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Libertarian Socialism in Latin America: A Roundtable Interview, Part III, Brazil

jeu, 02/14/2019 - 16:22

VERSIÓN EN ESPAÑOL/SPANISH VERSION

VERSÃO PORTUGUESA/PORTUGUESE VERSION

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

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

Due to the length of responses, we have published this roundtable interview in installments (Part 1, Chile: Spanish and English; Part 2, Argentina: Spanish and English). For Part 3, we spoke with Fábio from the Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro (FARJ) / Anarchist Federation of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

We also wanted to thank everyone who contributed to our Building Bridges of International Solidarity Fundraiser which made this interview series possible.

—Introduction and interview by Enrique Guerrero-López. 

Spanish translation by Ricardo, Portuguese translation by Cí Melo

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

Fábio: My name is Fábio and I’m a member of the Anarchist Federation of Rio de Janeiro (FARJ), which is a member of the Brazilian Anarchist Coordination (CAB). I’m a professor of Mechanical Engineering, and I’m active in the professors’ union in my workplace as well as in the Campaign for the Freedom of Rafael Braga.

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

Fábio: The roots of libertarian socialism in South America are connected to a long tradition of struggles and revolts of the Black working class, indigenous people, and popular sectors in general against colonial domination. Although libertarian socialism (anarchism) is an experience typical of the second half of the 19th century, there is a continuity between the popular struggles, the strikes, the insurrections spread over Brazilian territory and the moment of consolidation of the first socialist experiences. For us, especially here in Brazil, the working class doesn’t arise with the arrival of white Italian and Portuguese immigrants. It’s been in action since the 19th century, with struggles of the quilombos, the strikes in the middle of the slave and imperial Brazilian structure, and the actions of the poor and Black workers against oppression and domination. In continental terms, we can point out as important markers the founding of the Federación Regional de la República Oriental del Uruguay (FRROU) [1] in 1875 and of the Centro de Propaganda Obrera (CPO) in 1876 in Argentina. The first countries in South America to shape and promote anarchism, in chronological order, were Uruguay and Argentina. In Brazil, dominant elites spread the myth that anarchism was an “exotic flower” and that it was restricted only to the Italian and Portuguese immigrants, when actually anarchism was equally rooted in the native working class. During the last years of the 19th century, there was a period of insertion and maturing of anarchism in Brazil that contributed to the formation of the Confederação Operária Brasileira (COB) in 1908 in Rio de Janeiro. It is also important to emphasize different experiences of anarchist political organization in the ‘20s and ‘40s. We are the fruit of this historical work which connects generations of anarchist militants over decades.

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

Fábio: Libertarian socialism, or anarchism, differentiates itself from other branches of socialism by its characterization of the State and by its strategic propositions, which aim to overcome the capitalist system. Anarchism is an ideology, a socialist and revolutionary doctrine, which is founded on certain principles that can be traced through its 150 years of history. Its roots are defined by a critique of domination and a defense of self-organization. Regarding domination, anarchism emphasizes a critique of class oppression along with other types of oppression— for example, imperialism, gender, and race or ethnicity. For anarchists, the State is responsible for domination and exploitation together with the capitalist system. The State isn’t just a reflection of the economic relations. It is a political organism of the ruling class and, because of that, it is our job to build another power through the direct action of the masses in urban and rural popular movements.

“We argue that popular power has to be built inside popular struggles, organized and led by the various sectors of the oppressed classes, around more immediate questions, aiming for more profound processes of rupture.”

Anarchism also supports self-organization in general and conceives of revolutionary subjects as sectors of the oppressed classes, constituted in struggle through actions of the dominated classes— peasants, poor people, and workers in general— rather than seeking out a revolutionary subject in advance. Throughout history, anarchists have diverged over strategy. Our especifista current, part of a long-standing tradition inside anarchism which advocates a mass-oriented strategy and the need for political organization, believes that it is through class struggle and struggles against all forms of domination that we can create a social force capable of building the basis of anti-state and anti-capitalist popular power.

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

Fábio: Especifismo has contributed a lot of energy to this topic, with the Uruguayan Anarchist Federation (FAU) being a fundamental reference point. Modestly, we have also dedicated ourselves to this issue, together with our sister organizations from the CAB. Throughout the history of anarchism, important contributions— mainly from Bakunin, Malatesta, the Platform, FAU, and the experiences of anarchist political organizations in Brazil from the beginning of the 20th century— have fueled our perspectives.

Summarizing our position, we can say that an especifista organization defends some clear points: the political organization as active minority, emphasis on the necessity of organizing, theoretical and tactical unity, the production of theory, the importance of social work and social insertion, the understanding of anarchism as a tool for the class struggle in search of a libertarian socialist project, the differentiation between political (anarchist organization) and social (social movements) levels of organization, and the defense of a militancy carried out with strategy. Obviously, our organization wasn’t born working with all these concepts, but we have been improving our work in this sense over the years and have made some advancements.

We understand the social and political levels as complementary. We don’t intend to establish a hierarchical relationship between these levels (as would the typical Leninist vanguard) nor let the specific anarchist organization (SAO) simply react to things as they happen. However, we understand that the anarchist organization, by means of its active minority, must build shoulder-to-shoulder a political and social program that deals with the needs of the people. The organization also works with objective criteria for integrating militants and gathers anarchists not by an “abstract” or “philosophical” identity, but by ideological coherence and agreement with the organization’s program, principles, and strategies.

We understand that the political organization must influence and be influenced by the social movements, but also work within them to promote direct democracy, autonomy, combativeness, and self-organization. Inside the political organization, we expect a high level of commitment and discipline— a self-discipline that is collectively built, but that doesn’t provoke harmful practices of only doing what we want or of not carrying out what was previously planned by the collective (unfortunately common in libertarian socialist groups).

This model of organization argues that the role of the specific anarchist organization is to coordinate and converge the forces that have emerged from militant activities, building a solid and consistent tool of struggle which aims for a final objective: social revolution and libertarian socialism. We believe that struggle without, or with little, organization— where people do what they want, poorly articulated or isolated— is inefficient. The model of organizing that we support aims to multiply the results and the effectiveness of militant forces. We also develop “conjunctural analysis,” or an analysis of the political, social, and economic conditions of the current moment, to inform our strategy. For that to be done with coherence, it is developed strategically inside the political organization: this is where we deal with local, national, and international contexts, where the movements and popular forces are analyzed: their influences and potentialities. Strategy must answer the question, “How do we get from where we are to where we want to be?” It’s the macro-level analysis— diagnostic and short, medium, and long term objectives— that we call strategy. Then, it is detailed in a micro-analysis— the tactics— which will determine the actions that will be put into practice by militants, or group of militants, in order to reach our goals. The organization also works with a federalist perspective and has fully direct democracy, where things are organized from the bottom up with sections, fronts, and secretaries, and where the whole organization decides, participates, and develops the broader strategic lines.

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

Fábio: On this topic, it’s important to affirm that for us as anarchists, drawing on the words of Errico Malatesta, our means must be consistent with our ends. [2] Tactics must always be subordinated to strategy. If we have the strategy of building popular power and a self-organized society, it is inconceivable to be subordinated to any type of electoral politics or to defend voting inside bourgeois democracy. We look at elections as a farce built to massacre and to dominate. We vote inside our class entities: inside the unions, in student centers, in neighborhood assemblies, where the embryo of popular power is practiced day by day. We don’t believe in electoral politics, even the ones that claim to be socialist. We maintain fraternal relations with other branches of socialism inside social struggles, but we disagree with maintaining any type of action inside the bourgeois parliament or, worse, to link the popular struggle to the elections. It’s important to make explicit that recent history shows that every time socialists have attempted to revitalize this issue, they ended up embracing the worst of bourgeois politics. In Brazil, we have a huge historic example: a political party, the Workers Party, which was born in the midst of popular struggle in the ‘70s and early ‘80s with unions, social movements, and peasant support. This party decided to take the electoral path, and rapidly, all the buildup of more than thirty years of social force in class entities was emptied in the name of bourgeois politics. Thirteen years of governance and more than thirty years of buildup, and today, we’re watching the popular conquests be destroyed one by one.

As pointed out by FAU in a text from the ‘70s, “To talk about elections is to make allusion to a part of a power structure which is much wider,” and “The rules of the game of the bourgeoisie are strong and involved; they sew with steel thread.” Elections are part of this mechanism, and we, especifista anarchists, reject any type of subordination to this mechanism.

However, this doesn’t prevent us from analyzing the different scenarios, including the electoral, and trying to predict the specificities of our class enemies. The movements, strategies, blocks of power, all this must be analyzed with seriousness. People talk a lot about how the State is a form of domination— and we agree— but less about how it’s exercised. The system of domination operates in short and long terms. It is indispensable that anarchist political organizations be able to analyze these changes and to predict political scenarios so that they can act efficiently.

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

Fábio: The Brazilian Anarchist Coordination has some theoretical materials on this topic. Especifismo has been engaging with the concept of popular power for more than a half-century. Our concept of popular power constitutes, simultaneously, an objective and a strategy, both of which give the basis for a political practice anchored in our historical and geographical context in a manner that strengthens our intervention in the set of forces in actuation. Hence, it’s not merely a theoretical or philosophical discussion that aims only to know or to think abstractly about popular power. We conceive of power as an established social relation arisen from the confrontation between several social forces, when one or more forces impose themselves over the other.

Every society has a dynamic and permanent relation between social forces. Because of that, any society has a relation of forces. Individuals, groups, and social classes have the capacity for realization, which may or may not become social forces. Therefore, social force is constituted when the possibility becomes reality. When we organize, we multiply our social force and we always put our hopes in popular movements. We conceive of popular power as a generalized model of power— rooted in self-organization and established by oppressed classes in relation to the ruling classes— which provides the basis for a new society. So popular power aims at the suppression of capitalism, the State, and relations of domination in general, substituting for these with a new power structure, established through the workplace, through the neighborhood. It can only be consolidated through a revolutionary process.

Therefore, we argue that popular power has to be built inside popular struggles, organized and led by the various sectors of the oppressed classes, around more immediate questions, but also aiming for more profound processes of rupture. Building popular power and creating a strong people implies, besides carrying out short-term struggles, advancing for medium- and long-term struggles, and, therefore, we have been supporting popular organization in a formation of the oppressed classes which can permanently strengthen the social force of the dominated classes, putting them in direct opposition to the forces mobilized by the ruling classes. This process of popular organizing must be built as “a result of a convergence process of different social organizations and different popular movements, which are the fruit of class war” (Social Anarchism and Organization, FARJ). It’s about organizing the oppressed around a common project of social transformation. In this sense, the embryo of popular power is being built in combative strikes with direct action, in urban occupations, in rural settlements, in student assemblies and occupations, and in every experience from the oppressed that can create stable bottom-up organizing and challenge the domination of patriarchal-racist-capitalism. Building popular power means to build social relations that put the economic, political, judiciary, military, ideological, and cultural institutions of the ruling class at risk. It’s about daring to beat the system of domination and accomplishing, through solidarity in popular struggle, the accumulation of social forces necessary to disrupt the social relations imposed by the ruling classes and, by means of social conflict, to advance, accumulate, and break up the actual systemic structure. Popular power also needs to accumulate and develop militants and to create stable structures for popular organization. These structures can only be made with the creation and maintenance of popular movements. Popular power is not about a big insurrectionist night, even though insurrection is a step toward this kind of power.

Our anarchism, a motor capable of impelling popular struggles at national and continental levels, is intimately connected to this project of popular power that we continue to support: a strategy and objective that we consider to be consistent with our time and place.

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

For more on libertarian socialism, we recommend the excellent piece “Socialism Will Be Free, Or It Will Not Be At All! – An Introduction to Libertarian Socialism.”

Notes

1. The first labor group with the intention of organizing workers nationally and based its founding principles on the resolutions of the First International.

2. The reference is to Malatesta’s essay “A Little Theory”: “The end justifies the means: we have spoken much ill of that maxim. In reality, it is the universal guide of conduct. One could say better: each end contains its means. It is necessary to seek morality in the end; the means is fatally determined.”

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Scientists Are Totally Rethinking Animal Cognition

mar, 02/12/2019 - 03:30

via The Atlantic

by Ross Andersen

Amid the human crush of Old Delhi, on the edge of a medieval bazaar, a red structure with cages on its roof rises three stories above the labyrinth of neon-lit stalls and narrow alleyways, its top floor emblazoned with two words: birds hospital.

On a hot day last spring, I removed my shoes at the hospital’s entrance and walked up to the second-floor lobby, where a clerk in his late 20s was processing patients. An older woman placed a shoebox before him and lifted off its lid, revealing a bloody white parakeet, the victim of a cat attack. The man in front of me in line held, in a small cage, a dove that had collided with a glass tower in the financial district. A girl no older than 7 came in behind me clutching, in her bare hands, a white hen with a slumped neck.

The hospital’s main ward is a narrow, 40-foot-long room with cages stacked four high along the walls and fans on the ceiling, their blades covered with grates, lest they ensnare a flapping wing. I strolled the room’s length, conducting a rough census. Many of the cages looked empty at first, but leaning closer, I’d find a bird, usually a pigeon, sitting back in the gloom.

The youngest of the hospital’s vets, Dheeraj Kumar Singh, was making his rounds in jeans and a surgical mask. The oldest vet here has worked the night shift for more than a quarter century, spending tens of thousands of hours removing tumors from birds, easing their pain with medication, administering antibiotics. Singh is a rookie by comparison, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he inspects a pigeon, flipping it over in his hands, quickly but gently, the way you might handle your cellphone. As we talked, he motioned to an assistant, who handed him a nylon bandage that he stretched twice around the pigeon’s wing, setting it with an unsentimental pop.

The bird hospital is one of several built by devotees of Jainism, an ancient religion whose highest commandment forbids violence not only against humans, but also against animals. A series of paintings in the hospital’s lobby illustrates the extremes to which some Jains take this prohibition. In them, a medieval king in blue robes gazes through a palace window at an approaching pigeon, its wing bloodied by the talons of a brown hawk still in pursuit. The king pulls the smaller bird into the palace, infuriating the hawk, which demands replacement for its lost meal, so he slices off his own arm and foot to feed it.

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How Flight Attendants Grounded Trump’s Shutdown

sam, 02/09/2019 - 23:34

via Jacobin

By Liza Featherstone

On Sunday, January 20, speaking at an AFL-CIO dinner honoring Martin Luther King, Jr, Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA), called for a general strike to end Trump’s government shutdown.

The following Friday, Nelson, a United Airlines flight attendant since 1996, told the media that flight attendants were “mobilizing immediately” for a strike of their own. A couple hours later, President Trump agreed to provisionally reopen the government for three weeks.

Nelson’s power moves have a backstory — and a future.

She was raised to serve the public, in Corvallis, Oregon, in the 1970s and 1980s, an era when the earning power of public servants had already begun to wane. Her mother was a teacher, but her father, though trained as a physical education teacher, never found a job in that field due to budget cuts in the public school system. He worked first in a lumber mill, then selling lumber.

In college, Nelson majored in English and education. She did her student teaching in inner-city St Louis. “I really would have loved to be a teacher,” she said. But she struggled to make ends meet after graduation, facing student loans. One of her best friends became a flight attendant. “We sort of thought it was funny, and that she would do it for a year or two,” Nelson recalls. Not long after, her friend called from a beach in Miami, toes in the ocean, announcing firmly that it was time to stop laughing at her new career: among other benefits and perks, the money was better than Nelson’s first-year teacher salary.

Nelson drove to Chicago the next day to interview with United Airlines, and was hired. After weeks of unpaid training, her first paycheck was delayed by several more weeks. She ate nothing but plane food and Ramen, her bank balance at zero. She went to United’s Boston office to beg for help and was met with indifference. Standing in the office weeping, she felt a tap on the shoulder. “And there was someone standing there who looked just like me. I’d never seen her before. She was in the same uniform, holding her checkbook and asking me how to spell my name. She hands me a check for $800 and she says, ‘Number one, you take care of yourself, and number two, you call our union.’”

“And I always tell people, I called my union, and I had my paycheck the next day,” Nelson continues. “But, I learned everything I needed to know in that moment when she was standing in front of me with that check. And that is, that flight attendants are union members. There is almost nobody better at taking care of each other. And in our unions we are never alone.”

Not long afterward, her local called her up. ‘We’d like you to get involved,’ they said. I was so honored,” she laughs, “I didn’t realize people said no.”

Nelson’s union, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA), which today represents nearly fifty thousand workers at twenty airlines, had an impressive history even before she joined.

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Salvaging the Revolution – Anarchist Historiography on the Spanish Civil War

sam, 02/09/2019 - 23:27

via Anarchist Studies

by Morris Brodie

Until relatively recently, there has been little scholarly attention paid to the anarchist contribution to the Spanish Civil War in a positive sense. Anyone who has read general histories of the civil war period will be familiar with the trope of the anarchists in Spain either as hopelessly idealistic dreamers or, paradoxically, as bloodthirsty butchers whose only real input on the course of the war was to sow terror in the rearguard.

These caricatures were of course never wholly representative of the scholarship on the anarchists in Spain, but they maintained a certain mythical quality for a number of decades after the war’s end in 1939. In the last twenty or so years, however, there has been something of an ‘anarchist renaissance’ in civil war historiography, with increased attention paid to their contribution from both anarchists and non-anarchists. This article[1] will seek to give a (necessarily curtailed and imperfect) summary of the main trends in anarchist historiography on the civil war from its end until the present day.

Immediately after the Republican defeat in 1939 there were few ‘mainstream’ academic histories that sought to defend the anarchists in Spain or to assess their behaviour with any real depth. Francoist historians portrayed the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (National Confederation of Labour, CNT) and Federación Anarquista Ibérica (Iberian Anarchist Federation, FAI) as essentially evil due to their anticlericalism, symbolised by the widespread murder of clerical figures and burning of churches in areas controlled by anarchists. They also made little attempt to differentiate between the different Republican groupings e.g. left republicans, communists, socialists, anarchists, and Catalan and Basque nationalists. For Franco and his defenders, Reds were Reds.

Liberal and Republican histories attempted to defend the democratic nature of the Second Spanish Republic and to downplay the extent of the achievements of the anarchists and other revolutionaries, such as the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification, POUM) and the left wing of the Unión General de Trabajadores (General Workers’ Union, UGT). The anti-revolutionary tendencies within the Popular Front condemned these revolutionary experiments (characterised by the collectivisation of land and factories, workers’ control of industry, and the preponderance of revolutionary militias over the traditional Republican Army) as counterproductive (or treacherous) in the ultimate fight against fascism. The Cold War was an important backdrop in these polemics, with those critical of the Republic keen to paint it as a satellite state of the Soviet Union (the USSR gave limited aid to the Republic during the period). Those favourable to the Republican cause were loath to acknowledge the existence of a robust revolutionary movement committed to the ultimate overthrow of the state and of capitalism.

There were some favourable interpretations of the anarchist role, such as George Orwell and Gerald Brenan, but these were few and far between, and in general anarchists saw it as their duty to defend themselves against the slanders of their erstwhile comrades in the Popular Front. Activists became the primary historians of the movement, and each sought to justify their own behaviour during the civil war period. The leading anarchist historian after 1939 was José Peirats, a vocal critic of the official CNT-FAI line and activist in the Libertarian Youth of Catalonia during the civil war. In exile in France, he began work on a history of the revolution, which was published in 3 volumes between 1951 and 1953.

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The Cautious Case for Climate Optimism

mer, 02/06/2019 - 03:40

via New York magazine

By David Wallace-Wells

Adapted from The Uninhabitable Earth, by David Wallace-Wells, to be published on February 19 by Tim Duggan Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2019 by David Wallace-Wells.

It’s not too late. In fact, it never will be. Whatever you may have read over the past year — as extreme weather brought a global heat wave and unprecedented wildfires burned through 1.6 million California acres and newspaper headlines declared, “Climate Change Is Here” — global warming is not binary. It is not a matter of “yes” or “no,” not a question of “fucked” or “not.” Instead, it is a problem that gets worse over time the longer we produce greenhouse gas, and can be made better if we choose to stop. Which means that no matter how hot it gets, no matter how fully climate change transforms the planet and the way we live on it, it will always be the case that the next decade could contain more warming, and more suffering, or less warming and less suffering. Just how much is up to us, and always will be.

A century and a half after the greenhouse effect was first identified, and a few decades since climate denial and misinformation began muddying our sense of what scientists do know, we are left with a set of predictions that can appear falsifiable — about global temperatures and sea-level rise and even hurricane frequency and wildfire volume. And there are, it is true, feedback loops in the climate system that we do not yet perfectly understand and dynamic processes that remain mysterious. But to the extent that we live today under clouds of uncertainty about the future of climate change, those clouds are, overwhelmingly, not projections of collective ignorance about the natural world but of blindness about the human one, and they can be dispersed by human action. The question of how bad things will get is not, actually, a test of the science; it is a bet on human activity. How much will we do to forestall disaster and how quickly?

These are the disconcerting, contradictory lessons of global warming, which counsels both human humility and human grandiosity, each drawn from the same perception of peril. There’s a name for those who hold the fate of the world in their hands, as we do — gods. But for the moment, at least, many of us seem inclined to run from that responsibility rather than embrace it. Or even admit we see it, though it sits in front of us as plainly as a steering wheel. That climate change is all-enveloping means that it targets us all and that we must all share in the responsibility so we do not all share in the suffering — at least not share in so suffocatingly much of it.

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Are the Digital Commons condemned to become “Capital Commons”?

mar, 02/05/2019 - 05:21

via Guerilla Translation

calimaq Translated by Maïa Dereva, edited by Ann Marie Utratel

Last week, Katherine Maher, the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, published a rather surprising article on the Wired site entitled: “Facebook and Google must do more to support Wikipedia”. The starting point of her reasoning was to point out that Wikipedia content is increasingly being used by digital giants, such as Facebook or Google:

You may not realise how ubiquitous Wikipedia is in your everyday life, but its open, collaboratively-curated data is used across semantic, search and structured data platforms  on the web. Voice assistants such as Siri, Alexa and Google Home source Wikipedia articles for general knowledge questions; Google’s knowledge panel features Wikipedia content for snippets and essential facts; Quora contributes to and utilises the Wikidata open data project to connect topics and improve user recommendations.

More recently, YouTube and Facebook have turned to Wikipedia for a new reason: to address their issues around fake news and conspiracy theories. YouTube said that they would begin linking to Wikipedia articles from conspiracy videos, in order to give users additional – often corrective – information about the topic of the video. And Facebook rolled out a feature using Wikipedia’s content to give users more information about the publication source of articles appearing in their feeds.

With Wikipedia being solicited more and more by these big players, Katherine Maher believes that they should contribute in return to help the project to guarantee its sustainability:

But this work isn’t free. If Wikipedia is being asked to help hold back the ugliest parts of the internet, from conspiracy theories to propaganda, then the commons needs sustained, long-term support – and that support should come from those with the biggest monetary stake in the health of our shared digital networks.

The companies which rely on the standards we develop, the libraries we maintain, and the knowledge we curate should invest back. And they should do so with significant, long-term commitments that are commensurate with our value we create. After all, it’s good business: the long-term stability of the commons means we’ll be around for continued use for many years to come.

As the non-profits that make the internet possible, we already know how to advocate for our values. We shouldn’t be afraid to stand up for our value.

An image that makes fun of a famous quote by Bill Gates who had described the Linux project as “communist”. But today, it is Capital that produces or recovers digital Commons – starting with Linux – and maybe that shouldn’t make us laugh.

Digital commons: the problem of sustainability

There is something strange about the director of the Wikimedia Foundation saying this kind of thing. Wikipedia is in fact a project anchored in the philosophy of Free Software and placed under a license (CC-BY-SA) that allows commercial reuse, without discriminating between small and large players. The “SA”, for Share Alike, implies that derivative works made from Wikipedia content are licensed under the same license, but does not prohibit commercial reuse. For Wikidata data, things go even further since this project is licensed under CC0 and does not impose any conditions on reuse, not even mentioning the source.

So, if we stick strictly to the legal plan, players like Facebook or Google are entitled to draw from the content and data of Wikimedia projects to reuse them for their own purposes, without having to contribute financially in return. If they do, it can only be on a purely voluntary basis and that is the only thing Katherine Maher can hope for with her platform: that these companies become patrons by donating money to the Wikimedia Foundation. Google has already done so in the past, with a donation of $2 million in 2010 and another $1 million last year. Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Google have also put in place a policy whereby these companies pledge to pay the Wikimedia Foundation the same amount as their individual employees donate.

Should digital giants do more and significantly address the long-term sustainability of the Digital Commons that Wikipedia represents? This question refers to reciprocity for the Commons, which is both absolutely essential and very ambivalent. If we broaden the perspective to free software, it is clear that these Commons have become an essential infrastructure without which the Internet could no longer function today (90% of the world’s servers run on Linux, 25% of websites use WordPress, etc.) But many of these projects suffer from maintenance and financing problems, because their development depends on communities whose means are unrelated to the size of the resources they make available to the whole world. This is shown very well in the book, “What are our digital infrastructures based on? The invisible work of web makers”, by Nadia Eghbal:

Today, almost all commonly used software depends on open source code, created and maintained by communities of developers and other talents. This code can be taken up, modified and used by anyone, company or individual, to create their own software. Shared, this code thus constitutes the digital infrastructure of today’s society…whose foundations threaten, however, to yield under demand!

Indeed, in a world governed by technology, whether Fortune 500 companies, governments, large software companies or startups, we are increasing the burden on those who produce and maintain this shared infrastructure. However, as these communities are quite discreet, it has taken a long time for users to become aware of this.

Like physical infrastructure, however, digital infrastructure requires regular maintenance and servicing. Faced with unprecedented demand, if we do not support this infrastructure, the consequences will be many.

This situation corresponds to a form of tragedy of the Commons, but of a different nature from that which can strike material resources. Indeed, intangible resources, such as software or data, cannot by definition be over-exploited and they even increase in value as they are used more and more. But tragedy can strike the communities that participate in the development and maintenance of these digital commons. When the core of individual contributors shrinks and their strengths are exhausted, information resources lose quality and can eventually wither away.

The progression of the “Capital Commons”

Market players are well aware of this problem, and when their activity depends on a Digital Commons, they usually end up contributing to its maintenance in return. The best known example of this is Linux software, often correctly cited as one of the most beautiful achievements of FOSS. As the cornerstone of the digital environment, the Linux operating system was eventually integrated into the strategies of large companies such as IBM, Samsung, Intel, RedHat, Oracle and many others (including today Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Facebook). Originally developed as a community project based on contributions from volunteer developers, Linux has profoundly changed in nature over time. Today, more than 90% of the contributions to the software are made by professional developers, paid by companies. The Tragedy of the Commons “by exhaustion” that threatens many Open Source projects has therefore been averted with regard to Linux, but only by “re-internalizing” contributors in the form of employees (a movement that is symmetrically opposite to that of uberization).

Main contributors to Linux in 2017. Individual volunteer contributors (none) now represent only 7.7% of project participants…

However, this situation is sometimes denounced as a degeneration of contributing projects that, over time, would become “Commons of capital” or “pseudo-Commons of capital”. For example, as Christian Laval explained in a forum:

Large companies create communities of users or consumers to obtain opinions, opinions, suggestions and technical improvements. This is what we call the “pseudo-commons of capital”. Capital is capable of organizing forms of cooperation and sharing for its benefit. In a way, this is indirect and paradoxical proof of the fertility of the common, of its creative and productive capacity. It is a bit the same thing that allowed industrial take-off in the 19th century, when capitalism organised workers’ cooperation in factories and exploited it to its advantage.

If this criticism can quite legitimately be addressed to actors like Uber or AirBnB who divert and capture collaborative dynamics for their own interests, it is more difficult to formulate against a project like Linux. Because large companies that contribute to software development via their employees have not changed the license (GNU-GPL) under which the resource is placed, they can never claim exclusivity. This would call into question the shared usage rights allowing any actor, commercial or not, to use Linux. Thus, there is literally no appropriation of the Common or return to enclosure, even if the use of the software by these companies participates in the accumulation of Capital.

On the other hand, it is obvious that a project which depends more than 90% on the contributions of salaried developers working for large companies is no longer “self-governed” as understood in Commons theory. Admittedly, project governance always formally belongs to the community of developers relying on the Linux Foundation, but you can imagine that the weight of the corporations’ interests must be felt, if only through the ties of subordination weighing on salaried developers. This structural state of economic dependence on these firms does make Linux a “common capital”, although not completely captured and retaining a certain relative autonomy.

How to guarantee the independence of digital Commons?

For a project like Wikipedia, things would probably be different if firms like Google or Facebook answered the call launched by Katherine Maher. The Wikipedia community has strict rules in place regarding paid contributions, which means that you would probably never see 90% of the content produced by employees. Company contributions would likely be in the form of cash payments to the Wikimedia Foundation. However, economic dependence would be no less strong; until now, Wikipedia has ensured its independence basically by relying on individual donations to cover the costs associated with maintaining the project’s infrastructure. This economic dependence would no doubt quickly become a political dependence – which, by the way, the Wikimedia Foundation has already been criticised for, regarding a large number of personalities with direct or indirect links with Google included on its board, to the point of generating strong tensions with the community. The Mozilla Foundation, behind the Firefox browser, has sometimes received similar criticism. Their dependence on Google funding may have attracted rather virulent reproach and doubts about some of its strategic choices.

In the end, this question of the digital Commons’ state of economic dependence is relatively widespread. There are, in reality, very few free projects having reached a significant scale that have not become more or less “Capital Commons”. This progressive satellite-isation is likely to be further exacerbated by the fact that free software communities have placed themselves in a fragile situation by coordinating with infrastructures that can easily be captured by Capital. This is precisely what just happened with Microsoft’s $7.5 billion acquisition of GitHub. Some may have welcomed the fact that this acquisition reflected a real evolution of Microsoft’s strategy towards Open Source, even that it could be a sign that “free software has won”, as we sometimes hear.

Microsoft was already the firm that devotes the most salaried jobs to Open Source software development (ahead of Facebook…)

But, we can seriously doubt it. Although free software has acquired an infrastructural dimension today – to the point that even a landmark player in proprietary software like Microsoft can no longer ignore it – the developer communities still lack the means of their independence, whether individually (developers employed by large companies are in the majority) or collectively (a lot of free software depends on centralized platforms like GitHub for development). Paradoxically, Microsoft has taken seriously Platform Cooperativism’s watchwords, which emphasize the importance of becoming the owner of the means of production in the digital environment in order to be able to create real alternatives. Over time, Microsoft has become one of the main users of GitHub for developing its own code; logically, it bought the platform to become its master. Meanwhile – and this is something of a grating irony – Trebor Scholz – one of the initiators, along with Nathan Schneider, of the Platform Cooperativism movement – has accepted one million dollars in funding from Google to develop his projects. This amounts to immediately making oneself dependent on one of the main actors of surveillance capitalism, seriously compromising any hope of building real alternatives.

One may wonder if Microsoft has not better understood the principles of Platform Cooperativism than Trebor Scholtz himself, who is its creator!

For now, Wikipedia’s infrastructure is solidly resilient, because the Wikimedia Foundation only manages the servers that host the collaborative encyclopedia’s contents. They have no title to them, because of the free license under which they are placed. GitHub could be bought because it was a classic commercial enterprise, whereas the Wikimedia Foundation would not be able to resell itself, even if players like Google or Apple made an offer. The fact remains that Katherine Maher’s appeal for Google or Facebook funding risks weakening Wikipedia more than anything else, and I find it difficult to see something positive for the Commons. In a way, I would even say that this kind of discourse contributes to the gradual dilution of the notion of Commons that we sometimes see today. We saw it recently with the “Tech For Good” summit organized in Paris by Emmanuel Macron, where actors like Facebook and Uber were invited to discuss their contribution “to the common good”. In the end, this approach is not so different from Katherine Maher’s, who asks that Facebook or Google participate in financing the Wikipedia project, while in no way being able to impose it on them. In both cases, what is very disturbing is that we are regressing to the era of industrial paternalism, as it was at the end of the 19th century, when the big capitalists launched “good works” on a purely voluntary basis to compensate for the human and social damage caused by an unbridled market economy through philanthropy.

Making it possible to impose reciprocity for the Commons on Capital

The Commons are doomed to become nothing more than “Commons of Capital” if they do not give themselves the means to reproduce autonomously without depending on the calculated generosity of large companies who will always find a way to instrumentalize and void them of their capacity to constitute a real alternative. An association like Framasoft has clearly understood that after its program “Dégooglisons Internet”, aimed at creating tools to enable Internet users to break their dependence on GAFAMs, has continued with the Contributopia campaign. This aims to raise public awareness of the need to create a contribution ecosystem that guarantees conditions of long-term sustainability for both individual contributors and collective projects. This is visible now, for example, with the participatory fundraising campaign organized to boost the development of PeerTube, a software allowing the implementation of a distributed architecture for video distribution that could eventually constitute a credible alternative to YouTube.

But with all due respect to Framasoft, it seems to me that the classic “libriste” (free culture activist) approach remains mired in serious contradictions, of which Katherine Maher’s article is also a manifestation. How can we launch a programme such as “Internet Negotiations” that thrashes the model of Surveillance Capitalism, and at the same time continue to defend licences that do not discriminate according to the nature of the actors who reuse resources developed by communities as common goods? There is a schizophrenia here due to a certain form of blindness that has always marked the philosophy of the Libre regarding its apprehension of economic issues. This in turn explains Katherine Maher’s – partly understandable – uneasiness at seeing Wikipedia’s content and data reused by players like Facebook or Google who are at the origin of the centralization and commodification of the Internet.

To escape these increasingly problematic contradictions, we must give ourselves the means to defend the digital Commons sphere on a firmer basis than free licenses allow today. This is what actors who promote “enhanced reciprocity licensing” are trying to achieve, which would prohibit lucrative commercial entities from reusing common resources, or impose funding on them in return. We see this type of proposal in a project like CoopCycle for example, an alternative to Deliveroo; or Uber Eats, which refuses to allow its software to be reused by commercial entities that do not respect the social values it stands for. The aim of this new approach, defended in particular by Michel Bauwens, is to protect an “Economy of the Commons” by enabling it to defend its economic independence and prevent it from gradually being colonised and recovered into “Commons of Capital”.

.

With a project like CHATONS, an actor like Framasoft is no longer so far from embracing such an approach, because to develop its network of alternative hosts, a charter has been drawn up including conditions relating to the social purpose of the companies participating in the operation. It is a first step in the reconciliation between the Free and the SSE, also taking shape through a project like “Plateformes en Communs”, aiming to create a coalition of actors that recognize themselves in both Platform Cooperativism and the Commons. There has to be a way to make these reconciliations stronger, and lead to a clarification of the contradictions still affecting Free Software.

Make no mistake: I am not saying that players like Facebook or Google should not pay to participate in the development of free projects. But unlike Katherine Maher, I think that this should not be done on a voluntary basis, because these donations will only reinforce the power of the large centralized platforms by hastening the transformation of the digital Commons into “Capital Commons”. If Google and Facebook are to pay, they must be obliged to do so, just as industrial capitalists have come to be obliged to contribute to the financing of the social state through compulsory contributions. This model must be reinvented today, and we could imagine states – or better still the European Union – subjecting major platforms to taxation in order to finance a social right to the contribution open to individuals. It would be a step towards this “society of contribution” Framasoft calls for, by giving itself the means to create one beyond surveillance capitalism, which otherwise knows full well how to submit the Commons to its own logic and neutralize their emancipatory potential.

Photo by Elf-8

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“A Fundamentally Illegitimate Choice”: Shoshana Zuboff on the Age of Surveillance Capitalism

mar, 02/05/2019 - 05:08

via The Intercept

by Sam Biddle

Shoshana Zuboff’s “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” is already drawing comparisons to seminal socioeconomic investigations like Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and Karl Marx’s “Capital.” Zuboff’s book deserves these comparisons and more: Like the former, it’s an alarming exposé about how business interests have poisoned our world, and like the latter, it provides a framework to understand and combat that poison. But “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” named for the now-popular term Zuboff herself coined five years ago, is also a masterwork of horror. It’s hard to recall a book that left me as haunted as Zuboff’s, with its descriptions of the gothic algorithmic daemons that follow us at nearly every instant of every hour of every day to suck us dry of metadata. Even those who’ve made an effort to track the technology that tracks us over the last decade or so will be chilled to their core by Zuboff, unable to look at their surroundings the same way.

An unavoidable takeaway of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” is, essentially, that everything is even worse than you thought. Even if you’ve followed the news items and historical trends that gird Zuboff’s analysis, her telling takes what look like privacy overreaches and data blunders, and recasts them as the intentional movements of a global system designed to violate you as a revenue stream. “The result is that both the world and our lives are pervasively rendered as information,” Zuboff writes. “Whether you are complaining about your acne or engaging in political debate on Facebook, searching for a recipe or sensitive health information on Google, ordering laundry soap or taking photos of your nine-year-old, smiling or thinking angry thoughts, watching TV or doing wheelies in the parking lot, all of it is raw material for this burgeoning text.”

Tech’s privacy scandals, which seem to appear with increasing frequency both in private industry and in government, aren’t isolated incidents, but rather brief glimpses at an economic and social logic that’s overtaken the planet while we were enjoying Gmail and Instagram. The cliched refrain that if you’re “not paying for a product, you are the product”? Too weak, says Zuboff. You’re not technically the product, she explains over the course of several hundred tense pages, because you’re something even more degrading: an input for the real product, predictions about your future sold to the highest bidder so that this future can be altered. “Digital connection is now a means to others’ commercial ends,” writes Zuboff. “At its core, surveillance capitalism is parasitic and self-referential. It revives Karl Marx’s old image of capitalism as a vampire that feeds on labor, but with an unexpected turn. Instead of labor, surveillance capitalism feeds on every aspect of every human’s experience.”

Zuboff recently took a moment to walk me through the implications of her urgent and crucial book. This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.

I was hoping you could say something about whatever semantic games Facebook and other similar data brokers are doing when they say they don’t sell data.

I remember sitting at my desk in my study early in 2012, and I was listening to a speech that [Google’s then-Executive Chair] Eric Schmidt gave somewhere. He was bragging about how privacy conscious Google is, and he said, “We don’t sell your data.” I got on the phone and started calling these various data scientists that I know and saying, “How can Eric Schmidt say we don’t sell your data, in public, knowing that it’s recorded? How does he get away with that?” It’s exactly the question I was trying to answer at the beginning of all this.

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How Austerity, and a Cowardly Ruling Class, Brought About Brexit

mar, 02/05/2019 - 04:46

via Pacific Standard

by Laurie Penny

It’s embarrassing, trying to explain Brexit to Americans. It’s like trying to explain wildfires to people whose houses are underwater. Given that Americans have their own political horror show to watch through their fingers as their faith in humanity fizzles, they may well wonder why on Earth they ought to pay any attention to the crypto-nationalist omnishambles happening across the Atlantic. Isn’t it essentially just the same as the American omnishambles, except on a BBC budget, with more subdued special effects and a lot of squashed-looking posh people pretending to know what they’re talking about? Well, no, it’s not quite the same, and yes, it’s worth your attention. Here’s why.

Brexit Britain is an object lesson in how a modern nation fails. It’s the last act in a familiar unhappy marriage plot, with ruthless neoliberal economic orthodoxy wedded to the genteel thuggery of old-school conservative entitlement, combining to create something so much weirder, and so much worse, that the result can collapse an entire culture.

So let’s remind ourselves what’s at stake here. Let’s take a hard look at the worst-case, and right now most likely, outcome: a no-deal Brexit. In less than 60 days, Britain has to leave the E.U., and the difference between doing so with a deal and without one is the difference between being kicked out of a plane with and without a parachute. Here’s what no-deal Brexit means: it means an immediate and lasting recession. It means massive job losses. It means serious shortages of food and medicines. It means major businesses closing down. It means, ironically, the possible break-up of the United Kingdom, as the Scottish, who didn’t vote for Brexit, inevitably demand a second independence referendum. It means new violence along the Irish border. It means Britain losing its cherished place at the top table in the international community after we’ve definitively demonstrated that just because we once owned a lot of other countries doesn’t mean we can be trusted not to trash our own. It means that ordinary people, already reeling from nine years of brutal austerity, will find their lives collapsing, all in service of a rich man’s gamble.

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How to change the minds of climate deniers

mar, 02/05/2019 - 04:30

via The Guardian

by Kate Yoder

For some people, the awakening comes in science class.

In the Reddit thread titled “Former climate change deniers, what changed your mind?” the most popular comment comes from chucklesthe2nd (probably not his real name). Chuck, as we’ll call him, essentially inherited his dad’s views on climate change.

“I grew up actively and obnoxiously denying climate change because my dad told me it wasn’t real,” Chuck wrote last year. Then, during a high school science course, he learned about feedback loops: “It suddenly hit me. As the atmosphere heats up, more CO2 is released, which heats up the atmosphere, which releases more CO2, which heats up the atmosphere, which releases more CO2, which heats up the atmosphere, which releases more CO2……etc.”

t looks like Chuck is at the forefront of an encouraging trend. A recent Monmouth poll found that 78% of Americans believe climate change is real and leading to sea-level rise and more extreme weather. That’s up from 70% three years ago. The headline-grabbing takeaway: a majority of Republicans – 64% – are now believers, a 15-point jump from 2015.

To learn more about these converts, researchers at Yale and George Mason crunched the numbers from a blend of responses to surveys conducted between 2011 and 2015. They found that 8% of Americans said they had recently changed their opinion on the matter, according to a new analysis from Yale University and George Mason University. Nearly all of the recent converts said global warming had become a bigger concern for them.

But who are these people, anyway, and what’s their deal? Let’s take a closer look.

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Shutdown for Now—How to Shut It Down for Good!

mar, 02/05/2019 - 04:22

via Center for a Stateless Society

by Joseph Parampathu

The United States government recently shut down for the longest stretch in history: the government spent one-month in deadlock between its Democratic-majority Congress and Republican President Donald Trump over a budget resolution. President Trump proposed a deal temporarily reinstating protections for people who immigrated to the United States without documentation while minors in exchange for $5.7 billion towards funding a physical barrier across the southern border between Mexico and the USA, but this deal was rejected. Currently, the government has reopened the closed branches temporarily, with a short-term funding bill which does not include the $5.7 billion wall funding.

Perhaps the strangest revelation from this long stalemate is the continuation of business as usual while the state was “shut down.” While politicians continued to receive their salaries unencumbered, many government workers were either furloughed or working without pay while under legal restrictions which prevent them from organizing to strike. These same workers found welfare benefits largely unfunded and relied on the charity of strangers and their local communities to keep them alive. The situation for some became perilous, and the need for anarchist structures of support has only become more glaring.

Reliance on government structures puts people at the whims of politicians and coerces them into protecting the state. It is absolutely necessary as a tactic for anarchists to take over these structures and provide support for their communities separate from and in opposition to the governments which attempt to hold these people’s safety and welfare hostage over a manufactured crisis. The politicians both uphold their own desire to be indifferent to a shutdown by continuing to receive their own salaries while also making it illegal for other government workers to organize to strike until their back-pay is received. The hypocrisy of the state stands naked before us: One set of rules for me, and another set of rules for thee.

The darker reality is that when we do not have our structures in place to take over during these false crises, then the state will simply reestablish itself and levy the debts of temporary closure upon us while simultaneously assuming more control over our lives. The dual oppression of the state and its politically manufactured fear is that the workers that are punished today by receiving $0 paychecks and facing no safety nets will be paying the personal and public debts that are incurred from this temporary insanity with the more constant insanity of the usury inherent to a corporate state. Tomorrow’s taxes somehow will not reflect the supposed savings of benefits not doled out but will instead bear the interest of the salaries due to (but withheld from) these workers.

By creating the structures today that define the world in which we wish to live, our actions become a proof of concept to our future society. To properly build the stateless society that will replace the corporate-state we need to create structures that take over the perceived benevolence of government and render its pseudo-benefits obsolete by delivering into the hands of people the power to control their own futures. When we establish community structures through our own gardens, gyms, transportation networks, and social safety nets, we render the corporate state inadequate and prove to all people the working reality of the philosophy that guides us.

Of course the government was not really shutdown; the state was largely on pause, if only in the elements that claim to support working people while continuing in those elements which oppress us. We must claim this opportunity for what it is by agitating for increased vigor in our works which replace the structures of the state-capitalist system. There is no need to wait for the destruction of the capitalist state to create the anarchist world. It is for us to create the world that replaces the state system when it inevitably collapses. We must build today the stateless society we aim to live in tomorrow so that we will be properly poised to end the state for good.

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Flying squad pickets and the need for independent workplace groups

sam, 02/02/2019 - 22:56

via Libcom

by Juan Conatz

One of the innovative things that came out of the Teamsters Rebellion in 1934, was the flying squad picket. The flying squad picket is a rapid response group of members who are ready to mobilize on short notice to provide direct support for pickets or actions. It is important for how it mobilizes many workers in real time. Farrell Dobbs talks about how the flying squad pickets then included not just union workers, but also unemployed workers and people from the community.

This sort of direct action seems particularly relevant given the times that we are in right now. Unions are weak, union busting is normalized, unemployment is rising, and social services budgets are slashed with no qualms. Many workers are losing confidence that the contract negotiation process is going to help them keep their jobs, or tide through the lows of the economic crisis. The recent resounding No vote by 75% of UAW members and up to 90% in some locals,against the concessionary UAW/Ford contract, is the clearest testament to this utmost lack of faith and indignation against the union bureaucracy. This has not happened for decades. It is clearer than day that union bureaucracies have cowered at the economic crisis and perpetuated this sense of inevitability and legitimacy of attacks on workers. This can be the only foreseeable result after decades of racism that have only too conveniently shifted the blame unto third world workers, as well as economic nationalism that is more about keeping US companies afloat rather than fighting for the working class in the US.

This raises the question: What can sufficiently fight back against this economic crisis? What kind of actions and organizations can counter these endless attacks and criminalization of workers struggles?

The flying squad pickets are one of many forms of direct action that can be taken on by rank and file workers, harking back to the times even before the grievance procedure was the norm. They have the advantage of involving workers from many different workplaces, shattering the false divisions between job classifications, and the divide and conquer strategies of management. Flying squad pickets are also powerful for mobilizing people’s energies at the moment, without letting them die out with long procedural, bureaucratic processes. They are able to give people a sense of power and control over their own fates, without relying always on an outside, unapproachable force, an overdependence on a contract which many folks can’t even read, or understand.

That said, even direct actions themselves need to be coordinated with other forms of workers self activity. Flying squads are great expressions of workers solidarity and self activity. However, they are not the be all and end all.

Flying squads and other such direct action cannot replace the need for structure and organizations that the workers need to build for themselves, by themselves. It cannot replace the communication, skill sharing, solidarity and relationships that workers need to foster with one another, whether in the same job, or across job lines. Everything that the workplace is, is meant to divide and conquer through race, gender and citizenship, through language and skill set. Sometimes the difficult truth is that people dont like each other cos they know each other too well, for too long. It takes more work than just common forms of direct action to break through the old, crusty, institutionalized social relations that capitalism has carefully cultivated within the workforce. These require more consistency, and is sometimes the most slow and tedious work.

Independent workplace groups complement direct action. People are transformed by the actions that they are involved in. We need to shatter the notion that we should only follow the rules and laws that were meant to disenfranchise us anyway. We need to emphasize that the most successful direct actions, or flying squads are those that have a sense of continuation, before, and after exciting public actions.

It is also through such formations that a consistent critique and independence from the union bureaucracy can be maintained. In our organizing in Seattle, we have encountered groups who critique us and the rank and file custodians we organize with, for not being subservient to the union bureaucracy’s conservatism and slowness. “You should see the big picture,” or “You shouldn’t be so divisive”, or “You are playing management’s game to discredit the union by not following the bylaws.” These are challenging notions to counter precisely because they come from so-called progressives and leftists. And it is all the more frustrating for that reason. The unwillingness to side with the demands of immigrant workers, and workers of color, chiding them to fall in line with a more conservative bureaucracy seems to be a little lacking on the anti-racism credentials these groups always rattle on about. No, anti-racism is not just another -ism to talk about in a “privilege awareness” training session. It actually does mean you have to side with the struggles of oppressed people and not flock to the token people of color who step on everyone else’s heads to get up the ladder. “Workers are the union” also shouldn’t just be a meaningless slogan.

Sometimes workers’ aren’t consistently more radical than the union bureaucracy. This is a sober assesment. We have many contradictions that need to be ironed out. An independent workplace group provides space for those necessary conversations to take place, for those seething frustrations to be situated within a broader political analysis of our present times. Unions are not always the dam blocking the whole flood of workers self activity and energy that is intent on tearing down management and capitalism. Activists and revolutionaries need to be careful not to read our desires for what workers self activity represent, for what it actually is. Sometimes, the demands for “cut from the top,” or “cut from management, not from workers,” become read as “eliminate all management.” This is a false representation of workers demands. We need to keep our ears on the ground and listen to what people around us are saying. This is not to say we dont keep pushing and supporting the voices of the militants, whether they be the minority of the workforce. What I do mean is that it does us no good to misintepret and charge alone. That said, it is a great transitional demand that we should support and fight for because it points to greater rank and file control over the workplace and can create openings for discussing with rank and file militants, the importance of worker’s self management.

How we can build mass rank and file workplace groups with strong race, gender and anti-imperialist politics, with a focus on direct action by workers and community, that can reinforce the notion that workers ARE the union, reflecting back to workers and others, their own power? We need answers to this to respond to today’s crisis.

Originally posted: November 17, 2009 at Gathering Forces

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The women fighting a pipeline that could destroy precious wildlife

sam, 02/02/2019 - 22:51

via The Guardian

by Joe Whittle

Deep within the humid green heart of the largest river swamp in North America, a battle is being waged over the future of the most precious resource of all: water.

On one side of the conflict is a small band of rugged and ragtag activists led by Indigenous matriarchs. On the other side is the relentless machinery of the fossil fuel industry and all of its might. And at the center of the struggle is the Atchafalaya river, a 135 mile-long distributary of the Mississippi river that empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

The activists gather at L’eau Est La Vie Camp, a resistance encampment set up to resist the Bayou Bridge pipeline, which will cross directly through the river basin to connect shale crude from the Dakota Access pipeline to a refinery in St James, Louisiana. From there, it will be shipped primarily to China.

The “water protectors”, as they call themselves, are camped near the path of the pipeline. Many live locally, but others come from afar, often hailing from tribes affected by similar issues, such as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Their efforts are focused on public protest to raise awareness, as well as direct actions to impede construction of the pipeline, which they say endangers the Atchafalaya hardwood forest and cypress-tupelo swamp, the largest in North America.

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Review: New York 2140

sam, 02/02/2019 - 22:44

via C4SS

by Roderick Long

Robinson, Kim Stanley. New York 2140. (Orbit Books, 2017).

Kim Stanley Robinson is one of the best science-fiction writers working today. Recurring themes in his stories include ecology, archeological exploration, anti-capitalist politics, and the ineluctable passage of time – all of which feature in New York 2140, which, like much of his work (including Icehenge, The Martians, 2312, Galileo’s Dream, and Aurora) fits almost-but-not-quite into the future history established in the Mars trilogy, his best-known work. (The inconsistencies are explained in Galileo’s Dream, where we learn that these various narratives belong to distinct but closely adjacent timelines.)

New York 2140 is a sprawling, magnificent tour de force. In its pages, the half-sunken (owing to global warming and consequent rising sea levels) but still-vibrant future Manhattan, criss-crossed by skybridges and streets-turned-canals, that figures peripherally in some of Robinson’s other works, here takes center stage. Average people eking out a precarious existence in the more sunken parts of the city band together to resist the twin threats of storm surges on the one hand and wealthy, predatory speculators from the higher and drier sections of the city on the other.

Like many of Robinson’s books, New York 2140 divides its attention among many characters rather than focusing on one or two protagonists. The chapters devoted to different characters’ viewpoints also vary in style, with some being told in first-person, some in third; some in present-tense, some in past; and so on. Periodic expository chapters, leavening their infodumps with sardonic commentary from an anonymous “citizen,” give the novel simultaneously a 19th-century and a postmodern tone.

A subplot, only tangentially related to the Manhattan storyline, involving an alternately zany and harrowing attempt to save polar bears from extinction by relocating them to Antarctica via airship (because science fiction writers love airships!) as part of an eccentric reality show, resurrects one of the central themes of Robinson’s Mars trilogy, namely the conflict between versions of environmentalism that favor active human intervention to create or preserve sustainable habitats and versions that valorize the natural, untouched landscape.

Predictably (for the same praise and criticism applies to the Mars trilogy), New York 2140 is terrific from a literary perspective, but a frustratingly mixed bag from an economic and political perspective. In many ways the book, and Robinson’s work more generally, epitomizes the tragedy of the Left: one foot in vital, grassroots, quasi-anarchist radicalism, the other in dreary, top-down, paternalistic authoritarianism (or “social democracy”), with this unstable union of opposites being held together by what I’ve come to call left-conflationism, i.e., the error of taking the perversities of corporate capitalism to be the result of, and so to be reasons to oppose, genuinely freed markets – and, relatedly, of seeing government as a check against, rather than a crucial enabler of, the power of economic elites: a safe and benign tool if we can only put the right people in charge of it. (Gary Chartier and I gave Robinson a copy of Markets Not Capitalism back in 2013, when, as he told us, he was just beginning to plan this “novel about markets,” but obviously we did not make a convert.)

Hence we’re treated to the spectacle of a purportedly egalitarian, anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist revolution whose guiding stars are Lord Keynes and the two Presidents Roosevelt, and whose ultimate payoff is to get one of the protagonists elected to Congress – a revolution that begins as bottom-up mutual-aid direct action via “dual power alternative networking,” only to fizzle out into the stale message that government is the heroic force that will save us all from the rapacious capitalists if we only just vote harder.

Robinson almost falls into self-parody when he describes the “private security firms” in his future New York as “play[ing] Snidely Whiplash to the NYPD’s Dudley Do-Right” – an absurdly kind evaluation of the NYPD, given its actual record. (I looked desperately for evidence that Robinson was being ironic here, but couldn’t see any.) Regrettably, Robinson’s view is simply a mirror image of Ayn Rand’s vision of corporate capitalists as the heroic force that will save us all from rapacious government, and is no more convincing. (Robinson likewise treats anthropogenic climate change as a product of unregulated markets, with no recognition of the ways in which it’s been fueled by corporate socialization of costs enabled by government intervention.)

Most disturbing is the disappointingly reactionary political program enacted by the novel’s victorious lefty radicals, which includes bank bailouts via nationalization, immigration restrictions into New York (“morally defensible” because those coming in “often had bad intentions” – a line that disturbingly echoes Donald Trump’s 2015 campaign rhetoric), mandatory national service (i.e., temporary slavery), and what amounts to martial law. Toward the novel’s end one protagonist responsible for much of this program briefly “pause[s] to wonder what it meant when a police state was aspirational, a staving off of a worse fate” – but quickly dismisses such worries to immerse herself in the minutiae of day-to-day policy. (Again, I’d like to think Robinson is offering an implicit critique here, but I see no signs that he is doing so.)

I highly recommend New York 2140 as a beautifully written, richly allusive, perpetually engaging and provocative novel. But I cannot recommend it as a lens through which to view the causes and likely cures of the social ills that beset us.

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