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Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth
Updated: 2 hours 42 min ago

Alternatives from the Ground Up

Tue, 03/20/2018 - 04:55


by Lucien van der Walt

Globalization School Input on Anarchism/Syndicalism and (Black) Working Class Self-Emancipation in Post-Apartheid South Africa

This commentary, an input at a Globalization School debate in Cape Town, engages current labor and Left debates on building alternatives, drawing on the experiences of the radical wing of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and on anarchism and syndicalism. It argues for a strategy of bottom-up mobilization based on debate and pluralism, and building structures of counter-power and a revolutionary counter-culture that can prefigure and create a new social order. The aim is to foster a class-based movement against exploitation, domination, and oppression, including national oppression, that can win reforms through self-activity, unite a range of struggles against oppression, and develop the capacity and unity needed for deep social change. This should be outside parliament, the political party system and the state. The outcome, ultimately, would be the replacement of capitalism, the state, and social and economic inequality, by a universal human community based on self-management, the democratization of daily life, participatory economic planning, and libertarian socialism.

Lucien van der Walt, 2016, “Alternatives from the Ground Up: Globalization School Input on Anarchism/Syndicalism and (Black) Working Class Self-Emancipation in Post-Apartheid South Africa,” “WorkingUSA: The Journal of Labor and Society,” volume 19, number 2, pp. 251-268.

**This is a lightly edited transcript of Lucien van der Walt’s input at the 2010 Globalization School in Cape Town, for the public debate “How Do We Develop an Alternative?” Co-panelists were Mazibuko Jara (Conference of the Democratic Left, now national secretary of the United Front), Zico Tamela (South African Communist Party, SACP), and Lydia Cairncross (Workers Organization for Socialist Action). It was very well received. Lucien van der Walt is a South African writer and sociologist, long involved in the working class movement. He is the author of numerous works, and editor of “Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1870-1940” (with Steven Hirsch, preface by Benedict Anderson, 2010/ 2014, Brill). The Globalization School is an annual event by the Cape Town-based International Labor Research and Information Group (ILRIG), attracting 150-200 activists from unions and social movements.

LvdW: I think the previous panelists have put forward some pretty powerful arguments. So, I must start by thanking these comrades. We are addressing the issue of “How Do We Develop an Alternative?” and, more precisely, at how unions and community movements can develop this alternative. And by that, of course, we mean an alternative to the existing system, which traps millions upon millions in misery.

We need to be very careful not to reduce our critique of the current system to a critique of the system for creating *poverty*, for not creating enough *jobs*, for not building enough *houses*. We must not forget that, originally, socialism stressed creating better material conditions for the working class, the peasantry, and the poor more generally (the “popular classes”) only *as a means to an end*, only as means to enable people to have *free, meaningful lives*.

Our disagreement with liberalism was not on whether people *should* be free; rather, it was that liberal solutions-free market capitalism and parliamentary democracy-were completely *inadequate* to the task of enabling ordinary people to have free, meaningful lives.


But this stress on freedom was lost with the rise to power of state-centered Left traditions, such as social-democracy from the 1890s and Marxist “communism” from the 1920s.

I know when the term “socialism” comes up, many in our movements will speak about the Soviet Union, or Cuba, as somehow “socialist.” A speaker on Monday, for example, said that the Soviet Union was a “work in progress”-but progressing in the right direction. That same speaker added that the working class would be “demoralized” if something happened to Cuba, which has a similar system to that which the Soviet Union had before its collapse, along with its satellite states in Europe and Asia, from 1989 to 1991.

But what we are really doing if we identify the Soviet or Cuban models with “socialism,” is saying that it is possible to have a socialist system where the working class does not have basic trade union rights, is subject to internal passports (or, as we knew them in South Africa, pass laws); that we can have socialism where the working class and peasantry are ruled by a small bureaucratic and political and economic elite-a ruling class minority-that terrorizes its opponents, and uses secret police, forced labor, and ruthless dictatorship; that we can have socialism where the popular classes are not, in fact, in power.

Well, if that is “socialism,” then socialism is completely pointless. And I know someone will respond: “But comrade, consider the material gains of the Soviet people, the lack of unemployment, the massive industrialization-and the great health care system in Cuba today.” But basic freedoms and human rights, and working class and peasant power, are not optional extras! If having jobs and hospitals or steel factories is what (p. 253 starts) counts in measuring “socialism” then there is nothing that makes socialism superior, in any way whatsoever, to a range of explicitly capitalist dictatorships.There were and are jobs and hospitals and steel factories under a range of capitalist, military dictatorships in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. But we do not call those socialist. Apartheid itself actively promoted heavy industry, and had less than 10 percent unemployment as well as continually expanding social services, until the 1970s. But we would never call it socialist.

Systems like the Soviet Union did not, and could not, deliver freedom and the opportunity for meaningful lives; they were systems of totalitarian state-capitalism. Freedom was not on the program. Having a red flag and citing Karl Marx and calling Cabinet Ministers “People’s Commissars” does not make one bit of difference if the basic social relations are exploitative and hierarchical.


And that is why I get uncomfortable when comrade Zico Tamela, whose background is in the SACP, talks in favor of Bolshevik vanguard parties, the seizure of state power and so on.

I agree with the comrade on the need for radical change. And I say that the SACP has heroic traditions, and we should respect and learn from those traditions.

But not uncritically! The SACP’s historic vision of socialism had very little “socialism” in it: its original reference point, the Soviet Union, was not socialist, but state-capitalist; and until the 1990s, the SACP ignored the dictatorship, repression, and the subjugation of the working class, peasantry, and poor that was central to the Soviet bloc. The SACP’s more recent reference point is social-democracy. Although this term is carefully avoided in SACP texts, the current project is effectively a social-democratic one: slowly reforming capitalism, through the capitalist state, and expanding the state bureaucracy.

Neither vision really deals with the key point that socialism should create freedom. Although social-democrats try to democratize society, they seek the impossible: to give capitalism a human face, using the state, and evolve it slowly into socialism. This is a *reformist* project-it seeks change through a series of reforms *only*-and it is a *failed* project, having collapsed worldwide by the early 1970s.

I am not confident that the SACP has a plan for change that will benefit the working class. And I also do not want to be ruled by SACP people like Blade Nzimande or Jeremy Cronin, given the heavy imprint on the party’s political culture of the Soviet Union model, with its stress on a top-down “vanguard” party model.


For me, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Soviet model, while it was temporarily disorientating for the popular classes (especially the large sectors ( p. 254 starts) that mistakenly saw this model as socialist), also opens up new vistas, new possibilities, space to rediscover the soul of the socialist project. The end of an illusion is always disorienting, but illusions need to end.

Militants will remember how hard it was in the 1980s to talk about “socialism” without talking about the Soviet Union. How, if the Soviet leadership said or did something, the impulse was to cheer and to ignore all the problems, or to claim the system was basically revolutionary, despite some “degeneration” or “deformation.”

Without the continual presence of the Soviet-type regimes we can start to re-envision-or should I rather say rediscover?-the more libertarian and genuinely socialist ways of thinking about socialism, the ways outside of the mainstream Marxist and social-democratic traditions, and recover the core values of socialism. That Left project can again be fundamentally delinked from the mirages of the old East bloc, and the failures of Western social-democracy, again be relocated in radical democratic, libertarian Left traditions like anarchism and syndicalism.


Because really, socialism at its best, is also a critique of the *rule* of the many by the few. Not just a critique of the *exploitation* of the many by the few, not just a demand for a system in which people are not exploited. Not just a critique of the system for generating poverty.

It was, and is, also a critique of the *domination* of the many by the few, and of *multiple* relations of domination and *oppression* across society. It was, and is, about opposing people being impoverished, dominated, oppressed, not having dignity, about not having any real power in work, the neighborhood, the school.

Just to give a small example: when we look at the so-called “service delivery protests” in South Africa, it is easy to assume that these are just protests about getting more water, electricity, and plumbing, delivered from on high, at the convenience of politicians. But what people are actually highlighting is the simple, horrible fact that they have to blockade roads, confront town councilors, even damage property, just to get taps and toilets. This is an expression of the fact, the harsh truth that the common people exist in a disempowering system, where only protest, sometimes violent protest, gives the popular classes a *voice*. Because between protests, the masses *are* voiceless, ruled from above, and ignored.

And if we look at exploitation as well, what makes this possible? Partly, yes, working class people have no real choice but to work for wages: owning no productive resources, they must sell their labor-power. But at the workplace, it is *domination* by the employers, both private and state employers, through their apparatus of supervision and punishment, that actually *enables* exploitation by controlling movement, time, and energy. ( p. 255 starts)


If we want to seriously talk about alternatives to capitalism, we need to think about much more than more jobs and hospitals and steel factories: important as these are, they are not socialism. We need to think beyond the Marxist regimes and social-democratic and capitalist models of the twentieth century, rejecting all models that manifestly failed to meet the most basic criteria of working class and popular class power, dignity, autonomy, and freedom. We need to think about much more than just changing the political parties in office.

We need to think of radical, dramatic change-a social rupture, not just a series of modest reforms in the existing order. It is better to have a bigger cage, but it is still a cage. *Reforms are valuable, but reformism is a dead end*. It is essential to link reforms to a larger project of accumulating power and ideas for a revolutionary change in society.

This is why I like the point that my co-panelist comrade Mazibuko Jara of the independent Left was making, that we need to think about how socialism can change *everyday life*. That we need to think of socialism as a project that will *empower* the mass of the people-and therefore, I would say, as something very different to the old Soviet model, as well as something very different to the social-democratic model, which retains capitalism and bureaucratizes society.


In rediscovering the progressive, emancipatory, Left and working class project, we can start by rediscovering other paths that were opened by our own struggle in South Africa.

In the 1990s, we took the path of elections and state power. Our movements, including the SACP, decided to put the African National Congress (ANC) into parliament-the idea was that we would then “engage” the ANC, “contest” the ANC, and try to get it to implement pro-working class policies. This approach has also been pretty much the program of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), a program some have called “radical reform” or “strategic unionism.” The labels sound very impressive, but amount to a social-democratic project. This project was a key rationale for establishing, in the early 1990s, the formal “Tripartite Alliance” between the ANC, COSATU, and the SACP, which continues today.

This project has not worked; capitalism and the state and the ANC were impervious to social-democratic interventions, and the Alliance seems impervious to policy proposals by the SACP or COSATU. If anything, the Alliance is used by the ANC to control COSATU and the SACP. The social-democratic project is here, as elsewhere, dead in the water. Only struggles seem to make the state listen.

The big path that we abandoned in doing this was the path opened up in the 1980s, of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the radical “workerist” ( p. 256 starts) Federation of the South African Trade Unions (FOSATU) at their best. These formations insisted that rather than be exploited, oppressed nationally, and disempowered, oppressed people should rather create *democratic organizations autonomous of the state*, through which to run their own lives and rebel, and *accumulate through these, the might to overthrow the regime*, and capacities that could *lay the basis for a new society*.

The UDF called this “people’s power.” FOSATU called this “workers’ control.” Here, democracy was not something that happened at elections, or through lobbying parties through structures like the Alliance, or through proposing policies through corporatist structures, but something built *right now*, in struggles and organizing. A new South Africa and a new nation *built from below*, from *outside* the state, and *by, primarily, the working class and the poor*. Thus, the UDF insisted (Morobe 1987, 40):

“By developing active, mass-based democratic organizations and democratic practices in these organizations, we are laying the basis for a future democratic South Africa. When we speak of majority rule, we do not mean that black faces must simply replace white faces in parliament.

“A democratic solution in South Africa involves all South Africans, and in particular the working class, having control over all areas of daily existence-from national policy to housing, from schooling to working conditions, from transport to consumption of food. When we say that the people shall govern, we mean at all levels and in all spheres, and we demand that there be real, effective control on a daily basis.”


But in the 1990s, we put our faith into elections, into parties. The UDF was closed, its remnants turned into ANC structures. COSATU was re-geared as an Alliance partner for the ANC. And we never got anywhere near a situation of “all South Africans, and in particular the working class, having control over all areas of daily existence.”

Now, large sectors of the working class and the poor are waking up and seeing that the ANC cannot be fixed. But most, including most on the Left, have not recognized that the *whole system* is the problem. Most do not see the basic fallacy of using elections and lobbying political parties-they reject the ANC, but put their hopes in a new or a different party, like a workers’ or Left party of some sort.

What gets lost is the simple fact that all successful electoral parties become part of the capitalist state-and therefore, enemies of the people. If the ANC of Nelson Mandela-which rose on the back of the massive struggles and movements of the 1980s and which was watched with awe by the eyes of the whole world-failed to be different, why would any other party succeed?

The ANC is not the problem. *The system is the problem*. And it cannot be fixed. (p. 257 starts)


But why do I say the state is *always* anti-working class?

When we talk about the ruling class, we often seem to think that the ruling class is a bunch of rich white capitalists in Constantia in Cape Town or in Sandton near Johannesburg, the owners of private capital. And yes, they are part of the ruling class! But while it is correct to highlight the power of the (economic) elite that sits atop the private corporations, a focus on these completely fails to take into account the state (or political) elite that sits atop the state machinery, whose power resides in state institutions, including the army and the bureaucracy (and the state corporations). There are the people who run the state: minsters, directors, mayors, parliamentarians, vice-chancellors, generals. Their power rests not on private economic resources, but in the organizations they control.

Capitalists are only *one* part of the ruling class. The ruling class is a minority, its power rests on two institutions that centralize power and wealth so that this minority can rule the majority, the popular classes. And these two institutions are the corporation and the state, which share the basic features of top-down rule by and for an elite, exploitation of workers, the priority of ruling class interests.

These two institutions are interdependent, bound together, by these imperatives: the ongoing subordination and exploitation of the popular classes. There is a *single ruling class* that comprises those who own or control the means of production through private (and state) companies, plus those who own or control the means of administration and coercion, mainly through the state apparatus.


Another set of important resources to be drawn upon in rethinking socialism can be found in the tradition of anarchism and syndicalism, which is the main expression of libertarian socialism, of anti-authoritarian socialism.

This is against hierarchy and social and economic inequality. Its critique of capitalism arises from these positions. It is for participatory and democratic decision-making wherever possible, including in the workplace, and in the larger economy, through measures like self-management and participatory planning, as well as in neighborhoods, schools, and other sites. It is for the democratization of daily life, and about democracy in all possible areas.

And, because this tradition understands the state as an institution that shares basic features with corporations, and as fundamentally bound to the corporations at all times, and as beyond any possibility of capture by the popular classes, its position is anti-statist. *It does not see the state as the solution, but as part of the nexus of ruling class power*.

It argues that it is pointless having a revolution if you keep any system of domination, hierarchy, oppression or exploitation. That is not really a real (p. 258 starts) change in society: it is a change in the masters, but not freedom for the slaves, the basic system of people dominating, oppressing, and exploiting each other remaining.


Other speakers on the panel have spoken about the need to capture the state, or to stand Left candidates in elections.

But as I have argued, the state cannot be captured by the popular classes, used by the working class, because it is a centralized institution of minority class rule, inextricably allied to the private corporations. This means that any workers’ or left-wing party, aiming at state power, is a dead-end, no matter how well-intentioned, no matter its size, no matter its program or rules.

And that is why I take the UDF and FOSATU approaches, as well as anarchism/syndicalism, as key references in thinking about how we build an alternative-not because these are perfect, but because these stress a different way of doing things, “people’s power” and “workers’ control.”
Because these aim-at their best-to build popular *self-government outside*, even *against* the state, and *outside*, even *against* party control, by *popular resistance, building a future* based on deep-reaching changes in social relations.

And that it’s only by creating a new society, from below, through the struggles and movements of the popular classes that we can move to new social relations. This is completely different from the dictatorial system that existed, for example, in the Soviet Union, completely different from the bureaucratic social-democratic welfare state that existed, for example, in Sweden, completely different from the passive politics of elections.

Let me be clear here that I am not claiming that modest changes in daily life and more democratic ways of doing things now, suffice to change society. A new society based on self-management and self-government can only be created through ongoing, escalating class struggles, and will ultimately require the transfer of means of administration, coercion, and production into the hands of the popular classes. And that will ultimately involve a radical rupture in the social order, not a slow process of gradual transition or mass “exit” from the existing order.

Rather, it involves building organizations of *counter-power*, organizations that *counter* the power of the ruling class in immediate struggles, but that can eventually can take power, *displacing* ruling class power, displacing the top-down system and *replacing* it with a bottom-up system that we build from below. This system of “people’s power” and “workers’ control” is built now, day-by-day, block by block, factory by factory, mine by mine, office by office-and it prefigures, as the UDF and FOSATU understood, a better future

*Power is not abolished here, it is taken. But not by a party, not by an elite, but by the great majority of society.*
( p. 259 starts)


A key principle that I want to extract from these two reference points-the UDF and FOSATU, and anarchism and syndicalism-is the importance of linking the *methods* of struggle to the *outcomes* of struggle. The way that people struggle now, is going to shape what they get in future.

There is no Chinese Wall between how people struggle, and what people get. The one shapes the other. Fighting through state elections, for example, means organizing to elect elites to deliver-at their convenience-some changes, from above, through the state. Building organizations based on authoritarian leadership, demagogy, and manipulation is a direct route to a Promised Land based on authoritarianism, demagogy, and manipulation.

If we organize democratically, and in a participatory way wherever possible, then we train ourselves in democratic practices, and we keep power in our own hands; we do not create, from within our movements, a new elite that will hijack our struggles. The way that struggle is conducted is extremely important.

*How* we fight shapes what we get: building this future also means building a unified popular class movement *now*, across the barriers and the borders, rejecting the idea that different sections of the popular classes are enemies of one another. Like FOSATU, the UDF insisted that a movement fighting for a society based on justice, including racial equality and national liberation, must include people on the basis of their willingness to fight unconditionally for progressive change, rather than exclude people on the basis of their race or nation, which they cannot choose. The enemy was framed as a particular social system, rather than as particular races or nations. Thus, the UDF (Mosiuoa Lekota, quoted in Neocosmos 1996, 88):

“In political struggle … the means must always be the same as the ends … How can one expect a racialistic movement to imbue our society with a nonracial character on the dawn of our freedom day? A political movement cannot bequeath to society a characteristic it does not itself possess. To do so is like asking a heathen to convert a person to Christianity. The principles of that religion are unknown to the heathen let alone the practice.”

This stress on prefigurative thinking means, above all, an end to instrumentalist approaches. All too often, movements think in terms of how best to get “the masses” to a march, about how many heads can be counted. But bussing people to events they do not control is not building an active, self-governing movement. It is about turning people into spectators, or clients.

There is nothing to be gained from such methods, if the aim is self-emancipation. So, our movements have to be vigilantly, ruthlessly democratic. Let me stress here that this requires
*formal organization*:
there must be clear procedures, mechanisms of accountability, and decision-making systems in place. Informal relations and processes are a recipe for cabals and powerful individuals to take control and manipulate. And while consensus-based decision ( p. 260 starts) making can be useful, it easily turns into a means for stubborn minorities to veto majorities, effectively controlling decisions. Majority-based decision making is often more democratic.


Which brings us to important lessons that need to be drawn from the failures of South Africa’s 1980s.

On the plus side: the broad working class built radical structures-street committees, civic/area-based structures, self-defense units, parent-teacher-student committees-exemplified by UDF affiliates and stressing “people’s power” as a method of organizing, and as a way of transforming society; and a radical union movement-based on assemblies, committees, and solidarity- exemplified by FOSATU and the early COSATU, and stressing “workers’ control” as a method of organizing, and as a way of transforming society.

On the negative side: all too often, ideas and practices undermined the principles and potentials of these great efforts. All too often, only one political line was permitted in the community-based structures: other currents were not allowed to participate, rival currents denounced as traitors, collaborators, and counter-revolutionaries. Many structures became “owned” by a party-normally the ANC. This happened throughout the UDF. By the late 1980s, COSATU was also becoming ANC territory, ANC-only. And ANC was not the only one that did this; all the nationalist parties had this impulse.

This undermined, weakened, corrupted the bottom-up structures of “people’s power” and “workers’ control.” Street committees sometimes degenerated into street terror; mass mobilization and careful education were sometimes replaced by forcing people to join campaigns; an anti-apartheid approach was often simply a code for blind loyalty to one party, sometimes violently enforced.

Such practices have cost the popular classes heavily, opening the door to the blind, even paranoid loyalty to certain political parties that we see today, to the intolerance of criticism that we see today in the ANC and in COSATU. That is the legacy of the failings of the 1980s.


Instead of this closing down of space, we need to enable *political pluralism* in our organizations: many views, open debates, and issues decided on their merits, not on personalities and not through cabals. This builds stronger movements, *and* it is essential to any project of building a bottom-up, freedom-based alternative, both in the present and for the future.

Not all views are correct-but let us debate them, not suppress them; let us be tolerant of difference, willing to listen. Let us also avoid the debating tactics and styles that close down real discussions, like labelling people, like dismissing theory as “dogma,” like using jargon. (p. 261 starts). And let us realize that a future society, governed from the bottom-up, also has to ensure political pluralism, and avoid the temptation to close debate and contestation in the name of “saving” the revolution.

If revolution-this what the radical rupture of which I spoke means, a class-based revolution-is to occur, it is about replacing domination, exploitation, and hierarchy with a radically democratic social order: self-management, self-government, collective property, classlessness, and statelessness.But since the aim is maximize freedom, efforts to save the new society by *closing* down freedom will kill the revolution from within-just as surely as any external counter-revolutionary threat. This is the genesis of Soviet Union-type regimes: genuine revolutions were killed from within, by self-declared vanguards claiming to “save” the revolution.


Another principle that can be drawn from FOSATU, the UDF, and anarchism/syndicalism, is that most of the struggles that are being fought by different parts of the popular classes-whether around health issues, or gender equality, or job loss, or even municipal demarcation for that matter-are largely responses to a *common system*; they are *different fronts* in the class struggle. A great many of the problems we face have roots in a *common system*. And those that cannot be reduced to that system, are intensified, worsened, by that system.

The UDF, for example, was able to link the fight against racist, oppressive laws to fights around wages, rents, and education, and capitalism, framing the main enemy as apartheid. FOSATU, for example, linked struggles for union rights to fights over control of production and efforts to mobilize working class neighborhoods, framing the main enemy as racist capitalism.

The enemy is not corrupt individuals, or a particular party, or individual, or group, but a *class system* centered on a ruling class. Now if there is one main enemy, it is possible then to think of building a common working and popular class front, a *revolutionary front of the popular classes*.


What FOSATU (with its stress on working class power) understood better than the UDF (which aimed at a multiclass nationalist front, including the “progressive” bourgeoisie) was that *only the popular classes can bring about the deep, radical changes needed to ensure the complete class and national emancipation of the majority*.

Why a class-based movement, and a revolutionary front of the popular classes?

Because only oppressed classes, which do not exploit, have the numbers, power and interest in creating a new, classless, stateless, society. Exploiting classes cannot end exploitation; ruling classes cannot end class rule. So making (p. 262) alliances with sections of the ruling class, even “progressive” sections, as the UDF did, means accepting class society.

Class provides a basis to unify people across the divisions like race, culture, nationality, and gender, around common interests. It enables the struggle of the popular classes against an oppressive system that generates multiple oppressions and inequities-not a struggle against individuals or against specific racial or ethnic groups. And without unity along a class axis, society fractures easily into all-sided conflicts, from which no progressive outcomes are possible. The cases of Germany in the 1930s and Rwanda in the 1990s show what horrors such fracturing can generate.

So, I like the point that comrade Zico was making about revisiting about the option, raised in COSATU and in the SACP, of forming a broad *working class* front, rather than a multi-class *national*[popular]front.


Also, so long as class systems remain, not only will most people remain exploited and dominated as members of the popular classes, but the class system will generate-or at least, worsen-other forms of oppression.

This means that even issues like racial and national oppression are difficult to resolve within class societies. As an example: the apartheid legacy, which is central to South Africa’s ongoing national question, cannot be resolved without a massive redistribution of wealth and power to the black working class. But this massive redistribution requires massive class struggles. The majority of the South African working class-black African, Colored, and Indian-is not just oppressed as an exploited and dominated class. *It is still oppressed on national (or if you prefer, racial) grounds*.

The apartheid system, and its segregationist and colonial predecessors, rested on the exploitation of the whole working class, white workers included, but its political economy centered on *cheap black labor*, what some call the “colonial wage.” Capitalist relations of production were intertwined with colonial relations of domination, and involved a battery of racist measures, extra-economic coercion, and urban and rural underdevelopment on racial lines, plus poisonous doctrines of white supremacy, which still scar our land.

And while today, we have a post-apartheid society, with a growing black elite, it is *still* a capitalist society. And that capitalist society still rests upon the ongoing national oppression of the black African, Colored, and Indian working class, on cheap black labor, *still* involves the continued power of the old apartheid-era “white monopoly capital” private corporations, and is *still* present in everyday life in the form of a deep apartheid legacy of fractured cities, low-grade education, electricity and other services in townships and rural areas, and racist thinking.

(p. 263 starts) And such a situation simply *cannot* be ended by a few reforms. It requires radical change, and *only* a working class movement-specifically, one centered on the black African working class-can make that radical change. Because that means a fight against the ruling class, both black and white, since the *whole* ruling class[black and white]rests on, benefits from, the system of cheap black labor.


So, let us be clear here: building a class-based movement, a revolutionary front of the popular classes, does *not*-as some critics suggest-mean *ignoring* issues that cannot be neatly reduced to class, like racial or national oppression. It simply means addressing these issues on a *class-struggle* basis, and linking them in the largest possible class front against *all* oppression.

Unions must be a key part of any class-based movement, any revolutionary front of the popular classes, as they have numbers and power-and above all, access to the workplaces, a crucial site of struggle. But the class front is more than a union front: it needs to bring together movements and struggles in a range of areas and struggles. And, as I have said, it also needs to bring together people with a range of views, meaning that it must have space for a range of ideas, for debates, and for tolerance.

It is possible and necessary to build a united movement, linking working class/poor communities, labor movements, and other sites of struggle, among them those of working class students. To build a common movement that fights on a class basis for the *general interests* of the popular classes, that at the same time gives a high priority to the *specific problems* faced by the *most oppressed* sections of the popular classes. A common movement that *prevents elite classes* from hijacking the struggles, and that is based on *anti-authoritarian, class-struggle principles*.

Let us take women’s oppression. I have been a member of the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) in the past, and I remember in my union branch, 80 percent of the members were women but 80 percent of the leaders were men. And this was partly because of the specific problems women workers faced in society-a gender-based wage gap, discrimination, the dual burden of waged work and housework, gender-based violence, and so on-and also because of the gender stereotypes that comrades, women and men, brought into the union.

Now those are the sorts of things we have to challenge. *How* we build the movement, as I say, is very important. We cannot build a society where women are equals if we leave the fight against women’s oppression for later. It has to be waged now, as core to building and a revolutionary class politics.


This comes up, of course, against the claim pushed from a range of positions-including many nationalists and feminists, and some “identity politics” (p. 264 starts) currents-that insists that some groups in the working and popular classes benefit from the double or triple oppression that others face.

The *opposite* is generally true, as the divisions in the popular classes harm *all* sections, creating antagonisms, undermining conditions, and weakening organizations. (Leaving aside the special case of apartheid’s white working class).

Black immigrant workers in South Africa face severe oppression *as immigrants*, but who *benefits* from this? Not local workers, whose wages are undercut, but employers who get cheaper labor, and politicians who get easy scapegoats. Even if every immigrant was deported, mass unemployment would remain-a truth hidden by blame-the-“foreigner” thinking.

South African workers are not “privileged” in being free of this anti-immigrant oppression, they are harmed by it; and it is not a “privileged” position to not suffer every possible form of oppression and humiliation.

The solution is *not* to unite the popular classes on a crude “economistic” basis that ignores the specific, additional oppressions some sectors face. Rather, it is to build a *principled unity* that understands that the principle “An Injury to One is an Injury to All,” means *opposing all forms of special/additional oppression*, whether based on race, nation, gender, or whatever. But *through a common and united class-based movement*.


Obviously elements of the approach I have outlined were absolutely central to the UDF and FOSATU. But just as obviously, the UDF and FOSATU never walked the path that they themselves opened, to its logical end point: a radical rupture and new social order, based on bottom-up democracy and a system of common property, without a state and without classes.

Why? It comes down to political ideas. The battle for change involves a battle of ideas. No revolutionary ideas? No revolution.

UDF structures, FOSATU structures, at their best, had the basic *structures* of a counter-power that, if more fully developed, expanded, and extended, could have helped displace and replace ruling class power. But *ideologically and politically*, they were eventually *flooded* by ideas, especially the ideas of the ANC and SACP, which prevented such outcomes. This included the ANC’s top-down tendencies, its intolerance of rivals, its politics of Messianic leadership, and its focus on getting state power. But even before the big revival of ANC and SACP influence in the 1980s, the ideas in the UDF and FOSATU were too *confused* to carry out a project of counter-power.

And this got us to where we are today. ANC ideas had a very good side- stressing non-racialism, anti-apartheid, rebellion, and social justice-along with a very bad side-a national alliance of *all* classes against apartheid, rather than class struggle; the aim of creating a reformed capitalism, rather than deep change; and the use of the state, rather than a direct transfer of power to the masses.(p. 265 starts)

And this led directly to what we have today: despite real gains in basic rights and welfare, and the abolition of apartheid laws, South Africa’s transition remains limited and frustrating, the legacy of the past remains everywhere in the present. The black elite, frustrated and humiliated under apartheid, segregation and colonialism, has largely achieved its national liberation. The black working class *has not*-and its fight for *complete national liberation* is being beaten back by the *whole* ruling class, black and white.


So, changing the world requires building organs of struggle and developing these into *organs of counter-power*. But building counter-power has to be accompanied by a revolutionary shift in what people believe, that is, it involves building a mass-based *revolutionary counter-idea or counter-culture*.

The idea is the thing. Unless we have what Mikhail Bakunin called a “new vision,” a “new faith,” we will fail, as the UDF
and FOSATU failed. Here, comrade Mazibuko’s point about South Africa being a socially conservative society, despite its high levels of protests, is very important. Many people believe that the existing system is, in its essentials, fine, and that the system works, except that it’s abused by foreigners, or crooks, or politicians like current ANC head Jacob Zuma, or minorities, or young women on welfare etc. The idea of a bottom-up society is far from the minds of most people.

The South African state has maybe 159,000 police and 70,000 soldiers. Public order police are less than 7,000. At least 35 million South Africans are working class, but the working class-despite its vast numbers-does not move to a big struggle for decisive change. This pattern of containment is not a military issue.

What keeps the people down is *the soldier in the head*-who says we cannot emancipate ourselves, that we cannot possibly run society, that we cannot possibly have something different, better.

And that is why I am talking about the need to complement the battle for *counter-power* with the battle to build a revolutionary *counter-culture*, together countering the ruling class’s control at the ideological, cultural, and organizational levels.


Now, a political formation, based on clear ideas, a clear strategy, and disciplined unity, which aims to promote counter-power and revolutionary counter-culture is, in my view, *essential* to this project.

It can play a key role in conscientising people, in mobilizing, in organizing, in fighting the battle of ideas-but it must never be substituted for the self-activity of the popular classes, never assume direct power over the popular classes; it should act as a current within the masses, and aim at the leadership of the revolutionary Idea; and it must never enter the state. (p. 266 starts)

It can play a key role, if it aims to build counter-power and counter-culture, and facilitates and assists this building, if it fights to *democratically win the battle of ideas as a tendency within a pluralistic working class movement*, if it aims *at getting its ideas to be the leading ideas* to be implemented by the masses.

But a conventional political party? No thanks. These treat the movements of resistance as wings of the party, these place control in their own hands, these build within themselves new hierarchies and new elites, these aim to use the state, these enter into the state. They cannot achieve the goals of counter-power and counter-culture-in fact, they undermine them.


As I stressed before, the state cannot be an instrument for working class power and freedom. The state institution, by its basic nature and its basic imperatives, must always place ruling class interests first.

Politically, this means that movements of counter-power and revolutionary counter-culture need to be movements *outside* of, and *against*, the state itself, not movements to launch parties, to lobby parliament, to tweak policies, but movements of struggle, bulwarks of the popular classes facing off against both state and capital-and aiming to replace them with something better-themselves!

This does *not* mean refusing to fight for reforms, it means fighting for reforms *through* counter-power. *And this means rejecting reformism but fighting for reforms in ways that build counter power/counter culture*.

States do sometimes make progressive reforms, but these reforms arise under the pressure of the struggles of the popular classes. Just as wage gains are primarily produced by campaigns and strikes, so are progressive changes in laws and policies.

*The reforms are concessions forced upon the ruling class*, the product of popular class power, imposed upon the ruling class through *struggles*. They are not the consequence of which party, leader, or faction is in state office at a given point. They have nothing to do with elections, policy lobbying, or corporatism.

Counter-power is, in fact, *built through fights for small reforms*. And even though these fights are for small things, these struggles also provide a basis from which to fight for bigger things, by building capacities, momentum, and confidence. So small strikes, small struggles are important, and lay the basis for big struggles. If people cannot win fights to keep the lights on, they cannot possibly win fights for deeper, more systemic, change. And it’s also in daily battles that people become most open to the radical ideas expressed in a revolutionary counter-culture.


This does *not* mean economism: as I said earlier, it’s essential to fight of a range of fronts, and to fight all forms of oppression.

This does *not* mean only dealing with narrow and immediate issues either, ignoring larger economic and social policy issues. (p. 267 starts) We have spent a great deal of time, especially in our unions, trying to propose alternative policies to the state, the ANC, the Alliance.

But these policies center on trying to tweak the existing system, and so, accept its framework. They try to control and fix capitalism-a system we do not control, and cannot fix-and rely on the state-an institution we do not control, and cannot control.

And these efforts have involved a top-down mode of politics where efforts are centered on making proposals at NEDLAC (National Economic Development and Labor Council), a corporatist body, or lobbying parliament, or the ANC’s National General Council. And they have involved developing very technical policies that most people in the unions and elsewhere do not understand- and, more importantly, played no part in designing.

And pretty much all of these policies have been completely ignored, so it’s all been pointless anyway.

Let me rather suggest that a movement of counter-power can engage in economic and social policy, but through tactics that I will call *policy-from-below*. Instead of policy as a technocratic exercise, we should use conflicts around policies proposed or developed by the state as a means of *movement-building*, of *campaigning*. This involves building campaigns in which our policies are developed *through mass movements and discussions*; not developed by a few experts at COSATU House or in a university or an NGO.

Let’s say the state is talking about cutting the Child Support Grant, the monthly cash transfer to poor parents. It is *not* the movements’ job to come up with an alternative state Budget so that the state can fund the grant more *effectively*. It is not the movements’ job to develop an alternative set of welfare and economic policies for the state, within the existing system, as if the problem is *not* also the state, not the *system*, but just bad policies.

Rather, from this perspective, it is the movements’ job to find the level of Child Support Grants that the working class *wants*, and to do this through participatory processes and discussions; and to use these discussions to raise larger issues around how society works, the distribution of wealth and power that favors the ruling class, the political economy; to educate the masses around these issues; to use these processes to build our organizations, to struggle for what we want. And to mobilize for the demands developed, and *impose* these on the state and capital through struggle.

The stress here is on direct action, mass mobilization, self-emancipation, and building counter-power and revolutionary counter-culture.


Building counter-power/counter-culture requires a clear strategy for moving from resistance to reconstruction. This includes generalizing immediate and sometimes localized defensive struggles into larger battles, linking fights around wages and conditions to drives to standardize incomes and conditions and (p. 268 starts) universalize rights, unifying the popular classes including by fighting all forms of oppression, and accumulating capacities that will enable counter-power to take direct control over means of production, coercion, and administration- not just in one country, let me stress, but *internationally*.

The approach to struggle and policy-making that matches this strategy is *militant abstentionism*, that is, an insistence on our autonomy from the ruling class and our refusal to co-manage the bosses’ system. It does not aim to come up with any solutions for capitalism or the state, like alternative “people’s budgets” to the government, or industrial policy proposals through corporatism. In terms of workplace relations, it means building a union movement takes *no* responsibility whatsoever for capitalism or the state-that, instead, fights them.


A new social order is the real solution to the multiple crises that wrack humanity and its planet. It will not emerge spontaneously, or from disconnected local struggles and experiments. It can build on the best of FOSATU and the UDF, but it needs to infuse ideas and insights from anarchism and syndicalism, and build a revolutionary class front.

It’s not an easy or quick approach, but there are no shortcuts. We need to engage in forms of protest and organizing and debate and ideas that empower, that break the commodity form, that break the power of the bosses in the factories, that break the power of politicians and elections, that enable national liberation, and that build the framework of a new world in the shell of the old.

**Lucien van der Walt is at Rhodes University, South Africa. He has published widely on labour and left history and theory, and political economy, and on anarchism and syndicalism. He is actively involved in union and working class education and movements.


Morobe, M. 1987. Towards a People’s Democracy: The UDF View. “Review of African Political Economy” 40:81- 8.
Neocosmos, M. 1996. From People’s Politics to State Politics: Aspects of National Liberation in South Africa, 1984-1994. “Politeia” 15:73-119.

Review: Anarchists Never Surrender by Victor Serge

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 03:57

via Anarchist Writers

by Anarcho

This book is a collection of new translations of articles by Victor Serge (1890-1947). Born of Russian anti-Tsarist exiles in Belgium, Serge is of note for his odyssey from anarchism to Bolshevism, then from Trotskyism to some kind of libertarian Marxism. He is regularly trotted out by Leninists when anarchist influence is on the rise or when Bolshevik tyranny needs to be justified, usually in regard to the crushing of the Kronstadt revolt of 1921. The lesson is clear – Serge came to recognise the limitations of anarchism so follow his lead.

Indeed, his autobiography – Memoirs of a Revolutionary (New York: New York Review Book, 2012) written in the 1940s – does paint an appealing figure who sought to combine the best of anarchism and Marxism, someone aware of the dangers within Bolshevism but also “realistic” enough to support it in the face of civil war. Unfortunately, as more of his writings become available the more the myth he created about himself in his Memoirs disappears. Anarchists Never Surrender is the latest of such works and is of note simply for allowing us to better understand his move from anarchism to Bolshevism.

Yet even here we are being too generous. After a short period with the Belgium Social-Democrats, Serge did become an anarchist – but not a social anarchist. Rather, he embraced French individualist anarchism (not to be confused with the better known American individualist anarchism). This perspective – it is perhaps too nebulous to be called a theory as it reflected its adherents peculiar passions – was a complete dead-end and fundamentally elitist.

Thus Anarchists Never Surrender is of use for it shows why Serge embraced Bolshevism – but not in a way which latter-day Leninists seeking converts would like. This is because the bulk of the book comprises of translations of Serge’s articles for the individualist anarchist press, primarily l’anarchie, and they show a deeply elitist perspective. Moving from an elitist individualist anarchism to an elitist Bolshevism is not the leap some may think at first sight.

So following a short and flawed preface by Richard Freeman (“Meditation on a Maverick”) and an introduction by the editor and translator Mitchell Abidor (“The Old Mole of Individual Freedom”) which covers the issues reasonably well, we have over 40 new translations of Serge’s writings from 1908 to 1938, the bulk of which date from before his conversion to Bolshevism in 1919. All help flesh out Serge’s politics and show that there is a link between the phases, namely “contempt for the masses” (3) and elitism, a belief in the key role and importance of the avant-garde, a vanguard of some kind.

It is in this sense, and in this sense alone, that Abidor is right to suggest that Serge “abandon[ed] anarchism while maintaining its essence.” (11) He kept the essence of the elitism of his individualist anarchism and found a new home for it in the elitism of Bolshevism which flowed from Lenin’s What is to be Done? and the perspectives which naturally flow from holding positions in the highest echelons of the State machine.

Thus we find the individualist Serge proclaiming that “in all areas impartial science demonstrates to us the inferiority of the working class” (40); “To think that impulsive, defective, ignorant crowds will have done with the morbid illogic of capitalist society is a vulgar illusion” (47); denouncing the “rules issued by majoritarian herds against the boldness of minorities” (56); that revolutions “only succeeded when bourgeois liberals and intriguers have joined the insurgent people.” (120) All in all, nothing could be expected from the masses and so the individualists must live their lives to the full and take, by whatever means, what they needed to do so. The individualists considered themselves so revolutionary they rejected revolution itself: “And so, for us, changing an oppressive regime is a pure waste of time.” (84)

The links with Lenin’s vanguardism are clear enough: “there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers” as it must “be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness” while the “theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals.” This meant “there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement, the only choice is — either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course” and so “to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology. There is much talk of spontaneity. But the spontaneous development of the working-class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology.” (Lenin, The Lenin Anthology [New York: Princeton University, 1975], 24, 28-9)

Serge’s politics and Lenin’s shared the same foundations even if they came to very different practical conclusions. For Lenin, the masses had a role to play in hoisting the vanguard into State power by means of revolution while Serge did not come to this conclusion until 1919 – as seen, for example, by the articles translated in Revolution in Danger: Writings from Russia, 1919-1921 (London: Redwords, 1997). This perspective can be seen from the few post-1918 articles included in this collection and they reflect the same contempt for the masses Serge expressed between 1908 and 1918.

Still, regardless of this, we can be sure that Serge will continue to weave a spell over certain Marxists for some reason. Take Richard Greeman’s preface, which is staggering in its claims. Serge, he asserts, “lived and died an internationalist, an individualist, and an enemy of the state” who also “collaborated with the Bolsheviks” and “never surrendered his identity as an anarchist” and yet underwent an “evolution from anarchism to Marxism.” (x, xi)

How can that be? An enemy of the state who happily collaborated with the Bolshevik state? An individualist who ended up denouncing individualism as a fatal flaw of anarchism? An anarchist who rejected anarchism to become a Leninist? He could, I suppose, invoke the magical word “dialectics” but that could not help for these contradictions only exist in Greeman’s mind: Serge became a Marxist and so combined a rhetorical anti-statism for the dim and distant future with supporting a massive expansion of the state in the here and now. But, then, Greeman thinks that former Socialist Party of America member Big Bill Haywood was an anarchist. (vii)

While Serge may have retained enough of his anarchism to have concerns over the reality of the Bolshevik regime (in private), this did not impact on his role as its public defender and his attempts to win over anarchists to Bolshevism. This has never been very convincing, as numerous anarchists at the time and subsequently have argued. So it is nonsense to suggest Serge joined the Bolsheviks “all the while vowing to struggle against as he could against their dictatorial tendencies” (xiv) at the same time as he “continued publicly to write pamphlets for Reds” (xiv) – in which he defended the necessity of party dictatorship! It is hardly “sectarian” (xv) to note the obvious contradiction.

Serge’s more reflective writings of the mid-1930s onwards are of interest, mostly because he starts to grope towards the communist-anarchism he had rejected during his individualist phase. However, he cannot quite bring himself to reject Leninism as a dead-end and so seeks to champion the rhetoric of 1917 while not bringing himself to recognise how quickly the reality of the Bolshevik regime made a mockery of it.

So we have Serge proclaiming that the regime was “already on the slippery slope to an authoritarian state” (224) when it betrayed the Makhnovists in late 1920. Yet can a party dictatorship – in place since mid-1918 – be anything other than authoritarian? Indeed, the articles he wrote eulogising Bolshevism in the anarchist press defended the party dictatorship as inevitable, the authoritarian state as a necessity for a successful revolution. Indeed, one such article is included here, namely his introduction Bakunin’s Confession written in 1919 which argued that “Bakunin already predicted Bolshevism” in his advocacy of “a powerful dictatorial power” (Bakunin’s words) and “Lenin couldn’t describe the proletarian dictatorship any better.” (163) That this was from Bakunin’s pre-anarchist period goes unmentioned, but it shows how willing Serge was to embrace and broadcast widely the party orthodoxy.

So by 1920 the regime was an authoritarian state and had been since mid-1918, at the latest. Serge pretends to be unaware of this and suggests “it was mainly due to the spirit of intolerance that increasingly gripped the Bolshevik Party from 1919; to the monopoly of power, the ideological monopoly, the dictatorship of the leaders of the party, already tending to substitute themselves for that of the soviets and even the party.” (226) Yet reading Year One of the Russian Revolution (London/New York: Bookmarks, Pluto Press and Writers and Readers, 1992) and its defence of these various monopolies and dictatorships shows this was not the case.

In this work, we find in 1921 Serge arguing that “all power—the power to do everything—means a dictatorship; an organized revolutionary vanguard (even as a union) is the same as a party.” (181) By 1938, he seems aware of the dangers of this approach (perhaps because he had experienced the sharp-end of it himself for his activities in the Left-Opposition?). Still, in 1921 he did recognise reality somewhat, even if it appears to be a sop for his anarchist audience to better ease their conversion to Bolshevism:

“The greatest danger of dictatorship is that it tends to firmly implant itself, that it creates permanent institutions that it wants neither to abdicate nor to die a natural death. In all of history there is no example of a dictatorship that died on its own.” (182)

So why, then, join it? Advocate its necessity? Work to strengthen it? Serge’s notion (viii, xiv) that a few anarchists joining the Communist Party – and being subject to its discipline! – would counteract such institutional pressures proved to be as utopian as expected. Particularly given that Serge’s argument is that anarchist ideas had been proven by the experience of the Russian Revolution to be wrong and that centralisation, dictatorship and so on were necessities which every revolution would need to embrace.

So there are contradictions in Serge’s politics, just as there are in Leninism as a whole. Not least the contradiction between reality and rhetoric which produces the doublethink we are familiar with in Leninist circles. Serge’s doublethink was farcical at times. So, for example, after proclaiming that the Bolsheviks were right to shoot some of the anarchists during the Russian Revolution, he proclaimed:

“We take a solemn vow to fight for the establishing of a true workers’ democracy, for true freedom of thought and organization in the ranks of the revolution, joined to a true discipline in combat and production. We remember that the dictatorship of the proletariat is a dictatorship against the bourgeoisie and freedom for the workers.” (195)

Not that the Bolshevik regime was like this, of course. It does not help that this letter is immediately followed in the book by an article written two years later which proclaims that “[o]nce Kronstadt rebelled, it had to be subdued, no doubt.” (197) That Kronstadt had rebelled for soviet democracy, for freedom for the workers, for freedom of thought and organisation of workers’ parties, makes Serge’s “solemn vow” hard to take seriously.

Still, reading his comments on Kronstadt pondering when the party began “to employ toward the toiling masses […] nonsocialist methods which must be condemned because they ended by assuring the victory of the bureaucracy over the proletariat” (198) we cannot help wondering if he regretted his role in justifying these methods earlier? It is hard to tell for every comment that he did is matched by at least one justifying the actions of the Bolshevik regime.

This can be seen from the article “Anarchist Thought,” from 1938 and the final text included. That he was a former anarchist may make some take this article more seriously than your typical Marxist account, but they would be wrong. So we get the usual Marxist assertion that anarchism is imbued with “the spirit of small-scale production that preceded modern large-scale industry” (226) amongst the parroting of the usual nonsense about the likes of Proudhon and Bakunin. Ironically, after misrepresenting the latter by ignoring his syndicalism he admits that Marxism “in reality became part of a regime they claimed to combat. Socialism became bourgeois.” (208) He fails to note that Bakunin correctly predicted this. Likewise, he draws the usual and false Leninist distinction between anarchism and syndicalism, forgetting that most of the “celebrated militants” to whom he contrasts the “men of action” who “have gone over to syndicalism” advocated syndicalism as a tactic, not least Rudolf Rocker and Emma Goldman. (212)

Strangely, he ends by proclaiming the need for a “synthesis” between anarchism and Marxism (228) – yet why, if what Serge recounts of anarchism is remotely true? However, it is not. This can be seen when Serge presents a few sentences from Malatesta’s Anarchy to illustrate what he considers anarchism “naïve intelligence, moral energy, faith, and, it must be said, blindness.” Malatesta urges the destruction of government and expropriation of social wealth” and Serge adds that “there is no context” and “not a word or explanation” on “how this is to be accomplished,” something which is typical of the regular “affirmations” in anarchist publications. (210-1)

The casual reader would probably not know that Malatesta’s words (Anarchy [London: Freedom Press, 1995], 54) are from the conclusion of his pamphlet, a summing up of an argument he had already presented in some detail. Yet this conclusion indicated how social wealth would be expropriated – by the workers who toil in it and organise industry based on their needs and experience. (Anarchy, 52-3; 33) How else could it be done? And Malatesta also easily refutes those who seek precise details of social transformation, noting that you cannot describe or prescribe how a free people will organise – not least because it would be authoritarian. (Anarchy, 45-6) All you can do is indicate a method, the principles and basis to build upon – such as abolition of State and Capital.

It must be noted that in 1917 Russian workers started to do as anarchists had long argued in the factory committee movement – until the Bolsheviks, driven by the very clear instructions of the Communist Manifesto “to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State” fatally undermined it (see Maurice Brinton’s “The Bolsheviks and Workers’ Control,” For Workers’ Power [Edinburgh/Oakland: AK Press, 2004] for details). The Bolshevik alternative not only added to the economic crisis the revolution faced, it also handed over economic power to the expanding bureaucracy. Serge, understandably, is silent about Malatesta’s predictions on the failures of state socialism made long before Bolshevism existed which noted it “entrusts to a few the management of social life and leads to the exploitation and oppression of the masses by the few.” (Anarchy, 47)

In addition, it is not clear what, if anything, anarchism would gain from a “synthesis” with Marxism – the need for class struggle, participation in the labour movement and so on can all be found in Bakunin while much of Marx’s economic analysis was first raised by Proudhon. This is not to suggest Marx could not be gainfully read by anarchists, just that this does not equate to a “synthesis” – as a good understanding of anarchist theory would show.

Still, Serge was right – as he was right to bemoan the disorganisation of so much of the movement – to suggest that anarchism does base itself on the “spontaneity of the masses” (221) to some degree, but he was wrong to ignore the role played by minorities in anarchist theory to encourage the needed self-activity and self-organisation today. That this can often be better and more consistently organised is, of course, true but Serge dismissed (mocked!) all this during his individualist days and in his criticism of anarchism in 1938 is implicitly infused with the same elitist perspective, although he cannot quite say it openly.

He comes close in a passage in which he suggests that while the Russian masses knew what “what they didn’t want,” they lacked “sufficient revolutionary consciousness and capacity” and that only a tiny minority amongst them did. So “[w]ithout the Bolshevik organization it is extremely likely that the feeble revolutionary spontaneity of the masses would have been promptly repressed by another social minority, that of the counterrevolution led by the generals. The dictatorship of the proletariat saved Russia from a military dictatorship.” (221) It is hard not to conclude that he obviously meant dictatorship by the Bolshevik Party, yet a few pages earlier he had waxed lyrical on Lenin’s 1917 rhetoric:

“We know Lenin’s solution: demolish the old state machine from top to bottom and immediately construct on the rubble a power—a state—radically different and new, one like there’s never been, one that the Paris Commune of 1871 seemed to prefigure. A Commune-state with no caste of functionaries, without a police and army distinct from the nation, where the workers would exercise direct power through their local, federated councils. A state consequently decentralized and at the same time equipped with an active central mechanism. A democratic and libertarian state working to prepare its own absorption into the collectivity of labor, but exercising against the expropriated classes a veritable dictatorship in the interests of the proletariat.” (219)

Ignoring that “Lenin’s solution” simply repeated – but fatally injected with, and undermined by, Marxist confusions, jargon and prejudices – most of the conclusions reached by Bakunin and Kropotkin, I must stress that this did not last a year. As I discuss elsewhere (my chapter in Bloodstained: One Hundred Years of Leninist Counterrevolution [AK Press, 2017] and section H.6 of An Anarchist FAQ), by the end of July 1918 the caste of functionaries (bureaucrats) had expanded and was continuing to expand at huge rate, there was a police force and army distinct from the people, the councils were marginalised, gerrymandered and packed by the Bolsheviks, “dictatorial” one-man management was being introduced in the workplace – all ruled over by a party holding a monopoly of power.

Apart from the final step of party dictatorship, this all predates the start of the civil war which is usually invoked by Leninists to rationalise – excuse! – Bolshevik authoritarianism. It was a striking confirmation of Bakunin’s critique of Marxism, of which Serge strangely did not find time to mention. Yet the fact that Bakunin had predicted Marxism would produce “a veritable dictatorship” but one over the proletariat is significant – particularly given that his alternative, as applied by the Makhnovists, proved better.

Sadly, when Serge arrived in Russian in 1919 he took a job trying to sell this state-capitalist dictatorship to the world’s anarchists. Given his earlier elitism, it is now easy to see why. For pre-1918 Serge, the masses were backward, nothing could be expected from them, they were a hindrance to freedom of the enlightened few who had to ignore the masses — other than educate them – to live their lives. For the post-1918 Serge, all this remained true but now he saw that the enlightened few could isolate themselves from the masses with state power and use that to educate them and make them fit, eventually, for freedom.

Now, perhaps Serge is right, perhaps the masses are incapable and anarchist hopes are dreams. If so, then it would appear that Bolshevism did not fail the masses, rather the masses failed Bolshevism. That is possible but then “Lenin’s solution” is equally invalid and we are left with the dictatorship of the party and, inevitability, the dictatorship of the leaders within the party. If this is the case then, please, be honest about it and reject the flowing rhetoric of 1917 and advocate the grim reality of 1918. Given both its unappealing nature and its inevitable end in the rule of the bureaucracy, it is unsurprising that Serge – like most Leninists – cannot bring himself to do this, so we left with the contradictions expressed in his writings from the 1930s as shown in the handful included here.

However, such a bleak conclusion need not be drawn. I must note that “Anarchist Thought” contains an accurate account of the Makhnovist movement in the Ukraine which refutes his own arguments against anarchism in the same article. This is important for the Makhnovists show the impact of ideology and structures on the fate of the Russian Revolution. Both they and the Bolsheviks were operating in similar circumstances but with radically different results. Unsurprisingly, Leninists tend to disparage the Makhnovists and we discover that earlier Serge suggested that “the Ukrainian anarchists have themselves avoided none of the errors for which they reproach the Bolsheviks.” (169) Yet the Makhnovists supported soviet democracy and defended freedom of speech and association. For all the divergences from ideals you would expect from any real movement in a life-and-death struggle against both White and Red tyranny, the record of the Makhnovists is far better than the Bolsheviks – as can be seen not only in the practice in encouraging the freedoms the Bolsheviks crushed but also in their theory, for they never suggested the necessity for party dictatorship.

Serge wonders who was “responsible for the strangling of [this] profoundly revolutionary peasant movement” (225) yet the answer is clear given that Serge himself notes that the Makhnovists “considered the ‘dictatorship of the commissars’ a new form of autocracy and dreamed of unleashing a Third Revolution against it,” (224) and his own writings from the period showed that they were simply noting the reality of the situation: the Bolshevik regime was the dictatorship of the commissars. Such a regime would not tolerate a libertarian alternative within its borders.

To conclude, Abidor’s notion of Serge having “the old mole of individual freedom” (1) burrowing through his writings is true in a sense – as you usually cannot see the mole, likewise you usually cannot see Serge’s supposed libertarian positions. This can be seen from the notion that Serge’s “New Tendencies in Russian Anarchism” was some kind of “dissident” work, (13) a farcical position as it clearly fits into the Comintern’s aim to convert anarchists to Bolshevism. How better than an account of how Russian anarchists were drawing Bolshevik conclusions: “These anarchists have ended up as communist”? (187)

Greeman may be right that to his “knowledge Serge never fabricates” (ix) but Serge was more than happy to repeat Bolshevik slanders on Kronstadt (The Serge-Trotsky Papers [London: Pluto Press, 1994], 18) and in this book it is shown that in 1920 he repeated Bolshevik lies that the Makhnovists “speculated on the spirit of small land-ownership of the peasants, on their nationalism, even on anti-Semitism, all of which had dreadful consequences.” (169) He admits the truth much latter in another article (223) – but forgets to mention that he was once one of those accusers he was now refuting.

To suggest that deep down Serge remained an anarchist is ridiculous – his Bolshevism was sincere and his defence of party dictatorship, State terror, and so on were not compatible with any form of libertarian theory. He does deserve credit for opposing Stalinism at a time when that was an extremely dangerous thing to do (particularly in Russia), but it does not make his Trotskyism any real alternative. Strangely, Greeman states that Serge “collaborated with the Bolsheviks from 1919 to 1927” (x) but while his collaboration with the Russian state may have ended then, he considered himself a real Bolshevik (unlike the Stalinists) and worked with the Left Opposition and then the Trotskyists in exile. That from the mid-1930s he appears to have re-evaluated this position and perhaps finally seen its flaws does not change this fact – nor that others, like Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, came to the correct conclusion he was struggling for… in 1920, if not before.

Still, it is useful to have these texts available for they help undermine the myth Serge created via his Memoirs. As noted, the more works by Serge become available the more unappealing he becomes. Indeed, this may explain pioneering Serge translator Peter Sedgwick’s increasingly critical perspective on Serge which Greeman recounts. (xii) All in all, these and other texts show that Greeman’s claim that Serge kept “his moral and political compass pointing more or less in the right direction” (xiii) is false – unless supporting party dictatorship, crushing revolts for workers’ democracy and such like are now considered moral. One thing is sure, they are not revolutionary – as Emma Goldman put it, true anarchists never side with the master class even if it is draped in a red flag.

Perhaps anarchists never surrender, but they can stop being anarchists – that Serge swapped individualist anarchism elitism for Bolshevik elitism does not make him someone to aspire to. Indeed, these texts show the uselessness of his earlier politics and how its ultra-radical-sounding rhetoric masked a deeply non-revolutionary perspective. Instead of Serge, we should look to the works of such communist-anarchists as Goldman, Berkman, Rocker and the many others who saw through the Bolshevik Myth decades before Serge started to.

Anarchists Never Surrender: Essays, Polemics, and Correspondence on Anarchism, 1908–1938

Victor Serge

Edited by Mitchell Abidor

Foreword by Richard Greeman

PM Press


Why a leading political theorist thinks civilization is overrated

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 03:47

via Vox

By Sean Illing

Is civilization good for us? Has it made us any happier?

The takeaway from a new book by James Scott, a professor of political science and anthropology at Yale University, is that the answer to the first question is yes but it’s complicated, while the answer to the second question is, well, even more complicated.

In Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States, Scott explores why human beings decided to shift from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a more sedentary, agrarian lifestyle roughly 12,000 years ago. The accepted narrative is that humans abandoned hunting and gathering as soon they discovered agricultural technology, because it made life easier and safer.

But Scott argues that this is not quite right. Humans, he says, spent thousands of years trying to preserve their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Sure, settling down in agrarian societies provided the basis for the modern state by allowing large numbers of people to live in one place for extended periods of time, but it also led to the spread of diseases and forced people to give up the freedom of an itinerant lifestyle for the affluence of a modern one.

The story we tell ourselves about human history is one of linear progress, fueled in large part by moral and technological development. There is some truth to this, and on a long enough timeline it makes sense, but Scott says the sacrifices made along the way are rarely understood.

I spoke to him recently about those sacrifices, and what we tend to get wrong about early civilizations. For Scott, the price of civilization — for the individual and the environment — has been higher than we think.

Our conversation, lightly edited for clarity, follows.

Sean Illing

Has civilization been good for humanity?

James Scott

So much of what I thought I had understood about early civilizations and pre-modern men and women was just wrong. I’ve tried to offer something of a counternarrative that suggests the domestication of grains centuries ago did not lead directly to humans living in large groups in one place for long periods of time, as we now do.

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Chelsea Manning: ‘Software developers should have a code of ethics’

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 03:42

via The Verge

By Adi Robertson

Whistleblower, activist, and Senate candidate Chelsea Manning spoke extensively at SXSW about the dangers of unchecked data collection and misplaced trust in algorithms. “The algorithms that I worked on in Iraq have found their way into policing, and also into the way the corporate world works, whether it’s your credit report or advertising data,” said Manning, who was released from prison last May after former President Barack Obama commuted her 35-year sentence for leaking classified intelligence. “All these different tools that we saw being used in one context have found their way everywhere else.”

In a conversation with Sally Singer of Vogue, Manning compared her work on predictive analysis in the Army a decade ago to how she fears modern programmers have approached artificial intelligence. “The idea of using algorithms in government, and in making decisions about credit reporting, for instance, is that it’s ‘better.’ That if we just write a better algorithm, more accurate algorithm, if I just math the crap out of this problem … ‘If I just math it really well, I can problem-solve.’ And I came into Iraq with that mindset,” she said. “The algorithms themselves are not unbiased. we put our biases in there when we write it. And we also feed it data that might be biased to begin with.”

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Emma Goldman’s Story: Living My Life

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 02:13

via C4SS

by Kelly Wright

In Living My Life, anarchist, orator, immigrant, writer, and activist Emma Goldman chronicles her prolific life through a tumultuous period in world history. Born in 1869 in czarist Lithuania she became one of the millions of Eastern European immigrants who came to the United States in droves in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In her book she details firsthand accounts of the Progressive Era, offering her own insights on the impactful people and events of that pivotal era in world history, including Peter Kropotkin, Voltairine De Cleyre, Vladimir Lenin, World War I, and the October Revolution.

Living My Life is powerfully written and provides insight into the internal thought-processes of one of America’s most well-known anarchists and her contemporaries. Goldman explains early in the text that she was first moved to the cause anarchism, the “beautiful ideal,” as she calls it, by the plight of the Haymarket Martyrs.  These were a group of anarchists who were subjected to show trials and swiftly imprisoned and executed following an explosion at a labor demonstration in Haymarket Square in Chicago on May 4, 1886. The explosion resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and four civilians, thus the proverbial bomb-throwing anarchist cliché was born, though the identity of the bomber was never proved. Goldman’s final resting place would come to be near the monument to the Haymarket Martyrs in a cemetery in suburban Chicago, alongside her fellow anarcha-feminist Voltairine De Cleyre.

Goldman opens her book on August 15, 1889, the day she arrived in New York City for the first time at the age of twenty. She initially immigrated to the United States four years earlier, moving in with other family members upstate in Rochester. New York City would be the setting for the majority of her quarter-century stay in the  United States. Shortly after her arrival in New York City, she links up with other Jewish-Russian anarchists, including her lifelong partner Alexander Berkman (whom she endearingly refers to as “Sasha” throughout the book), author of Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist. It’s in Living My Life that Goldman would first disclose to the world the extent of her role in the conspiracy to assassinate William Clay Frick, the steel company magnate, whose botched assassination would send Berkman to federal prison for fourteen years.

Early in the book, she offers a powerful and somewhat comical account of trying her hand at sex work in order to raise the funds to purchase a pistol with which Berkman could assassinate Frick. “Saturday evening, July 16, 1892, I walked up and down Fourteenth Street, one of the long procession of girls I had so often seen plying their trade.”

The story veers into comical as she tells of accompanying a potential patron to a restaurant and is informed by the man that she is not cut out for this line of work.

He understood then that I was inexperienced; whatever might have been the reason that brought me to the street, he knew it was not mere looseness or love of excitement. ‘But thousands of girls are driven by economic necessity,’ I blurted out. He looked at me in surprise…. I wanted to tell him all about the social question, about my ideas, who and what I was, but I checked myself. I must not disclose my identity: it would be too dreadful if he should learn that Emma Goldman, the anarchist, had been found soliciting on Fourteenth Street. What a juicy story that would make for the press!

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Focus on Pipeline Protests

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 18:21

This special Focus page had long focused on the Lakota protests at Standing Rock, but now we are expanding the page to include anti-pipeline struggles happening around the globe.

Pipeline Protests

Latest News – 3-14-2018

Standing Rock

Native American protesters are currently conducting protests against a pipeline being across Lakota lands. The Dakota Access Pipeline project was recently approved by the U.S. Congress and will run over a thousand miles from North Dakota to Illinois.

In the summer of 2016, a group of young activists from Standing Rock ran from North Dakota to Washington, D.C., to present a petition in protest of the construction of Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access Pipeline, which is part of the Bakken pipeline, and have launched an international campaign called ReZpect our Water. The pipeline which goes from North Dakota to Illinois, the activists argue, would jeopardize the water source of the reservation, the Missouri River. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has filed an injunction against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop building the pipeline. In April 2016, three federal agencies — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Interior, and Advisory Council on Historic Preservation—requested full Environmental Impact Statement of the pipeline. In August 2016, protests were held near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

Peaceful protests at pipeline site continued and drew indigenous people from throughout North America as well as other supporters. A number of planned arrests occurred when people locked themselves to heavy machinery. On September 3, 2016, the Dakota Access Pipeline brought in a private security firm. The company used bulldozers to dig up part of the pipeline route that subject to a pending injunction motion; it contained possible Native graves and burial artifacts. The bulldozers arrived within a day from when the tribe filed legal action. When unarmed protesters moved near the bulldozers, the guards used pepper spray and guard dogs to protect the site they were told to guard. At least six protesters were treated for dog bites and an estimated 30 protesters were pepper sprayed before the security guards and their dogs exited the scene in trucks

Protesters stand at the front barricades of the protest zone, holding signs that read “Water is sacred” and “Mni Wiconi” (“Water is life” in Lakota).

Donations: Red Warrior Camp

Latest Standing Rock News – 3-14-2018

Solidarity Resources

Solidarity Groups & Events

Live – Bismarck, North Dakota – October 17, 2016

September 13, 2016

Via Unicorn Riot ~ Around 20 people have just been arrested at the site of the #NoDAPL lockdown, including medics and two Unicorn Riot journalists. Police have shut down all road access to the site and are carrying assault rifles and less-lethal weapons.

September 3, 2016 ~ Private security use dogs to terrorize protectors.


Labor History in Real Time: Lessons from the West Virginia teachers’ strike

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 03:57

via The Baffler

by Russell Mokhiber

I love West Virginia. I love the people, the mountains, and the history of a people not dependent on the corporate state. Yes, Virginia—there is a history of West Virginia not dependent on the corporate state.

The early northern European settlers here were self-sufficient agrarians— hunting, fishing, foraging, farming, and making their own rye whiskey for drinking and for currency—before they were seduced by wine-sipping East Coast elites into becoming wage slaves to the timber and coal corporations.

This self-sufficiency lived on in some ways until only two or three generations ago, when families still spent only about $500 a year in the cash economy. (To learn about the fallout from the eventual corporate transformation of West Virginia in some greater historical detail, see Steven Stoll’s Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia and then, of course, the classics from the late great West Virginian Joe Bageant—including Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir and Deer Hunting with Jesus.)

Liberal Democrats, attracted to the natural beauty of the state, come here to get away from the hustle and bustle of Baltimore and Washington, but are shocked, shocked by the “backwardness”—by which they mean people who disagree with them on guns, gays, gender, abortion, race, religion, or immigration. And these same liberal Democrats are generally intolerant of anyone who mildly suggests that they might be wrong.

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Feminists have slowly shifted power. There’s no going back

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 03:47

via The Guardian

by Rebeca Solnit

This International Women’s Day comes five months after the revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s long campaign of misogynist punishments of women first broke, and with them more things broke. Excuses broke. Silence was broken. The respectable appearance of a lot of institutions broke. You could say a dam broke, and a wall of women’s stories came spilling forth – which has happened before, but never the way that this round has. This time around, women didn’t just tell the stories of being attacked and abused; they named names, and abusers and attackers lost jobs and reputations and businesses and careers. They named names, and it mattered; people listened; their testimony had consequences. Because there’s a big difference between being able to say something and having it heard and respected. Consequences are often the difference.

Something had shifted. What’s often overlooked is that it had shifted beforehand so that this could happen. Something invisible had made it possible for these highly visible upheavals and transformations. People often position revolution and incrementalism as opposites, but if a revolution is something that changes things suddenly, incrementalism often lays the groundwork that makes it possible. Something happens suddenly, and that’s mistaken for something happening out of the blue. But out of the blue usually means out of the things that most people were not paying attention to, out of the slow work done by somebody or many somebodies out of the limelight for months or years or decades.

Same-sex marriage arrived suddenly in the US when the supreme court legalised it nationwide, except that many states had already legalised it, and that came about as the result of the valiant work of countless non-straight people and their allies, making visible that not everyone is straight, making it important that everyone get rights, making queer people themselves believe they deserved and could win those rights.

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The West Virginia Teachers Strike Shows that Winning Big Requires Creating a Crisis

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 16:56

via The Nation

Dignity and respect are the root cause of every serious labor struggle. This was certainly the case in West Virginia’s unprecedented nine-day statewide education strike. When the workers won this past Tuesday, singing and dancing erupted among the thousands who packed the state capitol. Their final chant before leaving the building was, “Who made history? We made history!”

The strike produced a string of significant victories, not all of which are immediately tangible. Perhaps most significantly, it restored the dignity of 34,000 workers, rebuilding the pride of West Virginia’s working class and reinforcing one hell of a union that will carry the struggle forward.

This point seemed lost on much of the media that covered the strike. No matter how many times workers talked about defending public education and expanding quality schools, the press focused on just two issues: health insurance and a raise. But Wendy Peters, the president of the Raleigh affiliate of the West Virginia Education Association, says, “Wages and health benefits were almost a distraction. They are important, but there were five major stances we took, and we won all five.”

These included defeating an expansion of charter schools, killing a proposal to eliminate seniority, and scuttling a paycheck protection bill (aimed at weakening unions by taking away their right to deduct union dues through payroll collection), as well as a mechanism to fix the health insurance crisis and a raise big enough to matter.

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It’s Time to Abolish ICE

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 16:30

via The Nation

By Sean McElwee

Dan Canon is running for Congress in Indiana’s ninth district this year. A career civil-rights lawyer, Canon filed one of the cases against gay-marriage bans that eventually became the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges, and he proudly wore a Notorious RBG shirt under his suit to the Supreme Court. He is currently representing individuals suing Donald Trump for inciting violence at his rallies.

Canon has also defended clients swept up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, and fought a Kafkaesque deportation system that, at one point, wouldn’t even disclose the location of his client. Now Canon believes ICE should be abolished entirely.

“I don’t think a lot of people have any kind of direct experience with ICE, so they don’t really know what they do or what they’re about. If they did, they’d be appalled,” Canon told me. “ICE as it presently exists is an agency devoted almost solely to cruelly and wantonly breaking up families. The agency talks about, and treats, human beings like they’re animals. They scoop up people in their apartments or their workplaces and take them miles away from their spouses and children.”

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This Is the Best Chance Yet to Stop the U.S. War on Yemen. Where Are the Major Human Rights Orgs?

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 04:27

via In These Times

By Sarah Lazare

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the most powerful human rights organizations in the world, are declining to endorse a political push to end U.S. participation in the catastrophic Saudi-led war on Yemen.

The groups are taking no position on a new bill, S.J.Res.54, even as it gains political momentum and a groundswell of grassroots backing from About Face: Veterans Against the War, Just Foreign Policy, United for Peace and Justice, Oxfam America, Indivisible and other organizations.

Announced on February 28 by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), the bill invokes the 1973 War Powers Resolution to force the Senate to hold a vote on withdrawing the U.S. military from the unauthorized war. While the legislation carves out an exception for forces “engaged in operations directed at al Qaeda or associated forces,” advocates say it nonetheless presents the best chance yet to withdraw U.S. support from a devastating intervention.

For almost three years, the U.S. military has provided arms, intelligence and refueling support for a Saudi-led bombing campaign that has targeted Yemen’s hospitals, weddings, schools and residential areas—killing thousands of civilians. A Saudi-led naval blockade—abetted by U.S. vessels—has cut off vital food and medical shipments, wreaking havoc on the country’s medical system and unleashing a famine and cholera outbreak.

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In rural Oregon, trips to food banks are the new normal

Sat, 03/10/2018 - 20:01

via Street Roots News

by Thacher Schmid

Walking through the immaculate, well-organized aisles of Junction City Local Aid’s food pantry, Jeanie Burr chatted happily with volunteer Peggy Saltz about produce.

“OK, so I got a cauliflower,” Burr said, clutching three bags. “Look at the size of those potatoes! One of these will …”

“… make a meal,” said Saltz, finishing his sentence. “Raisins?”

Jim, another shopper who declined to give his last name, also seemed to be enjoying his trip to the pantry.

“I love brussels sprouts,” Jim said. “My wife hates them.”

A big man with a long white beard, Jim smiled as he described his love for super-spicy peppers. Another volunteer placed a bottle of Tabasco in his basket.

Burr and Jim said they felt no stigma accessing the pantry, even in a small town like Junction City, home to about 6,000 residents, in Lane County. It’s a place where “everybody knows everybody, so everybody knows if you’re having a hard time,” said the pantry’s executive director, Kori Rodley.

It’s trips like these that have become normal for some families as a way to offset the burden of housing costs, even in rural areas.

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People are dying because we misunderstand how those with addiction think

Sat, 03/10/2018 - 19:51


By Brendan de Kenessey

The American opioid epidemic claimed 42,300 lives in 2016 alone. While the public policy challenge is daunting, the problem isn’t that we lack any effective treatment options. The data shows that we could save many lives by expanding medication-assisted treatments and adopting harm reduction policies like needle exchange programs. Yet neither of these policies has been widely embraced.

Why? Because these treatments are seen as indulging an addict’s weakness rather than “curing” it. Methadone and buprenorphine, the most effective medication-assisted treatments, are “crutches,” in the words of felony treatment court judge Frank Gulotta Jr.; they are “just substituting one opioid for another,” according to former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

And as county Commissioner Rodney Fish voted to block a needle exchange program in Lawrence County, Indiana, he quoted the Bible: “If my people … shall humble themselves … and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin.”

Most of us have been trained to use more forgiving language when talking about addiction. We call it a disease. We say that people with addiction should be helped, not blamed. But deep down, many of us still have trouble avoiding the thought that they could stop using if they just tried harder.

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Fossil Fuel Execs Very Annoyed #KeepItIntheGround Movement Crimping Their Ability to Pillage Planet

Sat, 03/10/2018 - 19:45

via Common Dreams

by Jake Johnson

Pipeline executives are extremely upset that protests by environmentalists and Indigenous groups are disrupting their ability to plunder the planet at will, and they aired their discontent publicly on Thursday at the CERAWeek energy conference in Texas.

Singling out the “Keep It in the Ground” movement—which calls for an “immediate halt” to all new fossil fuel development—as a particularly strong obstacle to their ambitious construction projects, pipeline CEOs complained that opposition to dirty energy has grown in “intensity” over the past several years, posing a serious threat to their companies’ bottomlines.

“There’s more opponents, and it’s more organized,” lamented Kinder Morgan CEO Steven Kean, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline—which would carry tar sands 700 miles from Alberta to Burnaby, British Columbia—is currently facing fierce resistance from Indigenous groups and local governments. At least 7,000 people are expected to participate in a march and rally against the pipeline in Vancouver on Saturday, the Seattle Times reports.

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A Hidden Factor in Police Shootings of Black Americans: Decades of Housing Segregation

Sat, 03/10/2018 - 19:41

via The Intercept

by Maha Ahmed

Data has shown that, across the country, black Americans are more likely to be killed by police than whites. But the problem is worse in the most segregated states, according to a recent study showing that racial disparities in fatal police shootings are linked to histories of structural violence.

Police killings, more than just the consequence of a few bad-apple officers that can be rooted out of the system, instead can be traced back to the discriminatory housing and economic policies of the mid-20th century, the study’s senior author, Michael Siegel, told The Intercept.

To conduct their analysis, Siegel and his colleagues at Boston University’s School of Public Health compared two numbers for each state: the black-white ratio in the rate of fatal police shootings from 2013 to mid-2017, and something the authors termed a “racism index.”

For the former statistic, they pulled data from the Mapping Police Violence project database, one of the most comprehensive aggregations of police-involved deaths in recent years. (Other studies have found that government-collected data on homicides, like those of the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control, severely underestimate the actual number of fatalities from police shootings.)

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The spread of true and false news online

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 18:28

via Science magazine

by Soroush Vosoughi, Deb Roy, Sinan Aral

Foundational theories of decision-making (13), cooperation (4), communication (5), and markets (6) all view some conceptualization of truth or accuracy as central to the functioning of nearly every human endeavor. Yet, both true and false information spreads rapidly through online media. Defining what is true and false has become a common political strategy, replacing debates based on a mutually agreed on set of facts. Our economies are not immune to the spread of falsity either. False rumors have affected stock prices and the motivation for large-scale investments, for example, wiping out $130 billion in stock value after a false tweet claimed that Barack Obama was injured in an explosion (7). Indeed, our responses to everything from natural disasters (8, 9) to terrorist attacks (10) have been disrupted by the spread of false news online.

New social technologies, which facilitate rapid information sharing and large-scale information cascades, can enable the spread of misinformation (i.e., information that is inaccurate or misleading). But although more and more of our access to information and news is guided by these new technologies (11), we know little about their contribution to the spread of falsity online. Though considerable attention has been paid to anecdotal analyses of the spread of false news by the media (12), there are few large-scale empirical investigations of the diffusion of misinformation or its social origins. Studies of the spread of misinformation are currently limited to analyses of small, ad hoc samples that ignore two of the most important scientific questions: How do truth and falsity diffuse differently, and what factors of human judgment explain these differences?

Current work analyzes the spread of single rumors, like the discovery of the Higgs boson (13) or the Haitian earthquake of 2010 (14), and multiple rumors from a single disaster event, like the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 (10), or it develops theoretical models of rumor diffusion (15), methods for rumor detection (16), credibility evaluation (17, 18), or interventions to curtail the spread of rumors (19). But almost no studies comprehensively evaluate differences in the spread of truth and falsity across topics or examine why false news may spread differently than the truth. For example, although Del Vicario et al. (20) and Bessi et al. (21) studied the spread of scientific and conspiracy-theory stories, they did not evaluate their veracity. Scientific and conspiracy-theory stories can both be either true or false, and they differ on stylistic dimensions that are important to their spread but orthogonal to their veracity. To understand the spread of false news, it is necessary to examine diffusion after differentiating true and false scientific stories and true and false conspiracy-theory stories and controlling for the topical and stylistic differences between the categories themselves. The only study to date that segments rumors by veracity is that of Friggeri et al. (19), who analyzed ~4000 rumors spreading on Facebook and focused more on how fact checking affects rumor propagation than on how falsity diffuses differently than the truth (22).

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We must fully unpack the complicated evils of our justice system in order to build the sophisticated solutions we need

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 18:07

via Medium

by Shaun King

Before this year began, I pledged that 2018 would be the year where I organized people for real change — where we took direct actions that would result in measurable gains.

Let me be clear — before somebody misconstrues what I’m trying to say — we must march and protest, we must sign petitions and create hashtags — those things build momentum and they build awareness. It’s always important, when we experience injustice in this nation, that people in power understand that we will not take that injustice quietly.

However, I’ve come to understand that awareness and momentum, while necessary and valuable, are just two of the dozens of essential ingredients required to actually make change happen.

If you don’t mind, I need to teach a history lesson for a few moments. I’m going to try and teach what deserves an entire book in a few paragraphs.

From 1492–1863, which is nearly 400 years, jails and prisons in this country were few and far between. Mass incarceration did not exist. Most estimates are that the United States, at any given point during those 400 years, always maintained less than 50,000 prisoners nationwide. By comparison, most of our smallest states now have more prisoners than that.

For the first 400 years on this land, prisoners were primarily white — that was in the North, South, East, and West. In fact, in many states, the jails and prisons were exclusively white.

Not only that, but the number of laws in this nation was relatively small and manageable. They focused mainly on theft and violent crimes. The criminal code was simple.

Everything, and I mean everything, changed about America’s justice system after The Civil War. I’m sure you understand why. If you’ve ever been to one of my presentations, you’ve heard me give a crash course on this.

Let give you the basics right now.

In the United States, we’ve had two periods of history where Black freedom and liberation, where Black rights and privileges, were the primary focus. The first was The Civil War, which birthed the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments and the Emancipation Proclamation. That was in the 1860s.

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The West Virginia Option

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 05:09

via Labor Notes

West Virginia teachers declared victory with a 5 percent raise and returned to their classrooms today. Their organizing and their 13-day strike not only forced the legislature to raise their rock-bottom pay; it backed off corporate-linked education “reformers” on a host of other issues: charter schools, an anti-seniority bill, preventing payroll deduction of union dues. The teachers unions say they’ve seen big upticks in membership.

On health insurance, tomorrow the governor will announce the members of a task force charged with figuring out a long-term financial stability plan for the state fund that covers public employees. Activists plan to target members of the task force next.

Even before the strike, the unions had successfully pushed the governor to cancel his plan to drastically increase teachers’ premiums and to enroll them in an invasive “wellness” program. Premiums are reportedly now frozen for 16 months.

And strikers won’t be losing pay for the days lost, because sympathetic school superintendents closed schools. Lost days will be made up later as are snow days.

Although sour-grapes leaders of the state senate threatened cuts to Medicaid to pay for the public employees’ raise (the 5 percent goes to all, not just teachers), Republican Governor Jim Justice said Medicaid will not be touched and that any cuts would have to come from elsewhere in the budget.

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Land and Liberty: a Review of Anarchism in Latin America

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 04:46

via Black Rose Federation

Review of “Anarchism in Latin America” by Ángel Cappelletti. Translation by Gabriel Palmer-Fernández with introduction by Romina Akemi and Javier Sethness-Castro. AK Press, 2018.

By Sasha Berkman

The translation of Ángel Cappelletti’s expansive Anarchism in Latin America, itself a small preface for an even more expansive anthology of Latin American Anarchist texts, into English is a welcome crash-course into a virtually unknown past (at least north of the Rio Grande). As Cappelletti notes in the preface, the history of Anarchism in Latin America has been largely downplayed and obscured by professional historians (liberal, revisionist, and Marxist) for perhaps obvious reasons. And as Romina Akemi and Javier Sethness-Castro remark in their thoughtful introduction to this translation: “[t]he publishing[of Anarchism in Latin America]…feeds a growing hunger by Latinx anarchists who want to read more about their history, and for gringo anarchists to become further acquainted with a history to which they are historically bound.” The book at times reads like a breathless series of heroic strikes and near revolutionary climaxes, at other times like a bibliographic list of revolutionary figures, books, poems, newspapers, and plays. The book lands short of its mark in a few significant regards, but it accomplishes a great deal in its ambitious endeavor.

Compelling and a breakneck pace

Anarchism in Latin America is at its most compelling when it recounts, at breakneck pace, the lives of the revolutionaries who managed to fit what seems like several lifetimes of work into one. Towering figures such as the Spanish-born anarchist Diego Abad de Santillan who moved to Argentina at a young age loom large across several decades and numerous countries. A participant and chronicler of the Latin American anarchist movements, he also edited La Protesta the most influential anarchist newspaper in Argentina, was a militant in the Federación Obrera Regional Argentina (FORA), helped found the Asociación Internacional de los Trabajadores, and was one of the primary economic theoreticians of revolutionary Spain. Many of his works are yet untranslated into English, including a documentary detailing the rise and fall of revolutionary Catalonia from the perspective of its participants.

The book makes anarchisms’ immense influence throughout Latin America evident, he weaves his way from the Southern Cone north to the Rio Grande, country by country laying out the general structure of the movement. From Argentina, where the Federación Obrera Regional Argentina (FORA) led the workers to expel the ruling class in a fierce general strike that nearly turned insurrectionary and was subsequently bloodily repressed in what has come to be known as Tragic Week. To Mexico, where the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM) led by figures such as Ricardo Flores Magón and Práxedis Guerrero helped topple the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, fought for libertarian communism, and even gave the Zapatista movement it’s slogan “Tierra y Libertad!”. Not to mention the many combative workers federations in Cuba, Brazil, and others. Even in the countries that did not have fully realized anarchist movements such as Bolivia, many dedicated anarchists organized in local unions, ran newspapers advocating for libertarian communism, and faced repression as a result.

The “Why?” of Anarchism in Latin America
Cappelletti largely attributes the growth of Anarchism in Latin America to the influence of the large immigrant populations from Europe. As in the United States, Latin America experienced large waves of European immigration throughout the late 19th and early 20th century. To give just one indication of the extent of immigration, according to Cappelletti in the early 20th century nearly half of the economically active population in Argentina was foreign born. These immigrants were primarily from Spain and Italy, two of the countries most influenced by the Anarchism of Bakunin and Proudhon. While certainly important, the texts reliance on the thesis of European influences in Latin America is one of its primary weakness. As Akemi and Sethness-Castro in their introduction so acutely diagnose, “…[Cappelletti]begins his historical arch with Spanish, Italians, and Greek proselytizers of the faith as active subjects while indigenous and mestizo people are described as the object’s who consume the faith.”

It is a strange oversight, that a book so dedicated to retrieving a lost history would not grapple in a more nuanced way with the question: why was anarchism was so successful in so many Latin American countries?

The important question of, “Why?,” is left unexplored in several significant ways. Cappelletti doesn’t tend to highlight the ties of the anarchist movement to the indigenous communities (ideologically or materially). To his credit he does, though almost in passing, suggest that there were commonalities and intentional efforts by anarchists to make explicit connections to indigenous systems of communal agrarianism (such as the Andean ayllu and the Aztec calpulli social systems). One of the more interesting episodes noted in the book was the short-lived Peruvian Federacion Regional Obrera Indios which according to Cappelletti was, “…immediately and violently repressed by the government, which declared it a special danger.” The nature of this “special danger” is left for the readers speculation, but can almost certainly be attributed to the threat such a multiracial, anti-colonial challenge might pose. Additionally, Cappelletti notes that the anarchist movement was derided by the Leninists for its strong overlap with indigenous forms of organization, with the typical racist derision applied to indigenous thought by more crude Marxists (“romantics”, “idealists”, “utopian”, etc). Its curious then that Cappelletti shys away from highlighting that connection and the potential strength of the anarchists to appeal to indigenous modes of organization and thinking. This connection may have exposed a bit more clearly the unique character of the anarchist movement in Latin America, if not at least have vindicated the anarchist position morally.

The question of anarchist women is also noticeably overlooked. Again, the introduction smartly remarks that while the book notes some of the women leaders in the movement it, “…nevertheless overlooks the contributions by women in the development of Latin American anarchism.” A serious history of revolutionary movements, in order to avoid simplifications and romanticization, should contend both with the contributions made by women to the movements growth and the limitations of the movement in it’s reproduction of patriarchal and misogynistic antagonisms (subordinating women and non-men to gendered roles, etc).

Remains lucid and groundbreaking
Nonetheless, Anarchism in Latin America lucidly details numerous successful movements and gives an amazing cross-section of the “resistance communities” which built robust and in some respects prefigurative proletarian and peasant social organs. In Brazil for instance, unions and mutual aid societies created: a Universidad Popular in the city of Santos offering hundreds of courses, a workers’ commission to aid drought victims, workers’ lecture halls featuring libertarian writers and speakers, and more. And of course, the brilliance of the workers’ federations, many of which were founded partially if not primarily by anarchists and had explicit goals of establishing libertarian socialist societies. Organizations such as: the Federación Obrera Regional Argentina, the Federación Obrera Regional del Peru, Federación Obrera Regional Uruguay, the Confederación Nacional Obrera de Cuba, the Partido Liberal Mexicano, and others gave the worker’s movement its bite throughout Latin America. As many organizations grapple with how to build movements independent of election cycles that can supplant and ultimately replace established power understanding these mass organizations may prove instructive.

Despite its limitations, Cappelletti’s work, as the introduction so aptly describes, is “groundbreaking,” if for no other reason than its ambitious scope. Anarchism in Latin America is hopefully just the beginning in a series of reflective studies, translations, and “rediscoveries” of anarchist literature and thought from throughout Latin America. Cappelletti argues that anarchisms eventual decline was largely tied to the rise of dictatorships in the 1930’s (in Argentina, Brazil, and elsewhere) and the rise of Bolshevism throughout Latin America in the wake of the Russian Revolution. A century later, authoritarianism and fascism are experiencing an ominous resurgence and state socialism has largely collapsed. Against this rising tide, decentralised resistance movements have begun to take shape and anarchism has to a certain degree become in vogue. New libertarian and socialist resistance movements may do well to draw lessons and inspiration from the expansive history of Latin American anarchism.

If you are interested in learning more about the book, we recommend checking out an excerpt of the introduction to the book, “Anarchism in Latin America: The Re-Emergence of a Viable Current.” The book is available for purchase from AK Press.

Finding Balance: The Mní Wičóni Sustained Native Community at Standing Rock

Wed, 03/07/2018 - 05:14

via Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine

by Dr. PennElys Droz, Sustainable Nations

The land of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is a place of power; rolling hills juxtaposed with the wide open sky, revealing the quiet and beautiful strength of both. Through this land flows the Missouri River, the longest river in the northern part of Turtle Island, whose waters provide drinking water and life to the Tribe in a region with little other surface or groundwater available. Both the Tribe and the River have a long history of colonial impact. As recently as 1960 the Army Corps of Engineers, with the force of the Pick-Sloan Act, constructed the Oahe Dam along the Missouri River, just north of Pierre, South Dakota. This project was devastating, flooding over 55,000 acres of the Tribe’s land, submerging forests, towns, burial grounds, and the most fertile farmland, leaving the Tribe impoverished.

In spite of this history, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has remained strong in their determination to protect their homelands and build a resilient future, a strength they clearly demonstrated in 2016 when faced with a new threat—the Dakota Access Pipeline. This immense pipeline was slated to run directly through Tribal treaty lands, including underneath the Missouri River, threatening the health and integrity of the lands and waters. Fossil fuel transportation pipelines have a leak incidence rate of approximately 300 per year in the U.S., contaminating groundwater and surrounding soil. The Tribe immediately sued Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline, for violating their right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, and have continued to fight a powerful legal battle.

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