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The Truth About “Trailer Trash”

dim, 01/07/2018 - 20:04

via CounterPunch

by Sonya Salamon – Katherine MacTavish

“Trailer trash” remains one of the last unquestioned relics of political incorrectness in our nation. This slur rests on fundamental cultural assumptions about people who live in trailer parks: that they are simple-minded, lawless, reckless with fertility, and indifferent to the very behaviors that mark as them worthy of ridicule. As a toxic slur, the “trailer trash” brand works to stigmatize an entire category of people marginalizing  them from mainstream society.

During the late 1990s, the two of us spent considerable time at the kitchen tables of parents raising children in rural trailer parks. Virtually all of these parents worked full time in manufacturing and service jobs in which wages have been stagnant for decades. They embarked on mobile home ownership just as financial giants like Countrywide opened a gateway to homeownership for low income households by offering high-interest loans with no down payment. Trailer park residency was not a lifestyle choice but the consequence of financial realities and a dream that homeownership might offer their children a kind of stability, security, and respect they lacked in their own  adverse childhoods. Today, some 12 million Americans live in one of our nation’s 45,000 rural trailer parks.

In our decade of field research in rural Illinois, New Mexico and North Carolina, we documented how the ‘trailer-trash’ slur undermined the self-worth and identity of working-poor families living in trailer parks, as homeowners.  As one mother explained to us, “I never tell anyone where I live… I’ll do almost anything to avoid saying I live in [a trailer park]- I’m too embarrassed about it.”  Her perception of the need to manage stigma by protecting one’s address was a belief uniformly shared by white families, in particular, as we found ‘trailer trash’ seems to be a variant of the ‘white trash’ put down commonly used toward the rural poor.

We found little evidence for the stereotypical notions of slovenly lives embodied in this slur. The 40 trailer park families we came to know well were employed, limited their family size, and the mobile home they owned and the rented lot it sat on were neat and well maintained. Unlike media representations, they were not the poorest of the poor, nor were their neighborhood conditions typified by crime, noise, litter, deteriorated housing, or poor social services. They wanted good schools for their children and to be respected as proud homeowners in the wider rural communities where they lived.

Buying a home, even one with wheels beneath, was for the families we studied, a major accomplishment. Many were the first in their family to mount the initial rung on what they hoped was a ladder leading to conventional homeownership on owned land. But for most families, realizing the benefits of their hard-won status as homeowners is compromised by our national contempt for trailer parks and those who call them home. That contempt, which inaccurately portrays rural trailer park life, bore real social and economic consequences for the families we studied.  It is time we put this outdated and inaccurate slur to rest and instead honor the accomplishments of these rural families as pioneers settling a tarnished housing form that with wider national acceptance, and adjustment of the structural and financial challenges homeowners face, holds the potential for addressing our national affordable housing crisis.

Sonya Salamon, an anthropologist and Professor Emerita of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Katherine MacTavish an Associate Professor at Oregon State University are authors of the recent book: Singlewide: Chasing the American Dream in a Rural Trailer Park.

Photo by Steve Snodgrass | CC BY 2.0

Woody Harrelson: ‘I used to have my head up my ass’

dim, 01/07/2018 - 19:52

via The Guardian

s a kid growing up in Texas, Woody Harrelson daydreamed about being a cop and, later, some kind of secret agent – like an American James Bond. “I was probably influenced by stuff I’d watched, thinking how glorious it would be,” he says in that unmistakable, slow, Southern drawl. “But, oh my God, that would have been horrible. Can you imagine me protecting President Trump? I’d pin a fricking target on him.”

Harrelson is laughing, but only half joking all the same when we meet at the Venice film festival. He’s full of laid-back bonhomie, wearing eco-friendly hemp chinos, a white T-shirt and a hipster beard. He’s been foregoing the pleasures of weed for some time now, but he remains, essentially, the most affable of dudes; the most right on of Hollywood’s elite; the walking embodiment, indeed, of all things not Trump.

He returns to the subject when we speak on the phone a few months later. He’s back in Maui, the paradise island he now calls home, explaining why Willie Nelson, his Maui neighbour and friend, would make a better leader than the “narcissist” currently in the White House (and he’s only half joking again).

Trump is exactly what I expected. It’s ‘Let’s make money, let’s deregulate.’ He is a disaster

Just last night, before our phone call, he and the country music legend had been hanging out, the latter trying to entice Woody to share a bong with him. “He was handing it to me and I was like, ‘Goddamn! That smells good!’ But I didn’t.”

Before giving up, he says, he’d blurred the edges of an overly sensitive nature by existing in a perpetual weed-induced fog. “Whether it was a San Francisco fog or a London fog, there was always some level of fog going on. But now I want to get my head together. I want to see things clearly, to be aware and sensitive to what’s going on in my life and in the world, although I admit it’s tough sometimes.”

In a world in which celebrity is now micro-managed by agents and publicists, Harrelson is old school. He rarely takes offence at questions, answers honestly, is slow to big himself up, quick to put himself down, describing himself, for example, as “a pretty lazy guy, at heart”.

“To be honest with you, I could just lie in bed until 1pm and then mosey down and pick a mango or something, then go out with my buddies.” After our phone call, he’s off to the beach to kite surf before meeting his mates for a twice-weekly football kick-about.

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Showtime Backs Chelsea Manning Documentary ‘XY Chelsea’ Across Multiple Platforms

dim, 01/07/2018 - 19:48

via Deadline

A documentary on whistle-blower Chelsea Manning, whose struggle with gender dysphoria coincided with a 35-year prison sentence for revealing state secrets, will be released at an unspecified date later this year with Showtime’s backing. The announcement on XY Chelsea was made today by David Nevins, President and CEO, Showtime Networks Inc. at the 2018 Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour.

Shot over two years by filmmaker Tim Travers Hawkins and featuring interviews and behind-the-scenes verite’ with Manning, the documentary picks up on the day she leaves prison thanks to a sentence commutation from President Obama. The documentary then follows her on a journey of discovery, while also examining her place in the conversation on national security and in the fight of the transgender community for rights and visibility.

Showtime will premiere XY Chelsea with a theatrical run, and then feature it on the network’s on-air, on demand and over the Internet platforms.

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Is everything you think you know about depression wrong?

dim, 01/07/2018 - 18:19

via The Guardian

by Johann Hari

n the 1970s, a truth was accidentally discovered about depression – one that was quickly swept aside, because its implications were too inconvenient, and too explosive. American psychiatrists had produced a book that would lay out, in detail, all the symptoms of different mental illnesses, so they could be identified and treated in the same way across the United States. It was called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. In the latest edition, they laid out nine symptoms that a patient has to show to be diagnosed with depression – like, for example, decreased interest in pleasure or persistent low mood. For a doctor to conclude you were depressed, you had to show five of these symptoms over several weeks.

The manual was sent out to doctors across the US and they began to use it to diagnose people. However, after a while they came back to the authors and pointed out something that was bothering them. If they followed this guide, they had to diagnose every grieving person who came to them as depressed and start giving them medical treatment. If you lose someone, it turns out that these symptoms will come to you automatically. So, the doctors wanted to know, are we supposed to start drugging all the bereaved people in America?

The authors conferred, and they decided that there would be a special clause added to the list of symptoms of depression. None of this applies, they said, if you have lost somebody you love in the past year. In that situation, all these symptoms are natural, and not a disorder. It was called “the grief exception”, and it seemed to resolve the problem.

Then, as the years and decades passed, doctors on the frontline started to come back with another question. All over the world, they were being encouraged to tell patients that depression is, in fact, just the result of a spontaneous chemical imbalance in your brain – it is produced by low serotonin, or a natural lack of some other chemical. It’s not caused by your life – it’s caused by your broken brain. Some of the doctors began to ask how this fitted with the grief exception. If you agree that the symptoms of depression are a logical and understandable response to one set of life circumstances – losing a loved one – might they not be an understandable response to other situations? What about if you lose your job? What if you are stuck in a job that you hate for the next 40 years? What about if you are alone and friendless?

Drug companies would fund huge numbers of studies and then only release the ones that showed success

The grief exception seemed to have blasted a hole in the claim that the causes of depression are sealed away in your skull. It suggested that there are causes out here, in the world, and they needed to be investigated and solved there. This was a debate that mainstream psychiatry (with some exceptions) did not want to have. So, they responded in a simple way – by whittling away the grief exception. With each new edition of the manual they reduced the period of grief that you were allowed before being labelled mentally ill – down to a few months and then, finally, to nothing at all. Now, if your baby dies at 10am, your doctor can diagnose you with a mental illness at 10.01am and start drugging you straight away.

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National Self-Determination, Internationalism, and Libertarian Socialism

dim, 01/07/2018 - 16:36

via anarkismo.net

by Wayne Price

Once more on the subject of national liberation

Some anarchists and libertarian Marxists oppose the concepts of national self-determination and national liberation. They argue that these slogans deny class struggle, endorse nationalism, is contrary to anarchist principles, and lead to Leninism. I respond to these arguments, saying that anarchists should be in solidarity with the people of oppressed nations without endorsing their nationalist leaders.

There are few subjects of greater disagreement among libertarian socialists than “national liberation” and “national self-determination.” By “libertarian socialists” I include anarchists of all sorts, also libertarian-autonomous Marxists and others with similar politics. By “national liberation/self-determination,” I mean the idea that some nations are oppressed and deserve to be liberated from that oppression, and to be able to decide for themselves what social, economic, and political systems they wish to live under.

This is a major issue in the world today. In the Middle East, the Kurds and the Palestinians are denied their own independent political existence. Meanwhile the U.S. and other imperialist states are waging war on a number of oppressed countries. The U.S. state owns Puerto Rico (but treats Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, as colonial subjects). There may be a nuclear war between the U.S. state and impoverished nation of North Korea. The Russian imperialist state denies independence to the Chechens and has attacked Ukraine and other eastern European countries. China rules the Tibetans and the Uigars, and claims Taiwan. There are calls for national independence in Catalonia, from Spain, and in Scotland, from the U.K. I am just touching on a few of the many places where national issues have arisen. Not that they are all the same but there is a common topic which needs to be addressed. (Wars between two oppressor, imperialist, powers-such as the U.S.A. vs. Russia-do not involve issues of national self-determination. Both sides should be opposed by anti-imperialists.)

It has always seemed obvious to me, at least in principle, that we who believe in freedom should support national liberation/self-determination as a democratic demand. I have written this several times (Price 2011; 2006; 2005). Yet many, perhaps most, anarchists and libertarian Marxists disagree. (At one time, posters on the Libcom site urged the anarchist group of which I was a member to expel me because of my support for national liberation.) What are their arguments? (I now present their arguments in bold face and then respond.)

The only issue which counts is the emancipation of the international working class. Everything else, such as national oppression, is a distraction from the class struggle.

Taken literally, this pure-and-simple class perspective is a minority viewpoint today. It is held only by wooden workerists, by primitive Marxists and syndicalists. Most anarchists and Marxists recognize that other oppressions than class exploitation are real and important. Women are oppressed by sexism; African-Americans and other People of Color by white supremacy; LGBT people by homophobia; immigrants by nativism; and so on; not to mention the reality of issues such as global warming and war. Recognizing these systems of oppression does not prevent recognizing the importance of capitalist exploitation of the working class. These forms of oppression overlap with and interact with class exploitation. For example, most people in oppressed nations are working class, peasants, or other poor people. The very fact that these issues are used to prop up capitalism (in many ways, besides being “distractions”) means that they need to be taken on (in turn, capitalism also props up these oppressive systems). Supporting these struggles strengthens the fight against capitalism and the capitalist state.

Oddly enough, there are radicals who do support the struggle against racism, sexism, homophobia, nativism, etc., etc., but do not support struggles against national oppression. Some even oppose imperialism by the big powers but will not support the anti-imperialist efforts of oppressed nations. Unlike the pure-and-simple workerists, such radicals are…. inconsistent.

National liberation/self-determination is the same as nationalism, which we, as internationalists, reject.

National oppression is an objective reality-for Palestinians, for example. It leads to the question of how to oppose it, what is the program which can lead to national liberation and self-determination. One such program is “nationalism.” But it is not the only possible program, and is not synonymous with “national liberation.”

“Nationalism” can be defined in various ways. A common understanding is to use nationalism to mean people’s love for their country, their culture, their contributions to world civilization, and their history of popular resistance to oppression (domestic and foreign). This is not a program for opposing domination, but rather a love for their land and people. I see nothing to criticize in this, but that is not what is controversial.

As a program, “nationalism” means seeing the particular oppressed nation as a unitary bloc. It ignores the differences between the ruling class and the workers and peasants, the exploiters and the exploited. Essentially it accepts the leadership of the rulers or would-be rulers (these may be rich capitalists but also might be bureaucrats, déclassé intellectuals, military officers, or similar would-be new bosses). It denies differences between men and women, religious groupings, or majority and minority nationalities and ethnic groups-rejecting the special concerns of oppressed subgroups within the nation. Its aim is to win an independent national state of its own, and to establish some type of capitalist economy-perhaps as a program of state socialism, which actually results in state capitalism. (I am only discussing the program of nationalism in an oppressed nation, not in an imperialist state where it serves to justify imperialism.)

By now, most of the countries of the world have won their formal independence. They have their own states with their own flags, postage stamps, money, and uniforms for their own military and police. But they remain economically dominated by the international market. They remain politically dominated by the international power system. They are vulnerable to being invaded at any time. Both the world economy and world politics are dominated by the big imperialist powers, first among which is still the United States-that is, the U.S. ruling class and its state. (This is not the U.S. working people, who have little to no control over their economy or their state’s international policies).

In short, nationalism has not been a very good solution to the poverty, oppression, exploitation, and suffering of the people of the world. But its very failure-the continuation of national oppression despite formal independence-results in a tendency for people to look for answers, including a revival of nationalism.

However, there are other programs which offer to solve the problems of oppressed nations. For example, Islamic salifism (miscalled “fundamentalism”) is an international movement, completely reactionary. It opposes Western imperialist domination of Muslim-majority countries, not by appeals to nationalism but by distorted religious programs, aiming for a “caliphate.”

Anarchists and other libertarian socialists propose a different solution to national oppression. Our program is for an international revolution of the working class, allied with all other oppressed and exploited people, against the capitalist ruling class, its states, and all systems of oppression. It would replace capitalist and authoritarian institutions with self-managed, cooperative, free associations of the people. Such a revolution will likely start in a few countries, but it will have to spread to the whole world. This alone would make it possible to end all forms of national oppression, as well as all other forms of oppression, exploitation, and domination.

From this standpoint, anarchists and others can participate in national struggles against imperialist domination. We recognize the legitimacy of such struggles and are in solidarity with the oppressed people. But we do not agree with or support those leaders who advocate nationalist (or jihadist) programs. We seek to win the working people of these nations to our revolutionary internationalist program.

This is the same approach we can use in any struggle. For example, we must support the movement for women’s liberation. We oppose male supremacy (patriarchy) and support women’s fight against it. But we do not agree with or support the liberal, pro-capitalist, versions of feminism raised by the bourgeois leadership of the women’s movement. We try to win women and their male allies over to our revolutionary perspective.

By “winning over” women or nationally oppressed people, I do not mean that we should just unveil our program as if we knew all the answers-Ta-da! Persuading people of our viewpoint includes listening to them and learning from them, in dialogue. It includes having them develop the ideas in their own way, relevant to their own situation.

“Anarchists never supported national self-determination”

Some anarchists are ignorant of the fact that anarchists have supported national liberation as a principle. And anarchists have taken part in national liberation struggles.

Michael Bakunin asserted his “strong sympathy for any national uprising against any form of oppression…every people[have the right]to be itself…no one is entitled to impose its customs, its languages, and its laws.” (quoted in van der Walt & Schmidt 2009; 309)

Iain McKay writes, “Kropotkin was a supporter of national liberation struggles….Anarchists, Kropotkin argued, should work inside national liberation movements in order to…turn them into human liberation struggles-from all forms of oppression, economic, political, social and national…the creation of…a free federation of free peoples no longer divided by classes or hierarchies.” (my emphasis; 2014; 45-47)

Peter Kropotkin wrote, “True internationalism will never be attained except by the independence of each nationality, little or large…. If we say no government of man by man, how can[we]permit the government of conquered nationalities by the conquering nationalities?” (quoted in McKay 2014; 45-46)

Errico Malatesta was an influential Italian anarchist who had been a comrade of Bakunin and Kropotkin. He wrote, “We are internationalists…so we extend our homeland to the whole world…and seek well-being, freedom, and autonomy for every individual and group….Now that today’s Italy invades another country[Libya-WP]…it is the Arabs’ revolt against the Italian tyrant that is noble and holy….We hope that the Italian people…will force a withdrawal from Africa upon its government: if not, we hope that the Arabs may succeed in driving it out.” (In Turcato 2014; 357) This did not imply agreement with the politics of the Arabs’ leadership.

During the wars which followed the Russian revolution, Nester Makhno and other anarchists organized a military resistance in Ukraine. Their forces opposed the capitalists and landlords, integrating these class issues with a Ukrainian war against German, Polish, and Russian invaders. Similarly, during World War II, Korean anarchists organized a military resistance to the Japanese invaders.

After World War II there was a national liberation war waged by Algerian rebels against the French empire. French anarchists gave concrete aid, and various forms of support, to the Algerian forces. As an anarchist “public intellectual”, Daniel Guerin expressed his solidarity with the Algerian people in insurrection. He was for the Algerian organizations when they fought against the French state-which is not the same as endorsing their nationalist politics, which he did not. (Price 2013) (For the record of anarchists’ attitudes towards the Vietnam war and more recent wars between imperialist powers and oppressed nations, see Price 2006; 2005.)

National Self-Determination was Raised by Lenin

Some anarchists point out that national self-determination was supported by Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the totalitarian Soviet Union and the “Communist” movement. (Some even claim, ignorantly, that Lenin invented the concept.) This is supposed to discredit the slogan.

Calls for national liberation and self-determination are at least as old as the formation of nations and nation-states in the 18th century. They have been made by many people, then and now. For example, during World War I, the liberal U.S. president, Woodrow Wilson, made national self-determination part of his “14 Points,” which he raised (hypocritically) as supposed “war aims” for the imperialist Allies.

With the aim of getting his party into state power, Lenin followed a certain strategy. He rejected a focus only on bread-and-butter trade union issues, such as better wages, shorter hours, etc. This was called “economism.” He also rejected just raising the eventual-and abstract-goal of socialism. Instead, he wanted his party to win support by also championing the democratic demands of every oppressed and discriminated-against group. He wanted his party to use its newspaper and other outlets to support big groups such as peasants, women, and nations enslaved by the Czarist empire. But also to champion abused army draftees, censored writers, minority religious sects, and so on. Championing the democratic rights of all these groups (including oppressed nations), he believed, would counterpose his revolutionary socialist program to that of the liberals, reformists, and nationalists. It would build popular support and prepare his party to rule.

Let me be clear. The problem with Lenin was not his support for democratic demands! Lenin could hardly be criticized for being too much for democracy and freedom! The demand for national liberation/self-determination is part of the democratic program. This is not where anarchists should disagree with Lenin.

The problem with Lenin was that his support for democratic demands was instrumental-used in fact only to get his party into power and to establish its authoritarian rule. Support for peasants was meant to lead them to eventually-voluntarily-merge their lands into collectivized state farms. Support for national rights was meant to persuade workers from oppressed nations that they could trust the workers from the oppressor nations-and eventually lead to voluntary merger into larger, centralized, states-which he said. (I am not getting into how Lenin violated these democratic promises-including national self-determination-once in power.)

Revolutionary anarchists are internationalists. We are also decentralists and pluralists. We value small cultures and multiple societies-not as stepping stones to an eventually unified and centralized world state, but as good in themselves. To quote again McKay’s summary of Kropotkin’s perspective, our goal is “a free federation of free peoples no longer divided by classes or hierarchies.” This is where anarchists must reject Lenin’s approach to national liberation.

“But it’s a state!”

Does support for national self-determination mean support for new, national, states? No. It means that revolutionary libertarian socialists are in solidarity with the people (mostly workers, peasants, and the poor) of the oppressed nation. The nation’s people themselves may believe (in their majority) that the only solution to their foreign oppression is to form a new state of their own. Anarchists do not agree with this popular view. But we believe in freedom, if we believe in anything. We must defend their right to decide for themselves what they want-even if we think that they are making a mistake. That is how people learn.

Between the imperialist state which rules the country and the oppressed people, we are not neutral. We should not become neutral if we think that the people are accepting a mistaken program. We must be in solidarity with them in their struggles, even as we seek to persuade them that only anarchist internationalism can really solve their problems. We must not endorse their leaderships; we are political opponents of their nationalist leaders. But we want the imperialists to lose and the people to win.

When workers decide to form a union, they usually join a business union with its pro-capitalist bureaucratic leadership. Nevertheless, anarchists are never neutral between the bosses and the workers. We must support the workers’ freedom to chose whichever union they want (while trying to persuade them of the need for union democracy and militancy and revolutionary opposition to the union bureaucracy). This is the same principle as our attitude toward national self-determination.

As Lucien van der Walt summarizes, “One anarchist and syndicalist approach…was to participate in national liberation struggles, in order to shape them, win the battle of ideas, displace nationalism with a politics of national liberation through class struggle, and push national liberation struggles in a revolutionary direction.” (van der Walt & Schmidt; 2009; 310-311) That means, in a revolutionary, internationalist, libertarian socialist, direction. That is the approach I am arguing for.

References

McKay, Iain (2014). “Introduction.” In Direct Struggle Against Capital: A Peter Kropotkin Anthology (ed. I. McKay). Oakland CA: AK Press. Pp. 1-97.

Price, Wayne (2013). “Anarchists and the French-Algerian War.” http://www.anarkismo.net/article/24619?search_text=Wayne+Price

Price, Wayne (2011). “Anarchism in the Oppressed Nations.”http://www.anarkismo.net/article/19702?search_text=Wayne+Price

Price, Wayne (2006). “Lessons for the Anarchist Movement of the Israeli-Lebanese War; The Anarchist Debate About National Liberation”
http://www.anarkismo.net/article/3614?search_text=Wayne+Price

Price, Wayne (2005). “The U.S. Deserves to Lose in Iraq but Should We ‘Support the Iraqi Resistance’?”
http://www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=1016

Turcato, Davide (ed.) (2014). The Method of Freedom; An Errico Malatesta Reader (trans. P. Sharkey). Oakland CA: AK Press.

van der Walt, Lucien, & Schmidt, Michael (2009). Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism.

https://www.anarkismo.net/article/30659

The Revival of U.S. Socialism – And an Anarchist Response

dim, 01/07/2018 - 05:06

via anarkismo.net

by Wayne Price

How Should U.S. Anarchists Respond to the Increase of Interest in Socialism?

There has been an increase of U.S. interest in “socialism,” especially among young adults. What is the significance of this? What does “socialism” mean to people? Why is this happening now? What is holding back the development of a socialist movement? What should be the reaction of anarchists and other anti-authoritarian socialists?

In the United States there has been recently a rise of interest in “socialism,” especially among young adults (“millennials”). Different political views have reacted to this rise in various ways. Conservatives are appalled (“Have we forgotten the lessons of the Cold War?”). The leadership of the Democratic Party (the moderate center) is disturbed (“We’re for capitalism, after all!”) The liberal-left is pleased, so long as “socialism” is interpreted to mean liberal-left politics-not taking away the wealth of the capitalists and creating a democratic, nonprofit, economy.

Anarchists also have various responses. Some hope to create a libertarian (anti-authoritarian) socialist revolutionary wing of a socialist movement. Others see anarchism as different from-even opposed to-socialism of any kind.

To be sure, what most people mean by “socialism” is unclear. I assume that at a minimum they mean opposition to the capitalist status quo and a desire for a better, more just, society (discussed further below).

This is a change in U.S. political culture. For a long time “socialism” (let alone “communism”) has been a word on the devil’s tongue. During the Cold War, being a socialist was enough to get one fired (and being a communist was even more dangerous). All other industrialized capitalist democracies developed mass parties calling themselves socialist, social democratic, labor, or communist, and many “third world” countries had governments calling themselves African socialist, Arab socialist, etc. This never developed in the U.S. Its main “left” party was the Democratic Party, which was always pro-capitalist (leaving aside its origins as pro-slavery). In the last two periods of radicalization (the ‘30s and the ‘60s), there developed minorities which regarded themselves as revolutionary socialist, views which mostly died out in the more conservative periods which followed.

The most obvious sign of this change in politics was the 2016 electoral run of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party. He was self-identified as a “democratic socialist” and an advocate of “political revolution.” While in his past, Sanders had expressed sympathy for state-communist regimes, he currently identifies his “socialism” with the social democratic Nordic (Scandinavian) countries. Sanders’ campaign undoubtedly promoted an interest in socialism, but it was also a symptom of that interest, which had been developing for some time.

The Polls Speak

“The anti-Communist Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation was alarmed to find in a recent survey that 44 percent of millennials would prefer to live in a socialist country compared with 42 percent who want to live under capitalism.” (Goldberg 2017)

“The American Culture and Faith Institute recently conducted a survey of adults 18 and older….Most Americans (58 percent) see themselves as politically moderate. … ‘The most alarming result… was that four out of every ten adults say they prefer socialism to capitalism….That is a large minority, and it includes a majority of the liberals.’ …40 percent of Americans now prefer socialism to capitalism….” (Nammo 2017)

“…An April 2016 study by Harvard University found that 51 percent of millennials -a loosely defined group of people aged between 18 and 29 – reject capitalism and 33 percent support socialism. ” (Strickland 2017)

“In a recent YouGov survey,[Jan. 25-27, 2016]respondents were asked whether they had a ‘favorable or unfavorable opinion’ of socialism and of capitalism….Overall, 52 percent expressed a favorable view of capitalism, compared with 29 percent for socialism….There were just two exceptions to this pattern: Democrats rated socialism and capitalism equally positively (both at 42 percent favorability). And respondents younger than 30 were the only group that rated socialism more favorably than capitalism (43 percent vs. 32 percent, respectively).” (Rampell 2016)

From a Gallup poll: “Thirty-five percent of Americans have a positive view of the term socialism, similar to what was found in 2012 and 2010. …60%…have a positive view of capitalism….Young Americans constitute the only age group that does not view the term socialism more negatively than capitalism.” (Newport 2016)

“…Last summer Gallup asked survey respondents[for whom]they would be willing to vote….Just 34 percent of respondents age 65 and older said they would be willing to vote for a socialist, compared with about twice that level[69 percent]among respondents younger than 30.” (Rampell 2016)

“….As far back as 2011, a Pew poll revealed, fully 49% of Americans (not just Democrats) under 30 had a positive view of socialism, while just 47% had a favorable opinion of capitalism….” (Meyerson 2016)

What the polls reveal, pretty consistently, is that the majority of U.S. people reject socialism and are in favor of capitalism, but that a notable minority (between 30 to 40 percent) favors socialism. While this is only a minority, it is about the same proportion of the population as that which supports President Trump! Approximately one in three is a significant number. Importantly, young adults are most likely to have a positive view of socialism and a negative view of capitalism (from 40 to 50 percent). “Bernie Sanders didn’t push the young toward socialism. They were already there.” (Meyerson 2016)

This is part of a general swing among part of the population toward the left. I am not going into the polls which show that a large number of people-often the majority of the U.S. population-agrees with the left on many issues: universal health care, increasing (not decreasing) taxes on the rich, free (or cheap) higher education, providing jobs for all, fighting global warming, raising the minimum wage, supporting unions, etc.

“…They don’t counterpose socialism to a militant liberalism. The rise in the number of people who identify as socialists coincides with a rise in the number who call themselves liberals. Whereas in 2000 only 27% of Democrats told Pew they were liberal, by 2015 that figure had risen to 42%, and among millennials, it had increased from 37% in 2004 to 49% today.” (Meyerson 2016)

Why the Rise of Socialism?

One factor in the increase of socialist interest is the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites, the changes in China, and the end of the Cold War. During the Cold War, both sides agreed that the “socialism” of the Soviet Union was the only socialism there was or could be. Those repelled by the totalitarian repression of the Soviet Union were led to reject “socialism” in favor of Western “democratic” capitalism (“free enterprise”). Those who rejected the evils of capitalism (poverty, racism, pollution, wars of aggression in Vietnam and elsewhere) were attracted to the statified regime of Stalinist Russia as “really existing socialism.” Very few (besides anarchists) rejected both sides in the Cold War and both models of society.

Today the Communist states are no longer available as a bogeyman (the current “enemy” is jihadist terrorism, which is anti-socialist). The right still uses Stalinist Russia as an historical bad example (as it was), but their argument does not have the same bite it once did. Using civilized Sweden’s welfare state as an example of socialism hardly raises the same horror as Stalin’s gulag. The most the conservatives can say is that centralized, bureaucratic, state economies are inefficient. Which they are, but how efficient is U.S. capitalism?

The main reason for the spread of socialism lies within the United States and its allies. An extended period of relative prosperity followed the Great Depression and the destruction of World War II. This ran out of steam around 1970. The general development since (with ups and downs) has been stagnation, increased poverty, growing inequality, successful attacks on the unions, revived threats of nuclear war, and movement toward ecological catastrophe.

“The prime mover of millions of Americans into the socialist column has been the near complete dysfunctionality of contemporary American capitalism. Where once the regulated, unionized and semi-socialized capitalism of the mid-20th century produced a vibrant middle class majority, the deregulated, deunionized and financialized capitalism of the past 35 years has produced record levels of inequality, a shrinking middle class, and scant economic opportunities (along with record economic burdens) for the young.” (Meyerson 2016)

The lived experience of young people in the working class (as most people are) is no longer one of apparent prosperity. Instead they face limited job opportunities, low wages, mountains of school debt, no union protection, a threat of another economic crash, and a frightening future of climate change. They face the most reactionary government in generations, attacking everything good and decent, while the Democratic alternative remains wishy-washy and inadequate (barely a “lesser evil”). The question is not why are people turning toward socialism but why aren’t more people turning into socialists?

The Problem with Socialism

What is “socialism” or “communism” (using them as having similar meanings, as was the case originally)? In Vol. 1 of Capital, Karl Marx refers to “a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common, in which the labor-power of all the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labor-power of the community.” (1906; 90) Their work would be “consciously regulated by them in accordance with a settled plan.” (92) That is, a cooperative, socialized, economy would be “consciously regulated by them,” the “free individuals,” self-organized in their community. This seems like a good enough general definition of socialism/communism.

Unfortunately Marx saw this as being carried out in a centralized manner, through the state. (See the program at the end of Section II of the Communist Manifesto, “Proletarians and Communists.”) Anarchists point out that the state (according to both anarchist and Marxist analysis) is not a self-organized community of free individuals, but a bureaucratic-military machine standing over and above the rest of society; such an instrument can only serve the interests of a minority ruling class. It can be nothing else. (Anarchists advocate a democratic federation of free associations and workplace and neighborhood assemblies which would be a community of self-organized free individuals-and would not be a state.)

This statist orientation of Marx (and many other socialists) can lead in two main directions-both with roots in Marx. One statist strategy is to try to take over the existing capitalist state, mostly through elections. The workers would seek to take over the present bureaucratic-military state, nationalizing most of the economy. (This became the program of the European “social democrats”.) But the capitalists and their state agents do not want to let socialist workers take over their state and take away their wealth and power. They have put many roadblocks in the way of the socialist movement, from granting temporary, minimal, reforms to fascist coups.

In the period after World War II, the European social democrats completed their evolution from reformists to mild liberals. They no longer even pretend to advocate a new sort of society. They propose to improve the economy only through government manipulation, such as liberal Keynesian spending, tax changes, and (sometimes) nationalization of failing industries. They have simply become the left wing of capitalist politics. In the prosperity after World War II they could achieve certain gains for working people in the welfare state. Now that the prosperity is over, they are unable to resist capitalism’s turn to austerity, its attacks on working people’s standard of living.

In Bernie Sanders recent presidential campaign he identified as a “democratic socialist.” He did not raise any socialist programs; he did not call for expropriating any of the capitalists or their corporations (such as the oil companies or the banks). He did not raise a vision of a different, better, sort of society. He only proposed to improve society through more government intervention in the capitalist economy. His state programs might provide benefits in this or that area, but are overall ineffective and inadequate for this time of decline and crisis.

The other statist strategy is to overthrow and smash the existing state-but not to create a self-managed “community of free individuals.” Rather they aim to create a new state, which is ruled by a single party controlled by an individual or small group. Such a program may seem to be revolutionary. In China and other countries, as well as in the satellites of the Soviet Union, the Communists did overturn the old states. They did take away the wealth of the old capitalist class (the stock-owning bourgeoisie). But the bourgeoisie was replaced by a new ruling class, a collectivist bureaucracy. The workers continued to be exploited. The state became the center for capital accumulation, in competition with other states and corporations, with an internal market. These regimes murdered tens of millions of workers, peasants, and others. Rather than a “community of free individuals,” this was state capitalism. While they had their benefits, overall these states were horribly oppressive and economically inefficient. Eventually most of them collapsed back into traditional capitalism. (There is also a third, very much minority, trend within Marxism which bases itself on the radically-democratic, humanist, and proletarian aspects of Marx, with politics which overlap with anarchism.)

Anarchists have always rejected these statist programs, predicting that in practice “state socialism” would result in state capitalism. In 1910, Peter Kropotkin predicted, “To hand over to the State all the main sources of economic life-the land, the mines, the railways, banking, insurance, and so on-as also the management of all the main branches of industry, in addition to all the functions already accumulated in its hands (education, …defense of the territory, etc.) would mean to create a new instrument of tyranny. State capitalism would only increase the powers of bureaucracy and capitalism.” (1975; 109-110)

When we ask, why aren’t more people socialists, part of the answer has to do with what socialism has presented itself as: bureaucratic, ineffective, no different from pro-capitalist liberalism, inefficient, or-under certain conditions-monstrously repressive. If people are nevertheless turning to socialism, it is due to the failures of capitalism!

Libertarian Socialism?

From the beginning, anarchists have rejected state socialism (or what they called “authoritarian socialism”). Kropotkin wrote, “…The anarchists, in common with all socialists, of whom they constitute the left wing…consider the wage-system and capitalist production[for the sake of profits]altogether as an obstacle to progress….While combating…capitalism altogether, the anarchists combat with the same energy the State as the main support of that system.” (1975; 109)

P.J. Proudhon, the first person to call himself an anarchist, also called himself a “socialist”. Michael Bakunin, who was involved in initiating the modern anarchist movement, called himself a “revolutionary socialist”, as well as a “collectivist.” Kropotkin regarded himself as a “socialist” and a “communist.” The dominant tendency in anarchism after Kropotkin was “anarchist-communism.” Even Benjamin Tucker, a major individualist-anarchist, called himself a “socialist” (mostly meaning that he was anti-capitalist). In the 1880s, Adolph Fischer, one of the Chicago “Haymarket martyrs,” claimed that “every anarchist is a socialist, but every socialist is not necessarily an anarchist.” (Guerin 1970; 12) Many anarchists, and others who were close to anarchism, have called themselves “libertarian socialists” or “anti-authoritarian socialists” or “libertarian communists.”

I write the last paragraph because many socialists simply do not know that anarchists are, and have always been, socialists. And many anarchists also do not know this. Both groups take for granted that “socialism” means “state socialism.” But a view which advocates a cooperative, collectivized, economy, of freely federated associations, which produces for use and not profit, and which is democratically planned from the bottom up-what is this but authentic socialism? It would be a classless, stateless, “community of free individuals” consciously self-managing their collective labor and dividing their products for the good of all: socialism.

There are also anarchists who do not want to use the term “socialist” today because it is so unpopular-whatever its history. As I have demonstrated, however, there is a lot of support for “socialism.” It is a more popular term than “anarchism”! (Probably most people see “anarchism” as violence, bomb-throwing, window-smashing, and chaos.) It makes sense for anarchists to show their connection to the more popular term. However, I would agree that “communism,” in the U.S. anyway, is still a very negative term (meaning totalitarianism to most people). In other countries (such as France or South Africa) this may not be the case, but in the U.S. it is. I am in the tradition of anarchist-communism, from Kropotkin on, but I rarely use the communist label. (See Price 2008.)

There are also anarchists who deliberately reject the “socialist” label, because they identify as “post-Left,” “post-anarchist,” “anti-civilizationist,” or other views. They often write as if it is a new insight to reject the authoritarianism and pro-capitalism of the Left. Actually anarchists have been opposing the statism and pro-capitalism of the majority of the Left since the beginning-it is what anarchism has always been about. But anarchists have not confused “state socialism” with everything which is on the Left. The Left is in opposition to capitalism, the state, and all oppression. As I quoted Kropotkin above, anarchists “are the left wing” of the Left, the left of the Left-that is, we are most in opposition to all the evils of capitalist society, the ones really for the “community of free individuals”. Anarchists are the authentic socialists.

Popularity of Libertarian Socialist Programs

Due to the collapse of most Communist states and the overall failures of Marxism, there has been an upsurge of interest in anarchism-certainly as compared to the 30s and 60s. Yet “anarchism” is not yet a mass movement or a widely-liked label. Without seeing any polls, I am sure that it is less liked than “socialism” (but perhaps more accepted than “communism”-in the U.S.).

However, there are aspects of anarchism (libertarian socialism) which are relatively popular. For example, the idea of government takeover of industry (“nationalization”) is not attractive to many people. Much more attractive is the idea of worker-run enterprises (producer cooperatives), worker’s management, consumer cooperatives, government ownership at the local level (city, town, or village), with worker management. Such ideas have become quite widespread on the Left. There is a significant number of writers, not all identified as socialists, who have made workers’ self-management central to their programs (see Price 2014).

In themselves, the ideas of producer co-ops and municipalization are not radical-but in certain circumstances they may be revolutionary: such as a program to expropriate the energy industry and turn it over to worker and community control. Or if striking workers occupied workplaces and demanded to take them away from the owners, proposing to federate with each other.

Similarly, among climate justice theorists, there is agreement on the need for coordinated efforts and an overall plan for a transition to renewable energy, on a national and international level. But there is also agreement on the need for more economic, industrial, and urban decentralization and local integration. This would cut down transportation and distribution, make recycling easier, improve democratic participation in planning, bring food production into daily life, and in general create a human scale life style. Such ideas have been raised from writers such as Naomi Klein to Pope Francis, as well as Marxist eco-socialists (see Price 2016).

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, wrote a book asserting, “We need to move decisively to rebuild our local communities….Community, it turns out, is the key to physical survival in our environmental predicament and also to human satisfaction.” (2007; 2) McKibben is a left liberal (he backed Sanders). But he illustrates how ideas, worked on for generations by anarchists, have become active in the current movement. (Anarchists can also agree with the need for overall democratic planning for a transition to a balanced ecology-but not by the existing institutions of the capitalist states.)

Even in the short run, there are militants who are fed up with approaches based on trying to take over the state-usually through elections, via the Democratic Party or a new-party. They could be open to a strategy based on militant mass actions, demonstrations, union organizing, occupations of workplaces and schools, strikes and general strikes which close down cities until real gains are won. These are the strategy and tactics of a revolutionary anarchism.

Conclusion

“Freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice, and socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.”-Michael Bakunin

In the broadening movement of opposition to the U.S. capitalist attacks on the working population, there is a need to build a revolutionary libertarian socialist wing of anarchists and other anti-authoritarian socialists. The evils of capitalism in decline pushes people toward socialism. Its bureaucratic, statist, and centralist history pushes people away from socialism. But a focus on freedom, self-management, and cooperation may attract a layer of workers and youth and other oppressed people to the vision of a truly free, cooperative, democratic, and ecologically balanced community.

References

Goldberg, Michelle (2017, Dec. 5). “Why Young People Hate Capitalism.” New York Times. A27.

Guerin, Daniel (1970). Anarchism: From Theory to Practice. (trans. M. Klopper). NY: Monthly Review Press.

Kropotkin, Peter (1975). The Essential Kropotkin (eds. E. Capouya & K. Tompkins). NY: Liveright.

Marx, Karl (1906). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1. NY: Modern Library.

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

Meyerson, Harold (2016, Feb. 29). “Why are there Suddenly Millions of Socialists in America?” Guardian U.S. Edition.
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/29/why-are-there-suddenly-millions-of-socialists-in-america

Nammo, Dave (2017, March 18). “Socialism’s Rising Popularity Threatens America’s Future.” National Review.
http://www.nationalreview.com/article/445882/socialism-polls-indicates-its-alarming-rise-public-opinion

Newport, Frank (2016, May 6). Gallup News.
http://news.gallup.com/poll/191354/americans-views-socialism-capitalism-little-changed.aspx

Price, Wayne (2016). “Eco-Socialism and Decentralism: The Re-Development of Anarchism in the Ecology/Climate Justice Movement.” Anarkismo.
https://www.anarkismo.net/article/28974?search_text=Wayne+Price

Price, Wayne (2014). “Workers’ Self-Directed Enterprises: A Revolutionary Program; Industrial Democracy and Revolution ” Anarkismo.
http://www.anarkismo.net/article/26931?search_text=Wayn…Price

Price, Wayne (2008). “What is Anarchist Communism?” Anarkismo.
https://www.anarkismo.net/article/7451?search_text=Wayne+Price

Rampell, Catherine (2016, Feb. 5). “Millennials have a Higher Opinion of Socialism than of Capitalism.” Washington Post.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/rampage/wp/2016/02/05/millennials-have-a-higher-opinion-of-socialism-than-of-capitalism/?utm_term=.e082afbc9c9c

Strickland, Patrick (2017, Feb. 9). “More Americans Joining Socialist Groups under Trump” Al Jazeera United States.
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/02/americans-joining-socialist-groups-trump-170205083615002.html
*written for www.Anarkismo.net

https://www.anarkismo.net/article/30763

 

Lapu-Lapu Petmalu – A Re-articulation of anti-colonial Struggle in the archipelago

dim, 01/07/2018 - 04:59

via anarkismo.net

An attempt to re-read anti-colonial history of the so-called “Philippines” according to anti-authoritarian framework and in contrast to nation-state agenda of mainstream and republican.

Somebody asked: Who discovered the Philippines?
Someone answered: Magellan.
One could butt in: Who killed Magellan?
Typical answer: Lapu-Lapu
Follow-up question: Who killed Lapu-Lapu?
Typical answer: Kusinero (Cook)

I refer to this conversation as novelty. It is pop. Meaning, an ordinary person whether they attended school or not could relate to it. Surely people will have various interpretations, opinions and levels of appreciation to this conversation- A conversation that could establish a connection.

I am really curious to hear how exactly a Filipina/Filipino nationalist will expound this novelty conversation in favor to their national idea of national pride.

It has been five centuries since Magellan came to The Visayas. A distant past that in the context of millennials, can be thought of as irrelevant.

On the other hand, we could ask the opposite: despite of its antiquity, why do people still ask such a silly question? Perhaps this event is recognized by many as the precursor for extensive changes that has been introduced to many communities within the imaginary boundary claimed by the Republic of the Philippines. Our social setting would have been different if King Philip rejected Magellan’s proposal.

Who discovered the Philippines?

This is a silly question. “Philippines” is not a thing to be discovered. It is not a piece of artifact that you can apply the finder’s keeper principle. It is absurd to believe that the Philippines is something waiting to be found.

This novelty conversation has been with us for many decades. We keep hearing this in different occasions, from household, to school, circle of friends, in my work, in rural and urban communities.

Probably it is more appropriate to ask who founded the Philippines?

The “silly” question would want you answer a particular name – Magellan, who represented the power of the Monarchy. Magellan will be killed by Lapu-Lapu later on the follow-up question.

Whenever I hear people making fun out of the question “who discovered the Philippines” I sense different meaning and a mischievous feeling.

Why ask such question? Is there any hidden intention?

Now a days, people’s sense of history revolve around the idea of Spanish colonization and KKK uprising which led to the establishment of a republic. A historical period that connected many communities in the archipelago to the modern setting dominated by nation-states characterized by centralized social relationships and absolute truth along with poverty, hunger, injustice, discrimination and ecological destruction.

Spain is perceived as the villain that brought sufferings to the people; it is also considered as a “master” who introduced the idea of civilized life. Since civilization is viewed as the benchmark of development; it is plausible to think that we owed Spain of our progress.

Mainstream history is basically Eurocentric. It will inevitably treat pre-Hispanic culture and lifestyle as underdeveloped. Savage and retrogressive that needed to be changed according to the standards of colonizers.

That is exactly what we are now. We challenge the negative attributes of the society introduced by colonizers while invoking alternatives which is also introduced by colonizers.

For instance, the KKK challenged the Spanish authority by asserting its capacity to self-rule through the system introduced by colonizers. Revolutionary ideas carried by anti-colonization are western in origin.

Why are we obsessed with European alternatives? Do we have no viable alternatives of our own? Do we find local wisdom and practice as obsolete and ineffective?

Except Lapu-Lapu, we rarely refer to the pre-KKK uprisings. Uprising that challenged colonial rules by asserting indigenous systems and re-instituting cultures handed down by our ancestors. Pre-KKK uprisings were mostly community-based.

Most people respect Jose Rizal’s contribution to “Filipino” struggle for freedom. But people rarely refer to his early works where he clearly recognized our indigenous identity and described our ancestors systems as prosperous, equitable and more perfect compared to colonial rule.

The systems of our ancestors were more humane and ecologically sustainable that was brutally destroyed by modernity through the nation-state. Ironically, we adopted nation-state framework to counter colonial rule. With this framework we fail. After hundred years of struggle, our communities continue to suffer in issues and problems which are alien to us during pre-hispanic times. Despite of which, we still hold on to the promise of nation-state that basically proved to be a failure in terms of providing equity, sustainability and progress.

The novelty question is being asked constantly and spontaneously perhaps because our history is haunting us. The terms Philippines and Filipino are not ours. These are ideas being imposed and coercively used to describe and define us by our colonizers. These are the very attributes that reinforced disconnection to our indigenous self. These ideas made us think we are more superior to other culture. What is the need of superiority? Is it to defeat and out compete other people and to undermine other’s cultural orientation?

Our own culture should be our guide in our search for self-determination. Our self-determination is no justification to control other. Our ancestors’ system displays no center. They do not have uniformed conduct that exercise control. What they had were diverse cultural orientations that cut across around the archipelago and in Southeast Asia which the dynamics were facilitated by marriage, kinship, trade and war (panggayaw).

We are not Filipinos. We are people raised by our diverse culture. Our culture is a gift from our ancestors. It is no perfect but it has the complete set of elements under the theme mutual-cooperation and respect.

There is no such thing as “perfect culture”. But ours is far more humane and ecologically sound compared to the nation-state and capitalism that introduced massive killing of people, destruction of culture and destruction of the earth.

There is no one big formula that could provide a single solution to the problems we currently confront, but at least we have the wisdom from our ancestors that provides us a framework that is proven to be effective and is currently utilized by existing indigenous cultures across the archipelago.

Lapu-Lapu’s victory is iconic. The message it conveyed it not about nation and sovereignty. It is about the defense of autonomy of Mactan Island. It was the struggle that wase followed by numerous resistance aimed to re-institute the indigenous set-up and to protect their autonomy.

The fragmentation of cultural communities should not be viewed as weakness. It represents freedom and autonomy. They have indigenous means to connect and integrate; fragmentation will only become a weakness if one has the intention to control and dominate.

Related Link: https://onsiteinfoshopphilippines.wordpress.com/2017/12/21/lapu-lapu-petmalu-a-re-articulation-of-anti-colonial-struggle-in-the-archipelago/

https://www.anarkismo.net/article/30760

Maine Town Wins Round in Tar Sands Oil Battle With Industry

sam, 01/06/2018 - 16:14

via Inside Climate News

By Sabrina Shankman

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine—A federal judge has handed a win to South Portland, Maine over a pipeline company that wants to send tar sands oil through the city, a proposal seen as opening a path for Canada’s crude to reach the East Coast for export.

But the fight is not over. A federal district court judge dismissed on Dec. 29 all but one of the company’s claims against the city. The ruling still leaves open a key question: whether the city is violating the U.S. Constitution by blocking the project.

At the heart of the lawsuit is the question of local control and what—if anything—a community can do to block an unwanted energy project.

The outcome could influence similar lawsuits elsewhere. When the Portland Pipe Line Corporation (PPLC) sued this small coastal city in 2015, it had some powerful allies, including the American Petroleum Institute, whose members include most major oil and gas companies.

The industry argued that a local ordinance prohibiting the export of heavy crude from South Portland’s harbor is unconstitutional. That ordinance essentially stopped in its tracks PPLC’s plans to reverse an existing pipeline and start piping tar sands oil from Canada to Maine, where it could be shipped to international markets.

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To Escape Trump’s America, We Need to Bring the Militant Labor Tactics of 1946 Back to the Future

sam, 01/06/2018 - 16:06

via Life Long Wobbly

The last general strike in the US was in Oakland in 1946. That year there were 6 city-wide general strikes, plus nationwide strikes in steel, coal, and rail transport. More than 5 million workers struck in the biggest strike wave of US history. So what happened? Why haven’t we ever gone out like that again? Congress amended US labor law in 1947, adding massive penalties for the very tactics that had allowed strikes to spread and be successful – and the business unions accepted the new laws. In fact, they even went beyond them by voluntarily adding “no-strike clauses” to every union contract for the last 70 years, and agreeing that when they do strike in between contracts it will only be for their own wages and working conditions, not to support anybody else or to apply pressure about things happening in the broader society. When we allowed ourselves to lose our most important weapons 70 years ago, we took the first step towards Trump’s America. We’re stuck in the wrong timeline – if we want to get out, we have to bring the militant labor tactics of 1946 back to the future!

The Oakland General Strike began early in the morning of December 3, 1946, when police were trying to break up a picket line of mostly female department store clerks who had been on strike since October 21 (“Back to the Future Day”). A streetcar driver saw it happening and stopped his car. This stopped all the cars behind him. All of the passengers who were no longer going to work began immediately picketing at other businesses in Oakland, calling out those workers, and shutting down the businesses. The strike spread from there. Some important points:

  1. The heroes of this story are the department store clerks who maintained an effective picket for 6 weeks, shutting down the operations of the business, refusing limitations on their ability to picket, and defending their picket when the cops were trying to break it. We need to re-learn how to organize “hard” pickets which actually disrupt commerce, and how to defend those pickets from our enemies. We also need to reject all of the limitations that courts, and the unions, will tell us we have to impose on our pickets.
  2. The streetcar driver who stopped his car when he saw the cops breaking the picket deserves an honorable mention, like Peter Norman (“the white dude” at the Mexico City Olympics). He knew which side he was on, and he didn’t just keep moving. He saw fellow workers under attack and he used his power as a worker to support the right side – despite the fact that the retail workers strike had no immediate tie to his own wages and working conditions. He didn’t ask his union if it was OK. He didn’t wait to go back to his union meeting and ask them to pass a resolution supporting the retail workers. Basically, it doesn’t even matter whether he was a union member. It doesn’t even matter if he abstractly thought that women should be quitting their jobs now that World War 2 was over, or if he abstractly supported Jim Crow – he supported fellow workers against the cops. Since 1947, “secondary strikes” like that have been illegal, and his union could have been attacked by the court – but the union probably would have been training him all along that he can only strike in between contracts, and definitely not for anyone else’s cause. We need to reject any limitation on our ability to strike in support of fellow workers, or to strike about things beyond our own specific workplaces.
  3. The passengers on his streetcar and the ones behind it also deserve credit for immediately forming mass pickets, reinforcing the retail workers’ picket and also spreading throughout the city and pulling other workers out on strike. They didn’t come up with this all in the moment, they learned how to do this over years of tough strikes, including the 1934 general strike in San Francisco that also shut down Oakland. Mass pickets have also been illegal since 1947, and we’ve lost those traditions. We urgently need to relearn them.

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Review: Romancing the Revolution

sam, 01/06/2018 - 03:31

via Anarchist Writers

by Anarcho

This is a very interesting and useful work. It takes you back to when Lenin and Trotsky were unknown and how this change as the British left tried to understand developments in the Russian Revolution. Inspired by C.B. Macpherson’s claim that the USSR while not a democratic system of government could be viewed as representing a “Non-Liberal Democracy” as it aimed to eliminate classes, Ian Bullock’s book utilises an impressive amount of primary sources to show “the myth of soviet democracy in the early appeal of the Russian Revolution”. (5) As such, it is should be of interest for libertarian socialists as well as scholars particularly as it is full of interesting facts: for example, the Scottish section of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) voted to join the Communist international and for prohibition at its January 1920 conference. (194-5)

The remit of the book is wide in-so-far as it covers socialists who were initially supportive of the revolution but not explicitly libertarian – although he does include those influenced by syndicalism, such as guild socialists, the shop steward movement and the de Leonist Socialist Labour Party (SLP). Perhaps unsurprisingly, it concentrates on the main parties and mentions the more diffuse syndicalist tendencies less. There is little mention of anarchists other than in passing, perhaps unsurprisingly given the size of the movement in Britain at the time but he does note that it “is perhaps not surprising that … the anarchist supporters of soviet democracy … seem to have been most resilient” (365) and that in the early 1920s the (by then) council communist Workers’ Dreadnought started to reprint anarchist reports and critiques of the Bolsheviks. However, there is much in Romancing the Revolution which libertarian socialists will gain from.

After a survey of the British left at the time – including the ILP, the SLP, the British Socialist Party (BSP), the unfortunately named National Socialist Party (formed by BSP members who, like its leader Henry Hyndman, supported the Allies), the syndicalist and Shop Steward movements as well as the Guild Socialists and the Workers’ Socialist Federation (WSF) – Bullock turns to the matter at hand, with a chapter on the June 1917 Leeds “Soviet” Congress in which these tendencies expressed their support for the Russian Revolution which had ended the Tsarist autocracy along with opposition to the war and which ended with the call to form soviets in the UK.

He then charts the evolution of these parties and tendencies and how they reacted to developments in Russia such as the October Revolution, the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, the civil war and the changing nature and rhetoric of the new regime. The book recounts how the original meaning of the word soviet – Russian for “council”, specifically one elected by workers and peasants – was lost and used solely in relation to the USSR, how the soviets were “the only clear example during the twentieth century – as an alternative to Macpherson’s liberal democracy – a distinctly different functioning form of democratic government.” (4) He sketches the process by which the promise of a wider democracy became replaced by party dictatorship – in his words, “The Dictatorship of the Proletariat: From Class to Party” (312) – for many on the left.

Of course, many of the earliest critics of the Bolshevik regime counterpoised bourgeois democracy to the soviet system yet this is not the only possible critique. Thankfully, Bullock includes those who criticised Bolshevism from the left as well. It is this aspect of the book which makes it of particular note to libertarians today. Indeed, the problems facing the British-left then faced subsequent generations, including ours, faced with revolutions and the regimes that spring forth from them – how to be supportive of a revolution but also critical, particularly of any State structures involved.

Part of the problem was the lack of reliable information from Russia, not to mention the deliberate lies spread by the capitalist media. There was also an understandable desire “to give the Bolsheviks the benefit of the doubt wherever possible”. (149) The Bolshevik’s opposition to the war helped them gain an audience in Britain but it also meant that myths were readily accepted, particularly if they chimed with the hopes of the audience. So, for example, it was reported that while British workers were “demanding the democratic control of industry” the Russian workers “have it”, according to a 1918 article in the ILP’s newspaper the Labour Leader. (149-50) As we have known for sometime, the Bolshevik regime was then in the process of crushing any embryonic developments towards this in favour of one-man management and centralised planning.

As with any revolution, many on the left wanted to believe the best. As Bullock notes, many were dismissing negative accounts due to bourgeois hostility and trying to reconcile what originally attracted them to the Revolution and the regime that it produced. Yet enough was available – not least from eye-witness accounts as well as interviews with, articles from and speeches by leading Bolsheviks themselves. Bullock indicates this steady flow of warning signs, such as Zinoviev proclaiming that the dictatorship of the proletariat was the same as the dictatorship of the Communist Party at the second congress of the Communist International in 1920, (313) Lenin’s defence of “dictatorial” one-man management (185, 204) as well as his comment that it was “natural that revolutionary workers execute Mensheviks.” (205) Some managed to accept Lenin’s advocacy of dictatorship because they believed it reflected working class support but Bullock, rightly, quotes Bertrand Russell (186) from his book The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism on the fallacy of this:

“Friends of Russia here [in Britain] think of the dictatorship of the proletariat as merely a new form of representative government, in which only working men and women have votes, and the constituencies are partly occupational, not geographical. They think that ‘proletariat’ means ‘proletariat,’ but ‘dictatorship’ does not quite mean ‘dictatorship.’ This is the opposite of the truth. When a Russian Communist speaks of a dictatorship, he means the word literally, but when he speaks of the proletariat, he means the word in a Pickwickian sense. He means the ‘class-conscious’ part of the proletariat, i.e. the Communist Party.”

The issue is that many on the revolutionary left somehow managed to convince themselves of this nonsense – presumably by invoking that magical word “dialectics” at some stage. This can be seen even from those who later broke with Moscow to remain advocates of soviet democracy. Thus, for example, the WSF’s Workers’ Dreadnought in July 1920 reported and justified Bolshevik suppression of soviets – peasant ones, where the poor peasants apparently voted for their rich neighbours in the “Left Wing Social Revolutionary Party” (113) and published an article by a member of the Aberdeen Communist Group which proclaimed that any Soviet system “must come under the dictatorship of the Communist Party.” (181) While the WSF had just created the Communist Party (British Section of the Third International) and later the same year helped form the Moscow-approved Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), it did finally realise the error of its ways by early 1921.

They were not alone. The book ends recounting how the ILP and the SLP refused to merge into the CPGB, leaving the BSP as the core of its membership – joined by various Guildsmen, syndicalists and others – while the anti-Parliamentarian communists like the WSF’s Sylvia Pankhurst found freedom of discussion in the CPCG to be much less than originally promised. The anti-Parliamentarian communists soon left and found the German and Dutch council communists who had likewise became disillusioned with Bolshevism, even promoting the original Fourth International, but the Workers’ Dreadnought had ceased publication by 1924.

As well as showing the slow evolution of many from defending the revolution because it had produced a widening of (functional delegate) democracy to defending the Bolsheviks and their dictatorship, the book also charts the decline of the diversity of the pre-war left with organisation after organisation disappearing (such as the WSF, the Guild Socialists) or becoming completely marginal (SLP). Yet this diversity is of note, given the wide range of views in the pre-war left. Libertarian ideas on industrial or functional democracy had obviously spread quite widely in the British left – not least with the Guild Socialists. Even Ramsay MacDonald raised the possibility of replacing the House of Lords with an industrial Parliament.

The first chapter also notes the differences in perspective so the left. On the one hand, there was the technocratic Fabians who, in 1906, noted that “Democracy is a word with a double meaning. To the bulk of Trade Unionists and labourers it means an intense jealousy and mistrust of all authority, and a resolute reduction of both representatives and officials to the position of mere delegates and agents of the majority.” (22) Others on the left, not least the syndicalists, argued that “real power would be put into the hands of the citizens – or member, in the case of the unions – rather than an elected representative.” (23) Needless to say, the Fabians opposed such “primitive democracy”.

Interestingly, these debates resurfaced during the debates on the Russian Revolution. Bullock, as an example, quotes the chair of the Russian Communist Party, Kamenev, on how his party rejected mandated delegates and every delegate “must vote according his own conscience, and not according to the views he and others had formed before the debates.” This, as a British socialist noted at the time, ran counter to the whole idea of the soviet system. (197) Sadly, Bullock fails to note that Lenin in What is to the Done? followed the Fabians in opposing “primitive democracy” so perhaps the Social Democratic Federation, which became the BSP, may not have been on “the far side of this” gulf between the two perspectives (22) for in spite of all the pro-referendum and recall comments Bullock lists in the pre-war left, they were in the context a centralised, Statist structure. This would make such reforms far less democratic than they appear on paper – as seen in practice with the Soviet State before the creation of the party dictatorship in mid-1918.

As such, developments in Russia should not be viewed in isolation. The Bolsheviks, as Social-Democrats, shared a similar ideological background with much of the British left covered in this book. This means that the BSP forming the core of the CPGB comes as no great surprise. It also helps answer the question of how so many self-proclaimed socialists managed to tolerate the twists-and-turns of Stalinism, for many had already done so when Lenin and Trotsky ruled the roost.

Bullock’s research is impressive and it makes fascinating reading to see how the British left tried to make sense of Bolshevism at the time. Obviously, hindsight is always twenty-twenty but by the early twenties enough was known to see that the Bolshevik regime was a state-capitalist party-dictatorship. That so many on the left embraced this would suggest that pre-war positions on democracy and socialism were not as robust as would be imagined – as anarchists had long warned, what they thought of as socialism was in fact simply state-capitalism. Bullock, sadly, concentrates mostly on the political rhetoric of the pre-war left rather than their economic vision (the Guild Socialists being, unsurprisingly, an exception). The book fails to address this critique but it can be argued it falls outside the its remit. This should not, however, detract from an excellent contribution to our understanding of the period.

Romancing the revolution: the myth of Soviet democracy and the British Left

Ian Bullock

AU Press

2011

New Republic, AlterNet, and Nation Institute Had No Real HR When Abuses Occurred

ven, 01/05/2018 - 17:17

via The Intercept

by Aída Chávez
January 5 2018

When Hamilton Fish became publisher and editorial director of the New Republic in February 2016, he faced a gargantuan task in turning around the storied publication, which was reeling from a series of abrupt ownership changes and mass staff turnover. But first, some spring cleaning: getting rid of the magazine’s human resources staff and shelving the employee handbook.

When Fish took over, Paul Biboud-Lubeck was the director of people and finance, serving as the human resources manager. He left in June, and Fish never hired a replacement. Meanwhile, Fish took the employee handbook off the web, telling staff that he was updating it. “The story was he was revising it. I guess he was revising it for two years,” said one New Republic staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely about their employer.

Fish had previously served as president of the Nation Institute, before departing in 2009. Esther Kaplan, editor of the institute’s Investigative Fund, confirmed to The Intercept that Fish departed in the wake of allegations of misconduct. When the news broke that he was joining the New Republic, some women there were warned that Fish could be demeaning and creepy, HuffPost reported, and there had even been an incident in which he had placed his hands around a female colleague’s neck. The neck-grabbing incident “did not happen as described,” Fish told HuffPost. “I know it sounds self-serving, but anyone who knows me knows I would never harm a woman or another person.”

Having heard the stories about Fish, some New Republic employees saw his failure to staff the HR department at his new stomping ground through that prism. They had a “sense that it was a perfect environment” for abuses against women, a former New Republic staffer told The Intercept, reflecting a widely held opinion among other current and former staffers interviewed for this article. Staffers, said the former employee, “had no power, no leverage to get him to stop, no one to tell what was happening to, and no reason to believe that they could speak out and still keep their jobs.”

It was reminiscent of the environment at the Nation Institute, in fact —  where reported inappropriate behavior “all took place against a backdrop where there was no personnel handbook and no one in an HR role,” a source who was on staff during Fish’s tenure told HuffPost.

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Review: The Geography of Possibility: Simon Springer on the Spaces of Liberation

ven, 01/05/2018 - 16:05

via Fifth Estate

by John Clark
Fifth Estate # 399, Fall, 2017

a review of
The Anarchist Roots of Geography: Toward Spatial Emancipation by Simon Springer. University of Minnesota Press, 2016

Anyone who wants evidence that anarchist geography is alive and well today need only read this book. The author, Simon Springer, is one of the most active anarchist intellectuals today. In 2016, he authored two books and edited five, mostly on anarchist themes, and he has written numerous articles, some technical, but many deeply immersed in contemporary struggles.

His lively polemic, “Fuck Neoliberalism,” has over 50,000 hits on one website alone.

The book’s subtitle is a good indication of its purpose. It is committed to the project of liberation of humanity and nature, and to overcoming all forms of domination. With great passion and eloquence, Springer calls for a return to geography’s “radical roots” in anarchist concepts, in which it is a mode of social and political engagement. Through such a geography of autonomy and solidarity, we “configure a radical political imagination that is capable of demanding the impossible.”

Springer relates anarchism to contemporary themes such as biopolitics and rhizomatic theory, but also looks back to the classical anarchist thinkers, showing the enduring value of their critique of hierarchy and domination. He deserves particular recognition for carrying on the legacy of the great French 19th century anarchist social geographer and political philosopher Eliseé Reclus.

Springer is inspired by Reclus’ communitarian anarchist project of a universal geography—in effect, a geography of solidarity—which he compares to Buddhism and Daoism’s ideas of the interconnectedness of all things.

He also follows Reclus in linking the aesthetic and the ethical, proclaiming that “beautiful is something that we already are.” For Springer, utopia is not a distant ideal, but is already present here and now He echoes Reclus’ belief that “small loving and intelligent societies,” are crucial to profound social transformation, prefiguring the anarchist idea of the affinity group as basic to a free society.

Springer argues that “an ethic of non-violence” is at the core of anarchism. He observes that opposition to the state is based on the rejection of organized violence as the major organizing force within society, and that consistent anarchism will have “an unwavering commitment to nonviolence and the absolute condemnation of war.” He thus carries on the tradition of anarcho-pacifists who have found inspiration in the lives and ideas of great figures such as Tolstoy, Thoreau, and Dorothy Day.

Springer also applies the critique of domination to the issue of colonialism. He points out that the project of the centralized state implied from the beginning a process of colonial expansion (conquest) from a center of power.

Springer writes that “to be ‘postcolonial’ in any meaningful sense requires that one be ‘poststatise or ‘anarchic,’ and look to non-statist traditions for inspiration. We must follow the “least alienated” and “most oppressed” peoples, learning from the traditional wisdom and contemporary revolutionary practice of indigenous movements such as the Zapatistas, who have a deep historically- and experientially-based understanding of the destructiveness of capitalism and the centralized state.

Finally, Springer applies this critique to urbanism, which he sees as deeply infected with hierarchical ideology and bias toward centers of power and wealth as models of the urban. In an anarchist urbanism, “the values embedded in public space are those with which the demos endows it.”

Public space becomes the space of self-determination by the free community. Springer contrasts the “Disneyfied” space of neoliberal capitalism, “devoid of geographic specificity,” with such a non-dominated space of anarchic community.

Springer concludes with the hopeful thought that “places wild and free” still exist. In such places, new possibilities for realization of beauty, goodness, freedom, and creativity are always present, ready to emerge. We need “a politics of possibility,” based on living an awakened, engaged life in such places, so that we ourselves “become the horizon.”

Springer is optimistic about such a politics for two reasons. First, there is a long, rich history of realizing such creative possibilities, extending from tribal societies to the great revolutions and recent communal experiments. Second, such emergence of possibilities is inherent in the very structure of reality.

We live in a universe of freedom and creativity. We might even say that we are ourselves nature becoming free and self-creative.

John Clark lives in New Orleans and on Bayou La Terre in the coastal forest of the Gulf of Mexico. He has long been active in the radical ecology and communitarian anarchist movements, and currently works with Bayou Bridge Pipeline resistance. He is director of La Terre Institute for Community and Ecology.

Review: Punk & Anarchy

ven, 01/05/2018 - 15:52

via Fifth Estate

by Ruhe
Fifth Estate # 399, Fall, 2017

a review of
Ethics, Politics, and Anarcho Punk Identifications: Punk and Anarchy in Philadelphia by Edward Anthony Avery-Natale. Lexington Books, 2016, 235 pp.

Like many anarchists who came of age in the 1990s, my first exposure to anarchism came through the punk scene. A friend gave me a cassette tape full of classic punk bands as part of an effort to satisfy my ever expanding interest in punk.

Among the music was the entirety of the English anarchist punk band Crass’ 1981 album, “Penis Envy” I was blown away by its deconstruction of gender and assault on patriarchy.

As a result, I explored other bands and through the overlapping circles of punk and anarchism and after a series of serendipitous encounters (reading about anarchist organizations in album inserts, hearing about protests at shows, learning about political prisoners through punk zines, picking up anarchist newspapers at shows, etc.), I eventually became involved in the larger anarchist milieu in the United States.

Reflecting back on those years and having conversations with many friends about these topics, my story isn’t particularly unique, some variation of it happened for many in my generation. Punk—for whatever its flaws are—was a gateway through which many people were exposed to anarchist ideas.

Therefore, I was eager to read Ethics, Politics, and Anarcho-Punk Identification, in hopes that it would offer new insights into the role of punk within anarchism.

It is focused on one city, Philadelphia, but because punk is a global DIY movement, the discussion is relevant to the history of punk as a whole. The focus was particularly interesting as Philadelphia had a robust anarcho-punk community in the late 1990s and early 2000s. While I have never been to that city, word of what was happening there circulated through the largely pre-internet punk networks of touring bands, zines, and train riding travelers, which made me even more excited about Avery-Natale’s book.

The text does a good job of giving an overview of the scene in Philadelphia. The author uses their own experiences as an anarchist and punk to ground their analysis which is in turn based on numerous interviews with long-term participants in the scene.

Everyone interviewed identifies as both anarchist and punk. The author tries to explain the basics of how the subculture works, but nonetheless, it’s an analysis that would probably make the most sense to those who are familiar with the DIY scene.

Avery-Natale is primarily concerned with questions of identification and how anarcho-punks self-identify. It’s an interesting discussion, focusing on how one reconciles being an anarchist in a non-anarchist world and how on a smaller scale, one reconciles being an anarchist in a predominately non-anarchist punk scene.

They spend a lot of time dissecting the term “anarcho-punk” and articulate the idea of dueling identities that alternate between being united and opposed to each other. Central to this discussion is the question of what exactly anarchism means to anarcho-punks.

The book presents the idea of anarchism as somewhat of an ethical compass or benchmark that one aspires towards, based on both what the interviewees say and the author’s analysis. Based on the interviews, the politics of the scene are represented as being skeptical of the possibility of an anarchist future and reformist in nature.

Many interviewees quoted express support for various government social welfare programs and argue that the process of reforming the state is an acceptable alternative to revolution. The author gives weight to this line of thinking by leaning heavily on the work of Simon Critchley, an academic theorist who is likely more familiar to those within the university than participants in the anarchist milieu.

They fit right in with the stable of post-Marxist theorists also cited such as Alain Badiou, Gilles Deleuze, Ernesto Laclau, and Slavoj Zizek. The occasional anarchist is referenced, but most are of the classical variety. Noam Chomsky is one of the few contemporary anarchists mentioned.

Much of the discussion in the book is framed through the lens of sociological analysis. Stepping back and evaluating things through an academic perspective can lend a certain amount of depth that can be helpful, but at times, it can also be limiting.

The author says they wrote the book in part as a way to “give back” to the anarcho-punk community, but it’s hard to imagine that the text will have appeal beyond a narrow audience. It is full of relatively specialized academic language and theorists are routinely name dropped. While they do make attempts at times to explain briefly the concepts being invoked, it’s likely the more familiar one is ahead of time with those theorists, the more meaningful those comparisons will be.

Even with some familiarity, the discussion occasionally seems strikingly devoid of the passion which characterizes anarcho-punk. Moreover, many with experience in the scene would justifiably bristle at the fact that the book has an $89.99 cover price.

Overall, this title ends up being only nominally interesting. Its discussion is too convoluted and seems more concerned with adhering to the norms of academia than making a contribution to either the punk or anarchist milieus.

The book frequently references the rightward drift of the punk scene over the past decade and the lessening of an anarchist presence within punk, as well as a stronger “anti-PC” vibe. Punk, as the author points out, is simultaneously local and global and the trend points towards a waning connection between radical politics and punk.

In light of that, this text seems even more irrelevant. Perhaps someone else will write one that properly captures the connection between anarchism and punk and the ways in which it inspired so many people into political activity.

Properly written and argued, it is a book that could have a lot to offer—unfortunately Ethics, Politics, and Anarcho-Punk Identifications is far from being such a title.

Ruhe is an anarchist who still finds inspiration in punk.

Anarchist Filmmakers …Video Tape Guerrillas & Digital Ninjas

ven, 01/05/2018 - 15:30

via Fifth Estate

by Franklin Lopez
Fifth Estate # 399, Fall, 2017

a review of
Breaking the Spell: A History of Anarchist Filmmakers, Video Tape Guerrillas and Digital Ninjas by Chris Robé. PM Press, 2017, 468 pages.

Reviewer’s note: I agreed to write this review before being aware that almost an entire chapter is dedicated to an analysis of my video work and that of sub.Media. It also includes some writing about my work with the Vancouver Media Co-op. I know Chris personally, and we’ve eaten tacos and drunk beers together.

When I decided to destroy any chances at a film-making career, and to instead dedicate my life to producing videos that would hopefully propel people to destroy capitalism, well, there was no road map. There were only war stories from Indymedia folks who had been in the game for a few months.

Ten years earlier, when I was in film school in the US in the late 1980s (a total waste of time and money), there was no mention of the countless radical filmmakers and film collectives. At that critical juncture in my life, I would have greatly benefited from a book like Chris Robé’s Breaking the Spell.

The first thing that caught my eye was the title. Breaking the Spell is the name of a film about the 1999 protests that shut down the WTO in Seattle directed by Tim Lewis and Tim Ream.

This film sent me down the treacherous (and fun!) road of anarchist filmmaking.

Aside from Richard Porton’s Film and the Anarchist Imagination (an important book), not much publicly accessible writing about anarchist film-making exists. And while Porton’s tome is a useful summary of anarchist cinema and representation of anarchists in film, Breaking the Spell goes a step further.

Robé not only gives us deep and thoughtful critiques and analysis of films, but discloses the nity gritty of the processes that went into creating them.

Also, his history is not limited to self-identified anarchist film-makers, but includes “anarchist-inflected” auteurs and collectives, giving us a much broader spectrum of radical films and videos made within the last 50 years.

The book kicks off with the history of Third Cinema, the Latin American film movement of the 1960s and ’70s, which aimed to provoke people into action and favored underground viewings to theatrical screenings of their revolutionary cinema.

They attempted to de-commodify films by screening them freely, and emphasized that following the film, the audience would engage in discussions and debates.

By doing so, viewers ceased being passive spectators and became accomplices. The filmmakers wanted to erase the elitist position they often have within movements and place themselves on the same level as the people they were documenting.

They also pioneered the practice of guerilla film-making, the practice of shooting low budget films or videos with minimal crews (sometimes the camera person is the crew), where location permits are usually not obtained, and scenes are shot quickly.

It’s only appropriate that the book begins with Third Cinema. Their philosophical contributions to the practice of radical filmmaking can be seen throughout the last half of the 20th century whether or not other people using these practices were aware of their origins. I wasn’t until a few years ago.

One interesting aspect of the book is how evolving technology in film, video, and later digital video facilitated the creation of radical and anarchist films.

Breaking the Spell recounts how the Sony Portapak, an early portable video camera and recording deck, allowed collectives like Videofreex, in New York state between 1969 and 1978, to widely distribute their timely “anarchist inflected” video reports to large audiences via the internet.

Robé does not simply glorify these facts, but also explores its contradictions as they pertain to radicals using these technologies. For example, the cost of the Portapak was about $1,500 when it hit the market in the late 1960s, meaning that the technology was inaccessible to poor people wanting to tell their own stories. The individuals and collectives who were able to take advantage of this equipment were mostly composed of middle class white people.

The most important contribution the book makes is that it digs deeply into the organizational processes behind the production of these films. Robé interviewed dozens of filmmakers to find out how and why they made their films. Similar to his analysis of the technologies used, he gives us an honest look at the incongruities within their visions of equality and inclusion, and how things played out in practice.

The lack of racialized minorities and women, as well as the gendered division of labor in radical media milieus are frequent themes throughout the book.

For example, he describes how rampant sexism plagued the production of “Finally Got the News,” a 1970 documentary about the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in Detroit’s auto plants made in conjunction with New York Newsreel. Or, how the hacker-centric ethic in the early incarnation of Indymedia in the late 1990s failed to significantly include people of color in their productions.

Robé gives first hand accounts of the shortcomings and challenges that independent media initiatives have to endure to keep their operations alive.

He also brings us success stories from media initiatives led by the people during their struggles. Most notably, how Paper Tiger TV’s non-hierarchical practices gave space for activists to produce and broadcast videos during the height of ACT-UP and the AIDS epidemic; the way Out of Your Backpack Media make videos by and for indigenous people in Arizona in the early 2000s, breaking the need for white activists to facilitate media creation; and Mobile Voices providing a platform for poor migrants to create media by using mobile phone technology in Los Angeles during the beginning of this century.

My biggest gripe, besides the heavy Marxist lens through which the book draws many of its critiques, is its use of an academic tone and language. This should not be a surprise, after all, Robé is a university professor. Like many anarchist and radical books, there are a lot of assumptions about prior knowledge that the reader possesses, making it at times an inaccessible read. This is unfortunate.

But this should not discourage anyone from picking it up. Breaking the Spell is a gift to anyone who makes or is interested in radical cinema. By examining the historical context in which the films were produced, by speaking to those making them, and by not pulling any punches in his criticisms of the ways they are made, Robé gives us a detailed picture of those who came before us.

In the closing paragraphs, Robé gives us suggestions to the way forward that harkens back to Third Cinema’s vision:

“Improving the general aesthetic quality of activist video for those who have the time and resources to dedicate in cultivating it is an admirable goal. But to argue that such higher quality videos naturally lead to mass distribution or imply that professional looking video trumps other concerns like skills-sharing and collective organizing seems deeply problematic if not outright misguided.”

Franklin Lopez is an anarchist filmmaker from occupied Borikén (Puerto Rico). He has produced hundreds of videos and short films under the subMedia.tv banner, a website he has curated since 2000. He is most well known for “It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine,” subMedia’s snarky web news/comedy series followed by thousands.

His work also includes mash-ups, music videos, and political documentaries. In 2011, Frank toured the world with his feature film, “END:CIV,” presenting it in over 150 venues in 18 countries.

This year, subMedia released “Trouble,” a monthly documentary series about radical movement organizing. Frank resides in Montreal. All his films are free at sub.Media.

Africa needs to stop talking about the ‘youth bulge’

ven, 01/05/2018 - 15:11

via New Internationalist

Africa is obsessed with talking about the ‘youth bulge’. Pundits and politicians are engaged in an endless conversation about the vast and growing population of young people on their continent, where there are set to be almost a billion under-18s by 2050.

But the ‘youth bulge’ is not a neutral demographic discourse. It has become a highly suspect way of thinking about young people, inflected by long-standing preoccupations with African birth-rates and a dystopic image of ‘coming anarchy’.

The problem is generally considered to be that there won’t be enough jobs for this swelling demographic; as a consequence of being ‘idle’ and unemployed, the restless youth could, in the words of a recent article on the UN’s Africa Renewal website, fuel the ‘fire of political violence and civil unrest’.

Young people in the West (with the notable exception of the ‘urban youth’) have the luxury of being depicted in empathetic terms: as rebellious or uncouth millennials, naïvely challenging the world. But this generous interpretation doesn’t extend to Africa: a landscape of dangerous and now, in the era of Somali Islamists Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram, ‘radicalized’ young people, who are regularly portrayed as a ‘ticking time bomb’ or ‘peril’.

Read more

Youth bulge: A public billboard in Uganda urges people to have smaller families. Photo: Jenny Matthews / Panos

Review: The Method of Freedom

ven, 01/05/2018 - 01:06

via Black Flag #236 2014/15

Reviewed by Iain McKay

The Method of Freedom: An Errico Malatesta Reader £18.00 ISBN: 978-184935-1-44-7 by Errico Malatesta, edited by Davide Turcato

Errico Malatesta (1853-1932) was one of anarchism’s greatest activists and thinkers for over 60 years. He joined the First International in 1871 and became an anarchist after meeting Mikhail Bakunin in 1872. He spent most of his life exiled from Italy, helping to build unions in Argentina in the late 1880s and taking an active part during the two Red Years after the war when Italy was on the verge of revolution (the authorities saw the threat and imprisoned him and other leading anarchists before a jury dismissed all charges). Playing a key role in numerous debates within the movement – on using elections, participation in the labour movement, the nature of social revolution, syndicalism and platformism (to name just a few), he saw the rise and failure of the Second International, then the Third before spending the last years of his life under house arrest in Mussolini’s Italy.

The length of Malatesta’s activism within the movement is matched by the quality of his thought and this is why all anarchists will benefit from reading him. Before The Method of Freedom, we had his classic pamphlet Anarchy, Vernon Richard’s Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas (a selection of snippets grouped by theme) and The Anarchist Revolution (articles from the 1920s) as well as a few articles translated here and there. Anyone reading these works would have quickly realised how important and useful Malatesta’s ideas were. Deeply realistic, with a firm grasp on the here and now as well as principles, he avoided the extremism that often befalls anarchists (violent propaganda or pacifism; disdaining the labour movement or being submerged in it; simplistic/romantic notions of revolution or refornism).

He did not take his wishes for reality but instead looked to the situation as it was and applied his principles to make anarchism relevant and practical. The breadth of material this work makes available is impressive and gives for the first time a clear picture of Malatesta’s ideas. Organised in chronological order, it shows us how his ideas developed and changed while, at the same time, keeping the core principles which were there from the start. His practical nature comes to the fore, the notion that anarchism is a realistic theory that not only was able to be applied now but also had to be because of its libertarian nature: “Our duty[was], which was the logical outcome of our ideas, the condition which our conception of revolution and re-organisation of society imposes on us, namely, to live among the people and to win them over to our ideas by actively taking part in their struggles and sufferings” (179) This did not mean ignoring the anarchist movement. Far from it for he entered into numerous debates on a host of subjects – all as relevant to anarchism today as is what he had to say.

His discussion of organisation predates by decades the issues raised by Jo Freeman in The Tyranny of Structurelessness, namely that “non-organisation culminates in an authority which, being unmonitored and unaccountable, is no less of a real authority for all that” and so “foundering in dis-organisation” it naturally happens that the few “impose their thinking and their will” onto the “bulk of the party”. (103) As to what seems the perennial democracy debate, he presents simple common sense by correctly suggesting that minorities “defer voluntarily whenever necessary and the feeling of solidarity require it”.

To those who asked “what if the minority refuses to give away?” Malatesta responded: “What if the majority makes to abuse its strength?” (214) For those who argue anarchism is democracy and also include minority rights, rather than refute Malatesta’s position they accept it – but use different words. Perhaps we can sum it up as anarchists support majority decisionmaking but not majority rule and move onto more fruitful things? Like applying our ideas in the class struggle? Here Malatesta makes such obvious points that it is slightly embarrassing that he felt the need to actually put pen to paper to advocate them. He lamented that by “simply preaching abstract theories” in the 1880s “we have become isolated” (178) and argued that anarchism could become relevant “only in workingmen’s associations, strikes, collective revolt”. (179) In this he simply reminded anarchists of the ideas of the libertarianwing of the First International, when he joined the movement, which he summarised in 1884 as being “[s]trikes, resistance societies, labor organisations” and “encouraging workers to band together and resist the bosses” as the means of “struggling against all the economic, political, religious, judicial, and pseudo-scientifically moral institutions of bourgeois society”. (58) The Method of Freedom, then, adds to the growing pile of books that refute the notion, popular with some academics and Marxists, that anarchists in France turned to syndicalism only after the failure of “propaganda by the deed” in the mid-1890s (syndicalism then spreading to the rest of the world and displacing communistanarchism). Malatesta, like Kropotkin, advocated anarchist involvement in the labour movement from the start: although it is true he stressed this far more after his union organising in South America and the example of the 1889 London Dock Strike.

This was part and parcel of the role of anarchists to encourage the spirit of resistance: “The better the people’s material and moral conditions are and the more it has become aware of its own strength and inured to and skilled in struggle, through resistance and relentless struggles for improved conditions, the better equipped the people is for revolution.” (257) Looking at neoliberal Britain, with its staggeringly low levels of collective struggle in the face of the unremitting Con-Dem onslaught against working class people, his comments that the individualism of capitalism results in “a constant tendency in the direction of growing tyranny by the few and slavishness for the many” and only the “resistance from the people is the only boundary set upon the bullying of the bosses and rules” seem all to sadly relevant. As is his conclusion: “there is no resistance because the spirit of cooperation, of association is missing”. (229) This applied within the movement itself, with Malatesta pointing out that with nothing practical to do, many “unable to bear such idleness” turn to electoral politics “just for something to do” and “then, bit by bit, abandon the revolutionary route altogether”. (70) People “who might have all of the making of an anarchist … prefer – making the best of a bad situation – to sign on with the social democrats and other politickers”. (103) How true: today we see some turning to Bookchin’s flawed “Libertarian Municipalism” as if the germs of reformism did not exist in the local state as much as in Parliament. Anarchists, then, had to use tactics which “will bring us into direct and unbroken contact with the masses” as the masses “are led to big demands by way of small requests and small revolts”. (76-7) “Popular movements begin how they can” (166) and so “if we wait to plunge into the fray until the people mount the anarchist
communist colours, we shall run great risk of remaining eternal dreamers … leaving a free field … to our adversaries who are the enemies, conscious or unconscious, of the true interests of the people.” (167)

Talking of flags, I had discovered when working on An Anarchist FAQ’s “Symbols of Anarchy” appendix that anarchists were raising the black-and-red flag during the 1877 propaganda uprisings in Italy but did not know what it looked like. Now I do: “The flag adopted by the International is red, framed in black.” (65)

Anarchist involvement in the trade union movement was, then, championed by Malatesta who, ironically, is sometimes represented as anti-syndicalist. In realty, on his return to Europe he helped – like Kropotkin – win the debate within the movement to return to its syndicalist strategies from Bakunin’s time. The picture of Malatesta the antisyndicalist (rather than the syndicalistplus) has been pained by those who misunderstand his critiques of those who turned means into ends as opposition to the shared means (class organisation and struggle). What is the difference, then, between (revolutionary/communist) anarchism and (pure) syndicalism? Simply an awareness that unions are not inherently revolutionary and need anarchists to organise to influence them towards revolutionary aims and tactics. Hence Malatesta’s constant argument that anarchists had to organise as anarchists to work within – and outwith – the unions. Equally, while unions were an important aspect of anarchist activity he rightly rejected the idea that building unions automatically created anarchism or that syndicalism made anarchism redundant. As can be seen from the texts in The Method of Freedom, he spent much time over many decades arguing against those who thought that syndicalism was sufficient in itself, recognising that a union needed to organise all workers to be effective and could not, therefore, be confused with an organisation of anarchists.

Both had their role to play and his conclusion was that the First International failed because it did not recognise this (a mistake he was keen to avoid repeating). Similarly, while he viewed the general strike as a good means of starting a revolution it was a mistake – as some syndicalists did – to equate the two. His support of this tactic, again, predates the rise of syndicalism in France and so we find him in 1890 arguing that while the “general strike is preached and this is all to the good” it should not be confused with the revolution: “It would only be a splendid opportunity for making the Revolution, but nothing more.” It had to be “transformed” into revolution, “down the road to expropriation and armed attack” before lack of food and other goods “erode[d]the strikers’ morale. (107)

This brings forth another key aspect of Malatesta’s common-sense politics – revolutions are complex and difficult things, as is getting to a situation where one is possible. Thus we find him refuting those comrades who thought that all we had to do was take what we needed from warehouses overflowing with goods immediately after a revolution. In reality, firms produced what they thought they could sell at a profit and so stopped long before warehouses were full of piles of goods gathering dust or rotting away. As well as bursting the unrealistic dreams of certain anarchists on social revolution, he also skilfully destroyed Lenin’s explanation of the necessity of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” as self-contradictory nonsense for “a minority that has to win over the majority after it has seized power” cannot be the proletariat as that “is obviously the majority”. (407)

Like all serious anarchists, he was well aware that libertarian communism cannot be created overnight and so urged anarchists now to think through the practical issues involved not only in achieving a revolution but also the inevitably imperfect immediate aftermath when people start to slowly create the social institutions and relationships of a free society (needless to say, this – just like the necessity of defending a revolution – had nothing in common with Marxist notions of “the dictatorship of the proletariat”). Much of his work in the 1920s reflects this perspective, inspired by the failure of the near revolution in Italy he had returned from London exile to take part in. What comes out clearly from all his articles is that anarchism, for him, was not about utopias produced by revolutions which springs from nowhere but rather a set of principles which could and must be applied today in such a way as to bring the hoped for social revolution closer. That perspective should be the default position within the movement and so newcomers to anarchism will discover a thinker who will show them anarchism as a practical idea while experienced anarchists will benefit from the wealth of ideas Malatesta give the movement.

Needless to say, along with many newly translated articles and such essential works as Anarchy, An Anarchist Programme and Towards Anarchy, the book includes his polemics against Kropotkin’s support for the Allies in 1914 (Anarchists Have Forgotten their Principles and ProGovernment Anarchists) as well as his Peter Kropotkin: Recollections and Criticisms By One of His Old Friends. My one real complaint is that while it is of interest to read the 1891 translation of Anarchy, I hope that a new translation is planned for the appropriate volume of the Collected Works as it is dated to modern eyes. In addition, while this collection is broken up into sections corresponding, in the main, to the volumes of the planned Collected Works there are no articles from Malatesta’s time in South America (1885 to 1889). This is unfortunate as this time – with his active participation in a movement serious about organising unions – played a critical part in the advocacy of syndicalist tactics when he returned to Europe in 1889. Happily, the relevant volume of the Collected Works will have material from this period.

All in all, though, there is little to complain about with this work and much to be excited about. In a way, I have been waiting for this book since I first read Anarchy and Errico Malatesta: Life and Ideas when I was a teenager (over 25 years ago now) and Davide Turcato has not disappointed. He must be congratulated for producing such an excellent book, a work that enriches anarchism immensely, will be read with benefit by all – anarchists and nonanarchists, new and experienced libertarian militants alike – and wets the appetite for the Collected Works. Read this book.

Fact File: Errico Malatesta

Aged 14 he faced his first arrest for writing a letter to the king demanding an end to local injustices.

Radicalised at university, he was expelled aged 18 for demonstrating and joined the International Workingmen’s Association that same year.

Aged 19, he met leading anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, in whose group he would go on to play a major role.

For the next four years he propagandised for insurrection, was jailed twice and attempted to free the province of Benetento before being arrested.

Held for 16 months and acquitted, he was harrassed into exile by the police.

Travelling, he wound up in Switzerland, befriending Elisee Reclus and Peter Kropotkin.

In 1880 he moved to London where he helped organise the short-lived anarchist St Imier International.

Two years later he would fight the British colonials in Egypt, and nursed cholera victims in Naples before fleeing to South America.

He returned to Nice and London in 1889, spending eight years striking out from Britain to agitate across Europe.

In 1912 he was jailed for eight months in London and deported to Italy after the First World War ended.

In 1921, aged 68 he was jailed again by the Italian government, and released just in time to see the fascists gain power.

He continued to write and agitate until his death in 1932 from pneumonia.

http://www.awsm.nz/2017/11/24/book-review-the-method-of-freedom/

Modern capitalism has opened a major new front for strike action – logistics

ven, 01/05/2018 - 00:59

via The Conversation

by Kim Moody

The decline of trade unions across the developed nations is nothing new. In the US the proportion of workers in unions fell from a high of 35% in 1954, mostly in the private sector, to 11% in 2016 with nearly half in the public sector. Union density in the UK fell from a high of 55% in 1979 to 25% in 2016.

Despite the recent revival of the left in both countries, the days when unions had the power to demand major concessions and win still seem far away. Partly thanks to tough labour laws and employer aggression, their role has become much more about consultation than domination.

Now, however, a comeback looks possible – and not only because of the political climate. Changes in the corporate landscape since the Reagan/Thatcher era point to big opportunities for organised labour. The question is whether unions will try to take advantage.

Why the decline

In the US, the fall of labour began at the end of World War II as major manufacturers moved production facilities to the non-union South to reduce costs and escape big concentrations of unionised workers like those around Detroit, Gary, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Between 1947 and 1972, Dixie’s contribution to American manufacturing value-added near-doubled to almost a quarter of the total. The big industrial unions saw membership peak by the early 1970s, never to grow again. The UK would follow this trend thanks to the decline of its manufacturing base and Margaret Thatcher’s determination to smash union power in the 1980s.

Another key trend was a wave of mergers and acquisitions in the 1960s, launched by cash-rich corporations benefiting from strong economic growth. This dealmaking grew from about 1,200 a year in 1963 in the US, for example, to a high of 6,000 in 1969, though it was prevalent in many countries. This produced the rise of conglomerates – firms offering a wide variety of often unrelated goods and services.

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Civil Asset Forfeiture: Explained

ven, 01/05/2018 - 00:53

via In Justice Today

By Waseem Salahi, Jessica Brand, and Callie Heller

In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines — like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine — so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current.

In January 2016 in San Diego, a SWAT team entered the offices of Med-West, a licensed cannabis manufacturer and distributer. It seized over $300,000 in cash and products valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition, law enforcement and the District Attorney seized $100,000 from owner James Slatic’s personal bank accounts, money that also belonged to his wife and his kids.

In May of 2017, with charges still not filed, a judge ordered the D.A. to pay Slatic back the money from his personal account with interest. But the office kept the assets from the business, and soon after filed charges against Slatic. [Jessica Pishko / Slate] In December of this year–nearly two years later–the government returned all but $35,000 of the money. After all that, Mr. Slatic pleaded guilty to two marijuana–related misdemeanors. [Greg McDonald / San Diego Union Tribune]

In August 2012, Mandrel Stuart, a 35-year-old black man, was driving in Fairfax, Virginia, with his girlfriend when police pulled them over. Officers stopped them because the car’s windows were tinted and a video was playing in Stuart’s sightline. During the stop, a K-9 dog alerted the officer to drugs in the car. The police detained Stuart and his girlfriend for two hours, but only found 0.01 grams of marijuana and $17,550 in cash. Stuart explained that he was planning to use the money that night to buy supplies for his restaurant. Still, police handcuffed Stuart and took him to a nearby station. They never charged him with a crime and ultimately let him go. But they kept the $17,550.

In criminal court, a person is innocent until proven guilty. But under civil forfeiture laws, the state placed the burden of proof completely on Stuart to prove that his money had no connection to criminal activity. To get his money back, Stuart had to hire an attorney, wait 14 months, and win a jury trial. By that point, it was too late. He couldn’t keep up with the bills for his restaurant, and he ended up losing it in the process. [Washington Post / Robert O’Harrow Jr., et al.]

Since police pulled over Stuart in 2012, almost half of the nation’s states have reformed their asset forfeiture laws to enhance property rights and limit civil forfeitures where the government has not charged the person with or convicted him of a crime. But while some states have eliminated civil forfeiture entirely, Trump administration is trying to bring the practice back in full force.

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Camus, Albert and the anarchists

jeu, 01/04/2018 - 22:10

via Libcom.org

Organise! magazine looks at the life and work of the great thinker and writer, Albert Camus, and his close relationship with the French and Spanish anarchist movements.

Born in French Algeria into a poor family in 1913, Camus lost his father in the Battle of the Marne in 1916. He was raised by his mother, who worked as a charlady and was illiterate. Winning a scholarship, Camus eventually began a career as a journalist. As a youth, he was a keen footballer as well as being a member of a theatrical troupe.

From his time as a goalkeeper, Albert Camus always had a team spirit. He had a generous, if sensitive nature, and always sought the maximum unity, seeking to avoid or bypass rancour. Many intellectuals writing about Camus have obscured his support of anarchism. He was always there to support at the most difficult moments of the anarchist movement, even if he felt he could not totally commit himself to that movement.

Camus himself never made a secret of his attraction towards anarchism. Anarchist ideas occur in his plays and novels, as for example, La Peste, L’Etat de siège or Les Justes. He had known the anarchist Gaston Leval, who had written about the Spanish revolution, since 1945. Camus had first expressed admiration for revolutionary syndicalists and anarchists, conscientious objectors and all manner of rebels as early as 1938 whilst working as a journalist on the paper L’Alger Republicaine, according to his friend Pascal Pia.

The anarchist Andre Prudhommeaux first introduced him at a meeting in 1948 of the Cercle des Etudiants Anarchistes (Anarchist Student Circle) as a sympathiser who was familiar with anarchist thought.

Camus also supported the Groupes de Liaison Internationale which sought to give aid to opponents of fascism and Stalinism, and which refused to take the side of American capitalism. These groups had been set up in 1947-48, and intended to give material support to victims of authoritarian regimes as well as exchanging information. Supporters included the Russian anarchist Nicolas Lazarevitch, exiled in France, as well as many supporters of the revolutionary syndicalist paper La Révolution Proletarienne. Camus remained a friend and financial supporter of RP until his death.

Albert Camus’s book L’Homme Révolte (translated into English as The Rebel), published in 1951, marked a clear break between him and the Communist Party left. It was met with hostility by those who were members of The Communist Party or were fellow travellers. Its message was understood by anarchists and revolutionary syndicalists in France and Spain, however, for it openly mentions revolutionary syndicalism and anarchism and makes a clear distinction between authoritarian and libertarian socialism. The main theme is how to have a revolution without the use of terror and the employment of “Caesarist” methods. So Camus deals with Bakunin and Nechaev among others. “The Commune against the State, concrete society against absolutist society, liberty against rational tyranny, altruistic individualism finally against the colonisation of the masses…”

He ends with a call for the resurrection of anarchism. Authoritarian thought, thanks to three wars and the physical destruction of an elite of rebels, had submerged this libertarian tradition. But it was a poor victory, and a provisional one, and the struggle still continues.

Gaston Leval responded in a series of articles to the book. His tone was friendly, and he avoided harsh polemic, but he brought Camus to book on what he regarded as a caricature of Bakunin. Camus replied in the pages of Le Libertaire, the paper of the Fédération Anarchiste (circulation of this paper was running at 100,000 a week in this period). He protested that he had acted in good faith, and would make a correction in one of the passages criticised by Leval in future editions.

The general secretary of the Fédération Anarchiste, Georges Fontenis, also reviewed Camus’s book in Le Libertaire. To the title question “Is the revolt of Camus the same as ours?”, Fontenis replied that it was. However he faulted him for not giving due space to the revolutions in the Ukraine and Spain, and for portraying Bakunin as a hardened Nihilist and not giving credit to his specific anarchist positions. He ended by admitting that the book contained some admirable pages. A review by Jean Vita the following week in Le Libertaire was warmer and more positive.

These measured criticisms from the anarchists were in contrast to those from the fellow travellers of the Communist Party, like Sartre and the group around the magazine Les Temps Moderne. This marked the beginning of Camus’s break with that other great exponent of existentialism. The criticisms of this group were savage, in particular that of Francis Jeanson. Camus replied that Jeanson’s review was orthodox Marxist, and that he had passed over all references to anarchism and syndicalism. “The First International, the Bakuninist movement, still living among the masses of the Spanish and French CNT, are ignored”, wrote Camus. For his pains, Camus was “excommunicated” by Jeanson from the ranks of the existentialists. These methods disheartened Camus. He also received stern criticism from the Surrealists for the artistic conceptions within the book. It looked like the anarchist movement were Camus’s best supporters.

Camus marked this break in other ways too. He had made a pledge to himself to keep away from intellectuals who were ready to back Stalinism. This did not stop him from wholeheartedly committing himself to causes he thought just and worthwhile. In Spain a group of anarchist workers had been sentenced to death by Franco. In Paris a meeting was called by the League for the Rights of Man on February 22nd 1952. Camus agreed to speak at this. He thought it would be useful if the leader of the Surrealists, André Breton, should appear on the podium. This was in spite of the attack that Breton had written in the magazine Arts, over Camus’s criticisms of the poet Lautreamont, admired by the Surrealists as one of their precursors.

Camus met with the organisers of the event, Fernando Gómez Peláez of the paper Solidaridad Obrera, organ of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist union the CNT, and José Ester Borrás, secretary of the Spanish political prisoners’ federation FEDIP, asking them to approach Breton without telling him that Camus had suggested it. Breton agreed to speak at the meeting even though Camus would be present. Gómez then told Breton that Camus had suggested he speak in the first place, which moved Breton to tears. Later Camus told the Spanish anarchists that because he had not replied to Breton’s anger in kind that a near-reconciliation was possible. Camus and Breton shared the podium and were even seen chatting (for Breton and the Surrealists links to the anarchist movement see here).

Camus took a position of the committed intellectual, signing petitions and writing for Le Libertaire, La révolution Proletarienne and Solidaridad Obrera. He also became part of the editorial board of a little libertarian review, Témoins 1956., getting to know its editor, Robert Proix, a proofreader by trade. Camus, via Proix, met up with Giovanna Berneri (Caleffi) the companion of the gifted Italian anarchist Camillo Berneri, who had been murdered by the Stalinists in Spain in 1937. Camus also met Rirette Maitrejean, who had been the erstwhile companion of Victor Serge, and had been involved in the Bonnot Gang affair and trial. Rirette had been working as a proofreader for the paper Paris-Soir for a long time. Camus also became a friend of the anarchist veteran Maurice Joyeux, who was later to remark that of all contemporary literary works The Rebel was the book that most closely defined the aspirations of the students and workers in May 1968.

Again in 1954 Camus came to the aid of the anarchists. Maurice Laisant, propaganda secretary of the Forces Libres de la Paix (Free Forces of Peace) as well as an editor of Le Monde Libertaire, paper of the Fédération Anarchiste, had produced an antimilitarist poster using the format of official army propaganda. As a result he was indicted for subversion. Camus was a character witness at his trial, recalling how he had first met him at the Spanish public meeting.

Camus told the court, “Since then I have seen him often and have been in a position to admire his will to fight against the disaster which threatens the human race. It seems impossible to me that one can condemn a man whose action identifies so thoroughly with the interests of all men. Too few men are fighting against a danger which each day grows more ominous for humanity”. It was reported that after his statement, Camus took his seat in a courtroom composed mainly of militant workers, who surrounded him with affection. Unfortunately Laisant received a heavy fine.

Camus also stood with the anarchists when they expressed support for the workers’ revolt against the Soviets in East Germany in 1953. He again stood with the anarchists in 1956, first with the workers’ uprising in Poznan, Poland, and then later in the year with the Hungarian Revolution. Later in 1955 Camus gave his support to Pierre Morain, a member of the Fédération Communiste Libertaire (the Fédération Anarchiste had changed its name in 1954 following rancourous struggles within the organisation). Morain was the very first Frenchman to be imprisoned for an anti-colonialist stand on Algeria. Camus expressed his support in the pages of the national daily L’Express of 8th November 1955.

Camus often used his fame or notoriety to intervene in the press to stop the persecution of anarchist militants or to alert public opinion. In the final year of his life Camus settled in the Provence village of Lourmarin. Here he made the acquaintance of Franck Creac’h. A Breton, born in Paris, self-taught, and a convinced anarchist, he had come to the village during the war to “demobilise” himself. Camus employed him as his gardener and had the benefit of being able to have conversations with someone on the same wavelength. One of the last campaigns Camus was involved in was that of the anarchist Louis Lecoin who fought for the status of conscientious objectors in 1958. Camus was never to see the outcome to this campaign, as he died in a car crash on 1960, at the age of forty-six.

Lessons from the 1984-85 Vaal Uprising for Rebuilding a United Front of Communities and Workers Today

jeu, 01/04/2018 - 17:50

via zabalaza.net

By Jonathan Payn

This is a lightly edited transcript of a presentation at a workshop hosted by the International Labour Research & Information Group (ILRIG) and the Orange Farm Human Rights Advice Centre in Drieziek extension 1, Orange Farm township, south of Soweto, South Africa, on 24 June 2017. It was attended by a hall full of community and worker activists, including veterans of the big rebellions of the 1980s.

Comrades, the talk I am giving is based on a paper that I have written. The paper is a work in progress. I am hoping that, through the discussions we will have, you will give me some direction. I can see some of the dots that can be connected, but I am missing some. The written paper is called “Asinamali! Rebuilding a united front of communities and workers: #GraveFeesMustFall, neoliberalism and the 1984-1985 Vaal Uprising.” It’s a big title but we’ll unpack it.

When we talk about people’s power we are not thinking about putting our leaders into the very same structures. We do not want Nelson Mandela to be the state President in the same kind of parliament as Botha. We do not want Walter Sisulu to be Chairperson of a Capitalist Anglo-American corporation.

So said a United Democratic Front pamphlet called “Building People’s Power” that was produced in the 1980s. It continued, “We are struggling for a different system where power is no longer in the hands of the rich and powerful. We are struggling for a government that we will all vote for.” The UDF, formed in 1983, was a coalition of anti-apartheid community, church, worker, youth, sports and other groups. Along with forces like the “workerist” Federation of South African Trade Unions it played a key role in resistance.

What the UDF wanted sounds like almost the exact opposite of what actually happened: more than 20 years later, it is not Sisulu who is chairperson of Anglo-American Corporation, but the ANC’s Cyril Ramaphosa, the Butcher of Marikana, who is a shareholder on the capitalist Lonmin Corporation. Even though people have the right to vote now, fewer and fewer people are actually voting because they don’t get what they vote for; and power and wealth are still in the hands of the rich and powerful.

What went wrong, and what lessons we can draw? What are some of the similarities between the 1980s and today? What is the way forward?

The Vaal Uprising, 1984

Conditions in the townships for the black working class in the 1980s were very similar to the conditions today. Starting in the late 1970s and into the ’80s, the economy was in a recession. If we look at the Vaal, there had been a slump in the steel industry, so there had been mass retrenchments at ISCOR, the old state steel company, which had a large plant in the Vaal. This has since been privatised and is now Arcelor-Mittal. The conditions in the townships, which were already bad, because of the racist policies of separate development between the black townships and white suburbs, were getting worse and worse. There was a deepening education crisis that had been exposed in 1976, and black youth were not happy with the quality of education that they were receiving, with racism in the schools and so on. There was a severe housing crisis as well. The government was not building nearly enough of the houses that were required in the urban townships.

And, to top it off, starting in the late 1970s, the local government dealing with black African townships – the Black Local Authorities and the Bantu Administration Board – started increasing rents and charges for services like electricity and water included in the rent. In July 1984, the Lekota town council announced that there would be a rent increase in the Vaal. The Vaal Civic Association, which was affiliated to the UDF, started organising an anti-rent campaign throughout August, and, on the 2nd of September 1984, the different representatives from different committees that were part of the VCA met at the Roman Catholic Church to plan for a stay-away, or community-based general strike, the next day, Monday 3rd September.

That fateful day workers responded to the VCA call for a stay-away. Students responded, there were protest marches and so on and, as some of you comrades will recall, the police opened fire on marchers, and the situation exploded. People started to fight back and what started here, in the Vaal, on the 3rd of September, had within a matter of months spread across the country, beginning the 1984-85 township uprising.

People organised themselves, as they had already been organising for some time, and they made the townships ungovernable: the BLAs began to crumble, they didn’t have any authority in the townships, and neither did the larger apartheid state. Some areas were made no-go zones for the state, and people started to take control of the townships and to take back control of their lives.

#GraveFeesMustFall

That was part of the beginning of the end for the apartheid system. What started on the 3rd September contributed directly to the collapse of apartheid. But more than 30 years after the Vaal Uprising began, here in the very same region in the Vaal, people have found it essential to start organising against another rates increase, this time imposed by the post-apartheid government: grave fee increases.

Starting last year, people have organised against increases in the cost of municipal plots to bury their relatives. I am sure comrades have heard – it has been talked about on community radio, and you have heard about the #GraveFeesMustFall campaign, or been involved – the cost of a plot went from between R400 to R600, to over R1,000. And that is only if you get buried in your municipality of residence. If you get buried outside your municipality, it is even more expensive. Because municipal cemeteries are getting full, sometimes you either have to resort to “reopening,” where they bury someone on top of an old grave, or you have to get buried at another municipality. But if you get buried elsewhere, costs are huge. So, say for example, that you lived here in Orange Farm, in the City of Johannesburg municipality, but the local cemeteries are full, then you have to go to another municipality to be buried, and your family gets charged up to R4,000.

When we ask why the grave fees have become so expensive, there are two main reasons. First, it seems that the ruling party, the African National Congress, and the state, are selling land to private individuals to profit by opening private cemeteries. Second, local government is using every opportunity to squeeze more money out of working class and poor residents.

If the cemeteries are getting full, then surely the government needs to make more land available for graves instead of privatising them. What we need are cheap affordable grave sites, and yet these are getting privatised or commercialised to make a profit. This shows where the government’s priorities lie.

Urban Neo-Liberalism

The problem is linked to the capitalist system of neo-liberalism, which is affecting us, in every part of our lives. Privatising, commercialising and raising service charges, which is what the #GraveFeesMustFall campaign is fighting, brings us up against the problem of neo-liberalism, and how this links to the legacy of apartheid.

It is important to understand what neo-liberalism involves. It is about privatisation, commercialisation, outsourcing, rising service charges, more cut-offs, flexible jobs – and removing all barriers to profit-making at the expense of the working class and poor.

Starting in the 1970s, the economy internationally, and also in South Africa went into crisis. The bosses were not making enough money, they were losing profitability, and one of the ways that the government tried to get profitability back for the capitalists and bosses from the 1970s, was to use neo-liberalism.

Neo-liberalism is enforced by states, allied with big companies. It is embraced by the ANC today, but did not start with it. It started with the racist National Party government, which moved in the 1970s in the neo-liberal direction. It cut its social spending on things like education, healthcare, service delivery and so on, and started making local governments raise more of their own money within the municipal area. So instead of the national treasury giving enough money to municipalities, local government needed to find ways to raise money itself to be able to function. This meant charging more and spending less, and ensuring cost-recovery, meaning recovering money spent on things.

The NP and the Townships

Obviously this approach hits the black working class hardest, whether under the ANC or the NP. So, in the 1970s, when the apartheid state introduced the BLAs, and allowed black Africans to vote for local councillors in the BLAs, it also made the BLAs have to raise their own money for development in those townships, from those same voters.

One of the main ways that municipalities raise money is by charging businesses, corporations and property owners taxes, based on the value of their property. Another key way is to charge them for electricity, water and so on. So, when the apartheid state introduced the BLAs, they insisted the BLAs raise most of their own money.

As you can still see in the townships, there weren’t a lot of businesses, there were no big corporations or workplaces, and property was not worth a lot. The townships exist, mainly, as reservoirs of cheap labour, neglected by the state. So the BLAs could not get a lot of money through taxing properties in the townships, unlike, for example, in rich areas like Sandton, where there are a lot of big corporations, as well as the hub of the economy, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. The apartheid white municipality for Sandton could cope with falling money from central government quite easily, by raising property taxes and service charges, on the companies and the JSE and on wealthy residents. This caused some complaints, but no crisis.

But the BLAs, based in poor and under-developed areas, with a mainly working class and poor population, did not have these options. So they raised rents. This caused massive unrest, and sparked the Vaal Uprising, which sparked the township insurrections of the mid-1980s.

The end of the NP and the apartheid regime, brought some important changes, including the end of the BLAs and the merger of black African, Coloured, Indian and white local government into unified municipalities. The formal segregation was ended.

The ANC and Townships

But the new ANC government did not end neo-liberalism. Instead, its reforms are all framed by neo-liberalism. So, the ANC soon started doing the same thing as the NP when dealing with the townships. Local government had to raise a large part of its own money; the amount of money from the national treasury that goes to local government has actually been cut drastically in the last 20 years.

The result is that local governments, like the City of Johannesburg, raise money and cut costs by privatising or commercialising services like electricity and water, by casualising and retrenching workers, by raising charges and cutting people off if they do not pay. Raising grave fees in the Vaal is just another way for the municipalities to try raise more revenue, and another way to try create space for business to make profits.

But there is not enough money raised, even with these methods, so the townships remain poor and under-developed. This continues the legacy of apartheid’s separate development, with its divide between the suburbs and the townships, which can be seen in everything from streetlights to roads to housing.

This is one of the main injustices that people were fighting against in the townships in the 1970s and 1980s. The old apartheid urban policies don’t exist on paper anymore, but current neo-liberal policies have the same effect.

Because what happens is that the City of Johannesburg, for example, generates a lot of revenue in Sandton, in Rosebank, in the wealthier old white suburbs, and that money gets invested back into the same areas to develop them, to maintain them, to keep them clean and things like that. But Orange Farm, for example, which is also part of the City of Johannesburg municipality, is a township and a squatter camp, and the municipality can’t raise a lot of money here and so, it does not spend a lot of money here.

So the legacy of separate development continues. The money raised by the municipality in the historically (and still mainly) white suburbs stays there, while not enough money is raised in the historically (and still mainly working class and poor) townships to develop these areas, and reverse the legacy of separate development.

The Past in the Present

Other objective conditions are very similar today, to what they were in the 1970s and 1980s. Starting in 2008, the global economy started going into crisis again. The thing about capitalism is that it is full of crises, and the system doesn’t really work smoothly, it is not stable. Every couple of years it goes into crisis, whereby the bosses are not making enough money and the governments lose out on tax, and so they need to find ways to increase profitability.

What they do is that they cut wages, they retrench people and they try to make the working class and the poor pay for the crisis, by shifting the cost of the crisis onto the backs of the working class. They are trying to make the workers and the poor, in South Africa the black African and Coloured working class especially, pay for the capitalist crisis in order to increase the incomes of the bosses and politicians and the ruling class.

Since the 1970s this has involved neo-liberalism. From the 1970s, urban neo-liberalism by the BLAs worked by increasing the rent. From the 1990s, urban neo-liberalism works by increasing specific charges, how much you pay for electricity and water – and now, for graves.

Other conditions are also very similar between then and now. We know that there is still a big crisis in the education system, as we have seen with the Fees Must Fall and Rhodes Must Fall campaigns: black students are not happy with the content and quality of education, and with the fact that it is not affordable. Government funding cuts to universities have led to massive increases in fees, which exclude black working class students, as well as to outsourcing, which attacks the workers.

We still have a massive housing crisis in this country, despite government building low-cost “RDP” housing. At the beginning of May 2017, there were big protests in black African and Coloured townships in the south of Johannesburg like Freedom Park, Ennerdale and in the Vaal, around housing, because the government is simply not building enough houses to end the apartheid backlog or deal with the ongoing growth of the towns.

On top of that, there are massive evictions going on in places like the Vaal. What made rent so key to the BLAs was the fact that a very large section of township houses were actually state-owned. As far as possible, the apartheid state wanted to prevent blacks having urban property, rather keeping them on leases. So the BLAs could squeeze people for rent, and evict non-payers.

Many of these municipal houses have since been quietly privatised, and many have ended up in the hands of banks, with many people are now paying off bonds to banks. With all the other costs going up, with the rising unemployment and low and stagnating wages, all associated with the cheap black labour system inherited from apartheid, and deepened by neo-liberalism, many can’t afford to pay their bonds anymore. With people defaulting on their bonds, they are facing evictions.

So, the problem of the townships is not solved, but continues.

The Subjective Factor

The objective conditions of the 1970s and 1980s, just before the Vaal Uprising, and those of today are very similar, but we are not seeing a massive rebellion today. Rent increases in 1984 were the last straw, they pushed people over the edge – to say, “We can’t take it anymore! We can’t afford to pay more for rent, we are starving and we can’t afford it” – and to a social explosion.

But today, despite massive suffering, and sporadic and wide-spread protests, developments like #GraveFeesMustFall, conditions have not pushed people over the edge, or led to big campaigns, higher and sustained levels of struggle, or a unification of the different protests countrywide.

Why not? The reason lies in what we call the “subjective conditions”: the level of organisation and consciousness of the black working class in the townships (and in the workplaces) are not as developed now, as they were in the 1970s and 1980s. So although the urban working class and even the unions, are bigger than ever before, they are not as powerful and active as before.

One reason is that for at least 30 years the black working class has been under attack, firstly by neo-liberalism, which has tried to make the working class pay for the economic crisis, and which has gutted movements and unions and deepened divisions, and secondly, by nationalism.

The working class has been ideologically and organisationally attacked by nationalism.

What do I mean by “nationalism”? Nationalism is the idea that all people in a nation – regardless of class – need to unite to win state power, through a formation, a nationalist party. This thinking is at the heart of the ANC, as well as the rival nationalist parties.

Nationalism defines the political task as building a party that can capture the state. The state can then, supposedly, liberate the oppressed nation. Meanwhile, divisions in the nation, such as between rich and poor, need to be hushed up.

For the ANC in the 1970s and 1980s, this meant that all movements, including the UDF and FOSATU, were seen simply as ways to build the ANC, which would carry out a so-called stage of National Democratic Revolution. The NDR would be capitalism under black majority rule. Later (some hoped) this would be followed by a second “stage,” a transition to socialism. The core social base of ANC nationalism lay in the black middle class and educated black intelligentsia.

“People’s Power” and the UDF

But the nationalist project involved undermining what people on the ground were actually doing. From the 1970s, people started organising themselves on a massive scale. They knew, as the UDF stated, that “the Apartheid state doesn’t represent us and have our interests at heart,” and they rejected the BLAs and other cosmetic reforms; they organised to have more control over their lives.

They did it in workplaces where they started organising democratic trade unions, based on the factory floor, democratic worker-controlled unions workers built in struggles, which led to FOSATU. This was a way for workers to try and get more control over their lives, including in the workplace, and a means to fight exploitation and oppression. The aim was seen as “workers’ control.”

FOSATU became the hub of this approach.

And in the townships, people did the same thing, through structures like street committees, civics, clinics, crèches, student groups, women’s groups. Like the new unions, these engaged with a range of issues, and were usually built by focusing on immediate issues that affected working class and poor people. So these were involved in fighting evictions and putting people back in their houses, in campaigning against rent increases and the cost of busses, and things like that. This is what the VCA was all about. By focusing on these immediate issues, and by winning small victories, and by linking the immediate problems people faced to the bigger situation in the country, of racist rule and capitalist exploitation, they were able to build strong democratic organisations and conscientise people.

So, when the Vaal Uprising happened, there was already a relatively high level of organisation amongst the working class, with people organising to try and reclaim power and some control over their lives. The UDF became the hub of this approach.

When the Vaal Uprising happened, people took this self-organisation to another level: the BLAs collapsed in many areas, and many townships were made into no-go areas for the apartheid state. People started to move from this situation of “ungovernability,” to what was called “people’s power,” where ordinary people started to administer the neighbourhoods through “organs of people’s power.”

This could involve street committees, or removing sewerage, or taking control of sanitation, or trying to restructure education, or building “people’s parks,” or “people’s education,” or anti-crime patrols, which were taking over the function of the police from the state and making sure that people were not engaging in anti-social behaviour, drastically reducing rape and murder and violence. In some cases, this involved “people’s courts,” to deal with people that infringed on other people’s rights, and committed anti-social acts.

As the UDF noted, the risings starting in 1984 were met with massive repression, including successive States of Emergency, and this meant you couldn’t have the big mass rallies, community meetings and things like that. This pushed people to organise on a more local level, and this often meant that the organisations became more democratic, because people were organising street by street by street, organising street committees and block committees and so on, because they couldn’t have mass community meetings anymore.

So the practice of “people’s power” was shaped by the increased repression, and, as the UDF said, the proliferation and growing role of organs of people’s power could be seen as a “positive growth out of a defensive measure.” The UDF noted, for example, “the development of people’s clinics in several townships”: “in setting up people’s clinics, and in training comrades in basic first aid skills we are also beginning to plant the seeds of a new society.”

They went on, “We must be clear that we do not aspire at this stage to erect a completely alternative health structure. The medical facilities, the big hospitals, and the clinics that do exist in our country should belong to all.” So, do not just build people’s clinics on the margins, but also build the power to take control of the major clinics and hospitals and so on that already existed.

This raised a complex strategic issue:

Should our people’s organisations take responsibility for running crèches in our townships? Or should we put pressure on the government to supply crèches? When local administration collapses, should our organisations take responsibility for refuse removal? Or should we demand that the state resumes the service? When people’s organisations run soup kitchens … are they forgetting the struggle and becoming charity organisations?

The UDF answered: “the removal of rubbish, or the supply of soup kitchens or crèches is neither reformist or progressive in itself. It depends on the concrete situation and the way in which these actions are combined with other activities. The supplying of crèches or of soup must never become an end in itself.”

Subordinating “People’s Power”

So, people began to build organised power outside and against the apartheid state. The idea of workers’ control was central to FOSATU, and people’s power, to the mass base of the UDF, and in both cases, there were moves to expand these to take more power, as “the seeds of a new society.” In fact, the central UDF structures, which were dominated by the black middle class, were left behind. It was the ordinary people who started doing this first, and the UDF’s national secretary, Popo Molefe, admitted that the UDF was caught “trailing behind the masses.”

The UDF leadership then started to theorize “people’s power.” But the leadership was responding after the fact, since the practice was already developing. Because the UDF leadership was often aligned to the ANC, it theorised “people’s power” in a way that fitted it into the ANC’s nationalist project. So, while they were trying to understand what was happening on the ground, they also sought to bring the UDF base back under the control of the UDF leadership, and also tried to link “people’s power” to the ANC’s NDR project.

For example, the UDF leadership insisted: “we do not want to tie organisations down in the endless supply of services if it means they forget the main task of the political struggle.” But then they defined the “main task of the political struggle” as the capture of state power, by the ANC. This wasn’t necessarily the “main task” as defined by the people on the ground, when they set up “people’s power” in the first place. And the UDF leadership completely ignored the basic contradiction between a project of building “workers’ control” and “people’s power” from below, with the daily participation of the masses, and of mass movements and local structures; and the project of state power, which is power from above, in the hands of a few, and of parties, which excludes the masses.

The “NUMSA Moment”?

By the end of the 1980s, the ANC had come to play a central role in the struggle, and this included it taking over the struggle from unions and community movements. And with this, the projects of workers’ control and “people’s power” were deeply undermined. When the ANC was unbanned in 1990, it quickly closed down the UDF, and strengthened its grip on the unions. After it was installed in government in 1994, it then carried on with the neo-liberal project and did its best to prevent protests.

Since then, there have been many efforts to rebuild a mass working class protest movement – one that could tackle the ANC government – but mostly without success. The most recent is the United Front, started by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, which broke its ties with the ANC in 2013. So far, all of these efforts have foundered. Why? And what can we learn from the 1980s about what is needed to rebuild a mass movement?

One of the problems has been the tendency to forget what the 1970s and 1980s showed: you do not start a movement with grand declarations, but with people’s daily struggles, like around wages or rents or corrupt municipal officials, and then you move from there to the bigger issues. It is clear from the 1980s that a lot of ordinary working class people didn’t get involved in movements that seemed to operate outside their experiences, where they didn’t feel comfortable with the language and the tone, or felt that the movement was being led and dictated from outside.

NUMSA sees its United Front as a revival of the UDF process, with the United Front meant to link workplace and township struggles. But NUMSA has not yet done enough of the hard, patient work needed to build its credibility through participation in daily township struggles, reintegrating into these struggles.

Instead it has put its energies into calling for a new workers’ party, while presenting itself as the vanguard of the whole working class. But what FOSATU and the UDF base showed was that you need to start small, in daily life, to build the basis for a countrywide movement.

NUMSA is skipping these vital steps, like other post-apartheid initiatives, and does not see, for example, the importance of issues like #GraveFeesMustFall; and it has also retained much of the old ANC framework of the NDR, with its focus on capturing the state. Unfortunately NUMSA has not gone back to its roots in the “workerist” FOSATU, which had kept the ANC at arm’s length, and which rejected the NDR idea on the grounds that the struggle against apartheid had to be combined with the struggle against capitalism – and the grounds that nationalist movements betrayed the working class.

Whereas the ANC/Congress tradition said that the main political task was the transfer of state power from the whites to the majority, FOSATU went further to say you could only tackle racism if you tackled capitalism as well. This meant that the struggle against apartheid must at the same time be a struggle against capitalism, and that you needed strong, independent working class organisations – including worker-controlled unions – to do this.

In these ways, NUMSA has not really addressed the problem of the subjective conditions. Instead, it has actually been “trailing behind the masses,” as many people in communities realized that the ANC was capitalist and neo-liberal 20 years ago: NUMSA, which thinks that it is the vanguard of the working class, has taken a long time to arrive at the same conclusion.

The Big Lesson

The focus on state power, championed by the ANC and its allies in the UDF leadership – and in sections of the unions, including the NUMSA leadership today – has led us to where we are now. But the state is an instrument of minority rule. Whether it is headed by a P.W. Botha in 1984, or Nelson Mandela in 1994, the state is part of the capitalist system. It must, in the current period, implement neo-liberalism; it must, in all periods, promote the interests of the rich and powerful over the interests of the working class and poor. It ensures that the capitalist class can continue exploiting and oppressing the workers. Its top-down approach is completely at odds with real workers’ control or “people’s power.” To get out of this mess, we have to build a powerful working class movement. If we are going to be able to build such a movement, then we need to go back to basics, back to what people were doing in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and rebuild democratic, independent unions and working class organisations in the townships, rebuild workers’ control and people’s power by grappling with daily struggles.

That means engaging in and building movements that are able to actually win gains, that improve the conditions in the workplaces and the townships, and that can accumulate capacity to the point that they can start – as in the 1980s – to replace the existing system with control from below. A movement that fights to liberate the black working class – not with the intention of giving that power on a platter to someone else, but to use organs of workers’ control and people’s power to take back control of our lives and society, and to put the economy and the administration of the country under the control of the working class.

https://zabalaza.net/2017/12/01/lessons-from-the-1984-85-vaal-uprising-for-rebuilding-a-united-front-of-communities-and-workers-today/

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