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How plant-based diets can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 22:25

via Accuweather

By Jennifer Fabiano

Vegan and vegetarian diets are not just the latest trend. According to climate experts, these diets could actually help mitigate the effects of climate change.

“From a greenhouse gas standpoint and a climate standpoint, there are many advantages to a vegetarian diet and a vegan diet,” Rob Jackson, chair of the Department of Earth System Science at Stanford, said.

Transitioning towards a more plant-based diet could reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by up to 70 percent, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The agriculture industry has major anthropocentric impacts, which are impacts originating in human activities. Reduction of greenhouse gases is the most prominent effects of vegan and vegetarian diets; others include reduced destruction of rain forests, increased efficiency of food production and cleaner, more abundant water.

Reduction of greenhouse gases

Methane is generated in the guts of animals, according to Rob Jackson. The livestock sector of agriculture emits 37 percent of anthropogenic methane, which has 23 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation’s “Livestock’s Long Shadow” report.

The livestock sector is also responsible for 64 percent of anthropogenic ammonia emissions, which contribute to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems.

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Why Is It So Hard for Clothing Manufacturers to Pay a Living Wage?

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 22:15

Via Racked

By Jasmin Malik Chua

In the garment industry, stories about workers who barely eke out an existence on “starvation wages” are legion: Factory workers in New Delhi often describe living in makeshift hovels “barely fit for animals.” A young woman from Myanmar might wrestle with the decision to feed her children or send them to school. In Bangladesh, sewing-machine operators frequently toil for 100 hours or more a week, only to run out of money before the end of the month.

Workers have demanded higher pay in all those countries, of course, sometimes precipitating violence between protesters and police. Companies in general, however, have preferred to sidestep the issue altogether. In fact, no multinational brand or retailer currently claims to pay its garment workers a wage they can subsist on.

To be fair, defining a “living wage” can be a tricky business, one that requires some complex mathematics. Even within the same country, the minimum income a worker requires to afford basic needs — food, shelter, clothing, medicine — can vary wildly from one locale to another.

Plus, as brands are wont to remind people, most of them don’t own the factories that produce their clothes, meaning they neither pay for the garment workers’ wages nor determine what those wages are.

So when H&M declared in November 2013 that it would deliver a “fair living wage” to more than 850,000 workers across 750 factories by the end of 2018, the announcement was nothing short of a bombshell.

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China: Long Held US Fears Becoming Reality?

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 21:59


by Internationalist Communist Tendency

The dilemma for the US – and the threat for the world – is that over time China will catch up with the US militarily as well as economically. It’s a long way off. However at some point the US will arrive at the same dilemma which faced the German General Staff in 1914. Their calculation was that by 1916 they would lose what military advantages they had over their imperialist rivals so were facing a pivotal decision and thus gave the green light for support to Austria and Armageddon followed. The current USA-China rivalry will be the axis around which any conflict will take place.

Last year we wrote

“… a decade after the explosion of the speculative bubble there has been no solution to the global economic stagnation which it provoked. With no economic solution in the offing and with the different problems of the various great powers mounting the way has opened up for new and more desperate political forces to make their presence felt. We can see some of these in the new climate of nationalism across the globe and in the growing number of openly enunciated threats by the great powers on the planet towards each other. Add to all that the fact that we have arrived at a point in history where the greatest power of all on the planet for the last century is facing new challenges to its economic and military dominance not seen since the collapse of the USSR.” (“Russia, China and the USA’s New World Disorder” in Revolutionary Perspectives 09)

We followed it up with a shorter piece on our website in November entitled “China Openly Declares Its Imperialist Ambitions”.1 Nothing that has happened since undermines the analysis in either article. Today, there is no shortage of flashpoints around the world which could provide the opening scene for the next great imperialist confrontation. Whilst North Korea and the USA play nuclear Russian roulette with the fate of the planet, the increasing tensions in the Middle East and North Africa now engulf almost everywhere from Libya to Burma/Myanmar. At the same time the unfinished business of the war in Eastern Ukraine stimulates military manoeuvres along the entire Russian border by both Washington (in NATO guise) and Moscow.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of all the barbarous conflicts that imperialist rivalries are inflicting on so much of humanity, and there will be many more to come, but what we would like to focus on here is the new sharpening of imperialist rhetoric in the rivalry between the US and China. What makes this rivalry so dangerous in the longer term is the global mismatch between the world’s latest economic powerhouse, China, and the greatest military power humanity has ever seen in the USA. Although direct conflict is not likely in the immediate term, this rivalry has been open for some time (as we showed in the articles mentioned above). It became even more explicit at the end of 2017. In October Xi Ping cemented his power at the top of the Chinese Communist Party declaring that the “China Dream” was to become the world’s top dog in 2049 (exactly a century after Mao came to power in Beijing).

Trump was not slow to respond and the publication of the new US Strategic Plan in December 2017 gave him the chance to openly declare that “China and Russia want to shape a world antithetical to US values and interests”. Trump refers to both as “rival powers” but only once in Russia’s case whereas China gets several mentions. And harping back to his “China is raping our economy” theme he added “The United States will no longer turn a blind eye to violations, cheating, or economic aggression.” Both sides, in their different ways, are preparing their next moves.

Rebuilding the Silk Road

China’s strength lies in its enormous trade surplus with the world. Its weakness is that it lacks oil and gas resources. Both require secure trade routes. However, China is surrounded by over 400 US military installations including the deployment of the latest THAAD missiles system in South Korea. In a world which is dominated by US control of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, China needs to find other ways to ensure its trade security.

This is why the Chinese Communist Party is pushing forward plans to finance and build infrastructure which will span the continents of Europe and Asia from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The ultimate aim is a Eurasian trading bloc which if allowed to develop unchallenged by the US, could one day effectively see it shut out of many of its traditional markets and isolated as no more than a regional power.

On the 14 May 2017 China welcomed 29 Heads of State or their representatives to a two-day summit to celebrate its $900 billion initiative, “One Belt One Road”. Even Japan and South Korea, who contest China’s bid for hegemony in the region, sent representatives. Most other countries engaged in territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea issue, including Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines also sent official delegations. India and Pakistan also took part. The summit appears to have been a successful exercise in Chinese soft power. In an about turn, the Japanese Prime Minister signalled his intention at G20 2017 to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Philippines’ trade minister has chosen to set aside the country’s maritime border dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea and focus on building economic links.

Based in Beijing, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) was created in 2014 by 57 founder member countries2 including Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain, with 24 more prospective members expected to join. The bank became operational at the end of 2015. At the time, the US suffered a humiliating diplomatic setback when it tried and failed to dissuade its friends and allies from joining. US policymakers assumed that its Asia-Pacific allies would willingly sacrifice the economic opportunities offered by China’s initiative in order to deny Beijing a geopolitical win at Washington’s expense. They underestimated China’s economic pulling power, with only Japan succumbing to US pressure. The AIIB, created for project infrastructure investment, and the Silk Road Fund, intended for investment in related businesses will work together towards developing the initiative. Hong Kong will be a key financial gateway for BRI, helping to find financial partners for BRI projects. The scale of BRI both in terms of ambition and funding is enormous and dwarfs the post war US Marshall Plan. The China Times estimates that the total value of the Silk Road Economic Belt, when it is complete, will be an astronomical $21.1 trillion. This is a long term development plan which contrasts starkly with the policy short-termism that predominates in the US and Europe.

The Belt and Road initiative (BRI) has two main prongs: one is called the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ (the belt) and the other the ‘21st Century Maritime Silk Road’ (the road). In fact, the ‘road’ is not actually a road but rather a sea route linking China’s southern coast to East Africa and the Mediterranean. The ‘belt’ is a series of overland corridors connecting China with Europe, via Central Asia and the Middle East. Work has already begun to put in place an infrastructure for the continent’s economic integration by funding infrastructure projects across Asia and Europe. Beijing plans to lay down an elaborate and enormously expensive network of high-speed, high-volume railroads, motor-ways and airports; as well as oil and natural gas pipelines across the vast breadth of Eurasia. For the first time in history, the rapid transcontinental movement of critical cargo such as oil, minerals, and manufactured goods will be possible on a massive scale, thereby potentially unifying that vast landmass into a single economic zone stretching 6,500 miles from Shanghai to Lisbon. In this way, the leadership in Beijing hopes to shift the locus of geopolitical power away from the maritime periphery and deep into the Eurasian heartland.

Significant progress has already been made on the China-Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC), a huge project of more than $62 billion3, which demonstrates the growing economic and political relationship between Pakistan and China. The CPEC is about 3000 kilometres long consisting of a vast web of pipelines, motor-ways, power plants, wind farms, factories, airports and railways, creating an estimated 1 million jobs .

CPEC will connect China’s Xinjiang province to the rest of the world through Pakistan’s Gwadar port. The project has been divided into different phases. The first phase of the project is the completion of Gwadar International Airport and the development of Gwadar Port. Chinese companies are scheduled to complete the first phase by the end of 2017. Other small projects in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor include the expansion of Karakoram Highway. A fibre-optic line will also be placed in between the two countries to ensure better communication. Pakistan, one of the major countries in South East Asia and a US ally, is already raising the possibility of distancing itself from the US orbit as it sees the possible economic benefits from closer co-operation with China.

The economic corridor is a way for Pakistan to eliminate its transportation problems and both countries to tackle their energy crisis. For China, CPEC represents one of the biggest investments it has ever made in a foreign country but as one of the major oil importers in the world CPEC will give it a safe and sustainable pipeline route for its oil imports.

In early 2017 Chinese wagon trains loaded with Chinese manufactures arrived in Hamburg, Madrid and London from Yiwu in Zhejiang province. The 7,500 mile journey took 18 days and passed through 7 countries. The trains, following the old silk road through central Asia, then across Russia, Belarus and Poland into western Europe are unlikely, initially at least, to have a decisive effect on present patterns of trade because of the necessity to switch freight containers at various points due to different track gauges. It will take time to address these kinds of infrastructure problems especially given the political obstacles emanating from the EU.

The real importance of this is the impact it is likely to have on European businesses and governments, since a network of rail links reduces the distance between Asia and Europe and facilitates trade and commerce. It indicates how the dynamic of capitalist globalisation is now much more complex than simply the transfer of manufacturing from the old industrial heartlands to cheap labour, low cost China. Now China itself is looking for secure supply lines, raw materials and new markets and in so doing posing questions for both Russia and the EU (not to mention the UK) about the wider repercussions for their role in reshaping the international imperialist line-up. Similarly for Asia as a whole, if BRI succeeds the land mass would be more integrated economically. A Chinese railway through Myanmar for instance would provide a route to the sea that bypasses the pinch point of the Strait of Malacca. At the same time, though, these apparently straightforward technical projects also present a threat to established powers, not least Japan and South Korea. At the moment Japan seems to have decided to go along with the project, in so far as ‘opening up’ could also benefit its balance of trade.

Vast infrastructure projects in central Asia and Africa are designed to mop up China’s excess industrial capacity in such industries as steel, cement and aluminium; and to secure sources of raw materials. Beijing wants new investment channels to expand its presence in Europe. The Chinese government wants to draw the rich European nations closer to China. Its vision is to do this by recreating the sea and land routes of an earlier era of globalisation. The Chinese government sees The One Belt One Road idea as being the basis by which the great land mass of Eurasia becomes over time the vital fulcrum of its global power. Their biggest problem is that there will be much political resistance, especially from the European Union states who also have to agree to any investment as stakeholders in the AIIB. This is why the Chinese government still maintains here the mask of taoguang yhanghui (“We should conceal our capabilities and avoid the limelight”) advocated by Deng Tsaio Peng even though it has adopted a more aggressive and bullying policy with its island building in the South China Sea.

The projects that make up the Belt and Road Initiative are thus medium to long-term projects, which will be completed over the next two or three decades. A more immediate benefit to China comes in the form of soft power exactly at the time that the US is retreating into “an America First” position. US sinologist David Shambaugh of George Washington University says that China spends approximately $10 billion a year on foreign-language media abroad, Confucius Institutes, educational exchanges, foreign aid, cultural festivals abroad, and generally trying to portray China as a defender of the international order, trade, and globalisation.

However, One Belt One Road, represents a major extension to this effort and Trump’s dropping of the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade agreement, which includes Vietnam but excludes China, is a blunder that leaves the way open for China to extend its influence in the region. President Xi has already taken advantage of this by calling for a pan-regional Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), which will essentially be a consolidation of existing free-trade deals between China and other regional economies. This, together with the deals that will be made as a result of the BRI, are likely to increase China’s influence in the region.

The Challenge to the USA

Long the dominant power in the world, the US consciously pursues policies which intend to keep the world that way. However, over the last few decades entire libraries have been produced with warnings of the US’ imminent demise.4 US policymakers are acutely aware that other great powers have risen and fallen before them. Not least amongst these is the British experience.

At the turn of the 20th Century, Great Britain’s national debt stood at around 30% of GDP and the pound was the world’s undisputed reserve currency. The first imperialist world war caused Britain’s national debt to increase from £650 million to £7.4 billion which became £21 billion by 1945.5 The bulk of these debts were owed to its major creditor, the US, which emerged at the war’s end as the world’s strongest economy and military power.

No surprise then that at the Bretton Woods Conference it was decided that the world’s reserve currency would be the dollar which would be fixed at $35 an ounce of gold.

A gold-backed dollar worked very well for the US during the long post war boom years. But when the laws of capital accumulation inexorably reasserted themselves in the form of the decline of the rate of profit, the cycle of accumulation entered its phase of decline. The clearest sign of this was that the US was forced to take the dollar off the gold standard in 1971 leaving only US Treasury debt as the basis for global reserves. The balance of payments deficit stemming from the US’ declining competitiveness and lower profit rates – by the 1970’s the US was a net importer of goods – pumped dollars abroad and was exacerbated by foreign military spending. Some of these never returned to the US but became petrodollars or Eurodollars whilst others ended up in the hands of central banks that recycled them to the US by buying Treasury securities, which in turn financed the US domestic budget deficit. This gives the US economy a unique financial free ride, enabling it to finance its deficits seemingly ad-infinitum without creating an inflationary crisis that would have been the case for any other state. The balance of payments deficit has thus financed the US domestic budget deficit for decades. The post-gold international finance system, boosted by such things as the petrodollar, obliges foreign countries (the Chinese government alone holds around $3.5 trillion) to finance US military spending whether they like it or not. And the US uses its “free” military and naval apparatus to police oil routes and ensure that oil producing countries continue to trade in dollars.

One annoying fact for the US in the post-1945 world was that the Soviet Union had fought its way to the Elbe so that Europe became divided into two blocs dominated by the US and the Soviet Union. The US allowed the Soviet Bloc to form because US strategic thinkers thought that the Eastern European Soviet Bloc countries would soon be brought into the more dynamic Western bloc economy because of their inherent economic weakness. However, the Stalin regime enforced non-convertible currencies on them effectively locking out the dollar. Maoist China came on the scene in 1949, and together with the Soviet Bloc, half of the world’s population was frozen out of the “free market”, engendering the tense stand off between the blocs known as the Cold War. This period came to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.

The collapse that US strategists had been predicting in the Eastern European Bloc countries actually occurred in the Soviet Union first. The repeated failure of reform amid the strain of competing with the US in a continual arms race led the Soviet economy to breaking point. The resulting triumphalism of the “Free World” at the “collapse of communism” made the US believe that, as the only super power, it could now use military might around the globe as it pleased. The first Iraq war was followed by Afghanistan and the second Iraq war. Although Saddam Hussein’s fate and the destruction of the Iraqi economy effectively preserved the remaining oil trade for the US dollar, the huge cost of these military adventures, in terms of both financial and political capital, has been disastrous for the US; and demonstrated the limitations of purely military interventions. The hallmark of Obama’s time in office was the exercise of “smart power” and a multilateral approach which tried to reinforce US allies.6 It also led to a reining back on costly military interventions which only exacerbated the national debt in order to improve the US’s international image. Currently, the US is in a difficult position because the use of hard power (under Bush) then soft power (under Obama) has created a sense of incoherence. This has been exacerbated by divisions over foreign policy between Trump’s cabinet, other state departments, the CIA and the US military. So much so, that it’s difficult to see what direction US foreign policy is taking.

It was not always thus. In the 1990s Zbigniew Brzezinski, the US’s top strategist from 1977 to 1981 under President Jimmy Carter, and an adviser to the Clinton administration understood that the end of the Cold War hadn’t made US geopolitical strategy obsolete. He argued that,

“Eurasia is the world’s axial super-continent. A power that dominated Eurasia would exercise decisive influence over two of the world’s three most economically productive regions, Western Europe and East Asia. A glance at the map also suggests that a country dominant in Eurasia would almost automatically control the Middle East and Africa. With Eurasia now serving as the decisive geopolitical chessboard, it no longer suffices to fashion one policy for Europe and another for Asia. What happens with the distribution of power on the Eurasian landmass will be of decisive importance to America’s global primacy and historical legacy… Eurasia’s potential power overshadows even America’s.”

Brzezinski died in 2016 but his warnings have been ignored and effectively undermined by the Trump administration.

US Foreign Policy Manoeuvres

During the US presidential election campaign Trump was very critical of US military adventures around the world, particularly in Afghanistan, which he described as “a complete waste” and the Middle East where he criticised the $6 trillion that the supposedly non-interventionist Obama had wasted on conflicts. He felt that the US and Russia should instead cooperate in defeating ISIS. He declared just after the election: “The destructive cycle of intervention and chaos must finally come to an end,” and he promised that the US would be pulling back from conflicts around the world that are not in America’s vital national interest.

However, Trump in office has seen fit to undertake no less than five acts of foreign aggression in a few short months. The first was a joint operation with Emirati commandos in Yemen, which backfired, leading to the death of a Navy SEAL. The second was an attack on a Syrian airfield, in response to an alleged poison gas attack. The third is the escalation of military manoeuvres in the seas around North Korea. The fourth is the bombing of a cave network in Eastern Afghanistan using the “mother of all bombs”. And the fifth is the deployment of more troops to Northern Iraq and Eastern Syria ostensibly to step up the fight against ISIS.

The rhetoric is also being ramped up against the US’s long-term bogeyman, Iran. In addition Trump has done a full U-turn on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. He is also seeking Congressional approval for a 10% increase in defence spending totalling $54 billion, a massive increase which, to put it in perspective, is almost equivalent to Russia’s total defence budget of $66 billion.7

Far from being apparently random acts announced using twitter, or over dinner with President Xi, they are consistent with foreign policy objectives of the US since the end of the second imperialist world war. The US is concerned about the emergence of a new potential rival in the form of China, which has ambitions to become the dominant player in Asia and beyond. Military actions send it a message about who is still militarily the dominant force on the planet.

The US is also pushing Russia into becoming a closer ally of a China that is looking to extend its influence into Europe as much as it is in Asia. Facing US economic sanctions and military encirclement, Putin is looking increasingly towards the East. Putin said in February 2012, “Russia is an inalienable and organic part of Greater Europe and European civilization. Our citizens think of themselves as Europeans…That’s why Russia proposes moving towards the creation of a common economic space from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, a community referred to by Russian experts as ‘the Union of Europe’ which will strengthen Russia’s potential in its economic pivot toward the ‘new Asia.”

Russia’s relative weakness has led Putin to commit to greater cooperation with China and its Eurasian common economic area. Putin places much store in the Shanghai Cooperation Council where China and Russia combine to keep the US out of Central Asia. However, China has increasingly drawn Russia’s old Central Asian satellites, towards it as a result of its BRI expansion. China imports oil from Kazakhstan; natural gas from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan; uranium from Kazakhstan; operates gold mines in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan; and is searching for rare earths in Tajikistan. The infrastructure projects Beijing has financed in Central Asia, the roads, railways, and pipelines, lead back to China. Consequently, tensions with Russia have increased because Russia’s political and economic influence has been reduced. There are also local tensions as a result of the influx of Chinese workers. But for now Putin is content to ignore this, seeing Russia’s economic and political future as a junior partner in One Belt One Road.

The US cannot afford to allow these ambitions to remain unchallenged, which is why US media has alleged that Moscow intervened in the US presidential elections and that Russia is a serial aggressor that poses a growing threat to European and US national security. This has been going on since Trump’s election. It has been accompanied by a NATO build up in Europe, proxy military interventions in the Middle East and by the recent ramping up of economic sanctions, which are incidentally, deeply unpopular with the US’ European allies, especially Germany, which gets one third of its energy supplies from Russia.

It might seem at first sight that NATO’s recent land and sea exercises in Eastern and Southern Europe as well as the Black Sea frontiers of Eurasia are provocations designed simply to anger and intimidate Russia. It might also seem that the US’ presence in Iraq and Syria is designed to anger and intimidate Iran. But they are at the same time provocations designed to send China a strong message. And this message is being sent at various points along the “New Silk Road”.

In Poland US soldiers have been deployed as part of troop rotations to Europe that the Pentagon has said are intended to bolster ties with NATO allies and send a clear message to Russia. The Polish government allowed more US troops to enter Poland to take part in the recent NATO exercises.

In Romania the US has also built a ground-based $3.9 billion Patriot missile defence system at a site that is just 900 miles from Moscow. The US missile system which was “certified for operation” in May 2016, cancels-out Russia’s nuclear deterrents and undermines the last vestige of Russia as a world super-power.

One Belt One Road had been announced by China in the Autumn of 2013 and Ukraine’s President at the time Viktor Yanukovych visited China in December of that year where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. During the meetings, China agreed to invest $8 billion into the Ukrainian economy. A few months later, the US organised coup took place in February 2014. The US thus annexed a vital land-bridge between the EU and Asia, enabling it to try to control critical rail and pipeline corridors that are drawing the two continents of Asia and Europe closer together.

The New Silk Road’s maritime route into Europe goes through Greece where the Chinese state have purchased the port of Piraeus. From there it will pass by Albania and Montenegro via the Ionian and Adriatic Seas. For this reason, the US has been fomenting Albanian extremism in Macedonia, which has a large Albanian minority, in an attempt to weaken the position of President Gjorge Ivanov. The effect is to threaten the existence of the small Balkan state. Furthermore, the US has been deeply supportive of the “Greater Albania project”8, which would see Albania annex not only parts of Macedonia but also parts of Serbia, Montenegro and Greece. Montenegro’s recent, deeply controversial membership of NATO9 will only exacerbate the problem, since the country remains divided politically, and has close ties to Serbia which remains a Russian ally. One of the US’s main aims with “Greater Albania” is to destabilise Serbia. The New Silk Road’s path into southern Europe thus faces more than a few problems.

Another hotspot of US making along China’s New Silk Road is in North-Eastern Syria. This is also an area in which Syrian Kurds are growing increasingly vocal about independence. Should the US support Kurdish nationalists in northern Iraq and North Eastern Syria, this could create two decidedly pro-US camps along the New Silk Road. If Syrian and/or Iraqi Kurdish nationalists manage to establish a union with the Kurdish nationalist PKK in Turkey, the New Silk Road’s pathway into Turkey could also be threatened; just as the Syrian Ambassador to China has confirmed that China will be given priority in the rebuilding of post-conflict Syria. In July 2017, the China-Arab Exchange Association in cooperation with the Syrian Embassy in Beijing held the Syria Day Expo where Representatives from over 1,000 Chinese businesses specialising in redevelopment, infrastructure and investment met with Syrian officials.

Far from just being a large repair initiative for Syria’s damaged infrastructure, Chinese developmental and investment cooperation could lead to long-term mutual benefits for both China and Syria. Due to Syria’s position on the Eastern Mediterranean and its good relationship with both its Iraqi neighbour and Iraq’s eastern neighbour Iran, Syria is well placed to be an important stop on China’s New Silk Road. The idea that in a few years time, Syrian ports could be an important export route for Chinese goods into other parts of the Mediterranean is one that may come to fruition. The clear loser in such a deal would be the US. In order to counter this therefore, the US continues to increase its presence in Syria.

Ships on the maritime New Silk Road are set to pass through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, which links the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea. Currently, the Strait is under naval blockade from the US’s ally Saudi Arabia. The results of this have led to a humanitarian disaster for the Yemen, which is the subject of the Saudi blockade. The presence of US friendly Saudi ships could also become a threat to China’s shipping routes to the Red Sea.

These flash points on the geopolitical map all look, on the face of it, like aggression and antagonism towards Russia, Syria and Iran. While this is undoubtedly true, they are also in fact, key strategic interventions which either involve direct military aggression or military/naval build ups, broadly tracing the path of the Chinese land and maritime silk roads. The Chinese do, of course, have a degree of flexibility about the path of the land and maritime silk roads and will alter the path as necessary. However, the US is trying to put as many barriers in its way as it can by situating itself or its proxies in areas designed to make China’s commercial/trade expansion as difficult as possible. It seems certain that as China begins to extend the logistical element of its global trade dominance, so too will the US seek to disrupt it wherever it can.

Meanwhile China is using a strategy of building up relationships with its Eurasian neighbours and fostering Eurasia wide infrastructure and trade development to overcome the US; whereas the US relies almost exclusively on military power, deception, covert activity and financialisation.

The Challenge to Dollar Hegemony

As we saw above the US has been able to pass much of the cost of its own economic decline and inflationary spending onto foreign users of the dollar for its own benefit.10 However, by publicly complaining about the way in which the US takes advantage of the dollar as world reserve currency, it is clear that the Chinese and their partners have been actively seeking to alter the balance of power and challenge the dollar’s supremacy.

Arguably, the world is already bi-polar in terms of its most powerful economies. China is now the world’s biggest exporter of manufactured goods. It is the biggest car producer, exceeding the US and Japan combined in 2009.11 In the same year it also surpassed the US as the biggest car market in the world with car sales increasing by 50% to 13.64 million, while US sales fell by around a fifth to 10.43 million. China is second only to the US in oil consumption and is the biggest energy importer (gas and oil) in the world. China has already reached the point where it can no longer continue to grow without directly challenging the dollar’s supremacy. And this is exactly what it has begun to do.

Dollar hegemony stands in the way of China becoming a true equal of the United States for a number of reasons. Dollar hegemony allows the US to spend well in excess of half a trillion dollars every year on military spending. The US Defence budget dwarfs that of China and Russia combined.12 Effectively, with its holding of around 3.5 trillion in dollars and US treasuries, China pays for its own encirclement by the US army and navy. The dollar is the currency in which trade in oil is denominated and if China buys oil from the Middle East it must pay in dollars. China’s huge dollar holdings (largely in the form of US treasuries) represent a high risk since China is vulnerable to dollar devaluation or inflation; and following the 2008 global financial crisis, China also realised that, given the weakness of the international monetary system, dollar dependency would be a major risk moving forward. A further difficulty for China is that the US has a tight grip on the world financial system. The majority of world trade is still in US dollars and the US also controls the international trading system, Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) through which international trade is largely conducted.

For these reasons China has been acting to undermine the dollar as world reserve currency. A start was made in 2001 when the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) was founded by the leaders of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Aside from its political objectives, this represented an early move to challenge the dollar, with a Framework Agreement to enhance economic cooperation, and a long-term objective to establish a free trade area in the SCO agreed in 2003, where the dollar would be excluded. India and Pakistan joined as full members in June 2017.

In 2009 China and Russia called on the IMF to replace the dollar as the world currency with a new currency based on IMF special drawing rights. As the west and especially the US control the IMF and World Bank it predictably failed.13 China has since sought to undermine the World Bank and the IMF. One way was via the creation of the New Development Bank in July 2014, with its head office in Shanghai. The Bank is run by the BRICS countries. Each country has a 20 percent shareholding and voting rights. The bank says all members of the United Nations could join the bank. However, the BRICS nations can never be less than 55 percent of the voting power. The bank is intended to help develop growing economic relations among nations who wish to promote trade and investment and industrial cooperation and, at the same time, avoid US dominated financial institutions like the IMF. The NDB currently has 23 projects costing $6 billion, including $1.7 billion in China and $1.8 billion in India. In 2016 the bank provided over $1.5 billion in financial assistance.

China itself has also established its own institutions like the China Development Bank and the China Export-Import Bank. These are the tools through which it funds overseas developments. In 2010 they overtook the World Bank in supplying such loans for the first time.14

China is seeking wider global use of the renminbi (RMB), in line with its status as the world’s second-largest economy and to challenge the US dollar. Renminbi internationalisation accelerated in 2009 when China established the “dim sum bond”15 market and expanded the Cross-Border Trade RMB Settlement Pilot Project, which helps establish pools of offshore RMB liquidity. In November 2010, Russia began using the renminbi in its bilateral trade with China. This was soon followed by Japan, Australia, Singapore, Great Britain and Canada. As a result of the rapid internationalisation of the renminbi, it became the eighth-most-traded currency in the world in 2013.

As a founding member of BRICS, as well as a major energy exporter, Russia has been leading the way in acting against the dollar. Other nations are now following Russia’s example: Iran and India announced in 2016 that they intend to settle all outstanding crude oil payments in rupees, as part of a joint strategy to dump the petrodollar and trade instead in national currencies. This is a bold move by Iran since, as the CWO has pointed out before[16, Saddam Hussein was overthrown because he instituted a policy of selling oil for euros, not dollars. As a result, there is little doubt that the threat to dollar hegemony was discouraged. But things are beginning to change and China quietly announced in 2016, that it will launch direct trading of its currency, the renminbi, with the riyal of Saudi Arabia and also with the dirham of the United Arab Emirates. This may pave the way for future oil sales between China and Saudi Arabia to be settled in renminbi, which would represent a major blow to the petrodollar. Another incentive for Saudi Arabia to trade its oil in renminbi is that Russia is now the top crude oil exporter to China. A few years ago, Saudi Arabia enjoyed a 20% share of Chinese crude imports, while Russia was lagging far behind with 7%. Now the Saudis find themselves neck and neck with Moscow for the lead in Chinese market share, with both supplying 13-16% of China’s oil needs. Russia’s share continues to grow as Saudi Arabia’s falls because Russia is prepared to accept renminbi for its oil.

There are 23 countries outside of China, which are creating new currency swap lines outside of the dollar including Russia, India, but also significantly, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. This means that the Eurozone itself is preparing to go outside of the dollar, and make use of a new central banking system.

China’s currency reached another major milestone on its march towards internationalisation by breaking into the top five most-used global payment currencies in 2015.

According to data from SWIFT, the international currency clearing system, 2.2 per cent of the world’s payments were conducted using the Chinese currency in December 2014, putting it above both the Canadian and Australian dollars for the first time. The renminbi now sits just behind the Japanese yen, which was used for 2.7 per cent of transactions, the British pound, the euro and the top-ranked US dollar. Use of the renminbi is still well behind that of the euro and the dollar, which together account for three-quarters of all transactions, but growth has been rapid and is set to grow still further. During 2014, payments made in the Chinese currency more than doubled the previous year’s, and have risen 361 per cent since the end of 2012.

There is a momentum towards moving away from the dollar as world currency. What still stands as a major barrier in its way is the understanding that Saudi Arabia and OPEC countries have with the US in ensuring oil transactions remain denominated in dollars under the 1970’s Petrodollar agreement. But even this may be about to change as Saudi Arabia is drawn towards direct trading with China for oil. Saudi Arabia has even publicly stated that ties to the U.S. are open for renegotiation.17

One way in which China has been running down its estimated $1.5 trillion in treasury securities is by buying gold bullion. It has been doing this in very large amounts since 2011. China has a target volume of gold reserves that it is trying to build. No one knows precisely what that target is, nor how much gold China owns. The official reported figure at the end of 2016 is only 1,843 tonnes but the real number is certainly much larger. Diversifying out of the dollar is one reason why China is buying gold since it provides a hedge if the dollar devalues, another reason is that it may have future plans for a gold backed currency, at least in terms of commodity trading.

Beijing has now introduced renminbi gold futures contracts on the Shanghai stock exchange and a renminbi oil futures contract is expected to be launched in the near future. China has long wanted to reduce the dominance of the US dollar in commodities markets. Other commodity futures contracts will be set up over time. This will ensure that foreign traders in commodities and wholesale goods, in particular oil, can sell forward the renminbi they receive in return for gold, increasing the attractiveness of trade finance settled in renminbi compared with dollars. The crude oil futures market will be the first commodity contract in China open to foreign investment funds, trading houses and oil firms. The resulting circumvention of US dollar trade would also allow oil exporters such as Russia and Iran to avoid US sanctions by using this market. In time, renminbi payments for all commodities will have convertibility into gold using the Shanghai Gold Futures Market when it gains greater depth, making it superior to the dollar as a settlement currency. This would give China an advantage over nations only able to offer fiat currencies in exchange for oil, especially during times of financial crisis. The current lack of international confidence in the renminbi as a currency would become irrelevant if it is backed by gold.

All of these measures have been gradual. China has been implementing them quietly and behind the scenes. It is early days, but already, it is becoming increasingly clear that the world economy is dividing into two spheres: a dollar sphere in which central banks in Europe, Japan and many OPEC and third world countries hold their reserves in the form of US treasury debt of declining foreign-exchange value; and a BRIC-centred sphere, led by China, Russia, India and Brazil reaching out to include Turkey, Iran, most of Asia, large parts of Africa and major raw materials exporters that are running trade surpluses. In the BRIC-centred sphere, countries are gradually becoming well supplied with renminbi in order to trade directly with what will eventually become, on all measures, the biggest economy in the world.


So far the Chinese imperialist challenge to the US is economic and financial. However it still needs to break the stranglehold of dollar hegemony in order to further develop as a global economic powerhouse that can challenge US imperialism’s dominant role in the world. This will not be easy but by encouraging the growth of a free trade area outside of the dollar and providing a new financial infrastructure it hopes to achieve it.

This by no means implies that China is neglecting the necessary military build-up to back up this challenge. It launched its first aircraft carrier in 2011 and in June 2017 launched a record new 10,000 tonne guided-missile destroyer. It has been modernizing its navy, especially in the development of submarines to protect the maritime Silk Road and to defend territorial waters. It has no hope of contesting the US militarily on a global level so its aim is to develop sufficient military strength to defend its own regional interests. We have already seen this in the South China Sea where China is building artificial island bases and disputing rights to reefs and islands with other South East Asian nations. The purpose of this is to demonstrate to its neighbours that the US is powerless to prevent China doing what it wants in what it sees as its own back yard.

China’s strategy is based on the fact that, because the US is an outside power, its leadership in Asia depends on formal and informal alliances with countries in the region. Beijing appears to have decided that the best way to undermine US leadership is to weaken those alliances. By applying carefully graduated degrees of pressure on US-aligned countries like Japan and the Philippines over long-running territorial disputes, China is trying to show that the US is no longer willing to confront China on their behalf. For example, five months after Obama’s Asia Pivot speech18, China called his bluff by launching the first of its direct challenges to US resolve in the East China and South China seas. It used armed ships to muscle the Philippines out of disputed waters around the Scarborough Shoal, which had traditionally been under Philippine control. When Manila asked for military support, Washington refused as it was not willing to risk a confrontation with China over an uninhabitable reef. Beijing won its point and soon Philippines President Duterte was making overtures to China. The more China succeeds, the more US leadership in Asia diminishes, and the further China’s power and influence will grow. The strategy is not simply about demonstrating US weakness in the Asia-Pacific region, it is also about leveraging China’s massive economic resources to buy the goodwill of neighbours in the region. The Chinese leadership believes that BRI will ultimately give China leadership of the entire Asia-Pacific region. President Xi Jinping calls this “a time of strategic opportunity” to challenge US leadership in Asia and build “a new model of great power relations” in Asia, with China at its head.

The dilemma for the US – and the threat for the world – is that over time China will catch up with the US militarily as well as economically. It’s a long way off. The US has 737 military bases (and more non-military installations) around the world in over 150 countries. It spends $600 billion a year on “defense”. Russia has just raised its expenditure to $131 billion and China to $66 billion. However at some point the US will arrive at the same dilemma which faced the German General Staff in 1914. Their calculation was that by 1916 they would lose what military advantages they had over their imperialist rivals so were facing a pivotal decision and thus gave the green light for support to Austria and Armageddon followed.

The world’s ruling classes know the consequences of the two previous world wars and that has been a major factor in the avoidance of another one so far. However, the other factor was that until recently there has not been a major power demanding a change in the 1945 world order. The Cold War remained largely “cold” because both the USSR and the USA had fundamentally “done well out of the war”.

The difference today is that the capitalism is on life support. The crisis that erupted in 1971-3 has never gone away despite all the technological changes it has provoked. Basically the capitalist world needs a major devaluation of capital if it is to restore profit rates and begin a new cycle of accumulation. They have tried everything else from Keynesianism to neo-liberalism ending up with the deregulated speculation which finished in tears ten years ago. Since then the system has been propped up by printing money and debt.

In fact, central banks are now the biggest owners of stocks and shares amounting to a staggering $15 trillion.19 The US, European and Japanese Central banks are propping up bond and stock markets to the tune of billions every month. This keeps interest rates low, which is the only way this level of debt can continue. The tipping point will come when interest rates start to rise and make the astronomical levels of debt unsustainable. Central banks will not be able to take on the resulting debt burden as they did after the 2008 crash.

A major crash wiping out trillions of dollars would lead to a very deep depression and it’s difficult to predict what the social consequences of this would be for capitalism. And with all other options exhausted, the prospect of global imperialist conflict will be all the closer. The current USA-China rivalry will be the axis around which any conflict will take place.


  • 1.
  • 2. Final list of founding members of the AIIB: Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Vietnam
  • 3. According to Wikipedia –
  • 4. The classic being Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers but there are a whole host of alarmist books mainly emanating from right-wing conspiracy theorists.
  • 5.
  • 6. 2009: Under the Obama administration, smart power became a core principle of his foreign policy strategy. It was popularized by Hillary Clinton during her Senate confirmation hearing on January 13, 2009 for the position of Secretary of State: Source: Wikipedia
  • 7.
  • 8.
  • 9.
  • 10.
  • 11. World Trade Organisation Report 2009
  • 12. China and Russia defence spending in 2016 was $131.57 billion and $66 billion respectively. So less than two fifths of US spending combined.
  • 13. “China calls for new reserve currency” Financial Times 24 March 2009
  • 14. “The US puts the World Bank under renewed fire” Financial Times 16 October 2017
  • 15.
  • 16.
  • 17. Ahead of James Mattis’ meeting in Riyadh on April 18 2017 with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defence Mohammed bin Salman, Zuheir Harithi, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council, told Al-Monitor that US policy in the past three years has been vague and confusing for the allies, including Saudi Arabia. He added that policies made during the Obama era need to be reconsidered in a way amenable to Gulf countries. He confirmed that there are positive signs indicating that Trump is serious in dealing with regional issues.
  • 18. The “Pivot” or as the Obama Administration re-termed it “Rebalance” was a redirection of military resources that had been freed up by withdrawing forces from Afghanistan and Iraq to be redeployed in East Asia. In November 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed that the nation had reached a “pivot point” allowing it to “redirect” resources that had been going to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to Asia. The administration’s January 2012 defence budget guidance claimed that the Pentagon would “rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific and Middle-East regions.” Later, the Middle East was dropped.
  • 19.

Kept out: How banks block people of color from homeownership

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 17:28


PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act banned racial discrimination in lending, African Americans and Latinos continue to be routinely denied conventional mortgage loans at rates far higher than their white counterparts.

This modern-day redlining persisted in 61 metro areas even when controlling for applicants’ income, loan amount and neighborhood, according to millions of Home Mortgage Disclosure Act records analyzed by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

The yearlong analysis, based on 31 million records, relied on techniques used by leading academics, the Federal Reserve and Department of Justice to identify lending disparities.

It found a pattern of troubling denials for people of color across the country, including in major metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis and San Antonio. African Americans faced the most resistance in Southern cities – Mobile, Alabama; Greenville, North Carolina; and Gainesville, Florida – and Latinos in Iowa City, Iowa.

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Prison abolition isn’t impossible. It’s necessary.

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 17:19

via Red Pepper

by David Scott

Alongside critiquing of the deadly harms of imprisonment, penal abolitionists strongly emphasise the importance of building something new and much better in place of prisons.  ‘Abolitionist alternatives’ start with recognition that the extensive use of imprisonment is often situated within the context of profoundly unequal societies.  Abolitionist values, such as solidarity, love, kindness, compassion and friendships stand in opposition to social and economic inequalities. Abolitionist alternatives promote then an ethics and politics of responsibility and abolitionists ask us in our everyday lives to take responsibility for others.

To change the world you have to start with yourself. Ideas about institutional change and transforming society are essential, but in the first instance abolitionism means being kinder; more compassionate; and more generous in how we engage daily with other people: it’s about trying to cleanse ourselves of punitiveness.  Whilst no-one is ever going to be able to completely achieve this, and certainly not alone, it is important to live abolitionist values on a daily basis.  We should attempt to create communities of abolition.  Advanced capitalist societies like England and Wales foster hierarchies and a sense of distance and unrelatedness to other human beings, providing a breeding ground for punitiveness.  Abolitionist ‘non-reformist reforms’ therefor include policies that could reduce inequalities.  This includes radical social policies such as the basic minimum income; the abolition of inheritance; the creation of a maximum wage; and a Robin Hood model of taxation. Such ‘real utopian’ interventions could be immediately implemented to help lead us towards a more social democratic, if not socialist, society

The ethics and politics of responsibility operate on a number of levels. Taking responsibility at a societal level (social responsibility) means being responsible for the social harms generated through class, ‘race’, gender, age sexuality and other social divisions. It means saying YES: yes to a more equitable society and new ways of engaging with human beings so they ae less likely to do wrongful behaviour in the future. It means promoting intervention that can help somebody put something back into society. We should have forward- rather than backward -looking approach to social harms. And we should be generous, giving the best possible interpretation to the actions of other and saying YES, I believe you can do this; I have hope that you can get better or redeem yourself and do something really positive with your life; that as a society we should invest in you, take into account the problems that you’ve had in life, and recognise that that probably is going to make mistakes again.

Abolitionist alternatives should help people to think about what they have done wrong. Many of those processed by the criminal law have grown up in care, been sexually abused as a child, or lived in poverty and hardship for much of their lives. Many have also witnessed domestic violence or been bullied. All those horrors characterise the lives of people in prison. We ned then to say YES, we collectively will take responsibility for addressing those harms, and will attempt to make sure that others do not suffer a similar plight in the future. People can apologise and acknowledge wrongdoing without necessarily going through the logic of blame. Blaming is punitive and counter-productive. Through a process of dialogue a person can think about what they have done and what they can do now to take responsibility for putting right what was wrong.  This is not blaming. Blame is about putting the perpetrator in an abstract scenario, finding guilt and then punishing them. Abolitionists call instead for redress, and to do this in a way which reflects that person’s human rights and human dignity.

The phrase that I would use to sum up abolitionist alternatives is the ‘paradigm of life’. This means focusing on human fulfilment, creating life, generating vitality and fostering human wellbeing. In so doing, there is an implicit criticism of those institutions which do the exact opposite to the paradigm of life:  institutions haunted by the spirit of death. We should focus on building institutions which can protect human beings and lead to a kinder society where people reach their potential, instead of that potential being destroyed at an early age.

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Federal Judge Blocks Construction of Bayou Bridge Pipeline

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 04:49

via Earth Justice

Baton Rouge, LA —

Federal District Court Judge Shelly Dick halted the construction of the controversial Bayou Bridge Pipeline (BBP) across the Atchafalaya Basin. Today’s decision grants a preliminary injunction to prevent ongoing irreparable harm to this ecological treasure while a lawsuit, filed Jan. 11, is being heard.

Judge Dick found that the lawsuit filed by several groups—Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association (West), Gulf Restoration Network, Waterkeeper Alliance and Sierra Club, represented by lawyers with Earthjustice—raises serious concerns and that the 162-mile pipeline would irreparably harm the Atchafalaya Basin.

The groups recently presented live testimony during a hearing showing that the ancient cypress and tupelo trees slated to be turned into mulch while the pipeline right-of-way is being cleared would never return, including evidence that these old-growth trees are the Noah’s Ark of the swamp—providing habitat for migratory birds, bears, bats and numerous other wildlife.

In addition, the groups showed that pipeline construction would further degrade nearby fishing grounds that local commercial crawfishers rely on for their livelihood.

“The court’s ruling recognizes the serious threat this pipeline poses to the Atchafalaya Basin, one of our country’s ecological and cultural crown jewels,” said Jan Hasselman, attorney from Earthjustice representing plaintiffs in this matter. “For now, at least, the Atchafalaya is safe from this company’s incompetence and greed.”

Jody Meche, a third-generation commercial crawfisher and president of the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association-West, testified about how the Bayou Bridge pipeline would make existing problems worse—problems created by the irresponsible behavior of oil and gas companies during construction to previous pipelines in the basin.

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WhatsApp Co-Founder Puts $50M Into Signal To Supercharge Encrypted Messaging

Tue, 02/27/2018 - 21:54

via Wired

In the four or so years since it launched, end-to-end encrypted messaging app Signal has become the security community’s gold standard for surveillance-resistant communications. Its creators have built an encryption protocol that companies from WhatsApp to Facebook Messenger to Skype have all added to their own products to offer truly private conversations to billions of people. And it’s done so as a non-profit with, at any given moment, a tiny staff that includes just two or three full-time coders. Now imagine what it might accomplish with actual Silicon Valley money behind it.

On Wednesday, the creators of Signal announced the launch of the Signal Foundation, which will build and maintain Signal and potentially other privacy-focused apps to come, too. WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton has also joined as the foundation’s executive chairman, his first new role since leaving WhatsApp last fall. And Acton’s not only devoting the next phase of his post-WhatsApp career to Signal, but a fair-sized chunk of his WhatsApp billions, too: He’s personally injecting $50 million into the project.

“Our plan is to pioneer a new model of technology nonprofit focused on privacy and data protection for everyone, everywhere,” Acton wrote in a blog post announcing the move along with Moxie Marlinspike, the cypherpunk programmer who first created Signal and founded Open Whisper Systems, the non-profit organization that has run Signal until now. “Moxie and his team have built something very special in Signal Messenger and I am thrilled to join their effort to provide the most trusted communications experience on the planet.”

In an email to WIRED, Acton writes that since leaving WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook last September, he’s now free to pursue his long-held ideals: transparent, open-source development and uncompromising data protection. “I’m now in a place where I can devote substantial amounts of my time and resources to advance technology in these areas,” Acton writes. “It’s more important to me that we focus on these core ideals than to go off and chase technological fads that are not going to survive into the future.

Acton has known Marlinspike since 2013, when the latter first proposed the idea to Acton of integrating Signal’s end-to-end encryption into WhatsApp, starting with its then hundreds of millions of Android users. Signal’s encryption would bring a new degree of privacy to WhatsApp’s conversations, such that no one, not hackers on the network, not eavesdropping police, not even WhatsApp itself would be able to decrypt users’ messages and phone calls. Marlinspike had met a WhatsApp engineer by chance at his then-girlfriend’s family reunion, and used the connection to finagle a meeting with Acton, who immediately took to the idea. “It boiled down to a matter of principle,” Acton told WIRED in 2016. “If two people want a private conversation, electronic or not, they should be allowed to have it.”

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As Afrin burns, where is the left?

Tue, 02/27/2018 - 20:30

via Open Democracy

by William Eichler

The unofficial motto of the Kurdish people is, as countless opinion pieces have reminded us recently, Kurds have no friends but the mountains. They make strategic alliances with great powers from time to time; but these, predictably enough, tend to end in betrayal. The vagaries of realpolitik do not lend themselves to lasting friendship.

What is less predictable is the lack of support the Kurds have received from progressives.

Turkey’s invasion of Afrin should be bringing the international left out onto the streets of all major capitals. Protesters should be pouring into Hyde Park with the red, white, green and yellow of the Kurdish flag as the chant “We are all PYD now!” fills the air.

But they’re not. The streets are quiet — save a few Kurdish activists — and displays of solidarity are scarce.

Compare this with the situation of another stateless people: the Palestinians. When the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) razes Gaza to the ground, activists waste no time in donning keffiyehs and marching on Whitehall; violence in the Holy Land permeates the major periodicals and Israel is fiercely denounced on social media.

Why, then, the relative silence when it comes to the persecution of the Kurds?

An Islamist-nationalist government, headed by the demagogic Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has invaded a foreign country with the help of local jihadis in order to crush a leftist movement. And this, furthermore, while he strangles Kurdish democratic aspirations at home. Where is the outrage?

I have written about the Israel/Palestine side of this question before. The left is particularly attuned to Palestinian suffering because they are the victims of a western state — a settler colonial country formed under the aegis of a European imperial power.

A shift in left-wing focus in recent decades towards anti-colonialism and anti-racism — and the related move from class to identity politics — has meant Israel’s “western” identity has moved the Palestinian struggle centre stage in the left’s political imagination. And, in the context of the war on terror, it has gone on to steal the show.

Here, however, I want to explore why the Kurds, the world’s largest nation without a state, do not elicit the same passions.

The problem cannot be ideological incompatibility. The Kurdish movement as it is currently constituted in Syria and Turkey (not so much in Iraq) represents the most progressive socio-political movement in the region today. Ideologically, they are more in tune with a leftist outlook than groups such as Hamas or Hezbollah, whose opposition to Israel has earned them a free pass within some sections of the “anti-imperialist” left.

Afrin, the site of Erdoğan’s war games, is in northern Syria or western Kurdistan (Rojava). Here, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) — an affiliate of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — and their YPG/J militias are carrying out a radical experiment in direct democracy under the banner of democratic confederalism.

Formulated by Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, and inspired by the American anarchist Murray Bookchin, this is a form of libertarian socialism that focuses on social and environmental justice, and emphasises the end of patriarchy as a necessary element in the building of a better world.

Critics argue that the democratic rhetoric is just a front for Kurdish separatism. Underneath the egalitarian veneer, they say, lurks a regressive ethno-nationalist programme. Perhaps.

Ascertaining what is happening on the ground is never easy in a time of war and no organisation is perfect. But even if the critics are right, the available evidence suggests the PYD remains more progressive than the Islamic State (IS) jihadists they have fought off, the butcher of Damascus and his theocratic backers in Tehran, or the increasingly authoritarian Erdoğan. Knowing who to make common cause with should not be hard.

For many, however, it is. One possible reason is the complexity of the Syrian civil war and the position of Kurdish forces within it. While the PYD and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the military coalition led by the People’s Protection Units (YPG/J), have made various alliances (most recently with Assad), they have benefitted mostly from US support. This is not on, apparently.

Such alliances, in the eyes of some, have made the Kurds NATO stooges and are helping the west weaken the “resistance axis” which stretches, with Russian support, from Tehran, through Damascus, and into south Lebanon.

There is some truth to this. The SDF’s alliance-of-convenience undermines Assad — even when taking into account recent developments — and puts a dent in Putin’s regional ambitions. It also makes Iranian expansion that little bit more costly.

However, while there is an argument for preventing the collapse of the Syrian state, the idea that the powers propping up Assad represent a progressive force because they are fighting western imperialism and Wahhabist encroachments is fatuous in the extreme.

The Moscow-Tehran-Damascus axis is no ally of the left or any movement concerned with justice and equality. Just ask the residents of eastern Ghouta.

Geo-politics aside, there is another element to consider. As Rosa Burç and Kerem Schamberger point out in Jacobin, a tactical alliance with the American military does not mean the content of the PYD’s programme has changed. The Pentagon is not dictating the Kurds’ domestic agenda. Trump has no influence on the Rojava Revolution; he probably hasn’t even heard of it.

Let’s accept that the difficulties of navigating the Syrian conflict account for some of the left’s silence on the Kurdish question. In the fog of war it is sometimes hard to make out who’s the oppressor and who’s the oppressed. This does not, however, explain the lack of solidarity offered to Kurds north of the border.

In Turkey, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have been persecuted by the government since winning thirteen percent of the vote in the June 2015 elections, temporarily upsetting Erdoğan’s plans to create a presidential system.

Emerging out of the Kurdish rights movement and animated by the pan-Anatolian spirit of the 2013 Gezi protests, the HDP have seen their former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ arrested and scores of activists jailed. This process has only been intensified by the wider crackdown on Turkish civil society in the wake of the 2016 coup attempt.

Judicial oppression soon morphed into violent suppression. In 2015, the peace process aimed at ending the nearly forty-year-old conflict between Ankara and the PKK broke down through a combination of political expediency by the former and miscalculation by the latter.

The ensuing hostilities led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians in 2015 and 2016, and the killing of over 250 non-combatants in Turkey’s south east. But, again, the fate of the Kurds was met with near silence on the left.

The reason for this selective solidarity was touched upon earlier. Kurds, it seems, have the misfortune of being victims of a “non-western” power and so their suffering barely registers. It is irrelevant that Turkey is a NATO power. Or a country trying to enter the European Union. Or just an autocratic state with imperial ambitions and a history of persecuting a local ethnic group.

For many on the left, it is not “western” enough to care about and therefore its victims are invisible.

Thousands from Afrin: “We will resist until the end”

Tue, 02/27/2018 - 20:25

via ANF News

Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM) organized a rally in Mabata district of Afrin to protest Turkish invasion attacks. Thousands attended the rally despite continuous artillery bombing and vowed to resist against the invaders.

Speaking to the crowd, Asya Abdullah, co-chair of TEV-DEM, recalled Afrin’s resistance against the second largest army of NATO for the past month and said that the resistance itself is a victory.

“Turkey aims to destroy the democratic project in Syria’s most secure city. All Northern Syrian peoples are resisting against this invasion attacks” she said.

Pointing out the resistance, Abdullah said, “Afrin is the land of the heroes. We will resist until the last gang is neutralized”.

Resolution in Solidarity With the Struggle in Rojava

Mon, 02/26/2018 - 05:26

Green Mountain Central Labor Council of the Vermont AFL-CIO

February 22, 2018


Organized Labor must stand in solidarity with working people in all parts of the world when they rise up to defend their rights and when they struggle to build a better, more democratic and more socialist world;

The People of Rojava, northern Syria, have risen up in order to combat ISIS and the dictatorship;

The People of Rojava, through their armed forces known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG) & the Woman’s Protection Units (YPJ) and allied militias, have liberated large sections of northern Syria from ISIS and the dictatorship;

The People of Rojava are presently defending themselves bravely against ISIS and Turkish aggression;

The People of Rojava seek to establish a libertarian-socialist, anti-fascist, secular, multi-ethnic society, with equal rights for men and woman;

The People of Rojava’s struggle for true freedom is a beacon of light in the Middle East and across the globe;

The People of Rojava are politically influenced by the libertarian and socialist writings of Vermonter Murry Bookchin and strive towards a political system similar to our own Town Meeting form of democracy;

Thousands of non-natives to Syria, including citizens of the United States of America, have seen the justice of the struggle in Rojava and, like with the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, have taken it upon themselves to travel to Rojava in order to become international volunteers within the YPG/YPJ;

Therefore, let it be resolved that:

The Green Mountain Central Labor Council of the Vermont AFL-CIO recognizes the struggle in Rojava to be THE liberation struggle of our day on par with Spain in 1936, and the Paris Commune of 1871;

The Green Mountain Central Labor Council of the Vermont AFL-CIO stands in solidarity with the people of Rojava, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), and the Woman’s Protection Units (YPJ) in their historic struggle to establish a free society in what is presently northern Syria;

The Green Mountain Central Labor Council of the Vermont AFL-CIO encourages Vermont Union members to lend support to the people of Rojava, the YPG, and the YPJ;

The Green Mountain Central Labor Council of the Vermont AFL-CIO (upon request from a returning international volunteer as made to the President of this Central Labor Council) shall seek to provide three months of housing and sustenance and shall assist them in finding Union employment;

The Green Mountain Central Labor Council of the Vermont AFL-CIO calls on the Governor of Vermont and the Legislature to declare Vermont a sanctuary State for all returning international volunteers who have fought alongside the YPG/YPJ;

The Green Mountain Central Labor Council of the Vermont AFL-CIO calls on the Governor of Vermont and the Legislature to consider legislation which would make all state based benefits available to Vermont National Guard veterans also available to returning international volunteers who served in the YPG/YPJ, who choose to make Vermont their home;

The Green Mountain Central Labor Council of the Vermont AFL-CIO shall donate the sum of $500 to Hevya Sor (the Kurdish Red Crescent), an organization which provides direct support to the People of Rojava, including the donation of medicine and medical equipment;

The Green Mountain Central Labor Council of the Vermont AFL-CIO calls on the Government of the United States of America to provide increased direct military assistance to the YPG/YPJ, to condemn Turkish aggression, and to refrain from any actions which would seek to influence or moderate the political development and trajectory of Rojava;

The Green Mountain Central Labor Council shall provide this resolution to our Governor, Lt Governor, Congressional Delegation, elected members of the General Assembly, all fifty State Labor Councils of the AFL-CIO, and shall make it available to The People of Vermont.

In Solidarity,
The Green Mountain Central Labor Council AFL-CIO

Open Borders are Our Only Hope

Sun, 02/25/2018 - 18:13

via C4SS

by Emmi Bevensee

Tribalism and National Borders

Fundamental to the danger of nation-states and borders are the paradigms of nationalism and tribalism that exploit human quirks to justify violence. Tribalism is best understood in terms of the creation of teams through the dehumanization of an ‘other.’ Tribalism is mentally categorizing someone who is somehow different (however shallow that difference may be) and turning their value into less than that of your team or “community.”

The ideology of whiteness, as utilized by exploitative empires, is one of the most deeply othering paradigms to curse this planet. The word ‘tribalism’ is, unfortunately, quite linked with the smoke and mirrors of colonial rule in which the deepest acts of tribalism are committed by the exploiters and enacted upon native bodies. However, tribalism should not be a derogatory slur against “primitiveness.” It is instead a fundamental facet of the myth of whiteness necessary to justify colonial rule. However, whether a native person or a white king does it, it is necessary to resist this dishonest mental aggression even as it is critical to recognize degrees of scale, spectra, and the intensities of harms that accompany tribalism depending on from whom it comes. After all, to other up (“Fuck you pig!” from a poor PoC) is awesome and is a fundamentally different act than to other down (“The poor are stupid.” from a rich white lady).

Tribalism is often synonymous with nationalism, but tribalism is more fluid. It doesn’t depend on just the nation-state. Tribalism swims equally well among neighborhood nationalism, racial othering, etc. Our human tendency to have affinity with people is not in and of itself the problem. The problem is what we do with it. The behavior of having tribes is largely distinct from ‘tribalism.’ A tribe or imagined community that seeks cooperative game theoretic strategies across lines of difference and doesn’t resort to dehumanization to maintain violent supremacy is not being tribalistic; they are practicing voluntary free association. For instance, just because I like someone and value myself doesn’t mean that I should hate everyone who isn’t that person or me and doesn’t share the traits that we connect over.

But even if it was ‘natural’ or inherent to be tribalistic then I would resist my nature and try to change it, mechanically if need be. My goal is to eliminate the faulty wiring that suggests that somehow because I am me and not you that I am somehow worth exponentially more than you. In a trolley problem between myself and two people of equal value and goodness (whatever that means) I should never ever ever hesitate to save them by sacrificing my own life just because I feel so urgently connected to my own being. This logic of self-absorption stretches across time as well. Indigenous spiritualities are often careful to think 500 years forward and backwards from a given generation and to recognize the interconnectedness of individuals across this scale. It is important, as well, that neither the collective nor the individual rule over one another. Western failures to incorporate a similar paradigm of interdependence are coordination problems that arise because ‘I do not see others’ liberation as being as important as my own,’ even if that ‘liberation’ is just food or health care. Whatever it is in my head that says “I’m worth more,” only because I’m me, is wrong. It’s a tick. If that’s what being natural means, then fuck being natural.

Nationalism is one of the grosser forms of tribalism though racism is quite similar in form. Ideological and cultural disparity are disguised as justice and then built into intricate systems of domination. I should never think of someone across a border as being worth less than me because they were born where they were and I, here. I should know that billions of lives deserve basic freedom even though I’ll never know a damn thing about them.

Nationalism, being one of the most violent modern battlegrounds of tribalism, is defined by its endemic othering.  Borders are a place of resistance, the hybrid space between imagined communities and inflated sites of value. Borderlands infect dehumanization with empathy to the extent that movement and sharing across difference is possible. This vulnerability to power and mythos is precisely why nationalists seek to violently repress connectedness across borders. Interconnectedness is a memetic virus that liberates us from our faulty wiring, and every step that ratchets that freedom closer is an exponential expression of hope for the future of the human race and its place in the ecological landscape of the universe. Open borders are the difference between a sociopathic prisoner’s dilemma stuck in recursive loops for the rest of ours species’ miserable hell of an existence and a dimension of wonders beyond what we’re capable of even considering.


Borders, in the modern sense of physical and/or ideological constructs separating conjoined nation-states, are not the norm they are generally assumed to be. National borders are the (often literal) walls demarcating sites of authoritarianism and coercion at odds with the liberty and development so crucial to the human species. Many believe that the modern nation-state was born through the Treaty of Westphalia in response to European religious wars in 1648. Time went on and the ideas and practices of statism were reified through Hobbesian justifications of the need for the state as a means of coordination and collective action around public goods problems,namely domestic peace and security. The passport was originally just meant to be a temporary war-time precaution, and most countries advocated total abolition of the passport system. The U.S. border with Mexico was largely porous and allowed for free movement before the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Clinton’s National Strategic Plan in 1994. These changes were made as ways of curbing the inevitable flows of migration that they expected as a result of the free-trade agreement. The border is now being even more heavily militarized and politicized amidst calls from Donald Trump and his zealots for an impossible wall, despite the fact that net migration into the U.S. from the southern border has been beneath zero, that immigrants commit less crimesdon’t increase unemployment, and also use fewer public resources. The US effectively makes immigration illegal by ensuring that it’s nearly impossible for average people to migrate legally. Lately the Trump regime continues to make legal immigration even more difficult than it already was. Even now, experiments such as the Schengen zone and the European Union are proving, despite the complexity of Brexit and the unceasing bureaucracy of the EU, that fluid boundaries between a great number of countries is not only possible, it is exceptionally profitable, ethical, and enjoyable. Further, most U.S. Americans believe that immigration is a good thing even if they disagree with the level at which it is occurring or that they think it’s occurring.

As incompetent, inefficient, and rigidly inflexible as national states are, the primary anarchist argument against them is their illegitimacy as defined by their monopoly on violence and coercive methods of domination. With the exception of the Nazi offshoot of national-“anarchism,” sincere anarchists across the spectrum, from anarcho-capitalists to anarcho-communists, are broadly against nationalism and the state. Borders and the state are seen as central impediments to empathy, evolution, and coordination and, instead, stand as critical pillars of tribalism and stagnation.

If people are migrating, something in public goods allocation is (likely structurally) unequal. If it was just as good to stay or go, mostly people would stay. Open borders are an equalizer and an outlet for productivity. Freedom of movement is essential to any liberty-focused ethos and system of rights. If not for freedom of movement, most other systems of ethics and rights crumble. For example, if people do not have the right to change their location and who they are around, what good is freedom of association or voluntary exchange? Or if people cannot migrate and interact with different audiences, what good is freedom of speech?

Any libertarian in favor of militarized national borders is more than likely a crypto- or open fascist of the ilk of Augustus Invictus, et. al. There can be no liberty without the abolition of nation states and their borders. Libertarian ethicist Michael Huemer states of borders:

“These restrictions are imposed by coercion: guards are hired to patrol the borders, physically barring unauthorized entry, and armed officers of the state forcibly detain and expel immigrants who are found residing in the country illegally… many suffer from oppression or poverty that could and would be remedied, if only they were able to enter the country of their choice.”

But this is only the beginning of the suffering as many are fleeing warfare, or worse, only to face the brutality of detention centers. Additionally, though, even persons who are not refugees and simply have a preference deserve to move freely as long as they are not infringing directly on the rights of another. Migration, like markets, when not disrupted by monopolies of power and violence, has inherent characteristics that lend towards a rapidly adaptive and yet dynamic homeostasis.

Borders are essential in creating the non-state “other.” Those from outside the drawn lines of the borders are often a racialized and heavily policed fiction of the paranoid colonial mind. It is no coincidence that xenophobia and the desire for borders and a clear citizen subject has so often been historically linked with genocide in the colonial pursuit. In modern statist capitalism the “other” from across the border serves the purpose of a “justifiably” exploitable labor and resource pool in a different way but also reminiscent to the slaves in the early colonial Americas.

National borders, however, should not be confused with personal boundaries or privately held property. That which an individual or collective has legitimate and ethical claims to ownership over should not be impinged upon by outside actors. This can be seen in the methods of indigenous resistance to infringements of treaty-based land-claims such as the “No-DAPL” movement at Standing Rock supported by any anarchist or libertarian with a backbone and conscience. The fact that they refused violence as a means of protest is a testament to either their strength of conviction or the danger of the situation they face. These indigenous property movements, although containing aspects of national liberation, reflect more of what an actual attempt at collective private property could be and, if nothing else, why nationalism will seek to destroy competing nationalism or property norms no matter how legitimate they are. Decolonization and indigenous nationalism can be seen in this way as more of an attempt at navigating monopoly and statist violence in their desire for basic access to the resources they rightly own.


There is a reasonable hesitancy to discuss the economics of migration because immigrants are often reduced to inhuman caricatures of their commodified value. This is an absolute cruelty that misses the ethical imperatives surrounding migration. However, to dismiss the economics of the issue entirely serves to render invisible other layers of the catastrophic ramifications of closed borders. No matter how devastatingly corrupted our current system is, even if the bosses and monopolists benefit the most from migrant labor and resources, the economics of closed borders are still devastating to those most vulnerable, from colonized nations to the undocumented labor force in the host country. So, however treacherous, an understanding of the economics of migration that recognizes the central humanity of migrants is necessary to gathering a complete picture of the crisis.

Imperialist national borders are designed to protect concentrations of wealth and maintain access to exploitable labor and resources. Most oppressed nationalism is itself a response or method of resistance against this impossible playing field even if it is fettered by the same problematics of nationalism. However, with things like the internet and higher levels of exchange happening between global citizens every day, the ability to effectively maintain national borders and identities is in many ways dwindling. Nations come replete with numerous high-overhead subsidies. The unsustainability of this, coupled with the ever increasing ease of use for things like cryptocurrencies and homebrew industrial manufacturing, trends in many ways towards a general market decentralization through agorist and counter-economic practices. These practices can then be coupled with parallel institutions which, following market logic, lend themselves to significantly flatter firms and the gradual destruction of many vast concentrations of wealth.

To make this idea of subsidized sites of power and resource concentration tangible, the U.S. spends billions of dollars a year on the “Prevention Through Deterrence” infrastructure that channels migrants through the most dangerous parts of the desert. Furthermore, as spending on border enforcement infrastructure and agents continues to explode, apprehensions continue to decline. This is in conjunction with the fact that the U.S. spends more on Immigration Control and Enforcement than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. These subsidies help to create and maintain monopoly through cronyism and carte-blanche contracts with private companies who supply every piece of the seemingly infinite web of needs for “protecting the border.” The prevention through deterrence strategy and Border Patrol (BP) boots on the ground mean that the Mexican drug cartels (narcos) can control certain key crossing areas rather than having to patrol the entire border. Through brutality and corruption, BP and the narcos are able to own the lives of those crossing, often forcing them into ever more dangerous situations as the desperation for safe crossing grows. Similar phenomena haunt the EU, as countries close borders, disrupting Schengen efficiency across the increasingly nationalist and xenophobic continental Europe.

Economists have argued that we could double the world’s GDP through open borders. This could not only eliminate global poverty, it could usher in an age of unprecedented prosperity that could enable us to solve some of the most pressing issues of health and environmental destruction facing, not only our species, but earth as a whole. There are a host of benefits that a receiving country has as part of accepting migrants including labor, entrepreneurship, and social capital, and these benefits can also extend even to “under-developed” countries receiving migrants.  In the U.S., for example, many migrants are only entering for seasonal work after which they will return home. Migrants are often willing to do work that U.S. citizens are not which drives down prices and increases wages overall even if it is as a result of initial inequality that that this phenomena even exists. The U.S. agricultural industry, for example, would likely collapse without its huge supply of undocumented labor and the same goes for many international economic goals such as the United Kingdom’s budget surplus. Migration restrictions (and the coming economic suicide of tariffs) to folks south of the U.S. border are also obstacles to many U.S. entrepreneurs seeking to do business in Mexico but deterred by long lines on the land crossings and extensive harassment, especially for non-white U.S. citizens upon return. Also, though, to assume that entrepreneurial innovation and intellectual development is a one-way street flowing south from the U.S. into Mexico is a racist and ludicrous assumption. We need not forget that brown folks created much of what modern society depends upon from food to math and physics. The reality however is that greater exchange between Mexican intellectuals, innovators, and entrepreneurs would inevitably increase the dynamics of competition that keep labor wages high and prices low in addition to fueling development of practices and products in the market.

The grossly exaggerated $113 billion figure initially thrown out by Trump and his media cronies as being the cost of undocumented persons on U.S. taxpayers is misleading in that if migrants were allowed to be documented and work legally, they would leave the agorist black-market economy and enter into the taxable economy (although I’m an anti-statist and anti-tax, etc.). This would enable the U.S. to collect taxes on their labor and monitor migrant flows as they futilely desire to waste resources doing (such as with the now cut-off DACA recipients). This would also reduce the relatively minuscule benefits expenditures that conservatives obsess over as these persons would be able to pursue work at market value, rather than grossly unfair and precarious under the table employment schemes. In fact even the paranoia of migrant flow increasing the size and failure of the welfare state is unfounded or at least dramatically exaggerated as this multi-EU nation study finds. Even many conservative libertarians are skeptical of whether the economic arguments are real, much less whether they overcome the obvious moral obligation.

Migrants should be given the same to chance to compete freely on a leveled global market as any other firm or individual. One extensive study found that the politically motivated efforts to create a perception of negative competition among migrants, rather than striving to create collaboration and coordination, actually ends up dramatically increasing the costs and losses associated with demographic shifts as a result of migration. This diverse entry into the marketplace would rush in a network of complexity capable of maximizing development, lowering prices, and raising wages. All of these artificial subsidies on protecting the imagined community of the United States is as ineffective and wasteful as it is unbearably cruel. The U.S. depends on the subjugation of Mexico and Mexicans (in addition to south of Mexico). Allowing those south of the U.S. border equal opportunities raises the boat for everyone except for those whose inordinate wealth depends on the violence of exploitation and fictitious nationalism. So much more could be said about the economics of these issues, but, more than almost anything, it is essential to treat immigration policies as if immigrants are actual people– real live, human beings, striving for and deserving of life, thriving, and human dignity— because they are.

Intellectual and Cultural development

The borderlands are often places of great fun, amazing food, flourishing markets, music, and intricate hybridity. The mixing of cultures often leads to literal parties when the effects of state and non-state militarization and monopoly can be sufficiently shaken off. Borderlands with freer movement allow for exchange that can promote peace-building across difference. Additionally, and this cannot be understated, open borders allow for increased movement of ideas, and ,where the movement of ideas are restrained, development is poisoned. Whereas, where ideas are free, the world benefits in dramatic fashion.

Ideas are obstructed in two key ways through closed borders: (1) inability of persons to physically move and build connections to share their ideas, and (2) inability for people to be immersed in different cultures and languages so as to learn how to effectively introduce their ideas. Vulgar nationalism and isolationism makes for stale nazism and vastly restricts growth in science, technological development, politics, and other cultural fields such as literature and the arts.

The internet has bested some of the problems of restrictive borders, but it is no substitute for the ability of people to make meaningful connections in real life, especially in contexts such as China or Turkey where the internet is massively censored and controlled despite the wide availability of things like proxies, VPNs, and Tor browser. Even up against many restrictions, though, the internet serves as a landscape visualizing the potential for increased memetic complexity through cultural interchange. When you can go on a forum and test your pet political or economic theory against the lived experience and research of people from across the world, your sample size grows and your data models can become exponentially more reliable. The same goes with immersion. An individual’s ideas and stereotypes can be pinged off of the lived experience and observations of other human beings with access to other forms of knowledge. In this way open borders help to solve the knowledge problem of markets and the knowledge problem of privilege and ideas in a way that atomized siloing completely throttles.

Not Being A Dick

Aside from this heady discussion of economics and ideas, it is almost more important to focus on the underpinning of open borders ideologies: not being a dick. Anyone could find themselves in a situation where they are desiring of migration. That desire should be able to be filled along voluntary lines in a larger process of cooperative solutions to coordination problems. Most people don’t have the pleasure of knowing a lot of migrants, refugees, and undocumented people. I know more than I could count and the experience changes me at deep levels all the time. Empathy and liberty are twin principles, which in conjunction, form many trails and pathways needed in order for humans to survive, much less thrive, through the thicket of obstacles we collectively face. So, in lieu of big fancy stuff, babysit and make a casserole for your migrant neighbors and community. Learn a language and build deep bonds. Be trustworthy and you’ll experience a chosen family unparalleled. The non-zero sum game of open borders is a rare dynamic where efficiency and ethics mingle to create a network of people and practices that deeply embody the spirit of benevolent mutual-aid. So put out your hand, and walk beside everyone instead of with no one. Be a friend and an accomplice. Protect migrants and undocumented people from the U.S. gestapo of Border Patrol and ICE. When you run across those who wear rifles to enforce borders, treat them as terrorists and, if we have a future, it will look kindly on you.

A Nuclear War Planner’s Guide To Resisting The Bomb

Sun, 02/25/2018 - 17:25

via CounterPunch

By Robert Levering

As someone who grew up during the coldest years of the Cold War, I have always been aware that we are living on borrowed time. During the 1950s, nuclear bomb tests were broadcast live on TV. And I recall being traumatized by the 1959 film, “On the Beach,” which depicts the dystopian aftermath of nuclear war.

But the school air raid drills represented the most common reminders of the nuclear specter. When the siren sounded, we were expected to march out of our classrooms into the hallway, then kneel and put our heads against the lockers for a few minutes before the siren signaled that we could return to class. Supposedly this was to protect us from being incinerated during a nuclear attack. I realized this was a ridiculous exercise. Along with a few friends, I engaged in my first political act by refusing to participate in a drill early in my senior year. You can imagine that this did not sit well with the school administration. The principal gave us a stern lecture and threatened to punish us severely if we did so again. It was also my first lesson in the power of nonviolence: My high school conducted no more air raid drills that year.

At the time, Daniel Ellsberg was working as a consultant to the Pentagon on nuclear strategy. He says little about that work in “Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers,” which is among the most inspiring books I’ve ever read about civil disobedience. So, I was anxious to get my hands on his latest book, “The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear Planner,” to read what he has to say about nuclear war.

But I had some even more personal reasons for wanting to read Dan’s book. Last August, I was arrested with him and several dozen others at Lawrence Livermore Labs in California, where scientists create new devices to blow up the world. Our demonstration commemorated the 72nd anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Coincidentally, my grandson Rocky Barnes-Levering Ly was being born at the very time as we were being carted off to jail.

After reading Dan’s book, I knew that I had to give it to Rocky. Hopefully, no country will unleash its nuclear arsenal before he is able to read the book. That’s not a given, particularly considering the current nuclear bomb-waving threats emanating from Washington and Pyongyang. Trump threatened his counterpart in North Korea with “fire and fury the world has never seen before” the same week Rocky was born.

Assuming we escape a nuclear nightmare for the next two decades, Dan’s book can help Rocky comprehend the precariousness of our lives in the nuclear age. As a one-time insider and long-time student of nuclear strategy, Dan provides both a helpful overview coupled with lots of historical details.

I want Rocky to read “The Doomsday Machine” for yet another reason. I want him to develop an appreciation for why his grandfather has felt it necessary to commit civil disobedience several dozen times over the past half-century. Because I’m in my mid-seventies, I’m acutely aware that I may never be able to explain to Rocky why I tried to block the entrance to a government building the day he was born. Dan’s book does more than impart historical information and a critique of the entire nuclear madness. “The Doomsday Machine” offers a full-throated call for ordinary citizens to act to avert the catastrophe.

I wrote the following letter to Rocky that I inserted in the book along with a newspaper clipping of the civil disobedience action. After reading Dan’s book, Rocky may even find ways of joining the anti-nuclear movement himself.

Dear Rocky,

I’m giving you this book in the hopes that you will read it when you are a teenager. In the meantime, I hope that your father and mother — and all their friends — will read it now. The book tells a scary story. It talks about things that most of us would rather not think about.

But I think you’ll find the book inspiring. It’s written by a brave man — someone I hope you will consider as a model for your own life.

Like many truly brave people, Daniel Ellsberg does not consider himself one. In fact, throughout the book, he tells of many terrible things he did and many mistakes he made while working for the government. It takes courage to admit your errors and even more to try to correct them. He wrote this book in part to make amends for his misdeeds.

Dan was a teenager when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. He was horrified by the accounts of how tens of thousands of innocent Japanese civilians were incinerated in a matter of minutes and thousands more died in the weeks, months and years that followed.

He thought that he could help prevent atomic bombs from being exploded again. So he got a job from the late 1950s to early 1960s working as a high-level consultant to the Pentagon helping to develop our nation’s nuclear strategy.

This was the height of what was known as the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union (now Russia), which had a communist system of government. Dan considered himself a fervent “cold warrior,” someone who believed strongly that it was his duty as an American to engage in the fight against communism. He had earlier joined the Marines because of his strong beliefs.

At the time, both the United States and the Soviets had thousands of nuclear weapons, even though each side only needed approximately 50 to 100 nuclear bombs to annihilate all the cities, towns and people in the other country. Yet both built more and more bombs and missiles as rapidly as they could. Both countries were prepared to launch their weapons on a moment’s notice, and each side had what is called a “doomsday machine” that would automatically respond by unleashing their own nuclear arsenal.

While Dan was working for the government, American and Soviet scientists had figured out how to make bombs that were a thousand times more destructive than those that had obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Called thermonuclear bombs, one of these weapons could destroy everything within a 50-mile radius of the initial blast. That is, wipe out even the largest cities on earth.

With hundreds, let alone thousands of these nuclear explosions, the ensuing firestorms would pour millions of tons of smoke and soot into the stratosphere blanketing the earth, blocking most sunlight and lowering temperatures for at least a decade. This “nuclear winter” would eliminate all harvests, starving to death virtually every human being and animal that relies on vegetation to live.

I know it sounds crazy that anyone would help develop such weapons. It was — and is — insane. But Dan and everyone he worked with sincerely believed that having the ability to blow up the world made us safe. Hopefully things have changed by the time you read this. This idea, called nuclear deterrence, is still in effect today. It took years, however, for Dan to fully understand the madness of it all.

You may find Dan’s description of how he became disillusioned the best part of the book. I thought I knew a lot about our nuclear strategy, but many of Dan’s revelations were news to me — and I would suspect to virtually everyone else who reads the book.

Dan shatters the impression that only the president can launch nuclear missiles and bombs. Most people still believe this to be true. This idea has been reinforced over the years by the image of a “nuclear football” — a briefcase with the codes needed to start the war, carried by a military aide who accompanies the president wherever he goes.

But Dan discovered that the nuclear football is more public relations than reality. While Dan was working on nuclear strategy for the Pentagon, he went to a movie theater with a colleague to watch a newly released film called “Dr. Strangelove,” which was very popular at the time. It is a satirical black comedy subtitled “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” In the film, a deranged U.S. Air Force general orders a first strike attack on the Soviet Union while the president and his advisors try desperately, and unsuccessfully, to stop a B-52 bomber from delivering its payload, triggering Soviet retaliation and a nuclear holocaust.

As he left the theater, Dan and his colleague agreed that the film was not fanciful but “essentially a documentary.” The film’s director had correctly guessed what Dan had learned from interviewing people within the military and top brass at the Pentagon: local commanders could launch nuclear weapons on their own, and there was no way of recalling them.

Dan didn’t just work on the theoretical planning and development of the nuclear strategy. He was at the Pentagon during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and he tells the dramatic, inside story of what happened. I was in college then and was terrified — as was virtually everyone alive at the time. For two weeks, we all went to bed not sure whether we would be cremated in our sleep. When the crisis was over, we thought that rational minds had prevailed, that the leaders on both sides had averted the catastrophe.

Dan tells a very different tale. He found out that President Kennedy and his advisors were willing to risk nuclear suicide because of their concern for the next election. They feared that their political opponents would paint them as weak. Even worse, Dan learned that two days after the world believed the crisis was over, the U.S. navy almost provoked a Soviet submarine into firing a nuclear torpedo. Only a last-minute decision by the sub’s captain averted a nuclear holocaust.

How did we get to the point where nations are prepared to use weapons that can literally destroy all life on the planet? Dan’s willingness to confront the most difficult moral questions about nuclear war makes his book compelling reading.

To answer that question, Dan recounts the dismal history of how nations came to regard cities as legitimate military targets. It started with the use of airplanes during World War I. By the end of World War II, slaughtering innocent civilians had become normalized. Atomic weapons only made the killing process more efficient. As Air Force General Curtis LeMay put it, “we scorched and boiled and baked to death more people in Tokyo … than went up in vapor at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.” The moral distinction between killing combatants and noncombatants that had existed for millennia had been swept away.

I particularly want you to read the last part of the book because Dan believes it’s not too late for humanity to get out of the precarious predicament it has created for itself. He has a plan for change.

First, he hopes that this book will educate people about the problem. It’s only when people know the truth that they have any hope of changing the world.

Second, he calls on people within the government who have relevant information to become whistleblowers. That is, if government employees possess data on current estimates about potential casualties from nuclear war, they should share that information with the public.

Dan himself was a whistleblower during the Vietnam War. In 1971 he gave newspapers top secret documents called the Pentagon Papers that showed that the government had lied to the American public about the war. He risked spending the rest of his life in prison for his actions, but he did so anyway.

Fortunately, Dan did not have to go to jail because of the prosecution’s egregious conduct during the trial. Dan’s actions led to the downfall of one of the worst presidents in our history, Richard Nixon. Dan became a famous person for this action. Recently a major Hollywood studio produced a film called “The Post” that tells about Dan’s bravery in releasing the Pentagon Papers.

Finally, Dan hopes that informed citizens will create a movement that will force the government to change its nuclear policy. This, too, may involve some risks.

If you look inside the book, you will see a newspaper clipping that shows that Dan practices what he preaches. In the foreground of the accompanying photo, you’ll see Dan lying on the ground. Behind him you can see me (with a big hat) and your grandmother Carolyn. We are trying to dramatize what happened to the victims of the Nagasaki bombing. We’re blocking an entrance to the Lawrence Livermore Lab, where the government conducts research to develop new nuclear bombs. A few minutes after the picture was taken, the police ordered us to leave the area or be arrested. We refused to move. So about three dozen of us were arrested, handcuffed and driven to a holding area where we were photographed and fingerprinted before being released.

Just before the demonstration started that morning, your father sent me a text message from the hospital saying that your mother had just gone into labor with you. While we were in the paddy wagon being taken to jail, I told Dan and the others that Rocky, my first grandchild was about to be born. Everyone was, of course, delighted. We all believed that what we were doing was the least we could do to make it possible for you and others of your generation to live long and productive lives without the ominous specter of nuclear war that we have been living with.

You are entering a dangerous world. Hopefully you will be able to look back and see that Dan’s book helped put humanity on the right path. It’s not going to be easy. If you look at the last page, you’ll see that Dan quotes another man whom I hope will be inspirational in your life, Martin Luther King Jr.

“If we do not act,” Kind said, “we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight … Let us now begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful struggle for a new world.”

With love,
Grandpa Robert

I Was Wrong About the Rural–Urban Divide

Sun, 02/25/2018 - 16:59

via Common Dreams

By Sarah Van Gelder

I thought I knew something about Wisconsin politics. I assumed the state was neatly divided between blue cities, like Madison and Milwaukee, and solidly red rural areas that twice elected Governor Scott Walker, one of the nation’s most right-wing governors, and went for Donald Trump in 2016.

Turns out there’s a lot I didn’t know. And the assumptions and stereotypes that I—and many others—hold are dividing us and harming our chances of building powerful coalitions across rural–urban divides.

In early February, I visited the town of Wisconsin Dells to give a keynote presentation at the Wisconsin Farmers Union pre-convention gathering, “Groundswell.” I stayed for the convention, where the Farmers Union members discussed their agenda for the coming year. Many of these families have been on the land for generations. Some farm organically, many do not. They raise dairy cattle, hogs, and grow fruits, vegetables, and grains. Some market via cooperatives, like Organic Valley, some via commercial enterprises or through farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture.

I met farmers who spoke of their responsibility to think ahead for the next seven generations and their work to protect the state’s precious sources of fresh water.

They also spoke of the struggle of staying on the land at a time when the costs of the inputs they require—like seeds and fertilizer—are high, and the prices they are paid are low.

Many referred to powerful and wealthy interests moving in, buying up land, tapping limited ground water supplies, and building giant confined animal feeding operations.

John Ikerd, a rural economist and author who grew up on a small dairy farm in southwest Missouri, used his keynote to rail against what he described as the economic colonization facing rural America:

“A progression of laws protecting factory farms from public scrutiny and exempting industrial agriculture from environmental and public health regulations reveal a corporate strategy to turn rural areas into ‘agricultural sacrifice zones,’” he told the crowd. “The quality of life of rural and town residents alike is threated by the relentless, unbridled corporate colonization of American agriculture.”

His speech received a protracted standing ovation.

These farmers are resisting this corporate appropriation while also working to rebuild rural economies. They’re advocating for broadband, high-quality schools, renewable energy, and the rights of immigrant workers to drivers’ licenses, health care, education, and family-scale wages. They promote civility by working against hate speech and for “gender and minority” equality. They favor public financing of campaigns and an end to gerrymandering. And they support reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and research into ways farmers can contribute to carbon sequestration and adapt to climate change. These and other positions are debated and adopted at their annual convention, and then become the basis of advocacy throughout the year.

Still, many of the farmers are struggling—western Wisconsin had the nation’s highest rate of farm bankruptcies in 2017, a casualty of rising land prices, low commodity prices, and debt, according to a Jan. 24 report by Wisconsin Public Radio.

“I don’t think the establishment in [either party] gets it,” Sarah Lloyd, dairy farmer and co-chair of Wisconsin Our Revolution, told me when I interviewed her at the convention.

This is a state where Bernie Sanders won 72 of 73 counties because he “connected with people who are struggling,” she said.

Wisconsin later went for Donald Trump. Yet just last month, Democrat Patty Schachtner won a special election to the state Senate from a rural district held by Republicans since 2001. She won in spite of being outspent by the Republican candidate, who was supported by the Koch-funded advocacy group Americans for Prosperity. Says Lloyd, “She understands that it’s really hard out there, that people are struggling economically.”

It’s true that there are vast differences in culture and ways of life in rural and urban Wisconsin, but there are also similarities. Many struggle to pay their bills and raise families, and they want good health care, education, and infrastructure. Like many urban residents, the farm families I met are looking to regain some local control over their economies, to create inclusive cultures, and to protect their environment.

My days with the Wisconsin Farmers Union reminded me, once again, to beware of stereotyping and not to allow Fox News and the NRA to define groups of people. Instead, when I listen with an open mind and heart, I discover commonalities of experience and aspirations.

I believe the foundation for powerful collaboration is there, if we choose to build on it.

Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship

Sun, 02/25/2018 - 16:53

By Torkil Lauesen and Gabriel Kuhn


This article is about radical theory, in particular its relationship with academia. We, the authors, have been involved in relevant discussions for many years. We have academic training and we use academic sources and methods in some of our work. But we do not have academic careers. We are interested in theoretical questions because we want to improve political practice.

If we take a historical perspective, the impact of academics on radical theory has been marginal. The development of radical theory was carried by militants, that is, people involved in struggles on the ground as activists and organizers. Needless to say, clearcut distinctions do not exist. There have been militants with academic backgrounds, and academics who have been involved in struggles on the ground. But while it was militant experience that dominated the development of radical theory in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it is academic contemplation that does today.

Overall, the relationship between struggles on the ground and academia is a complicated one. There are barriers in both directions. We meet academic arrogance as much as vulgar anti-intellectualism. At times, it seems that we are dealing with two parallel worlds with very little interaction and no common political commitment. Yet, collaboration between “theorists” and “practitioners” would certainly benefit radical movements. There can be no viable radical theory without the personal investment and first-hand experience of the militant. At the same time, theoretical reflection and scientific analysis help us to better understand the conditions of our struggles.

Some History

Marx was an academic. He held a PhD in philosophy. This is reflected in his approach to political theory. His economic theory was based on the critique of academic paradigms and scientific investigation. Capital puts just about any doctoral thesis to shame. But Marx dedicated his life to politics, not academic credentials. He wanted to change the world, not collect titles. As a result, he became a political refugee, first leaving Germany for France, then France for England. He never had the financial security that an academic career provides.

Lenin went to law school. He continued to spend much time in libraries, and much of his writing is based on academic studies. But Lenin had no intentions to pursue an academic career either. He was a professional revolutionary. His most influential texts were clearly political, such as Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, or State and Revolution. For Lenin, the most important question always was: “What is to be done?”

In the early twentieth century, Marxist theory was developed by politicians with academic backgrounds. Rosa Luxemburg held a PhD, and so did Karl Kautsky, Rudolf Hilferding, and Eduard Bernstein. Mao was educated as a teacher, worked as a librarian, and pursued university studies part-time. His class analysis and philosophical writings were always closely tied to political practice.

Anti-colonial theory was largely developed by liberation movement leaders with academic training, including Frantz Fanon, Kwame Nkrumah, and Amílcar Cabral. All of them were first and foremost revolutionaries who prioritized their political goals.

Many of anarchism’s historical figureheads were self-taught militants. Very few had academic training, and none an academic career.

A Shift Occurs

Particularly in North America and Europe, a major shift occurred in the 1970s. As a consequence of the student and youth rebellions, radical theory became an academic career path. The decade saw a boom in the publication of academic books and journals edited by Marxists. Even when the overall appeal of Marxism decreased in the 1980s, this trend continued, as a significant number of Marxists had entered the ranks of academia. Today, this is true even for anarchists who were almost entirely absent from academia until the 1990s. Today’s two best-known anarchists, Noam Chomsky and David Graeber, are both academics. Only in the Global South does the personal union of militant and theorist still exist, exemplified by the likes of Subcommandante Marcos or Abdullah Öcalan.

The last time there was an uproar concerning “radical academics” in Europe was in the early 1990s, when an increasing number of students embraced so-called poststructuralist theory as an alternative to orthodox Marxism, which seemed discredited after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The works of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Luce Irigaray, Gilles Deleuze, or Félix Guattari were condemned as threats to rationality, humanism, and the enlightenment tradition. But one of the main reason for the hostility these people encountered from both academics, politicians, and conservative pundits was that many of them were militants for whom theory was tightly connected to political practice. Unfortunately, a fair of number of Marxists – perhaps unwillingly – contributed to the exclusion of political agitation from academia by questioning the poststructuralists’ scholarly credibility.

It is no coincidence that the conflict ended with neoliberalism finalizing the distinction between struggling and thinking about struggling. Neoliberalism turned universities into market places of self-promotion rather than terrains of intellectual growth. The history of the academic reception of poststructuralist authors is a case in point. Foucault and his peers have long been integrated into the academic canon, with books, courses, and conferences dedicated to their names. But their work has been depoliticized and reduced to a source of embarrassing intellectual showmanship or mundane academic quibbles.

When academia takes control, theoretical work shifts form and content. Today, the term political is almost an antonym to the term scholarly. Academics fear that political engagement discredits them. They write exclusively for a small circle of other academics. The question of “What is to be done?” is no longer raised, let alone attempted to be answered.

The Academic-Industrial Complex

That academic institutions have become integrated into neoliberal capitalism is not groundbreaking news. It is expressed in how these institutions are funded and administered, in how they define their purposes and ambitions. Inevitably, this has an impact on academics and their work. Careers are determined by the number of publications, the status of the presses and journals that print them, and by how often they are cited by others. So, what will academics study and write about? How will they do it? And for whom?

Academic publishing has become a lucrative industry. Paywalls separate an exclusive academic audience from the rest of us. To read academic articles, we must “pay per view.” Alternatively, academic authors must pay up to USD 3000 to make a piece publicly accessible. This is particularly odd if we consider that the salaries of academics, and the infrastructure they use, are largely paid for by the public. So, while the public is denied access to the work it has financed, private publishing companies cash in on poorly produced and heavily overpriced publications that collect dust on the shelves of university libraries. In order to publish in respected academic journals and presses, academics also have to agree to formal demands that further alienate ordinary folks. It is therefore not surprising that the vast majority of academic articles circulates among a couple of hundred professionals at best, satisfying only the economic interests of parasitic publishing companies and the reproduction of a self-involved intellectual elite.

There is an array of corrupting practices attached to this. Many books are published based on grants whose allocation largely depends on political networking, careerist talent, or simple nepotism. University administrations feel more obliged to companies that invest in the academic publishing industry than to taxpayers whose money they are entrusted to handle. Editors of anthologies prioritize their name on the cover over any meaningful content – it seems that even the most incoherent mix of articles will do, as long as some publisher sees easy financial gain in sending it to the printers. Then there is the unsavory practice of conference-hopping, where academics use travel scholarships to attend gatherings in order to extend their professional networks, meet old friends, explore new cities, and read out papers they could have simply uploaded on a web page.

Radical Academics

It is difficult to raise these issues. We have good friends in academia. Maybe they think we are too harsh or lack insight. One of the reasons we don’t know is that these questions are often sidestepped. People seem afraid of stepping on each others’ toes. There is an esprit de corps in all social circles, academic ones included, and this affects even radical academics. No one dares to cast the first stone, because everyone sits in the same glass house. It is striking that people who passionately come to the defense of open access and commons against the norms and values of neoliberalism turn very pragmatic when their most immediate environment is concerned.

We have no detailed knowledge of the professional and personal situation of individual academics and cannot judge their choices. We don’t know how much they resist the tendencies discussed above in their daily work. But there seems to be no concerted effort to name, denounce, and alter these tendencies, and, subsequently, very little collective resistance.

We understand that academics, too, have things to lose, and that, today, many of them work under precarious circumstances. It is probably no coincidence that one of the most outspoken radical academics of recent decades, Ward Churchill, eventually lost his job. Yet, throughout history, workers with much more to lose – and with much less ideological pretense – have found ways to protest. They unionized, they organized campaigns, they engaged in sabotage and direct action. Why is this seemingly no option for radical academics? A common response to anti-academic sentiments is that the struggle needs to be everywhere, also in academia. That is a valid argument – as long as there is indeed any struggle in academia.

Some radical academics try to solve the contradictions they find themselves in by separating their academic persona from their political one. They will, sometimes under pseudonyms, publish in movement publications apart from academic ones. This is certainly a contribution, and probably helps resolve their inner conflicts, but it is not boosting collective efforts.

Other radical academics have become prominent enough to act as celebrity supporters – or even unofficial spokespeople – of social movements. The above-mentioned Noam Chomsky and David Graeber are examples, and so are Judith Butler, Slavoj Žižek, or Vandana Shiva. Radical celebrities serve a purpose, and we are glad that the media grants them a platform to voice their opinions. But celebrities are by definition exceptions to the rule. They do not change the pattern. And, at times, they distract from the problem.

We believe that there needs to be more awareness and critical debate concerning the contribution of academics to radical theory and practice. As radicals, we are required to reflect on our position within the political systems we profess to oppose. No one is immune to their influence and the limits they put on what we can do considering our personal backgrounds. However, this only confirms that we need to develop forms of resistance wherever we are at.


We want to conclude with a list of practical points that would, in our opinion, lessen the gap between academia and struggles on the ground. Some of them might not strike readers as particularly original. That’s fine. They obviously need to be repeated.

1/ There is no radical theory without practical experience. Theoretical work cannot be separated from movements against capitalism and imperialism. It must respond to the questions posed by struggles on the ground. We cannot afford non-activist theory.

2/ There is no radical practice without theoretical reflection. We must evaluate the effects of our struggles and reflect on our experiences. We cannot afford anti-theoretical activism.

3/ Radical theory must contribute to radical practice. Its purpose is not to understand things, but to change things. This requires the development of strategy and tactics.

4/ We must raise our view. The outside of academia is much more interesting and relevant than the inside of it. Radical theory must not be limited by academic conventions, disciplines, and norms.

5/ We must actively seek out non-academic sources. Many of them are excluded from academia due to geographical, cultural, or language-related reasons only.

6/ We must defy the formal restrictions put on academic work, since they confine the contents.

7/ We must change the academic environment itself. It must be freed from the yoke of both the state and capital. Academia must be seen as the institution of power it has become. Today, “academic freedom” mainly refers to relative personal privilege, not a space of free intellectual development.

8/ We must be aware of and counteract the impact that hierarchies of class, gender, and race put on the production of radical theory. This effort must be led by those affected by them.

9/ We must make academic work accessible to everyone. There needs to be free access to libraries and conferences, and free distribution of academic writing.

10/ We must establish counter-institutions, that is, places and networks that allow for scholarly work beyond academic restrictions.

Torkil Lauesen is a longtime antiimperialist activist living in Denmark. He was a member of the so-called Blekingegade Group, which, in the 1970s and 1980s, supported Third World liberation movements with funds acquired in high-profile robberies. His book The Global Perspective will be released in 2018 by Kersplebedeb.

Gabriel Kuhn is an Austrian-born author and organizer living in Sweden. He has documented the story of the Blekingegade Group in the book Turning Money Into Rebellion.

Anarchist Communism In Britain: Part One

Sun, 02/25/2018 - 16:42

The following is a chapter from the forthcoming book The Idea: Anarchist Communism, Past Present and Future


In Britain there was a parallel figure to Babeuf in 1792 in London. This was Thomas Spence, who had developed advanced views in Newcastle on Tyne inside the Newcastle Philosophical Society. Within this rather genteel group, the plebeian Spence began to develop ideas of land communism expressed in his Plan. He first lectured on these ideas within the Society at the age of 25. “The land or earth, in any country or neighbourhood, with everything in it or the same, or pertaining thereto, belongs at all times to the living inhabitants of the said country or neighbourhood in an equal manner”. He believed that each parish should take the land back into their possession and form themselves into corporations. The land becomes the property of the parish.

Spence in no way envisages the end of the money system. He oictures  people paying rent to the parish for usufruct rights to the land. This rent would be paid into a parish treasury to support the poor and unemployed, and for the maintenance of lands and highways etc. The government, a democratic assembly of representatives, and elected by secret ballot, was seen by Spence as having limited functions, and would not meddle in the functioning of the parishes.

Spence chose to go beyond the gentlemanly hobbies of the Philosophical Society by disseminating his ideas through the publication of a halfpenny ballad in 1775-6. For this he was expelled from the Society, and subsequently lost his job as a teacher. Spence eventually resolved to go to London, because his radical ideas had little audience in Newcastle.

Spence’s arrival coincided with the founding of the London Corresponding Society, set up by the shoemaker Thomas Hardy, and which consisted of tradesmen, shopkeepers and mechanics. The Society’s aims were the discussion of parliamentary reform, and put forward demands for universal suffrage and annual parliaments.

Spence influenced members of the Society, among who was Thomas Evans.  He gathered a small group around him and began to propagandise the ideas contained within his plan. This included methods of propagation similar to those of the Babeuvists: chalk and charcoal notices on walls and public places, debates and public meetings, and the sale or distribution of handbills, broadsheets, tracts and pamphlets.

Spence was jailed several times for steadfast adherence to his ideas. His greatest period of activity was between 1792 and 1801 and he continued with intermittent publication of his ideas until his death in 1814. Evans and Allen Davenport formed a Spencean Society  to propagate his ideas around 1807. With the death of Davenport Evans founded the Society for Spencean Philanthropists which continued with the propagation of Spence’s ideas. The Spenceans were at the forefront of the working class demonstrations in London between 1815 and 1820. Some Spenceans were implicated in the Cato Street conspiracy in 1820. The repression which followed led to the disappearance of the Society and the extinction of the Spencean current, although his continuing influence on British radicalism should not be ignored.

Spence’s emphasis was on land communism, and he saw “Private Property in land” as the main evil within society. The abolition of private property in land would of course mean the suppression of the aristocracy and “Lordship”.  However goods, merchandise and cattle would not face similar communalisation.

Spence symbolises a radical current within the great movement that was emerging around Chartism and the demands for universal suffrage and annual parliaments. Spence expressly came to London to propagate his ideas there because he sensed that his ideas might have a certain resonance within this movement. The fact that he was not able to move beyond land communism to general communism is a result of the limits imposed by the class of artisans and “mechanics”, of which he was an advanced spokesman, which  was  yet  to develop into the working class.

Alongside his advocacy of land communism was the concept of a federation of parishes administering the economic process and with a system of social welfare. In this Spence prefigures the notion of the commune or municipality as the basic unit of society as developed by anarchist communist thinkers. Spence sees the parishes as providing public grain stores, free schools, libraries, public baths and hospitals. Spence was very wary of centralised State solutions to economic inequality and he believed that a bottom-up revolution was necessary which might well involve the use of physical force to overthrow the old ruling class.

Brian Morris has been instrumental in rescuing the important figure of Spence from obscurity. As he notes: “Neither the sans-culottes nor the enrages nor that much-neglected socialist Thomas Spence fully and explicitly articulated anarchism as a political doctrine. What they had in common was that they stressed local and popular democracy and were hostile toward big capital, whether of the merchant class or of the capitalist landlords. Their social idea was that of an egalitarian society consisting of independent artisans and small peasant farmers. Even Spence, though he advocated communal property in land, parish democracy, and parish militias….allowed for a structure of provincial and national assemblies. Even so, like the sans-culottes, he tended to see the parish or local commune as the fundamental unit of society and sought any means to limit the power of the central government.” (pp101-102 The sans-culottes and the enrages: libertarian movements within the French Revolution in Ecology and Anarchism).

Spence needs to take his rightful place as one of the precursors within Britain of the libertarian communist current that was to emerge with the emergence of the working class.


The working class activists Frank Kitz and Joe Lane provided a link between the old Chartist movement, Owenism, the British section of the First International, the free speech fights of the 1870s and the newly emergent socialism of the 1880s. Lane developed anti-state ideas early on, even before he came to call himself a socialist in 1881. A real power-house of an activist, he set up the Homerton Social Democratic Club in that year and attended the international Social Revolutionary and Anarchist Congress as its delegate. Kitz also attended as delegate from the Rose Street Club. Kitz met the German Anarchists Johann Most and Victor Dave there and was deeply influenced by them. With the help of Ambrose Barker, who was based in Stratford in east London, Lane and Kitz launched the Labour Emancipation League. The LEL was in many ways an organisation that represented the transition of radical ideas from Chartism to revolutionary socialism. The demands for universal adult suffrage, freedom of speech, free administration of justice, etc, sat alongside the demand for the expropriation of the capitalist class. The main role of the LEL was that it was to offer a forum for discussion and education amongst advanced workers in London, with 7 branches in East London and regular open-air meetings in Millwall, Clerkenwell, Stratford and on the Mile End Waste. Nevertheless, anti-parliamentarism was already developing in the LEL.

The LEL succeeded in moving the Democratic Federation of Hyndman over to more radical positions. The intellectual and artist William Morris had recently joined this group and Lane was to have an important influence on him for several years. The organisation changed its name to the Social Democratic Federation. The autocracy and authoritarianism of Hyndman repulsed many members and a split took place in 1884. Morris, Belfort Bax, Eleanor Marx (Karl Marx’s daughter) Edward Aveling and most of the LEL left to form the Socialist League. The League itself contained both anti-parliamentarians and supporters of parliamentary action, who had been united by their opposition to Hyndman. A draft parliamentarist constitution inspired by Engels was rejected, but the divisions continued. One of the results of this was Lane’s Anti-Statist Communist Manifesto, which had originally been a policy statement that had been rejected by the parliamentarist majority on the policy subcommittee.


The Anti Statist Communist Manifesto is not a brilliantly written or particularly well argued document. Nevertheless it stands as probably the first English home grown libertarian communist statement. It spends too long talking about religion. It rejects reformism through parliament or the trade unions. It calls for mass revolutionary action. In the Manifesto, Lane describes his ideas as Revolutionary Socialist or Free Communist. He never publicly used the word Anarchist to describe his politics, feeling that the word put too many people off, and wishing to distinguish himself from individualists. In private he was sympathetic to openly declared Anarchists and remarked about the Manifesto: “I do not claim that I have expounded anarchy; it is for others to judge”. Lane must be considered as one of the most important pioneers of libertarian communism in Britain.

Whilst Anarchism was self-developing within the League, and attempting to achieve coherence, other developments were taking place. The veteran Dan Chatterton, who had participated in the Chartist agitations of 1848, produced his own Anarchist paper Chatterton’s Commune-the Atheist Communistic Scorcher. This ran for 42 issues from 1884, produced in conditions of extreme poverty. Meanwhile one of the pioneers of Anarchist Communism, the Russian Piotr Kropotkin, had arrived in Britain. Kropotkin’s lectures to many Socialist League branches reinforced the Anarchist tendencies among many of its members. Charles Mowbray, a tailor from Durham, active in the London Socialist League, was one of the first to specifically call himself an Anarchist Communist. Kropotkin also helped set up the paper Freedom which was specifically Anarchist Communist. The Freedom Group also undertook the organisation of large public meetings and open-air public speaking. As a result a number of workers, especially from the Social Democratic Federation, were won to Anarchist Communism, like the compositors Charles Morton and W. Pearson, whilst Socialist League members like Alfred Marsh and John Turner joined the Freedom Group. Regrettably, whist Socialist League branches distributed Freedom around the country there was a certain antipathy between the Leaguers and the Freedomites. As the Anarchist historian Nettlau was to remark, Kropotkin’s failure to work within the Socialist League was:

“regrettable, for in 1886 and 1887 the League contained the very best Socialist elements of the time, men (sic) who had deliberately rejected Parliamentarianism and reformism and who worked for the splendid free Communism of William Morris or for broadminded revolutionary Anarchism. If Kropotkin’s experience and ardour had helped this movement we might say today Kropotkin and William Morris as we say Elisee Reclus and Kropotkin…There was a latent lack of sympathy between the Anarchists of the League and those of the Freedom Group in those early years; the latter were believed by the former to display some sense of superiority, being in possession of definitely elaborated Anarchist-Communist theories…if both efforts had been coordinated a much stronger movement would have been created”.


By 1890 Anarchism had made considerable progress within the League. In London there were 2 specific Anarchist Communist groups, one in St Pancras mostly formed from Freedom Group members, the other in East London, members of the Clerkenwell Socialist League in different hats, which produced the free handout the Anarchist Labour Leaf.

1888 saw the withdrawal of the parliamentarians from the League. There was still tension between those who like Morris, did not describe themselves as Anarchists but as free communists. This tension was aggravated by a pedantic approach among some of the League Anarchists. The Anarchists insisted too much on philosophical principle and not enough on social practice. Morris wrote: “I am not pleading for any form of arbitrary or unreasonable authority, but for a public conscience as a rule of action: and by all means let us have the least possible exercise of authority. I suspect that many of our Communist-Anarchist friends do really mean that, when they pronounce against all authority”. The Anarchists H.Davis and James Blackwell were too ready to take issue with Morris’s phrase “the least possible exercise of authority”, failing to see that the ‘public conscience’ he proposed as the basis of Communism was the culmination of the voluntary principle in a society where it had become custom and habit. If Morris chose to call that a situation where authority was exercised then the dispute was semantic. (The Slow Burning Fuse, John Quail.)

Morris’s tendency felt that far more propaganda and education needed to be done before the Revolution could come about. Many Anarchists felt that mass action was in itself educational, transforming those taking part. Both were right, but only partially so. There should have been a dynamic dialogue between these two positions. This was not to happen. The dead-end of the advocacy of individual acts of ‘propaganda by the deed’ couched in fiery language meant the departure of Morris, not to mention Kitz and Lane. It also meant the infiltration of the movement by police agents, and a resulting clamp-down by the State. Some Anarchist Communists like Samuels were ferocious advocates of ‘propaganda by the deed’ others like Tochatti, were just as ferociously opposed to such tactics. The loss of Morris, the withdrawal of Lane and the temporary withdrawal of Kitz were a disaster for the development of libertarian communism in Britain. The Socialist League collapsed nationally.


A number of specific Anarchist groups emerged from the ruins of the League. In fact despite the repression, in the period 1892-4 the movement had a massive growth. For example, Morris had estimated the membership of the League in London as 120 in 1891. In 1894, Quail estimates the Anarchist movement in London as up to 2,000. (see work cited above). The ‘bomb’ faction had lost out, and the ‘revolutionist’ tendency was re-affirming itself. As a veteran of the League, David Nicoll was to say in the Anarchist which he brought out in Sheffield in 1894: “We are Communists. We do not seek to establish an improved wages system like the Fabian Social Democrats. Our work for the present lies in spreading our ideas among the workers in their clubs and organisations as well as in the open street”. The revival was not to last. An attempt to unite the fragmented groups by James Tochatti and Louisa Sarah Bevington in 1895 – the Anarchist Communist Alliance – was stillborn and the movement was in definite decline by the following year. A period of reaction and lack of struggle within the working class as well as bitter internal conflicts was sapping the movement.

There was to be no revival till mid-1903. The growing industrial unrest, the growth of syndicalism and industrial unionism, were to be contributory factors to the refound vigour of the Anarchist movement. Examples of the returning strength of the movement can be seen in the secession of a group from the Social Democratic Federation in Plymouth, the majority of whom set up an Anarchist Communist group in 1910, and a similar secession from the industrial unionist Industrialist League in Hull in 1913. That year was to see considerable agitation in the South Wales valleys, where small propaganda groups were set up, called Workers Freedom Groups. At a meeting in Ammonford with 120 present, a Communist club house was opened. It was reported that: “The Constitution and programme of the Workers Freedom Groups have been shaped upon the model of future society at which they aim, namely Anarchist-Communism”. A Workers Freedom Group was established in the pit village of Chopwell in Durham, by among others Will Lawther (later to be a right-wing miners’ leader.) The Chopwell Anarchists also set up a Communist Club. Anarchists set up a Communist Club in Stockport in the following year. In London groups mushroomed and agitation was intense. Here Guy Aldred, a young man who had started out as a Christian preacher, moving through secularism and then the SDF to Anarchism, began to attempt to synthesise his earlier Marxism with his Anarchism in 1910. He had set up a Communist Propaganda Group in 1907 and he now revived this, and helped set up several Communist Groups in the London area, as well as travelling regularly to Glasgow and helping form the Glasgow Communist Group there. He had serious criticisms of trade unions and had fallen out with the Freedom Group because one of its members, John Turner, was a leading trade union official. As Aldred noted: “…I gradually fell out with the Freedom Anarchists…Their Anarchy was merely Trade Union activity which they miscalled Direct Action. Their anger knew no bounds when I insisted that Trades Unionism was the basis of Labour Parliamentarianism.”

But now the First World War loomed and its outbreak and repercussions were to have cataclysmic effects on the whole revolutionary movement, not least the Anarchists.


The Anarchist movement, not just in Britain, but world-wide was shaken to its foundations by the news that Kropotkin and others were supporting the Allies against Germany and Austria-Hungary. To their credit, the majority of Anarchists took a revolutionary abstentionist anti-war position, including Freedom and the Spur, edited by Aldred. A fiercely active anti-war propaganda took place within the North London Herald League, where Anarchists worked alongside socialists from different organisations. This joint activity was reflected right across Britain. Indeed the Anarchists were beginning to have a growing influence among the latter.

Aldred was to remark on the growing number of “Marxian anarchists” within the movement, who accepted a Marxian analysis of the State and of the importance of class struggle. These activists were becoming impatient with those, who to quote Freda Cohen of the Glasgow Anarchist Group, were satisfied with “fine phrases or poetical visioning”. Alongside this was the heritage of Morris and Co within the broad socialist movement, which was asserting itself within the Socialist Labour Party, the British Socialist Party, (the successor of the SDF) and the Independent Labour Party. Antiparliamentary ideas were re-emerging within these organisations- for instance, within the Socialist Labour Party, members were questioning the pro-parliamentary ideas of DeLeon who had founded the Party. Some left to become Anarchists.

An attempt was made to unite the Anarchists around Freedom and the Spur, edited by Aldred, with the anti-parliamentary dissidents of the SLP. This initiative came from within the SLP and at a unity conference in March 1919 the Communist League was founded, with a paper the Communist. In it George Rose was to remark: “we know that there must develop the great working class anti-Statist movement, showing the way to Communist society. The Communist League is the standard bearer of the movement; and all the hosts of Communists in the various other Socialist organisations will in good time see that Parliamentary action will lead them, not to Communist but to bureaucratic Statism…Therefore, we identify ourselves with the Third International, with the Communism of Marx, and with that personification of the spirit of revolt, Bakunin, of whom the Third International is but the natural and logical outcome.” Rose shows himself under the influence of Aldred, who looked for a fusion between Bakuninism and Marxism, in the process glossing over some fundamental differences. Indeed an initial report in Freedom on the conference, whilst noting that the League was not an Anarchist organisation, remarked that the “repudiation of Parliament is a long step in our direction”, but on the other hand there was a sharp exchange between Anarchists and League members over the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat and economic determinism. At a Conference of London Anarchists it was remarked that, “The anti-parliamentary attitude of many Socialists and Communists was greatly due to our propaganda in the past, and good results would undoubtedly follow if we worked with them”. A resulting conference was very friendly in tone, although controversy over the dictatorship of the proletariat was not absent. However, this initiative of cooperation between revolutionary anti-parliamentarians was to evaporate when the Communist League disappeared without trace at the end of 1919.

The attempts at cooperation and unity continued however, although the whole process was clouded by the issue of the Russian revolution and support for the Bolsheviks. Aldred himself was at first a staunch supporter of the Bolsheviks, hardly surprising considering the lack of any hard information about Lenin’s Party in Britain. (This was reflected in general ignorance in the revolutionary movement throughout the world). A series of critical articles by an Austrian Anarchist which were printed in the Spur in September 1919 were lambasted by Aldred and others, although in time he came to the same conclusions as he gained more solid information. Most revolutionaries, however were the slaves of wishful thinking, despite evidence that all was not well in Russia. This attitude, the unity-at-all-costs syndrome and “loyalty to the world revolution” position (Translation=slavishly carry out whatever Lenin and the Bolsheviks tell you to do) was to have disastrous consequences for the British revolutionary movement. As Bob Jones says in his pamphlet Left-Wing Communism in Britain 1917-21: “There was, as happens repeatedly in the history of British socialism in the twentieth century, a complete abdication of critical judgement when basic principles and beliefs are put to the test by supposed friends and allies”. This is something that should be borne in mind at the present with various “unity” moves.

Despite the continuing growth of anti-parliamentarianism in both the SLP and BSP, Lenin was to insist that: “British communists should participate in parliamentary action… from within Parliament help the masses of the workers to see the results of a Henderson and Snowden government in practice”. In practical terms this meant affiliation to the Labour Party and the call for a Labour vote, despite the (yes, even then!) reactionary role and nature of Labour. This position, which Anarchist Communists have consistently argued against in the 20th Century, is still very much an obstacle to the creation of a revolutionary movement in this country.

Sylvia Pankhurst

Anti-parliamentary communism had also developed inside the Workers’ Socialist Federation (WSF). This had evolved out of the Women’s Suffrage Federation based around Sylvia Pankhurst in the East End of London, above all in the Bow and Bromley districts. With her mother Emmeline and sister Christabel she had led a vigorous and militant campaign for votes for women. But differences developed between her and them over a number of issues, including Sylvia’s emphasis for activity among the working class, and for joint action between working class women and men for common demands. This gap was widened by the War, which Emmeline and Christabel fiercely supported, whilst Sylvia came out in opposition. During the war the WSF were very active among the East London working class, setting up free or cut price restaurants, day nurseries for children of working mothers, and distributing free milk for babies. In this period it dawned on Sylvia Pankhurst that capitalism could not be reformed, but must be destroyed and replaced by a free communist society. She saw in the Russian revolution the model for a revolution based on workers councils, where committees of recallable and mandated delegates would be elected and answerable to mass assemblies of the working class. She rejected parliamentary action and the domination of leaders, calling for the development of self-organisation and self-initative through class struggle. Indeed at the time of the 1923 General Election when 8 women M.P.s were elected she remarked: “Women can no more put virtue into the decaying parliamentary institution than can men: it is past reform and must disappear…the woman professional politician is neither more nor less desirable than the man professional politician: the less the world has of either the better it is for it… To the women, as to men, the hope of the future lies not through Parliamentary reform, but free Communism and soviets”.

Unfortunately, like Aldred, Pankhurst was a headstrong and egotistical individual. Like him, she often put the narrow interests of her own group before that of the revolutionary movement as a whole. So, she and the WSF rejected a merger with the Communist League because the two organisations were too similar for that to be necessary! The WSF then in June 1919 transformed itself into the Communist Party. Lenin put pressure on the Pankhurst group to arrange talks with other groups for a unity conference, at the same time fearing the establishment of a Communist Party that had pronounced anti-parliamentary positions. In his attack on left and council communists Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder he singled out Pankhurst, along with the Council Communists Pannekoek and Gorter. Another singled out was Willie Gallagher, who had left the SDF to join the Glasgow Anarchist Group in 1912. Gallagher, an admirer of Bakunin, was now a member of the Scottish Workers Council, which promoted ‘communes’. In his pamphlet Lenin quoted Gallagher: “The Council is definitely anti-parliamentarian, and has behind it the Left Wing of the various political bodies”. For his staunch anti-parliamentarianism (not so staunch as it turned out) Gallagher was chosen to represent the Scottish Workers Councils at the second congress of the Third International in Moscow. Gallagher pleaded with the delegates not to force on the Scottish revolutionaries: “resolutions which they are not in a position to defend, being contradictory to all they have been standing for until now.” Lenin singled Gallagher and his associates out at this Congress, winning him over completely to his positions. From then on Gallagher was a loyal servant to Lenin,(and then to Stalin) working towards the establishment of a Communist Party of Great Britain which appeared in January 1921. The manoeuvres of Lenin and Gallagher were sharply attacked by Aldred in his new paper the Spur and by Pankhurst in the paper of the re-established WSF the Workers Dreadnought.

Pankhurst continued with her criticisms of Leninism. In 1924 she condemned the new rulers of Russia as: “Prophets of centralised efficiency, trustification, State control, and the discipline of the proletariat in the interests of increased production…the Russian workers remain wage slaves, and very poor ones, working not from free will, but under compulsion of economic need, and kept in their subordinate position by State coercion.” The WSF was very close to the positions of the Dutch and German council communists, evolving increasingly Anarchist Communist positions by 1924, when it disappeared.

The collapse of the revolutionary wave of 1917-21, the Bolshevisation of the movement, and the repression of 1921, during which time Pankhurst and Aldred were both jailed had taken its toll. Many had been won to Bolshevik positions, whilst many others dropped out including Pankhurst herself, who ended up as a supporter of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, with a burial in Addis Ababa.

The Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation

The anti-parliamentary opposition to Lenin’s positions coalesced around the Glasgow Anarchist Group and Aldred. It was to express solidarity with the Russian Revolution that this changed its name to the Glasgow Communist Group in 1920. This became the nucleus of the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation set up in January 1921.

In many ways the APCF was an unstable alliance of those who accepted Anarchist Communist views and those who took a Council Communist position. Aldred and Co. still kept up illusions in the Russian Revolution up till 1924, flirting with the newly emergent Trotskyism for a while and launching attacks on Anarchist individuals and groups. As one member of the APCF in Leicester remarked in a letter to the editor of Freedom in 1924, Aldred was “running with Communism and hunting with Anarchism”. Aldred also insisted on what he called the Sinn Fein tactic of running as an anti-parliamentary candidate in the 1922 General Election. This was opposed in the APCF by Henry Sara, who left to join the Pankhurst group, and Willie McDougall and Jane Patrick. Other differences were over the question of economic determinism, with economic development as the motor to social change, and over the need for a transitional workers state.
The APCF had branches in London, the Midlands and North of England, although its base was primarily Scotland. It published the monthly The Commune from 1923-9. The seething differences over the use of anti-parliamentary candidates erupted in 1933 when Aldred left over these differences to form the Workers Open Forum.

Aldred claimed that the APCF stagnated after his departure. However, this is not true as the activity of the APCF continued unabated. Further splits were to come with the Spanish Revolution and Civil War. The APCF uncritically supported the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists of the CNT-FAI, the notion of anti-fascism with its unity at all costs message, and the false ideas of democracy versus fascism. They published, without comment or criticism, a statement by Federica Montseny, one of the chief Anarchist advocates of anti-fascist unity and Anarchist participation in the Spanish Republican government. Jane Patrick was one of the first to question these positions after her visits to Spain. She was disowned by the APCF, and went off to join Aldred’s group, now called the United Socialist Movement. The uncritical attitude continued in the APCF, though it published several articles in its new paper Solidarity including a statement from the Friends of Durruti (see Stormy Petrel pamphlet on the Friends of Durruti). A split took place in the APCF in 1937 when some Anarchists left in 1937 to set up the Glasgow Anarchist Communist Federation, although the reasons for this remain obscure. This evolved into the Glasgow Group of the Anarchist Federation of Britain, active during the Second World War.

The APCF for its part redeemed itself during the War by adopting a revolutionary defeatist position, with opposition to both sides. However as was stated in the Wildcat pamphlet on the APCF: “…the APCF was too tolerant in allowing views fundamentally opposed to their own to appear unchallenged in the paper. These included at various times, pacifism, trade unionism, and ‘critical’ support for Russia…”. Wildcat also noted that: ” The APCF also seemed to suffer from a lack of proper organisation. It appeared to be content to remain a locally based group, with no interest in trying to form a national or international organisation. It is sometimes argued that revolutionaries should only organise informally in local groups, to avoid the dangers associated with larger organisations…These dangers have to be faced up to, not run away from”. These comments should be taken seriously by revolutionaries at the present time.

The APCF with Willie McDougall as its leading light, transformed itself into the Workers Revolutionary League in 1942, eventually becoming a Workers Open Forum and continuing into the 50s.

As for Aldred and Patrick, their United Socialist Movement had become a populist organisation, espousing things like World Government and fellow-travelling with Russia after Stalin’s death. As Nicolas Walter notes in (Raven No1.),  Aldred was an: “extraordinarily courageous but essentially solitary man whose vanity and oddity prevented him from taking the part which his ability and energy seemed to create for him in the revolutionary socialist movement”. Like Pankhurst, Aldred’s egotism contributed towards hindering the development of a libertarian communist movement in this country, as did the differences between Anarchist Communists and Council Communists which were at first swept under the carpet and then totally polarised with no attempt to work out a practical synthesis.

Despite all this, the contributions of these groups and individuals were important. They courageously pursued revolutionary politics at a time of great isolation. They must be recognised as the forebears of present day libertarian communism in this country.


A specific libertarian communist current did not re-emerge in Britain until the sixties and seventies. Anarcho-syndicalism was to be the dominant current within the Anarchist movement, alongside the newly emerging ‘liberal’ anarchism that was developing through the likes of people like George Woodcock. In one part, this was a response to the major defeats of both revolutionary Anarchism and the working class movement as a whole, in another part it was an uncritical adaptation to the rise of the anti-war movement (Committee of 100 and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). It was, of course, correct for Anarchists to aim their propaganda at mass movements, putting a revolutionary case against capitalism and the State as the root causes of war. What was lacking however was a theoretical strength that allowed for the recruiting of activists from C100 and CND that fought against the dilution of ideas and transformed these activists into fully-fledged revolutionaries. This was not the case, however, and the revolutionary core of Anarchism, already deeply effected by the erroneous ideas of the Synthesis as devised by Voline and Faure (which sought a fusion between individualism, syndicalism and libertarian communism within the same organisation) was further diluted in Britain. The development of the hippy and alternative culture movements were to further dilute and confuse the movement, as once again the Anarchist movement showed itself wanting in ways of relating to these movements on a revolutionary basis without surrendering to pacifism and marginalisation.


One healthy development was the group of activists who had been expelled from the Trotskyist Socialist Labour League of Gerry Healy in 1959, many of whom had served on its Central Committee. Revolted by the authoritarianism of Healyism, this group began to develop libertarian socialist ideas, continuing to base themselves on class struggle and class analysis. They began to edit a journal, Solidarity, from October 1960, as well as a flurry of pamphlets, at first on a monthly basis! They developed trenchant analyses of the industrial struggle as well as the peace movement, and their analysis of the unions was a huge step forward, as was their rejection of syndicalism. As time progressed Solidarity began to identify themselves more and more as libertarian communists. However, they had developed a distrust of organisation as such as a result of their experiences of Healyism. Their unflagging publishing programme and their perceptive analyses had gained a great deal of respect among many activists. Their wilful failure to translate this into the establishment of a national organisation was a disaster, as International Socialism (the precursor of the Socialist Workers Party) was able to build on this territory abandoned by Solidarity (and by the Anarchist Federation of Britain). They failed to engage as fully with the Anarchist movement as much as they could have, as their contributions at meetings and conferences could have considerably strengthened the class struggle current within it. Finally, there was their use of the ambiguous term self-management (which could be open to a number of interpretations, including one involving a market society) and their assertion that the main differences in society were not so much between classes as between order-givers and order-takers. In the end the contents of the magazine became less and less distinguishable from the contents of Freedom, with, for example, long articles on Gandhi. Solidarity magazine stopped appearing in the early 90s and the group is to all intents and purposes, dead.-failing to live up to its promises of the 60s.

The Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists (ORA)

The Anarchist Federation of Britain (AFB) had slowly emerged in the aftermath of the political dead-end and decline of the Committee of 100 and the growing new radicalism of the 1960s, with its founding conference in Bristol in 1963. There was an impressive list of group and individual contacts featured in Freedom. National conferences began to be organised that were well attended. On the face of it things looked very good indeed, with the potential for an Anarchist movement to grow and once again have some influence as the pre-WWI movement had. In reality things were far from rosy. Anyone could attend conferences, often to make contributions and then never to be seen again. There was no structure of decision-making, and therefore no decisions made at conference. There was no paper controlled by the AFB, and often groups loosely affiliated within it contained all sorts of ‘anarchists’ from individualists, pacifists and gradualists, lifestylists and agrarian communards, through to syndicalists and anarchist communists. No clear analysis could be developed because of the huge array of differing and opposing ideas. Indeed the AFB only had an internal bulletin from late 1969.

The AFB was unable to respond to the huge potential offered to it, and began to drift. Indeed there was a massive exodus of activists to International Socialism (IS) and the International Marxist Group (IMG). A group emerged in the AFB around Keith Nathan and Ro Atkins, the former who had been a driving force in the very active Harlow Anarchist Group. This group produced a document called Towards a History and Critique of the Anarchist Movement in Modern Times as a discussion paper for a conference of Northern Anarchists in November 1970. Militants in Lancaster and Swansea (including Ian Bone, the future founder of Class War) also had criticisms of the AFB. The people in Swansea dropped out of the fray after their open letter was published, but their action had encouraged people in Lancaster, Leeds, Manchester and York to put a motion to the AFB that it call a ‘reorganisation conference’ to discuss the criticisms raised” (from The Newsletter, bulletin of the ORA May 1971). The Critique and a joint statement produced by all the critics were taken from the conference to the AFB conference in Liverpool the same month. It should be pointed out that this critical current was made up of both anarchist communists and anarcho-syndicalists as well as those who had no specific identification other than Anarchist.

The Critique was a trenchant and deeply honest document. It is worth quoting at length on the state of the Anarchist movement: “the omission of an attempt to link present short term action with the totality of capitalist society and with the totality of the future alternative society, means that when the short term issue dies, as it will, then so does the consciousness created by this short term action. ….bitter personal disputes based upon spuriously advanced positions; battles for the soul of the revolution / movement / Individual / reified anything, fought in reams of paper attacking and defending positions long since overrun by time. This is our ‘theory’. Usually it totally replaces even the pretence of activity”.


Following on from the Liverpool Conference the group in York decided to set up the Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists to act as a ginger group within the AFB. The attention at this time was not to leave the AFB. It wanted the AFB to open its doors to other libertarian tendencies e.g. Solidarity. “…The ORA people do not want to form another sect-we see our role as acting within and on the libertarian movement in general, as well as initiating our own work…we hope it can act as a link and a catalyst not only for ORA and the AFB but also to all libertarians”. (ORA Newsletter see above).

ORA’s objections to the traditional anarchist movement then, were more on the level of organisation than of theory. Their advocacy of collective responsibility, the use of a Chair and voting to take decisions at meetings, formal membership and a paper under the control of its “writers, sellers and readers” while warmly greeted in some quarters for example the May 1971 Scottish Anarchist Federation Conference was viciously attacked by others.

But the ORA itself was a hotchpotch including all sorts of anarchists, including syndicalists and those who argued for a pacifist strategy. When the ORA decided to bring out a monthly paper, Libertarian Struggle, in February 1973, it proved to be a forcing house for the development of the group, and these elements fell away. Also significant were contacts with the Organisation Révolutionnaire Anarchiste in France which had developed along similar lines within the Federation Anarchiste. Through the French ORA the British discovered the pamphlet the Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists which had been written by a group of Russian and Ukrainian Anarchists, including Nestor Makhno and Piotr Arshinov. This argued for a specific anarchist communist organisation, and ideological and tactical unity.

The ORA produced a number of pamphlets and a regular monthly paper. At first this was lacking in theoretical content, in the main consisting of short factual articles on various struggles. Quite correctly, Libertarian Struggle gave extensive coverage to both industrial struggles and struggles outside the workplace, including tenants struggles, squatting, women’s liberation and gay liberation. By issue 8 a greater analytical and theoretical content emerged. For example in an article on the Spanish Revolution of 1936 in Libertarian Struggle 1973 we can read about: “The failure of the anarcho-syndicalists who make a far too ready identification of their union with the working class as a whole. The way forward in a revolutionary situation is the rapid building of workers councils…union committees are no substitute for direct workers power”. These anarchist-communist criticisms of anarcho-syndicalism were to be further developed within the libertarian communist movement over the years.

Similarly, the analysis of Labour was to be a consistent feature of British anarchist-communism over the following years. For example we can read in Libertarian Struggle November 1973: “Only by carefully explaining and exposing the role of the Labour Party to the working class can any progress be made to building a revolutionary anarchist alternative…It cannot be done by first insisting we vote Labour”. The Labour Party was defined as a bourgeois party.

On the unions, however, the ORA was not so clear. The criticisms of the union bureaucracies were clear enough, and this included the ‘left’ NUM leadership. Also clear was the call to create workers action committees leading to the establishment of workers councils. However this was mixed up with calls to democratise the unions (!) and to democratise the various Rank and Files (all of which were IS fronts).


The events of 1974, the Miners Strike and the 3-Day week, led many to think (falsely) that revolution was just around the corner. This led to the formation of the Left Tendency inside the ORA. They concluded that it was in the nature of anarchism that the attempts to form a national organisation were bound to fail, and turned to Trotskyism. Most of this group ended up in the horrific authoritarian Healeyite outfit, the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP), whilst others joined IS. Nathan himself, whilst not a supporter of the Left Tendency, also left at this time to join the WRP.

The Left Tendency had called for an elected Editorial Board rather than a paper edited in rotation by each group and for a “more coherent position on Ireland” among other things. The organisation came to a virtual standstill, as these members had been among the most active, and many others, who were not prepared to take on the workload, dropped out. Amongst those who remained, some took the initiative to revive the organisation. A limited edition (1,000) Libertarian Struggle was put out in November 1974 and sold out in 10 days. There followed a period of recruitment and consolidation, until May 1975 when the paper began to appear again on a regular monthly basis.

The Anarchist Workers Association

At the beginning of 1975 ORA changed its name to the Anarchist Workers Association, which it was felt implied more of a class commitment, although others criticised this change as a mistake, implying workerism, and a too narrow obsession with the workplace. It was true that most of the membership in this period were heavily involved in workplace activity.

By 1976 the AWA had 50 members, most of them active, with 3 groups in London, groups in Oxford, Yorkshire, Leicester, and Scotland. The paper now called itself Anarchist Worker, was a regular monthly with sales of 1,500-2,000, mostly street sales. It was to some extent ‘a libertarian version of Socialist Worker’ but the coverage was wider, for example covering the struggles of claimants and squatters and provocatively questioning the work ethic.

The organisation went through a vicious split between Spring 1976 and Spring 1977. The Towards a Programme (TAP) Tendency was founded primarily to change the 1976 Conference decision on Ireland, where the majority, had argued for an abstentionist, anti-Republican position on Ireland, and that “Troops Out” was only meaningful if they withdrew through united class action. The TAP kept to the classic ‘Troops Out’ formula as well as the leftist “Self-determination for the Irish people as a whole”. The TAP also argued for a less “ultra-left ” position on the unions that is for “democratisation of the unions”, “extend unionisation” etc. This tendency included Nathan who had returned to the fold.

The AWA did not have a tradition of political debate. Much of the debate there was conducted at a puerile level. The TAP tendency accused their opponents of “traditional anarchism” and wishing to “lead the AWA back to the days of the AFB” whilst the TAP tendency was accused by its opponents of “Trotskyism”. The debate was clouded by controversy over the issue of abortion with a leading opponent of the TAP tendency taking an anti-abortion position., as well as some of the opponents of TAP (though only a small minority) taking increasingly anti-organisational positions.


Eventually at a conference in May 1977, on a motion sprung from the floor expulsions against the opposition to the TAP tendency was carried by 2 votes, with no prior notice or discussion at previous meetings or in the Internal Bulletin. Others left the organisation in disgust at these manoeuvres.

The expelled comrades committed to organisational politics regrouped under the title ‘Provisional AWA’ which then changed its name to the Anarchist Communist Association, producing a paper Bread and Roses and an introductory pamphlet to the ACA. The internal disputes had proved debilitating, however, and the ACA disappeared in 1980. The ACA had attempted to carry on some of the better traditions of ORA/AWA

As for the TAP tendency and those others who remained in the AWA, the coming period was to be one of complete capitulation to leftism. The name of the organisation was changed to the Libertarian Communist Group, there were defections to the International Marxist Group, and then the LCG announced that it had moved from class struggle anarchism to a “libertarian, critical, Marxism”. The LCG backed “United Front Work” which in practice meant working in the Socialist Teachers Alliance, and the Socialist Student Alliance, fronts dominated by the IMG. This United Front work which in practice meant collaboration with leftist political formations, led to the LCG committing one of their most heinous errors-entering an electoral front set up by IMG called Socialist Unity (SU) and backed by other groups like Big Flame. Socialist Unity put up candidates where it felt they had the strength, and advanced the slogan “Vote Labour But Build a Socialist Alternative” where it did not. The LCG was supposed to be “critically” supporting SU, but failed to make any serious criticisms of this support for Labour. The SWP for their part, peeved by the SU running candidates, and perceiving this as a threat, decided to stand their own candidates. The LCG endorsed these candidates as well, completely forgetting all the criticisms it had made of electoralism and of the nature of the Leninist groups. Finally, after the IMG, in their usual fashion, got bored with SU as a way of recruiting, it was wound up. The LCG failed to deliver any post-mortem on this.

The end was soon to come. The LCG compounded these errors by supporting a slate run by an anti-cuts group called Resistance (Keith Nathan and friends) for council elections in Leeds.


The LCG moved for fusion with the “libertarian Marxist” group Big Flame in 1980. This organisation had been previously described in Anarchist Worker as “schizophrenic libertarians/Leninists”: “Big Flame leads in uncritical copying of Lotta Continua in Italy, from their spontaneism to softness on Stalinism”. For its part Big Flame was unable to withstand the instabilities of its politics. The ‘left’ “victory” orchestrated by Tony Benn in the Labour Party resulted in the collapse of Big Flame as most of its members decided to enter the Labour Party, where they eventually wound up as apologists for Kinnock. The LCG had argued that they were “too small to give us an acceptable forum for political discussion” and that there were “no serious political differences between the two organisations”. The LCG had relinquished any idea of constructing a specific libertarian communist organisation as well as any serious political analysis. But in any case, the politics of the LCG had transformed so much that there really was little difference between their leftism and that of Big Flame.


This history of the ORA/AWA/LCG with its history of splits, defections and gross political errors is far from inspiring. But these developments, sometimes as unedifying as they were, signal the first attempts of libertarian communism to re-emerge in the post-World War II period. These attempts to re-emerge were as one member of the ACF noted in 1991 bound to be effected by the “present comparatively weak state of anarchist communism”. Two “magnetic poles of attraction” would be at work, he went on to say. One would be Leninism, which would exert its influence through comrades moving physically and ideologically over to Leninist outfits, or adopting Leninist style politics whist still professing to be within the revolutionary anarchist movement as happened with the LCG, and later with the Anarchist Workers Group.

The other pole of attraction would involve comrades committing some of the errors associated with parts of the left communist milieu-spontaneism, refusal to construct a revolutionary organisation, and where theoretical elaboration was divorced from effective practice and intervention, and seemed to involve finding as many differences as possible between comrades.

The appearance of the Anarchist Communist Federation marked a dramatic move forward, a significant development in both the strengthening and elaboration of Anarchist Communist theory, as well as an ongoing practice.


Thomas Spence: Morris, Brian (1996), The agrarian socialism of Thomas Spence in Ecology & Anarchism, Images Publishing, Malvern Wells; Rudkin, Olive D (1927) Thomas Spence and his Connections
Kitz, Lane, Mowbray and the Socialist League: Quail, John, The slow burning fuse, Picador, London
Organise 42, publication of the Anarchist Communist Federation

Postal-Service Workers Are Shouldering the Burden for Amazon

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 15:31

via The Nation

By Jake Bittle

Every day postal trucks drop off about 4,000 packages at a US Postal Service station in central Tennessee, where they’re unloaded by a team of around six USPS employees. Each person grabs a box, rushes to the only scanning machine, runs the bar code, and then places it in the proper gurney for its route. The process takes about 10 seconds, and it can be repeated as many as 200 times in an hour.

“You’ll see all of us, management included, trying to get under the machine, scanning packages and then tossing them, trying to get through it,” said Amanda, a USPS clerk who works there. “I’m pretty sure every one of us has at least one repetitive-motion injury.”

Around one-third of the packages Amanda handles are shipped by Amazon. As the Seattle-based tech giant commands an ever greater share of the retail market, the number of packages handled by the USPS keeps increasing. But employees say Postal Service management hasn’t responded to the surge in heavy items by investing in staffing or infrastructure. Instead, its leadership has cut costs and resorted to what union leaders call “management by stress.”

“We absolutely don’t have proper staffing for the amount of packages we get,” said Amanda, who withheld her full name for fear of workplace repercussions. “Everyone in the office is overwhelmed by it, but the only way management’s going to respond is if you file an incident report. People are just so busy that they’ll say, ‘It’ll be fine tomorrow.’ It’s not.”

Amazon was able to make a deal to ship its packages through USPS at cut-rate prices, because the company preemptively sorts and labels packages by postal route. But transporting and distributing these packages still takes clerks like Amanda much longer than sorting letters, which can be fed through a machine. If the clerks are delayed, the station’s carriers will be delayed in starting routes, which are already longer than ever thanks to the packages filling up their satchels and trucks. Many won’t deliver their final box until well after the sun has set.

Read more

Anarchism and Catholicism: An Introduction

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 15:21

via The Hampton Institute

by Chase Padusniak

“Anarchy,” a scary word to many, doesn’t get much use in Catholic circles. It seems downright frightening, either theologically or personally-it seems to threaten longstanding traditions of justice, not to mention the personal comfort and status of the West’s largely comfortable and assimilated Catholic population. Witness, for example, the Catholic Encyclopedia :

“The theory of anarchy is against all reason. Apart from the fact that it runs counter to some of the most cherished instincts of humanity, as, for instance,family life and love of country, it is evident thatsociety without authority could not stand for a moment. Men whose only purpose would be to satisfy all their inclinations are by the very fact on the level of the animal creation. The methods they already employ in the prosecution of their designs show how the animal instincts quickly assert themselves.”

Harsh words. Although the Encyclopedia is a useful resource in many ways, it was published in 1907, and, in some spots, is rather clearly a product of its time. I can say this, because, in spite of this absolute dismissal, anarchism became popular with more than a few Catholic thinkers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Fr. Thomas Hagerty, Peter Maurin, Dom Léonce Crenier , Dorothy Day, Emmanuel Mounier, Ammon Hennacy, (arguably) Simone Weil, Fr. Ivan Illich, and Fr. Dan Berrigan all come to mind, and that’s not even to mention famous examples from Orthodoxy and Protestantism such as Nikolai Berdyaev (along with Leo Tolstoy) and Jacques Ellul. Yet, unsurprisingly, the word continues to frighten us-comfortable as we are. In the interest of clarification, really of de-mystification, I’d like to ask: what is anarchism? And why did it appeal to so many Catholics?

First things first then: “anarchism” refers to a good number of traditions with a variety of commitments. For my purposes here, the central distinction is between individualist forms of anarchism-à la Max Stirner, Benjamin Tucker, and, I would argue, Murray Rothbard (insofar as his ideas can be called by the “a word” at all)-and communitarian forms, often associated with Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, and Peter Kropotkin.

The former looks something like an extreme form of what most Americans would call “libertarianism” (though often with a Left-wing inflection, that is, with a greater interest in the liberating force of anarchism, as opposed to a preservation or shrinking of existing institutions). Donald Rooum, an advocate of Stirnerian Anarchism, defines his views (and thus anarchism more generally) thus :

“Anarchists believe that the point of society is to widen the choices of individuals. This is the axiom upon which the anarchist case is founded […]
Anarchists strive for a society which is as efficient as possible, that is a society which provides individuals with the widest possible range of individual choices.”

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Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: “The Second Amendment is Almost a Time Bomb That Was Planted in the Constitution”

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 17:12

via Williamette Week

By Matthew Korfhage

At 2:21 pm on Valentine’s Day, a Florida man named Nikolas Cruz walked into his former high school with a gas mask and an AR-15 rifle. A half-hour after the first gunshots, 15 people were dead. Two more would soon join them. The school’s students clustered in the grass, cordoned from a wall of  cameras by a wall of police. The strangest thing about the event was how familiar it had become, in a country with a near-monopoly on school shootings and nearly twice as many guns per capita as any other country in the world.

Feminist and historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, 78, is best known for her 2014 book, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, and her 2009 memoir about growing up Okie. Her newest book, Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment (City Lights, 236 pages, $15.95), takes on the militaristic and white-supremacist origins of our country’s unhinged love affair with guns.

Before her appearance at Powell’s Books this Friday, we talked with her about mass murder, the cult of the Constitution and the takeover of the National Rifle Association.

WW: Does it seem to you that each mass shooting brings the same conversation, and the same results?
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: People are just lost right now. When a shooting like this happens, when there are so many victims, when they’re babies—you almost don’t want to bring up the fact that we have to look deeper for the causes. You want an immediate solution. A mother yesterday asked Trump and Congress: “You have to stop this. Make it so children don’t get guns.” I was on the phone all day with reporters, and I hesitated: Is this the time to talk about history? But there’s no better time for people to say, wait a minute, there must be some deeper cause.

What are people getting wrong about gun violence?
The left blames white nationalism. The right blames mental illness. Neither explains that it happens often here and nowhere else. But mass shootings account for a very small number of gun deaths: Many more women are killed in their home by guns. Men used to just knock women around, but rarely did death result. But with a gun on hand, there’s a death. Half of the gun deaths are suicide. The proliferation of guns is a huge problem, but its cause is not lack of regulations. There were lots of regulations in the ’70s when this started; going postal and school shootings started in the ’70s.

But why not just pass gun regulations?

Seventy-five percent of the U.S., in every age group, some more than others, want to have gun regulations. But those same 70 percent, when asked about whether the Second Amendment means they have the right to bear arms, they support it. They always say, “I support the Second Amendment.”

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Review: The Anarchist Roots of Geography – Toward Spatial Emancipation

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 20:12

via Freedom News

Review by John Clark

The Anarchist Roots of Geography – Toward Spatial Emancipation by Simon Springer
ISBN: 978-0-816697-73-1
PP: 240
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press, 2016

Anyone who wants evidence that anarchist geography is alive and well today need only read this book. The author, Simon Springer, is one of the most active anarchist intellectuals today. In 2016, he authored two books and edited five, mostly on anarchist themes, and he has written numerous articles, some technical, but many deeply immersed in contemporary struggles.

His lively polemic, “Fuck Neoliberalism,” has over 50,000 hits on one website alone.

The book’s subtitle is a good indication of its purpose. It is committed to the project of liberation of humanity and nature, and to overcoming all forms of domination. With great passion and eloquence, Springer calls for a return to geography’s “radical roots” in anarchist concepts, in which it is a mode of social and political engagement. Through such a geography of autonomy and solidarity, we “configure a radical political imagination that is capable of demanding the impossible.”

Springer relates anarchism to contemporary themes such as biopolitics and rhizomatic theory, but also looks back to the classical anarchist thinkers, showing the enduring value of their critique of hierarchy and domination. He deserves particular recognition for carrying on the legacy of the great French 19th century anarchist social geographer and political philosopher Eliseé Reclus.

Springer is inspired by Reclus’ communitarian anarchist project of a universal geography—in effect, a geography of solidarity—which he compares to Buddhism and Daoism’s ideas of the interconnectedness of all things.

He also follows Reclus in linking the aesthetic and the ethical, proclaiming that “beautiful is something that we already are.” For Springer, utopia is not a distant ideal, but is already present here and now He echoes Reclus’ belief that “small loving and intelligent societies,” are crucial to profound social transformation, prefiguring the anarchist idea of the affinity group as basic to a free society.

Springer argues that “an ethic of non-violence” is at the core of anarchism. He observes that opposition to the state is based on the rejection of organized violence as the major organizing force within society, and that consistent anarchism will have “an unwavering commitment to nonviolence and the absolute condemnation of war.” He thus carries on the tradition of anarcho-pacifists who have found inspiration in the lives and ideas of great figures such as Tolstoy, Thoreau, and Dorothy Day.

Springer also applies the critique of domination to the issue of colonialism. He points out that the project of the centralized state implied from the beginning a process of colonial expansion (conquest) from a center of power.

Springer writes that “to be ‘postcolonial’ in any meaningful sense requires that one be ‘poststatise or ‘anarchic,’ and look to non-statist traditions for inspiration. We must follow the “least alienated” and “most oppressed” peoples, learning from the traditional wisdom and contemporary revolutionary practice of indigenous movements such as the Zapatistas, who have a deep historically- and experientially-based understanding of the destructiveness of capitalism and the centralized state.

Finally, Springer applies this critique to urbanism, which he sees as deeply infected with hierarchical ideology and bias toward centers of power and wealth as models of the urban. In an anarchist urbanism, “the values embedded in public space are those with which the demos endows it.”

Public space becomes the space of self-determination by the free community. Springer contrasts the “Disneyfied” space of neoliberal capitalism, “devoid of geographic specificity,” with such a non-dominated space of anarchic community.

Springer concludes with the hopeful thought that “places wild and free” still exist. In such places, new possibilities for realization of beauty, goodness, freedom, and creativity are always present, ready to emerge. We need “a politics of possibility,” based on living an awakened, engaged life in such places, so that we ourselves “become the horizon.”

Springer is optimistic about such a politics for two reasons. First, there is a long, rich history of realizing such creative possibilities, extending from tribal societies to the great revolutions and recent communal experiments. Second, such emergence of possibilities is inherent in the very structure of reality.

We live in a universe of freedom and creativity. We might even say that we are ourselves nature becoming free and self-creative.

This review first appeared in the fall issue of Fifth Estate. John Clark lives in New Orleans and on Bayou La Terre in the coastal forest of the Gulf of Mexico. He has long been active in the radical ecology and communitarian anarchist movements, and currently works with Bayou Bridge Pipeline resistance. He is director of La Terre Institute for Community and Ecology.

Ursula Le Guin and Utopia

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 19:47

via Anarchist Writers

by Anarcho

It is with great sadness that I write this for one of my favourite writers, Ursula Le Guin, had died. The New York Times called her “America’s greatest living science fiction writers” in 2016 but that does not really do her work justice: she was one of the world’s greatest writers. It is just that she worked mostly in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre. And like a few others – Michael Moorcock and Alan Moore spring to mind – also contributed to popularising anarchism outside political circles. Her SF novel The Dispossessed (1974) is still by far the best account of an anarchist society, warts and all!

She was a great writer, one of the best ever. Needless to say, she was my favourite SF writer. Her alien worlds were, well, alien. Her characters, actual people and not cyphers. Her message, humane, egalitarian, libertarian, feminist. She died on January 22, so I hope she saw the women’s marches across the world for as she put it in the 1980s:

“When women speak truly they speak subversively — they can’t help it: if you’re underneath, if you’re kept down, you break out, you subvert. We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains. That’s what I want – to hear you erupting. You young Mount St Helenses who don’t know the power in you – I want to hear you.”

Her parents were anthologists, and you can tell. Far too much of SF (and Fantasy) is just middle-class, middle-aged, white, 20th century American male (who has read or watched too many Westerns) projected into space (or into a cod-Middle Ages). The lack of thought about culture is made up for by some fancy hardware and battles against a thinly-veiled stand-in for “communism” (i.e., Stalinism). The “harder” the SF, the more banal it appears to be. Not Le Guin. Her cultures reflect thought, an awareness that the norms of the current patriarchal, racist, class society are not the only ones. Humanity has provided a diverse range of cultures across time and space, if having an imagination is too much hard work. Much of SF – particularly in its so-called “golden era” – is not particularly imaginative. Again, not Le Guin – her works are imaginative in terms of “alien” cultures.

They were also subversive of the typical reader’s assumptions – the hero of the Earthsea series is dark-skinned, the main baddies white (and she publically lamented when the TV adaption turned that around). The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) addressed gender, by means of a world were humans were genderless except for a week every month during which they could become male or female. Her The Word for World is Forest (1976) exposed the horrors of imperialism long before Avatar trod a similar path in 3D: but no white, male saviour for the – short, furry and green – natives in the Hainish universe, they freed themselves.

She wrote so many books, short stories, articles, that it would be impossible to cover everything. So instead I will make a few comments about The Dispossessed for it is that work – and the related short-story The Day Before the Revolution (1974) – that she has a special place in anarchist hearts.

First, I must note something written on the Guardian webpage after her death. It was an article on what you should read if you had not heard of her before:

“But the physicist Shevek, who is working on a method of interstellar communication called the Principle of Simultaneity, is becoming disillusioned with the anarchist philosophy of Anarres and travels to Urras to find more freedom.”

Do people even bother to read the books they summarise? This is a travesty of the book’s plot and point. Shevek was not “disillusioned with the anarchist philosophy,” he was seeking to make Anarres live up to its anarchist philosophy! He spends a lot of his time on Urras advocating anarchism – if I remember correctly, it is even noted that he was surprised that they allowed him to do so at the Urras equivalent of the United Nations (because his speech is not reported in depth in the popular newspapers). He even compares his academic life to his live in Anarres, considering the academic environment the closest to what he is used to back home – discussion between equals.

And he travels to Urras as part of his struggle to help break the crystallised structures on Anarres – which saw the decision to decline communication with anarchists on Urrras! He did not travel to Urras to “fine more freedom” – he was well aware of the hierarchical nature of the system and experienced it first-hand. He even escapes his “freedom” at the university to join a mass anti-war protest… and he goes back to Anarres to continue to apply his anarchism to the crystallised libertarian society he seeks to bring back to its ideal.

Second, an older comment but one which shares the same apparent unwillingness to understand the book and its message. The SF writer Ken MacLeod, who you would think should know better. I was somewhat surprised to read him proclaim the following:

“It is the absence of political debate, as much as the absence of privacy and the relentless presence of morality, that makes the communism of Anarres, in Ursula Le Guin’s anarchist classic The Dispossessed (1974), so oppressive. When her hero Shevek finds himself in conflict with aspects of his society he has no forum in which to express it, no way to find like-minded individuals with whom he might find common ground; instead, his conflicts become conflicts with other individuals. He is as isolated as any dissident in a totalitarian state.” (“Politics and science fiction,” The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003], 230)

I must say that it makes a change for a (ex-?) Marxist to proclaim Anarchism would produce a society which would crush individuality under collective pressure – the usual charge is that we are just extreme liberals whose advocacy of “individualism” would make all forms of organisation and community impossible (Max Stirner is usually invoked, in spite of him having no impact on Anarchism until the 1890s). So it would be tempting to ignore this but the argument that social pressure can be oppressive is stronger and so worth discussing – particularly as many anarchists have argued the same thing and indicated how to combat it.

In terms of “absence of privacy,” The Dispossessed makes clear that people have as much privacy as they like – the environmental limitations of a desert moon pushing towards a more communal set-up. Kropotkin would not have liked the predominant system that much – being on record as opposing hotel-like communes in favour of personal homes – but the possibility of personal/family rooms was there and taken up. As for “the relentless presence of morality,” any society – apart from the most atomised – will have some general set of social standards. On Anarres, these social standards allow quite a range of self-expression – no sexism, homophobia, etc. However, the negative impact of social pressure is one of the book’s concerns – and one which anarchist thinkers have raised.

I’m not sure what MacLeod means in terms “the absence of political debate” as The Dispossessed recounts disagreement on Anarres repeatedly: “in the PDC debates in Abbenay” with its “fierce protests” about supplying Urras with raw materials (83); “Anybody can attend any PDC meeting, and if he’s an interested syndic, he can debate and vote!” (144); Shevek bringing up sending letters to Urras “at the Physics Federation” (137); the discussion on receiving people from, and sending to, Urras. (291-7). In the latter discussion it is noted that radio contact was disapproved being “[a]gainst the recommendation of this council, and the Deference Federative, and a majority vote of the List” as well the “increasing protests from the entire Brotherhood.” (291, 293)

Indeed, much of what MacLeod calls “the relentless presence of morality” is, in fact, political debate – particularly in relation to the “personal is political” and so how best to apply libertarian principles in everyday live. Which includes working with other people in syndicates, communities and federations. He seems to forget that organisations are made up of other individuals – and as the book make clear, Shevek and his comrades (like others) come into conflict with them in institutional settings, in syndicate and federative meetings by means of debates and… votes!

What of no possibility of finding “like minded individuals with whom he might find common ground”? MacLeod seems to have forgotten that Shevek and his colleagues form their own group (“the Syndicate of Initiative”) – as can any Anarres inhabitant – and use the resources of their society – as can any Anarres inhabitant – for their own ends. All of which is an expression of free communism – based as it is on individual initiative, free association and use rights to society’s resources.

So we have “political debate” (both between individuals, within groups and across society), we have “like-minded people” coming together to fight the institutional and societal problems developing within libertarian communism – a far cry from MacLeod’s claims.

How a society described as being so rich in associational life can dismissed as resulting in someone being “as isolated as any dissident in a totalitarian state” is lost on me. To place this in the context of the book, on Urras which is a hierarchical society marked by class and patriarchy, Shevek’s room is bugged while a mass protest meeting he speaks at – after escaping from his surveillance – is fired upon by government troops, killing untold numbers, and afterwards State repression sees protesters being rounded up (imprisoned, if not shot).

Is Anarres perfect? No, that is the point of the book – it has evolved into a quasi-bureaucratic system (due to routine administration) based on majority rule (via societal pressure). Yet Shevek and his comrades are able to rebel against these pressures using the principles the society was formed on – nor are they actually stopped from doing so (the little mob which forms to stop Shevek’s departure to Urras is ineffectual as well as being obviously spontaneously formed). They are subject to social pressure, disapproval by many others, but they are not – unlike on Urras – shot down or imprisoned for their activities after the appropriate “political debate.”

I should also note that Shevek and his comrades’ activities are part and parcel of libertarian communism and not somehow against it. As Le Guin makes clear:

“from the start, the Settlers were aware that that unavoidable centralisation [i.e., a town where most of the headquarters of the federations and syndicates were based] was a lasting threat, to be countered by lasting vigilance.” (86)

The “syndicate of initiative” is part of this process of “lasting vigilance” – the problem being on Anarres that this vigilance has withered away by becoming crystallised (to use Kropotkin’s term). Indeed, in Mutual Aid elsewhere indicated that this was a recurring problem during society’s evolution – and an anarchist society would also face this danger.

All of which makes you wonder what makes Anarres “so oppressive”? Comparing it to actual totalitarian states shows the stupidity of MacLeod’s assertions. The worse example given in the book is of an artist driven insane by social pressure and its ramifications – which is one of the factors which drive the creation of the “syndicate of initiative.” Which must be placed in the context of the high levels of mental illness within hierarchical systems as well as how often people are driven mad as a result of repressive policies decided upon by the “political debates” within Statist systems.

Of course, I am now comparing a work of fiction with actual social systems – but Le Guin’s book makes you do that because it is quite a realistic utopia, populated by people rather than political cyphers. Ultimately, for all its flaws, Shevek still defends Anarres and its principles on Urras and sees its obvious freedoms compared to that hierarchical regime. He returns to Anarres to participate in the growing movement seeking to eliminate the unhealthy developments within libertarian communism. Again, all very much in line with Kropotkin’s comments in the “Conclusion” of Mutual Aid:

“It will probably be remarked that mutual aid, even though it may represent one of the factors of evolution, covers nevertheless one aspect only of human relations; that by the side of this current, powerful though it may be, there is, and always has been, the other current – the self-assertion of the individual, not only in its efforts to attain personal or caste superiority, economical, political, and spiritual, but also in its much more important although less evident function of breaking through the bonds, always prone to become crystallised, which the tribe, the village community, the city, and the State impose upon the individual. In other words, there is the self-assertion of the individual taken as a progressive element.”

So MacLeod’s summary of Le Guin’s work leaves a lot to be desired – indeed, everything he lists as making Shevek “as isolated as any dissident in a totalitarian state” is simply not supported by the book. Can there be conflict between community and individual autonomy? Yes and here MacLeod is on stronger ground but he is simply covering ground raised by others, as he notes:

“Orwell’s interest in, and aptitude for, politics as a practical art were negligible, but his interest in, and imaginative grasp of, the implications of political philosophies were deep. What he said in a sentence about the potentially repressive underside of the anarchist ideal summarizes most of the message of Le Guin’s The Dispossessed.” (231)

Since MacLeod mentions Orwell, I would think it is sufficient to ask the question whether Shevek on Anarres is “as isolated” as Winston Smith in Oceania to show the weakness of MacLeod’s position.

Yet anyone familiar with anarchist thought would be aware that anarchists have also been aware of this danger. Indeed, an awareness of the authoritarian aspects of utopian socialism and their “ideal” communities has always driven anarchism, not to mention the similar – if not totalitarian – possibilities of State socialism.

Proudhon made the same point – against what he termed “Community” and which is usually translated as “Communism.” This was why he stressed that while ownership should be undivided, use had to be divided (see my “Proudhon, Property and Possession,” ASR 66). Although, I should note, Proudhon was addressing libertarian communism by their comments as that did not exist then. Similarly, communist-anarchists like Kropotkin were aware of this danger (indeed, Kropotkin said Proudhon was right to attack what was called communism in his day). More, anarchist-communists recognised the validity of these critiques and created a new, libertarian, communism which addressed these issues as well as building in mechanisms to reduce tendencies towards them in anarcho-communism – for example, Kropotkin discusses its possible impact on individuality in Modern Science and Anarchy, in the second section entitled “Communism and Anarchy” (first published in France in 1913, it is finally out in English translation later this year by AK Press).

So let me be clear what we are talking about – not social pressure and intervention to stop actual anti-social acts (that is, stopping those who do actual harm to others) but rather social pressure against activities some others think of as somehow wrong but which harm no one. The actions of nosy-parkers, busy-bodies, gossips and such like – plus general social disapproval, particularly of those with avant-guard notions and who express them in action.

This can be – has been, in many a small community – a problem. Yes, it can mean no anti-social behaviour but it can also be suffocating. So that is the germ of truth in this objection. However, as section I.5.6 of An Anarchist FAQ argues, it is overblown. Particularly in a society which does not have hierarchical relations in production and elsewhere – where most people spend the bulk of their time and so shapes them most (excluding authoritarian education, which trains children to be bored and follow orders in preparation for their time in work).

But, yes, there is a danger – but as with those who take anarchism and conclude, wrongly, an opposition to organisation as such, the alternative is worse. For while even the best libertarian organisation can become bureaucratic, no organisation at all would make life impossible. Similarly, public pressure does not disappear with laws and authorities – it gets bolstered by them.

Take the racism of the Southern States of America, well, that became a national issue after the decentralised self-organisation and direct action of the oppressed and their allies in those areas and the violent State or State-backed repression against them could no longer be ignored. And it was an example of centralised political power backing oppressive social customs within the former slave States. Needless to say, we would expect external solidarity to happen in a libertarian society if such a development arose (presumably, in areas within which the social revolution had not taken place or been crushed).

This is the case with any societal progress you care to think of – civil rights, feminism, the labour movement. They all start with a minority pushing at what is considered “normal” and increasing freedom by flaunting convention – that is, by direct action. Progress has never been the gift of authority – it has always been won. And the majority finally shift – but adding the State to the mix hardly makes those struggles easier. It only makes rolling those victories back easier – just look at the Trump regime, where State power is being used to do precisely that.

All in all, if oppressive social pressure is an issue in an Anarchy – and it can be – adding political (and/or economic) power does not make it disappear, quite the reverse. Does the customary rather than political nature of the pressure increase the totalitarian tendencies as Orwell suggests? Doubtful…

Anarchist theory recognises the key role minorities play in social change. Kropotkin stressed it (see “Revolutionary Minorities” in Words of a Rebel), as did Emma Goldman (in “Minorities versus Majorities,” in Anarchism and Other Essays) – and it is obvious. Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man Under Socialism being a must read in this regard. As Kropotkin put it in Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal:

“Well, then, those who will work to break up these superannuated tactics, those who will know how to rouse the spirit of initiative in individuals and in groups, those who will be able to create in their mutual relations a movement and a life based on the principles of free understanding—those that will understand that variety, conflict even, is life, and that uniformity is death”

Shevek’s odyssey is an example of this, of (to re-quote Mutual Aid) “the self-assertion of the individual taken as a progressive element” against the “the bonds, always prone to become crystallised, which the tribe, the village community, the city, and the State impose upon the individual” – or the self-managed associations of a free society. The “syndicate of initiative” is an expression of this minority within the libertarian communist society of Anarres. Progress will remain a product of the interaction of the few and the many, but without the vested interests associated with various social, economic and political hierarchies – and the coercive forces they can call upon in a non-anarchist society.

So where does this get us? That Anarchy is not perfect, but we knew that. Like any social system it will have its problems, its contradictions, its areas in need of work – but, then, we have usually claimed Anarchy will simply be better than the current system rather than perfect. It will be created by and made up of people, people who will be more rounded and better developed than under hierarchy but still flawed. This awareness is why, unlike Marxists, we have always built into our systems safeguards against irremovable imperfections – safeguards such as federalism, election, mandates, recall, socialisation, etc. In short, there will always be arseholes – anarchists just think giving arseholes power over others is not a wise idea.

Sure, in self-management you may often be in a minority – but to see your ideas always be implemented means to either have no groups at all (an impossibility) or be a dictator (or owner, the terms are synonymous as Proudhon noted in 1840). Ironically, the more abstractly individualist a theory is, the more likely it will produce authoritarian rather than libertarian social relationships – as shown by Lockean ideologies (like propertarianism). So not getting your way all the time, ironically, ensures freedom – both yours and others. More, at least in libertarian socialism (unlike capitalism) you will have the resources available to form new associations if you feel that your current ones are ignoring you and your ideas – as is constantly mentioned in The Dispossessed and “the syndicate of initiative” does.

This is not to deny the negative aspects of social pressure – but anarchists are aware of it and build an awareness of this into their ideas. I’ve quoted Kropotkin already on the need for conflict, for variety. I’ve also quoted him on the need for individual self-assertion against crystallised social institutions. So, yes, Orwell makes a valid point – but exaggerates it. As does MacLeod with his misreading of The Dispossessed – which is full of discussion, disagreement, debate. Both fail to mention that anarchism is aware of the problem and has sought solutions – and Le Guin’s book expresses them!

Ultimately, Shevek remains an anarchist, argues for anarchism on Urras and returns to Anarres – for good reasons, as the book makes clear. I cannot envision Winston Smith doing likewise on Airstrip One – or wishing he faced the Thought Police rather than the disapproval of some of his neighbours…

Le Guin, in short, produced a very astute book on anarchism, one aware of the problems and also aware that anarchists had predicted said problems and shown means of solving them. It is a classic – and I gain something new every time I read it. It deserves better than MacLeod’s summary – particularly as those comments are refuted by the book itself, as I have indicated.

Third, MacLeod was friends with the late, great Iain Banks. I should say a few words about their respective “utopias.” The difference is stark – the culture is, to coin a phrase, a Post-Scarcity Anarchism (another classic you should read) while Anarres is very much a “scarcity” anarchism (although the standard of living is high, it is limited by the ecology of the desert moon the anarchists settled 170 years before). Which makes The Dispossessed a far more realistic work. Banks postulates a level of technology which is, basically, magic and so he magics away all the issues any real anarchist society would face. The Culture manages with super-intelligent computers and hyper-advanced technology – but if your system is dependent upon advanced technology (or impossible assumptions) then it best avoided (an economy needs to work if the computers crash!).

Anarres, however, manages it with the technologies of the 20th century – or slightly advanced versions – which makes it more relevant and appealing, in spite of its desert moon setting and the impact that has on the libertarian communist society depicted. Sure, Le Guin did magic – in her Earthsea books! Anarres presents a society which you could see working today, not hundreds of years in the future.

So it is hardly a utopia in this sense, unlike the Culture. In terms of its social organisation, again it is based on federations of syndicates and communities. Again, hardly utopian. Also, the people are people who seem aware of the need to treat others as they would like to be treated themselves. It hardly staggers belief that people brought up with enough to eat, taught to think rather than repeat, treated as people and not resources, would generalise what is now considered the best of us. Its flaws are equally believable – an informal bureaucracy has started to develop and co-operation has started to become conformity.

Shevek and his comrades see the problem and work on a solution which is straight out of anarchist theory. This is because anarchists are aware that people are imperfect and any society we create will be imperfect. We are well aware that even the best society will have flaws and need work. The struggle for freedom does not end with a successful revolution – things crystallise and it needs active minorities to shatter them in a progressive manner.

Is anarchism utopian? No – for its does not postulate anything unbelievable or impossible about humans or social life. It does not seek perfection, just better (which would not be hard!). The people who are utopian are those who criticise anarchism – incorrectly, as it happens – for believing in the natural goodness of people rather than recognising that people are bad and who then turn around and say that a few of these bad people should be given power over the rest. So people will abuse freedom but not power… such is the position of “realistic” people!

So The Dispossessed does not contradict communist-anarchism nor undermine it. Those who claim otherwise should read more communist-anarchist thinkers. As Le Guin did – and it shows. The book is a classic – of both SF and anarchist thought.

All of which shows the power and importance of Le Guin’s work. Her works are full of people and address real issues, like the best SF work it is about now rather than the future. She will be missed – but her writings will endure.