Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 12, 2013

Bill de Blasio and William Mulrow

Filed under: New York,Occupy Wall Street,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 2:00 pm

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/12/nyregion/wooing-hometown-industry-de-blasio-meets-wary-wall-st.html

Mr. de Blasio is not a complete stranger to the financial world. His wife, Chirlane McCray, briefly worked under Mr. Schlein at Citigroup, and after the financial crisis Mr. de Blasio opposed limits on bank bonuses.

He seeks counsel from Orin S. Kramer, a hedge fund manager and a top donor to President Obama, who introduced him at the Viacom lunch. Another ally is William Mulrow, who is a senior managing director at Blackstone and a former candidate for state comptroller (and who once donned dingy clothes to impersonate an Occupy Wall Street protester at a private bankers’ dinner).

* * * *

NY Times January 20, 2012, 9:52 pm

A Raucous Hazing at a Wall St. Fraternity

By KEVIN ROOSE

The chandelier-filled ballroom was teeming with 200 men in tuxedos — and a smattering of women — whose daily decisions can collectively make or break the global financial markets. Most were picking over a lavish dinner that included rack of lamb and crème brûlée. Others were preparing to sing bawdy show tunes.

Kappa Beta Phi, an exclusive Wall Street fraternity whose members include big-name bankers, hedge fund billionaires and private equity titans, met at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan on Thursday night for its 80th annual black-tie dinner and induction ceremony.

As always, the event was held in strict secrecy, with members being told that “what happens at the St. Regis stays at the St. Regis.”

A reporter, however, was able to walk in unquestioned and observe the proceedings.

Neither a rough year in the financial markets nor the animus of the Occupy Wall Street movement was enough to dampen spirits at this year’s dinner, which was attended by members like Alan C. Greenberg, known as Ace, the former chairman of Bear Stearns; Robert H. Benmosche, the chairman of the American International Group; Meredith Whitney of the Whitney Advisory Group; and Martin Lipton, founding partner of the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.

The Occupy movement was fodder for several after-dinner skits. In one, a documentary filmed during the protests, James Lebenthal, a bond specialist, joked with a protester whose face was appeared to be tattooed.

“Go home, wash that off your face, and get back to work,” Mr. Lebenthal told the protester.

Reached through his daughter on Friday, Mr. Lebenthal declined to comment.

In another skit, William Mulrow , a senior managing director at the Blackstone Group, put on raggedy clothes to play the part of an Occupy protester. Emil W. Henry Jr., a managing partner at Tiger Infrastructure Partners and a fellow new Kappa, joined him dressed as a wealthy baron.

“Bill, look at you! You’re pathetic, you liberal! You need a bath!” Mr. Henry said, voice full of mock indignation.

“You callow, insensitive Republican!” Mr. Mulrow said. “Don’t you know we need to create jobs?”

A Blackstone spokesman declined to comment on Mr. Mulrow’s behalf. Mr. Henry was not immediately available for comment.

December 19, 2012

A Pigeon Fable for Christmas: did the 99% idea come from Pigeon Paley?

Filed under: economics,Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 3:42 pm

By Calum Turner

I recently came across an American book from 1853 and was surprised to read a passage that resonated with today. ‘Theory of Politics’ is by Richard Hildreth, and has the inviting sub-title, ‘An Inquiry into the Foundations of Governments and the Causes and Progress of Political Revolutions’. Under the heading ‘Wealth as an Element of Power. Moneyed Form of Social Slavery’, Hildreth addressed what he called “the existing social state of Europe” by quoting William Paley’s fable:

“If you should see a flock of pigeons in a field of corn: and if (instead of each picking where and what it liked, taking just as much as it wanted, and no more) you should see ninety-nine of them gathering all they got into a heap; reserving nothing for themselves but the chaff and the refuse; keeping this heap for one, and that the weakest, perhaps worst, pigeon of the flock; sitting round, and looking on, all the winter, whilst this one was devouring, throwing about, and wasting it; and if a pigeon more hardy and hungry than the rest, touched a grain of the hoard, all the others instantly flying upon it, and tearing it to pieces; – if you should see this, you would see nothing more than what is every day practised and established among men. Among men, you see the ninety-and-nine toiling and scraping together a heap of superfluities for one (and this one too, oftentimes the feeblest and worst of the whole set – a child, a woman, a madman, or a fool;) getting nothing for themselves all the while, but a little of the coarsest of the provision, which their own industry produces; looking quietly on, while they see the fruits of all their labour spent or spoiled: and if one of the number take or touch a particle of the hoard, the others joining against him, and hanging him for the theft.”

(Taken from the 1824 New York edition, with the punctuation of the time, ‘The Principles of Political and Moral Philosophy’ [1785]; it’s at www.books.google.com/books?id=MRMRAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=paley+political+moral+philosophy&hl=de, being Book III, Part I, the whole of Chapter I, Of Property, pages 78-9.)

Paley’s friend, John Law, tried in vain to get him to excise this from the draft, fearing it would harm Paley’s chance of becoming a bishop. It got him the moniker Pigeon Paley, and the monarch, George III (yes, he of the Alan Bennett play and film), is reputed to have said, “Pigeon Paley? Not sound, not sound”. And no, he never became a bishop. (Info from wiki.)

Richard Hildreth (1807-65) was a lawyer, then joint founder and editor of the Boston Atlas, and author of the 6-volume ‘The History of the United States of America’, the anti-slavery novel ‘Archy Moore’ (later expanded as ‘The White Slave’), plus studies of slavery, Japan, and ethics. He also wrote for the New York Tribune 1857-60, sharing its pages for a while with Marx and Engels (contributors 1852-61).

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November 2, 2012

#Occupy for President: #2012 and Beyond

Filed under: Occupy Wall Street,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 5:55 pm

#Occupy for President: #2012 and Beyond

by Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp on November 2, 2012

in analysis

The 2012 presidential race bears no trace of Occupy or the militancy it spawned among Chicago teachers and Wal Mart workers. This is no accident — the U.S. political system is a machine, and this machine smothers militancy. The ugly inner workings of the Democratic part of that machine were briefly exposed when a televised floor vote was held at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) to add God and Jerusalem as apartheid Israel’s capital to the party platform at the behest of President Obama. What followed was a charade, the kind of party-line “democracy” practiced at Communist Party congresses in China, North Korea, and the U.S.S.R.:

One DNC delegate stormed out and joined Occupy. Nothing teaches that the Democratic Party does not belong to Democrats better than painful, bitter experiences like this.

full: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=2320

September 24, 2012

It takes a professor to get the Occupy Movement really, really wrong

Filed under: Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 9:03 pm

As befits a movement that challenged both the “one percent” and conventional leftist understandings of how things get done, it is understandable why the Occupy movement has launched a cottage industry of commentary, much of it written by academics devoted to exploring its alleged shortcomings. One supposes that any movement that fails to achieve a substantial breakthrough in these most difficult times will be susceptible to second-guessing, including the recent strike of Chicago schoolteachers. On the occasion of the first anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, the commentariat might be expected to have more to say than usual. Please permit me a few words of commentary on the commentary.

While it was originally written in January for an online journal called “Possible Futures” (a project of the Social Science Research Council), its inclusion on the Kasama Project on September 21 surely must have been intended to stimulate discussion among activists involved with the Occupy movement on its anniversary. The Kasama Project, to its credit, has been a solid supporter of the movement and thankfully above the sniping seen elsewhere.

The ubiquitous Jodi Dean, who can be described as a disciple of Slavoj Zizek, and Marco Deseriis, a postdoctoral fellow at the New School, are the authors and state their intentions rather forcefully:

In this essay, we claim that far from being a strength, the lack of demands reflects the weak ideological core of the movement. We also claim that demands should not be approached tactically but strategically, that is, they should be grounded in a long-term view of the political goals of the movement, a view that is currently lacking. Accordingly, in the second part of this text, we argue that this strategic view should be grounded in a politics of the commons.

Before making their case for raising demands, the authors describe three different justifications for not raising them:

ANTI-REPRESENTATIONAL: Supposedly some “anarchists and libertarians” fought against raising a demand for something like a Tobin Tax since that would increase “the size of the government and the scope of its intervention.” Unfortunately, there is no citation for this so it is a little bit hard to know exactly what they advocated. Speaking for myself (and who else matters?), I am for drastically increasing the size of government to the point of returning to the status quo ante of the USSR circa 1925, but find myself sympathizing with my anarchist and libertarian brethren and sistren (if in fact they did make this point) about the Tobin Tax, even if from a completely different angle. The Tobin Tax is the pet hobbyhorse of liberal think tanks and hardly the sort of thing that a radical movement should get involved with.

AUTONOMIST: Dean and Deseriis write: “The autonomist approach, then, emphasizes the creation of autonomous structures and new political organizations and practices. From this perspective, the problem with demands is not only that they provide life support to a dying system, but that they direct vital energies away from building new forms of collectivity ourselves.” Once again, without a citation it is a bit difficult to weigh the autonomist objection even though admittedly I would be usually willing to think the worst of them.

NON-COOPTATION: Once again, we are forced to rely on the authors’ characterization rather than a citation but be that as it may, it does sound rather familiar:

Will the demand for a national jobs plan mean that the movement has been co-opted by the unions? Will a push for a constitutional amendment to eliminate corporate personhood fold the movement into the Democratic Party? And isn’t the support of partisan organizations such as MoveOn a symptom that this co-optation is already under way?

Now I can’t think of anybody who better symbolizes the dangers of cooptation than Van Jones, but in an interview with Keith Olbermann last November, he hardly sounded like someone stressing the need for demands:

I—I think that one of the things that people were saying early on, you know, “Occupy—they don’t have any demands, what are they doing?” Well first of all, it was important that they—it’s not for lack of demands that the progressives haven’t made any headway. We’ve got more demands than we know what to do with. Nobody cared. They were able to get people to care, and to make the problem big enough that people have to look for solutions.

More to the point, Dean and Deseriis failed to engage with the key point made by Occupy supporters around the question of demands, namely that they were implicit throughout. When you protest against the “one percent”, it was not hard to figure out that the thrust was against unemployment, home foreclosure, corporate control of the two-party system, wars abroad both overt and covert, racism, and all the rest. All you had to do was look at the hand-painted signs to get an idea of what the movement was for.

But more to the point, it would be a fundamental mistake to expect a semi-spontaneous movement without elected officers devoted mostly to changing the discourse in the U.S. about who benefits from corporate domination to switch gears and begin operating as traditional movements that did pose demands. In my view, the best of all possibilities would have been a very broad demand for something like “Peace, jobs and freedom” that would have not gotten sidetracked in the fashion described by the authors. That such a demand did not get raised is almost incidental. Everybody understood what the movement sought, a reversal of the current course of American politics. If some demonstrated out of socialist convictions, or others out of anarchist or liberal convictions, that was not a problem. The best thing about Occupy was its ability to get peoples’ asses off their couches and into the streets.

The second half of Dean and Deseriis’s article deals with issues related to problems related to “the commons”, a term with much currency in autonomist literature, especially the journal Commoner, edited by Massimo De Angelis. It is really a bit beyond the scope of this article to deal with the authors’ attempt to explain the movement’s failure to define its relationship to the commons, but do have something to say about this:

Weary of the historical failure of actually existing socialism—and lacking large-scale models of alternative development—most Occupiers seem to content themselves with a neo-Keynesian politics that begins and often ends with demands for fiscal reform and government investment in strategic sectors such as infrastructure, green technologies, education, and health care.

Now I could be wrong, but the last thing that would seem to describe the people who slept in the bitter cold at Zuccotti Park or other public spaces around the country was weariness over “the historical failure of actually existing socialism” or being contented with a “neo-Keynesian politics that begins and often ends with demands for fiscal reform and government investment in strategic sectors”. In fact, this would instead be a rather succinct and on-target description of the Crooked Timber blog, about which the less said the better.

The late and great poet Robinson Jeffers best known poem “Shine, Perishing Republic” contains these memorable lines:

While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire,

And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens,

I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots to make earth.

This pretty much summarizes the intellectual outlook of Morris Berman, a 68-year-old professor who contributes occasionally to Counterpunch. The Waning of the Modern Ages, the title of his latest article there, speaks for his affinity with Jeffers.

As was the case for Dean and Deseriis, but to a much larger degree, the Occupy movement serves as a kind of inkblot upon which Berman can project his fantasies. Most of Berman’s article is a salute to Naomi Klein’s article “Capitalism and the Climate” that appeared last November in the Nation Magazine and that defends a “zero growth” perspective in sync with Berman’s own belief that capitalism is doomed. As he puts it:

In a word, its number is up, and it is our fortune or misfortune, as I said before, to be living during a time of very large, and very difficult, transition. An old way of life dies, a new one eventually comes into being. Of this, the poet Mark Strand remarks: “No need to rush; the end of the world is only the end of the world as you know it.” For some odd reason, I find that thought rather comforting.

Obviously, Berman could have quoted Robinson Jeffers to equal effect.

Part of America being doomed can be explained by its refusal to listen to those with a different message than unimpeded industrial and technological growth based on private property. These are the sorts of prophets that we should have been listening to:

This alternative tradition can be traced from John Smith in 1616 to Jimmy Carter in 1979, and included folks such as Emerson, Thoreau, Lewis Mumford, Jane Jacobs, Vance Packard, and John Kenneth Galbraith, among many others.

I don’t want to be one to quibble but the inclusion of Jimmy Carter here would suggest that Morris Berman does not really have a handle on American politics. The conservative establishment pilloried Carter for advocating “limits” but the last thing the left should be engaged in is defending his record on such matters. In 1979 Carter made a speech that might have confused Dr. Berman:

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

Trust me. The “piling up material goods” business was not intended for the investment bankers, corporate lawyers, real estate magnates, and entertainment industry movers and shakers who fund the Democratic Party. It was for the benefit of the factory workers who were losing their jobs by the millions during a process encouraged by Carter that some called “globalization” but can be more accurately described as monopoly capitalism. In Bill Clinton’s memoir “My Life”, he described the help that former president Carter provided: “After Al Gore plainly bested Ross Perot in a heavily watched TV debate in NAFTA, it passed the House, 234-200. Three days later the Senate followed suit, 61-38. Al and I had called or seen two hundred members of Congress, and the cabinet had made nine hundred calls. President Carter also helped, calling members of Congress all day long for a week.

Morris Berman does not appear to be all that bothered by the prospects of declining economic fortunes for the masses. Mostly the “99 percent” receive the verbal lash from him. He quotes John Steinbeck about how the poor regard themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires” and later cites a Pew Charitable Trust poll that “revealed that most Americans have no problem at all with the existence of a small wealthy class; they just want to be able to join it.” Sounds to me that Berman’s view of the working class is based on the TV show from the 1970s “All in the Family” and the movie “Joe” that starred Peter Boyle as a hippy-hating factory worker.

But worst of all is Berman’s take on the Occupy movement, something advanced despite his admission that he “personally never visited Zuccotti Park.” Well, why let reality get in the way of this?

[B]ut most of what I saw on the Web, including very favorable reportage of the Occupy movement, seemed to suggest that the goal was a more equitable American Dream, not the abolition of the American Dream, as I indicated above. In other words, the basic demand was that the pie be cut up more fairly. I never had the impression that the protesters were saying that the pie, in toto, was rotten…

I was never very optimistic about the movement; at least, not as it existed in the United States. As many sociologists have pointed out, America has no real socialist tradition, and it is no surprise that the serious maldistribution of wealth that exists in the U.S. is no issue whatsoever in the forthcoming presidential election.  In fact, a recent poll by the Pew Charitable Trust revealed that most Americans have no problem at all with the existence of a small wealthy class; they just want to be able to join it—which takes us back to the quote from John Steinbeck. My own prediction, several months ago, was that OWS would turn into a kind of permanent teach-in, where the disaffected could go to learn about a “new civilizational paradigm,” if that would indeed be taught.

I know that Berman has not taken the trouble to visit Zuccotti Park, but the idea that the activists would bother with constructing a “permanent teach-in” where you can learn about a “new civilizational paradigm” sounds fairly ridiculous even though Berman’s own calling—as epitomized by his Counterpunch piece—boils down to such a business, even if it includes Jimmy Carter as an outside consultant.

In fact, the impact of the Occupy movement, as well as the Wisconsin protests that it dovetailed with, can be seen at work in the Chicago teacher’s strike. If you go to the Chicago Teacher’s Union official blog, you can find a reference to some training sponsored by the union:

October 8th –Non-violent Direct Action Training:

Saturday, October 8th 10a-6p @ Teamster City 300 S Ashland Ave (lunch and dinner provided) Non-violent Direct Action/Peace Keeper Training for Take Back Chicago Week of Action led by Lisa Fithian

If you go to Lisa Fithian’s website, you will learn about her qualifications to lead such training:

In 2011 Lisa worked with numerous allied organizations organizing “On May 12″ a week of escalating daily action culminating on May 12 with a 20,000 people in 9 un- permitted marches that converged to Teach Wall Street a lesson.  This mobilization helped energize a community based movement under the New Bottom Line to launch a fall campaign of actions on banks in 8 cities. This work both energized and benefited from the Occupy Movement that launched on September 17th and has lead to important collaborations.

Lisa also offered trainings to the and participated in the  2nd International Freedom Flotilla to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza on the US Boat to Gaza, the Audacity of Hope; the March to Blair Mountain, Midwest Rising, United We Dream Network, Chicago SOUL- Southsiders Organizing for Unity and Liberation and was arrested at the White House along with 1200 others to protest the Tar Sands pipeline.

When the labor movement recruits someone like Lisa, you know that we are in a new period. When I was a teacher for a brief period in 1968, Albert Shanker, who would have preferred to drive a stake through Lisa’s heart rather than to hire her to train teachers in nonviolent mass action led the local.

Finally, it is not worth fixating on what Occupy was doing in 2011. History moves on inexorably and the best of its activists appears to be riding on its back, firmly seated in the saddle. Read this to find out how it is faring today. It is fact, not fantasy.

September 15, 2012

The North Star: Progress Report and Fund Appeal

Filed under: Occupy Wall Street,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 4:30 pm

Please go to http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=2412 to help out. I am totally in support of this project and urge others to join in.

From “About North Star”

The North Star’s name is a conscious reference to the The North Star network set up by Peter Camejo in the 1980s after he left the U.S. Socialist Workers Party (it is also the name of his wonderful autobiography). At the time, Camejo concluded that the future of radical politics in this country lay not with the plethora of three-letter left groups but elsewhere; Occupy has born this out in way he could not have imagined, creating an entire infrastructure of ongoing protest and resistance almost overnight independently of the existing left.

Occupy succeeded because it was and is uncompromisingly inclusive. In a very different context, the radical left coalition in Greece (SYRIZA) has succeeded for much the same reason, and in Britain, there is the Anti Capitalist Initiative, a left unity project which is off to a promising start.

What the American anti-capitalist, anti-austerity left needs more than anything else to win victories is unity, and that unity cannot occur without rigorous and honest debate, which is just the first step in a long, protracted process of recreating a radical left in this county with meaningful political.

Facilitating this will be The North Star’s new focus.

August 20, 2012

Brother Can You Spare a Dollar?

Filed under: Film,financial crisis,Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 4:16 pm

“Brother Can You Spare a Dollar?” opened two nights ago at the Quad Cinema in NYC and can best be described as a close relative of Michael Moore’s “Capitalism, a Love Story”. As was the case with Moore’s documentary, the dominant message is that the government should address the Great Recession of today just as it did during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Moore’s film ended on the rather foolish note that Obama would become the FDR of today, while director Thom Hoffman ends “Brother Can You Spare a Dollar?” with a nod toward the Occupy Movement. That’s progress on the political front to say the least.

Although I can recommend the film, there are some caveats. To begin with, it is politically unsophisticated. Except for Columbia University’s Alan Brinkley, an excellent FDR scholar who has examined the New Deal critically, Hoffman’s interviewees are exclusively ordinary people who either lived through the depression as very young people or who are confronting the current crisis as Occupy activists or as vulnerable college graduates entering a brutal job market. One group is identified as “professional women” from Long Island who will remind you of the cast of a Bravo cable TV reality show.

Ultimately its provenance is what makes the film interesting, at least to me (who else matters?). Without pretending that he is some kind of expert on economics or political science, director Thom Hoffman, who narrates the film and appears on-screen frequently, comes across as a next-door neighbor in Long Island, where most of the documentary was shot. While his focus was on his interviewees and their stories about trying to survive in Hard Times, my interest was primarily sustained by the phenomenon of what appeared to be an average middle-class American committing a sizable amount of time and money to examining capitalist crisis.

Thom Hoffman’s close associate Ray Adell was one of the people interviewed in the film who lived through the depression, as well as its associate producer. He has been involved in radio and film production for over 50 years, including a radio program called “About Long Island” developed for Northrup/Grumman, a major manufacturer of military aircraft. Another credit was making instructional films for the U.S. Navy, produced by Sperry Gyroscope. All this is unlikely preparation for a documentary on the evils of a system based on private property. Since Thom Hoffman was Production Manager for Ray Adell, you have to assume that he was working on the same kinds of projects. Their willingness today to critically examine the system that has left millions without jobs and without homes is something to behold even if they stop short of coming to the kinds of radical conclusions of my readers.

Now that I am retired I have more time to meet with people during the week. A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with a young man studying economics from a Marxist perspective and willing to put up with the ardors of graduate school and landing a position in a field notoriously hostile to radicals.

We chatted a bit about his parents who live and work in New York. He described his mother’s conversion to Judaism decades ago as a reaction to racist violence in Louisiana, her native state. While I am not quite sure what her exact motivations were, she was at least someone struggling to live a moral life in an immoral society in a way that she saw fit.

While adhering to liberal beliefs her entire adult life, she took an abrupt shift to the left in 2008 when the financial system collapsed. Just as Thom Hoffman decided to make a film about the crisis, she decided to look for a political alternative to the two-party system that was responsible for so much suffering. Ultimately she joined the Green Party in New York but drifted away because it seemed ineffective and because one meeting appeared dominated by Trotskyist windbags as her son put it.

I considered writing a longish post on this but have decided for the time being to only make a brief observation as follows:

There are literally millions of people like Thom Hoffman and my friend’s mother out there who are desperately looking for a political vehicle. And most certainly the Occupy Movement inspired them, including the young aspiring economist who did statistical studies on foreclosures for Occupy Wall Street.

I have no idea what happened to the Occupy Movement but want to offer a proposal for what could have sustained it, even if it amounts to nothing more than an intellectual exercise. After the cops had evicted the last activist from the last occupied public space, it would have been a perfect time to convene a national conference somewhere in the Midwest that featured plenary sessions with some of the best-known figures on the left from Ralph Nader to Chris Hedges, from Barbara Ehrenreich to Boots Riley. Some of the money that had found its way into the movement’s coffers should have paid for ads in the N.Y. Times, the Nation Magazine and Rolling Stone. The conference should have had workshops on foreclosures, debt, unemployment, etc.

The main goal of the conference would have been to form a party calling itself the Occupy Party that ran a candidate in the 2012 election—Boots Riley would have been perfect. Activists would have worked to get ballot status in all fifty states. Money raised at the conference in a closing plenary session would have funded a national office that could have maintained a database of members and kept them informed of what the movement was doing nationally through both electronic and print communications. Membership would cost $20 annually and be free for the unemployed and the poor.

Given the tremendous support that the Occupy movement received from the American people and given its willingness to confront the one percent whichever party it was identified with, this would have been the next logical step for the American left presenting in an embryonic form what the Syriza Party in Greece represents.

For most people outside of the ideologically committed Marxist or anarchist, politics means electoral politics. The key to an organization like Syriza, or for that matter Eugene V. Debs’s Socialist Party, is its ability to fight on Election Day as well as every other day of the year. Just look at the relationship between the Christian right or the Tea Party and the Republicans to see how the class enemy does it. In contrast to the Republicans, the Democrats are much more committed to strangling any grass roots movement supposedly on its side.

I am not close enough to the Occupy Movement to figure out whether this was feasible or not. I have my doubts that it was since it there was an unfortunate fetish over public spaces, even though a good part of the movement has now begun to organize around foreclosures, an issue that will remain outstanding given the White House’s treachery:

After inheriting the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, President Obama poured vast amounts of money into efforts to stabilize the financial system, rescue the auto industry and revive the economy.

But he tried to finesse the cleanup of the housing crash, rejecting unpopular proposals for a broad bailout of homeowners facing foreclosure in favor of a limited aid program — and a bet that a recovering economy would take care of the rest.

During his first two years in office, Mr. Obama and his advisers repeatedly affirmed this carefully calibrated strategy, leaving unspent hundreds of billions of dollars that Congress had allocated to buy mortgage loans, even as millions of people lost their homes and the economic recovery stalled somewhere between crisis and prosperity.

The nation’s painfully slow pace of growth is now the primary threat to Mr. Obama’s bid for a second term, and some economists and political allies say the cautious response to the housing crisis was the administration’s most significant mistake. The bailouts of banks and automakers are now widely regarded as crucial steps in arresting the recession, while the depressed housing market remains a millstone.

Read full NY Times article

July 10, 2012

Cops target Red Spark collective and Occupy Seattle Activists.

Filed under: Occupy Wall Street,repression — louisproyect @ 5:29 pm

Cops target Red Spark collective and Occupy Seattle Activists.

Read more about this at the link below.

Spread the word!

http://kasamaproject.org/2012/07/10/swat-raid-organizers-of-occupy-seattle-and-e4e/

July 9, 2012

Alexander Cockburn throws a spitball at Occupy–and misses

Filed under: Alexander Cockburn,Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 5:37 pm

Ever the contrarian, Alexander Cockburn threw a spitball at the Occupy movement on Counterpunch last Saturday that made me wonder if he ever had any enthusiasm for it despite the friendly articles that appeared there from the beginning.

The one thing that struck me as egregiously wrong was this:

Where was the knowledge of, let along the respect for the past? We had the non-violent resistors of the Forties organising against the war with enormous courage. The Fifties saw leftists took McCarthyism full on the chin. With the Sixties we were making efforts at revolutionary organisation and resistance.
 Yet when one raised this history with someone from Occupy, I encountered total indifference.

Maybe I am missing something but I got reports on almost a daily basis about some “old leftist” or another getting an enthusiastic response when they spoke to the occupiers, from Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz to the ISO’s Anthony Arnove. And speaking of the sixties, the New Left was infamous for its lack of “respect for the past”. And, finally, I am a bit puzzled by Alexander’s reference to us “making efforts at revolutionary organization and resistance”. I am almost tempted to repeat Tonto’s reminder to the Lone Ranger, “What do you mean by ‘us’, white man?” Alexander, unlike Christopher Hitchens, is and was a political virgin. He does not know what it means to roll up his sleeves and actually go out and organize people. I think he is a very fine journalist, one of the best on the left on his better days, but he really doesn’t know anything about building organizations.

Most of Alexander’s hostility to the Occupy movement is based on an article by Thomas Naylor that appeared on Counterpunch on March 27th, 2012. Titled “Occupy Wall Street Revisited, Who is Occupying Whom?“, it poses the interesting question (without a question mark unfortunately): “Is it possible that the real purpose of Occupy Wall Street has little to do with either the 99 percent or the 1 percent but rather everything to do with keeping the political left in America decentralized, widely dispersed, very busy, and completely impotent to deal with the collapse of the American Empire”. Well, at least Naylor does not blame the CIA or other nefarious state agencies for this turn of events, as the ineffable Michel Chossudovsky did.

Naylor also objects to the appearance of the protestors, reminding me of Al Capp and George Jessel’s fulminations against hippie protestors on the Tonight Show during the Vietnam War:

Although Bill O’Reilly’s mean-spirited portrayal of OWS is grossly unfair, some of the TV images of OWS protestors do not instill confidence in their ability to change the world. Many of them come across as stereotypical radical, disgruntled, hippie malcontents. The problem lies when they become the defining image of a fledgling political movement.

It is hard for me to conjure up an image of a stereotypical radical/hippie malcontent. What does this mean? Wearing a black beret and a tie-dyed t-shirt? Somehow it doesn’t compute. At any rate, here’s a reminder of what a typical protestor looked like, from my visit down to Occupy Wall Street:

click image to play video

Alexander had another beef with the Occupy movement: “Where the hell’s the plan?” I wonder if his endorsement of Naylor’s critique includes an endorsement of the plan that he has long been associated with, namely Vermont seceding from the United States. Naylor is founder of the Second Vermont Republic, a group described on its website as follows:

The Second Vermont Republic is a nonviolent citizens’ network and think tank committed to: (1) the peaceful breakup of meganations such as the United States, Russia, and China; (2) the political independence of breakaway states such as Quebec, Scotland, and Vermont; and (3) a strategic alliance with other small, democratic, nonviolent, affluent, socially responsible, cooperative, egalitarian, sustainable, ecofriendly nations such as Austria, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland which share a high degree of environmental integrity and a strong sense of community.

All I can say is that the young people who occupied Wall Street were vindicated by provoking the wrath of this 76 year old Professor Emeritus from Duke University, for this “plan” is about as batty as they come. I got a big kick out of the description of Austria as being “democratic” and “nonviolent”. Does Naylor read a newspaper?

The Guardian, Saturday 18 October 2008

Kate Connolly

‘Haider is our Lady Di’

As the leaders of Europe’s far-right parties gather for today’s state funeral of Austria’s most controversial politician, is European fascism once again on the rise?

“Official Austrian state doctrine after the war was that the Allies liberated Austria from Nazi Germany in 1945 and that Austria had been a victim of the Nazis in 1938,” says Pelinka. “This overlooks the fact that the percentage of Austrians who participated in the Nazi regime was the same as in Germany. In contrast, Germany was forced to confront its past directly and did so. Austria was not and didn’t.”

In Germany, Haider – famous for his outbursts lauding SS veterans, his description of Austria as an “ideological miscarriage”, his labelling of Nazi death camps as “punishment camps” and admiration for the Third Reich’s “sensible employment policies” – could never have achieved the same success.

Haider himself was frustrated in his attempts to form a pan-European far-right club, though he was successful at least in his intention of provoking European leaders after they slapped sanctions on Austria following the electoral success of his Freedom party (FPO) in 2000.

Nonetheless he is credited with having injected new life into far-right politics. “He was one of the first in Europe to grasp that it’s not about issues or a rational discourse, but about emotion,” says Brem. “He understood that politics was about marketing and you need to be marketing savvy to succeed.”

“What Haider did was to bring Austria’s SS and Nazi history out of the past and put it in the present and because he was such a charismatic politician he got away with it,” says Rauscher. “But his lasting legacy is the way that he poisoned the political atmosphere in Austria in the process.”

Now I am not trying to connect Thomas Naylor with someone like Haider but there are worrisome signs that the Vermont secessionists have been a bit undiscriminating in their relations with Americans who are. In trying to build a nationwide network, Naylor approached an outfit called The League of the South that describes itself as “distinct from, and in opposition to, the corrupt mainstream American culture.” They “stand for our own sublime cultural inheritance and seek to separate ourselves from the cultural rot that is American culture.” This is a bumper sticker they sell from their website:

Under pressure from the Vermont left, Naylor broke with the racists. The Green Mountain Daily, a liberal Vermont website, questioned Naylor’s motivations:

The famous Thomas “Don’t Call Me a Racist” Naylor has published a letter called (I’m not making this up)

To The League of the South From Vermont With Love

Yes, you read that right: “With Love”. That’s only the first reason to question the sincerity of this “break”, however. If you read the letter, you will see that, far from acknowledging the racism of the League of the South, Naylor treats it as no more than a PR problem.

Naylor thinks racism is no more than a problem of perception. Naylor covers some history, and then begins with the racist aroma surrounding secession movements: “Secession is often equated with Southern, redneck, Christian fundamentalist racism. Anyone who is a secessionist is considered a likely racist, but a Southern secessionist is a racist a priori. Since the LOS is a Southern secessionist group, it’s hardly surprising that there is a widespread perception that it is racist”. Get it? There’s nothing racist about LOS, but for some bizarre reason, people think that southern secessionists have some racist ideas. According to Naylor, this idea is no more than a “knee-jerk reaction” on the part of most Americans. It’s not that there actually is any racism involved in secessionists, it’s just “equated with” southern racism. The problem isn’t the racist ideas, it’s that people can’t stop thinking about them. There’s nothing wrong with it except those unfortunate associations with “images of the Civil War, slavery, racism, violence, and preservation of the Southern way of life.”

This unfortunate perception even infects the cultural symbols of the South. For instance, here’s Naylor on the Confederate flag: Whether justifiably or not, most Southern blacks view the Confederate flag as an overt racist symbol aimed at rubbing salt in their 400-year wounds.

Returning again to Alexander, I do have to wonder who he is referring to when he writes: “Leninists threw aside their Marxist primers on party organisation and drained the full anarchist cocktail.” This snappy bit of prose is classic Cockburn, incorporating everything except what journalism schools harp on: who, what, where, when and why.

Is a Leninist somebody who has nice things to say about Lenin, like the irrepressible Slavoj Zizek? I kind of doubt it. Lacan, not Lenin, seems more to the point. To me, Leninist means somebody who is actively involved in building a “Leninist” party like the ISO, the SWP, and the rest of the alphabet soup. Somehow, I don’t think that they ever “drained the full anarchist cocktail”. Mostly, they had some nice things to say about the movement but were never organically part of it. As is too often the case, they came to the movement with their own agenda and sought ways to exploit it. The one thing that the movement was resistant to was this kind of cadre intervention.

This leads me to my final point. Wherever this movement goes next, it pointed to the possibility of building massive anti-capitalist protests without the dubious support from the Leninist left. It is entirely possible that Alexander was referring not to Leninists, but ex-Leninists like Pham Binh who worked tirelessly on behalf of the movement and spoke about its possibilities for the future.

As American capitalism continues to hand out the shitty end of the stick to working people and the poor, there will be an impetus for a grass roots movement that challenges the ruling class. It will be incumbent on the “old left” to find a way to relate to such a development in a positive way and to learn from it. The Occupy movement has made mistakes, black bloc-ism the worst of it in my opinion, but it has also had a capacity to adjust and to move forward.

I suspect that in its next upward surge, whether in the name of Occupy or some other permutation, it will inspire millions, including the founder of Counterpunch who is not too old—one hopes—to be inspired by a genuine insurrectionary movement.

June 19, 2012

Our dying corporate class is the guarantee that the mass movement will expand and flourish

Filed under: immigration,Occupy Wall Street,racism — louisproyect @ 5:29 pm

Over the past few days, I have noticed a couple of articles sizing up the Occupy movement’s status. One comes from the left, and the other from an inside-the-beltway liberal pundit. Let me dispense with the last one first.

Although he is obviously at the Washington Post because his opinions jibe with his employer’s, I always find Dana Milbank worth reading, if for no other reason than he avoids the circumlocutions typical of the op-ed writer. In a piece titled Occupy Wall Street movement has hit a wall, Milbank makes an amalgam between Van Jones and Robert Borosage’s Take Back the American Dream Conference and the sans culottes movement that raised hell on Wall Street and dozens of other cities last year. It is understandable why he would confuse the two, since in his eyes Van Jones is “far left”. When I noticed that, I dashed off a letter to Milbank:

Dana, you have to get out more. Jones is an old-fashioned liberal, like George McGovern. I, on the other hand, am a far leftist. I would like to see the publishers of the Washington Post stripped of their assets and put in prison for their role in backing George W. Bush’s war in Iraq. You should be spared, of course, after undergoing ideological rectification.

Borosage, like Jones, has attempted to co-opt the Occupy movement as this excerpt from Milbank’s article makes clear:

Robert Borosage, whose Campaign for America’s Future puts on the annual conference, encouraged the activists to take the long view, likening their position to that of progressives in the late 19th century. “Now we are back to that same kind of inequality, that same kind of robber-baron money politics,” Borosage said from a stage festooned with the words “99% Power” and other slogans. “And what’s exciting is we’ve seen the first stirrings in Wisconsin and Ohio and Occupy Wall Street, which spread across the country like wildfire.”

The Wisconsin drubbing was a “stirring”? And Occupy Wall Street? It did spread — but the fire quickly died.

Nelini Stamp, an Occupy leader, spoke at one of the sessions about how the movement went from a day in September when “all of a sudden something happened” to the “dismantling of the parks, city by city.” Stamp described the events of the fall as “a moment in time, and that moment sparked a movement.”

One imagines that Stamp felt an affinity with Van Jones and Robert Borosage based on her affiliation with the Working Families Party in NY that is 3rd party in name only. In the last election, it unfortunately used its ballot line for the dreadful Andrew Cuomo, who can best be described as Scott Walker Lite.

Milbank is something of a cynic so it is difficult to figure out whether he is lamenting over the ostensible collapse of Occupy or gloating over it. Despite his past employment in the bourgeois press, or perhaps because of it, Chris Hedges is just the opposite of Milbank. He wears his heart on his sleeve nowadays and we are all the better for it.

Hedges is a regular contributor to Truthdig.com, a website founded by Robert Scheer, who like Hedges, was once employed by the bourgeois media—in his case the LA Times. Hedges’s article is titled “Occupy Will Be Back” and uses his own words to approximate what Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto: “What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.” Here’s Hedges:

Our dying corporate class, corrupt, engorged on obscene profits and indifferent to human suffering, is the guarantee that the mass movement will expand and flourish. No one knows when. No one knows how. The future movement may not resemble Occupy. It may not even bear the name Occupy. But it will come. I have seen this before. And we should use this time to prepare, to educate ourselves about the best ways to fight back, to learn from our mistakes, as many Occupiers are doing in New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and other cities. There are dark and turbulent days ahead. There are powerful and frightening forces of hate, backed by corporate money, that will seek to hijack public rage and frustration to create a culture of fear. It is not certain we will win. But it is certain this is not over.

I couldn’t agree more with this assessment. Having lived through the 1950s and 60s, when the American economy was expanding at an unprecedented rate, I saw the ability of the American ruling class to maintain its hegemonic status. There were challenges from African-Americans but a combination of repression and crumbs from the table appeared to remove that threat, just as an end to the war in Vietnam and the Supreme Court ruling in favor of a woman’s right to an abortion acted as a pressure valve to release steam from the system.

Things are different now. Today’s NY Times reported on the desperation that many long-term unemployed are facing:

Sam Chea, 38, who lives in Oakland and works nights delivering pizzas for Domino’s, said that he had been feeling the pinch at grocery stores, and worried that his lack of a college education was making it harder for him to find decent work. The other day he went to the nearby city of El Cerrito to apply for a second job at Nation’s Giant Hamburgers, a regional chain.

“I’ll be more secure with another job,” he said. “It’s scary. I don’t have an education, and I’m worried about my rent.”

“Everything’s gone up. Rent went up, gas went up, food went up, milk went up, cheeseburgers went up, even cigarettes went up,” said Mr. Chea, who had stopped at the barbershop to spiff up before his job interview. “I’m used to getting a haircut for $6 or $7, but they charged me $9. Even haircuts have gone up.”

In my recent post on the rascally Walter Russell Mead, someone commented that the left is too old to make an impact. I understand that if I am typical of the left (at the age of 67), this is a real problem. But another commenter wrote a rejoinder that is in line with Hedges’s piece and Marx’s before him:

You are obviously not in touch with the contemporary US revolutionary left, made up almost entirely of people under 35 — in other words, the generation subjected to one of the most radical periods of transferring social costs onto the backs of the working class. Our generation faces a situation of despair, ruin, indebtedness, political nihilism, old-folks-cynicism, mainstream political cretinism, and no future. You would benefit greatly by contacting the student, youth, people of color, and young working class movement in your local city. What you might find is in fact a vibrant undercurrent of dignity facing a situation that your generation, weaned on the massive capitalist high growth of the 50s, did not have to contend with. The “humble folks of the working class” are the young black, brown, yellow, red, and white youth on your streets today. Go meet them – they’re everywhere.

In my view, the Occupy movement has played a most useful role whatever its current status. At a moment when the Obama White House had much of the soft left in a state of suspended animation, they burst on the scene and demonstrated through their action that there had been no change and that they, to paraphrase Dante, had seen the words written large: “Abandon all hope all ye who live in the U.S. and are not hedge fund managers.”

Like the Zapatistas, who also defied the neoliberal “end of history” consensus like a lightning bolt out of the blue, these scruffy and more often than not organized anarchists (yes, I know, that is a paradox) raised such a ruckus that politics in America went through a sea change. They raised awareness that working people were being screwed and inspired hundreds of thousands to join them in protests against an unjust system.

I thought of the Occupy movement when I attended the Silent March against Stop and Frisk on Fifth Avenue last Sunday. This was a demonstration that really captured the militancy and spirit of unity that could be seen during the best of the Occupy protests.

You can get a flavor of the demonstration from this brief clip taken on my brand-new JVC professional camcorder whose myriad buttons and menus confuses even a geek like me. Look in particular for the women marching in the name of their beautician’s school!

For a report on the march that I couldn’t begin to top, I recommend Gary Lapon’s article  in Socialist Worker, the newspaper of the International Socialist Organization (not to be confused with the moribund sect of the same name led by Jack Barnes.)

According to the NAACP, the march was silent “as an illustration of both the tragedy and serious threat that stop-and-frisk and other forms of racial profiling present to our society. The silent march was first used in 1917 by the NAACP–then just eight years old–to draw attention to race riots that tore through communities in East St. Louis, Illinois, and build national opposition to lynching.”

Participants in the demonstration explained how this has become a civil rights issue of today. “I’ve been stopped and frisked for a case of mistaken identity,” said Justin, a high school senior in Brooklyn. “The cops stopped and searched me without a warrant, without anything–and they just said, ‘Mistaken identity.'” As Justin continued:

It’s getting crazy. My little brother just got stopped the other day for no reason…He’s only 11, but he’s a big kid, so they thought he was older, and they searched him. He was scared, he went home crying to my mother. People are scared to come out of their home thinking they’ll be searched by the cops. It shouldn’t be like that.

Dina Adams of the legal aid group Bronx Defenders said she had a lot of personal experience with stop-and-frisk. “I have three teenage sons, and so this is a battle that I go through three times as hard,” she said. “It impacted [my middle son] so much that where his schooling and everything–his whole life, seemed to have gone upside down.”

“The NYPD has too much power,” Adams said. “They need to stop focusing on Blacks and Latinos, stop focusing on our youth, stop screwing their lives up.”

As I have said in the past, it would be useful if socialist groups rethink what it means to have a “program”, too often an assemblage of doctrinal tenets held on disputed points going back at least a hundred years and calculated to distinguish the group’s “brand” from others on the left. Why not adopt a much simpler program based on Dina Adams’s words: “Stop screwing up our lives”.

Yes, youth will be heard.

While Obama has gotten pats on the back from the liberal left on his decision to allow undocumented immigrants to stay in the country, it would be more accurate to say that he made this decision more on the basis of stopping the blows raining down on his back, head, and shoulders from young activists tired of dealing with the immigration cops that he had sent after them.

The NY Times reported on June 17:

In recent weeks, the White House faced intense pressure from some of its closest allies — their voices often raised in frustration — to provide some relief for immigrant communities. The urging came from Harry Reid of Nevada and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the top two Democrats in the Senate, and the Hispanic caucus in the House of Representatives, as well as Latino and immigrant leaders across the country.

Bleak figures reported early this month by the Department of Homeland Security showed that a yearlong program designed to shift enforcement away from illegal immigrants who pose no security risk was not producing results, with only about 500 young students nationwide spared from deportation.

And last week, students without immigration papers started a campaign of sit-ins and hunger strikes at Obama campaign offices in more than a dozen cities, saying that despite his promises, the president was continuing to deport immigrants like them.

I’d like to think that those sit-ins and hunger strikes were ignited not only by Obama’s reactionary nativist policies but by the example last year of young people putting their bodies on the line.

Here’s a good look at what they were doing:

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.

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