Relaunch and Recommended Readings

Insureccoinpopularya

Machete 408 is back serving you up with a new series of postings after a summer hiatus. A continuing state of joblessness and downgrading to a slower internet connection both put a bit of a damper on the political juices that went into the blog. But despite these, there’s a nice backlog of recently published pieces that I hope Machete 408 readers will check out. Below is a collage of recommended and recently published articles and commentaries.

Did anyone notice a coup happening somewhere? Writing on the recent coup in Honduras, Jose Antonio Gutierrez of Ireland’s Worker Solidarity Movement (WSM) as well as the Frente de estudiantes Libertarios (FeL) in Chile, provides analysis with “Coup in Honduras: The Return of Guerillas or the Tactics of Attrition?.” Also is a piece on the potential of the recent popular uprising in Iran in response to stolen elections. “The Iranian Election, A ‘Legacy of Martyred Flowers’” is by Farah, an Iranian whom is also a member of the WSM. Both pieces appear on the Anarkismo international anarchist news and publishing site and Farah’s is followed by a lively debate in the comments section.

Looking at a global trend is “Workers Creating Hope: Factory Occupations and Self-Management” by Shawn Hattingh from Monthly Review Zine, which gives a brief overview of the growing factory and workplace occupations around the globe. The piece concludes, “The actions of these workers [involved in occupations] are inspirational. It seems likely that more and more workers will begin adopting and adapting the idea of factory occupations as a viable way to save jobs and reclaim the dignity that bosses have tried to take away from them. Perhaps what we are also seeing through the occupations, takeovers, and self-management is a glimpse of what a post-capitalist world, created by the workers and the poor themselves, would look like.”

Justice for Oscar Grant: A Lost Opportunity? On the movement and political analysis tip is the Advance the Struggle blog, founded earlier this year and written by Bay Area writers influenced by various strains of Marxism. Of interest are several pieces debating the movement that surrounded the killing of Black, 22 year old Oakland resident, Oscar Grant at a BART station on New Years Day 2009. Included is three pieces. “Unfinished Acts” is an insurrectionary anarchist piece created in the format of a composite narrative play; “Justice for Oscar Grant: A Missed Opportunity?” is a solid piece with excellent critical analysis of both the role of the RCP and the non-profit dominated CAPE coalition that led much of the community response; and “Bring the Struggle, Advance the Ruckus” a response to “Missed Opportunity” by Oakland members of the revolutionary group Bring The Ruckus is also worthwhile as well. I won’t link the pieces individually, instead you should go to their blog and find them.

For all those in the labor movement disillusioned with the lack of passage of EFCA (suprise, suprise) is the article “Introducing the Employee Liberation Act” by Daniel Gross of the IWW. There is much to be critical about of the EFCA (See the Machete 408 piece on EFCA here), but what Gross provides us with is a total rethinking of what ails the labor movement and what changes in the legal arena might actually allow for advances by workers instead of card check recognition. Its a bit of a wish list, but what he proposes is a three pronged bill that would: 1) Make discrimination against organizing in the workplace on par with federal civil rights protections around race and gender discrimination. This would make worker rights a recognized civil right as it should; 2) End the second class, modern Jim Crow status of undocumented immigrants in workplace across the US; and 3) Eliminate legal barriers and restrictions on strikes, which would unleash worker’s most powerful weapons against the power of bosses: that of solidarity and the ability to bring profits to a halt.

On an uplifting note is an AK Press blog picture report on the 2nd Annual LA Southern California Anarchist Conference, with nice shots of the jewlery, cultural and publishing vendors, as well as some of the performers and presenters for the event.

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Finally, on the anarchist political organization theory front we have the long awaited English translation of “Huerta Grande” by a good comrade at The Left Winger blog. The 1972 piece is considered a seminal theoretical text of the Federación Anarquista Uruguaya (FAU), which played a leading role in spawning the especifist current within the South American anarchist movement. Also be sure to read this “quick and dirty rought history piece” on the FAU for background and context.

As well, we have a recent translation of South American Anarchist philosopher Angel Cappelletti (1927-1995) posted on the AK Press Blog “Revolution by the Book.” Cappelletti was born in Argentina and spent the later half of his life in Venezuela, becoming a key intellectual figure in the libertarian left, authoring several works on philosophy, anarchism and Latin America. Supporters have recently created a Spanish language archive site of his work. And last but not least is another piece from Jose Antonio Gutierrez, who again offers us some worthwhile thoughts, but this time on strategy and the role of anarchist organization with his Considerations About the Anarchist Program. Here’s an excerpt:

The essence of the Platform is how to build an organisation that unites like-minded anarchists based on concrete proposals and tactics – that is, a “political organisation” as opposed to what is a purely ideological group. In this tradition, it is perfectly fair that we ask ourselves how many of our organisations, leaving aside any pretensions, have actually managed to reach the level of development of a political organisation. At present, the majority of these groupings are only propaganda groups. The principle difference between a political organisation and a propaganda group is not its number of militants nor its level of militancy, nor even the political insertion of its members. The principle difference is the simple answer to the question: what can we offer the people? While propaganda groups can not offer more than a political and ideological vision and, in the best cases, a few slogans, the revolutionary political organisation can offer a course of action; a programme; a tactical line; a strategy; short-, medium- and long-term objectives.

Latin American Anarchism

 juntoscreando.jpg picture by adam_freedom

 A street mural by a Chilean anarchist cultural/muralist group (Read an interview with them in Spanish here).

  There’s a rich history and tradition of anarchism in Latin America that is still largely waiting to be translated and brought to the attention of the left and others who focus on the region. Below is a review by Chuck Morse of negations.net (also staff with AK Press) of three Spanish language works on the history of Latin American Anarchism by authors from the region. While none of the books reviewed are comprehensive treatments by any means, each work has a strong focus on the heavy role that anarchists played in the labor movement of Latin American countries as well as the tranformative cultural impact that anarchists had as well. You can also check out the Latin American Archives of negations.net, with .PDF of over 50 issues of several anarchist publications from 1917 to 1940 including Alborada, Hombre de America, La Humanidad, Nervio, Prometeo, and Suplemento Quincenal La Protesta.

 

Latin American Anarchism

(From The New Formulation, February, 2003)

Review by Chuck Morse (original link)

Cronica Anarquista de la Subversion Olvidada by Oscar Ortiz
and Contribución a una Historia del Anarquismo en América Latina by Luis Vitale
Santiago, Chile: Ediciones Espíritu Libertario, 2002

Anarquismo y Anarcosindicalismo en América Latina
By Alfredo Gómez
Paris: Ruedo ibérico, 1980

Anarquistas en América Latina
By David Viñas
Mexico City: Editorial Katun, 1983

– – –

  There are important reasons for anarchists in English-speaking parts of North America to study the history of Latin American anarchism.

  One reason is political. We need to form principled, collaborative relationships with our Latin American comrades to fight global capitalism globally and, to do so, we obviously need be able to identify our real comrades among the countless groups in the region that make claims upon our solidarity. Should we “defend the Cuban Revolution” or toast Lula’s social democratic victory in Brazil? Should we adopt the Zapatista ski-mask as our emblem or devoutly align ourselves with small anarchist groups? A genuine confrontation with these questions requires a deep appreciation of the history of Latin American opposition and certainly the anarchist movement has played a significant role in this history.

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Remaking Labor–From the Top-Down? Bottom-Up? or Both?

J4J.jpg picture by adam_freedom

  This is an amazing review which captures what many folks that I know have been saying since the early 2000’s. The writer, long time labor activist Steve Early, contrasts the perspectives between two recent authors and their analysis of the labor movement in LA Stories: Immigrant Workers and the Future of the Labor Movement by UCLA professor Ruth Milkman and US Labor in Trouble and Transition: The Failure of Reform from Above the Promise of Revival from Below by Labor Notes co-founder Kim Moody. It articulates well the critique of the professional staff driven “change from above” unions (such as SEIU and the unions associated with the Change to Win Coalition) which often brand themselves as progressive or social movement unions, or are characterized as such by their supporters on the left and academia. What the review unfortunately doesn’t do well is delve into the concrete of  Moody’s potentially alternative vision for “revival from below.” Early roundly criticizes Milkman’s support for SEIU and the “change from above” approaches in the labor movement:

Milkman “never addresses the serious concern … that SEIU growth has been achieved, in some sectors, at the expense of contract standards, community allies, workers’ rights, membership participation, and leadership accountability.” Milkman’s infatuation with the vanguard role of the union’s “innovators”—college educated organizers, researchers, strategic campaign coordinators, local officers and trustees—also leaves little room for examining more incisively how SEIU operatives actually interact with the working members who nominally employ—and, more rarely, elect—them.

  Unfortunately the boosterism and cheerleading on behalf of the “change from above” self-styled reformers that comes from academics like Ruth Milkman as well as other authors such as UC Berkeley professor Kim Voss (with her Hard Work, Remaking the American Labor Movement with Rick Fantasia)was parroted or perhaps reluctantly swallowed by many on the left so disappointed with the conservatavism of mainstream labor that any promise of change seemed better than nothing. Only with the recent moves by SEIU and the division between HERE-UNITE has the thin curtain been pulled away to reveal the situation that has been at hand for many years. Sadly I feel many radicals, myself included of course, missed the boat in not putting forward these criticisms sooner when they became apparent in the early 2000’s, perhaps even the late 1990’s. Let it be a word to the wise.

 

Remaking Labor–From the Top-Down? Bottom-Up? or Both?

By Steve Early (original link to this review online here)  

Review of: Milkman, Ruth. L.A. Story: Immigrant Workers and the Future of the U.S. Labor Movement. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006. 244 pp.$24.95 (paper).

Moody, Kim. U.S. Labor In Trouble And Transition: The Failure of Reform from Above and the Promise of Revival from Below. New York, NY: Verso, 2007. 289 pp.$29.95 (paper).

From Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society, March, 2008 Vol 11. Issue #1

The veterans of Sixties radicalism who became union activists in the 1970s belonged to a variety of left-wing groups. Regardless of other political differences, most of them shared one common belief—namely, that union transformation and working class radicalization was a bottom up process. As Stanley Aronowitz observed in Socialist Review (nee Socialist Revolution) in 1979—when Ruth Milkman, author of L.A. Story, belonged to its “Bay Area Collective”—young radicals usually became “organizers of rank-and-file movements” and builders of opposition caucuses. They immersed themselves in “day-to-day union struggles on the shop floor” and the politics of local unions, often displaying in the latter arena “almost total antipathy toward the union officialdom.” Because “union revitalization” also required organizing the unorganized, rather than just proselytizing among existing union members, Aronowitz approved, “under some circumstances,” leftists becoming “”professional paid organizers.” But he encouraged those who took this path to “see their task as building the active rank and file, even where not connected to caucus movements.”

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Looking at the 2009 May Day Rallies

MayDaymarch.jpg picture by adam_freedom

    The piece below from Chicago left blog Pilsenprole anlyzes the political terrian that led to the smaller turnout of the 2009 May Day rallies around immigration rights- though still more than the conservative media and well funded founcation sponsored Tea Party Protests this past April 15th. I couldn’t help but see many of the similarities with San Jose and I’m sure other cities as well.

  At the march in San Jose the role of Obama’s election was both a driving force (signs were emblazened with his image almost invoking him as a reason for the march itself) but also a damper as more institutional organizations took the stance that lobbying for immigration changes were more important and marches and movement (see post below for more). Following his nine point discussion on the immigration marches is a comparison between the media coverage around the Tea Parties and the May Day rallies. Read the original post here.

 

OK, I will be honest – this year’s May Day march in Chicago was small. Much smaller than the 750,000 to a million who marched in 2006. Smaller even than the tens of thousands who marched last year. After lambasting the mainstream media for their horrible coverage of last years march, I feel the need to be honest about the fact that this years turn-out was the smallest since 2006. And this pattern was repeated around the country, coast-to-coast. That said, this was a surprise to practically no one. Sure there were a few immigrants rights activists that predicated bigger turn outs, more out of the hope that their enthusiasm might encourage more people to show up. But I think everyone pretty much knew that this would not be the best of May Day celebrations.

The reasons are a multitude and quite obvious to anyone who has paid any attention to the political terrain as it relates to both the labor and immigrant rights movements:

1. Barack Obama’s election has diminished rather than encouraged increased activism among members of a number of social movements, including the immigrant rights movement. We saw this with the anti-war movement in previous months. The attitude is, we did our part in November, now let’s let Obama make good on his promises and give him some space and time. Unfortunately history shows that without mass mobilization, Obama will be less likely to remember promises made.
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Where there’s smoke… Anarchism after the RNC

smoke_2.jpg picture by adam_freedom

  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

I.
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.

II.
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. Continue reading

More on Tea Party Protests and Populism

tax-anti-crusaders1.jpg picture by adam_freedom

  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.

May 1: International Worker’s Day – Día Internacional de los Trabajadores

haymarket-square-front.jpg picture by adam_freedom  Yet again May Day quickly approaches.  Since 2006 the immigrant rights marches- made up of millions of undocumented migrant workers along with their supporters, families and children- has brought back May 1st to its original roots in the US. But many are still unaware of its origins in US labor history and the impact this commemorative day still has internationally- such as you can still walk into neighborhoods in Mexico and find streets such as “Calle Los Mártires de Chicago” (Martyrs of Chicago Street).

  Below is a short, pamphlet length piece I edited on the origins and radical history of May Day. For an in depth look you might try Paul Avrich’s classic “The Haymarket Tragedy” and AK Press offers a listing of books they carry on the subject here.  -AW

 What is May Day and why is it called International Workers Day?

May 1st, International Worker’s Day, commemorates the historic struggle of working people throughout the world, and is recognized in every country except the United States and Canada. This is despite the fact that the holiday began in the 1880’s in the United States, with the fight for an eight-hour work day led by immigrant workers. The recent historic marches and protests for immigrant rights, which began with “El Gran Paro Americano 2006,” have brought back into our memories May 1 as an important day of struggle. Although the history of the day has largely been forgotten in the United States, it is still actively remembered and celebrated today by workers, unionists and oppressed peoples all over the world. In fact you can still walk through neighborhoods in Mexico and find streets such as Calle Los Martires de Chicago in Oaxaca City, Oaxaca, commemorating the leaders of the eight-hour day movement who were imprisoned and executed.

It is not surprising that the government, business leaders, mainstream union leaders, and the media would want to hide the true history of May Day, portraying it as a “communist” holiday celebrated only in the Soviet Union. In its attempt to erase the history and significance of May Day, the United States government declared May 1st to be “Law Day,” and gave us instead Labor Day—a holiday devoid of any historical significance other than a three weekend holiday at the end of the summer. Continue reading

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