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Updated: 2 hours 57 min ago

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

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 17:45

via The Guardian

by David Graeber

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

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

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

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

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

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The Warmth Fund: Solidarity Response to Extreme Cold in Chicago

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 15:08

By Chicago Black Rose/Rosa Negra

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

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

Street Team Response

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

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

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

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

Ongoing Efforts

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

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

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

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

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

The post The Warmth Fund: Solidarity Response to Extreme Cold in Chicago appeared first on Infoshop News.

Everything You Need to Know About General Strikes

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 05:38

via Teen Vogue

By Kim Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

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The Zapatistas Have Been Revolutionary Force in Mexico for Decades

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 05:25

via Teen Vogue

By Andalusia Knoll

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

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

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

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

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

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Acorn Community: American Anarchism at its Apex

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 03:31

via 71 Republic

by Ryan Lau

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

Acorn Community Anarchism

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

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

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

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

The Decision-Making Process

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

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

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

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

Read more

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Why the Climate Change Message Isn’t Working

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 03:21

via Yes magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trump’s Coup in Venezuela: The Full Story

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 03:08

via CounterPunch

by Eric Draitser

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

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

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

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

It’s the Oil…Or Is It?

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

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

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

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

But why, exactly?

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

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

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

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

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

The View from Washington and Moscow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imperialism a la Carte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join the debate on Facebook More articles by:Eric Draitser

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

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In Praise of Direct Action (and More)

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 03:03

via CounterPunch

by Paul Street

Idle Capital Through Disruption

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

The Shutdown’s Tipping Point: Worker Resistance

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

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

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

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

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

WBP+MBP+CBP=PBP

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pitiful Orange Dufus’s Predictable “Cave”

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

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

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

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

Corporate Media Spin: A Great Victory…for Nancy Pelosi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “The Best Way to Protest”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note

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

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

The post In Praise of Direct Action (and More) appeared first on Infoshop News.

George Orwell & Alex Comfort’s World War II Debate

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 02:41

via Fifth Estate # 402, Winter 2019

by Rui Preti

a review of
The Duty to Stand Aside: Nineteen Eighty-Four and the Wartime Quarrel of George Orwell and Alex Comfort by Eric Laursen. AK Press 2018

George Orwell’s fiction and non-fiction writings are among the most relevant works for understanding our current societal plight, although he died in 1950. All we need to do is turn on the TV or radio or check the internet to be confronted with denial of truth and misinformation. And all we have to do is walk down a street or enter a store, bank or public building to be reminded of the increasing surveillance all around us.

In several of his essays and books, Orwell pointedly and poignantly discusses how demagogues use language to pervert the truth in order to obtain and maintain political power over others. That concern is obviously still highly relevant today.

So, it should come as no surprise that Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four are among the two most widely read fictional works in the English language. Nineteen Eighty-Four has generally sold well in the U.S. since it first appeared in 1950, partly because it has become a required classroom text in many high schools and universities.

After Edward Snowden’s 2013 disclosures of U.S. National Security Agency surveillance, sales increased dramatically. With the election of Trump in 2016 sales soared again. And, after his inauguration in January 2017, this novel rose to the top of Amazon’s best seller list.

Orwell’s non-fiction book on his experiences in Spain during the revolution of 1936-39, Homage to Catalonia (written in 1938), has also been very popular over the years. The story it tells resonates with many because of its straightforward language relating his experiences as a person with sincere social ideals who became disillusioned with authoritarians striving for power. He skillfully describes coming to admire the egalitarian practices of the self-organized revolutionary militias.

A new book by Eric Laursen explores some aspects of Orwell’s perspectives that are of particular interest to anarchists. At the same time, it introduces the reader to a 20th century anarchist they may not be familiar with, whose ideas and actions are also still relevant for today’s struggles.

Alex Comfort (1920-2000) was a prolific English anarchist writer and activist seventeen years Orwell’s junior. He is not generally well known today (except as the author of The Joy of Sex, 1972), because he could not be neatly fit into the categories of militant direct action anarchist or pacifist anarchist often favored by historians of the period.

Comfort was close to the group around the London-based Freedom Press and also active in anti-militarist circles during the 1940s through the 1960s. His uncompromising, aggressive anti-militarism and criticism of state power led Comfort to identify as an anarchist as he came to realize his principles rested on the historical theory and experience of anarchism. Once he reached this conclusion, he continued to identify with anarchists in his many fiction and non-fiction writings for the rest of his life.

In this context, it is important to note that two terms used often in Laursen’s book, “stand aside” and “pacifism,” are not used in ways most of us would expect based on current American English usage. This is not due to inaccuracy on Laursen’s part, but rather to the way they were actually used by Comfort in mid-twentieth century England.

The phrase “the duty to stand aside” is both the title of the book and discussed in depth as employed by Comfort in defining his opposition to participating in government efforts during World War II and wars in general. But the way he used the phrase did not involve advocacy of anyone withdrawing as a passive neutral observer, abstaining from taking action against fascists and Nazis, or authoritarian communists for that matter. Comfort was definitively for active resistance through mutual aid and direct action wherever one might find themselves, including in Britain or another supposedly democratic state.

In 1946, he asserted, “I do not believe it is evil to fight…We have to fight obedience in this generation as the French maquisards fought for it, with the reservation that terrorism, while it is understandable, is not an effective instrument of combating tyranny.”

Comfort also appreciated the active opposition to dictatorial rule of anarchists and others in Spain, Nazi Germany, and other parts of Europe in the 1930s and 1940s as exemplary models of popular resistance to authoritarianism.

He emphasized the importance of individual responsibility in resistance in order to strengthen social solidarity. Unlike those who call themselves pacifists nowadays, Comfort had no objections to armed resistance, so long as it was the result of local initiative and not led by people who aspired to replace one authoritarian regime with another slightly less reprehensible.

Orwell admired Comfort’s novels and poetry, and shared his deep concern about the way the politics of both the authoritarian and so-called democratic states of the 1930s and 1940s were, as Laursen succinctly notes, “degrading culture and serious political discourse, turning literature and art into propaganda.”

Orwell and Comfort agreed on the importance of working for a world in which individual self-determination and social cooperation could be combined. But they differed on whether or not the institution of the state and rulers of the democratic nations might play positive roles in the struggle against authoritarianism.

Laursen explains that while despising the British imperial system, which Orwell had experienced from the inside as a policeman in Burma, he was a patriot and a believer in the necessity of centralized authority for maintaining the basics of law and order.

Comfort, on the other hand, felt sincere love for actual people and places he knew, but rejected patriotism as a dangerous abstraction and centralized power as dangerous to those directly under its control in the homeland as well as to ordinary people in other countries.

This was based in part on his understanding that the modern state in all its manifestations attracts psychopaths to positions of authority, and also fosters corruption and brutality (what he called delinquent behavior) in power-holders.

Orwell developed respect for anti-authoritarian resistance to tyranny, and during the 1930s he hoped a workers’ revolution would vanquish Nazism and fascism. But his hopes faded as the decade wore on, and anti-authoritarian groups were crushed while authoritarian forces grew stronger in many parts of the world. The massive use of military technology by states on both sides in World War II further convinced Orwell, like so many others, that it was necessary to compromise with the so-called democratic governments since only they possessed the equipment and organizations capable of defeating the Nazis, and later, authoritarian communists.

Comfort, on the other hand, strongly objected to compromising with state authorities or aspirants to power, which he always considered dangerous, because it destroys vital trust relationships between ordinary people in our own society and between the world’s peoples. He also felt that it was morally reprehensible because it allowed authoritarian practices and rationales to be normalized in our own society.

Even though Eric Laursen’s book deals with debates that took place more than sixty years ago, it can help us to think more deeply about many of today’s questions of how to defeat authoritarianism.

Rui Preti is a long-time friend of the Fifth Estate.

The post George Orwell & Alex Comfort’s World War II Debate appeared first on Infoshop News.

Elections have consequences but only direct action will get you satisfaction

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 02:31

via Fifth Estate # 402, Winter 2019

by Paul Walker

“If voting could change anything, it would be illegal.”
—Anarchist anti-electoral slogan

It’s difficult to imagine that there isn’t at least some joy, even among the most ardent electoral abstentionists, about the losses Donald Trump and the Republicans suffered in the November mid-term elections.

The party and the president’s final call to continue their hard right agenda based on a relentless campaign of fear and hatred of immigrants was so fascistic that one could easily substitute Jew, something that crawled into the president’s and candidate’s speeches.

That elections have consequences seems undeniable. Historical examples abound with the early 1930s being a signal era which saw Adolph Hitler’s Nazi party gain dominance in Germany and the victory of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the U.S. Their electoral successes of profoundly changed the history of their country and of the world.

However, each marked a different mode of meeting a crisis in capital and the nature of political rule. One utilized repression, the other reform. As one can note from history, the latter performed better than the former in protecting capitalism and the state.

Slogans, like the one above, are designed for use on picket signs and can’t be nuanced or give complex explanations of what underlies its words. If they could be, this catchy phrase would be rendered more like, “If voting could change the entire system of capitalism and the rule of the political state, the rulers wouldn’t risk putting it such a proposal up for a vote.” Not very punchy, but it gets more to the core of what’s at issue when discussing anarchist voting.

Anarchists have traditionally stayed away from political activity, correctly viewing the arena of parties and elections as a dead end that sucks revolutionary movements into the system they are trying to abolish. This has an ironic twist since the first person to declare himself an anarchist was Pierre Joseph Proudhon, who became a member of the French Parliament after the European revolutions of 1848.

Ironic since it was that year that launched an almost century long period of heroic but failed revolutions defeated by the forces of first reaction and finally Stalinism, but also the corrosive nature of reformism to revolutionary thrusts.

Capital and its bulwark, the state, have plenty of latitude in which to provide inclusion of excluded groups and, when pushed, a somewhat more equitable distribution of wealth if enough political commotion is created. What it will never do is allow challenges to its existence.

When those occur, as in the wide-spread European 1848 revolutions, the 1871 Paris Commune, or the Spanish Revolution in the late 1930s, brute force, the armed might of the state or fascism is employed to assure capitalism’s continuance.

Within the context of acceptance of established parameters, often alterations are allowed through popular elections although this occurs only in a few countries and in different periods. State administration throughout history has overwhelmingly been autocratic or dictatorial.

In nation states that feature formal democratic rule, reforms become possible as pressure from below suggests that this is the best course to head off revolutionary confrontations and the smooth operation of the system. Whether anarchists vote or not, elections often have extraordinary consequences.

Political tendencies such as liberalism and social democracy are often motivated by a genuine desire to alleviate the worst abuses of capitalism, hence, programs such as social legislation, the extension of rights, minimal protection of the environment, and the like are enacted.

However, even those political reform tendencies with seemingly the best of intentions either become thoroughly corrupt like the Workers Party of Brazil,. Or the Democratic Party in the U.S. while advocating reforms at home, presides over the murderous American empire abroad as enthusiastically as the Republicans.

Reforms and their advocacy create the illusion that if not anything is possible, at least something is. In practical terms, while reforms often serve to make life better for capital’s subjects, they have the function of affirming and extending the system.

When you are a prisoner, a nice guard is better than a brutal one, and when overwhelmed by the power of your captor, hoping for the best one seems a logical course. But, at least a dream of escape—of freedom—should be present.

At this point, anarchism looks only like a dream, but one that sustains us in our hopes, all of which lay outside of what exists now

Voting seems beside the point. Casting a ballot on the prescribed day is the most passive of all political acts, soon to be made even more so as computer screen voting will probably soon be a reality. It’s not clear that clicking a check box invalidates the anarchist electoral critique, but probably reduces the integrity of it. Most people don’t vote as it is. During the 2018 Michigan primary election, there was a 28 percent turnout, with all of the political tumult, it was hoped that 50 percent would vote in the mid-term election.

How we exercise our activity is where the real question of expenditure of radical energy comes into question. On the macro level, one person doing or not doing anything doesn’t count for much except in unique or exceptional circumstances. If one person does or doesn’t vote, or come to an anti-fascist rally, or even the revolution, it doesn’t mean much in the totality. However, when the relationship of the single unit to the aggregate is socially driven, then each is part of a coalescing force and is elevated in importance. Campaigning for an electoral candidate seems like an utter waste of radical effort and places the practitioner of affirming not only the politician who is part of the reigning system of domination, but often winds up with the opposite of what was hoped for. Case in point: Lyndon Johnson, the Democrat, was elected president in 1964 in great part because voters feared the other candidate would start a land war in Southeast Asia. How did that work out?

However, campaigning on issues which raise the nature of the system—Black Lives Matter, the state repressive mechanism; pipeline battles, the environment and Native land; reproductive and LGBTQ—rights, patriarchy—allows one to keep the integrity of the anarchist critique of the state, but probably has the unintended consequence of more people voting for liberal candidates.

Sorry, but that’s what usually happens. Energized by engagement in political struggles, most people are going to turn towards voting for politicians most sympathetic to what they are fighting for. We can’t control that other than to urge people we are campaigning with to see what works and what doesn’t.

Most of us realize that, as the old slogan goes, only direct action will get you satisfaction. Although, there may be great satisfaction in seeing the White Christian Nationalist Party suffer a partial defeat, the system which fields murderous cops, destroys the environment, and prepares for the next Cold War remains intact.

According to most polls, the majority of Americans support a social democratic set of policies, but even those reforms face great impediments because of gerrymandering, voter suppression, and felon exclusion to assure racialized capitalism doesn’t face democratic displacement.

However, at this point, there are no impediments to organizing outside of and against the system. The anarchist tradition has the critique and the vision to pose what is necessary for a new world.

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

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Anything Can Happen—Or Not: May 1968 & the Question of Possibility

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 02:28

via Fifth Estate # 402, Winter 2019

by John Clark

“Sous les paves, la plage!” [Under the paving stones, the beach!]
—Revolutionary slogan; Paris 1968

1968 was an “Anything Can Happen” kind of year.

It was the year of the Prague Spring, the Tet Offensive, President LBJ’s abdication, massive student protests, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the police riots at the Chicago Democratic Convention. The most historically momentous occurrence of that year was the May June uprising and general strike by students and workers in France.

Something was definitely happening!

Slogans of 50 years ago echo today in movements of resistance and revolution. “We are the realists: We demand the impossible.”

The #1 song of 1968 was “The Happening,” by Diana Ross and the Supremes. “I woke up. Suddenly I just woke up to the happening.” People all over the world had that feeling. What many overlooked was that, as the rock group Buffalo Springfield pointed out, when “there’s something happening here,” sometimes “what it is ain’t exactly clear.”

Fredy Perlman participated in the Paris events and chronicled them in his essay “Anything Can Happen,” which captures the euphoria and hopes of those caught up in the events of the Summer of ’68. At the time, I was studying in Scotland, but also visited Amsterdam, Berlin, London, and other centers of political activity. It felt like something was happening.

On a street-corner in Edinburgh, I met a classic hippy in a long robe who supported himself by selling Anarchy magazine. I picked up two issues reporting on the events in Paris. I was inspired. Some of my dreams seemed to be becoming realities. When I finally got to Paris, the revolt had already dissipated. However, it lived on in the imagination, including my own.

Anything can happen! The ancient sage Heraclitus, a major thinker from Asia Minor, said “always expect the unexpected,” because if you don’t, you won’t recognize it when it appears. He also said that there is a logos, an underlying meaning and order. It is the nature of things, not something we can impose. So, not just anything can happen!

Similarly, the Surrealists developed the idea of “objective chance.” Andre Breton, a leading figure of the movement, describes it as something “that shows people, in a way that is still very mysterious, a necessity that escapes them.” Anything can happen! But then we find out that certain things were destined to happen.

Ancient Daoism saw the art of living as based on wu wei, which means doing without doing. It means allowing things to happen spontaneously, then nurturing them in a non-possessive, non-controlling manner. But again, not just anything happens. All things have a dao, a way of their own. By not dominating them, we help them follow their way.

What was the way of May ’68? Perlman writes that despite being “trained for a lifetime to respect law and order,” students and workers staged “a general strike which paralyzed all French industry for over a month.” Anything can happen!

But as he knew, there was much more to the story than indoctrination and liberation. There was a long history of worker organizing, rebellion, and insubordination. The famous French “esprit critique,” critical mind, was dispersed widely, and there’s a real social history that did the dispersing.

Perlman says that in May ’68 “divisions among the oppressed disappeared” and “they began to fight against a single world system that oppresses and divides.” Yet, much of this revolutionary solidarity seemed to have disappeared by August, when people put down the paving stones and headed for the actual beach.

Why didn’t the revolt continue to radicalize? Most of the voting population supported the right in late June elections. And the revolutionaries’ demands of May were soon exchanged for reformist ones.

Yet, there was a real change in many participants. Some were transformed deeply for the rest of their lives, though often who they became was not who they thought they were becoming. A moment of deep transformation was taking place, but its direction was being guided by social forces that were not consciously recognized.

The Situationists warned of the system’s forces of recuperation or cooptation, but few suspected how powerful those forces were. While liberatory paths were emerging, the pervasive effects of institutional, ideological, imaginary, and ethotic (practical) determinants remained. New possibilities appeared, but contradictory possibilities persisted, and soon gained ascendancy.

Why did so many revolutionaries fulfill French psychoanalyst Jacques Marie Émile Lacan’s prophecy that they were looking for “new masters?” Marxist-Leninist sectarianism, with its easy-to-plug-into ideology, historical mythology, and cult of personality was a convenient option for those who found running away from the old world to be too strenuous. Many succumbed to the lure of a Third World-ism that had little to do with the living realities of non-Western societies, and nothing at all to do with the indigenous realities that they needed desperately to discover.

But the most masterful of the new masters was a transformed version of an old one: the commodity. We saw the increasing mediatization and spectacularization of the movement, the emergence of political stars, and the conversion of political activism into social capital. Soon, the Kinks would immortalize in a song the idea that “everybody’s a star,” but the movement was already way ahead of the game.

Possibly the worst leftist cliché was “the whole world is watching.” Maybe it was. But so what, if “the revolution will not be televised”? The world may be watching, but some of it is cursing at you, some of it is laughing at you, and some of it is bored and about to change the channel. Worst of all, some of it is thinking, “Wish I were there. I could be a star.” My friends all drive revolutionary Porsches. I must make amends, adding a word to the Janis Joplin song.

We discovered something “under the paving stones” of May ’68 and it wasn’t “the beach.” It was what was paving the way for the cooptation of revolution by capitalism. “It is forbidden to forbid!” so, “Just do it!” Consume your own liberation.

Then, along came hip capitalism, New Age capitalism, green capitalism, and right-wing “libertarianism,” the most advanced and mystified ideology of capitalist domination.

The revolutionaries wanted liberation and capitalism was about to give them more liberation than they knew what to do with. Be as free as you want, as long as you don’t threaten the structures of domination!

Never had so many impossibilities been turned into possibilities in so impossibly short a time. This culminates in the cyber-revolution of the past twenty years. We’ve entered the age of instant and totally addictive non-gratification. Everything is possible, yet nothing really happens in our age of ascendant nihilism.

One of the messages of indigenous cultures is that not everything is possible. Native American writer John Mohawk attacked utopianism on the grounds that conquest has always been justified by utopian ideology. First, it promised

Heaven, then the Heaven on Earth of the consumer society. The utopia of domination has always refused to recognize limits, and especially natural, ecological ones. In the name of infinite possibility, it is now, in the Necrocene, making everything impossible.

It’s time to renew May ’68’s quest for “the impossible,” but this time an impossible grounded deeply in the realities of history and of the Earth. This requires an imaginary break, an ethotic (practical) break, an ideological break, and an institutional break with the dominant ecocidal and genocidal order. Otherwise, the movement will once again succumb to collapse or cooptation.

This break must take place through processes of social regeneration, rooted in communities of liberation and solidarity, awakening and care, and of larger communities of such communities. This was the vision of German anarchist theorist Gustav Landauer and other communitarian anarchists, but it has never become the central focus of the anarchist movement. This is why indigenism remains so important. It teaches us that communitarian anarchism is a topian reality, the wisdom of the ages, not just some utopian ideal.

When I got back to New Orleans at the end of the Summer of ’68, I began selling (usually giving away) forty copies of Anarchy every month, and started an anarchist group, hoping that something would happen. I was a believer, or at least a half-believer, in “anything can happen.”

Looking back on the period, I find that I wasn’t concerned enough about how things happen, the nature of cause and effect and how they relate to conditions in the world. I gradually realized that this must be a major preoccupation, if you want something to happen. Understanding causes and conditions are crucial, even if it’s still essential to believe in magic. Any real magician can tell you this.

The conclusion is that if you demand an impossible that is radically different from the actualities that you have known and lived, you may be in trouble when your demand is realized. It might be a good idea to begin by searching for actually-existing impossibilities. These may create the best path toward the best of all possible impossibilities.

John Clark is a communitarian anarchist activist and theorist in New Orleans. He is director of La Terre Institute for Community and Ecology and is the author of The Impossible Community: Realizing Communitarian Anarchism and Between Earth and Empire: From the Necrocene to the Beloved Community. The latter and a new edition of the former are forthcoming from PM Press. pmpress.org

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In the Age of Faltering Democracies, Noam Chomsky Is More Relevant Than Ever

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 02:04

via The Wire

by Rohit Kumar

Noam Chomsky is probably the world’s most famous public intellectual. The 90-year-old Professor Emeritus from MIT has penned over a hundred books in his lifetime. His works range from the study of linguistics and the development of language to the causes of war and the condition of democracies around the world. His books are important because they provide a deep and broad understanding of the systemic problems afflicting societies and democracies the world over.

Requiem for the American Dream – The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth and Power (2017) is one such book. This masterful volume, which has also been turned into a Netflix documentary, summarises the deepest problems blighting democracy in the US, and interestingly, also sheds a good bit of light on the root causes of the current problems of Indian democracy.

In the introductory chapter to the book, Chomsky explains how in a democracy, public opinion is supposed to influence government policy but more often than not, doesn’t. This he attributes to the influence of the privileged and powerful who have never liked democracy. Chomsky sums up the biggest threat to democracy thus:

Concentration of wealth yields concentration of power, particularly so as the cost of elections skyrockets, which forces political parties even more deeply into the pockets of major corporations. This political power quickly translates into legislation that increases the concentration of wealth. So fiscal policy, like tax policy, deregulation, rules of corporate governance, and a whole variety of measures— political measures designed to increase the concentration of wealth and power— yields more political power to do the same thing. And that’s what we’ve been seeing. So we have this kind of “vicious cycle” in progress.

Chomsky points out how the wealthy have always exerted an inordinate amount of control over policy. Way back in 1776, Adam Smith in his famous Wealth of Nations, pointed out how the “principal architects of policy” in England were its manufacturers, the people who “owned society” and who made sure that their own interests were well cared for, however grievous the impact on the people of England or on others might have been.

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Stand with Rojava, oppose Turkey’s war

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 01:52

via ROAR Magazine

by Internationalist Commune of Rojava

The threat of yet another war looms over northern Syria once again. Turkish troops and their Islamist mercenaries are massing on the borders of the self-governed Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, the predominantly Kurdish regions also known as Rojava. They are gearing up for an invasion that unavoidably will cause many deaths and the displacement of tens or hundreds of thousands of civilians.

The situation on the ground is extremely tense. The populations of Manbij and Kobane have formed human shields in protest against the Turkish invasion and have been readying themselves for war. The People’s and Women’s Defense Units (YPG and YPJ) as well as local militias are not just defending their lands, but they are also defending hope. Hope for a better life that extends far beyond northern Syria. A hope that has inspired many internationalists from all over the world to come to Rojava and join the revolutionary struggle.

This coming weekend they are calling for global days of action to speak up and protest against the threat of a Turkish invasion.

Sand and death”

Shortly before Christmas, President Donald Trump announced that he ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, thus clearing the way for the long-anticipated invasion of Rojava by Turkey and its Islamist proxies.

Why this sudden change of direction? Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the main concerns of the US and its allied NATO partners in the Middle East have been to assert their control and influence and to weaken the position of Russia and Iran in the region. In achieving these goals, NATO states have waged wars throughout the region, lent their support to Islamist groups, established militias and backed dictatorial regimes.

Today, this strategy lies largely in ruins, while Russia and Iran have successfully expanded their influence in the region. With the exception of Israel and Saudi Arabia, the US is pretty much on its own now that NATO-ally Turkey, too, is turning its back on the coalition and actively seeking rapprochement with Russia and Iran. In this regard, it would make sense for the US to broker a deal with Ankara to bring them back into the fold, sacrificing northern Syria in the process. According to Trump, there is not much for the US to gain there anyway, beside “sand and death.

Admittedly, many among the US establishment see this differently; they do not want to leave the stage to Iran and Russia and do not want to rely exclusively on Turkey. As soon as Trump had finished his call with Erdoğan and put down the phone, he found himself in a crossfire of criticism and quickly had to back down. Not least because of the predictable scenario that played out next: Bashar al-Assad announced that the Syrian army would take the place of the US — of course with the backing of Iran and Russia.

In response to Trump’s surprise announcement, France declared that its troops would remain in Syria, and Trump quickly backtracked on his earlier statements agreeing to slow down the withdrawal process. After a suicide attack later claimed by ISIS killed several US troops in Manbij on January 16, Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that the so-called Islamic State had been defeated was further undermined. It appears that for the time being, coalition forces will maintain a presence on the ground both to continue the fight against ISIS and to protect their Kurdish allies from the Turkish threat.

Setting back the clock?

Does this mean the people of Rojava and their revolution are safe now? Not at all. Neither Assad, nor Russia, nor any of the Western powers are concerned with the protection of the population of northern Syria, nor with the safety of the Kurds and other minorities of the region, and certainly not with the liberation of women and the democratic revolution underway in Rojava. This became all too clear last year, when Afrin was invaded by the Turkish army and its allied jihadist groups with the consent of both Russia and the West.

This time, too, it is Russia that holds the cards. If a deal between Moscow and Ankara were to be brokered, then Putin could order Assad to withdraw and give the green light to Erdoğan’s invasion. This deal would concern the situation in Idlib, one of the last regions in Syria that have not yet been brought back under regime control. Erdoğan could agree to withdraw his Islamist proxies of the National Liberation Front (Jabhat al-Wataniya lil-Tahrir) from the Idlib region, thus allowing for an offensive by the Syrian regime against the Islamist stronghold. In return, Assad would hand over Rojava to Turkey.

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Libertarian Socialism in Latin America: A Roundtable Interview, Part II, Argentina

Mon, 01/28/2019 - 18:12

via Black Rose Anarchist Federation

In the United States, growing segments of the population are undergoing a period of profound politicization and polarization. Political elites are struggling to maintain control as increasing numbers of people seek out alternatives on the left and the right. In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, political organizations on the left have grown significantly, most notably expressed in the explosive growth of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Meanwhile, the Trump administration has joined other far-right governments emerging around the globe, emboldening fascist forces in the streets. These developments have sparked widespread debate on the nature of socialism and its distinct flavors within and outside the US.

Among the various branches within the broad socialist tradition, libertarian socialism is possibly the least understood. For many people in the US, libertarian socialism sounds like a contradiction in terms. The corrosive influence of the Cold War has distorted our understanding of socialism, while the explicit hijacking of the term “libertarian” by right-wing forces has stripped it of its roots within the socialist-communist camp. Outside the exceptional case of the US, libertarianism is widely understood to be synonymous with anarchism or anti-state socialism. In Latin America in particular, libertarian socialists have played a critical role in popular struggles across the region, from mass student movements to the recent wave of feminist struggles. To expand and enrich the current debate on socialism in the US, we spoke with several militants from political organizations in the tradition of libertarian socialism in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile, exploring the history, theory and practice of libertarian socialism.

Due to the length of responses, we will be publishing this roundtable interview in installments (Part 1 here, in Spanish and in English). For Part 2, we spoke with militants in Acción Socialista Libertaria / Libertarian Socialist Action from Argentina.

We also wanted to thank everyone who contributed to our Building Bridges of International Solidarity Fundraiser which made this interview series possible.

—Introduction, interview and translation by Enrique Guerrero-López

Enrique Guerrero-López (EGL): Can you introduce yourself, tell us the name of your organization, and give a short summary of its origins and your main work?

ASL: We are ASL (Acción Socialista Libertaria/Libertarian Socialist Action). We have militant nuclei in La Plata (Buenos Aires), Greater Buenos Aires Sur, Greater Buenos Aires West, Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, and Cordoba.

Our formal introduction to the public was in November 2015, although we had been meeting, debating, and planning shared militancy since at least 2012. We could say that the original nucleus of ASL was the confluence of comrades with prior political and social militancy. [1] Some of that came from the political experience of OSL (Organización Socialista Libertaria/Libertarian Socialist Organization) during the ‘90s and until 2009. [It also came from:]

Other anarchists with piquetera militancy in the MTD (Movimiento de Trabajadores Desocupados/Movement of Unemployed Workers) May 1st and the Movement of Workers Norberto Salto, which, together with other movements, make up the FOL (Frente de Organizaciónes en Lucha/Front of Organizations in Struggle) in 2006. [2]

A nucleus of comrades with militancy in the Colectivo Desde el Pié/From the Foot Collective (a radical interdisciplinary research collective based in the physical and natural sciences). Others who worked in the Red Libertario (Libertarian Network) in Buenos Aires as well as in feminist spaces. With this primary nucleus, we combined the different experiences and trajectories to build common agreements and politics.

We think that the construction of a Libertarian Political Organization with roots in, and development of its militancy within, the class struggle should be something permanent and continuous, which is a patient task of developing organizations, programs, strategies, and novel tactics, but with a strong sense of belonging to the central nuclei of anarchism. In this sense, we perceive ourselves as an Organization still under construction and with varying degrees of popular insertion. [3]

We have militants active in various popular struggles— in territorial, environmental, feminist, union, student, and human rights— in addition to developing propaganda, dissemination, and training activities.

EGL: What are the roots of libertarian socialism in South America?

ASL: In South America, anarchism established itself as a current in the labor and popular movements early and solidly. Especially in the large cities with access to the ports, the great arrival of European immigrants brought in their saddlebags an experience of organization and struggle. They arrived as protagonists of the revolts of 1848, persecuted communards of Paris, and members of sections of the First International.

In Argentina, the arrival of anarchist militancy is particularly important. We already see around 1858 the formation of the first mutual aid societies and, by the end of 1870, the first unions, newspapers, and libertarian groups were established.

They found a very unequal, unjust, and conflict-ridden society. “Success,” then, was not so much based on the capacity of those “coming,” but on what was already here. A libertarian socialist current would become, in Argentina, broadly majoritarian, in the left and in the bosom of the labor movement until 1930, with emblematic organizations such as FORA (Federación Obrera Regional Argentina/Federation of Argentine Regional Workers). Until then, anarchist and worker militancy were fused in the same organizations.

Repression and economic changes on the one hand— and the lack of actual political-theoretical updating and the appearance of new political actors (the Communist Party, Peronism, etc.) on the other— led libertarian socialism to a crisis of great proportions. In this context, specifically political organizations emerge within anarchism. The ALA (Alianza Libertaria Argentina) between 1923 and 1932; the Spartacus Labor Alliance between 1935 and 1940; the FACA/FLA (Anarcho-Communist Federation of Argentina) between 1932 and the 1950s; and then, under the name of the Libertarian Federation of Argentina, surviving to the present; and the Libertarian Resistance between 1969 and 1978 are examples that we see as antecedents in our country.

They theorized as political organizations with different spaces of social insertion— worker, student, peasant, and neighborhood— assuming the loss of libertarian hegemony from the past and trying to adjust their tactics and their propaganda to re-develop a solid libertarian current within the field of popular struggle.

“Our hypothesis on the development of the experience of libertarian socialism in the field of popular struggle is to be able to construct a mass political alternative that challenges the delegative, authoritarian, vertical, and patriarchal representative forms.”

In that sense, we take three central and transversal axes of our current as distinctive elements: classist, feminist, and libertarian practice.

EGL: What differentiates libertarian socialism from other branches of socialism?

ASL: We like to define ourselves as part of the revolutionary left, as a libertarian current within it with its particularities and similarities.

Our hypothesis on the development of the experience of libertarian socialism in the field of popular struggle is to be able to construct a mass political alternative that challenges the delegative, authoritarian, vertical, and patriarchal representative forms.

In that sense, we take three central and transversal axes of our current as distinctive elements: classist, feminist, and libertarian practice. [4, 5] Our base-building tries to develop disruptive and democratic elements, tries to prioritize consciousness instead of disputes over the mere formal direction of popular organizations. Another important element is the pedagogical notion of direct action on the path of building a Direct Power of the People, enhancing the political practice of our class.

A third vector is to develop an integral anti-patriarchal politics that cuts across all the experiences of the masses, beyond the specific tasks of the women’s and queer movement itself— the struggle for legal abortion, self-defense against femicide, etc. In addition, the questioning of the notion of bourgeois democracy as a space for resolution or improvement of the living conditions of our class seems central to us— and instead trying to develop experiences of direct, democratic, and bottom-up management. In that sense, we try to develop a questioning of the notions of the State as a site of struggle and of the electoral route as a “unique” space of specifically political action.

EGL: What role does political organization play within social movements and how does that fit into your vision of libertarian socialist politics?

ASL: There are different visions on the left regarding the intervention of political organizations in social movements.

Even within militant anarchism (setting aside individualists, or those who espouse more “countercultural” aspects), we could say that there are at least three positions on the issue: those who see the “libertarian political group” as a space solely for propaganda or diffusion and where agreements are lax and there is almost no intervention in social movements; those who do not see the need to develop a strictly political space and combine common political-social aspects in grassroots militancy; and, finally, a current like ours that sees dual organizationalism as central: the political and the social.

Our vision of the Libertarian Political Organization tries to take lessons from the historical experiences that we pointed out previously, also incorporating the experience of diverse organizations within so-called “Latin American especifismo,” such as the FAU (Uruguayan Anarchist Federation) since the ‘60s or the OSL (Socialist Organization Libertaria) in Argentina in the ‘90s and 2000s. Also, the experience of the [platformist] Russian exiles of Dielo Truda, with Makhno and Archinoff as visible heads, who proposed a General Union of the Anarchists and an Organizational Platform.

Considering our relationship with social organizations, we consider our political organization as an application of the coordination of our popular militancy, of the development of libertarian militants, and of the strategic debate of our specific tasks, considering ourselves as just a nucleus of a broader construction in development:

  • Coordination of popular militancy as a pedagogical and dynamic space of our popular insertion— advocating political independence of grassroots organizations, but working to enhance all that is classist, feminist, and libertarian in its midst. Promoting the defense of popular rights and freedoms and, at the same time, prefiguring in concrete and tangible practices the society for which we are fighting. Defining common tactics and strategies of the different militancies and coordinating our militancy in the sense of developing People’s Direct Power as a tool of rupture with the current capitalist, patriarchal, and state order.
  • Development of libertarian militants: We understand this as something dynamic and with diverse angles— political practice with certain values ​​and feelings; theoretical training through debates, readings, and workshops; the range of our responsibilities in political and social organizations; debates with other political currents; the production of propaganda and the dissemination of materials, etc.
  • Strategic debate of our specific tasks: We don’t see this as separate from the characteristic levels of development within the social organizations where we participate or where we build. Objectives such as the self-activity of the masses, self-government of the workers, or class independence are not formal or rhetorical questions. We must link them to the work of social movements today.

In that sense, we see Political Organization as a push, an encouragement, a support for the autonomous development of popular movements— with more responsibilities and no privileges— and acting, in certain moments of withdrawal, as a rearguard that safeguards the objectives of radical transformation.

EGL: In the US, there is widespread debate over electoral politics on the left. How do libertarian socialists in South America relate to electoral politics?

ASL: Historically, the most important organizations and political currents of the left in Argentina have participated electorally, from the old Socialist Party since the end of the 19th century to the Communist Party since the ‘30s of the last century. Perhaps the exception has been the PRT (Workers’ Revolutionary Party) in the ‘70s, an important formation from Trotskyism and Guevarism that developed the armed struggle and did not participate electorally in its boom moment.

Since the return of democracy in 1983, the most important anti-capitalist left organizations in Argentina have been those of Trotskyism. All of them have developed, during more than thirty years, a sustained policy of electoral intervention. Sometimes as a forum for debate, at other times as propaganda, and, since the formation of the FIT (Left and Workers’ Front), an alliance between various leftist groups, they have had small “electoral successes,” amounting to around 3-5% of the national electorate, winning national and provincial deputies and references to certain “tribunes of the people.”

Anarchism and its organizations in Argentina have never developed sectors that have participated electorally in bourgeois democracy, although, in recent years, there has been a paradox with respect to our framework of alliances. Sectors with which we share social militancy, tactical agreements of intervention, or even areas of political coordination have progressively chosen to start participating in different electoral campaigns. These include some in the aforementioned FIT and others in center-left or allied formations of sectors of Kirchnerism. We even find bands of organizations that adopt these tactics with sustained sympathies toward our current or even coming from anarchism.

This forced us to debate with them, more from the tactical and political conjuncture, without falling into closed positions and abstract abstentionism.

We can see three central debates here. On the one hand, the electoral issue is seen as a possible “leap to politics,” an outgrowth and a response to overcome corporatism and trade unionism from social militancy. Given this, our position is that the need for that “leap” is correct, but that circumscribing political intervention to electoral intervention discounts politics, puts it in the enemy’s arena, with the tactics of the class enemy and its instruments. We continue to maintain that bourgeois democracy is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, an instrument of consensus for capitalist and patriarchal exploitation. We are interested in developing political campaigns for local and national intervention, popular proposals, etc., even with the presentation of bills, as was the case of the Law of Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy, where broad sectors developed from below, and democratically and nationally, a great mass campaign.

The other aspect is our questioning of bourgeois democracy and the need to articulate an Extra-Parliamentary Political Alternative that serves as a reference point for social movements in struggle, the women’s movement and dissidence, the classist currents among the workers’ and students’ movement, etc., and a political coordination with an agenda of intervention within different currents of the revolutionary, libertarian, and autonomous left. [6] We cannot develop a radical and political critique of the instruments of consensus of the bourgeoisie if we accept their game outright.

Finally, our tactical criticism of electoral intervention is analyzed in light of the political, militant, and economic resources that are destined for electoral campaigns by sister organizations. What will result, sooner rather than later, will be carelessness or an instrumentalist appreciation of grassroots militancy and social organization — a conservativization of bold or disruptive methods of political intervention, especially by those that use direct action as a method of intervention.

EGL: Recently there’s been a wave of feminist struggles in South America, particularly in Argentina and Chile, including school occupations and mass demonstrations for reproductive rights. How have libertarian socialists participated in these struggles and how does feminism inform your overall theory and practice?

TASL: It’s interesting to trace the historical background of the feminist movement in the region to analyze the fundamental libertarian influence, from the experience of the newspaper La voz de la Mujer, initiated by the anarcha-feminist Virginia Bolten, to the formation of Free Women in the ‘80s in Buenos Aires or the first “Women’s Commissions” with a strong intervention by our anarchist comrades in the piqueteros movements in the late ‘90s to the present.

Throughout this stage we have actively participated, even with our modest forces. We have done it in the day-to-day and, of course, in the streets, in those multitudinous and historic days of struggle: in the demonstrations of Ni Una Menos, and in the work stoppages of women, on March 8th and November 25th, as well as in the days of encampment and direct action in the National Congress to approve the law for voluntary interruption of pregnancy.

But also, daily intervening in several specific organizations: in pre- and post-abortion popular councils, in the National Campaign against Violence against Women; in the Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion; in the National Meetings of Women, now renamed Plurinational Encounter of Women, Lesbians, Transvestites, and Trans [People]; in specific feminist organizations and in the various commissions and areas of popular organizations where we are active.

From the point of particular political intervention, we’re initiating a Libertarian Feminist Assembly together with comrades from other libertarian organizations and anarchist militants in unions, social movements, and feminist struggles, as well as intellectuals and students. The idea is to think about our practice, to come to an agreement on transversal policies of intervention, and to draw up a line to act from our point of view in the current conjuncture.

In that sense, as ASL, we have edited a document to contribute to a Strategic Definition of Libertarian Feminism. In it, we characterize the women’s movement and dissidence as clearly the most politically dynamic sector of the working class these days, as it questions not only the patriarchal and capitalist oppressions within personal and daily relationships, but also the institutions of the State, and even within social organizations.

EGL: In South America, many libertarian socialists have put forward a theory and practice of building “popular power.” What is popular power and what forms has it taken in practice?

ASL: Like the majority of left militants with social insertion in Latin America, libertarian socialism also deals with the construction of Popular Power. We have tried to polemicize the term in a booklet that tries to systematize our positions on the matter since, within that wide concept, you can see traces of the most varied currents and politics. Some of them enrich and others, in our humble understanding, confuse.

For ASL, the construction of Popular Power is a complex, permanent, and contested strategy. Given the multiplicity of meanings that have been given, for a while now, we began to define this strategy as “Direct Power of the People,” since it seems to us that it is much closer to a libertarian vision of its construction.

We say that the construction of Direct Power of the People (DPP) is complex, because it tries to find the tools and seeds of liberating practices in the objective conditions in which we develop our militancy; permanent, because we don’t think of development in stagnant stages or that every political moment is the same for the development of the DPP; and contested, because it tries to fight against the vertical, patriarchal, and liberal senses in political and mass construction.

We think that the development of the DPP must go hand-in-hand with experience, with a reading of the moment and of the forces that we, as a class, have. Disagreeing as much with the “escape from power” as with the “taking of power,” we consider the DPP strategy as building a power from the oppressed sectors and from the working people with which to materially prefigure that libertarian socialism, from below and without the State or Patriarchy, that we want to build.

In the current conjuncture throughout the region, we are going through a stage of DPP that relies more on Resistance and Organization than on significant advances.

The need to defend the historical gains of our class and the movement of women and sexual dissidents becomes central at this stage. Therefore, we promote unitary organization from below, in the trade unions and political-union organizations that the masses recognize as legitimate for their defense: unions, social and protest organizations, student centers, neighborhood associations, and feminist associations and councils.

On the other hand, the debate about the questioning of bourgeois democracy as the “natural” political space for our interventions seems central to us; trying to develop and promote local instances of democracy and direct action: campaigns, multisectoral coordinators, breaking with corporatism, etc.

Here, we see experimentation in the management of resources wrested from the struggle in the territorial sphere as fundamental, the possibility of anti-bureaucratic efforts in certain Delegate Bodies or internal union boards to defend conquests, and class solidarity. Believing in the practice of our forces, we are demonstrating that no crisis can be resolved by those who generated it: the State and the bosses.

Special thanks to Mackenzie Rae who provided copy editing for this article.

For the first part in this series, “Libertarian Socialism in South America: A Roundtable Interview, Part I, Chile,” Part III is coming soon.

For additional reading we recommend the following piece by a Black Rose/Rosa Negra member “Socialism Will Be Free, Or It Will Not Be At All! – An Introduction to Libertarian Socialism” and our strategy and analysis piece “Popular Power In a Time of Reaction: Strategy for Social Struggle.”

Notes

1. In Latin American politics, “militancy” refers to being a militant, or dedicated member, of a group or movement. “Political militancy” refers to being a militant in a left political organization while “social militancy” refers to being an active member in a social movement organization. For more on this, see “The Problems Posed by the Concrete Class Struggle and Popular Organization.”

2. The piquetera or “picketers” movement is a movement of the unemployed in Argentina that emerged out of the economic crisis of the 1990s and 2000s and often uses road and highway blockades to press their demands. The MTD (Movimiento de Trabajadores Desocupados/Movement of Unemployed Workers) is the organized form of the piquetera movement while FOL (Frente de Organizaciónes en Lucha/Front of Organizations in Struggle) is a coalition of neighborhood based piquetera groups in Buenos Aires that anarchist political forces are active within.

3. Popular insertion, equivalent to the term “social insertion,” refers to a strategic and organized presence by anarchists within social movements.

4. For a substantive elaboration on transversal politics, see Bree Busk’s “A Feminist Movement to End Capitalism, Pt. 1.”

5. In US liberal discourse, the words “classism” and “classist” have typically been associated with discrimination against individual working-class people. Here, these terms refer to class-struggle anarchist politics. For a thorough critique of US liberal “classism” discourse, we recommend Gayge Operaista’s piece “Radical Queers and Class Struggle.”

6. Romina Akemi and Bree Busk have defined “sexual dissidence” in “Breaking the Waves: Challenging the Liberal Tendency within Anarchist Feminism” and “A Feminist Movement to End Capitalism, Pt. 1.”

The post Libertarian Socialism in Latin America: A Roundtable Interview, Part II, Argentina appeared first on Infoshop News.

Avoiding “Hothouse Earth”: Organizing Against Climate Catastrophe and Extinction

Mon, 01/28/2019 - 05:44

via Black Rose Anarchist Federation

By BRRN Radical Ecology Committee

Climate alarms are going off all over Earth, from the devastating wildfires that have raged recently in California to the mass-bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, the warming of Antarctica from below, and the continued melting of Greenland, even in winter. In August of last year, 2017 was found to be the hottest year on record without an El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event, a cyclical phenomenon which periodically warms the Pacific Ocean, while the past four years (2018 included) have been the hottest on record.

Aptly summarizing our current predicament, Will Steffen and colleagues published “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in August 2018. The authors describe the risks posed to the “Earth system” by biosphere degradation and the surpassing of environmental thresholds beyond which feedback loops such as reduced albedo effects (from lost ice and snow cover) and increased emissions (from forest fires, lost phytoplankton, and/or liberated methane) render global warming a self-perpetuating phenomenon. These conditions would result in the irrevocably infernal conditions of an imagined “Hothouse Earth.” (See the image below for a visual representation.) Steffen and colleagues are clear about the implications of this framing: “Collective human action is required to steer the Earth System away from a potential threshold and stabilize it in a habitable interglacial-like state.”

Courtesy Will Steffen et al.

Besides this infamous “Hothouse Earth” paper, several other new studies have illuminated the proverbial sword of Damocles hanging above us: in its October 2018 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that we have at most 12 years to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown, defined as an exceeding of the globally agreed-upon target of an 1.5-2°C (2.7-3.6°F) increase in average global temperatures since the onset of industrial capitalism. Since the pre-industrial age, Earth has warmed by more than 1°C (1.8°F), so we are already on the knife’s edge. As the global temperature rises, risks to humanity and the rest of nature rise in tandem. See the following Guardian graphic for an illustration of some of the relationships between these risks:

In light of such cumulative risks, which the U.S. climatologist Michael Mann has likened to traversing a minefield—“The further out on to that minefield we go, the more explosions we are likely to set off”—the new IPCC report emphasizes the stark terms of the tasks before us.

“To keep warming under 1.5°C, countries will have to cut global CO2 [carbon-dioxide] emissions 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by around 2050, the report found […]. To stay under 1.5°C warming without relying on unproven CO2 removal technology means CO2 emissions must be cut in half by 2030, according to the report.”

In November 2018, the World Meteorological Organization published a report which concludes that the world is currently on course for at least 3-5°C (5.4-9°F) of warming. At the same time, the United Nations reported that the world must triple its efforts to prevent climate tipping points themselves triggered by global warming from causing climate breakdown to becoming unstoppable: in other words, to avert “Hothouse Earth.” Meanwhile, a new study in Nature Communication finds that averting warming of 1.5°C—though a goal “at the extreme end of ambition”—is still possible by means of an immediate phaseout of fossil fuels “across all sectors.”

This chart, which displays our currently warmed average global temperature of +1°C (+1.8°F) with the faint cross-hatches, describes to us that the risks to coral reefs, the Arctic region, ecosystems in general, and the impacts from coastal flooding will be “very high” if we surpass the +2°C (+3.6°F) target. The expected risks from worsening extreme weather and river flooding are considered to be “high” at +2°C, whereas risks from heat-illness and death, agricultural production, and large-scale singular events, such as ice sheet collapse, are anticipated as being “moderate” to “high” at +2°C. Capital Accumulation and the “Treadmill of Production”: Drivers of Climate Catastrophe

Whereas the risks posed by global warming and mass-extinction are extremely serious, it is very clear that global capitalism has no solution to these burning problems—precisely because “[e]xtinction lies at the heart of capitalist accumulation.”[1] While Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Mohammed bin Salman, and Jair Bolsonaro shamelessly seek to extract the maximum amount of remaining profit possible from the working classes and a ravaged biosphere, Democrats in the U.S., even the most ‘progressive’ among them, have no strategy for mitigating climate change. Many seem to forget how much Barack Obama’s own ecocidal legacy anticipated the Trump administration’s horrific climate-denialism and its aggressive legal strategy to benefit industry by rolling back environmental laws.

The problem is capitalism, or the “treadmill of production”, which brings together Capital, the State, and business unions* to enshrine economic growth as society’s principal consideration and value. This treadmill of production gives “value” solely to what can be financed and commodified for market exchange and profit. According to world-ecology theory, this valuation operates along a binary logic that separates Society and Nature, in which what is considered part of Nature, mostly the work and energy of “women, nature, and colonies,” are considered “free gifts” to be appropriated for “cheap” use. The waste and unpaid other costs of this appropriation of human and non-human natures continue to go uncompensated along racial, patriarchal, colonial, and ecological lines. The alliance between Capital, the State, and business unions operate in collusion to maintain and expand these “appropriation zones” allowing for the cheap commodification of food, land, labor, lives, etc. for market profits. The treadmill must constantly expand these frontier zones of appropriation to avoid declining rates in profit that would result in the bankruptcy of firms, mass-unemployment, and political instability.

Some primary crises within global capitalism include resource depletion, rising costs of production/ overaccumulation of capital, and the destabilization of the biosphere and biological health. Negative-value situates these three problems into a unified framework. They represent “a bundle of contradictions within capital that provide fertile ground for a new radical politics that question the practical viability of value and nature in the capitalism world-system.”[2]  For this reason, possible solutions to the terminal climate catastrophe threatened by capitalism will have to critically analyze how and why these systemic dynamics co-produce, perpetuate, and govern climate breakdown. Above all, viable solutions must inspire appropriate remedial action to prevent the worst of global warming from taking place. To decelerate this “treadmill of production” and qualitatively transform social production/reproduction, we must build popular movements that challenge this capitalist drive towards accumulation and extinction. We must seek to dismantle the dominant structures that maintain and expand market frontiers through theft and for profit. Our organizing focus will require intervention at the “choke points” of capitalist re/production and their relation to the ecological “fault lines” of climate breakdown.

Avoiding “Hothouse Earth” entails undermining the “cheap natures” model of production and reproduction by mobilizing the until-now latent concept of negative-value. Negative-value creates a barrier to Capital. In destabilizing surplus value (profits), negative value makes possible a new radical politics, which values food, labor, nature, etc in emancipatory and reparatory ways.[3] To move towards this revolutionary alternative valuation of life, which must include a Just Transition, will require that we build rather than destroy. In other words, it is essential that we emphasize mutual aid and learning from different struggles around the world, so as to generate innovative approaches and repurpose local and bio-regionally based ones to construct this viable alternative. Not only must we create a platform of critique and catastrophe, we must strategically nurture liberation struggles, consolidate our efforts through cross-pollinations across the broad working class, and militate for practical demands and solutions that challenge the pseudo-answers offered by the “treadmill” and its advocates.

Toward this end, we wish to explore a number of potentially effective systemic strategies for climate justice here, with an eye to the fundamental question of how we can actually avoid the specter of “Hothouse Earth.” Our perspective favors ecological restoration, green syndicalism, “natural geo-engineering,” and a self-managed decline of the fossil-fuel economy.

*Business unions include many trade unions, whose bureaucratic leadership mediates between workers and bosses, brokering contracts without direct participation of rank and file workers. These union “leaders” have a strategy of cooperating with the capitalist class, often making decisions that are contrary to the interests and demands of workers and ecology.

“Radical Realism”: Strategies for Avoiding “Hothouse Earth”

Above all, we want to review the contributions to this most pressing of tasks made by the contributors to “Radical Realism for Climate Justice. A Civil Society Response to the Challenge of Limiting Global Warming to 1.5°C,” which was published in October 2018 by the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

First, in “A Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production,” Oil Change International outlines the three principal choices lying before us: managed decline, unmanaged decline, and climate catastrophe. They stress that we must opt for managed decline, a strategy that requires the simultaneous, immediate end to all exploration and expansion of the fossil-fuel industry, together with the closing-down of many existing fossil-fuel production fields and mines, especially coal mines. Oil Change International asserts that, while “some” of these mines and fields would have to be closed to meet the 2°C target, most will have to be shuttered to avert 1.5°C. See figure 1 below.

Oil Change International clarifies that, lacking an outright ban on fossil-fuel exploration and extraction, the world’s so-called “carbon budget” for avoiding dangerous global warming will be surpassed due to the emissions that will be “locked-in” by new projects that can be anticipated (10, 12). Essentially, as the global capitalist economy depends on endless expansion, its energetic underpinnings must be shut down now. As part of the ban they favor, the authors from Oil Change call for an expeditious decline in carbon emissions in line with the trajectory demanded by the latest IPCC report: a halving of global emissions by 2030, and zero by mid-century (11; see figure 3 below).

They support social movements calling for the managed decline of fossil-fuel supply, envisioning that energy corporations “might go bankrupt and investment capital be destroyed” (13). Though this process will surely be disruptive, Oil Change International likens it to a medical regimen, stressing that prevention of the worst of global warming is preferable to attempting to treat as unmanageable a problem as the destruction of the climate commons. They recommend supply-side restrictions of fossil-fuel supply, including on its expansion, such as through the suspension of the massive State subsidies provided for energy corporations, which ensure the profitability of such extractive enterprises, and bans or moratoria on further development (14-15). Together with providing humanity and nature a good chance of avoiding global climate catastrophe, such a program would imply the halting of activities that violate the human rights of poor, racialized, and indigenous communities negatively affected by such extraction. At the same time, a just transition is necessary for those workers currently employed in the fossil-fuel industry, and though Oil Change International mirrors the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s social-democratic politics here by anticipating that financial capital plays a part in this transition, we advocate a green-syndicalist approach, stressing the need to overthrow the labor hierarchies which limit decision-making power in the realm of production, as the best way out. We will return to our favored green-syndicalist strategy in more detail below.

Also in “Radical Realism for Climate Justice,” Christian Holz finds that the global carbon budget for avoiding 1.5°C becomes much more restrictive, if we assume that different technologies for carbon dioxide removal (CDR), such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) or direct-air capture (DAC), will not work at scale (8). According to Holz’s calculations, we must begin a 5-9% reduction of emissions annually by 2025 to stay within the boundaries of 1.5°C—and the author clarifies that such a negative emissions-trajectory is historically unprecedented (13)! Consistent with the model of “contraction and convergence” that has guided climate justice frameworks, Holz underlines the “dual obligations” that countries have toward mitigation of climate change in the domestic and international spheres (19), and he suggests the importance of limiting economic growth for achieving such ends (21) He states that the restoration of existing forests is preferable to mass-afforestation for many reasons, and he suggests that this bio-regeneration can take place on lands that are freed up by the reduced use of cattle and other livestock that would follow from a generalized shift toward plant-based diets (12, 17). This alternative would also follow from the end of the “cheap food” model based on factory farming, industrial livestock, and industrial monoculture agriculture. Like plantation forestry, which seeks to plant trees of uniform species to maximize rapid production and commodification of wood fiber, the ‘cheap food’ model of industrial mono-agriculture, which relies heavily on constant inputs of chemical fertilizers and pesticides drawn from synthesized petroleum derivatives, seeks to expand agricultural production on less fertile and nutrient-depleted land. Genetically modified crops are grown in arid, depleted soils with the help of these artificial fertilizers in the attempt to overcome barriers for the sake of accumulation, regardless of the ecological implications.”[4] Both industries’ destruction of biodiversity is engineered to standardize production and expand capital accumulation.

As Tony Weiss suggests in The Ecological Hoofprint: The Global Burden of Industrial Livestock, the extinction of species through biodiversity loss, a key component in climate breakdown, is intimately bound up with the accumulation of capital. The flip-side of “de-faunation” through biodiversity loss is the “commodi-faunation” through the capitalist treadmill. The acceleration of ecocide follows from the relations of capitalist crisis as they move through the web of life, from the biosphere to animal and human bodies to the capitalist land transformations. Specifically, Weiss investigates the global rise in livestock production since the 1970s. His powerful formulation of capitalist-crisis in world-ecology explore how the valuation of extinguished species and commodified animal products are bound together as specific bundles of human and extra-human natures towards greater capital accumulation. One part follows the necessary human labor and raw materials to the meatpacking plants and factory farms. The other part exterminates life, following the capitalist law of value to its conclusion.[5] This is a salient example of how capital accumulation is not only productive, but it is also necrotic, unfolding through a slow violence that devalues and devours life.[6]

In contrast to this accumulation drive towards planetary extinction through global warming, Mariel Vilella outlines how the implementation of a “zero-waste circular economy” can help with crucial goals of the climate-justice movement. In place of the existing “linear economy” characterized by planned obsolescence, waste, and mass-carbon emissions, a circular economy strives for zero waste and zero emissions (9). The idea is that such a model of zero-waste “ultimately result[s] in less demand for virgin materials whose extraction, transport and processing are major sources of greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions” (11; see figure 2 below).

Characterized by the use of compost and agroecological practices in place of the industrial-scale application of pesticides and petrochemical fertilizers, a zero-waste circular economy contributes to the closing of the nutrients loop (15). An important difference between the existing capitalist economy and this zero-waste circular alternative is that the latter would incorporate product bans, most ideally along the radical lines delineated by the eco-socialist Richard Smith’s “deindustrialization imperative,” which prescribes,

“drastically retrench[ing] [or diminishing] and in some cases shut[ting] down industries, even entire sectors, across the economy and around the planet – not just fossil-fuel producers, but all the industries that consume them and produce GHG emissions – autos, trucking, aircraft, airlines, shipping and cruise lines, construction, chemicals, plastics, synthetic fabrics, cosmetics, synthetic fiber and fabrics, synthetic fertilizer and agribusiness CAFO [concentrated animal-feeding] operations, and many more.”[7]

Though Vilella does not discuss Smith or his radical eco-socialist proposals explicitly, Smith’s advocacy of collective and democratic economic planning to manage this critically needed socio-ecological transition harmonizes with Vilella’s recognition that a zero-waste future must be a participatory project of workers and communities alike, if it is to be adopted at all (19). The potential reductions in emissions that could be achieved through such shifts would be substantial (21).

Meanwhile, in “Re-Greening the Earth,” Christoph Thies describes how the restoration of existing global ecosystems could “fix” much of the carbon that has been emitted historically by industrial capitalism within a matter of decades (10). Essential elements of this vision include the following:

“Stopping deforestation, allowing forests to recover some of the deforested areas, protecting ancient forests from logging, and allowing managed forests to grow back towards their natural growing stock and native tree composition.” (11)

With reference to data from German forests, Thies shows that, the greater the share of forest protected from extraction, the greater the ecosystem’s carbon uptake! That worsening global warming would undercut the great potential for this restorative role underscores the gravity of near-term deep emission cuts, in accordance with the latest science (13). The author spotlights respect for indigenous peoples within the cooperative coordination of reforestation and the restoration of forest biomes in tropical and temperate regions to help solve the climate crisis as well as restore biodiversity and ameliorate soil and water problems alike (14, 19). Admittedly, it is challenging to imagine any of this being practiced in Brazil and the U.S. at this time, ruled over as they are by mutually reinforcing conservative authoritarians—Bolsonaro and Trump, respectively—who deny the existence of environmental ills altogether.

“Natural” Geo-Engineering?

The truth is that the Earth is already much too overheated, owing to overconcentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and it must be cooled, with excess carbon dioxide safely sequestered. Yet paradoxically, abolishing fossil fuels would by itself cause more warming in the short-term, because the industrial emission of these pollutants also distributes aerosols into the atmosphere that artificially cool average global temperatures. This difficulty has led commentators such as David Spratt and Philip Sutton to effectively endorse artificial geo-engineering schemes, the newest “frontier” for techno-capital backed by the Trump administration, that are designed to directly cool the planet.[8] Yet recent research in Nature finds that the idea of artificially creating a sulphate-particle “veil” in the stratosphere as a means of reflecting sunlight away from Earth to mitigate the greenhouse effect would have unacceptably adverse effects on agricultural production. Even David Keith, one of the world’s most prominent geo-engineering enthusiasts, has acknowledged that the closest analogue to artificial geo-engineering schemes is nuclear weapons.

This conundrum brings to mind Troy Vettese’s recent assessment of the “democratiz[ing]” possibilities of “Natural Geo-Engineering” in New Left Review. Vettese explores the “Little Ice Age” experienced during the 16th-19th centuries CE: due to European colonialism’s genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, “[b]otanical regrowth on a bi-continental scale sequestered between 17 and 38 gigatonnes of carbon, lowering the store of atmospheric CO2 by up to 10 parts per million (ppm).” In parallel, “[t]he collapse of [Stalinist] forestry and agriculture in the 1990s allowed the forests in Russia’s European half to absorb more carbon, increasing by a third.” Vettese’s proposal therefore is to consciously induce a “bloodless second Little Ice Age to avert a capitalist climatic Armageddon”—this time without genocides. Asserting that land will be a primary factor in the struggle for an ecological transformation of global society, Vettese describes the land-intensive goals of creating renewable-energy systems and setting aside approximately ‘half of Earth’ for habitat protection, as E. O. Wilson, among others, has advocated as a means of addressing the global climate and extinction crises (66). Precisely how much land will need to be dedicated to renewable-energy infrastructures will have a lot to do with the overall level of energy use in a given society, together with efficiencies (80).

Yet land is also central to Vettese’s own project of “natural geo-engineering,” by which he means a global transition to organic veganic agriculture, implying the restoration, rewilding, and reforestation of approximately 80% of the 5 billion hectares of land currently dedicated to pasture and agriculture (83-85). For even one-fifth of these 5 billion hectares to be successfully reforested, this by itself could decrease the atmospheric carbon concentration by an estimated 85 ppm, “bringing it to a much safer range in the low 300s ppm,” from the current 410 or so (84). Vettese anticipates that such mindful shifts in agricultural and land-use practices, as well as the redesigning of cities to address car-centricity and urban sprawl and the reducing of air travel, could provide new jobs for those workers displaced by the requisite closing-down of the fossil-fuel industry, and he looks for inspiration to Cuba’s Período Especial during the post-Soviet era, when petroleum and its derivatives, including petrochemical fertilizers, suddenly became unavailable on the island, leading to creative responses which remain highly relevant today. Like Mariel Vilella in “Radical Realism for Climate Justice,” Vettese suggests that the prospect of ecological living combined with high human welfare will likely require the rationing of resources “for the sake of fairness and efficacy” (85).[9]

As Vettese does not directly address the aerosols paradox in terms of short-term warming, we presume that this strategy of “natural geo-engineering” is meant to be taken together with “ecological restoration,” as outlined by Thies above, as a response to this problem as part of the overall struggle to prevent the Earth’s overheating in a “green” fashion. We are unsure if this response would be adequate, and invite comment on the question.

Green Syndicalism: For Worker and Community Control

So we have several plans to set into play, and a rapidly diminishing window of time within which to realize them. Yet we do not think these vitally necessary projects will be implemented from above “before the spark reaches the dynamite,” in light of the prevailing dominance of far-right, science-denying politicians on the international stage, as well as the function the State plays in fundamentally facilitating the expansion of capital, itself a primary obstacle in the struggle against the specter of “Hothouse Earth.”

According to the analysis of green syndicalists, ecological destruction and eco-crises emerge and persist precisely because of the “restriction of participation in decision-making processes within ordered hierarchies,” with the capitalist workplace being principal among these.[10] Environmental destruction continues because people’s “capacities to fight a coordinated defense of the planet’s ecological communities” has been weakened, for any number of reasons.[11. As long as workers merely execute the orders of the bosses, which themselves follow the “logic” of capital, and as long as class hierarchies exist, the environmentally destructive outcomes of production cannot be redressed. Instead of the often-juxtaposed choices of “jobs versus environment,” or “environmentalists versus workers,” green syndicalists suggest a crucial theoretical and organizing reorientation to an opposition between “those who defend the conditions for a possible and desirable life” and those who do the opposite.[12] As such, green-syndicalist strategy recommends alliances among workers, communities, and youth for mass-noncooperation: recasting bosses as “ecological thugs”; organizing collective direct action like workplace demands, strikes, and occupations; and transforming social relations according to the principle, “Earth First! Profits Last,” to ensure economic justice and a livable ecology.[13] By inverting the decision-making hierarchies of labor, syndicalism has the potential to create a green world, as bans and moratoria on fossil-fuels, the uptake of renewable energies, and the practice of participatory democracy all open up through the possible mass-coordination of self-organized anti-capitalist, anti-statist resistance.

Drawing from the larger syndicalist tradition, as it is increasingly applicable to  “organizing as a class” in 21st century, our broad approach must take into account relations of exploitation and oppressions of class beyond the workplace. While workplace exploitation is centered around the commodification circuit of Capital, the capitalist world-ecology is intimately intertwined and relies on frontier appropriation zones and divisions of labor for its expansion. The appropriation of unpaid prison labor, the theft of land and resources through colonization, and the subjugation of women into domestic labor and care work are just some of the ways capitalism expands accumulation. Insights from Social Reproduction theory suggest that “the production of goods and services and the production of life are part of one integrated process.” [14] This helps clarify that the working class is “everyone in the producing class who has in their lifetime participated in the reproduction of society- irrespective of whether that labor has been paid for by Capital or remained unpaid.”[15] Since oppressive power relations–such as racism, sexism, colonization, among others, combine and reinforce each other, why and how this occurs under capitalism is important. Production and social reproduction are interrelated processes that create this world-ecology of domination, capital, and nature through the web of life. “Organizing as a class” means that diverse people experiencing oppression and exploitation, in overlapping zones of appropriation and commodification, should unite through struggle against the entire capitalist system. By seeking to dismantle divisions within our class, we strengthen our organizing and make it more comprehensive.

Green syndicalism may further involve a two-pronged approach to “organizing as a class.” While workplace syndicalism seeks to build anti-capitalist counterpower through resistance at the “choke points” of industrial production, community syndicalism seeks to do so across neighborhoods and within communities. Housing/anti-gentrification, anti-racist/anti-fascist, and anti-criminalization/anti-deportation, among other community struggles have the potential to create sustainable, mass-oriented infrastructures of resistance. Community syndicalism emphasizes community control and self-management so that practical solutions may be organized by those directly impacted and according to their specific and diverse needs. Territorial struggles like those to pipeline and fossil-fuel expansion or deforestation may effectively employ community-based syndicalist tactics like direct actions, popular assemblies, anti-repression working groups, and mutual aid networks to mobilize mass resistance at these ecological “fault lines” of appropriation.

One relevant example of this emergent trend has been the recent revival of General Defense Committees (GDC) within the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union which seek to develop self-organized campaigns of direct action, solidarity, and mutual aid in community defense of the broad working class. Other important groups with a similar orientation are the Centros de Apoyos Mutuo in Puerto Rico (CAMS) and the Mutual Aid Disaster Relief (MADR) networks that provide needed support, repair, and repurposing within communities impacted by climate disasters. Synergistic possibilities may extend into workers’ councils or self-managed cooperatives of production and distribution, along bioregional lines, as well as popular assemblies promoting self-managed decline. These on-the-ground organizing structures are necessary to nurture in climate-justice movements, like the recent fledgling Extinction Rebellion (XR). XR has called for a Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the observation of its demands, if they are met, for the UK government to “reduce carbon emissions in the UK to net zero by 2025,”and to “take further action to remove the excess of atmospheric greenhouse gases,” without specifying how much this excess is. Demands on the State and Capital must move beyond simple symbolic protest by linking these infrastructures of resistance to those that require broader social transformation and transition to a post-capitalist world.

Strategically building this approach towards worker and community control involves creating a broad anti-capitalist, ecological movement for climate justice. We must seek to prioritize engagement and cross-pollination with non-state, non-business, community-based associations at the grassroots level. This “self-organizing strategy” takes the form of two sets of strategic objectives that sometimes overlap within struggles. “First, resistance objectives which, when carried out, will so weaken the ecocidal ruling class, as to make direct grassroots challenge to its power possible: and second, transition objectives which, when carried out, will launch us on the path towards building a new society.”[16]

Clearly, the primary obstacle to carrying out this most necessary of transitions away from the path of climate destruction is concentrated reaction in the hands of the State, whether we consider the power of Trump, Putin, Xi, bin Salman, or Bolsonaro. As such, we must with steadfastness confront these despots and their opportunistic reformist opponents—so-called “socialist faces in high places”— by reclaiming our “self-organizing” power to promote ecological restoration, a self-managed decline of the fossil-fuel industry, natural geo-engineering and green syndicalism to prevent “Hothouse Earth.” As Huey P. Newton put it, “You contradict the system while you are in it until it’s transformed into a new system.” [17]

If you enjoyed this piece we recommend the following related articles: Decolonize the Frontiers: The Mississippi Delta, Organizing at the Frontiers: Appalachian Resistance to Pipelines, and The State Against Climate Change: Response to Christian Parenti.

Footnotes

1. Justin McBrien. “Accumulating Extinction: Planetary Catastrophism in the Necrocene,” in Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism, ed. Jason W. Moore (Oakland: PM Press, 2016), 116.

2. Jason W. Moore. Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital (Brooklyn: Verso, 2015), 278.

3. Ibid 246.

4. Foster, John B., Brett Clark, and Richard York. The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010), 65.

5. Moore, Jason W.  “Nature in the Limits to Capital (and vice versa).” Radical Philosophy (September/October 2015), 193.

6. McBrien 116.

7. Richard Smith. “Capitalism and the Destruction of Life on Earth: Six Theses on Saving the Humans,” Truthout  10 November 2013.

8. David Spratt and Philip Sutton. Climate Code Red: The Case for Emergency Action (Carlton North, Victoria.: Scribe Publications, 2008).

9. Troy Vettese. “To Freeze the Thames,” New Left Review 111 (May/June 2018), 73.

10. Jeff Shantz. Green Syndicalism: An Alternative Red/Green Vision (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press 2012), 83.

11. Ibid 112.

12. Ibid 113.

13. Ibid 73-83.

14. Meg Luxton, ”Feminist Political Economy in Canada and the Politics of Social Reproduction,” in Kate Bezanson and Meg Luxton, eds., Social Reproduction: Feminist Political Economy Challenges Neo-Liberalism (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006), 36.

15. Tithi Bhattacharya, “Introduction: Mapping Social Reproduction Theory,” in Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression, ed. Tithi Bhattacharya (London: Pluto, 2017), 1-20.

16. Steve D’Arcy, Environmentalism as if Winning Matters: A Self-Organization Strategy, Public Autonomy. 17 September 2014.

17. Alondra Nelson, Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 63.

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Doomsday clock stays at two minutes to midnight as crisis now ‘new abnormal’

Sat, 01/26/2019 - 04:48

via The Guardian

The risk to global civilisation from nuclear weapons and climate change remains at an all-time high, according to a group of prominent US scientists and former officials, who said the world’s predicament had become the “new abnormal”.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that its symbolic “doomsday clock”, unveiled every year, was stuck at two minutes to midnight, the same as last January. The only other time the Bulletin has judged the world as being this close to catastrophe was 1953, in the early volatile stages of the cold war.

The reasons given by the Bulletin’s panel of experts included the collapse of arms control treaties, and the emphasis in Washington and Moscow on modernising nuclear arsenals rather than dismantling them, and the lack of political will to reverse climate change.

“We are like passengers on the Titanic, ignoring the iceberg ahead, enjoying the fine food and music,” said Jerry Brown, the former governor of California, said. Since leaving office this month, Brown has become the Bulletin’s executive chairman, citing the imminent threats to humanity. “It’s late and it’s getting later. We have to wake people up. And that’s what I intend to do!”

The former US defence secretary William Perry said that the summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in Singapore last June, succeeded in calming some of the “hysteria” in the standoff between the two countries, but had not led to any North Korean moves to dismantle its nuclear arsenals.

Perry pointed to Trump’s declared intention to suspend compliance with the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty on 2 February, and serve notice of US withdrawal, as a sign of the erosion of contacts between the world’s most heavily armed nuclear weapons powers.

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Class War in Social Democratic Sweden

Sun, 01/20/2019 - 05:18

via Black Rose Anarchist Federation

By Gabriel Kunh and Micke Nordin

The resurgence of – true or self-proclaimed – socialist movements in the Global North has implied very generous interpretations of life in the Nordic countries. Sweden, in particular, has often been hailed as a model for the “democratic socialism” espoused by Bernie Sanders and others.

It is true that the legacy of Sweden’s strong working-class movement and social-democratic governance makes the welfare state somewhat more resilient than in other countries. Sweden still enjoys a relatively high level of unionization, government funding for equal opportunities in education, employment, and the arts, universal health care, free education, and so forth. Sweden also ranks high when it comes to the implementation of the rights of women and LGBTQ people, it has relatively liberal immigration policies, and it dedicates an above-average percentage of its GDP to development projects in the Global South. All of this rightfully appeals to people embracing socialist values of equality and internationalism.

But Sweden has been marked by the neoliberalist era as much as any other country. In the 1990s, the Social Democratic Party – which has been governing the country, with short interruptions, since the 1920s – embraced New Labour-type policies, privatizing huge parts of the public sector, including clinics, schools, postal services, the transport system, and council flats. The center-right government that ruled the country from 2006 to 2014 accelerated these developments. In Stockholm, the percentage of council flats in available housing dropped from 75% in 1990 to 45% in 2015. Prices on the private market have skyrocketed, which has reshaped the city’s entire social fabric. Across the country, eligibility for unemployment and invalidity benefits have been cut substantially. And the once powerful unions have been losing much influence, not least due to large economic sectors being absorbed by the gig economy (from delivery, cleaning, and catering to cultural, academic, and IT work).

The “Peace Obligation” Proposal

If any further proof was needed both for the misperception of Sweden as a quasi-socialist country, the increasing attacks on the workers’ movement’s achievements, and the class betrayal of the Social Democratic leadership, it has been delivered by a June 2018 proposal to rewrite important sections of Swedish labor law. The proposal carries the title “Peace Obligation at Workplaces with Collective Bargaining Agreements, and in the Case of Litigation.” It was conceived in a joint effort by the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise and the country’s biggest trade union associations, and turned into a proposal for legislation by the Swedish Ministry of Labor, headed by the Social Democrat Ylva Johansson.

The summary of the 68-page proposal includes the following lines:

“This text proposes that an employee must not engage in an industrial action against an employer who has signed a collective bargaining agreement with another union, that is, an employer who is already bound by a collective bargaining agreement. The text proposes that industrial action shall only be lawful if its purpose is to establish a collective bargaining agreement implying a peace obligation, and if the demands attached to the industrial action have been negotiated with the employer beforehand. … The bill furthermore proposes an extension of the prohibition against industrial action during litigation. The current prohibition only applies to employers and employees bound by collective bargaining agreements when engaged in legal cases relating to these agreements. This text proposes that the ban shall also apply to employers and employees who are not bound by a collective bargaining agreement.”

In layman’s terms, this renders all forms of industrial action illegal apart from attempts to force employers to sign a collective bargaining agreement if they haven’t done so before – and even in this case, workers and their organizations need to come to the negotiation table first.

The Consequences For Workers

In order to understand how far-reaching the consequences would be if this proposal was to become law, we need to look at what the Swedish Labour Court has classified as “industrial action” over the years. In a 2005 verdict, the court declared that “basically any action – or lack thereof – that can have an impact on the party against which it is directed, can be considered an industrial action.” This can practically encompass anything. Indeed, we find that in certain cases, the Swedish Labour Court has classified actions such handing out leaflets and writing opinion pieces as industrial actions. If, as the proposal suggests, actions like these will become illegal in connection with pretty much any labor dispute, then out-of-court actions – or mere declarations – of solidarity with workers who have been harassed or discriminated against will become illegal, too.

The consequences of violating the legal code are already unevenly divided between capital and labor. According to Swedish labor law, employers can avoid legal proceedings in the case of, for example, unlawful sackings [firings] by offering compensation payments. Workers do not get off that easily. Unions can, for example, be made liable for all alleged losses that employers suffer as a result of unlawful industrial action directed against them. Once almost all forms of industrial action will be outlawed, entire workers’ organizations can be ruined.

“Class compromise runs [deep] in Swedish society. It was first cemented at the 1938 Agreement between the Swedish Employers Association and LO, the biggest of the national trade union confederations and, to this day, strongly tied to the Social Democratic Party.”

It must also be stressed that, according to the proposal, employers will not be forced to sign collective bargaining agreements with majority unions. It is up to them to decide which union they want to sign an agreement with, and this agreement will then be binding for everyone else. This is, essentially, a license for establishing so-called yellow unions: unions that are initiated by employers to ensure that labor laws are met while the employers retain full control over them. In a piece for the Transnational Social Strike (TSS) website, the organizers of a TSS conference in Stockholm in November 2018 described this graphically: “This means that an employer can invite any number of workers just to sign an agreement and then force all others to follow its peace treaty. The owner could essentially employ his/her cousins or buddies, settle the worst possible deal and from then on criminally charge anyone who takes action against it.”

The “Peace Obligation” proposal is also deceitful. One example concerns the consequences for employment equality. Under the header “Consequences for the Equality Between Men and Women,” the proposal claims that “more men than women” will be affected by it. The reason given is “the division of gender within the transport and construction industries.” Leaving aside the unsettling suggestion that more gender equality can be reached by curtailing the rights of men rather than by extending those of women, this assertion is simply not true. A report by the National Mediation Office – which is regularly cited throughout the proposal – clearly states the opposite: “During the period in question [2000-2016], most cases of such conflict [involving industrial action] occurred among cleaners (about 50), followed by hotel and restaurant workers (about 45), longshoremen (about 35), construction workers (about 30), in the retail business (about 30), and in heavy industry (about 20).” In short, the industries most affected if the proposal becomes law will be industries dominated by women. This stands in glaring contradiction to the proposal’s claims.

It is also questionable how the proposal can be reconciled with the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 87, titled “Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise.” The convention, ratified by Sweden in 1949, requires all ratifying countries “to take all necessary and appropriate measures to ensure that workers and employers may exercise freely the right to organise.” It further states that “the law of the land shall not be such as to impair, nor shall it be so applied as to impair, the guarantees provided for in this Convention.” Now, in practice, the right for Swedish workers to join particular labor organizations will be rendered meaningless if these organizations have no right to act. The conundrum becomes particularly obvious if we look at how “freedom of association” is defined in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, ratified by Sweden in 1953: “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.” Yes, workers should be able to join trade unions for the protection of their interests, not just for the heck of it.

If, as suggested by its authors, the “Peace Obligation” proposal will become law by January 1, 2020, independent unions that have not yet come to power-sharing agreements with the ruling class – or that have no interest in ever signing any such agreements – can no longer act as unions. The syndicalist SAC, for example, opposes signing collective bargaining agreements due to the stipulations that already come with them according to Swedish law, for example non-strike agreements and other restrictions on their activities.

If the “Peace Obligation” proposal becomes law, industrial action will pretty much disappear from a country where it already has become rare given the social-democratic institutionalization of the workers’ movement. Since the 1980s, the number of strike days has steadily decreased. In 1986, there were still 682,652 strike days registered. In 2017, there were 329. The SAC, with a modest membership of 3000 people, often tops the annual list.

Demonstration for right to strike in Göteborg in December 2018. Source: Proletären.

The Political Context of Class Compromise: Rehn-Meidner

The 2017 strikes at the Port of Gothenburg, led by the Swedish Dockworkers’ Union, are often considered as the events that triggered the “Peace Obligation” proposal. The Swedish Dockworkers’ Union, one of Sweden’s biggest independent unions, has been denied collective bargaining rights since it split from the Swedish Transport Workers’ Union in 1972. This has led to repeated labor unrest at the Port of Gothenburg, Scandinavia’s biggest. The purported loss for Swedish industry caused by the 2017 strikes was estimated at half a billion US dollars.

However, the conflict at the Port of Gothenburg mainly served as an excuse for the ruling class to move its positions forward. Already in 2005, the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise had published a report with the revealing title “The Swedish Model Has Capsized.” Its authors bemoan the unfair advantage that trade unions allegedly have in Sweden vis-à-vis industry, or, to use the report’s official wording, “the imbalance between the partners on the labor market.”

In a campaign called “Advantage Sweden,” the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise offered its proposals for rectifying this perceived imbalance. An April 2005 press release was very clear: “Today, it is easy for unions to call strikes. … But order on the labor market is important for the competitive power of Swedish companies, and for Sweden to remain an attractive country for companies. Our campaign addresses the conditions under which companies in Sweden can operate, and future job opportunities. If Sweden does not provide an adequate system for its labor market, many companies will refrain from establishing and developing branches here.” The measures deemed necessary to establish an “adequate system for the labor market” included a “rule of proportion, that is, the demand that an industrial action and its goal must be proportional to the consequences and effects it has for enterprises and third parties”; a “prohibition against sympathy actions, that is, a measure to ensure that third-party employers cannot be drawn into the conflict of other parties”; a “prohibition against conflicts with damaging social effects”; a “prohibition against unions to engage in industrial action against enterprises where they do not have members”; and – unsurprisingly – a “prohibition against industrial action for organizations without collective bargaining agreements at workplaces where collective bargaining agreements already exist.”

In order to understand how Social Democrats can back such proposals (or, at least, parts thereof), we have to understand how deep class compromise runs in Swedish society. It was first cemented at the 1938 Saltsjöbaden Agreement between the Swedish Employers Association (a forerunner to the the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise) and LO, the biggest of the national trade union confederations and, to this day, strongly tied to the Social Democratic Party. Of particular importance for the current situation, however, was the postwar Rehn-Meidner model, named after Gösta Rehn and Rudolf Meidner, two LO economists.

The Rehn-Meidner model was in tune with Keynesian policies of stimulating economic growth and safeguarding political stability through state intervention in fiscal policies and on the labor market. It helped keep inflation low, employment high, and incomes fairly equally divided. But its success very much dependent on the economic boom experienced in Europe post-World War II, and had no provisions for economic crises. This also affected on one of its key aspects, the so-called “solidarity wage policy,” which was to prevent significant differences in wages between industries. Companies that could not maintain the wage levels required by the policy had to shut down, which, in turn, led to a strong concentration of industrial power. At the end of the 1970s, 80 percent of the LO membership worked for but 20 highly profitable companies. It is an often overlooked fact that Sweden is home to some of Europe’s richest and most powerful companies. Today, 10 percent of the Swedish population own 70 percent of the country’s wealth, a figure significantly higher than in most other European countries. In tandem with the diplomatic skills of the country’s politicians, Sweden’s profitable export industry was central for the development of the Swedish welfare state.

When, in the 1970s, economic growth started to decline and labor-intensive production began to move to low-wage countries, the Rehn-Meidner model was no longer viable. Increased international competition meant that wages in Sweden’s export-oriented industries could no longer rise at previous rates if massive relocation was to be avoided. The solidarity wage policy was abandoned and export-oriented industries now set the standard for wages in the country. This also increased the power of unions in the export-oriented sector. The metalworkers’ union IF Metall became a particularly powerful player in this context. Both Sweden’s current caretaker prime minister Stefan Löfven and LO president Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson have come up through the IF Metall ranks.

“Defend the Right to Strike!” graphic. Source: SAC Facebook

The Resistance: “Strike Back”

While LO and other mainstream union confederations cozy up to business interests – IF Metall, for example, explicitly condemned the strikes at the Port of Gothenburg – there is resistance among the rank and file. However, the rank and file’s powers are limited considering that union leaders disapprove of any public critique of the “Peace Obligation” proposal, let alone protest actions. But resistance by independent unions and activists is on the rise. Led by a coalition called “Strike Back,” several demonstrations and direct actions have taken place across the country since the summer. On August 25, 2018, two thousand people gathered in Stockholm for a day of action that included marches, blockades, and a rally outside the LO headquarters.

But make no mistake: The significance of this conflict is by no means limited to Sweden. The reason that the rights of Swedish dockworkers, along with those of independent unions, are under attack has much to do with the increased significance of logistics in a capitalist system, in which global chains of production and just-in-time manufacturing have become essential. The Gothenburg strikes struck at the core of neoliberal capitalism. Capital, in Sweden and beyond, desperately wants to prevent ripple effects. Laws such as the ones laid out in the “Peace Obligations” proposal can become a blueprint for similar legislation in other countries. We are entering a new phase of international class struggle.

Should the proposal indeed become law, it will require radical labor organizations such as the SAC to redefine their role. They can be rendered powerless as unions, but not as militant workers’ organizations. In fact, the intensification of the class struggle might open up new opportunities for mobilization in the years to come. This is how an SAC member ended their speech at a December 2018 rally:

“We will always fight for our rights. In fact, there can be big freedom in engaging in industrial action outside the law. If the law doesn’t protect us, we must ensure that it doesn’t protect the enterprises and the bosses that make money off our labor either. Think about how liberating it might be to no longer dutifully inform the National Mediation Office about strike actions! And think about how nice it would be to avoid endless filibustering in labor courts and other formal obstacles that bosses and politicians employ to keep us at bay. … In a year from now, the right to strike might be history – but strikes will live on!”

Gabriel Kuhn and Micke Nordin are Central Committee members of the syndicalist Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation (SAC) [Follow SAC on Twitter]. This article was originally published at CounterPunch under the headline “Class War in Sweden.”

If you want to read further commentary on history and current state of social democracy in western Europe we recommend the excellent piece “If You Want a Better Capitalism”: An Interview on Social Democracy with Gabriel Kuhn.

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The radical worker politics of the Los Angeles teacher strike

Sun, 01/20/2019 - 05:07

via ROAR magazine

by Jared Sacks

Depending on one’s capacity for optimism, 2018 either foretold the rebirth of labor militancy in the United States or, conversely, suggested the last gasp of a movement that has been in near-terminal decline since the 1970s. Two key events took place last year, which, per one’s analysis, have led to opposing predictions for workers in the US.

First, in February 2018, after years of austerity under Republican control, West Virginia teachers and school personnel decided to go on strike. But this was no conventional work stoppage. In West Virginia, teachers are considered providers of “essential services”, making any strike action illegal. Of course, this is part of the reason why neoliberal politicians have been able to walk all over the backs of West Virginia teachers for decades, making them third-last in the nation in terms of pay.

However, it also did not help that their unions — the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the West Virginia School Service Personnel — were all dead set against any risk-taking, never mind an illegal disruption of work.

But against all expectations, West Virginia teachers captivated the nation when they decided to go on strike nonetheless, drawing inspiration from a long history of radical strikes in the state’s dying coal-mines. Their wildcat action brought out over 20,000 teachers shutting down schools in all 55 West Virginia counties.

This turned public opinion against the government — instead of no pay increase at all, they ultimately won their “impossible” demand for a 5 percent pay raise. Immediately, an organizing wave erupted throughout the nation, including follow-up actions by teachers in Arizona, Oklahoma, Colorado and North Carolina.

Then, a second key event took place: in June 2018, the US Supreme Court ruled against workers in the landmark case Janus v. AFSCME. The ruling, which had been pushed by conservative advocacy groups, including those affiliated with the billionaire Koch brothers, reversed the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision which allowed labor unions to charge agency fees to non-members who benefited from the contracts unions negotiated on their behalf. Labor unions argue that such agreements have proven essential to preventing the common “free-rider” problem.

Post-Janus predictions were grim. The largest unions in the nation, like the SEIU, UAW and NEA, estimated a loss of tens of millions of dollars as well as between 10 to 30 percent of their membership. It was feared that this was the beginning of the end: emboldened conservative NGOs, they believed, would try to ram through further anti-union legislation, expand their “fake news” propaganda, and make it nearly impossible to organize in the workplace.

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The Next Global Crash? On China and the 21st Century Crisis

Sun, 01/20/2019 - 04:59

via Workers Solidarity Movement

by Tom Murray

Today, China is the driving engine of global economic growth. A major crisis of the Chinese economy will almost certainly drag the global economy into the next recession in the 2020s. This may turn out to be far more damaging than the Great Recession of 2008.

Minqi Li is a political economist at the University of Utah and an advocate of China’s Maoist New Left [1]. His most recent book, ‘China and the 21st Century Crisis’, outlines capitalism’s next looming crisis. Regardless of the proximate cause, this coming crisis will be economic, political, and ecological. It will also be global.

China’s economic boom from the 1990s onwards was based on three primary conditions: the rapid growth of exports to western capitalist economies, the intense exploitation of a large, cheap workforce, and ruthless environmental degradation. Following the 2008 global financial crisis, however, all three conditions for growth continue to be undermined. As Chinese exports to the West slowed, China depended more and more on investment – generally fuelled by massive fiscal stimulus programmes and government borrowing – to drive economic growth. As China’s Debt-GDP ratio surges, the risk of a sudden, sharp drop in business investment and borrowing mounts (Li, 97). More fundamentally for Li, the high level of investment is driving down China’s capital productivity, leading to falling rates of profit for capital (Li, 3). Under the current trend, China’s profit rate – the rate of return on invested capital – will fall to a level that is likely to precipitate a major crisis in the 2020s if not sooner (Li, 171).

 

Workers against Boss Communism in China

The industrial working class in China is the world’s largest.  Moreover, at a time when large parts of the world are suffering under the tyranny of neoliberal austerity, the working class in China is, somewhat exceptionally, making significant gains in their struggle against capitalist exploitation (Li, 29). Workers’ claiming of economic and political rights takes the form of ‘mass incidents’, a term used by the Chinese censor to describe large sit-ins, mass strikes, rallies, and riots. Some 8,700 ‘mass incidents’ occurred in 1993, 60,000 in 2003, and 120,000 in 2008. [The image below from the China Labour Bulletin indicates the number of strikes in China between July 2018 and January 2019]. Li estimates that the annual number of such incidents has remained above 100,000 in recent years. Some 10 million Chinese people are currently involved (Li, 182). He claims that ‘the spectre of a working-class revolution which haunted the European capitalist classes for almost a century after 1848 is resurfacing in China in the twenty-first century’ (p.7).

Workers’ struggles have grown in both size and militancy. Despite state repression, workers have been able to win concessions from capital. In 2007, crane drivers at Shenzhen port terminals went on strike, winning pay raises as well as compensation for overtime and housing subsidies. In 2010, strike waves swept China’s automobile, textile, and electronics industries. Local governments increased minimum wages soon after. From 2010 to 2014, Shenzhen’s local minimum wage jumped from 900 to 1808 Yuan per month; in Shanghai, from 960 to 1820 Yuan (Li, 29). Specifically, and perhaps most importantly for Li, wages have grown more rapidly than labour productivity – with important economic and political implications (Li, 7).

Chinese capitalist prosperity is founded on the intense exploitation of semi-proletarian rural wage workers (Li, 28). In these circumstances, the Chinese Communist Party relies on rapid economic growth and rising living standards to retain its authority. Li estimates that the Chinese capitalist class needs to secure economic growth rates of about 5 per cent per annum to sustain overall political and economic stability (Li, 161). Capitalism’s ‘grow or die’ imperative, however, confronts two quite fundamental barriers.

Firstly, state concessions to rising popular demands will increase the cost of capital accumulation. This contradiction is not a new phenomenon. In the 1970s and 1980s, countries transitioning to neoliberal capitalism such as South Korea, Brazil or Poland encountered similar tensions between capital accumulation strategies and securing political legitimacy by raising living standards. State elites resolved these contradictions by relocating their low value-added activities to another part of the globe; by availing of abundant natural resources; or by promising its workforce access to the labour market of a core capitalist country (Li, 77-8). China, however, is not in a position to adopt any of these options. This is largely due to the way China’s emergence has reshaped the wider capitalist world-system. For the first time in the history of capitalism, the gap between core capitalist countries and peripheral regions has begun to narrow (Li, 176). As China develops further, global labour and resource costs will tend to rise (Li, 13).

This is politically significant. In the late 1970s, China’s reintegration into the global capitalist economy provided a large, cheap labour force for exploitation and arguably tilted the global balance of power in favour of the capitalist classes (Li, 3). Today, however, conditions have changed. It is highly unlikely that another large geographical area, such as India for example, could be mobilised to contain the rising labour costs evident now in China and the wider capitalist world. For one thing, an industrialisation on the required scale would immediately run into ecological barriers, such as the availability of fossil fuel resources and of environmental space. This brings us to the second fundamental barrier facing state capitalism in China as well as capitalism generally: nature.

The Spectre of Ecological Catastrophe

Capitalism is fundamentally incompatible with ecological sustainability. Today, various global ecological systems edge towards collapse (Li, 11). Even if the world commits to zero economic growth today, for all practical purposes, it is already too late to avoid dangerous climate breakdown (Li, 175). The question rather is whether humanity can manage to avoid the very worst climate catastrophes that would destroy the material foundation of human civilisation. The current global economy is built upon capital infrastructure that is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Given this fact, Li highlights that attempts to replace or adapt capital infrastructure are slow, typically taking place at a rate of 4-5 per cent a year in a capitalist economy (Li, 111). Li further claims that world production of oil, natural gas and coal is likely to peak before 2050 while nuclear and renewable energies will be insufficient to offset fossil fuel decline (Li, 141) [2]. Declines in world energy consumption after the 2030s will likely precipitate a prolonged, major crisis of global capitalism (Li, 13).

Within this general picture of the ecological limits to global capitalism, Chinese capitalism plays a central role. Today, China is the world’s largest energy consumer and greenhouse gas emitter (Li, 12). In a very immediate sense, China faces particularly acute problems when it comes to the availability of clean air and clean water. In particular, China’s fresh water resources are highly unevenly distributed: Northern China has 47 per cent of the national population but less than 20 per cent of water resources. About 300 million people in rural China rely on unsafe drinking water; some 100,000 people die annually due to water pollution-related disease (Li, 159). Environmental degradation plays a part in undermining state legitimacy.

The basic requirements of climate stabilisation are fundamentally incompatible with the operation of a capitalist economy in China. The required reduction in carbon dioxide emissions implies drastic reductions in China’s economic growth rates by the 2020s. The only scenario where humanity enters the 2040s on a ‘sustainable’ path is one where the Chinese economy approaches zero – or possibly negative – growth (Li, 148). In other words, a sustainable path equates with a non-capitalist economy. Now recall Li’s analysis that the Chinese capitalist class needs to secure economic growth rates of about 5 per cent per annum to sustain overall political and economic stability (Li, 161). If the Chinese economy grows at this rate, apart from carbon emissions, China’s demand for oil, natural gas, and coal is likely to impose unbearable burdens on world energy markets in the 2020s and 2030s (Li, 171). This will occasion peak oil scares and geopolitical tensions [3]. In short, workers struggles combine with environmental limits to present the Chinese state and its neoliberal mode of capital accumulation with a serious crisis of legitimacy.

 

China’s Boss Communism versus Humanity

Ideologically, the Chinese dictatorship is not helped by its single-minded faith in the efficiency and rationality of the capitalist market (Li, 186). Alternative strategies for crisis resolution, for example, are emphatically discarded. Bo Xilai – who advanced state-owned enterprises and income redistribution in Chongqing – represented the last significant faction within the Chinese Communist Party politburo opposed to neoliberal capitalism. (Li glosses over authoritarianism in Chongqing, including Bo Xilai’s suppression of factory workers’ protests in the early 2000s). In 2012, Xilai was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment, ostensibly on corruption charges. The eclipse of the opposition faction enabled Xi Jinping to emerge as President and the CCP to embark on further rounds of neoliberal reforms, including more financial liberalisation and further privatisation of remaining state-owned enterprises.

Needless to say, China’s ruling class has not trusted their own personal fortunes to the invisible hand of the market. Political corruption and theft of state assets are rife. In 2012, for example, a New York Times investigation found that former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s family had accumulated assets worth some 2.7 billion US dollars. Pervasive corruption not only undermines the legitimacy of Chinese capitalism, it further undermines the ability of the ruling class to safeguard its own class interest (Li, 35). From the early 2000s onwards, corruption, rising inequality, insecurity, environmental degradation and political repression have all steadily undermined the popular legitimacy of state capitalism in China. The country’s ruling class are wedded to international capital and, like the ruling class globally, are living on borrowed time.

Capitalism’s social and ecologically damaging crises, however, present opportunities for authoritarian solutions – ‘fake revolutions’ – to present themselves. Predictably, Li quickly claims that the putative leadership of popular struggles may lie with China’s ‘Maoist’ New Left – a synthesis of newly radicalised worker-activists, college students, and intellectuals as well as veteran Communist Party cadres (Li, 12, 34). There is a strong hint of wishful thinking here. There is also a deliberate amnesia around actually-existing Maoism’s historical record, particularly the hardship, famine, and absence of control experienced by peasants and workers in mid-20th century China. Self-emancipation of the working class was not on Mao’s agenda. This narrows Li’s perspective of possible socialist transformations towards state socialism and the vanguard party.

The emergence of contemporary struggles in a globalised China suggests more complex possibilities and more democratic aspirations. Despite considerable authoritarian pressures and risks, workers in China continue to walk off the job every day [4]. Those of us outside of China would do well to take inspiration from the most restive elements of the world’s working class. The question for us all is whether a democratic movement for a liberated humanity – internationalist in spirit, ecological in sensibility, and opposed to exploitation and oppression – can organise, fight, and win. And can it do so before environmental collapse? The clock is ticking.

NOTES

[1] Li participated in ‘student dissident activities’ in Beijing at the end of the 1980s and spent two years in prison for giving a political speech at the campus of Beijing University in the early 1990s. In prison, Li switched from being a “neoliberal” to a “Marxist-Leninist-Maoist”, before emigrating to the United States in 1994 where he has continued to research political, economic, and social development in China. The author discusses his research in an interview here: https://www.e-ir.info/2015/04/07/interview-minqi-li/

[2] Li counters the possibility of ‘green capitalism’ in China – heralded by establishment commentators who highlight the state’s increased investment in solar and wind energy – as a wonderland, “limited by the availability of land and precious metals” (p. 130).

[3] Li does not dwell on the possibility of military confrontation between China and the US and its allies in East Asia. The US military-industrial complex has certainly considered this possibility. From 2011 onwards, two-thirds of US naval forces have been transferred to Asia and the Pacific while 400 American bases surround China with ships, missiles, and troops, in an arc that extends from Australia through the Pacific to Japan, Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India. See http://johnpilger.com/videos/the-coming-war-on-china

[4] Edited by Hao Ren; English edition edited by Zhongjin Li and Eli Friedman (2016) ‘China on Strike: Narratives of Workers’ Resistance’ provides much insight into the lives and struggles of workers organizing in China’s factories. It draws on dozens of interviews with Chinese workers and is available at https://libcom.org/library/china-strike-narratives-workers-resistance

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Between Cambridge and Palo Alto

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 05:02

via The Catalyst

by Robert McChesney

An Interview with Robert McChesney

C: How has the Cambridge Analytica scandal been described in the media? And what do you think of how it’s being framed?

RM: The coverage itself has not been bad, what there’s been of it. But I think the really striking thing about that story is that the crucial issues the story raised have fallen to the bottom of the ocean. That’s the interesting question. Why does this story, which ought to be triggering the same sort of public debate that the Watergate scandal triggered about money in politics, and the defeat in the Vietnam War triggered about the role of the CIA in American life in the 1970s, fall out of view? Why are we getting nothing like that sort of response to a scandal that’s, I think, of equal, or similar, magnitude? C: Clearly what it’s pointing to is the extremely close connection between commercial media, politics, and our everyday lives. RM:Absolutely. It demonstrates how deeply entrenched the largest internet companies and their surveillance model is with the profit system. They’re just in the bone marrow of modern capitalism — of our modern political economy. To go after that is basically going after the whole system, in a way. It would require that sort of organizing campaign.

Or to put it in terms of media analysis: no significant economic interests wish to open up critical public examination of the surveillance model of capitalism, so that means none of our political establishment —Republicans or Democrats — has any incentive to go there. Those few journalists who remain have little to work with from the official sources they rely upon, so the matter dies. It is no longer “news.”

The Cambridge Analytica story initially got a significant amount of coverage from our “liberal news media,” but then they pretty much dropped it, for these reasons. In addition, the story did not conform to the Russia obsession, especially at MSNBC. When they realized that this was something that was being done by a traditional capitalist concern, bankrolled by a traditional American right-wing, hedge-fund, billionaire named Robert Mercer, it became a non-story. It ceased to matter, even though Mercer was bankrolling a good chunk of Trump’s whole campaign.

C: Well, what we’ve seen so far of the revelations regarding Russian interference and the magnitude of Russian malfeasance seems to be infinitesimally small, almost trivial, compared to this. RM: No question about it. Cambridge Analytica is a very serious issue. I mean, not just about elections, but about political culture and social life in general, what that suggests and gets at, what’s being done, and what’s capable of being done. The Russian stuff, it may have had influence, and there is little doubt that an ethical sleazeball like Trump has no problem peddling influence to other ethical sleazeballs to enrich himself. But as far as the Russians actually stealing the outcome of the election itself? We don’t know exactly. It seems blown out of proportion.

But here’s the other irony. Every day we hear about Russian interference in the American elections, and how it was and is an obscene act of intervention into another nation’s affairs that no genuine self-respecting democracy would ever pursue or countenance. Yet we never hear anything critical of US meddling in numerous other nations’ elections and political systems as we speak. You’ll see in the same “liberal media” reports about how the US is trying to make sure the internationally monitored Venezuelan election gets canceled or boycotted, and the results dismissed if our side doesn’t win, or how we’re trying to undermine the economy of Venezuela to make the country uninhabitable, so the existing system cannot survive. And the US role in all this is downplayed as inconsequential or even a benevolent reflection of how much the United States embraces democratic values and the rule of law! Then we go off on Russia for doing essentially 1/1000th of that to us. It’s really difficult to take seriously when you look at it that way.

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