Revised Repost: Revolutionaries in High Places, Van Jones

Van Jones with fist in the air

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. Continue reading

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Especifismo, Social Insertion and Recent Anarchist Organization

Workermeeting.gif picture by adam_freedom

  A new edition of the “Especifismo Reader: Anarchist Organization and Praxis” has been made publically available. Topping 120 pages, the updated reader includes several newly translated pieces such as the short political statement “Who We Are, What We Want, The Path We Follow” by Coletivo Comunista Anarquismo in Brazil, the article “Anarchist Advances in Uruguay and Brazil” and the “Interview with the Rio de Janeiro Federation” not included in the first edition of the reader,  as well as several excellent though yet to be translated pieces in Spanish. The next steps for this reader are the inclusion of several more pieces by Latin American anarchists and a organization in Mexico, as well as a section of articles called “Towards a North American Especifismo,” with pieces written by North American anarchists influences by the Especifismo Latin American Anarchist tradition. 

  One of the key concepts of the Latin American Anarchist tradition of especifismo is “social insertion.” I admit there is a bit of a funny sound to it, but this is the concept they use to define the relation to mass struggles and movements. To them anarchist involvement in the social struggles must be firmly rooted, argues for anarchist values rather the conversion of movements to “anarchism itself” or a specific political line, and which aims to build popular power (horizontal power and “of the base” I think are similar concepts from Latin American traditions that readers might also be familar with).  

  My friend Nate of What the hell…?  blog takes up the topic with a response/reflection piece after reading several pieces by written by especifist groups as well as my own piece included in the reader above,  “Especifismo: The Anarchist Praxis of Building Popular Movements and Revolutionary Organization in Latin America.” With heaps of comradely respect I feel Nate is missing some of the arguements and the context for the discussion on especifismo and in some part I think he is perhaps pointing out sections of the writings that are unclear and can lend themselves to misinterpretation. Check out his thoughts and my response and I encourage folks to leave comments on his page with their own.

  In fact, Nate is on a bit of a roll as of late. Here’s another discussion posting on contemporary anarchist politics with Nate’s review and comments on the mission statements and points of unity of current anarchist organizations in North America. Even better is that it includes links if you would like to read more. Next, is his piece discussing the importance of mass organizing work, along with a draft an article where he hopes to better lay out his perspectives on this. Finally, he writes reviews/quick responses  to several of the Furious Five Revolutionary Collective, a 2003-2005 Anarchist-Communist collective based out of San Jose, CA that was influenced by the ideas and writings of the Latin American Especifist anarchists. Their writings are archived on this blog

What Would a Relevant Anarchist Politics Look Like?

ArgentinaMayDay.jpg picture by adam_freedom Workers and popular organizations connected to the anarchist movement rally on May Day 2009 in a public square in Argentina.

  What would an anarchist politics look like that spoke to the needs of today’s realities and to today’s movements? How can revolutionaries apply the values of anarchism to an understanding of building mass movements from below, an understanding of power, a vision of a future society with the understanding of the organization needed to reach it, coupled with a strong analysis of race, patriarchy, gender and issues of queer liberation?

 OvertownMiami.jpg picture by adam_freedom Miami Autonomy & Solidarity (MAS, pronounced like the word “más” in Spanish) is a small organization of revolutionaries based out of the fourth largest metropolitan areas in the US. While Miami is a hub of international trade and finance, it’s also the third poorest city in the US and with a majority immigrant and people of color population (nearly 60% were born outside the US). Much like the US/Mexico border, Miami is a city where the third and first world grate against each other. Interestingly, similar to the rest of the US South, the city lacks much of an established left as would other large metropolitan areas such as New York, Boston, Chicago and the Bay Area.

  The organization has been in a process of formation, study and debate for over a year prior to announcing themselves publicly in mid-May 2009. While there are certainly a number of well spoken and excellent individual thinkers in the anarchist milieu, MAS’s Points of Unity below represents one of the best collectively written organizational statements of anarchist politics in North America to this date in my opinion. A recommended read.

 

Miami Autonomy & Solidarity Points of Unity

  Miami Autonomy & Solidarity is an organization of people whom have come together for the purpose of developing a revolutionary organization that works within social movements, as well as on the revolutionary level with the ultimate goal of contributing to an autonomous popular class movement of the oppressed that will overthrow capitalism and the state, as well as ending all forms of oppression.    

Role of the Specific Revolutionary Organization 

  Our specific revolutionary organization is a group founded on and working towards theoretical and strategic unity, as well as tactical coordination amongst its members. These organizational principles serve to strengthen our efficiency and effectiveness in developing our ideas and strategies within the broader working class movement. It must be stated that the need for such a group arises out of the practical struggles of the working class to transform itself into a revolutionary class capable of overthrowing capitalism and the state; as well as building society along egalitarian, self-managed, and directly democratic lines.  

  Through our specific revolutionary organization we seek to contribute to the theoretical development of revolutionary social struggles. We engage in the creation of media that communicates the views and political line of the organization, and we directly participate in struggles based on a common strategic program and coordinated activity. The political organization helps keep a historical memory of struggle and ongoing organizational strategic assessments of struggle in mass movements . We strive to retain experiences of success and failures in order to strengthen the social struggle.

  However, unlike some political parties that try to use social movements as a tool to develop their own power, our organization’s relation to the social movement’s is reversed: our organization is a tool of our members and sympathizers within the social movement used to contribute towards the power of the social movements through the development of the autonomous consciousness, capacity, and solidarity of these movements.   We never seek to dominate, impose upon, manipulate, command or control the movements we’re a part of.  Rather we seek to participate as equals within the struggle, offering our ideas and methods as short and long term proposals for the movements towards liberation.  Continue reading

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

Outline of US Labor History with a Focus on the Role of the Left

nyiwwpicket.jpg picture by adam_freedom
UPDATED and EXPANDED May 6, 2009. Below is a rough outline of the US labor movement that I created as part of a presentation. I’m attempting to periodize by decade, important organizations and broad trends. A particular focus I attempt to also give is looking at the changing relationship of the left within the labor movement. -AW

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.      Continue reading

The Workplace Papers

The Workplace Papers

  From the Sojourner Truth Organization 

workplacepapers.jpg picture by adam_freedom

 

  The Workplace Papers are a collection of articles and reflection pieces assembled by members of the Sojourner Truth Organization involved in workplace struggles during the 1970’s and early 1980’s. Although coming out of the new communist milieu of the early 1970’s, the organization took up a number of unorthodox and critical positions around race, workplace organizing and revolutionary organization that have today become influential discussion points among those those on the left influenced by anarchism and by some members of the radical IWW union. 

  With the Workplace Papers (click the graphic above to open a pdf) STO took a position similar to the early IWW of building independent worker organization and rejected the approach held by most of those on the left of  reforming existing unions. While ultimately unable to build any form of permanent organization, their members published workplace bulletins and were influential in contributing to a number of wildcat strikes and short lived committees in various factories and meat packing plants around Chicago. Well worth the read are there reflective discussions of worker consciousness and organizing around workplace issues, as they are one of the few revolutionary groups during this time (and sadly still to this day) to understand and take up Antonio Gramsci’s ideas of dual consciousness.

  Another gem to be found in the Papers is the piece, “A Golden Bridge: A New Look at William F. Foster, the Great Steel Strike and the ‘Boring-From-Within’ Controversy” by Noel Ignatin. William Foster was a labor organizer and anarchist who started with the IWW during the early 1910’s until he became convinced that labor radicals should leave independent structures such as the IWW and seek to “bore from within” and revolutionize the mainstream, conservative unions. Failing to convince more than a handful, he left the IWW to apply his own strategy and became an organizer with reactionary AFL craft unions in attempting to organize the meat packing and steel industry in Chicago. Following this, Foster published several accounts of his organizing efforts and joined the US Communist Party, becoming an influential leader and later seen as upholding the ‘golden era’ of CP influence in labor unions. Most of the new left communist organizations as well as the Trotskyist tradition, despite their critical views of the CP, still uphold this golden era as well. Ignatin breaks this legacy down around race and its actual accomplishments, offering a critical and revisionist look at the legacy of Foster and the ‘boring-from-within’ strategy.

  Background on STO: If you would to learn more about the organization and the discussions their legacy is still creating, I recommend checking out  the blog STO: Notes Towards A History and this digital archive of their pamphlets and writings (where you can find the Workplace Papers article in text form). Both are maintained by Michael Staudenmaier, who is working on a book around the group’s history and legacy. Here is a snippet from his writing posted in the STO Wikipedia entry:

The Sojourner Truth Organization was founded in Chicago at the end of 1969, partly by people who had been involved with the Revolutionary Youth Movement II faction of the recently crumbled Students for a Democratic Society. The group largely turned its back on the student milieu, and instead focused its efforts on what has been variously called “industrial concentration” or “(point of) production work.” This focus dominated the group’s first several years, until the mid-1970’s. During this time, the bulk of the membership (close to 50 people at some points) was employed full-time in a variety of factories throughout the Chicago area. In this context, the group agitated for what it called mass revolutionary independent workers’ organizations, built alliances with black and Latino revolutionaries in workplaces, and struggled around a variety of campaigns that reflected the group’s strategic orientation of placing the struggle against white supremacy front and center. Since STO was the first post-new left group in Chicago to emphasize production work, it was able to tap into and relate to a strikingly broad range of workplace struggles, wildcat strikes, and independent organizing efforts. Some of the best stories told by former members focus on these experiences. Still, the failure to build any sort of lasting momentum (much less a mass organization) caused STO to reflect critically on the limitations of industrial concentration as the group had practiced it throughout the early 1970’s.

“Insurgent Worker” Newletter, July 1973 iw4coversml.jpg picture by adam_freedom

Reader on Especifismo

Mujer20Zapatista2.jpg picture by adam_freedom

 

An informal reader has been put together on especifismo, the anachist tradition and practice from Latin America that speaks for the need to form specifically anarchist orgnaization and for ‘social insertion’ within social movements. With similarities to the currents of Anarchist-Communism and Platformism, the especifists argue for a particular understanding of the charactor of anarchist organization and relationships with social movements. With roots going back to the period of dictatorships in the 1980’s, knowledge of the especifist tradition has only reached North America within the last several years.

The reader can be found here and begins with introductory articles (though I think the second one it could do without) and is followed with a series of interviews and translated documents and theory peices. Other projects to translate and gather documents and history related to this tradition are underway.

Below is the table of contents for the reader:

Introductions

  1. Especifismo: The anarchist praxis of building popular movements and revolution organization in Latin America – Adam Weaver
  2. Building a Revolutionary Movement: Why Anarchist Communist Organization? – Adam Weaver

The organizations

  1. The Social Question: Latin American Anarchism and “Social Insertion” – Michael Schmidt (Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation, South Africa)
  2. NEFAC Interviews The Federacao Anarquista Gaucha (FAG Brazil) – Red Sonja (North Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communists-Boston)
  3. Who We Are, What We Want, The Path We Follow – Coletivo Comunista Anarquista (Brazil)
  4. Anarchist Advances in Uruguay and Brazil -from Rojo y Negro (CGT, Spain)
  5. The Principles of the Forum of Organized Anarchism -Fórum do Anarquismo Organizado (Brazil)

Theoretical discussions

  1. The Need of Our Own Project – Libertarian Socialist Organization (Argentina)
  2. The Specific Organization – Jaime Cubero (Centro de Cultura Social, Sao Paulo)
  3. Materialism and Idealism – Anarchist Collective of “Zumbi dos Palmares” Forum of Organized Anarchism (Brazil)

Theory, Ideology, and Historical Materialism – Internal Education Secretary of Libertarian Socialist Organization (Brazil)

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