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Anarchism, Syndicalism and Workers Councils

sam, 06/15/2019 - 04:19

via Anarchist Writers

by Anarcho

This is a write-up of a talk I gave in Edinburgh in April 2019 on anarchist ideas on social change and organisation. I have used the slides I created for the talk as the basis of this write-up, although as usual I am sure this is not the same as what was said on the night but close enough. Hopefully this talk gives a useful summary of anarchist ideas on organisation and their development from the birth of anarchism to around 1920.

First, thank you for coming. As you know, this talk was advertised as follows:

We know what anarchists are against: capitalism and the State. We know what anarchists are for: libertarian socialism.

But how to get from one to the other, by means compatible with the ends?

Anarchy is organisation, organisation, organisation.

Here I was sketch the origins of anarchist support for workers’ councils – a new form of socialist democracy based on elected, mandated and recallable delegates in both the social and economic spheres. This will involve discussing various anarchist thinkers along with key organisations – primarily the First International – and events – such as the Paris Commune and the Russian Revolutions.

Laying the Foundations: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

While some like to portray anarchism as dating back many centuries, this I think misunderstands both its origins and nature. Yes, before 1840 many thinkers and movements had ideas which can be described as anarchist. This is to be expected, for it would be staggering if those subjected to the evils produced by the state and property would not conclude the need to get rid of both and act accordingly.

However, as a named socio-economic theory anarchism dates from the 1840s and the works of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the first person to self-identify as an anarchist. This is where we must start to be historically accurate – for earlier movements can now respectively be claimed as anarchist (although a few were attacked as such by their enemies!) because of Proudhon and that part of the labour and socialist movement he helped to create. Not, of course, that he was an isolated intellectual for he was a worker who took an active part in the socialist movement, with a mutual influence and interaction.

So what is anarchism? These comments from an unpublished 1847 manuscript by Proudhon summarise its basics well:

“We want legislation of the people by the people, without representatives;

“government of the people by the people, without that supernatural person called the prince or the state;

“industrial centralisation, administrative, without hierarchy;

“guarding of the people by the people, without any other army than a citizen militia;

“justice of the people by the people, without unremovable magistrates;

“education of the people by the people without university monopolies and without Jesuits;

“finally we want the organisation of labour by the workers, without capitalists or masters”

While some of the terminology changed – most obviously, the use of “federalism” to better describe the idea of an “administrative, without hierarchy” centralisation – the vision remains the foundations of both Proudhon’s anarchism and subsequent forms.

“Universal Association”

In What is Property?, Proudhon called his aim the “universal association” and association – “the organisation of labour by the workers, without capitalists or masters” – remained a key aspect of his ideas and those who followed him. Thus we discover him arguing for what could be now called social and economic dual-power in 1846:

“a war of labour against capital; a war of liberty against authority; a war of the producer against the non-producer; a war of equality against privilege […] to combat and reduce power, to put it in its proper place in society, it is of no use to change the holders of power or introduce some variation into its workings: an agricultural and industrial combination must be found”

Thus capitalism had to be challenged and replaced by means of an economic (non-political) organisation, “an agricultural and industrial combination.” He repeated this call during the 1848 Revolution, arguing that “a body representative of the proletariat be formed in Paris […] in opposition to the bourgeoisie’s representation […] a new society be founded in the heart of the old society” for the “organisation of popular societies was the pivot of democracy, the cornerstone of republican order […] Under the name of clubs […] it is a matter of the organisation of universal suffrage in all its forms, of the very structure of Democracy itself.”

This would be the means to create a society of “possessors without masters” in which “leaders, instructors, superintendents […] must be chosen from the workers by the workers themselves, and must fulfil the conditions of eligibility”. He even coined the phrase “Industrial Democracy” (1857) to describe this vision of workers associations within an “agricultural-industrial federation”. (1863)

This would now be labelled federal market socialism and would be based on social-economic association to ensure the “abolition of capitalism and wage labour, the transformation of property […] governmental decentralisation, the organisation of universal suffrage […] the substitution of the contractual regime for the legal regime”. In such a system, democratic rights would extend to all aspects of life, including economic relations, for there would “no longer be nationality, no longer fatherland […] only places of birth. Whatever a man’s race or colour, he is really a native of the universe; he has citizen’s rights everywhere.”

Thus an anarchist society would be based on free association and free access, for genuine freedom needed social equality:

“Free association, liberty — whose sole function is to maintain equality in the means of production and equivalence in exchanges — is the only possible, the only just, the only true form of society.”

This would be a functional self-management as “each citizen in the sphere of his industry, each municipal, district or provincial council within its own territory, is the only natural and legitimate representative of the Sovereign […] workers to form themselves into democratic societies, with equal conditions for all members”. Such an association would be based on the election of delegates and not representatives for the “choice of talents, the imperative mandate, and permanent revocability are the most immediate and incontestable consequences of the electoral principle. It is the inevitable program of all democracy”

Why not the State?

Which raises an obvious question, why not use the State as many socialists – both then and now – assert? Proudhon was quite clear that this was not possible for two reasons.

First, the modern State was a bourgeois body which cannot be captured. It was “nothing but the offensive and defensive alliance of those who possess, against those who do not possess; and the only part played by the citizen is to pay the police”. It was structured as it was – a centralised, unitarian body – for a reason:

“And who benefits from this regime of unity? […] the upper classes […] bourgeois exploitation under the protection of bayonets. […] the cornerstone of bourgeois despotism and exploitation”

In short, as he put it in 1846, the State was “inevitably enchained to capital and directed against the proletariat.”

Second, it was power apart with its own interests. Thus we “do not want the State, because the State […] no sooner exists than it creates an interest of its own, apart from and often contrary to the interests of the people […] it makes civil servants its own creatures, from which results nepotism, corruption, and little by little to the formation of an official tribe, enemies of labour as well as of liberty”. The State was “that alienation of public power for the profit of a few ambitious men” and so to “concentrate all public powers in the hands of a single authority […] only created despotism”. It did not empower the many but always the few for the “President and the Representatives, once elected, are the masters; all the rest obey.”

So even if the current State was somehow captured or replaced by a new self-described people’s or workers’ State, then liberation would be short-lived as a new set of masters – the State officialdom – replaced the old bourgeois ruling class.

It is perhaps unnecessary to note every “successful” so-called “socialist” revolution has confirmed this, as has the failure of every elected so-called “socialist” government to go beyond managing capitalism.

Confessions of a Statesman

For those with an appreciation of irony, Proudhon is described as a “Statesman” in Montparnasse cemetery. He was, after all, an elected representative in 1848 – before having his parliamentary immunity stripped due to his prophetic criticisms of President Louis-Napoleon seeking to become Emperor like his uncle. His account of the 1848 revolution, entitled Confessions of a Revolutionary, summarises his experiences of isolation and ignorance within the Chamber:

“Since I first set foot on this parliamentary Sinai, I ceased to be in contact with the masses: by absorbing myself in my legislative work, I had completely lost view of current affairs […] One has to experience this isolation called a national assembly to understand how the men who are the most completely ignorant of the state of a country are nearly always those who represent it.”

Thus the State, even if we ignore its class and hierarchical nature, was simply not up to the task of social transformation, new organs were needed which were better suited – organisations created by the working class itself.

This confirmed his earlier critique of the State and he reaffirmed the need for a socialism from below. Indeed, he seems the first to embrace the term and stress its importance:

“From above […] signifies power; from below signifies the people. […] the initiative of the masses. […] Revolution on the initiative of the masses is a revolution by the concerted action of the citizens, by the experience of the workers, by the progress and diffusion of enlightenment, revolution by the means of liberty.”

He also critiques those on the left who seek to utilise the state, so “Louis Blanc represents governmental socialism, revolution by power, as I represent democratic socialism, revolution by the people. An abyss exists between us.” This was because “the organisation of labour must not emanate from the powers-that-be; it ought to be SPONTANEOUS”. It was only by moving beyond bourgeois (political) democracy and bourgeois (economic) tyranny can a genuinely free system be created, one in which “the masses are actually, positively and effectively sovereign: how could they not be when the economic organism — labour, capital, property and assets — belongs to them entirely”.

It was with these ideas that French trade unionists travelled to London and, with British ones, create the International Workers’ Association – now often called the First International.

Association internationale des travailleurs

I have deliberately put the full name of the First International in French, as you really cannot understand anarchism and its development unless you are familiar with the ideas raised by the non-British – particularly the French-speaking – sections. Indeed, many of the debates have not been translated and the little which has usually suffers in translation. So, for example, the official English-translation of the 1868 resolution on collective property completely misses out certain phrases which show the very obvious influence of Proudhon on its authors.

This is important, for it is in the French-speaking sections of the International – France, Belgium, the Jura – that we see the idea of system of workers’ councils arise. Thus the Report to the Basle Congress on Resistance Societies in 1868 argued:

“resistance societies be established to prepare for the future and to ensure as far as possible the present […] how the ideas we have on the organisation of labour in the future can help us to establish resistance societies in the present […] labour is organised for the present and the future, by eliminating wage-labour […] grouping of different trade unions by town and by country […] forms the commune of the future […] Government is replaced by the councils of the assembled trades unions […] regulating the labour relations that will replace politics”

These ideas soon became the majority perspective within the International, being championed elsewhere, such as in Spain and Italy. This also reflected a development in economic perspectives, a change which is somewhat misrepresented by Marxists seeking an inflated role for Marx within the Association.

Mutualists and Collectivists

One of the key debates within the International was over collective ownership, a debate which has all-too-often been portrayed as one in which Proudhon’s influence is replaced by Marx’s. In reality, these debates were primarily between those influenced by Proudhon (“mutualists”) and focused on extending collective ownership to land. Collective ownership for workplaces was the common position, as noted by leading collectivist César de Paepe in 1868:

“I am just as much a mutualist as Tolain […] but I do not see that the collective ownership of land is opposed to the mutualist program”

Tolain, usually considered an orthodox mutualist, was as in favour of workers’ associations to run industry as de Paepe but hesitated over applying workers’ associations to the land due to fear of a peasant backlash similar to that experienced under the Second Republic. Other mutualists shared this perspective, although Proudhon himself repeatedly indicated support for collective ownership of both industry and land – as he put it in 1848:

“under universal association, ownership of the land and of the instruments of labour is social ownership […] handed over to democratically organised workers’ associations”

The key difference between the collectivists and Proudhon – other than their opposition to Proudhon’s patriarchal notions – was that they saw trade unions as Proudhon’s “agricultural and industrial combination” while he opposed both strikes and unions. Thus we find Parisian trade unionist Jean-Louis Pindy arguing in 1868:

“Resistance Societies have already defined the practical application of the principle of solidarity between workers. It is again to their influence that emancipation must be achieved through the takeover of tools, the abolition of bosses, the organisation of credit and exchange, and the transformation of the social order”

The Belgium section of the International likewise popularised this idea, with César de Paepe reiterating the next year that the International “bears social regeneration within itself […] the International already offers the model of the society to come, and that its various institutions, with appropriate modifications, will form the future social order […] the International contains within itself the seeds of all the institutions of the future”. Eugène Varlin stressed the importance of this perspective in 1870:

“Unless you want to reduce everything to a centralising and authoritarian state […] the workers themselves must have the free disposal of their instruments of labour […] trade associations […] are the natural elements of the social construction of the future; it is they who can easily become producer associations”

Sadly, these perspectives are often ignored in favour of the conflict between Bakunin and Marx, although the former’s influence was very much dependent on championing the collectivist ideas already raised in the International before he joined.

Revolutionary Anarchism: Michael Bakunin

So this is the intellectual context for the Bakunin and Marx conflict, with Michael Bakunin championing Direct Action, Unions and Workers Councils while for Marx the focus was Political Action, Political Parties and Parliament. Thus we find Bakunin arguing for a syndicalist or councilist position:

“Workers, no longer count on anyone but yourselves […] Abstain from all participation in bourgeois radicalism and organise outside of it the forces of the proletariat. The basis of that organisation is entirely given: the workshops and the federation of the workshops […] instruments of struggle against the bourgeoisie […] The creation of Chambers of Labour […] the liquidation of the State and of bourgeois society.”

In contrast, Marx sought to move the International into embracing social-democratic tactics, as summarised later by Engels:

“In every struggle of class against class, the next end fought for is political power; the ruling class defends its political supremacy […] its safe majority in the Legislature; the inferior class fights for, first a share, then the whole of that power, in order to become enabled to change existing laws in conformity with their own interests and requirements. Thus the working class of Great Britain for years fought ardently and even violently for the People’s Charter, which was to give it that political power.”

Bakunin rightly predicted that such Social Democratic tactics would produce reformism for “worker deputies, transferred into bourgeois surroundings and an atmosphere of entirely bourgeois political ideas, ceasing in fact to be workers by becoming Statesmen, will become bourgeois […] For men do not make situations, on the contrary it is situations that make men”. Moreover, Marx ignored the dangers associated with centralised power for the State equals minority rule, not people power:

“No state, however democratic […] can ever give the people what they really want, i.e., the free self-organisation and administration of their own affairs from the bottom upward […] because every state […] is in essence only a machine ruling the masses from above, through a privileged minority of conceited intellectuals, who imagine that they know what the people need and want better than do the people themselves”

Echoing Proudhon, Bakunin stressed that the State “has always been the patrimony of some privileged class” and if economic classes are abolished it simply “becomes the patrimony of the bureaucratic class”. This meant that Marx’s socialism would be, in reality, the rule of officialdom, “concentrating in their own hands all […] production […] under the direct command of state engineers, who will form a new privileged scientific and political class.” A regime in which the State would become the sole capitalist, state-capitalism in short.

Thus Bakunin’s opposition to Marx’s “workers’ State” had nothing to do with not recognising the need for defending a revolution. Indeed, he was very clear that “to defend the revolution” it was necessity to “form a communal militia” and “federate […] for common defence.” I mention this simply because so many Marxists have suggested otherwise.

So, as Kropotkin later noted, modern – revolutionary – anarchism was born in the International. It was based on three key ideas.

First, direct action and not political action. The International must have, as Bakunin put it, “at first as its sole basis the exclusively economic struggle of labour against capital […] only a single path […] emancipation through practice […] the struggle of the workers in solidarity against the bosses. It is trades unions, organisation and the federation of resistance funds.” This meant socialism would be created “by the development and organisation, not of the political but of the social (and, by consequence, anti-political) power of the working masses as much in the towns as in the countryside”.

Second, unions as a means to both fight and replace capitalism. Bakunin reiterated the position of the Federalist-wing – that is, the majority – of the International by stressing that the “organisation of trade sections, their federation […] and their representation by Chambers of Labour” meant “uniting practice with theory” and “carry the living seeds of the new social order that is to replace the bourgeois world. They create not only the ideas but the very facts of the future.

Third, the general strike as a means to start the revolution. For Bakunin, as “strikes spread from one place to another, they come close to turning into a general strike” and this “can result only in a great cataclysm which forces society to shed its old skin.” However, he also recognised the need to go beyond simply the withdrawal of labour: “Liberty can only be created by liberty, by an insurrection of all the people and the voluntary organisation of the workers from below upward.”

The Paris Commune

While debates about revolutionary strategies took place in the International, an actual revolution took place in Paris. It began on 18th of March, after troops refused to fire of civilians on the Butte of Montmartre. The government evacuated the city and the Central Committee of the National Guard called elections. Thus the Paris Commune was created.

Was it a soviet (workers’ council)? Well, the short answer is no but that has not stopped some who you would think would know better claiming otherwise. Thus we find John Rees, then of the British SWP, proclaiming in a so-called theoretical journal that since Marx’s writings on the Paris Commune, a cornerstone of revolutionary theory” is “that the soviet is a superior form of democracy because it unifies political and economic power.” Sadly, Marx suggested no such thing in The Civil War in France:

“The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by [male!] universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms.”

So, no, it was not a soviet but it was federalist and bottom-up. As its famous Declaration to the French People put it, the Commune wanted the “absolute autonomy of the Commune extended to all the localities of France, and assuring to each one its full rights, and to every Frenchman the full exercise of his faculties and abilities as man, citizen and worker […] Political unity, as Paris wants it, is the voluntary association of all local initiatives”. As feminist mutualist Internationalist and communard André Léo put it at the time:

“it affirms more than ever, against Jacobin doctrines, the revolutionary principle: FEDERATION […] We, citizens of Paris, want to govern, administer, organise our city as we wish”.

In short, it was a libertarian Revolution. This is why Marx’s The Civil War in France is his most appealing work, for he is reporting upon a revolution heavily influenced by Proudhon. We can show this by comparing Marx’s account from 1871 with Proudhon’s earlier writings:

  • Marx: “each delegate to be at any time revocable and bound by the mandat imperatif (formal instructions) of his constituents”
  • Proudhon: “choice of talents, the imperative mandate [mandat imperatif], and permanent revocability are […] the inevitable program of all democracy”
  • Marx: “The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time.”
  • Proudhon: “It is up to the National Assembly, through organisation of its committees, to exercise executive power, just the way it exercises legislative power”
  • Marx: “The unity of the nation was not to be broken, but, on the contrary, to be organised by Communal Constitution”
  • Proudhon: “In the federative system […] central authority […] has a quite restricted part […] concerning federal services […] subordinate and entrusted to an Assembly […] of delegates”
  • Marx: “it wanted to make individual property a truth by transforming the means of production, land, and capital, now chiefly the means of enslaving and exploiting labour, into mere instruments of free and associated labour.”
  • Proudhon: “democratically organised workers’ associations […] core of that vast federation of companies and societies woven into the common cloth of the democratic and social Republic […] property restored to its proper limits […] free disposition of the fruits of labour”

Needless to say, Marx made no mention of the awkward fact almost all of the Internationalists active within the Commune, whether elected to the municipal council or not, were mutualists or collectivists. Little wonder that Bakunin proclaimed that “Revolutionary socialism has just attempted its first demonstration, both splendid and practical, in the Paris Commune.”

Yet Bakunin did not simply uncritically embrace the Commune. Like later anarchists – most obviously, Kropotkin – Bakunin sought to learn lessons from the revolt.

The key one was that while it was federal outwith, it was centralised within. It was essentially the municipal council and so the rebels had, as Bakunin noted, “set up a revolutionary government and army” and “organise[d] themselves in a Jacobin manner, forgetting or sacrificing the first conditions of revolutionary socialism.” This caused problems from the start as the centralised body was unable to meet the challenges the revolution faced. Thus we find Donny Gluckstein, another member of the British SWP, admit that the Commune’s council was “overwhelmed” by suggestions from other bodies, the “sheer volume” of which “created difficulties” and it “found it hard to cope with the stream of people who crammed into the offices.” Sadly, he mentioned this confirmation of the anarchist critique in passing and made no attempt to draw any conclusions from this.

The second lesson was related to the first, namely the failure of the Commune within bureaucratic processes. This can best be seen by the Commune’s Decree on workers associations:

“Workers trade councils are convened to establish a commission of inquiry […] To compile statistics on abandoned workshops, as well as an inventory […] To present a report on the practical requisites for the prompt restarting of these workshops […] by the co-operative association of the workers who were employed there […] must send its report to the Communal Commission on Labour and Exchange, which will be required to present to the Commune […] the draft of a decree […]”

This was written by the person closest to being a Marxist within the Commune, namely Leó Frankel acting as the Delegate for Labour and Exchange. So in the face of a major economic crisis which had caused numerous workshops to close, the Commune’s official response was… a commission of inquiry to look into drafting a decree so that, at some stage in the unspecified future, closed workshops may have been reopened as co-operatives.

Unsurprisingly, anarchists concluded the pressing need for direct action to expropriate the means of production. As Kropotkin later stressed, workers will “not wait to expropriate the holders of social capital by a decree […] They will take possession on the spot and […] organise themselves in the workshops to continue the work”.

The third lesson was the need for workers’ councils. While there were community organisations (the clubs) these were pressurising the Commune Council rather than directly managing public affairs. Economically, workers needed to take over not just the closed workplaces, but all of them. In this way the municipal council would be replaced by a organisation better suited to building socialism, based on the organisations created by the workers themselves in struggle. Thus, as Bakunin stressed, the “future social organisation” must be “from the bottom upwards, by the free […] federation of workers, firstly in their unions, then in the communes, regions, nations and finally in a great federation, international” in scope.

The Federalist International

The conflict in the International intensified after the bloody destruction of the Paris Commune by French troops. Communard refugees fled into exile, with many ending up in the Jura and joining – like André Léo – the emerging Federalist revolt against the structural and political changes Marx was pursuing within the International. The most famous response was the Sonvillier Circular of 1871:

“The future society must be nothing else than the universalisation of the organisation that the International will give itself. We must therefore take care to ensure that this organisation is close as possible to our ideal. How could an egalitarian and free society emerge from an authoritarian organisation? It is impossible. The International, embryo of the future human society, must from now on be the faithful reflection of our principles of federation and liberty, and reject from its midst any principle tending towards authority, towards dictatorship.”

The following year saw the Saint-Imier Congress and whose resolutions reflected the core conclusions of the libertarian-wing of the International:

“the establishment of an absolutely free economic organisation […] this federation can only be the outcome of the spontaneous action of the proletariat itself, of trades unions and autonomous communes […] the worker can never free himself from age-old oppression unless he replaces […the State] with the free federation of all producer groups based upon solidarity and equality […] The strike […] a product of the antagonism between labour and capital […] strengthening the workers’ organisation, and preparing, as a result of ordinary economic struggles, the proletariat for the great and final revolutionary struggle”

Ultimately, the tactics and structures of the bourgeoise cannot be used by those seeking to end their rule. André Léo summarised it well: “If we act like our adversaries, how will the world choose between them and us?”

The Spirit of Revolt: Peter Kropotkin

Which brings me to Peter Kropotkin, who joined the International in 1872. Rejoining it after escaping a Tsarist prison he soon became a leading advocate for the ideas of its federalist wing. While he played a key role in the rise of libertarian communism within anarchist circles, in terms of both strategy and tactics he remained committed to the ideas popularised by Bakunin. As he summarised in 1913’s Modern Science and Anarchy:

“what means can the State provide to abolish this [capitalist] monopoly that the working class could not find in its own strength and groups? […] Could its governmental machine, developed for the creation and upholding of these [capitalist] privileges, now be used to abolish them? Would not the new function require new organs? And these new organs would they not have to be created by the workers themselves, in their unions, their federations, completely outside the State?”

Like the Federalist-wing of the International, he advocated syndicalism before the word.

Thus the expression “direct struggle against capital” appears repeatedly in his works across the decades. He saw, to use his words from 1881, the need to build “a force that will crush capital, come the day of revolution: the revolutionary trades association. Trades sections, federations embracing all the workers in the same trade, federation of all the trades of the locality, of the region […] constitute the structures of the revolutionary army”. This was key, for “to make revolution, the mass of workers must organise themselves, and resistance and the strike are excellent means by which workers can organise.” Thus the need to “build resistance associations for each trade in each town […] federate across France […] federate across borders”.

Unsurprisingly, he also argued for the general strike to start a revolution and expropriation to ensure its success. The London Dock Strike of 1889 saw the power of the general strike and “the day when those anarchists who exhaust themselves in empty discussions will act […] the day when they will work amongst the workers to prepare the stopping of work” then “they will have done more to prepare the social, economic, Revolution, than […] the socialist party.” This was to be no passive withdrawal of labour, but an occupation for workers “will not wait for orders from above before taking possession of land and capital. They will take them first, and then ― already in possession of land and capital ― they will organise their work.“

Like Bakunin, he exposed “the fallacy of a ‘One-day Revolution’” – not least because we build the new world by fighting the old. Thus unions, he noted in 1906, are “natural organs for the direct struggle with capital and for the organisation of the future order — organs that are inherently necessary to achieve the workers’ own goals”. Also, revolutions are complex and difficult events – for the social revolution was no overnight affair:

“an uprising can overthrow and change a government in one day, while a revolution needs three or four years of revolutionary convulsion to arrive at tangible results […] if we should expect the revolution, from its earliest insurrections, to have a communist character, we would have to relinquish the possibility of a revolution”

The revolution meant the creation of new forms of social organisation, ones better suited that the State to involve the masses in the task of transforming and running society. Indeed, to “make a revolution it is […] necessary that after the risings there should be left something new in the institutions, would permit new forms of life to be elaborated and established.” The need was to “smash the State and rebuild a new organisation starting with the very foundations of society—the liberated village commune, federalism, groupings from simple to complex, the free workers union”

This would of course also mean the “mutual protection against aggression, mutual aid, territorial defence” – a free society would create both self-managed groupings to eliminate rule by the few (whether they were elected or not) and the means to fight attempts to recreate it, whether from within or outwith.

“The Chicago Idea”

The next raising of the idea of workers’ organisations as the means to fight and replace capitalism appeared in North America, with the International Working People’s Association. As leading member Albert Parsons put it:

“Trades Unions [are] the embryonic group of the future free society […] an autonomous commune in the process of incubation. The Trades Union is a necessity of capitalistic production, and will yet take its place by superseding it under the system of universal free co-operation”

This was echoed by others in the association, including his wife Lucy Parsons: “We hold that the granges, trade-unions, Knights of Labor assemblies, etc., are the embryonic groups of the ideal anarchistic society”.

The links with the libertarian wing of the First International are clear. However, some claim that they were not Anarchists but Syndicalists. Carolyn Ashbaugh, in her extremely flawed Lucy Parsons: American Revolutionary, seems to be the first to claim this, asserting that they were “syndicalists […] they had given up political work for work in the unions which […] would provide the social organisation of the future”. Given that this was the position of Bakunin and Kropotkin, we can easily dismiss this claim as being based on little more than ignorance of anarchism – as confirmed by Ashbaugh proclaiming in all seriousness that Kropotkin was the “gentle anarchist theoretician of non-violence”!

Some, not to be undone, go further and claim they were not Anarchists but Marxists. For example, James Green in his book Death in the Haymarket proclaimed that the Chicago Internationalists “turned away from electoral competition and adopted Karl Marx’s strategy of organising workers […] building class-conscious trade unions as a basis for future political action.” Enough has been said to show that this was Bakunin’s position, not Marx – an awkward fact which can be seen from Marx’s own words:

“Bakunin’s programme […] The working class must not occupy itself with politics. They must only organise themselves by trades-unions. One fine day, by means of the Internationale they will supplant the place of all existing states.”

So if you cannot bring yourself to believe Bakunin, you can fall back on Marx and his mocking dismissal of the strategy later adopted by the Chicago Anarchists.

The Rise of Syndicalism

So by the time revolutionary syndicalism (usually shortened to just syndicalism in English) became better known internationally, most of its key elements had long been advocated by anarchists. As such, the all-too-common suggestion that it arose in the mid-1890s after the failure of “Propaganda by the deed” is false. This flawed perspective can, for example, be found in George Woodcock’s Anarchism:

“from 1881 to 1894 had been a time of isolation […] anarchists […] sought the way to a millennium in desperate acts […] The period from 1894 […] saw a fruitful equilibrium between the visionary and the practical […] Anarcho-syndicalism […] showed anarchism seeking constructive solutions.”

Yet we find Kropotkin arguing for economic direct action in 1881:

“We have to organise the workers’ forces ― not to make them into a fourth party in Parliament, but in order to make them a formidable MACHINE OF STRUGGLE AGAINST CAPITAL. We have to group workers of all trades under this single purpose: “War on capitalist exploitation!” And we must prosecute that war relentlessly, day by day, by the strike, by agitation, by every revolutionary means.”

He likewise argued for unions to organise production years before syndicalism raised the same notion, for example in 1892 when he rightly argued that “[n]o one can underrate the importance of this labour movement for the coming revolution. It will be those agglomerations of wealth producers which will have to reorganise production on new social bases. […] They – the labourers, grouped together ― not the politicians”

Echoing Kropotkin’s words, Louise Michel in 1890 also argued for the “general strike, whose purpose was to destroy capitalism and usher in world liberty”.

Thus the ideas associated with syndicalism in the mid-1890s had been raised by anarchists in the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s – that the organisations created by workers in their economic and social struggle against capitalism would form the structural base of the system which would replace it.

Russian Revolution, 1905

The Russian Revolution of 1905 saw this idea develop in a new way, in the shape of workers’ councils or soviets. These were made up of elected, mandated and recallable delegates (or deputies) from workplaces and organised the general strikes which brought the Tsarist regime to its knees.

Faced with these spontaneous organs, the Bolshevik reaction is telling. Simply put, they demanded that the soviet adopt a Social-Democratic program or disband. In the words of the St. Petersburg group:

“only a strong party along class lines can guide the proletarian political movement and preserve the integrity of its program, rather than a political mixture of this kind, an indeterminate and vacillating political organisation such as the workers council represents and cannot help but represent.”

In other words, the soviets could not reflect workers’ interests because they were elected by… the workers!

When Lenin returned from exile, he managed to get the Bolsheviks to soften their hostility to the soviets. However, this was purely instrumental for, as he put it in 1907, the Bolsheviks should “participate […] provided this is done on strict Party lines for the purpose of developing and strengthening the Social-Democratic Labour Party […] if Social-Democratic activities among the proletarian masses are properly, effectively and widely organised, such institutions may actually become superfluous”.

The Anarchist reaction was completely different, with Kropotkin arguing that “the workers’ Council […] very much reminds us of the Central Committee which preceded the Paris Commune of 1871, and it is certain that workers across the country should organise on this model […] these councils represent the revolutionary strength of the working class.” This is confirmed by historian Paul Avrich:

“Syndicalists [….] regarded the soviets […] as admirable versions of the bourses du travail, but with a revolutionary function added to suit Russian conditions […] the soviets were to act as nonpartisan labour councils improvised ‘from below’”

Indeed, the soviet and the trades council (the British equivalent of the bourses du travail or the Chambers of Labour advocated in the International by Bakunin amongst others) had distinct similarities. Both were councils made up of delegates elected from the workplace.

Moreover, while the Bolsheviks – like other Marxists – saw the immediate goal of the revolution as political in nature (a bourgeois republic), anarchists saw the need to raise socio-economic demands so that working class people would made the most of the opportunity. To quote Kropotkin:

“The land ― to the peasant; the factory, the workshop, the railway and the rest ― to the worker. And everywhere the Commune […] taking into its hands the economic life of the people.”

It would take 12 years before the Bolsheviks came – or paid lip-service – to similar conclusions.

Russian Revolution, 1917

After the women-led protests brought down the Tsar in February 1917, the soviets were recreated – this time with delegates elected from the troops. Both wings of the Social-Democratic party, Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, repeated their positions of 1905, until Lenin returned from exile and reformulated Marxism in the April Theses and State and Revolution. He won over his party, in spite of opposition from its bureaucracy, to the idea of the soviets as the basis of a new “workers’ State,” which would be modelled on the Paris Commune.

This new State would ensure the abolition of “parliamentarianism” by the fusion of legislative and executive functions in soviets, with “all officials, without exception, to be elected and subject to recall at any time” and the abolition of the standing army by the “armed masses,” with no “special bodies of armed men”. This would secure “an immense expansion of democracy […] for the poor, democracy for the people”.

By October 1917, the party felt confident of enough support to seize power (“the seizure of power through the soviets,” to use Trotsky’s later summary of Lenin’s position in Lessons of October). Yet, this event saw the immediate creation of the Council of People’s Commissars, an executive over the Soviet Congress, which, four days later, unilaterally gave itself legislative power. As a Bolshevik statement put it, “a purely Bolshevik government” was “impossible to refuse” as “a majority at the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets” had “handed power over to this government”.

So much for “all power to the soviets” modelled on the Paris Commune – the promises Lenin made in State and Revolution did not survive the night! Subsequent events followed the same pattern, with the soviets quickly becoming marginalised in new, centralised State built by the Bolsheviks on the pattern advocated by Marx in 1850:

“a single and indivisible […] republic […] the most determined centralisation of power in the hands of the state authority […] the path of revolutionary activity […] can proceed with full force only from the centre”

Unsurprisingly, as historian Carmen Sirianni summarised, “[e]ffective power” in the soviets “relentlessly gravitated to the executive committees, and especially their presidia. Plenary sessions became increasingly symbolic and ineffectual.”

Simply put, it was the so-called “Soviet Power” versus the power of the soviets, of the Bolshevik party and its State against the working class and its ability to manage society. This is shown when the Bolsheviks started to lose influence in the spring of 1918. While initially having popular support (and so October can be classed as a revolution, of sorts, rather than a coup), the failure of the new regime to tackle the mounting problems facing Russia saw workers turn away from them. This was expressed in soviet elections and – as historian Israel Getzler recounts – “the Bolsheviks felt constrained to dissolve Soviets or prevent re-elections where Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries had gained majorities”. Historian Alexander Rabinowitch summarises events in Petrograd:

“demands from below for the immediate re-election […saw] new regulations […] to help offset possible weaknesses [in] electoral strength in factories […] the makeup of the new soviet was that numerically decisive representation was given to agencies in which the Bolsheviks had overwhelming strength […] Only 260 of roughly 700 deputies in the new soviet were to be elected in factories, which guaranteed a large Bolshevik majority in advance.”

Thus, to secure “Soviet power” (i.e., Bolshevik rule), the soviets were systematically packed, gerrymandered and disbanded. This reached its climax at the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets at the start of July 1918, where Rabinowitch shows “electoral fraud gave the Bolsheviks a huge majority of congress delegates […] Bolsheviks delegates whose right to be seated was challenged by the Left SR minority in the congress’s credentials commission.” Denied of their majority, the Left-SR leadership assassinated German Ambassador to provoke “revolutionary war” – they were quickly repressed, and joined the Mensheviks and Right-SRs in being expelled from the soviets.

So while many anarchists stress the Kronstadt uprising of 1921 as marking the end of the revolution, this is not the case. Indeed, the key struggles over soviet democracy occurred three years earlier – as can be seen from the fact that Kronstadt’s soviet was first disbanded by the Bolsheviks on 9 July 1918 in the wake of the Left SR “revolt,” not after its bloody crushing in March 1921.

The Fate of the Revolution

The fate of the soviets reflects the fate of the Revolution.

By July 1918, the regime was a de facto one-party dictatorship and soon this reality was reflected in the ideology of the ruling elite. Thus we find ex-anarchist Victor Serge later lamenting that “at the start of 1919 I was horrified to read an article by Zinoviev […] on the monopoly of the party in power.” It must be noted, as he failed to do, that at the time he happily defended this as a necessity for every revolution in the anarchist press, urging libertarians to join him in recognising this.

The onslaught was not limited to the Soviets, for the armed forces Trotsky proclaimed in March 1918 that “the principle of election is politically purposeless and technically inexpedient, and it has been, in practice, abolished by decree.” A secret police force, the Cheka, had already been created in December 1917. Thus within a few months the new regime had its own “special bodies of armed men,” something State and Revolution had explicitly rejected. Unsurprisingly, these “special bodies” were soon being used like all previous ones – a secure minority rule by repressing the waves of worker and peasant protests and strikes that occurred from the spring of 1918 onwards.

A similar authoritarian process occurred in the economy. The Bolsheviks established the Supreme Economic Council which was, as libertarian socialist Maurice Brinton notes, “widely acknowledged by the Bolsheviks as a move towards ‘statisation’ […] of economic authority.” It began “to build, from the top, its ‘unified administration’ of particular industries”. It “gradually took over” the Tsarist state agencies such as the Glakvi “and converted them […] into administrative organs subject to [its] direction and control.” In the workplace, capitalist social relations were imposed from April 1918 onwards, with Lenin arguing for “[o]bedience, and unquestioning obedience at that, during work to the one-man decisions of Soviet directors […] vested with dictatorial powers.”

In addition, this political and economic centralisation simply resulted in “All Power to the Soviets” becoming “All Power to the Bureaucracy” as – in the words of historian Richard Sakwa – the “old state’s political apparatus was ‘smashed,’ but in its place a new bureaucratic and centralised system emerged with extraordinary rapidity […] As the functions of the state expanded so did the bureaucracy”.

A lesson for the world?

The creation of a party dictatorship on the ruins of the soviets was not seen as an issue at the time by leading Bolsheviks. Indeed, they were quite happy to proclaim that this was an inevitable aspect of any revolution, one to be followed elsewhere. Thus Zinoviev at the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920 stated:

“Today, people like Kautsky come along and say that in Russia you do not have the dictatorship of the working class but the dictatorship of the party. They think this is a reproach against us. Not in the least! We have a dictatorship of the working class and that is precisely why we also have a dictatorship of the Communist Party. The dictatorship of the Communist Party is only a function, an attribute, an expression of the dictatorship of the working class […] the dictatorship of the proletariat is at the same time the dictatorship of the Communist Party”

Lenin, likewise, argued this in ‘Left-Wing’ Communism: An Infantile Disorder written expressly for that Congress. He praised the nonParty workers’ and peasants’ conferences” as these allowed the party “to be able to observe the temper of the masses, come closer to them, meet their requirements”. He also noted that the “district congresses of Soviets are democratic institutions, the like of which even the best of the democratic republics of the bourgeois world have never known,” yet failed to ponder why, if that were true, the former were needed… Perhaps unsurprisingly, as with the soviets in early 1918, these conferences were soon disbanded when opposition started to be raised within them.

Not that Lenin was too bothered by the lack of genuine democratic institutions, for he lectured the world’s revolutionaries that Russia was “directed by a Central Committee of nineteen […] This, it would appear, is a full-fledged ‘oligarchy’. No important […] question is decided by any state institution […] without the guidance of the Party’s Central Committee.” From this he concluded that “all this talk about ‘from above’ or ‘from below’, about the dictatorship of leaders or the dictatorship of the masses, etc., as ridiculous and childish nonsense”.

Yes, when you are at the top it may seem “nonsense” but for those at the bottom – the workers and peasants – the difference is vital. Still, even the rise of Stalinism did not stop Trotsky proclaiming in 1936 that the “revolutionary dictatorship of a proletarian party […] is an objective necessity”!

“how not to introduce communism”

Needless to say, anarchists and syndicalists across the world rejected these lessons, agreeing with Kropotkin that the Bolsheviks had simply shown “how not to introduce communism”. As Emma Goldman later summarised, the regime was “absolute despotism politically and the crassest form of state capitalism economically” – both under Stalin and Lenin.

Goldman saw first-hand “the inefficiency of the centralised bureaucratic machine […] Moscow had ordered [these products] made […] and six months already had passed without the ‘central authorities’ making any effort to distribute […] one of the countless examples of the manner in which the Moscow system ‘worked,’ or, rather, did not work.” Thus, to use Kropotkin’s words, the “usual vices of every centralised State gnaw away at this administration, the mass of the people is excluded from reconstruction, and the dictatorial powers of the communist bureaucrats, far from alleviating the evils, only aggravate them.”

The cause of the problem lay not in civil war or foreign intervention (Bolshevik authoritarianism had started long before either) but rather in Bolshevik ideology and the structures it favoured. Thus, Goldman argued, “the Communists began their process of elimination […] of all independent organisations. They were either subordinated to the needs of the new State or destroyed altogether.” This undermined “the Soviets, the trade unions and the cooperatives — three great factors for the realisation of the hopes of the Revolution.” Political and economic centralisation combined with the Bolshevik desire for power ensured the failure of the revolution, a failure not to create an immediate socialist “utopia” – as some claim anarchists think – but rather a failure to build the beginnings of socialism. As Goldman stressed, such “criticisms [of her critique] would be justified had I come to Russia expecting to find Anarchism realised […] I do not therefore expect Anarchism to follow in the immediate footsteps of centuries of despotism and submission” but rather the “hope to find […] the beginnings of the social changes for which the Revolution had been fought.”

This had not happened. The promise of the revolution, its vision of a council system in which working people could manage their own affairs, was crushed under a regime which paid lip-service to it.


As can be seen, revolutionary Anarchism has always been “syndicalist”. Hence Kropotkin’s comments from his justly famous article on Anarchism from The Encyclopaedia Britannica:

“since the foundation of the International Working Men’s Association in 1864-1866, [the anarchists] have endeavoured to promote their ideas directly amongst the labour organisations and to induce those unions to a direct struggle against capital, without placing their faith in parliamentary legislation.”

Anarchists had long seen workers’ councils – under various names – as the means of both fighting and replacing capitalism and its State. They would be the new organs required for the new functions a free society needed. This a “Soviet State” is a contradiction in terms for, as Kropotkin noted, the State “cannot take this or that form at will” for it is “necessarily hierarchical, authoritarian—or it ceases to be the State.” Hence the need for a new form of social organisation, one based on the oppressed own groups created in our struggle against exploitation. As Bakunin summarised:

“Alliance of all labour associations […] will constitute the Commune […] delegates […] invested with binding mandates and […] revocable at all times […] found the federation of insurgent associations, communes and provinces […] organise a revolutionary force with the capacity of defeating the reaction”

The history recounted above shows that Anarchism has been vindicated time and again. The debates within the International between Bakunin and Marx confirmed the former was correct.

Electioneering confirmed Bakunin’s predictions, as Rudolf Rocker memorably summarised in his classic book Anarcho-Syndicalism:

“Participation in the politics of the bourgeois States has not brought the labour movement a hair’s-breadth nearer to Socialism […] Socialism has almost been completely crushed and condemned to insignificance […] destroyed the belief in the necessity of constructive Socialist activity, and, worse of all, the impulse to self-help, by inoculating people with the ruinous delusion that salvation always comes from above”

The Russian Revolution likewise confirmed Bakunin’s critique, showing the “dictatorship of the proletariat” in practice is simply “the dictatorship over the proletariat.” The State evolved to secure minority rule, it cannot be used to end it. A new form of social organisation is needed.

In short, history shows that Rocker was right: “Everything for the councils or soviets! No power above them!”

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Félix Fénéon: anarchist and aesthetic visionary

ven, 06/14/2019 - 05:03

via Christies

Félix Fénéon, the most quietly influential figure on the art scene of fin-de-siècle Paris, cut an oddly comical figure. The discoverer of Georges Seurat, supporter of Maximilien Luce, and champion of Camille Pissarro aspired to an elegant dandyism that his ungainly frame and pale, elongated, beaky face — like that of a rangy marsh bird — struggled to support. With his gangly limbs, goatee beard and top hat, the greatest tastemaker of his generation looked like Abraham Lincoln reimagined by George Cruikshank: a lugubrious Uncle Sam.

As Fénéon shambled towards Stéphane Mallarmé’s salon in the Rue de Rome, or down Boulevard de la Madeleine to an opening at the fashionable Bernheim-Jeune gallery, of which he was a director, members of the public would point and stare, not because they recognised him, but because they had mistaken him for Valentin le Désossé, jelly-legged dancer from the Moulin Rouge (both parties felt slighted by the error). When Henri Toulouse-Lautrec drew a caricature of Fénéon, cheekily positioned next to the impeccably styled Oscar Wilde, it appeared more realistic than the subject.

Yet, despite the smirks that greeted Fénéon’s sartorial misjudgements and penchant for faux-Wildean epigrams that had all the sparkle of cement, few in bohemian Paris could doubt the man’s keen aesthetic eye, or the clarity and wisdom of his judgements. Though he was the son of a travelling salesman, born in Piedmont in 1861 and raised in Burgundy, and had no formal education to speak of, Fénéon’s taste was impeccable, and he was always ahead of fashion — a vedette of the avant-garde.

Fénéon was a riddle: a committed anarchist who wrote regular magazine articles calling for the overthrow of the state, yet paradoxically held a job as chief clerk in France’s War Department. Even those closest to him could never quite grasp the inner workings of his character. By selflessly drawing attention to others, he shifted the spotlight away from himself, directing movements from the shadows.

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What Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” Tells Us Now

ven, 06/14/2019 - 04:48

via The New Yorker

by Salman Rushdie

I first read “Slaughterhouse-Five” in 1972, three years after it was published and three years before I published my own first novel. I was twenty-five years old. 1972 was the year of inching slowly toward the Paris Peace Accords, which were supposed to end the war in Vietnam, though the final, ignominious American withdrawal—the helicopters airlifting people from the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon — would not take place until three years later, at which point, by way of a small footnote to history, I had become a published writer.

I mention Vietnam because, although “Slaughterhouse-Five” is a book about the Second World War, Vietnam is also a presence in its pages, and people’s feelings about Vietnam have a good deal to do with the novel’s huge success. Eight years earlier, in 1961, Joseph Heller had published “Catch-22” and President John F. Kennedy began the escalation of the United States’ involvement in the conflict in Vietnam. “Catch-22,” like “Slaughterhouse-Five,” was a novel about the Second World War that caught the imagination of readers who were thinking a lot about another war. In those days, I was living in Britain, which did not send soldiers to fight in Indochina but whose government did support the American war effort, and so, when I was at university, and afterward, I, too, was involved with thinking about and protesting against that war. I did not read “Catch-22” in 1961, because I was only fourteen years old. As a matter of fact, I read both “Slaughterhouse-Five” and “Catch-22” in the same year, a decade later, and the two books together had a great effect on my young mind

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Tales of the Jewish Working Class: The Ancient Dream of the Jewish Left

ven, 06/14/2019 - 04:39

via Tablet

By Paul Berman

The YIVO Institute on 16th Street in New York held a conference not long ago on the dusty theme of “Yiddish Anarchism: New Scholarship on a Forgotten Tradition,” and, whoa!—some 250 people filled the auditorium, and another 200 people followed the activities from another room, and another couple of thousand were said to be following online. A handful of the participants were scholarly historians, who delivered lectures on the revolutionary movement in Russia during czarist times of old, and on the Jewish emigration to the East End of London, where anarchist ideas took root, and the further emigration to the Lower East Side of New York and the American beyond, where the same ideas began to prosper.

Another handful of participants, sprinkled about the hall, were people with a sufficient claim on seniority to remember the last surviving veterans of those ancient anarchist adventures. And everyone else at YIVO’s event, the masses seated in the raked auditorium rows or standing at the aisle mics or milling about in the corridors, proved to be youngish and young, dressed in graduate-student drab or more stylishly, kink in the ink, and, either way, appeared to be visibly enthralled, as if each new revelation about Yiddish-speaking rebellions of times gone by bore on pressing matters of our own vexed and crisis-ridden English-speaking moment.

Those many people were more than a crowd, they were a subculture, and their existence hinted of larger rumblings among the young and the radical, Jewish and otherwise. A former editor of In geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies named Diana Clarke, currently enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh, delivered a lively presentation on the Yiddish-language revival and the complexities of what is called “post-vernacular Yiddish,” with related remarks on the double theme of poetry and anarchism. And, in the course of making this presentation, they (Diana Clarke prefer the plural pronoun) invoked still further expressions of the anarcho-subculture of our own moment in the zones of rock music and chicken farming, e.g., the anarchist punk band Koyt Far Dayn Fardakht and the upstate New York queer anarchist farm Linke Fligl, in sympathetic vibration with still vaster insurrectionary worlds of punkdom, queerness, leftism, and the utopias of discontent. To which people in the rows of seats gave a cheer (even if a woman got on line at the aisle mic to ask: What about the chickens?). Someone else described the anti-fascist demonstrations of our own era in the Pacific Northwest, attended by militants who carry placards in Yiddish, in order to show the flag, as it were, which was striking to consider.

Yes, the subculture had its oddities. And yet, in no respect were those particular oddities novelties—not in the world of the American Jews. American Jewish culture is nothing if not a contemplation of its own past; and contemplation regularly takes the form of straight-faced reenactments of immigrant times on the Lower East Side. There are Jewish delis that print 1890s street scenes on their menus, with Jews in bowler hats. There are Jewish summer camps that teach the little darlings to stand in front of a Statue of Liberty and pretend to speak Yiddish. It may be ridiculous—it is certainly funny—Yiddish anti-fascists of the Pacific Northwest, ha!—but is it foolish? I think it is normal. I confess, anyway, that now and then I have staged my own reenactments, and, although I am generally me, at moments I have preferred to be my grandfather, long-gone stalwart of the apparel-workers’ cause. Gravely I inspect the pickles at Katz’s. It is a way of allowing my thoughts to wander in fertile confusion over what is today and what was long before my time. Doesn’t everybody do that?



The Golden Age of Jewish anarchism in America got started in the mid-1880s and lasted a couple of decades, and then gave way to an oddly prolonged and creative second act. And if those early decades have become a little dim in memory—if anarchism’s place in American Jewish life has become, in fact, a “forgotten tradition,” as the YIVO conference proclaimed—if the names of leaders and organizations and newspapers and even the names of doctrines have become unrecognizable to us, or nearly so, in our own era—it is because the 1880s were long ago. But mostly it is because, in those years, the mass Jewish immigration from Russia to London to New York and Baltimore and Boston was just getting underway, and the people stepping off the boat had not yet figured out how to present themselves in ways that might seem even halfway familiar to us today.

They were, of course, wretchedly poor—they were the “wretched refuse,” from the Emma Lazarus poem in 1883—even if, in a few cases, they came from reasonably prosperous families. And they did yearn to be free—yearned to escape the wave of zealotry against the Jews that had very suddenly begun to rise in the Russian empire, and its legal expressions, and its violent expressions, not to mention czarism itself. But they had not yet figured out how to describe their own place in the Jewish world, or how to picture a Jewish life in the America that was already theirs.

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Ghosts in the machines: the invisible human labour behind AI

jeu, 06/06/2019 - 19:03

via New Statesman America

By Hettie O’Brien

At the AI: More than Human exhibition at the Barbican Centre in London, I spent a while playing with Aibo, a glossy silver robotic dog manufactured by Sony in Japan. Aibo, which stands for artificial intelligence robot, can chase a ball, wag his tail and, if you’re lucky, put his paw in your hand. It’s hard to tell whether he is responding to humans. His wide-set LED eyes are inscrutable. Aibo may be cute, but he definitely doesn’t have a brain.

Computers that can actually think like humans – or pets – continue to elude scientists, yet the existence of artificial intelligence (AI) has become received wisdom. Utopian technology books suggest an ineluctable arc of progress between Aibo-like passivity and conscious computation. David Cameron, our former prime minister, recently announced that he will soon take up an advisory post at US-based AI company Afiniti, registering his excitement at AI’s “rapid development” and “huge potential” to address social challenges.

In their recent book Ghost Work, Mary L Gray and Siddharth Suri argue that AI is a long way from producing autonomous human intelligence, and indeed depends on significant human intervention. Beyond the Amazon Echo assistant in your kitchen or the disembodied apps that glow on your iPhone screen are a hidden army of “ghost workers” who intervene when algorithms trip up. This invisible labour force administers complicated takeaway orders, moderates explicit Facebook content and verifies your Uber driver’s picture when an algorithm fails to recognise their new haircut.

Who does this kind of work? People in the US, India and elsewhere, working from their bedroom or kitchen counter, connected to the internet and often earning less than the minimum wage. Ghost workers are pivotal to digital capitalism: the Pew Research Center estimates they number 20 million people.

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I work in the environmental movement. I don’t care if you recycle.

jeu, 06/06/2019 - 16:26

via Vox

By Mary Annaise Heglar

I’m at my friend’s birthday dinner when an all-too-familiar conversation unfolds. I introduce myself to the man to my left, tell him that I work in the environmental field, and his face freezes in terror. Our handshake goes limp.

“You’re gonna hate me …” he mutters sheepishly, his voice barely audible over the clanging silverware.

I knew what was coming. He regaled me with a laundry list of environmental mistakes from just that day: He’d ordered lunch and it came in plastic containers; he’d eaten meat and he was about to order it again; he’d even taken a cab to this very party.

I could hear the shame in his voice. I assured him that I didn’t hate him, but that I hated the industries that placed him — and all of us — in the same trick bag. Then his shoulders lifted from their slump and his eyes met mine. “Yeah, ’cause there’s really no point trying to save the planet anymore, right?”

My stomach sank.

Sadly, I get this reaction a lot. One word about my five years at the Natural Resources Defense Council, or my work in the climate justice movement broadly, and I’m bombarded with pious admissions of environmental transgressions or nihilistic throwing up of hands. One extreme or the other.

And I understand why. Scientists have been warning us for decades that humans are causing severe and potentially irreversible changes to the climate, essentially baking our planet and ourselves with carbon dioxide. A 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that we had roughly 12 (now 11) years to make massive changes that could stop the worst impacts of climate change.

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Why don’t strikes achieve more?

jeu, 06/06/2019 - 15:36


An article from the Organizing Work blog examining the limitations of high-profile disputes such as the Stop-n-Shop strike, published as part of their “Reconsidering the Strike” series.

Last week social media and web publications were filled with triumphant celebration of the strike at Stop & Shop, which saw some 31,000 workers off the job, and then of its resolution with a new collective agreement.

There has been considerable excitement on the left lately about strikes in general, especially since, for a long time, that tactic lay somewhat dormant. With strikes on the uptick, the left is primed to view this as a hopeful turnaround, signaling labor’s re-consolidation of its power.

However, there is sometimes a troubling news cycle in all of this. Basically: a union goes out on strike, it all looks very exciting, the left cheers the worker militancy, then notice of a settlement comes down, the union writes a press release declaring victory, and the left triumphantly celebrates the power of labor.

If you read the content of the collective bargaining agreements, though, there is often less reason to be enthusiastic. In the three strikes that were settled in the past few weeks—Stop & Shop, the Saskatoon Co-op, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—all of the contracts involved the introduction of a two-tier system. This is one of the worst moves a union can make.

What are two-tier contracts and why are they a problem?

A two-tier system stipulates different employment terms for future employees than for current employees, or for full-timers versus part-timers, etc. In the case of the Saskatoon Co-op, new employees will top out at a lower wage, and will take longer to reach that maximum wage. In the case of Stop & Shop, new part-timers (the majority of the workforce is part-time) lose out on time-and-a-half pay, and get lower pension contributions. In the case of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, future hires are losing guaranteed pensions in favor of riskier defined-contribution plans.

Two-tier contracts divide the workforce, pitting different groups of workers against each other. Existing employees or senior employees take a superior deal for themselves, and in so doing, burn future hires or those less senior. This is toxic to worker solidarity and undermines the overall power of workers—ensuring they’ll be weaker for future job actions like strikes.

When a union signs a two-tier contract, it signals to the workforce that what they really are is a craft union for the high-seniority, full-time staff, with everyone else invited to fight for one of those spots, if they remain accessible at all.

Two-tier contracts are a short-sighted move by the union and a long-game strategic move by the boss. They allow a union to settle a strike with their existing members keeping what they have (and maybe making a few gains elsewhere), while selling out future workers. Employers get to look forward to lower employment costs down the road, not to mention a divided workforce.

Unions are also in effect selling out their future selves. The upper tier of workers whose interests they serve better shrinks over time, as those workers retire or leave. The workers who remain are less powerful. That means the union is less powerful. It may still have membership numbers and dues income, but its workforce is more vulnerable, and the union is bargaining from a weaker position going forward.

Acknowledging that unions are signing two-tier or rollback contracts is demoralizing. It is especially so at a time when labor is supposed to be in a strong bargaining position because of a decent economy with low unemployment. If strikes are the best tactic labor has, and the economic circumstances are in our favor, why are unions signing crappy contracts?

Why don’t strikes achieve more?

There are a number of factors that contain how effective strikes can be, and impel unions to settle them. For one thing, they are expensive. If a union is providing even minimal strike pay, it takes a war chest of millions of dollars to be able to support even a few hundred workers. Strikes drain union coffers, and they take a financial, physical, and emotional toll on workers as well, who aren’t usually earning as much in strike pay as they would on the job, while getting yelled at or hit by cars or freezing on the picket line.

Quite often, strikes don’t succeed in completely shutting down a business, not least because employers can simply hire scabs. The product may suffer, and employers may take a hit, but they can hobble along (while draining the union coffers). (A note on the alleged $100 million loss suffered by Stop & Shop during the recent strike, which leftists also celebrated: that figure was put out by the employer, and is more than double an estimate put forward by an industry analyst. We should always remain skeptical about boss communications. In this case, they may be crying poverty to get workers to sign the proposed collective agreement.)

Sometimes strikes end because of government intervention, as when workers are legislated back to work, or fired en masse. Less dramatically, the government can intervene to bring about some kind of settlement in the form of binding arbitration.

Sometimes employers even goad unions into striking, knowing what a heavy toll strikes take. If an employer knows they can weather a strike much better than the union, they are perfectly incentivized to provoke one and starve the union out.

The bottom line is that strikes are not the slam-dunk tactic the left takes them to be. Don’t forget that the employer also has years to prepare for a strike, knowing when the contract is set to expire. They probably even know roughly how long the strike can last. They’ve also seen strikes before, and aren’t bowled over by them. There is no element of surprise. They know the union won’t do anything too drastic like occupy the workplace or chain the doors shut. They hire scabs, they manage public relations (often by crying poverty or publicly claiming the union won’t come to the table), and they wait it out.

Of course we in left labor circles sympathize with strikers and see their cause as morally and politically righteous. But sympathy is one matter, and clear-eyed analysis is another. That we wish workers victory does not mean we suspend judgement about the effectiveness of their tactics. Nor is any of this meant to judge or condemn unions for choosing the tactics that they do. Instead, it is about zooming out and understanding what factors are constraining the situation in general.

When leftists picture strikes, they are probably in part remembering black-and-white images of workers in the 1910s and 1920s streaming out of factories and mines and violently clashing with Pinkerton guards. But strikes have been tamed by the labor relations framework established by the Wagner Act (the National Labor Relations Act) of 1935 and the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. Those legislative measures were passed in response to massive upheaval, in which workers shut down production with strikes, or employers shut down production with lockouts. The goal of the Wagner Act is right there in its full title: “to diminish the causes of labor disputes burdening or obstructing interstate and foreign commerce.” The NLRA forced employers to sit down and bargain with workers, not out of a desire to strengthen workers as a class, but to funnel disputes between workers and bosses into a less disruptive process – in boardrooms and away from the shopfloor — so that economic production could continue. Taft-Hartley further contained strikes in numerous ways, again in response to creative and effective forms of economic disruption, by outlawing sympathy strikes, political strikes, “wildcat” strikes taken without the authorization of union leadership, secondary picketing and boycotts, and so on.

Under this legal framework, strikes are a blunted tactic, quite intentionally so. They do accomplish something – in each of the three cases described above, workers would almost certainly have got a worse deal had they not struck. There are also strikes that yield apparently better deals, such as the contract bargained by Unite Here with Marriott hotels – arguably in part because contracts at seven different bargaining units expired simultaneously, allowing almost 8,000 workers to strike at once. But strikes don’t change the big-picture balance of power between employers and workers. Most of the time, strikes are like a fistfight in which one side gets a bloody nose, the other gets a black eye, and each walks away saying “You shoulda seen the other guy.” At best, a win looks like giving the other side two wounds while you only suffer one.

Where do we go from here?

Strikes can nonetheless be powerful, of course: it remains the case that withholding production is the greatest tool workers have.

Strikes are most effective when they contain an element of surprise, when they employer does not see them coming, or when they skirt the framework described above. Quickie strikes and sit-downs can resolve a problem before things even escalate to appealing to NLRA infrastructure. Fairly spontaneous, mass strikes do frighten and intimidate employers and tilt things in workers’ favor.

It’s important for us on the left to maintain our ability to accurately analyze and assess strikes and their resolutions. If you were to look at union press releases following strikes, you would never know they were incorporating two-tiers or other losses. Unions tend to minimize the damage, so as not to demoralize workers or shake their faith in the union. However, if we keep calling losses (or pyrrhic victories) wins, we may lose the ability to discern wins and losses, and the difference. And we will lose sight of what makes a strike effective.

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Choosing Hope

jeu, 06/06/2019 - 15:13

via Boston Review

There is always the temptation to think of one’s own era of politics as decisive, a turning point in history. The best way to check this impulse is to seek the perspective of activists who understand how the past has produced the present.

Noam Chomsky has been an incisive voice in the American political discourse for over six decades, writing widely on U.S. foreign policy, the news media, and neoliberalism. In this conversation, he discusses the prospects of progress in a time of reactionary politics and looming climate catastrophe. In the face of these unprecedented challenges, Chomsky maintains that we can either “abandon hope” or fight for a better world. The crucial idea is that working for a better world means more than just resistance: we must build alternatives to replace the current, moribund systems of political and economic power.

— Scott Casleton

Scott Casleton: In the past you’ve suggested that the Democrats and Republicans aren’t too far apart where it counts, such as in their support for corporate power. Do you still think this, or is the small but growing shift in the younger wing of the Democratic Party a promising sign of change?

Noam Chomsky: There have been changes, even before the recent shift you mention. Both parties shifted to the right during the neoliberal years: the mainstream Democrats became something like the former moderate Republicans, and the Republicans drifted virtually off the spectrum. There’s merit, I think, in the observation by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein that increasingly since the Newt Gingrich years—and strikingly in Mitch McConnell’s Senate—the Republican Party has become a “radical insurgency” that is largely abandoning normal parliamentary politics. That shift—which predates Donald Trump—has created a substantial gap between the two parties. In the media it’s often called “polarization,” but that’s hardly an accurate description.

Both in the United States and Europe, neoliberal/austerity programs have sharply concentrated wealth while also stagnating wages for the majority, undermining benefits, eroding functioning democracy, and encouraging what former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan hailed as “growing worker insecurity.” These socioeconomic policies, quite naturally, have engendered anger, resentment, and bitterness—which are often exploited by demagogues. As centrist political institutions have declined, sometimes virtually disappearing, both political parties have been affected. The Republican establishment used to be able to crush extremist candidates who rose from the voting base in primaries, but not in 2016. Among Democrats, the Bernie Sanders campaign broke sharply with over a century of U.S. political history by achieving remarkable success both without support from private wealth and corporate power and in the face of disregard from the media and contempt by Party managers. Sanders’s success both reflects and has contributed to the shift among the younger wing that you mention, which has a great deal of promise, I think.

But what Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez mean by “socialism” seems to be something similar to New Deal social democracy. Sanders’s platform, for example, wouldn’t have greatly surprised Dwight Eisenhower, who argued strongly that anyone who challenged New Deal programs didn’t belong in the U.S. political system—an indication of how far to the right politics has drifted in the neoliberal years.

SC: Unsurprisingly, there has been a lot of debate trying to define socialism. You have quoted Anton Pannekoek for saying socialism is “workers themselves being masters over production.” Can you elaborate on what this might look like?

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Donald Trump Is The Most Honest US President Of All Time

jeu, 06/06/2019 - 14:13

by Caitlin Johnstone

I happened upon some pictures from Trump’s UK visit with Queen Elizabeth yesterday, which isn’t something I’d normally care about. The British royals are basically just oligarchs who rub your face in it, and the fluffy media publicity around a monarch of one murderous kleptocratic imperialist regime meeting the leader of another murderous kleptocratic imperialist regime is something I’d usually try to avoid looking at or commenting on.

I’ve paid exactly zero attention to the stories about the visit itself, so if you want to know what kind of tea they drank or how Trump got along with Lord Hothalbotham and the Duchess of Yorksquire or whatever you’ve come to the wrong place. But I saw one photo from the visit that made me stop and realize something that is definitely worth noting: Donald Trump is the most honest US president of all time.

To be clear, I am not saying that Trump actually tells the truth with his words; he obviously does not. Trump is so comfortable with lying that he once tweeted the claim that he’d never urged House Republicans to vote for a particular immigration bill, three days after posting a tweet explicitly urging House Republicans to vote for that bill. He left both tweets up. I mean, that’s like one click away from literally looking someone in the eye while urinating on their leg and telling them it must be the rain.

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Chomsky and Herman’s Propaganda Model Foretells a Weaponized Facebook

mar, 06/04/2019 - 03:50

via Truthout

by Daniel Broudy & Jeffery Klaehn

The personal is now public. Consider Facebook. As the global leader in platforming interpersonal interactions with public discourse across boundaries, Facebook enjoys a virtual monopoly in reflecting power.

Facebook’s massive global reach gives the platform immense influence to shape public perception, awareness and opinion. Notably, one of the platform’s creators, Chamath Palihapitiya, did admit that the team “knew something bad could happen,” having “created tools that are literally ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” Still, public awareness of this subterfuge has changed nothing.

The relevance of mediated social reality to everyday life has, for much of the industrialized world, never been as pronounced. Information technology and social media exist within political-economic contexts wherein ideas and information are routinely commodified for marketplaces. In 2001, researcher and author Edwin Black meticulously laid out the case of how publicly traded companies can (literally and figuratively) make a killing out of acquiring and managing private information for use in particular markets.

Along with altruistic pretenses like its claims to respect the commons and connect the social world, Facebook also sells user data to advertisers and other institutions intent on managing public perception while simultaneously using personal data for private profit.

The social is also now commodified. Facebook is strictly oriented around total profit in the commodification of user data. In fact, The New York Times detailed how Facebook has allowed its big tech partners to breach privacy rules to gather user data.

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Mass Shootings, Dinner, and the Cognitive Dissonance of Just Living in America

sam, 06/01/2019 - 18:45

via The Intercept

by Shaun King

On Friday evening my wife and I were on our way to dinner with our three youngest kids when I happened to learn from Twitter that a man in Virginia Beach had just shot and killed 12 people. And so my struggle, which I am sure is also regularly your struggle, began. In almost every developed nation in the world, 12 people being killed in a mass shooting would make that incident the deadliest in years. In some nations it would be the deadliest ever. But in the United States, they happen so often, with such ferocity and carnage, that when we learn about the next one, we hardly skip a beat. Indeed, 2018 was by far the most violent year ever measured for school shootings in the United States and 2017 was the deadliest year in at least a half-century for gun deaths altogether in this country – with an astounding 40,000 people killed by guns. That’s 110 people per day. We couldn’t keep up if tried.

After seeing the news of his latest mass shooting, I wanted to somehow relay the fact that 12 people were just murdered to my wife without actually saying the specific words in front of our kids. “Oh no. 12 people,” I said to her – not speaking in a complete sentence. “Virginia Beach,” I continued. I know my kids are aware of gun violence and mass shootings, but it just seemed like too much in that moment to say in front of them something like, “12 people were just shot to death.” Between the seriousness of my tone and the six words that I assembled for her about the shooting, she knew exactly what I was trying to relay to her without the kids quite catching on.

They were happy. And we were pulling up to a fun restaurant in Brooklyn. And so I used the strange skill that none of us should have, but all of us use almost every day. Somewhere deep in my mind I tucked the thought of that horrific shooting in Virginia Beach away. I compartmentalized it — boxed it up and closed the door to the memory so that I could be emotionally present during dinner, so that I could listen to the kid’s stories about their day at school, and excitedly order from the menu with the family. And I did it. I moved on in that moment so that I could enjoy the taste of Vietnamese food. And while I ate dinner, as I reflect back on it, I don’t think I once thought again of the victims in Virginia Beach.

That’s the game we play. To get through dinner, to get through a movie or a game, to get through quality time with our loved ones, we must temporarily suspend our knowledge that people are being slaughtered all around us. We speak of the Wild Wild West as some nostalgic era of the past, but we’re living it. The United States is the only nation in the world that has more guns than people. And it shows. Americans are shooting and killing themselves and killing others with guns at a pace that should be treated as a dire National Emergency. If we just enacted a fraction of the basic standards and norms held by the rest of the world, our nation would be so much safer.

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Separated by Design: How Some of America’s Richest Towns Fight Affordable Housing

sam, 06/01/2019 - 18:34

via ProPublica

by Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

WESTPORT, Conn. — A dirt field overgrown with weeds is the incongruous entrance to one of America’s wealthiest towns, a short walk to a Rodeo Drive-like stretch replete with upscale stores such as Tiffany & Co.

But this sad patch of land is also the physical manifestation of a broader turf war over what type of housing — and ultimately what type of people — to allow within Westport’s borders.

It started when a developer known for building large luxury homes envisioned something different back in 2014 for the 2.2 acre property: a mix of single- and multifamily housing that would accommodate up to 12 families. A higher density project is more cost efficient, he said, and would allow him to sell the units for less than the typical Westport home.

But the site was zoned to hold no more than four single-family houses, so he needed approval from a reluctant Westport Planning and Zoning Commission, which denied his plan. Residents erupted in fury each time he made a scaled-back proposal, and it took the developer four years after purchasing the property to win approval to build two duplexes and five single-family homes.

“You are selling out Westport,” one resident yelled out as the final plan came up for a commission vote last spring. Other residents picketed commission meetings with signs reading “Zoning is a Promise.”

The commission’s discussion was couched in what some would regard as code words and never directly addressed race or income. Chip Stephens, a Republican planning and zoning commissioner, voted against the plan, declaring, “To me, it’s too much density. It’s putting too much in a little area. To me, this is ghettoizing Westport.”

Now under construction, these two-bedroom duplexes and single-family homes have a price tag of $1.2 million, the going rate for a home in this swanky village just outside Bridgeport and Norwalk.

“We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to get this through. Would I do this all over again? No. Probably not,” said the developer, Johnny Schwartz, of Able Construction.

Welcome to Connecticut, a state with more separate — and unequal — housing than nearly everywhere else in the country.

This separation is by design.

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Noam Chomsky: Trump’s “Economic Boom” Is a Sham

sam, 06/01/2019 - 18:20

via Truthout

By C.J. Polychroniou

onald Trump ran a campaign — and won the 2016 presidential election — based on unorthodox tactics, whereby he used irrational provocation to defy traditional political norms and make a mockery of established beliefs on both domestic and international issues confronting the United States. Amazingly enough, Trump has continued his instinctual political posturing even as president, dividing the nation and causing severe friction with the traditional allies of the U.S. Yet, his unorthodox tactics and irrational leadership style appear to remain a winning formula as current polls indicate that, unless something dramatic happens, Trump may very well be re-elected in 2020 by an even bigger margin.

How do we make sense of Trump’s continuing popularity? Noam Chomsky, one of the most respected public intellectuals alive, shares his insights on Trump’s actions in the exclusive Truthout interview that follows.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, I want to start by asking you to reflect on Trump’s political posturing and leadership style and explain to us how this apparently “irrational” president continues to enjoy unquestionable support among nearly half of all voters and has managed to turn the GOP into his own fiefdom.

Noam Chomsky: Whatever one thinks of Trump, he is a highly skilled politician, with a good sense of how to gain popular approval, even virtual worship in some circles. His job approval just passed 50 percent for the first time, according to the latest Zogby poll.

He certainly has taken control of the GOP, to quite a remarkable extent. He’s been very successful with his two constituencies: the primary one, wealth and corporate power; and the voting base, relatively affluent fairly generally, including a large bloc of Christian evangelicals, rural whites, farmers, workers who have faith in his promises to bring back jobs, and a collection of others, some not too admirable.

It’s clear why the primary constituency is mostly delighted. Corporate profits are booming. Wealth continues to be concentrated in very few hands. Trump’s administration is lavishing them with gifts, including the tax bill, the main legislative achievement, across-the-board deregulation, and rapidly increasing fossil fuel production. He and McConnell — in many ways the evil genius of the administration — are packing the judiciary with reactionaries, guaranteeing the interests of the corporate sector and private wealth even after these “glory days” are past. They don’t like his trade wars, which are causing disruption of global supply chains, but so far at least that’s outweighed by his dedicated service to their welfare.

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Storming the Gates: The New Wave of Frontal Attacks on Prisons, Jails, and Detention Centers

sam, 06/01/2019 - 15:48

by CrimethInc

In response to a viral video prisoners released detailing moldy conditions inside of the Dekalb County Jail, fifty people flooded the jail in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 12, 2019, clashing with correctional officers and setting off smoke bombs inside the jail and fireworks outside it. The following month, a group twice as large marched to the jail, facing down over 100 police officers. Prisoners smashed the windows in their cells in order to communicate directly with the protesters outside. Smaller actions at the jail and outreach to the families and friends of inmates are ongoing, exerting pressure on the administrators, who have stopped commenting to the news, and contributing to a growing tide of anger against the facility. This is just the latest flare-up in a nationwide wave of struggles against jails, prisons, and other detention facilities from outside as well as within. In the following text, we review some of the highlights of these struggles, address why they are so pressing today, and discuss the necessity of an emancipatory politics that opposes both traditional means of incarceration and the alternative forms of control that are emerging from the restructuring of prisons, jails, and borders.

The Dekalb County Jail in Atlanta, Georgia.

Timeline of Resistance

Let’s start by reviewing recent rebellions against carceral infrastructure from outside the walls. When we understand the following events as a constellation, it appears that a new strategic perception is developing across the United States. This list leaves out the countless beautiful and dignified acts of rebellion taken by prisoners or detainees directly—from individual subversion to coordinated nationwide strikes—in jails, migrant detention centers, prisons, juvenile holding facilities, and involuntary in-patient medical institutions; it also does not include individual acts of sabotage. You can find more information on such actions here.

July 21, 2017 – St. Louis: When the air conditioning was cut off in the St. Louis County Workhouse, temperatures rose to 108 degrees. Prisoners reached out for help; some could be heard desperately shouting from their windows. When protesters arrived, including anarchists and others close to those who were incarcerated inside the facility, some people in the crowd attempted to tear down the outside fencing of the jail, pulling one section entirely out of the ground.

June 17, 2018 – Portland: When Stephen Miller’s family-separation policy for undocumented migrants became a public scandal, a small number of anarchists initiated an encampment in the doorway of the Oregon headquarters of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in Portland. Later, more people arrived and blocked ICE employees from exiting for a full night. Eventually, hundreds joined the encampment, facing down repeated police attacks despite promises from the Mayor that they would be permitted to protest there.

July 2018 – Nationwide: Occupy ICE blockades, encampments, and protests spread to facilities in Tacoma, Olympia, San Antonio, San Francisco, Charlotte, Los Angeles, Louisville, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Tampa, Sacramento, New York, and elsewhere nationwide. In Lincoln, Nebraska, courageous individuals smashed windows out of the Republican Party headquarters and painted “Abolish ICE” outside of it. At some encampments, clashes broke out between protesters and police; elsewhere, fascists attacked the demonstrators. The encampments in Los Angeles and Philadelphia drew massive support, including widespread participation by the homeless. In multiple cities, liberal mayors paid lip service to the demands of the movement. Even celebrity politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes adopted its slogans, albeit watering them down. In some cases, city contracts with ICE were nullified completely.

Nebraska: A smashed window at the Republican Party headquarters, with “Abolish ICE” spray-painted on the sidewalk.

February 3, 2019 – Brooklyn: The electricity at Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, New York was partially shut off, disabling the heat. Inside the facility, temperatures plunged to 49 degrees. In response, a determined crowd forced its way into the atrium of the facility and clashed with police. The following day, lines of anti-riot police surrounded the MDC to keep protesters and journalists out. Electricity and heat were soon returned to the entire facility.

Demonstrators at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

April 12, 2019 – Atlanta: After inmates released a viral video decrying moldy food at the Dekalb County Jail, inside the perimeter of Atlanta, 50 protesters forced their way into the atrium of the jail, many of them masked, and clashed with police outside, throwing firecrackers, smoke bombs, and traffic cones while spray-painting the outer veneer. Police made multiple arrests, but demonstrators surrounded their vehicles, temporarily preventing them from conveying arrestees through the hostile crowd.

May 15, 2019 – Atlanta: Following the melee in April, a larger crowd blocked Memorial Drive, a major east-west artery outside the Dekalb County Jail. Inmates smashed over a dozen windows in three different buildings and shouted out of their windows to protesters below, who were able to communicate with them via megaphone. Around 100 police officers from multiple jurisdictions formed cordons, also blocking on-ramps to the highway next to the jail. Police attacked protesters, who defended themselves, resulting in only three arrests.

May 16, 2019 – Atlanta: A 40-person march with an armed escort marched to the jail again, forcing the police to mobilize 100 officers once more. Inmates banged loudly on the windows. Because of the previous day’s actions, inmates were able to call local prison abolitionist groups who had left their information on the sidewalks in chalk. The facility later blocked the phone number, but a new one was circulated among prisoners via word of mouth. A week later, the jail administration blocked all of the exterior windows of the facility, while prisoners continued to report abuses to local abolitionists outside. During the May 16 protest, the mother of Damien Christopher Boyd spoke on the news about the death of her son in Dekalb County Jail in 2018. Via telephone, prisoners detailed other unreported deaths in the facility.

Tearing down the fence outside the Workhouse in St. Louis, Missouri.

Confronting the Carceral Future

Culling the laboring classes in ritualized cycles of warfare and internal violence is one of the original mainstays of statecraft. Prison and deportation also serve as ways to control the population of those the market deems expendable—what some economists call the “surplus population.” Historically, the incarceration and deportation of a particular demographic have died down whenever a role opened up for it in the market—for example, the Chinese immigrants who built railroads across the US in the 19th century—and escalated as soon as that market niche contracted.

In the period of urban de-industrialization that started in the 1970s, black workers were laid off from factories and firms across the rust-belt via “last hired, first fired” policies. Automation and global outsourcing emptied urban centers and rural resource extraction zones of their working populace. At the same time, the “War on Drugs” served as an excuse to imprison millions just as they were losing their jobs and, in some cases, resorting to illegal forms of commerce to make ends meet.

Since the 1970s, workers have poured into clerical and service-sector industries as manufacturing, logistics, and other heavy industries have automated, replacing large segments of the workforce with machines. Now, those service and clerical jobs are being restructured, as firms such as Amazon and Uber develop cost-cutting logistics and artificial intelligence to reduce their reliance on human labor. If the role of prisons is to facilitate the management of unemployed and “undesirable” populations—including the racialized, neurologically atypical, and otherwise criminalized—then we can be sure that mass automation, austerity measures, and layoffs will dramatically increase the number of prisoners.

Prisoners call out to demonstrators from within the Workhouse in St. Louis, Missouri.

At the same time, thanks to the introduction of various “smart” devices, more and more of our activities are becoming unwaged work, yielding considerable profits for the techno-capitalists while enabling unprecedented surveillance. Just as unwaged labor has profilerated, the disciplinary logic of the factory is penetrating our “leisure time” as well. In the future, it will be less and less necessary to pay us for the labor that keeps the system running, and each of us will be more and more expendable in the eyes of the market.

This is why everyone has a stake in opposing the development of carceral technologies and infrastructure. A system of government dedicated to securing wealth and power for a few, regardless of the consequences for the vast majority of human beings and other life forms, requires the constant pre-emptive militarization of space, the suppression of all forms of participatory resistance, and the balkanization of the population into rival groups in segregated zones, each with its own localized system of control. If we wish to be free—or simply to survive—we need to normalize resistance to this on every level. We have to fight the logic, the technology, and the physical infrastructure and facilities of incarceration.

Today, Trump’s racist call to “build the wall” is the latest discourse to legitimize the continued militarization of police around the country and expanded coordination with foreign law enforcement. In cities and along the borders, the military technologies first deployed throughout the Middle East and North Africa are appearing in “peacekeeping operations” against the poor and desperate. Technology firms are developing facial recognition infrastructures, predictive analytics, tracking service, and drone surveillance tools that will be used—not coincidentally—to facilitate both commerce and repression. In the same way that weapons designed for warfare are being used in a time of “peace,” technologies designed for trade are proving useful to carceral contractors.

Migrants in a US detention facility. What is done to the least of us today will be done to the rest of us tomorrow.

Occupy ICE in Portland.

“Just as it has been necessary to deploy troops around the world to secure the raw materials that keep the economy afloat, it is becoming necessary to deploy troops in the US to preserve the unequal distribution of resources at home. Just as the austerity measures pioneered by the IMF in Africa, Asia, and South America are appearing in the wealthiest nations of the first world, the techniques of threat management and counter-insurgency that were debuted against Palestinians, Afghanis, and Iraqis are now being turned against the populations of the countries that invaded them. Private military contactors who operated in Peshawar are now working in Ferguson, alongside tanks that rolled through Baghdad. For the time being, this is limited to the poorest, blackest neighborhoods; but what seems exceptional in Ferguson today will be commonplace around the country tomorrow.”

The Thin Blue Line is a Burning Fuse

From the burning hills of Los Angeles and the hurricane-ravaged cities of the Gulf to the flooded neighborhoods of Jakarta, the disasters wrought by climate change will continue to trigger mass human migration at an unprecedented scale. In the decades to come, some nations may collapse as a consequence of mass migratory flight and nativist violence. Elsewhere, technology firms, xenophobic militias, and police forces will work together in hopes of facilitating the swift transfer of refugees through the country, containing them in sophisticated carceral environments, and transforming all urban space into a highly repressive terrain—and sometimes slaughtering them en masse. New markets will emerge in weapons and remediation as corporations cash in on disasters. The overwhelming majority of those industries will require very few workers; they will rely largely on robotics, forced prison labor, information gathering, and artificial intelligence.

A billboard in Louisville, Kentucky.

Occupy ICE, San Francisco.

We can already see signs of this future today. As the overall population of federal prisoners begins to wane, the number of people locked in county jails and migrant detention facilities is increasing, as is the number of people subject to punitive forms of supervision such as probation, pre-trial diversion, house arrest, and drug court. Technology firms such as Securus and Global TelLink are already making profiles and permanent accounts not only for inmates who use their services to call family and lawyers, but also for those on the outside who receive the calls—logging and storing audio files, card information, and phone numbers.

Soon, we will have to expand bail funds to cover arrest and probation fees. Noise demonstrations outside of jails and prisons may be replaced by vigils outside of the homes of those who are trapped inside them as a cost-cutting practice by the state, so the government will no longer be responsible for housing, feeding, or providing healthcare to those caught in the system?

A reworked quotation from Thomas Hobbes on a banner at a demonstration against the Dekalb County jail in Atlanta. Hobbes imagined life was hard in the stateless conditions of wild nature, but we know it to be hard indeed in the era of the police state.

When I saw the video from inside the Dekalb jail, I knew we would have to respond. I myself have been imprisoned in this jail, with its wet walls and moldy food, and so had many of my friends. In my case, I was in a car stopped on account of an automated license plate scanner affixed to the back of a police cruiser; they took me in for a “failure to appear” for a traffic citation. I wasn’t even the driver of the car.

Around me, our small crowd had donned masks and were preparing to storm into the facility by any means necessary. This time, the Correctional Officers were the ones backing up in confusion, taken by surprise by the growing rage against them and the suffering they administer. We entered the building. A trash can crashed through the metal detector; drums reverberated off of the walls around me. The element of surprise is exactly what all of their tools and technologies are designed to prevent. There weren’t many of us, only a few dozen, but we were determined. At that moment, we had gained the upper hand. We knew we could not keep it for long, but we were going to make the most of the time we had.

An Emerging Strategy: Frontal Attack, Complete Refusal

Since 2010, a prisoner-led movement has spread throughout the United States. In December 2010, thousands of prisoners throughout Georgia used smuggled cell phones to coordinate work stoppages and hunger strikes with almost no outside support. The Pelican Bay hunger strike of 2011 drew the support of anti-prison groups throughout the Bay, especially anarchists. Over the following years, smaller strikes and protests occurred in North Carolina, in Florida, in Indiana, and elsewhere.

After the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, prisoner struggles became more militant around the country. In Alabama, at the Holman Correctional Facility, C-block prisoners have repeatedly ambushed and overpowered guards and engaged in mass actions and strikes. In 2016, a nationwide prison strike grabbed national headlines as prisoners across the country refused forced labor. During the strike, rebellion, rioting, and arson broke out in multiple facilities around the South. Strikes and other acts of resistance have become normal at facilities across the US; another nationwide strike took place in 2018.

The determination to resist debasing conditions in jails, prisons, juvenile detention centers, and migrant holding facilities is growing across the country, as is outside support for those activities. It is especially inspiring to see combative outside actions accompanying prisoner rebellions. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the cartographer of the gulags, wrote in the third volume of The Gulag Archipelago that such outside actions would have made all the difference for prisoners struggling against the total repression that prevailed under Stalin’s regime.

At the dawn of a new carceral century, this couldn’t come too soon.

Demonstrators confront uniformed mercenaries outside the Workhouse in St. Louis. Missouri.

If we don’t succeed in changing the course of history, tomorrow’s freedom will look like the probation of today. From the ways that our smartphones track our movements to the new round of anti-abortion laws threatening reproductive autonomy in the Southern US, the matrix of repression is penetrating ever deeper into our lives.

Some well-meaning prison reformers will unwittingly play into carceral discourse by demanding early-release programs and the like. If these are granted, it will be on the condition of increased surveillance at home, the suspension of the Fourth Amendment rights, reduced freedom of movement, exile, anti-association clauses, ankle monitor tracking, fees and fines. Our opponents will not hesitate to import repressive tools and techniques from loss-prevention firms, from fraud-detection alert systems, from anti-graffiti legislature, from any area, army, country, government, or firm they can find—nor will arms manufacturers or firms that produce censorship technology turn down new markets.

The weapons that are used against those who are lower on the social hierarchy today will eventually be turned against nearly everyone. This is why we must not prioritize the freedom of some over the freedom of others, by defining some as “innocent” or “nonviolent offenders.”

Alongside the immediate physical destruction of all carceral facilities, we should advocate and fight only for unconditional early release, the reduction of sentences, earlier termination of probation, and guaranteed access to parole. We must oppose the proliferation of tracking devices and coercive technological identification on every front, while normalizing and defending practices that preserve anonymity.

Above all, we have to completely discredit the discourse that legitimizes punishment and control of any form, so that struggles against existing jails and prisons do not simply provide cover for the authorities to extend new oppressive measures into the so-called free world in the guise of humanitarian and economical pragmatism. To this end, we should also be experimenting with transformative methods of conflict resolution that leave no space for coercive institutions of any kind.

As we were marching up, a traffic jam piling up behind our banners, police already forming lines to confront us, inmates in the jail began to smash their windows up above us. We could see the glass crack and shatter—first in one building, then another, then another. We held our position, blocking the street below as police grabbed and shoved the people in our front line, slamming them to the ground. A few bottles flew over my head, but mostly we just held on to one another tightly. I knew they could not arrest all of us, however hard they tried. The solidarity of our crowd was too great; I was being embraced by people on every side, just as I held them in turn. In refusing to unblock the streets, we had preserved the publicity of our action: a line of commuters was watching from their cars, filming the police, and occasionally expressing solidarity with us.

Inmates were yelling down to us for help, shouting that they were being pepper-sprayed. Rarely have our struggles intersected so viscerally. Imagine if the walls themselves were smashed, instead of simply the windows?

Demonstrators outside the Workhouse in St. Louis. Missouri.

Against All Authority—Against All Confinement

The time is ripe for mass struggles against confinement. Already, protests against ICE have drawn popular support. Even Republican Senators acknowledge that prisons are overcrowded, if only to justify increased funding. In terms of both carrying capacity and perceived legitimacy, the carceral system is nearing a breaking point. Carceral reformists hope to use this opportunity to introduce adjustments that will stabilize the regimes of confinement and control for another century. But at this juncture, inspiring actions could catalyze a confrontational movement that pushes for abolition rather than reform.

Many contemporary struggles take on ideological opponents, such as fascists and other white supremacists, or political leaders and legislation. These limited points of intervention rarely facilitate the emergence of long-lasting and uncompromising movements. But the struggle against incarceration is no single-issue campaign. It offers a point of departure for a movement that could span from resisting borders and migrant detention facilities to opposing juvenile holding facilities, police weaponry manufacturers, city jails, forced work arrangements, companies that profit on incarceration, and the police and courts themselves.

In a world that is continuously rearranged to foreclose the possibility of unforeseen developments and unanticipated encounters, the struggle against incarceration is also a struggle against the contemporary organization of our lives. This particular element of governance is absolutely necessary to the functioning of the system, yet large sections of the populace hate it.

It remains only to demonstrate that together, we can do something about it.

Chants could be heard from inside the prison: “Help, help!”—“Unclean Water!”—“Let us out!”—“Shut It Down!” Inmates put their arms through the grates and twirled towels, spreading a banner between two windows reading “HELP!” At one point, we could hear the inmates singing. The words were indecipherable; we could only make out a beautiful, low, melancholy harmony.

Three hundred hundred strong, we advanced, creating a cacophony with pots, pans, air horns, and bells, the front line of the march attacking the fence itself, shaking the outer ring and removing the clasps that adhered it to the poles. Several people took advantage of the gap under the fence to crawl underneath it, scale the second fence, and shout to inmates, before climbing down and scurrying back under to avoid arrest.

The police begin to form lines between the workhouse and us. They know that we won’t stop at ripping down the fence, that when we get the opportunity, we’ll rip the whole place apart, brick by brick.

Sooner or later, all walls fall.

Further Reading and Viewing

The post Storming the Gates: The New Wave of Frontal Attacks on Prisons, Jails, and Detention Centers appeared first on Infoshop News.

The War on Hamburgers: A Practical Alternative to World Veganism

sam, 05/25/2019 - 03:52

via Center for a Stateless Society

by Logan Marie Glitterbomb

Since the introduction of the newest incarnation of the Green New Deal, conservatives have been hard at work battling the non-existent boogyman supposedly trying to ban hamburgers. Now, of course, such claims are completely absurd and have no basis in the actual reality of the Deal itself, but that hasn’t stopped the idea from spreading via mainstream news sources. One politician even made a public display of eating a hamburger while claiming that if progressives have their way, such a thing would be outlawed.

So where did this hilariously bad smear campaign originate? It turns out what they are referencing is, in fact, an FAQ that was released around the same time explaining the Deal. But even that FAQ made no such decree to ban hamburgers or any other meat, rather it merely points out the fact that factory farming is one of the main contributors to climate change and suggests that we do something to address that fact. And no, we don’t need to address it by banning meat.

Much to the disappointment of many vegans, world veganism is far from likely. So if we wish to make real impactful changes then we have to come up with a more realistic set of alternatives. Obviously encouraging people to cut back on their meat consumption is a good start but real change will happen when such sacrifices no longer feel like sacrifices. Enter Burger King.

Recently Burger Kings teamed up with Impossible Foods to start selling their Impossible Burgers as part of their new Impossible Whopper. Right now it is only available at a select few test locations in St. Louis, Missouri but their history of carrying Morningstar burgers as an off-menu item shows that they are willing to carry these items even when they aren’t a huge money maker. Of course, you can already find Impossible Burgers at other restaurants but usually for around $10 for a single burger. Burger King’s target customer base, however, will not be flocking to a $10 burger which is why they are working with Impossible Foods to reduce input costs thus lowering prices across the board. If Burger King is successful in helping to make the Impossible Whopper cheap, affordable, and easily available at any drive-thru then that will offer a viable alternative for folks wishing to eat more sustainably. Impossible Burgers are notorious for being difficult to distinguish from the real thing so taste isn’t the factor holding back its spread but rather price. Lower the price and many would happily make the switch without even feeling like they sacrificed a thing. After all, you still get your dollar burger and it tastes amazing.

Of course, we haven’t found convincing alternatives for every type of meat but nor do we really have to in order to lower our environmental impact. There’s another way that, like the Impossible Whopper, offers the same level of satisfaction as traditional meat without any significant feeling of sacrifice. This alternative can be found in cultured, or lab-grown meat. Such advancements allow us to grow meat cells without the need for large scale livestock farms or the massive feeding operations that come with them. Switching towards cultured meat would allow us to drastically cut back on the need for livestock farming to meet consumer demand and not having to feed as many farm animals allows us to utilize the land we are currently using to grow food for livestock in more efficient ways.

With these two alternatives, we can dramatically lower our consumption of factory farmed meat and thus our environmental impact by continuing to meet the same demands via new methods. Making these changes feel casual and rather unnoticed instead of like huge sacrifices can mean all the difference. Sometimes solving problems just takes a bit of creativity.

The post The War on Hamburgers: A Practical Alternative to World Veganism appeared first on Infoshop News.

A Revolution In Your Pocket

sam, 05/25/2019 - 03:12

by Ross Schulman

Internet users have been trained over the past decade or so to believe the argument that the services we have grown to think of as “the internet” are expensive to run and that the only way to pay for those services is to let ourselves be tracked everywhere in the service of advertising. Our concepts of privacy, particularly when we talk about laws and regulations, are often presumed to take place solely within this frame. The platforms want us to be asking “how is all of this going to be paid for, if not advertising based on mining of personal information?”

Following that logic, however, leads to a thought-provoking conclusion: If this status quo value exchange is truly what the platforms are suggesting we should continue to engage in, its a horrendous deal for most of us! We are giving away all of own information–incredibly detailed portraits of ourselves, families, and friends that will be stored forever and used in ways we can’t imagine–in exchange for computing resources that can be had today for $35, and code with equivalents that are free and open source. Indeed, the argument about the value of these online services seems to be presuming the conclusion that services like these must be paid for to begin with. In reality, our future technology need not be owned by any one platform and doesn’t require anyone to pay for it. Why? Because we have all already spent the money (or other resources). We just don’t usually think of it as such.

Many, if not most, of us already own a hand-sized computer with a persistent network connection that we take pretty much everywhere and which lives in our pockets or bags. The top of the line Android and Apple personal computing devices (honestly, does anyone use their “phone” primarily as a voice communication device anymore?) run at upwards of 2 Ghz, have around 4GB of RAM, and on-board storage ranging between 64 and 512 GB. If those numbers don’t mean much to you, they are roughly equivalent to a full laptop from 2010. All these devices are also capable of receiving and transmitting across a decently wide range of frequencies.

Those frequencies are another resource that we already possess (at least, conceptually). The airwaves were long considered to be public property that Federal Communications Commission was responsible for parceling out because of the problems inherent in competing broadcasting signals. That viewpoint withered in the face of the deregulatory agenda of the Reagan years, but its recent revival can be seen in the use of explicitly unlicensed spectrum that makes technologies such as WiFi and Bluetooth possible.

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Five Ways You Can Engage in Mutual Aid Now!

jeu, 05/23/2019 - 04:35

via Agency

What is Mutual Aid?

Mutual aid is the basic principle of anarchism and the fundamental way that anarchists differentiate their vision from capitalism and the state.

Simply put, we believe that humanity can fulfill its needs and desires better through cooperation than through competition. In fact, anarchists have been arguing almost since the movement began that the brutal, Darwinian view of human progress through competition is mistaken, and that mutual aid has been absolutely essential to every form of life on the Earth from the beginning (see Peter Kropotkin’s classic Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution).

Just because we live in a state-capitalist society doesn’t mean that mutual aid is a strange or unfamiliar concept. We practice it all the time: when we share resources with people who need them more than we do, when we talk through our differences instead of resorting to force or appeal to the so-called authorities, when we go on strike and pool our resources to pull through a period without pay. Mutual aid saves lives; restores dignity to people ground down by a “free market” system that masks a ruthlessly racist, gender-violent, and environmentally destructive reality; and offers us a vision for a future of freedom and equity.

The Black Power movement has a rich history of mutual aid in action. The Black Panther Party is, perhaps, the best example with its Free Breakfast for Children and community self-defense programs started in the late 1960s. Eventually, the BPP expanded its free “survival programs” to include clothing distribution, medical and first aid clinics, classes on politics and economics, and much more.

The beauty of mutual aid is that we can practice it in so many ways, in so many different and vital aspects of our lives. Here are five areas of everyday life where we practice mutual aid all the time – whether we know it or not.

1. Sharing Resources

Getting involved in waste reduction and goods redistribution are great ways to start engaging with mutual aid projects. Many of us have more than we will ever need, while others are struggling to obtain the most basic items needed to sustain themselves and their families. Projects like Food Not Bombs, community food pantries and kitchens are often on the front line of cooking and sharing food that was otherwise destined for the landfill. Community tool libraries, vegetable seed swap events, and Really Really Free Markets are also examples of mutual aid in action, whereby useful resources are made freely available to those who need them. If any of these projects exist in your community, they will nearly always welcome extra hands.

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Is the gig economy a path to prosperity or the indenture of just getting by?

mer, 05/22/2019 - 03:35

via Salon

by Bob Hennelly

One of the best things that American capitalism has going for it is the myth machine that’s programmed generations of school age Americans to believe that our collective national story is a narrative of remarkable broad-based socio-economic progress.

It’s like that warm and fuzzy inner glow we get from Disney’s Epcot Center where we can trace “early man” executing cave drawings through the printing of the Gutenberg Bible all the way to today’s driverless car.

It’s all very patriotic and cuts down on the odds of incubating young radicals who might threaten capital’s established order or be in too much of hurry to make things better now. The one thing you don’t want to teach them is labor history because then they will know just how bad its been and for how long.

Yeah, people died for the cause of labor rights in the fervent hope something might get better. Owners didn’t just say “oh, you don’t want to bring your 11-year-old to work with you anymore and you want Sunday off? No problem.”

The cover story for the great disappearance of unions goes something like this: “Yes, at one time back in the era of black and white movies American workers were terribly exploited but then they organized unions and several Frank Capra movies later, the workers won their struggle and we got the minimum wage and the forty-hour week, but we really don’t need unions in modern times.”

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Can “Indie” Social Media Save Us?

lun, 05/20/2019 - 22:28

via The New Yorker

By Cal Newport

In the summer of 2016, I gave a talk at a small TEDx conference in northern Virginia. I began by admitting that I’ve never had a social-media account; I then outlined arguments for why other people should consider eliminating social media from their lives. The event organizers uploaded the video of my talk to YouTube, where it languished for a few months. Then, for unknowable reasons, it entered the viral slipstream. It was shared repeatedly on Facebook and Instagram and, eventually, viewed more than five million times. I was both pleased and chagrined by the irony of the fact that my anti-social-media talk had found such a large audience on social media.

I think of this episode as typical of the conflicted relationships many of us have with Facebook, Instagram, and other social-media platforms. On the one hand, we’ve grown wary of the so-called attention economy, which, in the name of corporate profits, exploits our psychological vulnerabilities in ways that corrode social life, diminish privacy, weaken civic cohesion, and make us vulnerable to manipulation. But we also benefit from social media and hesitate to disengage from it completely. Not long ago, I met a partner at a large law firm in Washington, D.C., who told me that she keeps Instagram on her phone because she misses her kids when she travels; browsing pictures of them makes her feel better. Meanwhile, because she also worries about her phone usage, she’s instituted a rule that requires her, before looking at Instagram, to read for at least thirty minutes. Last year, she read fifty-five books. Many of us have similar stories. Even as we dream of abandoning social media, we search for ways to redeem it.

In recent months, some of the biggest social-media companies have begun searching for this redemption, too. Facebook and Twitter, in particular, have promised various reforms. In March, Mark Zuckerberg announced a plan to move his platform toward private communication protected by end-to-end encryption; later that month, he proposed the establishment of a third-party group to set standards for acceptable content. Around the same time, Jack Dorsey brought one of Twitter’s head lawyers onto Joe Rogan’s podcast to better explain the platform’s evolving standards for banning users. Legislators are also getting involved. Elizabeth Warren shared a plan for breaking up tech giants like Facebook; others admire the European Union’s sweeping and byzantine General Data Protection Regulation, which deploys aggressive fines to coerce companies into better protecting user privacy.

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The History of the Black Radical Group MOVE and Its Infamous Bombing by Police

lun, 05/20/2019 - 03:59

via Teen Vogue

by Kim Kelly

In 1985, an armed standoff between Philadelphia police and members of a radical black liberation group, resulted in the deaths of eleven people. Despite two grand jury investigations and a commission finding that top officials were “grossly negligent”, no police officers or city officials were ever charged for their role in what’s known as the MOVE bombing.

Now, memories of the events serve as a warning about the dangers of the police state, and reminder of the price that black radicals have paid in their fight for liberation.

The era in which MOVE was born was an especially dangerous period for activists and organizers. COINTELPRO, the FBI surveillance program that targeted “political dissident” groups like the Black Panthers, Vietnam War protesters, civil rights leaders, Puerto Rican independence activists, feminists, and socialists, was in effect from 1956 until its exposure in 1971. Its tactics had fatal results, as when Fred Hampton — the deputy chair of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party and also its national spokesman — was killed in 1968 by police as part of a COINTELPRO sting.

The year after the program ceased, MOVE was founded in 1972 by Vincent Leaphart, a Korean War veteran who took the name John Africa to demonstrate his reverence for the continent. The group’s politics were anti-capitalist, anti-government, and anti-modern technology, rooted in a 300-page document called The Guidelines. John Africa preached an anarcho-primitivist gospel of natural living, love for every living being, and advocated for a return to a hunter-gatherer society.

Initially called the Christian Movement for Life, MOVE members considered themselves a family and were involved in animal rights activism and embraced a raw food diet, natural home birth, homeschooling, and composting. They lived communally in a West Philadelphia row home and held public demonstrations against war, racism, and police brutality.

Though their ideologies were initially peaceful, from all accounts, MOVE’s members weren’t exactly ideal neighbors. They often drew the ire of the police with their nonviolent but sometimes raucous protests, and neighbors complained about the family’s compost piles and their habit of blasting profanity-laced political diatribes through loudspeakers at all hours. Following years of targeted police brutality, MOVE became increasingly militant, and according to a 1985 report in The New York Times, may have begun to stockpile weapons.

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