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Review: New York 2140

Sat, 02/02/2019 - 22:44

via C4SS

by Roderick Long

Robinson, Kim Stanley. New York 2140. (Orbit Books, 2017).

Kim Stanley Robinson is one of the best science-fiction writers working today. Recurring themes in his stories include ecology, archeological exploration, anti-capitalist politics, and the ineluctable passage of time – all of which feature in New York 2140, which, like much of his work (including Icehenge, The Martians, 2312, Galileo’s Dream, and Aurora) fits almost-but-not-quite into the future history established in the Mars trilogy, his best-known work. (The inconsistencies are explained in Galileo’s Dream, where we learn that these various narratives belong to distinct but closely adjacent timelines.)

New York 2140 is a sprawling, magnificent tour de force. In its pages, the half-sunken (owing to global warming and consequent rising sea levels) but still-vibrant future Manhattan, criss-crossed by skybridges and streets-turned-canals, that figures peripherally in some of Robinson’s other works, here takes center stage. Average people eking out a precarious existence in the more sunken parts of the city band together to resist the twin threats of storm surges on the one hand and wealthy, predatory speculators from the higher and drier sections of the city on the other.

Like many of Robinson’s books, New York 2140 divides its attention among many characters rather than focusing on one or two protagonists. The chapters devoted to different characters’ viewpoints also vary in style, with some being told in first-person, some in third; some in present-tense, some in past; and so on. Periodic expository chapters, leavening their infodumps with sardonic commentary from an anonymous “citizen,” give the novel simultaneously a 19th-century and a postmodern tone.

A subplot, only tangentially related to the Manhattan storyline, involving an alternately zany and harrowing attempt to save polar bears from extinction by relocating them to Antarctica via airship (because science fiction writers love airships!) as part of an eccentric reality show, resurrects one of the central themes of Robinson’s Mars trilogy, namely the conflict between versions of environmentalism that favor active human intervention to create or preserve sustainable habitats and versions that valorize the natural, untouched landscape.

Predictably (for the same praise and criticism applies to the Mars trilogy), New York 2140 is terrific from a literary perspective, but a frustratingly mixed bag from an economic and political perspective. In many ways the book, and Robinson’s work more generally, epitomizes the tragedy of the Left: one foot in vital, grassroots, quasi-anarchist radicalism, the other in dreary, top-down, paternalistic authoritarianism (or “social democracy”), with this unstable union of opposites being held together by what I’ve come to call left-conflationism, i.e., the error of taking the perversities of corporate capitalism to be the result of, and so to be reasons to oppose, genuinely freed markets – and, relatedly, of seeing government as a check against, rather than a crucial enabler of, the power of economic elites: a safe and benign tool if we can only put the right people in charge of it. (Gary Chartier and I gave Robinson a copy of Markets Not Capitalism back in 2013, when, as he told us, he was just beginning to plan this “novel about markets,” but obviously we did not make a convert.)

Hence we’re treated to the spectacle of a purportedly egalitarian, anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist revolution whose guiding stars are Lord Keynes and the two Presidents Roosevelt, and whose ultimate payoff is to get one of the protagonists elected to Congress – a revolution that begins as bottom-up mutual-aid direct action via “dual power alternative networking,” only to fizzle out into the stale message that government is the heroic force that will save us all from the rapacious capitalists if we only just vote harder.

Robinson almost falls into self-parody when he describes the “private security firms” in his future New York as “play[ing] Snidely Whiplash to the NYPD’s Dudley Do-Right” – an absurdly kind evaluation of the NYPD, given its actual record. (I looked desperately for evidence that Robinson was being ironic here, but couldn’t see any.) Regrettably, Robinson’s view is simply a mirror image of Ayn Rand’s vision of corporate capitalists as the heroic force that will save us all from rapacious government, and is no more convincing. (Robinson likewise treats anthropogenic climate change as a product of unregulated markets, with no recognition of the ways in which it’s been fueled by corporate socialization of costs enabled by government intervention.)

Most disturbing is the disappointingly reactionary political program enacted by the novel’s victorious lefty radicals, which includes bank bailouts via nationalization, immigration restrictions into New York (“morally defensible” because those coming in “often had bad intentions” – a line that disturbingly echoes Donald Trump’s 2015 campaign rhetoric), mandatory national service (i.e., temporary slavery), and what amounts to martial law. Toward the novel’s end one protagonist responsible for much of this program briefly “pause[s] to wonder what it meant when a police state was aspirational, a staving off of a worse fate” – but quickly dismisses such worries to immerse herself in the minutiae of day-to-day policy. (Again, I’d like to think Robinson is offering an implicit critique here, but I see no signs that he is doing so.)

I highly recommend New York 2140 as a beautifully written, richly allusive, perpetually engaging and provocative novel. But I cannot recommend it as a lens through which to view the causes and likely cures of the social ills that beset us.

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Latin America: How the Commons creates alternatives to neoliberalism and the vanguard left

Sat, 02/02/2019 - 05:17

via Guerilla Translation

by Stacco

In this eye-opening dialogue between Franck Gaudichaud and sociologists Miriam Lang and Edgardo Lander the initial promise and subsequent disappointment of 21st Century Socialism is thoroughly analysed in the Venezuelan and Bolivian context. When asked toward the end of the interview what the solutions are, the interviewees stress the importance of self-organised, bottom-up initiatives, alternative currencies and other topics familiar to readers of this blog. They also mention Cecosesola, the forward-thinking network of Venezuelan cooperatives, featured on David Bollier’s and Silke Helfrich’s seminal Patterns of Commoning. The original Spanish text can be found at Viento Sur. This English translation, published on Life on the Left, was produced by Alejandra Guacarán and edited and supervised by Gaudichan, Lang and Lander.

Franck Gaudichaud: Following their participation in the international symposium that we coordinated last June on “Progressive governments and post-neoliberalism in Latin America: End of a golden age?” at the University of Grenoble, France,[1] we thought it would be worthwhile going back over the Latin American context with the sociologists Edgardo Lander (Venezuela) and Miriam Lang (Ecuador). Both of them have a sharp critical view, very often at odds concerning the present scene, and both have participated actively in recent years in the debates on the initial balance sheets of the progressive governments of 1998-2015, in particular those of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Miriam’s case[2] and of the Transnational Institute in Edgardo’s case.[3]

For example, they have written probingly on such topics as the problematics of development and the state, neocolonialism and extractivism, the lefts and the social movements, and both have tackled the difficult issue of conceiving roads of emancipation at times in which humanity is going through a profound ecosystemic crisis of civilization, challenges that mean, inter alia, re-inventing the left and (eco)socialism in the 21st century. — FG

Franck Gaudichaud: In the recent period there have been many debates concerning the end of a cycle of progressive and national-popular governments in Latin America, or rather their possible retreat and loss of political hegemony. What are your thoughts about this debate? From where you stand, can we say that this debate is going beyond the question of an end to a cycle? And what can we say about the present situation compared with the progressive experience from 1999 to 2015?

Edgardo Lander: This is indeed a very intense debate, especially in Latin America, because there had been many expectations about the possibilities for profound transformation in these societies beginning with the victory of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in 1998. That was the point of departure of a process of political change that led to the majority of the governments in South America being identified with something referred to as progressive or left-wing in one of their versions. These expectations of transformations that will lead to post-capitalist societies posed severe challenges both in terms of the negative experience of the socialisms of the last century and in terms of new realities like climate change and the limits of the planet Earth that it was necessary to confront. To think about transformation today necessarily means something very different from what it meant in the past century. At a time when the discourse of socialism had practically disappeared from the political grammar in much of the world, it reappears in this new historical moment in South America. Based especially on the struggles of the indigenous peoples, some of these processes seem to incorporate in a very central way a profound questioning of fundamental aspects of what had constituted socialism in the 20th century. Centrally present in part of the imaginaries of the transformation were themes like pluriculturalism, different forms of relationship with the other networks of life, notions of the rights of nature, and conceptions of buen vivir that pointed to a possibility of transformation that could take into account the limitations of the previous processes and open new horizons to address the new conditions of humanity and the planet.

FG: So, we’re talking about the initial period, the beginning, in the early 2000s, when resistance from below was combined with the creation of socio-political dynamics more or less rupturist and post-neoliberal depending on the case, which also happened to emerge on the national electoral and governmental plane.

EL: Yes, in a period in which extraordinary hopes were developing that radical transformations were beginning in society. In the cases of Ecuador and Bolivia, the new governments were a result of the processes of accumulation of forces of social movements and organizations fighting neoliberal governments. The experience of the Indigenous Uprising in Ecuador and the Water War in Bolivia were expressions of societies in movement in which social sectors that were not the most typical in the political action of the left played protagonistic roles. It was a plebeian emergence, social sectors previously invisibilized, indigenous, peasants, urban popular forces, that came to occupy a central place in the political arena. This gave rise to extraordinary expectations.

However, over time severe obstacles appeared. Despite the high-flown rhetoric, important sectors of the left that had leading roles in those processes of struggle had not submitted the experience of 20th century socialism to sufficiently critical thinking. Many of the old ways of understanding leadership, party, vanguard, relations between state and society, economic development, relations with the rest of nature, as well as the weight of the Eurocentric monocultural and patriarchal cosmovisions were present in those processes of change. The historic colonial forms of insertion in the international division of labour and nature were deepened. Obviously, any project that aims at overcoming capitalism in the present world must necessarily deal with the harsh challenges posed by the profound crisis of civilization now facing humanity, in particular the hegemonic logic of endless growth of modernity that has come to overload the planet’s capacity and is undermining the conditions that make possible the reproduction of life.

The experience of the so-called progressive governments is occurring in times in which neoliberal globalization is accelerating, and China is becoming the workshop of the world and the major economy on the planet. That produces a qualitative leap in the demand for and price of commodities: energy resources, minerals and products of agro-industry such as soy. In these conditions, each of the progressive governments has opted to finance the promised social transformations via the deepening of predatory extractivism. This has not only the obvious implications that the productive structurerof these countries is not questioned but also that it is deepened in terms of the neocolonial forms of insertion in the international division of labour and nature. Also, the role of the state is increased as the major recipient of income from the rents produced through the export of commodities. Thus, over and above what the constitutional texts say about plurinationality and interculturalism, there is an overriding conception of the transformation centered primarily on the state and the identification of the state with the common good. This inevitably leads to conflicts over territories, indigenous and peasant rights, struggles for the defence of and acess to water, and resistance to megamining. These popular and territorial struggles have been viewed by these governments as threats to the national project presented, designed and led by the state as representing the national interest. To carry forward their neo-developmentalist projects in the face of this resistance governments have resorted to repression and are taking on increasingly authoritarian tendencies. Defining from the centre which are the priorities, and viewing anything that stands in the way of this priority as a threat, there is established a logic of raison d’état that requires the undermining of the resistance.

In the case of Bolivia and Ecuador this has led to a certain demobilization of the major social organizations as well as divisions promoted by the government in the movements, which has resulted in fragmentations of their social fabric and weakened the democratic transformative energy that characterized them.

Read more

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The Same Media That Opposed Democracy in South Africa Now Warn Against It in Israel/Palestine

Sat, 02/02/2019 - 05:03

via FAIR

by Gregory Shupak

When apartheid reigned in South Africa, Western media commentary frequently suggested that if a one person, one vote system were adopted, black South Africans would massacre whites, oppress them or force them to flee. The same line of thinking can today be found in media discussions of Israel/Palestine, with warnings that Israelis and Palestinians sharing a single, democratic country would lead to Palestinians slaughtering Jewish people or driving them out. Such analyses reveal the racist assumption that black people and Arabs are too prone to irrational violence to be trusted with democracy.

A New York Times (9/20/81) article by Richard Neely said that, if the United States pressured South Africa to adopt a one person, one vote system, America might be “helping to precipitate a race war of all against all.” That Neely’s primary concern was violence carried out by black people was clear when his article went on to say that

certainly the lives of the 740,000 Asians in South Africa would be jeopardized under any one-man one-vote constitution, which can be altered by parliament, if the experience of either Kenya or Uganda is indicative.

William Safire wrote in the New York Times (8/7/86) that one person, one vote,

means majority rule, and nonwhites are the overwhelming majority in South Africa. That means an end to white government as the Afrikaners have known it for three centuries; that means the same kind of black rule that exists elsewhere in Africa, and most white South Africans would rather remain the oppressors than become the oppressed.

Safire was either unable or unwilling to conceive of the possibility that black people might not oppress white people, even though there were scant examples of that happening compared to voluminous cases of whites oppressing blacks.

In the Times (7/20/85), John O’Sullivan criticized anti-apartheid voices in the West that he thought were being insufficiently patient with the pace of change in South Africa:

What accounts for the grudging, almost hostile reception for the reforms in the West? The laws prohibiting interracial sex and marriage, for instance, were considered major offenses against human dignity until they were repealed; they were then dismissed as likely to affect very few people. It is almost as if some of apartheid’s critics do not want to see it eroded peacefully. They want a dramatic conclusion, a bloodbath in which the wicked perish.

The suggestion was that calling for a rapid end to apartheid was tantamount to calling for white South Africans to be slaughtered en masse.

A piece in the Wall Street Journal (10/30/85) by Karen Elliott House was conscious of the parallel between South Africa and Israel/Palestine, albeit in a twisted way:

The US also should drop its insistence that the white government negotiate with terrorists. It’s hypocritical to ask South Africa to negotiate with the African National Congress, which vows the violent overthrow of the white government, when the US doesn’t press Israel to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization, because it vows the destruction of Israel….

The more the US insists on negotiations with the ANC, the more it strengthens the violent extreme and undermines the moderate middle….

Once the US insists the ANC is the legitimate voice of black Africans, then the ANC becomes the only group with whom the Pretoria government can negotiate if it wants to retain some measure of international approval and investment. Yet the ANC has made it clear it isn’t interested in sharing power, just seizing power.

House closed with: “The US shouldn’t participate in schemes that simply transfer power from one racial group to another, while still guaranteeing no protection for the individual—regardless of color.” “Transfer[ing] power from one racial group to another,” in this formulation, meant moving from a system where only one ethnicity could vote to a democratic system where all ethnicities could vote.

Israel/Palestine

Predictions of mass violence against whites by blacks in South Africa proved false. Nor, despite some emigration, has there been a mass exodus of white South Africans; their population has declined by some 13 percent since the first free election in 1994. But this has not stopped media pundits from making equivalent claims about Israel/Palestine: claiming that a one-state solution for Israel/Palestine—that is, a single multiethnic, democratic state, comprising the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem and pre-1967 Israel, in which all citizens are equal, regardless of ethnicity or religion—is bound to lead to a widespread slaughter of Jewish people.

Tony Bayfield argued in the Guardian (3/23/05) that if “the Jews of Israel” were to be “swallowed up as a minority in a binational entity—Judaism would, I believe, also cease to exist, except perhaps for a tiny remnant of Jews.” In Bayfield’s view, Palestinians are such savages that an attempt to have them live as equals with Israelis would somehow wipe out virtually the whole of the Jewish faith—across the entire world.

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin wrote in (4/29/14) wrote that endorsements of the one-state solution “amount to calls for genocide.” She quotes Tawfiq Tirawi, a member of the Central Committee of the Palestinian group Fatah, saying:

We must return to the option of one Palestine from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea…. The only solution before us is the historic solution presented by Fatah in 1968.

Rubin went on to say: “How would he obtain his one-state solution? When you ‘drive Israel’ into the sea, you must destroy the Jewish state and its Jewish citizens.” Her use of quotation marks is odd, since Tirawi did not say anything about “driv[ing]” anyone into the sea, nor did he discuss “destroy[ing]…Jewish citizens.”

The headline over a Thomas Friedman column (New York Times, 2/15/17) implies that sharing the land between Jews and Palestinians would be the end of the Jewish people.

Rubin later cited passages from the PLO’s 1968 charter, the 1968 solution to which Tirawi refers, which mentions liberating Palestine and “armed struggle”—a right to which Palestinians are entitled under international law—but does not say the group plans to “destroy…Jewish citizens” or “drive” people into the sea, let alone carry out a genocide. Yet Rubin proceeded to call the idea of having a single, binational state across all of historic Palestine “incitement to violence and admiration for eradication of the Jewish people (genocide, that is).”

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (2/15/17) argued that it would be a “disaster for the Jewish state and the Jewish people” if the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank made “the separation of Israelis and Palestinians in a two-state solution impossible.” The headline of his column, “President Trump, Will You Save the Jews?” echoed this notion that Jews and Palestinians sharing the same land as equals would be an apocalyptic danger to all Jewish people across the globe, presumably including the large numbers of them who are anti-Zionist.

A Times editorial (2/15/17) published a day later didn’t invoke the specter of Palestinian violence as directly as Friedman, but it described Trump as “dangerously” questioning the idea of a two-state solution, warning of the likely consequences of a one-state solution:

Israel would be confronted with a miserable choice: to give up being a Jewish state—or to give up being a democratic state by denying full voting rights to Palestinians.

What exactly would be “miserable” about a multiethnic state with equal rights for all was left unsaid.

Whether in South Africa or Israel/Palestine, the argument has been the same: Hypothetical threats posed by the oppressed to their oppressors justify continued subjugation.

Featured Image: Anti-apartheid protest in New York City, June 16, 1980 (photo: Stan Sierakowski)

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Reclaiming control of Indonesia’s oceans

Sat, 02/02/2019 - 03:27

via The Ecologist

by Salena Tramel

Indonesia, the largest archipelago in the world, holds some stunning coastal and deep-water resources. With more than 17,500 islands straddling two oceans, the sea is not only a way of life, but also a source of it.

Fisheries account for a significant part of Indonesia’s trillion-dollar economy – the largest in Southeast Asia. More than 30 percent of global maritime trade finds its way through the Strait of Malacca, which is among the busiest of international shipping lanes. Tourist havens are seemingly everywhere, from the palm-fringed beaches of Bali, to the abundant shallow-water reefs of the Coral Triangle.

Managing marine ecosystems is therefore an unsurprising priority for the vast number of actors that have a stake in Indonesia’s coastal economy. At once unexplored and overexploited, the oceans represent neoliberal development’s final frontier. The twin processes of ocean acidification and global warming, and related international political responses further complicate matters.

Blue economy 

New analysis was recently published in the journal Science, indicating that oceans are heating up 40 percent faster than a United Nation panel of experts predicted in a study carried out five years ago.

The study further concluded that in 2018, seawater temperatures reached an all time high and were expected to escalate further in the coming years. Theses studies mirror those on land, where combined data from NASA and NOAA show that the five hottest years ever have occurred in the 2010s.

For many, marine ecosystem management, fisheries management, and climate change mitigation strategy are embodied in a redoubled commitment to the blue economy – the idea that the financialisation of oceans can reap economic profit and save the environment at once.

But what kind of development does the blue economy seek, and for whom? In Indonesia, small-scale fishers and their communities are holding fast to various manifestations of traditional knowledge that they see as key to ensuring the survival of the seas and of future generations.

Whose Oceans?

The Indonesian islands have long been at the forefront of oceanic policy and development circles, in large part because of their sheer numbers and strategic location.

One such high-level process held recently was the Our Ocean conference, which took place in late October in Bali. The meeting brought together a large number of powerful actors to debate some of the most pressing oceanic issues: climate change, fisheries, the blue economy, pollution, maritime security, and marine protected areas.

As is the case in many top decision-making spaces, representatives of governments, corporations, and intergovernmental institutions were given a seat at the table. Notably absent, however, were those closest to the sea – fishers.

Marthin Hadiwinata, Chief Executive of the Indonesia Traditional Fisherfolk’s Union (KNTI), said: “Policies on marine issues cannot be addressed in the absence of fishing communities who have direct linkages to the ocean”.

Hadiwinata explained that the issue of marine pollution, for instance, most deeply affects people living around the coastal areas and small islands: “Rather than inviting fishers to share their solutions,” he added, “companies who are involved in mining and other forms of extractive industry that dump their waste into the sea are regarded as corporate partners in cleaning up dirty waters”.

Blue carbon 

Likewise, climate change mitigation and adaptation projects often turn to the problems that caused the environmental crisis in the first place as a way of responding to it. Take for example Blue Carbon, where, as with other carbon sequestration programs such as REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation), polluters are allowed to continue their practices so long as they purchase ‘offsets’ in ecosystems elsewhere.

Most often, the burden falls on the shoulders of peasant and indigenous rural working communities, converting their crops and gathering spaces into monocultures such as industrial tree plantations.

Blue Carbon applies this logic to mangrove, coral, and seagrass ecosystems, while small-scale fishers who work in these areas are treated as nuisances and prohibited from future access to their fishing grounds.

Blue Carbon has been championed in high-level policy spaces such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) processes, as well as through ‘big green’ organisations like the Nature Conservancy. It is currently being pioneered in Indonesia.

People’s movements 

Indonesian social movements and grassroots organisations have long been in the business of carefully protecting the islands’ cornucopia of natural resources. In the rapidly evolving marine sector, fishers are forced to be quick on their feet when putting their solutions on the national agenda.

KNTI, the small-scale fisher’s movement that is present in nearly all of Indonesia’s 34 provinces, is playing a leadership role in turning the tide of both discourse and policy towards justice and sovereignty for fishers. This task is done at scale, targeting national and transnational political dynamics.

When word of the Our Ocean conference and its lack of grassroots representation reached KNTI’s members, they were quick to clap back by organising their own participatory meeting: the Ocean’s People Conference. Unlike its ‘official’ counterpart, the parallel meeting reflected the diversity of Indonesia’s small-scale fisheries sector.

The gathering strategically took place in Jakarta – not just to make it more accessible, but also to shed light on marine mega-projects encroaching on the busy capital. The most notorious of these has been a land reclamation projectsupported by Indonesia’s former colonisers, the Dutch.

This project has been centred on protecting Jakarta from floods by installing a network of fake islands and a giant seawall in Jakarta Bay. While the Governor of Jakarta finally revoked some of the permits necessary to complete the project – thanks, in large part, to a strategic battle fought at the hands of social movements like KNTI – much of the damage has been done.

Local activists 

Ipah Saripah, a fishworker from North Jakarta, explained that the reclamation issue has profoundly impacted her family’s livelihood: “Even though the reclamation stopped, they’ve already constructed four islands,” she said, “and that development is right in the middle of our fishing areas.

“We have been bribed, intimidated, displaced, and even tortured to make way for this reclamation,” she added.

Saripah and other activists from the fishing communities feel that big reclamation projects like the one stalled in Jakarta Bay serve as a blueprint for coastal development in Indonesia. Similar mega projects are being rolled out in other parts of the country, and they are woven together with the common thread of replacing traditional fishing practices with profit-seeking industries backed by big Asian and European capital.

That’s what the Ocean’s People Conference and related gatherings of people’s movements are attempting to shut down. Ibu Rofi’ah, a representative of a peasant organization in East Nusa Tengarra, Indonesia’s southernmost province, said: “We are not looking for money, but for means to spread our knowledge.”

Ibu Rofi’ah travelled to Jakarta to explain how she played a leadership role when her community put an end to an iron-mining operation. Today she is working with fisheries cooperatives that find themselves in standoffs with corporations in the mining and tourism sectors.

Movement building

Members of KNTI recognise that their struggles reflect those of fishing communities elsewhere. To this end, the movement is an active member of the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP), a transnational social justice movement dedicated to serving the unique needs of fishers and fishworkers.

Since the issues affecting fishers have become increasingly entangled – for instance, when climate change adaptation policies meet big capital – WFFP has doubled down on its attack strategies to protect the communities it represents.

A key part of that is actively promoting the Small Scale Fisheries Guidelines, which is the only comprehensive global governance instrument intended to protect fishers and traditional fisheries. KNTI has been doing this work across Indonesia, and making its demands global through social movement gatherings and even United Nations processes.

Marthin Hadiwinata said: “Here in Indonesia, we are pushing the government to immediately recognise and protect fishers’ rights. And at the same time, we are building the global movement to resist financialisation and privatisation of the world’s oceans.”

This Author 

Salena Tramel is a journalist and PhD researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague, where her work is centered on the intersections of resource grabs, climate change mitigation, and the intertwining of (trans)national agrarian/social justice movements.

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Long review: The works of Marie Louise Berneri

Sat, 02/02/2019 - 03:03

via Freedom News

In this long-read review Raymond S Solomon reflects on the life of a key figure at Freedom Press in the 1930s-40s, Marie Louise Berneri, analysing her peers, philosophical and historic setting and impact through two of her works.

Books reviewed

Journey Through Utopia.
1949
Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Neither East Nor West: Selected Writing 1939-1948.
updated 1988 edition  
Freedom Press.

Marie Louise Berneri, Vernon Richards and Freedom Press

Marie Louise Berneri (1918-1949) and her husband Vernon Richards were among those most responsible for the revival of anarchism in Britain, and as part of that revival, the revival of the newspaper Freedom and of Freedom Press’ publishing and book-selling enterprise. During the Spanish Revolution Freedom was published as Spain and the World, and during the Second World War, and a while after that, as War Commentary. Marie met Vernon through her father Camillo Berneri. Friends and comrades, English born ethnic Italian Vernon Richards, and Italian Camillo Berneri jointly published a bilingual Italian-English anti-Mussolini newspaper Italia Libera/Free Italy.

Camillo Berneri (right) with fellow Italian fighters in the Spanish Civil War

As a writer, a psychologist, editor, and an activist, she conveyed a libertarian message — libertarian in its original meaning. That meaning is the meaning that anarchists attached to it when they chose that label, instead of the one that was used to slander and libel Anarchists, and gave a false, but widespread association of violence. Anarchists are among the least violent people I’ve known. They are also among the most ethical people I’ve known. Anarchists are part of a broader libertarian tradition. The libertarian vision, which is not uniform, was advocated and practiced by many people including John Milton, William Godwin, Josiah Warren, Roger Baldwin, Emma Goldman, Thomas Pain, Thomas Jefferson, and Robert Owen. It is not the dog-eat-dog capitalism advocated by some who call themselves “libertarians.”

Marie studied psychology in The Sorbonne; and her school of psychology was Reichian. She believed in sexual liberation and sexual expression, but was against the exploitation of, and ill-treatment of women, whether in a sexual or any other way. In her politics she opposed state oppression, and one of the ultimate violations of human rights—war. She was for people helping one another, in groups and as individuals. The highest ideal of this help and mutual aid would be in a libertarian utopia.

Journey Through Utopia

In Journey Through Utopia, Marie Louise Berneri makes the point that at the times she was writing people settled for second best, compromise, and the lesser evil.  She discussed Utopias from Plato’s Republic through “The Big Rock Candy Mountain”—an American hobo song.  Under the title of “A TRAMP’S UTOPIA” Berneri quotes:

One evenin’ as the sun went down
And the jungle fire was burnin’
Down the tract came a hobo hikin
And said: ‘Boys, I’m not turnin’
I’m headed for a land that’s far away
Besides the crystal fountains,
So come with me, we’ll all go see
The Big Rock Candy Mountains.

Marie Louise Berneri said:

“The anonymous literature of all underprivileged in all ages has contained songs and fables of a society without hunger and oppression. The slaves of the ancient world looked back to a legendry Golden Age of equality, and the Nineteenth-century America placed in a future life their dreams of a respite from incessant toil from which they could not hope in this one. Much of the Utopian folklore is of great beauty and poignancy, but there is nothing other-worldly in the amusing songs of  the American ‘hoboes,’ or migratory workers of this century. [i.e. the twentieth century] The hobo is not concerned with governments or juridical systems—he knows what he wants in his shamelessly materialistic ‘ideal commonwealth.’”

MARGINAL PEOPLE

Authors who wrote about marginal people in fiction, drama, sociology, verse, diaries, and memoirs includeEugene O’Neill (The Iceman Cometh, The Hairy Ape), B. Traven (The Death Ship, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, all ofThe Jungle Books), Upton Sinclair (The Jungle, King Coal), John Steinbeck (Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath), George Orwell (Down and Out in Paris and London, A Clergyman’s Daughter, “A Hanging,” The Road to Wigan Pier, “The Road to Wigan Pier Diary,”  “How the Poor Die,” “Hop-Picking”), Robert Frost (“Death of a Hired Man”),Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (Slaughterhouse-Five: Or the Children’s Crusade), Emma Lazarus (“The New Colossus”), Mark Twain (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), Michael Harrington (The Other America), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (“The Jewish Cemetery at Newport,”), Anna Frank (Diary of a Young Girl), Jack London (People of the Abyss, “The Sea Wolf”), Norman Mailer (The Naked and the Dead, “The White Negro”), Edith Saposnik Kaplan (Russian Nightmares-American Dreams, “A Child’s Witness to Genocide”), Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (The Gulag Archipelago, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich),  Lincoln Stephens (The Shame of the Cities), Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man), Richard Wright (Black Boy), Erskine Caldwell (Tobacco Road, God’s Little Acre), Langston Hughes (Montage of a Dream Deferred, “A Dream Deferred”), Hubert Selby Jr. (Last Exit to Brooklyn), and Eric Hoffer (in segments of The True Believer andin his writings about skid row people, and fellow migratory farm worker in other books and articles of his.)

 EMMA LAZARU’S WELCOMES TO THE FORSAKEN

The poet Emma Lazarus paid tribute to the common people, especially the desperately poor and marginal people seeking refuge in America. In her 1883 poem “The New Colossus” She wrote:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The above verse, with the rest of that poem, was inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. These words welcomed the poor Eastern Europeans, Italians, Greek, Jewish and other immigrants. But immigration was curtailed by new American enacted during the 1920s, which were subsequently changed in the 1960s and after.

REFLECTION ON AFRICAN-AMERICAN ASPIRATIONS AND ACTIVITIES

African-American spirituals often depicted a religious utopia. In slave songs there was often double meaning. Canaan meant Canada, where enslaved black people could get freedom. African-American songs often expressed the agony and hopes of enslaved Black people, and later, of poor and persecuted African-Americans, after emancipation.  Abraham Lincoln had realistic utopian ideas.  Towards the end of The American Civil War he created a program to give formerly enslaved Black people 40 acres of land and a mule, to help give many formerly enslaved African-Americans self-sufficiency. There were also reconstruction programs for poor white people. There were other programs.

One of the things that gave hope to African-Americans was The Great Migration, of c. 1915 through c. 1960, from the American South to the North, Middle West, and Far West of the United States. One of the results of this Great Migration was the Harlem Renaissance of c.1918 through c. 1938. It was a renaissance in art, music, poetry, fiction, and biographical and historical writings, and African-American pride.

The accomplishments of African-Americans in the arts, literature, sciences, the military, religion, and oral literature are largely unknown. This includes African-American utopianism. This is beginning to change. African-American topics have not traditionally received comprehensive coverage in mainstream academia.   The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is still sorting out tons of materials. The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. shows a great amount very important African-American history that has been missed in history books and history courses.

REICHIAN PSYCHOLOGIST 

As a Reichian psychologist Marie Louisa Berneri views differed from much of mainstream psychology. Anyone who would have been in therapy with Marie Louisa would have been fortunate. The Reichian school of thought was in keeping with all her libertarian ideas and ideals.  A.E. Neill, founder and longtime director of Summerhill School was greatly influenced by Reichian psychology.

UTOPIES IN FACT, FICTION, AND AMERICAN UTOPIANISM 

Utopians are abundant in fiction, religious traditions, and human attempts.  One utopia with full sexual liberation and the blending of love and sex was the Garden of Eden. But Eva and Adam broke the one rule, and so, to use a mixed metaphor, opened a Pandora’s Box.  But fifteenth century libertarian Protestant John Milton wrote about the loss and regaining of paradise.    Bellamy’s Looking Backwards inspired Utopian societies, clubs, and experiments throughout the United States. But these Bellamy societies did not use the word socialist. Radical historian Howard Zinn noted that before World War One, many socialists were elected to public offices in the United States, and that there were socialist newspapers in Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Arkansas. The Industrial Workers of the World was growing before the United States entered World War One. In the U.S. the war (WWI) was an opportunity to stifle the American socialist movement, and almost destroy the IWW in American. But suppressed movements sometimes re-awaken. Consider the crowds that socialist Bernie Sanders got when he recently (2015/16) ran for President.

Utopianism has a long history in the United States. Socialist Upton Sinclair, using money earned from The Jungle, established a Utopian colony that was destroyed by a fire. Historian Samuel Eliot Morrison noted that “Robert Owen in 1845 summoned a ‘World Convention to Emancipate the Human race from Ignorance, Poverty, Division, Sin, and Misery.’” Disease could have been included. Millions of people now devote themselves to fighting disease. Josiah Warren, whom historian Samuel Elliot Morrison and others called, “the first American anarchist” attempted to create Utopian colony, which did not succeed. He is believed to have published what was the first anarchist newspaper, Peaceful Revolutionist.  Samuel Elliot Morrison observed that Warren built his own printing press and made his own printing plates. The Transcendentalists were Utopians of a type.

The range of Journey Through Utopia goes from ancient Greece to and modern times.  Berneri’s Utopiabook includes Plato, Thomas More, Bacon, Bellamy, H.G. Wells, and Aldous Huxley.

In Sr. Thomas More’s Utopia (which book coined the term) atheists were tolerated, but suspect because they did not fear being denied the afterlife, or punishment after death. But still he painted an alternate society, which included freedom of religion.  Of course Thomas More was executed for sticking to his religious beliefs. He is a hero for many Catholics, and for many liberty loving people, and for many who want to build a better world.

Peter Kropotkin’s Fields, Factories, and Workshops aimed at setting up a possible universal utopia on our earth. His The Conquest of Bread had the same aim. Kropotkin referred to Robert Owen’s utopian community. In The Jungle Upton Sinclair cited Kropotkin’s Fields, Factories and Workshops.

In The Ascent of Science Brian Silver noted that Thomas Jefferson considered John Lock, Isaac Newton, and Francis Bacon the three greatest people who lived. Lock wrote about the social contract (a concept that Peter Kropotkin believed was a fiction). The reasons for Isaac Newton being held in such esteem are obvious. Bacon originated the scientific method, and strongly and effectively promoted the idea that science should be further human well-being. In Bacon’s Utopia scientists would not tell of all their scientific findings to the governing class. Similarly in the 1930s many scientists decided to stop publishing their findings on nuclear research. If only that effort at secrecy had been successful! Nuclear weapons physics is like the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.”  As Richard Carter said, our knowledge outstripped our wisdom—at least in that area.

MARIA LOUISA BERNERI’S SUFFERINGS

How did this well-read, idealistic activist, writer, with such a pure heart begin life? How did she become a fighter for freedom, economic justice and utopian visions of society? Part of the answer may come from her suffering and the injustices she saw and knew about, and from her reading.

At age four Maria saw her father arrested by Mussolini’s police. They were harassed by Italian fascist thugs.  Marie’s family members became refugees in France, lacking papers, luggage, and connections; and they were harassment by the French police.  In Britain they finally found meaningful freedom. England had long given refuge to political refugees.

NEW TOTALITARIANISM AND NEW WARS OUT OF THE ASHES OF THE OLD 

The comrades in the Freedom Press group opposed both sides during The Second World War. Marie Louisa Berneri felt that fascism and Nazism should be fought by workers revolution, rather than nation states, that contained the seeds of future wars and new totalitarianism.  If she had lived longer, Maria Louisa Berneri could have pointed out the Cuban Missile Crisis was ultimately stemmed from the Second World War, which stemmed from the First World War. Anarchist Esther Dolgoff pointed out that during  the Cuban Missile Crisis, that two men could have determined the fate of the world—President Kennedy of the United States and Premier Khrushchev of the Soviet Union. This is the ultimate of the state.

OTHER ANARCHISTS AND THE AIMS OF WORLD WAR TWO UNFULFILLED

Spanish anarchist refugees (and other Spanish Republican refugees) in France, and many other anarchists supported the allies. Their numbers included Sam Dolgoff and Rudolf Rocker. Concerning my parents, Clara Freedman Solomon and Sidney Solomon, historian of Anarchism Paul Avrich wrote in Anarchist Voices:

“In 1941 as Clara Fredericks and S. Morrison, they published two numbers of a mimeographed paper called Libertarian Views, which despite criticism from their pacifist comrades, they defended the war against fascism.”

In an article, in the February 1941 edition of Libertarian Views, titled “Hitler Must be Stopped,” my father, Sidney Solomon, writing as S. Morrison said:

“The issue must be faced…either the fascist strangle-hold is broken or we can put off all thoughts of being able to struggle for the realization of our aspirations for many generations.”

Clara Freedman Solomon and Sidney Solomon, Anarchists who supported the Spanish Loyalists, and the United States’ and Britain’s anti-Nazi War during The Second World War. Members of the Vanguard group, they worked on the publications Vanguard and Spanish Revolution; and were instrumental in establishing The Libertarian Book Club. Clara and Sidney were also involved in Holocaust Rescue activities. Clara was a pianist, piano teacher, and once a music therapist. Sidney worked as a book designer and art director. As an avocation Sidney was a prolific painter, usually in bright colors.

Among the close “pacifist comrades” my parents differed with on support of the Second World War were many good friends, including the couple Audrey Goodfriend and David Koven. Shortly after the Second World War, Dave and Audrey moved from New York City to California where they put into practice their anarchism by co-founding Weldon, a Feffer type school. They played a leading role in opposing the Vietnam War. They, in a real sense helped to build a utopian situation. Dave had been involved in anti-Nazi activities such as beating up Nazis. (See Anarchist Voices by Paul Avrich.) Audrey was a strong supporter of the Spanish Loyalists—a vital anti-fascist activity. Dave felt (Again, see Avrich, Anarchist Voices) too many anarchist had very upward mobility ambition for their children. Audrey believes that anarchism can be pluralistic and include religious people. Walden, the school that Audrey and Dave founded, with three other families, was the personal practice of anarchism, as Dave Koven pointed out in his interview with Paul Avrich, published in Anarchist Voices. It was also a form of Utopianism. Dave related in Anarchist Voices (Avrich) that anarchism is people working together.

The horrors of a world ruled by Nazi Germany, militaristic  Japan, and fascist Italy was stopped—but as shown by Berneri, with some references in this review, the aftermath of World War Two did not live up to the ideals expressed in the Atlantic Charter. These ideals in this document issued by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill talked about no territorial changes without the consent of the people, people being able to choose their own government, no territorial imperialism by the signing parties, and freedom of navigation in the seas and air, and other ideals. Instead we have a beset with nuclear weapons, terrorism, terrible wars like the current one in Syria (as I write), malignant right-wing nationalism sweeping across Europe, workers getting more oppressed because of globalization, which is not true free trade,  and neo-colonialism. And in 1962 the world almost came to a full-scale nuclear war—perhaps pacifists, including anarcho-pacifists have some vital points to teach the world. Even George Orwell, in his essay “Reflections on Gandhi,” said that there is a good possibility that non-violence could be the way out to avoid nuclear war.

GEORGE ORWELL’S PERSPECTIVE, AND OTHER POSSIBILITIES FOR A BETTER WORLD

In “Burnham’s View of the Contemporary World Struggle” George Orwell wrote:

“But the situation might have been different if the European peoples could have grasped the nature of Fascism about five years earlier. In that case the war, if it happened at all, might have been a different kind of war, fought under different leaders for different ends,” and with millions upon millions less lives lost, and with a much better world resulting from its outcome.

Although Orwell differed with Vernon Richards and Maria Louisa Berneri, he was close friends with them. Orwell wrote to Richards about the Maria Louisa Berneri memorial issue of Freedom.

Neither East Nor West: Grievous faults of the Allies

In Neither East Nor West (a selection of her writings from War Commentary, and Freedom published posthumously) she could point out the great inconsistencies of Allied governments during and after the Second World War. This included an anti-labor policy in liberated Italy. The Italian people were her heroes for resistance to Mussolini, and their labor activism in liberated Italy. Allied colonial policies especially disgusted her. Britain and the United States supported the French re-conquest of Indo-China, while opposing France’s similar attempts at re-colonialization of Syria and Lebanon. Nehru had spent four years in jail. Indonesia was under siege. Because of starvation in liberated Italy there was increase in prostitution, especially forced child prostitution. This horrified Maria.  After the liberation of Italy, the allies originally selected General Badoglio to govern Italy. Badoglio was the fascist general of Mussolini who supervised the use of poison gas against the population of Ethiopia, during Italy’s war against her African victims.

Maria Louisa Berneri fearlessly wrote on many topics. She decried the allied bombings of German and Italian cities during the War.  After the war she defended   Jehovah’s Witnesses, who suffered persecution by the Communist government of Yugoslavia. She discussed starvation in Rumania. Maria opposed wartime forced labour. She protested the purge of writers in the Ukraine. Most important of all, Maria Louisa Berneri called upon workers in the United States, Britain, and Soviet Russia to refuse to build atomic weapons.

STARVATION IN POST WORLD WAR TWO EUROPE

Maria was deeply concerned about starvation in post-World War Two Europe–especially in Germany. She supported Victor Gollancz’s campaign to help starving Germany. George Orwell supported Gollancz’s efforts and his Save Europe Now Committee. There was little sympathy in Britain for the starving people in Germany. Among those who did sympathize with the Germans, there were suggestions of giving up a ration point, or points, to feed hungry Europeans. Since the beginning of World War Two food, and many other products had been rationed.

Orwell was very supportive of his ex-publisher’s (Victor Gollancz) efforts to save Europe from mass starvation, and specifically mentioned Gollancz by name in his writing. “The Politics of Starvation” was published first in Tribune on 18 January 1946. It was reprinted in 1968 in Volume Four of his Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters. The situation that Orwell was attempting to bring to the attention of the public includes the following description:

“In Budapest, in November, the chemists1 were closing for lack of supplies, the hospitals had neither…fuel, or anesthetics, and it was calculated that town contained about 30,000 stray children, some of whom had formed themselves into criminal bands.”

Also, George Orwell did not want Britain to repeat the mistake of the way Germany was treated after The First World War when the allies by “wantonly starving Germany.” No good could from starving a people as a policy.

Maria Louisa Berneri was cynical about the Marshall plan. But it relieved starvation in Germany and Western Europe. Germany printed a stamp honoring General George C. Marshall. The Marshall Plan, among other things, shipped tons and tons of food to Europe. This was in the aftermath of World War Two and the beginning of the cold war.   But the new malignant nationalism spreading now (2017) in Europe is not a good sign.    

FIGHTING IMPORTED RACISM IN BRITAIN

One of Berneri’s articles was concerned with the color bar being brought to England with the arrival of American troops.  At that time many Americans service people arriving in Britain. Many British girls preferred Black to white soldiers. Berneri believed this racism must be resisted. Some people who have grown up since the 1960s may not be aware of the extent of racism in America at that time.

ALLIED COMPLICITY THE HOLOCAUST   

In introductory material to his late wife’s collection Neither East Nor West, Vernon Richards deals with Allied complicity in the Holocaust. He even wrote that “We know, for example, that the British government, knowing exactly what was happening in Nazi-occupied Europe sought to close the last escape-route down the Danube. In 1943 Lord Cranbourne, the Colonial Secretary wrote to the British ambassador in Turkey to stress that Jews in occupied Europe should not be encouraged to escape, nor should they be organized or helped.”  British forces physically tried to prevent escape. This did not represent the feelings of the British people.  In a footnote to the above Richards cites a Channel 4 documentary Raoul Wallenberg: Between the Lines showing that “400,000 places within the [United States] quota” were not filled, leaving these 400,000 people to be murdered.  “The United States gave refuge to only 10 per cent of the number that they were allowed by law.” Thus more than six million Jews were murdered.

Louisa Maria Berneri had great empathy for the Jews faced with extermination during the Nazi era. In “Hell Ships for Refugees” originally published in 1942, Maria Louisa Berneri cites the Italian Language America anarchist magazine L’Adunata, which in turn cited Time Magazine about a ship of Jewish refugees in a coffin ship going from port to port with desperate passengers who would rather kill themselves than return to Nazi Europe. They were prevented from landing at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Also, “Ramon Castillo (President of Argentine) gave the order for them to leave,” after that they were embarked in a Brazilian port—they were again rejected.

Jewish refugees on the ship Saint Louis (1939.) More than 900 of them were fleeing from Nazi Germany. They were denied admission to Cuba, although they had valid visas. The United States Cost Guard prevented them from landing in America. They were returned to Europe, where over 600 of them were murdered in the Holocaust. The refusal of asylum for Jewish refugees, before and during World War Two, greatly concerned Maria Louisa Berneri. Her husband Vernon Richards also manifested great concern with British and American policies, which contributed towards the Holocaust.

WHAT WORKERS CAN AND SHOULD DO

A recurring theme in Maria Louisa Berneri articles published in Neither East Nor West, was what workers could and should do, and she pointed to specific examples of what workers had accomplished. Workers could defeat fascism, rather than depending on imperialist governments. Workers should strike in places where nuclear weapons where produce, just as anarchist workers in Germany refused to work on armaments after The First World War. Workers, she wrote, should force their governments to admit Jewish refugees to freedom, instead of watching them go from port to port in coffin ships before and during The Second World War.  Just as many workers had refused to load arms on ships intended for the counter-revolutionaries and foreign interventionists during the Russian Civil War. Workers, she said, should refuse to load arms intended to fight against anti-colonial revolutions in Indonesia and Indo-China. Workers should, she wrote, after The Second World War, force their governments to support a people’s revolution in Spain against Franco. Workers could stop wars by ending imperialism. This is similar to Scottish anarchist Ethel MacDonald’s broadcasts from revolutionary Barcelona calling upon Britain’s workers to support their Spanish fellow workers. Rudolf Rocker was one of the few people to predict just how horrible the First World War was going to be—with an unprecedented violent loss of life up to that time.  He blamed the workers and many socialists for supporting their national governments by going to war.  

ANIMAL FARM

It has  puzzled anarchists as to why George Orwell, who spoke so highly of the Spanish Anarchists, wrote about the possibilities of public opinion anarchistic totalitarianism in the Essays “Lear, Tolstoy, and The Fool,” and Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels.  Bernard Crick may have inadvertently hit upon an answer. This is speculative but plausible.

While Orwell was making efforts to have Animal Farm published, that book was submitted to Freedom Press. According to Crick, Marie Louisa Berneri strongly opposed accepting the Animal Farm.2 George Woodcock said that this rejection was due to the fact that Orwell supported World War Two. This is up to dispute, but is a possibility. Bernard Crick believes that the exact story is impossible to figure out because of the percussion of the Anarchists by the British government, their affairs were somewhat confused.3

If Maria Louisa Berneri did reject it, perhaps it was because it created a Trotskyite impression about the Russian Revolution, whereas anarchists know that the repression of the Communists started before Stalin. Snowball is taken after Trotsky, and although Snowball is shown to have faults, he is pure as snow compared to Napoleon, who is taken after Stalin. Emma Goldman once wrote an article titled, “Me Thinks Trotsky Does Protest too Much.” Read The Kronstadt Rebellion by Alexander Berkman.

HEROIC ANARCHIST WOMEN

Marie Louise Berneri was one of many heroic anarchist women. Dorothy Day was another such person. Pope Francis praised her to the American Congress. God forbid that anyone in the public media should have referred to her as a “Catholic Anarchist.” Voltairine de Cleyre was an individualist anarchist who eventually molded her view as an anarchist without adjective. She was an early feminist. She gave valuable morale support to Alexander Berkman during his imprisonment. Lucy Parsons, the widow of martyred anarchist Albert Parsons, was a persistent fighter for workers’ rights, who eventually became a Communist. Ethel Mannin was a prolific novelist, and supporter of the Spanish Loyalists.  Of course there was Emma Goldman. Emma was nurse, a birth control activists, feminist, public speaker, exponent of the drama, publisher of Mother Earth, and perpetual exile.  Ethel MacDonald, a Scottish anarchist broadcast from Loyalist Spain and called upon British workers to support their Spanish comrades. Also when Communists gained power she helped anarchists escapee from the very real danger they were in. Ethel MacDonald died from Multiple Sclerosis at age 51. Federica Montseny Mañé was Minister of Health in the Spanish Loyalist Government for a brief period. She said that she was just as committed an anarchist as before her joining the Spanish Loyalist Coalition Government. Vernon Richards believed that the Anarchist participation in the Loyalist Government was a big mistake. The American Anarchist magazine Man had the same viewpoint opposing Anarchist participation in the Loyalist government.

Maria Louisa Berneri opposed wars, was engaged by immediate issues, wrote frequently, and took on all comers in just causes. Berneri should be read and remembered by people today—especially by anarchists and those sympatric to libertarian ideas and values, and all believers in freedom, those interested in psychotherapy alternatives, and those working for a better world. She was not only an advocate for the working class, but tried to be a catalyst for action by the workers, against the injustices in our world and the creation of an anarcho-syndicalist society.

Conclusion

Despite some differences I have with Maria Louisa Berneri on World War Two, President Franklin Roosevelt, and the Marshall Plan, she does not seem to be completely wrong. If Maria Louise Berneri was too utopian in outlook, we must have a counter to the prevalence of realpolitik. Maria’s works live after her, and are an antidote to evil, and a bright guidepost pointing us in a clear direction to a much better world.

FOOTNOTES

1.      “Chemists” is what British people call Pharmacists. In the United States the terms are Pharmacists and Drug Stores.

2.      Crick, Bernard. (1980) George Orwell: A Life. New York: Penguin Books. Page 460.

3.      Ibid, Pages 460 to 461.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Includes both source material and subjects covered in MLB’s books.

Anatoli (Kuznetsov), A. (1970) Babi Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel (New, Complete, Uncensored Version). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. (Translated from the Russian into English by David Floyd.)

Anger, Per. (1981) With Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest: Memories of the War Years in Hungary.  New York: Holocaust Library.

Appleton, Matthew.  (2000) A Free Range Childhood: Self Regulation at Summerhill School.  Brandon, Vermont: Foundation for Educational Renewal. Inc. (A Solomon Press Book)

Avrich, Paul. (1995) Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in the United States. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Avrich, Paul. (1980) The Modern School Movement: Anarchism and Education in the United States, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Pres

Berkman, Alexander. (1923) The Kronstadt Rebellion. Germany: Published by the author.

Bettelheim, Bruno. (1969)  Children of the Dream: Communal Child Rearing and American Education. New York: The Free Press.

Bowers, Glaude G. (1954) My Mission to Spain: Watching the Rehearsal for World War Two. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Brown, Malcolm.  (ed.) (2005) T.E. Lawrence in War and Peace: An Anthology of the Military Writings of Lawrence of Arabia. Barnsley, England: Frontline Books.

“Catalonia Honors Dead Army Chief: 500,000 Parade at Funeral of Durruti.” (November 23rd, 1936) The New York Times.

Crick, Bernard. (1982) George Orwell: A Life. New York: Penguin Books.

Dolgoff, Anatole. (2016) Left of the Left: My Memories of Sam Dolgoff. Oakland: AK Press. (Introduction by Andrew Cornell.)

Fisher Fishkin, Shelley. (1993) Was Huck Black: Mark Twain and African-American Voices. New York: Oxford University Press.

George Orwell at Home (and Among the Anarchists): Essays and Photographs.  (1988)  London: Freedom Press.

Gollancz, Victor. (1947)  In Darkest Germany: The Record of a Visit. London: Victor Gollancz, LTD.

Kaplan, Edith Saposnik. (1995) Russian Nightmares, American Dreams. New York:  The Solomon Press.

Morse, Arthur M. (1967, 1968) While Six Million Died: A Chronical of American Apathy. New York: Random House.

Nehru, Jawaharlal. (1946) The Discovery of India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Nehru, Jawaharlal. (1941) The Unity of India: Collected Writings 1937-1940. London: Lindsay Drummod.

Orwell, George. (1933) Down and Out in Paris and London. London: Victory Gollancz, Ltd.

Orwell, George. (1934) Burmese Days. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd.

Orwell, George. (1938) Homage to Catalonia. London: Seeker and Warburg.

Orwell, George. (March 1947) “Lear, Tolstoy, and the Fool” in Polemic No. 7. Reprinted in among over collections,  The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters of George Orwell: Vol.4 In Front of Your Nose, Edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus.

Orwell, George.  (September-October 1946) “Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels.”  In Polemic. # 5.  Reprinted in among over collections in The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters of George Orwell: Vol.4 In Front of Your Nose, Edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus.

Orwell, George. (January 18th, 1946) “The Politics of Starvation.” In Tribune. Reprinted in  Orwell, Sonia and Ian Angus (eds.) (1968) The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell: Vol. 4, In Front of Your Nose, 1946-1950. (Pages 82 to 85)

Orwell, George. (1937) The Road to Wigan Pier. London: Victor Gollancz, Ldt.

Richards, Vernon. (1953, 1972, 1983) Lessons of the Spanish Revolution. London: Freedom Press.  

Silver, Brian. (1998) The Ascent of Science. New York: Oxford University Press. (A Solomon Press Book.)

Solomon, Raymond S. (Fall 2016) “The Anarcho-Syndicalist Genesis of Orwell’s Revolutionary Years.”  In Anarcho-Syndicalist Review.  # 68. (Pages 19 to 21)

Solomon, S. Raymond. (October 2001) “George Orwell: The Revolutionary.” In Free Voices.  (Pages 16 to 20.)

Solomon, Raymond  S. (February 2015) “Mark Twain’s African-American Voice.” In The New York Page. (Page 18.)

Solomon, Raymond S.  (Spring 2016)  “More on Racism and Colonialism: George Orwell’s  Perspective.” In Industrial Worker. (Page 5.)

Solomon, Raymond S. (Summer 2016) “Orwell’s Solidarity with Imprisoned Anarchists.” In Anarcho-Syndicalist Review. (Pages 37 to 38)

Solomon, Raymond S. (Fall 2016) “Some Clarifications on Lucy & Albert Parsons.” In Industrial Worker. (Page 5)

Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. (1974) “Biafra: A People Betrayed.”  In Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr. Wampeters, Foma, & Granfalloons.   New York: A Dell Paperback Book. (Pages 141 to 160.)

Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. (1969) Slaughterhouse-Five: Or the Children’s Crusade. New York: Dell.

Wheeler, Keith. (1975) The Townsmen.(Part of Time-Life series The Old West.)  Alexanderia, Virginia: Time-Life Books.

The post Long review: The works of Marie Louise Berneri appeared first on Infoshop News.

Reflections on the Yiddish Anarchist Movement

Sat, 02/02/2019 - 02:56

via Freedom News

Following the YIVO conference on Yiddish anarchism which took place on January 20th in New York (video here), Raymond S Solomon puts it in context with an earlier work — 1980 documentary Free Voice of Labor.

A conference on Yiddish Anarchism which took place in New York earlier this month is reminiscent of Free Voice of Labor: The Jewish Anarchists.  Free Voice of Labor is the English translation of Yiddish Freie Arbeiter Stimme. This film was produced and directed by Joel Sucher and Steven Fishler. The topics included in the movie were the Yiddish newspaper just named, and the Stelton anarchistic community in Piscataway, New Jersey. The scope of the Yiddish Anarchist movement was much larger than is generally known. Among the people featured, in narration and interview, were respectively, historian of Anarchism Paul Avrich, and Abe Bluestein who grew up in Stelton, and was a life-long anarchist activist. Within the documentary, parts of the old film Uncle Moses were shown. The character Uncle Moses is a sweatshop owner who employed, and exploited, many people from his own town in Europe, and many of them regarded him as their benefactor; or at least had to pretend to.

Uncle Moses clip (1932)

Bluestein said that Jews were not just a religious group, but a national group, like the Italians, Irish, Russians, Spanish, and Pols.  Paul Average mentioned that while many immigrants were hoping for a better life in America, working conditions were often worse off in American sweatshops. Avrich said his introduction to these anarchists was at a dinner attended by many of them. Avrich was at first apprehensive. He wondered if he would be suspected, or accepted. Would they think he was too “square”? But once there he felt very comfortable and he was accepted.

In the documentary various older people told part of their stories in this film. I originally saw this film in a theater in Greenwich Village, and it has since been put online (see below). I would encourage everyone to watch it.

Union organising was very important for Jewish immigrant anarchists, and Jewish anarchists were very active. Freie Arbeiter Stimme itself covered more than labor but also published short fiction, and world events.  The circulation went down over time as one generation passed, and the children’s knowledge of Yiddish was limited, while most grandchildren did not speak it at all. This was a similar to that of other foreign language immigrant groups. The Holocaust meanwhile not only resulted in the murder of over six million Jews, but also destroyed the Yiddish civilization of Eastern Europe. So, a world has, in effect, been lost. Or has it?

On January 20th the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research (which archives, teaches researches, documents, preserves, and studies Yiddish culture and Jewish history) had a one-day conference on the lost tradition of Yiddish anarchism. This conference was held in Manhattan, New York. I hope that this conference will be a first step in reviewing the tradition, and interest and additional scholarship on this tradition.

In 1977, the last year of the publication of the Freie Arbeiter Stimme, there were attempts to raise money to save that newspaper. In it decades long history Freie Arbeiter Stimme went from being a daily newspaper to a weekly, and finally a monthly newspaper. This is a newspaper that ran since 1890 — 87 years!

I hope that Yiddishism will be revived, and that the Yiddish Anarchist tradition will be revived as a part of that tradition.

Pic: Masthead of Freie Arbeiter Stimme, cover of Free Voice of Labor: The Jewish Anarchists and Abe Bluestein with Selma Cohen in 1937

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Identity Politics is a Four way Conflict

Sat, 02/02/2019 - 02:46

via Anarchist Writers

by AndrewNFlood

Discussions about Identity Politics (IdPol) absorbs a huge amount of energy across the political spectrum.  Discussion on the left however is often complicated and made overly hostile because they take place along the single axis of oppression which means proponents of IdPol get lumped in with Hilary Clinton while opponents get lumped in with Donald Trump.  This understandably encourages bad faith discussions that throw a lot of heat and very little light. Here we are going to argue that a much more useful exchange can happen when we instead create a plot where one axis is oppression and the second is exploitation as that puts both Trump & Clinton a good distance away from socialists. [Audio of this article]

A visualisation might help.  The different positions on Capitalism and Identity Politics can be plotted two dimensionally where one axis is exploitation and the other oppression.  We put those keen on both oppression and exploitation in the top right corner, this is where most fascists belong. We put those most against oppression and exploitation at bottom left, here is where anarchists should stand.  The clarity brought by this plot to discussions of Identity Politics is that it places the likes of Obama, Clinton and Google at bottom right, ie whatever they say about opposing oppression they are upholders of exploitation. And that section of the left that supports at least some oppressive politics ends up in the top left quadrant. ‘Intersectional left’ as a shorthand that performs two useful separations in reference to discussions of progressive politics.  In the first case the ‘left’ part serves to distinguish between those who support an anti-oppression politics that includes the radical redistribution of property as a core component and those who do not.  The left hand side of the plot versus the right hand side. And in the second case the ‘intersectional’* part distinguishes between those who see fighting oppression within the working class as fundamental to achieving communism and those who see it as secondary, and perhaps a divisive distraction from ‘the struggle’. The bottom left of the plot versus the top left. Some of the bottom right do claim the term intersectionality but only see a problem, and often a downplayed one, in the oppressive element of class societies.   This is sometimes referred to as classism or more commonly known as snobbery. That is the set of oppressions that follow from someone’s class identity as it is read by others from their accent or neighbourhood and which lead them to be discriminated against in terms of employment opportunities. This claim to be intersectional without being socialist was deployed by Hilary Clinton in the 2016 primary and election.  It doesn’t recognise the exploitative side of class, that is the division in the world between the very few who own the means of production and the very many who must therefore hire their labour to those capitalist owners. Indeed she used the claim to be ‘intersectional’ to attack the Bernie Sanders campaign as ‘BernieBros’.  Again our 2 dimensional plot comes in useful here in demonstrating that regardless to how seriously you take Clinton’s opposition to oppression relative to Sanders he still comes closer to everyone on the left than she does. Google even more than Hillary Clinton could be considered to illustrate the contradictions of this ‘intersectionality without socialism.’ It’s a company that claims to take oppression within the workplace extremely seriously while at the same time being all about exploitation within that same workplace. Consider this statement included with a 2017 Google job advertisement  “At Google, we don’t just accept difference – we celebrate it, we support it, and we thrive on it for the benefit of our employees, our products and our community. Google is proud to be an equal opportunity workplace and is an affirmative action employer. We are committed to equal employment opportunity regardless of race, color, ancestry, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, age, citizenship, marital status, disability, gender identity or Veteran status. We also consider qualified applicants regardless of criminal histories, consistent with legal requirements. If you have a disability or special need that requires accommodation, please let us know” However the vast majority of Google profits flow to the shareholders, including the management, rather than the workers.  Such companies might track gender and race promotion statistics but you can get fired for just revealing how much you earn to a fellow worker.  And while engineers are well paid there are also many poorly paid workers, often employed at arms length though sub-contracting to ensure they have poor conditions and little legal recourse.  This apparently is just fine for woke capitalism. Google workers are not unionised. We aren’t setting ourselves up as the arbitrators of who is and is not intersectional.  But we do think the Google, Obama and Clinton positions are more clearly described as ‘woke’ capitalism or capitalist IdPol. IDPol being a popular shorthand for ‘Identity Politics.’ Generally Clinton supporters and the ‘progressive’ tech sector already use the term Identity Politics as a positive descriptor while those on the intersectional left may avoid it because such use and the negative use by the right make it a rhetorical trap of misunderstandings. Woke capitalism is serious about minimising oppression and even willing to fund Affirmative Action programs aimed at overcoming the consequences of historical oppression for particularly talented individuals,  Just don’t ask them to increase the minimum wage in jobs like fast food where oppressed workers are often disproportionately employed. Not to mention suggesting equality on wages. We’ve already came up with a shorthand which probably covers the non-intersectional left, that is the Nostalgic Left.  That shorthand reflects their opposition to anti-oppression politics which today often stems from a nostalgic look to an most imagined past when the left was not complicated by what they also call Identity Politics. It also includes the reactionary elements of the left like the US Revolutionary Communist Party that until recently saw homosexuality as bourgeois deviation. That specific pro-oppression attitude is now unusual in the western left but hostility to trans liberation has stepped in as an area where some on the Nostalgic left support oppression.   We wrote about the Nostalgic Left at more length previously so won’t repeat that here. Another way of looking at all this is in terms of how ‘progressives’ view exploitation and oppression.  Exploitation is where workers only receive back some of the value of what they produce, their employer pocketing the rest as profit.  Google or Clinton have no problem at all with exploitation, indeed Google could not exist without it. Oppression is where you are discriminated against because of the identity assigned to you.  Google or Clinton profess to be horrified by oppression while embracing exploitation. Lean in feminism seeks a path to more women running the machinery of exploitation rather than opposing it. However the division between oppression and exploitation under class society is very porous.  The exploitation that comprises capitalism means that oppression is fundamental to building the wealth of the few through keeping the many divided.  This history of the development of capitalism is not simply a history of exploitation of the worker in the factory but also the oppression of colonialism and the racism of slavery providing the wealth which funded the building of those factories. The Intersectional Left is best used to describe that section of the left that recognises oppression and exploitation are inter twined with each constantly recreating the other.  For this reason you can’t win through prioritising the fight against one over the fight against the other. A three way fight? This three way division expresses the fault lines far better than a binary one of being for or against ‘Identity Politics’ does. Possibly by design the label Identity Politics lumps together the Intersectional Left and Woke capitalism.  That lumping works well for Woke capitalism, it enabled Clinton to try and mobilise the Intersectional Left against Sanders for instance. But despite that it has also been uncritically adopted by the Nostalgic Left because it enables them to pretend Woke Capitalism is intersectionality rather than a rather obvious bad fit to the concept.  The US election primary campaign proved this to be sectarian foolishness that damaged Sanders. But it also means Nostalgic Left theorists often don’t understand the ideas they think they are arguing against and so their confusion with Woke Capitalism gets read as bad faith or at time it is sectarian bad faith.** ‘Identity politics’ is a 4 sided conflict Finally it is important not to forget the 4th side to the conflict.  Woke Capitalism is a utopian*** development of a particular tendency within capitalism but for most of history most capitalists have recognised oppression and exploitation as going hand in hand and essential to each other. The wealth of British capitalism was built through slavery & colonialism – those capitalists developed racism as part of that process and it was essential for generating the capital and markers that made the industrial revolution possible at that point in time. Racism was the motor that drove the labour requirements of the sugar plantations of the West Indies, enormous profits were made but that needed huge quantities of labourers working in conditions of low life expectancy.  It’s probably not a co-incidence that the apparently ‘progressive’ companies today are those with comparatively few workers to vast amounts of capital in what can only be a short lived period of rapid growth. When that growth plateau’s and those workers start to organise collectively it could very well be that the like of Google will rediscover the value of manipulating divisions in its workforce. Unity through a solidarity that is diverse The need to define a division between the Intersectional and Nostalgic left is a product of both the progress the left – broadly defined – has made in fighting oppression in the 20th century and the resultant transformation of what is still very much a capitalist society in the 21st century.  Clarity around this division is also needed because of the failures of the left and in particular the failure of strategies that focused on the concept of a ‘core industrial working class’ that was assigned the vanguard role.  This was the mostly white and male working class of the European banana (the industrialised zone running from England through the Ruhr and down to Northern Italy) and what is now the US rust belt. It turned out that the very strong union organisations built in these zones and, in the European case, the strong parties of the left built alongside them were vulnerable to being picked off in isolation – as with the 1984 British miners strike.  They were also vunerable to capitalist restructuring, both replacement through automation and moving jobs to less organised regions of the globe. Often workers unity was fragmented through the pre-existing if papered over, fractures along the lines of race, gender and sexuality that, as defeats accumulated,  allowed the growth of right and even fascist parties in the deindustralised one time left bases. The challenge for the Intersectional left is to build new movements for communism that don’t contain the weakness of that fragile and false unity.  Real strength is built through movements that fundamentally challenge oppression throughout their existence. The other challenge is to prevent Woke Capitalism presenting itself as the way to fight oppression, through the suggestion of a path towards a mythological capitalist system of exploitation that does not rely on using divisions within the working class. You probably have seen a two dimensional political axis before, but where the first axis was left V right and the second authoritarian V anti-authoritarian?  Someone with better drawing skills that those in our sketch might well want to add a third dimension, the authoritarian V anti-authoritarian axis. Anarchists need to ensure these movements for communism are anti-authoritarian in nature as we understand that top down revolutions will end up recreating oppressions despite what might be good intentions.  The Intersectional Left needs to become anti-authoritarian if it is to defeat both exploitation and oppression in any sort of way that avoids the historical tendency of authoritarian socialism to recreate both. WORDS: Andrew Flood This piece is one of several pieces arising out of a process of collective discussion and education we will be publishing over the coming months. If you’ve an opinion on this or something to add to the discussion leave a comment on the Facebook note version where we are discussing it with all comers.

>>>> Further reading <<<< WSM position paper on Exploitation & Class WSM position paper on Anarchism, Oppression & Exploitation >>>> Expansions & Explanations <<<< The axis The plot and the placement of groups in it is for illustrative purposes, there is no precision and indeed part of the purpose of the exercise might be to discuss the relative placements of Clinton V Corbyn for instance. A couple of the groups are probably obscure in particularly the pre-20002 RCP which is a reference to the US Maoist organisation of that name that as late as 2002 was still maintaining the once widespread line that ‘homosexuality is a bourgeois deviation’. That position is now rare on the Western left but its not at all uncommon to still encounter a similar attitude towards trans rights from elements of the Nostalgic left, particularly those more prone to see Stalin sending Russian tanks into Hungary in 1956 to put down the workers revolution as a good thing, the Tankies on the graph. Mujeres Libres was an organisation of anarchist women that formed during the Spanish Civil War and Revolution in part because of the way the marginalisation of women continued within the anarchist CNT union. *Intersectionality is a term developed from the Black feminist experience in the US.  The first uses of the term lie in the writings of American civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw.  But the precedents are older and rooted in struggles and the theorising that came from those struggles. For instance the 1977 ‘Combahee River Collective Statement’  is often cited  http://combaheerivercollective.weebly.com/the-combahee-river-collective-statement.html The term intersectionality refers to the way people’s multiple identities intersect to create a whole that is not simply the sum of the component identities.  The experience of oppression a black woman faces is not simply the addition of being black and being a woman, but also contains additional components from being at the intersection of those two oppressions.  Although it largely developed as a critique of white feminism, it also provided a critique of a common tendency on the left to see unity as being best achieved behind a single working class identity. That almost inevitably became the identity of the straight white man, the literal image of ‘the worker’ found in so much left iconography in less copped on times. ** Shorthand & Legacy Shorthand always has the problem that it is a simplification of a more complicated situation.  In this case it lumps into three distinct groups what will actually be a spectrum of opinions along two distinct axes.  And the differences at the extremes within each of those groups may be almost as large as the differences between each of the groups.  That problem is also a necessary cost of political clarification and organisations. All left organisations, unless they are simply cults, are groups of people who have different opinions but have agreed to join an organisation that has a collective opinion which will never be absolutely identical to theirs.  We need to group together in this manner to achieve more than the sum of our parts, one person can’t put out a newspaper (unless they are very wealthy) but 100 people can by pooling resources. Left groups were often defined by ‘the paper’ for just this reason. In the past those groupings within the left have often defined themselves using shorthand around personalities. Trotskyism V Stalinism for instance where the personalities stood in for a range of opinions that person held including socialism in one country, social fascism, permanent revolution etc.  The emerging categories used here are just as real as those earlier broad divisions and describe the modern world and modern left more usefully. The old divisions don’t map neatly onto one or the other, anarchists tend to be Intersectional but there are certainly some that are Nostalgic. Marxist-Leninists are often Nostalgic but many are Intersectional. It’s certainly possible to sit down and trace a thread through anarchist movements and thinkers to make the claim that (some) anarchists were always ‘intersectional’ but others, including important movements and thinkers were not.   To us such anarchists were inconsistent in a way that would have stopped them achieving anarchism so although we think anarchists have to be intersectional we are not adopting the term ‘intersectional anarchism’ as this would suggest you could have a consistent non-intersectional anarchism. *** Utopian

Used here in the sense of something that sounds nice but can never happen because of the nature of capitalism which creates and reproduces oppression as part of the machinery of exploitation.

https://www.mixcloud.com/workerssolidarity/identity-politics-is-a-four-way-conflict-the-intersectional-and-nostalgic-left/

 

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17 books every activist should read in 2019

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 22:24

via Mashable

By Victoria Rodriguez

Reading is one of the best solutions to a rainy day, cancelled plans, and maybe even the state of our world. Whether you’re an activist or just want to take a deep dive into an issue you’re passionate about — immigration, racial justice, gun control —a book is a great tool.

The catalog of books coming out in 2019 is jam-packed with powerful writers and activists who are encouraging conversations in the hopes of creating a more inclusive, just society. Some, like Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and Valerie Jarrett’s memoir, Finding My Voice, draw from direct experiences — at refugee camps, the White House, and other places around the world.

In the below books, you’ll hear from women’s rights trailblazer Gloria Steinem, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America Shannon Watts, former editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue Elaine Welteroth, who helped prove teenage girls in this country care about both fashion and politics.

Some books provide an escape from the never-ending news cycle while others rejuvenate your desire to protest on the streets, call your representatives, vote in upcoming elections, and continue the work of 2018.

Whether you’re interested in learning more about the LGBTQ movement, introducing a young reader to the power of community protests, or finding a YA book that features a Muslim American protagonist, consider adding these books to your TBR pile:

Image: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World 

By Malala Yousafzai

In her second book, We Are Displaced, education activist Malala Yousafzai begins with her experience of being internally displaced and eventually relocating to England — far from her home in Pakistan. The book also features stories from refugee girls from around the world who, despite their devastating circumstances, demonstrate resilience and hope.

Image: Beacon Press

Memes To Movements: How the World’s Most Viral Media Is Changing Social Protest and Power 

By An Xiao Mina

Memes are known to magnify and poke fun at pop culture moments, but technologist, writer, and artist An Xiao Mina makes the case that they play a role in today’s politics, as well. While activists in China use them to evade censorship, certain governments and hate groups utilize memes to spread propaganda, according to Mina. Meme culture is engraved in our feeds and conversations, but this book takes a deeper look at the power pictures and hashtags can have.

Read more

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Punk Elegance: How Guerrilla Translation reimagined itself for Open Cooperativism

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 22:20

via Guerrilla Translation

by Stacco

Who we’ve been, who we are becoming

If you’re not familiar with Guerrilla Translation (GT), here is what you should know. Founded in Madrid in 2013 and inspired by the 15M and Occupy movements, GT is a P2P and commons-oriented translation collective. It was conceived as a new kind of livelihood vehicle for activist translators that combines two compatible functions: a voluntary translation collective working for activist causes (eg. social, environmental, etc.) and an agency providing translation and general communication services on a paid contract basis. The proceeds from this paid commissioned work go, in part,  toward financing the social mission by retroactively paying translators for their voluntary (aka ‘pro-bono’) work. Sounds simple, right? But, as we soon found out, when trying to do something from scratch that’s radically new and commons-oriented, the devil is in the details.

The first thing we realized back in 2014 was that we needed a better system to organize the paid and pro-bono work.  We decided to adapt an abandoned open-source governance model and orient it towards our ideology and needs (the original had a strongly traditional “startup” flavor). We discussed it for more than a year but, due to lack of engagement, we never arrived at a final version. Meanwhile, GT was thriving: we were well regarded in our community, our translations were reaching more people than ever and we had an increasing stream of work offers. At the same time there was an imbalance between readily recognized productive labour, and all the invisible, reproductive work required to keep the project healthy.

Frustrated with this imbalance, some of us decided to take an extended sabbatical from the project. An exception to this pause was our very successful crowdfund campaign to translate and publish David Bollier’s Think Like a Commoner, a Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons. The campaign was important in several aspects, including the use of the Peer Production License and an innovative, distributed publishing model dubbed “Think Global, Print Local”. The lead-up to the campaign saw renewed activity on the pro-bono side, and the crowdfund succeeded in its objectives, leading to a book launch in the fall of 2016.

But after the crowdfund, GT still suffered from the same mixed condition: solid social capital, continued offers of paid work, but no clear governance structures to ensure a fair distribution of work and rewards whilst maintaining its social mission.

Read more

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Chicago’s Homeless Freeze As Thousands of Buildings are Empty, Unused, Wasted

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 22:02

by Anarchimedia

People struggling without shelter have frozen to death during the dangerously cold conditions in Chicago and across the US. Some of the bodies have yet to be found, tucked away where they last fought painfully to stay warm when temperatures dropped below negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some of the 80,000 homeless people in Chicago can be found huddled outside of empty offices, curled up next to doorways, in a desperate effort to escape the elements and inches away from life saving heat, but locked out. Thousands of bank owned homes sit empty, entire buildings vacant, and the solution is obvious.

Finland has managed to essentially eliminate homelessness by providing housing immediately to people without homes. Finland is the only country in Europe that has had the number of people who are homeless decline in recent years. This option may not be available to the good folks in the US and elsewhere, but it is only because the people making those decisions don’t find value in providing homes to the homeless.

In order to solve this problem communities may need to takeover these properties. Cities in the US have dealt with people who are homeless as a problem they solve, at best, by buying them bus tickets out of town, out of sight, out of mind. Bus tickets are at least better than the other tactics of criminalization and victimization often deployed.

The only way to solve the homeless crisis may very well be for communities to take direct action. To takeover empty housing with homeless people, take over the empty buildings, the empty lots and taking over whatever else is necessary. Governments are making a choice whenever a homeless person dies on the street, they are choosing not to save these people, it is a choice that communities don’t have to accept.

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Chile’s Feminists Inspire a New Era of Social Struggle

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 18:07

via Black Rose Anarchist Federation and ROAR magazine

By Bree Busk

Feminism has a deep history in Chile and the powerful organizing that has emerged over the last year provides a number of lessons to draw from. We republish this piece from ROAR Magazine which is a summary of the longer piece, “A Feminist Movements to End Capitalism, Part I” originally published on our website.

By Bree Busk, ROAR Magazine

It is May 2018 and as winter descends on Santiago, Chile, a new wave of feminist activity is exploding into life. Anti-patriarchal graffiti covers the city walls and streets are littered with the evidence of recent marches. Tension is rising in the universities and social media are flooded with posts ranging from cautious inquiries to joyous declarations: “Is the downtown campus of PUC occupied?” “Was UCEN taken over?” “Instituto Arcos on feminist strike!”

Almost every day, a new selection of feminist banners can be spotted hanging from the fences of Santiago’s most prominent institutions. One by one, the universities and high schools are falling to feminist occupations, but somehow it still only feels like the beginning. Feminism is on the rise, and while there may be messages of sorority in abundance, they are sharpened by an intense anger directed squarely at those who have wielded patriarchal power against the women of this country.

To an outsider, the feminist movement in Chile might come across as a strong, unified mass movement, with a large number of diverse organizations joining the annual mobilizations. But what at first glance might be taken as a well-developed expression of feminist power was in reality much more fragmented. The movement was in chaotic transition, disrupting and challenging the left as a whole, but without a clear vision of what new practices would replace the old.

A New Wave of Chilean Feminism

The frustration and outrage felt by women, trans people, and queers had clearly been intensifying for years, but the tension had yet to find release in a mass, popular movement. Everyone could feel something coming, but no one was sure which combination of events would finally crack the dam. The flood would come in April 2018, with a massive wave of university and high school occupations, all carried out in the name of feminism.

The Chilean student movement has a long, rich history, most recently marked by periods of struggle in 2006 and from 2011 to 2013 and can seem quite exotic to foreign audiences, thanks to iconic photos of occupied schools and massive mobilizations. However, there is a danger in romanticizing these superficial images of struggle. The risk is that without historical grounding or contextual analysis, this current spectacle of youthful, feminist rebellion will obscure the far more intriguing political developments taking place away from the cameras.

“Contemporary Chilean feminism is refreshingly experimental and resilient … By maintaining a class struggle orientation and infusing their analysis with lessons learned from Black and Indigenous feminisms, this generation of feminists has advanced the struggle much farther than was previously considered possible.

The students may have been the first to throw open the door, but many more may soon walk through it. Feminist activity has re-awoken in the working class neighborhoods of Santiago and is stirring in the rapidly expanding migrant community. Workers’ movements are integrating an analysis of reproductive labor and even some traditionally masculine unions are considering going on strike for feminist demands.

This new wave of Chilean feminism will be explored in a series of three articles with a specific focus on the multisectoral and transversal tendencies within the movement which arguably hold the potential to unite Chile’s diverse social movements into a force capable of presenting a real challenge to the triad of capitalism, patriarchy and the state. This first part in the series looks at the conditions that gave rise to this fresh cycle of struggle as well as the emergence of La Coordinadora 8 de Marzo, the coalition currently serving as the primary vehicle for this political approach.

Feminists Against Femicide

Currently, the wave of strikes is already subsiding and the movement is charting a new course. However, Chilean feminists are still struggling to analyze the moment in which they have found themselves. It is not enough to simply react; we must understand where we have been in order to determine where we will go from here. This process of reflection will be ongoing, but several contributing factors can be clearly identified: the surge in global feminist visibility, the parallel ascensions of other social movements and the pressure exerted on all Chileans and Indigenous peoples through the continued application of the neoliberal policies instituted since the return of democracy.

Chileans are very sensitive to international political trends. The #metoo movement in the US and its equivalent in Spain, #yotecreo (“I believe you”), aligned neatly with Chile’s history of funas — a tactic where people congregate around the homes of public figures or known abusers in order to denounce and shame them for human rights violations or patriarchal violence. This tool is used when people believe there is no other recourse for justice, which is often the case with individuals who escaped criminal prosecution for their roles during the military dictatorship. Unfortunately, this also applies to abusers who are often free to live their lives and perpetuate violent behavior without experiencing any consequences.

WATCH: Video greetings from BRRN to the Chilean feminist movement, August 2018.

In the modern era, funas have gone digital and young women bravely post photos of their bruised faces on social media accompanied by explicit accounts of their abuse. These women are naming names and sharing screenshots, taking advantage of modern means of communication to highlight their daily struggles.

#NiUnaMenos (“not one [woman] more”) is a slogan against femicide which originated in Argentina and resonates strongly with Chilean feminists, giving life to such organizations as the Coordinadora #NiUnaMenos (NUM Coordinator), which successfully instigated massive mobilizations throughout 2016 and into 2017. Femicide is a dominant theme in Latin America, so much so that it feels like every week brings a fresh headline about a woman murdered out of jealousy or as a punishment for stepping beyond traditional gender expectations.

June 25, 2018, for example, marked the second anniversary of the death of Nicole Saavedra, a young lesbian from a rural community who was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. Family members and activists have charged that the investigation of Nicole’s death was neglected due to the lack of importance placed on the lives of women, and those of lesbians in particular. This is a recurring theme for Chilean feminists, who are met with resistance from both the government and media when they insist on the existence of femicide as a unique category that cannot be understood or combated in the same way as other homicides.

For many who organize to combat the persistent themes of domestic abuse, sexual violence, and femicide, the fight against apathy and resignation is a struggle in and of itself. In Chile, remembering is not only about personal reflection. Rather, it is political process that prevents the loss of collective knowledge and preserves the memory of martyrs. Contemporary feminists use the politicization of memory in the same way as the older generation who lived under the dictatorship: by honoring victims of femicide through art and political struggle.

In late 2017, the struggle against femicide and gendered violence converged with the immigrant rights’ movement with the death of Joane Florvil, a young Haitian woman accused of abandoning her infant daughter. She was subsequently arrested and held in detention until her death 30 days later, allegedly due to injuries incurred during her arrest. As a recent migrant who didn’t speak Spanish, Joane was placed in a position of hyper-vulnerability, unable to explain her actions to the police or to defend herself against their accusations. Her death has since become emblematic of growing xenophobia, a problem which is further exacerbated by anti-black racism and misogyny.

As migrants continue to surge into the country in unprecedented numbers, the left has struggled to adapt to this new political landscape. Chilean feminists have been some of first to extend a hand to the Haitian community, building bonds through activism and popular education projects. With the passage of a new decree that singles out Haitians for a more restrictive immigration process, feminism has the potential to become the lens through which this crisis is understood and confronted.

Multisectoral Movements

The themes of income disparity, reproductive labor, and precarity have been taken up most notably by the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras No Más AFP (National No More AFP Workers’ Coordinator, or No+AFP), the coalition organized to reform or replace the corrupt pension system. This movement has been propelled forward by female trade unionists — among others — and hasn’t hesitated to highlight how women are uniquely disadvantaged under the current capitalist system due to gender-based income disparity and the uncompensated nature of work in the home. The women of No+AFP are often active participants in neighborhood assemblies and political organizations and represent a traditional image of Chilean working class activism.

Tension emerges when the feminism of the labor movement and poblaciones — shantytowns or working-class communities — intersects with the feminism of the student movement, which has largely, but not exclusively, been developed in the context of the most politicized high schools and universities. Certainly there is a vast gulf of experience between poor, rural Chileans and those who are able to attend the best universities in the capital city of Santiago. That said, it is the project of every social movement to identify the common threads capable of binding these groups together across and through their diverse experiences.

The neoliberal policies instituted under the dictatorship and expanded on by subsequent right-wing governments have impacted the lives of all Chileans and indigenous people. Therefore, movements against state violence and privatization in the areas of education, social security, healthcare and labor have everything to gain from recognizing and acting on their complementary objectives.

This multisectoral approach is exemplified by the national organization Movimiento Salud para Todas y Todos (Healthcare for All Movement, or MSpT), which unites healthcare workers, medical students and patients to demand healthcare as a public right. They pursue this goal through many diverse campaigns, including support for Mapuche hunger strikers, improvement of patient conditions, public health education workshops and the decriminalization of abortion. In the language of the Chilean left, sectors are defined areas of struggle, such as labor, territorial — land and community — and student.

Multisectoralism means having a cross-sectional analysis of these social movements and developing relationships of solidarity across these sectors, resulting in multisectoral support for specific demands.

The multisectoral movements of today reflect the experiments and advances of the past, as evidenced by the Chilean student movement which has proven itself to be remarkably flexible, capable of incubating new ideas and putting them into practice. One such idea was “sexual dissidence,” a radical answer to the neoliberal politics of inclusion and diversity. Popularized by such groups as Colectivo Universitario de Disidencia Sexual (Sexual Dissidence University Collective, or CUDS), sexual dissidence denotes “constant resistance to the prevailing sexual system, to its economic hegemony and its postcolonial logic” and rejects the idea of subversive identities — gay, lesbian, queer, trans, drag, etc. — in favor of subversive analysis and action. The result is an inclusive, combative politics that cannot be easily co-opted or institutionalized, no matter how many individuals are peeled away by token reforms.

Since the theorization and practice of sexual dissidence developed in conjunction with the growth of student feminist activity, there is a significant tendency that has proved resistant to trans-exclusive radical feminism. This influence is most visible in feminist assemblies and demonstrations in Santiago where trans and nonbinary feminists show up in far greater numbers than can be seen in the US and even hold leadership positions in their organizations.

Contemporary Chilean feminism is refreshingly experimental and resilient, grounded in historical leftist analysis, but open to integrating new theories and tactics as they emerge on the global level. By maintaining a class struggle orientation and infusing their analysis with lessons learned from Black and Indigenous feminisms, this generation of feminists has advanced the struggle much farther than was previously considered possible. However, there are a number of forces that stand in ideological opposition and seek to sabotage the movement at every opportunity.

Bree Busk is an American anarchist living and working in Santiago, Chile. As a member of both Black Rose Anarchist Federation (USA) and Solidaridad (Chile), she is dedicated to building international coordination across the Americas. She currently contributes to movements in both countries through art, writing, and providing the invisible, reproductive labor that organizations need to survive and flourish.

If you enjoyed this article we also recommend the longer article this is based on, “A Feminist Movements to End Capitalism, Part I” and the organizational statement “Kavanaugh and a Feminist Movement Fighting to End Capitalism.” For further critical anarchist feminist readings we also recommend the seminal piece, “Breaking the Waves: Challenging the Liberal Tendency within Anarchist Feminism,” authored by Busk together with Romina Akemi. 

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Climate school strikes go global

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 17:55

via The Ecologist

by Campaign Against Climate Change

UK wide student strike has been called on Friday 15 February 2019 to protest against climate inaction, with a global strike following on Friday 15 March.

There have been escalating young people’s school strikes across the globe, with tens of thousands coming onto the streets to demand action to stop global warming and environmental destruction.

All have been inspired by Greta Thunberg, who began a solo climate protest by striking from school in Sweden in August 2018. Since then, thousands of school students around the world have joined her.

Climate action

The school strikes have spread to at least 270 towns and cities in countries across the world, including Australia, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, the US, Canada and Japan.

The picture above shows young people in Belgium taking part in a strike organised by an independent youth movement, not affiliated to any parties or organisations.

In November 2018, thousands of Australian children struck school in defiance of the prime minister to protest for greater action on climate change.

Organisers estimated around 15,000 left their classrooms in 30 locations across the country, including Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, carrying signs reading “procrastinating is our job not yours” and “I’ve seen smarter Cabinets at Ikea”. There were similar protests in Canberra and Hobart also.

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America’s Kurdish allies risk being wiped out – by Nato

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 17:45

via The Guardian

by David Graeber

Remember those plucky Kurdish forces who so heroically defended the Syrian city of Kobane from Isis? They risk being wiped out by Nato.

The autonomous Kurdish region of Rojava in Northeast Syria, which includes Kobane, faces invasion. A Nato army is amassing on the border, marshaling all the overwhelming firepower and high-tech equipment that only the most advanced military forces can deploy. The commander in chief of those forces says he wants to return Rojava to its “rightful owners” who, he believes, are Arabs, not Kurds.

Last spring, this leader made similar declarations about the westernmost Syrian Kurdish district of Afrin. Following that, the very same Nato army, using German tanks and British helicopter gunships, and backed by thousands of hardcore Islamist auxiliaries, overran the district. According to Kurdish news agencies, the invasion led to over a 100,000 Kurdish civilians being driven out of Afrin entirely. They reportedly employed rape, torture and murder as systematic means of terror. That reign of terror continues to this day. And the commander and chief of this Nato army has suggested that he intends to do to the rest of North Syria what he did to Afrin.

I am speaking, of course, of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is, increasingly, Turkey’s effective dictator. But it’s crucial to emphasize that these are Nato forces. This not only means they are supplied with state-of-the-art weaponry; it also means those weapons are being maintained by other Nato members.

Fighter jets, helicopter gunships, even Turkey’s German-supplied Panzer forces – they all degrade extremely quickly under combat conditions. The people who continually inspect, maintain, repair, replace, and provide them with spare parts tend to be contractors working for American, British, German or Italian firms. Their presence is critical because the Turkish military advantage over Northern Syria’s “People’s Defense Forces” (YPG) and “Women’s Defense Forces” (YPJ), those defenders of Kobane that Turkey has pledged to destroy, is entirely dependent on them.

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The Warmth Fund: Solidarity Response to Extreme Cold in Chicago

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 15:08

By Chicago Black Rose/Rosa Negra

In an unprecedented cold front that started Tuesday night and continued through Wednesday, January 30th, extreme temperatures in the negative teens with a real feel effect of negative 40’s, most of Chicago was hunkered down inside. And for good reason–at these temperatures someone can get frostbite after being outside for only 10 minutes.

Chicago anarchists took to the streets and started organizing immediately to ensure that folks who didn’t have permanent shelter could at least get a ride to one of the warming shelters set up around the city overnight. With funds raised through a paypal pool raising over $6,000 in five days, supplies were distributed across the city, from Roger’s Park to Hyde Park and in between. Clearing many stores out of emergency blankets, and hand warmers, organizers passed out the items along with propane-powered indoor heaters, food, water, and hot beverages to the folks who were most susceptible to the freezing temperatures.

Street Team Response

Several teams sprung up and mobilized quickly from a coalition of anarchist groups which included Little Village Solidarity Network, Haymaker, Tenants United Hyde Park Woodlawn, Blood Fruit Anarchist Library, Chicago Recovery Alliance, Lucy Parsons Labs, Four Red Stars, Chicago General Defense Committee, Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, and Chicago Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation, among others. Raising funds from family, friends, and allies, they were able to immediately put together a plan to track temporary warming shelters and open spaces that were available like Haymaker gym.

Teams fanned out to purchase supplies and deliver them to whichever neighborhoods they knew best, giving rides to shelter where needed and checking in on people in encampments who were less mobile or didn’t want to leave. While hitting the streets other individuals were encountered who had the same idea, and some independent groups like ChiRides. As well, a warming school bus was making rounds and giving rides. Trinity Lutheran Church in Bridgeport was passing out socks that the teams were able to take with them, and shelters like Flood’s Hall in Hyde Park were looking for help with the early morning shifts, being especially busy at night. Provided by Chicago Recovery Alliance, narcan was available and distributed to whoever was in need.

The city has a long history of criminalizing homelessness and prioritizing the needs of developers and landlords over tenants and people without housing, while hundreds of houses sit empty or foreclosed across Chicago. Though we don’t depend on the City of Chicago to come through in times like this, we used whatever tools we had to keep people safe tonight. A lot of the warming shelters that would be open during the day on Wednesday weren’t open at night, but the trains that were running 24/7 weren’t charging readmission. Passing out single ride ventra cards downtown and elsewhere has already kept a lot of people out of the cold, and then we have teams going in and out of train cards offering food and supplies through the night and all day today.

We’re not here to be thanked or anything, but mutual aid and direct action are what’s going to save us from capitalism and that’s something that doesn’t just come about when you need it–it’s something that requires organizing now and practicing community care all the time.

Ongoing Efforts

With the funds that kept flooding in, organizing are hoping to expand hot food distribution, and continue passing out supplies such as hand warmers and ventra single rides. Dehydration and lack of food will become more pressing the longer the extreme cold continues. Those items will be important to continue bringing to shelters. McDonald’s and other 24/7 restaurant gift cards are great for a free meal and the opportunity to spend some time indoors, since a lot of places make people they identify as homeless spend money there in order to stay. Of course, giving cash directly to people allows them to choose where to eat or stay warm.

In a similar vein for helping folks help themselves, some teams bought and distributed snow shovels for those who want to earn their own money shoveling.  Shelters are collecting gloves and hats, blankets, coats, etc. Important if more expensive items include sub-zero rated sleeping bags, tents, waterproof tarps, and phone cards. Even as the temperatures eventually travel back towards positive numbers, it’ll be good to have information and preparations for the next plunge. This is certainly not going to be the last cold day in Chicago, and since capitalism-caused global warming has exacerbated this extreme cold and fluctuation in climate, it’s going to become more and more vital that we find solutions for sustainable long-term survival collectively.

Another useful tip— Free rides to warming centers are available with Lyft through Friday, February 1 at 11:59pm. Use the code CHIJAYDEN19 (named for Winter Storm Jayden) to redeem two rides at up to $25 each to city-designated warming centers.

In addition to the warming shelters that the City of Chicago listed (marked here with google maps), other organizations that were staying open include:

  • Trinity Church on 94th
  • The Night Ministry’s The Crib (for young people)
  • The Sikh Temple on Devon
  • Aeslin Pup Hub, 1904 N Milwaukee (for people with pets)
  • Above Zero Soup Kitchen, 2242 S Damen
  • Flood’s Hall on 52nd Place in Hyde Park, 3rd floor (not 24/7)
    This site is urgently in need of additional volunteers. Link to sign up to volunteer for a shift or call (414) 455-6861.
  • The Garfield Center, 10 S. Kedzie Ave
  • 807 S 17th Ave, Maywood IL

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Everything You Need to Know About General Strikes

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 05:38

via Teen Vogue

By Kim Kelly

The word strike seems to be on everyone’s lips these days. Workers across the world have been striking to protest poor working conditions, to speak out against sexual harassment, and to jumpstart stalled union negotiations. And as we just saw with the Los Angeles teachers’ successful large-scale strike, which spanned six school days, strikers have been winning. Despite the shot of energy that organized strikes have injected into the labor movement, many people aren’t content with run-of-the-mill work stoppages, or even with more militant wildcat strikes.

As President Donald Trump’s scandal-plagued government shutdown stretches into its fourth week and more than 800,000 federal workers struggle to survive sans paychecks, the words general strike have begun appearing with increasing frequency on social media and in a spate of articles. On January 20, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson suggested that a general strike could potentially end the government shutdown. The fact that a labor union official is speaking about such drastic action now is very significant, for one thing because there has not been a major U.S. general strike since the government cracked down on labor following 1946’s Oakland general strike. Also, a general strike is an incredibly massive undertaking; while many organized industry-specific strikes can comprise hundreds or even thousands of workers, a general strike could potentially involve millions.

So what does it all mean? How is a general strike different from a planned, industry-specific work stoppage; why are people interested in the idea now; and what would one look like in 2019?

A general strike is a labor action in which a significant amount of workers from a number of different industries who comprise a majority of the total labor force within a particular city, region, or country come together to take collective action. Organized strikes are generally called by labor union leadership, but they impact more than just those in the union. For example, imagine the scenario if thousands in your town or city — no matter what their job was or whether or not they were in a union — got together and decided to go on strike to protest police brutality, as happened in Oakland, California, in 2011, after Iraq veteran Scott Olsen was critically wounded by local police when they stormed the Occupy Oakland encampment. The community declared a daylong general strike that ultimately saw thousands of people shut down the Port of Oakland (which was more of a symbolic protest, but still it got the job done).

Though the concept has its roots in ancient Rome’s secessio plebis, one of the first modern general strikes took place during the Industrial Revolution in Northern England in 1842, a time of great civil and social unrest, as modern capitalism began to take hold and hierarchical class lines began to be drawn between employers and employees. General strikes played pivotal roles in the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Spanish Civil War. And in the U.S., general strikes became almost common during the 19th and early 20th centuries, with examples taking hold in Philadelphia (1835), St. Louis (1877), Chicago (1886), New Orleans (1892), and Seattle (1919), and during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. These large-scale actions were instrumental in securing crucial workers’ rights that many of us take for granted today, from basic safety regulations to the eight-hour workday and the end of child labor. But those wins did not come easily.

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The Zapatistas Have Been Revolutionary Force in Mexico for Decades

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 05:25

via Teen Vogue

By Andalusia Knoll

It was New Year’s Day of 1994. As dawn was about to break, a group of indigenous Mayan guerrillas launched a coordinated attack on cities and towns across the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico. They called themselves the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and wore black ski masks and red paisley bandanas known as paliacates.

The United States had just signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was supposed to decrease trade barriers and increase business investment between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. It would also flood Mexico with imported corn, which the Zapatistas and other subsistence farmers believed would be their death, quite literally, and said so.

The Zapatistas, armed with machetes and antiquated rifles, took the municipal palace of the quaint mountain city of San Cristóbal de las Casas. It is estimated that between 600 and 2,000 troops, of humble farming backgrounds and largely between 18 and 30 years old, almost all indigenous Mayans from the state of Chiapas, participated and read a declaration of war from the Lacandon Jungle, proclaiming “Ya basta,” which translates to “Enough is enough.” They declared war on the army, the state and federal government, and the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which had been in power for 65 years.

“We are a product of 500 years of struggle: first against slavery, then during the War of Independence against Spain led by insurgents, then to avoid being absorbed by North American imperialism,” their declaration read.

Their declaration of war was a last resort, but seen as necessary in order to achieve “work, land, housing, food, health care, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice, and peace,” they said. They took the name Zapatista from the early-20th-century Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, who said: “The land belongs to those who work it.”

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Acorn Community: American Anarchism at its Apex

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 03:31

via 71 Republic

by Ryan Lau

America, since its founding, has strongly valued the need for a government to satisfy needs. Rule of law, freedom, and checks and balances are ideals that many of us grow up believing in. But some people believe that freedom is not compatible with the State. The range of anarchist thought varies drastically, from philosophical to political and individualist to collectivist. In 1993, a group of them came together and birthed their ideas. Hence formed Acorn Community.

Acorn Community Anarchism

Acorn Community, as stated above, began as a small project in 1993 in Louisa County, Virginia. It is a member of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, a group of rural autonomous settlements throughout the United States. The community professes itself to be anarchist, egalitarian and sustainable. Moreover, it claims to thrive on non-coercive, voluntary interactions.

The group began when a sister group, Twin Oaks, was at its maximum capacity of 100 members. Many more people wanted to join, so the group branched out and purchased another plot of land. Now, both communities are healthy and full. Twin Oaks operates with over 100 members, while Acorn Community has around 30.

Of the many groups that make up the FEC, Acorn Community is one of the few that professes anarchism. Despite this belief, the community nonetheless does still pay taxes. With 501(d) non-profit status, their rates are considerably lower, but unlike some religious organizations, they are not entirely exempt from the state.

Collectively, the roughly 30 members of Acorn Community own the various elements of property present on the site. Large items, such as houses, cars, and the seed-growing business that they use to sustain the group, fall under this communal ownership. On the other hand, smaller items, including those that one can stash in a bedroom, are owned by individual members.

The Decision-Making Process

What makes Acorn Community particularly notable is the way that it reaches agreements. In fact, that’s exactly it: every rule they impose on the community, they all agree to. The group rejects majority rule as a way of disregarding minority voices. Instead, they firmly believe in a process that they call Consensus.

In the system of Consensus, any full member of the community is allowed to propose a new idea. Then, every other member of the community can voice his or her agreement or disagreement. Peaceful discussion and debate follows, and eventually, they all state their preferences. If a single full member disagrees with the notion, then it does not go into action.

This form of decision-making is incredibly uncommon, even among other members of the FEC. It is known by political theorists as unanimous direct democracy, under which everyone’s voice is included and no one member can make a decision for another without his or her consent. In a sense, it gives ultimate veto power to every single member. Some theorists believe that such a system is the only way that both authority and autonomy can exist. Acorn Community, therefore, is a rare example of such a phenomenon of freedom and democracy.

However, for the sake of efficiency, Acorn Community encourages members to listen to each other and seek out compromises. If each member can agree to one, then the motion moves forward.

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Why the Climate Change Message Isn’t Working

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 03:21

via Yes magazine

In Climate—A New Story, Charles Eisenstein looks at debates about global warming and proposes a narrative shift for the climate movement. Embracing love of nature, he writes, moves people beyond denial and passivity to the action necessary to protect life on our planet.

Here is what I want everyone in the climate change movement to hear: People are not going to be frightened into caring. Scientific predictions about what will happen 10, 20, or 50 years in the future are not going to make them care, not enough. What we need is the level of energy and commitment that we saw at Standing Rock. We need the breadth of activism we saw in Flint, Michigan, where everyone from yoga teachers to biker gangs joined in relentless protest against lead contamination. That requires making it personal. And that requires facing the reality of loss. Facing the reality of loss is called grief. There is no other way.

The Standing Rock action to stop the Dakota Access pipeline wasn’t framed around climate change at all (at least until White environmentalists became involved) but around protecting water and the integrity of Indigenous sites, and not all water or all sites, but a specific body of water and specific sites, real places. Thousands of people, especially young people, braved long journeys and hostile conditions to participate. That is the kind of commitment we need to arouse in defense of the sacred, in defense of all beings of Earth. It comes from beauty, loss, love, and grief.

Could we still drill new oil and gas wells, build new pipelines, open more quarries, and dig new coal mines if we came from a place of love for the Earth and water around us? We could not, and anthropogenic global warming would be a moot question. True, the Standing Rock movement failed to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, yet it revealed a tremendous latent power in that so many people were willing to go to such great lengths in defense of the sacred. What will be possible when that power is fully mobilized?

What would happen if we revalued the local, the immediate, the qualitative, the living, and the beautiful? We would still oppose most of what climate change activists oppose, but for different reasons: tar sands oil extraction because it kills the forests and mars the landscape; mountaintop removal because it obliterates sacred mountains; fracking because it insults and degrades the water; offshore oil drilling because oil spills poison wildlife; road building because it carves up the land, creates roadkill, contributes to suburbanization and habitat destruction, and accelerates the loss of community. Just look at photos of Albertan tar sand pits. Even if you know nothing about the greenhouse effect, the heart weeps at the toxic pits and ponds where pristine forests once stood. Or watch the Gasland films. Read about the oil spills that have devastated the Niger Delta. These immediate tragedies pierce straight to the heart, regardless of one’s opinion about global warming.

From this vantage, we still seek to change nearly everything that the CO2 narrative names as dangerous, but for different reasons and with different eyes. We no longer have to conjoin environmentalism with faith in Big Science and institutional authority, implying that if only people had more trust in the authorities (in this case scientific, but it extends to all the systems that embed and legitimize the institution of science) then things would be fine. You know what? Even if I were to accept the position of the climate skeptics, it wouldn’t diminish my environmental zeal one bit. Awakening ecological consciousness doesn’t require winning an intellectual debate with the skeptical forces. That isn’t what will make people care.

By framing environmental issues in terms of CO2, we distance people from grief and horror. Averting our eyes from the bulldozers toward graphs of CO2 concentrations and average global temperatures, it seems perfectly reasonable to say, “Well, we’ll offset that gas field by planting a forest. And besides, it’s transitional until we get enough wind turbines operating.”

Paradoxically, the CO2 framing enables the continuation of the activities that are generating CO2. On the global scale, any local power plant or city makes a negligible contribution to greenhouse gases. Any city could say, “We don’t need to cut back on emissions as long as the rest of the world does.” Any nation can say, “We cannot afford the economic cost. Let other nations make the cuts.” The disputes that plague climate talks are inevitable when the problem and solution are framed in global, quantitative terms.

When we shift attention to palpable, local damage, such passing of responsibility to distant others is no longer possible. No one can say, “Let someone else preserve our beloved mountaintop. Let someone else preserve our beloved river. Let someone else preserve our beloved forest.” We won’t be mollified if the destruction of our favorite trout stream is “offset” by a reforestation project in Nepal. Not-in-my-backyard thinking, when universalized to an empowered citizenry, becomes not-in-anyone’s-backyard.

Our family friend, the late Roy Brubaker, was a Mennonite minister in central Pennsylvania. He organized a highly successful watershed conservation campaign in his region, which is politically extremely conservative, by mobilizing the Rod and Gun Club. In the entire county, it would be hard to find a Hillary Clinton voter, or anyone who would have lifted a finger had he framed the issue in terms of climate change. Yet, not only was the local watershed improved, with benefits downstream for the Chesapeake Bay, but if the living planet view I’ve advanced here is correct, the whole planet benefited as well.

Does de-emphasizing the carbon narrative mean that business-as-usual gets a free pass? No. It is the contrary. As Wolfgang Sachs presciently observed, “Indeed, after ‘ignorance’ and ‘poverty’ in previous decades, ‘survival of the planet’ is likely to become that well-publicized emergency of the 1990s, in whose name a new frenzy of development will be unleashed.”

Protecting and healing local ecosystems around the world is much more disruptive to civilization as we know it than weaning ourselves off fossil fuels. Mainstream climate policy assumes that we can simply switch to renewable fuel to power industrial society and continued global economic development; hence the terms “green growth” and “sustainable development.” The powers-that-be are quite comfortable with climate change when it is conceived in a way that gives more power to themselves, who are charged with, as Sachs puts it, “the Promethean task of keeping the global industrial machine running at ever increasing speed, and safeguarding at the same time the biosphere of the planet.”

This, he continues, “…will require a quantum leap in surveillance and regulation. How else should the myriad decisions, from the individual to the national and the global level, be brought into line? It is of secondary importance whether the streamlining of industrialism will be achieved, if at all, through market incentives, strict legislation, remedial programs, sophisticated spying or outright prohibitions. What matters is that all these strategies call for more centralism, in particular for a stronger state. Since ecocrats rarely call in question the industrial model of living in order to reduce the burden on nature, they are left with the necessity of synchronizing the innumerable activities of society with all the skill, foresight and tools of advancing technology they can muster.”

Climate change portends a revolution in the relationship between nature and civilization, but this is not a revolution in the more efficient allocation of global resources in the program of endless growth. It is a revolution of love. It is to know the forests as sacred again, and the mangroves and the rivers, the mountains and the reefs, each and every one. It is to love them for their own beingness, and not merely to protect them because of their climate benefits.

The idea that deep and active care for the planet comes through experiences of beauty and grief, and not from fear of future ruin, might seem counterintuitive. Many people tell me they became environmentalists when they learned about the imminent, catastrophic consequences of climate change. Accordingly, we adopt the language of costs and consequences, hoping thereby to make others care about the environment.

But is that really why you became an environmentalist? The use of climate arguments to promote other conservation issues has a psychological counterpart in cultivating an image and a self-image of hardheaded realism, in which squishy nature lover reasons give way to rational utilitarian ones. You can traffic in data about sea levels and economic losses and crop failure risks to disguise the truth: Basically, you are a tree hugger. You are a whale lover, a butterfly gazer, a turtle caresser. Maybe you practice Druidic rituals or connect with the soul of Gaia in vision quests. The arguments you give about future impacts, 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees, meters of sea level rise, hectares of forest, energy return on energy investment for photovoltaics, methane clathrate release rates … these legitimize your mushy tree hugger sentiments. But this might be a Faustian bargain, too, in which environmentalism accedes to the language of power, in exchange for its soul.

The bargain might be worth it if it actually brought the intended results. It hasn’t. The ecological situation on Earth has deteriorated steadily, despite the adoption of data-driven models and the cost-benefit arguments that follow them. We have tried being reasonable. Perhaps it is time to be unreasonable. The lover does not need self-interested reasons to cherish his beloved. If we honor our inner nature lover and speak from that place, others will hear us. Perhaps we have been speaking the wrong language, seeking a change of mind when really what we need is a change of heart.

From Climate—A New Story by Charles Eisenstein. Published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2018 by Charles Eisenstein. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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Trump’s Coup in Venezuela: The Full Story

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 03:08

via CounterPunch

by Eric Draitser

The US-sponsored coup in Venezuela, still ongoing as I write, is the latest chapter in the long and bloody history of US imperialism in Latin America. This basic fact, understood by most across the left of the political spectrum – including even the chattering liberal class which acknowledges this truth only with the passage of time and never in the moment – must undergird any analysis of the situation in Venezuela today. That is to say, the country is being targeted by the Yanqui Empire.

This point is, or at least should be, indisputable irrespective of one’s opinions of Venezuelan President Maduro, the Socialist Party (PSUV), or the progress of the Bolivarian Revolution. Imperialism, and its neocolonial manifestation in the 21st Century, is there to pick clean the bones of the Bolivarian dream and return Venezuela to the role of subservient asset, an oil-soaked proxy state ruled by a right-wing satrap eager to please the colonial lords of capital.

But in providing analysis of the situation, the Left must tread carefully with the knowledge that though it may be weak, disorganized, fragmented, and bitterly sectarian, the Left remains the principal vehicle for cogent analysis of imperialism and its machinations. This historic role that the Left has played, from Lenin and Mao to Hobsbawm and Chomsky, is of critical importance as analysis informs discourse which in turn ossifies into historical narrative.

And with that weighty and historic responsibility, the Left is duty-bound to understand at a deep level what we’re witnessing in Venezuela. Moreover, the Left must beware the pitfalls of shallow, superficial analysis which can lead to poor understanding of material reality, and even poorer anti-imperialist politics.

It’s the Oil…Or Is It?

One could be forgiven for immediately assuming that the blatantly illegal coup, and its near instantaneous recognition by the Trump Administration (among others), is proof positive that the US has instigated the overthrow of the Bolivarian Revolution in a nakedly aggressive action to steal oil resources. Indeed, this would be a near textbook example of the sort of colonial policies visited upon the peoples of the Global South since the dawn of the colonial age.

And there’s no doubt some truth to the conclusion. As Democratic presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard noted on Twitter, “It’s about the oil…again,” referencing the parallel to the Bush Administration’s crime against humanity known as the Iraq War which was, in no small part, about enriching Dick Cheney’s Halliburton, and the US oil industry broadly speaking.

And Gabbard is correct to highlight statements by Trump’s National Security Warlock, John Bolton, whose every word oozes the sociopathy we’ve come to expect from this most hawkish of neocons. Bolton stated in a press conference, “We’re in conversation with major American companies now…it would make a difference if we could have American companies produce the oil in Venezuela. We both have a lot at stake here.”

Leaving aside the likely deliberate ambiguity of these statements – What are these “conversations”? Does this mean there was no production plan before the coup was initiated? etc. – it seems obvious that oil is a major motivating factor.

But why, exactly?

As anyone with even basic knowledge of the global oil market can tell you, there are a number of reasons why we should be skeptical of the idea that the US simply wants to rake in profits by stealing Venezuela’s oil, its primary resource and export revenue generator.

First, global oil prices have remained fairly depressed in comparison to the historic highs of just a decade ago. With the price per barrel hovering somewhere between $50 and $60 today, Venezuelan crude remains profitable, but due to its heavy qualities, it requires somewhat more expensive refining technologies, making it less attractive than some other oil reserves, most notably shale.

This is not to say that oil companies would not be interested in looting this natural resource, as evidenced by ExxonMobil desperately trying to control the Essequibo region which continues to be a source of competing territorial claims between Guyana and Venezuela. The USGS estimated roughly 15 billion barrels of undiscovered oil and 42 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves lie under the Guyana Suriname Basin, making it 2nd in the world for prospectivity among the world’s unexplored basins and 12th for oil among all the world’s basins – explored and unexplored.

However, from a pure profit perspective, Venezuelan oil remains far less profitable (and stable from an investor perspective) than investing in the Permian Basin in Texas where the fracking boom, also hampered by global oil prices, has continued unabated. Indeed, with the US becoming an exporter of oil, and potentially the most productive oil field in the world in the Permian Basin, the appetite for simply snatching Venezuela’s oil supply would seem to be less.

And yet, here we are. So, what gives?

The View from Washington and Moscow

In fact, the fixation on Venezuela’s oil is only part of the story. The real story is the politics, and geopolitics, behind control over the oil. Put simply, control of Venezuelan oil is part of the broader international conflict with Russia, and perhaps to a lesser degree China.

In 2016, as Venezuela’s economy was in freefall due in no small part to the historic lows in oil price ($35 per barrel in January 2016), the Maduro government took the controversial decision to stake 49.9% of its ownership in PDVSA’s US subsidiary, Citgo, to the Russian state oil company Rosneft in exchange for a $1.5 billion loan. In essence, the Kremlin gave Caracas a very temporary bailout with major strings attached. With this move, the Russians effectively became part owners of Venezuela’s primary asset.

But Russia, being one of the world’s leading oil producers itself, surely had little interest in the oil per se. After all, Russian energy exports remain dominant in Europe, with expanding operations in Asia. Instead, Venezuelan oil was to be a potent lever against the US at precisely the moment the US was applying political and economic pressure on Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine, among other things. It should be remembered that the Obama Administration had imposed sanctions against Moscow in March 2014 over the Russian annexation of Crimea, and later involvement in the civil war in Eastern Ukraine.

With the US and European sanctions, some of which targeted Russia’s oil industry, the Kremlin was desperate for strategies to leverage against the US both to extract a cost for the sanctions, but perhaps more importantly for potential future negotiations. Putin & Co. settled on, at least in part, Venezuela’s oil sector. By providing what amounted to a relatively small loan of $1.5 billion, Russia immediately became a dominant player in Venezuela’s oil, thereby becoming a power player with Washington’s political and economic strategy.

And indeed this strategy, or at least recognition of it, was confirmed by powerful US interests in early 2018 when a still shadowy group of US investors made a move to try to purchase the Russian stake in Citgo.

Essentially, the plan, which was revealed to Reuters by an anonymous investor who is part of the group, called for the investors to pay off Venezuela’s outstanding loan balance and then require Rosneft to terminate its lien and transfer the loan to new investors. As the investor told Reuters:

“The [Trump] administration should recognize that if it doesn’t do something pro-active here, it will face…limited options under almost any scenario, whether it is an attempt to foreclose by the current lienholder, further restrictions on Venezuelan crude oil imports into the U.S., or even in the event there is a positive political change in Caracas… This is a private sector solution to a public policy problem.”

It doesn’t get much clearer than that. US elites clearly felt that Russia’s foray into Venezuela’s oil sector was a strategic calculation designed to counteract US political and economic moves against Russia. Moreover, it seems obvious that there is/was a lack of faith on the part of segments of the ruling class that the Trump Administration would actively block Russia’s geostrategic maneuvers effectively, hence the need for a “private sector” solution.

And yet here we are, less than 12 months after the news of this potential strategy broke, and the Trump Administration is doing precisely what the ruling class demanded, namely targeting Venezuela’s economy, specifically the oil sector. As the recent move by the US Treasury makes clear, the US will use Venezuelan oil revenues as part of a hostage-taking strategy designed to force regime change which would make moot the question of Russian power in Venezuela as the new government would be, for all intents and purposes, a US puppet regime.

One can almost hear the shrill cries of Trump’s apologists on left and right who will cry in the night about the Deep State forcing Trump to do this, that he has no choice as it is the will of the ruling class which has weakened him with the Russiagate hoax.

But, leaving aside the unbearable blitheness of being MAGA-adjacent, the reality is that Trump has warmongered against Venezuela since well before the recent escalation, including in an infamous 2017 meeting at which ExxonMobil’s State Department CEO Rex Tillerson and former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster both were “stunned” at the stupidity of Trump’s expressed desire to invade Venezuela. According to the Associated Press:

“Trump alarmed friends and foes alike with talk of a ‘military option’ to remove Maduro from power. The public remarks were initially dismissed in U.S. policy circles …But shortly afterward, he raised the issue with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, according to [a] U.S. official. Two high-ranking Colombian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing Trump confirmed the report.”

So, it seems Trump never needed any help getting to the war criminal perspective on Venezuela. In fact, it could be said that, ironically enough, it was an oil man and a Pentagon man who tried to talk him out of it. So much for the Deep State. Instead, it was simply that Trump needed the right kind of crazies around him to indulge his imperialist insanity; he has them now with a messianic Secretary of State in Pompeo and the aforementioned National Security Warlock Bolton.

Imperialism a la Carte

I’ve tried to highlight the more nuanced analysis of the energy issue, and how it ties to broader geopolitical questions so that, hopefully, leftists can see the full picture of the political context, rather than a one-dimensional, reductionist one. However, it must be said that oil is not the only issue requiring careful analysis.

There is also the question of mineral extraction, and there too Russia figures centrally. In late 2018, President Maduro, desperate to get additional financing amid crippling sanctions, announced that Venezuela had offered Russian mining companies access to gold mining operations in the country. While the Kremlin’s media platforms like RT and Sputnik did their usual spin, presenting this as simply mutually beneficial, friendly, and downright altruistic policy from Putin, the reality is that Russia sees in Venezuela much the same as what US interests see: a cash cow on its knees, easily controlled and exploited.

And of course, in addition to gold, there are plenty of other mining prizes to be had in Venezuela including nickel, diamonds, iron ore, aluminum, bauxite, natural gas, etc. Both Russia and China have a significant interest in all these minerals, and projects necessary to exploit them.

Washington is not necessarily most concerned with Russian and Chinese billionaires enriching themselves in Venezuela, though it is undoubtedly irksome.

Rather, the strategic planners inside the Beltway see in Venezuela today an opportunity to strike a death blow to socialism and anti-imperialist politics in Latin America. While they shed crocodile tears over elections, democracy, and corruption, the reality is that the vultures of Empire are circling around what they feel is a carcass to be stripped clean. No more Bolivarian Revolution means not even the pretense of, let alone substantive movement for, regional integration.

With Chavez gone, and Venezuelan people hurting and desperate, people like war criminal and newly appointed envoy to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, see an opportunity to win a major victory in their endless fight against socialism on the one hand, and petro-capitalist Russia on the other hand. And if they can stick it to China in the process, depriving it of a significant export market and diplomatic foothold in the Western Hemisphere, all the better.

Ultimately, what we’re witnessing is the classic Monroe Doctrine policy from the US, albeit under 21st Century conditions. With a consolidated right-wing front already in place under Duque (and his puppet-master former President Alvaro Uribe) in Colombia, Macri in Argentina, and Bolsonaro in Brazil, Washington sees Venezuela as perhaps the last domino to fall in South America (Bolivia notwithstanding). And with its demise, the region will be America’s backyard once more.

Unfortunately for the Empire, I’ve seen the Bolivarian Revolution with my own eyes, seen the commitment of poor and working-class people to the ideals of Chavez’s vision and of socialism from the ground up. These people, in their millions, are not simply going to watch as the US takes everything they’ve bled for these last twenty years. They’re not going to sit idle and play the victim.

If Trump thinks he will take Venezuela without a bloody fight, he’s even dumber than we thought.

Join the debate on Facebook More articles by:Eric Draitser

Eric Draitser is an independent political analyst and host of CounterPunch Radio. You can find his exclusive content including articles, podcasts, audio commentaries, poetry and more at patreon.com/ericdraitser. He can be reached at ericdraitser@gmail.com.

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In Praise of Direct Action (and More)

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 03:03

via CounterPunch

by Paul Street

Idle Capital Through Disruption

As the partial federal shutdown moved into its third week, I found myself thinking about the late left economist and sociologist Giovanni Arrighi’s concept of “workplace bargaining power” (WBP).  By WBP, Arrighi meant the ability some strategically placed workers possess to idle capital and harm profits by bottle-necking the interdependent, integrated, and continuous flow of production.  This, Arrighi argued, was different from the special “marketplace bargaining power” (MBP) some workers derive from the possession of scarce skills. WBP is available to “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” workers by virtue of their strategic position in highly capital-intensive production processes.  It was no small part, Arrighi theorized, of how the United States’ once powerful industrial unions arose amidst the mass unemployment of the Great Depression [1].

The Shutdown’s Tipping Point: Worker Resistance

As the shutdown ground on, I started wondering when federal air-traffic controllers and other key and strategically placed air-travel workers would flex their capacity to disrupt the continuous flow of airline flight operations? The answer came last Friday when a sick-in of New York City controllers led to the stoppage of flights at LaGuardia Airport. Delays began piling up across the nation’s integrated air-travel system, a quarter of which moves through New York.

The disruption was just a taste of what might have come if the slowdown and stoppages had spread to include the flight attendants and the pilots.  On Thursday, the separate unions representing the controllers, the attendants, and the pilots had issued a joint statement warning the nation that the government’s failure to pay controllers and TSA workers (the people who scan and pat-down  passengers on the way into airport terminals) had created a situation of “unprecedented” air travel peril.

A critical tipping point was coming. The New York air-traffic controllers were starting to flex their WBP (and more – see below) to control the situation from the bottom up. The pilots and attendants were likely to walk off their jobs. The unpaid TSA workers would have done the same, bottlenecking the boarding of jets. It wasn’t hard to imagine activists and supporters flocking to major air terminals on the model of the early airport protests of Trump’s Muslim travel ban. Some of them might even have donned yellow vests (see below).

The nation’s critical and capital-intensive air-travel system, upon which the nation’s business and professional classes depend, would have crashed, helping move America’s Trump-saddled capitalism from zero to negative growth.

The previous Sunday, Sara Nelson, the president of Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, had given an impassioned speech in which she called for a national general strike in support of the 800,000 unpaid federal workers and connected the shutdown with the struggles waged by public schoolteachers in Los Angeles and workers everywhere.

WBP+MBP+CBP=PBP

It wasn’t just about WBP, of course.  Air traffic controllers are skilled professionals with a good bit of MBP as well, thanks in part to the federal government’s failure to train an adequate number of professionals to fill vacancies resulting from retirements. I saw an airline CEO complain go on CNN to complain about the shortage of “replacement workers” if controllers were forced to take other jobs.

Airline pilots are high skilled workers, to say the least. They too are not in great supply and not easily disciplined by Karl Marx’s “reserve army of labor.”

Rising hazard was also part of the equation.  When a brain or heart surgeon royally screws up, one person dies. If air-traffic controllers and pilots don’t do their jobs at a high level of proficiency, hundreds can perish in an instant. TSA workers are charged with keeping wannabe shoe-bombers, hijackers. and other maniacs from wreaking mass-murderous sky-havoc. The notion of people doing the incredibly stressful work involved in monitoring flights and coordinating take-offs and arrivals to prevent mass-fatality airplane crashes while being exhausted from working second jobs (or from sleeplessness induced by financial anxiety) was simply and transparently insane.

Government is supposed to guarantee public safety, but Trump’s insane nativist Wall demand and the political and fiscal theatrics in Washington were putting travelers at chilling risk.

It was too much for big capitalist “adults” behind the absurdist political theater of the visible state. The CEO of Bank of America called for an end to the shutdown last Wednesday, warning of serious damage to “economic stability” (translation: to capitalist profits).

A potent combination of WBP, MBP, and public safety concern – call that “civic bargaining power” (CBP) – translated into political bargaining power (PBP). The workers left Trump with no choice but to “cave” on his ridiculous and self-owned shut-down.

The Pitiful Orange Dufus’s Predictable “Cave”

This ridiculous buffoon of a president had just the other day announced that federal workers really didn’t need to worry so much about losing their wages and salaries because “Local people know who they are, when they go for groceries and everything else.” (Translation: their neighbors and grocers would supposedly give them free food). Trump’s pathetic Treasury Secretary and fellow clueless and classist billionaire Wilbur Ross had just sparkedmass nauseaby suggesting that unpaid federal workers had no business visiting food pantries since they could take out loans to cover their expenses – this after Trump had been boasting that his shutdown (“I will own it”) could go on “for months, even years.”

The pitiful orange dufus, with his popularity sunk to a pathetic new low (34%), had to bow his head and walk like a pouting toddler up to a White House microphone and pretend to have led an agreement to re-open the government – but just for three weeks, mind you (I will return to this important topic in a future commentary). The nation was left to wait for the tough-sounding Tweets certain to be issued the following morning by the tangerine-tinted wannabe strongman – and for the shrieks of “betrayal” and “wimp” certain to be made by the sallow Neo-Nazi necromancer Ann Coulter. Both arrived on schedule.

It was all so predictable. As Barbara Ehrenreich Tweeted a few days before Trump’s defeat: “The shutdown would come to a sudden end if airport workers stop working and shut down air travel. Business, aka capitalism, cannot function if its minions are all floating in the stratosphere or fattening themselves at Cinnabon. The whole thing should take no more than 3 hours.”

I channeled Ehrenreich’s advice and the spirit of the Gilets Jaunes (see below) while speaking last Friday afternoon to the wonderful talk show host Esty Dinur on WORT-radio in Madison, Wisconsin.  I predicted that airport and airline workers’ WBP would raise its head and the shutdown would end soon.  Little did I know the deal would be done (for three weeks anyway) in less than an hour.

Corporate Media Spin: A Great Victory…for Nancy Pelosi

Notice the framing on “liberal” (Democratic) CNN and MSNBC: the end of the shutdown has been repeatedly called “a victory for Nancy Pelosi,” but not and more accurately a victory by and for working people, who exercised critical workplace, marketplace, civic, moral, and political bargaining power at the strategic point of airline flight production.  No surprise there. Acknowledging the political potency of direct action by ordinary working people beneath and beyond the masters’ election cycle is pretty much a no-no in the corporate news and commentary complex.  At CNN and MSDNC, where practically one-third of air-time goes to corporate advertisers (with Big Pharma represented to a comic degree), it’s all about two capital-serving things right now:

+ Getting rid of one ridiculous state-capitalist political head of state (Trump) and replacing him with a more suitable and sophisticated state-capitalist head of state (Kamala Harris as the new Obama?)

+ Getting and keeping everyone to understand U.S. “democracy” and “popular input” as those incredibly brief and distantly time-staggered moments when we little citizens get to make teeny little marks on ballots filled with the names of ruling class-vetted politicos.

It’s not for nothing that those remarkable French working-class streetfighters, the Gilet Jaunes, have been blacked out on American cable news. They aren’t waiting around like passive idiots for the 2022 French presidential election to fight back against upward wealth concentration and neoliberal austerity. Putain non! They practice and demand disruption and democracy now! They are demanding direct citizen democracy maintenant, dans le présent (now, in the present) and calling for fundamental constitutional change beyond the sham popular sovereignty of bourgeois electoralism.

Back to TrumpMuellerRussia, Up with the Quadrennial Candidate Circus and the Bipartisan Empire

Meanwhile, with the shutdown on hold, MSNBC and CNN get to do some partisan victory laps (“All Praise to Nancy Pelosi!”) and run 24/7 with the real stories that matter most to them:

+TrumpMuellerStoneRussiaCohenManafortTrumpMuellerStoneRussiaCohenManafortTrumpMuellerStoneRussiaCohenManafortTrumpMuellerStoneRussiaCohenManafort (Many CNN and MSDNC staffers were surely irritated that the military-style FBI raid on Roger Stone’s mansion had to compete with the shutdown’s suspension for airtime.)

+  The Democratic presidential candidate circus, already starting its engines two years before the next presidential Inauguration.  CNN has already scheduled a Town Hall candidate event with Kamala Harris in Iowa for tonight!

Along the way, the “liberal” corporate-imperial cable networks have been showing their real colors by curiously praising the Trump administration’s brazen effort to delegitimize the democratically elected socialist government of Venezuela and, indeed, to foster a coup there. The chattering cable news skulls endlessly obsess over despicable Russian interference in American politics even as they praise US interference in Venezuela. They like how “Pelosi beat Trump” but dig “Trump beating Maduro.”  The hypocrisy of it all stinks to high heaven and barely registers with the liberal Democratic base, which has become more aggressively imperialist than the Republican base under the influence of MSDNC in the Obama and Trump years.

 “The Best Way to Protest”

“The best way to protest,” the deeply conservative former president and MSNBC-CNN hero Barack Obama told University of Illinois students last year, “is to vote. … When you vote,” Obama said, “you’ve got the power.”

As people sometimes like to say to this day on Chicago’s Black South Side, which Obama pretended to be from: “Negro,please.”  Like most of Obama’s fake eloquent utterances, his statement in Urbana was slimy, silver-tongued bullshit.  We are allowed, yes, to vote, but mammon reigns nonetheless. As  the mainstream political scientists Benjamin Page and Martin Gilens noted  in their important 2017 study Democracy in America?,  U.S. “government policy … reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the preapproved, money-vetted candidates for federal office.

Candidates like Obama, who blew up the public presidential campaign finance system with record-setting contributions from the likes of Goldman Sachs and Citigroup in 2008 – and who then went on to honor those contributions by governing in utmost accord with the commands of the nation’s unelected financial dictatorship.

Contrary to the conspiracy addicts at the DNC, CNN, MSNBC, the CFR, the CIA, the New York Timesand the Washington Post, there was no “great American democracy” for Russian military intelligence to “undermine”in 2016. Insofar as Russia interfered, it was an intervention between two different oligarchies– theirs and “ours.”

No, the “best way to protest” is, for starters at least, to protest. And the best way to protest is with actions that threaten capitalist profit and disrupt business and business-[rule-]-as-usual. “There’s a time,” as Mario Savio famously said in December of 1964 during Berkeley Free Speech Movement:

“when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus — and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it — that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all!…That doesn’t mean that you have to break anything. One thousand people sitting down some place, not letting anybody by, not [letting] anything happen, can stop any machine, including this machine! And it will stop!”

Three years later, the great protester Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rejected “progressive” pleas for him to run for president (as a Democrat, of course). The narcissistic presidential-electoral game held no interest to King.  He called instead for “massive, active, nonviolent resistance to the evils of the modern system…The dispossessed of this nation – the poor, both White and Negro – live in a cruelly unjust society,” King said in a lecture broadcast into the United States by the Canadian national radio network in December of 1967. “They must organize a revolution against that injustice…There must,” King intoned, “be a force that interrupts [a classist and racist society’s] functioning at some key point…mass civil disobedience” to “dislocate the functioning of society.

There’s a very different and more potent kind of politics beneath and beyond our bourgeois masters’ carefully calibrated and constitutionally contained election cycle. Ordinary people “g[e]t the power” when they form militant grassroots movements and take collective and direct actions before, during, and after the election spectacles, whatever their outcomes.

We can follow the dictates of MSDNC, CNN, Obama, Nancy “We’re Capitalist and That’s Just the Way it is” Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Tom Perez et al: get out of the streets and wait for your precious little moment in a voting booth for two minutes once every two or four years. Or we can follow the paths suggested by Savio, King, and those other great protesters who both preceded and followed them, including Tecumseh, Black Hawk, Sitting Bull, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Emma Goldman, Big Bill Haywood, the sit-down strikers, Herbert March, the Freedom Riders, the Selma marchers, Occupy, the Ferguson protesters, the Chicago and LA teachers, and the late radical historian Howard Zinn, who wrote the following about and against the “Election Madness” he saw “engulfing the entire society, including the left, in the Obama-crazed spring of 2008:

“Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes—the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth. … But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice. … Let’s remember that even when there is a ‘better’ candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore.… Yes, two minutes. Before that, and after that, we should be taking direct actionagainst the obstacles to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

That’s great advice, but we need to go further given what we know about capital’s cancerous compulsion to push the planet past the last tipping points of environmental catastrophe. Exercising workplace, marketplace, civic, and political bargaining from the bottom up is necessary but insufficient now. It’s not just about “shak[ing] whoever is the White House, in Congress.”  At the current moment of ecological and authoritarian peril, it’s about dismantling (by any and all means necessary) the corporate and imperial state and system.  We need to take it down from the bottom-up, from the top-down, and from the sides-in and all the way around.  The reigning class rule system poses a grave existential threat to any and all hopes for a democratic and remotely decent future.  Sorry to be so stark, but Istvan Meszaros was right: “It’s [eco-]socialism or barbarism if we’re lucky.”

Help the adjunct history instructor Street keep writing at https://www.paulstreet.org/subscribe/

Note

1. The great prolonged sit-down strike (workplace occupation) that gave rise to the United Auto Workers (UAW-CIO) union in 1936 and 1937 is a classic example. Even during the Great Depression, in a time when mass unemployment undercut workers’ MBP, the mostly semiskilled and unskilled workers of General Motors’ Fisher Body plant in Flint, Michigan were able to win union recognition and a contract by demonstrating their capacity to disrupt the overall production process of their highly capital intensive corporate employer – the nation’s (and perhaps the world’s) largest manufacturing firm at the time The same basic power was exercised by such workers in numerous other industries across the nation during the mid- and late-1930s.  The CIO packinghouse union, for example, rose largely on workers’ flexing of WBP on meatpacking plant’s strategic killing and cutting floors, located at the very front end of the “production” (really dis-assembly) process. When highly specialized but strategically placed knife workers on the killing floors stopped work, their work department went down. When the killing floors went down, whole meatpacking plants ground to a halt and the employers’ expensive raw material spoiled, at no small cost. Politics (the rise of a significantly pro-union New Deal state and Democratic Party by the middle 1930s) was significant as well, of course. Still, the elaborate collective bargaining systems that arose in the United States during the late 1930s and 1940s were dedicated among other things to the managerial containment of the workplace bargaining power flowing to workers (unskilled and semiskilled as well as skilled) under “modern” capitalist mass-production.

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

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