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Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth
Updated: 11 min 5 sec ago

The Enigmatic Anarchist

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 21:21

via Jacobin

An interview with Jacqueline Jones

Interview by Arvind Dilawar

ucy Parsons is often lionized as a pioneering black radical, a powerful writer and orator who championed workers’ emancipation through organizations like the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), while flouting racist conventions with her white husband, Albert Parsons.

But while this sketch carries the patina of truth, it is, like so many aspects of Parsons, rife with contradictions. Throughout her life, Parsons hid her background as an African American and a former slave, instead claiming she was of Mexican and Native American descent. She refrained from denouncing the plight of black workers, focusing almost exclusively on an urban working class composed primarily of European immigrants. And despite being a delegate at the founding convention of the IWW in 1905, her involvement with the radical union thereafter was minimal.

Yet her journey from slave to nationally recognized radical voice, her tireless advocacy for workers, and her undeniable bravery in the face of murderous state repression made her stand out in an era full of notable leftists.

Parsons largely faded from the popular imagination following her death in 1942. It wasn’t until 1976 that the first biography of her, Lucy Parsons: An American Revolutionary by Carolyn Ashbaugh, was published. The second — Goddess of Anarchy: The Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American Radical by Jacqueline Jones — was just released by Basic Books. Jacobin recently spoke with Jones, a renowned historian at the University of Texas, about Parsons’s political evolution, her lifetime of tribulations, and her many, many faces.

The development of Lucy Parsons’s political ideology was entwined with that of her husband, Albert Parsons. As a teenager, Albert served in the Confederate Army, but he lacked any principled commitment to the Southern cause. After the war, Albert returned to Waco, Texas, and became active in the Republican Party. He played a major role in helping freedmen register and vote, and urged them to seize their rights as free and equal citizens. It was during this period that Albert realized he possessed considerable talent as a powerful, even fearless, orator. Gradually, he developed political ambitions, as evidenced by his attempt to curry favor with prominent Republicans in Texas.

He and Lucy married in 1872, when Republicans controlled the state government and (at least in some areas) approved of interracial marriage. The Democrats regained control of the state the following year, prompting the couple to flee to Chicago, where they settled in a German immigrant community. He worked as a printer, and she set up shop as a seamstress.

Albert and Lucy partook of German immigrants’ radical sensibilities and embraced socialism. Just as Texas Republicans challenged the powerful Democratic Party and its commitment to slavery, so Chicago socialists challenged both major political parties and their commitment to capitalism.

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Could decentralized systems replace Google?

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 20:24

via The Next Web

by AJ Agrawal

The internet is ruled by a small number of massive corporations. Roger McNamee, Co-founder of Elevation Partners on CNBC, says, “Google, Facebook, Amazon are increasingly just super-monopolies, especially Google … The share of the markets they operate in is literally on the same scale that Standard Oil had … more than 100 years ago—with the big differences that their reach is now global, not just within a single country.”

Google now owns over 90 percent of the search engine market, and many fear the growing possibility of monopolistic oppression. Free of competition, internet search is essentially wholly controlled by Google, which enables them to operate in an opaque, “do as they wish” manner.

Chrisjan Pauw talks about this reality in CoinTelegraph, describing how it is often hard for consumers to realize that “whenever we browse the internet, a lot of our personal information is tracked and logged in some shape or form. This information is then used in various ad campaigns that businesses pay huge sums of money for to be part of. These campaigns are translated into the invasive pop-up ads.”

Clearly, from the perspective of privacy and control, this is a negative user experience. The problem at a higher level is that we as a society default to trusting Google with our most important and confidential information. Centralized data-management networks, akin to today’s internet, place too much accountability on a single position of power, widening the threat of abuse, corruption and hacking.

As Ben Dickson writes in VentureBeat, “If the servers of these entities go down, we lose access to vital functionality. If they get hacked, we lose our data. If they decide to monetize our data in unlawful ways or hand it over to government agencies, we likely won’t learn about it. If they decide to censor or prioritize content based on their interests, we won’t be able to do anything about it.”

As a result, emerging blockchain technology, which effectively decentralizes large systems, has begun to attract attention as the potential answer to this privacy nightmare. Specifically, technologists are optimistic that the next generation of the internet could entirely supplant today’s infrastructure, bringing the benefits of distributed-powered networks to the masses. This decentralized web, dubbed Web 3.0, would spread the internet’s power load across a number of independent machines.

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World accumulation & Planetary life, or, why capitalism will not survive until the ‘last tree is cut’

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 16:22

via PM Press

By Jason Moore

Why does it seem easier to imagine the end of the world than to see the end of capitalism? Part of the answer turns on a rift between radical economic and ecological thought.

How does capitalism work through the web of life? How can we begin to understand capitalism not simply as an economic system of markets and production and a social system of class and culture, but as a way of organising nature?

I’ve argued that this is a co-produced relation, that capitalism makes nature and the web of life makes capitalism. But how do we come to terms with planetary ‘state shifts’ like climate change – dramatic, abrupt, and irreversible moments of planetary change?[1] That is, how do we understand the tendency towards both planetary crisis and accumulation crisis as two moments of a self-forming whole. We have an immediate problem because the way of thinking about these questions in the modern world, after five centuries of colonialism and scientific revolution and everything else, puts society in one box and nature in another. They interact – sort of – but they are very much in different spheres. The answer to these fundamental questions has to begin by acknowledging that the planetary state shift recognised by earth system scientists requires an intellectual and political state shift: a radical shift in how we think about the relations between humans and the rest of nature.

Capitalism and the ‘four cheaps’

Crucial to my thinking has been a family of ideas that seek to show how capitalism, from its early modern origins, has been not only a mighty producer of changes in the web of life, but also a product of that web of life, and of the totality of transformations between what is usually called society and nature. This means that modernity never masters or possesses nature. Capital not only never subsumes nature, but it has few effective mechanisms for managing its own nature in any given era. The web of life is unruly, rebellious, and has a way of continually upsetting the best laid plans of states, of capitalists, of scientists and engineers.

This is important because the new liberal craze for turning over global natures, including human natures, to market-oriented management represents an important break in the history of capitalism. Longstanding patterns of state and imperial governance of nature have produced a set of conditions of production which I call Cheap Nature. The Four Cheaps – labour power, food, energy and raw materials – are necessary to launch and sustain great bursts of capital accumulation. Today, capital is seeking profitable investment opportunities in a world in which there are really no more significant frontiers of Cheap Nature. These are not significant enough, in my view, to relaunch another golden age of capitalism.

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Why Is It So Hard for Americans to Get a Decent Raise?

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 14:28

via Slate

By Jordan Weissmann

If you were a delivery van driver searching for a new job any time between the years of 2010 and 2013, chances are, you wouldn’t have found many businesses competing for your services. In Selma, Alabama, there was, on average, just one company posting help wanted ads for those drivers on the nation’s biggest job board. In all of Orlando, Florida, there were about nine. Nationwide the average was about two.

The situation for telemarketers wasn’t great either. In any given city or town, approximately three companies were trying to hire for their services. Accountants only had it a little better: Roughly four businesses were posting jobs for them.

Those numbers are based on the findings of a new research paper that may help unlock the mystery of why Americans can’t seem to get a decent raise. Economists have struggled over that question for years now, as wage growth has stagnated and more of the nation’s income has shifted from the pockets of workers into the bank accounts of business owners. Since 1979, inflation-adjusted hourly pay is up just 3.41 percent for the middle 20 percent of Americans while labor’s overall share of national income has declined sharply since the early 2000s. There are lots of possible explanations for why this is, from long-term factors like the rise of automation and decline of organized labor, to short-term ones, such as the lingering weakness in the job market left over from the great recession. But a recent study by a group of labor economists introduces an interesting theory into the mix: Workers’ pay may be lagging because the U.S. is suffering from a shortage of employers.

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MLK’s Advice on Strike Strategy Still Relevant Today

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 05:47

via Labor Notes

by Rand Wilson

Toward the end of his life, Martin Luther King Jr.’s thinking about poverty evolved from racial equality to more of a class perspective. He proposed a Poor People’s Campaign to challenge the government to end poverty and a broad coalition to support it.

But building a coalition to back his program for economic justice proved more difficult than he imagined. It made his funders and even his closest advisors nervous. A proposed national march on Washington had to be postponed, and King was growing frustrated.

Sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, had been trying to get organized and win recognition from the city for years without success. After two workers were crushed to death in one of the garbage trucks, a majority of workers struck on February 12, 1968, for union recognition and a contract.

The strike had been going on for over a month with growing frustration. Incidents of violence were increasing, mostly provoked by the racist and brutal Memphis police.

King recognized that the strike provided an opportunity to demonstrate how the civil rights and economic justice movements could come together at the local level. He proposed bringing the Poor People’s Campaign to Memphis.

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What the “Santa Clausification” of Martin Luther King Jr. Leaves Out

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 20:29

via The Intercept

by Zaid Jilani

The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. is celebrated annually on a federal holiday on the third Monday of January. Politicians across the political spectrum put out statements praising his life’s work, and children in classrooms across America are told the tale of a man who stood up defiantly against racism and helped changed civil rights law.

But what they don’t mention is that King was not just a fighter for racial justice, he also fought for economic justice and against war. And as a result, he spent the last years of his life, before being assassinated in 1968, clashing not just with reactionary Southern segregationists, but with the Democratic Party’s elite and other civil rights leaders, who viewed his turn against the Vietnam War and the American economic system as dangerous and radical.

This “Santa Clausification” of King, as scholar Cornel West calls it — the portrayal of King as a celebrated consensus seeker asking for common sense racial reforms rather than as an anti-establishment radical — downplays the risks one of America’s most revered activists took to live according to conscience.

The Backlash Against King’s Opposition to the Vietnam War 

While working alongside Democratic President Lyndon Johnson on civil rights issues, King was also increasingly disturbed by the war in Vietnam, and he would raise the issue privately with Johnson in White House calls and meetings. In April 1967, King decided to publicly denounce the war and call for its end. He gave a speech at Riverside Church in New York City where he called the U.S. government the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world” and denounced napalm bombings and the propping up of a puppet government in South Vietnam. He also called for a total re-examination of U.S. foreign policy, questioning capitalist exploitation of the developing world.

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NASA just made a stunning discovery about how fracking fuels global warming

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 20:23

via Think Progress

by Joe Romm

A new NASA study is one final nail in the coffin of the myth that natural gas is a climate solution, or a “bridge” from the dirtiest fossil fuels to low-carbon fuels like solar and wind.

NASA found that most of the huge rise in global methane emissions in the past decade is in fact from the fossil fuel industry–and that this rise is “substantially larger” than previously thought. And that means natural gas is, as many earlier studies have found, not a climate solution.

Natural gas is mostly methane, a potent greenhouse gas. And methane emissions are responsible for about a quarter of the human-caused global warming we’re suffering today.

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The Postmodern Left and the Success of Neoliberalism

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 04:24

by Scott Jay

The rise of neoliberalism across the globe for decades, and its continued resilience since the 2007-2008 financial crisis in particular, forces us to ask why there has not been a more successful resistance against it.

We might start with the changing structure of the working class, especially in the West, and that would be worthwhile, but it is not as though neoliberalism has abolished working class resistance entirely. It is not as though there have not been multiple general strikes in Greece, for example. Additionally, the United States just recently saw a series of urban rebellions against police killing Black people, with buildings set on fire and police cars destroyed in revolt against the conditions imposed upon them by the state. Many of the participants have since been convicted of arson and other crimes and are now serving out years-long prison terms.

The problem is not that militancy is not possible or even at times imminent. Working class people in the US have shown great courage against police terrorism, and in Greece refused to accept yet another round of austerity even with European capital holding their economy hostage.

The alternate question to ask, then, is why has the Left specifically failed to resist neoliberalism?

Uncomfortable truths

We might answer this question in dozens of ways, one answer for each Left that exists. But the failure of SYRIZA in Greece to resist yet another wave of austerity measures-in fact to embrace austerity-sharpens and clarifies the problem, posing uncomfortable truths.

That is, perhaps the Left hasn’t failed to resist neoliberalism. Perhaps it has not even tried.

Wasn’t SYRIZA a decade-long project to build up an alliance of radicals in response to the collapse of social democracy into neoliberalism? It certainly seemed so at the time, probably to its participants most of all. And yet the entire project collapsed so immediately and so spectacularly, going from the cutting edge of the international Left to the symbol of all that is wrong with it, in less than a week.

The defining moment of SYRIZA and of the international Left of the current generation occurred in the early morning hours of July 11, 2015. Many histories will forget this detail as just one of many parliamentary sessions, yet this was by far the most significant. In this moment, just days after the spectacular “Oxi” vote by the Greek people rejecting austerity, their parliamentary representatives chose to embrace it. With 149 seats in parliament, only two members of the radical coalition of the Left dedicated to ending austerity found themselves voting “Oxi” along with the people they claimed to represent. It was a stunning moment that no radical should forget for the rest of their life, unless they simply want to repeat these exciting failures over and over indefinitely.

Certainly, the votes improved later in the month, but the collapse of July 11 should not be so easily forgotten. For a brief moment we saw the crux-or one of the cruxes-of the problem of the international Left.

In short, these members of SYRIZA were more committed to the image of SYRIZA as a united coalition of the radical Left than they were in actually opposing austerity when the opportunity to do so was right in front of them. They recoiled from reality and its consequences and embraced the image of what they had built instead. This is the Postmodern Left in practice.

In the face of unrelenting neoliberalism, the international Left has embraced postmodernism, not in theory but in practice, putting style over substance and feel good moments and flashy leaders over the brute reality of resisting capitalist exploitation. The Postmodern Left does not reject metanarratives or objective reality in theory. In fact it embraces the metanarrative of its own centrality to altering the course of history, but when it finds itself at the center of historical development, then history is treated like an ethereal, formless blob that nobody can make any sense of. It simply happens, and no options are possibly available that can shape it. Once the Left is placed in the driver seat, there is no alternative other than to passively participate in the machinations of the system. Anything else is just too difficult

The Postmodern Left avoids building actual power among the poor and the oppressed, instead focusing on self-promotional spectacles which feel like struggle and power but are entirely empty.

The Postmodern Left talks about “class struggle unionism” then carries out pension reform in the name of a balancing the budget and then insist that they never supported any such thing because words are meaningless and have no relationship to objective reality.

The Postmodern Left is detached from reality because it makes its own reality.

The Postmodern Left does not believe in postmodernism. The Postmodern Left is postmodernism.

The material roots of Postmodern Leftism

The Postmodern Left is not the result of the declining relevance of objective reality. On the contrary, it has a solid material base from which it arises, and to which it is shackled, specifically in the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) form. Under neoliberalism, the destruction of social welfare programs and other sources of stability for working class people have been replaced by services granted by NGOs, funded by foundations and governmental grants as well as directly from corporations. This organizational form has extended beyond the service sector and into the Left itself, where protest movement organizations can build up an infrastructure of full-time staff members through many of these same grants. The problem for NGOs, then, is to challenge the status quo without challenging the elite sources which fund the operation. This has proven to be an impossible problem to solve, and instead NGOs have served to reproduce neoliberalism rather than challenge it.

A few examples will illustrate this.

The Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung is a global network of organizations based in Berlin and New York that celebrates the life of Rosa Luxemburg, a Polish revolutionary best known for her role in the German socialist movement as a critic of its support of electoral reformism and imperialism. She was later killed by her reformist comrades when they came to power. Meanwhile, the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung has taken her name while supporting the the United Nations and hailing the electoral victory of Alexis Tsipras after he embraced austerity. Her name has become little more than a tool for garnering funding.

DeRay McKesson is an activist who rose to prominence during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, especially in Ferguson, MIssouri. While he is known as an activist, few people can point to what he has accomplished beyond amassing an enormous Twitter following and gaining the accolades of the corporate media. McKesson was also a school administrator associated with Teach For America, a pro-corporate school “reform” organization which weakens teachers’ unions by supplying schools with inexperienced, low-cost and temporary teachers fresh out of college. More recently, McKesson quit his job to become a “full-time activist” working with the Democratic and Republican parties, Twitter and other corporate sponsors to host presidential debates. In short, DeRay McKesson is not really a left-wing militant, but at times he sure looks like one. The problem is, there are so many McKesson’s on the activist scene, typically much less tied to corporate interests than he is, that it can be difficult to discern the difference between a “real” militant and “fake” one.

A group of non-profit organizations recently held a housing and tenants rights conference in Oakland, California. This is a city where two-bedroom apartments regularly rent for $2,000 or more and the Black and Latino working class is rapidly being displaced. One of the sponsoring organizations was recently bargaining with the City of Oakland over a $320,000 contract to oversee Oakland’s Day Laborer Program, which supplies low wage immigrant labor to various employers. Meanwhile, one of the speakers at the conference plenary session declared the enemy to be no less than the capitalist system itself. Recently deposed mayor Jean Quan, who was sitting in the audience and maintains a close alliance with many of the organizers, did not bat an eye at such a statement, and neither will anybody in Oakland City Hall, because this is all just window dressing to create the illusion of radicalism. Nobody who takes $320,000 from the city is going to threaten the political alliances that helped them garner it, no matter how loudly they proclaim their opposition to capitalism.

The Left exists in the general milieu of NGO activism created by such organizations. That is, not all radicals have to succumb to the NGO form, they merely need to adapt to the activism led by NGOs, which is the appearance of militancy, in order to build up a base of support and win reforms, without the substance of militancy, in order to avoid embarrassing important funding sources and allies. In short, the image of something that seems fundamentally revolutionary-Rosa Luxemburg, and the urban rebellions against police terror-can be used by people whose aims are totally compatible with neoliberalism.

The Postmodern Left does not need to take money from the City of Oakland, or even have a tax-free status. It merely needs to confuse such activism as a challenge to the system without identifying its severe limitations. And why would anybody do that? Because this sort of activism is so exciting! And everybody else is doing it. And being the sole figure in the room who says there is something wrong here is a terribly lonely place to be, especially when you are attempting to build a base or recruit people or just mobilize people around anything at all in the hopes that something will be a basis for future struggle. But instead of struggle we get the performance of struggle.

Anybody who attended one of the larger meetings of the British Socialist Workers Party in the past will be aware of the performative aspects of this organization. Having failed to build a workers party during its decades of existence, it must create a performance as though it is a workers’ party, otherwise workers won’t join it, capped off with chanting “The workers united will never be defeated!” Who they are chanting to is unclear. There are no bosses nearby, so it is more likely directed to the workers in attendance, or perhaps just to the party faithful to remind themselves of their commitment to the working class. It is not as though they are not committed-they certainly believe they are-rather the problem is that their commitment is a performance. Rather than build a workers party, they simulate one in the hopes that the workers will join it.

The Postmodern Left is the simulation of a Left, with all of the chants, banners and other paraphernalia of a militant Left with few to none of the acts of resistance. It simulates struggle, basks in the glorious imagery, then wonders why it never achieves victory, which is impossible unless there is an actual battle. Most of the time these battles will end in defeat, so the Postmodern Left accepts the happy illusion over the sad reality. Of course, working class people cannot ignore the bitterness of their own lived reality, but the Postmodern Left generally does not inhabit this world so it is not a problem for them.

On the one hand, Postmodern Leftism has completely failed to challenge neoliberal austerity measures. On the other hand, we can see that full-time staff of the Postmodern Left has done a spectacular job of staving off austerity once we realize that the only jobs they are committed to protecting are their own.

Postmodern social movements

Arun Gupta discussed the postmodern method behind many social movements, describing the People’s Climate March in 2014, a stunning victory of style over substance. He noted that there were “no demands, no targets,and no enemy. Organizers admitted encouraging bankers to march was like saying Blackwater mercenaries should join an antiwar protest. There is no unity other than money.”

How could a march of hundreds of thousands be made so powerless? Because it was run by NGOs committed most of all to continuing their own stream of revenue. All that was necessary was the image of a mass march, the feeling that we are doing something. That this was entirely inadequate to the problem at hand-saving the planet from destruction by capitalism-is not so much a problem if your real goal is to get donations, sell books and set up speaking engagements. In other words, this is not struggle but merely marketing in the form of struggle. It is merely a simulation.

Or, as Gupta described the logic:

Branding. That’s how the climate crisis is going to be solved. We are in an era or postmodern social movements. The image (not ideology) comes first and shapes the reality. The P.R. and marketing determines the tactics, the messaging, the organizing, and the strategy.

One of the most blatant current examples of illusory struggle is the Fight for Fifteen campaign, particularly at the national level, which has led thousands of low-wage workers in strikes against fast food employers. Or have they? One participant describes her experience: “In Miami, I’ve attended Fight for $15 demonstrations in which the vast majority of participants were paid activists, employees of NGOs, CBOs (Community Based Organizations), and union staff seeking potential members.” In fact, many people who have attended these actions will look around and ask, who is really on strike here? There are certainly people who risk their jobs to participate, but in many cases the hundreds of people who attend one of these “strikes” are simply supporters of the idea of low-wage workers striking. The striking workers are far and few between, with a small handful designated as media spokespeople and none others identified at all.

Jane Macalevy is a former staffer with the Service Employee’s International Union (SEIU), the union which runs the Fight for Fifteen in the background, but quietly in order to maintain the image of a worker-led campaign. She has described how illusory this campaign really is: “The problem is that there isn’t any depth to the Fight for 15 campaign. We call it the Berlin Rosen campaign: one hot-shot media firm that’s gotten something like $50 to 70 million from SEIU to paint, through social media, the illusion of a huge movement.”

Berlin Rosen is a public relations firm employed not only by SEIU but also by the current Mayor of New York City and was involved in the bankruptcy of Detroit, the belly of the beast of neoliberalism. They were also employed by the leadership of the United Auto Workers to convince Chrysler employees to accept a contract after these same employees rejected an earlier one that did not go far enough in cancelling the two-tier wage system. In this case, postmodern activism and neoliberalism are one and the same. Berlin Rosen proves, if nothing else, that there is good money to be made in postmodern social movements.

SEIU has since endorsed Hillary Clinton, who does not support a $15 per hour minimum wage. Meanwhile, the most recent Fight for $15 strike ended with appeals to get out the vote in 2016-we can imagine for whom-and has shifted its campaign slogan to “Come Get My Vote.” That is, the movement is being openly positioned to being co-opted by the Democratic Party. This is not usually how a national workers’ rebellion plays out, but might be how a simulated one could be directed.

Richard Seymour described the empty, feel good activism, in which the good feelings of people finally able to express their opposition to the horrors of neoliberalism overcomes the question of what can we do to actually stop these things. Why ask these difficult questions when it feels so good just to finally be marching?

It was, indeed, a joyous occasion[Seymour writes of a march against austerity]. The people thronged into streets barely big enough to contain them, and chanted and sang in notes of cheerful defiance. Those who claim that such events are ‘boring’ are wrong in point of fact, and give the impression of political thrill-seeking. We all had a lovely time. And this was precisely the problem.

A minimum condition for sentience on the left is an awareness that this protest is itself evidence of at least five years of catastrophic failure. There is something powerfully and stunningly incongruous in the subjectivity of a left marching as if in recreation, when we know we are also mourning for the casualties and the dead. It suggests that we don’t really mean business. It suggests that, rather than wanting to shake the walls and pillars to the earth, we want to grab some ice cream and go home.

What Seymour describes is the problem posed by February 15, 2003, the high point of postmodern activism, when millions around the globe marched against the war in Iraq in possibly the largest day of demonstrations in world history. Millions of people flooded the streets and for many it felt like the most empowering moment of their lives, and yet how little power we actually had. Of course, millions of people have an enormous amount of power, but not when they just stand there on the street, even if they are carrying a banner or wearing a political t-shirt. The Postmodern Left can still be heard, from time to time, saying how we nearly stopped the war in Iraq. Nothing could be further from reality, but reality does not bother the Postmodern Left.

“The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living,” wrote Marx in the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. In this case, it’s more like a daydream, a fantasy of struggle with all the imagery of resistance and none of its substance. If this is all we can do, and no more, then we are utterly lost.

Some people have been grappling with the problem posed by February 15 for the last decade. Others are perfectly content to repeat this same process over and over again, as it allows them to continue selling books, booking speaking engagements, recruiting people to their organizations and funding their non-profit organizations. These machinations can continue indefinitely and are entirely compatible with the capitalist system. One can make can make quite a satisfying career and lifestyle as a revolutionary of sorts, so long as it is all within the confines of the Postmodern Left.

SYRIZA’s Postmodern Neoliberalism

If this is the age of illusions, then the rise of SYRIZA in Greece must be the penultimate illusion. Sadly, but predictably, the SYRIZA bubble has been popped and we have all been forced back down to reality. Since SYRIZA’s acceptance of austerity, former SYRIZA Central Committee member Stathis Kouvelakis has written a number of autopsies of what was once the SYRIZA dream. In one especially revealing statement, he notes how so many moves by SYRIZA were so contrary to what any radical Leftist would accept.

For example, he notes the acceptance of an early agreement on February 20, 2015, to extend the bailout, well before the July capitulation:

Its first and most immediate consequence was to paralyze the mobilization and destroy the optimism and militancy that prevailed in the first weeks after the January 25 electoral victory. Of course, this downgrading of popular mobilization is not something that started on January 25 or February 20, as a consequence of a particular governmental tactic. It is something that was preexistent in Syriza’s strategy.

This is the exact opposite of what was supposed to happen, but the facade had to be maintained. Kouvelakis then notes the rapid decline of internal democracy in SYRIZA in the last few years.

What we saw being constructed after June 2012 – step by step but systematically – was a party form increasingly leader-centered, centralized, and detached from the actions and the will of the membership. The process went entirely out of control when Syriza went into government.

None of this should be unexpected. These are the well known consequences of electoral strategies, which Marxists have been aware of for a century, since the capitulation of European Social Democracy to World War One and repeated many times since. Yet, eager Marxists the world over looked to SYRIZA as something different, but it was merely the illusion of something different. In the end, it was exactly the same sort of radical electoral strategies of the past, but the appeal that these plucky Marxist intellectuals and activists could take on the European powers was far too seductive. In SYRIZA, the international Left saw itself, and could not imagine that it, too, might collapse in much the same way under similar circumstances.

The problem is that these strategies appeal to a certain brand of Leftist occupying a certain social position-specifically, intellectuals and NGO leaders-including those who have spent their careers explaining the limitations of electoralism. The appeal of electoral glory is simply too great for these people to be withstood against a rock-solid critique of reformism.

After July 11, no serious Leftists can ever, for the rest of their lives, look a prominent left-wing figure in the eye and take their promises at face value. We just cannot take ourselves seriously if we continue to pretend that lofty promises from self-important, self-selected leaders can be trusted. And yet, this is precisely what the Postmodern Left will continue to do, assuring everybody that no, this next project is not an other SYRIZA, even though they almost certainly said the some sort of thing about SYRIZA itself.

Greece has had dozens of general strikes over the last few years and some even predicted that the working class might rise up in response to SYRIZA’s capitulation. There was even a one-day general strike of public sector workers carried out the day that the first round of austerity was approved by the Greek parliament on July 15. Surprisingly, this general strike seemed to have no impact whatsoever on parliament. “The fight is now on,” heralded one breathless commentary announcing the impending strike. “It is not off: it’s the period of shadow boxing that is over.” The strike came and went, but the mere shadow boxing continued.

We are left to wonder whether or not working people can challenge their own governments if even a general strike cannot alter the course of history. There is, of course, an alternate explanation, which is that at least some of these may have been mere simulations of general strikes, turned on and then turned off by the union leadership with little threat of disrupting much beyond halting a days’ work, after which order was fully restored, if it was ever even threatened in the first place.

If we cannot tell the difference between simulation and reality, we risk descending from a healthy pessimism over the current state of affairs into believing that working class struggles can have no impact simply because it deceptively appears that they don’t.

Simulation hits reality

SYRIZA played out like a simulation of Marxist theory. The collapse of social democracy required a new electoral force to take its place. In stepped SYRIZA, an electoral alliance that assured everyone that they were actually going to take on the financial powers in Europe. Marxists around the world who have documented in detail how social democracy has flailed and decayed for decades suddenly believed that yes, this electoral reform project would succeed, and no, there was no reason why it was any different than the failures of the past. Without a “fake” Marxist Left-the Stalinists, reformists and other revisionists of the past-the “real” Marxist Left stepped in to take its place, heralding the dawn of a new age in Europe, for a few exciting months anyway.

It can seem impossible at times to tell the difference between the real and the fake, the simulation and reality, but ultimately we do not live in a postmodern world. We simply live in a world where so many on the Left act as though it is. Nonetheless, all of these simulations do eventually confront the brute material forces of reality, and suddenly the complete inadequacy of the simulated Left-not just in SYRIZA but across the board-is laid bare for all to see. Eventually, a Ferguson or a Baltimore revolts and the irrelevance of the Postmodern Left to the project of organizing working class resistance is made completely clear.

If there is any way out of this rut, it is to reject the spectacle and the simulation in favor of substantive material resistance. The feel good moment of triumph with a hollow center, the exuberant meetings and chants that people remember for the rest of their lives, just might be an obstacle toward building something with actual power. The image of revolt, and even talk of socialism and-hold onto your seats!-“political revolution” coming from the Bernie Sanders campaign for President will go nowhere. It is the courageous act of resistance and the rein of terror that it must face in response from the neoliberal state that transforms a class into a force for rebellion.

In short, if social movements do not directly hurt the people in power-and not just mildly embarrass them-or empower the exploited and oppressed-and not just temporarily mobilize them-then it may not be a worthwhile strategy. It may simply feel like one.

In other words, if it feels good, don’t do it.

We may struggle to see past the illusions from our current vantage point. No doubt, we will find ourselves in the trenches of class war, only to look outside and realize that the entire spectacle has been constructed by a charlatan. This will continue to happen, so long as neoliberal capitalism provides career opportunities for charlatans, as it no doubt will.

There is a great need, then, to breakdown the facade, to no longer allow the false images of resistance that surreptitiously enable neoliberalism and distract from the fundamental project of resistance. The SYRIZAs of the world will insist that this is counterproductive to their project. And that is exactly the point.

Scott Jay is an independent socialist living in Oakland and was previously active with Occupy Oakland. Republished from libcom.org.

If you enjoyed this piece then we recommend “A Blueprint for a Party of an Old Type” also by Scott Jay and “A Socialist on City Council: A Look at the Career of Kshama Sawant” by Micheal Reagan.

http://blackrosefed.org/postmodern-left-neoliberalism/

What Abbey’s ‘Desert Solitaire’ means in these trying times

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 04:05

via High Country News

Fifty years ago, Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire was published to decent reviews but little fanfare. “Another book dropped down the bottomless well. Into oblivion,” wrote a disheartened Abbey in his journal Feb. 6, 1968.

Yet it has remained in print for a half-century and created a devoted following. As President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke carved 2 million acres out of Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase-Escalante national monuments, both in the heart of “Abbey Country,” Desert Solitaire remains more relevant today than ever.

An account of Abbey’s time as a ranger in what is now Arches National Park, Desert Solitaire is both memoir and a passionate defense of our nation’s last unspoiled land. In spirit, though, his book resembles a 1960s nonfiction novel. Sometimes howlingly funny, it compresses the two postwar decades Abbey spent in Utah and Arizona into a single “season in the wilderness.”

“Do not jump in your automobile next June and rush out to the canyon country hoping to see some of that which I have attempted to evoke in these pages,” he famously wrote. “In the first place, you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail, you’ll see something, maybe. Probably not. In the second place most of what I write about in this book is already gone or going under fast. This is not a travel guide but an elegy.”

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Climate Change Made Me Do It: Activists Press The `Necessity Defense’

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 03:59

via Forbes

by Daniel Fisher

On Sept. 23, 2016, a group of protesters blocked a Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train carrying coal in Spokane, WA, to prevent the earth from warming up. From a scientific standpoint, the action was absurd: Stopping a single trainload of coal could hardly have any more impact on global climate change than the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings in Tanzania.

As a piece of a political theater, it may have been more effective. The blockage by Rev. George Taylor and other members of groups called Veterans for Peace and Raging Grannies garnered widespread press coverage.

And the protest may trigger a legal revolution as well. In a hearing tomorrow, a judge in Spokane is expected to hand down a written ruling allowing Taylor to argue he had no choice but to stop the train.

Judge Debra Hayes has already indicated she’ll allow Taylor, a Lutheran pastor, to present the so-called “necessity defense” to defeat state charges of criminal trespass. Her formal order would clear the way for him to bring in NASA scientists and other climate experts to try to convince a jury he had no reasonable alternative to halt human-induced global warming.

The Spokane trial is one example of how activists are retooling the centuries-old necessity defense to justify increasingly aggressive protests designed not just to raise awareness of the risks of burning fossil fuels, but to prevent their movement across the country. An old doctrine, the necessity defense allows defendants to argue they broke the law to prevent a greater harm from occurring, like the captain who ordered a customer’s cargo thrown overboard to prevent his or her ship from sinking.

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America is spiritually bankrupt. We must fight back together

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 03:14

via The Guardian

by Cornel West

We live in one of the darkest moments in American history – a bleak time of spiritual blackout and imperial meltdown. Exactly 25 years ago, in my book Race Matters, I tried to lay bare the realities and challenges to American democracy in light of the doings and sufferings of black people. Back then, I reached heartbreaking yet hopeful conclusions. Now, the heartbreak cuts much deeper and the hope has nearly run out.

The nihilism in black America has become a massive spiritual blackout in America. The undeniable collapse of integrity, honesty and decency in our public and private life has fueled even more racial hatred and contempt.

The rule of Big Money and its attendant culture of cupidity and mendacity has so poisoned our hearts, minds and souls that a dominant self-righteous neoliberal soulcraft of smartness, dollars and bombs thrives with little opposition.

The escalating military overreach abroad, the corruption of political and financial elites at home, and the market-driven culture of mass distractions on the internet, TV, and radio push toward an inescapable imperial meltdown, in which chauvinistic nationalism, plutocratic policies and spectatorial cynicism run amok.

Our last and only hope is prophetic fightback – a moral and spiritual awakening that puts a premium on courageous truth telling and exemplary action by individuals and communities.

The distinctive features of our spiritual blackout are threefold.

First, we normalize mendacity and naturalize criminality. We make our lies look like the normal order of things. And we make our crimes look like the natural order of things. We too often say Wall Street is a good servant – rather than a bad master – of the common good. Then we look away from the criminal behavior of big banks because they are too indispensable to prosecute.

We deny that drone strikes are killing innocent people abroad. Then we overlook killing lists on Terror Tuesday at the White House, when a president and his staff can decide to kill people without any legal procedure, including, sometimes, US citizens.

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El Salvador’s Worst Shitholes Are ‘Made in America’

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 02:00

via Latino Rebels

by Roberto Lovato

My journalist’s hiking boots still have leftover feces and dirt from the ultimate shitholes of El Salvador: its mass graves. Many of the thousands of graves that my sources there have mapped were dug by U.S.-trained and funded security forces in the 80s. Most of the rest were dug more recently by L.A.based-gangs steadily deported to El Salvador by U.S. immigration authorities since the 90s.

President Trump’s characterization of Africa, Haiti and El Salvador as “shitholes” disturbed me, but I wasn’t sure why. The comments were made during a discussion about the temporary protected status for hundreds of thousands of Salvadoran, Haitian and other immigrants Trump had just rescinded. In search for an answer, I went home and pulled out and studied my boots , which were tattered after too many visits to mass graves, mass graves with the remains of Salvadorans—in El Salvador, in Mexico and in the deserts of south Texas. Wearing my hiking boots during visits to numerous sites along this chain of devalued life led me to the conclusion that mass graves were the ultimate shitholes.

What made me most uncomfortable was less about Mr. Trump’s choice of word than how he used it: he mistook the shithole part for the whole country. Trump’s rhetorical fallacy feels like a cover-up, a distraction from the fact that El Salvador’s mass graves contain fingerprints and other evidence that point to the United States as an accomplice to the mass murder and violence that created them. Viewed from this perspective, Trump’s “shithole” comment said in words what all US presidents have said with their policies towards countries like Haiti and El Salvador.

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Protest against US involvement in the Salvadoran Civil War in Chicago, Illinois, in March 1989 (Linda Hess Miller/ Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported)

The political nature of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Sun, 01/14/2018 - 06:11

via anarkismo.net

by Shawn Hattingh – ZACF

Mechanisation and automation have been called the Fourth Industrial Revolution. But these are not inevitable or neutral economic realities. They are political weapons of oppression under capitalism. It is a war against the working classes to increase profits. It is no an accident that bosses choose to mechanise and automate in the context of the massive crisis of capitalism.

Recently, the accounting multinational company, Grant Thompson, conducted a study amongst 2500 multinational corporations regarding mechanisation, automation and the introduction of artificial intelligence. Of these companies, 56% said they planned to automate parts of their operations within the next year. Another study by Oxford University was even starker. It stated that 47% of jobs in the United States and possibly 50% of jobs in parts of Africa – including South Africa – could possibly be lost to artificial intelligence, mechanisation and automation in the next two decades. It is clear that if this transpires, the consequences will be dire for workers in Africa – including South Africa – and their ability to organise.

Some people have said that this move to use advanced computers and automation is the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’; and that the evitable advance of technology must be accepted. The reality, though, is that automation is not inevitable, but a political choice of the ruling class to wage a war against the working class to increase profits and oppression. It is important to understand how and why growing automation is political, and to do so we need to look at the relations at the heart of capitalism.

Exploitation defines capitalism

Capitalism is a system in which the ruling class, through private property and state ownership, own and control the means of production – in other words the farms, banks, factories, machines, mines and services. They use their control of the means of production and capital to hire workers to produce goods to sell at a profit. In doing so, capitalists also compete with one another in the market. The vast majority of people, the working class, are kept in a position whereby they own very little and are forced to work for the ruling class to survive. The state assists the ruling class to maintain this situation through the law and – when need be – policing.

Workers, however, never get the full value of their labour; bosses only pay workers a small share of the value they produce through wages, and keep the rest that workers produce as profit. It is this exploitation that defines relations between bosses and workers. To keep workers exploited bosses have to try and make them as powerless as possible through oppression. Workers throughout history have collectively resisted and fought to try and win a larger share of the value that they produce in terms of better wages. To try and break this resistance, one weapon capitalists have is to introduce technology like machines and computers.

War through mechanisation

Bosses often choose to introduce mechanisation and automation to drive up profits, because this means they can reduce the workforce, and therefore, have a smaller wage bill and hence more profits. Capitalists, however, will often only mechanise or automate if doing so proves cheaper than continuing with the exiting workforce and levels of workers. So mechanisation and automation is aimed at replacing well-organised workers with machines. Low paid and poorly organised workers, like in sweatshops, are usually not replaced with machines because it is cheaper for bosses to keep on these workers. So mechanisation and automation is an attack generally on more organised and better paid workers.

Linked to this, mechanisation and automation is about disorganising and increasing the oppression of workers. So bosses don’t always introduce all the new technologies that exist or that are possible. They only introduce technology that will drive down wages; or increase oppression and the disorganisation of the working class or both. In many of the companies that choose to mechanise or even automate, there is usually a history of workers organising. Thus, companies mechanise and automate often to try and break organising.

Lessons from the past

We can see how this has worked by looking back at the past. The first machines to be introduced by capitalists into factories took place in 1811 in Britain during what is called the First Industrial Revolution. The machines were introduced so that they could be operated by low paid, unskilled and so easily replaceable workers. Before then skilled craft workers were responsible for spinning and weaving. They were well organised into guilds, and because of their skills they were also well paid – meaning through their wages they were taking a relatively high percentage of the value they produced. To break these workers and their organising, and to drive up profits by lowering wages, bosses began introducing machines that allowed unskilled low paid workers using them to do the weaving and spinning.

The weavers and spinners began resisting being replaced by machines and unskilled workers by entering into factories and breaking the machines. The state then sent the army against them, and implemented the death sentence for workers caught destroying machines. So the state and bosses worked together to smash organised workers, to lower wages and increase profits through introducing machines and unskilled labour. Through this, divisions were also created amongst workers as bosses pitted skilled and unskilled workers against one another – undermining the prospect of united resistance.

Mechanisation and the capitalist crisis

Today we are again seeing a massive increase in mechanisation and automation, the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution. The aim is again to undermine and prevent workers organising and to drive down wages. It is not an accident that bosses are choosing to mechanise and automate today in the context of a massive capitalist crisis. It is also not an accident they are targeting countries and sectors where there has been a recent history of worker organising.

The new drive to mechanise and automate is a response by corporations to try and increase profits in the capitalist crisis. It is also not a coincidence that multinational companies operating in China are at the forefront of automating and mechanising. This is because in recent years Chinese workers have been organising on a massive scale, and through mechanisation and automation there is an attempt by bosses to break this.

The attempts by bosses, however, to automate and mechanise won’t end the current capitalist crisis. This is because the current crisis is partly due to over-production, something which mechanisation and automation does not address and will possibly make worse. In the past, the job losses due to mechanisation were offset by economic growth which created new jobs. Today capitalism is no longer growing, and mechanisation in this context will lead to greater unemployment. This means there will also be fewer workers to buy goods companies are producing, meaning over-production will remain a problem, which will lead to less profits in the long run for companies involved in manufacturing.

Conclusion

It is clear, therefore, that the mechanisation and automation were are seeing in the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution is an attack on the organising of workers. It is also clear that workers need to resist mechanisation and automation, as today in the context of a capitalist crisis it offers the working class very little. But to do so, workers are going to have to experiment with new ways of organising, ways that can build unity in a working class that is now defined by mass unemployment, casualization and huge divisions.

Some unions in this context have called for a just transition that will lessen the impact of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution on workers. The reality though is, capitalists, states and politicians are not interested in any just transition. This means, as part of fighting the new wave of automation and mechanisation, we have to renew the struggle for revolution to overthrow capitalism and the state. If we don’t, the automation and mechanisation we are seeing today, and will see in the future, will have devastating consequences for the working class, including mass unemployment for large sections of the class (something we already see in South Africa).

Indeed, the problem we see is that mechanisation and automation are not neutral but rather reflect and are used as political weapons of oppression under capitalism. In a different society, mechanisation and automation could have benefits, but under capitalism that is experiencing a massive crisis, for the vast majority of people, it is a living nightmare.

Related Link: http://zabalaza.net

Review: Anarchism in Korea. Independence, Transnationalism, and the Question of National Development 1919-1984

Sun, 01/14/2018 - 05:56

via Black Rose Federation

By José Antonio Gutiérrez

“Anarchism in Korea. Independence, Transnationalism, and the Question of National Development 1919-1984” by Dongyoun Hwang (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2016)

Dongyoun Hwang has been working for many years recovering the history of Korean anarchism, a movement which has been remarkably important for the history of its own country, to the point that anarchism was even mentioned by some South Korean scholars as one of the ten more influential ideas ushering Korea into the 20th century (p.1). Notwithstanding its relevance, it has been largely overlooked by anarchists elsewhere and whose history has been inscribed in a nationalist narrative which misrepresents it. Like Nestor Makhno in Ukraine, in Korea, important anarchist historical figures such as Shin Chaeho have been appropriated in purely nationalistic terms, devoid from social and internationalist/transnational aspirations which are at the very core of their anarchist commitments. But more importantly, the understanding of the movement as inscribed within the boundaries of modern national borders, ignores its transnational genesis. The book of Hwang is an attempt to portray this movement in its own terms and to understand their positions in their own local circumstances. As all good books, it doesn’t exhaust the topic, leaving many avenues to be explored by future research and many questions deserving more analysis.

The main contentions of the book are, on the one hand, that the Korean anarchist movement cannot be dissociated from other regional movements in East Asia, particularly in Japan and China. With these movements they were in constant contact, exchange and there was plenty of ideological and practical cross-fertilisation. He also contends, on the other hand, that Korean anarchism was never a monolithic and homogenous body, with important practical and ideological differences which can be explained to a great degree before of the localisation of anarchism in given contexts. Taking together these two main arguments, I feel the book would have been more aptly called “Korean Anarchisms”, instead of “Anarchism [as if singular] in Korea [as he deals extensively with Korean anarchists in China and Japan too]”.

Korean People’s Association in Manchuria (KPAM, 1929–1931), an autonomous anarchist zone in Manchuria near the Korean borderlands formed by the Korean Anarchist Federation in Manchuria and the Korean Anarcho-Communist Federation. The question of national liberation

Another important contention of the book, is that some of the political options of the Korean anarchist movement –such as their insistence in independence, the national question, their participation in a national front and eventually in the Korean Provisional Government in China- should not be condemned beforehand as deviations from an abstract universal canon, but they should be understood –however critically- in the exceptional circumstances this movement had to face as an expression of a colonised people. In a way not too different to how some national liberation movements during the second half of the 20th century came to view Marxism as a short-cut towards modernity and as a tool to achieve national independence, Korean radicals came to view anarchism as an alternative path to modernity and to national liberation, which originally was part and parcel of a process which ultimately would lead to a radical transformation of society based on anarchist principles.

Anarchism in Korea developed in the aftermath of the March 1st Movement, in 1919, which saw the first mass demonstrations in Korea against Japanese occupation of the peninsula. The yearning for national liberation of a colonised people was key to radicalise segments of society and the youth in the first half of the 20th century, and they embraced and translated anarchism in order to adapt to this circumstances. Naturally, this process was dialectical and these radicals lived in a permanent tension between their national goal and the transnational aspirations shared with other anarchists in the region. Paradoxically, Korean anarchism developed to a great degree because of the exchanges with Japanese anarchists which were made possible by colonialism –Koreans went to work and study to Japan, Japanese publications circulated and thus, Koreans became familiar with anarchist theory and ideas. Anarchism in Korea depended largely on initiatives by students returning from Japan. Among the main influences of Korean anarchists were the writings of the Japanese anarchist Osugi Sakae and of the Russian anarchist Pyotr Kropotkin, whose evolutionary thought and ideas on mutual aid would be a most enduring legacy for Korean anarchism through its various phases, as we shall see.

Transnational networks of discourse and practice

Korean anarchism flourished through networks of discourse and practice, in which Tokyo, Osaka, Shanghai, Beijing and Quanzhou, acted as nodes of these radical transnational networks. But in these networks, discourses and practices did not travelled unaltered, but were localised into the diverse realities in which anarchists had to operate. Anarchism not only was translated and adapted to the local conditions of their colonised homeland by Korean anarchists; their anarchism was also responsive to the local conditions in foreign territories were they became anarchists. There were marked differences in the local compositions of the movement, which was also consequential to discourses and practices. While in Japan the movement was mostly composed by students, who usually had to work to sustain themselves, and of some economic migrants, in China the movements was mostly composed by exiles.

But even within each country, there were important differences according to local conditions. In Japan there was a marked difference between the more ideological anarchist circles of Tokyo -a city attracting mostly Korean students, and with vibrant Japanese anarchist circles- and the more pragmatic, cooperative and labour oriented activities of Korean anarchists in Osaka -an industrial centre with a significant Korean population attracted to work in the industry as cheap labour. In China, anarchists in Shanghai and Quangzhou were engaged in educational activities together with their Chinese counterparts, while in Manchuria their main activity focused on welfare cooperatives and self-defence associations. In Korea itself, anarchists in the largely agrarian south were more ideological and given to propaganda efforts, while northern anarchists were more inclined to labour and pragmatic action for the downtrodden sectors of society, as the north was undergoing a process of intense and rapid industrialisation, hence the concern on the impacts of this process both on the urban masses and on the industrial and urban workers. To what a degree the legacy of anarchists discourses on autonomy, independence, self-sufficiency in the north had an impact over the development of the Juche (self-reliance) ideology which is the trademark of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is not explored by the author, but it is one of those unexplored avenues which this research opens up.

Anarchists and alliances

As Korean anarchism was reflecting the radicalisation of segments of Korean society in the wake of the 1919 nationalist movement, the relationship to nationalism was tense and contradictory. Anarchists in Korea, in their heyday (1925-1930), almost completely failed to mention the idea of independence, emphasising the social –rather than the ‘national’- aspect of the struggle. A similar trend can be seen among Japanese anarchists: whether in Tokyo or Osaka, they were very critical of nationalism, stating above everything the need to change and transform the social relationships produced by capitalism and imperialism. Although ideology was undoubtedly at play here, according to Hwang other more pragmatic reasons may also be at play, since any such pro-independence propaganda in Japan or Korea would have attracted unwanted attention from the ubiquitous surveillance and repressive apparatus of the Japanese empire. Japanese repression had a crippling effect over the movement, shattering not only the anarchists as a movement, but also physically, as soul and bodies. In China, instead, anarchists would have had far more freedom, at least for a while, during the 1920s, and the prime goal of Korean anarchists in China was, undoubtedly, national liberation and independence –except for those anarchists in Manchuria. But likewise, ideological reasons may also be at play here: in China there was a veritable nationalist effervescence which in all likelihood left its imprint in the priorities of anarchists there –while Manchuria remain some kind of hinterland with a poverty-stricken migrant population in need of pragmatic solutions to their urgent and most basic needs.

As Korean anarchists whether in Japan, Korea or China, opposed Japanese imperialism and the discrimination against and oppression of Koreans, there were marked differences also in relation to the question of working with other political currents, particularly with nationalists, socialists and the communists. While anarchists in Japan were very critical of nationalism, rejecting that the social question should assume a secondary role, as Koreans were exposed to all sort of humiliations and discrimination in the country of the coloniser, but also because of the influence of syndicalism and “pure anarchism”, the dominant currents of Japanese anarchists. The socialist movement in Japan had a great deal of common interaction, and in places like Osaka, Korean anarchists cooperated with communists and socialists. Let us remember that some Japanese anarchists, such as founding figures like Kotoku Shusui, came from a Marxist background. Although in Tokyo, the more ideological anarchists were quite vitriolic against the communists, still they were in the same organisation in the early 1920s (splitting in 1922).

Anti-communism

In China there was a booming nationalist movement, quite anti-communist in nature, headed by the Guomindang, in which some anarchists participated, although downplaying their anarchism, under constant threat of being purged and concentrating in relatively safe havens such as Quanzhou. While fully immersed in radical circles in China, most Korean anarchists systematically opted to side with anti-communist nationalists. There may have been a number of reasons for this. The nationalist discourse would have been closer to their own longing for national liberation. They may have seen better opportunities to advance their autonomous social projects with them as opposed to a communist movement which they saw largely controlled by the Soviet Union.

Undoubtedly, the fact that Korean anarchism developed in the 1920s, when globally the anarchist movement started a long decline (which also affected the anarchist movements in China and Japan) and the communist parties, led by the Soviet revolutionary example were gaining momentum and filled the vacuum left by anarchism’s retreat, played a significant role in the hostility of many an anarchist against working with communists. This was intensified as news of the suppression of anarchists in Soviet Russia reached Korean anarchists, an experience they learned from a Russian anarchist in China, Vasily Eroshenko, who paradoxically would later in the decade return to Russia and work with Communist Party cultural initiatives. In Manchuria there was a tense alliance with nationalists and active hostility against the communist guerrillas, which lasted until the Japanese invasion of 1931.

But there were also other reasons, more practical in nature, for the Korean anarchists’ rejection of communists. In the case of anarchists in China, particularly since the bloody purge of communists led by the Guomindang after the Shanghai strike of 1927, they had to distance themselves from communists (anarchists would be labelled as “cousins” of communists by conservative nationalists) and thus downplay important aspects of the universal anarchist credo, such as its insistence in revolutionary means, class struggle, and the struggle against the State. In this process, Kropotkin’s ideas of mutual aid, of combining manual and intellectual labour, and his view of an anarchist modernity in which industrialisation would take place in harmony with the development of the countryside, offered a vision which could appeal to the nationalist aspirations of their constituency without risking exposing dangerous ‘communist’ overtones.

Anarchists in government

The Japanese progressive invasion of China since 1931, which started in Manchuria, represented a big challenge but also a big opportunity for Korean anarchists. On the one hand, they lost a safe haven they’ve had for nearly a decade, free of the Japanese repressive State, but also it turned the national liberation question into a political imperative. Whatever goals Korean anarchists had on their top priorities, none were possible under Japanese colonialism and the liberation of Korea was a necessary precondition for any of them. The military triumph of China over Japan too became then a precondition for the liberation of Korea, for the conditions to lay out the foundations of the new society. With this in mind, they started in 1936 to discuss ideas for a united national front with all sectors opposing Japanese colonialism. In 1937, the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war and the second united front between the Guomindang and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), paved the way for Koreans to emulate this unity. If Chinese nationalists and communists could cooperate, why not Koreans? Furthermore, the experience of national fronts in other countries threatened by fascism was also followed attentively by anarchists.

Anarchists became engaged in armed struggle and terror attacks directed against collaborators and Japanese military and civilian officers in the 1930s. Eventually, in 1941, after some years of a joint experience with other independence and socialist groups -the Korean communists, who were then affiliated to the CCP conspicuously absent-, prominent anarchists joined the rather conservative nationalist Korean Provisional Government in China, in the name of the unity of the anti-Japanese forces. Yu Rim, one of the anarchists in the government, had actually met in 1937 and 1938 with Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party with an eye to foster cooperation, but eventually these meetings came to nothing. Anarchists were indeed divided in regard to alliances, some leaning more towards working with conservatives, others towards socialists and even communists. Some guerrillas formed by anarchists, despairing at the ineffectiveness and inability (unwillingness?) of both the Guomindang and the Korean Provisional Government to fight the Japanese, ended up going to Yan’an to fight the Japanese with the support of the Chinese Communist Party. These tensions and contradictions in relation to alliances were reflected in the post-1945 trajectories of some of the leading anarchists fighters and activists of this period: some anarchists, such as Yu Ja-Myeong, ended up having prominent roles in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, others occupied important posts in the South Korean military, such as Bak Giseong, and yet others ended up as activists in South Korea suffering from perennial persecution and hardship, such as Jeong Hwaam (p.148).

Cold War anarchists

After Japan was expelled from the Korean peninsula in 1945, in the context of World War II, with the North occupied by the Soviet Union and the South by the USA, the Cold War –of which Korea became a frontline, as attested by the brutal War of 1950-1953- exacerbated these feature in the Korean anarchist movement. While in the North it is uncertain what happened to the anarchists, although some defected, and some collaborated, it is most likely that the radical space of anarchism was completely co-opted by the communists led by Kim Il Sung. In South Korea, on the other hand, a series of authoritarian governments and dictatorships, all extremely anti-communist in nature, could only reluctantly tolerate a movement which rejected any commonality with the communist ideology –thus, anarchists would shift towards cooperative experiences, rural development and the idea of a harmonious relationship between countryside and urban centres as the key to national development took central stage, as opposed to the revolutionary tenets of pre-1945 anarchists. Kropotkin again was instrumental to give a continuity in ideological terms to the movement into this new phase of its development.

This de-radicalisation of anarchism, which eventually favoured an autonomous government, which combined democracy with notions of equality and freedom. The main concern of South Korean anarchists then became how to develop Korea ‘as an autonomous country with minimum social problems that had been prevalent in the capitalist countries and at the same time without communist intrusion’ (p.188). Many of them stopped questioning imperialism or even capitalism after 1945, with anarchists even cooperating with the New Village Movement of the ‘modernising’ dictatorship of Park in the early 1970s. Although many of these decisions may have been pragmatic, as Hwang argues, reflecting the difficulty of bringing forward anarchists proposals in the context of a totalitarian anti-communist regime at risk of being labelled communist and therefore being tortured and executed, together with the hostile environment in the Cold War South Korea to anything resembling socialism, it still reflects some ideological trends which developed before 1945. In particular, the nationalist strand, the anti-communist proclivities, the idea of a national front, all conspired for the movement to stop questioning South Korean capitalism and State, and indeed supporting them however critically. This means that when a new wave of protests brought together people to protest the dictatorships and the neoliberal reforms in the South during the 1980s and 1990s, anarchists did not play a significant role.

“I don’t think,” writes Hwang, “the active involvement or even initiative by Korean anarchists in the formation of the Korean National Front in 1930s and 40s in China and their participation in the Korean Provisional Government before 1945 should be viewed as an aberration from anarchist basic principles (…). They did not lose their “anarchist voice” yet, but were only ready to accommodate anarchism to post-1945 Korea” (p.156). Yet, it is clear that gradually, in the process, important aspects of the anarchist revolutionary message were being lost in translation. Particularly, the critique of capitalism and of the State, which went from being accepted temporarily in the process of national liberation to being unquestioned. It is interesting to see today the Kurdish liberation movement dealing with similar demands imposed by their context, yet responding with a platform which remains anti-Statist in nature. Much could be learned from comparing these experiences and contrasting them, considering naturally the local circumstances of each respectively.

By way of conclusion

Until now, non-Korean speakers didn’t have such a comprehensive, balanced and thoughtful history of Korean anarchism put together. We have to be thankful both of Dongyoun Hwang and of SUNY Press for publishing this book, which is undoubtedly a contribution to a better understanding of radical movements in the 20th century in general, and of anarchism in particular. Given the importance of this experience, and the wealth of lessons and debates, I think this book is of great interest to scholars in a wide range of disciplines, but also to activists interested in difficult problems such as those of decolonisation, development, anti-authoritarian politics and nationalisms.

The book, however, is hardly introductory and we need a cautionary note here. Hwang takes for granted that readers will have some basic –and not so basic- knowledge of Asian history and particularly of events in China, Japan and Korea. For best understanding of the book, I’d recommend previous reading of general and/or revolutionary histories of the 20th century in those countries. That said, it is a book which was long overdue and we can only praise that, finally, it has become available, filling an important gap.

 

If you are interested in learning more about anarchism in Korea and Asian we recommend “Resources on Anarchism in Asia” which includes articles, reviews, bibliographies and more related to the history of anarchism in Asia.

How Tenants Use Digital Mapping to Track Bad Landlords and Gentrification

Sun, 01/14/2018 - 00:19

via yes! magazine

by Hannah Norman

When Teresa Salazar first encountered the notice posted to her front door—which offered tenants $10,000 to move out of their East Oakland, California, apartment building—she knew the place she called home was in jeopardy.

“All of us were surprised and afraid because it is not easy to move to some other place when the rents are so high,” Salazar said in a video produced by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project. The project uses mapping as well as data analysis and digital storytelling as organizing tools for low-income tenants to combat eviction and displacement amid the Bay Area’s raging housing crisis.

The jarring move-out offer was left by the Bay Area Property Group, founded by landlord attorney Daniel Bornstein—known for holding landlord workshops on how to evict tenants. The property management firm buys and flips apartment buildings, Salazar said, driving gentrification in neighborhoods like hers. In fear of being displaced, Salazar and other tenants from her building met with counselors from Causa Justa :: Just Cause, a community legal services group. There, they learned about their rights under Oakland’s Just Cause of Eviction Ordinance. With this information, they successfully stood their ground and remained in their homes.

But not all Bay Area tenants are as fortunate as Salazar. Between 2005 and 2015, Oakland witnessed more than 32,402 unlawful detainers, or eviction proceedings, according to data obtained by AEMP through record requests. But AEMP hopes to change these statistics by arming tenants and housing advocates with map-based data to fight evictions and displacements and, ultimately, drive local and state policies on the issue. In addition to mapping, AEMP uses videos of tenants like Salazar to raise awareness of the human experience behind jaw-dropping statistics.

The project is part of a rising tide of social justice cartography, where maps are being harnessed for activism as the technology becomes more accessible.

Read more

On Planning and Proudhon (plus new Kropotkin translation)

Sun, 01/14/2018 - 00:14

via Anarchist Writers

by Anarcho

Happy new year! Let us hope that2018 is better than 2017, but also let us not hold our breath. First off, just before the holidays I finally posted my article “Proudhon’s constituted value and the myth of labour notes which appeared in Anarchist Studies this time last year. Second, there is a newly translated Kropotkin article at the end of this blog.

I submitted this article a few years back and have had to sit on it until it was published – to ensure that Anarchist Studies ran it. Also, I should note that I fixed two very minor typos that got into the printed version. Oh, and obviously the pdf version I have provided does not match the layout of the published version – so if you need to get page numbers, you will need to buy it.

This article as well as my review of Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy are the fruit of an attempt to go through Marx’s book and critique it. This proved to be quite a bit of work, as Marx’s book is pretty poor. It can only be considered a classic if you have not read the two volumes it is meant to be a reply to. Also, Marx rarely gave page numbers – unsurprisingly, given that he made quotes up and was apt at selective quoting. So a misleading book – talking of which, I was flicking through David Harvey’s new book Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason and he spends a few pages repeating Marx’s nonsense on Proudhon and “labour notes.” He also adds that Proudhon would have been horrified by the notion of “the associated producers,” so showing how little he has actually read by Proudhon.

Suffice to say, if your notions of Proudhon are based on secondary sources – particularly Marx – then you do not really have a grasp of his ideas. And if that is the case, please refrain from wittering on about things you have no knowledge of – instead read his work.

My long critique of Marx’s diatribe remains unfinished (although I blogged extracts in the past, for example the appendix on Engels’ equally misleading On the Housing Question). I would like to complete it, but first I should get agreement from a publisher. Given what I’m about to discuss, I should mention that this critique (and so the review and article) came from a desire a few years back to finally work out what Proudhon mean by “Constituted Value” for, like many others (not least, Kropotkin), I had assumed that this meant labour-notes.

Which caused me a problem. Before reading Proudhon I had assumed that he was a poor theorist – having read Marxists on him. After reading him, I knew that this was not true. He was clearly an excellent theorist with a good grasp of both reality and the key writers of his time. So why did he advocate “labour-notes”? Surely he was clever enough to recognise the problems in this given a market economy?

Let me quote Engels on this (from the 1885 preface to The Poverty of Philosophy):

“Labour, again, is taken uncritically in the form in which it occurs among the economists. And not even that. For, although there is a reference in a couple of words to differences in intensity of labour, labour is still put forward quite generally as something which ‘costs’, hence as something which measures value, quite irrespective of whether it is expended under normal average social conditions or not. Whether the producers take ten days, or only one, to make products which could be made in one day; whether they employ the best or the worst tools; whether they expend their labour time in the production of socially necessary articles and in the socially required quantity, or whether they make quite undesired articles or desired articles in quantities above or below demand – about all this there is not a word: labour is labour, the product of equal labour must be exchanged against the product of equal labour. Rodbertus, who is otherwise always ready, whether rightly or not, to adopt the national standpoint and to survey the relations of individual producers from the high watchtower of general social considerations, is anxious to avoid doing so here. And this, indeed, solely because from the very first line of his book he makes directly for the utopia of labour money, and because any investigation of labour seen from its property of creating value would be bound to put insuperable obstacles in his way. His instinct was here considerably stronger than his power of abstract thought which, by the by, is revealed in Rodbertus only by the most concrete absence of ideas.

“The transition to utopia is now made in the turn of a hand. The ‘measures’, which ensure exchange of commodities according to labour value as the invariable rule, cause no difficulty. The other utopians of this tendency, from Gray to Proudhon, rack their brains to invent social institutions which would achieve this aim. They attempt at least to solve the economic question in an economic way through the action of the owners themselves who exchange the commodities. For Rodbertus it is much easier. As a good Prussian he appeals to the state: a decree of the state authority orders the reform.”

Yet Proudhon does not invent “social institutions” to resolve the problems of pricing goods in labour-hours. System of Economic Contradictions does not contain much in the way of alternatives, they are mentioned in passing and relate to workers associations (“the organisation of labour,” or the “universal association” of earlier works) . Why? Simply because he was not advocating pricing by labour-notes! There is no need to worry about ensuring goods are being demanded, no need to worry about intensity of labour, no need to work out how to handle workers using more productive technics, and so on. For if products are being sold on the market for Francs then competition will act – not least in eventually driving down prices so that value becomes “constituted” (settled) at its labour-costs.

(If in doubt, please consult my article where I provide the necessary quotes by Proudhon on this – and much more, like showing how Marx mocks Proudhon for positions he himself will later expound in Capital. It is particularly amusing to read him mock Proudhon on what would become his own theory of exploitation over a decade later…).

Proudhon’s solution is hardly difficult to envision – he would abolish wage-labour by means of association, “the organisation of labour” as he put it in 1846 and the appropriate financial bodies (his Bank of the People comes later, but he clearly sees the need for banks in System of Economic Contradictions). Nothing too taxing in terms of envisioning there. Let us recall Kropotkin’s description of capitalism:

“The day when the labourer may till the ground without paying away half of what he produces, the day when the machines necessary to prepare the soil for rich harvests are at the free disposal of the cultivators, the day when the worker in the factory produces for the community and not the monopolist – that day will see the workers clothed and fed, and there will be no more Rothschilds or other exploiters.

“No one will then have to sell his working power for a wage that only represents a fraction of what he produces.” (“Expropriation”, The Conquest of Bread)

So Kropotkin and Proudhon agree on abolishing wage-labour: selling “working power” to an owner, whether a landlord or a capitalist. They differ purely in how products are distributed. For Kropotkin, distribution should be free. For Proudhon, distribution should be by selling on the market. Both aim to end exploitation and both have the same socialisation of the means of production. The difference comes later. As Kropotkin put in it The Conquest of Bread:

“The mitigated individualism of the collectivist system [or Proudhon’s mutualism] certainly could not maintain itself alongside a partial communism – the socialisation of land and the instruments of production. A new form of property requires a new form of remuneration. A new method of production cannot exist side by side with the old forms of consumption, any more than it can adapt itself to the old forms of political organisation.”

There are good reasons to be critical of Proudhon’s support of the market (for products, not for labour-power). While confident that his system would end economic crises, he does not really prove it. Yes, ending the extra uncertainty caused by capitalists and landlords needing to secure a profit would help immensely to stabilising the market but it does not end the aggregate impact of independent producers causing gluts/scarcities (something he highlights himself in his chapter on value). Similarly, he does not address how market pressures can and do make producers act in ways they would prefer not to in order to survive (but, then, he probably considered that a good thing given his comments about the benefits of competition!). Nor do a person’s needs relate to their deeds – income related to labour is all fine and well if you are young and healthy… And market prices, while providing some information, hides a lot – and can provide misleading signals and, even when accurate, can provide a response which while individually rational is collectively bad – see sections I.1.3 and I.1.5 of An Anarchist FAQ for more discussion.

However, I am getting away from the topic. As Engels notes, many advocates of “labour-money” had to create “social institutions” to equate supply and demand. He mentions Gray, which is ironic because he – like Bray – was an advocate of central planning and was in no way a market socialist like Proudhon (as discussed in my article). Engels mocks Rodbertus for his comments as regards pricing by labour-notes:

“If Rodbertus has hitherto always had the misfortune to arrive too late with his new discoveries, this time at least he has the merit of one sort of originality: none of his rivals has dared to express the stupidity of the labour money utopia in this childishly naive, transparent, I might say truly Pomeranian, form. Since for every paper certificate a corresponding object of value has been delivered, and no object of value is supplied except in return for a corresponding paper certificate, the sum total of paper certificates must always be covered by the sum total of objects of value. The calculation works out without the smallest remainder, it is correct down to a second of labour time, and no governmental chief revenue office accountant, however many years of faithful service he may have behind him, could prove the slightest error in calculation. What more could one want?”

The irony is that Marx in his 1875 (but published in 1891) Critique of the Gotha Programme actually advocates issuing labour notes (as he does elsewhere). Indeed, of the two (Marx and Proudhon), it is the Marx who actually supports labour-notes! Also, I should note after attacking Bray in The Poverty of Philosophy for suggesting labour-notes as a transitory scheme needed before we reach communism, later the same year he writes an obviously transitory scheme (a state-capitalist one at that!) in the Communist Manifesto (which is published early in 1848). So the orthodox can use Marx to defend all sorts of positions, which is handy I suppose if you need to always base yourself on the holy texts…

Anyway, back to the point. Engels then notes that in a market economy issuing labour-notes is impossible because the producers have no notion of social demand when they create their goods and services. It is worth quoting in full:

“In present-day capitalist society each industrial capitalist produces off his own bat what, how and as much as he likes. The social demand, however, remains an unknown magnitude to him, both in regard to quality, the kind of objects required, and in regard to quantity. That which today cannot be supplied quickly enough, may tomorrow be offered far in excess of the demand. Nevertheless, demand is finally satisfied in one way or another, good or bad, and, taken as a whole, production is ultimately geared towards the objects required. How is this evening-out of the contradiction effected? By competition. And how does competition bring about this solution? Simply by depreciating below their labour value those commodities which by their kind or amount are useless for immediate social requirements, and by making the producers feel, through this roundabout means, that they have produced either absolutely useless articles or ostensibly useful articles in unusable, superfluous quantity. Two things follow from this:

“First, continual deviations of the prices of commodities from their values are the necessary condition in and through which the value of the commodities as such can come into existence. Only through the fluctuations of competition, and consequently of commodity prices, does the law of value of commodity production assert itself and the determination of the value of the commodity by the socially necessary labour time become a reality. That thereby the form of manifestation of value, the price, as a rule looks somewhat different from the value which it manifests, is a fate which value shares with most social relations. A king usually looks quite different from the monarchy which he represents. To desire, in a society of producers who exchange their commodities, to establish the determination of value by labour time, by forbidding competition to establish this determination of value through pressure on prices in the only way it can be established, is therefore merely to prove that, at least in this sphere, one has adopted the usual utopian disdain of economic laws.

“Secondly, competition, by bringing into operation the law of value of commodity production in a society of producers who exchange their commodities, precisely thereby brings about the only organisation and arrangement of social production which is possible in the circumstances. Only through the undervaluation or overvaluation of products is it forcibly brought home to the individual commodity producers what society requires or does not require and in what amounts. But it is precisely this sole regulator that the utopia advocated by Rodbertus among others wishes to abolish. And if we then ask what guarantee we have that necessary quantity and not more of each product will be produced, that we shall not go hungry in regard to corn and meat while we are choked in beet sugar and drowned in potato spirit, that we shall not lack trousers to cover our nakedness while trouser buttons flood us by the million – Rodbertus triumphantly shows us his splendid calculation, according to which the correct certificate has been handed out for every superfluous pound of sugar, for every unsold barrel of spirit, for every unusable trouser button, a calculation which ‘works out’ exactly, and according to which ‘all claims will be satisfied and the liquidation correctly brought about.’ And anyone who does not believe this can apply to governmental chief revenue office accountant X in Pomerania who has checked the calculation and found it correct, and who, as one who has never yet been caught lacking with the accounts, is thoroughly trustworthy.

“And now consider the naiveté with which Rodbertus would abolish industrial and commercial crises by means of his utopia. As soon as the production of commodities has assumed world market dimensions, the evening-out between the individual producers who produce for private account and the market for which they produce, which in respect of quantity and quality of demand is more or less unknown to them, is established by means of a storm on the world market, by a commercial crisis. If now competition is to be forbidden to make the individual producers aware, by a rise or fall in prices, how the world market stands, then they are completely blindfolded. To institute the production of commodities in such a fashion that the producers can no longer learn anything about the state of the market for which they are producing – that indeed is a cure for the crisis disease which could make Dr. Eisenbart envious of Rodbertus.”

Proudhon would not disagree, which was why he did not advocate the abolition of competition or the market (Marx proclaims in section I of his book that Proudhon advocated the end of competition and in section II that he did not). Indeed, he uses the expression “law of value” to describe the process by which competition works (needless to say, I’m sure that Engels, like most Marxists, thought Marx coined that particular term). I mention in a footnote Proudhon summarises this later in The Philosophy of Progress and here is the quote:

“The idea of value is elementary in economics: everyone knows what is meant by it. Nothing is less arbitrary than this idea; it is the comparative relation of products which, at each moment of social life, make up wealth. Value, in a word, indicates a proportion.

“Now, a proportion is something mathematical, exact, ideal, something which, by its high intelligibility, excludes caprice and fortune. There is then, on top of supply and demand, a law for comparison of values, therefore a rule of the evaluation of products.

“But that law or rule is a pure idea, of which it is impossible, at any moment, and for any object, to make the precise application, to have the exact and true standard. Products vary constantly in quantity and in quality; the capital in the production and its cost vary equally. The proportion does not remain the same for two instants in a row: a criterion or standard of values is thus impossible. The piece of money, five grams in weight, that we call the franc, is not a fixed unity of values: it is only a product like others, which with its weight of five grams at nine-tenths silver and one-tenth alloy, is worth sometimes more, sometimes less than the franc, without us ever being able to know exactly what is its difference from the standard franc.

“On what then does commerce rest, since it is proven that, lacking a standard of value, exchange is never equal, although the law of proportionality is rigorous? It is here that liberty comes to the rescue of reason, and compensates for the failures of certainty. Commerce rests on a convention, the principle of which is that the parties, after having sought fruitlessly the exact relations of the objects exchanged, come to an agreement to give an expression reputed to be exact, provided that it does not exceed the limits of a certain tolerance. That conventional expression is what we call the price.

“Thus, in the order of economic ideas, the truth is in the law, and not in the transactions. There is a certainty for the theory, but there is no criterion for practice. There would not even have been practice, and society would be impossible, if, in the absence of a criterion prior and superior to it, human liberty had not found a means to supply it by contract.” (“Second Letter”)

He also adds:

“It says that property, like the price of things, is originally the product of a contract, that that contract is determined by the necessity of labour, just as the convention which fixes the price of things is determined by the necessity of exchange; but that, just as with time and competition the price of each thing approaches more and more their true value, just as with time and credit property tends more and more to approach equality. Only, while the price of merchandise, or the just remuneration of the labourer, generally reaches its normal rate in a rather short period, property only arrives at its equilibrium after a much longer time: somewhat as if one compared the annual movement of the earth to the revolution of the equinoxes.” (“Second Letter”)

Proudhon in 1846 explicitly talks about how “Constituted Value” requires “oscillations” in supply and demand and competition in order to be determined. I should note that Bray – whom Marx compared to Proudhon to proclaim the latter’s unoriginality – recognised the need for planning to equate supply and demand. In other words, Marx’s “critique” of Bray in The Poverty of Philosophy simply restates what Bray actually advocated…

Engels’ critique of Rodbertus is of note because it clearly shows that the market provides information to producers. Without that information, the producers cannot make sensible decisions. As such, he seems to have predated von Mises and von Hayek and their arguments on the market by many decades. Likewise, Proudhon recognised the issue as regards State socialism and its abolition of the market (in the shape of Louis Blanc) in System of Economic Contradictions:

“How much does the tobacco sold by the administration cost? How much is it worth? You can answer the first of these questions: you only need to call at the first tobacco shop you see. But you can tell me nothing about the second, because you have no standard of comparison and are forbidden to verify by experiment the items of cost of administration, which it is consequently impossible to accept.” (Property is Theft!, 197)

It is funny seeing “Austrian” economists proclaiming their originality on the “calculation” issue in socialism… while echoing debates within socialism made decades before they put pen to paper! And best not ask them how well the capitalist corporation – that (increasingly large) island of central planning within the sea of markets – processes and utilises information…

Let us return to Engels. The issue is, of course, that while mocking Rodbertus for his, let us say, optimistic evaluation of the abilities of the Prussian State bureaucracy, where does that leave his and Marx’s “common plan”? He is well aware of the problem, but does he provide a solution?

In short, no. All the problems he identifies with Rodbertus and his schemes somehow disappear when it comes to his version of socialism. He paints the creation of the plan as simple in the extreme in Anti-Duhring:

“From the moment when society enters into possession of the means of product and uses them in direct association for production, the labour of each individual, however varied its specifically useful character may be, becomes at the start and directly social labour. The quantity of social labour contained in a product need not then be established in a roundabout way; daily experience shows in a direct way how much of it is required on the average. Society can simply calculate how many hours of labour are contained in a steam-engine, a bushel of wheat of the last harvest, or a hundred square yards of cloth of a certain quality. It could therefore never occur to it still to express the quantities of labour put into the products, quantities which it will then know directly and in their absolute amounts, in a third product, in a measure which, besides, is only relative, fluctuating, inadequate, though formerly unavoidable for lack of a better one, rather than express them in their natural, adequate and absolute measure, time. . . Hence, on the assumption that we made above, society will not assign values to products. It will not express the simple fact that the hundred square yards of cloth have required for their production, say, a thousand hours of labour in the oblique and meaningless way, stating that they have the value of a thousand hours of labour.”

No mention here of the difficulties associated with “labour” for which he berates Rodbertus for ignoring. No mention here of organisational skills needed to ensure all this equates for which he berates Rodbertus for ignoring. Nor is there any discussion on how people’s wants are determined and ranked. He sums up:

“It is true that even then it will still be necessary for society to know how much labour each article of consumption requires for its production. It will have to arrange its plan of production in accordance with its means of production, which include, in particular, its labour-powers. The useful effects of the various articles of consumption, compared with one another and with the quantities of labour required for their production, will in the end determine the plan. People will be able to manage everything very simply, without the intervention of much-vaunted ‘value’”

It would appear that the problems of the system of Rodbertus are caused purely by the producers being independent of each other. As no one tells them what to produce to meet the (predetermined) demand of their goods, chaos ensures. Under the system of Engels the producers are not independent and what they produce has been determined by the common plan, so no chaos.

Yet he does not address the obvious need to the central bodies to identify, collect, process and compare the information needed – for both production and consumption. This will all be managed “very simply.” As I have indicated in section H.6.2 of An Anarchist FAQ (and in my chapter of Bloodstained) the Bolsheviks found it anything but “very simple” when they sought to apply these notions during the Russian Revolution: the centralisation of the economy was associated with bureaucracy, red-tape, supplies piling-up (and wasting) side-by-side with scarcity. So Bolshevik ideology made a difficult situation worse by making the existing economic crisis worse. This is just one of many aspects of Bolshevik ideology which made things worse.

At one talk I gave, someone proclaimed that obviously the Bolsheviks would run into trouble due to the backwardness of the economy – they had few telephones, so what do you expect? Yet when Marx smugly gave his two sentence alternative to Proudhon and Bray, there were no telephones at all. Similarly, Ernest Mandel (noted Trotskyist and most famous Marxist economist of his generation – although Paul Mattick was unimpressed) proclaimed that we need not worry about von Mises because now we had computers. Except, of course, Marx and Engels, like Lenin, clearly thought that central planning was feasible in their lifetimes which were long before computers were invented or even postulated as a notion (and best ignore the awkward fact that the proletariat was a minority within the working class).

Appeals to “backwardness” do not cut it, I am afraid. Also, technology should be a means of aiding processes – socialism needs to be able to work without such technological aids, otherwise it is fragile. Not least, because what happens if the technology fails? Or it gets hacked? Or, worse, the technology has bugs in it which were not discovered in testing? And so on.

Oh, I guess we can just assume that any of this never happens… what is one more impossible or unlikely assumption between comrades? Indeed, if you list the assumptions needed for Central Planning you cannot help but notice how similar they are to the assumptions of neo-classical economics, not least Walrasian General Equilibrium. Which explains why, when Oskar Lange suggested replacing the (fictional) auctioneer of Walras with a (real) central planning body to do the needed tâtonnement – rising/lowering of prices to reach equilibrium – the economics profession declared his victory over von Mises and von Hayek. While I’m sure it is a feat of mathematics, it does not reflect reality and its assumptions pointless when not actively misleading.

(It could be argued that notions of central planning are, in part, a product of the use of money. After all, taxation allows money to be allocated to specific tasks and so it is an easy jump to thinking central allocation would produce social control. Yet Marx and Engels wanted to abolish money while keeping the illusion of simplicity. This may explain why many Marxists, and ex-Marxists like Michael Albert, prefer to keep money than dump the notion of a “common plan”).

In summary, I have indicated – via Engels – how the market’s divergence between price and value provides information which allows producers to meet demand. This is called “the law of value” by Proudhon – a term utilised by Marx and Marxists without acknowledgement – and which remains at the heart of his notion of “Constituted Value.” This is why he did not advocate labour-notes for he recognised the need of competition to constitute value – and drive down prices to labour-value. The abolition of property, the socialisation of the means of production, would end wage-labour as associated producers would exchange the products of their labour – and property needed to be socialised to stop workers associations from hiring new workers and so re-introducing wage-labour. Use would be divided – and so workers would control their labour and its product – but ownership would be undivided. This would end exploitation, for workers would not have to “share” the product of their labour with owners. So it is obvious how Proudhon laid the foundations for both collectivist and communist anarchism.

Which brings me to Kropotkin and libertarian communism. Obviously, both communist and mutualist anarchism share a lot of common ground. Both oppose wage-labour and advocate workers control. Both recognise the need for socialisation of the means of production. Both recognise the need for economic federalism (Proudhon, as well as seeing the benefits of competition, was also well aware of its negative aspects and regularly pointed to the need for what he called “an agricultural-economic federation” in 1863). The difference is in distribution, with libertarian communism opposing all markets and arguing distribution should be based on need, not deed.

Surely the arguments sketched above apply to libertarian communism just as much as to Engels’ Marxist-communist vision?

The key difference between anarchist-communism and Marxist-communism is that the former is a decentralised (multi-centred) system while the later is a centralised. The “common plan” involves gathering all needs and all production options and then somehow processing them into a “common plan.” This would solve the problems he lists as regards Rodbertus – to his own satisfaction. Yet Engels simply shifts the problem back a stage – Rodbertus sought to (somehow) equate actually produced goods with labour-notes issued centrally. Engels seeks to predetermine centrally what these goods should be before they are produced. The problems he mocks Rodbertus for ignoring still exist – indeed, they are worse for decisions are not made by independent producers but by a central body.

For anarchist-communism, decisions are not being made centrally. So in terms of evaluating options to satisfy needs, the set of options to evaluate is drastically reduced for those making the decisions – on both sides, in terms of production and consumption. A group of people need something specific and based on these needs the number of technical solutions is limited. Given a set of requirements, the number of alternatives is very limited. Similarly, the numbers of those who produce these possible inputs are also limited. So going from millions of products and billions needs as in a centralised system, we reach a small subset of products for very specific needs.

There is a misnomer about capitalism (or markets) that seem to be assumed in Marxist literature, namely that capitalists simply “throw” goods onto the market (if memory serves, Lenin used that word often). This is not entirely true – capitalists do plan (or try to) and so they arrange contracts with other firms to provide inputs and take outputs (I will ignore externalities but obviously capitalists have an interest in imposing some outputs onto others – something price hides). This reduces uncertainty (as goes expanding the firm by integrating independent contractors into the firm) and so what is demanded and supplied is well-known in advance. But, of course, the future cannot be predicted (and this applies to the creators of “the common plan” as well, particularly when they are bureaucrats at the centre). Goods are “thrown” onto the market with some expectation that they will sell.

Of course, markets add to the uncertainty associated with (economic and other) life – and unexpected developments (such as a crisis or changes in the distribution of income or changes in taste/needs, etc.) can cause problems, leading to sales not being sufficient and so causing disruption (and so contributing to the creation or the deepening of crisis). I should note that this will affect even the best central planning, as industrial accidents happen (so disrupting supply chains) and people may change their minds (sometimes voluntarily sometimes not as when illness strikes) on what they want to consume – unless, of course, the “common plan” enforces the planned consumption on all, regardless. The future cannot be predicted, all we can do is assume and hope to mitigate uncertainty as best we can. And we should never forget that markets are rarely in equilibrium (unlike in neo-classical economics, when they always are) and as Simonde de Sismondi noted long ago:

“Let us beware of this dangerous theory of equilibrium which is supposed to be automatically established. A certain kind of equilibrium, it is true, is re-established in the long run, but it is after a frightful amount of suffering.” (New Principles of Political Economy, vol. 1, pp. 20-21)

However, this should not make us lose sight of the role of contracts to communicate information and secure the meeting of needs. This would be the case in libertarian communism, with individuals, co-operatives, syndicates and communes identifying their needs and directly seeking others to help meet them. In addition, there would be federations of both to help co-ordinate responses (at appropriate levels). In other words, there would be plans at various levels – from individual all the way to society-wide ones, but not a single “common plan” which would specify all demand and all supply beforehand (a somewhat difficult task, regardless of what Engels asserted). This also means that various bodies and forums would exist to communicate needs and the information prices provide in order to evaluate options (although it is important to stress that price dissolves key information into a general rating and hides or ignores other, important, information). As the evaluations are being made within a very specific context and not trying to compare a vast multitude of needs, products and processes (assuming you could identify, gather and process that data in the first place!), planning becomes possible – for there are a multitude of plans reflecting concrete needs and the evaluation of actual products and processes. In this situation, evaluation of alternatives becomes possible without money and markets.

I think George Barrett summarises it well in his excellent pamphlet The Anarchist Revolution:

“Let us imagine now that the great revolt of the workers has taken place, that their direct action has made them masters of the situation. Is it not easy to see that some man in a street that grew hungry would soon draw up a list of the loaves that were needed, and take it to the bakery where the strikers were in possession? Is there any difficulty in supposing that the necessary amount would then be baked according to this list? By this time the bakers would know what carts and delivery vans were needed to send the bread out to the people, and if they let the carters and vanmen know of this, would these not do their utmost to supply the vehicles, just as the bakers set to work to make the bread? If, as things settled down, more benches were needed on which to knead the bread, in just the same way is it not easy to see that the carpenters would supply them? If an intimation were given to the engineers that machinery were wanted, would they not see that this received their immediate attention? The engineers in their turn would apply to the draughtsmen for designs, and to the foundrymen for castings. In turn, again, the draughtsmen apply to the papermakers for paper, and to the workers in the pencil factories for pencils. The foundrymen, in the meantime, apply to the furnacemen, and these in their turn to the miners for more iron ore and coal. So the endless continuity goes on — a well-balanced interdependence of parts is guaranteed, because need is the motive force behind it all.

“Who bosses, who regulates all this? No one! It starts from below, not from above. Like an organism, this free society grows into being, from the simple unit up to the complex structure. The need for bread, hunger — or, in other words, the individual struggle to live, in its most simple and elementary form — is, as we have seen, sufficient to set the whole complex social machinery in motion. Society is the result of the individual struggle for existence; it is not, as many suppose, opposed to it.

“In the same way that each free individual has associated with his brothers to produce bread, machinery, and all that was necessary for life, driven by no other force than his desire for the full enjoyment of life, so each institution is free and self-contained, and co-operates and enters into agreements with others because by so doing it extends its own possibilities. There is no centralised State exploiting or dictating, but the complete structure is supported because each part is dependent on the whole. The bakers, as we have seen, need the carpenters and engineers, and these would be no use if they were not supplied by other workers, who in their turn are just as dependent on yet another branch. What folly if the engineers should presume to dictate to the bakers the conditions of their labour, and it would be equally without reason if a committee, styling itself the Government, should become boss of all these industries and begin to control their production and interchange, which must in the nature of things already be well adjusted and orderly. Those who control production in this manner are invariably those who enjoy the larger part of that which is produced; that is why the politicians try to insist upon the necessity of such control. Alas! that they should be so tamely followed by so many workers who have not yet cleared their minds of the old slavish instincts.”

I would add that as well as providing requests for products (X amount of good Y), various pieces of information would also be provided to help decision making. Some of this information would reflect that provided by prices (both “objective” ones, such as labour and resources used, and “subjective” ones, such as how much in demand relative to stocks it is) and that which prices hide or ignore (pollution, quality of work, etc.). Anyway, this is sketched in section I of An Anarchist FAQ so I will not repeat it here.

The great strength of Kropotkin is that he recognised the importance of local knowledge and local action, of the role of people of initiative. He recognised that central bodies would have a hard time gathering this information and knowledge, that the Jacobin and Marxist dream of centralised decision-making may work on paper but would never work in practice. As indicated above, Engels was very glib on how easy the creation of the “common plan” would be, while Marx in The Poverty of Philosophy spends all of about a (short) paragraph on it – and generalises from the example of two people and two products to a national economy of millions of both without batting an eye-lid. Kropotkin never makes the creation of socialism look as easy as Marx and Engels did.

I should also note here that Kropotkin did not consider communism to be the immediate outcome of a revolution – he indicated, repeatedly, we cannot expect the initial stages to be as communist as we would like or hope. His aim in The Conquest of Bread is to present an overview of what is needed while recognising that any real revolution would vary in what happens where. He explicitly rejects the idea of “overnight” revolutions in that book and states that different areas will progress at different rates and try different solutions. And he was right – on both counts. Real revolutions are messy and actual solutions will never be as ideal as we hope. Rather than become – like the ultra-left – so pure as to be impractical, Kropotkin saw the role of anarchists in shaping how revolutions and mass movements develop. He would not have dismissed workplace occupations which sold the product of their labour on the market as “self-managed capitalism” (a nonsensical description) but rather see that as a step in the right direction and work with them towards distribution according to need over time: an better “mistakes” like this than the centralised inertia and bureaucracy the Bolsheviks imposed.

So in terms of immediate communism, Kropotkin is much like that other communist-anarchist, his friend Errico Malatesta. While a more romantic writer than the ever-so-realistic Malatesta, when you look closely at Kropotkin’s writings he shares the same awareness of the issues and recognition that libertarian communism cannot be wished into existence. It will need to be built and so will be a product of social development. Nor should we forget that we will inherit a structure of industry which reflects capitalist priorities as well as class society and its distribution of income. That will take some time to adjust to priorities based on human values.

Saying that, Malatesta is still my favourite dead anarchist even if my appreciation of Kropotkin has grown over the years – particularly after reading or translating his articles for the anarchist press. He was a realistic revolutionary, even if he had a romantic turn of phrase at times.

All of which makes the article below of interest. It is the fifth and final part of a series, the second part of which I have previously blogged before. The translation is not perfect in that there are a couple of bits which I am not completely happy with, but these are minor and overall I am happy enough with it to publish it. Particularly as it is of note for Kropotkin’s stressing of the need for local knowledge, action and initiative and the how hopeless a central body would be to meet the diverse needs of both the class struggle now as well as any future socialist society. The latter, I should note, was raised by him in 1920 in the letter included in my last blog. He was proved right – unsurprisingly, because he had long recognised the limitations of central bodies and the importance of local, fragmented, dispersed knowledge – incorporating both in his politics: not only for the future but for current struggles.

Anyway, this is a subject about which much could be written. Yet we must never forget the importance of current struggles – for these will influence how any future revolution will develop. If you like, the transition period starts now! Hence the importance of the Kropotkin article below.

Until I blog again, be seeing you!

International Congresses and the Congress of London

V (end)

(Les Temps Nouveaux, 10 October 1896)

We have seen the past of international congresses. Now let us take a look at the future.

Taking socialism as a whole, let us first note that no party can encompass it in its entirety. To try to do this, to strive to make it happen, as the social-democrats do, is a waste of time; it is to betray the cause that you claim to defend.

We must first recognise – recognise with happiness – that the movement of ideas which has been named socialism has gone beyond the period when we could hope to bring it within the framework of a single party. A party can no longer encompass it as a whole. It is already a flood, that we cannot dam anymore.

Like human thought itself, like society, it has taken on a variety of aspects and nuances that respond to the thousand shades of the human spirit, to the thousand tendencies that emerge in a society that lives, that thinks, that develops.

This variety of aspects is its strength. It is this that allows it to be universalised, to penetrate all classes of society – to make inroads into the peasant-owner and the peasant in the municipality, the worker of the large factory and the worker of the small Parisian business, the thinker, the writer, the artist. It is this that allows them to be united, all, in the same aspiration for equality and freedom, through the socialisation, in one form or another, of social capital – the heritage of humanity – put at the service of all.

All great movements have had this characteristic of universality and variety. We are happy that socialism has finally reached this stage, that it has gone beyond the embryonic period of the party, that it has become so widespread to the point of permeating society. This is proof that it will no longer be smothered.

So trying to bring this vast movement into a single party, to put it under a single programme, as the social-democrats do, is a waste of time. We must recognise the variety: it is life itself.

***

This being given, recognised, proven – what can be the role of future international socialist Congresses?

It must be openly recognised that any attempt to impose a government, a general guardianship on this movement is as criminal as it was [in the First International], that it is still the papacy’s attempt to want to rule the world.

It is one thing to believe in the usefulness of a government within a party. It is, after all, only an error of judgement. But to believe that you can impose a ruler [gouverne] on to a movement that tends to become as universal as civilised society itself – that is simply criminal madness, worthy of the Catholic Church but unworthy of a socialist.

This is what should be, first of all, understood in the movement; what the authoritarian socialists themselves must be brought to recognise.

***

Indeed, take any nation – France, England, Germany, Russia, whatever! [–] and you try to give an account of this immense throng of interests, thoughts, aspirations, that a nation represents.

England is the country in which industry dominates, and where already half of the country’s workers are enlisted in large factories. It is immense, compared to the continent. But can it be said that the interests of the nation are summed up in the interests of these two or three million workers? That it would suffice to render them masters of their factories to solve the social question? That he who speaks in their name, and asks, on their behalf, the socialisation of the factories, speaks in the name of the working class of England? – And the workers of the soil? And the form of possession of the soil itself which, at bottom, takes precedence over all economic questions? And the trade that sustains more people than the soil itself in this country of merchants? And these millions of others who live from work in the thousand small industries that abound in England as elsewhere?

How much more complicated is the social question when you go to France, where half of the population exists on the products of the soil? In Germany, where two-thirds, if not more, are in the same situation? In Russia, where nine-tenths of the population are farmers? In Italy and Spain, which are somewhere in between Russia and France?

Well, do you represent those millions, scattered amongst the villages and hamlets, and the multitude of their interests, their conflicts, their mutual relations, their relationships to the thousand strings of the State – and the sincere man in his thought must recognise that there are thousands and thousands of interests about which socialism, as it is today, has not only never pondered, but did not even suspect.

Nobody – no individual in the world, not even a universal arch-genius – can speak in the name of those thousands and thousands of interests. Nobody except the totality of all those interested parties, speaking, and above all acting, themselves, learning [what] their interests [are] through their very action.

* * *

Since the current conditions of economic and political life do not meet the needs of society, we see a thousand movements arising and sprouting from all points in society which seek to demolish these conditions, vaguely inspired by this fundamental idea of socialism: “The wealth already produced and the means to produce new riches should belong to society – not to the individual.” Movements which seek, each in its own domain, the means of reaching this aim, and whose very goal is determined and defined as they work to achieve it.

* * *

Already today we see four or five groups of various movements taking shape.

We have the social-democratic movement, representing in our societies the Roman, Catholic, and later Jacobin tradition of the centralised, disciplined State, concentrating in its hands the political, economic and social life of nations. This tendency exists in society, it has its past, and in socialism – the reflection of society – it is represented by the more or less social democracy, with a thousand nuances of its own.

Then we have the anarchist movement, which has frankly affirmed itself as communist, and aims at the demolition of the State to substitute for it the direct free agreement of consumer and producer organisations, grouped to satisfy all the infinitely varied needs of human nature. It represents the popular tradition of societies.

In this same movement, we still have the group which, watchful about safeguarding the rights of the individual, [is] based mainly on individualism, making cheap points against socialisation (the primary basis, in our opinion, for the blossoming of individuality); a movement which still has its reason for being [raison d’être], to counterbalance the authoritarian tendencies of Communism.

Then we have an immense, a colossal trade union worker movement [mouvement ouvrier corporatif], which, by modest increases of wages and reductions in hours of work, has already done more, perhaps, than all the other movements to affirm the rights and respect of the man in the worker, and which does not aim at anything less than to drive the master out of the factory, the mine, the transport routes, by waging guerrilla warfare every day.

Then comes another large movement – very large in England – the co-operative movement, straying from its origins but tending nevertheless today to pour its current into the great socialist flood, which will eventually win. A movement that aims to eliminate that immense number of intermediaries who place themselves between the producer and the consumer, and tries to replace the boss by associated producers.

Then come all these movements of agreements between peasants which, under the name of syndicates, are created as soon as the law ceases to punish them as criminals; the varied and deep movements that forge links of direct agreement between farmers and which it would be absolutely necessary to bring back into the open and put in contact with the general flood of socialism. The movement of co-operation in small trades, which occurs mainly in Russia under the initiative of a few pioneers, comes to line up with the two previous ones.

Then come all these movement which, either in the form of consciousness objection [révolte consciente] as in France or religion as in Russia, strongly work in the popular masses to produce rebellion against the State in its two main manifestations – military service and taxation. Movements that can only be ignored if you want to remain absolutely ignorant of the immense role played by similar movements in the history of all popular uprisings in previous periods.

In addition, we are witnessing a profound communalist movement, the effects of which we have already seen in the uprisings of the communes in Paris, in the south [of France], in Spain. A movement which has deeply stirred minds, since 1871, in France and Spain and which, in England, has lately been given a strong push, not only in the direction of what they tend to call “municipal socialism,” but even more so in a whole body of ideas germinating in the working masses.

And finally, it is impossible to ignore the various movements that occur in the best elements of the bourgeoisie itself, and which result in either a whole series of more-or-less philanthropic institutions, that is to say by movements to manual labour, “to the people,” “to the land,” and so on, as well as by a tendency accentuated every day in literature, art and science, and which denotes that the bourgeoisie is already losing, in its best representatives, faith in its right to exploitation.

A host of other small movements should be mentioned – such the liberation of the individual from [hypocritical] morality, the emancipation of women, ethical movements, etc., etc. But, let us move on!

Finally there is all this throng of rebels, here individually, there in groups, who revolt against all social and political inequities, who sacrifice themselves to awaken the slumbering society and, by their actions, broach all [issues]: exploitation, servitude in all its aspects, hypocritical morality.

* * *

And they want all these movements, in which thousands of men and women are seeking, in one way or another, to directly transform society, moving with more or less efficiency towards the socialisation of wealth – they want all these varied movements to cease to exist and be epitomised in one mode of action: that of naming candidates to parliaments or municipalities!!

They want to absorb all these energies in electoral struggles – for what? That the deputies, who, themselves, do not do this work of direct transformation of morals, institutions and ideas, find – intuitively, I suppose – the means of bringing about all these transformations by means of laws?

They want those who prepare the social revolution in actions and concrete ideas to abandon this task to the makers of laws. As if it were enough to become a legislator to understand all that these millions of individuals learn in their daily struggles against authority, the boss, the priest, the policemen, the State [employed] teacher, the narrow selfishness of ignorance, laziness of mind!…

To hear such nonsense said and preached is almost enough to make you despair of a human nature that never seems to overcome this idea of saviours, of popes discovering the truth by intuition from above and producing a miracle!

* * *

Well, since it is certain that the personal contact of intellects and conflict stimulates minds, and that this contact is achieved better in Congresses than by the press, we do not need a Congress, we need a hundred, a thousand.

Many are already held. There is no lack of Congresses [–] regional and national, trade union [corporatifs], co-operative, although agricultural unions are still lacking, [those] concerning the work of the small trades, etc. But that is not all.

All these currents, necessarily, will be led to pour into socialism. The era requires it. Is this a reason, however, for waiting, with folded arms, for the Marxist “negation of the negation” to produce itself? On the contrary, it is necessary that in each of these congresses the voice of the socialist, especially the anarchist, should be heard. Let him speak there, not as a teacher who comes to lecture the children or to come to tell them that all their work is useless – but as a man who understands that all these currents have their reason for being; that without them the social revolution would be impossible; that they all bring their little stone to the reconstruction of society, which must be done locally and on the spot, by those same groups; that all must eventually be inspired by the idea of the century – as a man who understands this and who comes to bring them this inspiration.

The social-democrat cannot do that; he can only say to them: “Vote!” It must therefore be up to the anarchist to go there, to fight, to speak, where they hardly suspect the revolution to be carried out; to speak to them – not of the uselessness of the work, but of the new utility it would gain if this small current is poured into the great flood of social reconstruction. In addition, a compelling need is happening right now. The discussion of socialism, as a whole, was interrupted in 1870, and has never been resumed since. A whole flood of preposterous theories is circulating at this moment under the name of “scientific socialism,” and, under this cover, they are debating nonsense [énormités] that would have made poor Marx’s hair stand on end.

It is time for the discussion of socialism to resume, for a complete review of the goods circulating under the brand “patented S.G.D.G.” to be made – not only in the press, as our friends D. Nieuwenhuis and Tcherkesoff have undertaken, but in plain sight, in front of the socialists of the two worlds.

The newspaper, the pamphlet, the book prepares the ground. But it must also be done openly [avec éclat], in congresses, at large congresses – prepared by discussions in groups – to which would be invited all those who are keen to clarify ideas or to obtain information themselves.

It is obviously in this direction that it will be necessary to work.

Peter Kropotkin

[N.B. S.G.D.G. (“Sans Garantie Du Gouvernement”) was legally required to be stamped on French products with a legal patent between 1844 and 1868. Meaning “Without Guarantee of the Government,” it signified that the patent did not mean that the State guaranteed the proper functioning of the product.]

Dairy Farmer to Donald Trump: “Replace NAFTA, It’s Not Good For Farmers Anywhere”

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 13:32

via In These Times

by Jim Goodman

There is a lot of angst in the U.S. corporate world. They are quite concerned that the renegotiation talks between the United States, Canada and Mexico (the three participants in the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA) may not deliver a new agreement that is as lucrative as the old NAFTA.

NAFTA has been in place since 1994. It is one of those classic neoliberal trade deals that essayist George Scialabba describes as “investor rights agreements masquerading as ‘free trade’ and constraining the rights of governments to protect their own workers, environments, and currencies.” As such, it has served corporate interests well.

U.S. corporations counted on NAFTA and other trade agreements to keep wages low by the threat of, or actual movement of, manufacturing jobs to wherever it was easiest to exploit workers and the environment.

A renegotiated NAFTA, would, if U.S. negotiating positions were accepted, force Canada to scrap the price protections that give their dairy farmers a fair price for their milk. In Mexico, U.S. corporate interests would hope to prevent Andrés Manuel López Obrador, if elected president, from trying to bring Mexican farmers out of poverty. Obrador calls for expanding the country’s dairy industry and rebuilding its native corn production. (American agribusiness destroyed Mexican family farm corn production by dumping cheaper corn on the Mexican market—hence the spike in illegal emigration to the United States after NAFTA went into force.)

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Florida Prisoners Are Preparing to Strike Against Unpaid Labor

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 13:25

via In These Times

By Michael Arria

People incarcerated throughout the state of Florida are planning a January 15 work stoppage to protest their conditions, and they say they are prepared to continue the protest for more than a month.

Prisoners in eight prisons are expected to participate in the effort, which they refer to as Operation PUSH. The strike, which was purposely scheduled to coincide with Martin Luther King Day, is designed to advance three major changes: a reduction of canteen prices, payment for labor and parole incentives for prisoners serving life sentences. It is not immediately clear how many incarcerated people intend to participate.

News of the action spread after a statement was posted on SPARC (Supporting Prisoners and Real Change), a Facebook page used by Florida prisoners and their families. The statement was compiled from a series of messages sent by prisoners to the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee’s Gainesville chapter and the national Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons.

“Every institution must prepare to lay down for at least one month or longer,” the statement reads. “Our goal is to make the governor realize that it will cost the state of Florida millions of dollars daily to contract outside companies to come and cook, clean, and handle the maintenance. This will cause a total breakdown. In order to become very effective, we must use everything we have to show that we mean business.”

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Meet the Badass Girls of Los Anarchists, L.A.’s Roller Derby League for Kids

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 16:31

via Los Angeles magazine

by Liz Ohanesian

Besides the arch of black and gold balloons gracing its entrance on Saturday afternoon, Anarchy Hall looks like any other nondescript industrial warehouse in Sun Valley. But inside of the 8,000-square-foot flat track facility, home to L.A.’s own Los Anarchists, are all the trappings of a 21st century roller derby revival.

The league’s logo, a scratchy L.A. inside an anarchy symbol, is painted on one wall. In a corner behind the track, there’s space for bands to play. Before the match, skaters roll around with pun-y derby names emblazoned on the backs of their jerseys. Some have tufts of brightly colored hair peeping out from under their helmets. A couple of nose rings sparkle from the sidelines. Anarchy Hall is a brand new monument to the most punk-rock sport of all — but the difference here is that the players are kids and teens.

Los Anarchists Junior Derby is an all-female roller derby league open to players between the ages of 5 and 17 (if you turn 18 during the season, you can finish out your games before moving up to the adults). They’re part of the Junior Roller Derby Association (JRDA), which connects youth leagues across the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe, and they’re the rare junior league that functions independently from an adult one. Los Anarchists are new to the roller derby scene; this is their first season. Still, some of their players are already derby veterans.

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Top Takeaways From Michael Wolff’s “Fire And Fury”

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 15:52

via Teen Vogue

by Lucy Diavolo

Michael Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, has already generated demand for a second print run as it dominates the current news cycle. The book’s revelations have been broadly interpreted as implicating President Donald Trump as unintelligent and childish — even in the eyes of his own staff.

The truth of Wolff’s depiction is complicated by an author’s note admission of an inherent “looseness with the truth” in the Trump White House. His book’s accuracy is still being hashed out by the media, the Republican party, and the tweeter-in-chief himself. The debate circles around juicy gossip in the book, which also poses questions about the president’s competency and the influence of insiders in his decision-making.

Wolff offers a bleak and cringeworthy vision of the Trump administration’s inner workings. Full of pearl-clutching details, the cracks reveal the administration of a president who can’t even wrap his head around the low-salary appeal of government work. In an age of overwhelming irony, it gives us exactly what we expect of Trump — and much more.

The President of the United States, in Wolff’s telling, lives in his own little world. His obsession with inflated inauguration crowd numbers — which went as far as decorating the West Wing with photos of the assembly — sets the tone for this trend during his administration thus far.

But the power of his own alternate reality is captured with a quote about the infamous Access Hollywood tape: “It wasn’t me,” Trump reportedly says. “I’ve been told by people who understand this stuff about how easy it is to alter these things and put in voices and completely different people.”

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