Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 11, 2014

No God, No Master

Filed under: anarchism,Film,repression — louisproyect @ 7:24 pm

Although marred by a clumsy script, weak character development, tone-deaf dialogue, implausible coincidences, amateurish acting, and an obtrusive film score, “No God, No Master” is one of the more important films showing in New York right now. What saves it is the theme, which is the historical background to the Palmer Raids of 1919 that led to the arrest and pending deportation of 10,000 Americans in the aftermath of an anarchist bombing campaign meant as retaliation for the Ludlow Massacre of 1914.

Among the historical figures that are depicted in the film are:

  • William J. Flynn, the chief of the bomb squad in New York where most of the action takes place
  • J. Edgar Hoover
  • Mitchell Palmer
  • John D. Rockefeller
  • Emma Goldman
  • Carlo Tresca, the anarchist leader who served on the Dewey Commission to clear Leon Trotsky of the charges leveled by Stalin
  • Sacco and Vanzetti
  • Louise Berger, an anarchist who plotted to kill Rockefeller
  • Luigi Galleani, one of Berger’s co-conspirators

As you sit watching the film, you forgive all the miscues since it is mostly faithful to historical details except for one just barely forgivable peccadillo. Played by the incomparable David Strathairn, William J. Flynn is depicted as a free speech liberal challenging Palmer and J. Edgar Hoover on the need to deport radicals simply for their ideas. The connections to today’s world are palpable.

The film was actually made in 2009 and only found a distributor five years later. One supposes if Green made a mumblecore movie about a couple of college drop-outs who decide to become pimps, it would have been jumped on immediately. Of course, it is up to malcontents like us to patronize the Quad Cinema in New York where it opens today so that Hollywood understands that indie films about serious topics have an audience.

July 31, 2013

Lost interview with Frank Krasnovsky

Filed under: anarchism,Jewish question,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 5:26 pm

(Received from Paul Buhle who is indicated as PB in the interview below.)

This is an interview made in Seattle, c.2000, with a leader of the local SWP going way back (his wife left him in the 60s and formed the Freedom Socialist Party, which still exists), it was incomplete because I loaned the tape to a friend who was going to do a full transcription and… lost it.

Among subjects of interest: the anarchist and Yiddish connections in LA, the paucity of Jews among steelworkers (he claimed to be one of about 3 in the US), local Trotskyist activities, and so on

43Index:

Tape 1 (Sides 1-2): Family history and Yiddish background in Los Angeles, general remarks about Jewishness and SWP

Tape 2: (Sides 3-4) Attempts by Trotskyists to put revolution on the agenda, versus the Habonim-Zionists, Communists, Social Democrats; Yipsels versus Norman Thomas and struggle within the Socialist Party. Shift to Seattle and struggles in the 1940s of the 1940s for racial equality and other issues.

Tape 3 (Sides 5-6) Backstairs struggle of union in later years and the nature of the steelmaking trade; struggle to maintain the Seattle SWP, especially leadership role of Clara, Dick Frazier and himself. Surviving McCarthyite period, door-to-door organizing activities. Attempting to recruit CP members, especially after 1956 revelations.

Tape 4 (Sides 7-8)  Trotskyists and the Cuban Revolution; the degeneration of theory in the SWP, in regards the Russian situation, and the role of James Cannon in later years. Other groups including the Cochranites. Failure to recruit from and relate to the New Left.

Tape 5 (Sides 9-10) Attempts to reorganize in tune for the 1960s. Problem of Clara becoming a leader precipitating fight within branch on semi-valid grounds of Dick Frazier. Recalling the campus anti-war movement in Seattle with Frank’s son one of the leaders, and George Arthur the other leader.

Interview with Frank Krasnowsky (Yiddish folksinger and theater impresario, Seattle), with Paul Buhle May, 1996

PB: Let’s talk about your parents

FK : My mother was a Jewish and Yiddish anarchist, my father was an old Wobbly named Harry Paxton Howard. My mother was born in 1896 in Byeloruss, came to the US around 1904; my father comes from an old old American family, probably connected..Harry told her, probably connected to General Howard. He was probably from a wealthy family, but his father rebelled against his family and became a hermit–we used to look around and see if some hermit was his father–and my father was a Wobbly agitator in Chicago. I was named for Frank Little, the Wobbly lynched during World War One.

PB: Were your mother’s family political at all?

FK: Some were religious, some radical. My grandfather  had a falling out with my mother when she married Harry Paxton Howard. She was already an atheist anyway. He actually disowned her for a while.  But they were very fond of each other anyway.

She went to work in the garment trade at 8, she could pass for 12. The family was in a rough situation and she was the oldest daughter. He also brought his own mother with him,  she lived to be 110. She died about 1945, just before he died. He still couldn’t speak English, she told people she would learn it pretty soon. Who figures at 60 and living in a Jewish community that she would have to learn a new language? But she could read and write in Yiddish, which gives the lie, as far as I’m concerned, to stories about Jewish girls not being able to read. They learned to read and write because their parents snuck it in.

One of the things I’m reading about in Yiddish is that girls used to get these novels. There’s almost no record in the middle of the nineteenth century of novels in Yiddish, they were published in just one edition. A lot of these stories were romance written by women, and just disappeared.

My mother’s parent’s came to escape the pogroms. I don’t know what her father did in Russia. Here he ran a fish store. He was lower middle class, like most of the Jewish business in Chicago. I don’t know what part of Chicago.

PB: Your father and mother met in Chicago?

FK: Probably thru the IWW or the garment workers. My mother knew Emma Goldman and went to meetings of the anarchists there. They had a nice torrid little romance as most people had at a young age. They also went to the theater together. When they left the US in 1917, to help the Russian revolution, she was already 21. That’s how I wound up with my name, Krasnowsky. They wanted to travel thru Sibera at the time of Kolchok’s Army. But after they arrived in Japan, where my mother was pregnant [they couldn't travel further]. They met hundreds of other Jews trying to get back. My father learned Russian on the trip over. They used my mother’s name because they couldn’t get in with the name Howard.

When they got to Yokohama–they stayed in Japan for 4 years, I was born there–and my father edited RUSSIA TODAY or NEW RUSSIA. He translated it from Russian to English, a straight Soviet publication.

PB: As Wobblies, they had communist leanings?

FK: This was THE revolution. It took a little while [before they become disillusioned]. Emma Goldman told  Helen Richter, my mother’s friend: do what you want to do. No one was persecuting the anarchists as a whole.

PB: Your father?

FK: He soon had a deep hatred of the Communists in China. And he wrote for the PEKING REVIEW, he was politically at the left wing of the Kuomintang if anything. He would have been in China until 1939 or 1940. We were in Japan until 1922, I was born in 1921, and then he was deported, after the Japanese longshoremen’s strike. He was always convinced that the Japanese were spying on him.

Then he went to Shanghai, where he and my mother didn’t get along–he was pretty much of a snot–and my mother came back to the States. My grandfather had to put up $1000, that was 1923. About the same time as the Japanese earthquake, which is why we got in.

This a story about bureaucracies, she came in to Vancouver Island about a month early. They looked at it and said, you’re not supposed to come in, you’re on next month’s quota. So they finally made a decision to send her back to China and have her come back. She had never become a US citizen and as an anarchist was opposed. But then the earthquake hit and they had to use all the ships for that, so they put her up in a hotel for the month.

Then we came back to Chicago and stayed back with my grandfather. I remember he was very fond of me. My mother worked in the garment industry. Then she was blacklisted in about 1927, the big garment strikes. At the same time some doctor said there was something wrong with my sister’s heart. So we came to Pomona, actually Ontario, California, where there was an attempted to build an anarchist colony. There we stayed for a couple months before my mother decided it was easier working in a factory. These people had a farm and they tried to make it over, but they had no equipment, it was muddy….I remember living there and taking the bus to school. Then we came to Los Angeles and stayed with cousins. That would be 1927. We lived in Boyle Heights.

Some of our relatives were CPers, some were very religious, but my mother was a sort of a center person, people grouped around her. Her anarchism wasn’t political, my sister said, she just loved everyone. But she read every anarchist writer. She was very brilliant. Both of my mothers’ sisters, Dora and Sadie, grouped around her and took her politics, those who stayed in Chicago did not.

Los Angeles had one of the top leaders of the anarchist movement, Tom Bell, and a Yiddish anarchist group, the Kropotkin circle. These people were all in the Arbeter Ring. We always had a socialist environment, it was a family sort of thing. The split with the Communists came earlier in LA.

It was strongly social democratic but one of the strongest branches was the anarchist branch, #413. They had a camp, and I went to the camp every year. I didn’t have any money but everyone supported one another. Everyone was a parent, all the children were close.

PB: Was there Yiddish content?

FK: Always. During  the year we went to Yiddish school after public school, and in the summer we had Yiddish classes.

PB: Did you ever resent having  to go?

FK: I accepted it. I didn’t like the Yiddish school after school, you wanted to play, but it wasn’t really that bad. My Yiddish didn’t get too good but I could read and write Yiddish years later. And we had some very fine teachers. I guess in a sense it was a kind of babysitting for parents who worked in the garment industry.

During the thirties, they were bringing in some very fine people [new from Europe]. To get into the US you had to have a job. Most of them were socialists, and some of them were real professors.

We also put on plays, a lot of things that were really well run. I remember the “Gericht,” the court, the kids would judge whether the person was guilty. It was a case of you decide and what should the punisment be? A kid writes on the toilets, so what to do? We decided to make him wash the walls.

PB: What was political there?

FK: We had the Young Circle League, the YCL. It became the Young People’s Socialistic League in the ‘thirties. There we had had a steady education on socialism. We had read the MANIFESTO, SOCIALISM UTOPIAN AND SCIENTIFIC, these were basic for us kids in highschool. And we had an old social democrat that used to talk to us all the time.

The children were not treated like something in the way. I can remember sitting at a Mayday camp. If you had something to say, people would listen patiently, as if you were one of the adults. My mother would be very favorable if she liked it, she could also disagree. We were all involved in some kind of politics.

There were wars going on in the world, there were problems in schools like the ROTC. Our branch had an SWP [Trotskyist] entry, and Dave Weiss [later a trotskyist theoretician] was our counselor at camp. We loved him because he would always tell wonderful stories. We would lie there in bed at night hoping he would read and he wold tell us a story about his life or read from DUNT ESK, or NIZE BABY or by Abe Gross. I used one of his stories a lot later as an audition piece. He also spoke a beautiful Yiddish.

PB: How much was Yiddish used?

FK: The kids didn’t speak to each other in Yiddish but they spoke to the adults in Yiddish. We also put on plays in Yiddish. There was also a difference of about 5 years. The older group all spoke fluent Yiddish, ours was more on the zubrokene: we were the young ones, they were the old ones. They stayed in the Young Circle League til they were 23 or 24. Our whole group went into Yipsel, around 1937. And we all left with the Trotskyists.

PB: Had you been aware of another world of semi-Yiddishsts on the Left? Were they different in class or any social way.

FK: We knew the Communist world. They weren’t different at all socially. But we were not compromisers, even the social democrats in Los Angeles had a rule that you couldn’t vote for capitalist parties whereas the Communists were supporting Roosevelt and Democrats. But my mother used to speak about the “Roosevelt Anarchists.”

One of the big political influences on me was my mother, that’s probably the reason I was more tolerant than others. The CP had control of the ILGWU here, for a while, and others decided to put up a fight. We didn’t like Dave Dubinsky either, but Rose Pesotta came out to organize the anarchists against the Communists. We were sitting in the house, and there was this big discussion, against the compromise of Dubinsky and of the Communists. And after the whole discussion my mother leaned forward and said, about Dubinsky, “David means well.” She never attributed the policy to something personal. She thought the same thing about the Communists, but they were worse to us than Dubinsky.

What happened in the Soviet Union more and more bothered us. The story of the Stalin Hitler Act made us cry, even though Trotsky had predicted it. The Anarchists could say I told you so, but we were hoping that it wouldn’t happen.

PB: What was the size of the Communists compared to social democrats or anarchists?

FK: The Communists were probably 3 or 4 to one of ours. The Arbeter Ring just have had 500-800 people and the IWO might have had 2000 or more.

Every one one of the kids in the Young Circle League

were socialists of all kinds; but we did have cousins and aunts that were in the CP. They were very defensive [toward us].

PB: Let’s talk about the questions of Jewishness in later years, in the Socialist Workers Party

FK:  We had to make an American party, that was one of the things that hung too heavy, that didn’t help it too much. That was involved in the actual Marxist analysis of the ethnic question, [fear of] being a middle class group. They ignored, somehow, the idea that this working class was really a proletarian group [of ethnics].

One of the things in the SWP is that they looked–there’s a statement in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO that the middle class would come over the provide leadership to the working class–they looked at the Jews in that sense. Middle class Jews in the SWP were always treated like they were great intellectuals, but the working class Jews never got anywhere. Quite a few of them were in the factories. So the SWP was oriented to workers in general and not to Jewish workers, and toward blacks in a different way; but the funny thing was that so many of their members were Jewish, but that they were not oriented to the Jewish community

In Seattle we had a branch of about 30, and unlike other branches, it was not predominantly Jewish, but on the executive board 4 our of 5 people were Jews.

PB: What does that tell you?

FK: The Jews did have a big socialist background. The big Israeli attack against communists and Marx is really against the diaspora Jews, not Marxism; all these years you didn’t know you were supporting an anti-semitic? Also the vanguard, the messianic idea, was important: you grew up believing that you had to make it, to have an important career. All of that was part.

June 23, 2013

Ghadars, Sikhs, M.N. Roy, German imperialism, and Alexander Berkman

Filed under: anarchism,Germany,india — louisproyect @ 4:49 pm

Har Dayal, founder of the Ghadar movement

When I had occasion to speak by phone with Hari Dillon, the former director of Tecnica, on the occasion of the untimely death of Michael Urmann, the group’s founder, I mentioned the interview I had done with a Sikh activist who I had met at work. Hari reminded me of the conversations we had had long ago about the Ghadar Party that a relative of his had been a member of in California, where it was particularly strong. The Ghadar (Hindi for mutiny) group was a revolutionary nationalist formation spearheaded by Sikhs that was an alternative to Gandhi’s pacifism. After chatting with Hari, I had made a mental note to look into the Ghadars but put them on the front burner after discovering that M.N. Roy worked with them to procure weapons from the Germans during World War One to use against British colonialism.

In the same chapter in Sibnayaran Ray’s biography that described Roy’s sojourn in Mexico City that I posted last week, we discover that he had hooked up with the president of Stanford University who had hired Ghadar founder Lala Har Dayal to teach at the school. You can get a feel for how much American higher education has changed through Ray’s account:

Meantime at Stanford Dhanagopal introduced Roy to the President of the University, Dr. David Starr Jordan, who was an eminent pacifist with a democratic socialist outlook and who had earlier given Har Dayal his appointment as a professor. He not only sympathised with the Indian aspiration for independence, but was also deeply interested in the political developments in neighbouring Mexico where one of his friends, General Savador Alvarado, was at that time engaged on some kind of a socialistic experiment as Governor of the province Yucatan. He gave Roy an introduction to Alvarado and advised him see the experiment himself if he ever went to that country.

One of the best introductions to the Ghadar movement is http://www.sikh-history.com. Here’s their entry on the Ghadars:

Many Sikhs and Hindu Punjabis who tasted freeddom outside colonial India in USA started Ghadr movement to free India from British rule in early 1900’s. These Sikhs and Punjabi Hindus were sent to Canada which was under British rule for labour work. They crossed the border over to USA and settled in Western Coast of USA in cities like Portland, San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles. These Punjabis created Gurdwaras [Sikh temples] and established societies. They were subject to draconian laws like “not allowed to marry to american woman” by many of these states at that time. The word Ghadr can be commonly translated as mutiny, was the name given to the newspaper edited and published for the Hindustani Association of the Pacific Coast which was founded at Portland, United States of America, in 1912. The movement this Association gave rise to for revolutionary activities in India also came to be known by the designation of Ghadr.

As I stated earlier, M.N. Roy worked assiduously to procure money and guns from Germany during WWI. Back then, when there was inter-imperialist rivalry and Britain ruled the world, it was considered a tactical question as to who you cut deals with. When WWII came along, the same outlook prevailed. Indian revolutionary nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose knocked on Nazi doors while Ho Chi Minh shook hands with the OSS. After WWII, there was no more inter-imperialist rivalry to speak of and it made perfect sense for the left and those fighting against colonialism to align with the USSR. Old habits unfortunately die hard and the pro-Baathist left continues to look at Putin and Assad as if they were Khrushchev and Castro.

Probably the best overall history of the Ghadar movement is Berkeley professor Maia Ramnath’s “Haj to Utopia: How the Ghadar Movement Charted Global Radicalism “, the first 90 pages of which can be read in Google Books. Most of Chapter three “Enemy of Enemies: the Nationalist Ghadar” can be read there.

I also recommend the 25 page history of the Ghadar movement that can be found on the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin website. It also details the alliance between Germany and Indian nationalists:

The German government had great sympathy with the Gadar movement because the German government and the Gadarites had the British as their common enemy. In September 1914, Indians formed Berlin Indian Committee (also known as the Indian Revolutionary Society) members of which were Har Dyal, Virendra Nath Chattopadhyay (younger brother of politician – poetess Sarojani Naidu), Maulvi Barkatullah (after his death, he was buried near Sacramento), Bhupendra Nath Datta (brother of Swami Vivekananda), Champak Raman Pillai (a young Tamilian) and Tarak Nath Das (a foundation is named after him in Columbia University, New York). The objectives of the society were to arrange financial assistance from German government for revolutionary activities and propaganda work in different countries of the world, training of volunteer force of Indian fighters and transportation of arms and ammunitions to reach the Gadarites for a revolt against the British Government in India.

The Indian Revolutionary Society in Berlin successfully arranged substantial financial aid for the Gadarites from Germany. The German Embassy in the United States engaged a German national to liaison with the Gadar leadership in San Francisco. Several ships were commissioned or chartered to carry arms and ammunitions and batches of Indian revolutionaries to India.

But what makes things even more interesting is how the anarchist movement fits into all these amazing conspiracies. This is from M.N. Roy’s memoir:

Barring Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, Har Dyal was the most important member of the Berlin Committee. Intellectually, he was by far the superior, but eccentric in emotion and erratic politically. From an orthodox Hindu he became an anarchist — a close associate of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman in the United States. But anti-British nationalism was still the dominating passion.

After having spent 14 years in prison for a failed assassination attempt against Henry Frick, the steel baron who drowned the Homestead strikers in blood, Berkman once again showed his willingness to put his beliefs on the line as the N.Y. Times of February 24, 1918 made clear. I especially love how Har Dyal was using an assumed name of Israel Aaronson. A novelist could not come up with something more mind-boggling.

berkman

berkman2

April 7, 2013

Drip, drip, drip

Filed under: anarchism,music — louisproyect @ 9:12 pm

Chumbawamba Drip, Drip, Drip Lyrics
Songwriters: HUNTER, NIGEL/BRUCE, DUNCAN/NUTTER, ALICE/WATTS, LOUISE

Eat, sleep and crap, for to prey on your needs
Down a dark street in backwater Leeds
I seen you’re comin’ “come in, lads!”
You seen the ad? Too bad, bad, bad
What you get is what you see
It’s a trickledown theory and it’s coming to me
Life’s a whip-round and I’ve got the whip
It’s a sinking ship, drip, drip, drip

Drip, drip, drip goes the water…Drip, drip, drip goes the water…
Drip, drip, drip goes the water…Drip, drip, drip goes the water…
Take me in, throw me out, put me up, let me down

Dark, satanic, run-of-the-mill, sing us a song, and I’ll send you the bill
My nicotine grip, my smokin’ gun
It’s how I get my fun, better run, run, run
Your olfactory nerves, all up the spout
You can’t smell a rat when your nose is out
Rent-to-kill by any other name, kiss an old flame, shame shame shame

Drip, drip, drip goes the water…Drip, drip, drip goes the water…
Drip, drip, drip goes the water…Drip, drip, drip goes the water…
Take me in, throw me out, put me up, let me down

[people speaking gibberish]

Drip, drip, drip…Drip, drip, drip…Drip, drip, drip…Drip, drip, drip…
(Drip, drip, drip) Take me in (Drip, drip, drip) Throw me out
(Drip, drip, drip) Put me up (Drip, drip, drip) Let me down
(Drip, drip, drip) Take me in (Drip, drip, drip) Throw me out
(Drip, drip, drip) Put me up (Drip, drip, drip) Let me down
_______

(“This guy on the right. Hey hey! Excuse me. Could you move, please? Whoever you are. She’s wearing a tie, she doesn’t mean to say it very important.”)

March 13, 2013

Greek anarchists and Greek politics

Filed under: anarchism,Greece — louisproyect @ 8:19 pm

Last night I went out to Brooklyn to hear 3 Greek activists who are on tour in the USA talking about the resistance to Golden Dawn. I was anxious to hear what they had to say even if the email I got from the group hosting the meeting struck me as a bit dubious:

Again, how to articulate an anti-capitalist and anti-state politics as not just abstract ideology but material reality, how to promote new forms of life between us, to create new spaces and territories which can demonstrate a social force, which reveal a collective strength, to overcome all those counterrevolutionary tendencies working against us. Or, how to live communism, while spreading anarchy.

I should start off by saying that I am by no means opposed to anarchists and even hailed their audacity in the Occupy Movement as crucial to its success, even if I found the black bloc wing of the movement toxic.

Vangelis Nanos, the first speaker, gave a very interesting overview on the Greek ultraright going back to the Ioannis Metaxas dictatorship from 1936-1941. He made the case that Golden Dawn’s roots are in the original fascist movement that continues to exercise behind the scenes power whether there is formal democracy or not. I made a mental note to look for a history of modern Greece written from a Marxist or radical perspective.

After tracing the history of the ultraright through 1981, he switched gears and began talking about the contemporary situation. I had hoped that he would elaborate on the tactics being used by anarchists, including the use of motorcycle brigades numbering hundreds of machines, but mostly he was content to just allude to various confrontations such as breaking up Golden Dawn rallies, etc.

His main emphasis was instead on the need to build up “horizontalist“ alternatives to capitalism such as recovered factories, fairs, squats, neighborhood markets, clinics, etc. He claimed that the movement to build such institutions was undermined by the 2012 elections in which the masses’ attention was diverted to discussions about the IMF, the Euro versus the Drachma, etc.

Sofia Papagiannaki, the next speaker, was heard on video since she had to return to Greece for her job. Her talk focused on the failure of the Greek left to root out the “deep state” institutions that Nanos identified but was not exactly clear on what that entailed.

Thanasis Xirotsopanos, the final speaker, took up where Nanos left off and went on at length about the “horizontal and solidarity economy” that the new Greece would be based on. He described the trade union movement as worse than useless and called for the need to break with “hedonistic growth”. All in all, I could not escape the feeling that such a message would be lost on most working class Greeks.

But what really made me sit up and take notice was Xirotsopanos’s statement that social democracy was dead. I imagined that this was probably a more acceptable formulation than “socialism was dead” even though I am sure he would have defended that as well. I honestly did not come out to Brooklyn for a confrontation so I did not challenge him in a polemical fashion during the Q&A.

I did, however, raise the question of SYRIZA and whether their objection to it was tactical—in the sense that its participation in the election undermined their horizontal kitchens, etc.—or whether it was based on principle, namely that state power was always corrupting.

They answered that nothing would have been gained by SYRIZA winning the election and pointed to PASOK’s electoral victories that accomplished nothing even though there were high hopes at the time. Back in 1977 there were different expectations, as this New Left Review article by Nicos Mouzelis would indicate:

The Greek general election of November 1977 has not only brought profound changes in the political map of Greece, it has also resulted in a configuration of political forces which is unique in the context of European politics. For Greece itself, the exceptional significance of the elections lies in the fact that the ‘liberal versus conservative’ cleavage within the bourgeoisie, which has dominated most of the country’s parliamentary history, has finally given way to a more profound class polarization. For the first time since the Civil War, one can now speak of class divisions having a real reflection in the composition of parliamentary blocs. For Andreas Papandreou’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), the major victor (in relative terms), has by its partial mobilization of the rural population and the urban petty bourgeoisie seriously challenged the traditional political formations of the Greek ruling class with their inter-class support.

Indeed, during its earlier phases running the government, PASOK carried out some reforms that were nothing to be sneered at, including some that addressed the “deep state” concerns raised by the speakers. From Wikipedia:

In 1986, the PA.SO.K. government amended the Greek constitution to remove most powers from the President and give wider authority to the Prime Minister and the Executive Government. Civil marriages, not consecrated by religious ceremony, were recognized as equally valid with religious weddings. The left-wing Resistance movement against the Axis in World War II was recognized after, and leftist resistance fighters were given state pensions, while political refugees of the Greek Civil War were finally given permission to return to Greece. The National Health System was created and various repressive laws of the anti-communist postwar establishment were abolished, wages were boosted, an independent and multidimensional foreign policy was pursued, many reforms in Family Law to strengthened the rights of women and the Greek Gendarmerie was abolished in 1984.

In the 1990s PASOK took a “modernization” turn in keeping with what Tony Blair was up to in Britain, which led to working class discontent and the victory of New Democracy, a Tory-like party that won a narrow victory over SYRIZA in the last election.

I have noticed since the SYRIZA’s leaders tour to the USA a few months ago that sections of the left have escalated their attacks on the Eurocommunist formation. It does not seem important to them that SYRIZA maintains a big tent structure that allows the far left to make contact with the masses in a way that a small propaganda group cannot. Nor do they see the importance of regroupment process through SYRIZA that might eventually encourage Maoist and Trotskyist groups to think past their own limitations. One such malcontent posted this peevish comment on my blog around the time that the SYRIZA leaders were speaking at Bard College’s Jerome Levy Institute:

This is Lenin Reloaded from Greece. I was wondering, given your support for SYRIZA, what your feelings are about the fact that SYRIZA advertises Bard College as an emblem of progressive political thought, is promoting it through its party newspaper, reflects the rhetoric of the Levy Institute to the last detail, is promoted by Dimitris Papademitriou politically, and will be visiting the Institute in a couple of days officially to crown the partnership.

The following post is in Greek (as most of them are in my blog), but it links to several of your articles on Bard College’s relations to big corporate capital, right-wing Zionism, the persecution of academic freedom, anti-labor practices, and its attacks on the Occupy Movement, which SYRIZA was supposed to be supportive of.

Here’s the link: http://leninreloaded.blogspot.com/2013/01/blog-post_21.html

After reading this once more, I wonder if I am now required to divorce my wife who has been invited to participate in a conference on Hyman Minsky hosted by the Jerome Levy Institute this summer. Maybe I should also denounce myself publicly since I looked forward to going up to Bard with her to hang out with my friend John Halle who teaches at my alma mater.

In some ways, the Levy Institute is the perfect place for SYRIZA to visit since think tank has employed Anwar Shaikh in the past, arguably one of the preeminent Marxist economists in the world. Michael Hudson, the author of “Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire” is another Levy Scholar as well as a frequent contributor to Counterpunch.

Whether or not the leaders of SYRIZA are to the right of Shaikh and Hudson does not matter that much to me. My take on SYRIZA is quite a bit different than most people on the left.

To reprise my views, I see SYRIZA as a throwback to the parties of the Second International in which left and right wings vied with each other. That includes the Russian Social Democratic Party that was home to a Bolshevik and Menshevik faction. It was a huge mistake for the Comintern to create a new kind of party that was purged of the reformist elements since the net result was division in the working class. Marxist parties have to engage with different levels of consciousness in the working class. When you amputate your right arm because it offends you, you lose contact with the masses who have not reached revolutionary conclusions. I should add that in Russia that condition was not met until the summer of 1917.

May 17, 2012

The Hardt-Negri declaration

Filed under: anarchism,autonomism,Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 7:06 pm

Michael Hardt

Antonio Negri

It was to be expected that Toni Negri and Michael Hardt would eventually weigh in on the protests sweeping the world, from Tahrir Square to Wall Street. Their Declaration can be read on http://www.scribd.com/doc/93152857/Hardt-Negri-Declaration-2012 and is well worth the trouble. (I found it impossible to print but that might have just been a problem on my own computer.) Even if you disagree with much of it (as I do), it is necessary reading because of their influence. Furthermore, I detect a positive evolution in their thinking—especially a willingness to reconsider the merits of state power, albeit in a highly qualified manner. Like someone saying that though broccoli tastes like shit, it might be good for you.

Published in 2000, their “Empire” was widely seen as a generalized expression of the nascent anti-globalization movement that had a preponderantly anarchist leadership (an oxymoron?) Although Hardt and Negri come out of the autonomist tradition, there is enough of an affinity between the two movements that it was possible for them to serve as spokesmen. Now, just over a decade later, the anarchist movement has new winds blowing in its sails. While David Graeber is rightfully seen as a kind of patron saint to the Occupy movement, I am sure—well, mostly sure–that he would not resent Hardt and Negri playing the role of elder statesmen. (Did I say statesmen? No insult intended…)

To start off, I was very pleased to see that Hardt and Negri take note of the particular dynamics of debt today, something that I have written about recently.  In my view, debt tends to isolate us and make struggle more difficult. Instead of confronting a boss as a unified group of employees, such as sit-down strikers in Flint, Michigan in 1938, the battle is between the individual and the bank or collection agency. (In their words, “No longer is the typical scene of exploitation the capitalist overseeing the factory, directing and disciplining the worker in order to generate a profit.”)

Turning to chapter one, I found these words particularly illuminating:

Whereas the work ethic is born within the subject, debt begins as an external constraint but soon worms its way inside. Debt wields a moral power whose primary’ weapons are responsibility and guilt, which can quickly become objects of obsession. You are responsible for your debts and guilty for the difficulties they create in your life. The indebted is an unhappy consciousness that makes guilt a form of life. Little by little, the pleasures of activity and creation are transformed into a nightmare for those who do not possess the means to enjoy their lives. Life has been sold to the enemy.

Another feature of life today that Hardt and Negri get right is how much it is defined through security, such as cameras, cops and prisons:

You are not only the object of security but also the subject. You answer the call to be vigilant, constantly on watch for suspicious activity on the subway, devious designs of your seatmate on the airplane, malicious motives of your neighbors. Fear justifies volunteering your pair of eyes and your alert attention to a seemingly universal security machine.

The sections on debt and what they call “the securitized” are much better than the one that follows, titled “The Represented”. Like Zizek, another celebrity, they are utterly disdainful of bourgeois democracy:

So many of the movements of 2011 direct their critiques against political structures and forms of representation, then, because they recognize clearly that representation, even when it is effective, blocks democracy rather than fosters it. Where, they ask, has the project for democracy gone?

They hail the Spanish protestors for not getting involved in electoral politics:

The indignados did not participate in the 2011 elections, then, in part because they refused to reward a socialist party that had continued neoliberal policies and betrayed them during its years in office, but also and more importantly because they now have larger battles to fight, in particular one aimed at the structures of representation and the constitutional order itself—a fight whose Spanish roots reach back to the tradition of antifascist struggles and throw a new and critical light on the so-called transition to democracy that followed the end of the Franco regime. The indignados think of this as a destituent rather than a constituent process, a kind of exodus from the existing political structures, but it is necessary’ to prepare the basis for a new constituent power.

One is not sure why participating in the 2011 elections was identical to supporting the Social Democrats. While I am no expert in Spanish politics, it would seem to me that there is some use in challenging the ideological status quo through the kinds of campaigns that Syriza ran since 2004. Who knows? Such a party might be capable of getting elected if the people get “indignado” enough.

For Hardt and Negri, just as was the case in 2000 when they wrote “Empire”, politics is only effective when it is local, in a kind of post-Marxist tip of the hat to the late ward-heeling Congressman Tip O’Neill. And no other group exemplifies this purer approach to social change than the EZLN in Chiapas:

The clearest contemporary example of the communicative capacity of an encampment is perhaps the decades-long experiment of the Zapatista self-rule in Chiapas, Mexico. The EZLN was renowned early in its existence for its novel use of the media, including electronic communiques and Internet postings from the Lacandon jungle. Even more important and innovative, though, are the communicative networks and political truths created in the Zapatista community practices of collective self-government.

The allure of Zapatismo, at least for me, wore off quite time ago. While the struggle was instrumental in helping the anti-globalization movement to get off the ground, it has failed to materially change the conditions of life for the poor in Chiapas. As I stated in a critique of John Holloway’s “How to Change the World without Taking Power”:

In a February 3, 2003 Newsday article titled “Infant Deaths Plague Mexico”, we learn that the Comitan hospital serves nearly 500,000 people in Chiapas. Burdened by inadequate staffing and supplies, babies die at twice the national rate. Meanwhile, the February 21, 2001 Financial Times reported on a study conducted by the Association for the Health of Indigenous Children in Mexico in the village of Las Canadas, Chiapas. It found that not one girl had adequate nutritional levels compared with 39.4 per cent of boys. Female malnutrition has actually led to physical shrinking over the last decade from an average height of 1.42 meters to 1.32 meters. At the same time, more than half of women who speak an indigenous language are illiterate – five times the national average.

By contrast, Cuba’s medical system allowed its people to live longer than other Spanish-speaking nation in the Western Hemisphere, including Puerto Rico. Infant mortality in Cuba was seven deaths per 1,000 live births, much lower than the rest of Latin America.

Back in 2000, Hardt and Negri were so deep into their anti-statism that they would have seen no benefit from Hugo Chavez or any other state leader attempting to devote the nation’s resources to the benefit of the people. The “national liberation” project was dead from the start:

The perils of national liberation are even clear when viewed externally, in terms of the world economic system in which the ‘liberated’ nation finds itself. Indeed, the equation nationalism equals political and economic modernization, which has been heralded by leaders of numerous anticolonial and anti-imperialist struggles from Gandhi and Ho Chi Minh to Nelson Mandela, really ends up being a perverse trick…The very concept of a liberatory national sovereignty is ambiguous if not completely contradictory. While this nationalism seeks to liberate the multitude from foreign domination, it erects domestic structures of domination that are equally severe.

I was pleased to see that they now see some benefits in what they call progressive governments in Latin America. From the section titled “Progressive governments and social movements in Latin America” in chapter 3:

From the 1990s to the first decade of this century, governments in some of the largest countries in Latin America won elections and came to power on the backs of powerful social movements against neoliberalism and for the democratic self-management of the common. These elected, progressive governments have in many cases made great social advances, helping significant numbers of people to rise out of poverty’, transforming entrenched racial hierarchies regarding indigenous and Afro-descendant populations, opening avenues for democratic participation, and breaking long-standing external relations of dependency, in both economic and political terms, in relation to global economic powers, the world market, and US imperialism. When these governments are in power, however, and particularly when they repeat the practices of the old regimes, the social movements continue the struggle, now directed against the governments that claim to represent them.

So the basic approach outlined here amounts to critical support. In Bolivia, for example, one assumes that Hardt and Negri would find some merit in the election of Evo Morales while identifying with the protestors who “continue the struggle”. The only question, of course, is whether it makes sense for Bolivians to follow the example of the EZLN and Spain’s indignados, who tend to abstain from electoral politics.

These questions take on some urgency in light of the recent election results in Greece that prompted many leading Spanish leftists to write an open letter to Syriza’s leader Alexis Tsipras:

We want you, the members of your organization and the Greek citizens who, as political activists, trade unionists or participants in broad social movements, share the project of creating a common life truly based on freedom and solidarity, to know the hope with which we throughout Europe anticipate the possibility that, soon, a new Greek government of popular unity will confront the dictatorship of the financiers and bureaucrats who have hijacked Europe.

We see the current conjuncture in Greece as a turning point which could lead to a radical transformation of the European political and economic order. We need a new Europe, a Europe of and for its citizens and all its inhabitants, free of the brutal austerity policies that prioritize the payment of an odious, illegal and illegitimate debt, which prevents the human development of our communities. This is the call heard today throughout the squares of Europe, from Puerta del Sol in Madrid to Syntagma Square in Athens, squares scattered all over the European geography, liberated places that are the seeds and the constituent basis of the real democracy that women and men in Europe want to build together.

Would it make sense for the Greek left to hold Syriza at arm’s length? I think not. No matter the weakness of the leadership on one point or another, the election of Syriza holds out the promise that the Greek people will finally begin to turn back the monstrous austerity drive being imposed on it by Germany and its international allies in the big bourgeoisie. Class society will not be abolished in the ballot box, but we should never stand on the sidelines when issues of whether or not pensions should be slashed in half are at stake.

If Hardt and Negri remain hostile to what they call “socialist governments”, they do—for the first time, I believe—hold out hope for what Marx (and Lenin) described as the building blocks of true democracy, the Paris Commune or Soviet type formation:

Several twentieth-century’ socialist initiatives, for example, sought to spread power in a federalist manner by putting power in the hands of workers and constructing the means for workers to make political decisions themselves. Workers’ councils constituted the central proposition of all streams of socialism that, contrary to the authoritarian currents, consider the primary’ objective of revolution to be democracy, that is, the rule of all by all. At least since the Paris Commune, the workers’ council in its many variants, such as the German rat or the Russian soviet, has been imagined as the basis for a federalist legislative power. Such councils and the forms of delegation they institute serve not so much to represent workers but instead to allow workers directly to participate in political decision making. In many historical instances, of course, these councils functioned in a constituent way only for a brief period.

Of course, the Paris Commune is the gold standard for practically everybody on the hard left, from Marxists to autonomists to anarchists. Like the classless society, how can anybody object to it? The big difference appears to be over transitional formations like the “progressive governments” in Latin America or the USSR, even before Stalin’s rise.

There are also differences over coordinated political action through the medium of a revolutionary organization. Since Leninism has become so compromised, there is a tendency for some on the left to make a principle out of “localism” or what has been called “horizontalism”.

In a politically backward country like the USA, it matters little if you are a “horizontalist” or a dyed-in-the-wool Leninist. We are not in the ninth month of a pregnancy so your ideological affinities with Bakunin or Marx could matter less. What matters most is being effective and on this score the anarchists were a credible force early on.

However, in Greece such questions have a bit more urgency whether or not the country is in the fifth month or the ninth. By the time you get to the fifth month of a pregnancy, you have to be damned careful or else you will end up with a de facto abortion if you don’t take care of yourself.

Politics, especially electoral politics, does matter in such conditions. It matters that the KKE has taken such a suicidally sectarian position. It is, with all proportions guarded, akin to the position that the German CP took during the rise of Hitler, when it opposed the social democracy as “social fascist”. Leftists in Greece have an obligation to counter the bourgeoisie on all fronts, including the electoral front.

On May 13, the NY Times wrote about the support that Greeks gave Syriza. For some, the election was a chance to put a “progressive government” in power of the kind that Hardt and Negri gave critical support to:

But it is Europe, fearful of encouraging more policy slippage by Greece, that has been pushing the austerity line. And the danger of such an approach is growing by the day, he said.

“For whatever reason, the hard-liners in Europe are saying that we deserve it,” Mr. Hardouvelis said. “They have destroyed the political center here, and the possibility of creating another Hugo Chavez is not zero.”

For the moment, it seems unlikely that Greece will get the chance to see if Mr. Tsipras — with his talk of repudiating the country’s debt and opposing privatization — will become as radicalized as Mr. Chavez, the Venezuelan leader.

But his message that Greece can stay in the euro and reject Europe’s budget-cutting terms has struck a chord, however contradictory that may seem.

While everybody can understand the need for the revolutionary movement in Greece to apply pressure to a Syriza government from the left, in accord with the formulations in the Hardt-Negri article, it should be obvious to all that such an outcome hinges on Syriza taking power. In revolutionary politics, the final outcome—communism—rests on the outcome of many, many skirmishes and battles along the road to the final conflict. As such, keeping an open mind about electoral politics and every other medium of struggle is imperative.

May 2, 2012

Montreal anarchists try to catch a big one with donut bait

Filed under: anarchism,humor — louisproyect @ 1:24 pm

November 6, 2011

Berlusconi’s mousetrap

Filed under: anarchism,anti-capitalism,Occupy Wall Street,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 5:33 pm

June 28, 2011

Is Anarchism, not Marxism, the more relevant left tradition?

Filed under: anarchism,socialism — louisproyect @ 7:25 pm

Mark Mazower

Considering the crisis of print media, the fact that I shelled out $18 for a year’s subscription to Bookforum is a recommendation that speaks for itself. Like Harper’s, the only other print publication that I subscribe to (going on for 30 years now), Bookforum is fairly restrictive in what it makes available online.

I discovered Bookforum after it absorbed Alfredo Lopez’s Political Theory Daily Review, an aggregation of links to scholarly and popular articles that was head and shoulders over the late Denis Dutton’s irritating Arts and Letters Daily. Lopez’s links became as much a part of my daily diet as a cup of coffee in the morning.

With the same general left-of-center orientation as Harpers, Bookforum is co-edited by Chris Lehmann, Michael Miller, and Albert Mobilio. I don’t know anything about the latter two, but Lehmann is one of my faves. Back in April 2009, he wrote an article titled “Rich People Things” for Awl that described his experience working at New York Magazine, an utterly brainless magazine distinguished by its articles on people like Donald Trump and its recommendations on where to buy chocolate in New York, etc. I could be wrong, but I think well over half the doctor and dentist’s waiting rooms have back issues of New York Magazine to keep patients mollified.

Lehmann’s article begins:

My ill-starred tenure at New York magazine was, among other things, a crash course in the staggering unselfawareness of Manhattan class privilege. Sure, there was the magazine’s adoring, casual fascination with the “money culture”-a term deployed in editorial meetings without the faintest whiff of disapproval or critical distance. But more than that, there was the sashaying mood of preppy smugness that permeated nearly every interaction among the magazine’s editorial directorate-as when one majordomo tried to make awkward small talk with me by asking what it was like attending an urban public high school, or when another scion of the power elite would blithely take the credit for other people’s work and comically strategize to be seated prominently at the National Magazine Awards luncheon.

How could you not subscribe to a magazine that has someone like this as an editor?

I finally decided to subscribe to Bookforum after seeing that an article titled “Leon Trotsky and the Arab Spring” that was included in the summer 2011 issue was available only to subscribers. No matter how hard I tried to find a copy online, it was no dice.

That wasn’t the only meaty piece of prose in the issue. It also had Roger D. Hodge’s review of Ross Perlin’s new Verso book “Intern Nation”. Hodge was the editor of Harpers until he ran afoul of John McArthur, its deep-pocketed but capricious publisher. Hodge wrote a brilliant take-down of Barack Obama that I reviewed fairly recently at Swans.

Hodge’s article is one of the few that is online and this should give you an idea of his take on life under Late Capitalism, in sync obviously with the magazine’s editors:

Although it is billed as an educational and career opportunity, the Disney internship offers little more than a menial service job. Most Disney “interns” spend their days as “cast members” performing wonderful tasks like flipping burgers, cleaning toilets and hotel rooms, parking cars, and stocking gift shops. In essence, the program provides a hugely profitable corporation with a transitional population of fresh-faced temps, thus enabling Disney World, America’s largest single-site employer, to keep labor costs as low as possible.

Working my way through the summer issue of Bookforum, that began to remind me more and more of the New York Review of Books in the 1960s when it had some kind of edge (one NY Review had a do-it-yourself diagram of a Molotov cocktail on its cover), I was delighted to see an article by Columbia professor Mark Mazower. Mazower is the author of “Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950″, a book that I have read and strongly recommend. He is also the author of the highly regarded “Hitler’s Empire: Nazi Rule in Occupied Europe” and “No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations”. Since all of these books were written after 2003, we are clearly dealing with a powerful and productive scholar who also aims for a broader readership. The only other intellectual I can think of who has such breadth and depth is Arno Mayer, the Princeton professor emeritus who has begun contributing to Counterpunch.

Despite my deepest respect for Professor Mazower’s scholarly works, I must take exception to his article titled “Propaganda of the Deed: Is Anarchism, not Marxism, the more relevant left tradition?” that appears in the summer Bookforum (unfortunately, only available to subscribers.)

Mazower’s article is based partly on a review of Alex Butterworth’s “The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists, and Secret Agents”, a book that I have no plans to read. After reading a few hundred pages of Bakunin back in 2002 when anarchism, Hacky Sack and breaking Starbucks windows were all the rage, I could understand why Marx got so riled up dealing with the extravagant Russian who while not lacking in personal courage was certainly a bit intellectually deficient. Of course, not too many thinkers can compete with Karl Marx even if Butterworth feels compelled to describe him as presiding over a “bullying and overbearing branch of Teutonic socialism.”

While it is not exactly clear whether Mazower is channeling Butterworth or speaking for himself, I had to rub my eyes in disbelief after reading: “…the memory of the Commune gave anarchists a cause to rally around and a model of future action that was local and bottom-up, not dependent on the capture of state institutions, as Marx’s more evolutionary approach seemed to mandate.”

Where in the world does this notion come from about “the capture of state institutions” through an “evolutionary approach”? Now I understand that Eduard Bernstein developed a “revisionist” socialism that rested on a willful misinterpretation of Marx’s writings and that corresponded to this erroneous summary of his views, but this is simply not how Marx saw things. When Marx stated in “The Civil War in France”, his study of the Paris Commune, that “…the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes“, how much clearer could it be that he did not favor “the capture of state institutions”? It is irresponsible to convey this impression to Bookforum’s readers, many of whom have never read Karl Marx except when forced to in an undergraduate course.

In contrast to the bullying and overbearing Karl Marx with his evolutionary approach, there are people like Bakunin, who according to Butterworth (and Mazower we must once again assume) “resisted any engagement with the state on principle”. But how does this square with Bakunin’s  1862 “The People’s Cause: Romanov, Pugachev, or Pestel”? The three figures respectively stood for various social layers: Romanov the aristocracy, Pugachev the peasant firebrand and Pestel the privileged intelligentsia. Guess what? Romanov was best qualified to lead the revolution:

We should most gladly of all follow Romanov, if Romanov could and would transform himself from a Petersburg Emperor into a National Tsar. We should gladly enroll under his standard because the Russian people still recognizes him and because his strength is concentrated, ready to act, and might become an irresistible strength if only he would give it a popular baptism. We would follow him because he alone could carry out and complete a great, peaceful revolution without shedding one drop of Russian or Slav blood.

I know that Karl Marx was a perfectly beastly figure but I doubt you would find such idiocy in any of his writings.

After giving Butterworth much more credit than I am afraid he deserves, Mazower turns his attention to Eric Hobsbawm’s “How to Change the World: tales of Marx and Marxism”. Despite my preference, heavily qualified, for Hobsbawm over Butterworth, I doubt that I will read this book either.

We learn from the review that, according to Hobsbawm, Marxism took a nose dive starting in the early 1980s that it never really recovered from.

We are also told that a shrinking working class is robbing Marxism of its principal claim, namely that the capitalist system provides its own gravediggers. All I can say is that this exactly what I heard from another Columbia professor back in 1968 or so, a guy by the name of Herbert Marcuse. This business about the disappearance or shrinking of the working class has been around for a half-century at least. Maybe it is time to give it a break, especially since vast portions of the planet have been proletarianized during this period on a level that would have made the Karl Marx of the Communist Manifesto look like one of history’s greatest prophets.

In conclusion, Mazower finds Marxism altogether unfashionable even if undeservedly so:

The most commonly encountered critiques of mainstream economics—at least in the United States and Western Europe—are not Marxist but Keynesian. The very fine Marxists commentators who do write in Latin America or southern Europe—for instance, on the current sovereign-debt crisis in Europe—are hardly noticed here.

Well, I have no doubt that Keynesians get more notice in the USA than Marxists but one cannot be sure what point is being made. Marxists have gotten used to being voices in the wilderness ever since Karl Marx was burning the midnight oil in the London library. That’s what happens when you want to destroy the existing system. You’ll never get a proper NY Times op-ed column or a Nobel Prize in economics acting up that way.

In the final paragraph, Mazower gets wild and crazy. I hope that the Starbucks on 114th and Broadway keeps a watchful eye after reading this:

One must wonder if whether it is in fact anarchism and not Marxism that speaks most clearly to our current condition. It is not just that Marx’s actual explanation for the causes of capitalist crisis was always undertheorized and in any case referred to an older kind of economy that lacked the complex and panic-inducing financial mechanisms that are commonplace now. Above all, the attractiveness of Marx’s thought as a model is fatally compromised in the eyes of many natural critics of capitalism today by his commitment to organization and to rigid party discipline. Anarchism’s combination of individual commitment, ethical universalism, and deep suspicion of the state as a political actor mark it out as the ideology for our times. We are all anarchists now.

Well, there’s a lot to chew over here but I will be brief.

On the question of complex financial mechanisms, I can only say that Socialist Register has been examining such questions for decades now, especially in the articles of Leo Panitch and the late Peter Gowan. Their archives are online and I particularly recommend the 2011 edition titled “The Fire this Time” that includes an article by the New School’s Anwar Shaikh titled “The First Great Depression of the 21st Century“. Shaikh, who is not above integrating Keynesian insights when useful, can be accused of many things (well, maybe not that many) but least among them is that he gives complex financial mechanisms short shrift.

On Marx and rigid party discipline. I am afraid that Professor Mazower has him confused with Lenin. That being said, Lenin only expelled one member of the Bolshevik Party in its entire history: Bogdanov.

In any case, Lenin’s party did manage to topple the capitalist system in the USSR even if the end result was a despotic system that made a mockery of the word socialism. While I would not question an anarchist’s “individual commitment” or “ethical universalism”, qualities that I am sure they possess in abundance, we are facing a serious and widespread problem of the inability of an amorphous and leaderless mass movement to deliver a death blow to Greek, Egyptian or any other decaying capitalist system. Under such desperate conditions, there will be a need for a highly disciplined and organized revolutionary movement to challenge the power of the rich. The one thing we have learned from history is that failed revolutions pay a heavy penalty for a failure to go all the way. Whatever problems Marxism has as a movement, it at least provides its adherents with a methodology to analyze the relationship of class forces in a given society so as to help develop an intelligent strategy and tactics. As the crisis of world capitalism deepens, young people—working class or non-working class—will be looking for a sharp sword to use against the enemy class. I am reasonably sure that Karl Marx’s writings will remain relevant for them.

Ironically, the viability of Marxism receives support in the article that immediately follows Mazower’s, the very article that persuaded me to plunk down $18 for a subscription. Written by Graeme Wood, a contributor to the centrist Atlantic Monthly of all places, “Reading Trotsky in Tahir: what the Russian revolutionary can teach us about the Arab Spring” cares little about whether Marxists are “in” or not but instead reminds us of why someone like Trotsky is essential reading for Arab revolutionaries:

The czar and his state, like Mubarak and his, fail utterly to grasp the extent of its rot. In Russia, the mismanagement was most acutely foreign: The Russian military had led bloody misadventures in the Great War and the Russo-Japanese War. “The one thing the Russian generals did with a flourish was drag human meat out of the country,” writes Trotsky. “Beef and pork are handled with infinitely more economy.” In Egypt, the mismanagement had the same demoralizing effect—but turned inward, with a secret-police force that consisted of one in forty adults—and, similarly, brought only misery to the country’s people. Trotsky writes that the czar’s state could have tried to reform, but “on the contrary, withdrew into itself. It spirit of medievalism thickened under the pressure of hostility and fear, until it acquired the character of a disgusting nightmare overhanging the country.”

Mark Mazower says that “we are all anarchists now”. Well, when they start writing like Trotsky, maybe I’ll join up. But not until then.

July 11, 2010

An anarchist critique of the black bloc

Filed under: anarchism — louisproyect @ 12:13 am

In the wake of the G8/G20 economic summit protests in Toronto, Canada this past weekend, black bloc demonstrators have once again sparked discussion on the left and hysterics in the corporate media. Closely linked to anarchism, the continued popularity of the black bloc tactic colors the reputation of protesters, particularly anarchists, and merits a response with greater clarity from anarchists.

The black bloc phenomenon reputedly emerged out of Germany in the 1980s. It is predominantly a youth movement and no doubt only marginally within the influence of even other anarchist currents. Nonetheless, a more cohesive critique of the impact of black bloc tactics from within the more serious currents of anarchism will only aid in diminishing the phenomenon.

There is no doubt that black bloc protesters are sincere and on the right side of the larger issues. However, their failure to seriously engage with the broader movement over the utility of their tactics is indicative more of a subcutural identity clique than a continuation of the serious organizing carried out by, for instance, the Spanish anarchists of the 1930s.

Democracy requires discussing tactics in a format that ensures accountability to others organizing the demonstrations. Instead, the code words “diversity of tactics” are often used to cloak a range of actions that inevitably impact all activists involved in protests.

Granted, if the existing political climate in North America were far more radical, and wide swaths of the general population understood destruction of corporate bank facades as an act of political opposition to class exploitation, the tactic would not be harmful. However, it is quite evident we are not in such a period.

Masked faces simply alienate the very people that must be organized. It does not help that masks also facilitate infiltration by the police. The context is important. In the Chiapas region of Mexico, concealing one’s identity may well be a canny response to police repression.

full: http://ideasandaction.info/2010/07/black-bloc-headed/

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