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Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth
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Life in “Mueller Time”: The Politics of Waiting and the Spectacle of Investigation

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 23:53

by CrimethInc

For almost two years now, faithful Democrats have waited for special counsel Robert Mueller to file his report about collusion between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian attempts to interfere in the US election, not to mention Trump’s involvement in obstruction of justice. Whenever Trump’s activity provokes them or a subterranean rumbling within the Justice Department emboldens them, the faithful take to the streets and social media with hand-held cardboard signs and internet memes to proclaim that Mueller Time is close at hand. Yet even if the Mueller investigation concludes with Trump’s impeachment, the spectacle of the investigation has served to immobilize millions who have a stake in systemic social change, ensuring that what comes next in the United States will be politics as usual—not liberation.

When you’ve fallen on the highway
And you’re lying in the rain,
And they ask you how you’re doing
Of course you’ll say you can’t complain
If you’re squeezed for information,
That’s when you’ve got to play it dumb
You just say you’re out there waiting
For the miracle, for the miracle to come

-The 20th century’s greatest messianic thinker, Leonard Cohen

Within weeks of the beginning of the investigation, there were already think pieces and t-shirts proclaiming “It’s Mueller Time.” Let’s take the t-shirts at their word: maybe it’s been Mueller Time all along. Maybe Mueller Time is not a specific date that is about to arrive, but the era we’ve been experiencing these past two years.

In that case, Mueller Time is not an hour on the clock, but a way of experiencing time, a kind of time—like crunch time or quality time or go time, but the opposite of all of them. It is not a scale of time, like geologic time, or a time zone, like Eastern Standard Time—Mueller Time is more like the End Times, perpetually anticipated.

To be precise, Mueller Time is the political suspended animation in which the Democrats have waited for a repeatedly deferred deus ex machina to deliver them from this unbearable pres(id)ent. This condition of waiting, itself, rather than any of the grievous injustices that have taken place during it, is the very essence of hell.

Dante, the Marco Polo of the Abyss, located Limbo, the residence of those who wait, in Inferno, not in Purgatory. Waiting is not transformative or redemptive—it is the sort of sin for which the punishment is the crime. “Limbo” shares a Latin root with liminal—it is homeland of those who tarry on the threshold, those who are on the fence.

If you can get people used to waiting, you can get them used to anything.

To understand Mueller Time better, we can begin with its namesake. “Miller time” is a time to take a load off, to ease our pain by drugging ourselves into oblivion. It’s a profound expression of despair—“I can only relax in this world by deadening my senses”—disguised not just as relief but as celebration. What is the glee with which Democrats invoke Mueller Time if not an admission of their own abject powerlessness and dependence? “Rejoice,” says the Democrat, “Justice will be done! And thank goodness, as usual, the FBI will take care of everything.”

Miller Time and Mueller Time are both chronotopes, to use the term popularized by literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin: they are specific relationships to time. You cannot understand a group of people without understanding how they experience the passing of time. Peering between chronotopes produces strange refractions, like looking through a glass of water. How different the world appears to a person whose activism consists chiefly of waiting, in contrast to how it appears to those for whom waiting and acting are opposites! It is the difference between spectator and athlete, between the consumer and the inventor, between those who suffer history as if it were weather and those who make history as a side effect of understanding themselves as the protagonists of their time.

And Miller Time and Mueller Time are both marketed chronotopes. Miller Time is the “5 o’clock somewhere” that unites wage labor and intoxication in a mutually reinforcing false opposition—but even more importantly, it is the branded colonization of that time. Likewise, Mueller Time is not just the “he’ll get his” which all people of conscience wish for Trump, but a particular deferral of responsibility. Both are successful advertising campaigns that concentrate capital in certain hands precisely by inducing people not to take their problems into their own hands.

“The politicians’ stubborn faith in progress, their confidence in their ‘mass basis,’ and, finally, their servile integration in an uncontrollable apparatus have been three aspects of the same thing.”

Walter Benjamin on how Social Democrats permitted the Third Reich to come to power in Germany

All this is familiar to those who were raised as Adventists, believing that the outrageous sinfulness of the prevailing world order indicates the imminence of the Resurrection and the necessity of repentance before authority. Mueller Time is the redemption, the arrival of the Millennium, when the legitimate authorities will reassert their dominion and the obedient will be rewarded for their patience. Good Christians have awaited this for two thousand years; they have made a religion out of waiting. You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

To keep people waiting for salvation indefinitely, it helps to shift every once in a while from one source of dramatic tension to another. Some hoped Trump would run the country “like a business.” Now that the signature forms of evil associated with capitalism—nepotism, profiteering, corruption, race baiting, sexual harassment, misinformation—characterize the presidency, Democrats are proposing to return to the good-old-fashioned signature forms of evil previously associated with government: bureaucracy, clientelism, experts deciding the fates of millions behind closed doors. All the things that helped Trump come to office.

For the purposes of relegitimizing government, it is ideal that Robert Mueller is not just a “good” authority figure, but specifically, a white male Republican—an FBI director who first made a name for himself overseeing the killing of Vietnamese people. He is everything the average Democrat would oppose if Trump had not moved the goal posts by pursuing the same Republican agenda by potentially extra-legal means. Mueller represents the same FBI that attempted to make Martin Luther King, Jr. commit suicide, that set out to destroy the Occupy movement. Under Mueller’s leadership, the FBI determined that the number one domestic terror threat in the United States was environmental activism.

Mueller Time is a way of inhabiting the eternally renewed amnesia that is America. This is the real “deep state”—the part of each Democrat’s heart that will accept any amount of senseless violence and murder and oppression, as long as it adheres to the letter of the law.

“Definitions of basic historical concepts: Catastrophe—to have missed the opportunity. Critical moment—the status quo threatens to preserve itself. Progress—the first revolutionary measure taken.”

-Walter Benjamin

What will be the fruits of Mueller’s labors?

Rank-and-file Democrats still don’t understand how power works. Crime is not the violation of the rules, but the stigma attached to those who break rules without the power to make them. (As they say, steal $25, go to jail; steal $25 million, go to Congress.) At the height of Genghis Khan’s reign, it would have been pointless to accuse the famous tyrant of breaking the laws of the Mongol Empire; as long as Trump has enough of Washington behind him, the same goes for him. Laws don’t exist in some transcendent realm. They are simply the product of power struggles among the elite—not to mention the passivity of the governed—and they are enforced according to the prevailing balance of power. To fetishize the law is to accept that might makes right. It means abdicating the responsibility to do what is ethical regardless of what the laws happen to be.

In the struggle to control the law-making and law-enforcing apparatus of the US government, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have secured a solid majority. They remain at an impasse. The most likely explanation for Mueller’s delays is that he has been biding his time, waiting to see if the balance of power in the US government would shift enough that there could be some consequences to his report.

The wait
The wait
The wait
The wait

The wait
The wait
The wait
The wait

-Killing Joke, “The Wait”

Ironically, the only thing that could guarantee that Mueller’s report will have an effect would be if this impasse were disturbed by forces outside the halls of power—for example, by a real social movement utilizing direct action. If millions of people were in the streets preventing the Trump administration from accomplishing its agenda, then the power brokers in Washington would consider sacrificing Donald Trump to preserve business as usual.

In standing back and waiting, affirming the authority of the FBI and Congress to take care of matters, Mueller’s fans make it less likely that his investigation will pose a serious threat to the administration. The rank and file Democrats are left gazing at their screens, watching the bureaucratic equivalent of the spinning wheel of death.

In this case, the more you clap your hands, the less Tinkerbell exists.

I’m in the waiting room
I don’t want the news—I cannot use it
I don’t want the news—I won’t live by it

But I don’t sit idly by
I’m planning a big surprise
I’m gonna fight for what I wanna be
And I won’t make the same mistakes
Because I know how much time that wastes

-Fugazi “Waiting Room”

The arc of history is long, but it curves towards—death. There is no excuse to delay. Tomorrow will use you the way we use today.

What would it mean to stop waiting?

It would mean to stop looking to others to solve our problems, no longer permitting a series of presidents, Speakers of the House, FBI directors, presidential candidates, and other bullies and hucksters to play good cop/bad cop with us.

It would mean figuring out how to deal with the catastrophes that Trump’s presidency is causing directly, rather than through the mediation of other authority figures. It would mean building up social movements powerful enough to block the construction of a border wall, to liberate children from migrant detention facilities and reunite them with their families, to feed the hungry and care for the sick without waiting for legislators to give us permission to make use of the resources that we and others like us maintain on a daily basis.

Remember when we shut down the airports immediately after Trump took office? It would mean doing more of that, and less sitting around waiting on politicians and bureaucrats. That was our proudest moment. Since then, we have only grown weaker, distracted by the array of champions competing to represent us—the various media outlets and Democratic presidential candidates—all surrogates for our own agency.

Let’s stop killing time. Or rather—let’s stop permitting it to kill us.

“We live the whole of our lives provisionally,” he said. “We think that for the time being things are bad, that for the time being we must make the best of them and adapt or humiliate ourselves, but that it’s all only provisional and that one day real life will begin. We prepare for death complaining that we have never lived. Of all the people I know, not one lives in the present. No one gets any pleasure from what he does every day. No one is in a condition to say On that day, at that moment, my life began. Believe me, even those who have power and take advantage of it are plagued with anxieties and disgusted at the dominant stupidity. They too live provisionally and spend their whole lives waiting.”

“Those who flee the country also spend their lives waiting,” Pietro said. “That’s the trouble. But one mustn’t wait, one must act. One must say Enough, from this very day.”

“But if you do not have the freedom to act?” Nunzio said.

“Freedom is not a thing you can receive as a gift,” Pietro said. “You can be free even under a dictatorship on the simple condition that you struggle against it. A person who thinks with his own mind and remains uncorrupted is free. A person who struggles for what she believes to be right is free. You might live in the most democratic country in the world, but if you are lazy, callous, and servile, you are not free—in spite of the absence of violence and coercion, you are a slave. Freedom is not a thing that can be begged from others. You must take it for yourself, in whatever share you can.”

-Ignazio Silone, Bread and Wine

Further Reading

Take Your Pick: Law or Freedom

The Centrists

Art: Mike Flugennock

The post Life in “Mueller Time”: The Politics of Waiting and the Spectacle of Investigation appeared first on Infoshop News.

Class War 09/2019: “Yellow vests”

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 18:40

We published recently on our blog, as we had access to them and they reached us, some documents produced by and around the “yellow vest” movement that has been shaking France since several weeks. The following is a kind of introduction to all of them (an introduction that we usually publish before, indeed).

We will not come back to the history of the movement, to particular events or expressions. We can refer interested readers to different websites and blogs that assume this task very well.

What we would like to deal with here is the way how we approach this movement, how we analyze it, how we evaluate its importance in the framework of class struggle. And we don’t want to hide that various articles spitting on this movement produced and reproduced by too many groups of ultra-left were a (negative) inspiration for this contribution that we can intimately call: “What’s NOT to be done”.

However we are aware of many weaknesses expressed by the movement and we are the first to criticize them, we can hardly agree with the methodology used by those groups – methodology that limits the movement only to those weaknesses, that generalize those weak points and illusions expressed only by a part of “yellow vests” like if it was the nature of the movement, an analysis grasping the class as something static, sociologic, mechanic…

We will not go through all the arguments used by the ultra-left against the “yellow vests”, but we have at least to mention the most absurd ones in order to reply to them, to put this movement into its right place in the class struggle, to put it back on its legs and make it not walking anymore on its head…

Two conceptions of the class: proletariat as a sociological entity versus proletariat as a struggling force

Many of those who despise the “yellow vest” movement pretend that it is an interclass movement, a mixture of bourgeoisie and proletariat, a multitude of interests and programmes historically opposed. Such a point of view is based on a sociological definition of the working class – proletarian = worker, or better a factory worker if possible.

For us the proletariat is not a static group of individuals defined by their payroll, but rather an entity that structures itself in the struggle and through the struggle, a force that exists only as a potential in the times of social peace and that turns into a real force only while fighting united by its historical programme that it partially express in every clash with Capital.

We of course define the proletariat as the exploited class, but we do not let ourselves to be fooled with new forms of social statuses that capital invents to be more flexible, more profitable. All those little shop owners, freelancers and white collars that bother so much the ultra-left smarties share exactly the same living conditions (sometimes even worse), the same problems, the same misery as the “pure proletarians”.

It is in fact a very successful strategy of Capital and its democracy to dissimulate different categories of proletariat under the mask of different strata of society in order to prevent the class to recognize itself, to unite. And to present others, formally indeed wage workers, like if they would be proletarians, even if they objectively stay on the other side of the barricade.

The very development of democracy sees to it that the present importance of the simplification/exacerbation of the contradictions of capitalism is being concealed by the permanent obliteration of class frontiers. This is affirmed by specific ideological forms which develop total confusion in this respect, mainly those based on a complicated set of juridical and formal statutes that supposedly divide society – not into two antagonistic classes – but into an indeterminate number of more or less vague and elastic categories.

This is how, for instance, at one pole of society, a whole of juridical forms conferring pseudo-waged status tends to camouflage the bourgeois nature of entire structures of the state. This is the case, for instance, for army and police officers or for high level officials in administration or in industry, for bureaucrats of all kinds… who, under this cover, are classified as neutral categories, without any class-belonging or worse still, are assimilated into “working class social groups”.

At the other pole of society the same is happening: a whole of juridical forms of pseudo-owners – “peasant” cooperatives, agrarian reforms, artisans,… – which objectively camouflage the existence of huge masses of proletarians, associated by capital for the production of surplus-value (the wage character disguised). This and other ideological mechanisms tend to present us as being opposed to each other and as having different interests from those of other sections of the proletariat: urban/agricultural, active/unemployed, men/women, “workers”/employees, manual/intellectual workers… [GCI-ICG, Theses of Programmatical Orientation, thesis no.14]

Finally, the ultimate evidence of the social position of those that some leftists refuse to call proletarians (the list vary according to the group but we can find this approach applied on freelancers, little owners, unemployed, pensioners, etc.) is the fact that the presence of these social strata in the movement doesn’t change anything on the programme of the movement. These groups of “impure” proletarians do not impose any agenda of petty bourgeoisie (as some would like to persuade us is their intention); on the contrary, they join and develop the proletarian critique, the proletarian programme.

Instead of these sociological pseudo analysis that the leftists keep to be occupied with the movement is rather busy with defining itself as a class antagonistic to the bourgeois class, to the bourgeois society:

We, workers, unemployed, pensioners, we live on wages (including disguised as turnover for self-employed entrepreneurs) and on social welfare. This salary and social welfare are obtained by selling our labour force to a boss. And that’s how he manages to make money, that’s how the economy runs, at our expense. We can understand calls for unity within the yellow vests. But when this unity means walking with those who exploit us on a daily basis and with their political representatives, it is no longer unity, it is domestication. In reality, our interests are irreconcilable and this is also expressed at the level of demands. [Jaune – Le journal pour gagner]

Another common argument that some leftists use is that “yellow vests” is not a proletarian movement, because it represents a minority, because the majority of the class doesn’t participate to it. But this logic is completely upside down. We can hardly reproach to those who struggle that the others do not do so. Yes, the movement has to spread and generalize, yes, the rest of the class has to stop to watch it on television or discuss it on Facebook and join it in practice. And the “yellow vests” are pretty aware of it as we can read new appeals to the rest of the class to join them.

However it is not the quantity that can be a measure of whether something is proletarian or not. The movement indeed since the beginning grew in number but especially in the content. The “yellow vests” overpassed through a flow of workers and unemployed that has been joining them the original form of a movement against taxes and continue to create a movement against our living conditions, turning into a tidal wave that shakes the whole society, at least in France.

Everything that has been experienced and continues to be experienced at roundabouts, blockades or riots has enabled a whole people to regain their political capacity, that is, their ability to act that even a RIC [“Référendum d’initiative citoyenne”] cannot contain. [Yellow vests. End of the first round?]

And it is this content (which forms part as a tendency of the process of practical and theoretical negation of bourgeois State, economy, ideology…) that defines it as a proletarian movement beyond its protagonists’ consciousness, beyond the flags they wave.

The whole secret of the perpetuation of bourgeois domination can be summed up as being due to the proletariat’s difficulty in recognizing itself for what it really is, in recognizing its own struggle in the struggle of its class brothers (in whatever part of the world, and whatever categories the bourgeoisie might be using to divide it). This recognition is an indispensable condition for its constitution as an historical force. [GCI-ICG, Theses of Programmatical Orientation, idem]

It is not by chance that those who have a problem with seeing proletariat in “yellow vests” are finally those who have difficulties to see our class in youngsters’ revolts in suburbs or uprisings outside of Europe. As one of the texts we publish claims:

The majority of the comrades hostile to the yellow vest movement are in such a position because they chose not to make the distinction between what is said (the much mediatized legitimacy discourse) and what is done (the blockages and the kind of actions they announce). [Yellow Vest or not? We need fuel to burn it all down]

They limit the movement to its weaknesses and ideologies without seeing the process of their overpassing.

History of the struggles of our class shows us that many similar proletarian movements, especially when they originate outside of the workplace and therefore do not directly confront the production of commodities, tend to start with claims and demands related to our class interests in a confused way. As long as their dynamics is on the rising curve, as long as they attract proletarians across the sectoral and sociological boundaries imposed on us by Capital, as long as the confrontation with the State in its many incarnations intensifies, the class nature of the movement becomes clearer and clearer.

This leads to crystallization of two opposing currents in the movement. The proletarian one – which so far has an upper hand inside the movement – is pushing for always deeper ruptures with the capitalist society: no dialogue with the ruling class, explicit affirmation of the violent confrontation with the repressive forces, attempts to spread the struggle to the workplaces, attempts of internationalization of the struggle, etc. Another, Social Democratic one, is trying to pacify the struggle and bring it back under the democratic umbrella of citizenship – in this case represented by all those “media stars” from the ranks of “yellow vests”, all those little “leaders” trying to transform the movement into a political party or trade-union, or to hook it up with the existing ones, all those calls for referendum and patriotic exposés.

We want to underline that the constitution of the proletariat as a class is a process, a process of struggle, a process in which our class clarifies its position as a class with one and unique interest, a process of ruptures with the bourgeois ideology and its material forces:

This colossus no longer knows his name, no longer remembers his glorious history, and no longer knows the world where he’s opening his eyes. Yet, as he reactivates itself, he discovers the magnitude of his own power. Words are whispered to him by false friends, jailers of his dreams. He repeats them: “French”, “people”, and “citizen”! But by pronouncing them, the images that come back confusingly from the depths of his memory sow a doubt in his mind. These words have been used in the gutters of misery, on barricades, on battlefields, during strikes, in prisons. It’s because they are from the language of a redoutable adversary, the enemy of humanity who, for two centuries, has masterfully handled fear, force and propaganda. This deadly parasite, this social vampire, is capitalism!

We are not this “community of destiny”, proud of its “identity”, full of national myths, which has not been able to resist social history. We are not French.

We are not this mass of “small people” ready to close ranks with their masters as long as they are “well governed”. We are not the people.

We are not this aggregate of individuals who owe their existence only to the recognition of the State and for its perpetuation. We are not citizens.

We are the ones who are forced to sell their labour force to survive, those from whom the bourgeoisie makes most of its profits by dominating and exploiting them. We are the ones who are trampled, sacrificed and condemned by capital, in its survival strategy. We are this collective force that will abolish all social classes. We are the proletariat. [Call of “Yellow Vests” from Paris east side]

“Blockade of economy” versus its destruction

Many reproach to the movement also the fact that it doesn’t make any real harm to the economy; it doesn’t block the flow of capital. And another argument logically follows – it doesn’t develop at work places, therefore it has nothing in common with how the workers get organized.

Let’s recall first of all, that the movement is not as toothless as for the danger for the capitalist economy. Friendly blockades of roundabouts, all these people sleeping and freezing in tents, will surely not change anything. But let’s not forget that there were also successful occupations and blockades of depots of gasoline that (for a too short time unfortunately) provoked a shortage of oil and therefore a panic on the market. Let’s not forget that “yellow vests” have been occupying also many points of toll collect, letting the people using highways for free, they also destroyed thousands of radars on roads all over France. And let’s forget neither the riots nor the spectacular destruction in city centres and various cases of looting that also represent a certain level of a direct attack against capital, and thus re-appropriation of a small part of the social wealth produced by our class, by us proletarians, just a tiny and minuscule moment in the general process of expropriating the expropriators, of negating the private property of capitalists [“Yellow vests” – The struggle continues]. Put this way, the “yellow vests” made to the economy much more harm than any unionist general strike negotiated and prepared together with the bosses long ahead.

But of course all this is not enough. If the movement wants to survive, to strengthen itself, to generalize and to develop its critique in practice until the final consequences; it has to go further. And indeed to do so it has to get organized also on work places. So far it was not easy:

The yellow vest movement ends at the workplace gates, i.e. where the totalitarian rule of employers begins. This phenomenon is the result of various factors. Let’s remember three of them: 1) The atomization of production, which sees a large number of employees working in (very) small companies where closeness with the employer makes it very difficult to strike. 2) The social insecurity of a large proportion of employees, which seriously deteriorates their ability to deal with conflict in the workplace. 3) Exclusion and unemployment, which put many proletarians out of production. A large proportion of yellow vests are directly affected by at least one of these three determinations.

The other component of the wage-earners, the one that works in large corporations and has better job security (permanent contracts and status), seems to be cosseted, on which the powerful force of the movement breaks like the wave on the rock. A special treatment, consisting of managerial efficiency and shameful trade-union collaboration, is reserved for this segment of the working population. The bourgeoisie has understood that this category of workers has the power to strike at the very heart of capitalist production, through the indefinite general strike. This is why it consolidates pacification by giving lollipops in the form of “exceptional end-of-year bonuses”. [Call of “Yellow Vests” from Paris east side]

But the question is even more complicated. An action “in the factory” is not a guarantee of anything and strike is not a synonym of a revolutionary action as it is its content that determines it. Union-like strikes for crumbs held “when the situation of the company allows it” would not change anything even if they were run out of control of unions, organized by workers themselves or presented a step towards the mysterious “workers autonomy” (within capitalism) that its partisans want to build through escalating series of demands.

Organization at work places cannot be put in opposition to the need to get organized on the class basis also outside, throughout all the society. To do so means to follow the same logic as the bourgeoisie applies in order to divide the movement into good workers (in factories) and bad rioters (in the streets). The following quote about this could easily be labelled as a genuine pearl of the bourgeoisie though coming from a group that claims to represent “communism”:

City centres are a tremendous backdrop for television and the internet but they are totally opaque and disembodied when it is a matter of hitting the value chain of capital. The looting and damage caused to these opulent town centres are acts foreign to and sometimes even hostile to the hundreds of thousands of workers, most often poor, who are exploited there. The protagonists of these violent actions act as warriors against the future offensive struggles of the proletariat, against its autonomy, against its struggle against exploitation and oppression. They must be considered as auxiliaries of the armed forces of the bourgeoisie and the objective props of capital’s order and its state. [Mouvement Communiste/Kolektivně proti Kapitălu, GILETS JAUNES: the first attempts at mobilising “the people” for a strong state against the proletariat]

When the abhorrent vies with the vile!!! Let’s also emphasize that we could give hundreds of such quotes ad nauseam from ultra-leftists self-proclaiming to be the “vanguard” of the revolutionary proletariat but which are just able to show what and where objectively they stand for in face of a movement of struggle that doesn’t fit to their ideological and rhetorical screen of smoke… We don’t call them for grasping more dialectically the social matter and the processes of class war developing right in front of our eyes, not at all! We just say that their obscene stances locate them on the other side of the social barricade, with our enemies, and that the proletariat while rising up globally will have to pass over their corpses…

But let’s now continue what we said above, the action at work places is necessary, not in order to negotiate little something for this or that company workers or this or that industrial branch but in order to put forward radical content. Therefore it is not about a strike, not even about a general strike, the question is not only to block economy, but to take control over the production and to transform it in order to satisfy the needs of the movement and destroy the logic of the market and value that is at the basis of this movement.

We must use the extraordinary as well as determined force developed by this movement to achieve what millions of exploited people have wanted for so many years, without ever having succeeded doing so: to paralyse production from inside, to decide on strikes and their coordination in general assemblies, to unite all categories of workers, with the same objective of overthrowing the capitalist system and re-appropriating the production apparatus. [Call of “Yellow Vests” from Paris east side]

But we are not that far yet and it is not sure that the movement will be able to go that far.

“Yellow vests” is a contradictory, but hardly a counterrevolutionary movement

Sooner in this text we talked about constitution of the proletariat as a class as about a process of ruptures. This process necessarily includes eternal series of clashes between the class in the process of re-birth, its re-emerging consciousness obtained in and through the practical struggle and the false consciousness deeply rooted in the mind of every individual, false consciousness that is a foundation stone of every false community of “citizens”, “people” or “nation”. It would be crazy to expect that any movement can skip this process of developing ruptures and have a clear class consciousness since the beginning, and it would be also crazy to condemn a movement because it doesn’t have it at a certain phase of its existence. What is important is the fact that this dynamic of clarification exists, that the proletarian program is appearing always more explicit in opposition to all attempts of political and trade-union recuperation. If the result of this clash is far from being clear at this stage, it is obvious that this conflict exists, continues and develops inside of the “yellow vest” movement, as it always appears in every proletarian movement.

We can already see some very important ruptures with traditional unionists’ actions. As summarizes one of the texts we publish:

The movement has developed outside and in some sort also against traditional structures (parties, trade unions, media…) that capitalism equipped itself with in order to make any practical critique inoffensive. (…) Even if the media try to enclose the demonstrators in the framework of struggle against taxes”, the universal motto is rather fight against the poverty in general” in all its complexity (low wages, high prices, wasting our lives at work, alienation…) and therefore, in final consequences, it puts into question the capitalist order as such. The movement is organised regionally and it is overcoming the usual trade-unionists’ divisions according to production branches. (…) The movement, or its big part, is radical and therefore violent and it assumes it (…) what makes the usual tactics of the bourgeoisie to divide the movement in good demonstrators” and “bad vandals” difficult to use. (…) Nothing is sacred for the movement, no symbols, no legends, no identity, no ideology that could not be burnt down, destroyed, rooted out. [“Gilets jaunes”… “Communards”… “Sans-culottes”… “Va-nu-pieds”… “Wretched of the earth”…]

We are indeed also very critical towards the “yellow vest” movement. It is not very difficult to describe the most evident weaknesses of the movement. What gives us hope is that none of these weaknesses is expressed by the movement as a whole, not even by its majority and any time that this or that version of bourgeois ideology appears, it is confronted with a critique coming from the movement itself. Every issue expressed by the movement is an object of contradictions, of discussions of critique and of a more or less violent conflict between rejection and acceptance of the bourgeois ideology. That is the process we mentioned above – the breaking line with the state doesn’t exist only in the street confrontations, it expresses itself also inside of the movement.

The question of nationalism, so much promoted by media, is an example of this process. Yes, indeed, we also saw some national or regional flags on demonstrations and blockades. Yes, indeed, we also read the story of some demonstrators who handed over refugees to the police. But we saw others helping to immigrants, expressing solidarity with struggling proletariat in other countries, calling for a unity not on the basis of community of ID cards or skin colour, but on classist basis. What is important for us as communists is not what this or that individual “yellow vest” thinks, but what the movement as a whole brings to the class struggle, in which the rupture with nationalism is an important part of. That means to be in opposition to the nationalist position, to fight against it inside of the movement, to impose this rupture to the movement. Many expressions written or unwritten of this struggle inside of “yellow vests” exist:

But this list [the first list of 42 demands written by the reformist part of the movement in December 2018, note of CW], is also a clear expression of a nationalist tendency, with four measures against foreigners, far from our problems and much further from their solution. You must be stubborn to believe that the problems in France come from elsewhere. That leaving Europe would allow us to live well or that hunting for undocumented migrants will increase our salary. It is precisely the opposite that would happen. (…) The fascists just want to make a bigger place for themselves at the exploiters’ table while doing like Trump. And we have absolutely no reason to help them do that.

In reality, no one cares about this list of demands. Only politicians can hope to get anything out of it, and of course the media and the government, which will not miss the opportunity to make us look like far-right thugs. But, as when someone is called by a first name that is not his own, we don’t pay attention. [Jaune – Le journal pour gagner]

The same goes for illusions about democracy (direct or participative), referendums, the president, elections etc., the critique appears always stronger:

(…) another initiative, supported by many political organisations from the far left to the far right, was soon to give us a hard time: the RIC [Citizens’ initiative referendum] in the name of the people and democracy. (…) It is bourgeois propaganda that makes us believe that before we are proles, we are citizens; that the life of ideas comes before that of material conditions. Yet the Republic does not fill up the fridge. And the RIC has surfed on this illusion. It must be said that at first sight, the proposal was attractive. We were told that with this, we would finally be able to be heard directly, that we could regain power over our lives. We would decide everything. And even without struggling, without risking our lives on the roundabouts and in demonstrations, just by voting, on our computers in our living rooms, with slippers near a cosy crackling fireplace! But in business, when you have a product to sell, you lie: “Yes, once you have the RIC, it’s possible to get everything through!” That’s wrong. How the hell to ask the bourgeois for their opinion on whether they agree to increase our wages? [Jaune – Le journal pour gagner]

This democratic arrangement would not solve anything, even if it was adopted. It would just stretch the electoral elastic while maintaining the relation between social classes – its conditions as well as its stakes – with an extra strengthening of legal reformism, that poor relation of the already illusory economic reformism. It would be tantamount to a more direct endorsement of ordinary enslavement. [Call of “Yellow Vests” from Paris east side]

The same for the motto “Macron resign”:

To counter the RIC, some of us have said: no need for RIC to win, we quite simply want Macron to resign. This demand has the good idea to highlight our action, to refocus the debate on our collective force. Indeed, it’s the street that will make Macron to leave, not the polls. But, right after saying that, everyone is asking the question: who will replace him? That’s precisely where the problem lies. Macron, as arrogant as he may be, is replaceable and his successor will do exactly the same to defend profit. The baby must clearly be thrown out with the bath water. The institutions that exist are there to defend the logic of money and exploitation. [Jaune – Le journal pour gagner]

Outside and against trade unions

As we have said, the “yellow vest” movement has developed from its rejection of the traditional bourgeois framework structures like political parties and trade unions. Since early December, the trade unions (regardless of their tendencies) have, as usual, toed the line before the government, which is looking for a way to defuse a social movement that might spread to other sectors of the proletariat: denunciations of interclassism are launched in a desperate attempt by the unions to discourage its members from joining the “yellow vests”.

Today, we are witnessing attempts at “convergence of struggles” and once again the movement is divided and hesitant: some “yellow vests” call for direct collaboration with the central structures of the trade unions; others on the contrary refuse this collaboration but call the proletarians in enterprises for also struggling, and that’s deeply right. Calls were made to prolong the “national day of [in]action” on February 5th (called by the trade unions and mainly the CGT) and to transform it into an “indefinite general strike”. We would like to warn, if necessary, the “yellow vest” comrades about the very essence of trade unions and trade unionism.

The role of trade unions has always been openly revealed in moments of struggle, by their willingness to put out the social fire. The unions, whose role is normally and precisely to prevent this kind of explosion, to act as a buffer and, if necessary, to frame any autonomous expression of our class, try to slow down the struggle by making believe they organize what’s beyond them. If, after decades of undermining our struggles, trade unions are no longer highly rated, the “yellow vest” movement taking place outside of them is one more evidence of this.

But a more subtle form is unfolding to restore control over our subversive struggles and it is to be found in all current struggles, which is what we could globally call workers’ parliamentarianism. Even when struggles break out on the basis of a formal rupture with the trade unions, even if a certain level of violence is assumed by the proletarians, this rupture is never complete, pushed until its ultimate consequences: that is, not only to get organized outside of trade unions, but also against them. This means to radically break up not only with the organisations, but above all with the practice: trade unionism, which is nothing else than negotiating the sale of our labour force with our exploiters…

From “people’s assemblies” to assemblyism!?

From the very beginning of the “yellow vest” movement, many idealistic and ideological ultra-left sects have been denouncing it because it didn’t get organized into “general assemblies”, considered as the holy Grail. Since then, news on the establishment of assemblies in Commercy, Saint-Nazaire, Montreuil, etc., have appeared, not to mention the “informal” assemblies organized around occupied roundabouts and various blockades.

On the one hand, the proletariat has historically always structured its struggle around assemblies, coordinations, councils, soviets, communes, committees, etc. We can only welcome the fact that proletarians are reclaiming control over their struggle, that they are meeting each other, that they are discussing together, that they are getting organized, that they are making plans for the future, that they are re-appropriating thousand and one aspects of life, that they develop conviviality, comradeship, that they participate in “liberating the speech”,… on the other hand, we would like to emphasize that no structure, whatever it may be, will never be a guarantee as to the development and content of our struggles.

On the contrary, the practice of democratism, of assemblyism, of fetishizing the massiveness in structures of struggle often hinders the extension and radicalization of struggles. If proletarians reject trade unions, they would yet be at risk of reproducing the same trade union and reformist practice within their “assemblies”. The emergence of “roundabouts’ direct democracy”, of large “general assemblies” open to everyone, often means the practice of trade unionism without a union. The “assemblies” and their “magic” of the delegates “elected and revocable at any time” have never provided any formal guarantee. Historically, our only guarantee has been our social practice. It is never the form that prevails, but always the content…

Moreover, the prevailing democratism in these “assemblies” means that everyone can express themselves “freely”, strikers as well as strike-breakers, radicals as well as moderated: rather than “liberating the speech” (and it is obvious here that we don’t claim “freedom of speech” that our enemy the democracy is so much praising in order to better make us talk, to silence us), they often also liberate the chitchat at the expense of direct action. What’s the point of voting for very “radical” great resolutions if the proletariat does not break the forces of inertia that block the extension and development of the struggle!?

And further?

We tried to show here that the “yellow vest” movement, as every proletarian movement in the past, is contradictory. For the moment there are expressions of both, the bourgeois society ideology in the form of the false consciousness of our class, but also the proletarian interests, the final goal to destroy capitalism. And its proletarian content is facing two dangers – reaction and reformism.

But the false consciousness can and has to be overpassed only in and through the struggle, in experience of our class born and reborn in every new open class conflict. The task of the communists is not to spit on a movement because it is not pure enough, because it doesn’t refer to good sources or because it is missing this or that aspect that we consider important.

For those who still toy with this wish, how can we imagine that the revolution could break out? Do we really think that it will be the work of a convergence of social movements, all endowed with their just demands, driven by decisions taken unanimously during assemblies where the most radical idea would win the fight? And so with a scenario of this kind: a movement with a great cause is born, at its head are the most enlightened militants who lead it from battle to battle while obtaining exciting victories; its ranks grow, its reputation grows, its example spreads in a contagious way, other similar movements emerge, their power meets, they feed and multiply each other, until reaching the final confrontation during which the State is finally killed… What a beautiful story! Who produced it, Netflix? What episode are we on? If you don’t want to laugh about it, you can always be serious. (…)

Because throughout history, the spark of riots, insurrections and revolutions has almost always arisen not for deep reasons but simply because of pretexts (e.g. the relocation of a battery of cannons triggered the Paris Commune, a protest against the grub in the military navy ignited the Spartakist revolution, the suicide of a street vendor launched the so-called Arab Spring, the removal of a few trees led to the Gezi Park revolt in Turkey), we find it really embarrassing those who, faced with what is happening with the yellow vests (…), only sharpen their eyes to find traces of the communist programme, or anarchist thought, or radical theory, or anti-industrial criticism, or… Thereafter, following the disappointment of not having discerned enough subversive content in the street, of not having counted masses large enough, of not having noticed enough proletarian origins, of not having noticed enough parity in female presence, of not having heard enough correct language – the list could be extended to the infinite – it only remains to be horrified and ask who can benefit from all this social agitation. [Finimondo, Di che colore è la tua Mesa?]

The task of the communists is neither to approve anything what the movement does. The task of the communists is to grasp the movement on the basis of its radical dynamic and to encourage this dynamic to develop as a revolutionary praxis, in favour of the revolutionary project of the proletariat. We as communists should accompany the class in its struggle of clarification of this project against both – reaction and reform, to represent the connection between the current and the past struggle of our class while sharing the experience we have obtained in it as a class and also between the current and the future struggle in order to draw lessons from the first one, briefly to represent the historical struggle of our class.

We are aware of the fact that it is not easy. The “yellow vests” are a contradictory movement like every other proletarian movement in history. And maybe nothing will come of it for the moment, except a strong experience of struggle and ruptures, consolidating our “class memory”. But it is difficult to grasp a movement through the prism of what it becomes when it is defeated (especially if the defeat is far from being finished).

On the other hand a part of the movement already opened a rupture with bourgeois society, its ideology and its institutions – trade unions, left or right wing parties, national antiterrorist unity, etc. And the proletarian content of the movement can open the way towards wider class struggles.

Finally, although it might seem provocative, we affirm that all the media hype around the “yellow vest” movement can in no way make us forget this essential thing that there is no such thing as a “yellow vest” movement, that it has never existed and cannot exist. And this is for a simple, fundamental, unavoidable reason: because there is no “yellow vest” class or social project…

Here and now, everywhere and always, it is proletariat against bourgeoisie, two social classes with resolutely antagonistic projects…

Indeed, there are only two projects facing each other for the future of humanity: on the one hand, the historical process of abolishing capitalist social relations and its State, which are the cause of misery, war, exploitation, alienation, oppression and domination… On the other hand, the forces for the conservation of this nightmare…

# Class War – winter 2018/19 #

Yellow Vests!? Some stances (Texts & Videos)

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The Rigors of Organizing: On the Road with the German Climate Resistance

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 04:48

via CounterPunch

by Jeff Ordower

Recently, press in the United States told the story of the great transition that the German Coal Commission announced. Benevolent governments like Germany are deciding to make a just transition away from coal and have even set an end date, 2038, for a long-term orderly transition to occur. The mainstream media is hailing this transition as a model for the rest of the world.

There are two problems with this narrative. First, the current German plan renders it impossible for Germany to meet its goals under the Paris accords. Despite what the German governmental spin is, Germany’s proposed coal exit is well behind the 2030 exit of other European countries and includes a transition to fracked gas.

Second, the narrative overlooks the fact of how pressure is exerted and change is made. In the case of Germany, a powerful people’s movement takes over coal mines, sits in trees and engages in mass disruption and civic disobedience in order to exert pressure on the system.

Ende Gelände,which in English means “here and no further,” is a broad coalition that has spent the better part of four years playing a significant role in the German climate resistance. They have organized annual takeovers of a lignite coal mine. Last fall, Ende Gelände was part of a mass mobilization of 50,000 people who came to defend over 80 tree-sit occupations in the Hambach forest, which is regularly encroached upon to clear land for mining. Ende Gelände is less an organization than a broad-based coalition and a true movement, which comes out of the rich tradition of German anti-nuclear organizing, a regular set of European climate camps, and local resistance and “buergerliche (citizen’s) initiatives. Many different small organizations and affinity groups have comprised and undergirded the larger Ende Gelände mobilizations.

The rigor of the organizing is apparent. A year of work before the first mine takeover resulted in Ende Gelände organizing 150 direct action trainings and helping participants to form countless affinity groups. On top of that they organized a vast infrastructure that could maintain a camp of thousands, train a large number of medics as well as creating a space welcoming of a wide array of cultural workers.

Currently, activists from Ende Gelände and the climate camps, along with Rising Tide North America are touring the United States. Ende Gelände will share what they have learned which includes three major takeaways for us. First, they will share the discipline of what they do. Summers of climate camp and hundreds of direct action training have created the rigor through which hundreds of autonomous affinity groups can be prepared for mass direct action. As so much of the approach involves recruitment of new organizations, Ende Gelände is skilled at providing a way for everyone to participate at a variety of levels of risk. Second, too often social movements in the United States get co-opted or organized out of taking the boldest actions, because of the need for financial resources. Once organizers and money arrive, what could be truly disruptive actions become much more scripted and lose some power. Ende Gelände organized the nonprofit sector in Germany to support its aims, rather than the other way around. Finally, Ende Gelände will share their tactical acumen. These are activists who overcome their considerable fears are willing to push past police lines, water cannons and pepper spray.

As an anti-capitalist direct action network, Rising Tide is interested in using this tour to supercharge a disruptive flank in the North American climate movement. There are many current heroes in this work. Appalachians Against Pipelines have been holding tree-sits resisting the Mountain Valley Pipeline for over a year. Water Protectors in Northern Minnesota are living through their second winter surviving frigid conditions to stop Line 3. The organizers at L’eau Est La Vie camp have risked life and limb and felony charges in their struggle against the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. Affinity groups like the Valve Turners, including a recent action by four Catholic Workers in Northern Minnesota, risk prison time for their acts of courage and resistance. And, most of this modern wave of predominantly Indigenous-led activism emanates from Standing Rock, which significantly changed how millions of people viewed issues of extraction and Indigenous sovereignty.

The German movement, despite its scale, is a cautionary note that collectively, we need disruption at unprecedented levels in order to solve the climate crisis. If being able to mobilize 50,000 people and intermittently shut down mines with a fairly progressive government still leaves us short of Paris, then what scale and scope of disruption might be needed in the United States to deal with a hostile government where both parties are held captive to fossil fuel interests?

Ende Gelände has some of the same questions for us. They wonder about the interplay of direct action versus organizing in smaller rural communities, and how one makes common cause with those who feel like they benefit the most from mining. It is not only the scale, but also the who is involved.

Rising Tide North America views the Ende Gelände tour as a potential catalyst for more. We wonder if people will be inspired to join the resistance camps in Minnesota or build new ones. We hope that cities resound with takeovers of fossil company headquarters, disruption of shareholder meetings, and mass shutdowns of global financial institutions financing the extraction state.

We hope you join us for the Ende Gelände tour, either in person or online in the webinars being organized by Rising Tide . More importantly, we hope you join a freewheeling, scheming, free-form direct action disruptive movement at the points of resistance or at home where you live. One action, one camp, one long-term occupation in our vast country is insufficient. We look forward to your creativity, strategy and willingness to do the hard work to build a disruptive movement.

For a list of EG tour stops and how to follow the tour, you can sign up here.

Jeff Ordower is a long-time community and labor organizer and a member of the Rising Tide Collective, who is currently peripatetic.

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Collaboration between farmers and vegans

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 04:16

via The Ecologist

by Mark Banahan

Picture the scene: a cold January evening and we have just arrived at a small village hall in Staffordshire. It is packed with a hundred angry, jostling farmers bearing pitchforks and glaring at my colleague and I, who are sitting on the stage trembling. We volunteered to take part in Blymhill Agricultural Discussion Group’s debate on veganism, and the intensity is sinking in.

I am guilty of more than a little bit of hyperbole here. The audience were not angry and there were no pitchforks in sight.

This is just how I imagined the scene before I arrived, especially with recent news stories of animosity between farmers and vegans. As It happens the debate was amicable, entertaining and enlightening.

Powerful evidence 

We opened with our case that non-human animals have rights because they are sentient beings, just like us, that are capable of feeling pleasure and pain.

It follows that their interests should be considered when making decisions concerning them. Only in exceptional circumstances could you argue that it is in an animal’s interests to be killed, for example, if they are seriously ill or injured and in great pain.

The overwhelming majority of animals that are killed and used for food do not fall into this category, so being killed or used is not in their interests and violates their rights.

On the environment, our case drew upon a large quantity of scientific evidence that reveals the harm caused by the livestock industry. Animal agriculture is responsible for a significant amount of global deforestation, fresh water use, greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution and biodiversity loss.

Additionally, animal agriculture takes up far more land than plant-based products require and is very inefficient as from every 100 calories fed to livestock, only 12 percent are retained in their food products, like meat, dairy and eggs.

Cultural attachments 

Researchers at Oxford University conducted a study last year which concluded that eating a vegan diet is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the Earth – this is more than reducing the amount of flights you take or switching to an electric vehicle.

On health we explained that the NHS and the British Dietetic Association (BDA) confirm that you can get everything your body needs from a vegan diet and that it is suitable for all ages. Diet-related ill health costs the NHS a staggering £5.8 bn annually and the UK is on average well short of meeting the recommended 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Vegan diets typically contain more fruit and vegetables, making it easier to hit this target, whilst also containing plenty of fibre. Some research also indicates that vegans have lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and lower instances of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.

Despite this powerful evidence, our other panellists didn’t agree. Their case was expressed by a local NFU official and a veterinary surgeon, focusing on the essential nature of animal farming for health and cultural reasons.

As per the NHS and BDA’s statements, it is clear that animal products are not essential for human health. It is harder to refute cultural attachments to animal farming, however, just because something has been happening for a long time does not mean that it should continue. What is considered acceptable changes over time; for example, slavery, women’s right to vote and child labour.

Green transition

The audience’s questions revealed a desire to know more about veganism and the consequences arising from the current shift in dietary choices.

The Vegan Society does not want conflict with farmers. We are keen to collaborate and advocate for policies that help farmers transition to a more sustainable and kinder system. It is the system that is at fault, not individual farmers, who are just trying to make a living like everyone else.

We don’t want farmers to lose their jobs, their farm or to move away from the areas their families have lived in for generations, but rather to transition away from animal agriculture. Consumer demand for plant-based food is rising rapidly which presents an opportunity for British farmers and we want to see them benefit.

Our Grow Green campaign calls for a package of policies designed to make this transition easier and reduce the risk that farmers take when seeking to change.

We want to see greater education around the environmental and economic benefits of plant protein production. Pulses like beans, peas and other protein crops take nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots, ensuring soil quality does not diminish.

Grow Green

Our campaign also calls for subsidies to be directed more towards protein crops than their animal alternatives; designated funding for market research and development; the use of climate finance to support rewilding for land that cannot be used for plant-based food production; and a package of support for farmers transitioning away from animal agriculture.

All of these issues and more will be discussed at the inaugural Grow Green Conference on 11 April at The British Library, London, exploring the potential challenges of the shift towards farming more plants and looking at the environmental, public health and animal benefits.

Speakers from across agricultural, academic and food policy areas will discuss how we can meet climate change targets and adapt food production to mirror consumer demands. Ecologist readers can benefit from a 10 percent discount on the delegate rate by using code GROW10.

Jay Wilde, from the BAFTA-winning documentary 73 Cows, will also be sharing his experiences. Jay gave his livestock to an animal sanctuary with help from The Vegan Society and is now building infrastructure on his land to produce organic vegetables with hopes to open a vegan bed and breakfast as well.

More and more farmers are contacting us saying they want to do the same. Things are changing and to be effective we all need to work together.

Whilst it is doubtful that many of the audience will have changed their minds following Blymhill Agricultural Discussion Group’s event, I am optimistic that everyone will have left with the knowledge that vegans and farmers can engage meaningfully on these issues. This gives me hope for a successful, peaceful transition to a more sustainable and kinder agricultural system.

This Author

Mark Banahan is Campaigns and Policy Officer at @TheVeganSociety and a keen vegan and political activist. Follow him on Twitter: @MarkBanahan.

To find out more about the inaugural Grow Green conference visit the website, and use discount code GROW10 to book your ticket.

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Socialist Dog Catchers (or Presidents) Won’t Save Us

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 03:44

via Libcom

There’s a certain type of socialist that reminds me of highway planners.

For years now, researchers have held up convincing evidence that adding lanes to highways does not improve traffic congestion. It’s counter-intuitive: certainly adding more lanes means there’s more room to drive! However, empirical studies have conclusively shown that the result is that traffic increases to fill that extra capacity in what’s referred to as induced demand.

Press any DOT official or highway planner enough about the research and they’ll gravely nod their heads and admit that it requires a serious re-evaluation within their sector. But it’s almost impossible to find these insights incorporated into actual planning, a seemingly permanent blind spot kept there by a combination of politics and sheer inertia. As a city planner tells Arthur Dent in the opening pages of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “It’s a bypass. You’ve got to build bypasses.”

Similarly, the past few centuries have provided countless empirical examples of the futility of trying to achieve socialism through electoral pursuits. But for one reason or another, the common wisdom many socialists cling to—that helping socialists take hold of part of the capitalist state gets us closer to socialism—is rarely dislodged, even when they are forced to admit the mountain of failures of the past.

The latest salvo from the electoral left comes from an expected quarter, Jacobin, but from a not-entirely-expected source: Nathan J. Robinson, founder of Current Affairs and self-avowed libertarian socialist.

In “A Socialist in Every District,” Robinson encourages socialist electoral campaigns at every level of government possible, a kind of red version of former DNC chair Howard Dean’s “50 State Strategy.” Robinson writes:

A democratic-socialist president needs a movement behind them. They also need a Congress that is as far to the left as possible. That’s why, if socialists are going to make a Sanders presidency succeed, we must stake out an ambitious goal for 2020: there should be no election, at any level, without a socialist candidate running.

Every one of the 435 house seats. Every one of the 33 open senate seats. However many of the 50 governors and 7,383 state legislators there are. The dog catcher in Duxbury. Wherever there is a position of power democratically contested, a socialist should be offered up as an option.

One of libertarian socialism’s defining features is its rejection of both the Leninist vanguard party and the electoral incrementalism of social democracy and democratic socialism. Encouraging socialists to move en masse into electoral campaigns up and down the ballot is, to put it mildly, uncharacteristic of the political tradition Robinson pins himself to.

Robinson’s key arguments are that socialist ideas are more popular and widespread than ever before, that it’s impossible to know in advance which seats are winnable, and that even campaigns that lose are still valuable educational tools. The broad brushstrokes in Robinson’s essay have long been refuted, recently in “The Lure of Elections,” written by members of Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation.

Socialists who try to capture state power are aspiring to cut off the very branch they’re sitting on. Socialist electoral campaigns are parasitic of, and ultimately destructive to, the working class movements upon which their momentum depends. Mitterand in France, Papandreou and Syriza in Greece, Ortega in Nicaragua, Allende in Chile: socialists who reach the heights of state power must either bend to the dictates of capital or they are removed. This consistently happens on the local level too, including Bernie Sanders’ tenure as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, which was marked by the “pragmatic” abandonment of his signature campaign pledge to stop the privatization of the city waterfront. Meanwhile, the siphoning of social movement energies and personnel into electoral and state apparatuses means that the one counterweight to capital—the organized working class—no longer has the independence and clear battle lines needed to fight back. (It’s long been understood that the most effective way to impose neoliberalism and austerity with the least pushback is to have leftist and social-democratic parties be the ones who do it.) And as we’re seeing now across Europe and countries like Brazil and Venezuela, the inevitable stalling of the state-based left rolls out the red carpet for the forces of reaction.

To paraphrase anarchist Rudolf Rocker: elected socialists haven’t been a toehold of socialist movement within the capitalist state, they’ve been a toehold of the capitalist state within the socialist movement.

All Sewers, No Socialism

What I’d like to discuss in particular is Robinson’s nostalgic invocation of the socialist politicians of America’s past. He writes:

Socialists have succeeded electorally before. There were once a thousand socialist elected officials in the United States. Socialists in state legislatures introduced bills that got passed. The Socialist mayor of Milwaukee served twenty-four years. The Wall Street Journal has just published a fascinating discussion of the history of socialist congressional representatives in the United States, from Vito Marcantonio to Ron Dellums. It’s remarkable to see the nation’s business paper admit that “socialists are no strangers to Congress.”

Electoral efforts at the municipal level are often referred to as “sewer socialism,” a recognition that the actions of socialists in city councils and mayor’s offices had much more to do with public infrastructure than, say, jailing the rich and inciting workers to seize their factories. Indeed, there was so little dangerous content in the governing agendas of elected socialists that many of their ideas were borrowed wholesale by their liberal political competitors (most famously in the case of Roosevelt’s New Deal). The practical exigencies of governance within the capitalist state meant that much of the radicalism that propelled them to office was simply abandoned, and the best that elected socialists and their constituents could hope for was a friendlier and more competent management of capitalism. And that’s a task you don’t need to elect socialists to do.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the height of American socialists’ electoral success, libertarian socialists were there too. But instead of rounding up donations and votes for socialist politicians, Robinson’s political forebears were critiquing the practice as a counterproductive distraction from the essential task of organizing the working class.

One of the first sewer socialists was Emil Seidel, elected Mayor of Milwaukee in 1910 and picked as Eugene Debs’ running mate in the 1912 presidential race. Coinciding with the election of the Socialist Party’s Victor Berger to Congress, Milwaukee became a mecca of sorts for electoral socialists across the country. Despite his celebrity status, Seidel’s decidedly un-socialist tenure in office was not missed by the most prominent libertarian socialist periodical of the day, Mother Earth. In its May 1910 issue, after listing the key platform planks of Milwaukee’s socialist politicians—spanning from cheaper gas and trolley fares to cheaper heating fuel through the city—H. Kelly writes, “Not one of the above reforms, promised by the new Social Democratic administration at Milwaukee, is objectionable to the bourgeoisie as a class.” Kelly’s analysis is worth quoting at length, as it applies to much more than just Milwaukee:

It cannot be urged too strongly that it is no part of the Anarchist or Socialist to administer bourgeois government more efficiently. It is their business to destroy capitalism, and on the ruins of that system found the Free Commune or Socialist Commonwealth… Politics will not, because it cannot, touch fundamental questions, and if the “Milwaukee Victory” were duplicated in every city in America, the capitalist question would remain unsolved, unless the exploited themselves rose in revolt against their oppressors and took possession of the land, railways, factories, etc.
Socialists all over the world will be interested in one reform Mayor Seidel inaugurated immediately after assuming office. He increased the hours of labor for municipal employees from six to eight a day. Every capitalist paper in the country has applauded this “Socialist reform,” as well they might, for this is “efficiency in government” with a vengeance, and has no doubt brought the Co-operative Commonwealth several laps nearer. True to the party platform, which calls for eight hours a day even when it means increasing the hours instead of decreasing them.

The next year Emma Goldman, reporting on her Midwestern travels in Mother Earth, made a similar assessment with her characteristic sarcasm:

Seriously, has anything been changed with the ascendency of the Socialist régime? Yes, Mayor Seidel has declared that the only way the 25,000 unemployed in Milwaukee can be helped now, is to cut the salaries of all the city employees. Really, now? All city employees, including also Mayor Seidel, Congressman Berger and the rest of the official staff? Nixie. No such class-consciousness for theirs. By city employees only the two-dollar-a-day wretches are meant. Surely the Seidels and Genossen are not expected to share their hard-earned thousands with slum proletarians. The latter must starve until economic determinism will determine the entire machinery of government into the hands of Socialist politicians.

All this, of course, assumes socialists are allowed to run for office and serve if elected. The first half of the 20th century shows just how easily even sewer socialists can be kicked out of the offices they spent so many resources to win. For example:

  • In January 1919, all five members of the Socialist delegation to the New York State Assembly were barred from taking the seats they had rightfully won. The vote to suspend them was bipartisan and almost unanimous, 140–6. Notably, in response the socialists hung their rhetorical hat not on opposition to the rotten system itself but on being better stewards of the capitalist state, with a Socialist Party leader claiming, “it will draw the issues clearer between the united Republican and Democratic parties representing arbitrary lawlessness, and the Socialist Party, which stood and stands for democratic and representative government.”
  • That same year, Socialist Party politician Victor Berger was barred from retaking his seat in Congress due to his conviction under the Espionage Act for anti-war speeches. After barring him, a special election was held for his seat, which Berger won again — and was again denied by Congress, keeping the seat vacant until 1921. (Only the Supreme Court overturning Berger’s conviction, conveniently after World War I had concluded, allowed him to be seated in Congress after winning yet again in 1922.)
  • In 1947, proportional representation in New York City was abolished, entirely due to Democrat-stoked Red Scare threats of radicals being elected.These kinds of procedural shenanigans are still available should individual politicians or parties become a nuisance. In the 2000s, Democrats in Maine, faced with the first elected Green Party member in the state House, preferred to redistrict him instead of work with him. In Burlington, Vermont, Democrats and Republicans in city hall conspired to repeal Instant Runoff Voting because a Progressive Party member kept getting elected mayor.

    We should also be wary of the notion that socialist campaigns are, as Robinson puts it, “educational tools,” expanding the debate leftward. History is littered with left candidates and politicians who have, when the moment was most urgent, hardened and even narrowed the left-end of acceptable opinion. It was French Socialist Party leader François Mitterand who, in May 1968, denounced the young workers revolting in Paris and elsewhere as having a “mixture of imitation Marxism [and] hotchpotch of confused ideas”. It was Jean Quan who, after having won Oakland’s mayoralty with a campaign touting her union-organizing and left activist history, called in hundreds of police to violently suppress Occupy Oakland in 2011. Indeed, the sprouting of popular movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter shows just how far we can move popular opinion and political consciousness with social movements while resisting co-optation by left officeholders.

    H. Kelly’s 1910 Mother Earth article concludes by comparing the fruits of recent votes taken in Milwaukee and those in Philadelphia. Whereas the votes cast in Milwaukee were by citizens, sending a handful of socialists into city hall, the votes cast in Philly were by workers of the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company. That vote committed thousands of workers to the picket line and led to a citywide general strike, the conclusion of which brought significant wage increases for transit workers across the region and reshaped the labor landscape for the next decade. Kelly puts it succinctly:

    The Socialist administration of Milwaukee has, as the first fruits of a twenty-five year agitation, raised the hours of labor, while the strike of Philadelphia raised wages.

    Confronted with the perennial failure of socialists in office, the electorally-minded generally portray them as either sad accidents or cruel betrayals, but like the highway planner who thinks I know the evidence, but maybe just one more lane will do the trick, they refuse to understand that the problem is a systemic, structural one.

    Understanding Libertarian Socialism

    Where does this leave Nathan Robinson and his curious brand of election-friendly libertarian socialism? He expands on his understanding of the term in an essay on Noam Chomsky:

    Libertarian socialism seems to me a beautiful philosophy. It rejects both “misery through economic exploitation” and “misery through Stalinist totalitarianism,” arguing that the problem is misery itself, whatever the source. It’s a very simple concept, but it’s easy to miss because of the binary that pits “communism” against “capitalism.” Thus, if you’re a critic of capitalism, you must be an apologist for the most brutal socialist governments. But every time there has been such government, libertarian socialist critics have been the first to call it out for its hypocrisy. (Usually, such people are the first ones liquidated.)

    Omitting libertarian socialism’s opposition to social democracy seems intentional, as Robinson writes elsewhere, “I myself happen to be a pragmatic [socialist], who dreams of a stateless society but thinks sensible government guided by socialist principles of economic democracy will do in the meantime.”

    “Pragmatism” is a catchphrase used almost exclusively to punch left and artificially narrow the realm of possibility, so for our purposes let us strip it of its baggage and consider pragmatism as simply using the most-assured methods to achieve partial progress on the way to a larger goal. In that case, the libertarian socialist theory of change within present-day society (Robinson’s “meantime”) is substantially more pragmatic than one that requires socialists to run for office. Libertarian socialists generally argue that it is the balance of class forces, not the party composition of the political class, that determines legislative and policy outcomes under the capitalist state. If we want reforms in our favor, we must shift that balance through popular organization and mobilization, regardless of who is in power. (Often a wave of new, further left elected officials is a lagging indicator: a result of that shift, not its cause.)

    In the words of anarchist Errico Malatesta, “we will take or win all possible reforms with the same spirit that one tears occupied territory from the enemy’s grasp.” It’s a profound mistake to think we need a seat at capital’s table to do so, and we need not look back a century to find evidence.

    Just last month the U.S. federal government’s partial shutdown was ended not by Democrats, or the Congressional Progressive Caucus, or even Bernie and Ocasio-Cortez: it was the stirrings of wildcat strikes spreading through the ranks of federal workers and related industries — perhaps most crucially, airline workers like those in the Association of Flight Attendants. On similar terrain, Trump’s first travel ban was put on hold in significant part due to widespread direct action disrupting airports. And just days ago a statewide strike by West Virginia teachers scuttled a proposed bill to gut the state’s public education system, with victory coming mere hours after the strike took effect. This action occurred almost exactly a year after these same educators and support workers launched a strike that both won them raises and sparked a wave of teacher strikes across the country, in both Republican- and Democrat-controlled states, that continues to this day.

    Robinson is correct that his political commitments do not oblige him in the slightest to apologize for the authoritarian states ruled under the banner of socialism. But if he insists on what is functionally a social democratic strategy he does need to account for its past crimes and failures, including:

    • the mountains of stolen resources, the millions of exploited people oceans away, and extracted fossil fuels that drove the taxable profits that made the welfare state hum;
    • the historically contingent, tenuous, and compromised basis for its successes (the particular configuration of the world economy, the size and combativeness of labor and other movements, the background threat of the Soviet Union, and the willingness of capitalists to temporarily play along); and
    • its slide into neoliberal austerity everywhere, including Bernie Sanders’ beloved Scandinavia, teeing up the far right to gain ground.Even more daunting for folks like Robinson is that they’re then obliged to explain why, this time, it will somehow be different. There’s no reason for confidence in a social democratic strategy to even get to the “sensible government” he hopes will get us through the meantime, and every reason to believe such a strategy will both sabotage the basis for positive reforms in the here-and-now and take us further from the break with capitalism upon which humanity depends.

      In the 1930s, Rudolf Rocker witnessed firsthand the profound failure of electoral socialists, including such titans as Germany’s SDP:

      In Germany, however, where the moderate wing in the form of Social Democracy attained to power, Socialism, in its long years of absorption in routine parliamentary tasks, had become so bogged down that it was no longer capable of any creative act whatsoever…

      But that was not all: not only was political Socialism in no position to undertake any kind of constructive effort in the direction of Socialism, it did not even possess the moral strength to hold on to the achievements of bourgeois Democracy and Liberalism, and surrendered the country without resistance to Fascism, which smashed the entire labour movement to bits with one blow.

      Resisting the mirage of state seizure is a deadly serious imperative. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the twentieth century that left one branch of socialists wrecked on the shoals of neoliberalism and another branch determined to remake the state as a singular authoritarian capitalist.

      Instead of “a socialist in every office,” a much more interesting and urgent call-to-action would be a union in every workplace (and prison!). A tenant union in every apartment building. A student union in every school. A mass assembly in every working class neighborhood. These are the building blocks for winning victories now and the foundation for a future society beyond capitalism and the state.

      There will always be liberals ready to volunteer to be the officials from whom we will extract concessions. But while opportunists are a given, an organized and militant working class isn’t. It’s up to all of us to make it happen.

      Originally posted on Medium.

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The left needs to get radical on big tech – moderate solutions won’t cut it

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 02:11

via The Guardian

by Evgeny Morozov

To note that the “techlash” – our rude and abrupt awakening to the mammoth powers of technology companies – is gaining force by the month is to state the obvious. Amazon’s sudden departure from New York City, where it was planning to open a second headquarters, attests to the rapidly changing political climate. The New Yorkers, apparently, have no desire to spend nearly $3bn in subsidies in order to lure Amazon – a company that, on making $11.2bn in profits in 2018, has paid no tax and even managed to book $129m in tax rebates.

  • Ignored in most accounts of the growing anti-Silicon Valley sentiment is the incongruence of the political and ideological forces behind the techlash. To paraphrase a Russian classic: while all the happy apologists of big tech are alike, all its critics are unhappy in their own way. These critics, united by their hatred of the digital giants, do make short-term tactical alliances; such arrangements, however, cannot hold in the long term.

One can distinguish three camps in today’s anti-tech landscape. They cover almost the entire political spectrum, from the pro-market neoliberal right to the pro-solidarity socialist left, even if the most prominent faces of the latter are still to take an explicit position on these issues.

The two better-known currents of the techlash represent what we might call “economism” and “technocracy”. Adherents of the former insist that the users of digital platforms are systematically shortchanged for their data and need to be compensated in some way. Such ideas are also rapidly gaining relevance in the policy world. In a major speech in mid-February, Gavin Newsom, California’s new governor, called on the tech giants to embrace the idea of a “data dividend”. “California’s consumers,” he said, “should also be able to share in the wealth that is created from their data.”

Why dub this “economism”? Well, in part because this perspective does not easily admit non-economic critiques of today’s big tech; the only power relationship it detects and scrutinizes is that between firms and consumers. There are no citizens – let alone social and public institutions – in this political universe.

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Betraying ’68

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 21:00

via The Commune

by Lorenzo Raymond

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

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

Mark Rudd speaking at the Columbia occupation in 1968

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

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

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

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What Time Will It Be After Capitalism?

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 22:01

via Verso Books

by Christophe Bonneuil

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 17:22


ASF Geelong

February 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ASF-IWA Geelong Section.

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

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

What Do the Anarchists of Belarus Stand For?

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 04:44

What are the goals of the anarchists?

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

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

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

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

What methods implies anarchism to achieve its goals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the anarhiceskoe movement of Belarus?

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

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

How to join the anarchists of Belarus?

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

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

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

Petro Fomašov for pramen.

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

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 04:26

via Black Rose Federation

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

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

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

-Adam Weaver

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

-Camilo Viveiros, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was originally published at From Activism 2 Organizing.

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

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

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

Death by charity: the dark side of decluttering

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 03:46

via ROAR magazine

by Khadijah Kanji

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

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

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

An Inevitable Tragedy

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

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

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

A Partner in Crime

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

Read more

The post Death by charity: the dark side of decluttering appeared first on Infoshop News.

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

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 03:10

via FAIR

by Mark Cook

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

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

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

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

Unrelenting drumbeat of lies

Venezuelan Youth Orchestra in New York City, 2016

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

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

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

Supporters of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (photo: TeleSur)

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

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

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

Rival demonstrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unlikely humanitarian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Failed state’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economic warfare

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon and the Jobs Charade

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 01:24

via Jacobin

by Liza Featherstone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more

The post Amazon and the Jobs Charade appeared first on Infoshop News.

A few more Marxist myths

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 19:38

via Anarchist Writers

by Anarcho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decree on convening workers trade councils

Journal officiel de la République française, 17 April 1871

The Paris Commune (16 April 1871)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, I came across this claim recently:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until I blog again, be seeing you….

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