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Solidarity Unionism: What it is and what it isn’t

Thu, 09/06/2018 - 14:07

by Don White

There is quite a bit of confusion around the definition of solidarity unionism. When I speak to people, long-time IWW members included, there seems to be the assumption that solidarity unionism and direct action are the same thing. They are not. I want to clarify the difference because I believe this confusion hinders actual organizing and I hope to help people be able to communicate solidarity unionism to their co-workers.

I recently had a conversation with the main organizer at Thomas Train. Thomas Train Solutions is an organizing campaign in which the IWW won certification as the bargaining agent in 2013, but still has yet to negotiate a contract. The organizer was frustrated that so many people in the IWW were “solidarity unionism purists.” By that he meant that he didn’t think that the shop should have to rely solely on direct action; they wanted to sign a contract. As we were discussing this further I came to realize he was confusing solidarity unionism, an organizing model, and direct action, a tactic.

Thomas Train workers had engaged in a successful strike and the organizer kept pointing to that as an example of them using solidarity unionism. But going on strike is a tactic, and it can be organized by a paid staff, or a charismatic leader, or it can be organized worker-to-worker. When mainstream union leadership calls on its members to go on strike because of contract negotiations stalling or some major perceived injustice by management, this is a paid staff organizing the strike. At Thomas Train, the strike was more or less driven by this one charismatic leader. Direct action was used, but it was not organized through solidarity unionism. For it to be organized through solidarity unionism would mean it was organized worker-to-worker. This was the organizer’s confusion. Direct action and solidarity unionism are not the same thing.

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Anarchists & Guns

Thu, 09/06/2018 - 05:04

by Paul Walker

Fifth Estate # 401, Summer 2018

“Workingmen: Arm yourselves and appear in full force!”
—1886 Haymarket leaflet

The initial clamor about controlling gun violence following the horrible mass shooting at Parkland, Fla. high school this February mostly subsided following huge demonstrations of students across the country in March and April. Young students appeared everywhere in the media advocating reforms, but no legislation has passed that will staunch the blood flow, and probably none will be forthcoming.

(As this was written, another high school massacre occurred in Santa Fe, Tex., followed by several other smaller ones that quickly disappeared from public attention.)

Liberal policies will do little to stem gun violence, and right wing proposals to arm everybody, led by the increasingly shrill National Rifle Association (NRA), only assures more killing.

Neither approach will successfully combat gun violence in a country steeped in a history of violence, where a third of the population owns 300 million firearms, and political limits constrain lawmakers to, at best, make tepid reforms.

While that mainstream debate continues, those who see the need for defense against a rising right wing current and perhaps for a revolution in a future period are involved in a parallel discussion about arms possession. If you oppose the political state what should be the stance toward legislation that would limit gun ownership and type of weaponry? Formal laws take the place of autonomous action in all spheres of life, providing both a protective and a repressive function. Armed might is the core of the political state. Without it protecting the ruling class and its economic and social arrangements, hierarchal systems from the first slave states to the current capitalist ones wouldn’t have lasted long in the face of popular resistance.

However, the modern state mediates some of the worst abuses and natural consequences of an exploitative system. One can assume most anarchists, while opposing the state as an institution, are supportive of laws within the current system such as those governing the environment, product and workplace safety, discrimination, speed limits, and crimes against persons, all of which are enforced by the same tyrannical system of cops, judges, and courts which victimize the poor and people of color, and repress expressions of resistance.

It is certain that anarchists and other revolutionaries share a concern about the daily death toll the proliferation of firearms exacts, but the question to consider is, are arms a special and unique category different from air quality regulation or no left turn prohibitions?

Other than the United States, most Western countries have strict requirements regarding weaponry, including ownership, type, usage, etc., resulting in gun death rates up to 90 percent less than that of this country.

All of the liberal proposals for background checks, mandatory gun locks and safes, prohibiting ownership by abusers, and banning semi-automatic assault rifles, if enacted, would probably reduce gun violence somewhat. However, even under that politically fanciful scenario, that would still leave a heavily armed population with a capacity to act out shootings against themselves and others.

When we move to a discussion on our end of things as to what position should be taken regarding gun ownership, a whole different set of concerns come into the equation. It takes place in a context far from the understandable liberal dismay at the repeated mass shootings, one that considers the consequences of a disarmed population unable to protect workers and minorities against a tyrannical government, racist or right-wing mobs, or the ability to defend a revolution.

Historically, anarchists have admired armed revolutionaries, on the European barricades of 1848, at the 1871 Paris Commune, the revolutionary resistance to the Bolsheviks by the Makhnovist movement and Kronstadt garrison, and the most frequently cited example, our comrades of the anarchist militias in Spain who fought both fascists and Stalinists in the defense of the revolution they created in the 1930s.

In the U.S., African Americans frequently employed armed resistance to white racist terror following the Civil War and into the 1960s. Workers in the coal fields of West Virginia and Kentucky fought cops, National Guard, and company goons to defend their unions or the right to organize in the 1920s. In 1886, anarchist labor leaders called upon their members to “Arm yourselves and appear in full force,” at a rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. Many did, but following a bomb blast and ensuing gunfire that left scores dead and wounded, four anarchists were hanged by the state of Illinois.

Huey Newton, chairman of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s, famously urged oppressed black people to, “Pick up the gun!” The specter of armed African Americans confronting brutal urban police forces led to a murderous campaign of repression against the party resulting in the deaths of dozens of Panthers in spectacular shoot-outs across the country, and an eclipse of their non-violent community based programs.

The 1921 so-called Tulsa Race Riot was actually a white mob and police attack against a prosperous African American district. Black World War I veterans and members of the African Blood Brotherhood bravely built barricades to defend their neighborhoods against the marauders.

The resistance against the mobs was so intense that white city officials aerial bombed the defenders, burning the black section to the ground, killing hundreds.

The third aerial bombing of the U.S. (the second being Pearl Harbor) came in 1985 when a Philadelphia police helicopter dropped an incendiary device on the communal living space of the MOVE organization following a pitched gun battle with authorities trying to serve arrest warrants including ones for arms possession. The resulting fire killed eleven MOVE members including five children and destroyed 65 houses. Many of the black liberation group’s members remain in prison serving long sentences. (See “On a MOVE in Maine” in this issue.)

All of these examples (hundreds more exist) were heroic struggles against oppression and exploitation, yet almost all of them were scenes of great bloodshed and usually defeat of the radical forces pitted against the ruling powers.

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was originally proposed by its Framers to guarantee states the right to raise militias to suppress slave uprisings and armed white revolts such as Bacon’s and Shay’s Rebellions. In recent years, its alleged ambiguity has morphed explicitly into a right of personal gun ownership, and increasingly advocated by the NRA to expand an armed population. However, the Framers also saw the necessity for having every white male armed in an era when they had a palpable fear of slave rebellions and Indian attacks. That siege mentality still exists among many whites, particularly ones who are armed.

The question here is what works for organizing defense of one’s self and community and a revolution if that comes to pass. Just as in day-to-day organizing, we evaluate what works partly by examining the strategies and tactics of past campaigns so we don’t repeat the same mistakes. What does this say about the efficacy of arming for revolution or for even community self-defense?

The first line of defense for capitalism and the political state once threatened is the police who are increasingly militarized. The cops of yore did damage enough when armed only a little better than their challengers, but now they possess military grade armaments including tanks and a variety of sophisticated weapons, surveillance, and command capacity.

Were the cops to fail in efforts to halt a mass based movement demanding revolutionary change, the final level of protection of the state is its regular armed forces who could easily overcome any popular-based revolution or resistance. A modern revolution could only occur if sections of the military joined the revolution.

Regarding defense against fascist threats to our movements on a daily basis, let alone for revolution or even radical reform: We are currently way outgunned. There are ten million AR-15 assault rifles owned by Americans. How many can we estimate are in the hands of, in general, Trump supporters, or narrowing it to extreme rightists and open fascists compared to how many are possessed by anarchists or leftists? The math is not encouraging.

Employing increasingly strident, far right-wing rhetoric, the NRA with its five million armed members, could easily be transformed into fascist militias as happened after World War I when the German Freikorps, a right-wing para-military, was used by the government to suppress revolutionary upsurges.

Currently, on the left, there are small gun groups like Guerrilla Mainframe and the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, which oppose police brutality and advocate for the rights of black gun owners.

Also, there is Redneck Revolt, an anti-capitalist, anti-racist, and anti-fascist group which organizes white working-class people and has more than 33 local chapters, an offshoot of the John Brown Gun Clubs. They’ve appeared armed at Trump rallies in the manner rightists have elsewhere. Left groups are all under heavy police surveillance. The co-founder of the two black organizations, Rakem Balogun, was recently locked up for five months without bail on suspicion of “domestic terrorism.”

It’s hard to say what this suggests doing. We are clearly outgunned both by the state and the right. Should historic defeats encourage us to submit without a struggle? Should we depend upon the state to protect us from rightist assault? The answers to these questions are obvious.

Harder questions are, should anarchists oppose any restrictions on gun ownership other than background checks, or even that? Should we see the Red Neck/John Brown Gun Clubs as a model of armed resistance against an increasingly crazed right wing which has no debate about the issue of guns?

In answering this, we should be aware that there will be 35,000 U.S. gun deaths in a given year with 100,000 people wounded. If anarchists were as armed as are current gun owners, would we be any safer from murdering one another, taking our own lives, and shooting others accidentally? Probably not. (Full disclosure: I own three weapons, and do not want to surrender them.)

However, revolution has always been an undertaking filled with risks and the future is uncertain as to what will occur as this country’s politics get crazier. It’s been said that we should have a big tool box, one which includes a multitude of resources of which guns at a particular time could be useful ones.

Most revolutions are thought of as extremely violent events, but the act of revolution by itself, the wheel turning over the old society and bringing the new one to the top, is usually fairly non-violent. In Russia and Spain, for instance, revolutionary ideals supplanted the conventional norms of capitalism and the state as workers and peasants simply began life without bosses and cops. It was the defense of those new forms in which so many lives were lost.

No one from the Fifth Estate offers advice as to whether gun possession is appropriate or not, and certainly not this writer. The most appropriate tools are those which have always led towards revolution—organizing around greater freedom, protecting those most at risk from racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia, supporting struggles in the workplace and the community, and subverting loyalty to the empire, its military, and its wars.

Once we see where this has brought us, it will be an organic process of deciding the best means of defense.

Paul Walker is a long time friend of the Fifth Estate who lives in the Detroit area.

An Anarchism of the Working-Class: A Review of Whither Anarchism?

Thu, 09/06/2018 - 04:49

By Miriam Pickens

I appreciate Kristian Williams’ pamphlet, both the thought put into it and the challenge
it represents. I learned a lot from its history, and in particular gained insight into the
behavior of anarchists I meet today. Williams traces some practices of contemporary US
anarchism back to pacifism, looking at how contemporary anarchists unthinkingly accept
much of that philosophy. In my view, that influence led to the movement prioritizing
providing comfort to its participants, rather than organizing to change the circumstances
that led to the discomfort they feel with society in the first place. This emphasis
accepts the inevitability of capitalism and is therefore a strategy to live within its
parameters. But I don’t think capitalism will allow us these spaces. Instead, it has to be
overthrown and not allowed to come back.

Williams’ pamphlet is made up of three essays: “My Anarchism,” “Whither Anarchism?” and
“Conclusion: Revolutions, Scientific and Otherwise.”

In Williams’ first essay, “My Anarchism,” he shares his belief that “the core of
anarchism[is]to be captured in the proposition that decisions must be made by those most
affected by them.” He further states that “that belief, in turn, relies on a pair of
values, those of freedom and equality.” He develops his understanding of these values by
defining equality as meaning “that we are all equally human, and equally entitled to the
respect and consideration worthy of a human being.”(3-4) He stresses that “[B]y freedomI
mean simply that people can live their lives without interference, arranging their affairs
according to their own best judgment – and . . . enjoy practical opportunities to widen
the scope of their possible activities.” (4-5)

These are the values Williams cites as the basis of the society he wants. I agree with
these values. I understand that there has never been a society that embodies these ideals,
so I see them as something to strive and to fight for. I see them as values that our
current system, world capitalism, gives lip-service to, but defines in a way that does not
value people as equals and that limits our freedoms so that we cannot even conceive of
freedom in the same way we would if we were free. That is, our understandings and
consciousness are also determined and limited by the system we live within, something
Williams understands. We should know that we can grow and develop beyond our current
understanding of what is possible.

The attainment of these ideals is also collective. We not only cannot gain them as
individuals, we cannot experience them individually. The denial of these rights is
systemic and collective. Therefore, our fight for them must also be system-wide and

Williams centers the relationship that control of resources has to power by stating that

“The accumulation of resources brings with it a large measure of power, and to the degree
that this power is accepted as legitimate, authority as well. Likewise, the accumulation
of power grants one the ability to acquire and control additional resources. Sometimes
this power is used to directly coerce individual people, but more routinely its
application is impersonal, establishing policies and making choices which shape the
conditions under which we all must live.” He develops the impersonal and structural nature
of capitalism by showing that “even those at the very top often feel their decisions to be
dictated by the internal logic of the system itself.” (5)

Williams ties power and authority, the ability to give/take away freedom and equality, to
the control of resources. I agree with this. It is why I think our fight has to center
around the fight for material resources and to be centered within those who need the
resources and are fighting for them. I call this the working class in its most inclusive
definition. That is, not just people who have jobs, but also including the families and
communities that are also without power, without capital, and who have resources withheld
from them.

I do not think we have to limit our fights to these issues, however. In fact, I think we
need to take on the entire social complexity that limits or diminishes us. But our basic
struggle is for resources: land, food, shelter, clean air and water, public space, time,
along with the respect and dignity due us as human beings. Williams breaks down the
arguments of the inevitability of the way things are by separating organization from
hierarchy. “[I]f society is to survive there must be some means of organization, but our
organizations need not be hierarchical and need not be driven by the profit motive.” (6)

Williams spends quite a bit of time laying out his vision of how a new society might be
organized: “as a decentralized network of democratically-run institutions and voluntary
associations.” He sees the need for flexibility by stating that “there may yet be some
sorts of activities most effectively or efficiently pursued by creating a single central
clearing house, or adopting a level of standardization, or appointing a steering
committee. Leadership, supervision, and even coercive authority may sometimes still be
necessary. The important thing is that any such position, or the exercise of such power,
would need to be understood as requiring at every stage a kind of justification.” His
vision clearly states that “the democratization of both power and resources would spell an
end to capitalism and class society. So too would it mean an end to the state . . . and
also demand of us all that we eliminate any stratification based on race, gender,
ethnicity, nationality, ancestry, sexual orientation, age, physical ability, or any other
prejudicial or extraneous consideration.”(6-7)

What Williams does not say is that the active fight for revolution, for a violent
overthrow of the capitalist system, is what would provide the basis for the type of
society he outlines. A new society does not just result, nor does democratization happen,
without a fight. It is in the course of this struggle that change occurs, both in the
minds of the people doing the struggling and in the concrete circumstances of their lives.

Reading Whither Anarchism?, I appreciate the way Williams unmasks the subtleties of how we
are impacted by the society we live in. For instance, I came of age politically in the
1960s and 70s, when a mass movement was alive in our cities and streets, everyday
working-class people were reading, discussing, and thinking about the big issues of the
state, revolution, and the role of organization. My early development as a
Jewish-Communist child in 1950s Compton, California led me to value the organization and
collective activity of working-class people. I saw multiracial groups challenging both the
large and small expressions of oppression and power. I was a part of picket lines,
demonstrations large and small, and cultural gatherings that were multiracial, of all
ages, and from all parts of the world. We were united in our opposition to “the system,”
although my childish understanding was far from complex or nuanced.

My activity inside Marxist organizations (Independent Socialist Clubs, International
Socialists, Revolutionary Socialist League) and my thirty years inside a Detroit auto
factory put me in the middle of a movement that sought to understand and challenge power.

We incorporated insights gained from the Black freedom struggle, feminism, the emerging
gay movements, and the intersectionality of the Black women’s movement, and used them to
broaden and deepen our ideas of “the working class,” so that we spoke of the working class
as specifically not only white men, but of all races, all genders, and all orientations.
We began to develop understandings of how skilled workers and their families were given
more middle-class opportunities, better housing and education, than those workers on the
bottom. We saw how demands for “respectability” were used to control and contain our
movements and to divide our class. We focused our attention on the lowest paid workers,
with the idea that if they get their needs met, all the rest would too.

Williams says that “our habits of difference and entitlement may rule us more subtly and
thus more firmly, and may prove the greater obstacle to our own liberation. Equality, in
other words, must be alive in our minds as a positive ideal. It is not merely the absence
of inequality or subordination. It requires a new sociability, perhaps a new subjectivity,
formed both within and between us as we work together to re-order society and discover new
ways of relating – as we, in short, learn both to exercise and to respect freedom.” (7)

This does not happen in a vacuum, nor simply because we want it to though. These power
relations are understood and overturned in the course of struggling together for common
goals, where the exercise of power between people gets in the way and limits our
struggles. We are forced to break out of old habits, because they hold us back. It is this
understanding that girds us to fight for everyone’s freedom and equality, not just because
it is our values, but because our own freedom and equality, our chance to survive, develop
and grow, depends upon it.

In some ways, Williams recognizes this:

“For as social barriers fall, as the stigma of inequality fades, our ability to relate to
one another improves, becomes more natural, less fraught. We all profit from the contact
with a wider array of perspectives, experiences, insights. The creation of this sort of
society, or anything like it, would require a kind of revolution, and that is true no
matter what means are used to bring it about. For revolution denotes the extent of social
change, not the method for achieving it. Progress will come erratically, unevenly, and not
according to anyone’s timetable. Likely it will not even look like a revolution as it
unfolds, but as a series of crises, small miracles, wrenching compromises, painful
defeats, stupid missteps, heroic sacrifices, frustrating reversals, bold experiments,
regrettable excesses, ridiculous half-measures, reckless gambles, and righteous refusals –
until finally, slowly, the overall shape of the new society begins to emerge, and the
direction of events becomes clear.” (10)

Williams’ view of revolution here seems unreal to me, as if we live in a vacuum. Where is
the ruling class, with all its police and armies, in this scenario? What are they doing
while we are building our new society? They are attacking us, dividing us, killing us.
They are fighting our revolutionary movement with all the resources available to them! If
we are not prepared to meet their violence with all the resources at our command – our
organization, unity, our vision, along with a practical material struggle – we will
certainly lose. Our revolution is a form of self-defense. We must withhold the labor and
resources they take from us. We must organize strategically and tactically to fight them:
for resources, including land, territory, food, water, what we need to survive. Do not
think this will not be violent. On their part, willful violence, as we have seen our whole
lives, taken out on individuals as police murders, on communities as the bombing of the
MOVE organization in Philadelphia showed, on the taking of entire countries and land. On
our part, an armed defense of ourselves, our families, our communities, our neighborhoods,
our land, our revolution. Power is never given away. It must be taken. This is not a
gradual unfolding, this is a wrenching away, a destruction of the state apparatus, a
burning of prisons and records of debt. The existing power must be destroyed root and
branch before we can gradually build anything. When we encourage people to join our fight
and do not prepare for this, we are being negligent and dishonest. This is an either-or
situation. We cannot have a free society as long as capitalism continues to exist.

One of the main lessons of the Russian Revolution of 1917 is that seizing state power is
not enough. They ended up with capitalism controlled by the state in the name of “the
worker’s state.” Despite its names and propaganda, it remained capitalist, and unfree.
Power, hierarchical relations, must be destroyed, not taken over or redirected or given to
someone else. Our attempts will be violently resisted, and we must be prepared.

My experience with Marxists is that they were always analyzing capitalism, but that
anarchists almost never had discussions about the economy, its direction, and how it
affects the ways we need to focus our struggles. Marxists, however, tend to fit what they
see into predetermined boxes and that almost always leads them to support the liberal wing
of the bourgeoisie. As anarchists we are trying to promote a view that our enemy is the
entire capitalist class, both its reactionary and its reformist elements, including its
state capitalist manifestations, like the former Soviet Union. In fact, it is the
reformist element we need to watch out for in particular ways, as it is always trying to
rope us in to support of its section of the ruling class. At this point in time, the
reactionary section is letting loose and is enabling the organization and development of a
mass fascist base. We need a theory that can put us in opposition to both sections and
strategies of the capitalist class, reformist and reactionary.

I began to identify as an anarchist after meeting anarchists during the 2011 Occupy
movement. I agreed with how their expressions of antiauthoritarianism resonated within me
and how they talked about not just seizing state power, but doing away with the state, and
with hierarchy and power relations as a whole. I joined First of May Anarchist Alliance
(M1) as an intentional revolutionary group and through that, the Direct Action Committee
of Occupy. We focused our energies on an ongoing struggle in Detroit to keep people in
their homes. We used direct action tactics such as blocking streets with dumpsters and
laying down in the doorways of banks. We also used social media and, of most importance,
direct democratic forms of organization and participation. We fought hard against elitists
and saviors, many nonprofits and Democratic Party representatives, who wanted to take
leadership of our movement. We insisted that no one is coming to save us and that it was
the people affected who must decide the best ways forward. We argued that direct
democratic meetings with open participation was the best way to ensure that people
affected could voice their concerns and determine their course of action. It was the
homeowners losing their homes, their friends, family and communities who came out to
support and defend our fight. Detroit Eviction Defense exists today as a result of that
effort. Not just anarchists, of course. Union people, social democrats, Marxists, radicals
and liberals, all ages, races, and genders came together to fight for material needs:
housing. The neoliberal plan for Detroit has included turning homeowners into tenants. We
fight this.

Williams recognizes that his vision of a new society is “related to how the new society is
to be brought about. How can it be defended and sustain itself? How are disputes to be
settled? How do we prevent new tyrannies from arising? I think we have to say that we
don’t have answers to these questions. And I agree with Williams that “to translate our
ideals into reality requires a strategy. It will not be enough to rely on our ethical
sense and our desire for freedom.” (11-12) The need for a strategy to prevent the
reemergence of capitalism is precisely why a revolutionary anarchist organization is
necessary. To set out from the beginning our commitment to going all the way to defeat
capitalism. We must have confidence that in the course of struggle, people will learn and
develop skills that will enable them to define a new way of living that promotes a new

In his second essay, “Whither Anarchism?,” Williams focuses on the history of anarchism in
the United States in the 20thcentury, observing that “What was once a mass movement based
mainly in working-class immigrant communities is now an archipelago of subcultural scenes
inhabited largely by disaffected young people from the declining middle class.” (13)
Williams uses Andrew Cornell’s Unruly Equality: U.S. Anarchism in the Twentieth Century
and Spencer Sunshine’s dissertation, “Post-1960 U.S. Anarchism and Social Theory,” as
guides to his discussion of how this change occurred.

Williams points out that “American anarchism . . . saw itself as a movement of the working
class, fighting for the liberation of humanity from capitalism and the state, and it
presented the labor union as the means by which workers could both overturn capitalism and
organize the future society.” He stresses that the Wobblies, the Industrial Workers of the
World (IWW), were the primary organization pushing this agenda in the early 20thcentury,
“But the Red Scare of 1917-1920 all but destroyed the IWW, and with it the movement.” What
this resulted in was

“What remained of syndicalism was occupied primarily with legal defense, and other
anarchists came to focus more on education and creating counter institutions, rather than
mass organizing. Hence, anarchists were on the sidelines during the upheavals of the
1930s. Then, during the Second World War, the remaining movement split over the question
of militarism, with pacifism becoming the dominant strain. At the same time, increasingly
much of anarchist activity was in the cultural sphere, and the movement became wedded to
the emerging counterculture.”

All of this resulted in the type of anarchism all-too-familiar today, with, as Williams
quotes Andy Cornell observing “[R]eadings, performances, and exclusive parties (having)
moved to the center of anarchist praxis.” (14) Williams concludes by lamenting that
“Anarchists deserted the class war at precisely the moment that the largest number of
workers were clamoring to enlist in it.”(15)

This “desertion of the class war” was also the result of immigrants, primarily seeking to
be identified as “white,” establishing themselves on the upper levels of the working class
as skilled workers and in the lower rungs of the middle class, as educated professionals.
This represented an acceptance of capitalism and a value system that put themselves above,
and different from, other workers. The failure to demand that the whole class move forward
is an acceptance of the capitalist program of divide and rule, giving white workers
benefits and securities not allowed people of color who were also working class. Racism,
intertwined with the capitalist system, allowed the ruling class to co-opt sections of the
working class without protest by anarchists. The communists also accepted many ruling
class divisions and elitist practices, but they fought racism and valued that fight, even
while some of their pro-capitalist policies misled many struggles, primarily by supporting
pro-capitalist forces inside the movement (popular front support for politicians) and
limiting the struggle of the workers themselves (no strike pledges during WW2).

It was easier for the immigrant communities to fight for assimilation and cultural ease
than to maintain a struggle and identification with the entire working class, made up of
many different races and ethnicities. They gave up on their “all or none” motto, which led
to their defeat.

Unfortunately, Williams keeps his analysis to the US. As a result, he misses out on one of
the greatest bodies of anarchist work, the Spanish Civil War. Here, in the crucible of
struggle, we can learn from the situations faced by anarchists, what might work again, and
what are now obvious failings and mistakes. It is in struggle that we learn. We can and
should theorize, discuss, write. But to remove this process from the struggle itself and
from the people doing the actual work, is to miss the point of theory as well as to miss
the opportunity to test our theories in the real world.

Williams takes issue with the anarchist emphasis on prefiguration, which he identifies
originating with the influence of pacifism, which “locked the anarchist movement in a
particular ‘prefigurative’ orientation.”(15) Williams shows how this orientation has
limited our movement, resulting in an attempt “to compensate for our underdeveloped
politics with an overdeveloped moralism, and anarchists (becoming) preoccupied with the
minutiae of individual choice rather than organizing collective action.”(16)

The heart of prefiguration, in my mind, is that we can act as if we are free and thereby
become free. But Williams argues that:

“Freedom cannot simply be chosen, it must be created. Were we capable of behaving as we
would in a society without capitalism and the state, then there would be no need to
abolish either. Instead, it is only possible to act as free and equal beings under
conditions of freedom and equality; we cannot create those conditions simply by pretending
they exist” He therefore argues that an emphasis on prefiguration “turns our attention
away from the structural features of our society and toward the moral character of
individuals within the movement.” (16)

I agree with Williams. The anarchist scene is very much as he describes it, and “not on
the whole a place where sensible people would want to live.”(16) There is also almost a
fear of reaching out to working class communities – a desire to remain on the other side
of the professional desk – a willingness to do service for, but a reluctance to organize
with, working class communities, as equals in our common struggle. This is defended as
“being allies” or as “letting the ones affected lead” or “whites can only support people
of color, not put out counter ideas.” This is an approach that guarantees the separation
of the class, because it absolves one section (white) of taking responsibility for the
whole class. It also results in tokenizing people of color, and allows for a cult of
celebrity, with people being accepted and promoted as “leaders” without a constructive
dialogue and debate. We should counterpose a leadership of ideas so that leadership and
direction become collective endeavors.

Williams describes the movement of the 1970s by highlighting the radical pacifist Movement
for a New Society, noting its activity in anti-war, environmental, and anti-nuclear work,
brought “an explicitly anti-racist, feminist, class-conscious perspective.” But, he observes,

“After a few decades of pacifist-anarchist cross-pollination. . .we are left with the
structure and culture of the pacifist movement without its commitment to nonviolence . . .
There is an ethos common to all surviving brands of anarchism . . . It consists of a
prefigurative insistence on modeling in our lives and our communities the values and
practices of the society we wish to create; a ritualized emphasis on ‘direct action’
tactics . . . a strong affinity for . . . a specific subculture or counterculture, and a
tendency to view ourselves as outside of and apart from society as a whole.” (17-18)

While this all may be true, this discussion excludes Black anarchists, who cut their teeth
in the Black freedom movement, women and gay anarchists who fought for their right to be
open and self-defined, Latinx anarchists who fought for their right to stolen land, etc.
all within movements of that same period – the 1970s-that are largely ignored by white
anarchists. So who gets to call themselves an anarchist and claim traditions?

Williams continues, using Sunshine’s dissertation, to examine the course of anarchist
thought, with Sunshine complaining that: “Anarchist theory has become detached from its
foundations in Classical Anarchism and instead has increasingly relied on ideas borrowed
from other traditions, re-oriented toward anti-state conclusions. Anarchists fostered
cooperation with other radicals, and even liberals, where it was possible to find common
ground.” This ran parallel with the phenomenon of action taking “precedence over
ideology.” Williams sees all this resulting in this “formalist
anarchism-as-practice-not-theory approach (reaching) its logical conclusion in the 2011
Occupy movement. There the focus on how activists do things completely eclipsed any
consideration of what they were doing or why . . . with no coherent strategy or even
agreed-upon aims.” (20-21)

After a discussion of the larger changes within anarchism and the world, Williams notes
that “Anarchists stopped thinking of themselves as a social force potentially capable of
organizing millions of people, destroying the existing power structure, and reconstituting
society. The anarchist vision shrank, from the One Big Union and the General Strike, to
the affinity group and the poetry reading.”(23)

Despite all this, Williams looks to the future. He believes “current attempts to create
broad, public, formal anarchist organizations,” such as the Black Rose Anarchist
Federation/Federación Anarquista Rosa Negra, and the May First Anarchist Alliance, are a
“hopeful sign,” because they “represent efforts to raise anarchism up from the
underground, to break it out of its subcultural confines, and to engage again with the
public at large without the mediating filter of the black mask.” While encouraged by the
formation and work of these organizations, he cautions that, “while new organizations may
be needed, they are clearly not all that is needed. For they will inevitably have to
answer in practice the exact questions that anarchism has been evading with its peculiarly
patchwork approach to theory. Capitalism, the state, social stratification, and the left
have all changed – and both our theories and our movements need to address themselves to
those changes.” (24-25)

For this task, Williams thinks the “place any new anarchist theory should start is with
re-centering the old ideals of freedom and equality.” (25) He recognizes that “the very
attempt at reformulation would demand a fundamental shift in anarchism as it is presently
conceived, as essentially a philosophy of refusal. The negative formulation of anarchism
is responsible for a lot of our present theoretical underdevelopment.” (26) Williams
concludes his second essay with the warning that “Without substantive changes within
anarchism, it will never produce another revolution, much less a new society.”(32)

In his final essay, “Conclusion: Revolutions, Scientific and Otherwise,” Williams outlines
the scientific method of Thomas Kuhn, which takes account of evidence and incorporates
anomalies into a coherent system. In contrast to the method of Kuhn, Williams writes,
anarchists are prone to

“simply ignoring the evidence that does not fit.”(33)He describes our current movement as
having “entered a phase that Kuhn did not describe, in which one paradigm has collapsed,
but no new paradigm has replaced it. All that remains are propositions and platitudes,
lacking any unifying structure, common premises, shared vocabulary, or agreed-upon
methodology. What once promised to become a coherent philosophy capable of inspiring
individuals, guiding a broad movement, and restructuring society, has become instead a
collection of unsorted half-remembered, often borrowed axioms and arcane cultural
practices delineating a self-limiting in-group.”(33-35)Williams’ main point is “that we
must reinvigorate our tradition, beginning with a careful and demanding examination of our
own premises.”(35)

Williams thinks that “the revolution in anarchist thought will emerge, if at all, from a
loose association of politically engaged scholars in sustained dialogue, building on one
another’s theories, challenging each other’s ideas, considering questions and addressing
problems that sometimes overlap and sometimes dovetail.” To do this, “what we need is an
intellectual community, joined together not by points of common doctrine, but by a shared
commitment to developing and refining our thinking.”(36) But this is

“almost the opposite of the political culture that we inhabit. The culture that we
actually have is one characterized by norms borrowed from fundamentalism: the tendency to
assume conclusions at the outset, to disregard contrary evidence, to refuse to consider
competing views, to cast all those who disagree as mortal enemies, to transmute every
issue into a test of virtue, to ignore all nuance and flatten all complexity and deny even
the possibility of doubt. This approach is limiting in innumerable ways. It prevents us
from hearing each other, from taking in new information, from challenging ourselves, from
learning. We can still cast aspersions, dismissively sneer, talk past one another, or
prejudge arguments without considering them. But we have lost the ability to properly
disagree. Nearly every political discussion begins and ends as an exercise in cementing or
policing group loyalties.”(36)

Williams continues, “It is not enough to develop the ideas, we need also to develop the
thinkers who are ready for the ideas . . . We have to create the structures that will
enable us to re-learn the necessary intellectual skills and to circulate, scrutinize, and
refine our theories about the world . . . such intellectual work is part of how political
agency is formed, common interests discovered, and solidarity built.” (37)

Williams ends by asserting that “if anarchism is to thrive, either as a political force or
as a body of thought, we will first need to take on the arduous task of creating the
circumstances under which honesty is possible, and decency expected, and critical thinking
part of the common work of the movement.” (40)

I like that Williams is advocating for the opening of discussion, and recentering our
primary values, and defining them. We are for freedom; we mean this to be for all people,
without exception. We are for equality as human beings. Each of us deserves respect, to be
treated fairly. We are against authoritarianism: bosses, masters, supervisors. None of
this is possible under capitalism; we can attempt to treat each other rightly, but there
are many structural indignities and unfairness, including the ones we have internalized.

But I part with Williams in that I don’t think we can leave this intellectual work only to
“scholars,” unless we are clearly stating that working-class people can be included in
this category of intellectuals and thinkers. Our society has limited this category of
thinkers to the middle class and has not allowed working class people the time, energy or
support to fully participate. As a result, the people most affected are not the ones whose
ideas are accepted. Middle-class scholars are eager to substitute themselves for the
working class. I am not against academics and those who make their livelihood within the
realm of learning and teaching, however, I do think they need to be clear on the class
basis from which they see the world. Theory will be developed by discussion, as Williams
outlines, but who is doing this theorizing? If it is not working-class people engaged in
working class struggle, it remains the province of an elitist middle class seeking, as
always, to control, speak for, represent, and substitute themselves for the working class.

A leadership of ideas, rather than a leadership of cult celebrities, can cut through a lot
of the pretension of the current anarchist movement, as described so aptly by Williams.
However, we need people who are committed to organizing for these ideas, taking
responsibility within the movements of which we are a part. In fact, this is a part of how
we test our ideas against reality, refining our understanding of splits and differences
within the capitalist class, evaluating which existing pressure points are to our
advantage, etc.

Because of racism and ongoing segregation, white anarchists in the US often don’t look at
people of color. They talk about themselves and each other as if their experience is
universal. People of color, in turn, are themselves tokenized and their experiences
discounted. This has led to a segregation of the movement which will doom us to defeat if
it is not corrected. Fascists in the US include the Klan. They have terrorized African
Americans through mob action, lynching, rape, murder, stealing businesses and homes,
running them out of public space, with calling the police on them only being the current
iteration. Yet when anarchists come out against fascists, as Antifa, they don’t even talk
about this history. They talk about Nazi Germany and Europe. When Mark Bray wrote Antifa:
The Anti-Fascist Handbook, he didn’t say anything about people who fought the Klan. He
presented a very Eurocentric view of fascism. Why don’t we identify fascism in this
country and fight it? Why don’t we join with African Americans who are fighting the Klan,
and the police, and develop an understanding that this is the same struggle?

A final point of difference I have with Williams is that I don’t think revolution is a
slow chipping away at power. I think a revolutionary upsurge must take power away from the
bourgeoisie, and smash that power, do away with it: root and branch. This is violent, and
it must go all the way. Any small hesitation will allow the reaction to overpower our
forces and turn back our attempts to take power. History shows us, from the days of
Versailles, that the streets will run with our blood if we neglect this.

Anarchism needs to be pulled back to its working-class roots, to its involvement in
material struggles, to its direct condemnation of all attacks on the entire, international
working class and all of its most vulnerable sections. Capitalism must be identified as
the systemic cause of the violence, oppression, lack of freedom and equality experienced
by all people. When this system is abolished, by the direct action of the working class of
the world, we will have begun to lay a basis for true freedom and a possibility of living
our lives as we freely choose.

Whither Anarchism? is available from AK Press

Born in 1950 to a Jewish Communist family, Miriam grew up in Compton, California. She was
active in the movements for civil rights, against the Vietnam war, and in support of the
Black Panthers and all the various efforts to develop a revolutionary alternative to the
system. She started working at General Motors in 1976 in Detroit, and was active inside
the plant, as part of the Revolutionary Autoworker caucus and as an active member of UAW
Local 909. She retired in 2007, but joined the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011, in
particular the Direct Action Group, where she first met anarchists, joining the First of
May Anarchist Alliance in 2012. Her main activity now, in addition to May First, is with
the Detroit Eviction Defense group and with the Solidarity and Defense organization.

An Anarchism of the Working-Class: A Review of Whither Anarchism?

What Can I Do About Climate Change?

Thu, 09/06/2018 - 04:44

By Bill Mckibben

People ask me all the time: ‘what can I do to fight climate change?’ And it’s a great question, because the problem seems so big, and we seem so small, that it’s hard to imagine there’s anything we could do.

For years, environmental groups focused on individual actions: new light bulbs, different kinds of cars. Those sort of changes are useful: the roof of my house is covered with solar panels, and I can plug my car into them.

I’m glad about that–it’s environmentally sound, and it saves me money. But I try not to fool myself into thinking that’s really how we’ll solve global warming. Because by this point, with the ice caps melting, we can’t make the math of climate change work one person at a time.

Instead, the biggest thing an individual can do is become…a little less of an individual.

Join together with others to form the kind of movements that can push for changes big enough to matter. Those changes fall into three broad categories.

100% Renewable Energy

One is to push for 100% renewable energy in every town and city–and it’s a push that’s really working. Diverse cities from Atlanta to San Diego, from Salt Lake City to Portland, have all announced that they’re going to go fully renewable. In fact, when the president pulled America out of the Paris climate accords, he said it was because he’d been ‘elected to govern Pittsburgh, not Paris.’ That afternoon the mayor of Pittsburgh announced that his city was going 100% renewable.

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How the Ongoing Prison Strike is Connected to the Labor Movement

Thu, 09/06/2018 - 00:13

via Teen Vogue

by Kim Kellly

It’s a tough time to be a worker in America. The Trump administration has slashed important workplace safety regulations to ribbons; the economic gap between the poor and working classes and the 1% continues to widen at an alarming rate; poverty remains rampant; and overall, union membership, which affords protection to workers throughout the country, hovered around only 11% for 2017. Headlines alleging worker exploitation at Silicon Valley giants like Amazon, Tesla, and Uber bombard our screens; even “progressive” media organizations swept up in the digital media organizing wave are struggling, as BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti has repeatedly spoken out against unionizing, while Slate and Thrillist employees who have unionized have accused the companies of using anti-union tactics and stalling the process. And the most vulnerable worker populations—sex workers, immigrants, and undocumented people—face increased repression from the government.

There is hope, though. For centuries, a worker’s most potent weapon against exploitation from capitalism and oppression from the powers that be has been direct action: the strike. And right now, America’s prisoners are on strike. Incarcerated workers across the nation are standing up to protest their inhumane living conditions and buck the horrific yoke of prison slavery with organized labor’s strongest weapons—solidarity and collective action.

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Don’t despair – climate change catastrophe can still be averted

Sat, 08/11/2018 - 18:54

via The Guardian

his is the summer when, for many, climate change got real. The future looks fiery and dangerous. Hot on the heels of Trump, fake news and the parlous state of the Brexit negotiations, despair is in the air. Now a new scientific report makes the case that even fairly modest future carbon dioxide emissions could set off a cascade of catastrophe, with melting permafrost releasing methane to ratchet up global temperatures enough to drive much of the Amazon to die off, and so on in a chain reaction around the world that pushes Earth into a terrifying new hothouse state from which there is no return. Civilisation as we know it would surely not survive. How do we deal with such news?

As a research scientist in this field, I can give some nuance to the headlines. One common way of thinking about climate change is the lower the future carbon dioxide emissions, the less warming and the less havoc we will face as this century progresses. This is certainly true, but as the summer heatwave and the potential hothouse news remind us, the shifts in climate we will experience will not be smooth, gradual and linear changes. They may be fast, abrupt, and dangerous surprises may happen. However, an unstoppable globally enveloping cascade of catastrophe, while possible, is certainly not a probable outcome.

Yet, even without a hothouse we are on track to transform Earth this century. The world, after 30 years of warnings, has barely got to grips with reducing carbon dioxide emissions. They need to rapidly decline to zero, but after decades of increases, are, at best, flatlining, with investments in extracting new fossil fuels continuing, including last month’s scandalous announcement that fracking will be allowed in the UK. Temperatures have increased just 1C above preindustrial levels, and we are on course for another 2C or 3C on top of that. Could civilisation weather this level of warming?

The honest answer is nobody knows. Dystopia is easy to envisage: for example, Europe is not coping well with even modest numbers of migrants, and future flows look likely to increase substantially as migration itself is an adaptation to rapid climate change. How will the cooler, richer parts of the world react to tens of millions of people escaping the hotter, poorer parts? Throw into the mix long-term stagnating incomes for most people across the west and climate-induced crop failures causing massive food price spikes and we have a recipe for widespread unrest that could overload political institutions.

It is then easy to see these intersecting crises dovetailing with calls from the new far-right populists for strong authoritarian leaders to solve these problems. Inward-looking nationalists could then move further away from the internationalism needed to ensure the continuation of stable global food supplies and to manage migration humanely. And without cooperative internationalism serious carbon dioxide mitigation will not happen, meaning the underling drivers of the problems will exacerbate, leading to a lock-in of a deteriorating, isolationist, fascist future.

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Tomato Canning as Protest: How a Community Resisted Corporate Farming

Sat, 08/11/2018 - 03:06

via YES!

by Margot Ford McMillen

It’s mid-August, about 7:30 in the morning, and it’s going to be a hot one, probably in the mid-90s. It’s a good day to spend in a basement. A church basement, for example, where our rural neighborhood is gathering.

This is tomato-canning day, and about 20 of us will pass in and out of the basement kitchen, “working up,” as we say in Missouri, tomatoes for the winter.

Everything comes at once in the tomato business. Our neighbor Lee woke up one day last week to acres and acres of tomatoes, all coming on at the same time. Lee sells her tomatoes at three farmers’ markets in mid-Missouri, but she knew she’d never be able to sell all these. She didn’t have time to put up any herself, but she’d supply the tomatoes if we’d can a share for her.

Free food? A chance to get together with neighbors? Of course we’ll do it!

So I’ve just pulled my pickup up to the building, the bed loaded with boxes, bushels and styrofoam crates of tomatoes. Red ones, yellow ones, purple, pink, and striped ones. Romas for sauce and a fat red slicing tomato Lee has bred over the years and calls Lee’s Pride.

I carry a box into the church where three or four women and some kids have gathered. The whole bunch comes pouring out the door to the truck. They can’t believe how many tomatoes we have. The grown-ups look at each other with delight, but the kids look scared to death. They think we’re going to make them work. Been there, done that, they’re thinking.

In the basement, people have already started washing jars and developing a system. The kindergarten table becomes a peeling station. Teresa and Barb sit on the low benches with a pot of boiling water to loosen tomato skins and start peeling.

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In New York, A Harm-Reduction Organization Is Leveraging Participatory Defense To Empower Its Clients

Sat, 08/11/2018 - 01:55

via The Appeal

by Christopher Moraff

Grassroots group VOCAL-NY is teaching people with substance use disorder how to avoid getting ensnared in the criminal justice system.

VOCAL-NY, a Brooklyn-based grassroots organization seeking to empower low-income people affected by substance use disorder, recently launched a participatory defense program teaching people how to avoid getting ensnared in a criminal justice system that often works against them.

The goal is to combine traditional harm-reduction services, such as syringe exchange and HIV and hepatitis C testing, with less tangible resources, such as knowing how to de-escalate an encounter with law enforcement.

Participatory defense is a companion to Court Watch NYC, a collaborative program between VOCAL-NY and public defenders that trains community members to observe and document trends in criminal court arraignments and hearings.

“I realized we needed a program that did more than Know Your Rights and ‘CopWatch’ trainings, which focus on filming police encounters, de-escalation and documenting, and don’t necessarily go through all the court processes,” explained Jason Del Aguila, who is in charge of the participatory defense effort. “The idea was, how do we help you navigate through the everyday legal gauntlet, from the streets to the courts and even after doing time. We’re creating community efforts to keep people from becoming another victim of an injustice system.”

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Darkness Falls: Revisiting anarchist politics in the age of collapse

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 23:07

by Uri Gordon

Ten years ago I published a short and not very rigorous essay titled “Dark Tidings: Anarchist Politics in the Age of Collapse”, in which I attempted to anticipate forthcoming trends in the terrain of social struggle, and suggest responsive stategies for social transformation in view of ecosystem degradation and climate change. Since the news cycle has again come around to these themes, the topic may be worth revisiting.

My major preoccupation in the essay was the evident prospects for an uneven, protracted and irriversible collapse of industrial civilisation, along with an unknown extent of the earth’s capacity to sustain life, over the coming generations. Any discussion of strategies for liberation, I argued, must now abandon hopes for a global revolutionary transition to sustainable modernity under workers’ control, and plan resistance to hegemonic programmes of transition to austere post-capitalist modes of exploitation and oppression. In line with the consistent anarchist strategy of unity between means and ends, such resistance can only be successful if rooted in mass movements which develop and defend material and social infrastructures for equality, voluntary association and mutual aid.

While the prognosis of collapse has become less and less of a public secret over the past decade, my expectation that a peak in fossil fuel extraction would begin to undermine global flows of capital has proven premature. Fracking, offshore drilling, dirty coal and a resurgent nuclear industry are for now expected to allow for several more decades of continued growth in energy throughput. As a result, and given the practical impossibility of decarbonising capitalism and the state, formerly “nightmare” scenarios of runaway climate change are more likely than to transpire. Indus trial capitalism has reduced entire ecosystems to lower phases of complexity and set the evolutionary path for the coming millions of years.

Another failed prediction was that hegemonic responses to public awareness of collapse would focus on recuperation — referring specifically to the neutralisation of radical practices and discourses through their absorbtion, and distorted recoding, into hegemonic modes of sociality. Generic current examples range from the wide adoption of horizontal and informal structures within tech corporations, disruptive tactics used to support of reformist or far-right agendas, and the zombified intersectionalism of liberal identity politics. However, the hype surrounding green capitalist agendas, which prevailed when the essay was written, was soon to capsize with the advent of the global financial crisis. While current trends may still give way to new social-democratic formations, capital has obviously tended to opt for full-blown reaction as a first option — expressed in climate denial as well as national chauvinism.

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Graphic: Clifford Harper

The Rank and File Strategy

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 22:10

via Jacobin

by Kim Moody

One of the first questions most people who decide they’re socialists is, “How should I think about the labor movement?” Many new socialists don’t find immediate answers to this question.

They know instinctually that the labor movement is good — that unions as institutions can serve as a check on massive inequality, that workers going on strike is brave and should be supported, that the labor movement has historically constructed the sense of solidarity that is needed to remake the world into one that is humane and democratic.

Beyond that, though, the details get fuzzy.

Should socialists just “support” unions, joining picket lines when they pop up and advocating for them in the abstract? If the questioner didn’t grow up in complete destitution, they might ask, aren’t unions for some other kind of workers, some more marginalized and exploited and somehow more authentic segment of the working class? Should socialists try to get hired as union staffers, where they can put their ideological support to good use as full-time, paid organizers?

It can get more complicated after reading some left critiques of unions. Don’t unions often try to hold back more militant action like wildcat strikes in favor of a tame, bureaucratized form of collective bargaining? And isn’t there a long history of some unions being openly reactionary on key issues like immigration or admitting members of color — even a few of them backing Trump? The conclusions drawn from these queries sometimes lead radicals to condemn unions: they aren’t vehicles for working-class power, but a vehicle to steer the masses away from real confrontation with the forces of capital.

Kim Moody shares some of the critiques of the labor movement, but he doesn’t think leftists should abandon unions. Far from it: he argues that socialists should get deeply involved as rank-and-file members.

Moody has been a socialist and labor activist for over half a century. As he explained in a recent interview in Jacobin, he was part of the sixties-era New Left that decided to “turn towards the working class,” a current of leftists who went to work in auto plants or telephone companies or social work offices.

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‘I’m not fatalistic’: Naomi Klein on Puerto Rico, austerity and the left

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 21:55

via The Guardian

Naomi Klein’s latest book, The Battle For Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists, examines recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Maria. It is the first time the acclaimed author and journalist has focused on Puerto Rico and is based on a reporting trip earlier in the year. Klein talks to the Guardian’s senior reporter Oliver Laughland about the book and the island’s future.

I was in Puerto Rico shortly after Maria hit and found it a particularly shocking assignment. It reminded me a little of covering the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and observing an entire population let down by infrastructure and government. What sort of personal impact did it have on you, being on the ground?

When I was in Puerto Rico, I met people from Detroit, Michigan, who were there to talk about the emergency management boards and the impacts on schools. People from New Orleans were there, sharing information about what had happened to their school system after Hurricane Katrina. I found that pretty moving and different – that these kinds of grassroots, community-to-community exchanges were happening so soon after the disaster.

Where you have overwhelmingly black and brown communities, an economic crisis or natural disaster becomes the pretext to just do away with any pretense of self-government, of democracy, and impose austerity measures. So-called “structural adjustment programs” are often done in the aftermath of a shock, to take advantage of people’s state of emergency; the fact is that it’s really hard to engage in any kind of political participation when you have to wait in line three hours for food and water. To just stay alive is a full-time job.

It’s an incredibly cynical political tactic, and even so, people do manage to resist it, under these extraordinary circumstances.

What I found really moving in Puerto Rico was seeing the capacity to organize under such impossible circumstances, and I think that speaks to the island’s deep, deep history of resistance to colonization, and the [activist] infrastructure that predated Maria, in terms of the resistance to what Puerto Ricans call La Junta, the fiscal control board.

I didn’t realize that the anti-austerity movement in Puerto Rico had really peaked just a few months before Maria, that May Day of last year was the second-largest mass demonstration in Puerto Rico, second only to the protests against the US navy base in Vieques.

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NFL Player Protests Were Never About the Anthem or the Flag

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 21:30

via The Nation

by Dave Zirin

On Thursday night, at the first preseason NFL games, players continued to protest racial inequity and police violence by kneeling or raising a fist during the National Anthem.

After two years of the players’ patiently explaining that these are not “protests against the anthem,” or “protests against the troops,” or protests against apple pie, many in the mainstream media are being willfully obtuse in their headlines and reporting—surely to the delight of people who want the players to “shut up and play.” This isn’t just happening in the confines of Fox News. Even NPR sent a tweet with the headline, “The national anthem protests live on in the NFL.”

The greatest cheerleader of this willful ignorance is, of course, Donald Trump who railed against the players Monday morning in yet another effort to distract, demonize, and deflect from the numerous scandals engulfing his administration. People can find the tweets for themselves. It’s his usual shtick, although with the new addition that the players don’t even know what they are protesting against. He hates these players not only because it’s red meat for his base. He hates them because they are using their platform to force a dialogue about racism, criminal justice, and police violence.

It is remarkable that, despite this social pressure, a core of players is still being stubbornly insistent with their actions and painfully patient explanations.

Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson of the Miami Dolphins took a knee before their preseason game on Thursday and teammate Robert Quinn raised his fist. Malcolm Jenkins of the Eagles continued his practice of raising his fist, while teammate Chris Long put his arm on his shoulder. Other players stayed in the locker room while the anthem played. Some wore T-shirts and tweeted messages about the criminal-justice system or the phrase of protest against media misinformation, “You’re Still Not Listening.” They are making it plain that this will continue be a feature of the most popular sport in the country.

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Missouri Voters Overwhelmingly Reject ‘Right to Work’

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 05:42

via Labor Notes

By Chris Brooks

Unions in Missouri are declaring victory after voters shot down a Republican-backed “right-to-work” law by a hefty 2 to 1.

The final vote count was 937,241 against the legislation to 452,075 in favor.

Missouri became the 28th state with a right-to-work law on the books in February 2017, when Republican Governor Eric Greitens signed the law at a ceremony in an abandoned factory.

In response, thousands of union members hit the streets to gather enough signatures to trigger a referendum vote that could repeal the law. Over the course of six months, activists gathered 310,567 signatures—more than three times the number needed. Right to work was put on hold until voters could decide.

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Capitalism Killed Our Climate Momentum, Not “Human Nature”

Sun, 08/05/2018 - 05:28

via The Intercept

by Naomi Klein

This Sunday, the entire New York Times Magazine will be composed of just one article on a single subject: the failure to confront the global climate crisis in the 1980s, a time when the science was settled and the politics seemed to align. Written by Nathaniel Rich, this work of history is filled with insider revelations about roads not taken that, on several occasions, made me swear out loud. And lest there be any doubt that the implications of these decisions will be etched in geologic time, Rich’s words are punctuated with full-page aerial photographs by George Steinmetz that wrenchingly document the rapid unraveling of planetary systems, from the rushing water where Greenland ice used to be to massive algae blooms in China’s third largest lake.

The novella-length piece represents the kind of media commitment that the climate crisis has long deserved but almost never received. We have all heard the various excuses for why the small matter of despoiling our only home just doesn’t cut it as an urgent news story: “Climate change is too far off in the future”; “It’s inappropriate to talk about politics when people are losing their lives to hurricanes and fires”; “Journalists follow the news, they don’t make it — and politicians aren’t talking about climate change”; and of course: “Every time we try, it’s a ratings killer.”

None of the excuses can mask the dereliction of duty. It has always been possible for major media outlets to decide, all on their own, that planetary destabilization is a huge news story, very likely the most consequential of our time. They always had the capacity to harness the skills of their reporters and photographers to connect abstract science to lived extreme weather events. And if they did so consistently, it would lessen the need for journalists to get ahead of politics because the more informed the public is about both the threat and the tangible solutions, the more they push their elected representatives to take bold action.

Which is why it was so exciting to see the Times throw the full force of its editorial machine behind Rich’s opus — teasing it with a promotional video, kicking it off with a live event at the Times Center, and accompanying educational materials.

That’s also why it is so enraging that the piece is spectacularly wrong in its central thesis.

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Barbara Ehrenreich and Alissa Quart on Changing the Narrative of Poverty in Media

Sun, 08/05/2018 - 05:24

via Bitch Media

By Andi Zeisler

Twenty years ago, investigative journalist Barbara Ehrenreich set out to test the premise of 1996’s welfare-reform act, which offered two key assurances: that unskilled labor was available to anyone who sought it out, and that such jobs were the key to rising out of poverty. Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting by in America, her 2001 report from the front lines of low-wage feminized labor, was a damning corrective to ivory-tower economists who believed that wealth trickled down and that the working poor simply weren’t pulling hard enough on their bootstraps. Chronicling a dizzying calculus of ugly working conditions, food and housing insecurity, and constant anxiety, the book painted a picture of a country that tells its most vulnerable citizens to try harder even as it sets them up to fail.

Alissa Quart’s Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America, published in June 2018, seems like a Dickensian Ghost of Capitalism Future for the world Ehrenreich documented in Nickel and Dimed. Reporting on what would formerly have been called the middle class (Quart renames them the “Middle Precariat”), Squeezed captures the dazed uncertainty of a post-recession generation of would-be parents for whom stagnant wages and ever-rising housing costs make them can’t-be ones. The working poor still can’t make ends meet—but now neither can their counterparts many steps up the income ladder.

Quart and Ehrenreich share a knack for immersive, in-depth reporting, as well as an often-bruised sense of unlikely optimism. (Ehrenreich’s most recent book, Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer, explores the cultural fear of dying and the geyser of wellness interventions that accompanies Baby Boomers into their six and seventh decades.) So I wasn’t surprised to find out that the two women are the brains behind the Economic Hardship Reporting Project (EHRP), an initiative that funds writing on income inequality, unemployment, and other facets of an economic landscape denuded by the very wealthiest. They took some time to talk to me—and each other—about their respective books, the EHRP, and #MeToo.

Income inequality is a key issue now, more than ever, but I think EHRP might be flying under people’s radar because there’s so much else going on right now. Can you talk how the project got started and why it’s so necessary?

Barbara Ehrenreich: In 2009, during the recession, I called the New York Times and said I wanted to do some writing for them about low-income people who were already struggling. All their recession coverage had been, like, “Somebody can’t afford a personal Pilates class because of the recession.”

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Captive Audience: How Companies Make Millions Charging Prisoners to Send An Email

Sat, 08/04/2018 - 17:31

via Wired

by Victoria Law

Last July, as she has for the past 10 years, Dianne Jones spent 45 minutes on a city bus heading to the local WalMart. There, under fluorescent lights, she scanned rows of brightly colored birthday cards to pick out the perfect greeting for her son—let’s call him Tim—who is imprisoned more than 100 miles from his mother’s home just outside New Orleans. The card she settled on was dark brown with trees and a birthday message that read, “For the best son in the world.”

Tim was in his 10th year of a 30-year prison sentence for an armed robbery he committed at age 17; he would not be able to see, let alone sit under or touch, a tree for the next 20 years. (Citing safety concerns, Jones asked that her son’s name not be used.) After Jones, her daughter, and her three grandchildren signed the card, she mailed it off, happy that Tim would know that his family was thinking of him.

Days later, the card was returned. Puzzled, she called the prison where she learned the facility had instituted a prohibition on greeting cards. If she wanted to send a card, a prison official told her, Jones would have to pass along her greeting electronically using JPay, a company bringing email into prison systems across the nation.

Prisons are notoriously low-tech places. But urged on by privately owned companies, like JPay, facilities across the country are adding e-messaging, a rudimentary form of email that remains disconnected from the larger web. Nearly half of all state prison systems now have some form of e-messaging: JPay’s services are available to prisoners in 20 states, including Louisiana.

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What Is Prison Abolition?

Sat, 08/04/2018 - 17:14

via The Nation

by John Washington

It’s difficult to fully capture the negative repercussions of keeping millions of people—overwhelmingly black, brown, or poor—in jail, prison, or under some form of “correctional supervision.” How do you calculate, for example, the impact on families and communities across our country when almost half of all black adult women in America have a family member locked up? Or that at least 80,000 people are, at any given time, resigned to some form of solitary confinement? Or that the aggregate cost of total incarceration in the United States (including costs borne by the families of those incarcerated, lost wages, and health impacts) is, by some estimates, about $1 trillion a year? A trillion dollars, the break-up of families, the destruction of lives, and little to show in the way of rehabilitative effects—and yet this system is just a part of life?

The long-lasting impact of our incarceration complex is, it seems, receiving increased mainstream attention. The cause of criminal-justice reform has been taken up by everyone from liberal champion Van Jones to the arch-conservative Koch brothers. A Republican-co-sponsored bill that would bring long-overdue changes to conditions inside prisons even passed the House this spring. Inmates staging work strikes and protests, including a major strike being planned for this August, have also brought increased scrutiny to the plight of those consigned to life behind bars. But what if softening the jagged corners of prison life, or even reforming the whole system, is not enough?

For a hundred years, at least since Emma Goldman quoted Dostoyevsky to call prison hell on earth, a variety of community groups and prisoner activists have been working not only to reform the prison-industrial complex, but to dismantle it entirely. Now, as critiques of the inherent racism and classism—and transcendent harm—of our criminal-justice system have gained attention, a growing collection of activists and writers have not only been working to humanize the cages, and not only to tear down the cages, but to build a more equitable society in which we don’t need to rely on cages at all. This is the prison-abolition movement.

Who Are the Prison Abolitionists?

The prison-abolition movement is a loose collection of people and groups who, in many different ways, are calling for deep, structural reforms to how we handle and even think about crime in our country. There are de facto figureheads (such as Angela Davis and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, the most famous contemporary abolitionists) and organizations (such as Critical Resistance, INCITE!, the Movement for Black Lives, the National Lawyers Guild, and Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee—all of which, if not explicitly abolitionist, at least engage in abolitionist ethics), and there are converging or at least overlapping political ideologies (anarchist, socialist, libertarian), but there is no structured organizing group or coalition. Masai Ehehosi, a co-founder of Critical Resistance and longtime member of the New Afrikan Independence Movement, pointed me to the overlap between organizations promoting civil rights and abolitionists: “We want freedom” can just as easily be applied to ending Jim Crow or the New Jim Crow, to unlocking iron shackles or swinging open prison doors.

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The Resurgence of Political Authoritarianism: An Interview With Noam Chomsky

Fri, 08/03/2018 - 03:27

via Truthout

By C.J. Polychroniou

Following the end of World War II, liberal democracy began to flourish in most countries in the Western world, and its institutions and values were aspired to by movements and individuals under authoritarian and oppressive regimes. However, with the rise of neoliberalism, both the institutions and the values of modern democracy came rapidly and continuously under attack in an effort to extend the profit-maximizing logic and practices of capitalism throughout all aspects of economic and social life.

Sketched out in broad outlines, this story explains the resurgence of authoritarian political trends in today’s Western societies, including the rise of far-right movements whose followers feel threatened by the processes unleashed by neoliberal economic policies. In the former communist countries and in the non-Western world, meanwhile, authoritarianism is also on the rise, partly as a residue of authoritarian legacies, and partly as a reaction to perceived threats posed to national culture and social order by global capitalism.

Is it possible to counter this rise in extreme populism? In this exclusive Truthout interview, the world-renowned linguist and public intellectual Noam Chomsky — the author of more than 100 books and thousands of academic articles and popular essays — offers his unique insights on this and more, bringing into the analysis issues and questions that are rarely addressed in the current debates taking place today about the resurgence of political authoritarianism.

C.J. Polychroniou: In 1992, Francis Fukuyama published an intellectually embarrassing book titled The End of History and the Last Man, in which he prophesied the “end of history” after the collapse of the communist bloc, arguing that liberal democracy would become the world’s “final form of human government.” However, what has happened in this decade in particular is that the institutions and values of liberal democracy have come under attack by scores of authoritarian leaders all over the world, and extreme nationalism, xenophobia and “soft fascist” tendencies have begun reshaping the political landscape in Europe and the United States. How do you explain the resurgence of political authoritarianism in the early part of the 21st century?

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An Anarchist View of the Class Theory of the State

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 14:21


by Wayne Price

A Libertarian Socialist Defense of the Class Theory of the State

In order to understand government politics, it is necessary to have a theory of the state. The essay reviews classical anarchist and Marxist views of the class-based, pro-capitalist, nature
of the state. But there are also non-class and non-capitalist influences on the state.
These need to be integrated into a class theory of the state.

For anarchists and other radicals to really understand the Trump administration, and what is generally happening in U.S. politics, requires an analysis of the U.S. government. This, in turn,
requires a theoretical understanding of the state, the basic framework of government. Yet,
as Kristian Williams writes, in Whither Anarchism? “For a group so fixated on
countering…the state, it is surprising how rarely today’s anarchists have bothered to
put forward a theory about[it]….The inability or unwillingness to develop a theory of
the state (or more modestly, an analysis of states)…has repeatedly steered the anarchist
movement into blind alleys.” (Williams 2018; 26-7)

Of the theories which place the state within the context of the capitalist economy and all
other oppressions (patriarchy, racism, ecological destruction, etc.), anarchism and
Marxism stand out. Yet few Marxists know anything of the anarchist view of the state, and
few anarchists know anything of Marxist state theory. (For that matter, as Williams
implies, few anarchists know much of any state theory.) For example, most Marxists believe
that anarchism denies that class factors are important for the state-and that it
contradicts anarchism to believe that they are. They see anarchism as focused solely on
the state, ignoring factors of class and political economy. Meanwhile, many anarchists
believe that Marxists see the state as simply a reflex of the wishes of the capitalist
ruling class, with no independent interests of its own and no reaction to other class and
non-class forces.

I am going to review the classical anarchist and Marxist theories about the nature of the
state and its relationship to classes and political economy. By “classical anarchism,” I
mean essentially the views of J-P Proudhon, Michael Bakunin, and Peter Kropotkin (and not
the views of individualists, Stirnerites, or “post-left”/”post-anarchists”). By “classical
Marxism,” I mean the views of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (and not the views of social
democratic reformists or Stalinists).

When writing of “the state,” I do not include any and every means of social coordination,
collective decision-making, settling of differences, or protection from anti-social
agression. Humans lived for tens of thousands of years in hunter-gatherer societies (also
called “primitive communism”) and early agricultural villages. They provided themselves
with social coordination, etc., through communal self-management. What they did not have
were states. The state is a bureaucratic-military institution, dominating a territory
through specialized armed forces (police and military) and bureaucratic layers of people
who make decisions, ruling over-and separate from-the rest of the population.

“The State…not only includes the existence of a power situated above society, but also
of a territorial concentration as well as the concentration in the hands of a few of many
functions in the life of societies….A whole mechanism of legislation and of policing has
to be developed….”
(Kropotkin 2014; 254) The state is a “public force[which]consists not merely of armed men
but also of material appendages, prisons, and coercive institutions of all kinds…organs
of society standing above society…representatives of a power which estranges them from
society….” (Engels 1972; 230-1) This is the view of both Kropotkin and Engels. When
speaking of the end of the state under socialism/communism, they did not mean the end of
all collective decision-making, etc., but the end of this bureaucratic-military,
socially-alienated, elite institution.

The Views of the Classical Anarchists

The first person to call himself an “anarchist,” Proudhon, wrote, “In a society based on
inequality of conditions, government, whatever it is, feudal, theocratic, bourgeois,
imperial, is reduced, in last analysis, to a system of insurance for the class which
exploits and owns against that which is exploited and owns nothing.” The state “finds
itself inevitably enchained to capital and directed against the proletariat.” (Proudhon
2011; 18)

Bakunin, who as much as anyone initiated anarchism as a movement, wrote, “The State has
always been the patrimony of some privileged class: the sacerdotal class, the nobility,
the bourgeoisie-and finally…the class of bureaucracy….” And “Modern capitalist
production and banking speculations demand for their full development a vast centralized
State apparatus which alone is capable of subjecting the millions of toilers to their
exploitation.” (quoted in Morris 1993; 99)

Kropotkin elaborated anarchist theory: “All legislation made within the State…always has
been made with regard to the interests of the privileged classes….The State is an
institution which was developed for the very purpose of establishing monopolies in favor
of the slave and serf owners, the landed proprietors,…the merchant guilds and the
moneylenders, the kings, the military commanders, the ‘noblemen,’ and finally, in the
nineteenth century, the industrial capitalists, whom the State supplied with ‘hands’
driven from the land. Consequently, the State would be…a useless institution, once
these[class]monopolies ceased to exist.” (2014; 186-8)

In brief, the classical anarchists saw a direct connection between the state and
exploitative class society, serving the various upper classes as they lived off the lower,
working, classes. This is the “class theory” of the state, also called the “materialist”
or “historical materialist” state theory.

The class theory of the state is frequently criticized as a “reductionist,”
“instrumentalist,” theory, which crudely reduces all government activity to the desires of
the capitalist class. It is criticized for allegedly ignoring conflicts within that class,
the pressures of other classes (such as lobbying by unions), and non-class forces.
Non-class forces include all subsystems of oppression: sexism, racism, sexual orientation,
national oppression, etc.-each, in its own way, maintained by the state. There are other
pressures on the state, such as by the churches. As an institution, with its personnel,
the state has its own interests. Supposedly, the materialist or class state theory ignores
all this. In my opinion, it is this criticism which is itself oversimplified, as I will
try to show.

The Views of the Classical Marxists

As with the anarchists, the Marxist form of the class theory of the state has been accused
of being class reductionist, oversimplified, and mechanical.
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels wrote, “The executive of the modern State is
but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” (in Draper
1998; 111) Draper calls this sentence, “the most succinctly aphoristic statement by Marx
of his theory of the state.” (same; 207)

This is often taken to mean that the state is merely a passive reflex of the capitalist
class, with all the influence going from the bourgeoisie to the state. In fact, the
sentence says that the state-or rather its executive branch-actively manages the interests
of the bourgeoisie, as opposed to merely reflecting them. In any case, it is a brief and
condensed (“succinctly aphoristic”) statement, by no means a whole exposition of a theory.

Over the years, Marx and Engels developed their analysis of the state (an excellent
overview is in Draper 1977). Marx’s major work on the state appears in The Eighteenth
Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. It was written in 1852 and covered French politics leading up
to the elected president, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (nephew of the Emperor Napoleon),
seizing power and establishing his dictatorship (Marx 2002). Here and in other works he
goes into the details of French politics. It become clear that Marx regards the state as
full of conflicts among classes, fractions of classes, and agents of fractions of classes.

He uncovered the political-economic conflicts among the financial aristocracy (who
supported one claimant to the monarchy), the large landowners (who supported another), the manufacturing bourgeoisie, the “republican” bourgeoisie (an ideological current within the
bourgeoisie), the “democratic-republican” petty-bourgeoisie, and, below them all, the
proletariat (mostly passive due to a recent major defeat), and the peasantry (who gave
their support to the conman Louis-Napoleon, partially due to his name). There were splits
within each of these forces. Marx also included the government officials and the army
officers (all seeking money). He was clear that there were personal hostilities,
ideological commitments, prejudices, and ambitions through which these conflicts worked
themselves out.

Applying this approach to the current U.S. government would analyze the differing
fractions of the capitalist class and its ideological and political agents and hangers-on,
in their conflicting relations with each other and with sections of the middle and working

The other main theme of Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire is the increasing independence of the
state from all classes, including all sections of the bourgeoisie. Balancing between
conflicting class forces, the executive branch of the state tends to rise above them all.
Marx called this “Bonapartism,” and it has been discussed as the “relative autonomy” of
the state. With the dictator’s abolition of the legislature and its political parties, as
well as censorship over political discussion, the bourgeoisie lost direct control over the
government. The capitalists were made to focus on running their businesses and making
money, while Louis Bonaparte ran the state (declaring himself the new “Emperor”). This he
did through the state bureaucracy, the army, and a quasi-fascist-like mass movement, as
well as with popular support from the peasants.

In Defense of the Class Theory of the State

So, there are many fractions of the capitalist class, other classes, and non-class forces
all competing for state influence. And the state itself has its own interests and a degree
of autonomy from even the bourgeoisie. Does this mean that the class theory of the state
is wrong?

I do not think so. In itself, that there may be multiple determinants of something does
not decide the relative weights or importance of each determinant. There are many
influences on the state, all of which may have some effect. Still, the overall need of a
capitalist society is to maintain the capitalist economy, the growth and accumulation of
capital, the continued rule of the capitalist class. Without the surplus wealth pumped out
of the working population, the state and the rest of the system cannot last. This is the
primary need of the society and the primary task of the state. Even if the bourgeoisie has
little or no direct control of the government (as under Bonapartism or fascist
totalitarianism), the state must keep the capitalist system going, the capitalists driving
the proletariat to work, and profits being produced. The extreme example of this was under
Stalinist state capitalism (in the USSR, Maoist China, etc.). The stock-owning bourgeoisie
was abolished, yet the collective state bureaucracy continued to manage the accumulation
of capital through state exploitation of the working class. (That is, until it fell back
into traditional capitalism.)

This has been elaborated by Wetherly (2002; 2005). The class theory “involves a claim that
the capitalist class is able to wield more potent power resources over against pressure
from below and the capacity for independent action on the part of the state itself….The
political sway of the capitalist class[is]not exclusive but predominant.” (Wetherly 2002;
197) “It does not claim that the economic structure exclusively explains the character of
the state, but it assigns these other influences a minor role….Economic causation plays
a primary role in explaining state action to sustain accumulation as a general feature of
capitalist society. The state normally sustains accumulation and this is largely explained
by the nature of the economic structure.” (same; 204-5)

Others have theorized the interactions and overlapping of oppressions with each other and
with class exploitation as “social reproductive theory” (Bhattacharya 2017). The different
oppressions are not simply separate while occasionally intersecting; rather, they
co-produce each other, within the overall drive of the whole system to reproduce and
accumulate capital. For example, the oppression of women is directly related to the need
for the system to reproduce the labor power of all workers (a necessity for capitalist
production), which is done through the family. Similarly, Africans were enslaved to create
a source of cheap labor. African-Americans remain racially oppressed in order to maintain
a pool of cheap (super-exploited) labor, as well as to split and weaken the working class
as a whole through white racism. (These factors are not the whole of sexism or racism, but
are their essential overlap with capitalist exploitation.)

The state is not something added onto the capitalist economy, but a necessity if the
capital/labor process is to go (relatively) smoothly-just as (reciprocally) the efficient
functioning of the capitalist production process is necessary for the state to exist.

Primitive Accumulation and the State

The classical bourgeois economists, such as Adam Smith and David Riccardo, had speculated
that capitalism began by artisans and small merchants gradually building up their capital,
until they had enough to hire employees. This was called “primitive (or primary)
accumulation.” Marx rejected this fairy tale, showing how the state and other non-market
forces played major roles in the early accumulation of wealth. There was state-supported
dispossession of European peasants; slavery of Africans and Native Americans; looting of
Ireland, India, and South America; piracy; and plunder of the natural environment. In
Capital, Marx wrote of “the power of the state, the concentrated and organized force of
society, to hasten, hothouse fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of
production into the capitalist mode….Force is…itself an economic power.” (Marx 1906;

Kropotkin criticized Marx’s concept of primitive accumulation-not because he disagreed
that state coercion played a major role in the development of capitalism! He completely
agreed with Marx on that point. Rather, Kropotkin insisted that state support for
capitalism had never stopped; there was no distinct period of early accumulation, followed
by a period of state non-intervention in the economy.

“What, then, is the use of talking, with Marx, about the ‘primitive accumulation’-as if
this ‘push’ given to capitalists were a thing of the past?….The State has always
interfered in the economic life in favor of the capitalist exploiter. It has always
granted him protection in robbery, given aid and support for further enrichment. And it
could not be otherwise. To do so was one of the functions-the chief mission-of the State.”
(Kropotkin 2014; 193)

Similarly, the Marxist feminist Silvia Federici writes, “The need of a gendered
perspective on the history of capitalism…led me, among others, to rethink Marx’s account
of primitive accumulation….Contrary to Marx’s anticipation, primitive accumulation has
become a permanent process….” (2017; 93)

However, Marx had expected that once capitalism had reached its final development, its
epoch of decline, it would once again rely heavily on non-market and state forces. In his
Grundrisse, he wrote, “As soon as[capital]begins to sense itself as a barrier to
development, it seeks refuge in forms which, by restricting free competition…are…the
heralds of its dissolution ….” (quoted in Price 2013; 69)

In any case, no one could deny today that government intervention is an essential part of
the economy-from massive armaments expenditures to central banks to regulation of the
stock exchange, etc. The key point is that the state is not an institution truly distinct
from the capitalist economy. On the contrary, it is a central instrument in the creation,
development, accumulation, and eventual decay of capitalism. “Force is itself an economic

Disagreement between Anarchists and Marxists on the State

Revolutionary anarchists and Marxists agree that the working class and the rest of the
exploited and oppressed should overturn the power of the capitalist class. The workers and
their allies should dismantle the capitalist state, capitalist businesses, and other forms
of oppression, and organize a new society based on freedom, equality, and cooperation.

But they draw different conclusions from the class theory of the state. Marxists say that
since the state is the instrument for a class to carry out its interests, then the workers
and their allies need their own state. They need it in order to overthrow the capitalists
and create a new socialist society of freedom and solidarity. The new state will either be
created by taking over the old state (perhaps by elections) and modifying it, or by
overthrowing the old state (through revolution) and building a new one. Over time,
Marxists say, the task of holding down the capitalists and their agents will become less
important, as the new society is solidified. Then the state will gradually decline. There
may still be a centralized public power for social coordination, but it will become
benevolent and no longer have coercive powers.

However, anarchists have a different conclusion. Since the state is a
bureaucratic-military elite machine for class domination, it cannot be used for
liberation. Such a supposed “workers’ state,” however it comes into existence, would only
result in a new ruling class of bureaucrats, exploiting the workers as if the state was a
capitalist corporation or set of corporations. This was predicted by Proudhon, Bakunin,
and Kropotkin, way back in the beginning of the socialist movement. History has more than
justified the prediction.

Instead, the anarchists propose that the workers and oppressed organize themselves through
federations and networks of workplace assemblies, neighborhood councils, and voluntary
associations. They should replace the police and military with a
democratically-coordinated armed population (a militia), so long as this is still
necessary. Such associations would provide all the coordination, decision-making,
dispute-settling, economic planning, and self-defense necessary-without a state. It would
not be a state, because it would not be a bureaucratic-military socially-alienated machine
such as had served ruling minorities throughout history. Instead it would be the
self-organization of the working people and formerly oppressed.


The class theory of the state claims that the bureaucratic-military social machine of the
state exists primarily to develop and maintain capitalism, the capitalist upper class, and
capital’s drive to accumulate. There are also other influences on the state. These include
factional conflicts within the capitalist class, demands by the working and middle
classes, pressures to maintain other oppressions (race, gender, etc.) and resistance by
these oppressed, other non-class forces, ideologies, and also the self-interest of the
state itself and its personnel. Yet these myriad forces work out within the context of the
need for capitalism to maintain itself and to expand. Therefore the political sway of the
capitalist class is not exclusive but it is predominant. The fight against the state,
against capitalism, and against all oppressions is one fight. It is a struggle for a
society of freedom, individual self-development, the end of the state and of classes,
self-determination and self-management in every area of living.


Bhattacharya, Tithi (2017) (ed.). Social Reproductive Theory; Remapping Class, Recentering
Oppression. London: Pluto Press.

Draper, Hal (1977). Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Vol. 1; State and Bureaucracy. NY:
Monthly Review Press.

Draper, Hal (1998) (ed.). The Adventures of the Communist Manifesto. Berkeley CA: Center
for Socialist History.

Engels, Friedrich (1972). The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State (Ed.:
E. Leacock). NY: International Publishers.

Federici, Silvia (2017). “Capital and Gender.” In Reading Capital Today; Marx After 150
Years. (Eds.: I. Schmidt & C. Fanelli). London: Pluto Press. Pp. 79-96.

Kropotkin, Peter (2014). Direct Struggle Against Capital; A Peter Kropotkin Anthology
(Ed.: Iain McKay). Oakland CA: AK Press.

Marx, Karl (1906). Capital; A Critique of Political Economy; Vol. 1 (Ed.: F. Engels). NY:
Modern Library.

Marx, Karl (2002). “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” (Trans.: T. Carver). In
Cowling, M., & Martin, J. (eds.). Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire; (Post)modern
Interpretations. London: Pluto Press. Pp. 19-109.

Morris, Brian (1993). Bakunin; The Philosophy of Freedom. Montreal/NY: Black Rose Books.

Price, Wayne (2013). The Value of Radical Theory; An Anarchist Introduction to Marx’s
Critique of Political Economy. Oakland CA: AK Press.

Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph (2011). Property is Theft; A Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Anthology
(Ed.: Iain McKay). Oakland CA: AK Press.

Wetherly, Paul (2002). “Making Sense of the ‘Relative Autonomy’ of the State.” In Cowling,
M., & Martin, J. (eds.). Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire; (Post)modern Interpretations. London:
Pluto Press. Pp. 195-208.

Wetherly, Paul (2005). Marxism and the State; An Analytical Approach. NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Williams, Kristian (2018). Whither Anarchism? Chico CA: To The Point/AK Press.

*written for

Kris Kobach’s Lucrative Trail of Courtroom Defeats

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 14:10

via ProPublica

Kris Kobach likes to tout his work for Valley Park, Mo. He has boasted on cable TV about crafting and defending the town’s hardline anti-immigration ordinance. He discussed his “victory” there at length on his old radio show. He still lists it on his resume.

But “victory” isn’t the word most Valley Park residents would use to describe the results of Kobach’s work. With his help, the town of 7,000 passed an ordinance in 2006 that punished employers for hiring illegal immigrants and landlords for renting to them. But after two years of litigation and nearly $300,000 in expenses, the ordinance was largely gutted. Now, it is illegal only to “knowingly” hire illegal immigrants there — something that was already illegal under federal law. The town’s attorney can’t recall a single case brought under the ordinance.

“Ambulance chasing” is how Grant Young, a former mayor of Valley Park, describes Kobach’s role. Young characterized Kobach’s attitude as, “Let’s find a town that’s got some issues or pretends to have some issues, let’s drum up an immigration problem and maybe I can advance my political position, my political thinking and maybe make some money at the same time.”

Kobach used his work in Valley Park to attract other clients, with sometimes disastrous effects on the municipalities. The towns — some with budgets in the single-digit-millions — ran up hefty legal costs after hiring him to defend similar ordinances. Farmers Branch, Texas, wound up owing $7 million in legal bills. Hazleton, Penn., took on debt to pay $1.4 million and eventually had to file for a state bailout. In Fremont, Neb., the city raised property taxes to pay for Kobach’s services. None of the towns are currently enforcing the laws he helped craft.

“This sounds a little bit to me like Harold Hill in ‘The Music Man,’ “ said Larry Dessem, a law professor at the University of Missouri who focuses on legal ethics. “Got a problem here in River City and we can solve it if you buy the band instruments from me. He is selling something that goes well beyond legal services.”

Kobach rode the attention the cases generated to political prominence, first as Kansas secretary of state, and now as a candidate for governor in the Republican primary on Aug. 7. He also earned more than $800,000 for his immigration work, paid by both towns and an advocacy group, over 13 years.

Kobach’s recent legal struggles have been widely reported. In June, a federal judge handed him a sweeping courtroom defeat, overturning a Kansas law that required proof of citizenship to register to vote. The judge went so far as to order him to attend six hours of continuing legal education after he repeatedly botched basic courtroom procedure. Another recent Kobach endeavor, a federal commission aimed at combating voter fraud, which he co-chaired, shut down after a bevy of lawsuits challenged it.

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