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Don’t despair: the climate fight is only over if you think it is

mer, 10/17/2018 - 00:00

via The Guardian

by Rebecca Solnit

In response to Monday’s release of the IPCC report on the climate crisis – which warned that “unprecedented” changes were needed if global warming increases 1.5C beyond the pre-industrial period – a standup comic I know posted this plaintive request on her Facebook: “Damn this latest report about climate change is just terrifying. People that know a lot about this stuff, is there anything to be potentially optimistic about? I think this week I feel even worse than Nov 2016 and I’m really trying to find some hope here.”

A bunch of her friends posted variations on “we’re doomed” and “it’s hopeless”, which perhaps made them feel that they were in charge of one thing in this overwhelming situation, the facts. They weren’t, of course. They were letting understandable grief at the news morph into an assumption that they know just how the future is going to turn out. They don’t.

The future hasn’t already been decided. That is, climate change is an inescapable present and future reality, but the point of the IPCC report is that there is still a chance to seize the best-case scenario rather than surrender to the worst. Natan Sharansky, who spent nine years in a gulag for his work with Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, recalls his mentor saying: “They want us to believe there’s no chance of success. But whether or not there’s hope for change is not the question. If you want to be a free person, you don’t stand up for human rights because it will work, but because it is right. We must continue living as decent people.” Right now living as decent people means every one of us with resources taking serious climate action, or stepping up what we’re already doing.

Climate action is human rights, because climate change affects the most vulnerable first and hardest – it already has, with droughts, fires, floods, crop failures. It affects the myriad species and habitats that make this earth such an intricately beautiful place, from the coral reefs to the caribou herds. What we’re deciding now is what life will be like for the kids born this year who will be 82 in 2100, and their grandchildren, and their grandchildren’s grandchildren. They will curse the era that devastated the planet, and perhaps they’ll bless the memory of those who tried to limit this destruction. The report says we need to drop fossil fuel consumption by 45% by 2030, when these kids will be 12. That’s a difficult but not impossible proposition.

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Few Democrats Offer Alternatives to War-Weary Voters

mar, 10/16/2018 - 18:46

via Common Dreams

by Jeff Cohen

Chants of “No More War” from delegates at the 2016 Democratic National Convention gave voice to sentiments that still resonate through the base of the party and the broad U.S. public, notably in communities with higher rates of military sacrifice.

While Trump’s 2016 victories in swing states may well have been aided by his posing as a foe of protracted war, his administration’s Mideast policies have largely exposed that masquerade. Unfortunately, the weak and confused positions of Democratic leaders on endless war and bloated military spending offer little alternative to war-weary voters.

Polls show the popularity of a progressive domestic agenda on issues from jobs to healthcare to free public college, but few Democrats in Congress are willing to strongly challenge the unaccountable military budget, which soaks up most discretionary spending that could be redirected toward the party’s proclaimed domestic agenda. By Obama’s last year in office, overall “defense” spending was higher (adjusted for inflation) than “at any point since World War II,” according to Peter Beinart (“The Democrats Keep Capitulating on Defense Spending”)—and significantly higher than during the Vietnam War.

Yet during federal budget negotiations early this year—with Trump requesting a staggering 11 percent Pentagon budget increase over two years—Nancy Pelosi boasted in an email to House Democrats: “In our negotiations, Congressional Democrats have been fighting for increases in funding for defense.” The office of Senate Democratic  leader Chuck Schumer declared: “We fully support President Trump’s Defense Department’s request.”  The budget agreement ultimately passed the Senate with more Democrats (36) voting for it than Republicans (34). Among the Democratic senators who voted no were the five most-often touted as potential 2020 presidential candidates – Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Jeff Merkley and Elizabeth Warren; independent Bernie Sanders also voted no.

Months later, an overwhelming majority of House and Senate Democrats supported the massive 2019 “National Defense Authorization Act” of $717 billion. The small minority of Democratic “no” votes in the Senate included five of the potential presidential candidates mentioned above; Booker voted “yea.”

In 2018, few Democratic candidates for Congress conveyed to voters how military budget cuts could make an expansive domestic agenda possible. Notable exceptions include Rep. Barbara Lee (CA) and  four newcomers (all women of color) expected to be sworn into Congress in January: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Ilhan Omar (MN), Rashida Tlaib (MI) and Ayanna Pressley (MA).

While Democratic leaders failed to resist Trump over war spending, they did loudly resist the prospect of peace breaking out in Korea. In June, on the eve of nuclear talks between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un (a process sparked by South Korea’s progressive-leaning president), Schumer and six other senior Democratic senators sent a rejectionist letter to Trump demanding that any hint of sanctions relief for North Korea be dependent on an agreement with obviously impossible conditions. The letter mirrored GOP objections to Obama’s Iran nuclear deal (such as the agreement needing to be permanent) – and the rejectionism was derided in a New York Times column (“Democrats Childishly Resist Trump’s North Korea Efforts”) by Nicholas Kristof: “Shock! Horror! President Trump is actually doing something right. Sadly, Democrats in Congress are responding in a quite Trumpian way: They seem more concerned with undermining him than supporting a peace process with North Korea.”

Trump has a dangerous admiration for dictators like those in North Korea and Saudi Arabia—and for authoritarians like those in Russia and the Philippines. Democrats need to condemn such admiration without succumbing to reckless bellicosity.

The United States and Russia possess 93 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. Amid evidence of a Russian effort to help Trump during our 2016 election (evidently less effective and overt than the U.S. effort 20 years earlier that successfully backed an erratic, anti-democratic candidate in Russia’s presidential election), many Democratic leaders seem oblivious to the ongoing threat of armed conflict with Russia – a peril that was profoundly understood by Democratic presidents  during the height of the Cold War when Russia had a much worse form of government. Reacting to evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, numerous Democrats have engaged in extreme rhetoric , calling it an “act of war” and “equivalent” to Pearl Harbor. Democratic leaders have rarely acknowledged the crucial need for “a shift in approach toward Russia” including “steps to ease tensions between the nuclear superpowers,” in the words of an Open Letter  for “Election Secuirty and True National Security,” released this summer.

With consistently moral foreign policies that reject costly militarism and continuous intervention, Democrats could inspire the party base and gain support among swing voters and independents (especially third-party voters). But advocacy of those policies come mostly from a minority of Democratic “backbenchers,” not leaders.

The party leadership has routinely been absent in the face of a humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen caused primarily by the U.S.-backed Saudi war (and White House coziness with Saudi Arabia). In March, Bernie Sanders, Democrat Chris Murphy and Republican Mike Lee forced a vote on their Senate resolution to end U.S. military support for the Saudis in Yemen. In the face of White House opposition and apparent indifference among Democratic leaders, it went down to defeat (55-44) thanks to ten Democratic ‘no’ votes. With the disaster continuing to worsen in Yemen, the House Democratic leadership reportedly dragged its feet while progressive first-term Congressman Ro Khanna persistently led a bipartisan effort to get a vote on a similar measure; finally, in late September, Khanna was able to introduce the resolution with some high-level party support.

On matters of war and peace—for instance, the 17-year occupation of Afghanistan or Team Trump’s extremely one-sided Israel-Palestine policy—top Democrats have offered few coherent alternative policies. In May, for example, Schumer praised Trump for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem days after he criticized Trump for withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement—a deal Schumer had originally opposed. And Democratic leaders have made scant objections to Trump administration actions that a director at Amnesty International USA described as “hugely expanding the use of drone and airstrikes, including outside of war zones, and increasing civilian casualties in the process.”

Democrats often denounce the GOP for immoral and extremist domestic policies favoring the powerful. But the party’s failure to challenge such foreign policies is a moral and political tragedy.

A version of this article appears as part of “Democratic Autopsy: One Year Later,” a research report supported by and excerpted by The Nation.    

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

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What if … people could migrate freely?

mar, 10/16/2018 - 18:24

via The New Internationalist

by Vanessa Baird

Architect and illustrator Theo Deutinger has made a simple but telling set of graphics showing the number of countries you can travel to without a visa, depending on your nationality.

If you are a citizen of the UK or the US, you are free to enter 157 countries. Your world is pretty big.

If you’re a citizen of Afghanistan, however, just 22 countries will let you in without a visa. Your world isn’t much bigger if you are Pakistani (25), Iraqi (26) or Syrian (30).

You will have noticed an emerging pattern. If you need to travel to escape war, conflict, poverty, then national borders are automatically closed to you.

If by accident of birth you are a citizen of a rich and relatively safe country, they are automatically open. And if you are a very rich person from a ‘poorer’ country you can buy, for example, a Maltese passport which will open more borders to you.

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Notes on Spontaneity and Organization

mar, 10/16/2018 - 18:15

via Upping the Anti #8

by Elise Thorburn, Adrie Naylor, and Robyn Letson

On March 18, 1848 silent processions marched through Berlin – a city of 450,000 that was over 85 percent working class – collecting their dead and gathering crowds. For the first time in days, the city was quiet as the sun set. There were no gunshots, no barricades, no army, no police; just the revolutionaries and the King.

A years-long crisis precipitated revolt. Failing crops in 1845 doubled, sometimes tripled, the price of bread in the winter of 1846. Household budgets, of which two thirds were already devoted to food, became exclusively caloric. Demand for furniture and clothes evaporated, and with them the jobs that sustained Europe’s new industrial cities.
Ribbons of telegraph wire sent news from comrades in one city to newly emboldened radicals in the next. The Parisians were first in February. Days later Vienna fell. News of uprisings in Madrid, Saxony, Bavaria, Naples, Venice, and Prague spread. 1848: it was the Springtime of the Peoples.

There had long been a radical contingent in Berlin demanding a free press, free speech, and free elections, but they were constantly rebuffed by the aristocracy. By 1848, however, King Frederick William IV was also reading the newspapers and began to adopt a more concessionary disposition. On March 13th, a massive crowd gathered to celebrate a new constitution and new civil liberties. Students mixed with the unemployed, who mixed with the factory workers, all surrounded by a ring of mounted soldiers. As the King stepped out onto his balcony to greet the crowd, a drumroll sounded and suddenly the soldiers charged and fired shots. The jubilant crowd turned ferocious: “We are betrayed; to arms!”
As one witness recounted, “In all directions the thoroughfares were soon blocked with barricades. The paving stones seemed to leap from the ground and to form themselves into bulwarks surmounted by black, red, and gold flags and manned by citizens, university students, tradesmen, artists, laborers, professional men, hastily armed with all sorts of weapons, from rifles and shotguns down to pikes, axes, and hammers.” Part way through the street battle white banners were unfurled from the palace bearing a single word: Misunderstanding.

The church bells began to ring and did not stop until well after the fighting. The city was bombarded with artillery, gunshots, the sounds of executions and of cries. Over 200 people died. On the third day, the King ordered his troops to leave: the people were not going to be coerced into submission.

And so silent crowds descended on the palace and called for the King. He stepped out and for perhaps the first time in modern Europe – bowed to the crowd, honouring the dead and the revolutionaries. All of your demands, he told them, are accepted. A single voice punctuated the silence: “Smoking, too?” Another noble, Prince Lichnowsky, spoke up: “Yes, smoking too.” “Even in the Tiergarten?” “You may smoke in the Tiergarten, gentlemen.”

By the end of 1848, revolutionary forces everywhere in Europe were in full retreat. Hope for change was met with reneged promises and a new monarchist constitution. (1)

How many springs have we known? Over a year ago, people around the world were celebrating the emergence and proliferation of the Arab Spring, feeling as though they had been woken up from many winters of hardship and powerlessness. As with past springs, these events were marked by a sincere hope of revolutionary change – often appearing to emerge spontaneously and without centralized leadership. It is impossible to watch images of Tahrir Square in 2011 and deny that winning seems possible. But often these moments have no staying power: while some uprisings managed to topple long-time dictators, serious questions remain about whether or not systemic change was achieved. As with the rise of Otto von Bismarck after the 1848 Springtime of the Peoples, the revolutionary hopes of the Arab Spring are displaced as the defeat of the dictator gives way to a new ruling class.

The relationship between spontaneity and organization is a long standing and important topic for debate for revolutionary Left. Contemporary analyses have pitted the two as dichotomous, ignoring their dialectical relationship and leading to conclusions that ignore the role of organization and fetishizes spontaneity. Chief among these analyses is that of John Holloway, who, in the opening pages of his widely-read book, Change the World Without Taking Power, says:

“In the beginning is the scream. We scream.
When we write or when we read, it is easy to forget that the beginning is not the word, but the scream. Faced with the mutilation of human lives by capitalism, a scream of sadness, a scream of horror, a scream of anger, a scream of refusal: NO.
The starting point of theoretical reflection is opposition, negativity, struggle. It is from rage that thought is born, not from the pose of reason, not from the reasoned-sitting-back-and-reflecting-on-the-mysteries-of-existence that is the conventional image of the thinker.
We start from negation, from dissonance. The dissonance can take many shapes. An inarticulate mumble of discontent, tears of frustration, a scream of rage, a confident roar. An unease, a confusion, a longing, a critical vibration.” (2)

For Holloway, this moment of spontaneous refusal is the most naked, pure expression of resistance. But how can the collective “No” sustain itself beyond the first, initial scream?
Our goal in this editorial is twofold: first to complicate and elaborate the Left’s understanding of spontaneity and organization and then to turn to the question of strategic implications. The issue has re-asserted itself with urgency in light of recent struggles that have attempted – with varying degrees of success and failure – to distance themselves from centralized party modes of organizing or state-focused methods of movement building towards what have been described as more multitudinous, rhizomatic experiments in organizational movement structure. Much of the 1990s saw an exuberant shift to spontaneous organizing for many radicals and activists – an exuberance which continues to hold tremendous power. But our reliance on spontaneity has produced ephemeral movements: quick to disappear, easy to defeat.

Though there is no shortage of existential strategic questions for the Left to resolve, one of the most pressing in our minds is this: how do we embrace the energy and optimism of spontaneity without allowing it to slip through our fingers or be wrested from our grasp?

Too often spontaneity is thought of without sufficient rigour: it is conceived of as something that appears out of nowhere. To hope for spontaneity is to hope for a miracle, to rely on some phenomena that knows no conventional rules. This, to be sure, is spontaneity’s outward appearance; but form should not be confused with content. Spontaneity should be properly understood as a rupture – a moment where the patterns that seemed to be governing everyday life are suddenly understood to have a dramatically attenuated hold, or no hold at all. This kind of thinking allows us to understand that spontaneity is conditioned: beneath the surface, social forces are constantly interacting and reconfiguring life as we know it. Spontaneity occurs at the moment in which those forces break through the rigorously managed veneer of custom and normality. In short, spontaneity is the recognition of a new social ordering.

The Debate Revisited

Last May, in the midst of the Québec student strike, former Minister of Education Michelle Courchesne defended the government’s decision to put hard limits on the right to protest with Law 78, saying: “The right to protest is total. What we are saying [with this bill] is that spontaneity can also create excesses.”(3) With the implementation of Law 78 came the seemingly spontaneous emergence of casseroles, the pots-and-pans clanging, cacophonous demonstrations that took to the streets each night throughout Québec and in cities across Canada. These demonstrations were filled with rage and discontent, but also celebrated the power of solidarity, community, and spontaneity.

However, while spontaneity makes the state nervous, some leftists are loathe to embrace it, preferring instead to maintain control over protests, crowds, and strategy. During the 2010 G20 protest in Toronto, many activists faced aggressive tactics by volunteer marshals of the labour rally, who physically prevented demonstrators from heading south to the fence that protected the convention site. At times marshals linked arms at intersections to force demonstrators away from the fence. Moments like this reveal the contradictions of centralized planning in mass mobilizations and the mix of excitement and fear that accompany the possibilities of spontaneous moments.

Commenting on the process of labour organizing and activism, Paul Mattick writes:

“In the matter of organisation this, then, is the dilemma of the radical: in order to do something of social significance, actions must be organised. Organised actions, however, turn into capitalistic channels. It seems that in order to do something now, one can do only the wrong thing and in order to avoid false steps, one should undertake none at all. The political mind of the radical is destined to be miserable; it is aware of its utopianism and it experiences nothing but failures. In mere self-defence, the radical stresses spontaneity always, unless he is a mystic, with the secretly-held thought that he is talking nonsense. But his persistence seems to prove that he never ceases to see some sense in the nonsense.” (4)

For classical Marxism, spontaneity had to be channeled by external forces in order to ameliorate its inherent limitations and become effective. Trotsky used the analogy of steam when he wrote, in the History of the Russian Revolution, that “without a guiding organization the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston-box. Nevertheless, what moves things is not the piston or the box, but the steam.”5 Similarly, Lenin saw resistance as unconscious and argued that it would remain that way without the aid of already-constituted socialists. Both Trotsky and Lenin saw the need for outside ideas, organizers, and agitators, to intervene in spontaneous struggles and empower the working class.

This understanding of revolution, though, ignores the consciousness that already exists within the working class and the modes of organization inherent in its culture. Further, uprisings led by subjects not generally considered part of the officially sanctioned working class – women, the unemployed, students, and youth – are cynically deemed spontaneous.
For Rosa Luxemburg, spontaneity promised to prevent an authoritarian dictatorship over workers and to prevent a counter-revolution in the revolutionary party. Spontaneity was central to organization, even with its contradictions. Luxemburg, as Alex Levant explains:

“appears to have argued that the contradictions of capitalism lead to its demise, and that the unfolding of this process moves workers into action. This view would make the role of an organization created for that purpose rather irrelevant. On the other hand, she clearly believed in the need for such an organization to intervene in this process. Some commentators have resolved this apparent paradox by locating a disjuncture between her political economy and her activist writing. Others have argued that these two perspectives speak to distinct moments in her political development.” (6)

Antonio Gramsci argued that there is no “pure” spontaneity but rather actions and movements that lack elements of a conscious leadership. He pointed to uprisings that occurred amongst marginalized movements (or “subaltern classes,”) but never assumed that these movements were necessarily progressive or revolutionary; in fact, he argues, they were often reactionary. Levant argues that a closer reading of Gramsci and Walter Benjamin reveals another way of understanding spontaneity, so that it “begins to appear less like an automatic response to the unfolding of the contradictions of capitalism, and more like conscious self-activity on the one hand, and a return of repressed collective trauma in a moment of collective struggle, on the other.”(7)

Levant argues further that the assumption that consciousness is suddenly and collectively realized – as in Holloway’s collective scream – ignores the slow process of radicalization in many communities.  Demystifying sudden collective action, he points out that the process of class-consciousness does not happen by way of external forces – it comes through struggle. And in these diverse struggles one cannot think of spontaneity and organization as opposites, but rather as emergent dialectical processes – often informing and influencing each other.

Spontaneous eruptions have always developed from class struggle, however muted, and can push organizing forward by linking movements and communities together in the moment. But how can we sustain and direct these connections to create what Alan Sears has called “infrastructures of dissent”? (8)

Strategic Spontaneity

Spontaneity as a tactic captured the imagination of the Civil Rights movement in the US, allowing it to create a narrative around singular, impulsive acts by individuals or small groups that fostered broad-based support. Strategic spontaneity was a movement hallmark: actions that were rigorously organized by movement activists are thought of by many of as unplanned, even today.

One of the most important examples of this type of strategic spontaneity is Rosa Parks’ decision in December 1955 to resist segregation. By refusing to give her seat in the coloured section of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama to a white passenger, Parks disobeyed the bus driver and broke the law.
Here is a common – albeit historically inaccurate – version of this story taken from a 1991 elementary school textbook and references by Michael Schudson in his article, “Telling Stories about Rosa Parks”:

“When Rosa Parks rode on a bus, she had to sit all the way in the back. Her city had a law. It said black people could not sit in the front of a bus.
One day Rosa was tired. She sat in the front. The bus driver told her to move. She did not. He called the police. Rosa was put in jail.
Some citizens tried to help. One of them was Martin Luther King, Jr. The citizens decided to stop riding buses until the law was changed.
Their plan worked. The law was changed. Soon, many other unfair laws were changed. Rosa Parks led the way!” (9)

This is obviously a simplistic and inaccurate painting of the events account the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In fact, the action was highly planned: Parks was a long-time member of the National Associate for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and had recently completed the Highlander Folk School’s activist training in Tennessee.10 The Highlander Folk School (now known as the Highlander Research and Education Center) in New Market, Tennessee was a social justice training centre that played an extremely important role in the Civil Rights movement, training many Civil Rights leaders, including Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Parks herself emphasized the spontaneity of her action and downplayed her own agency. Shortly after her arrest in 1956, in an interview on Pacifica Radio, she was asked by Sidney Rogers whether or not her act of defiance had been planned:

Parks: No, [it] hadn’t.
Rogers: It just happened.
Parks: Yes, it did.
Rogers: Well, had there been many times before in your life when you thought that maybe you were going to do just that kind of thing?
Parks: I hadn’t thought that I would be the person to do this. It hadn’t occurred to me.
Rogers: But don’t you suppose you and many others also thought one time or another you were going to do this thing, sooner or later?
Parks: Well, we didn’t know just what to expect. In our area we always tried to avoid trouble and be as careful as possible to stay out of trouble, along this line. I want to make very certain that it is understood that I had not taken a seat in the white section as has been reported in many cases. (11)

Mythologizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott as a spontaneous act disregards both the planning that led up to Parks’ action and her activist credentials more generally. But this was not simply revisionism designed to make her more palatable to a hostile nation – it was also, at least partially, a strategic decision by Civil Rights organizers in Alabama. As Schudson notes, in the context of constant accusations that the Civil Rights Movement was the work of “outside agitators” – Northerners, communists, and subversives – stirring up resentment within otherwise contented Black southerners; it was extremely important that the resistance be seen as indigenous. (12)

Throughout the early 1950s, the Highlander Folk School struggled with failed attempts at direct action. Parks was chosen for her role not only because of her experience in organizing, but also because of her image as a working class woman who nevertheless had more economic stature than other Black women – the idea was to reach out to white, working class Americans. Portraying Parks as a fed up working mother was a deliberate strategic attempt to garner support for the Montgomery Bus Boycott specifically and the Civil Rights movement more generally. That Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on the bus seemed impromptu was the whole point; it was a meticulously staged direct action that banked on dominant notions of courage, risk, and power to manufacture a perfectly spontaneous and catalyzing moment.

The tactic reemerged in 1960 when the SNCC staged a series of lunch-counter sit-ins. The particular case of the Greensboro sit-in, where four Black students refused to leave a whites-only counter until they were served, was a catalyst that prompted identical actions in cities across the US:

“The sit-ins began in February 1st in Greensboro, N.C., when four freshmen at Negro North Carolina A&T sat down at a variety store lunch counter after purchasing several items in other departments of the store. They were refused service. Their action was a spontaneous rebellion against the accumulated indignities suffered by Negro Americans since Reconstruction days. “Why must we be continually under tension and indignity when we want to eat, or find a lodging place, or use a rest room?” they asked. Their action has led others to ask the same questions – and to do something about it. Since February, the sit-ins have spread to almost 100 cities in every Southern state.” (13)

For SNCC, the sit-ins were autonomous, student-led actions meant to not only galvanize student activism against segregation, but also to create space for direct action outside of the traditional leadership of the Civil Rights movement. The sit-ins challenged the gradualist strategies of the traditional leadership, which SNCC disagreed with, by underlining the urgency of the issue.  However, spontaneity also meant, as Francesca Polleta describes, “no organizational tie-in of any kind, either local or national.” (14) These modes of organizing strengthened SNCC by creating spaces of direct action; the organization’s ability to institutionalize spontaneity strengthened the movement as a whole. Polletta describes how spontaneity became a strategic consideration for SNCC:

“Spontaneity, emblematic of students’ independence and their unique contribution to the movement, became organizational commitments with both animated and constrained strategic action. Students called for coordination, but resisted direction, wanted the movement to speak to the nation, but were wary of leaders, wanted to expand the scope of protest but distrusted adult advice.” (15)

For SNCC, spontaneity not only demonstrated youthful rage, but autonomy outside of a traditional leadership. Far from hindering the success of the Civil Rights movement, this autonomy contributed to its strength. The success of the lunch counter sit-ins proliferated into wider mainstream gains such as voter registration. The infamy of these actions demonstrates the power of spontaneity not only to energize and proliferate struggle, but to crystallize it in popular history.

Occupying the Moment

Since the 1960s, the spontaneous and autonomous energy of organizations like SNCC has moved and morphed through the student and anti-war movements, to the anti-globalization movement, to the Arab Spring, and was taken up eagerly by the 2011 Occupy movement.

The power of Occupy came in part from its rapid proliferation. There was almost universal surprise at the eruption of Occupy camps globally, growing out of a simple call to “Occupy Wall Street.” The idea of spontaneity was tied to the idea of Occupy as a movement where the diverse population of the 99 percent came together to discuss and debate the problems of contemporary capitalism and to contemplate and build a different world. Without a centralized message or set of demands, the various Occupy camps mobilized instead around the slogan “Occupy Everything. Demand Nothing.” The slogan itself demonstrates the power of autonomy: without centralized power or a top-down structure, people – regular people – can make their own decisions, be their own leaders, and provide for themselves and each other collectively and democratically.

Though Occupy was successful as a model of organizing insofar as it seized upon contemporary discontent and the zeitgeist of the moment, critics were quick to note the problems with the call to an imagined body of the 99 percent, and the way the newness of Occupy obscured histories of anti-colonial and anti-racist struggles. While Occupy claimed to have an open network of participation, there was often an absence of critical race and feminist analyses in its camps and assemblies. Indeed, the movement generally struggled to confront oppression, given that anti-oppressive and anti-racist policies were difficult to pass or maintain within the amorphous decision-making body of the General Assembly.

This points us to a fundamental contradiction in spontaneity: if a movement or an action is spontaneous, it is assumed to have no history and thus the pre-existing networks and communities that may have given rise to these struggles can easily be ignored. This takes for granted the long and labourious conversations about leadership and participation that have happened in previous incarnations of anti-capitalist struggles and mass movement organizing, not to mention the efforts to engage excluded communities. These issues was addressed in the DeOccupy Oakland formations and in debates around the term “occupy” itself that arose over the encampments’ various lifespans, and are reflected upon in the recently published anthology: We Are Many: Reflections on Movement Strategy from Occupation to Liberation.

In their essay, “Occupy and the 99%,” Lester Spence and Mike McGuire take up the notion of open networks of participation. They note that “open source” movements like Occupy tend to be perceived as movements that require not much more than the deployment of a social network to support their progressive goal. They suggest that the resources and networks tapped to make a movement like Occupy happen are considered to arise naturally and thus the horizontal deployment of resources means equal distribution to all of members of the so-called 99 percent who already have relatively equal levels of resources. The reality, Spence and McGuire note, is much more complicated: these movements – up to and including Occupy – are created and sustained by networks that already exist and that are themselves connected to other pre-existing networks. They note that:
in part because of the decimation of the non-white Left through COINTELPRO, in part because of the reduced capital non-white groups have (as a result of white supremacy), the networks tend to be white and tend to be connected to other predominantly white networks. Even though the movement itself has open elements, the network that lends resources to the movement are often closed. (16)

While spontaneous organizing and actions may be inspiring for some, they are sometimes uncritical expressions of privilege – not only around race, but also in terms of access, ability, gender, and sexuality. The process of relationship building, sharing skills, increasing inclusion, and the role of leadership are often glossed over – if not ignored entirely. At best, this is because we hope that these processes will happen naturally; at worst, it’s because some of us fear of the transformation that a commitment to these processes might actually bring about.

It Feels Good, But Only For a Little While

It cannot be denied that in the moment of unplanned actions, traditional spontaneity feels good. It feels good to cut loose. It feels good to be free, even just for a moment. It feels good to arrive at a city park and camp out with a day’s notice, to join thousands of people banging pots and pans in solidarity with the Québec student strike, to rapidly assemble and occupy an intersection for a few hours. It feels good to see a cop car burn, to break through lines of marshals or police, to look at YouTube videos of riots. But all too often, we cling to these memories and images for inspiration as our own momentum slowly fizzles out.

Though spontaneity itself is inevitably fleeting, it cannot be understood outside of organization if we hope to use effectively. The ongoing success of movements relies both on the excitement of spontaneity and tedious labour of organization. The role of spontaneity allows organizations to adapt to different situations, to bend and twist according to the needs of the movement.

Our task is this: to use spontaneity sustainably, and foster the longevity and growth of revolutionary politics. A spontaneous upsurge – without any organizational infrastructure – is ephemeral. How can organizations provide a structure to spontaneity without dampening it or appearing on the scene too late?

Over the course of the Occupy movement, existing Left organizations struggled to engage in a meaningful way with the excitement and possibilities around them. While they showed up and provided money and resources, they were often unable to adopt the principles of Occupy into their own organizations. What has been more common, in the months following the encampments, has been an adoption by Left organizations of the language of Occupy (especially “the 99 percent”) without any discussion of how its organizing principles might impact the work of the organization.

Based on our experience in Occupy Toronto, it is difficult to conceive of other ways that Left organizations could have engaged without the fear of co-opting the movement. But this has to do with the predominant structure of these organizations – including bureaucratic trade unions, whose leadership was unwilling to potentially take direction from a more radical base within and outside of the union – and not, we argue, with an inherent inability among these organizations to respond to and grapple with spontaneity.
The task for revolutionary organizations is to both foster spontaneity amongst their members and respond to spontaneous uprisings in society more generally. If the inspiration of spontaneity was better channelled into organizations, that would not mean its end but rather more opportunities for beautiful mischief to confront capital in tangible and sustainable ways. And in non-revolutionary times such as ours, spontaneity can still be used strategically to build alliances, raise consciousness, and signal unrest.

How do we think about the relationship between spontaneity and organizing? How do we organize spontaneity so that it proliferates, and proliferate spontaneity in organization? Despite their predominance in historical left debates, these questions are largely absent at the current moment. Part of the relevance of these discussions historically had to do with the fact that they were seen to really matter. Whether Lenin or Luxemburg won the debate was seen to have an immediate impact on the structure of revolutionary organizations and the development of revolutionary tactics – and thus on the capacity to overthrow capitalism. The absence of these types of debates seems to indicate a feeling that we aren’t going to win or that it doesn’t really matter how we are organizing – what matters is getting people into the streets.

It’s My Party…

In the long 20th century, the party was the paradigmatic political form – the central structure for political action. To speak of a “revolutionary organization” was to speak of the party, often but not exclusively associated with Leninism. This was in contrast to the insurrectionary 19th century, marked as it was by the revolutions of 1848 and the Paris Commune.  For Lenin, the party was the revolutionary strategy that most aligned with the age of imperialism, and all revolutionary capacity resided in the party – it was the kernel of revolutionary process. In “Lenin and the Party, 1902,” Sylvain Lazarus noted that “the end of the 19th century saw the lapsing of the category of class as the sole bearer of politics, and the end of the 20th century saw the lapsing of the party form, which can take no other form than the state party.” (17)

Whether or not the party form has lapsed, it is certainly true that it is no longer the predominant way that radicals organize. Of course, there have always been non-Leninist forms of organizing alongside Leninist parties: anarchists and councilists in the early 20th century saw the party as a brake rather than a catalyst for social change; student radicals in 1968 France eschewed the politics of parties and the state; the anti-globalization movement – in some ways best exemplified by the Zapatistas in Mexico – saw communities as their own agents of change and demanded the state and parties of all kinds back away.

Lazarus argues that the problem today is not the lack of a party to lead us into revolution, nor even the lack of a revolution, but rather our need for a politics without party, something, he says “that does not prevent radicalism or prescribe resignation to the order of things, but imposes the hypothesis of other possibilities.” (18)

Doing away with traditional and simplistic understandings of spontaneity and organization that characterize spontaneity as explosive upsurges and organization as ossified and overly disciplined party structures can allow us to examine their relationship in practice more dialectically. Recent movements – Occupy, the Quebec student strike, and others – have experimented with new political forms that permit this dialectical relationship between organization and spontaneity and they have ushered new political subjects into struggle. Perhaps to get beyond the limitations that these recent movements have come up against, an investigation of previous forms of struggle is necessary – including the councils of council communism and the Italian factory council movement, the soviets of the first Russian revolution, and the steward committees of the radical British shop steward movement in the 1910s. These historical formations might tell us something about where we want to go today and how we should get there.

Contemporary experiments should also inform our practice. The assembly model proliferates globally – from Syntagma to Tahrir to Liberty Squares. More structured attempts at assembly politics include the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly, the Southern Workers’ Assembly, the Southern Movement Assembly, and the departmental, faculty-wide, and neighbourhood assemblies that directed, sustained, and breathed life into the months-long student strike in Québec last spring. Some of these projects and experiments will be failures – some already are. But they fail not because they repeat ad infinitum calcified models of political practice; rather they fail because they are experiments, because they attempt something new, and because they must stumble clumsily towards something truthful. We cannot let our failures hold us down; we must commit to ever increasing spontaneous proliferation of organizational experiments and when we fail we must learn to, as Samuel Beckett said, fail again and fail better.


1. See Mary Gabriel, Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011) and George Katsiaficas, The Imagination of the New Left: A Global Analysis of 1968 (Cambridge MA: South End Press, 1987).
2. John Holloway, Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today (London: Pluto Press 2002), 1.
3. Andrew Chung, “Massive Public Support for Charest’s emergency law,” Toronto Star, May 19, 2012,—massive-public-support-for-charest-s-emergency-law.
4. Paul Mattick, “Spontaneity and Organization.” Anti-Bolshevik Communism. (Britain: Merlin Press 1978).
5. Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, volume I, (London: Sphere Books 1967), 17.
6. Alex Levant, “Rethinking Spontaneity Beyond Classical Marxism: Re-reading Luxemburg through Benjamin, Gramsci, and Thompson,” Journal of Socialist Theory, 40.3 (2012), 370.
7. Levant, “Rethinking Spontaneity,” 383.
8. Alan Sears, “The Left and the end of Harper,”,  July 1, 2011,
9. Michael Schudson, “Telling Stories about Rosa Parks.” Contexts, 11.3 (Summer 2012),
10. Schudson, “Stories.”
11. Schudson, “Stories.”
12. Schudson, “Stories.”
13. Francesca Polletta, ”It Was like a Fever …” Narrative and Identity in Social Protest,” Social Problems 45 (May 1998), 146.
14. Polletta. “It Was Like a Fever,” 149.
15. Polletta. “It Was Like a Fever,” 152.
16. Lester Spence and Mike McGuire, “Occupy and the 99%,” in We Are Many: Reflections on Movement Strategy from Occupation to Liberation, ed. Kate Khatib et. al. (Oakland: AK Press, 2012), 59.
17. Silvain Lazarus, “Lenin and the Party, 1902 – November 191.” in Lenin Reloaded: Towards a Politics of Truth, ed. Sebastian Budgen, Stathis Kouvelakis, Slavoj Zizek. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), 256
18. Lazarus, “Lenin and the Party,” 265

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Forgotten Women: The conversation of murdered and missing native women is not one North America wants to have

mar, 10/16/2018 - 17:13

via The Independent

by Lucy Anna Gray

It is North America’s dark, open secret that native women are far more likely to be raped, and far more likely to be murdered.

No justice. That is the constant cry from friends and families of victims as countless cases are left unresolved and ignored.

Marita Growing Thunder, a 19-year-old murdered and missing indigenous women (MMIW) activist from Montana, has experienced this lack of justice – five times.

In the early 2000s, Marita’s aunt died. Although Yvonne’s death was officially recorded as an overdose, Marita claims her aunt had been beaten. “All her fingernails had been pulled out. She was unrecognisable when we put her in the coffin. Her body was black and blue and swollen.”

Marita also suggests there were four unrelated deaths in her family which police did not investigate. Her father’s aunt, Henry, her grandfather’s sister, Shirley K, and two female cousins that her mother grew up with.

Read more

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Forcing Marx Into the Automation Debate

mar, 10/16/2018 - 05:16

via C4SS

by Eric Fleischmann

Automation, the reduction and/or removal of human participation in processes and procedures, has been a topic of economic discussion since the Industrial Revolution. The general dispute has been about whether or not automation will lead to mass unemployment. Acknowledging but passing over the primitivist perspective, in the 20th and 21st century, two camps have taken form, although the ideas behind each have existed for quite some time.

On the one side stand those who believe that technological advancement has never and therefore will never lead to the mass unemployment envisioned by techno-pessimists. Their ranks are often represented by professional economists as well as right-wing and centrist libertarians. As Murray N. Rothbard asks in Science, Technology, and Government:

Who was displaced by the steam shovel? How many millions of ditch diggers are now out of work because of it? Where are the billions of unemployed that are supposed to have been caused by the replacement of the human pack animal by the wagon and the truck? Where are they, if the doctrine of technological unemployment is correct?

There is certainly historical precedent that fears about technology-induced unemployment are unfounded. Reason magazine science correspondent Ronald Bailey points out numerous examples in his article “Are Robots Going to Steal Our Jobs?” These range from Queen Elizabeth’s refusal to grant a patent for the stocking frame knitting machine in 1589 for fear it would deprive subjects of work, to the 19th century luddites who smashed industrial weaving machines so they could keep their livelihoods. As Bailey points out, these panics were seemingly over nothing because overall employment is still going strong today.

The opposing group in this ongoing debate consists of those who believe that automation will indeed lead to mass unemployment. Interestingly enough some of the most vocal proponents of this view-point in the contemporary era are not luddites or industrial conservatives, but rather those very technologists and Silicon-Valley-types who are pushing technology forward at a rapid pace. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has proposed taxing companies that make use of robots in order to slow automation and put resources towards other occupations. The most well-known solution to the robot takeover of the work-force is the institution of a universal basic income. Zoltan Istvan—founder of the United States Transhumanist Party and presidential candidate—and Elon Musk—founder of SpaceX, Tesla, Neuralink, and PayPal—have both spoken in favor of UBI in the face of large-scale automation. The idea is that since a massive segment of the population will be rendered jobless, the government should provide a replacement for the income generally taken in by a household through work.

The perspective that both these camps seem to ignore has been around for about 200 years. It fundamentally influenced the modern world but has largely been left out of its mainstream discourse, except for the odd comment by the aforementioned Mr. Musk. That is the Marxist view. While avoiding certain tendencies towards historical determinism, there are key insights to be gained from Karl Marx’s historical materialism. In The Poverty of Philosophy, Marx observes that “social relations are closely bound up with productive forces” and “the same men who establish their social relations in conformity with the material productivity, produce also principles, ideas, and categories, in conformity with their social relations.” The central point being made is that societies are structured by their material conditions, by who possesses the means of production.

Furthermore, Marx states in A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy that “the totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.” In the case of automation, the means of production are clearly the robots and from a Marxist-influenced position the problem created by these machines is not centrally one of employment but one of power. Even if it does not cause mass unemployment—but even more so if it does—automation will lead to the emergence of new and the exacerbation of old social divisions. Those who have greater access to these technologies will be able to further shape the world economically, politically, socially, and legally for those who do not. It can be expected that many will be barred from such ownership through intellectual property and other such state-capitalist measures. It will not matter if there is a universal basic income, because even with the purchasing power provided, people must spend money on physical commodities and within a society both defined by forces in the hands of an ever-smaller number of capitalists.

This is certainly not a new or particularly groundbreaking social criticism—for that one should look into Professor Adrian Smith and his ideas regarding post-automation—but it is important to try to push it into the modern dialogue. The mainstream left certainly is not going to as it seems to have forgotten about real material social change in favor of neoliberalism masquerading as social justice. Lastly, it feels necessary to mention Norbert Wiener—MIT professor, mathematician, and the father of cybernetics. In his book The Human Use of Human Beings he writes that the real danger of automation is “that such machines, though helpless by themselves, may be used by a human being or a block of human beings to increase their control over the rest of the human race.” Although Wiener was not a Marxist this is the sentiment that should be emulated when adding Marx to the automation debate.

The central problem is not whether it will cause mass unemployment or whether a universal basic income should be instituted—although these are important to consider. The potential threat posed by automation is that of power-relations and control. The question to be asked is “who will own the future?”

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How tech workers became activists, leading a resistance movement that is shaking up Silicon Valley

mar, 10/16/2018 - 05:11

via Fast Company

by Sean Captain

When news broke in December 2016 that then president–elect Donald Trump would meet with some of the tech world’s most prominent CEOs—Apple’s Tim Cook, Alphabet’s Larry Page, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, among them—many tech workers were furious. In an industry that draws talent and ideas from around the world, Trump’s anti-immigrant campaign promises were abhorrent, and just meeting with him seemed like a tacit endorsement of these views.

His promises of mass deportations and a Muslim ban raised additional alarms for some: “If you’re going to target a sector of the population, it requires a database and collecting information on people,” says software engineer Ka-Ping Yee, who worked at the mobile money-transfer platform Wave during the election. “[Databases are] a necessary component of that particular evil.” And who was better poised to build them than the highly skilled engineers of Silicon Valley?

So Yee was heartened when his friend (and fellow Canadian) Leigh Honeywell, then a security manager at Slack, enlisted him to help draft a statement to both the incoming administration and tech leaders that Silicon Valley’s rank and file were not on board. “We were seeing what felt like a new energy in tech-employee organizing,” says Honeywell, who had volunteered for the Hillary Clinton campaign. The result was the Never Again pledge, signed by 2,843 engineers, designers, and other workers at companies including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. Referencing the role of IBM’s punch-card technology in Holocaust record-keeping, the signatories vowed not to participate in the creation of any targeted databases for the U.S. government. And they laid out a playbook for worker-led resistance: Raise issues with leadership, whistle-blow, protest, and—as a last resort—resign.

Employees are now deploying this strategy with increasing frequency at some of the country’s biggest tech companies. In June, Amazon workers sent an open letter to Bezos, demanding that he stop providing the company’s Rekognition face-identifying technology to law enforcement and other government agencies. They also called for Amazon Web Services to stop hosting companies, such as Palantir, that service Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That same month, more than 650 Salesforce employees signed a letter asking the company to cease providing recruiting software to Customs and Border Protection. At Microsoft, 500 people reportedly signed a petition to get the company to stop offering cloud services to ICE.

“[Never Again] was the beginning of a shift where people started to think about their responsibility to not build harmful tools,” says Tyler Breisacher, a software engineer who signed the pledge. This past spring, Breisacher resigned from Google, in part over the company’s involvement in Project Maven, a Pentagon program to use artificial intelligence on the battlefield. That protest grew to include more than 4,000 employees, who wrote an open letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, declaring, “We believe that Google should not be in the business of war.” Two months later, in June, Google announced that it would not renew its military contract for 2019. Googlers were soon at it again, petitioning against—and resigning over—the creation of a censored search product for China, code-named Dragonfly.

Silicon Valley has deep roots in supporting the military-industrial complex. The internet began as a Defense Department research project, and was used for surveilling Vietnam War protesters. Generations of chipmakers quietly plowed their work into weapons systems. With the mainstreaming of technology, though, most of today’s engineers sign up to build consumer-facing services for individuals, even as their tech behemoth employers increasingly seek out military and law-enforcement contracts. As the political environment grows more contentious, these highly paid, highly trained employees are now leveraging their numbers to sway public opinion—and, in the case of Project Maven, kill a government contract potentially worth up to $250 million a year. With every protest, the gap between employee and employer grows.

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Illustration: Sébastien Thibault

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(Still) Manufacturing Consent

mar, 10/16/2018 - 03:28

via Jacobin

An interview with Matt Taibbi

When it came out in 1988, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s Manufacturing Consent rattled the accepted view in post-Vietnam, post-Watergate America that journalists’ relationship to power was essentially adversarial. Instead, they argued, the institutional structure of American media — its dependence on corporate advertising and sources in the upper ranks of government and business — created a role for the press as creators of propaganda. Without any direct press censorship, with full freedom of speech, the media narrowed the political debate to exclude anything that offended the interests of the market or the state.Thirty years after the publication of Manufacturing Consent, the journalist Matt Taibbi has made it his mission to provide an update of Chomsky and Herman’s critique for the twenty-first century. A columnist for Rolling Stone who has written at length about the 2008 financial crisis and Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, Taibbi’s new book, The Fairway, is appearing in serial form on the newsletter site Substack.


You describe Manufacturing Consent as a book that “blew your mind” when you were a young journalist. What was so powerful about Chomsky and Herman’s critique of the media?


I never had any idea that there was any kind of propaganda built into the media business. My father was a journalist, and I was so in tune with the process of how reporting worked, having been around reporters from a young age.

I had never seen anyone tell a reporter to stay away from a particular topic. I had an idea that they were extremely free to explore any topic they found newsworthy. And when I was growing up in the seventies and eighties, this was a period where the media were relatively free compared to other periods in our history.

But when I read Manufacturing Consent, it occurred to me for the first time that the debate is artificially narrowed off camera. That the people you see in the op-ed represent two narrow poles of conventional wisdom. That we’ll report one story to death when it reflects badly on our ideological enemies abroad, but we’ll avoid the exact same story if it involves one of our client states.

All this opened up a new world for me. And when I started my career, I was reporting from Russia. All these factors are amplified when you’re reporting from abroad.


Everybody is criticizing the media today. We have a president who, as you write, won his campaign largely by attacking the press. Why do we need to revisit Manufacturing Consent in 2018?

MT: My point is that it’s not the same critique today. There’s a lot that’s been unexplored that a lot of the people in the business haven’t thought about.

What Chomsky and Herman were talking about thirty years ago was the use of commercial media to organize the whole population behind the foreign policy objectives of the United States. What’s going on right now is far more sophisticated, far more intrusive, far more implicated in the daily life of every person. The media has become significantly more commercialized since then, and has developed the technique of targeting information to specific demographics, constantly feeding people content an algorithm has determined they will agree with.

The result of that is we’re selling a lot of intramural conflict, the idea that some other group you don’t like is up to no good. In other words, other Americans suck.

People are really addicted to that kind of conflict, and that’s had a really nefarious effect not just on politics, but on reporting techniques. We’ve gravitated towards a reporting that reinforces the worldview of our audiences.

That’s not political journalism — that’s commercial journalism. And the algorithms of Google and Facebook make it an addictive form of information as well. A lot of reporters simply aren’t aware that this is what they’re creating.

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Writing your senator? They crumple up your message and toss it in the garbage

sam, 10/13/2018 - 22:39

via Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA)

by Mitch

Except in very rare and specific circumstances, the only thing writing your senator is
going to do is give one of their entry-level aides a slight arm workout while they crumple
up your message and toss it in the garbage; if you are very, very lucky, the letter might
be passed on to a more senior aide so they can crumple it up and toss it in the garbage
with more authority behind the toss.

There’s this depressingly common belief that the big problem in American politics is one of communication, that the reason people in power make bad decisions is because they don’t understand that they’re bad, that the reason they never seem to give a shit about the people’s will is because they just don’t know what it is. Positive political change is believed to come through convincing enough people in positions of power to personally believe that certain courses of action are correct or incorrect, and the primary function of social movements is seen as communicating with power in an attempt to make them listen to the movement’s argument and hopefully sway their opinions through the power of logic and reason or a strong emotional appeal or what the fuck ever. It’s the idealized theme-park version of American politics, where Martin Luther King Jr. saved America by politely but firmly telling everyone that racism is bad.

The problem with this is that it’s completely wrong and badly misrepresents American
history. Hardly anybody has ever won any concessions from power by politely asking the
people in charge to do better. Politics is not a polite debate in an idealized free market
of ideas where everyone presents their arguments and the most correct argument ultimately
wins out. It is not about influencing opinions on an individual level or convincing ‘our
leaders’ of the rightness of a cause. It’s about power, dammit, it’s all about power,
power is all that matters. The people who have power make the rules, the people who don’t
have it get to suck it up and deal, and the only thing that can challenge or counter power
is power.

For the sake of this discussion let’s define power as ‘the ability to compel someone by
force to do something they would not otherwise voluntarily do’, which is maybe not the
best definition, but whatever, sue me, this is a Facebook post, not a peer-reviewed
journal. This doesn’t need to be literal violence and usually isn’t – your landlord
doesn’t literally hold a gun to your head every time the rent comes due, for example – but
the principle is the same regardless. It is the ability to make a demand, present
consequences for failing to accede to that demand, and follow through on those
consequences if the demand is not met.

If you want to convince the people in charge in the US to make a certain decision or take
a certain action, the first thing you need to do, the very first fucking thing, once
you’ve decided what you want them to do, is determine exactly what the consequences to
them will be if they don’t. If the answer to that question is ‘absolutely nothing’, you’re
wasting your time and effort, and you need to focus on broadening your support base and
building strength. It can be whatever – maybe you’re going to inconvenience them, annoy
them, frustrate them, aggravate them, fundraise for their political opponents, vote them
out, primary them out, generate negative publicity for them, impact their fundraising and
revenue stream, or prevent them from conducting business and carrying out their duties.
Maybe you’re going to support and campaign for legislation and candidates they’re opposed
to – or withdraw expected support for legislation and candidates they favor. Maybe you’re
going to egg their house or shit on their petunias, I dunno, you do you. The point is,
there has to be /something/. There has to be a reason for them to do it that isn’t ‘it’s
the correct decision’ or ‘it’s the right thing to do’ or ‘your constituents want it’.
Carrot-and-stick only works if you have a stick to periodically hit your legislator over
the head with.

Fuck decorum, civility, politeness, the ‘high road’, and whatever shreds of respect for
the American political process you’ve somehow managed to hold on to – the politicians
elected to govern you care nothing for any of those things almost as a rule, and will
freely adopt or discard them at will depending on what is most advantageous at any given
moment. By forcing yourself to abide by a set of rules your opponents do not, you are
allowing them to dictate the terms of the engagement, and starting any fight at a
disadvantage. Be polite and civil, absolutely, when it is beneficial to do so. Be rude,
hostile, and confrontational, when it is beneficial to do so. Disrupt their dinners and
their social functions. Follow them home and demonstrate outside the gates. Make your
attacks deeply personal if necessary. Appall them with your temerity.

The point here, the end goal, is to close off every available option except ‘do what we
demand’, or make the other options so unpalatable that only the most spiteful diehards
will choose them. When only one viable choice is presented, the personal beliefs or
opinions of the leadership become irrelevant. If they want to keep their jobs, they’ll
cave. Do you honestly think every person who voted to pass the Civil Rights Act was a
committed anti-racist, or that every person who voted the 8-hour day into law gave a shit
about poor people, or that every person who ratified the 13th Amendment really thought
black people were human? No, they did it because they felt like they had to, because they
had been left no other option.

If you’re concerned about being ‘divisive’, don’t be, the country was divided already, and
the people complaining about ‘division’ are just sad that they can’t ignore it anymore.

“If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to lynch me,
that’s my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude; it’s a question of power.” –
Kwame Ture”


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What’s Not in the Latest Terrifying IPCC Report? The “Much, Much, Much More Terrifying” New Research on Climate Tipping Points

mer, 10/10/2018 - 04:52

via Common Dreams

by Jon Queally

If the latest warnings contained in Monday’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—which included pronouncements that the world has less than twelve years to drastically alter course to avoid the worst impacts of human-caused global warming and that nothing less than keeping all fossil fuels in the ground is the solution to avoid future calamities—have you at all frightened or despondent, experts responding to the report have a potentially unwelcome message for your already over-burdened heart and mind: It’s very likely even worse than you’re being told.

“The IPCC understates a key risk: that self-reinforcing feedback loops could push the climate system into chaos before we have time to tame our energy system.”
—Mario Molina, Nobel Laureate

After the report’s publication there were headlines like: “We have 12 years to act on climate change before the world as we know it is lost. How much more urgent can it get?” and “Science pronounces its verdict: World to be doomed at 2°C, less dangerous at 1.5°C” and “A major new climate report slams the door on wishful thinking.”

But as Jamie Henn, co-founder and the program director for the international climate group, stated in a tweet on Tuesday, the “scariest thing about the IPCC Report” is the fact that “it’s the watered down, consensus version. The latest science is much, much, much more terrifying.”

Henn was actually responding to Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann who was pushing back against those criticizing the IPCC report as too “alarmist” in its declarations and warnings. “If anything,” Professor Mann declared, “it is the opposite. Once again, with their latest report, they have been overly conservative (ie. erring on the side of understating/underestimating the problem.)”

This is the scariest thing about the IPCC Report — it’s the watered down, consensus version. The latest science is much, much, much more terrifying.

— Jamie Henn (@Agent350) October 9, 2018

This is very possibly true and there is much scientific data and argument backing this up. As Henn and Mann both indicate, the IPCC report is based on the consensus view of the hundreds of scientists who make up the IPCC – and its been consistently true that some of the most recent (and increasingly worrying) scientific findings have not yet found enough support to make it into these major reports which rely on near-unanimous agreement.

According to Durwood Zaelke, founder of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, speaking to The Guardian in the wake of the latest IPCC report,  it “fails to focus on the weakest link in the climate chain: the self-reinforcing feedbacks which, if allowed to continue, will accelerate warming and risk cascading climate tipping points and runaway warming.”

“This is not the time to turn away, whether in fear or in active denial of the facts. This is a time to use our fear as fuel.”
—Rajiv Sicora, The LeapIn August, as Common Dreams reported, research published by Johan Rockström and his colleagues at the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden found that it is precisely these feedback loops and tipping points that should most frighten and concern humanity. While nascent and not conclusive in its findings—two of the reasons you won’t find it referenced in the IPCC report—the study warned that humanity may be just 1°C away from creating a series of dynamic feedback loops that could push the world into a climate scenario not seen since the dawn of the Helocene Period, nearly 12,000 years ago.

Quoted in Tuesday’s Guardian article about the dangers of ignoring potential tipping points, Nobel prize laureate Mario Molina, who shared the award for chemistry in 1995 for his work on ozone depletion, said: “The IPCC report demonstrates that it is still possible to keep the climate relatively safe, provided we muster an unprecedented level of cooperation, extraordinary speed and heroic scale of action. But even with its description of the increasing impacts that lie ahead, the IPCC understates a key risk: that self-reinforcing feedback loops could push the climate system into chaos before we have time to tame our energy system, and the other sources of climate pollution.”

The purpose of recognizing the terrifying predictions is not to instill fear, however, climate campaigners and advocates for bold solutions say.

“This is a climate emergency” | New #IPCC report shows that the world must move away from #DirtyEnergy NOW to prevent temperature rises exceeding 1.5°C and fend off #ClimateCrisis |

— Friends of the Earth (@FoEint) October 9, 2018

In a paper authored last year—titled Leading the Public into Emergency Mode: A New Strategy for the Climate Movement—Margaret Klein Salamon writes that while a World War II-style mobilization is necessary to achieve the kind emission cuts and energy transformation that science now mandates, understanding the stakes does not necessarily mean being debilitated by that knowledge. In an op-ed for Common Dreams, she argued “that intense, but not paralyzing, fear combined with maximum hope can actually lead people and groups into a state of peak performance. We can rise to the challenge of our time and dedicate ourselves to become heroic messengers and change-makers.”

And as Rajiv Sicora, senior manager of research for The Leap, wrote to his group’s supporters in an email on Tuesday: “This is not the time to turn away, whether in fear or in active denial of the facts. This is a time to use our fear as fuel: because the report also makes clear that the worst effects of global warming can still be prevented, and the urgency of transformative change should excite and empower all of us who are fighting for justice anyway.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

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Fossil Fuels Are a Threat to Civilization, New U.N. Report Concludes

mer, 10/10/2018 - 04:43

via The Intercept

By Kate Aronoff

Around the middle of the last century, the chemical DDT was found to pose a risk to human and animal health. The ultimate response — after a prolonged fight between environmentalists and the chemical industry — was a federal ban on all uses of the substance found to be unsafe.

On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a daunting report, suggesting that we are currently on track for around 3 degrees Celsius of warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions. The IPCC authors promise that we will see coastal cities swallowed by the sea, global food shortages, and $54 trillion in climate-associated costs as soon as 2040.

That fast-approaching catastrophe is the motivation for the demands of Global South residents and their allies, for whom rising tides and superstorms are already a reality. They’ve long chanted “1.5 to survive” through the fluorescent-lit halls of U.N. climate talks, and this new report — which outlines pathways to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius — is a testament to that work. The figure is in line with the “well below 2 degrees” target outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement and, according to the co-chair of one of the IPCC working groups that crafted the report, Jim Skea, hitting that target “is possible within the laws of physics and chemistry.”

A social reaction on par to the approach to DDT, in other words, could yet salvage human civilization. It’ll be enormously difficult — far more so than getting a single chemical banned. And we’d eventually have to do it everywhere. Capitalism, moreover, wasn’t built around DDT the way it was around fossil fuels. “Limiting warming to 1.5 is not impossible,” IPCC chair Hoesung Lee said in a press conference last night, “but will require unprecedented transitions in all aspects of society.”

It’s not as if moving to phase out fossil fuels more directly would be unprecedented. Costa Rica is taking on the “titanic and beautiful task of abolishing the use of fossil fuels in our economy,” according to the country’s 38-year-old prime minister, Carlos Alvarado. In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Labour government has banned new oil exploration on the road to a zero-carbon economy.

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Climate transition must be ‘rapid and far-reaching’

mer, 10/10/2018 - 04:38

via The Ecologist

by Catherine Early

Limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities, according to climate scientists in landmark research published today.

Human activities have already caused approximately 1°C of global warming, and this is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues at the current rate, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientists said.

To keep within the 1.5°C limit, global net human-caused emissions of CO2 would need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050, meaning that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air, using technologies such as reforestation, carbon capture and storage, and sequestering carbon in the soil.

However, the effectiveness of such techniques are unproven at large scale and some may carry significant risks for sustainable development, the report notes.

The IPCC was asked to investigate the implications of limiting warming to 1.5°C at the UN climate negotiations in Paris in 2015. The findings of the report will feed into the next round of talks in Poland in December.

An “unconscionable betrayal” of the planet

The scientists found that the impact of 1.5°C warming was far less damaging than 2°C. For instance, coral reefs would decline by 70-90% with global warming of 1.5°C, compared with being virtually wiped out with a 2°C rise.

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What Will the State Look Like in an Era of Ecological Disaster?

mar, 10/09/2018 - 16:44

via The Nation

by Alyssa Battistoni

Climate change has been a political issue in America for almost my entire life—James Hansen first testified to the reality of global warming before the Senate in 1988—but the prospects for the planet keep getting worse. At first, climate change was discussed as a distant problem, something to fix for future generations. Then it was discussed as geographically remote, something that was happening in some other part of the world. Now it’s recognized as something that’s happening today to people living in the United States—and yet what are we doing about it? Usually, it seems, very little. Kim Stanley Robinson has dubbed this period of doing-nothing-much the Dithering; Amitav Ghosh suggests calling it the Great Derangement. Something has gone terribly wrong: A problem that is widely recognized as threatening millions of lives, perhaps even the future of human life on Earth, has not been addressed seriously and doesn’t seem likely to be.1

For a while, democracy was deemed to be the culprit: Democratic politics, some argued, simply isn’t suited to addressing problems that lie in the future or extend beyond national boundaries. Climate change is just too complicated for most people to understand; better to leave it to the experts. It’s too hard a subject to broach during a political campaign; no one really wants to think about something so depressing, and what politician in his or her right mind would call for lowering living standards in order to decrease carbon emissions?2

Now that capitalism is again on the table as a political issue, it also gets its share of blame. The political problem, it’s now said, isn’t democracy alone, but rather that democracy is held hostage by oil money and the politicians purchased by it. Even some capitalists are starting to acknowledge that the system could use some tweaks. (Others, like Elon Musk, are planning to decamp to Mars: the Great Derangement indeed.) Swapping corporations for democracy as the root of the problem is a welcome development. Yet serious political thinking about climate change remains in short supply. Most people are now worried about it, but few are putting climate change at the heart of their political thought and practice.3

In this context, Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright’s new work of political theory, Climate Leviathan, is a welcome addition to the small but growing body of climate writing on the left. It’s a book explicitly aimed at understanding the political dimensions of climate change instead of relegating them to a paragraph or two in the concluding section. It also takes a different tack than most works on climate politics. The authors are not interested in why we aren’t acting to curb carbon emissions; instead, they’re interested in the kinds of political scenarios that are likely to emerge in response to the approaching ecological crises.4

Climate change will be so central to human life and global politics in the coming years, Mann and Wainwright argue, that the response to it will shape the entire future world order, not merely the statements that issue out of the United Nations at the end of every year. If the left is to play a part in shaping this new world, they continue, it needs to think seriously about the “political tools, strategies, and tactics” at its disposal. Climate change, though a novel and previously unimaginable problem, does not actually require a radical departure from traditional left struggles for freedom, equality, and justice; it simply poses new versions of familiar dilemmas. Our political thought doesn’t need to address climate change directly to offer insights into the role that the left can play in responding to it, but we will need to develop old ideas in new directions if we are to navigate a world that is now changing radically.5

Toward this end, Climate Leviathan engages a wide range of political thought, from Gramsci to Hegel, Kant to Naomi Klein. But as the title suggests, at the heart of the book is Thomas Hobbes, whose Leviathan remains the fundamental work on the sovereign power that underpins modern states. Hobbes looked at a nation torn asunder by the English Civil War and reckoned that it was better to relinquish one’s freedom to the authority of an all-powerful sovereign than to live through such nastiness and brutality. Such a sovereign power did not yet exist in Hobbes’s time, but in describing it, Hobbes sought to understand a political form that he thought might soon come into being.6

Mann and Wainwright argue that we are in another such moment, a time when political forms are in flux and one can begin to see the shape of the growing leviathan. They therefore follow Hobbes into a speculative mode, describing the forms of power they think are likely to emerge in the future while recognizing that none have done so yet.7

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Precursors of Syndicalism

sam, 10/06/2018 - 19:13

via Anarchist News

by Anarcho

It is a standard cliché of Marxist attacks on anarchism to contrast “individualistic” anarchism with “collectivist” syndicalism. The former are backward looking, reactionary and beyond the pale while the latter are almost Marxist, and so worthy of faint praise. Another, also wrong, cliché has wider acceptance, namely that syndicalism arose in France during the 1890s in response to the failure of “propaganda of the deed.”

Yet rather than being two different ideas or movements, anarchism has always had its syndicalist elements. Proudhon argued for workers’ associations to replace wage-labour, rejecting political action in favour of workers self-organisation and self-liberation on the economic terrain. However, he was a reformist and rejected strikes as a means of change, arguing that power was too skewed against workers to be effect. Co-operatives not unions, were his means of social transformation.

Proudhon’s works were eagerly by workers across Europe and adapted to their needs. In 1864 French and British trade unionists – not Marx – created the International Workers Association and at its national congresses the practice and theory of the workers movement were discussed and developed. As well as extending the socialisation and association of property from industry to land, the idea that the workers’ unions would both fight capitalism and be the framework to replace it was raised and embraced.

The Belgium section were firm advocates of this idea, as shown by their report to the International’s Congress in 1868. Frenchman Jean Louis Pindy expressed it the Resolution on Resistance Societies at its 1869 Congress. Bakunin championed it, arguing that for workers there was “but a single path, that of emancipation through practical action” which “has only one meaning. It means workers’ solidarity in their struggle against the bosses. It means trades-unions, organisation, and the federation of resistance funds.” This would create “an earnest international organisation of workers associations from all countries capable of replacing this departing political world of States and bourgeoisie.”

So by 1870, the International had two tendencies: syndicalist and social-democratic. A fact Marx was aware of, when, unlike his latter-day followers, he admitted that Bakunin argued that the “working class must not occupy itself with politics. They must only organise themselves by trades-unions… by means of the International they will supplant the place of all existing states.”

Yet Marx underestimated the influence of these ideas. For the syndicalist wing was the majority, as proved when he tried to impose social-democracy onto the International after the Paris Commune. However, expelling Bakunin did not nullify his all-too accurate prediction that sending socialists to Parliament would see the “worker-deputies, transplanted into a bourgeois environment, into an atmosphere of purely bourgeois ideas… cease to be workers and, becoming Statesmen, they will become bourgeois… For men do not make their situations; on the contrary, men are made by them.”

This is more than reclaiming a much distorted history. We see echoes of the same debates today. A rejuvenated Labour Party membership is in conflict with its thoroughly bourgeois MPs. Worse, the hopes and energies of these new activists are being wasted, constructive socialism is being ignored, waiting for a general election the Tories are unlikely to call so a few enlightened politicians may save capitalism from itself.

We end with an all-too relevant article by Eugène Varlin (1839-1871), a leading French Internationalist. Son of a poor peasant family, he was a bookbinder by profession and organised mutual aid societies alongside unions and strikes. Unlike many French Internationalists, he was firm advocate of equality of the sexes. An associate of Bakunin, he was active in the Paris Commune before being tortured and shot after his capture during its final week. Sadly, few writings by this pioneering syndicalist activist are available in English which hopefully this a new and complete translation corrects to some degree (a much edited version appeared in The Paris Commune of 1871: The View from the Left [1972]).

Workers Societies

Eugène Varlin

(La Marseillaise, 11th March 1870)

While our statesmen try to substitute a parliamentary and liberal government (Orleans style) for the regime of personal government, and so hope to divert the advancing Revolution threatening their privileges; we socialists, who by experience know that all the old political forms are powerless to satisfy popular demands, must, while taking advantage of the mistakes and blunders of our adversaries, hasten the hour of deliverance. We must actively work to prepare the organisational elements of the future society in order to make the work of social transformation that is imposed on the Revolution easier and more certain.

So far political states have been, so to speak, only the continuation of the regime of conquest, which presided over the establishment of authority and the enslavement of the masses: Republican Governments, as in Switzerland or the United State; constitutional and oligarchic, as in Belgium or England; autocratic, as in Russia, or personal, as in France since the Empire; it is always authority charged with keeping working people in respect of the law established for the benefit of a few. This authority may be more or less rigid, more or less arbitrary, but this does not change the basis of economic relations, and workers are always at the mercy of the holders of capital.

To be permanent, the next revolution must not stop at a simple change of government etiquette, and some superficial reforms; it must completely liberate the worker from all forms of exploitation, capitalist or political, and establish justice in social relations.

Society can no longer leave the disposition of public wealth to the arbitrariness of the privileges of birth or success: the product of collective labour, it can be used only for the benefit of the collectivity; all members of human society have an equal right to the benefits derived from them.

But this social wealth can only ensure the well-being of humanity only on the condition of being put into operation by labour.

If, then, the industrial or commercial capitalist should no longer arbitrarily dispose of collective capital, who then will make them productive for the benefit of all? Who, in a word, will organise the production and distribution of products?

Unless you want to reduce everything to a centralising and authoritarian state, which would appoint the directors of mills, factories, distribution outlets, whose directors would in turn appoint deputy directors, supervisors, foremen, etc. and thus arrive at a top-down hierarchical organisation of labour, in which the worker would be nothing but an unconscious cog, without freedom or initiative; unless we do, we are forced to admit that the workers themselves must have the free disposal of their instruments of labour, under the condition of exchanging their products at cost price, so that there is reciprocity of service between the different specialities of workers.

It is to this last idea that most workers who in recent years have been energetically pursuing the libertarian of their class tend to rally. It is this which has prevailed in the various congresses of the International Workers Association.

But it should not be believed that such an organisation can be easily improvised in every respect! For this a few intelligent, devoted, energetic men are not enough! Above all, it is necessity that workers, thus called to work together freely and on the basis of equality, should already be prepared for social life.

One of the greatest difficulties that the founders of all kinds of [workers] societies tried for the last few years have encountered is the spirit of individualism, excessively developed in most men and even amongst those who understand that only by association can workers improve living standards, and hope for their liberation.

Well! Workers societies, in whatever form they exist at present, already have this immense advantage of accustoming men to social life, and so preparing them for a wider social organisation. They accustom them not only to reach an agreement and understanding, but also to take care of their affairs, to organise, to discuss, to think about their material and moral interests, and always from the collective point of view since their personal, individual, direct interest disappears as soon as they become part of a collectivity.

Together with the advantages that each of these societies can provide to its members, there is, by this fact, the development of sociability, enough to make them recommended to all citizens who aspire to the advent of socialism.

But corporate societies (resistance, solidarity, union) deserve out encouragement and sympathy, for they are the natural elements of the social construction of the future; it is they who can easily become producer associations; it is they who will be able to operate social tools and organise production.

Many of their members are often unconscious at first of the role that these societies are called upon to play in the future; at first they think of only resisting the exploitation of capital or of obtaining some superficial improvements; but soon the hard efforts they have to make to achieve insufficient palliatives or even, sometimes, negative results, easily lead them to seek radical reforms that can free them from capitalist oppression. Then they study social questions and get represented at workers congresses.

The congress of the international association held in Basle last September recommended that all workers should group themselves into resistance societies by trade in order to secure the present and prepare for the future. I propose to make a study of the various forms of corporative workers’ societies, and their progressive development, in order to make known to workers who are not yet associated the present advantages which they can gather from their organisation, and to make them benefit from the experience bitterly acquired in these past years by other corporations.

It is necessary that the new groups get in step with the old ones, for it is only through solidarity, widely understood, by world-wide union of workers of all professions and all countries that we will surely arrive at the suppression of privileges and equality for all.

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Decolonizing society: the legacy of 1968

sam, 10/06/2018 - 17:19

via ROAR Magazine

by Mehmet Döşemeci, Jennifer Thomson

n 1964, students at the University of California at Berkeley staged a sit-in at Sproul Hall to protest campus restrictions on political activism. Shouting through his bullhorn, Mario Savio, the leader of the Free Speech Movement, likened modern society to an unhearing, unfeeling, oiled machine that needed to be stopped.

There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

Four years later, students the world over had seemingly made good on Savio’s words. In Italy, the occupation of the University of Turin in 1967 ignited a widespread student take-over of campuses in Florence, Pisa, Venice, Milan, Naples, Padua, and Bologna. By March 1968, the spreading disruptions had paralyzed the entire system of higher education in Italy. Tens of thousands of students went on strike; the universities were besieged or occupied; and professors faced locked rooms or empty lecture halls.

In 1968 in France, student protests began at Nanterre and soon spread to occupations throughout the French university system. The same year, German students occupied the Free University in Berlin and barricaded the entrances to campuses in Frankfurt, Hamburg, Göttingen and Aachen while high school and university students in Mexico occupied their school buildings under the slogan “We don’t want the Olympic Games, we want a revolution!”

In the United States, the 1968 occupation of Columbia University by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was, within two years, replicated across the country as over 4 million students — joined by 350,000 faculty in over 800 universities — went on strike, taking over university buildings and burning down army recruitment offices. Between May 1 and June 30, 1970, nearly a third of all US universities witnessed “incidents which resulted in the disruption of the normal functioning of the school.”

Initially centered on campuses, students soon took their tactics outside the university to disrupt “business as usual” within society at large. In the United States, students blocked railroad tracks and city streets, and held sit-ins on America’s highways to engage stalled drivers in debates about the state of the nation — though how well this last tactic worked is open to some debate. Anti-war demonstrators chanting “Hell no, we won’t go!” occupied the Pentagon steps, blockaded draft-induction centers and obstructed draftees in attempts to arrest the movement of American bodies to fight the war in Vietnam. In May 1971, 35,000 anti-war protesters occupied West Potomac Park in Washington and announced that “because the government had not stopped the Vietnam War, they would stop the government.”

In 1966, student groups in West Berlin had blocked traffic by engaging passersby in long discussions. Two years later the German New Left was building street barricades and overturning the Springer publication’s delivery trucks in order to physically arrest the distribution of false reports of their activities. In 1968 in France, the government crackdown on the universities led to the construction of barricades in the streets of Paris and the spread of the occupations to factories that paralyzed the country for the better part of May and June. All told, between 1968 and 1970 alone, tens of millions of students and workers across the Atlantic, en masse and spontaneously, shut down thousands of universities and factories, and took effective control of their places of study and work.

Neither Marx nor Coca-Cola

Almost immediately, the non-violent disruptions of the New Left attracted intense criticism. The leftist militant Pierre Goldman claimed that New Left students were “satisfying their desire for history using ludic and masturbatory forms.” Left-wing critics excoriated the student protests: “For a number of weeks, [the rebels] were the masters, not of French society, nor even its university systems, but of its walls.” To many of an older generation, the imagination had seized power in 1968 — but it was only an imaginary power. “Because they no longer wished society to be a spectacle” critics damningly continued, “they mistook a spectacle for society.”

Even the sympathetic Sartre remarked that “a regime is not brought down by 100,000 unarmed students, no matter how courageous.” This understanding of the New Left as engaged in a war between an all-powerful military state and powerless students adrift in a purely symbolic and performative realm has been a near constant refrain over the past half century.

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Howard Zinn: Don’t Despair about the Supreme Court

sam, 10/06/2018 - 17:12

via The Progressive


October 21, 2005

ohn Roberts sailed through his confirmation hearings as the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, with enthusiastic Republican support, and a few weak mutterings of opposition by the Democrats. Then, after the far right deemed Harriet Miers insufficiently doctrinaire, Bush nominated arch conservative Samuel Alito to replace Sandra Day O’Connor. This has caused a certain consternation among people we affectionately term “the left.”

I can understand that sinking feeling. Even listening to pieces of Roberts’s confirmation hearings was enough to induce despair: the joking with the candidate, the obvious signs that, whether Democrats or Republicans, these are all members of the same exclusive club. Roberts’s proper “credentials,” his “nice guy” demeanor, his insistence to the Judiciary Committee that he is not an “ideologue” (can you imagine anyone, even Robert Bork or Dick Cheney, admitting that he is an “ideologue”?) were clearly more important than his views on equality, justice, the rights of defendants, the war powers of the President.

At one point in the hearings, The New York Times reported, Roberts “summed up his philosophy.” He had been asked, “Are you going to be on the side of the little guy?” (Would any candidate admit that he was on the side of “the big guy”? Presumably serious “hearings” bring out idiot questions.)

Roberts replied: “If the Constitution says that the little guy should win, the little guy’s going to win in court before me. But if the Constitution says that the big guy should win, well, then the big guy’s going to win, because my obligation is to the Constitution.”

If the Constitution is the holy test, then a justice should abide by its provision in Article VI that not only the Constitution itself but “all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the Supreme Law of the Land.” This includes the Geneva Convention of 1949, which the United States signed, and which insists that prisoners of war must be granted the rights of due process.

A district court judge in 2004 ruled that the detainees held in Guantanamo for years without trial were protected by the Geneva Convention and deserved due process. Roberts and two colleagues on the Court of Appeals overruled this.

There is enormous hypocrisy surrounding the pious veneration of the Constitution and “the rule of law.” The Constitution, like the Bible, is infinitely flexible and is used to serve the political needs of the moment. When the country was in economic crisis and turmoil in the Thirties and capitalism needed to be saved from the anger of the poor and hungry and unemployed, the Supreme Court was willing to stretch to infinity the constitutional right of Congress to regulate interstate commerce. It decided that the national government, desperate to regulate farm production, could tell a family farmer what to grow on his tiny piece of land.

When the Constitution gets in the way of a war, it is ignored. When the Supreme Court was faced, during Vietnam, with a suit by soldiers refusing to go, claiming that there had been no declaration of war by Congress, as the Constitution required, the soldiers could not get four Supreme Court justices to agree to even hear the case. When, during World War I, Congress ignored the First Amendment’s right to free speech by passing legislation to prohibit criticism of the war, the imprisonment of dissenters under this law was upheld unanimously by the Supreme Court, which included two presumably liberal and learned justices: Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis.

It would be naive to depend on the Supreme Court to defend the rights of poor people, women, people of color, dissenters of all kinds. Those rights only come alive when citizens organize, protest, demonstrate, strike, boycott, rebel, and violate the law in order to uphold justice.

It would be naive to depend on the Supreme Court to defend the rights of poor people, women, people of color, dissenters of all kinds. Those rights only come alive when citizens organize, protest, demonstrate, strike, boycott, rebel, and violate the law in order to uphold justice.

The distinction between law and justice is ignored by all those Senators–Democrats and Republicans–who solemnly invoke as their highest concern “the rule of law.” The law can be just; it can be unjust. It does not deserve to inherit the ultimate authority of the divine right of the king.

The Constitution gave no rights to working people: no right to work less than twelve hours a day, no right to a living wage, no right to safe working conditions. Workers had to organize, go on strike, defy the law, the courts, the police, create a great movement which won the eight-hour day, and caused such commotion that Congress was forced to pass a minimum wage law, and Social Security, and unemployment insurance.

The Brown decision on school desegregation did not come from a sudden realization of the Supreme Court that this is what the Fourteenth Amendment called for. After all, it was the same Fourteenth Amendment that had been cited in the Plessy case upholding racial segregation. It was the initiative of brave families in the South–along with the fear by the government, obsessed with the Cold War, that it was losing the hearts and minds of colored people all over the world–that brought a sudden enlightenment to the Court.

The Supreme Court in 1883 had interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment so that nongovernmental institutions hotels, restaurants, etc.-could bar black people. But after the sit-ins and arrests of thousands of black people in the South in the early Sixties, the right to public accommodations was quietly given constitutional sanction in 1964 by the Court. It now interpreted the interstate commerce clause, whose wording had not changed since 1787, to mean that places of public accommodation could be regulated by Congressional action and be prohibited from discriminating.

Soon this would include barbershops, and I suggest it takes an ingenious interpretation to include barbershops in interstate commerce.

The right of a woman to an abortion did not depend on the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. It was won before that decision, all over the country, by grassroots agitation that forced states to recognize the right. If the American people, who by a great majority favor that right, insist on it, act on it, no Supreme Court decision can take it away.

The rights of working people, of women, of black people have not depended on decisions of the courts. Like the other branches of the political system, the courts have recognized these rights only after citizens have engaged in direct action powerful enough to win these rights for themselves.

This is not to say that we should ignore the courts or the electoral campaigns. It can be useful to get one person rather than another on the Supreme Court, or in the Presidency, or in Congress. The courts, win or lose, can be used to dramatize issues.

On St. Patrick’s Day, 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, four anti-war activists poured their own blood around the vestibule of a military recruiting center near Ithaca, New York, and were arrested. Charged in state court with criminal mischief and trespassing (charges well suited to the American invaders of a certain Mideastern country), the St. Patrick’s Four spoke their hearts to the jury. Peter DeMott, a Vietnam veteran, described the brutality of war. Danny Burns explained why invading Iraq would violate the U.N. Charter, a treaty signed by the United States. Clare Grady spoke of her moral obligations as a Christian. Teresa Grady spoke to the jury as a mother, telling them that women and children were the chief victims of war, and that she cared about the children of Iraq. Nine of the twelve jurors voted to acquit them, and the judge declared a hung jury. (When the federal government retried them on felony conspiracy charges, a jury in September acquitted them of those and convicted them on lesser charges.)

Still, knowing the nature of the political and judicial system of this country, its inherent bias against the poor, against people of color, against dissidents, we cannot become dependent on the courts, or on our political leadership. Our culture–the media, the educational system–tries to crowd out of our political consciousness everything except who will be elected President and who will be on the Supreme Court, as if these are the most important decisions we make. They are not. They deflect us from the most important job citizens have, which is to bring democracy alive by organizing, protesting, engaging in acts of civil disobedience that shake up the system. That is why Cindy Sheehan’s dramatic stand in Crawford, Texas, leading to 1,600 anti-war vigils around the country, involving 100,000 people, is more crucial to the future of American democracy than the mock hearings on Justice Roberts or the ones to come on Judge Alito.

That is why the St. Patrick’s Four need to be supported and emulated. That is why the GIs refusing to return to Iraq, the families of soldiers calling for withdrawal from the war, are so important.

That is why the huge peace march in Washington on September 24 bodes well.

Let us not be disconsolate over the increasing control of the court system by the right wing.

The courts have never been on the side of justice, only moving a few degrees one way or the other, unless pushed by the people. Those words engraved in the marble of the Supreme Court, “Equal Justice Before the Law,” have always been a sham.

No Supreme Court, liberal or conservative, will stop the war in Iraq, or redistribute the wealth of this country, or establish free medical care for every human being. Such fundamental change will depend, the experience of the past suggests, on the actions of an aroused citizenry, demanding that the promise of the Declaration of Independence–an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness–be fulfilled.

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Fighting Form: Beyond the Party in Kurdistan

sam, 10/06/2018 - 05:35

via Upping the Anti

by Daniel Gutiérrez, Antje Dieterich, Victor Hertzfeld

The monsters that have risen to define the post-crisis epoch are the formidable new authors of unimaginable dread. The current state of politics almost everywhere is defined by the rise of Trumps, Le Pens, and Erdo?ans. Yet since the fissures and fault lines of neoliberalism became visible in the opening produced by the financial crisis, the Left of the Global North has struggled to seize this opportunity. This struggle has given rise to heated debate: some voices on the Left propose a return to the vanguard party form, organized strictly around a class line. This call opposes the idea of “the movement of movements” that defined the post-Zapatista cycle of political struggle. As we face these new monsters, the question arises of whether or not we should abandon the promise of a pluralist form of struggle, and with it the chance to unite groups and individuals from different Left ideological backgrounds.

As members of a broad Left, we believe that the abandonment of a pluralist form needlessly puts the project of collective liberation at risk of reproducing dogmatic understandings of ideological projects of the 20th century. Turning our gaze to the Arab Spring that captured the imagination of the Global North in 2010, we witness a unique political form that has risen out of the Kurdish liberation movement in northern Syria (Rojava) and southeastern Turkey (Bakur). It is not a spontaneous movement of squares, but an intentional and organized socio-political project that has given rise to what is now known as Democratic Confederalism and Democratic Autonomy.

This struggle for radical democracy became internationally visible in 2014 when ISIS attacked the Kurdish-controlled town of Kobanê. To many Western media outlets, the most surprising element regarding this suddenly-visible Kurdish movement was that feminism not only existed in Syria but was at the forefront of the struggle.

Since the battle of Kobanê, the political structures of the autonomous regions have become the subject of both journalistic and academic investigation. Unique and worthy of investigation as these structures are, for us an equally worthy but different question arose. What we want to analyze is how the organizational form of these struggles in Syria and Turkey helped generate these democratic structures. The Kurdish liberation movement provides a glimpse of an original organizational form that moves beyond both the one-party form and the current fragmentation that defines the Left. We are not so naïve to believe that simply adopting an organizational form will answer all the problems that ail the Left; however, we can say with a sense of certainty that the organizational avenues Kurdish forces have designed can resolve a considerable set of problems.

Recomposing the Ideology and Vision of the PKK

The Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) formed after years of non-violent Kurdish resistance within Turkey failed to bear any political fruit. The Turkish state (as a nation-state) denied the very existence of a Kurdish identity and stopped at nothing to erase it. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, some organizations and social initiatives attempted to organize Kurdish social bases around claims of social inequality only to be met by targeted assassination or arrest. The violent manner in which the Turkish state struck back against any Kurdish-based organizing gave rise to an increasingly militant and organized Kurdish resistance. The PKK formed in the late 1970s out of this conjuncture, understanding the Turkish state as a colony of Western imperialist forces where the Kurdish land and people were considered a sub-colony. Given the lack of democratic avenues, the PKK launched a guerrilla struggle. The repercussions of this war between the Turkish state and the PKK were devastating, leaving nearly 40,000 individuals dead with human rights abuses committed by both sides.1

While the conflict failed to produce decisive results on either side, the state was able to carve out a discursive gain for itself. Indeed, because of “Turkey’s application of the ‘terrorist’ label to the PKK—and the commonplace ascription of the label to all Kurds in popular discourse,”2 Kurds are thus subject to a kind of “differential exclusion” in which they are “excluded from the law’s protection” but not from its “discipline, punishment, and regulation.”3 By broadly labeling the Kurdish identity as “terrorist,”  the Turkish state attempts to legitimize the way it disciplines and punishes persons who claim this identity and the ancestral territories attached to it. In response to the Turkish state’s frontal assault, PKK guerilla units created support bases beyond Turkey-Kurdistan into Iraqi-, Syria-, and Iran-Kurdistan, where Kurds were also suppressed and excluded from each nation-state’s inherent ethno-supremacy.

When the PKK’s ideological leader Abdullah Öcalan was captured in 1999 and subsequently placed in solitary confinement on a Turkish prison island, a cease-fire was initiated. The Turkish government hoped this would be the beginning of the end for the PKK. What was instead solidified, however, was a re-birth of the PKK and the broader Kurdish liberation movement.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, women’s organizations within the PKK pushed Öcalan to entirely reformulate the ideological, organizational, and practical profile of the PKK and the broader Kurdish liberation movement. Because the PKK had always been an attractive force to women who wanted to escape patriarchy in their households, the realization that the culture within the PKK remained patriarchal pushed women to self-organize.4 This lead to the formation of the Union of Patriotic Women of Kurdistan (YJWK) and Union of Free Women of Kurdistan (YAJK) in the 1980s and 1990s, ultimately resulting in the Free Women’s Party (PJA) by the 2000s.5

These women’s organizations spurred a dialectical relationship between themselves and Öcalan. Additionally, this new constellation of women’s organizations had a great effect on the empowerment of women within the broadening Kurdish liberation movement. Havin Güne?er defines the period that spans from 1993 to 2003 as a transitional one in which the Kurdish liberation movement as a whole disassociated itself from Leninist values, and moved towards an anti-authoritarian collective liberation that put women’s liberation at the fore. The PKK had now declared women as the subject of history, not the proletariat. Given the threat posed by conservative and reactionary forces for women, and the role of women in the reproduction of social, political, and economic relations in transnational Kurdish society, this move was stunning. However, what matters here is that the conversations and debates of the women’s movement did not happen outside the PKK—while new women’s organizations and parties were created, they continued to form part of a broader complex with the PKK. By still being part of the PKK complex, these conversations came to greatly affect the organization, changing the theoretical and methodological mission of the movement.

Out of these dialogues, the PKK and the broader Kurdish liberation movement came to adopt a political program based on the creation of what would be called Democratic Autonomy and Democratic Confederalism. What the project proposes is the construction of a popular counter-power government parallel to the current state (similar to the Zapatistas). According to this method, sites and spaces are to increasingly divorce themselves from existing oppressive power structures and be reconfigured autonomously. This relationship is referred to as Democratic Autonomy.6 These sites are to be instituted in a complex of political decision-making structures known as Democratic Confederalism (which is a kind of self-rule government) that combines both constituent and constituted powers. As Hardt observes in his introduction to Negri’s text Insurgencies: Constituent Power and the Modern State, “[c]onstituent power names the democratic forces of social transformation, the means by which humans make their history” while “[c]onstituted power, in contrast, defines the fixed order of the constitution and the stability of its social structure.”7 To make things clear, constituent power names “government by the people” whereas constituted power names “government for the people.”

While the changes of the Kurdish liberation movement’s ideology and vision are certainly significant, so are the changes in the PKK’s organizational structure. Once committed to the Marxist party model, today the PKK’s structure is far more complex. The original composition of the PKK was comprised of Öcalan as leader sitting on top of the organizational pyramid, supported by a Central Committee, and a party Congress as the highest authority; below these structures were the thousands of supporters and militants.

However, since the 1990s some affiliate organizations, umbrella groups, and institutions have been developed to create what Ahmet Hamdi Akkaya and Joost Jongerden call a “party-complex.”8 In fact, what has been created in Rojava and Bakur is far more an assemblage of forces than any single party. What has occurred then is a recomposition wherein the PKK gave way to forces that participated in and co-defined the political horizon. This Kurdish liberation movement (no longer simply the PKK) functions as a sort of assemblage, a decentralized federation of organs that are linked together by a common co-organization, vision, and practice for a democratic society.

While the PKK itself is still a functioning political organization, it now exists as one among many. This assemblage includes forces that cross the spectrum of politicization; some focus on organizing women, others on youth; some organizations operate in extra-parliamentary politics, while others still function as parliamentary parties. Guerrilla outfits, militias, and other self-defense apparatuses are also part of this complex, and some diasporic Kurdish organizations across Europe are also included. Each organization plays a role as part of a broader web of forces that attempt to disarticulate power from the state while providing a democratic alternative to the increasingly undemocratic reality Kurds finds themselves in.

Cross-organization decision-making is mediated through three linked structures: the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK), the Kurdistan People’s Congress (Kongra-Gel), and the National Congress of Kurdistan (KNK). The KCK operates in the manner similar to the council structures previously elaborated; “basically a network of village, city, and regional councils.”9 The KCK was created between 2005 and 2007 “with the aim of organizing itself from the bottom up in the form of assemblies.”10 The Kongra-Gel functions as a Congress where delegates from the KCK councils are sent, while the KNK operates as a congress for all the political and social organizations that are part of the broader movement. In this way, not only does organization exist across lines of territory but also across multiple axes of interests, promoting a democratic pluralism rather than a sectarian monism. All organs united by the vision and method of Democratic Autonomy and Democratic Confederalism, regardless of location, achieve the coordination of their solidarity and struggle through these structures.

A Praxis of Pluralism Against a Consolidating Opposition

In practice, the method of revolutionary transition posited by the Kurdish liberation movement has been more or less successful. Obviously, it has been far more successful in Rojava where, for some time, the revolutionary process was created in a political vacuum generated by the civil war. As the Syrian state focused its attention on the Free Syrian Army and ISIS, the Rojava revolution was allowed to develop. Considering this, the early days of the revolution were quite exceptional. Leading up to the war, it appears that Rojava had been organized by the PYD (Democratic Unity Party, itself a member of the Kurdish liberation movement) as well as other civil society organizations that operated as germ cells. So when the conflict created the opening, social forces were prepared for autonomy.

In the Democratic Confederalist system that has been erected in Rojava, power rests in three locations. One is in a fixed but bare-boned parliamentary apparatus to which ministers are elected to carry out basic reproductive, administrative tasks. Similar to Zapatismo, these ministers are to lead while obeying, and they must obey the will of the popular councils (which represent a second pole of power) as well as interest-based organizations (a third pole of power). Councils are organized from the bottom-up, from the street, neighbourhood, village/district, city, and canton level, while interest-based organizations (that organize around feminist, youth, and other civil issues) operate parallel to these councils at every level and are allowed to intervene in decision-making. These interest-based organizations function as germ cells that organize social bases into broader-based organizations where they participate in political debate, discussion, and education. In essence, the separation of power is such that the interaction between the interest-based organizations and the geographically arranged councils form a legislative sphere where proposals are sent upwards for ratification to the executive, parliamentary/ministerial level. If the parliament finds the proposals betray the Social Contract,11 then these proposals are sent back down for modification. The structure is thus ultimately a dialectical dialogue between multiple levels. Democratic Autonomy and Democratic Confederalism thus imagines a confederation of cities organized into a new democratic unity rejecting the nation-state.

While a bare-bones parliament is proposed, this parliament lacks access to any coercive apparatus. In practice in Rojava, security institutions like the YPG (the male People’s Protection Units) or the YPJ (Women’s Protection Units) are subject to the councils, not the parliament. In this way, it created a sort of dual-power system between popular, constituent forms and constituted fixed-bureaucratic forms.12 To increase female participation, each council elects “co-presidents”—one of whom must be female and approved by autonomous women’s umbrella organizations—who function as moderators for their council and as spokespersons to the broader-area councils above their own.13 This structure is intended to prevent the women elected as co-presidents from being simply tokens. Meanwhile, for every “minister” elected into parliament, two deputies are assigned from ethnic groups other than the ministers.

Practically then, revolutionary transformation entails the creation of an alternative system (through the formation of counter-institutions that operate parallel to current ones) within the shell of the current system, growing in a manner to be capable of constructing Democratic Confederalism. As such, “the concept of democratic confederalism is not just to liberate yourself by establishing autonomy in spite of the state, but also to democratize existing structures.”14 The revolutionary method is to make the current state wither away under the continuous assault by democratic forces. In contrast to a Leninist theory of transition (which proposes a vanguard crush the bourgeois state, then the erection of a proletarian state which later withers), Öcalan’s theory proposes an autonomous power structure be developed that gradually devours the operations of the bourgeois state, and thus withers the bourgeois state. The use of arms is to be purely defensive (in the case of armed reaction by the state) while the use of parliamentary forces is to be included in this strategy. In other words, no sites are ignored, all are contested.

However, in Bakur the reality has been quite different. While the process of Democratic Autonomization in Rojava provides a unique perspective of the political endeavor in a society at war, the effort in Bakur is far more pertinent to translation in the Global North, given the fact that Turkey is not in the midst of a civil war. That is, the nation-state is functional and strong.

Between 2000 and 2005, as the pkk recomposed itself and a broader Kurdish liberation movement formed, this new movement began to establish prefigurative council structures throughout Bakur.15 The main motor behind the construction of the council system that would make up the democratic confederalist structures of Bakur was the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) that was founded in 2005 and aimed to unite “parties, civil society organizations, religious communities, and women’s and youth organizations.”16 As Janet Biehl explains, the DTK functions as an umbrella structure that brings together actors from local councils, parties, civil organizations, and unions, operating like a parliament to deal with self-administration.”17 Despite the criminalization of the DTK in 2011, the process of democratic autonomization has continued, regardless of legal status.

To accomplish this, a sophisticated array of strategies and tactics were deployed. The DTK set out to establish grassroots structures that sought to replace Turkish state apparatuses, where problems could be solved from the lowest and most directly democratic level possible. Depending on grassroots support, structures such as street, neighbourhood, and city councils were created throughout the cities and villages of Bakur, alongside a proliferation of committees buttressed by civil society organizations; these have established a number of civil and economic organs including legal committees (that develop autonomous legal frameworks), cultural committees (that fight for cultural rights), economic cooperatives, women’s cooperatives, social centres, and academies.

Meanwhile, the HDP (People’s Democratic Party) was created to establish a wider parliamentary intervention within the Turkish state. Formed in 2012, the HDP functioned as the parliamentary arm of an assemblage of forces that first united in 2011 as the HDK (People’s Democratic Congress), and brings together “labor and rights-based civil society organizations, such as women’s, LGBTQ, and environmental movements; trade unions; representatives of various religious minorities; and more socialist parties.”18 By June 2015, the HDP was able to achieve parliamentary representation. As Haydar Darici observes, the HDP was meant to organize grassroots power outside of the Bakur region, alongside other “leftists, anarchists, feminists, and all other opposition groups.”19 However, this success came at a cost. After the electoral advance of the HDP in June 2015, Erdo?an launched an authoritarian counter-offensive, culminating in a military occupation of the Bakur region. The counter-offensive led to over 100 civilian murders as well as countless arrests and was complemented by a broad crackdown that fired thousands of civil servants (especially teachers) and shut down of a number of media outlets.

Throughout the Kurdish region of Turkey, resistance against Erdo?an’s increasingly authoritarian policies has been strongest, and it is led by the youth.20 This should come as no surprise. The PKK and the Kurdish Liberation Movement enjoy a great deal of popularity from the region’s Kurdish youth. This is due not only to the historic activity of the PKK in the region, but also due to the naked reality of the situation. While Turkey’s jobless rate stood at 10.3 percent earlier this year, for youth in the historically Kurdish region it was at 22 percent and 16.5 percent for females and males (respectively) between the ages of 15-24.21 This is (at least in part) rooted in the 1990s, when the government forcibly removed thousands of Kurdish families from ancestral lands to raze the territory.22

However, the two key events that solidified the counter-offensive were the putsch and the refugee crisis. On July 17, 2016, a failed military putsch gave Erdo?an the “legitimacy” he needed to pursue the next great stride to control the entire state apparatus. This attempted putsch unlocked an ever increasing authoritarian phase of counter-assault that has led to the arrest and suspension of tens of thousands of persons across Turkey, as well as a military offensive into Bakur.

Meanwhile, the refugee “crisis” has made Erdo?an bulletproof. While European leaders have bemoaned his fascist expansion of power, they’ve been unwilling to confront Erdo?an. Instead, they have preferred to pay Turkey billions for holding back refugees who want to cross into Europe rather than taking a clear stand on democracy and human rights.

The assemblage formed in Bakur and beyond created an impressive counter-power. Its actors co-defined a common horizon and coordinated the efforts of multiple actors along multiple lines of praxis and across multiple fields of contestation. However, the regionalism of the project was its greatest obstacle. The discursive victory of the Turkish state around the meaning of “Kurdish” proved to be a daunting hurdle to navigate. The HDP and other forces bridged spaces (and movements within them) like Bakur and Istanbul, but the effort was insufficient. While the current conjuncture appears grim, it does not mean that the form itself was to blame. Rather, the fighting form the Kurdish liberation movement created may be one of its greatest historical contributions. They were able to develop a multi-pronged combat politics capable of not only engaging, but disarticulating the destructive powers of the system of societal organization that rest upon patriarchy, the nation-state, and capital. This was not done through a Leninist formation aiming to erect a new state that will later mystically wither away. Rather, Öcalan proposes a fighting form premised on a broad solidarity that unites an assemblage of forces struggling in social movements (extra-parliamentary terrain) and within the state (parliamentary terrain) towards the common goal of creating Democratic Autonomy and Democratic Confederalism. Within this process, new horizontal structures replace vertical structures of the bourgeois state under an endless constituent process.

Toward an Assemblage in the Global North

When yesteryear’s reactionary wave began to swell, there was at least a coherent (though clearly not perfect) mass Left. Today’s conjuncture finds us largely divided and debilitated. While new configurations of mass assemblage are visible—as in the formation of the Movement for Black Lives—these expressions are nascent at best. Recalling Errico Malatesta, it should become increasingly clear that far from conjuring authoritarianism, the organization of the multitude is the only cure to it. We must move beyond an anti-organizationalist politics that celebrates spontaneity and move toward an organizationalist politics that is intentional. Hence, the question of the organizational form that the Left establishes to coordinate efforts is of utmost importance.

However, while others call for a single party, we propose instead a construction similar to the assemblage that has been developed by the Kurdish liberation movement. We recognize criticisms posited by Jodi Dean insofar as anti-authoritarian movements have been unable to create “an explicit assertion of collectivity, a structure of accountability, an acknowledgment of differential capacities, and a vehicle for solidarity.”23 Beyond coming together from moment to moment, she rightfully claims that the Left must be able to stay together. A space of continuity that bridges moments, experiences, and struggles is greatly absent in the Global North. Not only is the idea that any single party can project the desires and needs of the multitude unlikely, but the idea that people will abandon already existing projects to file into a new vehicle is simply not convincing. These organizations exist for a reason and address particularities that have become historically necessary. At the same time, our atomization and isolation have created a fractured Left that stands against an increasingly authoritarian and consolidated right. As Hardt and Negri point out, while our fractured forces have been able to make visible inequalities and violence across multiple axes of power and exploitation, we have largely failed to disarticulate power and reposit it in channels of constituent power.24 In short, we desperately need to build a new fighting form.

A central lesson has been the ability to create a pluralistic organizational form that endures over time and intervenes across multiple fields/terrains of struggle. What we see here is not a rigidity of form or an overvaluation of any single site of struggle (be it economic, parliamentary, civil, etc.); rather, there is an understanding that fields of struggle are not mutually exclusive.

The configurations of organization visible in Rojava and Bakur point to a possible way forward. Its organizational form engages political subjectivities that offer identifications beyond national- or micro-identities. Whether feminism or anti-racism are the most appropriate frames through which a political movement will be united cannot be answered by us at this point. For the Kurdish liberation movement, feminism is no longer understood as a way to liberate only women, but society as a whole. The nation-state, constructed upon a genealogy of patriarchy, must then be overcome, the struggle against patriarchy and capital are in unison. This understanding answers a question that is at the root of the many problems we face in the Global North: “who is our political subject?” The (white, male) industrial worker that united the Left for many decades is no longer the mass subject. Nor does this subjectivity capture the many levels of oppression we face. By combining feminism with anti-nationalism, a new promising political subjectivity is created.

It must be understood that the Left in the Global North (especially in the United States) is in a period of political recomposition. Neoliberalism, state repression, and the hegemony of lifestylist, spontaneous, and single-issue politics have created a Left that lacks the kind of organizational, educational, and cultural infrastructures that the Kurdish liberation movement has been able to maintain for decades. Hence, to imagine that at this moment broad sectors of the Left in the United States are capable of co-defining a horizon as long-term as Democratic Autonomy and Democratic Confederalism is unrealistic. The separation of our knowledges and understandings is too great to think so far into such a cohesive tomorrow. A more reasonable (yet desirable) endeavor would be to co-define a common mid-term set of reforms that would aim to create a better position for all the actors that form the potential assemblage. If we are to have a fighting chance, we must be able to co-define a set of objectives that has meaningful relevance to the multitude.

For the Global North, we argue this can be accomplished through an assemblage that operates as the primary motor driving popular forces of broad society to acquire increasing position through a gradual but transformative reform process. Such a process functions as a transitionary phase. Each step of reform should not be seen as an end, but should be deeply understood as a step towards a better position. A position gained with each foothold that places us closer to an unshackling of not only constraints, but desires. Each step building a sense of autonomy and possibility. The positions won must be organizational, economic, infrastructural, cultural, and discursive.

In Kurdistan, an assemblage (the DTK in Bakur) was created by a party-complex (the decentralized and federated form of the PKK that generated an organizational assemblage beyond the KCK). This broader organizational form is pluralist in the sense that it is open for different ideologies within defined parameters. In the case of Bakur and Rojava, the most important points of unity are feminism, anti-capitalism, anti-nation-state, and ecology. Voting and debate occur within this predetermined understanding that expresses a maximum of mutual understanding from which to dialogue and coordinate. Most importantly, however, is that a common agenda was defined, established, and committed to—that is, the development of Democratic Autonomy and Democratic Confederalism. Here is a fighting form that is ideologically flexible, strategically disciplined and tactically diverse. Organizations like the HDP commit themselves to an electoral path but at the same time stand up for autonomous youth brigades who chose to fight, for example, the police directly in the streets. The tactics are diverse, and actors communicate directly with one another, trying to complement each other’s work as they walk together towards the horizon they’ve co-defined.

Similarly, we can imagine a proliferation of city-wide alliances built across, say, the US that can federate as they wish at the regional and national levels in order to develop a broad range of demands that immediately serve as the basis for social movement campaigns. As in Kurdistan, these alliances can comprise an amalgam of interest-based organizations (like anti-racist, LGBTQ, anti-fascist, and feminist organizations, unions, environmental initiatives, and other Left organizations) that intersect across geographically located councils that could absorb unaffiliated individuals and thus operate as germ cells. No doubt, this would demand a cultural shift from the Left requiring the abandonment of a purity politics and an acceptance of political imperfection. The ability to influence and transform political/social realities will of course depend on the scale of operation. Moving forward, then, would require a national confederation of such city-based alliances.

The Kurdish experiment gives us not only a vision of an alternative society, but of an alternative organizational form and strategy. The lack of a mass, radical Left is devastating throughout much of the Global North. Speaking from our experience in the United States and Germany, the current political situation urges us to devise a pluralistic form of disarticulating the current composition of power and autonomizing our own. After a long retreat, it is urgent that we protect what little position we have left and develop a strategy that conquers a new democracy and a new autonomy. This demands that the question of organizational form be put on the table again given that the number of power structures we are capable of contesting depends on the scale and organizational capacities of our numbers. What the Kurdish liberation movement has contributed is not only a method we can debate, but also a series of organizational innovations that can in turn enrich our repertoire to move beyond mere moralistic negations towards strategic autonomizations.


1 Aliza Markus, Blood and Belief: The PKK and the Kurdish Fight for Independence (New York: NYU Press), 2009.
2 Belén Fernández, “Turkey’s War on Kurds,” Jacobin, September 9, 2015.
3 Lisa Marie Cacho, Social Death: Racialized Rightless and the Criminalization of the Unprotected, (New York: NYU Press, 2015) 5.
4 Havin Güne?er, “Feminicide,” New World Academy – Reader #5: Stateless Democracy, ed. Renée In der Maur and Jonas Staal (Utrecht, NL: BAK, 2015), 57-69.
5 Ibid.
6 Ahmet Hamdi Akkaya and Joost Jongerden, “Reassembling the Political: The PKK and the Project of Radical Democracy,” New World Academy – Reader #5: Stateless Democracy, ed. Renée In der Maur and Jonas Staal (Utrecht, NL: BAK, 2015), 159-191.
7 Michael Hardt, “Forward: Three Keys to Understanding Constituent Power,” forward to Insurgencies: Constituent Power and the Modern State by Antonio Negri (University of Minneapolis: Minnesota Press, 1999), vii-viii.
8 Ahmet Hamdi Akkaya and Joost Jongerden, “Confederalism and Autonomy in Turkey: the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Reinvention of Democracy,” The Kurdish Question in Turkey: New Perspectives on Violence, Representation, and Reconciliation, ed. Cengiz Gunes and Welat Zeydanlio?lu (Oxon, UK: Routledge, 2013) 188.
9 Ibid.
10 Paul White, The PKK: Coming Down from the Mountains (London: Zed Books, 2015), 130.
11 The Social Contract is, similar to a constitution, a document where shared basic values are noted. In Kurdistan these values are feminism, anti-capitalism, environmental justice.
12 David Graeber and Pinar Ö?üç, “No. This is a Genuine Revolution,” New World Academy – Reader #5: Stateless Democracy, ed. Renée In der Maur and Jonas Staal (Utrecht, NL: BAK, 2015), 195-208.
13 Dilar Dirik, “New World Summit: Stateless State. Dilar Dirik (Kurdish Women’s Movement)” Vimeo Video, Posted by New World Summit, September 30, 2014.
14 Dilar Dirik and Jonas Staal, “Living Without Approval,” New World Academy – Reader #5: Stateless Democracy, ed. Renée In der Maur and Jonas Staal, (Utrecht, NL: BAK, 2015) 42.
15 Ibid., 177.
16 TATORT Kurdistan. “Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan: The Council Movement, Gender Liberation, and Ecology – in Practice,” in A Reconnaissance into Southeastern Turkey, Janet Biehl, trans. (Porsgrunn, Norway: New Compass Press, 2013), 27.
17 Janet Biehl, “The DTK’s Updated Democratic Autonomy Proposal,” at, February 20, 2016.
18 Erdem Yörük, “The Radical Democracy of the People’s Democratic Party: Transforming the Turkish State,” forthcoming publication,
19 Haydar Darici and Rossen Djagalov, “The Kurdish Self-Governance Movement in Turkey’s South East: an Interview with Haydar Darici,” Left East, December 22, 2015.
20 Metin Gurcan, “Are clashes spreading to western Turkey?”, Al-Monitor, Timur G?ksel, trans., December 30, 2015.
21 Zülfikar Do?an, “Why Turkey’s high unemployment rate may mean more terror attacks,” Al-Monitor, Utku Bila, trans., March 28, 2016.
22 Joost Jongerden, “Village Evacuation and Reconstruction in Kurdistan (1993-2002), Etudes Rurales: revue trimestrielle d’histoire, geographie, sociologie et economie, 2/2010 (2011): 77-100.
23 Jodi Dean, The Communist Horizon (London: Verso, 2012), 239.
24 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Commonwealth (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011).

The post Fighting Form: Beyond the Party in Kurdistan appeared first on Infoshop News.

To Our Compas in Buenos Aires

sam, 10/06/2018 - 05:08

via Crimethinc

A Full Retrospective on the 2017 G20 Protests in Hamburg

Comrades in Germany, France, and elsewhere have prepared the following overview of the 2017 G20 summit in Hamburg and the resistance it provoked. As a gesture of solidarity with others who fought the G20 and with those who will face it in Buenos Aires this November, we present their text here. You can also download it as a bilingual PDF in German, French, English, and Spanish.

Deutsch/English PDF

Español/English PDF

Francais/English PDF

This is a detailed report and reflection on what happened before, during, and after the 2017 G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. At the same time, it is a letter addressed to the activists and residents of Buenos Aires, Argentina—where the next summit (protest) will soon take place.

The authors come from Paris and Hamburg; they took part in the protest week together. They began working on this book in September 2017, discussing and composing everything clandestinely because politicians and police have been alleging that an “international conspiracy” was responsible for the militant resistance. Organizing in different locations and languages took a lot of time. In the end, about 25 people from four continents participated.

The people who worked on this project all come from different political backgrounds and attitudes; some see themselves as militants, others as explicitly non-violent. The narrative they have composed of their shared experience of the events is a contribution to the historiography of the G20, casting light on events that have remained clouded by the smoke of tear gas, burning barricades, and above all, media representation.

For the Compas in Buenos Aires, this letter should help to prepare for similar situations—in order to avoid repeating mistakes and to make the most of the opportunities.

Proceeds from the sale of these books in Europe will go to support those targeted by repression in Buenos Aires.


Hello Buenos Aires, hello all,

We are writing to you to share our experiences of and to critically self-reflect on what happened in July 2017 at the G20 summit in Hamburg and in its wake. We regard its context a global one and, at the same time, we want to focus on concrete events.

We want to try to provide a context for the upcoming G20 summit in Buenos Aires. We want to express our solidarity to you as well as encourage you to organize resistance. We are on your side. Presumably, we will not be able to come directly to Buenos Aires, but we will try to get involved from here as directly as possible.

Barricades at the Hafenstraße 1987

We come from Paris and from Hamburg, from left and radical left movements, from antifascist, ecological, refugee, squatting, and Right to the City movements. Accordingly, our respective histories and perspectives are quite different. We will discuss this in more detail later.

We assess the G20 protests in Hamburg as generally positive, but, there were also bad experiences and, of course, mistakes. Vehement state repression is ongoing, focusing particularly on trans-European connections like ours. Therefore, this “open letter” is anonymous. It has been written in a conspiratorial way.

In this open letter to you, French and German are the source languages. The third language, English, is used as a “bridge” language since we can write it reasonably well. Finally, there is Spanish which some of us speak fairly well. For English and Spanish, we have also consulted native speakers. Multilingualism is, in our view, now key to international movements, since English is the most widespread second language in the world. Therefore, we have added it to each of the different language editions with the same illustrations.

Our letter to you should also be a contribution to the discussion and collective memory of both this G20 summit and the protests against it. In this respect, it also contains some details that may be less exciting for you in Buenos Aires, but are much more so for those who were in Hamburg. In addition, the public debate in Hamburg and in Germany has been dominated by many skewed or simply wrong representations of the events. With this open letter, we aim to counteract this trend.

So as to avoid any wrong impressions, we would like to highlight from the start that we cannot speak for the whole movement, nor do we wish to. Our perception is by no means universally valid. On the contrary: we deliberately show here a variety of sometimes contradictory views. In addition, there are countless other considerations. Our literary as well as linguistic competence is limited. But perhaps this is a world-first: “passing the torch” of summit protest organizing in five languages, with a project that originated in two different cultural contexts (France and Germany) and was completed with the participation of people from four continents. It may also be the first letter of this length written by movements in Europe to movements in Latin America on behalf of a common protest.

From our point of view, resistance and protests at summits, especially on the occasion of the G20, should link up internationally and learn about and refer to each other. We have informed ourselves as much as possible about previous summit protests and repression: for example, the 2014 G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia. Some of us from France, and especially those from Paris, were present in 2007 at the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany; some of us from Hamburg travelled to Paris in 2016 to join the international demonstration against the “Loi Travail.”1 We are following the movements and fights in Latin America as closely as we can. We are trying to go ahead and develop a common understanding in spite of all our differences.

We don’t think that the G20 is a kind of world government—to us, this simply does not exist. In fact, the global system of repression and exploitation has developed automated mechanisms. Clearly, we ourselves are part of it extensively. The times of the easy front lines are over. The G20 and other global meetings are an attempt to legitimize the existing conditions and those who represent them, even though they do so under the pretense of looking seriously at the problems of planet Earth and its inhabitants. However, in this world of destruction and chaos, where predatory capitalism is becoming more and more ruinous, this claim is less and less plausible, and there is little sincere talk of real, positive “progress.” In fact, the G20 is exclusively concerned with coordinating their common interests along with a demonstration of their power. Both attempts thoroughly failed in Hamburg—due to both the increasingly evident disunity and fragmentation of the respective political elites and also to our common resistance.

The only concrete result of the summit was the so-called “Compact for Africa.” Nothing was done to change the process of Europe closing its borders to the African continent, where people are becoming ever more impoverished. The goal was only to put an end to the circulation of photos depicting tens of thousands of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. Africa itself was not even involved in that deliberation at all.

At the same time, the streets and plazas of Hamburg were dominated by both colorful and militant protests. In the course of events, the aggregated German police, with all their expensive technology, lost control of the situation. While the heads of government listened to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in the brand-new ultra-expensive concert hall, we took over the city.

Before the Summit Where We Come from

We come from two strategically central countries and cities of Europe: politically, historically, economically, and culturally. In centralist France, anything of importance happens in Paris, whereas Hamburg—the self-styled “world champion of exports”—is the trade hub par excellence for Germany.

We come from the East of Paris, where the French revolution started, and the Paris Commune has its roots. We also come from the “Banlieues,” the dreary suburbs of “Paname”2 where there is no work, where the cops harass and sometimes even murder youngsters with African roots. We come from Hamburg, Germany’s so-called “gate to the world.“ The city is socially split like no other in Germany. Moreover, while Berlin is first and foremost a city of government and administration, Hamburg, with its big harbor, is the commercial metropolis as well as the media capital—most importantly, it has been the protest stronghold of Germany for some decades.

Most conflicts in recent years have taken place in the St. Pauli and the adjoining Schanze quarters. In 1987, we succeeded in creating a whole series of occupied houses by building up barricades. The autonomous, radical left cultural center “Rote Flora“ has been squatted since 1989. In 2009, when the “right to the city“ network was established, activists successfully squatted Gängeviertel. There are also several other left projects in town. However, these quarters are in the process of changing. Rents have exploded and forced many to move. But who are we to say this when the apartment situation is at least as bad in Buenos Aires?

In Hamburg, especially in the St. Pauli and Schanze quarters, the police regularly enact sprees of violence, brutally attacking demonstrations and street parties. After an escalated demonstration in 2014, the whole quarter was declared a “danger zone” for ten days. 80,000 people were affected when the state suspended several fundamental rights. They forbade demonstrations and searched the inhabitants without cause, especially youngsters and young adults. That didn’t stop us from organizing wild demonstrations against the “area of danger” every night, even if the demonstrations were undeclared and therefore illegal. In ten days, we wore out the cops so much that they eventually they gave up. Our protest symbols at the time were toilet brushes that we constantly carried as a “weapon” and waved during the demos.

Otherwise, in Hamburg there was and still is quite a well-organized “Antifa” (antifascist movement); for many years, they have succeeded in effectively disturbing fascistic, racist, or right-wing populist marches—sometimes even preventing them completely. An important part of “Antifa” is the leftist fan scene around the St. Pauli football team, our wonderful football club that is known throughout Europe. Even in Buenos Aires, there is an officially registered fan club with the excellent-sounding name, “Los Piratas Del Sur.”

Global Disaster

Many of you might think that life here, generally, is a lot better than in Argentina. Of course, there are gigantic differences. The average income is comparatively higher in France or Germany than, for example, in Argentina or Brazil. And there is a higher standard of social security, education facilities, and health services here in Europe compared to your country or, more generally, to your continent. We are far from denying that these are quite fundamental differences for the people that live in such conditions. But we also know that in Latin America, the images of life here in Europe are often simplified and, worse, depicted as unrealistically positive. The reality looks very different from how it is presented by the media.

Like the societies of your continent, here, too, the societies are socially divided. Here, there are more and more people who live on the street, cut off from all social protections. There are even more people who suffer from the pressure of the system, some of them becoming ill due to their despair. In addition, increased social impoverishment leads to social isolation, which is often covered up by the illusions created by the new media. The economic pressure has strongly increased for many people. In large parts of Europe, youth unemployment exceeds 50%. Evidently, there were good reasons for the powerful youth revolts in Greece and Spain in recent years and in France in 2016. Labor legislation is being eroded everywhere and social benefits are being cut. In short, the situation in Europe is becoming increasingly precarious for more and more people.

Equally fictitious is the image of an ecologically advanced Europe. In France, one dangerous over-aged nuclear reactor stands beside another—in total, there are 54 of them. And in Germany, the supposed European leader of clean energy, dirty brown coal-fired power stations continue to smolder and cause extreme climate damage, even though alternatives have been available for a long time. It becomes downright vulgar if we take a look at the respective roles and responsibilities in global politics. France, recently supported by the German military in Mali, merrily carries on with its “post-colonial mode” in West Africa. Germany, on the other hand, supplies authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia with large quantities of arms: in particular, with small weapons suitable for civil wars, as well as bigger equipment like tanks or frigates.

Read more

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Kavanaugh Shouldn’t Be on the Supreme Court. Neither Should Anyone Else.

sam, 10/06/2018 - 05:03

via CrimethInc

Last week, millions watched the dramatic hearings pitting Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh against Christine Blasey Ford, who courageously narrated her experience of being sexually assaulted by him decades ago. Once again, Americans were confronted with the brazen entitlement of the male power establishment. The hearings stirred up traumatic memories for countless survivors, ratcheted up partisan tensions, and catalyzed furious responses from feminists and progressives in view of the implications of the court shifting further to the right. With Roe v. Wade hanging in the balance, critics point out the horrifying irony of an unrepentant sexual predator potentially casting the deciding vote to block abortion access to millions of women and others across the country.

We applaud the courage of Christine Blasey Ford and everyone who has supported her through this ordeal. We don’t want to see Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, either. But should any man be able to wield that much power over the lives of millions?

What if the Trump administration manages to find a judge with the same views, but with no history of sexual assault? Would that render the confirmation process legitimate and their decisions of the Supreme Court beyond question? Should people of conscience accept the sovereignty of a nine-person elite over the most intimate spheres of their lives?

If you don’t think so either, you may already be an anarchist.

What does it look like to resist the nexus of rape culture and far-right power that Kavanaugh represents? The usual suspects propose the conventional solutions: calling representatives, canvassing for Democrats, taking to the streets to hold signs indicating our displeasure. But even if these efforts forestall Kavanaugh’s nomination this time around, they won’t disrupt the relations of power in which hundreds of millions are held hostage to the machinations of a small, mostly male elite. A victory against this particular nominee would only reset the clock; eventually, Trump will force through a new candidate who will rule the same way Kavanaugh intends to. And even if Trump is impeached or a Democrat is elected and a progressive nominee is sworn in—we’re still in the same place we started, vulnerable to the whims of a judicial aristocracy and alienated from our own power and potential. We need an approach that challenges the foundations of the system that put us in this situation in the first place.

Meanwhile, progressive critics such as Amy Goodman have demanded an FBI investigation as a way to give official weight to Ford’s testimony and hopefully discredit Kavanaugh as a candidate. Goodman points out, reasonably, that Trump’s claim to be in favor of law enforcement while hesitating to order the FBI to look into Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct reveals his hypocrisy. This logic positions progressives and feminists as the honest proponents of law enforcement—and police as protectors of women. Have we learned nothing from decades of rape crisis organizers explaining how the police and courts so often serve to retraumatize survivors, putting them on trial rather than those who attacked them? Can we ignore the feminists of color from INCITE to Angela Davis who call on us to remember that police and prisons do not stop rape but rather intensify poverty, racism, and injustice?

Democrats are trying to recast themselves as the real “law and order” candidates. This is not so much a change in strategy as a revealing of their true colors. Between the blue of “blue states” and the blue of “blue lives matter,” it’s only a matter of tone, not content.

In TV newsrooms and around water coolers across the country, the discussions about this case have focused on how “believable” or “credible” Ford’s testimony is versus that of Kavanaugh. Taking this approach, we become an entire nation of judges and juries, debating evidence and scrutinizing witnesses, choosing whose experience to legitimize and whose to reject. This adversarial framework has always benefitted those who wield privilege and hold institutionalized power. Even if we rule in favor of Ford, we are reproducing the logic of a legal system based in patriarchal notions of truth, judgment, and objectivity, a way of understanding reality that has always suppressed the voices and experiences of the marginalized, preserving the conditions that enable powerful men to sexually abuse others with impunity.

Unfortunately, calls for FBI investigations reinforce this logic and legitimize the murderous regime of surveillance, policing, and prisons as a means of obtaining justice rather than a source of harm. Rejecting the rape culture that Kavanaugh and his supporters represent necessarily means rejecting the patriarchal institutions through which they wield power. If we legitimize any of those institutions in the course of trying to be pragmatic in our efforts to discredit specific officials, we will only undercut our efforts: one step forward, two steps back.

This has broader implications for how we address rape culture in general. When we reduce the issue of sexual violence to the question of whether specific men have committed sexual assault or abuse, we frame these as crimes carried out in a vacuum by deviant individuals. As a result, entertainment corporations and government agencies can pretend to solve the problem by finding men who do not have sexual assaults on their record rather than addressing the misogynistic dynamics and power imbalances that are inherent in government, the workplace, and society at large. This confuses the social question of addressing sexual violence with the matter of finding candidates and nominees who can present a clean résumé; should they later turn out to also be implicated in doing harm, they can be replaced, just as the electoral system replaces politicians every few years without ever giving the rest of us self-determination.

Rape, abuse, and other forms of violence are a systemic problem within our society, not a matter of individual deviance. We need a way of addressing rape culture that cuts to the root.

So is a woman’s place in the government…

…or in the revolution? Can we have it both ways?

Are there other ways that we can think about how to respond to the threat that a judge like Kavanaugh poses to our bodies and communities?

As anarchists, we reject the idea that judges or politicians deserve the authority to determine the course of our lives. Rather than only trying to pressure leaders to vote one way or the other in a winner-take-all system that reduces us to spectators in the decisions that affect us, we propose solutions based in direct action: taking power back into our hands by enacting our needs and solving our problems ourselves, without representatives.

As long as legislators and judges can determine the scope of our reproductive options, our bodies and lives will be subject to the shifting winds of politics rather than our own immediate needs and values. Instead of validating their authority by limiting ourselves to calling for better legislators and judges, we should organize to secure and defend the means to make decisions regarding what we do with our bodies regardless of what courts or legislators decree.

In practice, this could mean networking with health workers who have the necessary skills, and sharing them widely; stockpiling and manufacturing the supplies we need for all sorts of health care; defending spaces where we can operate our own clinics; fundraising resources to secure access to health care and birth control options for all, regardless of ability to pay; and developing models for reproductive autonomy that draw on past precedents but address our current problems. We can do our best to render the decisions of would-be patriarchs like Kavanaugh irrelevant.

All this has already happened before. For example, from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, the Jane network, a vast clandestine effort centered in Chicago, provided illegal abortions to thousands of women. The fact that abortion was already accessible to so many women was a major factor in compelling the US court system to finally legalize abortion access in order to be able to regulate it. The most effective way to pressure the authorities to permit us access to the resources and care that we need is to present them with a fait accompli. Unfortunately, when it comes to standing up to elites like the Supreme Court and the police who enforce its decisions, there are no shortcuts.

We can extend the logic of direct action to every area in which a right-wing Supreme Court might inflict harm, from environmental destruction to indigenous sovereignty to labor organizing. All of the rights we have today are derived from the grassroots struggles of ordinary people who came before us, not from the wisdom or generosity of powerful officials.

FBI investigations and court processes will not end sexual violence or bring healing to survivors. To strike at the root causes that enable the Kavanaughs of the world to do harm, we have to tear up patriarchy and toxic masculinity by the roots. This involves a process of ongoing education around sexuality, consent, and relationships, developing strategies to intervene when we see violence of any kind in our communities, creating culture that models alternative visions of gender and intimacy, and reimagining justice as restorative and transformative rather than adversarial.

We can see how pervasive the problem is when we look at the narratives that underpin support for Kavanaugh. Leading up to the hearings, supporters focused on portraying Kavanaugh as a devoted family man. As multiple allegations of sexual assault surfaced, many commentators framed the question as a contradiction between Kavanaugh the loving husband and father and Kavanaugh the callous rapist, implying that these roles are mutually exclusive. Yet gendered violence continues at epidemic levels within proper heterosexual families; shocking rates of spousal rape and domestic violence permeate American marriages, while statistics on child sexual abuse indicate that family members make up a substantial proportion of abusers. Bill Cosby, the archetypical television husband and father, was recently sentenced to prison for drugging and sexually assaulting numerous women. The false assumption that a history of sexual assault is somehow incompatible with adhering to the conventions of heterosexual family life reflects the persistence of patriarchal norms and homophobia, as well as a refusal to honestly address the extent of gendered violence in our society.

No Supreme Court could solve this problem, even if it consisted of the nine wisest and gentlest people in the world. When it comes to social change, there’s no substitute for widespread grassroots action.

Family men and rapists are not mutually exclusive.

Some American feminists have drawn parallels between the Kavanaugh case and the #NotHim movement in Brazil, in which women are rallying against a Trump-esque misogynist politician running for president.

The struggle of Brazilian feminists to resist the extreme-right threat deserves our attention and support. Yet as anarchists, we can take that model further in responding to the Kavanaugh nomination. Rather than Not Him, we can assert Not Anyone—no man, rapist or not, deserves the power to decide the reproductive options for millions of women and others. Perhaps the more appropriate slogan for the struggle against patriarchy and the Supreme Court would be the rallying cry of Argentina’s 2002 rebellion: “Que se vayan todos!”—get rid of all of them. They all must go.

The sooner we can do this—the more we can delegitimize the authority of Supreme Courts to shape our lives, and the more powerful and creative we can make our alternatives—the less we will have to fear from the Trumps and Kavanaughs of the world. Let’s build a society that enables everyone to engage in genuine self-determination—in which no man can decide what all of us may do with our bodies—in which no state can take away our power to shape our future.

Further Reading

Fuck Abuse, Kill Power: Addressing the Root Causes of Sexual Harassment and Assault

The post Kavanaugh Shouldn’t Be on the Supreme Court. Neither Should Anyone Else. appeared first on Infoshop News.

In Defense of Tenants: An Interview with Omaha Tenants United

ven, 10/05/2018 - 04:18

via The Hampton Institute

by Devon Bowers

Talk about how the organization formed and the work that you all do.

A group of us were aware of housing issues like tenant mistreatment and gentrification, and were inspired by other socialist organizations that help tenants, like those in Seattle or Philadelphia. From initial meetings where we discussed housing issues and read the state tenant-landlord statute, we came up with potential items to organize around. We began to focus particularly around the issue of “slumlords,” or low-rent, low-maintenance landlords who skirt legality and mistreat tenants, largely getting away with it due to non-existent local enforcement and a tenant population of marginalized and low-income people, like refugees or immigrants.

We met our first tenant through Feed the People, an organization devoted to food distribution some of us were members of at the time. Since he had moved in to his apartment six months earlier, he did not have hot water despite repeated maintenance requests, with the landlord saying it would cost thousands of dollars and weeks of work. We met with the tenant, and after we went over portions of the state tenant statute and discussed the tenant’s options, he made the decision to take a more direct approach to resolving his dispute with the support of our organization. We drafted a demand letter citing the various parts of the statute that the landlord was infringing upon, and demanding that steps be taken to resolve the issues or face escalation. The tenant then signed the letter, and we went together to his landlord’s office to deliver it. The landlord wasn’t home, but after hearing about the large group who delivered the letter, he contacted the tenant, angrily demanding to know what was going on. The tenant sent him a picture of the letter and explained our involvement. Less than 24 hours later, a maintenance crew repaired what turned out to be only a broken gasket, and the tenant had hot water.

We built our approach on this experience. We try to establish contacts among the working-class people in our neighborhoods, and learn from them about the situation of tenants in the city, particularly tenants of slumlords. Through this process we identify situations we can help resolve through forming demands of landlords, and stepping in to back the tenant up in a confrontation or meeting. It’s important to our mission that we serve to empower the tenant themselves rather than be seen as performing a charitable service. Our first tenant, mentioned above, was shocked when we proposed delivering the demand letter as a group with him. He had assumed that we would deliver the letter ourselves, and was delighted to take for himself the action of delivering his demands to his landlord with our support. Typically, non-profit organizations who work in working-class communities are seen as doing things for working-class people or on their behalf.(just to clarify, we’re not a “non-profit” in the 501c3 sense, nor do we have any desire to be. We merely use that phrase to draw a line of demarcation between how we operate and how many other organizations do (especially 501c3 nonprofits) and the perceptions surrounding them) We want to work with tenants to support them in doing what they are already capable of doing, and through this process, we hope that the tenants will learn more about their own power and the power of an organized working-class community.

Recently, we helped a tenant win a big fight against one of Omaha’s most notorious slumlords in which we occupied the slumlord’s office with about 20 people and were able to get over $1,000 in made up move out fees waived and $500 of the tenant’s deposit back. (Do you want us to go into greater detail about that here? We recently did a long write up on that story at our Medium which I highly recommend reading. Not sure if you want to just link that or if you’d like us to make additional comments on it here. Definitely the biggest victory we’ve been a part of so far.

What problems do many of the tenants deal with? Would you say that the legal system is biased in favor of landlords?

A recurring problem is a lack of proper maintenance in a tenant’s home. A landlord will only put in to a building what they can get out in profit, and a slumlord, already working with crumbling buildings and tenants paying low rent, lacks motivation to make any repairs at all. Living in such a building often comes with the mentality that “well, at least the rent is cheap,” and slumlords take advantage of the expectation that better maintenance is just something that one has to pay more for, rather than a housing right. As a result, many tenants are living in conditions that are not merely uncomfortable, but actively dangerous to their health.

The legal system is definitely biased in favor of landlords. While there is a state statute that outlines a tenant’s rights and what a landlord owes them, the only enforcement to be found is in the courts, which tenants with low income and little time cannot afford. In addition, city housing laws were drafted essentially directly by the landlords themselves, and even the ensuing weak laws are not enforced. The statutes are also written in an obtuse, self-referential way that is not easy for a busy person to understand, much less take action based upon. As a result, after reaching some familiarity with the statute, our strategy has been to outline areas in which an offending landlord is in infringement of the statute, because while a tenant can’t necessarily afford to go to court, the landlord knows that it is better for them to concede a small maintenance request than to go to court for a case they most likely know they will lose.

How do landlords utilize pricing for their own financial benefit (ie increasing prices in Silicon Valley to kick out current tenants and price gouge techies?)

Gentrification is a continual problem in the city. Landlords will redevelop housing, and/or demolish and build new housing, raising the prices, which cause working-class people to be kicked out of their own neighborhoods. Occasionally a slumlord will allow a property to deteriorate to the point that it is considered “blighted,” attracting public funding for redevelopment. Slumlords have used the money they’ve drained from working-class tenants in dilapidated buildings to redevelop or bulldoze those buildings to make way for a higher-paying demographic.

How do you help people understand that landlord-tenant relationships are not alright and are predatory?

People we talk to already understand that they are being mistreated by their landlord, and that their friends and neighbors are too. But this is seen as the way things are. We don’t need to show them that landlords are exploitative, but we can help them to fight back, showing them that it doesn’t have to be that way.

It’s a matter of class consciousness. The relationship between landlords, particularly slumlords, and tenants, is one of the most obvious examples of class struggle we have. These landlords are profiting by charging working-class people to live in places that they would never sleep in themselves, a property that they rarely maintain, for the most part receiving passive profit for owning a place where others take shelter. It brings up the question of private property. Anyone can see this is unfair, and we try to systematize it when we have conversations with tenants. We don’t want to get caught up in individualizing the systemic injustices to a given landlord, focusing on how they are evil individually; rather, we try to have conversations in terms of landlords as a class, and us, the working people, as a class that can fight back through organizing together.

First and foremost, we are an anti-capitalist organization that believes the renter-landlord system, and more generally private property as a whole, should be abolished. In the meantime however, we recognize the need to help tenants get what they can under the current system. We hope these experiences empower our fellow tenants and other working class people to begin to fight back and get organized so that the way can be paved for more fundamental revolutionary change.

Explain the day in the life of someone who is battling their landlord.

For a tenant working with us, a large part of it is about just getting to know us. When we’re essentially doing cold calls (knocking on doors of places we know have problems, there’s a natural hesitancy from people when random strangers walk up to your door asking about your living conditions, let alone trying when they’re trying to convince you to take a big step in actually confronting your landlord about them. So we make sure to take a lot of time attempting to build a relationship with the people we interact with. This helps us build trust in each other, and feel more confident working with each other. Ultimately, we of course want to get them confident enough that they’re willing to take the steps needed to get their problems resolved.

Since OTU has kind of blown up, however, we’ve received a big influx of people reaching out to us with issues they’re already having via our Facebook page, so this eliminates some of the initial awkwardness and need for agitation, since they’re obviously already agitated enough to feel the need to reach out. At this point, we set up a time to meet in a semi-public place, and learn about their situation in greater detail. Here you sometimes sort of face the opposite issue that we do when cold calling. The people who reach out are typically already pissed off and wanting to do something fast. We really have to be careful to not over promise anything, or lead them to believe that we can just magically help them fix things.

We like to be sober and honest about what our odds are, and if it’s something that we might not have the capacity to deal with, we have to be honest about that and be willing to say no to certain cases. In either situation – whether it be a cold call or someone who has reached out to us – we try to be sure to walk people through exactly step by step what all of their options are, so they aren’t blindsided by anything later on. We try to explain some possible outcomes, and how we would respond from each one. Based on where the tenant is at in terms of willingness to act, and based on what the situation is, we try to formulate a plan and proceed from there. While many people would maybe like to go straight to the big confrontation method like we did in our story about notorious local slumlord Dave Paladino, we generally try to escalate as necessary.

This means first setting up a meeting with the landlord, the tenant, and maybe two OTU representatives max to read off the tenant’s demands in a more low-key setting and seeing how the landlord responds. There’s of course always pushback, but we give the landlord a deadline by which we expect these changes to be made. If they’re not made in the amount of time given, we escalate things from there. The important part is that at all steps in the process, the tenant is taking the lead.

We don’t want to get out ahead of the tenant and get them into a situation they don’t feel comfortable with, and on the other hand, we don’t want to hold back the tenant or discourage their own initiative, even when we may have to be frank about a situation or explain how being too rash might jeopardize the entire process. We take a lot of influence from Mao Zedong and movements inspired by him that apply what is known as “the mass line”, which essentially means everything we do is informed and enacted in a way that is “from the masses, to the masses.”

In what ways can people learn more about your organization?

You can find us on Facebook at Omaha Tenants United. We also have Medium, where we’ll be publishing our longer-form material summarizing our work and stating our positions on things. We will have our Points of Unity out soon which explain our beliefs that we expect people to uphold in order to join. While we are a multi-tendency organization, we do ask that anti-capitalism be at the forefront of one’s politics (amongst other things), and that people are willing to regularly commit time to disciplined work.

The post In Defense of Tenants: An Interview with Omaha Tenants United appeared first on Infoshop News.