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Consistent with Muste’s “revolutionary pacifism,” the Sydney Peace Foundation has always emphasized peace with justice. The demands of justice can remain unfulfilled long after peace has been declared. The Santa Cruz massacre 20 years ago can serve as an illustration. One year after the massacre the United Nations adopted The Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which states that “Acts constituting enforced disappearance shall be considered a continuing offence as long as the perpetrators continue to conceal the fate and the whereabouts of persons who have disappeared and these facts remain unclarified.”
The massacre is therefore a continuing offence: the fate of the disappeared is unknown, and the offenders have not been brought to justice, including those who continue to conceal the crimes of complicity and participation. Only one indication of how far we must go to rise to some respectable level of civilized behavior. – Noam Chomsky, Revolutionary Pacifism: Choices and Prospects
The ABC National presentation on this speech can be heard or watched here. There are lots of beautiful notions in this piece, lots of hard facts, and an erudition that is impressive. Yet listening I couldn’t tell if Chomsky was an anarchist, a pacifist, or a social democrat. While Chomsky’s analysis of the historical situation is deadly accurate, but in this analysis we see best of anarcho-liberalism. Now, I never use that word in a positive sense so why the best: His assertion that pacifism with justice comes simply from the population holding leaders to elementary moral principles.
History provides ample evidence to support Muste’s conclusion that “The problem after a war is with the victor, [who] thinks he has just proved that war and violence pay.” And the real answer to Muste’s question, “Who will teach him a lesson?,” can only be domestic populations, if they can adopt elementary moral principles.
Yet in all his historical analysis–other than the media obfuscating the truth which is media analysis is correct on–I must note that one is not offered any analysis as to exactly and structurally why this happens? Indeed, Chomsky offers us an appeal to the universal injunction and reciprocation of the other. But this sort of injunction is not actually universal:
The principle is universal, or nearly so, in three further respects: it is found in some form in every moral code; it is universally applauded in words, and consistently rejected in practice.
Every major religion makes exceptions on morality for the other: Muslims do not have to treat non-believers the same as believers, Confucian ethics is filled with category types with specific and not universal duties, Christianity has historically make exceptions for non-believers, and I could go on and on.
Instead with good a barrage of examples of injustices, but no real definition of what peace with justice and revolutionary pacifism even truly is. Is this pacifism after justice has been rendered? Or is it pacifism than demands justice non-violently? I didn’t understand A.J. Muste or Chomsky on this, Muste’s saying that “one must be a revolutionary before one can be a pacifist.” It seems that Chomsky is arguing for the former, in that he quotes Muste again which I paraphrase as saying that we must not be too quick to judge violence against oppression even if it is wrong. Or we to aid these people in their violent struggle? What about the odds? Chomsky and Muste do not make that clear.
Chomsky makes a point about Obama that I endorse though:
The specialist literature and even the US Embassy in Islamabad warn that the pressures on Pakistan to take part in the US invasion, as well as US attacks in Pakistan, are “destabilizing and radicalizing Pakistan, risking a geopolitical catastrophe for the United States – and the world – which would dwarf anything that could possibly occur in Afghanistan” – quoting British military/Pakistan analyst Anatol Lieven. The assassination of bin Laden greatly heightened this risk in ways that were ignored in the general enthusiasm for assassination of suspects. The US commandos were under orders to fight their way out if necessary. They would surely have had air cover, maybe more, in which case there might have been a major confrontation with the Pakistani army, the only stable institution in Pakistan, and deeply committed to defending Pakistan’s sovereignty. Pakistan has a huge nuclear arsenal, the most rapidly expanding in the world. And the whole system is laced with radical Islamists, products of the strong US-Saudi support for the worst of Pakistan’s dictators, Zia ul-Haq, and his program of radical Islamization. This program along with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are among Ronald Reagan’s legacies. Obama has now added the risk of nuclear explosions in London and New York, if the confrontation had led to leakage of nuclear materials to jihadis, as was plausibly feared – one of the many examples of the constant threat of nuclear weapons.
The assassination of bin Laden had a name: “Operation Geronimo.” That caused an uproar in Mexico, and was protested by the remnants of the indigenous population in the US. But elsewhere few seemed to comprehend the significance of identifying bin Laden with the heroic Apache Indian chief who led the resistance to the invaders, seeking to protect his people from the fate of “that hapless race” that John Quincy Adams eloquently described. The imperial mentality is so profound that such matters cannot even be perceived.
There were a few criticisms of Operation Geronimo – the name, the manner of its execution, and the implications. These elicited the usual furious condemnations, most unworthy of comment, though some were instructive. The most interesting was by the respected left-liberal commentator Matthew Yglesias. He patiently explained that “one of the main functions of the international institutional order is precisely to legitimate the use of deadly military force by western powers,” so it is “amazingly naïve” to suggest that the US should obey international law or other conditions that we impose on the powerless. The words are not criticism, but applause; hence one can raise only tactical objections if the US invades other countries, murders and destroys with abandon, assassinates suspects at will, and otherwise fulfills its obligations in the service of mankind. If the traditional victims see matters somewhat differently, that merely reveals their moral and intellectual backwardness. And the occasional Western critic who fails to comprehend these fundamental truths can be dismissed as “silly,” Yglesias explains – incidentally, referring specifically to me, and I cheerfully confess my guilt.
This is a valid point about the modus operandi of the Obama administration, yet the exact reasons why Obama would work against U.S. interests. Furthermore, for a man respected by many as an anarchist, he speaks of international law frankly but as if it has legitimacy. There is a tension always felt in Chomsky: his critiques are never explicit if he thinks the “system” can be overthrown or if we can just tweak it here and there. Indeed, one is left confused to whether Chomsky is advocating revolutionary pacifism or reformist pacifism.
Yes, Yglesias is making explicit what you’d expect to come out of John Yu’s mouth. Many of my liberal friends will ignore this, of course, and the fact that this is actually a bit more radical than the Bush administration. However, in another way, Chomsky is being slightly silly indeed. He should know that sovereignty, even prior to when Carl Schmidt articulated it, is almost always rooted in the ability to make a state of exception. The person who makes the laws must have some, if not total, immunity from them. Indeed, there is a simple Hobbesian logic to this: the primitive society is so violent that we give the monarch the only legitimate use of violence. This is explicit in the traditions that created the modern nation state. In this Chomsky seems to make implying, although not making, an anarchist argument but then again he does not seem to be willing to say jettison the international institutions in order to fix it. One can see this again:
These are among the natural consequences of rejecting Muste’s warning, and the main thrust of his revolutionary pacifism, which should direct us to investigating the grievances that lead to violence, and when they are legitimate, as they often are, to address them. When that advice is taken, it can succeed very well. Britain’s recent experience in Northern Ireland is a good illustration. For years, London responded to IRA terror with greater violence, escalating the cycle, which reached a bitter peak. When the government began instead to attend to the grievances, violence subsided and terror has effectively disappeared. I was in Belfast in 1993, when it was a war zone, and returned a year ago to a city with tensions, but hardly beyond the norm.
The tensions in Belfast have no been resolved, only lessened. Tactically this makes good sense, and having an open hand is a smart tactical move. But this is tactics, not a political vision. In a sense, this is what is to be decried in ethics as a maintainer of only the current.
Chomsky’s list of facts is dizzying, but his analysis of what those facts constitute systemically is facile in the end. Furthermore, seems fundamentally unclear and unable to explain why people who consider themselves moral are unable to break the grit-lock on peace. This is why I call Chomsky the best of anarcho-liberalism: it is coherent on the surface and sustained, but it is not systemic. Chomsky is roote din analytic philosophy with the same concerns for describing and limiting the current as opposed to positing something outside of it. This divide is a philosophical one ultimately. In my mind there are several reasons why “moral” people cannot hold a government accountable: alienation from other humans in the means of production, cognitive dissonance and prior investment logic, formal as opposed to substantive democracy, and the nation of the interaction between capital and the state themselves.
I ask you then for all our Chomskys valid historical critique does this not ultimately lead to people quoting facts without systemic analysis, pleading on moral whether than substantive grounds, and arguing about beliefs. While I do not think it would be fair to tar Chomsky as anti-intellectual, but he does encourage lifestyle rebellion. So he may not be an anarcho-liberal himself, but a lot of his analysis lends itself to the people who sound like Sunkara was describing.
We need answers to why, not just what.
Last week I reported about how the White House probably would veto the NDAA Military Detention of Americans, but for the completely wrong reasons based on the reporting of Paul Craig Roberts. Apparently, according to the guys at OEN, which admittedly is not the most trust-worthy news source in the world, there is evidence that not only will Obama not veto to it, he asked for it.
And who says libertarians never have a point?
This, however, got me thinking. For all the talk of left-wing regression and right-wing reactionary hissy fits, I haven’t thought that this might be proof that the bourgeois revolutions–the rights that began liberal modernity–are regressing. Listening to the Platypus Affiliated Society panel on Marxism and the bourgeois revolution, I begin to wonder why contemporary Marxists couldn’t see what Marx and his colleagues did in the bourgeoisie. The capitalists structure in our time has alienated us more and more and denied more and more people their bourgeois rights. In short, the capitalist structures that we are currently dealing with are regressing themselves to something akin to late Feudalism. One imagine that we are looking at something akin to a Bonapartist regime in the way Trotsky understood it. What would Danton say about this much less Marx?
Furthermore, the hyper-capitalists are sounding more and more like old feudal lords. Don’t believe me, look at the arguments of Hans Herman Hoppe? He has essentially argued for anarcho-capitalists society that is functionally not different from Feudalism. The Distrubist Review and Naked Capitalism ran a series of interview with an imaginary libertarian quoting Hoppe’s makes clear how disturbing this is, and I’ll give you a few select quotes from Hoppe’s book:
democracy has succeeded… in the ultimate destruction of the natural elites. The fortunes of great families have dissipated, and their tradition of culture and economic independence, intellectual farsightedness, and moral and spiritual leadership has been forgotten.
If you think Isaiah Berlin could have wrote about that as an example of the counter-enlightenment, you’d be right. The last time counter-enlightenment trends arouse to counter and offer a “revolutionary” protection to the bourgeois was the rise of European fascism. We aren’t seeing that quite yet, but if Obama doesn’t veto the NDAA he does move one step to making the Tea Party hyperbole that Obama is a fascist seem true. What about the center-liberal left? It is either disenfranchised or is dishonest. One can see “Democratic friendly” thinkers like Tom Friedman cooking up excuses for this as we speak. Meanwhile, in Europe, Brussel’s has officially ended any resembling state sovereignty over the economic sphere, which more or less officially ends state sovereignty itself. Le Monde Diplomatique report on Greece is heart breaking.
Ironically, its we in the left that is fighting to preserve something like the bourgeois revolution by ending its regressing legacy. If the best hopes of left liberals is to always vote for a Carter, Clinton, or Obama, then there is little to be done. As Tariq Ali said in a recent ISO speech, increasing the entire world is dominated by an extremist middle that can wear either a Republican shirt or a social democratic shirt or a Tory shirt or a French socialist shirt, it doesn’t matter: it all serves neo-liberalism.
We want find the heroes of the old bourgeois in their legacies like the UN because there is little heroic or/even Democratic. Just technology has lengthened our lives and made the world temporarily more peaceful, but Keynesianism could never do more than buy time at the expense of the future. It has done so. Now its safe to say that Danton’s legacy is now in the working class, the oppressed, and the marginalized. If allow capitalism regression to continue the endstate for most of us is techno-serfdom.
While there are far more revolutionary figures than Alan Moore’s V wearing his mask for a Catholic terrorist, you must admit that Anonymous has a point here. I have been thinking lately on how we have assumed that we have been numbed into a Huxley’s vision of a velvet-gloved future, but we really are getting something akin to Orwell. You see the funny thing about liberal representative democracy is how afraid of democracy it actually ends up being. Fur example, we get more democracy deficit in Brussell’s democracy deficit is about to be increased. This is the return of a corporatist Reich after all which all its German sado-monetarism. Furthermore, while Obama is likely to attempt to veto that bill, it is not out of altruistic reasons:
The Obama regime’s objection to military detention is not rooted in concern for the constitutional rights of American citizens. The regime objects to military detention because the implication of military detention is that detainees are prisoners of war. As Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin put it: Should somebody determined “to be a member of an enemy force who has come to this nation or is in this nation to attack us as a member of a foreign enemy, should that person be treated according to the laws of war? The answer is yes.”
Detainees treated according to the laws of war have the protections of the Geneva Conventions. They cannot be tortured. The Obama regime opposes military detention, because detainees would have some rights. These rights would interfere with the regime’s ability to send detainees to CIA torture prisons overseas. [Yes, Obama is still apparently allowing "extraordinary renditions" to torture people abroad .] This is what the Obama regime means when it says that the requirement of military detention denies the regime “flexibility.”
The Bush/Obama regimes have evaded the Geneva Conventions by declaring that detainees are not POWs, but “enemy combatants,” “terrorists,” or some other designation that removes all accountability from the US government for their treatment.
By requiring military detention of the captured, Congress is undoing all the maneuvering that two regimes have accomplished in removing POW status from detainees.
A careful reading of the Obama regime’s objections to military detention supports this conclusion. (See http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/legislative/sap/112/saps1867s_20111117.pdf )
The November 17 letter to the Senate from the Executive Office of the President says that the Obama regime does not want the authority it has under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), Public Law 107-40, to be codified. Codification is risky, the regime says. “After a decade of settled jurisprudence on detention authority, Congress must be careful not to open a whole new series of legal questions that will distract from our efforts to protect the country.”
In other words, the regime is saying that under AUMF the executive branch has total discretion as to who it detains and how it treats detainees. Moreover, as the executive branch has total discretion, no one can find out what the executive branch is doing, who detainees are, or what is being done to them. Codification brings accountability, and the executive branch does not want accountability.
Those who see hope in Obama’s threatened veto have jumped to conclusions if they think the veto is based on constitutional scruples.
So a word from that inconsistent old socialist Orwell that is a bit to the point:
All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side. . . . The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.
-George Orwell, “Notes on Nationalism”, 1945
Nationalism is almost always a ruse for naked capitalism and other related power grabs. It is the imagined community that keeps the anyone from noticing the Emperor’s clothing.
He is right that the Obama’s policy towards Pakistan is objectively bad for the civilization populations in both the US and Pakistan. What I wonder is what Chomsky thinks is the reason for Obama’s position? He says that it is objectively “bad” for the West, and I agree with Chomsky there. But it is good for someone or the blindness exists for some reason is the question of why This is a question that Chomsky doesn’t ask. I don’t just mean that Chomsky doesn’t ask “who Obama servers” which would questionably be the largest lobbying interests, but doesn’t go into why exactly this happens regardless of the particular personality of the candidate.
We seen the enclosure of the common fields of labor, but what we are seeing now is the enclosure of the fields of discourse. This is inevitable in a way, if one believes in a knowledge society, then the enclosure is a sure way to build a factory model of even intellectual labor. Adorno’s criticism of the faux dichotomy between the physical laborer and the mental laborer becomes clearer: there is no need for a factory floor for a factory model. When David Harvey points this out, he is dead on.
Furthermore, even if we acknowledge that there is a declining rate of profits, the crisis has been used as a weapon against the working class to consolidate an ever dwindling source of revenues in comparison to the population as a whole. Furthermore, the point that loan system is a way of moving income from the middle to the top while keeping up an inflated bureaucratic system within the universities is not discussed either: it is move of means of class fossilization and class warfare outright.
Harvey is also dead-right that the danger has to be escalated. I notice his is being light on Marxist rhetoric and speaking plainly, this is refreshing as it makes it harder to red-bait against him and appeals to people not versed in the finer points of Marxist philosophy.
For all my critiques of #Occupy of which I have many, I must say that this is the beginnings. In this failure we have a chance to rise to something new. A revolution is never successful in the movement of its inception nor is it won in a day. To the strikes!
You know its not a good day with center liberals like Slate start seeing the writing on the wall for the US. Obama has objectively taken every precedent taken by Bush and upped it absurd levels now. I would say the Democrats and Left-Liberals aren’t saying much, but to their credit they are. But what options do they have electorally in the US? A successful armed rebellion is statistically more likely than a third party on enough state ballots to matter now.
So now the military and arrest/detain without habeas corpus, and this will go to a conservative and executive power loving SCOTUS. I hate to agree with libertarians in 2008, but they were right about what Obama would do and then some. So here’s the article:
Now, perhaps you suspect these thorny questions about the handling of terrorists are best left to the experts, and that the Senate was simply listening to them. Such suspicions would be unfounded. The secretary of defense, the director of national intelligence, the director of the FBI, theCIA director, and the head of theJustice Department’s national security division have all said that the indefinite detention provisions in the bill are a bad idea. And the White Housecontinues to say that the president will veto the bill if the detainee provisions are not removed. It sees the proposed language as limiting its flexibility.
There may be no good outcome here. It could be an unholy victory for both the prospect of unbridled executive power and for the collapse of any meaningful separation betweendomestic law enforcement and military authority. The law manages to expand the role of the military in domestic terror prosecutions and also limit the authority of the civilian justice system to thwart terrorism. These were legal principles to which even the Bush administration said they adhered.
As Adam Serwer explains: This new legislation will “overturn a precedent that was followed almost without exception by the Bush administration: Domestic terrorism arrests are the province of law enforcement, not the military.” Raha Wala of Human Rights Firstnotes that “authorizing the military to detain terror suspects apprehended within the United States clearly goes against the spirit of the Posse Comitatus Act, a law that has prevented the military from taking on domestic law enforcement functions since the Civil War.” If you think the blurring of domestic policing and military authority is an Orwellian fantasy, you may want to consider the treatment of Occupy Wall Street protestors in recent weeks, or Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s claim that “I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world.”
Make no mistake: this same week that drones were approved for US use. Somebody is spooked, and they are bringing the lie to the myths about liberal democracy. Do you still see change you can believe in? I do, but it is far from what the average Obama voter thought.
Have you ever noticed that in public/private transactions, generally “the private sector” ends up moving power outside of the community hands and into regions that are “untouched” by “populism” or democracy. I have. Take this recent example in education. Washington State wants the corporations to pay more of the cost of higher ed, but not through taxes, through an investment partnership under the ruse of a scholarship fund, and what do the corporations get for this:
Fittingly, observers said one of the best descriptions of the new program is a news release from Microsoft. Students from families with incomes of up to 125 percent of the state median income will be eligible for the scholarship, according to the release. (The median income for a family of four in Washington is $80,404, which would mean families earning up to about $100,000 would be eligible.)
The bill that authorized the program’s creation calls for a seven-member governing board. Three are to be selected by the governor, and the others will come from a list of nominations by donors to the fund.
Those four board members should hail from foundations or businesses from “among the state’s most productive industries such as aerospace, manufacturing, health sciences, information technology and others,” according to the legislation.
Donors can also designate whether their gifts go to immediate scholarships or the longer-term pool of endowment money. The state will match donations to both accounts, with a cap of $50 million for annual state contributions.
Notice that the board, though it will be matched by public funds, will give almost total administration rights to executive appointees and even more to private businesses to set the tone for all the funding. Now, businesses are notorious for having a low-time preference scale so this means that this will subject education to the whims of market organizations. Funny, then, how these people who supposedly believe in free markets don’t want a market of education choice and they almost want more influence proportional to their funds. Of course, Washington state law-makers will hoop and holler about how this “helps” the poor and middle class ignoring, of course, that this might weaken education for all involved.
But the object lesson here is how willing so many state and federal governments are to move power OUT of the hands of elected officials with democratic oversight. The funny thing about neo-liberal democracy, you get less and less democracy over time regardless.
The comments on the youtube page seem to indicate the tide in India, which is the say: it’s going to hot. It’s important to remember that this is Maoist insurgency because the Maoists have large support from the indigenous populations in the provincial areas. The Indian Naxalites are not a bblameless movement as Arundati Roy admits, but people’s wars are almost never blameless. That is not to condone or condemn them; however, if Varvara Rao is right then things are going to much worse before they get better. Losing Kenshenji is a blow for the Naxalities and blow for the indigenous people of idea. In a way, it’s a blow for all of us who believe that extraordinary oppression requires extraordinary resistance.
Skepoet: So it’s been a few weeks since we talked, but we have seen a seeming organized crack down on Occupy in the States. The Occupy Seoul has long since died down. I am going to shot-gun a few question at you. What is going on in Occupy Philly? In a recent conversation, you told me there was tensions between the Unions and the activists in Philly? Has there been scapegoating of anarchists in Philly?
Nik: Occupy Philly, in the vein of many of the other Occupations, has largely split among people who favor more direct action and not yielding an inch, and a group who want to accommodate the city at every turn. Most of the discussion has centered on if we will move from City Hall across the street to Thomas Paine Plaza. There is a federal/state/city infrastructure project that calls for the refurbishing of the space we are Occupying and for an ice skating rink to be built there. There are many issues that cropped up because of this. First, the permit application had no end date. When the permit was returned by the city, it said a TBD date for the renovation project. Second, it’s union work, which I’ll get into more in the second question. Third, the renovations would provide more disabled access to the subway station and plaza where we are camped. We tried to contact the city about the move, but received no response, other than to say they wouldn’t issue another permit until we moved. This brought about concerns of if they will issue it at all. A proposal to move was brought up at the General Assembly and it was soundly defeated. This led to a splinter group calling themselves Reasonable Solutions to declare that the GA wasn’t speaking for the Occupation, and that they were the real Occupiers and they were going to negotiate with the city. I’ll get into what followed in the third question.
The tension between the Unions and the activists is simply jobs. The trade unions want their jobs. The project creates 20 permanent jobs, and over a hundred temporary jobs. The Union leadership asked the activists to move, and promised assistance. The issue there is that the Radical Caucus thinks moving is giving in, and wants concessions from the city and promises of more help besides moving from the Unions. In addition, the trades have a reputation for getting what they want and not delivering.
As far as the scapegoating of anarchists goes, there has been much of it from the beginning. Certain groups, including some of the Reasonable Solutions people, have been circulating the theory that there are anarchists being bused in to sway votes at the GA. Cindy Millstein, an anarchists activist and writer, has been their target. The City Paper did a wonderful job of pointing out that Philadelphia has one of the largest, most diverse, and active anarchists population in the country. The corporate media jumped on board the scapegoating this week. There was an issue where a homeless gentleman spray painted and defecated on the walls underground. The Daily News blamed this on anarchists. They also called the people who wanted to follow the vote of the GA “mostly anarchists.” We have not had many arrests here, but the ones that have come lately have been violent in nature. The media has connected this to anarchy for the most part. Fortunately, in serious incidents, like a rape that was alleged, they didn’t tie that to the anarchists.
One other thing that’s become a problem is the homeless. Not that they’re there or causing problems, because that happens everywhere. The issue is that various groups are speaking for them instead of letting them speak for themselves. Some people who want to stay are saying they should because otherwise it makes the homeless move as well, and a lot of them stayed there before we Occupied. Valid point, perhaps, but not one that a group of young people who have homes to go to should be making. The city is claiming that we are damaging the homeless by providing them with food and protection in the group. They claim that the homeless would be moving into shelters if not for us. Not accurate, and again, speaking for people who may be willing to speak for themselves if asked. The one good thing is we managed to wrangle 4 gyms and another property to use as emergency shelters for them.
Skepoet: Did Philly act in solidarity with OWS in general strike on the 17th?
Nik: Philly did act in solidarity with the call to action. They marched in an event to the Market Street bridge, which the state of PA has said needs to be repaired or replaced, and sat down in the middle of the street and blocked traffic on one of the busiest streets in the city during rush hour. Even this did not come without conflict, as the original organizers of the event would not let people join in on the street who wanted to. The radical caucus was upset by this, because some of them were looking to get arrested.
Skepoet: Can you describe the poilitical orientation of the each faction in more detail? Have Democrats been more involved? Are there large groups of libertarians and Ron Paulites in the group?
Nik: There are some Democrats involved. MoveOn, Union leadership, and politicians affiliated with the Dems, like Jesse Jackson, have all stopped by to offer support. The good news about the horizontal setup is it’s been impossible to really co-opt because unless they join working groups and show up for a lot of GAs, they’re not making decisions. There are enough different factions, ranging from Paulites to syndicalists, that are wary of everyone. There is a Paulite tent. For the most part, they kind of operate in their own world. I think there are a lot of people tied into the divisiveness that affiliate themselves with those libertarians and Paulites. They built a propane heating room, which didn’t sit well with the city because of the fact that there was basically a bomb sitting on their doorstep. Also, it’s hard to get a handle on the guy who was in charge of the Facebook page and started the splinter group Reasonable Solutions. I’ve had a lot of people say he is “weirdly conservative.” The constant desire to march on the Fed as the solution to all problems is proposed by them constantly, and regularly defeated. As far as the factions, it’s not political lines per se. There are anarchists that are part of the Radical Caucus and ones that pushing for the move. There are union rank and file members who are pushing to stand up to the city, and union leadership that’s pushing to work with the city. The divisiveness has become less about political lines and more along the lines of issues that have cropped up down there.
Skepoet: Has any paranoia sat-in within the movements?
Nik: As far as the paranoia, it’s there. People can feel the inevitable crackdown of the city coming. Living on the streets breeds a specific paranoia in and of itself. People’s lives are there, and their stuff is there, and the fact is that some people view an encampment as an opportunity to take things that don’t belong to people. In addition, the media has been producing divisive articles, so that has caused a lot of people to accuse other people of looking out for themselves. In addition, the lines of division listed above have the daily ability to cause people to think that people who don’t believe what they believe are going to go behind their backs. There actually have been groups that set up secret meetings with the city, and filed for permits elsewhere. Since this movement, has in general, become about holding land in the face of power and not about the original meaning of pointing out what is wrong with the system, it allows paranoia to run rampant because the city does actually want their land back. There are simple ways to fix this, and to make the movement evolve, so we will see if the GA is willing to bring new ideas to the table, or if they are going to descend further into the rabbit hole where a plaza in the middle of the city is the center of the universe.
Skepoet: Do you worry that the focus on the occupation actually leads occupiers to miss the what is at stake or do you think this actually clarifies matters or, perhaps, both in various proportions? Would you explain the reasons for your answer there as well?
Nik: That’s my biggest concern right now. Holding a piece of land to defy the state may be admirable, but it isn’t effective. In Tahrir Square, they solidified one demand and so were able to keep coming until it was met. We don’t have that in the U.S. On the plus side, it has awakened many people to the idea that we have to do more. Other avenues and ideas are being tossed around to both implement now and bring about after the Occupation ends. I think the issue comes from the fact that there are a lot of utopians who think that this Occupation is run the way things should be- consensus-based horizontal democracy. They think that the whole world should be that way. Anything that suggests taking a step back and evaluating or trying something else is met with claims of not supporting the GA, the Occupation, or the Revolution, depending on who you talk to. Now, as far as the people who view this as more of an opportunity to reach people and awaken them to the struggle that’s going on between the classes, they have realized that they have to go out among the people instead of isolating themselves in a place where the media and the politicians can take pot shots at us. This has lead to a more visible support among other groups and attempts at education. The unions came out in their colors yesterday, and explained more about organizing and what they’re trying to do about class struggles. It’s a pleasant surprise to hear the unions talking about class. More direct action has come about. The march on the bridge, occupying a Wells Fargo bank, and more planned for the future. I feel like these actions speak to a lot of people that the real action is going to take place away from City Hall, and out in the streets. We can have continued events and education to mark the Occupation, but I think a majority realizes now that it’s not about the place; it’s about what’s going on everywhere.
Skepoet: Are you aware of the anarchist essay from a few years ago: “occupy everything and demand nothing?”
Nik: I am not familiar with it.
Skepoet: Its central thesis is that any demands legitimate the current political system and that “you should demand nothing because everything is already yours.” I find this fascinating because I think there is truth to it, but I also think it leads to some really inchoate politics when it isn’t articulated directly. Do you think there should be demands?
Nik: I don’t think there should be any demands in the Occupy movement. The only demand I’d personally support is revolution anyway, and this isn’t that. I also think it would be far easier to co-opt if demands were introduced. If our demand was reducing the economic inequality, the Republicans would proclaim tax cuts were the way to go, and the Dems would say to support Obama’s job bill. This needs to be a movement of action, not of begging and waiting for an answer. Now as far as the “everything is already yours” part of the idea, I suppose that’s a philosophical debate rather than a practical one. The practical matter is one class owns nearly everything, and has the ability to get more, which they are currently using with devastating consequences to the working class. I would say “you should demand nothing, but do everything” would be a far more effective thing to say about Occupy.
Skepoet: I am going to push you on this, we’re both on the left, but when you say one class owns everything, I am not quite sure you’re right: Do CEO’s or the bourgeoisie owe everything? Here’s the crux of the question: CEO’s are not truly speaking capitalists in the strict sense, they’re labor aristocracy or the managerial class. Yet many of them are in the 1%, and many petite bourgeoisie are not. So how do you see this class entanglement actually breaking down? Furthermore, how do you see this as related to the 99% rhetoric of #Occupy?
Nik: That’s fair. It was a hyperbolic statement. Do I think there needs to be a new way of breaking down class? Yes. Working in finance has shown me that even people who are not capitalists and even those who are not wealthy will work actively to oppress people in other classes. I imagine you do have to step away from the Marxist definition of class as only relating to the means of production. Instead of the Victorian model of the petite bourgeoisie who mimicked the behavior of the capitalist class, today’s labor aristocracy and managers, as well as many workers, try to mimic the values of the capitalist class in terms of greed, patriotism, and the thought process that the capitalists earned everything they had and they deserve it. What the labor aristocracy and management class do possess is capital, therefore the own potential forces of repression and they own people’s excess labor tied up into a social concept that has come to dominate the meaning of life in the U.S. I imagine at this point, the State would be less likely to defend factories from workers than they would banks and financial centers. I do support a redefinition of the classes and the relationship between the classes in general. I’m sure someone has tackled that, but I haven’t come across it yet. Some of the 1%, especially people who don’t own the means of production, may find themselves siding with some of the ideas of Occupy. I think the 99% is crap. I think it lumps people into a mass that has the potential to silence them, because some of us do want to see revolutionary change. Some people want reform. Some people have no idea what they want. It works in today’s media, but as a real concept, it’s ridiculous.
Skepoet: It was done by Maoist thinkers in China, but eventually led to Third Worldism, and was done by James Burnham in the Trotskyite mold, but he predicted a fascist victory in World War 2 and when that panned out wrong, he became a neo-conservative. So these thinkers haven’t been addressed in the more popular left. Do you think another part of the problem is that most of the Marxist and, honestly, social
anarchist rhetoric is around factories even though the means of production in most of the world now are far more subtle? There are many people working on this so it’s not entirely new or relegated marginal parts of the left, but it is an issue.
I suppose my question is that is #Occupy forcing us to deal with these problems and how do you see the increased pressure from the police and from internal factions clarifying things for you personally?
Nik: I personally think that’s a huge problem. Instead of worrying about the means of production, which is still a concern, I don’t think there is enough written about how the movers and holders of capital exploit workers and the unemployed. We talk about how it’s generally unfair, and how the system sucks, but we haven’t been able to connect the dots enough for people to understand.
I don’t think Occupy is forcing the masses to deal with this problem, but it is awakening an awareness of the problem, especially among the radical left. It is pointing out to the radical left that we are not connected with the workers, the unions, and the community-at-large though we should be. I think the police pressure is clarifying that for me, because there are a ton of people who have to deal with that pressure every day, for nothing more than standing there. The repression is a daily activity of the police in some communities, and it’s something we need to address on the left. The factionalization of the Occupy makes it clear to me that all leftists, and especially leftist organizations, have to make it a point to educate themselves on not just theory, but on interpersonal relationships and working with other groups. We may all have our own ideas about what is going to work, but we don’t have the ability that other organizations have about how to work together. It’s a standard practice of businesses to give training in that, and I think the left would be served learning it. It also showed me, again, how many people think that they’re way is the only way, and anyone who doesn’t agree is somehow damaging the movement. Trying to control a mass movement is just a wasted effort. I’ve learned that people should look to participate and help where they can. Especially, as this is a leaderless movement, this isn’t the action to try to impose preconceived notions and standards upon. The media and the capitalist system has done a good job of making people not trust any leaders, which ties into some anarchist groups as well. It’s a problem, because no revolutionary action has taken place without some kind of leadership, even if it’s a council. The GA is an interesting force, but it’s intentionally made to be difficult to pass motions. I don’t have a solution for how to find new leaders who can inspire the masses, or what kind leadership would be the best for a mass movement, but I know that this isn’t it.
Skepoet: Well, consensus decision making is not true or particularly radical. It’s commonly tried in new moments, but consensus organizations are easily taken over oddly. Do you think the square one element of everything is obfuscating that? Which groups have been better able to use to the census elements of the GA in Philly?
Nik: Sorry, I took a local reporter to task for his coverage of Occupy Philly, and I’ve been going back and forth with him about his characterization of all who don’t agree with the “Reasonable Solutions” group that is trying to invalidate the GA. He claims that we need liberal capitalists like them, and everyone who doesn’t agree with them are anarchists and socialists, so we’ll see what happens.
I hate consensus. It confuses enough people to allow anyone to slip in and take charge, especially when one group controls what comes to the vote. I think certain utopian groups think consensus is some kind of miracle way of governing and pushed it in the various GAs. Various groups have been able to use the elements. Depending on who you talk to, there are claims that people stack the vote during issues that concern them, or that it’s fine. I’d have to say the Radical Caucus and the Direct Action working group have used consensus well, but the thing is that every GA is livestreamed, and those votes and propositions on the chat there are taken into consideration, if not actually counted, and all the GAs are announced, so anyone can use it.
Skepoet: What, in your opinion, is a more realistic organizational method?
Nik: Man, I don’t know. I’m trying to learn about more effective organizations, but I don’t have the time right now. I wish I knew a way to keep from becoming bureaucratic and still be effective. If we could figure that out, I think the left would be able to make great gains.
Skepoet: Let’s talk about a few more things on the ground: Do how do you see Occupy Philly fairing in the winter? What preparations are being made?
Nik: Well, with hints from police sources and the behavior of the press and the city lately, I think there will be a crackdown long before winter starts. Latest hint is tomorrow the police have been ordered to remove us from downtown. Preparations are asking for more warm donations, planning more actions because marching in the cold is better than sitting, and many of us discussing different tactics such as occupying buildings or sending people home and holding weekly rallies instead.
Skepoet: Wasn’t there a move to roll yourselves back just before this happened in preparation for winter (or the Democratic Elections)?
Nik: Some of us were talking about it, but it never went further than that. I imagine the dialogue will continue, but the actions of the mayor and the police have lowered it as a priority.
Skepoet: Honestly, there is an argument that police actions are actually keeping Occupy relevant and improves its public image. How do you react to this argument?
Nik: It keeps it in the forefront of sensationalistic media. Independent media sources are reporting on it whether there is police suppression or not. It does improve its public image, among the people who can afford the news. Sadly, that’s not a lot of people that I’m trying to reach. I’ve lived in the largest open-air drug market in the country. People there rarely get their news from anything besides the free Metro or the 6 o’clock news on the local networks. There isn’t much positive coverage there no matter what happens, because those broadcasters need access to the mayor and the police commissioner. To me, we have to reach people in the communities independent of the media who are reporting on the crackdowns. I’m not opposed to them doing it, and sharing disturbing images that reach some people all over the country, but it’s just not enough for me. I wanted to be a journalist, and most of the reporting on #Occupy by major outlets has just been poor.
Skepoet: Why do you think it has been so poor?
Nik: Well, since Occupy, though an old tactic hasn’t been used in modern media’s time, they have no idea how to cover something ongoing that doesn’t fit into their box. I’ve taken enough journalism classes, and written for enough school papers, to know that modern journalists aren’t taught to think on their feet. Since it can’t be wrapped up into headline, soundbite, and a good guy vs. bad guy narrative, they are floundering. It has shown how the better commentary and investigative journalism has moved into new media instead of the classic forms, but, unfortunately for the left and #Occupy, the classic forms still reach the most people.
Skepoet: Well, I think we may be talking about this again in the future, but could you talk about the possibility of #Occupy reviving the labor movement in closing? I’ve enjoyed our discussion.
Nik: I think #Occupy showed an example of what labor should have been doing. It’s a movement where people aren’t backing down due to politics. At least here, we’ve marched in support of labor concerns, and labor has turned around and done some self-examination. It has made both the leaders and rank and file more politically involved, and caused them to realize that workers are still exploited, and they need to do something about it. In addition, it provided a link from labor to the younger generation. Everyone I’ve known knows someone in a union. What this did was make sure everyone was friends with and worked side by side with someone in a union, and it also made the unions realize that they have to stand up for workers that aren’t able to be in a union. I do have higher hopes for a more educational and politically-involved labor movement, at least in my city.
The first interview in this series is here.
The Occupy Movement couldn’t have come along at a worse time, from the viewpoint of the Democrats. Election season is just getting started and Occupy has thrown a giant wrench into the political machinery. Some labor leaders too are sensing “politics as usual” shifting under their feet; the “get out the vote” for the Democrats may elicit blank stares from the rank and file.
Occupy has the potential to create earthquakes within the labor movement and labor’s relationship to the Democrats, if it approaches the subject intelligently. This seismic shift could permanently change politics in the United States, much for the better.
The labor movement is, as it has been for over four decades now, divided over its means, its goals, and its relationship to what is possible. The historical link from the Unions from the I.W.W. and the Socialist Party of America shifted in during the Keynesian period to the “left” flank of the Democrats or fleeing to Canada. These tensions will increase as the heat of winter and Democratic mayors using questionable police tactics will make the radical elements within the movement seem highly problematic to Union leadership.
Yet there are some real interesting questions about this #Occupy relationship to Unions: if it signals a return of the Old left tactics or will end with the same break that happened between “the left” and Unions in the late 1960s. There are factors that make it hard to view the outcome: Union leadership has made little effort to protect young workers in contract negotiations in the “Great Recession” and in concessions to the political pressure in the public sector and they are quite addicted to their relationship to the Democratic party, which leads one to favor a repeat of the late 1960s. Yet, the material conditions on the ground for all workers is manifestly bad and even the craft and public sector Unions are under attack in almost all areas. Some other objective things to focus on is that the industrial sector is in decline and Unions in the United States have not adjusted to this well.
Yet the return to old Labor tactics with a New Left spirit was nascent in the Oakland General Strike. This strike was not without its problems and was questionably not even a strike: it seems to have led to endless and misguided discussion about windows and the Black Bloc. Taking the Port was a massive move, but even that apparently is more complicated than it simply appeared. As a writer going under the banner Nestor Makhno /MYEP wrote for IndyMedia points:
Before the strike, the call for a city-wide walkout was not publicized in an even minimally adequate way. On the Saturday night before the Wednesday strike we had a march to the Oakland City Jail with a thousand people chanting anti-cop slogans. Two nights later I walked the length of Telegraph Avenue, one of Oakland’s main streets, from the center of downtown Oakland to the Berkeley border, a distance of several miles, and saw a total of less than two dozen handbills slapped up in a desultory manners, and these mostly along a short stretch in the semi-hipsterized/gentro’ed Temescal District. My guess is that this paucity of propaganda applied equally to other main thoroughfares as well. So, what’s that mean? A thousand people showed up for an entertaining, lightweight, low calorie episode of anti-pig posturing, but not one fiftieth of that number had the authentic dedication and commitment to form crews with paint brushes and buckets of wallpaper paste, or with tape guns, and cover the length of the main streets of Oakland with posters and flyers, with visible public propaganda calling attention to an action that had to strike most mainstream contemporary U.S. working people as a wholly unusual, exotic and foreign idea.
The main routes of the bus system AC Transit, major bus stops and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) could have and should have been used as a platform for the message in the form of mass postering and flyering. This did not happen in the build-up to the general strike.
In the days leading up to Nov. 2nd, rank and file union members and low-level union bureaucrats came to meetings of the Occupy Oakland General Assembly. Many of these folks sincerely tried to get their unions involved in the build-up to the general strike. Some union locals generated pious statements devoid of any threat of action. Participation of unions in an effort like this is like asking the U.S. Department of Labor to organize a general strike. Unions are capitalist business organizations – they cannot be transformed into something other than this by combative members, or compelled to act as anything other than transmission belts from capital to labor that help adjust labor to the requirements of capital. Eighty years of repressive labor legislation have also tied capital’s labor brokerages at the ankles, wrists and elbows to capitalist legality and to the capitalist state. The fact that unions are sociologically made up of working class people doesn’t make them an expression of the class interests of their members, much less of the working class as a whole. The U.S. Army is for the most part made up of individuals who are sociological working class in origin but that doesn’t make the Army a “working class organization.” Organizers at Occupy Oakland were probably and quite understandably overwhelmed by the task they had set for themselves in calling for a general strike, and they only had about six days to prepare for it and get the word out. Trying to get unions involved may have seemed like some kind of short cut into the world of the mainstream working class. It wasn’t. And it won’t be next time, either.
Today almost ninety percent of U.S. wage slaves aren’t members of labor unions. Among those who are union members, those who have any strong opinions at all about unions are as likely to have negative perceptions of “their” union as positive ones, and they may see “their” union as a wholly bureaucratic entity that steals dues from their pay and is either indifferent or actively hostile to their needs.
So for the return to strikes to meaningful, these Unions have to willing to risk working against the Taft-Hartley with its forbidding of political strikes and its 60 day warning requirement which seems to come from a different area. Furthermore, the Unions either to reach out to the new workers and accept that they are small faction within wage-earners. Perversely, in classical Marxist thought, this would mean that Union leadership is actually a form of labor aristocracy.
But like the writer under the name of Nestor, I agree with him that #Occupy in general and the Oakland strike in particular, for all their flaws, are the first real signs of life in a labor movement that was increasingly seeming to be an atrophied limb of the Democratic party. Indeed, we see a call from Oakland to shut down ALL west coast ports.
So perhaps we’ll see a real general strike ignore from the sparks of the marches on November 17th and the sparks of November 2. For once, the hope is not just in “change we CAN believe” in, but the beginnings of change that happen.