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Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth
Updated: 2 hours 39 min ago

Between the Reaction and the Referendum

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 04:13

via CrimethInc

Nationalism and Direct Democracy in the Yellow Vest Movement

Alongside government repression, what poses a greater threat to the yellow vest movement—the reactionaries who are participating in order to present themselves as the alternative to Macron’s neoliberalism, or the reformists who aim to replace horizontal self-organization with new party structures and legislation? In the following analysis, we show how these two phenomena are connected. The rhetoric of direct democracy associated with the left in the occupation movements of 2011 has been taken up across the political spectrum, as reformists promote referendums as a substitute for the participatory power people have experienced in the streets.

In the following critique, we don’t mean to suggest that reactionaries or reformists have definitively gained the upper hand in the yellow vest movement. Many participants have taken a principled position against both kinds of cooptation. But in a heterogeneous movement like this one, the battles within the movement are just as significant as the struggle between the movement and the state. Those who prioritize fighting police over fighting nationalists are paving the way for nationalists to succeed neoliberals in power and implement even more repressive policies. Those who prioritize fighting fascists over confronting the neoliberal state create a situation in which the desperate and angry may conclude that fascists, not anti-fascists, represent the alternative to the prevailing order.

In the yellow vest movement, we see people from across the political spectrum employing tactics previously associated with anarchists and other marginalized groups to advance demands that are by no means radical. As we noted years ago, any movement that hopes to accomplish anything today will come into conflict with the police; but it marks a watershed moment in the fragmentation of society that today we see right-wing news sources approvingly circulating videos in which people fight police officers.

Anarchists and other rebels have carved out space for an anti-capitalist front in the movement by engaging in property destruction, which currently remains beyond the discourse of the far right. But there is no guarantee that this tactic cannot also be appropriated as well. Certainly, we can imagine anti-Semitic attacks on banks, after which anti-capitalist vandalism could be mistaken for—or used to promote—a new brand of authoritarianism. The same goes for the various practices associated with direct democracy. We should not imagine that any tactic speaks for itself apart from explicit proposals about how to reinvent our lives and our world.

Even when it becomes possible to topple governments, we must consider how this fits into a long-term strategy to regain power over our own lives on a horizontal and decentralized basis. Otherwise, overthrowing the government might simply provide the same sort of catharsis that an election does, concluding the period of tension and providing everyone with an occasion to exit the streets, pleased with themselves at having made history as they abandon the tools and connections with which they could have gone on reshaping it. There are parts of the world in which toppling governments is as common as voting them out of office—without this making people any freer.

Looking at what happened in Egypt in 2011-2013—and before that in Argentina, which went through five different presidents in ten days during the crisis of 2001-2002—it is clear that overthrowing a single government will not solve the problems that capitalism creates in our lives. We might conclude that the lesson is don’t overthrow one government until you’re ready to overthrow the next one as well, but that still doesn’t answer the question. If our chief goal is to develop self-organized networks capable of solving our problems directly, it might be better to go on contending with a weakened and unpopular government than a new government that is widely perceived to be more legitimate than the previous one. This gives us a different metric by which to evaluate our effectiveness in social movements: it is not just a question of creating disorder as a means of militant lobbying, but rather of establishing the basis for a new way of living and spreading this as widely as possible. We will not be safe until no government can dictate the terms of our daily lives.

All that said, let’s step back to look critically at the yellow vest movement and the various forces seeking to turn it away from egalitarian models of self-organization.

Dawn of the Yellow Vests

The yellow vest movement emerged in response to the decision of centrist neoliberal French President Emmanuel Macron to increase fuel taxes—a greenwashing strategy aiming to make the poor pay for the transition to “ecological” capitalism. This angered many who were already financially precarious and dependent on their cars. But the tax reform was only the tip of the iceberg.

For years, consecutive left and right governments have imposed a variety of austerity measures in response to the 2008 financial crisis. Politicians and international agencies repeatedly demanded that people change their consumption patterns in order to save the financial system that caused the crisis in the first place.

After years of concessions, part of the population has realized that they always bear the burden of keeping the economy running. This was reinforced when President Macron, who had promised a new vision breaking with the “old political world,” opened his administration by reducing taxes on the income of the super-rich.

More and more people feel abandoned by the authorities as a whole. Some have turned towards populists of the left or far right, while others are developing a fierce defiance towards the system as a whole—without necessarily arriving at any sort of systemic solution. This helps explain why the yellow vest movement erupted.

Facing the full force of the police state in Toulouse on December 15, 2018.

A New Type of Movement?

From the beginning, the yellow vest phenomenon represented a departure from traditional social movements. It has constantly shifted forms, changing its tactics and demands, remaining unpredictable and difficult to suppress. These constant changes present difficulties to anarchists and others who hope to spread ideas and open up anti-authoritarian spaces within the movement in hopes of pushing for more thoroughgoing forms of change. These difficulties are compounded by the political heterogeneity and confusion that characterize the movement.

Some comrades have argued that each nationwide day of action has changed the way people perceive reality in France. After the first act, the presidential palace became a target; the second act changed how people see the police; after the third act, some people saw the possibility of insurrection on the horizon; after the fourth, the massive police operation challenged our vague conceptions of what constitutes an authoritarian government; the fifth act turned attention away from Paris, typically the center of every political development in France; the sixth and seventh acts interrupted the Christmas holidays and the consumerism associated with them; while the eighth act of the movement suggested that it is possible to break free of the calendar itself—that ancient weapon for containing social struggles within the existing order.

The movement has also disrupted longstanding conceptions of political struggle. Social movements in France are mostly built around our personal relation to work and its world—trade union demonstrations, student struggles, railroad workers’ movements, and so on. By contrast, this movement emerged around issues related to consumption rather than production; it has not been driven by shared class consciousness but rather by common frustrations. This explains why the movement attracts people from so many different social and political backgrounds.

This analysis is developed in this article, which argues that the yellow vest movement represents a break with the historical conception of class struggle, as the so-called Arab Spring and various Occupy movements did elsewhere a few years ago.

Although the rhetoric of class struggle is not widely used within the movement, many participants are directing their anger towards politicians, banks, and others with institutional power; this suggests some sort of understanding of hierarchy and exploitation. Yet most of the criticisms we hear within the movement are aimed at individuals rather than the structures that give these people power. This reminds us of the ways that movements against “corruption” from Armenia to Brazil have channeled anger produced by the failures of capitalism and the state into efforts to demonize specific people, groups, or institutions, as if these systems premised on inequality could function in everyone’s best interest if only the right people were in power. Movements against “corruption”—rather than against capitalism and the state—have been useful for right-wing populists hoping to replace the reigning authorities in order to go on doing the same thing in their place.

The vest of this demonstrator in Bordeaux says “Macron: thief, liar, crook. Get lost, the people are ostracizing you.”

Not everyone is pessimistic about the prospects of the movement in this regard. Asked if the yellow vest demonstrators had lost their class-consciousness, former Situationist Raoul Vaneigem answered:

“Yes, they are an example of this regression. But, as I have written, the proletarian consciousness that wrested its social benefits from the State was only a historical form of human consciousness. This consciousness is being reborn before our very eyes, reviving solidarity, generosity, hospitality, beauty, poetry, and all the values that, today, have been suffocated by profit-making efficiency.”

This movement also differs from those we have known in France over the past decade in that it started as a decentralized phenomenon on a nationwide scale. Since the beginning, the movement has appeared in major cities during demonstrations, but also on a local scale in the blockades of freeways, toll collection points, and traffic circles. The rejection of ordinary organization and structure enabled the movement to improvise. This gave the movement an advantage, confusing the repressive apparatus of the state on numerous occasions. According to some comrades, the real strength of the movement lies in its capacity for local organizing rather than the now-traditional Saturday spectacles and coups de force. According to them, continuing to occupy roads and traffic circles across the country is the only way to preserve the momentum of the movement. This might explain why the movement survived the Christmas holidays.

Burning rage on a dying planet.

The Movement as a Political Nebula

Raoul Vaneigem described this as “a heterogeneous movement, a nebula in which all kinds of politicized people and those who have dropped politics from their [everyday] preoccupations are all mixed together.”

The yellow vest movement has evolved continuously since it emerged. When the movement first took the spotlight on November 17, 2018, participants described it as a decentralized, horizontally organized, leaderless, “apolitical” movement. Only two weeks later, the movement made its first major turn.

On November 26, eight spokespersons were selected via online voting. In reintroducing some good old-fashioned hierarchy and centralization, some protesters hoped to establish unity in their ranks and initiate a dialogue with the government. At the time, these decisions created fractures in the movement, as some demonstrators rejected representation and negotiation as traps. After two unsuccessful attempts at dialogue, the spokespersons themselves stopped trying to negotiate with the authorities.

Little by little, these spokespeople grew more influential, becoming unofficial leaders. They are often interviewed by traditional media outlets; their social media platforms reach the furthest; they are the ones who propose events and organize actions. Parts of the yellow vest movement are now structured around these leading figures. However, as the movement radicalized, adopting confrontational tactics that anarchists and other rebels have used for decades now, it became difficult to maintain the fragile illusion of unity.

We can distinguish three different tendencies within the movement: an electoralist and “citizenist” current in favor of creating a new representational political project; a tendency aiming to negotiate with authorities, sharing some “legalism” with the aforementioned tendency; and an insurrectionary current, presenting no program but calling for the immediate resignation of President Macron and perhaps the toppling of the French government.

The week leading up to the nationwide day of action on December 15 marked an important turning point. The “legalist” elements of the movement managed to gain more power and legitimacy on account of several factors, including the concessions Macron offered on December 10; the unpredictable context following the Strasbourg attacks; and numerous demands that the protesters be “reasonable” and “non-violent,” including demands that they condemn “rioters.”

For the most part, the electoral and “legalist” tendencies within the movement were satisfied with the concessions and eager to shift from street confrontations to creating a respectable image in hopes of gaining more political leverage. To this end, many participants were willing to distance themselves from the most radical elements of the movement, even if the latter were the reason why the movement had gone so far in the first place. This is the fundamental irony of respectability politics: in seeking to appear well-behaved on the terms set by the state, would-be representatives of the people must reject the only tactics that could give their movements leverage, in the absence of which the state has no need of such mediators in the first place.

Confirming that part of the movement was shifting towards a more “legalist” path, the first signs and demands for a Citizens’ Initiative Referendum (RIC) appeared in the marches of December 15. At the same time, some yellow vesters searched other demonstrators’ bags in order to keep out potential “rioters,” while other previous participants in the movement simply stayed home as the politicians had encouraged them to.

Following the events of January 5, 2019, it seems that the insurrectionary yellow vest tendency survived this scission. Today, the movement appears to be divided between two major tendencies: a “legalist” current and a die-hard oppositional current. Tensions between these tendencies frequently break out, although it appears that yellow vesters of all tendencies now agree on one thing: the Citizens’ Initiative Referendum (RIC).

A yellow vest protester holding a sign demanding the Citizens’ Initiative Referendum (RIC)

What Lessons Can We Draw?

In an article entitled Ten Lessons from the Yellow Vests, the authors argue that we can learn from the movement in order to “contribute to its growth as an anti-capitalist insurgency, and ideally help it develop as a global movement against the pseudo-democracies that serve as increasingly thin cover for top-down class warfare.”

As we will see below, the implication that “true” democracy is the natural alternative to top-down class warfare is widespread in the movement, to such an extent that the pursuit of more direct democracy has become a substitute for the struggle against capitalism. This, too, is familiar from the Occupy movement and others like it; in fact, it dates at least to the French Revolution of 1848, if not before.

When the yellow vest movement first appeared, many anarchists discussed it from a distance, from the perspective of outsiders. The ambiguous demands and discourse made it difficult to know how to engage. In the end, some of us decided to get involved in the movement despite the fact that reactionary groups were also participating. This meant fighting on two fronts: against the state and the beneficiaries of capitalism, and also against fascists, nationalists, and other reactionaries. In this regard, we agree with the aforementioned authors when they argue that our approach to social movements should answer the following questions:

“How can I contribute to the parts of these movements that connect to my own politics, while also learning from them and engaging with them? What are the multiple tendencies at play, and where might they develop beyond the present moment?”

To these questions, we should also add another question: How can we ensure that our participation in the movement won’t benefit our adversaries, adding momentum to something that they can control, but we cannot?

We also agree with the authors that we should not understand any social movement as singular or monolithic. Every movement is a meeting point for many different groups and forces. This is why it is so important to prevent reactionaries from coopting them.

While we agree with the authors about the importance of expanding the political imagination in social movements, the yellow vest situation is more complex than it might seem from outside France. As the authors grant, the participants “do not share a single political agenda or come from a common political party or union.” Numerous fascists and nationalists are also fighting in the streets, using the movement as a platform to advance their political agendas. Shifts in the popular political imagination can open up horizons towards liberation, but they can also have the opposite effect.

Some of those who participated in the occupation of Syntagma Square in 2011 became anarchists; however, many more joined Syriza, lured by the promise of “direct democracy,” and still others joined the fascist party Golden Dawn. When anarchists fought fascists in Syntagma Square, they were participating in a crucial battle for territory in the popular political imagination. So the escalation of conflict with the state is not inherently promising; it depends on who leads it and who benefits from it. It might simply create a crisis that a more reactionary political party can solve; it might enable fascists to appear to ordinary French people as heroes defending them from the police. The important question is what political vision and values are driving the movement and how the horizons of the participants shift in the process. At this point, despite all our efforts, we have significant concerns about what the ultimate outcome of the yellow vest movement will be.

It bears repeating: the presence of reactionary, nationalist, and fascist tendencies within the yellow vests movement has not decreased. We do not share Raoul Vaneigem’s optimism when he says of the yellow vest protesters that “The global character of their anger prevents traditional representatives of the people from recuperating and manipulating the herd.” This has yet to be seen.

Speaking of this, we are also skeptical regarding the authors’ enthusiasm about the Citizens’ Initiative Referendum (RIC). To us, the RIC is simply another reformist tool that would lead the yellow vest movement into the traps of institutionalization and participatory democracy. It is a tremendous mistake to imagine that this tool could somehow shift the power dynamics involved in government, even for a short time. As long as we are using approaches permitted within the existing political framework, the game will be rigged, and we will always be the ones to lose. Whereas the authors argue that “the RIC could also potentially help built confidence in people power, begin to shift the structural power dynamic, and eventually be a step toward a more revolutionary transformation,” we believe it is more likely that this tool would be used to bring about reactionary changes—the Brexit vote is not far behind us. Concessions like the RIC are aimed at pacifying protesters and causing them to reinvest their faith in the legitimacy of centralized state power; they do not offer a step towards revolutionary transformation, but a step away from it. We will explore this in greater detail below.

Further readings on the yellow vests movement and the lessons it may offer:

Building barricades in Toulouse on December 15.

Reactionary Aspects of the Movement

When we began reporting the events related to the yellow vest movement in France, we noted that fascists and far-right groups were working inside the movement to exploit it to advance their own agendas. A month and a half later, we can evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts.

In social movements, anarchists and anti-authoritarian rebels often confront reactionary forces. In France, this has usually occurred in traditional movements—for example, in movements that involve trade unions, in which nationalist, sexist, xenophobic, and authoritarian behaviors and discourse are common. Since the beginning of the yellow vest movement, these tendencies have been embraced by several parts of the movement.

It is complicated to speak of this, because centrist politicians and pundits have emphasized fascist participation in the yellow vest movement in hopes of discrediting it and frightening people out of participating. But if we do not address it, future developments will catch us flatfooted. Smashing up shopping districts together does not guarantee that the far right will not be the ultimate beneficiaries of this period of chaos.

Recently, the repeal of the law permitting same-sex marriage became the number one demand in an online consultation intended to collect yellow vest demands. Already, this indicates that the tools some protesters are demanding for a supposedly more participatory democracy will actually bring about more invasive and repressive government policies. Rather than trying to itemize every reactionary act since the yellow vest became a symbol of defiance, we will focus on two powerful tendencies within the movement.

Demonstrators facing police near the Hôtel de Ville in Paris on December 22. The banner spreads a famous conspiracy theory that “The bank is governing (the world).”

A Soft Spot for Conspiracy Theories

In the aftermath of the Strasbourg attack, conspiracy theories and xenophobic statements spread virally among several yellow vest groups. On some yellow vest pages, we could read posts such as: “To the politicians who are setting up terrorist attacks to establish the state of emergency and terrorize French people, we can see you”; “State emergency = no demonstration = no Fifth Act = Congratulations, Macron, what a genius”; “A terrorist attack was needed. Macron hasn’t found anything better than this to cancel the Fifth Act and scare people…”

These conspiracy theories were not only spread online, but were also repeated by some yellow vests spokespersons and leaders, such as Maxime Nicolle. Nicolle had already been interviewed by the French branch of Russia Today, a 24-hour news channel controlled by the Russian government; now he openly shared his doubts about the true nature of the Strasbourg attack.

Already, during previous Saturday demonstrations in Paris, we had seen signs and banners spreading conspiracy theories—for example, that the whole world is under the control of some secretive group, be it the banks, Jewish people, or the Illuminati. For example, during a blockade in Rungis—the largest fresh produce logistic platform in France—a comrade engaged in conversation with some yellow vesters who asserted that Macron was “the representative of the Rothschild bank.” Rather than a revolutionary analysis of capitalism, they were attempting to spread an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.

These theories are extremely popular among the far right in general, but also among populist leftists and “rouge-bruns” (“brown-reds,” i.e., “left” fascists or “transversal populists” who mix populist ideas from the authoritarian left and the far right). The fact that such ideas are spreading within the movement should leave us with no doubt as to the political objectives of those who promote them.

Yellow vest protesters trying to escape from a kettle on December 15. The sign depicts conspiracy theories, as well as a naïve desire to turn the pyramid upside down by means of democratic referendums.

A Fascination with the Ukrainian Revolution

Another concerning issue emerged a week ago when Eric Drouet—an increasingly influential spokesperson of the yellow vest movement—was released from custody after his arrest on January 2, 2019. In an interview on national media, he said, “[Yellow vesters] need to use the media outlets as [the government] is using them. They try to describe us as anarchists, as rioters.”

While this statement seems trivial at first, the choice of words indicates Drouet’s political preferences. His use of “anarchists” and “rioters” is derogatory. Confronted with various corporate media attempts to portray the movement as far right or far left, Drouet pointedly chose to distance himself and the movement from anarchists and rioters, not from nationalists and fascists.

In fact, the movement does involve anarchists: Bordeaux on December 22.

In a letter written in response to President Macron’s traditional New Year’s resolutions and wishes to the nation, Eric Drouet and his fellow group of yellow vesters stated: “The anger will turn into hatred if you continue from your pedestal, you and those of your own kind, to consider the people at the grassroots as paupers and social outcasts. […] Change your attitude and invite us around a table to discuss.” They continued their statement by rejecting the large national debate created by the President—describing it as “a political trap”—and concluded by saying “We will go even further. […] Do not think that you are above the law and above the willpower of the French people” while making clear allusions to the Ukrainian revolution of 2013-2014.

Indeed, after watching the documentary “Winter on Fire,” some spokespersons of the yellow vest movement are now comparing their project to the uprising that took place in Ukraine several years ago when people gathered in the streets to protest President Yanukovych’s decision suspending the agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. This led to the occupation of the Maïdan—the central square of Kiev—generating a massive insurrection in which fascists played a key role.

Both of the most notorious yellow vest leaders, Eric Drouet and Maxime Nicolle, are absolutely convinced of the similarities between the two situations. Drouet says:

“At first in Ukraine, demonstrators were pacifist. It is similar to us in a way… [The government] didn’t let them demonstrate. It was really a dictatorship. This is really what is happening here too. They don’t let us march through Paris freely and they don’t let us do what we want.”

Sharing the same views on the current political and social context, Maxime Nicolle went further, assuring that “A lot of people in this movement are willing to die so our future can be better. […] Some people are currently getting ready for a national upheaval.”

Here we see insurrection fetishized as a goal unto itself apart from any political objectives, or at least, avowed ones. Both leaders neglect the political, economic, and social differences between these two countries, fascinated with the possibility of overthrowing the government but withholding comment on what would emerge afterwards. The supposedly “apolitical” tone of their discourse weakens their analysis—or else conceals it. Glorifying the Ukrainian revolution, they do not address the civil war that ensued. Ironically, they also forget that the first Ukrainian demonstrations were pro-European, while many yellow vest protesters blame the European Union for their living conditions.

Bearing in mind the participation of nationalists and populists since the beginning of the movement, we can recognize the true significance of the Ukrainian revolution as a reference point. It appears that some currents within the yellow vest movement are embracing the possibility of an armed insurrection that would offer nationalists and fascists an important role—both during it and afterwards.

For more in-depth discussion of the Ukrainian revolution, how fascists and nationalists co-opted it, and the long-term consequences, we recommend the following articles:

Some confused yellow vesters carried yellow roses on December 15. The banner reads: “Citizens in danger. Support the yellow vesters. Police are with us.”

The Phantom of Democracy

Drouet and Nicolle do not represent the only reactionary tendency that wears a yellow vest. As the “legalizing” and “politicizing” of the movement unfolds, some participants are trying to transform it into a political party. One of their objectives is to present “yellow” candidates in the forthcoming European elections of May 2019 or during the municipal elections of 2020. According to them, this would help the movement to “create some type of political program,” insuring against the danger that some “good wills might eventually falter if they do not find a framework in which they can be expressed.”

This is an old story. There were similar attempts to form parties at the conclusion of the occupation movements of 2011; this failed in the United States on account of the two-party system, but it more or less succeeded in Spain and Greece—that is, it succeeded in transferring grassroots momentum into the spectator sport of electoral politics, which always ends in disappointment.

In our opinion, it would be no surprise if the yellow vest movement resulted in the creation of a new political party similar to the Five Star Movement (M5S) in Italy. In a text that we recommended in a previous article, the authors review the similarities and differences between the two movements.

According to them, the yellow vests and the M5S share the following characteristics:

  • A similar social base composed of a right-wing middle class afraid of losing status; a disappointed left that no longer knows where to turn; and a large pool of isolated individuals who no longer trust trade unions and traditional parties.
  • A feeling of general despondency that legitimizes an angry movement. Indeed, these movements function as a point of intersection for a wide range of disappointments and resentments.
  • The movements in Italy and France both started as consumer movements, not as political movements, strictly speaking.
  • They both use the same kind of rhetoric blaming and rejecting political elites, without offering any systemic criticism of capitalism or the state.
  • Finally, both movements describe themselves as horizontal, advocating “direct democracy” as an end in itself.

On Saturday, January 5, 2019, in Marseilles, a legalist and electoralist group of yellow vesters announced the creation of “Yellow Vests, the Movement,” involving collective assemblies of citizens and a national organization in charge of coordinating the entire nonprofit and volunteer sector.

In Italy, the Five Star Movement ended up partnering with the quasi-fascist League to form the first populist government in Western Europe. The fetishizing of direct democracy as a technical means by which to empower the disenfranchised not only perpetuates the problem of asymmetrical by re-legitimizing government and centralized coercive power; it also offers cover for the far right to gain control through supposedly “apolitical” means.

Self-representation: tourists enjoying the spectacle of the yellow vest movement on December 22.

The Citizens’ Initiative Referendum (RIC)

Our fears about the future of the yellow vest movement are reinforced by the demand for the Citizens’ Initiative Referendum (RIC). In a short period of time, the idea of introducing this tool of participatory democracy into the French political system has become so popular that it has practically eclipsed all the movement’s previous demands.

Everywhere—on social media and national media, in the streets, during yellow vest demonstrations—discussion focuses on the referendum. Many demonstrators are hoping that thanks to the RIC, people will finally obtain power and self-determination—as if the movement had not just demonstrated for all to see just how much power we can wield when we take direct action, rather than relying on the mediation of democratic governance.

Directly inspired by an existing policy in Switzerland, the RIC would enable the government to consult citizens on major social and economic decisions. According to the RIC, if a petition receives a certain number of signatures, a referendum would take place on the issue at a local or national level. In theory, in its most radical iteration, this could even result in the dismissal of an elected representative.

In using the word “citizens,” the proposal emphasizes the distinction between two kinds of people: on one side, the legitimate, officially recognized “citizens,” and on the other side, the “others,” the excluded. In the current social climate, the xenophobic tone of this language is blatant enough. The inclusivity promised by the European Union is false, as it is based on a top-down statist framework that preserves and exacerbates tremendous power differentials, but democratic nationalism is no improvement. We have to show that genuine autonomy and horizontality based in solidarity and direct action represent an alternative to both sides of this dichotomy.

The far right has promoted this idea of a popular referendum for years. The same enthusiasm for direct democracy also produced the Brexit vote. In France, Marine Le Pen has long advocated for referendums. During her last presidential campaign, her political program already included the creation of a popular referendum for petitions that receive at least 500,000 signatures. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the populist leftist party La France Insoumise, has also officially reaffirmed his support for such an initiative. All this is instructive.

Graffiti in Dijon criticizing the push for a Citizens’ Initiative Referendum.

The RIC as a Reactionary Tool

Radicals have circulated several articles online discussing the issues raised by the RIC. In a variety of ways, each according to a different political tendency, these analyses all express the same fundamental concern that this participatory political tool will play a reactionary role.

In an article entitled Non à la RICupération! the authors argue that this demand offers the government a way to resolve the political and social crisis and bring the yellow vest movement to a close without necessarily addressing the problems that precipitated it. The fact that the government itself is not opposed to this proposition bolsters this thesis.

For a movement premised on outrage against traditional politics, it is strange that the only demand to achieve widespread consensus is a traditional political proposal. We see here the lack of political imagination that afflicts the movement. The aforementioned authors explain that referendums are usually the field of professional politicians and traditional parties: “in the countries where some similar forms of political systems already exist, it is those exact same parties that are using these tools” for their own benefit.

In a world in which consensus reality is shaped by asymmetrical information warfare, those who control the news cycle can manipulate referendums just as effectively as they manipulate traditional representative democracy. There are many examples of political parties using popular referendums to advance their agendas. In 2009, the Swiss far-right party (UDC) led a several-month political campaign against the construction of new minarets in Switzerland. This racist political campaign was simply an excuse to target Muslims—at the time of the vote, there were only four minarets in all Switzerland. The campaign generated a surge of racist attacks and ended in the victory of the far right. Via this referendum, the far right obtained a platform to popularize its xenophobic agenda.

It’s worth noting that the result of this exercise in “direct democracy” was a government policy that was more invasive, restrictive, and repressive than what preceded it. More democracy does not mean more freedom—it often means less.

In 2017, a leftist Italian trade union (CGIL) led a political campaign against the Job Act of Matteo Renzi, a worse version of the infamous French Loi Travail. The union obtained the 500,000 signatures necessary for the referendum to take place but was blocked by the Constitutional Court. The latter said that the proposition was not “formulated well enough.” In reality, the problem was that repealing the law would have forced the rehiring of millions of fired individuals, which was inconceivable for the Italian government—unemployment being a necessary aspect of capitalism. In the end, the referendum didn’t take place at all, but street protests succeeded in forcing the authorities to remove some of the worst elements of the law.

We see here that the referendum didn’t enable people to challenge a law they considered unfair; it was only their determination in the streets that won them some small improvements. It is never a good idea for those who oppose the reigning order to take for granted that its own mechanisms can do the work for them to change it.

On this issue, some comrades explained in a letter that “the RIC makes people believe that they can modify a Constitution, a Treaty, dismissing an elected representative or a president to change the rules of the system.” Many yellow vest protesters imagine that the referendum would give them more power to influence the political decisions of the ruling class—or even that it could make them the ones making the decisions. This fails to take into consideration that the French political system is not a completely independent body; rather, it is connected to a global economic system involving many vested interests that will go to great lengths to redirect those who wish to play with direct democracy into discussions and debates that do not threaten their hegemony. As demonstrated by the aforementioned Swiss example, it is naïve to imagine that the only issues that would be raised for referendum by the RIC would necessarily be progressive or liberating.

Even with a Citizens’ Initiative Referendum, the government will always have the last word, as it has at its disposal several powerful tools to change a popular “no” into a “yes.” For example, at a local scale, the referendum about the Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport was calculated to ensure that people would answer “yes.” Indeed, while this project affected all of Britanny, the area of the referendum was limited to the Loire Atlantique department alone, excluding the rest of the region. As a result, the “yes” votes won. Governments can determine the conditions and terms of a referendum, and they will go to great lengths to substitute referendums that reinforce their legitimacy for referendums that could threaten their stability and political hegemony. Once again—although the airport was cancelled, it was only because of fierce long-running grassroots struggles.

To some radicals, in addition to serving as an opportunity for the government to resolve the yellow vest crisis, this demand for more direct democracy is also a way for part of the movement to abdicate the power and potential that it has just discovered within itself. Perhaps some participants are frightened at the thought of what they could accomplish and create themselves without the mediation of state institutions. The tremendous responsibility of being personally accountable for all the ways we can directly act to change the world can be terrifying indeed.

What remained of a bank in Toulouse after the December 22 riots. The graffiti on the front widow says “One day, you will end up in your underwear!”

Finally, the demand for a Citizens’ Initiative Referendum reflects a threat not just to the movement itself, but also for the long-term conditions and horizon of possibility in France. In the worst-case scenario, referendums would send radicals to the ballot box alone rather than out into the streets together, and the results would both consolidate and legitimize reactionary policies. On this issue, we have translated the concluding paragraphs of this article, which offers an overview of the far-right obsession with popular referendums:

The Referendum and the Far Right

For several years now, the idea of the RIC has been promoted by Etienne Chouard, a professor of economy and management who became famous in 2005 during the referendum regarding the European constitutional treaty. A popular blogger among the various tendencies of the far-right—with whom he regularly shares the stage during conferences—he is surrounded by a network of activists named “the nice viruses” that appears to have been really active in yellow vest Facebook groups, as well as on several traffic circles. It is difficult today to measure their influence on the movement, but the sudden appearance of the RIC as a central demand could be the consequence of the activity of these longstanding organized militants on social media platforms.

The 2005 referendum—where the victory of the “no” was completely ignored by French authorities when they ratified the Lisbon treaty two years later, establishing the constitutional basis of the European Union—was seen by numerous people as proof that they had lost their sovereignty in relation to European institutions. In 2007, Chouard wrote: “We are deprived of the right of people to self-determination in favor of the right of representatives to dispose of people.” Since then, the citizens’ initiative referendum has appeared in the political programs of several parties, from the UPR (the Popular Republican Union) to the National Front (Rassemblement National), not forgetting Debout la France, as a way to bring back sovereignty to the “French people.” Indeed, these parties believe that “French people” have been dispossessed of their sovereignty by the European Union—among others. This theory tends to forget too rapidly that these European authorities are made up of representatives of the several member States of the Union. Therefore, the European Union is not an off-ground political body, or a foreign superpower, but a space of power for representatives of different national bourgeoisies.

It is also important to note that far-right parties have a strong tendency to use the referendum tools in order to promote and advance their racist political agendas: the Hungarian referendum on establishing quotas for migrants, the vote against the building of new minarets in Switzerland, the proposal of Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (Debout la France) to organize a referendum in order to “stop the migratory subversion.”

Members of the Anti-Criminality Brigade of Nantes in action on December 29. If fascists and nationalists gain power, we will only see more of this.

The Referendum and the Ballots

The RIC, like the traditional elections for representatives, is first and last a matter of putting a ballot in a ballot box. That is to say, it represents the abandoning of collective power for an individualized approach, and the exclusion from the political field of people who lack French nationality. The RIC is not a solution to the crisis of representation that we witness at every election (massive abstention, confiscation of power by the bourgeoisie); it is a palliative that offers no real emancipatory horizon. Instead of demanding hypothetical referendums, let’s remember the warning formulated by the Communards at the eve of the elections of March 26, 1871: “Let’s keep in mind that the men who will serve you best are the ones you choose among yourselves, living the same lives as yours, suffering from the same evils.” And let’s not abandon the political fight as soon as we are finished with the ballot box: let’s continue it in our districts, our workplaces, and why not, on the traffic circles, let’s get organized and fight uncompromisingly for control of our lives.

Further reading on the RIC:

January 5, 2019 in Nantes.

Troubling Horizons

Since its beginning, the yellow vests movement has demonstrated a capacity to challenge the traditional conceptions and frameworks established by social movements, forcing anarchists and other anti-authoritarians to rethink and adapt their preconceived perceptions and strategies. One interesting aspect of this unusual movement is that, superficially, it has directly embraced principles popularized by radicals during the past decades: direct action, decentralization, the absence of leadership, no negotiation with the authorities. Yellow vesters from across the political spectrum have engaged in street confrontations in an insurrectionary manner, divided only by their ideals and aspirations. This is something we have not seen in France, even during the notorious social movements of the past decade.

The yellow vest movement is the legitimate expression of a deep collective frustration based in the social realities of the participants. However, from the beginning, this social ferment has carried reactionary seeds within it that were just waiting for a chance to germinate. This is not unusual for a movement involving so many different people, especially considering that the original pretension to being “apolitical” made it difficult to reject the far right as offering no desirable alternative to neoliberalism.

In response to this situation, for several weeks, a large “leftist” bloc appeared within the yellow vest movement, sharing some common ground in opposing capitalism and racism. This offered new opportunities and perspectives for parts of the movement, creating more space for participants from the periphery and intensifying the crisis.

Nevertheless, these efforts did not prevent reactionary and nationalist from using the movement as a platform for their ideas and agendas. Over the past weeks, some of the most influential yellow vest leaders have been utilizing rhetoric associated with the far right and other transversal populists. The popularity of the Citizens’ Initiative Referendum (RIC) suggests that reactionary and nationalist ideas are not only popular among some grassroots groups, but also have traction among the legalist and institutional elements of the movement.

All this is not surprising; the ongoing economic crisis has increased the polarization of society towards both ends of the political spectrum, and those on the reactionary end of this spectrum are determined to present themselves as the opponents of the reigning order without offering any systemic solutions to the problems it causes. As some Greek comrades have pointed out, “despite the intensity of riots, on the level of political discourse, there is no critique or questioning of the state as the guarantor of right and wellbeing, nor of capital as a social relation.” Who is to blame for this sterile or reactionary political discourse within the movement? Don’t anarchists also bear responsibility for this situation?

To some, it is indeed our responsibility, as anarchists, to engage in social movements—from inside, outside, or alongside, depending on our personal convictions—in order to connect revolutionary and emancipatory ideas with concrete actions. The idea is to open spaces not only for ourselves but also for others, developing new connections and creating ruptures with oppressive normality. In other words, “a movement is first of all what everyone is making out of it and what is really happening within it, beyond its fantasized representations and political subjects.”

We understand social movements as battlegrounds for different political forces, perspectives, and aspirations in a struggle for physical territory and also for the popular imagination. As some comrades argue, the extent of property destruction is not enough to estimate the potential subversive impact of a movement. The important thing is to what degree a movement succeeds in undermining assumptions about reality and giving the participants a basis from which to invest themselves in creating something else. In the case of the yellow vest movement, the rupture with everyday life could have opened up a radical questioning and criticism of it. According to the aforementioned authors, this has not occurred—or at least, the movement didn’t push its subversive potential far enough.

The fact that the yellow vest movement is falling for the ever-renewable scam and distraction of direct democracy is a consequence of this failure. It seems likely that this movement—or at least its legalist tendency—will arrive at the same impasse and disillusionment as the previous occupation movements in Spain, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and the US. Anarchists still have a lot of work to do among grassroots and social movements to dispel the illusion that any form of state intervention or administration could make capitalism function in everyone’s interest. The question is not how to democratize the governing of society, but how to organize ourselves to transform it from the bottom up. The behavior of the police throughout the yellow vests movement—as well as during various students’ actions last December—should make it clear enough that the state exists to coerce and repress us in the interests of the powerful, not to solve our problems.

It remains an open question whether the far right will be able to consolidate their position in the public eye as “rebels” concerned with the wellbeing of “ordinary people.” If they are able to, we will arrive at the next stage in the onset of fascism.

Several questions remain. How can we make sure that the ways we participate in the yellow vest movement and others like it won’t be simply perceived as an “apolitical” expression of anger, giving nationalists a platform to take credit for our efforts? When we act to create a crisis, how do we prevent far right parties from capitalizing on it by promising a return to normal? How do we confront legalist and reactionary ideas within the movement? How should we prepare for the next round, in which we will either face a stronger repressive and authoritarian state or a massive nationalist and reactionary wave? But also—how can we reinforce our connections with everyone else in the streets and traffic circles?

What is certain is that right now, the most violent thing of all might be the return to normal. This is why, as the movement continues its frenetic course towards the unknown—another nationwide day of action is due on Saturday, January 12—we will continue to fight with unconditional love and uncompromising rage against all odds and towards uncertain futures.

Further readings about how to engage with the yellow vests movement:

Further readings on the anarchist critique of direct democracy:

Yellow vest protesters dancing in the streets of Bordeaux on December 15, 2018.

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Trump Has Turned the War on Trafficking Into a War on Immigrants

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 04:06

via The Appeal

by Melissa Gira Grant and Debbie Nathan

In November, about 6,000 impoverished Central American men, women, and children finished a 3,000-mile walk through Guatemala and Mexico to Tijuana, on the border with California. They had spent weeks on the road, fleeing grinding poverty and homicidal violence in their countries, and they had trekked in big groups to maintain safety in numbers.  It wasn’t the first mass walk northward from Central America. “Caravan” travelers in the past have sought asylum in America. And many were doing so again.

Meanwhile in the U.S., the midterm elections loomed. Republicans faced stiff competition for many congressional seats and worried about losing their majorities in the House and Senate. Looking for a strong wedge issue for his base, President Trump began harping on the caravan’s purported dangers. He began his admonishments in October when the migrants were on the road. By the time they got to Tijuana the elections were over and Democrats had won a majority of the House. But the government’s warnings of caravan threat were as unstoppable as an avalanche. The Army blanketed the border from Texas to California with Humvees and concertina wire, and Border Patrol agents just south of San Diego lobbed tear gas across the international line.

This was  truly a different time” in history, Trump said in October—a time calling for a southern border wall. Vice President Mike Pence added that deception was being used to “entice vulnerable families to make the long and dangerous trek” to the United States, and the deceivers were “human traffickers with no regard for human life.”

Traffickers. It’s not the first time that the administration has used the word. From the moment he descended his escalator at Trump Tower in Manhattan to announce his candidacy for president, Trump has been drumming up support for a crackdown on immigrants. He has not only accused Mexicans of being rapists, but has claimed that immigrants from Central America are “trafficking” children.

Usually when the president uses the term “human trafficking”—though often it seems he is speaking only about a form of sex trafficking, as he did in remarks in November—he does so to advance an anti-immigrant agenda by painting a picture of vicious criminals. And millions of Americans believe him.

Trafficking rhetoric transforms migrants—often fleeing for their lives—into people Americans should not worry about or protect. Asylum seekers, Trump claimed without basis in the same November address, are actually coached by “professional” smugglers and traffickers. It’s easier to justify crackdowns on dangerous traffickers than on the hungry, struggling people these migrants really are, or on smugglers who help immigrants get where they want to go. If we are to understand how trafficking language has become central to anti-immigrant politics in 2018, the term’s strange, bipartisan history must be understood.

In the U.S., anti-trafficking rhetoric has a two-decade history. In the late days of the Clinton presidency, a close-knit circle of conservatives in Washington think tanks and in Congress sought new ways to fire up their base. They stumbled on an opportunity: more and more people were migrating out of economic necessity or simply to seek a better life, and they were crossing international borders, sometimes unlawfully.

To make their crossings, many migrants relied on others for help, and the helpers sometimes took advantage. Those who exploited the crossers for their own economic gain through force, fraud, or coercion became known as “human traffickers.”

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Supreme Court issues ‘crushing blow’ to Exxon in major climate case, legal experts say

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 03:51

via Think Progress

by Kyla Mandel

The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from ExxonMobil regarding Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s climate change investigation Monday, a decision legal experts called a “crushing blow” to the oil giant. The Court’s decision could have implications beyond the state of Massachusetts as Exxon is forced to hand over documents detailing what it knew about climate change and when.

After the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled last April that the company must turn over documents requested by Healey, Exxon asked the Supreme Court to intervene, arguing Healey lacked jurisdiction to even bring the investigation.

“Today’s decision means Exxon is out of options and out of time in its fight to keep these documents from public light,” Carroll Muffett, president and chief executive of the Center for International Environmental Law, told ThinkProgress.

The company is facing multiple climate lawsuits around the country. In the case of Massachusetts, like New York, the attorney general is investigating what Exxon knew about climate change and the effects of burning fossil fuels — and whether it lied to the public and its investors about the risks.

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How the Yellow Vest Movement Survived into 2019

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 03:16

via Crimethinc

A Chronicle from December 8, 2018 to January 5, 2019

Since November 2018, the yellow vest movement has created a political crisis in France and posed thorny questions to radicals worldwide. In the following report, we detail the yellow vest actions from December 8, 2018 to January 5, 2019, recounting how the yellow vest movement defied the calendar—that age-old device for limiting revolutionary movements. Tomorrow, in our next article, we will step back to analyze the different currents within the movement and implications they hold for anarchists, environmentalists, and everyone else who seeks a world without oppression.

The yellow vest movement has posed the most serious threat to President Macron since he came to power in 2016. The unrest began as a grassroots response to the government’s proposal to increase taxes for “ecological” purposes and quickly spread to ecompass many different groups and agendas. Thanks to its protean aspect, but also its supposedly “apolitical” character, the movement has brought people together around shared tactics and frustrations, as the Occupy movement once did.

Since November, the yellow vest movement has become a battleground for many different political parties and groups, especially populists and nationalists. As the movement gained momentum and clashes with the police intensified, anarchists and other rebels joined in, fighting on multiple fronts—against the state, but also against reactionary groups active on the streets. Anarchists attempted to reorient the movement towards more systemic solutions, to diminish the influence and presence of the far-right, and to create connections between different groups and potential allies. The outcome of these efforts remains uncertain.

After weeks of desperately trying to establish dialogue in order to pacify the situation, the government appeared to have finally regained control of the situation by presenting concessions on December 10, 2018. At that time, the lack of clear political objectives, the repression of the previous weeks, and above all the approach of the Christmas holidays seemed to have brought the yellow vest movement to an impasse.

Several weeks later, following a day of action involving at least 50,000 people on Saturday, January 5, the yellow vest movement remains alive. Another nationwide day of action is called for January 12. Yet the movement is bitterly divided over tactics, goals, values, and structure. The most determined participants have been abandoned by legalists and pacifists eager to negotiate with the government; as often occurs, a major part of the grassroots movement is slowly evolving into something more institutionalized. Meanwhile, far from being defeated on the streets, nationalists and fascists have maintained their footing.

This text picks up where our previous analysis left off, immediately after the massive confrontations of December 8, 2018.

A vestige of the confrontations in Nantes on December 15.

The Aftermath of December 8, 2018

After two weeks of political instability, rioting, looting, rage, and confrontation, President Macron broke with his habit of withholding reaction by delivering an official speech on national television on Monday, December 10, 2018. Lots of yellow vesters were waiting to see if he would finally address their demands.

After reaffirming that his government was working with the parliament to find solutions, Macron presented his new measures. The government promised to increase minimum wage by €100 a month; cancel taxes on pensions for retired persons living on less than €2000 a month; ask employers to offer Christmas bonuses; offer tax exemption on overtime; and fight tax avoidance. However, Macron emphasized that he would not back down regarding the suppression of the wealth tax, one of the most outrageous elements of Macron’s neoliberal agenda.

On December 11, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe presented the government’s measures to the National Assembly. Finally, the government seemed to have a strategy with which to resolve the crisis.

That same night, someone opened fire on the crowd at the Christmas market in Strasbourg, killing 5 people and injuring 11 more. The “plan vigipirate”—an anti-terrorism security plan established in 1995 after several bombings in France—was raised to the level of “attack emergency.”

With another day of action called for Saturday, December 15, 2018, these two events reshuffled the cards.

Police surrounding demonstrators in Paris by the Opera on the morning of December 15, 2018.

The government calls for reason, “non-violence,” and dialogue

Following the attack in Strasbourg, the government decided not to forbid the yellow vest demonstrations of Saturday, December 15, 2018, as such decision would have only exacerbated widespread anger. Nevertheless, politicians called for “non-violence” and tried to dissuade protestors from taking part in the fifth nationwide day of action. Government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux said that taking the streets on Saturday would be unreasonable in view of the situation in France following the attack. Some went further, saying that the time had come for the movement to end, while others demanded that “non-violent” protesters distance themselves from the more radical parts of the movement.

On Friday, December 14, 2018, in Brussels for a European summit, President Macron declared that France needed to return to normal, since he had addressed the yellow vest demands at the beginning of the week. “Dialogue is not established by occupying public space and through violence […] I think that the sense of general interest will lead everyone to join a national debate, and to exchange with their mayor, in order to formulate political and sincere proposals.” He concluded by calling French citizens to express themselves in the May 2019 European elections: “In no case should what happened the past weeks lead to calling into question the democratic election held eighteen months ago.”

Demonstrators improvising a dance party to kill time while kettled on the Champs-Élysées.

Paris on Lockdown

Nevertheless, some protestors were determined to take the streets, and some leftist organizations made calls to join the yellow vesters on Saturday, December 15. For the second week in a row, the government took exceptional law enforcement measures, deploying almost 100% of the police troops all over France—about 89,000 police officers, with 8000 in Paris alone.

The Paris prefect officially announced that for December 15, authorities would renew the law enforcement plan used the previous week with some improvements and modifications. As the previous week, a restricted area would be established near the Champs Elysées and around every major government buildings, while in the meantime, other police forces would control and search all potential demonstrators and carry out preventive arrests.

The decision to re-use this strategy is significant for those who study police strategy, in that it seems to indicate that the authorities had concluded that all things considered, their strategy on December 8 had been effective, in contrast to the strategy they employed in Paris on November 24 and December 1.

Regarding the law enforcement units deployed in the streets of Paris, the prefect said that the authorities’ plan would combine “heavy forces”—comprised of CRS and gendarmes (riot police)—as well as “mobile units” from various police forces including the Anti-Criminality Brigades (BAC), the Securing and Intervention Companies (CSI), the Territorial Brigades, and the Research and Intervention Brigades (BRI). These units would be mostly “kept for the end of the afternoon where violence attempts usually intensify.”

The prefect continued to explain his plan: “last week, we managed well the yellow vest aspect, but we witnessed scenes of property destruction and pillage by some delinquents. Our objective will be to better control this phenomenon.” Mounted police, canine units and 14 gendarmerie tanks would also be deployed in the French capital.

As the previous week, and following the recommendation of the Paris prefecture, numerous stores in “sensitive areas” boarded up their front windows and closed for Saturday, as did most museums and national monuments. For “safety reasons”—i.e., to facilitate police checkpoints—about 40 metro and RER closed starting at 5:30 am.

Once again, it seemed that the authorities had the upper hand on the situation well in advance. They were well prepared and well organized. As before, yellow vesters were supposed to gather near the Champs Elysées, the Opéra, and the Saint Lazare train station.

On the eve of the fifth act of the movement, everything remained uncertain: would the fear of state repression discourage protestors? Would some of us succeed in outmaneuvering the police the way we had the previous week? How would the events of the past week impact the mobilization? Some sources close to the Prime Minister’s cabinet suggested that “moderate” demonstrators were already leaving the movement, and therefore, that the mobilization involve fewer people. The events of December 15 confirmed this forecast.

Police searching the bags of passengers in train stations on December 15, 2018.

The Parisian Impasse

In Paris, the contrast with the previous week was undeniable. At 9 am, only a hundred demonstrators were actually present on the Champs Elysées, compared to several hundreds or thousands the previous weeks. In the end, it was easy for police to contain the crowd. That whole morning, the situation remained sterile on the Parisian avenue; protestors escaped from the kettle and ran for several meters, but were rapidly surrounded by police forces again. This war of attrition continued all day long.

Further away, near Saint Lazare and Opéra, the situation was similar. Those who attended the morning gatherings fell into the trap set by authorities; police surrounded them from the beginning. The only way to exit these kettles was to accept being searched and remove their yellow vests. Police took this opportunity to focus surveillance on individuals they considered potential threats. We have heard that some yellow vesters were also searching the bags of other protesters in order to evict potential “rioters” from the gathering.

At midday, the first actions and light confrontations took place. At the Champs Elysées, some demonstrators, tired of being surrounded by police forces, escaped the avenue via neighboring streets, forcing their way through a police cordon and initiating a wildcat demonstration. In Opéra, the “pressure cooker” strategy of the authorities bore fruit as the tension among protestors was increasing. As a result, the first tear gas canisters were shot at the crowd.

The rest of the day saw a succession of wildcat demonstrations and processions from a few hundred to several thousands strong walking through the streets of Paris. Some of these actions were more exciting than others, as police did not manage to follow all the crowds, but Paris did not witness the intensity of the previous weeks. Around 5 pm, after employing tear gas and stun grenades against a crowd of about 3000 individuals, police forces started clearing the Champs Elysées using their water canons. This offensive marked the end of the fifth act of the yellow vest movement in Paris. In total, 168 people were arrested and 115 put in custody.

On December 15, the far right was seen in the streets on several occasions. We haven’t learned whether anarchists or other rebels confronted them. Meanwhile, video footage spread widely showing police officers on motorcycles armed with LBD-40 launchers. These images remind us of 1986, when the infamous “voltigeurs”—police on motorcycles armed with batons—murdered a student named Malik Oussekine, resulting in the dissolution of their department. Contacted about these images, the Paris prefecture explained that, for the fifth act of the movement, authorities dispatched about 50 new “voltigeurs” in Paris in order to rapidly intervene in case of trouble.

Reading reports from Paris, it was difficult not to feel frustrated or defeated. Compared to the previous weeks, the crowd was less numerous, less inspired, less creative, less offensive. The yellow vest movement had reached a plateau in Paris, if not an impasse.

Members of the “Anti-Criminality Brigade”—an example of Orwellian newspeak if ever there was one—chasing demonstrators in the streets of Toulouse on December 15.

Act V: Elsewhere around France

From the beginning of the movement, the authorities and corporate media outlets have focused chiefly on events in the streets of Paris, as if the situation in the French capital represented the yellow vest movement as a whole. But the movement differs dramatically from one city to the next. Rather than discussing “the” yellow vest movement in the singular, it would be more precise to speak of several yellow vest movements, each with its own tactics and goals, in different regions and points on the ideological spectrum.

In Dijon, many people gathered despite the attacks in Strasbourg. Among the crowd, one could hear conspiracy theories; some yellow vesters were willing to confront any “infiltrator” or potential “rioter.” Still, the crowd pursued its ritual march towards the local prefecture. When it arrived at the building, the police shot tear gas at the protestors. Part of the crowd decided to continue their demonstration, marching towards the biggest shopping center in the region, while others remained in the square to confront the police. Unfortunately, no concrete action emerged once the crowd reached the shopping center. In the end, six individuals were arrested and at least ten injured.

In Nantes, about 1200 yellow vesters took the streets. They marched towards the local prefecture but were pushed back by police. For several hours, police and protestors exchanged tear gas canisters and projectiles. In the end, 15 protestors were arrested and four people were injured.

In Marseille, yellow vesters, high school students, trade unionists, and members of a collective against insufficient housing marched together, totaling 2000 individuals. Police arrested 12 people; no damage took place.

4500 people took the streets of Toulouse on December 15.

In Toulouse, 4500 demonstrators took the streets. As the city had experienced riots during the previous weekend, the authorities requested the use of two tanks and two water canons to maintain order in the city. This equipment didn’t prevent confrontations leading to 30 arrests and 10 injuries.

In Bordeaux, about 4500 people including yellow vesters, students, and trade unionists converged around the City Hall. The overall atmosphere was joyous despite the rain. When the crowd reached the Pey Berland square, they found City Hall protected from both sides by riot fences, police trucks, a water canon, and riot police cordons. After several minutes, the first projectiles were thrown at police forces, who answered with a rain of tear gas and grenades and even used the water canon to disperse the crowd. A drone was also spotted in the sky. Confrontations continued for several hours before the crowd left the square and took the rue Sainte Catherine, the city’s chief shopping street, before being blocked by other police forces near the Grand Theatre. Later that night, some confrontations continued between demonstrators and police forces: at least one car was set on fire, as well as some makeshift barricades. However, the damage and rioting were less intense than the previous week. Altogether, 27 people were arrested and 22 injured.

Bordeaux, December 15.

In Lille, between 1500 and 2000 yellow vesters gathered—as much as the previous week—while in Montpellier, about 1500 yellow vesters met in the city center and informed passers-by about some of their demands, such as the Citizens’ Initiative Referendum (RIC).

Even if actions took place in major cities and groups of yellow vesters blocked several important freeways like those connecting France to Spain as well as traffic circles and toll collection points, the total number of people who took part in the fifth nationwide day of action was approximately 66,000. In other words, half the number of active yellow vesters who participated in the previous nationwide day of action on December 8, 2018.

Obviously, we should take these figures with a grain of salt. They come from the government itself—and since December 15, 2018, corporate media and authorities have made a point of emphasizing the diminishing number of participants in hopes of accelerating the movement’s downfall. As in almost every social movement, both sides—the state and the demonstrators—are stuck in a “war of figures,” as if only numbers determine the outcome of a struggle.

Nevertheless, by any measure, the movement had lost momentum everywhere except in a few cities. The effects of repression, the approach of Christmas holidays, and the concessions had all taken their toll; part of the movement was ready to quit the streets and move towards a more institutional path.

In Nantes, police tried to keep protestors away from the Prefecture by any means necessary on December 15.

The Aftermath of December 15, 2018

Macron’s government knew that they had won the battle of the fifth act. With Christmas approaching, they had finally succeeded containing the yellow rage of the preceding month. However, they were still walking on eggshells.

After the previous week’s concessions, the government was trying to set up its “yellow vests” plan. On such a short notice, this plan presented a technical conundrum for the government, disrupting the original parliamentary calendar.

President Macron, understanding that the social and political situation was not yet entirely under control, canceled his official trip to Biarritz to prepare the forthcoming G7 in order to be present during the official meeting organizing the national consultation he had promised.

This national debate—due March 1—focuses on several subjects: the ecological transition, taxes, the organization of the state, democracy, and citizenship. It is important to mention that, having been removed from the national debate, the issue of immigration was reintroduced at the last minute on the insistence of some yellow vesters and politicians.

On Tuesday, December 17, after the official meeting, we learned that “the large national consultation” would take place in two phases. During the first one—lasting until mid-January—citizens are asked to speak with their mayors at a local level about the overall situation of the country. The mayors are to report these conversations to the government, so the latter can gain a broader understanding of the issues. Then, for full months, French citizens are invited to a national debate—the second phase of the plan—on the aforementioned issues.

Characteristically, the technocrats of the center suggested a technical solution to the problem of organic rage. As the saying goes, if people are angry, ask them to speak more about their anger. Speaking will take away the urgency to act.

The issue of the Citizens’ Initiative Referendum (RIC) could also be added to this national discussion, as more and more yellow vesters and opposition politicians have demanded. Macron said he was open to dialogue about it. In the meantime, the authorities continued to evict road and traffic circle blockades.

The holidays didn’t stop protesters from taking the streets in Nantes on December 22.

Act VI: The Fight before Christmas

On the sixth nationwide day of action, the authorities counted 38,600 demonstrators around France. For the purposes of this report, we will focus on Paris, Toulouse, and Lyons to understand the events of December 22, 2018. These three specific examples illustrate the heterogeneous forms of the yellow vest movement as well as the different political frameworks that move its protagonists.

A badminton enthusiast on December 22, 2018.


In Paris, yellow vesters decided to change their habits by gathering in Montmartre, near the Sacré Coeur, the outrageous religious building erected to thank God for the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune in 1871 and to expiate the city from the Communards’ supposed sins. All week, some yellow vesters spread a fake call to gather in Versailles in order to mislead the authorities. This worked: a large number of police were deployed to chase ghosts in the wealthy neighboring city. As a result, several hundred yellow vesters were able to gather without difficulties in Montmartre instead.

Every police officer is just one temper tantrum away from becoming a murderer.

During the day, thousands of yellow vesters marched in the streets of Paris in various wildcat demonstrations. Around 5:30 pm, a group of demonstrators reached the Champs Elysées and proceeded down the avenue. The protestors met a convoy of riot police and started attacking and chasing the police trucks. Several minutes later, motorcycle policemen—apparently trying to help their colleagues—began throwing tear gas canisters in order to disperse the crowd. The confrontation rapidly escalated. As protestors closed in, attacking the police officers, one of them pulled out his gun and pointed it at the angry crowd. Far from fleeing, the demonstrators set upon the policemen with renewed anger and courage, forcing them to free. The policeman who drew his gun is a fool; we are lucky he does not have several murders on his conscience today.

Unfortunately, some troubling behavior also took place on this day. That morning, assembling in front of Louise Michel square beside the Sacré Coeur, a group of yellow vesters shouted a supposedly “anti-system” chant. In addition to including extremely vulgar and homophobic lyrics that make light of rape, this chant is the work of a notorious anti-Semitic stand-up comedian. While singing, some protestors reproduced the infamous arm gesture of the same comedian—some type of upside-down fascist salute that supposedly indicates how far the system is actually deceiving us. In a video of this event, one yellow vester is clearly performing a fascist salute.

Later that night, a journalist reported that in the metro, around 11 pm, an elderly woman asked three drunk yellow vesters to stop doing the infamous “anti-system” arm gesture mentioned above. She said: “This is an anti-Semitic gesture. I am Jewish, my dad was deported to Auschwitz where he died.” In response, one yellow vester told her to “Get lost!” while another referenced the “Révolution nationale” (National Revolution), the official ideology of the Vichy regime—the Nazi collaborationist French government during World War II.

These events show a side of the yellow vest movement that some radicals and traditional leftist parties still prefer to ignore. The silence of those who do not address them is extremely dangerous. While advocates of the political center may seize upon events like these to discredit the movement, those who believe that the solution is to refuse to address them at all are ceding ground to the far right—which centrists will then use to present themselves as the only possible alternative. This is why we must always fight on both fronts.

Yellow vest protesters invading the city center of Toulouse and its traditional Christmas market on December 22, 2018.


The situation in Toulouse was very different. According to reports, the yellow vest movement remained strong and organized in this city and the surrounding region. The entire week before December 22, yellow vesters developed their actions, aiming to interrupt the economy as much as possible: they organized an illegal fireworks show entitled “yellow fever”” in downtown Toulouse; they blocked several toll collection points and let drivers pass for free; they blocked the trucks arriving and leaving several large retail logistics centers; at the Airbus site of Colomiers, they blocked the supply of provisions to a restaurant belonging to the Elior group to support employees who have been sentenced to pay back the equivalent of two years of their salaries to the group.

Yellow Fever in Toulouse.

Before the traditional Saturday gathering and demonstration, some people spoke in the general assemblies about their increasing frustration with the restriction of movement they experienced during the previous actions. Consequently, demonstrators organized several different marches for the sixth act. The authorities appear to have underestimated the possible impact of this new day of action, as the police were only blocking one street when the first march began.

The atmosphere was festive as the crowd headed towards the city center and its traditional Christmas market. After marching through the streets of downtown Toulouse for an hour without interference from law enforcement, the crowd of about 3000 reached the big boulevards. Facing this large and determined crowd, some riot police fled near Jean Jaurès. When the crowd arrived at François Verdier, police began to shoot tear gas; this was a mistake, as demonstrators answered by shooting fireworks at them.

The plan to create several different marches succeeded, enabling the crowd to stay in control of the situation and dictate their own movements throughout the afternoon. Police were constantly running after groups of protestors in the downtown area to carry out arrests. Due to the general confusion and the fact that the demonstration took place the weekend before Christmas, police ended up using tear gas not only against demonstrators but also against shoppers and other passersby.

Later, the crowd converged at Esquirol. Because the demonstrators had succeeded in outmaneuvering the authorities, the collective atmosphere was not just festive but euphoric. No one wanted to leave the streets. The crowd decided to march towards the Carmes district—a wealthy district of Toulouse that never witnesses demonstrations. As the crowd proceeded through this bourgeois district, coffee shops and banks began closing their doors. The police were still far away; numerous targets were attacked, barricades were erected, and urban furniture caught fire.

In Toulouse, the yellow vest movement was far from losing momentum. On the contrary, the actions of December 22 brought new life to it in this part of France.

Further reading about the situation in Toulouse: Toulouse, Noël 2018.

The cat and mouse game in Lyons on December 22.


The situation in Lyons has been difficult since the beginning of the yellow vest movement, as local fascists have successfully used the movement as a platform to spread their ideas and develop initiatives. On December 22, for the first time, people attempted to confront this growing fascist tendency.

For this sixth act, between 1000 and 2000 individuals took the streets. Everything started when several demonstrations organized that day converged to form a large march. Rapidly, the atmosphere among the crowd of protestors became tense as anti-fascists and railroad workers recognized dozens of well-known local fascists.

In the end, a large part of the demonstration began shouting “Lyons, Lyons, Antifa!” and “No demos for fascists, No fascists in our demos!” As a result, the group of fascists left the demonstration. Unfortunately, the same fascists managed to re-infiltrate the march from the rear.

At that moment, police forces were maintaining their distance except a helicopter monitoring the crowd from above. Around 4 pm, the official demonstration ended. Demonstrators were not ready to leave the streets and a more energetic wildcat demonstration followed.

By the time the participants reached the Part Dieu, a famous shopping district, the crowd had gained in numbers. However, police were determined to protect this temple of consumerism. In front of the official Tax building, police blocked the march and shot tear gas canisters at the crowd to push them back towards the city center. Yellow vesters changed their plan, heading towards the university district. Again, as soon as they approached their destination, police blocked their path and dispersed them.

At 6 pm, the cat and mouse game between protesters and police forces started in the Guillotière district. Law enforcement units became overwhelmed by the situation: they couldn’t tell the difference between potential threats and ordinary passersby. They began to shoot tear gas canisters everywhere at random, filling the entire district with a thick poisonous fog. However, the crowd succeeded in regrouping and intense confrontations broke out.

Some protestors blocked the entrance of a major retail store selling cultural and electronic products on the last weekend before Christmas. As a result, the store closed its doors for the day. Large numbers of police arrived and dispersed the crowd with tear gas, creating several stampedes in this high-traffic district.

Another cat and mouse game started around the Bellecour square. The crowd of protestors succeeded in outmaneuvering the authorities’ plan. Indeed, police experienced considerable trouble arresting protestors. Consequently, they decided to carry out random searches in hopes of finding potentially incriminating evidence. Finally, despairing at the ineffectiveness of their strategy, police left the area.

The day of action in Lyons ended with police stopping a group of protestors near the Christmas market. At least two protestors were arrested.

Nantes, December 22.

Act VII: Keeping the Movement Alive into the New Year

Despite the Christmas holidays and the decreasing participation, some yellow vesters organized a seventh nationwide day of action on December 29. The hard core of the movement was determined to overcome the limits imposed by the calendar and find a fresh impetus for 2019.


In Paris, organizers kept the convergence point secret until the last moment in order to catch the authorities by surprise. That morning, about 60 yellow vesters went to the Champs Elysées. Unfortunately for them, police were already deployed all along the avenue, so nothing occurred.

Then some movement leaders announced the convergence point via social media. Yellow vesters were supposed to gather in front of major media outlets buildings—BFM, RMC, Libération, L’Express—located in the 15th district of the French capital near the Ministry of Defence. The point of this action was to denounce “unfair” media coverage of the movement. In the end, about 400 protestors answered the call.

The crowd began shouting slogans including “Journalists, collaborationists!” “BFM fake news” and “Macron out!” Some demonstrators asked for “free, independent, and objective media” while others tried to explain to police officers that corporate media outlets were the ones manipulating society. Some signs demanded the Citizens’ Initiative Referendum (RIC). Throughout the rest of the day, the group of yellow vesters continued its tour of official media outlets, followed closely by police forces. In the end, most of the crowd dispersed near the Eiffel Tower or were surrounded by law enforcement units. Several confrontations also took place at the Champs Elysées.

Altogether, according to the official figures of the Prefecture, about 800 yellow vesters gathered in Paris, 57 were arrested, and 33 were put in custody.

Merry crisis and a happy new fear from France!


On December 29, Bordeaux drew the largest number of protestors in France, with a yellow wave several thousand strong—2400 according to authorities, more according to some journalists present.

In Bordeaux, 700 policemen were deployed as well as a helicopter. The authorities revised their strategies by closing the access to the entire Pey Berland square where the City Hall is located and by trying to execute the “pressure cooker” strategy at several occasions—seeking to contain demonstrators in a closed area while increasing the pressure on them.

An impressive barricade in Bordeaux, December 29, 2018.

The demonstration started quietly, but as soon as the march passed law enforcement units near the Gambetta square, tension increased. Along a boulevard, the cours Clémenceau, the first trash bins were set on fire and projectiles were thrown at police who answered with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets. Some stores started closing their doors, while the first barricade appeared near the Christmas market. Shoppers were confined inside the market during the confrontations.

This is when the march split. About 50 demonstrators continued to confront police forces, while others marched towards the Victoire square. Some demonstrators started removing their yellow vests and leaving the demonstration. In the meantime, a large number of law enforcement units attempted to disperse groups of determined protestors who were defending themselves with numerous burning barricades. In the end, 25 individuals were arrested. Both yellow vesters and police officers attacked journalists and photographers in the streets of Bordeaux.

New Year’s Resolutions: December 29 in France.


In Rouen, about 1000 demonstrators took the streets. As usual, they gathered at 10 am in front of the City Hall. The situation remained quiet until midday, when the first barricades appeared. Almost instantly, police answered by firing tear gas canisters at the crowd. Protestors dispersed into the nearby streets and a cat and mouse game with police forces began.

A bit later, the front door of the Banque de France—the national Central Bank—was set on fire with trash bins, while some of its security cameras were smashed. Meanwhile, other barricades caught fire nearby and near the local law court. By the time police units and firemen arrived, the crowd was already near the City Hall.

Confrontations continued in the city center. Once again, police filled the streets with tear gas. Throughout the day, police experienced a war of nerves with demonstrators. They repeatedly had to clear numerous makeshift burning barricades from the streets in order to follow the crowd.

The protestors carried on until the end of the day; that evening, police continued to use tear gas and stun grenades to disperse them. At least 10 people were arrested and there were 10 injuries. One woman experienced a wound in her forehead and a fractured leg.

December 29 in Rouen: demonstrators set the door of a Banque de France aflame.

Elsewhere in France

In Lille, about 600 yellow vesters gathered for the last nationwide day of action of 2018. Six were arrested and three were injured after police repeatedly used tear gas to disperse the crowd.

In Metz, 300 demonstrators tried to break through a police cordon protecting the local prefecture, while in Marseille, a thousand yellow vestors gathered in front of the arch of triumph to show that the movement was not losing momentum.

In Toulouse, approximately 2500 people gathered under the slogan “Macron out!” and seven individuals were arrested, while in Amiens, 17 people were arrested on account of the local prefecture banning every street gathering and demonstration until January 2, 2019.

Burning barricades in the streets of Metz, December 29, 2018.

On New Year’s eve, several yellow vest groups also gathered in Paris and elsewhere in France—traffic circles included—for “festive and non-violent” demonstrations.

Gasping for Air

As the end of 2018 showed a loss of momentum, the die-hard elements of the movement struggled to keep it alive after the holidays.

Alongside about fifty other yellow vesters, Eric Drouet—an influential leader of the movement connected to the far right, who we have discussed in a previous article— organized a small gathering in Paris on Wednesday, January 2, 2019, to pay tribute to the ten people who died and the numerous protesters injured since the beginning of the movement. Their objective was “to shock public opinion.”

While the group was dressed in plain clothes—they decided not to wear their symbol for this action in order to avoid being clearly identified—several streets away from the Presidential palace, police stopped them and arrested Eric Drouet. This was covered by numerous media outlets.

Drouet and his followers expected this arrest. It was a perfect opportunity to capture public attention by portraying themselves as the victims of government repression. For yellow vesters, this illegitimate arrest was further proof that the government aimed to muzzle the movement and to discourage everyone from demonstrating without requesting authorization from the Prefecture.

This provoked a variety of reactions. The populist leader of the leftist France Insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who had already mentioned his fascination with Eric Drouet, requested his immediate release, stating that this arrest was an “abuse of power” and that “from now on, a political police force is targeting and harassing the important figures of the yellow vest movement.”

The far right also voiced support for Eric Drouet. Florian Philippot, leader of the political party Les Patriotes and former ally of Marine Le Pen (Rassemblement National), who expressed his concern that “the Macron political regime was becoming more and more authoritarian.” The President of the Rassemblement National in the Paris region, Wallerand de Saint-Just also expressed support. Eric Drouet reposted Wallerand de Saint-Just’s messages of support on his personal twitter, confirming his own sympathy for nationalist ideas.

Act VIII: January 5, 2019

On the eve of the eighth nationwide day of action, the authorities explained that they expected a higher participation in the rest of France than in Paris. For the first time since November 17, 2018—when the movement got underway—the Parisian Prefecture received requests from yellow vest groups to demonstrate in the capital. As a result, two different marches were organized for January 5: one between the Panthéon and the district of Saint-Germain-des-Près, and one between the City Hall and the National Assembly.

Government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux castigated yellow vesters who decided to continue the mobilization despite the President’s concessions. According to him, the movement had “been coopted by agitators who want an insurrection and to overthrow the government.” Earlier this week, the Minister of the Interior Christophe Castaner asked the prefects of each region to proceed with the “complete and definitive eviction” of the hundred blockades and meeting points held by members of the yellow vest movement. To do so, the Minister allowed the prefects to use any legal means—financial fees, use of police forces, and so on.

Finally, in addition to the traditional Saturday demonstrations and actions, a women’s yellow vest group decided to create their own event in Paris, for Sunday, December 6, 2019. Organizers specified that this action was “not a feminist struggle but a feminine one,” a statement that speaks for itself.


In Paris, the day opened with the traditional gathering at the Champs Elysées. There, the group of yellow vesters improvised a general assembly near the Arc de Triomphe. Then, as the group gained in numbers, they walked down the avenue towards the Concorde square before police stopped them. The crowd of 1500 headed towards the Saint Lazare district. On their way to the train station, the yellow vesters stopped by Place de la Bourse to boo the international news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP).

In the Saint Lazare area, the march continued towards the city center, despite the heavy police presence in the area. However, near the Hotel de Ville—the departure point of the permitted afternoon demonstration—police forces blocked the protesters. In front of the main City Hall, there were already 4000 yellow vesters. As usual, several banners and signs asking for the implementation of the RIC were spotted. Rapidly, the crowd moved towards Châtelet shouting “Macron out!” before immediately being pushed back by tear gas. After some confusion, the procession changed direction towards its authorized destination: the National Assembly.

Police attack yellow vest protesters on a bridge in Paris on January 5, 2019. At the beginning of the footage, you can see the boxer, Christophe Dettinger, arguing with police.

The first real confrontations took place near the riverbank when protesters attacked police with glass bottles and stones. Then, on the Léopold Sedar Senghor footbridge, tense confrontations took place. As people attempted to cross the Seine River in order to reach the National Assembly located on the other side, police blocked the access to the bridge and employed tear gas. Note that, during the clashes on the bridge, Christophe Dettinger, a demonstrator and ex-boxer, took on the line of fully armored police with his bare hands and succeeded in pushing them back. Little by little, the law enforcement pressure around the demonstration increased. A boat was set on fire during the confrontations on the footbridge. According to radical sources present on site, the yellow crowd comprised approximately 10,000 individuals.

Near the Assemblée Nationale, police forces had blocked all access routes to the official building. As a result, the march couldn’t go any further and confrontations broke out. Being tear gassed at a dead end, many protestors decided to start wildcat demonstrations through the neighboring streets of the Latin district. There the first barricades were erected and set on fire—especially on the Saint-Germain boulevard. The crowd expressed its rage: every piece of urban furniture, self-service scooter, or motorcycle was smashed, lit on fire, or used as a barricade.

The boat set aflame during confrontations in Paris on January 5, 2019.

Wildcat demonstrations and confrontations continued in different parts of the city until later that day: in the Latin district, near Saint Lazare, at the Champs Elysées. In the end, government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux had to be evacuated in emergency as a group of yellow vesters succeeded in entering his government ministry building. They used a small construction vehicle to knock down the front door, then entered the property and smashed up two cars.

At least 24 people were arrested that day. Friends present in the streets report a significant presence of fascists and nationalists of all kinds.

Elsewhere in France

For a movement supposedly in decline, a remarkable number of actions and demonstrations took place in France on the eighth day of action. Altogether, at least 50,000 people participated. The number of people involved in street actions almost doubled compared to the previous week.

In Bordeaux, about 4600 people demonstrated. The city remains one of the bastions of the movement. After a quiet beginning, the crowd changed course, entering Sainte-Catherine street and heading towards the Pey Berland square and the City Hall. As soon as the crowd arrived at the square, the first confrontations began. Police answered with tear gas and water canons, while in the nearby streets, demonstrators broke up concrete and cobblestones to use as projectiles. As night fell, the first barricades were erected and several cars were set on fire. Police forces charged the rioters repeatedly, but they were determined to continue. In the end, 11 people were arrested.

Starting the new year in Bordeaux.

In Beauvais, yellow vesters converged at the local airport in the morning; however, no action took place, as police blocked their way. That afternoon, police dispersed a group of 600 people who were trying to enter the city center.

In Lyons, after a traditional march through the city, several thousand yellow vesters blocked the A7 freeway both ways, creating traffic jams.

In Nantes, about 2000 individuals took the streets. As soon as the afternoon demonstration started, confrontations with police broke out. During the clashes, some yellow vesters set fire to a pile of Christmas trees in front of the Cathedral. All afternoon, police forces shot tear gas canisters and concussion grenades at the crowd. At least one person was injured.

In Rouen, between 1700 and 4000 yellow vesters demonstrated. Around noon, protestors threw cobblestones and other projectiles at police, who answered with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets. According to authorities, police were confronted with 400 determined rioters. In the end, several people were injured, 19 were arrested, and 18 put in custody.

In Caen, confrontations began in the afternoon when demonstrators who wanted to occupy the Résistance square started building barricades with the fences of a nearby construction site. They also lit fires on the square and threw projectiles at law enforcement units who answered with tear gas.

Other gatherings and demonstrations took place in Toulouse; Saint-Nazaire, where yellow vesters blocked the main bridge during several hours before being dispersed by police forces; Sedan, where protestors blocked the railway for several hours; Dijon, where a group of yellow vesters attacked a gendarmerie barracks; Saint-Malo, where yellow vesters blocked the ferry terminal; Avignon; Marseille; Quimper; near Nancy; near Nîmes, where yellow vesters dumped hundreds of liters of waste oil on the roads; and near Sevrey, where demonstrators were arrested for attempting to block an Amazon logistics platform.

In view of all these actions, it is possible that this first day of action of 2019 shows that the movement has survived the holidays and will continue to be a force this year. But what kind of force? This is the important question.

We will address it in the next installment of this series.

The post How the Yellow Vest Movement Survived into 2019 appeared first on Infoshop News.

Bases, Bases, Everywhere… Except in the Pentagon’s Report

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 02:23

via Common Dreams and TopDispatch

by Nick Turse

The U.S. military is finally withdrawing (or not) from its base at al-Tanf. You know, the place that the Syrian government long claimed was a training ground for Islamic State (ISIS) fighters; the land corridor just inside Syria, near both the Iraqi and Jordanian borders, that Russia has called a terrorist hotbed (while floating the idea of jointly administering it with the United States); the location of a camp where hundreds of U.S. Marines joined Special Operations forces last year; an outpost that U.S. officials claimed was the key not only to defeating ISIS, but also, according to General Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, to countering “the malign activities that Iran and their various proxies and surrogates would like to pursue.” You know, that al-Tanf.

Within hours of President Trump’s announcement of a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, equipment at that base was already being inventoried for removal. And just like that, arguably the most important American garrison in Syria was (maybe) being struck from the Pentagon’s books—except, as it happens, al-Tanf was never actually on the Pentagon’s books. Opened in 2015 and, until recently, home to hundreds of U.S. troops, it was one of the many military bases that exist somewhere between light and shadow, an acknowledged foreign outpost that somehow never actually made it onto the Pentagon’s official inventory of bases.

Officially, the Department of Defense (DoD) maintains 4,775 “sites,” spread across all 50 states, eight U.S. territories, and 45 foreign countries. A total of 514 of these outposts are located overseas, according to the Pentagon’s worldwide property portfolio. Just to start down a long list, these include bases on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, as well as in Peru and Portugal, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. But the most recent version of that portfolio, issued in early 2018 and known as the Base Structure Report (BSR), doesn’t include any mention of al-Tanf. Or, for that matter, any other base in Syria. Or Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Or Niger. Or Tunisia. Or Cameroon. Or Somalia. Or any number of locales where such military outposts are known to exist and even, unlike in Syria, to be expanding.

According to David Vine, author of Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, there could be hundreds of similar off-the-books bases around the world. “The missing sites are a reflection of the lack of transparency involved in the system of what I still estimate to be around 800 U.S. bases outside the 50 states and Washington, D.C., that have been encircling the globe since World War II,” says Vine, who is also a founding member of the recently established Overseas Base Realignment and Closure Coalition, a group of military analysts from across the ideological spectrum who advocate shrinking the U.S. military’s global “footprint.”

Such off-the-books bases are off the books for a reason. The Pentagon doesn’t want to talk about them. “I spoke to the press officer who is responsible for the Base Structure Report and she has nothing to add and no one available to discuss further at this time,” Pentagon spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Michelle Baldanza told TomDispatch when asked about the Defense Department’s many mystery bases.

“Undocumented bases are immune to oversight by the public and often even Congress,” Vine explains. “Bases are a physical manifestation of U.S. foreign and military policy, so off-the-books bases mean the military and executive branch are deciding such policy without public debate, frequently spending hundreds of millions or billions of dollars and potentially getting the U.S. involved in wars and conflicts about which most of the country knows nothing.”

Where Are They?

The Overseas Base Realignment and Closure Coalition notes that the United States possesses up to 95% of the world’s foreign military bases, while countries like France, Russia, and the United Kingdom have perhaps 10-20 foreign outposts each. China has just one.

Read more

The post Bases, Bases, Everywhere… Except in the Pentagon’s Report appeared first on Infoshop News.

Libertarian Socialism in South America: A Roundtable Interview, Part I

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 01:54

via Black Rose Anarchist Federation

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

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

Due to the length of responses, we will be publishing this roundtable interview in installments. For part 1, we spoke with Juan and Pablo from Solidaridad in Chile. We also wanted to thank everyone who contributed to our Building Bridges of International Solidarity Fundraiser which made this interview series possible. 

—Introduction, interview and translation by Enrique Guerrero-López

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

Juan & Pablo, Solidaridad (J/P): Solidarity, formerly called “Solidarity, Libertarian Communist Federation,” was born from a political process called “Libertarian Communist Congress,” which took place between the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2016. This process consisted of a regrouping of libertarian communist currents in Chile after a deep political crisis that we experienced between 2011 and 2013. It was an extremely rich period of experiences— a moment in which the working class carried out intense activity through different social movements, in student conflicts, socio-environmental conflicts, and, to a certain extent, trade unions.

Although in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, anarchism was the main political current within the working class in Chile and across much of the world, this influence was already lost by the 1930s, remaining a marginal current throughout half of the twentieth century, except for some exceptional moments such as the general strike of 1956. Despite its decline, some of its tactical and strategic elements persisted in the militant unionism of the twentieth century.

Libertarian communism began to reemerge in Chile at the end of the 1990s, and in 1999 the Anarchist Communist Unification Congress (CUAC) was founded, which would be the first political organization of this resurgence. From that moment on, a long and rich experience of political work has been generated in different sectors and social movements: territorial, union, and with a strong growth in student struggles. The CUAC as an organization lasted a few years, but after its break it created new organizations that were subdivided and grouped in the following years. These breaks were the expression of different tendencies that were forming within this common branch. At the beginning of 2010, a first congress was held in which several of these organizations were called to evaluate everything that had been advanced ten years before. Participants included the Libertarian Students Front (FEL) and three organizations that would converge in the Libertarian Communist Federation (FCL). The absence of the Libertarian Communist Organization (OCL), direct heir of the CUAC, is notable. Part of the conclusions of that meeting was the success of the idea of ​​“social insertion,” [1] which meant returning anarchism to the class struggle, participating from within the different conflicts in which the working class was participating. By 2011, the influence of this political current reached one of its highest points. In the period between 2011 and 2013, we gained public visibility— a real presence within different social movements— and we began to be considered a current to be taken into account within the political spectrum. We represented hundreds of militants present in different social conflicts; we had murals, magazines, social media, and more. Just to give an example, in 2013, we won the presidency of the country’s main student federation (the Student Federation of the University of Chile) and filled the headlines with notes about anarchism and feminism. But that was the zenith. We were forced to update our politics, to assume new challenges, and we found that there were many issues for which we were not prepared.

In the following period, we found ourselves with a strategy deficit. A product of the social mobilizations of that time and the delegitimization of the main political parties was that, the entire political spectrum was reconfiguring; that is to say, it was not something that only affected us within the libertarian communist tradition, but all the organizations, both on the right and on the left. In our case, it strongly impacted the resurgence of feminism, which questions inequalities and gender oppression in society as a whole as well as within the organizations on the left.

Faced with this lack of strategy in the face of new challenges, the different organizations of libertarian communism in Chile began to choose different paths. An important part, which is now represented by the organizations Socialism and Freedom (SOL) and the Libertarian Left (IL), developed a strategy called “democratic rupture,” which put at its center social insertion and struggle over the institutionality of the State. These organizations are today within the Broad Front (FA), a conglomerate of social democratic, liberal, and also leftist organizations that aim to be a new progressive pole in Chile and that have had great electoral success. We believe that it expresses a political phenomenon similar to that of the DSA in the US.

On the other hand, we were left with an important number of militants, coming from different libertarian organizations and also from other tendencies (critical and libertarian Marxists; anti-capitalist feminists) that were distancing themselves from those bets, but without being able to present an alternative project. Faced with this need, we started the Libertarian Communist Congress, which lasted two years and gave birth to Solidarity as an organization. However, it was not until 2017 that this process could materialize into unitary political action with deployment in different political and social conflicts.

Currently, our participation is taking place in different multi-sectoral social movements: in the feminist movement through the March 8 coordinator, in the Health for All movement (MSPT), in the No + AFP movement that fights for a new pension system, and, with lower participation, among teachers and students. In all these movements, our militancy occupies, without false humility, a prominent place, influencing the political perspectives assumed by these movements. Our current militancy is not very numerous, but we have opted for a qualitative growth that has subsequently been expressed in quantitative growth. As a result of a positive evaluation of that deployment, we have decided to take new steps and to begin to articulate an anti-capitalist political reference point with other organizations with which we have found ourselves, in practice, in those movements. This coalition will maintain the independence of each organization, but will add efforts to be an alternative to a much broader spectrum of the working class, trying to orient from an anti-capitalist critique the political and social opposition to the government.

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

J/P: We could say that capitalism expanded throughout the whole world with its own contradictions. From the beginning of colonization, going through the republican periods, there were always great social conflicts that have included resistance and emancipation from the oppressed sectors. But it was not until the late nineteenth century that immigrants arrived on our continent who had participated in processes of class struggle in Europe (and had experienced their respective defeats). These immigrants brought with them more clearly anarchist perspectives along with other socialist currents that also arrived. They did not only bring ideas, but also real, historical experiences of those processes, which could perfectly connect with the working class’ own experience of struggle on the American continent. For that reason, in the case of Chile, initially the main anarchist nuclei were constituted in the cities near the ports.

Like much of the world, anarchism was established in the early twentieth century as the main political current among the working class of Chile. However, it coexisted with other currents in workers’ and student circles. The libertarian current was particularly important in the establishment of resistance societies, proto-unions that would return to the organization of the working class a class struggle perspective, compared to other types of groups at the time such as mutualists. Some of the great landmarks of workers’ struggle of that time, such as the mining strike that culminated in the massacre of Santa María de Iquique (where around 3600 Chilean, Bolivian, and Peruvian workers died, among other nationalities), were led by anarchists.

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

J/P: We understand that the different currents of socialism represent different lessons learned by the working class through their experience of struggle throughout history. Anarchism represents a libertarian tendency within the great political-ideological complex of socialism, which is distinguished from other socialist currents mainly by three elements: the strategic emphasis placed on the political protagonism of the masses in revolutionary processes, through the direct action of their organizations in the expropriation of the economic and political power of the bourgeoisie through a process of self-management and liberation of the creative forces of humanity; a historically situated critique of the nation-state as the political form of capitalism, and therefore the need to create organs of popular power in the process of class struggle; and its dual organizational strategy, in which the political organizations of the working class fulfill a facilitating and organizing role together with the organized masses. It is also worth noting their early interest in a complex vision of the working class and the peasantry, recognizing the racial and gender differences and inequalities within them, leading anarchism to the forefront of the unionization of women and Afro-descendants in the Americas, where we have had strong popular roots.

In negative terms, libertarian socialism has had difficulties in articulating a realistic political critique of the class struggle, sometimes bogged down in dogmatic forms of analysis and in a sectarianism that has kept it in positions of tactical and strategic weakness at key moments in the revolutionary processes of the twentieth century. Their disputes with Marxism have become oversized and extrapolated beyond their specific conjunctures, which has led segments of anarchism to comfortable, identitarian, [2] and marginal positions.

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

J/P: The political organization, as we conceive of it, must be a catalyst and a facilitator of the struggles of the working class. Social movements are one form of acquiring those struggles, although not the only one. We believe that the role of orientation is constant, as we are part of the working class, and we function as a possible synthesis of its experiences as an emancipating project. In this sense, our project for society is that of a stateless socialism, of the self-organization of the class, and of the socialization of productive and reproductive tasks, not only because it seems to us a more beautiful ideal, but because it is consistent with our own history of the struggle of the working class, with self-management and popular power as strategic components to achieve.

The organization of the working class can take many directions, as many as its own internal tendencies, which include potential conservative or fascist orientations. Our role is to assume that there is a dispute over that orientation and to present a project more consistent with the aspirations of the class. We believe, moreover, that this is a responsibility. To be abstracted from the task of influencing is to give way to reformism or, even worse, to fascism. It is a responsibility of our times to constitute viable alternatives for a new society that overcomes capitalist relations. And that is achieved by fighting, organized, with clear objectives and strategies. That is why we propose that it is a necessity that libertarian socialism as a project be incarnated in political organizations that are willing to ‘get their hands dirty’ being part of those processes.

We also think that the political organization should encourage the most important organizations in the class to develop programs for the transformation of society, advocating its internal diversity. That is why a revolutionary anti-capitalist project that is not at once feminist, that poses the overcoming of the privileges of gender or race, is impossible. We believe that overcoming capitalism requires the broadest unity of the class and that this can only be obtained by considering all its internal differences.

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

J/P: As there are different political currents within the working class, electoral strategies will remain an option, even if we do not want it. As Solidarity, we start from that recognition: there will always be an electoral left, which internally may have many differences (on elections in a ‘tactical’ sense, to use it as a tribune, or, in a ‘strategic’ sense, to win positions and point to changes within the State’s institutional framework). That is not and has not been our decision, but neither do we intend to make a moral or “principled” criticism of those options. We do not encourage it because it does not correspond to our objectives or our strategy, which requires the role of working-class organizations and not their delegation to political representatives, and because it requires fighting against the State and not taking refuge in it.

The libertarian socialist organizations have struggled to relate efficiently to politics and electoral times. In general, we have observed that most of the libertarian socialist organizations have ignored or abstracted from the electoral conjunctures, criticizing the electoral form, but not the content of those projects. This has caused them to be in a position of marginality in the face of the main political debates of those moments.

We believe that today the emphasis should be placed both on the development of an anti-capitalist program with a feminist perspective and on the development of the political capacity of the working-class organizations that allows them to challenge the way in which the production and the reproduction of social life are organized. Both elements, programmatic and strategic, are fundamental for social movements and political organizations to direct their action in a defensive period against the conservative reaction of the international bourgeoisie, beyond electoral times, but without abstaining from the political debate that opens at those moments.

EGL: Recently, there has been a wave of feminist struggles in South America, particularly in Argentina and Chile, including the taking of schools and mass demonstrations on reproductive rights. How have the libertarian socialists participated in these struggles and how does feminism spread its theory and its practice at a general level?

J/P: Libertarian socialist organizations have been an integral part of the feminist movements in Latin America and in Chile in particular. In fact, feminist militancy has come to exert, in certain moments— like the present one— a role as spokesperson and an articulation of the main social currents in the feminist movement.

However, it is difficult to talk about feminism because, as you know, there are many currents, which sometimes pose contradictory strategies. For Solidarity, there have been highly relevant lessons in recent years, which have been nourished by the mobilization experiences of what was NiUnaMenos (“Not one [woman] less”) and its process of political purification, in which the militant feminists of different organizations were questioned, and of the debates that arose in later formations. This allowed us to refine our own theoretical and political views, which have been transforming our organization into its fundamental strategic guidelines, from the very way in which we understand reality. Specifically, we have opted for the view of a unitary theory, which raises the basic premise that reality is a single thing and that there are not several systems of oppression (by gender, race, or class), but rather it is about different facets of the same social reality and that, therefore, must be confronted and overcome unitarily. Solidarity is committed to the unity of the working class and recognizes in feminism a potential articulator of the class that is tremendous. This potential is given by proposing a political project that recognizes internal differences within the class and that aims to overcome the logic of competition and privilege that occurs in it.

The participation of Chilean libertarian socialists in feminist struggles began to get stronger during the mobilizations of 2011, and that same development ended up leading to a questioning of the reality of the organizations themselves. From that moment until now, in every feminist movement, there has been libertarian presence and participation.

Today, no leftist organization would dare to set aside or ignore feminist struggles. But it often happens that their way of approaching it is to leave those tasks to individuals within organizations, delegating them that role as “proper to women” and establishing specific organic spaces as feminist fronts or tables. The commitment, still incomplete, of Solidarity is to take the challenges posed by feminism to its ultimate consequences, which means transforming our readings of reality, our strategy and tactics, and the programmatic development that we see in different struggles, whether they are called feminist or not. In all of this, it is the compañeras (women-identified comrades) who have taken the lead, and we believe that it is fine that they should, but we also believe that the struggle should involve all of us.

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

J/P: In Latin America, popular power has been a strategic slogan that has crossed the visions of broad sectors of the anti-capitalist left. There are at least two ideas of popular power. One is popular power understood as the process of radical democratization of state institutions in the hands of a socialist government, as was proposed by Popular Unity (Unidad Popular) in Chile between 1970-1973 or the Bolivarian Revolution under the leadership of Hugo Chávez. It is a process of linking the bases of the people to a transformative political process through a transfer of power “from above.”

But in those same and other processes, and throughout the experiences of struggle of the peoples of Latin America, it is possible to find a conception of popular power “from below,” in those moments in which the political and economic crisis pose to the working class a more radical task: to develop processes of political and economic self-organization in which self-management and self-representation appear as short-term objectives. This is how forms of popular power are developed “from below,” such as the Industrial Cordons in Chile in 1972-1973, which, from the left, aimed to deepen the socialist transformations of the Allende government and to prepare a major offensive against the bourgeoisie. This self-managed current of popular power emerges in the revolutionary processes from the Paris Commune (1871) onwards, passing the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917 and the Spanish Revolution of 1936-1939, including the forms of Zapatista self-organization promoted by the EZLN and the wave of popular assemblies in Argentina in 2001.

For libertarian socialists, popular power is a central strategic hypothesis, insofar as it guides us with respect to ways of organizing ourselves, the source of a truly socialist democracy and the way in which a communist program is constructed and conquered. In Latin America, popular power has been a contemporary way of understanding the ancient anarchist project of self-management, integrating the historical lessons of the peasant and worker struggles of our peoples. It is important to note that the idea of ​​popular power can lead to problematic positions that ignore the need for a political confrontation with the power of the State, ending in the creation of social bubbles that abandon the construction of a social and political power capable of carrying out a revolution. The challenge, then, is to frame the construction of forms of popular power in a revolutionary strategy aimed at victory over the enemy.

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

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


1. “Social insertion” is the process of influencing the practice of social movements in a more militant direction through active engagement at a rank-and-file level.

2. In recent US political discourse, the word “identitarian” has been used both to connote liberal identity politics and, euphemistically, white nationalism. Here, the former definition is in use.

The post Libertarian Socialism in South America: A Roundtable Interview, Part I appeared first on Infoshop News.

A Green New Deal vs. Revolutionary Ecosocialism

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 20:25


by Wayne Price

Ecosocialism: reformist or revolutionary, statist or libertarian?

The idea of a “Green New Deal” has been raised in response to the threat of climate and ecological catastrophe. Two such proposals are analyzed here and counterposed to the program of revolutionary libertarian ecosocialism.

According to the climate scientists, industrial civilization has at most a dozen years until global warming is irreversible. This will cause (and is already causing) extremes of weather, accelerating extermination of species, droughts and floods, loss of useable water, vast storms, rising sea levels which will destroy islands and coastal cities, raging wildfires, loss of crops, and, overall, environmental conditions in which neither humans nor other organisms evolved to exist. The economic, political, and social results will be horrifying.

The scientists write that humans have the technological knowledge to avoid the worst results. But this would take enormous efforts to drastically reduce the output of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses. The recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change writes that this “would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban, and infrastructure (including transport and buildings) and industrial systems…unprecedented in terms of scale.” (quoted in Smith 2018) At the least this means a rapid transition to shutting down fossil-fuel producing industries, leaving most oil, coal, and natural gas in the ground and rationing what is currently available. It means replacing them with conservation and renewable energy sources. It means drastic changes in the carbon-based-fuel using industries, from construction to manufacturing. It means providing alternate jobs and services for all those put out of work by these changes.

To the scientists’ warnings, there have been rumblings of concern from some financial investors, businesspeople (in non-oil-producing industries), and local politicians. But overall, the response of conventional politicians has been business-as-usual. The main proposals for limiting climate change has been to place some sort of taxes on carbon emissions. From liberals to conservatives, this has been lauded as a”pro-market” reform. But, as Richard Smith (2018) has explained, these are inadequate, and even fraudulent, proposals. “If the tax is too light, it fails to suppress fossil fuels enough to help the climate. But…no government will set a price high enough to spur truly deep reductions in carbon emissions because they all understand that this would force companies out of business, throw workers out of work, and possibly precipitate recession or worse.

In the U.S., one of the two major parties outright denies the scientific evidence as a “hoax.” As if declaring, “After us, the deluge,” its policies have been to increase as much as possible the production of greenhouse-gas emissions and other attacks on the environment. The other party accepts in words the reality of global warming but only advocates inadequate and limited steps to deal with it. It too has promoted increased drilling, fracking, and carbon-fuels burning. These Republicans, Democrats, and their corporate sponsors are enemies of humanity and nature, worse than war criminals.

On the Left, there have been serious efforts to take up the scientists’ challenge. Various ecosocialists and other radicals have advocated a massive effort to change the path of industrial society. This is sometimes called a “Green New Deal.” This approach is modeled on the U.S.’s New Deal of F. D. Roosevelt in the Great Depression. Its advocates also usually model their programs on the World War II industrial mobilization which followed the New Deal. (For examples, see Aronoff 2018; Ocasio-Cortez 2018; Rugh 2018; Simpson 2018; Smith 2018; Wikipedia.)

There does need to be a massive social effort to change our current technological course. A drastic transformation of industrial civilization is needed if we are (in Richard Smith’s phrase) to “save the humans,” as well as our fellow animals and plants. Nothing less than a revolution is needed. Yet I think that there are serious weaknesses in this specific approach, not least in modeling itself on the New Deal and the World War II mobilization—which were not revolutions, however romanticized. The proponents of a Green New Deal are almost all reformists—by which I do not mean advocates of reforms, but those who think that a series of reforms will be enough. They are state-socialists who primarily rely on the state to intervene in the economy and even take it over; in practice this program creates not socialism but state capitalism.

From the perspective of revolutionary anarchist-socialism, the Green New Deal strategy is problematic because it means (1) an effort to modify existing capitalism, not to fight it with the aim of overthrowing it. (2) As often stated, it requires working through the Democratic Party. (3) It proposes to use the current national state as the instrument of change. Finally (4), while advocates speak of popular mobilization and democratization, their overall approach is top-down centralization.

Plans of Ocasio-Cortez and Richard Smith

A member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was just elected to the House of Representatives as an insurgent Democrat from Queens, NY. With a group of co-thinkers, she has formally proposed that the House set up a special Select Committee for a Green New Deal. (Ocasio-Cortez 2018) This Congressional committee would work out a plan for the transition of the .U.S. to a “green” non-carbonized economy—although it would not have the power to actually implement any plan. Supposedly this will be raised in the 2019 Congress.

The committee would develop a “Plan” to achieve such goals as “100% national power from renewable sources” in ten years, a national “smart” energy grid, upgrading residential and industrial buildings for conservation of energy, investments in drawing-down greenhouse gases, and making “green” technology a big U.S. export. Central to its set of goals is “decarbonizing the manufacturing, agricultural, and other industries.” “Decarbonizing, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure.” (Ocasio-Cortez 2018) Supposedly, these goals would be implemented in such a way as to provide good jobs, services, and prosperity for everyone.

Richard Smith is a knowledgeable and insightful ecosocialist writer (from whom I have learned much, despite disagreements). He has a generally positive reaction to this proposal (Smith 2018). Describing himself as “a proud member” of the DSA, he approves Ocasio-Cortez’ idea of a massive governmental program, modeled on the New Deal and World War II mobilization, to counter the climate crisis. However, he raises some significant concerns, specially around the key goal of “decarbonization”.

What’s not said is that decarbonization has to translate into shutdowns and retrenchments of actual companies. How does one decarbonize ExxonMobil or Chevron or Peabody Coal? To decarbonize them is to bankrupt them. Further, the same is true for many downstream industrial consumers….” What is required, he concludes, is governmental takeover of these industries with the aim of shutting down or drastically modifying them. “But there is no mention of shutdowns, retrenchments, buyouts, or nationalization.

Even more than the need to decarbonize industry (in the U.S. and internationally), is the need to create a balanced, ecologically-sustainable, system of production. “Perhaps the biggest weakness of the GND Plan is that it’s not based on a fundamental understanding that an infinitely growing economy is no longer possible on a finite planet…, of the imperative need for economic de-growth of many industries or of the need to abolish entire unsustainable industries from toxic pesticides to throw-away disposables to arms manufacturers.” (my emphasis)

Unlike his fellow DSA member (and Democratic politician) Ocasio-Cortez, Smith raises a program which explicitly demands government take-overs of the fossil-fuel producing companies. (He notes, “Others have also argued for nationalization to phase-out fossil fuels.”) He also calls for the nationalization of industries which are dependent on fossil fuels: “autos, aviation, petrochemicals, plastics, construction, manufacturing, shipping, tourism, and so on.” These nationalizations would be part of a plan for phasing-out fossil fuels, phasing-in renewable energy, shutting down fossil-fuel production, shutting down or modifying industries which rely on fossil fuels, and creating large government employment programs. This means changing from an economy built on quantitative growth, accumulation, and profits, to one of “degrowth [and] substantial de-industrialization.”

This program may seem revolutionary. “It’s difficult to imagine how this could be done within the framework of any capitalism…. Our climate crisis cries out for something like an immediate transition to ecosocialism.”

Yet Smith contradicts himself; he does not present his perspective as a revolutionary program. While he proposes socialization (in the form of nationalization) of much of the corporate economy, he does not call for taking away the wealth and power of these main sectors of the capitalist class. “We do not call for expropriation. We propose a government buyout at fair value….The companies might welcome a buyout.” There will be “guaranteed state support for the investors….” Further, “it is perhaps conceivable, taking FDR’s war-emergency industrial reordering as a precedent, that the…plan…for fossil fuels buyout-nationalization…could be enacted within the framework of capitalism, though the result would be a largely state-owned economy. Roosevelt created [a] state-directed capitalism….”

While a revolutionary approach is often derided as absurdly “utopian” and fantastic, this reformist program is itself a fantasy. It imagines that the capitalist class and its bought-and-paid-for politicians—who have resisted for decades any efforts to limit global warming—would not fight tooth-and-claw against this program. They are supposed to accept the loss of their industries, their mansions, their social status, their private jets, their media, their political influence, and the rest of their domination over society—for the sake of the environment! In all probability, to prevent this, they would whip up racism, sexual hysteria, and nationalism, subsidize fascist gangs, urge a military coup, distort or try to shut down elections and outlaw oppositions. All of which has been repeatedly done in the past, and is partially being done right now (if still on a minor scale—so far).

In the (very) unlikely event that the capitalists accepted this program, they would still be left with great wealth from the buyout, which they would use to fight to get back their power. And even in the (extremely unlikely) event that industries could be successfully decarbonized through buyout-nationalization, there would still be the basic problem (as Smith had pointed out) of the essential drive of capitalism to expand and accumulate profits, which must conflict with sustainable life on earth.

There is a whole history of class struggles, of revolutions and counterrevolutions, which have consistently taught the lesson that there is no peaceful-gradual-electoral “parliamentary road to socialism,” including to ecosocialism. Radicals should have learned the most recent lesson of the Syriza party in Greece.

Can the State Save Us?

Central to the conception of a Green New Deal is the belief that the state can save the humans and the biosphere. To Smith, “Saving the world requires the sort of large-scale economic planning that only governments can do.” There is “only one proximate solution: state intervention….” Similarly, Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal states, “We’re not saying that there isn’t a role for private sector investments; we’re just saying that…the government is best placed to be the prime driver.”

What Smith, specifically, is proposing is a form of state capitalism. He advocates “a largely state-owned economy” which may be “within the framework of capitalism,” building on but going beyond Roosevelt’s “state-directed capitalism.” There is a radical tradition which had also advocated nationalization of big business and creation of public works, but had always tied statification to a demand for workers’ democratic control and management. For example, Trotsky’s Transitional Program states, “Where military industry is ‘nationalized,’…the slogan of workers’ control preserves its full strength. The proletariat has as little confidence in the government of the bourgeoisie as in an individual capitalist.” (Trotsky 1977; 131) Workers’ management is not part of Smith’s proposal, nor that of Ocasio-Cortez (and it has dropped out of the program of most modern-day Trotskyists).

Of course Richard Smith is a sincere socialist democrat and a long-time opponent of Stalinist totalitarianism. But he calls on this U.S. bourgeois state, the state created and dominated by U.S. capitalism and imperialism, to take over the economy and run it. This program is state capitalism. As a result, the economy, even if decarbonized, will have the capitalist drive to accumulate profits. Just as was the state-capitalist Soviet Union, it will still be inherently destructive of the human-nature ecological balance,.

State-socialists focus on blaming the market economy for social ills, such as global warming. They see the state as an outside, neutral, institution, which might intervene in the economy to solve these problems. “If capitalists won’t provide the jobs, then it’s the government’s responsibility to do so. We, the voting public, [will] assert our ownership of the government, not the corporations.” (Smith 2018) In other words, the government could be dominated by the corporations (using their money), or it could be dominated by the people (using their votes). Supposedly either one is possible, in contradiction to the experience of two centuries of class struggle.

The state is a centralized bureaucratic-military socially-alienated institution. It has been created by (and creates) capitalism (and previous systems of exploitation) and serves to uphold it—and is thoroughly involved in all the evils of industrial capitalism. “Climate change is another state effect that governments are incapable of solving….The infrastructure of automotive transportation, industrial agriculture, and electricity generation, which are responsible for the majority of of greenhouse gas emissions, are built and regulated by states (…). The industries responsible for destroying the planet depend on government regulation, police protection, and financing, and form part of an economic complex that is integrally connected to government…Continuing to trust states as the potential solvers of climate change and mass extinction…[is to be] complicit with catastrophe.” (Gelderloss 2016; 241-2)

Anarchists and radical Marxists have agreed that the existing state cannot be used to consistently defend the interests of workers and oppressed people. At times, under pressure from below, this state may give some benefits. Similarly, the management of a corporation may raise workers’ wages when under the threat of a strike. But neither the state nor corporate management is “on our side.” Certainly revolutionaries may pressure the state to make reforms in the same way as the workers may strike to force the bosses to raise their wages. But these efforts, win or lose, do not change the institutional power of capital, in corporations or in the state.

Therefore, anarchists and radical Marxists have advocated overturning and dismantling the state and replacing it with alternate institutions. In an introduction to the Communist Manifesto, Engels modifies their original views by quoting Marx, writing, “One thing especially was proved by the [1871 Paris] Commune, viz., that ‘the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes’.” (Marx & Engels 1955; 6) Which is exactly what Ocasio-Cortez, Smith, and others propose to do.

Anarchists and other libertarian socialists advocate replacing the state with federations of workplace councils, neighborhood assemblies, and voluntary associations, defended by an armed people (militia) so long as is necessary. They advocate socialization of the economy, not by state ownership, but by replacing capitalism with networks of democratically self-managed industries, consumer cooperatives, and collectivized municipalities. They expect productive technology to be modified by the workers, in such a way as to eliminate the division between mental and manual labor and in order to create an ecologically sustainable society.

Ocasio-Cortez and other DSAers rely on the Democratic Party to implement their Green New Deal —a plan which, in Smith’s view should lead to the nationalization of much of the economy. However, the Democrats are committed to managing a traditional, private-capitalist, economy. “Most Democrats…acknowledge global warming is real, yet have failed to take meaningful steps to address the apocalyptic scale of the problem.…The Dems have always played seesaw between the interests of their corporate campaign donors and those of the party’s middle- and working-class base… They have more and more aligned themselves with the jealous interests of their elite backers. Party leaders have embraced a business-friendly, neoliberal approach to climate change, just as they have just about everything else.” (Rugh 2018) For an account of the Democrats’ climate-destroying actions when in office, see Dansereau (2018).

(Members of the Green Party have also advocated a “Green New Deal” for some time. [Wikipedia] I am not reviewing their version of the GND at this time. The Greens reject the Democratic Party, for good reasons, and claim to be for a decentralized society. But they still accept an electoralist-peaceful-reformist strategy. They hope to take over the state by getting their party elected, and then to use the power of the national state to transform capitalism by carrying out a Green New Deal.)

Decentralization and Federalism

Richard Smith is for democracy and democratic planning. He proposes elected “planning boards at local, regional, national, and international levels.” Yet his plan, like that of Ocasio-Cortez, is clearly a top-down, centralized approach. Other experts in ecological regeneration (who are not anarchists) have seen things in a more decentralized perspective.

For example, Bill McKibben has long been a leader of the climate justice movement. His main solution to climate change is decentralization: “more local economies, shorter supply lines, and reduced growth.” (McKibben 2007; 180) “…Development…should look to the local far more than to the global. It should concentrate on creating and sustaining strong communities….” (197) “…The increased sense of community and heightened skill at democratic decision-making that a more local economy implies will not simply increase our levels of satisfaction with our lives, but will also increase our chances of survival….” (231)

Naomi Klein declares, “There is a clear and essential role for national plans and policies….But…the actual implementation of a great many of these plans [should] be as decentralized as possible. Communities should be given new tools and powers….Worker-run co-ops have the capacity to play a huge role in an industrial transformation…. Neighborhoods [should be] planned democratically by their residents….Farming…can also become an expanded sector of decentralized self-sufficiency and poverty reduction.” (Klein, 2014; 133-134)

The (Monthly Review) Marxist Fred Magdoff (a professor of plant and soil science) wrote, “Each community and region should strive, within reason, to be as self-sufficient as possible with respect to basic needs such as water, energy, food, and housing. This is not a call for absolute self-sufficiency but rather for an attempt to…lessen the need for long distance transport….Energy…[should be] used near where it was produced…. in smaller farms…to produce high yields per hectare….People will be encouraged to live near where they work….” (Magdoff, 2014; 30—31) Also, “Workplaces (including farms) will be controlled and managed by the workers and communities in which they are based.” (29)

Compare with the views of anarchist and social ecologist Murray Bookchin: “Civic entities can ‘municipalize’ their industries, utilities, and surrounding land as effectively as any socialist state.…A municipally managed enterprise would be a worker-citizen controlled enterprise, meant to serve human and ecological needs….[There would be] the replacement of the nation state by the municipal confederation.” (Bookchin 1986; 160) The takeover of the oil industry could be a national and international matter, managed through confederation, while use of renewable energy would be primarily implemented by local communes.

In short, the capitalists’ wealth and power should be taken away from them (expropriated) by the self-organization of the working class and its allies. Capitalism should be replaced by a society which is decentralized and cooperative, producing for use rather than profit, democratically self-managed in the workplace and the community, and federated together from the local level to national and international levels. There should be as much decentralization as is reasonably possible and as little centralization as is absolutely necessary. There needs to be overall economic coordination on a national, continental, and world-wide level, by federations of self-governing industries and communities, but not by bureaucratic-military capitalist states. This is ecoocialism in the form of eco-anarchism.

But Let’s be Realistic….

Endorsers of the Green New Deal see it as a realistic proposal for mobilizing masses of people and changing the ecology. They regard a program of revolutionary libertarian ecosocialism as unrealistic, a nonstarter for the brief time there is left to save the world. We must act quickly, they say, with proposals most people can accept, calling on the state to take over.

This is itself an example of what C. Wright Mills called “crackpot realism.” The idea that the Democratic Party would endorse a plan for the next session of Congress to develop a program of remaking U.S. capitalism, perhaps nationalizing much of the economy, and then get it passed through Congress—is, shall we say, not likely. With all due respect to its proponents (with whom I share values), they are like the drunk who looks for lost keys under the street lamp, because that is where there is light, even though the keys are certain to be elsewhere.

Smith refers to “de-carbonization” as “a self-radicalizing transitional demand”. He hopes that “a vigorous campaign for this Plan will show why capitalism cannot solve the worst crisis it has ever created and encourage demands for…government planning to suppress emissions….With a…monumental mobilization around this Green New Deal …we can derail the capitalist drive to ecological collapse and build an ecosocialist civilization….”

In other words, he is for building a mass movement for the Green New Deal of Ocasio-Cortez (which he regards as inadequate as proposed), and/or his more radical plan (nationalization based on buying out the capitalists). He hopes that people will become aware of the limits of any pro-capitalism, because the “campaign will show why capitalism cannot solve the crisis.” However, he does not propose to tell the working class and the rest of the population that a pro-capitalist plain “cannot solve the crisis” Instead he advocates a plan which is an expansion of Roosevelt’s “state-directed capitalism.” Apparently he hopes that the people will come to the conclusion that ”capitalism cannot solve the crisis” by themselves—or perhaps with some help from the reformist, state-socialist, Democratic Party-supporting, Democratic Socialists of America. An ecosocialist result is far more likely if there are already radicals telling the truth about capitalism, from the very beginning, even if it is, so far, unpopular to do so.

Revolutionaries have long argued that even reforms are most likely to be won when the rulers fear a militant, aggressive, and revolutionary movement, or at least a revolutionary wing of a broader movement. “Reforms” in this case would be steps to hold back and mitigate the effects of global warming due to capitalist industry, even by using the capitalist state. Such reforms cannot be won by an environmental movement which tries to be “reasonable” and “respectable”, especially if it has a radical left which offers to buy out big businesses and stay within the framework of capitalism.

We cannot say what is reasonable to expect. Today’s popular consciousness is not what it will be tomorrow. The very crises of weather and the environment will change that. The climate crisis will interact with the looming economic crisis, and with continuing turmoil over race, immigration, gender, and sexual orientation. Not to mention endless wars. With such shakeups in the lives of working people and young people, there may be an opening for a revolutionary anarchist ecosocialist program. Whether this will develop in time cannot be known. But we must not give up on history.

In conclusion, revolutionary libertarian ecosocialists should support all sincere struggles for reforms, including those advocating state action, and participate in these movements. But they should always point out the limitations and dangers of these programs. they should always raise the goal of a decentralized-federation of self-managed institutions as the only society capable of ecological harmony and freedom.

The issue is not only whether capitalism is compatible with ecological balance and ending climate change. The question is also about the nature of the state, and whether the state is compatible with avoiding ecological catastrophe. These issues should determine our attitude toward proposals for a Green New Deal.


All, Max (2018). “Beyond the Green New Deal.” The Brooklyn Rail. (11/1/18).…-Deal

Aronoff, Kate (2018). “A Mandate for Left Leadership.” The Nation (12/31/18). Pp. 18—20, 26.

Bookchin, Murray (1986). The Modern Crisis. Philadelphia PA: New Society Publishers.

Dansereau, Carol (2018). “Climate and the Infernal Blue Wave: Straight Talk About Saving Humanity.” System Change Not Climate Change. (From Counterpunch ll/13/18.)…anity

Gelderloos, Peter (2016). Worshipping Power: An Anarchist View of Early
State Formation.
Chico CA: AK Press.

Klein, Naomi (2014). This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. NY: Simon & Schuster.

Magdoff, Fred (Sept. 2014). “Building an Ecologically Sound and Socially Just Society.” Monthly Review (v. 66; no. 4). Pp. 23—34.

Marx, Karl, & Engels, Friedrich (1955). The Communist Manifesto. Northbrook IL: AHM Publishing.

McKibben, Bill (2007). Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. NY: Henry Holt/Times Books.

Ocasio-Cortez, Alexandria (2018). ”Select Committee for a Green New Deal: Draft Text for Proposed Addendum to House Rules for 116th Congress of the United States”

Rugh, Peter (2018). “Gearing Up for a Green New Deal.” The Indypendent. Issue 242.…deal/

Simpson, Adam (2018). “The Green New Deal and the Shift to a New Economy” The Next System Podcast.…onomy

Smith, Richard (2018). “An Ecosocialist Path to Limiting Global Temperature Rise to 1.5 [degrees] C” System Change Not Climate Change. (An abridged version of a paper to appear in 3/1/19 Real-World Economics Review.)…se-15°c

Trotsky, Leon (1977). The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution. NY: Pathfinder Press.

Wikipedia, (undated). “Green New Deal.”

*written for

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Interview with Anarchist from Muktiwadi Ekta Morcha

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 15:51

via Black Autonomy Network

1. Can you give us a brief overview of your group? How did you all start, how long have you been around, what kind of stuff you do, that sort of thing.

Our group is based in Bhopal, India. It’s called Muktiwadi Ekta Morcha (Libertarian Solidarity Front). We are 4 mementos. We work with contract, informal workers. But upto this point the interaction has been mostly talks and discussion, no on ground action.

We are in informal discussion with bus workers, garbage collectors in Bhopal.

But since last October the group has shift attention on climate change. We are now working as Extinction Rebellion (XR) in Bhopal and India. XR began in UK by the libertarian socialist group Rising Up. Now, we are mostly working on climate education and mobilization.

2. Can you give us a rundown of what Anarchism looks like in India? What is it like to organize as Anarchists there and what its relationships to other social movements looks like? In particular we know there is an ongoing Maoist insurgency and we are interested in what, if any, tensions exist with that.

The reaction you get in India for being an anarchist organizer depends significantly on who you are talking with. The “educated” classes – the urban middle class etc. having being swallowed the state propaganda quite thoroughly, to be able to survive in India, finds you crazy or dangerous. While the labouring section empathize with the essence of anarchist values and desires.

I should mention and this should be stressed that, there is no anarchist movement in India. There are scattered anarchists (of sorts) all over India. As far as I know, ours is the only organized small section.

Individuals from other movements come in our contact and, most of them who are not connected with the mainstream Marxist-leninist movements do synthesise towards some elements of anarchism. We would like to be able to establish better links with the feminist and the Dalit and tribal movements.

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The Meaning of Anarchism

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 16:23

Forthcoming talks being given by Anarcho from Anarchist Writers at (Nottingham, 28/01/19 and 04/02/19.

Before giving the details of my forthcoming talks I need to mention a few things. First off, I should mention that I have posted write-ups of my previous two talks in Nottingham – Peter Kropotkin: Science and Syndicalism and The 1848 Revolutions: An Anarchist Perspective – along with an article Propertarianism and Fascism. As noted in the introduction to both the talks, neither are exactly what I said on the day but rather what I had hoped to cover. I’ll leave it to those there to say whether I active that goal or not!

The article is based on a previous blog, and driven in part as a result of my work on A Libertarian Reader. For those who are unaware, propertarianism is what we should call right-wing “libertarianism” – or, as they would have it, “libertarianism.” The Wikipedia entry covers it reasonably well, although it is clearly a bit of a mess given the right-wing appropriation of the word libertarian to describe something the exact opposite of its original usage. I will return to this below, after the meeting details.

The Kropotkin talk was based on one given earlier in the year in Edinburgh (I have not written up my Glasgow talk yet, but I will) and gives a basic overview of both Kropotkin’s contributions to science and anarchist theory. Hopefully that will help combat a few myths as well as make people read Direct Struggle Against Capital and Modern Science and Anarchy.

The second is something I had hoped to do for some time. I had the idea of a collection of some of my articles entitled Anarchy in the Age of Revolution, which would cover the Paris Commune, Russia in 1905 and 1917, Spain, France 1968, Argentina and so on. One revolution which was noticeable in its absence was 1848. Given the impact it had on anarchist theory due to Proudhon’s active participation in it, I knew it had to be covered. So when the Sparrow’s Nest comrades asked me to cover the events as part of their anniversary talks, I jumped at the chance.

I soon discovered that little or nothing had been written on it from an anarchist perspective – basically an essay by George Woodcock from 1948 and the second volume of Murray Bookchin’s The Third Revolution (written as he was breaking from anarchism, it was less useful than you would think – his account of Proudhon is shockingly bad, for example). Bakunin and Kropotkin obviously mention it, but mostly in passing, while Proudhon’s Confessions of a Revolutionary has not been completely translated (some chapters are in Property is Theft!). So I had to hit the books to see what popular organisations developed and indicate their potential, to draw conclusions for today – and that is the point, we study the past to inform our activity today (and to avoid mistakes).

Talking of Proudhon, I should mention that I’ve posted more extracts from Property is Theft! along with a new, complete translation of the final chapter of System of Economic Contradictions. More details – and links – can be found in this blog: David Harvey on Proudhon.

So having mentioned Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin I should give details of the two public meetings next year before giving an update on two of my current projects:

The Meaning of Anarchism, via twelve libertarians

Five Leaves Bookshop, 14a Long Row, Nottingham NG1 2DH

Anarchism is a much misunderstood and much misrepresented theory. Rejecting the chaos of capitalism and statism, it seeks to create the order of libertarian socialism, a free society of free associates. To discover more, please join Iain McKay (author of An Anarchist FAQ) for an exploration of libertarian ideas by means of six male and six female anarchist thinkers and activists.

Over two nights, the lives and ideas of the founding fathers and mothers of anarchism – including Michael Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, Louise Michel and Emma Goldman – will be discussed and their continuing relevance highlighted.

Week one — Monday, 28th January: 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Founding Fathers, 1840 to 1940: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon; Joseph Dejacques;  Michael Bakunin; Errico Malatesta; Peter Kropotkin; Rudolf Rocker

Week two – Monday, 4th February: 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Founding Mothers, 1840 to 1940; André Léo; Louise Michel; Lucy Parsons; Emma Goldman; Voltairine de Cleyre; Marie-Louis Berneri

£3.00 on the door, including refreshments.

Obviously, others will be mentioned along with various organisations and revolts, but these are the people being talked about in order to give a framework to the talk. And I should state that this topic was not my choice, but rather the bookshop’s. We will see if it works as a format!

With that done, time for updates.

First off, Freedom Press has indicated that they should be printing my collection of works by George Barrett in May next year (2019). Barrett was a key founder of one incarnation of the Glasgow Anarchist Group (I am an ex-member of subsequent groupings), Glasgow being one of the perennial strongholds of anarchism in Britain. He was also a mainstay of the British anarchist movement, writing for Freedom and other papers – he was offered the editorship, but declined in favour of editing the second incarnation of The Voice of Labour, having previously edited the Glasgow-based The Anarchist for around a year. He caught TB while on an outdoor public speaking tour and died at a far too early an age in 1917.

I have been a fan of his writing since reading a collection of three of his pamphlets – The Anarchist Revolution, Objections to Anarchism and The Last War – in the early 1990s. When I was on strike early this year, I went through the Freedom archives and tracked down his articles from the early 1910s (by happy coincidence, these were available on-line). All are very interesting and covered two main areas – general anarchist articles and reports on the movement. The latter are of note, as they show how things often do not change that much over the decades. So the book is in three sections – pamphlets, articles and reports – plus an introduction by me and an appendix containing the 1915 International Anarchist Manifesto against the war, of which he was a signatory. It will probably be entitled The Anarchist Revolution and other writings, but we will see…

Anyway, it has not been completely confirmed yet, so more details will be forthcoming when I get it.

The other project is A Libertarian Reader, which is in two volumes now. The first covers 1857 to 1956 and the texts have been gathered and now in need of further selection. The introduction is around 80% complete. I have to say, it is very enjoyable reading all these texts – the libertarian tradition is such a rich one and many of these writers and texts should be better known.

Of note is Joshua King Ingalls, whose article Work and Wealth is a late addition. I found it of particular interest for his consistent application of the “occupancy and use” position on land ownership. As I noted in An Anarchist FAQ (G.4.2 Why do social anarchists think individualism is inconsistent anarchism?), there is a massive contradiction in Tucker’s support for a non-exploitative form of wage-labour (if such a thing could exist – spoiler, it could not!). As discussed in AFAQ in more detail, wage-labour violates opposition to government (as the wage-worker is obviously under the control of their boss) and “occupancy and use” (the capitalist cannot, by definition, use the workplace by themselves – hence the need for wage-slaves). I was happy to see that Ingalls also drew the obvious logical conclusion, namely: “As a principle of law,—the partnership of all concerned in the production of wealth requiring division of labor.” I have added a footnote on this:

Ingalls expanded on this in a later book: “Now, since labour and the land are inseparable in any industrial or economic problem, and since ‘the earth is the natural inheritance of mankind,’ it follows that the joining of labour to land in all production requiring more than one man is a partnership. It must also follow that all production under such combination of effort is the property of the partners so engaged. […] it is a community of rights and of goods […] Where two or more are engaged in any productive labour, they necessarily become partners. […] Both in law and equity they would be partners and entitled to share in division, proportionally to the work done. […] Our laws, however, regarding property, and which, under the domination of capitalism, are made without any direct reference to labour, in defining partnerships, joint-stock companies, and co-operative societies, ignore labour as an element in production, or, rather, in the division, and make each partner’s or stockholder’s share of the dividend to depend upon the amount of money or other value invested. But the silence of the civil law in regard to labour does not make the claim of labour any the less valid. […] The necessity of co-operation in any field of industrial enterprise is too apparent to require proof. The very demand for labour is sufficient. If a man could do everything by himself, he would seek no helpers. Now, helpers are necessarily co-partners in production […] making every worker in an establishment a partner, and to have a voice in the management of the affairs of the co-partnership. […] To make our large corporations and industrial enterprises, as they exist today, truly co-operative, it is only necessary to stop the leakage due to rent, interest, and profits, and infuse a modicum of honesty into the system of dividing the products resulting from the labours of the co-operators by striking an equation between services and compensations.” (Chapter XII, “Partnership and Co-operation,” Social Wealth: The Sole Factors and Exact Ratios in its Acquirement and Apportionment [New York: The Truth Seeker Company, 1885], 194-203)

This position has obvious links to Proudhon’s ideas on socialisation and association. As I argued in section G.4, Tucker’s position was an inconsistent anarchism but it could become consistent anarchism by applying the “occupancy and use” logically. It is nice to get confirmation that the person who seems to have coined the “occupancy and use” expression which was popularised by Tucker and others, was logical and consistent. Tucker, for all his merits, did unfortunately narrow individualist anarchism and bring it closer to classical liberalism – although propertarians ignore or dismiss precisely those radical elements which keeps Tucker and his system in the ranks of socialism (even if we conclude they are limited in scope and unable to achieve even these promises). Just look at Ingalls on the following shibboleths of “classical liberalism”:

“It is of the utmost importance to any exact solution of the problem of labor, and its equitable award, that we divest ourselves of all those prejudices and superstitions in regard to property and the sacredness of contracts in which capitalism has entrenched itself, making itself, and not labor, appear as the giver of work and the creator of wealth. At this point labor must take its stand without compromise, or else surrender at discretion. […] It is true the worker may exchange his share of the product after the division is made, or agree beforehand upon the division, and so accept a payment in the form of wages; but to give such transaction a show of equity, he must be at liberty to employ himself, because, if he be denied his natural opportunity to labor, free access to the soil, he contracts under duress, and the payment of such wages does not conclude him. It is not a free, but a compulsory exchange. His claim for settlement still remains good to his share of the product of the partnership work, less what has been paid him, and it is the difference between such share and such payment which constitutes the profits and accumulations of CAPITALISM.” (J. K. Ingalls, Social Wealth, 201.


“CAPITALISM. — That system of social or industrial institutions by which an exploiteur is enabled to appropriate to himself the increase resulting from industry, which belongs, and which would otherwise go, to the laborer, or be returned to the land. An abnormal relation of labor to commerce, which subjects labor to the control of an owner of the land, or of any property or goods for which the land will exchange.” (Ingalls, Social Wealth, 313)

I should note that Ezra Heywood’s article in The Radical Review on the 1877 railway strike is also well-worth a read. It was later revised and issued as pamphlet – The Great Strike: Its relations to labor, property, and government (Princeton, Mass., Co-operative Publishing Co., 1878) and on its first page states the work “announces and defends the ethical principles which, more and more, will inspire resistance to the world-wide warfare of capital on labor. It is high time that working people knew their rights, and how to make those rights respected.” I would except much gnashing of  teeth and denunciations of “Marxism” if any propertarian today read such words…

Which just reinforces how awful the propertarian appropriation of “libertarian” is – even if you take their arguments against the state at face-value (and you should definitely not), their defence of liberty is impoverished. It completely ignores what genuine libertarians knew, namely that liberty is threatened by forces other than the state – not least, property and the authoritarian social relations and economic power it generates. As Kropotkin put it as regards “classical liberal” Herbert Spencer:

“The modern Individualism initiated by Herbert Spencer is, like the critical theory of Proudhon, a powerful indictment against the dangers and wrongs of government, but its practical solution of the social problem is miserable – so miserable as to lead us to inquire if the talk of ‘No force’ be merely an excuse for supporting landlord and capitalist domination.” (Act For Yourselves: articles from Freedom 1886-1907 [London: Freedom Press, 1988], 98)

We can answer that rhetorical question with a resounding “yes.” Which brings me back to my article, Propertarianism and Fascism which discusses the support Ludwig von Mises gave to fascism in the 1920s and 1930s along with how even fascism could not prove his solution for the Great Depression (smashing organised labour, cutting wages, eliminating even limited State welfare) as viable. Which places Kropotkin’s comments from Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles in a clear light:

“When a workman sells his labour to an employer […] it is a mockery to call that a free contract. Modern economists may call it free, but the father of political economy – Adam Smith – was never guilty of such a misrepresentation. As long as three-quarters of humanity are compelled to enter into agreements of that description, force is, of course, necessary, both to enforce the supposed agreements and to maintain such a state of things. Force – and a good deal of force – is necessary to prevent the labourers from taking possession of what they consider unjustly appropriated by the few […] The Spencerian party perfectly well understand that; and while they advocate no force for changing the existing conditions, they advocate still more force than is now used for maintaining them. As to Anarchy, it is obviously as incompatible with plutocracy as with any other kind of –cracy.” (Anarchism and Anarchist Communism [London: Freedom Press, 1987], 52-53)

Kropotkin’s words were prophetic, as shown by von Mises’s support for fascism (as a “quick-fix”) in the 1920s and 1930s. As part of my writing of the introduction of A Libertarian Reader, I decided to go into the well-funded think-tanks aspect of the appropriation of “libertarian” by the right in more details. This involved looking at the Koch brothers and how they got their fortune. It is, in a nutshell, a classic example of propertarian hypocrisy:

After being subject to law-suit for patent infringement, their father, Fred Koch (1900–1967), moved to the Soviet Union — did not recognise intellectual property rights — in 1929 to help build petroleum distillation plants. For the next two years he helped Stalin’s regime set up fifteen modern oil refineries. The company also built the third-largest oil refinery in the Third Reich, a project which was personally approved by Hitler. In short, the Koch business was built using labour with no means of challenging management or seeking higher wages. Returning to America, he became a leading anti-Communist (he was one of the 11 original members of the John Birch Society) and helped amend the constitution of the state of Kansas in 1958 to make it a right-to-work state. In short, like Stalin and Hitler, he used the State to weaken organised labour – by violating the sacred right of free contract by outlawing agreements between companies and unions to ensure that all who benefit from union contracts contribute to the costs of union representation. That this bolstered his company’s profits by weakening his workforce’s bargaining power was, we can be sure, merely a coincidence, as was Koch seeking to create in America the same lack of independent unions he had benefited from under Stalin and Hitler.

It should go without saying that the beneficiaries of past aggression would wholeheartedly support a “non-aggression” principle now, for the monopolisers of social wealth have an interest in maintaining their social position, property and power.

Given the praise of von Mises for fascism in the 1920s, perhaps it should also come as no surprise that Fred Koch likewise saw its benefits:

“Although nobody agrees with me, I am of the opinion that the only sound countries in the world are Germany, Italy, and Japan, simply because they are all working and working hard. The laboring people in these countries are proportionately much better off than they are any place else in the world. When you contrast the state of mind of Germany today with what it was in 1925 you begin to think that perhaps this course of idleness, feeding at the public trough, dependence on government, etc., with which we are afflicted is not permanent and can be overcome.” (quoted by Jane Mayer, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right [New York: Anchor Books, 2017], 37-8)

Koch seemed oblivious that he himself had enriched himself by “feeding at the public trough” and by “dependence on government,” albeit Stalin’s and Hitler’s governments rather than that of a democratically elected one. Likewise, labouring people had little choice in “working hard” under the three fascist regimes – Germany, Italy, and Japan – he praised, but it is doubtful they were “much better off” than in a regime which let them organise is unlikely to say the least (likewise, the anti-union neo-liberalism of the past few decades which the Koch brothers helped along saw productivity and profits rise while wages stagnated, labour’s share fall while inequality rose).

Of course, the Koch brothers cannot be blamed for their father’s politics and actions – but, surely, as good propertarians they must realise that their fortune is the product of aggression? It is the stolen labour of workers toiling in slave-states, but they seem not to be keen on returning it to those – or their descendants – who suffered producing it. This is hardly a unique position on the propertarian right, although occasionally some propertarians sometimes pay lip-service to this (F.8 What role did the state take in the creation of capitalism?), but in practice even these are quick to leave things as they are (it all happened a long time ago, seems to be the best of the defences).

Still, it is like the far-right’s appropriation of “libertarian” – the position seems to be that they stole it fair and square, so tough luck. Yet the irony of propertarians using the fruits of state-coercion to oppose current coercion should not be over-stated – as noted, it makes perfect sense for thieves to proclaim thieving is bad from now on

In short, seeking to maintain and expand their managerial authority and profits may explain the Koch brothers’ following in their father’s anti-union politics than belief in the individual freedom of those whom they deny freedom of speech, assembly and organisation within their plants (as a result of private government). Likewise, Koch industries numerous environmental and safety fines over the years may explain their opposition to governmental regulation far better than a desire for individual freedom, as a strong commitment to individual rights would mean opposing the imposition of externalities on others. Similarly, being billionaires may shape their opposition to taxation for social spending far more than an ideological commitment to freedom.

But enough of stating what should be obvious, until I blog again… be seeing you!

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Climate justice and the bystander effect

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 16:15

via The Ecologist

by Holly-Anna Petersen

The world was shocked by the viral video of fifteen year-old Jamal, a Syrian refugee who was pushed to the ground and had water poured over his face. As his GoFundMe page reaches more that £150,000 in donations, the public outcry is keenly felt.

However, the question still remains, why did no one come to his aid when so many people were present at the attack?

Research into “the bystander effect” might help us to understand this phenomena in its wider psycho-social context.

Bystander effect

An article published in March of 1964 can shine some light. The article was printed in The New York Times and reported on the death of a 28-year-old woman called Kitty Genovese. Kitty was stabbed outside of her home in Kew Gardens, New York. The article claimed that 38 neighbours witnessed the attack but none of them contacted the police or attempted to help her.

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Why Anthony Rayson, Anarchist Grandpa, Sends Zines to Prison

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 15:47

via Chicago magazine

By Phoebe Mogharei

You can usually find Anthony Rayson, 64, in the bright wood sunroom at the rear of his home in south suburban Monee. Through the window, there’s a sandbox and kids toys for Rayson’s grandson, when he visits. At a small table, he lays out apple slices for guests.

The room is stuffed with bookshelves, and the bookshelves are stuffed with folded sheets of white A4 paper making up thousands of homemade zines. Rayson pulls a few titles: Abolish All Prisons, Free the Slaves!, and finally, The Most Virtuous Vagina in the United States of America, grinning.

Zines, or self-made, low-budget literature — often booklets — were once a staple of underground publishing. But in the internet age, as self-publishing become quicker, cheaper, and boundless, they’ve fallen out of favor. These days, zines are mostly relegated to art circles.

Rayson, though, has found a practical use for the medium: For the past 20 years, he’s run the South Chicago ABC Zine Distro, a service that mails copies of zines from his extensive collection to incarcerated people. He also catalogs and sends out zines made from inside prisons, creating a network between prisoners across the country.

Rayson’s work, including multiple collaborations with incarcerated writers, is the inspiration for a current exhibition, Incarceration: Art, Activism, and Advocacy, on display at DePaul’s Richardson library through the first week of January.

Rayson wrote his first zine, The People’s Polar Express, in the 1970s. He’d just dropped out of his freshman year at Grinnell College in protest of US military action in Cambodia — or rather, in protest of a protest. “Grinnell students only struck for one day,” says Rayson. “So I said, ‘No, I’m staying on strike.’”

He hitchhiked around the country for two years, then returned to his parents’ home in Tinley Park, where he logged more than a hundred pages of creative writing. (He’s since gone back to school, graduating as valedictorian from Prairie State College in 1995).

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Trump’s Betrayal Of Ypg – Paris Commune Falls Again?

Sun, 12/30/2018 - 04:19

by David Van Deusen

The YPG/YPJ have also held the dictatorship at bay (and they have brought a relative
stability to this region of Syria). But what deserves our respect is not simply their
military prowess, but rather the type of society which they seek to create in liberated
areas. They hold socialist tendencies, but what sets them apart is their desire to
organize their world according to directly democratic means; something like a secular,
decentralized, Town Meeting system where all the people have an actual voice and an
unabstracted vote concerning the issues that face them as a people and as a community.
Here they take political influence from the anarchist Vermont sociologist Murray Bookchin.
Their vision, similar to that espoused by the EZLN & the Zapatistas (Chiapas, Mexico), is
as far reaching as that which was dreamed of on CNT/FAI barricades in Spain from
1936-1939. Their fight has parallels to Mahkno and his brigades in the Ukraine in 1919.
They do not fight for an ethic Kurdish state, but rather for a new social formation
whereby the individual and the community collectively control the world in which they
live. Their dreams, perhaps, are not dissimilar those who manned the walls of the Paris in
1871. And to this very point in time, remarkably, they have been winning.

As an American, as a Vermonter, and as a Labor leader I have marched many times against US lead wars. However, I do not oppose wars and US military action because I assert war as
always unjust and always unnecessary. I am not philosophically a Kantian; this is not a
moral imperative for me. I am also no liberal. If truth be told it was only through war
and armed conflict that Vermont and the United States became republics free from the
British Empire. And like the US, Ireland would still be an exploited outpost in the same
empire if it were not for the force of arms demonstrated by the IRA. Cuba, today, without
their victorious 1959 revolution, likewise would remain an economic colony of America. And
further, it was only through the Allied war effort that Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy &
their murderous ideologies were crushed for generations. But since my birth, from the
Vietnam War, to armed interventions against Latin America, up through the invasion of
Iraq, I am hard pressed to find a US military intervention that, by purpose or accident,
carried with it an intrinsic moral clarity; rather contemporary US military action time
and again has been launched to serve the interests of corporations and a tiny minority of
wealthy elite.

For these reasons I was proud to serve as a Vermont AFL-CIO officer when we were aligned
with US Labor Against The War, and when our Unions called for the rapid withdrawal of all
American troops from Iraq. I was also proud to have helped write the Vermont AFL-CIO
resolution stating our solidarity with the Longshoremen when they conducted a one day
strike, shutting down West Coast ports as an act of resistance against the Iraq War. And
even now I am supportive of calls coming to finally end the generation-long war in
Afghanistan. But again, I do not condemn such military actions because I am a pacifist or
because I am rejecting the notion of war in and of itself. I do so because I judge the
conflicts which the US engages in, much more often than not, as wrong and immoral based on the specific facts and specific interests being served by these imperialistic conflicts.

For some years now the United States has provided arms and limited Special Forces support
(now 2000 boots on the ground) to the Kurdish lead YPG/YPJ in Syria. The YPG/YPJ has used
these arms to extend their control over most of northern Syria. They have effectively
engaged ISIS, driving them out of the north. They have also held the dictatorship at bay
(and they have brought a relative stability to this region of Syria). But what deserves
our respect is not simply their military prowess, but rather the type of society which
they seek to create in liberated areas. They hold socialist tendencies, but what sets them
apart is their desire to organize their world according to directly democratic means;
something like a secular, decentralized, Town Meeting system where all the people have an
actual voice and an unabstracted vote concerning the issues that face them as a people and
as a community. Here they take political influence from the anarchist Vermont sociologist
Murray Bookchin. Their vision, similar to that espoused by the EZLN & the Zapatistas
(Chiapas, Mexico), is as far reaching as that which was dreamed of on CNT/FAI barricades
in Spain from 1936-1939. Their fight has parallels to Mahkno and his brigades in the
Ukraine in 1919. They do not fight for an ethic Kurdish state, but rather for a new social
formation whereby the individual and the community collectively control the world in which
they live. Their dreams, perhaps, are not dissimilar those who manned the walls of the
Paris in 1871. And to this very point in time, remarkably, they have been winning.

The historical significance of what they have been achieving in Rojava (northern Syria)
has not been lost on those in other nations who also can imagine what a truly democratic
and equitable society could look like. Presently hundreds, if not thousands, of regular
working people (Americans included) have made the difficult journey to Syria in order
stand with them, rifle in hand, to fight for this common dream. And many have died
defending this dream from ISIS, from Turkey, and from those who instead seek the
domination and brutality of a misguided & twisted Islamic state or the repression which a
dictatorship or new form of fascism brings in its wake. And still they fight, and still
they organize a direct democracy, composed of Kurds & Arabs, in the lands which they have

And now, our own (so called) President Donald Trump has announced his intent to withdraw
the 2000 brave American troops currently deployed in this region (and who by circumstance
fight with honor alongside YPG/YPJ). And even tonight, Turkey stands in wait, sharpening
their swords…

But given the long history of the US imperialism and economic subjugation, why has the US
supported them? Some would argue that the very presence of US guns mark the YPG/YPJ as no more than pawns of a morally questionable US foreign policy. Some would say they are dupes of the CIA. After all, why would the US elite support a revolution which seeks to topple
the exploitive American capitalism which underpins the old world order (and which
continues to sell out American and foreign workers alike)? How can this be? The answer is
simple… The United States has supported this revolution because YPG/YPJ are fiercely
opposed to ISIS and are effective fighters. The US therefore has acted on the premise that
the enemy of my enemy is my friend (at least for a time).

No one should be under any illusion that the US ruling class has supported the YPG/YPJ
because they approve of the cooperative democratic society which they seek to create. The
ruling elite of the US (Republican & Democrat) would be perfectly happy supporting an
authoritarian dictator as long as such a strongman would support America’s perceived long
term economic and strategic interests. But as it turns out, few in northern Syria were or
are willing to engage in a protracted fight just to see the deck chairs of authoritarian
politics rearranged. But the people have been willing to fight (and die) for something
much more far reaching. And this has transformed the YPG/YPJ into something far more
significant than a regional militia; it has made them into a multi-ethnic force capable of
constantly beating back ISIS and other reactionary elements in Syria. And for America, the
short term aim was always to diminish ISIS. Here, as the YPG/YPJ was compelled to face
existential enemies on all fronts, they were glad to accept guns and logistical support
from wherever they would come. When a man’s house is on fire he does not stop to ask the
politics of the one who hands him a bucket of water. If that bucket comes from a
Republican, it does not make him a Republican. Thus the US support for the YPG/YPJ was
nothing more than a temporary marriage of convenience, and the YPG/YPJ are not defined by the politics (and motivations) of those that offer them material aid.

But now, after the YPG/YPJ has diminished ISIS and pushed them into more remote areas,
Trump has grown tired of this marriage and his Administration’s true face has begun to
look up to again reveal its twisted contours. Trump would have American troops evacuate in
order to turn their attention to other more sinister projects (such as those transpiring
on our southern border). And no matter that the second largest army in NATO (the
increasingly Islamic-Fascist Turks) have announced their desire to launch invasions of
northern Syria with the sole aim of crushing this experiment in direct democracy, the
United States of America is preparing to look the other way. The reactionary government of
Turkey views the YPG/YPJ as a treat in that they represent an alternative not only for
Syria but also for Turkey. And they view YPG/YPJ as having close links to the armed PKK
(which operates within Kurdish Turkey and which shares similar politics with their Syrian
cousins) further driving their genocidal ambitions. What gives the Turks pause, now, is
the presence of American troops. Once this deterrent is removed, it is hard to envision a
chain of events which does not include a devastating invasion of this island of hope, this
city on the hill overlooking the chaos that is the Middle East. And no matter how America
got there, once America leaves Trump will own the history that follows. If the Paris
Commune must fall again let it be known that the invaders were enabled by a country which
once called itself great.

In Solidarity with the YPG/YPJ & The Struggle in Rojava,

David Van Deusen, District Vice President of the Vermont AFL-CIO

What follows is a link to the resolution passed by the Green Mountain Central Labor
Council of the Vermont AFL-CIO in support of the YPG/YPJ and the struggle in Rojava. This
resolution was passed in February of 2018:

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