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Hunting for the ancient lost farms of North America

Fri, 01/26/2018 - 23:15

via Ars Technica

by Annalee Newitz

Adventurers and archaeologists have spent centuries searching for lost cities in the Americas. But over the past decade, they’ve started finding something else: lost farms.

Over 2,000 years ago in North America, indigenous people domesticated plants that are now part of our everyday diets, such as squashes and sunflowers. But they also bred crops that have since returned to the wild. These include erect knotweed (not to be confused with its invasive cousin, Asian knotweed), goosefoot, little barley, marsh elder, and maygrass. We haven’t simply lost a few plant strains: an entire cuisine with its own kinds of flavors and baked goods has simply disappeared.

By studying lost crops, archaeologists learn about everyday life in the ancient Woodland culture of the Americas, including how people ate plants that we call weeds today. But these plants also give us a window on social networks in the ancient Americas. Scientists can track the spread of cultivated seeds from one tiny settlement to the next in the vast region that would one day be known as the United States. This reveals which groups were connected culturally and how they formed alliances through food and farming.

Natalie Mueller is an archaeobotanist at Cornell University who has spent years hunting for erect knotweed across the southern US and up into Ohio and Illinois. She calls her quest the “Survey for Lost Crops,” and admits cheerfully that its members consist of her and “whoever I can drag along.” She’s published papers about her work in Nature, but also she spins yarns about her hot, bug-infested summer expeditions for lost farms on her blog. There, photographs of the rare wild plants are interspersed with humorous musings on contemporary local food delicacies like pickle pops.

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Anarchists: Government Shutdown Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Fri, 01/26/2018 - 22:17

via CrimethInc

Make the Shutdown Comprehensive and Permanent

Once again, the threat of a government shutdown looms over the capital. Politicians exchange barbs, pundits wag their fingers and wring their hands, and the rest of us get up and go to work like we do every day. The news anchors demand to know: whose fault is it? What labyrinthine eleventh-hour compromise will they devise to avoid it? The rest of the nation yawns with indifference.

But we want answers! What if the government does shut down? Who will funnel our taxable income to military contractors? Who will tap our phones and read our email? Who will raid 7-Elevens and deport people? Who will indoctrinate our children? Who will stop people from driving while black? Who will build the wall?

It doesn’t sound all that bad, actually. Unfortunately, the “shutdown” they’re talking about won’t interrupt any of those things. Compared to what this country needs, it’s just a bit of theatrics.

So here’s a different proposal for how to respond to the imminent shutdown of the US government. Let’s make it comprehensive and permanent.

What better way to cut through “partisan gridlock” than by abolishing both parties outright? Seriously, what have they ever done for us? Two gangs of thieves and swindlers competing to boss us around and bleed us dry. It’s hard to imagine a single problem that any of them can resolve better than we could on our own. They themselves are responsible for most of the issues they claim to address.

In recent years, societies around the world have discovered that the absence of a functioning government has produced remarkably little change in their daily lives. Since its prime minister quit a year ago, Northern Ireland has functioned without its elected assembly doing a thing. In Belgium, in 2010 and 2011, 589 days passed without the establishment of a government with no noticeable change in everyday life for most Belgians. Similar interludes went by in Spain and Germany with similarly insignificant consequences.

This goes to show how much of a joke democracy is in postmodern capitalism. Cybernetic bureaucracies keep capital and goods flowing while states do little more than skim off the top and perpetuate violence against us. For the time being, it would be too controversial to entrust all that violence to private security, so they make us pay for it and call it a public service. But hardly anyone is still pretending that governments exist to care for human beings.

In this context, the dazzling and infuriating spectacle of partisan politics is basically a shiny distraction, while the corporations and functionaries who make most of the choices that shape our lives with no oversight from us continue redesigning the world to facilitate their profits. Voting is little more than an anachronistic ritual reinforcing this illusion. It’s not good news that the average citizen of a Western democracy is so alienated from practical self-determination that he barely notices how irrelevant the only avenue for “participation” has become.

Elsewhere across the planet, however, we can find much more inspiring examples of society without government. In the autonomous cantons of Rojava, using a system of popular councils organized from the bottom up in neighborhoods and workplaces, Kurdish and other peoples are taking control of their lives and making decisions collectively on the most local level possible, with federated structures coordinating to address matters of collective concern. In stark contrast to the everyday indifference that is so prevalent in US democracy, these and other scattered instances of life without a centralized state offer far more robust and authentic model for self-determination than anything you can find on an American ballot.

But what about the impact a government shutdown will have on our lives? Won’t we suffer the loss of critical services? Sure, we all gripe about Washington and hate politicians, but when it comes down to it, don’t we need them?

Government shutdown? A good start.

According to most summaries of the shutdown scenario, most of the actually useful services we get from state bureaucracies or federal programs—Social Security, food stamps, the US Postal Service, free school lunches—will still continue. If we look at the history of these programs, this isn’t surprising. Many of them were modeled on autonomous initiatives started by powerful social movements; the government needs these programs to keep us from getting used to relying on ourselves. FBI chief super-villain J. Edgar Hoover called the Black Panthers’ breakfast program “the greatest threat to efforts by authorities to neutralize the BPP and destroy what it stands for”; the US Department of Agriculture was forced to start the School Breakfast Program in response, which now feeds 13 million students every day. Early anarchist Lysander Spooner created an independent postal system; in response, the government passed a law granting the US Postal System a monopoly, although Spooner forced the USPS to lower its prices to levels that ordinary people could afford. Advocates of “the people’s pension” deserve the credit for social security. If the government weren’t hogging all the resources, we might discover that we could maintain these programs better through grassroots organizing.

Now let’s look at the government functions that will actually be impacted under a shutdown.

We might not be able to get new passports. But believe it or not, for the vast majority of human history, people traveled freely without them. The problem here is simply that the shutdown doesn’t go far enough: if we could shut down government agencies and governments completely, we wouldn’t need passports in the first place. Tens of millions who lack citizenship status or proper visas could visit their families without fear of losing their homes. Dissidents could leave North Korea and Iran. People with arrest records could travel to Canada from the US without some arrogant jerk in a uniform talking down to them. You could go anywhere on earth without having to fill out a form or apply for a visa.

The shutdown could delay tax refunds. But the IRS will still continue collecting taxes—they just won’t give us back the pittance beyond what they claim we “owe.” Here’s a simple solution: they should stop stealing from us in the first place! It would be better if we could devote our resources to addressing problems directly, not sending checks to Washington so that nepotists and their cronies can buy more pork barrels and cruise missiles. Not only will this save us money—once the Pentagon budget runs out, it’ll make nuclear war a lot less likely. If you’ve been paying taxes in hopes of providing support to the retired senior citizen down the street, you could just give her the money directly instead of giving it to a bunch of bureaucrats taking up a collection in her name.

The fancy dining hall at the House of Representatives during the 2013 shutdown. If the shutdown went further, we could open it up to some of the 41 million people who struggle with hunger in the United States while politicians fatten themselves at our expense.

Federal courts might close if the shutdown lasts longer than ten days. That’s a good start, but it would be better if they shut down for good! Two and a half million people are in prison already—as many as were in the gulags under Joseph Stalin. Mass incarceration is one of the most serious problems in the US today and one of the key linchpins of white supremacy and class domination. Judges and prosecutors should stay home for good; they can count themselves lucky no one gave them a taste of their own medicine. With the foot of the criminal legal system off our necks, we could focus on rebuilding our communities and resolving our problems ourselves without police or prisons. For people who grew up with no models for conflict resolution except for running to the biggest gang in town, this is hard to imagine, but there are plenty of alternatives.

National parks might be shut down. Wait a minute—why would we need politicians and bureaucrats to enjoy the wilderness? It would take about an hour to crowdsource the basic maintenance functions of cleaning and upkeep for facilities. Then we could enjoy all of these supposedly public resources, free of charge.

Last time there was a shutdown, in 2013, one enterprising individual took over mowing the lawn around the Lincoln Memorial. This worked out fine—until the US Park Police interceded and forced him to stop. Obviously, the shutdown didn’t go far enough if there were still police on the job to keeping people from learning to take care of problems themselves!

Direct action gets the goods! A volunteer mowing the lawn around the Lincoln Memorial during the last shutdown.

Let’s be clear: the ones who are most worried about a government shutdown are the politicians themselves. Not for the reasons they claim—that one gang will lose votes to the other gang, or that the paychecks of federal workers will be delayed. No, they’re worried because a real shutdown could just show how pointless and parasitic their entire protection racket is. They’re worried that if we get a taste of what it’s like to organize collectively to solve our problems, we’ll never want to stop. Then they would be permanently out of a job.

As anarchists, we’ve got a hunch that people can get along just fine without a government. We’re convinced that everything the government does is either harmful and should be abolished outright (borders, prisons, armies, surveillance) or can be done better by groups of people working together freely (social welfare, preserving wilderness, coordinating production and distribution, collective self-defense).

Don’t confuse us with the so-called libertarians who laud the shutdown because they want the capitalist market to reign supreme over everything else. There’s no way that the prevailing regime of inequality and private property could exist without the coercive force of the state to enforce it. As anarchists, we’re in this for freedom—not the freedom to accumulate profit and property at everyone else’s expense of others, but the freedom to flourish in tandem with everyone, to pursue the concert of our interests without coercion.

Are you with us? Regardless of what the politicians do in the coming days or years, let’s work together to shut down the US government once and for all. Then we can get on with our lives.

Why It Matters that Ursula K. Le Guin Was an Anarchist

Fri, 01/26/2018 - 22:09

via CrimethInc

I’ve never liked the part of the story when the mentor figure dies and the young heroes say they aren’t ready to go it alone, that they still need her. I’ve never liked it because it felt clichéd and because I want to see intergenerational struggle better represented in fiction.

Today I don’t like that part of the story because… I don’t feel ready.

Last week, I lived in the same world as Ursula Le Guin, a grandmaster of science fiction who accepted awards by decrying capitalism and seemed, with every breath, to speak of the better worlds we can create. On Monday, January 22, 2018, she passed away. She was 88 years old and she knew it was coming, and of course my sorrow is for myself and my own loss and not for a woman who, after a lifetime of good work fighting for what she believed, died loved.

It’s also a sorrow, though, to have lost one of the most brilliant anarchists the world has ever known. Especially now, as we start into the hard times she said were coming.

To be clear, Ursula Le Guin didn’t, as I understand it, call herself an anarchist. I asked her about this. She told me that she didn’t call herself an anarchist because she didn’t feel that she deserved to—she didn’t do enough. I asked her if it was OK for us to call her one. She said she’d be honored.

Ursula, I promise you, the honor is ours.

When I think about anarchist fiction, the first story that comes into my head is a simple one, called “Ile Forest,” which appeared in Le Guin’s 1976 collection Orsinian Tales. The narrative is framed by two men discussing the nature of crime and law. One suggests that some crimes are simply unforgivable. The other refutes it. Murder, surely, argues the one, that isn’t for self-defense, is unforgivable.

The chief narrator of the story then goes on to relate a story of a murder—a vile one, a misogynist one—that leaves you with both discomfort and with the awareness that no, in that particular case, there would be no justice in seeking vengeance or legal repercussions against the murderer.

In a few thousand words, without even trying, she undermines the reader’s faith in both codified legal systems and vigilante justice.

It wasn’t that Le Guin carried her politics into her work. It’s that the same spirit animated both her writing and her politics. In her 2015 blog post “Utopiyin, Utopiyang” she writes:

“The kind of thinking we are, at last, beginning to do about how to change the goals of human domination and unlimited growth to those of human adaptability and long-term survival is a shift from yang to yin, and so involves acceptance of impermanence and imperfection, a patience with uncertainty and the makeshift, a friendship with water, darkness, and the earth.”

That’s the anarchist spirit that animated her work. Anarchism, as I see it, is about seeking a better world while accepting impermanence and imperfection.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about, reading about, and learning from others about how fiction can engage with politics. I don’t want to put Le Guin on a pedestal—she herself, in perfect form, refused to let people call her or her work genius—but no one wrote political fiction with the same flair for well-told book-length metaphor as she did.

The easiest book for me to talk about is The Dispossessed, because it’s the most widely-read anarchist utopian novel in the English language. When an anarchist like Le Guin writes her utopia, it’s explicitly “an ambiguous utopia.” It says so, right on the cover. It’s the story of an anarchist scientist at odds with his own anarchist society and the stifling social conventions that can grow up in the place of laws. It’s a story of that anarchist society, far from perfect, favorably compared to both capitalism and state communism. It’s also a story about how beautiful monogamous relationships can be once they’re not compulsory. When the anarcho-curious ask me for a novel to read that explores anarchism, I don’t always suggest it, since the anarchist world represented is so bleak (my go to, more often that not, is Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing). It’s too anarchist of a text to serve as propaganda.

Le Guin was also a pacifist. I’m not one myself, but I respect her position on the matter. I think it was that pacifism that helped her write about violent anti-colonial struggle with as much nuance as she did in The Word for World is Forest. There’s an inherent kindness in the violence in that book, which pits an indigenous alien race (the inspiration for the Ewoks of Star Wars, incidentally, in case you needed more proof that anarchists invent everything) against human invaders. The glory of struggle is muted, rendered realistically. The glory of it is as dangerous as the actual violence, as it should be.

Le Guin and other authors blew open the doors of what science fiction could be, presenting social sciences as equal to hard sciences. Her novel The Left Hand of Darkness is about people who alternate between male and female. As I understand it, it was an unprecedented work when it came out in 1969. I didn’t love it the way that I’ve loved some of her other books, but I’m not sure I can imagine what the world would look like if it had never been written. I can’t point to another work that has done more to seed the idea that gender can and should be fluid. It’s possible that my life as a non-binary trans woman would be completely different had she not written that book.

The Lathe of Heaven is psychedelic fiction at its finest and a parable of the power held by artists and those who imagine other worlds. Presciently, it explores a society destroyed by global warming.

For the luckier kids of my generation, Le Guin’s fantasy series, Earthsea, filled the role that Harry Potter has for people younger than me. I wish I’d read it as a kid, though I don’t regret how often I read The Hobbit. In the world of Earthsea, the villains who threaten the world are aspects of the heroes who have to save it.

The words Le Guin has written that have meant the most to me, though, are her short stories. If you want to understand why so many people cried to hear of her death, read “The Ones Who Walked Away from Omelas.” It is, simply, and I don’t say this hyperbolically, perfect. It’s short, and beautiful, and it’s exactly the kind of story that can change the world.

I haven’t read all of Le Guin’s books, and I have to admit, I’m glad about that today. I’m glad that there are more of her stories waiting for me.

The Left Hand of Darkness.

When I was a baby anarchist, I wanted to know what anarchism had to do with fiction. I get most of my ideas by talking to smart people, so I set out to ask smart people my question. I wrote Ursula Le Guin a letter and sent it to her PO Box. She emailed me back and I interviewed her for what I thought would be a zine.

That zine became my first book, which started what has since become both my career and, presumably, my life’s work. She had literally nothing to gain by helping me, encouraging me, and lending her tremendous social credibility to my project. I like to think she was excited to talk explicitly about anarchism in a way she didn’t often get to, but frankly I might be projecting my hopes onto her.

I think of her kindness to me as an act of solidarity between two people fighting the same fight.

That’s a big part of why I’ve cried so much since her death.

Later into that same book project, I started to ask myself why I cared so much why this or that author identified as an anarchist or worked for anarchist projects. I’ve always been less concerned with the boundaries of our ideology and more interested in words and deeds that encourage freethinking, autonomous individuals who act cooperatively. Whether or not Le Guin calls herself (or lets us call her) an anarchist doesn’t change what she’s written or how she’s impacted the world. Many of the best and most beneficial writers, activists, and friends I know or know of don’t call themselves anarchists, and that doesn’t change the love I have for them. I’ve also never been particularly excited about celebrity culture, idol worship, or really just fame as a concept.

Yet it mattered to me—still matters to me—that Le Guin was an anarchist.

I finally came to terms with why I care so much. I care because it means that those stories that have meant so much to me were written by someone with whom I’m aligned on a lot of very specific hopes and dreams. I care because I can use her own words to eviscerate anyone who attempts to recuperate her into some other camp—say, liberal capitalist or state communist—and use her celebrity to promote causes she did not support or actively opposed. I care because the accomplishments of anarchists have been written out of history time and time again, and Le Guin is famous for some very specific and undeniable achievements that will be very hard to erase. Maybe it’s hero worship. Maybe it’s basking in reflected light. I don’t know. I just know that she makes me proud to be an anarchist.

I don’t have a lot of heroes. Most of my favorite writers, I aspire to be their peers. Ursula Le Guin was a hero. She mentored me without knowing it. She encouraged my writing both directly, by telling me she was excited for what I would write, and indirectly, by telling me why writing is worthwhile and also with her book on writing Steering the Craft.

Right now, I’m thinking about her words on the importance of words. As I step back from most organizing, I think about what she told me a decade ago:

“Activist anarchists always hope I might be an activist, but I think they realize that I would be a lousy one, and let me go back to writing what I write.”

But she knew that words alone weren’t enough. Art is part of social change, but it isn’t anywhere near the whole of it. Le Guin did thankless work, too, attending demonstrations and stuffing envelopes for whatever organization could use her help. It’s that dichotomy that makes her my hero. I want everyone to leave me to my writing and not expect me to organize, but I want to be useful in other ways too.

Powell’s Books remembers.

Last night, three of us exchanged Signal messages about her passing. “It’s up to us now,” we said. “We have to work harder without her now,” we said. Signal messages are like whispers sometimes. In the dead of night, we say the things that scare us.

In 2014, Le Guin told the world:

“Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom—poets, visionaries—realists of a larger reality.”

I don’t feel ready, but no one ever does. The truth is: we are ready. There are writers who remember freedom. Maybe more now than there have ever been. There are stories that need to be told, and we are telling them. Walidah Imarisha will tell them. Adrienne Marie Brown will tell them. Laurie Penny will tell them. Nisi Shawl will tell them. Cory Doctorow, Jules Bentley, Mimi Mondal, Lewis Shiner, Rebecca Campbell, Nick Mamatas, Evan Peterson, Alba Roja, Simon Jacobs, and more people than I can know or count will tell them.1

All of us will tell them, to each other, by whatever means. We’ll remember freedom. Maybe we’ll even get there.

This list is not to imply any specific political affiliation of the authors, only to tell you about writers who, I believe, remember freedom.

The Dirty War Over Diversity Inside Google

Fri, 01/26/2018 - 22:05

via Wired

by Nitasha Tiku

Fired Google engineer James Damore says he was vilified and harassed for questioning what he calls the company’s liberal political orthodoxy, particularly around the merits of diversity.

Now, outspoken diversity advocates at Google say that they are being targeted by a small group of their coworkers, in an effort to silence discussions about racial and gender diversity.

In interviews with WIRED, 15 current Google employees accuse coworkers of inciting outsiders to harass rank-and-file employees who are minority advocates, including queer and transgender employees. Since August, screenshots from Google’s internal discussion forums, including personal information, have been displayed on sites including Breitbart and Vox Popoli, a blog run by alt-right author Theodore Beale, who goes by the name Vox Day. Other screenshots were included in a 161-page lawsuit that Damore filed in January, alleging that Google discriminates against whites, males, and conservatives.

What followed, the employees say, was a wave of harassment. On forums like 4chan, members linked advocates’ names with their social-media accounts. At least three employees had their phone numbers, addresses, and deadnames (a transgender person’s name prior to transitioning) exposed. Google site reliability engineer Liz Fong-Jones, a trans woman, says she was the target of harassment, including violent threats and degrading slurs based on gender identity, race, and sexual orientation. More than a dozen pages of personal information about another employee were posted to Kiwi Farms, which New York has called “the web’s biggest community of stalkers.”

Meanwhile, inside Google, the diversity advocates say some employees have “weaponized human resources” by goading them into inflammatory statements, which are then captured and reported to HR for violating Google’s mores around civility or for offending white men.

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Ursula Le Guin Made Me An Anarchist

Fri, 01/26/2018 - 21:58

via Feministing

by Meg Sri

Late yesterday night, heartbreaking news broke out: beloved, pathbreaking and unapologetically feminist science fiction writer, Ursula Le Guin, passed away at age 88.

Le Guin was an author who meant many things to many people. She was, primarily, a storyteller: a weaver of rich and intricate worlds replete with dragons and wizardry and oceans and magical gifts and planets and space and conflict. She wrote prolifically, for all audiences: she was an author of short stories, children’s books, young adult books, science fiction, nonfiction, poetry and essays. Readers have described her as folding everything into her writing: poetry, wisdom, sadness, satisfaction, fantasy, realism. She spun worlds that were timeless not only in their breathtaking, intricate details, but worlds that were rich in their complex view of humanity and our relationships with each other, questioning through their portrayal of places other than Earth what it meant to live on it.

Le Guin was also a feminist and reflected this in both her writing and her spunky, fearless rejoinders to the largely male and patriarchal science fiction community. She pushed her way into the boys club of science fiction and then told it off: she asked men here to “consider idly, in some spare moment, whether by any chance they’ve been building any walls to keep the women out, or to keep them in their place, and what they may have lost by doing so.” She wrote powerfully, and inspirationally, to women, encouraging them to find for themselves a power and identity apart from male ideas of power and prestige: her 1986 commencement address to Bryn Mawr students is one of the most electrifying feminist graduation rallying cries ever written.

For me, however, Le Guin represented something quite apart from great, memorable literature. She represented something that was meant even more than her unapologetic and outspoken feminism. During my sophomore year of university, picking up The Dispossessed on the recommendation of a favorite professor, Ursula Le Guin’s work was the genesis of my political awakening.

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Thinking freedom: achieving the impossible collectively

Thu, 01/25/2018 - 18:10

via ROAR magazine

by Michael Neocosmos

This interview with Michael Neocosmos is included in the Transnational Institute’s latest State of Power report, which examines today’s social movements, their potential to build counter-power, and how we can best resist injustice as well as lay grounds for long-term transformation.

How would you define counter-power? How does it relate to emancipatory politics?

I don’t think we should make power the starting point for thinking emancipation, particularly a binary notion of power. Whether you are talking about power or counter-power, you are starting from an idea of people’s interests and identities rather than from an idea of universal emancipation. And you end up talking about states and how we relate to them rather than defining human universality in our own terms. Of course, power is always involved in the arenas and sites where politics takes place.

I am concerned, however, that once we use categories of power, even if it is to think about a different way of addressing power, we end up using words and thinking through categories that are not helpful because they are categories through which the state itself thinks. Given that an egalitarian state is an oxymoron, a clear impossibility, any thought of universal equality must attempt to think outside hegemonic (i.e. state) categories.

Our starting point should be that people think, and that collective thought can begin to propose an emancipatory future. Drawing on the work of Alain Badiou, Sylvain Lazarus, Jacques Rancière and others, if we start from the assumption that anyone can think, what do we mean? We can’t simply assume that people’s thoughts are simply a reflection of their social conditions.

We can’t assume, for example, that workers are only interested in levels of pay or working conditions, or that women are only interested in families, households or gender relations. Yet this is the overwhelming focus of thinking from within the social sciences, whether on the left or the right. It is assumed that people do not think outside or beyond the limits structured by their social location or place.

What’s more interesting is that in particular conditions of struggle, people sometimes collectively think beyond their interests, beyond place. They think and act a certain kind of equality, a certain kind of universality. That is what emancipatory political thought consists of, this is where it is located — otherwise politics is just reacting to interests and identities. It’s fundamental today that we think beyond identities, otherwise we will end up killing each other. Wars, particularly nuclear, ones are a distinct possibility today.

What does emancipatory politics look like?

I think that such a politics is always founded on some idea of universal humanity, of equality, of justice, of dignity — these are the requirements for human emancipation. People don’t necessarily think in those terms, but they have the capacity to do so, and if we don’t recognize this we won’t even see it when it happens. We will not see it because we expect people’s thinking to conform to our pre-existing theoretical categories. If it does not then we assume that people are simply wrong. We must stop thinking along these lines.

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Marx and Engels and the communist movement

Thu, 01/25/2018 - 16:44

via London Anarchist Communists

The following article is a chapter from The Idea: Anarchist Communism, Past, Present and Future by Nick Heath. We should point out that whilst we regard Marx’s analysis of capitalism and class society as a very important contribution to revolutionary ideas, we are critical of his attitudes and behaviour within both the Communist League and the First International.

Marx was to re-iterate his ideas and to put them into practice in all his time in the working class movement. “Without parties no development, without division no progress” he was to write (polemic with the Kölnische Zeitung newspaper, 1842). In a much later letter to Bebel written in 1873, Engels sums up this approach:

“For the rest, old Hegel has already said it; a party proves itself a victorious party by the fact that it splits and can stand the split. The movement of the proletariat necessarily passes through stages of development; at every stage one section of the people lags behind and does not join in the further advance; and this alone explains why it is that actually the “solidarity of the proletariat” is everywhere realised in different party groupings which carry on life and death feuds with one another”.

The mythology of Marxism implies that the theory of communism was perfected by Marx and Engels without really taking into consideration all that had gone before and that communism, organised more or less into a loose movement, was created by artisans and workers as a result of their practical experiences in the French Revolution and the events of the 1830s, as well as their continuing theoretical labours. Marx and Engels’ involvement in this communist movement was one of continual political struggle with what they saw as their opponents in it, a recurrent series of attacks often using slander as a weapon.

Marx was won over to communism in 1842 by Moses Hess. In the same year, Marx familiarised himself with the writings of Proudhon and Dézamy as well as Pierre Leroux and Considerant in order to gain a grasp of the currents of French socialism and communism. During a short stay in London in 1845, Marx and Engels made contact with the German exiles and radical elements among the British Chartist movement. After Marx had been kicked out of France, he made the acquaintance of Weitling in Brussels in 1846. Brussels acted as a focal point for the clandestine movement across Western Europe. Not only were there a number of exiles here from France and Germany, but it was a distribution point for the spreading of radical literature in Germany, and was a stopping off point for German workers and intellectuals. Elliot Eriksson has argued that Marx did not fight his extradition from France, and was pleased to be exiled to Brussels, and that he was able to use its importance as a focal point to establish a stranglehold on all propaganda being smuggled into Germany. Marx put forward the idea of convening a congress of all communists to create the first international organisation of all communists.  The Belgian city of Verviers was decided upon as the venue- it was close to the border with Germany and convenient too for those coming from France.

Before preparations for this could be finalised, delegates of the League of the Just arrived in Brussels and invited Marx and Engels to join their organisation. The League had, as we have seen, established itself as an international organisation, in contact with English and French revolutionaries. It now sought to enlist the mind of Marx.

Marx and Engels then entered into struggle with Weitling, who had defended Kriege. Up to then Weitling had been seen as the leading light of the League. The League had commissioned him in 1838 to write Mankind As It Is and As It Ought To Be, which had acted as a sort of Manifesto for the League. However, Weitling’s ideas were increasingly being seen by others in the League as outmoded. The League’s leading lights in London, Karl Schapper, Heinrich Bauer and Josef Moll had rejected the communist colonies advocated by Cabet, and now Weitling’s concept of communism was in turn rejected as too militaristic and putschist. In addition, Weitling frequently made reference to Christ as a pioneer of communism, often quoting the Bible, and atheistic views were growing among League members. In addition Weitling now advocated the need for a dictator to bring about the advent o communism, and he strongly implied this dictator should be himself. His sel-importance alienated other communists like Schapper and Moll.

Both Weitling and the Russian Pavel Annenkov have left accounts of a plenary meeting in Brussels of the Communist League in spring 1846. Marx viciously attacked Weitling, whom before he had praised to the heavens for his Guarantee during his sojourn in Paris. Weitling’s work Craft Workers’ Communism was severely criticised. Both Annenkov and Weitling affirm that Marx demanded a thorough cleansing of the ranks of the communists, as Weitling says “human feeling must be derided”. Despite the often asserted claim that Weitling was opposed to propaganda preparing the way for a social revolution, it was the Marx camp that opposed “ oral propaganda, no provision for secret propaganda, in general the word propaganda not to be used in the future”. Marx firmly stated that the realisation of communism in the near future was out of the question, and that first the bourgeoisie must be at the helm. (Letter from Weitling to Moses Hess April 1, 1846).

It’s worth quoting extensively from this letter. “I believe Marx and Engels will end by criticising themselves through their own criticism. In Marx’s brain, I see nothing more than a good encyclopaedia, but no genius. His influence is felt through other personalities. Rich men made him editor, voila tout (there you have it all, tr. NH). Indeed, rich men who make sacrifices have a right to see or have investigations made into what they want to support. They have the power to assert this right, but the writer also has this power, no matter how poor he is, not to sacrifice his convictions for money. I am capable of sacrificing my conviction for the sake of unity. I put aside my work on my system when I received protests against it from all directions. But when I heard in Brussels that the opponents of my system intended to publish splendid systems in well-financed translations, I completed mine and made an effort to bring it to the man (Karl Marx). If this is not supported, then it is entirely in order to make an examination. Jackass that I was, I had hitherto believed that it would be better if we used all our own qualities against our enemies and encouraged especially those that bring forth persecutions in the struggle. I had thought it would be better to influence the people, and, above all, to organise a portion of them for the propagation of our popular writings. But Marx and Engels do not share this view, and in this they are strengthened by their rich supporters. All right! Very good! Splendid!” This meeting was extremely acrimonious with both Marx and Engels arguing vehemently against Weitling, who responded in kind, Marx finally jumping up and down in his office.

The final break between the Marx group and Weitling came in the following month of May and only two years after Marx had called Weitling’s book “an exuberant and brilliant debut of the German workers”.  Weitling soon left for the United States, from where he was not to return till the 1848 Revolution.

Marx and Engels next denounced the German communist Hermann Kriege, who had emigrated to America. Engels had at first put great faith in Kriege and had recommended him to Marx. When Kriege arrived in London shortly after he had joined the League of the Just. He then emigrated to New York in 1845 He led the League of  Just there into the Social-Reform Association,  which advocated radical land reform.  He brought out a paper called Volks-Tribun to support this move. There he wrote of a vague communism based on brotherly love. And came out with statements like “We have no wish to lay bands on the private property of any man; what the usurer now has, let him keep; we merely wish to forestall the further pillaging of the people’s assets and prevent capital from continuing to withhold from labour its rightful property” and: “Every poor man … will instantly become a useful member of human society as soon as he is offered the opportunity of productive work.” The land should be nationalised and then leased in rent free in plots of 150 acres to small holders.

On hearing of this Marx and Engels were quite rightly appalled. They issued a renunciation of Kriege’s ideas, the “Circular Against Kriege”, described by Gareth Stedman Jones as a “grossly self-important missive”.. What was disturbing about this was the viciousness of the attack, which was highly vitriolic and personalised. The Committee in London wrote to Marx:  “aren’t you being too harsh against Kriege? . . . Kriege is still young and can still learn. “(Kriege was only twenty five years old). Another member of the League, Joseph Weydemeyer wrote that there was ‘widespread regret that you have again got involved in such polemics’.

Moses Hess, who had been Marx’s mentor, was next to be targeted, choosing to resign rather than be expelled. “In the struggle between Marx and Weitling, Hess had taken Weitling’s side, and this was enough to infuriate Marx, and to make him look for a means of crushing Hess. Nevertheless, Moses Hess, despite many deviations and peculiarities had in the course of his socialist development come so near to Marx’s standpoint, that, as late as July 28, 1846, Hess wrote to Marx: “I am in full agreement with your views concerning communist authorship. However necessary it may have been at the outset that communist endeavours should be linked to German ideology, it is no less necessary now that they should be based upon historical and economic premises, for otherwise we shall never be able to settle accounts either with the ‘socialists’ or with the adversaries of all shades of opinion” (Rühle).

Marx and Engels now set up a Workers Educational Society in Brussels, modelled on the London organisation of the same name animated by Schapper. They gradually built up contacts in Britain, Germany, France and Switzerland, gathering those of like mind round them. They then decided to set up an international organisation, to create cells in Brussels, Paris and London. It seems likely that this, the second attempt at an international, was at the initiative of the London group around Schapper. These groups were to set up correspondence committees to maintain links with other communist groups. These became known as the Communist Correspondence Committees. One such Committee was established in Brussels by Marx, Engels and their associate Philippe Gigot. It would appear that the preparatory work for these committees had already been put into place by the middle of 1846 and that Joseph Moll, who came to Brussels to invite Marx and Engels to join the League of the Just, was acting as a representative of the Communist Correspondence Committee in London.  The London group of the League of the Just had answered favourably to the idea of increased communication between communists and made clear that they had broken with the conspiratorial tactics of the Blanquists and the outlook of Weitling, which sought to rouse the masses through spiritual inspiration. However, they warned against the vicious denunciations that Marx had made against Weitling and Kriege and emphasised that correspondence between communists was to encourage ideas not to curb political debate. Later they wrote another letter where they stated:

“We believe that all these different orientations must be expressed and that only through a communist congress, where all the orientations are represented in a cold-blooded and brotherly discussion, can unity be brought to our propaganda…If people from all the communist positions were sent, if intellectuals and workers from all lands met together, then there is no doubt that a lot of barriers, which still stand in the way, would fall. In this congress all of the different orientations and types of communism would be discussed peacefully and without bitterness and the truth would certainly come through and win the day”.

After Marx had been persuaded by Moll that most of the London group had broken with the ideas of Weitling, a Congress was decided upon at the initiative of the Brussels Committee. For his part, Engels, active in the Paris Committee, used all the wiles of a politician to persuade those who had not broken completely with Weitling. Weitling was portrayed as a “reactionary” and falsely accused of not having written his books alone. In his reports back to Marx all the contempt of these two for workers is manifest with constant references to “those fools” “those asses”, “ those stupid workers who believe everything” with their “drowsiness and petty jealousy” In Engels’ own words he was able “to put it over” with some and “bamboozled” others. Engels was able to report that “The remainder of the Weitlingites, a little clique of tailors, is on the point of being thrown out”.

Karl Grün was next to be targetted. A populariser of Proudhon’s ideas in Germany, he was not a member of the League, but had a following in its groups. He was accused of embezzling 300 francs on flimsy grounds by Marx and Engels. The Grünites explained that they had raised the money themselves, and considered it as a loan. First Eisermann, “Grün’s chief follower” according to Engels, was expelled, followed in a few months by the most closet of the Grünites. “The last Grünites- a whole commune- were thrown out” crowed Engels. As a result only 30 members of the League were left in Paris. Only two members survived in one Paris group of the League. The League was purged in Switzerland, Hamburg and Leipzig as well, and any supporters of Weitling, Proudhon and Karl Grün expelled or forced to leave.

Jonathan Sperber notes that:” Ideological differences do not entirely explain the vigour of Marx’s attacks on Grün, since there was a lot in Grün’s work on French and Belgian socialism that was congenial to Marx. Grün denounced the liberal regime in Belgium as facilitating capitalist exploitation of the workers, under the guise of protecting civil rights; he spoke of the concentration of capital and the impoverishment of the proletariat; he was critical of the efforts of Fourier and his followers to get wealthy individuals to finance his socialist schemes. Grün called for the abolition of wage labour, and for the proletariat to assume political power; he expressly associated his socialism with atheism.”

The campaign against Hess did not proceed so well in Paris. Engels reported that: “Moses’s tittle-tattle produces the devil of a confusion for me, and exposes me to the most long-winded counter-speeches from the workers. Whole meetings have been wasted over it, and it is not even possible to make a decisive attack on this stale nonsense”.

The League of the Just had been decimated. As Otto Rühle  remarked: “The net upshot of the visit was that Engels, though he did indeed put an end to Grün’s influence, only increased the confusion, so that the “Straubinger” ceased to be possible recruits for an international communist league such as Marx and Engels already hoped to found ”( Straubinger being Engels’ put down term for travelling journeymen).

The projected Congress convened in London in 1847, without the presence of Marx, but with the participation of Engels. There were few delegates. Despite what Engels says, the League of the Just was not reorganised into the Communist League. The Communist League was a new organisation.

The Communist League established a constitution, and its first paragraph proclaimed that “The aim of the League is the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the rule of the proletariat, the abolition of the old bourgeois society based on class antagonisms, and the establishment of a new society without either classes or private property”. The organisation was based on “democratic centralism”, with all members expected to espouse communism and to be in accordance with its aims. Groups of members, styled “communes” were the basic unit of the League. These made up into districts with their own committees. The districts were combined under the control of a special “leading district”. These leading districts answered to a central committee.

The central committee itself was not elected by the conference of the League. Its powers were delegated to the district committee of any city appointed by the conference as the seat of the central committee. So a district thus designated would elect a central committee of at least 5 members.

Marx and Engels suggest that the Communist League was the direct successor of the League of the Just, and its predecessor the League of Outlaws. We have seen that this is not completely true. They also give the impression that the lineage of these organisations was one of centralist organisation. But the central committee of the League of the Just was not just elected but broadly controlled by the membership as a whole. The original constitution of the Communist League was similar, and Marx and Engels’ usurped this constitution, with the establishment of their highly centralised Central Committee in 1848. This arrangement was convenient for the perpetuation of a ruling clique.

The congress also decided to work on a programme for the League, and each district was to offer its own project at the next congress. Further, a paper was to be produced. Only one pioneer edition appeared. It was the first paper that openly proclaimed itself communist on the masthead. It was mostly written by London members of the League. It quite correctly argued against Cabet, who was encouraging people to emigrate to America to found communist colonies there. It urged people to remain in Europe and fight for the establishment of communism there. The paper also distinguished its communism from those of Weitling and the French groups.

A second congress was held, at the end of 1847 with Marx present this time. There were days of violent disagreement over a programme (it appears both Engels and Marx had drafted separate proposals). The Paris groups had commissioned Hess to write a text, approving this by a large majority. As a member of the committee, Engels arranged that his own text, and not that of Hess, be sent to London contrary to the members’ votes and as Engels admitted “behind their backs”. “But of course, not a soul must notice this or we shall all be deposed and there will be an unholy row”.  The majority of the Congress was finally persuaded to accept Marx and Engels’s proposals and Marx was charged by Congress to write a Manifesto in the name of the League.

It should be remarked upon that the Manifesto commissioned by the League took a considerable time to write. Schapper and his associates as members of the Central Committee had to write angrily to Marx that “If the Manifesto of the Communist Party does not reach us before Tuesday, February 1, further measures will be taken against him (Marx)”

Marx and Engels argue in the Manifesto for a working class revolution in stages. Political power would be captured, all banks would be amalgamated into one State bank, and the means of production, transport and credit would also be controlled by the State. As Bakunin was to later comment: This revolution will consist of the expropriation, either successive or violent of the actual landowners and capitalists, and in the appropriation of all the lands and all of capital by the State, which, so that it can fulfil its great economic as well as political mission, must necessarily be very powerful and very strongly concentrated. The State will administer and direct the cultivation of the land by means of its appointed engineers commanding armies of rural workers, organised and disciplined for this cultivation. At the same time, on the ruin of all the existing banks, it will establish a single bank, sleeping partner of all labour and all commerce of the nation”.

It should be pointed out that the Manifesto should not be seen as completely Marx and Engels’ work, as the input of other League members, notably Karl Schapper, can be detected. During the first months of 1848 Marx was an enthusiastic supporter of the section of the bourgeoisie that was struggling for democratic rights. At the same time, he had contempt for the democratic leaders, unlike some other members of the League, who admired their heroism and military capabilities (see Lattek). He clashed with Doctor Andreas Gottschalk and his grouping the Workers Association in Cologne for separating the proletariat from the democratic bourgeois camp

(Gottschalk and co. were members of the Communist League). He accused this group of isolating itself from the struggle. The agitation of Gottschalk and his circle had increased the size of the Workers Society to 5,000 members. Finding himself in a minority, Marx first of all dissolved the Central Committee. Despite the Cologne group being a section of the Communist League, he set up a rival organisation, the Democratic Association and launched an electoral campaign for the Frankfurt Parliament, supporting a dubious left candidate. In June of the same year, he and Engels set up a daily paper the Neue Rheinische Zeitung: organ of democracy. Previously describing themselves as communists, Marx and his associates now described themselves as “we other democrats”. They advocated a united front between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, as long as the former remained on the “revolutionary” road, in other words as long as they struggled for a democratic society. There was not a word of the antagonism between the democracy of the bourgeoisie and the communism of the proletariat, and nothing about the immediate economic problems of the workers as the paper of the Workers Society was quick to point out. In fact, not once did the words “communist” or “communistic” “socialist” or “socialistic” appear in any article in the NRZ. During all of this, the Communist League was dropped and allowed to fizzle out.

As Marx said in an article in the paper (22nd January 1849) “The revolution must be first of all a revolution for the bourgeoisie. The revolution of the proletariat is solely possible after capitalist economy has created the conditions”. Gottschalk responded in his own paper Freiheit, Arbeit (Freedom, Labour): “Must we, after finally escaping the hell of the Middle Age, throw ourselves voluntarily into the purgatory of a decrepit capitalist power?..”

He went to say: “You have never been serious about the emancipation of the repressed. The misery of the worker, the hunger of the poor has for you only a scientific, a doctrinaire interest… You do not believe in the revolt of the working people, whose rising flood begins already to prepare the destruction of capital, you do not believe in the permanence of the revolution, you do not even believe in the revolution.”

The criticisms of Gottschalk hit home among the German workers.

As Hunt says, “Gottschalk was unusually inconsistent and vacillating in his political views and could move from permanent revolution to social monarchism within a few weeks, but his popularity with and closeness to the Cologne working classes probably makes him a good weathervane of their sentiments”. Gottschalk was close to the ideas of Hess and Grün. Devoid of notions of class struggle, he believed in a peaceful transition to communism. Nevertheless, his position vis-à-vis a united front with the progressive bourgeoisie put him on a collision course with Marx and Engels.

The German bourgeoisie signally failed in its endeavours to bring about a revolution for democracy and Marx was obliged to break with the bourgeois democrats in April 1849 and resurrect the Communist League. It had been a complete debacle for Marx and Engels. Not only had Marx and Engels attempted to hitch working class communism to the democratic desires of the bourgeoisie (already outlined in the Babouvists’ dangerous flirtation with it) but he had denounced the fundamental principles of international solidarity between the peoples. Positing the theory of “historic nations”- Germany, Poland, Hungary and Italy- and lesser nations doomed to be germanised or disappear altogether, they argued that strong nation states had to be created in order to facilitate the fall of absolutism. The Poles were only useful as long as they fought against Russian despotism. After they had fulfilled this task, they would have to be relegated to the second division of nations doomed to extinction. In a totally inaccurate prediction, Engels foresaw the extinction of the Czechs and Slovaks and the South Slavs. Chillingly, he saw these nations as backwards and obsolete.

He warned in a veiled attack on the then Pan-Slavist Russian Bakunin that “We shall fight an ‘implacable life-and-death struggle’ with Slavdom, which has betrayed the revolution; a war of annihilation and ruthless terrorism, not in the interests of Germany but in the interests of the revolution!”, that “we can only secure the revolution against these Slav peoples by the most decisive acts of terrorism”. In a profoundly racist language against the Slavs he belly-aches that no gratitude was shown “for the pains the Germans have taken to civilize the obstinate Czechs and Slovenes, and to introduce amongst them trade, industry, a tolerable agriculture and education!” (Democratic Pan-Slavism, 14th February 1848). Even more chilling was Engels’ pronouncement that “the next world war will not only cause reactionary classes and dynasties to disappear from the face of the earth, but also entire reactionary peoples. And that too is an advance”. (The Magyar struggle, 13th January 1850).

Just as appalling was Marx’s belief in progressive wars. He was to support a war against Denmark by Germany in 1848 because it would strengthen the German nation and German democracy. “The real capital of Denmark is Hamburg, not Copenhagen” Marx blustered. This was to be a continuing policy of Marx’s, as witness his support for Germany in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.

Ending up in London later in the year, Marx formed an alliance with French Blanquist exiles and the revolutionary wing of Chartism to set up a Universal Society of Revolutionary Communists. The idea had come from Julian Harney, the communist Chartist leader. With Engels, he drafted an Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League in1850 refuting the opportunistic tactic of 1848-9, wrongly believing that a proletarian social revolution was about to break out, and developing the need for a Permanent Revolution until communism had been achieved. They linked to this the need for a dictatorship of the proletariat, a concept which had been invented by Blanqui and was sired by the Babouvists.

But soon Marx took a turn away from revolutionary activity, stating that no revolution was possible for the present because of the economic recovery. Further, a coming revolution did not just depend on another trade crisis, which he had seen as the cause of the 1848 Revolutions, but a massive development of the productive forces. Leading workers in the Communist League like Schapper, Fraenkel, Lehmann and Willich fell out with him over this. Worse was to follow. The communist Techow testifies that “Marx and his friends set Schramm, their champion, on to Willich. Schramm attacked him with the coarsest invective, and finally challenged him to a duel….there are bound to be repercussions, not only in the local émigré set-up, but probably also in the Communist League. If this happens, then the disgusting intrigues and the mean gossip which Marx and Co. have been organizing on a small scale will probably have a more far-reaching effect, principally on their literary activity. It is really too bad that men of such real talent should end by making it impossible for anyone but the dregs of humanity to make common cause with them”. The duel was fought and Schramm was injured. This resulted in outrage against Marx. He was expelled from the German aid committee and from the Workers Educational Association. In behaviour that was echoed in Marx’s later tactics in the First International, he had the Central Committee transferred to Cologne. As Schapper noted: “Just as the proletariat cut itself off from the Montagne and the press in France, so here the people who speak for the party on matters of principle are cutting themselves off from those who organize within the proletariat”.

Harney had originally insisted that Willich be involved in the Universal Society. He refused to take sides now. Following this, Marx and Engels wrote to the Blanquists saying that as far as they were concerned the World Society was no longer existent. The Cologne section and indeed the whole German organisation of the minority section of League controlled by Marx and Engels was closed down by police action, as was the German majority section in 1851. The police infiltrated both Leagues, but in his pamphlet on the Cologne events, Engels went out of his way to falsely blame the Willich group for shopping them to the police.

Marx followed this up with another pamphlet The Knight of the Noble Conscience attacking Willich in the most vicious way. Following this, Marx dissolved his section of the League in 1852. The German exiles found it hard to forgive his dismantling of the League. Being predominantly workers, it confirmed their suspicions of university-educated intellectuals and their “arrogance”.

Marx and Engels had done considerable damage to important sections of the nascent communist movement with their tactic of allying the cause of the working class with that of the bourgeoisie. They had further strengthened the pro-Statist currents within this loose communist movement and had prepared the way for the mass social-democratic parties to come. They had separated off the different and loose currents of thought within the workers movement from each other by their purges of the League of the Just, thwarting fruitful dialogue and increasing division. None of the international endeavours had been at their instigation, though they claimed credit for them, and all had been sabotaged by them. As Christine Lattek points out it was never a case of the League having come under the sway of Marx and Engels, and that what occurred was a certain convergence of opinions between them.

As the German Marxist Otto Rühle was to write: “Since Marx and Engels were ruthlessly endeavouring to reach self-understanding, self-laceration could not be avoided. This self-laceration conjured up an army of adversaries, and involved them for five years or more in the most venomous personal quarrels. A further result was that the proletarian united front, which was already in course of formation, was, prematurely and without any sufficient objective reason, broken for decades to come. The intolerant way in which the purging of the communist ranks was effected and in which the cleavage in the communist camp was brought about, was not the outcome of unavoidable necessity, not dependent upon the progress of economic evolution. Its primary cause was Marx’s craving for exclusive personal predominance, which he rationalized into a fanatical confidence in the conquering power of his own idea.”

Now they had the luxury of retreating into theoretical work until 1864, whilst communist workers endeavoured to carry on their organisational work within the working class. Marx and Engels dropped the term “communist” to describe their politics from now on, preferring the terms “socialist” or “social-democrat”.

On the positive side Marx and Engels had brought much clarity to the League with their ideas on class struggle and exploitation. With their departure many of the German communists returned to vague notions of oppression and tyranny, pointing to their influence being only passing.

It would be false to think that the communist movement vanished with the departure of Marx and Engels. Activities continued in London and elsewhere for decades to come, with the Willich League pursuing alliances with bourgeois democrats in efforts to overthrow the existing system in Germany. In addition, particularly in the two years after the 1848 defeat, the notion of a transitional dictatorship was taken up by these German exiles.

The exile German communist movement in London, embodied in the CommunistischerArbeiterBildungsVerein (CABV)-Communist Workers Educational Association, established by Schapper and his associates in 1840, continued to exist and was still there when Johann Most -who was to turn it in an increasingly anarchist direction -and later Rudolf Rocker arrived in London.

Nick Heath

Beamish, R.The Making of the Manifesto. Socialist Register, 1998.

Erikson, Eliott. Marx and the Communist Manifesto. Stanford University,1954.

Henderson, W.O. The life of Friedrich Engels. Routledge,1976.

Hunt, Robert Norman. The Political Ideas of Marx and Engels. Springer, 2016.

Lattek, Christine. Revolutionary refugees: German socialism in Britain 1840-1860. Routledge,2006.

Lenin. VI. Marx on the American “General Distribution”:

Rühle, Otto. Karl Marx: His Life and Works. Routledge, 2011.

Schwarzschild, Leopold. The red Prussian: The Life and Legend of Karl Marx. Pickwick, 1986.

Sperber, Jonathan. Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life. Liveright, 2014.

Stedman Jones, Gareth. Karl Marx, Belknap, 2016.

Too many whites are in denial about the extent of race-based economic inequality

Thu, 01/25/2018 - 16:29

via MR Online

by Martin Hart-Landsberg

Originally published: Reports from the Economic Front (January 19, 2018) A recently published paper by three Yale scholars reveals “that Americans, on average, systematically overestimate the extent to which society has progressed toward racial economic equality, driven largely by overestimates of current racial equality.”

The authors based their conclusion on the results of three different studies.  Participants in all three studies were asked to estimate differences between average Black and White Americans in five areas at a point in time in the past and the present.  The areas and time points were:

(i) employer provided health care benefits in 1979/2010; (ii) hourly wages of college graduates in 1973/2015; (iii) hourly wages of high school graduates in 1973/2015; (iv) annual income in 1947/2013; and (v), accumulated wealth in 1983/2010. Participants considered an average White individual or family earning $100 U.S. and were asked to estimate how much an average Black individual or family would earn using a scale that ranged from $0–$200 US. For the health care item, the question was framed in terms of families with health coverage, and participants indicated how many Black families would be covered if 100 similarly employed White families had coverage. Participants were reminded that an answer of 100 meant equality between Whites and Blacks.

Two of the three studies included a sample of White and Black participants drawn from the top (over $100,000 yearly income) and bottom (below $40,001) of the income distribution.  The third study included just White participants, also drawn from the two ends of the income distribution.

The following figure, taken from a New York Times review of the study’s results, shows the views of participants about current racial differences for four of the five survey areas.

Read more

Climate Change – The Basics

Thu, 01/25/2018 - 05:24


There has been an increasing amount of public debate in recent years on the issue of climate change. As the effects of increasing overall global temperatures become difficult to ignore, and climatologists raise their voices in warning, more and more people are asking themselves what exactly is climate change and should we be concerned about it. As the COP23 international climate change talks take place, this article will attempt to answer those questions by briefly exploring the basic concept of climate change as described by the vast majority of climatologists.

At its most basic level climate change simply means a change in overall global weather trends.  This change can be brought about by ‘natural’ and/or ‘artificial’ means. Natural climate change occurs as a result of events which are not caused by human beings, and some common examples would be an altered amount of solar energy reaching the earth from the sun, or a series of volcanic eruptions. Artificial or ‘anthropogenic’ climate change occurs as a result of certain human activities such as the large-scale burning of fossil fuels and practicing specific modes of agriculture.

So how does anthropogenic climate change actually ‘work’? The reason is that some human activities cause ‘greenhouse gasses’ to be released into the atmosphere. These gasses, which include water vapour, carbon dioxide (CO2), and methane, create an insulating layer in the planet’s lower atmosphere. Meanwhile, solar energy from the sun passes through the atmosphere, hits the Earth’s surface, and is reflected away again. The insulating layer of greenhouse gasses prevents some of the reflected energy from passing back out into space, and the result is an increase in global temperature.

Now, a certain amount of naturally occurring greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere is beneficial. Without them, too much of the sun’s energy would pass back out through the atmosphere and the planet would be freezing. But climatologists, while not denying that climate change can occur naturally, are warning that the extra greenhouse gasses produced by human activities are already causing problems, and if left unchecked the situation will become ever more dangerous. In addition to the increasing global temperatures they point to the high CO2 levels currently present in our atmosphere. CO2 levels began to rise during the late 18th century with the advent of the Industrial Revolution in Europe, and since the 1950’s they have soared dramatically so that presently there is about a third more CO2 in the atmosphere than there has been for at least the past 400,000 years (this is a conservative estimate).

There is often opposition to the idea of anthropogenic climate change. It has become a politicized issue and many people who identify with certain ideologies automatically reject it as implausible, usually claiming that climate change does indeed occur but only due to natural factors. Countering this claim climatologists have investigated the natural causes associated with climate change and have concluded that these are not responsible for the current changes we are seeing. For example, following a small increase in the amount of solar energy hitting the Earth during the early and mid-20th century, there has been a reduction in the amount over the past thirty-five years, and the upper layers of the atmosphere have been cooling rather than warming – i.e. it’s humans heating the planet, not the sun. Similarly, scientists maintain that internal climate cycles such as El Nino do not create temperature increases but rather transfer existing heat from one part of the planet to another. Also, huge companies such as Shell and Exxon who trade in fossil fuels have deliberately funded campaigns of misinformation in order to try to preserve their method of generating profits.

At present at least 97% of published climatologists agree that human activities are almost certainly responsible for climate change and the debate amongst the scientific community isn’t about whether humans are playing a part in climate change but rather about how serious the effects of change are going to be. Unless practices such as the large-scale burning of fossil fuels and mass animal-based agriculture are altered to an environmentally-friendly alternative then most scientists are predicting that we are going to have to face a range of catastrophes in the near future. Some of these include rising sea levels (and the subsequent displacement of people and damage to infrastructure in low-lying coastal areas), extreme weather conditions (e.g. heatwaves and droughts in some areas, unprecedented heavy rainfall in others), reduced agricultural yields (in some areas the growing season will be longer due to frost-free winters, but globally there will be an overall decrease in the amount of food produced), damage to marine life due to overly-acidic oceans and seas, and increased competition for food, fuel, and land (and the subsequent conflict that could bring).

Given the amount of scientific support from all over the globe for the concept I find it difficult to believe that, as somebody recently suggested to me, it is a nefarious conspiracy concocted by devious climatologists in order to create jobs for themselves. If anything, hundreds of millions of dollars are flooding to convince us of the opposite. The scientists are offering empirical evidence to support their claims. Assuming that they are correct and considering the severity of the potential consequences if they are, I think it is vital that as many of us as is possible educate ourselves about the subject and take all appropriate action to prevent a dangerous situation from becoming a deadly one.


1. NASA Climate


3. Skeptical Science

4. Real Climate

5. Climate Central

6. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

7. Michael Mann ‘Climate Change Explained’, from the Rubin Report.

8. ‘The Story of Climate Change’, featuring Jim Hansen.

9. Kevin Anderson ‘Climate Change, What’s Next’.

Reviving the Commons: Isabelle Stengers on the Zad

Thu, 01/25/2018 - 04:27

via Verso

by Éric Aeschimann

First published in L’Obs. Translated by David Broder.

This autumn, the Belgian philosopher Isabelle Stengers headed over to the ZAD at Notre-Dame-des-Landes. According to Stengers, the occupiers at this site invented forms of organization and sharing which have a great future. She thinks that rather than send in the forces of order, we should instead reflect on the means of “reviving the commons,” both here and elsewhere. A philosopher of science close to Bruno Latour, her works include the 2008 book Au temps des catastrophes. Résister à la barbarie qui vient (Paris: La Découverte). She spoke to L’Obs journalist Éric Aeschimann.

How would you react to the announcement that the Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport plan has been abandoned, and that police will be deployed in order to evacuate the zadistes [ZAD occupiers] from the site?

We should not send in the forces of order, but rather honour the zadistes whose struggle allowed for a stop to be put to this absurd project. Not only should they be credited with resisting this, but they also experimented with new forms of life. So the whole question today is how we can preserve this experience.

You went there yourself in autumn

I headed over together with the American eco-feminist activist Starhawk. We had a meeting on “what comes next” and the tensions this provoked within the ZAD. For want of the struggle that previously cohered them together, the occupiers would have to face up to their differences and disagreements. They invented a way of living and acting together, which attached them to this site. So how can this experience be perpetuated? Do we really need proposals that allow the state to save face? This question has ramifications far beyond this particular site, and it is going to become ever more important in future. For months, the zadistes have been working and reflecting on the ZAD’s future, and I think that will we soon hear more about what they are proposing. So the French state should not send in the cops.

Now that the victory has been achieved, what about the ZAD is there such value in preserving?

The zadistes have been able to fashion alliances together with farmers, rediscover old construction methods, cultivate the land, and organize exchanges; they have learned how to work, and how to experiment forms of direct democracy. This notably included a fascinating reflection on their own internal conflicts, which they have never sought to deny. In short, they have together invented new relations; they have thought, they have created. In social and cultural terms, this is quite a success. A lot of young people who did not identify with current society found, in this, a place where we breathe a different air, where we learn things of real meaning. And this is precisely what we must preserve and allow to prosper. Fundamentally, what is now playing out in Notre-Dame-des-Landes is the very possibility of reviving what we call the “commons.”

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Libertarian Municipalism: Networked Cities as Resilient Platforms for Post-Capitalist Transition

Wed, 01/24/2018 - 18:38

via C4SS

by Kevin Carson

We live in a time of terminal crisis for centralized institutions of all kinds, including the two most notable members of the genus: states and large corporations. Both a major cause and major symptom of this transition is the steady reduction in the amount of labor needed to produce a given level of output, and consequently in total aggregate demand for wage labor. This shows up in shrinking rates of workforce participation, and a shift of a growing part of the remaining workforce from full-time work to part-time and precarious employment (the latter including temporary and contract work). Another symptom is the retrenchment of the state in the face of fiscal crisis and a trend towards social austerity in most Western countries; this is paralleled by a disintegration of traditional employer-based safety nets, as part of the decline in full-time employment.

Peak Oil (and other fossil fuels) is creating pressure to shorten global supply and distribution chains. At the same time, the shift in advantage from military technologies for power projection to technologies for area denial means that the imperial costs of enforcing a globalized economic system of outsourced production under the legal control of Western capital are becoming prohibitive.

The same technological trends that are reducing the total need for labor also, in many cases, make direct production for use in the informal, social and household economies much more economically feasible. Cheap open-source CNC machine tools, networked information and digital platforms, Permaculture and community gardens, alternative currencies and mutual credit systems, all reduce the scale of feasible production for many goods to the household, multiple household and neighborhood levels, and similarly reduce the capital outlays required for directly producing consumption needs to a scale within the means of such groupings

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Violence, Power and Mining in Peru

Wed, 01/24/2018 - 01:05

via Counter Vortex

by Walter Vargas Díaz, openDemocracy

Peru has become the country of greatest attraction for mining investment in Latin America, according to a recent study by Fraser Institute, which assesses geological aspects, political environment and favorable regulation. However, this growth of investment has unleashed tensions in territories of indigenous communities, creating a powerful private force capable of influencing state decisions and exerting violence on lands, the environment and indigenous activists. Recently, the southern, Andean part of the country has experienced intense conflict at one of the largest copper mines in the world: Las Bambas.

Open-pit mining: Las Bambas
Las Bambas started commercial production of copper and molybdenum in 2016, 12 years after its international public bidding. The Swiss company Xstrata won the tender in 2004, in 2011 it obtained state approval of its Environmental Impact Study (EIA), in 2013 it was acquired by Glencore International, and in 2014 it was sold to the MMG Limited consortium, led by Chinese capital.

It is estimated that the mine produced more than two million tons of concentrated copper in its first five years, with direct impact on communities in the provinces of Cotabambas and Grau (Apurímac region) and in the mining circuit that extends to the high Andean provinces of Cusco. Although the project has three open pits, no consultation with the affected indigenous communities has been carried out. State indifference led the communities to direct negotiation attempts amid tensions with the mining companies.

Successive modifications of the EIA have unleashed a confrontation that reveals how the power of the mining industry has paved the way for repression, criminalization of communities, and human rights abuses.

What are the reasons for communal protests?
Between 2013 and 2015, six modifications to the EIA were approved by state authorities in favor of Las Bambas—raising serious questions about the lack of participation and consultation of the affected communities. On September 25, 2015, various peasant organizations and affected communities held a strike in protest of these irregular EIA changes. Protests have been nearly continuous since then, to demand environmental protections in indigenous territories.

One of the main changes in the EIA is the relocation of a molybdenum plant and a filter plant to Cotabambas, despite the fact that its construction was initially planned for the Cusco province of Espinar. The proposed construction of a 206-kilometer-long pipeline for the transfer of mineral products has also now been rejected. This means that trucks—around 250 a day—will continue to do the transfers along the unpaved road from Cotabambas to Chumbivilcas and Espinar. The impacts of dust, noise and vibrations are affecting the communities, without effective measures of mitigation or remediation.

The government’s response to the demonstrations has prioritized business interests. Police repression, the misuse of the state of emergency law, and the criminalization of protesters all reflect a state approach that denies indigenous communities the right to make decisions in their own territories.

Virginia Pinares, president of the Committee for the Struggle of the communities of Cotabambas, has publicly denounced the state response:

“[Authorities have] said the main changes are auxiliary. Main plants have been transferred to Las Bambas. We were not informed. The plants have been moved without prior consultation of the people. We have demanded that, from the first moment, we are informed about the impacts of the relocation of these plants, but the Peruvian State has not listened to us, nor have representatives from the Apurímac Region or Congress… Now they do not want to allow the majority of organizations to participate. They only want three representatives per district, when several organisations are concerned about the environment. We are proposing an environmental insurance and a framework agreement.” (September 13, 2016, TV Peru Noticias).

In effect, the technical modifications that increase environmental vulnerability have been made behind the backs of the affected peoples, applying a new simplified legal mechanism called Informe Técnico Sustentatorio (Sustainability Technical Report, ITS). The ITS is planned to modify auxiliary components or expand projects with little environmental impact in a period of 15 days—without citizen participation or indigenous consultation.

Lethal repression
After the protests in 2015, the government of President Ollanta Humala ordered police intervention that resulted in the death of three peasants from Cotabambas—Exaltación Huamaní, Alberto Chahuallo and Alberto Cárdenas. The three were killed by gunshots fired by police during the eviction of comuneros blocking the mining camp. Quintino Cereceda was later killed in similar circumstances. In both cases, the arbitrary use of police force and violence caused numerous injuries of varying severity, both among demonstrators and police officers.

This repression has aggravated the already tense conflict, but investigations have still to identify the police officers responsible for the deaths. Meanwhile the government of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has defended the actions of the police, insisting that they faced criminal behavior. The absence of reparation has led the families of the slain peasants to accept a “non-compensatory” fund with money from MMG and the regional government that amounts to the equivalent of a minimum monthly wage (approximately US$265) for 24 months. This donation, presented as “humanitarian,” contrasts with the request for civil damages of US$177,000 that MMG intends to charge those community members denounced for protesting against its activities.

Public-private policing
The Ministry of the Interior has admitted that the National Police provides private security, protection, custody and other services to the Bambas mining sites in Apurímac and Cusco. These services began with an agreement signed in 2012 that has been constantly renewed. The agreement provides an economic compensation of 100 to 110 soles per day (about US$30) to each police officer, as well as logistic support for police work. The ministry has also agreed to the use of force in exceptional cases and has established a confidentiality clause covering company information to which the police have access.

The double public-private police function in conflict zones not only seriously alters the role of the police, but also creates an economic interest that distorts their work of protecting the public, even when they are not in private service hours. This has serious consequences. As verified by human rights organizations, 17 people arrested during the protests in September 2015 were deprived of their liberty beyond the legal limit of 24 hours, held within the mining camp itself.

The testimony of Francisco Huanca, member of the Frente de Defensa de los Intereses y Desarrollo de Cotabambas (Defense Front for the Interests and Development of Cotabambas), reveals that even when emergency helicopter transfers were arranged, those accused of criminal activity were often transferred instead of the wounded:

“During the 2015 conflict, people were injured and killed, but the police preferred to take by helicopter the people they had intercepted and incriminated before the injured. Two of my countrymen died on the way to the city of Cusco. Our question is: is the state on our side or on the side of the company?” (October 13, 2017, Testimony in the VI Peruvian Congress of Human Rights)

State of permanent emergency
A standard state measure against communal mobilization and protest is military intervention. After the 2015 peasant strike, the government ordered the intervention of the armed forces in support of the National Police on two occasions, and declared a state of emergency for 30 days in five provinces of the Andean south, many of which had not experienced any clashes. Even so, the rights to personal liberty and security, the inviolability of property, and freedom of assembly and transit were suspended in these provinces.

Following protests in February and August 2017, the government has issued new “state of emergency” decrees with the same restrictions applied in Cotabambas. These protests demanded the fulfillment of promises made by the company in the Challhuahuacho community, and compensation for the use of the road in the district of Mara. In August 2017, without any protests or security threats, the declaration of a state of emergency was reactivated and renewed every 30 days. A habeas corpus lawsuit filed by human rights organizations, community leaders, rural women and young people of Challhuahuacho seeks to reverse this preventive and continued state of emergency, stating it to be totally unjustified.

Criminalization of indigenous activists
As a result of the conflict, the state and MMG have accused 50 community members—residents of Cotabambas and Grau who have defended their collective rights—of crimes, including aggravated damage, usurpation, obstruction of transportation, riot, conspiracy, coercion, aggravated robbery and illegal possession of explosives.

The company has been very active in pursuing criminal prosecution of community activists: it has filed complaints against community members and argued that they are part of a criminal organization because they share common lawyers. The company also requested the payment of US$177,000 as reparations from the comuneros.

The legal defense of the activists—by the associations FEDEPAZ, APRODEH and DHSF—has called attention to the violations of personal freedom and the right to use one’s own language. In addition to the police arrests, the comuneros Edwar Brandon and Javier Mamani were put in preventive prison for more than six months; while Asunto Huamaní, a Quechua-speaker, was interrogated in Spanish, without an interpreter.

Eliana Galindo, a lawyer at APRODEH, expressed her concerns about the case:

“It is difficult for villagers to attend the hearings to testify as witnesses. Given the undue criminalization that exists, they are afraid that the prosecutors will put them under investigation for taking part in the protests. It is also an obstacle that the authorities in charge of the investigation have not guaranteed the presence of interpreters; this is a population whose original and predominant language is Quechua. Both problems damage the right of defense, while the company has a large team of lawyers dedicated to promoting complaints.” (Personal interview, November 2017)

The criminalization of the resistance of local communities is an articulation of business and state interests, and undoubtedly also deepens the power disadvantage of the communities affected by the mine.

The right to decide
Tensions in the territories affected by the Bambas mine uncover a deep conflict. The local people and communities are denied the right to decide the viability of extractive megaprojects and even to decide the environmental and social conditions in which projects can operate.

According to information from the Munden Project, 40% of Peru’s territory has been concessioned to extractive industries. In the provinces under direct influence of Las Bambas, the trend is greater: 89% of the territory of Cotabambas and 72% of the Grau territory have been concessioned to mining, without information, participation or consultation with the people who live there.

Commercial interests have stamped on human rights and the sovereignty of local people. The struggle continues for the right to make decisions about our way of life in our own territories.


This article was produced as part of Right to Protest, a partnership project with rights organizations CELS and INCLO, with support from the ACLU, examining the power of protest and its fundamental role in democratic society.

This story first appeared on openDemocracy, December 107 2017

Photo: Ondando/Wikimedia Commons


Fraser Institute, Annual Survey of Mining Companies: 2016

APRODEH, VI Congreso Peruano de Derechos Humanos

Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos (APRODEH)

Fundación Ecuménica para el Desarrollo y La Paz (FEDEPAZ)

Derechos Humanos Sin Fronteras (DHSF)

The Munden Project, Mining Sector page

Homelessness and libraries: an interview with Ryan J. Dowd

Wed, 01/24/2018 - 00:50

via ALA Editions

It may surprise you to hear that staff at public libraries interact with almost as many homeless individuals as staff at shelters do. But as Ryan J. Dowd, who has spent most of his career as Executive Director of a large homeless shelter near Chicago, observes, “Libraries are one of the few places in a community where everyone — homeless and not homeless — are likely to mix.” He advocates for an empathy-driven approach to these individuals in his new book The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness.

You open your book by discussing some of the myths surrounding individuals who are homeless. In your view, which myth is the most pervasive and damaging?

I think there are two pervasive myths that contradict each other, and each cause a different type of damage. One myth is that homeless people are nothing like housed people. This “othering” of homeless individuals really allows us to view them as less than human, less than citizens and less than deserving of assistance. The related myth, though, is that homeless individuals are exactly like housed people. That simply isn’t true. A homeless individual has had a lot of different experiences that effects worldview, communication style, etc. If you assume that a homeless individual interacts with the world exactly like you do, then you are completely unable to empathize with the unique circumstances they face.

What is the Homeless Golden Rule and why do you write that it’s the most important thing in your book?

The Homeless Golden Rule is that you should treat your homeless patrons no better or worse than any other patron. This is so important because homeless individuals are used to being singled out and treated as “other” (and usually “less than.”). Being singled out (and discriminated against) is a massive trigger for conflict with homeless patrons. Simply not treating homeless patrons discriminatorily removes a massive source of conflict.

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Ursula K. Le Guin, Author and Anarchist, Is Dead at 88

Tue, 01/23/2018 - 22:33

via The New York Times

Ursula K. Le Guin, the immensely popular author who brought literary depth and a tough-minded feminine sensibility to science fiction and fantasy with books like “The Left Hand of Darkness” and the Earthsea series, died on Monday at her home in Portland, Ore. She was 88.

Her son, Theo Downes-Le Guin, confirmed the death. He did not specify a cause but said she had been in poor health for several months.

Ms. Le Guin embraced the standard themes of her chosen genres: sorcery and dragons, spaceships and planetary conflict. But even when her protagonists are male, they avoid the macho posturing of so many science fiction and fantasy heroes. The conflicts they face are typically rooted in a clash of cultures and resolved more by conciliation and self-sacrifice than by swordplay or space battles.

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Ursula K. Le Guin (Wikipedia)

The Women’s Marches may have been the largest demonstration in US history

Tue, 01/23/2018 - 15:55

via Vox

by Sarah Frostenson

Crowd estimates from Women’s Marches on Saturday now tally over 4 million and political scientists think we may have just witnessed the largest day of demonstrations in American history.

According to data collected by Erica Chenoweth at the University of Denver and Jeremy Pressman at the University of Connecticut, marches held in more than 600 US cities were attended by at least 4.2 million people.

“Even using a conservative estimate, it was the single largest day for a demonstration in the US,” Chenoweth, an expert on political protests and civil resistance, told us.

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Focus on Nuclear Abolition

Tue, 01/23/2018 - 15:44

Nuclear weapons have to be disarmed and the technology abolished. The risks from maintaining nuclear weapons of any arsenal size are too great for the human species and the planet. There is a growing international disarmament movement calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons, which will be documented here.


Locals Insurgency: A Call to Action for Unionists

Tue, 01/23/2018 - 02:04

via The Anarres Project

By Alex Riccio (January 22, 2018)

A pending Supreme Court case, Janus v. AFSCME, is all but guaranteed to pass in favor of the plaintiff. This decision will make Right to Work (aka Right to Greed) laws a national standard. For many who are involved in organized labor, this prospect is viewed as a threat to the very survival of unions. To prepare for “doomsday,” as I’ve heard it described, large unions have plans to cut staff by upwards of 30%. Unfortunately, this seems to be the bulk of their strategy.

Despite how common it is to hear about the decline of the labor movement, I don’t view Janus as the death of unions in the US. Or, to be more precise, I don’t think it has to mean the death of unions. Instead, it could prove to be a catalyst for the sorts of ambitious changes we need to revitalize the labor movement, and to feel confident in describing it as a ‘movement’ again.

Rather than posing a threat to the very survival of unions, Janus exposes the limits of one particular form of unionism; business unionism. Indeed, business unionism, the standard in organized labor today, has been a walking zombie for decades unaware (or possibly in denial) of its own undead condition. Come Spring, the zombie head will be lopped off once and for all.

While there’s no reason to mourn the killing of a zombie, now is not the time to wait and watch for what happens next; it’s time to create power. Two hurdles need to be overcome for labor to get back to being a movement—the working-class movement. Unions must develop an identity which goes beyond narrowed workplace concerns, and visionary rank-and-filers need to mount insurgencies against their parent union bureaucracies to take over the reins of leadership.

Partly to explain the existential dread amid many a unionist today is their inability to imagine union models outside the narrowed parameters of wage increases and grievance filings. Described as “Gomperism,” or “business unionism,” this approach to union organizing is geared toward winning contracts at all costs and is fixated on adding new members, all the time, to the union.

Union density has declined dramatically since the 1970s, but the bulk of labor’s problem is not with the number of unionized workers. There are millions of workers in unions in the US. The core problem, as thoroughly detailed in The Death and Life of American Labor by Stanley Aronowitz, is the lack of radical imagination within organized labor today.

I have personally been a part of grassroots organizations operating with zero dollars and sometimes as few as five people. Such scarcity did not prevent them from accomplishing tremendous victories. Unions have resources, people, and (most importantly) labor-power. Imagine, for a moment, the possibilities.

What if unions shifted the millions of dollars they dump into the Democrat party into the creation of cooperative living establishments? For union members, they would have access to lowered-rents or previously unavailable home ownership in areas where their neighbors are their union comrades (yes, they could begin seeing them as comrades instead of only co-workers).

Imagine, also, that they link these union neighborhoods with land trusts for sustainable farming, along with recreational centers for children and families. Such initiatives could go a tremendous way in capturing housing and food security for millions of workers and families across the country. Just think of the additional time people could have for engaging in civic matters without having to worry as much about their housing and food needs!

Above is simply one small thought experiment that began with the recognition that housing needs are union issues (something Gomperism does not often understand). Notice how quickly it expanded into a nearly utopian vision of possibilities. Unionists should do more of such imagining, and take time in their organizing for it. There are nearly limitless ways to reimagine the shape of unionism, but the best sorts of visions are those which come out of group conversations over needs and desires. Take the time for such envisioning. Resist the trap of constant ‘business’ meetings or before long you’ll be taking on the form of a zombie!

Labor cannot simply turn to community building alone. In order to fundamentally reshape the identity of mainstream unionism, any vision for a different kind of labor movement must center their strategies for accomplishing such visions through utilizing a union’s greatest weapon: strikes.

Jane McAlevey has explained perfectly the root of workers’ labor-power; to paraphrase, “the boss doesn’t need you as a worker, the boss needs you and all of your co-workers.” Strategies within organized labor need to consistently build toward strikes of all varieties—wildcat strikes, general strikes, single-day strikes, etc.—if they are to accomplish the kinds of radical gains necessary to mobilize the movement of the working-class.

In many ways, the work of rethinking organized labor’s identity simply requires learning our own union histories, which are ripe with working-class radicalism. Meaning the task is not really so daunting after all. What, then, explains the entrenched conservatism and staid routine within labor? Short answer—comfortable leadership buffered by bureaucratic regulation (both externally and self-imposed).

Yet, true as this may be, the rank-and-file can still reenergize their unions. Even though organized labor is bogged down by egotistical leaders (pointing at Richard Trumka) and a lot of pointless bureaucracy, on the whole unions are still very democratic. Indeed, the degree of democracy present in the labor movement (particularly in one’s own local) is measurably greater than what passes for “democracy” in the US electoral arena.

The story of CORE (the Caucus of Rank and File Educators) based in Chicago is instructive. They educated themselves on union history and neoliberalism, crafted an ambitious platform for reshaping their unions, developed a strategy oriented toward utilizing strikes, and then ran their own candidates for positions within their union leadership—and won. With their vision and leadership, CORE was able to revitalize their union and even beat back an assault hurled against them by the most powerful mayor in the country and former Obama Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel.

An open secret within organized labor is that radicals, socialists, anarchists, and communists are present in every union, and they are often great unionists. McCarthyism, which was facilitated by labor’s turn to Gomperism, still terrifies many of these folks to the point of their own self-censorship. Imagine if there was a groundswell of such radicals taking over leadership positions in organized labor. Forget about reforming the Democrat party, let’s radicalize the labor movement instead!

To the visionaries within labor: start an insurgency. Place yourselves at the vanguard of the labor movement, take advantage of the catalyst which you are being offered in the form of Janus, and enable labor to proclaim itself as what it can and should be—the vehicle for a working-class revolution.

I encourage folks to explore these ideas more and recommend this short list of works as something of a beginning:

Stanley Aronowitz, The Death and Life of American Labor: Toward New Worker’s Movement (London: Verso, 2014).

Jane McAlevey, No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

David Bacon, A Radical Vision for Today’s Labor Movement, Monthly Review 2009

Janaé Bonsu, A Strike Against the New Jim Crow, Dissent Magazine 2017

Wanted: More Social Misery

Tue, 01/23/2018 - 00:20

via Anarcho-Syndicalist Review #70 (Summer 2017)

Editorial from ASR 70

As Republicans were getting set to repeal Obamacare, House Speaker Paul Ryan condemned it for, among other defects, costing consumers thousands of dollars a year in premiums and co-pays and leaving 20 million Americans without coverage. So he’s pushing a bill that would double the number of uninsured, and leave tens of millions more with a choice between very expensive plans that cover almost nothing and forking over tens of thousands a year more to get something approaching decent coverage.

But TrumpCare has real benefits. The rich would see their taxes slashed by $600 billion over 10 years, and insurance companies (able to charge higher premiums while offering thinner coverage) would see profits skyrocket. Add in the $26.9 billion a year Trump wants to give the rich by slashing inheritance taxes (which hit only the very richest) and the $300 billion a year his income tax proposal would save the 1 percenters (another $300 billion would go to the other 99%, though little of it would trickle down), and proposed corporate tax cuts (several of the largest U.S. corporations already pay little or no taxes), and it becomes clear that the polytricksters are taking decisive action to address income inequality.

The average CEO of the 500 largest U.S. companies makes just 347 times ($13.1 million) the pay of the average rank-and-file worker. Inflation-adjusted wages for production workers haven’t gone up in 50 years, when the ratio was closer to 20-to-1.

When American Airlines (which is rolling in profits) decided to return some of the concessions it forced on its workers during bankruptcy, arguing that this would improve morale, stockholders rose up, hurling their champagne glasses at their Bloomberg terminals. “Labor is being paid first again,” one stock analyst wrote. “Shareholders get leftovers.” American’s stock price plummeted.

Young workers today make almost as much as they did in 1975 – the Census Bureau reports average incomes down by 5.5 percent after inflation. In 1975, workers aged 25 to 34 were paid an average of $37,000 in current dollars. In 2016, their pay was $35,000. Pay (and benefits) declined even though young workers today are better educated, and have the student loans to show for it.

The 1 percent see no reason they should endure such privation. They’re working hard to get the CEO-to-worker pay ratio to 1,000-to-1 through a mix of tax cuts, slashing health and pension benefits, outsourcing jobs, deregulation, and outright wage theft.

And the politicians are only too willing to do their share. This makes perfect sense if you realize that the purpose of government is to funnel as much of the wealth society creates to the rich as possible, and to keep the rest of us in our place.

Thus, the Trump administration is proposing to slash funding for meals to school children and senior citizens (these foster dependence, after all – when people are fed they’re still around tomorrow wanting more; it’s much cheaper to let them starve to death); education; foreign aid; and anything else that might relieve human misery. The savings would go to prisons and the military.

The New York Times’ resident liberal economics columnist, Paul Krugman, illustrated in his Jan. 23 column why Democrats have little hope of persuading Trump voters – or the tens of millions who refused to vote for either candidate – that they have any understanding of the lives of working people, let alone any ideas on how to improve them.

Listening to Mr. Trump[’s inaugural address], you might have thought America was in the midst of a full-scale depression, with ‘rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation.’ Manufacturing employment is indeed down since 2000, but overall employment is way up, and the unemployment rate is low… Rising wages and the growing number of Americans confident enough to quit their jobs suggest an economy close to full employment…

And perhaps they do, to an economist so mired in mainstream thinking that he can not look out the window.

The unemployment rate is indeed down, because the job market is so dismal that millions have given up looking for work.

Employers claim they’re having trouble finding “qualified” workers. This is partly a reflection of screening programs that reject people with too much experience, or not enough; if a resume’s language doesn’t exactly match the criteria some coder who never worked the job typed in, into the discard pile it goes. Anyone accustomed to a living wage with benefits won’t get a second look, of course. But it also reflects a shift in how employers hire. A few decades ago, they figured they’d hold onto workers for several years, and so were willing to invest a few days training them. Now workers are increasingly disposable; hired by the gig or the shift. So the bosses want them to be 100% productive the instant they start work (and to squeeze extra productivity out of them by making them work off the clock, do the work of three or four people, etc.).

The bosses constantly whine about the shortage of construction workers, to cite just one example. But the April 22 Los Angeles Times reports that carpenters there earn less today than they did in the early 1970s (ignoring lost vacation days, health and retirement benefits, and work rules). Only a third as many construction workers are unionized today, giving bosses a free hand.

If there were jobs on offer at which one could earn a living, millions and millions of workers would jump at them.

Krugman says things are likely to get worse – much worse – before they get better, and absent a lot of organization and struggle he’s probably right. But conditions are plenty bad already, and when these pundits try and sell their Pollyanna stories about how great things are they only remind people how out of touch those at the top really are

Things are going quite well for the rich. Not only the infamous 1 percenters, the 5 percenters are doing quite well too. But more than half the working population is struggling to hold on to the standard of living they “enjoyed” back in the mid-1970s (it wasn’t that enjoyable; there were lots of strikes by workers demanding to be treated like human beings), and a fairly large share of our fellow workers are substantially worse off than they were five decades ago. Telling them that things have never been better (for those at the top) just won’t cut it.

Review: Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 22:44

via Fifth Estate # 394, Summer 2015 – Technology

Salvador Allende planned to run Chile’s state socialism from this room


a review of
Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile by Eden Medina. MIT Press, 2014, 344 pp., $20

Eden Medina’s Cybernetic Revolutionaries provides an account which is sympathetic to Chile’s Project Cybersyn. She uncovers and details the largely forgotten and extraordinarily fascinating history of how information and communication technology was seized upon as a way to realize President Salvador Allende’s socialist aspirations.

After his election in 1970, Allende led Chile on what he described as the “Chilean road to socialism” which was to differ from the revolutionary path charted by figures such as Fidel Castro in Cuba. In contrast to the Cuban example, the democratically elected Allende aimed to use already existing institutional channels to peacefully introduce socialist policies to his country. His plan was offered as a third way that did not explicitly align Chile with either of the two superpowers that were waging their Cold War and using smaller countries as pawns.

Similarly, Chile’s road to technological prowess was to differ from what conventional wisdom suggested. The generally accepted path forward for small lesser-developed states was to make big friends and then import modern technology and expertise from them. Instead, Allende took an interest in the emerging field of cybernetics as a way to more creatively think about how to use the computer technology they already possessed—which was far from the most advanced—to create systems that even the superpowers could not yet accomplish. They set out to build something akin to a nationwide internet before the existence of the internet.

With the help of eccentric British cybernetician, Stafford Beer, Chile launched Project Cybersyn to create an information network that would make a state controlled economy both feasible and efficient.

Those involved in Project Cybersyn sought a way to capture and manage the flood of information needed to be processed in real-time so that state officials could make informed decisions about how to most efficiently run the economy.

The current obsession with real time information was effectively being pursued in 1970s Chile. State officials would know if productions goals were being met, if raw materials were being delivered, if a work stoppage was interrupting their plans, and vast amounts of other such quantifiable data pertaining to the economy. They wanted models predicting how the economy would respond in the future based on current data.

With such information delivered in real time, the state could theoretically be able to shift and adapt so their desired end targets were achieved. Production quotas could be altered, raw materials could be rerouted, difficult workers could be circumvented, and so on. According to cybernetic theory, the state needed to be as homeostatic and as responsive as a living organism.

The political aspect of the project was highlighted in Allende’s intention to solve the dilemma between maintaining a stable state and allowing for personal autonomy. Individuals needed to have the freedom to live as they chose while at the same time not jeopardizing the stability of the state. Beer and his Chilean colleagues believed that cybernetics could ease this tension by creating a more dynamic state that could allow both. Medina’s book, however, fails to point out that this, in reality, is a sleight-of-hand trick which allows the individual to do as they wish provided the state can easily neutralize their efforts. One can do anything provided it is without consequence.

Since the Allende government defined its policies as socialism, it was also important to at least pay lip service to the notion of worker participation. The operations room of Project Cybersyn in Santiago was supposed to be accessible to even the uneducated rank-and-file. It included screens but only a few buttons. It included chairs but no tables and no paper.

Information was to be displayed graphically so it could be readily understood and acted upon. Keyboards were out because their presence would have implied secretarial work (and bureaucracy) which in turn implied the presence of women in the operations room which is not how the rank-and-file were generally pictured. Indeed, a gentlemen’s club was proposed as one aesthetic model for the design of the operations room. In hindsight, the completed command center has drawn comparisons with the War Room in Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove.

Yet as novel as Allende’s political supporters thought his road to socialism was and as innovative as the cyberneticians considered their system, the message of Medina’s book, when read from an antiauthoritarian or anarchist perspective, is that these are but nuances on the organization, development and administration of the industrial system on which a new label was tacked.

Although Allende may have dreamed of a different road or path, his cybernetic industrialism had more in common with Fordism and Taylorism than it did with humanity’s emancipation.

The 1973 U.S.-backed coup that ousted Allende from power and installed the Pinochet dictatorship prevented Project Cybersyn from ever being completed. This fact allows supporters of the project to keep their dreams intact as to what might have been if it had been free from interference. Even Medina seems to occasionally resist criticism in this fashion. But to advance this line of thought, to defend the project in this way, requires that at least some sympathy for its goals of a highly coordinated industrialism. It may have been wildly successful if it had proceeded unimpeded, but in a process which was fundamentally flawed.

Allende, like Marx, thought that socialism could modernize and ultimately be more productive than capitalism. But if that is not the desired destination, it is of little consequence which ideology will purportedly get there faster.

Capitalism and socialism are essentially two different strategies both seeking to make mass society possible. There is nothing radical about simply picking one side over the other; rejecting capitalism only to embrace socialism. The project of mass society needs to be rejected outright.

Ian Erik Smith lives in Eugene, Oregon. His academic background is in philosophy and his writing has appeared in Philosophy Now, the Journal for Critical Animal Studies, and the recently released volume, Animals and War: Confronting the Military-Animal Industrial Complex. He blogs at

Carceral Capitalism

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 22:39

via The New Inquiry

By Jackie Wang

The New Racial Capitalism

The essays included in Carceral Capitalism attempt to update the analytic of racial capitalism for a contemporary context. Rather than focusing on the axis of production by analyzing how racism operates via wage differentials, this work attempts to identify and analyze what I consider the two main modalities of contemporary racial capitalism: predatory lending and parasitic governance. These racialized economic practices and modes of governance are linked insofar as they both emerge to temporarily stave off crises generated by finance capital. By titling this book Carceral Capitalism, I hope to draw attention to the ways in which the carceral techniques of the state are shaped by—and work in tandem with—the imperatives of global capitalism.

Predatory lending is a form of bad-faith lending that uses the extension of credit as a method of dispossession. In the United States, the kind of credit a borrower has access to depends in part on the race of the borrower. Today, before working on this introduction, I read an article in the New York Times about how the largest bank in the U.S.—J.P. Morgan—will pay $55 million in damages for discriminatory lending practices that targeted blacks and Latinxs for higher-interest mortgage loans than whites of the same income bracket (Wells Fargo also had to pay $175 million for engaging in the same practices). As predatory lending systematically prevents mostly poor black Americans from accumulating wealth or private property, it is a form of social exclusion that operates via the inclusion of marginalized populations as borrowers. For it is as borrowers that they are eventually marked for further social exclusion (through credit and e-scores). Predatory lending exists in many forms, including subprime mortgage loans, student loans for sham for-profit colleges (which Obama attempted to regulate, but may be revived by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos), car loans, and so forth. Predatory lending practices also have a decidedly spatialized character. In impoverished urban areas, predatory lending exists in the form of rent-to-own scams, payday loans, bail-bond loans, and other practices. Overall, predatory lending enables profit maximization when growth is stagnant, but this form of credit will always be plagued by realization problems, which are sometimes resolved using state force.

Parasitic forms of governance—which have intensified in the wake of the 2008 crash—are rooted in decades-old problems that are coming to a head only now. Beginning in the 1970s, there was a revolt in the capitalist class that undermined the tax state and led to the transformation of public finance. During the subsequent decades the tax state was gradually transformed into the debt state, which Wolfgang Streeck calls “a state which covers a large, possibly rising, part of its expenditure through borrowing rather than taxation, thereby accumulating a debt mountain that it has to finance with an ever greater share of its revenue.” This model of public finance creates a situation where creditors, rather than the public, become the privileged constituency of governments. The hegemony of finance is antidemocratic not only because financial institutions are opaque and can influence finance through their ownership of the public debt but also because fiscal crises (which can be induced by the financial sector) authorize the use of state power to extract from the public.

Parasitic governance, as a modality of the new racial capitalism, uses five primary techniques: 1) financial states of exception, 2) automated processing, 3) extraction and looting, 4) confinement, and 5) gratuitous violence (with execution as an extreme manifestation of this technique).
The Financial State of Exception

Perhaps what I would call a financial state of exception would be best exemplified by the recent cases of the Flint water crisis and the Puerto Rican fiscal crisis. They both entail a suspension of the so-called normal democratic modes of governance (where decisions are made by elected officials) and the implementation of rule by emergency managers (EMs) who represent the interests of the financial sector. Usually it is a state, municipal, or sovereign debt crisis that authorizes the financial takeover of governance (but it can also be a “natural” disaster, as we saw in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina). A financial state of emergency can also be induced when banks create a liquidity shortage by abruptly refusing to lend money to government bodies (which is what occurred in the 1975 bankruptcy of New York City).

Flint, Michigan, is a perfect example of how a financial state of exception can produce a nightmarish outcome. As I write this, it has been more than a thousand days since Flint had clean water—but what does this have to do with the financial and government processes I have described above? In 2011, Governor Rick Snyder appointed emergency managers to seize control of the financial affairs of the city in the name of the public good. Like many other ailing postindustrial cities in Michigan that have experienced depopulation and the collapse of the tax base, Flint was facing a fiscal crisis. In 2014, to cut costs, the city switched its water source from Detroit’s Lake Huron system to the Flint River. Officials—including the emergency financial managers—did this knowing that the city did not have the infrastructure to properly treat the water. The untreated water corroded the pipes, and high levels of lead leaked into the water, poisoning the primarily black residents of the city.

To give you a sense of how toxic the water was, consider that at 5,000 parts per billion of lead, water is regarded as hazardous waste. When the Flint resident LeeAnne Walters had her water tested, the lead level was at 13,200 parts per billion. Like many of the children and infants exposed to the contaminated water, Walters’s son Gavin was diagnosed with lead poisoning. In short, the financial state of exception created by the budget crisis authorized the implementation of emergency financial managers whose primary goal was to make Flint solvent by any means necessary, even if it meant endangering the health of the residents. Under the auspices of the EMs, Flint was barred from borrowing money or issuing bonds. Given that, under the current fiscal paradigm, the federal government no longer provides significant funds to cities, the residents were left to suffer the consequences of the dramatic spending cuts.

As dry and technical and boring as the topic of municipal finance and fiscal retrenchment is, we see in the case of the Flint water crisis that these matters form the invisible backdrop of our lives: They directly determine our quality of life and even our health outcomes. We cannot, even on a bodily level, flourish under these conditions. But it should be emphasized that vulnerability to parasitic government practices is not equally distributed in the country. The practices you are exposed to depend on where you live (which, given how segregated our country is, is determined in large part by your race and class).

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