photo by SG

Friday, June 27, 2008


So I'm listening to a podcast from a member of the Workers World Party (our good friends who founded FIST) about the Chinese earthquake and the response to it.

It basically amounts to a confused love letter to the Chinese government. I don't know if you can sit through the whole 45 minutes (I didn't), because it's really horrible, but the speaker loves the Chinese response to the disaster (yay China!) but hates the fact that China has a lot of capitalists (boo China!) but points out that the private companies in China produce half of China's GDP, even though they employ way less than half the workers (yay capitalism!) But the Chinese revolution was a worker's revolution (yay China!)

Ugh. I can't stand these people. They are not only confused, but they are just not on our side.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Poverty of Secrecy

Interesting article about strategic organizing. Definitely very "lefty," but I can dig most of it. It's a troublesome analysis at times, particularly the over-valorization of the Civil Rights movement's more pacifistic elements at the expense of its more confrontational pieces like Deacons for Defense and Justice. (This seems to be a common disease that anti-racist white people on the Left contend with.)

My favorite part though, discusses the failure of security culture to accomplish anything other than scare us.

Adopting a discipline of secrecy may at some times and places be useful, but it is a choice that needs careful thought, especially when we consider that it is often not necessary even in police states. In the US., which as Otpur [anti-Milosovic youth group that helped bring him down] can tell you is far from a police state, security culture hurts the movement in several ways.
However, because security culture generates trustlessness, protesters have a hard time trusting allies. They sometimes enter a confrontation with authority politically isolated, having failed to reach out and open up the communication channels with people busy on other projects. Where all this comes crashing down is at the moment of state repression, which is when allies are often most needed and also when there is most confusion in the air. That’s when some radicals, who refused to reach out and trust their potential allies, say to the allies: “Trust us and do X, Y, and Z!” When the allies don’t immediately come to attention and salute, the beleaguered protesters become disappointed and even angry!

Worthwhile observations and overall a solid read. Much suggested for those interested in building a larger movement. (Not, of course, the be-all and end-all of anarchist practice, but it's still pretty important, as anarchists seem to forget sometimes.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Day in Work (while avoiding work)

Round-up from my attempts to read magazines and escape from writing my research paper:

1. The Nation reports on the rise of militancy in the white-collar communications trades. Interesting article, particularly because it highlights the mobility of skilled temp workers. Precarity isn't only a condition for the educated bohemians or the unskilled marginals, but Republicans too!

All kidding aside, I'd like to know more about the organizing drives that WashTech, a CWA subsidiary, undertakes. Apparently they have a lot of at-large members. Which makes me wonder: what do these at-large members do? Are they ideological unionists in hostile workplaces, or perhaps activists salting in disparate areas? Or, more encouragingly, are they the mobile-yet-militant high-tech hobos that I dream about when I hear folks talking about "organizing the worker before the workplace," organic organizers from within the industry?

Either way, this whole sector should be something that Wobblies should think more seriously about trying to enter into. Obviously red-baiting would be more of a problem than with our organizing drives with immigrant and/or youth workers. But our ability to think outside of the NLRB box could give us a leg up with these deregularized workers.

2. Fascinating, but problematic, perspectives from the pseudo-Trot journal New Politics. The first, an article explaining Latin America's Third Left, a concept I like very much. While the article says nothing new, it helps make clear the fissures and relationships between this (our) Third Left and the other Lefts, particularly the old Communist Party-style organizations.

Embodying these dangerous liaisons, the article repeats the very disconcerting idea that the way forward for this Third Left is to try and manage the state apparatus. Odd, since the authors point out how the neoliberal state in Latin America makes control of the state less important than its ever been before. Manage it? Why not continue what they've been doing, trying to stay as far away from it as possible?

The second article, a really interesting interview with a leading dissident Chavista unionist breaks open a little more ground in the fertile territory that I've been calling "Chavismo sin Chávez." The scary labels show up again: the interviewee, Orlando Chirino, describes himself as a Trotskyist, he is struggling for reform within the party, etc. He kind of struck me at first like the leftists who suggest that we should jump on to Obama's train until it runs off the tracks, then pick up the pieces. The similarities to the two men are pretty striking: populist "outsiders" who mobilize in non-traditional political constituencies. But the clear difference is that Chávez is actually some weird kind of socialist, sort of a Eurocommunist actually, where Obama is obviously nowhere near that position.

I think that left-Chavismo (which unfortunately refers to a variety of tendencies, so I prefer my term) has a palpably better strategy than the left-Obamaites, because Chávez has already illustrated his inability to inspire an authentic revolutionary alternative to capitalism. (Not like this surprises my fellow anarchists in the crowd, of course.)

What's most interesting about this article is the strong language in which Chirino denounces Chávez: "But if this [expropriation] doesn't happen we will not be moving towards socialism, but only towards some kind of state capitalism with a developmentalist perspective." Between the lines, Chirino is basically calling el Presidente a counter-revolutionary. Again, nothing new for anarchists, but for Latin American leftists from within his own party to be engaging in this type of name-calling is an example of the gulf between official Chavismo and Chavista workers. While Chirino is ultimately a labor bureaucrat, albeit one with a good analysis, the people he represents may yet turn against the rising behemoth of the party's state capitalism.

3. This summer's issue of New Labor Forum has a bunch of cool-looking articles, which I will delve into (and maybe critique?) in the coming days.

4. Remembering a conversation with an FW, I had a brief conversation with a coworker and SDSer today about the role of coffeeshops in the reproduction and speed-up of labor. Particularly interesting was what my friend suggested about how corporate coffee, with its regular practices, is perfectly adapted for this speed-up process. I'm sure my brothers and sisters in the Sbux Union have spent a lot of time considering this during the morning rush. I can attest that at the coffeeshop in my hometown, independent and quaint as it was, regularity was increasingly stressed during the course of my year and a half there. We served mostly commuters to the Twin Cities from our bedroom community. Obviously, things move slower to rural areas, so this process of speeding-up no doubt occured earlier in other places.

But it gets me thinking about reproducing labor. What other services industries have changed as they become monopolized by corporate chains? Obviously, the whole price/wage issue, but I mean more qualitatively. How has the service industry adapted to serve the needs of an increasingly speed-up workforce? Fast food and restaurants stick out as a great example, but they're old-school. What industries are changing as we speak?

5. From the people who brought you Processed World, comes Nowtopia, which is a badass book I've been reading recently. It records the struggles of workers outside of work, creating non-capitalist means of communication. Obviously, it doesn't represent everyone (notably absent so far are anyone who is not a white person or white-collar worker) but it doesn't aim to. It highlights the resistances of a specific section of the population and places them in a really great analytic context. Also, it makes me wanna learn way more about permaculture, which sounds so awesome. I love gardens and hate capitalism, so it seems like a good combination. The book will be in the Macalester Infoshop in the fall, or is available now by contacting me, caretaker of the Infoshop-in-Exile in my basement.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Worst Laid Plans

I've found myself calling people "adventurists" way more often recently. I sound like a Leninist, I know. But I'm becoming further convinced that about 75% of anarchist practice is totally counter-productive.

Actions that seek to "block" or "disrupt" capital's day-to-day operation without a systematic follow-up are mostly what I'm considering here. I'm sympathetic to the idea that the whole of society now produces value, including people who are not normally considered workers, and that therefore, any break or refusal constitutes a valid attack against capital. Following this logic, it appears that anything we do to fight capital is a good idea.

While of course any attack is legitimate, insofar as capitalism is the most destructive system the world has ever seen, not all attacks are equally valid in building an alternative. This is the place where I start to get aggravated at my comrades. Just because doing something is morally acceptable does not mean its strategically sound.

This does not negate the idea of all refusals being equally legitimate. If, say, a neighborhood organization worked to organize a cop watch (and push out drug dealers), I'd say it would constitute a valid assault on capital. Likewise, if protesters blocked the shipments of military vehicles to Iraq, that would be fantastic. What unites these two scenarios, however, and divides them from what I see a lot of anarchists doing, is that they are sustained campaigns.

Capitalism can withstand the slings and arrows of activists. What I suspect it will have a harder time with is ongoing struggles and crises. Consider the well-known revolutionary situations of the 20th century: '39, '56, '68, '94. None of these scenarios were small, pinprick actions against capital. They may have begun that way (Mexico in '68 is a great example) but only when united with larger constituencies of the oppressed.

I don't think I'm saying anything particularly novel. It basically boils down to the idea that morality is not a justification for all things. Or, rather, pure morality. Morality separated from the day-to-day struggles of humanity reproduces the same kind of mind/body dualism that the bourgeoisie has always used to repress liberation. If liberation is moral and our morality is enacted through our actions, than liberation must be our goal. Strategy is necessary for liberation.