too became then a precondition for the liberation of Korea, for the conditions to lay out the foundations of the new society. With this in mind, they started in 1936 to discuss ideas for a united national front with all sectors opposing Japanese colonialism. In 1937, the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war and the second united front between the Guomindang and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), paved the way for Koreans to emulate this unity. If Chinese nationalists and communists could cooperate, why not Koreans? Furthermore, the experience of national fronts in other countries threatened by fascism was also followed attentively by anarchists.

Anarchists became engaged in armed struggle and terror attacks directed against collaborators and Japanese military and civilian officers in the 1930s. Eventually, in 1941, after some years of a joint experience with other independence and socialist groups -the Korean communists, who were then affiliated to the CCP conspicuously absent-, prominent anarchists joined the rather conservative nationalist Korean Provisional Government in China, in the name of the unity of the anti-Japanese forces. Yu Rim, one of the anarchists in the government, had actually met in 1937 and 1938 with Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party with an eye to foster cooperation, but eventually these meetings came to nothing. Anarchists were indeed divided in regard to alliances, some leaning more towards working with conservatives, others towards socialists and even communists. Some guerrillas formed by anarchists, despairing at the ineffectiveness and inability (unwillingness?) of both the Guomindang and the Korean Provisional Government to fight the Japanese, ended up going to Yan’an to fight the Japanese with the support of the Chinese Communist Party. These tensions and contradictions in relation to alliances were reflected in the post-1945 trajectories of some of the leading anarchists fighters and activists of this period: some anarchists, such as Yu Ja-Myeong, ended up having prominent roles in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, others occupied important posts in the South Korean military, such as Bak Giseong, and yet others ended up as activists in South Korea suffering from perennial persecution and hardship, such as Jeong Hwaam (p.148).

Cold War anarchists

After Japan was expelled from the Korean peninsula in 1945, in the context of World War II, with the North occupied by the Soviet Union and the South by the USA, the Cold War –of which Korea became a frontline, as attested by the brutal War of 1950-1953- exacerbated these feature in the Korean anarchist movement. While in the North it is uncertain what happened to the anarchists, although some defected, and some collaborated, it is most likely that the radical space of anarchism was completely co-opted by the communists led by Kim Il Sung. In South Korea, on the other hand, a series of authoritarian governments and dictatorships, all extremely anti-communist in nature, could only reluctantly tolerate a movement which rejected any commonality with the communist ideology –thus, anarchists would shift towards cooperative experiences, rural development and the idea of a harmonious relationship between countryside and urban centres as the key to national development took central stage, as opposed to the revolutionary tenets of pre-1945 anarchists. Kropotkin again was instrumental to give a continuity in ideological terms to the movement into this new phase of its development.

This de-radicalisation of anarchism, which eventually favoured an autonomous government, which combined democracy with notions of equality and freedom. The main concern of South Korean anarchists then became how to develop Korea ‘as an autonomous country with minimum social problems that had been prevalent in the capitalist countries and at the same time without communist intrusion’ (p.188). Many of them stopped questioning imperialism or even capitalism after 1945, with anarchists even cooperating with the New Village Movement of the ‘modernising’ dictatorship of Park in the early 1970s. Although many of these decisions may have been pragmatic, as Hwang argues, reflecting the difficulty of bringing forward anarchists proposals in the context of a totalitarian anti-communist regime at risk of being labelled communist and therefore being tortured and executed, together with the hostile environment in the Cold War South Korea to anything resembling socialism, it still reflects some ideological trends which developed before 1945. In particular, the nationalist strand, the anti-communist proclivities, the idea of a national front, all conspired for the movement to stop questioning South Korean capitalism and State, and indeed supporting them however critically. This means that when a new wave of protests brought together people to protest the dictatorships and the neoliberal reforms in the South during the 1980s and 1990s, anarchists did not play a significant role.

“I don’t think,” writes Hwang, “the active involvement or even initiative by Korean anarchists in the formation of the Korean National Front in 1930s and 40s in China and their participation in the Korean Provisional Government before 1945 should be viewed as an aberration from anarchist basic principles (…). They did not lose their “anarchist voice” yet, but were only ready to accommodate anarchism to post-1945 Korea” (p.156). Yet, it is clear that gradually, in the process, important aspects of the anarchist revolutionary message were being lost in translation. Particularly, the critique of capitalism and of the State, which went from being accepted temporarily in the process of national liberation to being unquestioned. It is interesting to see today the Kurdish liberation movement dealing with similar demands imposed by their context, yet responding with a platform which remains anti-Statist in nature. Much could be learned from comparing these experiences and contrasting them, considering naturally the local circumstances of each respectively.

By way of conclusion

Until now, non-Korean speakers didn’t have such a comprehensive, balanced and thoughtful history of Korean anarchism put together. We have to be thankful both of Dongyoun Hwang and of SUNY Press for publishing this book, which is undoubtedly a contribution to a better understanding of radical movements in the 20th century in general, and of anarchism in particular. Given the importance of this experience, and the wealth of lessons and debates, I think this book is of great interest to scholars in a wide range of disciplines, but also to activists interested in difficult problems such as those of decolonisation, development, anti-authoritarian politics and nationalisms.

The book, however, is hardly introductory and we need a cautionary note here. Hwang takes for granted that readers will have some basic –and not so basic- knowledge of Asian history and particularly of events in China, Japan and Korea. For best understanding of the book, I’d recommend previous reading of general and/or revolutionary histories of the 20th century in those countries. That said, it is a book which was long overdue and we can only praise that, finally, it has become available, filling an important gap.


If you are interested in learning more about anarchism in Korea and Asian we recommend “Resources on Anarchism in Asia” which includes articles, reviews, bibliographies and more related to the history of anarchism in Asia.

How Tenants Use Digital Mapping to Track Bad Landlords and Gentrification

Sun, 01/14/2018 - 00:19

via yes! magazine

by Hannah Norman

When Teresa Salazar first encountered the notice posted to her front door—which offered tenants $10,000 to move out of their East Oakland, California, apartment building—she knew the place she called home was in jeopardy.

“All of us were surprised and afraid because it is not easy to move to some other place when the rents are so high,” Salazar said in a video produced by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project. The project uses mapping as well as data analysis and digital storytelling as organizing tools for low-income tenants to combat eviction and displacement amid the Bay Area’s raging housing crisis.

The jarring move-out offer was left by the Bay Area Property Group, founded by landlord attorney Daniel Bornstein—known for holding landlord workshops on how to evict tenants. The property management firm buys and flips apartment buildings, Salazar said, driving gentrification in neighborhoods like hers. In fear of being displaced, Salazar and other tenants from her building met with counselors from Causa Justa :: Just Cause, a community legal services group. There, they learned about their rights under Oakland’s Just Cause of Eviction Ordinance. With this information, they successfully stood their ground and remained in their homes.

But not all Bay Area tenants are as fortunate as Salazar. Between 2005 and 2015, Oakland witnessed more than 32,402 unlawful detainers, or eviction proceedings, according to data obtained by AEMP through record requests. But AEMP hopes to change these statistics by arming tenants and housing advocates with map-based data to fight evictions and displacements and, ultimately, drive local and state policies on the issue. In addition to mapping, AEMP uses videos of tenants like Salazar to raise awareness of the human experience behind jaw-dropping statistics.

The project is part of a rising tide of social justice cartography, where maps are being harnessed for activism as the technology becomes more accessible.

Read more

On Planning and Proudhon (plus new Kropotkin translation)

Sun, 01/14/2018 - 00:14

via Anarchist Writers

by Anarcho

Happy new year! Let us hope that2018 is better than 2017, but also let us not hold our breath. First off, just before the holidays I finally posted my article “Proudhon’s constituted value and the myth of labour notes which appeared in Anarchist Studies this time last year. Second, there is a newly translated Kropotkin article at the end of this blog.

I submitted this article a few years back and have had to sit on it until it was published – to ensure that Anarchist Studies ran it. Also, I should note that I fixed two very minor typos that got into the printed version. Oh, and obviously the pdf version I have provided does not match the layout of the published version – so if you need to get page numbers, you will need to buy it.

This article as well as my review of Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy are the fruit of an attempt to go through Marx’s book and critique it. This proved to be quite a bit of work, as Marx’s book is pretty poor. It can only be considered a classic if you have not read the two volumes it is meant to be a reply to. Also, Marx rarely gave page numbers – unsurprisingly, given that he made quotes up and was apt at selective quoting. So a misleading book – talking of which, I was flicking through David Harvey’s new book Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason and he spends a few pages repeating Marx’s nonsense on Proudhon and “labour notes.” He also adds that Proudhon would have been horrified by the notion of “the associated producers,” so showing how little he has actually read by Proudhon.

Suffice to say, if your notions of Proudhon are based on secondary sources – particularly Marx – then you do not really have a grasp of his ideas. And if that is the case, please refrain from wittering on about things you have no knowledge of – instead read his work.

My long critique of Marx’s diatribe remains unfinished (although I blogged extracts in the past, for example the appendix on Engels’ equally misleading On the Housing Question). I would like to complete it, but first I should get agreement from a publisher. Given what I’m about to discuss, I should mention that this critique (and so the review and article) came from a desire a few years back to finally work out what Proudhon mean by “Constituted Value” for, like many others (not least, Kropotkin), I had assumed that this meant labour-notes.

Which caused me a problem. Before reading Proudhon I had assumed that he was a poor theorist – having read Marxists on him. After reading him, I knew that this was not true. He was clearly an excellent theorist with a good grasp of both reality and the key writers of his time. So why did he advocate “labour-notes”? Surely he was clever enough to recognise the problems in this given a market economy?

Let me quote Engels on this (from the 1885 preface to The Poverty of Philosophy):

“Labour, again, is taken uncritically in the form in which it occurs among the economists. And not even that. For, although there is a reference in a couple of words to differences in intensity of labour, labour is still put forward quite generally as something which ‘costs’, hence as something which measures value, quite irrespective of whether it is expended under normal average social conditions or not. Whether the producers take ten days, or only one, to make products which could be made in one day; whether they employ the best or the worst tools; whether they expend their labour time in the production of socially necessary articles and in the socially required quantity, or whether they make quite undesired articles or desired articles in quantities above or below demand – about all this there is not a word: labour is labour, the product of equal labour must be exchanged against the product of equal labour. Rodbertus, who is otherwise always ready, whether rightly or not, to adopt the national standpoint and to survey the relations of individual producers from the high watchtower of general social considerations, is anxious to avoid doing so here. And this, indeed, solely because from the very first line of his book he makes directly for the utopia of labour money, and because any investigation of labour seen from its property of creating value would be bound to put insuperable obstacles in his way. His instinct was here considerably stronger than his power of abstract thought which, by the by, is revealed in Rodbertus only by the most concrete absence of ideas.

“The transition to utopia is now made in the turn of a hand. The ‘measures’, which ensure exchange of commodities according to labour value as the invariable rule, cause no difficulty. The other utopians of this tendency, from Gray to Proudhon, rack their brains to invent social institutions which would achieve this aim. They attempt at least to solve the economic question in an economic way through the action of the owners themselves who exchange the commodities. For Rodbertus it is much easier. As a good Prussian he appeals to the state: a decree of the state authority orders the reform.”

Yet Proudhon does not invent “social institutions” to resolve the problems of pricing goods in labour-hours. System of Economic Contradictions does not contain much in the way of alternatives, they are mentioned in passing and relate to workers associations (“the organisation of labour,” or the “universal association” of earlier works) . Why? Simply because he was not advocating pricing by labour-notes! There is no need to worry about ensuring goods are being demanded, no need to worry about intensity of labour, no need to work out how to handle workers using more productive technics, and so on. For if products are being sold on the market for Francs then competition will act – not least in eventually driving down prices so that value becomes “constituted” (settled) at its labour-costs.

(If in doubt, please consult my article where I provide the necessary quotes by Proudhon on this – and much more, like showing how Marx mocks Proudhon for positions he himself will later expound in Capital. It is particularly amusing to read him mock Proudhon on what would become his own theory of exploitation over a decade later…).

Proudhon’s solution is hardly difficult to envision – he would abolish wage-labour by means of association, “the organisation of labour” as he put it in 1846 and the appropriate financial bodies (his Bank of the People comes later, but he clearly sees the need for banks in System of Economic Contradictions). Nothing too taxing in terms of envisioning there. Let us recall Kropotkin’s description of capitalism:

“The day when the labourer may till the ground without paying away half of what he produces, the day when the machines necessary to prepare the soil for rich harvests are at the free disposal of the cultivators, the day when the worker in the factory produces for the community and not the monopolist – that day will see the workers clothed and fed, and there will be no more Rothschilds or other exploiters.

“No one will then have to sell his working power for a wage that only represents a fraction of what he produces.” (“Expropriation”, The Conquest of Bread)

So Kropotkin and Proudhon agree on abolishing wage-labour: selling “working power” to an owner, whether a landlord or a capitalist. They differ purely in how products are distributed. For Kropotkin, distribution should be free. For Proudhon, distribution should be by selling on the market. Both aim to end exploitation and both have the same socialisation of the means of production. The difference comes later. As Kropotkin put in it The Conquest of Bread:

“The mitigated individualism of the collectivist system [or Proudhon’s mutualism] certainly could not maintain itself alongside a partial communism – the socialisation of land and the instruments of production. A new form of property requires a new form of remuneration. A new method of production cannot exist side by side with the old forms of consumption, any more than it can adapt itself to the old forms of political organisation.”

There are good reasons to be critical of Proudhon’s support of the market (for products, not for labour-power). While confident that his system would end economic crises, he does not really prove it. Yes, ending the extra uncertainty caused by capitalists and landlords needing to secure a profit would help immensely to stabilising the market but it does not end the aggregate impact of independent producers causing gluts/scarcities (something he highlights himself in his chapter on value). Similarly, he does not address how market pressures can and do make producers act in ways they would prefer not to in order to survive (but, then, he probably considered that a good thing given his comments about the benefits of competition!). Nor do a person’s needs relate to their deeds – income related to labour is all fine and well if you are young and healthy… And market prices, while providing some information, hides a lot – and can provide misleading signals and, even when accurate, can provide a response which while individually rational is collectively bad – see sections I.1.3 and I.1.5 of An Anarchist FAQ for more discussion.

However, I am getting away from the topic. As Engels notes, many advocates of “labour-money” had to create “social institutions” to equate supply and demand. He mentions Gray, which is ironic because he – like Bray – was an advocate of central planning and was in no way a market socialist like Proudhon (as discussed in my article). Engels mocks Rodbertus for his comments as regards pricing by labour-notes:

“If Rodbertus has hitherto always had the misfortune to arrive too late with his new discoveries, this time at least he has the merit of one sort of originality: none of his rivals has dared to express the stupidity of the labour money utopia in this childishly naive, transparent, I might say truly Pomeranian, form. Since for every paper certificate a corresponding object of value has been delivered, and no object of value is supplied except in return for a corresponding paper certificate, the sum total of paper certificates must always be covered by the sum total of objects of value. The calculation works out without the smallest remainder, it is correct down to a second of labour time, and no governmental chief revenue office accountant, however many years of faithful service he may have behind him, could prove the slightest error in calculation. What more could one want?”

The irony is that Marx in his 1875 (but published in 1891) Critique of the Gotha Programme actually advocates issuing labour notes (as he does elsewhere). Indeed, of the two (Marx and Proudhon), it is the Marx who actually supports labour-notes! Also, I should note after attacking Bray in The Poverty of Philosophy for suggesting labour-notes as a transitory scheme needed before we reach communism, later the same year he writes an obviously transitory scheme (a state-capitalist one at that!) in the Communist Manifesto (which is published early in 1848). So the orthodox can use Marx to defend all sorts of positions, which is handy I suppose if you need to always base yourself on the holy texts…

Anyway, back to the point. Engels then notes that in a market economy issuing labour-notes is impossible because the producers have no notion of social demand when they create their goods and services. It is worth quoting in full:

“In present-day capitalist society each industrial capitalist produces off his own bat what, how and as much as he likes. The social demand, however, remains an unknown magnitude to him, both in regard to quality, the kind of objects required, and in regard to quantity. That which today cannot be supplied quickly enough, may tomorrow be offered far in excess of the demand. Nevertheless, demand is finally satisfied in one way or another, good or bad, and, taken as a whole, production is ultimately geared towards the objects required. How is this evening-out of the contradiction effected? By competition. And how does competition bring about this solution? Simply by depreciating below their labour value those commodities which by their kind or amount are useless for immediate social requirements, and by making the producers feel, through this roundabout means, that they have produced either absolutely useless articles or ostensibly useful articles in unusable, superfluous quantity. Two things follow from this:

“First, continual deviations of the prices of commodities from their values are the necessary condition in and through which the value of the commodities as such can come into existence. Only through the fluctuations of competition, and consequently of commodity prices, does the law of value of commodity production assert itself and the determination of the value of the commodity by the socially necessary labour time become a reality. That thereby the form of manifestation of value, the price, as a rule looks somewhat different from the value which it manifests, is a fate which value shares with most social relations. A king usually looks quite different from the monarchy which he represents. To desire, in a society of producers who exchange their commodities, to establish the determination of value by labour time, by forbidding competition to establish this determination of value through pressure on prices in the only way it can be established, is therefore merely to prove that, at least in this sphere, one has adopted the usual utopian disdain of economic laws.

“Secondly, competition, by bringing into operation the law of value of commodity production in a society of producers who exchange their commodities, precisely thereby brings about the only organisation and arrangement of social production which is possible in the circumstances. Only through the undervaluation or overvaluation of products is it forcibly brought home to the individual commodity producers what society requires or does not require and in what amounts. But it is precisely this sole regulator that the utopia advocated by Rodbertus among others wishes to abolish. And if we then ask what guarantee we have that necessary quantity and not more of each product will be produced, that we shall not go hungry in regard to corn and meat while we are choked in beet sugar and drowned in potato spirit, that we shall not lack trousers to cover our nakedness while trouser buttons flood us by the million – Rodbertus triumphantly shows us his splendid calculation, according to which the correct certificate has been handed out for every superfluous pound of sugar, for every unsold barrel of spirit, for every unusable trouser button, a calculation which ‘works out’ exactly, and according to which ‘all claims will be satisfied and the liquidation correctly brought about.’ And anyone who does not believe this can apply to governmental chief revenue office accountant X in Pomerania who has checked the calculation and found it correct, and who, as one who has never yet been caught lacking with the accounts, is thoroughly trustworthy.

“And now consider the naiveté with which Rodbertus would abolish industrial and commercial crises by means of his utopia. As soon as the production of commodities has assumed world market dimensions, the evening-out between the individual producers who produce for private account and the market for which they produce, which in respect of quantity and quality of demand is more or less unknown to them, is established by means of a storm on the world market, by a commercial crisis. If now competition is to be forbidden to make the individual producers aware, by a rise or fall in prices, how the world market stands, then they are completely blindfolded. To institute the production of commodities in such a fashion that the producers can no longer learn anything about the state of the market for which they are producing – that indeed is a cure for the crisis disease which could make Dr. Eisenbart envious of Rodbertus.”

Proudhon would not disagree, which was why he did not advocate the abolition of competition or the market (Marx proclaims in section I of his book that Proudhon advocated the end of competition and in section II that he did not). Indeed, he uses the expression “law of value” to describe the process by which competition works (needless to say, I’m sure that Engels, like most Marxists, thought Marx coined that particular term). I mention in a footnote Proudhon summarises this later in The Philosophy of Progress and here is the quote:

“The idea of value is elementary in economics: everyone knows what is meant by it. Nothing is less arbitrary than this idea; it is the comparative relation of products which, at each moment of social life, make up wealth. Value, in a word, indicates a proportion.

“Now, a proportion is something mathematical, exact, ideal, something which, by its high intelligibility, excludes caprice and fortune. There is then, on top of supply and demand, a law for comparison of values, therefore a rule of the evaluation of products.

“But that law or rule is a pure idea, of which it is impossible, at any moment, and for any object, to make the precise application, to have the exact and true standard. Products vary constantly in quantity and in quality; the capital in the production and its cost vary equally. The proportion does not remain the same for two instants in a row: a criterion or standard of values is thus impossible. The piece of money, five grams in weight, that we call the franc, is not a fixed unity of values: it is only a product like others, which with its weight of five grams at nine-tenths silver and one-tenth alloy, is worth sometimes more, sometimes less than the franc, without us ever being able to know exactly what is its difference from the standard franc.

“On what then does commerce rest, since it is proven that, lacking a standard of value, exchange is never equal, although the law of proportionality is rigorous? It is here that liberty comes to the rescue of reason, and compensates for the failures of certainty. Commerce rests on a convention, the principle of which is that the parties, after having sought fruitlessly the exact relations of the objects exchanged, come to an agreement to give an expression reputed to be exact, provided that it does not exceed the limits of a certain tolerance. That conventional expression is what we call the price.

“Thus, in the order of economic ideas, the truth is in the law, and not in the transactions. There is a certainty for the theory, but there is no criterion for practice. There would not even have been practice, and society would be impossible, if, in the absence of a criterion prior and superior to it, human liberty had not found a means to supply it by contract.” (“Second Letter”)

He also adds:

“It says that property, like the price of things, is originally the product of a contract, that that contract is determined by the necessity of labour, just as the convention which fixes the price of things is determined by the necessity of exchange; but that, just as with time and competition the price of each thing approaches more and more their true value, just as with time and credit property tends more and more to approach equality. Only, while the price of merchandise, or the just remuneration of the labourer, generally reaches its normal rate in a rather short period, property only arrives at its equilibrium after a much longer time: somewhat as if one compared the annual movement of the earth to the revolution of the equinoxes.” (“Second Letter”)

Proudhon in 1846 explicitly talks about how “Constituted Value” requires “oscillations” in supply and demand and competition in order to be determined. I should note that Bray – whom Marx compared to Proudhon to proclaim the latter’s unoriginality – recognised the need for planning to equate supply and demand. In other words, Marx’s “critique” of Bray in The Poverty of Philosophy simply restates what Bray actually advocated…

Engels’ critique of Rodbertus is of note because it clearly shows that the market provides information to producers. Without that information, the producers cannot make sensible decisions. As such, he seems to have predated von Mises and von Hayek and their arguments on the market by many decades. Likewise, Proudhon recognised the issue as regards State socialism and its abolition of the market (in the shape of Louis Blanc) in System of Economic Contradictions:

“How much does the tobacco sold by the administration cost? How much is it worth? You can answer the first of these questions: you only need to call at the first tobacco shop you see. But you can tell me nothing about the second, because you have no standard of comparison and are forbidden to verify by experiment the items of cost of administration, which it is consequently impossible to accept.” (Property is Theft!, 197)

It is funny seeing “Austrian” economists proclaiming their originality on the “calculation” issue in socialism… while echoing debates within socialism made decades before they put pen to paper! And best not ask them how well the capitalist corporation – that (increasingly large) island of central planning within the sea of markets – processes and utilises information…

Let us return to Engels. The issue is, of course, that while mocking Rodbertus for his, let us say, optimistic evaluation of the abilities of the Prussian State bureaucracy, where does that leave his and Marx’s “common plan”? He is well aware of the problem, but does he provide a solution?

In short, no. All the problems he identifies with Rodbertus and his schemes somehow disappear when it comes to his version of socialism. He paints the creation of the plan as simple in the extreme in Anti-Duhring:

“From the moment when society enters into possession of the means of product and uses them in direct association for production, the labour of each individual, however varied its specifically useful character may be, becomes at the start and directly social labour. The quantity of social labour contained in a product need not then be established in a roundabout way; daily experience shows in a direct way how much of it is required on the average. Society can simply calculate how many hours of labour are contained in a steam-engine, a bushel of wheat of the last harvest, or a hundred square yards of cloth of a certain quality. It could therefore never occur to it still to express the quantities of labour put into the products, quantities which it will then know directly and in their absolute amounts, in a third product, in a measure which, besides, is only relative, fluctuating, inadequate, though formerly unavoidable for lack of a better one, rather than express them in their natural, adequate and absolute measure, time. . . Hence, on the assumption that we made above, society will not assign values to products. It will not express the simple fact that the hundred square yards of cloth have required for their production, say, a thousand hours of labour in the oblique and meaningless way, stating that they have the value of a thousand hours of labour.”

No mention here of the difficulties associated with “labour” for which he berates Rodbertus for ignoring. No mention here of organisational skills needed to ensure all this equates for which he berates Rodbertus for ignoring. Nor is there any discussion on how people’s wants are determined and ranked. He sums up:

“It is true that even then it will still be necessary for society to know how much labour each article of consumption requires for its production. It will have to arrange its plan of production in accordance with its means of production, which include, in particular, its labour-powers. The useful effects of the various articles of consumption, compared with one another and with the quantities of labour required for their production, will in the end determine the plan. People will be able to manage everything very simply, without the intervention of much-vaunted ‘value’”

It would appear that the problems of the system of Rodbertus are caused purely by the producers being independent of each other. As no one tells them what to produce to meet the (predetermined) demand of their goods, chaos ensures. Under the system of Engels the producers are not independent and what they produce has been determined by the common plan, so no chaos.

Yet he does not address the obvious need to the central bodies to identify, collect, process and compare the information needed – for both production and consumption. This will all be managed “very simply.” As I have indicated in section H.6.2 of An Anarchist FAQ (and in my chapter of Bloodstained) the Bolsheviks found it anything but “very simple” when they sought to apply these notions during the Russian Revolution: the centralisation of the economy was associated with bureaucracy, red-tape, supplies piling-up (and wasting) side-by-side with scarcity. So Bolshevik ideology made a difficult situation worse by making the existing economic crisis worse. This is just one of many aspects of Bolshevik ideology which made things worse.

At one talk I gave, someone proclaimed that obviously the Bolsheviks would run into trouble due to the backwardness of the economy – they had few telephones, so what do you expect? Yet when Marx smugly gave his two sentence alternative to Proudhon and Bray, there were no telephones at all. Similarly, Ernest Mandel (noted Trotskyist and most famous Marxist economist of his generation – although Paul Mattick was unimpressed) proclaimed that we need not worry about von Mises because now we had computers. Except, of course, Marx and Engels, like Lenin, clearly thought that central planning was feasible in their lifetimes which were long before computers were invented or even postulated as a notion (and best ignore the awkward fact that the proletariat was a minority within the working class).

Appeals to “backwardness” do not cut it, I am afraid. Also, technology should be a means of aiding processes – socialism needs to be able to work without such technological aids, otherwise it is fragile. Not least, because what happens if the technology fails? Or it gets hacked? Or, worse, the technology has bugs in it which were not discovered in testing? And so on.

Oh, I guess we can just assume that any of this never happens… what is one more impossible or unlikely assumption between comrades? Indeed, if you list the assumptions needed for Central Planning you cannot help but notice how similar they are to the assumptions of neo-classical economics, not least Walrasian General Equilibrium. Which explains why, when Oskar Lange suggested replacing the (fictional) auctioneer of Walras with a (real) central planning body to do the needed tâtonnement – rising/lowering of prices to reach equilibrium – the economics profession declared his victory over von Mises and von Hayek. While I’m sure it is a feat of mathematics, it does not reflect reality and its assumptions pointless when not actively misleading.

(It could be argued that notions of central planning are, in part, a product of the use of money. After all, taxation allows money to be allocated to specific tasks and so it is an easy jump to thinking central allocation would produce social control. Yet Marx and Engels wanted to abolish money while keeping the illusion of simplicity. This may explain why many Marxists, and ex-Marxists like Michael Albert, prefer to keep money than dump the notion of a “common plan”).

In summary, I have indicated – via Engels – how the market’s divergence between price and value provides information which allows producers to meet demand. This is called “the law of value” by Proudhon – a term utilised by Marx and Marxists without acknowledgement – and which remains at the heart of his notion of “Constituted Value.” This is why he did not advocate labour-notes for he recognised the need of competition to constitute value – and drive down prices to labour-value. The abolition of property, the socialisation of the means of production, would end wage-labour as associated producers would exchange the products of their labour – and property needed to be socialised to stop workers associations from hiring new workers and so re-introducing wage-labour. Use would be divided – and so workers would control their labour and its product – but ownership would be undivided. This would end exploitation, for workers would not have to “share” the product of their labour with owners. So it is obvious how Proudhon laid the foundations for both collectivist and communist anarchism.

Which brings me to Kropotkin and libertarian communism. Obviously, both communist and mutualist anarchism share a lot of common ground. Both oppose wage-labour and advocate workers control. Both recognise the need for socialisation of the means of production. Both recognise the need for economic federalism (Proudhon, as well as seeing the benefits of competition, was also well aware of its negative aspects and regularly pointed to the need for what he called “an agricultural-economic federation” in 1863). The difference is in distribution, with libertarian communism opposing all markets and arguing distribution should be based on need, not deed.

Surely the arguments sketched above apply to libertarian communism just as much as to Engels’ Marxist-communist vision?

The key difference between anarchist-communism and Marxist-communism is that the former is a decentralised (multi-centred) system while the later is a centralised. The “common plan” involves gathering all needs and all production options and then somehow processing them into a “common plan.” This would solve the problems he lists as regards Rodbertus – to his own satisfaction. Yet Engels simply shifts the problem back a stage – Rodbertus sought to (somehow) equate actually produced goods with labour-notes issued centrally. Engels seeks to predetermine centrally what these goods should be before they are produced. The problems he mocks Rodbertus for ignoring still exist – indeed, they are worse for decisions are not made by independent producers but by a central body.

For anarchist-communism, decisions are not being made centrally. So in terms of evaluating options to satisfy needs, the set of options to evaluate is drastically reduced for those making the decisions – on both sides, in terms of production and consumption. A group of people need something specific and based on these needs the number of technical solutions is limited. Given a set of requirements, the number of alternatives is very limited. Similarly, the numbers of those who produce these possible inputs are also limited. So going from millions of products and billions needs as in a centralised system, we reach a small subset of products for very specific needs.

There is a misnomer about capitalism (or markets) that seem to be assumed in Marxist literature, namely that capitalists simply “throw” goods onto the market (if memory serves, Lenin used that word often). This is not entirely true – capitalists do plan (or try to) and so they arrange contracts with other firms to provide inputs and take outputs (I will ignore externalities but obviously capitalists have an interest in imposing some outputs onto others – something price hides). This reduces uncertainty (as goes expanding the firm by integrating independent contractors into the firm) and so what is demanded and supplied is well-known in advance. But, of course, the future cannot be predicted (and this applies to the creators of “the common plan” as well, particularly when they are bureaucrats at the centre). Goods are “thrown” onto the market with some expectation that they will sell.

Of course, markets add to the uncertainty associated with (economic and other) life – and unexpected developments (such as a crisis or changes in the distribution of income or changes in taste/needs, etc.) can cause problems, leading to sales not being sufficient and so causing disruption (and so contributing to the creation or the deepening of crisis). I should note that this will affect even the best central planning, as industrial accidents happen (so disrupting supply chains) and people may change their minds (sometimes voluntarily sometimes not as when illness strikes) on what they want to consume – unless, of course, the “common plan” enforces the planned consumption on all, regardless. The future cannot be predicted, all we can do is assume and hope to mitigate uncertainty as best we can. And we should never forget that markets are rarely in equilibrium (unlike in neo-classical economics, when they always are) and as Simonde de Sismondi noted long ago:

“Let us beware of this dangerous theory of equilibrium which is supposed to be automatically established. A certain kind of equilibrium, it is true, is re-established in the long run, but it is after a frightful amount of suffering.” (New Principles of Political Economy, vol. 1, pp. 20-21)

However, this should not make us lose sight of the role of contracts to communicate information and secure the meeting of needs. This would be the case in libertarian communism, with individuals, co-operatives, syndicates and communes identifying their needs and directly seeking others to help meet them. In addition, there would be federations of both to help co-ordinate responses (at appropriate levels). In other words, there would be plans at various levels – from individual all the way to society-wide ones, but not a single “common plan” which would specify all demand and all supply beforehand (a somewhat difficult task, regardless of what Engels asserted). This also means that various bodies and forums would exist to communicate needs and the information prices provide in order to evaluate options (although it is important to stress that price dissolves key information into a general rating and hides or ignores other, important, information). As the evaluations are being made within a very specific context and not trying to compare a vast multitude of needs, products and processes (assuming you could identify, gather and process that data in the first place!), planning becomes possible – for there are a multitude of plans reflecting concrete needs and the evaluation of actual products and processes. In this situation, evaluation of alternatives becomes possible without money and markets.

I think George Barrett summarises it well in his excellent pamphlet The Anarchist Revolution:

“Let us imagine now that the great revolt of the workers has taken place, that their direct action has made them masters of the situation. Is it not easy to see that some man in a street that grew hungry would soon draw up a list of the loaves that were needed, and take it to the bakery where the strikers were in possession? Is there any difficulty in supposing that the necessary amount would then be baked according to this list? By this time the bakers would know what carts and delivery vans were needed to send the bread out to the people, and if they let the carters and vanmen know of this, would these not do their utmost to supply the vehicles, just as the bakers set to work to make the bread? If, as things settled down, more benches were needed on which to knead the bread, in just the same way is it not easy to see that the carpenters would supply them? If an intimation were given to the engineers that machinery were wanted, would they not see that this received their immediate attention? The engineers in their turn would apply to the draughtsmen for designs, and to the foundrymen for castings. In turn, again, the draughtsmen apply to the papermakers for paper, and to the workers in the pencil factories for pencils. The foundrymen, in the meantime, apply to the furnacemen, and these in their turn to the miners for more iron ore and coal. So the endless continuity goes on — a well-balanced interdependence of parts is guaranteed, because need is the motive force behind it all.

“Who bosses, who regulates all this? No one! It starts from below, not from above. Like an organism, this free society grows into being, from the simple unit up to the complex structure. The need for bread, hunger — or, in other words, the individual struggle to live, in its most simple and elementary form — is, as we have seen, sufficient to set the whole complex social machinery in motion. Society is the result of the individual struggle for existence; it is not, as many suppose, opposed to it.

“In the same way that each free individual has associated with his brothers to produce bread, machinery, and all that was necessary for life, driven by no other force than his desire for the full enjoyment of life, so each institution is free and self-contained, and co-operates and enters into agreements with others because by so doing it extends its own possibilities. There is no centralised State exploiting or dictating, but the complete structure is supported because each part is dependent on the whole. The bakers, as we have seen, need the carpenters and engineers, and these would be no use if they were not supplied by other workers, who in their turn are just as dependent on yet another branch. What folly if the engineers should presume to dictate to the bakers the conditions of their labour, and it would be equally without reason if a committee, styling itself the Government, should become boss of all these industries and begin to control their production and interchange, which must in the nature of things already be well adjusted and orderly. Those who control production in this manner are invariably those who enjoy the larger part of that which is produced; that is why the politicians try to insist upon the necessity of such control. Alas! that they should be so tamely followed by so many workers who have not yet cleared their minds of the old slavish instincts.”

I would add that as well as providing requests for products (X amount of good Y), various pieces of information would also be provided to help decision making. Some of this information would reflect that provided by prices (both “objective” ones, such as labour and resources used, and “subjective” ones, such as how much in demand relative to stocks it is) and that which prices hide or ignore (pollution, quality of work, etc.). Anyway, this is sketched in section I of An Anarchist FAQ so I will not repeat it here.

The great strength of Kropotkin is that he recognised the importance of local knowledge and local action, of the role of people of initiative. He recognised that central bodies would have a hard time gathering this information and knowledge, that the Jacobin and Marxist dream of centralised decision-making may work on paper but would never work in practice. As indicated above, Engels was very glib on how easy the creation of the “common plan” would be, while Marx in The Poverty of Philosophy spends all of about a (short) paragraph on it – and generalises from the example of two people and two products to a national economy of millions of both without batting an eye-lid. Kropotkin never makes the creation of socialism look as easy as Marx and Engels did.

I should also note here that Kropotkin did not consider communism to be the immediate outcome of a revolution – he indicated, repeatedly, we cannot expect the initial stages to be as communist as we would like or hope. His aim in The Conquest of Bread is to present an overview of what is needed while recognising that any real revolution would vary in what happens where. He explicitly rejects the idea of “overnight” revolutions in that book and states that different areas will progress at different rates and try different solutions. And he was right – on both counts. Real revolutions are messy and actual solutions will never be as ideal as we hope. Rather than become – like the ultra-left – so pure as to be impractical, Kropotkin saw the role of anarchists in shaping how revolutions and mass movements develop. He would not have dismissed workplace occupations which sold the product of their labour on the market as “self-managed capitalism” (a nonsensical description) but rather see that as a step in the right direction and work with them towards distribution according to need over time: an better “mistakes” like this than the centralised inertia and bureaucracy the Bolsheviks imposed.

So in terms of immediate communism, Kropotkin is much like that other communist-anarchist, his friend Errico Malatesta. While a more romantic writer than the ever-so-realistic Malatesta, when you look closely at Kropotkin’s writings he shares the same awareness of the issues and recognition that libertarian communism cannot be wished into existence. It will need to be built and so will be a product of social development. Nor should we forget that we will inherit a structure of industry which reflects capitalist priorities as well as class society and its distribution of income. That will take some time to adjust to priorities based on human values.

Saying that, Malatesta is still my favourite dead anarchist even if my appreciation of Kropotkin has grown over the years – particularly after reading or translating his articles for the anarchist press. He was a realistic revolutionary, even if he had a romantic turn of phrase at times.

All of which makes the article below of interest. It is the fifth and final part of a series, the second part of which I have previously blogged before. The translation is not perfect in that there are a couple of bits which I am not completely happy with, but these are minor and overall I am happy enough with it to publish it. Particularly as it is of note for Kropotkin’s stressing of the need for local knowledge, action and initiative and the how hopeless a central body would be to meet the diverse needs of both the class struggle now as well as any future socialist society. The latter, I should note, was raised by him in 1920 in the letter included in my last blog. He was proved right – unsurprisingly, because he had long recognised the limitations of central bodies and the importance of local, fragmented, dispersed knowledge – incorporating both in his politics: not only for the future but for current struggles.

Anyway, this is a subject about which much could be written. Yet we must never forget the importance of current struggles – for these will influence how any future revolution will develop. If you like, the transition period starts now! Hence the importance of the Kropotkin article below.

Until I blog again, be seeing you!

International Congresses and the Congress of London

V (end)

(Les Temps Nouveaux, 10 October 1896)

We have seen the past of international congresses. Now let us take a look at the future.

Taking socialism as a whole, let us first note that no party can encompass it in its entirety. To try to do this, to strive to make it happen, as the social-democrats do, is a waste of time; it is to betray the cause that you claim to defend.

We must first recognise – recognise with happiness – that the movement of ideas which has been named socialism has gone beyond the period when we could hope to bring it within the framework of a single party. A party can no longer encompass it as a whole. It is already a flood, that we cannot dam anymore.

Like human thought itself, like society, it has taken on a variety of aspects and nuances that respond to the thousand shades of the human spirit, to the thousand tendencies that emerge in a society that lives, that thinks, that develops.

This variety of aspects is its strength. It is this that allows it to be universalised, to penetrate all classes of society – to make inroads into the peasant-owner and the peasant in the municipality, the worker of the large factory and the worker of the small Parisian business, the thinker, the writer, the artist. It is this that allows them to be united, all, in the same aspiration for equality and freedom, through the socialisation, in one form or another, of social capital – the heritage of humanity – put at the service of all.

All great movements have had this characteristic of universality and variety. We are happy that socialism has finally reached this stage, that it has gone beyond the embryonic period of the party, that it has become so widespread to the point of permeating society. This is proof that it will no longer be smothered.

So trying to bring this vast movement into a single party, to put it under a single programme, as the social-democrats do, is a waste of time. We must recognise the variety: it is life itself.


This being given, recognised, proven – what can be the role of future international socialist Congresses?

It must be openly recognised that any attempt to impose a government, a general guardianship on this movement is as criminal as it was [in the First International], that it is still the papacy’s attempt to want to rule the world.

It is one thing to believe in the usefulness of a government within a party. It is, after all, only an error of judgement. But to believe that you can impose a ruler [gouverne] on to a movement that tends to become as universal as civilised society itself – that is simply criminal madness, worthy of the Catholic Church but unworthy of a socialist.

This is what should be, first of all, understood in the movement; what the authoritarian socialists themselves must be brought to recognise.


Indeed, take any nation – France, England, Germany, Russia, whatever! [–] and you try to give an account of this immense throng of interests, thoughts, aspirations, that a nation represents.

England is the country in which industry dominates, and where already half of the country’s workers are enlisted in large factories. It is immense, compared to the continent. But can it be said that the interests of the nation are summed up in the interests of these two or three million workers? That it would suffice to render them masters of their factories to solve the social question? That he who speaks in their name, and asks, on their behalf, the socialisation of the factories, speaks in the name of the working class of England? – And the workers of the soil? And the form of possession of the soil itself which, at bottom, takes precedence over all economic questions? And the trade that sustains more people than the soil itself in this country of merchants? And these millions of others who live from work in the thousand small industries that abound in England as elsewhere?

How much more complicated is the social question when you go to France, where half of the population exists on the products of the soil? In Germany, where two-thirds, if not more, are in the same situation? In Russia, where nine-tenths of the population are farmers? In Italy and Spain, which are somewhere in between Russia and France?

Well, do you represent those millions, scattered amongst the villages and hamlets, and the multitude of their interests, their conflicts, their mutual relations, their relationships to the thousand strings of the State – and the sincere man in his thought must recognise that there are thousands and thousands of interests about which socialism, as it is today, has not only never pondered, but did not even suspect.

Nobody – no individual in the world, not even a universal arch-genius – can speak in the name of those thousands and thousands of interests. Nobody except the totality of all those interested parties, speaking, and above all acting, themselves, learning [what] their interests [are] through their very action.

* * *

Since the current conditions of economic and political life do not meet the needs of society, we see a thousand movements arising and sprouting from all points in society which seek to demolish these conditions, vaguely inspired by this fundamental idea of socialism: “The wealth already produced and the means to produce new riches should belong to society – not to the individual.” Movements which seek, each in its own domain, the means of reaching this aim, and whose very goal is determined and defined as they work to achieve it.

* * *

Already today we see four or five groups of various movements taking shape.

We have the social-democratic movement, representing in our societies the Roman, Catholic, and later Jacobin tradition of the centralised, disciplined State, concentrating in its hands the political, economic and social life of nations. This tendency exists in society, it has its past, and in socialism – the reflection of society – it is represented by the more or less social democracy, with a thousand nuances of its own.

Then we have the anarchist movement, which has frankly affirmed itself as communist, and aims at the demolition of the State to substitute for it the direct free agreement of consumer and producer organisations, grouped to satisfy all the infinitely varied needs of human nature. It represents the popular tradition of societies.

In this same movement, we still have the group which, watchful about safeguarding the rights of the individual, [is] based mainly on individualism, making cheap points against socialisation (the primary basis, in our opinion, for the blossoming of individuality); a movement which still has its reason for being [raison d’être], to counterbalance the authoritarian tendencies of Communism.

Then we have an immense, a colossal trade union worker movement [mouvement ouvrier corporatif], which, by modest increases of wages and reductions in hours of work, has already done more, perhaps, than all the other movements to affirm the rights and respect of the man in the worker, and which does not aim at anything less than to drive the master out of the factory, the mine, the transport routes, by waging guerrilla warfare every day.

Then comes another large movement – very large in England – the co-operative movement, straying from its origins but tending nevertheless today to pour its current into the great socialist flood, which will eventually win. A movement that aims to eliminate that immense number of intermediaries who place themselves between the producer and the consumer, and tries to replace the boss by associated producers.

Then come all these movements of agreements between peasants which, under the name of syndicates, are created as soon as the law ceases to punish them as criminals; the varied and deep movements that forge links of direct agreement between farmers and which it would be absolutely necessary to bring back into the open and put in contact with the general flood of socialism. The movement of co-operation in small trades, which occurs mainly in Russia under the initiative of a few pioneers, comes to line up with the two previous ones.

Then come all these movement which, either in the form of consciousness objection [révolte consciente] as in France or religion as in Russia, strongly work in the popular masses to produce rebellion against the State in its two main manifestations – military service and taxation. Movements that can only be ignored if you want to remain absolutely ignorant of the immense role played by similar movements in the history of all popular uprisings in previous periods.

In addition, we are witnessing a profound communalist movement, the effects of which we have already seen in the uprisings of the communes in Paris, in the south [of France], in Spain. A movement which has deeply stirred minds, since 1871, in France and Spain and which, in England, has lately been given a strong push, not only in the direction of what they tend to call “municipal socialism,” but even more so in a whole body of ideas germinating in the working masses.

And finally, it is impossible to ignore the various movements that occur in the best elements of the bourgeoisie itself, and which result in either a whole series of more-or-less philanthropic institutions, that is to say by movements to manual labour, “to the people,” “to the land,” and so on, as well as by a tendency accentuated every day in literature, art and science, and which denotes that the bourgeoisie is already losing, in its best representatives, faith in its right to exploitation.

A host of other small movements should be mentioned – such the liberation of the individual from [hypocritical] morality, the emancipation of women, ethical movements, etc., etc. But, let us move on!

Finally there is all this throng of rebels, here individually, there in groups, who revolt against all social and political inequities, who sacrifice themselves to awaken the slumbering society and, by their actions, broach all [issues]: exploitation, servitude in all its aspects, hypocritical morality.

* * *

And they want all these movements, in which thousands of men and women are seeking, in one way or another, to directly transform society, moving with more or less efficiency towards the socialisation of wealth – they want all these varied movements to cease to exist and be epitomised in one mode of action: that of naming candidates to parliaments or municipalities!!

They want to absorb all these energies in electoral struggles – for what? That the deputies, who, themselves, do not do this work of direct transformation of morals, institutions and ideas, find – intuitively, I suppose – the means of bringing about all these transformations by means of laws?

They want those who prepare the social revolution in actions and concrete ideas to abandon this task to the makers of laws. As if it were enough to become a legislator to understand all that these millions of individuals learn in their daily struggles against authority, the boss, the priest, the policemen, the State [employed] teacher, the narrow selfishness of ignorance, laziness of mind!…

To hear such nonsense said and preached is almost enough to make you despair of a human nature that never seems to overcome this idea of saviours, of popes discovering the truth by intuition from above and producing a miracle!

* * *

Well, since it is certain that the personal contact of intellects and conflict stimulates minds, and that this contact is achieved better in Congresses than by the press, we do not need a Congress, we need a hundred, a thousand.

Many are already held. There is no lack of Congresses [–] regional and national, trade union [corporatifs], co-operative, although agricultural unions are still lacking, [those] concerning the work of the small trades, etc. But that is not all.

All these currents, necessarily, will be led to pour into socialism. The era requires it. Is this a reason, however, for waiting, with folded arms, for the Marxist “negation of the negation” to produce itself? On the contrary, it is necessary that in each of these congresses the voice of the socialist, especially the anarchist, should be heard. Let him speak there, not as a teacher who comes to lecture the children or to come to tell them that all their work is useless – but as a man who understands that all these currents have their reason for being; that without them the social revolution would be impossible; that they all bring their little stone to the reconstruction of society, which must be done locally and on the spot, by those same groups; that all must eventually be inspired by the idea of the century – as a man who understands this and who comes to bring them this inspiration.

The social-democrat cannot do that; he can only say to them: “Vote!” It must therefore be up to the anarchist to go there, to fight, to speak, where they hardly suspect the revolution to be carried out; to speak to them – not of the uselessness of the work, but of the new utility it would gain if this small current is poured into the great flood of social reconstruction. In addition, a compelling need is happening right now. The discussion of socialism, as a whole, was interrupted in 1870, and has never been resumed since. A whole flood of preposterous theories is circulating at this moment under the name of “scientific socialism,” and, under this cover, they are debating nonsense [énormités] that would have made poor Marx’s hair stand on end.

It is time for the discussion of socialism to resume, for a complete review of the goods circulating under the brand “patented S.G.D.G.” to be made – not only in the press, as our friends D. Nieuwenhuis and Tcherkesoff have undertaken, but in plain sight, in front of the socialists of the two worlds.

The newspaper, the pamphlet, the book prepares the ground. But it must also be done openly [avec éclat], in congresses, at large congresses – prepared by discussions in groups – to which would be invited all those who are keen to clarify ideas or to obtain information themselves.

It is obviously in this direction that it will be necessary to work.

Peter Kropotkin

[N.B. S.G.D.G. (“Sans Garantie Du Gouvernement”) was legally required to be stamped on French products with a legal patent between 1844 and 1868. Meaning “Without Guarantee of the Government,” it signified that the patent did not mean that the State guaranteed the proper functioning of the product.]

Dairy Farmer to Donald Trump: “Replace NAFTA, It’s Not Good For Farmers Anywhere”

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 13:32

via In These Times

by Jim Goodman

There is a lot of angst in the U.S. corporate world. They are quite concerned that the renegotiation talks between the United States, Canada and Mexico (the three participants in the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA) may not deliver a new agreement that is as lucrative as the old NAFTA.

NAFTA has been in place since 1994. It is one of those classic neoliberal trade deals that essayist George Scialabba describes as “investor rights agreements masquerading as ‘free trade’ and constraining the rights of governments to protect their own workers, environments, and currencies.” As such, it has served corporate interests well.

U.S. corporations counted on NAFTA and other trade agreements to keep wages low by the threat of, or actual movement of, manufacturing jobs to wherever it was easiest to exploit workers and the environment.

A renegotiated NAFTA, would, if U.S. negotiating positions were accepted, force Canada to scrap the price protections that give their dairy farmers a fair price for their milk. In Mexico, U.S. corporate interests would hope to prevent Andrés Manuel López Obrador, if elected president, from trying to bring Mexican farmers out of poverty. Obrador calls for expanding the country’s dairy industry and rebuilding its native corn production. (American agribusiness destroyed Mexican family farm corn production by dumping cheaper corn on the Mexican market—hence the spike in illegal emigration to the United States after NAFTA went into force.)

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Florida Prisoners Are Preparing to Strike Against Unpaid Labor

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 13:25

via In These Times

By Michael Arria

People incarcerated throughout the state of Florida are planning a January 15 work stoppage to protest their conditions, and they say they are prepared to continue the protest for more than a month.

Prisoners in eight prisons are expected to participate in the effort, which they refer to as Operation PUSH. The strike, which was purposely scheduled to coincide with Martin Luther King Day, is designed to advance three major changes: a reduction of canteen prices, payment for labor and parole incentives for prisoners serving life sentences. It is not immediately clear how many incarcerated people intend to participate.

News of the action spread after a statement was posted on SPARC (Supporting Prisoners and Real Change), a Facebook page used by Florida prisoners and their families. The statement was compiled from a series of messages sent by prisoners to the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee’s Gainesville chapter and the national Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons.

“Every institution must prepare to lay down for at least one month or longer,” the statement reads. “Our goal is to make the governor realize that it will cost the state of Florida millions of dollars daily to contract outside companies to come and cook, clean, and handle the maintenance. This will cause a total breakdown. In order to become very effective, we must use everything we have to show that we mean business.”

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Meet the Badass Girls of Los Anarchists, L.A.’s Roller Derby League for Kids

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 16:31

via Los Angeles magazine

by Liz Ohanesian

Besides the arch of black and gold balloons gracing its entrance on Saturday afternoon, Anarchy Hall looks like any other nondescript industrial warehouse in Sun Valley. But inside of the 8,000-square-foot flat track facility, home to L.A.’s own Los Anarchists, are all the trappings of a 21st century roller derby revival.

The league’s logo, a scratchy L.A. inside an anarchy symbol, is painted on one wall. In a corner behind the track, there’s space for bands to play. Before the match, skaters roll around with pun-y derby names emblazoned on the backs of their jerseys. Some have tufts of brightly colored hair peeping out from under their helmets. A couple of nose rings sparkle from the sidelines. Anarchy Hall is a brand new monument to the most punk-rock sport of all — but the difference here is that the players are kids and teens.

Los Anarchists Junior Derby is an all-female roller derby league open to players between the ages of 5 and 17 (if you turn 18 during the season, you can finish out your games before moving up to the adults). They’re part of the Junior Roller Derby Association (JRDA), which connects youth leagues across the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe, and they’re the rare junior league that functions independently from an adult one. Los Anarchists are new to the roller derby scene; this is their first season. Still, some of their players are already derby veterans.

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Top Takeaways From Michael Wolff’s “Fire And Fury”

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 15:52

via Teen Vogue

by Lucy Diavolo

Michael Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, has already generated demand for a second print run as it dominates the current news cycle. The book’s revelations have been broadly interpreted as implicating President Donald Trump as unintelligent and childish — even in the eyes of his own staff.

The truth of Wolff’s depiction is complicated by an author’s note admission of an inherent “looseness with the truth” in the Trump White House. His book’s accuracy is still being hashed out by the media, the Republican party, and the tweeter-in-chief himself. The debate circles around juicy gossip in the book, which also poses questions about the president’s competency and the influence of insiders in his decision-making.

Wolff offers a bleak and cringeworthy vision of the Trump administration’s inner workings. Full of pearl-clutching details, the cracks reveal the administration of a president who can’t even wrap his head around the low-salary appeal of government work. In an age of overwhelming irony, it gives us exactly what we expect of Trump — and much more.

The President of the United States, in Wolff’s telling, lives in his own little world. His obsession with inflated inauguration crowd numbers — which went as far as decorating the West Wing with photos of the assembly — sets the tone for this trend during his administration thus far.

But the power of his own alternate reality is captured with a quote about the infamous Access Hollywood tape: “It wasn’t me,” Trump reportedly says. “I’ve been told by people who understand this stuff about how easy it is to alter these things and put in voices and completely different people.”

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The horror story that haunts science

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 15:41

via Science

By Jon Cohen

On 1 August 1790, a precocious student named Victor Frankenstein submitted a radical proposal to an ethical panel at the University of Ingolstadt in Bavaria. Under the title “Electro-chemical Mechanisms of Animation,” Frankenstein explained how he wanted to “reverse the processes of death” by collecting “a large variety of human anatomical specimens” and putting them together to try and “restore life where it has been lost.”

Frankenstein assured the institutional review board (IRB) that he had the highest ethical standards. “If I do succeed in fully animating a human or human-like creature, I will provide the creature with information about the study and allow it, if it is capable, to choose whether or not to participate further in continued observation and study,” noted the budding scientist. If the creature had “diminished capacity,” Frankenstein promised to bring in a third party to act in its interest and treat “the being” in accordance with recognized standards.

Of course no such proposal ever went to bioethicists at the University of Ingolstadt, where the fictional Frankenstein created his monster. In 1790, even a real Frankenstein would have faced no ethical reviews. But the proposal does exist in a 2014 paper, which speculates about whether the Frankenstein story would have had a happier ending if 21st century safeguards had existed 2 centuries ago. It is one of many riffs on the novel to be found in biomedical literature. In conceiving her story, Mary Shelley was influenced by the nascent medical science of the day and by early experiments on electricity. In return, Frankenstein has haunted science ever since.

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Single Payer Could Solve the Rural Hospital Crisis

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 15:36

via Jacobin

By Frances Gill

America’s rural hospitals are closing down at an alarming rate. According to the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program, there were seventy-two rural hospital closures between 2010 and 2016, close to double the number that shut down between 2005 and 2009. Hundreds more are teetering on the brink of closure.

Consequently, rural America faces a serious health care delivery challenge, which is made all the more urgent by the fact that rural residents tend to be much sicker to begin with. They have higher rates of chronic conditions and greater psychological distress. Rural counties have higher death rates from unintentional injuries, more motor vehicle injuries, greater premature mortality (below age seventy-five), higher suicide rates among men, and higher infant mortality rates.

Health disparities between rural and urban America are very well documented, and geographic access — the ease or difficulty of traveling to a health care provider — is one of the commonly offered explanations for this disparity, especially in the case of traumatic accidents or other medical emergencies. When these rural hospitals close their doors, the distance between a person’s home and the nearest medical facility increases dramatically, and so too does the time it would take an ambulance to reach them in an emergency.

Rural hospitals have been struggling for years, largely due to changing demographics in rural areas. Right now, the most powerful predictor of closure is profitability, which is partially a function of the characteristics of the community a hospital serves. As the American populace has shifted to urban areas, the populations that remain in rural areas have gotten older, poorer, sicker, and less likely to be insured. In other words, providing their care is more costly. Rural hospitals have been dealing with the financial strain caused by these changing demographics for well over a decade.

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Keeping the Poor Poor: How Government Automates Inequality

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 03:27

via The Progressive

by Jake Whitney

In the fall of 2008, after Indiana launched its automated benefits eligibility system, Omega Young was notified that she needed to recertify for Medicaid. Young suffered from cancer, and on the day of her appointment she was undergoing treatment and unable to attend. She placed a call to her local help center to let them know. Nevertheless, the system registered that she “failed to cooperate,” and cut off all her public assistance, including food stamps, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals.

Young embarked upon a months-long appeal to restore her benefits, during which she was unable to afford medications and struggled to pay her rent. Finally, on March 2, 2009, Young got her benefits back. She had died on March 1.

Automating Inequality, Virginia Eubanks’ new book about how automated eligibility systems “profile, police, and punish” the poor, is loaded with horror stories like Young’s. They are not all as tragic, but serve as alarming evidence that Americans continue to treat poor people as second-class citizens. Eubanks’ central premise is that the poor are largely portrayed, particularly by conservatives, as either criminals or freeloaders and as the main problem with American society. Because of this portrayal, Americans tolerate systems that dehumanize and surveil the poor to a degree that would not be tolerated if the systems were designed for other classes.

While supporters of automated systems claim they increase efficiency and remove prejudice from decision making, Eubanks contends that, in fact, these systems possess inherent biases and make benefits harder to obtain, overturning the gains won by the welfare movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

Eubanks’ argument is powerful, but the book would have benefitted from a deeper discussion of income inequality and the policies that aggravate it. Indeed, the gap between rich and poor in America is wider than it’s been since the Great Depression, and it’s harder than ever for poor Americans to ascend the income ladder. Policies such as trickle-down economics, mass incarceration, and outsized court fees help keep the poor poor. Automated eligibility systems, Eubanks reveals, also play a role.

The biggest victory of the welfare rights movement, Eubanks tells us, was a court ruling that redefined welfare as personal property, not charity. This meant due process had to be provided to recipients before benefits were removed. The ruling led to a long stretch when the poor could easily access benefits.

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Not the Droid You’re Looking For: Subtler Political Points from The Last Jedi

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 03:11

via Center for a Stateless Society

by Alex McHugh

The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson’s recent continuation of the Star Wars saga, has generated many new takes. Yet most focus on debates about aesthetics, storytelling, cinematography, fandom politics, and concerns with fantasy physics rather than the social and political commentary of the movie. Perhaps it’s because the main political messages of this installment were so heavy-handed and obvious. Not only do those evil arms dealers get rich while destroying the galaxy, they abuse children and horse-creatures to boot! (yawn)

Kylo Ren may be a little more conflicted and complicated than your average action-movie villain. But as the allegorical alt-right edgelord, his somewhat pathetic sad-boy histrionics struck me as similarly on-the-nose. Making the free-spirited hacker DJ come off like a selfish jerk felt like an unnecessary, but predictable, jab at the crypto-anarchist movement.

Hell, there’s a reason the most vapid, liberal anti-Trumpers lifted the name “the Resistance.” The new trilogy’s main plot has the kind of political points that appeal to people who think electing Democrats is going to save us from this hellscape.

There are, however, some truly interesting political dynamics at play in The Last Jedi. Beyond the battle between light and dark, the film explores the inner dynamics of resistance fights and the interaction of faith and politics in pretty exciting ways.

What makes the rebels good?

As in the standalone Rogue One, the Resistance is portrayed a little differently than the Rebels in the original trilogy. Instead of a unified, unproblematic front, our heroes are a bit more human. While this film didn’t go quite as far into the complicated dynamics of insurrection — Rogue One’s exploration of the line between resistance and terrorism has a special place in my heart — it did problematize hierarchy, bravery, and strategy in new and interesting ways.

David Sims explores the new dynamic around bravery in an article in the Atlantic, explicating the ways in which the Resistance’s motivations are more complex — and relevant — than in earlier films. He states, “Johnson roots [Finn’s] rebellion in Finn’s trauma (he was brainwashed into service by Phasma and her cronies as a child), but also in the oppression Rose shows him on Canto Bight, which extends beyond the heartlessness of the First Order.”

We’re probably supposed to view Finn’s attempt to desert as shameful, but it’s pretty understandable and I was sympathetic to his choice. After all, I’ve made similar decisions in my own life recently — choosing, as Finn did — to reverse them once I deepened my understanding of mutual oppression and realized that saving myself wasn’t going to be worth it if I left my friends to the fight.

This urge to flee is a central theme in the movie, and is a major contrast with the earlier films which portrayed the heroes as larger than life, beyond self-preservation, and purpose-driven. Natalie Zutter sums up the eerie familiarity of watching Resistance fighters desert over on

[W]hen you’re an adult, who can see where the cogs have gotten stuck in the gears and the system is churning toward collapse, there is a shameful relief in how The Last Jedi highlights that tendency toward the denial, the selfish self-preservation. This is how a Star Wars movie speaks to its audience in 2017…. Finn doesn’t choose to rejoin the system; he is stunned and dragged back into the fight.

Again, Rogue One did this a bit better, highlighting how people born into a rebellion — and those unable to flee — don’t really get a choice in whether to fight or not. But presenting the people of the Resistance as scared, confused humans, rather than confident and stable superhumans gives the film room to explore some really important themes of which I want to turn to now: the inner workings of military resistance and the role of faith in rebellion against oppression.

Military resistance necessitates some ethical dilemmas

Some of these are obvious: Murdering people is generally ethically wrong, unless you have a damn good reason to do so. But what I want to look are the issues that remain once you decide fighting is absolutely necessary. Military institutions necessitate some amount of hierarchy and some amount of anti-individualism (in the form of devaluing self-preservation). They value “bravery” in a way that’s not always productive.

The Last Jedi takes an interesting look at all of these issues. Vice Admiral Holdo’s portrayal is particularly amazing on this front. Her refusal to explain the plan to Poe seems mean-spirited at first. If she’d just told him what she had cooking, his kooky sub-plot wouldn’t have been necessary. Poor Poe! But on a second pass, her actions make sense for a military commander. Why the hell should she answer to him? He’s proven to be reckless and hard to work with. She outranks him and is, presumably, busy as fuck getting everything ready. Plus, she’s a new leader who probably feels the need to assert a little dominance over a frightened and demoralized crew that doesn’t quite trust her yet.

I don’t want to over-analyze this dynamic, but it got me thinking about a few things. Military infrastructure is especially prone to this kind of miscommunication/power struggle/misalignment of incentives. When you rely on one leader and follow her without question — General Leia Organa in this case — her death or incapacitation creates a power vacuum. The hierarchy also focuses at least some of everyone’s energy on maintaining their own place in it, over actual success. Did Poe hatch the plan because he really though Holdo couldn’t hack it? Or did he just want to regain his former glory and prove that he really did know best?

This sub-plot also did some beautiful things with misogyny (this probably deserves it’s own essay). To my embarrassment, even I hated Holdo at first. I was sitting there in the movie theater thinking “fuck, I didn’t trust this woman either.”

We’re told she’s a galaxy-famous commander with more than a little experience under her belt. Leia — whose judgement everyone trusts unquestioningly — names her interim Resistance leader. But she’s a woman, with pink hair and all. Maybe I just need to unlearn some more misogyny than other Star Wars fans, but it feels like this was intentionally set up to make you root for roguish, manly starfighter Poe until you realize he’s actually being a bull-headed jerk.

Again, militant organization lends itself to misogyny. Bro-y posturing has destroyed a good many real-world movements. If we’re indeed heading in an insurrectionary direction, accounting for and combating misogyny in the ranks is an enormous challenge we have to be ready for.

The dynamic between Poe and Vice Admiral Holdo also played with bravery in very a welcome way. Again there’s a lesson about misogyny in Poe’s assertion that Holdo is a coward for considering using the transports. But bravery isn’t always strategic. In fact, as we learn through Poe’s repeated failures and close calls, it’s often downright stupid.

Which brings me to my favorite line in the movie:

“We won’t win by destroying the things we hate—only by saving the things that we love.”

Sometimes the best you can do is hide in a hole and pray for each other. Our female leads all embody this well. From Vice Admiral Holdo’s clear-minded thinking in the face of sure defeat, to Rose’s decision that having Finn around is more important than destroying some giant cannon, and even Rey’s insurance that there’s still something to love within Ben Solo’s conflicted heart — and the Jedi religion itself. It’s the women of the Resistance that hold onto those things worth saving and show us that the revolution isn’t about tearing anything down, but building each other up.

That outlook takes a certain kind of faith.  As does military resistance generally.  It’s often not rational to put your life on the line for the sake of some political or moral victory. That’s why we have to brainwash soldiers to get them to fight in imperial wars. To get in the fighting spirit, rational decision making has to be replaced with something else. For real-world militaries, faith in the nation is what we’re talking about here. This is why nationalism feels and looks so much like a religion — it is. That’s what’s strong enough to override someone’s will to live.

Fittingly, a lot of the movie’s message drove at a similar point. Whether you call it hope, or faith, or “the light,” it’s that tiny fragment of possibility that keeps our heroes going. And this time, it’s distinctly religious.

Any revolution needs religious faith

“The Force” has always been a religious beast, with different films treating it with various degrees of religiosity and seriousness. In the original films, it’s a lot like Buddhism. Loosely spiritual, a lot of meditation, and enlightenment has to do with recognizing oneness and balance.

In the prequels trilogy, we get a bit more about the Force. It’s simultaneously science-ified with the introduction of midichlorians and deepened as a religion with ritual Jedi burials, a formalized Jedi Order, and a virgin birth as well. But there’s something different about this leg of the saga. Whereas earlier films were about achieving enlightenment through mental and physical discipline, and then about following codes and hierarchies to continue a tradition on a well-worn path, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi have put a special emphasis on faith itself.

Faith is hard to define. It’s sometimes approached as a feeling, sometimes as a type of non-intellectual knowledge, sometimes as an action or set of actions. Personally, I’m partial to Soren Kierkegaard’s formulation of faith which is about personal transcendance more than anything else. This looks something like mystery and an openness to possibility. And it looks a lot like Master Luke transcending himself as his Force battle with Kylo Ren ends and, having achieved his purpose, Luke becomes one with the Force.

Rather than having faith in something or someone — a legendary Jedi Knight or, the Jedi Order — this kind of faith is the inclination to continue towards the unknown, trusting in divinity to lead the way. Hope is a close approximation, but faith is a bit more complex. It’s not just believing that everything will turn out okay, it’s continuing towards the future even while accepting that everything might not be okay.

When we meet Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, he’s living in an absence of faith. He’s seen what his attempts to continue the tradition of the Jedi have wrought. This is central to his later revival. In order to access the powerful form of faith that allows him to save the Resistance and, in doing so, sacrifice his own life, he has to lose the intellectualized, formalized trappings of a traditional Jedi Master.

Luke’s reasons for wanting to end the Jedi tradition are good ones. He sees that his attempts to train Ben Solo/Kylo Ren were misguided and arrogant. He sees that these old texts and traditional ways aren’t particularly helpful in battling a darkness that persists. He sees that the battle between the light and dark sides isn’t a war that can be won, but an endless process of making and remaking. As Jedi power rises, so does Sith.

This nihilism is familiar to many of us attempting to wade through the cycles of political life. The Rebels may win, but the First Order will follow. Luke may become a master, but his students will surpass his power. We may move on through World War II and then the Cold War. But fascism will rear its head again. So what’s the goddamn point?

This threat of nihilism makes faith a necessary component of the kind of continuous war anarchists are called to.

Religious notions can be messy when combined with political movements. Combining these areas of life means the actions of some shithead burnt-out Jedi can hamstring your political movement. The choices of the Jedi Council and Master Qui Gon Jinn’s decision to train up Anakin contributed materially to the creation of the Empire (There’s a kind of arrogance that comes with thinking you’re anointed). There’s even a fan theory that Snoke’s First Order is indeed the “first order” of Jedi, that Snoke himself has been reborn many times and was originally the first Jedi knight. Religious power is a dangerous thing.

And yet, it’s also the only way forward. Tellingly, Luke’s stance on ending the old ways to make space for a new world mirrors Kylo Ren’s. In killing Snoke and burning the Jedi temple, Luke and Ren are acting in concert to deny the natural cycles of light and dark that have existed through all time.

I had one friend point out how much more mythological this particular Star Wars movie was. I’d agree. The Jedi religion here is not about self control or tradition built up over years. It’s opaque and mysterious and fraught with danger. You can’t access the light side of the force without engaging the dark as well.

Thankfully, Rey is undeterred.

Rather than fearing and shying away from her darkness and that in Kylo Ren, she embraces it, goes deeper, and finds the light that’s there as well. This is faith. “If you only believe in the sun when you can see it, you’re not going to make it through the night.”

This marriage of light and darkness is central to real-world faith as well. Insurrection takes us to dark places. Refusing to access that revolutionary spirit because its shadow scares us, does a disservice to our future. The light is there as well as the dark and to stop fighting in the face of moral complexity — in fear of our own dark potential — is the truest face of cowardice.

The Last Jedi brings this constellation of ideas — about bravery and cowardice, about moral ambiguity,  faith, insurrection, and crucially sacrifice — into brilliant interaction. The political and the spiritual are wrapped up tight, even more closely than in previous films. That gives the story a power and relevance that the strikes through the ham-fisted main plot.

Faith is risky, but it’s not flat boldness. Faith is ambiguous, but there’s still right and wrong. It’s the recognition that the way forward is not through smashing and bombing, but something much more tender and loving. Faith is about seeing past yourself and your desires and your thoughts and your being to the whole beautiful, mysterious, complicated tapestry of life.

Faith isn’t chosen and this is what separates it from ideas about hope and bravery that are self-directed. Faith is about following the light where it leads — or even being dragged along by it — because it’s right and you’re wrong, and your will alone doesn’t really matter.

Faith is what keeps us going, resistance fighter or no, and just as the world of the Last Jedi needs faith to see tomorrow, we do too.

How Coffeehouses Fueled the Vietnam Peace Movement

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 02:32

via New York Times

By David L. Parsons

In the summer of 1967, Fred Gardner arrived in San Francisco with the Vietnam War weighing heavily on his mind. Gardner was 25 years old, a Harvard graduate and a freelance journalist for a number of major publications. He was attracted to Northern California’s mix of counterculture and radical politics, and hoped to become more actively involved in the movement to end the war. He was particularly interested in the revolutionary potential of American servicemen and couldn’t understand why antiwar activists and organizers weren’t paying more attention to such a powerful group of potential allies.

Ever since completing a two-year stint in the Army Reserves in 1965, Gardner had been closely watching the increasing instances of military insubordination, resistance and outright refusal that were accompanying the war’s escalation. From the case of the Fort Hood Three — G.I.s arrested in 1966 for publicly declaring their opposition to the war and refusal to deploy — to the case of Howard Levy, an Army dermatologist who refused his assignment to provide medical training for Special Forces troops headed to Vietnam, it was clear that the Army was fast becoming the central site of an unprecedented uprising. By 1967, the “G.I. movement” was capturing national headlines.

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Climate and Weather Disasters Cost U.S. a Record $306 Billion in 2017

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 02:20

via Inside Climate News

By Nicholas Kusnetz

Hurricane Harvey’s extreme rainfall and the most devastating wildfire season on record contributed to $306 billion in damages from climate and weather disasters in the United States in 2017, shattering the previous record by more than $90 billion, according to a federal report released Monday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s recap of the nation’s climate over the past year found that 2017 was the third-warmest on record. What’s more, it was warmer than average in every state across the lower 48 and Alaska for the third consecutive year. (Hawaii is excluded because of a lack of historical data and other factors.)

“That’s pretty unusual,” said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist at NOAA and the lead author of the report. Such a stretch hasn’t occurred in many decades, he said, and is a sign of the degree to which the climate is warming. “The contiguous United States is a pretty big place, and there are features of the climate system that usually make some places colder.”

While 2017 was not the hottest year, each of the five warmest years since record-keeping began in 1895 have come since 2006. The average annual temperature in the contiguous U.S. last year was 2.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th Century average, and five states registered their warmest years on record: Arizona, Georgia, New Mexico, North Carolina and South Carolina.

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Surrealism on the Barricades

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 02:18

via Fifth Estate # 398, Summer, 2017

by Ron Sakolsky

excerpt from
Breaking Loose: Mutual Acquiescence or Mutual Aid? LBC Books, 2015,

Back in 1995, as the banlieues burned, the Paris Surrealist group put out a tract entitled Warning Lights: A Surrealist Statement on the Recent Riots in France, delineating the unrealized potential of such multi-racial uprisings in the inner suburban immigrant quarters to spread across the country.

In this publication, the Paris Group dreamed out loud that the stark despair that initially fueled the riots could transform itself from a purely destructive trigger for the cathartic enactment of localized rage into a concurrent vehicle for a deeper and more widespread rebellion.

As they expressed it:

“The rulers have been given a good hotfoot and have been forced to unmask themselves. Where the police abuse their powers, the state of emergency gives to their abuse the legitimacy that it lacks. In a flash, such warning lights have revealed the return of a possibility that seemed to be lost: that of throwing power into panic. From now on, we can imagine the strength of an uprising that would-beyond the inhabitants of the ghettos-include the whole population suffering from the rise of impoverishment, and would turn into civil war against the organs of capital and the state” (Paris Group of the Surrealist Movement, 1995).

In this vision, the flames of the radical imaginary would be reignited on the barricades.

In this same incendiary spirit, the New York-based and surrealist-inspired revolutionary artists’ group, Black Mask, had earlier quoted André Breton’s maxim: “Authentic art goes hand-in-hand with revolutionary activity,” in one of the group’s initial theoretical statements, “Art and Revolution.”

The quote, which was supplied to them by Franklin Rosemont of the Chicago Surrealist Group, led them to urge artists to make an exodus from the galleries into the streets.

In their confrontational 1967 “Wall Street is War Street” march, twenty five men in black wearing balaclavas and skull faces marching against capitalism and for “total revolution” projected a militant identity that can be seen to have been a seminal influence on future radical street tactics.

As art historian Gavin Grindon has acutely observed, “This was the first use of collective, masked-up black dress during a demonstration in an urban centre among Western social movements. As this style was combined with the tactics of breakaway groups, police confrontation, and property damage, the group anticipated, and perhaps indirectly influenced, the style and tactics of later “black bloc” groups which emerged en masse among 1980s German autonomen.”

As time went by, Black Mask would increasingly emphasize anarchist direct action tactics, renaming themselves the Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers in solidarity with the burgeoning black liberation movement of the times.

This brings us to the Ferguson uprising of 2014 in the States which was kicked off by a deadly incident of police brutality in which Michael Brown was murdered by the forces of law and order. As Crimethlnc reported firsthand, the complexity of insurrectionary events there was played out in relation to an internal struggle for meaning that unfolded among the diverse participants in the uprising.

In their words:

“Liberal leaders and authoritarian groups have far and wide fought hard for control of the narrative in Ferguson. The recuperative power of the black left was in full effect, expressed via an array of tactics to discredit everyone who could not be reconciled with the state. Despite the forces arrayed against them, many people in Ferguson were determined to gain control of the streets, and pushed the would be managers aside” (Crimethlnc, 2015).

In contrast to the pacifying managerial narrative emanating from the accomodationist voices of those career activists and erstwhile reformers that sought to narrowly frame these events in civil rights terms; the St. Louis Surrealist Group, in the tradition of not only the above Warning Lights diatribe, but of the Chicago Surrealist Group’s polemics on the Watts riots of 1965 and 1992, boldly proclaimed:

“Our solution prescribes, among other things, the immediate dissolution of the police and other structures of authority, brutality, exploitation, and conformity, as well as the creation of cities of wonder where people of all races, ethnicities, genders, and other diverse affinities can mix in an environment of creative fecundity based on absolute freedom.” (St. Louis Surrealist Group in Hydrolith 2, 2014).

Here was an inspired and inspirational negation of mutual acquiescence that at the same time affirmed an exhilarating vision of mutual aid.

The insurrectionary freedom of the riot can be both a freedom to take direct action against police repression by burning a cop car or engaging in an unmediated redistribution of wealth by looting, and a freedom from the illusion that fundamental change can come from within the system. The latter illusion acts as one of the bulwarks of mutual acquiescence.

As Key MacFarlane has pointed out in relation to the Baltimore uprising of 2015, which was triggered by the street-level execution of Freddie Gray by the police, the “nothing to lose” stance of the rioters was a political flashpoint.

“For those who side with it, it rules out the possibility of reform or progress under current structures of mediation. We don’t want your shitty low- income apartments the fires say. We want to incinerate every last remnant of a dying generation-from the convenience stores where we give our money to a system that casts us aside, to the churches whose leaders tell us we have sinned. From the apartment buildings where we live, to the senior homes where we go to die. For so long we have paid the rich in complacency, and when we have not we have been shuttled off to prison-to smolder.” (MacFarlane, “Rites of Passage,” online 2015).

The flames of the riot are disconcerting not only to the powers that be but to their loyal opposition. By dismissing burning and looting as irrational and ineffective, the latter miss their incendiary importance in incinerating the debilitating illusions that buttress mutual acquiescence. Accordingly, they attribute such acts to the political naiveté of the participants or circulate rumors of police infiltration rather than trying to understand them as indicators of radical refusal.

As Scott Jay argues in deflecting the claim that most of those who engaged in the Baltimore riots were merely police agents provocateur:

“There are black people all over the city throwing rocks at the police. We do not need to make up reasons why somebody would do this. The very concern that ‘peaceful protest’ is being ruined by people throwing things is a completely backward approach to social struggles, usually pushed by liberals who really do want to keep protests symbolic for good media coverage and to appeal to the good nature of those in power” (Jay, 2015).

Jay’s article evidences a struggle about meaning in relation to rioting that is at once tactical and strategic. Anarchists tend to be concerned with fronting tactics that avoid re-legitimatizing institutions of authority while strategically setting the stage for social revolution.

Ron Sakolsky, who has broken loose from the United States, now resides across the border-lie on a little rock in the Salish Sea called Sla-Dai-Aich.

His upcoming book, Birds of a Feather: Anarcho-Surrealism in Flight (Eberhardt Press), will be out sometime this Spring.

Collective Action Behind Bars: A history of jail solidarity and its importance for today’s social change movements

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 21:49

via Upping the Anti #18

by Kris Hermes

About the author: Kris Hermes is a Bay Area-based activist who has worked for nearly 30 years on social justice issues. The events surrounding the 2000 RNC protests led to his years-long involvement with R2K Legal. Since 2000, Hermes has been an active, award-winning legal worker-member of the National Lawyers Guild and has been part of numerous law collectives and legal support efforts. Last August, PM Press published Hermes’ book Crashing the Party: Legacies and Lessons from the RNC 2000, which centres on the development of repressive policing policies and how activists worked collectively to overcome that repression.


As residents of Philadelphia and Cleveland anticipate this year’s political party conventions and the mass protests that they invariably invite, the Republican convention hosted by the City of Brotherly Love 16 years ago holds many important lessons. It was in Philadelphia during the protests against the 2000 Republican National Convention (RNC), that then-Police Commissioner John Timoney developed an aggressive model for policing dissent that included unwarranted surveillance and infiltration, preemptive and unlawful arrests, as well as rampant violence. Notably, this model has become the normative law enforcement response to mass demonstrations across the US, whether reacting to mostly-white Global Justice activists, the Occupy Wall Street movement or, more recently, youth of colour demonstrating against police violence under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter. However, the way that RNC 2000 protesters resisted the legal system in Philadelphia that is also important to our political history and provide vital lessons to those protesting in the streets today.

With the intensified use of militaristic, violent, and repressive domestic policing methods, activists are increasingly forced to spend time in jail and endure criminal prosecution for their actions. But, by using certain tactics collectively, activists have mitigated harm in jail and achieved objectives that would have been impossible through individual action. According to the Just Cause Law Collective (JCLC), the term “solidarity tactics” encompasses “many different forms of non-cooperation, all of which are designed to produce leverage for collective bargaining.”1

The word “solidarity” is ubiquitous today and can be interpreted differently depending on the context in which it is used. Some people act in solidarity with those struggling in other countries. Some show solidarity with political prisoners. Occupy Wall Street activists prioritized “jail support” as a form of solidarity between arrestees and their comrades standing vigil outside the jails. White activists contemplate ways of working in solidarity with today’s youth of color leading the Movement for Black Lives. People are probably most familiar with solidarity tactics historically used by organized labour, such as pickets, strikes, and boycotts.

The JCLC argues that the use of solidarity tactics by criminal defendants is less well-known amongst activists, but can be effective “particularly when the defendants are well-organized, similarly-situated, and working together in large numbers.”2 Jail solidarity, as it has become known, has a rich history in the US through its periodic use over the past hundred years by many different social movements. When activist arrestees have utilized their collective strength, often through militant and confrontational tactics, they have won demands and built power against a legal system designed to coerce and oppress. Integral to the success of jail solidarity is the ability to exploit vulnerabilities in the legal system through collective action and non-cooperation. This is achieved because the authorities need the cooperation of arrestees to process them, it’s expensive to detain large numbers of people, and many jails are near or beyond capacity and unable to deal with heavy influxes. Jail solidarity is typically used with the aim of achieving certain goals, such as gaining equal treatment for all arrestees; protecting targeted groups and individuals, such as people of color, immigrants, and queer people; helping to negotiate the widespread dismissal or reduction of charges; and politicizing the incarceration process by forcing a public discourse and controlling the media narrative.

By refusing bail, arrestees can stay in jail together and place greater strain on the state. But this can sometimes involve a serious time commitment. And, while effective negotiations can eliminate the need for arrestees to defend themselves later in court, it can also take several days to achieve that goal. Therefore, such tactics are often only used by those who can endure the real-world consequences of spending days in jail, like missing out on work and other economic, social or family obligations.

Non-cooperation tactics can vary dramatically and are often as creative as the arrestees employing them. The mass refusal to provide identification is the foundation of contemporary jail solidarity and the tactic most familiar in the activist milieu. By agreeing not to carry identification, to use aliases or “action names,” and refusing to cooperate during processing, arrestees can severely hamper the efforts of jail authorities and create a singular, collective identity that builds strength and fosters selflessness. This unified approach, which can be understood as an extension of collective political action in the streets, stands as a human bulwark against the jail system’s efforts to atomize and incapacitate those under its control.
Other non-cooperation tactics include collectively sitting or lying down, refusing to walk or move, surrounding or piling on top of those at risk of being isolated, refusing to get dressed, and changing clothes with other arrestees. Singing, chanting, and making loud noises are also common tactics used to strengthen solidarity, meet a demand, divert attention, or generally disrupt the jail process. All of these tactics risk being met with retaliation; many arrestees have been brutalized for their refusal to cooperate, underscoring the significance of deciding when, how, and how long to engage in such tactics.

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Bail Reform: Explained

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 21:43

via In Justice Today

By Jessica Pishko and Jessica Brand

In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines — like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine — so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current.

In September of 2017, Atlanta Police arrested 48-year-old Sean Ramsey for holding up a sign that read “homeless, please help,” an apparent violation of a law forbidding pedestrians from soliciting rides or business. He then spent an astonishing 72 days in jail for that offense, unable to pay the $200 cash bail. It cost the county $5,580.40 to keep him in jail. The county released him only after the Southern Center for Human Rights intervened on his behalf. [Hannah Riley / HuffPo]

In New Orleans, Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell will not set cash bail lower than $2,500, no matter the charge. A man found with drugs in a backpack — cash bail set at $7,500. A man who earned $700 a month from a disability check, accused of threatening people with a shiny object — $10,000. Brian Gisclair, now a plaintiff in a class action law suit, spent 40 days in jail unable to make the $2,500 bail set on his possession of cocaine charge. If defense attorneys object too hard to Cantrell’s practices, Cantrell threatens to hold them in contempt. [Bryce Covert / The Nation]

Kalief Browder, 16-years-old at the time of his arrest, was held on Rikers Island for three years because he could not afford to post bail. Browder was accused of stealing a backpack. When he refused to plead guilty, and instead continued to profess his innocence, the Bronx prosecutor requested a bail amount that he could not afford. So, Browder ended up in the notorious Rikers Island Correctional Center for three years where he was beaten, abused, and held in solitary confinement. [New Yorker / Jennifer Gonnerman]

Browder’s suicide, two years after his release from Rikers, illustrates the very real and lingering harm that jail time causes even for those who are never convicted of a crime. All this was because Browder — like many people — could not afford to post bail. [The Atlantic / Ta-Nehisi Coates]

More recently, the Bronx District Attorney’s Office fought to keep 18-year-old Pedro Hernandez detained at Rikers Island for two years because he could not pay the $250,000 bail amount imposed for highly questionable charges that were plainly contradicted by eyewitness accounts. [In Justice Today / Nick Malinowski] Hernandez was finally released pending trial through funds raised from a nonprofit. The charges were later dismissed. [Prince Shakur / Teen Vogue]

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Reflections on the Growing Anti-Regime Protests in Iran

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 17:59

via Communist Anarchism blog

Below is a recent report on the current situation in Iran first published on the website of the Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists. We may not share the same political outlook as that organisation but we reproduce the report for information.

“In comparison to the mass protests that arose in 2009 after the fraudulent presidential election, these protests are different in several important  respects:  1. They directly oppose poverty and  systemic corruption.  2. They include the wide participation of the working class  (men and women), many unemployed. 3. Demands include an end to the Islamic Republic, Death to Supreme Leader Khamenei, Death to president Rouhani,  Death to the “Revolutionary Guards” and an end to Iran’s military intervention in Syria and Lebanon.  4. In some cases,  individual women have bravely taken off their headscarves or veils  in public places and have encouraged others to follow them.

Frieda Afary

December 31, 2017.

The protests that started in the city of Mashhad on Thursday December 28  have quickly spread to more than 40 cities including Tehran, Kermanshah, Rasht, Isfahan, Shiraz, Hamedan, Kerman,  Zanjan, Ahvaz, Bandar Abbas, and even the city of Qum, Iran’s religious capital.  The participants are mostly young people under 30 but in some cases have included parents with their children. So far, at least 5 people have been killed in Lorestan and over 50 people have been arrested by heavily present security forces.  Some government buildings and banks were set on fire by the protesters and pictures of Khamenei and Khomeini have been burned.

In comparison to the mass protests that arose in 2009 after the fraudulent presidential election, these protests are different in several important  respects: 1. They directly oppose poverty and systemic corruption. 2. They include the wide participation of the working class (men and women), many unemployed. 3. Demands include an end to the Islamic Republic, Death to Supreme Leader Khamenei, Death to president Rouhani, Death to the “Revolutionary Guards” and an end to Iran’s military intervention in Syria and Lebanon. 4. In some cases, individual women have bravely taken off their headscarves or veils  in public places and have encouraged others to follow them.

No one can deny that these protests are arising after at least a year of almost daily labor actions and strikes against non-payment of wages and terrible working conditions, as well as protests by impoverished retirees, teachers, nurses and those who have lost their meager savings in bankrupt banks.

Slogans have also called for freedom for all political prisoners and an end to dictatorship.
At the same time, there is no doubt that there is a strong nationalist tone to some of the slogans such as “Neither Gaza, Nor Lebanon, I sacrifice my life for Iran” or a monarchist influence expressed in slogans which support the legacy of Reza Shah Pahlavi.

Some Iranians believe that the protests might have been started by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to consolidate its power, given the infighting within the regime and the threat of a direct war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Others believe that monarchists and the Mujahedin Khalq, with support from the Trump administration, have had a major role in encouraging the protests.

For those Iranians opposed to all these actors and genuinely hoping for a liberatory movement, it is extremely important to learn from the lessons of the Syrian revolution. If the mass movement against poverty and dictatorship limits itself simply to the overthrow of the regime without an affirmative and progressive vision,  it faces the danger of being taken over by right-wing populists or monarchists and becoming a pawn in the imperialist rivalries.

This is a time when those Iranian socialists and Marxists who do not support authoritarian brands of socialism can make a difference by organizing within this movement on the basis of opposing  Iran’s capitalist state, helping the development of  workers’ councils,  defending and promoting women’s struggles against patriarchy/ misogyny,  and speaking out against the discrimination suffered by  Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities such as Kurds and Bahais.

Deepening the content of the current protest movement is the best way to challenge and oppose imperialist war drives by the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China,  Iran, Turkey, and to express solidarity with other progressives in the region and around the globe who demand social justice.
Frieda Afary

December 31, 2017″

Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists

Americans should break the 222 pound meat habit in 2018

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 17:56

via The Hill

by Dr. Neal Barnard

Will Americans really eat more meat in 2018 than ever before? The U.S. Department of Agriculture said last week that the average consumer will eat 222.2 pounds of red meat and poultry in 2018. For the health of Americans and the environment, let’s hope that this prediction proves false.

Nobody outside of the meat industry would argue that eating 222 pounds of meat is healthful. In fact, the USDA’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans say that “lower intakes of meats, including processed meats; processed poultry … have often been identified as characteristics of healthy eating patterns.”

But eliminating meat from your diet altogether is the safest bet, because even amounts significantly smaller than 222 pounds are dangerous. A new study in the European Journal of Cancer found that eating just 9 grams of processed meat a day — about three slices of bacon or two sausages a week — can increase the risk of breast cancer. That’s just 7 pounds of meat in a year.

Here’s some more meat-and-mortality math: 222.2 pounds is 100,788 grams. Divide that amount evenly over 365 days, and it’s 276 grams per day. That’s more than double the amount of daily meat intake it takes to increase your risk of breast, colorectal, prostate, and pancreatic cancers, stroke, diabetes, and death from heart disease, according to a study in the Journal of Internal Medicine.

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The Vietnam Legacy of War Tax Resistance

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 05:36

via Fifth Estate # 395, Winter 2016

by Erica Weiland

An enduring image of Vietnam War resistance is men burning their draft cards. And, draft resistance played a big role in raising the profile of war tax resistance. Vietnam era draft resisters like Randy Kehler and Ed Hedemann followed up their refusal to fight with a refusal to pay for fighting, following the example of World War I and II draft and war tax resisters like Ammon Hennacy and Wally Nelson.

Ed Hedemann, who continues his work today with the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee says, “They tried to draft me during the Vietnam War and I refused, then they wanted to draft my taxes and I refused, because I don’t see the difference between doing the killing myself or paying for someone else to kill.”

War tax resisters, whether or not they were subject to the draft, either maintained a low, untaxable income or simply didn’t pay the IRS for some or all of their tax bills. Many resisters refused to communicate with the IRS in any way, including filing tax returns. Reasons for practicing war tax resistance varied, but often included the desire to not cooperate with state violence as a matter of conscience.

As young men planned draft resistance, those not subject to the draft used war tax resistance to show solidarity. Beth Seberger told a 2011 conference of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee how she started resisting:

“When I told a friend I didn’t feel right about paying the IRS because of our country’s involvement in the Vietnam War, he said, ‘Then don’t! Haven’t you ever heard of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker? They don’t pay taxes.’ This was astounding news to me, and I was ready for it. I had two older brothers serving in the Air Force in the war, but I had been more influenced by Martin Luther King Jr. and his example of nonviolent resistance. I was seeing many young men my age struggling with their consciences over what to do about the draft. We women didn’t have that decision to face, but I felt paying taxes showed support and actually did give money to help carry on the war. The war resisters’ tax pie chart in that period showed 69 percent of discretionary spending going to pay for past, present, or future war expenditures. 69 percent! I only owed $18 and change for my 1969 taxes, but I sent a letter to IRS with my tax return and no check.”

War tax resisters during the Vietnam War era faced a wide range of consequences for their non-cooperation including levies on bank accounts and garnishment of wages, letters and visits from IRS agents, lost jobs, seized cars and houses, and in a few cases, jail time.

In 1966, Lyndon B. Johnson asked Congress to levy an additional tax on telephone bills to fund the military deployment in Vietnam. Activist Karl Meyer (still a war tax resister, and now a founder and member of the cooperative Catholic Worker community Nashville Greenlands) wrote the “Hang Up On War” pamphlet to encourage resistance to this telephone tax. By the end of the war, it is estimated that as many as 250,000 to 500,000 people had resisted the telephone tax.

The organization National War Tax Resistance was formed in 1969 as a response to the surge in interest in income and telephone tax resistance, and at its peak had 192 chapters. War tax resisters also sought support from organizations like Peacemakers and War Resisters League. Many resisters gave their taxes to alternative funds that redirected the money to community organizations more deserving of financial support.

During the length of the war, many prominent individuals took up resistance. For example, in 1968, the Writers and Editors War Tax Protest took out ads in three publications, listing writers and editors who pledged to refuse to pay the income tax and/or telephone tax. Signers included Howard Zinn, Allen Ginsberg, Grace Paley, Frances Fox Piven, Adrienne Rich, Helen and Scott Nearing, Kurt Vonnegut, and Philip and Daniel Berrigan.

Noam Chomsky was also a signer of this ad. In a 2011 interview, he said, “I organized tax resistance in 1965, with a friend. I kept at it for about ten years. I don’t see it as a principle, it’s a tactic. And I felt I had exhausted its potential as a tactic right about then, so I stopped.” Many, if not most war tax resisters seemed to agree with Chomsky. War tax resistance declined sharply after the war ended in 1975, and National War Tax Resistance also folded that year.

In 1982, the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee was formed. Many new resisters during the 1980s took their stand as a result of U.S. support of Central American dictatorships in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. There have been surges of war tax resistance during each of the wars in which the U.S. has been involved (though records of how many people are resisters is hard to come by).

Those who have kept up their war tax resistance since the Vietnam War or who have started it since then tend to see it more as a principle than a tactic. If cooperating with the militaristic state during wartime is wrong, then it’s still wrong during what passes as peacetime when the military is readying itself for the next conflict.

War tax resistance during the Vietnam War was among the largest expressions of non-cooperation with a violent state, alongside GI resistance, draft resistance, and the many mass rallies and protests. Today, war tax resisters from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives continue refusing to pay taxes to support state violence.

Erica Weiland is the social media consultant for the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC),, although opinions expressed here are not official positions of the organization.