In response to the police repression unleashed by Oakland PD in evicting Occupy Oakland from their occupation site, the renamed ‘Oscar Grant Plaza’, on Wednesday, October 26, the General Assembly of Occupy Oakland approved a call for a November 2 General Strike declaring “All banks and corporations should close down for the day or we will march on them.” Already local officials of the mainstream unions are attempting to push for late afternoon rallying times (to discourage workers from striking as did unions, non-profits and the Catholic Church during the 2006 immigrant protests) and Democratic Party linked groups such as MoveOn.org, Rebuild the Dream, and national union leadership are sharpening their knives in drafting plans to coopt and channel the occupy movement into an electoral and policy agenda as happened in Madison earlier this year.
Note: Bringing this back with a revised version. This commentary piece was removed after the attacks by right-wing blog and media sites on Van Jones intensified and led up to Obama washing his hands of Jones with his resignation. Right-wing sites cited “left wing blogger Machete408” as further ‘proof’ of Obama’s undercover socialist credentials (read an actual socialist refute this total non-sense here). As for Jones’ himself, he’s likely made some major political transitions. A mentor of his touts the “pro-business, market-based ideas Van has promoted for years, including in his best-selling book, The Green Collar Economy.” (link) Though I think it’s fair to say that the tendency on the revolutionary left, Van Jones formerly included, which views alliances and involvement with the state and electoral politics—state power if you will— as a strategic orientation is alive and well. (See link, link, link and critique, critique) See also my follow up piece “On Van Jones’ Resignation.”
Did anyone catch the news that Van Jones of Green Jobs for All, and formerly of the Ella Baker Center in Oakland and a revolutionary organization in the Bay Area, was recently tapped by the Obama administration to serve as an advisor around green jobs? The position was officially dubbed the Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on the White House Council on Environmental Quality, that is before Obama accepted Jones’ resignation following attacks by the right-wing blogosphere and Glen Beck on his radical past.
I’ll get back to that in a minute. I was having a conversation with a friend the other night about the legacy of sixties revolutionaries and Marxists who attempted to “proletarianize” themselves or as some called it “colonize the working class.” Many of these radicals, who were largely from more middle-class backgrounds and college graduates (or those who after becoming radicalized dropped out of college), got jobs in factories and various industries with the goal of bringing the messages of socialism and revolutionary politics to the working class. (For more on this see Max Elbaum’s excellent history of the sixties communist left with Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Che and Mao) Many of them also became active in the unions at these workplace, whom were largely conservative bureaucracies if not outright reactionary. (more…)
Filed under: current events, Left Organizations, the left, Uncategorized | Tagged: Labor, Max Elbaum, radicals, Revolution in the Air, Standing Together to Organize Revolutionary Movements, unions, Van Jones | 2 Comments »
Upping the Anti out of Toronto, Canada is perhaps the hottest and best radical left theory/movement journal since it first began publication in late 2005. Releasing its eighth issue as of May 2009, the journal has provided a steady content of articles, interviews, reviews and topic based roundtables by and with movement activists and organizers on the radical left.
With the tag line “a journal of theory and action” the journal leans towards the more academic side. But unlike some of the more dense and long running left journals (Monthly Review comes to mind), the editorial collective and contributors are nearly all folks engaged in struggle and much of the theory and discussion comes directly out of movement organizing work. It’s not another left journal for radical college professors, but for folks in the movement trying to grapple with many of the difficult issues and conversations that those seeking to create revolutionary change should be. Perspective wise they maintain a pluralistic and non-party stance combined with anti-capitalism, anti-imperialist and anti-oppression politics (the three antis as they call them). Read reviews of issues #3 here and issues #2 and #3 here.
With this issue UTA brings us an interview “Contour of the Crisis” with three political economy instructors at York University in Toronto on the realities and opportunities for the left in the current financial meltdown (discussed above); “Movements Where People Can Grow” is an interview/discussuion with Helen Hudson (who among other groups is a board member of the Institute for Anarchist Studies, see their new spiffy website here) with her thoughts on building long-term and sustainable movements; a roundtable with former activists of SLAM (Student Liberation Action Movement, audio archive here) active in opposing tuition increases in the New York public university system in the 1990′s and discussing their strong leadership from women of color; and another roundtable with members of various study groups/circles taken up by radicals in a number of cities.
Also, here’s a quote from the back cover of this issue that warms my heart from Helen Kellar, the advocate for the blind. Often left out of history is her radical politics as an anarchist and member of the IWW.
Capitalism will inevitably find itself face to face with a starving multitude of unemployed workers demanding food or destruction of the social order that has starved them and robbed them of their jobs. in such a crisis the capitalism class cannot save itself… Its police and armies will be powerless to put down the revolt. (1918)
Here is also a quote on how she first moved towards radical politics from her Wikipedia entry…
I was appointed on a commission to investigate the conditions of the blind. For the first time I, who had thought blindness a misfortune beyond human control, found that too much of it was traceable to wrong industrial conditions, often caused by the selfishness and greed of employers. And the social evil contributed its share. I found that poverty drove women to a life of shame [referring to prostitution and syphilis] that ended in blindness.
Filed under: Announcement, Labor, the left, The Movement, Theory, Uncategorized | Tagged: economic crisis, Helen Keller, IWW, Student Liberation Action Movement, the left, Theory, Upping the Anti | Leave a Comment »
An anonymous and well written reflection piece that begins with a critical look at the Republican National Convention protests in Minneapolis/St. Paul in late 2008, draws lessons from the autonomia and the Italian radical left on the 1970′s, and then looking at the current political juncture of massive economic crisis asks how we can we build a meaningful revolutionary movement today and from where can we take inspiration? Looking at the organizing traditions of Latin American Anarchists, the writer concludes: “It’s time for a regroupment. The time has come to build new organizations based on a commitment to participation in mass social struggles as Anarchists. Only within popular movements do we have the power to build a new world.” Give it a read, you will be inspired.
Where there’s smoke….
Anarchism after the RNC
We’ve got the numbers, they’ve got the guns..
Our chants reverberated under the St. Paul skyway. The 2008 RNC protests were underway, the culmination of two years of anarchist/anti-authoritarian organizing materializing before our eyes. For once, we were many, and they were few… or maybe not. With 3500 cops and an uncounted number of National Guardsmen and Secret Service agents on the streets, this time they had both the guns and the numbers.
Overwhelming force was only one element of the state’s repression strategy. The main hub of direct action coordination– the RNC Welcoming Committee– had been infiltrated by at least one undercover cop and two paid informants almost a year prior. On Friday night, the hammer came down with a raid on the St. Paul Convergence Center. Cops busted in the doors with guns drawn, forcing about 100 people to the ground, zip-tying them, and then photographing everyone and taking IDs. What a start to the weekend…
The next morning, I got a call from a friend alerting me that the cops were raiding anarchist houses across south Minneapolis. Eventually, four houses had been raided, and eight members of the Welcoming Committee jailed.
Over the next week, over 800 people would be arrested in conjunction with the protests. Many would be injured by rubber bullets, concussion grenades, tear gas, pepper spray, and other weaponry. The state imposed a high cost on expressing dissent.
The Strategy of Tension
Such a brutal reaction might lead us to believe that ‘we must be doing something right.’ After all, where there’s smoke, there’s fire, right? We must really pose a threat. Why else would the FBI and lord knows what other agencies put so many resources into crushing our protest?
No doubt, the prospect of a major political convention being delayed or cancelled due to protest activity would be extremely embarrassing for the ruling elites. However, we must also be aware of the way that the capitalist class uses threats to the existing order to legitimize the violence with which it maintains its hold on the planet. The experiences of the Italian left in the 1970s provide valuable historical lessons for today’s radical movements. (more…)
Filed under: Anarchism, Article Repost, Left Organizations, Reflection, the left, The Movement | Tagged: Anarchism, anarchists, Antonio Negri, Autonomia, Autonomists, Especifismo, protest, Red Brigades, Republican National Convention | Leave a Comment »
Specializing in election results and polling, political analysis blog FiveThirtyEight estimates that the Tea Party protests only brought out around 300,000 participants to their rallies nation-wide, which is a far cry from organizers claims of over 1.2 million. Read their take on the numbers here. The blog also published a brief commentary speculating that the protests were strongest in states and regions that showed stronger support for Libertarianism ideas, using campaign contributions towards presidential candidate Ron Paul as an indicator.
This analysis tends to lend a deal of weight to that of local Bay Area leftist blogger James Tracy of Partisan Blockhead and his commentary on the protests focusing on the role of populism in “Understanding the Tax Revolt of 2009.”
Tracy seeks to refocus how much of the left frames the Tea Party protests.
Just like the Left, who seem to be totally happy with the war when Obama promotes it, the Right only hates runaway government spending when America’s first Black President is doing it. However, it’s time for the Left to wipe away it’s smug condescending attitude towards this revolt and dig deep and understand it for what it is—the resurgence of populism—rooted in real economic hardship. Populism is simply a revolt against elites, without a clear political trajectory. In times of populist upsurge, the movement will evolve both fascist and progressive faces.
Looking historically Tracy points out that populism manifests in both right-leaning and reactionary forms as well as left-leaning varieties such as the Bonus Army of veterans marching and occupying Washington DC after WW I or in the demands of unemployed workers in the 1930′s. The need to take these movements seriously and above all organize and put forward our own program from the left is paramount:
Whether the populist moment gives way to reaction or progress will depend on who is ready to organize, to explain the crisis, and point to real ways out of it. Dismissing the rank-and-file Tax Protester as a “racist” or a “redneck” signifies the fact that some in the Left have given up on reaching one of the largest parts of the US working-class. This doesn’t mean not confronting the forces of white and male supremacy who are salivating to gain control of this upsurge. In fact it is a call to confront it through the type of organizing that cedes nothing to the right.
We would be wise to head these words.
Counter-protests draw out the racist and anti-immigrant themes of the San Jose Tea Party protest. (Photo credit: Debug)
As part of a nationwide day of protest on April 15 Tax Day, various right groups mobilized their supporters through conservative talk radio and FOX News, holding a rally in downtown San Jose’s Cesar Chavez Park. With between 500-1,000 attendees waving American flags and signs denouncing Obama’s tax and bailout policy, as well as a vague notion of “socialism,” organizers whipped their base into a frenzy. It was mostly a predictable mostly middle aged, suburban, and middle-class white crowd, though a few people of color were present as well. An impromptu coalition of San Jose community and left groups, who previously came together to oppose a small grouping of anti-immigration activists rallying in a nearby white suburb, brought together about 30 or so folks who marched from San Jose State and clustered to the side of the rally stage.
Amid chants of “USA! USA!” the counter protesters managed to draw out the racism of the crowd with their pro-immigrant rights themed signs as Tea Party participants yelled a standard barrage of comments, such as the ever original “go home!” This was despite Tea Party organizers asking attendees to not bring in signs or messages relating to social issues such as immigration and abortion.
The face of the Right: San Jose Tea Party attendees. Absent from the picture are some of the more extreme signs of participants on “socialism,” Obama, and with clearly racist themes. (Photo credit: Tea Party organizers blog, link below)
It helps to “know thy enemy” as they say. The organizers were far right conservative activists, but the tiny San Jose Minute Men wannabe group that counter organizers expected to find were actually just hangers on to the event. The main group organizing the nationwide movement (the idea that this was some type of ‘spontaneous’ and ‘grassroots’ upwelling is simply spin from the organizers) is well the funded conservative foundation FreedomWorks led by people like wealthy, conservative magazine editor Steve Forbes, and racist/sexist/homophobic former Republican House of Representative leader Dick Armey, who is now a lobbyist. As part of a broad mobilization strategy, organizers attempted to downplay any association with social issues such as race or immigration, while billing the event as “non-partisan” and focused on the issues of debt, taxes and pro-America themes.
These folks are clearly whipping up their base with age old strategies of trying to play on the racism and scapegoating of largely white middle class individuals angered by the economic downturn and the political shift in the White House following the election of Obama. Opposition to taxes has become the right-wing’s code phrase for public services such as education and social services like public health and public assistance- that in the public’s mind they have worked hard to associate with people of color and immigrants. Also, using a strategy of right-wing populism, I feel that these forces are wisely attempting to strategically focus their message and outreach in an attempt to tap a very genuine vein of anger about the bailouts from regular people that I think would be equally open to a critique of Obama’s bailout from the left (Read a critique of the bailout here and of the complicity of the Democrats here). Of course the irony could not be thicker here as federal spending and the national deficit dramatically increased with the Bush administration’s military quagmires in Afghanistan and Iraq, which were largly supported by these same forces. Still though, the better folks on the left can offer an analysis and response directed towards regular folks to these issues, the less ground these extreme conservatives have to maneuver with their messages. I hope we can call them out for who they really are next time.
These Tea Party protests raise important questions, such as whether a new movement of the far right will emerge in response to not just Obama but largely in reaction to the effects of the economic crisis?
As the Republicans loose more elected offices at the national and state wide levels and the far right-wing and more hard line segments feel further politically marginalized, it seems a turn to their version of “the politics of opposition” might be a strategy they are willing to undertake. This of course opens the field for a dangerous situation- one where Republican Party officials, whom usually shy away or at least publicly hide their association with farther right and openly racist elements, begin to encourage and support these right wing populist mobilizations in order up their political capital. In some ways this has already happened with the likes of conservative figures such as Newt Gingrich. But this combination is dangerous indeed. I do not think we are anywhere close at the present, but this could be the first step towards the emergence of a widespread New Right, or neo-fascist movement. Let’s hope not.
(Photo credit: Debug)
Links and related media:
Photo essay and commentary by DeBug members Tiburon F.B. and G. Melesaine (check her blog G$ in the links) describes their experience with the racism and stereotypes of participants.
San Jose activist Diane Solomon gives an in depth account of the rally with quotes from the attendees and photos on local political blog San Jose Inside.
Indymedia commentary and pictures
San Jose Mercury News article on the event, which belittled the counter protest efforts as ”banging drums, shouting epithets, screaming about immigrant rights and promoting anarchy.”
Blog set up by organizers of the event: www [dot] sanjoseteaparty [dot] blogspot [dot] com (cut and paste this into your browser and add the dots, this makes it harder for these folks to find this page)
Wallerstein on the fears of the elites about the conflict that the economic crisis might brew, “Civil War in the United States?”
Outline of US Labor History with a Focus on the Role of the Left
· Colonial through Pre-Civil War Period- indentured servants, sailors and slaves organize minor labor protests and rebellions, and local level proto-union organizations. Some of these efforts included both white indentured servants and slaves cooperating together. Fearful elites grant privileges to whites servants and enshrined a harsh system of chattel slavery for Africans such as through the Naturalization Act of 1790 which granted citizenship only to “free white persons.” Also during this period sexual division of labor would produce laws, culture and practices of unpaid work for girls and women that would last for centuries.
· Race and Labor- Race plays a key role in US labor history whereas early white servants and later workers were granted privileges, access to land, and the right to vote (far before male suffrage was granted in most western countries). Leading into the Civil War period, many white workers cling to the ideology of “free labor,” seeing themselves as free whites and wanting to return to an imagined golden era of artisans, small farmers and shop keepers which they hold in contrast to unfree, slavish and permanently proletarianized workers of color. Because of this, much of the history of unionism has been of white, skilled male workers (though the definition of who was considered white changed over time to incorporate various European immigrants such as Germans, Irish, Eastern Europeans, etc) protecting their privileges against the unskilled, women and non-white workers. Also a much smaller current of homespun labor radicalism emerges, which is sometimes called a ”proto-marxism” by historians.
Civil War is a defining conflict in US history over what type of labor system the country will have with Northern elites eventually imposing free labor in contrast to Southern plantation owners who wished to maintain race-based chattel slavery. Following the collapse of Reconstruction after Civil War, white elites impose the laws and customs associated with Jim Crow that creates an apartheid system that lastes into the 1960′s and making blacks the most exploited segment of workers. Laws created across the country during the Jim Crow era, such as for vagrancy, apply for all poor and non-white. (more…)
Below is a statement released right before the election day in November 2008. I think it provides some useful perspective on how radicals, or regular people for that matter, would react to the election of Obama. –AW
10/28/08 – Amanecer Election Statement
Looking for Democracy In All The Wrong Places
An Anarchist Perspective on the 2008 Elections
With the 2008 election around the corner, and with Obama ahead in the polls, many people who normally counsel “not getting your hopes up” are sounding hopeful and excited about the possibility that the Republicans might be kicked out of the White House. New voter registrations from youth, people of color, and low income folks are coming in by the millions. These new voters believe that this election means something, and that electing Obama will help make their lives better. These hopes include everything from saving us all from the economic crisis to bringing universal health care to ending the war in Iraq. At the very least, he seems to be a smarter bet than McCain.
How should anarchists relate to revolutionary or left-wing populist governments? Should they denounce them out of hand? Should they join in the movement? What are the traps to avoid? This is an important question as radicalized populations are creating movements which give rise to alleged progressive governments. As capitalism goes into ever-deeper crisis we can expect more of these movements to develop.
The below article from the international anarchist news site Anarkismo.net asks some good questions and is a good first step towards getting to an answer. The author, Larry Gambone, charactorizes anarchist reaction to radical governments into largely two camps. The first, where anarchists essentially give up their own political organization and values to dissolve themselves into participating and joining the radical government or party, which he called liquidationism. The second, is a stance of sectarianism, whereby ararchists become ‘side line snipers’ of sorts and alienate themselves from the participants of social movement who are supportive of enacted reforms.
This is a stepping point I think. Perhaps this article better speaks to the situation in Latin America, but let’s look at the campaign and election of Obama in the US. Of course a key difference is that while Latin American leaders such as Chavez in Venezuela and Morales in Bolivia both profess a support for socialism, Obama is a difference story. While his style and rhetoric have provoked a deep sense of connection with many facing the brunt of the economic collapse and those disillusioned with the Bush administration, his glittering words of hope and change stand in contrast to what looks to be his comittment to a more populist flavored continuation of Clinton administration neo-liberalism.
While the many usual suspects on the left (some anarchists included) have surely taken a sectarian stance of derision and attacks on Obama, other aspects of the left haven’t quite taken a stance or approach that could be call liquidationism entirely…. (more to come)
For folks looking to learn more about the debate around Hugo Chavez and Venezuela specifically, you can find a number of articles I assembled here.