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Updated: 41 min 27 sec ago

On the Outside Looking in: a Critique of Inside/outside Strategy

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 04:04

via Black Rose Federation

by Alex Isa

“Yes, I would consider my inside/outside strategy toward corporations somewhat of a Robin
Hood effect … I use their money, which becomes my money, to produce stickers, posters,
stencils, etc. This strategy was, however, the result of my acceptance of the reality of
things. One of the most jarring realizations this project has brought about for me is the
complete inevitability of supply and demand economics in a capitalist society. ” —-
-Shepard Fairey

How to (and whether to) engage with existing political institutions
is a perennial topic hotly contested by groups and individuals in left organizing spaces.
By performing well above expectations in the Democratic Party presidential primaries,
Bernie Sanders revived the national outlook for left electoralism. However, electoral
politics are simply one facet of what we refer to as the institutional left – “unions,
non-profits, and those with institutional interests to protect and preserve.”

This brings us to the phenomenon of ‘inside-outside strategy’ (IOS). You’ve definitely
heard this phrase used at political meetings and events, perhaps by people who have
varying and contradictory understandings of the term.

Years before Trump’s win in the 2016 presidential election, a growing segment of the
anti-capitalist left represented by groups like Democratic Socialists of America
proclaimed in favor of an “inside/outside strategy.” According to one popular definition,
inside/outside strategy might be defined as:

the creation of mass movements and alternative activities outside the centers of power
that work in conjunction with clusters of interest – organized or individual supporters
inside or along the periphery of the power structure. IOS is a strategic orientation that
social movements and dissenters have historically used to influence society.

In the past two years, various segments of the anti-capitalist left have dusted off
inside-outside strategy and repurposed it into a theory of revolutionary transformation.
Starting with a brief history of the term and its historical uses, we will see why
inside-outside strategy is flawed both in theory and practice.

The History of Inside/Outside Strategy as a Term

To understand the flaws of inside-outside strategy as a proposal for social transformation
and struggle, we have to understand how it entered the lexicon of social movements. The
basic idea is not necessarily new-something attested to by a long history of debates
around electoralism and political participation, even during the peak of labor radicalism
in the U.S. during the 20th century.

While it’s difficult to say with complete accuracy, one of the earliest works explicitly
theorizing the relationship between an “inside” and “outside” strategy comes from a
chapter in the 1991 book Mobilizing Interest Groups in America: Patrons, Professions, and
Social Movements. The authors define “inside” strategy as lobbying activities and
“outside” strategy as “[shaping]and mobilizing public opinion.” (103)

In this telling, the scope of change is nothing more than influencing public policy on
individual issues. The protagonists of this process are simply “interest groups” led by
political entrepreneurs who successfully find “patrons” in existing institutional
structures. (196) For much of the 90s and early 2000s, appearances of this phrase
unequivocally reflected and reified the typical elements of liberal political engagement:

  • Single-issue groups
  • Disconnected from any pretense of mass or class organizing
  • Make a few friends in government
  • Get some legislation passed

The system works and everyone goes home happy (emphasis on “going home”).
This inside-outside dyad was adopted by progressives as part of a long period of
self-reflection on Jesse Jackson’s failed presidential bids as a Democrat in 1984 and
1988, paralleled by the growth of his Rainbow Coalition. For many years thereafter,
progressives continued to express disappointment that Jackson demobilized the Rainbow
Coalition and folded it into the Democratic Party campaigning apparatus. This July 2004
piece in The Nation looks back at Jesse Jackson’s presidential candidacy and the Rainbow
Coalition:

To speak with Rainbow warriors now is to confront a persistent, deep disappointment that
in the spring of 1989 Jackson decided against institutionalizing the Rainbow as a
mass-based, democratic, independent membership organization that could pursue the
inside-outside strategy he’d articulated vis-à-vis the Democrats and build strength
locally and nationally to leverage power for progressive aims.

For all of the disappointment expressed by progressives, their ideal inside-outside
strategy boiled down to a way to steer the Democratic Party and win elections. The promise
represented by the Rainbow Coalition historically represented a vampiric transfer of
social movement potential to renewed liberal hegemony in the form of a resurgent
neoliberal Democratic Party in the 90s.

“When it comes to the inside-outside dyad, “inside logic” continuously and inexorably
seeks to subsume and colonize those of us who live and struggle outside of the halls of
power-always to the benefit of a few, albeit a different few from the ones who are
currently in power.”

In From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor expertly captures
how figures like Jackson presided over the institutionalization and neutralization of the
revolutionary potential of the civil rights movement at a time when the carceral state
reached ever greater heights under a nominally liberal administration.

Nonetheless, opposition to the neoconservative Bush presidency kept this idea alive,
resulting in the formation of the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) in 2004. One of
their stated goals was to act as a progressive pressure group operating within the
Democratic Party:

As a grassroots PAC operating inside the Democratic Party, and outside in movements for
peace and justice, PDA played a key role in the stunning electoral victories of November
2006 and 2008. Our inside/outside strategy is guided by the belief that a lasting majority
will require a revitalized Democratic Party built on firm progressive principles.[emphasis
added]

This meant tailoring their actions to the contours of the existing political structure –
fielding candidates in mostly unsuccessful bids for office, spending time and resources on
procedural fights within the Democratic Party structure, and various lobbying schemes such
as holding mid-day “brown bag lunch vigils” outside of the district offices of various
members of Congress in the hopes of delivering a letter or flyer to the member of Congress
or their staff. PDA also took credit for convincing Bernie Sanders to compete in the
Democratic presidential primaries in 2015. In essence, groups like PDA condition their
members to speak to “electeds” rather than the masses.

The other notable example of this strategy was the Working Families Party (WFP), a
“fusion” political party that maintains a separate ballot line in elections due to unique
New York state ballot laws, but often endorses the same candidate as the Democratic Party.
This variety of inside-outside strategy is meant to gradually pull candidates in a more
progressive direction, but in places like New York WFP will endorse unabashedly
reactionary candidates like Governor Andrew Cuomo in order to reach the 50,000 vote
threshold needed to maintain their ballot line. In order to keep the candle burning for
the faintest glimmer of even mildly progressive change, organizations like WFP must
deliver their supporters unto the altar of neoliberal capitalism in the here and now.

Until fairly recently, inside-outside strategy has meant working with and/or within the
system to accomplish limited goals. That this strategy doesn’t conflict with the power
structures of capitalism is highlighted in embarrassing fashion by a blog featured on the
website of the World Bank. Yes, THAT World Bank!

In a post entitled “The Inside-Outside Strategy,” a World Bank employee makes a case for
working with officials in the name of “pro-poor” reform:

The logic of the inside-outside strategy is unanswerable. If you start a reform within the
government, it is wise to build wider support; and if you push for change from the outside
you need to transform public opinion all right, but you also need to find allies within
the state. In the real world, that is how things get done.

We can assume that, being a World Bank publication, this refers to the process of
streamlining Structural Adjustment Programs.

In any case, it seems fairly clear that inside-outside strategy was conceived and executed
as a program of liberal reform, one where politics is devoid of any understanding of class
struggle and where working-class people have only the barest form of leverage via social
and political “entrepreneurs” of the institutional left. These figures and institutions
have a symbiotic relationship with the State and reinforce its hegemony while using left
rhetoric.

More than their progressive forebears, DSA did the most to bridge the gap between
liberal-progressive politics and the anti-capitalist left, more or less giving us the
current incarnation of inside-outside strategy. In 2014, for example, a statement by the
organization put inside-outside strategy in the following terms:

DSA also understands that unless the labor movement and the Left build the independent
political capacity to challenge the mainstream leadership of the Democratic Party, from
the inside and the outside, its embrace of pro-corporate, pro-austerity neoliberal
economic and social policies will continue as well.

The current political moment has seen inside-outside strategy become an incoherent jumble
of expectations, socialist in words but liberal in practice, aiming for Fully Automated
Luxury Gay Space Communism but trying to get there in a hot air balloon.

Take the Momentum Caucus of DSA, whose platform purports to critique inside/outside
strategy while simultaneously arguing that “we should attempt to use the major parties’
ballot lines without confronting the major parties’ infrastructure.” Since then,
ironically but to the surprise of few, it was discovered that Momentum developed
organizing projects within DSA (like Medicare for All) with the intention of “folding”
such projects into a Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign infrastructure.

Though advocates of this approach favor building a “mass left-wing formation” down the
line, candidates who have racked up endorsements by DSA-whether they be “soft”
endorsements where members significantly assist and boost campaigns or explicit
endorsements-have hewed closely to Democratic Party leadership, boosted fundraising
prospects for the Democratic Party as a whole, and have gladly accepted endorsements from
politicians who unequivocally represent the capitalist class.

The failure of inside-outside strategy is that movement activists and supporters have
failed to maintain accountability. We can see this rather prominently in the response of
certain DSA members to critiques of Ocasio-Cortez when she expressed support for a
“two-state solution” to resolve the continued civil and military oppression faced by
Palestinians and offered to sit down with “leaders on both” sides. One op-ed defending
Ocasio-Cortez’s upsetting blunder threw the premise of inside-outside strategy out the
window entirely:

it would still be wrong to insist that DSA members are under an organizational discipline
to adhere to them. The right to dissent and to express views different from those of the
majority and the organizational center is a fundamental part of DSA’s democratic and
socialist-feminist decision-making. DSA has taken a position to be actively involved in
electoral politics, for example, but those who have a different view – including many
signers of the petition against Ocasio-Cortez – are still free to express that
perspective. We would have it no other way.

In practice, this seems like a cynical manipulation of “democratic” practices to keep
those outside of power in a position of impotence, even when politicians claiming to
represent them contradict movement ideals entirely.

Other attempts to defend this triangulation on Ocasio-Cortez’s part indicate that “inside”
and “outside” are not at all equal partners in spite of claims to the contrary:

Because the value of an elected official, of an activist in the Advocate role, is to get
things done close or in the halls of power. A senator or congressmember embracing BDS,
would probably be doing so at the expense of their effectiveness in most other areas. It’s
pretty clear that the lobbying power of those who support Palestinian rights is not very
high, and in most of the country if you only want to vote for someone who agrees with that
position, you won’t have anyone to vote for.

The fact that there was a perceived need to defend Ocasio from the “maximalists” and
“Rebels” to her left, including dedicated DSA members, suggests that so-called Advocates
and influencers (like Ocasio-Cortez) have an overriding role in shaping the agenda and
defining priorities. Members of social movements, on the other hand, are expected to keep
the candle burning and play a support role rather than develop forms of self-governance
that might create anything beyond the State.

The idea that the current mix of democratic socialist candidates, including patricians
like Cynthia Nixon and CEOs like Zak Ringelstein, could create the nucleus of a separate
“mass party,” or that a mass party of these same political figures could offer an
alternative vision to capitalism, does not conform to what we are seeing in real time.
Thus, 4 years and a few electoral victories later, progressives and even democratic
socialists have signaled hesitation in challenging the “mainstream leadership” of the
Democratic Party as was promised in 2014.

No amount of premeditation seems to be successful in overcoming the gravity of State
power. “We’ll do it right next time” becomes a perpetually unfulfilled rallying cry.

At any rate, DSA national has leaned into the press coverage, membership surges, and
increased national profile brought along by major electoral victories and endorsements. In
an e-mail dated June 28, National Director Maria Svart writes: “In the first 24 hours
since the election results were announced, over 1000 people joined DSA. That’s bigger than
the first day of the Trump bump – it turns out that in dark times, people want reasons to
hope. Let’s keep these victories coming!”

Whatever the inconsistencies of the candidates they support, national leadership is happy
to boast of new members and dues. It is almost certain that many of these members entered
the organization with a very general and incomplete conception of socialism, heavily
shaped by the measured statements offered on the electoral front. In this way, the
“inside” part of this strategy wields tremendous influence and puts limits on the
“outside” part where these are assumed to work in tandem.

There are more earnest attempts to conceive of inside-outside strategy as a way to build
dual power, where the “outside” might consist of more radical, working-class, and
horizontally-organized social movements, only seems to highlight the woeful inadequacy of
these strategies in relation to the task at hand. Even when inside-outside strategy fails,
the impression that it is succeeding creates a powerful perception that drives dues and
membership, reflecting the agendas and assumptions of campaigns rather than movements.
Beyond this, however, there is also a failure to theoretically recognize the nature of how
power operates at various levels of society.

The Problems of Inside-Outside Strategy: Some Theoretical Considerations

Nascent ideas of inside-outside strategy explained how single-issue interest groups of no
particularly radical persuasion and a highly-professionalized structure could influence
policy outcomes. Later, it became a way for outgunned progressives to “take back” the
Democratic Party in the name of a more humane capitalism. Currently, we are at a stage
where inside-outside strategy functions in the same way but in the service of purportedly
revolutionary outcomes ranging from a social democratic welfare state to a breakaway left
workers’ party.

Even as inside-outside strategy was repackaged and painted red for a newer generation of
radicals, various interpretations of this idea reflect an unclear sense of the
relationship between existing political structures and social movements. What’s more, they
don’t even demonstrate a good understanding of the distinct manifestations of power and
how they operate.

The definition of inside-outside strategy quoted earlier comes from a series of 2016 posts
on the blog Be Freedom, some of which was reprinted in other outlets like Counterpunch.
The author advocates creating mass movements whose aim is to bring about change by working
in conjunction with “clusters of interest” within and on the periphery of power
structures, then gives a disparate array of examples from mainstream politics to labor
unions. From this point of view, these are all seemingly valid arenas of struggle. While
many people who identify as progressive see no contradiction here, a bit of digging
reveals a huge conceptual problem therein.

If we start from the standpoint that all legislative bodies, courts, labor unions,
political parties, and UNICEF are equally valid entry points for transformative mass
movements to exercise power, what are the exceptions? One of the problems with the
advocacy of IOS on the left is the lack of proscribed limits.

What has been jarring these last two years is that some socialists have internalized this
as a system of belief to the point where they can enthusiastically root for District
Attorneys and Judges in their electoral efforts. In the case of Larry Krasner, some viewed
his victory as a step forward and a platform for further movement building based on
reforms such as ending cash bail and civil asset forfeiture. In the interim, however, this
means supporting someone who oversees mass incarceration and prosecutions that plainly
violate freedom of expression.

The power of belief being what it is, supporters can’t necessarily be moved to critically
interrogate these deficiencies or offer any broad vision other than improving things in a
piecemeal fashion, punching left and managing expectations.

This was made abundantly clear during the debate on House Joint Resolution 1, the bill
passed by House Democrats-including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna
Pressley- during the government shutdown to restore funding to the Department of Homeland
Security and, by extension, Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Surprisingly, supporters of AOC and even leftists representing more critical tendencies
pushed back against left criticism of the vote and stressed the need for the newly-elected
representatives to build their political clout and momentarily put aside their promises to
“abolish ICE.”

When it comes to the inside-outside dyad, “inside logic” continuously and inexorably seeks
to subsume and colonize those of us who live and struggle outside of the halls of
power-always to the benefit of a few, albeit a different few from the ones who are
currently in power. This means that the socialist or democratic socialist label can be
rather easily used to exploit people’s expectations in the most cynical way possible to
gain and hold power.

If the revolution suddenly demands that we give our votes and support to Representatives,
Senators, Sheriffs, District Attorneys, and Presidents, should we ask socialists to sign
up for the U.S. Army? ICE? Get a “democratic socialist” nominated as Secretary of Defense?
We’ve only seen the beginnings of such developments, such as progressive candidates
offering to “abolish ICE” by replacing itwith a similar organization controlled by the
Justice Department. Naturally, supporters of such politicians might downplay these
positions or defend them after the fact, much in the same way liberals (and oddly enough,
some leftists) defended Obama and the “long game” of his presidency: A long game that
inevitably concluded to the benefit of the ruling class and the demoralization of the
working class.

We can even take this idea to its most absurd limit: why not start a business and use that
a way to make the world a better place? Of course, most of us recognize this as a joke.
The functioning of capitalist economic institutions guarantees the highest allowable
degree of exploitation. What exempts the State from this logic, reflection of capitalist
economic development and class conflict that it is? If building socialism means occupying
State power-administering prisons, defending borders, and nationalizing the
bourgeoisie-then it is not any form of socialism with strategic or ethical value.

Advocates of inside-outside strategy misunderstand the nature of power, and consequently
make fatal errors of judgement that will limit our collective political imagination and
reduce the most vibrant movements in our workplaces and communities to servants of their
supposed representatives in the machinery of government.

From an anarchist perspective, our approach to social change is to build popular power –
a process where we use our time and resources to create “independent institutions and
organizations of the working class to fight white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism.”
This means looking to our neighbors and coworkers in our political struggles and not
politicians who promise to enact change from on high. All of the press releases and bully
pulpits available to left politicians and bureaucrats are absolutely inconsequential
compared to the popular power we can build.

Alex Isa is an educator, scholar, and member of Black Rose/Rosa Negra in Miami.

http://blackrosefed.org/outside-looking-in-critique-of-inside-outside-strategy/

The post On the Outside Looking in: a Critique of Inside/outside Strategy appeared first on Infoshop News.

404 Page Not Found

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 03:28

via The Baffler

by Kate Wagner

The first time I can remember logging on to the net was around 1998, when I was five years old. My father was with me; I remember him working his magic, getting the modem to hum its infamous atonal tune. The purpose of this journey was to see if the internet had any answers to my persistent questions about how railroad crossings worked. We opened a search engine, probably AltaVista, and quickly found a Geocities webpage devoted to railroad crossings from around the world. I still remember the site’s black textured background, its grainy, white serif typeface, and the blinking gifs of railroad crossings positioned on either side of a slightly off-center text header.

I’m a digital native, older than most. Because my father worked for the federal government, our household was an early adopter of the internet. As I grew up, so did it. When I was a child, for example, the internet was still indexable; you generally found websites through directories and webrings. Favorites meant something, because finding what you were looking for often took quite a bit of time. When search engines became the norm, around the time I was in elementary school, this analog directory hunting was replaced with the ubiquitous Google search. Which is to say I witnessed it all, and as a particularly lonely child, I witnessed it rather closely: Neopets in elementary school, the birth of Myspace in middle school, the rise of Facebook in early high school, Instagram in late high school, the internet culture wars of infamy as a freshman in college, Donald Trump and Cambridge Analytica in graduate school.

Writing in 2008, the new media scholar Geert Lovink separated internet culture into three periods:

First, the scientific, precommercial, text-only period before the World Wide Web. Second, the euphoric, speculative period in which the Internet opened up for the general audience, culminating in the late 1990s dotcom mania. Third, the post-dot-com crash/post-9/11 period, which is now coming to a close with the Web 2.0 mini-bubble.

For those my age, this tripartite history of the net begins at number two, with the anarchic, sprawling, ’90s net, followed by the post-9/11, pre-iPhone variety (including the blogosphere and the fulcrum moment that was Myspace), and ending with today’s app-driven, hyper-conglomerate social media net.

Read more

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Vermont Union President Challenged Lawmakers

Sat, 04/06/2019 - 04:33

AFSCME LOCAL 1343 PRESIDENT CHALLENGES LAW MAKERS: 

STAND WITH US ON CARD CHECK, OR YOU ARE COMPLICIT

-Submitted By David Van Deusen, District Vice President VT AFL-CIO-

Montpelier, Vermont 4/3/19 – Vermont AFL-CIO Unions including AFSCME, AFT, IBEW, USW, & PFFV, have been fighting all winter to get legislators to advance H.428 & S.36, card check recognition for public sector workers.  The bills were introduced in the House by Progressive Brian Cina, and in the Senate by Democrat/Progressive Phillip Baruth.  If passed, card check would establish that whenever a majority of workers sign a Union card in any given public sector shop, their Union would be immediately recognized.  Despite Labor’s united front on this issue, the Vermont Senate and House (which is overwhelmingly composed of Democrats) has yet to hold hearings on the bills, let alone move them out of committee.

 Today [4/4/19] AFSCME Local 1343 President, Damion Gilbert, spoke at a Statehouse press conference regarding card check.  The press conference was organized by Rights & Democracy in support of a $15 an hour livable wage, paid family medical leave, free college tuition, and card check.  Also speaking at the event were Lt Governor David Zuckerman (Progressive), Representative Emily Kornheiser (Democrat), Representative Kevin “Coach” Christie (Democrat), as well as a number of community leaders.

 What follows is the full text of the speech, delivered by AFSCME 1343 President, Damion Gilbert, in support of the card check bills:

 “Hello, I am Damion Gilbert, President of AFSCME Local 1343 & Executive Board Member for AFSCME Council 93.  I work for the City of Burlington’s Department of Public Works.  It is an honor to be here today to speak for my 1800 members and the 7000 Vermont Home Healthcare Providers that our Union represents.  It is also an honor to stand alongside fellow Labor Unions and community allies to demand that ALL working class Vermonters have access to livable wages, paid family medical leave, and especially a fair & democratic recognition process when working people choose to form a Union. 

 “It is a travesty that many tens of thousands of Vermonters do not presently get paid a livable wage.  I sympathize with this and support the effort to rapidly move to a $15 an hour floor for all laboring people.  I say this even though almost all of our AFSCME Union members already have won at least $15 an hour.  In fact this past year we celebrated our Unionized St Mikes Custodians winning a living wage for the first time in their new contract. Even as recently as this past fall, most Custodians were paid slightly more than $12 an hour, with some Custodians making as little as $11 and change. Here they were able to achieve a $15 an hour livable wage (now, and not four years from now) by standing united and engaging in the collective bargaining process which is afforded to them as a Unionized workforce.  

 “I say this to highlight that economic and social justice is within the immediate reach of working class people when they stand in solidarity with each other through a Labor Union which is theirs.

 “But Labor is under attack.  It was no mistake that the Supreme Court recently struck down the right of public sector Unions to collect mandatory dues.  It is also no coincidence that the Executive Branch of Government in DC is actively seeking a rule change to outlaw even VOLUNTARY dues-payroll deductions for Home Healthcare Providers.  And of course new appointees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have worn their anti-Union animus on their sleeve.  In brief, the powerful elite of this country, the wealthy ownership class, are actively trying to break the back of Organized Labor.  But we shall not be broken. As was said in the Spanish Civil War ¡No Pasarán!

 “If future historians are not to write that Vermont was party to this betrayal of Labor, political figures in Montpelier cannot remain silent.  And given the scope of the existential attacks we are now facing, non-action or the politics of the status quo are no different than collaboration. 

 “Therefore, AFSCME Vermont is here today to say loud and clear that H.428 & S.36, bills that would establish official Union recognition for any public sector shop wherein a majority of the workers have signed a Union card, is the means to demonstrate that Montpelier, unlike DC, stands with Labor!

 “These bills, known as the “card check bills”, circumvent the lengthy, legalistic, and  bureaucratic Labor Board process for recognition that exists today for public employees; and to be clear, the present VLRB process for recognition is weighted to favor anti-Union employers.  When implemented, card check would instead allow working people to more easily and more fairly come together and begin a collective bargaining process when such a Unionization effort is supported by a majority of workers. And here, by making the Unionization process more democratic and fair, it is our expectation that more Vermonters will choose to organize into a Union and will thereby be able to bargain for the social and economic justice that too many of our working families are yet to enjoy.

 “H.428 & S.36, card check, is the politically defining issue for AFSCME in 2019.  Those politicians that stand with us (and I see many of them here today!) shall be afforded our respect and appreciation.  Those that stand against us, or those that stand aloof shall rightly be viewed by AFSCME as complicit with the attacks presently emanating out of Washington.  One’s party label will have no bearing on who we gage as being with us or against us when it comes time to report back to our members. What will matter is if they supported card check, and if their support was active.

 “So again, we invite the leadership of the Vermont House & Senate, all persons elected to this General Assembly, and working Vermonters in general to support H.428 & S.36, card check, and see that these bills move out of committee and put on the desk of the Governor.  The time is now.  Thank You & Solidarity!”

-Damion Gilbert, President of AFSCME Local 1343

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Freelancers Want to Join Unions but Labor Laws Won’t Let Them

Sat, 04/06/2019 - 04:20

via Teen Vogue

by Kim Kelly

Unions are more popular than they’ve been in almost two decades, thanks to successful organizing efforts in new sectors like digital media and fast food, revitalized labor action in more traditional industries like education and manufacturing, and the threat of a general strike helping end a painful government shutdown. The labor movement is behind the greatest advances for working people in this country’s history — from the eight-hour workday to the minimum wage and the end of child labor — and built the United States middle class as we know it.

However, due to a flaw in a major labor law passed back during the New Deal era, not everyone is able to join a union.

Following the passage of the 1926 Railway Labor Act, which oversaw labor relations in the railroad and airline industries, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935, which has remained the bedrock of federal labor law in the U.S. The NLRA guarantees the majority of private sector workers the right to organize and join unions, engage in collective bargaining with their employers, and take collective action, like striking, when deemed necessary. Under this law, no employer can fire or threaten to fire a worker for organizing or joining a union or being pro-union, something that many bosses neglect to tell said workers during efforts at union-busting.

Because of the NLRA, thousands of workers across the country have been able to organize and bargain for better wages and working conditions, but, because of the way the law was written, thousands of others have been left without a legal option to do either.

Government employees, agricultural laborers, independent contractors, and supervisors (with limited exceptions), as well as domestic workers and those covered by the Railway Labor Act are excluded from the NLRA. Some of these workers are also not covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (which oversees workplace safety) or the Fair Labor Standards Act (which regulates wages and hours); in addition, those classified as independent contractors are responsible for paying their own federal and state income taxes (which, as anyone who has to do this can tell you, adds up quickly). These excluded worker categories also often represent some of the most vulnerable people. For example, an overwhelming number of agricultural workers are subject to low wages and dangerous working conditions, and while they do have some specific protections, those efforts still fall short.

It’s also important to note the racist history behind the exclusion of certain worker categories. Today, most U.S. farm workers come from Latin American countries like Mexico and Guatemala, and about half of those workers are undocumented. But at the time of the NLRA’s signing, the majority of agricultural workers were black, and some scholars believe it’s no coincidence that these workers were excluded from the NLRA.

Read more

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Focus on Labor News

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 08:24

 

A regular update on labor news from around the world. New unions, ongoing campaigns, strikes, and much more! Be sure to check out our Labor section and our front page for highlighted news and opinion.

Updated April 20, 2019

General Media Worker Organizing

 

2019 Teacher’s Strikes McDonald’s Amazon Fight for $15 / Fast Food Workers

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The insanity of global trade

Sun, 03/31/2019 - 00:14

via ROAR magazine

by Local Futures

The way trade works in the global economy is often absurd. Food routinely gets shipped halfway across the world to be processed, then shipped back to be sold right where it started. Mexican calves — fed imported American corn — are exported to the United States to be butchered, and then the meat is exported back to Mexico for sale. More than half of the seafood caught in Alaska gets processed in China, and much of it is sent right back to American grocery store shelves.

Compounding the insanity of this “re-importation” is the equally head-scratching phenomenon of “redundant trade”. This is a common practice whereby countries both import and export identical quantities of identical products in a given year. For instance, in 2007, Britain imported 15,000 tons of chocolate-covered waffles, while exporting 14,000 tons. In 2017, the US both imported and exported nearly 1.5 million tons of beef and nearly half a million tons of potatoes.

On the face of it, this kind of trade makes no economic sense. Why would it be worth the immense cost — in money as well as fuel — of sending perfectly good food abroad only to bring it right back again?

The answer lies in the way the global economy is structured. Direct and indirect subsidies for fossil fuels, on the order of $5 trillion per year worldwide, allow the costs of shipping to be largely borne by taxpayers and the environment instead of the businesses that actually engage in it. This allows transnational corporations to take advantage of differences in labor and environmental laws between countries, not to mention tax loopholes, in service of making a bigger profit.

The consequences of this bad behavior are already severe, and set to become worse in the coming decades. Small farmers, particularly in the Global South, have seen their livelihoods undermined by influxes of cheap food from abroad. Trade agreements have made it impossible for companies to compete in the global economy unless they base their operations in places with the weakest protections for workers and the environment. And all the while, the share of global carbon emissions produced by commercial shipping is set to rise to 17 percent by 2050, if action isn’t taken to curb our addiction to trade.  But policymakers currently have little incentive to reduce unnecessary trade: bizarrely, emissions from global trade do not appear in any nation’s carbon accounting.

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Why the Green New Deal needs mass direct action

Sun, 03/17/2019 - 04:04

via Rising Tide North America

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

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

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

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

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

  • Barefoot lockdown in Gibberagee State Forest.

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

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

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

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

As Naomi Klein recently penned in the Intercept,

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

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

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

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

###

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

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Optimize What?

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 03:45

via Commune

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

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

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

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

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

_____

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

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

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

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Why Extinction Rebellion can’t save the world

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 03:21

via Slow Burning Fuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 04:17

via CounterPunch

by Sarah Gertler

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

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

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

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

Neither is anti-semitic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recent Rise of Visible Anti-Semitism

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 04:09

via First of May Anarchist Alliance (M1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 03:50

via Teen Vogue

by Kim Kelly

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

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

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

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

Read more

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

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 22:20

via FAIR

by Alan MacLeod

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Workers’ Party and Elections or Class Struggle?

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 22:00

via Zabalaza.net

The Question of State Power and the Anarchists’ Answer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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New York Times lets Israel do its “fact checking”

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 21:54

via Electronic Intifida

by Michael F. Brown

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

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

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

This is wrong.

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

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

Read more

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Trump and Democrats unite to smear Ilhan Omar

Tue, 03/05/2019 - 17:50

via Electronic Intifada

by Ali Abunimah

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

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

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

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

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

Read more

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Revew: Rupturing the Dialectic by Harry Cleaver

Tue, 03/05/2019 - 17:22

via Anarchist Writers

by Anarcho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post Revew: Rupturing the Dialectic by Harry Cleaver appeared first on Infoshop News.

There’s Nothing Radical about the Green New Deal

Tue, 03/05/2019 - 16:13

via CounterPunch

by Kristine Mattis

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

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

Radical

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

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

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

The (New) New Deal

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

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

Impractical, Unreasonable, Infeasible, Pie in the Sky

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

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

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

Techno-salvation

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

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

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

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

Policy Change and Personal Change = Paradigm Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radical is Sustainable

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

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

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

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

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

Focus on Climate Action

Tue, 03/05/2019 - 15:21

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

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

Updated March 5, 2019

Young People Climate Change Movements Climate Change Movement – United States

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The Misguided Exceptionalism of US-Israeli Relations

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 02:04

via C4SS

by Mila Ghorayeb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art: Mr. Fish / Truthdig

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