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Anarchist Filmmakers …Video Tape Guerrillas & Digital Ninjas

Fri, 01/05/2018 - 15:30

via Fifth Estate

by Franklin Lopez
Fifth Estate # 399, Fall, 2017

a review of
Breaking the Spell: A History of Anarchist Filmmakers, Video Tape Guerrillas and Digital Ninjas by Chris Robé. PM Press, 2017, 468 pages.

Reviewer’s note: I agreed to write this review before being aware that almost an entire chapter is dedicated to an analysis of my video work and that of sub.Media. It also includes some writing about my work with the Vancouver Media Co-op. I know Chris personally, and we’ve eaten tacos and drunk beers together.

When I decided to destroy any chances at a film-making career, and to instead dedicate my life to producing videos that would hopefully propel people to destroy capitalism, well, there was no road map. There were only war stories from Indymedia folks who had been in the game for a few months.

Ten years earlier, when I was in film school in the US in the late 1980s (a total waste of time and money), there was no mention of the countless radical filmmakers and film collectives. At that critical juncture in my life, I would have greatly benefited from a book like Chris Robé’s Breaking the Spell.

The first thing that caught my eye was the title. Breaking the Spell is the name of a film about the 1999 protests that shut down the WTO in Seattle directed by Tim Lewis and Tim Ream.

This film sent me down the treacherous (and fun!) road of anarchist filmmaking.

Aside from Richard Porton’s Film and the Anarchist Imagination (an important book), not much publicly accessible writing about anarchist film-making exists. And while Porton’s tome is a useful summary of anarchist cinema and representation of anarchists in film, Breaking the Spell goes a step further.

Robé not only gives us deep and thoughtful critiques and analysis of films, but discloses the nity gritty of the processes that went into creating them.

Also, his history is not limited to self-identified anarchist film-makers, but includes “anarchist-inflected” auteurs and collectives, giving us a much broader spectrum of radical films and videos made within the last 50 years.

The book kicks off with the history of Third Cinema, the Latin American film movement of the 1960s and ’70s, which aimed to provoke people into action and favored underground viewings to theatrical screenings of their revolutionary cinema.

They attempted to de-commodify films by screening them freely, and emphasized that following the film, the audience would engage in discussions and debates.

By doing so, viewers ceased being passive spectators and became accomplices. The filmmakers wanted to erase the elitist position they often have within movements and place themselves on the same level as the people they were documenting.

They also pioneered the practice of guerilla film-making, the practice of shooting low budget films or videos with minimal crews (sometimes the camera person is the crew), where location permits are usually not obtained, and scenes are shot quickly.

It’s only appropriate that the book begins with Third Cinema. Their philosophical contributions to the practice of radical filmmaking can be seen throughout the last half of the 20th century whether or not other people using these practices were aware of their origins. I wasn’t until a few years ago.

One interesting aspect of the book is how evolving technology in film, video, and later digital video facilitated the creation of radical and anarchist films.

Breaking the Spell recounts how the Sony Portapak, an early portable video camera and recording deck, allowed collectives like Videofreex, in New York state between 1969 and 1978, to widely distribute their timely “anarchist inflected” video reports to large audiences via the internet.

Robé does not simply glorify these facts, but also explores its contradictions as they pertain to radicals using these technologies. For example, the cost of the Portapak was about $1,500 when it hit the market in the late 1960s, meaning that the technology was inaccessible to poor people wanting to tell their own stories. The individuals and collectives who were able to take advantage of this equipment were mostly composed of middle class white people.

The most important contribution the book makes is that it digs deeply into the organizational processes behind the production of these films. Robé interviewed dozens of filmmakers to find out how and why they made their films. Similar to his analysis of the technologies used, he gives us an honest look at the incongruities within their visions of equality and inclusion, and how things played out in practice.

The lack of racialized minorities and women, as well as the gendered division of labor in radical media milieus are frequent themes throughout the book.

For example, he describes how rampant sexism plagued the production of “Finally Got the News,” a 1970 documentary about the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in Detroit’s auto plants made in conjunction with New York Newsreel. Or, how the hacker-centric ethic in the early incarnation of Indymedia in the late 1990s failed to significantly include people of color in their productions.

Robé gives first hand accounts of the shortcomings and challenges that independent media initiatives have to endure to keep their operations alive.

He also brings us success stories from media initiatives led by the people during their struggles. Most notably, how Paper Tiger TV’s non-hierarchical practices gave space for activists to produce and broadcast videos during the height of ACT-UP and the AIDS epidemic; the way Out of Your Backpack Media make videos by and for indigenous people in Arizona in the early 2000s, breaking the need for white activists to facilitate media creation; and Mobile Voices providing a platform for poor migrants to create media by using mobile phone technology in Los Angeles during the beginning of this century.

My biggest gripe, besides the heavy Marxist lens through which the book draws many of its critiques, is its use of an academic tone and language. This should not be a surprise, after all, Robé is a university professor. Like many anarchist and radical books, there are a lot of assumptions about prior knowledge that the reader possesses, making it at times an inaccessible read. This is unfortunate.

But this should not discourage anyone from picking it up. Breaking the Spell is a gift to anyone who makes or is interested in radical cinema. By examining the historical context in which the films were produced, by speaking to those making them, and by not pulling any punches in his criticisms of the ways they are made, Robé gives us a detailed picture of those who came before us.

In the closing paragraphs, Robé gives us suggestions to the way forward that harkens back to Third Cinema’s vision:

“Improving the general aesthetic quality of activist video for those who have the time and resources to dedicate in cultivating it is an admirable goal. But to argue that such higher quality videos naturally lead to mass distribution or imply that professional looking video trumps other concerns like skills-sharing and collective organizing seems deeply problematic if not outright misguided.”

Franklin Lopez is an anarchist filmmaker from occupied Borikén (Puerto Rico). He has produced hundreds of videos and short films under the banner, a website he has curated since 2000. He is most well known for “It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine,” subMedia’s snarky web news/comedy series followed by thousands.

His work also includes mash-ups, music videos, and political documentaries. In 2011, Frank toured the world with his feature film, “END:CIV,” presenting it in over 150 venues in 18 countries.

This year, subMedia released “Trouble,” a monthly documentary series about radical movement organizing. Frank resides in Montreal. All his films are free at sub.Media.

Africa needs to stop talking about the ‘youth bulge’

Fri, 01/05/2018 - 15:11

via New Internationalist

Africa is obsessed with talking about the ‘youth bulge’. Pundits and politicians are engaged in an endless conversation about the vast and growing population of young people on their continent, where there are set to be almost a billion under-18s by 2050.

But the ‘youth bulge’ is not a neutral demographic discourse. It has become a highly suspect way of thinking about young people, inflected by long-standing preoccupations with African birth-rates and a dystopic image of ‘coming anarchy’.

The problem is generally considered to be that there won’t be enough jobs for this swelling demographic; as a consequence of being ‘idle’ and unemployed, the restless youth could, in the words of a recent article on the UN’s Africa Renewal website, fuel the ‘fire of political violence and civil unrest’.

Young people in the West (with the notable exception of the ‘urban youth’) have the luxury of being depicted in empathetic terms: as rebellious or uncouth millennials, naïvely challenging the world. But this generous interpretation doesn’t extend to Africa: a landscape of dangerous and now, in the era of Somali Islamists Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram, ‘radicalized’ young people, who are regularly portrayed as a ‘ticking time bomb’ or ‘peril’.

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Youth bulge: A public billboard in Uganda urges people to have smaller families. Photo: Jenny Matthews / Panos

Review: The Method of Freedom

Fri, 01/05/2018 - 01:06

via Black Flag #236 2014/15

Reviewed by Iain McKay

The Method of Freedom: An Errico Malatesta Reader £18.00 ISBN: 978-184935-1-44-7 by Errico Malatesta, edited by Davide Turcato

Errico Malatesta (1853-1932) was one of anarchism’s greatest activists and thinkers for over 60 years. He joined the First International in 1871 and became an anarchist after meeting Mikhail Bakunin in 1872. He spent most of his life exiled from Italy, helping to build unions in Argentina in the late 1880s and taking an active part during the two Red Years after the war when Italy was on the verge of revolution (the authorities saw the threat and imprisoned him and other leading anarchists before a jury dismissed all charges). Playing a key role in numerous debates within the movement – on using elections, participation in the labour movement, the nature of social revolution, syndicalism and platformism (to name just a few), he saw the rise and failure of the Second International, then the Third before spending the last years of his life under house arrest in Mussolini’s Italy.

The length of Malatesta’s activism within the movement is matched by the quality of his thought and this is why all anarchists will benefit from reading him. Before The Method of Freedom, we had his classic pamphlet Anarchy, Vernon Richard’s Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas (a selection of snippets grouped by theme) and The Anarchist Revolution (articles from the 1920s) as well as a few articles translated here and there. Anyone reading these works would have quickly realised how important and useful Malatesta’s ideas were. Deeply realistic, with a firm grasp on the here and now as well as principles, he avoided the extremism that often befalls anarchists (violent propaganda or pacifism; disdaining the labour movement or being submerged in it; simplistic/romantic notions of revolution or refornism).

He did not take his wishes for reality but instead looked to the situation as it was and applied his principles to make anarchism relevant and practical. The breadth of material this work makes available is impressive and gives for the first time a clear picture of Malatesta’s ideas. Organised in chronological order, it shows us how his ideas developed and changed while, at the same time, keeping the core principles which were there from the start. His practical nature comes to the fore, the notion that anarchism is a realistic theory that not only was able to be applied now but also had to be because of its libertarian nature: “Our duty[was], which was the logical outcome of our ideas, the condition which our conception of revolution and re-organisation of society imposes on us, namely, to live among the people and to win them over to our ideas by actively taking part in their struggles and sufferings” (179) This did not mean ignoring the anarchist movement. Far from it for he entered into numerous debates on a host of subjects – all as relevant to anarchism today as is what he had to say.

His discussion of organisation predates by decades the issues raised by Jo Freeman in The Tyranny of Structurelessness, namely that “non-organisation culminates in an authority which, being unmonitored and unaccountable, is no less of a real authority for all that” and so “foundering in dis-organisation” it naturally happens that the few “impose their thinking and their will” onto the “bulk of the party”. (103) As to what seems the perennial democracy debate, he presents simple common sense by correctly suggesting that minorities “defer voluntarily whenever necessary and the feeling of solidarity require it”.

To those who asked “what if the minority refuses to give away?” Malatesta responded: “What if the majority makes to abuse its strength?” (214) For those who argue anarchism is democracy and also include minority rights, rather than refute Malatesta’s position they accept it – but use different words. Perhaps we can sum it up as anarchists support majority decisionmaking but not majority rule and move onto more fruitful things? Like applying our ideas in the class struggle? Here Malatesta makes such obvious points that it is slightly embarrassing that he felt the need to actually put pen to paper to advocate them. He lamented that by “simply preaching abstract theories” in the 1880s “we have become isolated” (178) and argued that anarchism could become relevant “only in workingmen’s associations, strikes, collective revolt”. (179) In this he simply reminded anarchists of the ideas of the libertarianwing of the First International, when he joined the movement, which he summarised in 1884 as being “[s]trikes, resistance societies, labor organisations” and “encouraging workers to band together and resist the bosses” as the means of “struggling against all the economic, political, religious, judicial, and pseudo-scientifically moral institutions of bourgeois society”. (58) The Method of Freedom, then, adds to the growing pile of books that refute the notion, popular with some academics and Marxists, that anarchists in France turned to syndicalism only after the failure of “propaganda by the deed” in the mid-1890s (syndicalism then spreading to the rest of the world and displacing communistanarchism). Malatesta, like Kropotkin, advocated anarchist involvement in the labour movement from the start: although it is true he stressed this far more after his union organising in South America and the example of the 1889 London Dock Strike.

This was part and parcel of the role of anarchists to encourage the spirit of resistance: “The better the people’s material and moral conditions are and the more it has become aware of its own strength and inured to and skilled in struggle, through resistance and relentless struggles for improved conditions, the better equipped the people is for revolution.” (257) Looking at neoliberal Britain, with its staggeringly low levels of collective struggle in the face of the unremitting Con-Dem onslaught against working class people, his comments that the individualism of capitalism results in “a constant tendency in the direction of growing tyranny by the few and slavishness for the many” and only the “resistance from the people is the only boundary set upon the bullying of the bosses and rules” seem all to sadly relevant. As is his conclusion: “there is no resistance because the spirit of cooperation, of association is missing”. (229) This applied within the movement itself, with Malatesta pointing out that with nothing practical to do, many “unable to bear such idleness” turn to electoral politics “just for something to do” and “then, bit by bit, abandon the revolutionary route altogether”. (70) People “who might have all of the making of an anarchist … prefer – making the best of a bad situation – to sign on with the social democrats and other politickers”. (103) How true: today we see some turning to Bookchin’s flawed “Libertarian Municipalism” as if the germs of reformism did not exist in the local state as much as in Parliament. Anarchists, then, had to use tactics which “will bring us into direct and unbroken contact with the masses” as the masses “are led to big demands by way of small requests and small revolts”. (76-7) “Popular movements begin how they can” (166) and so “if we wait to plunge into the fray until the people mount the anarchist
communist colours, we shall run great risk of remaining eternal dreamers … leaving a free field … to our adversaries who are the enemies, conscious or unconscious, of the true interests of the people.” (167)

Talking of flags, I had discovered when working on An Anarchist FAQ’s “Symbols of Anarchy” appendix that anarchists were raising the black-and-red flag during the 1877 propaganda uprisings in Italy but did not know what it looked like. Now I do: “The flag adopted by the International is red, framed in black.” (65)

Anarchist involvement in the trade union movement was, then, championed by Malatesta who, ironically, is sometimes represented as anti-syndicalist. In realty, on his return to Europe he helped – like Kropotkin – win the debate within the movement to return to its syndicalist strategies from Bakunin’s time. The picture of Malatesta the antisyndicalist (rather than the syndicalistplus) has been pained by those who misunderstand his critiques of those who turned means into ends as opposition to the shared means (class organisation and struggle). What is the difference, then, between (revolutionary/communist) anarchism and (pure) syndicalism? Simply an awareness that unions are not inherently revolutionary and need anarchists to organise to influence them towards revolutionary aims and tactics. Hence Malatesta’s constant argument that anarchists had to organise as anarchists to work within – and outwith – the unions. Equally, while unions were an important aspect of anarchist activity he rightly rejected the idea that building unions automatically created anarchism or that syndicalism made anarchism redundant. As can be seen from the texts in The Method of Freedom, he spent much time over many decades arguing against those who thought that syndicalism was sufficient in itself, recognising that a union needed to organise all workers to be effective and could not, therefore, be confused with an organisation of anarchists.

Both had their role to play and his conclusion was that the First International failed because it did not recognise this (a mistake he was keen to avoid repeating). Similarly, while he viewed the general strike as a good means of starting a revolution it was a mistake – as some syndicalists did – to equate the two. His support of this tactic, again, predates the rise of syndicalism in France and so we find him in 1890 arguing that while the “general strike is preached and this is all to the good” it should not be confused with the revolution: “It would only be a splendid opportunity for making the Revolution, but nothing more.” It had to be “transformed” into revolution, “down the road to expropriation and armed attack” before lack of food and other goods “erode[d]the strikers’ morale. (107)

This brings forth another key aspect of Malatesta’s common-sense politics – revolutions are complex and difficult things, as is getting to a situation where one is possible. Thus we find him refuting those comrades who thought that all we had to do was take what we needed from warehouses overflowing with goods immediately after a revolution. In reality, firms produced what they thought they could sell at a profit and so stopped long before warehouses were full of piles of goods gathering dust or rotting away. As well as bursting the unrealistic dreams of certain anarchists on social revolution, he also skilfully destroyed Lenin’s explanation of the necessity of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” as self-contradictory nonsense for “a minority that has to win over the majority after it has seized power” cannot be the proletariat as that “is obviously the majority”. (407)

Like all serious anarchists, he was well aware that libertarian communism cannot be created overnight and so urged anarchists now to think through the practical issues involved not only in achieving a revolution but also the inevitably imperfect immediate aftermath when people start to slowly create the social institutions and relationships of a free society (needless to say, this – just like the necessity of defending a revolution – had nothing in common with Marxist notions of “the dictatorship of the proletariat”). Much of his work in the 1920s reflects this perspective, inspired by the failure of the near revolution in Italy he had returned from London exile to take part in. What comes out clearly from all his articles is that anarchism, for him, was not about utopias produced by revolutions which springs from nowhere but rather a set of principles which could and must be applied today in such a way as to bring the hoped for social revolution closer. That perspective should be the default position within the movement and so newcomers to anarchism will discover a thinker who will show them anarchism as a practical idea while experienced anarchists will benefit from the wealth of ideas Malatesta give the movement.

Needless to say, along with many newly translated articles and such essential works as Anarchy, An Anarchist Programme and Towards Anarchy, the book includes his polemics against Kropotkin’s support for the Allies in 1914 (Anarchists Have Forgotten their Principles and ProGovernment Anarchists) as well as his Peter Kropotkin: Recollections and Criticisms By One of His Old Friends. My one real complaint is that while it is of interest to read the 1891 translation of Anarchy, I hope that a new translation is planned for the appropriate volume of the Collected Works as it is dated to modern eyes. In addition, while this collection is broken up into sections corresponding, in the main, to the volumes of the planned Collected Works there are no articles from Malatesta’s time in South America (1885 to 1889). This is unfortunate as this time – with his active participation in a movement serious about organising unions – played a critical part in the advocacy of syndicalist tactics when he returned to Europe in 1889. Happily, the relevant volume of the Collected Works will have material from this period.

All in all, though, there is little to complain about with this work and much to be excited about. In a way, I have been waiting for this book since I first read Anarchy and Errico Malatesta: Life and Ideas when I was a teenager (over 25 years ago now) and Davide Turcato has not disappointed. He must be congratulated for producing such an excellent book, a work that enriches anarchism immensely, will be read with benefit by all – anarchists and nonanarchists, new and experienced libertarian militants alike – and wets the appetite for the Collected Works. Read this book.

Fact File: Errico Malatesta

Aged 14 he faced his first arrest for writing a letter to the king demanding an end to local injustices.

Radicalised at university, he was expelled aged 18 for demonstrating and joined the International Workingmen’s Association that same year.

Aged 19, he met leading anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, in whose group he would go on to play a major role.

For the next four years he propagandised for insurrection, was jailed twice and attempted to free the province of Benetento before being arrested.

Held for 16 months and acquitted, he was harrassed into exile by the police.

Travelling, he wound up in Switzerland, befriending Elisee Reclus and Peter Kropotkin.

In 1880 he moved to London where he helped organise the short-lived anarchist St Imier International.

Two years later he would fight the British colonials in Egypt, and nursed cholera victims in Naples before fleeing to South America.

He returned to Nice and London in 1889, spending eight years striking out from Britain to agitate across Europe.

In 1912 he was jailed for eight months in London and deported to Italy after the First World War ended.

In 1921, aged 68 he was jailed again by the Italian government, and released just in time to see the fascists gain power.

He continued to write and agitate until his death in 1932 from pneumonia.

Modern capitalism has opened a major new front for strike action – logistics

Fri, 01/05/2018 - 00:59

via The Conversation

by Kim Moody

The decline of trade unions across the developed nations is nothing new. In the US the proportion of workers in unions fell from a high of 35% in 1954, mostly in the private sector, to 11% in 2016 with nearly half in the public sector. Union density in the UK fell from a high of 55% in 1979 to 25% in 2016.

Despite the recent revival of the left in both countries, the days when unions had the power to demand major concessions and win still seem far away. Partly thanks to tough labour laws and employer aggression, their role has become much more about consultation than domination.

Now, however, a comeback looks possible – and not only because of the political climate. Changes in the corporate landscape since the Reagan/Thatcher era point to big opportunities for organised labour. The question is whether unions will try to take advantage.

Why the decline

In the US, the fall of labour began at the end of World War II as major manufacturers moved production facilities to the non-union South to reduce costs and escape big concentrations of unionised workers like those around Detroit, Gary, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Between 1947 and 1972, Dixie’s contribution to American manufacturing value-added near-doubled to almost a quarter of the total. The big industrial unions saw membership peak by the early 1970s, never to grow again. The UK would follow this trend thanks to the decline of its manufacturing base and Margaret Thatcher’s determination to smash union power in the 1980s.

Another key trend was a wave of mergers and acquisitions in the 1960s, launched by cash-rich corporations benefiting from strong economic growth. This dealmaking grew from about 1,200 a year in 1963 in the US, for example, to a high of 6,000 in 1969, though it was prevalent in many countries. This produced the rise of conglomerates – firms offering a wide variety of often unrelated goods and services.

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Civil Asset Forfeiture: Explained

Fri, 01/05/2018 - 00:53

via In Justice Today

By Waseem Salahi, Jessica Brand, and Callie Heller

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

In January 2016 in San Diego, a SWAT team entered the offices of Med-West, a licensed cannabis manufacturer and distributer. It seized over $300,000 in cash and products valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition, law enforcement and the District Attorney seized $100,000 from owner James Slatic’s personal bank accounts, money that also belonged to his wife and his kids.

In May of 2017, with charges still not filed, a judge ordered the D.A. to pay Slatic back the money from his personal account with interest. But the office kept the assets from the business, and soon after filed charges against Slatic. [Jessica Pishko / Slate] In December of this year–nearly two years later–the government returned all but $35,000 of the money. After all that, Mr. Slatic pleaded guilty to two marijuana–related misdemeanors. [Greg McDonald / San Diego Union Tribune]

In August 2012, Mandrel Stuart, a 35-year-old black man, was driving in Fairfax, Virginia, with his girlfriend when police pulled them over. Officers stopped them because the car’s windows were tinted and a video was playing in Stuart’s sightline. During the stop, a K-9 dog alerted the officer to drugs in the car. The police detained Stuart and his girlfriend for two hours, but only found 0.01 grams of marijuana and $17,550 in cash. Stuart explained that he was planning to use the money that night to buy supplies for his restaurant. Still, police handcuffed Stuart and took him to a nearby station. They never charged him with a crime and ultimately let him go. But they kept the $17,550.

In criminal court, a person is innocent until proven guilty. But under civil forfeiture laws, the state placed the burden of proof completely on Stuart to prove that his money had no connection to criminal activity. To get his money back, Stuart had to hire an attorney, wait 14 months, and win a jury trial. By that point, it was too late. He couldn’t keep up with the bills for his restaurant, and he ended up losing it in the process. [Washington Post / Robert O’Harrow Jr., et al.]

Since police pulled over Stuart in 2012, almost half of the nation’s states have reformed their asset forfeiture laws to enhance property rights and limit civil forfeitures where the government has not charged the person with or convicted him of a crime. But while some states have eliminated civil forfeiture entirely, Trump administration is trying to bring the practice back in full force.

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Camus, Albert and the anarchists

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 22:10


Organise! magazine looks at the life and work of the great thinker and writer, Albert Camus, and his close relationship with the French and Spanish anarchist movements.

Born in French Algeria into a poor family in 1913, Camus lost his father in the Battle of the Marne in 1916. He was raised by his mother, who worked as a charlady and was illiterate. Winning a scholarship, Camus eventually began a career as a journalist. As a youth, he was a keen footballer as well as being a member of a theatrical troupe.

From his time as a goalkeeper, Albert Camus always had a team spirit. He had a generous, if sensitive nature, and always sought the maximum unity, seeking to avoid or bypass rancour. Many intellectuals writing about Camus have obscured his support of anarchism. He was always there to support at the most difficult moments of the anarchist movement, even if he felt he could not totally commit himself to that movement.

Camus himself never made a secret of his attraction towards anarchism. Anarchist ideas occur in his plays and novels, as for example, La Peste, L’Etat de siège or Les Justes. He had known the anarchist Gaston Leval, who had written about the Spanish revolution, since 1945. Camus had first expressed admiration for revolutionary syndicalists and anarchists, conscientious objectors and all manner of rebels as early as 1938 whilst working as a journalist on the paper L’Alger Republicaine, according to his friend Pascal Pia.

The anarchist Andre Prudhommeaux first introduced him at a meeting in 1948 of the Cercle des Etudiants Anarchistes (Anarchist Student Circle) as a sympathiser who was familiar with anarchist thought.

Camus also supported the Groupes de Liaison Internationale which sought to give aid to opponents of fascism and Stalinism, and which refused to take the side of American capitalism. These groups had been set up in 1947-48, and intended to give material support to victims of authoritarian regimes as well as exchanging information. Supporters included the Russian anarchist Nicolas Lazarevitch, exiled in France, as well as many supporters of the revolutionary syndicalist paper La Révolution Proletarienne. Camus remained a friend and financial supporter of RP until his death.

Albert Camus’s book L’Homme Révolte (translated into English as The Rebel), published in 1951, marked a clear break between him and the Communist Party left. It was met with hostility by those who were members of The Communist Party or were fellow travellers. Its message was understood by anarchists and revolutionary syndicalists in France and Spain, however, for it openly mentions revolutionary syndicalism and anarchism and makes a clear distinction between authoritarian and libertarian socialism. The main theme is how to have a revolution without the use of terror and the employment of “Caesarist” methods. So Camus deals with Bakunin and Nechaev among others. “The Commune against the State, concrete society against absolutist society, liberty against rational tyranny, altruistic individualism finally against the colonisation of the masses…”

He ends with a call for the resurrection of anarchism. Authoritarian thought, thanks to three wars and the physical destruction of an elite of rebels, had submerged this libertarian tradition. But it was a poor victory, and a provisional one, and the struggle still continues.

Gaston Leval responded in a series of articles to the book. His tone was friendly, and he avoided harsh polemic, but he brought Camus to book on what he regarded as a caricature of Bakunin. Camus replied in the pages of Le Libertaire, the paper of the Fédération Anarchiste (circulation of this paper was running at 100,000 a week in this period). He protested that he had acted in good faith, and would make a correction in one of the passages criticised by Leval in future editions.

The general secretary of the Fédération Anarchiste, Georges Fontenis, also reviewed Camus’s book in Le Libertaire. To the title question “Is the revolt of Camus the same as ours?”, Fontenis replied that it was. However he faulted him for not giving due space to the revolutions in the Ukraine and Spain, and for portraying Bakunin as a hardened Nihilist and not giving credit to his specific anarchist positions. He ended by admitting that the book contained some admirable pages. A review by Jean Vita the following week in Le Libertaire was warmer and more positive.

These measured criticisms from the anarchists were in contrast to those from the fellow travellers of the Communist Party, like Sartre and the group around the magazine Les Temps Moderne. This marked the beginning of Camus’s break with that other great exponent of existentialism. The criticisms of this group were savage, in particular that of Francis Jeanson. Camus replied that Jeanson’s review was orthodox Marxist, and that he had passed over all references to anarchism and syndicalism. “The First International, the Bakuninist movement, still living among the masses of the Spanish and French CNT, are ignored”, wrote Camus. For his pains, Camus was “excommunicated” by Jeanson from the ranks of the existentialists. These methods disheartened Camus. He also received stern criticism from the Surrealists for the artistic conceptions within the book. It looked like the anarchist movement were Camus’s best supporters.

Camus marked this break in other ways too. He had made a pledge to himself to keep away from intellectuals who were ready to back Stalinism. This did not stop him from wholeheartedly committing himself to causes he thought just and worthwhile. In Spain a group of anarchist workers had been sentenced to death by Franco. In Paris a meeting was called by the League for the Rights of Man on February 22nd 1952. Camus agreed to speak at this. He thought it would be useful if the leader of the Surrealists, André Breton, should appear on the podium. This was in spite of the attack that Breton had written in the magazine Arts, over Camus’s criticisms of the poet Lautreamont, admired by the Surrealists as one of their precursors.

Camus met with the organisers of the event, Fernando Gómez Peláez of the paper Solidaridad Obrera, organ of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist union the CNT, and José Ester Borrás, secretary of the Spanish political prisoners’ federation FEDIP, asking them to approach Breton without telling him that Camus had suggested it. Breton agreed to speak at the meeting even though Camus would be present. Gómez then told Breton that Camus had suggested he speak in the first place, which moved Breton to tears. Later Camus told the Spanish anarchists that because he had not replied to Breton’s anger in kind that a near-reconciliation was possible. Camus and Breton shared the podium and were even seen chatting (for Breton and the Surrealists links to the anarchist movement see here).

Camus took a position of the committed intellectual, signing petitions and writing for Le Libertaire, La révolution Proletarienne and Solidaridad Obrera. He also became part of the editorial board of a little libertarian review, Témoins 1956., getting to know its editor, Robert Proix, a proofreader by trade. Camus, via Proix, met up with Giovanna Berneri (Caleffi) the companion of the gifted Italian anarchist Camillo Berneri, who had been murdered by the Stalinists in Spain in 1937. Camus also met Rirette Maitrejean, who had been the erstwhile companion of Victor Serge, and had been involved in the Bonnot Gang affair and trial. Rirette had been working as a proofreader for the paper Paris-Soir for a long time. Camus also became a friend of the anarchist veteran Maurice Joyeux, who was later to remark that of all contemporary literary works The Rebel was the book that most closely defined the aspirations of the students and workers in May 1968.

Again in 1954 Camus came to the aid of the anarchists. Maurice Laisant, propaganda secretary of the Forces Libres de la Paix (Free Forces of Peace) as well as an editor of Le Monde Libertaire, paper of the Fédération Anarchiste, had produced an antimilitarist poster using the format of official army propaganda. As a result he was indicted for subversion. Camus was a character witness at his trial, recalling how he had first met him at the Spanish public meeting.

Camus told the court, “Since then I have seen him often and have been in a position to admire his will to fight against the disaster which threatens the human race. It seems impossible to me that one can condemn a man whose action identifies so thoroughly with the interests of all men. Too few men are fighting against a danger which each day grows more ominous for humanity”. It was reported that after his statement, Camus took his seat in a courtroom composed mainly of militant workers, who surrounded him with affection. Unfortunately Laisant received a heavy fine.

Camus also stood with the anarchists when they expressed support for the workers’ revolt against the Soviets in East Germany in 1953. He again stood with the anarchists in 1956, first with the workers’ uprising in Poznan, Poland, and then later in the year with the Hungarian Revolution. Later in 1955 Camus gave his support to Pierre Morain, a member of the Fédération Communiste Libertaire (the Fédération Anarchiste had changed its name in 1954 following rancourous struggles within the organisation). Morain was the very first Frenchman to be imprisoned for an anti-colonialist stand on Algeria. Camus expressed his support in the pages of the national daily L’Express of 8th November 1955.

Camus often used his fame or notoriety to intervene in the press to stop the persecution of anarchist militants or to alert public opinion. In the final year of his life Camus settled in the Provence village of Lourmarin. Here he made the acquaintance of Franck Creac’h. A Breton, born in Paris, self-taught, and a convinced anarchist, he had come to the village during the war to “demobilise” himself. Camus employed him as his gardener and had the benefit of being able to have conversations with someone on the same wavelength. One of the last campaigns Camus was involved in was that of the anarchist Louis Lecoin who fought for the status of conscientious objectors in 1958. Camus was never to see the outcome to this campaign, as he died in a car crash on 1960, at the age of forty-six.

Lessons from the 1984-85 Vaal Uprising for Rebuilding a United Front of Communities and Workers Today

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 17:50


By Jonathan Payn

This is a lightly edited transcript of a presentation at a workshop hosted by the International Labour Research & Information Group (ILRIG) and the Orange Farm Human Rights Advice Centre in Drieziek extension 1, Orange Farm township, south of Soweto, South Africa, on 24 June 2017. It was attended by a hall full of community and worker activists, including veterans of the big rebellions of the 1980s.

Comrades, the talk I am giving is based on a paper that I have written. The paper is a work in progress. I am hoping that, through the discussions we will have, you will give me some direction. I can see some of the dots that can be connected, but I am missing some. The written paper is called “Asinamali! Rebuilding a united front of communities and workers: #GraveFeesMustFall, neoliberalism and the 1984-1985 Vaal Uprising.” It’s a big title but we’ll unpack it.

When we talk about people’s power we are not thinking about putting our leaders into the very same structures. We do not want Nelson Mandela to be the state President in the same kind of parliament as Botha. We do not want Walter Sisulu to be Chairperson of a Capitalist Anglo-American corporation.

So said a United Democratic Front pamphlet called “Building People’s Power” that was produced in the 1980s. It continued, “We are struggling for a different system where power is no longer in the hands of the rich and powerful. We are struggling for a government that we will all vote for.” The UDF, formed in 1983, was a coalition of anti-apartheid community, church, worker, youth, sports and other groups. Along with forces like the “workerist” Federation of South African Trade Unions it played a key role in resistance.

What the UDF wanted sounds like almost the exact opposite of what actually happened: more than 20 years later, it is not Sisulu who is chairperson of Anglo-American Corporation, but the ANC’s Cyril Ramaphosa, the Butcher of Marikana, who is a shareholder on the capitalist Lonmin Corporation. Even though people have the right to vote now, fewer and fewer people are actually voting because they don’t get what they vote for; and power and wealth are still in the hands of the rich and powerful.

What went wrong, and what lessons we can draw? What are some of the similarities between the 1980s and today? What is the way forward?

The Vaal Uprising, 1984

Conditions in the townships for the black working class in the 1980s were very similar to the conditions today. Starting in the late 1970s and into the ’80s, the economy was in a recession. If we look at the Vaal, there had been a slump in the steel industry, so there had been mass retrenchments at ISCOR, the old state steel company, which had a large plant in the Vaal. This has since been privatised and is now Arcelor-Mittal. The conditions in the townships, which were already bad, because of the racist policies of separate development between the black townships and white suburbs, were getting worse and worse. There was a deepening education crisis that had been exposed in 1976, and black youth were not happy with the quality of education that they were receiving, with racism in the schools and so on. There was a severe housing crisis as well. The government was not building nearly enough of the houses that were required in the urban townships.

And, to top it off, starting in the late 1970s, the local government dealing with black African townships – the Black Local Authorities and the Bantu Administration Board – started increasing rents and charges for services like electricity and water included in the rent. In July 1984, the Lekota town council announced that there would be a rent increase in the Vaal. The Vaal Civic Association, which was affiliated to the UDF, started organising an anti-rent campaign throughout August, and, on the 2nd of September 1984, the different representatives from different committees that were part of the VCA met at the Roman Catholic Church to plan for a stay-away, or community-based general strike, the next day, Monday 3rd September.

That fateful day workers responded to the VCA call for a stay-away. Students responded, there were protest marches and so on and, as some of you comrades will recall, the police opened fire on marchers, and the situation exploded. People started to fight back and what started here, in the Vaal, on the 3rd of September, had within a matter of months spread across the country, beginning the 1984-85 township uprising.

People organised themselves, as they had already been organising for some time, and they made the townships ungovernable: the BLAs began to crumble, they didn’t have any authority in the townships, and neither did the larger apartheid state. Some areas were made no-go zones for the state, and people started to take control of the townships and to take back control of their lives.


That was part of the beginning of the end for the apartheid system. What started on the 3rd September contributed directly to the collapse of apartheid. But more than 30 years after the Vaal Uprising began, here in the very same region in the Vaal, people have found it essential to start organising against another rates increase, this time imposed by the post-apartheid government: grave fee increases.

Starting last year, people have organised against increases in the cost of municipal plots to bury their relatives. I am sure comrades have heard – it has been talked about on community radio, and you have heard about the #GraveFeesMustFall campaign, or been involved – the cost of a plot went from between R400 to R600, to over R1,000. And that is only if you get buried in your municipality of residence. If you get buried outside your municipality, it is even more expensive. Because municipal cemeteries are getting full, sometimes you either have to resort to “reopening,” where they bury someone on top of an old grave, or you have to get buried at another municipality. But if you get buried elsewhere, costs are huge. So, say for example, that you lived here in Orange Farm, in the City of Johannesburg municipality, but the local cemeteries are full, then you have to go to another municipality to be buried, and your family gets charged up to R4,000.

When we ask why the grave fees have become so expensive, there are two main reasons. First, it seems that the ruling party, the African National Congress, and the state, are selling land to private individuals to profit by opening private cemeteries. Second, local government is using every opportunity to squeeze more money out of working class and poor residents.

If the cemeteries are getting full, then surely the government needs to make more land available for graves instead of privatising them. What we need are cheap affordable grave sites, and yet these are getting privatised or commercialised to make a profit. This shows where the government’s priorities lie.

Urban Neo-Liberalism

The problem is linked to the capitalist system of neo-liberalism, which is affecting us, in every part of our lives. Privatising, commercialising and raising service charges, which is what the #GraveFeesMustFall campaign is fighting, brings us up against the problem of neo-liberalism, and how this links to the legacy of apartheid.

It is important to understand what neo-liberalism involves. It is about privatisation, commercialisation, outsourcing, rising service charges, more cut-offs, flexible jobs – and removing all barriers to profit-making at the expense of the working class and poor.

Starting in the 1970s, the economy internationally, and also in South Africa went into crisis. The bosses were not making enough money, they were losing profitability, and one of the ways that the government tried to get profitability back for the capitalists and bosses from the 1970s, was to use neo-liberalism.

Neo-liberalism is enforced by states, allied with big companies. It is embraced by the ANC today, but did not start with it. It started with the racist National Party government, which moved in the 1970s in the neo-liberal direction. It cut its social spending on things like education, healthcare, service delivery and so on, and started making local governments raise more of their own money within the municipal area. So instead of the national treasury giving enough money to municipalities, local government needed to find ways to raise money itself to be able to function. This meant charging more and spending less, and ensuring cost-recovery, meaning recovering money spent on things.

The NP and the Townships

Obviously this approach hits the black working class hardest, whether under the ANC or the NP. So, in the 1970s, when the apartheid state introduced the BLAs, and allowed black Africans to vote for local councillors in the BLAs, it also made the BLAs have to raise their own money for development in those townships, from those same voters.

One of the main ways that municipalities raise money is by charging businesses, corporations and property owners taxes, based on the value of their property. Another key way is to charge them for electricity, water and so on. So, when the apartheid state introduced the BLAs, they insisted the BLAs raise most of their own money.

As you can still see in the townships, there weren’t a lot of businesses, there were no big corporations or workplaces, and property was not worth a lot. The townships exist, mainly, as reservoirs of cheap labour, neglected by the state. So the BLAs could not get a lot of money through taxing properties in the townships, unlike, for example, in rich areas like Sandton, where there are a lot of big corporations, as well as the hub of the economy, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. The apartheid white municipality for Sandton could cope with falling money from central government quite easily, by raising property taxes and service charges, on the companies and the JSE and on wealthy residents. This caused some complaints, but no crisis.

But the BLAs, based in poor and under-developed areas, with a mainly working class and poor population, did not have these options. So they raised rents. This caused massive unrest, and sparked the Vaal Uprising, which sparked the township insurrections of the mid-1980s.

The end of the NP and the apartheid regime, brought some important changes, including the end of the BLAs and the merger of black African, Coloured, Indian and white local government into unified municipalities. The formal segregation was ended.

The ANC and Townships

But the new ANC government did not end neo-liberalism. Instead, its reforms are all framed by neo-liberalism. So, the ANC soon started doing the same thing as the NP when dealing with the townships. Local government had to raise a large part of its own money; the amount of money from the national treasury that goes to local government has actually been cut drastically in the last 20 years.

The result is that local governments, like the City of Johannesburg, raise money and cut costs by privatising or commercialising services like electricity and water, by casualising and retrenching workers, by raising charges and cutting people off if they do not pay. Raising grave fees in the Vaal is just another way for the municipalities to try raise more revenue, and another way to try create space for business to make profits.

But there is not enough money raised, even with these methods, so the townships remain poor and under-developed. This continues the legacy of apartheid’s separate development, with its divide between the suburbs and the townships, which can be seen in everything from streetlights to roads to housing.

This is one of the main injustices that people were fighting against in the townships in the 1970s and 1980s. The old apartheid urban policies don’t exist on paper anymore, but current neo-liberal policies have the same effect.

Because what happens is that the City of Johannesburg, for example, generates a lot of revenue in Sandton, in Rosebank, in the wealthier old white suburbs, and that money gets invested back into the same areas to develop them, to maintain them, to keep them clean and things like that. But Orange Farm, for example, which is also part of the City of Johannesburg municipality, is a township and a squatter camp, and the municipality can’t raise a lot of money here and so, it does not spend a lot of money here.

So the legacy of separate development continues. The money raised by the municipality in the historically (and still mainly) white suburbs stays there, while not enough money is raised in the historically (and still mainly working class and poor) townships to develop these areas, and reverse the legacy of separate development.

The Past in the Present

Other objective conditions are very similar today, to what they were in the 1970s and 1980s. Starting in 2008, the global economy started going into crisis again. The thing about capitalism is that it is full of crises, and the system doesn’t really work smoothly, it is not stable. Every couple of years it goes into crisis, whereby the bosses are not making enough money and the governments lose out on tax, and so they need to find ways to increase profitability.

What they do is that they cut wages, they retrench people and they try to make the working class and the poor pay for the crisis, by shifting the cost of the crisis onto the backs of the working class. They are trying to make the workers and the poor, in South Africa the black African and Coloured working class especially, pay for the capitalist crisis in order to increase the incomes of the bosses and politicians and the ruling class.

Since the 1970s this has involved neo-liberalism. From the 1970s, urban neo-liberalism by the BLAs worked by increasing the rent. From the 1990s, urban neo-liberalism works by increasing specific charges, how much you pay for electricity and water – and now, for graves.

Other conditions are also very similar between then and now. We know that there is still a big crisis in the education system, as we have seen with the Fees Must Fall and Rhodes Must Fall campaigns: black students are not happy with the content and quality of education, and with the fact that it is not affordable. Government funding cuts to universities have led to massive increases in fees, which exclude black working class students, as well as to outsourcing, which attacks the workers.

We still have a massive housing crisis in this country, despite government building low-cost “RDP” housing. At the beginning of May 2017, there were big protests in black African and Coloured townships in the south of Johannesburg like Freedom Park, Ennerdale and in the Vaal, around housing, because the government is simply not building enough houses to end the apartheid backlog or deal with the ongoing growth of the towns.

On top of that, there are massive evictions going on in places like the Vaal. What made rent so key to the BLAs was the fact that a very large section of township houses were actually state-owned. As far as possible, the apartheid state wanted to prevent blacks having urban property, rather keeping them on leases. So the BLAs could squeeze people for rent, and evict non-payers.

Many of these municipal houses have since been quietly privatised, and many have ended up in the hands of banks, with many people are now paying off bonds to banks. With all the other costs going up, with the rising unemployment and low and stagnating wages, all associated with the cheap black labour system inherited from apartheid, and deepened by neo-liberalism, many can’t afford to pay their bonds anymore. With people defaulting on their bonds, they are facing evictions.

So, the problem of the townships is not solved, but continues.

The Subjective Factor

The objective conditions of the 1970s and 1980s, just before the Vaal Uprising, and those of today are very similar, but we are not seeing a massive rebellion today. Rent increases in 1984 were the last straw, they pushed people over the edge – to say, “We can’t take it anymore! We can’t afford to pay more for rent, we are starving and we can’t afford it” – and to a social explosion.

But today, despite massive suffering, and sporadic and wide-spread protests, developments like #GraveFeesMustFall, conditions have not pushed people over the edge, or led to big campaigns, higher and sustained levels of struggle, or a unification of the different protests countrywide.

Why not? The reason lies in what we call the “subjective conditions”: the level of organisation and consciousness of the black working class in the townships (and in the workplaces) are not as developed now, as they were in the 1970s and 1980s. So although the urban working class and even the unions, are bigger than ever before, they are not as powerful and active as before.

One reason is that for at least 30 years the black working class has been under attack, firstly by neo-liberalism, which has tried to make the working class pay for the economic crisis, and which has gutted movements and unions and deepened divisions, and secondly, by nationalism.

The working class has been ideologically and organisationally attacked by nationalism.

What do I mean by “nationalism”? Nationalism is the idea that all people in a nation – regardless of class – need to unite to win state power, through a formation, a nationalist party. This thinking is at the heart of the ANC, as well as the rival nationalist parties.

Nationalism defines the political task as building a party that can capture the state. The state can then, supposedly, liberate the oppressed nation. Meanwhile, divisions in the nation, such as between rich and poor, need to be hushed up.

For the ANC in the 1970s and 1980s, this meant that all movements, including the UDF and FOSATU, were seen simply as ways to build the ANC, which would carry out a so-called stage of National Democratic Revolution. The NDR would be capitalism under black majority rule. Later (some hoped) this would be followed by a second “stage,” a transition to socialism. The core social base of ANC nationalism lay in the black middle class and educated black intelligentsia.

“People’s Power” and the UDF

But the nationalist project involved undermining what people on the ground were actually doing. From the 1970s, people started organising themselves on a massive scale. They knew, as the UDF stated, that “the Apartheid state doesn’t represent us and have our interests at heart,” and they rejected the BLAs and other cosmetic reforms; they organised to have more control over their lives.

They did it in workplaces where they started organising democratic trade unions, based on the factory floor, democratic worker-controlled unions workers built in struggles, which led to FOSATU. This was a way for workers to try and get more control over their lives, including in the workplace, and a means to fight exploitation and oppression. The aim was seen as “workers’ control.”

FOSATU became the hub of this approach.

And in the townships, people did the same thing, through structures like street committees, civics, clinics, crèches, student groups, women’s groups. Like the new unions, these engaged with a range of issues, and were usually built by focusing on immediate issues that affected working class and poor people. So these were involved in fighting evictions and putting people back in their houses, in campaigning against rent increases and the cost of busses, and things like that. This is what the VCA was all about. By focusing on these immediate issues, and by winning small victories, and by linking the immediate problems people faced to the bigger situation in the country, of racist rule and capitalist exploitation, they were able to build strong democratic organisations and conscientise people.

So, when the Vaal Uprising happened, there was already a relatively high level of organisation amongst the working class, with people organising to try and reclaim power and some control over their lives. The UDF became the hub of this approach.

When the Vaal Uprising happened, people took this self-organisation to another level: the BLAs collapsed in many areas, and many townships were made into no-go areas for the apartheid state. People started to move from this situation of “ungovernability,” to what was called “people’s power,” where ordinary people started to administer the neighbourhoods through “organs of people’s power.”

This could involve street committees, or removing sewerage, or taking control of sanitation, or trying to restructure education, or building “people’s parks,” or “people’s education,” or anti-crime patrols, which were taking over the function of the police from the state and making sure that people were not engaging in anti-social behaviour, drastically reducing rape and murder and violence. In some cases, this involved “people’s courts,” to deal with people that infringed on other people’s rights, and committed anti-social acts.

As the UDF noted, the risings starting in 1984 were met with massive repression, including successive States of Emergency, and this meant you couldn’t have the big mass rallies, community meetings and things like that. This pushed people to organise on a more local level, and this often meant that the organisations became more democratic, because people were organising street by street by street, organising street committees and block committees and so on, because they couldn’t have mass community meetings anymore.

So the practice of “people’s power” was shaped by the increased repression, and, as the UDF said, the proliferation and growing role of organs of people’s power could be seen as a “positive growth out of a defensive measure.” The UDF noted, for example, “the development of people’s clinics in several townships”: “in setting up people’s clinics, and in training comrades in basic first aid skills we are also beginning to plant the seeds of a new society.”

They went on, “We must be clear that we do not aspire at this stage to erect a completely alternative health structure. The medical facilities, the big hospitals, and the clinics that do exist in our country should belong to all.” So, do not just build people’s clinics on the margins, but also build the power to take control of the major clinics and hospitals and so on that already existed.

This raised a complex strategic issue:

Should our people’s organisations take responsibility for running crèches in our townships? Or should we put pressure on the government to supply crèches? When local administration collapses, should our organisations take responsibility for refuse removal? Or should we demand that the state resumes the service? When people’s organisations run soup kitchens … are they forgetting the struggle and becoming charity organisations?

The UDF answered: “the removal of rubbish, or the supply of soup kitchens or crèches is neither reformist or progressive in itself. It depends on the concrete situation and the way in which these actions are combined with other activities. The supplying of crèches or of soup must never become an end in itself.”

Subordinating “People’s Power”

So, people began to build organised power outside and against the apartheid state. The idea of workers’ control was central to FOSATU, and people’s power, to the mass base of the UDF, and in both cases, there were moves to expand these to take more power, as “the seeds of a new society.” In fact, the central UDF structures, which were dominated by the black middle class, were left behind. It was the ordinary people who started doing this first, and the UDF’s national secretary, Popo Molefe, admitted that the UDF was caught “trailing behind the masses.”

The UDF leadership then started to theorize “people’s power.” But the leadership was responding after the fact, since the practice was already developing. Because the UDF leadership was often aligned to the ANC, it theorised “people’s power” in a way that fitted it into the ANC’s nationalist project. So, while they were trying to understand what was happening on the ground, they also sought to bring the UDF base back under the control of the UDF leadership, and also tried to link “people’s power” to the ANC’s NDR project.

For example, the UDF leadership insisted: “we do not want to tie organisations down in the endless supply of services if it means they forget the main task of the political struggle.” But then they defined the “main task of the political struggle” as the capture of state power, by the ANC. This wasn’t necessarily the “main task” as defined by the people on the ground, when they set up “people’s power” in the first place. And the UDF leadership completely ignored the basic contradiction between a project of building “workers’ control” and “people’s power” from below, with the daily participation of the masses, and of mass movements and local structures; and the project of state power, which is power from above, in the hands of a few, and of parties, which excludes the masses.

The “NUMSA Moment”?

By the end of the 1980s, the ANC had come to play a central role in the struggle, and this included it taking over the struggle from unions and community movements. And with this, the projects of workers’ control and “people’s power” were deeply undermined. When the ANC was unbanned in 1990, it quickly closed down the UDF, and strengthened its grip on the unions. After it was installed in government in 1994, it then carried on with the neo-liberal project and did its best to prevent protests.

Since then, there have been many efforts to rebuild a mass working class protest movement – one that could tackle the ANC government – but mostly without success. The most recent is the United Front, started by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, which broke its ties with the ANC in 2013. So far, all of these efforts have foundered. Why? And what can we learn from the 1980s about what is needed to rebuild a mass movement?

One of the problems has been the tendency to forget what the 1970s and 1980s showed: you do not start a movement with grand declarations, but with people’s daily struggles, like around wages or rents or corrupt municipal officials, and then you move from there to the bigger issues. It is clear from the 1980s that a lot of ordinary working class people didn’t get involved in movements that seemed to operate outside their experiences, where they didn’t feel comfortable with the language and the tone, or felt that the movement was being led and dictated from outside.

NUMSA sees its United Front as a revival of the UDF process, with the United Front meant to link workplace and township struggles. But NUMSA has not yet done enough of the hard, patient work needed to build its credibility through participation in daily township struggles, reintegrating into these struggles.

Instead it has put its energies into calling for a new workers’ party, while presenting itself as the vanguard of the whole working class. But what FOSATU and the UDF base showed was that you need to start small, in daily life, to build the basis for a countrywide movement.

NUMSA is skipping these vital steps, like other post-apartheid initiatives, and does not see, for example, the importance of issues like #GraveFeesMustFall; and it has also retained much of the old ANC framework of the NDR, with its focus on capturing the state. Unfortunately NUMSA has not gone back to its roots in the “workerist” FOSATU, which had kept the ANC at arm’s length, and which rejected the NDR idea on the grounds that the struggle against apartheid had to be combined with the struggle against capitalism – and the grounds that nationalist movements betrayed the working class.

Whereas the ANC/Congress tradition said that the main political task was the transfer of state power from the whites to the majority, FOSATU went further to say you could only tackle racism if you tackled capitalism as well. This meant that the struggle against apartheid must at the same time be a struggle against capitalism, and that you needed strong, independent working class organisations – including worker-controlled unions – to do this.

In these ways, NUMSA has not really addressed the problem of the subjective conditions. Instead, it has actually been “trailing behind the masses,” as many people in communities realized that the ANC was capitalist and neo-liberal 20 years ago: NUMSA, which thinks that it is the vanguard of the working class, has taken a long time to arrive at the same conclusion.

The Big Lesson

The focus on state power, championed by the ANC and its allies in the UDF leadership – and in sections of the unions, including the NUMSA leadership today – has led us to where we are now. But the state is an instrument of minority rule. Whether it is headed by a P.W. Botha in 1984, or Nelson Mandela in 1994, the state is part of the capitalist system. It must, in the current period, implement neo-liberalism; it must, in all periods, promote the interests of the rich and powerful over the interests of the working class and poor. It ensures that the capitalist class can continue exploiting and oppressing the workers. Its top-down approach is completely at odds with real workers’ control or “people’s power.” To get out of this mess, we have to build a powerful working class movement. If we are going to be able to build such a movement, then we need to go back to basics, back to what people were doing in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and rebuild democratic, independent unions and working class organisations in the townships, rebuild workers’ control and people’s power by grappling with daily struggles.

That means engaging in and building movements that are able to actually win gains, that improve the conditions in the workplaces and the townships, and that can accumulate capacity to the point that they can start – as in the 1980s – to replace the existing system with control from below. A movement that fights to liberate the black working class – not with the intention of giving that power on a platter to someone else, but to use organs of workers’ control and people’s power to take back control of our lives and society, and to put the economy and the administration of the country under the control of the working class.

Where is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) heading?

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 16:34


by Zaher Baher

This article is about the direction of PKK , whether getting closer to the Idea of their leader , Ocalan, or not. In the same time it remind the supporters to the Kurdish in Rojava and Bakur, Turkey Kurdistan, the only solidarity attitude neither correct nor useful. They need to have a critical solidarity attitude.

Since the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) formed it has gone through difficult times but never like now. The best part of PKK struggle was the period of unilateral ceasefire. That was the period when the PKK flourished and the Kurdish people in Bakur rested. It was also a very good opportunity for the PKK to focus on the towns and cities to organise itself better.

That was just one of the positive things that the PKK managed to achieve during the ceasefire. In fact during this period it managed to make more contacts outside Turkey and gained support and solidarity from many leftists, trade unionists, communists, socialists and even anarchists. In addition, the PKK exploited the period to discuss and debate among its members and its supporters the social movement and the idea of rejecting the nation state. In short the PKK was on the brink of transforming itself from a military force to a social force, from guerrilla war to civil resistance and from a fighting movement to a social movement.

All this progress worked very well and even Rojava benefited from it until Apri 2015 when Erdogan cut off all contact between Ocalan and the outside world. The period between April and June 2015, was a tumultuous and fragile period in both the Kurdish territory and the whole of Turkey. On 20/07/2015 there was a terrorist attack on the Youth Wing and the Socialist Youth Associations Federation (SGDF) gathering in Suruc that killed 33 people and injured 104. This was followed by the killing of a couple of police officers allegedly by the PKK. Erdogan and his National intelligence Organisation, MIT, welcomed this opportunity to force the PKK to breach its ceasefire and involve them in an unwelcome war.

Since then, the PKK has been in crisis especially when embracing the announcement of war by the State. Erdogan launched war not just against the PKK but, in fact, against all Kurds in Turkey by increasing the level of its brutality especially after the PKK started street fighting and resisted in many towns. The PKK announced its resistance, a positive self-defence resistance, but in fact it was self-defeating and self-destroying. The State of Turkey did not stop fighting the PKK and Kurds inside Turkey, but also extended its fighting to Iraqi Kurdistan.

The PKK has given a very good excuse to the State of Turkey to show its hand and destroy many towns and villages and kill whoever resisted its authority, by any means. It dismantled most of the Kurdish Municipalities that were under the control of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, HPD, and the people. Over 2000 people were killed, 11 MPs arrested including the chair and co-chair of the HDP, more than 134 members of the Municipalities arrested, around 500,000 people displaced and evacuated and Sur, an ancient town in Diyarbakir, (in Kurdish Amed) was almost entirely destroyed. Internationally, the US, UK, France and Germany blamed the PKK and insisting that it was a terrorist organisation. Their media attacked the PKK and did not cover the Turkish State atrocity against the Kurdish people, or very little coverage. In addition, Turkish jet fighters attacked the PKK base in the Qandil mountains and the villages at the foot of the Qandil daily from the outset and once or twice weekly thereafter for months. This destroyed the villages, burning and poisoning the environment and killing many Kurdish villagers and animals.

This all took place before the eyes of those same European and US governments. In fact, they showed their support for Turkey whilst the Tory government in the UK still continued its arms deal with Turkey.

In the end, the PKK stopped street fighting but it was too late as the war was lost with the cost of enormous damage. Surprisingly, as far as I know up to this moment, nobody in the PKK has taken responsibility for using these wrong tactics and changing their strategy. And, worse than that, those so-called supporters of Rojava and Bakur were silent about shifting the PKK to street fighting.

In my opinion, since then, the PKK has been in deep crisis. Now it is facing a couple of choices. Either it needs to go back to where it was in the 1990s. In choosing this, it achieves absolutely nothing apart from more killing and further destruction of Kurdistan. Or it could simply disarm the majority of its forces and withdraw to the mountains on the border whilst announcing a ceasefire regardless of whether or not the State of Turkey agrees. This can be the first step to save their skin and then to encourage their supporters in the towns and cities in the whole of Turkey to become centres for struggle whilst building social movements. This is the only way if the PKK wants to get out of its crisis and do something better for Kurds.

I believe this step may be extremely difficult for the PKK because, since July 2015, it has gone backwards instead of going forwards and has moved away from Ocalan’s principle and main aim of building Democratic Confederalism . Also, at present, PKK leaders, especially its military commanders, speak a different language to Ocalan and, maybe, from a tiny minority in the PKK as well who talk about a Kurdish state, uniting the Kurdish people and lots of nationalist rhetoric.

In Iraqi Kurdistan where the PKK has a very strong military base and is ideologically strong, they have not built one single local group in the last 20 years. They have not even worked at introducing the experiment of Rojava and Bakur to the Kurdish there. They did not help their supporters in that part of Kurdistan to do anything more effective than recruiting them as fighters. For me, the PKK action in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan has either nothing or very little to do with Ocalan’s new idea.

On 23/12/2017, the top commander of the PKK, Jamil Bayik, who is also the co-chair of the Kurdish Community Council, Jamil Bayik, was interviewed by Ronahi TV about the current situation in Iraqi Kurdistan which has been in deep crisis since 2015 and saw huge protests and demonstrations between 18/12/17 and 20/12/17. He said the only solution to the crisis is ” to form a new government”. While it was a good opportunity for him to talk about the roots of the problems and solutions in line with Ocalan’s new idea of Democratic Confederalism, he knows very well that what he said is not the solution because a new government can only be formed from the current political parties while all of them are corrupted and are agents of Iran and Turkey. They have proved that political parties cannot bring prosperity and equality to their own people.

On 28/12/17 Murat Karaylian, the second commander of the PKK, in his interview to Chra TV said, ” They have suggestions for the crisis that Kurdish people in Iraqi Kurdistan are facing”. He believes in forming a Commission from different sides, political parties and organisations. He suggested that the Commission could have meetings with people to find out what, exactly, they want. However, Mr Karaylian knows full well what the people want, but the problem is people do not get what they want under the KRG regime. He simply talks nonsense, instead of offering their help and support to people to organise themselves independently, just as people did in Rojava, and work towards the main gaol of Democratic Confederalism.

So where is the PKK heading? Answering this question is not easy but the current direction of the PKK neither benefits itself nor the Kurdish people. However, I am sure the future will answer this question, and we may not need to wait long.

Review: Left of the Left: My Memories of Sam Dolgoff By Anatole Dolgoff

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 19:03

via Rebel Worker

The advent of the Trump Administration in the US has witnessed more waves of attacks on civil liberties, more intense police repression, more tax cuts favouring the rich, the beefing up of the military and a range of other onslaughts. Employers have been encouraged to intensify their war path against workers on the job. Whilst an important base of support of the Trump electoral campaign has been demoralised workers in the “rust belt” hard hit by de-industrialisation. Lately Trump has even been whipping up support from ultra right wing forces by his provocative tweets. The union bureaucracy associated with the AFL-CIO-CIA has typically announced its willingness to “work” with the Trump administration.

The syndicalist movement and the so called anarchist milieu is currently in a poor state, unable to tackle the increased tempo of the employer offensive associated with the Trump presidency. According to a major article in the Summer edition 2017 of “Industrial Worker” paper of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) a major tendency in the organisation is associated with the oppression mongering and enthusiasm for identity politics which is such a feature of the middle class leftist subculture. Interwoven with this tendency is the influence of much Stalinist legacy informed “navel gazing” associated with “safe spaces policies” featuring in many IWW locals and the so called “anarchist” milieu. This tendency in the IWW, however is being confronted by an industrial organising approach.

A major contribution to this unwholesome influence of the former tendency must be seen in regard to the IWW’s resurgence in the 1960s stemming from a major influx of radical students and workers with high levels of autonomy in their jobs associated with the education and the university milieu. Constituting a significant base of its membership. As a result, the resurgent IWW lacked the core of highly experienced militants which played such a dynamic role in its formation and expansion in the early 20th century.

“Incremental Shop” Versus “Strategic” Organising

The contemporary IWW pursues all manner of organising drives in diverse sectors Whilst for many years has engaged in a sort of incremental organising of mainly small shops oriented toward winning contracts which have had no-strike clauses. Where there has been success in this approach, the result has been a situation similar to shops organised by some sections of the corporate unions with a largely passive membership. Effectively in these shops the IWW had become a micro democratic version of the corporate unions. (1)

Whilst another focus by Wobblies and some in the so called “anarchist” milieu has been “solidarity networks”. Where relatively small groups of workers are assisted with grievances. A role performed by the corporate unions on occasion, which in no way raises the morale of workers on a large scale and plays into the role of activoid super heroes and pseudo social workers. It fits neatly into middle class leftist oppression mongering and guilt tripping, providing excuses for social occasions and has nothing to do with serious syndicalist industrial organising. Again this activity is very much in the orbit of corporate unionism. The corporate unions are effectively having their normal work fanned out to leftist activoids, who do it for free.

In sharp contrast, key militants of the IWW in its early days, displayed an excellent grasp of strategic organising and the associated deployment of limited personnel and resources in key sectors. Success in this organising would facilitate the winning of major victories in the class struggle raising the morale of workers across industries, slowing the tempo of the employer offensive and turning the tide in the class struggle. Facilitating strike waves and the emergence of transitional steps toward mass syndicalist industrial unionism. This orientation is illustrated with the IWW’s organising drives in the Philadelphia maritime sector up until the mid 20’s and the Detroit auto industry in 1937. This memoir of Sam Dolgoff throws important light on this and other organising issues which are critical to a resurgent mass syndicalist union movement.

This memoir by Sam Dolgoff’s son, Anatole sheds light on his father’s many years of militancy in the IWW and various socialist and anarchist groups. After initially being involved in the Socialist Party, he was expelled as he was critical of the careerism of its middle class and student members and statism. Dolgoff went on to be involved in a range of anarchist and syndicalist groups.

In the early to mid 1920’s he joined the syndicalist IWW. The author shows he became drawn into its strategic organising and associated major organising controversies in the organisation. Dolgoff played an important role in the IWW organising drive amongst soft coal miners in South Illinois in the 1920’s which resulted in the Progressive Mine Workers Union (PMWU) becoming closely associated with the IWW. Dolgoff played a very effective role as a soap boxer helping defeat the well funded and resourced Communist Party United Mine Workers Union attempt to make inroads in the base of the PMWU.

“Taft-Hartley” Pledges

A major organising controversy in the IWW involving Dolgoff discussed in the book which touched on the question of strategic organising versus a simplistic incremental growth in non strategic sectors was associated with the loss of the Cleveland Metal Shops in the mid 1950’s. A major contributing factor to a devastating IWW split in the mid 1950’s. It is discussed in a quote from an analysis by Jeff Stein. It involves the issue of whether IWW shops should sign the anti-radical Taft-Hartley Act pledges. Dolgoff and others opposed the signing of these pledges due to the obvious contradicting of the IWW’s revolutionary aims. According to Stein this stance propelled this huge chunk of the remaining membership and industrial base of the organisation to leave.

However, the Cleveland shops were all drawn into fixed term contracts in breach of the IWW constitution. These IWW shops were also effectively marginalised, as they were surrounded by the AFL-CIO business union covered shops cemented in placed by a vast web of contracts. Consequently the IWW had ceased to be an expanding movement based on direct action on the job and inspiring workers in diverse sectors to follow suit in strike waves. The IWW in Cleveland had effectively become a micro democratic version of the business unions and had effectively left the syndicalist fold. Whilst the original breakthrough in the Cleveland shops stemmed from a spin-off of an unsuccessful strategic organising drive in Detroit auto in 1937.

Sam Dolgoff is most notable in the history of US syndicalism and anarchism in the 20th Century apart from his soap boxing and organising activity on behalf of the IWW, his authorship and editorship of a series of important books and pamphlets on aspects of anarchism and syndicalism, is his involvement in a range of different anarchist groups and publications with mostly an anarcho-syndicalist orientation from the 1920’s to the 1990’s. The most notable being the Vanguard Group 1932 to 1939 with its paper “Vanguard” and the Libertarian League (mid 1950’s to mid 1960’s) with its publication “Views and Comments”.

“The Vanguard Group”

“Vanguard” was one of the most outstanding on the international plane of anarchist publications. Dolgoff mainly focused on labour issues with his regular “On the Class War Front” column. It was in sharp contrast to today’s exotic identity politics and oppression mongering obsessed (2) leftist rags. The key figure in Vanguard who wrote under the pen name SENEX was Mark Schmidt. The author shows how despite being extremely opposed to the murderous policies of the early Bolshevik regime in Russia following the October 1917 Coup, he became drawn into the Stalinist orbit and copied their paranoid conspiratorial ways. Contributed by the panorama of international expanding Stalinism and the rise of Fascism in those years. The author shows these factors together with controversy over whether to support the Allied war effort against the Axis in WWII contributed to the demise of the group and paper. Another factor the author misses is the demoralisation of the international anarchist and syndicalist movements associated with the defeat of the Spanish Revolution of 1936-39.

“The Libertarian League”

In regard to the Libertarian League the author discusses some of the major activities of the group which included solidarity for overseas anarchist and syndicalist militants facing state repression and exposing the authoritarian nature of the Castro Regime in Cuba. The author outlines many of the interesting speakers who featured at the regular forums of the group. However due to various factors beyond the group’s control it was unable to break out of being a small circle. The author fails to mention that it was finally dissolved by Dolgoff and his closest collaborators due to an influx of drugs and violence obsessed elements.

In Dolgoff’s final years of militancy, the author shows he became involved in the Libertarian Labor Review, now Anarcho-Syndicalist Review group. Its origins being amongst a group of young militants in the IWW involved in the Rank-and-File Organising Committee. They were influenced by Dolgoff’s ideas on industrial strategy favouring the IWW linking up with wildcat and grass roots workplace insurgencies. It opposed the IWW focusing on incremental organising of shops based on winning contracts based on the Cleveland metal shops experience of the 1930’s-50′ and NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) recognition for shop bargaining coverage.

In conclusion, the book provides plenty of food for thought about what serious syndicalist organising should look like and important organising controversies in the US which are also relevant to other countries in certain aspects. Whilst providing plenty of gritty and graphic portraits of US radicals in the 20th Century. However, the book is marred by the author’s over indulgence with some aspects of Dolgoff s private life.

Mark McGuire


1. See Discussion on of the US IWW and contracts.
2. See “Fellow Worker: The Life of Fred Thompson” Edited and Compiled by David Roediger Published by Charles H. Kerr. For a discussion of IWW organising in the Detroit Auto Industry in the 1930’s.

* Paper of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Network
Vol.35 No.3 (210) Dec.2017 – Jan.2018

2017 Balance Sheet of War – Syrian Democratic Forces

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 15:14

via People’s Defense Units

The Democratic Syrian Forces actively fulfilled the duties and responsibilities throughout the year 2017, filled with conflict, war and resistance in Rojava Kurdistan and North Syrian territories, everywhere in the protection of the people and their lands; it basically participated in the global war against terrorism at the pioneering level and, in this sense, successfully played a historical role. In this framework, the Democratic Syrian Forces has responded with a clear stance and a strong response to all kinds of invasion and exploitation attempts of their enemies.


In the same framework, Democratic Syrian Forces responded to the invading Turkish state on the basis of the Legitimate Defense philosophy as much as possible against the terrorist groups organized under its control and under various names, ISIS, the Baath regime and all the hostile forces against the Rojava-North Syrian Democratic Federation and its people. In this way, the greatest danger facing progressive humanity, which is based on the co-operation of the regional peoples of the year 2017, libertarian forces, Kurdish, Arab, Armenian, Syriac and other peoples, was a year in which all attempts to drown the democratic popular revolution and dictate the fascist systems in North Syria, in particular the ISIS rule, has been wasted. Despite the support of the many regional forces that the occupationist Turkish state has endured, those who are hostile to the Democratic North Syrian Federation, particularly ISIS, have been defeated and not allowed to patronize and organize terrorist forces even in a single bloc of the northern Syrian lands.


On this basis and in order to protect the peoples of Northern Syria and its lands, the Democratic Syrian Forces continued their efforts to organize themselves and create a professional war force. Democratic Syrian Forces have been directed towards the areas under the occupation of ISIS with the experience and decisiveness of the struggle against the attacks of ISIS and the occupying Turkish army for many years, and an important step has been taken towards the establishment of peace in the region with the clearing of these areas. An effective operation was organized in Raqqa, known as the “terrorist capital” in recent years, and after the end of the war, the city was liberated along with all the villages and small-scale environmental settlements connected to it. Again with the operations carried out in Deir ez-Zor, which is considered as one of the important centers of terrorism, the city’s north is totally free from terrorists in and the operations in the countryside are still being carried out. In this way, the Democratic North Syrian Federation borders extended to the Iraqi borders to the southeast; and to the entire Euphrates River strip to the south. In addition, the northern and western borders have been successfully protected despite all the attacks of the occupying Turkish state and the terrorist groups under its control.


When we launched the second phase of the Wrath of Euphrates Campaign as democratic Syrian Forces in the year 2017, Tabqa town, Raqqa city and northern parts of Deir ez-Zor were completely freed of ISIS gangs so that an area of ​​16,257 km2 was cleared of ISIS terrorists. In this context, the Wrath of Euphrates, which was initiated to liberate rural Raqqa and Tabqa town, the Great Battle campaigns initiated to liberate the city of Raqqa, were successfully completed with the dedication of our forces. In this scope;

The entire province of Tabqa, the province of Raqqa and all provinces (including the villages, towns and counties) were completely cleared of ISIS gangs.

– An area of ​​7.257 km2 is freed from ISIS terrorists within the scope of the operation.

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Jacqueline Jones Talks Lucy Parsons, the Black Woman Anarchist That History Forgot

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 06:02

Via Jezebel

History has nearly forgotten Lucy Parsons (c. 1853-1942), the radical anarchist and orator who enthused working-class audiences for decades with her rhetoric of resistance and violence. She struck fear into the hearts of the Chicago police and businessmen, agitating for workers to seize their rights by whatever means necessary, including violence. By 1887, one newspaper warned that authorities in Chicago “feared this one woman more than all of the chief Anarchists combined.” Another described her as “one of the most notorious women.

If authorities feared Parsons, then it was because of what they perceived to be her dangerous rhetoric. “Learn the use of explosives!” Parsons wrote in a late 19th-century essay, imploring the laboring poor to rebel against exploitative capitalism, and those who profited from it. Despite the fact that Parsons was a virtual celebrity, followed by newspaper reporters and tracked by police, history has largely been unkind to her legacy, eclipsed in part by her husband, Albert Parsons, one of the anarchists executed in the wake of 1886’s Haymarket affair. In her new book, The Goddess of Anarchy: The Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American Radical, Jacqueline Jones revives the life and legacy of Parsons by following her from her early life in Texas to her rise as a famous anarchist.

Jones describes Parsons as a “walking contradiction of terms.” As Jones deftly demonstrates, Parsons’s life was defined by ironies. Parsons was born into slavery but denied that she was black, creating instead a romantic origin story that purposefully obscured her racial identity. Likely born in Virginia, Parsons was forced to relocate to Waco, Texas by her owner (and likely biological father) in the middle of the Civil War. Once free, she sought out education and eventually met Albert, the Confederate solider-turned-Republican-turned-socialist-turned-anarchist. Unwelcome in Texas, the interracial couple relocated to Chicago where they both quickly established themselves as leaders in the labor movement and, eventually, became fierce and vocal anarchists. It was in Chicago, while Albert was on trial for his alleged role in the Haymarket bombing, that Lucy reinvented herself, claiming that she was born to Mexican and Native American parents.

“Learn the use of explosives!” Parsons wrote in a late 19th-century essay, imploring the laboring poor to rebel against exploitative capitalism, and those who profited from it.

It was a fiction, of course, but Parsons cultivated many personal fictions, even as her fame as a radical agitator grew. After Albert’s execution, Lucy toured the United States, imploring the working classes to take their rights by force if necessary. Her fiery and idealistic rhetoric was often at odds with her personal life. She disagreed with Emma Goldman on the issue of free love (eventually leading to a feud between the two), even as she took numerous lovers. Those contradictions extended into her family life as well. She advocated for freedom but Parsons infamously had her own son committed to an asylum because of political differences, where he would die 20 years later.

Jones deftly explores Parsons’s contradictions, offering an in-depth look at a complicated woman, as well as new insight into Parsons’s surely difficult life in Texas. What emerges is a woman whose legacy is present, even if her name has been forgotten. Parsons’s work lives in our more expansive understanding of free speech and her legacy haunts contemporary debates on class, economic justice, and capitalism.

I spoke to Jones about her book, Lucy Parsons, and Parsons’s enduring legacy. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

JEZEBEL: Why Lucy Parsons? What was so attractive that you decided to write this big biography?

JACQUELINE JONES: I’ve been teaching American history for a while now. When I teach the survey to students I’m always interested in introducing them to interesting women in American history. Lucy Parsons name has come up in my lectures for many years, yet I was pretty reliant on a biography that was written about her in 1976, Carolyn Ashbaugh’s biography [Lucy Parsons: An American Revolutionary] It’s good, it gives the chronology of her life, but it says nothing about her origins.

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Maternal and Child Health in the Face of Natural Disasters

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 04:43

via The Hampton Institute

by Cherise Charleswell

Ironically, just three months after the unqualified, unethical, and unstable narcissist who occupies the White House, decided to pull out of the Climate Accords/Paris Climate Agreement , the United States has been struck by a number of natural disasters from the uncontrollable fires raging in Oregon and California, and other parts of the west coast, to hurricanes Harvey and Irma in the states of Texas and Florida, respectively. Irma first wreaked her damage on the Caribbean islands, leaving a trail of devastation, where in some places, such as the tiny island of B arbuda, where there was a reported 90% destruction of all structures. Both hurricanes have been recorded among the worse or most virulent in recorded history, in the past 150 years. There has also been hurricanes, flooding, and horrific mudslides in the countries of Nepal, Bangledash, and India, as well as Sierra Leone; where poverty and the lack of sustainable infrastructure has resulted in the deaths of thousands.

What is clear, and what has been long understood by scientists and those in public health, is that “climate change and environmental degradation is real”. We have been sounding the horn for many decades now, and there has been many attempts to silence and discredit us. However, despite being climate change deniers, such as Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Florida Governor Rick Scott , have both called for federal aid, and declared a state of emergency. All while refusing to to truly address the root causes of this devastation. These climate change deniers and the internet trolls that they help to create through propaganda, misinformation, lies, and false promises of re-opening mines – which have likely already been stripped of all of its natural resources., continue to convince enough members of the public that climate change is a hoax. 45 (One seriously cannot refer to that man as President) even went as far as to claim that it was a hoax started by the Chinese to undermine US business interests.

Americans are now learning that they should be doing more than sending “thoughts and prayers” when a natural disaster occurs, and should instead do something to prevent or reduce the harmfulness of the next one, by voting into office legislators that would enact the necessary policies that address climate change and environmental degradation. Recognizing that climate change has become the most pressing public health issue impacting the lives of people globally, the American Public Health Association (APHA), as well as a number of its affiliates, such as the Southern California Public Health Association (SCPHA) have choose to make climate change the theme of their 2017 conferences. In fact, in January APHA has declared that 2017 is the Year of Climate Change and Health, APHA actually has an ongoing climate change initiative that has included monthly themes, webinars, and resources for advocacy. While SCPHA just established its Resolutions, with the first titled Resolution on Oil & Gas Development, Climate and Health . Again, the experts agree that “climate change is real”.

Another issue that is not being openly discussed in these responses to natural disasters is the fact that, like most aspects of life, intersectionality is at play, and having an identity that encompasses any combination of the following factors, increases the degree of impact that a natural disaster has on one’s health and wellbeing: being located in the global south, being a person of color, having a disability, being an immigrant or refugee, being a woman, being a mother, and being low income.

Further, the fact of the matter is that while Western nations, especially the US, utilize most of the natural resources and carry out activities that have increased pollution, environmental degradation, and have hasten climate change, nations in the Global South are disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change, and suffer the greatest degree of destruction and burden. And again, what complicates matters is that these nations are among those without the wealth and resources to protect and provide services to its citizens, fortified their structures, and readily rebuild following the devastation; putting citizens at risk for disease and injury.

Whether abroad or within the US, due to those aforementioned intersections, those who are the most impacted by natural disasters are women and children ; particularly mothers. During the wake of Hurricane Harvey there were images of many mothers trying guide their children to safely. One could not helped to notice that many were single mothers, or simply had no men in sight who were able to assist. On a CNN interview there was an African American mother who lashed out at interviewers for their insensitivity in wanting to know all of the details about the trauma that she and her children went through trying to navigate the storm, and there was the tragic story of a three year old child being found alive, grasping to the body of her deceased mother . It is easy to talk about evacuation when there is available income to readily do that, as well infrastructure that can accommodate a mass exodus of people from major metropolitan areas; however it becomes far more difficult when

All of this points to a subset of maternal & child health that public health truly needs to consider more intently, and that is wellbeing during and after a natural disaster. This consideration needs to ask the questions:

• Are communities being effectively assisted in preparing for a natural disaster?

• Are special considerations being given to helping to evacuate and shelter single mothers and their children, knowing that they do not have any other support in the home?

• Are resources to withstand natural disasters being made available to those who may not be able to afford the, or have access to reliable transportation to gather them? The central argument is that more resources need to be invested in disaster preparation and not just focus all monies and other resources to disaster response.

• Are shelters being stocked with supplies that will be most needed by mothers of infants, toddlers, and small children: diapers, bottles, etc.?

• Are precautions being carried out to accept pregnant women into shelters, and assist if they go into labor?

Of course, we would want to ask where are the fathers, and the answer may be that they work a distance from their homes, particularly in the global south, have fell victim to the natural disaster, which was the case with the 2004 tsunami that pulled millions of people into the Indian Ocean, or that they were literally off saving themselves; leaving women to fulfill the traditional role of nurturer and protector of their children. One that they are showing that they are ready and willing to give their own lives to fulfill.

A Brief Case for Prison Abolition

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 04:25

via In These Times

By Dayton Martindale

pris•on ab•o•li•tion


1. The dismantling of the prison system; the end of coerced confinement as punishment
2. The construction of alternatives to prison and of a world that disincentivizes violence

“While there is a lower class I am in it, and while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” —Socialist Eugene V. Debs, in a statement to the court after being convicted of sedition in 1918.

Don’t Prisons Keep People Safe?

Whatever politicians might say, abolitionists argue that the current prison-industrial complex isn’t designed to solve crime—after all, three-quarters of people released from prison are rearrested within five years—but rather to warehouse the poor, drug addicted and mentally ill. And there’s a racial element as well: Black Americans are around five times more likely than whites to find themselves behind bars, often for minor offenses, while many who pose a bigger threat to society get Oscars, golden parachutes and seats in Congress.

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Fuck Abuse, Kill Power: Addressing the Root Causes of Sexual Harassment and Assault

Tue, 01/02/2018 - 21:07

via CrimethInc

The past year has seen a wave of revelations about powerful people—nearly all men—perpetrating sexual violence against those beneath them. The #MeToo moment has provided a platform for countless courageous survivors. Yet while some men have been made to face consequences for the harm they have done, we are far from being able to solve the problem of male sexual violence. Focusing on the wrongdoings of specific men tends to exceptionalize them, as if their actions took place in a vacuum. This is consistent with the mechanisms of a criminal justice system focused on individual guilt and a reformist politics premised on the idea that the existing government and market economy would serve us perfectly if only the right people were in power. But with the bad behavior of so many men coming to light, we have to consider the possibility that these are not exceptions at all—that these attacks are the inevitable, systemic result of this social order. Is there a way to treat the cause as well as the symptoms?

Trigger warning for descriptions of sexual violence.

Virtually all recent mainstream coverage has treated sexual harassment and assault as an issue distinct from capitalism and hierarchy. When writers admit that capitalism and hierarchy play some role, they imply that what is harmful about these systems can be fixed through reform. They exhort us to appeal to power to solve the problems power causes: we are to pressure corporations to fire their executives, to use the media to shame media moguls, to use democracy to punish politicians. In short, we are supposed to use the very structures through which our abusers hold power to take it away from them.

On the contrary, we can’t be effective against rampant sexual assault without confronting its root causes.

A tattoo by Charline Bataille inspired by Jenny Holzer. A Very Brief History of Sexual Assault in the United States

Sexual assault and rape are woven into the very origins of the United States. The original colonists did not consider the indigenous inhabitants worthy of the same moral considerations as white Europeans. Sexual assault and rape were systematically employed as colonial tools. Michele de Cuneo, a nobleman and a shipmate of Columbus, described the following scene in a letter, apparently without shame or remorse:

While I was in the boat I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral gave to me, and with whom, having taken her to my cabin, she being naked according to their custom, I conceived desire to take pleasure. I wanted to put my desire into execution but she did not want it and treated me with her finger nails in such a manner that I wished I had never begun. But seeing that (to tell you the end of it all), I took a rope and thrashed her well, for which she raised such unheard of screams that you would not have believed your ears. Finally we came to an agreement in such a manner that I can tell you that she seemed to have been brought up in a school of harlots.

Slaves, too, were routinely sexually assaulted. This was an essential aspect of the system of slavery: in addition to domestic labor, enslaved women were forced to engage in sex and reproduction that served to add more slaves to their captor’s holdings.

Workers have also experienced sexual harassment and assault for as long as there has been a workforce. This is just one of the many manifestations of the unequal power dynamics between employers and employees.

Throughout all this, women were never passive victims. Women have always fought against their abusers with ferocity, creativity, and diversity of tactics. For example, in the mid-1800s, a slave named Harriet Jacobs fought fiercely against her captor; after resisting his sexual advances, she hid in a crawlspace for seven years to avoid him. She eventually escaped to New York and obtained legal freedom. An early forerunner of the #MeToo movement, she wrote letters to the New York Tribune detailing her experiences and in 1860 published Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, one of the first books to detail enslaved women’s experiences of sexual assault.

Starting in the early 1900s, women formed labor unions that fought for the rights of female workers, including the right not to be sexually harassed and assaulted. Black women’s struggles against workplace harassment led to the creation of the first laws against sexual discrimination and harassment. In 1993, Lorena Bobbitt cut off her abusive husband’s penis and threw it in a field after he raped her. A jury acquitted her. These are all legitimate forms of resistance.

“They passed round the bleeding stump, as if they had finally exterminated a wild animal that had been preying on each and every one of them, and saw it there inert and in their power. They bared their teeth, and spat on it.”

-A passage from Emile Zola’s 1885 novel Germinal in which a mob of starving women workers castrate the corpse of a shopkeeper who has been extorting them for sex in exchange for food.

Corporations Won’t Solve This

Of the men whose behavior is finally coming to light, it was no secret that many of them were abusers. Nothing is different now except that corporations have taken a bit more notice. Corporate media outlets have published women’s accounts; some corporations have fired rapists if what they have done is deemed egregious enough. Should we be grateful to corporations for firing serial sexual predators once enough accusations pile up that it becomes a problem for their brand?

These corporations are just plugging the oil leak that finally made the news. But who creates and maintains this pipeline? They do. Let’s not pat them on the back for solving a problem that they caused.

Most of these companies have known about these accusations for years without doing anything. Worse, they’ve allowed these men to rise up the ranks of power to the point that their serial abuse warrants national news attention. In other words, these corporations have facilitated these men’s behavior by giving them additional opportunities with which to harass, assault, and rape women. For every Harvey Weinstein whose actions are finally made public, there is another Harvey Weinstein who gets away with serial assault thanks to the assistance of the institution that gives him power.

Why do corporations have a vested interest in helping rapists succeed in business? While misogyny is partly to blame, we have to look at the bigger picture. Corporate success is determined by how much profit a business produces, not by whether it protects women from sexual assault. In capitalism, whether to oust an assaulter becomes a simple economic equation: how is his presence affecting the bottom line?

Take the case of Bill O’Reilly. Since 2002, Fox News and O’Reilly have paid out many millions of dollars to settle sexual harassment claims. During this time, O’Reilly continued to be a rising star at Fox, negotiating a $25 million a year contract as recently as January 2017. While media coverage and exposés finally forced Fox to fire O’Reilly, Fox knew he was an abuser for more than a decade and shelled out millions to silence women he abused. Fox’s behavior is not so mysterious when one learns that in 2015, O’Reilly’s show earned Fox more than $180 million in advertising.

This is not an anomaly; this is a standard utilitarian calculation that businesses make all the time. Imagine you’re O’Reilly’s conscientious supervisor. Having just discovered O’Reilly’s long history of harassing women, you go to your bosses and demand that they fire O’Reilly. Even if your bosses agree with your demand from a moral standpoint, how could they explain the loss of O’Reilly, the goose who lays the golden eggs, to their shareholders? Capitalism is designed to maximize profit over everything else, including ethics and safety.

This system also makes it difficult to fight back against abusers. In a hyper-competitive market, a single setback can mean the end of your career, your healthcare, your ability to pay rent. The stakes are higher for women and trans people, especially those of color, who are far more likely to experience poverty than men. Those who have gained a footing in the economy may be understandably hesitant to risk losing it, and it’s no secret that those who resist abuse or call out their abusers often face adverse consequences for doing so.

Targets of sexual harassment face impossible choices: do I allow this abuse to continue or risk losing income I desperately need? Do I report this abuse and risk deportation? Do I leave this job without reporting this abuse? If I do, does that mean that others will be preyed upon after me?

Capitalism, the state, and other forms of hierarchy offer sexual predators many ways of doing harm to those who resist them. O’Reilly, Weinstein, Ailes, Farenthold (the list goes on and on and on) all routinely harmed or ended the careers of those who opposed them.

Fears about job security also affect those who are asked to witness or even abet abusers. Weinstein used his employees to make his victims feel a false sense of security before he assaulted them, often asking staffers to come to the beginning of nighttime meetings and then dismissing them so he could be alone with his victims. One former employee described a scene in a nighttime meeting in which Weinstein demanded she tell a model that Weinstein was a good boyfriend, and became enraged when she said she no longer wished to attend these “meetings.” It is easy to feel self-righteous anger at staffers who abetted Weinstein, but it is undeniable that Weinstein’s position of power enabled him to ruin people’s lives. While we deserve for others to be brave in standing up for us even against the most powerful foes, it is unrealistic to think we could put an end to sexual harassment and assault in a system in which people have to martyr themselves in order to protect each other.

Abolishing capitalism and all other systems that concentrate wealth and power into the hands of a few would not put a stop to sexual assault, but it would greatly reduce the coercive economic power that the rich and powerful wield over the rest of us. Without those structural imbalances in power, assaulters would not have the means to manipulate anyone into complicity and silence. This may sound utopian, but it is the only realistic solution if we’re serious about combatting sexual assault. No system that centralizes wealth and power can prevent that power from being used to coerce or harm people.

No, we really don’t. The Criminal Justice System Won’t Solve This

The law is no friend to victims of sexual harassment and assault. Police officers across the United States have brought charges of false reporting against sexual assault survivors who went to them for help, only to later see these victim’s stories confirmed when their assaulters were identified and convicted. Sexual assault survivors who manage to convince the police not to arrest them for false reporting can find themselves jailed in order to compel their testimony in court.

ICE uses courts as a trap for undocumented people. Undocumented people cannot even enter a courthouse without risking arrest and deportation. In this way, the state systematically facilitates the sexual assault of those whose papers are not in order.

Even if the police don’t throw you in jail, only three to six percent of workplace harassment claims ever make it to trial. Some of these cases are settled, but many are dismissed due to the law’s high bar for what constitutes harassment (the harassment must qualify as “severe” or “pervasive”). In one typical example, a construction worker brought a case against a supervisor who talked about raping him multiple times. The worker’s case was dropped because the supervisor’s actions occurred over a ten-day period and therefore did not meet the standard of being “pervasive.”

The court system not only punishes those who attempt to utilize it—it also targets those who try to defend themselves. In the New Jersey 4 case, a group of black women defended themselves against a catcaller who threatened and attacked them. They were prosecuted and four were sentenced to between 3.5 and 11 years in Rikers.

The idea that the law could ever serve to put an end to sexual harassment and assault is a patriarchal myth. Men have always promised to protect women from other men in return for power over them; this is part of the protection racket that forms the foundation of patriarchy. In fact, the law is integral to maintaining the oppressive hierarchies that create the conditions for a wide variety of power imbalances and grave injustices, including sexual assault.

The criminal justice system exacerbates all the problems we have already seen in the corporate sector. While corporations implicitly hold people hostage in the context of the capitalist economy, the criminal justice system explicitly holds people hostage via the coercive apparatus of the law and the state. It is the epitome of power being distributed to the few and entirely denied to the many, and as such it is a site of terrifying abuses of power. People in prison are routinely sexually assaulted, often by their jailers. When we appeal to the violent authority of the state to punish our abusers, we are complicit in perpetuating the power dynamics that we claim to oppose.

We need to explore systems of justice that hold people accountable to each other, rather than to a higher power. Wherever we concentrate power, we will see abuse.

Viewing Sexual Harassment through an Intersectional Lens

Although we are framing this primarily in gendered terms, the identities “male” and “female” are just proxies with which to discuss different degrees of power and privilege. Whose voices we hear and how we respond to those voices is determined by a myriad of other factors including race, sexual orientation, economic status, ability status, and first language. In seeking to disentangle ourselves from patriarchy, we need to internalize the way our privileges protect us from harm that others face. We need to listen to the stories of those most likely to be harmed under patriarchy and capitalism: black women’s stories, trans people’s stories, undocumented workers’ stories, poor people’s stories.

We need to take note of whose voices those in power seek to discredit. For example, the only sexual assault charges Harvey Weinstein has specifically disputed came from the only black woman, Lupita Nyong’o, who has accused him of harassment or assault.

This Is about Power, not Sex

Although women also perpetrate sexual assault, we are statistically far less likely to do so than men. Is this because women are inherently better, more moral, or less violent than men? If we are, it is in part because we, as non-men, are not taught that we must embody the norms of toxic masculinity that are symptomatic of patriarchy, i.e., that women are objects, or that our self-worth is based on the number of women we fuck. Men’s internalized toxic masculinity accounts for many of the reasons they sexually assault women.

Some have suggested that the solution to rampant sexual harassment and assault is that women should replace men in all positions of power. But the problem is not the condition of maleness; the problem is patriarchy, an unequal distribution of power. As long as some hold power over others, the powerful will prey on the less powerful, regardless of who occupies these roles.

Patriarchy is not the bad behavior of a few specific men, but the framework of relations that fosters it. So What Do We Do?

To call out sexual predators without seeking to dismantle the system of power that created them is like bailing water out of a sinking ship. The fundamental problem isn’t a shortfall of publicity, law, policy, or education; the fundamental problem is that the systems that purport to keep us safe make us vulnerable.

We have to weave together the ways that we respond to specific instances of sexual harassment and violence with a determination to confront and undermine the social order that gives rise to them. In every case of male violence, we should be clear that we are not dealing with an exception, but with a problem that is a structural feature of our society. At the same time, we need to create models of transformative justice that can replace the criminal justice system without replicating any feature of it, and to foster new ways of relating in which patriarchy, white supremacy, and other forms of authority do not determine the possibilities of our lives. Every person of every gender stands to gain from this.

Let us join hands, teeth bared.

“I’m not your prey, I still have teeth” by kAt Philbin.

Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.

SCUM will not picket, demonstrate, march or strike to attempt to achieve its ends. Such tactics are for nice, genteel ladies who scrupulously take only such action as is guaranteed to be ineffective… If SCUM ever marches, it will be over the President’s stupid, sickening face; if SCUM ever strikes, it will be in the dark with a six-inch blade.

–Valerie Solanas, SCUM Manifesto

Further Reading The history of sexual assault in the United States: Alternatives to criminal justice: Sexual assault and neoliberalism: Sexual assault on the margins:

The NFL Chose to Tank Its Season Rather Than Sign Colin Kaepernick

Tue, 01/02/2018 - 20:44

via The Nation

by Dave Zirin

he National Football League holds itself up is the ultimate meritocracy. It’s one of the core values of “the shield.” If you can play, you are “the next man up.” This is both a central part of their branding and a handy justification when signing players who have been convicted of violent crimes, particularly against women. Again, it’s their corporate catechism: If you have the ability, there is always as second chance waiting for you on an NFL field.

That is why the sports story of 2017 was how many NFL teams chose to flush their seasons, screw their fan bases, and gut the local economies that had lavished them with tax payer dollars rather than sign free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick. In 2016, Kaepernick threw for 16 touchdowns and had only four interceptions for a terrible 49ers team while leading the NFL in yards per carry. He also was given his team’s courage award after fully embracing community service, local organizing, and the politics of political resistance, famously protesting police violence during the anthem. His coaches loved him. His teammates loved him.

NFL owners and executives, as well as the guy they bankrolled in the Oval Office to cut their taxes? Not so much.

At the start of the season when Kaepernick was unsigned, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said it was just a matter of time before he found a home. He commented in September, “When teams have a need and teams feel like they can get better by a particular individual, whether they know the system, or whether they have more talent, or whatever it may be, that’s what they do. And I’m still convinced that he’ll get that opportunity when the right opportunity comes along. That’s what our league’s all about.”

No, it’s not, and the lost season of Kaepernick’s prime–as well as the abandoned seasons of several hopeful franchises–has proven this in brutal fashion.

Despite a desperate need for his services, these multi billion dollar corporate entities made the decision to tank rather than sign him to a contract. People have already lost their jobs as head coaches and general managers because they chose–or were ordered–to put awful or unprepared quarterbacks under center rather than field the best possible team.

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Facebook’s Uneven Enforcement of Hate Speech Rules Allows Vile Posts to Stay Up

Tue, 01/02/2018 - 17:03

via Pro Publica

by Ariana Tobin, Madeleine Varner and Julia Angwin
Dec. 28, 2017

Infoshop Note: Our Facebook page admins were suspended numerous times in 2016 for posting memes, including ones criticizing racism and supporting Black Lives Matter. Our page, with over 27,000 fans, was then totally deleted by Facebook.

Facebook’s community standards prohibit violent threats against people based on their religious practices. So when ProPublica reader Holly West saw this graphic Facebook post declaring that “the only good Muslim is a fucking dead one,” she flagged it as hate speech using the social network’s reporting system.

Facebook declared the photo to be acceptable. The company sent West an automated message stating: “We looked over the photo, and though it doesn’t go against one of our specific Community Standards, we understand that it may still be offensive to you and others.”

But Facebook took down a terser anti-Muslim comment — a single line declaring “Death to the Muslims,” without an accompanying image — after users repeatedly reported it.

Both posts were violations of Facebook’s policies against hate speech. But only one of them was caught by Facebook’s army of 7,500 censors — known as content reviewers — who decide whether to allow or remove posts flagged by its 2 billion users. After being contacted by ProPublica, Facebook also took down the one West complained about.

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Workers Behind Bars: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration

Tue, 01/02/2018 - 15:46

via The Hampton Institute

by Chris Costello
September 1, 2017

In the era of neoliberalism, the institution of private prison is the subject of much debate. Proponents argue that the system is a cost-effective option. It allows the government to conserve tax dollars and allows cash-starved states to reallocate the funds. However, these assertions run counter to the vast majority of data. In this essay, I will argue that private prisons are not in fact cost effective. Instead, they serve only to incentivize criminalization and exploit the labor of inmates. Further, their function is one that capitalism-and especially neoliberal capitalism-cannot do without. As such, the abolition of private prisons is impossible under capitalism.

The most important argument offered up by the pro-privatization camp is that for-profit prisons are cheaper than publicly owned correctional facilities. This argument rests on the assumption that cost-cutting is important enough to overlook the violence and exploitation that occurs in private prisons, which strikes me as spurious. A great many activities that harm humanity, such as the cutting of environmental safety regulations, result in greater profits. Despite this, no one (except of course the capitalist) would say that profit stands above the wellbeing of the environment. Why, then, should this logic apply to prison privatization? Regardless, this is a myth that has been employed time and again in defense of private prisons, so it is worth taking the time to deconstruct it.

It is true that there is no database of public and private prisons through which it would be possible to control for things like size, jurisdiction, and so on. This makes a comparative cost analysis admittedly difficult. However, the data that does exist does not support the idea that private prisons are more cost effective than public ones. Data from the Arizona Department of Corrections show that private prisons can cost as much as $1,600 more per year, while many cost about the same as they do in state-run prisons [1].

Further, researchers at the University of Utah concluded in 2007 “cost savings from privatizing prisons are not guaranteed and appear minimal” [2]. Finally, a review of the 24 studies on the cost effectiveness of private prisons revealed inconclusive results regarding cost savings. They also found no considerable difference in cost effectiveness [3]. These studies all show that the myth of the cost-effective private prison is just that: a myth. At best, the data are inconclusive. There is simply no credible way to assert that private prisons are more cost effective than their public counterparts.

There have been several studies that claim to prove this point, however. One was conducted at Temple University by two researchers who claim to be independent. However, the study received funding from Correctional Corporation of America, the United State’s largest private prison company [4]. Clearly, studies that are paid for by the very industry they seek to expose cannot be considered credible. There have been very few truly independent studies that have found that private prisons provide a monetary gain to taxpayers. As such, there is no economic justification for the proliferation of private prisons.

If private prisons do not justify themselves from a monetary standpoint, as I have just argued, what exactly do they do? Their purpose cannot be saving taxpayers money, but neither could they exist without a purpose. It must be the case that private prisons perform some function. The question now is, which function? They are certainly not concerned with rehabilitation, and may even incentivize criminalization. Data from one Minnesota report confirm, “that privatization significantly lowers the level of correctional effectiveness, facility security, and public safety compared to what is now provided by the public system” [5]. Private prisons, therefore, cannot be considered more effective or safer than public facilities. Their purpose must be something other than the rehabilitation of criminals.

As Angela Davis has argued, the true purpose of private prisons is the exploitation of labor. According to Davis, the use of prison as a source of labor began earnestly in the 1980’s. She writes, “Companies such as Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group reaped the profits attracting investments from household names, including the Bank of America, Fidelity Investments and Wells Fargo and also from many universities around the nation” [6]. They gained these profits by forcing their inmates to engage in labor. The inmates are well aware of this. According to one report, as many as 60,000 detained immigrants have engaged in “forced labor” for profit-driven correctional facilities [7]. Private prisons, to put it bluntly, are sites of a new American slavery.

This slavery is completely legal. The 13th amendment prohibited slavery-with one exception. The so-called “punishment clause” mandates that forced labor shall be prohibited “except as a punishment for crime” [8]. This clause was taken directly from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The clause reflected a common belief that hard work was essential to the rehabilitation of criminals. From its inception, however, the clause was used to police black citizens and restrict their rights. Frederick Douglass described it this way at the time: “[States] claim to be too poor to maintain state convicts within prison walls. Hence the convicts are leased out to work for railway contractors, mining companies and those who farm large plantations. These companies assume charge of the convicts, work them as cheap labor and pay the states handsome revenue for their labor. Nine-tenths of these convicts are negroes” [9]. Douglass also notes that so many blacks were behind bars because law enforcement tended to target them. This insight remains relevant to discussions of private prisons today. Law enforcement targets vulnerable populations-immigrants and people of color-and force them to labor for the profit of the owners. This is not fundamentally different from the institution of slavery of centuries past. Correctional corporations have used the specter of economic efficiency to perpetuate a barbaric and inhuman institution. For this, there is no excuse.

It is true that criminals should be expected to forfeit some portion of their freedom when they commit crimes. However, many of the aforementioned detained immigrants have committed no offenses beyond entering the country illegally. Many immigrants must contend with immense poverty in their home countries, oftentimes imposed by the United States. The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, was intended to promote economic development for the United States and Mexico. According to a report from the CPER, however, “Mexican poverty has risen since the deal’s implementation in 1994 as economic growth and real wages stagnated while nearly 5 million family farmers were displaced, propelling Mexico’s poor toward migration to the United States” [10]. Immigration is directly attributable to the poverty imposed upon Mexico by NAFTA. Private prisons do not generally house dangerous elements that must be cut off from wider society. They are used to pen in desperate workers who believe they have no other choice.

This is remarkably similar to the processes that beget the development of capitalism in Europe. European capitalism arose out of feudalism, but this was not a natural occurrence. Rather, it came about through the enforced transformation of the peasant masses and feudal retinues into an industrial working class. Peasants were driven off their land and into the cities to work in factories. Drunkenness, pauperism, and vagrancy-the cardinal sin of existing while homeless-these became criminal offences. Prisons began as a means by which to discipline an emergent working class [11]. Even the classical political economists of the time understood the integral role of prison in the exploitation of labor. Bentham, a celebrated economist, detailed plans for a structure he called the Panopticon. In the words of author Michael Perelman, this was, “a prison engineered for the maximum control of inmates in order to profit from their labor” [12]. Although the Panopticon never materialized, the prison system continued to be a weapon for the repression of the workers during this period. This system was widely considered a success at the time, so it is no wonder that the American ruling class has seen fit to replicate it today.

A predictable rebuttal would be that this is an unfair comparison, since there is not a developing working class in the United States as was the case in England. Granted, Mexican farmers and English peasants in the feudal era have very different experiences of day-to-day life. In a broad sense, however, parallels can be drawn between them. Both worked land, often communally, until capitalist states forced them off this land and into poverty. Faced with starvation, both migrated to other areas to work for bosses in exploitative conditions. Many Mexican farmers still perform agricultural labor, while feudal peasants often worked in then-new factories.

Further, feudal peasants migrated within England, whereas Mexican immigrants have been forced to leave their home country entirely. Despite these differences, however, both instances have meant mass migration and an increase in the amount of exploitable labor in a particular area. As such, the characterization of Mexicans displaced by NAFTA as a “developing working class” or an “emergent proletariat” is accurate, at least in the American context.

Private prisons are not about rehabilitation. They are not even about crime. Like the prisons of the industrial revolution, they are about disciplining the working class. They serve a purpose that is necessary for the perpetuation of capitalism at this particular moment. The experience of capitalism’s beginnings shows that prisons themselves have always been a tool of the ruling class. The privatization of prisons was inevitable, brought about by changes in the relations of production (the movement from feudalism to capitalism). It therefore follows that private prisons cannot be done away with without the abolition of capitalism.

The prison industrial complex, as Davis has termed it, can only be understood in a dialectical sense [13]. Prison profiteering is both the cause and effect of mass incarceration. Capitalism’s contradictions spawned the prison system. One of the many causes of crime under capitalism is poverty. The results of one study “imply that if there is a culture of violence, its roots are pronounced economic inequalities” [14]. Capitalism, as a system that pits workers in competition with one another, requires poverty in order to function. Poverty allows capitalists to drive down wages and worsen conditions. If one worker will not accept a particular job, poverty ensures that some other worker will. In this sense, capitalism uses poverty as a tool to perpetuate itself.

German political economist Karl Marx elucidated a similar point in his book The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, in which he wrote, “When society is in a state of progress, the ruin and impoverishment of the worker is the product of his labor and of the wealth produced by him” [15]. Because workers under capitalism produce wealth that does not belong to them, the very process of production ensures that workers will be poor. The principle of exploitation states that workers are only ever paid enough money to enable them to continue working, nothing more. This means that the vast majority of workers will be poor.

Even if poverty did not serve the function mentioned above, it would still be an unavoidable aspect of capitalism. This being the case, capitalism is structurally incapable of addressing the root of crime. The system must, therefore, find a way to profit from it. The prison system, as a result, is now a lucrative investment opportunity for innumerable corporations.

Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and Dell, among others, have adopted a system that bares a striking resemblance to the convict-leasing system described by Douglass. In prisons across the country, inmates work sunup to sundown for major corporations. They produce or package every kind of commodity, from weapons intended for military use to Starbucks coffee. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, “Sentenced inmates are required to work if they are medically able. Institution work assignments include employment in areas like food service or the warehouse, or work as an inmate orderly, plumber, painter, or groundskeeper. Inmates earn 12¢ to 40¢ per hour for these work assignments. Approximately sixteen percent (16%) of work-eligible inmates work in Federal Prison Industries (FPI) factories. They gain marketable job skills while working in factory operations, such as metals, furniture, electronics, textiles, and graphic arts. FPI work assignments pay from 23¢ to $1.15 per hour” [16].

In addition to private prisons getting away with paying lower wages than private corporations, they also subject their inmates to atrocious conditions. A prisoner forced into agricultural labor describes her experience this way: “They wake us up between 2:30 and three AM and kick us out of our housing unit by 3:30AM. We get fed at four AM. Our work supervisors show up between 5AM and 8AM. Then it’s an hour to a one and a half hour drive to the job site. Then we work eight hours regardless of conditions . . .. We work in the fields hoeing weeds and thinning plants . . . Currently we are forced to work in the blazing sun for eight hours. We run out of water several times a day. We ran out of sunscreen several times a week. They don’t check medical backgrounds or ages before they pull women for these jobs. Many of us cannot do it! If we stop working and sit on the bus or even just take an unauthorized break we get a major ticket which takes away our ‘good time'” [17].

Here, we see the true purpose of private prisons. They are intended to create an easily manipulated workforce who can legally be paid wages that are below the value of their labor power. The exploitation and disciplining of the working class represented the impetus for prisons to exist in the first place, and the same logic is being used to promote their privatization today.

It should be noted that the function of prisons as a method of social control-a tool to discipline the working class-is the primary function of prisons, both public and private, in the United States. While private prisons are in many cases a money-making venture for capitalists, their major function is to control the working class of oppressed nations. When we look at prison populations (whether private or public), we can see where mass incarceration gets its impetus. The vast majority of prisoners are from oppressed nations, even though euro-Americans are the majority of the U.S. population. The prison is not primarily a revenue racket, but an instrument of social control. Although profit-making (and thus exploitation) is a motivating factor in their proliferation, they should be seen as tools to beat the working class into submission [18].

Scholars Wagner and Rabuy support this idea in their paper “Following the Money of Mass Incarceration”. The paper presents the division of costs within the prison industry as the judicial and legal costs, policing expenditures, civil asset forfeiture, bail fees, commissary expenditures, telephone call charges, “public correction agencies” (like public employees and health care), construction costs, interest payments, and food/utility costs [19]. The authors outline their methodology for arriving at their statistics and admit that “[t]here are many items for which there are no national statistics available and no straightforward way to develop a national figure from the limited state and local data” [20]. Despite these obvious weaknesses in obtaining concrete and reliable data, the overwhelming correctness of this analysis stands.

Wagner and Rabuy discuss the private prison industry at the end of the article. Here, they write, “To illustrate both the scale of the private prison industry and the critical fact that this industry works under contract for government agencies – rather than arresting, prosecuting, convicting and incarcerating people on its own – we displayed these companies as a subset of the public corrections system [21].” Private prisons have been justified on the basis that they are more cost-effective than the alternative. Data show that this is incorrect. Even if this were the case, however, that would not justify the rank exploitation of the inmates. Chattel slavery is no longer justified by this logic, so there is no reason that slavery behind bars should be subject to this argument either.

Private prisons, contrary to what proponents argue, have nothing to do with rehabilitation. They are about amassing profits for wealthy corporate owners and, chiefly, controlling undesirable populations. There is no argument, economic or otherwise, that can be used to justify their continued use. Prisons serve only as another tool in the capitalist’s arsenal, a weapon with which to wage the war against labor. Private prisons and the capitalist system that necessitates them must be abolished. What this shows is that neoliberalism is simply a new era of capitalist development. In our struggle against it, we should continue to look to Marx and those who came after him.


Oppel, Richard A. “Private Prisons Found to Offer Little in Savings.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 May 2011,

Lundahl, Brad, et. al. MSW “Prison Privatization: A Meta-Analysis of Cost Effectiveness and Quality of Confinement Indicators” Utah Criminal Justice Center, College of social work, University of Utah. April 26, 2007.

Oppel, Richard A. “Private Prisons Found to Offer Little in Savings.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 May 2011,

Petrella, Christopher. “CCA Continues to Cite Misleading Study It Funded.” American Civil Liberties Union. American Civil Liberties Union, 26 Apr. 2015

Austin and G. Coventry, “Emerging Issues on Privatized Prisons,” Bureau of Justice Assistance, February 2001.

“Dr. Angela Davis – The Voice of the Oppressed.” Center for the Study of Democracy, 9 Nov. 2015.

Short, April M. “As many as 60,000 detained immigrants may have engaged in forced labor for private prison companies.” Salon.

Kamal, Ghali. “No Slavery Except as a Punishment for Crime: The Punishment Clause and Sexual Slavery.” UCLA Law Review, 22 Oct. 2009,

“The Convict Lease System by Frederick Douglass.” The Reason why the colored American is not in the World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893.

TeleSUR et al. “NAFTA Plunges 20M Mexicans into Poverty: Report.” News | teleSUR English,

“Poverty and the workhouse.” The British Library – The British Library,

Michael Perelman, The Invention of Capitalism. Duke University Press, 2000, p. 21

“Dr. Angela Davis – The Voice of the Oppressed.” Center for the Study of Democracy, 9 Nov. 2015. Op. Cit.

Judith R. Blau and Peter M. Blau, American Sociological Review Vol. 47, No. 1 (Feb., 1982), p.114-129

Karl Marx, “Marx 1844: Wages of Labor.” Marxists Internet Archive

“Federal Bureau of Prisons.” BOP: Work Programs,

Victoria Law, Truthout. “Martori Farms: Abusive Conditions at a Key Wal-Mart Supplier.” Truthout, 2011.

Peter Wagner and Bernadette Rabuy, Following the Money of Mass Incarceration (Prison Policy Initiative), 25 January 2017.

Anarchist Perspectives on Net Neutrality

Tue, 01/02/2018 - 01:28

via CrimethInc

Yesterday, the FCC voted to repeal Net Neutrality. Without those protections, private corporations—and the class that controls them—can shape what information is available to people according to their own interests. Imagine a future in which the content widely available on the internet is comparable to what you could watch on network television in the 1980s! Today, the flows of information on the internet are almost identical with our collective thought processes: they determine what we can discuss, what we can imagine. But the fundamental problem is that the internet has always been controlled by the government and corporations.

It says a lot about the private sector that military development produced a comparatively horizontal framework that corporate control has rendered progressively less participatory and egalitarian. Unfortunately, there’s no anarchist alternative, no people’s internet to build up instead; this is the only one. State socialists have taken advantage of this opportunity to promote nationalizing the internet, arguing that this is an opportunity to formulate a vision of a better future. But if we don’t want the capitalist class to control our communication, state control of the internet doesn’t solve the problem: it is, after all, the state that is making the move to put corporations in control here, and the existing models for state control (think: China) are just as oppressive. We should take pragmatic steps to defend our rights in the current context, but a rights-based framework that takes the state for granted as the arbiter of social issues will never secure our freedom. If we want a truly liberating vision of a better future, we have to think bigger.

An anarchist approach must begin by rejecting the false dichotomy between corporate and state power. From there, we must dare to dream about decentralized forms of infrastructure that are resilient against top-down control. The internet, in its current form, is indeed indispensable for participating in society; but that doesn’t mean we should take the current form of the internet—or of society—for granted as the best or only possible model. It was our resources, extracted from us in the form of taxes and labor and innovation, that helped create both in the first place. What could we create if our efforts were not shaped by the constraints of the state and the imperatives of the market?

Our long-term goal should be to seize back the structures that we helped build, but we will have to transform them to make them function in our interests—so we may as well begin experimenting with parallel structures right now. Even reformists must recognize that doing so is practically the only way to gain leverage on those who currently control the means by which we communicate.

Technology is never neutral. It’s always political: it always expresses and reinforces the power dynamics and aspirations that gave rise to it. If engineers and programmers don’t build from a political framework with the explicit intention of creating egalitarian relations, their work will always be used to concentrate power and oppress people.

For more on the limitations that capitalism coded into the digital from the outset, read Deserting the Digital Utopia. For details on the end of Net Neutrality and the radical alternatives to corporate control, read the following text by William Budington, also interviewed on The Final Straw.

If you want an image of the future, imagine an internet service provider stamping on a human brain—forever. Net Neutrality and the Feeding Frenzy

The last bulwark has fallen that stood between broadband providers and a profit-driven feeding frenzy the likes of which we’ve never seen before. On Thursday morning, the FCC, led by Republican Trump appointee Ajit Pai, voted in a 3-2 split to repeal 2015 regulations enforcing strong consumer protections on the provision of Internet services, popularly known as Net Neutrality. The repeal will allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to bundle Internet plans in much the same way as they do cable plans, allowing access to certain websites only when you pay up. In addition, it also allows ISPs to create tiered levels of Internet access, forcing websites and content providers that have enjoyed the benefit of an equal playing field over the past years to pay more money in order to compete with properties owned by the cable companies themselves.

Want to buy bandwidth from your favorite Telecommunications company, like AT&T, Verizon, or Comcast? How about Telco Lite, with access to Wikipedia? That’ll be $59.99/mo. Oh, you want Telco Super, with YouTube bundled in? $79.99. You dare to ask for Netflix, a competitor to Comcast’s own Hulu service? Sure, Telco Ultra can give you that—for the price of $99.99.

Let us be clear: this repeal only benefits the ISPs. It allows ISPs to use their privileged position as the proprietor of the physical infrastructure for home Internet access to squeeze out profit from both sides of the pipe they control—to gouge both content creators and regular users alike. Everyone else, like 74% of Americans who favor Net Neutrality, or the overwhelming majority of people who submitted unique comments to the FCC opposing the repeal in the public feedback phase, be damned.

In 2015, under the then-comissioner of the FCC Tom Wheeler, provision of Internet access was reclassified under Title II of the Communications Act. This meant that ISPs were regulated similarly to a utility, and that preferential treatment could not be provided to some websites over others. This is often referred to as an even on-ramp: when you open your browser, you’d see the same Internet everyone else sees. You’d have the same access to information as every other Internet user. Your ISP could still charge you for faster access in general, just not for faster access to particular parts of the net. Even with these regulations in place, ISPs have been found violating them over and over again. As recently as July, Verizon was caught throttling (read: slowing down) Netflix videos, in violation of FCC rules. But don’t worry, Chairman Pai says—we don’t need Net Neutrality because the ISPs will self-regulate. Yeah, right.

Dirty tricks abounded in the lead-up to Thursday’s vote. In the aforementioned public feedback phase, millions of fake anti-Net Neutrality comments were submitted to the FCC website. These used variations of phrases—slightly modified to have the same meaning but using different words—in order to give the appearance of a unique comment being submitted. Especially disturbing was the fact that the comments were given under assumed names, often those of the deceased, or of those who are alive but never themselves submitted anything. So concerning was the practice that it prompted the NY Attorney General to open an investigation into the identity theft of New Yorkers whose names were used in fake comments, leading him to eventually publish an open letter to the FCC after failing to receive any response to repeated inquiries.

What’s important for anarchists to take note of here is that a lot of the debate around Net Neutrality makes it seem like it pits one set of profit-hungry companies against another. Why should we care if ISPs or streaming services win? Let them fight each other, it doesn’t affect us. But the reality is much more dire. Since the major broadband providers effectively run what amounts to oligopoly control over our access to information, they have much more direct ability to filter, throttle, and ban outright content which they deem unacceptable or unprofitable. So, yeah, it’s about Netflix and Youtube. But it’s also about access to radical or anarchist content from CrimethInc. or IGD. In addition to shaping traffic, the repeal enables your provider to actually block content altogether. This puts our ability to create our own radical subjectivities under an even greater threat than before.

Radical Alternatives

Regulatory control by the centralized federal agencies backed by state force is certainly no ideal to strive for, but (as is so often the case) the state has set itself up to play the role of savior. In that role it was holding back the forces of unmitigated private extraction of the information landscape. But could things have been different? As anarchists, could we have helped to shape the landscape itself in a more decentralized, autonomous manner? Can we still? Instead of corporations held back by state force, what would a non-corporate alternative to Internet provision look like?

There are some radical alternatives that challenge corporate hegemonic control over Internet provision at a very basic level. Exciting examples of community-based approaches are taking shape in hacker spaces from Oakland to New York in the form of mesh networks. The idea is simple: instead of relying on the existing physical infrastructure built out by the large telecommunications companies, we can build our own infrastructure. We can take our home wifi routers, and program them to talk to each other, to provide access to one another. This horizontal communication stands in stark contrast to the usual usage of these devices, which is mainly to facilitate access vertically, directly to the ISP uplink. In this way, we can build an net that is created and controlled by us. Pirate packets, jumping through the air.

The benefit for us is clear, and this is a fundamental, structural challenge to the current state and corporate control flows. So our challenge is twofold, both short-term and long-term. First, we must stop the immediate, existential threat that we face with the repeal of the most basic Net Neutrality protections, which threaten to silence our voices. Second, we must build a structural alternative to the current Internet, an other network, one where our voices can not be silenced by a mere regulatory shift because no one else controls it but the communities that comprise it themselves. A small example of this is the mesh networks that exist today, which are fledgling but precious examples of the prefiguration of power we wish to see.

A six-gill, blunt nose shark (Hexanchus griseus) takes a bite out of an undersea internet cable.


Theories of Anarchist Development

Tue, 01/02/2018 - 01:01

Via the Libertarian Labyrinth

by Shawn P. Wilbur

The question we’re wrestling with remains this: How do we understand the anarchist past and how does that understanding influence our action in the present? This question is ultimately inseparable from questions about how our present understanding of the anarchist project influences our engagement with the anarchist past, but one thing at a time.

One important aspect of our coming-to-terms with the anarchist past has to be our general understanding of how anarchism has developed. An adequate theory of anarchist development should probably be able to:

  1. account for the historical facts (and particularly, now, for the mass of historical facts newly available thanks to archive digitization, etc.)
  2. describe the ways in which the defining characteristics of anarchism might have influenced that development
  3. help us explain the state of anarchism in the present.

Let’s just acknowledge that, for the most part, we do not have explicit, well developed theories of this sort. What we have instead are convictions about the relative merits of various anarchist tendencies and quasi-historical narratives that together suggest implicit theories of development. These vary from simple just-so stories to histories of considerable sophistication, but artificially narrowed focus. What they tend to have in common is a sense that anarchist thought has undergone some kind of relatively continuous change, often towards the ideology (communism, syndicalism, platformism, etc.) of their choice. Equally continuous, though obviously different in their implications, are a small number of narratives that trace a steady degeneration of anarchist thought from some moment of primal clarity. (I think I know a few folks who believe that “it has all been downhill from Stirner” and I have myself half-seriously described anarchist history as a sort of “parceling out” of Proudhon’s project.)

Ultimately, there is a tremendous amount of good historical work that either accepts or does not challenge this kind of implicit theory of development. And the point here isn’t to downplay the value of any of that work. But it does seem to me that continuity as an assumption about anarchist development is likely, sooner or later, to be a casualty of good historical work and that the more the light of historical research shines on the earliest decades of the anarchist past the more likely that assumption is to lose its place in our common sense.

Let’s consider the three tasks that we’ve said a theory of anarchist development should perform:

Accounting for the details of the anarchist past, particularly in the era prior to the emergence of anarchism per se, means revising our sense of the various tendencies and their succession. To reconstruct the argument I have been making here for some time, let me begin by recalling a summary from “Our Lost Continent,” the post in which I first proposed an “Era of Anarchy” or period of anarchy-without-anarchism in the years between 1840 and 1875-80:

I no longer feel the slightest hesitation in declaring that there was, in that forty-year period, what we might call an Era of Anarchy, during which a wide variety of anarchist philosophies developed and subsequently declined. Proudhon launched the era with his explicit declaration—”I am an anarchist!”—in 1840, but he wasn’t alone for long. The communists of l’Humanitaire identified the “anarchistic” roots of their approach the following year. We can argue about how anarchistic other communists of the period were, but certainly by the 1850s, Joseph Déjacque had explicitly joined communism to the anarchy of Proudhon—running ahead of nearly all his contemporaries in proposing some form of anarchism and launching the sort of internal struggle that would mark the whole of the post-1880 Era of Anarchism. There were individualists as well, including Josiah Warren, whose dislike of labels kept him from identifying as an anarchist, and Anselme Bellegarrigue, who looks, in contemporary terms, like some sort of left-wing market anarchist. Stirner is there, with his anarchistic egoism. Ernest Coeurderoy dreams of cossack invasions. Virtually every radical current from the revolutions of the late 18th century or the “utopian” period of the early 19th century manifests some more-or-less libertarian extreme. In North American, Calvin Blanchard announces Art-Liberty, Eliphalet Kimball publishes his Thoughts on Natural Principles, and antinomian principles bubble up, over and over again, on the fringes of New England’s religious culture. Proudhon, Pierre Leroux and New England transcendentalism unite in the work of William B. Greene. Activity in the anti-slavery movement leads Ezra Heywood and Lysander Spooner to the most libertarian conclusions. Networks develop, formally and informally, among some of these figures and spread their influence among the working classes. The New England reform leagues, the Association Internationale, the Union républicaine de langue française and the International Workingmen’s Association represent the efforts of various of these anarchist philosophies to manifest themselves as movements in the era before anarchism was established as an ideology, or even a widely-used keyword. In the context of these attempts, new tendencies will emerge, such as the anarchistic collectivism of Bakunin and his associates and a revived anti-state communism, which will reject the term an-anarchy because of its associations with Proudhon.

The facts of history force us to trade a narrative of succession for one that displays a great deal of simultaneity. The provocative follow-up, on “The ‘Benthamite’ anarchism and the origins of anarchist history,” focused on the extent to which anarchism emerged as a break with that anarchy-without-anarchism, rather than a refinement or clarification of it. Having now explored the extent to which the ascendance of anarchist communism also involved a careful management of the legacy of Bakunin (with “God and the State” marking a sort of farewell to Bakunin for at least some of those involved in its publication), as well as having traced the conflict-filled construction and reconstruction of “mutualism” in various anarchist eras, discontinuity really seems to me to be the defining quality of many of the moments we often paint as advances for anarchist thought or victories for particular tendencies.

So we probably have a variety of reasons to believe that most of the claims to continuous development and succession from tendency to tendency have been based on an incomplete use of the historical data. But we can also just look around to see that, however convincing those claims might have been at particular moments in anarchist history, we are again faced with a wide variety of tendencies existing simultaneously, with no evidence that any of them are likely to go away any time soon.

Is there perhaps some way to discuss the contexts of this development that salvages the more continuous sorts of narratives? Could we find ground on which to claim that, for example, the emergence of anarchist communism (or anarcho-syndicalism or platformism or egoism or Proudhon’s first barbaric yawp, etc.) really did mark a particularly decisive development, but that other events have obscured its significance, led the working classes astray, etc.? Part of the answer probably depends on what sort of thing we think the anarchist project is. If we think of anarchist theory as something that emerged in a somewhat unformed state from popular resistance to authority, and that it took some time for the basic ideas necessary for an anarchist movement to become clear (and this seems to be one of the rough-and-ready developmental narratives), then at least some of the early complications may not weigh too heavily on us, but it would still be necessary to explain why, after some series of positive innovations (including whatever steps you think it took to get from “je suis anarchiste” to your favored flavor of anarchism), we have continued to see innovations that simply do not fit the narrative of steadily increasing clarity. After all, one of the ways that reactionary would-be entryists have attempted to brand their efforts is as further refinements of the tradition.

The stakes rise here a bit, in ways that I have attempted to gently address in the past. I don’t have any trouble drawing a clear line between the various consistent anti-authoritarian tendencies and various authoritarian attempts to graft their pet systems of hierarchy onto anarchism—and I don’t imagine many other consistent anarchists have much trouble separating the two groups, as long as we stick to questions of logical consistency. But our implicit theories of anarchist development attempt to do more than just distinguish in this way, calling on the testimony of particular histories to bolster the claims of one or another anarchist tendencies to preeminence. As long as we can really show some sort of continuity, and some development towards a particular sort of clarification of the anarchist ideal, then we can at least point to those subsequent moments when proposed “developments” seem to lead anarchist thought off in some different direction. If, however, what our historical research shows is not the steady development of ideas, but instead a sort of theoretical détournement, through which a single set of terms is charged and then recharged with significantly different meanings—and this is one fairly compelling way, I think, of reading the succession of phases in anarchist thought—then we are on more dangerous ground. The fact that there is probably more connection between the thought of Proudhon and that of Kropotkin than was acknowledged by the latter in works like “On Order” does not change the fact that the form of the anti-authoritarian communist appropriation of the language of anarchy is essentially that of entryism. We can back up and say that this particular form of appropriation was unnecessary, that it was ultimately harmless in itself, etc., but if we appeal to it as a vindication of the “modern anarchism” of the anarchist communists then we have, at the very least, opened doors that we may find a little bit hard to close.

Fortunately, if deeper engagement with anarchist history takes away some familiar narratives of development, the same process seems to provide alternative accounts. But it really does not seem that the sort of “common sense” accounts of continuous development from “precursors” to “modern anarchism” (however you want to specify those catagories) fulfills any of the tasks we have set for a theory of anarchist development. And I wonder if there isn’t something particularly demoralizing about some of the common, but under-theorized positions in the milieu, which combine a sort of faith that some process of clarification has taken place with the almost inescapable experience of our collective lack of clarity.

Let’s not waste any time, then, proposing a more adequate alternative.

No one should be surprised when I turn again to Voline’s 1924 essay “On Synthesis.” As I suggested in “The Synthesist’s Consolation,” the first benefit of engaging with Voline’s text is indeed consolation. If we are forced to acknowledge that we still have some work to do in order to come to terms with the anarchist past, we can at least remind ourselves that some of our best and brightest warned us a long time ago that the road wouldn’t always be smooth. In moving from the the rude shot across the bow in “Coming to Terms with the Anarchist Past” to the more positive, conciliatory message of “The Synthesist’s Consolation,” I’ve really just been executing a variation on an old theme. We see it in rather extreme form in Max Nettlau, one of the most constant witnesses to difficulties that seemed inherent in our project, whose various writings on mutual tolerance, panarchy, synthesis, etc. provide us with extraordinarily challenging proposals to defects in the anarchist project that he clearly thought were themselves profound. But there we also see the theoretical questioning accompanied by a constant practical commitment. We see it again in the work of Ricardo Mella, whose essay on “The Bankruptcy of Beliefs” lumps anarchism among the systems of belief that must inevitably collapse under the weight of their own defects, but who sequel on “The Rising Anarchism” suggests another chapter, explicitly based in synthesis, provided we stick to the task at hand. Alongside these two remarkable bodies of work, Voline’s account of anarchist synthesis (and my own appeal to it) are positively gentle and optimistic in their tone. More than that, however, I think that Voline’s notion of synthesis really does the things that we might expect from an adequate theory of anarchist development—provided, of course, that we allow it to do that work and do not simply reduce it to a commentary on how to organize anarchist congresses or federations, as has so often been done.

If anarchism is a matter of exploration, followed by synthesis, and then no doubt by more cycles of a similar nature, then we would have to feel quite certain of our present beliefs and practices to waste too much time relegating the explorations of others to “precursor” status. Among contemporary tendencies, it becomes easy to see a sort of division of later, in the context of which we needn’t pretend that all explorations are equal in their long- or short-term utility. Were we to adopt this perspective, we might expect some reduction in the most useless sorts of sectarian struggle, along with some reduction in the distractions that stand between us and serious engagements with the anarchist past. We might at the very least have better fights among ourselves and there are probably a whole series of improvements that we might see in our relations with one another if we were to really internalize this view of things. But perhaps one of the most immediate effects of adopting a synthesist theory of anarchist development would be the light it might shed on our present conflicts and incompatibilities. After all, we are talking about a critique that is now well over a century old. And if it was true that there was a need for synthesis among anarchist tendencies one hundred years ago, what do we imagine the effects would be if we failed to address that need?

If we are looking for a theory, rooted in the nature of the anarchist project, that seems likely to shine a line on what is demoralizing about our present situation, perhaps we have at least found a likely candidate.

Taxes, inequality, and class power

Mon, 01/01/2018 - 21:06

via MR Online

by Martin Hart-Landsberg

Originally published: Reports From the Economic Front (December 22, 2017) No doubt about it, the recently passed tax bill is terrible for working people.  But as Lance Taylor states in a blog post titled “Why Stopping Tax ‘Reform’ Won’t Stop Inequality”: “Inequality isn’t driven by taxes—its driven by the power of capital in relation to workers.”  Said differently we need to concentrate our efforts on shifting the balance of class power.  And that means, among other things, putting more of our energy into workplace organizing and revitalizing the trade union movement.

The rich really are different

Taylor uses the Palma ratio to highlight the growth of income inequality. The measure, proposed by the Cambridge University economist Jose Gabriel Palma, is defined as the ratio of the average income of a wealthy group relative to the average income of a poorer group. Taylor calculates Palma ratios “for the top one percent vs. households between the 61st and 99th percentiles of the size distribution (the ‘middle class’) and the sixty percent at the bottom.”

The first figure looks at Palma ratios for pre-tax income. The second figure uses disposable or after-tax income.

In both figures we see growing ratios, which means that the top 1 percent is increasing its income faster than the other two groups, although the gains are not quite as large in the case of after-tax income, suggesting that taxes and transfers do make a small but real difference.

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