Infoshop News

Subscribe to Infoshop News feed
Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth
Updated: 1 hour 18 min ago

California Condors Reestablishing Their Range Across the Golden State

Sat, 06/23/2018 - 04:23

via Earth Island Journal

by Christine Heinrichs

They were headed for extinction in the 1960s, when they were listed as endangered under the US Endangered Species Act That listing, followed by a listing under California state law in the early 1970s, brought financial and scientific resources to bear, allowing researchers to identify the factors conspiring against them. These included hunting, theft of their eggs by egg collectors, poisoning due to feeding on cyanide-killed coyotes, and being electrocuted when they flew into power lines. Their wild habitat, and the carrion that they eat, were generally disappearing and what was left was degraded. Worst of all, lead ammunition left in gutpiles and the carcasses of coyotes, ground squirrels, and other wildlife shot by ranchers was poisoning them.

As their numbers dwindled, the US Fish and Wildlife Service set up a captive breeding program at the Los Angeles Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park in an effort to save the species. By 1987, the 27 remaining wild birds had all been captured for the program. The critically endangered species still faces challenges to a full recovery, particularly from the ongoing use of lead ammunition by hunters, but wildlife managers say the breeding program and subsequent rewilding program have been a resounding success.

“If it weren’t for lead, condors would be close to having a sustaining population in the wild,” said Joe Burnett senior wildlife biologist and condor program manager for Ventana Wildlife Society in Big Sur, one of several organizations that partner with the US Fish and Wildlife service on the condor recovery program.

Since condor reintroductions began in 1992, the total population of California condors has grown to more than 450 birds, nearly 300 of which are now living in the wild. Condors have reestablished their range through parts of California, Arizona, and Baja California. In California, where the majority of condors have been reintroduced, three small California flocks that were considered separate as recently as 2017 are now a single Central California flock. Wild condors travel freely across much of the state, from south San Jose to Los Angeles, and from the coast to the Sierras. More than 175 birds now live in and around Big Sur, Pinnacles National Park, and Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

Individuals find mates as they explore territory far from their release sites. One condor, known as #192, released in the Santa Lucia Mountains near California’s Big Sur region in 1999, made her way south and paired with a male in Southern California in 2004. In 2015, she returned to the Santa Lucias, near where she was released. She fed and interacted with condors there for nine days, then returned to her nest in SoCal, and hatched a chick later that year. (Condor chicks have been hatching from wild-laid eggs since 2008, a major milestone in the recovery program.)

Read more

Some rare good climate news: the fossil fuel industry is weaker than ever

Sat, 06/23/2018 - 04:17

via The Guardian

by Bill McKibben

If you’re looking for good news on the climate front, don’t look to the Antarctic. Last week’s spate of studies documenting that its melt rates had tripled is precisely the kind of data that underscores the almost impossible urgency of the moment.

And don’t look to Washington DC, where the unlikely survival of the EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, continues to prove the political power of the fossil fuel industry. It’s as if he’s on a reality show where the premise is to see how much petty corruption one man can get away with.

But from somewhat less likely quarters, there’s been reason this month for hope – reason, at least, to think that the basic trajectory of the world away from coal and gas and oil is firmly under way.

At the Vatican, the pope faced down a conference full of oil industry executives – the basic argument that fossil fuel reserves must be kept underground has apparently percolated to the top of the world’s biggest organization.

And from Wall Street came welcome word that market perceptions haven’t really changed: even in the age of Trump, the fossil fuel industry has gone from the world’s surest bet to an increasingly challenged enterprise. Researchers at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis minced no words: “In the past several years, oil industry financial statements have revealed significant signs of strain: Profits have dropped, cash flow is down, balance sheets are deteriorating and capital spending is falling. The stock market has recognized the sector’s overall weakness, punishing oil and gas shares over the past five years even as the market as a whole has soared.”

The IEEFA report labeled the industry “weaker than it has been in decades” and laid out its basic frailties, the first of which is paradoxical. Fracking has produced a sudden surge of gas and oil into the market, lowering prices – which means many older investments (Canada’s tar sands, for instance) no longer make economic sense. Fossil fuel has been transformed into a pure commodity business, and since the margins on fracking are narrow at best, its financial performance has been woeful. The IEEFA describes investors as “shell-shocked” by poor returns.

Read more

Ex-Nasa scientist: 30 years on, world is failing ‘miserably’ to address climate change

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 23:28

via The Guardian

Thirty years after a former Nasa scientist sounded the alarm for the general public about climate change and human activity, the expert issued a fresh warning that the world is failing “miserably” to deal with the worsening dangers.

While Donald Trump and many conservatives like to argue that climate change is a hoax, James Hansen, the 77-year-old former Nasa climate scientist, said in an interview at his home in New York that the relevant hoax today is perpetrated by those leaders claiming to be addressing the problem.

Hansen provided what’s considered the first warning to a mass audience about global warming when, in 1988, he told a US congressional hearing he could declare “with 99% confidence” that a recent sharp rise in temperatures was a result of human activity.

Since this time, the world’s greenhouse gas emissions have mushroomed despite repeated, increasingly frantic warnings about civilization-shaking catastrophe, from scientists amassing reams of evidence in Hansen’s wake.

“All we’ve done is agree there’s a problem,” Hansen told the Guardian. “We agreed that in 1992 [at the Earth summit in Rio] and re-agreed it again in Paris [at the 2015 climate accord]. We haven’t acknowledged what is required to solve it. Promises like Paris don’t mean much, it’s wishful thinking. It’s a hoax that governments have played on us since the 1990s.”

Hansen’s long list of culprits for this inertia are both familiar – the nefarious lobbying of the fossil fuel industry – and surprising. Jerry Brown, the progressive governor of California, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, are “both pretending to be solving the problem” while being unambitious and shunning low-carbon nuclear power, Hansen argues.

Read more

Fact-Checking Family Separation

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 23:18

via the ACLU

By Amrit Cheng, Communications Strategist

With nearly 2,000 immigrant children separated from their parents in just six weeks alone, there is an unprecedented human rights disaster unfolding at our border. As public outrage mounts, members of Congress demand access to government-run facilities, and the United Nations condemns us, the Trump administration is attempting to shift the blame — fast.

In the past week, the administration has made several misleading statements, trying to justify the systematic separation of children from their parents. On Monday, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen held a press briefing where she doubled down on family separation, denying that the separation of children from their parents amounts to child abuse because, “We give them medical care. There’s videos; There’s TVs.”

All the while, horror stories are emerging: among them, Marco Antonio Muñoz, a Honduran father, who killed himself after being separated from his wife and child; three siblings taken from their parents who were told that they couldn’t hug each other in the shelter they were placed in; and parents who were deported four months ago and are still waiting for the U.S. to return their baby.

The level of cruelty is difficult to comprehend, and that’s how the administration wants it. Here’s what you need to know to understand family separation.
Is there a law that requires family separation?

Donald Trump has repeatedly blamed family separation on a law enacted by Democrats. On June 15, he told reporters, “I hate the children being taken away,” and added, “The Democrats have to change their law — that’s their law.” Secretary Nielsen repeated this falsehood at a briefing on Monday saying, “Surely it is the beginning of the unraveling of democracy when the body who makes the laws, instead of changing them, tells the enforcement body not to enforce the law.”

There is no law that requires the Trump administration to separate families.

This crisis stems from a series of policy choices the Trump administration made. In fact, reports arose as early as December 2017 that the administration was considering a plan to separate border-crossing parents from their children. In March, then-DHS Secretary John Kelly confirmed this, saying it would help deter Central Americans from coming to the United States.

Read more

The Syrian Underground Railroad

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 14:21

via Crimethinc

In this report, comrades based on the Syrian border in Turkey describe how they assisted Syrian refugees in escaping to central Europe and tease out the lessons for people engaged in similar work in the United States. Although Syrians themselves led the majority of initiatives to respond to the crisis, people of all backgrounds can play important roles in forming networks of support for the targeted and excluded. As ICE raids intensify around the US, it is time to set up our own emergency response networks and underground railroads.

TL;DR version: begin reading here.

For more on this kind of solidarity work in North America, consult our forthcoming book, No Wall They Can Build.

Legal Disclaimer: This article is speculative fiction addressing the implications of open-border activism.

Syrian refugees trapped against the Turkish border receive water.

“National borders are a bloody stain on the face of the earth. Burn all nations to the ground.” -Charles Johnson

Xenophobia and racism coupled with nationalist and fascist politics are on the rise in the United States and much of the Western world. This puts many different people at extreme risk for a variety of reasons. One time-tested method of survival and resistance is the Underground Railroad—the supported illegal movement of targeted people from harm to relative safety. Decentralized yet coordinated underground railroad movements existed in the American South, Nazi Germany, and East/West Germany at various points in history. However, much has changed since the Second World War including the surveillance and strategic landscapes. We need to be creative and bold to adapt to these changes, utilizing whatever points of leverage we can.

In 2015, we established a project to assist the safe movement of Syrian refugees into fortress Europe. We learned that this work is possible, meaningful, difficult, and complex. This essay serves as a guide to the how and why of what we did, in hopes of contributing to ongoing discourse about this evolving terrain of radical solidarity. We have to stand together and take the necessary risks to counter the waves of violence directed at migrants, refugees, people of color, folks with disabilities, anarchists, antifascists, climate change scientists and activists, reproductive health advocates and doctors, and the broader queer and trans communities. Some 450 US churches have already promised to engage in underground railroad activity under Trump, and groups that have been doing sanctuary and humanitarian aid work on the US-Mexico border for decades are gearing up for unprecedented levels of risk for those attempting to cross. It’s time to build infrastructure and networks for safety and liberation.

How It Began…

Abbey: One night, Quail and I got a call from some of our close friends just down the street in Southeastern, Turkey, north of Aleppo, Syria. They’re a Syrian couple, one a neurosurgeon and one an engineer and participant in Clowns Without Borders—both detained and tortured activists from the Syrian Revolution. They told us that a group of their friends and family were taking a rubber dinghy across the Aegean Sea from Izmir, Turkey to Lesvos, Greece. Our friends were terrified for their safety. I realized that Quail and I had a friend in Athens who could host them. Like many reasonable and decent people in Europe, our friend in Athens was concerned about the refugee crisis. Quail and I reached out to her and asked her if she could host them (about six people) in her apartment in Greece for a night or two as they passed through, just so that they could have a safe place to sleep with wifi and a shower. She did, and they arrived about a week later. She made copious amounts of food for them, helped them navigate the complicated ferry system, got them European Union SIM cards for their phones, and passed along portable phone chargers. Our Syrian friends, although completely exhausted from their journey, ended up getting along well with her.

Quail: It was an inspired connection. The group that stayed with her scattered after Athens. Abbey’s closest friend in the group had the audacity to secure a fake Italian passport and get on a plane from Athens to Germany, where she could declare asylum (!). Another two, newlyweds, continued their journey on foot, passing through Hungary before it shut down its borders completely. I had spent a month in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, over a year prior, researching an article on the reactions of immigrants, activists, and artists to the increasingly racist and xenophobic political climate. Inspired by Abbey’s earlier connection, I recalled that I knew at least a handful of Hungarians and expats in Budapest who would be willing to take the risk to help them. A last-minute ABP to these friends scored them a safe place to sleep for the night in Budapest, a ride further down the trail, and made up one more stop on their ultimately successful journey to Germany. It was an easy favor I had performed for many friends in the past (sure, if you’re going to this random European city, I have a friend I can reach out to if you need a place to crash) but now with much, much higher stakes for all involved.

Both: From this incident, we realized that through Abbey’s connections in Syrian communities and Quail’s connections in Europe we could probably do a lot more than nervously wait for Facebook posts and Whatsapp messages announcing safe arrival to Germany. Quail initially wanted to organize through, where she had the most experience connecting with kind and generous foreign strangers, but the primary platform most Syrians were using on their mobile phones while crossing was Facebook. As soon as we realized how much potential such a group might hold, we launched it. Thus began the Syrian Underground Railroad (SUR), a web-based mutual aid network between US Americans, Europeans, and mostly Syrian refugees.

Read more

A philosopher thinks technology could make anarchists’ dreams come true

Sat, 06/16/2018 - 00:46

via Quartz

by John Detrixhe

Distrust of central authority is an idea that’s taken many forms over the years, from the Magna Carta in the 13th century to the French and American revolutions 500 years later. Anarchy is another old idea and it pushes these notions far further: The political philosophy fully rejects the state’s centralized authority and, by extension, big businesses and financial institutions that are supported by that state.

The underlying belief is that society can be self-managed, according to Saul Newman, a political professor at Goldsmiths University of London. There are blends of this thinking on the political left (collectivist anarchism) as well as the right (libertarianism).

Newman thinks technology could make some anarchists’ dreams a reality. He’s not the only one who has noticed something is going on. “There is something about technology today, that many people are more comfortable with it than they are with the institutions of government and society that I grew up with,” said Jeffrey Sprecher, CEO of the company that owns the New York Stock Exchange, in a Bloomberg Television interview. Bitcoin is one of the obvious examples—it’s designed to be a stateless, digital cryptocurrency—but it doesn’t end there. People put a lot of trust into an Uber driver’s rating based on the experience of complete strangers.

Read more

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory; Blue Collar Frayed: work in tomorrow’s economy

Sat, 06/16/2018 - 00:42

Via The Australian

by Richard King

In 2013 the essay On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs appeared in the radical ­London-based magazine Strike!. Its author, anthropologist and political activist David Graeber, sought an answer to a simple question: how is it that developed economies in thrall to ideals of efficiency and high ­productivity generate so many jobs that even the people who do them regard as pointless?

In 1930 John Maynard Keynes predicted that by the year 2000 workers in developed economies would be working a 15-hour week. How could the great economist have got it so spectacularly wrong, and might these ‘‘bullshit jobs’’ have something to do with it?

To say the essay hit a nerve would be to put it mildly. Translated into numerous languages, its premise became the subject of a YouGov poll. The finding: 37 per cent of British workers ­regarded their jobs as meaningless.

Meanwhile, Graeber was inundated with ­testimonies from exasperated workers eager to confirm his thesis, or at least the assumption underlying it: that for a certain stratum of knowledge workers, pointless busywork was the rule, not the exception.

Convinced he was on to something, Graeber began to solicit further testimonies, and to think more deeply on the problem.

The result is Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, which combines the abovementioned testimonies with passages of philosophical and political theory.

Though not as impressive as Graeber’s ­previous book, Debt: The First 5000 Years, it is a highly original take on a subject that is fast ­becoming an inescapable modern theme: the nature and availability of work in a rapidly ­automating economy.

Read more

Prefigurative Politics, Catastrophe, and Hope

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 22:39

by Uri Gordon

via Crimethinc

Anarchists such as David Graeber and Cindy Milstein have used the term “prefigurative politics” to describe the anarchist principle that the ways we organize in the present should reflect the sort of society we hope to create in the future. Yet the concept of prefiguration is drawn from a Christian theology that presumes a future salvation so certain that it radiates backward through time, generating its own precursors. Many Marxists, too, see history as the inevitable unfolding of an ordained process—a sort of secular second coming of Christian millenarianism. Most anarchists, by contrast, take nothing for granted about the future, especially in today’s context of ecological collapse—so it may behoove us to revisit the concept of prefigurative politics to see whether it still serves our needs today. We are pleased to present the following text by Uri Gordon, in which he rigorously explores the origins of the concept of prefiguration and its emergence in anarchist discourse.

“ΕΙΜΑΣΤΕ ΕΙΚΟΝΑ ΑΠΟ ΤΟ ΜΕΛΛΟΝ” (We are an image from the future)

“Prefigurative politics” is commonly used to express a radical ethos of unity between means and ends. Less attention has been given to the peculiar way of imagining time that this concept invokes. On the one hand, there is the familiar ethical revolutionary practice, chiefly indebted to the anarchist tradition, in which the fight against domination is connected to the immediate construction of social alternatives. On the other hand, however, this concept is based on “prefiguration”—a temporal framing, drawn from Christian theology, in which the future is thought to radiate backwards on its past.

Where does this idea come from? Is the idea of projection from the future necessary to maintain unity between means and ends? Or should the terminology of prefiguration be abandoned on account of the false reassurances it offers?

First, Gordon uncovers the theology of prefiguration, tracing it from the Church Fathers to politicized resurfacings in the Diggers and the New Left. He argues that this temporal framing is indeed connected to a mental “process of reassurance,” common among many revolutionaries who drew confidence from the notion that they were realizing a pre-ordained historical path. Second, he offers the first systematic review of means-ends unity, as expressed in the anarchist tradition. Here, Gordon argues that in contrast to “prefiguration,” such expressions were framed in terms of a generative temporal framing, in which the present influences the future, and not the other way around. The third and final part argues that the idea of prefiguration—even if not taken literally—may nevertheless serve as an echo of false reassurance. This may conveniently sidestep a generative disposition towards the future, now that traditional promises of revolutionary transformation are replaced with prospects of eco- and industrial collapse. In closing, Gordon suggests replacing the concept of “prefigurative politics” with “concrete utopia”—an idea that lacks reassurance, but can offer hope even in the face of anxiety and catastrophe.

The following text involves a somewhat abstract discussion of ideas and their histories, but a discussion that has a bearing on our struggles and the attitudes we bring to them. At best, readers will be able to take a fresh look at their disposition towards the future as it relates to their current actions.

An extended academic version of this piece is available here. For their helpful comments, thanks go to Ben Franks, Francis Dupuis-Déri, and audience members at the House of Bugaboo and the Sydney Anarchist Bookfair, where earlier versions were presented.

Prefiguration, Recursion, and Reassurance

The term “prefigurative politics” did not emerge among activists. It was introduced by two social theorists: Carl Boggs, who published two articles in 1977 referring to a prefigurative tradition, model, or task, and Wini Breines, who reformulated the term two years later as “prefigurative politics” in her discussion of the New Left. The concept’s recent popularity reflects attention to the radical end of the alter-globalization protests of the early 2000s. Unlike the trade unions, NGOs, and political parties who also participated in these protests, radical groups rejected top-down organization, lobbying, and programs aimed at the seizure of state power. Instead, they promoted anti-hierarchical and anti-capitalist practices: decentralized organization in affinity groups and networks; decision-making by consensus; voluntary and non-profit undertakings; lower consumption; and an effort to identify and counteract regimes of domination and discrimination such as patriarchy, racism, and homophobia in activists’ own lives and interactions. “Prefigurative politics” is typically associated with these practices and orientations—not with any temporal framing.

Many authors who discuss these practices do so in ethical terms, without temporal implications. In such discussions, the idea of “ends” is understood in terms of goods and values (as in, “an end in itself”), rather than as a potential future state of society (as in, “an end result”). Benjamin Franks, for example, emphasizes the intrinsic value of means, contrasting this to the instrumental or “consequentialist” valuation found among authoritarian vanguards. Gabriel Kuhn also uses ethical rather than temporal language in associating prefigurative politics with “the belief that the establishment of an egalitarian society enabling free individual development is dependent on political actors implementing the essential values of such a society immediately, in their ways of organizing, living, and fighting.” Finally, Cindy Milstein’s ethical statement is explicitly dissociated from the future:

“We’re not putting off the good society until some distant future but attempting to carve out room for it in the here and now, however tentative and contorted… consistency of means and ends implies an ethical approach to politics. How we act now is how we want others to begin to act, too. We try to model a notion of goodness even as we fight for it.”

Still, a temporal sense of prefiguration does surface in some statements, which directly relate current practices to a possible future. Brian Tokar defines the concept of prefiguration as “the idea that a transformative social movement must necessarily anticipate the ways and means of the hoped-for new society.” In their book Anti-Capitalist Britain, John Carter and Dave Morland write that it is “a strategy that is an embryonic representation of an anarchist social future.” Finally, using terms that are very significant to our discussion, sociologist Steven Buehler defines prefigurative politics as a strategy in which “pursuit of utopian goals is recursively built into the movement’s daily operation and organizational style.”

These statements introduce terminology that goes well beyond the ethical: anticipation, hope, maturation, recursion, representation, utopia. To begin unpacking this future-orientation, I would like to expose the roots of the idea of prefiguration, which may not be familiar to activists using the term.

The prefigurative idea entered the Western imagination through Christian biblical interpretation. Since its beginnings, Christian theology has approached the Hebrew bible as an Old Testament “having a shadow of good things to come” (Heb10:1). Stripped of its normative and national character, the Hebrew bible’s Christianized significance lies in its foreshadowing of the Gospel, such that, in the words of Cardinal de Lubac, “Christ appears to us preceded by the shadows and the figures which he himself had cast on Jewish history.” Thus Paul the Apostle says that Adam was “a figure [τύπος, typos] of him that was to come” (Rom 5:15), and that the trials of the Israelites in the wilderness “became examples [τύποι, typoi] for us” (1Cor.10:6). In his seminal essay on the term “figura,” literary scholar Erich Auerbach identified Tertullian (c.160-225CE) as the earliest Church Father to develop Paul’s occasional references to prefiguration into a systematic approach to the interpretation of scripture, known today as Typology. Thus, among many other examples, in Adversus Marcionem, Tertullian treats Moses’s naming of Joshua (Num. 13:16) as “a figure of things to come” [figura futurorum fuisse], linking Joshua to his namesake, Jesus of Nazareth, and Joshua’s leadership of the Israelites to Jesus’ leadership of the “second people”—the Christians—into the “promised land… of eternal life.”

According to Auerbach, “from the fourth century on, the usage of the word figura and of the method of interpretation connected with it are fully developed in nearly all the Latin Church writers.” The earliest usage I could find of the specific term “prefigure” is in the Latin translation of Against Heresies by Irenaeus (made around 380 CE). Here, he writes that “the first testament… exhibited a type [typum] of heavenly things… prefiguring [præfigurans] the images of those things which exist in the Church.” Soon after, St. Jerome (347-420) centered his 53rd Epistle (to Paulinus, De studi Scripturarum) on how Christ is “predestined and prefigured [prædestinatus autem, et præfiguratus] in the Law and the Prophets.” Thus, Deuteronomy is a “prefiguration of evangelical law [Evangelicae legis praefiguratio]”, and Jonah “calls the world to repent, his shipwreck prefiguring the Passion of the Lord” [passionem Domini præfigurans]. Many other examples use different terminology, from Joshua’s lay of the land “describing the celestial spiritual kingdom of Jerusalem,” to Esther who “in the figure of the Church [in Ecclesiae typo] liberates her people from danger.”

St. Jerome.

It was St. Augustine of Hyppo (354-430), however, who “developed this idea… profoundly and completely” according to Auerbach. Auerbach gives many examples, to which we may add Augustine’s statements in City of God that Cain, “founder of the earthly city… signifies the Jews who killed Christ the shepherd of men, which Abel the shepherd of sheep was prefiguring [præfigurabat]”; and that “the kingdom of Saul… was the shadow of a kingdom yet to come” and therefore David passed over the opportunity to slay Saul (1 Sam 24.1-7) “for the sake of what it was prefiguring” [propter illud, quod præfigurabat].

Prefiguration, then, is a recursive temporal framing in which events at one time are interpreted as a figure pointing to its fulfillment in later events, with the figure cast in the model of the fulfillment. In the statements just reviewed, the interpretation is backward-looking: both the figure and its fulfillment (i.e. Old Testaments events and the events of the Gospel) precede the interpretation. In the same retrospective way, we could say that Paul’s statements “prefigured” the fuller accounts of typology in Jerome and Augustine. However, prefiguration can also be forward-looking, with current events said to prefigure future ones. This prospective sense is the one in which John the Baptist anticipates “he that comes after me” (Matthew 3:11)—announcing his own prefiguration of Jesus. Equally important to the Christian scheme, such prospective prefiguration is carried over to notions of End Times, with each figure-fulfillment pair pointing to a third, final fulfillment and completion in the Second Coming. In this light, argues Auerbach,

“the history of no epoch even has the practical self-sufficiency which… [in the modern view] resides in the accomplished fact… the event is enacted according to an ideal model which is a prototype situated in the future and thus far only promised… every future model, though incomplete as history, is already fulfilled in God and has existed from all eternity in his providence.”

The Diggers, depicted by anarchist artist Clifford Harper.

Given how central this temporal framing was to the Christian worldview, it is not surprising that oppositional movements in medieval and early modern Europe often used prefigurative language. A case in point is Gerrard Winstanley, the Diggers’ leader, for whom prefiguration became the cornerstone of a complete revolutionary theology. In his 1649 pamphlet The True Levellers Standard Advanced, Winstanley explicitly justifies the Diggers’ direct action strategy—expropriating formerly-common lands and withholding of wage labor—in terms of its supposed fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Winstanley believed that the Kingdom of God could be brought into being, not through divine intervention, but through human action—by establishing an equal society in his own time. Instead of a literal Second Coming, he expected the final rising of the “Spirit of Christ, which is the Spirit of universal Community and Freedom” to take place in the persons of those who “lay the Foundation of making the Earth a Common Treasury.” Therefore, he declares, “they that are resolved to work and eat together, making the Earth a Common Treasury, doth joyn hands with Christ, to lift up the Creation from Bondage, and restores all things from the Curse.” Later on, Winstanley uses his own typology in addressing concerns about repression and hardship:

“And we are assured, that in the strength of this Spirit that hath manifested himself to us, we shall not be startled, neither at Prison nor Death… For by this work we are assured… that Bondage shall be removed, Tears wiped away, and all poor People by their righteous Labours shall be relieved, and freed from Poverty and Straits; For in this work of Restoration there will be no begger in Israel: For surely, if there was no Begger in literal Israel, there shall be no Begger in Spiritual Israel the Anti-type, much more.”

Winstanley’s final statement (which does not, in fact, refer directly to scripture, but to an observation he himself made frequently in his writings) describes the work of the Diggers as a fulfillment of an Old Testament figure. In the terms defined above, Winstanley’s prefiguration is backward-looking, albeit in the present perfect tense. The Diggers and their actions are not a figure, but the fulfillment of the “Spiritual Israel” prefigured in the Bible. As we shall see, however, an explicitly forward-looking use of prefiguration is also a feature of the revolutionary imagination.

Gerrard Winstanley, depicted by anarchist artist Clifford Harper.

In the meantime, however, I would like to argue that Winstanley’s prefigurative thinking is an example of the “process of reassurance,” identified by historian Reinhard Koselleck among numerous “groups of activists who wished to… be part of a history moving under its own momentum, where one only aided this forward motion.” In his essay On the Disposability of History, Koselleck describes the process of reassurance as “a means of strengthening the will to hurry the advent of the planned future.” This certainly applies to Winstanley’s assurance that the Diggers’ actions are the foretold fulfillment of biblical figures. It is a framing that, according to Koselleck, “serves… as a relief—one’s will becomes the executor of transpersonal events—and as a legitimation which enables one to act in good conscience.”

I would like to point to a resurfacing of this process of reassurance in Andre Gorz’s “The Way Forward,” published in the New Left Review shortly after the French uprising of 1968. This article stands out because its use of prefiguration predates Boggs by almost a decade, while strikingly integrating the term into an authoritarian Marxist framework. This gives us a unique opportunity to examine a secular and political version of prefigurative reasoning in isolation from the anarchistic ethical strategy which the term normally refers to. Indeed, Gorz employs familiar stereotypes of anarchism as “relying on mass spontaneity, seeing insurrection as the royal road to revolution” and as “the theory of all or nothing according to which the revolution must be a quasi-instantaneous act.” Arguing also against “the immediate construction of socialism and of communism,” Gorz calls for a “Guevarist” strategy, in which the revolutionary vanguard becomes an educator of the masses. The vanguard party “prefigures the proletarian State, and reflects for the working class its capacity to be a ruling class.” In Gorz’s scheme, means do not prefigure ultimate ends, but other means. Rather than prefiguring a “post-revolutionary society,” the party’s “central organs, by their cohesion and capacity for political analysis, will prefigure the central power of the transitional period.”

Gorz’s repeated use of prefiguration cannot be dismissed as mere literary flourish. It relies, no less than Winstanley’s theological framing, on a universal point of view that bridges past, present, and future within an unfolding plan. In his case, this is the orthodox Marxist revolutionary program. His framing is clearly forward-looking, with a present figure looking towards its future fulfillment. The desirable role of the vanguard in the present is thus worked out backwards from the endgame in which it seizes state power. Only the grand narrative grounding this program, with its specific account of class and party, can offer a clear enough image of the future (the workers’ state) to form a model for the present. Only a revolutionary scenario that is a “given” can make such symbolic projection from the future intelligible. This is not to endorse ambitious claims about a messianic streak at the heart of Marxism. The point is that in this prefigurative scheme, the one possible—if not guaranteed—path towards revolution is already decided.

Even more importantly, Gorz uses prefiguration as an almost-transparent conceit. The educative role Gorz describes is supposed to strengthen the workers’ movement and lead it to fulfill its potential. Why not place such a process of education within a generative temporal framing, developing forward in time without recursive projection from an imagined future endgame? Gorz wants the party to educate by modeling the given image of its victory, hurrying on the development of class consciousness. In other words, the prefigurative language is openly intended to activate a process of reassurance among the working class.

As we shall see later on, it is the absence of reassurance that prefiguration now papers over. For now, though, I would like to look more closely at the generative temporal framings which have accompanied the ethos of means-ends unity. These appear earliest and most consistently in the anarchist tradition, which none of the originators of the concept “prefigurative politics” served very well.

Ethical Practice and Generative Temporality

Carl Boggs published his article “Marxism, Prefigurative Communism, and the Problem of Workers’ Control” in the ten-year double issue of Radical America, a magazine started in 1967 by Paul Bhule and members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), but which “long outlived its seedbed” to become “an eclectic left publication, bound to no single strategy and certainly to no organization.” The article’s primary interest is in council insurgencies in Russia, Italy, and Germany between 1917-1920, and it defines the term “prefigurative” as “the embodiment, within the ongoing political practice of a movement, of those forms of social relations, decision-making, culture, and human experience that are the ultimate goal.”

Boggs’s definition above may be called a formal definition, limited to the very correspondence between ultimate goal and ongoing practice, while remaining silent on their actual content. Contrast this to his statements in the article he published in the academic journal Theory and Society the same year, “Revolutionary Process, Political Strategy and the Dilemma of Power.” Here, he refers to the prefigurative task as one “which expresses the ultimate ends of the revolutionary process itself: popular self-emancipation, collective social and authority relations, socialist democracy.” Here, instead, is a substantive definition, which unlike the formal one gives particular value-content to both practices and goals. A substantive definition is also used by Wini Breines, in her paper first presented at the 1979 annual meetings of the American Sociological Association, revised for publication in Social Problems and later expanded into her book Community and Organization in the New Left, 1962-1968. Brienes, who credits Boggs, defines prefigurative politics as the “attempt to embody personal and anti-hierarchical values… to develop the seeds of liberation and the new society (prior to and in the process of revolution) through notions of participatory democracy grounded in [non-capitalist and communitarian] counter-institutions.”

Notice that the formal definition leaves prefigurative politics open to association with widely varied practices, from the courts-in-waiting of crown pretenders to parliamentary shadow cabinets to white nationalist groups who “prefigure” Aryan dominance. What bridges the formal and substantive definitions, however, is a particular political context. This is the opposition to authoritarian variants of Marxism, whose ends and means do not correspond in this way. On its opponents’ account, while authoritarian Marxism does posit a stateless communist society as its end-goal—in Lenin’s own words, one “without force, without coercion, without subordination”—it proceeds via top-down structures and the seizure of state power. There is no correspondence between means and ends, and revolutionary organization and action are approached instrumentally. This critique and the alternative now identified with “prefigurative politics” were first worked out, not by the New Left, but by anarchists starting a century earlier.

Brienes credits anarchism and radical pacifism as the “real forerunners” of the New Left, but does not go beyond naming Paul Goodman and Murray Bookchin as influential representatives. In his article for Theory and Society, Boggs dedicates all of one page to the anarchist contribution, dismissing it as having merely “emerged in response to organized Marxism… flailing away helplessly from the outside,” “trapped in its own spontaneism” and “preoccupation with small face-to-face ‘organic’ institutions.” In Radical America, while acknowledging that the prefigurative tradition “begins with the nineteenth century anarchists,” he outdoes himself (and Gorz) in alleging that the anarchists “scorned politics,” showed “contempt for ‘theory’ and ‘organization’ in any form” and were “basically romantic and utopian,” looking “to an idyllic past rooted in a primitive collectivism”—all without a shard of evidence. What is more, having first commended prefigurative strategy for viewing “statism and authoritarianism as special obstacles to be overturned,” Boggs seems to recoil from the consequences of his own argument, and almost immediately refers to prefigurative structures as “a nucleus of a future socialist state,” while praising Councilism for not “contemptuously dismiss[ing]” the “contestation for state power.” While recent writers on prefigurative politics have done more to acknowledge its indebtedness to anarchism, what follows is a systematic examination of key utterances on means-ends unity in the anarchist tradition. As we shall now see, these consistently used a generative temporal framing, as opposed to recursive prefiguration.

The formative conflict between the authoritarian and libertarian factions in the First International came to a head after the fall of the Paris Commune of 1871. When the closed General Council of the International resolved that workers must form their own political parties, anarchists held a counter-conference at Sonvilier (Bernese Jura). They produced a circular that defined the counter-program of the social revolution as “’Emancipation of the workers by the workers themselves,’ free of all directing authority, even should that authority be elected and endorsed by the workers.” The Circular closes:

The society of the future should be nothing other than the universalization of the organization with which the International will have endowed itself. We must, therefore, be careful to ensure that this organization comes as close as possible to our ideal. How can we expect an egalitarian and free society to emerge from an authoritarian organization? Impossible. The International, as the embryo of the human society of the future, is required in the here and now to faithfully mirror our principles of freedom and federation and shun any principle leaning towards authority and dictatorship.

This argument, with its embryonic metaphor, refers to what today might be called a “path dependency” between revolutionary practices and results. The road one travels determines the destination one reaches. Choices about revolutionary organization (top-down or bottom-up) end up determining both the form of the revolution (seizure of state power or abolition of the state) and its end result (modified hierarchical structures or free communism). Note that, although connected to “principles,” the Circular’s argument from path dependency actually justifies means-ends correspondence in instrumental terms. The seizure of state power is not rejected solely on ethical grounds, despite being deemed an effective revolutionary means. Rather, it is rejected as ineffective, since it does not result in a classless society but in dictatorship.

Bakunin speaking at the Basel Congress 1869.

In the same year, Bakunin also insisted that the International should organize “from the bottom up, beginning with the social life of the masses and their real aspirations” and “not by forcing the natural life of the masses into the straitjacket of the State.” This led him to praise the Communards’ disinterest in seizing state power:

“Our friends, the Paris socialists, believed that revolution could neither be made nor brought to its full development except by the spontaneous and continued action of the masses, the groups and the associations of the people… [society] can and should reorganize itself, not from the top down according to an ideal plan dressed up by wise men or scholars nor by decrees promulgated by some dictatorial power or even by a national assembly… [but] from the bottom up, by the free association or federation of workers.”

By “spontaneous,” Bakunin does not mean impulsive or improvised, but self-directed and voluntary. Such social reorganization, carried out directly at the grassroots, is therefore opposed to artificial top-down structures, which maintain the same alienation of power against which revolutionaries are struggling. Like the Jura anarchists, in calling for immediate social reorganization, Bakunin is thinking about the long-term effects of present actions and structures, and the choices that become locked-in once a certain path is taken. By extending and defending their own bottom-up forms of organization, revolutionary masses can directly achieve some of their objectives. In instrumental terms, such organization not only avoids the pitfalls of authoritarianism and bureaucracy, but also creates a stronger social base for strikes and insurrections.

The rue de Rivoli after the suppression of the Paris Commune.

This emphasis on immediate implementation would later become part of the central anarchist concept of direct action. This concept goes beyond disruptive tactics to a wider principle of action without intermediaries. Through direct action, a group or individual uses their own power to prevent an injustice or fulfill their desires, as opposed to appealing to an external agent to do so for them. Kropotkin thus called on workers to expropriate productive resources and infrastructures, as “the first step towards a reorganization of our production on Socialist principles.” While Kropotkin had a mass uprising in mind, more localized examples of direct expropriation include land and factory occupations, urban squatting, and digital piracy. With equal importance, direct action includes immediate reconstruction of social roles and relationships, to the extent possible. The expansion, deepening, and defense of equality and non-domination achieves its aims immediately, just as a mass trespass directly stops fracking. In both cases, the achievement may be temporary or fragile, but it does not involve intermediaries. There is an evident parallel between this wider sense of direct action and current movements’ preference for “prefigurative politics” over lobbying, litigation, and party politics. At stake in all cases—disruption, expropriation, and reconstruction—is the non-alienation of collective power and a rejection of the politics of representation.

The aftermath of the October revolution vindicated anarchists’ warnings about means and ends, occasioning Emma Goldman’s landmark statement in her Afterword to My Disillusionment in Russia. Concluding her memoir, Goldman asserts that “No revolution can ever succeed as a factor of liberation unless the means used to further it be identical in spirit and tendency with the purposes to be achieved”:

All human experience teaches that methods and means cannot be separated from the ultimate aim. The means employed become, through individual habit and social practice, part and parcel of the final purpose; they influence it, modify it, and presently the aims and means become identical.

This is again a statement of path dependency. Notice, however, the abundance of temporal allusions in these final passages (original emphases):

To-day is the parent of to-morrow. The present casts its shadow far into the future…Revolution that divests itself of ethical values thereby lays the foundation of injustice, deceit, and oppression for the future society. The means used to prepare the future become its cornerstone… the ethical values which the revolution is to establish in the new society must be initiated with the revolutionary activities of the so-called transitional period. Revolution is the mirror of the coming day; it is the child that is to be the Man of To-morrow.

Like the embryonic metaphor in the Sonvilier Circular, Goldman’s account of means gelling into ends has the present generating the future. With the possible exception of the mirror metaphor, this is a generative temporal framing situated in forward-looking time, without recursion. Revolutionaries’ visions for the future are themselves things of the present—drawn from current mental experiences and discursive exchanges. More importantly, the interpretation of the present is self-contained, dependent on ethical values rather than on a promised or imagined prototype. Maturation is not guaranteed (the child “is to be,” not “will be”). Yet what is already accomplished has the “practical self-sufficiency” which Auerbach associates with the modern view.

This is shown to be a major difference, rather than a matter of mere phrasing, when we consider how lived ethics have an experimental and novel quality, which undercuts the possibility of recursive reasoning. Rejecting the assured blueprints of utopian socialists and Soviet planners alike, anarchists have tended to privilege repeated, concrete experiences of social struggle which give rise to unexpected forms of collective power and solidarity. Goldman thus describes revolution as “first and foremost, the transvaluator, the bearer of new values. It is the great teacher of the new ethics, inspiring man with a new concept of life.” She employs the Nietzschean term “transvaluation” (Umwertung) without mentioning the philosopher’s name, yet it is clear that she took from Nietzsche an attitude that embraces radical open-endedness in the creation of new social visions and practices. The emergence of relationships transcending domination is an uncertain process, playful as well as dangerous. However, this implies that the ends expressed in practice undergo constant re-evaluation. Such an open-ended politics makes it hard to sustain any fixed notion of a “future accomplishment,” rendering it too unstable to coherently act as a source of recursive prefiguration. Such a partial indeterminacy of ends only makes sense within a generative temporal framing, in which the future is seen as the unknown product of the affordances and contingencies that will have preceded it.

Today, it has become hard to point with assurance to a bright future to come. Absent Promise, Crisis and Hope

So far, we have seen that the temporal framings accompanying anarchist accounts of ethical strategy have been generative rather than prefigurative in the temporal sense, seeking to shape an as-yet-unknown future out of the present. Its experimental nature pulls such a framing away from the “process of reassurance,” and towards a more modest view of future-oriented designs. However, if non-hierarchical social relations are to be extended and defended with neither the assurances of historical momentum, nor a full determinacy of ends, what remains of activist imaginations of the future?

One response—”perhaps nothing”—marks a recent strand in activist expression that attempts to absorb revolutionary accomplishment entirely into current ethical practices, dissociating it from the future altogether. To take a few illustrative examples:

The revolution exists in every moment of our lives… in the present, not in some mythic possible future. -“Monkey,” 1999

It is crucial that we seek change not in the name of some doctrine or grand cause, but on behalf of ourselves, so that we will be able to live more meaningful lives… rather than direct our struggle towards world-historical changes which we will not live to witness. –CrimethInc., 2000

The revolution is now, and we must let the desires we have about the future manifest themselves in the here and now as best as we can. When we start doing that, we stop fighting for some abstract condition for the future and instead start fighting to see those desires realized in the present… as a flowering of one’s self-determined existence –Hodgson, 2003

Approvingly, anarchist geographer Simon Springer theorizes such outlooks as a micro-political anarchism, which rejects “end-state politics,” prefers “permanent insurrection” to “final revolution,” and “abandons any pretext of achieving a completely free and harmonious society in the future and instead focuses on the immediacies of anarchist praxis and a prefigurative politics of direct action in the present.” Furthermore, in such expressions the very desire to inhabit non-dominating social settings is often presented as the main motivation for constructing them. In such statements, individual liberation and social struggle each supplying the other’s motivation. Recalling the slogan also attributed to Goldman —”If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution”—this approach to anarchist practice turns away from a politics of self-sacrifice towards a politics of self-realization and revolutionary lifestyle.

The turn to the present has often raised controversy, being described as a symptom of activist networks becoming mere cultural scenes, abandoning revolutionary politics for self-seeking pursuits. Another critique has been that the short-term focus on both cultural reproduction and confrontational tactics neglects movement-building and class solidarity. My own critique is a bit different. I would like to argue that such expressions of “presentism,” in their eagerness to avoid a Leninist deferral of revolutionary ends, also conveniently sidestep the consequences of a generative temporal framing. While the statements above dismiss the future as “distant,” “mythical,” or “abstract,” no threat to lived ethical practice is actually posed by imagining long-term social scenarios, or thinking generations ahead. Instead, I would suggest that presentism covers for a reluctance to confront the absent promise of revolutionary accomplishment, as well as the bleak prospects that become evident once activists approach the future generatively.

For transformative movements, the imagination of the future is no longer structured by traditional revolutionary expectations. A century or more ago, anarchists like Bakunin who had experienced the revolutions of 1848 and 1871 could still [expect]( that “when the hour of the People’s Revolution strikes again” it would raise the “simultaneous revolutionary alliance and action of all the people of the civilized world” against reaction. Kropotkin too was convinced that “a great revolution is growing up in Europe” which would see “a rapid modification of outgrown economical and political institutions” and “a displacement of wealth and political power,” over a short period “lasting for several years.” Such expectations did not require an appeal to historical inevitability; they were based on an instinctive understanding of cycles of contention, and an appreciation—too high, in hindsight—of the generative power of mass movements invested in their material and cultural base. Today, however, even such a guarded promise of revolution in advanced capitalist countries seems far-fetched. The past century has continued to see democratic and socialist political revolutions, as well as military coups and civil wars, but none have achieved a classless society. The tremendous growth in states’ military and surveillance powers, the continuing appeal of nationalism, and the understanding that there is no keystone center of power open to definitive attack, have also rendered such optimistic expectations obsolete.

Even more crucially, any generative disposition towards the future must now account for industrial civilization’s transgression of multiple planetary tipping points, as global resource-use continues to grow unabated. Hence, any expectations for social change must be projected into a future shaped by runaway climate change, energy depletion, ecosystem collapse, inequality, deprivation, and conflict. My argument is that prefigurative language may offer false comfort in the absence of revolutionary promise, papering over the awareness of converging planetary crises. The affective space attached to disposition towards the future, long vacated by reassurance and even expectant optimism, is now filled with anxiety, frustration, and guilt. “Prefigurative” terminology sidesteps this crisis by avoiding an explicit disposition towards the future while at the same time hinting, however vaguely, at the reassurance that the accomplished future is already radiating backwards on activists’ actions today.

Readers can decide for themselves whether I am on to something here, or whether I am overthinking. Either way, the urgent task in this area would seem to be a reworking of generative framings to account for protracted, uneven, and irreversible collapse.

But if the term “prefigurative politics” should indeed be abandoned, what could replace it? A focus on substance, as in “anti-hierarchical politics,” could certainly go quite far. But can means-ends unity and ethical practice be framed even more productively, in a way that (a) suggests generative, rather than recursive temporality and (b) encourages an attitude other than reassurance, which can still sustain the confrontation with converging crises? In closing, I would like to offer initial thoughts on one possible way to address this question, drawing on Ernst Bloch’s concept of “concrete utopia.”

In his greatest work, The Principle of Hope, Bloch charts a utopian and non-authoritarian variation on Marxist thought. He looks beyond “utopia” as a literary description of a model society to what he calls the “positive utopian function” of imaginings that “extend, in an anticipating way, existing material into the future possibilities of being different and better.” The anchoring in present reality separates such imaginings from what Bloch calls “abstract utopianism,” which ranges from social blueprints to personal daydreams. This is because concrete utopianism “does not play around and get lost in an Empty-Possible, but psychologically anticipates a Real-Possible.” Theological prefiguration and its lingering resonances clearly belong in the abstract category. In distinction, Bloch’s “not-yet” faces all possible future states of the real world, while drawing hope from the tendencies and latencies of a self-transforming present. As a result, he writes, concrete-utopian impulses correspond not to fantasy, but to hope and action:

Utopian function as the comprehended activity of the expectant emotion, of the hope-premonition, maintains the alliance with all that is still morning like in the world. Utopian function understands what is exploding, because it is this itself in a very condensed way: its Ratio is the unweakened Ratio of a militant optimism. Therefore: the act-content of hope is, as a consciously illuminated, knowingly elucidated content, the positive utopian function.

Bloch’s temporal framing of concrete utopianism is generative. It is a thought-behavior that “contains within it the forward surge of an achievement which can be anticipated.” To be sure, Bloch maintains fealty to the Marxist tradition and some attachment to its determinacy can be felt in his account of concrete utopia. True to colors, he puts his erudite gloss on the obligatory dismissal of anarchism, personified in Stirner and Proudhon’s “petit-bourgeois” sensibilities and in Bakunin’s “complete monomania of hatred of authority.” Alongside its individualism, Bloch asserts, the anarchist image of freedom is “a bit of future in the future, for which no present prerequisites exist anywhere at all,” while “certain anarchic themes” are “already to be found in Marxism, sensibly enough not as present postulates but as prophecies and conclusions.” Here Bloch does himself a true disservice by failing to link his concrete utopia to what Boggs would later call the “prefigurative tradition” of anarchism and councilism. Even more than the mental act-content of hope, it is the construction of living alternatives that concretely expresses the positive utopian function. With Marxist prejudices at arm’s length, however, a “politics of concrete utopia” might indeed replace “prefigurative politics” as a colorful descriptor for means-ends unity.

While the idea of concrete utopia successfully binds ethical practice to a generative temporal framing, Bloch’s attached principle of hope, drawn from the not-yet, requires further modification. What becomes of this principle, once anticipation addresses itself not only to the fruition of concrete-utopian efforts, but also to the inevitable consequences of industrial and neoliberal over-reach? A promising answer may be found in the ideas of “anxious” and “catastrophic” hope, elaborated by Bürge Abiral in her work with practical sustainability activists in Turkey. Unsurprisingly, activists promoting community sustainability, bioremediation, energy transition, and permaculture system design are among the most attuned to prognoses of collapse. Abiral thus associates the idea of “anxious hope” with the grain of anxiety always attending the “belief that small actions matter… that it is not too late to act.”

Instead of being an opposite of hope, anxiety is a companion to it. This hope rests on thin ice. The desired results attached to hope, and the effects that are hoped for may never materialize, and the permaculturists are well aware of it… Instead of driving permaculturists to despair, the anxiety that they feel about the future accompanies their hopeful condition and all the more pushes them to act in the present.

Coexisting with anxious hope is catastrophic hope, an affect that “combines a catastrophic vision of the future with the conviction that good things will continue to happen despite and because of approaching disasters.” Catastrophic hope serves as a fallback, providing succor even as it attends to worst-case scenarios short of extinction. Such hope can look forward to the adoption of radical alternatives out of the urgency and necessity of a decaying world, and to the revolutionary openings these may involve. Taken together, anxious and catastrophic forms of hope suggest promising alternatives to the temptations of reassurance, prefiguration, and denial.

Hope is in what we do: Occupy the Farm in 2012. Conclusion

Concepts travel accidental paths. “Left” and “Right” are obvious examples of how pure contingency has shaped our political vocabulary. A concept often becomes institutionalized, not because of its inherent richness or explanatory power, but only because of its emergence or appropriation in a certain context and at a certain time, with the ensuing irreversible process of dissemination and repetition across writers. This is also the case with prefigurative politics. In an email conversation, Boggs attested to me that he arrived at the term on his own, inspired at the time by the ideas of Gramsci and Bookchin, but unaware of its use by the Church Fathers or by Gorz. But even if we grant that the term has reached social movements through a broken line of transmission, its temporal resonance remains preserved in its literal pre-fix, and continues to raise troubling questions for those who employ the term.

Following the ethnologist Jane Guyer’s influential discussion of temporal framings as an area in which individuals and groups seek intelligibility, this piece has tried to examine what she called the “still-lingering and newly emergent entailments and dissonances that escape their terms of reference” in the concept of prefigurative politics. In exposing the term’s background, I have sought to wrest lived ethical practice out of the ghostly hand of recursive temporality. To reconceive such practice in terms of concrete utopia allows us to better capture its generative framing in the anarchist tradition, while casting off the confusing theological ideas of recursion attached to the term “prefiguration.” The approach I have offered seeks to confront a toxic future despite the absence of revolutionary promise, drawing on the anxious and catastrophic hope that accompany efforts to build spaces of freedom, equality and solidarity. Facing forward, we have only one another to rely on.

References and Further Reading

Abiral, B. (2015) “Catastrophic Futures, Anxious Presents: Lifestyle activism and hope in the Permaculture movement in Turkey”. Masters dissertation, Sabancı University

Auerbach, E. (1944/1984) “Figura”, in Scenes from the Drama of European Literature. Manchester University Press.

Bakunin, M. (1866), “Revolutionary Catechism”. in Bakunin on Anarchism, ed. S. Dogloff. New York: Knopf.

Bakunin, M. (1871a), “The Program of the Alliance”, in Dogloff.

Bakunin, M. (1871b), “The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State”, in Dogloff .

Bloch, E. (1959/1995) The Principle of Hope (vol. 3), trans. N. Plaice, S. Plaice and P. Knight. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Boggs, C. (1977a) “Marxism, Prefigurative Communism and the Problem of Workers’ Control”, Radical America 11(6)/12(1), pp.99-122.

Boggs, C. (1977b) “Revolutionary Process, Political Strategy and the Dilemma of Power”, Theory and Society 4(3), pp.359-93

Bookchin, M. (1980) “Anarchism Past and Present”, Comment 1.6.

Bookchin, M. (1995) Social Anarchism and Lifestyle Anarchism: An unbridgeable chasm. Oakland: AK Press

Breines, W. (1980) “Community and organization: The New Left and Michels’ “Iron Law””, Social Problems 27(4), pp.419-429

Breines, W. (1982) Community and Organization in the New Left. New York: Praeger

Brucato, B. (2013) “Toward a Peak Everything Postanarchism and a Technology Evaluation Schema for Communities in Crisis”. Anarchist Studies 21(1), pp.28-51

Buechler, S. M. (2000) Social Movements in Advanced Capitalism. Oxford University Press.

Carter, J. and D. Morland (2004) “Anti-capitalism: Are we all anarchists now?” in Anti-capitalist Britain, Gretton: New Clarion Press

Center for Digital Scholarship (n.d.) Radical America – 1967-1999 (online archive).

Cohn, N. (1957) The Pursuit of the Millennium. London: Granada

CrimethInc. (2000) “Alive in the Land of the dead”. In Days of War, Nights of Love: CrimethInc. for beginners. Olympia, WA: CrimethInc.

Danowski, D. and E. Viveiros de Castro (2017). The Ends of the World. Cambridge: Polity.

Davis, L. (2010) “Social anarchism or lifestyle anarchism: an unhelpful dichotomy”. Anarchist Studies 18(1), pp.62-82

De Lubac, H. (1938/1988) Catholicism: Christ and the common destiny of man. San Francisco: Ignatius Press

Eckhardt, W. (2016) The First Socialist Schism. Oakland: PM Press.

Evans, S. (2009) “Sons, daughters, and patriarchy: Gender and the 1968 generation”. The American Historical Review 114(2), pp.331-347.

Firth, R. and A. Robinson (2014) “For the Past Yet to Come: Utopian conceptions of time and becoming”. Time & Society, 23(3), pp.380-401.

Franks, B. (2014) “Anti-Fascism and the Ethics of Prefiguration”. Affinities 8(1).

Futrell, R. and P. Simi (2004). “Free Spaces, Collective Identity, and the Persistence of US White Power Activism”, Social Problems 51(1), pp.16-42

Goldman, E. (1925) Afterword to My Disillusionment in Russia. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Gordon, U. (2008) Anarchy Alive! Anti-authoritarian politics from practice to theory. London: Pluto.

Gorz, A. (1968) “The way forward”, New Left Review I/52, pp.47-66.

Groves, C. (2016) Emptying the future: on the environmental politics of anticipation. Futures 88.

Guyer J. (2007) “Prophecy and the near future: thoughts on macroeconomic, evangelical, an punctuated time”. American Ethnologist 34(3): 409–421

Haraway, D. (2016) “Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene”. e-flux 75.

Harvey, W. W., ed. (1857) Sancti Irenaei episcopi lugdunensis libros quinque adversus haereses. Cambridge: Typis Academicis.

Hill, C. (1986) “The religion of Gerrard Winstanley”, in Collected Essays (vol.2). Brighton: Harvester

Hodgson, T. (2003) “Towards Anarchy: The Revolution is Now” (blog post).

Howard, N., and K. Pratt-Boyden (2013) “Occupy London as pre-figurative political action”, Development in Practice 23(5-6), pp.729-41.

Jura Federation (1871), “La Circulaire de Sonvilier”, in J. Guillaume (1905) L’Internationale: Documents et Souvenirs, 1864-1878. Paris: Société Nouvelle.

Juris, J. (2008) Networking Futures. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Knott, J. R. (2011) The Sword of the Spirit. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock

Krøijer, S. (2010) “Figurations of the Future: On the Form and Temporality of Protests among Left Radical Activists in Europe”. Social Analysis 54:3, pp.139–152

Kropotkin, P. (1988) Act for yourselves. Articles from Freedom, 1886-1907, eds. N. Walter and H. Becker. London: Freedom

Kropotkin, P. (1886) “What Revolution Means”, Freedom 1(2).

Kuhn, G. (2016) “Revolution Is More Than a Word: 23 Theses on Anarchism” (blog post),

Koselleck, R. (1977/2004) “On the Disposability of History”, in Futures Past, trans. K. Tribe. New York: Columbia University Press, pp.192-204

Lawrence, C. and Churn, N., eds. (2012) Movements in Time: Revolution, social justice and times of change. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars

Lear, J. (2009) Radical Hope: Ethics in the face of cultural devastation. Harvard University Press

Lenin, V. l. (1917) The State and Revolution. London: Penguin

Levitas, R. (1990) “Ernst Bloch on Abstract and Concrete Utopia”. Utopian Studies 1:2, pp. 13-26

Maeckelbergh, M. (2011) “Doing is Believing: Prefiguration as strategic practice in the alterglobalization movement”, Social Movement Studies 10(1), pp.1-20

Marcuse H. (1969) An Essay on Liberation. Boston: Beacon Press.

McAdam, D. and W. H. Sewell (2001) “It’s about time: Temporality in the study of social movements and revolutions” in Silence and voice in the study of contentious politics. Cambridge University Press, pp.89-125.

Migne, J.-P. (1845) Patrologia Latina. Paris: Garnier.

Milstein, C. (2000), “Reclaim the cities: from protest to popular power”. Perspectives on Anarchist Theory 4(2);

Monkey (1999) “Forest Life” (blog post).

Olson, J. (2009) The problem with infoshops and insurrection: US anarchism, movement building, and the racial order. In Contemporary Anarchist Studies, eds. R.

Amster, A. DeLeon, L. Fernandez, A. Nocella and D. Shanon. London: Routledge, pp.35-45

Portwood-Stacer, L. (2013) Lifestyle politics and radical activism. New York: Bloomsbury.

Ringel, F. (2012) “Towards anarchist futures? Creative presentism, vanguard practices and anthropological hopes”. Critique of Anthropology 32(2) pp.173-188

Rossdale, C. (2015). “Dancing ourselves to death: The subject of Emma Goldman’s Nietzschean anarchism”, Globalizations 12(1), pp.116-133.

Rothbard, M. (1990) “Karl Marx: Communist as religious eschatologist”, The Review of Austrian Economics 4, pp.123-179.

Shulman, A. K. (1991) “Women of the PEN: Dances with feminists”, Women’s Review of Books 9(3)., p.13

Siltanen, J., F. Klodawsky, and C. Andrew (2015) “”This is how I want to live my life”: An experiment in prefigurative feminist organizing for a more equitable and inclusive city”, Antipode 47(1), pp.260-79

Springer, S. (2014) Why a radical geography must be anarchist. Dialogues in Human Geography 4(3)

Tokar, B. (2003) “Review of Joel Kovel, The Enemy of Nature”, Tikkun 18.1, pp.77-8

Van de Sande, M. (2013) “The Prefigurative Politics of Tahrir Square – An Alternative Perspective on the 2011 Revolutions”, Res Publica 19(3), pp.223-239

Winstanley, G. (1649/2009) “The True Levellers Standard Advanced”, in Complete Works (vol.2), eds. T. Corns, A. Hughes and D. Loewenstein. Oxford University Press., pp.1-30

Yates, L. (2015) “Rethinking prefiguration: Alternatives, micropolitics and goals in social movements”, Social Movement Studies 14(1), pp.1-21

Share this article

Remembering ‘Brownie Mary,’ San Francisco’s Marijuana Pioneer

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 16:23

via Atlas Obscura

by Anne Ewbank

Baked goods are often seen as comforting. The brownies made by Mary Jane Rathbun definitely fit that description. In 1996, the New York Times compared Rathbun to the domestic goddesses of American pop culture: Betty Crocker, Mrs. Field, Sara Lee. But Rathbun’s secret ingredient was cannabis. And instead of selling baking mix, Rathbun spent years campaigning for the legalization of medical marijuana, helping establish San Francisco at the forefront. It wasn’t long before she was known as “Brownie Mary,” a foul-mouthed friend to those affected by AIDS.

Rathbun was born in 1922, far from countercultural San Francisco, a city that would eventually hold a municipal holiday in her honor. Ironically, Mary Jane was her given name. As a child in Minnesota, she defied authority early, hitting a nun who tried to cane her and dropping out of school to become a waitress, her career for the next 50 years. While later in life she benefited from her unwitting, little-old-lady appearance, she was always an activist, campaigning for labor and abortion rights in her youth. Like many young Americans, she moved to the West Coast during World War II, settling in San Francisco.

She soon married, to a man she met at a USO dance. The marriage wasn’t successful, and the couple divorced. Rathbun had a daughter, named Peggy, but she was killed in a car accident in the early 1970s, when she was only 22. Later, friends would speculate the early death of her daughter inspired Rathbun’s extraordinary acts of charity.

Read more

How My Father’s Ideas Helped the Kurds Create a New Democracy

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 15:36

via The New York Review of Books

by Debbie Bookchin

One mild spring day in Vermont in April 2004, my father, the historian and philosopher Murray Bookchin, was chatting with me, as we did almost daily. We’d talk about everything and everyone—friends, family, and thinkers from Karl Marx and Karl Polanyi (whom he admired) to then-president George W. Bush (whom he did not) and George Smiley, the fictional John Le Carré character whom he identified with and was fond of. He paused, and out of the blue disclosed what seemed an odd piece of news: “Apparently,” he said, “the Kurds have been reading my work and are trying to implement my ideas.” He said it so casually and off-handedly that it was as if he didn’t quite believe it himself.

My father, eighty-three years old at the time, had spent six decades writing hundreds of articles and twenty-four books articulating an anticapitalist vision of an ecological, democratic, egalitarian society that would eliminate the domination of human by human, and bring humanity into harmony with the natural world, a body of ideas he called “social ecology.” Although his work was well-known within anarchist and libertarian left circles, his was hardly a household name.

Unexpectedly, that week, he had received a letter from an intermediary writing on behalf of the jailed Kurdish activist Abdullah Öcalan, head of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). As its co-founder, sole theoretician, and undisputed leader, Öcalan had a larger-than-life reputation—but nothing about his ideology seemed in any way to resemble my father’s.

Founded in 1978 as a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist organization, the PKK had for thirty years been waging an insurgent war on behalf of the roughly 15 million Kurds living in Turkey who have suffered a long history of violence. For decades, Turkey has prohibited Kurds from speaking their own language, wearing customary dress, using Kurdish names, teaching the Kurdish language in schools, or even playing Kurdish music. Kurds have routinely been arrested and tortured for any expression of their cultural identity or opposition to Turkey’s one-flag, one-people, one-nation ideology, which originated in the early twentieth century, found full expression in Kemalism, and has endured under the authoritarian rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Islamist party.

Like other national liberation movements of the 1970s, the PKK was originally founded to win an independent Kurdish state. It sought to unite the Kurds, whose homeland of five millennia, a swath of land known as Kurdistan, had been arbitrarily parceled out between Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria in the aftermath of World War I. In the decades that followed, it has often seemed as if these four countries were competing for the distinction of which could inflict more suffering on its Kurdish population. The spasmodic, pogrom-like violence to which these “new” nation states have subjected Kurds has included chemical gassings, bombings, forced relocations, ecological devastation, and the razing of entire villages. In the decades since 1984, when the PKK initiated an armed struggle, some 40,000 people have been killed, most of whom have been Kurds. For all those years of struggle, Öcalan has been the PKK’s ideological and organizational leader.

Read more

Liberals Are Criticizing the Korea Summit From the Right. Here’s Why They Have it All Wrong.

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 15:26

via In These Times

By Sarah Lazare

Poll after poll shows that the 51 million residents of South Korea overwhelmingly want an end to the 68-year Korean War—which the United States is still officially involved in. A recent survey found that 88.4 percent of South Koreans support the April 27 joint peace declaration by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in. And 81 percent of South Koreans expressed optimism about the Trump-Kim summit.

Despite widespread concerns that U.S. President Donald Trump would torpedo an historic opportunity for peace—including through his repeated threats to annihilate the entire Korean Peninsula with nuclear weapons—this worst-case scenario has not yet come to pass. When North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met with Trump in Singapore on June 12 and etched out a four-point agreement, the reaction in South Korea was largely a sigh of relief. “Koreans see the Singapore summit not just as another sensational episode in the story of Donald Trump but as a step away from a sixty-eight-year-old unfinished war,” writes E. Tammy Kim for The New Yorker.

Yet, there is a yawning gap between the optimistic mood in South Korea and the response among liberal media circles in the United States, where many are reacting with a mix of sanctimony and scorn. On June 12, Kevin Drum published a piece in Mother Jones in which he accused Trump of “abandoning” South Korea and agreeing to a weak deal. Vox echoed this line with rebukes of a “shockingly weak” agreement that includes “huge concessions to Kim for little in return.” MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson accused Trump of complicity in the public relations makeover of a dictator. And popular host Rachel Maddow released an episode on June 12 arguing that Trump’s pledge to halt war games in South Korea is a “giveaway to N. Korea” that “suits Putin’s goals”—disregarding that robust social movements in South Korea have protested the U.S. military presence for decades.

These refrains were repeated by Democratic leaders, including Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff, who released a joint declaration ahead of the summit criticizing Trump from the right by accusing him of not being a tough enough negotiator. In this climate, the “liberal” line is virtually indistinguishable from the hand-wringing of officials from pro-war “think tanks” like the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which receives major funding from weapons manufacturers.

However, there were important exceptions. Sen. Bernie Sanders released a statement on June 12 praising the Singapore summit as “a positive step in de-escalating tensions between our countries, addressing the threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and moving toward a more peaceful future.”

For commentary on the U.S. political climate, In These Times spoke with Christine Ahn, a South Korea-born, Hawaii-based peace activist has been organizing to end the Korean war under the administrations of Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush (This is one of a series of interviews).

Ahn says she is frustrated and discouraged that many U.S. establishment liberals are deeply disconnected from the decades-long peace struggle led by South Koreans. Any peace deal must necessarily involve the United States, and unless U.S. progressives want to condemn the Korean people to another two to six years of military escalation, Trump will have to be involved in that process. Given Trump’s proven willingness to turn on a dime and engage in dangerous brinkmanship with North Korea, she argues, it is especially reckless for self-professed liberals to pressure the president to be more confrontational. “It is very dangerous to pressure Trump to be hardline,” says Ahn. “We have to put all of our efforts into ensuring this goes well and is not undermined.”

Sarah Lazare: Can you tell me why you are frustrated with the response among liberals and the left in the United States to the Trump-Kim meeting in Singapore on June 12?

Christine Ahn: I was just in Washington, D.C. to help organize the Korea Peace Network Advocacy Day—about 100 activists from around the country came together to advocate for changing U.S. policy. It just happened to coincide with the June 12 summit in Singapore. We were so thrilled with the outcome of the meeting, even though it was thin on concrete action. This was the first time a North Korean and American leader sat down and shook hands and declared a new era for U.S.-DPRK relations.

Read more

Eco-Marxism and deforestation

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 19:31

via Monthly Review Online

Originally published in Pambazuka News by Muzomuhle Ntuli

1. Introduction

The world is changing. Many countries are modernising and adapting to new ways of living in the 21th century. Population growth is on the rise and there is a constant need for industrialisation and urbanisation in order to meet all the social and economic needs that come with modernity. Rapid demographic and technological changes have placed a lot of strain on the environment as a lot of plants and animal species are on the brink of extinction. All these changes, driven mostly by those who seek profit at all cost, have degraded nature’s ecosystems.

Environmental problems have become the new normal in modern day society. Global warming, mudslides, drought, deforestation, floods – the list is endless. Every year environmentalist organisations release new findings and statistics on the continued degradation of the environment. These environmental problems range from acid rain, deforestation, climate change, damage to the ozone layer or water pollution. The causes of these problems are continued plunder of the Earth’s natural resources with the aim of industrialisation and enhancing human life with very little, if any, regard for the planet which the resources come from. Situations like these cause conflicts in society as it often pits the environment and the people who live in it versus the capitalists who seek to gain from it. These ecological conflicts, whether global or local, occur because economic prosperity is more often linked with the unsustainable use of the environment. An example of this is the deforestation of many hectares of land with the aim of acquiring timber or for the purposes of human settlement.

Environmental problems and ecological conflicts are studied by various social sciences including environmental sociologists, with the purpose of taking into account the physical and social impact economic development has on the environment and the people. This is because environmental impacts are being felt all around the world and if the situation does not change life will be difficult for future generations. With that in mind, this article will explain the Eco Marxist perspective, its key aspects, its view on environmental issues and how those issues affect different classes of people differently. Through an Eco Marxist view, the paper will look at deforestation and the impact it has on Earth in terms of soil erosion, air pollution and the threat it places on plant and animal life.

2. The Eco-Marxist perspective

Eco-Marxism is a political ideology that fuses the Marxist doctrine of anti-capitalism with ecology, anti-globalisation and various pro-environment policies. The birth of Eco-Marxism was likely due to a vacuum in the science discourse, in that ecology does not have a social analysis. Ecology alone lacks the capacity to fully understand and unpack the ever-changing economic and political climate in the world. Eco-Marxists view the expansion of capitalism through globalisation as one of the root causes of environmental degradation, war, inequality and poverty (Kovel and Lowy, 2001). Eco-Marxists, though inspired by Karl Marx and his critique of capital, are sometimes critical of many socialist policies but they maintain their platform of Green politics as a foundation of their movement.

a. Critique of capitalism

Since Eco-Marxism is a combination of ecological research with Marxist thought and action, it mostly views the on-going environmental degradation as the result of a destructive economic and political system – capitalism (Foster et al, 2010). The premise of Eco-Marxism is that the root causes of social injustice and environmental degradation is a capitalist world where the attainment of profit at all cost is the mantra. According to Karl Marx (1976) “labour is the father of material wealth, the earth is its mother”. In Marxist thought, humans and nature are the two principle agents in the creation of wealth, thus the need to have them both controlled. The Eco-Marxist perspective is of the view that the force (capitalism) that subjugates the proletariat is the same force that subjugates and destroys the Earth, and its destruction will usher in the emancipation of both.

Read more

The Plight of Birds and the Hand of Man in the Sixth Great Extinction

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 19:25

via CounterPunch

by Arshad Khan

As birds become fewer, wildflowers vanish, butterflies disappear, and animals in the wild are threatened, extinction and a grim future haunts.  How often did Rumi write about birdsong … there is a reason.  Nature revives the spirit.

June 5th was World Environment Day.  A UN outreach program hosted by a different country each year, it is designed to draw attention to its environmental challenges and to offer it support.  This year the host country is India and the theme is beating plastic pollution.  But plastics are not just a blight on the landscape, they are in the seas destroying coral and the species it shelters, painfully killing whales and other creatures … including birds.  Yet, it is far from the only cause of bird distress and their sharply declining numbers.  One example comes from the Arctic, where receding ice has taken with it the nutritious cod, which favor cold waters, and has  endangered the black guillemot now forced to feed their chicks on the bony and difficult-to-digest fourhorn sculpin.

When the EU commissioned a State of Nature report, they expected bad news but not quite as dire a result.  Prepared by the European Environment Agency and sourced from EU-wide data, it found one in three bird species threatened and only a little over half secure.  It also drew a bleak picture of European habitats finding over half of those studied to be unfavorable.  Habitat loss, pesticides particularly neonicotinoids, even excessive hunting, notably in southern Europe, are all to blame.

Earlier, a comprehensive study conducted by University of Exeter (UK) professor Richard Inger and colleagues had analyzed avian biomass across 25 countries over 30 years.  Using data from Birdlife International and the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme, they discovered a surprisingly large and troubling decline:  from 1980 to 2009 the estimated total avian population had been reduced by 421 million birds.

Meanwhile, research in the US with far-reaching consequences places blame squarely on human activity.  It examines avian consequences of noise pollution.  If certain constant noises irritate humans — think of road repair and a pneumatic drill — then birds are no exception.  Noise from oil and gas operations is stressing out birds and harming reproduction.  They exhibit signs of chronic stress, lay fewer eggs or fewer eggs hatch, and nestling growth is stunted.

So reports a study by Nathan Kleist and colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (unfortunately not available to the general public without a fee).  The authors studied three species of cavity nesting birds (the ash-throated flycatcher, the mountain bluebird and the western bluebird) breeding near oil and gas operations on Bureau of Land Management property in the San Juan Basin in New Mexico.

The researchers placed 240 nest boxes on 12 pairs of sites, close to and at varying distances from the drilling pads where loud compressors operated non-stop.  The team took blood samples of adult females and nestlings from all the nest boxes for three years.  They also examined nestling body size and feather length — less well developed in both noisy and lower noise areas, suggesting any level of irritating noise disrupts.

Baseline levels of a key stress hormone, corticosterone, showed high stress in birds nesting closest to the noise.  And nestlings in noisy areas produced significantly greater stress hormones than those in quiet areas when subjected to the test of being held for 10 minutes.

It also turned out that the western bluebird was the only species willing to nest in the sites closest to the compressors; such behavior had led to the belief it was immune to noise.  Not so, the study results revealed.

Environmental stress is increased by noise pollution and that it degrades avian reproductive success is the conclusive message of this study.  With background noise constantly increasing in the US, even protected areas are no longer immune.

If the anthropocene is our age, it is also our look in the mirror to see what the human footprint has wrought, even if unwittingly.  Global warming, extreme weather events becoming more severeplastic pollution and stressed wildliferecord extinctionsinsect declines … all portents of an impaired future warning humans repeatedly of urgency.  The sixth mass extinction is underway but it will take centuries if not thousands of years, and man can help by alleviating global warming and preservation efforts.  Related to CO2 levels, global warming has been the culprit in the previous five.  CO2 levels are already in excess of 0.04 percent perilously close to the 0.05 percent calculated to melt icecaps through temperature rise causing serious flooding of coastal areas.

Are leaders and decision-makers listening?

Arshad M. Khan is a former professor who has, over many years, written occasionally for the print and often for online media outlets.

Microsoft and the Yeoman Coders

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 19:19

via Jacobin

by Gavin Mueller

This past week, Microsoft acquired open-source code repository GitHub. In the longue durée of the tech industry, it was a world-historical about-face: open-source code, which allows other programmers and interested parties to view, and even copy and modify code, arose in opposition to software companies that rely on strong intellectual property protections to wall off their products from technologically skilled users.

In its early days, personal computing was a hobbyist pursuit in which young men (and it was mostly men) tinkered collectively with mail-order kits. Commercial software was scarce: you had to program things yourself. Within this milieu arose a robust culture of cracking things open and sharing what insights you found. Learning from others’ code was commonplace, as was passing around programs.

As we know now, one person’s “sharing” is a property owner’s piracy. Instead of buying programs, hackers were copying them and making their own. In 1976, a young Bill Gates, trying to get his software company off the ground, sent a now-infamous letter to the Homebrew Computing Club newsletter that drew a line in the sand. “As the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software. Hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid?” Beyond snatching dollars out of the pockets of the soon-to-be richest man in the world, piracy created a problem for software itself. “One thing you do is prevent good software from being written,” Gates wrote, before helpfully offering a mailing address to which software pirates could send their belated payments.

But was it true that sharing undermined the quality of software? Not everyone agreed. In fact, many programmers, who had learned their craft by looking at how other programs worked, believed the opposite: sharing code meant more people became better programmers, giving them vital skills in a world where computers were quickly taking over everything. Furthermore, if more people could tinker with code, there were more potential mechanics who could fix errors: “with enough eyes, all bugs are shallow,” a later slogan would put it.

But the law was on Gates’s side. In a somewhat bizarre ruling, the Supreme Court held that a piece of computer code is an expressive work, like a poem or a story, rather than a mechanical invention. This meant that programs would be covered by copyright law rather than patents. While patents enter the public domain after twenty years, copyright lasts much longer — and, due to aggressive lobbying by entertainment corporations, the length gets longer and longer.

Enter Richard Stallman, a computer scientist ensconced at MIT. Insulated from the vagaries of the market by academia (unlike Gates the entrepreneur), Stallman sought to protect the guild-like practice of skill-sharing from which he and his associates learned to program. In a celebrated hacking of intellectual property law, Stallman devised alternative licenses, part of a “copyleft” initiative, that allowed programmers to designate their code as free to share. Further, the GNU public license declared that all software developed from this free code would itself have to be free. This meant that free software would spread like a virus. As Stallman put it, “Copyleft uses copyright law, but flips it over to serve the opposite of its usual purpose: instead of a means of privatizing software, it becomes a means of keeping software free.” Or in the words of former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer: “a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches.”

Stallman’s work captured the hacker zeitgeist, and his polemical writing helped spread a hearty disrespect for copyright that permeated digital culture for decades. But free software wouldn’t have its true proof of concept until 1991, when Linus Torvalds, a computer science student at the University of Helsinki, put it to work for the operating system he was developing. Not only would it be a free and open competitor to Microsoft’s hated Windows, which then appeared on the brink of capturing the entire personal-computing market; it was also the first major example of successful crowdsourcing. Torvalds leveraged a passionate global community of coders to collaborate on the program — dubbed Linux — as much or as little as they liked.

Linux was always too technical for the casual computer user, its appeal confined largely to those already steeped in hacker practices and values, such as an abiding antipathy to Microsoft. But Linux was greeted among the digerati as the latest example of how the power of networked computers was changing everything for the better by empowering individuals — if only that troublesome copyright beast could be tamed.

Economist Yochai Benkler viewed free software as an example of an emerging mode of production that disregarded both intellectual property and wage relationships. This “peer production” took place in a “commons,” rather than a market, where people could engage in non-alienated work and still produce marvels. Ethnographer Chris Kelty theorized this development process as a “recursive public of geeks” who crafted a “moral-technical order” through debate and discussion: open source had fashioned a hacker public sphere. Anthropologist E. Gabriella Coleman, who studied the Debian GNU/Linux community before she moved on to the hacker group Anonymous, cited a hacker-crafted haiku that spelled out how to make a program that would crack DVDs. Code is poetry after all! Code is speech!

Hackers may be creative and generous, but treating code as speech, and programmers as free speech partisans, also obscured some important elements. Software programs — even those hewing most closely to the holy precepts of the GNU Testament — were more like linen and coats than poems: they were valuable commodities. How does free software work within capitalism?

While there’s a lot of hype about gift economies and good vibes, when you’re doing an economic analysis, you have to consider the sector as a whole, not the intentions of a few members. One of the few to do this well, Swedish researcher Johan Söderberg, analyzed free software as part of labor under capitalism. Because so much code is available at no cost, open-source programmers effectively cheapen software by creating a base of code freely available to all — in Marxist language, they’ve cheapened those commodities by reducing the socially necessary labor time required to create them. While Stallman’s copyleft licenses envision a society of individual developers and users all benefiting from accessible and customizable software, there’s nothing that prevents corporations from getting in on the action. In fact, entrepreneur Tim O’Reilly, recognizing the value of free software, rebranded it by replacing that ambiguous word “free” with “open source,” to signal that it had no inherent antipathy to profit-making.

Read more

Bleak New Figures Show Just How Unaffordable Rent Is In Every U.S. State

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 19:11

via the Huffington Post

By Laura Paddison

A staggering gap between wages and the cost of rental housing across America threatens the stability of millions of families, according to a Wednesday report.

There is not one U.S. state, metropolitan area or county in which someone working a 40-hour week on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 can afford to rent a modest two-bed apartment. Minimum wage workers would need to work a 122-hour week, or hold down three full-time jobs, to make a modest two-bed rental home affordable.

The hourly wage needed to make a modest two-bedroom apartment affordable is $22.10 – more than three times the minimum wage. Given that the average hourly wage of renters in the U.S. currently stands at $16.88, it’s clear the gap between wages and affordability is stark.

The figures are from the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual Out Of Sight report, which documents the affordability of rental housing to low-income families across the U.S.

NLIHC arrived at its bleak findings by taking the cost of a modest two-bed rental home at fair market rent, as calculated by the Department for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) based on an estimate of what a family moving today would expect to pay. It then calculated the amount workers need to earn for these homes to be “affordable” – meaning they spend no more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities.

Read more

They Are Not Telling Us The Truth About The Job Market. Here Is What They Don’t Want You To Know

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 18:40

via Forbes

The government and media have been reporting that the job market is remarkably tight. The unemployment rate is at 3.8%—an historic low. Economists contend that 5% unemployment is deemed full employment. This means that pretty much anyone who wants a job already has a job or could easily attain a job. The rationale is that it is anticipated that there will always be a given number of people out of work—not because the job market is soft, but rather due to miscellaneous reasons that leave a number of the population without a job. There is always going to be a certain number of people between jobs, but that does not fundamentally reflect the soundness and strength of the job market.

Since we are at 3.8%– which is lower than 5% (I’m pretty good at this math stuff), we should be celebrating. Sadly, I don’t believe the hype one bit.

We are not getting the full story. If we have better-than-full employment, the following things should happen:

  1. Wages of current workers should rise, as there is pressure to keep employees from being poached by rival corporations due to the shortage of workers. It’s “Economics 101” (my son just took this course as a college freshman, so I’m an expert on the matter). If qualified employees are scared and in short supply, the cost (i.e. salary) should rise. But employee wages are stagnant and not increasing.

Read more

The Failure of Soviet Privatization

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 18:09

via Center for a Stateless Society

by William Gillis

When “The Market” Is Just Money Laundering the Bloodsoaked Riches of Statism

When the USSR fell one of the “privatization” schemes was to just hand workers stock certificates in the companies they worked at. The problem of course was that the economy was seized up and everyone was starving. So gangsters and the children of the soviet upper-class with actual money bought up all the certificates. They had folks literally go around with wheelbarrows full of vodka trading one bottle for a stock cert. Thus were state enterprises promptly handed over to the existing rich.

This is an important historical example because it demonstrated with devastating clarity how “entrepreneurs” with a small amount of unfair seed money can rapidly take over an entire economy and turn it into an oligarchy. The “privatization” of the USSR proceeded in a manner that basically turned the entire state economy over to a few oligarchs. A switch of rule by the central committee to rule by a few — exactly as even *Rothbard* explicitly noted would constitute no real change whatsoever.

It wasn’t a direct hand off — there were extra steps — but the speed at which it happened makes inescapable the fact that this wasn’t the emergence of some new privileged class as the result of a natural hierarchy, but clearly a situation where the centrifugal tendencies of free competition were utterly overwhelmed by vast disparities.

We often talk about the egalitarian tendencies and mechanisms, or at least potential, of mature freed markets, but while a market might have certain dominant tendencies near an egalitarian equilibrium to return to such a state of affairs, no one has ever suggested that this will be true for *any* starting distribution of wealth. It is obvious to everyone that if 100 people own 99.99% of the world their buying power will be leverageable to keep the rest in slavery. The issue of significant contention is *where* the transition point might be between a distribution of wealth where centrifugal tendencies dominate to a distribution of wealth where centralizing accumulative tendencies dominate.

The optimistic would put this point quite high, claiming for example, that even if 1% of the population owned 99% of the wealth, without a state apparatus or similar violent means to capture and use to defend this wealth, such a society would eventually erode said economic privilege away. But what’s less examined when these declarations are traded is the *speed* at which such erosion would occur. Because let’s be clear: there certainly was some erosion in some contexts in the collapse of the USSR. Of course this erosion came alongside the removal of the welfare systems that had been absolutely necessary to keep an enslaved populace alive, which meant that the net impact was a catastrophe of human suffering. But even in limited bubbles where centrifugal effects dominated over accumulative ones, the overall inequality was often still so sharp as to make that diffusion relatively slow. And ultimately what fucking matter is it if the market will eventually erode away titanic inequality if hordes of people are starving to death today? The sharpest critique of our neoliberal global regime isn’t that it has made people more miserable over time, but that it has not liberated anywhere near fast enough.

Anarchists — especially left market anarchists — cannot afford to fail to grapple with why the USSR’s “privatization” process failed so spectacularly to create anything remotely near an egalitarian robustly competitive market.

Sure there were structural dynamics of state capture, but the almost immediate centralization of wealth that happened upon the distribution of stock certificates wasn’t actively shepherded along by the state. The somewhat rich growing into the ridiculously rich happened spontaneously. Nor of course can even the reactionaries who love to dodder on about “natural hierarchies”, or other such fascist garbage, make any pretense of a case. We can’t blame animalistic time-preferences, no one beside the existing rich had the capital to buy up a controlling amount of stock, and the businesses those stock certificates referred to were largely going to be losing endeavors for years to come. Infinitesimal stock that won’t pay out for years if it pays out anything, in a company you know first-hand is being catastrophically and systemically mismanaged, or a bottle of vodka? You’re fucking kidding yourself if you think you wouldn’t take the latter to at least numb the hunger while you fail to be paid for months or years.

There were many many contributing aspects to the catastrophic oligarchization of 90s Russia, but the three big ones were 1) lots of people were left desperate without basic needs, 2) the rich from the old regime were never fucking dealt with, thus allowing them to predatorily leverage their capital while everyone else was at a disadvantage, and 3) the handover of workplaces copied the intensely hierarchical and centralized model of western capitalist firms — “worker ownership” in some very abstract and watered down way but not direct workplace democracy.

Theoretically being able to vote on an aggregate bloc once in a blue moon at a shareholder meeting is a lot like getting to vote every four years for a mayor who appoints the police chief who appoints the cops that continue to murder your neighbors. There is no direct accountability, the management can stay utterly insulated and capricious, there is no direct involvement or capacity even to leverage your firsthand knowledge on the shop floor, and there is of course, no meaningful incentivization from stock options to help the business do well in a bloated firm where your contributions are rapidly averaged away.

The takeaways for anarchists are obvious:

If and when we overthrow the state & unleash a freed market we will not succeed unless we also build basic needs infrastructure for the poor/disabled/etc, take everything back from the rich, and that the structures we adopt to organize ourselves are of intense importance. A crisis situation is not the time to be haphazardly learning from praxis, that is to say trial-and-error, much less from blindly perpetuating a model inherited from some status quo.

But another big takeaway should be that it’s as silly to ask “where is the victim” or pretend that the billionaires in our present society are somehow fucking not entirely dependent upon a history of titanic state violence as it would be to pretend so with the Russian oligarchs. While the individuals involved may fluctuate to some degree, intensely inegalitarian distributions of wealth have their own momentum. After atrocities like the enclosures, slavery, imperialism, and genocide, scales of capital investment become possible that never were before, leading to a stickiness of overall wealth. Titanic billions are made off the state enforced censorship regime of intellectual property… and this is promptly used as seed money to create startups capable of underselling competitors, driving out the competition and utilizing network effects that would be unreachable with less initial capital to establish themselves as monopolistic middlemen. The perversity of severe economic inequality is self-perpetuating, and it matters not that it travels through a few tumblers, laundered in various ways, the very fact that there are billions of dollars to be made is the product of a history of immense oppression and violence. In this the only difference between the USSR and the American Empire is a warping of some timescales.

The 60-Year Downfall of US Nuclear Power Has Left a Huge Mess

Tue, 06/12/2018 - 16:41

via Portside

by Fred Pearce

It was just another day in the life of the defunct Hanford nuclear site, a remote part of Washington State that made most of the plutonium in America’s Cold War arsenal. On the morning of May 9, 2017, alarms sounded. Around 2,000 site workers were told to take cover indoors, and aircraft were banned from flying over the site for several hours. The roof of a tunnel had collapsed, exposing railcars that had been loaded with radioactive waste from plutonium production and then shunted underground and sealed in decades before.

There was other stuff down there too. Nobody quite knew what. Record keeping was poor, but the contents of the tunnels certainly included carcasses from animal radiation experiments, including a reported 18 alligators. The emergency lasted only a few hours. The integrity of the waste was restored. But it was a chilling reminder of the site’s perilous radioactive legacy.

Sprawling across 600 square miles of sagebrush semidesert, Hanford is a $100 billion cleanup burden, full of accidents waiting to happen. It is the biggest headache, but very far from being the only one, emerging in what increasingly look like the final years of America’s nuclear age.

It is 60 years since America’s first commercial nuclear power station was opened by President Dwight D. Eisenhower at Shippingport, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on May 26, 1958. But the hopes of a nuclear future with power “too cheap to meter” are now all but over. All that is left is the trillion-dollar cleanup.

Public fear and suspicion about all things nuclear grew sharply after March 1979, when the cooling system at Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station failed and triggered a meltdown. In the end, actual releases of radiation were minimal, but the incident left behind a reputational mess in addition to the radiological one. On the day of the accident, the United States had 140 operating nuclear reactors, with 92 under construction and 28 more awaiting official approval. In the next five years, more than 50 orders for new nuclear reactors in America were canceled. New contracts entirely dried up.

Hanford has not produced plutonium for three decades. Nobody is making new material for bombs anymore. President Trump’s plans for more weapons can be met by recycling existing plutonium stocks. And even the civil nuclear industry, which still generates a fifth of America’s electricity, is in what looks like terminal decline. With cheap natural gas and renewable solar and wind energy increasingly available, the numbers no longer add up. Nuclear power plants across the nation are being closed with years of licensed operation unused.

No new nuclear power stations have come on line in the past two decades. The only new build underway, two additional reactors at Georgia Power’s Alvin W. Vogtle plant near Waynesboro, is five years behind schedule and has seen its costs double. Its planned completion in 2022 remains uncertain.

America’s 99 remaining operational nuclear power reactors, which still deliver power to the grid, are too important to be closed overnight. But nearly half are over 40 years old. The only question is how long the regulators and accountants will allow them to keep going.

Read more

First They Came for the Migrants

Tue, 06/12/2018 - 15:09

via the New York Times

by Michelle Goldberg

The sci-fi writer William Gibson once said, “The future has arrived — it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” In America in 2018, the same could be said of authoritarianism.

Since Donald Trump was elected, there’s been a boom in best-selling books about the fragility of liberal democracy, including Madeleine Albright’s “Fascism: A Warning,” and Timothy Snyder’s “On Tyranny.” Many have noted that the president’s rhetoric abounds in classic fascist tropes, including the demonization of minorities and attempts to paint the press as treasonous. Trump is obviously more comfortable with despots like Russia’s Vladimir Putin than democrats like Canada’s Justin Trudeau.

We still talk about American fascism as a looming threat, something that could happen if we’re not vigilant. But for undocumented immigrants, it’s already here.

There are countless horror stories about what’s happening to immigrants under Trump. Just last week, we learned that a teenager from Iowa who had lived in America since he was 3 was killed shortly after his forced return to Mexico. This month, an Ecuadorean immigrant with an American citizen wife and a pending green card application was detained at a Brooklyn military base where he’d gone to deliver a pizza; a judge has temporarily halted his deportation, but he remains locked up. Immigration officers are boarding trains and buses and demanding that passengers show them their papers. On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions decreed that most people fleeing domestic abuse or gang violence would no longer be eligible for asylum.

Read more

The Young Anarchist and Future Joy of Sex Author Who Sparred with George Orwell Over World War II

Tue, 06/12/2018 - 14:57

via Lit Hub

by Eric Laursen

The summer of 1943 found George Orwell, English socialist man of letters, reaching the end of his patience with his job at the BBC. The cultural programs and commentary he had been producing for the Indian and East Asian outposts of the British Empire were designed to counter German wartime radio transmissions. These broadcasts were not quite propaganda: he was allowed “reasonable freedom of speech” despite being (in his words) “an independent and more or less ‘agin the government’ commentator,” and he could contribute to outside publications as well. But the job was boring. After two years at the network, Orwell, who had just turned 40, longed to go back to his own writing and journalism.

Privately, too, he complained about the cumbersome process of getting his scripts cleared and occasionally being compelled to say things on air that he had a strong feeling were not true. “I am regularly alleging in all my newsletters that the Japanese are plotting to attack Russia,” he confided in his diary, “although I don’t believe this to be so.”

One of the poets whose work Orwell featured occasionally on his cultural programs was Alex Comfort, a talented 22-year-old who was taking medical training at the Royal London Hospital and who would achieve bestsellerdom many years later with his illustrated manual for couples, The Joy of Sex. Neither Orwell nor Comfort was spending World War II in the military. Orwell, who had been badly wounded while fighting in the Spanish Civil War and was showing signs of the tuberculosis that would ultimately kill him, was declared unfit for military service. Wishing passionately to contribute to this new war against fascism, he had applied repeatedly to enlist but had to settle for a volunteer slot in Britain’s civil defense force, the ragtag, ill-equipped Home Guard.

There was never any question of Comfort serving in any capacity except as a medic or firewatcher during air raids: he was missing three and a half fingers of his left hand, the result of a botched attempt to make gunpowder for fireworks at age 14. But he would not have enlisted even if he could. Comfort was a dedicated, outspoken pacifist and, by the end of the war, an anarchist who charged at every possible opportunity that Britain’s wartime leaders were ordering atrocities as bad as some of Hitler’s and that intellectuals who did not denounce their own government had “sacrificed their responsible attitude to humanity.” He made it his business in particular to expose as war crimes the British and American air raids against German and occupied cities, a campaign the Allies’ political leaders regarded as the key to victory and that was popular with much of the public but that killed some 600,000 European civilians, seriously injured over a million, and left 7.5 million homeless.

Read more